Durango, Colorado rests in the Animas River Valley surrounded by the San Juan Mountains. It is a beautiful, busy city of just over 16,000 people, is rich in history and culture and loaded with adventure. And Durango has a Walmart!
August 27, 2016, Silverton, Colorado Nice Lady: “Where are you coming from?” Me: “Well, we’re from Texas. We spent last night in Durango.” Nice Lady: “Oh. Where’d you stay?” Me: “We tried RV parks. None called us back so we ended up at the Walmart.” Nice Lady: “Walmart! Oh my! My husband won’t even park there. Whenever we need anything from the Durango Walmart he drops me off at the front door and goes to Home Depot until I am ready to be picked up!” Me: "Well, we saw a lot of interesting activity, but, we didn't have any issues."
August 26, 2016, Durango, Colorado
Heading for Silverton, Colorado, we arrived in Durango from Dallas, TX on our second day of travel. Silverton, is about 50 miles further up Highway 550, “The Million Dollar Highway”. The drive in The Whip took longer than expected and the sun would soon retire for the night. No way was I going to take on the Million Dollar Highway at night. We need to get our heads down and soon.
As is normal for us we have no camping reservation because we aren’t sure when nor where we might stop. Normally we have no trouble finding a camping spot. At a minimum the RV or state park answers our calls or calls us back promptly. Not this time. Disappointed, but, only a little, I suggest we park at the local Walmart. It’s only for one night…no big deal. Walmart has been our friend many, many times and we’ve never had any serious issues. Tempo looks up the local Walmart on our AllStays iPhone App and sure enough, Walmart is only a mile away AND according to the App, this Walmart allows overnight “camping”.
We arrive to find “No Overnight Parking” signs on the Walmart lot. We expect this and intend to double-check with the store manager to ensure we could in fact park overnight (we did in-fact check with the manager and were given the okay). It is Friday and the lot is extremely crowded. Navigating the tight turns and heavy traffic was difficult. We are able to find a spot next to the edge of the lot. With one side of our rig guarded by trees we could sneak out our driver’s side slides a few inches to give us more walking room inside of The Whip.
I park in expert fashion (IMHO); the parking brake hisses as I pull up the knob. I cut the headlights and the Cummins diesel engine…silence. As is my normal routine I gaze out the parking lot searching for any potential issues or trouble. I expect to see the normal collection of shoppers, vacationing RVers and truckers resting for the night. What I saw was something I’d never seen before in my travels across the US.
Spread out before me are older RVs, vans, cars and pick-up trucks. All appear occupied by one or more persons, ages ranging from late teens to early thirties, mingling with one another, talking, laughing and smoking, their worldly possessions stuffed into their vehicles. Some stay to themselves. None of the individuals are “together” but, judging from how they interact, I sense a camaraderie among them. Frankly, they look as though they are long-term camping or “hanging out”…or so I thought. The following is a sample of the people on the parking lot:
First up is Van Girl – Van Girl (I’ll call her “VeeGee”) spends her time sitting in an older model, burgundy colored mini-van. The van bulges with possessions, including a baby (or something that looked like a baby) in a car seat. She has a stroller on top of the van and the van’s hood is up indicating a mechanical issue of some sort. She has a tired and distressed look on her face. Tempo immediately feels sorry for VeeGee and voices a desire to help in some way.
Next is Up Town Dude – Up Town Dude (I’ll call him “The Dude”) is a jovial man in his late twenties. He is slightly overweight dressed in shorts, a t-shirt and running shoes, though I doubt he does any running. The Dude stands outside of a rundown “Class A” RV chain-smoking “borrowed” cigarettes and talking to anyone who will listen about his recent transition from a car to a “Class C” RV and finally to a “Class A” RV. He seems to know everyone around him yet is not “with” anyone. He has more hair on his face than on his head.
Gas Can Guy – Gas Can Guy (Let’s call him “Slick”) is a young, slick-looking man who pulls up in a two-door Honda Accord that looked as though he painted it in rust; the car’s tires are as worn as the windows are dirty. He is puffing smoothly on a cigarette as he pulls the car to a stop, turns off the engine, steps out and rests against the vehicle. Slick wears tight jeans, and a light jacket. His medium-length, blonde, thick hair is neatly combed and he has a mischievous look on his face. He finds and places two shopping carts between our vehicles and about ten feet from his car. I’ve got my eyes on you Slick.
Finally, Bus Boy – Bus Boy (“Jesse”) whips his old, yellow school bus/RV conversion expertly to the parking lot, about 15′ from our rig, between the shopping carts and Slick’s car. He’s clearly been here before today. Jesse is a serious looking guy with a lanky yet muscular build. He’s under 5′ 10″ and is wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Jesse sets the bus’ air brake and steps outside. He has short hair and a serious, intelligent look on his face. Think Jesse Pinkman from the series “Breaking Bad,” only a little more muscular. Jesse whips his head from left to right, pausing, then from right to left. Looking for something or someone Jesse? I’ll be watching him also.
As the sun begins its final descent behind the San Juan Mountains the activity in the parking lot accelerates. Tempo needs to go to Walmart for provisions. AussieOne is yapping about needing a walk. We exit The Whip, lock it, and begin our trek across the lot. About half-way to the store’s entrance I see The Dude heading our way. I quarter turn my body toward him and stare; he quickly changes direction and instead heads for a woman unloading groceries into her vehicle.
I notice VeeGee off to my left, still sitting in her van, harmless, accepting a hand out ($$) from a nice lady that stopped to “help”.
I get Tempo into the store and settle outside on the sidewalk near the store entrance. AussieOne perches on my feet. We both watch the show in the parking lot. The Dude is chatting up the woman who has just finished unloading her groceries telling her he’d gladly take her shopping cart to the holding corral…for a donation. “They” have run out of money and gas, he explains, and only need a little to get going again. I stop listening, glancing at VeeGee, off to my right, taking money from another nice lady. Nothing like a lady with a baby to soften the message…”Give me money.”
Meanwhile, positioned between The Dude and VeeGee’s locations, but further back in the lot, is Slick parked near The Whip and about thirty yards from my current location. Slick finishes his cigarette, carefully puts it out on his door frame and saves the remainder in his shirt pocket. He grabs an empty five-gallon, plastic gas jug out of the back seat of his car and sets out across the parking lot. “Targets” are everywhere. Rather than listen to Slick’s relentless tales, all told with a shit-eatin’ grin, the Targets simply hand Slick money so he’ll just go away. For some reason Slick never gets within ten yards of me. Must have been my welcoming gaze. VeeGee continues to elicit sympathy from passers-by. The Dude continues to hit on old ladies with shopping carts.
Later, back at The Whip, I watch out of my tinted windows. Our interior lights are off. As a result, I conduct my surveillance undetected. My windows are slightly open for air circulation. Slick tucks into the driver’s seat of his car puffing from a short pipe. He reloads, lights and takes a few more puffs. The Dude stands out in the open, shielded in darkness, puffing on his pipe, reloading occasionally. Pipes are popular on the Walmart lot and I see them glowing in the darkness all around us like fire flies. Consequently, a faint, yet pungent aroma drifts into The Whip so I close the windows…and I don’t inhale.
VeeGee seems to have company. A man I noticed earlier walking around carrying a back pack, now sits in the driver’s seat of VeeGee’s van. The hood is down and they drive away together. Seems like they were always together…a day’s work done. They return late in the night and park by The Whip; down for the night the couple (and child) drift off to sleep.
I never did figure out the mystery man. Jesse exits his bus several times, walking intently toward Walmart each time. His pace quick and deliberate. His hands are empty both going and coming. As I look on, the bus is dark and Jesse settles down for the night…I guess.
As I try to sleep questions run through my head. How could this beautiful state let this happen? These people; The Dude, VeeGee and Slick (and perhaps Jesse) and those like them, all with out-of-state license plates on their vehicles, came to Colorado, probably, for a reason. They’d clearly taken a break from mainstream society. Begging (panhandling) for survival yet always having money to “smoke”. Consequently, abusing the goodwill of Walmart and it’s customers.
I’m up early the next morning, ready to continue on our adventure. I head to the door with AussieOne in tow and step out to see Slick push-starting his car. He glances at me with that shit-eatin’ grin. Jesse is gone as is The Dude. VeeGee continues to sleep with her backpack guy…and child. As I walk AussieOne under the smile of a cool morning sun a man grins at me from his truck.
“Is this a great country or what?” he asks. “You can stay at a Walmart free!”
“It sure is!” I reply. “But someday we’ll all pay for this!”
But not me. I didn’t inhale!
(Author’s Note: This article is written in my usual sarcastic tone. We are grateful for the free overnight camping at Walmart and the hospitality shown us during our visit to the great State of Colorado. My intent is to entertain not to offend. The characters depicted are representative of a larger group on the parking lot this night, but they are real people. As a human being, I do have opinions and if they conflict with yours I ask that you view them with the same open mind as I view yours. If you can’t do that then at least respect your elders! Cheers!)
Latest posts by Gonzo (see all)
- We slept at the Durango Walmart, but we didn’t inhale! - September 5, 2016
- Revisiting Normal - August 7, 2016
- My Father - June 18, 2016