Military Family Camping

Sunset at FE Warren Air Force Base, Cheyenne, Wyoming

In the last blog’s look-ahead, I promised that I would be writing about Phoenix. If you were looking forward to that blog, you’ll have to wait for one more. I’d like to tell you about another aspect of our RVing experience before I dive into our Phoenix adventures.

Long ago, both Cal and I were in the Army. I did six years but he went for the whole enchilada – 20 years and retirement. That retirement has been a gift that keeps giving. The latest benefit that we’ve uncovered since we started RVing has been our ability to stay at RV parks, called Family Camps, that are on military bases nationwide. As with normal RV parks, some are jewels – from what I hear, mainly those that are located primarily on the east and west coasts. We’ve stayed at several now, some better than others. Usually we stay for the convenience of their location on the route we’re traveling. They are also a budget-stretcher. Family camps generally cost much less than what regular RV parks do. And like regular RV parks, they are all different.

Barksdale Air Force Base, Shreveport, LA

The funds for each camp are allocated by that base’s commander as part of “Morale, Welfare, and Recreation”, which is why each one is different. Some commanders make the camps a priority, some don’t. The current trend is for parks to be upgraded, or even rebuilt. This section of Barksdale’s family camp is brand-new. We were in the back row on the end, with a huge lawn all our own, very private. Barksdale gets the prize for most spacious site.

A bugler at military bases still sounds reveille in the morning, retreat at 5:00, and taps at the end of the day, but now it comes over a loudspeaker. At some bases at the Family Camp it is faint or not noticeable, but at Barksdale it was definitely attention-getting. 5:00 retreat is accompanied by the playing of the National Anthem. If you are outside, you have to stop what you are doing until the song is over.

Man emptying his trash, walking his dog, and standing at attention (facing the loudspeaker) for the National Anthem.

When we were in the Army, we would always check to see if it was near 5:00 before we would go outside, or else would do a dive for a door if we were outside and could go in. Especially in inclement weather. We are amused to find that on military bases and posts, old habits kick in; we do the same thing!

Air Force Bases are notorious for placing the family camps at the end of the flight runway. On our first day, this B-52 bomber zoomed over us right after the playing of the national anthem. What a show! Lest you think this was an every day occurance, this was a Friday and we were only here for the weekend. On weekends the bugle is silent and the planes don’t fly.

Kirtland Air Force Base, Albuquerque, NM

View of Sandia Mountains from the parade field and walking trail at Kirtland AFB

The reservation system is different for each family camp. At some, you can reserve a few months in advance, and usually active duty military have priority. Rightly so, since many of them use the family camps as a residence while they are making a move to or from other bases. It’s a much better place for kids, I think. Kirtland’s family camp, like many, is first come first serve. It makes me nervous, just showing up, but we had no problem getting a site.

I didn’t like our site at Kirtland. Because this is desert, the sites were gravel and close together. But again, we were here for just a couple of nights and weren’t at the site much. We visited our nephew Mike, who is stationed at Kirtland, and his wife. I’ve already blogged about our cable car ride up the Sandia mountains, and there are many other things to do in the city. Kirtland did have a walking track around the parade field within walking distance from our camp, and a great view of the mountains.

F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Cheyenne, Wyoming

Squeezed in at Warren

F.E. Warren was the most scenic base with the campground that needs the most updating. I presume it was built back in the 50’s or 60’s, when most people just had a tent or small trailer. It had the feel of a campground from my childhood. We were side-to-side with our neighbors here. There was a green area behind our RV that had a picnic table, but if you sat there, you had a nice view of everyone up and down the row.

This air base was originally built as Ft. Russell in 1867. It has gone from being an outpost on the lonely frontier to its current mission as a missile base, making it the oldest continually operating airbase. There’s a cemetery, and the graves do go all the way back to the 1800’s. What’s crazy is that the old buildings are still here, and any new construction is made to match, except for new housing. It was like staying in a living history museum. Today’s officers are still staying in those original homes. We saw this also at Barksdale and Kirtland, beautiful century homes that reflect the character of the region they are in.

Antelope could be seen at any time, even lounging on the officer quarters’ lawns in the evening:

The old entrance to the family camp

We were visiting nearby Cheyenne while here. In the evenings we enjoyed long walks in which we strolled out in nature or up to the parade field area that had the officers’ quarters and the other old buildings, including the large ones that housed the enlisted mens’ barracks back in the day. It was so peaceful, usually with hardly a soul about, and even the camp was quiet. There are some big meadows next to the camp, so perhaps one day it could be enlarged just a bit.

Only in a Family Camp…this was in the front of someone’s RV

Ft. Bliss, El Paso, Texas

Ft. Bliss was our first Army post stay. When I was still active duty it was considered an “armpit” assignment, not a place you’d want to be. It has 1,700 square miles and is home to the 1st Armored Division. The post is weirdly chopped up, with highways cutting through it. The Family Camp is an example of another one that has been beautifully updated. But – and this was a deal breaker for me – the highway is right in front of it, as you can see by looking carefully at the top picture. See that guardrail? Ummm… yes. I can put up with a lot of strange RV sites but highway noise, no. And it was loud. There were a lot of families living here, with loads of kids running up and down all the time, and that highway didn’t seem to bother anyone but me.

No matter, we were here for well over a week but only physically in the RV for two nights. We left it here while we drove up to Denver for Thanksgiving with our family. It was perfect for that, and we may do it again. We were able to leave it here, plugged in and snoozing, for a paltry $17 per day.

When we returned from Denver, we needed to go over to the commissary (grocery store) and Cal needed a haircut, because it is cheaper on post. We stopped in to the PX shopping area, which generally has two or three lunch choices, and our jaws dropped. This is the Army?? We have never seen an actual “food court” on a post or base, and this one boasted around 18 choices. Outside were many shops in an outdoor “mall”. It was truly amazing. I would surmise that your tax dollars have been poured into this facility not only because of the size of the post but also because of their participation in numerous overseas deployments.

Buckley Space Force Base, Denver, CO

Out on the prairie

Buckley is our “home” park. We can stay here 45 days in a season, which is nice because the two state parks that we normally spend time in make us move every two weeks. Right behind the RVs in the above picture is the airfield. But what are those weird white balls?? Golf balls? Something dropped from outer space? Actually, they house huge satellite dishes used to detect missiles and other space activity, with the white aluminum shell on the outside to protect them from the weather. There are actually ropes hanging down them to aid in brushing off the snow, and they can withstand a powerful tornado.

Cal, and our grandson, love Buckley. They can watch airplanes come and go. Our grandson loves trucks and RVs, and there are no trees at Buckley, so he can see them all at once. Very exciting, along with those big white balls!

As for me, I prefer the state park. Everything is too far away for walking except for the walking path in front of the camp. For a longer stay, I begin to feel isolated and I miss seeing trees. Accountant that I am, though, I can appreciate the savings on our budget, since staying here is half the cost of a stay at the state park. We couldn’t stay here much in 2021 because earlier in the year the camp was closed to retirees due to COVID. We’ll be adding it to our mix in 2022.

US Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, CO

I’ve saved the best for last, my favorite so far. The camp is called Peregrine Pines, aptly named for the pine forest that it is in. The campground roads wind in and around instead of being laid out in straight lines, and the park has the feel of a National Park campground. We were here only for a couple nights and definitely hope to return for a longer stay another time. It’s easy to visit the whole Colorado Springs area from here.

When I was a young soldier, my life didn’t intersect much with retirees. My friends and I would good-naturedly complain about them when we wanted to make a quick run into the commissary or PX. They would take up room in the aisles or be ahead of us in line and we had more important things to do, or so we thought. We would poke fun at retirees who spent years in the military only to take up permanent residence outside the main gates. Cal and I think it’s pretty amusing that we have become that which we once made fun of. It’s a convenience to be able to use military facilities, and a benefit that we are grateful for. We’ve met people who only stay at military camps when they travel. That would certainly be a savings, but we think there are many different places to stay on the road to experience.

Next time – Phoenix, really!

One thought on “Military Family Camping

  1. This is a wonderful benefit for those who have served our country. We stay at COE campgrounds often because of the discount. You can’t beat $12-$17 a night! The only military base I’ve been on was in Honolulu. We were visiting Dan’s neice and her husband. It was quite an operation, and I was impressed. Thank for this post.

    Liked by 1 person

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