When Daryl McClendon was growing up in Maryland, he loved to hike.
“We did lots of backpacking,” he said. “I was in the Boy Scouts in Maryland. So we spent lots of time in the mountains and along the Appalachian Trail.”
Through his scouting experience, McClendon attended the Boy Scouts’ premier “high adventure” camp at Philmont, in northern New Mexico. The three trips he made to Philmont helped seal his fate as a lifetime hiker and adventurer.
While attending medical school in Texas, he met his wife, Gelee, who also had a family history of exploration and adventure.
“My dad wasn’t a big camper,” she said. “He got tired of sleeping on the ground after World War II. But he liked national parks. After we got an 18-foot Shasta trailer, he took our family of five on a month-long trip to national parks in the West: Glacier, Mount Rushmore, Crater Lake, Bryce Canyon, Zion and Sequoia.”
When Daryl graduated from medical school, the U.S. Air Force sent him to Alaska. When the family moved from Texas to Alaska, they brought their love of hiking and camping with them.
“Here in Alaska, we have a travel trailer and we spend quite a bit of time on the Kenai Peninsula including Hope and the Russian River,” said Daryl.
But the hiking couple had fallen in love with the national parks in the western U.S. Their quest to return to the big canyons, giant rock formations and the roads that connect them led to the idea of an RV adventure.
One of the most convenient airports to reach many of the western U.S.’s national parks is Las Vegas. It’s close to Zion National Park and it’s easy to make a route up to the other scenic parks in Utah: Bryce Canyon, Canyonland, Arches, Capitol Reef and Natural Bridges. Also, there are lots of scenic state parks in the area that the McClendons like, including the Escalante Petrified Forest.
For their first big RV adventure, the McClendons opted to rent an RV on arrival in Las Vegas. They selected Blacksford, a company that rents late-model RVs and prides itself on taking care of all the details.
Although the company is based in Bozeman, Montana, that location is closed in the winter. The Las Vegas facility is Blacksford’s only year-round location.
“I highly recommend Blacksford,” said Daryl. “They only rent brand-new RVs and they sell them at the end of the season.”
The couple rented a new Winnebago Ekko, which is a “Class B plus” RV.
“The Blacksford people called us a couple of days before we arrived,” said Daryl. “They gave us some advice but we basically designed our own trip. They also provided all the essentials for the RV: linens, towels, a nice comforter, plus pots and pans.”
The RV pickup in Las Vegas was easy. “We caught the shuttle to the car rental facility, where the Blacksford representative met us and went over all the details,” said Daryl.
The couple didn’t waste any time getting out of Las Vegas. After camping overnight in St. George, Utah, they made their way to nearby Zion National Park.
“Camping” around the parks takes many forms. Sometimes, the McClendons checked into a full-service campground with power and water. At other times, to be closer to the parks, they were “boondocking” or “dry camping” at a pullout or parking lot.
In addition to hiking, the McClendons discovered a bike rental shop in Moab. “Mike Valentine rented us a couple of e-bikes,” said Daryl. “Just keep in mind that there now are some trails where e-bikes are prohibited.”
The new, spacious Ekko RV worked great for the McClendons’ two-week national park adventure.
For a subsequent trip to see the national parks in California, the couple set their sights on a smaller unit, picking up in Fresno. They decided to choose RVshare, which is sort of an Airbnb for RVs. The platform connects private owners with renters. On the site, you’ll find both RVs and travel trailers.
“I felt a little more at ease with Blacksford, since it is a business rather than an individual owner,” said Daryl. “However, our experience with James, the owner of the RV from Fresno, was great.”
Arriving in Fresno offered the McClendons easy access to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, as well as Yosemite.
For the Fresno trip, it was all “dry camping” around Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park.
The McClendons hope eventually to have an RV in the Lower 48 for their adventures in the parks. But they’re not in a hurry. “We want to try out a variety of small RVs and possibly attend an RV show to look at options,” wrote Daryl.
The RV option seems like a natural progression towards a Trailer Life merit badge for the McClendons. After all, since Daryl did earn his Eagle Scout rank as a youth, the RV allows him to “Be Prepared” for extended adventures.