Reading blog posts and watching Youtube videos about rv and van life, one of the things that gently shocked me is that people sleep overnight in Walmart parking lots. For years, many (but not all) Walmarts have made their parking lots open to motor homes and travel trailers for overnight stays and sometimes longer. For people who like Walmarts, I suppose it has some advantages. A parking lot stay is cheaper than a campground. Security keeps an eye on the parking lot. And if you need something, it’s just a short walk across the parking lot to a Walmart.
But it’s not just motor homes and travel trailers. Some people stay overnight in converted vans, mini-vans, or (gasp) cars. Online, I’ve seen some fascinating conversions of cars as small as a Prius that have been converted into tiny camping vehicles with beds. That made me wonder if my Ford Escape could be set up for camping. Thanks to the Internet, I found that it’s been done before. The back seat of a Ford escape partially folds down. But if you remove the seat part of the back seat, it folds down all the way flat. By sliding the front passenger seat all the way forward, I actually have room to stretch out my 5’11” frame comfortably on top of a thick foam sleeping pad.
Now you might think I’m going to tie the above two paragraphs together and admit to sleeping in my car at the local Walmart parking lot, but you would be wrong. Though I’m not overly fond of Walmarts, my wife has an intense dislike of Walmarts, and she would literally hold it against me if I ever overnighted there. In fact, when I first mentioned that some people camp in Walmart parking lots, she almost lost it and said,
So, anyway, back to the story. I planned a weekend of camping and hiking along the Mississippi River in western Wisconsin, but I couldn’t leave until after supper on Thursday night so that Julia could take over care for Justin, our son in a power wheelchair. I didn’t really see the point in paying for camping on Thursday night. I would be setting up in the dark and not able to enjoy the park at all on Thursday, except for sleeping. It seemed like a good time to try stealth sleeping in the Ford Escape, especially because predicted temperatures were in the high 20’s.
Because I wasn’t going to sleep in a Walmart, I got online to do some research. Surfing over to freecampsites.net, I learned that the Mystique Casino in Dubuque, Iowa has allowed RV campers to overnight in the past. Unfortunately, the Mystique changed its name to the Q Casino, and I couldn’t find any recent reports that camping was allowed after the name change. The last report was four years ago. I decided to take my chances.
After arriving at the casino parking lot around 8 p.m. I circled around a bit to see where the other “Rv’s” were parked. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any. There was an area of the parking lot in the back (towards the river) where several semi-trucks parked. I moved far enough away from the trucks so that I couldn’t hear or smell the diesel engines, and backed in close to the dog kennel fence (there’s a dog racing track here too), so that people couldn’t walk behind my Escape.
Then I walked into the casino and enjoyed myself for a couple of hours. I had a pretty good steak sandwich with fries, accompanied by two Saga IPA’s, brewed by the Summit Brewing Company in St. Paul, Minnesota. I walked around, watched people play roulette, poker, and slots. After a stop in the nice indoor bathrooms, I quietly slipped into the back of my SUV.
It was 29 degrees when I woke up at 6:30 a.m. No wake-ups by security. I parked far enough away from the crowd that I didn’t hear another person all night. In the morning, my front window frosted up (on the inside). After a couple of minutes of scraping, I headed back across the bridge to Wisconsin.
A few miles up the road, I found the Grant River Recreational Area, which includes an Army Corps of Engineers’ campground along the Mississippi River. It was so peaceful and quiet. My mind felt at ease, as I continued my weekend on the Mississippi River.