This month, Trailblazer introduces you to William Thompson, a life-long Thousand Trails member who has traveled around the country, staying at Thousand trails campgrounds along the way. Like a true Trailblazer, William has many stories to tell about his travels and has no plans to stop traveling yet. In fact, he and his wife are just waiting for the right moment to go full-time. Read more about William and his travels in this month’s I Knew I Was a Trailblazer!

TB: How long have you been camping and RVing? Who introduced you to it? Tell us how it all began!

Karen Thompson at Turtle Beach

I was the oldest of 5 and our mother loved to camp whether in a cabin or a tent. My family used to have a dairy [farm] in Manteca, CA, not far from Weatherbee Lake. Our church, which is now the Historical Museum of Manteca, would hold family days at Weatherbee Lake, now Turtle Beach. We loved swimming and picnicking on that beach. Pastor Conrad Coyner, who led the church, would take the congregation to Yosemite National Park, which was straight up Highway 120 east out of Manteca. Back in the 1950’s, Yosemite Park would let the bears come down to the garbage piles to eat and all of us would gather around to take pictures and “ooh and aah.” We’d also watch the “fire falls,” burning garbage would pushed off one of the cliffs and it made for quite a spectacular sight. Of course, neither of those things are allowed now. Recently, I stayed at Turtle Beach RV Resort and as soon as I drove in, I realized this was Weatherbee Lake. When I asked a staff member at the park, she said “Yes, this is Weatherbee Lake and as a kid we would come out here and have a lot of fun!” Of course, she had me after that! As I stood on the bank looking at the park, the water, and the sunset, I thought about Weatherbee Lake. This is how my camping experience started and you know that had to be a long time ago considering the church I went to is now a museum! Weatherbee Lake, now in the caring hands of Thousand Trails as Turtle Beach, serves to preserve my childhood memories and I love that I can visit anytime I want.

TB: How did you first hear about Thousand Trails?

Winter at Snowflower

My mother and my stepfather purchased a Thousand Trails membership while they were living in San Diego. My stepfather worked at Coronado and when they retired, they bought an Allegro motorhome and hit the road in it. They loved taking the grandkids to Pio Pico and letting them have the time of their lives. Those grandkids knew more about the park than my parents. In 2005 my parents decided to quit camping. They said, “Bill we want you to take our membership with Thousand Trails.” At first I was like how much is this going to cost me?  After some thought, I decided to take it. A little while later I went to a meeting in Sacramento and upgraded to Elite. It is the best money I have ever spent. In 2006 I worked at Snowflower as a Ranger and loved it. The move up was automatic. So once again, it is my mother that made sure I knew about Thousand Trails.

TB: What is one of your fondest camping memories?  How about one of your fondest Thousand Trails memories?

Sign at Restaurant near Yosemite

It is hard to beat the Yosemite bears and firefalls. But one of my fondest memories was when my Grandfather, who loved Lake Tahoe, went to a casino and won a bunch of money and bought a cabin up there and we would all go up and stay in his new cabin. A while back I stayed at the Encore park in South Lake Tahoe which was not to far from my Grandfather’s cabin. It seems that every park I go to triggers a lot of childhood memories. The Tahoe Encore park is on my list of favorites!

One of my vivid memories at a Thousand Trails park was when years back, I was staying at Lake of the Springs. I was with my uncle and suddenly we saw a meteor fall through the sky and hit the earth off in the distance. What a sight. Then as we listened to the news they described the meteor and how it hit in Lotus, CA right next to the Ponderosa. We thought that was most amazing! People were all over Lotus looking for the rocks from that meteor. Apparently a rock the size of your hand was worth some $30,000 or more.

TB: Any funny camping/RVing stories?

Thompson and Friends

We were staying at Yosemite Lakes on the river and it had snowed the night before and it was cold. As a kid I used to swim in some very cold lakes in Wyoming and loved it. I decided to jump in that river and couldn’t get out fast enough. A friend, half my age, decided that if I could do it he could do it. So he jumped in and couldn’t get out. While funny, it was scary and we had to rescue him. So when you are around the river in Yosemite Lakes you have to be careful. A fisherman ran down where we were and stuck his thermometer in the water and told us that water is 40 degrees and not safe to swim in.  

TB: What type of camper are you/what equipment do you use? What do you prefer and why? 

We love camping and go as often as possible and stay as long as we can. I have a Dodge RAM 2500 and a 2000 Airstream Safari. I used to have a Harley and would strap my tent to the handlebars and take off. When I got tired I pulled over on the side of the road, pitched the tent and was back on the road the next morning. For years I tent camped and told myself “one day you will get a trailer.” Today I love my Airstream, my Tailgater, and my BBQ!  However, I am tempted to sell out and get a nice motorhome and go full time. My wife is ready, I am ready, but then our whole life would change. That is scary.

TB: Where have you gone that you wouldn’t have otherwise, if it hadn’t been for your Thousand Trails membership?

Years ago we took off and headed to Florida. We stopped in Las Vegas, Verde Valley, Natchez Trace, and stayed at the Diamond Caverns in Kentucky. That was a great stop. They had camp hosts there and they took us to places we would have never known about. The first place was a town called “Pig” and they had a buffet called “Porky’s.” The ride, the company, and the food was awesome. I will never forget that trip. Then they took us to a place where Lincoln’s wife lived. We visited the Mary Todd Lincoln House and then went to the Lincoln Jamboree the home of Kentucky’s finest country music. Once again, the food, the sights and the company was awesome. We left Kentucky and headed to the Smoky Mountains, saw Dollywood and ended up in North Carolina at Forest Lake. Forest Lake was a beautiful park and we loved it there. We went to an Exxon station near the park to get gas. The station looked open but no one was there. The attendant had gone home and left the place open. We called the police after tip toeing into the station thinking it had been robbed or something. Scary situation. Then we left and went to South Carolina and stayed at Carolina Landing. We visited my niece and had a lot of fun.  

Weatherbee Lake in Turtle Beach

From there we drove to Clermont, FL, and stayed at the Orlando RV Resort. Orlando is huge and beautiful. While there we took in Disney World and on our last day there at the park I was hit by lightning. Boy, was that an experience. Everyday around 3:00pm all the water rides and pools would close. Florida with the Atlantic on the east, and the Gulf of Mexico on the west stirred up some pretty spectacular weather patterns. I was used to seeing lightning off in the distance, not in back of me, in front of me and on both sides and over the top of me. As Florida heated up during the day the heat rose pulling the weather from both bodies of water creating thunder and lightning all around you. They say if you want to get hit by lightning go to Florida and play golf at 4:00pm.

That is when I decided to head home. Fortunately, I wasn’t wounded other than nerve damage and muscle spasms. On the way back, we wandered into Lake Conroe in Texas. The staff was great there and the fun was never ending. My wife’s favorite place is Lake Conroe. Yep, if it wasn’t for Thousand Trails I would have never seen most of the country and its little gems of beauty that made it into the park system.

TB: What is your favorite part about the outdoor lifestyle?

My wife and I live in a small town in the motherlode and it is absolutely beautiful there. So when we leave to camp it’s not about the aesthetics that Thousand Trails has to offer, it is about getting away, meeting up with family and meeting new friends. We drive in, setup, and sit back and go places that home can’t take us. The air, the water, the beauty is astounding. But, the emotional release you get from camping cannot be bought. I feel close to God and country when I am camping.  

TB: This is the question we will be finishing the feature with every month. Can you finish this sentence?  I knew I was a TrailBlazer when…

I knew I was a Trailblazer when I was working full time and when long weekends or vacation time came I loaded up my family and headed to the mountains only a mile away from where I live now. I may like to “trailblaze” but I also value the memories of my mother, who was the true trailblazer, and all the places we went to and the memories we made. My mother lived in the mountains in a cabin off the grid and loved firing up her wood stove and cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the family. I have to say it, my mother raised a trailblazer!

To plan your next adventure, click on any of the resorts Thompson mentioned, or visit our website, thousandtrails.com.