News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Covid Wagons arrive in Sisters

You’ve seen them. They’re everywhere. Ringing Village Green. Nosing into Peterson Ridge Trailhead. Lurking on Cascade, Hood, and Main, trying to find a place to squeeze in. They are big, as much as three tons, and tall — often over seven feet. They are mainly gray and usually have all sorts of thingamabobs attached. You know them as camper vans. I call them Covid Wagons.

With the pandemic came a nationwide rush to buy camper vans, crushing inventory to near zero and delaying delivery times six-plus months. The reasons are many but driven primarily by restricted air travel, travelers fearful of traditional lodging, foreign travel almost completely shut down­ — heck, we still can’t go to Canada, for Pete’s sake, now in its 16th month of nonessential travel for their southern neighbors.

Remote learning for months was a big factor. If the kiddos were going to log into class they could just as easily be in the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone. Likewise for mom and dad no longer going to the office. So why not just pack up the babies and pooch and hit the road? And boy have they.

Sisters merchants will tell you that tourists have been hitting the stores for months now, not just since the start of the vacation season around Memorial Day. Locals saw it every weekend even last winter. Two things drove visitors to town. One, we were a safe, fun place for big-city people bottled up in lockdowns. Remember, California, one of the most restrictive states has only just fully opened. Early in the lockdowns and through spring, California license plates were seen on every corner.

Two, rightly or wrongly, Sisters was perceived to be more relaxed about Covid and more forgiving of those not always following protocols. Our reputation for friendliness and tolerance kept the tourists coming. A great number of them in Covid Wagons.

The van of choice is no doubt the Mercedes Sprinter (shown). These puppies will set you back at least $40,000, and a fully loaded, 4WD version with all the racks for toys – bikes, kayaks, canoes, paddle boards; and a toilet and shower can run $75,000. If you can even find one.

Just drop in to Creekside Campground and see what I’m talking about. Largely gone are the old Fords or Chevys with a camper shell. Good luck finding an iconic Vanagon. But high-end camper vans? And the new generation of Airstreams? Well, it’s like a dealer showroom down there. In fact, they might as well rename it Creekside Glampground, “glamping” (glamour camping) being the go-to replacement for vacation homes.

The trend is good for Sisters, as more experiential travelers (as we in the travel biz call them) pass through dropping dollars into our shops, galleries, eateries, and pubs. The Covid Wagons can be outfitted with racks capable of carrying a dozen bikes with rear, front, and roof configurations. This means even more cyclists in town, given our reputation as a biking mecca.

Pull into Suttle Lake, Clear Lake, or Big Lake and it’s the same thing, only with kayaks or canoes instead of — or in addition to — the bikes. Ka-ching!

Do I sound envious? Well, I certainly get the appeal. If I wanted to just try it out for a few days, I’d be out of luck. Even renting a camper van for this summer is harder than winning the lottery. For now, I am content knowing that Sisters is on the glamping map, traffic notwithstanding.

But be careful around them. With their mass they have a lot of restricted views and may not see you, especially when they are backing up. And try not to drool on them.


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