Cowboy Logic Camping

My husband told our kids once, “A campground is about as close to living in a city as you can get,” when they mentioned how much they liked staying at a campground.

Considering the way we choose to live and the idea behind camping, I had to agree with him. Experiencing the outdoors and connecting with nature away from civilization is what comes to mind when I think of camping. Many campgrounds are packed with people, campers and things supposedly left at home, like a roof, yard lights, television, phones and a flushing toilet. Since these are the only public places designated for campfires (when they aren’t banned due to high fire danger, like now), we’ve resorted to taking the kids there as an introduction to camping so they can experience campfires and roughing it.

Campgrounds take some getting used to for us. The nonstop traffic that laps the one-way drive makes the interstate look like a country road. I think we’d be safer crossing a pen of yearling calves than the roads in a campground. Having our wide-open space and privacy invaded by strangers occupying the surrounding campsites is hard to get used to. At home, the closest neighbors’ place is a few hills over from ours. When I can hear the conversations of people at the campsite next to ours, my comfort zone feels encroached upon. Dogs barking, people walking by watching us mill around and noisy vehicles or four wheelers puts me on sensory overload.

If our kids ask us to take them camping, their dad reminds them if they want to camp like the cowboys did, we’ve got the whole valley right here to do that. One time by dusk our son had his long johns on, dragging out his saddle, wool blanket, cowboy hat and boots, just to get the full cowboy camping experience.

When camping in our “valley,” there’s no strangers, tent, yard lights or motorized racket makers. The only noises we hear are the chirping crickets, yipping coyote pups and the numerous cow elk calling their young—all under a big sky for us to watch the stars come out. We resolved the kids’ penchant for a campfire by getting an outdoor fire pit, and are hoping the dam fills back up so we can say we have a nearby swimming/fishing hole like some campgrounds do.

My husband’s words have evidently stuck about camping at home. While gazing up at the stars one night from her sleeping bag, our daughter said emphatically, “I just like campin’ in our own valley!”

 When our family gets curious about what it’s like to live in a city, we go stay at a crowded campground with complete strangers for a few days. We always come back to our ranch located miles from people, with a new appreciation for isolation.

column originally published July 22-28, 2007

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