Saturday, August 8, 2009
A Kemp Camping Adventure
Each summer we try to block off several days of vacation time to spend time with our family. We have had many adventures over the years. We have been to Disney World, The Grand Canyon, Disney Land, Hot Springs, San Antonio, and during years when funds are tight - camping adventures. What else can you do on $10 a day? We have a long, hysterical camping history. I thought that we had exhausted the realm of funny stories with storms, bob cats invading camp, broken tent pieces, crazy weather changes, etc. However, our past was no match for this camping trip.
We headed out early Monday morning to Albert Pike. This is one of our favorite camping destinations because it is close to Shawn's family, has incredible scenery, and is also close to Hot Springs which is one of our favorite cities to visit. We met Shawn's mom and grandmother for lunch in Texarkana and did some school shopping. Then we went back home with them for everybody to get their back to school haircuts.
We left Shawn's home early in the afternoon, because we wanted to allow plenty of daylight to set up our camp. Our past experiences have taught us that we need to allow extra time for our crazy mishaps. When we arrived at Albert Pike, we discovered that all the tent sites with electricity were taken. We had to use a primitive site instead. However, that's no sweat to old camping pros like us. No electricity? No problem. Who needs a griddle, electric skillet, coffee pot, and a fan. That extension cord turned into a great clothesline, and Shawn made super coffee in a pot on the camp stove!
We rolled out our tarp, then laid out our tent. We slid the poles in and raised the tent in record time. No glitches at all. We unpacked the car and set up for the week. Everything was still smooth sailing. We grilled hot dogs for supper then drove around to make sure we could find the trail head that we wanted to hike on Tuesday. We saw a deer and some beautiful scenery. Abby yelled that she saw a Tiger, but I think it was imaginary. We turned in early, and Abby settled right in, even though she probably didn't remember ever sleeping in a tent.
Tuesday morning dawned beautifully. It was pleasantly warm, but not scorching hot. We ate our pancakes, cleaned up camp, then headed out to hike 5 miles (round trip) to the Winding Stairs waterfall. This is probably our favorite trail to hike at Albert Pike. It is fairly easy and incredibly beautiful. I have not hiked that trail in at least 10 years, so I had forgotten a few important details. For example - to get to the waterfall you must cross many rapidly flowing creeks. We wore our tennis shoes instead of water shoes. We attempted the first crossing barefoot, but it was too slippery. Instead we waded across in our tennis shoes. I don't like hiking with wet feet, but I was not going to be whiny about it and kept right on going. We finally reached the waterfall, a stunning sight. The kids and I climbed up the waterfall and played on the rocks. Why not? We already had wet shoes. Shawn found a perfect swimming hole at the bottom of the falls. It had a huge rock that the kids could climb up and jump from. We decided to jump in. I hate hiking in wet clothes worse than I hate hiking in wet shoes. Being a country girl, and knowing the remoteness of this location, I left some of my clothes on the bank. We swam about an hour and then finally decided to head back to camp. I realized then that my impulsiveness cost me a sunburned back and shoulders. Lesson learned - either leave your clothes on, or reapply your sunscreen when swimming in a mountain river on a sunny day.
When we got back to camp, we decided to cook hobo pork chops for supper. Shawn seasoned the pork chops, then wrapped them tightly in foil with some onions and potatoes. Then he buried them in coals in the firepit to slowly roast. We an hour or so of spare time before they would be done, so we decided to head down to the river for a quick swim. As an afterthought, Shawn placed a can of green beans on the edge of the coals to warm as well.
We had a super swim. The kids explored the river, Abby threw rocks and watched them splash, I avoided getting my face wet, and it was the perfect ending to a perfect day. That's when we heard a really loud "BOOM." It sounded like a shotgun, but I couldn't figure out why anyone would be shooting in the park. Stupid hunters, somebody could get hurt! That's when one of our neighboring campers came running into the river to get me. He said, "Ma'am, your supper just exploded." Now that's something you don't hear everyday. That can of green beans was not vented, so when the liquid inside began to boil, steam built up and the can exploded. When the can exploded, so did our campfire. When we got to our camp site we found coals, ash, and pieces of firewood as far as 20 feet away. Our neighbor's quick thinking saved our tent from burning. They had put out the coals on the tent. We did eventually find the can, but not a single green bean. We are thankful that no one was injured. Our lawn chairs resembled swiss cheese from the rain of falling coals. However, since no one was hurt, it's a pretty funny story. Just picturing the can exploding and flying through the air got us tickled. Supper was ruined, but we ate anyway and headed to bed early.
Wednesday morning right before daylight, I awoke to Shawn shaking me and saying, "It's raining, get up. We have to put on the rainfly." Seriously, we checked the weather like fourteen hundred times to make sure it wasn't going to rain before we went. But then, where's the adventure in that? So in the rain, Shawn and I scrambled to find the rainfly and get it up. It cleared up right after we had it secured!
On Wednesday, we had plans to drive a few miles across the mountains to a small, beautiful lake. Shady Lake is tucked into a ravine just a short distance from the park. An old CCC project, it was quite popular back in the day. Now its remoteness keeps the crowds away. That's our favorite kind of place. Except for this day. When we arrived, we realized we had a flat. Not just a low tire, but a very flat, rim on the ground kind of flat. Shawn kept his cool, planning to change the tire real quick while I fixed a picnic lunch for the kids under the nearby pavilion. Unfortunately for him, it didn't work out that way. He didn't have an allen wrench to get the rims off. This place is deserted. Nobody. Nothing. Nada. But God did send us a park ranger with an allen wrench. But then things went from bad to worse as the tire wouldn't come off because we had the wrong size thingie that you unscrew the lug nuts with, and we couldn't get anyone to answer our phone calls for help.
I decided to give Shawn some space to take care of the tire, so I took the kids in swimming. (Forgot about sunscreen in the craziness of the flat. STUPID and I have the big blisters all over my shoulders to prove it!) The big kids had a blast jumping off a diving platform, and Abby loved swimming around in the shallow gravel bottomed swimming area. However, our fun ended when James sliced his foot open on a rock. I deemed the cut shallow enough to treat ourselves, but he had to get off it for awhile, and could not hike the rest of the trip because of the soreness.
Shawn and the park ranger did finally get the tire aired up with some fix-a-flat and an air compressor and get it to a service station for repairs. You'll have to get Shawn's impersonation of the guy at the first place they stopped for help. Great to hear his accent, and his story about how some of our tools were stolen! Be sure to ask him to tell you the story in person. I was relieved that Shawn's parents got our message that we needed help and came out to pick up me and the kids and take us back to camp.
We were getting ready to cook some hamburgers for some old friends, when a bad storm blew in. We secured everything as best we could and drove to a nearby town to meet our friends for supper instead. It was amazing that after being away for 10 years, we picked right back up with our relationship, in large part due to staying connected through facebook. After supper, we dropped by to visit another family and wait out the storm. When the storm let up, we headed back out to our tent. Fortunately, we only had a few minor leaks from where the coals had burned holes in the tent, nothing major. We settled down to sleep, when I spotted a nasty looking brown spider. I chased it all over that tent and never could get it. We had the creepy crawlies all night. The wind was howling, the tent was blowing, the thunder was crashing, the lightening was flashing, and all I could think about was that somewhere in that tent with me there was a nasty spider. The next morning in the daylight that spider was a goner!
Our last day of vacation dawned bright and clear. The rain was over and the temperatures were very mild. Because of James's hurt foot, and my sunburn making me very sick, Shawn hiked alone on Thursday up to Window Rock. It's an amazing hike up onto a bluff that overlooks the entire river valley. The kids and I read and played games. We ate some hamburgers for lunch, went to Hot Springs to play some miniature golf, ate ice cream, swam in the river, and grilled fajitas for supper. We finished up the night sitting around the campfire roasting marshmallows and telling ghost stories. It was a good day.
Friday morning we packed everything back into the suburban and went for one last swim before we headed home. The kids had such a good time camping. They are old enough that they found the humor in all of our bad luck. They practiced telling the stories to each other and reviewing other tales from past experiences. My favorite thing about camping is spending time with the kids without any distractions. We visit, play games, and reconnect in ways that more elaborate vacations do not allow. Experiencing all of our camping misfortunes together creates a bond, a family tradition of sorts. We loved being outdoors and enjoying the beauty of God's creation together. I liked that my kids picked hanging out with their parents hiking and swimming over going to a nearby amusement park. It's cool that they know a good thing when they see it.
We had a great trip, we have added some more crazy camping stories, we relaxed and enjoyed our family, some friends, and our God. One of the best things about camping is seeing all the surrounding things in nature that are infinitely bigger and better than anything I could ever imagine. I spent some time really looking at the intricacies of some moss on a stone wall, and I examined rock after rock, each one unique. We serve a God with an imagination and creative ability that we cannot even begin to comprehend. I am glad that I had the opportunity to be immersed in His incredible creation for a few days. I hope that we make a greater effort to spend more time in nature with our kids this year.