Monday, June 21, 2010

Camp Fires

It's hard to complain about sleeping outside when you're sleeping on a queen sized air mattress but I'm sure I will find a way. Oh. Here's a way: Our friends were driving all the way from LA to camp in our general region. Erik and my job was to find a camping spot. Erik wanted to camp where we'd been hiking a couple of weeks ago, near Sycamore Canyon. That was a good plan until the Eagle Something fire started. It was neared the Grand Canyon than Sycamore but still, a little close for comfort.
So we had heard about this great place, West Clear Creek, reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest where the water runs like water, something that doesn't so often happen in the driest month in one of the driest states. Erik bought a book about Arizona Wilderness areas--West Clear Creek was supposedly the most remote region--perfect for camping with kids and dogs. So we drove out Lake Mary Road, past the swampy Mormon Lake and past Happy Jack. We took a right according to the Wilderness book and drove to the end of 81E where we saw a great overlook, a massive canyon where the earth had been peeled back to show all the planet's hard work of layering rocks. It was cool, driving up to the edge. Down at the bottom was the Creek. It didn't feel so northwesty up on the edge although there were plenty of ponderosa. Also, it turns out, plenty of bugs. We were outside of the car for six minutes when we were swarmed by gnats, no-see-ums, mosquitoes. I have never had a bug bite in Arizona--one of the benefits of the waterless world--and yet, I was sticking Max under my shirt and running for the car. Maybe there was something particularly buggy about edges of canyons. So we climbed back in the car, smushing gnats and mosquitoes against the windows, and driving inland. I texted the person who had been camping on West Clear Creek. She texted me an hour's worth of texts. It was much further away than any of us could have thought. I thanked her for spending all her texting money trying to get us to the Pacific Northwest through Arizona back channels but told her we couldn't go that far that night. So we looked on around there.
The next spot, you couldn't even see water, definitely safe for an itch free camping experience. I got out. Erik got out. We got the tent out because damnit, we've been driving for hours, we're only an hour a way from our house and it's getting late and it's our job to find the camping spot for our friends (who, because of their late start, wouldn't be getting there until after dark). Three poles of the four stuck into the tent, Erik said, this is a lot of bugs. We should go, I said. But we've been driving forever. But our friends will never find us back here in the dark, and we'll all be eaten alive. But where will we go? There were bugs everywhere. Mormon Lake, which we'd passed just a few miles before did have water in it--something Erik and I tried to find last summer and couldn't. It had been a wet winter. Wet enough to encourage five million mosquitoes and, since it was so remote, offer them only 4 pink bodies to feast on. We were the only lunch around.
Do you know where we went? Home.
In some ways, this is the biggest success of our camping life. It is hard to admit defeat. The car was packed to the ceiling and the roof rack box was packed to 200 times past capacity. But there was just no way to justify 1000 bug bites just because our mission was to camp.I couldn't imagine inviting these friends from LA to drive all that way to camp in I what was, upon further investigation, just a few weeks ago a swamp.
I texted the LA friends and told them to meet us at our house. They were relieved. They'd been driving all day and still had hours to go. I apologized to the house sitter and as we drove home, counted this as an accomplishment. It's hard for me to change plans in the middle, it's hard for Erik to give up on finding that perfect, and it's hard to get over the frustration of what felt like a wasted day. But it wasn't really wasted. Now we know where the creek is and how to get there. Now we've seen three (Grand, Sycamore and West Clear Creek) vast, revealing canyons. Now we know (and still know, scratch), that there ARE mosquitoes in Arizona. We've seen Lake Mary almost full and Mormon Lake with water. We know our car can, with Tetris like organization, fit 75% of our house in it.
We ate instead of trout pan fried with bacon, roasted cauliflower, olive and feta, and potatoes tossed with butter and Parmesan, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. It was delicious. Our friends showed up at 9 or so and we all got to sleep on regular, airless mattresses.
The next night, we weren't so lucky. More later.


Dr. Write said...

And this is why, I think, it's so hard for me to get motivated to load the car. I love camping. Driving, bugs: not so much.

Lisa B. said...

To me, any possible love of camping always factors in everything you have described here. It's basically a math problem: packing up plus likely bugs multiplied by probably uncomfortable sleeping to a factor of maybe seeing stars whilst falling asleep equals forget about it. I consider this post a cautionary tale. Thank you.