Family Camping

Bobcat, deer, trout, chipmunks on our laps, hummingbirds on our fingers: those were the animals near Chalk Creek, Colorado. And butterflies. Sophie actually touched a butterfly. I don’t know why wild animals are so tame at 10,000 feet high, but they were.

It was a ridiculous plan: drive 16 hours to the campground Ben enjoyed as a boy. Meet his 90-year-old grandparents there, hang out in the Colorado mountains for a week, then fly home while Ben stayed to race the Breck Epic. It was a ridiculous plan, but it worked.

The 16-hour drive was endurable thanks to a book of 700 stickers and 5 hours of Backyardigans (watched on a laptop computer) and some very polite people in Utah.

The 5 nights of camping were much more than endurable thanks to a too-large tent, gorgeous site, and great camping neighbors. Back before children, I used to enjoy the simplicity of camping with only a single cup for all my food, only the minimum of supplies, only the essentials in the wilderness. Back before children, I used to enjoy camping for the solitude. Now, all that has changed.

We still got some wilderness: a trout stream roared ten feet from our tent, and a half-mile hike took us to an incredible mountain waterfall, but we also brought more comforts than I’m used to (we brought a cutting board!) and a huge part of the experience was the neighbors. A 2-year-old boy with cool truck toys camped in the site next to ours. A 4-year-old girl in a tutu camped four sites away. That was the most important part of the trip.

Sophie stalked that girl in a tutu. “I’m just going to wait at her picnic table till she comes home,” Sophie would tell me. I would drag her away, and Soph would sit down in protest, ten feet beyond A’s camper-van, waiting, and repeatedly asking me why she couldn’t just go into A’s camper-van. Every morning, Sophie would wake up and shout, “I wanna see A!” I would have to explain, yet again, that we don’t visit friends at 6 a.m. We did visit a lot. I liked her mother. The girls stuck Disney dolls in the trout stream. They made leaf-towers. They ran about, and we mothers chatted, and Soph’s infatuation with A was the best and worst part of the whole trip. It would have been simply the best part, but it was so excessive: every time B&I were distracted (chopping firewood, pumping water), Soph would make a bee-line for A’s site, whether or not A was awake or at home, and then we would have to endure a tantrum while dragging Sophie home to our own tent.

Sophie understood the experience through her favorite books. A grassy island in the creek was the “Going on a Bear Hunt place,” Sophie declared, and an empty campsite was “Roxaboxen,” and I was delighted with Sophie’s interpretation of literature.

The campground-host fed the hummingbirds, so they were tame enough that any child willing to sit still for three minutes at those feeders would have hummingbirds alight on her fingers. The nearby ghost-town did the same thing with chipmunks. The bobcat and deer we saw from the car. The trout we caught for dinner. Sophie was alarmed by how much it wiggled.

Ben got some long bike-rides, I got two half-day hikes on my own, and we all got good family-time.

Ben’s grandparents stayed in the hot-springs-hotel for the last two days of our trip. Those folks are amazing. Gma is on medical oxygen and can’t move her own feet very well, but she proposed renting a jeep to drive to a mountain-top. So we did. It took three people to get Gma into that jeep, and her fingers were turning blue, but she never complained, she just kept saying: “This is fantastic.” It was.  The lady at the jeep-rental store said that seeing four generations of one family helping each other into the jeep, all ready for adventure, gave her goose-bumps.

At the alpine meadow that we drove to, Sophie ran around picking wildflowers, while Gma and Gpa leaned on the jeep, and the aspen leaves did their amazing quaking dance.

I’ll post pictures when Ben gets home with the camera.

It was a pretty great family camping week, even though Sophie kept on asking me why I forgot to pack her tutu.

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