"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Sons of the Pioneers theme for TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon artist's musings melding metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

And where is your campsite?

Woodsmoke and morning coffee in the Manzanos--5 by 7 watercolor, 300 # d'Arches,
Woodsmoke is responsible for this.
Smelling the aroma of a pinon fire the other night on my back porch made me realize how long it has been since I was camping.
The answer is too long...actually March of 2012 at Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. Alone, after visiting my uncle Mike in Santa Fe. My sleeping bag was good to almost 0 degrees. I still almost froze to death, but the time alone was medicine.
"I need to go camping," I said to myself the other night. That's what's missing. Yes, I'm too old to sleep on the ground anymore, and camping is often uncomfortable, but there's something essential missing if you don't endure it.
Camping in Chaco Canyon
Camping puts you in touch with eternal values I think. It certainly puts you in touch with Abraham, who spent his nomadic life "pitching his tent." Our Plains Indians knew those values. When you're in a tent, or under the open sky, you know how small and impermanent you and everything else is. How much a part of a bigger Nature you are--wildlife, landscapes. How big the universe is. How unimportant time is. How you don't "own" anything but are "just a-passing through." You learn to appreciate warmth, food, your surroundings, the stars, other people.  We are all immigrants, nomads.
I started thinking about all the places I've camped. It's a long list, and the memories are filled with family, friends, loved ones. The times that stand out most tend to be when not everything went perfectly, and of special places visited.
One of the best memories of camping there or anywhere is having to roll out of the sleeping bag in the cold morning, see your breath fogging in the air, shiver,  fire up the Coleman stove to start coffee, and try to stir last night's campfire into life for warmth.
Where is your campsite? Your favorite? The memories?
My brother and an "Army" cot in the Manzanos, 1955
My first memories of camping including sleeping on "army cots," canvas stretched over wooden frames in the Manzano Mountains southeast of Albuquerque. We were building a cabin up there, and my brother and I would either sleep in a big center pole canvas tent, or outside under the stars. As pre-teens my friends and I would often "camp out" on the lawn outside our house on Sandia Base.
Mom and our tent at the Grand Canyon, 1954
 I also remember camping near the south rim of the Grand Canyon on a family vacation with Uncle Mike along, using that big green tent. Later as a teen, my friends and I made a fishing camping trip to Fenton Lake in the Jemez wilderness in New Mexico. I also camped with my best friend in a tent,  his family in a trailer,  near the Pecos River, with a danger of black bears. 
My two favorites are in New Mexico--several times at Chaco Canyon and Jack's Creek in the Pecos Wilderness. Chaco because its 25 miles off a paved road, because the Anasazi still inhabit the 1,000-year-old ruins. I've been there alone and with family. It's traveling back in time, human and geological, and your imagination runs wild. You can see time here--in the stars wheeling overhead, or the yip of coyotes in the early morning, or in the shadows climbing the sandstone cliffs early or late in the days. Mostly it's quiet.
Jack's Creek is at the end of the road  above 9,000 feet, near the headwaters of the Pecos River. There are aspen and fir, and a trailhead into the Pecos Wilderness. My family and I camped there several times, either in a tent, or in a Coleman popup tent trailer we had.  
Great memories.

Where else have I camped? Many of my memories involve that pop-up trailer and cherished family memories, but not all.
  • New Mexico--near Cloudcroft, in a pouring rain storm. Chama, near  the tracks of the Cumbres and Toltec steam locomotive. Conchas Lake. Story Lake. Coyote Creek. In Taos canyon. At Tesuque Creek  campground, above 10,000 feet near Santa Fe. In the Manzano mountains.
  • Texas--Big Bend National Park, where we were afraid the wind would blow away our popup trailer. And outside Amarillo, downwind from a feedlot.
  • Alone in the Arkansas Ozarks.
  • One windy campground in western Kansas.
  • Wyoming--in the Wind River Mountains, in Yellowstone, and in the Tetons, where our van was broken into, and they stole our medicine bag, thinking it was my wife's purse.
  • Utah, in the Wasatch mountains.
  • Montana, on the Canadian border--third favorite spot, and it would be first if it were more frequent and closer--Glacier National Park, with family, and also, the last time, with son Trav.
  • Pennsylvania, just 20 miles from Gettysburg.
  • Maine--near Portland.
  • Vermont, on the banks of the Connecticut River, where  we found a graveyard with dates back in the 1600s.
  • Oh, Oklahoma? Not much. Maybe at Waurika Lake. Definitely with the pop-up trailer on a sand bar southwest of Waurika on the Red River with men friends, running trot lines and having a good time, just a few feet from the south shore, which is Texas.
Another great memory of camping is at the close of day. Tent's up, sleeping bag unrolled inside. Coleman stove is cooking some chili, and I've started a fire. The flames send up the  woodsmoke, and as the day darkens and the stars come out, the embers glow like little universes. Night sounds of insects or wildlife break the silence. You can sit and stare into the fire, drink coffee or something else, think, and smell the woodsmoke.
Or more recently, with best friend  Mark Hanebutt at the now extinct (sold and bulldozed for an expensive cookie-cutter housing development} at Melo's, a small private lake and campground on OKC's far nw-side...an evening of sparse food and drink, laughter around a fire, woodsmoke , and sleeping in a tent, no matter the glow of metro lights to the southeast. Precious, connection with what matters.
It's past time to go camping.


  1. Great post, Camping is awesome. I've done a lot of it over the years and would love to do more. Nothing like sitting around a campfire at night with friends or by yourself, nothing tastes better than the first cup of coffee in the morning.

  2. Camping is fun when you are a kid or teenager but the older I get the less likely I am to go.

  3. Looks like fun. I enjoyed seeing pictures of you, Jerry and Faye.......... guess your dad was taking the pictures.


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