In 1967 my father bought a Pontiac Catalina and a dingy old travel trailer and took his girlfriend, my brother and me on a road trip. Over the next 8 weeks we drove 13,498 miles, visited 51 parks, and saw wonders like geysers, redwoods, grizzlies, and the Summer of Love in San Francisco. The trip made an indelible impression, cementing my appreciation for the natural world and the American landscape. This summer Pamela and I hope to repeat the experience for our family.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Dave: Car camping and car alarms

Mather Campground, Grand Canyon National Park

At 5:59 the first car alarm goes off, reminding me how much I like car camping.

When I was a young man, I disdained car camping. If you didn’t have the nerve and energy to strap on a pack and head into the back country, why pretend you’re getting close to nature?

By necessity on this trip we are car camping. We can’t afford lodgings at every stop on the way. And besides, camping, we thought, will probably make for some interesting memories.

We’ve just finished our fourth straight night of car camping (two at Bryce Canyon and two at the Grand Canyon). A decent air mattress seems to have solved one big problem: sleeping. When I was young I could sleep on a foam pad. Now I have trouble sleeping in any conditions, even if I’m floating on a cloud. But an air mattress helps.

Back when I was forming my prejudices against car camping, car alarms had not been invented. These days, when you bed down with 75 other families, virtually all of them have cars fortified with alarm systems.

Perhaps car alarms are too technologically complex for many people. Last night we had dinner at the El Tovar. By nightfall it was quite cold so we went to bed early—around 9:30. From then until the time I drifted off a few hours later, at least half a dozen car alarms went off. To say nothing of countless single or double honks from automobiles reassuring their owners that yes, I’m locked or unlocked. (Did I mention I’m a light sleeper?) Confirmation honks are the bane of the camping world.

As I waited for sleep last night I considered how to approach the problem of car alarms constructively. Could they be disabled temporarily when you register at the campground? Probably not. Could the rangers hold a sensitivity session, reminding people how to use their alarms? One click means it’s locked. Two means it’s locked, idiot.

If only these other car campers could lead the saintly lives we do.

All in all, camping at the Grand Canyon has been trying. The canyon itself, of course, is spectacular. But the camping, I don’t know… Both days the wind howled endlessly. The first night our neighbors had pitched a tent then left the site for the night. Their tent came loose except for one peg and for the next 24 hours their huge tent spiraled and flapped.

Another neighbor built a fire despite the howling winds. Then he decided to go to a neighboring site to party, leaving his fire unattended. Maybe the wind fanned the fire because Pamela and I opened our eyes to see our tent illuminated with orange flickers. We got to ponder how big and how close the flames were. Something about being in a tent at night makes your imagination run wild.

Another neighbor had two little dogs that kept yelping. For hours he kept shouting at them, “Settle! Settle!”

I hate to say it, but I’m rather glad to be leaving the Grand Canyon. When I get home, I might see if I can find my backpack.

No comments:

Post a Comment