Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Camping in Black Canyon

Last week, we spent a few days at the Black Canyon Campground in the Santa Fe National Forest. This is a wonderful campground. We first camped here last summer and now we think it may be our favorite of the ones we've tried around the state. It's clean, well-maintained and quiet, even though it has been nearly packed when we've camped there. We tried a different campsite this year, further up the hill toward the trail head for the Black Canyon Loop hiking trail, which is a very nice 1.5-mile hike. This was our first time using two tents, one for the children and one for us. They're plenty old enough to sleep in their own tent, and though the larger tent can sleep four, giving them the boot allowed us to really stretch out.

All of the campsites have their own parking area, and most can be backed into. We have a small utility trailer on the back of our car, which you can't see from this angle. It was simple to unload everything from the trunk and the trailer when we came in, and put it back again when we left.

I didn't get a great photo of the whole campsite, but this gives you an idea of the other amenities. Our site had two picnic tables and a fire pit. All of the sites have stone walls built around some of the sides, which is nice. It gives you more places to put things, can be used for seating, and helps delineate the site area. I don't know about you, but I like the feeling of a bit of enclosure when I'm in the woods.

When we camp, we usually bring a cooler, a box for dry foods and a big, heavy plastic trunk (which is actually a surplussed shipping container for computer chips, courtesy of my scavenger spouse by way of his employer. We will never, ever be considered "glampers"; our things are too weird and ugly). We use the trunk for all the cooking/eating and campsite-living equipment, like our Coleman stove and lantern, matches, towels and soap, etc. We also bring a 6-gallon Aqua-Tainer water jug. This campground has drinking-safe water, which is a great feature. It does not, however, have shower facilities. The bathrooms contain "vault toilets" - latrines to you and me. My family doesn't mind one bit, and I'm fine with it up to a point myself, but I'll admit that two nights of shower-free camping is plenty for me.

Our campsite included an open space under several large pine trees. We made this into a little sitting area with a tent over it, as it soon became obvious that the trees' shade would be short-lived. We used a big tarp, ropes and some aluminum poles to rig up a pretty good shade tent and put our folding canvas chairs and camp table underneath. All the Bears played the guitar in turns. We drank beer and soda, and ate trail mix. Some of us (well, me, because I'm the only one who has terrible reactions) got eaten alive by biting flies. Later, we strung up another rope between the front two trees as a clothesline for our towels. I usually bring two: a small one for washing dishes, and a bath towel for washing faces and hands, brushing teeth, etc.

For washing, we use a plastic basin. After we wash ourselves up in the morning, I keep the basin on the picnic table with a little soapy water throughout the day and all the dishes go into it as we finish using them. Later, I boil some water on the campstove and add it to the cold water in the basin for better dishwater. I try not to wash every dish as it gets used, which is something I do at home. As much as I can't stand seeing the dishes sitting there, it would be wasteful of water while camping, so I sit on my hands and leave them be. After all the dishes are done, I wash out the basin and fill it with clean water (again adding boiling water to cold for warm washing water), and we wash up for bed. I could use two basins, but then I'd have to wash them both anyway, so I stick with one. It's like musical chairs, only with a basin.

I try to take lots of photos when I'm camping. It's so nice to be in the outdoors, and the higher-elevation woods are so different from the city, where I live. The campground is actually 3,000 feet higher in elevation (about 8,400 feet) than we are at home, so the vegetation is all different. I walked around the campground looking for interesting things, especially flowers. I love forest wildflowers; they seem to leap out of the darkness. I also came across a robin's eggshell and a beautiful feather with an orange spine.

Less beautiful but still interesting was this metal jar lid the Bear found in the woods. It must be fairly old; I can't recall Kraft Mustard being available in my lifetime. I didn't save the lid; it was so rusty as to be crumbling, but I appreciated that he thought of me and brought it down from the trail so I could have a look.

We were at high enough elevation to be surrounded by quaking aspens. If you've never seen one in person, these are beautiful, delicate trees with spindly trunks and branches, and flat, rounded leaves that shiver in a breeze. They're always moving and are so interesting to watch. We don't have many at 5,500 feet, where we live; it's too hot. But if I could plant any tree in my yard, it would be aspens.

The whole campground is beautiful and I really can't say enough good things about it. Our site was very close to a path into the woods, which led to a nice hiking trail. On the canyon walls, ponderosa pines, birches and aspens grow thickly, and all around you is the sound of the wind in the trees, day and night. It's relaxing and soothing, and it makes you feel cooler just to hear it.

During the days, we spend lots of time together but we also do our own thing. I always bring books. I didn't bring yarn this time, but I have in the past. The Bear reads or paints; he brings his Koi travel watercolor set and a sketchbook on most of our vacations or camping trips. There is the aforementioned guitar-playing. There is lots of running around getting absolutely filthy if you're small, along with lots of climbing in and out of the tent until it gets too hot to be inside. There is bird-watching, compass practice and hatchet training. We stay busy.

At last, in late afternoon, there is fire-building. We bring our own firewood, from our supply at home. We also bring a small tabletop charcoal grill and briquets, as well as our Coleman stove. We usually use all three; there are different reasons for each. The Coleman stove is especially good for boiling water and making Jiffy Pop. The grill included on the fire pit is never clean enough for my taste, so I like having our own charcoal grill for foods that need to be cooked on one.

On our first night, we ate chicken kebabs, cooked on the charcoal grill. I assembled the kebabs at home, using marinated chicken breast, green and red peppers and crimini mushrooms. After everything was cooked, we took the food off the skewers and loaded pitas with it for sandwiches. It was really good, and very easy. Bonus: you can pack the raw kebabs in gallon-size Ziploc bags and freeze them, for more coldness in your cooler.

The second night was for roasting hot dogs on the fire. There are only so many nights of healthful, low-fat kebabs that they'll let me get away with. I do love hot dogs, though, and the more blackened, the better (in my humble opinion). I forgot to bring condiments, so they spread baked beans (heated on the Coleman stove) over their hot dogs. I ate mine plain, so as to better enjoy the char. On both nights, we snacked on Jiffy Pop and s'mores. We used the roasting tools above for the marshmallows too. Sticks work too, but these are so handy.

I think morning is my favorite time while camping. I love the coolness and the sounds of crows waking up for the day. I love to drink my tea under the trees and watch the campground stir - people walking to the toilet hut, someone starting a fire for breakfast, someone else walking a dog. I wish we'd had a chance to talk to other campers, but people kept to themselves. We chatted with the campground hosts, an older couple working in the campground for the first three months of the season. They made several daily rounds of the campground in their Kawasaki Mule, checking on things and making sure everyone understood the National Forest's fire restrictions (which were tightened during our stay). We love to talk to people and they were very nice. Otherwise, we enjoyed each other's company and bickered a little and shushed each other when the yelling or laughing got a little too loud. We spend a lot of time together and we really like it that way. Camping is more of the same, but a change of scenery - a few new challenges mixed with lots of new adventures.


  1. Jennifer, this looks like an amazing place to visit! Thanks for sharing the beautiful scenery and your camping traditions. x

  2. Jennifer, I enjoyed every single word of this blog post. Oh, the memories you brought back. This is how we started camping with our children. We began in tents and progressed to a tent trailer and now we have our hard sided travel trailer. We have loved each and every one at that particular stage of our lives. We camped much like you do. We had a cooler, a homemade box for utensils and a basin for our water. I wouldn't trade the way we camp today for those days with our children for anything. I would much rather be in a little tent and have my family with me, than be just the two of us in the nice trailer we have today. I only wish I had appreciated it then. Your words and the way you pay such close attention to each small detail, make me realize that you do know and appreciate the blessings that you have right now. I can't say enough how much I love this post.
    Blessings always, Betsy

  3. Sounds like a brilliant couple of nights away, and in such a lovely spot. I had to google jiffy pop, that's new to me! I loved camping when I tried it last year. I don't think I'll manage it this year, but hopefully next year if I can borrow a tent again. I really enjoyed waking up in the mornings as well and wandering around outside. It has a quiet almost breathless quality to it. Glad you had a good time. CJ xx

  4. It sounds like you had a good time, Jennifer. I decided long ago that camping was not for me. Thankfully, my family didn't complain so we never did it! Phew! LOL

  5. Looks like a beautiful place to camp. We fell in love with the quaking aspens when we were in Montana, I remembered them from when we lived in Colorado and the first thing I did when we got home was look them up to see if they'd grow at sea level and the answer is no. Sad.

  6. We used to camp a lot when our kids were younger. It's such a wonderful family time and we all have good memories. I really enjoyed your photos!

  7. Brought back lots of lovely memories of our time spent camping many years ago. These days I like a little more comfort. The kebabs looked tasty and such a great tip to freeze them.

  8. Reading this reminded me of all the family holidays I enjoyed as a child under canvas. I cannot tell you the difference it made when my parents bought a two-man igloo tent for my brothers. Peace restored! I loved camping and carried on wild camping (catapaulying rabbits to skin and cook, foraging washing in the sea and rivers) with friends until I had children. Unfortunately my husband refuses to camp but the children haven't missed out and I'm sitting here now surrounded by my son's (sophisticated - he loves gadgets) preparations for his forthcoming fortnight of trekking and wild camping in Corsica.

  9. The sound of waves of wind ebbing and flowing through the trees is among my favorite sounds, much like ocean waves, to me. I'm glad you had a good time. The photo I took of the huge black crow at our campsite this year was taken through the screen of the trailer I was in so was not perfectly clear, but I included it in my last post because he was such a memorable alarm clock! He might have been a distant cousin of the crows you enjoyed listening to :) xx

  10. It looks like you had a great time camping! Is that your Subaru Outback? I have the same car and I love it!

    1. Yep, that's ours. My husband's the one who drives it mostly, but we both love it too.

  11. I loved this post Jennifer! Your US style camping is so different to the British way, with all our pitches so crammed in together, and no space. But then perhaps that's just the campsites I've been to. I love the idea of camping under the trees and all that space and quiet. I'm not sure I could cope with the lack of showers though... x

  12. This is what memories are made of Jennifer! So sensible not to push your luck and camp without showers for too long! The site looks like a great choice. We are staying at a similar one in England but it's probably a fraction of the size and without big fire pits sadly. We can BBQ though which is the next best thing. I bet the bears are already looking forward to the next camping trip! J x

  13. How awesome that you have these camping getaways as a family! I hate camping, but the boys were in Cub and Boy Scouts while growing up, so Brian went on several camping trips with them. Your kids will have great memories doing this as a family.


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