Friday, July 27, 2018

Proper camping

Last weekend, we spent several days camping in the Jemez Mountains, within the Santa Fe National Forest, at the San Antonio Campground. We camped there for the first time last summer and just adored it, so we were very excited to camp there again this year. It's a really popular and well-loved campground and reservations need to be made well in advance. I made ours in March or April, to be safe, but was then very disappointed when the National Forest was closed for fire safety by early summer. It was looking like we wouldn't be able to camp there unless the monsoon got off to a good start, lowering the fire danger in the forest.

As luck would have it, this is exactly what happened and the forest was re-opened by early July, meaning that our trip, planned for later in the month, could go forward as planned. This was very happy news indeed. We spent three nights in the campground and it was the nicest camping trip we've had in a while, just because it felt like real, live camping. We'd camped elsewhere in June, where we couldn't have a fire and it was hot and miserable the whole time, which just didn't feel like camping to me. I want a campfire, hot dogs and s'mores, chilly nights. Well, we got all of this at San Antonio, and it was a wonderful time.

We didn't get off to the best start. We arrived at the campsite just moments before the skies opened and rain dumped down for a couple of hours. It really poured. We had just started pitching our tent when the rain began, and it was too late to turn back because the inside would have gotten wet too, so we threw a tarp over it and hoped for the best. As soon as the rain stopped, we rigged up clothesline ropes all over the site for drying our clothes and towels that we ended up using to dry some of our stuff that had gotten wet. This was an inauspicious beginning, needless to say, but it worked out. By late afternoon, everything was drying out - even, happily, the tent.

Generally, we have been camping with two tents for the past year or two, giving the kids their own space. We brought both tents with us this time, but we found that the layout of the campsite didn't lend well to two tents, so we all shared our bigger tent. We slept sardine-style, like we did when the kids were little. It wasn't great, but it wasn't terrible either. They're still smaller than we are, and they don't take up all that much room. I think the GB actually preferred it; she and I slept in the middle next to each other and she snuggled right up next to me in her sleeping bag the whole night. I would have preferred to stretch out a little bit, but I appreciated knowing she was warm.

Glamping, it ain't. We rigged up our tarps and poles, with rope guy lines for support, to give us shade as well as shelter in case of more rain (thankfully, it didn't rain again during our stay). We keep our firewood under the picnic table, which I think of as our staging area. I prepare and serve meals there (the fire ring is in the foreground, with the Coleman camp stove set on top of the campsite barbecue grill between the fire ring and the picnic table), wash dishes and faces, supervise dental care, you name it.

We cooked some things on the fire (hot dogs, marshmallows), and others on the camp stove (baked beans, boiled water). I brought one night's dinner, a cold pasta salad, pre-made at home for convenience. We made PB&J's for lunches, with fruit, carrots and hummus, string cheese, etc., at each meal for those who wanted them. Beer and cider for big people, water for everyone. Instant oatmeal for breakfast; tea, coffee and cocoa. Very simple and not particularly photogenic. We don't do anything beautiful when we're camping, but it's all organized and efficient.

Of course, there's plenty of time for leisure, including fishing, hiking, stick-collection in the woods (some people are really into this), reading and crafting. We always bring a guitar. The Bear has become a major fan of this hammock, which he bought last summer. We all take turns in it. On this trip, he was trying something new, where he staked out a rain fly over the hammock for shade. He's planning to try this while backpacking in the near future, as a relatively sheltered way to sleep in the woods. He normally takes a tiny tent, but a friend recently recommended this instead. He'll have to let me know how it goes; I love camping, but I have to draw the line somewhere.

As always, I took time to stroll around near the campsite to look at plants. There was a surprise right at the edge of the site: a peach tree! I don't know whether peach trees normally grow in the woods (I think probably not), but maybe it sprouted from a peach pit someone left behind. The tree was relatively small and young, but I counted at least 40 tiny, fuzzy green peaches on it. I have a feeling they won't get to ripen before the weather turns cold up there in the mountains, but it was nice to see, and I enjoyed having a fruit tree nearby; it fed right into my lifelong pioneering fantasies.

The wildflower growth was slightly disappointing. We had a dry winter and spring even in the mountains (hence the forest closure), which must have led to slower growth in the plants. I only came across about four types. I always try to match them up to a local wildflower guide when I get home (I like this website as one resource; this one is also great). I think what we have here, clockwise from top left, includes: swamp vervain, evening primrose, purple geranium, cinquefoil. There were wild roses everywhere, but we're past their blooming time by a few weeks so there were no flowers at all. I had expected to see more coneflowers, fleabane, larkspur and the like. Still, it was enjoyable to wander and look for wildflowers; that's one of my favorite things to do in the woods.

Evenings were spent around the firepit, making s'mores and talking. My favorite time in the camping day is evening, just before dark. It got chilly and a bit breezy, which felt wonderful after weeks of hot weather, and the company was great. We went to bed relatively early every night and slept surprisingly well (I think it was the cool air). It was a lovely camping trip, all the better for being proper and true - camping like I want it to be every time.


  1. That sounds like a brilliant trip, I'm glad you all had such a good time. What a lovely spot to camp, it looks very close to nature. You have a great set up with your shaded areas, and the hammock is an excellent idea, I imagine it is very popular. Glad a good time was had by all. CJ xx

  2. I think the world can be split into campers and non-campers! I used to love it when it was just me and Andy but I find it a bit of a slog with kids. I am glad you all enjoy it though - I feel it is testament to you as a great parent. Jo x

  3. This looks just like the camping trips we used to take with the kids when they were small. Now, my idea of camping is in my travel trailer which you know I adore. I really enjoyed reading about your camping adventure and how you set things up. It’s much like we used to do and brought back many good memories. Thank you for that Jennifer.
    It is so hot here right now. I don’t think they have banned camp fires completely, but I do believe they should be banned. So many wildfires burning all around us.
    I hope you have a wonderful weekend. Blessings, Betsy

  4. What a wonderful time! Camping is a very relaxing way to vacation, with time to relax, enjoy nature and each other. I love the picture of Bear! I think you need to frame it!

  5. What an amazing trip!
    I love that you were all together...That is the very best.
    Love the s'mores. : )

  6. Well done Jennifer, for your beautifully organised camping trip. I have to admit I failed Camping with the Family 101 back in the day, and after a couple of attempts we gave up. You appear to have it sorted and I love your neat camping area, with two cooking options - luxury! Love that water-tank-on-a-white-table - my kind of style :) What pretty wildflowers, even if only few, and so fun to find a peach tree. It must look so pretty when in bloom!

  7. My camping days are long over, although I do have some fond memories from when my own girls were small. It certainly looks like a great trip with lots of memories to treasure made.

  8. It looks like you all had a fabulous time. I've just recently introduced my daughter to camping and she loves it. We are definitely fairweather campers however. X

  9. This looked so awesome Jennifer and so happy you all had a great time.

  10. Like I've told you before, I give you a lot of credit for camping - this was something I never liked, even as a kid! Brian was the one that accompanied the boys on Scout camping trips and a few church camping trips, as well. I gladly stayed home. ;-)

  11. I am glad your camping trip was lovely. It does look like a very nice place to spend a few days. I really missed camping this summer, we haven't been. I agree with you, evenings are best, particularly if you can have a fire. I hope to take a friend camping next week. Just two women with lots of common ground. Perfect. I hope your summer holiday continues to be wonderful. xx

  12. It sounds like you had a wonderful time. I'm glad you managed to get to the place you'd booked and that it wasn't closed after all, it's disappointing when you've been looking forward to something for a long time for it not to happen. I'm sure your children will treasure their memories of these times together.


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