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Postcards to Denver from a 10-Year-Old and His Mom

From western New York:

“The farm has ten chickens and two bunny rabbits. My chicken’s name is Geraldine. The rabbits are Sam and Matilda. I miss our dog. She would have so much fun here, but we were worried she would eat the chickens.”

“I forgot what it feels like to stay in bed long enough to listen to the birds, watch the sun move across the room and let my muscles stretch awake one at a time.”

From Snowmass, Colorado:

“Mom and Dad made us go on a hike. Why does anybody like hiking? You go up and up and up, and they keep saying it’s beautiful, which… who cares?! Then mom counts her mosquito bites. It would be more fun if we could bring the dog.”

From Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado:

Come Hail or High Water: Our Family’s Shortest (and worst) Camping Trip

I have tried to instill a love of nature in my kids–just last week we went hiking four times, my daughter recently returned from YMCA of the Rockies’ traditional overnight Camp Chief Ouray and at the end of July they’re both enrolled in Avid4Adventure’s Survival Skills Camp. We are an outdoor-loving family!

But my favorite childhood memories are of camping and that is one area in which we’ve fallen short with my own family.  There is nothing like the sense of community at campgrounds, playing with new BFFs, eating tin foil dinners and s’mores, exploring and exploring some more, and telling stories around the campfire.

Here’s a recap of our camping trips since having kids.

Trip 1: Hadley had just turned 1 and was a horrible sleeper so she wailed all night long two nights in a row. Our campsite at Golden Gate Canyon State Park was on a slope. Hadley had just learned to walk so was falling over every few feet and when she wasn’t face-planting, she was trying to crawl into the fire pit. Our three-day weekend was cut a day short.

Waterton Lakes National Park, Bear's Hump hike

Waterton Lakes National Park, Bear’s Hump hike

Trip 2: We took a few years off from camping to get pregnant and have our son Bode. When he was 2, we joined our good friends at Eleven Mile State Park. Never been? Keep it that way.

A bear, hail and other camping calamities

This summer, my family spent two weekends camping—in a TENT—in two separate forests, with two different groups of friends. Back in January we were asked to go, and our friends made the reservations for two consecutive weekends. We feel fortunate to have good friends, and spending a weekend away “unplugged” sounded like a great idea as I sat by my space heater warming my pretty feet.

Our first weekend was up at Rocky Mountain National Park. The site was gorgeous and we arrived only after about a four-hour drive, that normally takes us one hour. There was an accident in Boulder and we were re-directed to Longmont. Then we had to stop and eat since it was dinnertime, and then we sort of got lost in what looked like Longmont, but we aren’t really sure.

My husband Billy stopped about this point, to ask a nice man for directions—at a LIQUOR store—and just FYI, I wouldn’t ever do that if I were you. Sure, the guy gave us directions, but I’m pretty sure he was inebriated, and thus the four hours. After a great first night of not sleeping at all, we stumbled out of our tent to a beautiful blue sky. We had our routine camping breakfast of Hostess doughnuts
while my friend Amy made fancy breakfast burritos.

We went on some beautiful hikes, and the kids had a blast. Later that evening, right about the time you’d sit by the fire and quote movie lines, a very frantic park ranger came running into our site asking for all the adults to listen up. He proceeded to tell us there had been a “300 lb bear spotted just down the way, who had gotten a food reward (tell me, who doesn’t love a FOOD REWARD?)
and to keep all the little ones close by.”

Then he ran off to the next site to spread the terror.

Anytime I hear information that might be life-threatening or very serious, my reaction is to giggle inappropriately.

A camping essential

With summer winding down, we’re trying to take advantage of the wonderful camping Colorado has to offer.  A couple of weekends ago, we went on an overnight camping trip. How did it go? Well, the short and sweet answer: Awesome!


You’ll probably wonder what’s wrong with me after you read the long answer…

It all started out innocently enough. We’d planned a weekend getaway with another family, and we couldn’t wait! We were in the midst of hosting out-of-state visitors, but they were scheduled to leave our house on Saturday morning, and we’d head out right after them.

And then my hubby looked at the weather report.


It did not look good, but it didn’t look as bad as it could. Typically, we snub our noses and laugh at anything lower than a 60% chance of rain…and this was hovering around the 40% mark.

Weather people.
What do they know?
Most of them argue about what is happening outside right now, let alone what will happen in the future.

No offense to any weather people…

After discussing the options with the other family, we decided to go. We’d go, and if it got bad, we’d just bail.

Bail water?
Hopefully not.

Camping Trip July 2009Does anyone else hear that ominous music?

We did, but we chose to dance along to it, ignoring what could lie ahead.

Anyway, we get our visitors out the door, get our vehicle all packed and made it to the park-and-ride on time. We followed the other family to the pass we wanted.

I laughed out loud when I saw the name of the road.

“Breakneck Pass Road!?” I laughed. “Ehhh…how bad can it be?”

How bad was it? I’m sorry. I can’t hear you over all the screaming in my head.

But, for the record, it wasn’t the worse road I’d seen. Still…

At one point, we switched places with our friends and had them follow us, because our car was the lowest denominator. Unlike their car, ours didn’t have a higher clearance and wasn’t a 4-wheel drive. If our car could make it, both cars could make it.

Luckily, I had a handle to hold onto for dear life. We told Claire to hold on tight, and away we went.

“Daddy! Be careful or you’ll spill the car!”

Truer words have never been spoken…and she’s only three!

Camping FunBut, we made it. We didn’t break the car, and the camping spot we found had an established fire ring and an awesome view.

Just as we were getting set up, it started raining. It was so polite of it to wait until we had our rain fly adjusted. We set up some tarps and had some snacks. We could see blue skies up ahead, so we knew it wouldn’t last.

And, yes…40% may as well be 100% when it’s happening to you, and 0% if it’s not.

The rain stopped, and we went about camplife. The kids and the adults all had a blast. We ended up dodging the rain (and the mosquitoes!) off and on throughout the evening, but it all worked out perfectly.  (Photo by J. VanHatten)

Finally, after stuffing ourselves with campfire food, the fire glowing brighter as the night got darker, it started raining again, and we all called it a night. Because this was car camping, we’d splurged and brought our queen size air mattress. We had a smaller tent this time, so Claire had to sleep with us, but that was okay.

By the glow of my BlackBerry, Glenda, Daddy and Claire fell asleep and I surfed the ‘net for a bit. Yes, I got a signal there. Yes, I could play online from my campsite. No, this wasn’t really roughin’ it.


That stupid music started again, and I ignored the fact that the mattress seemed a little squishier than normal. Another hour went by and I realized that the pain in my hip wasn’t being caused by my existence as the center of a Claire and Daddy sandwich…it was caused by the hard ground.

It was barely midnight, and our air mattress had gone completely flat.

Now, keep in mind. This mattress takes up nearly the entire footprint of our tent. The pump we need to use is loud enough to wake the dead let alone our friends sleeping in the tent next to us. And, Claire is sleeping like a log.

So, with no way to breathe life back into the situation, all I could do was try to will myself to sleep.

And, then it started raining, hard…and the wind started blowing, hard. At one point, I was afraid the tent would upend and we’d end up in a pine tree, but it stayed fastened to the ground. I kept checking the seams and window for water, but the tent held fast! Our tent didn’t leak!

I think I got about two hour’s worth of sleep, maybe three…patch-worked together in 15 or 20 minute increments.


The kids slept in, so none of us stirred from the tents until after 8am, which was perfect. We made breakfast and broke camp. We navigated Breakneck Pass Road (without breaking anything, actually) back down to the highway, and headed home.

Breakneck Road Pass - the easy partPhoto by J. VanHatten

So, even though it rained, and even though a Mack Truck ran over our tent in the middle of the night, popping our air mattress and then crushing our bodies, we still had a fabulous time. Even though we look as though we’ve been attacked by an army of mosquitoes (and we were!), we still had a fabulous time.

It just goes to show that when you’re with the right people, you can laugh at the rain. You can hobble around and laugh at the kinks in your back. You can laugh at the mosquitoes that rival those in the Midwest. You can laugh hysterically (so you don’t cry) as you try to point out the best way around or over the boulders in your breakable car.

You could look at what happened on our trip and think that it sounded horrible! What terrible luck! But, that’s just not the case.

Over the years, I’ve learned that the most essential piece of camping equipment is my Wand of Positivity.  That seems to make all the difference.

What about you?  Do you have any fun camping stories to share?  Tell us about them in the comments!