I have been camping all of my life and many of my fondest memories involve the many campsites I have occupied with, family and friends over the years. A campsite is actually an odd concept. By definition: An area where an individual or family might camp. I have always thought of it as the opportunity to live outdoors for short periods of time.
My first memories of camping involved my parents and grandparents in an old canvas tent in Michigan State Parks in the early 1950’s. Camping for us soon blossomed into a whole new concept. My grandparents bought a 1956 Airstream. Within a year my dad and his brother also bought Airstreams and we were on the road almost every weekend.
During the summer we would head West and camp wherever someone would let us plug in our trailer. My dad said we were a bunch of Gypsies. I didn’t know what a Gypsy was but I figured they must like to camp. One of my favorite campsites in those days still exists today. It is in Avalanche Campground at the base of the Going-to-the-Sun Highway in Glacier National Park. We would run the trail to Avalanche Lake and listen to the ranger programs at night. When I graduated from high school I lived a few months in a truck I converted into a camper and made it a point to stop in Glacier and camp in the very site we often used. The site was near the trailhead to the lake and during the afternoon I would sit at my picnic table and watch Khrushchev watch me. He was a big habituated grizzly, obviously named after Nikita, the big Russian bear who led the Soviet Union at the time. Khrushchev had a white spot of hair on his chest that made him very distinctive. He had been trapped twice in Avalanche and moved far into the park. He had not learned his lesson but sat patiently in the woods and waited for a camper who was living on more than just Rice Krispie Treats. His wish came true one afternoon when an older couple set up camp near me and started roasting a chicken. Khrushchev ended up with the chicken, but not without a fight. I kept telling the woman to forget the chicken but she was bound and determined to snag it before Khrushchev ate it. She only made one lap around her car before she decided that "Possession is not always nine-tenths of the law."
I took my wife to Avalanche on our first camping trip in 1975. I took my daughter several years later, and one day I will probably take my grandkids. But that is just one of many places that hold family history and archives of good times.
The joke is that most women can’t keep their husbands from fishing, but in my mom’s case she had to convince my dad it was a good idea. Mom loved to fish and my dad had little desire to "drowned worms." She finally talked him into trying it and he decided we would caravan with friends to Canada to a place called, "Sweet’s Log Cabin Camp." It was a fish camp, but we were allowed to park our trailers along a point on the lake. My dad never did take fishing too seriously but he loved to buy gear. He had every conceivable rod and reel combination, special bait and killer plugs like the "Bomber." But we had discovered this wonderful Canadian lake campsite that made for many memorable summers of big fish fry’s and bigger fish tales.
Another great camping spot was along the Ocklawaha River in Florida where Gaila and I lived for several winters. It was called Colby’s Landing. It was such a magical place that friends and family from all over the country would come and visit us. We cooked cowboy stew by the barrel and tales around the campfire would get taller as the fire got lower.
I started thinking of all this when two friends recently told me about their summer vacation. The two brothers live in different parts of the country and decided to get their families together by renting motorhomes and meeting in Yellowstone. One brother rented a small Class "C" motorhome that would accommodate he and his family for the short time they planned to camp and explore the Greater Yellowstone Basin. The wife of the other brother found a internet rental deal in South Dakota that looked too good to pass up. They rented the coach and decided it would make the vacation more interesting traveling through the Black Hills on their way to Yellowstone country. Knowing absolutely zero about motorhomes they arrived in South Dakota and the guy gave them about fifteen minutes of instruction on operating a 40-foot monster motorhome. My friend said it was so big he couldn’t even tell if he was in his own lane. They had to drive 500 miles the first day and pulled into a KOA after dark When most other campers were already in bed. He said, "They told me they didn’t have any pull-thru sites. I had to back it in. It took me an hour to get that crazy thing backed in and every time I put it in reverse you could hear the loud ‘BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP,’ all through the campground."
The next morning, after finally reaching Yellowstone, he said he decided to use the big rig to put both families in while touring the park the first day. He noticed that everyone was using the toilet all day long and remembered the owner telling him not to let it completely fill up. When they arrived back to their campsite that night he decided to empty the septic immediately. He went around to the back and found to his horror that the valve had been open all day."
--Keep Smilin', Dick E. Bird