The new, improved family trip
I found the vegetables.
Courtesy of Rattlebox Farms – that’s Col
levitating pogo-sticking in the background.
And, we found the desert wildflowers.
And the nest built onto the top of a jumping cholla cactus (which was surrounded by detached cholla stems like an impenetrable moat, though not so impenetrable that I didn’t get ten spines in my foot through my sneaker while taking this photo).
At our campground we were woken up at regular intervals by coyotes. I began to see the nighttime separated into coyote sections, much like an orchestra. Howls from the Catalina foothill section could be heard in the early part of the evening. The Romero Wash section chimed in at dawn.
We’re used to camping at some remote and ragged spot that Dan pinpoints on a map based on its proximity to elk and opportunities for solitude. Here, we stayed at a campground which had a spotless bathroom (electric outlets plugged with blow dryers, cell phones and a macbook computer), dishwashing station (dish soap provided), and campers with all manner of motorhome accommodations arranged in a circle around a large gravel area, in which the kids played soccer when the desert sun relented.
This campground was close to Tucson, where we had plans to dazzle, intrigue and entertain the kids between marching them up desert mountains.
The campground had a cheerful and orderly feel. We met a young man on the road from Mississippi with his cat Leo, who he took on two leashed walks a day to tire him out. An extroverted, white-haired man from Oregon liked to visit our campfires with his female dog Barney. He warned the kids, “Barney may reach her limit of being pet. She may get tired of it…but it hasn’t happened yet.” We were especially intrigued by one neighbor who arrived after dark and didn’t emerge from his Prius until late morning, surprisingly tall, unrumpled and carrying nothing more than a water bottle. There was something mysterious, incongruent and even sinister about his routine. He’d drive away for the whole day without so much as sitting at his picnic table, returning after dark to again sleep in his car.
There was a surprisingly harmonious mix of humans and animals at the campground. A great horned owl nested fifty yards from the bustling campground bathroom, and every morning (as the coyotes put down their instruments) the resident gila woodpecker pair battered their beaks on the metal signs marking each campsite.
We took hikes, which we considered immediately successful if everyone set out without apocalyptic anxiety about walking. We were agenda-less enough to yank the car to the side of Hwy 77 south of Holbrook when Dan said, “Hey look – they call that desert concrete,” and Col replied, “I want to check that out.” We got around old school, without internet, mapquest or the ability to emergency-google in Globe, Arizona on a Sunday: “where is the good coffee?”
In the desert the kids refreshed their inventory of competitive bickering with whole new topics, like: who makes the best campfire? Whose turn is it to carry the dishes to the dishwashing station? Are those horses or ponies along I-40? But, vacation bickering is like a small grain of sand in your sandal. You feel it, but it doesn’t really slow you down.
A Col backpack.
After four nights of sharing our campground with the Prius mobster, Barney the dog, who never did tire of being pet, and retirees bouncing around the great Southwest in their spic and span motorhomes, Col said to me, “I think this is one of my favorite camping trips yet.”
I didn’t mention to him that this whole trip had reordered my notion of camping. This was the first camping trip where we had taken showers, or driven past nations of strip malls to get to the heart of a city (Tucson), or spent mucho dinero to go to “nature museums” when unscripted nature lived just 50 yards from our deluxe bathroom.
It occurred later to Dan and me that maybe at this stage of parenting, where the kids are less small, vocal accessories who just want to be with their parents, and more tweens of growing opinions and preferences, that we may need to rethink our family adventures.
Which is to say, the kids aren’t exactly moved by multiple days of silence and botanical study. They’re not looking to throw off the shackles of civilization’s pressures and cocoon themselves in successive days of e-mail abstinence. In fact, they’re increasingly more interested in what other human animals of their age group are doing and creating. Where we want to unplug and untether ourselves from the wackiness of modern civilization, they want to dive in. And yet, they flourish under the paradigm of family time, nourished by the very act of us eschewing responsibilities to be with them.
So, we’re engineering a new plan called “the family trip.” It’s going to include camping, wilderness time, and dipping into nearby towns to touch down into the civilization that provides the kids comfort and fun. It’s not like we’re going to start traveling around in an RV, but maybe we’ll come out of the woods for a funnel cake in Silverton.