Roughed it. Survived.

Posted: July 14, 2008 in Arizona, best things, Calvin, photography, vacation

Calvin and I left for our camping trip early Thursday morning. Since we are the acknowledged King and Queen of Efficient Vacationing, I’d spread out the tasks needing completion over the several days before our departure. First and foremost was to confirm and finalize “The List” – a loooooong list of camping necessities that I’ve had, in its basically unmodified original version, since our first camping trip together as a family back in ’99. That darned Excel file has survived two computer crashes, program “upgrades”, and all of the desktop and laptop exchanges I’ve had at AcronymCo in the past nine years. My family mocks me for my list-neediness, but they’re damn comfy with the fact that I’ve never forgotten the lighters, or the tarp, or the axe, or the Q-tips, or the marshmallows. So, figh on them.

Next was to locate, gather, and sort through the camping gear, then figure out which items were missing and requiring procurement. We bought a new lantern, since our old one was fried with melted battery ook (note to self, remove batteries from lanterns and flashlights before storing camping gear in BOILING Arizona garage). We bought some bait and a fishing license for Calvin. I picked up a couple of extra memory cards and an extra battery for the camera. I perused Barnes and Noble and picked up a couple of books by new-to-me authors (I finished one book yesterday, “Greywalker” by Kat Richardson, and I am happy to give it an 8/10 rating). I went Mega Grocery Shopping for camping food – steak and burgers and chicken, doughnuts and danishes and chips, granola bars and cookies and beerbeerbeer. And whisky. And paper goods. And a crapload of D and AAA batteries.

I did laundry and packed our clothes. Returned movies to the movie store. Got the truck washed and the oil changed. Filled the truck with gas for the 500 mile round-trip to the tune of ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS. GRRRRR. And we’d still have to top-up once or twice over the course of the trip.

We packed everything but the perishables into the truck on Wednesday night, and Calvin cooked up his world-famous skillet (eggs, homefries, bacon, burger meat, cheese, salsa, various spices) to take up with us to heat up for quick and easy breakfasts. We went to bed early. The alarm went off at 6:00 a.m. on Thursday morning, and we were showered and packed and off to the gas station for some ice for the ice chests by 8:00. After that, since a drive-thru fast-food breakfast is tradition on a road trip, we got breakfast sandwiches at Jack in the Box. We were officially on the highway and up to “ramming speed” by 9:00.

The trip to the White Mountains from our home takes about four-and-a-half hours. The drive always seems to go rather quickly, what with the propensity toward non-stop conversation that my husband and I possess. I took our entire CD collection in its massive case and played DJ amid bouts of the comedy station courtesy of Sirius satellite radio. Barry Manilow, Pat Benatar, Yanni, REO Speedwagon, and Rod Stewart were on rotation.

We got a bit turned around once we reached Springerville (or, “Earl Country”, as we took to calling it), so after procuring some McDonalds cheeseburgers and fries, we stopped at a gas station and I asked for directions to Big Lake. A detour road twenty miles long lead us along picturesque field and mountain views, disbursed among concealing stands of pine and birch trees. The clouds were ominous but breathtaking, wonderful to our eyes starved by the iron-blue smoggy skies of The Valley. The multitude of greenery – from the baby light green of the ferns to the deep blue-green of the fir trees – was just as refreshing to our desert-sapped senses.

We found the campground and our campsite with little trouble, and started off-loading all of our crap gear. We must have taken fifteen trips back and forth, up and down the slope that lead from the parking spot down to the campsite. It started to sprinkle as we worked to set up the tent – always a fun experience with my less-than-patient husband. He claims his favorite camping trip was the one in which the kids and I drove up a day early (he couldn’t get the day off from work) and set everything up ourselves, so that the only thing he had to do was show up the next day (a grand, fun ride up on his sportbike, at the time) and crack open a beer. Anyway, it took us 45 minutes to set up the tent – I’d left the box with the picture of what the tent should look like at home, and the “instructions” were MORE than vague. The rain screen is what gave us the most trouble, since it was an odd shape. In the end, with Calvin cursing and claiming, “We’re throwing this thing away as soon as we get home,” we got the thing set up properly and staked down.

Calvin’s mood improved immediately thereafter.

I hustled to get our bedding set up while Calvin organized the gear and the food. The weather cleared up a bit, so we cooked up some hot dogs and beans for dinner (WHY does this stuff taste so much better in the outdoors? If I cook hot dogs and beans at home I get whines.) Then we set off to do some exploring of the nearby woods and fields.

A burned tree and felled log that I was inexplicably drawn to.

The lake at dusk.

Calvin enjoying the view.

Our campsite as viewed from the road above the lake shore.

So after wandering around a bit and taking pictures (and avoiding the copious amounts of elk and deer poo), we headed back to our campsite before it got too dark. Calvin started a fire and served up the beer and whisky (whisky sipped in front of a fire = GOOD), and I settled down in front of the fire to write about the day.

LOVED the view from our campsite, by the way.

We enjoyed the twilight and the absolute silence as darkness fell. It’s so quiet around Big Lake that the silence generates its own sound. I contemplated whether my ears would get used to the silence, eventually, and cease with the low-level hum that seemed louder than any noise we made ourselves.

We went to bed at about 9:00. Sometime in the middle of the night I woke to the sound of fat raindrops hitting our tent. I hoped that the rain would spend itself out by the time morning rolled around.

It did not.

We woke to a very grey morning. The rain ceased long enough for Calvin and I to boil some water for coffee (instant Folgers in individual steeping bags, like tea, and requiring two bags per cup to get even near the strength Calvin and I prefer), heat up some skillet over the camp stove, and have a hurried breakfast, but that was all we had time for before the rain started falling in EARNEST. We hung out in the tent, occasionally conversing but mostly just enjoying the quiet, when we discovered that the rain shield was not, in fact, shielding. Fat, COLD drops started falling on us at random, and we noticed puddles starting to form under the seams and zipper pouches around the walls of the tent. We regulated with towels as best we could until we gave it up, dragged our bedding up to the truck to keep it out of the wet, and drove down to the little General Store to buy a tarp.

We worked in the now POURING rain to secure the tarp over the tent and stake it down. Once it was finally in place, we brought the bedding back down, crawled back into the tent, wiped up the wet, re-made our sleeping space, stripped out of our wet clothes, crawled under the covers, snuggled, listened to the rain fall, and napped.

The weather cleared for a bit at around 1:00 in the afternoon. Calvin and I did up a quick lunch of ham and cheese sandwiches, then grabbed the camera gear and hopped in the truck to do some exploring around the region. There are a ton of trails and forestry roads around Big Lake, and since I’m one that can’t NOT follow a path or road just to see where it leads, we had a lot of area to cover.

I shot this rainbow with a fogged up lens (which I noticed a couple of shots later), but due to the magic of Photoshop I was able to enhance it to what it actually looked like live. Look at the end of the rainbow – the color is in front of the trees. We actually literally saw the end of the rainbow.

I love how the felled trees are so baked that they end up looking like driftwood.

Lots and LOTS of deer and other wildlife, who were very comfortable with cars and trucks slowing along the roads to take their picture. As long as you, you know, STAYED in your vehicle at all times. Otherwise, they’d take off with a flick of their tail.

Walt Disney, eat your heart out.

Gloomy, but very pretty.

A lone antelope. I worried about this little guy. Where are his friends and family? Why was he alone? Creatures like this don’t last all that long in the wild without the protection of their herd. Do antelopes congregate in herds? Is that the right word? Posse? Flock?

Lots and lots of elk. I didn’t notice until now how dark the edge burn of this photo turned out. It makes it look like I’m sighting the elk through the scope of a hunting rifle. Unintentional, I assure you. Calvin and I both prefer to shoot wildlife with a camera.

Dusk. Lake. Clouds. Theme.

A selection of area wildflowers.

After our explorations, we took advantage of the nearby public showers ($5 per person, thankyouverymuch – I had $8 in bills and had to scrounge $2 in change, much to Calvin’s embarrassment) and got into clean, DRY clothes. We wrapped up the evening with a gourmet meal of canned ravioli and canned soup, eaten straight out of the pots with bread for dipping. We shared our selection of danishes and doughnuts with the persistent squirrels and chipmunks, and relaxed with some whisky in front of the camp stove (it being too damp for a campfire, also whisky + fudge graham cookies = GOOD).

It poured again overnight, but the tarp did its job and we slept in the dry. We also had Calvin’s usual ingenuity to thank, as he had the foresight to dig a shallow trench around the high side of our tent to redirect the flow of any water that would run down the slope. We had coffee, heated more skillet to be eaten in tortillas burrito-style, messed with the ever-encroaching squirrels and chipmunks, then got our fishing gear together and went down to the General Store to procure a boat.

It strikes me that I never did take a picture of that store, and now I wonder why. It’s the type of thing I’d take pictures of, normally.

Anyway, the boat dude went over the mechanics of the motor with Calvin while I settled myself with the camera gear and bag ‘o stuff to occupy myself with (journal, books, etc.). We put-putted away from the dock and went out toward the middle of the lake, where Calvin paused to get his lines in the water for trolling.

I occupied myself with the taking of many overcast pictures.

Calvin, trolling.

Reflections of the overcast sky.

More rain approacheth.

A shack on shore. Not sure of its purpose.

Me. Boat. Book.

We hung out on the boat for a few hours, but the fish were NOT biting for us. They were biting for all of the boats AROUND us, of course. The clouds and thunder were rolling in quite rapidly, so we got off the lake at about noon.

And then it started raining again.

Calvin and I had decided that morning to pack up the campsite after fishing and get out a day early. The pouring rain supported our decision, but let me make the following quite clear:


Packing up. Running back and forth up and down the slope lugging gear. Folding wet and muddy tarps. Disassembling and stashing a soaking wet tent. Bickering at one another because neither can read the others mind and we kept going at cross purposes and differing directions. Hurriedly shoving and stacking gear haphazardly into the truck. Getting mud all over ourselves, the gear, and the truck. Gathering all of our garbage and hauling it to the dumpsters. Getting soaked through and anticipating a rather uncomfortable ride home.

Yeah. No fun.

So! We pulled away from Big Lake at about 2:00 in the afternoon on Saturday. We stopped briefly in Show Low for a bathroom break, some lunch (Taco Bell), and a speeding ticket (dammit – 54 in a 35, woops). The CD rotation included some more Rod Stewart and the Jersey Boys soundtrack. We pulled into the driveway at about 6:30, unloaded everything in a rush, and got into a very welcome shower. I spent the rest of the evening doing some laundry, messing with the animals, unloading the camera gear from the case to get it dried out, and messing with the pictures (all of the pictures from our camping trip can be seen here.)

Calvin and I have decided that this was the last tent camping excursion we will indulge in. Future camping trips will have to wait until we have a travel camper or fifth wheel or something. We did have fun, but this particular trip’s ROI was disrupted by all the damn rain. What’s interesting to note, though, is that Calvin and I get along so well that even the challenges of this trip didn’t get us at each others throats. Not so, had this type of trip been experienced while with either one of our ex’s.

Something to be grateful for.

  1. iamheatherjo says:

    I love the great outdoors and all that, but I don’t think I’d be a very good camper because I love my indoor plumbing and private showers (as opposed to the public ones) even more. Heehee…

    The pictures are great. I think the one of you and your journal is my very favorite.

  2. Farmwife says:

    Don’t worry about the antelope — they are often alone. I had a big old buck sleeping by himself in my north pasture this afternoon. They will split up, rejoin, split again…..they herd together, but not tightly.

    Sounds like you guys had a great time in spite of the rain!

  3. Jayne says:

    My family joke that the biggest challenge I like on holiday is what to order from room service…which is just a tad unfair! I do admit however that camping wouldn’t be for me. Like iamheatherjo, I like my luxuries.
    You may have been unlucky with the weather but holidays where things don’t go quite to plan often leave us with the happiest memories (once we’ve forgotten the pain of it all)!

  4. Kim says:

    I’ve never appreciated a shower more than after tent camping. Having experienced it in motorhomes for many years, I don’t think I could ever go back. You took some amazing pictures, and I’m sure it was a nice break from the heat anyway.

  5. Taoist Biker says:

    The photography is beyond gorgeous. Awesome!

  6. iamheatherjo says:

    Heehee…every time Jayne posts and I read “Jayne Says:” I get the Jane’s Addiction song of the same name stuck in my head. 😉

  7. Jen says:

    I think “I’ll be in my bunk” when I see Jayne Says….

  8. Laura says:

    Heather – Yes, no more tent camping for us. And, fanks!

    Farmwife – Huh! I guess you would certainly know! 😀 Good, I shall worry no longer.

    Jayne – Oh, we’ll certainly remember THIS trip! The chuckles might take longer to cultivate.

    Kim – As it happened, it was rainy and not hot at all in the Valley while we were gone…

    TB – Thanks!!

    Heather (again) – GREAT. Now I have that song stuck in my head.

    Jen – Now I wonder just how many people will get that, besides you and me? GEEKSQUAD UNITE.

  9. Taoist Biker says:



    ‘Sok. I like it.

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