This started as an introduction to Part II of “Back to the Basin, but I got too wordy, so I’ll make it a separate post. I will post Part II -- soon.
CAMPING – What exactly does that word mean to you? My quick and easy answer would be, “A tent and a campfire.” My ideal is ending up somewhere far from a road and sleeping under the stars. For many camping includes a motor home, or at least a camper. Dale’s and my normal style of camping is somewhere in between. We’ve owned two Ford vans. We ran the first one for 24 years and sadly gave away ‘Old Blue’ in 1994. We ordered a second one, unlined, and lined it ourselves in order to save the last three precious inches that allows us to sleep crosswise, rather than lengthwise in the back of the van. We sleep on a platform and store gear underneath. We can break camp in about fifteen minutes and be on our way. The first year we owned the new van was the first year of retirement. We slept in it 99 nights!
Our idea of camping is preferably some unimproved site on public land; more often we camp in a proper campground, but we pick a spot where we can pull in and sleep with the back doors open wide. Usually the van is better than tent camping. I lie in bed, look at the stars, and hope to hear a coyote howl or an owl hoot. The mattress is good and I’m not surrounded by smelly tent material. I’ve even made rain coats for the doors and a rain curtain for the opening so we can sleep with the doors open on warm, rainy nights. I only have a foot of skylight with the rain curtain hung but that still gives me the feel of outside. When the rain stops I can drop the curtain in a moment. When we want privacy it takes a minute to pull our cloth curtains shut. Cooking is done outside and usually breakfast is just hot coffee (made the day before), peanut butter on bread, hard boiled eggs and juice … served on the dash when we head out.
Our camping isn’t about hanging around camp. Camp is a place to sleep and our days are almost always spent away from camp, usually wandering in the car, hiking, photographing, sketching, and watching. During the night we’ve had elk bugle within feet, cows come for a close inspection, and my mother’s tame owl even hopped inside once, but we didn’t know yet that she had a tame owl. For about 35 years we’ve been using Lava Beds National Monument as a bedroom for many of our Klamath Basin trips.
Once, when it was 9 degrees by morning, I set up my camp stove on the steps of the old visitor center, out of the wind. No one was around to object. Another time a wood rat started a nest on our motor during the night. Fortunately he hadn’t gotten around to harvesting our wires, but he had gathered a nice little pile of mistletoe. More than once it has rained water boatmen. Lava Beds National Monument has no open water. The nearest water, Tule Lake, is about ten miles south of the campground. When the time is right, the normally aquatic water boatmen in the lake fly to new areas. Dozens, if not hundreds, of water boatmen bounce onto our shiny wind shield, thinking it is a small pond. Dark vehicles are even more popular.
One cool summer evening at Lava Beds National Monument we had a special treat. Some mosquito-like insects were flying but not biting. I’m told male mosquitoes don’t bite so I suspect they were male mosquitoes. In any case, we crawled into bed and soon realized the insects were drawn to the warmth inside the van. If they had been biting I would have hung mosquito netting over our bed. I decided to snuggle in and ignore our visitors.
Swoosh! The faintest of breezes tickled my cheek. What was that! Another and another. Looking out my open van door I realized bats were darting in and out of our van, hunting our insect visitors! Even though the front windows were open, the bats always flew in the open back door and back out the same door.