Monday, December 12, 2011

Musing on Camping

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.
Lava Beds National Monument is high desert and far from night lights. The air is usually so clear I feel as though I can look deep into the Universe. Here is the Milky Way as seen from my bed at night.

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.

A wood rat …. I have to brag a little and say that actually getting a photo of a woodrat is one of those odd things I’m rather proud of. I was after pika and out popped his sweet little face.

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.
I know I’m a little strange. I thought having bats hunting above us was simply marvelous! What a treat! I knew their echo-location would keep them from bumping into me; they just wanted my bugs. All too soon they finished their snack and were on their way.


  1. I'm not sure strange is the right word....I think educated would be a better description, along with curious, open-minded and hearty (9 degrees!?!).

    Most folks wouldn't know the bats wouldn't bump into them and would panic. Nor would they know that male mosquitos don't bite. And no they don't bit, but the females sure do!

    Knowing to check the engine for small creatures before getting underway each morning, figuring out what works best for you, that all speaks to thoughtful knowledge earned along the way that makes for a far more enjoyable experience than a greenhorn like me could ever hope for!

    And last, but not least, love that sweet face looking back at me! I'd be proud too!

  2. Wow, you two would have made pioneers. What a wonderful life you have but sure not for everyone. I have camped but never like this. You almost make me want to try it again......almost.

    Love that photo!

  3. OMG, I just realized you painted the milky way!! I thought it was a photo!!!!

  4. It is not often folk get to see the milky way now (with all the light pollution). It blows my mind when I think of what it actually is - our view through the densest part of the galaxy. I love your painting of it.

  5. What fun you two have. Do you ever have car problems and wonder what now? That would be my fear. I too thought that was a photo of the Milky way.

  6. Laure, I have to admit, Dale wasn't looking for rodents. He is one of those guys that writes down each gas fill up, checks the oil, and looks for green piddle under the car. Which reminds me, Cris, that we have replaced three radiators while on the road, a couple of tires, an alternator .... Trouble does happen.

    Years ago we were camping at Lava Beds and Old Blue wasn't starting very well. We picked a campsite with a good down slope so we could get a rolling start in the morning! Mostly we try not to have trouble on the road.

    I could write a whole blog post and more on car troubles!

  7. Elva, thanks for another exciting post. I've been there and can just imagine myself enjoying the night under the stars. Memories are so comforting and your posts take me back to them. Thanks
    I, too, had to go back up and take another look at the Milky Way picture. Impressive!

  8. Oh, fabulous! I love these details! Raining boatmen? Wow, who'da thunk it? (I have heard about raining frogs and other creatures, but have yet to experience this myself.) I gotta get to Lava Beds...