Simple Camping - It's not rocket science!

There are few things in life I enjoy more than just sitting in the shade of a tall sycamore tree watching the sun light glitter on the surface of a flowing creek. The sounds of the water trickling over the rocks and the smell of nature at its best creates a peaceful free feeling within me that is matched by no other experience. Often the scene is seasoned with an occasional splash of a jumping fish or cry of a passing crow or if you're really lucky the bugle of a bull elk or........ well let's just say there are many noteworthy happenings if you are willing to sit quietly and pay attention. Who knows, the creatures making the sounds may even present themselves for your visual review.

And there is nighttime too! Sometimes it is the best. If you are willing to turn the lanterns off and let the fire burn down, you will find your attention drawn out to the dazzling stars of the Milky Way. There you can ponder everything from the magnificence of the universe to the insignificance of your own being. Be careful though, if you stare long enough the light of the stars gets so bright it will hurt your eyes. And, you will likely be rescued from your own thoughts by a streaking meteor or the lonely call of a coyote on a distant hill.

To some people and I'm one of them, the outdoors experience knows no equal. The Super Bowl, the new block buster movie, the great rock concert, can not offer, at whatever price, the same experience the outdoors will just give you, if you're willing to take it. And, camping is your ticket to a great outdoors. Still, camping is not for everyone. So don't dive in head first till you are sure you will like the water. Start simple!

Here is a quiz question for you. Which of the following is essential camping equipment in order to have an enjoyable, comfortable trip?

A. Cooking stove
B. Lantern
C. Tent
D. Sleeping bags
E. Chuck box
F. All of the above
G. None of the above

Answer - none of the above.

Here's why. A cooking stove is not necessary because you can cook off the fire or eat stuff that doesn't require cooking.

A lantern is the most overrated and overused piece of equipment in most camps. Why? Well, you don't need much light if the chores are done before dark and the fire supplies adequate light by itself. A small flashlight will furnish all the light you need away from the fire. Hey! It's suppose to be dark at night.

A tent is only necessary if you pick a weekend when the weather is nasty. Otherwise you can take an air mattress and sleep right on the ground or sleep in your chase lounge type lawn furniture. A tarp is nice should you get a surprise shower and if worse comes to worse your car will always keep you dry.

Sleeping bags are the convenient way of keeping warm but in most summers they can actually be too hot. All you really need is warm bedding. Pillows are optional but I have to have something soft under me. I use a foam pad but an air mattress works too.

If you've reviewed our camp kitchen products you know, I am real partial to chuck boxes, but I must admit they are not an essential piece of equipment. If you don't get fancy with grub then you don't need much to cook and prepare with either.

I hope that by now you are beginning to think simple. In fact, you might even consider a camping trip little more than a picnic where you're going to sleep over. So pack a picnic basket, they are real cheap if you just want to buy one, or fill a box with place settings for all. For breakfast consider fruit, cereal, yogurt and granola is real good too. For lunch, sandwiches with fruit and maybe chips and cookies. Keep some trail mix, granola bars and fruit for snacks. The secret to happy campers, especially young ones, is food. Notice thus far we've done no cooking. And there are plenty of ways to just avoid cooking all together.

For dinner though, consider just cooking in the fire with foil wraps. You'll need a roll of tin foil, a shovel or tongs are nice but not essential and the fire. Start your fire with small branches ( no more than 3" in diameter) at least an hour before you are ready to start cooking. Keep throwing the wood on, it takes a lot of coals. While the fire is going wrap an ear of corn (leave the husk on), and a potato ( just wash them well and leave the skin on) for each person. Quarter the potato lengthwise and splash a tablespoon or so of water in with it before you wrap it up tight. Also try quartering a couple of yams and wrap them too. Carrots are wonderful this way. Put a little water in with each foil wrap. I'll bet a turnip would be great this way if you like 'em. ( I don't.) You can also do foil wraps with broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, squash etc.. I finally got around to doing an artichoke. It was great! Remember though, put a little water in with each foil wrap and quarter the solid vegetables. The water is your margin for error. The water will steam the contents and they won't burn until all the water has evaporated. This way you have more time from when the vegetables are done to the time they burn. No portion of the veggie should be showing, double wrap if necessary. Now use your shovel or a branch to slide the burning wood portion of your fire to one side of the fire place. This leaves the coals on the other side. Slide about half the coals to one side drop the corn, potatoes, yams, carrots ( all the solid hard to cook stuff) in the lowest proportion of the coals. Then slide the other coals back on top of these foil wraps. Start your mental timer. OK, the first time you can use your watch but after that you have to leave your watch at home. ( I started enjoying life when I stopped wearing a watch. Try it! It might work that way for you too. ) We're gonna go for about 20 to 25 minutes before we put the rest of the veggies on. Meanwhile keep the fire half of the camp fire going strong since we'll need more coals. When times up throw the rest of the veggies on top of the others and cover their tops with coals for another 20 to 25 minutes and your done. You might want to try one of your potatoes first just to make sure things are done. If so pull everything off and serve with real butter not that " I can't believe they try to pass this off as real butter stuff ". A little salt and pepper and you have a complete vegetarian meal that will more than fill you up. If you're a die hard meat eater take a small grill and grill yourself a steak on the coals if you like but you won't need it.

Now for entertainment....well that's the beauty of it....you don't need any! Kick back, take it easy and just be bored if you like or take a nap. Now if you're the hyper active type you can always go for a hike. If you pay attention you'll find there are all sorts of interesting things going on with little critters scurrying here and there, birds soaring over head, insects are fun to watch (and often make the best fishing bait if you're into such things). The novice camper would be well advised to check out a book from their local library on local plant and animal types so you can see if you can identify the common types you run across. Finding things you can eat, like pinion seeds or prickly pears, is lots of fun but be real careful with things like mushrooms, some are deadly. If you're new to the outdoors do not wear shorts on hikes till you learn how to identify things like poison ivy and poison oak. They are murder on bare skin.

If the kids start driving you nuts try a game we use to call 'woffle tree'. woffle treeYou take about a 4" diameter by 1 foot long log and drive a bunch of nails half way in it from all directions. Use a nail to attach a 4' long rope at one end. ( All this is easiest to do at home before you leave, obviously.) Leave the kids at camp while you drag the 'woffletree' behind you making a trail for them to follow. Tie it on a tree limb some distance from where you started and put some treat or prize for them to enjoy oncethey have found it.

For little kids you'll only want to go a few hundred feet or so but as the age increases you can go much further, even a mile or two. Kids, even teenagers enjoy this tracking game. If by chance you forget to make a "woffle tree' you can just drag a stick behind you to leave an obvious trail.

Another fun thing for kids is finding a buried treasure. You, of course, are the 'pirate' who buries it. Make a map for them using the salient features around like big trees or rocks, the road, streams etc.. It takes a little imagination but it's not as bad as you might think. You know, 20 paces north of the big oak tree to the flat red rock then 40 paces west to the mesquite bush etc.. Remember tradition says you have to mark the treasure with and 'X". This helps them get the idea of directions and maps. Have them bury a treasure and make a map for you. You will be surprised how long that occupies them.

Another thing that little kids love is Easter egg hunting. Of course, it doesn't have to be eggs they are looking for....it could be apples, oranges, bananas, candy kisses, or just bright colored blocks from the toy box. What often happens is while looking for things they find other things like cool looking bugs or neat rocks. This can then become an experience in and of itself.

One last word of caution. I suggest you ask around a little and try to find someone who does a lot of camping in your area. You can quiz them a little on things like where and when to go. Also be sure and ask about bugs and potentially hazardous animals (like grizzly bears) ! They can make an outing a real nightmare if you're not prepared for them, especially if you're camping simple (i.e. no tent). Out here in Arizona we like to camp in the fall and winter months mainly because of bugs.

Well, I sure hope you try a little simple camping and if you like it, then consider investments that make it easier to go and more convenient once you're there. Stoves, tents, sleeping bags, chuck boxes are all great investments once you're hooked on the whole concept of getting out but don't get them till you know you like it. And if you don't like camping well that's fine too, at least you didn't have spend a fortune to find out and besides where would this country be if nobody stayed home to watch all those football games?

 

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