Friday, March 12, 2010

Happy Campers

When I was growing up, I was a Girl Scout. But more importantly, I was an Indian Princess.

In Girl Scouts, we sat around making barrettes. But in Indian Princesses, we made tom-tom drums. Girl Scouts sold cookies. Indian Princesses went camping in the woods. I have fond memories of the times Thatdad and I went camping with the troupe. I remember finding snakes on the trails and someone's dad pinning it with a forked stick before tossing it in a garbage bag. I remember being on a canoe in the middle of a pond when the other girl decided she didn't want to be there and started rocking the boat trying to get out. I remember crying around a campfire as Thatdad told stories that were too scary. And the other kids complaining when he'd stop telling the stories to escort me back to the safety of our tent.

When I was a bright young thing starting college, UCLA began a new program they thought would help freshman better adapt to University life. It was called a "GE Cluster." It was a year long course (instead of just a quarter) you took with the same people and it knocked all your GE requirements out for a certain area. I did a math/science one so I didn't have to compete in classes with pre-med students. The class was great and I made some really fantastic friends and got to do some really neat things - including a camping trip in the Joshua Tree desert. I borrowed that same tent that Thatdad and I had used for years, and my girls and I huddled together to keep warm. Accompanying each other with toilet paper and flashlights to serve as lookouts during bathroom breaks.

Desert camping was a new experience for me, but I loved it. I loved how you could see every star in the sky. I loved how beautiful the desert was at night. But unfortunately, that was the one and only desert camping experience I'd have. Thatboy grew up camping in lodges and campers in the woods and he ph-shawed my idea that we could go camping somewhere without trees. And so our near-yearly camping trips were woods camping trips. In his van, or in a cabin.
Until last year, when I convinced Thatboy we MUST make a desert camping trip. And so last February we gathered our gear together and made a reservation in Anza Borrego State Park. But we all know what happened last February. So the trip was cancelled.

Undeterred, we decided to try again this year. Because of the extreme temperatures in the desert, camping is only allowed for a few brief months a year, when it's a given you're not going to die. We found a weekend in February that worked with our schedules and once again, made plans to head out.

You can see Thatdog was anxious to get a move on. He had no idea what he was getting in to. I think if he knew, he'd be hiding under his blanket right now - not sitting by the door.

As soon as we got to the campsite, Thatdog began his miserable dog routine. We staked him to the ground, so he'd have room to wander and explore, but he was having none of that. I tried to give him a treat, but he couldn't figure out how to eat it without putting it on the ground. Which was sandy. Which he was not happy about. Finally, I put down a blanket for him, and our little princess deemed that was where he would rest his weary hind.

We got to our campsite at night, after the sun had gone down. So Thatboy quickly fixed a fire. And set up the tent. Thatdog wasn't too sure about what to make of the fire. It smelled, and it was smokey. But he wasn't about to move off his blanket to investigate.

Once the tent was set up, we quickly got to work on the important stuff. Smores. Thatdog LOVES smores. Well - the graham cracker part. And the giant marshmallows. We don't give him chocolate. Especially because we decided to upgrade from Hersheys and use Godiva.

After smores, we tucked into our tent and went to bed. Thatdog wasn't thrilled about this idea either. We'd already introduced him to the tent. But he never really caught on to the fact that he was going to have to sleep there with us. He's not a good bed sharer. He likes his own space. Everytime we'd unzip the tent to go use the facilities or come back in, he'd try to make a break for it. If we took him for his own potty break, he did everything in his power to avoid going back in.

But we made it through the night. And in the light, we could actually see where we were camping.

Check out these views from the front of our tent.

You'll also note the ominous clouds. That's because we picked a weekend of rain to go camping. Not on purpose, the weather here is just that unpredictable. It started raining in the morning, and we hung out in the tent until there was a break in the weather.

And then breakfast was on! Beer pancakes anyone?

While I made breakfast, Thatboy tried to prepare Thatdog for the wet and windy weather. Can you see Thatdog wishing he had stayed at home?

I had wanted to go for a run before we headed out, but as soon as we finished breakfast, it started raining again. So instead I packed us up a lunch to take on the road so we could get moving. Egg salad sandwiches. With bacon. Obviously.

And of course, as soon as I finished making the sandwiches we had another break in the weather. So I left the boys to clean up so I could get a run in. I mean with views like this, how could you blame me for wanting to take advantage of it?

I kind of ran aimlessly, just enjoying the scenery, and somehow ended up on top of one of those mountainy looking things. All by myself. And convinced I was being stalked by a mountain lion or a bear. I have a vivid imagination. I stopped to take this view from the top, before heading back to my campsite.

I came back and we cleaned up and headed for the visitor center. Which is built right into the side of a cliff.

We picked up maps and information and spent the rest of the day seeing the amazing sites of the desert. Like this California Palm grove. Which I used to prove Thatboy wrong. Because he insists palms don't grow here naturally. Right...I'm sure the California Palm is from Costa Rica.

Since we were in the desert, it's no surprise we saw a ton of cacti.

But what may surprise you is one of the key reasons we made this trip. The wildflowers. They grow EVERYWHERE in Anza Borrego. They're gorgeous, and in all different colors, sizes, and shapes. Because Thatdog isn't allowed on the trails, I was worried we wouldn't get to see them. I shouldn't have worried. They grow abundantly on the roadside and our campsite had them everywhere.

My favorite were the ocotillo, which stretch to the sky before spouting off a brilliant red bloom at the tip. Like nature's fireworks.

We drove into town for a bit, stopping roadside for a picnic lunch, and again to pick up some beautiful royal tangelos we saw growing. So sweet and juicy, we've been enjoying them ever since. We made it back to the campsite, planning on relaxing by the fire for the remainder of the afternoon, but the incoming storm had other plans for us. Around 4, the wind began to blow so hard that poor Thatdog crouched between us, looking up at us as if to say "We HAVE a home. We don't have to be outside in weather like this! I didn't like being a stray before and I certainly don't like it now. Where is my bed? Where are my blankets? Where is my home?!" We were worried about him with the wind, so put him in the car to get a little break. And then the rain started coming down. We moved into the tent with Thatdog as it got dark dark dark at 4:30pm. Thatboy and I were convinced we were going to die, wet and frozen in the middle of the desert. We decided to make the move into the car. Thatdog thought this was a brilliant idea. We spent the night bundled up in the car in our sleeping bags - soaking wet from the short trip from the tent to the car.

When we awoke, we were greeted with this sight. Which almost made it all worth it.

I made us breakfast since we were starving from our lack of dinner, and we packed up the car to head home. Thatdog was ecstatic. We did make two quick stops on the way home. The first to Dudley's to pick up some more jalapeno cheddar bread. The second was a new stop I wanted to try.

Our lunch consisted of apple pie for me and strawberry rhubarb for Thatboy. Flakey and perfect, everything a pie should be. I brought home some cider doughnuts for later, and of course some of my fave apple cider.

I almost had Thatboy completely won over on desert camping - if it hadn't rained. He thought it was beautiful out there and really enjoyed the dry portions of our trip. Thatdog however, has informed me that the next time we plan a camping trip, he would appreciate it if we could leave him behind.


  1. I have never been camping.

    I want that pie.

  2. this dog story is one of the best ever :) I am happy you finally got to take your trip, and I hope it brought some peace into your soul.

  3. Hey -- I just posted about Joshua Tree! I have a very similar cactus photo too. I can just imagine how hot it gets there in the summer. There were signs everywhere warning you to turn back when you've consumed 1/2 of your water suppy.

    Your pictures look great!

  4. Our Canadian desert here in the Okanagan is not nearly as ominous, but look at all the beauty that surrounded you on your camping trip. Amazing...and one suggestion...we make S'mores with Nutella from my days as a Girl Guide leader.:D

  5. I love the pictures - love love love them - makes me pine for the landscape. Did I mention that I love it? A camping trip in the desert would be amazing.

  6. i can't get over how adorable mini-ThatGirl was!

  7. How pretty! It's still too cold for camping here (or I'm just a baby about it), but I'm looking forward to camping season. Looks like you had a great time!

  8. I went camping once in Joshua Tree during college and thankfully, it stayed dry the entire time. Poor Thatdog. :(