We went camping. I LOVE camping. We don’t do it often enough. I suppose it would be something of a strange concept to many of the people we meet in our Asian travelsâ€”they already live in bamboo homes with breezes sneaking through cracks in the walls and creatures of the night prowling outside. The stars hang bright overhead. Crickets sing and dogs howl. Why would they want, or need, a tent?
Once, many years ago, we hauled our little Sierra Designs tent to a tiny island in the river just across from the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh. The Leonid meteor shower was scheduled to perform that night, so we left the city lights and camped in sand. (That was back in a time when the Phnom Penh riverfront went black by 9 p.m. and barely a light flickered across the bridge.) People came up to us throughout the nightâ€”thoroughly curious and substantially confused. What in the world were we doing? We explained, they accepted, and we all sat around chatting. Then we heard a large boom across the river (on the rural side), which our companions told us was most likely a cow stepping on a landmine. That was many years ago.
Anyway, this time we camped at City of Rocks, one of the finest state parks I have ever discovered. From a distance, this perplexing spot indeed looks like a city of giant rocks standing stately over a vast desert of cacti…
… with coyotes, jack rabbits and bunnies jumping about. And glittery insects…
…plus a few critters not to be stepped upon:
This one rattled its warning as I lay our ground sheet on a rock to dry, disturbing its personal space. Sorry, Mr. Snake. I meant no harm.
For three nights, we were the only people in our section of desert. We had a commanding view of the scenery, with daily metamorphosis come sunset.
When nature called, we had perfectly clean (scrubbed each morning by a park ranger) amenities just down the hill.
Even better: the visitor center offered hot showers so that we could bike all day through the nearby Gila National Forest (big ponderosas, blooming wildflowers, steep mountains and rocky Forest Service roads surpassing 9,000 feet in height). This was luxury. Bike by day, wash the sweat away, then settle into dinner amid the sweet smells of the desert night.
Here’s the beauty of car camping: a big cooler packed with everything that tastes great at home, and ten times better around a tent. Don’t get me wrong; I love to backpack, too. But you can’t beat the sweet treat of a bottle of red wine, a trunk full of goodies, a Coleman stove for pots of beans, and a live fire for all-natural chicken/red bell pepper/pinenut sausages (Trader Joe’s):
We ate pinto beans, black beans, canned organic tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, fresh green chile, black-bean dip, blue corn chips, hummus, wild cucumber pickles, Swiss cheese, chicken-cheese-mushroom sausages (more Trader Joe’s), sauerkraut (a jar from a previous trip to a Wisconsin farmers’ market), smoked Great Lakes trout (same WI farmers’ market). We drank red wine, and Bass in a can. We ate dark chocolate for dessert. For breakfast, we fired up our little stovetop espresso maker and drank rich black sludge with oodles of caffeine. We ate mango. We drank apple cider. We ate fresh tortillas (Albuquerque Tortilla Company) with melted cheese, onions and Prosciutto. We gobbled up peanuts, raisins and dried fruit mix to power us through our sweat-laden rides.
And then we returned to our camp, our showers, our fire and dinner all over again.