DAY ONE – Casper, WY to Green River, UT
Summer was finally here and our vacation was completely planned out – our car camping vacation in fact. I’d mapped out our entire route and researched all the campgrounds. The only ones we absolutely positively needed to have reservations for were the Grand Canyon and Big Basin, so those were reserved, but all the others were in a holding pattern until we could see what the places looked like first. We had lots of options.
Husband picked up our GMC Envoy from the rental place. The kids, dog, and I (the materfamilias), waited anxiously at home for him to return so we could cram our stuff in and goooooooo. We were all chomping at the bit to get this show on the road. Even the dog was panting with excitement, not knowing what to do with himself or what was even happening really. But he had a good instinct that it was something great, and kept dancing around our legs spending his nervous energy. His dripping tongue dangled out of his gaping wide mouth, and his eyes darted back and forth between each of our faces as if to say, “What’s up guys? What are we doing? Are we going somewhere? Huh? Huh? What are we doing?”
Husband finally returned and backed the SUV into the driveway. He could barely blow the hatch fast enough for us to start loading our stuff in. The girls had their pillows and blankets, a DVD player and movies, and their Gameboys.
We’d filled a cooler with ice and drinks, sandwiches, cheese, grapes, carrot and celery sticks, hotdogs, buns, candy bars, etc. And packed a bag with chips, condiments, marshmallows, graham crackers, buns, trail mix, jerky, a sun tea jar and teabags, and all that sort of stuff. Some bug spray. Some baby wipes.
I’d packed laundry soap and dryer sheets in the bottom of a laundry basket, and piled our folded clothes on top. We had charcoal briquettes, a small thing of lighter fluid, a couple of board and card games, some flashlights, sleeping bags, air mattress, quarters for laundry and showers, toiletries, money, and notebooks, and the tent of course.
The dog, his leash, and his food got tossed in the back seat with the girls.
After a million-and-one checks and rechecks to see if we had everything, we buckled our seatbelts, put the car in drive, waved bye bye to the ol’ homestead, and off we went, off into the wild blue yonder!
It was a beautiful, sunny day in July.
I gave each girl a notebook and pretty pens to go with them, and told them to keep a journal of everything we did on this trip so they would never forget it (carpe diem). I took my camera and several rolls of film (wow, I feel funny saying that – seems so ancient to say film, now that everything is digital), and we made a pact to take lots of pictures, pictures, pictures – with cheerful faces!
It was a fairly uneventful day, that first day of driving. The biggest adventure was finding a bathroom along the long stretches of roadway. (FYI: There’s not much to look at between Casper and Rawlins, or Rawlins and Baggs, or Baggs and Craig Colorado, just a lot of wild grass and sage brush, and the occasional pronghorn, but after that it starts to get pretty with trees and mountains). We gassed up in Rawlins – thinking it’s always best to run on the top part of the gas tank when in the rurals. Our bagels that we’d had for breakfast were pretty much gone by the time we got to Rifle, CO, so we decided to stop at a park and have some lunch.
We found a nice little picnic table shaded by trees and tossed a tablecloth down on it. Husband pulled the cooler from the back and I doled out sandwiches and little baggies of cut carrots and grapes, and cheese to everyone. He tore sheets off the paper towels and passed those around. We all got drinks. He put out the dog’s dishes and let him have some lunch too, and someone (Dani probably) took the dog for a little walk so he could pee on things and do his business. Once we were all fed and happy, the dog was pooped and peed, and we had each taken a trip to the porta potties ourselves, it was time to pile back in the car and head for a fuel station. In a jiffy we were back on the road again.
Colorado is very pretty. Mountainous, and green with trees. Grassy prairies. And between Grand Junction and Green River Utah it is just mostly prairie again with minor elevation changes, lot of crops in the area, and roadside stands for fruits and vegetables. As we neared Green River (the town), there was a bank of buttes on the right side of the highway, and the Green River (river) tumbled through.
We drove to the first campground on our list…
Green River State Park campground ($12, showers yes)
Shady Acres ($10-14, showers yes, pool)
United Campground ($14.50, showers yes, pool)
Green River KOA ($17)
…But it didn’t have a pool so we decided to check out the next one. It had a pool and looked very clean and neat and nice. The camping spots all had nice green grass to set the tent up on, and lots of shady trees. It had a nice view of the river and the buttes. Yes. Let’s stay here!!!! So I went in to pay for a spot.
As I stepped inside the office I first noticed the smell, and then I noticed the cats. They were all lazily perched in various places all over the room, up on shelves, down on the floor, on top of the counter, above the pop machine, literally everywhere. Some of them raised their heads to take inventory of my presence, swished their tails, and then stretched and went back to sleep. Although I’m not a cat person, have even kind of been a little allergic actually, I decided outside was still a good place to stay, and went through with the purchase.
I showed the fam to our spot and we all got busy setting up the tent and arranging our little camp. The girls took the dog around, checked out the pool, and then came back to ditch the dog and get their suits on. They splashed and played by themselves for a bit, and then their dad joined them. They all came back a little while later saying there were frogs in the pool – but it was okay with them. The pool was otherwise nice and clean and a perfect temperature. They played pool games and caught frogs for hours.
When hubby got back to camp we filled up the air mattresses, put the sleeping bags down, and then he started the campfire so we could roast our hot dogs, and our marshmallows for smores. After an otherwise perfect camping supper we kicked up our feet and let the fire mesmerize us as the sun faded on our day.
Sounds like a fairytale doesn’t it? Well, it would have been had the mosquitoes not come out biting right about then. As the amber sun began setting at dusk, about a billion ravenous mosquitoes hatched out of the Green River, and charged our direction, hungry for blood. The biting was relentless. We all bounced around doing the funky-swat dance running into each other and every direction, desperate to lay hands on the bug repellant and get ourselves hosed-down before we were forced to hijack a donor truck and commandeer blood transfusions.
Husband probably had fifty bites if he had one. They were all over him – big welting bites that swelled up and itched like crazy. (He has yummy blood that mosquitoes love, and is highly allergic). The girls and I had bites all over us too, so we ran and slipped on our sweat pants and long-sleeved jackets, just in case the Deet wasn’t going to be enough.
When we’d had all the fun we could stand swatting mosquitoes and scratching our bites, we decided to get ready for bed and retreat into the tent. We grabbed our toothbrushes and jammies and headed for the bathrooms to wash up, and then raced back to the tent by flashlight, the only safe place we knew, and zipped ourselves in, all of us fretting that we probably had West Nile for sure. If we’d have had smart phones back then you can better believe we’d have been googling the sypmptoms. Of course now it would be the Zika Virus that we’d been fretting about.
Husband put the campfire out and then joined us in the tent. Always the comic in the class, as soon as he got settled into his sleeping bag, said, “Well, I’ve never been girl camping before. What do we do now, shut off the lights and giggle?” Which made us of course giggle! We set up our little travel DVD player and lulled ourselves sleepy with a movie. After our movie we shut off the player and the lantern and tried for a little siesta.
It was probably close to eleven PM or after when a van came rolling into the campground and pulled into the empty camping space next to us. I hadn’t quite drifted off to sleep yet, and so laid there listening as the people got out of the van and talked to each other…
And then they switched on their spotlight, all million lumens of it. Boy howdy it was bright. I actually think I heard the hallelujah chorus sound with it, and for a moment thought perhaps this was the rapture. We all, plus the dog, bolted straight upright on our beds, and the dog began puffing his lips out with the beginnings of a barking fit – all the hackles on his back erected, while we rubbed our squinted eyes and orientated our vision to the brightness. Jeeminy Christmas.
It was like the Griswold’s house at Christmastime. It lit up the whole bloody campground into outter space. Of course my husband, never one to appreciate the humor of being rudely awoken in the middle of the night by fools or shenanigans, shuffled out of his bed, unzipped the tent, and bounded outside wearing only his skivvies, shouting to the man in his big booming voice, with his arms stretched wide, “REALLY? You think you could shut off that sun beam or shall I come shut it off for you? Maybe you didn’t notice our lights were off because we are all SLEEPING?” (Of course those might not have been his exact words).
The guy, not having a death wish, mumbled an apology and quickly turned off his infernal sun beam, and gently flipped on his van headlights instead, so he could see to set up his camp, which at least weren’t aimed right at our tent.
Diffused by the man’s semi-favorable reaction, husband turned around and crawled back inside our tent, shooting a last glare his direction, and then wiggled back into bed. The girls and I held our silent giggles under our bedcovers astonished at dad’s audacious immodesty and bravado. Oh my gosh, dad was in his underpants out there in front of everybody.
The commotion next door seemed to settle down a bit, but it was still really kind of hard to relax and go to sleep. We all laid flat on our backs staring up, just kind of waiting for the adrenaline rush to pass, the night to fall silent again, and our new neighbors to be settled. And finally there was some still and quiet.
Until their air compressor blasted on – the loudest, most deafening air compressor on the planet. We levitated in our beds.
Of course, you can doubtless imagine the hubbie’s reaction. Uh huh, yep…he went boiling out of our tent again and marched in a tempest (in yes, only his fruit-of-the-looms) over to the neighbor’s camp. All the way over. Family looking on.
After a formidable discourse, plausibly inches from the man’s face, which was probably a necessary distance for the man to even be able to hear him over the roar of the machine, the compressor fell silent, and once again our gallant victor returned home. The girls and I were petrified to make a sound. Trust me, we’ve been on the receiving end of a few oh-crap-we-woke-dad-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night altercations and they are fairly terrifying. Don’t worry, he would never lay a hand on us, so we never had anything to truly fear, but still, maybe it is the tone of his voice, or the fury in his eyes, or the earth-shattering tumult of his footsteps? It is sobering to say the least. And afterwards, when the dust has settled and you realize you’re still alive and breathing, dad’s bombastries are pretty darned entertaining.
As hubbie was just crawled back in bed, the man starting his van, and then drove away very slowly, with the lights off until he got past our tent. Wow. Had dad chased them off we wondered? Were they going to another campground now? We laid in our sleeping bags and listened as the van got farther and farther away, a mile or two at least. And then just as all fell quiet there came from the far far distance the drone of that compressor. The poor man had driven to the other side of town apparently to air up his mattresses. That’s when we all lost it with laughter.
After a few minutes we heard the compressor shut off and his van slowly return to camp, again with lights off as he went past our tent.
Mind you, none of this would have been a big deal if the man had arrived at camp at a decent hour of the evening…but at almost midnight? And with everyone’s lights off? And having a tent and air mattresses to set up? Seriously, how rude!
Not a word was spoken for the rest of the night by any of us. We all tucked in and waited for the winkin, blinkin, and nods to decend.
Not more than half an hour into the delicious rim cycle snores, a gust of wind came up and blew our rain sleeve off the tent. Being very light sleepers at this point, able to hear a mouse fart in Arkansas, hubby and I ran to catch it before it blew away into the next county. We dragged it back inside with us and laid back down on our beds.
That’s when the rain started. Small drops at first that began as a squad of paratroopers falling as mist on our bare skin through the screened opening at the top of the tent. Before long, great big rain galloped as a thundering herd toward us and landed as great giant drops on our heads that drizzled down our scalps. Husband and I groaned, hoping it would stop soon, contemplating just pulling the covers over our heads, but it only got worse, with flashes of lightening and crashes of thunder. So we crawled around on our hands and knees with a flashlight until we found the rainsleeve, crumpled by the door, and scrambled outside to get it on the tent before a full-fledged deluge poured in upon us and drenched all our stuff.
We struggled a little bit with the breezes to flip the rain sleeve into place, but finally got the thing flopped across the netted part as we leaned awkwardly over our dome home in the darkness. Praise the Lord, we managed to git-er-done without falling into the tent and squishing a kid or dog, or touching the walls of the tent – to cause the rain to seep inside. At least the rain on the outside of the tent made the rain sleeve stick in place, helping us to decide (foolishly) not to stake it down. Soaked to the bone we again assumed the position, determined to steal some shut-eye.
In just a little while the rain stopped and the winds came up again and of course blew the rain sleeve off, which sent husband and I bolting to our feet AGAIN to run and catch the gosh darned thing before it sailed away to God knows where. This time we took the time to fasten the g.d. thing down, like we should have done when we first set up the tent. Ugh. At least our jammies had a chance to dry out some.
At the crack of morning, which seemed like just a few minutes from our last catastrophe, our dreary-eyed little crew emerged from the tent. We dropped our butts in the lawn chairs, taking a few minutes to wake up, when we noticed that our poor neighbors, the woman and daughter, were sitting in their van wrapped in blankets. The man had their tent all to himself, and it didn’t take us any time at all to surmise why. The snoring was like a jack-hammer on a Chicago sidewalk, but worse than that, about every few minutes came a blanket-rumbling, earth shattering billow of flatulence that made even us want to run and duck for cover. Merciful heavens! We held our hands over our faces and chuckled at the absurdity. Seems the only one of us to get any sleep last night was the obnoxious man.
Aaaaannnd, so we learned our first valuable car camping lessons:
Forget about the view or personal space if you are gonna tent camp at a KOA
Always bring a battery operated fan, or foam earplugs and silky sleep masks as back up
Always, always, always attach and stake down the rain sleeve
Find the humor in every situation, you’ll get lots of chances
Going cheap isn’t always the best criteria for vacation planning
If all else fails, be the obnoxious campers that other people stay away from
Stretch! Yawn! Well, c’mon little Petey, let’s go potty!
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