Lured by the hope of a banner season of desert wildflowers and some concentrated family time, we pointed our crumb-strewn Subaru south to the Sonoran Desert for spring break.
We’re used to camping at some remote and ragged spot that Dan pinpoints on a map based on its proximity to elk. We march the kids up mountains, baiting them with kid-marketed snacks like shady tour guides whose commission is earned by miles covered. While we’re thrilled to see the white crowned sparrow haunting the high alpine willows, the kids are likely wondering when they can watch the final movie of the “Hunger Games” series.
In the desert, we stayed at a campground that had a spotless bathroom (electric outlets plugged with blow dryers, cellphones and a Macbook computer), dishwashing station (dish soap provided) and campers with all manner of motor home accommodations arranged in a circle around a large gravel area, in which the kids played soccer when the desert sun relented.
The campground was cheery and orderly. We met a young man on the road from Mississippi with his cat, Leo, whom he took on two leashed walks a day to tire him out. An extroverted, white-haired man from Oregon visited our campfires with his female dog, Barney. He warned the kids, “Barney may reach her limit of being petted. But it hasn’t happened yet.”
At our campground, we were woken up at regular intervals by coyotes. I began to see the nighttime separated into coyote sections, much like an orchestra. Howls from the Catalina foothill section could be heard in the early part of the evening. The Romero Wash section chimed in at dawn.
After four nights of sharing our campground with Barney the dog, who never did tire of being petted, and retirees bouncing around the great Southwest in their spic and span motor homes, Col said to me, “I think this is one of my favorite camping trips yet.”
I didn’t mention to him that this whole trip had reordered my notion of camping. This was the first camping trip where we had taken showers or driven past nations of strip malls to get to the heart of a city (Tucson), or spent mucho dinero to go to a “nature museum” when owls nested just 50 yards from our deluxe bathroom.
It occurred later to Dan and me that maybe at this stage of parenting, where the kids are less small, vocal accessories who just want to be with their parents, and more tweens of growing opinions and preferences, that we may need to rethink our family adventures.
Which is to say, the kids aren’t exactly moved by multiple days of silence and ecological study. They’re not looking to throw off the shackles of civilization’s pressures and cocoon themselves in successive days of email abstinence. In fact, they’re increasingly more interested in what other human animals of their age group are doing and creating. Where we want to unplug and untether ourselves from the wackiness of modern civilization, they want to dive in. And yet, they flourish under the paradigm of family time, nourished by the very act of us eschewing our adult responsibilities to be with them.
So, we’re engineering a new plan called “the family trip.” It’s going to include camping, wilderness time and dipping into nearby towns to touch down into the civilization that provides the kids comfort and fun. It’s not like we’re going to start traveling around in an RV, but maybe we’ll come out of the woods for a funnel cake in Silverton.
Reach Rachel Turiel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her blog, 6512 and growing, on raising children, chickens and other messy, rewarding endeavors at 6,512 feet.