A Short History of the Campsite
June 10, 2012 4:30 PM   Subscribe

That seems to be speaking more of the history of parking than camping. I understand that is one type of camping ("car camping"), but to me camping is being in the middle of nowhere in the Smokies, and that quintessential type of camping is not really even mentioned here.
Every time I go to the Smokies, I'm appalled by the realization that something like 90% of the people never get farther than 1/4 mile from a road there. That's in a park of a half-million acres, with very very few roads.
posted by Red Loop at 4:56 PM on June 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

That's what America has come to...

Worse in some parks than others though. Petrified Forest is a huge offender in this category as well.
posted by Windopaene at 4:58 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't exactly call it a "short" history, but still very interesting.

"The growing presence — or intrusion — of ubiquitous media certainly takes us yet further away from the old idealization of the nature campground as wild place. "

Maybe most people don't want to feel like they're in a truly wild place? An imitation of the wilds of yore, but still essentially safe, seems to be preferred. It reminds me of Michael Moore's theory that so much of what is wrong with America has to do with a culture based on fear. We're a fearful nation. We want to get away from it all but we don't want to drown in a flash flood in the middle of the night. Seems reasonable to me.
posted by bleep at 5:07 PM on June 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

//I'm appalled by the realization that something like 90% of the people never get farther than 1/4 mile from a road there. That's in a park of a half-million acres, with very very few roads.//

IMHO, that is a feature, not a bug. Because I do venture off the road, and I find better scenery and blissful solitude fairly quickly whenever I do.

First camping trip of the summer is in 3 weeks.
posted by COD at 5:12 PM on June 10, 2012 [6 favorites]

Some people enjoy camping who aren't physically able to get too far off the road. I also will dip into the pool of "That's a feature".
posted by Malice at 5:16 PM on June 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

Who in the camping community has not experienced a degree of gear envy at the sight, on a neighboring camp, of a brand new Primus Gravity II EasyFuel stove (with piezo ignition), a Sierra Designs tent, or a Marmot sleeping bag?

Well - me, for instance. Also, you're doing it wrong.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:37 PM on June 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

Car camping serves its purpose, and I don't think it's one to categorically disparage. I just got back from an overnight camping trip (funny to open Metafilter to this) . We drove a little over an hour, parked, paid, pitched a tent, cooked hot dogs over a fire, and went on a few hikes that took two hours max.

Did we experience solitude for a long period of time? No. Did we experience the harsh rigors of nature? Definitely not. Did we have a blast? Yes.
posted by Defenestrator at 5:45 PM on June 10, 2012 [16 favorites]

I never really understood "camping" all that much. I mean, I love going out to the desert and sleeping under the stars. But I don't do the trappings of camping (tent, campfire, etc) because it seems frivolous. The most I'll do is pull out a cot and sleeping bag, fiddle with a radio as I look up at the stars.

A few years back, we went on a cross country road trip doing a mix of car camping and motel stays, including a visit to Yellowstone. I thought it was pretty amusing to have a campsite where our neighbor had trouble running their rice cooker off the car inverter. So they did what the other campers with rice cookers(!) did, and ran it off the AC in the heated bathrooms.

While I found that funny, I don't begrudge anyone for it. I have no interest in braving the elements except on my own terms. When it comes down to it, I think that describes just about everyone else on the planet.
posted by 2N2222 at 6:02 PM on June 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just finished, what a well written piece. Although this is terrifying:

"And the Internet is altering the experience of camping as well. Wireless access to the World Wide Web is becoming standard at many campgrounds; campers can now post and read blogs and send and receive email from their tent in the wilderness."
posted by Defenestrator at 6:10 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Without car camping, the only places to stay around most park areas are overpriced resorts, which are often upwards of $150 a night. So it has a major function in making these places more accessible for the non-upper-class.

Backpacking is better, but it pretty much consumes your day.

That being said, RVs are not camping. If you appreciate nature, stop working toward its destruction by driving around a house.
posted by Mitrovarr at 6:19 PM on June 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Web access has been common for at least 5 years at many commercial campgrounds. And cable TV has been available for at least 20. I used to ask my dad what the point was of hauling the pop-up to a campground if he was just going to sit in the air conditioned trailer and watch TV. He could do that at home.

Personally, I'm disappointed when I have cell service at a campground. However, as a Sprint customer that is usually not a problem :) We do mostly car camp, because it's hard to keep beer cold in a backpack. However, we usually go back county all day hiking and return to the "civilization" of the campgound for dinner and to hang out around the campfire with a few beers.
posted by COD at 6:21 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wasn't saying car camping is bad, it's just not the only way, though it's the only way mentioned in the link (for the most part). I'm all for people getting out and enjoying the outdoors, because the vast majority of people have no real connection to nature and yet they're making decisions that have huge impacts on it every day.
But I'm also appreciative of the fact that I go hiking all the time and rarely see another human where I go. That's why I go there.
posted by Red Loop at 6:23 PM on June 10, 2012

Never really understood the RVers. I can understand pop-up campers, but one look inside a modern RV and the pull-through spaces that accommodate them just blows my mind. Its carrying your own bubble around with you. Thankfully Texas state parks do a good job separating the tent camping and RVs on different loops. There are so many that bring strings of lights and illuminate their whole spot, the light pollution is irritating. Most of the time you've got a beautiful canvas of stars above you, drowned out by the wall-to-wall lighting.

I read a fair amount of camping forums, and boon docking (camping in dispersed areas, like a national forest where you find an empty spot and setup camp) is discussed with long lists of what one needs to bring, including generators and other accoutrements. Why not just stay home?

I often can't get farther than car camping with five kids, just the food and water would be too much to carry as the kids can't for the most part. I am planning a 65-mile hike with camping along the way.
posted by narcoleptic at 6:34 PM on June 10, 2012

This is a pretty interesting article, though it does not include a single use of the word "backpack", and it's hard to read without a mixture of pity for and annoyance at the author. This architect is afraid to leave the pavement, and imagines that there is nothing left unpaved.
posted by nixt at 6:34 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Honestly, I tend to feel even a bit frustrated when people I'm camping with insist on having a boom box to they can listen to music. Bring a guitar and make your own music, or do without. Or go stay Ina KOA or something. Don't drag your urban noises out to places where I go to gt away from exactly that kind of thing.

I'm really not that much of a stick in the mud, and rarely actually say anything to people about it when out camping... I just really don't understand the inability to be away from Internet, video, music,etc for a day or three.
posted by hippybear at 6:36 PM on June 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

Defenestrator: "Although this is terrifying:

"And the Internet is altering the experience of camping as well. Wireless access to the World Wide Web is becoming standard at many campgrounds; campers can now post and read blogs and send and receive email from their tent in the wilderness."

Not sure why it's "terrifying" to you. It's far less intrusive than boomboxes, or white-gas Coleman lamps, or even Winnebagos.

It is simply a fact: the idea of "camping" for some conjures images that are less wild and natural than the cityscape out my back door (100' of thicket-covered hill to the next well-traveled road), while for others it's sleeping in a down mummy bag under a guylined poncho shelter, with no one within a mile (as far as anyone can tell).

Since ubiquitous cellphones make the deaths of inexperience hikers less likely, I'll vote for more twitter posts from the campfire. And fewer supernova-bright Coleman lanterns.
posted by IAmBroom at 6:38 PM on June 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

But I don't do the trappings of camping (tent, campfire, etc) because it seems frivolous.
But I'm also appreciative of the fact that I go hiking all the time and rarely see another human where I go. That's why I go there.

This is one element or mode of camping, and it's a beautiful and magnificent one, facing an entire sky full of stars alone is awe inspiring.

But there's another mode of camping, which I just got back from a couple days ago. And that's sitting around a campfire in the middle of nowhere with a group of friends, old and new, talking into the night and just enjoying the warmth and light of the fire together as darkness falls around you. Laughing and telling stories. And yes, sometimes you throw on some frivolous marshmallows and have s'mores, but it's part of the ritual.

They're both kind of awesome to be honest.
posted by formless at 6:45 PM on June 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

Oh, academia. Is there nothing you can't suck the joy out of?
posted by drlith at 7:06 PM on June 10, 2012 [7 favorites]

Well 2N2222, I'm about to take a cross-country, solo, motel/car camping mid-life crisis car trip, and I'm going to go through Yellowstone as well. I'm super psyched. And what's really crazy, is that I can use google maps, expedia, and a few other internet appliances, to check out where I'm going, how far I can travel in a day, where I might be able to camp on the way, and what the topography will look like. It's kind of freaky.

But everyone "camps" in their own way, and what might be camping to one person, (in their RV or car camping), isn't the same as camping to someone else, (off in the backcountry).

No one is going to convice the others that their camping doesn't count. You'll just have to shake your head and sigh at what those other uncouth campers are doing...
posted by Windopaene at 7:10 PM on June 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

My favorite kind of camping is hiking in to a forest service or an Alaska state cabin. As a matter of fact, I was making out my shopping list for my Thursday trip out to West Turner Lake this morning. However, I dig car camping, too. And tent camping. And what have you. However, I really don't dig radio blasting, 4-wheelin', we have a working fridge RV camping.
posted by Foam Pants at 7:25 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wanted to love it--I was planning to share it--but then it started draaaagging. Badly in need of some unforgiving slashes of an editor's red pen.
posted by mantecol at 7:45 PM on June 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

Not my idea of a camp site.
posted by parki at 8:00 PM on June 10, 2012

I grew up car camping in Glacier (grandparents lived an hour or so away), and while I don't think it's the greatest way to camp, I don't think it's that bad either. Not everyone can spend hundreds or thousands of dollars and days upon days of hiking and hauling in order to commune with nature. It's a good thing that nature is relatively accessible in this way.

On the other hand, there's a special place in hell for whoever it was that built a giant car-camping-lite compound (this KOA, I think) just outside of Devil's Tower National Monument and insists on having loud and bad cover bands playing late into the night. It's within earshot of every campsite in the campground underneath the tower, and it ruins the experience of being in that place. Maybe it doesn't happen there often, but a third play through of Sweet Home Alabama really has a way of souring an otherwise beautiful star-lit night under that rock.
posted by msbrauer at 8:02 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Perhaps it should be pointed out that this essay is not about camping, hiking or backpacking; it is about campsites. And their history. Hence the title. Not that I would want to discourage any good wild-woods camping stories ... but nice piece, anyway. And I like the postcards/pictures.
posted by obloquy at 8:21 PM on June 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

No one is going to convice the others that their camping doesn't count. You'll just have to shake your head and sigh at what those other uncouth campers are doing...

Mmmm... I think you're mistaking me for someone else. I like car camping. Pretty much the only kind I do. I just think on the list of things to take, the rice cooker falls pretty low in priority.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:28 PM on June 10, 2012

I've done the backwoods camping thing, did a little 1500 mile hike over something that may or may not have been called the Appalachian Trail, whatever the heck that may be. I did some other cool trips as well, but nothing like that one.

I loved the heck out of that trip. If it weren't for the fact that digital photography hadn't been invented at the time and the concept of actually having to walk through clouds on a regular basis I might actually have some decent pictures of the place. (spoiler: the moisture ruined my film, even the ones in the canisters) Anyway, I have some awesome memories, some I'd even like to share with my new family.

Here's the problem, it's highly unlikely that the girlfriend and three year old are able to make that trip. Okay, maybe when the little one is older? Nope, I'll never have a job where I can take three months off from work. (What, does this place look like Germany?) Plus, there was that whole concept of nonstop walking that probably doesn't go over too well after a couple knee surgeries, or the losing 30 pounds because you haven't eaten a real meal in months. Those sorts of things tend to ruin family get togethers.

So the middle of the road between full blown beard-growing living in a tent for months on end and never leaving the comfort of the air conditioned house... is a bit of car camping. Drive out to a place that you don't live, do some sightseeing during the day, come home to a cozy tent at night. Sometimes it's just down the road to the nearest city/state/national park, sometimes it's a full blown trip that takes serious planning. We've done the mountains, the beach, the zoo, a couple of aquariums, once we even did something crazy and camped in the backyard.

Wanna know a secret though? It doesn't really matter where you go, just that you go. I'm spending that time away from this confounded keyboard thing, and actually with my family. Walking through the woods learning about the different types of trees, or clouds, or even different building materials of a time long ago. (How else would I know that my three year old, who refuses to wear anything but a dress to school, absolutely loves playing with bugs.)

Sure, we've got the gas stove, the lanterns, the fancy tent that wouldn't bio-degrade in a thousand years. Things that they didn't have 5, 10, or 100 years ago. But that was the point of all of these fancy things was't it? To make living life a bit easier, right? I mean, to make something overly difficult just for the sake of being difficult... what's the benefit there again?

So yeah, it's not quite like it used to be. But that's okay too.
posted by Blue_Villain at 9:28 PM on June 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

An RV with my bikes (bmw touring, mountain, road) and hammock would be nice. A base, lots of flyover (drivethru) country between me and the most remote places.

The article was ok, a bit tl;dr.
posted by sfts2 at 9:42 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just think on the list of things to take, the rice cooker falls pretty low in priority.

I dunno, did it have Fuzzy Logic? I've read on Ask MeFi that those things are pretty life changing.
posted by formless at 9:44 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I camped off and on for 8 months last year. Let me tell you, when you walk about 25 or 30 miles and then you get to a park and then you have to hike another 5 miles in to the "designated camp" and then you get there and find a bunch of people who drove in and set up bizarre, loud, disco gypsy camp sites with lights and generators...it's frustrating.
posted by 3200 at 10:01 PM on June 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Also, KOAs across the country are expensive and bizarre. I disliked them and didn't stay at a single KOA during my whole trip--in WV, they tried to charge me 10 bucks to walk across one on my way into Harper's Ferry. Not even to stay there. Bizarre.
posted by 3200 at 10:03 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

IAmBroom: "Since ubiquitous cellphones make the deaths of inexperience hikers less likely, I'll vote for more twitter posts from the campfire. And fewer supernova-bright Coleman lanterns."

Didn't think about that, good point.

The reason I say wireless internet is "terrifying" is that, for me, the most annoying technological intrusion I experience in everyday life is people I'm with checking or messing with their phones all. of. the. time. Conversations be damned. Camping has always offered a respite from that, so I'd be sad to lose those 24-48 hours of people focusing on everything else but their little screens.
posted by Defenestrator at 10:20 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

And I say that as an owner of a little screen myself. It's nice to not even have the option to pull it out and mess with it while camping.
posted by Defenestrator at 10:21 PM on June 10, 2012

narcoleptic: What hike you doing?
posted by 3200 at 10:36 PM on June 10, 2012

I love car camping. And you know what? For me, and I'd venture to say for most people, that's what we should be doing. Drive out, camp overnight, spend a day or two doing five or ten mile hikes, coming back to the site, chilling out. I love finding good undeveloped campsites down rough four-wheel drive roads, setting up where I'll only see a few people in a few days, and I can't hear anyone at night.

All within a couple of hours of cell phone range, max. Why? Because it's insanely freaking dangerous out there.

I respect the hell out of those of you who can pack everything you need for a few days on your back and head out into the middle of absolutely nowhere. But it's more risk than I'm willing to take. I can get far enough away from it all without facing my mortality head-on, thanks.

I don't have the experience or the equipment to do back country camping safely, so I don't do it. I think most experienced back country campers should be able to appreciate that.

Now I just have to wait for monsoon season, and hope that we get enough rain that they'll lift the state-wide ban on any sort of campfires whatsoever. It's just not camping without a campfire. (And because I car camp, I can bring all my own wood, no problem.)
posted by MrVisible at 11:02 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

We car camp but choose carefully. The trick is "tents only" or "primitive" campgrounds. State campgrounds are quieter. It's not backpacking but much closer to it than RVing. If you pick a place with no showers, it cuts down on the rice cooker crowd!
posted by theredpen at 12:44 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I went car-camping just yesterday (well, I got back yesterday). I love car-camping at this time of year (-6C/21F at night) because I can bring hot water bottles, and litres of mulled wine, and jaffle irons (link because I don't know what the rest of the world calls them, but I'm pretty sure it's not that).

The people at the campsite across the road, however, thought it necessary to bring flagpoles and Australian flags, for which I judged them mercilessly.
posted by lollusc at 1:59 AM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

The one big camping trip my family took when I was growing up, we did a rustic version of car camping - my uncle and aunt and cousins and my family all came in cars, but we had no radios, no fancy generators, none of that crap; we all had our own tents, we came prepared to cook over a fire, and we entertained ourselves during the day with hikes and bathed in the lake and used the outhouse on our site for our other toilette.

...And then after two days, my father and I got bored one night and snuck over to where all the RVs were parked so we could watch the 1984 Olympics on someone's TV.

Car camping isn't hardcore - but it's good training wheels for those unsuited to regular camping.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:08 AM on June 11, 2012

You know what? Camping is great. And it's exactly what you want it to be. Take as much or as little as you want -- an army blanket and snake-bite kit, or a portable bordello. Accept as much risk as you are willing from "[holds up cutting] mom, is this poison ivy?" to judging companions based on sprinting speed. And the best part about it is if you are not getting what you want, you can move somewhere else!

Windowpaene, my sole advice to you having done an 8 month tour is this: when you see something interesting, stop, and check it out. Because you don't get a second chance. It's not how fast you get to the day's destination, it's the trip itself that matters. Duh, maybe, but that was kind of the key revelation for me -- and about the journey's metaphor for life itself -- that I picked up along the way.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:41 AM on June 11, 2012

....I want to know where CampMor or EMS feature the portable bordellos in their catalog now.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:52 AM on June 11, 2012

I was around four and a half when my youngest sister died. It was devastating of course for our parents. My dad did something pretty sensible, he decided we would all spend the summer auto camping. There were many highlights of that trip, me riding my first pony and taking off at a gallop, my parents seeing a grizzly in the night, and a mountain lion, me going and getting water-cress. For all of us the deliciousness of food cooked over a fire, burro-trekking on burros I personally got to pick. I was little but had alwYs a good eye for horses and burros. My sister that was next youngest and I were in big blanket saddle-bags.

It did a world of good for all four of us.

We also camped in Death Valley. That was good for us all.

My step-father heard and saw a couple of the last feral camels in America while campling with is otherwise dreadful Boy-Scout troop. They were a female and her calf.

Shortly after I got back from my last trip to BiH in 2008, my family went on a really wonderful camping trip to the San Juans.

Saw the Northern Lights, deer tracks, heard seals having a party.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 6:02 AM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Thanks Katjusa, that sounds like the kind of camping I'm into - exploring and being outside.

The most amazing thing I've seen camping lately was a couple of years ago in Yellowstone. We hadn't intended to go there on our trip , but we ended up going for a day with some friends and decided to stay the night. Because of that, we got one of the last sites in a 200+ site campground. We set up our tent, and because it was already late and the kids were tired, went to bed at 9:15. While we were setting up, two park rangers showed up a the next site and stared a big fire (who has the Parks Service start their fires?). Soon after, a large bus-type RV (the largest one that isn't an actual bus) pulled in.

We went to sleep, but were soon awakened by the sound of rocks landing in our campsite and increasing noise from next door. I went to see what was happening, and the three kids from the RV were standing around the blazing fire, throwing rocks into the darkness, while the parents attempted to set up the RV.

The RV had Vermont plates, but I thought these people must have flown in from somewhere and picked it up from a rental place, because there's no way they could have gone through this before.

Setting up the RV was... complicated. I guess the dad was an executive who hadn't spent much time with his kids, but was used to having people do what they were told. The oldest son was trying to help, but couldn't do anything right - the feeling that he would do anything to get attention from his dad was palpable. The younger son and daughter retreated to the safety of the fire. The Mom tried to remain calm, even as it became increasingly clear that the Dad didn't know what he was doing. (They were trying to level the RV using the hydraulic leveling system from inside.) Amidst all the yelling and anger, you could see all the currents of family turmoil emerging - the distant, controlling father, the dutiful but confused teenage son, the hapless mother, and the isolated younger kids (yes, I'm projecting). It seemed like a soap opera being played out before our eyes; a microcosm of daytime TV. Did I mention the 5000 watt sidelights shining into our campsite? That might have contributed to my sense that this was a portable drama staged for our benefit. It went on far too long, until finally they gave up and went to bed.

We carried on with our trip and had our own adventures, but that scene really stayed with me. I was kind of annoyed at the time, but in retrospect I find I have a lot of sympathy for those people who came all the way to a camp site in the middle of nowhere to learn about their family. I hope they made it home safely.
posted by sneebler at 7:13 AM on June 11, 2012

We go car camping once a year or so, and it's always a bigger production (and more expensive) than it ought to be. I'm sure that enforcement is spotty, at best, but "no alcohol" at state parks is sort of a buzzkill, and many of the private campgrounds are either pricey, poorly-laid-out, or both.

What I'd really like is a well-wooded site a short-enough walk from some kind of toilet facility. I don't need a shower, I don't even really need running water. I just don't want to dig a hole.

We've found a place that meets most of those needs, but it's expensive, and some of the sites are a bit close (and last time there was a very large group just up the hill from us who spent all the darkness hours in an alcohol-and-something-else-fueled rage; they were asked to leave at sunup, but it was still pretty inconvenient).
posted by uncleozzy at 7:23 AM on June 11, 2012

Amidst all the yelling and anger, you could see all the currents of family turmoil emerging - the distant, controlling father, the dutiful but confused teenage son, the hapless mother, and the isolated younger kids (yes, I'm projecting).

As someone who has been the oldest son in this scenario (only son in my case), I'm not sure you can read too much into this interaction. Trying to set up a trailer or RV in the dark is one of those things that seems like it should be so much easier than it is. My father and I had a great relationship, but those late night trailer leveling exercises were a real test of our affection for each other. Admittedly, we were doing it with jacks and not hydraulics, but I doubt it actually helps that much.

My parents are retired now, and they do "camping trips" in the style that a lot of people here find distasteful. They use pull a mid-sized trailer, they have TV and internet, and A/C and all that. I don't see a problem with it because they're going camping for different reasons than people who go backpacking. They like being outdoors, but they don't like sleeping on the ground or hiking long distances and plus they're too old for that. Mostly they like being able to tour the country without having to worry about hotels and being able to cook their own meals and then sit outside after dinner. It's not getting back to nature, or roughing it, or what have you, but they don't pretend it is; it's just a different way to travel.

They've also convinced themselves it's cheaper, which it might be, but I imagine the 10 MPG they get pulling the trailer undermines that a bit.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:57 AM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

IMHO, that is a feature, not a bug. Because I do venture off the road, and I find better scenery and blissful solitude fairly quickly whenever I do.

Yep, 2 summers working and hiking in Yellowstone National Park have confirmed this. Car camping is well and good but it's a different thing and has a different following, often rightly so (kids, time constraints, health requirements, whatever).

But it's sooooo nice to get 3-5 miles into the backcountry and simply not see anyone/anything besides you, your partner, your friends, or just... nature.

Anyone heading to YNP who would like local tips/secrets, ping me, I'm not scared to share.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:25 AM on June 11, 2012

There was an article in the Globe & Mail this weekend about a woman who left $1M to Parks Canada as a bequest, which has been used to set up a new campground with yurts:
“They are ideal for older visitors who might not want to rough it out any more but still enjoy the outdoors, but also people who are new to camping and need a way to ease into the whole experience,” said Frank Burrows, park superintendent for Bruce National Park. “We think it really works with what Marjorie was trying to do ... encourage more people to enjoy our national parks.”

posted by sevenyearlurk at 8:47 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

uncleozzy: Have you tried National Forest campgrounds? They tend to be more utilitarian than the private campgrounds, and usually have at least pit toilets if not full bathroom and shower facilities. They also are a lot cheaper than KOA and its ilk. I'm staying at a National Forest campground next month with full showers and a sandy beach on a lake for $16 a day. No electricity, but like you, I don't need it.
posted by COD at 9:55 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

In the Summer of 2010 (has it been 2 years already?) we packed up our three kids (8,10,12) and medium size dog into the pickup, hooked up our 30 foot travel trailer and set out to see the U.S. (Trip map). For 9 weeks our family spent all day every day together. And all night every night together. From the indescribable natural beauty of the Badlands to the wilderness of Yellowstone, from the ancient history of Mesa Verde to the recent history of La Push, from the luxury of "Glamping" in Santa Barbara to parking on the surface of the Sun in Las Vegas in July, from the tearful airport separation when I flew home for two weeks to the joy of discovering new places as Grandparents flew out to take my place for a bit, every day was a day of discovery, but also another day doing the same thing we did yesterday - discovery!

Bulgaroktonos faithfully describes our travel trailer camping motivation (and set-up experience) - it is an amazing way to push the limits of the family bonds and experience the growing pains and healing times that come from stepping outside your comfort zone. Yes, there are creature comforts, it is not backpacking, and certainly no hike on the AT (damn you Bill Bryson), but it is a voyage nonetheless and we're a better family for having taken it. Next year - Lord willing and the creek don't rise - Nova Scotia!
posted by ElGuapo at 10:35 AM on June 11, 2012

The urban planner in me is really fascinated that the idea of the loop-and-spur campground for cars and trailers traces back to a single guy, rather than developing organically. I think there was a lot of this sort of adaptation in the 20s or thereabouts -- car loops are found even in small municipal parks.

Anyway, we did a fair bit of cross-country travel made cheaper by camping (with an itty-bitty fold-out trailer) when I was a kid. One of our trips was made slightly more memorable by arriving in a Nebraska town (N. Platte, Kearney, or Grand Island?) in a driving rainstorm at night, unable to find the campground we were expecting, so we found a parking lot and pitched up there. In the morning it turned out we were in a city park surrounded by houses.

My parents have a legendary family story about when I was a baby and they camped during a trip to Florida, only to find the entire campsite swarming with mosquitos. Everyone including me was eaten alive.

If I can ever get my endurance up, I hope to do a bike tour, such as around Lake Michigan. It's not exactly backpacking and it certainly isn't exactly car camping. But it's a thing.
posted by dhartung at 11:56 AM on June 11, 2012

Well that was a particularly tedious article. The author writes it as if he's going to be graded on it. Some good points are made, but like other people here mention, this pertains mainly to car-camping. I would agree with his insightful observations regarding the nature of the campground and how it (car camping) essentially allows people to "act out" their wilderness fantasies in a fairly safe setting etc...

Although as I see it, car camping is, for many, a gateway drug to backcountry travel.

It certainly was for me. It allows you to dip your toe into the shallow-end of nature...to give the camper control over his initial exposure to wilderness without letting go of the conveniences of the modern world. It can cultivate a deep appreciation for our natural resources and stimulate the desire to keep them protected from commercial interests. For me this appreciation turned into a desire to go deeper...which led to backpacking and a completely different experience than the one the author discusses.

I will admit that many of his points remain even while backpacking - I am a transient entity essentially carrying enough gear to buffer myself from the full force of nature for the duration of my traverse. I am not 'living' in the wild...to a degree I am like an astronaut in his suit, relying on it to keep him safe. I am certainly acting out a fantasy when backpacking...but it is a more exposed role than car-camping.

I have two backcountry packpacking trips planned for this summer - one in the Sierra Nevada...one through Yellowstone. But on top of that I will also be car-camping in Sequoia NP with my girlfriend, likely in a tent within earshot of the RV crowd and their generators and their TVs (seriously...wtf!?) and their boomboxes.

I still like it. I'm still closer to pristine trails and wildlife than I am in my cubicle. I'm still experiencing a different rhythm to an otherwise cluttered and hectic 21st century life. Camping is a sliding scale...it's choose your own adventure...it's great that we have options, from car-camping to solo backpacking through-hikes. It's whatever you want to do based on your own comfort level.

Regardless of the wi-fi, the bathrooms, the other amenities...there still seems to be an intrinsic desire to know that there is untrammeled wilderness out there...somewhere within a few miles of the thin walls of your RV. We value that and for that I am grateful.
posted by jnnla at 1:18 PM on June 11, 2012

An RV with my bikes (bmw touring, mountain, road) and hammock would be nice. A base, lots of flyover (drivethru) country between me and the most remote places.

Can I come with you?
posted by sundrop at 6:09 PM on June 14, 2012

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