Tag Archives: campground

Willow Flat Campground

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When we were planning our visit to the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park, The Lady of the House suggested we spend a night in the Park’s Willow Flat Campground. Sunset at the Green River Overlook was a big deal, as was sunrise at Mesa Arch. Camping in the Park would make it easier for us to get to the viewing points at the appropriate times. Also, living in a major metropolitan area means The Lady doesn’t get nearly enough dark sky. The International Dark-Sky Association named Canyonlands an International Dark-Sky Park, so she wanted to camp there to get a good look at the stars in the heavens.

During early April when we visited Canyonlands, campsites were not reserveable. We were on a strictly first come, first served basis, so we wanted to get there early to improve our chances of getting a site.

When we rolled into the Park, no one was staffing the admissions booth, so The Lady said she’d have to go inside the visitor center to show her Southeast Utah Group Annual Pass. As we went past the admissions booth, we were dismayed to see a large wooden sign declaring the campground was full. We’d woken early and emerged from the van into a frosty morning to eat a quick breakfast and get on the road. Could the campground really be full this early in the day? The Lady said she’d double check on the campground’s status when she went inside to show her pass.

I stayed outside to check the transmission fluid level in my van. The Lady returned to the parking lot triumphant. There was space in the campground! The woman in the visitor center said they never removed the sign that said the campground was full, but that morning they’d received no report that all of the campsites were occupied.

(Excuse me, but what’s the point of a sign that’s supposed to report the status of a changeable situation but is never removed?)

The Lady and I hopped into the van and drove directly to Willow Flat Campground. We pulled in and saw a site that seemed unoccupied. We certainly saw no personal belongings anywhere on the site. There was a piece of yellow paper clipped to the sign pole in front of the site. Upon examining the yellow paper, we found written on it that day’s date. It appeared that the folks who’d stayed on the site the night before were scheduled to check out that morning and had in fact already left. Score! We had our site!

I pulled the van onto the flat asphalt parking pad. We got out of the van and looked around. Was there a camp host we should see? Should we look for a self-pay envelope and an iron ranger?

Across the paved road that ran through the campground, an elderly couple was bustling around on their campsite. They seemed to be packing up, so I supposed they could tell me the process to go through to pay for a campsite.

Hello! I called out to them, or perhaps I said, Excuse me, as I walked into the street and approached their site. Is there a camp host here? I asked once I had their attention.

A what? they both asked, not quite in unison.

I thought the problem was one of hearing, so I repeated, A camp host? a bit louder.

A what? they both asked again in utter confusion.

A camp host, I said once again, then added, the person you pay for your campsite.

You pay with an envelope, the old man said, pointing. He and the woman continued to look at me as if I were a very strange person using an obviously fabricated term to confuse them. How was it possible they’d never encountered the term “camp host”? Was this their first camping trip? Obviously, not every campground has a camp host, but these people seemed unaware of the very concept. However, they had answered my question about where to pay, so I thanked them and moved on.

The Lady and I walked in the direction the old man had pointed and found self-pay envelopes and the iron ranger.

Our campsite in Willow Flat Campground

The camping fee was $15, as expected from what we’d read online. For our money we got clean pit toilets with toilet paper, trash cans, a flat space to park the van, a fire ring, and a picnic table under a shade structure. The grounds of the campground were very clean and well-maintained.

When The Lady and I read the information boards near the iron ranger, we learned about the procedure for disposing of grey water. We were either supposed to strain all food out of wash water, then sprinkle the de-fooded water on the road or dispose of nonstrained water by pouring it into one of the pit toilets. I’d never heard of this sort of cleanup, but I suspect it’s to keep wild animals away from campers.  I suppose even the smallest food particles on the ground attracts critters, so this is a way to keep the campground unappealing to unwanted visitors.

After dinner, The Lady and I went to the Green River Overlook to watch the sun set. Unfortunately, the sunset was a non-event, but we were still glad to have our spot at Willow Flat. We were in the van soon after dark, early to bed with plans to rise early for sunrise at Mesa Arch.

 

 I took all the photos in this post.

Thieves!

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The Man and I got up the mountain early and started our season of work. He was hired to be the camp host at the campground where I’d held that position for two seasons as well as to work at the parking lot for the trail. I was hired to work at the store, but it wasn’t scheduled to open until Memorial Day Weekend. Before the campgrounds were even open, The Man was working to get his and the one next to the parking lot ready for campers. I worked at the parking lot on the weekends, collected the day use envelopes each evening, and spent my nights babysitting yurts.

We worked on the mountain for six days, then went back down in the valley for staff training. We spent two days in the conference room of a shabby hotel with our work camper peers, learning about the company we work for and how to properly complete paperwork. Our two days off (Friday and Saturday) occurred immediately after our training. Friday was payday, so we stayed in town Thursday night and did our shopping on Friday morning. We were back on the mountain by early Friday afternoon. All told, we spent two nights away from the campground.

On Sunday I worked at the parking lot while The Man did more prep work at the main campground. On Monday I spent my entire work day reconciling the money I’d collected at the parking lot over the last eight days while The Man wroked at the main campground again, this time removing tarps from yurt platforms. We ate breakfast and dinner at our campground on those days, and The Man spent his nights there while I was away guarding the yurts, but neither of us ventured far from our campsite.

On Tuesday we planned to spend our morning at our campground. The store yurt was up, and the box truck with all the fixtures was supposed to arrive on Tuesday afternoon. The Man and I were going to help unload it. Before that, I wanted to give the restrooms at the trail a good sanitizing cleaning. The Man and I decided before we headed to our work down the road, we’d spend the early part of our morning working at our campground.

I was in a restroom on the back side of the campground wiping down the outside of a pit toilet when I heard The Man yell.

Honey! Honey! he shouted. Someone stole a fire ring!

A fire ring? I wondered. Those things were made of metal and heavy. How could someone steal a fire ring? Doing so would not be a casual endeavor. Why would someone steal a fire ring?

I walked out to where The Man was standing on site #1. Sure enough, it was lacking a fire ring. I remembered seeing it while raking on site #1 before we went to civilization for training, so I knew it hadn’t been stolen over the winter.

The thieves had pulled the fire ring up from where it had been partially sunk in the ground. We could see the marks in the dirt where it had been dragged across the site.

The Man wondered if someone he’d told the campground was closed and sent on their way had stolen the fire ring as a form of revenge.

I doubt it, I told him. No one in a Volvo stole the fire ring to bring it home to suburbs. I bet someone in a truck took it, but there’s no way we’ll ever know.

The Man said this was a wake-up call for us; we should put our things (water jugs, stove, propane tank) away when we left the campground. I just mentally rolled my eyes. I always put my stuff away before The Man came along and told me I was being overly cautious.

I can’t believe someone stole the fire ring, The Man said for the tenth time.

Actually, I counterd, I’m surprised it hasn’t happened before.

If you enjoyed this story, check out my book Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods. It’s all about my two seasons as a camp host and parking lot attendant at a very popular trailhead.

 

Rockhound State Park (NM)

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I’d been hearing about  Rockhound State Park near Deming, NM ever since I’d started hanging around rock people in Taos. It was a state park, they’d tell me with wonder in their voices, where you could mine for New Mexico minerals. Maybe I’m just a Negative Nelly, but I doubted there would be many shiny rocks left in the park after thousands (tens of thousands? hundreds of thousands?) of visitors had already taken home all they wanted.

I finally got to visit Rockhound State Park in December 2017. I was heading west from Truth or Consequences, NM, and I had a state parks pass, so I decided to spend the night in the park’s campground. I arrived late in the day, so I didn’t stop at the visitor center. I didn’t go to the visitor center the next day either. I can’t remember exactly why. I remember I was sad because of recent relationship troubles, so I guess I was content to stay close to my van home.

When I pulled into the campground late on a Sunday afternoon, most of the developed campsites without electricity were occupied. I didn’t want to pay an additional $4 for electricity I didn’t need, so I was happy to get what seemed to be the last available basic developed site. My site was close to the day use parking area and the adjacent trail. My site was also within walking distance of a clean pit toilet. I was grateful to have a flat spot to park my van.

This photo shows the view of the campground from the beginning of the Jasper Trail. I was camped next to the first ramada on the left in the foreground of the photo.

The campsites are quite close together in the area where I found my spot. During my first evening there, I very clearly heard my next door neighbor’s side of a phone conversation. He was sitting outside near his large rig, but I could hear him so easily, he might as well have been sitting at my picnic table. By the sound of his accent, he was from Wisconsin or Minnesota, and he wasn’t too impressed with the campground we were in. He and his wife preferred Oliver Lee State Park, he told the person on the other end of his conversation. I would have preferred silence, but I guess we were both destined to be dissatisfied that night.

I drove around the campground while looking for a site, but once I found my place, I didn’t venture away from my loop. I just didn’t feel motivated to walk around the campground. I suppose I wanted to stay close to the security of my cozy home. I certainly didn’t want to experience yet another cold New Mexico state park shower, so I didn’t seek out the bathhouse.

The loud Midwesterner and his lady left in the morning and I had a few hours of quiet early in the day. I cooked some breakfast, then tidied the van. I planned to leave the next day, and I wanted to be rested upon departure.

In the afternoon I decided to go for a walk on the nearby Jasper Trail. The trail started just across the pavement from my van, so I didn’t have far to go to get to it. I wasn’t so interested in the trail itself, but I did feel like I needed some exercise. I wanted to stretch my legs and get my blood circulating.

I walked for maybe half an hour. I saw scrubby bushes, cacti, and some rock formations, but no cool shiny rocks. I wasn’t really looking for shiny rocks, and I didn’t get off the trail, so I’m not really surprised that I didn’t find anything I wanted to load into the van. I’m sure a lot of people had walked that trail before me and any nice rocks were long gone from the immediate vicinity.

This photo shows a view of the jagged rocks I saw from the Jasper Trail.

The State Parks website says of Rockhound State Park,

Located on the rugged west slope of the Little Florida Mountains, Rockhound State Park is a favorite for “rockhounds” because of the abundant agates and quartz crystals found there.

I suspect folks who are interested in collecting rock specimens in the park know where to look to increase their chances of finding what they want. Perhaps the workers at the visitor center advise rockhounds on where to dig for the minerals they seek.

Not long after I returned to my camp, a loud, slightly dilapidated, medium-size motor home pulled into the campground. I noticed it right away. It circled the campground, then chose the site right next to mine. To be fair, the site right next to mine may have been the only available one in the place.

After the loud conversation from next door the night before, I was hoping for a quiet evening. Unfortunately, the man who disembarked from the noisy moter home was not a quiet man. Fortunately (for me at least), he latched onto the couple on the other side of him. The man was loud and animated and quite possibly on meth. There was just something about him that made me want to avoid eye contact.

The motorhome man built a campfire and convinced his other neighbors to sit around it with him. I avoided eye contact with all of them by keeping my head down while I cooked dinner. When my meal was ready, I ate it in my van. Once the dishes were washed, I got in my van and locked the doors. At some point the newcomer settled down and went into his own rig, where he was quiet enough not to disturb me for the rest of the night.

I was out of the campground the next morning before check-out time. I had a list of thrift stores I wanted to visit before I left Deming, and I was on a schedule, so my time of lingering was over. The motorhome man didn’t bother me, for which I was thankful.

I would stay at Rockhound State Park again, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to stay there. It was a fine campground, but not spectacular in any way I noticed.

I took all the photos in this post.

I Just Got Here

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The day had been frustrating. The cash register computer wasn’t working, and we’d had to write information about each item purchased on a paper receipt and do all the math with a calculator. It was hot, and I was tired and looking forward to shutting and locking the doors to the mercantile very soon. That’s when the old lady walked in.

She had totally white hair, but it wasn’t styled in some old lady way. It fell straight to several inches above her shoulders, and she had wispy bangs.

She wasn’t dressed in old lady fashion either. She wore sporty-casual clothes in solid colors. She looked as if she had come to hike or camp, definitely to enjoy the outdoors.

Her face was tan and wrinkled, and I noticed during our interaction that her head trembled frequently. I wondered if Parkinson’s disease, which made my grandmother’s head shake late her life, caused this woman’s tremors too.

The old woman didn’t say greet us. She didn’t waste time with any niceties. She simply launched in, demanding in her pronounced German accent, Vere is de campground?

You’re in the campground, I told her. This is the campground.

Vere are the sites? she demanded further.

The mercantile is at the front of the campground, the sites laid out on either side of a loop with a paved road in the middle. If a person didn’t know she was in a campground, I could see how she could be confused. I thought I was being nice when I explained the layout of the campground to the woman.

I assumed (and assuming makes an ass of u and me, my dad would say) she had a reservation, so I asked her, What site are you on?

I thought she’d give me a site number, and I could send her on her way. Instead, she snapped at me with venom and disdain I felt in my heart, How should I know?!! I just got here!

Oh. Ok. I understood. She was interested in maybe camping in this campground, but she certainly didn’t have a reservation.

Then she fluttered some sheets of paper at me and demanded I show her where we were on the map. I looked at the pages and saw they represented the nearby national park and some northernmost portion of the national forest. I had to inform the woman we weren’t on either page of her map.

I grabbed one of the mercantile’s maps showing our area of the national forest. I opened it, spread it before us on the counter, and pointed to our location. The map was for sale, but I never suggested she buy it.

I don’t need this map! she sneered, although I don’t know how she was going to find her way around since her map didn’t reflect where she actually was.

Next, she wanted to know the fee to stay on one of the campground’s sites. I told her since the camp hosts had the day off and I wasn’t 100% sure of the campground’s fees, she’d have to check the information board near the restrooms. However, I said I thought a tent site cost $24 or $25 a night. I thought she might fall out when she heard the price.

She wanted to know where she could camp for free.

At this point, I was pretty tired of her interrogation tactics, so I shrugged and said, It’s the national forest. You can pull off the road and camp almost anywhere.

She had other questions and complaints. Why weren’t the trails here marked like they were everywhere else? (I hadn’t even formulated an answer before she’d moved on.) Did her card get her a discount? I asked if her card was a senior pass and she said yes, but I don’t know what she actually had. She didn’t show it to me. If it’s a senior pass, you get half off camping fees, I told her.

I pulled out the campground’s daily arrival report and determined which sites were not reserved. You can check out sites 1, 4, 7, and 14, I told her. If you want to stay on any of those sites, get a self-pay envelope from the information board, put your payment in it, and drop it in the iron ranger.

Finally, she left the store.

I turned to The Man who’d silently watched my interaction with the woman.

Is she alone? he whispered. I guess he was worried she was lurking outside the yurt we work in. She’s really old, he continued. What’s she doing out here? Did she come out here to die?

I shrugged again. I didn’t know the answers to his questions, and I didn’t much care. I’d done my best to be nice to someone who hadn’t been one bit nice to me. It wasn’t my job to determine if she was fit to spend time in the woods.

My Campground

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I wrote another poem. I went from zero to two in a couple of weeks, which isn’t a bad speed as far as poems go.

I was writing a letter to my friend and told her I didn’t have words to describe my campground. Then, as is my way, I fired off some words to describe my campground. I contemplated the words and decided they were quite poetic. So I added some words to the original words, then played with the order and finally turned it all into a poem.

I think of it as a poem that resembles an impressionist painting.

My Campground

Trees tower green.

Ladybugs alight.

Campfire smoke tickles nose.

Surrounded by songs of invisible birds.

Occasional mosquito buzzes and bites.

No noise of cars.

Sinking sun illuminates vibrant, verdant meadow.

Gentlest breeze whispers through leaves.

Sky high above crowns, blue one step from grey.

Temperature slowly dips.

Squirrel scampers on the outskirts.

Nature’s peace.

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I took this photo of the vibrant, verdant meadow.