Every year as the days get longer and the temperature rises, I begin to feel the mountains pull at my heartstrings. At our house, we say “the mountains soothe the soul.” In the summer (and even into the fall) our family spends many weekends camping throughout the state. It’s one of the things I love most about living in Colorado. I didn’t grow up here, but my husband did, so naturally, he’s familiar with all the normal outdoor Colorado activities like camping. I wouldn’t categorize myself as an outdoorsy person, but I have a great appreciation for the beauty of our state and feel it’s important to share this appreciation with our kids.
I attended Girl Scout and church camps as a child but had not experienced camping as an adult until I met my husband. Our first experience was an overnight backpacking trip near Cottonwood Pass. We took our dog, about 40 pounds of equipment, hiked in several miles and slept above timberline. It rained all night, there was a fire ban, and our pooch got altitude sickness. We were awake and headed back down the mountain before sunrise. While this wasn’t the best experience, I was relatively upbeat about the whole thing and even agreed to go camping again. I really just enjoyed being in the mountains and experiencing all Colorado has to offer.
Car camping seemed to be the best option moving forward and had some great times camping with friends and family before having kids. We waited until our kids were two and four to get the nerve up to take them. We were drawn to dispersed camping sites rather than campgrounds and carefully scouted out a spot near Tarryall Reservoir. Car camping gave us the option to bring along anything we might need, without having to worry. Setting up a tent with two little ones isn’t that bad and the kids loved exploring. We cooked spaghetti on the fire and the kids had their first s’mores. But, once the sun set, there wasn’t much to do. The distant sounds of gunfire scared them, our sleeping mat deflated, and it (once again) began to rain. Little by little the tent took on water. This time, I was not as upbeat about the whole experience.
If we were going to continue to have our children discover the beauty of Colorado and spend time in the mountains, we would need to come up with a solution. For us, the solution was a (used) travel trailer. We purchased a trailer that we could take to dispersed spots and that would offer the basics without having to be plugged in. Who really needs a TV when they are camping anyway?!
While having a camper is nice for many reasons (like a bed, a fridge, and a toilet), what appeals most to me about camping is the uninterrupted time we spend as a family. Since we go dispersed camping, we actually get “off the grid.” Many of the places we camp are out of cell phone range, so no emails, texts, or phone calls. Since we aren’t in a campground, we rarely see other people, so we have to talk to one another. The kids put aside sibling differences and play without arguing. Sometimes we just sit and read. It’s quiet and calm.
Each morning, we eat a leisurely breakfast and discuss what we’ll do that day – take a hike and explore, go fishing, go on a scavenger hunt, or just hang around and nap. We cook dinner together around the fire (sometimes around the stove) and roast marshmallows at night. We play cards or work on a puzzle. Without trying, our mountain adventures have become an educational tool, as well. The kids search for animal tracks and collect rocks. We use field guides to identify what we have found. After dark, we find constellations and talk about space.
Without the stresses of everyday life flashing before my eyes, I sometimes feel I am a better mother in the mountains. When we’re camping, the kids get a chance to make the plans rather than following my overscheduled routine. I’m not rushing them to get their shoes on, worried we will be late to something. I take the time to sit and just talk with each child – and truly give them my undivided attention. Life is so laid back when we’re camping!
So maybe it’s not the mountains pulling at my heartstrings…maybe it’s that I know the mountains are where I am my best self; the best mother I can be. Either way, I can’t wait to pack up our trailer and head west.