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I'd appreciate any comments, suggestions, and criticism concerning this article, that I'm sending in to a magazine. Thanks!
Camping is Dead
Before camping died, it looked like this: A family drives a station wagon into a campground, picks out a nice site, and sets up a modest tent. The kids run off to catch bullfrogs, swim in the pond with the other kids, and engage in other Norman Rockwell type activities. After dinner, they sit around a small fire, talk quietly, listen to the crickets and the wind in the trees, and gaze at the stars.
That type of camping is dead because now, it's party time with as many of your toys as you can cram into your huge pickup truck and trailer, plus all the drinking buddies you can assemble! A typical campsite might have an RV, several canopy structures, two huge tents, six coolers, several gas grills, and 12 folding chairs.
A quick observation about those humongous, complicated three-or-more-room tents that are popular today: I've observed that tent setting up time is not happy family time.
The three tent stakes driven through the heart of camping are noise, light, and overcrowding.
Stake number one is noise. Sounds then: Wind in the trees, birds, crickets, happy kids. Sounds now: Car alarms, generators, boom boxes, cell phone rings, cell phone conversations, Gameboy music, and loud laughing over party music.
Before the death of camping, you might spend the afternoon in the shade of a tree with your summer reading. But now, even if the temperature is a pleasant 75 degrees, your neighbor’s huge RV will be heating up like a black Volvo in a Bakersfield parking lot. So he or she will turn on the air conditioning, which means running the generator all day. Instead of listening to the breeze in the trees, you’re now essentially sitting next to an idling cement truck.
Worse, generators are no longer limited to RV's. Now even tent campers bring portable generators so that they can watch TV.
The constant generator hum is punctuated with car alarms. On a recent camping trip, there wasn’t a single campground that wasn’t treated to at least one car alarm during the night. Since many cars and trucks have remote locks that briefly honk the horn and flash the lights when locked, your sleep is interrupted each time one of these campers visits his or her vehicle.
Stake number two is light pollution. When campers turn on their maxi-light camping lanterns (I’m not making this up: some even come with remote controls) at night, the stars fade out until the sky resembles that of downtown New York City. It's worse, actually, because in the city, people have their lights on inside their houses.
This doesn’t bother many “campers,” since the sunset finds them inside their RV, watching reality shows. For anyone who’s experienced true wilderness, however, the great outdoors now feels like a fully lit Dodger stadium.
The final stake in camping’s heart is overcrowding. Your camping trip may actually begin at 12:00 AM on January 1, when you attempt to reserve a site at one of the more favored destinations. Some campgrounds in California are fully booked for popular summer dates by 4 AM. As population increases, we can keep building new Starbucks and strip malls, but the campgrounds are limited.
A large national reservation company may have handled your reservation. The largest booked over 4 million reservations in 2006. Instead of driving through the campground and choosing a site that is a bit away from other sites, you are assigned a specific campsite number by a computer server in downtown Chicago.
If you camp in Yosemite Valley, you’ll find that the individual sites have been squeezed together like mini tectonic plates until every square foot of space is used up. And urban sprawl is bringing new freeways right up against camping areas that were formerly in the wilderness.
I've been talking about car camping here, of course. So you might be thinking that if you want to recreate the real camping experience, all you have to do is go backpacking.
Yes, that's true in many cases, however some backpacking destinations experience so many backpackers that they now prohibit firewood collection. No cozy campfire for you. At Mount Rainier National Park, there are so many hikers, that backpackers are required to put all of their waste, and I'm not talking just about coffee grounds here, into bags and pack it out with them. You thought it was gross to pick up after your dog. Be sure you don't open the wrong stuff sack when looking for the trail mix!
Can camping be revived? I used to think that perhaps some segregated areas of campgrounds could be set up to prohibit all music, generators, and bright lanterns. But that would require a level of organization and enforcement that isn’t justified by the apparently small number of campers looking for a simpler, more natural experience.
Instead, I’ve just come to accept that most people’s idea of “roughing it” consists of television without cable. If you’re looking for the pre-camping-death experience, you’ll just have to camp off-season at a campground far from the major population centers, take you eye-shades, and bring along a CD recording of night sounds.
Last Edited on: 9/4/07 1:39 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
I enjoyed your article Al. I avoid editing other people's work, but I would say that I'd like to see something that ties the whole thing together--you know a "what this all means" type parragraph. I had the feeling that something was missing in the article. I agree with what you're saying--yes, these changes have happened...but why? What does all this mean? Also, check your word count. It seems like it might be running a bit long for a filler piece.
As to the topic itself--I know exactly what you mean. My family camps every year, and so does my SIL's family. She goes to places that are all about sitting around the campground all day, and drinking by the campfire with a bunch of people at night. Our type of camping is back-country or rustic, just stopping to sleep for the night usually. I'm amazed by how many people seem to want to bring their homes with them. What's the point? Those giant campers are amazing. And how is it getting back to nature when you're sitting side by side with a bunch of other people? There isn't a lot of "nature" in those settings. Until you hike a few miles into the woods, tie your food up in the tree, and sleep in your bag under the stars...you haven't really been "camping".