our campsite at Guadalupe Mountains
The final entry from the road trip series “The West Texas Idea”
I thought it would be fun to end this series of blogs on my road trip in West Texas by listing some observations about camping that Janel, Jen, and I made over the course of our trip. I don’t think I’ve ever included a bullet-pointed list in my blog before. Enjoy this “first” for me; it may also be a last.
You see lots of different types of campers at national park campgrounds, especially if you plant yourself and observe the comings and goings for several days at one campsite. Here are some of the people we saw at Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains:
The Block Party Family—They camped in a tent, not an RV, but otherwise they had pretty much the same amenities you would find in a suburban home. Mom covered the wooden picnic table with a tablecloth at each meal, and she set up a clothesline from the table to the grill. Their site was lit up with several lanterns at night, and at first glance I thought maybe they had strung twinkle lights in the trees for what appeared to be a party to which all the other campers in our campground had been invited. Nope, that’s just all their lanterns.
The Bikers—On our first night at Big Bend, the site nearest to us was occupied by three middle-aged men on Harleys. Unlike other bikers we saw on this trip (and we saw a lot of bikers), these guys weren’t pulling their bikes on trailers behind an SUV from place to place and then riding through the scenic parts of the park. All of their camping gear fit with them on their bikes. I was impressed. Early that first morning, I waited for the coffee to boil in our percolator and watched them pack up their site, fighting off the covetousness in my heart over one bright red retro bike in particular. When they were ready to go, one of the guys announced to the other two, “Time to wake up the camp,” and they started their engines and were off with a roar. “Well, girls,” I said to Jen and Janel, “we just missed our chance to see the park on the back of those bikes.”
The Germans in a Van—I also had a problem coveting the van of a German couple we ran into a couple of times at Guadalupe Mountains. I keep threatening to buy a van to live out of instead of finding a house to rent, and this German set-up would be perfect. They actually brought the van over from Germany, and who knows where all they have already gone in the States—probably more places than I’ve been. They parked near our tent site and planned to stay the night, and by craning our necks as inconspicuously as possible we were able to see in the side door as they were getting stuff out to cook dinner. Surprisingly, the van was very organized inside. A place for everything, and everything in its place—made me want that van even more. Jen got a better view of the interior when our lighter gave out while trying to get the burner on our camp stove lit for dinner, and she went over to borrow some matches. Sadly, when the campground host made her rounds that evening, she declared the van to belong in the RV category, and the Germans had to move from the tent section to the RV section, which is much less picturesque.
The Americans in a Minivan—On our last night at Big Bend, we observed a couple camping in a minivan in the tent site directly between us and the toilet. With three girls in our group, there was a lot of walking back and forth from our tent to the toilet, so we made quite a few observations of this couple. It didn’t take us long to figure out that they hadn’t really planned their trip. I’m not sure how one ends up this far south on the Mexican border without planning, but somehow they did. They slept in the minivan that night, and the next morning we were quite intrigued by the items we saw outside the minivan at their picnic table: approximately 15 bags of chips, a ladder, and a brand new electric coffee maker that I’m guessing came from a WalMart in Midland. Janel said she saw the lady walking back from the bathroom holding the empty coffee maker in one hand and its box in the other. It never occurred to me to bring an electric coffee maker to the park and try to plug it in in the bathroom—but who am I to judge?
In addition to our observations about the people around us, we also noted a few lessons we learned over the course of our trip. First, and props to my dad for this one, it’s good to organize all your miscellaneous gear and cooking utensils in an action packer-type box that you can take in and out of the back of your vehicle easily when you’re car camping. I use the word organize loosely—our stuff started out organized in the box, but by the end of the week we were throwing it back in the box however we could make it fit and still get the lid to shut. But at least it made it much easier to get stuff in and out of the car than if we were throwing it directly into the backseat instead.
Second, car camping with just girls is OK, but if you’re going to do any backcountry camping, it’s probably better to have a boyfriend along. I don’t mean a friend who’s a boy, because chances are he isn’t going to feel obligated to carry any of your junk for you. But from personal experience, and observation of a couple we met who camped near the top of Guadalupe Peak, when backpacks and boyfriends are involved, I know who’s going to end up carrying 50 pounds of gear for bragging rights and who’s going to have a daypack with a change of clothes and a toothbrush.
I loved camping and hiking with Jen and Janel, but they never would carry my stuff for me.
And lastly, even though they might make you move your uber cool German van to the RV section, we learned it’s good to make friends with the campground hosts. Partly because they might loan you a lighter when you accidentally break the matches from your new German friends and still can’t get your camp stove lit for dinner. Partly because they have lots of stories to tell from all the places they’ve been since retiring. And partly because they get lonely and bored living in these remote parks, and it’s a nice gesture to talk to lonely, bored people.