“What’s a yurt?” I hear that at least half the time I mention the word. It’s a hut-shaped canvas tent on a wooden frame and deck, equipped with bunk beds, a table and chairs, and a skylight. We camped in one for the first time a week ago at Bear Creek Lake Park west of Denver. The campsite came with the usual fire pit, grill, picnic table, and mosquitos.
Although I grew up tent camping every summer at secluded lakes surrounded by lush lodgepole pine forests in the Oregon Cascades, my Singapore-raised husband is a greenhorn. Our only previous kid camping experience was in 2007 with a 3-yr-old and a 4-mo baby. The 3-yr got bored, scraped her knee on a rock, and woke at 4am jabbering on and on about the stars and how stinky the tent was. Good thing we only planned an overnight trip. The baby was totally easy, hanging out on a blanket during the day and waking once to nurse at night. Well he did have a very inconvenient diaper blowout but hey, it’s not like outhouses are all that convenient either!
With a 6-yr, 3-yr, and 16-mo baby this summer, we thought we’d have another go. Not owning a large tent, the yurt was perfect. And the campground, though not the private and pristine wonderland of my childhood memories, was a big hit when all the kids saw not one but two playgrounds, a horse barn, and a swim beach selling ice cream bars by Big Soda Lake. We spent hours at the playgrounds and splashing in the water, when the kids weren’t collecting rocks in plastic cups or tossing the frisbee or playing house in the 2-man backpacking tent we set up just for fun. I gave them an inflatable chair inside the tent and they kept pretending it was a potty.
But what’s a camping trip without some little mishaps? I bought plastic spatulas at the thrift store for my camp frypan and didn’t think about a flipper for hamburgers on the charcoal grill. Ok, drag out the grilling cage we registered for when we got married and have never ever used. The burgers hung out of the edges but still cooked up great under my husband’s grilling expertise. Next challenge: pancakes for breakfast. Sounds easy, but I forgot to bring *any* butter, syrup, jam, honey, anything remotely resembling pancake toppings, and the pancake batter itself was an unsweetened biscuit-style mix. In fact the only significantly sweet item in the food chest besides whole fruit was marshmallows for the s’mores we’d enjoyed by the fire the night before. Out came the roasting sticks, and marshmallow-filled pancake tacos soon graced the picnic table.
Comforting a crying 3-yr-old at 1am who didn’t want to walk a quarter mile to the toilet and kept insisting we go home right away was distinctly the low point of the trip. He woke the baby in the portacrib, who Daddy cuddled back to sleep and shared his bunk with until morning. And tropical-blooded Daddy needs to remember a heavy blanket next time! Again, good thing it was just one night. We concluded that our family is still quite young for full fledged camping and maybe we should stick to day trips for a while.
At least that’s what we thought on the way home… but with all the fun we shared as a family, here we are a few days later thinking about how to plan the next camping adventure. It’s surprising how easy it was to minimize the bad and crave a repeat of the good. All we need is a family tent and some kind of cargo solution for the gear…
…and another destination with a playground and flushing toilets wouldn’t be a bad idea! I can survive this kind of “camping” – views of RVs through thin trees, Home Depot perched on the hill, suburban lights flanking the night skyline – for a few more years. My first camping memories were around age 7 or 8 and continued until I left home, so perhaps I’m not really ripping off my kids by not exposing them to truly rugged and hard-core camping at the preschool stage. Although I feel their childhood flying by so fast, I have to remember that they really are still little and there is still time for dozens of quiet and remote family camping memories to be made. And dozens more s’mores to be eaten.