We took our first camping trip in the big “new” (garage sale) 10×16 Coleman Oasis cabin tent at Jackson Lake State Park last weekend! I’ve never had a good time camping with a three-year-old… until now. We went overnight when Melody was three and Jaron was an infant. She fell off a rustic wooden play structure and badly scraped her knee. That night she woke up at 4am to go potty and stayed up for at least an hour talking about the stars and how stinky the tent was. Baby Jaron woke once, nursed, and fell right back asleep. Jaron was three on our next overnight trip, and Trevor was one and a half. This time Jaron was the one going potty past midnight, only his version was to cry during the whole trek across the campground to the outhouse, then cry all the way back to the yurt, whining the entire time that he wanted to go home right now. He was so noisy that he roused Trevor in his port-a-crib, who fussed until Richard tucked him into his own sleeping bag. Nobody but Melody slept much after that. So, it was a calculated risk to try camping with another three-year-old, and two nights to up the ante. But the third time was indeed a charm! The trip was, however, memorable for other sleep-disrupting adventures. And ironically, the three-year-old was the only one who slept through it all!
We’ve never camped anywhere except mountains, so Colorado’s eastern plains were quite a different environment. The pine forest smell was obviously missing, but there were plenty of shady trees, wildflowers, and small rabbits bouncing through the underbrush. It was hotter than hot (even at night), but all the better for enjoying the swim beach! That was the main draw for the kids this time around. Well that and the s’mores. The other major difference was the weather, specifically the wind. The first night it made fire-starting a challenge, to say the least. The second night’s wind was off the charts, but more on that later.
Ok, let me digress here about the campfire thing. It’s always a challenge, independent of the weather. See, the man of the house has got it into his head that starting a fire is the man’s duty to conquer for the sake of his family. It proves his manhood, I think. The problem is that I was raised building fires not only in summer after summer of campfire rings, but also as our primary source of winter home heating, and he… well he wasn’t. So every time we camp, he asserts his right to build the fire, and the struggle is painful to watch. Inevitably I take over, ending the suffering yet wounding his pride. At last, fire!
Here it is, the 10×16 Coleman Oasis. It has two “rooms” divided by a center curtain, and both ends open up as doors. The kids loved having their own space, and bed time was surprisingly easy. Maybe it’s because we all stayed up pretty late roasting marshmallows. I thought the excitement of camping and their very first night in the tent would mean another hour of kid-commotion, but it only lasted 15 minutes until they crashed out. They didn’t wake unreasonably early either, considering the sights and sounds of morning in the great outdoors. The tent apparently survived a little drizzle overnight. Time for some hot chocolate and the ubiquitous camp-style fried potatoes with peppers and sausage for breakfast.
The day of adventures included swimming in Jackson Lake (happy, happy kids!) and an afternoon drive to Riverside Park in Fort Morgan a half hour east. The park was full of ducks and geese, and although the air-conditioned drive was a welcome reprieve from the heat, unfortunately the playground equipment was too toasty to enjoy. Oh well, Dairy Queen can fix that! Incidentally, it was in the DQ parking lot that we noticed a good long crack at the top of our windshield starting from a previous chip. Richard blames the scorching heat. I don’t know. Anyway, back at the camp site, we had dinner, attended a Ranger-hosted faux-campfire storytelling session, and took a sunset walk to the marina and out to the end of the dock to watch the boats going in and out off the boat ramp.
Ahhh, sunset. It was much redder in real life than the photo shows. It was beautiful and a fine way to end the day. We strolled back to camp in anticipation of another round of s’mores, but alas, a breeze started blowing at dusk and we had to ditch the campfire idea. Raw marshmallows placated the kids and bed time was again very easy although Melody didn’t much care for tramping to the restroom by flashlight. I was just happy for flush toilets out in the sticks.
Clink. Swish. The wind grew. The tent swayed and old aluminum-pipe poles rattled. Ear plugs. Restless sleep. The tent heaved and rippled as the wind picked up. A loud bouncing clank roused me at 2 am. I looked up at a corner of the tent roof caving in. Out of bed in a flash, I held up the roof rail from inside the tent while Richard went outside to re-attach the side pole in absolutely gusting, roaring wind. Good thing it was on our side and not above the kids. Ha, an hour later we were doing the same thing on their side of the tent. Melody awoke fearful of the noisy gale and slipped into the airbed with me. She slept through the third collapse, again on the kids’ side, but Jaron did not. Trevor, my dear three-year-old camper, did open his eyes when I stepped over his bed to push the tent roof up, but he was instantly out again and had no recollection in the morning. The wind was unrelenting and between its roar through the trees, the constant whipping and crinkling of the tent, and the nerve-wracking rattling of the poles, sleep was elusive.
Morning did arrive, eventually, though the blasting wind did not let up. Tarps, bags, even camp chairs from neighboring sites littered the landscape. We heard reports that the weather wreaked havoc with boats anchored for the night. As for us, there would certainly be no scrambled eggs nor hot chocolate. We threw the “no food in the tent” rule to the wind (literally) and huddled in a circle on rolled-up sleeping bags feasting on bagels and grapes. Under great duress, we set a personal record for breaking camp quickly that I expect may never be broken – unlike one of the tent roof poles, unfortunately. Drama, drama, yeah I’m exaggerating a little, but I do so hate wind. Too bad a morning dip in Jackson Lake was out of the question. The early departure did provide perfect timing for lunch in Loveland at “the restaurant with the horse on it” (Palomino) that the kids have been begging to visit since it was built last year.
All things considered, I call our first big-tent camping trip a success! Two marvelous days were followed by some memorable family bonding and we made the best of it. Plus I’m much more confident about planning our next adventure: three nights in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Next time I promise not to forget the toothbrushes.