Sunday, January 29, 2017

Desert Car Camping in the Modern Station Wagon

We just finished a trip to the Southwest to catch a bit of the warm and dry, our midwinter desert fix. I convinced Madelyn that while we were there we should do some car camping, like we used to do, and it is the best way enjoy the magnificent skies of the Sonoran Desert.

Well, as one might expect, this made the trip prep more complicated than just throwing some summer clothes and a sweatshirt into a bag and hitting the road. We had to bring our camping gear, or at least some, and even though we were heading to southern Arizona where camping is easy, we would need some warm clothes for the cool desert nights.

Car camping had been our MO ten years ago when we would fly outside to visit the kids in college. Back then, we would pack a duffel with sleeping bags, Pads, and a small tent, add some handy items like a little camp stove and coffee pot. When we got to our destination we would gear up with food, a cooler and whatever we found at a secondhand store for utensils. All this gear would fit in the trunk of a rental car and off we would go. 

It has been a few years since the kids were in college, and we have not pulled out the old camp duffel for some time. The tiny two-person dome that we squeezed into is gone, and the only tent we have is too bulky for stuffing into our luggage, especially since the thick and cushy sleeping pads we now require would take up most of our duffel space. I quickly formulated a plan to forego the tent and the sleeping pad in favor of a larger rental car big enough to sleep in.

Sleeping on the ground is the downside of camping anyway, so it didn’t take much convincing for either of us when I found that renting a SUV wasn’t going cost much more than the little clown cars we used to cruise about in. Usually the rental car companies have a surplus of SUVs, so I was able to get a deal. The secret of the bargain is waiting until the last minute to make reservations.

So there we were, picking up the rental car and the agent is listing more choices than I ever had offered. As if reading my mind, she pointed me toward a Ford Flex, which looks more like dad’s station wagon than any current model SUV, and the back seats lay down (both rows) to make a sprawling bed long enough for even my seventy-four inch frame.  ( A fun side note was that the SUV was black with tinted windows so we looked like gangsters cruising the suburbs of Tucson.)
With sleeping bags borrowed from Tucson friends and a pillow and fleece blanket from the bottomless duffel, we made a cozy bed when camped in scenic Organ Pipe National Monument.

It was not all paradise, some one talked me into going without a foam pad and that was a mistake I will not make again. While our bed was roomy and warm, the lack of a mattress eliminated any chance of oversleeping since my back started complain before sunrise. In spite of that, we were able to experience the desert as we like it. We were camped among the cactus and sipping a beer after a hike as we try to identify the bird flitting about in the palo verde tree that shades our dinner table.

An open itinerary led us to Ajo, a gem
The basic kitchen
Sure we could hike the canyons and explore the deserts sights and then make our way to the nearest Super 8, but with home in the backseat, we don’t have to worry about keeping schedules or reservations. I hunger for more. 

I have figured out that a car camp kit doesn't have to be big: a set up for sleeping; a kitchen for stove(How to make an alcohol stove) would make coffee, boil noodles, and fry eggs. I hauled my wood burning Biolite stove along on this trip, but next time I think will bring, or make, an alcohol stove that will burn Heet.  I brought a little cook kit but one could get set up at a second hand store for a few bucks. 
cooking and eating, some camp chairs and a light.  A small camp stove. even a tiny alcohol or Heet

Yes, It is still possible to hop a plane from Alaska and the next day watch the desert sunset from a camp under the stars. We enjoyed a nice pasta dinner and started our morning with hot coffee and yelping coyotes under a fuchsia sky.  I'll gladly endure a sore back in order to savor mornings like that.  But I think the teardrop trailer may have to make the next trip. 

There is a lot to see driving the highways of the West — and the East for that matter— and the restaurants and hotels can be a long way off when the sun goes down. But wait you say, "What about showers and bathrooms." I am amazed at how many campgrounds have showers and even sinks to wash dishes, especially the national parks.  At these places we had to contend with RV generators and campers with portable yard lights, but we were still out in the desert night waiting to hear the night creatures sing or to go for a hike on a full moon night with the Sagauro cactus silhouetted against the sky.  

t's time to plan the next trip!