You’re Never Too Old to Camp

By Marta Yamamoto, Special to the Planet
Tuesday March 13, 2007

After a camping hiatus of over ten years, here I sit, reclining in a canvas chair overlooking Wild Plum Creek, the Sierra Buttes rising as sentinels above me. After my children had grown, I’d sworn off camping. What am I doing here? 

Let’s face it, some camp and some don’t. You either love it or you hate it. Regardless of the value, you have to enjoy camping to put up with its detractions, and there are detractions. 

You might as well start with the dirt. From the moment you alight from your car, the particles begin to attach themselves to body and clothing. They’re on your tent, tablecloth and sleeping bag. You see, I’m talking about your basic campsite, no trailer or RV, just a tent and its accouterments. No matter how often you wash your hands, it’s hopeless, two minutes later they are again grimy and brown. Except for state parks, most public campsites do not have showers. Dirt soon becomes a second skin.  

Then there are the bugs, in numerous varieties. In the cool of dawn and the waning of dusk, mosquitoes emerge. Your ear instantly detects the high-pitched whine of the voracious female out for your blood. The appearance of food on the table acts as a signal for yellow jackets, anxious to sample both sweet and savory and any moist tidbits. Even when you’ve hidden all manner of edible morsels, they linger and buzz your person, just in case an ort has attached itself to your shirt. When lanterns glow, moths make a bee-line toward the light, dive-bombing and refusing to take no for an answer. It draws them like a magnet, so stay out of their way. 

If you’re a person who prefers to accomplish daily tasks at a rapid pace, camping is not for you. On the other hand, if you dream of slowing down, welcome. Simple tasks like brushing your teeth or brewing a cup of coffee stretch into the future. Preparing an entire meal, eating and cleaning up can seem monumental. There’s no getting around the fact that camping is work, from the planning and packing to arriving home with multiple loads of dirty camp gear. While setting up camp is part of the allure, breaking it down and somehow fitting everything back into the car seems to take forever. 

My memories of camping stretch back in time to when one or two dogs filled in for children. An International Scout, a Citroen 2CV, a Fiat Spider, several Peugeots and a Chevy Blazer doubled as transport vehicles. Even the arrival of babies didn’t deter me, though sleep was not a generous commodity. As the kids grew, roles were established. My son took up fishing at an early age, accompanying his dad and soon venturing out on his own. My daughter socialized as she roller-skated around the campgrounds, making friends wherever she went and usually being offered tastier vittles than anything we had brought.  

Last year, 48 million Americans occupied campsites in all 50 states. What is the allure that draws people of all ages in ever-increasing numbers? 

At Lassen Volcanic National Park, the scenery is spectacular—soaring volcanic peaks, hot, bubbling fumaroles, gurgling mud pots, untouched meadows, burbling creeks and serene lakes. Better yet, park attendance is low, making your experiences personal rather than mass-produced. 

There you can enjoy the solitude of an early morning walk around Manzanita Lake, when the air is crisp and breezes ruffle the reeds. Your only companions are families of ducks and geese effortlessly gliding and foraging while muskrats leave their burrows along the tree-shadowed shore. Eagle and osprey are secure in their aeries in towering pines. 

Return in the evening for “the rise” and you’ll share the lake with anglers casting their flies at trophy trout while the pink-hued light of the setting sun mirrors Lassen Peak upon the surface. Listen to the quiet “fish-talk” as anglers compare notes on which fly is hot and gently swear at the fish who got away. 

Closer to home, Samuel P. Taylor State Park even boasts showers. The one-hour drive makes an impromptu weekend escape possible. Pitch your tent below towering coastal redwoods and savor the quiet sounds of Papermill Creek tumbling across well-worn boulders. Hike the creek trail or watch raptors soar above the open grasslands. Your campsite can also serve as a perfect home-base from which to explore Tomales Bay, the Point Reyes National Seashore and nearby coastal treasures. 

If driving is not on the agenda, take advantage of the free time to cook up a breakfast scented with wood-smoke. Breathe in the tantalizing aromas of al fresco cooking as breakfast sizzles in the pan. Eggs, bacon, fried potatoes, bread toasted over graying coals, hot coffee—let the air sharpen your taste buds, accentuating every flavor. Nothing ever tasted so good. 

Back at Wild Plum Campground, off the north fork of the Yuba River, we sit bundled up around a warming campfire. After a busy day spent exploring the nearby Lakes Basin, we slowly roast marshmallows to place against squares of chocolate and graham crackers for the perfect s’mores. Millions of stars amid a shaft of moonlight crowd the inky night sky, a rare treat far from interfering civilization. Once again I share this time and place with my children, now grown and with friends and dogs of their own, one of which, the dog, is cozily ensconced in my camp chair. 

Having the time to fall into the rhythm of nature could be the allure for couples, families and even solo campers, enjoying a relaxed freedom not easily attainable in more controlled settings. With fewer attractions and lacking the electronic distractions that seem to have taken over our lives, time seems available to talk, just sit and watch sparks rise from burning logs, once the camp chores are done. 

Even as the years pile up, the simple lure of wilderness continues to call: forests of trees, the sound of water, the call of birds and time spent among family. As long as I can still manage to climb out of the tent each morning, I’ll endure the distractions and heed the call of the perfect campsite.  




About 180 miles north of Sacramento, east of Redding via State 44 or Red Bluff on State 36. (916) 595-4444, www.nps.gov/lavo.  



Take the Central San Rafael exit off HWY 101 north and follow Sir Francis Drake Blvd. 15 miles to the park. 8889 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Lagunitas. (415) 488-9897. 



One mile east of Sierra City (Hwy 49) on Wild Plum Road. 100.miles northeast of Sacramento.