I always tell people that I was born to bohemian artists in the sixties who were conflicted because they were politically conservative. Needless to say, it was a confusing time! I had a strange, but wonderful childhood. I never saw Disneyland as a child, but I did get to see inside the firebox of the engine of the Durango-Silverton narrow gauge locomotive, and I got to hike into a remote box canyon to see giant petroglyphs high on a cliff face.
My parents’ idea of a vacation was to sleep until almost noon, drive forever into the night, and set up camp at two in the morning. During the day we would spend hours looking at steam trains, airplanes, artifacts, fossils, and talking to grizzled old locals. We avoided tourist traps like the plague, and we were trained as kids to start watching the sides of the road at dusk because that’s when the animals would start to come out.
When I was in fourth grade, my parents bought a small camper that slid into the back of the Ford truck. It had a double bed that extended over the cab of the truck, and a dinette that converted into a bed. My brother slept in that bed, and I got to sleep in a little canvas hammock that was put up each night above my brother’s bed. I loved that little hammock, except when I would roll over and bang my head on the metal poles that supported the sides.
My brother and I spent the highway hours laying on my parents’ bed over the cab and staring out the big front window. The miles would roll away while we watched for the “little green signs” that would tell us where we were on the maps that were always by our side. Sometimes we would read, other times we would fight like cats and dogs. My parents, blissfully unaware of the turmoil would travel westward, alone in the cab of the truck with their little terrier-mutt dog. They preferred the dog’s company to ours. I can’t say that I blame them! My dad rigged an intercom system between the camper and the cab, so we could communicate when necessary. To this day, I firmly believe the switch was in the off position most of the time.
The first trip was an adventure to the Grand Canyon. My mom spent weeks packing the camper with the needed supplies, and my dad dreamed of photographing steam trains. As a kid, I had no idea that we would be traveling on a shoestring budget, a broken, tied together shoestring at that. Today, I would be horrified at the thought of taking off with no more that $450 cash and not a single credit card in my pocket. With cell phones a thing of the future, we were completely on our own. The fact that my parents avoided crowds, we were often extremely isolated. They were bold, and we were happy to trip along following their every whim.
I can remember one night we were trying to find our way into Dinosaur National Monument. As usual, it was somewhere around 11:00 at night, and we were lost. We had taken a wrong turn and ended up high on a mountain at a dead end. Nearly out of gas and exhausted, my father stood on the edge of that mountain and hollered down into the valley, “Hello down there.” After a couple of tries we saw the headlights of a car come on many miles away in the dark. We could watch it’s lonely progress coming toward us. Eventually that car reached us, and it turned out to be a park ranger. Would wonders never cease? He guided us to a roadside park and told us to camp the night there, then coast down the mountain in the morning. We should be able to coast our way into a gas station to fill up and be on our way with no problems the next day. My parents were blissfully happy as were were camping for free, with no neighbors. That lasted until about 3:00 in the morning, when we were joined by a busload of juvenile delinquents on a privileged outing from their confinement. They urinated on the rear fender of our truck. It was a rough and noisy night.
Two years in a row, we made the trek out west. My father said the Grand Canyon was just a hole in the ground long before Chevy Chase uttered those words. We explored the Rockies and the Tetons in our little camper. Those memories stuck. The horrors of the camper and the cabbage soup being overrun with bugs when we camped down by a reservoir, and the port-a-potty bag dropping off the rim and flooding the camper were always overshadowed by the great memories of climbing the ladders at Mesa Verde, being swarmed by hummingbirds near Estes Park, and camping along the side of a dirt road in the Painted Desert only to awaken surrounded by a herd of cattle. I loved that little camper, but after those two trips, we never went again. The little details of life displaced the ability to go on long trips and the camper was retired. I used it as a place to stay when I showed horses at the country fair, and it was the place my cousins and I would camp out in the back yard when they came to visit.
The camper eventually rusted away and was junked, but it remained in my heart. Many years later I spoke passionately about it to my first husband. He scoffed at me and refused me my camper. Our marriage eventually came to an end, but not because of the camper issue!
My second husband also was required to listen to me extol the virtues of that little camper. He too was not one to embrace that adventure. He was happy to tent camp with me, backpack with me, kayak with me, and ride motorcycles with me. A camper was not in our future, ever! Or so he thought…..