Back in the fifties, before SUVs or vans or, in some places, even freeways, our family took a three-week road trip from Michigan to Washington state to visit family. Dad drove a 1957 Ford station wagon, towing a pop-up trailer with additional camping equipment, clothes, etc. It was a nice trip, but a long trip…a ver-ry lo-o-ong trip.
On the return home we made a point of going to Yellowstone Park. Our arrival timing was perfect because the first thing we saw at the main lodge was Old Faithful bursting forth in all it’s power…like looking at a live version of National Geographic Magazine. We did a quick walk-through of the big lodge, and then headed off to our camping site. Along the way we saw the many bears that were loitering along the roads begging for food, which was quite a treat for us.
We were camping at a remote campground near one of the park exits. It was called Pebble Creek, and the name was perfect since it was set right next to a small creek filled with pebbles. It only had about half a dozen camp sites, and we were able to get one of the last open spots.
We all pitched in and helped Dad set up the tent while Mom started preparing dinner. There were notices posted everywhere reminding campers not to leave food out overnight, so after dinner we were careful to make sure all the food was packed away and the garbage and food scraps were put into one of the large garbage pits. The pits were large concrete barrels buried in the ground which were covered by heavy metal lids.
Then, after such a long, tiring day, we quickly settled down for a good night’s sleep…or so we thought.
It was a bright moonlit night, and we were sleeping soundly in the tent. The tent was just big enough for all seven of us, and Dad had arranged the positioning so that he was lying across the doorway. I was lying near the front corner with my head next to his. The flaps were all tied down, and the door screen and flaps were zipped closed. We were as snug as bugs in a rug.
I was finally settled into a deep sleep when I was awakened as the tent shook suddenly and vigorously, as if someone had tripped over the rope anchoring my corner of the tent. As I opened my eyes, I saw a large shadow pass across the front of the tent, and then I heard a quiet “Sh-h-h-h” from Dad. Everyone else seemed to be still sleeping. The two of us lay there listening to the noise of coolers, water jugs, thermos, camp stools, etc., being thrown and knocked about, and occasionally seeing the shadow. I was curious and amazed, but never felt afraid, when I realized that Dad already knew it to be a bear looking for dinner.
The bear seemed to be making its way from campsite to campsite, doing its damage, and finally settling down at the far end of the campground by the garbage pits. When the noise stopped and the bear had wandered back into the woods, Dad woke up the rest of the family. We grabbed our sleeping bags and all climbed into the station wagon where we spent the rest of the night, trying to sleep. I picture in my mind Dad sitting in the driver’s seat, but with the keys in the ignition and his handy ready to turn on the car, throw it into gear and floor it out of the camp site if the bear was to return.
In the morning, we saw the full extent of the damage done by the bear. Mom and Dad had been careful to clean up our campsite. But some of the other campers had left food out, and they had much more damage done to their equipment. Amazingly, the bear had actually managed to open the lid of the garbage pit and feast on the treasure inside.
So, after a bad night’s sleep (or no sleep) and a very long drive the next day, we finally arrived home. My parents did make another attempt at a camping vacation later that summer. We took the same equipment and went up to the Port Austin area (at the tip of the Michigan thumb) to spend a week. But as luck would have it, the weather did not cooperate…and neither did we. It rained almost continuously for the first four days, and all of us kids were tired of camping, miserable and misbehaving. Then my poor parents started squabbling, so we packed it in and came home early. I was so-o glad.
To this day, I have never understood the appeal of camping and have come to the conclusion that my idea of “roughing it” is nothing less than a Holiday Inn, Best Western or, at the absolute worst, a Motel 6.