Tri-City Ledger -

By Earline Smith Crews
Guest Writer 

Camping was cheap and loads of fun


March 14, 2019

We camped. It was cheap and fun.

Oil Embargo 1973-74 we had saved enough money to take a trip to Colorado. Lamar had been stationed at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and always wanted to show me the place that inspired him to go to college. He was an airman assigned to the motor pool and drove those big old coach buses that he shuttled the cadets to concerts and the ski areas. He saw how a fellow with a degree had the upper hand and he wanted some of that.

Honorably discharged, wooed me, married me and convinced me to keep working until the GI Bill could be used to get us to a better life.

It worked.

He got a good job, we got our Peggy, saved our money, borrowed an old Army surplus canvas camping tent from his teenage nephew that had seen its better days on Coldwater Creek and other swampy places.

We headed to Colorado.

Gas shortage be damned, we were going camping in Colorado.

Living in Dade City Florida we spent the first night in Hollandtown with his family, second and third night in Houston Texas with his sister and family--no sweat, free lodging and fed well so far. Only burr under our saddle was Peggy ( age three) asking every dad blame mile. " When are we going to get there"?

" Lay down and rest, we are in Texas".

As the sun was laying dead in our eyes and on the pavement of I-40 just east of Amarillo she asks for the 1000th time, "Are we there yet"? I answer with, "No we are still in Texas".

Big screaming fit in the back of that car (no car seats, no child in restraints) She screams, "How far is TEXAS"??

We have used that question many times in our travels when things get tense and we get lost. "How far is Texas"?

We decided on Monument Lake to stake our claim for the ultimate camping in America's great outdoors..

Better part of the afternoon pitching that heavy wad of canvas. Lots of sweating, cussing, tugging and trying to get the thing straightened, tight and squared.

It sagged and lay cattawompus.

"Let 'er sag dammit. I'm tired and sleepy".

We climbed inside to hear the crackle of newspaper that I had lined my and Peggy's sleeping bag with. Lamar had bought a new sleeping bag at the Big K-Mart--Jr. size. He lay scrunched and freezing without a wink.

Deep into that frigid night we both realized we had pitched at the foot of that big old lake. If it breeched, we would be found hanging in a tangle of mesquite and catcus somewhere in New Mexico.

Long night for us, Peggy was snug as a tick on a porch dog snuggled against my chest with my circulation deprived arms holding that precious little camper.

Daylight brought the reality of water leeching up inside due to the absense of knowledge of the tent having a grounds cover to set the mess on

Very important.

We ate our breakfast of Hostess donuts and frozen milk before heading out to see the Air Force Academy. Oh, the place was beautiful. Lamar looked wistful at times, at times he smiled and pointed out his favorite places to Peggy. She wanted to roll around in the beautiful grass. I was staggering about from sleep deprivation.

I was enchanted with the glass chapel while Peggy made loud noises while looking up towards heaven as her three year old childish sounds caused tourists to frown at me.

"Hey Colonel's wife, hear the echo ?"

Sleep staggered our way back to camp.

Hope tonight was better.

On the way back to camp we stopped at the Big K-Mart and bought insulated long johns, a plastic liner for the top and bottom of the tent, an electric blanket, an electric extention cord and a thermos for the milk.

There now.

First thing on entering the tent was seeing white tracks from the food bags over to our suitcase of clothes. Chipmunks had cut holes in the bottom ot our house and enjoyed a picnic of Hostess powered donuts in that place.

Peggy decided she was going to be eaten by the chipmunks.

Big fuss.

Dinner was served at the nearby IHOP.

By golly we slept that night with the help of heat and Tylenol PM.

Breakfast was served at the nearby IHOP.

Today we laugh at our favorite picture of that camping out with Peggy climbing on a rail fence beside a posted sign that reads,


We honestly didn't notice the sign because our child was so precious looking all posed there.

We waited in line for gas, made new friends all the way across America in those lines and slept in cheap motels after LONG days of driving back to central Florida. Lodging cost makes for long days on the road.

That was such a fun trip it set us on the road to camping all over the country.

Jon was born in 1976 and took his first camping trip to a KOA in Ocala when he was six weeks old. By that time we had a few kinks worked out.

Things happen during camping the great outdoors that bring a family together in the craziest of ways.

One July 4th campout on the banks of Big Escambia Creek, AKA Charlie's Creek, the fireworks set a tree on fire in the very top. Dead wood made for a slow all night burn.

That same camp out gave us our first listen to hear The Judds sing LOUD on the radio from Atmore.

Introduced as Wyoming and Nairobi, we screamed with delight as those Kentucky girls sang, " Why Not Me".

" Turn it up y'all "..............

I threw all my cooking utinsils into the garbage one time by mistake. We got chiggers, ticks, grease splattered, sunburns, ate charred BBQ, didn't bathe unless we felt the need and felt sand in our cracks and in our beds, but take my word for this, we had fun in spades.

First in tents, then moving up off the ground to camp in a little pop up and finally a motor home for our first trip to Alaska.

On a camping trip to The Smokies I listened to the most beautiful piece of music I have ever heard as the rain pattered on the canvas top of that little popup camper. Everybody was snoring as I cried from pure joy of being in that place, in that moment of time with the ones I loved the most.

Peggy was home from college and had the CD of, After The Rain, by Michael Jones.

Today the kids tell us the best times we had as a family was the weekends we spent on Big Escambia Creek, Coldwater Creek, Blackwater River and even in Vernon, Texas at a KOA where the swimming pool was filled with duck feathers and we parked underneath a cottonwood tree as the August winds never abated. The top of the pop up shook and swayed, those tough desert leaves sounded like a Jesus Church fan hung in bicycle spokes.

We were seeing this great country with all it had to offer while camping on the cheap.

***Y'all I would do it all again.


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