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By Gerald McGrane, from the May/June 2014 issue of Iowa Outdoors magazine
Struggling to set up his fold-down camper, my brother-in-law asks, “Tell me again why we do this?”
“So our kids will take their kids camping” was the response, but not really an answer.
Over the course of three hours, food is packed in two coolers, one cardboard box and two cloth shopping bags. The back of the Suburban is jammed with backpacks and duffle bags, fishing poles, sleeping bags, a cook stove, an air mattress and a plastic tote with cooking and cleaning essentials. The tent, stroller and folding love seats are strapped to the top. Why? We’re going camping.
We camp because it’s one way we stay in touch with what’s really important. You get this sense from browsing the pages of any Iowa Outdoors issue. Flip through and what do you see: family, respecting nature, learning, ethics and more. For a family there are few ways to do this as simply and economically as camping.
I admit I went through a phase where I didn’t really care to camp. In my mind it was too much work for too little benefit. My wife Becky, who did a lot more of the work than I did, never forgot how important it was. Camping was and is a family priority.
My kids have kept me going too. As soon as the snow melts, we hear, “When are we going to go camping?” A dollar for every time we hear that question would fill our gas tank for a month.
We take our kids camping because there are things we only do camping. While we have fires in our backyard, we can’t usually have the stars. How often do we normally encourage a 10-year-old to use a flint and steel to start a fire? When else does a five-year-old get to cook Polish sausages over a fire? Without camping, there would be no backgammon played by lantern light. There would be no wading in the stream, followed by hiking the Backbone Trail.
When we camp, we’re outside all day—taking walks through the woods, chasing fireflies and eating s’mores. Can we do some of this at home? Sure. But at home there is TV, the internet, bills to pay, projects to finish and a dozen other things to keep us from each other.
I’ve come around. Now I get as anxious to get out as the kids do. Yes, it can be work. But there is a lot more work to do at home. When you make the work of camping fun, it’s not really work. It’s part of the experience. My oldest son likes to help put up the tent. My younger ones like to gather sticks to help get the fire started. Breakfast baked in a Dutch oven is cool, even if Dad isn’t very good at controlling the temperature and it takes a little longer. Most importantly, we do it together. When we camp we are together in a way we just aren’t at home. For my family, nothing says togetherness like nine people sleeping in a tent.
Pack the cooler. Toss in some chairs and a tent and go be together.
Get ideas to plan your next Iowa camping trip with our Iowa State Parks and campsite reservation webpages, and our Iowa Camping and Iowa State Parks boards on Pinterest.