Being the week after memorial day, we figured we could hit the canyon in the late afternoon last Friday and have little trouble finding a campsite. Unfortunately we weren't the only ones who thought that. After making the inevitable last minute trip to the store to buy essentials (in this case hot dog skewers, hot cocoa, a lantern, paper towels, and hand sanitizer), we headed north on I-15 towards American Fork Canyon. After getting off an exit early and weaving our way through downtown American Fork we made it to the tollbooth at the mouth of American Fork Canyon. However we didn't have the requisite 3$ in cash to get access to the canyon so we pulled a U-turn and pulled some money out at a gas station ATM down the road.
The campsite we were aiming for was full, and so was every other improved campground on the north side of the canyon and we drove around for almost an hour, getting more tired, hungry, and frustrated with every passing minute. We had our entire car packed to the gills, including our dog who had just begun molting in the summer heat, which meant her hair was tufting off into the air every time she adjusted her position. More than once she tried to climb over Nolan's car seat to get out of the car when we stopped to ask directions, or get money out. Callan did so well almost to the end and we were about to give up when a friendly camp host told us about a large open area called Salamander Flats just a mile up the road that had one toilet and room for lots of people. We pulled in at 7:45pm , and had our tent up and a fire going by 8:30pm.
We have this ridiculously huge two room tent that can sleep a family of 8, but it sets up easy and its tall enough to stand up in, so we bring it anyway. Nolan looks like the incredible shrinking human when he's alone in it, and even when we're all inside the tent, the airiness betrays the fact that we are in a tent and not a gigantic Walmart bag. We couldn't be happier though, except for maybe some thicker sleeping pads and warmer clothing. We were planning on warm Utah Valley weather, and didn't think much about cool Utah mountain evenings. I managed to stay fairly warm, but Melissa was short a few layers . As for Callan and Nolan--Callan seemed okay in his sweats and sweatshirt, and Nolan wore a sweat suit over pajamas over a t-shirt, (and incidentally, an extra pair of Callan's underwear on his head to keep his noggin from getting too cold) Shelby spent the majority of the trip tied to a tree, besides a short-lived off-leash experience that ended in her racing off down the road after what I'm sure must have been some amazing smell and me calling frantically at her to come back, visions going through my mind of her jumping into the dinner of some unsuspecting camper. She slept outside the tent and only barked every hour or so, which meant between the hard ground, the cold, and the dog barking, we got a typical amount of sleep for a weekend excursion into the mountains. Oh yeah, and there were what sounded like dozens of teenagers across the clearing who kept at their loud talking for an impressively long time into the early morning hours.
This all must sound like I'm complaining, but really that 's not my intention. My desire is to 1) outline the extraordinarily poor planning we brought to this trip, and 2) talk a little bit about the woods. Because everything we so last minute , we forgot many things, and didn't plan quite well enough for the things we did remember, but the woods were still the woods. The stars were still aglow overhead, and the moon--the blue moon--was so bright that I would have thought someone was shining their headlights into our tent had the light not had a blue lunar tint to it. I can't help but think about pioneers when I sit around a campfire and roast marshmallows, or when I cook eggs and sausage over our green Coleman stove. I find a minor amount of shame in the idea of going into the woods for recreation when I think about the centuries that society spent trying to get out . There really isn't a huge difference between weekend campers like me and guys who dress up in civil war regalia to reenact famous battles between the blue and gray. The nostalgia, myth, and make believe involved in both activities provide meaning to a person's life, they provide connection to a different world--maybe empathy, but mostly escape. It seems silly to transplant my family into the woods--even for one night--to sleep on the ground, cook on a propane stove, gather firewood to roast marshmallows, and share a well worn field with perfect strangers out for the same escape.
The family we camped next to--The Christiansens from Alpine, Utah--have been coming to Salamander Flats for years. At one point in their lives they were coming up every Sunday night and camping with there six children. They would ride their mountain bikes all day Monday and start the week on Tuesday. The Christiansens I think have found something in those woods that goes way beyond nostalgia or escapism. The field we camped in was pretty, if unexciting, and it was cut and slashed through by mountain bike trails, and it was free to camp, but other than that the site lived little to be desired . What they have been coming out there for then, must be more about them and their family than about the woods itself. It must have something to do with setting your six- month-old down on a blanket in unplanned grass, cooking your breakfast in mountain air, lying next to the earth in tent full of the people you care--and worry--about most.