Friday, January 30, 2009

Phantom Canyon (or The Worst Camping Trip Ever)

Back when I was fresh out of college, I moved to Colorado for a year with my boyfriend. (Who later became my husband and later still my ex-husband.)  While we were living there, my sister and brother came to visit us.  Being young and adventurous, we decided to go camping together up in Phantom Canyon.  Now, Phantom Canyon is exactly as it sounds.  Picture, if you will, a rock strewn dirt road clinging to the side of a mountain with a sheer drop on one side of the road.  There's room for only one car on the road at a time, so in the unlikely event you meet a car coming the other direction, one of you has to back up until you can find a spot wide enough to pass by each other.  There are no actual campsites, but rather a few sparsely scattered areas where you could pitch a tent.  (If you actually had one.)

Intrepid campers we were not.  We had three sleeping bags for the four of us and no tent.  My brother insisted he was hearty enough to use just a bed roll made up of a couple of old indian blankets we had around the house.  So, we packed the car (an old white BMW 2002) with the sleeping bags, bed roll, water jug, two boxes of Kraft macaroni & cheese and a pan to cook it in, a can of green beans, matches, a cooler of Dr. Pepper and a bag of marshmallows. 

We cheerfully set out on our journey on a warm, sunny day in early June.  The road up the canyon, as I indicated, is a tad bit treacherous without 4-wheel drive, but we were undaunted. We'd already made the drive up the canyon before several times, just not loaded down with four people and camping gear.  We hit bottom a few times, but this was to be expected.  After about 40 minutes, we saw a clearing that might accommodate our car and suffice for our campsite.  

We parked the car off the side of the road and carted all the gear to the clearing.  Out came the sleeping bags, the bed roll, the water jug, the two boxes of Kraft macaroni & cheese and the pan to cook it in, the green beans, the matches, the cooler of Dr. Pepper and the bag of marshmallows.  We started to set up camp and were quite happy with the location we found until we heard the buzzing of insects.  You name an insect, it was there.  Swarms of mosquitos, gnats and some bees made our beautiful campsite uninhabitable.  

So, we once again packed up the sleeping bags, the bed roll, the water jug, the two boxes of Kraft macaroni & cheese and the pan to cook it in, the green beans, the matches, the cooler of Dr. Pepper and the bag of marshmallows.  Back into the car we squeezed, only to find that the car had overheated on the rough ride up the canyon and wouldn't start.  There was nothing to do but wait for the car to cool down.  By this time, the sun had warmed the air sufficiently to make the interior of the car rather warm.  In my great wisdom I decided it was the perfect time for a cool, refreshing Dr. Pepper.  I proceeded to pop the top on the can, only to have it explode in a spray of amber colored, sticky droplets all over the inside of the car.  Everyone was drenched and screaming as the soda dripped back down off the ceiling.  Needless to say, I was not the most popular person at that moment.  We were now all hot, tired and sticky and the car still wouldn't start.

Forty-five minutes later, after we were all done glaring at each other, the car started and we were once again on our way.  We drove further up the canyon for about another 30 minutes until we came to another clearing.  To get to it you had to follow a steep path down from the road.   We started getting out all the equipment again.  Yes, the sleeping bags, the bed roll, the two boxes of Kraft macaroni & cheese and the pan to cook it in, the green beans, the matches, the cooler of Dr. Pepper and the bag of marshmallows were carried down the steep hill.  The last thing to come down the hill was the jug of water, which my brother proceeded to drop about half way down.  The water came flying out of the jug and my sister started screaming at my brother because she needed the water for her contact lenses.  (Never mind the fact that without it, our two boxes of Kraft macaroni & cheese were going to be a little crunchy to eat with no water to boil the macaroni.)  

About the same time, one of us noticed that the steep path we'd been traversing up and down was covered with poison ivy.  Many expletives were invoked before we started talking civilly to each other again.  At long last, we had our camp set up.  We made a fire ring from rocks we gathered, started a fire with deadwood we found, laid out our sleeping bags and bed roll near the fire, and started to cook our evening meal.   There was just enough water left in the jug to make the macaroni & cheese, although it did taste a tad bit gritty from the dirt that clung to the opening of the water jug.  

As night began to fall and we were roasting marshmallows over the fire, we began to contemplate the many wild animals that lived in Phantom Canyon, including small mountain lions.  We figured the rattlesnakes had all gone to their dens for the evening.  Nonetheless, we did discuss the merits of circling a rope around your sleeping bag to keep the snakes out. Whether that was an old wives' tale or whether it had actual merit was a moot point, as we didn't have any swell cowboy lariats anyway.  All the same, the more we thought about the mountain creatures and the darker and colder it got, the more nervous we became.   

That's when we came up with the great idea of the rocks in the pan.  It seemed obvious to us that if we heard something approaching we could simply shake the rocks in the pan to make noise and scare away whatever it was.  Everyone agreed it was a brilliant plan.  So, we all snuggled down comfortably into our sleeping bags with the rock filled pan next to us and prepared for slumber.  Unfortunately, our sleeping bags weren't as warm as we anticipated and we all started to shiver.  About the same time, we became painfully aware of all the small rocks we were sleeping on top of.  The more uncomfortable we got, the more sleep eluded us.  Even the beautiful night sky failed to relax us.  Finally, we all covered our heads and tried our darnedest to fall asleep.  

After what seemed like hours, a rustle began nearby.  The sound of sticks snapping came next as the creature neared.  Being cold and shivering and sure that whatever was out there meant to bite any exposed hand that came out of a sleeping bag, we all pretended to be asleep in the hope that someone else would be brave enough to shake the pan.  Two minutes passed, five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen.  Still no hand was seen making the supreme sacrifice for the good of the group.  Twenty minutes later, someone ventured to whisper, "Are you awake?"  Immediately we knew that we were all cowards and had been avoiding being eaten alive by a mountain lion, all the while hoping that one of our camp mates would provide a tastier treat for the vicious creature.  (Yes, we really cared deeply about each other.)   Upon making a pact that we would all look out on the count of three, we were amazed to see that this time we all came through!  We had done it!  We had faced our fears and faced down the creature....  which, as it turned out, happened to be a steer.  

Range cattle are very common in the mountains and it never occurred to us that the thing that was approaching could be a very large, but very docile creature rather than a blood thirsty devourer of humans.  The rest of the night was spent leaning up against an old stone wall and stoking the fire until the sun rose.  When the dawn finally arrived, no one spoke as we packed up the sleeping bags, the bed roll, the empty water jug, the pan minus the rocks, the empty cooler and the trash.  In fact, I don't think any of us spoke to each other again until about six hours after we finally arrived back home.  

Rarely have I been so terrified and miserable while camping.  And I've NEVER again gone camping with my sister and brother.  Go figure!


Meowyn! said...

Your family reunions must be loads of fun!

NJ Pigno said...

How did the whole poison ivy thing work out? said...

Surprisingly, none of us ended up with poison ivy. Lot's of insect bites, though! Along with aching muscles, tension headaches & plenty to discuss with our therapists!

As for the family reunions... we generally avoid those. But then, again, whenever two of us are together, we have loads of fun talking about the absent members of the group. (Acknowledging, of course, how perfect and blameless WE are!) said...

So, it turns out my sister doesn't remember there being a steer in the story. (Although she verified everything else.) Perhaps she's right. Perhaps we just TALKED about it being a cow or steer to make ourselves feel better. So I might have been wrong.

But WAIT! That means it COULD HAVE REALLY BEEN A MOUNTAIN LION! Yikes! Now I'm scared all over again!

Linda Medrano said...

Paula, you know how I feel about camping. I am so not going camping with you and your siblings. Or your boyfriend, husband or ex husband for that matter.

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