Lessons from the Desert: A Beginners Mistake

Camping in Goose Neck State Park, Utah was one of the greatest challenges I have faced in my outdoor experience so far. The climate was excruciating, the soil was soft and the insects and reptiles were plentiful. Alone with a close friend, a first-time camper, we attempted to pitch our tent in the soft soil, start an un-successful fire, and were continuously assaulted by an ever growing windstorm. Our first night turned into a long list of un-pleasant events including, setting up camp in the dark, being utterly and terrifyingly lost, and being bombarded by a tsunami of light seeking insects.

We arrived at our un-marked, un-reserved campsite around 10:30pm. Scared out of our minds from the unfamiliar landscape and terrain, we wearily set our tent near a cluster of RVs and hoped for the best. Inside our tent we spread out our sleeping bags and blankets, guided by a tiny battery operated camp lantern given to us by a thoughtful parent. With every sound we heard I assured and reassured my nervous friend that if any wildlife had been near, the critters had already been scared off by the RVs.

After a near-sleepless night we awoke to find ourselves not fifteen feet from the edge of the beautiful Gooseneck canyon. The most beautiful site I have seen bar-none was also the cause of the tightening of my gut at the thought of pitching my tent a few yards to the left in the dark night. The sunrise lit up the deep reds and browns of the canyon and illuminated the desert all around us. We had set our tent nearly in the road, right in the way of any RV that could have been in a hurry to leave that morning. The fear from the night before subsided and we moved our camp quickly to a marked site with a small fire pit already in place. I set up the tent and brought out firewood, which I later realized was cut too thick to catch, and attempted to build a breakfast fire. The flame was so small that hotdogs were our only option for cooking so we hungrily roasted a few. The rest of the morning was filled with exploring, picture taking, lizard chasing, sunscreen slathering, and excitement over making it through the night. Around noon the wind introduced itself to our tent and flung sand and dirt around us in spiraling gusts. Our tent easily picked up out of the soft soil and our chairs danced along with it.

We made the decision to end the camping trip and head for a motel, I felt completely defeated. My victory from the night before seemed insignificant now that the wind was winning and spoiling our fun. I shot a few more pictures of the colorful canyon and a few free-range cattle from the car window as we exited the state park and headed toward Mexican Hat. Mexican Hat had little to offer so we headed towards Bluff and found a welcoming motel.

I learned many things from this particular camping experience. First, plan out how much time you want to spend at places that are on the way to a camping destination. Mesa Verde was an amazing detour for us, but I would have saved it for the way home if I knew I would be setting up camp in the pitch dark of the desert. Bad directions from a Ranger also caused us a three-hour delay in arriving where we wanted to be. Second, have a few options in mind in case of bad weather. We had not expected a windstorm and we were not familiar with the near by towns. We were very fortunate to find The Kokepeli Inn in Bluff, Utah. Lastly, remember that over-coming fears and obstacles is what camping is about! If we had wanted a clean, un-eventful vacation we would have opted for a motel the first night of our trip! Enjoy the site and the company and take in all the oddities that the place has to offer. Take pictures and remember all of the hilarious mis-haps to share with friends at home. Happy camping!