Memories. We all want to make the best memories for our kids. And sometimes, they happen by accident.
Over Labor Day weekend, my husband Sean and I packed up the truck and kids (and dog!) and went camping. Sean will argue that we were NOT camping, we were scouting for elk. I contend that sleeping in a tent is synonymous with camping no matter what our motivation was. Anyway…
We drove out on Highway 50 toward the lovely little hamlet of Austin. Along the way, Sean got pulled over for speeding. No biggie, the officer was very nice and let us go with a warning, and encouragement that we’ll see elk EVERYWHERE (um, officer, you were wrong). The kids were fascinated by the whole process, which we openly discussed with them and explained that officers are just doing their jobs and not bad guys for pulling us over. We realized that the message was lost when the girls tattled on their daddy and told Grandma that DADDY GOT ARRESTED!
Daddy’s criminal record: memory #1.
As we continued our journey, we decided to stop at a hot spring outside of Austin. We’ve been here before, but never camped. We pulled up to an empty campsite and made ourselves at home. Perhaps I should point out that rustic Nevada camping means that if there’s a wide spot in the road, you can call it a campsite. This is not fire-ring, flushing toilet, picnic-table camping. You can’t reserve these spots. So we were thrilled to find a wide spot in the road and pitch our tent.
We splashed in the hot springs while I hissed at my kids to be quiet so we didn’t disturb the other campers. People go to hot springs to relax, after all, not to hear a couple of squealing kids make fart jokes.
Apparently, the resident burros don’t teach their young the same lessons. We were treated to endless hee-hawing all night long. This created a very stimulating melody with the coyotes howling not far enough from our tent. So much for relaxing.
Asses and coyotes: memory #2.
The next day we took off, scouting in earnest. We turned onto a dirt road and kept our eyes on the horizon for wildlife. Well, I think we saw a jackrabbit. Or perhaps I was hallucinating by then. Who knows. We didn’t see any other living being, other than the cows that clearly own the dirt roads and don’t feel the need to move a hoof to allow a half-ton truck through.
We finally stopped for the night on a mountain top. I think we were lost, but my husband swears he could find it again on a map… if he had to.
We found an old, crumbling log cabin that may or may not have been haunted. I drowned my fears with a bottle of merlot in a preemptive strike against ghost-laden dreams. The girls clogged the gas barbecue with marshmallow goo and thwarted our efforts at cooking a hot breakfast in the morning.
Ghost cabin: memory #3.
The next day we actually got to watch a herd of wild mustangs gallop across the sagebrush. This was truly an awe-inspiring moment. Even though we see wild horses all the time munching our neighbor’s grass and pooping in our driveway, it’s so different when they’re in the REAL wild, galloping freely (and terrified by our diesel-fueled approach!). The girls actually looked up from their Leapsters for a full five seconds to watch the amazing show.
We continued to wander in the hopes of finding our elusive herd of elk. We did see a herd of antelope, but that’s no help to us. We saw a coyote and a mountainside of sheep. All beautiful in their own ways, but not what we’re looking for.
After about 30 requests for Lunchables, we stopped on a mountaintop to eat. We played, I fretted about rattlesnakes, I took pictures, and the dog marked the entire mountain as his territory. A happy family, indeed! Then as we packed up, our youngest daughter, Abbi, walked by the truck and yelped as I heard a strange snapping sound. Oh! She sprung an animal trap. You knows those traps that are buried in the ground and spring together when an animal steps in them? Yeah, one of those.
Abbi nonchalantly told me that something made her jump. I freaked out. Only then did she realize that she had narrowly escaped danger, and she burst into tears. The dog was barking. The husband was cursing. And I was frantically scooping my baby off the ground and ordering everyone to STAND STILL!
Hubby dug up the illegally set trap and presented it to Abbi as a badge of honor. She took it to daycare for show-and-tell this week. I’m not sure if we’ll get expelled for that one.
Nearly maimed child: memory #4.
After lunch, we continued down a dirt road that Sean swore was the “main road.” Let’s be clear: Dirt roads should never be called “main” roads. This road was particularly overgrown, which should have been our first clue. After about five miles wondering if a velociraptor was going to jump out at us, Sean agreed that perhaps we took a wrong turn. We reversed our path… and promptly blew a tire. Oh yes, large gash in the sidewall; we were stuck. Hubby changed the tire quickly while rain threatened to wash out the road. No reason to worry, right?
Stranded in the land before time: memory #5.
We agreed that it was time to get off the dirt roads and back to civilization. We made a few more photo stops (hey, I haven’t met a Pony Express Station I didn’t like) and gassed up in Ely before heading back home. We agreed that we could use a recharge at the hot springs where we began our adventure, so we pulled into our former campsite (wide spot in the road) and made camp. This was a wonderful decision, complete with entertainment (neighbor’s naked 60-year-old body chillin’ in the hot spring) and wildlife (scorpion. SCORPION!).
Then the sky opened up on us and, as my daughter put it: God cried. Apparently God was having a tantrum of some sort because we were pelted with the largest rain drops I’ve ever seen. So the four of us (oh, the dog: five of us) spent the evening playing Go Fish in the two-person tent. Cozy.
Uncontrollable laughter in the comfort of our tent: memory #6.
This was our weekend. It was crazy. It was unplanned and unreserved. I know I will never forget it, and while my kids may be young, I have a feeling they will never forget it, either. And for that, I am so happy for coyotes and scorpions and jackasses and naked neighbors. These are the memories that will carry us through meltdowns and time-outs and stressful bedtimes. These are the memories of our family.