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Finding the merits in car camping

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with camping.

As a reluctant outdoorsman at best, I like being able to set up my tent, sleep outside under the stars and warm myself by the fire. Camping is a mirthful way to distance myself from the machinations of a hectic work life and all the droning annoyances and demands that come from being perpetually plugged into the infotainment network.

But like many red-blooded American campers, most of the time I’m roughing it out of the back of my car, crammed into small camping slots with dozens of other like-minded enthusiasts neighboring me.

The older I get, the more I glumly smile at experiencing the outdoors within spitting distance of 20 other families serenading my vacation with a cacophony of gas-fueled generators that power giant touring buses ironically called “campers.”

Ideally I’d prefer to set up shop in a secluded wood where all I can hear is the wind rustling through the trees and a nearby babbling brook well-stocked with fat 18-inch trout. But I’m much more of a realist than an idealist, and when you have a 4-year-old with a short attention span who is still learning the finer points of toilet etiquette, there is definite comfort in pitching a tent near facilities with running water.

Such was the case this past weekend when my family joined my parents at South Twin Lake in Deschutes County just outside of La Pine. The Twin Lakes were a common haunt for me when I was younger, but it had been well over a decade since I had last set foot at the campground.

I remembered the resort fondly as a place where I could chase its widespread population of overly-tame ground squirrels. I also had starkly negative memories of the fishing, wasting hours of my life in a rickety aluminum boat with nary a nibble on my line.

Like most memories, my recollection of South Twin was somewhere in-between truth and fabrication. The squirrels were indeed rampant, much more so than how I remembered. This was likely due to decades of friendly campers stuffing their cheeks with nuts, bread crumbs and anything else the cute creatures could scrounge off unattended camp tables.

The golden-mantled ground squirrels, as they are accurately called, range somewhere between pet and wildlife at South Twin. They show absolutely no fear of people and constantly bicker and chase each other about the campsites in a never-ending battle for territory.

With just a handful of peanuts, anyone can conscript an army of adorable, black-striped rodents to do their bidding – provided their bidding is eating to excess and tearing open any food containers that are not properly sealed.

My old man showed a particular affinity for the beasts and was able to coerce his pets to climb up his pant legs or cling to his fingers to eat peanuts out of his hands. As one squirrel would eat his fill, another would inevitably rush over to chase away the rival in a rush of angered chittering that was entirely too familiar for anyone who enjoys watching old Chip ‘n’ Dale cartoons.

My son, Arthur, did not yet possess the patience to attract his own battalion of furry friends, but he had fun chasing them about and throwing peanuts when he couldn’t get them to approach closer than five feet.

We also brought Arthur out on the boat to partake in the fine sport of angling. While he didn’t show any particular interest in the actual fishing, he was generally well-behaved and was eager to check out our slimy catch whenever any of us were fortunate enough to reel in a trout.

I’m proud that I was able to catch my limit in what quickly became one of the two-best fishing trips in my life. But my wife stole my championship belt during our second trip out on the boat later that afternoon, bagging a 15-incher to claim the catch of the day.

I may have my issues with enjoying the outdoors, but as far as car camping goes, it couldn’t have gone much better. South Twin Lake remains a great place to take the family, and I’m eager to head back there again the next time the stars align to give my family a weekend in the outdoors.



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