On the Road—In Tents

Dad wanted us to remember our family camping getaways. After so many disasters, how could I forget?
On the Road—In Tents
Illustration by Paul Rogers

Several months ago, my thirteen-year-old daughter asked me if I would take her camping. I stared at her for a moment, waiting for a punch line, but it never came. “Seriously?” I finally said.

I hadn’t been on a camping trip that lasted longer than two days since I was a teenager, when my father would take our family for the entire month of August. Every year, he, my mom, my two sisters, and I piled into our station wagon with a tent trailer attached to the hitch. We roamed the country for four weeks—not a day less—spending the night in KOAs, roadside rest stops, empty pastures, and state parks with foul-smelling pit toilets. On a few lucky occasions, we stayed in a national park where our campsite was actually secluded and didn’t butt up to one filled with beer-chugging rednecks who threw their trash into the fire and hooted along to country music.

For three days one summer, we even camped behind a gas station in Arizona in the blazing heat while we waited for a new engine part for the station wagon to arrive. Unperturbed, my Clark Griswold-like father would tell us that these trips created memories that would last a lifetime. Six months before each vacation, he would order maps from AAA and begin to plan our route, highlighting in yellow all the highways he wanted to drive and all the sights he wanted to see.

His goal was to show us America’s greatest natural wonders: the Tetons, Niagara Falls, the Mojave Desert, the Great Lakes, that mountain in South Dakota where the

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