We left Seattle on a warm Friday afternoon for an even hotter weekend in Eastern Washington. That’s where many of us Western Washingtonians go to warm up, dry out, and play in a dramatically different climate from ours. Goin’ campin’ at 25 Mile Creek State Park – halfway up the 50-mile length of Lake Chelan. Like all good trips, this one involved some tradition. Whenever we go down I-5 through Oregon, we always stop at the K&R Drive-in (Rice Hill) for ice cream. Whenever a trip takes us anywhere near Wenatchee, we always stop for lunch at Rusty’s, a little drive-in with classic burgers and milkshakes (the real thing), a clean restroom, and a shaded picnic area in the back. The drive over Blewett Pass is beautiful, and that route just happens to put us on the highway that goes right through Rusty’s hometown of Cashmere (west of Wenatchee).
Wenatchee bears the distinctive nickname of “Apple Capital of the World and the Buckle of the Powerbelt of the Great Northwest.” Just north of Wenatchee we stopped at Rocky Reach Dam on the Columbia River. More water than we’ve seen in years was bursting through the spillways and we hoped for a closer look. An armed guard was satisfied that we were not a group of terrorists, admitting us onto the grounds even though the public areas were closing. We didn’t go inside the dam this time, but there’s a lot to see in there: fish ladders; the Museum of the Columbia, a surprising interpretive museum taking visitors back into the region’s pioneer history, and including an extensive collection of Edisonia (artifacts related to the inventions and discoveries of Thomas Edison); and the powerhouse. Around the outside of the dam are almost 20 acres of lush lawns and gardens.
By the time we reached the campground it was evening. Love that parks reservation system: we shared two adjoining campsites in the trees and right next to the creek with two of our favorite West Seattle families and camping buddies. Our own little tent city went up pretty quickly: two large tents for sleeping, one for changing clothes, one for snoring, one for refugees from snoring.
For us, camping with other families is the way to go. Eight kids in this instance – all very close in age – were practically inseparable for the whole weekend. Whether sitting around a fire, reading, engaging in pine cone warfare, swimming, exploring, befriending other kids, or playing games, they had no problem entertaining themselves.* Households take turns cooking so that each one has fewer meals to shop for and prepare. That makes for a much more restful outing, and those who didn’t cook usually didn’t mind cleaning up.
* Not sure that “many hands make light work” applies to a group of teenagers. Perhaps rapid growth and hormones cause temporary blindness to things that need to be done or that are “obvious” to adults. With step-by-step supervision and constant refocusing on the task at hand, however, I found that sometimes six or seven of us (several kids, one adult) were able to perform the work of one person.
Costco and Target seem to own the tent camping market. Amazing to see so many similar camp chairs, tents, lanterns, stoves, coolers, etc, in any campground. We still add our own flourishes to camping, guided by a comprehensive Camping List (available upon request) that we’ve refined over many years. One of our favorite routines, passed on to me by my sister Katie, is cooking omelets as follows (pay attention, you’ll like this):
- chop up ingredients you like for omelets ahead of time – tomatoes, different kinds of cheese, bacon, green onions, peppers, mushrooms;
- get a pot of water boiling on the campstove;
- write names or initials with a laundry marking pen on the outside of quart-size, freezer weight ziplock bags;
- break the number of eggs you’d like (usually 2-3) into a marked bag. Mash eggs inside the bag to mix them up;
- add the ingredients for your omelet, mash together with eggs, and squeeze air out of bag before sealing;
- drop sealed bag into boiling water;
- lift bag out of water with tongs after 10-15 minutes; contents should not be runny;
- when done, open bag and slide moist, perfectly cooked omelet onto plate. Garnish with plain yogurt, salsa, and – if you’re lucky – Susan’s homemade pesto. Bon apetit!
- Pot can cook many omelets at once (unless there’s air in bags).
- Bags can be washed (using the water omelets were cooked in) and reused.
- Everybody makes their own omelets the way they like them. No muss, no fuss.
Another thing that has simplified preparation for camping trips: we have two big, heavy-duty plastic boxes (with lids that snap shut) that stay packed all the time. The site box has the tent, rainfly, poles, tarps, ropes, hammer, hatchet, lantern, air mattresses, doormat, broom, camp stools, collapsible water container, propane bottles, etc. The kitchen box has the campstove, tablecloths, knives, cooking and eating utensils, oven mitts, plastic plates and cups, cutting board, griddle, spices, first aid kit, bug repellent, sunscreen, kitchen towels, paper towels, dishwashing soap, cooking pots and pans, marshmallow roasting forks, plastic wash tub, etc. We jot things down that need to be restocked. For the most part, the only other things are clothes, personal effects, sleeping bags, and food. This makes camping much easier because we don’t have to think about all of these items; we just load the big boxes in the van and half of our packing is done.
Saturday promised to be a scorcher. The kids voted unanimously to go to Slidewaters in the town of Chelan. OK – we can go for a couple of hours, but it’ll probably be a madhouse. Got there before noon and it was much less crowded than we expected. We like this place: it’s family friendly, clean and well-maintained, well-supervised, and there’s something for everyone. Susan and I got our senior discounts (the only two I’ve ever received were both at water parks). There are at least ten slides, including one with 400+’ of complete darkness, one three-lane downhill racetrack, and a river-like feature in which groups of tubes go down together. Hardly noticed that the temperature climbed to about 100 degrees; we stayed until closing time (7 PM) and wondered where the time went. No one had trouble sleeping that night.
After a leisurely Sunday breakfast we packed up the campsite. By the time the cars were loaded it was hot enough for a swim at the beach at beautiful Lake Chelan State Park. I first swam in Lake Chelan one college summer, and still remember blithely diving off a dock into the deep water. The cold took my breath away for about five minutes, and even in the hot sun it took me a while to warm up again. Now I look for gradually sloping beaches that offer a kinder, gentler entry into the water. On this occasion the water was perfect and completely refreshing.
Before a picnic lunch a few of us tried to play volleyball on a grassy field, but we couldn’t stand up to the heat. Time for another dip in the lake. Aaahhh. Quickly now, back in the car so we can get going while we still feel a little bit cool from swimming.
Goodbye, friends – see you back in Seattle. The weekend almost seemed too short to have happened at all except that we came back strangely refreshed even after hours of driving and hours in the hot sun. No wonder we love camping.