How many hotel stays leave you with a lifetime full of memories? I've stayed in my fair share, but I can't name of a single instance where they have enriched my life in any way. If they did it must have been short-lived. They are just a place to get some sleep and watch HBO too late into the night. Camping on the other hand offers the complete opposite experience. Every camping trip brings about a new set of experiences that stay with you.
The first time I went camping was in college. My cousin and I were on a three-week road trip around the midwest and Rocky Mountains. We were in the Black Hills of South Dakota. When we woke up early to see sunrise at Mount Rushmore, the sky was still dark. Very dark in-fact. I had never seen stars in the sky like that before. I wasn't a serious photographer yet at that time so I have no visual record of that night, but that sight has stuck with me for the past 13 years. That morning also marked the first time I had seen a sunrise before. When Mount Rushmore lit up with red alpenglow, I had no idea that such things happened.
Sometimes the most memorable thing about camping trips are the people you meet. I always get a laugh from a camping trip that my friend and I took to the Eastern Sierra ten years ago. I won't name this campground but let's just say that I've never met a camp host quite like the one from this trip. Curmudgeon? Check. Eye-patch? Check. Trailer? Check. Inside of the trailer was a pet bird with no tray to catch the droppings. Who knows how long that had been accumulating for but it didn't smell good to say the least! My friend and I busted up laughing after we walked out of the trailer.
Camaraderie is the best thing about Backroads camping trips. I've been on two since I began working for them last year. To bike the Sonoma Coast; and rolling hills of Marin County with 20 other people and to bond over the experience at camp is something that can't really be explained. It's one of those things that you have to experience in order to feel its hold on you.
My wife, Samantha, had never camped prior to meeting me three years ago. She loves it now. It's not the sleeping on the ground or waking up in the cold that defines camping. It's the bonding over experiences in the great outdoors. You discover yourselves in the process. Sure, it rained all day last October when we camped at Calaveras Big Trees State Park. It was pretty cold too. I probably even mumbled a few cuss words that day. It was also one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. The rain stopped sometime that night so I stepped out of the tent and spent an hour shooting photos.
My favorite campground was probably Burlington Campground; in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. This is the yard stick with which I think California State Park campgrounds should be measured against. Samantha and I fell in love with the redwoods on this trip. It's not just the scenery but another aspect that makes camping trips memorable is that they are never perfect. There was no rain forecasted for that night we spent at Humboldt Redwoods so I left my shoes out in the open. I spent the rest of the trip in sandals. Yes, this trip was arguably my favorite camping trip to date.
So the next time you are debating whether to book a hotel room or your first campsite consider some of these adventures. If it wasn't for the experience in the Black Hills 13 years ago, maybe I wouldn't have become a photographer. Maybe Samantha and I wouldn't be married if it wasn't for Mammoth Lakes two years ago. I wouldn't trade these memories for anything.
Richard Wong is a travel and landscape photographer currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is a California-native who loves to explore his home state.
To see more of his work, visit his website.