scenic beach

I lost my camping mojo after the last trip of last year. Just didn’t think I had it in me for this summer. For the first time in many years, I didn’t stalk site 9 months out, waiting to scoop up my favorite sites.

Usually we camp 3 or 4 times in a year, so it was a bit strange not to have any trips on the docket. We watched from the sidelines while friends planned the now-regular trip to Steamboat Rock.

But then Danielle started making rumblings about doing just ONE trip. Surely we had that in us, she said. She would even find the spot. This late in the game that would be a tricky thing. So of course I had to get online and see if there was even anything decent to be had. By this time our visiting friends from Germany and Yinnie and Spike were game too, so we needed either 4 sites or 2 big enough to get cozy on.

There was 2 sites at Scenic Beach State Park. We’d been there before several years ago. It’s an easy trip – a ferry ride from downtown Seattle to Bremerton or Edmonds to Kingston, and then maybe 30 minutes driving. Not too far but seems another lifetime away.



Anytime a ferry is involved, it instantly becomes both more fun and more work – dealing with the schedules and potential wait times – but it can also mean less time driving.


The fact that it was a quintessential Seattle summer day didn’t hurt. We didn’t even bring the canopy.


By some Christmas miracle, we made the first ferry out of Seattle, and pulled up at the ranger station right behind Jim and Kathleen who’d come across at Kingston. And then there was this.






This is the view out your tent when you don’t need to put on the rainfly, something we’ve never been able to do in maybe 7 years of Seattle camping.

We were gone 4 days, not so many miles but worlds away. Friends met, kids assimilated, and we all took it down a notch. The only decisions to be made were what and when to eat and drink or go to the beach. No screens to look at. I “checked in” on the ferry, and that was it. Much laughing, talking, walking, sitting around the fire.

That’s when I remembered why we camped in the first place. Yes, it’s a boatload of work, basically bringing the contents of your house with you so you can live in the woods for a few days. But the recharging and resetting of your insides, the living at a different speed and engaging with your family and friends face to face instead of virtually – THAT is why we do it.

Already planning for next summer.

Lopez 2011

Along with some friends, we have been spending one weekend plus a few days on Lopez Island for the last 5 Augusts. (That is a strange sentence, but I think you know what I mean.)  We camp at Spencer Spit, a state park that has decent sites and access to the beach, but no showers and this year, no trash pickup due to budget cuts.  Dislike.

In our group this year there were 9 adults, 6 kids and 5 dogs. On a double site.  We were packed in there like sardines but we made it work. Nice sunny days definitely helped. As did plenty of boozy goodness. Sparkly pinot grigio – hello! We woke up, we ate, we hung out on the beach, we ate, we drank. Repeat.

View down on the Spit

The Geek took this with his phone on a foggy Friday. I like it.

For the first time this year, we took a day trip over to Orcas Island to check out Moran State Park. That island is much larger than Lopez and feels more mountain-y.  In Moran State Park you can drive up to Mt. Constitution, where there is a tower you can climb and really spectacular views. REALLY spectacular.

Next to the Tower

Tower you can climb up and see...


We spied some sweet sites for next summer if we get lucky enough to snag the reservations. There is a cute little town called Eastsound where we had some righteous barbeque.$2 Tallboys!! Like!

Carnage at Fire Smokehouse & Grill

Ferried it back on the 7 pm ferry – which I must say was the one downside to the San Juans. You are completely at the mercy of the ferry system.  We were ready to head back about 2 hours earlier but couldn’t.  Though once we were on the ferry, we were treated to this.


And on the right…

Mt. Baker

The scenery was amazing all around us. But not all of it came in the form of nature. I discovered a new reason to love Lopez this year – a quilt store!  Score!

Sweet mid-mods for something

Soon to be a pillow!

It was tiny so it was mostly fat quarters and a limited bolt selection but still!  At the farmers’ market there were a couple stalls selling locally spun yarn, too.

Now. Full disclosure.  It has come to my attention that I may be too old for tent camping. Damn, it is a lot of schlepping of shit. We are alas too poor for a vacation house but it may be time to convert to yurting, which does limit one’s choice of park but might make for happier camping.  We shall see.

camp life

We spent the last four days at Grayland Beach State Park with some friends, old and new.  For the first time, we had to make camp in the rain – dislike.  And it POURED the whole night. LOUDLY.   Luckily by the middle of the next day, we got some dry time, enough to wander out to the beach with our chairs, trashy mags and cocktails.

Getting ready to go camping takes a lot of work and sometimes it’s stressful – the making time to get stuff done and bought and the loading of the car and sometimes the driving to get there.  But once we get there, I can feel the stress of everyday stuff melt away, reset.  Now it’s back to basics.  When and what to eat and drink, potty breaks, sleep. Repeat.

For some reason, this trip was especially stress-free – maybe it was being so close to the ocean.  Good group, kids having a great time, sans screened items even.  It makes me really happy to know that they will remember playing in the waves and the final night bonfire on the beach for a long time.  How they all got along and made up games only they knew the rules to.

I have some friends who “do not camp”.  Not sure why – lack of creature comforts? I enjoy a nice rental house as much as the next person, but I think when you camp you strip away that extra layer of civilization and get back to simple.

I need to figure out a way to get that simplicity in my everyday life.  It occurred to me that we rarely have cell phone service at campgrounds and I can’t update Facebook – dare I say that is why it’s so relaxing?!

For starters, I deleted TweetDeck from my phone.  That damn alert bird was driving me nuts. I rarely tweet, so why was I keeping it around?  I am playing around with Google + and may ease back on Facebook.  Gasp!

I really appreciate the zen kind of feeling I get while camping – it feels like floating.  And it’s not just the 10 am Greyhound. I get that same feeling when doing crafty things – so I need to make more of an effort in that area. Stop focusing so much on the everyday bullshit and more on everyday fun.  No reason we can’t make some good memories at home, too.

We head out for our annual trip to Spencer Spit on Lopez Island in about a month and the planning for that will start soon.  In the meantime, I need to get some itch cream for the fifty bug bites on my legs.  Should be an interesting fashion accessory at the two weddings I’ll be attending this weekend.

steamboat rock

I spent the last 3 days at Steamboat Rock State Park, about 4 hours east and north of Seattle.  It takes its name from a massive basalt rock that  now rises 800 feet above Banks Lake; it was originally an island in the Columbia River bed.   Banks Lake is a man-made 27-mile-long lake formed by the North Dam near Grand Coulee and the Dry Falls Dam near Coulee City.  The landscape here is very different than what we are used to on the West side of the Cascades; when we first camped here last year it I couldn’t get over how much it looked like what I think the moon might look like. It seems very prehistoric.   At first it looks like nothing but brown, but if you look closely at the cliffs in the right light all kinds of colors emerge.  And at this time of year, there are wildflowers blooming in yellows, pinks and purples. And always the gray green of the sage brush.

So flat here! You can see forever

Campground is at the base of Steamboat Rock

Roadside cliff

Sunset warming the cliff colors

At the dock, preparing for a sunset cruise avec cocktails



WIne in one hand, camera in the other


View from our beach

Sunset from our site

Frantz Senior takes us for a boat ride

The Rock from the lake

Blue everywhere

Lake cliffs

Yes, the change of scenery and routine are big reasons for dragging out half the contents of my house four hours east for 3 days with friends. But also, there is this.

My boy


About this time of year, me and some like-minded others start having camping withdrawal.  The others would not include the Professors or Lefty, nor, truth be told, my own family.  But I ignore them and forge ahead with the stalking of prime spots beginning in October the year BEFORE the summer we want to go.  I am mocked in some circles for this anal planning.  Til they pull up to the best sites in the place.

We’ve been camping as a family for about 7 years now, starting when the Boy Child was about 3.  We’ve gone with the same core group – Frantzes Senior and Junior – with a few stragglers and school families added to the mix from time to time. One of the best things about this continuity and camping with a group is the kid entertainment factor.  They pretty much show up when they want food and go about their merry way otherwise, especially now that they are older.  Certainly back in the younger days, we paid a bit more attention to their general well-being and safety.

We have a routine within this core group.  I pretty much choose sites and dates and nag them until they make reservations.  We plan meals as a group – each family signs up for a few meals.  Including Happy Hour.   That way you aren’t stuck cooking the entire time.  Frantz Senior brings his kick-ass grill/stove combo.  Frantz-Senior-Wife and The Geek are in charge of dishes – though now the kids are old enough to take that on and perhaps a new system will develop this season.

We eat well. Very, very well. Some hits and/or traditions are corned beef hash, Roanoke Bloody Marys, bacon, blueberry pancakes, Frantz fajitas, anything Frantz Junior makes (including but not limited to Chicago dogs and gumbo, sausage for which he mail orders), flank steak (at least once we will have a “flank off” contest), margaritas, bacon, morning greyhounds and mimosas, and cake.  Yes, we make cake in a dutch oven.  And fruit crisp.

Each year we return to our favorite places and try a new one.  The one must-do trip for the last several years has been Spencer Spit State Park on Lopez Island.  It is quite a production to get there – you MUST get in line for the 10 AM ferry NO later than 9 am and even that is pushing it – last year we were the only ones in our group to make the ferry and the rest didn’t arrive for HOURS.  Once safely in line, cocktail hour begins.  Smart ferry campers pack the necessary items in an easily accessible place. It makes the time fly by. Some year we are hoping to make it to one of the other San Juan islands, but we missed the prime spot at Moran this year.  I also just read about Lakedale Resort and will be checking that out.  The Geek’s favorite thing about Lopez – drivers wave at you. Two fingers, off the steering wheel.

Spencer Spit

Other past favorites being revisited this year are Steamboat Rock State Park and Grayland Beach State Park.  We went to Steamboat for the first time last year, in June, thinking it’d be nice there since it’s in eastern Washington. It was, for maybe 6 hours.  Poured the rest of the time.  We were damp.  Very, very damp. The landscape is spectacular though.  We’re hoping the weather is better this year.  We’ve visited Grayland many times over the years.  We reserve all four “walk-in” sites, so we have our own little compound. The berry fritters in Westport are not to be missed.  Also, the crazy Star Wars store in Aberdeen.

Steamboat Rock

Other favorites worth a trip:  Deception Pass State Park, Scenic Beach State Park, Cape Disappointment, Pearrygin Lake, Lake Mayfield and Fort Flagler.  You can check all these out at the State Parks website, including maps and reservations.  We have also stayed at Kalaloch, which is a National Forest park, and I have to say I was not that impressed.  People doing dishes in the bathroom for crying out loud.

Let’s get one thing straight – we are car campers. I do not backpack, or camp without flush toilets at least somewhere nearby.  A pit toilet down on the beach is one thing, but unacceptable if it’s the ONLY toilet.  Showers I can do without, though they are nice. We bring so much stuff, we took possession of my father-in-law’s cargo trailer a few years back.  The Geek isn’t keen on driving it, but it does take the stress out of packing the car, especially since we now have Jack to cram in there too.

We have a big-ass tent.  And a folding table.  Two coolers. Pads. Sleeping bags. Chairs. Boxes of stuff. Food.  Little but important things like the camera and trashy magazines for fireside reading. Password.  If I had enough money and a proper towing vehicle, we’d have a pop-up or even better an Airstream.  (Who am I kidding – if we had enough money, we’d have a vacation house).

Camping is a lot of work.  But when you pull into your site and start unloading (after a cocktail is made, of course), you can feel yourself adjusting to camping time.  The Geek cursing as he sets up the tent is music to my ears (after said cocktail).  Even he relaxes at some point. Phones and other time-sucking devices are ignored.  There is Password in the ferry line and around the fire.  Horror at the skanky outfits in the trashy magazines.  You make your second little home in the woods and strip it down to quality time with friends and family.

the camping life - fort flagler

Our first trip out is in 5 weeks. I wonder if it’s too soon to start meal-planning….