Why we choose primitive campsites

Camping in the summertime gets us out of the southwest desert heat (we left our driveway at 9:30 am with a 90* temperature, and two hours later, at an altitude of 9,000′, it was 57* and rainy), it allows our children to experience new things, gives them an opportunity to test their developing skills, abilities and limits, and camping provides great family bonding time.

Our preferred campsite location is one that is primitive, but the purpose of our recent overnight excursion was to “practice” camping in an established campsite in close proximity to other people. We stayed in a private, 200-acre pay-to-fish and camp location offering areas for RVs and tents. 

Just as we secured our spot (first come, first serve), an afternoon mountain thunderstorm hit, complete with pea-size hail. So, we waited it out, and fed everyone lunch in the truck. Thankfully, I’d prepared everyone PB&Js in advance, so lunch was easy to grab quickly from our ice chest in the back of the tuck. 

After lunch, the rain began to clear, and with the kids still strapped in their seats, Will and I braved the diminishing sprinkles to set up our new tent. 

After our last outdoor adventure, we decided we feel more comfortable tent camping with our preschoolers, at least for the next four to five years. That decision prompted us to sell our pop-up and purchase a family-size tent. We went with a nine-person, 10’x14′ Coleman instant tent. It boasts a 60-second set up.  

For our first time, and considering set-up took place while it was still sprinkling, it took approximately three minutes. I’m sure with practice, we’ll master the 60-second set-up!  

From the moment we arrived and I realized the camping situation, to the rain and PB&Js in the truck, I was sure I’d be sharing some sort of humorous camping story. But, after we got settled into our camp, I quickly realized why we chose primitive campsites. 

So, the following are our top five reasons for primitive camping!

1. “Business” is better in the woods

The particular campground in which we stayed had one facility to accommodate, well, who knows how many people. The women’s restroom had three showers, two toilets and three sinks with running water. Elsewhere, scattered about the 200 acres, were banks of port-a-potties. At least they came well equipped with toilet paper (double-ply, too). Nonetheless, I prefer selecting a tree over sharing the same spot with multiple two-legged animals. Plus, the stench of the port-a-potties seems to linger for some time after exiting the facility. Yuck! Which, brings me to the next point…

2. Less pollution 

It had been years since we camped in an established campground, so I was a bit overwhelmed by all the people and all the pollution! 

Noise pollution. Multiple campsites had music blaring continuously and, in the background, we heard the steady whirs from generators. Quiet hours in the park were from 10 pm to 8 am, which meant we could only enjoy the true sounds of nature during these hours. But, we were awakened by obnoxious laughing and music 2am, as opposed to being awaken by the bugle of a bull elk or the gobble of a nearby turkey at a primitive location. 

Visual pollution. The view from our campsite was actually quite serene, but it was hard to focus on nature with so many visual distractions. The campsite below us brought a flatscreen TV, the campsite above us enjoyed their music, to the front was a camping trailer – the ones that woke us up at 2am – and to the rear (about 100 yards) were the port-a-potties. My two kiddos and I even took a large perimeter hike up a steep hill and around the boundary of the grounds to explore, and not once did we feel alone with nature. 

I’ve already mentioned the disgusting port-a-potties, which are definitely pollutants to the eyes and nose – ugh. So, I’ll wrap-up this section by mentioning the guidelines we follow when camping – whether at an established or primitive site. 

“If you pack it in, pack it out.” This means that whatever you bring to camp, make sure it leaves with you. We typically do a final “sweep” of our campsite before departure to ensure nothing is left behind. This includes trash, especially the pesky little pieces of trash such a cola can tabs or bottle tops. And, another important rule of thumb is “always leave the campsite in better condition than which you found it.” While we are “sweeping” our site, we always pick up any trash that others have left behind. Occasionally, we even stop to look around abandoned campsites and pick up trash, and we sometimes find lost treasures! My son has found Hot Wheels, and my husband always seems to find knives and tools!

3. Solitude is wonderful

We get away and escape to nature to be alone as a family. We love our little family unit, and being “alone” in the forest strengthens our family bond. We’re able to unplug and focus on one another without the distractions of work, household chores and all the responsibilities that come with being an adult. We can play, laugh, explore and learn together. 

4. More freedom

When we primitive camp, there’s typically no one around. Additionally, we camp a distance from any major road. This means, we have the freedom to hike around our camp, and we can let our children roam and explore – within reason. On this particular campout, we had to set boundaries closer to our camp. There were strangers in close proximity, unfamiliar animals and frequent traffic within the park. Primitive camping allows our family to more freely enjoy the outdoors. 

5. Self reliance 

Finally, being in the outdoors causes you to strengthen your inner being. It’s a real sense of pride knowing you and your family have the tools, knowledge and abilities to endure Mother Nature. Primitive camping means bringing enough water for your family as opposed to relying on available facilities. It means hunting for kindling and chopping your own firewood as opposed to buying it from the front office. And, of course, it means being smart about your surroundings and being comfortable on your own without the safety net of strangers. 

The adage “dilution is the solution to pollution” is the perfect summary for why we choose primitive campsites! What do you think – campground or primitive campsite?! Why do you prefer one over the other? We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.


Adventure always abounds

Anytime we set out as a family, there’s always an adventure in store. From finding a remote, primitive camping spot, testing some retro gear to exploring an Old West Ghost Town, all while making accommodations for one furry family member along for the ride, this particular trip possessed the spirit of yesteryear.

Initially, we planned to spend two nights in the forest, but when three-fourths of the family contract a cold, adjustments must be made. So, our trip quickly became an overnighter, sans pop-up camper.

Retro Gear

We’ve been waffling back and forth between keeping our pop-up camper and selling it to invest in a new family tent. (That’s another blog post for another day, however.) For this overnighter, we decided step back to a simpler time and used a circa 1970 six-man, canvas tent. It was the perfect size for the four of us and Chase, our yellow lab. The tent perfectly accommodated two single camping pads – one each for the kids – and a double-sized pad for mama and daddy. 

Sunshine & Ranger helping daddy set up the tent.

six-man, canvas tent, ca 1970

Sunshine used a 35-year-old, 0* rated, rectangular down sleeping bag, and Ranger used a newer model, 32* rated Kelty down sleeping bag. Our sleeping situation was definitely old school, though, as we didn’t even use sleeping bags. We covered the sleeping pad with a flat sheet and stayed warm with a wool blanket and a hand-made denim quilt. The low was around 45*, and surprisingly, we all slept sound and stayed warm. 

Checkikg out the “digs.”

Camp Four Pines”

After driving scouting the forest for the perfect, child-friendly spot in which to camp, we settled on a meadow, as opposed to prior locations surrounded by pine trees. The site offered great exploring options, as you could see camp from any direction. We set up camp under four isolated pine trees in the middle of the meadow. 

Chase quickly took to exploring the lay of the land, as dogs will do, and found a puddle big enough to waller in, so it didn’t take long for him to become like Harry, the main character in the children’s book “Harry the Dirty Dog.” Was he a yellow dog with brown spots, or a brown dog with yellow spots?! Thankfully, with his short hair, he didn’t stay dirty for long, and he had an absolutely blast! Of course, there’s also something about camping with a dog that adds to one’s perceived level of safety in the great outdoors!

Storm’s a Brewin’

As we set up camp, we noticed storm clouds forming. We could see rain in the distance, and with dark clouds around us, we knew rain was immanent. About three hours after setting up camp, while the boys collected firewood and prepared our fire, the wind shifted and it started raining. 

Primitive camping, as we do, means using the campfire as our primary cooking source. However, we’ve learned from experience to always be prepared with a backup cooking method. (TIP: always be prepared with an alternate cooking source that can be easily used in a vehicle). For this trip, a rainstorm meant no campfire, and no campfire meant no roasted hot dogs. So, our “plan b” was to boil the hot dogs in our Jet Boil. Thankfully, the weather cleared after about an hour, and we enjoyed roasted hot dogs! 

Zeolites and a Ghost Town

After we struck camp, we headed back to civilization, but not without one last adventure – driving though the old west ghost town of Chloride, NM. The hour-long drive back from camp was interesting and beautiful. The scenery was different from our initial drive into the forest. We passed – what appeared to be – a secluded bed and breakfast (which will need to be explored and shared in a future post!), as well as the St. Cloud zeolite operation.

St. Cloud Zeolite Operation

According to the St. Cloud zeolite Web site, “Zeolites belong to a family of naturally occurring volcanic minerals with unique physical and chemical characteristics.” St. Cloud Zeolite is the largest producer of natural zeolite in the Unites States, and a quick Google for this mineral’s uses quickly result in listings such water purification, agriculture, construction and more.

Ranger exploring an old mining train.

We ended our adventure with a picnic in the village center of the ghost town known as Chloride, NM, a “silver” town which got it start in the late 1870s. According to a brochure I picked up in the museum, “By late 1881, Chloride had eight saloons, three mercantile stores, two butcher shops, a item, boarding houses, an assay office, livery stables, a candy store, drug store, law office, Chinese laundry and a millinery store.” In its heyday, the town boasted a population of 3,000 people. About 10 years after the town was founded, the price of silver dropped when the US adopted gold as the standard, thus, the town was abandoned. 

Items one might have found in the Chloride mercantile are on display in the museum.

Today, Chloride, NM, is an extremely small community, but offers a wonderful stop for consuming a picnic lunch and some history. We learned this small town even has a cafe, which we plan to visit in the future.

Camping/exploring the great outdoors with little ones in tow is something we’ve been doing for more than four years. We are by far experts, but sometimes we have a helpful tip or two to share! We’d love to hear from you on what questions you might have on giving children memorable experiences in the outdoors, and we’ll feature some of your questions in a future post!

2016 Camping Season Kicks-off

     Spending a night in the outdoors means leaving the comforts of home and embracing the beauty and solitude of Mother Nature.

     This spring has brought warmer-than-average temperatures in Southern New Mexico, and with these warmer temperatures, spring fever. So, we decided to embark on our first camping trip of the year – a simple overnight jaunt to a primitive campsite in the Gila National Forest.

     There’s nothing better for the mind, body and soul than to spend time in the beauty of nature and, for our family, reflect on God’s greatness. We can unplug (except for my typing this post on my smartphone and recoding some videos), spend some quality time with our family, explore the lay of the land, eat some yummy, camping-only food (such as hot dogs, potato chips and s’mores) and truly embrace an albeit short period of rest. 

     Throughout the summer, we’ll be sharing more of our outdoor adventures, but for now, here are three video segments that share some details about our first-of-the-season camping trip and some rudimentary tips for preparing for your next, overnight, outdoor adventure. 

Segment 1 – Dressing in Layers
In this six-and-a-half minute minute video, I discuss the clothing we chose to pack for ourselves and our little ones. Since we decided on an overnight excursion, the clothing options are minimal (versus what we might include for a 2+ night adventure), but each item we packed has a purpose – layering and ensuring everyone stays clean, warm and dry. 

As mentioned in the video, here’s a simplified list of what to consider packing for an overnight trip to the forest in early Spring:

  • Base Layer: long underwear, ideally, you’ll pack a base layer with moisture-wicking material to keep you warm and dry, such as wool or modern synthetics. You can easily find this type of clothing by shopping Patagonia, Northface or UnderArmor. This base layer can also serve as a great sleep-time ensemble. 
  • Outer layer: durable pants, such as denim or canvas jeans. Avoid fleece because it picks up every sticker, burr or seed that you may encounter. A huge benefit to canvas and wool is that these materials are naturally flame retardant, which is important when spending time around a campfire. An over shirt, such as a synthetic sun shirt or, at the very least, flannel or denim shirt to protect your arms from scratches and sun exposure. The higher the elevation, the thinner the air and atmosphere, which increases your risk for damaging UV exposure. 
  • Additional outer layer for transitioning temperatures: a vest or even a sweatshirt, wool sweater or heavier jacket.
  • Accessories: you’ll definitely want a warm hat, pair of gloves and sturdy footwear, such as hiking boots. 

When camping with children you’ll want to pack the above*2 (with the exception of an additional jacket), because you can always count on someone spilling a drink, splashing in a puddle, getting muddy or who knows what! So, it’s better to be safe and warm than sorry and deadly frigid. 

Segment 2 – Our primitive campsite

In this 2.5 minute video, you get a 360* tour of our first-of-the-season primitive campsite 

Segment 3 – Campsite EDC

In just 4 minutes, Will and or son “Ranger” share the type of gear you should consider for your “every day carry” (EDC) while at camp. 

We’ll be taking regular outdoor adventures this summer, so we’d love to hear from you as to any questions you may have about spending time outdoors and about which helpful tips you’d most love to know! Email us at familyenchantment@gmail.com or find us on Instagram and Facebook.

See you outdoors!

~ Will & Jaylene

Family Enchantment

Ranger, working hard gathering firewood. He was determined to haul it back to camp.