Barring the Southwest, summer finds visitation at national and state parks at its peak as our public lands get all the love and attention they deserve from a public eager to experience the outdoors. Despite this eagerness, in a nation with an addiction to convenience and material comforts, “experiencing the outdoors” doesn’t really involve much besides posting up in a $10 camping chair just outside of your SUV or mega-trailer, which just happens to be parked near some woods/the desert/ a beach, etc. Sure, I find this style of engaging the outdoors deplorable, but by now I’ve worked and camped in such a variety of front-country campgrounds on public and private lands that I begrudgingly accept it as the norm.
Besides, most of these folks are just looking for a little relaxation and quiet away from their urban and exurban enclaves, right? You’d think so, but I’ve also experienced plenty of the inverse- those types of people who are generally looking to eschew self-reflection in favor of inflicting their shitty behaviour upon others in the outdoor setting. With that, here are my top three examples of the worst front-country camping experiences I’ve had with those types of people.
1.) BLM land just south of Zion National Park.
Anyone familiar enough with Zion might be familiar with this campground. If you want a cheap (i.e. free) camping experience that’s within 20 minutes of the park, this is a pretty well known spot. Keep in mind that the wild west nature of this bargain camping free-for-all can easily turn into your worst nightmare, as I came to find out one night.
That particular night a few friends and I were bedding down in anticipation of 5 am start time for a backpacking trip through the Zion Narrows the next day. We got there a little late, and didn’t really get to sleep til midnight, so we were already incurring a bit of a sleep deficit for the next day’s trip. Soon enough, it’s around 3 am, and we’re waking up to a whirlwind of about 5-10 vehicles, many of which are trucks with loud diesel engines, parking within 10 feet of our impromptu campground. Following that, around 40 people just start spilling out of these vehicles, hitting the ground running by achieving all measures of obnoxiousness. I’m talking shooting off paintball guns, shooting off flare guns, playing music, and generally yelling and chasing each other around.
As far as I could tell, a family of speed freaks had planned their family reunion for that night and happenstance had unfortunately brought us to bunk down on the very spot of their gathering! And there we were, 4 of us larvaed up in our mummy bags in the middle of this shit show, feeling like a wagon train of assholes had encircled us- couldn't they at least put us out of our misery by paintballing the fuck out of us? At that point, it would have been a welcome reprieve from the mind-blowing shitfest of insanity that was preventing our necessary beauty sleep.
Needless to say, we didn’t get much more sleep that night, but it didn’t really hamper the next day’s activities much, unless you count the part where, sleep-deprived and testy, I unloaded a barrage of curse words at my friend in the shuttle bus the next morning.
2.) San Simeon State Park, San Simeon, CA.
This time around we had the good fortune to be situated in a campground across from a family of 20 that decided to just plop half of their material belongings into 2 RVs and 6 trucks, and then post up like they were trying to recreate the lifestyle of the Romani gypsies. I should have known we were in trouble when we got to the campsite late at night only to hear all of them throwing out endless “I Love You, Johnboys” to eachother before drifting off to sleep. Yeah, I'm the kind of person that finds that troubling.
The next morning consisted of 5 kids endlessly screaming and running around as soon as the sun came up. At some point there was a lot of yelling back and forth between two adults about personal breakfast preferences. While this might seem like pretty light fair as far as camping experiences go, the cherry on top of all this was waking up to the sound of- I shit you not- a family singalong of the song "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" by 60’s one hit wonder, Steam.
3.)Macks Canyon Road, Spring Mountains, NV.
This most recent occurrence of abhorrent camping etiquette was consequently the inspiration for this lengthy diatribe/public service announcement.
As Macks Canyon isn’t a typical front country spot- a dirt road in the mountains that doesn’t typically get too much traffic- I was taken aback by this particular instance of front-country camping assholism particularly because this spot is usually pretty quiet and remote.
It was around 5:30 am when I woke up to the sound of a loud, idling diesel engine somewhere within the vicinity of our campsite. At first I thought that the RV I’d seen parked near the highway the previous night had stupidly ventured into the woods near our area. Still half-asleep I brushed it off hoping it would be gone soon. Finally after an agonizing 10-15 minutes, the engine shut off and I tried sleeping a little more. Failing that, I took a brief hike down the road and came back to the campsite within 2 hours.
In all my experiences camping in the various districts of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, what happened next turned an annoying situation into an bafflingly absurd anomaly. The loud, idling diesel engine made itself known again, but this time it was accentuated by the sound of what I can only assume was a Time Life “70’s Funk Hits” CD blaring from the same vehicle. 30 minutes later, I finally caught sight of the massive pickup truck this bizarre soundtrack was emanating from. Its back tires appeared to be stuck in a self-made foxhole as its driver was stubbornly gunning the gas pedal with no abandon, desperately trying to get his truck unstuck. In the process, all kinds of dust and engine noise were rumbling through the forest, as some of the most notable funk hits of the 70’s simultaneously continued to pummel away at my senses. After about 15 minutes of smashing down his gas pedal, this idiot finally managed to get himself unstuck, and got the hell out of there.
After he bailed, I walked over to assess the damage. I was surprised to see the surrounding vegetation was still intact, though his tires dug some pretty deep notches into the dirt road. However, investigating the area of the clearing he’d been parked in exposed another unexpected scene- this dude just left all his shitty toilet paper chillin’ there to blow around in the breeze and get caught up on the vegetation.
So- to sum up this situation- basically, at 5:30 am this asshole drove up to this remote spot in the woods, sat there with his engine idling, doing who the fuck knows what, and waking us up in the process. Then at some point he took a shit while jamming out to KC & The Sunshine Band, left his shitty toilet paper strewn about, and then left a trail of destruction behind while navigating his truck out of the foxhole he created. And considering that he was trying to maneuver his truck to go downhill in reverse, the foxhole was pretty unnecessary given the fact that gravity would have done the job anyway. All of this within a span of 2.5 hours. Wow.
I sincerely hope that recounting these contemptible examples of shitty camping etiquette will give you, the potential front-country camper, more thought regarding your own behavior, and the behavior of those around you. If not, well, then I hope you suffer the fate of a particular family that I witnessed camping at Lake Tahoe in 2006, who, after leaving their shit thoughtlessly strewn about everywhere, had their entire campsite overrun by two bears. This found them holing up in their camper all morning while they watched said bears tear their belongings to shreds and eat all their food. It was awesome, and somewhat akin to a funny scene you might see in an animatronics-based Disneyland ride, ala The Jungle Cruise.
So, just remember-
When front-country camping, mind others (humans and non-humans) and don’t be an asshole.