Last weekend I was down at Arches National Park. We had a 4 day weekend off from school and, since my brother had booked the campsites 6 months in advance, I decided to take advantage of the free time and join the family down there. I had a great time, relaxed a lot, hiked a little bit, found some dirt roads to drive down and sat around the campfire with the family. Overall a worthwhile weekend, but at the same time the culture of the place has changed so much I’m not sure it’s worth going again.
First of all, we had the camp hosts from hell, and it seems that the Park Service allows them to make up random rules for the camp area they oversee. Now I understand that rules are important, without them us wonderful human beings would overrun the park, destroy everything around the campsites and make them uninhabitable. But, like I’m told all the time for my classroom, rules have to be visible, enforceable, reasonable and above all else, consistent. Allowing volunteers that change every season make up their own rules makes no sense. Especially when the rule itself makes no sense.
We booked three campsites six months in advance, and even then we couldn’t get them all right together. One was up over on the other side of the hill. So we did what we’ve always been allowed to do; used the closer ones for as many of our party as possible and reserved the farther one for stragglers. That meant putting 2 trailers in one of the campsites. The paved parking pad was big enough for both of them, and even room for a car without blocking the road at all. We happily moved the car so that the road wasn’t even slightly crowded, but according to the hosts we were only allowed one trailer per campsite.
There is already a written rule, in the pamphlet and on the website, limiting each campsite to 10 people, so it wasn’t a matter of too many people at the site. 5 couples with 5 tents and 5 cars would be allowed, but not 2 families with 2 trailers. If we had one of the smaller campsites and the trailers were crowding the road, that I could understand. But the hosts couldn’t give us any reason other than it was their rule. And when asked where the rule was written, their response was “If we had to write every rule we’d have to print up a 7 page book for everyone.” In 2010, that excuse doesn’t work, because my niece was willing to obey the rule if they were even able to show it to her on the website. And that costs nothing but time for 7 pages everyone can see.
Anyway, you can get a first hand account of things from my older brother’s blog here, and in the end we did get to keep both trailers on the one site.
Even more disturbing to me is how the whole feel of camping has changed down there. I’ve been camping in and around Arches since the spring of ‘76, right after I got my driver’s license. For me, the fun of camping does not come from sleeping in a sleeping bag, on the hard ground in a tent that is usually either too cold or too hot. I put up with all that because it was a time to relax, to hang out with friends and/or family and, especially, a time to sit around the campfire till late in the evening joking, laughing, telling scary stories and just bullshitting. Back when I first started going down there, that seemed to be the general consensus. Just about every camp site had a fire going in the evening, and at least half of them would be up late talking, joking and enjoying themselves. Nobody was bothered by the occasional outburst of laughter.
This year I was surprised when I noticed it was only 9:00 and we were the only ones with a campfire still going. It was eerie and weird and made me a little nervous. The fourth night, when at 10:30 there were only 4 of us left around our campfire, talking quietly (I thought) someone from the camp across the way yelled at us to be quiet. Kind of broke up the party, since we were already trying to be quite since it was after official camp hours, and we didn’t know how to be any quieter.
I think I’m going to stick to going up to the family property. We can show up at anytime we want and find a campsite, we can put as many trailers in a row as we want and we can stay up as late as we want, being as loud as we want.
So, here are pictures from the trip. You can click on any of the pictures here to get a full sized one, or go to the album below and see them all (well, all the ones I’m posting, I always take about 3 times as many as get posted.) As for that last picture, those were crushed cars being hauled out of Moab. How many of the cars can you identify?