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May 7-9, 2010

"A Mother of a Camping Trip"

For Mother's Day weekend, we were invited to go camping with the Silvestros, at Bartlett Lake.  Although we had taken Zoey camping with us in the past, we had never camped with the rest of her family before. 

At first, we weren't sure if we were going to be able to go with them, despite the begging by the two girls.  Mother's Day weekend was also the same weekend as the Young Champions of America State Cheerleading competition; the Regional Showcase - the qualifying round - took place the weekend before.  When Mary's team took fourth place at Showcase and didn't qualify to go to State, Mary exclaimed, "Mom, that means that we can go camping with Zoey!"

And with that, our decision was made: we were going camping with the Silvestros during Mother's Day weekend.

Throughout the week leading up to our camping trip, we worked on all of our preparations, so that we would be ready to go on Friday evening, after work.  Packing proved to be a bit of a challenge, though, because we were planning to bring the canoe with us to the lake.  That meant that we would not be able to use the pod, in which we usually keep all of our camping gear.  Instead, we had to unpack the pod and load all of the camping gear - along with the paddles, the life vests, Mary's fishing pole, and the pop-up canopy - into the 4Runner.  I'm not sure exactly how John did it, but he managed to fit everything into the 4Runner...with a little bit of room to spare!

When Friday came around, the Silvestros left for Bartlett Lake around 10:00 a.m.; they and two other families claimed a large campsite in the area near Yellow Cliffs and set up their gear.  They also put out paper plates with large red arrows on them, so that we would be able to find our way there when we arrived after work.

On Friday afternoon, I left work at 3:30, in order to get an early start to our weekend camping trip.  As soon as I arrived at home, I had only enough time to put my laptop away before John ushered us all out of the house and into the 4Runner; we needed to hit the road right away, to avoid the bulk of the Friday-get-out-of-town traffic.  Naturally, we still hit traffic at the junction with the SR-51 and the Loop 101; but once we exited on Cave Creek Road, it was smooth sailing all the way to Cave Creek.

On the way to Bartlett Lake, we decided to stop for dinner, knowing that by the time we got everything set up, we would not have time to make anything before dark.  Our intention was to stop at a Subway, but there was only one along the way...and we missed it.  Instead, we stopped at Bad Donkey Pizza and Subs, one of our favorite places in Carefree, where we enjoyed some sub sandwiches and a glass of Bad Donkey P, their premium wheat beer.  It was a great way to start the weekend.

As soon as we arrived at Bartlett Lake, around 5:30 that afternoon, we began looking for the signs to lead us to the Silvestros' campsite; instead, we just happened to end up behind Tom Silvestro's truck on the road and followed him all the way there - that certainly made it easier to locate them!

Upon our arrival, we were introduced to two of the other families who had joined the Silvestros on their multi-family camping trip: Kynda, her boyfriend Todd, and her son Ryan, all of whom were sharing a campsite with the Silvestros; and Dorothy and her husband and son, who we didn't see much of during the trip because they kept to themselves in their own campsite next to us.  The Silvestros themselves included the six members of their immediate family - Tom and Barb (the parents), oldest daughter Chelsey and her fifteen month old daughter Alea, younger daughter Zoey, and the youngest child Roman - as well as two family friends: Lindsey (Chelsey's best friend, who lives with the family) and Dylan (Roman's best friend, who was invited to camp with them).  With us, there were seventeen of us.  We had never camped with that many people before!

Right away, Mary went to play with Zoey, and John and I began to unload the 4Runner.  While John set up our big 10'X10' tent, I set up the smaller, backcountry tent for Mary and Zoey to use.  We also brought along our second backcountry tent for Chelsey and Alea and Lindsey to long as they could fit their air mattress inside of it.  It was a queen-sized air mattress and we weren't sure if it was going to fit inside of the 4'X6' tent...but, believe it or not, they managed to make it fit!

Mary catches a blue gill, only an hour after we arrived.It took us about half an hour to set up our camping equipment; once that was done, we cracked open a cold one and sat down to watch the kids fish.  We had not even been there one hour before Mary announced that she had a bite; as I dashed for the camera, she reeled in a six-inch blue gill, the first fish she had ever caught in her life!  It was a very proud moment for her.

With the gang all there, the party began.  While Tom and Todd continued to fish, Kynda pulled out a bag of giant marshmallows for the kids to roast over the campfire.  Adult beverages were served, and everyone was having a great time.  We even let the kids stay up past their bedtime, just because it was a special occasion.  By ten o'clock, though, all of us turned in for the night...

John goes on an early morning paddle on Bartlett Lake.The next morning, John and I - as well as Barb and Kynda - were up at the crack of dawn (as usual); the rest of the camp, however, slept in.  Seeing how calm the lake was, John decided to take advantage of the still waters by going on an early morning paddle by himself, while the rest of us got the coffee started.

One by one, the others began to awaken to begin the day.  Once all of the kids were awake, we decided that it was time to start cooking breakfast.  Since the Silvestros had left their camp stove at home, we invited them to use ours after we were done with it; otherwise, they were going to have to cook over the campfire.  While the coals were hot enough to cook the food, it was just too warm outside to be that close to the fire.

After breakfast - and after the dishes were washed and put away - the kids got out their poles and started fishing.  Although Mary didn't catch a thing, Roman was reeling in one blue gill after another.  He caught four of them in about thirty minutes!

When the kids became bored with fishing, John invited them to come swimming with him in the lake. He brought out the canoe and allowed the kids to turtle it; he also showed them how to fill it up with water so that it was like a bathtub.  It was perhaps the best toy that the kids could have had!

The Verleys: Life is GoodRight before lunch, John suggested that we go for a drive to Horseshoe Lake.  For many years, Horseshoe Lake had been nearly empty due to the long drought; seeing the lake at its full capacity was going to be a rare treat.  On Valentine's Day, we tried to go canoeing on Horseshoe Lake, only to find out that the road to the lake was closed; but now the road was open, which meant that we could finally go see it.

With Mary and Zoey in the backseat, John and I left Bartlett Lake and drove to Horseshoe Lake, located several miles away.  Along the way, we reminisced about our last visit to the lake, which was in March 1999, during an ill-fated backpacking trip to the Verde River.  We told the girls the story about how we blew two tires on the way to Sheep Bridge and had to "break and enter" at Ranch 51 to fix one of the tires, just to be able to get back to Carefree.  Once we had round tires again, we decided to backpack at Horseshoe Lake instead, where we discovered a plant that we absolutely hated: "pricker-burrs"!  They stuck to our socks and had to be removed with a Leatherman.  It was not one of our best backpacking trips...but it did produce a great story! 

Even back then, in 1999, Horseshoe Lake was very low, and the land surrounding it was dry.  It was amazing to see the difference that a wet winter could make.  As we approached the lake, we were pleased to see that the water came right up to the boat launch, and the plant life around the lake was green and lush.  It didn't look like Horseshoe Lake at all!

A view of the water gushing off of the spillway at Horseshoe Dam.What was more amazing was to see Horseshoe Dam.  Not only was the spillway active, but it was gushing with water.  John suggested that we take a closer look, so he parked the 4Runner nearby, and we all got out to walk.

It was a short, five hundred foot walk up a dirt path to the dam.  Once we were at the dam, we discovered that there was a walkway underneath the gushing water; it spanned the entire length of the dam.  I don't remember ever seeing that walkway before, but John insisted that he and I had done it - with the spillway turned off - when we backpacked there in 1999.  I'll just take his word for it...

We took the girls for a walk under the spillway, where it was cool and wet - a welcome break from the heat!  The girls giggled as they passed through the spray; they would have happily stayed there all day, playing in the water, if we had let them!

Mary and Zoey at the spillway at Horseshoe Dam.We emerged from the walkway on the other side of the dam and climbed up a rocky path to an overlook, at the top of the spillway. There wasn't much to see from that vantage point except for the fencing that blocked entry to the spillway, so we didn't linger there for long. 

On the way back through the walkway, John went ahead of us, to try to take pictures of me and the girls as we passed through the spray.  Once we were back where we started, we then started climbing around on the rocks underneath the spillway, being careful to avoid the rocks that were slippery.  John took the girls out far enough under the water so that they could touch it; but then they quickly retreated to the dry rocks.

It was already noon by the time we returned to the 4Runner, and we were all getting hungry, so we decided that it was time to return to camp.  Along the way, we had to stop at the marina at Bartlett Lake to pick up a couple of bags of ice for the ice chest, which meant that it was nearly 1:00 by the time we arrived at the campsite. 

While we were gone, Barb's friend Dorothy and her family had packed up their camp and left; she had indicated that they would probably have to leave early, as they were worried about whether or not their horses were being cared for.  That left the campsite next to us empty.  John and I considered moving our tent into that spot, as it was a much nicer site, but by that time, we were starting to feel a bit lazy and didn't want to go through the trouble of moving our stuff for just one more night.

Following lunch, we were joined by yet another one of Barb's friends - Shelley, who had never camped before in her life but decided to give it a go.  She was able to borrow some equipment from friends, including a tent and a sleeping bag; and Tom and Todd helped her set it all up.  She also brought with her an assortment of adult beverages, which she shared with the rest of us.

John and I, however, declined to start drinking right away; while Mary was playing with Zoey and the other children in the lake, we decided to take the canoe out for a short paddle.

Now, John and I have paddled Bartlett Lake a couple of times in the past; we have even done a canoe-camp there once and had a wonderful time.  Each time that we paddled Bartlett Lake, though, we were fortunate enough to be there while the lake wasn't as busy.  There was no such luck this time; the lake was teeming with boaters that afternoon, and they were all zooming around as fast as they could go, stirring up the wake as they went and creating rough conditions for us.  Just after we shoved off, we were hit by a strong wave that splashed me as I tried to paddle through it.

John and I paddled into a cove on the other side of the lake, where we at least had a bit of a break from the speeding boats.  There, we spied a large blue heron, perched on a rock by the surface of the water, as if that was the only place where he could find peace and quiet on the lake.

We soon left the peaceful cove and paddled out onto the open lake again, trying to stay as close to the "no wake" buoys as possible to avoid the speeding boats.  We made it to the bend in the lake, directly across from the marina. Then, from there, we cut across the water to the boat ramp and hugged the shoreline all the way back to our campsite.

Barb watches the kids as they play on the canoe.Once we were back at camp, the children begged and pleaded with John to let them turtle the canoe again - it was, after all, the best water toy ever.  He gave in; and one by one, he helped the kids into the canoe and towed them out into the cove, so that they could safely dump them into the drink.  For the next half an hour, the children played with the canoe, while the rest of us adults watched from the shore.  They were having the time of their lives!

Later, after the children became bored with the canoe, John removed it from the lake to drain it, leaving the kids to entertain themselves for a while.  The boys went back to fishing, and Mary and Zoey decided to play with Alea.  Alea had just finished splashing about Mary, Alea, and Zoeyin the lake and was filthy from head to toe; I couldn't help but laugh when I saw the dirt on her, because it brought back many fond memories of camping with Mary when she was a baby and seeing her covered from head to toe in grime and soot. 

Of course, not much has changed since then...

To keep the kids from getting too bored, Barb had a scavenger hunt planned - and what a fun scavenger hunt it was!  Each kid was paired up with an adult (Mary was paired up with John) and they had to find a whole list of items, such as socks, a flower, something red, sunglasses, keys, and so on.  They scrambled around the campsite, trying to find every item on the list, laughing out loud as they did so.  In the end, it was Zoey who won the game, after she found all of her items first, and received first pick of the prizes.  Mary came in second place by only a couple of minutes!

As the lazy afternoon wore on, John decided to take the canoe out for one more paddle.  This time, he stayed within the cove and returned a few minutes later, towing behind him a large, black flotation device - the type of device that would be used to keep a boat dock afloat.  Our guess is that it had floated away from the marina during one of the winter storms.  John thought it would make a great toy for the kids, so he brought it back to the campsite with him to show them.  Sure enough, the kids couldn't wait to climb on top of it while John towed them around the cove. At one point, Zoey got an idea and said to the others, "On the count of three, let's all jump into the water!"  And, with that, all of the kids - except Zoey - jumped off of the floater...and Zoey laid down on top of it, her hands behind her head, laughing.  She had tricked them into letting her have the new toy all to herself! 

Meanwhile, we began to notice activity in the campsite next to us: a rather large family was staking out the site.  Moments later, the tents started going up; we were getting neighbors.  Although we had hoped that the site would remain empty, it wasn't surprising that someone else would come along to camp there - I mean, that is what happens in dispersed campgrounds, right?

At the same time, we lost another member of our camping party; Barb's friend Shelley decided that she needed to go home.  She had had a headache all day, and it just wasn't going away.  There was no use trying to camp like that; so instead, she packed up her gear and went home.  Maybe next time...

As dinnertime rolled around, we called the kids in from the lake so that they could start drying off and changing their clothes.  At the same time, Zoey had a bit of a scare, after getting stuck underneath the black flotation device; she never went back into the lake again after that.  She was so freaked out that she decided not to sleep in the tent with Mary that night; she wanted to sleep next to her mother instead.

Since the Silvestros typically eat dinner early, they started cooking their meal over the campfire at 4:30 p.m.; then, while they were eating, John went to fire up our camp stove to get our dinner going.  When he went to open the stove, he noticed that it was very hot to the touch, but he didn't think anything of it at first - it had, after all, been sitting out in the sun all day.  When he went to light the stove, though, that was when he discovered that it was completely out of gas...because it had been left on all day! 

Barb and Tom apologized profusely for leaving the stove on, but John merely shrugged it off, stating, "Don't worry, it happens!" It certainly wasn't the first time he ever had to cook a meal over the campfire, and it certainly won't be the last either.  He still managed to make an excellent meal, as he always does.

Later that night, after the dinner dishes were washed and put away, John introduced the other campers to another fun camping toy: the pie maker.  It is an iron device into which you can put two slices of bread with a filling (i.e. jam) in between and create campfire pies.  Barb could not wait to try it out - after all, her favorite thing to eat is white bread and jam!  In no time at all, Barb had completely mastered the art of campfire pie-making and made one after another.  I think that will be her next camping gear investment...

I caught my first fish!While John showed Barb how to use the pie-maker, I decided to take Mary's fishing pole to cast the line out a few times, in hopes of catching something.  It took a lot of patience, but finally, just after dark, I caught my first (and only) fish: a blue gill, about the size of the one that Mary caught the day before.  Having accomplished my goal of catching something, I then decided to put away the fishing pole for the night and relax with a beer and a campfire pie.

Around 8:30 p.m., all of the children went to bed; they were completely exhausted from playing out in the lake all day, so they were asleep rather quickly...

...and right after the last child fell asleep, the people in the campsite next to us - the ones who had moved in that afternoon - decided that it was time to blare their music.

We tolerated the noise for about thirty minutes, but only because it had not yet succeeded in awakening any of the children.  However, it was getting to be time for us adults to go to bed as well, so Barb decided to walk over there to ask them to turn down their music.  They complied, but one of the women over there shouted out, "Then you need to turn down your campfire!"  We all shrugged it off but didn't respond to her; it was such a random comment that I was certain that she was just drunk and didn't know what she was talking about.

Around 9:30, John and I decided that we were done, and the two of us turned in for the night.  Tom and Todd, however, were still doing some night fishing, so Barb and Kynda remained awake for a while longer to tend to the campfire.

What happened next was completely unexpected and certainly uncalled for...and it reinforced the point that John has been making for years, about why he prefers backpacking over car-camping and why he hates camping in campgrounds.  It's because there are people out in this world - people who believe that the world revolves around them, people who have absolutely no respect for their campground neighbors or for nature in general - who should never, ever be out camping in the first place.  And they were camped right next to us in the campground.

I had only been asleep for a half an hour before I was rudely jarred into wakefulness by the sound of shrieking.  Not screaming, but shrieking, and drunken shrieking to boot.  As I became more and more aware of what was going on, I realized that there was a fight going on between our campsite and the people who had settled in next to us.  The shrieking was coming from the same woman who had been told to turn down her music - and who had told us to "turn down our campfire".  She was now completely lit and had insisted on throwing rocks into the cove to disturb Tom's and Todd's fishing lines.  When Tom asked her to stop, she went berserk and came into our campsite, waving a flashlight around and shrieking about her rights to do what she wants.  She waved the flashlight dangerously close to Barb's face, so Barb raised her hand to shield her face and was subsequently hit in the eye by the mad woman.  The woman then began to scream that she was going to call the police as she stormed away.

Really?  I thought.  You just assaulted someone and you're going to call the police?  Oh, this I've got to see!

I emerged from the tent in time to hear the sound of all of the children crying, including Mary, who was completely terrified.  The woman had already left the campsite, but not before her case of the crazies had awakened and scared all of the children.  Mary was so frightened that she insisted on sleeping in our tent with us, so I helped her carry her stuff into our tent and put her down next to me.

It took some time for the excitement to die down in the campsite again, but soon all was quiet again, and everyone went to bed.  No police officers ever showed up, and Barb decided that she needed to just get some sleep.

Despite the late night, John and Mary and I were still up at the crack of dawn the next morning.  Since it was Mother's Day, we lingered in the tent for a half an hour, while Mary presented me with all of my gifts, most of which she had made herself.  She was very proud of them, too, and couldn't wait to show them to me; it was the first thing she did when she woke up that morning.

We all emerged from the tent at 6:00 a.m.  By that time, Barb, Kynda, and Chelsey were already awake and had the coffee on the fire.  Barb's eye was still a little bit swollen and bruised, but otherwise she was okay.  She stated that they were planning to pay a visit to the Sheriff's substation at the marina on their way home, to file a complaint against the woman who had hit her.  Lindsey had gotten the woman's license plate number, so the police would have no problem finding her.

We put it all aside for a while and had a lovely breakfast by the campfire; then, once all of the breakfast dishes were done, we started packing up camp.  Our intention had been to stay until 10:00 a.m., but we changed our minds, especially after our neighbors - yes, the ones who had started all of the trouble the night before - awoke and turned on their music again, at 8:00 precise.  It wasn't very loud at first, but they gradually turned it up louder and louder as time wore on.  We didn't let them bother us, though; once we were gone, they could blare their music all they wanted, because we weren't going to be there to listen to it.

It took over an hour to pack up our campsite - mainly because there was a lot of stuff to pack up.  While we loaded all of our equipment in our vehicles, we sent the kids on a "junior ranger" mission, charging each one of them with the task of collecting one hundred pieces of garbage, even if it wasn't our garbage.  They all received a prize for doing so, too.

And so, around 9:00 a.m., we all said good-bye to each other and left Bartlett Lake, to start our long drive home.  John and Mary and I drove home non-stop; our plan had been to have lunch at Bad Donkey again, but since it was too early, we chose to have lunch at home then have dinner out that night in honor of Mother's Day...after we took a nap, of course!

Aside from the drama involving our campground "neighbors" (and I use that term loosely...there was nothing neighborly about them), we did have a good time camping with the Silvestros and their friends.  (Kynda and Todd were a lot of fun, and Ryan was a good kid, too.)  I'm sure that we will camp with them again someday.


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