My favorite camping location, a camp site in fact, used to be in the south west corner of Mt Rainier National Park in Washington state’s beautiful cascade mountain. I say that it used to be, not because I have changed my mind or found some other camp site which I prefer, but because the site sadly no longer exists.
How I remember my favorite camping location
I can’t even remember its name. I could find it, I guess, by searching on the internet but the name doesn’t really matter. It’s my memories that matter and while they fail me on the name, that doesn’t matter because I remember the spot so well. Truth be told, I have help with that too. Hanging on my wall above my head – right now as I write – is my favorite photograph, taken just yards from my tent. It is early evening, perhaps a little before 8pm and I am standing on the banks of the Nisqually river which ripples gently by. I point my camera directly at the sun, close to vanishing below the horizon, and then positioned myself such so that it is largely obscured by distant trees. The faintest trace of light peeps past and casts a streak of evening rays across the water, casting the large round into silhouettes. On the far side, perhaps one hundred yards away, the wide streak of sunlight catches a long row of trees, illuminating them in a striking manner, picking them out from the shadowy bank, varying shades of greens but one is vivid, autumnal red. Beyond are dark hills. And above, angry storm clouds gather, thunderous blacks and greys, the promise of ominous weather shortly to make its presence felt.
This photo, as I say, hangs on my wall, and one day, on a whim I typed a note stating the date and where the photo was taken and I stuck it one the back. I figured that there would come a day when somewhere, someone – perhaps a distant descendant of mine – would find the photo in a dusty loft and, before discarding it forever, might consider it pleasant enough and wonder where it was taken. Perhaps I should have written who took the photo too.
Why is this campsite my favorite camping location
The campsite itself offers little in the way of amenities: a few tarmacked spots to pitch a tent or set a caravan; a toilet I believe, but no showers; nothing else. I like it for none of these reasons.
I like it for the photo on my wall. I like it for its solitude – at least, the solitude I found as one of only two occupants on the night of my stay. I like it because, before I took the photo, I collected firewood from among the trees and after taking the photo, I lit a fire and I cooked my supper and I sat and ate it with only the flames for light and heat. And because after I had eaten, I sat and reflected on a spectacularly beautiful day spent in the National Park. I reflected on my hike to the very edge of a glacier a few thousand feet above; I thought about the thin, clear air up high and how it tasted as I drew deep breaths to fuel my exertions; and the views across to the spectacular Tatoosh Range; and the fear of meeting a bear mixed with an edge of daring adventure; and the drive down the narrow road in late afternoon, winding through dense fir trees and the thick, cool shade on such a sunny day, and aptly described in a guide book as one of the most beautiful forest drives on the planet. It was here at the campsite that I reflected and turned the memories over in my mind and let them settle; and so it is that this spot is inextricably linked with happy memories of an awesome day, one of those rare and special days in life. This, as much as the location by the lovely Nisqually River and amongst the giant firs, is the reason why it is my favorite of camping spots. I love the river’s poetic name – native American I am almost certain – and how the name alone conjures, to my mind at least, an exotic air.
I’d love to go back. I want to hike again on other trails; I want to climb high, high and higher still and find how far I can see. And I want to end the day at the site by the river and dip my aching feet in the glacial cold water and light another fire and reflect on another day well spent. But I can’t, because the spot is no longer there. At least, it is not available for camping. For one day the gentle river, fuelled by excessive rain and snow melt, angrily burst its banks and, in its temporary rage, ripped trees from their roots, bowled them over, carried them down stream and cast them haphazardly along with rock and stone and mud over the very spot where I wish to sleep again.
And so I have taken the photo down from my wall, unstuck the note from the back and typed a new one, adding that the site no longer exists, destroyed by the very river in the photo. And in some ways this is just as it should be, for me at least. I wish you could go there too; it doesn’t seem quite fair that you can’t go. But you can’t and nor can I. So my memories can never be spoiled by a future experience which doesn’t live up to the last one. My spectacular day is safe forever. I sometimes wonder if I should take the photo down again and remove the note from the back altogether. That way, it will forever remain a mystery to those who find in the future; that way, someone will say “What a lovely place; I wonder where it is?”. It can’t be found; it is no longer there, and it will forever remain a mystery. I rather like that idea.