fall camping

I love camping. I love the point where you leave cell coverage and electricity behind and are stuck with your friends and the supplies that you remembered to pack. I am thankful for friends to share such times with, and for those who instigated a camping trip to Mineral King, a part of Sequoia National Park, last weekend.

mineral king paths

We left after work and had fun finding messages our friends left for us on the back of the sign-in boards about where to find them. “Pam & Ben: All the good camp sites taken, proceed to Cold Springs.” “ Pam & Ben: We are at at site 25.” A fun treasure hunt in the dark after the drive up the crazy road through Mineral King.

mineral king stream 2

mineral king stream

The nights were cold, the days beautiful. It was a taste of fall with leaves turning yellow and cool, clean, crisp air. It was a taste of life where the drought is not so extreme as we hiked by as stream and up to a waterfall.

mineral king campsite

For Ben and I, it was our first camping trip together. We tested out our new tent and sleeping pads. We shared food by a fire and conversation with friends. Next up is making our own camping box and our own camping ‘normal.’ What fun it is to get to make new traditions and try new things with a loved one. Mineral King might have to become one of those normals in the years to come as there were so many trails we did not get a chance to explore. But then, there is so much of California yet to explore.

mineral king us

ps – Ben’s blog post on this trip can be found HERE.

a summer of camping

This summer has been filled with some fantastic camping. Often it has seemed to be ‘too hot’ in the city to do much of anything, but when trees replace cement buildings, streams replace sidewalks, and lakes replace parking lots and malls, suddenly the heat becomes manageable. Trees and bushes absorb rather than reflect and amplify heat as well as provide protection from the intensity of the sun, and water serves as a constant cooler. And so, I have done my best to be outside, near water, as much as possible.

On these trips I have taken a break from photography. Not because I don’t love photography, but because I needed a break from being behind the lens. I have wanted to see and experience without the lens  of a camera acting as a small barrier between me and life. I wanted to turn off the part of my brain that is constantly framing an image, timing lighting, and working to best capture vivid colors. My hope was that this would provide a breath of fresh air for me, and would facilitate living and playing much. It has been a beautiful time.

Last weekend was the annual “Crane Kid” camping trip, which for the first time ever included both of my parents. I really should rename the trip to “Crane” camping trip seeing as we had three generations represented between my parents, siblings and nephew. It was a perfect cap on the summer: hours playing in a lake, kayaking to islands, board games by flashlight, and a peach crisp over an open fire. What I love most about this time is that it pulls us all out of our respective spaces. Surrounded by nature, there is no hiding behind technology or household duties, and we are simply together. For me, this is the makings of a perfect vacation.

 This is my nephew, Thumper, chilling out in the afternoon heat. He had so much fun explore: rocks, sticks, spiders, and water – who could ask for more? Photo compliments of his mom, Esther.

As this season of camping draws towards a close, I have packed up most of my camping supplies and sent them back with my parents to use while I am in Rwanda. I reserved my small 2-man tent, sleeping pad and sleeping bag for Rwanda in hopes of fun to come. As I leave the rest of my camping gear behind, I am starting to dream of putting together a new “Africa camping box” when I arrive in Rwanda inspired by art as much as utility… check out this post by Artemis Russell on her site, junkaholique, to see some of my inspiration. I promise to take my camera out more when I am there so as to share with you the beauty of the land that will become my home. Although it is a densely populated country, I am confident, hopeful, of finding new spots that can become my own.

In the next few weeks, I do promise two additional posts on camping – but I fear these will be informational more than anything. When searching online for details on these two sites, there was a void of helpful information, so I hope these posts serve well those who come after me. I hope that will be some of you. And, even if you do not go to these spots, I hope you find nature escapes that are welcoming regardless of the weather – places where you can live large with loved ones.

beach sunset

Last week I was camping on the beach. More to come later, but it was pretty ideal. Here I was starting dinner as waves softly crashed on the beach in front of me and the sun set behind me. Excellent company and cocktails in hand topped it off perfectly. Today, I am sitting at a desk in an air conditioned office hiding from the heat and humidity outside dreaming up future adventures that will look something like this photo.

road trips, weddings, and adventures

This weekend some dear friends are getting married. A few weeks ago, before they began the pre-wedding travels, we had a grand Mario Bros themed party at a local pub for them. That’s them on the left. The two of us on the right are excited be in their wedding, supporting them as they begin a life together.

So… in a couple of hours, Joel and I begin our journey to Charles City, Virginia where we will celebrate in grand (not Mario-themed) fashion with them this weekend. It will be simply elegant, totally them, and wonderfully perfect.

Because such a road trip should include other adventures, we are then headed to the beach to hike six miles and spend two nights camping next to the ocean. I grew up camping on beaches that were not filled with other people, so this touches my soul in a happy place. I promise to share pictures upon our return.

And no, I have not forgotten about the move to Rwanda. The purchase of the last week was the water filter I will use in my home so that I do not have to buy bottled water or boil it daily (annoying, time consuming, and does not equate to good tasting water). Such a simple, not pretty thing, but oh so thrilling. I will have access to safe water that requires little effort.

I hope you have great plans this weekend.

the beginning of camping season

Just before heading to Nairobi, I celebrated the beginning of the camping season. Memorial Day weekend started with a wedding in Memphis, and was followed by a drive through Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama so that I could add a few more states to those I have visited. I am slowly racking them up. Someday I hope to visit, or at least set my feet in all 50 states.

We had planned to camp in the William B Bankead National Forest in Alabama for two nights. We were assured by the rangers that they never run out of camping sites – and there were three possible campgrounds in close proximity. Besides, we knew that it is legal to camp anywhere in a National Forest. We thought we were prepared.

These were the lessons we learned:

  • Some National Forest campgrounds have gates before the campgrounds.
  • The rangers are not always accurate – as people are staying closer to home, the campgrounds are filling up more than is historically normal.
  • William B Bankhead National Forest is not a national forest where it is comfortable to pull off the road and camp anywhere. It felt like we were driving through small town after small town and the side roads seemed to be private driveways as much as national land.

And so we drove through the night with just a truck stop nap. Arriving home at 6 am, we napped, regrouped, and worked to redeem our camping trip. That is when a friend of a friend blessed us. Don owns a beautiful piece of land that is 1/2 x 1/2 mile with a creek running straight through the property. He has a beautiful understanding of his land: he is a protector and shares his land openly. We were so blessed and it makes me think about how I might care for and share land should I ever own some.

We set our tents up by the stream, our hammocks over it, and our beer and watermelon in it to cool down. We hiked up the stream, damned it to create a pool to float in, and some of us (not me) caught and released water snakes and turtles. We read, played card games, and ate great camping food. It could not have been a more perfect first camping trip for the season. Looking forward to many more – with revised and improved background research for future camping sites!


cave camping

Last weekend I spent 21 hours underground because I thought it would be a great adventure and three friends agreed. We loaded our packs, drove out to the cow pasture that is a hill, walked to the top of a hill and then descended into the cave. As soon as we entered the cave, time stood still. Shadows did not grow longer, the night darker, or the morning brighter. It was always fully dark save the light we created.

Above ground there were still melting icicles, but underneath it remained a balmy 50 degrees – warm when moving and cold when sitting on stone surrounded by damp air. We sweated as we climbed over and under fallen rocks (once the cave ceilings), explored tunnels, and wiggled (or rolled) through narrow passage ways. Then we added layers of clothes as we ate good food, drank happy drinks, played card and dice games, and pondered life into a (perfect) small fire. The morning (though not the light) brought the same in reverse – food and then spelunking. All of it filled with the smiles and laughter of shared adventure.

Here is the thing about last  weekend: it was fully our adventure, our fun. The space was dark and the rocks cold. It could have been a frightful space, but instead was a joyous space. We carried crazy amounts of stuff for one night. But, in return, we ate hot meals, drank rum-spiked hot chocolate, had home-made apple pie, plenty of warmth, fire wood, candles, games, and toilet paper. We left nothing behind and brought out some trash left by others. It was awesome, but there is one thing I will do differently next time. Next time I will bring a table cloth.

I love Jack, my Subaru. He faithful carries adventure necessities.

The adventurers. Please note general cleanliness and pack size for one night.

Men making chairs.

Friends making dinner.

Making the perfect fire. No matches required.

Enjoying the perfect fire. Seemed like there should have been stars above. Instead there were rocks.

Triumphant and dirty.

It is an unwritten rule: backwoods adventures must end with a meal at a diner.


“It is amazing that there are conditions under which a group of people can be happy to sit under a tarp in a rainstorm.” ~Joel

I love camping because it removes all of the devices that are tethered to me and those with me – in my case phone and computer. It removes and lets us focus on each other, nature, and simply being.

Last weekend we were in the Smoky Mountains at Cosby Campground – a great site that I would highly recommend. We hiked, splashed in a stream, played cards huddled under a tarp, slept in tents, made good food over fires (including homemade tortillas and brownies), played with my nephew (who responds more to his nickname, Thumper, than his name), and talked. And I showered under the stars by the stream. Perfect.

a season of a camping

As I sit to write this, I feel rich because of the camping trips I have had this season. Not because they were to the most exotic places imaginable, but because they were trips made with friends and lasting memories were created. There were 2 trips in Tennessee, 1 in Kentucky, 1 in North Carolina, and 1 in Washington. On 2 of the trips people came from 4 different cities to join in on the fun. We hiked, told stories, played games, cooked food, had deep conversations, burned wood (and other things), and laughed much. Friends plus nature is so beautiful and good for the soul. Here are some of the people, some of the laughter, from those trips. (One trip has no photo documentation due to much rain… so here are pictures from four trips.)

TU friends

Four friends from college days reunited.

bethany & james

Marriage is good.

renee & kylie

So is falling in love.

the fence

“Come on Pam… I’ll help you make it over the barbed wire fence.” On this hike, I was the only person under 6 feet tall. And yes, with help, I did make it.


I told you there was laughter.

tara & araella

For mother and daughter, fantasy stories fill the hours.


“Aren’t you impressed with my packing?”

pam & josh

Getting ready to hike a beach on the Pacific Ocean to find a campsite.

beach camping

Down there is where we camped listening to the ocean through the night. Just like camping when I was a kid – except a lot colder.


That mustache is the source of endless conversations. That look… well… what is family for but to document such things?!


My beautiful mom.

course 1

This was course one of dinner that night. Yes, we are all diving into the pot with spoons so as to avoiding doing dishes as much as possible.


Just to demonstrate that I do in fact believe in eating well while camping.

matt & chris

The brothers use creative measures when no ladder is available.

chris & lauren

“L come over here and help out.” “What?” “You are so much lighter than M.” I love the expressions on their faces.

teeth brushing

No, he is not an invalid. Yes, there was laughter.

on camping

In amongst other travel, I have four fabulous camping trips this summer, three of them still ahead of me. Next week I am celebrating a decade of friendship with three friends   plus two significant others who we also love. As locations and menus and equipment lists have flown across email inboxes, I have been reminded of my childhood camping trips. 

Back in the day mom and dad did all of the planning and we participated. Certain foods were pre-made and plenty of peanut butter and jelly was packed (also on next week’s menu). Camping equipment was pulled out and off we went. Not to a camp site with a number, running water, and electrical outlets. We expected to have beaches to ourselves, to bring in all the water we planned to use, to entertain ourselves for days, and to be tired of PB&J’s by the time we left. On the Sinai we brought every ounce of shade we  would have on beaches with no trees, in Fiji we would load our gear onto our boat to go to deserted islands, and in Jordan we abandoned tents to sleep on the rocks under the night sky. 

Along the way there were a few classic mishaps when items were forgotten. In Jordan we abandoned tents, but in Fiji they were helpful items to have. On one trip we forgot the tents (and the towels) in the car. Rather than abandon the trip, we slept under the clear night sky. And in the morning I found out what heavy dew is – it felt like it had rained. In Jordan once we forgot the two pots we normally cook in. A good 4 hours from home, we came up with an innovative solution – we used Saltana’s (our German Shepard) food and water bowls, which were made of metal. So yes, my family has literally shared dishes with the family dog. And it was a fantastic trip. 

I have no idea what mishaps might happen during the upcoming camping trips, but I do know that in spite of, or even because of, them, I will have a glorious time.

tree tunnel

Found this photo while looking for another. It was taken during the fall camping trip near Asheville, NC. This part of the hike reminded me of all sorts of books where the characters walk through tunnels made from trees and bushes, and of magical forests.