Interesting article here about the American camping experience. The premise is this:
Modern campsites embody a peculiar contradiction: They are defined and serviced by an increasingly sophisticated range of utilities and conveniences, and yet marketed to perpetuate the cherished American ideal of the backwoods camp.
While this premise nicely does not take the holier-than-thou attitude that would seem almost required for an article that discusses wilderness, suburbanization, the American middle class, and the homogenizing effects of capitalism, the underlying tone assumes that we all hate these effects on our true wilderness experiences.
KOA comes under particular attack, as does what the author asserts is our attitude of assumed safety upon entering these campgrounds (he uses an Arkansas disaster with a flash flood as a particularly telling example). I wonder, though, if he could rely more on quantitative data to make his point (my obsession lately), and maybe even look at just how dangerous the actual sites are…at first glance, I cannot see anything wrong with believing that the state or federal government has picked a site that is *not* liable to flash flooding, for instance.
It might seem easy to make these critiques, but I think that the problem is actually a larger disconnect. We don’t know what danger we’re in, as I know from my experience as a raft guide (if I knew as a first year what I know now I might have never started guiding) and as a climber (Ecstasy seemed easy and fun, while Dorado Canyon impossibly frightening, almost freeze-up scary at points after my fall in the Gunks). We are simply ignorant because we spend so little in the woods, no matter how you define them.
A quick example – on a backpacking trip to Bryce, my friends and I found a nice flat clear spot in the desert, in an arroyo. As we pitched our tent we marveled at the desert sky and, because we could hear thunder and see far-off lightning, decided to sleep under cover. At 3 in the morning, for some reason, I woke up, feeling a bit weirded out, and sort of sheepishly asked everyone to wake up and move the tent farther up the bank. We made the move and then went back to sleep, with a minimum of grumbling.
It was still dry when we woke up, but we heard an unGodly pounding next to our tent and got out to look. The arroyo was no longer dry, as a the flash flood that had swept through sometime in the last hour was now in full fury. Mud-water pounded through and over trees and rocks, filling the arroyo. We might have been okay where we had camped, because there was only a small fan of water over the little ledge, but we would definitely have been wet, and probably scared.
I didn’t wake up because I’m psychic, at least to my knowledge. Instead, I woke up because at this point in my life I had spent time in the desert, and I had become familiar with the idea of flash floods and the damage they cause as well as the danger they pose. My wisdom came solely from experience.
That, in my estimation, is what the article misses. Without a doubt I agree – the camping experience has been homogenized and commodified and suburbanized, all to its detriment. But all of that comes from our inability or refusal or being denied from understanding more clearly how we fit in the natural world, denying us the sort of experience that might have saved those Arkansas campers.