Henry Cowell Redwoods SP, or how I almost went insane camping…

I grew up camping. I don’t know at what age my dad started to take me camping, but for as long as I can remember we would go up to the mountains on weekends with our fly poles and tent. We would set up camp, and when I remember it, the visions in my mind are so peaceful and perfect. There were a few stories where my dad forgot the tent poles, and jerry-rigged some from our fly rod cases. We woke up in the middle of the night because snow was piling on the tent and collapsing from the weight and we had to sleep in the truck cab (single mind you).  Or the time when my dad decided to take us up to the Green River. Everyone had these little inflatable boats and did their fishing from the middle of the river. Well, we could totally do this ourselves and didn’t need a guide so my dad decided that HE got to fish while I got to row/navigate. Then he spent the entire time yelling at me to stop paddling us into the bank so he could fish. Ha! Thanks dad. But, overall I remember delicious food, and quality time with my dad.

I’ve been called crazy before, especially when it comes to doing things by myself with the kids. Little old ladies at the farmers market always stop and say “you’ve got your hands full!”. With 2? I know I’m out numbered but I’m pretty quick, and surely can out fox them if need be. This all came to fruition when I decided that we need a “thing”. Gary and I tend to be jack of all trades, master of none. We have a lot of things we’re interested in but since the kids came along everything has kind of been half assed. I had so much fun camping growing up, I decided that this was going to be our “thing”. And, why wait?! I can do this alone. And I did, and we had fun, though I’m only slightly exhausted.

I decided to pick Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park as our camping area. It met a few criteria that I wanted:

1. Close to home incase we had to come back-the drive took about 40ish minutes to get there. The park is located between Watsonville and Santa Cruz, close to Felton. In fact, I think the Roaring Camp Railroad runs through the park (that’s on our to-do list as well).

2. Have more “modern” facilities-the kids hadn’t been camping before, so I wanted to slowly ease them into the idea of sleeping in a tent and having to walk a little bit to go to the bathroom, etc. The facilities here were nice and clean with flush toilets, and I think there were even showers at one of the hospitality stations. Fire wood was also for sale, and I didn’t want to bring mine**.

**There is a movement here in California that stresses the importance of buying your firewood where you burn it to reduce the spread of an insect that has been spreading rapidly, killing many trees. They’ve been found on firewood at CA borders.**

3. Be in an area with other things to do besides sit at camp-this wasn’t nearly as important as the other two, but still a consideration. There is a day use area where there are trails through the redwoods, I think the drive is about 10 minutes from the camping area. Story to follow on why we didn’t make it here.

So! Henry Cowell fit my criteria and we left home after Arabella had ballet class. I packed up the car, got the kids a snack and we stopped for some ice before finally making it on the road. I thought that this was a good omen, but perhaps a sign of camping mayhem since the stars never align like this? BOTH children fell asleep within 15 minutes of getting on the road. This never happens here. Ever. I mean, ever. Alex has only fallen asleep in the car less than 5 times. I’m driving along thinking the quiet is great, and this is a good omen. Perhaps not.

We arrive at the camp ground, and it was very easy to get to, right off the main road. Of course both kids wake up when I talk to the ranger, and Alex is not amused that he has been woken up from his nap. He lets it be known he isn’t amused. Check in, and sign up to have firewood delivered to our site. What a great convenience this is! I don’t have to lug it back with 2 kids in tow, the camp host (who was right across from our site) just brought it over in his little electric golf cart.

Time to set up camp! Have you ever tried to set up a 6 person tent with 2 kids underfoot? No? Yes? Perhaps you have and you know how amazingly helpful they can be. But, throw in that our camp site was surrounded by ground cover of poison oak, you’ve got yourself a real challenge. Arabella was fine, I tell her not to touch any plants near the camp site, especially with the 3 leaves together and she gets it. Alex on the other hand makes sure to lunge at them every chance he gets. He would toddle around the site, and whooooa whoooooa almost fall into the ground cover but catch himself. Repeat this every 2 minutes, with me trying to keep an eye on him while trying not to put any part of the tent into the poison oak. Seriously?

Ok! Finally we have the tent set up, our mattress inside with our bedding. Everything is ready to go, and I decide to pile us all back in the car to head over to the day use site since we have state park access for both days because of our camping reservations. I get Alex alllmost buckled into his seat when…BARF. He vomits all of his snacks up. All.over.everything. At this point I hang my head and laugh because already I know it’s going to be epic. Everyone out of the car! I get Alex cleaned up and naked while I look for his other outfit. Ha! I apparently didn’t pack any other shirts for Alex. He spent the trip sporting one of Arabella’s, which he was happy to do.

Did I mention the mosquitos? Oh yeah, we had those too.

So everyone is cleaned up, I decide we need to explore the camp ground. The ranger at the gate told me that there was an observation tower you could hike to that wasn’t too far. That sounded like fun, well, to me. Arabella has slightly different ideas of fun, which apparently don’t include walking to observation towers. She was a warrior though! She hiked a little more than a mile round trip, uphill the way there, plus up some stairs to get to the top of the tower. Warriors are allowed to complain though, because she did let it be known that this was not her idea of a good time. I did have to carry her a couple times, but I was looking to carry 60lbs uphill today so no biggy.

Back at camp we hung out in the tent for a while and took a rest before starting dinner. I had made chili the day before and decided to take that with us just to reheat. Easy peasy. Sure, easy peasy if your kids eat it. *sigh* Arabella proclaims she does not like chili, never mind that she ate it the day before and ate half the bowl this time too. Alex only wanted to take bites between trying to touch the camp fire and trying to touch the camp stove.

At this point, I’m done with camping. Oh yes, the woman who loves the outdoors was d.o.n.e. It was 6 o’clock, our normal bed time anyway, and I proclaimed it was tent time again. One more run to the bathroom, even though Arabella did not need to go (“Mama, I don’t have to go potty”). Where after sitting down…”I do need to go!”. Yes, Mama is clairvoyant kid, I knew you had to.

Snuggled together in bed Arabella falls asleep within 10-15 minutes of laying down. She’s out by 6:30. Alex however. Oh Alex. You are the reason we have foil and blackout curtains over the window at home. Alex won’t fall asleep if there is an ounce of light. While I did contemplate this when deciding to go camping, I figured he would be too worn out from everything and would konk out. Pfft…how wrong I was. 8:45 finally rolls around and he decides after trying to eat my poison oaky/dusty/dirty shoes, throwing water bottles, bouncing himself off the air mattress, running circles in the tent around the mattress, poking Arabella, trying to unzip the tent door, stacking water bottles, and trying to slam the lantern into my head that it’s time for bed. I’m out within seconds of confirming that he was indeed asleep.

Up the next morning bright and early at our usual 6am wake-up time just puts that perfect ending on our trip. Instead of cooking breakfast I pile the kids in the car, pack up our stuff…which, didn’t fit in any of the bags the same way they did initially (go figure) and drove to Starbucks to grab me some much needed coffee and the kids some breakfast.

We weren’t going to stay long in the morning anyway as today (Friday) is market day and we needed food from the farmers market, but I was hoping to go to the day use part today after waking up. No dice. There was no way.

But, in the end, the most important thing that came out of our trip was this: “Mama, can we go camping again without Daddy before he comes to California??” (I told her we might wait to go again when Daddy can come with us). She said she had a good time, and liked sleeping in the tent.

I think we probably will go again before Gary gets here, because I’m a glutton for punishment, and because I want my kids to love the outdoors. It might cause me a few more grey hairs, and the need for a glass of wine at bedtime, but all the stress, mosquitos, poison oak, vomit was worth her asking to go again.

Here are some pictures from our trip!

DSC_0300 DSC_0304 DSC_0306 DSC_0308 DSC_0309 DSC_0311 DSC_0312 DSC_0313 DSC_0314 DSC_0315 DSC_0316 DSC_0317 DSC_0318 DSC_0319


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