Our Frugal Annual Desert Camping Trip

My family had a wonderful camping trip in the desert and I wanted to share about it with you. This is an event the family and I look forward to every year. 

This year was our largest camping trip yet. We were 4 families instead of the 2 we started with. There's something nice about a really small group and something nice about a group a bit larger. These 4 families were all close (my best friend, her husband's family, her good friend's family, and my family) so there was a good emotional bond. I can't imagine going with a larger group though, then it would lose its intimate feel.

Our day started off well enough. We met with our friends at a gas station where we went to fill up with gas and transfer some of their things to my car since we had more room (yay big car!) and they had so many things on their lap until we did that.

My friend mentioned that my rear driver's seat tire looked a little deflated, so I went to top it off with air and while I was at the pump decided to make sure all the other tires were properly inflated. (There was a bit of a wait until I could start as there were 4 cars ahead of me.) As I got to the last tire, I knew something was wrong. As soon as I took the nozzle off the tire valve, all the air started coming out of it- the pin that was supposed to keep the air in broke- and in no time at all my tire was completely empty.

Fortunately, in the same parking lot as the gas station there is also a tire repair place, so I carefully drove to them, inching along, on just my tire rim. I was really hoping that I wouldn't need to replace the entire tire, since it was pretty new, but since this was the first time it happened to me I was in the dark... but hoping it wouldn't be an expensive fix. It ended up being a really simple fix to just replace the valve, and cost me $20.  However there were a few people in front of me, so we had to wait in the sun until our turn came. We only ended up getting on the road to our camping trip about an hour and a half later than we originally started, with kids already grumpy.

We had planned a stop along the way at a splash pad to get refreshed since we would be camping in the desert. Unfortunately, because of our delay, the rest of the party was already enjoying themselves at the splash pad a while before we arrived. And since it was later than we'd planned to get there, we couldn't stay at the splash pad for too long, since we wanted to arrive at the campsite with a nice amount of time before dark to be able to set up and get the food ready. But we did have enough time to stretch our legs and cool off a bit.

On the way down into the crater, we saw gazelles in large groups that weren't afraid of people. And sadly, I saw one of them eating garbage that people had littered. (Why are people like this? Ugh!)

Even though we were the last ones to arrive at the splash pad, the other families had a detour along the way, so we arrived first, and my kids and I were able to pick which campsite we wanted. There is a rocky path that leads to a few clearings surrounded by boulders, each with a fire pit from previous visitors. There are no facilities there, just the clearings, but that's all right- we came prepared.

My kids and I picked the one that looked largest since we were 4 families, some families with more than one tent.

Once everyone arrived, we unloaded the cars and set up the tents, with the kids pitching in to help- (no pun intended), the ones with more experience helping the newbies (there was a family who had never been camping before). From experience, tents are not nearly as big as they claim they are... So for our family of 5, we brought an 8 person tent, 6 person tent, and 2 person tent. The 8 person was for my boys, the 6 for my girls, and the 2 for myself. Another family brought 2 for their 4 people. Altogether we were a group of 16 with 7 tents, making a little tent city.

Setting up the tents went easily enough, other than my boys with our pop up 8 person tent. They were sure it was broken since the sides didn't stay open but just folded with the wind. We almost ended up borrowing someone's tent (they brought a spare) but I folded the tent back up and set it up myself... and it worked just fine. They'd just forgotten to press down the last bit to lock it into place. I'm glad that wasn't broken- it was just a year old... We set up the air mattresses in the tents so that each person could sleep comfortably.

After our previous trips, I realized I needed more chairs, so I bought some camping chairs... forgetting that I'd already purchased 2 for our previous trip, so we had 2 extra chairs to contribute to the party. This time, with a nice-sized car, I was able to even bring a small folding table to make food prep more easily. Last trip I dislocated my hips squatting to "use the bathroom" in the wild, so this time I purchased a portable camping toilet (basically a stool with a hole in it), and the girls all appreciated it so much.

Once we were set up, the kids went off to explore, climbing the mountains and walking along the marked hiking paths around the campsite, while the adults started preparing the food.

Can you spot the kids?

I had brought along one of my portable camping stoves, intending to serve instant mashed potatoes with tuna and/or cheese to the kids while they were waiting for the barbecue to be ready, but unfortunately, it was one with too small of a flame as well as my forgetting to bring a spare gas canister and the water never ended up getting hot enough to do that, but the kids were patient and made do with the snacks until the first bit of the food was ready.

Since we were a large group I made sure to bring a large sized as well as a regular sized charcoal grill. Lighting them was a pain and a half (local charcoal sucks, and even with lighter fluid it is hard to light) but finally we got the fire going, then it burned down enough so we could cook the food without burning it.

When cooking for impatient kids, you want to have the kid friendly food finished first, so the two giant packages of hot dogs went on the grill first. They had them with buns while the rest of the food was cooking.

We had chicken wings marinated in barbecue sauce (we brought all the meat frozen in the cooler and then defrosted it out of the cooler when we arrived), hamburgers, beef kebabs, and chicken hearts (don't knock it till you try it). We grilled corn on the cob, which was amazing, and something I will definitely be doing in the future. Lastly, I tried making some vegetable kebabs but they didn't cook properly (the coals were on their last legs by the time those were cooking).

As it started to get dark, we set up a bonfire in the fire pit. Near the crater, the gas station sells a lot of camping supplies and they sell firewood for far too much, but we splurged on that for a nice fire. The kids all enjoyed roasting marshmallows near the bonfire.

There was a full moon when we camped, so we missed out on some of our favorite parts of camping in the middle of nowhere- seeing all the stars- but it was still nice.

As we were sitting near the fire a desert fox came near our campsite, but my dog chased it off. It was cool to see. 

We played card games around the fire, including Taboo and Cards Against Humanity, Family Edition. Lots of fun.

Then it was time for the younger kids to bed. Once they were asleep the adults and teenagers stayed up talking and drinking beer (both alcoholic and not), and just enjoying the company and fresh air.

Then bed.

Or I tried to.

Last time we went camping, I shared an air mattress with my girls, and it ended up causing me problems, because when one person moves the other moves, and it just caused my back to hurt. This time, therefore, I bought another air mattress, and I got the small tent with my own air mattress, all to myself. Should be fine, right? Except it wasn't. Because my back is problematic, in order to sleep without being in pain I need to be on a hard mattress, or at the very least, something that doesn't dip in the middle. The air mattress, however, sank down by my hips, which is the absolute worst sleeping position for me. I even tried sticking things beneath my hips so that despite the mattress going down there, I'd be level, but it didn't work. I almost despaired, knowing that I either wouldn't be able to sleep or I'd wake up in incredible pain, but then I remembered that someone brought a camping cot to use as a bench next to the fire.

So that is what I did. I didn't sleep in my tent but instead slept on the camping cot under the stars. I slept pretty well, even past when everyone else was waking up.

After an early breakfast, we packed up the camp quickly, because despite being chilly at night in the desert, by 9 am it is already quite hot.

Cars packed, we headed out of the crater and bought everyone some ice cream, as well as ice for the cooler to keep our leftovers good. Yes, we made far too much food, but leftover barbecue is still yummy.

Finally, we went to a museum overlooking the crater, to learn about the science of it, how it was formed, etc... They had a kids' discount, and because of my kids' disability pass, I was able to go in free. so overall a very cheap outing.

After that, it was time to go home. And this time, we had an uneventful trip home. (Last year, on the way back from the camping trip, we had a really bad accident that totaled the car when the steering wheel stopped responding correctly.)

Another wonderful summer memory. 

Lastly, I wrote a Google Docs note to myself about lessons that I learned from this camping trip, what worked and what didn't, what we had and what we didn't, so that each year our camping trip ends up better and better.

Do you enjoy camping? How often do you go camping? What type of camping do you do?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal

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