I’m typing this a few miles off the SR-92 Alpine Loop summit and hundreds of yards away from any road. High country. Not a developed campground. No running water, no restroom facilities, no pavement, no concrete, no signs, no nothing. Just us in a clearing with some rocks.
There is of course no connectivity of any kind up here, unless you can send messages across distances by cricket relay. When you see this posted later on with a particular time and date, know that it was set after the fact when we got back, to 10:24 pm, the time it is now.
It’s pitch black outside, with mostly cloudy cover, but a few stars here and there. The only sounds are the crickets and the tiny brook that is just 30 feet or so from here.
Well, that and the snoring of kids.
Of course, it’s getting colder by the minute, so the time will soon come when I need to put this away and hunker down in my bag. The kids are definitely hunkered in theirs.
— § —
Why are we up this far, in an undeveloped campground with no fishing and no trails, just mountainside all around us? Because it’s one of the last weekends before school resumes, and because it’s been warm. So the entire mountain down below was packed. If you want to reserve, you have to do it five days in advance, otherwise it’s “walk up” on a first-come, first-serve basis.
© Aron Hsiao / 2016
So by the time I knew we’d have this weekend, it was already too late to reserve for us. And though we tried to “walk up” early in the afternoon, everyone is camping this weekend.
We hit every single developed campground in American Fork Canyon and on the loop. Every single one had the “Campground Full” sign out.
At first, I balked at the idea of going up that tiny, winding road to camp in the middle of nowhere, but actually this has turned out to be very, very nice.
Rather than the endless sounds of gasoline engines (just about everyone camping on this mountain seems to have brought along an armada of all-terrain vehicles) we have silence, crickets, and brook. No neighbors. No conveniences. No irritations. Just us and the woods.
We whacked our way through the forest for a while in several different directions, just to have fun.
And now we are set for the night on top of a mountain, or nearly so.
— § —
It took me a while to get into the mood, I have to admit.
The picture of “camping” that I have in my head from childhood is of a peaceful and bucolic experience, all about communing with nature in reflection and simple activities. You hike. You fish. You look at the flowers.
We’re on a brook branch far too small for fishing here, and the hiking is limited without a compass, a forestry map, and much more serious gear. We went as far as I dared, but then came back. So we were more or less limited to our own campground, and to stationary, “California hangout style” activities, if that makes any sense. Telling stories. Tic-tac-toe in the sand.
And on the lower part of the mountain where we were several hours ago, the developed campgrounds sound more like racetracks or car dealerships than they do like the camping experience that I was looking for. It’s all motor sounds and loud whistles and catcalls and people in steel-tubed contractions tearing up and down across and over the mountain. They have a beautiful, stocked stream right there next to them, and dozens of hiking trails. What is the matter with people?
— § —
At length, when I realized what a good time the kids were having, I managed to let go of my expectations and take it in. We live in a different time, and Utah is a different place than it was thirty years ago. I shouldn’t be surprised that you can’t drive four or five miles out of no-longer-very-sleepy American Fork and expect to find Mother Earth alone there waiting for company.
It’s a retail world. Utah is a retail place. And these days the “old naturalism” of fishing, hiking, hunting, and so on is vaguely frowned-upon, as though it is somehow a gateway to racism or sexism and ought to be discouraged.
Well we don’t have the fishing, or the easy hiking up here.
© Aron Hsiao / 2016
But what we do have, in the end, is solitude and relatively untouched natural spaces. I can take the kids into the forest and we quickly lose sight and sound of everything—the car, the brook, the sky. It is pines and undergrowth and a dim universe of branches and leaves and flora and fauna.
It is beautiful—and as the father in this picture, just dangerous enough to keep my alertness gene on all the time.
When night fell and we put out our fire, we were able to see stars. Not all of them, but a very decent number. And up here that’s enough. Because up here they are bright.
We’ll pack up and head back down that incredibly narrow, winding road with the cliffside drop-off views early tomorrow. We won’t hang around all day because I have work stuff early on Monday. I hope the car manages to make it back to the main road when it’s time.
But we’ll start in the morning with pancakes, bacon, and sausages grilled outdoors on a cast-iron skillet and we’ll take some time to walk around a bit again and thank Mother Nature for still managing to exist.
When all of the lower campgrounds were full, I wasn’t really sure that heading all the way to the top and bivouacking in the brush far away from everything would be worth it.
But, in fact, it has been worth it. More than worth it.
I’m very glad we came.