Do you ever split a campsite with complete strangers? We have and, so far, we have no regrets. Sharing a campsite can make camping easier and more fun.
We pulled into Great Sand Dunes National Park around 11 am. Last time we were at Great Sand Dunes there was only us and one other person in the Visitor’s Center and we figured today would be similar. We were so wrong. The parking lot and lobby were packed out. When we got in line for the sand dune camping permits we realized what a mistake we had made. The National Park Service only gives out 20 permits a day for camping on the sand dunes, allowing up to six people per permit. When we got to the line there were three groups ahead of us and the rumor was there were only two dune camping permits left.
Because part of our love for traveling comes from our love of meeting new people, we started chatting with the couple in front of us. They were open and friendly right from the start. We swapped concerns about not getting a dune spot and Kenon put together that they had two people in their group and we had four, the exact maximum group size for a permit. He asked, “If there is only one permit left, would you guys mind sharing it?”
“Not at all!” came the quick reply. That is exactly what happened. The ranger came out of the office and announced that there was only one dune spot left. The couple we had just met informed the ranger that we would all take it. We all signed our names to the same permit.
Everyone shares sites differently. This couple acted like old friends, hiking in with us, eating with us, sharing food and swapping stories like we did this all the time.
We have experienced many occasions where we have shared a site with “strangers”. These strangers end up becoming the most generous, trusted friends for the few hours that our worlds are intertwined. Wide open spaces can bring people together so miraculously.
On another occasion, we got the last site in a dispersed camping area near Zion National Park. Another couple drove in when we had finished setting up our site and asked if there were any additional camping sites open. We said no but that they were welcome to pitch a tent on our over-sized site. They looked at us a little funny and said they would keep looking. Finding nothing, they did eventually make their way back, pull in, and set up their tent far from us. Though sharing, they definitely wanted their space and so we kept our distance.
My favorite site-sharing story took place at Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas. We pulled into Guadalupe Mountains National Park shortly after 4 pm. The parking lot at the visitor’s center was deserted. Though there was not another car in sight, 4 o’clock seemed like an early time for a visitor’s center to close so we parked the car and walked to the entrance. It really was closed.
Our next task was to find a campsite but, being that this is a small park, I was not worried. Besides that, the website itself states that camping never fills up. I took this opportunity to go to the bathroom, since I figured finding a campsite was not a pressing priority.
As I was washing my hands, I heard Kenon’s loud guffaw carry through the door. I could hear the low rumbling sound of another person’s voice but could not quite make out the words. When I came out of the bathroom, I saw that Kenon was in the process of making friends.
“Process” really is not the correct word. Kenon makes friends so easily and naturally. What I truly saw was Kenon conversing with two elderly gentlemen as if he had known them for years. They were cackling over stories like college roommates. Kenon introduced them to me as “Bob” and “Vil”, two geezers on a last-fling type man trip.
When the topic of campsites came up, Bob and Vil informed us that the campground was, in fact, filled to the brim. These two themselves had gotten the very last site, a handicapped site near the bathroom. They were lucky – they do not have a handicap sticker but since they were the last ones to the campground, they are senior citizens, and the stars just happened to align, the ranger making the rounds allowed them to purchase the site.
Kenon politely brought up the subject of us sharing their campsite. We did not need to set up a tent. We just needed somewhere to park the car since we were sleeping in the back and sites are allowed to have up to two vehicles. He even offered to split the cost of the site with the men.
Bob’s answer was, “Well, I don’t know if you can afford it since I paid a whopping four bucks for the site.” We all had a good laugh at that and Bob told us which site was his, inviting us to pull the car up.
We spent the entire evening listening to Bob and Vil tell us about their adventures. Vil was a cyclist that had, at 65 plus years old, biked the entire Continental Divide. Bob had been traveling as much as he could since he was young. He patiently spent hours listening to and answering all of Kenon’s questions as Kenon drilled him about one place and then the next. There was not a single location that Kenon could think of that Bob had not been to. Except, that is, the northern shores of Lake Superior and the boundary waters of Minnesota. He gave us invaluable advice about kayaking in the Everglades and camping in South Africa.
At the end of our time together, we all swapped information, promising to keep in touch.
It is truly amazing the people you can meet and the connections you can make when you open up to the idea.