Camping is one of my favorite things to do. It brings back many happy memories of my childhood and the numerous camping adventures we would take that would define my summer holidays. Our family vacations involved cramming my parents, six kids, enough gear to house and feed all of us, bikes for each person, and sometimes a canoe into our fifteen passenger van with a homemade trailer for the bikes and canoe attached behind us. The back seat of the van had been removed and was replaced with a large wooden storage box that my Dad had custom built that had special compartments sized perfectly to hold our cooler, a picnic basket, bins of food, the camping box he had built that would be my mother’s “kitchen” for the duration of our camping excursion, and suitcases filled with clothes, swimwear, and shoes. My parents sat in front with two kids to each of the three bench seats behind them. A head count was taken each time we got in the car to ensure that nobody had been accidentally left behind and we would head to one of the many Minnesota State Parks. We had a spacious four room tent where my parents would reside in one section and then three girls to two of the other rooms. The fourth room was reserved for shoes. Bike trips and short hiking excursions were the daily activities we would squeeze in in between meals. Having six girls in one campsite made for a rowdy crew at times and I look back on fondness with my dad hollering at us and telling us that, “Nobody came to the state park to hear the Conlin girls scream.” My parents taught us from an early age the importance of treating the outdoors with the respect that it was due. Late night trips to the privies included lessons in flashlight etiquette. Roasting marshmallows around the late evening campfires were always accompanied by singing and stories. My sisters and I were taught many folk songs as children and we would sing, often in two to three part harmony around the flickering flames.

These cherished memories have me anticipating the first car camping trip of the summer with great anticipation. I have been itching to get out our REI Half Dome tent for weeks but trips home and other obligations had us waiting until last weekend when we were pleased to discover we had absolutely nothing to do! Saturday morning dawned bright and already a little warm. With temperatures expected to reach into the high 80s to low 90s we began checking the weather in different parts of the state. The east side of the Cascades were predicting even higher temperatures in the 100s but across the sound along the Pacific Ocean the temperatures were in the mid 70s. The temperature wasn’t the only thing drawing us to the ocean. The fact that we have lived in Seattle for over a year and both of us had yet to see the Pacific Ocean was another reason we were anxious to head west!

We drove 2.5 hours to the city of Ocean Shores located right on the coast. We were able to drive our Explorer right onto the sandy beach along with many other cars. People were everywhere flying kites, building sand castles, sunning themselves, picnicking, or enjoying a horseback ride along the shore for $20. We had stopped at Subway for a sandwich to go and got out our REI camping chairs and enjoyed lunch in the sun, listening to the waves lap at the shore, the shrieks of delight from children getting their toes wet, and laughter from a family taking photos in the shallow waves.

Eating lunch on the beach!

Eating lunch on the beach!

First time seeing the Pacific Ocean!

First time seeing the Pacific Ocean!

Latigo was politely waiting, if a little bit more anxiously than normal, for us to finish our lunch so he could go frolicking in the water!

Can we swim yet?!?

Can we swim yet?!?

Playing with him on the beach was one of the most delightfully fun activities I have done in awhile! We ran, played a rousing game of fetch that included almost losing the ball in the waves numerous times, and watching with disgust as Latigo drank the saltwater.

Running on the beach!

Running on the beach!

Ready for some fetch in the water!

Ready for some fetch in the water!

Shake it off!

Shake it off!

Shaking off in my face!

Shaking off in my face!

FETCH!

FETCH!

Lets GO!

Lets GO!

Thoroughly soaked and sandy we headed back to the car and decided to try and find a campsite for the night.

Heading back to the car

Heading back to the car

Bobby had found a campground by simply looking at the previously downloaded map of the area on our wonderful GPS app GAIA. Without much information other than its location we headed there hoping a site would be open. It was located about 40 miles from Ocean Shores and was situated within the Olympic National Forest. After close to 15 miles on a gravel and pothole speckled road we arrived at the campground and our jaws dropped. Campbell Tree Grove Campground is an incredibly scenic campground with old growth Western red cedar, Western hemlock, and douglas fir trees that stood more than 300 feet tall around us and are estimated to be more than 500 years old. With a thick undergrowth of the next generation of trees already hard at work the screening between campsites was ridiculously thick. We were pleased to discover that several campsites were open, we opted for a secluded site where we had no visual contact with anyone around us and a pit toilet was nearby.

Unbelievable old growth

Unbelievable old growth

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The view from inside our tent

The view from inside our tent

Garbage cans are located throughout the campground. The campground has no water which wasn’t an issue because we had brought along our Reliance Aqua-tainer that holds 7 gallons of water that we had filled up before leaving home. I would recommend always filling up some sort of water storage unit before leaving home. We have brought empty ones thinking we would be able to find a spot to fill it up along the way and have found that that can be somewhat stressful and not as easy as you may expect. One of the most amazing aspects of the campground was the price, it was free! All you need is a Northwest Forest Pass for your car.

Setting up the tent

Setting up the tent

We set up camp and decided we had earned a rest! We relaxed in our campsite reading and then retiring to the tent for an afternoon nap before making dinner.

Enjoying a break!

Enjoying a break!

Reading in the sun in our campsite!

Reading in the sun in our campsite!

Afternoon nap

Afternoon nap

Brats and potatoes were on the menu for dinner.

Which tiny spatula should I use?

Which tiny spatula should I use?

mmmmmm brats

mmmmmm brats

frying up some onions to go with our brats

frying up some onions to go with our brats

Eagle Scout Bobby is always in charge of building the fire!

Eagle Scout Bobby is always in charge of building the fire!

Waiting for the brats to cook!

Waiting for the brats to cook!

As we cooked, dusk descended along with the mosquitos and we huddled close to the fire, not for the warmth, but for the protection from the swarms. We really need to buy some bug repellent…

Latigo attempting to hide from the mosquitos under the table... Poor guy, they really go after him.

Latigo attempting to hide from the mosquitos under the table… Poor guy, they really go after him.

S’mores were a necessity for the maiden car camping trip of 2013!

Thanks Dad for the Light My Fire roasting stick attachments!

Thanks Dad for the Light My Fire roasting stick attachments!

mmmmmm S'mores!

mmmmmm S’mores!

After dinner and dishes it was time for my favorite part of camping. Sitting around the campfire and reconnecting. So often the hustle and bustle of our daily lives causes us to lose focus. When camping you are surrounded by only the sounds of the wind in the trees, the chirping of birds, the soft rush of water from the nearby river. There aren’t email messages blazing on all the electronics around you. To do lists aren’t getting any longer. All that needs to be done is to be with the ones you love most in the world. The long and meaningful conversations Bobby and I always have when seated around the fire never cease to amaze me. We talk about our hopes, fears, frustrations, dreams, memories, and how incredibly blessed we feel every single day of our lives. Camping makes you simplify it, helps you to realize that you can live, survive, and even thrive with the most basic items. Everything you need to survive can be so easily whittled down to almost nothing. Everyday worries fade away as the flames die and the hot embers of the fire pulse that deep orange/red. We fall asleep easily, nothing weighing on our minds, and the primal smell of campfire embedded in our hair and skin. We slept without the rain fly on, not fearing the rain, and wanting to gaze at the stars above through the canopy of the great trees that played sentry to our home for the night. We slept like the dead. Waking only when the need to pee arose, for all three of us. Sleep came again quickly and we slept until past eight. A breakfast of strawberry and cream oatmeal and freshly sliced peaches around the campfire prepared us for the day ahead. I didn’t want to leave the campground. I didn’t want the peace we had found there to be disturbed and destroyed by the flurry of activities that awaited us back home. I wanted to freeze time. We still had a day of adventure ahead of us and hours before we would find ourselves back in the city. So, camp was cleaned and stored back in the explorer.

Bobby's beloved axe!

Bobby’s beloved axe!

Out for a brief walk

Out for a brief walk

Soooooo tall!

Soooooo tall!

Stopping at the Humptulip River that runs along some of the other campsites for a quick drink.

Stopping at the river that runs along some of the other campsites for a quick drink.

So excited to be camping!

So excited to be camping!

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Giant slug that visited our campsite!

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In the Humptulip River

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About the author


I am the youngest of six daughters and spent my childhood vacations camping in the beautiful State Parks of MN. In 2009 I married my best friend, Bobby Marko. We have embarked on numerous adventures along with our Golden Retriever, Latigo, our son, Jack (born 7/26/2014) and our daughter, Rowan (born 10/25/2016). When not adventuring in the great outdoors I spend my time as a stay at home mom and volunteer. I am a Branch Lead for the Twin Cities Hike it Baby branch. My favorite pastimes include dog training, eating chocolate, reading mysteries and crappy romance novels, and creating paper crafts, my passion lies in writing.

4 comments

  1. steve hewitt

    I wanted to share this with you. I enjoyed your story very much and from what I gathered you were touched by the magic that is Campbell Tree Grove. I wrote this piece for a local paper called the Senior Sunset Times; you can find it online. I hope you enjoy.

    Campbell Tree Grove
    In the mist of early morning, shafts of sunlight break through the low slung overcast to be filtered by the forest’s canopy before touching the moss carpeted ground. Sunlight refracting through drops of dew on salal brush leaves creates small clusters of diamonds here and there beneath the bearded giants of forest primeval. All is quiet as if in deep slumber, the silence is like a prayer, thanksgiving for a new day, far off a ravens dark croaking is heard, calling all to heed the presence of man; me.

    This is my small slice of paradise, my heaven on earth where my soul comes to rest in the cradle of the ancestors. I have no blood ties here, only the certitude that I belong, from somewhere in the mists of time I hear a whisper; Peace. As my fire pops and hisses, moisture in the wood, life, escapes to renew my breath. The coals pulsing heat upon my skin provides warmth against the early morning chill and a fires friendly comfort; I slowly exhale a silent prayer of gratitude for this place of solitude and rebirth.

    In the distance I hear the babbling and gurgling of the stream that passes through this forest; it is both a force to be reckoned with and the blood of life for this small patch of ancient timber. During fall storms and spring runoff it rages and tears through the canyon, gnawing at the edges of this campground, slinging old growth logs about like match sticks, sometimes changing course to please its whims. As summer approaches the mood changes, the clear water beckons on hot days, a place to escape sweat, grime and pesky insects. There is nothing on earth that compares with bathing in its waters after a long, hot week of city drudgery. As I sit on a rock in mid stream to dry in the warm sun, I close my eyes and I hear echoes from the past; my children’s shrill screams and laughter as they splash each other with the ice tinged water, still innocent in their youth and wonder.

    I discovered this little campground while wandering the logging roads near my home, that was over twenty five years ago and I have been coming back every since. Drawn to its peace and solitude, my life is reduced to the basics of day to day camp life; I can finally, at least for a short while, let go and just be.
    There is beauty to behold in every direction you look; the campground is a small island of old growth majesty in the Olympic National Forest. As I sit beneath these stately monarchs I can’t help but wonder what they would say of the results of progress. You can literally feel the life force of these giants as you witness the heights to which they reach as they extend their branches to the heavens, all the while exchanging breath for breath with every living thing on Earth. Across the river from the camp the hills rise steeply to a height of a thousand feet, a slope so steep in cannot be climbed without rappelling; the crest of this precipitous incline is called Moonlight Dome.

    During the last weeks of August the full moon comes directly over the top of the Dome and illuminates the valley below like a slow burning flare; you could easily read this piece by its wondrous light. In those months of warm evenings one of my favorite camp evolutions is to take a bath in the moonlight. I’ll pack water several times throughout the day until I have a sufficient amount to do the job comfortably. Putting several large kettles on the fire to heat water which I will mix later with cold, I roll out a piece of indoor/outdoor carpeting for my shower floor and put a camp stool on the middle of the rug; I’m all set for my lunar baptism. When the moon is straight overhead I move the kettles over to my bath area, away from the camp, strip to my birthday suit and commence to enjoy the fruits of my labor. A deep feeling of satisfaction arises within me as the hot water I pour slowly over my head cascades to my feet. Steam rises around me as I sit there basking in the soft glow of the moonlight. When at last the water is gone and I have sufficiently dried by the fire, it’s time to crawl into my sleeping bag where I sleep like a babe in the arms of its mother.

    At daybreak I crawl out to stir the ashes and throw on more wood to get a bed of coals ready for breakfast. I slide the coffee pot close to the fire to start it perking, filling the morning air with a delicious aroma; then it’s back in the sack to lie quiet and listen to the world around me come to life; this truly is living. It’s not long before the smell of coffee drags me from my warm cocoon and to the fire. I pour a shot or two of Carolyn’s Irish Cream into my cup and top it off with fresh, fire brewed coffee, then start mixing up blueberry pancake batter. First in the old cast iron skillet go a couple slices of bacon to draw in the bears and season the pan, then on to a tall stack of blueberry hot cakes; the finest breakfast a man could ask for. I experience great delight as curious wildlife come to inspect my culinary efforts. Jittery chipmunks climb up on the table for treats and to inspect the food box while camp robbers fly in for their share of the booty. If I’m really lucky a noble raven will fly over and croak at me, they are much grander than their smaller cousin the crow; I now understand why the Native Americans of this land believe them to be a deity, holding them in high esteem in their stories, dance and worship.

    Over the years I have brought my daughters here, first as babes to sit naked in the sunlit shallows, splashing about with squeals of infant delight; the continuance of an old family tradition. We have had many delightful trips to this sanctuary, their eyes fill with wonder as they gaze overhead at the majestic grandeur of the forest giants; their tongues are stilled as they walk through this cathedral of pristine beauty. Sitting around the fire late into the night I watch them as they stare into the flames and reflect on their lives, occasionally looking out into the darkness that has descended upon us, creating an island of warmth and light floating in the starlit night. They seem more willing to talk than usual and reveal their innermost thoughts while gathered around our fire, their questions and observations on all subjects have always amazed me in their depth and scope; what a blessing our children truly are.

    Someday, when my life has run its full course and my loved ones set out to fulfill my request to be made part of the ebb and flow of life here in the grove, my children will scatter my ashes upon the gentle breeze that drifts through the camp in the afternoon. They will blend a portion in the life giving flow of the beautiful, capricious stream as it boldly races to the ocean and finally spread the last dregs around the feet of the monarchs of the forest so that I may join them in their quest to touch the face of God. Last but not least, it is my greatest desire that my children will always cherish their experiences here, take time to recall precious memories, and mature with a deep and abiding respect for all they have seen. I hope that they, as I have, will return to restore their spirits in the peaceful magic of this place, this place called Campbell Tree Grove.

    Postscript

    We live in one of the most beautiful places on Earth; a place filled with majesty and mystery. As you stand on a mountains top and look down through the mists at the valley below you sense ancient history lying in endless slumber just below the wispy veil. Standing on the seashore the ocean’s tide swirls about your ankles and as the waves recede you feel something tug at the strings of your heart like a siren’s song. Sitting by a crystalline stream you faintly hear the voices of the old ones murmuring their secrets, yearning to be understood. They implore us to open our eyes and see the beauty that surrounds us, to watch and listen closely, for there are spirits here, everywhere.
    We must treasure these gifts and preserve them in perpetuity; considering the pace of change, future generations of our children will need these places for spiritual renewal, quite possibly, more than we do.

  2. Bobby Marko

    Thank you so much for sharing your writing, Steve! It’s beautiful and perfectly describes the setting.

  3. Craig

    Nice write up Maura-one of my favorite areas. You’ll have fun bringing your boy there on your next trip!

  4. Maura Marko

    Thanks Craig! It’s so fun watching you get out with your little hiker!

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