For the most part, the informal overnighter went off well. I knew that most campgrounds require "quiet time" after 10PM. I warned my new-camper relatives, and at 9:30, so did our friendly camp ranger. She must have thought we were a bit slow on the uptake, because the ranger was back two more times before ten to ‘remind’ us when quiet time started. Our helpful, ranger also informed my party that we’d better keep a close eye on the raccoons. It turns out that the raccoons have been known to rip right through tents, she warned us.
I could see the eyes of my son (eight years of age at the time), grow wide. I didn’t notice my niece’s reaction, but I was told later that the revelation of Tent Shredding Raccoons wasn’t something she had planned for. The ranger’s lack of tact almost ruined our family get together. Our son slept with us, and not in the tent with the big kids. To my knowledge, my niece has not been camping since.
I thought that Park Rangers Without Social Skills were an anomaly. Then we went camping at a new campground this weekend.
Once again, all seemed well. My family and our rowdy group of church friends rented an extra site to congregate, eat, play games etc. Well, after a few hours "Ranger Friendly" stopped by and told our camp friends that the bare patch of dirt that their tent was sitting on was not an approved campsite. They would have to move their eight man tent to the gravel pad in the center of the site. Because, y’know, all that damage that a nylon tent can do to a denuded patch of dirt. And sleeping on gravel is so much better on your neck and back. And if we didn’t, it would be a $138 dollar fine.
We all looked at each other, dumbfounded. And we helped our friend move the tent, complying with the nonsensical directive.
On the second day, Ranger Friendly waited at our campsite when we returned from the lake. Our tent trailer was on the gravel pad, but the Ranger informed us, that pad was just for tents. We’d need to move our tent next to our van by the road. Our tent trailer (it’s so light me and my daughter push it), could make the tent area uneven due to its weight.
I wish I was making this up.
I remember the days when rangers had those little plastic badges they’d give the kids. They’d spend a few minutes talking about flora and fauna with the campers, maybe pointing out some items of interest. Before they left, they’d remind everyone to not be a litterbug and be careful with fire. What the hec happened?
Aside from the aforementioned "fun and educational" interaction with the park staff, they’d drive around the campground. A lot. I swear it was almost like a guard making rounds. I’ve never done time in Folsom, but at least my family and I can say we’ve had the experience without the gang violence and prison tattoos.
And I KNOW that our experience was not an isolated one. On the road at the other end of the loop, some kids had drawn on the road with chalk. That’s a pretty normal thing. What they wrote, however, was not:
"No Fun Allowed"
"No Marshmallows Allowed"
"$400 Fine For Using Chalk…"
I would have laughed, if it weren’t so insane. I couldn’t help but wonder what their infraction was.