larvalbug bytes archives / Main Index / previous / next

June, 2001

CAMPING, JUNE 2-20, 1961

By Evelyn

The following account was written by Evelyn just after she, John, and I took our first camping trip, driving from Illinois to Florida and back. Besides the narrative here, we still have the original expense/data chart that Evelyn kept. Various entries include "gas - .29/gal., scorpion in car trunk, cave tour - $3, camping 3 nights - $4.65" as well as keeping track of mileage and location. The whole trip cost $276.20 and we travelled 3,994 miles in our Rambler. Besides food, fuel, and camping, expenses included beer, ice, bait, film, cigarettes, and souvenirs. We visited Mammoth Cave (and took the Echo River boat trip, back before it became so popular that the park service discontinued it), Kentucky, rode an incline railroad to Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, saw Fort Clinch, Marineland, Sunken Gardens, the Everglades, and lots of beaches in Florida, and stayed 3 nights at Juniper Springs in the Ocala National Forest, only a dozen miles or so from where John and Evelyn now live. After this trip, we went camping every summer. - Valerie

It was only one week before our vacation was to begin when we discovered the most primeval method of entertainment - namely, camping. Hitherto, camping was a sport that very few of our friends delved into. Except for my husband, Johnny, getting a dose of camping in the army during World War II and me occasionally enjoying camping long ago as a joyous, carefree, thoughtless child, this was to be our first exposure to this new venture.

Val and Ev, Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

Camping was either made for children, or children were made for camping, because no matter in what light you look at it, camping is basically for kids.

However, as I commenced to say previously, a week before we were to leave on a Florida vacation via automobile, we had our vacation completely planned, as far as a motor trip goes. Since this was in June, we figured on reduced summer rates at motels, planning to stay out on the road for up to one week of our allotted three weeks.

We had disposed of our problems of maintaining a ten month old baby girl (Victoria) and five year old pregnant miniature schnauzer dog by having my mother stay at our house - rent free, of course. I prepared several sheets of instructions, mostly pertaining to the care and feeding of the dog; and stocked the larder with plenty of canned milk, canned dog food, and other foods that can be canned; and the freezer with TV dinners. All we would have to do is pack our suitcases the night before we left. So with the exuberant feeling of preparedness for our annual trial of seeing how long we could exist away from home on our funds, we were working in our back yard on chores which never cease - one week before vacation.

The few of our acquaintances who do camp include our neighbors across the alley - Tillie and Elmer. They are basically devoted, loyal, upstanding school teachers in the upper grade level, although included in their busy schedule are various volunteer assignments, e.g. boy scouts. Just a few days previous they had showed us their new outside frame station-wagon umbrella tent, which seems to be the latest hit among campers. Elmer, who looks and acts like a professor might look and act, first acquainted himself with this style when, during one of his outdoor trips in a blinding torrent of a rainstorm complete with rivers on every path, he saw four people moving their tent to higher ground minus the superfluous water. This was done by each person merely taking a corner pole and carrying the tent suspended in air. Of course, this is merely one advantage of this style. After hearing about the virtues of this new style tent, we proceeded to borrow Tillie and Elmer's old inside frame tent, a massive pile of heavy canvas and aluminum poles which would be our shelter for the next couple of weeks.

Our three year old daughter, Valerie, has come to immensely enjoy camping in one very short summer. It was she and her alert and inquisitive mind that first got us interested in Florida. She takes interest in various subjects, spending a good deal of time exploring all aspects of them. For instance, she had gone through the stages of dinosaurs, insects, birds, airplanes, and flowers, and now seashells and marine life were her current interests.

Val and Ev, campsite in Tennessee
The best place we could think of her exploring sea life was in Florida - my sister and other people usually returned with a few shells they either found on a populated beach or bought at a curio or souvenir shop. So we told Valerie that there was a slight possibility that she might find some shells in Florida, and she simply had to go there as soon as possible, which wasn't such an easy undertaking, since we lived in Joliet, Illinois, in the Midwest. However, we had already begun to direct our thinking to her desires, so we got pertinent maps from the nearest gas station.

Valerie had no idea what camping meant or was, and we found it impossible to compare it with anything she had ever known in her short life. However, she became so enthused about it, and still is, that we found she would do anything to go on a camping trip, including eating her meals, which was our greatest problem with her. Not only during the actual nights out in the open, but also before and between trips, she showed an appetite that she never showed before for food. I must admit we took advantage of that every chance we got.

On the way, we decided it would be best to stop at a state park to see just what camping facilities are really like. We chose Turkey Run State Park in Indiana, thinking that might be an ideal location for a week-end trip if camping agreed with us and we agreed with camping. We left U.S. highway No. 41 on Indiana 47, and two miles later came to the entrance to the park where we each had to pay an admission charge of 25 cents. The gate keeper looked at Valerie sleeping in the back seat of the car and decided she was a little under age. We followed a winding road past saddle barns and horse trails and began to wonder if they had people trails. We knew we were approaching the camping area before we saw it. The din and shouting were terrific. When we came into sight of it, it looked exactly as it had sounded, only more so.

Val next to tent, Fort Clinch, Florida
As we made our way through the conglomeration of people, children and dogs, we saw one kindly-looking, patient woman with a smile on her face. She seemed to be the only one we might talk to, and as it turned out, she was the park naturalist and appeared to be the only one who knew whether she was coming or going. She was very courteous and offered us some of her time from her busy schedule to explain things to us. All we saw were tents, but she pointed out the restrooms and showers somewhere in the midst. We asked about swimming, but she informed us that the dandy place they had in Sugar Creek by a covered bridge had proved too dangerous and swimming was no longer allowed. I imagine someone dove in and struck his head on a rock.

After this experience, we drove back to the main parking area and took a look around. It appeared just as the campground did but minus the tents. Weekends are like that at most Indiana State Parks, I was later told.

When we left the park behind, we couldn't decide whether to go on to our destination, or turn back to Joliet and the peace and quiet of home camp.

St. Petersburg proved to be the most appealing of everywhere we had been in Florida. Until we arrived here, Homestead was in the lead, but as soon as we drove across the beautiful and inspiring Sunshine Skyway, St. Petersburg was tops. The only thing we had on our schedule in this city was the Sunken Gardens, but that short side trip off the main route was enough to convince us.

The beautiful Sunken Gardens of St. Petersburg is located right in the city and is truly a tropical wonderland. As we approached the address, we suddenly found ourselves upon a spacious black-topped parking lot with ample shade to keep the car cool while we were gone. The street sign itself was spectacular and we took a couple of shots of its color, not realizing what was in store for us. At the entrance to the building we also stopped to admire and take pictures of a serene lily pond, complete with tiny tadpoles. After getting our tickets and stepping through the reception building, we were greatly impressed to find ourselves in a completely different atmosphere than on the other side of the building.

Val and Ev at a miniature golf course in Florida

We were told that these gardens only fifty years ago were the site of a tiny ancient lake. After installing a complicated underground drainage system, the planning and planting phases were begun, using the fertile black soil of the lake bottom to support the growth of not only the popular native Floridian plants, but many other foreign tropical vegetation and rare plants. There were thousands of different varieties of trees and flowers, complete with labels with popular and botanical names, place of origin, and a brief description of its characteristics.

Before we stepped into the garden, we saw the large beautiful orchids growing on air, suspended from a tree. Then we saw a gigantic live oak spreading over other lush forms of vegetation. As we wandered along the well-paved winding walks we came across the stately royal palms, banana trees complete with bananas, bird of paradise flowers, a pipe organ cactus large enough for a cathedral, Hawaiian orchids which we usually get free at grand openings in the Midwest and which grow like the common iris.

The peace and quiet of the garden greatly impressed us, as well as the absence of insects. We thought it very unusual to not have seen a single bee among the colorful flowers. It was as though a sign had been posted - NO INSECTS ALLOWED.

The last leg of our trip was from Alabama to Audubon Memorial State Park in Kentucky. As usual it began raining shortly after we left the park and I think all the driving I did that day was through rain and winding roads. A familiar sign on the highway by this time was "CAUTION - WINDING ROAD FOR THE NEXT _ MILES." We usually came upon a sign like this after already driving through miles of winding roads. The little pick-up trucks were still forever popping up in front of us on the highways, and since it was impossible to pass, we always followed them for miles until they eventually turned off.

When we approached Henderson, Kentucky, we began searching for signs to the park. There were many highway repairs around here and all we were doing was reading signs. After we drove past where the park should have been, we stopped at a grocery store for directions to the park and T-bone steaks for dinner. We went back and tried again - but missed again. The next try we made it, after driving along all the detours. The park headquarters was situated in a quaint building of French Provincial architecture. Johnny dashed into the building to register so we could get right to our T-bones. In a short few minutes, he came out again, looking worried.

John and Val with sponge diver,
Tarpon Springs, Florida

"They say they don't have any camp sites," he said with a look of despair on his face.

"You're kidding," I said with a smile.

"All I want is that T-bone steak, at home or anywhere. I'm starving. Where is that green book that says there is a campground here?" We all began searching for the book that we had tucked away this morning, thinking it had served its full purpose. Finally I found it under a stack of newspapers, and we both headed for the office to see what could have gone wrong.

"It's right here in this camping guide," I told the park ranger, showing him the listing in black and white. He seemed to be rather taken aback and explained to us that the camping area of that park was being converted into additional parking areas. He said that occasionally someone still comes there with the purpose of camping. But since it was rather late in the day and our steaks were still raw, he consented to let us stay for the night in the area, but he said there might be a little difficulty arriving at the site. Workmen had been cutting down trees all day and placed them over the entrance road. The ranger guided us there in his truck and he drove over the trees without too much difficulty. Next we tried it with the Rambler and we just barely made it. The ex-camping area was neat and secluded - isolated, I should say, with a small lake over the edge of the hill. We noted the picnic grills and immediately prepared to get the steaks ready. While we were occupied with this, we heard the distant rumbling of thunder.

"Now I have had it. If we get a downpour in this place, we will have to carry the Rambler out on our backs. It would never make it." Johnny then began tossing everything back into the car and said we would have to try for home tonight, even if it took all night. So we moved some of the brush out of the road so we could get out again and headed for home.

We were back in Illinois again before it got dark. I was driving as night was settling down around us. By the time I had reached Danville, night had completely enveloped us. As soon as I had driven through the city, I was lost. I was driving along strange highway with no lines painted on it and at the first indication of a line, I followed it. I found myself driving along a new stretch of super-highway, with no lines and no signs. After a short time of this, I turned the driving over to Johnny. That was the most helpless feeling I have ever known.

Our maps had been buried under everything else, so the only thing we could do was keep heading in the direction we thought was home - north. When we turned off the highway which was going in the wrong direction, we found ourselves on a one-lane highway, with the shoulders used when another car approaches. We met two cars on this road. Occasionally we saw signs indicating towns which we had never heard of. Eventually we came to a sign that said "KICKAPOO STATE PARK - AHEAD."

Val holding recently caught
remora and long dead crab,
Fort Pickens, Florida

"So you still want to camp tonight and you led me here purposefully," Johnny replied with some conviction.

"I was just as much lost as you were," I told him severely.

"You were not. You did this on purpose." Finally I convinced him that I was lost, for although we knew we were near the park, we still didn't know where we were without a map.

However, we kept heading in what we thought was the right direction and eventually found ourselves in Kankakee again, where we had been lost once before. From now on we were quite familiar with the roads and lost no more time getting home.

Mother and our dog were glad to see us return, but with the baby it was entirely different. Vicky just looked at us as if she didn't recognize us, and then was elated with joy when she saw Valerie. However, we enjoyed the warm and cordial greeting of our dog.

We just can't wait now to replenish our camping equipment and proceed with our new-found sport on a more sane basis. But we will have to wait another year before we go out on a long trek, preferably to the seashore again, where there is always some new and fascinating adventure awaiting us.

larvalbug bytes archives / Main Index / previous / next