Campsite Selection Hits Home

Recently there was an article about a boulder that crashed into a home in St. George, Utah.  This struck me as an excellent example of a lesson in campsite selection.

Hiking to a new camp in the desert.

Hiking to a new camp in the desert.
Photo courtesy of Paul Bojan.

When hiking the trail and looking for a “home” for the night we look for a few things.  Water for drinking, cooking and washing is nice.  Wood for fire and shelter is good to have as well.  We pay attention to the weather to determine if we will be challenged by the weather at night.   We look for “wigglies,” which is anything that may squirm into bed with you – whether as small as an ant or large as a bear – for we do not want unwelcome visitors to our little nest.  Finally, but most important of which, we look for “widow makers.”  It is the widow makers that the article brought to mind.

Widow makers are anything that will bring an untimely demise to a spouse – the spouse who is camping.  Boulders rolling off ledges fall into this category.  Likewise falling trees or branches, flash floods and lightning fit into this category.  The lesson is that before making a nest in which to slumber comfortably, look around, look up, look down.  Look with a critical eye.  Look for the newspaper article headlines “Camper Dies in Sleep, Crushed by …”

When I was young in the outdoor education industry I followed the leader.  The school where I worked had a base camp at which there was this great ponderosa pine that made an exquisite location for a nightly nest.  The senior instructors always went to this tree to set up camp and I followed.  We called this tree “the Penthouse.”  I slept snuggly under this tree for many a night until one day I realized that it went absolutely contrary to the most important criteria  of campsite selection.  It was a widow maker.  It was a lightening rod.  It was in the middle of an open field and it was the tallest thing in the vicinity.   Without too much scrutiny, it was easy to discern from the thin strip of bark that was removed in a pattern that spiraled around the trunk from top to bottom that it had indeed been hit by lightening before, probably more than once.  I have never slept under that tree again.  I found that I also sleep better when my mind is not on the things that might kill me at night.

Yes, it is nice to have water and wood and protection from weather and no little insects to bother you in the night.  But, it is critical not to sleep in the position of a widow maker.  Remember it may be easy to react to something when awake, however, when deep in slumber reflexes are significantly hampered and reaction time is somewhat nonexistent.   Make the determination of where to sleep for yourself and do not follow the leader or be cajoled into camping in an unsafe location.  To modify an age old saying, “It is good to look before you sleep.”  Sleep Well.

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