The Camping Novice

© 1980, 2011, 2015  By Bob Litton

NOTE TO READERS: This column that I wrote 35 years ago doesn’t require much in the way of a preface except to note one odd bit of content in the sixth paragraph. There I mention the sound of a chattering TV set, and the Big Bend is in a very remote area of the state—about two hundred miles away from the nearest TV reception capability. That wouldn’t have mattered if the campers could have brought a VCR with them, but this event occurred in 1972: Sony didn’t introduce Betamax until 1975, in Japan, and JVC didn’t put VHS units out until the next year, also in Japan. The only nearly plausible third alternative I can imagine is that a TV station in northern Mexico might have been accessible. If not, then all I can suppose is that the family in the camper were listening to an audio tape of some radio show. Whatever! I am leaving the sentence, true or not, in my little essay primarily because it adds color.


∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ 

Pulling into my driveway late one night last week, I saw a skunk standing by the side of the house.  He saw me, too, and raised his tail menacingly as I got out of the car.  However, after sensing I was chicken, he lowered it again and slipped through one of the holes in a cinder block at the base of the house.

The incident reminded me it’s high time I went camping again in Big Bend.  Here I am, only 180 miles from mountain and canyon country, and I haven’t been down there yet.  In fact, my one and only journey to Big Bend was the one I made all the way from Dallas back in 1972.

Was that an episode!

Not having any camping gear of my own, I borrowed a bedroll and a picnic awning from some friends.  (The awning was to serve as my tent.)  Then I cleaned out the few canned goods in my pantry and headed south.

For three days and three nights I “roughed it” in the Chisos Basin camp, where they have all the amenities like piped water and barbecue grills.  There I placed my “tent” between some boulders and a couple of pine trees.

During the day I took little hikes.  In the evenings I sat at the edge of the camp ground which sloped sharply downward into a canyon.  From my vantage point I watched wildlife in a wilderness habitat—three buzzards circling around looking for dead rabbits.  Behind me I could hear a television set chattering in a trailer, a guitar being strummed up the road, and children riding around on their tricycles.

After dark, the skunks would prowl around the tables begging for handouts.  One of the park rangers told me not to worry about them.  “They’ll come right up to the tables,” he said, “but they won’t bother you unless you scare them.”

My “tent” drew many a curious gaze from the other campers as they strolled by.  The third night a man halted long enough in his constitutional to shake his head, chuckle and ask, “The snakes been to visit you yet?”


“Funny, I thought sure they’d love a getup like that.”

His comment, snide though it obviously was, achieved its intent.  That night I piled dirt and rocks around the gaping bottom of the tent.  Then I fastened the front flaps as thoroughly as I could, considering they weren’t made to be fastened.

Not having a watch, I couldn’t tell what time it was when I was wakened by a nudge behind my knee.  The promised rattler!

I lay there staring at the wall of the tent in the pitch dark.  I dared not flick a muscle.  How would I know if and when it would leave?  How many hours of the night were left?

Then I felt it again, only now it was a sniffing touch at my ear lobe.  No snake.  A coyote?  A skunk?

I lay still perhaps 15 or 20 minutes more—until I could stand it no longer.  Even if it meant a load of skunk stink in the face, I must end this awful tension.  I must turn over.

There was nothing there.  I began to wonder if I had dreamed it.  No, the first nudge might have been explained that way, but the ear lobe business had happened while I was more than wide awake.

With a flashlight I looked for tracks or other evidence of the animal’s nature.  Not even Geronimo could have found paw prints on that rocky ground!

Next morning I pulled up stakes (figuratively speaking) and set to folding up the awning.  However, the night’s deposit of dew glistened all over the canvas, and I hated to fold it up wet.  I spread it out over the boulders, pulling it this way and that, trying to arrange it so that the maximum of morning sunlight would reach it.  But the morning clouds kept intercepting the sun’s rays, and even when the sun shone full upon it there didn’t seem enough heat forthcoming to dry up a single dew drop.

An elderly couple who had just arrived that morning were unloading their camp gear up the road.  Although some distance away, I could distinctly hear the woman’s voice in the crisp mountain air.

“Look, Charles.  That poor man doesn’t know how to fold his tent.”

— The Monahans News, September 21, 1980


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