By Natalie Meggs
We knew we were getting close to our destination when the roads started to wind tightly through the countryside. We went miles before seeing another car, and we began to lose all cell phone service and touch with the hustle and bustle of the cities and towns we traveled through. With no help from Siri or a GPS, we were finally greeted by a large sign at the entrance of Table Rock State Park. I was already excited about our trip but the second I saw the sign I got giddy and felt like a child again.
When we arrived at our site, which was a large flat clearing with several fire pits, I couldn’t get out of the car fast enough! Each family — 17 of us total — began the planning and building process (because let’s be honest, when there are women and moms there will be a planning process). Once the plan was approved and instructions were given, the building began! Each family had their own little area separated by trees and pathways with easy access to the restroom and facilities. In no time, what started as a flat campsite became a colorful community of tents, chairs and picnic tables. No detail or amenity went unnoticed, and at this point we couldn’t even call it camping … it was “glamping!”
Because we had such a large group of campers, our list of kitchen essentials was divided among the adults. One family brought the propane grill (which is a must), cutlery, plates and utensils were brought by someone else and pots, pans and serving trays from another family. On Friday night, dinner was somewhat a free-for-all. We were all busy setting up camp before the sun went down so we decided on something fast and easy for dinner — hamburgers and hot dogs. And you can’t forget the s’mores; a camping must-have.
After dinner and clean up, we gathered all 17 chairs and circled around the fire pit for stories and a few drinks. The kids ran around the campground and played games while the adults caught up with one another and discussed activities for Saturday. After a full day of working, traveling and building what would be home for the next two days, we one-by-one disappeared into the darkness, crawled into our warm tents and fell asleep to the crackling of the fire and the sounds of the bugs in the darkness.
“RUFF! RUFF! SQUEAL! MOOOMMMM!” Good morning Table Rock! Don’t expect to sleep in when camping because unlike the insulated walls of your own home, your tent is nothing but a very thin piece of plastic that is definitely not a sound barrier. Just how we disappeared to our tents the night before, that morning we one-by-one appeared into the bright light and began to gather around the picnic table — for the food! As the fire was rebuilt, breakfast preparation was in order — bacon, sausage, fresh eggs and English muffins. I must say we have some very talented men (and women) in our lives and they can cook a mean breakfast.
So what exactly were we to do in Table Rock on a beautiful Saturday … well hike of course! The state park offers many activities year-round and many hiking trails that range in difficulty levels from easy to strenuous. We planned to hike around the lake, eat lunch, and if everyone was up for it, take another hike in the afternoon. After loading up 17 of us, two dogs and enough lunch to fill our bellies, we were off!
We chose to hike the Lakeside Trail that looped 1.9 miles around the east section of the Pinnacle Lake. The kids ran ahead of us and we followed close behind making sure to stop at every clearing of trees to take in the breathtaking views of the sparkling water and Table Rock ledge — oh and to take the perfect Instagram picture. The trail was marked with purple blazes that kept us on the right path as we moved through the forest. The leaves were just starting to change from green to a vibrant red and orange. We walked quietly, one in front of the other, stopping occasionally to pick up a good walking stick or snap a selfie.
After our hike, the thought of food wouldn’t parish from our minds, so we quickly piled back into the car and headed back to camp for gourmet ham and turkey sandwiches. Oh and about that afternoon hike — it never crossed our minds again. We all decided to take a little siesta in our tents and recharge for dinner preparation and our last night in the woods.
That evening the picnic table was filled with a smorgasbord of delicious home cooked and prepare meals — traditional chili, white chicken chili, pork chops, loaded baked potatoes, pasta salad, broccoli salad and the last few hotdogs for the kids. The only way we knew we were “glamping” and not at a dinner party were the disposable plates and utensils we used. Not once were we interrupted with Facebook notifications, the “ding” of an unread email or a text message that had to be answered. The laughter of friends, squealing of children and the occasional bark of a dog at anyone passing through to the restroom were the only sounds that filled our campsite. After a fun game of Heads Up with the group, we sat around the campfire recapping the weekend and made plans for our next trip. The voices around the campground began to quiet and we watched the glow of the coals slowly disappear and start to burn out … it was bedtime.
The early Sunday morning came with sounds of tarps being shaken out, the thud of tents hitting the ground and the packing up of cars as we all started to break down what was home for the two previous nights. A quick breakfast of powdered donuts and pop tarts would give us enough fuel to get home and capture a group picture of everyone — including the dogs. This brought the perfect weekend at Table Rock State Park to an end. We hugged everyone goodbye, promising to exchange photos when we got service and climbed into the truck to began our journey home. As we drove back through the winding country roads toward reality, we rolled the windows down to take in the last few breaths of fresh air. The smell of campfire smoke that filled my hair and clothes dissipated as we reached the highway and the wonderful weekend with new and old friends was now a distant memory.
What to Bring
When you first sit down to make your camping “To Pack” list, there are a few known basics — the tent, a sleeping bag (or air mattress depending on how fancy you want to get), blankets, firewood, your hiking boots — but, what about the essentials? The things you remember while you’re sitting around the fire pit or preparing dinner for 17 people? I am personally an over-packer and like to be “over” prepared, so as soon as I found out I would be going camping I scanned Pinterest, read over every amenity for our campsite and searched several blogs just to make sure I had everything I would need!
This list will differ from campsite to state park but you can never be too prepared!
A Few Forgotten Essentials:
- Warm clothing (jackets, hats and gloves) for cool nights
- Toiletries (Table Rock State Park had wonderful facilities near our campsite)
- Bug spray and sunscreen
- Flashlights (with extra batteries)
- Fire starters
- Duck tape and/or zip ties (believe it or not we used this!)
- A good set of serving spoons and a knife
- Pots and pans
- Baby wipes
- Hand sanitizer