Campy Mack in her natural habitat

Campy Mack in her natural habitat

I skipped the outdoorsy camping phase in college (tent who?), but I’m more than making up for it as a confused adult. Living in Arizona has definitely induced this back-to-nature attitude and sprint to anything smelling like dirt and unmown weeds. Camping in the wilds with only a Coleman tent and dad’s flashlight is a far cry from the “glamping” I used to do - that usually involved foam mattresses, cabins, mess halls with vending machines and a working sink to wash my eyebrows in. Those experiences were chump change though; nothing can compare to lying on the raw earth and staring up at the Milky Way stretching out before you, twinkling.

I wanted to write about my first (and second and third) camping adventures because they felt like formative times, reminiscent of high school or early college. My perspective towards earth and my place within her shifted, and this primal being1 inside of me was revealed. However, I’m glad my camping hunger was only revealed to me at 23 years old - any earlier, and I wouldn’t have as deep an appreciation for the skies, peace and my root chakra. Spirituality aside, camping is entertaining and thrilling from a physical standpoint, and I love feeling gross, hair all matted and face shiny.

To kick off my camping manifesto, I went to Big 5 and stocked up on the essentials. Big 5 is the discount version of REI and sells mid-quality outdoor gear for cheap. My boyfriend had already gifted me a two-person Coleman tent ❤️, so I bought hiking boots for $40, a (shitty) sleeping pad for $16 and a mummy sleeping bag for $30. I skipped the miniature cookware and padded bonfire chairs, opting to drink “car water” and use my faded camp chairs from college.

#WurstTip: actually spend the money and buy a comfortable sleeping pad. It’s the last line of defense between your creaky joints and the solid, packed earth. Nikhil has a lime green inflatable pad and it feels like a plastic snuggie.

Before I get into the meat of the article, I wanted to point out that I am an earthy person. Hiking, biking, canoeing, kayaking, long strolls by the cow fields and hot yoga are all activities I’ve flirted with. Camping was the final frontier for me, the quintessential proof that I was a woman of the soil. Especially over the past year, I’ve been craving more connections with nature because it’s the only thing that feels solid & welcoming to me. Nature doesn’t discriminate against good or bad people and she can rejuvenate anyone, if they want to be cleansed.

We drove from Scottsdale, Arizona to the Grand Canyon and hiked for a few hours along the South Rim. The park was crawling with dogs and masked-up hikers, the pandemic seeming far-removed and more like a pesky inconvenience. After nearly sliding down the canyon wall (stay on the trail, kids!), Nikhil and I made our way to the campsite - I was clueless and bouncing around, still elated from being so close to rocks and critters. We booked our campsite through Airbnb and arrived after dark at around 7:00 p.m. Another pro tip for the camping noobs out there: set up camp while it’s still light outside. We drove down a deserted dirt road for about fifteen minutes until Google Maps smoothly said, “Your destination is on your right.” Our so-called “destination” was a patch of knotted weeds, sharp cacti and trampled grass. Our floodlights streamed ahead like subdued fire, illuminating our bumbling efforts at setting up the new Coleman for the first time.

Oh! I forgot to mention - as we were driving down this {sketchily} dark road, we heard a clamoring of human noise. I looked out my drivers seat window and a man was smiling through the darkness, signaling for me to lower the glass. I refused but he merely peered into my pale face and smiled again. “Sorry, I thought you were someone else!” he said and vanished into the black ink. We never saw him again, but I definitely had the crawly heebeegeebees for the first hour or so.

Driving around the wilds of Grand Canyon

Driving around the wilds of Grand Canyon

To my surprise, assembling a two-person tent is a skill easily acquired on the job. It helped that Nikhil was a seasoned camper and a member of the outdoor club at university - he directed me loftily with a “string that rod through here” and “ram the stake in at an angle to the dirt.” Despite having unnatural light and rumbling tummies, we managed to build a canvas home in twenty minutes. Our camp chairs were unfolded and the stars were peeping out of their blankets - by eight o’clock, the Milky Way was in full swing. The band of galaxy stars was so apparent, and I had never seen something so brilliant and opaque before. I took out my trusty binoculars and studied the skies carefully, as if seeing them for the first time. The moon was a lucid white and soon overshadowed the light of the Milky Way. She dominated, being nearly a full moon, and bathed our humble tent and mom car in pearls. I was already in love with camping. The cool air descended so warmly, and we ate our tupperware dinner in the car (along with throngs of moths that snuck in while we were unpacking).

The inside of the tent was more spacious than I expected. Maybe Nikhil and I are just tiny people, but there was ample room for our sleeping pads, sleeping bags, work backpacks and toiletries. Speaking of personal hygiene, I realized there isn’t much of that when you’re camping without running water or bathrooms. I splashed water blindly on my face, fished contacts out of my eyes and brushed my teeth for approximately twenty seconds (I didn’t want to spit out Colgate on the plants!). I was gross and could feel the boogers lodging in my nostrils - I didn’t mind though. I enjoyed feeling natural and unconcerned about appearances; there was no pressure to fix my eyebrows or flick dandruff out of my hair. We were living and breathing like we were always meant to be - openly and close to the ground. I felt connected to my nameless ancestors, those hunter gatherers that spent every eve under the Milky Way.

Huddling inside the tent was paradise. 😌 We didn’t tell each other ghost stories or play finger puppets against the moonlight. We were exhausted and welcomed our sleeping bags, worn out by all the driving and perilous hiking and weirdo stranger encounters. My mummy sleeping bag was a pocket of fun, and I loved wiggling around in it like the Eric Carle caterpillar. As I alluded to above, my sleeping pad was useless. I might as well have been sleeping on the bare ground with a tanktop between me and cacti roots. I also forgot to bring a pillow, so I was resting on mounds of towels and sweatpants…the setup was amateur at best, but my back slowly acclimated and we fell asleep.

Sleeping outside, what a dream! I awoke several times throughout the night - I heard a howling wolf, the temperature dipped to a frosty 40 degrees and my neck was stiff. Dreams roused my subconscious and were augmented by the alfresco “bed.” My mummy sleeping bag said it protected against 30 degree weather but my toes and thighs were chilled. None of these physical things mattered at all though; I was so happy to be sleeping and communing outdoors.

And the moon. 🌙

Waking up in a desert plain

Waking up in a desert plain

The morning sun peeked in at around six o’clock, and I was groggy and stiff all over. My eyes were gummed together, Nikhil’s hair was a pile of barbeque curly fries and my makeshift pillow was a mess. I’ll never forget the moment I saw the landscape around me, flooded with early morning sunlight. Since Nikhil and I arrived in the dark, I had no clue what my surroundings were - and I was shocked, mouth wide open at 6:15. in the a.m. I was sleeping in a beige field, interspersed with grazing patches and small RVs. The interstate was barely perceptible and the mountains loomed on the Northern horizon; it was so golden, so quiet. Our tent was an army green fleck in the desert that spanned miles - so we sat in our camp chairs, not saying a word and soaking it all in. The sun collided with the cold air and created an atmosphere that felt like a steaming bowl of homemade oatmeal. So this was what camping was all about?

After the sparseness of this Grand Canyon camping, I was hooked - no, addicted and committed to living a grimy outdoor life. While we were hiking in Zion National Forest and staying in St. George, Utah for the week, we booked another campsite at Arcosanti for the return journey. I kept daydreaming about the visceral experience of camping, how sapien-like and overwhelming the process is. I wanted to catch bison or gather mushrooms in the wild, really be an authentic person from hundreds of thousands of years ago. How is this urge, so animalistic and unnecessary since the dawn of agriculture, so strong? Why do I get nostalgic about not living a nomadic life anymore? I’m glancing between my iPhone, laptop, bluetooth headphones, iPad, Kindle, second laptop - and here I am, longing to be naked in a canvas hut.

Arcosanti is a “projected experimental town” on the outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona. It’s a small community of artists and thinkers that subscribe to arcology, the concept of integrating architecture with ecology as pioneered by Paolo Soleri. Although the collective is only a few concrete buildings (including a stunning apse, Roman vaults and amphitheatre), the grounds are sprawling. The place rests on the top of a cliff overlooking a thin valley and grazing heifers. A stream runs through this overgrown valley and a few Arcosanti residents have their homes in that secluded stretch. Our campsite was on the further edge of the cliff and looked directly into the ravine, overgrown with cacti and verdant trees. “Idyllic” doesn’t even begin to cover it. Also, I was surprised that the temperature was so forgiving - we were one hour outside of Phoenix (the hell capital of heat) and I was getting chilly as the sun went down.

Setting up our tent took three seconds and I laughed, so exasperated that I hadn’t discovered this al naturale peanut butter way of living before. The ground was softer than the Grand Canyon plain but the bugs were more insistent on making friends with us. I remember lying in my sleeping bag when a giant moth (or was it a flying spider?) attached to the mesh on the outside of the Coleman. I was spooked but also felt motherly because all creatures are in this bizarre world together, right?

Since Arcosanti was a quasi-civilization, they had bathrooms and running water that ruined the caveman vibes. It was nice getting to brush my teeth and urinate in a toilet, but I somewhat missed the freeness of having no amenities. “Living off the land” isn’t really possible when there’s plumbing and lamplight. The architecture lit up something inside me though, making me miss my glorious art history and museum internship days. Arcosanti looks like Italy and smells like a garden, blooming with ripe heirloom tomatoes and squash. A few people were walking around in masks and whispering, filling up their water bottles from the “good” fountain (according to our Hipcamp host, Ana). It was definitely an odd place to find ourselves camping, but olive and walnut trees were surrounding our tent - and nothing is more Meditteranean and beautiful than that.

Hiking in Arcosanti

Hiking in Arcosanti

Again, the temperature dipped into the fifties and my toes were huddled in the warmth of my mummy bag. I slept soundly on the packed dirt and relished the sun rising over the valley; my alarm clock was roosters and lowing cows. The nomad lifestyle was taking a toll on my body (I hadn’t eaten since the afternoon before and drove six hours too), but I hiked with Nikhil for an hour anyway. Arcosanti has an amazing trail that leads to the top of the opposite cliff - if you can find it. Nikhil and I spent 45 minutes walking on rattlesnake rocks and bee-filled weeds before realizing we had taken the wrong path. But those last 15 minutes of finding/hiking the real path were worth it!

#WurstTip: if you’re hiking at Arcosanti, go down the crumbling staircase and follow the path by the red pole. There’s a makeshift fireplace (?) and wild wheat lining the slope that leads to the other side.

Bleary eyes and an empty belly.

Desert sunsets in Arcosanti

Desert sunsets in Arcosanti

Our second campsite by the Burning Man sculpture

Our second campsite by the Burning Man sculpture

My second time camping at Arcosanti was similar, but our campground this time was by the outdoor couches and burning man sculpture. 🤙🏾 I love packing leftover dinner in tupperware and eating with my hunny before setting up camp for the night. It’s like our own primordial apartment, the ancient version of the Misty Palms Oasis. I don’t mind wearing my glasses the next morning and having random bits of straw and fluff stuck to my hairline. Camping is the essence of being a person; it’s the only way to recapture who we used to be as a species. In these complex times, when I’m worried about deferred revenue and dying from a virus, nature seems to be the only mental and physical repose. Solid ground used to be our bedroom - let it take care of you again.


  1. I didn’t get weird or anything; the moon simply showed me her celestial ways. ↩︎