It started out as a normal camping trip. We had friends driving up from the Springs to go camping at Vedauwoo. You remember Vedauwoo?
The plan was for our friends, let's call them Rachel and Loolie, to leave the Springs at about 4 and reach our place before 6. That would give us time to get up to Wyoming and set up camp before dark. We planned on cooking dinner up there, so had no other plans.
They were almost to our exit about 8:45 pm. Almost three hours later than expected. We were starving and snarling hungry. We headed up the highway about 30 minutes before them, telling them to catch us, since we were going to need to stop and eat. We hit a food place just off the highway at about 9, then got back on the road, still in front of them, and blazed for Wyoming.
We should have seen that as an omen.
When we hit the turn-off for Vedauwoo, they were only a few minutes behind us. We waited at the entrance for them and then they followed us back to the camping spot. I had, at that point, been camping in the same place for 10 years. It was just down the hill from where we camp now. We had dug out a three foot by four foot by four foot firepit, that I religiously emptied of trash and beer bottles and spent shotgun shells every year. (Hunters, or just good ole' Wyoming boys). It was topped with flat rock we had salvaged from the area and was big enough to hold a person. I had confiscated a rack from an old heating cabinet when I worked at Taco Bell, which fit across the top of the firepit, providing a stable place to cook on. We stored the rack and a rake under a rock at the campsite which no one ever found. There was a dream catcher woven into the branches of our favorite tree, the one J's cat loved to climb when we took him camping. This was our home away from home and we treated it as such.
The first time I took J there we started with setting up tents and then I went to gather firewood. She climbed down into the firepit to start a fire. It was a great minimalist fire with a flame about two inches high. I came back into camp with a huge armful of wood to see her proudly displaying her little fire (maybe six inches in diameter). She beamed at me that she had a fire going. I looked down into the pit and said, "Oh, so cute. That's not a fire." I dropped my entire armful of firewood into the hole. It blazed up. "That's a fire."
I really have no idea why she married me.
And now you know why the hole was so deep. And why we raked the area clear of fuel. And why we carry tons of extra water. I like big fires and I can not lie. But, we never have a fire when the fire danger is high, we never have a fire without extra water, we always rake the coals and drown them, and we never have a fire when the wind is high. I have no desire to burn down my beloved forest.
It was my special place. It was the only placed we camped or had camped for years. It was the first place we took T camping and I knew it was safe. It was perfect.
That night, at 11:30 pm, when we hit the turn off there was a saw horse up, kind of half over the road. It had a little piece of caution tape fluttering from one end. We stopped and looked at it. I double-checked the sign that was posted at the entrance. They close that area from March until the end of May because mommy moose like to have their babies there. It was supposed to open on the day we were driving in. After talking about it, I decided it hadn't been moved by the Forest Service and the road was actually open. We drove back to our camping site. There was no one else camping along the road, but that didn't really make an impression on me.
Now, when we first started camping there the access road was open, although there was a gate up. Two years before this trip, FS had closed the access because the good ole' boys were going down into the meadow at the end of the road and mudding. It became our common practice to drive down to the camp site, unload all of our stuff and then take the truck back up to the outside of the fence. We knew we were in violation of the Forest Service limitations, but it caused minimal impact and we were basically lazy. At that point I had a 18 quart cast iron dutch oven, a griddle, two frying pans and a small pie baker. That's about 200 lbs of cast iron. This time was no different. We unloaded, got the lanterns lit and then drove the truck back up.
We got the tent up and the boy and cat settled (yes, we camped with Taz until we got the dogs. We got the dogs for protection and warning. Taz was sad until he got to old to enjoy it.) Exhausted and frustrated, we crashed.
The next morning I was up with the sun. I gathered firewood and started a fire. J and I started coffee, then began breakfast. Loolie (who we really didn't like, but were making an effort because we love Rachel) walked up with her coffee mug and asked where the coffee was. I asked her if she had brought coffee. She answered that she was under the impression that I was providing food and cooking and all she needed was a coffee mug. She had not packed any thing for them to eat on, nor food to share. They had packed snacks and lunch stuff but was expecting me to do all the cooking and providing of food. Thank goodness my tendency is to always over pack. Once she had her coffee (cowboy coffee out of an old time percolator, it's the best) she took Rachel off for a walk while J and I made breakfast.
I was boiling mad.
Just as breakfast was served (in cups and bowls because we did not have enough plates, stupid me), and I had put the first bite in my mouth, about 60 people came walking down the hill in a line about two feet apart.
Fuck. A full-scale grid search doesn't look like anything else. They were very surprised to see us as they walked through our camp. Someone had found a head out by the highway and they were grid searching for the rest of the human remains. I pretty much lost my appetite at that point. The meaning of the saw horse and the caution tape became very apparent in hindsight, and J and I started to pack camp immediately. We were about half way done when the Wyoming Sheriff's department came down to talk to us. Luckily, the guy was feeling generous and didn't issue tickets or arrest us. He verbally took us down and then told us to clear the area as quickly as possible. Since it was obvious we were already doing so, he stood back to watch.
Rachel and Loolie grabbed their small tent, their two sleeping bags and their small cooler and made one trip to the car. Then they wandered off. I have no idea where they went, but they left us with 200 lbs of cast iron to clean, pack and carry up the hill. Plus, the tent, three sleeping bags, two full coolers, three lanterns, camp chairs, thermarests, various and sundry camping items, three 6 gallon containers of water, a cat and a three year old. We got camp cleaned up, the fire out (emptied the water figuring we would find more) and turned to look at the pile of stuff we needed to haul out, since we couldn't drive the truck back down the hill with both the FS and the Sheriff standing right there.
Just then, the grid searchers came back through camp heading back up the hill. Every single one of them grabbed an item and carried it back up for us. It was an amazing act of kindness that our own friends hadn't seen fit to do. I gathered T up on my back and J grabbed the cat and we headed back up to the truck. We headed out. It would be years before we went back to that area, although we did camp in other places in Vedauwoo.
We drove out and stopped at the entrance to discuss options with Rachel and Loolie. They had pulled out lunch items from their cooler and ate while we talked. We couldn't get to our cooler without pulling everything out of the truck. T was so hungry he was crying. We headed into town to get food and water for the containers. From there we headed to Red Feather Lakes in Colorado to camp one more night.
One of the things I should probably explain is that Rachel and J have known each other since before college. Rachel is T's Godmother and we enjoy spending time with her. We understand her foibles and we understand what a weekend visit with her entails. T loves her and she is great with him. That is worth the eccentricities we deal with and I know we will be feeding her. We don't however, like Loolie at all. Loolie is jealous that Rachel still spends time with us. She consistently picks a fight when Rachel is visiting, or right before Rachel gets to our house. She knows how to push Rachel's buttons. And she seriously has some issues when it comes to taking care of things.
So, we drive to the new campsite. Set up the tents and get bedding inside. Then head out to find fire wood, because it is now evening and we need to cook dinner. I found a dead fall tree that someone had taken down with a chainsaw and cut all of the branches off the trunk, then left the branches. I called Rachel and J to help me and we carried enough wood down to feed the fire for the night. When we got back down to the firepit we discovered Loolie trying to batter a piece of green wood with my axe, which she had taken out of the truck. My axe works okay on really dry wood, basically being a heady awl you can use to split the wood with, but it's definitely not sharp enough to cut through super green wood. Loolie got more and more frustrated with the lack of progress she was making and finally gave up. She took the long handle axe and set it against a tree, head up and blade pointing out. It was at T's face height.
I asked her what the hell she was doing, because that was dangerous for T.
She replied that that was the proper way to store an axe. I told her she needed to find the cover and put it away before T got hurt.
She grabbed the axe and shoved it in a crotch of a very small tree, once again leaving the blade exposed on the far side of the tree at T's head height, instead of finding the cover and putting the axe away. By this point I was completely beyond caring what she thought and grabbed the axe, asking where the hell the cover was. She said she didn't know and went off to fight with Rachel. I found the axe cover tossed in a bush where she had left it, put it on the axe and put the axe away in the truck, then locked the truck.
J and I made stew for dinner. Cleaned up the dishes. Put everything away. Had just sat down in our camping chairs, with the boy on my lap when Loolie, who had been lounging in a chair during dinner prep, asked where dessert was.
That was when I killed her and hid the body.
That is when J and I took the boy and the cat and went to bed. As we crawled in the tent, J discovered the cat, who had been outside practically all day, had peed on the bottom of her sleeping bag. We figured out a way to keep her warm, got the boy snuggled in and the cat happy and turned off the light. I know J was lying there, just like me, fuming, angry and frustrated about the day, vowing to never, ever do this again, when T spoke up out of the dark.
"I love camping."