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Before children, camping was an adventure. We got dirty. We drank during the day. We slept on the dirt with only a thin layer of stuffed polyester protecting our bodies from the rocks. We cooked on grills powered by fires we painstakingly built from twigs and newspapers. We powered through the day and talked around the campfire late into the night. S'mores.
After my first son, Kaleb was born, I couldn't muster up the enthusiasm to do it while practicing Attachment Parenting which involves: nursing on demand (=no sleep) and still enjoy the sun and the waves that had become the staple of our annual surf camping trips. It just wasn't going to happen. And then it did. We rented a luxury RV, something I said I'd never do, ridiculing it as glamping (glamour camping) instead of actual 'set-up your own tent, shower under cold water in under 3 minutes and bring a huge cooler full of food that you hoped wouldn't spoil in the 3-5 days it would be under the blaring sun' kind of camping.
It was actually pretty great. I got to sleep with my baby in an air-conditioned, quiet bed while the rest of the crew did whatever they wanted in the outside world. Kitchen, refrigerator, private bathroom with a hot shower. Plus all the regular camping stuff we loved. So it was settled, that's how it would be and that's how it's been the times we've gone camping since.
Kampgournds of America invited us to go camping at the KOA Ventura Ranch campsite. The promised accommodations in a Deluxe Cabin. This would be a curious departure from our newly redefined rough and tumble camping days aboard a mobile palace. Plus, we usually
glamped camped at the beach and this site was about half an hour inland.
OK, so let's talk about the location. First of all, who knew there was a secluded paradise nestled between a couple ghost towns only an hour's drive from Los Angeles? Well, maybe not ghost towns but we definitely felt like we were crossing into another world (picture the movie Deliverance), as we all craned our necks to look out the side window when we drove by a deep ravine that housed what appeared to be the remnants of a mobile home and bulldozer.
My kids asked if anyone lived there. I said I didn't know. I couldn't see how they'd come and go if they did.
When we arrived at the site, we picked up our keys and got a glimpse of what awaited us for the weekend.
They directed us to a cabin that looked like it had very little to do with camping except for the magnificent surroundings in which it was set.
Camping essentials awaited.
The boys couldn't wait to explore and luckily we brought their bikes.
The thing about camping is camping people are really friendly. It's not like the real world. In this world, it's easy to meet new people and connect in warm and fuzzy ways.
Something unique to this camping site, though, was the legion of peacocks strutting their stuff.
They really were everywhere.
Kaleb decided he would try to make friends with them too.
They may have been turned off by his assertive nature.
We later learned that the peacocks have been there for generations. The land used to be owned by the Chumash Indians and the Chief visited the Australian Head of State back when they still lived on the campground land and it was a custom back then - by the Australians - to gift peacocks to all new relations established between countries. So that's how they got there and I thought it was pretty cool that they're still there!
Our weekend schedule was packed but the first item on the agenda was creating s'mores by the campfire and we didn't want to miss that so we had to tear ourselves from our explorations and get some grub on.
Daddy took the lead.
Then it was time to meet the other members of our group over an old-fashioned s'mores cookout.
After all that sugar, it was time to go to bed because we had a full day planned for tomorrow.
Once we were able to wrangle the jumping jellybeans into bed, they settled nicely into their loft beds.
The next day everyone was excited to hit the rock walls after breakfast. For $10, visitors are able to scale the walls and gently return to Earth only to go again.
The boys must have gone up and down 20 times each.
Mommy made it to the top - once. Almost.
There's also a track around which you can ride peddle carts.
Before kids, camping was a dirty adventure! Clean it up by glamping at Ventura Ranch KOA! Here's the best parts for kids!
Next, it was time to take our (my) tired arms and create a memorable souvenir: a tie-dyed KOA t-shirt.
This was a fantastic project we got to take home and proudly wear our creations around town. After lunch, it was time for a little excitement: zip lining.
There are two platforms from which riders can
plummet zip down. The first is 800 feet long and the second is 650. Riders speed along at 25 mph. It costs $15 for the first line and $25 for both.
After strapping on their gear, the boys were ready to go. Riders must be 70lbs. to ride alone but they can go tandem if they don't meet that requirement.
There are 485 KOA campsites around the country. Some of them are franchises that are privately owned. Ventura Ranch KOA owner, Scott Cory, loves his work and spent the weekend helping guests in a variety of activities. This Saturday afternoon, he spent hours on the hot platform strapping people safely onto the zipline.
Cory has a wonderful imagination and wants to turn the whole campsite into a nature wonderland for kids and families. He took this once dilapidated, mostly abandoned, county campsite five years ago and has already made it an escape for city families. He's got even greater plans to expand his vision. He wants to extend the length of the zip line ride. He's building more teepees and deluxe cabins and tents by next season since they're always so busy. He's also in the works of adding two new water slides to the pool area by 2018.
Next in our turnstile of activity, we got to go mining for gems in the KOA campsite quarry.....or rather mining station.
Mining is free but you have to buy a bag of goodies buried in sacred sand to participate. Those vary between$7-$25.
First, you dump the contents of the bag into the sifter.
Then you submerge the pans into the water to let the liquid uncover your treasures.
After cashing in on our treasures, we decided to commence our new life of leisure by exploring the various nature paths surrounding our campsite (er, cabin). We heard about the lovely Big Foot Trail and found a clue on how to get there.
We knew we'd be going on the Big Foot hike later with the group but we decided to see if we could find him on our own first. The trail led down to the riverbank, which of course, led to the discovery of rocks, which of course led to the activity of throwing them.
Along the way, we passed by some of the other cool accommodations available to guests.
There is a row of super deluxe cabins which were first featured on the TV show, American Dream Builders.
It was a contest to see who could design the cutest little space.
Corry bought the cabins after the shows aired and now rents the spaces out for weddings and to high-end glampers.
But back to our hike. We had had a really rough week as a family before we arrived on our retreat. Getting away from it all couldn't have come at a better time. There really is something about Mother Nature that soothes and brings out the best in everyone.
We saw a cute little playground after our hike and the boys found what appeared to be a stranded spaceship. So we had to check it out.
They went on a short space mission.
That night, after dinner, we went with a bigger group on an actual search for the legendary beast, Big Foot.
We did actually find him but for some reason, as luck would have it, my camera wouldn't take snap his picture, so you'll just have to take our word for it.
Finally, the kids couldn't stay awake another minute and mommy was yawning after our full day but we couldn't leave without lighting a campfire!
The onsite store has things like firewood in case you forget to buy it and other essentials items like wine but they don't carry butter for your corn. So if you forget that, you're out of luck.
This was a great trip and such a short drive from our house in Los Angeles, it was nice that the kids weren't trying to kill each other or whine through the last hours of the usual drive because it only took us about 45 minutes to get there on a Friday night! Bonus points!
We had to say goodbye to all our new friends after breakfast and before Knox was even done swallowing his food, he was already asking when we could come back.
Ventura Ranch KOA is 70 miles from downtown LA. Residents will know that the drivetime depends on traffic.