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(This arti­cle may or may not con­tain affil­i­ate links. What does that mean?)

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.

Us before kids (just in dif­fer­ent bodies)

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.

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Ahh this is the life.…

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.

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Thank you mom­my for not mak­ing me sleep in the dirt

Last week, though, we got invit­ed to go camp­ing at the Kamp­gournds of Amer­i­ca KOA Ven­tu­ra Ranch camp­site. The promised accom­mo­da­tions list­ed 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),

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OK, maybe not that bad but kin­da scary! (Pho­to cour­tesy Warn­er Bros.)

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.

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A whole ros­ter of fam­i­ly fun!

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.

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Our week­end view

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.…and the place from which we’d be view­ing it.…

Camp­ing essen­tials awaited.

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Campers need s’mores kits with white wine to wash them down.….

The boys could­n’t wait to explore and luck­i­ly we brought their bikes.

PRO TIP: bring the bikes!

PRO TIP: bring the 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.

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Kaleb mak­ing new friends

Some­thing unique to this camp­ing site, though, was the pre­pon­der­ance of pea­cocks strut­ting around.

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Hot to trot

They real­ly were everywhere.

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Kaleb decid­ed he would try to make friends with them too.

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Here kit­ty kit­ty kitty

They may have been turned off by his assertive nature.

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Our first camp­ing injury

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.

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The out­doors brings out the grill in a man!

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Is it ready yet?

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Now we’re talking!

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Gourmet kid dinner

Then it was time to meet the oth­er mem­bers of our group over an old fash­ioned s’mores cookout.

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Show­ing ’em how it’s done

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Fire’s smokey!

 

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Oh oh!

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still yum­my!

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.

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So cozy.….

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Ahh­hh.…

While Mom­my and Dad­dy sat on the porch with a glass of wine.…

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.IMG_9566

The boys must have gone up and down 20 times each.

Mom­my made it to the top — once. Almost.

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It’s hard­er than it looks!

There’s also a track around which you can ride ped­dle carts.

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Kaleb mak­ing more new friends.

Next it was time to take our (my) tired arms and cre­ate a mem­o­rable sou­venir: a tie-dyed KOA t‑shirt.

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Cre­at­ing art in nature is the best.…

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Nope, it does­n’t wash off.…

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Kaleb mak­ing more new friends.…he real­ly is a friend­ly guy!

This was a fan­tas­tic project we got to take home and proud­ly wear our cre­ation 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.

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Wav­ing good­bye to their fans

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.

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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.

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Wait. Are you sure we want to do this?

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OK, we’re ready!

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I’m gonna pee my pants!

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Don’t pee your pants!!!!

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Yippeeee! (no peeeeeee!)

Mom­my got to go too!

Next in our turn­stile of activ­i­ty, we got to go min­ing for gems in the KOA kamp­site quarry.….or rather min­ing station.

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Ye ol’ water­ing hole

Min­ing is free but you have to buy a bag of good­ies buried in sacred sand to par­tic­i­pate. Those vary between$7-$25.

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Ready to get rich!

First you dump the con­tents of the bag into the sifter.

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Then you sub­merge the pans into the water to let the water uncov­er your treasures.

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Sift­ing, sifting…

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OMG! Look Knox!

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EUREKA! Just like the old­en days.

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.

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Tru­ly terrified.

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 riv­er bank, which of course, led to the dis­cov­ery of rocks, which of course led to the activ­i­ty of throw­ing them.

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Prac­tic­ing in case we actu­al­ly find Big Foot

Along the way we passed by some of the oth­er cool accom­mo­da­tions avail­able to guests.

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What an adventure

There is a row of super deluxe cab­ins which were first fea­tured on the TV show, Amer­i­can Dream Builders.

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I used to be on TV, now I just hang out with peacocks

It was a con­test to see who could design the cutest lit­tle space.

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It’s what’s on the inside that counts anyway

Cor­ry bought the cab­ins after the shows aired and now rents the spaces out for wed­dings and to high-end glampers.

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Would you want to get mar­ried here? I do! I do!

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.

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See? We’re not even try­ing to kill each other!

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.

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Clear­ly a trans­port for­got­ten by NASA

They went on a short space mission.

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Cap­tain! I think I see life!

That night, after din­ner, we went with a big­ger group on an actu­al search for the leg­endary beast, Big Foot.

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Spookyyyyyy

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 using the fire­wood they had provided.

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There is a store onsite in case you for­get some glamp­ing essen­tials but no but­ter for your corn. So if you for­get that, you’re out of luck.

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Gra­tu­itous camp­fire selfie.

This was a great trip and such a short dri­ve from our house, 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.

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So do you camp? A sur­vey released this year called the 2016 North Amer­i­can Camper Report  says more of us are. More than half of us are mil­len­ni­als, 18% are African-Amer­i­can and 11% are His­pan­ic. What’s your favorite part or mem­o­ry you trea­sure? Let’s go camping!