This trip started in September last year, after the girls competed in the regional Bible Bee. There was no worries about them making it past regionals, since they did not demonstrate the fire of desire to learn all 200 Bible verses and 200 Bible facts necessary to win the competition (no I am actually NOT exaggerating this time). In fact, when we received the two reams of paper with all the Bible verses to memorize, their enthusiasm for participating really waned. However, we worked through 3o verses or more and I wanted to reward them for their effort. When I asked them what they wanted, they both listed some kind of activity with me. My oldest asked for a fishing camping weekend. She had received a fishing pole from Grandpa D and was itching to use it again. While I was honored that she would consider time with me a reward, I knew that it would take a while to achieve because we were in the middle of football season with Kyle, which led up to the Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year's holiday season. Has anyone thought about calling it New Thankschristmas? I also had to work to research where we would go because I am not familiar with the campsites in Arizona. In Illinois, it would have been Illinois Beach State Park, 45 minutes from our house and right off Lake Michigan.
The weekend before our trip, as I was perusing Maricopa County Parks web site, I discovered Lake Pleasant Regional park. Doesn't that sound like a wonderful place to go camping? It is a man-made lake formed by damming a river and filling it with fish, located a little more than an hour from Mesa. Since it wasn't Kyle's birthday yet, I thought it would be the perfect time to fulfill my promise to Elizabeth. Because, Arizona is living in opposite world compared to the Midwest, I knew that I would be able to camp and have a fairly pleasant experience in the middle of winter. I discussed it with Eric who agreed and I gave LZ the joyful news that I would fulfill my promise to her. The campsites are available on a first-come/first-serve basis, so I decided to take all the kids to Lake Pleasant on Friday morning to stake out a camping site.
We packed a clothes bag on Thursday night and pulled the camping equipment out to make sure it had everything we needed (imperfectly, of course). We had already determined our menu and I bought the necessary items to accomplish it.
Friday morning, after some brief schooling, I loaded kids, dog, some supplies and the tent in the van and headed for Lake Pleasant, which is a little more than an hour away from Mesa. We found a campsite just off the water, which allowed LZ to go fishing any time. I worked on getting the tent set up, asking LZ to help now and then. I even have a picture of my son helping me. However, as soon as we pulled up, I realized that I had forgotten to bring the hatchet to use as a hammer to pound the tent stakes into the sand. For those of you who don't live in Arizona, sand packs down into near cement quality status. Eric had to use an impact hammer to get a hole deep enough in the ground to support our bird feeder hangars. Fortunately, Arizona has a lot of big rocks, too. I surveyed the copious rocks around our campsite and finally picked one that looked like it would not shred my hands as I pounded it on tent stakes. Thirty minutes later, we had the tent set up. It took that long because I had kids helping me, I had to stop and make sure the kids who were not helping me were staying out of trouble and to stop and help the kids take about fifteen burrs out of Jacques' hair and paws. Because it was pretty windy, I placed big rocks over the stakes to "help" them stay down, because I am not totally sure of my abilities to stake a tent well. We ate lunch, checked out the teeny, tiny visitor's center, and returned home for the final preparation--packing the cooler and the food bag. When Eric returned home, I packed the car and LZ and I started on our adventure. We cooked gardenburgers (LZ' choice) over the fire and munched on them and salad while drinking milk. At that point, I realized that the kitchen bin did NOT have dish soap packed. I used hand soap, since that was all that we had. We looked at stars and talked about past camping trips before going to bed. The night was very windy, and I kept waking up wondering if the stakes would hold. We also had people who felt the need to blast CCR at midnight for a bit. At least they have good taste in music. I didn't get much sleep.
Our alarm woke us up at 6 a.m. the next morning so that we could watch the sun rise and so that LZ could start fishing really early. It was cold! We wrapped ourselves in blankets and brought chairs down to the shore, along with her fishing pole. After the sun rose, I started making breakfast: sausages, apple cinnamon oatmeal in packets and hot chocolate. We ate the sausages right off the pan to limit dirty dishes. The hot food and drink was welcome. I was wishing I had some stronger caffeine, though. After clean-up, LZ went down to fish. Unfortunately, something happened to her fishing pole and it wouldn't retract the line, so she had to give up pretty quickly. To stave off dissappointment, we went back to the Visitor's Center, where I made purchases for her and the rest of the family. We toured the marina, found a boat rental place and then left for lunch--sausage, cheddar cheese, and sugar snap peas dipped in Rondelle cheese spread. Can you tell that we like cheese? We returned to the dock and rented a sea kayak for a few hours. This was LZ first time paddling. I would have to say that that was the best part of the trip. We talked to any friendly fisherman on the lake, enjoyed the mountains rimming the lake, paddled to see how fast we could go and to see how quickly we could stop. We also allowed the kayak to drift when our arms tired out. LZ paddled like a pro. We returned to the Visitor's Center, where a fishing expert fixed LZ' pole and gave her a lot of information about fishing along with a fishing poster. We returned to the campsite so that LZ could continue fishing and so that I could start a fire for dinner: roasted hot dogs, potato packets and roasted marshmallows. We played a couple of card games, but, honestly, by 8:30, we were tuckered out. It was getting pretty cold, so we bundled into the tent, got into PJs, put on a couple extra layers and read a National Geographic article about supervolcanoes before going to sleep. It was quieter this night than last night, but it was also colder. In the middle of the night, I actually had to use the extra blanket we brought!
Sunday morning, we crawled out of our sleeping bags well after the sun rose and only because our bodies were telling us that we needed to visit the bathroom. We ate zucchini bread which I had baked on Friday and drank hot chocolate. It was so cold and windy that we ended up sitting in the car to eat breakfast. LZ returned to fishing while I broke down the tent and washed the last of the dishes. We managed to fit everything back in the car and was home by 10:30. We had so much fun, it was hard to return to reality.
Lake Pleasant rating: It is about 30 minutes north of Carefree Highway. Basically, the lake has not affected the desert habitat at all, except to provide an area for fishing. There are three or four different campgrounds, but some people just pitched a tent near the shore. Most of the spots are set up for RVs, but the tent sites are pretty nice. The bathrooms are well maintained and there are showers. The nicest thing is that each campsite has its own water source, which was really appreciated. Most of the places where we have camped in the past have a few central water sources, which involves lugging water in water bags or big pots several hundred yards. It has one hiking trail and another, much smaller trail, linking one campground to the Visitor's Center. There is also a mini trail near the Visitor's Center going down to where some desert tortoises are currently hibernating. I can't really comment on the quality of the hiking trails since we really didn't go hiking. The Visitor's Center will occupy kids for ten minutes, max. Most of the "stores" around the campground have junk food and firewood, so if you forget an essential, you have to travel 30 minutes or more to civilization to get the item--or you just adapt without it. Really, the main reason to camp at Lake Pleasant should involve water--fishing, boating or a combination. It is a pleasant experience.