By Barry Zander
With red and blue lights a-flashing, into the campground came some of Yavapai County, Arizona’s, finest. They formed a circle, a la Wagon Train’s nighttime configuration, preventing anyone from escaping. Ah, the excitement of camping!
The day had begun with us looking for a place to camp and being directed by a U.S. Forest ranger to a meadow along a bubbling creek. Quiet, spacious, comfortable, the site was just what we wanted. A rustic spot on the border of civilization.
Early that afternoon, a car arrived with a dad and his toddler. After setting up camp, he walked over to let us know that more campers would soon arrive for Dad’s Night Out with the kids. “If we get too loud, just let us know,” he purred. How noble of the dads to take over watching over their youngsters in this natural environment!
One by one, the dads showed up with their kids, along with others not part of their contingent. They parked small RVs or pitched tents before joining in the social activities of the day. Our only involvement was when a 2-year-old walked up to us and announced, “Got to poo-poo.” We directed him back to his dad.
Day turned into night, with campfires raging and the aroma of hotdogs roasting over the flames. As the stars shone above, the children were put to bed and the dads sat around the big fire downing the traditional Dad’s Night Out brews. Until …
A gray van drove up. Out jumped something like a clowns’ car at the circus, a bevy of beauties, obviously the second round of babysitting for the dads, who shared beverages and laughter with their new party-minded guests.
It did get a bit noisy, but it was all in fun – there was nothing we felt obliged to do to interfere.
Until … the red and blue lights appeared. In came a swarm of party crashers in their starched tan uniforms and broad-brimmed hats. They immediately roused the partygoers from their logs and chairs, taking down names and numbers.
Among the throng was a young college student, who was at the park with her dad observing his birthday and who had innocently joined the circle, having been drawn in by the laughter across the campground. “Oh, please, sir,” she pleaded (something like), “I’m in law school. I want to be a judge someday, and this won’t look good on my resume.”
They let her off with a warning before putting away their ticket books, now filled with names and numbers, and drove off. The next morning the mood in the campground was somewhat somber, as you can imagine.
We later heard from other campers that deputies are well aware of the make-shift campground, so familiar with often rowdy parties and out-of-control bonfires that they patrol the area on a regular basis. For us, it was another interesting camping experience that kept us from ever being bored when we full-timed.