During one of those times that I was either eight or twelve, our family was into camping a lot. We would trapes around Arizona pitching our tent in the national forests and enjoy the vast world in which we live. The various ecosystems of Arizona provided a huge amount of variety and entertainment from the howling of coyotes around your tent in the saguaros and creosote in the middle of the night to the rustling of aspen leaves in crisp air of the mountains. The game of what’s outside my tent can be endless: Bear? Porcupine? Badger? Scorpion? Coyote? Javalina? Squirrel? Although, nothing has ever gotten me as effectively as when the muntjac and I freaked each other out.
On this particular camping adventure, there was a whole new level added to the game. My mom had decided to take my sister and I camping in the Verde Valley. We would hit Sycamore Canyon for some nice hiking and Toozigoot National Monument for some culture. The location chosen for camping was squarely between these, a place called Peck Lake.
Naturally, being long term residents of Arizona means that we took this with a rather large grain of salt. The Rio de Flag (read River of Flagstaff) is after all little more than a four or five foot ditch that only runs with water in the heaviest of storms, and then never for more than about five days if you’re lucky. Most lakes in the state are actually around the best campsites because they are relatively flat, devoid of trees, and they almost never live up to their name. Peck Lake actually did have some water, which was surprising in the late summer. Nevertheless, we should have been fine camping a good quarter mile from the shore.
The trip started to go awry with dinner. The dinner was much anticipated, for mom had made pork parmesan and beef stew and sealed them in seal-o-meal™ bags. A short time boiling, and we would have the finest of mom’s home cooking in the middle of the desert. We were stoked.
The stove was not.
We had forgotten the matches, and it is remarkably hard to start a stove or boil water without those, despite the temperatures being what felt like a scant three degrees below boiling in the summer desert of Arizona. We stayed determinedly cheery as we chewed diligently through cold chunks of meat and sauce with random bits of hard cheese and vegetables. We had managed to set the tent up before it got dark after all, and that is a good thing.
Eventually, we wandered into the tent to try to stretch bed time all the way out to nine o-clock as you do when camping, read some of the latest book as a story, in which my mom probably left us on a cliff-hangar, and finally drifted off to sleep.
Sometime in the middle of the night, which I will call 12:00 for convenience, it started to rain. The end of the summer is monsoon season in Arizona, and most of us call monsoons the thunderstorms created rather than the actual shift of winds that brings the moisture up from the South East and Gulf of Mexico that the term actually applies to. There is an astounding amount of water that both falls and then immediately flows down the canyons that make the state so picturesque. They all end up in Peck Lake, or at least that is what it seems like.
Around, let’s say, 2:00, the level of the lake rose, and my sister and I started to complain. We were certainly not asleep. Mom kept reassuring us that it was fine, and just to stay away from the edges of the tent. The tent was getting old and the waterproofing shaky. Even in new tents, touching the side of a rain-laden tent is asking for an immediate soaking. The problem was the water wasn’t coming in from the sides.
We kept complaining diligently as only two soaked children can, but the option of going to the car was right out. Maybe there was a lesson in perseverance, but it was probably just that mom was sleeping on a makeshift raft. There were eventually some hours of sleep, restless though it is when you are literally sleeping in a water-bed. The rain petered out, and there was silence on the lake.
As the sun came up, the birds began to sing, the ducks came out to feed and merrily paddled around our tent in search of the food that ducks eat. Wait a minute…The ducks were swimming around our tent! The lake had actually risen enough to flood not only the quarter mile to our tent but enough to actually allow waterfowl to paddle about.
In mom’s defense, she had the unique circumstance of being both on a very slightly higher portion of ground and having an air mattress, which kept her afloat. She couldn’t have known that we were really slowly sinking into the water, and we may not have helped things with complaints in past camping experiences when situations were decidedly less dire. Chicken little and all of that.