We rolled into the Washington State campground north of Spokane in the early evening. It had been a long day, and it already felt like a lifetime to happened since we left Glacier that morning. Tire change on the interstate. Visit to Les Schwab. More stops that usual including one hunt for the Washington State Discover Pass that would allow us to camp in this non-reservable campground for free. Brad and I both still struggle to keep the nervousness at bay when we are planning to stay in a non-reservable place. We spend a lot of time saying to each other, “Well if all the sites at this place are taken, we can just…blah blah blah Plan B.” I’m not sure if we are trying to convince each other or ourselves that we are totally cool with either scenario, as if it’s no big deal to be driving around after dark to try to find a safe place to camp for the night. We were relieved that there was one site open when we arrived, and that it was JUST big enough for our rig. But that night was a harsh welcome-back in our home state.
Some of the nearby campsites along the small creek were occupied by a bunch of young people, who we found out later were there to celebrate one young lady’s 18th birthday. We first started noticing their group because there seemed to be a conflict developing, and the quickest route to resolution involved loudly inserting the f-bomb into each sentence as many times as possible. Now, we were hearing them yell at each other across a small creek and a little bit of forest, so we definitely couldn’t make out every word. But the cadence and emphasis on each F*$@ING adjective made it clear what was being expressed. There was definitely one long monologue from a male based on the theme “Where the F*$@ are my F^&*ING keys?!” And then there was one heartbreaking but hilarious exclamation from a female of “You’re ruining my birthday!”, (which is now one of our favorite things to shout to each other).
We tried to ignore the evening they were having and go on with our night, but it was difficult. After a while we noticed that some of the cars circuling the now-dark campground appeared to be policemen. We sat still and opened our window to listen. Male voice over a bullhorn, “Come back to the campsite. You are not in trouble. Just come out of the woods.” More cars circuling. Then later, the sound of a helicopter.
“Is that here for these kids? Surely not!” But it passed over one way, and then it passed over again, and then again. We couldn’t see a searchlight coming out of the sky, but the helicopter certainly seemed to be flying over the area in aide of the police cars. This is the only time in the last year that Brad and I have discussed whether or not we should leave a campground. But we were all set up, and the girls were already asleep. We decided we would wait to see what was revealed the next day before we made our decision.
All of the other campers were a twitter about the eventful night the next morning. We learned that the police had busted a party with underage drinking, and there was possibly a missing person with the group. Our camp host said it was the first crazy night of the whole summer, so we decided to stay put and take advantage of the free site for a few more nights. However we never did feel totally at ease in this spot. There was a couple staying at one site that spent all day every day just sitting in their car. Every once in awhile they would turn it on and drive once around the campground loop, and then drive back into their site and continue to sit in the car. They seemed to also have a tent set up way back in the trees where they occasionally had illegal campfires in the middle of the afternoon. But 90% of the time they sat in the car. Another Motorhome parked in the large handicap accessible site seemed to have been parked there all season despite the posted 10 day max stay. A large part of the front grill and engine area seemed to be in shambles, and the front windshield wasn’t attached to the frame. It was just sitting on the dash which was collecting a pile of leaves. But then one morning to our surprise, it started up and drove away. There was also another family staying in the park most of the time we were there who I said “Hello” to one day as we walked by them on the way to the water spigot. Even though I had seen from afar that the dad had a full-face tattoo and enormous earlobe spacers, it still seemed so much like talking to Darth Maul that when he turned toward me I could barely speak. I mean – no judgement on tattoos, even face tattoos. But I had never interacted with someone who’s entire face was black and red, and my visceral reaction of fear kindof made me disappointed with myself. This was our first dive into the culture of free Washington State Park camping, and it definitely left us unsure of whether or not this scene was for us.
So there were some great memories made here too. We met a sweet full-time RV couple from L.A. at this campground, and the girls and I enjoyed visiting a new library. Late one evening we saw a large owl flying from tree to tree behind our campsite. I’d never seen an owl in the wild before. So this place, like most others we’ve experienced, was full of both new challenges and unique wonders.