The Great Outdoors, etc.

By Jamie Balke Explorebigsky.com Columnist

Having been a major wimp and not gone camping for a couple of years, I knew it was time to get back in the tent. My brother is a raft guide on the Gallatin River, and I decided to meet him after work on Monday and sort out finding a campsite then.

I stopped by the Forest Service office in Bozeman that morning for maps and advice about fire restrictions and campgrounds, then headed home to dig through my closet in search of my long mislaid equipment. We were going car camping, so I packed a French press, heavy camp chairs and a Therm-a-Rest. Since our evening would start late, I decided to pick up a prepared meal from the Co-op on the way out of town.

Clearly, we would not be roughing it. I also bought a relatively inexpensive bundle of wood from the grocery store, which—as if designed for forgetful people like me—conveniently came with kindling and matches.

I met up with my brother around 7:30, and he immediately presented a map drawn by one of his co-workers that showed the way to an “awesome campsite.” To get there, we’d have to make several turns onto Forest Service roads that weren’t labeled and a possible stream crossing.

It was relatively late in the evening, so I showed him an established campground on one of the maps I’d picked up that morning. Plus, I said, because of fire restrictions, we could only have a fire at a Forest Service campground. He acquiesced, and we caravanned over to Spire Rock.

The spot we picked was in a beautifully forested area with enough of a break in the canopy to see the rock formations for which the campground is named. Our site was far enough from the neighboring ones, and right next to Storm Castle Creek.

As the sun was setting, I re-learned how to set up my tent. My brother worked on building a fire in the ring, and I described to him how I’d spilled food on my pants earlier in the day and was convinced I was going to be disemboweled by a bear. Perhaps I should have changed my clothes if I was so worried. As usual, my imagination was totally overactive.

We plopped down in the comfy camp chairs by the fire and tucked into a meal of salads, berries and brownies. My brother had spent all day on the river and ravenously attacked a bag of bagels, roasting them on a stick over the fire. He explained interesting and useful information about building campfires, and I taught him that in Girl Scouts I learned if the smoke blows in your direction, you should yell “fuzzy bunnies.”

After extinguishing the campfire, I crawled into my tent. My brother slept under the stars. Curled up in my sleeping bag, I tried to convince myself that my tent was a bear shield. Finally, the sound of the creek lulled me to sleep.

In the morning I visited the outhouse, which was covered in moss. It looked like something you might find in the Shire. There, I was confronted by the lowest toilet that I’ve ever encountered—apparently designed by and for hobbits.

Later, after a breakfast of apricot juice, coffee and bagels, we hung out at the campsite as the sun reclaimed the sky. In addition to being a great re-acquaintance with camping, the trip was a good reminder of the incredible recreational opportunities in this area.

Jamie Balke moved to Bozeman in the fall of 2009. She can generally be found behind the cover of a book, meandering down a trail or desperately trying not to kill houseplants.