Growing up in Texas one of the things I looked forward to every year was the three weeks I got to spend at summer camp. Learning how to shoot a bow and arrow, swimming in a creek catching minnows with my bare hands, tie-dye and overnights sleeping under the star filled Texas sky were just some of the best memories of my youth. Wait, actually who am I kidding? I hated archery; I was more a horseback girl. And it was all fun and games swimming in Wallace Creek until one year I swallowed a minnow (that’ll teach me to swim with my mouth open) and I hated overnights. I mean really, sleeping on the hard ground in a sleeping bag with all sorts of bugs crawling all over you in the middle of the night and then waking up the next morning covered in dew is not my idea of fun...
Ok, honestly all these things were pretty awesome my first two summers at Echo Hill Ranch, a sleep away camp nestled in a little green valley, deep in the Texas Hill Country. However by the time I was twelve the best things about EHR were the lifelong friendships, the cute boys and no “parental supervision”. I’m not saying my counselors each summer didn’t do a first-rate job keeping me out of trouble; rather they allowed me the opportunity to discover who I was without the pressures of being in a judgmental environment. Seriously I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t spent seven summers of my childhood going to summer camp.
So when my editor pitched me the idea of going camping in Jasper and staying in an oTENTik, which is a cross between an A-frame cabin and a tent mounted on a raised wooden floor, I thought this would be a great way of introducing the great outdoors to my four year old Matley without having to endure sleepless nights laying on the ground and pretending I liked it.
The idea behind an oTENTik is that all you need to do is pack food, some cooking utensils, bedding and show up. The night before we leave I take the time to prep a bunch of foil packs consisting of various vegetable combinations, seasonings and lots of butter. I even pack one with broccoli, cheese whiz and an ice cube because really who doesn’t love broccoli and cheese whiz? (This is where I should tell you I’m a vegetarian, however Matley and Marcel, my husband are not.) I leave the rest of the packing up to Marcel, who shoos me out of the kitchen saying he has it totally under control and wants to be on the road no later that 7am the next morning.
It’s actually closer to 9am before we are finally on the road with various Starbucks treats in hand and after stopping in Grande Cache for lunch we make it to the Whistlers Campground shortly after 2:30pm. We check in at the kiosk, get a briefing on the abundance of wildlife seen in the area, rules of the campground, a map showing where an assortment of things are located around said campground and an Xplorers Book for Matley.
We pull up to our campsite and unload. The oTENTik is clean and cozy and once we are settled in all Matley can talk about is the playground we passed when we pulled in.
We slowly walk over to the playground in question, after passing two others along the way, and while Matley and Marcel are having fun on the swings I realize I need to go to the restroom. I walk over to the bathrooms and see a bulletin board with a sign up about Geocaching. (Geocaching is an outdoor recreational activity, where participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called "geocaches" or "caches", anywhere in the world.) What a great way to explore the campground and to burn off some energy before making dinner as I want to try and have an early night because we have all sorts of things to do the following day. I walk back over to the boys and ask, “Who wants to go on a treasure hunt?”
We grab a map from the front kiosk with the coordinates of seven geocaches, located throughout the campgrounds, and even though they offer us a GPS, Marcel wants to use our iphones instead. Thus after spending the next 20 minutes goggling and trying to figure out how to put longitude and latitude coordinates into goggle maps, we finally take off.
We find the first two geocaches easily but Marcel gets a flat tire en route to the third and by the time it’s fixed we realize it’s almost 8pm and we need to get a fire going so we can have dinner. The boys roast cheese smokies and marshmallows and I enjoy one of my veggie packs.
The next morning we get up early, refreshed and ready for a day of adventure. After taking showers, which are free to use when you stay at the campground, we stroll the interpretive trail that runs through the middle of the campground, back to our campsite, stopping to play in the little log cabin.
With our bellies full from an impromptu breakfast, consisting of grilled pineapple, corn, and black beans, stuffed into a pita with hummus and cheese, as Marcel forgot to pack the eggs…among other things; we head into Jasper to check out some of the interpretive programs Parks Canada has to offer to the old fire hall.
As early afternoon rolls around we wonder the streets of downtown Jasper and make our way over to the Patricia Street Deli for a lunch. In between mouthfuls Matley says, “Let’s go for another bike ride!” We finish up and grab a Day Hike Map for the Information Centre then drive back to our campsite to grab our bikes.
Sticking to the easier trails the time seems to fly by and before we know it we’re soaking up the sunshine on the beach at Annette Lake. I leave the boys playing with a beach ball and walk through the parking lot over to Edith Lake. As I’m walking along the shoreline I stumble across two red Adirondack chairs that are part of the Parks Canada Red Chair Program. The view is amazing and I’m not going to lie, I could’ve spent the rest of the day just sitting in those chairs.
Back at our campsite the boys enjoy another round of cheese smokies and we share the broccoli and cheese whiz. For some strange reason Matley is still full of energy. So we put our campfire out, hop in the car and take the Icefields Parkway to Athabasca Falls, because there’s just something about going for a car ride that puts kids to sleep. We play Icefields Parkway Bingo, one of the activities in the Xplorers Book, on the short ride from the campground to the falls.
The falls and sunset are gorgeous and even though he didn’t want to leave on the way back Matley finally drifts off to sleep and is snoring like a freight train by the time Marcel carries him in to our oTENTik. 9:30pm and it’s been a long action packed day, but not so long that Marcel and I don’t have time to enjoy a Keith’s sitting by the fire before quite time at 11pm.
In the morning we slowly start to load our car back up after the boys have a third round of cheese smokies, and because our muscles are sore from the previous day’s adventure we make the call to stop at the Miette Hot Springs.
It was my very first time to ever experience a natural hot springs and I have to tell you it was soooo relaxing! Before we left we did a little bit of exploring and took the path at the end of the parking lot that leads to the original hot springs pool. Although it is in ruins now it was easy to see why the pool was first located there.
On the drive back we talk about what everyone’s favorite part of the adventure was. Matley thought it was staying in the oTENTik, Marcel said it was going on the bike rides and I loved my quite time sitting in the red chairs on Edith Lake.
The only things I would have changed…We would’ve stayed for one maybe two more nights and next time I think I’ll do all the food packing because wow did that car ride home stink!
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