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pinion Can You Camp in Paradise?

Our campsite
Our furry friend
The historic fort
A parabolic solar grill made from a beer case and tin foil

As a kid growing up in the Northeast, camping was a favorite summertime activity. But after the military, I swore I was giving up sleeping bags and mosquito bites for hotels and champagne whenever possible. Even though having a son ultimately lured me back into the woods, I managed to limit such outings to trips up north. Last weekend we finally took the plunge and tried our hand at camping in paradise. The results were... interesting.

We chose Ft De Soto Park because I thought the waterfront location might offer a little bit of coastal breeze amid the sweltering summer heat. Our campsite was right on the Mullet Key Bayou, but the breezes were few and far between. Undeterred, we set up our dome tent and cooked some hot dogs on the solar grill my eight-year-old son Sullivan had made for this year's science project. Then we headed off toward the historic fort. It was our first visit and my son loved the Spanish American War era cannons, as well as the chance to wander the fort and read about its history.

We spent most of the afternoon swimming on East Beach, where the tropical storm had kicked up gobs of giant sand dollars on the floor of the shallow waters, as well as starfish and an assortment of crustaceans. We trolled the surf, dragging our feet to unearth the sealife, as calypso music played softly in the background, courtesy of a group who'd reserved one of the pavilions. First-time stand up paddle boarders crashed into the water from their rentals, and kids collected crabs in a bucket while we tossed the football on the beach.

Returning to our campsite, we found that a rather large raccoon had occupied our space, managing to open my ruck and make his way into a bag of popped chips that Sullivan had "really been looking forward to." The brave critter had virtually no fear of humans and it took quite a bit of effort to scare him off. We better secured our gear and rounded up any trash that might invite his return, leaving only a locked cooler behind as we headed to a nearby trash can.

Meanwhile, our resourceful friend had circled around and gained entry to the cooler. He sat there lapping up some raw eggs he'd cracked open and removed from a ziplocked bag inside. We got him out before dinner and then locked the site down tight before playing some baseball in the grass near the water and taking a sunset stroll along the bayou's edge.

The sweltering night air finally gave way to a semi-cool breeze several hours after sunset, and save for a few trips through our site by our racoon friend who was making repeat trips to the neighbor's RV to loot their trash, we slept well through the night. It seems camping in paradise is not only possible, but can even be enjoyable provided you've got plenty of mosquito repellent and are tolerant of a little tropical heat and uninvited wildlife.

Dennis will be on vacation for the next week. His column will return Thursday, July 19. An archive of his previous columns is available here.


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