I hate paying for camping. The idea of paying money for a picnic table, a fire pit and a manicured tent site just seems wasteful and defeats the point of going camping in the first place. It's not just about the money- although that is a large factor. It's about having a unique experience. It's about communing with nature, and getting off the grid. It's about escaping. Most of the time, my quest for free camping is rewarded with animal sitings, serenity, and a sense of satisfaction you get when you earn something the hard way. However, my stubborn pursuit of free camping has also backfired, leading to some terrifying nights and creepy situations. Recently, I mustered up the courage to revisit a visceral place that I stumbled upon while searching for "new" free camping near Rifle.
Last Fall, I spent a bunch of time in Rifle. Being late in the season, with temps dropping below freezing, I opted to stay at a free, but undesirable place called the Corral. Visible from Grass Valley Road, and instantly muddy if it rains, the Corral offers no protection from ornery locals, or opportunistic thieves. So one evening after climbing, I decided to look for alternative options. I started by going up a dirt road on the opposite side of the road, to the East of the Corral. The road was too rough for my Honda Civic, so I quickly turned around. As the light faded, I drove up another bumpy dirt road for about 50 feet until my headlights hit this...
a pile of deer and elk carnage. Totally freaked out, I did a three point turn as fast a I could and went back to the relative safety of the Corral. With my imagination going crazy, I unsuccessfully tried to sleep. Since that day, I have never been able to enjoy the Corral quite as much.
The place seems more wild, and less relaxing. Every sound has significance. I am on edge. In some strange way, I think this is what I like most about free camping. I want to feel more vulnerable. I want to feel the mystery and power of nature. I want to face my fears. That way, I won't take the next day or the money I save for granted because in a way I earned it.