Up in Utah’s La Sal Mountains, about 45 minutes from Moab, there’s an undeveloped campsite on Forest Service land. A rough dirt road forks, then turns even rougher immediately before a stand of aspens opens onto a field with a sweeping view of La Sal Pass.
This was my family’s favorite spot when I was in high school. We would set up our tent at the edge of the trees, the mountain peaks visible out the door. In spring, the field was a riot of wildflowers; in fall, the leaves turned golden. Cows sometimes wandered through, flustering our Jack Russell terrier.
We visited that spot at least twice as often as we went anywhere else. It was a summer escape from the desert’s baking heat, and it was beautiful, free, close by, and almost never occupied. We could bike or hike, but mostly we just hung out around camp, enjoying the view and the silence and each other’s company. Having a go-to spot eliminated decision anxiety and cut down on planning, making camping more a good habit than a special occasion. After a busy week that left no time to dream up new adventures, if we realized we wanted to sleep under the stars, we could be on our way in an hour.
Our spot was familiar (we knew which trees could anchor our tarp when it rained and which rocks made the best seats) but returning to it was no less memorable than trips that took months to plan. The only mountain lion I’ve ever seen bounded across the road in broad daylight as we drove to our site—in disbelief, we confirmed with each other that it was what we thought and kept the dog on a leash that night. We saw a double rainbow and dense wildflowers and the orangey-pink light of summer evenings slanting across 12,000-foot peaks. When we forgot our stove, we made tacos and pancakes over the campfire in a cast-iron pan.
By letting go of the expectation that every vacation be unique, we got out more. We cultivated a relationship with the place—I brought a high school boyfriend there once, a compatibility test on par with having him meet my parents. Our family camping spot wasn’t just a place we went to; it was an extension of home.