Mason Dam, not far from Baker City, Oregon was finished in 1968 to form the five mile pool of Phillips Reservoir. The big, dusty parking area near the dam became a popular spot for RV’s. Strangers would back trailers or motor homes in next to each other and set up camp. It was a crowded, but popular spot. Sort of like having tailgate parties, except the game was fishing. (By the way, I had a fine morning years ago catching bass around the old dredge mounds in the upper end of the lake, but that’s another story.)
Even after a nice Forest Service campground was opened further up the lake, many people still opted to camp on the treeless, rocky, dusty parking area overlooking the dam and the reservoir. Sort of buddy time, I guess.
I didn’t form a very solid theory about why so many people chose to camp this way. Because it was free? Maybe. Just a casual thought.
It wasn’t until I met a Forest Service recreation specialist that my theory began to crystallize. This nice person from the Dunes National Recreation Area played host and took me on a guided tour of the work done by some of our YACC (Young Adult Conservation Corp) crews.
One of the first places we visited was a nice campground south of Reedsport, Oregon. She was proud of the work the crews had done to improve the campground. Each camp was screened from its neighbors, each parking spot paved with gravel. Green, salal covered banks, shore-pine shade, sandy walking trails, nice fire pits, gravel parking, water, modern concrete outhouses, and privacy was the order of the day.
“But,” she said, “I don’t understand why it doesn’t get more use.” My mind scrambled back to the parking lot at Phillips Reservoir. Why there…on a dusty, flat, treeless parking area without water or toilets…and why not here on the beautiful Oregon Coast with all the amenities? Maybe privacy in the outdoors isn’t what most people want. Privacy still does not seem to be a big draw for a large percentage of those who like camping in the outdoors.
Maybe it’s because we humans are social animals after all. Or maybe we don’t feel safe…or at least connected…unless we’re buddied up next to other people. Maybe.
A month or so back, I was early at the Madras, Oregon Bi-Mart store. I thought they opened at 8:30, but 9:00 was posted on the door. So I parked my vehicle in the big empty parking lot…mine the only car there…and made a couple of phone calls, listened to the radio, and fiddled to fill the time.
At about five minutes before opening, I ‘m still the only one there. And then, a guy wheels his pickup into the parking lot and parks right in front of my vehicle. I wondered why. I still wonder why. With all that open space, what compelled the guy to park right in front of me?
I can only speculate, but I’d like to find a study on the subject of what aspect of human nature urges us to camp close to each other. And park right in front of my car.