Getting away from it all — with everyone else

With the arrival of Memorial Day weekend, two things are certain. First, Las Vegans will flee the city by the thousands in search of open space and a chance to get away from the rest of us. Second, thousands of visitors from surrounding states will be looking to do the same thing. So the situation is similar to the hippie movement of the 1960s when everyone was being different but doing it all together.

What that means is virtually every campground and outdoor recreation venue within four hours of the Las Vegas Valley is going to be full by noon Saturday — full of people getting away from it all and doing it together.

My recommendation is to take care of last-minute errands sooner rather than later because a brief stop on the way out of town Friday evening could cost you that last available camping spot.

Campgrounds have changed dramatically in my short lifetime. In the old days, campgrounds were designed to provide a rustic, wide-open-space experience for visitors, but it seems campground planners today have adopted the same squeeze-’em-all-in approach used to design mall parking lots. Where campsites were once separated by enough ground that a person could snore to his heart’s content without offending his nearest neighbor, that is no longer the case.

In many ways, U.S. campgrounds are a great social experiment with participants coming from all walks of life. Simply sitting in one’s camp chair and observing the interactions between campers can sometimes be quite amusing.

For example, every campground seems to have the same friendly lady who greets her fellow campers with a plate of freshly baked cookies and a smile. It is not until later that the cookie recipients learn they were being buttered up because the cookie lady has one of those annoying little dogs that barks at every sound and each passer-by.

At the other end of the spectrum is the camp curmudgeon who tells you he just wants to be left alone but camps right next to the bathroom so he can talk to everyone happening by, even when you are making that 3 a.m. bathroom run. There is nothing quite as suddenly exhilarating as having someone call out from the darkness in a gravelly bass voice while you are making that trek in bear country.

Though spending time in a campground surely requires a certain level of community patience and a willingness to live and let live, there are some basic rules of camping etiquette that will make the camping experience more enjoyable for everyone.

Keep in mind that people are in the campground to get away from their everyday existence. Some might actually want to hear the wind blowing through the trees, the chatter of squirrels or perhaps the call of a blue jay. While they recognize your right to enjoy a little music, they don’t necessarily share your musical taste. That is why they make headphones.

In that same vein, remember not all generators are created equal. Some are designed to run very quietly, and others are not. Quiet hours are there for a reason.

Another common misstep is that of walking through another person’s camp without being invited. A campsite is a person’s home away from home. For the time being it is their personal space, and it should be treated that way. Ask permission before you cross the campsite boundary, whether it is marked or implied.

Lastly, when you get ready to leave, be sure to police your campsite and remove all trash regardless of its origin. Leave the campsite better than you found it. The next camper will appreciate it.

The bottom line is that camping requires us to respect the land and one another. When it comes down to it, continued success of this ongoing social experiment requires it.

Have an enjoyable and safe holiday weekend.

Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His “In the Outdoors” column, published Thursday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions he states in his column are his own. He can be reached at