Camping, fires, leave no trace

We went camping in northern Arizona last week, and aside from the fun stuff, I came home with two messages I want to share with you.

The forests are giant tinderboxes

We stayed in a pine forest, and the ground was coated in a spongy blanket of dry pine needles. Because gathering was permitted in our campground (check the rules! Gathering is typically not permitted!), Rocket Kid gathered a bunch of pine needles and a few sticks and put them in our fire pit.

They ignited easily and burned quickly. Perfect kindling.

It would not take much to light up the whole campground.

Also, at one point we had some embers but no flames, and without doing anything, within a few minutes, we had flames again.

So. If you’re camping and using a fire, keep it small (fewer embers) and make sure it’s entirely out before you leave it unattended. Pour water on it, stir it around. If it’s too hot to touch, you’re not done. 

If you’re smoking, use the ashtray in your car or a mostly empty water/soda bottle.

Don’t go to the great outdoors to blow stuff up, whether it’s wooded or not. There are plenty of desert fires, too—stuff grows in the spring, then dries up and makes for easy flames. At least one desert fire—the Spur Fire in Bagdad, AZ—burned 150 acres and over 20 buildings last week.

Really, just be mindful about anything that in any way can cause fire. Sometimes fires are caused by lightning. More often, they’re caused by people being, at best, thoughtless.

Be decent human beings

I feel like this applies to more than just camping, but this sign was posted at a restaurant on our way back down to the Valley. (Photo taken at an angle because it was behind glass and straight on had bad glare.)

In case you can’t see the photo or read the text, here’s what it says.


Since the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020, millions of Americans went wild over the great outdoors. We camped, hiked and biked across our nation’s forests in record numbers. Unfortunately, too many people crossed the fine line between nature and recreation and abused their great American natural resource heritage. They littered campsites and landscapes. Painted rocks, left graffiti, and carved on trees. Even hacked apart picnic tables to feed their fires. Vandalism is an ugly blot on our natural landscapes, national forests, and our public lands. Regrettably, it will make the great outdoors harder and harder to find. Irresponsibility and vandalism.

It’s time to draw the line.

Many of us are longing for space in the wild to be free and unfettered. Arizona offers that sort of experience for visitors. But it comes with a responsibility. We encourage all who visit our public lands to join us in caring for the outdoors and the well-being of ourselves and neighbors. Remember, when Americans care and take personal responsibility, great things happen!!

“They littered campsites and landscapes. Painted rocks, left graffiti, and carved on trees. Even hacked apart picnic tables to feed their fires.”

Really? Really? 

People! Be decent human beings. Always, not just in the parks: don’t litter, don’t vandalize. 

Leave everything (and everyone) a little better than you found them. Or if “better” is just too high a bar for you to cross, settle for “the same.” Let nothing (and no one) be worse because of you.

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