Alaska Airlines
Grunion Run  March 2011

Refreshing Relaxation  April 2007

Taking the High Road  February 2007

September 2007  
Canyon Retreat
by Cameron Walker

El Capitan Canyon offers comfortable beach camping near Santa Barbara

My memories of camping as a kid are filled with the fun stuff: the campfires, the storytelling, the ability to run loose and wild and not have to see my parents until dinnertime. But for adults, camping can sometimes seem like more of chore than it's worth. Instead of running off in search of water skeeters and lime popsicles, you're wrestling tent poles in the wind, scrubbing out pots burned by the camp stove, and coming home with enough dirty clothes to keep your washing machine in action for a week.

There is an alternative, however: El Capitan Canyon, a hideaway just outside of Santa Barbara, California, brings back all the good stuff--s'mores, swimming and starlight--without the hassles. Here, parents can roast marshmallows with kids over the fire, explore creeks and trails, splash in the pool, ride a horse--and then take a warm shower and slip into a real bed in a cozy cabin or canvas tent.

The retreat is 20 miles north of Santa Barbara on Highway 101, but it seems like a world away. Driving in, I feel everything slow down to that lazy “camp time,” in which afternoons seem to stretch out for years. The sky is the same periwinkle blue, just before nightfall, as the room I had when I was a kid. Everywhere, sycamores and oak trees rustle in the evening breeze.

As I stroll through the campground, which extends a mile into the canyon, I can see that others have gotten the city rush out of them, too. Two families play volleyball in the dusk; elsewhere, people gather around campfi res in front of their cabins, and their glowing faces are all I see. One young camper, walking in the twilight with his father and brother, waves a neon light stick at me. Flashlights flicker in the distance. I feel the same ease of walking in the dark that I had as a camper and, later, as a camp counselor— that feeling that wherever you go, you’re never going to be lost.

At Canyon Market, the campground’s general store, I’ve picked up a bottle of wine called Happy Camper, with a retro silver trailer on the label. I open it on the deck of my cabin, which sits near the creek. Frogs croak along the creek, which I can see from my deck, along with the silhouette of sycamore leaves. Happy camper, indeed.

To read the rest of the story, please contact Cameron.

copyright 2007, Cameron Walker.