Under the Stars: How America Fell in Love With Camping by Dan White

I absolutely loved this book. My family have always been campers. My grandparents have always been campers. I look at family slide shows and pictures that show us fishing, boating and camping all over the Pacific Northwest, Alaska and Canada. We have tents, we have campers, we have trailers. We have slept under stars and in the back of station wagons while bears ransacked the ice chest.

I have camped and backpacked at a number of places all over the world but nothing has been as fun to me, as the National Parks right here in the United States. Part of it comes through familial appreciation: my grandfather was one of the men who joined the Civilian Conservation Corps who went through the states building campgrounds and grooming natural areas to help promote the love of camping. I have a million camping stories and those who camp know what I mean. I have sat on a mountain overlooking a lake in the sun. I have hiked through canopies of rain forest on the Hoh River. My grandma and I experimented with boiling and eating an edible moss called “Old Man’s Beard.” Suffice to say, it tasted like old man’s beard. I believe I may have been tricked!

This book is marvelous. Not only does it delve into the history of camping, but throughout the book there are portraits of individuals who were great outdoorsman themselves; whose names are still evocative of nature in America – Ansel Adams, John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt and Thoreau just to name a few.

Transposed between the histories are Dan White’s camping experiences and experiments. Some of them are hilarious! Some of them are an attempt to recreate those romantic adventures of the past. Some of them are designed to introduce the wonderful world of camping to his daughter.

The places he focused on were somewhat limited. Don’t look for a comprehensive travel guide here of all the places to camp. He also works from the mind set of a particular type of camper: he buys high end equipment and some of his adventures are what I would classify as yuppie and hipster camping. There is nothing wrong with that but for those who believe in “their” style of what camping is, do not despair. All of his high end equipment and training does not save him from those nuances and surprises that only nature can provide. Look no further than his trial experience with “all natural” camping!!

This is a great book for summer. Take it with you, pitch your tent, read by day and share the stories around the fire with a good old fashioned s’more by night.


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