Don’t camp in the wrong spot

If you enjoy camping, you know finding the right campsite often determines the difference between a miserable and a memorable experience.

My brother Nathan and I discovered this firsthand back in 2010, when we rented an SUV and took off on a road trip to Yellowstone National Park. We had dreamed about this adventure for a long time. We had been on many previous camping trips, but we felt certain this would top them all.

Continental Divide, Yellowstone National Park
Nathan (left) and me at the Continental Divide inside Yellowstone National Park.

We arrived in Yellowstone on a Sunday afternoon. After touring a museum, we hiked to the top of Elephant Mountain. Darkness was rapidly encroaching as we descended the trail, so we decided to spend the night nearby at a place called Bay Bridge Campground, not far from Yellowstone Lake.

I don’t know what we were expecting when we pulled into Bay Bridge, but, whatever it was, we didn’t find it. We quickly discovered that Bay Bridge was managed by a corporation called Xanterra Parks & Resorts. That was our first clue this wasn’t the paradise we had imagined. Campgrounds are supposed to be operated by park rangers living in harmony with nature, not corporate bureaucrats.

By God’s grace, we secured the last of approximately 425 campsites and became residents of a small city of more than 1,000 campers.

Instead of escaping into the wilderness, it felt like we were camped at a busy intersection in the middle of town. The air hummed with chatter. The cool fragrance of mountain pines was completely obscured by the smoke of hundreds of campfires. There were no showers, just a small, smelly bathroom we were expected to share with all our newfound friends from across North America.

Starting a fire proved to be an exercise in futility. With so many campers crowded into a confined space, there wasn’t a stick left anywhere. We paid $7.64 for a soggy cardboard box packed with wet firewood. After numerous attempts to get a fire burning, I gave up and pulled out the propane stove I had borrowed from my Grandpa.

When morning came, we couldn’t wait to leave. We rolled out of Bay Bridge on a quest for the perfect campsite.

I am happy to report that we found it! We spent Monday night in a snug little cabin in Cooke City, Montana, just outside Yellowstone’s northeast entrance. With a hot shower and a warm bed, it was the perfect spot!

Just kidding!

On Tuesday morning, acting on a tip from a park ranger, we visited Pebble Creek Campground. Pebble Creek was nestled at the foot of the mountains, and had less than 30 campsites. We pitched our tent at the mouth of a small canyon, approximately 30-40 yards from a rushing mountain stream. Our tent was shaded by tall pines and cooled by the mountain breeze. The sheer face of a cliff wall rose directly behind us. The mouth of a canyon opened on our left, while the snowcapped peaks of the Absarokas towered on our right.

Pebble Creek Campground, Yellowstone National Park
Pebble Creek Campground, Yellowstone National Park. The photo doesn’t do justice to the beauty of the spot.

We had found the perfect place from which to base the rest of our adventures.

Daily life has a lot in common with our Yellowstone adventure. Where we decide to “set up camp” determines whether we’ll suffer or enjoy success.

I love the way Eugene Peterson renders Acts 2:25-26 in The Message:

David said it all:

I saw God before me for all time.
Nothing can shake me; he’s right by my side.
I’m glad from the inside out, ecstatic;
I’ve pitched my tent in the land of hope.

When he spoke of living “in the land of hope,” David wasn’t referring to favorable circumstances. In fact, these words, taken from Psalm 16:8–11, were appropriated to describe the attitude of Jesus Christ as He endured crucifixion. Jesus had hope that the future would be more glorious than the horror of the present. He trusted God’s plan and promise, which gave Him the faith and courage to endure extreme hardship.

When facing difficult circumstances, it’s tempting to pitch our tent in the campground of frustration, jealousy, self-pity, anger, and unforgiveness. I’ve camped in all those spots, and they make Bay Bridge seem like paradise.

The good news is that, if we’re camped in the wrong spot, we don’t have to stay. We can join David and Jesus in the land of hope. There’s an open spot next to their’s.

I have found that the promises of God’s Word are like tent pegs, and prayer is the hammer. So let’s dig into God’s Word, claim what He has reserved for us, and set up camp in a place with a brighter tomorrow.

Adventure awaits in the land of hope.

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