Making Memories in Volcanoes National Park

Making Memories in Volcanoes National Park

by: Gretchen Powers

When I think about the summers of my youth, camping was always a part of the picture. Sticky fingers from s’mores, creaky backs from sleeping on the ground and the smell of campfire smoke that would permeate my curly hair for weeks. Whether car camping in Colorado with one half of my family or backpacking in the Adirondacks with the other, I was familiar with the routines and gear around camping feel pretty confident I now know what can make it more fun and less “why am I sleeping on the ground in the woods when I have a perfectly good bed at home”. At the top of this list for me is a roomy, water resistant tent, because when the weather turns south you want to be able to hunker down and cozy up for some cards and reading without feeling cramped and claustrophobic. The second is a comfy sleeping pad and a cozy sleeping bag. I’ve never been great at sleeping on the ground, but the sleeping pads from Big Agnes keep getting better and better and consequently so has my sleep in the outdoors.

My mom came to visit me on the Big Island of Hawai’i this spring and naturally we needed to get a few nights camping on the agenda amongst the list of to-do’s including, snorkling, hiking, eating lilikoi and haupia cream confections from Kula Shave Ice in Hilo, waterfall-gazing and ahi-poké-consuming. We set up camp at the Nāmakanipaio Campground in Volcanoes National Park, a great spot I recommend for families and singles alike.

The Copper Spur Tent series has been my go-to Big Agnes tent for years for a few obvious reasons. The first is that it is a super versatile tent, a backpacking tent weighing in at around 5 lbs with the fly for backcountry adventures with your favorite people and pets but also roomy enough to make for a great car camping tent as well. One of my prerequisites when picking out a tent is making sure I actually have room to keep my equipment in it with me. As a photographer keeping my gear dry is always an added element of adventure and the extra inches added to the new long version of the Copper Spur 3 made it easy to keep my camera/tripod and dry clothes with me.

It was very rainy and wet near Volcanoes National Park and I was super grateful for this extra space. My mom’s favorite feature was the color coded snaps and poles that took the guess work out of how to orient the tent, poles and fly. Another huge selling point for me on this tent is the dual side-entry doorways. There’s nothing worse in the middle of the night than trying to navigate over or around your tent-mate and we were happy to be able to get up and out during the night without disturbing each other too much.

I crept out of the tent at two am to pee, and as my eyes blinked to adjust to the darkness I realized that it wasn’t that dark after all and in fact half of the sky had a pinkish hue. “HOLY SHIT” I shout-whispered to myself as I clambered over my Sidewinder sleeping bag and pad to grab my camera and tripod from where I had stashed it at the base of the tent. As a side sleeper I really appreciated the flexibility both the Sidewinder sleeping bag and wider sleeping pad gave me. Making my typical inch-worm style roll-over and inevitable crash onto the tent floor obsolete. I put my headlamp by my pillow to light up the inside of the tent and tried to quietly extricate myself from the tent with my gear without waking my mom. Apparently a lot easier than I thought as she had no memory of this in the morning.

I set up in the misty grass tilting my camera towards the tent and the lava-illuminated sky beyond it. I pressed down on the shutter and stood up to stretch my legs while I waited the lengthy eleven seconds for the image to capture. One of the things I love most about night photography is that you have to slow down, take your time and have some patience. Once the shutter released I bent down to see what I was working with and gasped when I saw the image on the back of my DSLR. Instead of stars like I expected to capture at this hour, the image was brilliant red and yellow.

The Kīlauea caldera a few mere miles away illuminated my image with rosey pink and red hues. This magic captured on my camera is why one of my favorite parts of camping is that inevitable middle-of-the-night pee sesh, when I get a chance to capture the night sky in a way we rarely see when we are sleeping in our comfy beds at home. It’s the thing that makes the lack of sleep worth it to me and why despite how much I don’t like sleeping on the ground, I’ll do it again and again, because half the world’s little singing creatures wake up at night, the sky comes alive and what magic to be able to be amongst it.