Joseph, age 10, is the master fisherman. The last time we went fishing, he caught five. I caught one. And now I’ll never hear the end of it. Especially now, as we’re packing to return to the scene of his last summer’s triumph.
Navajo Lake, Utah, is a tradition in my family. It’s the lake where Joseph caught his first fish. It’s where I took Aaron, now 19, for his Rite of Passage weekend. I’ve even taken my mother there. Oh, you don’t wanna mess with my mom when it comes to trout fishing. At 80, she’s one fierce li’l ol’ lady with a rod and reel.
Me, my eldest and my youngest — car jammed with tents, sleeping bags, all the amenities — head north from Las Vegas toward Utah and the wild yonder. We’re pumped. We’re ready. I tell Joseph, calmly and professionally, that he has no chance in the fishing contest. I’m going to kick his butt.
Jonathan is driving. Me, in the passenger front. I make a mental note that this is the first time my now 21-year-old is in charge of driving. Of course. It’s his car. He’s a man. How does that happen so fast? I held him when he could fit in a cellophane bread wrapper.
Desert, desert, and more desert. Mesquite, Nev. A sign with two words. “Carp” on top. “Elgin” on the bottom. Carp Elgin. Jonathan says it’s Latin for “seize the toilet.” (You get triple bonus points if you know why that’s funny!)
The highway cuts through Arizona for about 12 miles. Then the Virgin River Gorge. When I buy my Ferrari, I’m going to drive it through the Virgin River Gorge. As it is, I’m riding in a 4-cylinder Honda CRV, tucked behind a semi and an obviously panicked Winnebago. We’d have gone faster in a Flintstones car.
Utah! St. George! I love the geography here. The soil is aflame with the bright red of sandstone. Then Hurricane. Then Cedar City, where we buy fishing licenses. Then up the hill, state Route 14, past Brian Head, toward the most beautiful place I know.
They killed my lake. It’s unrecognizable! Maybe 10 feet of water at the deepest. Had I bothered to read my June 12 copy of the Deseret News, I would have known that last year’s wet winter caused the water to breach the earthen dam. My family paradise has been savaged into two reedy puddles on either side of a dam somebody made with Tonka trucks. Duck Creek Village is a ghost town.
Our fishing trip is now the Navajo Lake memorial tour. A lake wake. But, we faithfully unload and set up camp. That’s when Scoutmaster Bob — that’s the moniker Jonathan immediately dubs him — pulls up in his golf cart.
What is it about these guys who manage campgrounds? They are all of an ilk. An odd mix of hospitality and the slight swagger of pseudo-authority. I have to hand it to Scoutmaster Bob. It’s not easy to sound authoritative sitting in a golf cart, but he does it. He drowns us in anecdotes about past campers who have tried to break the rules. Somebody should get this guy a cape and hood. Somebody should get this guy a reality TV show. He’s kinda dear and ingratiating all at once.
But the worst is yet to happen. As we unload our charcoal briquettes, Scoutmaster Bob smiles and says pleasantly: “Oh, there’s no fires allowed. Fire danger is too high.”
Why we didn’t load the car back up and go to Disneyland right then, I’ll never know. Do you know how stupid it is to sit around an empty fire pit, shivering, eating bananas and Doritos, drinking beer? Twenty minutes after we throw our baited hooks in the water, Joseph catches a fish. I tell him, calmly and professionally, that, if he catches another fish, I’m going to drown him in what’s left of Navajo Lake.
We never get another bite. We spend the next 48 hours drowning worms and emptying three jars of Power Bait into our late Eden. My boys try to be nice to me, saying it is “the most fun awfulest camping trip ever.” We come home a day early, sunburned and disappointed. Our meager solace is two large Villa pepperoni pizzas, delivered to our door. We “camp” in my living room, munching pizza and watching TiVo’d “King of the Hill” episodes.
For a small fee, I’d be happy to plan your next family camping trip. Though I feel naked without a golf cart.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). Contact him at email@example.com.