When Middleton, Tenn., resident Emily Ross arrived at Crazy Horse Campground Thursday evening with her husband, Matt, she was a little aggravated to find that she had one bar of service showing on her cellphone.
In past years, she’s always had zero bars -- and that’s just how she liked it.
“When I saw that bar, I felt like saying some nasty words because I’ve always loved the fact that we could come out here and get away from everything,” said Ross, who camps at least once a year at the Wayne County, Tenn., campground on the banks of the Buffalo River.
“Civilization is catching up with us a little bit. But it’s still an amazing place.”
In a technological age dominated by satellite television, video game consoles, cellular telephones and computers that fit in the palm of your hand, the Rosses still consider camping one of life’s great pleasures -- and a growing number of people across America agree with them.
The Outdoor Foundation, in cooperation with the same Coleman Co. that makes one of the most popular lanterns in the world, estimates that nearly 35 million Americans go car or backyard camping every year.
This week’s Fourth of July holiday is always one of the busiest times of the year for campgrounds -- even with daytime temperatures topping 100 degrees in many locations.
There’s no air conditioning. So what’s the allure?
“The solitude,” said Matt Ross. “You can sit out here and not be bothered by the telephone or by a bunch of traffic. You can come out here and swim or grill or just do nothing. Whatever you do, you know you can do it without being bothered.”
Statistics from organizations like The Outdoor Foundation show that camping has skyrocketed in popularity since the turn of the New Millennium. The numbers seem to have risen steadily in concurrence with national gas prices.
Many people have turned to camping as a more affordable option -- and it makes sense.
Where it would have cost the Rosses several hundred dollars to house themselves and five children in a hotel room, they stayed Thursday night at Crazy Horse Campground for less than $20. The average overnight stay at a state park campground costs about the same.
People who still turn up their noses at camping often do so because they know they’ll miss many of the standard comforts of home -- and it’s true they will.
But “roughing it” isn’t quite as rough as it used to be. The Rosses spent Thursday night in a gigantic five-room tent with a queen-size air mattress.
They also brought a separate tent for the kids -- and when the bugs started buzzing around Friday in the afternoon heat, they constructed a netted tent to keep gnats and mosquitoes out of the food they prepared on a pair of propane-powered grills.
“We enjoy camping so much that we keep several boxes packed at home all the time,” Emily Ross said.
“We have all the basic essentials in those boxes -- plastic forks and spoons, plates and napkins, a little bit of everything. When we get ready to go, there’s no packing to do. It’s already done.”
So-called “primitive” campsites aren’t nearly as primitive as they used to be either.
Primitive camping once meant hiking into a remote area and using only what you took with you.
But campgrounds like the one at Crazy Horse are situated right off a main road with drive-up access, bath houses, a freshwater pumping station and a mini-general store stocked with essentials.
People who frequent state park campgrounds sometimes even partake of the all-you-can-eat seafood buffets held in many park restaurants on Friday and/or Saturday nights.
“The word camping doesn’t have to be a scary thing,” said Buck Callaway, a Birmingham, Ala., resident who has camped at three different Tennessee state parks during the past 18 months.
“I might go camping and sleep in a tent for four or five days. But I’m not going without a shower, and I’m usually going to eat better than I do at home.
“To me, it’s just another vacation.”
(Contact Bryan Brasher at brasherb(at)commercialappeal.com.)