Our backyard is a national park — or at least it was for one night of camping.

After more than a month of all four of us working and schooling from home because of COVID-19, our family needed an adventure. Eleanor (12) and Abigail (10) needed to do something exciting, and so did my wife, Beth, and I. It was time for what I dubbed "COVID camping."

It’s not easy to have an adventure without going anywhere, so I proposed taking a camping trip in the backyard complete with tent-sleeping and cooking all of our meals over the fire. I thought it might add to the excitement if we included a virtual tour of a national park. We settled on Joshua Tree National Park.

The website had a surprising number of resources, including a virtual scavenger hunt, a virtual tour passport stamp, guided video tours of the Keys family homestead from the early 1900s,complete with a uniformed ranger, and even a webcam with updates on the view from Belle Mountain every 15 minutes. It was interesting to see the 20-degree real-time temperature difference and imagine what it might feel like to be camping in the desert instead of our backyard.

The Sievers had a virtual park ranger to show them around the Keys' family homestead in Joshua Tree National Park. Contributed by John Sievers.
The Sievers had a virtual park ranger to show them around the Keys' family homestead in Joshua Tree National Park. Contributed by John Sievers.

We learned about everything from gold mining to rock climbing and saw some of the park’s famous rock formations, like Arch Rock. Between all of the online features, there was more of the virtual park than we could possibly see in one “trip.”

The tour over, it was time for some food over the fire. The scent of woodsmoke mingling with baking apples and bubbling beans, the sticky s’mores fingers, and even the chorus of pre-dawn birds waking us as we shivered in our thin-walled tent at 4 a.m. made for the perfect staycation. It will be a memorable experience that my family will always cherish. Or at least one that will result in “remember when dad made us” stories I’m sure to hear later in life.

John, Eleanor, and Abigail Sievers cook breakfast over a fire. Contributed by John Sievers.
John, Eleanor, and Abigail Sievers cook breakfast over a fire. Contributed by John Sievers.

Abigail (10)

The first thing you should know about backyard camping is that it is a lot of fun. The second thing you should know is that it is a great way to bond with your family. One of the things that I thought was really fun was experimenting over the fire. By this, I mean we got to try cooking anything and everything over the fire. One of the many things that I tried was making cobbler over the fire. It is a simple blend of apple pie spice, peeled apples, and cinnamon. I really enjoyed camping in our backyard. I really hope you consider doing this yourself.

Eleanor (12)

Backyard camping was a great way to unwind with the family. Me and my little sister helped set up the tent, haul sleeping bags out of closets, and prepare s’mores ingredients, both of us excited for the night ahead. Along with the usual camping procedures though, we were trying something new.

We decided to tour Joshua Tree National Park, a beautiful desert with mountains and valleys. On our tour, we watched a collection of short videos about the wildlife at the park. We viewed cactus wrens, a rock-eating tortoise, and a snake catching a lizard by digging into the lizard's den with its head.

We learned about the Keys family, a family of settlers who survived in the valley for years growing their own food. I learned a lot from this tour, and it made me excited to try other tours and hopefully go to a few national parks in person someday!

Beth

We enjoyed creating our meal plans together as a family for our camping adventure. For dinner, we decided on the classic, roasted hot dogs. We added a side of baked beans from a can, as well as roasted peppers and apples.

For dessert, we chose s’mores. I like to make my own s’mores chocolate by taking semi-sweet, dairy-free chocolate chips, melting them in the microwave, and then mixing in some agave. I spread it out on parchment paper, cool it in the refrigerator, and cut it into squares with a knife. It must be stored in the refrigerator, but it melts so well when you are assembling your treat.

For breakfast, we chose fresh fruit, meat for pan-frying, and eggs two ways — in a pan and on a stick. Eleanor had researched a way to cook a whole raw egg by spearing it with a roasting stick and cooking it over the fire. While this worked, the egg would slowly leak out the ends into the fire until it hardened enough to seal. Then it could be turned over to cook the other side of the egg. The result was a hard-boiled egg — not without one explosion along the way. The entertainment made it worth it.