You don't have to drive far to have a great vacation

"If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with!"

" Dorothy, in "The Wizard of Oz"


We had a lovely vacation planned in our little motorhome " Washington's Olympic Peninsula, tea in Victoria, B.C., a visit with our daughter in Portland and camping along the Oregon Coast. But when gasoline prices passed $4 per gallon, we started thinking a little closer to home. I have a hunch we aren't alone. A report I heard said that people are still vacationing; they are just changing what they do and how far they travel. For example, tent camping is up 10 percent over last year. Instead of $100 a night in a hotel, travelers are paying about $20 for a campsite.


So my husband drew a 100 mile circle around Carson City. I got out maps and camping guides and with a little Goggling, I found literally hundreds of places to go camping, practically in our own backyard. Hundreds.


For U.S. Forest campgrounds, go to www.fs.fed.us/ and follow the links for Recreational Activities for the Carson or Bridgeport Ranger Districts. To reserve spots at Forest Service and National Park campgrounds, go to www.recreation.gov. It has a great search feature to locate campsites for specific dates or places. Take a look at Nevada Beach up at Tahoe.


Another online resource is www.reserveamerica.com, which allows you to search for "any camping spot" near Carson City. It even tells you how far it is from home.

Nevada State Parks, such as Dayton and Washoe Lake, are at http://parks.nv.gov/. California State Parks can be found at www.parks.ca.gov. California operates Emerald Bay, D.L. Bliss and Ed Z'berg Sugar Pine Point state parks at Tahoe.

During the summer, the 1903 Hellman-Ehrmann Mansion at Sugar Pine is open for guided tours.


One of our favorite close-by getaways is Grover Hot Springs State Park near Markleeville, Calif. It's less than an hour away. Soak or swim in one of two pools set in a meadow with gorgeous views. Or take the hike up to the falls.


Following U.S. 395 south, you'll be presented with numerous options. At Lee Vining, the Tioga Road takes you into the high country of Yosemite National Park. If you haven't been to Yosemite and are willing to pay the entrance fee in addition to paying for a campsite, Tuolumne Meadows is another gem. But just outside the park is Ellery Lake, with trout in both the creek and the lake.


Another little-known spot just outside Yosemite is Saddlebag Lake, a few miles up a rugged dirt road. The lake sits above 10,000-foot elevation. They have a little store and coffee shop as well as a few first-come, first-serve campsites (not great for RVs though.) A taxi-boat service will take you to the other side of the lake for fishing, hiking and backpacking. More information is at www.saddlebaglakeresort.com/.


However, last week we decided to drive two hours down U.S. 395 to Bridgeport and camp at the Forest Service's Honeymoon Flat, an old favorite. It has the usual amenities " clear skies, breezes quaking the aspen, Jeffrey pine, wild roses, deer at sunset, fishing, hiking, a campground host, running water and vault toilets. I recommend a site right on Robinson Creek, especially if you're traveling with children. Kids can (and will) occupy themselves for hours wading, splashing and building dams. Just remind them to stay clear of the fishermen.


Surprisingly, the camp was nearly full. But then, we didn't see many of the big, Class A motorhomes, just plenty of trailers, campers and tents with mini-vans and pick-ups. It does seem that folks are vacationing closer to home too. Most of the vehicles we saw were from California and Nevada.


When I was growing up in Southern California, my blue-collar dad began planning our next summer vacation soon after returning from the last one. Our most frequent destination? The Sierra Nevada, Carson City's very own backyard. We didn't have much money, but as long as we stayed in the woods " and not in town " we could have a great vacation on very little money. Sure, there is gas to get there, and camping fees, but it's still a pretty good bargain.


And think about the fringe benefits. Breathing fresh air. Fishing. Listening to the creek. Identifying flowers, trees, birds, wildlife. Playing cards. Talking. Reading. Sitting around a campfire. Eating outdoors. Luckily, even cheap food tastes good when you're camping. Pancakes. Peanut butter and jelly. Hot dogs. Chili. S'mores.


If you're anything like me, summer isn't complete without a camping trip in the mountains. And with so many choices, it may take you longer to decide where to go than to actually get there.


How soon can you be packed? Don't forget the marshmallows.


- Fresh Ideas: Starting conversations by sharing personal perspectives on issues both timely and timeless. Lorie Smith Schaefer has lived in Carson City for more than 30 years. She is retired from teaching.

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