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Who First Camped?

When exploring the history of camping, it first must be asked: What does it mean to “camp”? Is it the act of enjoying an overnight outdoors or the place? Both actually; camping meant surviving to early humans, when hunting and gathering were essential, and shelter a luxury.

The earliest known “camp site” in North America is high atop a mesa in Alaska, a wondrous and strategic spot 200-feet high, offering a 360-degree view of the surrounding plains, where ancient travelers of the Paleo-Indian Period built a fire and scouted for food around 11,800 BC. Stone tools and sharp projectile points found at the site, along with charcoal that made dating the oldest known campfire in North America possible, show these early “campers” picked the perfect spot with a splendid view to hunt for mastodon and bison.


Elsewhere, Monte Verde, Chile, evidences camping some 13,000 years ago, while Pedra Furada, Brazil, claims the oldest known proof of humans camping (based on charcoal fire remnants and rock paintings), dating back 30,000 years.

Camping, as we now know it at least, didn’t emerge until the mid-1800s with, of course, New York State claiming its origin. William Henry Harrison Murray published “Camp-Life in the Adirondacks” in 1869 and the masses responded, flooding northern New York with excited and somewhat informed first-time campers.

Multiple campgrounds claim to be the first, including Tippicanoe Campground In New Hampshire and Cunningham’s Camp on the Isle of Man, yet any veteran of the Revolutionary or Civil War would say that they had camped long before then, and were lucky to survive. Fun fact: The term “camp” is thought to have been inspired by military encampments.

President Teddy Roosevelt famously faked-out the national press in 1903 by disappearing from public view into Yosemite with naturalist John Miur for three nights, writing what many would agree, then and now: “I want to drop politics absolutely for four days and just be out in the open…”

Sleeping on the ground in unpredictable weather, branches or maybe a tent for cover, weeded-out many new enthusiasts of camping. No longer were we surviving but recreating, attempting relaxation in the wilderness. Comfort became key, and the Pierce-Arrow Touring Landau appeared in 1910, amazing newly mobile Americans with the notion of a bed, chamber pot and sink, all on wheels! This first RV forever altered the concept of camping, especially as the first National Parks added roads, easy access to the most majestic parts of America.

1910 Pierce-Arrow Touring Landau

Still, the original basis for camping - surviving - soon returned. The Great Depression in the

1930s saw millions of Americans displaced, on the move, seeking work and a safe spot to stay.

The Great Recession of 2009 echoed those dour times, with many “home-free” adventurers

turning to RVs and car-camping, leaving the concept of home behind in favor of the road, the

camp. Covid-19 has only added to this trend, with campers seeking both adventure and escape from the sequestration of a pandemic. Camping has now become therapy, an essential getaway elsewhere, away from crowds, modern troubles forgotten even if for just a night. The irony is almost beautiful: Early campers were trying to survive, while today’s campers are escaping.

Our long dirt road winds over a mile, rising some 1,000 vertical feet. While RVs simply can’t get to Dirt Road Camp, our guests take great glee in climbing our off-road trails in trucks, SUVs or adventure motorcycles to the peak of our mountain — Hoots and high-fives are the norm for those who successfully navigate the rough terrain. Fear not, we also offer guests a ride up in our Polaris UTV for those who prefer to leave their vehicles in the parking area below while still getting the adrenaline rush of off-roading.

Dirt Road Camp - our Bluestone site

Once at camp you will find several acres all to yourself, whether roughing-it at one of our primitive campsites or surrounded by basic comforts like a bed, wood stove and outhouse in one of our cabins or wall-tent. Whatever your adventure, we hearken back to the earliest campers: Atop the wilderness, surveying the terrain, surviving, relaxing.

When it comes to camping, Dirt Road Camp is both the act and place. Therapy. And that’s how we’ll keep it.

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