As summer wanes in San Diego (this year, it lasted right through October), my family begins to look forward to our annual Thanksgiving Week camping trip to Borrego Springs with close friends. This was our third trip.

Now, in general, I am not a poop-in-a-hole-and-bury-it-so-coyotes-don’t-eat-it kind of gal, but I love roughing it, if only for two days in the desert. I’m willing to live with sand in every orifice, deal with cholla cacti stuck in my leg, and sleep on a thin camping mat for three reasons.

1. The Food

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I will never successfully go backpack camping (where you hike with everything in your pack, make camp, then move on) for one reason: I wouldn’t be able to live on protein bars and astronaut food. One of the primary rewards for me camping in the desert wilds is that I get to eat. Well.

It starts with bacon (and pretty much ends with bacon, too). Each family supplies a breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and we’ve branded ourselves as the “bacon-wrapped shrimp family.” So as my husband and Wade do manly things with the fire, Christina, I, and our kids prance around, waiting for those succulent shrimp dripping with maple bacon juice to be ready.

Beyond the Bacon Baccanal, over the years we’ve had:

  • Grilled lobster
  • Curried chicken
  • Lobster bisque
  • Turkey meatballs
  • Prosciutto-wrapped asparagus
  • Bacon (again) Brussels sprouts

Looking at that list, I realize we never cook the traditional camping foods like hamburgers or hot dogs. We take campfire cooking to new heights!

The Bacon Fest continues at breakfast. Lunch is pretty simple, usually. And we indulge our sweet tooth with brownies, cookies, and candy. Why would you want a traditional Thanksgiving meal when you could have all this?

2. The Hike

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We usually take one hike while we’re there, though we each tend to meander off close to the camp for some alone time throughout the trip. On our hikes, we’ve explored the shadows of the Slot Canyons, taken a looong hike to see some Native American relics, and this time, hiked to a vast expanse of flat land surrounded by mountains at Harper Flats.

Despite their complaining, ┬áthe kids love scrambling over rocks and having adventures in the wild. Max isn’t naturally an outdoorsy kid, so it warms my heart when he becomes a mountain goat, if only for a few days.

3. The Stars (and Beer)

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After a few hours of hiking, we come back to camp to prep for dinner. The sun hides behind the mountains quickly, so we don’t have much daylight left. This trip, we were blessed with a 3/4-full moon that provided so much light, we didn’t need lanterns.

And then come the stars. Of course they’re more visible and beautiful than in the city. This time, the sky wasn’t completely inky, thanks to the moon, but I still marveled at how many we could see. I didn’t see any shooting stars this trip, though I have before.

To accompany the stars, we enjoy great beer, eat our food, and tell story after story. The laughs are many, and the friendships just get stronger every year. The kids, pooped from a day of scrambling up boulders, crash pretty early, leaving us to warm ourselves around the dying embers.

I don’t need an overcooked turkey to share my gratitude this time of year. I’m thankful to have friends like the ones we have, and a family that is up for a little adventure and a lot of dirt for a few days each November.