We did a lot of camping as a family when I was a kid. We packed up our van (mom and dad did all the work, but I still like to say we), and the five of us piled in for more hours in a vehicle than any family should ever spend together. Our itinerary usually took us west.

We visited Yellowstone, Canada, the Tetons, Mount Rainer, Badlands, Grand Canyon, Glacier, Mount Rushmore, Wall Drug, Reptile Gardens, Bear Country USA. You get the idea.

As kids, we were pretty sure mom and dad had never heard of a motel or hotel. (Of course, like all kids, we just wanted wanted something with a swimming pool.) It was all camping, which they thought was an enriching family experience. In retrospect they were right. I have to give them credit.

Lots of good times, good adventures, and good memories. There’s something special about crawling out of your tent in Yellowstone at 5:30am (and 27 degrees), cooking breakfast on the Coleman stove, brushing the dirt off your pancakes, and washing it all down with Tang. I’m not kidding, these are some of my best memories as a kid. (Probably says a lot about my childhood!)

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When the time came for us to check out of our campsite and hit the road for the next day’s adventure, we’d roll up the sleeping bags, take down the tent, pack up the kitchen supplies and food, get all the gear loaded up in the van, and then Dad would put us kids into action.

Before we ever left a campsite he’d have us spend 20 minutes or so scouring the place for any piece of trash we could find. Our mission was to leave it spotless. (Although now I wonder if he and mom were just looking for something to keep us kids busy for a little while. Nothing wrong with killing two birds I guess.)

No trace of anything that had been left behind by us, or anyone before us. Clothespins, tin foil, twisties from a bread bag, plastic spoon. You name it, no piece was too small to pick up. His message to us, ‘always leave the campsite in better shape than when you found it.’

That thought applies to most things in life. Good advice dad. Very good advice.

Pete Hanson is on 98.1 Minnesota's New Country weekday mornings from 5:30 to 10:00.

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