The Best in Tent Camping: Texas is a new book by Dallas author and Dallas Sierra Club Chair Wendel Withrow.    

April 9, 2012

If you’re part of the green movement and you’ve lived in Dallas for any length of time, you’ve probably heard of Wendel Withrow, a lawyer who chairs the Dallas Sierra Club. Withrow’s new book, Best in Tent Camping: Texas, offers a rare glimpse at the softer side of this hard-charging environmental advocate. 

Best in Tent Camping: Texas is a self-described “guide for car campers who hate RVs, concrete slabs and loud portable stereos.” While not the most avid camper, after reading through Withrow’s book I have been tempted to become one. 

I was hooked from page two of the preface, where Withrow describes the camping experience in terms both sensual and spiritual:  “It may be a spectacular vista, a fiery sunset, a single flower bloom, or even the intoxicating smell of a campfire, but we all sense it as soon as we arrive. As you visit the places described in this simple book, I can only hope that you will have the same sense of wonder and receive the gifts of peace only the natural world can bring.”

As a mother of two spirited children, such peace sounds enticing. Despite my proclivity toward staying comfortable in the great indoors, I can still admit that I feel better when I allow nature to rejuvenate me. Best in Tent Camping: Texas, makes it clear that Texas’s natural settings offer abundant and diverse means of escape.

The Lone Star State, Withrow informs us, stretches an amazing 906 miles from north to south and covers an 841-mile wide swatch from the desert climate of El Paso to the towering Piney Woods of East Texas. Part of a popular national series, Withrow’s guidebook profiles Texas’ top 50 campgrounds. Within it you find maps and a unique rating system that helps campers get more of what they really want: beauty, privacy, spaciousness, quiet, security, and cleanliness.

And where is the best tent camping in Texas?

“For one of the best close
campgrounds and overall good experiences, try Lake Ray Roberts State Park (formally Ray Roberts Lake) north of Denton,” Wendel says. “It’s easily accessible off Interstate 35.  That’s a really fun close-in one. It offers hiking, biking, camping, and a beach.  It even has a little resort at the park on the north side of the lake. I encourage parents with young kids to start with day hikes, stay in a motel, or just camp one night. Lots of people do it.”  

Staying in a cabin, Wendel assures me, isn’t cheating. 

“Another good weekend park is Caprock Canyons State Park between Dallas and Amarillo. It’s a little piece of Utah,” he adds, “A third park that I like a whole lot is Brazos Bend State Park southwest of Houston. It has a couple professional-level telescopes for bird-watching parties and a collection of alligators and other wildlife.”

The Dallas Sierra Club, the group that Wendel Withrow chairs, is well aware of the concerns of the uninitiated. To help ease any fears, the group offers hikes for beginners and more advanced campers so that anyone can develop a life-long love for nature.

Best in Tent Camping: Texas, in Wendel’s words, is a camping book with a lot of extras. 

“Camping is what you do at the end of the day, which is important because if that part of the experience is not enjoyable, then you’ve had a bad weekend.” 

To ameliorate any boredom that might set in, Withrow details other forms of recreation available at each destination. These include as hiking, biking, photography, wildlife viewing, and equestrian opportunities.

Withrow lends a dose of wisdom in efforts to help readers avoid a superficial “doing nature” trap. 

“In sharing environmental philosophy and thought-provoking quotes,” explains Wendel, “I try to help readers think and be inspired.  In our hyper-electronic society, we are in danger of losing our emotional connections.” 

To remediate this, Wendel offers a special section “Voice from the Campfire.”  As he explains, “Drinking hot chocolate, eating s’mores, telling stories… The campfire has always been the center of community – a place to foster interpersonal relationships and communication. We are rapidly losing the human connection as the younger generation soaks up continuously escalating technology. We need to make a conscious effort or reverse that.”

By now, if you’re like me, you’re saying – no, screaming – yes, trees are the answer!  And indeed thanks to this book I am in the throes of planning my first family camping experience (stay tuned for a follow-up piece on that subject). 

As you pack up your tent, get behind the wheel, and drive off into the sunset, don’t forget your copy of Best in Tent Camping: Texas. In reminding us how to appreciate nature, this is a work that also reminds us how to be human. No mater where we rate along the camping and hiking continuum, that is one summit we all want to reach.

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