Last week our family spent six wonderful days “off the grid” tent camping in the mountains of southeast Colorado, about two hours northwest of Trinidad at 9800 feet altitude in Purgatoire Campground.

Colorado Camping July 2013

There were many highlights of the vacation for me, but one of the best was simply playing cards with our family. We played a lot of evening UNO (the first night by Christmas lights we strung up in our tent and powered with a Black & Decker Electromate 400) but eventually progressed to heated games of Hearts as well as Spades.

A Night of UNO in the tent

Ready to play a hand of Spades

The thing that struck me this trip about being “off the grid” together as a family was how our lack of connectivity for our mobile devices naturally encouraged us to be creative and connect with each other. Spades is a complex and really fun card game, which I played throughout college on our speech and debate bus trips. Our two oldest kids are able to play independently now, and when Rachel wanted to join in we switched to playing Hearts.

Keeping Score in Spades

I realized on our trip that when we are at home in the evenings, our natural / normal behavior is for everyone to plug-in to their devices and disconnect from each other. Whether it’s watching Netflix or YouTube, playing Club Penguin or Minecraft, or me working online and writing, we typically NEVER turn off all our devices and just play cards together at home. This is one of the primary reasons my wife and I wanted to go camping this summer and be offline / off the grid together as a family for an entire week. There is “inherent good” in going camping together as a family. The lack of connectivity leads to interactions and experiences we wouldn’t likely choose to have together otherwise.

Colorado Camping July 2013

One of the neat things my wife had learned about via Pinterest before our trip, which she helped our kids do, was build “Fairy Houses” by the river next to our campsite. This reminds me of Richard Louv‘s thesis in his book, “Last Child in the Woods.” Children today (and adults!) generally need MORE unstructured time in outdoor spaces. There are lots of benefits to emotional health as well as creativity when we have opportunities to spend unstructured time outside.

An outdoor fairy house built by Rachel and Mom

Fairy Houses in the Woods

Fairy House in the Colorado Mountains

These experiences also remind me of something I read years ago in a Neil Postman book, probably either in Technopoly or Amusing Ourselves to Death. Postman explained that periodically (maybe once per week) their family would “play 1870s” when they basically wouldn’t use anything for an evening that required electricity. They played games by oil lamp, turned off the television, and generally found creative ways to have fun together that didn’t require technology.

Colorado Camping July 2013

Following our family camping vacation this summer, I’m inspired to consider “playing 1870s” in the same way with our family on a regular basis. I definitely LOVE using technology and learning in our connected world, but I also love the relational opportunities which “unplugging” can bring. My experiences at “Unplug’d 2012″ in Canada definitely reinforced that. Here’s to the good times which we can have when we unplug and hang out together outside in beautiful, COOL places in the summertime!

Hiking along the North Fork Trail back to Purgatoire Campground

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  • Charlene Chausis ?

    Love the fairy houses!!

  • Vivian ??

    Thanks for sharing, Wes. It looks like you had a wonderful time. I love the fairy-houses! I recently read somewhere that children make more/better use of their unstructured time when they are outdoors (as opposed to being inside). It’s important to make a conscious-effort to disconnect with our devices regularly. If we can do it in the “Great Outdoors”, even better! That’s the stuff memories are made out of!

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