Get A Grip: Camping with baby

Maybe camping wasn't such a great idea.

But we were anxious to introduce Sophie to the wonders of the outdoors so we packed up our tent and sleeping bags and headed into the wilderness.

Our plan was to spend the weekend exploring the Arizona Strip.

The Strip is the sliver of state, much of it in Mohave County, north of the Grand Canyon.

Even though it's in the same county, we had to drive through two different states to access the remote outpost of Arizona.

As is our habit, we were late getting on the road Friday and twilight fell as we traveled up Highway 93 past Las Vegas where we picked up Interstate 15 heading northeast.

Far from our camping destination we stopped in Mesquite, Nev., and found a cheap hotel room in a gaudy, run-down casino that was packed with tourists.

Figuring the king-size bed would be plenty big for the three of us, we eschewed ordering a crib.

Big mistake.

At one and a half years old, Sophie is growing fast but still small and with Mommy on one side and Daddy on the other, we figured we'd all sleep blissfully 'til morning.

Wrong.

As she drifted into a restless sleep, she treated her tired parents to elbow jabs to the ribs, a small knee to the abdomen and various punches and kicks.

Her acrobatics abated after an hour or so and I managed to fall asleep only to be reawakened by a tiny foot shoved in my mouth.

Then she jerked the foot out of my mouth and kicked me in the nose before repositioning herself (while still asleep) to inflict the exact same damage on her Daddy.

Before the long night was over I had been punched squarely in the eye and found the wandering toes in my ear.

Thankfully, morning dawned and my little kick boxer awoke refreshed and ready for the day.

Back in the car we drove through a swatch of Utah before descending back into Arizona for a leisurely day of exploring.

The landscape here was still recognizable as desert but a very different variety than we had left behind in Kingman.

Red hills jutted up from the dark soil dotted with sage and other greenery.

With a backdrop of a crystalline blue sky dotted with thick white clouds, the landscape was a breathtaking study in color and contrast.

We did most of our exploring via car, surveying the area in anticipation of a future trip when we can take more time, and had a long lazy picnic lunch.

We had planned to camp near Toroweep, close to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, but threatening monsoon clouds and the fear of getting stuck at the end of the 60 mile dirt road that dips into the heart of the Strip led us back to the freeway and without a clue where we would spend the night.

At this point we invested in a map and discovered that we were just a short drive away from Zion National Park.

Having never been to Zion, we pointed our auto toward the park.

It was late afternoon when we arrived and were admitted to the park for a $20 fee.

We headed straight to the campground where we snagged one of the last available campsites for $14.

At a total of $34 the camping cost us more than the previous nights' hotel room.

But even at $34 I'll take a campsite in a cathedral-like park over a night in a shabby casino any day.

Sophie, on the other hand, wasn't sold.

With an almost uncanny sense, she seemed to realize that we really wanted her to be quiet in a campground full of people.

And so she started to yell.

She yelled and she screamed and when I tried to quiet her, she hit me.

Then she laughed.

And so, we officially bid adieu to the salad days of perfect charming babyness and enter the cold cruel world of testing toddlerhood.

And with an impeccable sense of timing, her testing began in the presence of crowds of strangers.

I saw them looking, the people in campsite No.

21.

They looked over with that look that says, "What are those awful people doing to that poor child?" I think Sophie saw it too 'cause she yelled even louder.

She yelled when I tried to put her jammies on.

She yelled her displeasure at the soup we gave her for dinner.

She was rowdy until she finally went to sleep an hour or so after dark.

In the tent she did a little better than the night before, limiting her sleep-time attack to a tiny fist to my mouth.

At about 6 a.m.

she decided it was time for everyone in the campsite to get up and so she sounded the alarm.

The people in campsite No.

17 glared out from their tent flaps.

Sophie was undaunted.

A short hike and a dip in the creek finally got a smile out of her and when we packed up the car and headed home, she slept like a rock.

Maybe she was just tired, I think hopefully.

Maybe my little angel will be back.

When I complained to my mother about Sophie's behavior, she heartlessly laughed at me.

"And so it begins," she said with a chuckle.

"Now it's your turn."

I don't know what she was talking about or how a mother could be so heartless.