I've gone to family church camp with my brother and his kids several times, though this was our first year at this particular camp. The one we went to last year, Camp Nawakwa, had scheduled their family camp at a time that wasn't convenient for our family -- the nerve! -- so Andy checked around for nearby alternatives and found Mar-Lu-Ridge, so that's where we went.
The first night, Wednesday, was devoted mostly to eating. First we had dinner; then a campfire with S'mores; and after that, ice cream sundaes. That's not all we did, though; before dinner, we settled into our rooms and made name tags for ourselves, and between dinner and S'mores there was a Bible study. I also found time to play a game of Candyland with my nephew and two other kids, all three of whom beat me. It was that damn gingerbread man's fault!
Speaking of the rooms, they offered a camping experience even less rustic than the deluxe cabin at Jellystone Park. Mar-Lu-Ridge's family camp was not at their main camp area, but at the Ridge Inn and Conference Center, which as the name suggests is essentially a motel. Air conditioned rooms, full bathroom with shower, a mini-fridge and microwave oven, and actual beds. (The Jellystone Park cabin slept 8, but had only one queen bed; the other six people either sleot on the sleeper-sofa or on a mattress in the loft.) No TV or WiFi, though, which I suppose some people would consider rustic or even barbaric.
Before I go on to talk about what we did, let me explain how the Mar-Lu-Ridge is laid out. There are three separate areas: the main camp, which is on the eponymous ridge; the conference center, which is north of the main camp, down the hill; and the day camp, which is further down the hill and across the street from the conference center. From the conference center, the pool was down a steep hill that was tremendously not at all fun to climb back up after swim time. And the main camp was far enough removed from the conference center that when we had activities there, we had to drive.
So, about those activities. Thursday and Friday both followed the same schedule: "morning watch," a very brief look at what we'd talking about in Bible study later; breakfast; Bible study; a group activity; lunch; quiet time; swimming; dinner; evening activity. Thursday's morning activity was a trip up to "Shock Rock," which is above the main camp. Shock Rock is a large outcropping of rock that happens to lie directly below a high-tension electrical line. If you sit on the edge of the rock and let your legs dangle in the air, and someone comes up and places a hand on your head while raising her other hand toward the power line, you receive a very minor electrical shock. I, of course, was rather nervous about getting close enough to the edge of the rock to dangle my feet, but I did and I did indeed feel a tingle when niece Molly tried it on me. A bizarre sensation!
My nervousness notwithstanding, the hike up to the rock was worth it for the view:
You can see three states from up there! Well, two states and a commonwealth, technically. Still, pretty!
That evening, we sang songs and watched ate more S'mores. The camp counselors did a few skits and led more songs between the S'mores. They did that the night before too, I forgot to mention that. I'd seen all the skits before -- I'd done at least one of them myself when I was a Boy Scout -- but they were performed with great enthusiasm, which makes up for a lot.
Friday's activity was in the opposite direction, down to a pond on the day camp grounds. We walked around the pond and watched some kids from Fishing Camp do their thing and just generally hung out enjoying being out in nature and each other's company. On the way back up the hill from the pond, we took a diversion into the woods to see the labyrinth and
Friday evening we were back up at the main camp for the end-of-the-week (for the youth campers at the main camp) worship service, which was held in a lovely chapel with a lovely view but suffered an assumption that everyone participating knew the worship songs. The youth campers all did, of course, and I imagine a lot of the family campers did too, since they'd all been to Mar-Lu-Ridge before, but I was kind of at sea, because the lyrics were hard to read and with one exception I neither knew the tunes nor had the music. (I had previously sung "Days of Elijah" at my own church.) Speaking for myself, I find it somewhat alienating when I'm the only one who doesn't know the song and there's no way for me learn it without just fumbling through it imitatively.
We went swimming both days. Unlike Jellystone, Mar-Lu-Ridge did not have a wading pool, and aside from the steps into the shallow end there was no part of the pool nephew Ikey could stand up in (and even there he clung to the rail so tightly I thought he might break it) so I spent most of my time letting him jump into my arms from the edge of the pool, which he really enjoyed. The other big difference between the Mar-Lu-Ridge pool and the Jellystone one was that the former was not so warm. The Jellystone pool was literally the warmest pool I'd ever been in. Not uncomfortably warm, but noticeably much warmer than your average pool. The Mar-Lu-Ridge one was heated, but still cold enough to have to get over the shock of first jumping in. They made us get out early on Friday due to heavy rain. Walking up the hill from the pool to the conference center is no fun when you're getting a little bit dryer as you go; it stinks completely when you're getting rained on.
All in all, it was a fun camp. See how happy we all look?
Photo via Mar Lu Ridge on Facebook
But how did this family camp compare to last year's at Nawakwa? Honestly, they were pretty similar. The food was better at Mar-Lu-Ridge, but they were cooking for a smaller group of people too. The rooms were more comfortable at Mar-Lu-Ridge too, but that was largely due to last year being so much hotter than this year. If we'd had this summer's weather last summer, the lack of air conditioning wouldn't have mattered. I did like the smaller group size. There were so many people at Nawakwa's family camp, it was a little overwhelming. The one thing that Nawakwa really has over Mar-Lu-Ridge is that it's much more self-contained and level. But I'd be perfectly happy going back to either one.