Common to all the reasons people give for enjoying camping seems to be a
need to get back to our basic primordial roots. Maybe it's the caveman in us
all. For whatever reason, a modest campsite has great appeal.
I had a chance recently to push that envelope back at least 150 years in a
casual but unique way. I camped out in a tipi! It gave me a chance to act out
my interest in our country's Native American culture while experiencing, first
hand, the idiosyncrasies of the Great Plains
In the language of the Dakota Sioux, "ti" means "to
live or dwell;" "pi" means "used for" -- hence "tipi." It's a simple word for a
dynamically ingenious design for nomadic living on the great plains of the
The venue for my weekend stay under the protection of the canvas cone was Upper Sioux Agency State Park
in the heart of the prairies of western Minnesota.
The park has three tipis (the only park in the state
to offer these unique shelters) and they are available throughout the summer.
The native tipi was the house/shelter of the Plains Indians who followed the
buffalo herds across the open grass ranges of the central region of America. Three
main poles provide the initial framework for the conical structures that
typically have 15- to 18 support poles encircling the base. At the park, that
base consists of an 18-foot diameter deck. The tipi rises to nearly that same
height, forming a perfect geometric cone.
Entry, ventilation, and pest control are all manipulated by sash-like drapes
and flaps. An interior rain fly directs rainwater from the opening at the top
(ventilation) and routes it down and out between the main shell and the fly.
The flow of air and adjustable flaps work well together to keep the circulation
fresh and consistent. Obviously, no fires or other open flames are allowed
inside the tipi.
There's plenty of room inside allowing for cots, a small camp table and even
a big, unfolding camp lounger or two if you so desire. A chain hanging from the
peak offers a hook for lanterns or other light sources. Interior poles are
exposed so you could even stretch a line or two out for clothes and gear. A
smallish oval opening forms a door that let's you look back out towards the
main campsite. Like the original homes they took their lead from, the doorway
faces the east -- morning sun and usually less threatening weather.
Sitting by the crackling fire, I enjoyed watching the flickering shadows and
burst of golden washes from flames rising up out from the fire ring dance
across the white, smoothly stretched canvas. The tips of the support poles
radiating upward and outward several feet beyond the peak of the cone were
silhouetted against the prairie sky. It was not hard to imagine a herd of
buffalo grazing just beyond the grassy knoll that bordered the campsite.
Coyotes yipping and squealing at the rising moon added a mesmerizing touch to
the overall experience.
It was a relaxing experience to have the extra comfort and luxury of a camp
cot and small table inside my "tent." It was the peace of mind inside my head,
however, that really helped me appreciate this aspect of our collective camping
There are numerous alternatives to the standard tent you can enjoy camping
throughout the United States, such as fire towers, lighthouses, funky cabins -- and
even a tent used by America's first "campers" -- the Great Plains/Dakota Sioux
Shop The Sportsman's Guide for a great selection of Tents, including Teepee tents!
Tom Watson is an award-winning writer who lived in Alaska for 16 years, 12 of which were on Kodiak Island. He is a frequent contributor to "Camping Life," "Canoe & Kayak" magazines, author of three books:" Sixty Hikes within Sixty Miles of Minneapolis," "Best Tent Camping-Minnesota," both by Menasha Ridge Press, and "How to Think Like a Survivor," by Creative Publishing International. He's also an avid kayaker, camper, naturalist, writer, and photographer residing in western Minnesota. He will write a weekly column on camping tips for sportsmansguide.com.