Dancing Queen: Why It’s Good to Be Young and Sweet at Camp Chief Ouray

Overnight camp. These words have been dripping off my daughter’s lips for months now and last week, all her dreams finally came true: She spent six blessed days and five nights at YMCA of the Rockies’ Camp Chief Ouray at Snow Mountain Ranch near Winter Park, Colo.

I knew she’d love it. I mean, what’s not to love about a gorgeous 5,100-acre mountain setting of streams, meadows and trails and a daily itinerary that included horseback riding, archery, canoeing, hiking, riflery, cabin activities, devotionals and skits at Colorado’s longest-running camp. But I was not prepared for how life-changing it would be.

My son Bode and I were granted special access to come visit on her final night. In fact, by some twist of fate, our room at Indian Peaks Lodge was directly overlooking her cabin.

Chippewa cabin is on the right, Dining Hall on the left

Mom-stalker much?

The Tour

That afternoon, Stephan Rivard, COO’s Travel Coordinator, gave us an animated tour of the grounds that included the Hey O Yankee Fire Ring. The Barn and riding arena. Dining Hall. Carpet ball in the Pavilion. Health Center (free Popsicles, hurray!) Low and high ropes courses. The new Gaga Ball area. Zipline. Kiwani Owapi Fire Ring.

When we entered the boy’s cabin that adjoined Hadley’s, it looked like a bomb had exploded. Clothes and books littered the floor and the sleeping bags on the bunks were the only things that had some semblance of order. I braced myself for Hadley’s cabin but was pleasantly surprised everything was in place–even cleaner than she keeps her room at home.

When I jokingly drew the comparison, Bode came to the defense of his gender. “Boys are just being boys, Mommy!”

Following our mid-day tour, Bode and I had not seen Hadley so returned to our lodge (Camp Chief Ouray is off-limits to the public). As we were leaving for dinner at Schlessman Commons, we spotted her from a distance returning to her cabin. I shouted out across the field. Her bunkmates excitedly pointed us out and she was shocked, then opportunistic. Her first words to us after nearly a week apart?


It was, after all, the final night and she had not adequately rationed her clothing.

The Dance

That evening we were granted permission to return for the final festivities and I dutifully delivered some clothes to her cabin. Camp tradition is to hold a final dance, followed by the Closing Campfire Ceremony with games, skits, songs and traditions including the awarding of the Spirit Stick to commemorate the most spirited cabin.

I was the most excited about the dance. Because isn’t it every kid’s dream to have her mother at her very first one?

I still had not seen Hadley face-to-face and I scanned the crowded Pavilion trying to find her. Bode and I perched on a nearby rock and soon she busted through the crowd dancing like a wild woman. I first took in her appearance: purple shirt, shorts and her riding boots.

But then I looked deeper: She was radiant, jubilant and oozing with confidence. She was free. Free from the restrains of deadlines and worldly expectations. Free to figure out who she is and she was bursting with a love of life brighter than the sun at her new-found independence.

She was thrilled to see us after nearly a week apart and returned frequently throughout the evening to dance. Even Bode busted out some moves while alternating between playing in the adjacent fields and scaling the climbing rock with new buddies.

The Heartbreak

The dance was a microcosm of the pains and joys of growing up. The youngest campers were 7 and the girls lined the benches dancing while the boys rough-housed in the meadow. Hadley’s 9-year-old group of girls non-committedly flitted around dancing with everyone and throwing caution to the wind as DJ Lolly Pop blasted their favorite tunes. The early teens were starting to pair off or stood awkwardly together while trying not to seem like they were awkward.

Oh, those were the days.

Crazy costumed counselors

We chuckled at the heartbreak when a 7-year-old girl confronted her age 10-ish “boyfriend” who had broken up with her. She even pulled his counselor into the drama, demanding he ask her to dance (all the while standing defiantly with her arms crossed and foot tapping a hundred miles a minute).

Even my own 6-year-old Bode had some action of his own. He was hanging out with me on the rock when a tween hottie asked him to dance. Stunned into silence, he turned bright red before literally crawling away on the rock. But she didn’t give up. Fifteen minutes later, she was back and oh-so sweetly repeated her offer. He looked at me to save him.

“Go dance with her.”

He shook his crimson head, steam coming out of his ears. Why did a girl want to dance with him?

“That’s fine if you don’t want to dance but you need to at least say something and politely decline.” It was one of those teachable moments in which I wanted to bust out laughing.

“I don’t want to dance right now,” he mumbled. At least I think that’s what he said before I apologetically thanked the sweet girl and bookmarked the moment for future blackmail.

While 99 percent of the campers were having a blast, they were a few outliers who did not join in. I watched them carefully throughout the evening to gauge their temperature. One boy was in tears and his counselors took turns staying with him before he eventually joined some of his friends to play carpet ball in the Pavilion.

A teen-aged girl sat on a rock and initially appeared disinterested but after a while, I noticed her foot was injured. I watched as her counselors and friends frequently came to check on her before one ultimately stayed by her side, though I’m sure she would have liked to have been in on the action.   Most of these kids had not known each other six days prior and here they were perfectly exemplifying inclusivity. Camaraderie. True friendship.

The Rousing End

The conclusion of the dance is when they really brought the house down when the Village People’s “Y-M-C-A” blasted out over the speakers. Everyone tore into the pavilion to act out each letter but instead of singing “It’s fun to stay at the Y.M.C.A.,” they screamed “Camp Chief Ouray.”

Me thinks this is the letter “C.”

Gotta give them props that it still rhymed.

I thought that was the rousing ending; little did I know I was one step away from being trampled. When the final song “Send me on my way” by Rusted Root blasted out, everyone rushed in my direction. I ducked for cover, bracing my newly-recovered lover-boy son as the entire camp literally flew past us and poured outside. A counselor later explained it is camp tradition to race to the meadow and dance like a hippie when that final song came on.

I don’t know about “hippies” but I  do know after catching a glimpse of a camp heaped in over 100 years of tradition in the most iconic of mountain settings, there sure were a lot of very overjoyed, deliriously happy kids who were, indeed, being “sent on their way.”


In case you missed them:

A Week of Independence: The Johnson Kids Do Utah and Camp

Dancing Queen: Why It’s Good to Be Young and Sweet at Camp Chief Ouray

Protesting the End of Camp Chief Ouray

Hadley’s Camp Chief Ouray Highlights: Kitchen-raiding Mammoth-capturing Fun


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