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Posts Tagged ‘camping’

Did I start a fire without matches on television in only 30 seconds? Gotta watch the video to find out!

I hope you enjoy my KHQA Morning Show appearance. Huge thanks to host Kristen Aguirre and cameraman Mark Schneider! Also huge thanks to my husband who was kind enough to camp on a Tuesday night and get up at 4 am so I could be “TV ready!”

Note to self: I should do video blogs more often! It’s so much less typing!!

 

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Hey Barred Owl! You're going to need a permit!

Hey Barred Owl! You’re going to need a permit!

Summertime provides ample opportunity to get out and follow your Adventure Foot, and one of the very best ways to do that is to go camping!  Whether you’re tent camping with the kids out of the back of the mini-van or planning a backpacking excursion “off the grid,” a few simple steps can make your next camping trip a safe and fun adventure!

A Little Planning Goes a Long Way

Justin putting up a tent at Sand Ridge State Forest

Justin putting up a tent at Sand Ridge State Forest

We’ve all forgotten something important on a trip before, but when we forget something important on a camping trip, it tends to cause more inconvenience than usual.  I’ve found that the way to become a better camper and to forget fewer things is to make a list!  Make a list of the items you’ll need and lay the items all out on the kitchen table before you start packing them in your bag.  When all your items are laid out, you can make sure you haven’t forgotten anything crucial to the trip- matches, bug spray, sunscreen, toilet paper…   don’t leave home without them!

Just as important as what you bring is what you do not bring.  If you’re taking the kids, leave the Nintendo DS at home! Camping time is unplugging time and you will thank yourself for giving all the technology a rest.  Also look for things you can leave out of your life for a day or two.  Pare down the things you’re bringing to just the necessities.  Decluttering is part of the beauty of the outdoors. Besides, whatever you don’t bring, you don’t have to carry!

I like to keep a running list for camping trips.  At the end of the trip, I look to see if there are any items in my pack that I haven’t used at all, and I cross those off for next time.  It lightens the load and helps me to be a more efficient camper.  Likewise, if some item would have made my life easier, I add it to the list and next time I’ll have it!

Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires

Putting the Mmmmmm in Mmmmmarshmallows

Putting the Mmmmmm in Mmmmmarshmallows

Fire safety is every camper’s responsibility.  When building a fire, find out if the campground or space has any rules in place for fire building.  Check for dry conditions and don’t build fires any larger than necessary.  Fire pits or rings are great assets at campgrounds; use them!  They’ll keep the debris all in one place and also help keep the fire from spreading.   If there is not a fire pit, look for a campfire site that is downwind and at least 15 feet away from shrubs, overhanging branches, tents or any other flammable objects.

Please remember: do not transport firewood from one place to another.  There is plenty of loose wood around to collect and burn, and moving firewood is one of the main vectors of invasive species like the extremely destructive Emerald Ash Borer Beatle.

The Bare Necessities

I love Ryan's trail hammock.  Lightweight and even has a bug shield.

I love Ryan’s trail hammock. Lightweight and even has a bug shield.

Water, shelter, food, and waste disposal.  That’s what you’ll need for a camping trip.  If you’re heading out to a state park or campground, water might be easy to come by and all you’ll need is a few water bottles.  If you’re backpacking or going on an especially long hike you may need to bring water purification equipment or tabs.  Plan ahead and know where your water sources are.

Shelter is important too.  Check the weather forecast before you go and pack appropriate gear. In my experience, a forecast for 25% chance of rain turns to 100% if I forget my tent’s rain fly or my poncho.  It’s just the way it works.  Also, pack appropriate gear for the temperatures.  You don’t need that sub-zero sleeping bag if it’s not going to dip below 70 degrees at night.  Likewise, a nice day doesn’t guarantee a warm night, so check and double check the forecast!  It’s not a bad idea to look for safe places to go in case of a storm even if none are forecast.

Food safety is especially important on camping trips, and I’ve heard more than one story of a great camping trip spoiled a day later by intestinal distress.  Don’t forget your safe food handling practices just because you’re out in the woods.  Make sure you cook any meat you are eating thoroughly, be aware of opportunities for cross contamination (don’t touch the fish and then the apples!!), and store food safely.  Make sure you’re storing your food and trash out of the reach of wildlife too.  Even though there aren’t bears in Illinois, a cranky raccoon wandering through camp isn’t much fun either.

Check the Visitor Center for park rules and regs!

Check the Visitor Center for park rules and regs!

Waste disposal doesn’t often get much forethought, but it’s important to plan for too.  Bring trash bags and make sure you keep your campsite clean. You’ll often hear the phrase, “leave no trace.”  This basically means: bring everything out of the woods that you took into the woods.

And while we’re on the subject of waste… sometimes you’re by a porta-john or latrine, and sometimes you’re not.  If you’re in the back country, protect the ecosystem and other travelers by following trail rules.  This often means digging a small hole 10-15 feet off the trail and away from any water sources, doing your business, and covering it up.  If my cats can cover up their dootie, so can you.  In especially delicate ecosystems, you may be required to bring any solid waste with you out of the woods.  Obey rules and posted guidelines!

Maps, Flashlights, and Emergencies

My smartphone has Google Maps, a flashlight, and can call 9-1-1.  Guess what doesn’t usually work in the woods though? My cell phone!  Come on people, you knew that!

Trail tortoise at Fall Creek

Trail tortoise at Fall Creek

Make sure you’re bringing several light sources for your trip.  I’m a fan of hands-free headlights and small LED flashlights.  On longer backpacking trips, I like a hand-crank flashlight and radio combination, which can be used regardless of battery life.

Bring basic first aid equipment for emergencies and even consider a flare or other signaling device if you will be a long way from emergency services.

And bring a printed park map.  Keep the printed map in a plastic bag or have it laminated.

 Hazard Inventory

Riding and camping are a great combination! This is at RAGBRAI 2012

Riding and camping are a great combination! This is at RAGBRAI 2012

The last great piece of camping advice comes to you courtesy of my grandpa.  He said, “Beware of things that bite, sting, itch, or get you all wet!”  Make a list of the hazards you might experience in the area you’re camping.  Know how to identify poison oak and poison ivy.  Know how to identify and safely remove ticks.  Know if anyone in your party is allergic to bee stings and bring appropriate first aid materials for that person.  Know how to identify a potentially hazardous snake or a harmless one (clue: most snakes in our area are harmless).  And lastly, be aware of any water hazards, especially if you have kids around.  Don’t build your tent close to the creek; flash floods can happen whether it’s raining where you are or not.  Keep the kids away from lakes or ponds after dark.  Don’t cross flooded streams.  Just use your common sense!

Justin out on a long hike!

Justin out on a long hike!

So there you have the Adventure Foot Guide to Safe and Fun Camping!  Be sure to check out these related blogs about some of my favorite local state parks.  I highly recommend Wakonda State Park in La Grange, MO, (second winter Wakonda link here!)  Cuivre River State Park in Troy, MO and Siloam Springs State Park in Liberty, IL (second Siloam link here!) for local camping adventures.  You might also check out Sand Ridge State Park near Peoria.  This park is enormous and especially fun in the late fall and winter! Oh and don’t forget Mark Twain Lake!  There’s no excuse not to camp with so many great places to go!

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Thanks to the nice people who took our photo even though we scared off their fish!!

Let me tell you readers, it’s not for lack of stories that I haven’t been posting quite as often, it’s for lack of time to write!  In the past couple of weeks I’ve had a couple of adventures that I have yet to tell you guys about… today’s slightly late recap is:

Kayaking with Jess

Adventure Feet

My friend Jess’s father-in-law owns a couple of sit-on-top kayaks, and for a long time we had been saying, “Someday we ought to take those over to Wyconda and paddle.”  Well, someday was taking too long so I sent her a message on Facebook asking if “someday” could be “Sunday.”  She actually replied no at first but quickly reversed and said, yeah- let’s do it.

We headed across the river with the boats in the back of my dad’s truck to Wakonda State Park in La Grange, MO.  Our destination was not the busy and crowded main lake, but rather neighboring Agate Lake.

Wyconda State Park Map (Click to view larger)

I learned via the park’s website that Agate Lake was one of six man-made lakes in Northern Missouri created by the excavation of ice-age deposited gravel pits.  The horse-shoe shaped lake is deceptively large, and Jess and I had a great time paddling, exploring, and chasing geese around the small island in the middle of the lake.  My primary paddling experience has been in ocean kayaks (covered), and this was a great chance to try the sit-on-top variety.  Clearly, this kind of kayak isn’t built for speed or tight maneuverability, but it’s really comfortable, steady and perfect for a relaxing day on a local lake.

Some of the Wyconda Trail Heads near Agate Lake

Because I’m silly and couldn’t resist, I had to see how far I could push the kayak onto its side before it would tip. The answer: pretty darned far.  The things are designed to be super-stable and forgiving.  When I finally did tip the thing, I easily flipped it back to the right side by myself, and since it wasn’t full of water the way an ocean rig would have been, I just kicked my feet a little, hauled myself back up on deck, flipped over to sit back in the seat and we were back on our way.

Jess and I had a really nice afternoon on the lake, and I enjoyed being able to catch up with what was going on in her life and tell her about what had been going on in mine.  Really, the most important part of getting out to follow your Adventure Foot is being able to share the experience with a friend.   Kayaking on a small lake is so quiet and relaxing that it lends itself especially well to great conversation.

Jess had no problem with the choppy water 🙂

If you’re looking for a great little park nearby, I’d highly recommend Wakonda.  In addition to Agate Lake where we paddled, there is also Wakonda Lake and its beach and swimming area, there are RV hookups and campsites, several small trails, and a concessions building with small boats to rent.  If you’ve got kayaks there are plenty of opportunities to do short portages to the other lakes in the area- Quartz and Jasper- and I’m told that if you head the right direction, you can portage a few times and be right back in the Mississippi.   The lakes are also stocked with fish and are a great place to take a family for a fishing trip.  The park is smartly laid out with a central parking lot, so you’re at the center of the lakes, the ranger station, the playground, the swim area, the campsites and the boat launches.  It’s only a 15 minute drive from downtown Quincy, which makes it very convenient, even on a whim.

For more on Wakonda State Park, visit their website here!

Peace out. 🙂

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Jeremy Grootens and Laura at the trailhead to Big Sugar Creek Trail.

Everything about Cuivre (pronounced “quiver”) River State Park in Troy, Mo., is wild. There are wild flowers, wild animals and wildly-fun trails, lakes and campgrounds. All in all, the park makes for a great adventure.

Photos from my trips to the park: 1. Woodland Swallowtail Butterfly 2. Red-Throated Woodpecker 3. Wildflowers 4. Frog 5. Cardinal 6. Water Snake 7. Wildflower 8. Icicles along the bluff 9. Wildflowers 10. Squirel 11. Forest Plant 12. Eastern Fence Lizard 13. Rat Snake eating a Corn Snake 14. Dogwood Tree 15. Titmouse.

Cuivre River is only an hour and a half from Quincy, and is one of the loveliest state parks in Missouri. I suggest starting your visit with a stop in the park’s Visitor’s Center. The park staff is very friendly and will give you great tips on finding just the right activities for your group. They know the local wildlife and trails inside and out, so ask them how to get the most out of your visit.

Even though the park is close to home, the variety of trails, habitats, and terrains make the park seem like a real vacation.  The 11 trails at the park are well-marked and easy to follow, and they vary in length and difficulty.  Some trail highlights include:

Lakeside Trail (3.5 miles) This trail leads right along the perimeter of Lincoln Lake. My husband and I hiked this trail just last weekend, and saw frogs, snakes, butterflies, beavers, lizards and more.

Big Sugar Creek Trail (3.75 miles) I hiked this trail with friends in January, and it was simply breathtaking. The creek and bluffs were heavy with icicles in the winter, and in the warmer months, the bubbling stream and chirping birds are a symphony.

Lone Spring Trail (4.75 miles) The Lone Spring Trail has both a north and a south loop, which gives you the option of only doing 2.3 miles if you prefer a shorter walk.  In addition to its namesake natural spring, this trail traverses an open woodland area. This area is currently being restored via controlled burns, and it’s amazing to watch the processes of the forest right before your eyes.

Prairie Trail (.3 mile) and Turkey Hollow Trail (.8 mile) are great options if you’ve got kids along.  They each are short, well-marked trails that give you views of prairies and woodlands, respectively.

There are far too many activities at this park to list, but I’d suggest checking out the Ranger Talks on Saturday nights or Sunday mornings between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Topics are seasonal and have featured subjects like owls, bats, wildflowers, birds-of-prey, prairies, conservation, wetlands and much more.  Call the park office at 800-334-6946 or visit their website  http://mostateparks.com/park/cuivre-river-state-park

Also, don’t miss the lake, the beach, the campgrounds, the fishing, the swimming, just don’t miss this park.

*Note: There is also a cave at Cuivre River State Park. It is closed at this time, as are most Missouri, Illinois, and Iowa caves, to control the spread of White Nosed Bat Disease. I will be talking about the cave closures in an upcoming blog, however, the closures may be lifted later this summer. Check the Department of Natural Resources for the most up-to-date information.

Original Post April 15, 2011

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Prickly Pear Cactus are common in the Illinois Sand Prarie, but are not often found in the rest of the state.

If you read my blog last Friday, I bet you’re anxious to know which Memorial Day Weekend destination my husband and I chose.  After careful consideration, we headed north and visited Sand Ridge State Park, in Forest City, Ill.

Sand Ridge is the largest state park in Illinois at 7,500 acres, so we only got the chance to scratch the surface of what it has to offer on this short visit. One thing I can tell you is that this is the most unique environment I’ve ever seen in our area.

Justin Sievert builds a fire at the campsite.

The park gets its name because it is, in fact, very sandy. The receding glaciers dumped most of the sand there about 15,000 years ago, and a subsequent dry period turned the area into a desert. Fast-forward a few thousand years, and the deciduous forests of Illinois have grown onto the great sand dunes and merged with this formerly arid area to form what’s known as a Sand Prairie.

The area itself is so unique that it’s difficult to describe. There are the usual suspects from an Illinois forest: similar trees, deer in the distance, cardinals and robins raising a ruckus in the early morning hours, but there are also some strange features. For example, I trod over Prickly Pear Cactus in the first ten yards of the unceremoniously named “Orange Trail.” The trail was completely made out of deep sand and supported a variety of wildflowers that I’d never seen before.  The plants seemed sturdy and worn and reminded me more of the southwestern U.S. than northern Illinois.

The sand also supports a wide variety of bugs.  Besides some really pesky gnats and an unfortunate number of seed ticks, we saw some unique beetles, huge centipedes and several lovely types of butterflies.  My favorite butterflies of the forest were the bright yellow Tiger Swallowtails and blue and orange Woodland Swallowtails.

The abundance of bugs supports a variety of animals that eat bugs — particularly birds and bats.  As I was walking away from our campsite early Sunday morning, an electric buzzing sound caught my attention.  I thought to myself how strange it was that they’d run electricity clear out in the woods, when I noticed that the sound was coming not from a light pole, but from a dead tree. The dead tree was evidently the home of a whole colony of Myotis lucifugus, or Little Brown Bats.  I guess the noise was just the bats getting settled from a night on the wing at the best bug buffet in Illinois.

Out on the sandy trail!

Hiking and camping at the park is very rustic.  The trails are fairly well-marked, but there are not many of the amenities you might expect.  The bathrooms are all latrine style and unplumbed, and there are no playgrounds, rental areas or shelter houses.  The sand was wet due to storms this weekend, and the temperatures were in the 90s, so the hiking was pretty exhausting. The back country campsites are stationed every few miles on the trails and do include nice fire pits. If you’re planning a trip to Sand Ridge State Park, you can reserve campground sites (with or without electricity) or backcountry sites at http://www.reserveamerica.com.  The park does have very nice equestrian trails and a hand-trap range that look like fun.  Seasonally, hunters find this park to be one of the best destinations in Illinois for deer, pheasant, quail, doves, turkey, and red and gray fox.

Overall, if you’re looking for a rustic outdoors experience at a very utilitarian park, or if you are interested in seeing a unique ecosystem in our own backyard, Sand Ridge is for you.  I’m looking forward to visiting again in the winter and learning what a Sand Prairie looks like in colder months.  But for now — does anyone know how I’m going to get all of this sand out of my sleeping bag?

Original Post June 3, 2011

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