Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Missouri’

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!

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Doug and I take in the view from the top of Monk's Mound at Cahokia Mounds World Heritage Site.

Doug and I take in the view from the top of Monk’s Mound at Cahokia Mounds World Heritage Site. You can see the St. Louis Arch in the background.

Have you ever dreamed of visiting something iconic, inspirational, and culturally significant to the history of humanity?  The Pyramids of Giza. Persepolis in Iran.  The archeological remains of Pompeii in Italy. The Temple of Apollo Epicurus in Greece.  The Taj Mahal in India. Stonehenge in Northern Ireland.

In 1994 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) launched an initiative to compile a list and work on the preservation of the most important cultural and natural sites in the world.  This list of World Heritage Sites is awash with one jaw-dropping wonder of the world after another.  It includes all of the sites I listed in the paragraph above and more.

Stone artifacts/axe heads found in various burial pits near Cahokia.

Stone artifacts/axe heads found in various burial pits near Cahokia.

Now to visit the amazing sites I listed above would take a whole lot of time and a whole lot of money.  But what if a true wonder of the world, a record of the technological achievements of man, a significant stage in human history preserved in the archaeological record, and an exceptional example of a civilization that has disappeared was located just two hours from where you’re sitting now?  Don’t you think you owe it to yourself to go and check it out?

Ladies and gentleman, I give you: Cahokia Mounds in Collinsville, Illinois.

Recreated village scene at the visitor's center museum

Recreated village scene at the visitor’s center museum

My own trip to Cahokia (pronounced Ka-Hoke-ee-ah) came from one simple truth: we were tired of being in the car.  My friend Doug and I had just run the Run the Bluegrass Half Marathon in Lexington, Kentucky and were headed home.  Over 5 hours into our trip home, I spotted a brown historic site marker on the highway and exclaimed, “We’re right by Cahokia Mounds! I’ve always wanted to see it!”  Doug made an impressively quick decision and an equally quick lane-change with the car, and just a few miles down the road, we arrived at the park.

Cahokia Mounds is the largest prehistoric Indian site north of Mexico.  At its height, the chiefton-based civilization covered 4000 acres, included numerous villages around the main city structure, and was home to nearly 20,000 people.  These Mississippian people flourished from 800 AD to approximately 1200 AD and had highly structured communities with a complex social system which included art, agriculture, community, trade networks, and many scientific and engineering achievements.  In AD 1200, Cahokia was larger than London.

The Cahokia Mounds site today, as it was in AD 800, is organized around a central Grand Plaza and the largest earthen pyramid in the US, Monk’s Mound.  Monk’s Mound and the 100+ surrounding mounds are made of earth and wood using stone and wood tools.  The earth was transported primarily on people’s backs in woven baskets.  It is estimated that Monk’s Mound- with a base that covers 14 acres and a height of 100 feet- is comprised of over 22,000 cubic feet of earth.  Anyone else’s back sore thinking about moving that much dirt?

Monk’s Mound was a cultural focal point and once was topped with a massive building where the most important chief would run the government and conduct ceremonies. Other mounds were built for other purposes.  Most contained burials, and some may have just been built to elevate the residence of important figures in the society.  Today some of the mounds have been excavated and amazing artifacts have been recovered and preserved.

Infographic at the main plaza. Monk's Mound can be seen to the left in the distance.

Infographic at the main plaza. Monk’s Mound can be seen to the left in the distance.

All of the mounds have been cataloged and numbered.  Of particular interest is Mound #72.  The excavation of this small mound found over 300 ceremonial burials, mostly of young women in mass graves.  Atop of this, an elite male, estimated to be 45 years old was buried on a platform of flat beads made out of shells.   The shells were arranged around the body to resemble an eagle or hawk.  There is a recreation of this chief’s burial inside of the park’s interpretative center which is truly amazing.

The interpretive center of the park is very nice and the displays are engaging for kids and adults alike.  There is no admission to the center, though there is a suggested donation of $4 for adults, $2 for kids and $10 for families.  Along with many wonderful artifacts like tools, beads and pottery, there is an auditorium which shows a film every hour as well as a recreated village to explore.

Since Doug and I had stopped on the way home from an exhausting weekend, we did not have the time to explore the true breadth of the park, however we did take the opportunity to climb to the top of Monk’s Mound.  Under cloud dotted skies, the view from the top of the mound was vast and gorgeous.  The St. Louis Gateway Arch and skyline, 7 miles away as the crow flies, was clearly visible to the southwest. Farm fields and lakes spread out to the north.  And all around, you could see tops of the mounds which made up this ancient city.  It was easy to imagine how inspiring this vantage point would have been to the people who lived here.

"Ancient America’s Great City on the Mississippi" by Timothy R. Pauketat is available at the Quincy Public Library.

“Ancient America’s Great City on the Mississippi” by Timothy R. Pauketat is available at the Quincy Public Library.

The top of Monk’s Mound is made even more significant by its placement in relation to the rest of the structures in the society.  Its crest falls at the point at which the sun rises during the equinox, making a strong connection between the chief and the life-giving sun.  Another unique structure at Cahokia is a sun-calendar known as “Woodhenge.”  This site, discovered in the 1960’s, was built of concentric circles of enormous cedar posts that aligned with the sun at the equinox, and would have probably been important as both markers in the calendar and for ceremonial gatherings.  One of the rings of “Woodhenge” has been recreated at the park and can be viewed both up close and from the crest of Monk’s Mound.

Now listen, AF readers… I don’t normally get bossy with my advice, but I’m telling you:  Go to Cahokia. 2 hours from Quincy lies a site of significance to the whole world, and you shouldn’t miss it.  I’m glad I finally had the chance to visit, and I plan on returning to walk more of the grounds and explore.  For further reading on Cahokia, visit:

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/198

http://www.cahokiamounds.org

And check out this book (also available at the Quincy Public Library): http://www.amazon.com/Cahokia-Ancient-Americas-Mississippi-American/dp/0143117475

PLEASE CLICK HERE TO ENTER MY ADVENTURE FOOT PHOTO CONTEST! WIN AMAZING PRIZES FROM NUUN HYDRATION AND V FUEL ENDURANCE 

Also, a special hello to Amanda… who we met on the top of the pyramid.  🙂  Hope your adventure was fun and educational!

Read Full Post »

Young Bald Eagle near Macomb, IL

I’ve always thought of cycling as the intersection of running and flying.  There’s a point at which your bike’s tires seem to break the hold of both gravity and friction and you lift up in to the great blue sky and take wing.  For a brief instant, you feel like a bird yourself.  A particular moment like that sticks with me from this winter…

Great Blue Heron, Illinois

I was cycling on a blacktop road near Burton, Illinois, and in the distance a bald eagle’s white head stood out bright against the backdrop of a crystal blue January day.  He was sitting to the left of the road on an exposed tree branch, likely hunting for some rabbits or voles that were out in the empty farm fields.  I’m sure the eagle’s trained eyes saw me from much further away than I saw him, but he watched my approach with his head cocked to the side, and, excuse me for anthropomorphizing, his expression was one of bemused curiosity.  At some point, the eagle decided that maybe my approach was a little too fast, and he launched himself into the air and glided on his enormous outstretched wings across the field.  The field dipped away on the side he was on- so that he flew almost level with the road- and I saw the opportunity to ride alongside him as he flew to the east.  I pushed up to over 20 mph and the eagle ended up on my left side nearly at eye level as we raced down the road.  I had definitely increased my speed to get a good look at the eagle, but I couldn’t help but feel like the eagle had slowed up in a similar way to get a good look at me on my bike.  We flew vis-à-vis down the road for long seconds- maybe a quarter mile- until the eagle broke sharply upward, crossed overhead and issued a loud call as if to say, “Nice riding with you! See ya later!”  The encounter left my heart pumping with the feeling of pure exhilaration.

It’s moments like that one that keep me on my bike all year long, and compel me to find the backroad-less-traveled.

American Kestrel, Illinois 2012

Ha! I got so lost in thinking about the moment with the eagle that I got off the topic I sat down to write about in the first place: birdwatching from your bicycle!  Cruising down the country roads on a bicycle is a wonderful way to view wildlife – birds especially.  It seems that the speed of the bike and its relative confinement to pavement keep birds from worrying like they might if you were on foot.  Out on group rides, I’ve become our resident ornithologist, pointing out birds on wires and offering up a fact or two if I know something interesting.  I love to be asked, “What’s that one?” and love even more if I don’t know the answer and have to go home and look the bird up.

To that end, I’ve decided that this year I am going to fill out a proper birding checklist for cyclists.  The tri-state area gives road-warriors the unique opportunity to view several major bird habitats including open grassland or prairie, woods adjacent to agricultural fields , wetlands and marshes, and of course, the tremendously important Mississippi River flyway.  Did you know that nearly half of all migratory waterfowl in North America as well as many shorebirds use the Mississippi River to navigate?  That makes early spring and late fall a particularly great time to cycle along the river bottoms to view species that do not normally make their homes in Illinois.

Ring- Billed Gull, Illinois

In 2012 the birds that I’ve checked off my bicycle-only viewing list are:  Bald Eagle, Red Tailed Hawk, Common Grackle, American Robin, Blue Jay, Turkey Vulture, Great Blue Heron, Bufflehead Duck, Common Golden Eye Duck, Canvas Back Duck, Mallard Duck, Canada Goose, European Swallow, Tufted Titmouse, Killdeer, American Kestrel, Mourning Dove, Rock Pigeon, Downy Woodpecker, Red Headed Woodpecker, Red-Winged Black Bird, Herring Gull, Ring Billed Gull and Cardinal.

Red Tailed Hawk, Illinois (Light Morph)

In my fairly extensive internet searching, I didn’t find a suitable checklist to fold up and put in my bike pouch, so I made one!  This list is from the website http://www.illinoisbirds.org/birds_of_illinois1.html and I have reformatted it here to print on one page front and back. It’s got over 400 species, so it will cover most of the birds you’d see in Illinois, Iowa and Missouri.  You may download and print your own checklist by clicking below!  Enjoy bird watching from your bicycle and let me know if you spot anything unusual!

Read Full Post »

Laura with a cache.

I’m addicted to a game on my iPhone. It’s not Angry Birds.

Okay, it’s not only Angry Birds.

It’s called Geocaching, and it’s a great example of technology and adventure working hand in hand. A standard “Geocache” consists of a box or container that has been hidden somewhere in the world. That container holds a log book where the people who find it can write their names and share their thoughts.  Some caches hold small items that are meant to be taken and then passed on to the next location. Proper Geocaching etiquette says that when you take an item, you should leave something of equal or greater value in place of anything removed from the cache.

You find a Geocache by going to one of several websites (eg: http://www.geocaching.com) that list the location of a cache via its latitude and longitude, and you plug that information into a portable GPS device. Or you just download the App. I first got the free “Intro” App for my iPhone, but quickly moved up to the paid version (also available for Droid). It’s really simple to use. You hit the search button and a list will populate with caches near you. Then you hit “Navigate” and a GPS map will pop up, and you follow the map until you reach your destination. Piece of cake, right? Well, kind of.

Caches can be incredibly tricky.  Some are in desolate locations. They can be out in the woods, in National Parks, or on top of 14,000 foot tall mountains. They can also be in the parking lot at the mall or stuck to a flagpole at a local bar. To reach some caches, you have to go on a long hike over difficult terrain, but others are handicap accessible. The caches can be as big as five gallon buckets with lots of items in them, while others are the size of marbles with just a tiny strip of paper inside. Many are very well camouflaged and right under your nose every day.

Jessica and Mary.

My friends Jessica and Mary and I went out looking for caches for the first time recently, and it was quite an adventure. Following the maps and deciphering the clues makes you feel like a modern day pirate searching for buried treasure. Then combining forces to find the cache itself takes some outside-the-box thinking. One of the caches we found was cleverly designed to look like an electrical outlet. If Jessica hadn’t noticed that the paint color was slightly different than the color on the pole, we would have given up on finding the cache all together.

The most amazing part of Geocaching though, is the sense of being connected to people through the outdoors. My friends and I had a great day finding caches in Quincy and Keokuk. We later logged our finds on the Geocaching.com website and looked at the broader community. There are millions of caches hidden in dozens of countries, and each person who has hidden one wants to show you something about the great outdoors that has importance to them.

My favorite cache of the day was one in Keokuk named, “While the Chief Isn’t Looking.” The cache was a small container hidden in the vicinity of the statue of Chief Keokuk in Rand Park. The cache was simple; just a tube with a log book and a pencil, but the view from the top of the bluff looking out over the Mighty Mississippi was simply breathtaking. Looking out over this inspiring view, and sharing the outdoors with my good friends was a sublime moment, and I can’t wait for our next Geocaching adventure.

Original Post March 10, 2011

Read Full Post »