Tag Archives: camping

Photo Review: Tonto National Forest near Pine

On Sunday night we decided to go camping in the Tonto National Forest, just south of Pine, Arizona.  This gave me the opportunity to wander the forest finding great photo opportunities.  Here are some of my favorites:

Overland Expo 2012

Jay at last year’s Expo

It’s time to get excited!  All this week Jay will be out at Mormon Lake helping to set up for the Overland Expo.  If you are new to the word “overlanding” it just describes the broad field of adventure where explorers travel by land.  Most overlanders drive burly vehicles, but there are also off road motorcyclists, touring bicyclists, and folks like us who drive a small vehicle and tent camp.  The Overland Expo is the largest gathering of overlanders and it brings together a truly inspiring group of adventurers.  We look forward to reconnecting with friends we made last year and hearing their stories from the road.

A picture from last year’s Expo

Last year we attend the expo in Amado, Arizona and we are so excited to be part of the team that is bringing the expo to Flagstaff for the first time!  If you come out to the Overland Expo this weekend, be sure to stop in and see us.  We will be the campground hosts and will also be presenting as part of two speaker panels.  If you come for the day it is only $15 and kids under 16 are free.  You can purchase day passes ahead of time or at the gate.

Motorcycle at Overland Expo

A picture from last year’s Expo

Jay’s Trip to Toroweap

Looking down at Toroweap campsite

A couple of weeks ago I found out that the Grand Canyon National Park Vegetation Program’s Invasive Species Crew needed volunteers to go to Toroweap. Since I am not working and could go, I jumped on the opportunity. For those of you who have never heard of Toroweap, it is a point on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon out on the Arizona Strip situated near Vulcan’s Throne. This pocket of Grand Canyon National Park is very remote and totally cut off from the rest of the park.

Large cluster of Mammillaria cacti in bloom.

While there for five days, I worked pulling a few exotic invasive species, Horehound, Blue Mustart, and Scotch Thistle. We removed the Horehound from the dry lake beds in the Toroweap valley. This was the majority of the work. Horehound is in the mint family and looks sort of like catnip. Its every bit as prolific as any other mint.

Small blooming Mammillaria cacti

Small blooming Mammillaria cacti

We also helped the back country ranger Todd with some projects around the camp ground. Toroweap is so remote that Todd is often flown in for his stints in that area.

View from tuck up trail near Saddle Horse Canyon

Even with Toroweap being so remote that it is an eight hour drive from Flagstaff, it’s hard to believe the trip was not full. This particular Grand Canyon National Park volunteer trip usually fills up fast, but this one was only five of us instead of the typical ten.

A well hidden and totally shaded pot hole. This one had a lot of water in it despite the dry and dusty prevailing conditions.

Pot Hole close up. This thing was a miniature oasis, with a water glider and tiny ferry shrimp.

Sharing a Story: Canada Day and the Threat of Zombie Apocalypse

This post is part of the “Sharing a Story” series where I use a picture to reflect on a story that happened during our year on the road which I never told on the blog.  Click on the “sharing a story” tag at the bottom of the post to see more of the series.

Sharon celebrating Canada Day in Waterton Lakes

It all started when we ran out of propane halfway through cooking our weiners for a traditional Canada Day meal.  We hadn’t bought the fire license that you needed to have a campfire in a Waterton Lakes National Park campground, so we were using our propane stove to cook the brats.  Great plan, until the familiar roar of flame dwindled to a purr and then ceased all together.

We had three options: 1) drive 45 minutes to the closest store and hope it was open on this holiday weekend, 2) eat a non-festive cold meal of dry cheerios and fruit, or 3) make friends with someone who already had an excellent campfire.  Jay, being more of an introvert was leaning towards option one.  I didn’t give him a chance to move in that direction, I jumped into action telling him I would be right back.  I hurried down the camp road to the site of a group of Canadians our age that I had chatted with the night before as they were setting up camp.

Sure enough this group of six had a great fire going and were roasting their own weiners over it with actual roasting sticks.  I opened with “Can I ask you a favor?  Can we put our weiners in your fire?”  Laughing, they offered up sticks and condiments and beer and suggested the only thing we would need was our own chairs.  I hurried back to Jay to share the news and we gathered up all our essentials to make new friends.

As Jay and I arrived at the campfire, one of the guys was whittling a stick into a sharp point at one end.  He looked up at us, welcoming us into the conversation they were having with, “What about you, how would you prepare for the zombie apocalypse?”  Clearly we had joined the right group of campers.  Jay is a bit of an expert on zombies so he immediately launched into a discussion of the importance of a chainsaw as the weapon of choice.  I contributed the idea that zombie outbreaks usually occur in cities so we were probably quite safe out here in this campground.

The jokes and stories continued into sunset and it didn’t take us long to feel comfortable with this group of friends.  At one point one of the girls was joking sarcastically about how we had obviously found the party group within the campground.  She said, “3 teachers and 3 IT guys, you really know how to pick the cool kids”.  I laughed thinking how I really had found kindred spirits since most of my friends back home are in teaching or IT and have that wonderful clever wit.  The other campers our age a few sites down were just blasting loud music and throwing darts at cans of beer that they held between their feet.

At one point the conversations shifted from how to fight off zombies to how to fight off small children.  One of the teachers asked one of the IT guys, “How many five year olds do you think you could take on at once?”  He sat and thought about it for a few minutes, clearly giving the matter serious consideration.  Finally he said “One ….. I think”.  We chuckled as he explained how in his haste to run from the threatening gang of five year olds he would probably trip over one of them and take him down.  The elementary school teacher piped up with “Oh no, five year olds are easy to take down, they are top heavy, just a swift hit to their foreheads” as she motioned with a football player’s blocking move.  At that point we all lost it, convulsing with laughter as she smiled meekly realizing how bad that had sounded.

The Canada Day campfire is one of my favorite memories from the road.  We spent a lot of time alone or just making pleasantries with strangers.  This was one of the only times we really got to know people outside of our volunteer trips.  Happy Canada Day, eh!

10 Tips for Cold Weather Tent Camping

As part of our weekly How To series, we share advice and knowledge about things related to our trip.

As the weather gets colder we are spending more nights indoors with family and friends, but we still camp in between and thought we would share some advice on how to enjoy cold weather camping.  Getting outside in the late fall and winter offers a different recreation experience.  You have more opportunity for solitude, no bugs, and different animals and viewpoints.  If you’re not prepared it can also turn into a cold and miserable night in your tent.

tent site in Oak Mountain State Park

Tent site at Oak Mountain State Park in February

Here’s our advice based on too many cold sleepless nights:

  1. Change into dry clothes – Usually campers are hiking or biking during the afternoon when it is warmest out.  It is very important to change out of sweaty clothes and into layers before the sun sets.
  2. Dress in layers – Start with a base layer that fits snugly (I prefer Patagonia capilene).  Next add a warm layer such as fleece.  Over that add a layer that will block out the wind.  A hat is vital and can make a huge difference in staying warm.
  3. Sleep in a base layer – When you’re ready to get in your sleeping bag it is time to strip down to the base layer or nothing.  There will be a few minutes of cold, but once your body heat fills the sleeping bag you will stay warmer than if you go to bed with all your clothes on.  You can keep your fleece layer in your sleeping bag so that it is warm when you get dressed in the morning.
  4. Use an insulating sleeping pad – Even if you have a very warm bag, you will lose all that warmth to the ground if you do not add an insulating layer such as a thermarest pad.  The pads that fill with air are usually more effective than foam for keeping you warm.
  5. Trap the warm air in your sleeping bag – Silk is a great fabric for trapping heat.  We use a silk sheet along the zipper of the bag or around our feet to make the most of our body heat.  I’ve also piled up clothes along the edge of the bag to prevent the heat from leaking through the zipper.
  6. Fire or no fire? – Most campers love to build a fire and consider it essential for staying warm, but to camp in a way that is safe and low impact you need to burn the wood all the way down to ash and that takes a long time.  You will end the night in the dark and cold checking your fire is out by using the drown, stir, feel method.  You may stay warmer and enjoy the evening more by just going to the tent sooner and reading or playing cards in the warm air of the tent.
  7. A smaller tent is a warmer tent – The rain fly traps the warm air that you are breathing.  A smaller tent will warm up a lot faster and stay a lot warmer.
  8. Don’t let essentials freeze – Take a moment to consider what might be at risk of freezing (water bottles, propane canisters, electronics, liquid or capsule medicines) and consider storing them in the tent or even in your sleeping bag.  Keep water bottles right side up so that the lids do not freeze.
  9. Set up your tent with the sun in mind – Ideally set up your tent without direct tree cover and in a spot that gets the morning sun.
  10. Get moving in the morning – A few minutes of yoga is enough to get my blood moving and help me get through those cold mornings.  Jumping jacks are always an easy, quick way to warm up too.
yoga mat at Oak Mountain State Park

My site for yoga in the morning

Earth Day – Our First Morning Waking Up to Sunrise

Sharon and  Jay with the Rav4 fully loaded

Ready to get on the road from Phoenix to New Mexico

Thursday we left Phoenix and took the Beeline Highway up over the Mogollon Rim to the skiing community of Pinetop-Lakeside.  The drive was beautiful, taking us from the hot Sonoran desert up into the cool alpine communities in eastern Arizona.  It was starting to get close to sundown so we used the Droid to find a nearby Forest Service Road that we could head out on and find a place to camp for free.  We ended up at a great little site very close to a trail in the White Mountain Trail System (which made for a fabulous morning bike ride …  more on that from Jay later).  The low of 37 degrees was a welcome adjustment from the high 90s we had started to experience in Phoenix.

Camp site in Pinetop, Arizona

Our campsite in the Sitgreaves - Apache National Forest near Pinetop, AZ

sharon with litter

The bag full of litter that Jay and I collected around the campsite

Friday was Earth Day, which seemed fitting since we were waking up to the sunrise and then exploring the forest on our mountain bikes.  In honor of Earth Day, we took our normal “pack it out” practices a little further and hiked around the area picking up litter.  National Forest lands are awesome places to camp for free, but as the “Lands of Many Uses” with no fee stations, they have a tendency to get trashed.  I hope that everyone will get out and explore these public lands more often.  The more you explore, the more you fall in love with our protected lands and will work to keep them protected and cared for in the future.

From Pinetop we headed further east on 260 and then 60 through central New Mexico towards the small town of Mountainair where Sharon’s former colleague retired to.

sunset in forestmorning light on flower

Going Primitive

“There were always permissions slips!”  That’s what I told Jay about my backcountry travel experience as we debated where to camp for the night near Lake Mead.  We were meeting barriers to spending the night near civilization with full campgrounds, tent sites next to noisy generators, and $20 a night fees.  The National Park Service office confirmed that we could actually set up our tent off of any of the back country roads around Lake Mead.  With 6 gallons of water and all the supplies we could need in the car, it seemed like a perfect time to go primitive.  But I was still hesitant.

View from Las Vegas Bay

View from the Las Vegas Bay campground we stayed at the night before

I started taking outdoor adventures as a preteen with the best Girl Scout troop ever.  Although my dad had been a scout and had explored the outdoors at my age, we did not take family camping trips or even hike together.  Everything I learned about exploring the outdoors and remaining safe in the wild, started in that troop.  I learned how to set up a tent so that the rain wouldn’t soak it.  I learned about what clothing to wear to prevent blisters and hypothermia.  I learned how to read a Topo map and navigate without modern technology.  Through 6 years of hands on experience, I learned to travel safely and have fun in the outdoors.  And I developed a love of it.  But traveling with the Girl Scouts and setting out on your own expedition as an adult are two different things.  I missed the security of permission slips and a leader that was seemingly all-knowing.

Sharon at the campsite at Lake Mead
Sharon at the campsite

With some nudging from Jay, I agreed that tonight would be an ideal test drive for heading out on a back country road and finding a place to make camp.  We headed back to the Lake Mead National Recreation Area and were quickly drawn to an spot with colorful rock walls of oranges, reds, and browns.  It was called Bowl of Fire and we turned off on a road nearby that led towards Calville Bay.  I was beyond nervous, fidgeting as Jay slowly and carefully negotiated the rocky road.  I could tell he was excited, stoked that we were finally actually out there, on an adventure.

tent at Lake Mead

Our tent, lit up by the morning sun

And I had worried for nothing.  We found a lovely camp site, cooked a tasty dinner, slept without the rain fly on to watch the stars, and woke to a beautiful sunrise.  Why didn’t we live like this all of the time?  It was like paradise and I was emboldened to explore the backcountry more often.

So yea…. this was the night before we entered Death Valley.  The experience that made it so easy for us to decide to get off the beaten path in a park known for its dangers and extremes.  The night before we experienced a serious setback.  Not only for Jay and our trip, but also in my confidence in getting out away from it all.

Photo Review: Camping in New Mexico

After leaving McKinney Texas last Sunday, Jay and I headed into New Mexico and spent two nights camping in New Mexico State Parks, Brantley Lake and Leasburg Dam.  The weather was warm and the camping was excellent.  Here’s a sampling of the views from our campsites.

Brantley Lake Sunset

leasburg dam state park

Scenes from Winter Camping

Jay and I enjoy camping.  It’s a good thing, because in order to be on the road for a year, we need to spend most nights either camping or staying with friends and family.  So far of 10 nights on the road, we spent 2 camping, 7 with friends and 1 night in a free hotel thanks to my mom’s rewards points.

Congaree National Park, near Columbia, South Carolina

Tent at Congaree National ParkThe first night we camped in Congaree National Park, near Columbia South Carolina.  My cousin Peter gave us a National Park Pass for Christmas, so we were eager to use it and check out a National Park that we had never heard of.  Turns out that it is free to enter and free to camp at Congaree so you don’t need a pass, but at least we got to get our first “passport stamp” for the book that my mom got for us.

We got to the park close to dusk and had just enough time to set up the tent and hurry back to the board walk trail that runs for two miles through an old growth floodplain forest.  It was eerie to walk along a wooden pathway, suspended above the muck as the light was disappearing.  My eyes were straining to tell the difference between tree roots and snakes.  At one point we did see an animal close to the trail, moving gingerly through the flooded forest.  We couldn’t tell what it was, but Jay guessed that it was probably a possum based on size and gait.

boardwalk in Congaree National Park

Boardwalk trail in Congaree National Park

I tried to keep my cool and appreciate the beauty and stillness that the forest offered at night.  But I mostly kept my eyes peeled to the boardwalk and focused on not losing my balance.  Jay stopped me to point out that the moon was reflected in the waters of the swamp (see picture below).  This was truly a unique place and the boardwalk gave us an opportunity to explore a habitat we never could have observed without it.

Moon reflected in the swamp at Congaree National Park

Moon reflected in the flooded forest at Congaree National Park

Oak Mountain State Park, Birmingham, Alabama

After a night inside in Atlanta Georgia thanks to my high school friend Brett Goodwin (thanks Brett!), we headed back to our tent, this time at a nice campground in Oak Mountain State Park on the edge of Birmingham.  We had only intended to spend the day at the park.  It offers several miles of single track for mountain biking, and Jay needs to ride every few days or he starts to twitch.  Once we got to the park, the late hour and attractive campsite lured us in.  Unfortunately, camping in state parks can get expensive – this one cost us $16 (in addition to $4 to enter the park).

tent site in Oak Mountain State Park

Tent site at Oak Mountain State Park

With an overnight low of 28 degrees, the downside of winter camping is obvious.  The upsides though are surprisingly plentiful: no crowds, easy pick of the best tent site, no bugs, and easier wildlife viewing without leaves on the trees.  This campground had the added benefit of heated bathrooms with a hot shower!

yoga mat at Oak Mountain State Park

My site for yoga in the morning

In the mornings, to wake up and work out the kinks from sleeping on a mat all night, I like to do some light yoga.  It was somewhat difficult what with the 3 layers of clothing I was wearing to combat the 30 degree temperatures, but you couldn’t beat the view.

Deer at Oak Mountain State Park

Young Buck at Oak Mountain State Park

I had just barely started my Sun Salutation, when I heard leaves shuffling on the hillside to my left.  At first I assumed it was another camper, off for an early hike.  It took me a second to realize it was far more likely to be an animal.  I got my camera ready and soon spotted this buck making his way down the hill.  He didn’t notice me until after I had snapped a few pictures.  He scurried up the hill and I went back to finish my routine.  In a few minutes, the smell of bacon lured me back to the campsite.

bacon and reflected trees

Our morning bacon

The inside of our rain fly, covered in frost

After a great breakfast of oatmeal, bacon, and freshly brewed coffee, we broke down the tent, shaking the frost off of the INSIDE of the rain fly!  We are glad to be headed towards the desert and southern California where we may see some less frosty nights.

Overall our two nights under the stars were fantastic.  We look forward to spending many more nights sleeping out throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Lake at Oak Mountain State Park

Lake near our campsite

Commitment to Stay Healthy on the Road

I do well with routine.  For those who know the “True Colors” Personality profile, I am a Gold/Green and I find that making specific goals and sticking to a regular schedule are the best way for me to stay healthy and organized.  Last year, I committed to creating healthy habits around eating.  I used the free Lose It! App on the IPOD touch to record every single thing that I ate and to track my calories.  In addition, I used the Wii Fit to check in everyday and track my progress with weight and BMI.  Finally, I focused on cooking more and integrating more vegetables into my diet.

With these three strategies, I was able to move from the edge of obesity to the edge of normalcy, 32 pounds of weight loss.

Roast Chicken

Last year my go to healthy recipe was this Roast Chicken, which won't be possible on the road

For 2011, a regular schedule is out of the question.  We are going to be on the road all year and living in a variety of different circumstances.   I am concerned about keeping the healthy habits that I learned last year, while also building new ones (such as brushing and flossing after every meal).

The challenge:

  • A much tighter food budget (one of last year’s strategies was to splurge on great food that was also healthy so that I would be encouraged to eat healthy food at home)
  • No scale, Wii Fit, or group fitness classes
  • a lack of routine or even sense of time that will make it challenging to do something at the same time every day
  • limited health insurance coverage  — It will be more important than ever to stay healthy, because any trips to the doctor are going to be far more expensive

Strategies for staying healthy on the road:

  • Find healthy recipes that can be made on our camping stove or without cooking
  • Continue to record my food in the Lose It! app
  • Use a measuring tape to take a waist measurement everyday and record it using my IPOD touch
  • Start each morning with a routine that is flexible enough to be possible anywhere (stretching, healthy breakfast, brushing & flossing, journaling)

Do you have a healthy recipe or suggestion you can recommend?