Camping

A Crater Lake Extended Weekend Group Trip

blog-2016-07-crater-lake

Trip Report:
Date: June 12, 2016
Duration: 3 Days
Participants: 10
Group: Obsidians
Hiking 5 miles (1,000-foot elevation loss/gain)
Type: Day Hike and Camping

On this trip, Mother Nature reminded our group of nine that she is always in control, and she reminded two members of our group to remember the tent!

Our original itinerary had to be re-worked because of a late July storm, but the unusually cold weather added an extra element of adventure and excitement.

Everyone arrived in great spirits on Saturday, though we knew that rain was on the horizon. Unfortunately, two members of the group had – in their enthusiasm – unexpectedly left their tent at home. Undeterred by the unfortunate error they purchased a tent at the campground store – for a good deal of course! The skies that afternoon were clear and we made good use of the sun by hiking to Garfield Peak.

thumb_IMG_5138_1024On the way we encountered several snowfields, one of which was very steep, but the stunning views from the top were well worth the extra effort in getting there. In the distance Mount Scott was enticingly clear of snow, though we later learned it was impossible to reach because several miles of the eastern rim highway was closed for repairs. Returning down the mountainside we visited the small loop trail of Godfrey Glen where we collected trash that uncaring visitors had left. We collected enough garbage to fill a large bag! That evening we sat around the campfire and commented on the number of stars that were visible, where was the rain? All was calm until 2am when the rain arrived and temperatures lowered to just above freezing. Our two members in their “good deal” tent had a cold and wet night.

Sunday morning I looked out my tent and was excited to see full-bodied snowflakes quietly falling but they only lasted for a minute. Several early risers made a trip to the rim where 3-4 inches of snow had fallen the night before. All of us were off to a slow start that morning. The “good deal” tent had not fared well in the rain and when the drops were shaken off the outer cover a support bar snapped making the tent almost useless. For the entire day temperatures never ventured past the mid-thirties and at times the drippy rain became unrelenting torrents.

_thumb_IMG_5158_1024We explored the Visitor’s Center, the Sinnott Memorial Overlook (featuring an indoor exhibit room) and the gift shop to escape the fog, wind, rain, and occasional snow flurries. The fog was so thick we could not see the lake or a few hundred feet in front of us. In the afternoon we moved below the cloud line to hike the picturesque Annie Creek trail. Although a short hike it was very picturesque. Laurie and Brad had reservations at the Crater Lake Lodge for dinner, they generously increased their table size to include all of us so we could get out of the rain and have some warm food. About 8pm that evening the sky cleared and at first the temperatures seemed warm. The group campfire that evening had just half of the group, the remainder had gone to bed early. The two members in the “good deal” tent had another cold and memorable night. In the middle of the night I awoke and was stunned by the visibility of the night sky – there were thousands of stars! My tent thermometer showed that temperatures had dropped into the upper twenties.

On Monday the sun returned and the group broke camp, but before we did we waited anxiously for two members to return their “good deal” tent. The two walked stoically into the store and presented their ale of woe to a staff person, when the person said “no refunds” the disheveled and muddy remains of the tent was plopped like a large wet sponge onto the counter for all to see. The act proved its point about the product’s poor quality. Their money was returned. Victorious that two of our members had saved their money (and dignity) we traveled to the rim where we hiked for several hours sightseeing and enjoying the views of Wizard Island. We tried to visit Watchman Peak but the trail was still heavy with snow and the area was closed. Although the sun was shining the temperatures remained in the mid 50s and the wind had a nippy bite, the group tabled Cleetwood Cove for another time, jumping in Crater Lake would be for another trip.

The Perseid Meteor Shower – Fire over the Cascades

A high point of summer is witnessing the Perseid meteor shower. Every year in mid-August these cosmic bits of dust and ice streak into the Earth’s atmosphere giving a heavenly spectacle to those on the ground. These ‘shooting stars’ can be seen once every minute and are best seen away from city lights. This year provided an extra challenge because of smoke from forest fires in southern Oregon.

My family grabbed the camping gear and we made our way to the crest of the Cascades in hopes of clear views. Our first stop was at 7,400 feet; unfortunately smoke shrouded the sky and nearby mountains, viewing that evening was very limited.

The next day the winds shifted and skies were clearer. For the second night we selected a lakeside view at about 5,500 feet. We found a quiet peninsula on the water – the sky theater was open before us and we had front row seats!

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As the sun lowered on the horizon it passed behind a thick grey-brown wall of smoke from the forest fires. The pre-show sunset was visually stunning.

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For 20 minutes everything around us had a red hue (shown), then the sun completely disappeared behind the wall of smoke. The sky darkened.

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Along the shore were gatherings of families, hikers, and campers. On the lake, kayakers began to raft up (shown). Everyone was eager for that evening’s performance. A voice from the water curiously asked, if the smudge in the eastern sky was the Milky Way? We turned, behind us the great cross-section of our galaxy began to reveal itself. Someone shouted from the shore, “I saw one!” A wave of audible oohs and aahs were heard from the various groups of people who had seen a meteor streak across the sky.

We laid back on the smooth glacially-carved boulders that would be our theater seats for the evening, and for the next 3 hours were amazed by the variety of meteors that zipped across the heavenly stage; some meteors were micro-sized blips, others were graceful streaks, some dramatically required the length of the entire sky. At about midnight sleep was getting the better of us and we returned to our tents.

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I tried to capture some of the Perseids with my camera, out of 80 photos that night this is the best I could accomplish.

Later that night I woke up and walked outside my tent where I could see the sky clearly. The Milky Way was overhead and amazingly bright. I shivered in the night’s cool temperature while looking up. A streak appeared across the star field of the Milky Way; it was bright, then not, then bright again, it rotated about 8 times before disappearing. What an amazing night!

Make Your Own Campground Huevos Rancheros

Campground Huevos RancherosA great meal to enjoy while car camping is Huevos Rancheros. This versatile dish can be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

I love this meal because of the array of flavors, a colorful presentation, and it’s packed with energy.

Huevos Rancheros can be made many ways, this version works well for camping. The recipe was written for use with a two-burner camp stove, one small non-stick skillet, and one saucepan.

As with all ingredients I suggest that everything has a double or triple purpose. This means when you plan one meal that you can use the same ingredients in other meals or even as stand alone snacks. Refried beans could be used in multiple meals; eggs might be hard-boiled and used as a treat on the trail, an avocado can replace mayonnaise on a sandwich. Be inventive.

Ingredients:

This recipe is intended to feed 4 hungry campers; the quantity per ingredient might vary depending on which family members have a larger appetite, which is why several items show a number range.

  • 1-4 sprigs of cilantro
  • 2-8 spoons of cotija cheese (feta can be substituted)
  • 1 Avocado
  • 4-8 medium-sized fresh eggs* (optional sliced hard-cooked eggs)
  • 1 can of refried beans
  • 4-8 tortillas
  • 1 pound of chorizo sausage
  • Ranchero sauce

* If you really want your Huevos Rancheros to taste amazing, use “pasture-raised” eggs.

Before your trip:

Prepare the ranchero sauce and fully cook the chorizo. Freeze the ranchero sauce in a re-sealable container; freeze the chorizo in a foil packet.

The ranchero sauce (make at home):

  • 1 cup of chicken broth
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup of salsa ranchero (any salsa will do)
  • 1 tablespoon of flour
  • 1 tablespoon of oil or fat
  • A handful of sliced onions and peppers (optional)

In a skillet over medium heat, sauté the onions and peppers in oil. Stir in the flour, then add salsa and chicken broth. Cook until thickened. Once the sauce has cooled spoon out the desired quantity into container(s) and freeze it.

Equipment:

  • Cook stove (a 2 burner stove is suggested)
  • Small sauce pan
  • Small non-stick skillet
  • Aluminum foil

When you are ready to cook, place the desired quantity of tortillas in a section of aluminum foil, and fold over so the packet is completely sealed. Turn on your camp stove and set one burner to a very low heat. Place the foil packet over the burner so the tortillas can soften. You will need to turn these so they do not stick or burn – they will heat quickly!

On the second burner, heat the refried beans. When these are done start building your plate, using the tortillas as a foundation for your meal, add the beans and smear them over the tortillas. Cover the plate with an upside down second plate, or foil, to keep everything warm.

In the saucepan reheat the sauce. Heat the chorizo in its foil packet. When finished, pour the sauce over the beans and add the chorizo. Cook your eggs. After the eggs are added to your plate, top them off with some cotija, avocado, and/or cilantro. Enjoy your meal.

Remember: Freeze what items you can ahead of time and be diligent about keeping your cooler iced down. Always use your judgment and do what works best for you.

Enjoy.

Ditch the Packet and Discover Old-fashioned Campground Oats

Old-fashioned Campground OatsCamping is a time for discovering what is important. For me, one of the best ways to experience this concept is with a flavorful and hearty breakfast of old-fashioned oats. I’m not talking about those instant oatmeal packets that have become a convenience mainstay – I’m talking about a wholesome experience; a bowl of hot, farm-fresh oats topped off with milk, pecans, walnuts, and 3 types of fruits (shown).

Here’s how you can discover campground oats for the first time, or rediscover them again. Best of all, these oats taste amazing, and you have just one bowl (your own) to clean.

Personalize Your Oatmeal

Start with great oats. I discourage the use of most commercial oatmeal packets. They have their place, but not for every breakfast. Some of these brands sound great with farm-spun names like “Maple Pecan,” or “Blueberry-Raspberry,” yet frequently these items are absent from the ingredients lists and replaced with chemical names that cannot be pronounced. Yuk.

I like real food that has texture and taste. That is why I visit the local farmers market and seek out farmers who grow their own oats. If I cannot buy local oats, I look for regionally produced oats at a health food store. My last choice is the big-name commercial brands.

Then at home, I plan what to eat during the camping trip. This includes measuring out the oatmeal for each person (the snack sized Ziplocks are great for this). Then each person adds whatever they want, this could include a variety of healthy ingredients: pecans, walnuts, peanuts, cashews, almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, etc.).

Cooking Oats at the Campsite

The easiest, and least messy method involves one bowl per person and makes use of the individual Ziplocks mentioned above. All you have to do is add the dry oatmeal to your bowl and pour in boiling hot water. Cover the bowl and fully insulate it with a towel. Let it rest for about 10 minutes.

At the end of 10 minutes I might add a little more hot water to make the mix easier to stir. Then I add the milk, fruit and anything else that I want. To clean, wipe out the bowl with a paper napkin to remove any residue so washing up is a snap.

Got Milk?

When my family goes car camping we sometimes bring a quart container of milk. The milk is used in oats, to flavor a cup of coffee, and maybe a splash in an evening’s cup of hot chocolate. I keep the milk in a well-iced cooler to prevent spoilage. Other times we take powdered milk. But, finding good tasting powdered milk is not easy; for some reason the vast majority of powdered milk sold in the U.S. is nonfat. Powdered nonfat milk might have its supporters, but I am not one of them! If you want powdered whole milk in your oats there are several brands that are sold on Amazon.com. The best tasting whole milk in my opinion is a brand called, “Peak: Dry Whole Milk”. This product is imported from the Netherlands.

Fruit Will Rock Your World

Don’t add sugar; add seasonally available fruit – it will rock your oatmeal’s world. If you want an added power boost, sprinkle in some chia seeds.

Great tasting campground oats aren’t just found in a packet; they must be discovered. Start with locally produced oats or buy oats from a health food store. Add milk, fruits, and an assortment of nuts to make the breakfast that will power you through the day – create the practical, healthy, and great tasting breakfast you deserve.

Delicious, Nutritious, and Quick Campground Waffles

Campground WafflesHow about a crisp waffle for breakfast on your next car camping trip? Here are several tips for healthy, low mess, and quick to prepare waffles. These tips work for pancakes too.

The Secret

The secret is to make and freeze the waffles several days before your trip. This little step saves time, money, and headaches; you don’t need to take extra equipment camping, or buy anything new, and you will have fewer dishes to wash at the campsite.

Nutrition

Because most off-the-shelf waffle mixes are not very healthy, I supplement them with nuts and oats. Here’s how I do it:

Use the directions on the package of waffle mix as you normally would, but instead of a full amount of mix just use one-third the amount, then add a third of crushed nuts (pecans, walnuts, etc.), and a third of oats. The oats might soak up some of the liquid, if so add a little water to the batter. Cook your waffles as you normally would.

Let the waffles cool and put them in a Ziploc bag, then place the bag in the freezer. On the day of your trip add the Ziploc to your cooler and you’re ready to go.

Reheating

Remove the waffles from your cooler and set them on a plate for a few minutes so they warm up a little. Use this time to prepare some of your other food items. Then use the burner on your camp stove, turn the heat down as low as possible and place the waffle over the burner rack. Using a fork or tongs turn it as needed until the waffle is reheated and/or crispy. Be careful and watch your waffle like a hawk, as it will burn quickly.

Toppings

I add a lot of toppings. I do this for taste, and because I need a breakfast that will power me through a day of hiking. I leave the syrup at home and instead use honey and fruits to liven up my waffles. I might even add (shown in the photo above) a cooked egg, blueberries, walnuts, and avocado slices. Every topping has a double purpose, meaning every topping can be used in other meals or as snacks. I keep costs down by buying toppings that are in season.

Enjoy.

Beach Hiking in Oregon on a Warm January Day

January in Oregon is historically cold and wet, but this year we experienced an unusual warm spell with lots of sunny skies. The coast offered the warmest weather so we packed up the car and headed out for a 8.5-mile hike along the beach, the hike was from Yachats (pronounced YAH-hahts) to Waldport. Here are some photos-

blog-2014-01-22-img01The day before our hike we enjoyed a night’s stay in one of coastal yurts at an Oregon State Park.

blog-2014-01-22-img02Playing on the beach that evening at sunset.

blog-2014-01-22-img03The next day we began hiking from Yachats up the beach to Waldport. We crossed a number of streams that flowed across the sand and into the ocean. These little streams are wonderful for observing the dynamic power of water as it flows over and through the sand.

blog-2014-01-22-img04The beach was littered with driftwood, including this huge tree that had washed up.

blog-2014-01-22-img05Enjoying a fabulous walk on the beach.

A Discovery of 55 Banana Slugs in 70 feet at Point Reyes

blog-20120827-img1Banana Slugs are really cool. They can be up to 9 inches in length and are recognizable by their bright yellow color. The slugs help to turn old leaves and plants into soil; they are “good-guys” in the forest. It is possible to see several on a day hike, but on this hike in the Point Reyes National Seashore, located in California, my family encountered 55 individuals in just seventy feet of trail! What a rare treat!

Our hike began at the Point Reyes Hostel and continued down a gentle trail to the coast. In a low section, moisture was being funneled off the hill and over the trail into a marshy area. This is when we saw a banana slug, then another and then one about every foot and a half. The slugs were everywhere. Some were fully-grown; others were just a couple of inches in length. Two-thirds of the slugs were pointed basically the same direction, to the moist area just over the trail.

I am not sure if this grouping was because of the water, or a food source, but it was a very unusual sight to come across.

That afternoon, while returning from the beach, I passed the same area. Now, just a handful of slugs could be seen, the rest has disappeared into the undergrowth.

The Mountain Lion

mountain-lion

Able to –

– Leap a height of 3 humans tall
– Heavier than 16 housecats
– Eat the equivalent of 1 deer each week

This large cat shares many names: mountain lion, puma, panther and cougar.

Built for stealth and power these majestic creatures have large padded paws, tawny colored fur, muscular limbs and sharp claws. They are generally elusive and can be found in remote wooded or rocky areas where the deer populations are prevalent.

The photo was taken in Sunol, California, at the Sunol Regional Wilderness Interpretive Barn.

The Curious Frost Flower

Frost Flower

If you have ever traveled in the central and southern states in the late autumn and winter you might think you see a piece of cellophane laying at the side of the road – look again, it might be a more natural sight.

You might be viewing a beautiful white “Frost Flower” set against the brown and tan ground.

Frost FlowerThis is not an actual flower, but frozen liquid, curved ice sheets that can resemble flower petals.

In the cold hours of the early morning as outside temperatures drop below freezing the moisture in the stem of the Verbesina virginica plant freezes. This plant has a very long and slender stem. As the liquid in the stem of the plant expands it cracks and shatters the stem, generally close to ground level. The liquid extrudes slowly outward and capillary action kicks-in drawing water up from the warmer ground. This supply of slow moving liquid and freezing temperatures create a stunning results: textured and striated sheets of ice sometimes forming curls and even delicate points.

Frost FlowerA great time to see them is just after sunrise, as the low-angle morning light shows through the ice crystals.

The ice flowers can be just an inch wide, or be as wide as several inches. The largest I have seen formed when several plants, in close proximity, formed a “bouquet” of frost flowers. The display were about 9 inches in diameter.

Frost flowers can be seen in yards, at the edges of roads or even in the woods.

Learn more:
http://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=VEVI3

Is it a Crow or a Raven?

Is it a Crow or a Raven?

If you’re on the trail, on the street, or having a fun day exploring in the outdoors you will likely encounter crows and ravens.

Crows and ravens are thought of as the same kind of bird, but these are actually two different species. There are many ways to identify the two, but here are some basic features I look for:

(The above photo is of a raven. This beautiful bird soared overhead, low enough for a great photo while on a day hike in northern California.)

Body:
If you see a monster-sized crow it is most likely a raven. Ravens can be up to 24+ inches in length, while crows are smaller at 18 inches.

Hanging-out:
Ravens are shy and often solitary while spending a lot of time on the ground. Crows tend to be noisy, bold and sometimes congregate in large numbers.

Flight:
Ravens soar more than crows; conversely crows tend to flap their wings more.

Voice:
Ravens give a very low “croonk” sound, but can give a variety of calls; crows give a loud “caw.”

Beak:
Ravens have black and very heavy/thick-looking beaks that can be 3 1/4 inches or more in length. The beak of a crow is less thick and shorter at about 2 2/3 inches.

Tail:
The tails of ravens in flight are wedge-shaped (think diamond shaped). The tails of crows are more fanned (the shape of a hand fan).

References:
“National Audubon Society Field Guide to California.” Peter Laden and Fred Heath. Pg. 319.
“Fieldbook of Natural History” (2nd edition). Palmer/Fowler. Pg 631.

Campfire Pocket Stew

Campfire Pocket Stew

Some of the best-tasting campground meals are also the most simple.

Campfire Pocket Stew is one of my favorites. It has the benefits of being quick to prepare, easy to serve and has minimal clean up. It also tastes wonderful, is healthy and affordable.

The pocket is especially helpful if your family has special diet requirements or preferences.

Select from a variety of your favorite foods. Small or thin-sliced potatoes, chicken tenders, fish, and thin chops also work well.

The individual pockets can be assembled at home and transported in a cooler. At the campsite, they can be tossed onto campfire coals or cooked on a grill.

Below is a basic recipe for Pocket Stew that serves 4 people. Every pocket stew will be a little different depending on the ingredients you use – that is part of the fun of this meal.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound of lean ground beef formed into patties.
  • 1 large portabella mushroom or 12-16 button mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 1-2 carrots, sliced
  • ¼ pound of green beans
  • choice of seasonings
  • 1-Tb. oil

 Supplies:

  • Heavy-duty aluminum foil.
  • Tongs or heat-resistant gloves

Using the heavy-duty aluminum foil make a 12”x14” piece of foil for each pocket. Place the foil with the reflective side facing up and lightly oil the center. Place the meat in the center of the rectangle of foil. Add seasonings. Top with vegetables.

Bring the long side up over the food and fold them together. Repeat the fold. Make a double fold on each end of the pocket. Refrigerate until ready to pack the cooler.

At camp, place the pockets onto a bed of hot coals. Tongs or heat-resistant gloves are helpful. Cook for 10 minutes and flip over for 6-10 minutes more. Remove and allow them to cool for a couple of minutes. Open carefully, hot steam will escape.

Clean up is easy, just fold up the foil.

Some of my earliest and best camping trips have always involved Pocket Stew. I hope this meal gives you your own great camping memories.

Camping at Little Basin Cabins and Campground

Little Basin

The Little Basin Cabins and Campground is a hidden location and perfect for escaping from the busy rush of Silicon Valley.

This former Hewlett Packard employee retreat is now part of Big Basin Redwoods State Park in California and can be enjoyed by the public.

Our car pulled into the campsite where dappled light dotted an open space underneath massive redwood trees. A Jay stood like a sentry on the picnic table. We unloaded our supplies and scouted out two spaces for our tents. The Jay hopped into a tree and watched us closely. Our daughter explored the immediate area and found lost treasures of stick forts hidden among fallen redwoods. We pitched our tents, stored our gear and explored the larger campground.

Little BasinLittle Basin offers 12 cabins and 38 well-spaced campsites among the redwoods for families who need some time to camp, play and explore. The park offers trails, and more developed facilities such as a children’s playground, group mess hall and sports field. Each campsite includes a fire-ring and picnic table. Shower facilities are also available in the rest rooms. Ice and wood is available at the camp office.

As the sun lowered on the horizon we prepared our fire. My ten-year old daughter is granted the privilege of being the keeper of the fire, a responsibility she takes great pride in. Soon a bed of coals was ready to cook our dinner and we placed our foil pockets with veggies and meat in the coals.

As the sun lowered further the last lances of light shot between the great trees creating well defined walls between shadows and light. The sun disappeared, it was dark on the forest floor but overhead the clouds were colored with pink, red and purple.

We tore into our cooked pockets and enjoyed a cornucopia of flavors, it was a simple meal, but we relished it greatly.

Little BasinIn the evening the temperature lowered and we donned our jackets. The light from the fire illuminated our faces and the trees immediately around us. We talked some, but mostly just stared into the flames and let our thoughts wander. It was very relaxing.

Everyone was tired and we felt that it was very late. Someone announced the time, it was only 10:00 P.M. The TV show that we might have watched at home was not missed.

At night we heard some chattering of raccoons outside, they were checking to see if we left some food out, we did not, and they left empty handed. Later, something stepped through the leaves, carefully and deliberate, it was a deer. In the early morning soft rain pelted the outside of our tents and at one point it rained heavy for about ten minutes.

As morning broke we woke and enjoyed the quiet before others started their day. It was a few minutes of precious, even sacred time in the cool and stillness.

The fire was restarted and the camp stove turned on to heat some water in our old, beat-up, blue enamel pot. Soon we had water for coffee. We stood around the small fire drinking coffee and chased off any chill that might have been in the air.

Little BasinThe day began again and life was again renewed. A Jay, possibly the same one we saw the day before, sat like a sentry on a nearby branch and watched us closely.

Little Basin is a new addition to Big Basin Redwoods State Park near Boulder Creek, California. In this time of recession, Little Basin, is an experiment of sorts by the State of California and conservation organizations to allow Little Basin to support itself by being self-sustaining as a revenue generator while providing outdoor education opportunities to the public.

To learn more about Little Basin visit –
http://littlebasin.org/camp/little-basin
To learn more about Big Basin Redwoods State Park visit-
http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=540

Camping in Tirol

Camping in Tirol

Camping in Tirol, Austria, can be very different from camping in the U.S.

I was invited to go ‘camping’ at a place about an hour east of Innsbruck in the beautiful countryside of Tirol. What I encountered was very different from my expectations: camping under the stars, cooking over an open fire, and being away (or at least not too close) from other people. What I encountered was a more leisurely and communal form of camping. The closest American counterpart I can think of is staying at a KOA.

Camping in TirolThe experience began with turning off the main highway and traveling down a nicely paved road lined the waving flags. This guided us us to central building that included a restaurant, recreation room, showers, and a small cafe. I was surprised to see the campground even offered Wi-Fi. Cars and trailers were parked in organized rows, each in a specific lot. We parked our car in a side parking area and walked to our trailer.

Outside the small trailer was a raised platform where a small table or chairs could be set and a shade cloth raised overhead.The remaining grassy area was maybe 9 meters square. The neighbors’ trailer provided the boundary of the lot on one side, some bushes on another with the road providing the third side, the trailer fenced in the fourth side. You could pitch a tent in this space if you wanted.

Camping in TirolAt one point in the afternoon everyone walked to a small lake about 5 minutes away, it was surrounded by a large green space with an abundance of geese. The lake was picturesque and a good many folks enjoyed swimming in it. Nearby was a small water monitoring facility. I was told that on weekends the lake is packed. Some locals visiting the camping area told me the owners are very concerned about the quality and safety of the water as it “was the basis of their livelihood.” Afterwards we returned to the campsite.

A long extension cord snaked from some unseen power box into our site and into the side on a electric grill. Dinner was prepared on the grill and everyone helped to set the table. We took the dishes to a large building that offered hot showers and included a large bank of sinks for washing dishes.

In the evening people stayed inside their trailers, socialized or watched tv. For the those in tents they stayed up talking.

I was surprised that for all of the compactness of the campground, it was quiet and the neighbors were very pleasant.

Many of the campers had brought their RV or trailer to the campground and leased a space on a long-term basis; the purpose being that on weekends or during time off they might come to the campground to relax.

If you get the opportunity to go camping in Europe by all means do, you will have a good time; but set your expectation that such ‘camping’ might be more leisurely and less roughing it.

What is the Name of that Giant Moth in My Cabin?

Ceanothus Silk Moth

We were asleep in a tent cabin nestled in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. In the still of the night a visitor joined us.

We awoke that morning and were greeted by a huge moth on the wall – almost 4 and half inches across!

What was it? The moth was beautifully colored in burnt red and adorned with white and black that sometimes gently blended into one another.

It quietly sat on the wall, not moving. We inspected it closer and accidentally disturbed it causing it to clumsily flutter about the small tent cabin room. Interestingly, it found a resting space on a pinecone that was sitting on a small table. We carefully snapped a photo.

This time we gave the large moth more space so we would not disturb it. A quick rummage in a backpack produced a field guide, after a few page turns we found the section on Butterflies and Moths. Our visitor was:

Ceanothus Silk Moth
(Hyalophora euryalus)
Giant Silkworm Moth Family

We quietly dressed and departed for coffee and breakfast. The cool air embraced us as we opened the door and gave us a quick shiver. Light appeared as shafts breaking through the wall of tall trees that surrounded us. I understood why the moth found shelter in the moderate warmth of the tent cabin.

When we returned to the cabin the giant moth had departed. We later read more, we had seen an adult Ceanothus Silk Moth. These handsome moths just live for a short time; their primary purpose is to find a mate and lay their eggs to continue their species, after which they die. It seemed harsh, but it was part of a natural cycle. We wished the giant moth good fortune in having a family.

The short existence of this moth provided reflection for everyone the rest of the day as we explored the woods.

Location: Sierra Nevada Mountains of California
Source: National Audubon Society Field Guide to California.

Quick Campground Fajitas

Quick Campground Fajitas

After a full day of camping with the family a quick, good tasting, stick-to-your-ribs meal is always appreciated. Campground fajitas are easy to make, nutritious and take about 20 minutes to prepare.

Ingredients:
• 1 pound of protein (use your favorite)
• 1 Large Onion
• 1 Bell Pepper
• Small Jar of Salsa
• Cheese of Choice
• 1 Avocado
• 2 Medium Zucchinis
• 1 Small Packet of Tortillas
• 1 Lime

Equipment:
• Cutting Board
• Cutting Knife
• Aluminum Foil
• Camp Stove
• Skillet (we prefer an iron skillet)

This meal comes together very fast. Have other family members help with the preparation: cutting onions, peppers, zucchini, avocado and preparing the table with plates, utensils etc.

Cut protein and veggies into uniform strips.

Place the sliced onion and the bell pepper in a hot skillet. Cook until the onions have almost reached the desired texture and carmelization. Add the zucchini strips and sauté for 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat and place in a re-useable pie tin (shown) or other container that can be covered.

Add the protein to the hot skillet and cook until it reaches your desired level of being done.

The tortillas can be wrapped in aluminum foil and heated (on a stove or over the campfire). If a camp stove is easier, place the tortilla packet in a skillet. The skillet can be placed on the stove over a low heat. Turn the foil packet over every few minutes to ensure the tortillas do not burn.

This meal is a bare-bones fajitas recipe for car camping and should be adjusted to personal taste. The veggies we used travel well and can be stored for several days without refrigeration. The meat we used was frozen prior to the trip to help it stay cold and defrost in a cooler. The leftover salsa and tortillas were used with other meals.

This meal is easy to make, yummy and nutritious. Best of all, it the economical and fed four hungry adults for about $4.00 per person.

What Is That Cute, Brazen and Silly Animal in My Campsite; Is It a Chipmunk or a Ground Squirrel?

Chipmunk or Ground Squirrel

blog_20100813_img1While camping at the Lodgepole Campground in Sequoia National Park several cute ‘chipmunk-like’ critters would quickly scurry across the ground, over rocks and under picnic tables in our area.

These critters were not just cute, but brazen. Sometimes one would jump up on the table to see what you were eating, or if the opportunity permitted, to inspect an open backpack sitting on the ground.

They were also silly. One or two would spring with the ease of a gymnast onto a sunny bolder, then stretch their out body on the warm stone and ‘enjoy some rays.’ If they felt unsafe they would quickly dart away.

What exactly was this cute, brazen and silly little creature? Most of the other campers in our area called them Chipmunks; a few called them Ground Squirrels.

A quick look in a California field guide solved the mystery. Chipmunks did exist in the area but these small mammals had a white-strip down either side bordered by a heavy black stripe. Plus they did not have any stripes on their face. These were Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrels.

Shown is a picture of a Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrel that visited our campsite.

Here are some characteristics to identify these cute, brazen and silly little critters when they visit your campsite at Sequoia National Park-
1) They are very cute.
2) A white strip on each side bordered by a heavy black stripe.
3) Their head and shoulders are plain – no stripes on their face.

Reference: National Audubon Society Field Guide to California.

Kings Canyon is Rich in Sugar Pine Trees

Rich in Sugar Pine Trees

Sugar Pine Size ComparisonVisitors to the Grant Grove Village in Kings Canyon National Park will notice this area is rich in Sugar Pines. You can identify a Sugar Pine by the extremely large pinecones that cover the ground at the base of these trees. In our photo a dollar bill is used to show the scale of some typical cones located in the Grant Grove area. These giants measure 16 inches (40 cm) in length and 5.5 inches (14 cm) in diameter. Remember, this is a National Park – and a treasure for all visitors to enjoy – these beautiful cones need to stay in the park where you find them.

Tent Cabin Camping at Grant Grove, Kings Canyon National Park

Tent Cabin Camping at Grant Grove, Kings Canyon National Park

After a long day of driving to Kings Canyon National Park the folks at GlyphGuy stayed in a tent cabin at the Grant Grove Village. We found that not having to unpack the car, setup a tent, or deal with cooking stuff was very convenient and welcome after a very long day – especially when kids are traveling in the car.

Several types of cabins, including some with electricity and baths, are available but we had booked a basic cabin with no electricity. The cabin had two double beds and a small dresser for clothes. The walls were not insulated and the wooden frame ceiling was covered by a fitted tarp. The tarp had a patchwork of duct-tape squares to cover small holes. The cabin had several windows that could be covered with a curtain for privacy. A couple of warm looking blankets were folded neatly in a corner.

Since our cabin did not have any electricity we were given a small lantern when we checked in. Although we had flashlights the lantern was convenient to have in the cabin at night.

Nearby was a bathroom, segregated by gender, and several private shower stalls on the backside of the bath building.

Grant Grove Village does provide a small restaurant with standard American fare for visitors and folks staying in the cabins. We were not sure what to expect with dinner so we had brought some food with us. We did visit the restaurant and found the food selection and prices were better than anticipated. Actually, the place was packed and people seemed happy with what they had received.

Also located in the Village is a Post Office, a small grocery store and a gift shop. For those wanting to learn more about Kings Canyon and the Giant Sequoias a visit to the Kings Canyon Visitors Center is a must. The Visitors Center is also in the Village. It offers several great exhibits, a short movie and lots of information about places to hike and explore. Check out the interpretive programs and make time to attend an evening campfire program held in the nearby outdoor amphitheater.

The summer night was not as cool as we had expected and we did not need any of the extra blankets that had been provided. The non-electric cabins rent between $62 and $86 for the night.

One item that needs improvement is a better knowledge of the history of the cabins. How old are they? Did any historical figures stay here? What is the story of this place? I asked three staff members variations of these questions and no one really knew the answers. The little bit of information I found was that the cabins were originally built in the 1940s and have been continually repaired over the years. It is obvious the well-worn door handle on our cabin had seen many travelers in it’s decades of service.

Overall our cabin was clean as were the bed linens and towels. We found the staff working in the office and those working in the area of the cabins all nice and personable.

If you are heading up Kings Canyon and need a place after a long drive you might consider staying in one of these cabins. Reservations are a must.

To learn more about the Grant Grove Cabins visit:
http://www.sequoia-kingscanyon.com/cabins.html

To learn more about interpretive programs at Kings Canyon visit:
http://www.sequoiahistory.org/

Eat Like a King with Campfire Kabobs

Eat Like a King with Campfire Kabobs

Eat like a king on your next family camping trip with campfire kabobs. These tasty morsels are easy to prepare, healthy, and extremely flavorful.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound of meat (use your favorite tender cut of meat, poultry or fish)
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 bell pepper
  • 2 small zucchinis
  • 12 button mushrooms
  • ½ pound of green beans
  • Choice of seasonings

Equipment:

  • Skewers as needed (if using wood skewers, soak in water first)
  • Aluminum foil
  • Cutting knife
  • Cutting board
  • Campfire or charcoal

Cut the meat into several chunks 1 to 2 inches thick. We cut and lightly seasoned the meat with olive oil and thyme the evening before our trip. This was placed in a re-sealable container and set in the refrigerator until the next day. The next morning we packed the meat in a well-iced ice-chest and made sure the other ingredients were also well chilled.

Work on the green beans. This will allow them to cook while the kabobs are being assembled. Make an aluminum foil pocket. Place the green beans inside with some olive oil with some slices of onion for flavoring. Crimp the pocket together and place on the grate over of the coals. Turn every few minutes over the coals as needed. The packet might need a full 25 minutes to cook. The packet can be placed directly on the coals if they need to cook faster.

Next, prepare the kabobs. Cut the veggies into chunks about the same size as the button mushrooms. Use any order you wish but we generally order the kabobs with meat, onion, mushroom, peppers and zucchinis. The sturdy zucchinis and peppers make good end pieces. Four of our kabobs had an assortment of meat and veggies, the fifth kabob was mostly meat.

At dinnertime the coals from the fire were spread over a one-foot square base. The kabobs were placed on a grate about 8 inches above the coals. These were slow cooked over the heat (no flame) for about 15 minutes. We used a small grate that lays over the larger grate found on many fire pits. This helps with cleaning and to keep food from falling into the fire.

The kabobs and green beans fed 3 adults and 1 child very well and even supplied some leftovers. The total cost for the entire meal was about $12 (or $3.00 per person). This kabob dinner was affordable, delicious and practical. Best of all it was enjoyed outdoors with family.

Yurt Camping is Great for Families

Yurt Camping is Great for Families

Yurts are a comfortable way for families to camp. Recently my family needed a night out camping so we tried something new; we stayed in a yurt at Mount Madonna County Park near Gilroy, California. According to a park worker the yurts are several weeks new.

As we drove through the campground meandering between redwood trees we saw our yurt. It was tan in color, round and sat on a brown planked deck. We parked the car and walked just a few feet to the front step of the deck. The yurt had a front door and two side windows. On top of the yurt sat a bubble of clear plexiglass, it was a skylight.

Unlocking the door we saw the yurt was clean and comfortable. The yurt’s diameter was 16 feet across, but it accommodated two bunk beds and a futon style double bed. In the middle of the room was a small, but sturdy table. A lot of furnishings had been placed inside this deceptively small space. Above us on the ceiling was a light, which we later found good for reading just before bedtime. An external screen door kept out pesky mosquitos. For those who feel safer with it, a lock and dead bolt are located on the main door.

Outside was a wooden picnic table and fire-pit. An odd shaped A-frame was nearby. This was for storing our food out of reach from raccoons. A few feet away a large yellow banana slug slowly moved into the woods.

The cost to rent the yurt was roughly double the cost of a regular tent campsite. The park does have showers and flush toilet facilities nearby. Several hiking trails offer hours of opportunity to escape the rat race and be outside.

In the morning you will need to sweep out the yurt and tidy up so it is clean for the next family.

My family needed a place to ‘chill-out’ and just kick-back for a night. If you are new to camping, have some grandparents who are joining you, or just want to relax without having to deal with a tent then check out yurt camping. We found it fun and relaxing.

Continue your own explorations of Mount Madonna and other Santa Clara County Parks visit: http://www.parkhere.org

March is a Great Time for Camping at the Pinnacles Campground

I love camping at the Pinnacles National Monument (located in California) in late March. On the weekends the campground is partially full, but during the rest of the week the campground has just a handful of campers. During our most recent visit we were able to select the camping site with a view of the hill to our east. This was a perfect spot for watching condors.

Earlier in the day my family had learned about a nesting pair of California Condors that lived on the ridge to our east. The condors, as a species, were fighting their way back from the edge of extinction. A nesting pair was a rare and welcome event. A visiting interpreter from a condor research facility had informed us that of the 500 condors that were alive today roughly 250 were in the wild. On the hill to our south two dark dots glided over tree tops and landed in the tree reported to have the nest, it was good to see these great creatures.

In the sky two-dozen turkey vultures glided on thermals. As the sun lowered on the horizon the thermals lessened and the vultures decreased in altitude. For several hours they gradually glided down. On several passes their massive wings carried them overhead. The airspace was becoming crowded as thirty vultures weaved less than 100 feet over us – their wings sounded like to the fast ripping sound made when a kite weaves rapidly in a quick turn. The moon appeared high in the sky and provided a mysterious looking background as the dark forms moved overhead. After a few minutes the birds moved away and roosted in a tree at the north end of the campground.

As the sun set the sky darkened and stars began to appear. The heat from our small fire kept us warm as the temperatures dipped into the high 30‘s. Our enjoyment of the bright nighttime star (Venus) easily made up for the evening chill.

The next morning we woke, enjoyed a short walk and started some water for camp coffee. After breakfast we started our walk down the the Bench Trail to briefly explore the South Wilderness Trail then walk up the creek to the Peaks View area.

Note: You can camp anytime of year at Pinnacles. But, our favorite time (weather permitting) is late March.

A School Camping Trip to Portola Redwoods State Park

portola redwoods

My family recently participated in a multi-family school camping trip to Portola Redwoods State Parks in the heart of the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. We led nature hikes and presented outdoor cooking demonstrations.

Rain clouds floated overhead in the sky but they did not dampen the enthusiasm for a weekend in nature.

As families arrived children poured out of the cars to join classmates already playing in the campground. The children quickly found the remains of a fort and began to make it their own. Several fallen redwoods surrounded the camping area. These tall giants were up to four feet in diameter and more than one-hundred in length. They provided a convenient ‘fence’ for the children. Some of these logs had shattered when they fell creating long shafts of redwood bark – convenient building materials.

While observing the children one mother in the group commented, “Kids are more independent when they are outdoors.”

Several children – pretending to be mountain lions – were stalking human prey ready to pounce as their moms and dads walked by. The sounds of kids playing and laughing filled the campground.

tentsThe adults unloaded their equipment and soon a small village of tents rose underneath the tall redwoods. A short time later smoke from the campfire was wafting through the giant trees as families began preparing for a ‘pot luck’ dinner.

For families still arriving their senses were welcomed by the scent of damp forest duff, the aroma of food and the sounds of happy children and community.

dutch oven cookingWe helped to make dinner an educational event by cooking with a Dutch oven. The Dutch oven is a cast-iron pot used by westward moving settlers in the 1800s. One child was especially curious about this odd familieslooking pot. When encourage to measure ingredients and manage the coals (with supervision) he eagerly joined in. Everyone ate well that evening.

Raindrops began to dot the tents as children brushed their teeth and bedded down. The gentle rain steadily increased throughout the night and eventually tested the weatherproofing of all the tents.

In the morning everyone woke to a pristine world. The rain provided a much-needed bath for the forest after months of dry weather. As sunlight beamed into the damp woods rarely seen colors greeted the eye. In one instance the moss growing on the inside hollow of one redwood was an iridescent green. Within several minutes the bright colors were gone only to impress the viewer with another special sight several trees away.

After breakfast, I lead a nature walk to Tip Toe Falls. This short but visually-rich trail provided opportunities for exploring: redwoods, jumping banana sluprocks to cross a creek, visiting the falls, observing clusters of Lady Bugs, listening to chattering birds and rescuing an eight inch Banana Slug from being stepped on. The park’s nature center provided a good place to conclude the hike. Everyone was surprised to have been away for over three hours.

In the late afternoon the children continued to fortify their fort and defend it against imaginary creatures.

The second evening families worked on dinner, the Dutch oven demonstration drew increased interest from both adults and children. The chili was a cool evening winner.

[View GlyphGuy’s Dutch Oven Chili Recipe]

salamanderAfter dinner I guided a nature walk. One child stopped on the trail and pointed to a spotted salamander. Everyone observed this primal looking creature then let it continue on its way.

On the final morning the parents enjoyed their coffee around a small fire – a few minutes of quiet before the kids woke.

In several minutes the solitude was broken by children emerging from their tents. They made a beeline to their fort. The results of their engineering work were becoming apparent – in addition to a tee-pee shaped fort was a seven-foot long piece of redwood bark had been transformed into a well-balanced teeter-totter. Log ramps allowed the kids to move quickly up the side of fallen redwoods. Some rope had been tied to the end several logs to create a simple pulley for moving wood and supplies. Evidence that young children also became more creative outdoors.

During breakfast several kids grumbled that they had to leave later in the day. As one-second grader finished eating he ran to the redwood fort. His Dad called from behind, “Come drink your hot chocolate.”

The second grader immediately stopped and turned to his elder. Although frustrated by dad’s interruption, his tone was respectful, “No Dad – I can drink hot chocolate any time but I can’t always play out here.”

It was a very revealing comment about the power of nature.

The child turned on his heel and ran fast as a deer to the fort, eager to spend another few precious minutes in nature.

Building a Toad House

“Grandpa, there’s a toad in the drainpipe,” Anna exclaimed!

The sudden and intense summer rain had quickly filled the rain gauge. Critters in the front yard were finding refuge. A small toad apparently found sanctuary in a drainpipe only to be washed away as the rain intensified and quickly flooded the downspout.

Anna saw the toad being tumbled along in the torrent of water. She reached down, carefully cupped her hands and picked up the drenched toad. The toad sat motionless. After several seconds the toad looked at Anna. She studied the big eyes, wide mouth and bumpy skin of this odd creature. The toad apparently studied the small eyes, small mouth and non-bumpy skin of this human. After a minute the toad seemed to sit more comfortably in Anna’s hand. Anna held her hands out and proudly showed this very content toad to the family.

Thunder rolled in the distance. The rain fell more gently now but the previous downpour had washed away the toad’s abode. The toad needed a new home and an industrious seven year old had the answer – a new toad house. But how? The family discussed several options. Grandpa suggested to place the toad near the massive toad home that dominated the front garden. Anna called this monolith Mount Toady. Mount Toady was a large rock supported by multiple stones which formed caves and alcoves at the base. Surrounding the mountain was a lush garden of plants, rooted in rich soil and inhabited by yummy earthworms. To a toad, it was paradise.

Anna had her own idea of a toad home and asked Mom to hold the toad. Mom took the toad and peeked around her fingers into her cupped hand – Mom peered in at the Toad, the Toad peered out at Mom.

Anna found a high spot on the ground that was protected from future flood waters. She dug a shallow hole with her hand then raced around the yard and collected sticks that were about a foot long. The thumb-sized sticks were used as a base. Smaller sticks were crossed to form the roof. After a few involved minutes the toad had a new house. Mom transferred the toad back to Anna who proudly introduced the toad to the new structure. The toad quickly hopped away but could not avoid the determined and quick hands of a child. The toad was again placed near the house, this time the toad made good use of the home.

One Ladybug, A Thousand Ladybugs…One Million Ladybugs!

It was a cool March morning in a redwood forest of California’s Santa Cruz Mountains.

My family ventured up a small fern lined creek following an overgrown trail – a trail less traveled.

Near the top of the stream the trail became overgrown, we climbed to the canyon’s edge to walk a more recognizable path. A major trail was about twenty feet away. Walking to the trail we noticed a single ladybug basking in a sunbeam just front of us. We thought this to be a rare sight for the time of year.

In another step we saw ten ladybugs, then one hundred. Several more steps and we saw clumps and carpets of red and black ladybugs covering the ground! Then we noticed that all around us the tree branches and tree trunks were also covered. Surrounding us were millions of ladybugs!

The ladybug patchwork carpet covered an area roughly 20 by 30 feet. The ladybugs were clumped between the ridges and valleys of redwood bark forty feet above our heads before becoming difficult to see. We recognized that we had ventured into a rarely seen spectacle.

The ladybugs were apparently emerging from ‘diapause’, the insect equivalent of hibernation. During diapause the ladybugs gather together in large groups to conserve their resources and for reproductive purposes. “Ladybugs can survive for up to nine months by living off their stored reserves. They break out of diapause when the temperature reaches 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius), which is generally when food becomes available again.”

The ladybugs that were fortunate enough to enjoy a sunbeam were more energetic than their cooler neighbors, sometimes only inches away.

These insects are commonly referred to as ladybugs, but are actually beetles. Their correct name is the Ladybird Beetle. Apparently such grouping locations are carefully guarded secrets by people (who must obtain a special permit) who harvest the beetles primarily for purpose of selling in garden stores as pest control insects.

We were awed by this large concentration of ladybugs and watched them for some time before continuing down the trail.

We left the ladybugs as we found them. Their location enjoyed others who may take a trail less taken.

Reference Source: San Diego Zoo website > Animal Bytes > Insects > Ladybugs.