Exploring Ape Cave & Lava Canyon – Mount St. Helens National Monument

Trip Report:
Group Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based hiking group | Date: late-June 2022 | Duration: 3 days | Hiking Distance: 9 miles | Participants: 5 | Type: Hiking & Tent Camping

This trip demonstrates perfectly why I don’t “just do a trip” for a group without having a solid knowledge of the area. This was organized as an exploratory trip (meaning I had not been to these locations before and neither had the participants). Since all 5 of us are members of a local hiking club, and skilled hikers/backpackers in our own right, this was known to all up front, but still, this trip was a gentle reminder that local knowledge is needed for providing the best experiences. We had a good time and learned a great deal, but had I known more about the area the trip would have been exceptional.

This trip was to visit the southeast side of Mount St. Helens, in Washington State.

Day 1: The group arrived and we had time to explore the quiet tent-only campground and some local trails near Cougar, Washington. We had dinner, talked around the campfire, and some stayed out close to 10 pm as the mid-summer sun stayed long into the evening sky.

Having lunch at Lava Canyon.

The morning of Day 2 began with birds blasting the campground with calls at about 4:30 am! The group had a relaxed morning, though several commented they had not slept well that night. Possibly this was related to being tired, or we were talking, but while driving to the hiking area we missed a turn-off and went the expected distance down a road to realize we needed to backtrack. This delay caused us to start about an hour and a half late. Driving back, we learned there was a significant absence of Forest Service signage in the area related to general features like river crossings, sights, overlooks, etc. We finally made our destination of Lava Canyon and hiked around the upper trail area. Prior to the trip, we knew the suspension bridge was out of commission, though we had hoped to hike downstream to the Ship Rock area, sadly this trail was also closed. Hiking back, we crossed over the main footbridge and ate lunch overlooking the beautiful glacial-blue Muddy River. Leaving, we made a stop at the bridge overlooking the 1980 lahar flow with Mount St. Helens looming in the background.

Viewing the waterfall at June Lake.

We drove to the June Lake parking area and began our hike to June Lake. The plan had been to continue to Chocolate Falls for a 5-mile loop, but about 2 miles in, little issues were quickly adding up into larger concerns [such as starting the morning hike late which made starting this long hike begin well after lunch, hiking over sections of lava fields that had now heated up in the afternoon sun, half of the group being tired, several with not enough water, the leader not having the best map, having to cross glacial melt steam late in the day, and increasing signs that at some -including the trip leader- were dehydrated]. The trip leader made the call to stop the hike soon after June Lake. This was an unhappy call to make but hopefully avoided an injury. Driving back to camp, we located where the earlier signage mistake had been made – a sign had been misinterpreted. We also visited the Ape Cave turnoff to better know where to go the following morning and we discovered the sign along the road identifying the turn for Ape Cave was completely missing! Finding the turn, we stopped for 20 minutes at the Trail of Two Forests Interpretive Site where a 2,000-year-old lava flow from Mount St. Helens ran through the forest, around trees, solidifying around the trunks and leaving tree wells. The group ended our day back at the campground and had an early evening.

Looking up the lahar, Mount St. Helens is in distance. For scale, note the people walking in the lahar.

On the final day, we departed camp at 8:45 am and visited Ape Cave for our 9-9:30 am time slot to arrive. We parked in a lower lot as the official signage in the area was poor and did not direct us to the upper lot. Finally, we began our adventure up the difficult 1.5-mile upper cave route. Progress was slow as there was a significant amount of bouldering across rock falls, several tight places, and a harder than it sounds narrow 8-foot wall that had to be scaled. There were a few scraped knees, but the group arrived at the end of the lava tube; our completion time was 2 hours and 15 minutes. We walked 1.5 miles back to the visitor center through the forest for farewells and then drove back to Eugene. We had hoped to get ahead of any surge related to the Fourth of July weekend holiday traffic but still managed to hit bumper-to-bumper traffic through Portland, making drive time from Ape Cave to Eugene 4 hours.

Looking up at the skylight – Ape Cave

Minus Tide Explorations & Eagle Viewing on Oregon’s Central Coast

Trip Report:
Group Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based hiking group | Date: mid-June 2022 | Duration: 3 days | Hiking Distance: 7 miles | Participants: 8 | Type: Hiking & Tent Camping

The low tide zone is always covered, except for a few times a year during the lowest tides. It was during one such minus low tide that 8 of us ventured to an area along Oregon’s central coast to explore tide pools during an impressive -2.4 feet (-73 cm) low tide!

Day 1: Our group arrived on their schedule at one of the nearby Oregon State Park group camps. That afternoon and evening were open for beach walking, exploring on your own, or watching the sunset. In the evening, everyone enjoyed a campfire and discussed plans for the next day. It was interesting that one topic of conversation that arose was the book, “Braiding Sweetgrass.” Of the 8 participants, more than half had read the book, one was in the process of reading, and the others were interested. At 10 pm a gentle rain started and continued through to the morning.

Day 2: At 7 am, we carpooled to an unnamed parking area expecting a filling parking lot, but to the trip leader’s surprise were only 3 cars. The rain, cool temperatures, and overcast skies likely contributed to the low turnout. We arrived about 2 hours before low tide to follow the tide out. This particular tide pool area is special because we can walk on sand and open rocky surfaces to visit ‘islands’ of marine life. After 2.5 hours, and a returning tide, we started back and met several rangers who helped to provide some more context to the area. One ranger said the rain had chased most away that morning. We saw numerous anemones, various seaweeds, chitons, crabs, limpets, mussels, and some small fish believed to be skulpins. Also observed were a pacific harbor seal, seagulls, and great blue heron. Later that morning, we drove to a coffee shop in Nye Beach to warm up. Then half of the group ventured back to the campground, and the other half visited the Hatfield Marine Science Center. That afternoon, we met up at the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area and saw at least 4 bald eagles in addition to the common murres, surf scoters, and pigeon guillemots. One participant said that in 30 years of visiting Yaquina Head she had not seen that many eagles there as that day. That evening we enjoyed dinner around a campfire. Several of the group visited the beach at sunset to see up to 8 large birds visiting what appeared to be the body of a deer on the beach (the deer had not been there 24 hours earlier). The deer had been possibly struck by a vehicle on the nearby highway and made it to the beach before dying. Near the body were 8 birds; 3 were vultures, 2 were adult bald eagles, and 3 were juvenile bald eagles. The interactions between the birds were raucous at times. Just at sunset, the eagles departed and the vultures returned. That evening the rain returned.

Day 3: We awoke to a wet campsite and decided to meet in Depoe Bay at 9 am. Some broke camp early to grab some breakfast in town. In Depot Bay the group met up again, and we looked briefly for whales, but saw no signs, then drove north to Fogarty Creek to enjoy a -1.5 foot low tide. After an hour and a half, everyone departed for home.

Pacific Harbor Seal
A visitor to the tide pools during a minus low tide.
Great Blue Heron
Wet and overcast during our visit.
Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area. What was most amazing today is the lack of wind.
Eagles!
An adult bald eagle and what appear to be two juvenile eagles at the ocean’s edge.
An adult bald eagle and juvenile (at left) stand over what appears to be a deer carcass on the beach. A turkey vulture is at the right.
The two juvenile eagles are much larger that the turkey vultures who are keeping their distance.
Found some fossils while tide pooling!
Mussel colonies
Up close with a starfish

Central Oregon Hiking Explore 2022

Trip Report:
Group Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based hiking group | Date: late April / early May 2022 | Duration: 4 days | Hiking Distance: 17-20 miles | Participants: 9 | Type: Hiking & Tent Camping

Just getting to our assembly area was an adventure with snow and cold temperatures crossing the Cascades. Arriving at Oregon’s Tumalo State Park the temperatures were mild if a bit cool. The group hiked 6-miles along the picturesque Deschutes River and then enjoyed an evening around the campfire. On the morning of day 2, we made a stop at the Ogden Wayside to see and walk the impressive 500-foot canyon made by the Crooked River. The weather included dramatic downpours mixed by sun and calm. We drove to the historic town of Shaniko and were welcomed inside the historic Shaniko Hotel (1900) which is undergoing renovations for opening later in the year. The town is a page out of the late 1800s and early 1900s and the hotel has a number of ghost stories. Continuing to Cottonwood Canyon State Park we drove past a number of wind turbines, cows, and open rangeland. Arriving at the park we made camp and enjoyed a 4-mile hike. It was windy that afternoon and well into the night. On day 3, we hiked 7-miles in the morning along the John Day on the Pinnacles Trail. We had to turn around due to a trail closure because Golden Eagles were nesting. Bighorn sheep peered down at us from high above the basalt cliffs. After returning to camp and enjoying some lunch several of the party hiked another 4 miles, with some making an additional 7. We enjoyed a quiet and windless evening around a warm campfire. We went to bed as the stars were coming out. Later that night the stars were amazing, though rain clouds were rolling in. The morning of day 4 was an early departure for the group with some opting to enjoy a warm breakfast in Condon.

We observed merganser, deer, mallard ducks, turkey vultures, Canadian geese, California bighorn sheep, swallow, crows, hawks, an unidentified lizard, and several snakes along the trail. There were tracks and signs of bobcats, coyotes, more bighorn sheep, and possibly pronghorn. We heard soft hoots with a stuttering rhythm: hoo-h’HOO-hoo-hoo from a Great Horned Owl, and the chucks of what was believed to be Chukar partridges.

Driving over the pass to the Bend area that morning, we encountered snow with temperatures in the 30s. Arriving at Tumalo State Park in the afternoon the temperatures were mild today and provided the setting for a great hike along the Deschutes River. We stayed for an evening in the park before venturing further inland.
The often-overlooked urban caves in Redmond provided a respite from the rain.

The Shaniko Hotel is being refurbished. Our group was fortunate to be invited inside to see the renovations and hear some ghost stories.
The lobby of the Shaniko Hotel (dated 1900) is undergoing a facelift.
Horses and wind turbines
Arriving at Cottonwood Canyon State Park we enjoyed several hikes along the John Day River.
Swallows gather mud for their nests along the edge of the John Day River. They flew across the river to a cliff and disappeared among the complex shadows and crevices of the massive rock wall.
Occasionally called a white woolly bear caterpillar or “white woolly,” the hickory tussock moth caterpillar is white with a black line going down its back. According to legend, the wider the rusty brown sections, the milder the coming winter will be; the more black there is, the more severe the winter. 
Swallowtail butterfly
The beautiful John Day River amid a stunning landscape.
A herd of California bighorn sheep gazes down upon human hikers.
A quiet (and windless) evening in Cottonwood Campground. The quiet and comfortable evening led to a night of blustery weather with temperatures in the 40s (F), strong winds, and pelting rain.

End of the Summer Camping in the Cascades

This was possibly the last warm-ish weekend in the Cascades this year, and our group was able to enjoy 3-days of hiking and camping at beautiful Waldo Lake, Oregon.

Trip Report:
Group Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based Hiking Club | Date: September 2019 | Duration: 3 days | Participants: 11 | Type: hiking, car camping

A remote area of the lake
Waldo’s Camp Edith sign continues to show its age…not bad though for 130 years of weathering. The camp remains a secret, known only to those who find it, including my group who spent part of an afternoon using a photo from the 1890s to re-discover the location.
It was a mycological paradise in the woods – lots and lots of mushrooms to see!

Traversing to Fort Rock Cave the Home of Oregon’s 10,000 Year-Old Shoes

This was a 3-day experience into Central Oregon’s Outback to learn more about early human habitation and the area’s geology. Our route included the archaeological site of Fort Rock Cave, the 2-mile long volcanic fissure known as Crack in the Ground, and plans to visit the Fossil Lake area.

Trip Report:
Volunteer Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based Hiking Club | Date: May 2019 | Duration: 3 days | Participants: 8 | Type: hiking & camping

On our first day, one member discovered she didn’t have the right key to the car carrier which held her sleeping bag. Our caravan stopped at a hardware store in Oakridge where the employee emerged with the largest pair of bolt cutters ever seen. He quickly removed the troublesome lock. For lunch, we stopped at Salt Creek Fall for a break and later at an info kiosk on Hwy 31 before continuing to Fort Rock. At Fort Rock, we hiked to “the notch” along the western tuff ring where the wind was really strong. We made our own trail back down the rough side to more level ground. Afterward, we visited the Homestead Museum to learn more about homesteading was like in earlier years. At a nearby private campground, we set up our tents and enjoyed a fire for an hour or so when we noticed a mist in the distance. Within a minute or two it started to rain. We called it an early evening.

On the second day, in the early morning, the sunrise was beautiful and a coyote was heard yelping in the distance. One participant had green shower shoes and after a miscommunication about where they were to be delivered, gave everyone a good laugh. At 9 am we drove to Fort Rock for our interpretive tour of the Fork Rock Cave where 10,000-year-old shoes had previously been found. The Oregon State Park Ranger had driven from La Pine and was delayed a few minutes because of traffic. Our group and two others joined him in a state park van and we drove ten minutes close to the site. Then we walked about half a mile to the cave. He shared 3 prevailing theories about how humans arrived in the Americas and included a traditional story about how Fort Rock had been formed. We were asked that the story remains in the cave. As we walked back to the van one participant was keenly interested in the bleached bones of a dead cow. Back at Fort Rock we ate lunch and watch some of the birds on the cliff face.

A reproduction of a 10,000 year-old sagebrush sandal

We then drove half an hour to Christmas Valley then to Crack in the Ground. We hiked several sections that we could scamper through and also hiked along the top of the fissure. Several participants disturbed a prairie falcon who was not happy to see them. The falcon made a lot of noise, and as they moved away it acted as though it wanted to nose dive them. Storm clouds were approaching; we left about 3 pm and drove to an isolated ranch. The directions were a bit off and we took several wrong turns before arriving. We were greeted by two rambunctious dogs, a golden colored and bear-sized dog and a smaller ten-month-old border collie. As we were unloading our cars the collie jumped in the back of the trip leader’s car when a door was open and pee’d on the back seat. Just as we completed setting up our tents a 20-30 mile-an-hour wind blew past and dark clouds rolled in. The rain started at about 6:30 pm and everyone quickly disappeared into their tents to eat. We didn’t see anyone again until the next morning. The rain poured throughout the night.

The morning of the last day we were happy to hear that everyone pretty much stayed dry during the rain. We decided that traveling on muddy back roads might be problematic so we canceled the last portion of our trip to Fossil Lake. Just as we packed the last of our gear the two dogs reappeared but now they covered in mud – quickly we departed. We stopped in Fort Rock at a convenience store for gasoline and a break, then another break at Fort Rock, then again Salt Creek Falls before returning home.

Wilderness First Responder (WFR) Infosheet

This is my personal Wilderness First Responder (WFR) Infosheet. I created it as a reference across the course of three NOLS Wilderness Medicine WFR courses. It is a two-sided reference that prints on legal-sized paper (8.5 x 14 inches). Several fellow WFRs have asked for the document so I’m placing it online; my intent is that others can benefit and feel more secure with a patient assessment. Get WFR certified  – this document is NOT a substitute for professional training! When I use the document(s) I print them onto one sheet of legal-sized paper. Fold the sheet in half and use a fitted piece of cardboard for backing. A rubber band is applied to hold the paper to the cardboard. This is lightweight and has some sturdiness.

I have tried to be as accurate as possible with my student notes within the NOLS curriculum, send any suggestions or corrections to mark@letsgoexploring.com.

>> Download Printable PDF – Side A
>> Download Printable PDF – Side B

Updated: 2017, 2019, and 2022.

A Spring Weekend on the Upper McKenzie River

The season’s first warm weather brought significant snowmelt into the McKenzie River watershed and over the majestic Sahalie Falls and Koosah Falls.

Trip Report:
Volunteer Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based Hiking Club | Dates: May 2018 | Participants: 5 | Type: Hiking and Car Camping

Our plan to hike to Tamolitch Falls (Blue Pool) was cut short when a sign stated a mile of trail was closed because water had flooded the path in places to a depth of 3 feet. Even with the closure, there was plenty to appreciate further upstream at Clear Lake with its crystalline waters and turquoise colored Great Spring. Animals that were seen along the trail also appeared to appreciate the warmer weather as fish jumped in the lake, several species of birds flew overhead, and a garter snake warmed itself on the rocks. In shaded areas winter still managed to hold its grip as large patches of snow remained. Springs spontaneously appeared on the trail sometimes forming small ponds, and at one point, all of us were mesmerized by a plate-sized vortex that had formed in such a pool. After a solid day of hiking, we visited Belknap Hot Springs for a relaxing soak. Because we timed our visit before the Memorial Day crowds the U.S. Forest Service campground was basically empty. Our campsite was green with moss and located next to a white rushing stream that looked like it was born from a Tolkien novel. The next day we enjoyed the comfort of a morning campfire, broke camp, and explored several more miles of trail before heading home.

   

A Crater Lake Extended Weekend Group Trip

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Trip Report:
Volunteer Leader: Mark Hougardy | Date: June 12, 2016 | Duration: 3 Days
Participants: 10 | Group: Eugene-based Hiking Club | 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 2 am 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 8 pm 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 tale 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 was 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 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 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 a 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.