Practical Tips to Help First-time Campers: Tip #2 Think about Proximities

car-camping-tip-2Make the most of your camping experience by thinking about proximities – the distance or closeness of objects to you within the campground.

Below are some questions and thoughts to consider before you reserve a campsite; it is important to remember that proximities can involve a physical location and a time component.


Will you have neighbors in the campground? Will they be uncomfortably close or far enough away to give you the privacy you desire? Will your neighbors be in an RV, a tent or a cabin? Will they be part of a group? Will you have people next-door part of the time or all of the time?


What is the distance from the parking lot to your campsite? Is the parking area part of your campsite? Or, will you have to walk a long way and carry your equipment?


Where are the water spigots? Carrying water a long distance is not fun, so inquire if the spigots are within the campsite, a minute’s walk away, or further. Some campgrounds turn-off the water during the colder seasons and only turn it on later in the summer. Depending on when you visit, the water might not be available; find out.

Trees & Sun

Do you want your campsite to be in the full sun or shade? Will you be camping under trees? Will you have any shade? What about shade at different times of the day?


Where are the bathrooms in relation to your campsite? Bathrooms can be noisy, especially during the nighttime, as people get up at all hours to use the facilities. Plus, the breeze might change direction and if you’re too close…well, you get the idea. Also, how far will you have to walk to the bathroom after dark?


Locate the trash and recycle bins within the campground. How far away are they from where you will be camping? Do you want to be a short distance, or farther away from these facilities?


Some campgrounds are located directly next to a highway. Will you be camping a few feet away from traffic, or will you be several hundred feet or more away? How busy is the road?

Play Areas

Is there a playground? How close do you want to be?

Creeks & Streams

Is there a creek or a stream near your chosen campsite? Depending on the time of year, mosquitoes can be a problem for those camped close to water.


What will be your distance to the campground store if additional supplies are needed? What about the Ranger’s Office if there is an emergency?


Can you easily walk to campfire nature programs or junior ranger events for the kids? Consider the route at night, will it be rocky, paved or a pathway?


Will you be in an area where the weather is cold, wet, rainy, foggy or perfect? What is the weather forecast for the region or park where you will be camping?


If you are camping when the fire season is high will you be allowed to have a fire? What about the park’s wood collection policy? How far will you have to walk or drive to buy wood? How long will this take?

Researching the distance or closeness of things within the campground will help to avoid many headaches. You should always be thinking about these proximities from the research stages through to the actual camping trip.

Practical Tips to Help First-time Campers: Tip #1 Start with a Checklist

car-camping-tip-1Planning for a car camping trip can be a herculean activity, especially if you’re not sure where to begin. You are welcome to use my checklist (an Excel spreadsheet). Use it to help “jump start” your thinking about what is needed for a successful and fun, multi-day, family car camping trip.

You can download the checklist here.

There are many more items listed on the checklist than what you will need. This is intentional, as each trip requires some degree of new thinking and planning to accommodate changes in weather, location, and personal interests. Please modify the checklist to include any items that maximize the safety, comfort and security of your own family.

car-camping-checklist-carThe checklist is organized into 7 tabs: Read Me / Camping Equipment / Cooking Equipment / Food / Food Example / Personal Items / The Trip

Instructions about how to complete the various sections are provided on each tab.

Now that you have a checklist, I hope your trip will be easier to plan than you may have originally thought.

Next, let’s look at proximities; knowing about them can help you have a more enjoyable camping trip.

Photo: The car is packed, ready to depart for 4 days of camping – thanks to the checklist!

Practical Tips to Help First-time Campers: Introduction

car-camping-little-basinMy Car Camping Tips are written to help first-time campers plan more effectively, avoid common headaches, and feel more secure outside.

I developed these tips to answer a first-time camper’s basic concerns:

  • Safety is crucial; can my family camp safely?
  • Money is important; I don’t want to buy a bunch of unnecessary gear.
  • Time is limited; can we go camping without having to plan from scratch?

As a first-time camper, you can be safe, keep expenses down, and make the most of your time. These tips have been compiled from real-life experiences from over forty years of camping with my own family, working as a nature guide, and organizing camping excursions for people new to the outdoors.

As with all my activities in nature, I encourage enjoyment with minimal impacts; peppered throughout these materials are ideas and suggestions related to Leave No Trace principals.

Photo: Photo: Car Camping at the Little Basin Cabins and Campground, Big Basin Redwoods State Park, California.

Beach Hiking in Oregon on a Warm January Day

January in Oregon is historically cold and wet, but this year we experienced an unusually warm spell with lots of sunny skies. The coast offered the warmest weather so we packed up the car and headed out for an 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 the 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 the 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 the 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.

Interpreting the Mountain Lion


Interpreting the Mountian 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

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 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 was about 9 inches in diameter.

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

Learn more:

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.)

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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).

“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

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 cleanup. 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.


  • 1 pound of veggie-patties (or other protein)
  • 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


  • 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

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 restrooms. Ice and wood are 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 –
To learn more about Big Basin Redwoods State Park visit-

Tips for an American Camping in Tirol

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

On a recent trip to Tirol, I was invited to go camping at a location about an hour east of Innsbruck in the beautiful countryside. 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 to a 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 an 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 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 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?

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 a 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. A 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 life 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

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

• 1 pound of protein (veggie protein encouraged)
• 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

• 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 caramelization. Add the zucchini strips and sauté for 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat and place in a re-useable pie tin (shown) or another 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 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 to 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?

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

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

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, set up 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 its 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:

To learn more about interpretive programs at Kings Canyon visit:

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.


  • 1 pound of protein (veggie protein encouraged, or just substitute more veggies)
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 bell pepper
  • 2 small zucchinis
  • 12 button mushrooms
  • ½ pound of green beans
  • Choice of seasonings


  • 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

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 a 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 deadbolt are located on the main door.

Outside were 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 from 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:

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 encouraged 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.