Preparing for the Off Season

For pretty much the top half of the United States, the camping season is coming to a close.  The days are getting shorter, the temperature is dropping, and the leaves are falling.  And as much as I hate to admit it, the snow will soon be here.  It’s time to store my gear for the winter and start planning my winter activities.

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I find as I get older that the winters in Wisconsin have a stronger effect on me.  I don’t mind the cold so much, for me it’s the darkness.  Right now, it is light for a couple of hours before I got to work, but dark by 5:00 pm, when I am going home.  And eventually it will be dark when I go to work and dark when I come home.  In the past this has caused the winters to feel very long (even with all the holidays) and in some cases even cause a little seasonal depression and cabin fever.  I think part of the reason I feel this way is because I don’t spend as much time outside as I do during the other seasons.  This year I have decided that I am going to plan more structured activities to keep myself more active and spending more time outside.  Here are a few projects I am looking into.

Cross country skiing – When I was young we lived in the country and I used to go cross country skiing across fields and along trails.  I remember it felt great to be outside moving and it wouldn’t take long for my body to warm up with all the movement I was doing.  I am currently doing research to find out what my options are for starting this up again.  I am finding that there is quite a bit more to it than I thought.  As I get started doing this again, I will be sure make a post regarding the details and the resources that I found helpful.

Ice skating – If anyone is reading this that actually knows me, they would be very surprised to see this on my list of outdoor winter activities.  Mainly because of my lack of balance when I am on mobile footwear.  Believe it or not, I do own a pair of skates, even if they are barely ever used.  My current level of skill on skates is that I can go forward and turn.  So why would I want to continue to skate if I’m not very good at it?  Well, it’s fun.  Falling on my back isn’t fun, but when I get the hang of it, it is actually quite fun.  Another reason is that my wife enjoys it.  If we go skating together, I’m much more likely to get out and do it .  And I know as I practice it more, I will get better at it.  In the meantime, if anyone has any tips on how to improve my skating skills, I’m open to suggestions.

Could have used snow shoes on this day.

Could have used snow shoes on this day.

The snow shoes project – Snow shoeing is one of those sports that has always looked cool to me, but I have never tried.  As I was discussing my winter activity options with one of my brothers we got on the topic of snow shoeing and decided to make a project of it.  We decided that not only do we want to learn to snow shoe, we are going to learn how to make our own pair of snow shoes!  This will be a great opportunity to have a project to research, build, and then try out.  For anyone else interested in this I will be posting the results of our research and finished project.

GeocachingGeocaching can be done year round, but in areas of snow it can be a bit more challenging.  My wife and I have geocached during the winter before, but I would like to do it even more this winter.  Some of the advantages are that there is less tree coverage which makes it easier to get through a forest and makes it easier to get satellite reception, and there are less people around due to the cold.  Of course, there are plenty of challenges as well.  The cold and snow cause most of them, but also the short days can make it tough to find a geocache in the dark.  I remember one geocache that we found in a forest next to a log.  It was covered in snow and frozen to the log!  Overall, it is tougher to geocache in the winter, but it still gets me outside.  So, my plan is to stop using the snow and darkness as an excuse to not go geocaching and just plan to get out and get one or two geocaches and accept the fact that it will take me longer to find than in the summer.

This blog will also help keep me occupied during this winter.  It has been a fun project to work on already.  I am curious to know if anyone has any other projects that they plan to work on over the winter.  The goal of my projects are to get me outdoors more, but feel free to post any organized activity, even if it is indoors.

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Fire Starter: Petroleum Jelly Ball

Out of the many fire starters that I have used, the petroleum jelly ball is my favorite.  They are small, light weight, and burn for a long time.  They are also waterproof!  I have seen several ways to make these, but in this video I highlight what works best for me.  Enjoy!

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Perrot State Park – Wisconsin

View of Trempealeau Bay from Nature Center

View of Trempealeau Bay from Nature Center

A couple of weeks ago was our last camping trip of the year.  Yes, I realize we could still go camping in November or December, but I’m out of vacation time and the holidays are fast approaching.  Not to mention the cold Wisconsin weather!  And speaking of the cold weather, I will be doing a separate post about camping in the cold because it does require extra preparation.  For this trip it got down into the low 30′s for a couple of the nights.  It reminded me of the importance of having a warm sleeping bag and a large bladder!  I will post a few other issues we ran into on this trip after the review of the park.

History

Actually, Perrot State Park has a really neat history about how it became a park.  In the late 1800′s, there was a man by the name of John A. Latsch who was a wealthy grocer and retailer in Minnesota.  He was a hard worker, but also a solitary man and he enjoyed escaping to the wilderness and the Mississippi River to get away once in a while.  His interest in land extended from an experience that happened to him while he was canoeing on the Mississippi River.  At this time, most of the land bordering the river was privately owned and if someone on the river needed to make a stop, they were usually welcome to come up on the shore.  One day, Latsch was caught in a storm on the Mississippi River.  He came ashore for safety and to let the storm pass.  When he got on land he was met by the property owner who had a shotgun in his hand and ordered Latsch to get off his land.  He was forced to get back on the river during the storm.  After that incident, Latsch began a campaign to purchase as much of the riverbank along the Mississippi as he could.  His intention was to make it so that no one would ever be denied a safe landing on shore again.  By the time Latsch passed away in 1934 he had purchased more than 18,000 acres of bluff land on both sides of the river.  Latsch had became a conservationist and donated much of his acquired land to the states of Minnesota and Wisconsin.  This was a key transaction for creating four beautiful state parks: John A Latsch, Whitewater, Merrick, and Perrot.  The parks name comes from Nicholas Perrot, a French fur trader who set up camp in this area in 1686.

Fall Colors at Perrot

Fall Colors at Perrot

Park Activities

Hiking – There are 12.5 miles of hiking trails and 9 miles of cross country ski trails.  We hiked Bay Trail which is an easy terrain.  It is actually a cross country ski trail.  It has nice views of Trempealeau Bay.  If you are looking for a long hike, park at the maintenance shop and take the Du Chute trail.  This trail is for skiing and hiking and is a very nice wooded trail that connects with several other trails in the park.  Go as long as you like, but just remember which turns you made and where.  If you come to the park for a spectacular view, Brady’s Bluff is a must.  We hiked the west trail which isn’t very long in distance (about half mile), but the terrain is very steep.  As with most scenic overlooks, you will be hiking up most of the time on this trail so watch your step.  There are places to rest along the way and the trail is very well marked.  At the top is a small shelter and a wonderful view of the Mississippi and the Trempealeau Bay.  This was my favorite hike.

Paddling – Perrot has a 3.4 mile canoe trail.  It looked very inviting, but we just didn’t have time to do it.  The great part about this trail is that it is in the Trempealeau Bay and well marked.  If canoeing/kayaking in the Mississippi seems too big for you, than this is the trail to take.  Canoes and kayaks can be rented at the park.

Biking – To conserve the land, most bike trails in the park have closed.  However, nearby is the Great River State Trail.  This is a 24 mile trail that was converted from a rail line.  It is also part of the Bike 4 Trails route.  This is a connection of four major bike trails that result in over 100 miles of continuous trails.

Camping

With 102 campsites at this park, you will have your pick as to which site works the best for your situation.  The sites are in a well forested area that changes to pine at the very north of the circle (sites 87 – 95).  The sites along the Bay are very nice and cost a little extra (sites 36 – 47).  Most sites have brush and trees that surround them, but it is still fairly easy to see who your neighbor is.  There are several group sites, including what looks to be four new hike-to sites.  They have new fire rings and grills and they look very nice.  There are also carts to haul your gear to the campsite.  Wood and ice are sold on site.  There are two flush toilet houses and one of them is also a shower house.

Egrets in the Trempealeau Bay

Egrets in the Trempealeau Bay

Our Experience at the Park

Overall we had a good time.  We came in on a Friday afternoon and there were still plenty of sites available.  We chose #44 because of the nice view of the bay.  It has its own little half circle driveway and it is pretty well secluded from other sites.  After taking a look at all the sites of this campground, I voted site #43 to be the best site.  It is also on the bay,  has an even better view than our site had, and it had more privacy.  Plus, it is right next to the shower house, but that did not make much of a difference while we were there because it was closed due to the colder weather.

The Good – The campsite was private with a good view.  It was definitely large enough for a large tent.  Although there were a lot of campers present while we were there, they were spread out enough that we were still able to enjoy the quiet of the park.  There is plenty of hiking at the park and several bluffs to climb.  The Nature Center offers some great information about the history of the area.

The Bad – This is not the fault of the park, but the first morning we were there was the first day of duck hunting season.  Trempealeau Bay is a prime area for waterfowl and we were camping right on the edge of it.  So every morning at 7am we would awake to what sounded like fireworks going off right outside our tent!  Not the best way to wake up in my opinion.  Although, there was nothing we could do about it, we might have thought twice about taking a waterfront site had we known this.  Keep this in mind if you will be camping here in October.  The only other downside to the park was the lack of firewood.  The park sold firewood, but it cost $4 for a small bundle that was hardly enough to create a cooking fire.  We drove around the surrounding area seeking out a local that would sell firewood, but could not find one ANYWHERE!  The best we found was at a gas station and that wasn’t much better than what the park had.  Keep in mind that in Wisconsin, you cannot bring in your own wood, unless you bought it in the state and within a 50 mile radius of the park.  As it was pretty cold while we were there, we spent more money that we would have liked to cook our meals and keep ourselves warm.

Would we come back? – Definitely.  The bluffs along the Mississippi are always a treat and to see the changing colors in the fall makes it even more worth a visit.  When we get back to this area, I would like to do some kayaking.  As I mentioned before, the canoe trail looked very inviting.  I would also like to climb some of the other bluffs that we did not get time to see.  In addition to spending some more time in the park, I would also like to explore the surrounding area.

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Pikes Peak State Park – Iowa

View from Pikes Peak

View from Pikes Peak

While we were spending time in Southwestern Wisconsin, we also took some time to explore a little bit of Iowa on the other side of the Mississippi.  Although we only spent an afternoon there, it didn’t take us very long to see why it would be worth spending more time in the area.

Park Activities

Hiking – There is a good variety of hiking paths in the park.  Some are even paved and have gorgeous views overlooking the Mississippi River.  There are also various mounds that can be seen along the paths.  Their locations are marked on the parks map.

Biking – There is not a whole lot of biking allowed on the trails in the park, however if you’re really looking for a bike trip, check out the Northeast Iowa Bike Route.  This is a 130 mile trail that goes along county roads and connects three state parks in Iowa.  Pikes Peak is at one end.

Overlooks – Just down from parking and the concession stand Pikes Peak has one of the most amazing views around.  The gorgeous view (see photo above, which is only just a part of everything you can see from there) is enhanced with a large overlook platform and a plaque that gives some natural history about the area.  There is a play area and picnic spot close by as well.  There are other overlooks throughout the park, but this main one is a must-see.

Camping – There are 77 sites available at the park.  Most of them are electric sites and about half of them are reservable.  The layout is mostly an open field concept with some trees for shade.  There isn’t much privacy between sites.  Most of the sites accomodated RVs (and there were a lot of them there) but there were also a few good grassy sites for tents, mainly sites 21-25.  There is a showering facility and firewood for sale on site.  A concession stand that sells supplies is also in the park not far from the campsites.

The Surrounding Area

Effigy Mounds National Monument – A short drive along the river to the north of the park will take you to this national monument.  We did not have the time to explore it, but next time we get back to the area we would like to.  As mentioned in my Wyalusing post, the Woodland Indians of this area built many mounds.  No one knows exactly why they started or stopped building these mounds, but they are well preserved at this monument.  In fact it has over 200 mounds representing more than 2000 years of mound building along the Upper Mississippi River.  Check out this blog post for more of a first hand experience about the park.

McGregor - This is a small town close to the park.  It has a lot of unique shops and restaurants.  It’s worth a visit to walk through.  It won’t take too much time to finish.  There is a great picnic overlook down Point Anne Ln (from the main stretch, head south on 4th St and then left on to Point Anne).  Also, on A Street, near the northwest corner with Main St, there is a hotel that has a couple of small storage buildings built into the bluffs.  They are quite unique.  You can see them from the sidewalk.

Is Pikes Peak worth a visit? If you enjoy gorgeous views and nice hiking trails, definitely.  There is no entry fee to this park so even if you are just looking for a place to have a nice picnic in the area, this would be my recommendation.

Would you visit again? Yes.  I would have liked to do some more hiking in the park and as I mentioned before, I need to spend some time at Effigy Mounds National Monument.  As for a place to camp though, I would  go back to Wyalusing State Park, it just has better tent camping options.

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Camping Gear Essentials: Multi-tool

As I look through my camping gear, I find that there are some items that get used once in a while and others that get used all the time.  I will refer to those items that are used all the time as my camping gear essentials.  This series will highlight what I deem to be some of the most important gear to take camping.

We start with the smallest, yet one of the most helpful,  items on my list, the multi-tool.  It is hard to talk about the multi-tool in a general sense because there are so many different varieties, so I will be using my own multi-tool as a reference.  When I was in college I purchased a Gerber Needlenose Multi-Plier 600 and it is the same one that I still use today.

Multi-tools, have been around for quite some time.  I see them as a spin off of the Swiss Army Knives which have been around for over 100 years.  The concept of a multi-tool is similar to that of the Swiss Army Knife in that they both have different tools wrapped in to one small package however, their designs are quite different.  Multi-tools have taken a more compact tool shape.  They are often in the form of a pliers with other tools stored in the handles.

Anytime I’m camping, hiking, paddling, or working on an outdoor project, I will have my Gerber multi-tool on my belt.  It has come in handy countless times for many different uses.  Let’s take a look at the tools on my particular model:

Gerber Needlenose Multi-Plier 600

Gerber Needlenose Multi-Plier 600

  • Needlenose pliers – These can be useful to help pull out tough tent stakes among other things.
  • Wire cutter – Can also be used for cutting small rope and plastic ties.
  • Fine edge knife – Cutting things, opening bags, whittling, the usual knife stuff.
  • Serrated knife – This is actually strong enough to make a handy saw for small branches.
  • Screwdrivers – Cross point, and three different sized flat blade screwdrivers.  Good for fixing electronics or prying something open.
  • Lanyard ring – I’ve never used it, but if you didn’t have a sheath you could tie a string on the ring.
  • Can opener – It is messier than the average can opener, but it does the job.  Just don’t cut yourself on the can!
  • Bottle opener – It opens bottles.  What more can I say?
  • File – We recently bought a carabiner that had a sharp metal point on it.  The file worked really well to sand it down.
  • Ruler – I’ve never used it, but it might come in handy to measure the days snow fall or a really small fish.

Buying a Multi-tool

My two main suggestions for buying a multi-tool is do your research and think about what will work for you.  As I said before there a lot of different companies that make multi-tools.  And there are even more different models within each company so there are plenty to choose from.  Use the internet and user reviews when researching.  I typically use amazon.com as a resource.  If there is a common flaw with a particular model, chances are more than one person will comment about it.  But don’t base your decision solely on other peoples opinions.  Remember, what may work for one person may not work for you.  Think about what you will be using the tool for and how often.  Also, try to avoid plastic handles.  If your multi-tool receives heavy usage it is possible the plastic may crack or break off.  As for price, if you are in the market for a quality multi-tool, plan on spending at least $30.

As for the company to choose, I have only tried Gerber so far.  Their products have been durable, reliable, and overall good quality.  I would definitely recommend them.  I hope to review some other products from other companies in the future.  In the meantime if anyone uses a multi-tool that works well or that does not work well, post a review in the comments section.

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Getting Ready to “Get Out and Go Camping”

Mary and I are currently getting ready for a four day camping trip this weekend.  As we started preparing for this trip, I began thinking about all the things we needed to get ready.  I have read that some people with kids take about two to three days to prepare for a campout.  I can believe that as it usually takes us at least one day to prepare.  There are certain things that need to be taken care of well in advance and others that can be done the day before departure.  Let’s take a look at some of these.

Advance preparations

We’ll begin with the earlier things that need to get done:

Make the reservation – If you’re campsite requires it or if you are going at a busy time, make sure you have your reservation made.  Even if you plan on taking one of the first-come-first-serve sites, a reservation will at least ensure that you have a spot to set up camp in case it is a busy weekend.  Most parks will allow you to change your site if you want once you get there.

Review your gear – Take a moment to review your camping gear and think about any changes that need to be made.  Think about the last time you went camping.  Was there anything that needed repair?  Was there something you were going to add to your gear?  For example, let’s say one of your tent poles broke in the Fall and you thought you would just take care of it in the Spring.  Now it is a few days before your Spring trip but you haven’t ordered a new pole yet.  Thinking about this a few days or even weeks ahead will help you avoid last minute surprises.

Grocery shopping – We all have our favorite foods to eat when camping.  Take some time to plan out a menu and from that, create a grocery list.

Freeze ice blocks – When we go camping for several days, I like to create my own ice blocks rather than use the store-bought freezer packs.  I use gallon Ziploc bags (double zipper) filled with water and then I place them in a rectangular plastic container (for shape) and then place them in the freezer.  It usually takes about three days for the block to freeze solid.  They last a lot longer than ice cubes.

The day before the trip

And then there are the things that can be done the day of the trip or the day before:

Pull out the camping gear – I like to make sure our gear is all together in one spot.  It makes it so I’m not scrambling around looking for it all right before we leave.

Prepare the food – Depending on how much preparing and cooking you want to do outside, you may want to get some of that done ahead of time at home.  For certain dishes we prepare some of the food at home and then just heat it up over the fire.  This works great when you need a quick meal without a lot of mess.

Charge the electronics – There are a few items that we have that are rechargeable and we also use rechargeable batteries for other items.  Make sure you leave enough time for them to fully charge.

Do you know where you’re going? – Sometimes I will get so caught up in getting ready that this is the last thing I think of before we head out the door.  Make sure you have a map and you know where you are going.

Tricks of the trade

There are some tricks of the trade to making camping a less hectic event to prepare for.  Here are a few:

Leave it better than when you found it – …your camping gear that is.  Whenever you finish using your camping gear, take the time to make sure it is cleaned and properly stored.  Packing away a tent that is still wet can cause you a headache when you get it out again.  And let’s not think of what would happen if your camping dishes weren’t clean before you stored them.  Taking good care of your gear will save you a lot of time getting ready for the next campout.

Get a container for your camping gear - We have a camping tote.  It’s a big plastic Rubbermaid tote that we keep the majority of our camping gear in.  We also have a smaller tote that holds all of the smaller items we use when we go camping.  These, along with a backpack for our dishes, make it very easy to centralize our gear.  Whenever it is needed, we know just where to find it.  And if you’re really organized you can create a list of the contents of each container so you remember what should be inside of each.

Packing lists – For the most part, you probably use a lot of the same gear when you go camping.  This would allow you to make a generic packing list for your trips.  If you have any unique items that you would be bringing on a particular campout, just add them to the bottom of the list.  This is very easy to do and it will save you time when thinking about what you need to bring.

And so with that said, I need to go put together my ice blocks so they freeze solid before this weekend.  Any other suggestions?  Leave a comment.

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Intro to Geocaching (jeeo-kashing)

When I’m out camping, or traveling, or even just sitting around on a nice day, one of my favorite activities to do is geocaching.

Geo-what now?

Geocaching is a relatively new outdoors sport.  You might have heard it mentioned here or there.  It came about with the internet and GPS technology.  It’s often described as a modern day treasure hunt.   The official geocaching website describes it as the following: “Geocaching is a worldwide game of hiding and seeking treasure.  A geocacher can place a geocache in the world, pinpoint its location using GPS technology and then share the geocache’s existence and location online.  Anyone with a GPS device can then try to locate the geocache.”  The geocache can be many different things, but some of the more common ones are ammo cans, tupperware containers, or film canisters.  If you want to see some pictures of geocache containers check out Mad Cacher’s GeoCaching Blog.  Each geocache contains a log that the player can write their team name on once they’ve found it.

What’s this I hear about ‘treasure’?

Some geocaches may contain small items inside.  There are usually trinkets or toys, mostly for the kids.  It’s all based on the honor system, but the golden rule of geocaching is if you take something, leave something.  That way there’s always something for someone else to discover.  The more figurative treasure would be the geocaches location.  Typically, a geocache is hidden to take people to a neat spot.  It could be a lesser known scenic view or it could be a really odd monument of some sort.  This is what makes geocaching such a great sport when you’re traveling to new areas.  Geocaches have often taken us to some really amazing spots that we never would have found otherwise.

So how does one get started… geo-caching, is it?

First visit www.geocaching.com.  You’ll need to set up an account.  It’s free of charge unless you want to become a premium member (try it out for free and see if you like it first).  Then  you need to come up with a team name.  For example, my wife and I are “there&backagain”.  Once you’re done with set up you’re ready to search for caches in your area.  On the website, search for a few that are close by  and then either write down the details or print off the page.  If you have the right gear, you can also download the information (we’ll save that one for another time though).  Now all you need is a GPS.

GPS… as in Grilled Pork Sandwich?

Garmin eTrex Venture HC - also comes in dark green

Garmin eTrex Venture HC - also comes in dark green

In case you have been living under a rock for the last five years, GPS stands for Global Positioning System and it pinpoints your location based on communications with satellites.  The GPS will take you right to the area where the cache is hidden, but it usually won’t take you right to the cache container itself.  GPS units can be expensive, but they last a good 3-5 years depending upon how much you use it and the quality of your unit.  The first GPS that we bought was the Garmin eTrex Legend.  It’s a little blue handheld GPS and it served us well for the first three years of geocaching.  We know several people that have bought this same model and unfortunately for them, ours has lasted the longest.  Last year we decided that it was time for us to upgrade.  We found a great deal at Dick’s Sporting Goods during a day-after-Thanksgiving-Day-sale.  We ended up purchasing the Garmin eTrex Venture HC.  This would be my recommendation for anyone starting geocaching.  The color screen, satellite connections, and the fact that it offers USB connection makes it a much better unit than the Legend.  The other thing to consider when buying new is that the Venture HC is actually a little less expensive than a new Legend.  That could be why Garmin discontinued the Legend (although you can still find them for sale).

Why do I like geocaching so much?

I get outside more – There are days when I want to do something outside, but I just can’t think of what.  Geocaching always gives me something to do and somewhere to go that keeps me enjoying the outdoors.

It’s inexpensive – Aside from the days when gas was $4 a gallon, geocaching isn’t a very expensive hobby.  After the cost of the GPS unit, you really only need to pay for gas to get to the geocache.

It’s family friendly – Geocaching was made for all ages.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re a young family with two kids or an elderly couple, you can enjoy this sport all the same.  It’s a great way to spend time together as a family as well.

It’s good exercise – Most geocaches require you to walk or hike a ways before you get to the cache, but if you want more exercise just park further away.

You see things you might not have seen otherwise - For me, this is my favorite part about this sport.  When we travel, we will usually seek out some geocaches.  Often times they will lead us to areas that we would not have seen had we not been geocaching.  To finish up this post, here are a few examples of sites we’ve seen and the geocaches that took us there:

Corrigan’s Lookout

IMG_0982This was one of the most out of the way geocaches we have found.  It was in Northern Wisconsin, way out in the middle of nowhere.   Although we never did find this geocache, we really enjoyed the trip.  It took us to a lookout that was clearly not very well known or visited.  There was no garbage or graffiti.  Just us, nature, and a beautiful view.

Point Detour

IMG_1269This geocache is also in Northern Wisconsin.  We had to travel about 3 miles on gravel roads to reach a beautiful overlook of Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands.  The geocache was along the rocky shore.  After we found it and started back to the main road, we saw a black bear run across the road.  As we drove by slowly we saw two bear cubs run up a tree.  It was a real treat to see them and even more so to get some pictures of them.  We didn’t stick around long though because the mother bear was hiding close by.

Rum & Egg

IMG_5748

Geocaching really helped us explore Scotland when we took a trip to visit the Highlands.  This area is known as the Silver Sands of Morar.  There is a frequently visited beach just off the road that seems to be the main spot that people visit.  However, this geocache took us to a different spot about a mile down the road.  We had to hike about a tenth of a mile through tall grass and sand dunes, but it lead us out to a beautiful beach surrounded by volcanic rock!  And the best part about it was we were the only ones there.

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Wyalusing State Park – Wisconsin

View from Point Lookout

View from Point Lookout

Every year my wife and I attend a family reunion at Wyalusing State Park.  This last week was the third year we’ve gone.  It’s a great opportunity to spend time with family, play games, and relax.  In years past we’ve tried to see more of the park while we were there, but we usually ran out of time.  So this year we decided to spend a few days camping at the park before the reunion.  We had a great time camping and had plenty of time to explore Wyalusing and the surrounding area.

A Brief History

Wyalusing State Park is located in the southwest corner of Wisconsin.  It is positioned along a bluff that overlooks the meeting place of the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers.  Wyalusing was one of the first state parks to be created in Wisconsin.  There is a lot of history in this area for both native tribes and early euopean settlers. In fact, it is recorded that Father Marquette and Joliet discovered this area back in 1673.  Evidence of Woodland Indians are visible throughout the park by the many mounds that are located in park and the surrounding area.  The word “Wyalusing” is a word used by the Munsee-Delaware Indians meaning “home of the warrior.”

Park Activities

In addition to camping, there are a lot of things to do at Wyalusing.

Trails – There are 14 different trails totaling more than 22 miles. The hiking trails are all connected, so if you’re looking for a long hike, you’ll definitely have your options.  There is also a bike trail, cross country ski trail, and a 6 mile canoe trail on the Mississippi.

Overlooks – There are plenty of great overlooks with breath taking views.  Point overlook is the largest and has a great view of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers.  You can also see a trains passing by and a section of Prairie du Chien.    A little further down the trail is Signal Point, which was my favorite.  It faces a little more west than Point Lookout and it’s got some great rocks that you can sit on and just enjoy the scenery.  Make sure you have your camera and binoculars with you.

Caves – Wyalusing also has several caves.  The two that we were able to visit were Picture Rock Cave and Treasure Cave (Sand Cave is the third cave in the park, but were weren’t able to get to it this time).  If you’re from Kentucky, these caves might be a huge disappointment, but if you enjoy neat rock formations, these are still worth a visit.  Picture Rock Cave is a tall open wall that has a small stream of a waterfall falling off of it.  If you follow the trail above the cave you’ll see some really neat rock formations along the path of the stream.  Treasure Cave has a few steep stair cases that the park built.  At first it appears to be a shallow opening in the side of a bluff, but as you go to the back, you’ll notice a small tunnel that goes for about 30 ft to a dead end (Arr! ‘Tis the perfect place to hide me treasure!).

Picnicking – There are  a lot of picnic shelters throughout the park so even if you just want to relax and have a bite to eat on a nice day, you have some great options to choose from.

Bird Watching – Bird watching is also common in this park in the Spring.  Wyalusing has one of the highest variety of bird species than any other park in the state.  In fact, Wyalusing was just recently awarded the Gold Seal Award for Best Birding Trail by Friends of Wisconsin State Parks.

In Park Activities – Friends of Wyalusing State Park is an organization that helps the park and creates activities for the public.  While we were there they were having their annual Spirits of the Past night.  These activities are a great way to learn more about the park and meet other campers.

Spirits of the Past Night at Wyalusing

Spirits of the Past at Wyalusing

The Surrounding Area

The closest city to Wyalusing State Park is Prairie du Chien.  Some points of interest for us in Prairie du Chien were:

La Riviere Park – this is a 300 acre farm that was donated to the city for the purpose of enjoyment of the natural habitat.  It has several trails for hiking, biking, horse riding, and cross country skiing.  It also accomidates camping for groups, boy scouts, and horse camping.

Fort Crawford Museum – with all the history in the area this is a great spot to get an overview of it all.  It consists of 3 different buildings and over 50 exhibits.

St. Feriole Island / Villa Louis – this is an island in the Mississippi River that has a lot of beautiful parks and historic sites.  Villa Louis is a Wisconsin State Historic Site that has several buildings with antique furnishings originally owned by Hercules Louis Dousman in the 1800′s.

Camping

There are two main campsites at Wyalusing: Homestead and Wisconsin Ridge.  Both are very nice campsites, but for very different reasons.

Homestead consists of sites 201-255.  Most of these sites are shady, grassy, and private.  The thick brush between campsites (especially at sites 245-255) really make you feel like you’re in your own little campsite.  If you’re looking for a quiet personal site, Homestead may be the way to go.

Wisconsin Ridge consists of sites 101-155 and is the place to go for an amazing view.  This campsite is located along the edge of a bluff and if I haven’t already mentioned it, the view is incredible.  With this in mind, not all the sites on Wisconsin Ridge have this amazing view.  The best sites are on the outside of the loop starting with 119 and ending at 155 (142-155 are not reservable).  These sites are usually the first to go.  Even during the off season, it can be tough to get one.  We lucked out.  Originally we reserved site 118 which faces the forest and has good shade, but when we arrived the office told us that there were some cancellations and that we could pick a site along the ledge if we wanted.  We made the switch in a heartbeat and ended up with what we thought was one of the best sites in the campsite, 127.  Actually 125, 127, and 129 all have just amazing views of the valley.  The only downside to these sites is that you pay the price for the view with the privacy and size of the sites.  They are smaller although you should be able to fit a large tent in any of the sites and they are very open.  There is hardly any brush or trees separating the campsites.  However, that being said, for us it was a small price to pay for the great scenery.

Both campsites have shower houses, pit toilets, and drinking water.  There is a nature center/concession stand at the end of the Wisconsin Ridge campsite.

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What’s Your Style of “Get Out and Go Camping”?

When I tell people that I’m going camping, I often wonder what goes through their head.  Do they imagine me alone in the middle of the wilderness or do they imagine me kicking back in a camper?  The more I think about this, the more forms of camping I come up with.  The word “camping” covers a broad range of camping styles.  While there are a lot of varieties, they can be summed up in three major categories: comfort camping, tent camping, and adventure camping.

Comfort Camping

The appeal is exactly what the title implies – it’s comfortable.  Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s as comfortable as home (although, I have seen some situations where it looked that way), it just means that more comfort and security is usually a perk of camping this way.  Examples of comfort camping would include cabins, RVs, campers, and any other sort of mobile structure.  There is really no limit to the perks you could have with this style of camping, but typically you would have a more solid structure, more space, and access to electricity.  This can be a great set up if you carry a lot of gear, camp with a lot of people, or camp with a pet.  I personally, don’t have too much experience in this style, although my parents did have a pop-up camper when I was young.  I do remember camping with it a few times, and we would also set it up in our back yard sometimes just for fun.  Either way, it was fun to have a home away from home.

Tent Camping

Again, the title sums it up, this would include most styles of camping that involve a tent.  This becomes a different category because a tent is drastically different from a camper or a cabin.  There is no solid structure and most tents are generally compact.  Some tent campers will use an electrical hook up, but most do not.  Tent camping involves setting up a tent in a fixed location.  A good example of this would be setting up a tent at a state park, there is a designated spot to set up your tent and you don’t plan on moving its location until you trip comes to an end.  Car camping is probably the most common form of tent camping.  You have your tent set up for sleeping, but your car is parked close by to hold any extra gear that you may have.  It’s also a handy place for storing your food overnight.  The appeal of tent camping is that you’re enjoying nature with a little bit of ruggedness.  Your tent does not always protect you from the elements (especially if it is cold) and you usually sleep on the ground.  The level of ruggedness depends on the campers preference.  You could sleep on the ground with a sleeping bag or you could sleep on a cot with a down comforter.  Another appeal of tent camping is that it can be the cheapest way to go camping.  I say “can be” because if you’re like me, it’s really easy to spend money on cool camping gear.  My wife and I are tent campers.  We use camping as a way to enjoy nature, but we also try to get away from the noises of everyday life such as radios, TVs, dogs, etc.  Most tent sites are relatively quite, but a lot of it depends on the campsite.

Adventure Camping

This is a more extreme way to camp.  Adventure campers carry all their equipment, whether it be on their person or in a canoe.  Generally, they aren’t going to camp in a single location, but rather they travel from spot to spot.  Backpackers, bicyclists, and paddlers fit this description.  Wilderness survival trips would fit into this category as well.  Sleeping arrangements could be anything from small tents to building your own shelter to sleeping under the stars.  Whatever you use you have to carry with you so the less gear you have, the easier it is to move.  The thrill of this style of camping is in the adventure.  You rely more on your own skills and less on modern technology.  You often reach places that aren’t accessible by roads.  I have not done much of this kind of camping, however, I hope to do more of it in the future.  When I was a boy scout we had to make our own shelter and sleep in it for the Wilderness Survival merit badge.  I loved this concept (and still do), but I was not as prepared as I should have been.  I had another scout with me and we built a shelter and then made a fire.  Unfortunately, though, it got so cold that night that we ended up using the sticks from our shelter to keep the fire going all night.

The key to remember is that there is no right or wrong way to go camping (but there is easier and more difficult).  It’s all up to the individual and their interests.  When deciding to go camping, think about what you want to do and how you want to do it, your instincts will tell you the rest.  If you’ve been camping a while, feel free to share what your favorite style of camping is.

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An Introduction

IMG_0699There is something about the outdoors that captivates us. It could be the freedom, the fresh air, the beauty, the plants and animals, or all the above. My guess is that if you are reading this blog your answer is probably the same as mine, the latter one.

My name is Adam. And like thousands of other people around the globe, I work in an office. It’s a nice office and I can certainly get my work done there, but it’s also where I spend the majority of my time. I spend hours sitting in front of a computer with fluorescent lighting overhead. As I try to stay focused on my work, often times my thoughts wander out of my office to a forest with fresh air, a tent, and a campfire. They wander to the great outdoors.

My wife Mary and I try to get out and go camping whenever we can. It’s our chance to experience unique scenery and to eat, sleep, and play outdoors. Seeing as I can’t always go camping as much as I’d like, I decided that this blog would be a great opportunity to express my thoughts and ideas for the outdoors and share experiences with others.

As I post entries to this blog, I hope you participate by leaving your own thoughts and ideas. I don’t claim to know all there is to know about camping, but I sure would like to learn. You will find that the majority of my comments will surround tent camping in the Midwest (mainly Wisconsin) seeing as that’s where we live, however I’m certainly open to comments about how things are done in other parts of the country, or even other countries for that matter. Simply put, this blogs purpose is to discuss camping and the great outdoors. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

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