Experiences, anecdotes, tips, how-tos, hiking, nature, motherhood, memories.

Adventures in Camping with Kids

Camping with kids is like pitching a tent upside down. Both are bound to fill with laughter and raindrops.

--Victoria Marie

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Mesa Verde National Park: Trail of the Ancients

The twins kept right up with the Park
Ranger on the climb. I’m on the ground, 

taking the photo, trying to convince 
myself to climb up with the family.
It’s difficult for parents not to project their fears onto their children.  Case in point:  I’m extremely nervous around edges—you know, like cliffs.  I realize this is funny coming from a lady who camps each summer with her five children, but it’s true.  

My children are part Billy goat and climb everything; trees, rocks, even ropes.  My husband tries to convince me that climbing is a rite of passage for children.  Needless to say, I disagree—because they all started climbing way too early, like at the age of 2.  It was my son who taught his two-year-old twin sisters to climb the rope in the back yard, a mooring line anchored in our maple tree.  But that’s another story.   

I became hyper aware of cliffs when we were camping in Colorado with the family.  One night at dinner my husband made an announcement.    
“Tomorrow, we’re going to visit the ancient cliff dwellers.”
Oooo’s rang out around the dinette tables.  But all I could do was tremble. 
“What cliff?”  I called.  “Who’s ancient?”
My husband just smiled and patted my trembling hand. 
“Don’t worry,” he told the family.  “They have tall, vertical ladders to use.”
There was only one word I didn’t like in that statement.  Can you guess?  Yep.  It’s vertical—as in straight up and down. 
Somewhat solid ground. I tried not to
                think of the cliff ledge we were on.

MesaVerde National Park is a semi-arid desert dotted in green pines tucked into sandstone cliffs.  Mesa Verde is Spanish for Green Table.  It’s proof of an ancient farming culture where the Ancestral Puebloans, the ancient ones, planted corn above their clay brick homes made into the cliffs and cotton, beans, squash, and melons on the moist canyon floor.

But that’s not what the children were interested in.  They wanted to take the Trail of the Ancients with the 18 inch wide, 12 foot long tunnel on your hands and knees at Balcony House. They wanted to race up vertical ladders at both Cliff Palace and Balcony House—one of them nearly 32 feet in height.  Balcony House is 600 feet above the floor of Soda Canyon.  Cliff Palace has a 100 foot vertical climb.  My children possess no fear. 

Why did the Ancestral Puebloans move from the cliff dwellings?  Did the crops fail because of drought and they moved on?  Did the people die out?  Or did one paranoid mother of five get on the leaders’ nerves so badly about the possibility of children falling off the ladders that the people relocated?  Experts theorize that the Ancestral Puebloans relocated to a more defensive position closer to the canyon floor. 

I bet mothers had something to do with that.  And I also bet the mothers were glad to be on solid ground, if only to stop carrying the produce up all those vertical ladders.  I know I was glad to be back on the ground.  The Ancestral Puebloans must have been in better shape. 

How about you?  Do you have any fears you need to be wary of passing along to your children?

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Desert Hikes Take Care & Planning When Hiking with Children

Interesting to imagine that it was once a sea. 
It’s interesting to think that some of the deserts out west in the United States were once oceans with abundant sea life.  However, the proof can be found in the creatures that are trapped in the sandstone and mud rock of the area. 

We took the children to the Four Corners area of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico and visited Canyonlands National Park

We chose to explore the sun-bleached plains of Utah and Colorado as we drove along a painted desert of pink, orange, golden, and tan sandstone.  Beautiful, spectacular.  Rock formations jut out of the desert floor, pinnacles precariously perched on dusty pedestals.  

Hats are a necessity when 
hiking in the desert.
When hiking under the wilting desert sun, hats are a necessity.  Wide-brimmed hats are better, but any hat will work.  Long-sleeved, light-colored clothing is best and be sure to wear sturdy shoes, not sandals.  Everyone needs to carry water.  Slather pounds of sunscreen over any exposed skin.  And don’t forget the bug spray just in case.  It’s also important to stay on marked paths in protected areas such as national parks.  You need to be careful not to disturb the fragile soil crusts, the thin crustal ecosystem of the desert.  

While you cannot take anything from a national park, our commercial campground offered fossil hunts because we camped in that desert valley.  So one evening after dinner, our family rode in a hay wagon pulled by a tractor, sharing laughter with other campers.  Our funny guide told jokes and for the life of me I can’t remember one.  They were of the corny type, though.
Everyone was permitted one fossil.  These fossils are shells embedded in rock.  And we had to dig up our fossils ourselves. 
Now this is where “Daddy’s little girl” puts on the charm.
Our youngest, one of the twins, wanted a big fossil, so she proceeded to smile her way into having Daddy dig up the chunk of rock for her.  Not only did he dig it up—a foot square of ruddy sandstone—but he lugged it back to the hay wagon for her.  My poor husband didn’t get to choose a fossil.  He merely carried the pick.

Still, he fared better than the other male in our family.    

Our poor son, age 12, was girl watching instead of looking where he was stepping along the path to the fossil grounds. 
I was watching the girls at the time and learned about this later. 
Our son slid down a cacti-covered mound.  His father helped him back to the trail and plucked out the thorns before our son could continue on the journey. 

When hiking anywhere, it is always a good idea to watch where you are stepping on the trail.  You could suffer a far worse fate than merely a few thorns.

Later when we were getting ready for bed, I asked my son if he was okay.

“I’m fine, Mom,” he answered, rubbing his thighs in the sleeping bag.  “Dad helped me.”
“Good,” I said, and gave him a kiss goodnight.
Then a smile tugged at his lips.  “She had long red hair,” he shyly confessed, “and smiled at me.”

“Yea.  Glad she didn’t see me fall off the trail.”  And with that, he turned onto his side and burrowed deep into his sleeping bag.  

Monday, August 1, 2016

Travelling Down the Road With Kids: Gotta Get There!

The road is indeed long and winding,
especially out west in the United States!
When I thought about this blog post on road travel, The Hollies’ iconic song He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother immediately came to mind:  

            “The road is long,
With many a winding turn…”

Camping with Kids or even travelling with kids, the road is always long.  And loud.  And complicated. 

Case in point: 
It was my son who first coined the expression in our family.  He was looking out the window at yet another long and winding road on one of our camping trips.

“Mom,” he called to me.
I turned around in my seat. 

He shook his head, pointing out the window to the many construction signs popping up along the roadway.  “Road destruction,” he said in his innocence.

Actually, he is correct.  More often than not, it seems the construction workers first destroy the road completely before building it back up.  Oh, and this always takes a long, long, long time to complete.  Or maybe it’s just where I live.  What do you think?

[Rest assured.  I understand that road maintenance is an ongoing battle.]

Travelling across the country with five children, especially when there was a lot of road construction, we stopped in the late afternoon, well before dinnertime, to set up camp.  Some of the campgrounds along major highways seemed more like overnight parking lots than full-fledge camps.  However, we always tried to find a campground with a pool and playground, the only concession I could offer my travel-weary children after they assisted with camp setup. 

One particular campground in Iowa proffered the only tree in what seemed like a hundred mile radius.  And we camped next to it. 

What luck!  I thought.  And no one else seemed to be camping near it either!

…Then I learned why no one wanted to camp near the tree.

Every bird in that hundred mile radius knew of this heavenly tree and settled there each evening. 

Do you realize that birds like to chatter about their day in the evening, just like humans?  Hundreds of birds flew to this single, large tree as the sun went down.  And hundreds of birds had much to say that evening, in hundreds of different voices, just like humans. 

I could barely hear my own children squawking through the noise. 

By the way, birds tend to find that elusive first shaft of sunshine in the morning, too.  Well in advance of any human ever seeing it.  Oh, and those same talkative birds from the night before?  They like to chatter, at that time, about what they will be doing during the day. 

I wanted to shroud the tree with one of our big tarps so the birds couldn’t see that confounded first shaft of light that we humans never find. 

Someone should tell the birds about the “Quiet Hours” enforced on the campers by campground officials.  But I guess it wouldn’t matter.  Because once the birds finally quieted down, the bugs began their chorus!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: A World Heritage City

Oh, and don’t lose the kids in
 the city when you go!
Working in the school system, I learn many things right along with the students.  Just before school ended, I learned that Philadelphia,Pennsylvania, had a new accolade.  June is a very busy month for the Lees family, so I wanted to wait until we had some time.

At breakfast one day, I broached a new subject with the kids. 

“Guys guess what?”  I knew they wouldn’t say anything, so I continued.  “Philly just became the first World Heritage City in the United States.

The children yawned.  “So what does that mean?”

“The city will be even more crowded when we visit it now,” my husband said.  

We’re not crowd people, remember?  That’s why we camp in nature.

I glared at my husband.  We couldn’t let this great honor go unnoticed so close to home.  I tried to entice them with a bit of history. 

            “Philadelphia was the seat of government at the birth of our new country way back in the 1700’s.” 

             “We know, Mom.”
This was going to be tough.  It looked like I needed to do a bit of research on the internet to get them interested.

            When we reconvened for lunch, I told them what I discovered. 

“In order to obtain the classification of World Heritage City, among many other things, a city must be important to the history and heritage of a country.”

They rolled their eyes.  My husband sat quietly eating his sandwich, smiling to himself.   

I sighed.  “In other words, guys, the process needed to start with an UNESCO site.”

“An un…what?” our oldest daughter asked.

Good!  At least someone heard me.  “A site approved by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.”

No reaction.  Unperturbed, I continued. 

“Philly has Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776.”

They just chewed their sandwiches.

“And later the birth of the country’s government was created and signed there with the Constitution of the United States in 1787.” 

The kids were still unimpressed.

“That’s a lot of history rolled up in Philadelphia’s Independence National Historical Park.”

Then I remembered.  “It’s the 100th Birthday of the National Park Service.  There may be special activities.” 

At least that made them look at me instead of their sandwiches.  I lost no time.

“They have horse and buggy rides around town.”
All families love horse and buggy rides!

The smiles started.

“And we get to take the train into the city,” I finished. 

That did it.  Soon we had a daypack stuffed with treats and drinks.  I carried the smaller pack with sunscreen and bug spray.  A camera around the neck, comfortable walking shoes, and sun hats on the heads and off we went to discover Philadelphia, the new World Heritage City.

If you are visiting the area, here’s a webpage to all the fun in Philadelphia during the 4th of July Independence Celebration.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Happy 100th Birthday to the National Park Service: The Need for National Parks

National Parks are a vital part of peace
and education for people everywhere. 
I believe the United States would be lost without our National Parks.  Places of natural beauty, storehouses of national knowledge are important treasure for people and families around the globe.  

As much as people need other people, they also need time to themselves, a place to go to find peace.  To stop.  To rest.  To listen within.  The beauty in nature helps people and families find solace. 

Now this is where the National Park Service can help.

National Parks and families go together like sunshine and blue skies.  Park ranger programs are the lifeblood of any stay in a National Park.  My family and I know this firsthand from our many adventures camping with kids.  I’ve addressed the importance of National Parks before on my Camping with Kids blog in the post entitled “National Parks and Families.”  I’ve also discussed the important issue of selling private land within national parks for commercial development in my post entitled “The Future Enjoyment of National Parks.”  

My family and I have learned from Park Rangers that National Parks are for discovery:  
We have found life within the emptiness of a desert, a diverse ecosystem, lichen upon rocks, the fragility of sand pavement. 
Arches National Park
                the diversity of the desert
We’ve seen the ages of geology painted in the canyon walls of the west. 
We’ve wondered at the archaeology that uncovered artwork of an ancient people and learned about their culture.
Mesa Verde National Park
                discovering the culture
               of the Ancient Ones
We’ve listened to volumes of history constructing the freedom needed to make our government great.

On our family camping trips to National Parks, we’ve discovered the excitement of watching the Milky Way pop out in a blackened night sky while reclining on a beach.  We smelled the heady fragrances of ponderosa pine in spring and wild rose in June.  We sought out shelter from the rain under the canopy of trees in a national forest, experienced the coolness of caves or crystal clear mountain water in summertime, and felt the moisture cling to our skin hiking up into the clouds on a mountain trail.

The cooling mountain waters in
                 Yosemite National Park

The centuries of knowledge that the United States National Parks hold are not just for those who can visit the parks firsthand.  Not with today’s technology.  Teachers, schools, parents, and students around the world can discover facts and find lessons on history, science, art, geology, biology, archaeology, and much more on the National Park Service’s Find Your Park website.  Scroll down to "America’s Classrooms for Teachers" to find a treasure trove of resources for teachers. 
Choose a park.
Pick a program.
Receive lesson plans with a defined vocabulary list.
Find grade level distance learning programs [park ranger presentations] available.

National Parks are needed in today’s world not only for the beauty and solace they provide, but also for the knowledge they share with others.  Bravo, National Park Service.  Happy Birthday! 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Hiking in Springtime

Finding the mountains through the clouds!
 This was early on in our camping adventures.  Back when I couldn’t convince the children to come in out of the spring or summer rains when we were at home. 

We were camping in Maryland and hiking in the Appalachian Mountains.  The weather had been miserable, off and on rain.

I always try to look at things positively.  This is important when camping with kids if you want to enjoy what’s happening around you.  No one can predict what the daily weather will be like when you’re far from home.  You adjust your plans or deal with what you have.

We were telling stories at breakfast, trying to decide what to do that day.  I wanted to lift the children’s spirits, to help them see beyond the dreary weather.  I looked over at my husband, noticing that even his spirit was beginning to droop trying to figure out what to do with five kids smack dab in the middle of nature in the rain.

“Hey guys,” I began, a huge smile creased my face. 

My husband’s eyes widened.  Was it fear of my next words?

“Mom and Dad want to go play in the rain,” I told them.  “Want to come along?”

My husband breathed again and nodded. 

After all these years of camping with kids, rain happens.  If it wasn’t a thunder storm, we hiked along anyway.  Waterfalls are bigger in the rain.  Streams bubble along, rivers rage.  Trees cry, trails squish, and rocks show their true colors.  Mountains play hide-and-seek in the clouds.

Donning our quilted raincoats for warmth and protection from the rain, we sloshed through puddles that day wearing our old sneakers.  We climbed up into the clouds, spun around through rain drops in fields.  Maybe we were all pretending to be Gene Kelly in Singing in the Rain—minus the umbrella.  
Iconic Kelly in Singing in the Rain

Camping is what you make of it.  Take the wet with the dry and create your own adventures.  Newspaper can be stuffed into wet sneakers later to help dry them out.  Just don’t forget to leave the damp sneakers outside the tent, under cover, to dry.  There’s a good chance they could smell like wet skunk.         

Hiking in the springtime.  Sometimes it can be like giving the kids permission to go play in the rain.  

Friday, April 1, 2016

Get Gear in shape for the Camping Season

Okay, so maybe I did work the children
a bit too hard cleaning the camper. 
But now we’re ready for a season of adventure!
Ahh…the fresh air of springtime.  The flowers are popping.  The birds are yakking.  The temperatures are warming.  And the sun—glorious sun—is happy.  *Sometimes!* 

Early spring is a good time to lug all that camping gear out of the attic, basement, or garage to make it adventure ready for the camping season.  Here are a few tips we use.
Sleeping bags and tents can become musty or damp-smelling stored all winter long.  Open sleeping bags flat and flip them over the clothesline on a less humid, sunny day.  Set up tents in the backyard to air.  

If a sleeping bag must be washed, check the manufacture tag first.  Then unzip the bag to wash.  Most sleeping bags can be washed in large washing machines.  Front loaders or the high efficiency top loaders work best.  We’ve found air drying the bags on a clothesline is the best way to dry them.

            Tents, on the other hand, need to be scrubbed if the canvas is soiled. 
·       Set the tent up and stake it down to keep it taut.  This allows for air flow.  
·       Use low phosphate detergent to protect the waterproofing.  Nikwax seems to be a good cleaner for waterproofed fabric.  Follow the directions and mix it with water. 
·       Wash inside the tent and then outside.
·       Hose down the tent and let it bake in the sun on a dry day.

Lightweight nylon pup tents work best this way as well so you don’t lose the water proofing of the material and you can work on particular stains.  Kristin Hostetter, gear expert at Backpacker.com, offers 6 steps to cleaning tents

            On our Jayco Eagle pop-up trailer, the inside bed and window curtains slide off to wash, but the canvas is easier to just scrub lightly while the trailer is up and open using a weak detergent mixture.  

At one time, we had a bit of mold on the canvas because we had closed the trailer in the rain, and then our passenger van broke down.  We needed to leave both trailer and van at the mechanics, for about three days.  We rented a car to get home as we were only about four hours away after travelling across the county.  We used a weak bleach mixture to be able to kill the mold and clean the canvas. 

Open tents or trailers to air dry thoroughly as soon as possible after any rain closures to prevent mold buildup.

Wipe out any cupboards with a mild cleaner in trailers or campers and clean coolers, food storage containers, or drinking/water cavities with a disinfectant.

            Next, check out the equipment. 
·       Test the propane grills or barbeques. 
·       Check hoses and connectors for clogs or bug nests. 
·       Run water or air through them when possible. 
·       Look for cracks or holes. 
·       Use a proper repair kit found at a camping store or online if the damage is small or replace the hose when necessary.  

Depending upon make and model of tents or other camping equipment, a quick search online showed me that parts are available for purchase. 

Oh, and don’t forget to check the port-a-potty, if you have one.  Make sure any seals are firm and air tight.  Wipe it down with a disinfectant before use this season.

And remember to allow the children to help whenever possible.  Camping with kids is a family affair. 

Now you should be all ready for your next great camping adventure.  Please offer any tips you may have to maintain your camping gear.  Thanks!