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, April 1, 2017

When a National Park Temporarily Closes a Trail

If National Park rangers close a trail, they are not trying to ruin your vacation no matter how much mom complains. *Ahem!* The trail is closed for a reason.

Case in point. There was grizzly bear activity noted in an area we wanted to hike one day during our stay at Glacier National Park. Whenever grizzlies are spotted at Glacier, rangers close the trails in that section. But rather than listen to Mom cry in the van, Dad took the family to listen to a ranger talk about bears.
NO! We did not see one in person. This
       grizzly pic is from google images.

Grizzly bears are more aggressive than black bears. Black bears climb trees. Grizzlies are too large and have long claws. They cannot climb trees. Grizzlies rely on their sheer mass to protect themselves and their cubs. Grizzlies can reach over 700 pounds. Black bear are only about 300 pounds.

We have seen black bear in Sequoia National Park in California when we were on a nature trail with a park ranger. A cub was off in the meadow. We couldn’t find the mama. The ranger immediately turned us around and we went back the way we came.

We’ve seen black bear here in New Jersey on the Appalachian Trail. What looked like a full-sized bear was tearing through a dead tree in search of insects not 30 feet from the trail. No way to turn around this time. My son and daughter and I were backpacking for a few days. We were miles and miles from either car we had parked by access points on the A.T.

I led the children off the trail giving the bear another ten yards’ distance. We made sure we could still see the Appalachian Trail markings so as not to get lost. Quietly and slowly, we moved through the forest, so as not to disturbed the bear’s feasting. Usually—and that’s a BIG usually—black bear will not attack unless they feel threatened. I would never want to meet a mama grizzly or any grizzly for that matter!

You’ll find an excellent and free black bear/grizzly bear identification booklet with photos on Montana State’s website. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on the “Bear Identification Tutorial” box.

But back to our temporary trail closures at national parks. Trail maintenance is another reason trails may be closed. And many times you can’t see what’s wrong right at the beginning of the trail. Trees come down, trails wash away leaving no footing near cliffs. Deep snow closes trails. The danger of deep snow in spring or early summer is that snow next to the earth may melt first causing water to run underneath a top crust of snow. This weakens the snow crust, making it easier for hikers to step and break through the crust and become stuck. We’ve seen these “snow melt” ice crusts cutting across trails out west in the United States. It’s always best to avoid stepping on snow whenever possible once temperatures start to rise.   

Thanks so much for stopping by Camping with Kids. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already. It’s greatly appreciated.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Difference in Height of Mountains

            As a camping family, we always discover interesting facts about locations and national parks. The difference in land mass was extraordinary as we traveled out west in the United States from the east coast. The height of mountains is measured here in the U.S. as “feet above sea level.”  Whereas the mountains on the east coast actually begin at sea level, out west, the mountains start on the plains, which are higher in altitude. However, the western mountains are still measured from sea level.
The Tundra of the Rockies, above
the treeline. 

The tallest mountain in the Appalachian Mountain Range located on the east coast is Mt. Mitchell in Mt. Mitchell State Park in North Carolina. It is a thickly forested mountain and is 6,684 feet above sea level.

Out west, the Rocky Mountains start at about 5,280 feet up from sea level because of the plains. Mt. Elbert in Colorado is 14,440 feet above sea level. Our family found this fascinating because of the snow caught in patches in the Rockies—even in July. You can read of our Colorado adventures here

It’s the elevation, we discovered. The Rockies are bald on top, gray and chiseled, angular. It’s the tundra, a place where the weather is too harsh for tall trees. It’s too cold, too windy. Since the Appalachians are lower in altitude and worn down through the ages, they are forested and do not usually have snow on their peaks in summertime. 

            Camping gear changes with elevation because temperature changes in elevation—even in summer. When we camped at the base of Glacier National Park, we were warm enough in our 20 degree sleeping bags, meaning the bags would keep you warm in about 20 degree temperature. The weather was pleasant. Lake McDonald is 3,153 feet above sea level. You gain another 3000 plus feet heading up to Logan Pass at 6,646 feet.

            When we camped at Yellowstone National Park, we were higher up—yet we didn’t realize it. At night, we shivered. We should have brought our sub-zero sleeping bags, good in zero degree weather. Yellowstone Lake is 7,732 feet above sea level.

It is important to check the elevation when you decide to camp in the mountains or on the plains out west. Pack warm gear and clothing. If you only have light sleeping bags, bring heavy blankets. Layer clothing for hikes as weather changes quickly at higher elevations. You can find tips about layering clothing here

            Thanks so much for visiting Camping with Kids. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already. It’s greatly appreciated. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Understanding the Temperature of Water

High-elevation lakes run deep and
can be quite still. But they are
The best part of camping with the family is learning something new, together. It’s true. We usually camp in the summertime. And yes, the Lees troops test the water with their feet when they can. But this trip, we learned that some water is not for dipping of feet or any other part of the body.  

The children are learning that some water is colder—even frigid—when compared to the temperature outside. And you can’t tell by simply looking at it. High-elevation lakes and rivers they are called. And they can cause hypothermia even in summer.

Case in point. You cannot swim or submerge yourself in Yellowstone Lake, the largest fresh water lake in the United States above 7,000 feet at Yellowstone NationalPark, the world’s first national park. Park rangers told my daughter that if she fell out of the rowboat, she needed to get out of the water as soon as possible. This was in July!  

Glacier water causes hypothermia. No surprise, but the geothermal activity of the Yellowstone Volcano in Yellowstone National Park heats other water so it can boil your insides!

Most of the water at Yellowstone is undrinkable because of the high sulfur content. The hot springs at Yellowstone are exquisite in color, yet the smell of the sulfur is like rotten eggs and takes away some of its beauty, according to me and my children. But the park itself is massive and not all of it is geysers and rotten eggs, as we found out. There are waterfalls and backpacking and day hiking trips.

But I liked Glacier National Park better. The water is pristine, even though we couldn’t swim in Lake McDonald, another high-elevation lake. We only stuck our feet in. The water was much too icy for us, but we could drink it! It was clear as glass, and a bed of blue, green, red, and purple stones by its banks sparkled in the sunlight.  

The glaciers are out west in the United States, another offspring of the higher altitudes. Glacier-melt lakes and deep, high-elevation lakes keep them frigid and dangerous to swim in because of hypothermia, but absolutely stunning to visit.

Thanks so much for visiting Camping with Kids. Which national parks or natural areas do you like to visit?

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Storing Camping Equipment for the Season

We wrap the bed mattresses and dinette
cushions in old clean sheets and store
them flat, separate from the trailer.
          Happy New Year, Camping with Kids blog followers!  We wish you all health and safe adventures in 2017.  To that end, you might wish to check your camping equipment to be sure it’s properly stored for the season.

You want to store your camping unit after it has been thoroughly cleaned and sanitized. Store any loose camping equipment separate from the camper, washed and indoors in a dry place.  This includes any mattresses or loose couch or dinette cushions the unit may have.
            If at all possible, it is best to store a camper or trailer indoors, like a garage.  You need a place where it is dry and protected from weather.  Snow and ice, freeze and thaw wreaks havoc on sealants and connectors and gaskets.  Even the sun can affect a camper. Sealants can dry and crack in continued sunlight.  This is what happened to the center seam in our Jayco Eagle trailer.

If storage inside is not possible, cover the camper or trailer with a unit-specific-sized UV resistant cover or a breathable flat tarp You are looking to keep moisture out of your camper. A breathable tarp is woven and doesn’t allow moisture to gather.  Mold can become a health risk in a camper.  Some tarps are UV resistant now. Strap the cover or tarp down tightly.  Winter weather can be blustery. You are trying to keep wet leaves, bird droppings, snow and ice off the trailer and hopefully bugs and small animals from making nests in your unit.

            Disconnect propane tanks and store them separately from the trailer, if you can, to protect the gaskets. If you can’t take them off, cover them well. There are soft and hard covers available for purchase.

            Take the weight off the tires of the camper by securely placing jack stands or legs or whatever lifting device you have under the trailer. Place cinderblocks or bricks under the lifting device if your unit is on soft ground. While you may want to place a smaller trailer on its legs, a larger unit may stabilize better on heavy-duty jack stands.  The main thing is to cover tires so the sun won’t dry rot them.

            These are all suggestions we do; however, you can find more details about winter storage of trailers here

            Here’s something that often gets forgotten. Make a list of things that you’ll need to replace or fix for the next season. Lists. I live by lists. Find some of my ideas for lists and schedules here.   When the kids melt things over the campfire, I add the item to my “replace list.”  When a plastic plate cracks, I add it to the replace list. A leaky potty or stove problem? On the fix or replace list. Kids too big for their sleeping bags? Replace list. Not enough forks? I think you get the idea.

Many times when families finish camping for the season, they congratulate themselves for surviving another season of camping with the family and don’t want to think about camping until next year. I understand this. We’re guilty of it too—especially when the children were little. But the better you store and care for your camping equipment, the more camping adventures you will share with your family, and the more memories you will have to treasure for a lifetime.

Do you have any tips on storing camping equipment? Any camping adventures you’d like to share?  Feel free to leave a note. It’s always appreciated. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

In Search of Old Bones in Colorado: Dinosaur National Monument

So I’m all about having our children learn something new when we go camping as a family.  When we were out in Colorado, we discovered that there are national monuments as well as national parks.

Okay, we said to the park ranger, so what’s the difference between the two? 

Ladies and gentlemen, please note: Park ranger programs deeply enhance any visit to these national treasures whether you have a family or not.

A park is set aside by an act of Congress, the ranger told us. After approval from Congress, the president's signature is required to make the land a national park.

The family on a quest to
                touch the ancient past and
            learn about dinosaurs!
A monument is established by presidential proclamation only. No vote in Congress necessary, the ranger said.

You can learn much from the official National Park Service website.

Everything seems bigger out west in the United States according to our children. I tend to agree. The fossils at Dinosaur National Monument are no different. These bones turned to rock of dinosaurs and other Jurassic period creatures that roamed this land when it was once a sea millions of years ago are on vivid display here. The fossil grounds are so big in fact that the park spans two states: Colorado and Utah. 

Dinosaur National Monument is a unique park in that most of fossils are still in the rock. It’s a fascinating place to learn about the Jurassic period and the land and life of hundreds of dinosaurs. Don’t worry. You can see many of these rock-encased fossils at the Quarry Exhibit Hall. You can learn how paleontologists find fossils in their natural resting places and how paleontologists are attempting to preserve the fossils for future generations. There are a few dinosaurs reassembled at the museum. Park rangers offer full tours and talks during the summer months.
This was once a sea with mud
                 when the dinosaurs died.

Depending upon the season, you may have to take a shuttle to enjoy the park. Many national parks and monuments are resorting to free shuttles within park boundaries. This cuts down on pollution inside the park as well as travel congestion and parking issues. The shuttles also allow visitors the opportunity to look around during the drive and drink in the natural beauty of their surroundings. Shuttles can be picked up at the visitor centers of major parks.

I love hands-on learning for both myself and our children. But you don’t need to visit a national park or national monument if there aren’t any nearby. Take the family to a natural history museum or any museum to discover something new along with your children. Do you have any favorite museum you like visiting?

Thank you so much for visiting Camping with Kids. Enjoy your holiday season!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Varied Landscapes of Colorado National Parks

A beautiful national park, but keep an
eye on your children around cliff edges.
Colorado is a fascinating state to visit.  It boasts four National Parks with different landscapes: Rocky Mountains, Great Sand Dunes, Mesa Verde, and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.  I talk about our adventures at Rocky Mountain National Park here, Great Sand Dunes here, and Mesa Verde here. 

            The deep, dark Black Canyon of the Gunnison River is extremely narrow compared with the Grand Canyon and we couldn’t venture in with our young children.  Even though we’ve hiked with our children for years, the inner canyon is only for experts.  The trails are through gullies down the cliff side on unmaintained and unmarked trails. 

This is not like the unmarked trail at the Great Sand Dunes National Park where you can see all around you and you’re only trudging through thick sand.  At the Black Canyon, it is raw, rugged cliffs, backcountry, they call it.  Not for a family who wishes to see another adventure.

Never take children on unmarked trails.  The chance of getting lost is too great.  Sunlight fades fast out in nature and it becomes black and cold at night.  Hiking unmaintained trails are also not a good idea as you can’t be sure what danger lies in the brush.  Never hike alone.  Never!  Needless to say, sheer cliffs are not for children.  Or me!

But don’t worry.  There’s much family friendly adventure waiting for you at both the North and South Rims of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.  Aside from some awesome park ranger programs about the geology of the cliffs, the park boasts some of the oldest rock in North America, there are easy, flat hikes and breathtaking scenic drives along the rims.  And you can get to the glistening green Gunnison River by the East Portal Road.  The museum is fascinating!  It also tells you about the schist and the gneiss of the canyon walls as well offering documentation of exploration in the canyon.

As you view the raw, natural power of geology and water, keep a close watch on your children.  The cliff edges are dark and cut away drastically.  I couldn’t enjoy the view until my children were all sitting down around me.  Only then, could I look around.  However, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is definitely worth the visit.

            If you’re looking for a vacation with the most varied landscapes, Colorado is the state to visit.  And most national parks offer campgrounds inside the park.  With the celebration of 100 years of National Park Service here in the United States, which national parks have you visited?  Do you have a favorite?  Thanks so much for visiting Camping with Kids.  Please stop by again.

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?