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

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Camp Under the Stars with Your Family

            Camping under the stars at national or state parks works best at primitive campsites. These are campsites with no electrical and water hook-ups or limited hook-up capabilities. At primitive national park camps there are flush toilets available, but not many. And you need a flashlight if you go at night. These bathrooms usually have sky lights, but that doesn’t help at night unless the moon is brilliantly full and you’re camping in the desert with no trees to block out the light.

You can still see millions of stars at camps with electrical hook-ups, though. What the children liked most was when they got to see a shooting star in the black of a moonless night. But there are many activities to do at night at national or state parks. In my Night Prowls post, I discussed ranger-led walks in the dark. And in my Summertime Means Family Camping And Star-Gazing post I talk about the Aurora Borealis we saw while camping in Newfoundland.

In this post, I’d like to discuss how night creatures navigate in the darkness. Hint: They listen to their surroundings, which is impossible to do with children because you’re too busy shushing them—even teenagers.

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The mighty Sequoia trees do fall.
But the huge beasts last forever
even on the forest floor.

            We were in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and a naturalist took us out to the field to watch the stars pop out at night. But so did the night creatures. This time, only the adults were armed with flashlights to assist with night vision on this mile-long walk.

Our twins still didn’t like to venture into the darkness at night because we were deep in bear country. Yes, we saw lots of bear this trip to California. So I understood their apprehension. Consequently, I journeyed with only my two oldest daughters and my son. My husband stayed with the twins.

Now you’re thinking “less to shush,” right?
Wrong!
            The older ones are the loud mouths. The twins just follow along.

            The naturalist had us form a circle in the darkness of a field as she talked about the echolocation of bats. And while the symphony of bug noises grew, so too, did my children’s whispers. How could I hear the “chit” of a bat with my own batty-brained kids yammering in my ear?
            “Guys—shush!” I whispered.
            And, yes! Everyone heard me—except my children—even with the crescendo of bug symphony playing.

They “shushed” my “shush.”

I decided to watch the lightning bugs dress the sides of the forest trees surrounding the field. Their lighted bottoms made a pattern of lace against the dappled blackness of the leaves.

            Then the naturalist proceeded to help us noisy humans listen better in the night by standing in the center of our circle and tossing a deflated beach ball to one or another of our group without warning.

            Yep! She knew who the noisy ones were. She smacked my boy right in the kisser with the deflated ball. It didn’t hurt, only startled, but it got my kids to shut up.

            Back and forth, the naturalist tossed the deflated ball to our group, and as the night progressed, so did our ability to catch it. Our group finally quieted down.

            As we continued to look up at a black velvet sky studded with rhinestones, waiting, hoping to see a falling star, the naturalist informed us about the eyes of the night creatures and how the size of them are made to capture any light, any movement in the night. She told us that about 70% of animals are nocturnal. And that they’re sensitive to noise and light. That’s why we need to respect them. The National Park Service has a great website with information about the night sky here  

            I glared at my children, even though they couldn’t see me in the darkness. The crystal clear night sky, the sounds of nature had finally awed them into silence. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the reason to camp under the stars with your family.


            Thanks for visiting my Camping with Kids blog. Please let me know in the comments section if you’ve ever seen the Arora Borealis, the colorful clouds that mute the stars at night, or a shooting star. Where did you see one? When you see a good shooting star, meaning one that lasts about 5 to 10 seconds, we think it looks like a long white cigarette with the lighted orange tip burning into the Earth’s atmosphere. Or do you just like to gaze up at a night sky to watch for satellites, which we call “calm moving stars” as the pinprick of light flies on its trajectory around the Earth. Happy star gazing, everyone!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Protected Lands for Future Generations: State parks, National Monuments and Forests, National Parks

As I’ve said through all my blog posts, we’ve camped and visited state parks, national parks and even national monuments and forests. I thought it might be time to offer some general explanations about the differences between these parks and where you can find specific information about them.

            State parks are an economical camping destination for families just starting out. Usually, there are no fees to visit the parks. However, camping in state parks does require nominal fees, depending on amenities available.

To find information about specific state parks, try googling “state parks in [state you wish to visit].” When I did this, a list of state parks appeared with a picture of each park. I could then click on the park to find information. 

Most times, it is first come, first serve for campsites at state parks and some are primitive, which means no electrical hook-ups, pit toilets, no showers or pool or playground. But there is fishing and hiking and swimming in lakes or ponds and star gazing. You can bring your canoe and rafts, but you need to check park rules to be sure you can use motorized boats in the water. The larger lakes and interconnected waterways have rules about washing water craft so as not to spread invasive shell creatures. See my post about the zebra mussels in New York State waterways. 

A National Monument is established by presidential proclamation. No vote in Congress is necessary, although Congress can create a national monument by legislation.

Wikipedia has a wonderful list of National Monuments in the United States. It also has a good definition and history of the classification of a park being called a National Monument. Mostly, they are places of historic, prehistoric, and/or scientific interests. 

National Forests encompass national grasslands and national recreation areas and wilderness
areas.
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Wilderness areas have no buildings or amenities and are left raw and rugged. Some of these forests and recreation areas lie inside or adjoin national parks and monuments. Some forests cross into state parks as well. I just learned that New Jersey is among the ten states that do not have a national forest. Our forests are state parks.

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A National Park is set aside by an act of Congress. After approval from Congress, the president's signature is required to make the land a national park. You can find a National Park in a particular state here.  

All national parks have fees. You pay at toll plazas. Purchasing a National Park Pass is good for a year and depending on how often you visit national parks throughout the year could bring a wealth of savings. Remember, a park pass or any fees paid is for one vehicle to pass into the park. This is where we made out well, with seven people packed into our travelling van.
  
America the Beautiful passes, the National Park Pass, information can be found here.
An annual pass costs $80. These passes can be purchased in person at federal recreation sites; i.e., at national parks.
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There are a few other specialty passes available:
Current US military and their “dependents” get in free with documentation.
Seniors, those over 62 years of age, can purchase a lifetime pass for $10, but these must be bought in person only.
An Access Pass is for disabled persons and can be purchased with documentation of disability.

            Parks and recreational lands are protected by the government, be it national or state, so that future generations may enjoy them. I hope this information about the differences between state and national parks and national monuments and forests helps in deciding where to set your adventure this year.

Feel free to let me know a favorite park or place you have visited and why it’s so special to you. Thanks so much for visiting Camping with Kids. Please stop by again!



Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Dangers of Letting Children Lead

            Parents, it’s important to remember that many times kids have no fear. Each time we go camping I try to remind myself of this fact and still I follow my kids anywhere. This particular adventure takes me right up a rock face.
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The dark woods on the hike to Zapata Falls,
Colorado. Raw and rugged!

            We got up early to hike the cool, dark trail to Zapata Falls, which is just south of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Colorado.
You can read of our adventures in the Great Sand Dunes here

When we got to the falls, our son climbed up an almost vertical rock to the top. The girls soon followed. They follow their brother everywhere. But this time, my husband climbed up, too.

Me? I was admiring the crystal clear, icy mountain rapids tumbling over rocks, boulders, and logs. The frigid water burbled by my feet as if it had forgotten all about the tumble it took off the cliff ledge.

Then the family called to me from atop the rock face. I pretended I couldn’t hear because of the sound of the rapids. But then my husband did his famous whistle. You know, that whistle that all dads use to call home their children in the neighborhood.

I started to tremble. Why couldn’t they just leave me to my terra firma? Loose rock, dirt, no footholds or handholds. That’s not my idea of adventure. But then I heard all the children encouraging me. My son came back down a ways to help guide me up, the little angel. I couldn’t delay any longer.

Wearing a ball cap limited my vision. This was probably a good thing in my situation. Like I’ve said before, I’ve got this thing about edges. I couldn’t look up to see my son; so he guided me by his black shoelaces. My son’s shoelaces are always untied, and in this particular situation, they were hanging down below his shoes. So I followed the little bits of laces I could see in front of me as I clung to the rock. I focused on his tenor voice, the directions he gave—even though I couldn’t find those blasted foot ledges and hand grips he spoke of.

Suddenly a deep bass voice penetrated my consciousness. “No son! You’re taking her off the cliff ledge!”

My husband, my hero! 

But the tenor voice was back, calm as ever. “Okay, Mom,” it said. “Move to your right.”

Instinctively, I looked left. Nothing but air! And for some reason, I couldn’t get that air inside my lungs. I went back to staring at the rock face two inches in front of me. My nails scraped the rock trying to get a better grip.

“Where are the shoelaces?” I screeched.

“Where are the what, Mom?” My son asked.

Little drips of black came into my vision again. “Come lower.” I told my son.

            For the love of black shoelaces, the lengths of which finally dangled into my view. Cautiously, slowly, I followed them up the side of the rock.

            Once I got to the top, my family cheered and I finally started breathing again.

What a spectacular view—once I was sitting down with my family. The San Luis Valley, mountains, sand dunes in the distance, lakes reflecting a powder blue sky.

 Ah, but we needed to get down too.

We faced the rock and climbed down slowly. My husband went first and helped the girls and then me. My son the Billy goat had his own way down—which I don’t recommend to anyone. What an exhilarating climb!


Always pay attention to your surroundings and your abilities. Within reason, live adventurously. The memories and excitement stay with you and your family forever. Do you have any exciting adventure you wish to share on Camping with Kids? Please leave a note in the comments section. Thanks!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Beware of Ticks When Hiking or Camping

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Two tools of tick prevention: 
long socks and tape lint rollers.
Find tick identification photos at the web links in post.
Oh, breathe in that fresh spring air! It makes families want to take a walk in the woods or parks or even try a weekend camping trip.

            But if you do, you need to become tick savvy. Tick season, or when ticks trouble humans the most, is in late spring and summer.

Now don’t get all upset and lock you children in closets or anything. You just need to be aware of them, and of course, learn a few tips and methods for getting rid of them if you or your children or your pet does encounter any.

*Please note! I am no expert. I am only relaying my experience and some tips I’ve learned along the way.*

First thing is to dress appropriately for ticks and any other insects that live in tall grass or forests. Wear big, floppy-brimmed hats and long-sleeved, light-colored shirts and long pants if possible to be able to actually see the ticks on the clothing. Long socks are preferred, and it’s best to wear them OVER your pant legs if you are in a high tick area. It’s a good idea to bind up long hair and shove it under a hat. I always braid my four girls’ hair when we go hiking at national or state parks.

You can spray insect repellent with DEET on skin or clothing to help keep ticks away. Please read any caution on the container and be careful about using any insect repellent on small children’s skin. [Sorry, I was in mother mode.]

            Remember that ticks can adhere to anywhere. Be wary when brushing up against tall grass, bushes, shrubs, or trees. One of my twins had a tick on her earlobe. Luckily it was one of the bigger types, and I could see it to pull it off. [See below.]
 
Once you finish hiking the trail [or playing outside where there is a high tick concentration], before you enter your vehicle or camper or home, use a lint roller, the type with sticky tape, to check for ticks on clothing or body before they attach to the skin. This is the best tip I’ve learned. Now we carry lint rollers in the van as well as the camper. If the ticks haven’t attached to the skin, they will stick to the tape.

However, depending on length of time outside in tick area, it is always a good idea to closely check the body for ticks. I realize most of them are tiny, and it’s tough when someone has lots of freckles. What you are looking for is any “loose” freckle with tiny legs.

I scan my children closely with my eyes and hands after every hike. If I feel a tiny bump or something that flops back and forth, I look more closely. If it has tiny legs, use tweezers—vital in any first aid kit—to grab the tick as close to the skin as possible. The mouth is what is attached to the skin. DO NOT SQUEEZE THE TICK. You want to pull the entire tick out. The key is to pull gently away from the point of entry. Not up but parallel along the skin.


You will find a "Geographic Distribution of Ticks that Bite Humans" map as well as excellent tick identification and prevention information at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. 

This post is only meant to make you aware of tick season. Please don’t be afraid to take your children camping or hiking in the mountains or woods. The benefits of nature and fresh air for the family far outweigh any problem with ticks. Just become tick savvy and enjoy the great outdoors. As always, any questions about personal health ask your own physician.


            Thanks for stopping by Camping with Kids and leaving a note. It’s greatly appreciated. 

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.
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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.
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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

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High-elevation lakes run deep and
can be quite still. But they are
beautiful!
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

 
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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.