Tuesday

5 Ways to Simplify Your Next Camping Trip

It's no secret that camping in one of my all time favorite activities. But I won't lie, it is a lot of work gathering equipment, planning meals, packing and loading the vehicle. Add kids and it can be downright overwhelming; but it doesn't have to be.

We got back from our camping trip to Palo Duro Canyon State Park last month and I was reminded that practice makes perfect. My husband and I have been camping together for eight years and at this point have a routine for when we get to the camp ground, pack up at the end of the trip and unpack when we get home. It has taken a lot of practice and it wasn't a spoken agreement; we just kind of do what what we are good at and stay out of each other's way. Camping has gotten exponentially easier since we have gotten into our rhythm.

But it took us a while to get to this point and, if you are single, you don't always go with the same people. So in the mean time here are few ways you can simplify your camping trips.

Keep it short and close to home. Don't feel like you have to make every trip a mega adventure. Microadventures can be just as fun and a lot less stressful. I love what 100 Peaks has to say about microadventures. The important thing is to get out there!
Our favorite campground close to home. The Chickasaw National Recreation Area.
Bring no-cook meals or go out for dinner. Stoves and dutch ovens are clunky and take up a lot of space. I love cooking with them but when I want to simplify I cook over the fire, bring cold cuts or just find a fun restaurant close by.
Keep camping gear organized. We clean and organize our gear at the campsite or before we put it away when we get home. I replenish any supplies that are low before putting the gear away. Then when it is time for our next trip we just have to load everything into the car.
Bring less equipment. Seems impossible but there are plenty of space saving options. Check out my post Space Saving Tips for Family Car Camping for my favorite ideas and some of my favorite gear at the bottom of this post.
Enjoy activities that don't require equipment. Hiking, scavenger hunts, nature centers and ranger programs to name a few. The possibilities are endless. We rarely bring toys for the kids when we camp. We have so much fun around the campfire and exploring.

Your turn. How do you help your camping trips remain manageable?

Some of our favorite space saving equipment. (aff link, Thank you for clicking through to purchase these products, a very, very small portion of the sales help support this blog)

Wednesday

Are National Parks really America's best idea?

I am sure most of you are familiar with Ken Burn's series on PBS The National Parks: America's Best Idea. If you haven't, it is a wonderful series documenting the history of the US National Park system and you need to see it. While I know our National Park system preserves some of the most beautiful places on this continent, that isn't it's greatest accomplishment.
Our favorite camping trip of the year so far, Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Texas. 
Earlier this year we participated in our second First Day Hike. (First Day Hikes take place on January 1st at local state parks.) I enjoyed the hike last year but the program this year far exceeded my expectations. The park staff put together a short program on tips for photographing wildlife before the hike and provided healthy snacks and bottled water. And that wasn't even my favorite part of the day.

The park naturalist lead the hike and gave the usual speech about the ecology and history of the State Park, pretty standard. But what set him apart for me was his enthusiasm for connecting children with the outdoors, obviously a passion of mine as well. He helped my son learn to look a little closer. They found feathers, shells, wildlife tracks and plenty of ice. My son had so much fun we went back a few months later.

This experience got me thinking and for a while I was a little annoyed. Why do National Parks get all the attention? If we are going to raise the next generation to be outdoor enthusiasts they need to be regularly connecting with nature and having memorable experiences. And it takes a lot more than 58 parks scattered around the country to do that.

My son's experience on the First Day Hike was somewhat unique in that it was a lot more personal than most but it was very memorable for him. On this same hike the park manager was telling me about a new program that will connect fourth graders with the outdoors starting later this year. Without the work of our state and county conservation professionals many of our youth would not have access to natural areas. Are they getting enough credit for all they do? Not everyone lives close to a National Park. Here in Oklahoma we have National Historic Sites and Recreation Areas, but no National Parks.
Roman Nose State Park, Oklahoma
So while I love the exotic parks like Yosemite and the Grand Canyon, I think National Parks are America's best idea because they helped solidify the idea of environmental conservation in American culture. The creation of National Parks put a "face" to the environmental movement. They captured our imaginations and continue to inspire us. And their legacy continues today.

Tuesday

Nature Crowns Inspired By Frozen

My kids, like most others, are obsessed with Frozen; even after all this time. We were watching it AGAIN this past weekend and I noticed the nature-inspired crowns Anna and Kristoff were wearing when the trolls were trying to marry them. I thought, why not channel their love of Frozen into spending some time outdoors and putting to use some the natural materials they are bound to collect in the process.
source
I love the way these crowns turned out. They just take a little time and patients to glue everything into place. Anna's crown looks like it was made using palm leaves and being in Oklahoma, we don't have any. So I found some wide bladed bunch grass that I cut in an attempt to make them look like palm leaves. If I was still living in Florida, I would have just gathered some saw palmetto leaves.

Materials


Felt
Hot Glue and Gun
Sticks - lots of them
Small palm leaves or wide bladed grass - lots of them
Red leaves, scrap felt, ribbons or buttons

Instructions


  • Get outdoors and let your kids collect as many leaves, blades of grass and sticks as possible. I was surprised how many we ended up needing. We made a couple gathering trips. 
  • Cut felt into 1-2 inch wide strips and glue then into circles big enough to fit your child's head. Remember that felt stretches, I made mine just a little too small. This is especially important for the stick crown as it is heavy and stretches out the felt. 
  • Break sticks into equal sizes. I recommend as short as possible. This crown get fairly heavy, so shorter sticks make for a lighter crown. 
  • Cut blades for blades of grass to look like palm leaves. Once again, short is better. Longer leaves are harder to handled when glued into place. 
    Nature Walk: Nature Crowns Inspired By Frozen
  • Glues leaves onto one circle of felt lining up one edge of the leaves along the bottom edge of the felt. Repeat this with the sticks. Use a fair amount of glue on the sticks. They can be heavy and need to be secured. 
  • Cut leaves, scrap felt or ribbon into small pieces. Glue onto the bottom of the palm crown for decoration. They use some sort of jewel in Frozen and this was the best "natural" replacement I could come up with. 
    Nature Walk: Nature Crowns Inspired By Frozen
  • Enjoy. See what stories your kids come up with playing with these crowns. The leaves dry out fairly fast but the crown is still usable and tons of fun.
    Nature Walk: Nature Crowns Inspired By Frozen
What have you been creating using natural materials lately? Feel free to leave posts and pictures in the comments. 

PS. My kids thought it was fun to go an a "FROZEN" hike. I am always looking for ways to keep hiking fun for the kids.

Follow along or subscribe (top of left column) for more inspiration and ideas for enjoying the outdoors as a family. 

How SAFE is Outdoor Adventuring?

"You shouldn't be out in the forest by yourself, it's dangerous."
or
"Don't you get scared being outdoors by yourself, you might get abducted."

I have heard comments similar to these a lot over the course of my life. At the age of 19 I got a job working as a park ranger. A dream come true to say the least; I got paid to be outdoors. I did amazing things like prescribe burning, canoeing and driving 4-wheelers (all in the line of duty). I also did not-so-amazing things like cleaning up garbage, clearing trails and organizing sheds. Part of the job was working by myself in the forest and there were times when I would get nervous but mostly I enjoyed the solitude.

When I moved on to the University of Florida I got a job as research assistant and was once again in the forest a lot by myself, many days in the early morning before the sun was up. During this time there were a couple murders in the Ocala National Forest (which is just south of where I was in Gainesville). Once again, many of my friends started telling me I shouldn't be in the forest, especially by myself.

I am not saying their concerns where unfounded but I have always felt like some of the fears we have about being in the forest comes from sensationalized media. Should we not live in cities because X number of murders happen there on a yearly basis? I decided to do a little research to see if I could get an idea of how often and what types of injuries people are suffering from when pursuing outdoor adventures. So the question of the day...
How SAFE is OUTDOOR ADVENTURING?
Photo Source: Blog Chicka Blog

Here is what I came up with.

Wednesday

Tails from the Trail: Palo Duro Canyon State Park, TX

Did you know that the second largest canyon in the U.S. is in Texas? Seriously, I never would have guessed. But once I found out I had to visit.

The panhandle of Texas is pretty flat. On our way there I started worrying we were in the wrong place or had gotten our information mixed up. There was prairie, prairie, more prairie, then suddenly The Canyon complete with red rock formations, junipers and stunning vistas.
Tails from the Trail: Palo Duro Canyon State Park, TX

To add to our experience, the wildflowers were in full bloom.

Monday

Quick Tips for Adventuring as a Single Parent

I am not a single parent in the traditional sense, I have a husband. But if I only pursued outdoors adventures when he was available I would be outdoors a fraction of the time I am now. And in my world that just isn't an option. The outdoors have always been a major part of my life. From childhood through adulthood, being outdoors is something I have made a priority. Partly because it is something I enjoy and partly because I believe we need nature. Since I don't want to wait for my husband to get outdoors, I choose to take my kids hiking, day tripping and exploring all by my lonesome.

I am not going to pretend and say it is always easy. Is anything consistently easy with kids?

Tuesday

Waterfront Activities: No Extra Equipment Needed

This is the fourth post in my No Extra Equipment Needed series; a series that highlights outdoor activities that don't require any extra equipment. I am challenging myself and helping my kids develop their creativity and imaginations. 

I didn't grow up in Florida but I consider it my home. I grew up out west in the mountains and it was a little bit of a culture shock moving to Florida. The first thing I grew to love in Florida were the trees; no surprise there. And the second was the water.

Whether the beach, the many lakes and rivers or, my personal favorite, natural springs; the waterfront in Florida is beautiful. It is the best way to spend hot summer days. So whether you are in Florida or any other place near water, here a 18 waterfront activities: No Extra Equipment Needed.
Waterfront Activities: No Extra Equipment Needed
  1. Tic-Tac-Toe - draw lines in the sand or mud and use natural materials (rocks, sticks, shells, etc.)

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