Monday, September 8, 2014

Camping at Great Basin National Park

Wheeler Peak from the Scenic Drive

 I confess I am a fan of the national park system. Having unique parts of America set aside and preserved and made accessible to the average person is, in my opinion, a good thing. Each national park I have visited has its own wonderful characteristics. I have loved spending time in Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Zion, and Yellowstone. This year we decided to venture to a less-visited national park  Great Basin National Park is known for Lehman Caves, and bristlecone pines. As I researched things we wanted to do at the park, I realized it was far enough away that a day trip wasn't going to work. Our best option for truly seeing this park was to camp in one of the park's five developed campgrounds.

Lehman Caves

After a stop at the visitor's center, we arrived in the Upper Lehman campground in a driving rain. We drove slowly around the campground loops, trying to find a likely tent spot. Finally, we pulled over and parked in a vacant space, opened the cooler and assembled sandwiches, and ate lunch while we waited for the weather to improve. Eventually the rain stopped, and we got out to tramp around our potential camp site. Not enough room for our family-sized tent. Back to the loop we went. We finally chose a camping site I nicknamed "A River Runs Through It" for the small river that ran under the picnic table each time it rained. However, it did have ample room for the tent.

Having had a rather unfortunate rainy camping experience in the past, we were determined to do a better job on this camping trip. My daughter and I strung a tarp over the picnic table area, sheltering our camp kitchen, while my husband and son pitched the tent. We got the basics in place before the thunder, lightning, and rain began again. When the sun came out later in the trip, this tarp also provided welcome shade.

Tarp over our "camp kitchen."

Here are some tips I found for camping in the rain:
1)  Use tarps to shelter areas in your camp. (You can also string a tarp over your tent site if you have to pitch your tent in the rain).
2)  Put a ground cloth/liner INSIDE your tent, and let it curve slightly up the tent walls.  This keeps you and your sleeping bags and gear dry inside the tent even when the ground is pretty wet. We tried that on this trip, and it worked out really well!
3)  Keep firewood in garbage bags so it is dry when you are ready to use it.

Dinner is cooking during a rainstorm.
Upper Lehman campground was beautiful! We were near the creek,and took our camp chairs down to the water more than once. We did some bird watching, read books, sketched and painted, and just relaxed. It is a beautiful place to camp.

Creek near our camp site.

Great Basin National Park has several improved campgrounds. The campsites have a fire pit, tent site, and one or two picnic tables. There are also well-ventilated vault toilets around the campground. These were clean and well-maintained. Campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. There are NO reservations. Campgrounds can fill up on weekends and holidays in the summer time. We arrived on a Thursday afternoon in July and had no trouble getting a camp site. However, by late Friday night, the campground was pretty full, so plan on arriving early. The Lower Lehman Campground can accommodate RVs. Trailers longer than 24' are not allowed on the scenic drive, which is your only access to Upper Lehman and Wheeler Peak Campgrounds. Camp sites cost $12 per night, and entrance to Great Basin National Park is free.

Not a camper? Limited accommodations are available in the nearby town of Baker, NV.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Art of Preparing for a Camping Trip

Alpine Lakes Trail - Great Basin National park

I am planning an upcoming car & tent camping trip and here are some things I have learned along the way.

1) Start early in preparing. Last time I camped (and it has been awhile!), I promised myself I would go through the camping "kitchen" box and clean it out, update it, add a few items, etc. Well, when we got home from our last camping trip, we put everything away, and I never did get around to that camp kitchen box.
This week, in anticipation of our upcoming trip, I got my daughter to help me drag the kitchen box out of the garage. Now our garage doubles as a squirrel haven, so things get a bit messy. We knocked some stray walnuts off the lid, opened the container and my daughter said "These dishes are kind of dusty, Mom." Thank goodness for the quick wash button on the dishwasher. In re-packing the box, I noticed we needed some things for our next trip. I like to have this kitchen box up to date. It is part of my emergency preparedness. We headed to the dollar store and bought some large spoons for cooking and serving, 2 dish pans for washing and rinsing dishes, a couple of serrated knives for cutting things like tomatoes, and some fresh salt and pepper in shakers. I dug through a kitchen drawer and added some hot pads, dish rags, and towels. My kitchen box has basic dishes (some paper, some more durable), mixing bowls, a set of camping pots and pans, a non-stick frying pan,matches, garbage bags, freezer bags, and some containers for leftover food. It also has a can opener and dish soap.

Update your kitchen box.

In a separate picnic bag, I have paper towels, paper plates, cups, utensils, and a tablecloth. We will use that at the campsite and when we are picnicking from our car. (For more tips on picnicking on the road, click here.)

2) Good equipment makes a difference. We are car campers. Several years ago we bought a small tent from a local sporting goods store that was going out of business. It served us well when our kids were small, but as they grew and we felt a bit more adventuresome, we thought we should invest in roomier, sturdier tent. One year we took our little tax refund and bought a nice canvas tent that holds all five of us fairly comfortably.  Again, I figure this tent is part of my emergency preparedness supplies. We have used it several times, and it still looks new. Now last time we went camping, it rained all while we were trying to set up camp, all through dinner, and on into the evening. The small tent (which was to hold a couple kids), was too wet and not up to the weather. We didn't have rain ponchos. We didn't have a tarp or canopy or anything to protect our cooking/eating area. We did have garbage bags, so everyone put one on for some protection from the rain,  and we assembled a cold dinner with our pre-cooked taco meat. We ate quickly, and then retreated to our tent for a damp night. The tent held up pretty well, though. It was a good investment.  New equipment this year:  rain ponchos, tarps, rope.

Our tent was a great investment.

3)  The more you prepare ahead of time, the easier camp life will be. This year I am planning on stringing up at least one tarp for shade and rain protection in camp. I searched online for images of the campground, and it looks like there are trees we can use when putting up the tarps. Everyone has a rain poncho, and I am taking umbrellas, and garbage bags to put things in so they don't get wet. I have also made some food ahead of time and have done my shopping for this trip.  Since we don't camp really often, and since this is my vacation for the summer, I want to have good food, so I am putting in a little more effort at home so that cooking at camp is easier. Garbage bags can also be used to keep firewood and kindling dry. We have re-fueled our camp stove as well, and have charcoal for the Dutch oven.

Preparing dry ingredients ahead of time makes camp cooking easier.

4)  Check your batteries before you go. Every battery powered flashlight and camping lantern we own had dead batteries, and there was not a spare "D" battery in the house! During that shopping trip I bought new batteries for all of our lights, and we should make it through the camping trip just fine. I am making a note for myself to get more batteries to have on hand at home. These lights are what we use during power outages, and clearly we were unprepared.

5)  Plan Activities, and then Let the Trip Happen. I find it is good to research where we are going and to plan things to do while we are there. However, part of the beauty of a camping trip is to have time to just hang out at camp and not do a whole lot. On this trip I have games we can play at camp (in the tent if it is raining), and I always take a book to read. We are planning on a hike and visiting a cave. Beyond that, we will just see what each day brings. I have bird books and binoculars for bird watching, a star book for stargazing, and plenty of snacks. It will take me almost as many days to get ready for this trip as we will spend camping, but hopefully the extra preparation will make for a more relaxed trip!

Happy Camping!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Days of '47 Float Preview 2014

Bumblebees fly around the hive on this float entry.

July 24 is a state holiday in Utah - Pioneer Day. It commemorates the arrival of the Mormon pioneers in the Salt Lake valley in 1847. Every summer, we celebrate the Days of '47 with concerts, fireworks, rodeos, barbecues, and parades. The Days of '47 parade is a long-standing tradition, and was first held in 1849. Each year, the public is invited to a free "preview party" to see the floats up close before they drive over the parade route on July 24.

The Horizon prepares to sail down the parade route.

Some of these floats are sponsored by businesses, and constructed by professionals. Most, however, are sponsored by church congregations and are designed and built by dedicated volunteers who attend a float making class and then spend hundreds of hours working on their floats. It can be a dreaded assignment in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:  float committee chairperson. Yet each year, these members of the community pull off a Pioneer Day miracle and create amazing floats for all of us to enjoy.

Pony Express Rider

This year the theme for the parade is "Pioneers Pushing Toward Our Future." The preview party included entertainment, face painting, photos with the Days of '47 Royalty, and the chance to vote for the People's Choice Award winner. Here are some highlights from my visit to the 2014 Days of '47 Float Preview Party.

Float by the Salt Lake Hunter Copperhill Stake

This lovely float entry was beautiful in its simplicity. The theme was "Piecing Together Our Future." The float had puzzle pieces representing the values emphasized in the LDS Church's program for its Young Women (ages 12-18). These values are faith, divine nature, individual worth, knowledge, choice & accountability, good works, integrity, and virtue. Young women dressed to represent various career fields stood on the float as well. This was one of my favorites. 

Puzzle pieces representing the Young Women values.

This year's float preview had something for everyone:  ships, dinosaurs, pioneers, and even snowmen in July.

My favorite snowman.

T-Rex pulling a handcart.

This T-Rex was a fan favorite with the children. It roared, opened its mouth, and moved its head.

Food was in plentiful supply on the floats this year, as was humor.

Passenger warnings for the Horizon.

Got lard?

How about some apples from a loving grandma?

And who could resist a giant pie?

The details on these floats are always amazing. This year I found the rabbits doing family history work particularly charming. As everyone knows, a bunny would have an extensive family tree.

Even the rabbits have gone digital for their family history research!

This robot graced the front of a float that also held a Fred Flintstone-esque character.

Loved the robot!

It was a tough choice to narrow down my favorite floats and cast my ballot this year .I decided to select from the floats created by the amateurs. I picked the float from the Sandy Utah East Stake. It had beautiful flowers and water, a temple, and a great message.

Drink from living water and thirst no more.

Another view of the Sandy Utah East Stake float.

Flower detail from this beautiful float.

Thanks to all of you amazing people who created these wonderful floats for all of us to enjoy! I salute you. The Float Preview Party is one of my favorite ways to kick off my Days of '47 celebration. I hope the tradition continues for many years to come!

Here's a link to my post from a previous float preview party:

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Meditations from the Little Cottonwood Trail

I woke up either with the worst case of allergies I have ever had, or a summer head cold. Still, it was a gorgeous day, and the hike I had planned was pretty easy, so I set out on my first hike of the season. My husband was planning to paint on this hike, so I packed a small pack with some things to do:  a camera, bird book, slim paperback, small notebook, water and a snack. I figured that should tide me over while he painted.

Abandoned mill in Little Cottonwood Canyon

We quickly reached our destination, and I spent some time photographing. Today I had fun focusing on close up shots. The small automatic camera I packed is actually pretty good, and I had fun experimenting.

Little Cottonwood Creek

Rock Wall

Leaves over the creek.

Then I attempted to sketch. I don't think I have drawn anything in a couple of years. To say I was rusty is a gross understatement. Sketching didn't last long. I took pictures of my husband painting instead.

My husband has settled in to paint.

Okay, there are only so many shots you can take of a guy painting. So I pulled out my book. I had grabbed Anne Morrow Lindbergh's "Gift From the Sea" off my shelf on impulse. It is on my list to read this year, and it was lightweight enough to stick in my pack. The opening pages swept me away with wonderful wisdom. 

"Rollers on the beach, wind in the pines, and the slow flapping of herons across sand dunes, drown out the hectic rhythms of city and suburb, time tables and schedules. One falls under their spell, relaxes, stretches out prone. One becomes, in fact, like the element on which one lies, flattened by the sea; bare, open, empty as the beach, erased by today's tides of all yesterday's scribblings. ...Patience, patience, patience is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach--waiting for a gift from the sea."  --Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Here I was, in a very beautiful setting, trying to occupy myself. Suddenly it all seemed wrong. I put the book away, got comfortable, and looked around. The roar of the rushing water filled my ears. Occasionally, droplets of spray flew up and hit my skin. The air was cool and fresh. Wildflowers were starting to bloom. Two robins chased each other through the air.


I reflected on my fitness goal for this week:  meditation. I have had mild, but chronic, tension headaches for the past couple of months, and daily minutes of meditation and relaxation are starting to help. Why not meditate for a few minutes here? The water came into focus, and then blurred in my sight as I relaxed and let go of the tension in my face.  A mountain biker asked me for the time. I responded, and turned back to the water. Two hikers came and went. Meditation has as its goal a stillness of thought, however, distractions come. The important thing is to acknowledge them, and then let them go. Back to the mountain. Back to the water and the play of light on leaves.

I don't have Lindbergh's beach, but I do have the mountains. And for just a little while this morning, I had time.
Time to watch the light change on the ruins of the mill across the creek.
Time to watch the pattern of the water flow.

Time to see butterflies warm their wings in the sunshine.

Time for my hands to turn icy here by the snow-water rushing down stream.

Time to think.

Time to

For directions and info about hiking the Little Cottonwood Trail, click here.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

First Hike of the Season

My summer list includes hiking. I am working to get in better physical shape, and have a couple of longer hikes I would love to do by autumn. My husband and I decided we had a long enough window in between dropping our teenager off at work and picking him up again to drive up the canyon and do a quick hike. (And no, the teenager cannot drive himself to work...he isn't 16 yet).

Abandoned mill on the Little Cottonwood Trail

For my first hike of the season, I chose the Little Cottonwood Trail. I have hiked it several times over the last few years, but my husband had never been on this trail. It is pretty kid friendly with a very gradual incline and lots of shade. The payoff at the end is the ruins of an old mill across the creek, and the rusting metal of an old car in the rocks. (I still have no idea how a car got up there, but today we met an older gentleman on the trail who said several years ago there used to be a bridge across the creek, strong enough to drive over).

Pieces of an old car.

One of my husband's contributions to our summer list was to "hike and paint." This is perfect for him, and gets mixed reviews from the family. Although we enjoy the hikes and soaking up nature while he paints, and have even painted a time or two ourselves, we are frequently done before he is. However, it was a beautiful day, and I was sure I could keep myself occupied for awhile, so off we went.

Wet, shady trail

The trail had a very wet section today. Usually when I do this hike, there is some water on one section of the trail, but today that section was a small stream, and I had to pick my way through it very carefully. This is a pretty easy hike, though, only 1.6 miles round trip. It took us about 30 minutes to reach our destination. The wildflowers were starting to bloom, the creek was full and cold with winter snow run-off, and it was a perfect morning to spend in the canyon.

mini-stream on the trail

Artist at play in the canyon.

And my husband got to paint. What do I do while he paints? Feed my inner shutterbug! Here are some samples from our hike:

Mill ruins

Long shadow.

Shadows on the rock.

Wildflowers in bloom.

Finished painting

For more information (driving directions, length of the hike, etc.) about the Little Cottonwood Trail, see my previous post about this great hike.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

What's On Your Summer Bucket List?

I just finished reading a novel called "The Next Thing on My List," by Jill Smolinski. In this book, June Parker offers a young woman she just met a ride home. They are in a car accident, and the passenger, Marissa, dies. June finds a list Marissa had with her titled "20 Things to do Before My 25th Birthday." Marissa had only crossed off two things on her list. June is riddled with guilt over the accident, and decides to complete Marissa's list for her. Marissa's list includes things like "Run a 5K", and "Make Buddy Fitch Pay." This is a pretty light-hearted book, and a quick read. Smolinski weaves a good tale and June grows through her experiences of finishing Marissa's list.

I liked the idea of making lists of things to complete by my next birthday, rather than setting goals just at New Year's. But why wait for my birthday? With the advent of summer, it seemed like a good time to sit down and write a summer list with the family. My husband, son, and I sat down to write out our list.

Camping made our summer list.

Everyone got to contribute their ideas, and the list includes everything from A to pies to ziplines! We threw in "eating at a food truck," "driving 9-Mile Canyon," and "making homemade ice cream" as well. Suddenly my stay-cation summer is looking a whole lot better.

Homemade Apple Pie

I long for lazy summers with endless days stretching out before me, but the reality is I am not five years old anymore, and summer goes by too fast. Without a plan, I know we won't make the most of it. And honestly, I feel a bit cheated by my last two summers (cancer summer 2012 and broken ankle summer 2013). I am hoping to have a better summer this year.

Here are some other things on our summer list:
Make homemade slurpees
Visit the Olympic Park
Have a cookout in the canyon
Make s'mores in the backyard with our firepit
Visit the Hill Air Force Base Museum
Photography trip to the Bonneville Salt Flats

Western Tanager in our yard

Well, I have a list to complete--guess I had better get started!
What's on your list for summer?

Hiking made my list.