Great Camping

My son and I both had off this past Monday and so I decided we should go camping after church and the quarterly congregational meeting on Sunday.  We threw together clothes for overnight and a few food items before heading to church. After we got home, we were ready to go within about 30 minutes. Checked the air in the tires of the camper and added a little to one of the tires and we are on the road headed to one of my favorite parks, Birch Creek State Park on Lake Somerville.  We had our pick of many open campsites for the night and chose one in the Yaupon camping area, Site #12.  Post Oak area was closed due to some dead tree removal.

We got the camper set up and then walked around some of the trails behind the campsite.  Colton has gotten interested in Birding since watching The Big Year.  I'm glad to see him taking an interest in something outdoors. He's got the Audubon Birds app on his Android and he's enjoying adding birds to his new life list.

He got really tickled the other day when we were at Snook Park.  He was playing the sounds for a Carolina Chickadee and one came closer and closer until it was in the tree right above us.  It kept calling back and forth with the sounds from his app.

Anyway...back to the camping trip...  Around the point at Yaupon is a pond/marsh type area and it is FILLED with lots of bird life.  We saw Anhinga, Gulls, Coots, Redwing Blackbirds, Chickadees, Cardinals and a multitude of LBJ's (Little Brown Jobbers) - sparrows that are hard to ID in a constant state of motion.  Note to Self:  Next camping trip, bring binoculars!  We kept looking for the Bald Eagles, but we never did spot them.  My brother came out for a while and he brought his binoculars, so we did some more bird-watching until it was getting dark.  Then it was time for one of my favorite parts of camping...the campfire.  We got a nice fire going and it was nice just to sit and listen to bird calls and the pop and crackle of the fire. No TV!

We fixed a light supper and, after Scott left, we played UNO and tried to figure out Farkel.  On my very first roll, I rolled a straight. 1-2-3-4-5-6.  Very cool, but I'm not sure of all the rest of the rules. UNO was fun, but it would have been better with a couple more people. Tomorrow is Mom & Daddy's 46th Anniversary. Otherwise, we might have talked them into coming out here to join us.

After a good night's rest, I woke up to a VERY foggy morning. You could not even see the lake past the reeds.  Hearing the water birds calling and echoing out across unseen waters gave it an eery (but cool) effect.  I got another fire going and sat out by it for a little bit while Colton continued sleeping with Dixie in the camper.  I think I was the first one up in the campground. Our friend, John, who is a Park Ranger stopped by to say hello and then he took off to try to capture some nice foggy-morning photos in the Park. As the fog was lifting, I found a nice spot to add a new cache/letterbox. Look for Animal Tracks - Mouse on geocaching.com and atlasquest.com.

I pulled out the new Coleman stove that Scott gave me for Christmas and got it set up.  I made some VERY CRISPY bacon.  Wow! That flame is hot!  After making adjustments to the flame height, I managed to fry up a pretty decent egg without cremating it. When Colton got up, I made scrambled eggs for him. There was no sense in making a pot of coffee for just one person, so I settled for hot water to make hot chocolate for the both of us.

We spent most of the morning walking around the trails at the edge of the lake around this point and walked over to the point where I know of an ammo can cache that's hidden.  I checked the conditions of it and found a geocoin.  All was nice and dry.  There was a bench out here and we just sat and enjoyed the weather and the birds. It's strange that we didn't see a single deer since we got here. They are usually out in this park pretty abundantly.

Around lunch, my brother showed up again and brought their dog. We hit the trail between Yaupon and Post Oak areas to find a couple of letterboxes. It was an absolutely gorgeous day for a walk. Colton added a couple more birds to the list. I found the letterboxes, the dogs were inspecting everything along the trail and we all had a good time.  No time clock, no rush. There's another big cut ant colony near the trailhead near Group Pavilion #3 in the Cedar Elm camping area. The amount of work they do for tiny creatures is nothing short of amazing. Once we made our loop (just under a mile) and found the one letterbox that had given me troubles on previous trips, we decided to go rent one of the canoes and check out the lake from the water.

There was very little wind this weekend, so it was perfect canoeing conditions.We got the key from the office along with life vests and paddles.  We paddled from the boat ramp way around the point were were were camping at the far east end of the state park.  We were able to get pretty close to some of the birds. While we were in the back up the creek between all of the reeds, my brother started playing some Cajun bayou music and it was just great. Still no sign of any Bald Eagles. Colton wanted to row over to Snake Island. The lake was calm so we decided to go for it. By now, the dogs had settled down to the fact that we weren't going to toss them overboard or leave them off somewhere.

Walking around on the island at this time of year is like being transported into another place and time. I love the Palmettos dotted around the island.  With the grass all brown and laying over and the dormant skeleton-looking trees, it put me in mind of some Jurassic landscape and I half expected to be running from some Land of the Lost dinosaur at any moment. We walked over to the other side of the island and saw several birds. Add a White Pelican to the life list.  When we finally left the island, we headed across the water to the boat ramp once again. According to Google Maps, we rowed over 3 1/2 miles on this trip.  I'm so going to feel this tomorrow!  We locked the canoe back up and got all the equipment ready to take back. Went to pick up the camper and we headed home. This was a great escape for just a day or so.

Location, Location, Location!

My favorite 4-legged buddy
This big old world is full of many wonderful locations to tempt all the senses.  Sometimes you just need the motivation to get out there and get to them.  And do you know the next best thing to BEING there?  It's GETTING there.  Take your best buddy - two or four legged - and step away from the TV.  I love being outdoors and I like finding hidden things or places that very few people will have the privilege of visiting. One of my favorite things is hooking up the camper and hitting road with my son and my dog for a weekend of spending time in God's creation and making a few finds of man's (or woman's) creation.

I like getting out and hitting the trails in a state park or private park that has some good size to it. It's great if there's some water around because it's nice to hear the rhythmic sounds of waves lapping on a shore or the trickle of a small creek as it makes its way over rocks and drop-offs.  Where there's water, there's critters. Feathered ones, furry one, slimy ones (hey...some of them are cool) and even a few creepy crawlies.  OK...there are some that I hope to NEVER see!  You could go to the same park over and over and take the same trails and it will be different every time.  Spring flowers, fall leaves, gnarly, twisted bark of leafless trees in winter.  All have their own appeal.

Why do I go back again and again?  Other than just the views that nature set out for me, is the thrill of a scavenger hunt activity that some woman or man or family has put out to show me something new.  Geocaching, letterboxing, Munzee hunting, Ingress and other location-based games.  Millions of little reasons and lots of locations to explore. Adventures in the waiting. Some are quick "park and grabs" and some will make you pull your hair out and take hours. Somewhere in the middle are the ones I enjoy most.

Geocaching will lead you to a very specific spot. Just follow the GPS (or your smartphone) and a set of clues and hints and you might round a corner and find an ammo can in the woods.  Or...you might find a container hidden under a lamp skirt at the closest shopping mall. Don't knock these. A couple quick finds like these are great to keep you outside a couple of extra minutes and that might be all you need to help you get through the day.  Finding these hidden containers and signing the log feels like being in a very elite, ninja secret society of scavenger hunters.  I don't know how many times I've driven by little pocket parks and point out to a friend "There's a geocache in that park" only to hear them exclaim "What park?" Some of these have been hidden right under your nose for YEARS.  I know something you don't know. He he he! Most of the containers that are bigger than a thimble may also hold "swag". Inexpensive little trinkets or signature items that people leave to swap with each other. Swag is a favorite of young children - so keep this in mind when you decide WHAT you place in a cache. Search these out on opencaching.US, geocaching.com, terracaching.com and others.  To add to the flip side of the fun, hide your own.

I'd Rather Be Camping
Letterboxing is much the same, but you don't use a GPS. You use a set of clues. Some are straight-forward and involve the "turn left at the dead cow" type clues.  Others can be more cryptic and use a few more brain cells.  As I mentioned before...bring a friend!  Sometimes 2 or more heads are required to figure out a puzzle or reading between the lines.  The BIG difference in geocaching and letterboxing is that letterboxes use rubber stamps.  A vast majority of the stamps in a letterbox are hand-carved individual works of art. When you hunt a letterbox, you should bring your own stamp and stamp pad/markers as well. When you find the box, you don't just sign your name and date the log and leave. Take your time, take in the scenery and the sounds of nature.  Ink/mark up your stamp and leave your impression in the log book in the box.  Bring your own personal journal or bring index cards to gather another record of your adventures. Use the stamp in the box to stamp your journal or cards. Then you have something to look at on cold, rainy (or EXTREMELY  hot days here in Texas) when you just don't feel like getting out. Try your hand a carving a stamp. You can make relatively simple designs that are easy to carve. Clues to these boxes can be found on atlasquest.com and letterboxing.org.

Letterbox "Hybrids" can also be listed on the geocaching listing sites, but they must use GPS use for at least a part of the hunt. Most point to trailheads or nearby parking areas. Many cachers get in the habit of not carrying anything but a pen and just quickly sign the log and date it. Where's the fun in that?  If you don't have a stamp, draw a picture.  Or use a pen (or ink pad if one is supplied) and make a fingerprint. Then make a cute drawing out of it. If a person takes the time to carve their own stamp and maybe even make their own logbooks, it won't kill anyone to take an extra minute to leave a little something to reward their efforts.  I love seeing the logs of stamps and drawings that others have left in my logs.

Munzees are litle hidden (or right out in plain sight) little QR codes - either on a sticker, a dog tag or plastic piece. Each one you find or place gets you points. The map of these can only be found at munzee.com.  Again...they might be right under your nose...or maybe your butt.  The next time you sit on a bench in a public area.  Look around. You might be surprised what is lurking about. Some people are quite clever in how these are disguised. Or, they might be large and in the window of your favorite business.

So...what would be my idea of a perfect weekend?  It would involve grabbing my son, my dog and the camper after work on Friday and heading out to a Texas State Park with good views and good trails. Oh look...there's a Munzee in the window of the park headquarters! I need to get a picture with one of the park rangers to complete that locationless Terracache. Yeah! They have Pathtags here! Maybe we'll check-in on Google+. There would be time to sit and talk and relax and maybe add a few birds to our life lists. Build a fire...gotta have a campfire.  Maybe make s'mores...or maybe just roast marshmallows and eat the chocolate off my fingers. Hot chocolate anyone? Let's go find that night cache that's only marked with fire tacks and glow-in-the-dark stars. A shower and then good nigh's sleep with the sound of crickets, frogs and owls in the background. Wake up to the Cardinals - man, they are early risers!  MMMM!  There's nothing like campfire coffee and the smell of bacon cooking. Hey, it's a good way to meet the neighbors. Later, we'd hit the trails and find caches on at least 3 listing sites. One of them would be an Earthcache and one would be a little evil bugger that my son would take pride in finding. He's the Evil-Cache Miester in the family.  I'd have my markers, journal/cards and stamp in tow for those letterboxes. Were we supposed to turn left at the first trail junction or the second? Wow! Look at that stamp. I though only a machine could make an image that good! Isn't that a cool hidden pocket of boulders? I didn't know all of this was back here. There's a rare sighting for the bird list. If this is a warm enough day, we'd probably end up in the lake to cool off.  Then there would be a repeat for another night and the morning on the trails.  Then we'd take down the camper and remove all traces as if we had never been there. Maybe on the way home, we'll cruise by the nearest Post Office and capture a portal and add a few resonators, link it with a couple others and create a control field. (Ingress). Don't you feel Enlightened?  And, being that this was the perfect weekend, all of the camping gear, laundry and food would magically get put away all on its own.

Hey...what the heck am I doing sitting here typing on this computer?!  I should be out on location, location, location!!!

IAAP Summit 2018

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the IAAP Summit in Austin, Texas this year. The event this year was close enough for me to dr...