Arkansas’s First State Park

Every June and September, car-lovers and bargain-hunters alike join together for a week of entertainment, food, fellowship, cars and beautiful scenery. The event I’m talking about is the Annual Petit Jean Show and Swap Meet at Petit Jean State Park in Arkansas.

This swap meet has brought Cody and I to Petit Jean twice and each time we go we discover a little more of Petit Jean’s beauty. With fantastic overlooks, a gorgeous waterfall, towering trees and numerous fun hiking trails, Petit Jean State Park is one you don’t want to miss.

fullsizerender-19

The swap meet grounds

Petit Jean is Arkansas’s first state park, so there is a great backstory of history to experience when you visit the park. It is located near Morrilton, Arkansas.

According to the Petit Jean State Park website, the history of Petit Jean is rich with diversity. Petit Jean was home to Native Americans, French explorers and later, settlers. Eventually, a lumber company saw the undisturbed beauty of Petit Jean as something that should stay that way–untouched. Through their determination and strong will, they eventually helped play a part in making Petit Jean the first state park in Arkansas.

Continue reading

10 Tips for Camping in the Fall

Fall is officially here! It’s time to break out your sweaters and decorate your home to add that extra touch of warmth. Indulge in all things pumpkin and fix up a pot of your favorite soup or stew.

My favorite part about fall is hands down the weather. I love sitting on my porch with a cup of coffee and being able to enjoy the cooler weather.

In Oklahoma, it’s usually a toss-up if we will have a hot or cold fall. So far, so good this year! We’ve had temps in the 70s and low 80s, perfect for enjoying time outside before the time changes.

Fall is an ideal time for camping. The mosquitoes aren’t as abundant, the heat has been chased away by crisp, cool air and the leaves have begun to change from a vibrant green to vivid oranges, yellows and reds.

Fall.jpg

Below are 10 tips to help ensure you have a memorable time camping during the fall!

Bring plenty of blankets and a good sleeping bag

  • Temperatures drop rapidly at night during the fall. When camping outside you are at the mercy of the unpredictable weather. Invest in a good cold-weather sleeping bag. I always like to bring my heaviest quilt or comforter. Small throws are also good for keeping warm by the fire. If a campsite has electricity, occasionally I’ll bring an electric blanket with me to get the bed warm before I clock in for the night.

Make sure to look your tent over

  • Always give your tent a good look-over if you haven’t gone camping in a while. You don’t want to haul a tent on a long camping trip only to set it up and realize there are holes in it…not the best way to stay warm or dry during cool fall weather or rain.

Don’t forget the rain fly for your tent

  • Speaking of tents, be sure to pack your rain fly! The tent rain fly is useful in more ways than just keeping rain out. Putting the rain fly on your tent will help keep the heat in and reduce the wind from blowing into your tent.

Pack supplies for your favorite hot drink

  • Hot chocolate, coffee, apple cider or a hot toddy…pick your favorite and run with it! Nothing beats having a warm drink to keep you cozy during the cold nights on a camping trip. My personal favorite includes a bold cup of coffee in the early morning followed up with a creamy mug of hot chocolate at night. Don’t forget the marshmallows!

Bring a good light source: lanterns or flashlights

  • When fall officially begins, that means the inevitable early nights are on their way. Slowly, the days begin to get shorter and shorter. This means having a reliable light source while camping is a necessity. Flashlights are easy and convenient; be sure to have new batteries in the flashlight or packed with you. Cody and I are partial to lanterns. We like Coleman fuel or Dietz lamp oil lanterns. Lanterns put off heat so not only are they providing light, they are also keeping you warmer! Make sure to keep your lantern in a well-ventilated area.

 

Warm clothes are a must!

  • Break out the scarves, gloves, toboggans and most importantly–the sweats! Layers are key when camping in cooler weather. The more clothes you have on, the better. The best thing about layering is if you get too hot, you can always take a layer off. Long johns are great for a base layer under your jeans or sweats.

Pack ingredients for chili, soup or a hearty beef stew

  • Now this tip I can’t stress enough…bring ingredients for your favorite fall dish. Nothing beats having a heavy bowl of something delicious after a busy day of exploring. My favorites include chili, potato soup or beef stew. All of these are included with a side of crispy cornbread made in a cast iron skillet over the fire. Most of these soups or stews can be prepped beforehand. I like to cook my ground beef before leaving and combine any spices and herbs in a Ziploc bag.  I also bring a few Tupperware containers to store any leftovers to enjoy the next day.
chili

Chili made in a dutch oven

Plan plenty of activities to stay busy, busy, busy

  • You don’t want to become stagnant when camping. Sitting still for too long will only make your muscles stiff and you’ll end up staying cold instead of warming up, which is vital. Plan activities like hiking, fishing or kayaking to keep your body active. It will help generate heat, plus it will leave you more exhausted at the end of day which more than likely means you’ll be out like a light when it comes time for bed!

Games galore…

  • Continue the activity through the evening by playing a game of your choice. One of my favorites is Farkle. Farkle involves six dice and a variation of rules regarding scoring. Someone rolls the dice and depending on what they roll they may have certain combinations. For example, if someone rolls three dice with three’s on all of them it would mean they have a score of 300. They can set that aside and roll the other three dice. If they don’t get any combo or a one (100 points) or a 5 (50 points), then they lose their points. Other fun camping games include a deck of cards or Uno!

games

Keep your toes warm!

  • There is nothing worse than having cold toes, especially when you’re outside and feel like there is no chance of warming them up! By boiling some water and putting it in a bottle, you can stick it at the bottom of your sleeping bag and it’ll ensure your feet stay warm and toasty! You can also utilize an electric blanket like I mentioned earlier. I always pack a pair of fuzzy socks to slip on after returning to the campsite.

The most important thing to remember when camping in the fall is to slow down and enjoy the beautiful sights, the leaves are changing and it makes for gorgeous views. Make every moment count and relish in your time away from modern day luxuries.

 

 

Colorado or Bust!: Cruising to Colorado – Day Two

After a peaceful night of sleep, Cody and I woke up refreshed and ready to hit the road once again. Before breakfast could happen, I first had to make sure the Ford Courier didn’t roll away during the night since it didn’t have a working parking brake. This was a constant fear of mine throughout the trip, I imagined the truck rolling off a mountain never to be seen again. Thankfully, the truck was still in the hotel parking lot, safe and sound.

(Click on the following day to read more of my “Cruising to Colorado” series. Blog post: Day One)

Breakfast consisted of waffles in the shape of Texas–you can only imagine how big they were. We packed our bags, said “Adios!” and went on our merry way.

Next stop—Cadillac Ranch.

Cadillac Ranch is an iconic pit stop off the side of the Interstate on Route 66 in Amarillo. Free and open to the public, the stop is a popular destination. With 10 Cadillacs buried in the ground, front first, the tail end of the vehicles sticks out of the ground. Visitors are encouraged to bring a can of spray paint, or pick up one of the many leftover cans, and leave your mark on your choice of “Caddie.”

IMG_0097.JPG

As we pulled up, we could see the cars in the distance eagerly awaiting for us to come and enjoy their eccentricity. Even though it was the beginning of July, the air was cool that morning. Cody and I along with a lone biker were the only visitors at the time.

There is something special about exploring a neat attraction like this without the hustle and bustle of a crowd. We perused through the row of Cadillacs, taking in all of the pieces of art spray painted onto them. We made conversation with the only other visitor there–a biker who had been riding his motorcycle cross-country. That’s another great thing about vacations; when you travel away from your hometown you become more open to meeting new people (even if it’s only for five minutes) and seeing a snippet of where they come from and who they are.

img_0092

Back on the road again, we left the vastness of Texas and entered into New Mexico, “The Land of Enchantment.” With no big stops in mind we pushed on through New Mexico, only stopping to get a picture by the state sign and to eat our delicious turkey and cheese sandwiches on the back of the tailgate again.

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Late afternoon, we made it to Blanca, Colorado, closer than ever to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. The road to the park is long and straight with the Sangre de Cristo Mountains on one side and valley on the other.

From a distance, the Great Sand Dunes don’t look so “great,” but the closer you get the more the dunes grow. What looked like small sand mounds a few miles away, suddenly evolve into the phenomenal wonder they are known for. Entering the park and preserve cost a fee of $15; they charge by the vehicle and number of occupants.

img_0128

It’s humbling to be surrounded by massive sand dunes in one direction and beautiful, green mountains in another. I’ve found that traveling makes you realize how small you are and how big and beautiful the world is. There is so much to see and do!

When we first got to the Great Sand Dunes and passed through the toll booth, we made a stop at the visitor’s center and gift shop to learn more about how the sand dunes were created. I have an ongoing collection of magnets from places Cody and I have traveled to, so I of course bought a magnet to document our time there.

After visiting the center, we drove down the road and parked in the parking lot that is located by the entrance to the dunes. Walking through a little opening in the trees, we saw the full view of the dunes and how amazing they truly are.

IMG_0131.JPG

Medano Creek at the Great Sand Dunes

 

It was almost like being at the beach; people had towels and umbrellas set up near Medano Creek. To reach the dunes, we had to walk through Medano Creek while the cool water splashed onto our legs.

As we trudged through the warm sand, I felt like we had been transported to a desert. People who were on the very top of the dunes looked like ants from where Cody and I were standing. The atmosphere at the Great Sand Dunes was so welcoming; families were spending time near the creek, adventurers were making their way to the top in hopes of sliding down in their sled at full-speed and others were just taking in the overall beauty of the place.

sand-dunes

If you have fur babies, they are welcome at the Great Sand Dunes! We saw a couple with their big dog having a blast on the dunes.

Zapata Falls

A trip to the Great Sand Dunes wouldn’t be complete without camping at Zapata Falls. The road up to this campsite isn’t for the weary. A patient driver or a 4-wheel drive vehicle makes the ride go a lot smoother.

The Zapata Falls Campground doesn’t take reservations so on busy weekends it is best to go early and stake out the best spot. Luckily, since we arrived on a Sunday afternoon plenty of spots were open. We picked an isolated spot near the restrooms with an absolutely breathtaking view.

img_0167

The gorgeous view!

img_0169

Our campsite at the Zapata Falls Campground

Since we had entered Colorado it had gotten colder as we rose in elevation and only got chillier as we climbed up even further to get to the Zapata Falls campsite. The campground is 9,000 feet in elevation and is at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

The $11 fee to camp at this particularly campsite is cheap especially for the views you get to enjoy. Along with the views, an abundance of chipmunks roam around the campground, running around the trees and rocks.

img_0162

We set up camp in the back of the truck and snacked on trail mix before dinner. We couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. Through the entire trip and all of the places we ended up visiting, this campsite stuck with us as one of our favorites.

We ended the night with the best camp dessert known to anyone–s’mores. I had my share of one three s’mores before we headed into the cozy camper shell and got a good night’s rest. The next day we had plans to hike to Zapata Falls, quite a feat for two people who weren’t experts at hiking.

It’s Been A While…

Two years! Two, long years since my last post.

In 2014, I originally started this blog for a school assignment. My professor gave me free reign to choose the topic and stories to write about. I absolutely loved having the freedom to write about whatever I wanted!

Life got busy (as it usually does), after that particular class ended I fell away from posting. Since then I’ve traveled and experienced a roller coaster of adventures on my trips.

The picture below is a teaser of what’s to come now that I’ve returned to the “blogosphere.”

IMG_0208

My boyfriend and travel companion, Cody, and I in Colorado.

I look forward to sharing tips for traveling, delicious camping recipes, information on national and state parks and all of the quirky pit stops that can’t be missed. Lace up your hiking boots, because it’s going to be one fun journey!

Showing Local Love

Showing pride for the state you’ve grown up in is always a great thing. Each state has different, unique landscapes that add to their individuality. When you begin exploring the state you live in it can help you realize that your state carries its own hidden gems that show their true beauty.

If you happen to live in Oklahoma, or enjoy a good road trip, visiting the Chickasaw National Recreation Area is a must. When you think of a national park or national recreation area your mind may immediately jump to the big leagues such as the Grand Canyon National Park or Yellowstone National Park, but sometimes smaller parks near you can have attractions and history just as great as the bigger national parks.

Joe, father of two and longtime outdoorsman, always appreciates traveling to new places and being out in the wilderness. He has visited the Chickasaw National Recreation Area and enjoyed his time there.

“My favorite part of the Chickasaw National Recreation Area is how remote it seems, even when it’s so close to civilization,” says Joe.

Travertine Creek Source: Jonathan C. Wheeler

Travertine Creek
Source: Jonathan C. Wheeler

The Chickasaw National Recreation Area is located in Sulphur, Okla. It along with The Artesian and many other new businesses have given Sulphur a new name for itself. The town is becoming a great place to take a little getaway to enjoy nature or do some shopping at some of the upscale shops.

Dan Winings, a park ranger at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, has knowledge and firsthand experience working in the area.

“The Park was originally established as Sulphur Springs Reservation in 1902, in order to preserve the natural mineral springs found in the park. The land was purchased from Chickasaw Nation. In 1906, the U.S. Congress designated the area Platt National Park. In 1976, 9,000 acres were added to the park and it was renamed Chickasaw National Recreation Area, in honor of the Chickasaw that originally owned the land,” says Dan.

According to the Sulphur Chamber of Commerce, streams and lakes cater to boaters, swimmers and anglers, while its forests and prairies reward hikers, wildlife photographers and campers.

“The most unique feature of the park is its location within the Cross Timbers area of Oklahoma. This area is where three different ecosystems meet together. The eastern deciduous forest, the tall grass prairie to the north and the mixed grass prairie to the west,” says Dan. “This makes Chickasaw National Recreation Area one of the most diverse areas in the U.S.”

Little Niagra Source:  Jonathan C. Wheeler

Little Niagra
Source: Jonathan C. Wheeler

Little Niagra is considered one of the hot spots at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. It draws several visitors, especially during the summer months, to its refreshing and clear water. I remember spending several great summer days enjoying the cool water at Little Niagra and relishing in the nature surrounding me.

“My favorite memory is when I was young we would travel there and campout, fish and hike. I loved Travertine Creek, it is a beautiful place to take the family,” says Joe.

There is definitely no shortage of activities to participate in when you visit the area. Dan says some of the most popular activities are:

  • Auto touring
  • Biking
  • Bird watching
  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • Picnicking
  • Fishing
  • Hunting
  • Swimming
  • Water skiing

With so many activities to choose from boredom doesn’t exist during your time at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area.

Whether you are traveling alone for a peaceful retreat or planning a memorable trip with family and friends, there’s no chance you’ll be disappointed in choosing the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. Always remember to show appreciation for local parks in your state, some of the best memories can be made at them!

A Park for All Tastes

Rushing waterfalls, peaceful meadows and majestic mountains all can be found in one unique national park. Yosemite National Park offers a diversity of sights for all ages to enjoy.

Tunnel_View

Tunnel View at Yosemite National Park; Source: Wikipedia

Things to do and places to see.

Sheila, mother of two and an enthusiastic traveler, visited Yosemite National Park and has never forgotten her time at the park.

“My favorite thing about Yosemite was having a picnic lunch atop Glacier Point looking at Half Dome and down into the valley. You could see the major waterfalls too. It was amazing,” says Sheila.

Half_Dome_from_Glacier_Point,_Yosemite_NP_-_Diliff

Half Dome in Yosemite National Park; Source: Wikipedia

Kari Cobb, Public Affairs Specialist at Yosemite National Park, says, “Yosemite has so much to offer. It’s a park that anyone can enjoy regardless of how comfortable you are in the wilderness. For those that want a more natural visit, with less crowds, no development or stores, there’s Tuolumne Meadows, in the northern part of the park to explore. For those that aren’t as comfortable letting go of civilization, Yosemite Valley is the place to be. And for those who want a quieter experience, but still not let go of all the human comforts, Wawona is the place to be. No matter what your comfort level with the outdoors is, Yosemite can provide it.”

According to National Geographic, the park’s giant sequoia trees can live to be more than 3,000 years old. The towering sequoia trees can make you feel so small standing next to their majestic height. When you really focus on how amazing the environment is at Yosemite it can make any bad thing seem good.

redwood grizzly giant

Grizzly Giant in Yosemite National Park; Source: Wikipedia

One day at Yosemite.

“We were on a nine day road trip from Oklahoma to California with many places to see. So what do you do when you only have one day at Yosemite? You do what we did, we took a guided tour,” says Sheila. “It was amazing. Our tour guide had our shuttle bus at each stop at the right time and knew how to maneuver through all the traffic which would have taken us so long to find all the highlights of the park. He even spent extra time with us that day making sure we saw all the best spots.”

Extended stay at Yosemite.

When planning to stay a prolonged time at Yosemite rather than just one day you may wonder, “Where should I stay?” It all depends on whether you want to be inside or outside. If you prefer sleeping under the stars then camping at one of Yosemite’s campgrounds is the ideal choice. But if you fancy a more luxurious stay at Yosemite a vacation at one of Yosemite’s lodges is also a great choice.

According to TripAdvisor, the Ahwahnee lodge is the number one hotel in Yosemite. Yosemite also offers several vacation rentals that offer a more private option.

“Most people want to camp in Yosemite Valley, as it’s the most popular part of the park to visit,” says Kari.

Winter, spring, summer or fall–when is the best time to visit Yosemite?

“Each season has something to offer. Spring–the temperatures are still cool. The waterfalls are at their peak and the flowers are starting to bloom…summer–the temperatures are great for swimming and relaxing in the sun. However, this is our peak visitation season and it can be very busy in Yosemite Valley…fall–the temperatures are still warm during the day but cool at night. The entire park is still open….winter–visitation is very minimal. Often times the park is covered in snow and the scenery is absolutely stunning,” says Kari.

No matter when you choose to visit Yosemite National Park it is guaranteed it will be stunning any time of the year. I’ll never forget my own time at Yosemite and would go back in an instant. Yosemite National Park is a park that has almost everything about nature encompassed into one place.

10 Tips for Camping at a National or State Park

Pick a national or state park and do research.

  • Every national and state park offers something different than the other. Find the park that best fits what everyone is interested in doing while camping.

Reserve a campsite.

  • Some campsites allow campers to reserve a spot ahead of time while others have a “first come, first serve” rule. If possible always reserve a campsite. Campers can choose online where they would like to camp and pay in advance. This can make camping less stressful if the campsite is already picked out and paid for.

Pack for all types of weather.

  • At all times plan for the weather to change. If it’s cold bring electric blankets, heaters and plenty of blankets. If the weather looks like it’ll be hot don’t forget a small fan for the tent.

Cody, a passionate camper, says, “Always be prepared for any event even when you think it won’t ever happen, such as rain or the weather changing from hot to cold, or vice versa.”

Can’t forget to bring an old fashioned Dietz lantern while camping!

Can’t forget to bring an old fashioned Dietz lantern while camping!

Always bring bug repellant.

  • No matter where the national or state park is there will always be some type of critter roaming around ready to find its next target. Ticks, mosquitoes, fleas or flies all can be avoided by purchasing bug spray. In Oklahoma, mosquitoes are particularly awful during the summer months so camping without repellant isn’t something many campers do in this state.

Write out a packing list and double check it when getting ready to leave.

  • One of the worst things about camping is forgetting something at home. For example, leaving behind a can opener can result in having to use a dull knife to open cans, definitely not a desirable situation to be in. To make sure that doesn’t happen, make a list a week before and check off items while packing.

Plan a fun activity.

  • Activities at national or state parks are endless. They range from fishing to hiking to kayaking and tons more. Experience some of the outdoors and try an activity that is special to that park while camping.

Robin who shares her advice about camping on her site Camping-Expert, says, “I feel at peace canoeing… but, I also love hiking and feeling the ground under my feet, and knowing all the distance traveled has been with just my two legs.”

Never, ever forget to bring s’mores.

  • This speaks for itself. It isn’t a camping trip without the delicious combination of gooey, burnt marshmallows, melted chocolate and graham crackers.

“So many great memories were made when all of my family would get together around the fire and tell all kinds of stories about the past, we had a lot of good laughs and great meals,” says Cody.

Cody starting a campfire at Petit Jean State Park

Cody starting a campfire at Petit Jean State Park

Make tin foil dinners.

  • To cut back on cleanup and the hassle of cooking dinner, tin foil meals are incredibly easy! Tin foil meals offer several variations. All that is needed is any type of meat, such as beef or chicken, vegetables and some butter. Put the meat, vegetables and butter in a foil packet and then lay the packet on the fire to cook. Once it is cooked through, enjoy a no mess meal by the campfire!

“Make ice in a freezer at home and save on the cost of buying it when the time of the trip comes,” says Cosby.

  • Any money saved while camping is a good thing. Keeping a cooler stocked with ice is a must while camping and what better way to do it than with your own ice!

Most of all, relax and have fun!                                                                                                          

  • “Have fun! If you’re not having fun, you’re missing the point. You’re there to enjoy yourself, and so you should enjoy everything nature has to offer,” says Robin.

For more great camping tips and advice, check out Robin’s website, Camping-Expert.