As folks get rolling out to the U.S. National Parks and the rest of the great outdoors for Summer, here are three things to know plus one bonus idea.
1. Watch for the AM radio sign for the latest updates and tune in!
This is usually posted as a road sign as you’re driving in toward a national park
Sometimes the park’s official website will also note it
In one case, this was invaluable to listen to heading into Utah’s Zion National Parks last Spring, as droves of people were coming in and it informed us of scarce parking and the existence of a shuttle ahead of time. At Moab, it gave us early warning of all the internal campsite closures due to road construction so we knew to look outside the park perimeter.
When I was a kid in Minnesota, I went to this one summer day camp where they taught us, among other things,* to waterproof regular matches by painting clear nail polish on them. Years later living in Seattle, I diligently painted and dried each match this way. That’s the Dahlia Lounge matches you see in the picture. Then for about 4 years I brought them with for car camping and found they were annoyingly hard to strike, delaying my access to delicious and/or experimental dehydrated camp meals. I ended up defaulting to regular ones, like the ones above from Fish and Game Hudson here. Conclusion: you could also always go for survival matches like the ones above, or regular ones in a ziploc bag. Sometimes DIY is overrated.
*I vaguely recall them also teaching us to cut radishes into rose shapes…
Here’s one from my significant other’s mountaineering class. I froze my ass off camping in in Bryce Canyon so you don’t have to.
While camping, you can fill a large nalgene (or other water) bottle with hot water before bed, and put it in your sleeping bag for extra warmth all night! If you find the surface a little burn-y to your skin, you can wrap a bandana around the bottle.
Bonus warmth points if you drink all the water once you wake up. Staying hydrated, friends!
Discovery in the desert, Moab, Utah near Arches National Park:
While on the road, you can use a large Nalgene bottle (or other water bottle) as a stand-in for a foam roller to roll out your thighs and other muscles, a great plus if you, say, went for a hike while car camping and have sore muscles! For my petite frame, my size water bottle worked (see slightly awkward feature photo for this post). If you have larger thighs, try a longer water bottle. Gonna be thirsty anyway.
Me (via email): We appear to have entered some anomaly in the space time continuum. Kris’ watch says 10pm, mine says 8, and the car says 9. Who knows what time or what age we will return to after our road trip…
I look down and toe the red-brown dirt at my feet. I look up, and a vast horizon unfolds before me, the carpet of dirt for miles, dotted with the occasional tenacious yellow-green scrub bush. Far beyond, a ribbon wall of canyon cliffs lines the horizon. It is striped vermillion, pink, and a subtle purple in the dawn light. Distant rocky mountains toooed with snow peek out from beyond some unseen border. Above, the sky begins to lighten to its blue blue tint for the day, a vast and airy canopy smudged by some unseen but zealous artist with wisps of cloud.
The fresh bracing air whispers by, and carries a faint low of distant cows breaking their fast.
When I close my eyes, I can still see the desert, and it whispers in my ear with tranquil calm from eons of age.
Sometimes, don’t you just want to set the world on fire?
No? Well, maybe at least shake it around a little to tell it to behave itself better? Doesn’t the state of it just break your heart some days?
Let’s go back to setting things on fire. I extra-think plenty on the things that are hugely wrong with the world when I’m in the city, but let’s take 10 here for a fireside break of something to warm your heart (and belly). Not discounting it: my sincerest condolences to the families who have suffered losses by the products of our institutional racism and other issues built up over decades of bias. I’m sorry the rest of the post may land tone-deaf, I have no reasonable segue to such a trivial topic below. :(..
Stay tuned for some scenic photos that will hopefully prove a little calming and restful.
I found this gluten-free chocolate cherry cake recipe and used it to make a raspberry chocolate cake in a dutch oven by campfire. Below are the basic steps re-written the way I did them. This was a good one to prep and fire up before dinner, and let sit and finish cooking while you eat the main meal.
Before more recent whirlwind adventures to a wedding in Vermont, K____ and I took a brief respite to camp in the North Cascades National Park. The votes are in, and the top winning option for next blog post was Campfire Cooking Methods! Special thanks to Logistikris for the unique comment entry of ‘Campfire chocoraspberry cake.’ I’ll try to cover chocoraspberry cake next. We were only there a couple nights, or: “as long as my back will take tent sleeping,” and “that’s how long the giant cooler of ice and frozen meats lasts to a safe-ish temp.”
Method Part 1: Pack it!
If you were a compulsive planner like me, you might list what you’d like to eat on your camping trip, and portion out ingredients as you pack up the accompanying junk food (in my house any road trip merits a hiatus from healthier eating). This time, I had in mind..
chocolate raspberry cake
and traditional sausage-bacon-egg-potato breakfast foods
In retrospect, it was too much in one night’s work to prep everything and also make spam musubi, but yeah, that’s what I did (even with lots of help from K___). If you are NOT a compulsive planner like me, I leave it to you to wing it like you do (i.e. like a BOSS). Really, I only measured things out for the first two items listed there, and I cheated with box chocolate cake mix. It’s camping, not the Iron Chef. I also made a little mix of balsamic vinegar and olive oil which came in handy as dressing and marinade.
Method Part 2: Fire, not for backpacking -especially in high-fire-prone areas.
With the exception of marshmallow roasting, you want a low, even fire with plenty of coals. K____ and I treated fire-building like a team sport, with him as captain. We spread the logs out pretty wide for cooking, to make room for an even surface for the tools. Want more on this? Let me google that for you... Don’t forget to read up before you are out of cell phone reception zones. Obvi, if you are backpacking, all this “camping” is a whole different ball game.
Method Part 3: Tools
Here’s what the latest full-scale carried-a-little-too-far Wong Way of camping entails for cooking tools:
Tool 1: Cast Iron Skillet
-Needs: high temp cooking oil or butter, don’t forget the metal flipper!
-Good for bacon and all-purpose random cooking, especially when you snag the last possible campsite and it turns out to have no standard grill rack.
-Bad for open-flame potatoes.
-Obviously a bad idea for for light-weight packs.
Tool 2: Dutch Oven
-Good for making cake, probably good for a lot else too, like stew. It really holds the heat in.
-Bad for your back. This thing is so heavy. At least that means the squirrels can’t mess with it, only Yogi Bear.
-ditto on the backpacking
Tool 3: Aluminum Foil
-Good for..tubers, if you can get coals. Much better to wrap potatoes than expose them in cooking on a skillet. It was useful to shape handles on top of them for easier maneuvering.
-Also good for fashioning makeshift plateware and utensils, for that one time when you forgot sporks.
Tool 4: Percolator. Just add water!
-Good for coffee, tea, hot cocoa
–Hot toddies (basically, pre-mix everything but the water and lemon).
-Easy mac & cup noodle.
-Thermos + raw chicken noodle soup to cook over time.
Surprise Winning Tool: Percolator?!
That’s right, folks. While I’m grateful for the delicious breakfast K___ served up via skillet, and the fully-baked cake thanks to how well the dutch oven holds heat in, the percolator was the one I was most grateful to have, both to stave off a caffeine headache in the morning with coffee, and to keep me really cozy in the evening with hot toddies. It also felt like the easiest, most versatile one with endless possibilities. Maybe my opinion is swayed too strongly by how precious having water was on this trip since they hadn’t turned on the taps on the North Cascades yet. Oops.
Second Runner Up: Dutch Oven! This one is getting googled some more for the next camping trip. I’d probably rather just cheat directly with hot cakes’ take ‘n’ bake for smaller portion sizes on cakes, but I think you might get a good stew out of the dutch oven instead. They even come with campfire directions!
Safety Notes: on meat thermometers and a giant cooler on wheels..
-It’s definitely good to not poison yourself (see: safe cooking temps for meat).
-Tried to store meats on the bottom of the cooler, separated by ziplocs for extra OCD-style care.
-Tried to cook the more salmonella-prone items first, like eggs.