Three ways to enjoy Natural Bridge Campground in Oregon

Natural Bridge Campground 1

By Rita Myers

I think there’s something extremely magical about the world around us that it never seems to run out of beautiful places to see or exciting things to do. Just when you think you’ve “seen it all,” a new thing comes along to surprise you.

That’s how I felt when my family and I first set foot in Natural Bridge Campground in Oregon.

Oregon is filled with an incredible landscape of mountains, lush forests, extensive farms, crystal blue coastal shorelines, and stunning beaches. It is one of the places in the US that I consider an outdoor haven.

Whenever we visit this Pacific Northwestern state, we make sure to visit Natural Bridge. It is a great place full of fun outdoor activities that’s perfect for the family.

I’ll be giving you a list of three things that you can do in Natural Bridge Campground.

 

AT A GLANCE: NATURAL BRIDGE CAMPGROUND OREGON

NATURAL BRIDGE CAMPGROUND

 

THINGS TO DO AT NATURAL BRIDGE CAMPGROUND

  1. Enjoy The Water
  2. Explore The Mountains
  3. Erase Your Troubles

 

CONCLUSION

 

NATURAL BRIDGE CAMPGROUND

Natural Bridge Campground 5
Wild and Scenic Rogue River in Southern Oregon in Fall

 

The Natural Bridge Campground is located in the High Cascades District, and it rests beside the beautiful Rogue River in southwestern Oregon. The river flows 215 miles west from the Cascade Range to the Pacific Ocean.

The river is very popular with lots of different campsites positioned along it, including Natural Bridge.

What I love about Natural Bridge Campground is that it is very simple, not crowded, and huge – and I mean, huge. The fact that 17 campsites fit inside Natural Bridge should be a pretty good indicator of just how big it really is.

 

THINGS TO DO AT NATURAL BRIDGE CAMPGROUND

There are a few activities that you can do in the campgrounds. Here are three things my family and I enjoy doing while we are in Natural Bridge Campground.

1. ENJOY THE WATER

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Water Falls on Upper Rogue River in Oregon.

 

Since the campground is found along the Rogue River, it’s only natural to take a dip in it. A great way you and your family can enjoy Rogue River is through boating, kayaking, or rafting.

The river encircles the entire campground, so you won’t run out of space even if there are a lot of people.

The waters in the Upper Rogue River are stronger, which is where you can do your rafting. You can rent out boats, paddles, and life jackets from the staff there.

RAFTING TIPS: Remember your safety when rafting! Dress appropriately, always wear your life jacket or flotation device, hold the paddle properly, stay in the boat, listen to your guide, and don’t panic!

There’s a pretty cool video of some visitors rafting through Rogue River and Natural Bridge. Check it out below!

 

 

If you have your own fishing poles, you can go fishing in the river.  The water is calm by the main area of the campground where a lot of rainbow trout like to hang out.

Whenever we are here, my husband loves to teach our sons how to fish by the river while I prepare our picnic or relax in the water.

If extreme watersports or fishing isn’t your sort of thing, you can always just go swimming instead.

But since I love all of you and love sharing all my experiences with the outdoors, I’ll let you in on a secret. What my family and I like to do is bring our own inflatables like a swim ring, floating seats, and floating beds.

Since the water near the main part of the campsite is calm, it’s a great place to just lay back, float around, and relax.

 

2. EXPLORE THE MOUNTAIN

 

Natural Bridges Campground 4

I’m a strong believer that a camping trip isn’t complete if you don’t go exploring the surrounding mountains or forest through hiking, climbing, or even biking.

In Natural Bridge Campground, you’ll find mountains on both sides of the river that are trail-less and great for hiking or climbing. Of course, there is a trail you can take as well, but sometimes I like to explore other areas.

The hiking loop around the river is an easy one that’s great for kids or beginners. Despite the fact that most of the trail is near the river, it’s eerily peaceful and quiet while you walk through the trail.

One of the reasons why I love hiking is that it helps me clear my mind. There’s nothing more relaxing to me than spending time staring out into the wilderness and just silencing my mind, even for just a few moments.

If you’re curious as to how the trail looks at Natural Bridge, you can check out this short video.

 

Since the campground is really huge, you can also go biking. Besides fishing with their dad, my sons enjoy biking in the campgrounds. But bring your own bike because there aren’t any for rent.

 

IMPORTANT REMINDER: There are no garbage cans in the campgrounds. So if you see any trash while out in the trail, please pick it up and take it with you. The same goes for your own trash – keep it until you find proper disposals.

 

3. ERASE YOUR TROUBLES

Natural Bridge Campground 2

 

If you really think about the reason people go out camping in the first place, it’s probably because they want to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life or the stresses of being an adult.

Natural Bridge Campgrounds can provide you a place where you can erase your troubles by simply relaxing.

This is also a perfect place to go out on a retreat because the campground offers both single and group tents. There are also picnic tables and fire pits for you to cook your fresh catch of fish.

This means it’s also a great place for a group of friends. You can grill some burgers, enjoy a bottle of beer, and play some camping drinking games by the fire. Really, the place is great for anyone.

 

CONCLUSION

 

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The Rogue River near the Natural Bridge

If you want to spend some quiet time with nature or to hang out by a river, the Natural Bridge Campgrounds in Oregon is the place to go.

There is nothing better than watching your sons fish with their dad, or spend time sharing stories with your friends around a campfire.

Even though there isn’t a load of activities to do in Natural Bridge compared to other campgrounds, it’s still a great place to go where you can enjoy the river, explore the mountains, and erase your troubles.

 

 

If you’ve enjoyed this list, feel free to share it with your friends! If you’ve visited Natural Bridge Campground lately, tell me how it went, I’d love to hear from you!

As always, stay safe and have a happy adventure!

 

Journey to the Medicine Wheel

Medicine Wheel 1

By Robin EH. Bagley

Sitting just under 10,000 feet on a windswept Wyoming mountain, the Medicine Wheel welcomes visitors, if you’re game enough to get there. This ancient Native American site does not give up her secrets easily, but that makes the journey even more rewarding. This is one of those off-the-beaten path destinations, way off.

The Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark sits atop Medicine Mountain in Wyoming’s Bighorn National Forest. Located along a gravel US Forest Service road off US Highway 14A (“a” as in “alternate”) and at an elevation of 9642 feet, it’s not exactly a roadside attraction.  Depending on how you approach the wheel, it’s 25 miles east of Lovell, WY or 46 miles west of Sheridan, WY. As you drive Hwy 14A, watch for elk, moose, and black bear. After you arrive at the small visitor center (small as in the only building is the bathroom), you still have to hike the last mile-and-a-half as the site itself is closed to vehicles. After you trek up the mountain, past snowfields that linger into July and shy yellow-bellied marmots, you eventually top out and see the wheel.

 

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Wild lupine

 

But what exactly is the Medicine Wheel? The exact purpose and age of the wheel is unknown. The wheel is constructed from stone, and is 80 feet in diameter with 28 alignments that radiate out from the central stone cairn. Medicine Wheels are integral to many Native American spiritual practices with the circle representing the sacred hoop of life and death as well as the outer boundary of the Earth. No one knows exactly why it was constructed or by whom. Researchers believe it was constructed between 500 – 1500 years ago. However, it’s still an active spiritual site, with over 50 tribes per year performing ceremonies at the wheel. It is a spiritual place, a place for reflection, prayer, vision quests, spiritual guidance. Due to the ongoing usage, the wheel is not the site of an archaeological dig, which would disturb the wheel’s spiritual purpose, making it impossible to date precisely.

A number of tribes still use the site for ceremonial purposes, including the Arapaho, Blackfeet, Bannock, Cheyenne, Crow, Kootenai-Salish, Lakota, Plains Cree, and Shoshone. Interpretive staff told me that over 50 tribes performed ceremonies last year, and that number has even reached over 80. Any North American Native American/First People’s tribe can get permits to use the site. At times, the site may be closed 45 – 60 minutes for ceremonies. You’ll notice numerous offerings tied to the rope fencing around the site; these are not to be disturbed. Nor should you leave any offerings unless you are a Native American.

 

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Dream catcher

 

While the exact age of the wheel is unknown, the trail you walk up to reach the site is a known travel route dating back 10,000 years. Though used by North American indigenous people for centuries, it wasn’t discovered by white settlers until 1850 when trappers came across it. The first scholarly article about the medicine wheel appeared around 1900. It was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1970 and is managed by the US Forest Service in an agreement with various tribes and organizations.

When you arrive, you’ll be standing in alpine tundra. Be careful to stay on the trails so as not to disturb any archaeological artifacts or the delicate alpine plants. The Medicine Wheel is surrounded by a protective rope fence with a trail running around the perimeter. Please walk around the trail to the left and do not enter the gate without a permit. If your visit coincides with a ceremony, please do not disturb or even photograph the ceremony. This is a sacred site, so please speak in hushed tones and silence your cell phone. Dogs are allowed up to the site, but not the trail circling the wheel, and must be leashed at all times.

While the Medicine Wheel sees thousands of visitors from all over the nation and world every year, you’ll find it very quiet compared to some of the more popular spots in Wyoming, such as Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Parks. The Bighorns aren’t on most people’s radar much more than a stopover on the way to Yellowstone. It’s a large national forest, much of it wilderness, and would be big news anywhere else, except here where it sits in the shadows of the national parks. Solitude is easy to come by here.

 

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The trail

 

However, it’s not entirely quiet. The wind is ever-present at that elevation, be sure to have a jacket even in the midst of summer. But more than that, there’s a quiet energy that hums around the site. It’s immensely peaceful, standing out there on that mountaintop with a huge view opening up to the sky. If you ever need a reminder of how small your problems and concerns are, this is an excellent place for perspective.

For more information on visiting the Medicine Wheel, visit the Bighorn National Forest website at www.fs.usda.gov/bighorn. The site is only open from mid-June to mid-September due to snow. No camping is allowed at the site but there are several nearby Forest Service campgrounds, such as Porcupine and Bald Mountain Campgrounds. Be ready for changeable weather and very chilly conditions at night, the temperature can be 20 – 30 degrees cooler in the mountains, and drops at night. The Bighorns are also home to moose and black bears, use caution and do not approach.

 

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Buffalo skull

 

Beautiful Treks in the North of Italy

By Alessia Morello

If you are a trekking lover, the north of Italy with its thousands of trails is the ideal place to go.

Whether you decide to go trekking in the Alps, Dolomites or Friulian Dolomites, the scenery will always be spectacular and full of pleasant encounters such as deer, eagles, marmots, cows and goats… and yes! Sometimes you can find bears but is very rare to meet them.

In Italy the flags to follow in the paths are white and red, and usually very well marked so don’t worry and always follow the rule n.1 “never leave the path”.

Here my top 5 of the most beautiful Treks in the north of Italy divided into regions:

Trekking in FRIULI VENEZIA GIULIA

L’anello delle Dolomiti Friulane – The ring of the Friulian Dolomites

In the middle of the less known dolomites is an incredible 4-day trek that reaches the Pacherini, Pordenone, Padova and Giaf shelters where you can sleep and refresh yourself. You will cross the wonderful and wild valleys of the unknown groups of Pramaggiore, Monfalconi, Spalti di Toro and Cridola.

Prepare yourself on high altitude walks, to the overcoming of many forks at several meters in altitude more than once a day, to established paths and the trek along the beautiful gentian trail and under the symbol of this region: the “Campanile di Val montanaia”. Breathless.

Have a look at a video I made from this area:

 

Il sentiero degli Scalini – The path of the stairs

The Passo dei Scalini Trail is located in the Western Julian Alps and is part of the Jof Fuart group. Starts from Sella Nevea at 1180 m. and arrives at the passo of the Scalini at 2022 meters in 3 hours between woods, alpine huts where the cheese is produced, waterfalls and high altitude views. Carrying on you can arrive at the Corsi Hut at 1874 meters. This shelter is an amazing red building totally surrounded by a semicircle mountain range and hundreds of rock goats.

The walk is not so difficult but long so if you are not trained for this when you arrive at the top turn yourself around and come back.

Beautiful Treks in the North of Italy 1

 

Trekking in VENETO

Trekking from Cortina D’ampezzo to the Croda da Lago alpine Hut

Cortina d’Ampezzo is one of the most famous and glamorous alpine destinations in Italy in summer and winter. During their winter season many famous sky races are organized here and in the amazing summer time it is possible to explore the dolomites through some amazing paths.

This trek is not so difficult but gives you the chance to see stunning views in just 4 hours of walking. The Hut is at 2042 meters but keep walking to the lake above, as the peaks of the mountains reflected in the calm waters of the alpine lake are something to be seen once in a lifetime.

Beautiful Treks in the North of Italy 2

 

Trekking in TRENTINO ALTO ADIGE

Trekking in the Dolomites high panoramic view – Alta via panoramica delle Dolomiti

This itinerary offers one of the most beautiful scenic views that you can admire throughout the Dolomite area! The first part of the trek can also be walked with kids until the hut in 1.5 hours, but the second part is recommended only for trained hikers. From the Valcroce mountain station you climb up Bressanone and through the pastures you reach the Rossalm hut, after which you could proceed to the “Gampenwiesen” meadows.

An amazing trekking that give you the chance to visit Bressanone as well, famous for having the majority population speaking German, for the beautiful churches and gardens, bridges and fountains and its spas. Really recommended!

 

Trekking the Tre cime di Lavardo from Misurina Lake – Le tre cime di Lavaredo dal lago Misurina

If you only have to choose one of these treks I will not make it difficult to choose this one. The tour of the three peaks of Lavaredo is one of the most beautiful landscaping trekking in Italy. It starts already, from 2320 meters, from the Rifugio Auronzo which can be reached by car and rises up to 2454 meters in 4/5 hours. You can find more info here from the official site: http://www.tre-cime.info/it/sesto/sesto/vivere-sesto/tre-cime-di-lavaredo-unesco.html 

Beautiful Treks in the North of Italy 3

 

Beautiful Treks in the North of Italy 4

 

The Dolomites have been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site so you can imagine which shows with different scenarios await you.

Italy is famous for the sea but the mountains are also amazing and the food you can find there is healthy and at zero kilometer. This means that milk, butter, meat and vegetables are produced in the same valley you stay during your holiday. Beyond the support you give to the farmers, you can eat fresh food without preservatives and additives.

Sleeping and eating in alpine huts helps small communities to stay alive and to allow us to have unique place to stay.  Another cool thing is that all the treks in Italy are managed and maintained by volunteers for free so spend time in this little villages is really important for the Alpine villages.

So what are you waiting for!?

Italy is waiting for you!

 

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Alessia Morello lives in the north-east of Italy. After working for several years around the world she decide to stop and come back in her homeland and do the things she loves like trekking into the Dolomites with her dog Giorgino and creating posts and videos for her blog. She grew up doing outdoor adventures with the family and now the nature is part of her life. Other interests? Rock climbing, mountain bike trails, cooking vegetarian recipes and having fun!

Follow her travels at www.theitaliansmoothie.com and on Instagram and Facebook.

 

Glamping Southern California Destinations

By Lucy Gomez

Are you wondering about what glamping Southern California means? Did you know that there are a lot of places where you and your loved ones can go glamping? Get to know these amazing destinations by reading the information below.

For people who don’t know, glamping Southern California means going camping while enjoying the beautiful glamourous sky that is full of stars in comfort. Glamping is short term for glamour camping, wherein nature is giving you the best that it has to offer as you enjoy personal comforts.

Some nature sites already have everything that you need for camping or just relaxing, while some will require you to bring pillows and a sleeping bag.

 

Glamping Destination #1 Treebones Resort

Treebones Resort will let you cuddle with your loved one while enjoying the beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean. The good thing about this place is that you no longer have to bring pillows nor sleeping bags, because the place will let you enjoy a queen size bed, crushes that are cushy, electric lights, and heaters. Enjoy the view outside while you relax on their deck chairs, which is also perfect for sunset lovers.

Glamping Southern California 1

Another good thing about Treebones Resort is that there are heated pools, a spa, outdoor bar, restaurant, and a sushi bar. Some other activities that you can enjoy here are kayaking and hiking.

 

Glamping Destination #2 Greater Palm Springs

Greater Palm Springs will let you enjoy a campfire to keep you warm, while a nearby private tent awaits you after a tiring day. Toiletries and sleeping bags should be brought by the guest since the private tents do not have sleeping bags inside. Enjoy the amazing sound of nature while relaxing under the stars. During the day, enjoy seeing desert kit fox, javelinas, cheetahs, and Giraffes.

Glamping Southern California 2

Another good thing about Greater Palm Springs is that they offer a private tour of a desert, which offers the different animals and amazing deserts in the area.

 

Glamping Destination #3 Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park is a four-hour drive from the south of Yosemite Valley. Relax in their cabin with the amazing wilderness. You will surely enjoy the one-mile hike from the parking lot because once you reach the tents, you will surely enjoy the mega style and the glamping that you can do there. All the canvas tents are equipped with cozy beds, with luxurious blankets and rugs. There are also propane lanterns and the amazing view of the Sierra Nevada.

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Another good thing about Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks is that they offer a delicious breakfast and a hike to the high summits, alpine lakes that are jewel-like, and mountain meadows.

 

Glamping Destination #4 Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park will let you work to be able to enjoy the place. This work means you need to do some hiking or a horse packing to different campsites inside the park. This site is open from June through the early days of September. You will love the distances of each park, since they are ten miles apart, which will give you plenty of time to enjoy the beautiful scenery. You will also get to see the Tuolume Meadows, which is known to have the best view in the area.

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The Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks is offering a cabin with a wood stove to keep you warm during the night. They serve family style dinner and breakfast, which you and your family will surely enjoy.

 

Glamping Destination #5 Costanoa Lodge

Costanoa Lodge will let your bike around the redwoods that are towering. You can also do some horseback riding through the coastal meadows and enjoy the tide pools and beaches. The site offers a tent with bedding, WiFi, and electricity. There are other amenities around the area, including body treatments and spa massages, which you will surely love after a tiring day.

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Another good thing about Costanoa is that they will let you enjoy skylights and fireplaces to make your stay enjoyable.

 

These are the glamping Southern California destinations to go to with your love ones. Get close to nature by staying one of these ideal sites for glamping Southern California.

Did you enjoy the list mentioned above? Then sharing it with your family and friends is essential, for them to have an idea on where to go to next time they want to go glamping.

7 Surprising Benefits Of Camping

7 surprising benefits of camping 1

By Rita Myers

Camping trips are a great activity for both family and friends. Often it’s what we do when we feel like we need to “take a break” or “get away from it all.”

Personally I sometimes plan sudden camping trips when I feel like my family and I are overworked or stressed from our daily life. And the results are wondrous! We usually come back home refreshed and recharged.

From personal experience as well as a bit of reading, here is my list of the 7 surprising benefits of camping. I hadn’t really thought of these before, even as I definitely felt the positive effects camping has had on me and my family. Benefit #3 definitely surprised me!

7 Surprising Benefits Of Camping In A Nutshell

Benefit #1: More oxygen – Because there are less pollution and fresher air in campsites and countryside!

Benefit #2: More physical activity – There are more opportunities for physical activity!

Benefit #3: Better nutrient absorption – Being under the sun does more than give you a good tan!

Benefit #4: Sleep – Nature has a way of helping us fix our sleeping patterns!

Benefit #5: Unplug from the world – There won’t be any electrical sockets where you’re going, and that’s a good thing!

Benefit #6: Destress – In the middle of nature, everything is just so much simpler!

Benefit #7: Bonding with family and friends – What else are you going to do on a camping trip?

 

Benefit #1: More oxygen

If you’re used to an urban environment, then you’re used to air that is polluted and quite low on oxygen. But out in the countryside, away from busy streets and factories, the air is a lot cleaner and fresher. More importantly, the air has much more oxygen than you’re used to

Additional oxygen intake helps trigger the release of serotonin in our bodies. Serotonin is the “happy hormone,” which prevents depression and stabilizes our mood.

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More oxygen also improves our brain function. Our brain uses up a lot of the oxygen we breathe in – up to 20%! The oxygen-rich air help enhance alertness and quick thinking.

 

Benefit #2: More physical activity

Between unloading your camping gear, pitching your tent, gathering wood for your small campfire, and setting up your supplies, you will be engaged in a LOT of physical activities . And that’s just from the time you arrive up to the time you’ve finally set up camp!

Physical activity helps you burn calories and gives you the chance to stretch your muscles, especially if you work on  an office chair throughout the week.

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There are many other physical activities you can do while camping, such as hiking, biking fishing, and even some exercise sessions. Be sure to plan out your activities so you can bring the necessary gear!

 

Benefit #3: Better nutrient absorption

This one surprised me when I discovered it. It turns out that being under the sun does more than give you a good tan!

Sunlight always feels great on your skin. That is no accident. Sunlight bombards your body with Vitamin D. Vitamin D helps you absorb more calcium and phosphorus for your bones and teeth. Vitamin D also boosts your immune system!

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Of course, throughout your camping stay, you’ll be out in the sunlight while walking, resting, even eating. That entire time, your body is soaking up Vitamin D. Imagine: just by being in sunlight, you’re already reaping the rewards!

 

 

Benefit #4: Sleep

One other benefit of sunlight is that it keeps our bodies from producing melatonin. Melatonin is a powerful antioxidant hormone. Its key function is to help regulate our sleeping pattern.

Ordinarily, our bodies produce melatonin during the evening, after the sun sets, because exposure to light inhibits melatonin production. However, with modern technology, our bodies are exposed to artificial light even during the evening, and this interferes with our melatonin production cycle.

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That is why a camping trip, far away from artificial light and relying only on the natural day and night cycles, can help us greatly in fixing any sleeping problems we might have such as insomnia.

On top of that, you’ll naturally be tired after a day of nearly non-stop physical activity. What better way to cap off your day at camp than by getting some quality, restful sleep?

 

 

Benefit #5: Eat Fresh

This benefit will require some advance planning, but is well worth it. Camping trips take us away from the usual conveniences of fast food and quick-fix meals (unless we bring them with us).

Light a fire and cook your meals over it for less fat and less oil in your dish. Some campsites allow fishing in nearby lakes or rivers. Take advantage of those for some of the freshest meals you’ll ever cook up!

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Aside from these, fresh fruits and vegetables make for versatile camping food. They stay reasonably fresh throughout the trip and require very little additional preparation. Fruits can be eaten as-is, while vegetables can be eaten raw, steamed, boiled, or even roasted over the campfire.

 

Benefit #6: Destress

Our daily lives are a constant source of pressure and stress. Even at home, we receive work emails with follow-ups for deadlines or pending work. Children have schoolwork to worry about. Even social media, which is supposed to connect us to each other in positive ways, can also be a source of stress and anxiety.

That is why a camping trip is such a welcome respite. The opportunity to just unplug from the rest of the world and focus on yourself and your family is uncommon by today’s routines. Camping trips offer such opportunity, along with so many other great benefits along with it.

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To maximize this period of rest, I highly recommend switching off your gadgets – there’s a good chance your campsite can only make emergency calls anyway. Some campsites do offer WiFi access, but I sincerely advise against using it. It will be difficult to enjoy nature and your company if you are bringing your sources of stress and anxiety along with you.

 

Benefit #7: Bonding with family or friends

Camping trips are the absolute best time to bond with family or friends. There’s just so much to do.

There are many camping games to choose from that are fun and offer an opportunity to get to know your companions better.

You can take reasonable hikes to nearby locations for the sights.

If you camp near a lake or river, you can fish or even take a swim.

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The best part is, any activity you can think of doing, you’ll be doing with family or friends. Getting to socialize with your companions while having fun activities helps to deepen your bonds.

 

Take That Trip

How did you like this article? I always look forward to camping trips with my family because these trips allow me to spend more uninterrupted time with them, away from things that demand our undivided attention such as work or school. As someone who loves the outdoors, I also look forward to getting a bit more sun each time. It doesn’t hurt that there are all these great benefits to camping too!

One thing I noticed, in hindsight, is that I sleep better during our camping trips, and my sleep is always more restful and energizing. It turns out that there’s a whole lot of science and nature working in the background, helping me fix up my body as I sleep!

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What other benefits do you get from your camping trips? Let us know what you think in the comments below, and share the article if you enjoyed it!

 

Anarchy and Otter Pops in East Jesus

East Jesus 1

By Emily Pennington

What do you do when one of your best friends invites you to a debaucherous birthday weekend at an off the grid artist commune deep in the California desert near the Salton Sea? Attend whole-heartedly and experience EVERYTHING you can, of course!

East Jesus is a non-profit, off the grid intentional community founded by the late Charlie Russell in the ass-crack outskirts of Slab City. If you’ve never heard of Slab City, well, it’s known as “the last free place,” and is basically a makeshift town made up of people in RVs and trailers who are, essentially squatting on government land about 4 miles outside of Niland, CA (85 miles southeast of Palm Springs). There’s no water, no power, and no resources, just a bunch of abandoned concrete slabs left over from a WWII base, Camp Dunlap. Oh yeah, and it’s 110 degrees during the daytime in the middle of October.

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In spite of the fact that the sun was actively trying to kill me and nearly every other living thing out there that weekend, I had a freaking awesome time. First off, I got to stay in the best hobo accommodations that money can’t buy – a hand-painted Totoro trailer with tentacles for a doorknob. I got a hand-picked tour of the sculpture garden when I first arrived (this is the only part of East Jesus accessible to tourists unless you’re visiting a resident), which features a hodge podge of assemblage pieces and art cars, broken glass and duck decoys, and a non-functioning Mercedes that has been lit on fire so many times that it is lovingly referred to as the “Car-B-Que.”

To be honest, the daylight hours at East Jesus are brutal. I mostly lay around eating Otter Pops, talking about art and trying not to get bitten by horseflies in between dunks in the cool pool that seriously saved my Scandinavian booty! But, at night… wow! I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I am not a desert person. But, something about the camaraderie of a group meal, the intense flickering of flames from a rusted out Mercedes, and the deep black of the night sky as the stars make their nightly, nomadic journey was truly magical. I giggled my ass off with new friends and ran, half naked, sprinting full force into the interminable blackness of the desert in search of Slab City’s famed hot springs. I soaked my tired bones and stayed up to see the sunrise.

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Now, East Jesus does concern me a bit in the way that many intentional communities concern me, and that is this: I think that, too often, great ideas and experiments in off the grid living are executed in a way that is too far-out, too anarchic, and too poorly packaged for anyone of consequence to take note. The rebellion and chaos themselves seem to take center stage, which can serve to highlight the cracks and weaknesses of these spaces, rather than shifting focus onto some of the truly innovative strategies for clean living that they are implementing. Maybe it’s too much to ask, but I would sincerely love it if a solar-powered, leave-no-trace community sprung up within 30 miles of Los Angeles so that the impact of these ideals could be more easily shared with the population at large, since finding a wide reach and making the project feel accessible are the fastest ways to shift culture.

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But perhaps their inaccessibility is precisely what makes these spaces special. Certainly, Burning Man is a bit more pure because of the massive amount of foresight a pilgrimage to Black Rock City takes. Maybe they are meant to serve as beacons for the brave as they journey across the long night, burning like “fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding,” as Kerouac so aptly put it. There is definitely a large amount of magic hidden in East Jesus; don’t let Wikipedia fool you into thinking it’s a roadside attraction. Have an adventure and see it for yourself.

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Glamping Takes on a Whole New Meaning in Africa!

By Mary Lyons

When I first heard the word “glamping” it didn’t take long to figure out what it meant. As someone who was used to carrying her own backpack, stocked only with essentials, for several miles and then setting up camp in the wilderness, I think I had a different perspective on glamping than most people. To me it meant car camping, having someone else build a fire, and eating at an actual picnic table. A wooden hut at a campground with showers and a store to buy candy? Wow! Now that’s some serious luxury camping! There’s a pool? At a campground? Awesome! We’re glamping!

After two trips to Africa, I now fully understand that none of the above is glamping. I always thought I could never afford to stay at the beautiful campsites I saw in the coffee table books about Africa. And while I still can’t afford many of them, teaching overseas at least meant I could earn enough money to have a genuine glamping experience in Africa. Actually, I had two.

 

GETTING MY GLAMP ON – THE SERENGETI IN TANZANIA

My first safari in Africa was a year and a half ago in Tanzania. I wanted my first safari experience to be on the Serengeti. Wasn’t it Toto that sang “I miss the rains down in Africa”? That’s what I wanted my first safari experience to be like. I knew that the tents would be semi-permanent structures, but I didn’t realize that my meager 500 USD a day had bought me a glamping experience until I actually arrived.

Make no mistake, a safari is expensive. Even a cheap safari experience is expensive. At 500 USD a day, that’s a relatively inexpensive safari. I spent my first night in Tanzania in a stunning hotel at the edge of the Ngorongoro Crater. (Say that three times fast!) Technically, this night wasn’t glamping because I was in a gorgeous hotel. It was so gorgeous, I’m going to post pictures anyway even though it doesn’t qualify as camping in any way!

Hotel room at the Ngorongoro Crater
Luxury digs at the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania
Bathroom at our hotel at the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania

My next two nights were where glamping got really interesting. My campsite in the middle of the Serengeti could accommodate up to 10 people, and there were six total, so three of the five tents were in use. There was a kitchen tent, which we didn’t get to see, and a huge dining tent, as well as a spacious tent for relaxing and having drinks at the end of a long day of safari-ing.

We were welcomed with freshly squeezed juices and a cool towel, and then we were given a tour of the camp while porters took our bags to our tent. There are certain rules in a safari camp, one being that you never go out alone without an escort when it’s dark, for obvious reasons. Another rule in this camp was that if you wanted hot water for your shower, you just had to tell them what time you wanted to take a shower, they would bring hot water to fill your tank outside, sing a little song as they walked away, and you hop in the shower in your tent where the water was so hot, you had to turn on the cold water as well.

Common living area and open bar on the Serengeti

Yep. Hot shower. In my tent. In the middle of the Serengeti. Awesome. There was also a flush toilet and two sinks. This bathroom was nicer than most of the bathrooms in apartments I’ve rented.

What really made this experience luxurious was the service. The people working at the camp were just amazing. We received 5 Star service. These young men were so charming, funny, and gracious. The dining experience was just that – an experience! Breakfast and dinner were each served in three courses on linen tablecloths, and by candlelight at night. The presentation was beautiful and the food was delicious. In fact, the food at our camp was the best food I had the entire two weeks I was in Tanzania.

Dining tent on the Serengeti in Tanzania

I could hear lions outside the first night. Their low, throaty rumbles were intimidating at first, but eventually I fell asleep. Turns out two female lions would often get quite curious about the camp almost every evening. And J.J. the elephant sometimes slept between the sleeping and dining tents, flattening a huge swath of grass! We saw the evidence our second morning in camp.

 

WANNA GO GLAMPING IN BOTSWANA?

I loved every minute of this glamping experience in Tanzania on the Serengeti. It wasn’t long before I started thinking about doing it again, this time in Botswana. So just a year later, I made my way to the Okavango Delta in Botswana. What’s with these African names being so much fun to pronounce? Ngorongoro. Serengeti. Okavango. They sound so exotic. Oh wait! That’s because they are such exotic places!

The Okavango Delta is actually drier, with fairly low water levels, during the rainy season when I was there. It’s the rains that fill the rivers in Central Africa that actually flood the Delta. I visited the Okavango Delta region in January 2017. My friend John, from Philadelphia, joined me, and he’d never been glamping. Actually, I’m not sure he’d ever been camping. So, when I showed him pictures of the tent – with a claw foot tub in the middle! – he was pretty damned excited to come to Botswana, and so was I.

We stayed at Little Kwara Camp which can host 12 people, and when we were there, five of the six tents were rented. I thought I knew what to expect since I had glamped in Tanzania, but I was blown away by these luxurious digs. I had to tell myself to close my mouth, and then I had to tell John. After a flight in a tiny six-seater Cessna, we arrived at Kwara and were met by our guide, Wago, and our spotter, Mike. Wago drove the short distance from the “airport”, and I use the term airport very loosely, to our camp.

Mike was our super spotter on safari!

When we arrived, we were met by Charles, the camp manager, and some lovely ladies who work there. We had fresh guava juice and hot towels to refresh us before going on a tour of the camp.

Holy Schnikey! It was so beautiful! These structures are actually permanent and have underground plumbing. The living room area and dining area were huge, and constructed out of local wood, but open to the elements. There was even a small pool and a shop. But more importantly, there was an open bar, and anything you wanted to drink, you could help yourself after 11:00AM. The fridge had a special baboon-proof lock on it that the rather pesky baboons hadn’t figured out yet. There was also a seating area around a fire pit, and a view of a huge pond, stocked with hippos!

Swimming pool at Little Kwara Camp
Firepit in Little Kwara Camp on a rare dry evening

John and I were shown to our tent, and we couldn’t wait to see the bathtub! Our tent was spacious, beautifully decorated, and had a big back porch with a view of the pond, the hippos, and impala. But the bathtub? Well, isn’t a claw foot tub in the middle of the room just the epitome of glamping? It was to me! John didn’t say a word. He was still in shock, but I don’t know if it was because of the luxury digs or the open bar.

My lodging in Botswana’s Little Kwara Camp
View from our tent in Botswana
Bathroom in our tent in Botswana
The clawfoot tub did get used!

This luxury experience did not include losing any weight. We had breakfast at 5:00AM every day. Muffins, porridge with all the fixins, fruit, coffee, tea. At 6:00 we left for our first safari of the day, returning at 11:00 for brunch. Then the afternoon was free until 4:00 when we had afternoon tea of homemade cakes, cheese and olives, fruit, scones, quiche, all made right there at camp by the lovely ladies in the kitchen. After another safari in the evenings, which included a sundowner with drinks and snacks at 7:00PM in the midst of the Delta, we returned to camp for a three-course dinner with all you could drink by candlelight.

Time for afternoon tea in Botswana
Dinner by Candlelight Every Night in Botswana

The people who worked at the camp in Botswana were so warm and welcoming. I became quite fond of them, especially our guide, Wago and our super spotter, Mike. Glamping in Africa is an addictive experience. The people you meet and the sights you see will make you want to go back again and again. The glamping? Well, that’s just a giant bonus.

Mike, Wago, Me, John, and Charles on our last day in Botswana

 

Camping Solo

Camping Solo 1

By Andrea Willingham

I’m a pretty outdoorsy lady. My whole life, I’ve found both my deepest solace and greatest entertainment under the open sky or a canopy of leaves; in the maze of a forest, or the wide grandeur of mountains and ocean horizons. I feel safest when I’m out “in nature,” safer than I do in city surrounded by strangers. Needless to say, I’ve spent a lot of time outside throughout my life.

Thus, I was somewhat surprised last year to realize that of all the outdoorsy things I’ve done, camping solo had not been one of them. When I told a few friends about my plans to do it, the responses were almost universally, “Alone? Wow!” One group brought up the fact that it’s usually more of a “guy thing” to camp alone. That does seem to be the case, but I wonder why? I certainly know a few girls who camp alone, but all of this does bring up interesting questions of why camping alone isn’t more of a thing, and furthermore, why fewer women don’t camp by themselves (besides the obvious arguments for safety).

So, one weekend last September, I dove in.

I knew I was ready – or at least as ready as I could be. Over the past few years, I’ve spent a lot of time day hiking alone, so at least I knew I was comfortable with myself, my solitude, and my ability to make smart “survival” decisions on my own. One of the best ways to start mentally preparing yourself for your first solo adventure is to play the “What if?” game with yourself: “What if… I startle a bear around this next corner?” “What if… some guys start following and harassing me?” “What if… I get lost out here and have to spend the night?” “What if… my car breaks down and I don’t have cell service?” These are some of the big, scary questions that we are not only afraid to ask ourselves, but I think we are even more afraid that we might not know the answers.

So, I challenge you to ask those hard questions, and think through your answers. Even better if you play this mental game while you’re out on a solo hike! Or ask your friends and talk though what you might do. The more you play this game with yourself and start devising your contingency plans, the more you begin to feel confident in your own abilities to handle any situation, and the more you’ll feel prepared and excited to get out on your own and prove it to yourself.

So back to my own camping trip: Despite the fact it was my first time going out camping alone, I did very little preparation (perhaps feeling a bit too confident!). In fact, by the morning of, I hadn’t even started packing. But in a matter of about 2 hours, I had my little car loaded with my tent, sleeping bag, ground pad, a bag of food, a gallon jug of water, hiking boots, a change of clothes, camera, a guide book, and my journal. The essentials, a few comforts.

It was cloudy with patches of misty rain on my drive up into the mountains. Eventually I found the free National Forest campground I had picked out from some Google searching a few days prior. The campground was quite a bit smaller and closer to the road than I’d expected, but I decided to go hike to some waterfalls I had been wanting to see, and come back closer to dark to stake out my spot.

The trailhead to the waterfall was packed; families, couples, retirees. The further I went on the trail however, the more it thinned out, and soon I found myself captivated by the gorgeous autumn colors emerging and the strange landscape of volcanic rocks through which the path was cut. The trail wound into the dense forest, and soon I could hear the roar of the waterfall in the distance. Then, all of a sudden, there it was, towering mightily off to my left. Even from far away, it looked massive. Of course, I had to get closer. I followed the sound and the flow of the water back until it led me to the base of the falls. Surprisingly, no one else was there. For a short time, I had the whole place to myself.

Camping Solo 2
Proxy Falls

Eventually a few people showed up, so I took my leave, and hiked around a while longer finding more waterfalls and exploring the trails. By the time I made it back to my campsite though, it was completely full. Sigh. Well, worst case scenario, I could sleep in my car, or just drive home. But with still a few hours of daylight left, I decided to continue driving further into the mountains to see what I could find.

Another 20 minutes later and a thousand feet higher in elevation, I found myself at another campground. It had plenty of spots isolated from one another, so I was sold.  I found a spot with a nice view of the lake, and I set up my tent just as the first of the night’s rains began sprinkling in.

One drawback of packing everything the morning of my trip was that I forgot to bring the food I had planned on for both dinner and breakfast, meaning, I was left mainly with bread and peanut butter and potato chips. No big deal, but it did mean that my lunch, dinner, and breakfast were all going to be peanut butter sandwiches. Yum.

So, I ate my peanut butter sandwich while sitting on a log as the rain started coming in more heavily.  I tried half-heartedly to make a campfire, but it was already too wet so I gave up and crawled into my tent to do some journaling and reading before it got dark.  The rain poured heavier and heavier. Fortunately, my tent kept me dry and my sleeping bag kept me warm, so I was quite the happy camper.  (Sorry, not sorry for the pun!)

The night was long and damp, but I managed to get some sleep and by morning the rain was a tad bit lighter. Unfortunately, though a sizable puddle had formed under my tent and leaked inside — I knew I should have brought a tarp! Rookie mistakes. Oh well. My spirits were still high.

Knowing the rain was supposed to last all day, I packed up and enjoyed a leisurely drive back home listening to the radio and letting my mind wander.

I think that’s one of the best things about traveling solo: you’re on your own time. I realized when I was hiking the day before that I had no concept of how fast or slow I was going. Normally I’m trying to keep up with my faster friends, or holding back to stick with those going at a slower pace. But here, whether I was hiking or driving or hanging out in my tent, it didn’t matter how long it took me to do anything.

In retrospect, I was far more cautious than I needed to be, but often that’s what keeps you safe on your first time out trying something new. So I figure, embrace your cautiousness. Take your time. Let mistakes happen, because they will: I failed to claim my first campsite. I failed to start a fire. I didn’t bring all my food. It poured down rain. My tent flooded. I didn’t even mention the fact that my car nearly ran out of gas on the way up the mountain the first time, and I had to drive back down 20 minutes to the nearest gas station.

It was far from a perfect first solo camping trip.

But the bottom line is, I’d camp solo again in a heartbeat (preferably next time not in the pouring rain!), and I think others should give it a try too. Listen to your gut, but don’t psych yourself out.  It’s so important to be able to find contentment and comfort in your own thoughts, and confidence in your own abilities and decision-making. And taking a simple trip out into the wilderness on your own is an incredible way to discover and develop that for yourself.

Camping Solo 3
My first solo camp

Band on the run

Band on the run 1

By Robin EH. Bagley

We’ve all seen that iconic plains animal, the American Bison, in Custer State Park. They loaf, wallow, saunter, and thunder around the park like they own the joint. Perhaps they do; I don’t want to argue with a buffalo. Yes, I’m using the vernacular; if you’re from South Dakota, they’re buffalo. Anyway, my point is that the buffalo really aren’t the most interesting animals in the park. If you’re looking for entertainment, grab some apples or carrots and drive the Wildlife Loop Road. You’re looking for the park’s famous (or infamous, depending on whom you ask) Begging Burros, or as I like to call them, the Band on the Run.

What’s a herd of wild burros doing in Custer State Park? Are they burros or donkeys? And are they really wild? Excellent questions. Let’s start at the beginning.

Band on the run 4

Donkeys have been domesticated for thousands of years; the first records of domesticated donkeys date back to approximately 4000 BCE in Lower Egypt. Domesticated donkeys’ wild ancestors were the wild asses, Equus africanus asinus. They made their way from Africa to other parts of the world; around 2000 BCE they were brought to Europe. The first donkeys in the Western Hemisphere arrived in 1495, on a supply ship bound for Christopher Columbus’s expedition. So, to be clear, the donkeys gamboling about in Custer State Park are not wild in the same sense that the buffalo are. Donkeys are a long-domesticated animal, which makes them much easier to approach. For the record, NEVER ever approach a buffalo. Ever.

Band on the run 5

My long-burning question was really whether this herd was burros or donkeys. Custer State Park naturalist Julie Brazell cleared that up by explaining that burros and donkeys are the same species, Equus asinus. So it’s correct to call them either name; they won’t answer anyway unless you have snacks.

Burros were released in the park in the mid-to-late 1920’s; they had been used to haul visitors to the top of Black Elk Peak (formerly Harney Peak). When that activity stopped, the burros were turned loose in the park where they continue to flourish. I had heard, but have not been able to confirm, that the animals were also used to haul supplies for the employees at the fire watchtower on the peak. Anyone who has climbed that last quarter mile to the top can appreciate how handy a pack animal would be for hauling a week’s worth of groceries!

Band on the run 6

Today this fun bunch can be spotted in Custer State Park, usually along the Wildlife Loop Road. They have been known to stop traffic as they meander down the middle of the road trolling for snacks. If you’re eating something you’d rather keep for yourself, don’t step out of your vehicle with it – they have been known to snatch food from indignant spectators. If you plan to feed them, please bring appropriate food such as apples or carrots and avoid junk food. One day when I was out shooting photos, a family stopped alongside me and the boys had no snacks. One brother was game, grabbed a couple of carrots I was proffering, and began feeding his new friends. The younger brother was a bit apprehensive of the crazy carrot lady and told me very formally, “I’m not a rabbit.” But when he tried feeding gummy bears to a burro, his father intervened and they happily took a couple of carrots to feed her instead.

Band on the run 3

Also, they are large animals with hooves so mind your feet and avoid standing behind them in case they kick. Their ancestors hauled visitors, but this bunch runs free and are not trained for riding, so don’t go playing cowboy. Be safe and enjoy this entertaining bunch in Custer State Park.

Custer State Park is a 71,000 acre state park in South Dakota’s Black Hills. It’s located five miles east of Custer, SD on Highway 16A or about 40 miles south of Rapid City, SD via Highways 385 and 16.  The park is great stop on your way to Yellowstone National Park. For more information on the park, visit https://gfp.sd.gov/state-parks/directory/custer/.

Band on the run 2

The piece Band on the run was originally published by the author on the Black Hills Travel Blog. It has been updated by the author.

Robin EH. Bagley is a freelance writer and social media manager who spent most of her years in South Dakota, from the prairies to the granite spires near Custer. She loves to camp, hike, and paddle but is a reluctant mountain biker. She has recently relocated to Sheridan, WY near the Bighorn Mountains and is getting accustomed to hiking in bear and moose country as opposed to buffalo country. If you meet her on the trail, you can hit her up for a granola bar or Band-Aid.