The Camper of Oz

This is the post excerpt.

This is my first blog post, but I’m updating it from time to time. This blog started out as an avenue for me to write about my love of Colorado, and to write a little bit about the Coleman lanterns I collect. Since that original concept, I’ve started adding a lot of camping gear “reviews” and occasional random deep-thought posts.

Right now I’m starting to explore the state of Kansas through camping — something I’ve never done. I still miss and love Colorado, but I’ve found out that Kansas has a lot of state parks worth exploring, and it gives me an excuse to go bass fishing. Camping then, is a must. So in short, this blog is remaining the same, but expanding. If that makes sense. I look forward to continuing my lame conversations-with-self about camping gear, writing about outdoor adventures in tents, and now more posts about bass fishing.

Mental Health and Roads Less Travelled

This morning I ran seven miles through and around my neighborhood. As I was making my way through mile five, in the pre-dawn light, just as the eastern sky was turning a lighter shade of purple, I had a vision. A thought. I wanted a UFO to come and beam me up. Zap me up and take me away. AWAY. And then my mind took this idea as it does, and ran with it (no pun intended).

I then thought about another planet that exists. And I thought about our ancient cultures, when life was lived as hunter/gatherer. Tribal. I thought of ancient pyramids. I thought about those crazy kooks who believe aliens visited this planet hundreds or thousands of years ago and created the pyramids. But my vision or thought was not complex. I didn’t think of anything deeper.

I thought about a UFO coming down and sweeping up a people, a culture, and whisking them off to another planet —where I would join them. And there they reside to this day. A planet that is a wilderness and untouched by the Industrial Revolution. A planet untouched by war and hatred. A planet untouched by technology.

It was a simple thought. I had a bad week. A really bad week at work.  On weeks like this I generally want to blow my brains out by Friday. Couple that with the current book I’m reading about how doomed our planet is and it’s perfectly simple to see why I have visions to escape to another place.

First of all, this is not a suicide note or the proverbial “warning sign” … please don’t comment on this post. I’m not suicidal and never will be since I have a family. But I am free to think and feel however I want and I’m not afraid to talk about it.

Second of all, I’m probably going to open up a bit more on this tiny place that I use to post my camping thoughts. It will be a long winter with no camping trips. I like writing. I’ll go down roads I usually avoid, but I will always try to tie in Nature in some way.

The irony is the past three weeks have been good as I’m working on positive changes in my life. So on the whole, I’m better than I have ever been, which is another side of mental health I will mention soon.

Goal Zero Solar-Powered LED Light

The Goal Zero Crush Light is yet one more camping item that is modernizing camping. Simply stated, it is a lightweight, compact LED light that is solar powered. It comes with a USB cable for fast charging if you don’t have time to let the sun do it’s thing.

The Crush Light “unfolds” much like other foldable rubber bowls or portable dog dishes you see. It’s pretty awesome to know you can flatten this and stick it in your backpack pocket instead of bringing a big plastic Coleman LED light that’s the same size as a gas-powered lantern (remember those?).

This light has several different color settings other than white. You can get some cool atmosphere going in your tent by changing the color to red, purple, blue, green, and maybe an orangish tone if you wish. It also has three  different power settings, high to low. High will last three hours, low will last 35 hours.

This cool light is $25. They have another version that’s only white light for $20. This is my third non-Coleman LED tent light and probably my last, I don’t need more but I love these things. After you get one you’ll never buy a big Coleman LED light again — I mean those monsters come with battery packs —- why bother? Solar LED lights are the way to go camping. Affordable, lightweight, easy to pack, and last but not least they are fun to use.

The Prairie Rattlesnake: A Reflection

You’re kinda like me. A bit of an isolationist. You just want to be left alone. You won’t harm anyone unless threatened. To each his own as long as you go your own way and stay away from my way, you think.

You soak up the sun because you are cold blooded. I can be that way. Sometimes I feel so cold that I can’t find my own soul. Sometimes I have to just bask lazily on my own, like you.

It was an honor to see you. You terrify and scare for you are deadly and lurk unseen most of the time. You are a lot more quiet than advertised. You are also misunderstood. You are not a blood-thirsty seeker of pain. You kill rodents and lizards to eat, otherwise you just want us humans to leave you the hell alone. I respect that.

Outside of Point of Rocks in the Kansas high plains I met three of these prairie rattlers. The smallest one was ran over and killed, the other two were possibly basking in the sun on the side of the road but by the time we backed up to investigate they were in full retreat mode.

It was one of the most unique experiences I’ve had in the Kansas outdoors so far. Not many people get to see a rattlesnake so close without being in any real danger. I had joked a few days prior about how cool it would be to see a rattlesnake but I thought about it and retracted that statement. Then it happened.

Camping at Cimarron National Grassland and The Great American Road Trip

It was the Great American Road trip. Rob and I loaded up his truck last Friday after work with our camping and hunting gear, and a couple of fishing rods. Our destination: Cimarron National Grassland. It was a 254 mile drive into the far southwestern corner of Kansas. Literally only a few miles from both the Colorado and Oklahoma borders. We stopped by our favorite local burger joint and hit the road by 5:30 p.m. It was going to be a long drive; a very long night.

We drove into the sun until it set, then another two hours of nighttime driving. The conversation flowed as freely as the sunflower seeds and Dr. Pepper. We’d drive through tiny western Kansas towns that were lit up by the local high school football stadium lights. We stopped once for gas and could feel the cold night waiting for us like a hunter in the trees waiting on unsuspecting deer.

A right turn here, a right turn there. Eight more miles this way; Nine more miles that way … We finally pulled into the Cimarron River campground around 10:00 p.m. There were people camping there already — with only 12 campsites available I had no idea what to expect. We had several sites available to choose from. We found one that would work just fine. Cold and dark, now the fun would would begin in earnest.

This region is full of cottonwood trees — the state tree of Kansas. We each pitched our Coleman pop-up tent in the yellow glow of headlights and my Coleman lantern. It was 36 degrees under brilliantly electric stars. The Milky Way was obvious. Despite the cold, it was exciting. It was fun to be setting up camp. We’d eventually start a campfire to try to warm up a bit. After a tiny sip of whiskey and one beer, I was freezing cold and tired. I went to bed slightly skeptical of my preparation and I wasn’t wrong for my worry. I was pretty cold through the night. I woke up at 4:30 a.m. to pee and after that I slept much better. I awoke around 7:30 a.m. to start the day.

After a tremendous breakfast hash (yet to be named), venison steaks, and homemade turkey sausage, as well as freshly pressed coffee, Rob and I were about to part ways for awhile. While he went out to scout and hunt, I stayed around the campground ponds to fish. I was told they were stocked with catfish and trout, so that’s what I fished for only to find out that the trout were probably to be stocked later this week while there are actually bass here which I did not bring tackle for. I didn’t catch anything or even have a bite all day. It was still more than enjoyable and at one point I even took my shirt off and soaked up the sun — it was in the low to mid 70’s with absolutely no wind most of the time. The insects and flies were out in full force. It was absolutely gorgeous, if not a bit too warm at times.

By mid-afternoon we were up for a little sightseeing, so we drove to Point of Rocks. It is a series of bluffs that overlook the dried up Cimarron River. It’s said that you can see Colorado and Oklahoma from here. There are also historical signs detailing the local history of the region including the Santa Fe Trail.

The sky was the clearest, bluest hue I’ve seen in quite some time. We were in the Kansas high plains — it was rugged, bone-dry, and picturesque in a way that is often not witnessed.

Saturday night was spent around a roaring campfire. Dinner consisted of soup, grilled cheese sandwiches, and for dessert: a freeze-dried ice cream sandwich just like the astronauts eat. It was awesome.

The temps stayed in the low 40’s through the night but a cold front was coming. I stayed really warm in my sleeping bag and slept well until 3:00 a.m. when the rainfly  on my tent started flapping frantically. The north wind was brutal. I finally got up around 7:30 a.m. and braved the blustery greyness and started making coffee. It was cold but not like Friday night (when it sunk into my bones). The coffee was wonderful. It was time to pack up and head home.

We drove east and stopped in Hugoton for a bite to eat since I was in no mood to cook bacon and eggs in the cold wind. After purchasing a breakfast burrito and donut holes, we were on the road again. A little bit later, a stop at a local tractor/farm supply store for a look around. It was one of those places that has a lot of cool things to look at but nothing either of us needed right away.

The rest of the road trip consisted of conversation and coffee as we drove by cotton fields and dairy farms. It was probably the quickest 500 miles I’ve ever encountered but that’s what happens with good company. It was a typical quick camping trip with absolutely no boredom, plenty of excitement, tons of relaxation and plenty of good food and drink. One of the most memorable camping trips I’ve been on. There’s a good chance my friend and I will return, if not at least camp/hunt/fish together again someplace else.

Kansas Tentscapes #9: Elk City State Park

My son and I have this on-going conversation in which we rank our Kansas state parks. It’s always an impossible conclusion because when we get to the top three or four, it becomes hard to differentiate. This past weekend we camped at Elk City state park and *spoiler alert* it’s easily one of the top three places we’ve camped. #1 can even be argued but like I said, it’s an endless debate.

When I turned onto the gravel road that lead to our campsite, I immediately became excited. A walnut tree, bare of leaves but full of  peppery-smelling walnuts. The green husk smells very distinctive, but underneath a walnut is hidden. I am very familiar with this tree because I had one in my backyard from age 9 to 19. I didn’t appreciate the walnut tree back then. I do now. I’m even growing two of my own in my backyard now.

After setting up camp, my son and I decided to go for a hike. The Elk River trail was one I am familiar with as I’ve run a trail race on it in 2018. It’s gorgeous with rocky bluffs and caves — there are parts that overlook Elk City Lake. The trail is 15 miles long with 866 feet of elevation. People can camp along it as there are various fire rings. Seems like a a great idea … would love to do that sometime.

Our campsite was immaculate. We had to clear walnuts but had a view of the Elk River … we backed up and had the Jeep within feet of the picnic table.

Fishing was good. I settled for one channel catfish while my son caught two drum on crank baits.

We made a great campfire and ate s’mores. It’s what we live for. I have made the switch to Nutella instead of Hershey’s chocolate but both are equally delicious.

The morning coffee kept me company as the fog hung over Elk River. You never want to leave ….

The Coleman 530 single burner stove created my coffee. It is a joy to use a stove created in 1947.

As usual, it was an interesting and action-packed 24 hours. We mixed up our usual formula this time by getting the hiking done first and last — we went on a rare Sunday morning hike for the first time. I’m not sure if this is the last campout of 2019, we’ll have to see how the temps are in November.

LuminAID Solar LED Lantern/Phone Charger

The past two weekends I went camping at Clinton state park and Elk City state park respectively and while I was at it I tried out a new camping product that is kinda neat. It’s a solar-powered LED lantern that basically inflates like a beach ball — AND can recharge a smartphone. Sounds too good to be true. Sounds like the perfect camping lantern: multi uses and compact/lightweight. But is it?

The above photo is how it packs up. All you do it open the strap (which you use later as a handle) and blow into the mouthpiece like it’s a beach ball. It airs up into a square, basically with almost now effort.

At 150 lumens on high power, it’s sufficient enough for tent use, and general campsite use. It has a few lower settings, plus a blinking mode.

It charges by solar power in 14 hours. That’s a long time, but it’s also free energy from the sun. It can be fully charged by USB cable (which it comes with) in 2-3 hours.

Does it charge the iPhone quickly? Yes. About 20% in 30 minutes, but part of that time I was also draining my phone by using Google Maps. All in all, it is awesome and works well in all things it is supposed to do. This is one of my favorite camping gadgets already and I’ve only used it twice. It’s a bit pricey at $50 but I think it is totally worth it. I’ll never use another Coleman LED light again since this one does the job and saves space.


Upgrading Camping Frying Pans and Spatula

Because I am a camping nerd or degenerate if you prefer, I’ll post about the new spatula and frying pan I used last weekend. I’m trying to get my camping utensils and cookware narrowed down to a set that I can use forever and not have to keep upgrading. I think I’m there finally. For starters, I often use cast iron, and I have both 12” and 9” cast iron pans with which I always use a stainless steel Coleman spatula, it works perfect and the cast iron never gets scratched. However, I don’t want to use cast iron every single time. It’s a hassle to clean and season every single use (not really, but) so sometimes I just want to use normal frying pans (depends on what I’m cooking as well).  Well I don’t want to scratch those pans with stainless steel spatulas, and the plastic ones I have tried eventually get melted or deformed. Long story short, I found the answer in a $3 spatula from Wal-Mart (it pains me to admit that, I’m usually a Target guy). This Tasty spatula it hard rubber with just enough bend to get around the side walls of a frying pan. It hasn’t shown signs of melting and should last a long time.

Last week I bought a GSI 10” Pinnacle frying pan. The surface is scratch-resistant and prevents sticking. It’s fantastic. I’ve only used it once but when I got home cleaning it consisted of a quick scrub with hot water and soap. There was no food residue whatsoever.

So I bought another one. Now I’m officially done buying frying pans — forever. My cast iron will last longer than I will, and these GSI pans honestly should too. The handles fold in, and two pans can nestle inside each other.

The reason I bought the GSI pans was because I was becoming frustrated with my Coleman and other GSI 9” steel pans. Cooking something as greasy as sausage even caused sticking with these pans. And don’t get me started on eggs! As you can see in the photo below, the black non-stick  coating comes  off — that’s the GSI, the Coleman has better cover, but they literally are the exact same pan.

So now I have pans and cooking utensils I don’t plan on replacing. In fact, I think I’m pretty well-covered on all aspects of camp cooking for the foreseeable future. The thing I really need to upgrade is my camp cooking menu. That will come with time.