This Week at the Valley of Fire

On the pro side, our family camp out Monday and Tuesday provided lots of great scenery, sun, and exercise. We all climbed and hiked like crazy, including the baby. The temperature was perfect. The landscapes were majestic. The together time was fun.

On the con, a huge wind storm blew dirt in our faces and broke my biggest tent. The fabric ripped, half the poles snapped, and the metal hardware that connects the poles to the tent fabric was actually broken in half! Never seen anything like it. And we got orange sand all over our stuff. Guess Anakin Skywalker was right about that junk after all.

On balance, a great experience, though!

We can never have enough of nature. We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor, vast and Titanic features….We need to witness our own limits transgressed.” –Henry David Thoreau, Walden

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Murphy’s Law of Camping

For someone else, a single spark will start a raging forest fire.  For you, a perfect stockpile of tinder, kindling, and enough fuel to run an industrial furnace for a week, will never make more than a tiny sputtering flame that peters out after thirty seconds. 

 

Two Views From Hilltop Campground

Here are two photos from my family’s campout this week at Mt. Charleston’s Hilltop campground.

Looking southeast from Mt. Charleston's Hilltop campground, into the Las Vegas valley.

Las Vegas sits at around 2000 feet above sea level; this campground, 8400 feet.  To help visualize the distances here, see that little white line sticking up from the valley on the right?  That’s the Stratosphere Tower.  It’s 1149 feet tall. 

I tried to get a shot of this view at night, with a mostly full moon hanging over the city lights, but my camera isn’t strong enough.

Looking northeast from Hilltop campground across the Nevada interior

Clean Behind Your Dryer

Have you ever cleaned behind your dryer?  Pull it out from the wall a bit and have a look.  See that aluminum vaccumm tube connecting it to the wall?  Once or twice a year, you should disconnect that and vaccuum out all the lint that collects in and around it. 

This chore makes me glad to have a central vac system in my house, but a dustbuster or Shop Vac would work just as well if you can’t get a full size vaccuum back there. 

This routine maintenance will make your dryer more efficient–your clothes will get dry faster and you’ll save on your energy bill.

Also, that lint is highly flammable, so letting it build up for too long can be dangerous. 

On the plus side, since learning this a few years ago, my family has saved lint from our dryer’s lint trap and taken it with us on camping trips.  That stuff is a miracle–it goes up in flame like nobody’s business.  Best tinder you’ll ever find. 

 

Beautiful Bird Discovered

Not “discovered” in the sense that I saw it first, but in the sense that I’ve seen it for the first time myself.

When our family was camping in the mountains a couple of weeks ago, I was the first one awake and went out to get the fire started.  As I sat around for a while, I saw the most colorful bird I’ve ever seen in nature flit by the camp, stopping to peck at the ground, then zipping up to the top of a nearby tree, then diving down to a little shrub next to our tent to look around.  Then, he was joined by several of his friends.  As the kids started to wake up, they got to see some of these birds, too.

When we got home, I googled the best description I could come up with: “bird with yellow breast and red head.”  Amazingly, I found what I was looking for right away: the bird was a Western Tanager.  Here’s the picture from Wikipedia:

 

480px-Western_Tanager_(male)

I especially liked this line from that entry: “…when a non-birder tells a birder, “I saw the most amazing bird!” the birder can guess it was a male of this species.”  I’m proof of that!

I’ve never been a bird watcher, but perhaps I’ll pursue that merit badge when I get to that part of my Man Scout Project.

MSP: Tenderfoot Requirements 1, 2, 3, and 7

This weekend we went camping specifically to test the readiness of our family’s 72-hour emergency kits.  We spent 24 hours with little else at the gorgeous Old Mill campground in the Spring Mountains area.  I thought this would be my best opportunity to do the first three requirements for the rank I’m working on.

1.  Present yourself, properly dressed, before going on an overnight camping trip.  Show the gear you will use.  Show the right way to pack  and carry it.  I dressed for warm weather for obvious reasons, with a pair of old work boots I rarely wear, which I now realize are too small and need to be switched out for a real pair of hiking boots.  I’ll check at Deseret Industries for some.  As we packed our backpacks with the relatively sparse supplies that would constitute our emergency kits, we discussed what was essential, including our tent and sleeping bags, our food and water, and our tools.  The packing was difficult and taught us a lot about saving space and making priorities.  I tried to make my bag look like the picture in the handbook.  Good packing is a lot like playing Tetris. 

2.  Spend at least one night on a patrol or troop campout.  Sleep in a tent you have helped pitch.  It was a very enjoyable campout, though since we were trying to skimp on supplies, we didn’t have any padding for our bedding.  I was surprised to wake up not very sore at all.  I pitched the tent myself since my wife was busy preparing lunch and watching the baby.  Did you know that seven people can sleep almost comfortably in a 9’x7′ tent?  It helps when five of them are children, and nobody minds snuggling up.

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The Backyard Campout

Ever since our tragi-comic attempt at a family campout last Fall, my three year old has been begging for another one.  Since the weather’s nice and I have some free time this week, we headed out…to the backyard.  I don’t have that much free time this week. 

We set up the smaller tent since it would be just me and two of the littler kids, and stocked our “camp” with some coloring books.  We bundled up as we settled in to go to sleep, but it wasn’t necessary: it was cool–chilly, even, by the end of the night–but never cold. 

I woke up feeling refreshed and grateful not to have had a hard night.  It was getting bright and I was surprised that the kids weren’t up before me–the kids in this family are early risers who rarely miss the first round of the day’s cartoons.  I had to go to the bathroom, so I went inside and checked what time it was.

3:12 A.M.  The light I’d mistaken for pre-dawn was just the full moon shining through the window of our tent.  Heartbroken, I trudged back into the tent. 

An hour later I still wasn’t back to sleep when my three year old woke up and said he had to go potty.  I took him inside and after he finished and was zipping up his jammies, he turned to me and said with the world’s biggest smile, “It’s fun having a campout!”  So I guess it was worth it. 

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On a random note, I just want to share that, in a little over a year, this is my 300th post on this blog.  My original goal was to average a post per day, but I’m happy with how things have gone so far.

Highly Recommended: Camping At Kyle Canyon

Around here, this is a great time of year to go camping.  The heat and the bugs have clocked out for the winter, and it won’t be very crowded…up in the mountains, at least.

Saturday morning we packed the van and went to beautiful Mt. Charleston, just a little northwest of the valley.  Settling into the Kyle Canyon campground, we knew we’d gotten lucky: it was perfect.  After setting up the tent and unpacking our basic provisions, we enjoyed a a lunch of hot dogs grilled on the barbecue.  It was still warm enough for only a light sweater.  When lunch was done, we started gathering firewood, the kids hunting all around the mountainside for good, dry wood, bringing back armfuls at a time.

We hiked up especially intriguing pass, the little kids impressing me with how well they navigated the steep slopes, and my older boy scrambling up a nearly sheer face off to the right.  By the time we crested the area we had our eyes on, we could see the road up to another area of the mountain several miles away. 

Here’s something that I learned up there: gray is gorgeous.  The family joined me off and on for leaning back against the hood and windshield of the car to look up at the sky and watch the clouds slide by overhead, seemingly only a few feet away.  They were the best kind of clouds: like a cottony blanket whose mild, medium, moderate grayness treats the background blue like a lampshade and gives the whole atmosphere a calm, relaxing demeanor.  There’s nothing like looking up through several 50-foot evergreens at a sky like that.

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