Monday, September 27, 2021

Transitioning from a Tiny Trailer to a Little Trailer--My Airstream Basecamp Experience

I remember the first time I towed a tiny trailer, my first trailer, a Rustic Trails Teardrop Camper Polar Bear. I had been practicing for a week the process of hooking up, driving around the block at home, and then backing into the driveway--two times a morning with left and right back-ins. After a week, I felt ready to take off across town to a county park four miles from home, where I successfully backed into a space and stayed three nights. The reasons my wife and my first trailer was a tiny "standy" I explained in the first post ever for this blog ("Why Such a Tiny Trailer?"), a little over three years ago. I'm glad to report that our move from "tiny" to "little" travel trailer by purchasing an Airstream Basecamp has not changed our overall camping experience much--some, but not much.

I listed in that first blog article four reasons why my wife and I had bought a tiny camper:
  1. We wanted a trailer small enough to fit those campground sites that aren't linked to the sewer system, sites that fit into the natural landscape, rather than bulldozed, "tract home" sites.
  2. We wanted a trailer we could pull with the vehicle we owned. 
  3. We wanted a small trailer that I could tow and learn how to back more easily.
  4. We wanted a trailer that put us outside more often, where even with our "safe haven" tiny room, the outdoors campsite was still our main living space.

The transition from a tiny to a little camper, surprisingly, doesn't really affect the first three reasons. The Basecamp, at sixteen feet, is still close to the RTTC in size, and we still fit into smaller campsites that the bigger rigs avoid. We pull the Basecamp with the same tow vehicle we used for the RTTC Polar Bear. The greater weight is noticeable but not significant, as the width-of-trailer increase from five feet to six and a half is not that much. I've added inexpensive mirror extensions to my Nissan Pathfinder's stock mirrors, which also is not a vital addition but does provide more of a view behind the trailer. In terms of backing, after three camping seasons of backing the tiny trailer, backing the Basecamp offers no greater challenges. In terms of these three points, the transition has been seamless. 

The fourth concept of living mostly outside is still relevant with our little Basecamp, yet I have found the increased space inside and the amenities of kitchen and bath have made a difference as we've transitioned to the new trailer. 
  • Space: With more space, it is easier for my wife and me to be in the trailer at the same time. It's also easier for use to engage in activities while in the trailer. One of us can cook, and one of us can work, for instance. Storage space is still at a premium, but there is more space and it is more accessible. 
  • Toilet/Shower: The toilet is, as one can imagine, more convenient because we don't have to set up the utilitent outside or take the walk to the campground facilities--although we do still use campground toilets if they are clean and pandemic-safe. I had wondered how I'd adapt to having a blackwater tank. (The Basecamp combines sewage and gray water). Would it smell and just be a burden? I've found there's no smell, and the draining procedure is straightforward, really. Not a bother. (We use Happy Campers tank treatment powder.) As for the shower, we've had the Basecamp almost a whole season, and I've only used the shower once, my wife not at all. We prefer taking longer showers at campground facilities. I've also continued my habit of taking sponge baths in the trailer, one I started with the tiny trailer.
  • Kitchen: We really like how we have our food available in the trailer. I have found myself cooking more inside, but mostly with the toaster oven or Instant Pot we take along. We opted to not buy a microwave, using that cabinet instead for storing our toaster oven and Instant Pot (plus our utensil organizer and tiny, cast iron baking dish). We haven't used the propane stove much but do use it for simple cooking, such as scrambled eggs or quesadillas. Smelly foods we cook outside with an induction burner or our old Coleman propane stove. We steam our vegetables in the Instant Pot, either inside our outside, but we release the steam outside. 
  • Sink: I'm listing our sink as separate from the kitchen so I can talk about it more directly. It's a tiny sink, and the current trip I'm on is the first time I've really washed a meal's dishes inside the trailer. I prefer to wash outside with the three-unit set-up we used with our tiny trailer: wash tub, rinse tub, and drainer. That works so well that it's easy to forego using the tiny inside kitchen sink. I just used the sink, though, on my current trip because it was raining outside and my site just wasn't set up for an outside living space. I found washing in an inch of water and then rinsing and stacking on a towel worked pretty well. Using the sink when brushing my teeth has become a habit, though. We do pack our own drinking water from home, and I have just recently purified the Basecamp's water system, following the owners' manual procedures. It's easy to notice that using the sink increases water consumption.
I suppose the most difficult or time-consuming aspect of this transition has been understanding and dealing with the greater complexity of the Basecamp's options: heating system, water system, sewage system, refrigerator, solar option, propane tanks, and winterizing and de-winterizing. That's quite a bit of new! The Airstream owners' manuals have helped, and another big help has been online Basecamp social groups, where I can ask questions. I slowly learning, though, and applying what I've learned. I suppose it shouldn't surprise me that greater amenities includes more maintenance. With our first trailer, the Green Goddess, there wasn't much more than plugging in a 20-amp extension cord. Gone are those simple days, but also having many built-in services in the Airstream trailer means there is less to set up.

Transitioning to a little travel trailer from a tiny trailer has been easy. Gas mileage has dropped about half a mile per gallon, although the drop would probably have been greater if I lived in a mountainous state rather than hilly Iowa. Mostly, the greater inside living space has provided just that--a living space rather than a sleeping space. Even with the RTTC standy, the inside space was most conveniently a sleeping space. (Note: RTTC now makes the Polar Bear standy only in special, pre-sold batches because their smaller models are more popular.) We still get outside beneath the awning or in our Clam shelter for work or excessive rain, but the inside of the Basecamp is a liveable space, feeling like a mansion after three seasons in our tiny trailer . . . and this is not a slam on our little Green Goddess. It did what it was built to do, and it did it well. It was easy to transition to the slightly larger living space, though, yet still have a small trailer, only sixteen and a half feet from hitch to bumper. 

For two people, our Basecamp's larger footprint makes living easier. There's space to move around inside and to engage in life's routines. Especially for longer adventures, for us, moving from "tiny" to "little" was a positive move. We had great times during our three seasons in the Green Goddess, but now in the Basecamp, we'll be bumping elbows less and stretching out a bit more. 

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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Is Earth Art a Part of Camping or an Abuse of Camping?

Earth art or vandalism?
Called "rock stacking" or the more alliterative "stone stacking," the idea of forming a human-made artifact is a more common sight in my camping experience. Even though I understand the need to build or create--the need to leave our mark on the world, an "I was here" statement--after experiencing for some time different human testaments of existence in various natural settings, I think we need stop our little moments of building in what natural settings are left in the world. Places should exist that do not exhibit the hand of man. "Leave no trace" should be our mantra when we enter the wilderness--or even parks that are human-made reproductions of nature.

"Rock-stacking denies people the experience of wildness" states the title of an article on the Blue Planet Society website. In addition to taking away a hiker's chance to experience what the world looks like without human intervention, there are also environmental concerns about what I'm calling "earth art." Water flow and habitat are changed by rock stacking, and if you can imagine, some earth art has even been created on archaeological sites, where not only are stacks added to the landscape but also those stone stacks are created using stone that may be significant to the archaeology of the area. In a New Yorker article a Blue Planet Society spokesperson said, “Rock stacking is a way of quickly making your mark and having an image of it. People are posting pictures of them on Instagram, saying, ‘I’ve been here and I made this.’” 

The New Yorker article goes on to say that stone stacking is a hot potato of discussion online. I can see that; creative activities are very fulfilling, and stacking rocks checks not only the "creative" box but also the "self-acknowledging." Online social sites have driven this phenomenon recently, even though stacking stones has been around for a long time as a spiritual action, a travel marker or ownership marker. “Social media has kind of popularized rock stacking as a meditative activity, and you used to have a handful of people doing it, but it has really escalated over the past few years on public lands,” Wesley Trimble, the program-outreach and communications manager for the American Hiking Society, said in the New Yorker article. 

Oh, the irony of this message painted on a rock in a state park!
The stacking fad is likened to the rock painting fad, which I also saw evidence of in my recent walk along Rathbun Lake's shores within the boundaries of Honey Creek State Park. Rathbun Lake is a man-made lake, but it is possible to walk the shores and have one's experience center on the lapping of the waves against the shore, the smell of water shore vegetation, the wind off the lake and a sense of distance from the hubbub of life. Earth art such as rock stacking or rock painting attracts the attention, leading it away from the bigger perspective. It's the visual equivalent of my sitting on a boulder on the beach, eyes closed and listening to the waves splash onto the sandy shore, feeling the sun warm on my face and the wind gusting off the water--and then having someone who has snuck up behind me say, "I'm right behind you!" It's an intrusion, even if the stack of rocks is quite artistic.

Primitive, beautiful child's art--but do it at home!
I have nothing against stone stacking or rock painting. In fact, I have written an article about the art of rock painting for this blog! What I propose is that we leave our parks and wild areas alone and engage in earth art in our own homes and backyards. Paint rocks with your kids at home. Most garden nurseries keep a supply of stones to sell. Buy a box of smaller water-worn stones and when friends come over, have a rock-stacking party! Create rock sculptures in your front or back yards (or both), and post those creations on Instagram. Create something beautiful and then live with it. 

Driftwood on a Rathbun Lake beach
One interaction with nature that leaves no trace is photography. Although you don't leave your photographs at the location where they were taken, you can post them online for the social media community to appreciate. "I was here," your photos can declare, "and isn't this place beautiful! And didn't I do a creative job of capturing the beauty!" The evidence of your travels and creative artistry end up just where they belong, in a medium designed and which expressly exists for sharing--and at no clutter to the environment. There might be those who say, "But rock stacking is beautiful; it's art!" I respond by saying, in character as a retired English teacher, "Look up the definition of the word Antropocene." Good old Merriam-Webster defines it as "the period of time during which human activities have had an environmental impact on the Earth regarded as constituting a distinct geological age." Most of us experience nature in small pockets of natural environment, enclaves of nature surrounded by landscapes already sculpted by human beings into towns, roads, highly cultivated and chemically-treated agricultural land, and even parks that have been to some degree manipulated or manicured. 

Do we really need as guests to these parks to be adding to the Antropocene, adding yet another layer of human engineering to the land, even if creative and artful? I prefer photography or the other, older arts of painting or sketching. In an article the other day, I quoted British Romantic poet William Wordsworth, who said, "The world is too much with us." His sentiment also applies here. The National Park Service has recently labeled rock stacking as "rock graffiti" and "vandalism." The online article "The New Graffiti: National Parks Fight Stone Stackers" does a good job of explaining the why and how of leaving stones unturned. Volunteers, cited in the earlier mentioned New Yorker article, have been organized to remove stone stacks, a group in Acadia National park recently leveling nearly 3,500 rock stacks. The article "Rock Cairns," posted by the National Park Service, also is interesting as it details the history and function of rock cairns (or stacked stones) in the national parks and trails.

When you enter the wilderness, though--even the "kinda wilderness" of many city, county, and state parks--consider yourself a guest. Just as you wouldn't mark up the walls of a friend's house if you were invited over or throw your trash on the floor, in that same way you shouldn't change the natural beauty of any parkland. This is something you can easily do . . . just by not doing, just by leaving behind no trace of your ever having been there. This is the highest art of camping, taking away good memories (and maybe some photos), leaving nothing behind.

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Friday, September 10, 2021

How Do You Discover Campgrounds? (Or "Google Maps Is My Friend")


Google Maps is my friend--except, of course, when the app leads me astray. Being led astray has happened before. Once I found myself pushing my bicycle down a track that I could see used to be a gravel road but was now overgrown with brush and Iowa ragweed. I pushed on and eventually connected with a real gravel road, emerging from the bush just behind some guy's house. He certainly was surprised. Another time my wife and I were scouting out a county park, and Google Maps directed me onto gravel roads for about ten miles. I knew the campground we were headed for was on a paved county road, but the app took me off the main road. Sometimes it's hard to second-guess Google Maps while driving; however, Google Maps is a field of all camping possibilities for me, a place to dream . . . and to see photos and read reviews of my dreams. Although not always reliable, Google Maps is still my friend and confidante. 

One of my most common interactions with Google Maps also includes Facebook and Instagram. While scrolling through Facebook camping groups or Instagram posts from camping aficionados, when I come across a campground or area that catches my interest, I star that location in my Google Maps account. This has led my Google Maps "homepage" to look rather cluttered, but when I zoom in, the stars disperse yet still provide local possibilities when I'm researching routes and destinations. And, yes, I do sometimes remove a star if after more research I determine a campground is no longer viable for me. 

The reviews on Google Maps can be variable. Reviewer experiences and opinions differ, of course, but what time of year and how long ago the review was written are factors to consider when reading reviews. It is always a bit odd, though, to read two reviews a week apart, one stating the campground host was a jerk and the other called the host an angel. Summer is always a busy camping time, so comments regarding crowding are always date-significant. Information regarding the tightness of campsites to one another, how level the parking spaces are, or general facility maintenance are always helpful, especially if multiple reviews provide the same information.

Three campers I follow on social media are currently out and about with their single-axle trailers: one finishing up a Great Lakes tour, another currently in the upper Wisconsin area, and the third currently on the Oregon coast after finishing up an across-the-country tour. All these social media friends have posted from campgrounds, and I've not only enjoyed their comments and photos but have also starred some of their locations on Google Maps for future reference. It's reassuring that I don't have to start a trip stone cold, with no knowledge of a locality whatsoever. My most recent campground starred locations have been around the Great Lakes and in the Southwest, although I have been adding campgrounds in the South as considerations for possible winter trips. Let me provide a few examples.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (Gordon Ehrensing photo)
Pictured Rocks area (Han Nichols photo)
Pictured Rocks from the water (Virginia Yurich photo)
One trip destination that checks several boxes for me is Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. The National Park website describes this Michigan destination as follows: "Sandstone cliffs, beaches, sand dunes, waterfalls, inland lakes, deep forest, and wild shoreline beckon you to visit Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. The power of Lake Superior shapes the park's coastal features and affects every ecosystem, creating a unique landscape to explore. Hiking, camping, sightseeing, and four-season outdoor opportunities abound." I can't remember exactly how long ago I starred this site on Google Maps, but most recently Annie Wynn of  Wynn Worlds, stayed at Painted Rocks as a part of her Great Lakes tour. With her great blog photos and the photos and reviews and NPS link of Google Maps, this destination is growing in my mind as a place to visit. Looking at the map, I also see a number of other starred sites in the Lake Superior area and between the lake and my Iowa home. It almost seems like my trip is already planned!

Frequent comments from Google reviews of Pictured Rocks mention that this federal lakeshore is large and spread out. Planning is essential for a fuller experience, and seeing the lakeshore from the water provides a fuller appreciation. One reviewer said the following: "This was wonderful! Such beauty! There are so many ways to see Pictured Rocks. You first need to decide what type of traveler you are. Do you want to sit and see pretty views from a boat with a guide speaking over a microphone, or do you want to be active and kayak? Or do you want to do it all yourself and drive around to certain locations and see from the shore?  You need to get out into the water to see the beauty of the rocks."

Pines Campground (Alexander Kendi photo)
Saddle Campground (Kevin Edgington photo)
Village of Cloudcroft (Steve Hines photo)
During this summer's heatwave, I spent some time inside my air conditioned house, on my computer, and enjoying "camping" via Google Maps. Elevation was a theme during the heat; go high enough up into the mountains, and it will be cooler. Where, though? Stars started spotting a region in New Mexico, in the Lincoln National Forest, centered around the town of Cloudcroft (which is an evocative name!) There are a number of forest service campgrounds in the area, and they all emphasize the beauty of the high mountains, with a variety of campground development, from primitive to dispersed to modern camp facilities. According to Wikipedia, Cloudcroft is a small town that emphasizes tourism. "Cloudcroft is a village in Otero County, New Mexico, United States, and is located within the Lincoln National Forest. The population was 674 at the 2010 census. Despite being located in an otherwise arid region, its high elevation (8,676 feet or 2,644 m), one of the highest in the U.S., allows for a mild summer that makes it a popular tourist attraction in west Texas and southern New Mexico." Judging from Google Maps photos, Cloudcroft has a golf course, a snow skiing area, and Western style motels, bars, and cookeries. The national forest campgrounds are mostly higher up in the mountains.

Google Maps reviewers of the Cloudcroft area report on a number of campgrounds. One good example of a useful review came from the Pines Group Campground. Evidently, this campground and the Upper and Lower Fir campgrounds are close to one another and have been managed by one host--Don--for some years. Folks appreciate Don, who is friendly and provides good information, support, and maintenance. Host Don, of course, is a variable that can change. One reviewer provided good general information about the forest service campsites, though. "Cloudcroft is a great town to visit, particularly during the summer months when the rest of the SW is so hot. The summer temps are perfect, the views are spectacular, the people are friendly. What I like about the Pines Group Campground is that it is SO close to Cloudcroft and there is a very short (about a mile or less) hike from the campsite into town on the Osha Trail. The ONLY downside to this campsite is that you are sort of 'boondocking.' There is fresh water on site, but you have to carry it to your campsite or RV. There are no electric hook ups. There are no sewer hook-ups (though there is a pit toilet)."

Lake Jackson RV Park (Jill Wilson photo)
(Jill Wilson photo)
Lake Jackson (Ramon Navarro photo)
A third example of what I think would be a happy camping site (especially in the winter) is a city campground that was once an Alabama state park. Relinquished by Alabama to the city of Florala, Lake Jackson RV Park "sits on the shores of Alabama's only natural lake," which shares its shores with Florida. A small campground where reservations are made by phone call, the park looks like it could be crowded, but it also looks like a warm destination to escape the Iowa winters. The campground is still listed with Alabama state parks. One big "if," though, is how the area has weathered the recent hurricanes. Florala is a town of about two thousand people, and since the campground abuts the town, this could be considered an urban campground. Some of the Google photos indicate spaces might be tight. "Stretching along the shores of the beautiful 500-acre Lake Jackson, this compact 40-acre park offers swimming, a bike path and walking trail, excellent fishing, a scene picnic area, and a modern lakeside campground.The main attraction is Lake Jackson itself. Considered one of the cleanest and clearest bodies of water in Alabama, visitors can spend an entire day swimming, boating and fishing. The lake is inviting year-round for campers seeking to avoid those harsh winter months up north."

The content of Google Reviews varies, but the average rating is 4.6. One reviewer stated: "Florala State Park/Lake Jackson Campground - I would recommended calling and making reservations so you're sure to have a site if you want to stay at this campground.  The sites are close together and the grounds are not well kept.  There seems to be a lot of long term campers residing at the campground.  Campground bathrooms were cleaned every morning. The fees are too high. $36 for a standard site and the sites by lake are $40.60.  The small town of Florala is a quaint, with lots of history.  We did spend some time checking out the town." Personal opinion laces a few relevant facts. It's a small campground now run by the city, so reservations are wise. Other reviewers call the park clean and the rates affordable. Considering the reviews in general, it seems this is a small, busy campground and park on a beautiful lake. Day-use is a factor in how busy the area is. One reviewer states parking is limited while another says there is ample parking. One reviewer said, "I give this place credit it they have stepped it up from what it used to be." If I ever camp here, I think I need to head in with the expectation that this is urban camping, more busy even with the beautiful lake and cypress hiking areas.

My wife and I are heading out to a local state park in a couple of days, camping on one of Iowa's biggest lakes for two weeks. There are wonderful travel and camping opportunities farther away, though, and Google Maps is a wonderful means of exploration. I consider Google Maps to be my friend, and considering all the possibilities for online and smartphone doomscrolling, discovering and researching potential campsites is a very positive alternative. Although every journey begins with a single first step, perhaps in our modern times, every journey also begins with that first Google Maps search. Photos, reviews, links, and directions--Google Maps is a very helpful addition to vacation and trip planning . . . usually . . . 

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Friday, September 3, 2021

Camping for Health and Wholeness--Finding Your Inner Basecamp

Basecamp, tiny trailer style. Lacey-Keosauqua State Park.
My intellect bypasses the beauty of this hike I'm taking and provides a lesson on natural history. Go figure, but I am a naturally curious person. This long ridge of land was once an inland sea. When the sea receded, over time the sandstone eroded, and out of this shoulder of earth was carved this curving ravine, this green hollow of diverse life that finds this ecological niche most hospitable--ferns and mosses, succulent plants needing more water and shade, trees that grow tall and spindly because they reach to the sky for sufficient light. 

Beauty discovered at Wildcat Den State Park.
Not to be outdone, my heart whispers that I've entered the womb of the earth, that down in this cupped, curved hollow the world holds its secrets close, and that they are not secrets or mysteries; rather, they are joys and wonders that any child can explain, unexpected beauty surrounding us that can be discovered merely if we take the time to look. The sky opens above us, and thin beams of light reach down, lambent and tender, and this natural beauty awakes within me correspondences I have forgotten. The fall of light quickens something inside of me, stitching together the fragments of myself, making me once again whole.

Children experiencing the wonder of the Maquoketa Caves.
When our world grows chaotic and we feel somehow separated, lessened or weakened by the constant, busy, impersonal cacophony of the day, we need a reminder of the greater world, that the world is greater than just humanity. William Wordsworth wrote about this in around 1802, saying that the Industrial Revolution took as much as it gave ("The World Is Too Much with Us").

The world is too much with us; late and soon, 
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

Have we given our hearts away? Have we lost--or better, forgotten--our capacity to interact with the world? When we spend less time in nature, then do "little we see in Nature that is ours"? What a shame that is! The beauty and power of nature is that same beauty and power within ourselves. That is what we need to remember--that is what we need to reawaken when our spirits are depleted.

Basecamp in an urban campground. Illiniwek Forest Preserve.
Finding our place and ourselves in nature is "humanity's oldest endeavor," according to an essay, "Our Deepest Affinity," by Thomas Lowe Fleischner. "No wonder--our survival has wholly depended on our capacity to pay attention to the encompassing living world, full of threats, foods, and delights." Fleischner explains that "we live in a very odd historical moment" in which people are so surrounded by human-made things that we have little around us to remind us of the natural world. That is why the experience of walking out of the office and into the freshness of an approaching thunderstorm is so powerful. The untamed winds of the approaching storm give us a reminder of the greater world, a natural world sweet and rich with the promise of approaching rain, of moist, green earth. We breathe in a deep breath and feel suddenly more awake, invigorated and connected. Fleischner's conclusion is that we need nature. "The current gush of social dysfunctions--violence, depression, anxiety, alienation, lack of health in so many ways--coincides with the mass sacrifice of human interaction with nature."

We expand our vision to a greater world. Maquoketa Caves State Park.
Camping is humanity's "oldest endeavor"; it is a means for us to integrate ourselves into the integration of the world--that we, either individually or as a species, are where the fragmentation and purposelessness resides. It is not that we are tone deaf to birdsong; it's more that we have taken ourselves to places where there are no birds! As Wordsworth says in his sonnet: "For this, for everything, we are out of tune." We can find wholeness in nature (and wholeness and health share the same word root). 

My wife calls me to the window, and a brilliant goldfinch is eating hyssop seed, the plant bobbing with the bird's weight as it eats. It is the early morning, just past dawn, and a thunderstorm has passed. After a hot, dry week, the air is cool and moist. The earth has received a rejuvenating sip of rain, and I am rejuvenated by what my senses tell me: we can heal ourselves by healing the earth. The hyssop, the black-eyed Susans, the cosmos blossoms, the zinnias, cucumbers and okra, honey bees and bumblebees, the wrens and goldfinches--this late summer haven we have created with our vegetable and flower garden is a haven not just for the natural world we have invited but also for nature within us. Sitting by the campfire should be just an extension of how we live our natural lives--a garden at home, a plant in the office, taking our lunch outside or commuting with a bicycle. The world is our home; we shouldn't keep ourselves locked away in a closet . . . no matter how nicely we have furnished that little space.

Some basecamps are more permanent than others.
I open the door and walk outside, barefoot. The sidewalk is a wet and cool; the grass is lush. I admire the peach tree that grows at the corner of the fence. It gave its crop of juicy peaches to us this year--peach pie and peach cobbler, fresh peaches for breakfast--and now it drinks the early morning rain, its aged limbs propped with lumber for support and protection from heavy winds, a painted wren house swinging from a limb. Yes, I live in a home on property I own, but I mean to share that property. My wife and I mean to share our land because it isn't really just "ours," if we consider all the other lives that also live with us, from the singing birds and pesky rabbits to the worms and microbes in the soil. 

Solo camping at Rathbun Lake. Honey Creek State Park.
In his essay, Fleischner shares the results of medical studies, concluding "it's stunning how remarkably healthy time outdoors turns out to be," that finding nature, whether walking by the ocean or in the forest, or simply going outside to cloud-gaze or to feed the pigeons, is healthy for both body and mind, a medical reality leading to "prescriptions" for wellness that include being in nature. Call it "nature therapy" or "forest therapy," we are healthier when we spend time in nature. That's why once the heat spell breaks, my wife and I will camp for two weeks by Rathbun Lake at Honey Creek State Park, spending time walking the beach or hiking the woods. If it's cool enough, we will start a fire in the morning and sit beside it sipping tea and waking up with the world. My wifes works online sometimes while we've camped and has had the opportunity to tell a client during a phone call, "I'm talking to you, and as I speak a doe and her fawn are lying down in the shade of a maple tree thirty yards away." 

A safe haven.
We camp in our Airstream Basecamp, but I am beginning to realize all the nuances of that word, basecamp. A basecamp is a safe, stable place from which we venture forth on our explorations. It is the foundation for activity. Camping is a means for affirming our place in the natural world; it's also a means for affirming who we are, a way to reconcile and integrate our quick, frenetic lives to the eternal rhythms of nature, to widen our perspective, just as our view expands when we reach a mountaintop and scan the panorama around us or when we turn away from the ocean shore and look out across the ocean to the horizon, where sky and water are one. Camping can help us find our "inner basecamp," that perspective and strategy of life that includes the healing qualities of the natural world. Perhaps this is the true meaning of the current buzzword, glamping. "Glamorous camping" is in its essence, at least for me, not the pretty and expensive accouterments of camping; I think it's more the beautiful and priceless gifts the natural world freely provides. 

It is our obligation to "camp," whether it be sitting by a campfire, watering the begonia at our desk, or standing at our window, watching the goldfinch outside eat its fill of hyssop seed. Nature is not our toy. In this human-centric world in which we now live, we need to mother our Mother Earth, to be good stewards to the land. "Always leave the camp cleaner than when you came," my dad always said. This planet is our basecamp. In order for it to take care of us, we must take care of it. For our health and wholeness, we must keep nature in our lives; we must nurture and be nurtured by the natural world. Sitting by a small campfire is not a little thing: it is the light of the sun contained by a ring of stones. It is the beginning point of that adventure we call life.

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Friday, August 27, 2021

Wapsipinicon State Park--a Study in Contrasts

The town of Anamosa, right next to Wapsipinicon State Park
Wapsipinicon State Park in Iowa is an enigma. I left after four nights at the park with more questions than answers. Did I enjoy my stay? Yes! Did I not enjoy my stay? Well, also yes, in some ways. Will I go back again sometime? "Maybe" is the most honest answer I can give. Let me explain . . . 

Wapsi campsite, electric hook-up but no water
Having only about twenty-five campsites, the Wapsipinicon campground is fairly small. Thirteen of the sites have electric. (I used 30 amp with my Airstream Basecamp, but I don't remember if there was 50 amp available.) Drinking water is available at a spigot over near the restroom/shower house. The sites are not particularly level, although I was able to level up my site easily. The modern toilet/shower facility is probably the oldest and smallest I've seen in all the state parks I've visited.

My neighbor for two nights
Out on their second trip (See article)
And that's the oddity about Wapsipinicon State Park--it's the oldest, funkiest Iowa state park I've camped at in the state. It's older and more worn than even quite a few county parks, which is saying a lot because there is quite a range of quality in county parks. The other half of the oddity is that Wapsi is also a beautiful park. The Wapsipinicon River edges the lower part of the park, and Dutch Creek passes through the park; there are hiking trails and some beautiful wooded areas; a long, circular driving road circumscribes the park; the campground, even though a 1.0 version, is still clean; and because the park edges the city of Anamosa, facilities are close. The easiest way to describe the ups and downs of Wapsi is to describe the variety of activities I engaged in because that's probably the biggest draw for this state park--there are a lot of different things to do because of the river, the park layout, and the nearby town. 

The campground is located on a ridge above the river, so flooding isn't an issue. I found that the campground itself, although clean and administered by a host who lived in a home-built tiny home on a trailer, wasn't a place I felt satisfied just sitting beneath my awning and enjoying the ambiance. The campground adjoins to the local golf course, and the country club is nearby--far enough away to not intrude but still visible with traffic skirting one edge of the campground. The main park really reminds me of the second-largest city park in the U.S., Bidwell Park in Chico, California. Both are large parks with a variety of day use and picnic facilities that include a variety of terrain. Wapsipinicon is smaller but there is still a driving route through the park with hiking, picnicking, site-seeing, and fishing spots along the way. Even though I don't kayak (yet), I could see that kayaking the Wapsipinicon is a popular activity. The campground is really a launching base for a variety of activities. 

The ford is a popular spot on the park's loop drive.
A view of the river from the Lower Park Road
A view of the river from historic Hale Bridge, now a walking bridge
My initial explorations were short hikes from camp. They all include a steep walk down to water level and then, of course, a steep walk back up to camp! Walking trails and a couple of caves are included in within walking distance down the hill. The next day I put my folding Montague Allston bicycle together and had much more fun. I sailed down the hill, crossed a stone bridge, by-passed the stream-fording feature for cars (the upside-down bridge), crossed a walking bridge, and biked a section of the Wapsi Trail that was paved into town to buy a few veggies at the Farmers' Market. The next day I biked and explored more and if I'd stayed longer, I would have spent more time exploring bicycling opportunities. The Wapsi Trail, I believe, is a longer trail, but I could only find a short 1-2 mile paved section.  

Downtown Anamosa, Iowa
Downtown Anamosa, from what I saw, is a mixture of remodeling and closed stores, not too different from many small towns in Iowa. There were several interesting restaurants and a grocery store downtown. At the edge of the community, bordering the freeway, there is a Walmart. I would have enjoyed more time exploring, although I have to tell you that because this is a river town, there is quite a bit of up and down riding which included some getting off and pushing the bike for me. I feel the town is hard at work trying to make downtown a nice place to visit.

Across the bridge is the park's main entrance
One pull that this state park has for me is that the cellphone strength is pretty good. That would allow my wife to camp with me and still be able to work online. It would also be easy for longer stays because the town close-by provides opportunities for buying provisions--and the restaurants could provide a chance to buy some take-out for a special meal every now and then. I think the park, being so close to town, is in many ways another example of urban camping; however, since Anamosa isn't really "urban," there is still some sense of the rustic. Bicycling for me was a real draw, too; the town and area is small enough that riding was not too intense on the roads, and the rural roads mostly had gravel edges rather than drop-offs. 

Will I camp again at Wapsipinicon State Park? Probably . . . sometime. The issue for me is that I have a pretty big choice of closer campgrounds that are just as nice. Variety is good, though, and I think this especially would be a beautiful state park in the fall . . . but aren't they all? Ah, decisions, decisions.

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