Saturday, December 7, 2019

Cold Weather Camping at Indian Lake: Part 1--Setting Up and Settling In

Tiny trailer camping at Indian Lake, Farmington Iowa

Wind stirs the fall leaves, moaning in the trees as gusts reach twenty-five miles per hour. At just above freezing, this December morning is a blustery wake-up call of pale blue wind-swept skies and a dazzling kaleidoscope of light reflecting on the rippling waters of Indian Lake, Farmington, SE Iowa. Bedazzling light, singing wind, and the elegant ballet of swans majestic and serene upon the waters.

Indian Lake Campground is only forty-two miles from home, but I took the long way, traveling first forty-two miles to Geode State Park before driving the additional twenty-four miles to Indian Lake. My original plan was to camp at Lake Geode and scope out the changes made to the park, as it has been closed for renovations, mainly to the lake. However, as I crossed the lake's dam on the way to the campground, instead of beautiful water, all I saw was a huge mudhole. Perhaps the campground was open. Perhaps I would have discovered some good hiking, but I just pulled a U-turn the first chance I had and headed for Indian Lake, where as I was registering, I was told that Lake Geode is expected to fill sometime next summer.

Tiny trailer camping at Indian Lake, Farmington Iowa. Rustic Trails Teardrop Campers

I stayed here at Indian Lake last fall, but when checking in I told the host that I couldn't remember the exact hook-up I had stayed at. The area I wanted to stay at is at the back of the park and is a large area with trees where gravel is spread all around the trees. Plugging into electricity is available with 15 amp sockets set at each end of the camp area. All that gravel may sound a bit funky, but in the fall the entire area is covered in a carpet of leaves, and the bare limbs of the trees open the vista of the lake from the campsite.

"Don't worry about your hook-up plug number," the host said. "You're going to be the only one down there," and she was right. The same as last year, it's just me snugged in like a squirrel in a tree.

Tiny trailer camping at Indian Lake, Farmington Iowa. Rustic Trails Teardrop Campers
My pre-dawn writing station. The cellphone reception is great here.

Inside my little RTTC Polar Bear "standy" trailer, the bed folded back, I'm sitting at the table writing in my daybook, to later type into my blog, of course, but a nice change from the computer. Here for four nights, I can afford to slow down and take it easy. Maybe I should identify that as my first  camp routine priority: slow down, rest, and take it easy. That's not only important philosophically but also practically at this time of year when there are fourteen and a half hours between sunset and dawn. Plenty of time for sleep, anyway, after I tire of writing and reading. I'm comfortable in my tiny trailer, the portable electric oil heater keeping me warm as long as I keep away from the walls. No condensation, either.

I turned out the lights last night at 8:30, and twelve hours later after sleeping in, reading some on a novel, checking the news, and heating water for a second cup of chai, I'm ready to go this morning. The big question, though, is this: do I cook my home fries and scrambled eggs outside in the cold wind or inside where it's warm but cramped?

Last night I cooked outside, but this was before the wind shifted from the south to a north wind--and I'm sure you can guess what that did for the temperature. I used my headlamp and the outside door camper light last night to cook a quick, one pot meal of pad thai noodles, lentil soup, and one chopped up, baked potato. Plain and simple, but filling!

Tiny trailer camping at Indian Lake, Farmington Iowa. Rustic Trails Teardrop Campers
This morning I want to fry up the extra potatoes I baked last night for a potatoes and scrambled egg breakfast. The good news is that the raccoons didn't steal my potatoes as they did during one camp trip. (Link) I've decided to brave the chill wind! First, though, I dress for the weather--actually, I over-dress, but I'm checking how my layers fit prior to a later walk. Here's my overkill overwear: wool tee shirt and top and bottom wool longjohns; flannel shirt; flannel-lined pants, fleece jacket, a light but warm down jacket, wool socks, leather boots, wool neck gaiter, sock hat, and nylon rainpants and anorak. You bet I'm over-dressed, and I feel like one of those three-year-old kids that mom dresses up in the snowsuit. I'm looking forward to breakfast, though--if I can bend my arm to fork the food into my mouth!

Based on my experiment, I could wear all those clothes if it were really cold. Camp Routine #2: dress for the weather. Tiny trailer campers are out in the weather much more than those campers who own apartments on wheels; however, they aren't out in the weather as much as tent campers, who quickly find that the thin nylon sides of the tent are not for insulation. I'm very glad to have my standy to warm up in while I watch the north wind blow the leaves outside.

Tiny trailer camping at Indian Lake, Farmington Iowa.
Indian Lake, eastern end, near the dam

I removed most of the outerwear for my two-mile afternoon walk around the lake. It's a great walk, one I wrote about last year ("Fall Snow at Indian Lake"). No snow this year, and the wind dropped away, so the walk was a quiet walk, half the lake trail with direct sun, half the trail in shadow. It was hat and gloves off with the jacket unzipped for the first half of the walk, and then cold weather gear back on for the last, shadowed portion of the trail. Dressing in layers really helps keep me at the right temperature--neither chilled nor sweaty.

Tiny trailer camping at Indian Lake, Farmington Iowa.
The fall forest, scuffing leaves and silence

My walk around the lake was on a leaf-covered hiking trail. At two miles in length, the trail is a nice walk, and although there are some climbs, the trail is generally an easy go. I could tell that the camping population drops off in the cold weather because two trees were down across the trail, and two descriptive signs had fallen. Work for next spring, I suppose. The trail has a nice variety of experience for a walk: bluffs, a small dam, several points that overlook the lake, some pockets of deep woods, and a meadow at the west end of the lake. I've also just discovered a "bird watch" trail that meanders off through a section of the park I've never hiked--until tomorrow!

Tiny trailer camping at Indian Lake, Farmington Iowa.
White oak over 200 years old

There are also some majestic trees. One is about halfway through the walk, a "wolf oak," as a sign designates, a huge oak that had one time stood alone, having taken all the sunlight for smaller trees. Now, though, maples, which can tolerate more shade, are filling in the area. In the meadow area at the west end of the park and near my campground are two ancient white oak trees, over two hundred years old. These trees, even dormant, have a presence, a gravitas and steadiness that just reaches out to me. The years they've lived.

Tiny trailer camping at Indian Lake, Farmington Iowa. Rustic Trails Teardrop Campers
I love the portability of my Chromebook

After the hike, I returned to camp, refreshed and happy, and finished off my lunch stew, the leftover portion having been kept warm in a Thermos. By then, the sun was touching the tops of the bare tree branches. It felt great knowing that I had another two full days here. I was truly set up and settled in.

Part 2 of this series of two articles is here.

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  1. Your blog almost makes me want to do winter camping. I will just do it 500 miles south of where you camp. Great writing.

  2. Five hundred miles south? Let's call that "cool weather camping"!

  3. We often do winter camping, although on beaches of Mexico...especially near San Carlos to start our trip south. Sometimes we just stay there. The beaches are free to use, and trucks come with veggies and water, shrimpers come by with fresh catch and there's plenty of drift wood to pick for fires. We live in the midst of a state forest and get plenty of outdoors winter exposure...6 miles by 12 miles...72 square miles of the wild, which flows into other state forests. I love the north country, but I love the fresh food and fish I get on the beaches of Mexico, too. Plus, my Spanish gets rusty, takes about two weeks to get it all back and then some.

  4. I think you've got winter camping all figured out. It reminds me of a comic strip cartoon I once read--a single frame of a duck with a drink in a glass, sitting on a chaise lounge chair, saying, "Once I got down here, I never looked back."