Friday, February 18, 2022

One Warm Day for Camping Is All (or the Least) You Need

Airstream Basecamp at Lacey Keosauqua State Park
Using the word "warm-up" in February in Iowa is probably the most scandalous word choice one can make as winter continues to dump its frigid bounty upon the Midwest. However, there was one day this week when the temperatures rose to near fifty degrees, and there was one afternoon when the sun was shining and the wind had not yet begun to howl. I chose to hitch up and make my way to Lacey Keosauqua State Park, arriving at about noon on a Monday and leaving at around noon the next day--thereby missing wind, rain, freezing rain, sleet, and snow. I'm pretty proud of my timing and also glad for another chance to check out the rig and get everything ready for when better weather arrives. This trip continues my plan to take advantage of winter getaways and to also use them as shakedown excursions, providing an opportunity for both some recreation and also gearing up.

Lacey Keosauqua State Park is the second-oldest state park in Iowa. It's twenty-five miles from my home, and it's also located right next to the little town of Keosauqua, the Van Buren County seat and also where I was a junior-senior high school teacher for twenty-one years. Van Buren County is rural, known for its villages, rolling hills, and the Des Moines River. Keosauqua is the county's largest town with a population of around a thousand. I have many good memories of this area and its families, and with the recent years, I also have many good memories of camping and hiking in the region. Twenty-four hours of hiking the area pushed away the winter doldrums and provided a glimpse of better weather that will eventually arrive--even if it arrives in fits of wind, freezing rain, and mud. 

Lacey Keosauqua State Park
Although there were several campsites available with the warmer weather, I chose one near the front of the campground that was snow-free and level, allowing me to hook up to electricity, to be near the central water faucet, and to not have to level and unhook my Airstream Basecamp from my Nissan Pathfinder. Because little camp set-up was required, I was able to take a couple of hikes that afternoon, a quick one prior to lunch and then a longer hike after lunch. For this trip, I continued my overnighter practice of not using the 12-volt refrigerator but just using a small ice chest cooled by a couple of reuseable freezer blocks. My main meals? Leftover lasagna!

Hiking mostly on paved roads was okay for this trip, allowing me to avoid mud. About a quarter mile down the main road through the park is a paved road to one of the park's shelters. Since it's not a through road, I was able to walk down the center of the roadway, at times my face turned upward to the sun and my eyes closed. I was able to sit on a limestone wall at the shelter's loop-around and enjoy the silence of the still-sleeping forest trees. I did wander down one trail, though, that was covered with fallen leaves and not muddy, walking a couple of hundred yards to a bluff where I could see the frozen Des Moines River below, a sheet of unmoving ice not anywhere near the spring thaw. A bit of silence, a bit of exercise, and a bit of sunshine without much wind were my rewards for the day and this overnight camp trip. Well worth the effort!

Lacey Keosauqua State Park, Des Moines River
The night's temperatures dropped down to twelve degrees Fahrenheit, but the Basecamp's Truma heating system worked well. I slept warm, enjoying the luxury of the camping trailer and looking forward to another hike the next day. Since the weather was still somewhat uncertain and the wind was picking up, even though it would be a warm day--up to 50 degrees--I decided to head home instead of dealing with wind and with the possible early arrival of rain. I did take a morning hike, though, checking out the other spots in the campground that I could have claimed if I'd been willing to deal with a bit more snow and ice. I was happy with the spot I'd chosen, though, because the site allowed me south and east sunlight for the camper. In cold weather, I like to be able to exit the camper to sunlight, not freezing shadow. 

I enjoyed the drive home on Highway 1, the state highway that I had commuted for twenty-one years as a teacher. A few views have changed with buildings new or buildings demolished; however, for the most part the unfolding vistas were the same, evoking memories and also providing ever-present perspectives of rural beauty--sleeping fields awaiting the spring and strings of trees that followed the creeks. My greatest joy was in getting out even for a short while to enjoy the beauty of the natural world and to engage in those eternal rhythms governed by the laws of nature, the hand of humankind less heavy upon the land. One warm day was all I needed for camping, and I'm glad I took advantage of the opportunity to head out. We should all enjoy those moments of joy that come our way, and we shouldn't feel shy to contrive them when necessary. Being the only camper in the campground and seeing the sun rise in the eastern sky, the bare limbs of dormant trees silhouetted by the pristine light, that was an experience worth the effort--another small excursion in this new camping season, another joyful moment to commune with the great outdoors.

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  1. My wish for all who need to refresh themselves is to do what you have done and enjoy those days to camp or hike this winter.

    1. Thank you! Even cold-weather hiking is better than no hiking.