Camping with Suzi

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Archive for the ‘national forest campgrounds’ Category

Butch Cassidy’s haunts near Hwy 191

Robert LeRoy, a.k.a. Butch Cassidy, of Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid fame, may have been Utah’s first wilderness guide.  His outlaw life as a rustler and bank robber kept him on the move and spending time in a number of magnificent, isolated wilderness locations throughout national forest in Utah.

Castle Gate, near Price, is now a ghost town but when Butch and his partners pull a brazen, daytime payroll robbery of the Pleasant Valley Coal Company, it was a busy mining town. The Castle Gate robbery provides some important insight to Butch’s thought process. Castle Gate was mining town, coal mining to be specific. Cowboys were a rare sight in Castle Gate but horse racing was a huge pastime in the community. To avoid attracting much attention Butch and his partner rode into town appearing be to horse racers. They rode saddleless horse and racing riggings with the plan of telling anyone who ask they were conditioning the horses for match races in Salt Lake City. The tall-tell was successful. Butch and his gang were able to get away with almost $10,000 from the town’s bank.

The escape route from this robbery took Butch and his gang around Price and back into the Robber’s Roost area. Price and nearby Helper become the center of efforts to apprehend Butch and his gang. Even with the concentrated efforts of the two communities, Butch avoided capture. While there is little in Price or Helper to remind us that Butch Cassidy was a major thorn in the sides of the residents, the area’s landscape testifies to the impossible challenge of finding the outlaw band.

Volunteer campground host positions

We have an extensive Volunteer Campground Host Position page.  There are somewhere between 250 and 300 openings listed.  See the left hand column for tab that links to our listing or click here.


Hosts at Dorr Lake, Ocala NF, FL

Hosts at Dorr Lake, Ocala NF, FL

Movie stars and skiing at Manker Flats in Angeles NF

Long before there were Vail, Heavenly, or Sun Valley ski mountains, the Angeles National Forest boasted it had a “Movie Slope.”  It was THE place to ski in the great Los Angeles area and many a movie star enjoyed a run or two down the hill.  In fact, today you can climb the slope and see the old rope tow engine used by cream of the movie culture.  That rope tow engine, a stone lodge, and Manker Flats campground are about all that is left from the heady days of yore.

Lost Dutchman State Park – alternative to Tortilla campground

During our stay at Lake Dutchman State Park, two features I enjoyed every day were the hiking trails and the number of birds.

The hiking trails ranged from super easy short connecter trails that linked various links to lung busting, thigh screaming trails and a few in between. The array of trails allowed me great variety in morning walks with Ralf and Dani and satisfying challenges in afternoon walks with Fred.

top of Treasure Loop trail

top of Treasure Loop trail

Although there wasn’t a reliable source of water to attract any feather friends, each time I was out and about, the sounds of birds in the surrounding shrubs and sudden darts of color confirmed this is a bird-friendly environment.  (Hope I’ve identified the birds in these photographs correctly.)

Cactus wren atop a Saguaro

Cactus wren atop a Saguaro


Another cactus wren on cholla

Another cactus wren on cholla

Phainopepla on a Jojoba bush

Phainopepla on a Jojoba bush

Maybe a warbler

Maybe a warbler


Bottomline is, until the Tonto National Forest re-opens Tortilla campground, Lost Dutchman State park will be our campground of choice.

Our Highway 191, A road less traveled, adventure begins

US Hwy 191


The first traffic light on US Highway 191, two miles west of Douglas, Arizona, looking south.  (The faintly seen mountain on the horizon is Mexico!)   Some might see this as the end of Hwy 191 but, for us, this is where our adventure begins.  With this sight in our rear view mirror we start heading north to the other end of 191 at the border of Montana and Canada.  Pretty exciting, in my book.   Check our Facebook site for additional pictures and news of our adventures.


Weber grille – my alternative to a campfire

The weather in my neck of the woods calls for the big old Weber kettle-style bar-b-que back in to service. It’s almost like camping but without leaving home. I can stare into those glowing coals and recall so many camping trips and adventures. Won’t be long now and I will be adding to my memories.

One memory closely tied to a campfire’s glowing coals are the first meal I made in the Great Out-of-Doors. The first challenge was getting that darn fire going.

Once you have your campfire going and the coals are grey and ashy, you might be wondering  about just what temperature you are working with. Using either an open campfire or kettle-style bar-b-que, there are two ways to approximate the temperature.

The first is to hold your hand or the inside of your wrist close to the cooking surface and counting one-thousand-one, two-thousand-two, and on until the heat becomes unbearable and you can estimate the temperature of your fire. Use this table to help:

Count = Estimated temperature
6 to 8 = 250 to 300 degrees F
4 to 5 = 350 to 400 degrees F
2 to 3 = up to 450 degrees F

The second way is to sprinkle a little all-purpose flour in a cold skillet and then put it on the heat. Let it sit for five minutes before removing from your fire. If there has been no change in color, the cooking temperature is less than 250 degrees. Pale tan indicates 300 degree, golden brown about 350 and dark brown about 400 degrees.

I have found, as a general rule of thumb, in my big old Weber kettle-style bar-b-que two charcoal briquettes produce 20 degrees of heat. So, for a “moderate,” or 350 degree, temperature I’ll start with 18 charcoal briquettes and add more when necessary.  Check Weber’s website for more recipe but here’s a link to my new favorite Beer Can Chicken.  Hickory chips aren’t critical but sure are good.

Beer can chicken – my latest favorite way to prepare chicken on my Weber

Building a campfire for cooking

For novice campers, one of the most daunting challenges on those first few camping trips is building a campfire. At least it was for me. I needed that fire to prepare dinner, to ward off the creeping damp cold, and provide a sense of security (there were bears out there!).  I have to smile now when I think of those early days and all the challenges but I never forget them.  It is those memories the make me proud of how my campfire building skills have improved. Click here for a primer on campfire building and safety made by a group of Boy Scouts. They did a good job.

Wood burning open campfires are the most primal, basic approach to cooking a meal when camping. You need dry wood, preferably from a hard wood tree species (pine burns hot and fast making it less desirable for a cooking campfire), a mound of “kindling”, usually twigs, leaves, needles, and paper (paper should be a last choice), and an assortment of wood pieces of graduating size.  And a starting flame; I prefer a wooden match but paper matches and cigarette lighter work, as do those fancy striker available in big box stores.


The toughest part of cooking over a wood burning in an open campfire is probably temperature control. I think a “key-hole” fire design is probably the best for cooking. For a “key-hole” fire, place a mound of kindling in the upper third of the fire-ring. Stack some of the various sized wood on top, either in a log cabin or teepee fashion. Be sure to leave some space between the pieces of wood. Light a match and, carefully, ignite the kindling. A few gentle breaths might help the flame to spread. As the fire gets more established, add larger pieces of wood.

Once the fire is well-established, and there are glowing coals, pull some of those hot coals to the front of the fire-ring, that’s why they call it a “Keyhole” fire. Use these front coals to cook over, pulling more coals forward as needed, while feeding the rear fire with more dry wood so you always have hot coals waiting to be use. The back of the Keyhole fire is a good place to heat a large pot of water for later use like washing children and dishes.

Remember to keep a bucket of water and shovel or rake handy just in case some burning embers float away.


REI presentation went well

Ready to go

Our presentation at REI in Tucson, AZ March 9 went well.  We talked about camping in the Southwestern Region (basically in national forests in AZ, NM and national grasslands in NM, OK, and TX).  Here is Fred waiting for folks to arrive.  I think we’ll do more presentations in the future.  Any suggested topic would be appreciated.


Planning for 2013 camping adventures

With the start of the new year, my thoughts stray to thoughts of another season of camping.  To me, camping, surrounded by towering trees, endless horizons, and challenging trails, is a rejuvenating experience.

This year, 2013, may not be as rejuvenating as past years but it is still early and we’ll see.  This year we have three options: stay close to home and enjoy the national forests in Arizona; take a long delayed trip to Puerto Rico to research and survey the El Yunque National Forest; or, maybe, take a couple to three months and revisit the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri and the Chequamegon National Forest in Wisconsin.  So many possibilities, were to start planning.

Since I am most familiar with the national forests in Arizona, that will be the first itinerary I’ll developed.  I think I’ll try to integrate visiting some of Arizona’s wineries in our plans.  An important starting point to my planning is the when do we start.  At the moment, I doubt will be on the road before June no matter the option we pick.  Option 1 (Arizona) and option 3 (Missouri and Wisconsin) will probably require two or three months while Puerto Rico will be only a month long.  However, the duration of our travels will be determined by number of campgrounds, their physical locations, what there is to do nearby, etc.  Also things like dump stations, grocery stores, laundromat, and such must be factored into the equation.  I think it is all called “Logistics” and it is something all moms know about.

No matter the option, there is a pile of research to be done and a ton of planning before we hit the road.  Just between us, all the research and planning makes me more ready to get on the road.  Camping is so much more fun then the preparation.

In Season on-site RV Storage – really?

“In season on-site RV storage” is one of the suggested proposals in the American Recreation Association (ARC) “Modernization of Recreation Sites” plan. The concept is that the U.S. Forest Service would give concessionaires operating Forest Service campgrounds the authority to permit, for a fee, the parking of unoccupied recreational vehicles on an active campsite for an extended period of time. According to industry sources, this would allow campers, especially from urban areas, to travel back and forth without having to haul their rigs each time they want to spent time in the forest. This, according to an ARC representative, would be easier on the environment and reduce fuel consumption. The assumption is both would be a good thing. And getting more people enjoying time in the out-of-doors would be good, too.

Shady lane thru Hillman Ferry cg where 3-week stays are win by an annual lottery

According to ARC, the number of people enjoying the out-of-doors, specifically in national forests and grasslands, is steadily declining. Although this representative admits obtaining accurate and comprehensive numbers for the number of people who are enjoying national forests and grasslands is nearly impossible, he suggests the decline is more a function of “working mothers” not having the time or energy to perform the logistics necessary for a family to spend time in the out-of-doors. My response is that’s nonsense!

I have been camping for a long time, before children, with children, working outside the home, and now, in “my golden years” when it is just Fred and my dogs heading for the woods. It is always a challenge planning, packing, and preparing for any trip, and trip camping is no different. However, there are techniques and methods that make it easier and possible to, at-the-drop-of-a-hat, head for the woods. Plus, many working mothers have a helper known as the “dad.” (And by the way, Mr. Recreational Industry Representative, EVERY mother is a “working mother.”) Don’t blame declining numbers on “working mothers.”

There are many factors likely influencing the possible decline of people using national forest campgrounds. Deteriorating infrastructure in campgrounds and the ever increasing influence of concessionaires could be reasons. An infrastructure where the vaults are not maintained or there is an absence of drinking water would discourage many potential campers. Fees for having pets in a campground, restrictions on collecting dead and down wood so campers must purchase firewood from the concessionaire, and closing of campgrounds as soon as schools are back in session, voiding the possibility of camping in the less crowded “shoulder” season, are likely to contribute to the reduction in people camping at concessionaire-operated campgrounds. Perhaps ARC and others in the outdoor recreation industry should look at other factors contributing to the alleged decline in national forest and grassland campground occupancy before pointing their finger at the “working mother” or suggesting “in season on-site RV storage” would miraculously improve campground occupancy.

At least, that’s my opinion. What’s yours? Please, tell us how you feel about this proposal.


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