Camping with Suzi

Join me as we discover camping in our national forests.


Posts Tagged ‘novice campers’

Salt Springs Campground

Revisiting campgrounds is something like having lunch of with an old friend you haven’t seen in awhile.  They are older, more mature in some ways, and comfortably familiar.  Our time at Ocala’s Salt Springs campground was been like that – a pleasant visit.

Our first visit to Salt Springs campground was in 1996 during the Thanksgiving holiday.  The place was check-to-jowl with campers and so very busy with activities.  That is when we learned Thanksgiving is a major family camping holiday in the Southern Region.  The weather was cool but sunny and comfortable and we enjoyed the whole atmosphere.

For this visit, during the first weeks of a new school year, the campground is nearly empty and so quiet.  The temperatures have been okay (staying out of the 100s) but rainstorm each afternoon and resulting humidity have made it less than comfortable.  In other words, it has been a fairly typical for Florida.

We used Salt Springs campground as our base to re-surveying all the other Ocala NF’s developed campgrounds that met our criteria.  Centrally located and with full hookups, staying at Salt Springs was pretty much a “no-brainer” for us.  But, according to the emails we have gotten and the statics from our website, Salt Springs isn’t the most popular campground in the Ocala NF.  That “honor” would fall upon Juniper Springs, closely followed by Alexander Springs, campground.  These campgrounds have no hookups but very pretty springs with good swimming and canoeing opportunities.  I assume these are the reasons for their popularity.

Or maybe Salt Springs campground doesn’t get the hits because the grapevine has gotten the word out.  No doubt in my mind, Salt Springs is a super family campground.  There is swimming in the natural springs (the water bubbling up in several places from a deep aquifer), a small collection of trails good for the whole family, hot showers and flush toilets, and separate areas for folks who want to camp in tents in the woods without a motorhome next door and for those folks who want a more RV resort type environment.  Did I mention the strip mall across the road with a Post Office, laundrimat, convenience store, café, and such?

Met a group of four families camping at Salt Springs cg that were going to trailer their atvs to one of the two networks of off-road trails in the area.  They drove almost four hours to spend two days here!  How did they know about Salt Springs cg?  A friend told them.  And now I’m telling you.  If you are looking for a nice campground, with or without hookups, in central Florida, Salt Springs cg is worth considering.

Building a campfire and eating well

For a campfire, you need fuel (dead and down or store-bought wood), an ignition source (matches), and air (all around).  Sounds simple but there are some tricks that as a novice camper you might not realize.  One thing you’ll want is variety in the size of your kindling.  Look around and collect dry grass, twigs from dead branches and some bark (good activity for children).  The key is DRY kindling.  There are numerous videos on YouTube about campfires but simply put, you forming a small pile with the smallest size kindling in the campsite’s fire ring.   Add the ignition source (a lighted match) and gradually add wood from the smallest to the larger diameter material.

There are two campfire designs, tepee and crisscross, I find useful.  A tepee fire design is good for building quick fire since the heat is concentrated in one spot. You simply stack the wood around your burning kindling like a tepee.  The crisscross fire design is good for a long-lasting fire with a lot of coals, good after a dinner campfire.  All you do is place the wood around the burning kindling in a crisscross pattern, like cabin walls, and lay a flat roof on top.

Remember you are making a campfire, not a signal fire, so keep it small and efficient.

One of my problems with cooking as a novice camper was judging the temperature.  Here is a trick I’ve found useful.  Hold your open hand close to the cook surface, but not so close you burn yourself, and count “one-thousand, two-thousand, etc.” until the temperature comes unbearable.  A count of six to eight means the cook surface has a temperature range of 250 to 300 degrees.  Four to five means 350 to 400 degrees.  Two to three count means 450 to 500 degrees.

Another method is a pinch of white flour on the skillet or griddle.  If the color of the flour is unchanged after five minutes, your skillet’s temperature is less than 250 degrees.  A golden brown means up to 350 degrees temp and 400 degrees gives of dark brown.

Once you have mastered cooking in a Dutch oven, you’ll have the world at your feet.  In my opinion, Dutch oven cooking is a superior culinary cooking style.  I’m still developing my Dutch oven skills.   If you can find someone who offers classes in this cooking method, IMHO it will be worth the investment.

A quick word about temperature inside your Dutch oven – it’s all a matter of coals.  The Dutch Oven Dude has been my source for all things related to Dutch ovens.  Here is a link to a set of guidelines he gives for obtaining the temperatures you need.

Frankly, a properly seasoned Dutch oven is a thing of wonder.  The method of seasoning is the same you use for seasoning a cast iron skillet but how many of us have one of those things?  Again, the Dutch Oven Dude has a good set of instructions for successfully seasoning your oven (or cast iron skillet).  Just remember, once your oven is properly seasoned, never use soapy water to wash it.  My preferred method of cleaning is to add a couple of inches of water to the oven and set back on the fire until the water starts to simmer.  Then I’ll use a rubber spatula to scrap any food bits off the oven’s surface and pour the water oven my cooking fire.  Once the oven cools down a bit, I’ll wipe the inside out with a dry paper and let cool completely before putting away.

Some recipes require monitoring the Dutch oven for a while, adding hot coals as needed. For those occasion, I bring a book and my knitting and enjoy.

Two foods perfect for campfire cooking are corn-on-the-cob and s’mores. After eating an ear of corn roasted over a campfire and you’ll wonder why no one told you about this delicacy. The trick, I think, is brining the corn. This means removing the husk and silk from a fresh ear of corn, slips it in a plastic bag or large container. Add enough water to cover and add a pinch of salt. Let soak for no less than 30 minutes and no longer then two hours. Remove the corn from the brine and place on a moderately hot (350-400) grill (you can rub with oil but not necessary). Grill for 10 to 20 minutes, turning often until corn is tender and nicely charred.

The art of roasting a marshmallow to perfection might be one of the most important camping skills you can learn. Each person must develop their own technique and it comes only with lots of practice. So bring a big bag of puffy marshmallows, a box of graham crackers, and as many chocolate bars as you can. Then, every night, after dinner, work on perfecting your marshmallow roasting skills. The variety and variations of s’mores are incredible. I’m more a traditionalist but do a search on the web for some innovative recipes.

Next week, where to camp?

In the Kitchen for Novice Campers

You got to eat but, like every other activities associated with camping, meal planning and preparation while camping can seem daunting to the novice camper.  The secret is K.I.S.S. (keep it simple silly).

As with the other articles in this min-series, I am assuming you are a novice camper with little or no camping experience and no camping kitchen equipment or tools.  No problem.  As a matter of fact, in some ways, this is a good thing because you don’t have to relearn anything.

One thing about camping you should remember is that for most of us, throughout the day we’ll be busy hiking, fishing, walking, exploring, and doing fun stuff. In other words, when days are full of fun stuff and who wants to spend a lot of time over a hot campfire.  However, you’re burning lots of calories and need to refuel you body.  What’s to do?  Back to K.I.S.S.

I’m an advocate for avoiding over-processed food but this is one time when convenient pre-package food, chips, and chocolate should be included in your diet.  Particularly if you are camping at an elevation considerably higher than you body is accustom to.  But don’t forget your veggies and fruits.  Tip: Raw fruits and vegetable are outstanding snacks – just peel and eat.

Let me say right now, cooking on an open campfire can be a challenge for any of us.  Better you use a camp stove for your first few camping adventures.  Your camping friends might be sick of my suggesting this but try to borrow, or rent, a camping camp stove until you either buy one for yourself (the has a bunch to tip for buying articles but I think talking with friends and the sales person at your favorite camping stove are the best sources for info) or decide camping isn’t for you.  Cooking on a camp stove is like cooking on gas at home but with fewer burners and more wind.

Equipment that I think is really important to have is: an ice chest, a clean gallon jug for water, skillet, saucepan, a wood spoon, pancake turner, a sharp knife, a large fork, a roll of aluminum foil, and a kettle.  This is a bare bones kitchen.  Plates, glasses, flatware and so on can be disposable but I would recommend taking a few piece of heavy duty plastic with you and wash it and re-use.  Tip: It is better to have something that can do double duty, like a large metal cup for your coffee after you eat your cereal from it, than a sack full of specialty items.  Another tip: Using the aluminum foil for “Packet Meals” is a great way to reduce dish washing but you’ll need a campfire.

Space with be a premium so claim one end of the campsite’s picnic table as your kitchen.  Ice chest on the shady side (which is probably under the table) and stove in the middle of the end.  Tip:  Having a box of baking soda next to the stove for emergencies, such as an oil fire, is a good idea.  I’ve never needed it but you just never know.

Here’s a possible menu for a three-day weekend camping trip that is easy and pleasing.

Friday dinner (one stop on the way)
Store Bought Broasted Chicken a la Walmart (yields about 3 cups of meat)
Potato Salad (also store bought)
Broccoli Salad
Grandma Harriet’s Chocolate Vinegar Cake

Saturday breakfast
Sunrise Oatmeal (I’ve been known to toss in a handful chocolate chips for extra energy)

Snack: Can of tomato juice and cheese bites

Saturday lunch
Chicken Salad Sandwiches on Whole Wheat Bread (alternative: toss some chopped leftover chicken on top leftover potato salad)

Snack: Jane’s Oyster Cracker (from home)

Saturday dinner
Black Beans & Wild Rice (Prepare Wild Rice mix according to package directions. Rinse canned black beans well before adding to wild rice mix. Add 1/4 to ½ cup more water than directed on package.  Gentle stir and heat through.)
Broccoli Salad and canned fruit w/its juice
Tortilla S’mores

Sunday breakfast
Leftover chicken, cheese, egg, along with potato and broccoli salads scramble with cinnamon tostada chips (Heat up all the leftovers in the skillet.  Beat eggs and pour into the skillet.  Stir just enough to ensure the eggs have reached into everything.  Sprinkle a handful of grated cheese, you choice.  Lower heat and put a lid or sheet of aluminum on the skillet.  Continue to heat through until cheese melts.  Good with salsa if you have some.)
Canned fruit

Sunday lunch
Cheesy beans and rice burritos (Mash leftover beans and rice while heating than smear on warmed burritos, fold or roll and serve.  I’ll make a bunch for our crowd and wrap each in a separate sheet of aluminum and put it over the cooler coals in the fire ring to stay warm.)
Orange smiles

Sunday Snack – Apple slices and celery stick with peanut butter

You’ll note how some things morph into a different look in another meal.  There are more menu ideas and recipes here.

One thing most of us don’t realize when we start camping is the effect of elevation on cooking.  Everyone has a story about the first time dealing with the challenge of preparing an eatable meal a mile up.  Even packaged mac and cheese can be a challenge but, if you remember water boils faster at higher elevations but that doesn’t mean things cook faster, you be okay.  Just be patient.  It’s all about physics and the fact that while water boils at 212 degrees at sea-level, it will reach a full rolling boil at 196 degrees at 10,000-ft. Click here to more information on cooking at elevation.  Tips: Use more water than normal when cooking vegetables, and about anything else, so the pot doesn’t scorch.  Besides, you need that extra liquid anyway to ward off the effects altitude on your body.

A few words about that ice chest – Empty plastic milk bottles are perfect for making ice to go in your ice chest.  And you’ll have ice water as it melts – a refreshing delight.  A large cardboard box can substitute for a store bought chest.  Just pack it tightly in the order what you need and when, wrap it with a heavy blanket, and keep in the deepest, darkest shade you can find.  (Be sure to store in your vehicle at night or when away from your campsite.)  If you can find a real ice chest, buy block ice rather than cubes or crushed ice.  The block ice will melt slower and keep your food stuff cold longer.

Next week – campfires building, using, and safety.

Good night’s sleep means good time camping

Speaking as someone who has been camping for a long while, a good night’s sleep is essential to enjoying any camping adventure.  From buzzing bugs to an inadequate sleeping bag, there are a number of factors that can keep a camper from a good night’s sleep.  So what is a novice camper to do?  Here are some thoughts that should help

First, if this is your first camping adventure, and you don’t want to buy a sleeping bag until you have decided if camping is something you might do again, consider borrowing or renting a sleeping bag.  You might want to use an old sheet and make a “lining” for your borrowed bag but that’s up to you and your sewing skills.

An alternative to a borrowed or rented bag is a bedroll.  I find a bedroll well-suited to summer tent camping when temperatures are relatively warm throughout the night (tip: If you find nights nippy, don’t strip down to the buff. Often just one extra layer is all you’ll need to be toasty warm.) and my tent offers good protection from inclement weather.  Plus a bedroll is easy to make from the stuff you already have.

Here’s how: Lay a blanket flat on the floor and spread a similar size sheet on top of the blanket.  If twin size blanket is used, fold in half or in thirds if double size is used.  Roll it up from short end and use a string or rubberband to hold it together.  When you get to camp, unroll and fold one end under so the bed roll is as long as you are tall.  If you are hiking into a campsite, roll your bedding the long way, fold in half, and use a string or rubberband to tie the ends together so you have a donut that can be carried by slipping over your head and one arm.

When you feel camping is something you will be doing again and are ready to invest in a sleeping bag, check out this article from REI.  Don’t forget to use the experience and knowledge of your local outfitter store’s sales staff.

Have you heard the story about the Princess and the Pea?  You’ll have a better understanding of the Princess’s discomfort after sleeping on the ground.  If the campground doesn’t have the tent pad, be sure give the ground under your tent a thorough inspection for little rocks and large pebbles and remove each and every one.  And, trust me, you’ll find more while sleeping.

From air mattress to sleeping mats, there are a number of things you can use to minimize those lumps.  Personally, I would get off the ground all together and go for a cot but it is a sizeable invest and I know I’ll be camping again.  If you aren’t sure about the whole idea, ask your sleeping bag source about borrowing something to lay under their bag.  You could also go with what you have on hand: an extra blanket, pine needles or a couple of beach towels, anything that  offers some padding.

One might think the forest at night is really quiet but it can be anything but silent.  Not noisy like boom boxes and train whistles, although these sounds are possible, but noisy with the sounds of nature.  You won’t believe how loud an amorous frog can get!  Ear plugs are good if you are sensitive to unfamiliar sounds.  Or camp near a stream for the “white noise” of flowing water.

Another surprise for the novice camper is just how dark the night is in the forest.  Some find the darkness terrifying.  A good quality flashlight, kept close, is reassuring and will help reduce the stubbed toes on the way to the bathroom.

Even experienced campers can be surprised by the swing in temperatures between day time and night.  (A thirty-degree shift isn’t uncommon in the mountains west of the Mississippi River.)  Wearing a socking cap and socks are suggested to help ward off the cold.  Another idea is to eat a little snack before climbing into your bedroll to generate some additional body heat.

One last word – mosquitos.  They don’t seem to care if it is day or night, mosquitos are always hungry.  You can apply a mosquito repellant just before you climb into bed or sleep well down and under the covers.  I’ve been know to sleep with a bandana draped over my head.  Sorry, but I haven’t found anything more effective then these strategies.

Next week – a kitchen primer for the novice camper.

Novice campers – Buying a tent

Last year, everyone was spouting doom and gloom for camping in our national forests. From the anecdotal information I have, la majority of  national forest campgrounds saw more campers, more families, and more novice campers in 2009.  As summer moves into full swing, it would seem this trend is continuing for 2010.

While having more people discover the joys camping and the wonders of national forests is a good thing.  But camping can be scary.  Especially to novice campers.  If you have never build a campfire, slept under the stars, or spent time in the woods, there is a lot to learn.

The blogs I’ll be posting for June’s Fridays will focus on helping the novice camper  minimize worry-factor and, hopefully, provide a “warm-fuzzy” feeling when the novice camper heading for a campground and their camping adventure.  Camping isn’t hard but it can be a challenge for the most experienced camper.  Four things critical to a “successful” camping adventures are shelter, sleep, food, and determining the best style of camping (dispersed camping vs developed campground) for the camper.

Let’s start with the general topic of shelter.  There are several options for shelter.  You can use your vehicle if the back is big enough or you could rent a cabin or try something in between. Many novice campers start with a car and tent so that’s what this blog is focused on.  (Novice campers in recreational vehicles is a series for later.)

The most challenging thing about car camping is the car’s lack of room.  Don’t try to take everything!  For a weekend, you can make do with a change of clothes, fire building stuff, food (more about that in a couple of weeks), a tent, some personal hygiene stuff, and a sense of adventure.  And if there is more than one of you going, you might have to consider limiting the hygiene stuff to just a toothbrush and a bar of hotel soap.

If you are totally new and not at all sure camping is going to be your thing don’t waste your money on a new tent.  Borrow or rent one.  (Check a local outfitter store such as REI about renting all the camping equipment you need.)

However, if you a fairly sure camping is something you will want to do again, than, by all means, buy a tent.  There are lots of choices and the internet has reviews for just about every manufacturer and model.  A good place to start your research is with Consumer Reports {}.

Another option is visiting that local outfitter store and pick the salesperson’s brain.  Yes, places like Walmart and Target will have tents and the prices are attractive but the salespeople won’t have the practical knowledge of the equipment you need.  While the tents offered in non-camping focused business maybe cheaper, a serious consideration should be given to durability.  Think of it this way: If you buy a tent for $200 and use for 20 weekend camping trip, the cost is $10 per trip.  And if you buy a tent for $25 and it doesn’t make it through a weekend of camping in your backyard, that tent costs is $25 per trip.  Which seems the most cost effective to you? In other words, “Don’t go cheap!” if you want a tent to last longer then one trip.

Other tips are:
– Select a size that will offer all the occupants comfort.  Tents are rated 2-person, 4-person and so and each “person” is crammed into that tent and no consideration is given to anything else you might want to store in the shelter of a tent.  When we go camping, the “kids” (a couple of snuggle-bug dogs) share the tent with us so a 4-person tent was our best option..
– A consideration of size should include the roof line.  Dome tents are great but not if you are leaning over all the time.
– Another rating used for tents is 3 or 4 season.  Don’t worry about seasons.  As long as the tent keeps you dry, investing in a quality sleeping bag is a better use of your money.
– Practice setting up your tent in the backyard or livingroom. As with most things, a little practice goes a long way to insure success.
– When you get your tent invest in “seam sealer”.  While you have your tent set up in the back yard, apply the “seam sealer” to insure you will have some place dry if it should rain.
– A drop clothe or quality tarp is good under the tent but a lightweight inexpensive tarp or drop clothe inside your tent will make clean up so much easier.
– Check the ventilation the tent offers.  And how effective does the “rain flap” appear to be?
Campingblogger’s “Anatomy of a bad tent” points out things you’ll want to avoid in your tent, such as a lack of ventilation and a too short “rain flap”.

Back in the day, we would dig a trench around the tent.  Allegedly, it was to keep the tent dry.  (Personally, I think it was just a ploy to keep the children busy.)  This practice is now frowned upon and thanks to the evolved construction of many tents today, unnecessary.  However, staking your tent is a very good practice, especially when the wind picks up in storm.  Eureka Tents describe an excellent method to use when staking your tent for high winds and storms.

Next week – a good night’s sleep.

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