For nearly a decade we have been posting Winding Pathways Blogs mostly about various items of nature, especially those encountered in yards and around homes. Topics appear seasonally and we can usually find a new “spin” to keep blogs fresh. We have a large inventory of free information on our website, Winding Pathways.
But, change is good, so we decided to shift the focus somewhat and branch out. We will incorporate aspects of our travels, especially those with a nature focus. We will encourage readers to look at familiar and unique places with new eyes. We might address issues and topics of broader interest.
Perhaps a look at the emotional and experiential aspects of yards, nature, and exploring our world. There is always something new to discover and consider both around homes and farther afield.
Stick with us and consider occasionally sharing your experiences, too. As editors, we weave these in as they fit our needs.
Early spring flowers
We Bring Along Backpacker Meals*
We don’t do wilderness backpacking anymore but we are never far from backpacker meals at home and when we travel.
Last May we drove to Casper, Wyoming, with plans to set our tent up at Nebraska’s Smith Falls State Park the first night and the Forest Service’s Toadstool Campground the next. Normally, we’re camping softies. After setting our tent up we choose to go to a nearby town and enjoy a restaurant meal. That didn’t work in Nebraska.
Try some tasty meals.
After arriving at Smith Falls Park, we set up camp and walked to the surprisingly tall waterfall. Gorgeous! Worth a visit. Then, it was dinner time and we were hungry. But no town or restaurant was within miles and we’d already spent too much time in the car that day. So, we pulled our GoodTo-Go backpacker meal bin out of the car.
Our small bin contains these things:
- A few backpacker dehydrated meals that keep well. We also use Right On Trek.
- A tiny backpacker stove and fuel bottle – and matches!
- A bottle of water and a small pot.
- Utensils and bowls.
Within minutes we had our Pocket Rocket stove beneath a pot of boiling water. Soon our dehydrated meal was ready to eat. It hit the spot, cleanup was easy, and we had enough time before darkness for a birding walk.
A small bin holds all we need.
Items on display
Many types of dehydrated meals came on the market decades ago. They were OK and fine for hungry, backwoods backpackers but hardly delicious. That’s changed. Today several companies make meals that are easy to prepare with simple camp equipment and are nutritious and quite delicious. Although marketed for backpackers they are perfect for keeping in the car in case there’s no cafe nearby. They’re also outstanding to keep in a basement emergency bin in case a storm knocks out power.
Note the size difference in equipment
Like dehydrated meals, camp stoves have evolved from heavy cumbersome pump-up models of years ago to lightweight compact, and effective backpacking stoves. Ours is called a Pocked Rocket made by MSR. It takes up only a tiny space in our bin and boils water quickly. A fuel bottle lasts for several meals. No pumping is required. Remember matches if the stove lacks an igniter.
During COVID-19 we ended up with many disposable knife/fork/spoon sets wrapped in paper napkins packed along with carryout meals. We put unused utensil kits in our meal bin along with a couple of bowls.
When we travel, even to visit friends or relatives knowing we will stay with them, we always stow our backpacker meal bin in the car. Usually, we don’t need it. We eat with friends or a cafe is close to the campground. However, like what happened at Smith Falls, having simple-to-cook meals and a micro stove makes the difference between enjoying a pleasant meal or going to bed hungry.
* Winding Pathways remarks are our own. We make non-paid, independent evaluations unless otherwise noted.
What Do You Need to Know About Winter Travel?
Guest Bloggers, Nancy Sauerman and Bruce Bachmann
I have gone to conferences in the winter but that involves flights, motels, and schedules arranged by someone else. I have had my share of winter travel within the state for short visits or to care for relatives. During our working years, we took our vacations after school semesters ended and before summer class teaching started. After retirement, we still took vacations in the spring or fall — before and after major gardening and food-preserving time and pre/postseason.
Finally, we took a winter travel vacation in January, mainly to visit our sister-in-law, who has Alzheimer’s. We wanted to spend time with her while she still knew us. As longtime campers, we took our basic camping equipment and supplies. After all, we were going south — way south.
What We Learned About Winter Vacations
The days are short. There is less daylight drive time. Driving in the dark in the lethal cold in the middle of nowhere isn’t smart. And so much of the Midwest and Southwest IS the middle of nowhere! Shorter days also mean less time for walking, hiking, and touring. Businesses and museums often have reduced hours. In tourist areas, some restaurants and many campgrounds tend to be closed for the season. Likewise, services such as restrooms and water sources were closed or unavailable (once because of a water pipe break). Roads and trails were blocked. Knowing all this, we didn’t let our gas tank go below half-full. It was too cold to camp.
Where We Did Stay
We stayed at the northern Arkansas farm of our sister and her husband for a couple of nights. While hiking around the farm and learning about their easements to protect the riverbed and banks, old-growth trees, and going through the market gardens, we wore winter coats and wraps. A stiff headwind buffeted us through Oklahoma as we headed to Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas panhandle to camp. Although we have camped down to 30 degrees, with lows predicted to be 24 degrees that night we decided that was pushing it. Also, that state park has the Red River winding back and forth over the road in half a dozen spots. At that temperature, the River would be ice or the roads icy. Dicey! So, we got a motel in Tucumcari, New Mexico. Off-season rates made it more palatable, and it was certainly safer and warmer.
With over 300 days of sun, chilis dry easily by braiding them into ristras.
Xeriscaping saves precious water
The wide horizon reveals brilliant sunrises.
We enjoyed seeing the mountains, including snow-capped ones. Some hikes we took on our way to Las Cruces, NM, included the Valley of Fires lava beds, petroglyphs, and White Sands. All in winter coats. Our brother and his wife hosted us for several days in a comfy setting. Again, we bundled up in winter coats and wraps on our walks, hikes, and trips to the store. Lows at night were in the high teens or low 20s. This was less than an hour from the Mexican border! Winter coats and wraps are cumbersome but better than frostbite. One bonus — no mosquitos, ticks, rattlesnakes, or scorpions! We had only one overcast day and it snowed. So most days we applied sunscreen to our faces; this part of the country has an average of over 325 sunny days per year.
Traveling the iconic Route 66.
Valley of Fires Recreation site in New Mexico
Shaped like organs pipes
For several days we had high wind warnings. When we finally drove north to Santa Fe, NM, for a few days of culture, history, and adobe architecture, the wind was so strong that we dodged huge tumbleweeds racing across the highway. Whoever was driving would gasp as some, three feet in diameter, even whacked the car. These were not lightweight, stripped-down, bleached tumbleweeds floating across the road. They were full, sturdy balls of Russian thistle whizzing full speed. The wind certainly also cut our gas mileage while we headed west. Our gas mileage was better when we headed back east but the wind wasn’t as strong those days.
At 7,199 feet above sea level, Santa Fe is the highest elevation state capital. It was cold! One morning we woke to 10 degrees. Needless to say, no camping. The casita where we stayed just a half-mile from downtown had a fully-equipped kitchen, so we were able to cook meals and take breaks between walks to and from the Plaza area with all the museums and historical buildings. Our coats and wraps kept us warm.
Santa Fe boasts intriguing museums.
Museum of International Folk Art.
Keeping an Eye on the Weather
As we readied to head home, weather predictions showed a major winter storm brewing over the Great Plains and ready to plunge into the Upper Midwest. So, winter in America means watching the weather and plotting a safe course of travel, which we did. Staying south and east to avoid serious wind chill warnings, we arrived home a half-hour after the first snow of that storm sifted down. We had expected to have to stay another night in a motel but we slept in our bed that night. Phew!
So, short days, cold, wind, and storms. We will think twice before planning another January Road trip.
Fair Oaks Farm
A couple of times a year we drive to and from New Jersey to visit relatives. It’s a long thousand-mile slog each way, but we recently discovered an amazing driving break……watching a calf being birthed.
Our fastest route is following Interstate 80, but that involves running a traffic gauntlet in northeast Indiana and paying tolls and boredom along the Ohio and Indiana Turnpikes. On a recent trip, we took a more southern route, mostly following secondary roads to avoid tolls and traffic. Never would we have imagined that, on a driving break, we’d watch a birth!
Yup. A birth. We’d been following smallish roads across the Hoosier State and had vaguely heard of Fair Oaks Farm. As our car cleared a rise by an enormous farm field we spotted their colorful water tower and stopped in. It’s really not a farm…but then again it is. Mostly it’s a fascinating living museum of American agriculture, focused on dairy, pork, and crops combined with a hotel, restaurant, and gas station.
After checking in we entered the birthing barn to take in an amazing sight. Two Holstein dairy cows were giving birth, with a human attendant attentively watching to help as needed. As we sat with other families in the darkened seating area, two hooves emerged from each cow. One gave birth quickly. The other struggled until the attending woman helped by gently pulling the calf from her. We, and many others watching, were riveted by the real-time arrival of new living animals. This event brought to mind Marion’s experience growing up on a Maine dairy farm watching a calf being birthed.
From there we enjoyed exhibits telling the story of how crops are grown, dairy cows are cared for, and pork is produced. We walked from building to building enjoying interactive exhibits telling the story of food production. The Farm calls the exhibit areas Crop, Dairy, and Pig Adventures – and they truly are adventurous.
Ninja Warriors in Training
Kids on ropes course
At Pig Adventure we encountered a couple with two small children. “We were on a long drive from Indianapolis to Chicago. The kids were restless in the back seat. So, we stopped. Look at them now,” declared their mom. A young boy and girl were testing their balance on a large complex obstacle course sort of like we see on TV’s American Ninja Warrior. They were harnessed in and guided by employees. Thrills and exercise, yes. Danger, no.
As a seasoned museum professional Rich was impressed at how exhibits were accessible for walking-challenged folks with plenty of places to sit and rest. Yet they gave kids a chance to burn off energy as they moved from exhibit to exhibit. For example, kids could climb small “hills” and slide down the other side to see new displays. One boy operated a hand crank to move large constructed kernels of corn up a vertical elevator to drop into a “silo” and back down for kids to repeat the process. Great learning combined with physical activity. It was, for the family, an educational and exciting way to burn off energy.
Take Time to Experience
We are far from being kids but we gave the crank some turns, also. Then we took a tour break and enjoyed lunch at the site’s eatery, called the Farmhouse Restaurant. As we dined, we watched cheese being made behind a huge glass wall.
We could have boarded a shuttle bus to see actual dairy and pork operations nearby or walk to the orchard and pumpkin patch but time was pressing. We needed to hit the road. So, we will be back.
Pig Adventure Starts here!
Fair Oaks Farm was the dream of Mike and Sue McCloskey who began creating it in 1999. It opened a few years later and new exhibits – actually agricultural adventures – are regularly added. Today about 275 staff host thousands of people every year. Jobs for local teens, parents, and grandparents as they warmly welcome visitors.
It’s not all pigs and cows. Many people visit the orchard in the fall to pick apples or the pumpkin patch to stock up on the orange globes for Halloween. Later in the season, there’s ice skating, a forest of lights, and even igloos to enjoy.
The Farm is just off Interstate 94, which links Chicago and Indianapolis. Anyone driving East/West might consider taking smaller roads that parallel Interstate 80 for a less stressful drive that leads past the Farm. For information check out fofarm.com.
Coming up to a year from the last post on the features we wrote for the Cedar Rapids Gazette, here is an updated list for the second half of 2021 and the first half (almost) of 2022. These features are in addition to our regular work with Hoover’s Hatchery blogs and FB Live and our own blogs for Winding Pathways.
May 8, 2022. Splish Splash! Whitewater Kayaking in Iowa. (No link to date)
April 22, 2022. Finding America On Roadways East.
April 13, 2022. Muscle Over motor When Boating.
March 21, 2022. Rockhounding.
January 30, 2022. Backpacking Bonus. (8B of GZ. No link to date) Available Green Gazette.
January 24, 2022. Distinctive Religious Structures.
January 16, 2022. Hiking Wild Areas. (no link to date) Available Green Gazette.
December, 2021. Country Schools. (no link to date) Available Green Gazette
November 15, 2021. Making a (Mini) Pitch for Soccer.
October 6, 2021. A visit with Midwest’s Pioneering Authors.
September 8, 2021. Taking a Slow Boat to Cassville.
September 6, 2021. Camping in Iowa’s Trout Country & Decorah’s Celebrities.
August 4, 2021. Parking While Headed East. And Solar Panels at Peoples.
Backyard camping is a good way to start with young children.
Kids love camping. For a youngster a night of camping, even if it’s in the backyard, is an adventure.
This summer the National Wildlife Federation is encouraging people to go camping in national, state, county, or private campgrounds or even in the backyard. They offer a host of information on nwf.
There are lots of ways to camp. We choose to tent but others prefer sleeping in a recreational vehicle or renting a yurt or cabin in the woods for prairie.
Who Camps All Winter?
A small tent is cozy
Rich camps out at least once a month all year long, even in winter! When it’s warm the campout is usually in a state park somewhere, but if travel isn’t possible or in winter the little tent gets pitched in the backyard.
Easy Way To Start
Summer backyard camping for kids is easy, fun, and inexpensive. No travel or reservations are needed. An inexpensive big box store tent works OK. We’ve seen them for sale for under $30. They’re not the best in bad weather but they’ll keep bugs and light rain out during a summer yard outing. That’s really all that’s needed. On warm nights kids just need a blanket or sheet, pillow, flashlight, and maybe their favorite stuffed animals or games.
If the weather’s really bad, or winter’s grip is on the land, a kid campout in the living room is also fun. No tent needed. Just drape a big blanket over chairs and make a bed within.
For those who are adventurous like Rich, consider different seasons. Just prepare. Off season camping is great fun.
With so many ways and all seasons to camp, we hope you get outside and play!
Ready to go
Some people like tents.
A light at night is useful
For long camping stays a sheepherder tent is just the thing!
These friends really know how to camp year round.
We camped outside Yellowstone in a teepee. What fun!
Ready set……go camping!