For a variety of reasons having to do with scheduling and possible content dilution, this blog will update weekly instead of bi-weekly, and that day will be Thursday.
For a variety of reasons having to do with scheduling and possible content dilution, this blog will update weekly instead of bi-weekly, and that day will be Thursday.
Items that pertain to normal people are written normally.
(Items that pertain only to guidebook authors are in parentheses).
PACKING THE GEAR
AT THE TRAILHEAD
I am, as a backpacker, somewhat of a gear hog. One of the few exceptions is cooking. I carry a little MSR stove, a can of fuel for it and a titanium pot, and that’s it. All I do with the stove is boil water.
To be fair, I am not a foody at all, and this allows me simple meals on the trail. And once you grasp that name-brand freezer bags will accept boiling water without melting, these meals become easy to prep in advance. I have oatmeal for breakfast, and maybe ramen, or some commercial boil-in-a-bag product. That’s it. That’s all the work I put into meals.
In town, my day job has me living – and often eating – out of my car. In Phoenix, this means a real cooler, or real disappointment. There is no middle ground.
In the video clips below I discuss my Canyon Cooler Scout, which lives in my car and allows me to eat lunch even in the summer heat, and my MSR SuperFly stove, which allows me to boil water on the trail.
(A more complete review of Canyon Coolers.)
I can confirm that the cooler will keep ice, or near ice for about 40 hours.
[This is a thing we do here from time to time. Unless noted, you can assume I bought the item in question.]
Several years ago (2013) prior to what would become the Last Family Camping Trip, my wife and I, once we realized we did not have the finances to pull off any level of RV trailer, decided the consolation prize would be a really good tent. Our teenage kids, by his point, preferred their own tents, the dogs were not coming, and our giant, two room tent seemed actually too large. Also, it had leaks and failing zippers and other maladies that beset aging tents.
After some shopping about, we settled upon the Eureka Copper Canyon 6. What sold us was the steep walls and high ceiling which maximized 10’x10’ living space within the tent. The tent tops out at 7’, but even better, the walls are at least 6’, and nearly vertical. That means normal adults can stand up anywhere in that 10’x10’ space. We were old enough that we did not want getting dressed to be an Olympic event anymore, and having space, not on the air mattress, to do that was what sold us.
Being able to sit in camp chairs inside a tent mitigates a lot of otherwise miserable circumstances at a campsite. Like riding out rainstorms. Or putting on socks.
Eureka touts the zippered port for an extension cord as some sort of big selling point. In my world-view that would be just another means for vermin to sneak in and/or another zipper to fail. People who value that sort of thing are really just biding time until they get an RV.
That said, I think we made use of it at a KOA in Oregon, so that the kids would have a dry spot to charge their phones besides the car. But the adults to not go out into the woods to stare at screens.
Make no mistake: this is a campground tent – not a wilderness expedition tent. It weighs about 30 pounds, and packs as thick as a sleeping bag and slightly longer. The zippers and the floor are all family camp grade. If you’re looking at heavy use, you will want some sort of ground-cloth, and a better grade of tent stakes than the ones that come with the tent. Mine had no leaks or zipper failures as of September 2018, but that’s really less than 20 use nights.
The three-season rating is somewhat aspirational. It will take some wind and rain, as all tents should, but the design is more about privacy in summer than resisting inclement weather in early spring or late fall.
To get vertical walls, they had to include plastic sleeves to provide rigid corners. That works well, but setting the poles into those sleeves will take strong hands, and it is a LOT easier with two people. That said, I can set it up and take it down by myself in the same 20 minutes Eureka says is normal, but I’m pretty good at this sort of thing.
You could not leave this to junior high children and expect success.
Minor nuisances in setting up: the upper tent poles, the wide ones, are longer than you think, and must go through sleeves at the top. Sleeves always aggravate me, and you will struggle to keep the extended end out of the dirt. Making the vertical poles will take strong hands. The rain fly is several orders of magnitude easier with two people, but that would be the case with any tent of this size.
Eureka did mark one corner for reference (this matters) and there are pockets in the rain-fly to stow the guy-lines, which saves a treasure hunt for yet another nylon sack.
Unlike Eureka’s backpacking tents, the carry bag is actually generously sized. You do not have to refold the thing to within a millimeter of factory spec to get it back inside the bag. I fold it ends to center and one more time over, but the tent is square – it really doesn’t matter which end you fold from. Four folds will leave the tent no wider than the bag of poles. Plop that bag on one end, roll to the other, and shove it in the bag.
I do not bring this thing when I camp alone – I have a hammock. But recently I had occasion to camp in a campground with a guest. Hammocks do not work well with campgrounds, or guests.
In the video below, I set it up in my backyard because I hadn’t used it in a while, and I wanted to make sure it was still complete and intact. The rest is from the above mentioned campground, namely Hualapai Mountain Regional Park near Kingman AZ.
I remember paying nearly $600 for this tent in 2013, because it was the new whiz-bang thing, and we had lost our window to shop around for price. Eureka now lists it at $259.95. That’s worth the money, if you need to duplicate your bedroom at the campsite.
Hualapai Mountain towers over Kingman and surrounding parts,; an island of pine forest in a high desert sea. High on the slopes, at about 6000 feet, sits Hualapai Mountain regional (county) Park, featuring campgrounds and a trail system wandering around the peaks.
There are several access points, one being right in the campground, but I started from the actual trailhead – and had the place to myself.
From the trailhead (with vault toilets tables and trash-cans) the approach trail follows the wash, past the buried remains of the Silver Bell Mine and finally across a cute little wooden bridge, and up the mountainside.
That leg took me to the campground trailhead, and honestly, unless you are hankering to see a mostly buried silver mine, you can start here and miss nothing. The meat of the hike is the Potato Patch Loop which starts in earnest a hundred feet up the dirt road from the secondary trailhead.
Now, let’s pause a moment and consider that all I had was the free trail guide they gave me at the campsite HQ. Which, so you are warned, is next to worthless. Oh, sure, it has colors and illustrations and explanatory text about the various ecosystem stratas and how regions got their name. But the scale is so small, it is useless as a means to track where you are hiking.
A common topic of conversation with my fellow hikers – many of whom seemed more experienced than I – was “where do you think we are?”
I went clockwise around that loop. My first stop was Staircase Lookout, named for the CCC built stone stairs that lead up to that lookout point. That would be the last landmark I could properly identify until I hit Camp Levi, which we will get to.
Between those two points, the trail winds around the slopes as a mostly obvious single-track affording views of the high desert vistas (mostly to my left) and cool forests and giant boulders of the mountainside (mostly to my right). The whole loop is around 10 miles, not counting spurs to summit trails. Hualapai has four summit trails, and you would be on your own with any of them.
Everyone gets lost at Camp Levi. This is a Boy Scout camp, and therefore riddled with trails that look official and well made, but really just loop back to camp for whatever reason. I would love to give you solid guidance on how I found my way out of that maze, but really I just kept trying trails in and out of the Valley of the Porta-potties there (there are like twenty spread about) until one of those trails just kept going.
The actual trail will have orange reflectors nailed to trees – though not through Camp Levi – but that’s the true sign you must seek.Then it was more wandering through shady forest around staggering boulders separated by high desert vistas.
The hike is at serious altitude – meaning it will be blessedly a good ten degrees colder than nearby Kingman, but will also work your lungs harder. So while the trail is Medium with pockets of Hard, it will feel like a lot more Hard than it is unless you are accustomed to the lower oxygen ratios.
You can do this hike in tennis shoes. There were some families with kids chased horned toads. I hit some clots of people on a warm Sunday afternoon, but few do the whole circuit. I had the more distant slopes largely to myself.
I clocked a good thousand feet of overall elevation change across the 6 or so miles of actual hike. Most of this was accomplished via switchback.
Eventually, I came back to where I started, and followed the spur back to my car.
My tent site cost $17 a night, but a day pass to the park costs $7 per vehicle. Yes – they will check.
Sleeping on the ground is a part of nature that no one really wants to go back to. One of the central drives behind building civilizations in the first place was an effort to avoid this. And here you are, staring at a campsite where the ground is invariably some combination of hard, wet, rocky or uneven. Tents and pads, for all their developments do not really solve this problem; they just make it less miserable. For the same kind of time and money, perhaps less, you could rise above it all.
You could spend the night in a hammock.
You’re thinking hammocks are great for napping, and you’re right, but spend the night? Yes. Seriously. There is a whole sub-culture that does this regularly, and their willingness to spend time and money on this approach has greatly improved the quality and variety of hammocks in recent decades.
But before we go any further, you should know that swinging in a hammock all through the night is not for everyone. You can stop reading now if any of the below applies:
Are we still good? Ok.
You do not need an expedition grade hammock. You just want one (features, convenience, durability, the envy of others). What you need is a comfortable hammock, bug netting, a rain-fly or tarp, and a sleeping pad. Start cheap until you know you want to swing every night.
Good hammocks with mosquito netting start at around $50 and go upwards to ten times that amount for expedition grade all weather “habitats”. You can buy one with a fitted tarp (these start at around $100) or you can buy the tarp separately (and cheaply). The tarp or rain fly needs to be wide enough to cover the entire length of the hammock and should have the means to be staked down.
Hanging a hammock is all about location. You’ll need two trees or branches thick enough (you want at 8” in diameter of live wood). A Y consisting of two large branches is ideal. The real trick is finding two trees the right distance apart (most need 10-12 feet). If you want to use math, the formula is the length of your hammock and then add half that. There’s some fudge in that depending on what you use to wrap the trees. This might take a few tries. Cut a piece of string to the length of your span, so you can try out trees without dragging your hammock through the dirt. (I leave that string in place and hang clothes and other convenience items from it.)
If you can tie your shoes, you have sufficient engineering acumen to hang a hammock.
As long as you wrap all the way around the tree at least once, the choke or wrap is self-constricting; the more weight you put on it, the tighter it gets. You don’t need fancy hardware. Especially, do not screw hardware into the tree. I use two 6’ straps from old tie-down ratchets with loops tied in each end. Six feet is about the shortest you can consistently make work. The longer the straps, the more your options. Some published experts recommend at least 12 feet.
Wrap the tree, and hook both ends of the strap to the hammock (carabiners work great for this). If you need the extra length, you can pass one loop through the other and choke the tree that way – just make sure the through loop is tight against the tree .Normally, if I wrap the tree just above my head, this will put the carabiner (or whatever you use) right about at eye level – which is ideal. This will put the middle of the hammock at about seat level, which is where you want it. As you sit in the hammock, you feet should just touch the ground.
Make sure you test it with your full weight. You want to know sooner rather than later if those wraps will hold.
If your hammock came with a rain-fly then it also came with instructions, so follow those. If, like me, you use an aftermarket rain-fly, as it were, the ideal size has the corner grommets clipping into your carabiners while the tarp is taught. Stake the other two corners to the ground, leaving enough of an angle to get in and out of the hammock.
You won’t need a sleeping pad for comfort, but you might need it for warmth as it will provide a barrier between you and the wind blowing beneath the hammock. On a warm night, you can leave it out.
One last tip: set your hammock up while you’re still sober. That’s good advice from direct experience.
Spending the night in a hammock takes some getting used to, but once you get the hang of it (sorry), you’ll find that you do not miss that mean old ground at all.
The city of Prescott has three man-made reservoirs in or about city limits, and Willow Creek is the most accessible, and arguably the most scenic. While you can float a non-powered boat on it, and fish and bird-watch, or even peer into the excavated homes of the long-gone natives if you time it right, the attraction – at least for me -is as a hiking destination.
There are three trailheads, and I picked the only one with a parking fee – City-run Willow Lake Park on the north side.
Let’s stop here and clarify: the body of water is called Willow Lake, Willow Creek Lake, Willow Creek Basin or Willow Creek Reservoir depending on what source you look at. It is all the same body of water.
The city park is the most developed site, with the boat launch and the well-guarded aboriginal ruins. They were closed when I was there, and thus we skip right past them. The park asks for a $3 fee paid by an honor-system kiosk. Or you could park at the ball-fields of adjacent Heritage Park – as I did, and hoof in for half a mile extra.
The lake, and the 6 mile trail that wanders around its perimeter can be accessed by the Jim McCasland Willow Creek Park, which has a ball-field and a dog park, on the east shore, and some undeveloped gravel parking areas on the south shore. McCasland, for your planning convenience, also has restrooms and water fountains. The south lots have only trash cans.
Back on the north shore, the city park is adjacent to a trailer park and a campground, and a number of social trails connect the two. I went clockwise, past all of these and into the portion of the Granite Dells, a large, relatively famous jumble of granite boulders and mounds that line the north and east shores of the lake.
Like all trails through this terrain, the path has a lot of up and down and round and round and is often a scramble over granite marked only by spots of white paint.
In the NE corner, some side trails loop further into the Dells, but I skipped these, to budget time and energy. Originally, I was just going to go to the dam, and then turn back. Past the junction with the loop trails, heading south through the boulders, you can look for the red bridge, though if you take the offshore leg of the loop you could miss it, before you wind down into the valley behind the dam.
I have been through this valley both wet and dry. Dry is far more likely, but trails exist which will get you across when the water is spilling out from the concrete barrier.
On the south wall of this valley are the stairs, rail-road tie stairs, which will march up 200’ in elevation to the last leg of the journey south through the Dells.
Here I reasoned, correctly I still believe, that retracing the just under two-mile journey from the city park to the top of the stairs would consumed as much energy as continuing along the remaining four miles ahead of me, and I decided to press forward around the lake.
Another half mile of big boulders, including a close encounter with the edge of the lake, that required a bit of rock hopping, separated the stairs from more open terrain. You can avoid the edge of the lake via a loop I did not take.
Both will dump you into the shadeless, swamp-grass covered expanse of the south-eat edge of the lake, The map claims this part of the trail could be submerged, but this is rare. When I traveled it, it was a dry dirt track through the tall grass and swarms of insects that live there. This turns west and rises into the hard-pack of the southern shore. Power lines and an intermittent fence-line separate the trail from Willow Road to the south. Past the gravel parking areas, and across a wooden bridge, the trail wanders away from the road, and skirts some low granite formations before turning north along the east shore.
It will dip in and around some wooded washes before reaching McCasland Park, where I found the water and restrooms nearly life-saving. Past there the trail wanders through scrub along the shore, passing Embry-Riddle University on the far side of the road, and finally back to the city park sprawling along the north shoreline.
I did the trail in about three hours. The Dells are Hard, the rest of the trail is easy, but the Dells are the worthwhile portion in my opinion. These Dells would be a premier destination for burning off the energy of junior high boys. Even as an adult, this hike remains a good way to kill a few hours if you happen to be in Prescott, in good weather, with time on your hands, and reasonably sturdy shoes.
[This repeats information in the page of the same name, but we start somewhere, right?]
When I used to take my son hiking (he’s grown now), reliably, about a third of the way into the hike, he would ask me, “Are we lost yet?”
What I love about that question was his certainty that if we were not lost now, we would eventually become lost.
He was right more than he was wrong.
I am, among many other things, I writer about outdoor destinations and activities, particularly hiking. Part of my job, I think, is to get myself lost so you don’t have to.
This is a continuation of a blog of the same name that was once hosted by the publisher of two of my hiking guides. That blog no longer functions, for reasons they cannot explain to me, and cannot update it, or retrieve my material, or anything.
Thus, I created this site, to continue that work, without dependence on an outside party – even one that has a clear interest in maintaining a public forum for their authors.
We are going to discover hiking trails, of course, and other outdoor destinations and activities as I feel are of interest. I will also review gear from time to time, particularly gear I like. At this writing, any such gear would have been purchased by me for me. I will announce upfront if I somehow become sponsored or even comped.
Between those items, I intend to rescue some of the better material from the old blog.
The goal is new items every Thursday. Backlog on Tuesdays.
Unless I get lost.
I often include Bongo in my photos. Bongo is a Fisher Price Rescue Hero originally named “Swinger”. So Bongo Swinger? Sure.
I have lost the grapnel accessory. And this is actually the second one (I lost the first one). Someday I might lose this one, which would be sad, because they don’t make them anymore.
I use him in place of a lawn gnome. You’ll see him in photos from time to time.
The above photo is from Crater Lake circa 2013.
Thanks for joining me!
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton