Exploring New Places – Lava Beds National Monument 

We decided to take a long weekend a head to Lava Beds National Monument. Located in the Great Basin Desert, it can get mighty hot there in the summer and freezing in the winter.  It’s one of those places a spring or fall visit seems the best bet for happy campers.
LavaBeds
It is a pretty long haul, so we stayed in a KOA in Shasta City Friday night.  The campground was super cute.  Dirt roads with camp sites set back in the pine trees. Flushing toilets and hot showers.  This is definitely someplace we will stay again.  We were in a rush Saturday morning to get to the Lava Beds, so we grabbed breakfast on the road.  Black Bear Diner is a chain of restaurants that have pretty good food. We stopped there for eggs and the kids dug the bear decore.
KOA
The drive into Lava Beds is pretty awesome.  You pass Mt. Shasta and cut across the Kalamath National Forest Wildlife Refuge and drive past Tule Lake.  There were so many birds in this area.  We saw three bald eagles and a ringnecked pheasant, not to mention a ton of waterfowl.  On your way into the park, you drive through ancient lava flows.  Scattered throughout is Great Basin Sagebrush, Rabbitbush, and various grasses.  It is a harsh but beautiful environment.
The campground at Lava Beds is set in a juniper-brushland.  Hands down, this is one of the prettiest campgrounds we have ever stayed in.  The juniper trees and scattered shrubs are so pretty and the campsites are set right under the trees.  There are cool picnic tables built into the rocks and fire rings at each site.  The campground really favors tent campers, but you can find a place for an RV.  The bathrooms are updated and really nice here and they have potable water.  One of the best things –  every morning deer would come through camp.  The kids loved seeing them up close.
Campground
MuleDeer
The Missus’s parents joined us on Saturday.  We spent the afternoon exploring the visitor center and Mushpot Cave.  It was a great introduction to the over 800 caves you can find in the park and it set the kids up for what to expect Sunday.
KidsBackpack
Sunday we borrowed flashlights from the ranger station.  The caves a dark – really, really dark.  Our little headlamps were not going to cut it so we took advantage of the flashlight loaning program offered at the ranger station.  The caves were amazing. They varied so much. Some were steep and deep and required you to walk along metal staircases (Skull Cave).  Others were wide and narrow and you had to duck down to avoid hitting your head.  The caves vary in difficulty so we tried to pick those that weren’t overly challenging for the kids.  I think the coolest thing about the caves was that you would walk right up up it and never see it until you looked down. They were so different from the caves we explored at Pinnacles National Park back in February.
Caves
CavesMetalWalkway
InCave
After lunch back at camp and a little quite time, we took off to explore Captain Jack’s Stronghold.  The Boy was really into Captain Jack.  The Girl and I were not so into the hike.  We were both suffering from post traumatic Snake syndrome.  The trail was perfect snake habitat; rocky and sandy.  I think we were flashing back to Pinnacles.
CaptainJack
Stronghold
Monday we loaded up into Papa’s car and took off for Glass Mountain.  It is a mountain covered in obsidian rock.  Unfortunately there was still snow on the road about three miles left into the drive so we didn’t make it to the mountain. Definitely something we will have to plan for our trip back to the park.  We ended up having lunch in Papa’s camper on the side of the road.  The kids played in the snow and we played the Jelly Belly Beanboozled game.  It turned out to be a really fun day.
Us
GlassMtn
Tuesday we woke up to cloudy skies.  Rain wasn’t in the forecast, but it sure looked like rain to us. We packed up quickly and just in time, too.  Just as we were finishing up, a wet snow started to fall.  Boy did we luck out there! With one last cave visit and a stop at the Ranger’s Station for a magnet souvenir, we were ready to head home.
What out of the way National Park or Monument do you enjoy visiting?
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Eating Our Way a Through Thanksgiving

Camping for Thanksgiving is something The Missus did a lot growing up. Camping at El Capitan for Thanksgiving, was a new experience for The Mister. To make it special we planned all our Thanksgiving favorites. We decided to cook as much as possible in cast iron and to clean up the meals a bit – just make them a little healthier. We can’t figure out why, but the food tasted amazing. We think it had to do with playing all morning at the beach and not spending time at an appetizer table. Because really – the food was epic. Here’s what we had:

Smoked Turkey
Dairy Free Cast Iron Cornbread
Dutch Oven Green Bean Casserole
Clean Cranberry Sauce
Canned Cranberry Sauce (Oh Yeah!  The Mister hates it but I grew up on it and have to have at least a taste every Thanksgiving.)
Campfire Sweet Potatoes
Stovetop Stuffing (a staple The Mister and Grandma could not do without!)
Dairy Free, Gluten Free Pumpkin Pie

Smoked Turkey:  We took a small smoker with us and smoked turkey legs and breasts.  The Mister made the brine using a generic recipe he found online.  We prepped a concentrated mixture at home and stored it in the ice chest.  On Wednesday night, we added water and the turkey and let it sit overnight.  We brought a separate ice chest just for the turkey.  I didn’t want to risk the brine leaking all over our other food and contaminating it with poultry juices. Thursday morning, The Mister put the turkey on the smoker and we cooked them low and slow.  When the turkey reached 165 degrees on an electronic meat thermometer, he took it off to rest.  The turkey was amazing.  Super moist and yummy.

Turkey

Dairy Free Cast Iron Cornbread:  I can’t for the life of me figure out where I found this recipe, but boy was it amazing.  Slightly sweet and crumbly.  I used Bob’s Red Mill Coarse Ground Cornmeal.  We prepped all the ingredients right in camp.  We tried to cook it over the fire but it was too hot.  We ended up throwing it in my mom’s oven in her camper to finish cooking the bread.  I could have eaten a plate of this by itself.  It was that good.  It made great leftovers for breakfast the next day.

Cornbread

Cast Iron Cornbread

Dairy Free Cast Iron Cornbread
2 cups coarsely ground yellow cornmeal
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1 egg at room temperature, beaten
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled (we used Earth Balance)
1 1/2 cups plain yogurt, at room temperature (we used vanilla flavored coconut yogurt)
4 tablespoons honey

Spray your cast iron skillet with non stick spray.  Mix ingredients together in a bowl and poor into prepared skillet.  Cook low on fire for 30 minutes or until bread is cooked through.

Dutch Oven Green Bean Casserole: This is a must have for The Mister.  He loves green bean casserole.  I am not a fan, but I actually really liked this.  I found the Healthy Green Bean Casserole recipe online and modified it a bit.  We cooked it in a dutch oven and had to use leftover Namaste Gluten Free Pancake Mix to fry the onions since I forgot coconut flour.  The onions weren’t super crunchy and they mixed well with the fresh green beans.  I cut all the vegetables at home, so we wouldn’t have to do a ton of prep at camp.  I fried the onions at camp so they would be crunch, although I don’t think they crunched up a whole lot.  As for coals and the dutch oven, we just guessed.  We added what we thought we needed on top and bottom and were pleasantly surprised that it cooked through.  It took about an hour to cook.

GreenBeanCasserole2  GreenBeanCasserole3

Clean Cranberry Sauce:  I am a huge fan of Danielle Walker and her grain free cook books.  Her food is Ah.Maz.Ing.  I used her recipe for the cranberry sauce.  I made it at home before we left and it kept really well in the ice chest.  The cranberry sauce had just the right tartness.  Oh my gosh it was good.

Thanksgiving Cooking

Campfire Sweet Potatoes:  I love sweet potatoes.  The rest of my family – not so much.  We made too many of these and ended up tossing out the leftovers.  I just wrapped the potatoes in foil, poked a few holes in the potatoes, and tossed them on the grill over the fire.  I cooked them until they were fork soft.  And that’s it.  Easy peasy.  I don’t put butter on mine, but you could if you wanted.

Sweet Potatoes

Dairy Free Gluten Free Pumpkin Pie:  I’m not sure why, but I didn’t get a picture of the pie.  I made it at home before our trip, and then my mom kept it in her fridge to keep it from spoiling.  I used Danielle Walker’s pie filling recipe and a generic gluten free crust.  We are a nut free household, I opted not to use her pie crust recipe.  The filling was great.  The crust not so much, but who likes the crust anyway?

 

Two Yosemite Lessons Learned

Yosemite was a great trip but it made us realize two things.  We needed to find a better way to tote water around for the kids and we are seriously lacking in good music.

1. The kids needed bigger water bottles. They officially outgrew their little kid bottles. We were constantly refilling bottles at Yosemite and the water issue limited how far we thought we could hike. The Missus found these CamelBak Eddy’s at Target. They seem to be doing the trick. They doubled the amount of water we were carrying for each child.  Plus, they are easy to clean, don’t seem to leak, and were inexpensive.  The backpack style CamelBak’s might be a good investment when the kids are a bit older and can carry their own water.

CamelBak Eddy

2. We need a better music solution. The radio and tape deck are not cutting it. The speakers in The Westy are not that great and you literally have to turn the volume to the max if you want to hear any music in the front of the van.  The Mister looked into different devices we could use in The Westy and settled on the Jambox. He found it on sale on Amazon. It can stream music from our phones – both Pandora and our own playlists. It has been a nice addition to our camping gear.

Jambox

 

Disneyland – Yes, We Camped

We had been promising the kids a trip to Disneyland for some time. They had been saving money in their little Disneyland jar and when we had enough money socked away for tickets we started looking into accommodations. Wow. It was so expensive. The Missus had heard about a campground near the park. Anaheim Resort and RV Park. She looked into it and the prices were right. The reviews were good, too. People might think we are crazy but we decided to camp Disneyland.

Best. Decision. Ever.

Disney

The RV park was one mile from Disneyland. The shuttle stops right at the RV park and is about a ten minute ride. They run frequently so we never had a very long wait. The bathrooms at the RV Park were amazing. Recently remodeled, each bathroom was its own self contained unit. They had a sink, shower, and toilet. They were clean and we didn’t find they were all that busy.

The park itself was very parking lot like. Lots of sites and cement. But it is an urban campground that primarily serves huge RV’s. What do you expect? It was really clean and we felt extremely safe. We had hook ups (which turned out to be awesome for charging our devices) and a picnic table which was great for quick breakfasts.

Westy at Disney

The staff was incredibly friendly and they were super accommodating. We had originally planned this trip for September, but then the kids got sick. When I called to change our reservations they were so helpful and didn’t charge us a fee. Really great service.

We would totally camp Disney again. It was a great experience. We maximize our time at the park (we have never spent much time at the hotel) so this really worked for us. Have you camped Disney?

Yosemite – Chasing Fall

The kids were finally better. We were so happy to get back on the road. We had reservations at Yosemite National Park. We hadn’t been since The Girl was two.

Half Dome

We stayed at Crane Flat Campground. It wasn’t in the Yosemite Valley but beggars can’t be choosers. Especially when you plan horribly and get reservations late in the season. The campground was actually really nice. Lots of trees and fun rocks. A little bit on the hilly side. Well, a lot on the hilly side. We really need to invest in some leveling blocks. There is nothing like figuring out how to sleep on a hill.

The fall colors were pretty elusive. We were a few weeks early. We did find one or two trees beginning to change but nothing notable. But really – you are in Yosemite. It is always gorgeous. Even the Rim Fire damage – although devastating – was beautiful in its own way.  The falls were a trickle but still magnificent. Just another reason to plan a spring trip. The Missus should get on that soon. Yosemite reservations are notoriously hard to get; especially in the spring.

Vernal Falls

We hiked to Vernal Falls with the kids. We didn’t make it to Nevada Falls. It got really steep and although we were pretty sure the kids could do it, we didn’t feel like we had enough food and water to combat any whining we might have encountered at the end if the hike. The kids had fun though and the falls were gorgeous.

Hiking

The weather was brisk during the day and just plain cold at night. We realized that if we were doing any winter camping, we were going to have to get the kids better gear and figure out a way to keep The Westy warm at night. The Mister was looking at heater options but safety is a big issue. We are also reluctant to spend a lot of money on gear for the kids. They grow so fast. Thermals are something we should really look into though.  Warm kids equal happy parents for sure! {Update:  We ended up getting the kids thermals for Christmas from REI.}

Bundled Up

Yosemite is one of those places where the beauty is extraordinary and every trip brings new things to see. Every time we go we wonder why we don’t frequent the park more often. We are already planning a trip back. Who knows, The Missus might even make reservations ahead of time!

The Westy in Yosemite

The Perfect Ending…

…to a perfect summer. Labor Day weekend marked the unofficial end to our summer. School starts for The Girl and the smell of fall should happen any day now. (I keep telling myself that even in 100 degree heat).

We took off for The Mountains. A good place to go on the busier weekends. We don’t need reservations and we have our guaranteed spot.

Giant Sequoia

We spent Saturday with friends. We met at Big Trees State Park to hike with the kids. Our friends aren’t big on camping. Meeting for a hike was such a wonderful compromise. The kids loved the big trees. They even found a few to climb through.

In A Log

We visited the White Pines Lake Logging Jamboree later that day. This is one of our favorite Labor Day weekend activities. The kids love the chainsaws and the proceeds support a small local logging museum. The kids ate watermelon and we enjoyed some time with The Mister’s dad who met us there.  Smokey Bear even came by to visit with the kids.

Chainsaws

Papa

Smokey Pin

Fun things were happening at the campground on Sunday. A gunny sack race, carnival with a bounce house, and lots of play time. The kids had a blast.

Castle

We try really hard to limit television time at our house. We do allow for a movie night once a week, but lately we have been having too much fun in The Westy for any movies. The Girl was dying to watch Frozen, so we made an exception and let the kids have a movie night. They loved it and so did we. A few rare minutes to sit down and read.

Movie Night

Al in all – what a great way to end an epic summer.

Flying Solo – Antelope Lake

The Missus took the kids and The Westy up to her parents house for a summer time visit.  The plan was to spend a day or two there and then head to Antelope Lake to camp.  The Mister would come up late Friday night for the weekend and The Missus’s parents would bring their cab over camper and boat.  It was The Missus’s first solo trip with the kids and she was a bit nervous. There were a few windy, steep mountain roads but she survived her first solo drive!

The Westy

Antelope Lake is located off Highway 395 in the northern part of California.  It is an agriculture reservoir and is known for pretty good fishing.  Due to the drought in California, water levels were low, the water temperature was in the 70’s, and the fishing wasn’t too great.  That didn’t take away from the gorgeous views and the great swimming.  We were able to score a campsite right on the lake in Long Point Campground.

Lake Front Campsite

Setup

One of the best parts of the trip was the weather.  The mornings were clear and warm.  By early afternoon the thunder clouds would start to roll in and then the thunder and lightning would begin.  On Thursday and Friday we just had big boomers and light rain.  Saturday was a different story.  The thunder started early and we actually saw two lightning bolts touch down on the ridge on the southern side of the lake.  One touchdown sparked a forest fire.  We watched the helicopters scoop water from the lake and dump it on the fire.  Just as the firefighters were putting the last of the fire out, the sky opened up and it started to hail.  Boy the rain came down.  We were lucky though.  It rained enough to knock down the dust and help put out the fire out, but not so much that it became muddy.

Clouds

Hail

FireHeli

The kids had a great time on their Papa’s boat.  We were lucky enough to see an osprey catch a fish (of course the camera was stowed away) and a bald eagle.  The kids enjoyed swimming and playing on the many beaches that surround the lake.

Bald Eagle

The Boy napping on the boat.

The Boy napping on the boat.

The food was pretty amazing, too.  The Missus’s mom made ratatouille on Friday night from farm fresh veggies.  We ate it with BBQ chicken.  On Saturday night we had the most amazing Sweet Potato Salad (you can find the recipe here) and tri tip.

Ratatouille

Sweet Potato Salad

The kids were sad to see their daddy head back to work on Sunday night.  Papa was able to distract them with an early birthday present for The Boy.  But boy where there tears.

Four Wheeler

The drive back to the Missus’s parents house was an adventure.  The rain returned just as we were heading out and it sure did come down.  The Westy handled it well, The Missus wasn’t too stressed out driving alone with the kids, and all were happy to take a shower after five days of dirt and pit toilets.

So how do you handle the rain when camping?  Ever seen a forest fire start from a lightning strike?

Fourth of July – The Mountains

The Girl’s 5th birthday fell on Sunday of the big holiday weekend. We decided to take a short trip to The Mountains so we could be home for her birthday. We spent Friday and Saturday camping. We even have a friend come with us. Our first guest in the Westy. He slept upstairs. First trip camping in ten years. We were honored he spent it with us.

Flag

Lots of swimming, playing, and celebrations. We made rockets and hung them in a pine tree.

Rockets

The kids dressed for the holiday. The Girl insisted on a dress.

Fourth of July Clothes

There was a golf cart parade. Decorations and all.

GolfCartParade

And we tried out some new games. The kids are ages two and a brand new five. They want to play games but still have trouble with anything complicated. Go Fish was getting old for the adults (you can read about that here), so The Missus picked up two new games. Don’t Spill the Beans was hit.

Don't Spill the Beans

We also really like Rory’s Story Cubes.

Rory's Story Cubes

It was a great get away.  Just the right amount of time and a nice way to celebrate July 4th.

Do you have a favorite place you go to for a quick trip?  What are your favorite camping games?

Ed Z’berg Sugar Pine Point State Park – Lake Tahoe

We were so ready to get back out there. Three weeks off was too long. The Mister left for work Friday morning. The kids and The Missus were going to have everything ready to go for a five pm departure. The kids were literally packed and ready to go by 8:00 am. The Boy kept saying, “We go now.” Not yet Buddy. We have to wait for Daddy.

We took off right at five. It was a two hour drive to Ed Z’berg Sugar Pine Point State Park at Lake Tahoe. The park was amazing. Big, flat campsites. A huge ranger presence. Those pesky bears like to show up for dinner, so we had a lot of reminders to keep thing secured in the bear box. No bears for us though. It was a pretty calm weekend.

Westy Life

Saturday started off with a breakfast of pumpkin granola, eggs, and bacon. We missed our bacon on the last trip (you can read about that here) so there was no way we were forgetting it this time.

Bacon for Breakfast

We loved the easy bike and hiking trails at this park. Easy for the kids to maneuver around on. We took a bike ride/walk to Erhman Mansion. It is a beautiful old home overlooking Lake Tahoe. We met a nice, older couple on our walk who gave us a few tips on Tahoe.

Bike Ride

Erham Mansion

After the walk, we relaxed at camp. Lunch and a short nap for The Boy. It was off to the beach after that. We walked down to Sugar Pine Point and enjoyed the sand and sun. The water was chilly and I don’t think any if us made it deeper than our waists.

Sugar Pine Point SB

Beach Bunny

The Missus had never been to Lake Tahoe to camp or swim in the lake. She was surprised by how clear the water was and how beautiful the lake was as a whole.

Lake Tahoe

Back at camp we did dinner right. BBQ chicken, salad, and heirloom tomatoes from our garden at home.

BBQ Dinner

We had a major camping fail with our campfire. When we visited Fort Bragg (you can read about that trip here), we were not able to bring in any wood. Campground rules. We assumed that would be the case for this trip, too. Well – you know what happens when you assume things. The campground was out of wood by the time we got around to buying some. We were super bummed. Don’t worry. That doesn’t mean we didn’t have s’mores.

Camping Fail

We were too excited to try out these ridiculous marshmallows we found at the store. We tweaked enough life out of the BBQ coals to make the kids some gigantic sugary goodness. This was all thanks to The Mister. The Missus was convinced he was going to burn down the forest. She is a little paranoid about camp fires.

Giant Marshmallow

The Boy and His Smore

Smore Goodness

Sunday lent itself to a leisurely breakfast, a few games of Go Fish, and a random meeting with the nice couple we had met the day before. The Mister and I need new game ideas though. You can only play Go Fish so many times!

Cardshark

We spent the rest off the day at Baldwin Beach State Park. It had great sand – not too many rocks. There wasn’t much shade but the kids didn’t seem to mind. We had a picnic and played for hours in the sand. We even made it into the water for awhile.

Picnic at Baldwin SB

The Missus in Lake Tahoe

We weren’t ready to head home. We had to bribe the kids with In n Out for dinner just to get them into The Westy for the return trip. Gotta love it.

Daddy Love

So what games do you play with your kids? How do you get you kids back in the car to head home?

Is It Really Camping If There’s No Bacon?

Our last get away in The Westy for a few weeks. Since we are awful about planning ahead and reservations are tough to get at many campgrounds this time of year, we decided on heading to The Mountains.

Setup

We can be pretty cheap and The Missus really did not want to go grocery shopping before the trip. We were going to forgo bacon for breakfast (a camping staple in our family) and eat what we had in the fridge at home.  Yum {said sarcastically}. Steel cut oats and blueberries for breakfast. Sunflower butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch and hamburgers with no buns for dinner.

Not our best showing

Not our best showing

We could not seem to keep the kids busy on Saturday. Even with a trip to the park, a swim, and a bike ride. The were restless and yes – driving us crazy.

Bike

Swimming

We took back control on Sunday. A hike near Lake Alpine up Bee Gulch. It was gorgeous! The kids did well. All in all we think we hiked four miles.

BeeGulch

Phlox

The Girl made it the whole way. She even forged a few creeks. Not a whole lot of wildlife but as The Girl says, “you never know when you are on the trail.”

Creek Forage

The Boy got side tracked by the last of the snow. In the pack he went.

Snow

A picnic at Lake Alpine. A little swimming. Enjoying the cool breeze off the lake.

Boy and His Stick

Dirty

The kids weren’t restless and we weren’t going crazy.

The only thing missing was the bacon.  What is your staple camping food?