Wednesday, December 28, 2011

An Uncommon Visitor

Recently my family and I went hiking at a local state park while I was off from work for Christmas. We had heard buzz from a number of bird watcher friends that they had been seeing Saw-whet owls near the bird blind and feeding station. My wife has a special fondness for these tiny owls because she did her ground breaking senior theises on their nest success rates on an aspen plantation in Oregon.

So on a gray, late-December day we bundled up the squeakers (aged 2 years, and 4 years) and made the trek down the road to the state park. We parked the van near the trailhead that leads to the bird blind and made our way as quietly as one can with a 2 and 4 year old along.

We sat for a couple of minutes in the bird blind and enjoyed the sights of the common winter feeder birds, White-breasted nuthatches, Black-capped chikadees, Dark-eyed juncos, Red-bellied woodpeckers, American goldfinches, Downy woodpeckers, Mourning doves, Hairy woodpeckers, and Northern cardinals.

We then began to thread our way through a miriad of trails that criss-cross the flood plain forest that is the state park. We were searching for clumps of Eastern red cedars (Juniperus virginiana) where the Saw-whets like to roost during the day. We had checked all the prime spots closest to the main trail but my wife, ever the birding adventurer, wanted to follow a deer trail deeper into a stand o cedars that we both agreed looked promising.

While she tore off in search of the eluzive owl the girls and I stuck with the main trail and more-or-less walked along and the girls shouted to each other and practiced their Barred owl calls (which need A LOT of work). In spite of the girl's best efforts I did see some game. Namely a very nice looking white-tail buck. We continued on our merry way until I felt my wife would have had ample time to check the cedar grove I tried to talk the girls into heading back. No luck. We had been that way already. Then wanted, neigh NEEDED adventure! So we opted to bushwack it through the timbers and find our way back to mommy and eternal glory! Which we did, and I am very glad. Because if we had not, we never would have stumbled upon our owl.

We made our way into the backside of the cedar stand when I heard my wife give the family "locator whistle" so we veared in the direction of the Bobwhite call and there we found Mommy who stated she had not found an owl. The girls were getting a tad bit cold so we decided to head back to the van, but with heads held high. For even though our goal had been thwarted by the elusive boreal visitor we had spent time in the woods as a family, and there is no loftier goal than that.

The oldest and I took off down a deer trail as Mommy helped the youngest with a mitten emergancy. Just before we were about to emerge from the cedars onto the main trail my oldest stopped randomly (she dominates at doing things randomly, ask anyone that knows her) and started to shake a small tree back and forth vigourously. That was when I caught a flas of yellow out of the corner of my eye. I looked to the yellow flash, and there, 4 feet from me was a very surprised little owl. Had it kept it's eyes closed, we never would have seen it.

I called the oldest back to me and had her sit just off the trail to prevent her from doing anything excessivley random that migh scare off the owl and called my wife up. She was elated, and took the picture you see at the top of the blog from about 6 feet away.

Needless to say we were some happy hikers on the van ride home, and we were all very excited to see what other adventures awaited us during Christmas vacation...
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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Stuffed Crust Pizza on the Trail

Boiling water and making stuffed crust pizza
 This was a largely improvised recipe that turned out to be our new camping favorite.  To make one stuffed crust pizza you will need:

  • Two flour tortillas
  • pizza sauce
  • cheese
  • toppings of your choice (ours was pepperoni)

Improvised dutch oven
 I improvised a dutch oven using the two fry pan/lids from our mess kit.  The smaller fry pan is about 8" across and the larger is about 10".  I placed the smaller fry pan on the fire great off set from the fire a bit so it was not catching the full force of the heat.  The ingredients were layered in as follows:

  1. Tortilla
  2. Pizza sauce
  3. Pepperoni
  4. Cheese
  5. Tortilla
  6. Pizza sauce
  7. Pepperoni
  8. Chesse
On top of the smaller fry pan I placed the large fry pan, right side up and filled it with hot coals.  When cooking with a dutch over you usually want to err on the side of more heat on top and less on the bottom.  Heat rises as you know so the underside will tend to cook faster than the upper side.

Melting cheese
Once the cheese was well melted on top , but not fully browned, I slid the smaller pan over the flames and replaced the top pan still full of coals.  This causes the bottom tortilla to crisp up nicely while the top brown.

Ready to serve!
Here you have the finished product.  It was one of the most amazing things I have ever dined upon on the trail.  Just to be sure it was good as it seemed in the woods we made the same dish again once we had been back home for a week. It was indeed as good, so it was not just deprivation that drove us to crave it.

I am hoping t make it again soon with alfredo sauce and to add more ingredients.  I will let you know how it goes.  What is your favorite deceptively simple trail food?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Packing for a Canoe Trip; My Opinion

A packed and balanced canoe
Canoe camping is a great way for people who are a little leery of "roughing it" to get started in outdoor recreation.  I see it as a perfect next step after car camping.  It is also a way for experienced outdoors folks to hone their skills and push their abilities.  Hiking a pack with the bare essentials does indeed take skill, but paddling a canoe across a bay with a 20 mph breeze 4-points abaft your larboard beam?  That is poetry in motion! (Plus you get to say things like "20 mph breeze 4-points abaft your larboard beam")

In this post I am going to cover what I took on my last Boundary Waters canoe trip.  Did I pack light?  No. Why?  Because I am big for one, and because I didn't have too because we only had three short portages to worry about.  At the end of this post I will go over the items that I did not use and would leave behind next time, as well as the items that I did not use but would take again anyhow.

Our gear

In the above photo you can see the three packs that my wife and I took along on our trip.  The grey one on the left was our food pack and you can see our bear ropes daisy-chained and carabiner clipped to D-rings on the front of the pack.

The red pack in the center is a water proof dry bag made from a rubberized canvas type material that my wife used as her personal pack.

The green pack on the right is a "Duluth" style pack made from a East German Army duffle obtained from Sportsman's Guide that the Amish added leather closure straps and buckles to convert it.
Shelley's pack~33.8 lbs
My wife carried a vintage Eureka Timberline tent (oblong green bag), poncho liner (camo), sleeping bag (beneath tent and poncho liner), toiletries (in zip-lock bag), compression sack with clothes (black), and Thermarest sleeping pad.

To pack the dry bag I first loosely rolled the sleeping pad up then inserted it vertically into the bag and allowed it to unroll again.  The sleeping pad then forms a tube in which the rest of the content of the bag goes   The sleeping pad acts as a barrier between your back and oddly shaped, hard items like mess kits, camp stoves, etc.  Works really slick.  That is a trick I learned in the Forest Service.  At the bottom of the pack I placed the compression sack with the clothes and the sleeping bag, next was the poncho liner, followed by the tent, and topped off with the toiletries.  

When packing up your gear be sure to put the last thing you will want first, and the first thing you will want last.  The tent is left near the top so that if you are setting up camp in the rain or after dark it can be the first thing you lay your hands on.  If it is raining and your tent is on the bottom you will have to lay everything else out in the rain in order to access it.  Bad idea.

My pack~40.8 lbs
 The contents of my pack included (clockwise starting at top left), tool kit bag (made from brown cargo pants leg), first aid kit (zip-lock bag), heavy green wool blanket (beneath & first aid), mess kit, 12'x12' green Etowah tarp form Ben's Backwoods, dark blue wool sweater, Cabela's 25" x 76" sleeping pad, tent poles (orange bag), tent stakes (small brow bag), my lovely axe, 3 sticks of dynamite (kidding, they are flares), black compression sack with clothes, rubber poncho (under flares & compression sack).

The wool blanket is folded into a thick rectangle, roughly the length and width of the pack. It is then laid in first to act as a pad between my back and my gear. My compression sack and mess kit go in the bottom, followed by the tool bag, and tarp, then the first aid kit and my sweater and finally the poncho.  If the weather gets cool I can easily fish out my sweater to add a layer, and if it begins to rain the poncho is on top to throw over myself, or my gear.  We used the poncho to cover our firewood when it threatened rain.  When I solo camp and have my hammock I lay out the poncho on the ground beneath it  to keep my feet clean an dry when getting in and out.

The axe, tent poles, and sleeping pad were all tucked under the three leather straps that close the pack up.
The food pack and Lil' Bastard...
  And then there was the food pack.  I will go a little bit into our favorite dish on the trip in a future post.

Items taken and to be left behind next time:

  • Some extra clothing was superfluous.  I wore the same thing the entire trip and washed it every night. I had an extra set of lighter weight clothes that I only used as a pillow at night.
  • Snacks; for some reason when I am in the woods I do not get as hungry as often as I do at home.  Leaving behind trail mix and the like would have greatly decreased the weight of our food pack.
  • File and stone for axe/knife; I need to invest in a small, lightweight, high-quality stone for sharpening in the field.  Any suggestions?
Items taken, not used, to be taken again:
  • First aid kit; fairly self explanatory I think
  • Flares; the flares could be used for signaling, or starting a fire in an emergency
  • Sweater; bulkier than it is heavy, if it had gotten cold I would have been happy it was taking up space.
  • Tarp; had it rained on our trip the tarp would have been priceless.  It can be stretched over the cooking area to provide cover.  If you have ever spent rainy days trapped in a tent you will understand why it is worthwhile to pack a rain-fly.
Items we wished we had:
  • Water purifier; we boiled the entire time which worked out well because our trip itinerary was so laid back.  It might have been nice to have a purifier on our day trip though.
  • More pizza ingredients!  This will make more since later...

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Deer Camp 2011

 We had another successful deer season this year that, yet again, has given us a full larder.  My wife and I each took two deer.  In the picture up above you can see a portion of the crew from this year.  At one point we had 14 hunters*

*Did you know you can fit 14 people in a 4-door Dodge Dakota, armaments included.  Impressive, I know...
My buck
Here you can see the buck I took through the neck (the ONLY place to shoot a deer) at about 40 yards with a .50 caliber flintlock long rifle.  Dropped where he stood.
Shelley's buck
 Shelley took this buck with a .50 caliber in-line.  The ballistic tip bullet she used did amazing amounts of damage from the shock of the bullet.  This was another neck shot and the buck didn't even wiggle.
Dad's buck
My Dad broke from tradition and took this buck literally between the eyes from a whopping 6' away.  How did he get so close?  The trick is all the camo and scent blocking equipment he uses.  If you don't use that stuff you will never get a deer. Obviously...