Sunday, June 10, 2018

Scurvy Green River Dogs

Of all the backcountry trips that I have done, paddling trips always end up being my favorites. This weekend, we kayaked and camped along the Green River in Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. 

Doug and I have paddled and camped the Green several times now—for our first backcountry paddling together in 2007 and with Crystal and Chad in 2014. This time was with our favorite traveling companions for all things ridiculous and fantastic, Valerie and Darren. 

Our kayaking adventure began with an adventure of a different kind. The plan was to get a jump start on leaving early on Thursday morning by spending Wednesday night at Valerie and Darren’s in Louisville. As we loaded up the truck with gear and kayaks at home on Wednesday evening in Indianapolis, Doug was complaining of some bothersome indigestion. As we drove to Louisville, the pains continued to get worse, progressing into sharp chest pains. Deciding to be safe, we visited th ER to make sure Doug wasn’t having a heart attack. Whew! Thankfully he wasn’t, but our plans for an early bedtime were shot, as we finally arrived in Louisville at 3 am. 

Despite our later-than-hoped-for departure the next morning, we managed to get the kayaks to the launch and loaded, got our “riverside camping” passes from the Mammoth Cave National Park office, dropped one vehicle at the take-out at the Green River Ferry, and got onto the water by 1pm on Thursday afternoon.

On previous trips, we had only paddled the Green River within the National Park. Doug and I know the Green as a slow moving, super easy river to paddle. But with Darren’s excellent research, he discovered that with the removal of a downstream failing dam in 2016, the river has changed some. We decided to put in 19 miles further upstream from the Park boundary, in Munfordville. As we got onto the water, we met a different Green River. Just floating, the water speed was around 2.5 miles/hour and there were lots of downed trees, causing many dreaded “strainers”. 

As we floated down the river, Valerie, Darren, and Doug fished away, and I enjoyed being on the water, occasionally reading my Kindle as I waited for the pokey fisherpeople to catch up with me. 

In fact, they may have enjoyed the slow-paced fishing a touch too much, as we realized that we were well into evening and hadn’t yet found a decent place to camp for the night. There was also some excitement as one of us got caught up on a log and took on some water, but after some adrenaline soaked minutes, all ended well. And we eventually found a mostly suitable camping island about 8.5 miles in, which wasn’t completely covered in poison ivy. It did take some creative use of deadfall trees, but we got all four hammocks hung and dinner started befor full dark fell. 

There was also some joyful bathing! One of my favorite things about backcountry paddling is the ease of washing up. 

And then there was an attempt to use a primitive fire starter to get the campfire going. 

And finally an eventual campfire—I won’t mention the matches. Doug claims that he successfully used the fire starter the next morning, but oddly enough, none of the rest of us were present for that. :)

There was also the most amazing firefly display that I have ever witnessed. It was wonderful to fall asleep to that show. 

We awoke the next morning and we all managed to break down camp without falling or being impaled by the giant log pile we slept in. And as we packed up our gear, the sun beat down on us, getting into the 90s before 10 am. Most of us took a delightfully refreshing dip in the cool river, then we got on our way at 10:45. 

Day two passed similarly, fishing, paddling, floating, reading, and trying to find camping that was not completely covered in poison ivy. We found that just inside the eastern boundary of Mammoth Cave National Park on Lucky Island,  putting our mileage for the day at 11 miles. 

After we set up camp, Doug continued to fish nearby, while Darren, Valerie, and I celebrated a lovely cocktail hour. 

There was much giggling as dinner was prepped and consumed. And then we all had a wonderfully long sleep, again to an amazing firefly show. 

On Saturday morning, we headed further into the National Park. About 3 miles in, we got to the first public launch on the river from where we put in 22 miles before. We hadn’t seen anyone since Thursday afternoon, but now we were sharing the river with many more people. As we stopped at Denison Launch for a quick pit stop, at least a dozen boats launched. We were super happy with Darren’s recommendation for the less used launch, which gave us an amazing solitary 2 days before we got to the National Park. 

As we paddled and fished along the now “crowded” river, we evaluated and discussed our desire to camp one more day in the Park, or to finish up our last 7 miles and finish up our trip a day early. The desire for non-camp food and hot showers won out, so we paddled harder to finish of the last of the day’s 10 miles and got to the take-out at the Green River Ferry at about 5:30pm. As we waited for the ferry to moved to the other side of the river, the skies opened up and it torrentially downpoured. Hard. So much rain. 

There was lots of scrambling and arranging, but we finally got all of our boats and gear in the truck. As we got in, all of us completely drenched, the rain stopped. Sigh. 

Then we headed to pick up the other truck and headed to Louisville for showers, pizza, a scary movie, and sleeping in a real bed. Yay. 

Total distance travelled: 29 miles from Munfordsville to Green River Ferry. 

New gear that I was glad we had:
This nifty super-lightweight solar lantern.
This one gallon gravity water filter

For those who are curious about the fish caught: shad, spotted bass, smallmouth bass, longear sunfish, and the big catch, an 18” catfish

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Ridiculous Road Trip #1, Part 30 - Summary of the Ridiculous Road Trip #1

Back to Part 1, the beginning of the Ridiculous Road Trip
Back to Part 29

Now we're home in Indianapolis. And I finished up our 2017  ridiculous road trip blog, did a bit of editing, and summarized some of the awesome that we saw in the last two months. We loved it and we're plotting how to capture the rest of the states (and provinces). Also, Doug and I must really love each other, because divorce wasn't threatened at all during 62 days of constantly being together!

Some souvenirs that followed us home
Here is the album of all the photos and below is the summary Ridiculous Road Trip.

62 days
53 nights in the camper (3 visits with friends and family gave us 9 nights in real beds)
13 nights with electric hookup and 40 nights without hook-ups at primitive sites
3 nights at Walmart/Truckstop

Miles: 10,000ish

States: 17
National Parks: 9
National Forests: 17
National Monuments: 4
National Grassland: 1
National Bison Range: 1
National Scenic/Recreational Areas/BLM Sites: 7
State Parks/Recreational Areas: 11

Cost we paid for the "America the Beautiful" Annual Pass: $80
Cost if we didn't have the Annual Pass: $263

Truck Trouble: 1 - overheating transmission (transmission cooling fan installed)
RV Trouble: 2 - leaky window gaskets, non-cold refrigerator (gas jet cleaned!)
Hospital visits: 0! (minor falls only, not bad for my usual klutzy self)

Thanks to the people who let us sleep at their lovely homes, in non-camper beds, let us use their showers, and washing machines:
Bob and Joanne in Tuscon, AZ
Michelle and Jeremy in Henderson, NV
Andrew and Anne in Duvall, WA

All the National and State sites that we visited:
Badlands National Park
Bear Butte SD State Park
Bighorn National Forest
Black Hills National Forest
Bottomless Lakes NM State Park
Brushy Creek NE State Recreational Area
Burro Creek BLM
Butte Valley National Grassland
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Chickasaw National Recreation Area
Coeur d'Alene National Forest
Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
Coronado National Forest Sabino Canyon
Crater Lake National Park
Death Valley National Park
Deschutes National Forest
Flathead National Forest
Glacier National Park
Grand Teton National Park
Hoover Dam/Lake Mead Recreation Area
Hot Wells Dunes BLM
Idaho Panhandle National Forests
Johnsons Shut Ins MO State Park
Lewis and Clark WA State Park
Lincoln National Forest
Living Dessert NM State Park
Lolo National Forest
Mark Twain National Forest
Mt Hood National Forest
Mt Rainier National Park
Mt Rushmore National Monument
Mt Si Natural Resources Conservation Area.
Mt St Helens National Volcanic Monument
National Bison Range
Newberry National Volcanic Monument
Ozark National Forest
Red Rock Canyon National Recreation Area
Sequoia National Park
Shastap-Trinity National Forest
Stanislaus National Forest
Starved Rock IL State Park
Sun Lakes Dry Falls WA State Park
Table Rock MO State Park
Tahoe National Forest
Three River Petroglyph Site BLM
Tumalo OR State Park
Wenatchee National Forest
White Sands National Monument
Winema National Forest
Yosemite National Park

All of our campsites:

Monday, July 3, 2017

Ridiculous Road Trip #1, Part 29 - Nebraska, Ashfall Fossils, Iowa, Starved Rock

Back to Part 28

June 25
On the advice of another camper, we stopped at the 1880s Western Town just a little way down the interstate, east of the Badlands. Lots of historic buildings that have been saved and moved to the "town", as well as a lot of the props and costumes from the movie, "Dances With Wolves", which had been filmed nearby.

We were a little sad that we couldn't get close to this awesome sculpture of a skeleton man walking a skeleton dinosaur. But I was pleased that it showed up on the map.

Then we drove for a LONG time. And camped for the night in Atkinson, NE, where there was a lovely sunset.

June 26
The next morning, we woke up and wound our way through country roads to get to Ashfall Fossil Beds National Historic Site. It's an active archeological site, with people still working to excavate remains from the ashfall beds. We were very impressed with the conclusions drawn from the bones found in the different areas of the ash--for instance, the rhino bones were found in the deepest part of the ash beds, where they logically would be found wading in life. Or that herbivores were much more likely to have died from diseases associated from lung diseases, because they were actually eating through the ashfall to get to food. Very neat stuff, indeed!

And then we drove for a VERY LONG time. We discovered that there's just not a whole lot to stop an see in Iowa, except for this giant ball of popcorn.

June 27-28
For the last campsite of our ridiculous road trip, I lobbied for Starved Rock State Park along the Illinois River. Starved Rock is only an hour and a bit from where my family lives. And some of them were able to come out and join us at the campsite. My sister, Siobhan, came out our first night there to eat dinner with us and to roast marshmallows over the campfire.  The next morning we were joined by my sister Erin and her two youngest, Dylan and Zach, my Mom, and my niece, Tiernen, and her kiddos, Atticus, Imogyn, and Finnian. The weather did not completely cooperate. In fact, it poured down rain, for many parts of the day. But there was lots of laughing and catching up, tasty food, bouncing of babies, and poking at the campfire. It was a lovely day and a great ending for our two months on the road. 

June 29
And then, we drove home. And showered, loved on a very loud cat, and slept on a king sized bed. It was wonderful.

Up next, the last chapter and summary of the Ridiculous Road Trip #1

Ridiculous Road Trip #1, Part 28 - Mt Rushmore, Badlands

Back to Part 27

June 24
We started the morning at Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

The visitor center at the Mt Rushmore had a really interesting exhibit that had letters protesting the original idea of this monument. Paraphrasing a lot, just because we can do something epic, doesn't mean we should sacrifice the beauty of the natural world.

We left Mount Rushmore and headed to Badlands National Park. Badlands is one of the places that I can just barely remember from family vacations a million years ago, but it's a place the us often fondly remembered by my family members. I've always want to visit again.

You can just barely make out the bison to the right in the distance

Bison, Prairie Dogs, and the HodgePod at Sage Creek Campground
Leaving the highway and taking a 12 mile long bumpy drive down a gravel road, we set up camp at Sage Creek Campground. It's an odd campground. There's a big gravel road loop without defined sites. People just park along the loop, and set up camp in the middle (or in their parked camper). It is very windy, dusty, and without utilities, but it is free! Also, there are free roaming bison and prairie dogs all over it. The photo above captures our bison, prairie dogs, and our camper all the way on the right in the background. After lunch, we hopped back in the truck and took the road that runs all the way through the Badlands.

One of our first stops along the Badlands Loop Road was Roberts Prairie Dog Town, a historic homestead that has been colonized by black-tailed prairie dogs. In the video below, you can hear a rather agitated prairie dog, and if you squint, you might be able to see him in the middle of the frame, before he disappears down the hole. My apologies for the noisy wind.

There was also one very large prairie dog that seemed entirely unconcerned by us. It was rather odd.

Then we drove on, into the spectacular weirdness that is the Badlands.

We finally saw some long horn sheep!

And we took the fossil walk, where we only seemed to take picture of the interpretative signage, which was very well done. Especially the one that described the squid-snail that was once bigger than a person. 


And we enjoyed the swallows.

Then we looped back to the campground and Doug stalked the prairie dogs for a while. Prepare yourself for adorableness.

 And, of course, some more bison.

Ever since arriving in California, Doug has been spying these birds. We finally got a photo so that we could identify them as magpies.

And we fell asleep to the calls of coyote. It was flipping awesome.

Up Next, Part 29