State Park #3: Trail of Tears State Park

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

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It’s about time for another one of these posts, right?

Back in early June, 2015, we went on another camping trip with the Montgomerys and tried to find a place somewhat “halfway” between Marshall and the Memphis, TN area.  We tried Trail of Tears State Park near Jackson, MO.

In general, we weren’t all that pleased with this park.  Not that it was bad, per se, but the area wasn’t quite as well arrange for families as the last place.  The sites we selected were near each other, but much more forested than St. Francois from the previous year.  That also meant that Calvin, who wasn’t a great “walker” quite yet, found it much easier to trip on tree roots and rocks, and wander out into poison ivy with relative ease.  Also, we effectively had two separate camp sites, as the map we’d looked at wasn’t exactly clear on the position of the two locations, ultimately putting our tents about as far from each other as possible.

There was a very limited playground, but it wasn’t within walking distance.  There weren’t really other activities available either, aside from hiking, but again, when you’ve got small kids, that isn’t a great option.  At Calvin’s and Meg’s age now, we’d probably have a better time, but back then, it wasn’t ideal.

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I should note that we did have fun visiting!  This state park just wasn’t our favorite, I suppose.  Early June was a little on the warm side, but not unbearable.  Being deeper in the woods meant that the breeze wasn’t exactly…er…breezy…but we got something.

Anyway, we’d probably go back someday, but it isn’t all that close to our house (Jackson is mostly off the highway, but we have to drive a very round-about way to get there from here), so it will probably be awhile before we’re back in that area of the state.

State Park #2: St. Francois State Park

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

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A brisk morning…

We visited St. Francois State Park way back in April of 2013.  Meg had recently turned 3-years-old and this was among her first camping trips (though not her first, because we went to Minnesota about 7 months before this), and probably our second time using our massive “new” Coleman tent.

We took this trip with the Montgomerys, from church, and another couple they knew from work.  It’s been awhile, so I’m thinking back on this particular camping trip and I remember it being quite cold!  Meg, Brooke and I were there alone for Friday night and it dropped to near freezing.  I remember reaching into the second room to make sure Meg was breathing and warm multiple times during the night, so we didn’t sleep all that well.  The second night was markedly warmer, though the other folks who joined us for the trip complained about being cold.  We’d already seen the worst of it, so Saturday night was relatively balmy for us!

With regards to the park itself, they had a healthy number of nice hiking trails that suited our abilities well.  We had Meg strapped to our backs, but thankfully, the trail we went on was mostly level, so it wasn’t all that strenuous.  It also went along a creek for a good portion, so that provided Meg with something interesting to look at while we were moving about the park.

One of my all-time favorite shots...
One of my all-time favorite shots…

The park also had a pretty good playground close to where we were camping, at least within walking distance.  Most of the facilities were close to our camping site too, and everything was clean and accessible.  Meg was potty trained by this point, but we were still having to work with her a bit on sitting on an actual toilet, rather than sitting in an outhouse.

We didn’t really take advantage of any nature talks, at least not that I remember.  I’m sure they were offered, but we were likely busy enough trying to wrangle Meg that we didn’t pay much attention to them.  Firewood was easily accessible, so we’d have to go on some field trips to either buy or find some.

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That Saturday morning was cooooooooold!

Another nice thing about this park was the open areas near the camp site.  With some other places we’ve stayed, the camp sites were deeper into the forest, leaving little “play areas” for young kids to run around without tripping over tree roots or rocks.  The location for the camp site had a nice, open, grassy area across from the tents, so it was easy for the kids to kick a ball or run around the tents.  The adults could also see the kids from a substantial distance, so they couldn’t go hiding behind a tree or anything without us noticing.

One of the other things Brooke and I remember about this park was that Meg, Latham and Ellis played in our tent for hours on Saturday afternoon.  The sun was out, the weather was nice, and the tent had a door that the kids could open on their own.  They’d run around it, move toys in and out of the screened-in area, and they’d be yelling and screaming with delight.  Sure, it got kinda annoying for us (and dirt on our sleeping bags…), but they entertained themselves for a lot of this trip, giving us a nice reprieve from our normal weekend activities.

Meg and Latham playing in the tent.
Meg and Latham playing in the tent.

Overall, we have fond memories of this park.  Compared with some others we’ve attended, this one seemed particularly well-suited to young kids, something we probably didn’t appreciate until we went to some other state parks that weren’t as well organized for such things.

State Park #1: Katy Trail State Park

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

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Biking on the Katy Trail last summer

Katy Trail State Park is a 240 mile shared-use trail converted from the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad.  Growing up in Columbia, it’s a site I visited multiple times with my family (at the Rocheport section), but Brooke and I made multiple visits to the St. Charles section of the trail shortly after moving to St. Louis.  Now that we live in Marshall, we live about 30 minutes away from the Sedalia portion of the trail, ironically making it closer than it has ever been to the two of us.

As Brooke and I are the only two in the house capable of riding a bicycle (sans training wheels…), we picked up a trailer for my bike last year that we can put the kids in.  It folds up in the back of our Forester pretty easily, though by the time you put our bikes on the roof rack of the car and the front tires of said bikes in the back with the folded-up trailer, we’re mostly out of room (i.e. we can go to Sedalia, Boonville or Rocheport pretty easily, but not much further, as we don’t have room for overnight bags).

For now, the kids like riding in the trailer and we use it on trips to the local playground here in Marshall.  Meg is 6, but is still relatively small, so she fit in the trailer easily last year and this year – next summer may be a different story.  Hopefully, we can get Meg riding her bike over the next year, but Calvin will still be able to use the trailer for years to come.

Honestly, there isn’t much to write about here.  The trail picture above is what it looks like for 240 miles.  It goes through/near some small towns, sometimes there are bathroom facilities available (though usually not), some sections are shaded while others aren’t.  It’s a great State Park to visit, but personally, we like biking on it more than anything else.  It’s a “mixed use” trail, so we see walkers and joggers frequently, though closer to cities – the further you get from the cities, the more likely you’ll find bikers.  Some sections, especially near the State Fairgrounds in Sedalia, also allow for horses, but we don’t often see them on the trail.

Ultimately, it’s a really awesome resource that’s unique in that quite a few Missourians have been on it, likely without knowing it’s a State Park.  It isn’t a “single destination” like the other State Parks because it spans the entire state (as in, you can live in Kansas City or you can live in St. Louis, and you can visit the same park while only driving for 20 or 30 minutes to get there).  I suspect the kids will both have fond memories of this one.

Grand Tour of Missouri State Parks

Look at those happy campers!
Look at those happy campers!

We like to think of ourselves as “outdoorsy” types and, thankfully, we’ve got a really good Department of Natural Resources in Missouri to provide us with some great opportunities around the state.  When we traveled the Oregon Trail last year, Brooke and I found that many other states out that direction had some very unimpressive parks to visit, especially with regards to how much they charge to camp there relative to the quality of the facilities provided.  Thankfully, Missouri has cheap rates (even for non-residents), and some really nice places to visit.

Therefore, we decided it would be cool to hit every state park in Missouri before both kids graduate from high school.  There are 54 state parks and another 33 historic sites, many of which are also associated with the parks.  We’ve already visited a few of them as a family of four, so if we visit a few each year, we should be able to pull it off rather easily.  We’ll probably camp at most of them, but some of them like Rock Bridge State Park and Van Meter State Park, we may just visit.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be making a few posts about previous visits that both kids have been present for, so you may see some old pictures showing up.  Apparently, I didn’t post about many of those trips, so I guess I need to catch up.  Still, this will be a lengthy series of posts, so enjoy!

Family Vacation, Part II

Hiking on The River Trail

On our second day of vacation at Interstate State Park, we opted to give hiking a try.  Again, this is one of those things where it’s difficult to know how well, exactly, Meg will do on an extended hiking trip, but we figured it was something to do besides playing with rocks.  As a baby shower gift, we received this huge child backpack doohickey that fits much like a frame backpack and can carry children up to 50 lbs (supposedly…though how you carry that much, I dunno…).  Regardless, we tested the rig out a few weeks prior to see how Meg would take to it and she seemed pretty cool with the idea of riding in a saddle on Mama and Daddy’s respective backs.

In the end, she did remarkably well!  She asked to get down a few times, but not all that often.  She liked removing my hat and putting it on her head, but for the most part, she was entertained just sitting in the pack and looking at our surroundings.  She sang a bit to pass the time, too, which is always amusing (except at 4:30 am).

Taking a rain break at a local community center.

One of the songs Meg particularly enjoyed singing was “Rain, Rain, Go Away,” as we ended up getting caught in a reasonably heavy bout of rain.  Most of the hike, it was just a drizzle, but right around the point we were to be out in the open, about halfway through the ~4 mi trek, the heavens opened up a bit more.  Thankfully, the trail ended at an empty community center in Taylor Falls, MN, so we took a brief respite while the rain clouds passed overhead.  It was a good time to introduce Meg to trail mix (which she loves now…) and let her walk around a bit before continuing on.

This, my friends, is a "pothole."

The trail passed by an area with some interesting geological formations known as glacial potholes.  The Minnesota DNR has a video up describing them if you’re interested.  While you’d be right to think of potholes on the road when you think of these things, in reality, they refer to formations in volcanic rock (basalt) where rivers fed by glacial runoff slowly drilled down in a vortex fashion, making deep holes in the river bed.  As the glaciers receded, the potholes were exposed, leaving us with formations like those pictured here.

Looking up through the bottom of one

The potholes truly came in all shapes and sizes.  There were deep craters, some filled with water, and other areas that were more open after sections had collapsed over the millenia. Because some had collapsed in on themselves, visitors are able to safely get down into the area and look up from the bottoms of some without needing a ladder to gain access.  The sides of the potholes were very smooth, indicative of water slowly scraping away the rough edges of the rock as it bored down.

The area reminded us of Elephant Rocks, a state park here in Missouri that neither of us have visited in years.  We’ll probably try to get down there in the next year or so, now.

Making Mimimi her breakfast...

The rest of the hike back to camp was uneventful.  Really, the rest of the day was uneventful, with us laying in the tent trying to get Meg to take a nap (she didn’t…but Brooke did…grrrr…).  The rain held off for the rest of the day, which was very nice for ensuring the tent would be packed up dry the next morning.

But before I get to that, I thought I should briefly describe what was going on in the picture above.  Recently, we found out that Meg has an imaginary friend named “Mimimi.”  When we were visiting the potholes, Meg took it upon herself to walk back and forth on this walkway to her kitchen to make Mimimi her breakfast.  She’d tell Brooke and me to stay back while she walked toward the rock-formed archway, where she made some hand gestures, and then came back and delivered the imaginary cereal to her imaginary friend.

Things like this occurred for most of the trip to Minnesota.  I just thought I’d mention it here for posterity, so we can remind her of it when we meet her first boyfriend. 😉

Regardless, Day Two was fun.  A 4 mi hike was definitely lengthy, especially with a 25 lb child on your back, but we had a good time, got some exercise, and got to see some cool stuff.  Well worth it!

Family Vacation, Part I

Our pretty huge tent. It served us well!

Brooke and I went with the rest of the Baumann clan to the Dominican Republic earlier in the summer, but we wanted to take a few days to go somewhere as a family with Meg.  As both of us grew up enjoying camping with our respective families, it seemed right that we’d make an attempt to do this with our two-year-old.  Thus, Brooke looked around for options up north, where the weather would be a bit cooler, but also a place near some urban center just in case Meg didn’t take to tent camping as well as we’d hope.  The general Minneapolis area was a logical selection, and Interstate State Park fit the bill for a place “close enough yet far enough,” just in case some of our plans would have to be scrapped.

So we left Edie, Sam and the chickens in St. Louis under the care of Rachel (thanks!) and headed up to Hannibal on Tuesday night to stay with Brooke’s parents.  We got up at 5:00 am (ew…) and started heading north the following day.  Meg did not go back to sleep, so I sat in the back of the Sportage to entertain her.  She was a bit grouchy until we stopped in Cedar Rapids for breakfast a few hours later.  After that, she was in a much better mood…and so was her Dad. 🙂

We kept going, having lunch at a rest stop after crossing into Minnesota, then finally made it to our destination around 3:30 pm.  By the time we’d unloaded the car, got the tent set up, and started a fire to make some dinner, the rain was starting to move in.  While there was a 30% chance of rain that night, I don’t think we were anticipating it really starting (or continuing…) that early.

Thankfully, however, we got a pretty large tent with a screened section.

A view from "Meg's room," facing the middle portion of the tent, then Meg and Brooke out in the screened section.

We actually already had a tent (or two), but wanted to get one with two rooms so Meg could go to sleep before the two of us did.  We ended up with a Coleman Weathermaster Screened 6 tent.  I think “6 person” is a bit generous, but it will easily fit us and a few extra kids comfortably.  This particular tent came with the screened portion that was nice to have in a “light rain” situation.  You wouldn’t want to store gear in there, though, as it will definitely get wet.  The tent also came with a “hinged door,” making entry and exit from the tent easy and quiet.

The rain let up for the evening hours, but picked up again overnight.  It actually stormed to a degree, but the wind never got too bad.  We stayed dry, and that’s what was important!

Meg went to sleep around 8:00, which was shockingly easy to accomplish.  We bought a battery powered night light for her room and put out some blankets and a sleeping bag for her and that worked pretty well.  However, Meg woke up around 4:30 am and wouldn’t go back to sleep.  Brooke was able to get a bit more shut-eye, but Meg’s “singing” kept me up.  Yay…

Dutch oven cooking!

The next day, we went on a lengthy hike…but I’ll talk about that in another post.  I wanted to mention the dutch oven first. 🙂

When I was in scouts, we had a full stable of cast iron dutch ovens of all sizes.  We used them to make just about everything, so I got a decent amount of experience using them.  Brooke will talk about each meal in separate posts as usual, but I wanted to briefly mention how it worked.  We picked this one up from Amazon for $25, which was pretty reasonable compared with what we saw at Cabela’s and other camping stores.  It holds 4 quarts, which is also a pretty good size for making most things ranging from soups to cobblers to biscuits and gravy. While you can put the oven directly on wood coals, we brought along some charcoal to help manage things a bit.  I got some charcoal going first, then put the dutch oven directly on the coals, and finally moved some of the charcoal onto the lid of the dutch oven, allowing for heat on the bottom and the top.  It worked about as well as expected, effectively heating the different meals.  I kinda wish we’d taken Brooke’s infrared thermometer along so we could get a better idea of just how hot it got in that oven, but believe you me, it got everything toasty warm!

That's Meg, holding a Pepsi bottle cap, transferring rocks from her shovel to her bucket...

The last thing I wanted to mention here was Meg and her rocks.  We brought some toys and books along for her, but we needed something to keep her entertained while we did cooking, cleaning, setting up the site, and so on.  Thankfully, our campsite was next to a gravel pad for parking the car.  First, we gave her a red 16 oz cup and asked her to fill it with rocks.  This entertained her for most of that first night.  The next day, she returned to this activity, but now did it with her sandbox bucket and shovel…and a blue bottle cap from a Pepsi.  She’d transfer rocks from the ground to the shovel to the blue cap to her bucket.

I can’t count all the hours this took up.

Generally speaking, we were able to keep Meg entertained better than we expected.  From books to puzzles to rocks to the aforementioned hiking trip, she actually held up remarkably well, only asking to “go home” on the first day, and only once.  Besides that time, she seemed to take to the “camping experience” quite well!  Her napping was non-existent, but we kinda expected that.  Thursday afternoon, we hung out in the tent for awhile to help her quiet down some and that was the best we could do.  While she didn’t sleep well that first night, she slept very well the second night.

There are a few more posts coming about our camping trip.  The hiking trip will be next, followed by our excursion to Minneapolis for a day!