Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Camping with a Dog and a Dutch Oven - part two

Spring Valley National Park is a little over three hours north of Las Vegas. It contains the Eagle Valley Reservoir which is stocked with three varieties of trout. 

lake view and hills with brush in the Spring Valley State Park
Campsite View of the Eagle Valley Reservoir
This is a new destination for my camping itinerary and I was not disappointed with my find. My dog and I had a wonderful time in the wild here. I'd like to thank my long-time, dear friend for the suggestion.

I am experiencing the call of the wild, but I must be crazy. I wait until the very end weeks of summer and early fall to start this adventuring thing. I guess it was time. It is better than baking in the summer heat, I guess. Something got under my skin this month about getting out of town and camping seemed to be the most economical trip I could plan and afford. The largest expense I had was fuel. It took a little over a tank and a quarter to round trip this excursion. 

Horsethief Campground Sign with entrance road view
Horsethief Gulch  the campground, at
Eagle Valley Reservoir
Horsethief Gulch Campground

The campsite at the Eagle Valley Reservoir is Horsethief Gulch Campground. The fees are only $17 for the night. It  covers parking, park entry, and the camping site itself. Check the entrance postings at the park for specific fees.

The firewood was donation only, so I generously gave when I took a small pile of the cut timber for my campfire. I had enough to last me the two nights I would stay. Other campsites I have visited charge $5 to $7 dollars for firewood. Let this be a guide for donations. These funds help support our nature preserves and parks,

The camp site has a shade cover over its picnic table, a fire ring for campfire, and is conveniently located near a bank of bathrooms complete with shower rooms. Unlike Mt. Charleston, the showers are free and are operating at this time. Bring shower shoes. Those tile floors are frigid!

Cedar Ridge Granite Falls 4-Person Tent - orange and white tent
Cedar Ridge Granite Falls
4-Person Tent
Plan for a cool night's stay. The temperatures can dip quickly after sundown. Check the weather forecast ahead of time and pack accordingly. A tarp folded in quarters and set under the tent where I planned my sleeping area helped insulate me from the cold ground. I did have a foam pad and several blankets in addition to my sleeping bag.

Directions To Horsethief Gulch Campground

Tips on Staying Warm Overnight 
 Double up on socks and wear a set of thermal underwear when the evening temperatures are going to dip below 60 degrees. Toss a few blankets on top of your sleeping bag and try to stay covered. It is a good idea to keep a warm coat or sweater close by in case the frigid night air seeps through the bed coverings.

My family camped out one year and overnight we decided to try heated rocks to keep us warm. We dropped several in the firepit and then wrapped them in towels. What happened next could have resulted in disaster. The rocks were so hot they melted and burned the material the towels were made of. Do not do this. Also, do not use propane or gas heated space heaters in a tent. The noxious fumes are deadly and the heat source is an extremely risky fire hazard. My best advice for staying warm is to bundle up and stay cuddled under the covers.

A Note About Air Mattresses
I, personally, do not care for air mattresses. They tend to cool down over the evening hours and create more havoc than comfort. As the air cools down, they contract, leaving the sleepers to have to wake and refill or repair a flattening mattress. Save yourself the expense, trouble, and energy. Foam insulates comfortably and retains body heat where an air mattress dissipates it and leaves you cold.

Dutch Oven Cooking
The minute I get to camp I set up my fire and proceed to heat the dutch oven up for some bacon and breakfast items. I arrived shortly after noon and was a bit hungry. Thankfully, the coal starter makes the process of getting coals up to heat easy and quick. About 20 minutes after lighting the coals I was ready to cook my meal. 

For this breakfast meal, I started with bacon to grease the pan, I removed most of this while allowing several slices to brown. The others will be reserved for later cooking. I then added ham slices. When the ham was almost ready and slightly brown on both sides I added eggs to the bacon grease in the bottom of the dutch oven. The pan was set on a grate that was sloped so the grease gathered at the side nicely for cooking the eggs. 

The only thing I was missing for this excellent breakfast was orange juice, grits, and toast!

Wildlife In The Park

lakeside view
Dockside view of the Eagle Valley Reservoir
The first wildlife I saw were a trio of Mule Deer on the road into the park and a curious wasp. The deer were grazing on grasses outside a fenced area near the road. That was a really neat site. I love spotting animals on my travels. They tend to leave a good memory.

The wasp was interested in my dinner, a piece of chicken I had tenderly prepared in the dutch oven. As I was sitting down to eat, it flew in, hovered, then flew away once again. When said wasp returned, the insect landed on my dinner item and proceeded to cut a wasp sized piece out of the meat. I did not disturb the creature as I thought it might get aggressive and the last thing I want to deal with is is an insect bite of that caliber. I cut several very tiny pieces of chicken and set them aside on the table for the critter's return. It did come back and I was able to finish my meal undisturbed.

Rumor has it that there are skunks in the area as well as rattle snakes. I neither smelled, nor sighted either animal. Thankfully, the only really wild thing I had encountered happened to be a feral, domestic cat that crept in in the middle of the night to ransack my garbage bag. I was not careful disposing of my trash so the refuse was fair game. The next night, I had prepared and set aside a small piece of butter to lather up my sweet potato baking in the fire pit. I turned my back for a few minutes and it had disappeared. When I turned around, there was a small black spector near the front of my campsite. Growling and menacing cat noises mixed with the cricket and frog croaking during the night. They spooked my poor dog enough he did not want to sleep without me in the tent.

My second day brought a surprising set of visitors over the lake. I spotted a couple of eagles swooping and grazing the air stream over the canyon. It was breathtaking to watch their flight.

Fishing the Shore and Boating Dock
Fishing from the dock seemed to be the easiest way to pass the day after camp was set up. Why refuse an invitation from that beautiful water!? Drag up a camp chair and get cozy or wander the shore line and drop in a hook. There were many families in the camp area and the echoes of their catch and lost fish repeated around the small valley. It was refreshing to sit and cast a line and drink in the scenery. Kids, adults, and dogs alike splashed through the water, although it is not a great swimming area. Just so you are aware of State Park regulations, dogs are required to be on a 6 foot leash.

Supervise youngsters closely while around the dock area. A young man about seven years old proceeded to drop not one, but two fishing rods over the side of the railing, lost forever in the algae green waters. In the following hour, he personally stepped off the dock area and drenched himself and his mother in the water as she reached in to pull him back out. Children are not required to be leashed.

boating dock, hills, and trees
The boating dock at the Eagle Valley Reservoir facing the campground. Boat rentals are available just a few miles from the campground, however, there  is ample room on the dock facing the lake to fish.
The supplies that are needed are a few fishing basics. A light tackle pole, a few hooks, a pair of needle nose pliers, weights, bobbers, and a stringer line will get a fishing enthusiast through the afternoon. The fish are small and require very little than a hook removal and water storage. Of course, there is the cost of a Nevada fishing license if you plan on fishing here. This may be purchased ahead of time at any sporting goods store counter. Be sure to add a trout stamp as that is most likely the fish on the hook. There are several types of trout in the water - Rainbow, Brown, and Tiger are among the water residents here.

The predominant bait used here is Power Bait. I used bright green, but the popular flavor is yellow or tan. I did see folks using worms and lures, as well. One woman came up next to me with a long leader, bobber, and a fly like lure and on her first cast caught a decent sized rainbow trout. Take the time to let the bait drop and remember where the bites are. Cast back into that area and you may be successful.

After a few fish are caught, take advantage of the cleaning station available near the dock area. It boasts a nice, deep double sink area with running water and a garbage disposal for fish heads and guts. This makes for easy clean up of that catch of the day. The fish are quickly cleaned and prepped for cooking.

I understand that there are crawfish in the water here as well. It would have been fun to rig a line with a chicken bone and reel a few in for supper, but I did not have a pot big enough to boil them in. I only brought my dutch oven for cooking. 

Camping is an Emergency Drill

Be sure to take the time to plan for emergency drills. One's like this camping trip do not have to come with gloomy descriptions and elements of disaster. Camping is what happens when the power and lights go out and off and the family has to break out the tent and rough it for a few days or weeks after a catastrophe. Make it a family outing ahead of time so that an emergency does not have to be a crisis, too. You and your family will quickly adapt and face your situation in a more comfortable manner. Readiness pays in calm dividends. Camping and emergency supplies 

Images on this site are property of M Burgess unless otherwise indicated. Please do not copy. Copyright 2015

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Camping on Mt. Charleston with a Dog and a Dutch Oven

Mt. Charleston, Nevada is about 40 miles from my front door and my favorite way to get away for a bit. The pleasant temperatures contrast greatly from those in the Las Vegas Valley during late Summer and early Fall. 
Mt Charleston Peak
Mt. Charleston Peak

Camping in this mountain range is my idea of a vacation!

The campsite that was left to us had a great view of the valley floor below. It happened to be one that I have used before and I thought it was convenient to find open, again. I could quickly set up camp as I had done in previous years. Open fire cooking is a must when camping in this area and is permitted in the campground. Our menu was predominantly dutch oven fare.

Driving Directions

The road is steep up to the camp, but is a manageable drive. It is important to do the speed limits and stay alert of deer or horses that may cross the roadway. My preferred campsite is at Hill Top Campground which is actually in the Lee Canyon area. Take the first road to your right as you travel the Mt. Charleston road where you see the first intersection sign. This is the Deer Creek Road. Drive about 5 - 6 miles up and look for a brown sign past Robber's Roost (great hike!) that reads "Campground 1/4 Mile" that is your marker. Slow down and turn right into that forked road. The fork to the left is the one you want. It circles around and up to the camp entrance. Pick up a pay envelope here and continue up to find an open spot. The camp has reserved and open sites. Stop and check in with the Rangers and say hi!

Camping Costs

The camping costs $21 a night and check out time is 1:00 pm.  Firewood is available on the mountain for $6 a bundle. That is all that is available here. Bring your own ice, water, and food. You will not find any markets at this altitude. There are two restaurants in the area, one at the Lodge up the Mount Charleston Road at the top and one at the Resort near the entrance to the recreation area. This is the only food available unless you bring your own!

Please, be aware that at this time there is NO WATER on the mountain. Snowfall and rain have been minimal, so be sure to pack in your own potable and wash water. Also, there are latrines, not bathrooms, so be ready to truly rough it. It might be a good idea to include toilet paper, sanitizing wipes and liquid in your camp gear. 

My Canine Camp Companion

small dog in camp site with turquoise sweater and leash
Wilbur standing his ground
Dogs at the campground must be on a leash at all times. Make sure that they have access to fresh water at all times and a soft place to sit. I folded two small blankets up for Wilbur a safe distance from the fire and used this for his sitting place and bed roll. My little guy even has his own bug out kit with supplies.

My neighbor at the campsite commented that her daughter thought it was really brave of me to camp out here, alone. I thought nonsense, but responded, "I drive cab in town, not much scares me." (Wink!) I really needed a getaway. This place is fairly public as there are many campers here with me. I did not travel completely alone, however. My camp companion was my little dog, Wilbur. He is an older dog, but I thought it would be nice to give him a run of fresh air and small walks along short trails. 

Wilbur did quite well, but was a bit of a rascal when it came time for me to set up and tear down camp. He wanted to wander and rightly so. There were so many new smells for him to investigate. This image is after I took the tent down. I think he wanted to stay!

I was concerned about him walking on the sharp rocks and rugged trails, but tried to find smoother paths to travel for his restroom breaks. He tried to sniff and smell everything and wander when he had a chance. Thankfully, I caught him on those occasions.

Journal Entry
When night fell, we stayed near the fire for about an hour then retired to our tent. The sky was amazing and I wrote a small piece about it in my journal. I so wish I could have gotten a picture of it!
Fire in a steel drum from a campground
Campfire bliss

The campfire smoke drifts skyward into the Milky Way. Starshine punctures the tar, black fabric of the night. I sit under this canvas and alternate admiring sky and campfire.  I stare into flames of gold and admire the blue base of the fire. This is my campout, my reason to be still. The precious away time I so desperately yearn for. 

I dearly wish I could share a photograph of my view of this sky with you, this quiet evening. I left the sun cover off of my tent so as to stargaze before I drive off to sleep. The display of constellations is mesmerizing. I scan the night scene for moving blips and shooting stars.  I have only seen one fall tonight.

It has been two years since a devastating fire tore through our beloved mountain. From my campsite I see subtle signs of the disaster.  Skeleton tree trunks scorched from the fire tower like markers of that sad day. U was heartbroken when it started. The fire covered nearly 65,000 acres of woods, brush,  and timber land. It threatened homes and the livelihood of many who live on the hills northwest of Las Vegas

I am grateful my beloved Hilltop Camp was spared. It is a miracle that it is untouched. I understand fire is nature's way of nurturing soil, but does it have to be so devastating?!  (See Mt. Charleston Memories for more about that fire)

Tips For Dutch Ovens or Dutch Oven Cooking for One

Dutch Oven, Barbeque grill, and coal starter units
Dutch Oven and Supplies

I bought a 10" dutch oven some time ago and was eager to try it out on this trip. The cooking is quick and easy in one of these handy pots. It does get sooty, but it is manageable if there are the right supplies with you. The important thing about any cast iron cooking gear is keeping it oiled. Use no water in cleaning and oil it down after use. If you have to use water in it, dry it on heat for a minute, then season once again with oil. 

I had, also, purchased a coal starter, but had not used it yet. My dad suggested this great tip that worked wonders for lighting the chimney. Place two or three sheets of news paper wadded up under the coal starter and fill the chute with charcoal. Light the paper and in about 20 mins, the coals will be ready. This method worked like a charm and I had no trouble with coal starting whatsoever. The first thing I made was O'brien Potatoes. This is a small mix of potatoes, onions, and green pepper.

O'brien Potatoes Recipe

  • 3 slices of bacon
  • 1 potato - diced
  • 1/4 green pepper, sliced
  • 3 slices of onion
  • Salt and Pepper

  • Settle dutch oven on a half of a chute of hot coals. Cook bacon slices until slightly brown and remove meat from dutch oven.  Add onions and peppers, sauteing for about two minutes. Add the potatoes and cover for about 10 to 15 minutes. Check every 5 or so minutes to insure they are not cooking to quickly. When potatoes are soft, remove from heat. Add salt and pepper to taste.

    I had cleared some items out of my freezer to bring with me so I did not have to spend a lot of money on groceries when I hit the mountain. One of the things I brought were chicken breasts, which I got a little creative with. The result was the following recipe:

    Orange Gatorade Barbeque Chicken

    • 2 large Chicken Breasts
    • 1/4 green pepper - sliced
    • 1/4 onion - sliced
    • 2 T olive oil
    • 1/4 C barbeque sauce
    • 1/3 C Orange Gatorade
    • Salt and Pepper
    • 1/2 C Water
    Set dutch oven on coals and quickly add olive oil. Saute onions and peppers and add the chicken when onions are clear. Coat the chicken in the veggie juice then sprinkle generously with salt and pepper to coat. Let them simmer for about 5 minutes covered. Add the barbeque sauce and coat the chicken pieces. Pour the gatorade into the dutch oven and cover with the lid. Add about 8 coals to the top of the dutch oven. Simmer for about 25 minutes. Remove dutch oven from coals and take lid off carefully. Set coals from lid aside in barbeque grill or fire pit. Stir in about 1/2 cup of water when chicken is ready to loosen the sauce from the bottom for a good au jus. Serves 1-3 

    Go Camping!

    My wish is that you might get a chance to enjoy a trip to the great outdoors, someday soon. It is a great way to escape summer heat and blahs. If you are not in the Southern Nevada area, check the camping locations near you using the Recreation.Gov site!

    Images on this site are property of M Burgess unless otherwise indicated. Please do not copy. Copyright 2015