yellowstone national park

Yellowstone: Winter Creek

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I’m all geared up a ready to go. This was still at the beginning of the hike, when I wasn’t tired and grumpy!
Campsite at Grizzly Lakes Winter Creek
Our deluxe accommodations! It actually was the nicest place I’ve ever backcountry camped.
2014-07-18 11.02.21
One of the many toads my field partner whispered to.

Welcome to Winter Creek, just past Grizzly Lake! This site was a first for me. I’m not sure how after all these years I’ve managed to avoid it but I finally got a taste. It was a little more than a three mile hike to our campsite but it felt more like ten with our packs on. Nevertheless, it was beautiful! And just like the area promises, we saw some grizzly footprints and some wolf footprints on the way in. That never sets me at ease when it comes to backcountry camping (especially after Gibbon Meadows).

Our campsite was glorious! Deluxe, four-star, glorious. It was the nicest backcountry site I’ve ever been lucky enough to camp in. We had a great view of Trilobite Peak which I found to be a little slice of home because we’re all about the trilobites in New York. There was a stream with crystal clear water running nearby, elk grazing in the valley and a trail leading to an old tiny Forest Service cabin. And I of course took a zillion photos of the adorable tiny structure and proceeded to lose them. Sorry, lovers of all things small and quaint, I let you down.

We quickly set up camp and then hiked to our first survey site so we could take some of the burden off the next day’s workload. The hike was AWESOME! The “trail” started literally right at our tents and it consisted of walking up a dry streambed between two mountains. It was like hiking in the Ithaca gorges but uphill and dry. This kind of terrain is in my DNA. This was my jam.

We surveyed this enormous lake and halfway through it began to storm. I was in such a frenzy to finish that I ended up blowing past my field partner who started 20 minutes before me. And right at the beginning and the very end of my survey I apparently found the one and only salamander in the entire lake. It was right where I had left it from a few hours back so I was able to count it. Then we decided to cut our day short and head back to camp because the weather was threatening to get even worse. It’s a good thing we did because we were hit with a hail storm as soon as we entered our tents.

We started early the next day because we had a lot of bushwhacking and sites to hit and then we had to hike all the way back out before dark. We utilized our trail again and found most of our sites to be small and easy to survey with abundant tads. However, there were a few remote sites that were absolutely treacherous to get to. The, it-took-us-more-than-an-hour-to-walk-a-quarter-of-a-mile, kinda crap. This was even using every dry, semi-clear stream channel we could find but it was still rough going. This several-hour-long walk between wetlands was when I discovered my partner to be the toad whisperer. It seemed like every second she was finding one at her feet and I never discovered a single one. They were absolutely flocking to her. That’s okay though, I didn’t take it personally, I’m the salamander whisperer so we’ve all got our gifts. There’s actually more truth to this than one would expect. Each field biologist seems to be more adept at finding one specific species. It may be that our eyes are better at seeing certain movements or color patterns. There’s something to it though…there’s a master’s thesis hidden in all this somewhere.

When we arrived at the remote sites, they were bone dry, of course. These moments test your patience and acting skills. You’re mad at this point because you’ve gone all that way, through hell, for nothing. On the other hand, you’re also relieved because you’re exhausted and the last thing you want to do is trudge through a wetland with your heavy waders for an hour. So you have to slap on your best game face and pretend to be absolutley devastated.

The hike back to camp was a bitch which involved sliding down the side of a steep mountain on our butts and then realizing it was totally unnecessary after the fact. Oh well, you live, you learn. The hike back out to the car was easy and long but beautiful. We met three girls who were staying at our site and while we were crouched down looking at fresh grizzly tracks, a group of hikers snuck up behind us and scared the absolute crap out of us. We thought they were bears so we screamed bloody murder and jumped into each other’s arms. Needless to say, they got a kick out of us. Adding to that, there was a stream crossing and I was so tired that I didn’t even bother changing into my waders. I just plowed through the water with my sneaks and long pants on. Well, the hikers probably thought I was out of my mind but at least I was memorable…maybe.

2014-07-22 16.24.02
For reference, we surveyed and camped in the top center area of the map.
yellowstone national park

Yellowstone: Gibbon Meadows

elk skull
An omen perhaps?

I realize that I’m about 1.5 weeks behind in the whole blogging thang, I’ve just been so busy trying to bust out this field season before it busts me. Plus, to complicate matters, my computer broke while I’m out here so I’m having to hen-peck these words on my tablet which takes forever and a day. This also means that I can’t download any photos from my camera, which further diminishes the blogging experience. So it’s all comes down to my low quality phone camera at this point. All is not lost though, most of my daily updates have been on Instagram so follow me there if you’d like.

Now for my story…

My partner and I just returned from our first backcountry trip of the season and it was more than worthy of a post. It was my return to Gibbon Meadows. Last year, two teams ventured into the site on two separate occasions to see if it was worthy of including in our yearly surveys. The first team was completely perplexed and had no idea how to handle the site so we had to go in to see it for ourselves. After some hemming and hawing, it was deemed suitable amphibian habitat but the intense beaver activity happening there may make it unmanageable in future years. Those industrious little scallywags!

The site is extremely remote and hard to get to so last year we decided that it would be best to make it an overnight backpacking trip. Well, one thing we managed to overlook about that plan is that most of the animals out there have never seen humans before. Last night at our campsite we got a taste of what exactly that entails: curious, unfrightened animals of all shapes and sizes wondering who the strange aliens are.

We were woken up at 2 am by the sound of elk thumping through our campsite. For a while the elk slept surrounding us until they were driven off by something. That something, which I saw pacing around in the darkness just outside my tent, decided to bed down next to me and happily smack its gums for what seemed like an eternity. Instead of being frightened when my partner and I spoke (calmly panicked), it was comforted and lulled to sleep by it all. Eventually, my partner couldn’t hold it any longer and she had to leave her tent to pee. She shined the light on the creature and instead of running away it was fairly inquisitive and unafraid of the light. From what she could gather, it was her height, had predatory, forward-facing eyes and was very stealthy when it got up and decided to bed down a little father away. At this point we were terrified because it was pitch dark outside, we had no conclusive idea of what it was, the elk left us, there were only two of us, we were far away from civilization and no one has a clue as to what lives back there.

My partner hurried back to safety and not too long after she whispers, as calmly as possible, that something is sneaking up behind her tent. So with pepper spray in one hand and a knife in the other I dive into the darkness to save her from what I believe to be a grizzly bear. The problem comes when I don’t see a darn thing behind her tent. Seconds later a small chipmunk deviously squeaks and scampers off…probably having a great laugh at our expense. I nearly shit.

So the rest of the night was spent with an unknown creature snoozing happily at my side and me waiting until the sun came up to actually relax enough so I could sleep. Yup, I was freaked. The next morning there were wolf tracks around our campsite and a path in the grass leading right to my tent. That was a unique experience which is fun to recount right now but at the time it was absolute terror. Still, not many can say they’ve slept embedded in a herd of elk, almost maced a chipmunk for mistaking it for a grizzly bear and shared a bed with a wolf all in one night (or ever) so I’d easily put myself through that again just for bragging rights.

During our surveys I also saw (and came way too close to) two bear cubs and lots of elk. We tromped over beaver dams and scent mounds galore. We both fell chest-deep into hidden pockets in the wetlands. And most amazingly, we were followed by a large adult grizzly for most of the day today. Everywhere we went the tracks were fresh and right behind us. It was all one heck of an adventure but I’m thankful we didn’t spend another night there because all of the animals were way too curious about us. They didn’t know any better and certainly had no malicious intent but they just had no fear of us. I have no doubt that the inquisitive grizzly would have been my sleeping companion had I stayed. Such a crazy and unique experience.

Getting in and out was about three hours of hell, especially with heavy packs on. We were trying to outrun a storm so by the end of it we just gave up on comfort and proceeded to ford a river at a popular picnic spot. We must have been a sight. Two girls with enormous packs on, completely exhausted, insect bitten, clothes muddy and torn to shreds, stinky as all heck, emerging from waist deep water and walking across their picnic spot. Some brave soul asked us what we were doing and boy did we have a story to tell. We blew the guy’s mind!

When we returned and told the story to our supervisor, she asked us to make a list of all the animals we saw to inform the park service because they’ve never been back there. That’s crazy to imagine that there’s still completely untouched, unexplored wilderness in the world, especially the United States, even today.


An overview of my trip

So here is the final data on my little “vacation.” I did not intend to make driving to Yellowstone a vacation but it turned out that way. It was my third time making the trek from New York and I was absolutely dreading it. In years past, I never gave myself much time to enjoy the sights along the way and now that I have, I can tell you that this trip was perhaps one of the best vacations I’ve ever been on. And what usually, on average, takes me three nights took me six. Yup, six! I had the time–work doesn’t start until June 15th–so I figured that I’d use it to play tourist and enjoy myself. However, since I’m basically broke, I had to do it on the extreme cheap. In years past, I spent the night in hotels but there’s no way I could do that and still see all that I wanted to at an enjoyable pace so I opted to camp.

More than anything, I’m posting this to encourage you–especially those with kids–to revisit the all-American vacation, Griswold style. Hop into the family truckster, explore our country, hike, see the sights, sleep in nature, check out the largest ball of twine. It’s cheaper than most other vacations and as I’ve tried to convey in other posts, most attractions are free to enjoy. Things don’t have to be expensive. And you don’t have to have a new car or rent something spiffy. My Honda Civic officially has 205,481 miles on it and it got along just fine. And my camping gear is very basic and worn (a friend named my tent “the girl pee tent” because it smells bad) but I was comfortable and slept like a log. I even woke myself up (and probably my neighbors) snoring a few times.

  • Gas: $190.86
  • Gallons pumped: approximately 46.262
  • Miles driven: 1,715.70
  • Oil change: $43.63
  • Tolls: Ohio: $10.00, Indiana: $7.90, Illinois: $11.80
  • Lodging: Woodside Campground: $17.00, Chicago: free, Myre Big Island: $25.00, Mitchell KOA: $24.27, Badlands: free, Buffalo KOA: $31.88
  • Entrance fees: Lily Dale: off-season is free, 1880 Town: $12.00, Corn Palace: free, Badlands: free, Wall Drug: free, Big Horns: free, Buffalo Bill State Park: free, Shoshone National Forest: free, Yellowstone: $25.00 (free for me because of my research permit)
  • Food: $82.62

My total expenses for seven days and six nights of vacation was $456.96. This will be approximately doubled when it becomes a round trip, which is a little steep. However, think of it this way, if you invited another adventure-seeker along with you and split the cost of gas, tolls, the oil change and camping, you both could enjoy a 12 day, cross-country vacation for around $500 each. That’s extremely impressive. That’s around the same price as a single round-trip plane ticket to only one destination.

Three nights at the Super 8 probably would have cost me around $60/night: $180
Camping and visiting a friend for six nights: $98.15
So I cut my expenses by almost half and doubled my number of vacation days!

The offer is open to anyone who wants to fly out at the end of July and take the trip back with me. I plan to go south to Jackson Hole, then see some dinosaurs in Thermopolis, visit a petrified forest, hit the Reptile Gardens, camp in the Badlands again, definitely swing by Myre Big Island again and even get a psychic reading in Lily Dale. That’s if I finish my field season early…we shall see… The trip would be a lot more fun with someone equally up for adventure, plus expenses would be shared. Just an option if you’re looking to see the country.

Adventures, Travel

From Cody to Yellowstone. I've reached my destination!

Once I hit Cody it was smooth sailing. I was on the very last leg of my trip and I couldn’t wait. I stopped to get groceries, enjoyed an older gent playing accordion in front of the supermarket (very random) and got my oil changed. Yup, my Honda is purring like a kitten. That machine never ceases to amaze me. Cody is a fantastic little tourist town that features a rodeo just about every night. Continuing west on Route 16 is Buffalo Bill State Park featuring a huge reservoir and dam that was completed in 1910. I stopped to take these pics and a weasel scampered by me with a fish in its mouth. So mischievously awesome! Buffalo Bill State Park is free to enjoy and has a free visitors center, museum, beaches and has many camping opportunities.Buffalo Bill State ParkBuffalo Bill State Park

Then the drive winds through Shoshone National Forest, which–like a broken record–is beautiful, free and full of recreational possibilities.

Shoshone National ForestShoshone National ForestSoon after that is Yellowstone! Just as I hit the park I saw a sight I’d never seen before. I was lucky enough to catch two different groups of big horn sheep crossing the road. The only time I’ve seen them was as specks on a distant mountainside. This was a freakin’ treat! They were so close to me, within feet! I could see their bright orange-red eyes. I also caught a few glimpses of some fluffy, white elk butt on my way through and heard the calling of frogs beckoning me to come catch them. And I shall!

big horn sheepI arrived at the dorm at 5:30 pm and it’s the same as I had left it. They even had the same National Geographics sitting on the kitchen tables. Ahh…home sweet home. Right now the place is filled with lake trout biologists and fishermen. Two of them put on an impromptu concert last night complete with guitar, ukulele and singing. Oh, it’s going to be an interesting summer! It never ceases to amaze me that people pay me to work here when I should be paying them. No matter how bad the rest of my year is, at least I have this.

Adventures, Travel

The Big Horns and more…

Big Horn National Forest, WyomingBig Horn National Forest, WyomingBig Horn National Forest, WyomingBig Horn National Forest, WyomingBig Horn National Forest, WyomingBig Horn National Forest, WyomingBig Horn National Forest, WyomingI’ve got a soft spot for Buffalo. If I could live anywhere in the west, Buffalo would be in my top five. It’s small enough to not get lost but big enough to have all the creature comforts. The downtown is charming but not offensively touristy. It’s the gateway to Yellowstone and is located at the base of my beloved Big Horns. The KOA is immaculate and the tent sites are located next to a babbling brook with a waterfowl refuge on the other side. One of the maintenance workers stopped by my site to show me pictures of the forty baby geese that they have tromping though every morning. They’re so darn cute when they’re young. The storm system that I’d mentioned in my last post finally hit the area at around 7 am. I awoke to my tent nearly flying away with me in it. I had to quickly vacate, pick up the tent, stuff it into my car (still set-up) and dive into the backseat before anything flew away or flew at me. Overall though, after that day I had before, I was super grateful that the storm didn’t hit in the middle of the night. I was easily able to ride out the storm and catch a few more hours of sleep in my car until it was time to embark on my favorite part of the journey: Route 16! If there’s one stretch of road that you want to drive in your life, this may be it.

I left Buffalo at 10:30 am and headed into the Big Horn National Forest. This place is an unknown national treasure and I love it. It rivals Yellowstone for me. If you have to, skip Yellowstone, skip Glacier, skip Yosemite and just hit the Big Horns for a vacation. It’s snow covered mountains, vast canyons, lush grasslands, rolling rivers and majestic pine forests are absolutely beautiful and free to enjoy. There are campgrounds, lodges, skiing, hiking, fishing, horseback riding, snowmobiling, kayaking…anything recreational you can think of. I’m surprised it’s managed to fly under the radar for so long.

After the Big Horns is the tiny town of Ten Sleep (population 257) which may also be on my top five list of western towns that I’d live in. It’s so small and so quaint and better yet, I see that they’re opening a brewery. I may just have to pay them a visit on my way back. After that is miles and miles of rolling, sagebrush BLM land with oil drilling and livestock grazing. The landscape is absolutely beautiful and if you’re lucky you can catch a glimpse of an antelope butt on the hill next to you (they’re pretty proud of their best asset and will gladly feature it in the landscape). This stretch of road is all about dinosaurs (Themopolis–dinosaur central is not too far away), oil drilling, recreation, livestock, cowboys in beat-up pick-up trucks, bentonite clay extraction (this is what I make my toothpaste out of!), small towns and beautiful scenery. Cody, Wyoming comes almost too soon.


Adventures, Travel

Keystone, South Dakota to Buffalo, Wyoming

After the Badlands, I hit the road again with the intention of stopping off to see Mount Rushmore. My mother told me that I’d enjoy the little town of Keystone and Mount Rushmore is basically right there so I veered off Interstate 90. That area of the state is basically a hot spot for tourist sites, adventure and fun activities. It would take at least a week to see all there is to see there. Just in the thirty minute drive from Rapid City to Keystone there is the Reptile Gardens (the 2014 Guinness World Record holder for having largest collection of reptiles), Bear Country (a drive-through wild game park), some sort of Scandinavian village, a mystery spot and various other goodies. And speaking of the drive into Keystone…all I can say is that I almost simultaneously filled my drawers and puked at the same time. It was soooooo steep that my newly serviced brakes were hanging by a thread. I’m no stranger to downshifting on hills instead of riding the brakes. That’s my usual deal but this was way beyond my driving ability. The road went straight up and down mountains, with blind hairpin turns thrown in there for fun. I was forced to downshift AND ride my brakes just to stay in control. And Keystone was right at the bottom of one of the mountains. I have no idea how people escape getting smeared by runaway RV’s when trying to cross the road.

Needless to say, I had a hard time enjoying Keystone knowing that I had to endure another near death experience on the way out. To make matters worse, I was baking in the sun (Yes, I applied sunscreen twice to no avail and no, I wasn’t using Sweet Pea’s sunscreen. I decided to use up another brand before I dipped into mine. Never again.) and I ate at perhaps the worst restaurant ever. You know it’s bad when there are hundreds of tourists around and you’re the only one in the joint. People were walking in, looking around, grimacing and immediately leaving. It’s crazy what health & safety violations you’re willing to overlook when you’re hungry. I walked around for a bit, tried to make peace with impending food poisoning, felt my skin burning, and dreaded the trip out. I decided to get the heck out of dodge and totally skip Mount Rushmore. Yup, I was about two minutes from the national landmark and I skipped it. I was having a moment. Not wanting to retrace my steps, I took a back road to Hermosa and then back to Rapid City. This would be my suggested route if you’re looking for a drama-free approach from the north. There was only one scary spot and I held my breath through it. I never thought I’d be so happy to see Interstate 90 again but I was over the freakin’ moon.

Soon after that I hit a storm with 60 mph winds and quarter size hail. Yup, this was not my day. Eventually, I made it to my regular KOA stop in Buffalo, Wyoming and was able to shake things off a bit.

Adventures, Travel

Wall Drugs & The Badlands, South Dakota

After 1880 Town, I stopped by Wall Drugs because….well you just have to. It’s an institution and the hundreds of billboards starting from the state line serve to create an insatiable pavlovian urge to visit. I took pictures of the inside last year so check out this post if you’d like to see them. Wall Drugs is basically a circus for consumers, making it all too much fun and easy to spend your hard-earned dollars on a rubber tomahawk. It’s a tourist trap but it’s infinitely amusing. Then I ambled across the street to eat at the Cactus Café. The buffet didn’t blow my mind but for $10.00 I was able to go competitive eater on the place. Once my belly was full and my head was aching from the sugary margarita my server talked me into, I was off to set up camp in Badlands National Park. I had no idea what to expect but I was up for adventure.Badlands National ForestBadlands National ForestBadlands National ForestBadlands National ForestBadlands National ForestBadlands National ForestBadlands National Forest
I decided to stay at Sage Creek, one of the two campgrounds in the Badlands. Sage Creek is a no-reservations, primitive campground with a wealth of covered picnic tables and two pit toilets. The feature I was most interested in is that it’s free to camp here. Aces! After a few death-defying moments on the winding, unpaved roads, I arrived in a valley to find the campground full of people from all over the globe just hanging out. I thought I was in a smaller, more vegetated version of Burning Man. It was glorious. Added to that were the bison just roaming around the tents, all laid back. The thought crossed my mind that one may decide to set up shop on me in the middle of the night but luckily they kept their distance. I set up my tent amongst the 50+ other campers and bison and fell asleep to the unsettling sound of coyotes howling nearby. I find coyote communication to be terrifying. Don’t ask me why, I just do. Despite the coyotes, I had the best nights sleep ever. It was perfect. In the morning, I tore down camp and went for a hike on a nearby footpath. Although it was glorious, I wish I had more time to explore because I only experienced the northern most edge of the Badlands. It would take at least two more days to do this place any justice.

Badlands National Park
This guy has it going on! I want his setup.
Badlands National Forest
The view from my tent.
There was a bison snoring just a few feet away. Nite nite.
Adventures, Travel

The road thus far…

Base camp for the night. Clean showers, free wifi…it’s about as close to glamping as I’ve come!

It’s my third day on the road, I believe. The days sort of mush together. I’m writing this from my picnic table at Myre-Big Island (no, I’m not in Hawaii-I wish!) State Park in Albert Lea, MN. It’s beautiful here, like an oasis in a rather flat, farming landscape. I left Cortland at around 2 pm on Thursday to head west to Woodside Campground (and country music park) in Cassadaga, NY. The campground was definitely unique and I highly recommend it for an adventure. After many detours, I pulled in wondering what sort of backwoods, deliverance situation I’d gotten myself into. Right from the start, I couldn’t figure out which abandoned building to check in to so I wandered aimlessly until I decided to call for help. Once that was all figured out (check in is located in the family’s front porch, duh), I drove down into the actual campground, assuming that I’d be alone– it’s literally out in the middle of nowhere–and to my surprise the place was packed with seasonal/full-time RVers. There are only three tent sites in existence and you have to drive through a ball field to get to them but the sites are super sweet. After a great nights sleep, I grabbed a shower and headed six miles away to Lily Dale, the spiritualist capital of the world. This was my one and only reason for taking the overnight, 35 minute diversion off the interstate. I won’t go into details now because I have a lot of pics of Lily Dale so it warrants its own post. Let’s just say that it was pretty freaking spectacular.

Lily Dale, New York

Lily Dale, New York
Beautiful houses everywhere.

I left Lily Dale at 12:30 pm and said hi and goodbye to New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana in one fell swoop. After a zillion pee breaks, I arrived at my friend’s apartment in Chicago (Evanston to be exact) at 8:30 pm (accounting for the 1 hour time roll back). I just love my friend Cathy and where she lives. Evanston was designed with me in mind. Within walking distance of her place there’s the subway, a post office, Vogue Fabrics, a guitar shop, several Mexican restaurants, a vegetarian & vegan restaurant, a gem & mineral shop with a fossil museum in the basement, Whole Foods, Trader Joes, a wine & liquor store and tons of crafty boutiques. It’s my idea of heaven. Plus just a quick drive away is the beach. Too bad the weather is freakin’ crazy sauce or I’d be moving there. Tornados and -55  below windchill is not my thang. Cathy and I spent the night telling each other spooky ghost stories and paranormal happenings of a personal nature until we were both almost too apprehensive to sleep. My kinda night. I spent the next day walking around Evanston and shopping. I bought so many fossils, crystals and rocks that are going to make the most gorgeous, unique jewelry: labradorite, Oregon opal, ammonites, orthoceras, red tiger eye, mugglestone, zebra stone, and even a big ass quartz for my reiki sessions. And even though I just left, I can wait to get back home so I can start making stuff again. Yup, I really do love making stuff that much.

I begrudgingly left Evanston at 1:30 pm to find myself hung up in traffic and construction for way too many hours. Interstate 90 from Chicago on west to the state line was all construction, expensive tolls and just plain sucky. Eventually I hit the open road and it was smooth sailing after that. Wisconsin was a virtual gauntlet with all of the deer carcases on the road. I’ve never seen so many dead deer in one stretch of road and it’s always like that. It’s a beautiful state but not if you’re an animal. After many tiring hours, I set up camp in the Big Island at 9 pm, watched Netflix in my tent until the wee morn and woke up with the birds. Not too shabby. They don’t kick me out until 4 pm so I’m going to squeeze every last bit of enjoyment out of this place. Perhaps some drawing and hiking is in my future. Then it’s off to the Badlands! I probably won’t make it to Wall, SD today but I’ll get as close as I can.

I’ve had two revelations for thus three! The first is that I absolutely love my Honda. It’s got +200,000 miles on it and it’s been an absolute dream. Every day I’ve been doing at least one thing to pamper it. Yesterday it was an addition of oil and coolant. Today it’s going to be a power steering fluid check and some air in the tires. Tomorrow it’s going to be an oil top-off.  I’m prepared for it to break down on me at some point but I won’t be mad because this well-oiled machine has earned it. It’s just such a great vehicle that has required so little of me over the years compared to all the other cars I’ve owned.

The second revelation is the Oh, Ranger Park Finder app. I downloaded several apps before I left and this one is complete gold. Plus, it’s free (thanks to LL Bean & Ford). It uses your location to tell you where the nearest parks (state, national, BLM land, etc…) are, what activities they allow and hooks into your phone’s navigation system to direct you there. That’s how I found Big Island. I’m not a fan of pre-planning where I’m going to stay because then I’m on a strict time schedule, which stresses me out. This way, I can just find a nice place to camp nearby when I’m ready to rest for the night. I prefer to stay in parks because they offer recreational activities such a hiking and wildlife watching so you get more bang for your buck.

My third revelation is that I love making my own stuff. An hour before I left for this trip I decided to take a few minutes to make some sunscreen and toothpaste instead of buying it somewhere. Now I’m sitting here having used my own soap, shampoo, conditioner, hair oil, body butter, sunscreen, toothpaste, deodorant and insect repellent and I’m so proud it say that it’s all the absolute best. I’m tent camping and yet I feel completely pampered from head to toe. It’s such a treat and it leaves me a bit tickled. Yup, tickled, I said it.

Odometer: 204358
Miles travelled: 592.7
Gas: $116.50
Woodside Campground: $17.00
Big Island State Park camping: $25.00
Tolls: Ohio: $10.00, Indiana: $7.90, Illinois: $11.80


Recent Travels: Watkins Glen

Okay, if you ever want to enjoy the Finger Lakes on a budget, keep reading. Whenever I want to do anything on Seneca Lake–like wine trail, hike and eat good food–I usually camp in New York State’s only National Forest. It’s a little slice of nature right in the heart of wine/beer/spirit country. There are a few group campsites that cost money but for the most part you can camp for free anywhere in the forest just as long as you set up at least 50 feet from any body of water or trail. That’s easy enough. There are even bathrooms nearby incase you don’t get your kicks from peeing in bushes…sissy pants! The forest is not only close to Seneca Lake (plus Watkins Glen, the speedway and Farm Sanctuary), it’s also convenient to Ithaca, Trumansburg and anything having to do with the west side of Cayuga Lake.

The Finger Lakes National Forest is different from a state park in how it’s managed. It’s all about providing a wide variety of recreational opportunities and managing for a variety of wildlife habitat types. There’s hiking, camping, horseback riding, fishing, hunting, blueberry picking, snowshoeing, skiing, biking and snowmobiling. They mow, prescribe burn and stock ponds. There’s no fee to get in so it’s also different from a state park in that respect. Instead, they raise funds through other means such as harvesting timber and allowing livestock grazing. It’s pretty neat to be hiking in the forest one minute and the next minute you’re in a clearing with a herd of cattle.
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Not cool people! Not cool!

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This past weekend, my Hudson Valley friends, Cassie & Lauren came to visit me and I figured this would be an ideal weekend excursion. We enjoyed some delicious microbrew at Two Goats Brewing overlooking beautiful Seneca Lake; headed into Watkins Glen to eat, drink more microbrew and listen to live music at the Crooked Rooster; then we camped in the National Forest for the night. We set up right next to Potomac Pond and fell asleep to the sound of frogs calling en masse. It was the perfect nights sleep until a duck got there in the morning. This paticular duck’s constant jibber-jabber incorporated itself into my dream and nearly drove me insane. Then we broke down camp and ventured into Watkins Glen to eat brunch at the Glen Mountain Market (yum!). The rest of the day was spent hiking the extremely packed but still awesomely majestic Watkins Glen State Park, chomping down ice cream, and venturing back up Route 414 to taste wine at Atwater, Bagley’s Poplar Ridge and Hector Wine Company. After that we parted ways and put the lid on one heck of a perfect weekend. Enjoy the photos…

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2014-05-26 12.54.27 2014-05-26 13.10.082014-05-26 13.07.26 2014-05-26 13.10.38 2014-05-26 13.17.102014-05-26 13.13.49 2014-05-26 13.38.04 2014-05-26 13.48.522014-05-26 13.40.50 You can pay to park at Watkins Glen State Park or just find a space on the street and walk in for free. Either way. The downside to parking on the street is that it’s 2 hours max and that’s the bare minimum for hiking the gorge. If you have the cash, pay to park and then spend the day enjoying the the glen (which is in walking distance to breweries, eateries, shops and the lake) without having to worry about parking tickets or moving your car.

As an exciting side-note: I finally got to field test my insect repellent. I forgot to spray myself as I was setting up camp and I heard Cassie exclaim something to the effect of “Good gawd girl, your arms have been eaten alive!” The mosquitoes had a field day biting my exposed arms and I was just too engrossed in setting up my tent to notice/care. When I had the chance, I sprayed my arms and legs and every last itchy welt was gone within minutes. We then headed out to the brewery where I had people comment on how great I smelled. It’s moments like these that I wait for and savor. I nonchalantly blow on my fingernails, polish them off on my lapel, slap on my best shit-eating grin and say “Why thank you, it’s my very own Sweet Pea’s bug spray. It repels insects and attracts humans.” When we got back to camp, I immediately sprayed myself and was never bothered by an insect again. I even ended up sleeping with three mosquitoes in my tent and was never feasted on. This leads me to believe that I dang done well with my little concoction.

I was also debating over whether to add polysorbate 80 or polysorbate 20 to the repellent because it helps emulsify and solublize (yup, that’s actually a word) essential oils and water and alcohol. It seems to be used in a lot of commercial as well as handmade room sprays, perfumes and repellents so I was feeling like I was possibly missing the boat. But the more I read about this ingredient, the more uncomfortable I am with using it. The repellent is great without it. You just have to shake it so everything blends together. No biggie. Why spend money on an extra ingredient, which is basically unnecessary and potentially harmful? Seems kinda silly. That’s the direction I’m taking with my lotion too. Why add a chemical preservative? Oh because the product has water in it and water breeds bacteria. Okay, just get rid of the water. Bam! Easy as that. Same with emulsifying wax. I’ll just use the heaps of beeswax I have instead. And speaking of bees…

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