Cabin Fever is at 200% at our house, so when the mercury rose to a balmy 44° on a sunny Saturday we did not hesitate to bundle up and go for an adventure picnic!
You cannot hike on an empty stomach, so the first priority was to make sure everyone was fueled up. We utilized one of the local school fundraiser coupon cards that we purchased last year from a neighbor to get a 16″ sub sandwich for free. Yay! Half of the card cost has been recouped so far.
With our bellies full, we set off in search of adventure and education.
Frugal Boy had fun crossing this little stream and then gave tips to his parents on how they could cross it.
Later on, he made a stream of his own.
And then he made two more streams later in the hike. He’s a regular Niagara Falls!
The hike was interspersed with teaching moments.
Frugal Boy learned that some plants have thorns to keep animals away from them. Thorns hurt. I thought that might be obvious, but sometimes you just have to learn from experience.
We also examined different footprints. Dogs, people, and deer were very common and easy to spot in the muddy conditions. An osage orange provided a nice distraction from tired legs as we kicked it, smelled it, and broke it in half to look at the inside. There were several mole tunnels. I learned today that the surface tunnels that you commonly see where the sod is lifted up is called a runway tunnel and are used for foraging/feeding.
The days are already getting longer and it won’t be long until flowers start blooming in our yard!
I wanted to do something a little more memorable than Chinese takeout for Shae’s birthday, so for this long weekend, I packed up the car and we did a little road trip to two of my favorite childhood state parks in Indiana, Turkey Run and Shades. The two state parks are situated in West Central Indiana near the Illinois border. They both operate in the Eastern timezone.
Given that it was a holiday weekend, the park campgrounds were full, but I was able to make a reservation a week ahead of time for a primitive campsite at Rockville Lake Park. RLP is a private campground just 15 minutes south of Turkey Run and about 5 minutes east of the town of Rockville.
We arrived a bit before dinner on Friday night and decided to set up camp before looking for food. Who really wants to be a camp cook after a day of work and driving multiple hours.
I made Frugal Boy help pack the car, so he was excited to see those packed items come out and be used.
It didn’t take long for him to become a camping expert and start doling out advice on how best to secure the tent.
With camp secured, we drove into town and ate at a mom and pop restaurant. I had forgotten to stop at an ATM and only had $28 in cash in my wallet. Shae never carries cash and relies on the A(ndrew)TM whenever she needs it. I was a bit worried when we sat down at the cash only restaurant, but then remembered how cheap food is in rural Indiana. At $7 or $8 for an entree with two sides, we weren’t exactly pressured to eat miserly. Now I know how my middle brother, who spent a decade on the east coast, feels whenever I am bitching about the cost of staples.
The campground did not have an easily accessible supply of potable water so we stopped at a grocery store and bought a few jugs of water along with an evening treat.
A 4 pack of Smores drumstick ice cream cones was cheaper than buying a bundle of wood and having a campfire. You’re not supposed to transport fire wood because of all the critters that can hitch a ride and invade a new ecosystem and you are also not supposed to collect down branches and twigs in the campground because it depletes nutrients from the forest (my ecologist sister can correct me in the comments).
We turned in early that night because we were dog gone tired.
I woke up in the morning to an empty tent. Sometime in the night we acquired a couple of new neighbors. My stomach was growling, so I set to work making breakfast.
We had packed a cooler with half a dozen eggs, cheese, and an assortment of snack food. For car camping, I love the incredibly simple and rock solid single burner propane stove that I bought a decade ago at Wally World.
You have to buy the propane tanks separately, but they seem to last forever. The stove is strong enough to boil a few cups of water, so you can make quite a variety of foods on it. I had to take a picture of this particular propane tank because my parents gave it to us when they cleaned out an outbuilding. I remember these old tanks from my childhood, but they still work!
Shae had taken Frugal Boy down to the lake to go play.
When they came back, breakfast was ready!
I knew that Turkey Run was going to be popular on a Saturday, so we made tracks and got their early. The suspension bridge over Sugar Creek is always a favorite spot. A few kayakers and canoes drifted by below us while we crossed.
Inside, the spirit of adventure tugged at us to move forward.
Frugal Boy found a hiking stick
that he promptly lost, but talked about the rest of the day.
We found a cave (more like an overhang).
We hiked through streams
and climbed up ladders.
By lunch time, we had covered about 5 miles of trails, Frugal Boy was carried for some of that, but we made him walk even when he didn’t want to.
At lunch a bee landed on my hand. Frugal Boy asked what it was and I explained that it was a bee and it could hurt me. If I stayed still it would leave me alone and leave. We watched as it flew off and around and landed on Frugal Boy’s hand. My lesson apparently went in one ear and out the other because he tried to squish it. Maybe he is a first hand experience learner.
After lunch, we did one last trail. It was nearly empty and tucked away behind some cabins, but I thought it was one of the best trails we did that day.
When we left around 2pm all of the parking lots were full and the line of cars waiting to get into the park stretched out onto the highway. Just like the Shedd Aquarium, it pays to be there early.
We took a nap back at camp, and walked around the grounds. It was interesting people watching. Most of them were glampers, or people that were glamping (glamorous camping). We saw many satellite dishes, ginormous RVs, and flat screen tvs.
I made dinner on my trusty single burner camp stove.
I’m still trying to figure out what chain of events happened that made me the de facto camp chef. Some where history went wrong.
Frugal Boy has been doing very well with using the potty, but he still has some things to learn, like how to pee standing up. He got a primer on this camping trip and his only words were Awesome! and Again!
In the morning, we broke down camp quickly and left RLP so we could get to the canoe outfitters in time for their first run of the day. The outfitters was a well oiled machine that was processing hundreds of people. For $22 we had a three hour canoe ride down Sugar Creek. I could only surmise that the only way the outfitter made money was by sheer volume.
We got a different view of the suspension bridge that we crossed the day before.
We took one grainy selfie before we reached the pullout spot, a red covered bridge.
There is something like 48 covered bridges in this part of Indiana. I have never done it, but there is a covered bridge festival if that is something that interests you.
Back at the outfitters, we took one last picture of Frugal Boy and the canoe. He was really excited and wanted to go again.
From there we drove up to Shades State Park. The difference was night and day. Shades didn’t charge an entrance fee, even though it was listed. The parking lot was half empty at noon, compared to overflowing. The trails were sparsely populated. We ate lunch and hiked two more trails before declaring ourselves completely tuckered out. Frugal Boy loved the tricky ravine hiking and slept the entire car ride home.
If you are looking for a fun place to hike in Western Indiana, then I would recommend Shades or Turkey Run. There are some fun trails.
Yesterday for Mother’s Day, we loaded up in the car and drove to Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve for a picnic lunch.
It was a nice sunny day and several other families had the same idea.
Frugal Boy enjoyed sharing Grandpa’s cupcake.
Grandpa was a good sport.
After eating a big lunch, we went for a hike. There are paved and grassy paths totaling over five miles in the preserve.
In a couple of months there will be a ton of blackberries along the trail. I saw a bunch of thorny canes just starting to set their fruit. For now though, we settled on picking some bouquets for mom.
Have you ever wondered how dandelions manage to carpet an entire area. Shae captured the process in slo-mo.
After we were finished spreading an invasive species, we found the jewel of the trail, a natural spring bubbling up from the ground. Frugal Boy got very excited and started pulling on my arm to go ‘swimming’. I indulged him and in the process gave his grandparents and aunties a show they probably weren’t expecting.
The water was very cold, but he still went back a second time before declaring all done.
Dried off and dressed, we finished up our little hike.
After some more time on the playground, we loaded back up in the car and drove a bit south to a seemingly out-of-place Buddhist temple. It was surrounded by corn fields and looked to be built on an old farm homestead.
A man came over and started to talk to us about the temple. Construction started in 2004 and lasted about 3 years. Everything has been done by volunteers. I was a bit surprised to see the sign on the door.
I had visited several temples in Taiwan on a college sponsored trip and they did not have that kind of restriction. From talking with the man, it seemed that this was more of a Thailand/Laos sect.
Frugal Boy liked the decorative dragons.
Leaving the temple behind, we drove to the other side of the forest preserve to look at the big pedestrian bridge.
I was impressed with the living room sized inflatable ‘raft’ that came cruising by.
PSA: I recently changed the comment captcha so if you weren’t able to comment before you may be able to do so now.
The weather outside has been delightful! Yesterday we basked in 67° and soaked up as much outside time as we could with a trip to Sugar Grove Nature Center.
There is an abundance of trails that ramble through the prairie and woods around the nature center and we picked a shorter 1/3 mile loop that we thought Frugal Boy could complete on his own.
I was a little worried when he fell down for the first time and got his hands dirty. I wasn’t worried that he fell or his hands where dirty, but that he was insistent that we clean them off. Of course we said no, and told him to buck up. A little while later and he had remembered how to little boy. Whew!
The trail meandered through the woods and even had a bridge at one point. Near the end it opened back out to prairie and Frugal Boy was starting to whine, then cry. He forgot about his tired little legs when we made it to the playground. It was unlike any playground he had been to before!
This was a nature playground where kids can be kids.
and big kids can be big kids.
Frugal Boy had completely forgotten about staying clean. So it was a big success.
Later on a bunch of other kids came and Frugal Boy made some new friends. He is a very loving and caring little boy, but it still grossed me out when he kissed a stranger toddler girl on the lips. Twice.
Today was the first day of Memorial Day weekend, a three day weekend for many Americans. Part of frugal living is finding the joy in simpler activities. For us, that includes reconnecting with nature by hiking through the wilderness and enjoying the sights and sounds that cannot be found in a sterile office environment.
Someone asked Shae what our plans for the weekend were, and when she replied that we would probably be hiking 3-6 miles they could not understand why we would want to do that. Well, keep reading to get a glimpse of what adventures and fun can be had in your own backyard.
We drove a short distance to Detweiller Park in Peoria, Il.
Detweiller Park is special because it is the southern most trailhead for the Illinois River Bluff Trail (see a trail map here). The 6.9 mile trail features terrain that you would not expect to find in Central Illinois. Namely, rolling hills, and deep ravines.
There was an nice playground by the trailhead that we took advantage of to set Frugal Boy free while we ate some lunch. After fueling up it was time to hit the trail.
It didn’t take long to have an up close encounter with this fine specimen.
Whenever I post these types of photos to Facebook, I always get a rash of comments along the lines of “kill it” or “run away”. Our goal is to impart a “Live and let live” philosophy to Frugal Boy. The snake, like most animals and insects, poses no real danger to us. It is far better to admire it with respect and then move along and let it go about its day.
Perhaps the greatest thrill that I get out of hiking is not knowing what’s behind the next bend in the trail.
What’s Around the Bend-itis
Aren’t you just the least bit curious as to what’s up ahead on the trail. Just take a few more steps to find out. You never know what you’ll come across, and we came across something that totally blew us away!
Well, are you curious yet? Are you thinking, maybe I should get outside and enjoy the freedom of nature?
What if you found a ghost camp?
The ole swimming pool.
The trail had switched from a dirt path to a two rut gravel road. The first thing we came upon was this old swimming pool and bath house.
Next door was a canteen/cafeteria area?
Canteen, cafeteria, or trading post?
An overgrown cross gave a hint as to the camp’s original occupants.
overgrown cross and message board
Our road reached a junction, but trail signs pointed the way to a place further back in the ghost camp.
Here we found intact restrooms and an accessible caboose.
If you looked at the trail map at the beginning of the post, you’d see that this was Green Valley Camp, our turnaround point for the day. GVC was run by the Salvation Army before being turned over to the Peoria parks district.
We switched off carrying duties and Frugal Boy was hosed down because it was hot out.
On the way back we spotted some more of nature’s wonders.
Do you know what plant has mitten shaped leaves?
If you said, Poison Ivy, congratulations! Leaves of three, leave it be.
Nearing the end of the hike, we crossed over another rambling brook. I had made a mental note of it on the way in, and we stopped to let Frugal Boy play in it.
He was happy as could be and got nice and dirty. A fellow hiker walked by and just grinned when she saw a mostly naked toddler playing in the stream.
Overall, it was a splendid hike.
Discovered a Ghost Camp ✓
Played in a stream ✓
Saw animals in their natural habitat ✓
Avoided poison ivy ✓
So that’s why we go out hiking on our three day weekends.