Hike

Float with Kids in Missouri

**This post has been in draft since August. Thought about saving it, but I’m just going to go ahead and finish it and put it out there.**

We finally were able to check float off our summer bucket list just in time for school to start!

We floated in the Lesterville area on the Black River with Horseshoe Ranch Campground and Floats. They’re a small operation that is family-oriented, which we appreciated. We went on a Sunday and our exposure to drunk, young floaters was minimal. We did not camp the night before or the night of which is an unusual choice. The place we went through does offer camping and most float outfitters do. I think next year we will camp.

We did a six man raft, which was perfect for us. The raft is the least tippable option and while we did lose a few people after an unfortunate run in with a tree stump and Kareem lost his sunglasses, ultimately, we did pretty good.

When we hit that stump, Nick, Rami, and Kareem went flying out the raft. I did not notice because I was trying to stabilize until Nick yelled. I was able to get Nick to grab my oar, but Rami and Kareem were getting swept down. The river is not that deep, so I was telling Rami to touch the bottom. He was getting panicky, so finally I yelled in a deep voice RAMI SWIM TOWARDS THE SHORE AND TOUCH THE BOTTOM. He reacted to that. He had a hard time touching because of the current, but he got there. He did immediately swim sideways which helped a lot more than trying to swim back to me against the current. Then we tried to get Kareem. I was having trouble getting the raft to the side of the river, and I thought for a minute, well we are going to totally leave Kareem and Rami here! But I managed it and I felt very proud. At this point, I noticed another family down from us a little ways. They clapped for us, ha ha. They were in canoes and apparently had gotten it much worse through that point. But we all made it, and it was a fun story to tell later.

Jimmy fell out once, but it was at a slow part and we immediately grabbed him and plucked him out the river and back into the raft. Here he is post incident. Clearly very bothered by the whole situation.

Part of the fun of floating is the people you meet.

The Black River is definitely one of the best rivers in Missouri to float, though we are not without lots and lots of options here in our gorgeous, floatable state. We drug once which is not bad for this time of year.

The Black River is so clear with a rocky bottom! Very typical of the area. Very swimmable. Gorgeous scenery everywhere you look.

I will admit, though I am super adventurous, I was slightly nervous to take four kids and a dude who has floated once or twice as a young man on one of those kinds of floats we were trying to avoid. But we were safe and the kids had a blast. Properly fitting PFDs are an absolute must. We own ours because we do spend a lot of time in and around water with our children. It’s an investment worth making!

I was slightly concerned about the weather. They weren’t calling for rain or storms, but you know you can feel it coming. And I just felt a pop up storm coming. You can see that high cloud there int he above picture. It rained very lightly just for maybe ten minutes while we were out- it was absolutely spectacular. I was worried we might have thunder and lightening- we did, but not until we were out of the river.

It was really cool to see the kids step up and help, and you could tell they felt more and more confident as the day went on.

Beginning and before Kareem lost his sunglasses
The end- no sunglasses, but feeling proud!

We pulled out, the bus pulled up, and we all piled in. Moments later, thunder cracked, the sky opened up, and we were being driven like a bat out of hell down the dirt road on the side of that mountain. My kids (and I) did NOT enjoy this part at all. Lucy was crying, Nicky was praying, and I was doing some kind of holy mix of cussing and laughing while trying to remain calm for the kids.

We got back in one piece but definitely changed after that bus ride! We started home after that, and of course, everybody immediately fell asleep in the car.

All we wanted to do after this float trip was. book another one! Unfortunately, we didn’t get to go again last year, but we are already talking about where we’re floating next summer!

Solo Hiking, Travel, and Selfies

**post warning: lots of pictures of ME in this post**

I used to hate selfies.

I thought they were dumb. This may really surprise you, since I now not only post tons of selfies both solo and with a group, but I also own a selfie stick. It was a gift, but an inspired one.

I didn’t really develop any selfie game until I was on my own a lot. I wasn’t yet a single mom, but my ex-husband was traveling a lot, and I was alone with the kids a lot. And I began taking pics of us via selfie. I’d love for my kids to know that mom was there too. 🙂 Once I was a single mom, then it was on. I also did a lot of solo travel and solo hiking at this time, so I would take selfies to document my travels.

Looking back at travel photos, I had tons of pictures of artifacts in museums or gorgeous landscapes, but my mom would be like, where are you? And I was like, she’s right! When I look at friends’ photos of trips and things, I’m looking for pictures of them, not of stuff I could go see myself. So I started taking more pics with me in it.

I also sometimes am somewhere by myself and see something weird and I’m like, okay I need photographic proof that me and this thing were in contact! 😀

I have had largely positive experiences with solo hiking and solo travel, though I have to say that in the past year, I have had a couple weird solo hiking experiences that have made me even more safety conscious.

I always advise that you bring the ten essentials on every hike you take. Recently, I was on a hike with another family and a kid scraped their knee. I left my pack in my car because it was only like a two mile hike. I never do this, but I did it. I wish I had my things! It’s always best to be prepared. And when you’re solo, it’s even more important.

I love solo travel. I’ve done domestic and international travel by myself and I enjoy it. Not too long after I got divorced, I went on a trip to Iceland, Wales, and England solo in summer of 2018. Often when I plan these solo trips, people will offer to come with me or come with for part of it. I declined these offers for this particular, mostly because I had already made my plans, gotten my tickets, etc and didn’t want to change plans around or cause undue cost to my potential travel partner. But I also knew that I would learn a lot doing this trip by myself, given what I had been through. Being completely by myself and responsible for myself on a trip like this teaches you a lot about yourself. And it reminded me of my own value and strength. I had a really great trip solo. I was able to be very flexible. After a particularly difficult hike climbing a mountain, I changed my plans and left Wales early and included a new stop in England. I also met some really cool people which I may not have been as open to had I been with others. Had a great trip!

Solo hiking is a little different. I don’t usually want to meet cool people on a solo hike, ha ha. I go for the solitude, peace and quiet, or I’m looking for something in particular. For whatever reason, I feel more cautious hiking solo than traveling solo. Not sure why. But I will say that I have had more negative experiences solo hiking than solo traveling. Being aware of your surroundings is very important in both settings. Choose your trails wisely. Let someone know where you’re going. Here are some of my tips for solo hikes.

At this point in my life, solo travel is not something I do often. I try to plan all of my trips with my kids. If I’m going to spend the money, I want them to come with me! And I’m remarried, so the kids can’t come, then the husband will! And I love it this way. But solo hiking does still happen. Or hiking with my non-human hiking buddy Jeff. He’s a pretty good pal. 🙂

I’m also totally open to hiking pals if you want to be one! Requirements- can’t be in a hurry and must appreciate really cool rocks. Litterbugs need not apply. 🙂

Fall Hiking

Fall. Is. Here!

No doubt about it- the air is getting crisp and this weekend I noticed the leaves beginning to change. I love me some summer, but I welcome the gorgeous changes fall brings. This fall, honestly, I’m a little bummed. I have some obligations that have changed around my custody schedule and we don’t have the kids at the same time so our events and calendar have been bumbled around. It’s something that can be hard to adjust to- do we do the thing with just the one child, just the three children, and/or the things we typically do on our own we won’t do because we don’t want to give up a moment with any of the kids. It’s a balancing act and this fall, it feels like there’s no balance.

BUT! There is still hiking, of course. Fall hiking can be the best- some of those nasty bugs are gone, the trees put on quite a show, and the weather is perfect.

I have in the past published some detailed hikes for the fall season- some of my favorite hikes- and you can find them here:

Ha Ha Tonka

Starved Rock

Taum Sauk

World Bird Sanctuary

A few more recommendations that I haven’t fully written up but have lots of opinions on:

Elephant Rocks– the famous state park in Iron County, MO. The giant granite boulders are spectacular any time of year, but the foliage around here is incredible in the fall and the views of the surrounding St. Francois mountains blanketed in oranges and yellows make it even more glorious.

Cuivre River– Close to home, this state park in Troy, MO is like a taste of the Ozarks near St. Louis with those dolomite glades, bluffs, and rivers running through it all. There’s even a lake with a trail around it- beautiful foliage!

Pere Marquette– You wanna talk about bluffs? Let’s talk about Pere Marquette. We always get up there in January for the eagle sightings and festivities, but this Illinois state park is worth the drive in the fall. Take the ferry over, enjoy the sights and sounds, and end with a river-side meal for a fabulous day trip.

Johnson Shut Ins– not just for summer fun, you know! This Black River shut in is breathtaking in the fall, surrounded by an incredible show the old hills put on.

Let me know where your fall hiking takes you and be on the look out for some fall hike write ups from me! Our hiking year ends on Thanksgiving, so I will publish our hiking year recap then as well!

Washington State Park

A couple weeks ago, we visited the delightful Washington State Park. We have visited there to hike before, but I haven’t camped there maybe ever or at least since I was like ten.

We went with my parents, which means we bring our tent and they bring their camper. Which means my oldest son and my girl child sleep in the AC while my youngest and my stepson sleep in the tent with us- by choice!

Washington State Park is not in Washington state and it’s not in Washington, MO. It’s in Washington COUNTY, Missouri between De Soto and Potosi off 21. It’s a very easy and close drive to St. Louis, but you feel like you’re a world away. Typically we go much further away to camp, so this was kind of nice.

The big draw to Washington State Park was the pool. Well guess what. They closed the pool the week before. Okay, but there are lots of other cool things to do here! There are some really cool hiking trails such as the 1000 Steps Trail, there are swimming and fishing and floating opportunities on the Big River, there are petroglyphs to view, and beautiful stone structures built by the African American Civil Conservation Corps nearly a hundred years ago.

Despite all that Washington State Park has to offer, Nick was disappointed to find out on the way there that we were not visiting his beloved Current River. He ended up having a good time, but not before some initial heartache.

The campground was very nice, but was not near anything cool. There was a playground there for the kids, and we did a lot of scootering around at the campground.

I was really excited to get my dad out to do the short walk to the petroglyphs with all of us. It was very HOT, but my kids enjoyed seeing the petroglyphs. I swear, I have taken them here about twenty times, and every time they forget we were ever there and it’s like a whole new experience. They enjoyed the petroglyphs and exploring the rocky glade. These rocky glades are very typical in the Ozark landscape, especially in the St. Francois mountains. I love them. They are dramatic and beautiful.

Speaking of dramatic and beautiful, the hiking in Washington State Park offers amazing views of the surrounding hills and the Big River below. We also got to explore and see those stone structures.

The 1000 Steps Trail is a trail that was built by that same African American CCC Company. They built the trail and its many stone steps up the ridge, as well as stone shelters only accessible via the trail.

The trail is pretty rugged. It is about a mile and a half long, but it shares a trailhead and part of its trail with the Rockywood Trail, so you can easily spur off, which we did.

If you are going to bring small children- our smallest on this hike was four years old- I would recommend keeping a close eye on them. It is very uneven and steep both up and down, and you are going down alongside of a steep ridge.

We began at the trailhead by Thunderbird Lodge. We went along and then straight up the hill via some of those stone steps. We went early in the morning, but it was going to be a hot August day, so lots of water breaks. The stone shelter along the way was perfect for a magical little break. The kids loved the idea that these steps and shelter were built so long ago.

Now when I say steps, it’s not like stairs. It’s large flat stones that were laid in the 1930s. So many of them are broken, and much of the trail is not steps at all. So don’t expect a staircase, because it is not.

The stone shelter is not the top, but it’s close. We continued to the very top where we hung out at a very pretty shelter with a fireplace that looks great for a family gathering. Then we continued on along the top of the ridge. Then it was time to descend.

Going down is always harder than going up. It takes more concentration and can be more physically demanding, even though going up might feel more difficult. This is the part I supervised Jimmy on the most.

We made it! The older three kept talking about how much they LOVED this trail, especially Lucy. I think they enjoyed the challenge of it and the beauty. It does feel like a magical forest.

We then walked all the way along the bottom of the ridge not far from the river back to our car. I was proud of these buddies!

If you follow me on Facebook, you saw the terrible faces of Jimmy throughout the hike. I take pictures pretty quickly on these hikes and don’t necessarily pay attention- I just kind of hope for the best. Anyway, hilariously, I got about eight pictures of Jimmy looking decidedly unhappy this particular day. He had moments of joy as well, but it was funny looking back at those pics.

Later that afternoon, we took them swimming in the river. There were plenty of people there, but it wasn’t crowded. We had lots of space. Closer to dinnertime, several groups were taking out a bit upstream from their floats.

This beach area is mostly rocks and sand. The river is very shallow here- the kids could walk across easily and not even be waist deep. There is rock and then the other side is a tall bank of dirt, which Nick enjoyed making into mud and getting exceptionally dirty. You can count on him for that! 🙂

The kids really enjoyed the beach time. And so did we! I love sitting my camp chair in the water and hanging out- don’t you??

We then returned to camp for dinner, fire, and s’mores. Early bedtime because everyone was beat!

We had a great weekend at Washington State Park and will definitely visit again.

Congaree National Park with Kids

Congaree National Park was an absolute treat.  I am always looking for National Parks to visit on our trips, and I came across this one about halfway between Charlotte, NC and Charleston, SC.  Perfect!  As I started researching, I found that it is regarded by many as one of the most underrated national parks in the system.  It really offers a lot more than you might expect from a national park with virtually no roads through it! 

The park is located near Columbia, SC.  It is some of the tallest deciduous forest on Earth and the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States, according to the NPS.  

We opted for hiking as our choice activity, as we only had a few hours for our stop.  But you can canoe, kayak, and camp here as well.  There are even canoe trails!  They offer frequent ranger-led activities too, and a great junior ranger program, which we did while we were there.  

We started with a picnic at the picnic area outside the visitor center which was as fun as it looks here- hah!

Attitudes improved once they had some food and got amped about the cool hike! It’s amazing what a little food, rest, play, and water will do for a person.

We did the Boardwalk Loop Trail which had a really cool “tour” pamphlet associated with it.  You can also get this digitally if you prefer.  It was super informative!  Between that and our Junior Ranger activities, we learned a ton!  🙂  While planning this trip, I read that the boardwalk floods from time to time, so check before you go.  We also spurred off on another trail- I think it was the Bluff Trail.  Gorgeous!

The park is swamp and forest.  On the Boardwalk Trail, you will see the river floodplain, an oxbow lake, swampland, and hardwood forest.  It is incredibly diverse landscape over a few short miles.  The loblolly pines were our favorite thing to say on the hike, and we loved seeing and hearing lots and lots of birds and animals.  

We had visited Jean Lafitte National Park and Preserve in March, and it had swampland too.  The kids noticed similarities and differences to that one, and it was really fun to hear their observations.  Lucy said it looked like a fairy forest, and I quite agree. 

The kids all earned their Junior Ranger badges! They take this pretty seriously, and the activities were really great for discovering plants and wildlife on our hike.

It was a great way to spend the Sunday afternoon.  We followed it with pizza at a classic dine in Pizza Hut and then drove straight to the ocean- more about that here.