St. Louis RV Vacation and Travel Show

This blog was started after our first tent camping trip together because we had a difficult time finding resources for tent campers. As we have become more involved with the outdoor community, we are finding more resources but this weekend we decided to explore how the other side experiences an overnight stay in nature. I have been counting down the months, weeks and days until the St. Louis RV Vacation and Travel show. Although we have decided that tent camping is for us, I wanted to explore everything from the most basic to the most luxurious campers and RVs.

The St. Louis RV Vacation and Travel show campers and RVs
The show was at the America’s Center in downtown St. Louis. While there, we stepped inside pop-up campers, fifth wheels, and class A, B and C motorhomes. I wanted to see a teardrop trailer because Griff’s dad often talks about these, but we did not find one at the show. There were a couple of vintage style campers that were cute but definitely not practical for someone with Griff’s height.

The pop-up campers did not appeal to us at all because they were similar to a tent, but with electricity, water and needed the ability to haul it. The trailers and fifth wheels were really interesting and many were much nicer inside than what we expected. However, we do not want to buy a truck to haul one or try to drive through cities with it. The class A motorhomes were often very nice inside but again the thought of driving that through a city made us nervous. Someday if we have children and decide to buy an RV, the class C motorhomes seemed like a great option because the smaller size is likely easier to maneuver through tight spaces.

One of the highlights of the show for me was getting to sit behind the wheel and explore the layout of the Mercedes Sprinter van RV conversions. I have wanted to see the interior for some time. This would be my choice if we want to extend our camping season and do not have children and have extra money to spend. Some of the floor plans and features in these were just so-so, but there was one that had a great floor plan and was very nice inside.

The booth spaces
While we really enjoyed our tour of life on the other side of the campground, we found that some of the exhibit booths were very practical and some did not make much sense (such as the home improvement vendors.) We were able to pick up state park maps and information from Missouri, Illinois and Arkansas. We were also able to gather information such as pocket cards to identifying plants and animal tracks. We talked with the people at the Family Campers & RVers booth and plan to check out this camping club in March.

We still prefer tent camping
In the end, we decided that tent camping is still the option that most appeals to us. We like the ability to just drive our car everywhere, putting together a couple of poles and falling asleep listening to nature’s lullaby. We did see the appeal of the options that we saw at this event, but at this time, camping in tents is how we plan to enjoy our nights in nature.

Chimney Rock

After visiting Courthouse and Jail Rocks, we traversed the back roads of western Nebraska to see Chimney Rock. While I had not heard of the former, I knew the latter as a landmark from a popular computer game I played as a kid. As we were driving, we realized that it was not quite lunchtime, but we definitely needed a snack, so we stopped at the Settlers Trading Post.

When we got out of the car, we noticed tumbleweeds hanging underneath it. Outside the trading post was an older windmill, a teepee and a lovely view of Chimney Rock. A campground associated with it called Chimney Rock Pioneer Crossing seemed like a wonderful location to view the stars at night and wake up to a view of this landmark. Inside was a couple who sold souvenirs, ice cream and food with stories and smiles for everyone. It was a quaint and welcoming place that satisfied our desire for a snack. If Griff and I get back that way we plan to stay at the campground.

The view from Chimney Rock Pioneer Crossing.

The view of Chimney Rock from the Settlers Trading Post.

Just down the road was the entrance to Chimney Rock. From what we could tell from the outside of the visitor center was that you had to pay to enter the visitor center and could not actually walk up to Chimney Rock. After a brief discussion, we decided that we had seen Chimney Rock from the Settlers Trading Post and would continue our journey through Nebraska. We would be happy to hear what we missed from others who have visited and if there is a way to hike up to Chimney Rock. Leave a comment if you have ever hiked near Chimney Rock.

Courthouse and Jail Rocks: A Nebraska Historical Site

Courthouse and Jail Rocks in Western Nebraska

Courthouse and Jail Rocks in Western Nebraska

It must have been something to be part of the westward expansion of the United States of America. Those brave souls must have felt the excitement of their historical significance, frightened by the unknown and hopeful for a better future as they faced the hardships of traveling by wagon and walking the plains and western states. These are things that we thought about as we travelled along or near the trails of the westward expansion.

The modern day traveller has the opportunity to drive through ranches with cows roaming freely alongside and over the unpaved roads near Courthouse and Jail Rocks in western Nebraska. We may have been lost and it may not have been necessary to travel these roads, but it definitely added to our experience.

Road near Courthouse and Jail Rocks, Nebraska

Road near Courthouse and Jail Rocks, Nebraska

We stopped next to a historical marker sign and took pictures with the rock formation behind us. There, we learned that people traveling west on the Oregon, California, Mormon and Pony Express trails found this to be a landmark on their journey. That location was probably the same place that weary travelers stopped to admire the view and wonder how much longer it would be before they would arrive at a place to permanently settle.

We arrived at Courthouse and Jail rocks to see one other couple exploring it. After meeting Wilma and her husband, we walked along dirt paths that led up and around the formation. The trail was not well marked and had loose dirt in parts of it. My parents decided to stay close to the car while my brother put his newly purchased hiking shoes to use as the trail leader.

The trail at Courthouse and Jail Rocks, Nebraska

Along the trail at Courthouse and Jail Rocks

On the opposite side of the formation from our car we could see Chimney Rock in the distance. The tallest point did not seem safe to climb to in tennis shoes, but we did enjoy the view of the flat Nebraska land with occasional buttes and plateaus from where we stood. I have a feeling that Courthouse and Jail Rocks is often overlooked as a destination to visit and hike. However, it was a fun stop for us to do a little hiking and sightseeing of Nebraska’s non-interstate landscape.

Preparing for our first backpacking trip

After hiking up Harney Peak last year, I looked up Missouri’s highest point of elevation. It turned out to be a rather disappointing 1,772 feet at Taum Sauk Mountain. But this discovery yielded an interesting bit of information. There is a hiking trail between Taum Sauk and Johnson Shut-Ins (site of one of our camping trips last year) with a length of 14 miles. The hike up Harney Peak left me itching to do more hiking and 14 miles seemed like fun. However, a hike that long would take us the better part of a day and we wouldn’t have time to do a roundtrip back to our car.

Then, sometime over the last two months I read about Missouri’s Ozark Trail. It is a hiking and backpacking trail (with a lot of mountain biking and equestrian access as well) with a total length over 350 miles at the moment.  The trail is situated mostly in the southeastern quadrant of Missouri and stretches almost down to Arkansas.

I spent several hours one night reading stories backpackers had written about their experiences on sections of the trail, including the section between Taum Sauk and Johnson Shut-Ins. That’s when I got the idea to do a backpacking trip with Fox.

We bought hiking boots about two months ago, but most of our camping gear is suitable only for car camping. In order to better understand what we are getting into and how to prepare, I started reading lots of guides to backpacking during my train commute to and from work (The guides on REI’s website seemed quite good).

Seeing as we normally camp with a queen-size air mattress, relatively heavy tent, and heavy blankets, we had some big holes to fill in our gear inventory. We would need at least one frame backpack, a lightweight tent, sleeping bags, and sleeping pads. We have been doing a lot of reading across the Internet about pros and cons of various types and brands of tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, sleeping pads, stoves, water filtration systems, clothing, and other accessories.

So far, we found a great clearance deal on a Kelty Coyote 80-liter backpack for me as well as clearance deals on Kelty Cosmic Down 20-degree sleeping bags (Long for me, Women’s Regular for Fox). We didn’t intend for this to sound like a Kelty advertisement, but their backpacks and sleeping bags have been consistently recommended on review sites for their quality at a reasonable price point. Also we keep finding great sales on their stuff where we look.

We are still looking for a good four-person tent (maybe the Kelty Gunnison 4.2 since it reviews well and is only $200 at REI) and sleeping pads (probably NEMO Astro Insulated) and probably a backpack for Fox too. If we need a backpacking stove, we recruited my little brother to go with us and we got him one for Christmas. We were thinking ahead there.

My plan at the moment is to keep an eye out for a dry weekend this spring and drive down to Taum Sauk Mountain State Park early in the morning. We will then park where our car will hopefully not get disturbed for a couple of days. Then the three of us and our dog, Mishka, will set off for Johnson Shut-Ins. We will hopefully arrive at Johnson Shut-Ins State Park a couple hours before dark so we can get to a campsite and get our tent up without trouble.

We may spend a day hanging out at the park and spend a second night there, or we may head out the next day. This part is still up in the air. The park has a good showerhouse, camp store, and campgrounds with fire pits, so we will still have nice amenities and won’t have to make camp in the wilderness this time.

I have been spending a lot of time looking forward to this trip. The thought of hiking through the wilderness while carrying everything we need to survive holds a particular sense of excitement for me. It’s definitely my most anticipated adventure for 2015 that we have planned so far. I’m looking forward to making some good memories this year.

An addition to our outdoor family

We said that we would wait awhile. We said that it would potentially slow down our adventures. We said that we should give ourselves some time to enjoy married life before we added to our outdoor adventure family. But then……we were out running errands and decided to stop by an adoption event.

Her face was so pretty. She had the cutest ears and nibbled on our arms ever so lightly. She sat in Griff’s lap and we knew it was love. We took her on a short walk and she leapt and grabbed her leash to take herself for a walk. We knew that our outdoor adventures would never be the same again.

We did not get to our intended errands that day, but we came home with a wonderful new pet. We are so sad that the first several months of her life consisted of being chained by her leg with a wire and hope that she has much happier outdoor fun with us.

Husky mix puppy finds a new home.

We adopted this sweet Husky mix puppy.

Meet Mishka, the newest Griff ‘n Fox outdoor family member.

Husky mix puppy on a walk in a local park

Mishka on a walk in a local park

She is an active and happy Husky mix who has already brought so many smiles to our faces. Looks like we will be doing a lot more research about outdoor adventuring with dogs.



Husky mix puppy worn out after a walk

Mishka worn out after a walk