It’s Getting a Bit Chilly Out Here

The forecast for Saturday night at Indian Cave State Park was mostly clear skies and a low of around forty degrees. This would be the coldest night of camping Fox and I had experienced to date. We were already planning on bringing a comforter and two warm blankets, but forty degrees caused us to throw a fourth in the car.

A mild west wind blew through the campground until nightfall and made me think maybe a fifth blanket would have been a good idea. Fox’s brother, his wife, their dog, and the two of us huddled around the fire for warmth until we decided it was time to get some sleep.

When we finally got under our stack of blankets, I was immediately aware of the chilly surface of the air mattress through my clothes. I had not given any thought to the effect of slowly descending temperatures on the compressed gaseous filler in our bed. Rather than insulating us from the cold, the heat from our bodies seemed to be drawn away to warm all of that cool air.

I woke up well before dawn to find my face chilled by the low morning temperature as well as a bed even cooler than the night before. While the feeling wasn’t miserable, it wasn’t comfortable either. I moved closer to Fox and fell back asleep.

When we both woke up for good a little after dawn, neither of us wanted to get out from under the blankets, nor did we want to separate from one another. We just wanted to stay like we were until the weather warmed up again.

Eventually we felt compelled to get up, start a fire, and make breakfast. While we were eating, Fox’s brother seemed to really enjoy informing us how warm he was and how well he slept the night before. They didn’t need a pile of blankets. They had cold weather sleeping bags.

Yes, I’m a little jealous.

Afternoon at Johnson Shut-Ins

As we left our campsite, the grey clouds relentlessly showered the windshield with rain.  In the few minutes it took to drive to the Johnson Shut-Ins, the rain let up slightly, instilling in us a small hope that we might be able to play in the water.  We parked at a playground along the river.  Nearby was a covered shelter with information about the geologic history of the area.  We used our umbrella to cross the distance to the shelter and educated ourselves for several minutes until the rain was only a drizzle.

Geologic history lesson at Johnson Shut-Ins

Geologic history lesson at Johnson Shut-Ins

We decided to follow a gravel trail near the river and see if it would take us to the Shut-Ins.  I brought my camera with me, but the overcast weather made most photographs I took look rather dull due to poor lighting.  Luckily there were some nice flowers and wild plants along the path that made for interesting subjects.

Black-eyed Susans

Black-eyed Susans

Flowering plant

Flowering plant

After what seemed to be about a fifteen-minute walk, we arrived at a parking lot and a large wooden building.  From the tall radio antenna visible, I suspected it was a ranger station.  That turned out to be the case, but it also had a gift shop and changing rooms for people headed to swim in the river.

From the ranger station, we walked along a pathway until we discovered people playing in the water below.  They were wading in a shallow pool created by the river trying to squeeze through the rocks of the Shut-Ins.  The rocks near this pool were short and only just rose above the water, but as the water ran through the gaps and down into a large pool further down the river, the rocks became giant granite boulders as large as elephants.

Small rocks in upper pool at Johnson Shut-Ins

Small rocks in upper pool at Johnson Shut-Ins

Fox and I walked out on the rocks so we could check out the Shut-Ins from up close and I could take some photos.  As we were doing this, the sky continued to clear up.  We both wished we had brought our swimsuits as the water looked clear and was a good temperature.  After a while we left to return to our campground and eat lunch.

Examining the Johnson Shut-Ins State Park on a rainy day.

Examining the Johnson Shut-Ins State Park on a rainy day.

Later in the day the sun was shining brightly and the clouds had all but vanished from the sky.  We changed clothes in our tent, grabbed some towels, and drove back to the parking lot in front of the ranger station.

Due to the nicer weather, the Shut-Ins were bustling with activity.  Many families were scattered about with people looking on from the beach, playing in the upper and lower pools, and climbing all over the large boulders in the water.

We had received advice prior to our trip that it would be a good idea to bring water shoes.  As we started to make our way out into the river, we were glad we had listened.  The clarity of the water seemed to be due to the rocky bottom and the moist surfaces of the boulders could be very slippery.

Clear river water

Clear river water

To get accustomed to the water, we slowly submerged ourselves up to our heads in the upper pool where the shadows of a cliff above the river made the water temperature quite cool.  Fox was covered in goosebumps, so we decided to go explore the paths the river made between the boulders.

The river split into small streams as the water ran between rocks, creating small waterfalls with personal pools beneath them.  Where the streams could not reach there were some tidal pools with warm, stagnant water filled with algae which we generally tried to avoid.

Streams at Johnson Shut-Ins

Streams at Johnson Shut-Ins

Small pool in boulder at Johnson Shut-Ins

Small pool in boulder at Johnson Shut-Ins

We quickly found that traversing the streams between rocks was best done with both hands and feet in order to reduce the risk of slipping, falling, and hitting our heads on thousands of pounds of solid granite.  Also stepping along the bottoms of the streams gave good traction for our feet.

As we made our way to the larger boulders near the lower pool, we encountered some deeper pools where I could not touch the bottom as well as almost unsupervised kids jumping from a large boulder above into pools near us without warning.  As neither of us were interested in getting knocked out by sudden falling children, we turned around and headed back up to the upper pool where there weren’t as many people.

We found an underwater natural bench formed by flat rocks.  It was covered in some slimy moss but otherwise made a good place to sit and relax in the water.  Again I was struck by how cool the water was when I noticed the goosebumps on Fox’s arms, so we called it a day and waded to the beach to get our towels.

Johnson Shut-Ins turned out to be a great place to visit with clean water in which to swim and unique geologic features which were fun to explore.

First tent camping packing list

Packing for a camping trip can be a challenge when someone has never camped or only camped a few times. To face this challenge, about a week prior to the trip, I started making a list of what I thought that we should pack.

Here was my first packing list:

Sleeping needs:

  • Tarp to place under the tent
  • Tent
  • Hammer
  • Air mattress
  • Battery-operated air pump
  • Sheets
  • Blanket
  • Comforter (It was cold enough that weekend to need a blanket and a comforter, but we usually will take only one or just the sheets.)
  • Pillows

Cooking/Eating needs:

  • Cooler
  • Ice
  • Camp forks
  • Plates
  • Cups
  • Silverware
  • Napkins
  • Wet wipes
  • Trash bags
  • Table cloth
  • Aluminum foil
  • Paper towels
  • Pot holders (for pulling things off the fire and/or setting hot items on)
  • Tongs for grabbing our foil packs off the fire
  • Can opener (We were going to get a can of black beans to add to our burritos, but forgot to buy the black beans on our way.)
  • Dish soap
  • Dish rag
  • Food screens to put over plates to keep bugs away.

Hygiene needs:

  • Toiletry items (shampoo, soap, etc.)
  • Towels and wash cloths
  • Small mirror
  • Toilet paper (I wasn’t sure if the campground would have any. They did.)
  • Kleenex
  • First aid kit
  • Tweezers
  • Eyeglasses (I wasn’t sure about messing with contacts while camping)

Other needs:

  • Cash for firewood and ice
  • Bug spray
  • Tick deterrent
  • Camp chairs
  • Lantern
  • Flashlights
  • Sunglasses
  • Hats
  • Swim suits
  • Swim towels
  • Sun block
  • Camera
  • Batteries for air pump and lantern
  • Twine (Heard it was useful to have on camping trips)
  • Scissors (Always seem to come in handy)
  • Binoculars
  • Umbrella (You never know when it is going to rain)
  • Knife (Griff said that we needed it, but I have luckily not yet found out why…)
  • Deck of cards
  • Book (I enjoy reading.)

For basically a first time camping trip, this list turned out to be pretty good. We realized that there are a few things that we would want to acquire over time and a few things that we would not take every time. However, we used basically the same list for the second camping trip and between the two trips we used just about everything. This packing list is a pretty good beginning campers packing list if they cook with aluminum foil or on camp forks.

In a later posts, we will explain different packing lists for different camping trips, how we have become smarter about organizing our camping gear and how we store our supplies in our home.

Camping at Johnson’s Shut-Ins

On a Friday night in August, traffic creeped down the road as people in RVs, trucks towing campers and vehicles filled with tents and camping supplies anxiously awaited check in at the Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park campground. The highway signs pointed the way to the park and signage within the park provided easy navigation to the campground, camp store and activities within the park. The ability to navigate the park eased our fears that we would arrive too late and would find it difficult to locate the campsite and set up camp in the dark.

Setting up camp:
Our camping gear was organized for quick access to set up camp before the sunlight disappeared below the horizon. The only hiccup that we faced with pitching the tent was that the grass sat on top of rocky ground which proved to be difficult to pound the stakes into it. Thunderstorms were predicted for the weekend, therefore it was important to secure the stakes in the ground. We really did not want our tent to blow away.

Rain drops on a tent's rain fly after a mild shower.

Rain drops collect on our tent’s rain fly after a mild shower at Johnson Shut-Ins State Park.

Storms did come through the area while we were camping, but it luckily ended up being mild rain, wind, lightning and thunder. We prepared the car to be able to sleep in it if the storm became severe during the night. However, it did not get to a point that even I, the unadventurous one, felt unsafe in the tent.

Campfire and food:

Aluminum foil breakfast packets cook over the campfire.

Our breakfast in aluminum foil packets cooking over the campfire.

Delicious campfire breakfast!

Delicious campfire breakfast!










It was our first camping trip alone and we discovered that neither of us had ever started a campfire. We used close to a full quart of lighter fluid over the weekend, but we managed to have a fire for all of our meals. We have some ideas of how to better use our resources next time and will write a post about lessons learned on starting and maintaining a fire. The fire ring at this campsite included a grate that was short and not adjustable.

On this trip, we made tin foil breakfasts, brats and macaroni and cheese. I found this great recipe on Pinterest for Campfire Mac ‘n’ Cheese, but the first night we accidentally dropped it in the fire (whoops!) and the second night we did not get it evenly heated. We will have to try it again sometime.

Mac 'n cheese in campfire

Whoops! We accidentally dropped our mac ‘n cheese in the campfire.

Shower and restroom facilities:
The shower houses had three private, unisex restrooms with a toilet, sink, trash can, changing table, hand dryer and electrical outlet in each. It also had three private, unisex shower rooms with a shower that had a short curtain to separate the changing area and a bench in each area. There was a family bathroom that I did not check out, but heard other campers state that it included the shower and toilet in one private room. The shower house had free hot water, but it appeared that it was not cleaned often and there were several bugs in them even with doors that closed completely to each individual room. The hand dryers were placed just inches above the handicap rail and the air pointed toward the wall which made them difficult to use. However, it was nice to have private rooms with locking doors.

The campground:
The campground was divided by type of campsite. Each site was divided by walls of trees on three sides for privacy and nice scenery. There was a large concrete parking area at each site which would easily park two cars. The picnic table was on the concrete parking slab that allowed for ease of moving the cooler in and out of the car.

Tent camping at Johnson Shut-Ins State Park

Our tent at Johnson Shut-Ins State Park in Missouri.

The campground was located within Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, which we will post about later this week. We participated in some of the park activities, but hope to make it back to enjoy more of the hiking trails and ranger-led interpretive programs. The only hiking that we did was on the trail that led through the walk-in campsites. While I told Griff that I am not adventurous enough to want to do backpacking trips, I may consider the walk-in sites at Johnson’s Shut-Ins because they offer hand carts to get your gear through the trail and provide cute decks as a platform for the tents.

The camp store was extremely nice. It was well-organized, clean and had a wide selection of goods. The store offered the standard fire wood bundles and ice as well as a variety of camping supplies, packaged food, food prepared at the store, postcards, souvenirs, books and much more.

It was our first camping trip alone and we learned a lot. It was a wet weekend with the rain, but Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park and its campground is an interesting place. We would definitely recommend this place for the recreation at the Shut-Ins, the privacy in the restrooms and for each campsite and the division of campground types.


One of our first campfire attempts.


Jumping fish

I am a worrier. So when my brother-in-law and sister-in-law suggested that we go swimming in the lake, I was hesitant. I thought about my lack of strong swimming skills and all of the disgusting and potentially harmful things in the water. Griff really had to convince me to push my limits and get in the water.

At first, I was just going to walk in ankle or knee deep. Everyone else went out much further, so I felt silly standing at the edge by myself. Plus, our sister-in-law brought water noodles and tubes, so I went further out to float with everyone else. We were all enjoying watching our niece splash around in the water.

And then…

A white fish jumped out of the water, collided with my neck and fell back into the lake. With a nervous laugh, I slowly started back toward the shore. Again, Griff had to convince me to stay with the group. I hugged him almost until we got out of the water.

The fish startled me, but I am glad that Griff pushed me a little past my comfort level to go swimming with everyone. I probably startled the fish as much as it startled me. Sometimes funny things happen in nature. We are learning to laugh them off and enjoy the adventures together.