Lookin’ at Stars

Milky Way over Haleakala

Milky Way over Haleakala

Have you ever seen stars like this in person? If you live in or near a city and don’t get out of it much, then there is a good chance you haven’t. With an increasing percentage of people moving to cities every year, fewer and fewer have seen in person what I consider to be one of the most beautiful and amazing sights in the world — a night sky filled by the Milky Way.

As I grew up in the suburbs, I was probably legally an adult before I realized that pictures of the Milky Way were not just illustrations or photos taken from fancy telescopes. When I looked up at the night sky as a kid, all I saw was the Big Dipper, the north star, and a few other points of light. It wasn’t until my dad and older brother relayed stories of their trip through the empty American West that I realized older people weren’t lying about being able to see the Milky Way from the country when they were young.

Now one of my favorite things to do any time I am out in the middle of nowhere is to sit outside late at night with my binoculars, my camera and tripod, or just my low-tech eyeballs and admire the vast clouds of stars, planets, and galaxies littering my entire field of view. Camping happens to be a great way for me to indulge in this activity. We are usually decently far away from the light pollution of cities with no reason to be indoors at night. I can stay up late and capture the Milky Way high above the horizon or get an up close view of the gorgeous blue Pleiades.

The trick is finding a good location for this is combining a dark sky area with a good campsite. I used the following site for a map of light pollution:

http://www.jshine.net/astronomy/dark_sky/

Then I cross-reference the parks visible in the darker areas of the map with a list of parks with camping such as this site for Missouri:

http://mostateparks.com/activity/camping

For example, Sam Baker State Park in south-eastern Missouri sits far enough from any source of light pollution to be a good place to camp and see a lot of stars.

Milky Way over Sam Baker State Park

Milky Way over Sam Baker State Park

Lake Wappapello State Park is further south and offers a great view of the sky but the light from nearby Poplar Bluff is quite visible on the horizon.

Milky Way over Lake Wappapello campsite

Milky Way over Lake Wappapello campsite

And if you are lucky enough to get out to Haleakalā National Park on Maui, you have the privilege of viewing from one of the top dark sky sites in the entire world.

Camping at Lake Wappapello

A few signs on US67- South pointed toward Lake Wappapello but the GPS knew which sign was correct and lead the car in the appropriate direction. The campground was on the main road of Lake Wappapello State Park in Williamsville, MO. After locating the campsite, we parked our car on the gravel drive and set up the tent on the grassy area approximately 75 yards from the lake. It was getting dark, so we were happy that we had a tent pitching trial in our backyard earlier that week.

Tent campsite at Lake Wappapello

Griff ‘n Fox tent campsite at Lake Wappapello

Cooking over a campfire:
Griff’s parents had arrived the day before and had started a fire before we arrived, so with camp set up, we used their fire to cook our burritos.  Without having much experience cooking over campfires, we had precooked the meat, assembled dinner and breakfast burritos and wrapped the food in heavy-duty aluminum foil the night before we went camping. Griff’s mom and sister-in-law seemed interested in this no-cleanup way of cooking over the campfire so I felt successful in at least one aspect of camping.

The campground:
Our impression of the campground was favorable. The fire rings were taller than expected and had adjustable height grates. The campsites were well-maintained. The shower house was kept clean, had free hot water in the showers and sinks and had a nice private changing area separated by floor-length shower curtains between the shower and the rest of the shower house. The downside was that signs to navigate the park were not consistent and we had some difficulty finding the camp store. The other negative was that the camp store cooler did not seem to be working properly while we were there because the ice seemed on the verge of melting when we purchased it and we had to go back several times to get ice because it quickly melted.

Fishing on Lake Wappapello

Two men fish early in the morning on Lake Wappapello

Our activities:
Our two campsites were located next to the lake, which provided us with easy access to the water and a view. In our camp chairs we watched boats and jet skis on the water, the forest on the opposite shore and geese traveling on the water and on land near our camp.

At least one person in our group went swimming, canoeing, fishing and/or hiking at the park. The trailhead at Asher Creek Campground had signs that lacked explanation and reminded us of video game strategies.  The trails had natural paths that led us by the lake and up the hill through the wooded area where we encountered a chipmunk and a deer.

Close-up of chipmunk along the trail at Lake Wappapello State Park

Chipmunk along the trail at Lake Wappapello State Park.

Overall:
We liked this campground and would recommend it to anyone who is seeking a weekend on the lake. The food was good, the family time was nice and our camping adventures officially began that weekend.

Video game strategy or hiking trail sign at Lake Wappapello State Park?

Video game strategy or hiking trail sign at Lake Wappapello State Park?

The beginning of our camping adventures

stars above campsite, Lake Wappapello

Night at Lake Wappapello

The lizard stood facing the door as if it were waiting to be let out like a house-trained puppy. Fox pushed on the wooden slat and watched the green creature scurry over the path and duck into a crack between the shower house and the sidewalk. As she walked down the hill, she reflected on the weekend. Camping with Griff’s family at Lake Wappapello State Park had been fun and now it was time to go home…

We are Griff and Fox, a couple who got married in May and went on our first camping trip together in July 2014. That camping trip to Lake Wappapello was the start of discussions about future camping trips including the when, where, who, what and how of it.

The weather was unusually cool for July creating the perfect conditions for enjoying campfire discussions. Several discussions centered on how each of the four households prepared for camp.

Household 1: The parents brought a kayak, a screened canopy for the picnic table, a dutch oven, a tea kettle, a cast iron pan and so much more.

Household 2: The brother brought water toys, a tent that may have been a little too small for his growing family, a table cloth and entertainment for their daughter.

Household 3: The sister brought a sleeping pad and a cooler.

Household 4: We brought prepared meals in aluminum foil, camp forks, a picnic basket and Griff’s camera (He rarely leaves home without the ability to photograph something.).

The fascination with how different people prepare and react to camping was what led to our decision to begin this blog. Fox, having only been camping twice during college and did not do any of the work for it, did not really know how to camp. She sought advice from Pinterest and blogs about tent camping, but discovered that she could not find information for “normal people.” So, the blog came to fruition with the idea that other people may also want to learn the basics of tent camping, hiking and simple outdoor recreation.

Follow us as we explore the outdoors. We hope our blog will inspire others to get outside and experience nature in an easy, comfortable and fun way!