Two Extremes: Tarp to Truck Camper

Backpacking is a favorite way to travel, and I enjoy the challenge of reducing the pack weight. At the other extreme (for me) is traveling in my Four Wheel Truck Camper. I definitely eat better with the benefit of Becca’s meal planning. I keep wondering if there’s a way for her to cater our backpacking trips!

In this post, I’ll give a quick tour of the truck camper. It’s a Raven Shell model which means it doesn’t have any of the internal options that more expensive and heavy models include. The Raven fits this short bed truck. I was tempted to get a Hawk model but it would hang over the rear by six inches. We like the shell because it gives us more space and we can add what we need when we need it.

Four Wheel Truck Camper Raven Shell

A favorite feature of the truck camper is that you camp wherever you can park. It takes about two minutes to raise the top, and you’re set.

A sleeping pad comes with the camper, and we’ve found it to be comfortable. Rather than bedding, we use a two-person sleeping bag that stays in place on the mattress when we lower the top for driving. The Little Giant steps are added to make it easy to climb into the sleeping compartment. The steps also double as a nice chair.

The empty shell gives you bench areas for sitting or using as tables. We’ve thought of adding a table but the cover of the 12-volt battery compartment on the back corner makes a nice table. There are charging ports there and the solar panels we already owned plug into a jack on the outside of the camper. We’ve used the built in LED lights and the fan without draining the battery over a couple of days.

View from the sleeping pad

With a roof vent, fan, and lots of screened windows, the camper works well in all but the hottest months in the Ozarks. When summer comes, it’s time to go to higher elevations out west anyway.

Options: A canopy adds living space that is protected from rain and sun. One person can set it up and take it down, but it’s easier with two.

You can order the truck camper with a built-in stovetop, but I opted to use a separate inexpensive Coleman stove for outside cooking. Definitely the right decision for us!

Another option was on-board heat. I opted for a portable propane indoor heater (Mr. Heater). On extremely cold mornings, I can fire it up for a few minutes, and the space warms up quickly.

Last, but not least, is the Thetford Porta Potti. We place it inside overnight to avoid midnight walks to the campground toilets. It has a fresh water pump for the bowl and empties into a storage tank that is easy to empty at dump stations or pit toilets.

Popup top down and ready to drive

To tarp or truck camp? It depends on how you want to travel. When traveling distance by foot, the tarp is my preferred shelter. The truck camper is a great option for us, especially with family. The goal is getting outside and seeing the beauty of nature. However you travel and whatever shelter use, get out there and enjoy!

Becca at the Bennett Springs flow in Missouri

Peeking inside my pack #3: My “library” and resources

I can’t make it through a day on the trail without reading and/or writing something, so these 3.5 ounces are essential to me. Even more important is having a map and any necessary trail notes. I like a physical map and compass (not dependent on battery life). I like writing on paper rather than trying to text into a phone. The physical notes from some of my trips have become little treasures that I revisit from time to time.

Included items:

Map

Compass

Water-proof notebook, pen, and pencil

Pages for reading

I like visiting bookstores that sell used books, ideally in terrible shape. Paperback books with brittle bindings are the best. It’s easy to tear out a chapter and place it in your “library” for the trail.

On rare occasions, I’ll take my old Kindle if I’m not covering many miles and expect to have lots of time under my tarp. It comes in at a whopping 5.5 ounces, a definite luxury item! The paper pages from a typical chapter of text might weigh as little as .3 ounces, that’s less than one half of one ounce. As an added bonus, pages read sometimes become fire-starter.

A choice between .3 ounces and 5.5 ounces

Peeking in my pack #2: The all-important ditty bag

This little cotton bag weighs 12 ounces loaded. Those ounces are crucial to the success of my backpacking trips. My ditty bag includes the following in separate ziplock bags as pictured:

First aid stuff: medicine and/or vitamins / ibuprofen / Triple Antibiotic Ointment / gauze / bandaids / Quick Clot gauze / Benadryl

Personal care stuff: dental floss / foot cream / Blister Shield / emery board / deodorant / sunscreen / WetWipes (one per day) / toilet paper / small bottle of Dawn soap

Repair kit: Tenacious Tape / length of cord / lens cleaner / extra camera batteries / extra SD card / extra headlamp

To keep weight low, I use small containers so I’m not carrying whole tubes of sunscreen, first aid ointment, etc.

ditty bag items

It’s tempting to save weight and leave out something since some items are rarely used. I’ve sometimes felt this way about first aid stuff, but on a recent trip, a highly skilled fellow hiker spilt some boiling water on his ankle. We were glad we had first aid items.

If you have other essentials to include in the ditty bag, please let me know (as long as they’re not heavy).

Peeking Inside My Backpack – Water Treatment

There are many water treatment options. Some are heavier and there may be lighter techniques, but after years of trial and error, these work well for me.

My preferred way of treating water is Aquamira drops. It’s widely available and easy to use. I rebottle it in small plastic bottles as shown and use the third bottle for my A+B mix.

As a backup, I sometimes carry a Sawyer filter. Be sure to pack the backwash “syringe” in case sediment slows the flow. I use the freezer bag to scoop water from creeks and then pour it into the Vapur folding water bottle before adding Aquamira drops. It’s also easy to pour from the freezer bag to the Sawyer squeeze bag when needed.

I carry a Platypus 70-oz. water “bottle” that doubles as the base of my pillow at night. I blow it up and put inside a fabric sleeve along with extra clothing. It’s very comfy! I rarely use the Platypus for water unless camp is far from the nearest source or I’m hiking in dry conditions.

That’s about all I have to say about water other than be sure you have a plan for finding it on the trail. Little blue lines on the map don’t guarantee H2O will be there. Hikers who live in the area you’re going to walk can often give you an idea about water levels. When in doubt, cache water at road crossings before your trip. Just be sure to pick up after yourself following your trip.

If you have water treatment tricks to share, please comment or email me. I’m always open to new approaches.

Small stream on the Ozark Highlands Trail

Hiker-dog can do leashed trails, too!

Walking toward the CCC Lodge at Roaring River

Part of the pleasure of having written Five Star Trails: The Ozarks is revisiting the trails to look for changes and needed updates. The book currently has a rating of 4.8 stars out of five!

Since there will eventually be a second edition, we visited Roaring River State Park for a couple of nights in the campground and some good day hiking. The fall colors were beginning to pop in this southern Missouri location.

For these trails, Hiker-dog had to wear a leash, but she handled it beautifully as long as I gave her the chance to run off-trail before starting our “formal hiking.”

We walked the Tower Trail, Deer Leap, Devil’s Kitchen, and River Trails that combine to make an out-and-back figure-eight. We found it necessary to walk a different part of the Deer Leap Trail because of construction around the vent of the spring that feeds Roaring River. This was an easy adjustment and construction is a temporary thing, which was a relief.

View of fish hatchery, part of the area closed due to construction

I was impressed all over again by these trails, and it was a treat to see them in early fall colors.

Small overlook on Deer Leap Trail

I poured out water for Hiker-dog on a couple of flat rocks as we walked. Though the trails surround Roaring River, drains were pretty dry. We were pleased to arrive at a small spring. The water seeps from under the rock ledge above and is crystal clear.

Hiker-dog quenching her thirst

The area labeled as Devil’s Kitchen is a gnarly bluff area.

Devil’s Kitchen

Our hike’s last stretch included the River Trail and a walk along a beautiful bluff before arriving back at the end of this trail at the Ozark Chinquapin Nature Center.

After making the guidebook trail, I investigated Eagle’s Nest Trail to see if it might make a bid for inclusion in the next edition of my guidebook. It was a nice hike but included more road walking than I would expect to see in what would qualify as a most scenic trail in Missouri.

Eagle’s Nest Trail
Great location for a homesite

This trail’s destination is an old homesite location, but doesn’t include cabin footings or historic artifacts to explore. What I found was a beautiful location for a homesite. This is a great little trail just under three miles, but it won’t make the guidebook list. One of the hardest things about writing a guidebook to the Ozarks’ best trails is determining which trails make the cut.

While we hiked the trails, Becca enjoyed exploring along the Roaring River and reading.

Becca was a truck camper pro on this trip, having prepared food without need for refrigeration. Our Four Wheel Popup Camper gave us flexibility on accommodations and a light load. Ours is a shell model that is light and simple. The awning is essential and gives us a protected outdoor space for meals, reading, and resting.

We enjoyed camping and found our neighbors to be friendly and welcoming. We wished for more space between sites and found the highway noise unfortunate for such a beautiful river location.

If you want to hike some beautiful trails and or do some trout fishing with like-minded folks, Roaring River State Park is the place!

If you want to pick up a copy of Five Star Trails: The Ozarks, you can get it from Amazon, but if it’s available at your favorite independent bookstore, get it there. Chapters on Main in Van Buren, Arkansas, and Bookish in Fort Smith, always keeps copies on hand. While you’re there, have a cup of coffee and browse.

Lake Fort Smith to Fane Creek on the OHT

Packed and ready to begin – Approximately 18 pounds with food and water

With cooler temperatures and my recent retirement, I decided to try backpacking the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) during the week. A buddy, Steve, was able to join me and Becca ran the shuttle for us, which saved time getting going on Monday morning.

The trail passes two historic fireplaces and Shepherd Spring. The fire bricks in these fireplaces came from Saint Louis, MO, in the early 1900s. I’ve not seen the spring completely dry, but the waterfall early in the trail only flows during wet seasons. If you have the opportunity, walk the five-mile Shepherd Spring Loop Trail after some strong rains. It’s a beautiful waterfall when it’s running.

Waterfall during wet season

We noticed some recent trail maintenance and caught an Ozark Highlands Trail Association volunteer, Bill, doing some great work close to the Frog Bayou crossing.

Steve visiting with Bill

Hurricane Creek was our destination for the first night. Water was clear, and we easily found sites for our tarps.

Day 2 was sunny and cool. We walked about thirteen miles to Spirits Creek. During the approach toward Spirits Creek, I noticed some muscadines next to the trail. They were perfect. When I bit into one, I was transported to childhood sitting down to breakfast with some of my mother’s muscadine jelly.

Spirits Creek never disappoints! Water was modest but just right for filtering and rock hopping. One of the great camping locations on the OHT! A couple of wild plums were close to a bluff, nowhere near any trees. The plum trees were high above, dropping fruit over the edge. I found one not too damaged and enjoyed it as we walked away from the creek.

Spirits Creek

Walking the historic narrow-gauge railroad route on day 3 was a treat.

Steve recorded any downed trees so OHTA volunteers can return and cut these out in the future. None of the trees made the trail impassable but did slow our progress a little.

Steve recording gps for a tree across the trail.

We saw several remnants from earlier days along this section of trail. Footings for former bridges can also be seen down below the trail tread. Logging operations used this narrow gauge railroad to harvest timber in the late 1800s.

Wildflowers provided color accents throughout our hike. I enjoyed learning about the Indian Pipe that has a soft pink color and no chlorophyll.

Fane Creek

Once we reached Fane Creek, we walked down the road to meet our shuttle and begin planning our next hike on the OHT.

Bridge over Fane Creek

Sharpening Saws and Guitar Maintenance

Sue, Jim (me), Phyllis, and Mike watching Grampie sharpen a saw

When I was young, I watched my grandfather, Grampie, sharpen handsaws. One local carpenter kept sharpening his saws before bringing them to my grandfather. Grampie didn’t say anything about this the first few times. Finally, he told the man that if he tried to sharpen his saws again, he’d have to charge double because it was difficult to undo the flawed work. The carpenter stopped trying to sharpen his own saws.

My saw that Grampie let me practice sharpening when I was twelve years old.

I recently thought of this story while straining to play my guitar that has hung on my office wall for nineteen years. The string action was high with a slight bow in the neck. The tool for adjusting the truss rod was inside my guitar case, but I thought of that carpenter and his amateur saw sharpening.

Newly adjusted guitar neck

Today, I got my guitar back from the technician at Sunrise Guitars in Fayetteville. When I played the instrument, I remembered the satisfaction I saw on my grandfather’s face when he cut through a board with a newly sharpened saw. I smiled when I felt my properly adjusted guitar neck and new set of strings.

I was glad I put this little “saw” in the hands of a professional. Now, when a chord rings clearly, I can almost hear Grampie’s voice when he’d smile and say, “Now, that saw will cut!”

Related post: Sharpening Saws and Shaping Beliefs Tells about how my grandfather’s coaching shaped my beliefs about education.

Not Living in Fear

I’m now in my 60s. I had Rheumatic Fever when I was 9. I had corrective heart surgery at age 16. Our family had medical insurance, so during a routine checkup, my childhood doctor noticed something that caused him to send me for more testing. This resulted in a trip to Houston where Dr. Denton Cooley corrected the coarctation of my aorta.

I’ve done a few marathons, half marathons, hundred-mile bike rides, and some long trails. I’m thankful for my health and for the medical folks who keep me going. For more about Dr. Cooley see my post: Gratitude to Medical Professionals, Especially on the Hills

I’m sharing this because I think some of us make faulty assumptions about those with underlying conditions. A lot of people with underlying medical conditions look fairly healthy and active, sort of like me.

I’m not living in fear, but would like to avoid COVID-19, and certainly want to avoid spreading it unaware. I’ll wear a mask where recommended, keep my distance, and follow medical experts’ guidelines to the best of my ability.

I’m not being controlled as some would say, but am taking control through my reasonable actions. Those who are obsessed with the mask issue need to let it go. They’re not helping, and may run the risk of doing harm.

I’d like to recommend hiking as one of the best activities in times like these. Social distancing is easily achieved and the exercise is good for us all.

Road Trip West

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Shack outside of Amarillo, Texas

We escaped the Arkansas heat and humidity by driving west. We enjoyed a break from the humidity, but only during the evenings did the heat subside.

Rest stops were our friends on the long drive. We enjoyed seeing the historic Sierra Grande rest stop on Highway 87 southeast of the Capulin Volcano National Monument in New Mexico.  It was perfectly placed because we stopped here going and coming.

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We stopped to see the Arkansas River not far from her headwaters. It was strange to touch water there and know it would eventually run close to our home in Arkansas.

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Arkansas RIver in Colorado

On our drive through Westcliffe, CO, we visited a great little store, All The Range Mountaineering and Outdoor Gear, and picked up a few maps. The owner advised us to avoid lower elevations that evening due to the heat. So, we adjusted our plans a little and continued west past Gunnison, where we came upon a nice campground alongside Mesa Reservoir close to sundown.

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The evening temperatures were cool, and it was nice to be camping in the arid environment. The campsites were generously spaced with lots of empty sites, so we felt like we had the landscape to ourselves.

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The next day, we continued west and passed a neighboring campground full of large RVs, so we felt fortunate to have stopped where we did the evening before.

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We’ve had the Four Wheel Camper for just over a year and love it! The Raven model fits the short bed F-150 truck, and you quickly forget it’s there. Our shell model weighs about 650 pounds. If you get one loaded with accessories, the weight (and price) goes up, but the shell has what we need and gives more space to move around in there. It takes about 2-minutes to raise or lower the top and is perfect for planned or unplanned camping itineraries.

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Becca suggested we visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison River National Park.  We left wishing for more time. A camping trip to this location would be worth the trip by itself.

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The established trails are on the rim with backcountry permits available for the adventurous who want to scramble down to the Gunnison River.

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Black Canyon

A highlight of our trip was a three-day stay at Secret Garden B&B in Ouray, CO. Billy and Charolette were great hosts and made us feel right at home. Our biggest challenge was selecting from the long menu of places to explore in Ouray. It is a tourist town, but we found it welcoming and friendly. Best of all, Ouray Bookshop was walking distance from Secret Garden. It’s always a treat to explore independent bookstores!

Jim and Becca Group

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The Bachelor Syracuse Mine Tour was a good outing. Their answering machine was out of date, saying tours were canceled which wasn’t reflected on their website. When I called a few minutes later, someone answered and said they were open. Confusion aside, the tour was excellent, and I recommend it for kids and adults.

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The huge electric motor below powered a two-piston air compressor and sent pressure to operate air hammers deep within the mine. When the mine was in operation, lights dimmed throughout Ouray when this motor started.

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Our Alpines Scenic Tours truck

We wanted to visit some of the area backcountry, but didn’t want to get in over our heads and end up with auto damage. The Trails of Colorado is a great resource. Without it, I might have naively ended up on some rough roads without the skills or equipment needed. I have a 4-wheel drive truck, but as we got into the Yankee Boy Basin, I realized we’d made the right decision in booking a tour with Alpine Scenic Tours.

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One of many scenic views in the Yankee Boy Basin

Our driver, Sam, was excellent. He had spent years driving through the area, hunting and exploring and, as a bonus, he was a nice guy. If we’d been driving, we would have passed through without recognizing much of what we were seeing. The bucket seats and open-air seating are perfect for seeing the views securely. Well worth the cost!

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IMG_8710rrrBack in Ouray, it’s an easy walk to Box Canyon on the south edge of town. The City of Ouray operates Box Canyon, and it’s well worth the $5 admission. Julia McIntyre sold the land to the Ouray for $75 because she wanted it to be protected and enjoyed by others.

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Walkway in Box Canyon

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View down into Box Canyon

From Box Canyon, you can walk through a tunnel and easily hop onto the Perimeter Trail for a longer walk and views down into town from the surrounding mountainsides.

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Tunnel on the Perimeter Trail

A short loop trail next to Box Canyon includes many native plants. I enjoyed the tall canopy of this Ponderosa Pine.

IMG_8706rr We left Ouray feeling like we’d only scraped the surface. The truth is that every Colorado town we passed through deserved more exploration but that would have to wait for future trips.

Once on the road again, we drove Hwy 550 from Ouray to Silverton then Durango making several stops along the way.

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Remnants of old gold and silver mines dot the landscape along Hwy 550

The view into the Weminuche Wilderness north of Durango brought back memories of a great backpacking trip with friends several years ago.

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Our plan had been to camp in the Durango area, but the heat changed our minds. We found a hotel and enjoyed catching up on messages and finding lunch at a 5-star taco trailer close to a trail system. While waiting on our order and watching cyclist and walkers, I resolved to be there before dawn the next morning to beat the heat and the crowds.

Our dinner that evening in downtown Durango included live music, which was quite a treat. Everyone wore masks and the restaurant took care to separate guests in outdoor dining.

The next morning was a great hike up into Big Canyon with headlamp. Because of my early start, I had the trail to myself out and back. It was fun to walk the sun up and watch colors come alive in this rocky canyon. 

The drive back toward home was a long one. Becca posed for a photo at the state line to share with relatives in Texas. I sat on a railroad nearby for a photo before continuing to Amarillo.

The next morning, we drove out to Palo Duro Canyon State Park, so Becca could see it for the first time, and I could see it for a second time in over twenty-five years. The ranger was very nice and allowed us to drive into the overlook at the Visitors Center for a quick look even though there were restrictions due to COVID-19 and even day visitors were required to have advanced reservations as a way to control numbers.

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B.H. Warnock and Benny Simpson at Capote Falls

B.H. Warnock and Benny Simpson at Capote Falls

After returning to the entrance gate the ranger and I talked for a few minutes and I gave him a copy of my trail guidebook, encouraging him to visit the Ozarks anytime other than summer. He saw my name and asked if I was kin to a Barton Warnock. Dr. Barton Warnock, was a well-respected botanist, specializing in the Big Bend region. Dr. Warnock died in 1998 at age 86. An environmental center at Big Bend carries his name along with twelve plants named for him.

His father’s first name was Arch which was also my grandfather’s first name. We don’t know of any concrete connections, but I’m claiming him as family anyway. I like the description from Kirby Warnock’s article about Dr. Warnock. “His cowboy dress and independent attitude projected an image that didn’t quite fit the ‘tree hugger’ or ‘nerd’ stereotype usually associated with botanists or lovers of wildflowers.”

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We enjoyed our drive home with heads full of images and memories. This little prairie dog spotted during my final morning’s walk seemed to be saying, “Come see us again.” We’ll definitely be back out west to scratch some more at the surface and see what we can learn.

Hiking to Granny Henderson’s House

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We had an unusual break in the Arkansas heat and made a quick hike to Granny Henderson’s house just below Goat Bluff on the Buffalo River. Steve, Eddie, and I were looking forward to the hike up and out to check our fitness level for future trips. It’s a pretty tough climb, but the rewards for going down are great. The hike back up gave us confidence that we’re in pretty decent shape for elder hikers.

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I’ve hiked to Granny Henderson’s many times but was excited to see it again. I ended up noticing a few things I’d not seen before.

The most obvious difference was the season. We would normally hike this trail any time other than summer. Rains had been good, so everything was a rich, lush green.

From inside the house, you can see the stone root cellar a few yards to the rear. The roof is long gone, but the rock walls still stand.

We parked our day packs on the porch for lunch and some quick exploring. I went to the attic for a close look at some of the newspapers used as insulating wallpaper. An ad for a 1927 Chrysler 50 for $750 was still visible as well as a milking machine.

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The wood-burning stove still stands close to the brick chimney along with a rusted out iron pan.

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IMG_7720rrThis little moth visited on the front porch during lunch. We enjoyed the vivid colors.

I paused for one more glance back at Granny Henderson’s house, thinking of the lady who lived here alone from 1951, when her husband died, to 1979.

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From here, it was all uphill, literally. We took a break at the Goat Bluff Trail and enjoyed the view down to the Buffalo River.

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I couldn’t resist the urge to crawl through the small hole in the bluff where I’m sure children, and adults, have easily passed through for years.

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Our hike back to the Center Point Trailhead felt good. We were pleased we went down in the morning as we met around eighteen hikers heading down to where we’d been. We had Granny Henderson’s house to ourselves, which is unusual.

IMG_4354rrI’m looking forward to visiting again in the fall. If you’d like a map and trail description, check out my guidebook, Five Star Trails: The Ozarks. It covers what we hiked on this trip as well as Hemmed In Hollow Falls for an 11-mile round trip.

If you’d like to learn more about Granny Henderson, the following video includes comments from her great-granddaughter, Marietta Williams. After that is a link to a song by Still on the Hill that relates to Granny Henderson.