Sunday, September 24, 2006

Back to the City

I'm back from the Wichita Wildlife Refuge after a great weekend of camping. The beautiful green object is my tent - our home for the weekend. We arrived at the campsite much later in the day than we expected - I took the day off to find my gear and load up, but Shana, and everyone else, got away from the city much later than anticipated. We left the city around rush hour, eager to see our campsite. Fortunately one of our fellow campers had been kind enough to drive all the way down the day before to reserve two adjoining sites so we could all (9 of us) have a great weekend. Also pictured is my kitchen at the campsite. We were lucky that one of the sites had a really big pad because we ended up with three kitchens set up.

The campers, engaging in our favorite pastimes: eating and gabbing. Jokes were told, and stories shared. A good time was had by all. Friday night was all about getting everyone in and the tents all set up. Two tents were completely new or unfamiliar; I hadn't had my tent out in years so I had some confusion about a crucial issue setting it up. We had hot dogs and marshmallows and finally settled down for the night.

About the time we get settled in the wind started. We "enjoyed " a nice breeze of about 40 mph, plus a bit of thunder and lightning and a sprinkle of rain, during which we all lay in our tents wondering if it would be better to go to the somewhat smelly but sturdy rock outhouse or cross our fingers and stay in our comfy tents. Guess which we chose! There was also the small matter of the feet. Shana was sure a large predator was just outside our tent preparing to chew on her feet, and also heard a person walking around the campsite. Morning revealed what actually happened.

A cooler (not mine, haha) had been left out with no bungee securing the lid. Raccoons helped themselves to some bratwurst and tasted some blueberries. The winning "prey item" was a package of Blue & Gold sausage, which tasty treat the raccoons feasted on a little ways in front of our tent. A buffalo strolled through the area in the night, leaving a "calling card" to advertise his presence.

Saturday morning was to have been a bike ride, but since the winds were still howling at about 20 miles per hour, fishing was considered the better choice. The feet in this picture are mine. Please note I was not down by the water with the fishermen. I was sitting in a carefully chosen nook out of the wind knitting and listening to a podcast about knitting while watching the herd of longhorn cattle at the park through my binoculars. We had thought that a ride later would be possible, but it basically the wind blew like crazy until late in the afternoon, so no one wanted to go. Shana and I drove into Cache (the nearest town) to score a lottery ticket and a bottle of wine, and that was the big trip for the day. Some of the campers went for a hike, and we met to cook supper.

One stove in particular caught everyone's imagination. This is the Coleman 9940 - Coleman lists this as the Road Trip Party Grill. Because it has one fairly large burner it is great for heating up a large pot. We were chanting the model number for the rest of the weekend. Everyone wants one, and this particular unit was a great garage sale find for an amazing price. Got to hit more garage sales! Checking out the Coleman website I found out that they also make a propane slow-cooker. In the world of camping gadgets that may be the elusive ultimate item! I must admit that my 20 year old Coleman 2 burner is still a reliable camp stove and I am still very happy with it. BUT - the 9940 rocks!

Sunday we packed up the tents and headed out for a hike before going back to the city. The refuge is in one of the oldest mountain ranges on earth, so weathered that in height they hardly count as hills. Because the area is so rocky it cannot be plowed, it was never settled, and has been set aside as a wildlife refuge, with buffalo, deer, elk, and longhorn cattle roaming in herds. You can't look in any direction that is not spectacular, and our hike just whet our appetites to see more. We will be back again soon and often.

Next time we will certainly not forget our sunblock, though. Shana and I both have fried necks and ears and I'm really glad I was wearing a cap, because her face is red as a beet. In our party everyone else was either smarter than we were or Native American, so we were the only ones who got sunburned. Lucky us.

And for things you don't see every day - here's an actual road sign in the refuge. There is a big prairie dog colony on one side of the road, but over time they have spread to both sides of the road, and there is an actual prairie dog crossing. I had to have a picture!

Shana and I stopped in Chickasha to eat at Jake's Rib - really good local barbecue that we had meant to sample on other occasions but never quite got there. The ribs and brown beans were excellent and the service friendly and prompt. I had a dish that was basically Okie nachos - Fried potatoes with cheese, green onions and bacon and sour cream on the side. Yummy, and not at all the sort of thing a person should eat very often! It was well worth a stop.

Tomorrow we are back to the daily, but we'll be going back to our work week refreshed and refilled by a great weekend of outdoor fun.

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