Category Archives: Camping

Migration Home – Seventh Stop, Cedar Lake Campground, Ouchita National Forest, Oklahoma

Cedar Lake

We headed north after our long week in Beaver Bend State Park. According to the Army Corps of Engineers the state of Oklahoma has taken over and runs all their campgrounds. Because of this the Corp campgrounds are the same cost as state parks. We were aiming for another state park, Wister Lake State Park. I knew there were several Ouchita National Forest Campgrounds on the Oklahoma side but I assumed they were being run by the state as well. That turned out to be wrong.

I spent a long time checking the map and Google earth satellite about the trip. Mountain driving scares me and my truck is underpowered for mountains. If I am not really careful the transmission overheats and I have to go very slowly uphill in low drive to avoid that. I am still afraid from when we cooked our break system coming out of Death Valley. I didn’t want to do that again. Thus, I was nervous about going through the Ouchita Mountains but we decided to give it a try. I am so glad we did! There was one particularly hair raising multi hair pin loop downward into the town of Big Cedar but the road was otherwise not especially challenging for me or my truck.  We stopped at the Oklahoma Ranger District on highway 59 far above the tiny town of Hogden and we were delighted to note that there was a National Forest Campground nearby that was not run by the state of Oklahoma. State parks cost us about $25-$30 a night, still much cheaper than a private campground and often much nicer. With the senior pass a nice National Forest stop can be a little as $8. When we got to Holson Valley Road we turned left and we ventured in to check out Cedar Lake. What a lucky detour that turned out to be!

Cedar Lake has three campsites. Shady Lane has several full service creekside campsites for $18 and we needed to do laundry for which we need a sewer hook up. Rain was predicted. Shady Lane is in a flash flood warning zone and there were signs all over reminding us of this fact. The weather forecast was for thunderstorms over the weekend so we decided we would move. After settling in we unhitched the truck and took a drive to see all the other campsites. The North Shore campsite is actually the prettiest and nicest part of the campground but it doesn’t have any hook ups. We can make do without an electric hook up but we prefer the electric if we can get it, especially in rain. I just don’t like cooking with propane inside the trailer. The Sandy Beach campsite is up high on a hillside and it has electric and water sites and washrooms with running water and showers. We checked out the equestrian campsite as well. It was interesting to see campsites with corrals but you could only stay there if you had horses.

When we arrived, Sandy Beach was full except for three walk in sites and two others that were too short for our trailer. The sites are half first come first serve and half reservable. In the morning, I dressed early and dragged out our “guest room” tent and put it in the truck.  I watched the road. As soon as I saw a big rig leave I jumped in the truck and raced up the hill and put up out the “guest room” tent on an exceptionally lovely site among the first come first serve sites which had just been vacated. This site was the highest in the campsite and overlooking the lake with the prettiest view. Even though it was up high, it was sheltered by a ridge and had no really big trees making it a good spot to ride out thunderstorms. As soon as the tent was up I raced down to the pay station and paid my fee and got the tags and raced back up. By this point there were four other rigs driving around looking for an empty spot and two of them asked me if I was leaving that day. Sorry, no. We had the lower site until 2:00pm checkout so we got our laundry done and then moved up into the higher campsite. We ended up staying five more days for $10/night with the senior pass and it was easily the best campground we stayed at for the entire trip.

Just a side note on the practicalities of trailer living. If we have a full hookup, sewer water and electricity, life is not much different from a city stick house. If we have water and electric and can fill at need we only have to worry about black water and grey water tanks being full. We can empty the tanks by either moving the trailer to the nearest dump site or by using our “honey wagon” which is a small portable tank that pulls behind the truck. If we don’t have water handy, we can either move and fill up directly or we can haul water in our big tank. In this situation we had a five day stay planned and we didn’t want to be bothered with hauling water or using our honey wagon every other day. We used the honey wagon in Beaver Bend State Park because they had coin showers and it was so crowded the showers were either full or there was no hot water. At Cedar Lake we showered in the nearby showers. They had warm and abundant hot water without having to plug coins in every few minutes and we usually had the showers to ourselves. We can typically go five to seven days between emptying the tanks under such circumstances and that was one of nice things about Cedar Lake.

The rain and storms predicted for the weekend went north of us. We had lovely weather every day including afternoons nice enough to be out in just a t-shirt, all but two bright and sunny. We went on long walks and rode our bikes. We got the canoe into the water and had a wonderful couple of hours paddling around the lake. Migrating birds caught up with us and we saw eagles, herons, egrets, cranes, wood peckers, nuthatches, blue and grey jays, wrens, warblers, loons, cormorants, and many others. These are the birds that nest at our Manitoba home and we welcome so enthusiastically so it was lovely to note they had caught up with us on their migration north. While out in our canoe we saw two species of turtles. We saw a male ‘fence lizard’ in his bright blue bellied spring mating colours which was a first for both of us. Their favourite food is ticks making them one of our special favourites as reptiles go. We even saw a small rattlesnake subtly moving off the trail as we approached. There were wildflowers carpeting the ground and the trees were in bloom especially several large eastern red buds with the glorious pink/red. The southern maples with their brilliant scarlet were stunning. We saw huge numbers of water striders doing some kind of giant communal mating swarm which was also a first for us. We built a campfire and sat and talked until it burned itself out almost every evening. From our campsite we could see and hear trailer loads of horses going to the equestrian site and we got many glimpses of horses and heard their whinnies often. The angle of our place up on the hill meant we got to enjoy spectacular sunrises and sunsets over the lake. There were a lot of ordinary folks from the area who were happy to talk and we learned a lot, especially about fishing and how bad the economy still was in this area. There was no internet or TV so the days were quiet and stress free and we relaxed. It was beyond lovely. On our last day we took the three miles long (about 6km) hike on a well marked trail around the outside edge of the lake. Most people take under an hour to do it. We went slowly, stopped for rests and looked at all kinds of fascinating things and ended up taking three hours. It was worth every minute.

On a practical note, we drove to a Choctaw Nation run casino/gas station/deli in Poteau every other day because they had unlimited free internet. The food was reasonably priced and very good. I lost $40 in their slot machines. The town of Poteau is typical of what is so callously referred to as “flyover states” by people living on the east and west coasts. Poteau was full of empty buildings, empty factories, empty warehouses and an entire historic downtown district of empty stores in what had once been a thriving small city in a thriving community. There were Trump signs everywhere. The few people left in the area were older and underemployed and had not one nice thing to say about Democrats. We drove to see Wister Lake State Park on one trip and it was nowhere near as nice as Cedar Lake. It was satisfying to know our detour was the right thing to do and we had ended up in a nicer spot.

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My Review

Cedar Lake Campground Ouchita National Forest

Sometimes you pull into a campsite and your heart sings and your spirit lifts and you think “This is why I do this!” That’s how I felt coming to Cedar Lake. Cedar Lake is a small lake with a color like a glacial lake, pale blue/green and gorgeous. It is fed by two creeks. There are three major sections for camping. The east side has many lovely unserviced campsites. There is a section of serviced campsites including some with sewer on the south side on of the two creeks. There is a third group of sites above that on the west side of the lake that have water and electric. The upper area overlooks a lovely brown sand beach suitable for swimming. Half the sites, including all the sites adjacent to the beach, are reservable. Half are first, come first serve. Everything about this campsite was perfectly suited to my tastes. Big, spacious, private, paved drive, fire pit, barbecue, picnic table, and two places to hang things. We started with a lower level campsite with sewer in order to get our laundry done. We moved to a west side campsite high over the lake on the ridge where we could see both sunrise and sunset the next day. There is a three mile hike around the lake that is a delight. There are numerous other longer hikes. The west campground is adjacent to an equestrian camp so we got to see horses coming and going. Two caveats. The lower campsite with sewer is in a flash flood zone. Part of why we moved up the hill was because the forecast was for thunderstorms. Also signs say the lake can be contaminated with toxic blue green algae in hot weather. During our stay, it was just heavenly. Abundant wildlife, birds, turtles, beavers, and deer and blissful long paddles around the perimeter of the tiny sheltered lake, hikes on pathways with blooming wildflowers and the sound of creeks. During the weekend it got a bit noisy and busy so go weekdays if you have a choice.

And this is our trail after almost three weeks and seven moves. Next stop Cherokee Landing State Park and the Cherokee Heritage Centre.

Day Seven

Migration Home – Third Stop Beaver Dam Campground Louisiana

 

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We left the Petrified Forest and continued our journey westward into Louisiana. I would have preferred to stay off the interstate but there is that great big river to cross and not a lot of bridges that reach that far so, interstate it was. The trip west was brief and uneventful. We stopped at a rest stop with internet and picked up our email, checked for disasters, made sure all was well with the family and then continued on to the National Forest’s Beaver Dam Campground.

We ended up even more cut off from the world than before because now the TV antenna did not pick up anything. I didn’t quite know what to do with myself so I went back to working on my novel. What a wonderful spot this campground was. Quiet, lovely small lake, almost every campsite empty. There were a few people around but most were overnighters who came in late and left early. The few who stayed over the two nights we were also stopped were fishermen. On one of our walks we went along the upper spillway and chatted with some locals who were fishing. They had pictures of big bass they caught before. They warned us about big gators at the other end of the levi. We walked a trail back to the campground, did a tick check and settled in for a quiet evening of writing.

We had a long discussion on the longer walk along one of the trails. Among the emails that were waiting to be picked up was a message from one of the campgrounds we had planned to stop in while visiting Utah.  They sent word that due to exceptionally heavy snow, they were opening late. We considered our option and eventually decided that were enjoying this slow pace of travel so much maybe we would just really slow down and  skip Utah this time. I looked longingly at our maps. Arkansas was packed full National Forest and Army Corp of Engineer campsites. We still had a month to go before we had to be back in Canada. We had driven through Arkansas once, and on a second trip, we stayed at Hot Springs and it had been so very nice. Arkansas was beautiful and spring was in full roar here. Why not do Arkansas instead of Utah? And so it was decided. Utah is the only state in the lower 48 we haven’t been to yet but we would leave it for another trip. We had two nights and full day in Beaver Dam Campground before making the decision to head north into Arkansas. Six night, three leisurely drives and four states. Not a bad pace at all.

Here is my review of the campground:

This is a National Forest campground. You enter Minden and then turn just before the main street stores and then take a long winding road through rural areas before arriving at the site. Much of the drive from Minden is through a very poor unkempt neighbourhood which was discouraging. Closer to the Park, poverty gives way to newer suburban development and hobby farms. The campground is not well marked. We saw one sign in the town of Minden and then nothing until we reached the National Forest so use your map or GPS to find your way in. We expect big lots and space between sites in this type of campground but this one is exceptionally so. Our paved site was so large that with our pick up and trailer still hitched (56’) we would have room for another entire truck in front of our rig. In addition to the very large wide drive there was a huge pad of fine gravel with an oversized picnic table. This campground could take the biggest rig I have seen. Each site had its own set of garbage cans. Half the sites are reserve and half are first come first served. The place was about one quarter full on the early spring weekday we arrived. We had a nice selection of sites. A local old timer proudly showed off pictures of a 9 pound 23 inch bass he caught at the base of the dam’s spillway. Firewood was not provided so if you must have a fire, be sure to stop in and buy some from the many places on the way in who are selling. The campground host was friendly and welcoming and proudly boasted about how this campsite won some sort of well deserved award for their super clean bathrooms. This campground is a good 20 miles from any store and you will not pass any stores after you get off the interstate unless you detour through Minden so stock up before you go in.

Day3

Rushing River Ontario Provincial Park

Rushing River is arguably the loveliest and most popular of the many lovely and popular provincial parks in Ontario. I say that because for many local families camping and going to Rushing River are synonymous. Due to this, you simply can’t get in during summer without a reservation. The location is what makes the place so special. Dogtooth Lake is a lovely lake with deep clear cool water, perfect for water skiing, or tubing. Where the lake narrows and empties, it creates a river that goes over many small rapids and past many deep pools as it eventually finds its way to Lake of the Woods. Beyond that the water will enter the drainage system to Lake Winnipeg and from there to the Hudson Bay and the arctic ocean going north.

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My grandson Luke with part of the first rapids in the background at Rushing River. (Picture by Anne Marquez-Hunstad)

In several places small beaches with fine sand have formed in calm spots, perfect for a toddler to splash in, especially in late afternoon after the sun has warmed the otherwise briskly cool water in the little bay. There are also natural wild places which challenge the strongest swimmer with water reportedly 25 feet or more deep, sheer cliffs of 5 metres that you can run and jump off into very deep water and giant rock islands you can swim to and then crawl up and sit in the sun to warm up or use as diving towers. It’s also a perfect place to launch a canoe or kayak. Inflatables are practically required here. Big red booms crossing the top of the rapids in the swimming area keep the inflatables and their passengers on the proper side of the rapids.

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Dick and my son Alan and Luke and Noah help haul the canoe and the inflatables from the beach back to our campsite.

The river does indeed rush. It also gurgles, splashes, tinkles, roars and thunders depending on where you stand. The lake is set in granite rock of the Canadian shield and there is little in the way of soil. Scrubby pines and spruce cling to sheer drops and granite faces. Extensive woods on both sides mean abundant wildlife, especially birds and game fish. While out walking the dogs near the water’s edge I saw a trout that must have been four or five pounds lounging in a shallow pool. This is a place where when they say put your food away because of bears, they are not kidding.

 

The park encircles the area where the lake narrows and the includes the first two sets of rapids. The individual lots range from huge grassy pull-throughs to tiny little spots on granite where you can barely fit a two man tent. There are four campgrounds and they also vary. Two are right near the rapids and have showers and flush toilets, playgrounds, and all amenities. Two of the campgrounds are further away from the rapids wrapping around the lake. Lots of the roads are paved and there are steep hills and flat areas making it perfect for my 11 year old grandson to go biking with his BMX type trick bike. There are several trails to walk, from the easiest flat type a toddler or someone in a wheelchair can manage to long demanding trails of several kilometres. One day when my husband and I felt the need for a time out from the delightful constant demands of the children, we took the lower rapids trail which is partly stairs and wooden paths but it still a very wild and demanding to walk. Since it was late summer, hints of fall colour were already present. The wildflowers were spectacular and we saw a beaver munching in a pool. Dick did take a spill and got all muddy but he was unhurt. We traveled with one son, his wife and their two sons and one other grandson. We also made one afternoon trip into the city of Kenora which is about a half an hour away and is right on Lake of the Woods. Kenora has fancy hotels and lodges if camping is not your schtick.

We had such a wonderful time we want to go again every year and get the rest of the family to come as well.

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Visiting with the grandchildren means endless rounds of ball chasing, wrestling, lots of delicious normally off limits dropped (and occasionally snatched) food like hot dogs and bacon strips and marshmallows. Fred also loves swimming and at Rushing River there were lots of places he could swim without worrying about gators or sharks even though the official beaches are off limits to dogs. On our way home after the trip, Fred checks the air and sighs a big sigh. He had a wonderful time but we all arrived home simultaneously exhausted and refreshed.

 

Uncle Sam’s Revenge

Snow A favorite topic of American weather forecasters is assorted names applied to weather from Canada. They include “cold arctic air from Canada” (like Alaska isn’t up there too), the Manitoba Mauler, and the Alberta Clipper. Well Uncle Sam occasionally delivers his own wallop to get even and like most things Uncle Sam does, it is go big or go home. The Colorado Low is a perfect example. Here it is lovely May weather in Manitoba and the trees are blooming and the grass is green and the birds are singing happily and preparing their nests. Little goslings faithfully follow mother goose. And then along comes Uncle Sam with his Colorado low to remind us all why Winnipeg is often referred to as “Winterpeg”. So the incoming Colorado low brought us two days of bitter cold, high winds, power outages, road closures, travel advisories, and 10-15cm of heavy wet snow, freezing rain, ice pellets and general misery for man and beast and plant. (That’s 4-6 inches of snow for you Americans who threw out the English King 200+ years ago but insist on keeping his silly measurements system the rest of us discarded decades ago.) My birthday is Tuesday and my granddaughter has hers a few days later so it has become a kind of family tradition to celebrate the Victoria Day weekend with a family picnic and joint birthday party. I cancelled for this year. This is very disappointing for me but inevitable. At least we had a get together with almost all of us for Mother’s Day. I guess Uncle Sam wants to make sure we don’t give up our plans for spending the winters in the southern USA. Snowball

Hubby Dearest prepares to throw a May snowball.

Arkabutla Lake Army Corp of Engineer Campsite

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These pink flowers were in bloom everywhere. They were also full of happy bees. It was the spring migration eruption and the campground was full of chickadees, blue birds, red headed woodpeckers, cardinals, Carolina chickadees, warblers and so many other birds I couldn’t keep track.

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The Lake is nice and big, bigger than Forklund but it was too far to haul the canoe without unhitching so we just took a long walk to the boat ramp and looked out.SAM_5360 SAM_5361 SAM_5362

We saw a lot of wildlife (including a black widow spider and a rattlesnake) but only this poor deceased shell of an armadillo was still long enough to photograph.

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