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What do you mean it’s June?!

DSC_3543Well then, for those that read the last update and remember me saying something about April being super busy but May was looking pretty good… I was wrong. May turned out to be pretty packed after all. I took a new position at work so there have been fewer days off with the related training and such. Plus I decided I needed to rehab my deck, so that ate up a couple of the nicer weather days as well.

I almost didn’t make it out on a trail at all last month, but luckily the weather was beautiful over Memorial Day weekend and the wife and I decided to take the girls and one of their friends over to Illinois for some waterfalls at Starved Rock State Park. I’m still processing the photos, but should be posting some of them on Instagram soon. (Here’s a sneak peek.)

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After seeing them with flowing water, it is amazing how massive they can get once they are frozen. That park truly is two completely different parks when you compare them winter to summer. (This is the same waterfall.)

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With the help of the WordPress staff I was able to get the map section to work. I plotted out the parks on my list in Google Maps so you can scroll around and zoom in and out to find parks that you may be curious about, or didn’t know existed. If I have posted a trail report for a particular park you should be able to click the link and go straight to the post to read about it.

June isn’t looking much better for getting out, but I have the last weekend off. Here’s hoping the sunshine holds, the temps dip back down into the 70’s or 80’s, and my honey-do list remains empty! Now come July, I am finally using some vacation and taking some time off work to explore some new places. Super excited!

I’m only about 25 miles into my 214 mile goal for the year, it’s time to take the camera for a walk.

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Let’s chat about clothing options!

Another gear related question I get from people is “what type of clothes are good to wear?” I tell them to do what they can to stay away from cotton. As the saying goes, “cotton kills,” and here is why.

The Techy-ish Stuff:

As we hike, our body temperatures inevitably rise and needs to be lowered. To achieve the required heat balance we sweat. This is good and helps to cool us off, unless we are wearing cotton clothing which soaks up and retains that sweat. Simply put, once the cotton is saturated it no longer acts as an insulator, and instead starts to suck heat away from the body. This can drop our core temperature enough to cause hypothermia, even when temps are not freezing. The Mayo Clinic says many elderly people suffer from hypothermia in an air-conditioned home every year. If you are hiking in cotton clothing in the winter, then the risk is greatly magnified and you should probably rethink your hike.

This doesn’t mean that if you wear cotton out in the woods you will inevitably die, only that cotton can be added to the equation if something does go bad. Everyone has, and probably most still do, wear cotton on a hike. If that’s all you have, that’s all you have. Just be cognizant that once you get wet, if you’re feeling cool it might not be the wet shirt cooling you off, but rather your body temperature dropping.

So if you shouldn’t wear cotton, what can you wear? The big three you’ll find most commonly mentioned are clothes made with polyester, nylon, or merino wool. The primary function you are going to hear is that these materials “wick away” sweat, which basically means it does the opposite of cotton.

The design of “wicking” materials is that they pull sweat away from the body where it evaporates more easily, helping you stay cooler and dryer. The first major name that I remember pushing this tech was Under Armour while I was serving in Iraq in 2005. It was the big thing to put it on instead of the standard olive drab cotton t-shirt to help keep us cool in the heat. (They played it up too by being one of the few to make their products in military colors and the whole “Under Armour” thing.)

The last kinda technical thing I’ll cover is terminology of the tops. There’s a base-layer, a mid-layer, and an outer layer or hard-shell. Here’s the Barney-style breakdown. The base-layer is a thin, lightweight, breathable, wicking layer, such as the Under Armour shirts. The mid-layer would typically be a lightweight fleece or jacket, something to add a touch of warmth. The outer layer could be a coat to increase warmth, but mostly it is something that blocks out the wind and rain, sometimes referred to as a hard-shell since it goes over everything to protect you from the elements.

So what should we be looking for?

Now that the techy-ish stuff has been glossed over, let’s chat about what you actually wear. Today, there are more companies producing outdoor clothing than any of us realize. Some are going to be better than others, so read up and figure out brands to trust before you start investing heavily on a new outdoor wardrobe. When tech is involved in creating things, the price goes up, and quality outdoor gear definitely comes at a cost.

DSC_1353I’ll speak from personal opinion on what I do. I like to hike in a nice breathable shirt and a breathable pair of shorts or pants. Those are a must for me, I perspire a touch and breathable means wicking and staying cool. The majority of my hikes are from late spring through early fall (which I’m going to assume is like most of you). Iowa temps are roughly 70-90 degrees F, with 70-100% humidity during that time period, so I typically only bring an emergency rain jacket (hard-shell). If I do hike in the early spring or late fall I’ll add either a thin fleece or a lined windproof jacket. In the winter I wear a base-layer, the mid-layer fleece, and my outer layer is a lightweight, waterproof, winter coat.

When it comes to my legs I wear either my hiking shorts or pants. I only have one of each, so its a temperature dependent situation. Both are stretchy and have thigh pockets that work great for storing my map or lens caps, or snacks. In fact they are the same thing, except one is longer than the other. In the winter I will add a pair of running tights under the pants to add a bit of warmth.

And that is that on what kinds of clothes I wear on my torso and legs, moving on to the things we think less about.

The Peripheral Accessories:

Image result for under armour running glovesIf we have our legs and torso covered, then that leaves the head and hands (I cover the feet in another post). When it comes to hands, I think the only time we would need something would be during winter and possibly the weeks bracketing it. I use running gloves most of the time unless temps are really low, then a nice pair of thick gloves. I choose running gloves because they are thin and normally fit a little snug which allows me to still use my camera equipment and often allows the use of a touchscreen with them on.

When it comes to the head I think it is important to keep it covered and I use several options. First off, hats. I prefer to wear a full-brim sunhat most of the time. However, that doesn’t work when I have baby girl I’m my back I’m discovering; it annoys her half the time and she likes to play with it the rest. So I am switching to a standard ball cap. In the winter I use running beanies or standard stocking caps. I focus on sun protection and warmth.

The other item that I really like for outdoor wear is a Buff. Buff is the name of the company that produces a tube of material that can be manipulated to be used in a ton of different ways. I’m wearing my orange one with night time reflecting strips in headband fashion above. I recommend trying one out if you’ve never messed with one before.

Another newer item that has been popping up over the past couple years are arms sleeves. They are simple tubes of spandex for your arms that can be used to help warm a touch, or the more common use as I understand it, UV protection that is easy to take on and off.

The last accessory item I will touch on is one I never really hear anyone talk about, but it makes a big difference to me; the belt. We all should be wearing a belt to hold our bottoms up, but how many have thought about the materials that belt is made out of? I started out wearing my standard leather one, but it inevitably soaked up too much sweat, took too long to dry, and got annoying. Now I wear a nylon belt that doesn’t soak up water. It has made a big difference in comfort on the longer trails. Of course many have fancy buckles like rigger’s belts, or ones with bottle opens, etc. Just stay away from leather and cotton belts.

The Brands I Know About:

Like I said before, there are more companies jumping into the outdoor than we’ll ever realize. These are the ones I can speak to.

The budget option: Champion from Target isn’t among the highest end gear, but it will do when money matters and you’re just starting out upgrading from cotton.

The name brands: Eddie Bauer, North Face, Columbia, Under Armour, and Merrell are all high end brands I’ve had great experience with. My personal go to is Eddie Bauer’s Active and First Ascent lines, always great comfort and durability. None of these companies are cheap, but one thing about Eddie Bauer is that they have huge sales often. As Iowans, all of these brands also have an outlet store in the Tanger Outlet Mall in Williamsburg to save a few bucks.

That is just me though. There are other well know brands such as Arcteryx, Patagonia, Mountain Hardwear, Marmot, and REI that all have great reputations.

The important thing to remember, don’t let you clothing prevent you from going outside and getting active.

I recommend at least wearing something, we can have a ridiculous amount of mosquitoes in Iowa after all…

We all started with cotton, upgrade as you can. I have a specific set of outdoor clothes now, but I spent several years finding what I liked and putting it together piece by piece. You’ll figure out what you like and will build your outdoor wardrobe as you go as well.

I hope this little chat helped get you moving in the right direction.

Now go enjoy your walk!

 

Gull Point State Park (plus Hawkeye Point)

 

DSC_1104Hawkeye PointGull Point State Park is located in northwest Iowa on the southwestern shores of the Okoboji Lakes in Wahpeton.

I visited Gull Point with my wife and my little Adventure Baby for a nice stroll through some woods on our third stop of the day over a Halloween weekend to check out what northwest Iowa had to offer. The whole idea for the weekend was to spend some family time in the woods checking out the last remnants of the fall colors and to see how much Adventure Baby could handle riding in her chariot (she was just shy of 11 months). Let me just say, even though it was slightly chilly, the weekend did not disappoint!

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The park has a short interpretive trail across the road from the campgrounds that produced a couple surprises. Now the park is pretty much flat with a small amount of grade to it at points. That being said, it was a pretty quick little trail to close out our hiking for the day.

DSC_1068aThe weather continued to decline as we left Fort Defiance and some very light sprinkles started to show up. We put the rain cover on the child carrier and marched once more down the trail. I’ll just say that for an interpretive trail, it wasn’t overly interpretive, just sign-less trail. We started at our orange star as usual and immediately found ourselves on a well worn trail.

I had almost decided to cut this one off the list, but I’m glad I decided to create these park tour trips and was able to fit it in, because the wooded surrounding were very pleasant. We hung a right at the first intersection and found a nice little chapel nestled quietly in the trees (red star). I later learned that it is considered the Boy Scout Chapel as it was built as a memorial to a boy scout troop that is no longer around, but was apparently quite popular.

DSC_1074We headed south from there and crossed the bridge toward the large loop. A few yards west of the bridge there was a canoe launch that looked to be part of some camp, and a neat little overlook (green star) that suggests that the park must be pretty active. The next surprise was at the blue star where we found a small scout camping area that had a bench overlooking a small nature space.

DSC_1080The rest of the trail was simple path flowing smoothly through the woods. All in all a small little gem I did not expect. The Okoboji Lakes are a very popular destination in Iowa and this little walk is definitely worth hopping over to.

A short and simple little review for a short and simple little hike. The 1.5 mile loop only took a touch over 30 minutes to hike. It’s flat and fast, so the only thing I would suggest is to bring your map!

DSC_1092This tiny treat completed our hiking tour for the day and Adventure Baby did great! She did finally start to express a little fussiness while were buckled her in this time, but once we were moving she continued to enjoy the ride. Day 1 test: success! Now on to a quick visit to Hawkeye Point before heading to our overnight in Sioux City.

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Bonus: Hawkeye Point, Iowa

DSC_1170Hawkeye Point is located near Wilson in the far northwest corner of Iowa.

Given the rugged, rocky hills of northeast Iowa, most people tend to think that the highest point in Iowa would be in that part of the state. In actuality it is in the northwest corner at Hawkeye Point.

DSC_1135At 1,670 feet, Hawkeye Point is the summit of Iowa. It is a small patch of ground that was donated to the state by the original family who worked the surrounding fields for decades. I was a little apprehensive as I pulled into the standard looking farm driveway that split the old farmhouse and barn, but once I got past them I saw the signs and knew I was going to the correct place. There are plans to build it up into a park with camping, but for now it is still just a spot on an Iowa farm. It is pretty simple in design; a tiled mosaic marking the point surrounded by a flag pole and posts with signs pointing to the other 49 highest points in each state with their elevations and distances away. Most of the work was done by local 4-H and youth groups.

DSC_1168The wind was really whipping through and the temps had dropped a good chunk by the time we got there, so we only stopped for some quick pictures and hopped back in the car to head to our room for the night. Adventure Baby had definitely had her fill of adventure for the day and proceeded to take a solid nap!

DSC_1153Thanks for reading and enjoy your walk!

Fort Defiance State Park

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Ft Defiance google mapFort Defiance State Park is located on the outskirts of Estherville in northwest Iowa.

I visited Fort Defiance with my wife and my little Adventure Baby for a nice stroll through some woods on our second stop of the day over a Halloween weekend to check out what northwest Iowa had to offer. The whole idea for the weekend was to spend some family time in the woods checking out the last remnants of the fall colors and to see how much Adventure Baby could handle riding in her chariot (she was just shy of 11 months). Let me just say, even though it was slightly chilly, the weekend did not disappoint!

Fort Defiance State Park gets its name from the old fort that once stood in what is now Estherville. It was built to protect the area from the Dakota Indians following their attack on settlers at the Spirit Lake Massacre in 1857. However that would be the only attack by the tribe. The Dakotas were eventually expelled from Minnesota, and the Civil War required resources and manpower, so the fort was decommissioned not long after.

Ft Defiance Trail Map.jpgFort Defiance has a lot to offer in its number of trails and terrain. We ended up cutting ourselves short sticking to the trails on the outer edge of the park, partially due to some frustration caused by low maintenance issues in places. We planned for around 5 or 6 miles, but ended up only knocking out 3 when all was said and done. Let’s get to the hike.

DSC_1001aWe parked at the lodge (orange star) and got Adventure Baby all prepared with a snack and a clean diaper. The temp did dip a touch since leaving Ambrose A Call State Park, so we put her winter coat and pants on her and buckled her into her pack. Then we set off to the west to begin our counterclockwise hike around the perimeter of the park. The initial hundred or so yards was a road walk to the first trail head, the mini Spring Creek Trail (tight purple dashes). This trail was a steady downhill that immediately awarded you with a sense that you were in the woods, our smiles were genuine.

DSC_1008Eventually it met up with the actual Spring Creek Trail (aqua). This intersection was the first point where low maintenance showed its head. There were a couple downed trees across the trail that had been there for a while. A makeshift attempt to go around the trees had been attempted by a few people before us, but not enough to really make it easily passable. We eventually got around the road block and back on the trail. The rest of the trail was very enjoyable and passed without incident.

Spring Creek Trail terminated at a road where it meets up with the two prairie trails; East and South Prairie Trails. We hopped on East Prairie Trail (purple) from here which turned into a grassy walk on what was probably the least scenic of the park. About 2/3 of the way down the path we discovered it met up with the road where we found a bench swing looking off toward the center of the park (red star). The view from the swing was great, making this a neat little road side pull off site. DSC_1033After a few photos, we continued along and found ourselves wandering a bit through a section of trees where the trail wasn’t overly noticeable. While I normally grumble about them chewing up the trails, luckily horses had been through earlier so their tracks were easy to follow to the end of the trail.

DSC_1037I was able to get us back on track and entered the descent of East Trail (yellow), and quite a descent it was. It didn’t last long as we were only on it for a few dozen yards before branching off onto Ridge Trail (gray) (and a new climb…). Ridge Trail was great as it wove through the trees overlooking the valley below. We noticed that there are a few lucky people with backyards that meet up with the northern border of the park for ready access.

DSC_1052Low maintenance appeared again where Ridge and North Trail (orange) met, and sporadically came in and out throughout its length. The North Trail was kind of scraggly in places before turning into a pretty good descent into the valley floor where Flume Trail (blue) followed the creek. The area surrounding Flume Trail felt very open and was quite attractive. In hindsight, I wish I had known and planned to hike more of the green circled area. I would probably have hiked the full length of Flume Trail, re-hiked the small section of Ridge Trail until it met with East Trail again and taken that back to the lodge.

DSC_1047As it was, we didn’t hike as far as we thought we had on Flume Trail, and once we could see the lodge, we accidentally exited the trail about a 1/4 mile early by following a game trail up the ridiculously steep climb thinking it was a low maintenance trail heading up the hill on the east side of the lodge. Once up top, we walked the 50 yards or so to the car and prepared for our next stop.

DSC_1063I would still say there are a good 6 miles worth of trails to snag out at Fort Defiance State Park, 6 rugged miles. That being said, as you can tell from the map and my report, you can plan as many miles as you want. You should keep your personal conditioning in mind when making your plans. I had put in a good number of miles that year and found myself breathing pretty hard on some of those climbs. Due to the ruggedness I would suggest a minimum of a pack with water and snacks. I would also promote the use of trekking poles here for sure. While not necessary, they really do alleviate some of the stress on the knees during the climbing and descending. Obviously I would say that a map is a must as I got a bit off trail even while using it, imagine if I didn’t have one.

Now don’t take any of the negative chatter within this post as the park being a less desirable location to visit. I really did like that park a lot and feel that with a little more attention to trail maintenance it could be an awesome state park! If you head that way to check out the fall colors, Fort Defiance State Park will provide an excellent scene. Now on to Test part 3: Gull Point State Park.

DSC_1005Thanks for reading and enjoy your walk!

Ambrose A. Call State Park

 

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Ambros A Call Google MapAmbrose A Call State Park is located up by Algona in northwest Iowa.

I visited Ambrose A Call with my wife and my little Adventure Baby for a nice stroll through some woods as our first stop of several over a Halloween weekend to check out what northwest Iowa had to offer. Let me just say, even though it was slightly chilly, the weekend did not disappoint!

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The whole idea for the weekend was to spend some family time in the woods checking out the last remnants of the fall colors and to see how much Adventure Baby could handle riding in her chariot (she was just shy of 11 months).

We parked at the orange star next to the lodge and got baby girl all secured into her pack. One thing I noticed right away is that they appear to have a really nice disc golf course around the main recreation area of the park, complete with signage and maps of each hole (yellow star). It suggests that they put a good amount of effort into the park and speaks to its potential.

DSC_0950Overall the park has a short 1.75 mile trail system through some very pleasant woods set on a good-sized hill. We started our hike on the Woods Trail staying to the outer loop in a counter-clockwise route. As the map suggests, a .2 mile trail is super quick to complete. The trail was pretty well maintained for the most part, however at the red star this one got a little over grown and confusing until we came out at the southwestern most picnic area. That was our only hiccup with the trails though. After that, all of the other trails were solid and easy to follow.

DSC_0961As we started our trek eastward from the picnic area we followed the road for a few feet until we found the trail-head to Creek Trail. It started with a good downhill descent and then turned into the most enjoyable section. The scenery was great as we followed the creek in a northeasterly direction toward the park entrance. Adventure Baby was having a blast slapping the back of my head and pulling at my ears most of the way.

DSC_0969DSC_0948Eventually we had to climb out of the creek bed and found ourselves on the main park road. I snuck down the road to catch a picture of the entrance sign (something I often forget to do…) and then back to jump on the last section of trail, High-Low Trail. Now this last section did have a couple of spots at the beginning where you could easily follow the trail, but it was a little tough to pick it out until you were right on top of it. As we rounded the bend at the northern most point we were met with a long, steady, incline back to the top of the hill.

DSC_0997Once we got to the top, there was a moment of, “oh hey, isn’t that grass over there pretty.” Chuckles aside, at the top was a home of one of the original settlers to the area. It had been preserved and relocated to the park a number of years ago as a representation of the original home of the family that donated the land to the state that once sat in the park. From here it was a road walk back to the car to complete our hike. Adventure Baby had a blast, but was ready to be done and get something to eat. Test part 1: success.

Given the short length of the trails (1.75 miles over a casual 50 minutes), gear is more of a comfort item for this hike. I would still suggest bringing some water and your map of the park. Since they are small, I’m never opposed to taking something like a Clif Bar as a snack for just in case you get hungry (ya never know). There was a good amount of climbing/descending, so I would also recommend trekking poles for those who want more stability.

I tend to shy away from these shorter length parks as I enjoy chewing up the miles, but Ambrose A Call State Park is definitely a beautiful fall destination. If you’re just looking for a quick stroll, or introducing some little ones to the outdoors, this park gets my stamp of approval (if I had a big ole’ stamp to approve things with). Now on to Test part 2: Ft Defiance State Park.

DSC_0968Thanks for reading! Now go enjoy your walk!

The May Update

Well it’s May already, and like I predicted, my busy month of April didn’t allow for much hiking work. I was able to get two hikes posted; Rock Creek State Park and FW Kent County Park, as well as the YouTube video for Rock Creek. Not only have I been super busy this month, but the sterotypical April showers have been in full effect! weather.jpg

(Is that SNOW on May 1st? Gotta love the midwest…)

Contract: IA Park: 610107Luckily I was able to sneak in a hike at Dolliver State Park in between rain clouds. A really nice little park over by Ft Dodge.

May is looking to be far better in terms of opening up my schedule. That means I should be able to finish catching up on my backlog of hike data, and get back out on those trails as often as I’d like to be!

Not a whole lot to comment on this update since I didn’t have a very eventful April. Hopefully these spring showers subside and leave room for those photogenic May flowers to bloom!

FW Kent County Park

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FW Kent Google MapFW Kent County Park is located just northwest of Iowa City.

Kent Park is a neat little place with a lot more variety than I initially anticipated. There has been a lot of work put into this park, which made for a very enjoyable hike.

FW Kent Trail Map.jpgI hiked the park with my wife in two parts; we hiked the east loop then drove over to hike one of the west loops. On the website they have two different maps; the one above, minus the trails on the east side of the park, and one that only has the east trails. I took out a marker and filled in the east trails for the one I used during our hike. I just drew them in using Paint for this. The orange lines are the routes we took. (They really should just update their map to have one comprehensive map…)

As you can see, the complete trail system can be connected if you choose to do some road walking. Our hike was a little over 6 miles, and I suspect you could stretch that out another 4 miles at least, if not 5.

DSC04508We started our hike at the Conservation Education Center (orange star) and checked out some of the natural science items they had inside. Then we stepped out and started on the nice little nature loop they had just to the north. I could easily see taking baby girl there so she could play inside and go for a short stroll to check out anything that decided to come out. Once we finished that loop the eastern trail began at the parking lot. Now the first section on the furthest eastern edge of the park was really the only mundane portion of the hike. It was a simple straight line of mowed grass that had a constant gradual descent to it as we headed south.

Which meant that once we hit the southernmost point and began our return north, it was a steady climb. In all honesty, the park is made up of rolling hills aside from that easternmost trail. The view was nice though.

DSC04516As we continued north we began to see more and more ponds, full of croaking frogs and algae. Some of them were quite pretty with the bold greens contrasting with the rich blue skies. There were also a couple bridges along the route that always causes my wife’s mood to perk up. While the east loop did mainly stick to being grass, a few spots did turn into a worn trail in the more wooded sections.DSC04545

DSC04528We discussed how we wanted to proceed with the next section after we got back to the car and opted just to hit up the lake loop. So we drove around the north road and parked at the Twin Fawns Picnic Area (red star). It was a good descent down to the lake (we should have just driven down to the lake and parked at the beach {green star}).

DSC04577Once we hit the actual Lake Loop we both agreed that this was by far the best trail in the park. The park service has put a lot of work into that area of the park. It makes sense as it is the main draw after all. Like I mentioned just second ago, there is a nice beach on the southern side of the lake, and on the north end you have all of the camping and picnic areas. So it is only natural that they build up that part of the park for park visitors.

DSC04591The trail was a very nice crushed limestone, but the neatest part was all of the bridges. Which my wife was super excited about, it is literally her favorite thing about hiking. What makes these bridge unique, is that they are all reclaimed bridges from other parts of Iowa. There is a pretty large one that the Iowa National Guard flew in under a Chinook helicopter. The day we were going through a wedding party was getting their pictures taken in front of that bridge, so we had to wait a bit before we could sneak through. From there we crossed over the dam and moseyed back up north to the car.

DSC04604When you make your visit to FW Kent Park you should always bring food, water, and a map, and the other map. The 6+ miles took my wife and me 2.5 hours. Now you can hike as little as a couple of miles to almost 12, so bring more than you need if you are going long (better to have too much than not enough). If you’re just going for a walk around the lake, then yes, you don’t really need anything. Just be aware of your abilities and related needs. There really isn’t anything difficult about this park unless you’re not ready to push yourself on a longer distance.

DSC04583Once again my wife and I really enjoyed ourselves at FW Kent County Park and will give it another go. It was a very pleasant hike on a beautiful day. I hope you find yourself circling it on your map of places to check out.

DSC04571Thanks for reading!

(P.S. If there is a bridge in the picture, my wife had the camera.)