The kids had their Spring Break at the same time and we wanted to get out of town on the cheap for several days to spend quality time with each other. Cheap (ahem, FREE) + quality time = tent camping! hahaha While we could pitch a tent about anywhere, I want to use our camping adventures as a way to see new areas around the US that we might not be able to afford staying a length of time at. Our first camping adventure ever — actually the very FIRST NIGHT EVER camping in a tent — we were met by severe storms in the wee hours of the morning, that were not on the radar as we fell asleep. We did not have a rain tarp on and we could not figure out how to put it on in the middle of the night in the rain. We ended up waking the kids up around 2:30am and driving them to the nearest hotel…which was an hour away =/ We did recoup from that and still had a good time the rest of the trip, but learned our lesson –any chance of rain, rain tarp goes on during daylight hours 😉
We loved what we saw of Arkansas our first adventure (which was near the well known “Hawksbill Crag” hike), so we decided to explore another area. We settled on the Hot Springs area which includes Ouachita National Forest and Lake. When we arrived to what I had picked out ahead of time for our campsite (complete with flushing stools and hot showers, duh!), we found that the area was crowded and the spots to pitch our tent weren’t very picturesque. Phil was determined that we could just drive around and find somewhere great, and after 7 hours of being in the car with 3 kids and a restless dog, I agreed to more searching. We turned down the first road we got to from the first site which was called “Hickory Nut Mountain”. Our goal was to camp on the beaches of the lake water, but I noticed we kept ascending and ascending. Right when we were looking for a place to turn around and try again, we came out to a beautiful overlook with several campsites, and, you guessed it–a shared port-a-potty and zero running water or shower houses. Phil was so smitten by our view that it was decided. The first night, it was pleasantly warm, but we slept HORRIBLY (the dog kept us up all night because she was anxious)…however, Phil nudged me awake in the morning to look out at the sunrise straight from the “window” of our tent while we were in bed (yep, we have a blow up bed in our tent!), and I admit, I became smitten too. At most, there were 4 groups of people spread out along this area, and there were trails out our “front door” that the boys took full advantage of all.day.long.
Nora on the other hand, is a girlie girl at heart, and no amount of encouragement could convince her that she loved the outdoors and/or hiking. You could find her playing in the zipped-in “entryway” of our tent with her toys, and if we were hiking, she was asking to be carried. Like, every single minute, lol. We obliged sometimes, but in general, carrying just wasn’t an option and we just kept encouraging her to hike and admittedly bribed gum, candy, and even iPad time if she succeeded on the hikes–don’t judge unless you’ve camped with 3 kids and a dog with no shower for 4 days 😉
Boating on Lake Ouachita was THE MOST MAGICAL DAY EVER, until it wasn’t! hahaha The lake is full of islands and surrounded by mountains, and the water was crystal clear (minus the pollen dust that was settling on everything in the area, including the top of the lake). You can drive right up on the banks of the islands, where we got off and explored the islands and swam in the water. We were riding along and I was having a moment of euphoria in which I was praising/praying to God in my head, thanking Him for all we have and for moments like this that you want to hold on forever. I’ve had several friends lose close loved ones recently, and the reality that we never know when the last memories we will make together hit me, and I knew that this was a day I wanted to cling to and mentally capture in my mind. Shortly after my intimate moment, our boat broke down in the middle of nowhere, with no one around, and we hadn’t had cell service once the whole time. By the grace of God, Phil “magically” got 1 bar of service and was able to call the boat rental company to tell them we were stranded and needed them to get us. Let’s just say they weren’t sure how to handle our situation or how to fix the boat, and also not prompt, and after over an hour of waiting for anyone to come to our rescue, we spent 2 hours being tugged SLOWLY back to their docks. Needless to say, while it did put a damper on what seemed like the best day, I knew it was all okay and obviously nothing to dwell on. I’m hopeful the kids will look back on these memories –the fun and the not-so-fun–with fondness.
Will’s favorite thing to do at camp, was to collect wood and keep the fire going. He searched, gathered, and ran sticks back for HOURS! When it was time to put the kids (and dog) to bed, he looked up at me with his big eyes as solemn as could be and said “Can I please stay up just 5 more minutes to keep the fire going?” Let’s just say he got to stay up for a little longer than that 😉
Nope, it wasn’t anyone’s birthday! BAHAHA! Nora found these in the car (no idea what from), and they became her favorite toy of the trip!
On the way home from the Hot Springs area, we stopped at Devil’s Den State Park which was about a halfway point between where we were and home. This park has great camping facilities, a pool for the summer, a laundromat, restaurant, a clear creek running through it, and awesome hiking. We did the Devil’s Den Cave hike which had a lot of big boulders, some caves to explore, and waterfalls. It was only 1 1/2 miles roundtrip, so doable for kids, but long enough to wear them out 😉 It was a nice break to our drive and an area we’d go back to!
I know most the photos look happy, but here’s her reality most the time, haha! Notice Phil mimicking her 😉
Quality family time accomplished, and by the end, we were tired, dirty, and so ready to go back to our own beds and separate rooms. I’ll be honest, camping isn’t easy. We were either too hot or too cold, when we left to go on the trip, Nora was sick, day 2 of the trip, both boys had diarrhea, Cali (the dog) kept us up most of night 1, and figuring out meals by fire for several days for a family of 5 takes some planning for sure. BUT, it was all worth it, and….the memories =)