Have you ever eaten your Thanksgiving dinner while enjoying uninhibited views of snowcapped peaks, crashing oceans, pristine valleys, or crystal clear lakes? No? How about starting a new tradition this year: Get outside, and ditch the crowds! Indulge in your favorite outdoor adventure, and enjoy one of the most underrated exploration days of the year.
For many Americans, a traditional Thanksgiving consists of eating, cooking, watching football, and staying indoors. While everyone else is at home, why not take your Thanksgiving Dinner “to go” with a holiday-inspired, backcountry-friendly recipe. Invite family and friends to join you outside for a Thanksgiving meal they will never forget!
Here is everything you will need for your adventure-inspired holiday dinner:
This meal is pack-friendly and filled with nutrition to fuel your journey. The best part is that you can prep everything at home, so when you’re in the wilderness you can just relax and enjoy a fantastic meal.
Before you hit the trail, this is what you need to prep at home:
Purchase a single serving of cream cheese and add dried cranberries
Preparing for vacation just got a bit tastier with the new Pocket Ranger® video channel! Filled with adventure and vacation tips, the video channel makes your travels not only easy but also a lot of fun. Take our contributor Adventure Dining Guide, for example, whose yummy videos can be seen on the channel. Adventure Dining Guide offers great tips for preparing meals during your camping trips through immensely entertaining videos.
Video Credit: Adventure Dining Guide
Adventure Dining Guide, “the website about eating civilized, miles from civilization,” features host Michelle Shea who takes viewers through step-by-step instructions on how to make anything from camping tacos to bonfire brownies. The videos are funny, educational, and sure to make your mouth water. A favorite of ours is the “Fire Ban Tacos” shown above. In this video, Michelle visits Lake Tahoe in the middle of a drought for some good and responsible eating without a fire.
Dining Adventure Guide features adventurers, professional athletes, and chefs who, along with Michelle, demonstrate how easy it is to make nutritious, protein-packed meals with minimal preparation or clean up. In the video below, Richard Orth, owner of BAKpocket Products, teaches you how to make gourmet pesto tortellini while sitting in a hammock in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. YUM! These recipes are so brilliant that they work even if you are looking for a simple dinner or dessert from the comfort of your home.
Video Credit: Adventure Dining Guide
Planning to bring the little ones? Watch “‘Orange’ You Excited to Make Brownies?” below for a genius way to entertain campers of all ages. If you haven’t had enough, follow Adventure Dining Guide on Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter for some of the most appetizing food photos you’ll ever see in the great outdoors! Don’t forget to follow their posts on Google+ and to like them on Facebook as well so you can share your own fireside cooking stories.
Video Credit: Adventure Dining Guide
The Pocket Ranger® video channel and Pocket Ranger® App bring you the best when it comes to preparing for your next outing. Whether you are planning to solo hike the Pacific Coast Trail or take your family out on a weekend canoe trip, Adventure Dining Guide prepares you for a memorable time with fresh tips on dinner and cool desserts. Visit the Pocket Ranger® video channel today, and happy camping!
There’s something missing in Florida—National Parks. We only have one and that’s down south. Way down south in the everglades. What we lack in National Parks, we greatly make up for in State Parks. We have 161 State Parks in Florida and one of the closest to Orlando is Wekiwa Springs State Park. Wekiwa Springs is in Apopka, FL and it’s only 15 minutes north of downtown Orlando.
Wekiwa Springs is basically an outdoor oasis amongst an urban jungle. It’s the perfect year-round getaway from the madness of the city.
Image Credit: FloridaSprings.org
The summers are brutally hot here in Florida, and Wekiwa Springs has one killer spring to help the locals and tourists cool off. The spring is at the center of the park. The grassy area where you can throw down a blanket is sloped, creating an amphitheater effect. The spring itself is crystal clear and 72 degrees year-round.
Springs can be inherently dangerous to swim into. A lot of them are just massive cave systems and it’s very easy to lose direction and get lost in them. The spring at Wekiwa Springs State Park is simple and only 15 feet deep. Just swim down along the rock walls and once you hit the sandy bottom you can look underneath the rock walls to see where all the water comes screaming out of the earth.
Image Credit: Wikipedia
Florida winters is prime time for hiking with the onset of cooler weather. Wekiwa Springs State Park has miles on miles of nature trails. The shorter trails are just a couple of miles and the longest trail is over 10 miles. Serious hikers love the long trail, and who wouldn’t? It’s a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon by yourself or with a few of your close friends. Long distance runners, and all sorts of runners for that matter, love the trails. They’re great to train on with a softer running surface than the road. The trails are also well maintained, and it’s a wonderful change of scenery from running in urban landscapes.
In addition, any season is perfect paddling season in Florida. Throughout most of the year, it stays warm in Central Florida and one of the best places to paddle is the Wekiwa River. The State Park rents out canoes and kayaks for a nominal fee and the beach where you launch them onto the river is right near the spring. Right after launching your paddling vessel you should keep a wide eye out in the bay. Gators love to hangout in the area (don’t worry, it’s impossible for them to get into the spring where you can swim). Just admire them from afar and they’ll admire you from afar as well.
Image Credit: Wikipedia
Further down the Wekiwa River are tons of opportunities for exploration. There are so many little canals where you can paddle to; you’ll be occupied for hours. Just keep in mind that water levels do play a key factor in where you can go. When there’s been a lot of rain, like during the summer, it’ll be easy to paddle through all the different canals. However, when there hasn’t been much rain, like in the winter, they tend to run a little dry. The only way to find out which canals you are able to explore and which ones are meant to be explored for another day is to simply explore for yourself.
The next time you’re feeling a little claustrophobic from the city of Orlando, just know there’s a natural oasis waiting for you. Wekiwa Springs State Park is the perfect place to get away from the city to experience nature, without having to pack and drive for hours.
Heading into the great outdoors? In addition to your first aid kit, don’t forget to pack a survival kit! While everyone has preferences of what they like to include in their personal survival kit, here’s a list of our 11 must-haves.
A small plastic lighter can make all the difference in an emergency. Also consider packing a magnesium starter or a book of matches as back-up.
2. Cell Phone
Cell phones are practically mandatory survival items these days. Just don’t forget to bring a charger. For more remote locations, a satellite phone may be necessary.
3. Iodine Tablets
In addition to bringing enough water, fill a small pill bottle with iodine tablets. Iodine tablets are perfect for survival kits because they are way easier to pack than a water filter. These tablets don’t add the best taste to water, but they will get you through those areas where drinking water isn’t readily available.
How do you keep the wilderness wild when millions of outdoor enthusiasts visit state and national parks each year? The Center for Outdoor Ethics created a solution to this problem with their national educational program, Leave No Trace. The Leave No Trace program promotes and inspires good ethical practice when in the backcountry. By following these guidelines, you ensure a gratifying and lasting outdoor experience for all.
1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
Like any trip, planning before you arrive at your destination is key.
Acquaint yourself with park regulations. You can easily access this information through any of our free Pocket Ranger® apps.
Be prepared for extreme weather and emergencies. Pack a first aid kit and a survival kit that includes a flashlight with extra batteries, whistle, multi-tool pocket knife, maps, lighter, fire starters, and iodine tablets.
Respect the physical limits of your hiking group by planning a trip that’s compatible with the group’s skill level.
Careful meal planning and packaging is so important when out in the backcountry. Pack only the food you need to minimize waste while you’re out on the trail.
Try to visit the outdoors in small groups. This is especially applicable to backpacking trips. If you are a larger group heading into the wilderness, break off into smaller groups to reduce impact on the environment. Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use on the trail.
Refrain from marking your trail with paint, cairns or flagging, and instead use a map, compass or your Pocket Ranger® app. In addition to a compass feature, the Pocket Ranger® apps offer users advanced GPS features that can even be used offline!
2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Trampling down an area’s vegetation can result in some undesirable results, such as barren areas and soil erosion. Help preserve the environment by following these tips:
In wilderness areas of high use, stick to established trails and campsites. Established campsites can come in a few different forms, such as raised wooden platforms, rock, gravel, dry grasses and snow. Walk single-file on trails and try to stick to the center of these trails. This prevents the trail from further eroding the surrounding landscape.
However, when camping and hiking through pristine or fragile environments, the opposite is true. Avoid making established trails or campsites by dispersing your impact on the environment. Do not camp or travel in places where impacts are just beginning to show.
Whether in high use or low use areas, always make sure to camp at least 200 feet from lakes and streams. This protects the waterbody and riparian areas (the land near a waterbody) from damage and contamination.
3. Dispose of Waste Properly
This principle could be the golden rule of the backcountry: Whatever you pack in, you must pack out! This includes all trash, leftover food, toilet paper (both used and unused), and hygiene products.
Before leaving a campsite or rest area, check around for any trash or spilled food you may have missed.
Solid human waste should be deposited in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep. These catholes must be at least 200 feet from water, campsite and trails. After use, cover and disguise catholes.
Always clean up after yourself! [Image: bartramcanoetrail.blogspot.com/2013/10/people-fish-camp-trash.html]
Got dishes? Need a shower? To clean either yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lake, and use only small amounts of biodegradable soap. When finished cleaning or bathing, do not dump this dirty water back into the stream or lake! Doing so would contaminate the natural water source. Instead, strain and then scatter the water at least 200 feet (or 80 to 100 strides) from its source.
4. Leave What You Find
Look, but don’t touch! Preserve the past by leaving natural and historic structures and artifacts as they are. This ensures that other visitors to the area will have the same sense of discovery.
Leave rocks, plants, feathers and other natural objects just as you find them.
Don’t transport non-native species with you! Non-native species frequently become invasive. These invasive species can critically damage the ecosystem.
A good campsite is found, not made. Do not dig trenches or build structures, such as lean-tos, tables or chairs.
5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
While many believe that a roaring campfire is essential to a great camping trip, fire is not always permitted in backcountry area. Before lighting a fire, always check with park regulations.
If fires are allowed, use only established fire rings, fire pans or mound fires. Keep your campfire small and manageable.
Hold off on the huge logs! The Center for Outdoor Ethics recommends using sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
Can you spot the campfire faux pas in this photo? [Image: lnt.org/blog/campfire-challenge]
Burn all the wood and coals in your campfire to ash and put out the fire completely. Then scatter the cool ashes.
As for cooking outdoors, use a lightweight camp stove. A lightweight camp stove (rather than a bulky camp stove) will also be a blessing for your back!
6. Respect Wildlife
It’s certainly exhilarating to come across wildlife when outdoors. For everyone’s safety and enjoyment, follow these guidelines for wildlife sightings:
Always observe wildlife from a distance. Never approach or follow wildlife.
Never feed wildlife! Feeding wildlife can make wild animals dependent on humans, creating opportunities for potentially dangerous encounters.
Don’t let your favorite breakfast cereal become theirs. [Image: forum.wakarusa.com/showthread.php?11815-ARTICLE-Black-Bears-Tear-Into-Tents-at-Wakarusa]
Protect wildlife and your food by storing food rations and securely.
If you bring pets with you, make sure you have control of them at all times. In many places, leashes are required.
7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
While you may head into the backcountry to be alone in the great outdoors, chances are you may come across a few other outdoor enthusiasts.
Respect other visitors to the area. Be courteous and yield to other hikers on the trail.
Take breaks and camp away from the trails and other visitors. Avoid making loud noises or speaking in loud voices when in the backcountry. Keeping your voice low not only helps others enjoy their time in the wilderness, but also increases your chances of seeing wildlife.
If you encounter pack stock in the backcountry, step to the downhill side of the trail.
Get the whole family outdoors at the upcoming 5th Annual National Kids to the Parks Day! On May 16th, America’s state parks partner with the National Park Trust to host this nationwide day of outdoor play. Just a week before the official start of summer, this is a perfect day to explore and discover favorite local, state and national parks and public lands. From scavenger hunts to bird-watching, these state parks are hosting great Kids to Parks Day events:
Nature Hikes & Scavenger Hunts
Specifically designed with the whole family in mind, the James River State Park’s Scavenger Hunt has 20 items participants have to track down. Winners will get a ride on the park’s Tye Overlook wagon for free that evening! Or learn about Leave No Trace Principles and hunt out all things that shouldn’t be on the trail on Shenandoah State Park’s “Unnatural Hike.”
Join the Lake Bistineau State Park’s Nature Hike for a memorable wilderness experience in the park’s upland mixed hardwood forest, open waters, and stands of cypress and tupelo trees. Stay the night in one of this Louisiana state park’s cabins or campsites, so you can get out on the lake in a canoe or kayak the next day!
At Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site in New York, walk the towpath trails on a nature walk, and learn more about native species of birds, animals, plants and flowers. We recommend packing a lunch; there’s nothing better than having a picnic by the Aqueduct Boat Launch or the Yankee Hill Lock!
Bird-watching & Gardening
Go birding at the beautiful lagoons and shoreline of Louisiana’s Grand Isle State Park. Resident bird species include a variety of songbirds and shorebirds, such as shearwaters, pelicans, herons, and cormorants. At Leesylvania State Park in Virginia, check out the Osprey Observation. Rangers will be on hand to answer all your questions about these magnificent birds of prey.
The Bristol Bird Club of Virginia will lead a special family birding session at Natural Tunnel State Park. From old growth forest to grassy area, discover all kinds of birds that live in the park’s four different habitats. Or spend the afternoon in the park’s community garden! Alongside the Scott County Master Gardeners, learn more about gardening while weeding and planting.
In Missouri, get down in the dirt at Mudpie Magic at Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park! Make mudpies, dig in the dirt, explore rotten logs, and catch crawdads. There are many natural water park features at this state park, so take a dive into the river to rinse off! Or test your birding skills and so much more at Trail of Tears State Park. Join the Birder ID hike and scavenger hunt, and stick around for the “Eggstravaganza” egg hunt and egg quiz challenge at 7:30PM.
Learn the fascinating art of letterboxing at Shenandoah River State Park’s Letterboxing Workshop! Originating in England, letterboxing involves puzzle-solving and is a bit like geocaching. At this workshop, make your own rubber stamp and then go on a hike to discover your first letterbox.
Go fly at kite at Harry S. Truman State Park’s 3rd Annual Kid’s Kite Day! Park staff will show kids (and kids at heart!) how to assemble and decorate their very own kite. While the glue dries, settle down for a picnic or take some of the park’s example kites for a test flight.
Bluebirds are returning to Missouri on their great migration north. At Pomme De Terre State Park, learn how to build a bird house for Missouri’s state bird. All materials and tools will be provided at this event. Just bring your creativity!
5K & 10K Runs
Looking to keep a brisker pace on National Kids to Parks Day? Join families at Eugene T. Mahoney State Park’s Run Wild – “A Run for Wildlife!” Proceeds raised from the 10K, 5K, and Kids Run all benefit Nebraska’s wildlife. Both the 10K and 5K take runners through a scenic, naturally challenging trail. The 1-mile Kids Run is perfect for kids ages 12 and under, and parents can run alongside young children. Since none of the events are timed this year, everyone is a winner! Dressing like a wild animal for this event is strongly encouraged. Afterwards, celebrate the day with a picnic, face-painting, fishing, and touring the live animal exhibits.
Families that visit the state and national parks on Kids to the Parks Day are encouraged to submit photos of their adventures to Buddy@BuddyBison.org for possible inclusion in the National Park Trust’s commemorative map. Download your state’s free Pocket Ranger® app for more information about trails, campground reservations, and more!
With so many wild animals migrating, nesting, and raising new broods, you are bound to come into contact with wildlife this spring. Of course, nothing in Nature ever runs smoothly. Thanks to the efforts of Fish and Wildlife, wildlife rescues, and people like yourself, injured and orphaned wildlife can receive extra care that will see them through those rough spots.
Common Wildlife “Emergencies”
When it comes to wildlife, we like the Center for Wildlife‘s motto: Don’t rescue unless rescuing is needed. While some wildlife injuries require expert medical attention, there are other injuries or situations that either do not need human intervention or can be treated or resolved at home. Here are three common wildlife emergencies and what you can do to help.
Situation 1: You heard or saw a bird strike a window.
From raptors to tiny songbirds, when the sun strikes a window just right, a bird in flight may not see it in time or believe it’s a valid flight corridor. Some birds succumb to the injuries sustained from such a collision. Others may survive the collision, but — due to shock — become easy pickings for a predator. It’s these disoriented survivors that could use a little help! Below are six steps for rescuing just such a stunned bird:
If you have seen or heard a bird careen into a window, the first thing you can do is find a box with a lid. Poke holes in the lid for ventilation and add some paper towels as bedding.
Bring the box with lid outside and begin looking for your bird. Most likely, the bird will be directly under the window in a dazed state. If the bird is in this condition (dazed, on the ground, easily caught), it could use your help.
Gently scoop up the bird and place in the box. Take a moment to assess the bird’s condition. Is there any blood, and if so, how much? Do the bird’s wings look broken? If there is a lot of blood or the bird appears to have broken bones, call your local wildlife rescue for guidance. If the bird only appears dazed, secure the lid over the box and bring inside.
A goldfinch in flight. [Image: www.flickr.com/photos/fixersphotos]
Find a quiet, warm, dark space inside your home, such as a closet or a kitchen cabinet. With the lid still in place, leave the box with the bird in this quiet place. The quiet darkness mimics nighttime, which puts the bird in a restorative sleeping state.
After thirty minutes to an hour, check on your bird. Quietly and carefully pull up the lid on the box. If the bird seems more energetic, take the box outside, remove the lid and let the bird fly away.
If the bird does not leave the box or if you can easily catch him again, place the bird back in the box, secure with lid, and return to that quiet place within your house for an hour more. When another hour is up, take the box outside again, open lid, and give the bird another chance to fly away. If the bird still shows signs of injury, contact your local wildlife rescue. The bird may be suffering from internal injuries that need to be professionally treated.
Situation 2: You’ve found a baby bird on the ground.
Finding a baby bird outside it’s nest may be disconcerting, but don’t sound the alarm just yet! A chick outside the nest doesn’t always mean that it’s in danger. First, assess the situation. Does the chick look injured? If the chick looks healthy, decide if it is a fledgling or a nestling. For most birds, the key difference between the two is that a fledgling is feathered, closely resembles an adult bird and can easily perch on a thumb or finger. A nestling is too young to perch and is often more fuzz than feathers. If you’ve come across a nestling, locate the nest and carefully place the chick inside. Unlike the old wives’ tale, the parents will return to the nest to care for the chick. If you can’t find the nest or the nest appears damaged, call your local wildlife rescue. They will have the staff and facilities for successfully raising a chick.
Grackles are a common backyard bird, often amassing in large, raucous flocks. On the left, is a nestling grackle; to the right, the fledgling grackle. [Images: www.eastvalleywildlife.org & wildobs.com]
While it may appear incapable of survival, a fledgling outside the nest is oftentimes perfectly okay. Even when on the ground, the parents will continue to feed a fledgling, and within a few days, the fledgling will be flying. Give the fledgling space; keep children and pets away so the parent birds will not be deterred from caring for the chick. Also keep in mind that not all bird species raise their young in trees. Some birds (such as shorebirds, pheasants and certain owls species) raise their young in scrapes on the ground.
Situation 3: You’ve found baby squirrels out of their nest and/or on the ground.
With the nice weather comes construction projects, and oftentimes this means cutting down old or nuisance trees. Trees provide valuable habitat for a variety of species, such as birds, porcupines, and squirrels. When a tree is cut down, these animal inhabitants have to re-home themselves.
Don’t create orphans! Above: a mother squirrel relocates her baby to a safer spot. [Image: wildlifecoalition.com]
Nests of baby squirrels are frequently found within these logged trees. If the nest is in a relatively safe spot on the fallen tree, resist the urge to scoop up the baby squirrels and rush them to a wildlife rescue! Instead observe the nest from a distance for about an hour. Oftentimes, the mother squirrel is busy locating and reassembling a nest in a nearby tree. Within an hour, this mother squirrel will have moved all of her babies to the new location. Only if the mother squirrel does not appear or if you can confirm that the mother has died, call your local wildlife rescue for guidance. Raising baby squirrels is immensely time-consuming and should only be done by professionals to ensure that the squirrels can be released back into the wild when they are old enough.
Ways You Can Keep Wildlife Safe
Be prepared for wildlife rescues by storing a box with a lid, heavy work gloves and blankets in the trunk of your car and/or a closet at home. Save contact information for the nearest wildlife rescue and Fish and Wildlife office in your phone. Remember all wild animals are potentially dangerous and when injured, their first means of defense may be to attack. Keep yourself safe by adequately judging the situation first, approaching and handling injured wildlife only when absolutely necessary.
Keep birds from striking your windows by breaking up their external reflection. You can do this by drawing the shades or adhering stickers of hawks, crows or owls to the glass. If you have bird feeders in front of your windows, consider relocating them to a safer area.
Don’t throw food scraps from your car window! All this time you may have been chucking banana peels and apple cores from your car window thinking you were helping the planet when in reality you’re setting a deadly trap for wildlife. Trash brings all kinds of wildlife looking for a snack onto the roadways. Keep wildlife safe by throwing away your trash in the proper receptacles.
Volunteer your time at a local wildlife rescue! [Image: www.yorkcenterforwildlife.org]
Keep your cat indoors! Scientists from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that domestic cats kill around 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals a year in the United States! Give birds and the small mammals in your neighborhood a fighting chance by keeping your cat indoors.
If not endangering your property, consider leaving construction projects until after the spring. From birds to squirrels to skunks, each spring wildlife locates quiet shelters to raise their young, and this may be the very shelter you are gearing up to renovate or demolish. Delaying your construction project a few weeks keeps you from disrupting or harming wildlife. Also, wildlife viewing opportunities abound when you temporarily provide habitat for these wildlife families.
Volunteer at a local wildlife rehabilitation center! Wildlife rescues often need assistance with cleaning enclosures, caring for orphaned baby mammals, and repairing on-site structures.