It is really hard to get a good campsite during the summer months in Iowa. Unless you plan it out a year in advance you are sort of out of luck! So - this year we ended up booking a campsite for October 1st! It ended up being just perfect! No bugs, cool temps, but manageable with a fire or a jacket, and the trees just starting to turn...it was gorgeous!
Happy to report NO car troubles with Ace (a first for long trip!!) We arrived early afternoon and set up camp quickly so we could get to the hike. Daddy had been here with a friend before and there are simple trails and what I will lovingly refer to as "daddy's off road adventure trails." We kicked it off with some great views of the Mississippi river. It had been a wet year so it was quite flooded, but really pretty from our vantage point.
We got some pictures from the visitor's center and the paved trails that normal people use. The pictures after this one are all off trail, which ended up being a really fun adventure. We hiked through the mud since it had just rained the previous day and started descending down into a canyon. I am trying to be an amateur photojournalist so had my nice camera with me. I hadn't quite imagined the level of difficulty we would encounter but we were all doing fine - until a giant tree crossed our path. The kids all climbed under, but Josh and I thought it would be easier to shimmy over since we are much bigger. I was the last in line and was falling victim to slippery trail caused by 4 others packing the mud before me. So, as I protect my camera and grab the tree to hop over, I slip and the mossy tree doesn't really aid me in my struggle, so I slide under the tree with grace and dignity. I'm laughing and Kenna is just appalled that I fell. The only thing injured was my pride :)
We descend as we follow the small stream that has carved this canyon until we reach an impasse. There are fallen trees blocking the only passable area and a sheer rock cliff on the other side. So Josh summons his inner mountain goat and somehow leaps across without falling to his death. He then braces himself against the fallen branches and instructs the kids to slide into him one at a time. I am standing there wondering who is going to fall down the cliff first, but trying to be optimistic as the kids laugh and enjoy pushing themselves. They all easily get across with Josh's help. I step-slide all the way down to where Josh is standing and he helps me get some footing to launch myself through the branches. Whew - we all made it in one piece!
We saw a small cave that Josh explored - luckily no bears were in it. The picture below was taken after I, once again, very graciously took a tumble. I was till holding up the rear of our formation and at times there was zero footing and nothing but slippery mud. While trying to make sure everyone else didn't fall, I slipped and rolled a few times landing gracefully on my butt. The boys laughed and Kenna nearly cried thinking I was hurt. She treated me like I probably treat them for the rest of the hike, asking if I was okay, making sure I was looking where I was going....thank you young grasshopper!
I took this picture of Kenna hugging a tree, because many times the small saplings were the only thing that kept us from slipping. We would step then grab them and say "thank you tree!" Was funny to hear 5 people saying that during the trickier parts of the hike!
We FINALLY made it to the bottom, and encountered a railroad track. The boys each found loose railroad spikes that we brought home as souvenirs. We walked along the track for a while (really safe...right?) until we happened upon an old structure. From what we could tell it was probably an old railroad persons housing? There was old cookware, animal traps, and some crudely constructed buildings made out of stone. Was kind of cool to speculate!
We had a rough idea where the trail picked back up so we abandoned our railroad track and started venturing up. What you don't realize in trying to stay alive whilst hiking down a very steep ravine, is just how far down you actually walked. And like the inverse of the famous saying - what goes down, must come up! So we pretty much climbed a nearly vertical leaf covered hill for what seemed like forever. We had to lunge at trees and use them to pull ourselves up. We would occasionally stop to laugh at the lunacy of this whole thing and to catch our breath. The kids were getting cranky and I was just hoping for some sign of a trail at some point.
Finally after what seemed like forever we hit the precipice of this ridiculous hill - and thank goodness....the trail! Zach had had it...even with his love of the outdoors he was sick of walking - and we had a really long way to go.....so I distracted him by finding feathers (his favorite) and by talking about pokemon and skylanders (a challenge) and when that didn't work I started talking about all the naughty words we knew (butt, bottom, toot, fart - you get it.) Not my finest parenting moment, but you do what you can to distract a cranky hungry kid!
Our campsite never looked so good! We all ate hot dogs and slept like a rock!
The next morning was super creepy. Weird birds singing their death songs and a scene from a horror movie just outside our tent. I found it strangely beautiful and was excited that I actually caught some of the scenes with my camera! We enjoyed breakfast burritos that I only slightly scorched and hot chocolate for breakfast. We were all tired and ready to get home so we skipped the underground cave tour we had considered doing. April was driving in from Alabama so I kind of wanted to get home ahead of her and "de-campfire smoke" myself!
Yay for adventures! I loved this trip!