Steele Creek Camp
November 3-4, 2007
Until a couple of years ago, the highlight of the year for me was going camping in the fall. I took my vacations during deer season in October and November and tried to spend as many days as possible at deer camp. I started taking Cliff along when he got old enough; he spent his first night at camp with us when he was only 3. I still have fond memories of that trip. For several compelling reasons, we did not go camping the last two seasons, and Cliff was not at all happy about that. Last year he made me promise we would go this year.
Sure enough he held me to that promise; Thursday evening he asked me if we could go camping, and though I had already made plans to spend the remainder of my vacation hiking, there was no way I could tell him no.
It took us a while to get all our gear and clothing together Saturday morning, though I'm proud to say Cliff is old enough now to help out quite a bit. , We left town a little after noon, which put us in the Ozarks north of Clarksville in the early afternoon. It was a beautiful sunny day with blue skies. We saw a lot of colorful fall foliage, but were really amazed at the swarms of tiny red ladybugs we kept driving through. We found an open campsite at the Steele Creek recreation area on the Buffalo National River and Cliff and Grant eagerly unloaded the truck and set up camp. The only thing I had to do was set the poles for the tent; they were too worried about breaking them or they would have done that too.
We then hopped in the truck and drove a short distance away to the East end of Roark Bluff. I wanted to take pictures and I knew once they were on the creek they'd be happy.
When we returned to camp the boys could hardly wait to build a fire. We roasted hot dogs, ate salt-and-vinegar Pringles and drank Yoohoo (now the official drink of camp!). Of course the boys had gotten their clothes wet down on the creek and we tried to dry them out.
By 7 p.m. Grant had gone into the tent and tried to go to bed, but when Cliff and I made hot chocolate and started roasting marshmallows he came out in his PJs to join us. By 9 o'clock we were all sound asleep in the tent.
Cliff woke me up some time between midnight and daybreak, whispering excitedly that there was an animal in our camp. He unzipped the tent a little, shone a flashlight outside and whispered a bit louder than it looked like a small bear! I put on my glasses and peered outside for myself and saw at least two hairy black tales with white stripes standing at attention, and made some comment about there being scarier things than bears! The temperature only dropped into the 40s overnight, but Cliff got up around sunrise saying he was too cold to sleep. Grant and I shared a sleeping bag and I don't recall ever being cold.
Cliff fried bacon and I made scrambled eggs, but when we went to make toast over the campfire we couldn't find the bread. Later we discovered the bag with a few pieces of bread remaining along a trail below camp. It was the only thing we hadn't packed away before going to bed, and the skunks had managed to drag it off the picnic table.
We left camp and drove to Lost Valley, just a few miles away. The boys were excited about hiking up the trail, and I had to remind them several times to slow own and not get too far ahead of me. I pointed out the Siamese Beeches to them, and naturally they crawled though the hole underneath the natural bridge. We went inside Cob Cave, then hiked up to the entrance of Eden Falls Cave. I brought along flashlights for the boys and they crawled inside, but my back was giving me problems so I waited outside. The boys loved Lost Valley and I'm sure they'll want to return.
We returned to Steele Creek and cooked ramen noodles and hot dogs for lunch, then broke down camp. We had a few hours of daylight left and the boys didn't want to start home yet, so we headed to one of my favorite spots on the Buffalo. A trail took off behind the western end of the campground to a deep emerald pool below the beginning of Roark Bluff. For a while we made a rock dam across the shallow shoal upstream of the pool, then the boys started wading upstream toward Bee Bluff looking for mussel shells. I got out the camera and shot a few pictures.
When we returned to the truck the boys were soaked. I let them think for a moment that they would have to endure the 2-hour drive home in those wet clothes, but I wouldn't have let them near the river if we didn't have dry clothes in the truck. The boys changed and we headed for home; they were both asleep within 20 minutes!
My first camping trip in three years, although brief, was as enjoyable as any, and I'm looking forward to many camping trips with the boys in years to come.