Copper Breaks State Park | October 2021

We spent Halloween weekend at Copper Breaks State Park, located up near the Oklahoma border in Quanah. It's a rugged, quiet park with a lot to offer! We did a ton of hiking, tried our hand at fishing, and marveled at the magnificent night skies that this International Dark Sky Park boasts. If you're into mountain biking, most of the trails allowed bikes, in addition to foot (and for some, equestrian) traffic. If you're planning a trip to visit Copper Breaks State Park, here's a little bit about our experience!

Hiking

We hiked six of the trails in Copper Breaks, which is more than half of them! We really liked that the trails offered a variety of views, terrain, and difficulty levels!

  • River Run + Rocky Ledges Trails - moderate to challenging, the River Run wasn't too bad but Rocky Ledges had a lot of rocky terrain, navigating between big rocks, etc. Worth it for the views, though!
  • Equestrian Trail - a longer hike for those that want it! We did this one Saturday morning. Easy terrain, very quiet. We didn't see a single other person on the trail!
  • Thirsty Horse trail - super easy for kids! Very short at only 0.3 miles. Leads you to a little lake.
  • Bull Canyon Homesteader + Short Loop Trails - moderate, really pretty as you go into Bull Canyon. Some areas had more difficult terrain than others!

I highly recommend all the trails that we did. With some long, some short, some difficult, some easy, you're pretty much guaranteed to find one that works for you and your family!

Fishing

We don't fish too often, but they were selling kid's fishing poles in the gift shop and Lily decided she wanted one so we gave it a go! There is a small fishing pier that we fished on. They were sold out of bait so we used grasshoppers that we caught and some deli turkey. We're nothing if not resourceful. We didn't have a whole lot of luck, only catching one fish, but I hiiiiiiiiighly recommend evening fishing and watching the sunset on the pier. It was absolutely stunning. The colors were so vibrant and they reflected off the surface of the still water. So lovely.

Camping

We camped in the Comanche loop. I love the shade shelters that they have! They're so cool looking. However, there were very few trees in this area, so no shade and nowhere to hang the hammock, which was tragic. We were in a site right by the playground and Lily made some friends and played Among Us on the monkey bars and slide. Some of the other campgrounds looked superior in terms of aesthetics, but Comanche is the only one with electric hook-ups.

Stargazing

I wish they had held some astronomy programs or something, but hooooooooooooooooooooooooooboy, Copper Breaks has some pretty amazing night skies. They rival the skies I had when I lived in Fort Davis. Night sky darkness is rated on what is called the Bortle scale. The scale runs from 1 (super, super dark) to 9 (cities). Copper Breaks has a Bortle rating of 2, so almost as good as it gets!

We would definitely consider going back to Copper Breaks! We had a lovely, relaxing time out in the rugged landscape of North Texas!


Ramblings | 3 Things This Park Ranger Wants You to Know

Please be nice to us! | We all work so hard and we are underpaid and it sucks when someone gets mad at you for things like the weather or bugs or that something is closed. 99% of the time, it is legitimately something that we have absolutely NO control over. It's not our fault! We are doing the best we can! I'm not saying don't complain or get sassy if a staff member is giving subpar customer service or something (which hopefully doesn't happen very often), but just don't do it for things that we can't control please!

Please visit a location's website before coming! | Look up what the hours of operation are. If you're not sure, call and ask! I know a lot of people come SO excited to explore and they show up at closing and then get upset with US. ALL of the essential information about where you are going can generally be found on the first page of the website. Taking a few minutes to read it through will prevent disappointment and frustration on your end (and ours!). We get it, last minute things happen and a lot of people just pull in off the highway out of curiosity, but please understand it's not our fault if we are closed when you arrive late in the day.

We are all still learning. | Yes, that includes us park rangers. I literally make a living working in the outdoor industry and there are sooooo many things that I have never done and things I know nothing about. Don't feel any pressure or think that you have to know everything before you go out on an adventure. We are all learning as we go (and hopefully having a fucking great time learning and growing... I sure am!). Literally yesterday evening before I wrote this, we went hiking at Enchanted Rock and I fell into a FUCKING CACTUS. I've been picking little spines out of my hands and arm all evening. Shit happens. Don't let it bother you, just laugh at yourself. I fall down in front of people out in parks more often than I'd like to admit. It is what it is. The moral of the story is - don't let that stop you!

Okay, that's all I can think of right now. Maybe there will be a second volume in the future.


Tips & Tricks | Learning to Fish

We have been spending more time practicing our angling skills lately. We are 100% not experts, not even close. I used to lead Fishing with a Ranger programs when I worked at Mustang Island State Park and I faked it the entire time. Luckily, we rarely caught anything. I still remember one time during a program where it was just me and one gentleman and we were both fishing and chatting. All of a sudden, I felt a huge tug on my line and proceeded to reel in a giant Redfish! My hands were shaking from the adrenaline. We measured it to make sure it was legal & I gave it to the guy for dinner. 

Anyways, I don't have any real knowledge when it comes to fishing. I don't know how to tie proper knots, I panic when I have to remove hooks, and I'm always terrified that I am going to get spined when I handle a fish. I really only know how to use a push-button reel (I even had to google to see what they were called).  It's been quite a learning curve, but even still in the beginning stages, there are a few lessons that we learned pretty quickly! If you're just getting into fishing (or are interested in starting), read our tips below to avoid our rookie mistakes!

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Learn how to properly bait a hook

We lose a lot of bait pretty regularly, but are starting to learn how to prevent that and to have a better success rate with hooking the fish. Don't use too much bait, just enough to cover the hook. With worms, I try to thread the hook through them, or at least try to have multiple points where the hook goes through to make sure it's more secure and less likely to come loose. Different types of bait can call for some different techniques, but if you're having issues... Google it!

Bring needle-nosed pliers with you

We definitely learned this one the hard way. It's relatively simple to unhook a fish when the hook has just gone through its 'lip' (do fish have lips...???), but if you gut-hook a fish (the hook goes into its stomach), it becomes much more difficult to remove and you often need some pliers to reach into the fish to get a hold of the hook. This happened to us recently and I had to call my boss and ask him to stop on his way home from the park to help us out with his multi-tool! Poor fish ended up dying because of the struggle.

A friend of mine that is an avid fly fisher recommended hemostats vs. pliers. We bought some to throw into the tackle box, but any old pair of needle nosed pliers from your toolbox is just fine if you don't want to buy anything new!

A pair of work gloves doesn't hurt either

We have been catching a lot of perch (aka Bluegill) and they've got spines on their back and belly (dorsal fins and ventral and anal fins, respectively). Manhandling them barehanded makes me a little nervous. I'm sure experienced anglers don't think twice about it, but a pair of gloves made me feel just a little bit less at risk of getting stabbed. If you don't have gloves, try to grip near the head and slide your hand back to the middle of its body, compressing the fins as you move.

Get a small tackle box with just a few extra supplies stocked so your day doesn't end prematurely

We snagged our line the other day and lost the hook and, stupidly, we didn't have any extras. Soooo... that was that. Time to go home. As soon as we got home, I ordered a small tackle box with the basics - hooks in varying sizes, swivels (little clip things), floats, weights... you get the picture. We got our tackle box off of Amazon (booooo Jeff Bezos) for $10. 

Learn how to tie ONE knot

You can use a basic shoe-tying knot (is there a specific name for that? I don't know), but there are some knots that are a bit stronger and better for fishing! One that I learned and is literally the only one I use (well, because it's the only one I know), is the Clinch Knot. Seems to work well enough for the basic fishing that we are doing and it's pretty easy!

 

An important thing to remember is that it isn't about perfection and knowing everything! Learning is part of the fun and you've got to accept that, when you're just starting something new, you're going to make mistakes and screw up. Embrace it and enjoy learning how to fish!


Ramblings | Overcoming Fear

It's been a long time since I've been scared in the outdoors. As you spend more time in nature, you learn it. You become intimately familiar with it. The rustling of leaves at night, the unknown sounds, the dark - you have spent so much time with it, that it is no longer unknown. Fear of the unknown is a powerful thing. It's something that I find myself facing as I think about one of our next trips. Our first backpacking trip. I'm not sure why it is causing me so much anxiety. We aren't going anywhere terribly remote. I'm fairly certain we will probably have cell service the entire time should something happen. But for some reason, I am scared.

Doing something new is scary. Getting out of your comfort zone is scary. But let's be honest with ourselves, most of things that we are anxious or scared about (public speaking, a nerve-wracking meeting at work, etc) just about always end up being okay. And when it has passed, you breathe a huge sigh of relief. It's over. I did it. That wasn't so bad.

How to get to the point where you can just do it? I wish I had an easy answer. For everyone it will be different. I think in general, removing as much of the 'unknown' as possible can help. This is one reason why I research my trips in detail. I'm an anxious person by nature and equipping myself with knowledge gives me some semblance of control (and I like to be in control). Don't let your imagination run away with you. I often (like, way too often) find myself worrying about murderers and dying and terrible things happening. It's a problem, I'm working on it. I often have to reel my thoughts back in and convince myself to be more realistic. Sometimes it's as simple as finding something else to focus my thoughts on. Meditation, singing, etc.

Ultimately, I have found that the best way out is through. Facing your fears can be SUCH an empowering thing. That saying "Do something every day that scares you" is popular for a reason. While I don't know that I would like to spend every day in a state of anxiety, I do think that the most growth happens by facing the thing you're afraid of - the hard conversation you have to have, the spider, the outdoors. Whatever that thing is for you. You don't have to jump into the deep end right away. If you need to slowly desensitize yourself, do it. There is no 'right' way to do this. You have to do what works for you. If you're scared of getting outside, start small. Start in a group. Start close by. Start in a cabin. You don't have to enjoy nature in the same way anyone else does. Find what you enjoy and are comfortable with and keep building upon yourself, pushing yourself a little farther each time.

Starting this business was scary. Putting yourself out there is scary. Doing the thing you've always wanted to do but have been too scared to do is, well, SCARY. But damn, it is empowering. I've always loved writing but never thought I was good enough to do it seriously. Or maybe I just was too scared to be judged. But I finally realized... I want to do this for ME, not for anyone else. So... here we are! 

Take the plunge. Do the thing. You only live once, don't let fear get in your way.


Two Week Travels | California

With October in full swing, I am reminiscing about the many fall trips we've taken. Utah, Colorado, New England, and, most recently, California. We spent about a week and half exploring some of California's National Parks shortly before COVID-19 became a thing. Our route took us in a big misshapen circle, hitting five parks (and spending Thanksgiving in Pasadena). Instead of heading back towards LA after Death Valley, you could easily pop over to Joshua Tree and then sub in Channel Island National Park for time spent in LA!

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Ramblings | Healing

Nature has played a huge role in my mental health. As I finally sought help for my anxiety, I simultaneously became VERY intentional about our traveling. It was sporadic before - maybe going on a couple of weekend camping trips a year and one big trip. Now, I need a weekend of camping pretty much every month in order to feel sane, to feel productive, to feel restored. I've stopped feeling guilty about taking time off of work. It is my leave and I have earned it and, by using it, I end up being a better employee. Feeling rested and relaxed increases my productivity. It boosts my mood. It is now part of my arsenal of tools in my journey towards acceptance, love, dreams, and cultivating the life I want. 

Nature has always been a place where I could go to be myself. Nature doesn't judge. Nature doesn't care if you're fat or thin or pretty or dumb or seriously un-funny or boring or the most amazing person in the world. Nature doesn't give a shit. It doesn't expect anything of you, nor does it care about your status. Out here, we are all equal. Nature is like an old friend who is always there to make you feel better, even if its just sitting with you while you process something. An old friend that, no matter how long it has been since you've spent time together, it feels like no time has passed at all and you pick right back up where you left off. 

It's a pretty powerful thing to feel like you are truly embracing everything about yourself. You don't have to pretend, you don't need filters, you don't need perfection or flawlessness. You are raw. You are open. You are vulnerable. You are beautiful, magnificent, unabashedly YOU. It took me a really long time to feel okay with that. Nature led the way, along with Wellbutrin (heyoooo). With each step on each trail, my confidence climbed right there along with me. With every landscape I gazed on, I gained appreciation. Appreciation of every single one, each different from the others. Not less or more beautiful, not better or worse, just different. Just like us humans. 

"Healing doesn't happen in a straight line" is a lyric that really struck a chord with me recently (thanks Kacey Musgraves). I felt it in my bones. To me, that wandering path of healing is a path I walk on every time I am out on a trail. Step by step, day by day. Walk your path and keep going, even if you fall and get mud all over yourself. 


Meridian State Park | September 2021

As the transition of the seasons loomed on the horizon, we wanted to get one final summer camping trip in. We headed just north of Waco to Meridian State Park. One of many CCC parks in the state, Meridian was opened to the public in 1935 and is a great place for outdoor recreation. On land, you can bike, hike, camp, picnic, and enjoy some beauuuutiful overlooks! On water, you can kayak, fish, and swim. Unfortunately, the lake was closed while we were there due to a toxic algae bloom, but despite not being able to swim, we had a fabulous time. We were able to get our fill of swimming just a hop, skip, and a jump away at Dinosaur Valley State Park.

We wrote more about our visit in a guest post on the Wander Wheels TX blog! Check it out here!

Meridian | September 2021


Tips & Tricks | Beginning your Outdoor Adventures

Want to start getting outside but don't really know where to start or what to do or what you need or where to go?! Phwew. It's okay - take a deep breath. There are so many resources at your fingertips for you to get all the information that you need!

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Me on my first ever outdoor excursion. JK this will never be me and that's okay. This doesn't have to be what outdoor recreation looks like for you. Image by Lionello DelPiccolo

No one knows everything, especially not right when they are first starting. We are all beginners in the beginning, duh! There will be a learning curve, embrace it. Hell, laugh at it if you want! One time, we went camping at Inks Lake and the ground was too rocky for me to push in the tent stakes with my hand like I normally did. I didn't own a mallet yet so I tried to find anything I possibly could to get the damn stakes in the ground. Our tent had zero structure without being staked down - it was a one pole tent that didn't stand unless it was staked! We would have been sleeping in the car if I wasn't able to overcome this situation that I wasn't prepared for! I did finally get them in with a rock (after bending multiple cheap stakes) and proceeded to purchase some high quality stakes and a mallet as soon as we got home.

Point being, you're going to have snafus. It's inevitable. It's part of learning. Embrace them and know that they aren't the end of the world. To ease any hesitations you might have, here are some great ways to ease into making outdoor explorations a regular part of your family routine!

START SMALL!

No need to go on a 10 mile hike or week long camping trip for your first attempt. A great way to start getting outside and exploring is to just do it in your neighborhood or at a local park! You can still find birds, bugs, plants, and more without going far or getting overwhelmed! You can find great local parks with a simple Google search of "local parks near _______" and include your location. Local parks are great for bike riding, walking, observing nature, playing sports, and more!

GUIDED PROGRAMS

Another great way to get your feet wet in nature in a safe and controlled way is to attend a guided program! Most Texas State Parks offer some form of interpretive programming - you can look for events on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Event Calendar to find something near you that seems interesting! Many of the listings detail out what you need to bring, what kind of shoes to wear, etc so that you can come prepared appropriately! It's great to start learning about outdoor recreation by being with an experienced person that is literally there to show you what to do, help you, and answer all of your burning questions!

TEXAS OUTDOOR FAMILY

For a long time, working for Texas Outdoor Family was my dream job. Then, I became a parent and it wasn't feasible for me to be away so often, but I am still a huge supporter for this program and what it does! For anyone who isn't familiar with this program, it is a introductory workshop that takes people camping, often times for the first time! If you're sort of on the fence about whether or not you're going to even like camping, this is a great way to figure that out without having to invest in a bunch of gear. They provide the tent, cots, sleeping pads, lanterns, stoves, and cooking supplies! All you have to bring is bedding, any personal items, and food (and your sense of adventure of course!). You'll learn how to pitch a tent, build a fire, and cook outdoors, plus a wide variety of outdoor activities, including geocaching, kayaking, hiking, swimming, fishing.... the list goes on and on! Activities vary in each workshop. Workshops are offered all over the state and at $95 for up to six people it's a pretty affordable way to give the outdoors a try!

WANDER WHEELS

Wander Wheels is another great company that helps you get outside without having to invest in a ton of gear! They've got loads of information on their website AND they offer gear rental  so you can get on the trails or out camping without having to spend hundreds of dollars on equipment! We are considering renting a backpacking tent from their for our first trip. Honestly, we should have rented packs, too, instead of buying them just so we could give backpacking a try without too much money on the line, but we had the REI gift card and felt pretty confident we'd enjoy it so we made the investment.

ONLINE RESOURCES

There are SO many amazing resources online that can help you learn more about nature and outdoor recreation! Some of my favorites are:

If you have any recommendations on excellent resources to add to this list, let me know!

Getting outside doesn't have to be scary or intense or overwhelming! It doesn't have to be extreme or expensive or exhausting. Experiment with some small activities and work your way up, keeping what works and what is enjoyable and nixing the stuff that isn't! And, as always, if you have any questions, my electronic door is always open!


Lake Somerville State Park | August 2021

We spent the last weekend of August checking another park off our list - Lake Somerville State Park. Less than 2 hours away from both Austin and Houston, this park is a great option for a weekend getaway! Lake Somerville State Park actually has more than one unit - there is the Birch Creek unit at the northern end of the lake, the Nails Creek unit at the south, and the Trailway which connects the two. There is also a public hunting unit nearby. We stayed at Nails Creek in the Bent Tree camping area.

For a summer weekend, the park was unbelievably quiet. There were only a handful of other campers and next to no traffic on the roads. That made it perfect for bike riding! Bike riding is especially great in this park because because the park is so small - you can get everywhere easily via bike. The helpful front desk clerk recommend the Rocky Creek Day Use Area for swimming. That was the first place we headed when we arrived on Friday. The swimming was okay. It was pretty shallow and the water was warm so I felt like I was taking a bath, but we sat in the water for a while until it started to thunder.

What the park lacked in quality swimming, it made up for in quality hiking. Between the units, there are more than 40 miles of trails! It was really beautiful. The trails are very well designed and many times we felt like we were in the middle of nowhere, even though we weren't far from the developed areas. That was a really nice feature of the trail routes. The Somerville Trailway that connects the Birch Creek and Nails Creek units is about 13 miles long and has numerous backcountry camping sites along the way. We explored the trailway about three miles in and were very happy with our experience. We will absolutely be back to explore the backcountry more and do a couple of days of backpacking! I highly recommend hitting up this park for the excellent hiking.

Wildlife was abundant, which I am sure was aided by the fact that it was so quiet while we were there. We saw loads of White-tailed deer, bunnies, lots of birds, a couple of snakes, and a plethora of dragonflies and butterflies.This park is made for equestrian use and the campsites had very nice horse pens at them. Most of the trails in Nails Creek allow horses and they are allowed on the Trailway, as well. There is a small fishing pond located near the Cedar Creek camping area and you can borrow Loaner Tackle at Headquarters for free!

One thing to note is that the campground bathrooms are closed currently, but they have decent trailer restrooms/showers in place. The Bent Tree restroom trailer only offered toilets, but the Cedar Creek camping restroom set up also had showers. They weren't the best, but they did the job! Let's be real, we don't go camping expecting hotel-style bathrooms. Throw on a pair of flip flops and you'll be fine. The water is hot, the showers are private, and you'll be fresh and ready for your next adventure!

Overall, we really enjoyed our time at Lake Somerville! I hate to say that I was surprised, but I kind of was. I didn't go into the weekend thinking it was going to be crappy or anything, I just had never heard much about the park so I figured it'd just be average. It was definitely above average. We hiked pretty much all the trails + part of the trailway (putting in about 9 miles total for the weekend), rode bikes to our hearts' content, and lounged in the hammock enjoying the breeze and sunshine. Keep this park on your list - you won't regret it!

Lake Somerville State Park | August 2021


Tips & Tricks | 5 Great Apps for Exploring the Outdoors

While we venture outside to disconnect from the busy world around us, sometimes there are pieces of that world that can help make our outdoor adventures more enjoyable and safer. Here are five apps for your phone that can help you plan your next excursion and have a great time outdoors!

 

Texas State Parks app

Texas State Parks app

Cost: Free

Offline capabilities: kind of

The official Texas State Parks app has all the park information you could need right at your finger tips. You can filter for whichever outdoor activity you're looking for to find a park that has what you want OR use the map to find parks that are located nearby! The app allows access to park maps, photos, operating information, and more! You can create a list of your favorite parks for easy access in the future, too. One of my favorite features is that you can see up-to-date park alerts like burn bans, closures, road conditions, etc.

Not all features are accessible offline so I always make sure to download park maps, trail maps, and any other things I may need or want ahead of time so I don't have to worry about having cell service to download them when I'm out on the trail or at a campsite with no signal!

 

National Park Service app

NPS app

Cost: Free

Offline capabilities: yes

Similar to the Texas State Parks app, the National Park Service app offers information about all of the NPS sites in one place. While you cannot use it with no connectivity, you have the ability to save park information for offline use. You can save all of the parks that you are planning on visiting so that you don't have to worry about whether or not you can access them once you arrive! This app has great information for each park, including recommendations on things to do, trail information, amenities, nearby attractions, and in-app self-guided tours! If you have service, the app will automatically show you the closest parks to you, which is a handy feature, as well.

 

AllTrails app

AllTrails

Cost: Free; Pro membership:  $29.99 per year

Offline capabilities: yes

AllTrails has been a lifesaver when it comes to planning our trips! I can find hikes in the places that we are going and make our 'to hike' list based on trail ratings and distances. I also read reviews and check out the photos from fellow hikers. It's easy to create lists for separate trips so they are easily accessible once you arrive at your destination.I also love that it has categories for dog friendly areas, ADA accessibility, and biking.

When we are at a trailhead ready to go, I turn on the navigation feature so that I can log the hike in my account, too! It's not only a good way for me to track where we've been and what we've done, but I can also use it as a trail journal and share any insights about the trail that could help other people planning on making the hike. Aaaand, not going to lie, the navigation feature has helped prevent me from getting us too off course when I accidentally make a wrong turn somewhere.

The free version has all the features that we need, but if you want more, the Pro version includes downloadable maps, real time overlays to show weather, air quality, pollen, and more, and a feature that allows friends and family to track you in real time for safety purposes!

 

INaturalist appiNaturalist

Cost: Free

Offline capabilities: no

iNaturalist is a really cool app that can help you identify all the amazing things that you might find during your explorations! The best part is that with each observation you submit, you're contributing to a huge citizen science database! All you need to do is snap a photo of your specimen and iNaturalist will use the location info with the image to help you figure out what it could be!  While you DO need internet connection to submit your observations and get identification suggestions, I usually will take photos along the trail and then upload them at a later time when connectivity is better. It's an excellent way to not only enjoy the beauty of nature, but also to learn more about it!

 

Red Cross app

Red Cross First Aid

Cost: Free

Offline capabilities: yes

No matter how well prepared you are, accidents do happen. While I always recommend having a basic first aid kit on hand, the Red Cross First Aid app can help guide you through some common emergency situations. It's always good to review some of the information ahead of time, too, so your memory is refreshed before heading out into nature. This app can come in handy for more than just outdoor exploration, too! Accidents can happen anywhere and having this app readily accessible can help you to deal with them as they come, even if you forget what to do in the moment.

I highly recommend downloading all of these apps and having them accessible when you need them! They all are free (or have free versions) so what are you waiting for?

Do you have any favorite apps that you love to use in the outdoors?