Pine Lake State Park – In Photographs

My family spent last weekend camping at Pine Lake State Park near Eldora, IA.  The park is less than an hour from us and an easy drive…the kids didn’t even request electronic devices until we were almost there.  I love camping trips for the family and outdoors time, but also for the opportunity to practice my craft in a new environment.  When you are camping and hiking, there is no breaking out a reflector, waiting for the perfect light, or posing your subject in a gorgeous outfit!  You just have to work with what you’ve got =)

Wind turbines in central Iowa

We spent most of our time fishing and hiking, with a little park time for the kiddos thrown in.

family fishing beside stream

The fishermen in the family managed to reel in a few small bass and bluegill and we were entertained watching a few fish attempt to jump up the spillway at the upper lake.

We hiked from the campground down and all the way around the lower lake on Saturday and took the trail up along the other side of the upper lake Sunday morning.  The kids did a great job in their new-this-season hiking boots, with very little complaining on even the 3+ mile hike!  My feet, on the other hand, were grumpy in my several-years-old tennies.

Canada Goose hissing Spillway at lower lake

crumbling brige at end of trail on upper lake

We discovered lots of spring wildflowers and talked about edible plants and our rule regarding them (always ask a knowledgeable adult to verify first!)  We discussed littering (again), and we found (and tried to explain) a park boundary benchmark.

First camping trip of the season…success!siblings on lake shoreline Lone Pine Tree

play area at state park


Monday Morning Exploring

child looking into water from metal culvert

My son and I went for a drive the other day out past Dunkerton toward the Wapsipinicon River.  I’m not sure what my motivation was, location scouting under the guise of outdoor adventure or the other way around, but we threw my boy’s bike in the trunk and went off in search of county parks.

We stopped at Mickey Fox Wildlife Area (I would recommend a vehicle with higher clearance than my car, possibly 4 wheel drive, and rubber boots).  We hiked around a little here, exploring the creeks and riverbanks and looking for animal tracks, while making sure to stay within view of our vehicle since it was an unfamiliar area without marked trails.

From here we ventured just a bit farther down the road to Cutshall Area.  Part of the park road was underwater but easy to get around so we walked down a short river access trail.  We could hear chorus frogs singing like mad, but we never caught sight of them.  We did see lots of deer tracks, beaver stumps, and our first woodland flower of the year!  Anyone have an ID on this one?

One thing that is important to me when we go outdoor exploring is teaching my kids (or whoever is with me) to become familiar with and respect the environment they are in.  There is so much that I have yet to learn, but at least getting them started identifying different bird and tree species, finding animal tracks and signs, and learning basic safety and survival skills piques their interest and encourages them to learn more (I hope)!  Today we talked about having water and snacks with you while hiking, and letting someone know exactly where you will be going.

This was such a fun morning adventure (and successful location scout)…I’m thinking we’ll be doing this more often!

Biking the Dirt Trails – George Wyth State Park

boy wearing ninga turtle bike helmet on dirt trail


For my family, spring brings with it an urge to get outdoors, breathe in some fresh air, and stretch some under-used muscles.  Last weekend we headed out to George Wyth State Park in Waterloo to hit the trails for some cardio/family time!

We ended up parking in the lot outside the campground, walked through checking out the sites (for later this summer), then hooked onto the paved multi-use trail.  Maybe a hundred yards in, a dirt trail veered off to the left, and on a whim I asked the kids if they wanted to try it out.  The boys (my son and nephew) jumped at the chance and took off, my daughter running alongside them.Biking-George-Wyth-Park-Waterloo-Iowa-2

This was soo much fun!  There was like…joy, radiating off those kids!  There were huge grins as they flew down the hills and made it back up, bounced off roots and managed to recover balance, even as they stopped to look back and check on each other (and us slow poke adults), or pick up their bikes and dust off their hands.


Along the way, we somehow managed to see (scare up) 3 deer, saw lots of big holes dug and several trees downed by beaver, and had an interesting conversation about litter, flooding, and water contamination.

Exercise, wildlife watching, environmental responsibility lessons, and family time; I’m calling that a good day!Biking-George-Wyth-Park-Waterloo-Iowa-10

Amish Country Experience

draft horse in amish country

We spent a recent morning visiting the shops in “Amish Country” between Fairbank and Hazelton, IA.  Driving just a few miles east from Highway 63 you’ll soon encounter buggies alongside the road, a sure sign that you have entered the Amish area.  There are several shops in the surrounding miles with offerings ranging from baked goods, bulk foods/spices, and discount groceries, to kitchen equipment, homeopathic remedies, work boots, fabric, and furniture.  In the spring, the nurseries and greenhouses will be open as well.

You’ll have fun exploring the shops, spotting the different types of livestock, and explaining to your kids a bit about Amish culture.

If you are planning a trip there, the Independence Area Chamber of Commerce has a great map and list of the shops at their site.