Fall Camping in Land Between the Lakes
Every year we meet up with my parents, our best friend, Nick, and his daughter. Sam, for a Fall camping trip. This year we selected Land Between the Lakes and carefully chose our weekend for an overnight trip. My husband, Donald, and I even went the weekend before and scouted back country camping sites, picking several in case others had the same idea.
Finally the weekend arrived but life started interfering with our plans. Issues arose that didn't allow Sam to come and more still that would prevent Nick from joining us until much later in the day. Alternative plans were made and directions given with a plan to text which site we ended up at.
More life happened and my Dad started feeling a bit ill. Okay no problem, just a little under the weather but reason enough for him to stay out of the chilly air. My Mom opted out also but we resolved to continue on, minus the canoe we had already loaded into the truck. Once we had conducted what felt like a fire drill on loading and unloading the canoe I decided to call my Mom back. We changed our plans again this time requiring my Mom to load up her Chevy Cruze with all her camping gear plus my 13 year old cousin, Ira, who had started living with them and meeting us at our home. My Dad just had a brake line repaired on the truck and wasn't comfortable letting Mom take off with it.
Once she arrived Saturday morning we transferred all of Mom's gear into our extended cab Chevy and headed off into Land Between the Lakes. Checking the events listing we noted a race in Grand Rivers and opted to enter through the South end. Making our way down Highway 68 we reached Aurora where everyone was setting up for the annual fall festival, Aurorafest. Everything seemed to be working against us but we pressed on through the throngs of people and traffic.
We stopped at the Golden Pond Visitor's Center for our back country camping permits and was again foiled by the fact they didn't sell fishing licenses. Plan modified once more, luckily my husband already had his and Ira was young enough not to require them so my Mom and I decided not to drive back out to Grand Rivers or Aurora to get ours.
Driving North on The Woodlands Trace we finally turned onto Old Ferry Road where we made our way towards the shores of Lake Barkley. Another turn after several miles had us bobbing down a rough, mostly gravel road till the lake was visible through the trees. It also quickly became visible our first pick for a back country campsite was taken.
We lumbered through a three point turn on the narrow road and headed back the way we had came. As luck would have it, our second pick was just a few miles away so we wheeled back on the blacktop of Old Ferry Road and deeper into Land Between the Lakes. Navigating several turns we were back on gravel and several minutes later we arrived at the second site to find it unoccupied.
Ira had never been camping, he had "camped" in a friends back yard but had never been on a real camping trip. We were all excited to have the honor of taking him on his first trip and quickly set about laying down the rules.
#1 No playing, no fishing, no laying around, etc till camp was set up. That means tents, fire pit, back country bathroom, and firewood collection all had to be done first.
#2 No whining or complaining, either will just earn you a hard way to go.
#3 Do not light the camp fire till closer to dark to conserve wood for the much cooler night.
#4 Once you think you have enough firewood, go gather 3 times more.
We set about to erecting camp on a small grassy area adjacent to the lake shore and in front of a dry inlet. The lakes had already been dropped to Winter pool by Tennessee Valley Authority and added to that Kentucky was in a bit of a drought. The lake shore here was muddy but firm enough in most areas to tread upon without sinking. It would do for fishing and that's exactly what Ira and Donald started doing once camp was completed.
My Mom and I set about putting the finishing touches on camp, organizing things, lighting Citronella candles to fend off the flies, and clearing away leaves from around the fire pit we had constructed. We spent the next several hours in camp fishing, milling about, and enjoying the beautiful Fall day we had been granted.
Someone, who shall remain nameless.....Mom, forgot her camp stove. I always try to bring a grate and as it happens it had been remembered this trip. When the time was right we started the camp fire then by using some large stones placed around it to form the pit with another smaller stone on the outside to trap the coals I made a campfire stove. Mom had been gracious enough to prepare homemade Beef stew in advance so all that was required was reheating.
After I doled out heaping bowls of steaming Beef stew with the sun getting low in the sky, Nick pulled into camp. We finished our meal before Donald began to help Nick set up his tent while the remainder of us piled into the truck and headed to the Elk and Bison Prairie. Not only had Ira not been camping but he had never seen Elk or Bison. There had been talk of a field trip at his school in Southern Illinois but nothing ever came of it so we made our own field trip.
The prairie had a line of cars waiting to enter, as usual in the Fall when the Elk are in rut and Ira speculated if we would get to see any. I let him know they animals were used to limited human interaction, such as vehicles and being in vehicles. He read the warning signs aloud as we took our turn entering the large motion sensor gate and over the metal grate that prevents the Elk and Bison from escaping.
We were immediately greeted with a large bull resting off the road several yards. Further on we heard a large bull Elk bugle and spied yet another in the tall dry grasses of the prairie just 40 yards off the the little one way road. Many people passed right on by, not noticing as the bulls natural colors camouflaged him. We pulled off the road, onto the shoulder so we could watch him for a bit and take a few pictures.
Continuing on we came to a full on Bison back up, along both sides of the road and meandering across it in places Bison were everywhere. We took full advantage of the back up, snapping pictures, taking a live Facebook video and watching young calves feed. Finally the Bison moved enough so the vehicles could start moving themselves, stopping every now and again to let another Bison cross the road.
Elk could be randomly spotted standing on the top of a ridge or grazing in open prairie, every now again you could hear the large bull calling somewhere off in the distance. Nearing the back side of the prairie, after a dry creek crossing, there were several cow Elk milling about just yards off the road with one even coming right up to the informative exhibit.
Ira had such an amazing time on the first trip around he wanted to circle the prairie again, so we did. This time the Bison had worked themselves into a field and off the road except a few who lingered behind wallowing in dirt, kicking up dust.
Making our way by them we once again spied a few Elk dotting the prairie but this time on the backside the large bull was visible, standing high on a ridge overlooking his heard and bugling on occasion as if to gather them up as darkness began to descend upon them.
As we made our way towards the exit we once more encountered the Bison herd making their way across the road again back towards the more forested area of the prairie. A text came across my phone so I took advantage of the stoppage only to see it was from Donald. He was informing I had his back country permit in my wallet. I quickly realized he wouldn't be legal if checked without me there. I immediately responded with an "OMW". We ended our field trip and as we headed back toward the gates we passed the Wildlife official coming to close the prairie down.
As darkness descended I hightailed it back North to our campsite arriving to find that thankfully no Wildlife official had been by. We sat around the fire as the chilly night settled in around us and begun a bit of telling ghost stories of sorts. Ira wasn't very keen on it so we kept the stories to local lore of the area and interestingly enough a pack of coyotes began to howl shortly afterward.
Throughout the evening the coyotes would call out, one pack to our West and another to the East, talking back and forth on occasion. Donald, Nick, and I had never heard coyotes in Land Between the Lakes in the numbers we heard them that night. I had scarcely seen or heard one since moving to Kentucky nearly 20 years previous. They were of no concern to us even with our little pup, Kennedy with us. Nearing bed time the coyotes started their revelry with the East pack sounding very close to camp. We still paid no mind, Kennedy thought about barking back at them and then thought better of it.
Donald, Kennedy, and I took ourselves to bed in our tent with my Mom turning into her tent not shortly after. Ira and Nick stayed up for some time talking around the campfire then trying some night fishing to no avail. Finally after some time they turned in for the night and the camp was quiet.
I don't know about you but even with an air mattress I don't sleep well when camping. I wake up periodically throughout the night before falling back to sleep and repeating the cycle. During one of these awake periods I could tell Donald wasn't asleep either but said nothing. I just laid there listening to the soft snores coming form the tents around me when suddenly I heard something walking in the woods behind the tents. It was a steady, four legged gait just beyond the dry wash. The sound of leaves crunching steadily through the forest until it stopped just quickly as it started. I knew it had entered the wash behind the tents and whispered to Donald to confirm he heard it as well. Moments later it could be heard entering camp from along the lake shore, crunching on the leaves that were scattered about behind our camp chairs. The sound of a grocery bag rustling, a bag Ira had left lying next to his chair, it rustled only for a few seconds before the sound ceased. The animal then made it's way out of camp exiting towards the West and I made my way back to sleep.
The next morning I made a bathroom call while Donald scouted the lake shore for tracks and he found paw prints, the tracks of a coyote. The pack had sent in a scout in once camp had been quiet for some time, finding nothing, they had left us alone the remainder of the night.
We took some time to rebuild the fire and warm up before Nick had to break down his tent and bail off back into life. The rest of us set about to some morning fishing, breaking camp and cooking a breakfast of sausage links and flap jacks. Our bellies tamed we finished tearing down camp, packing everything up and headed out of Land Between the Lakes.
Ira had such a wonderful time on his first camping trip he's ready for another. I'm so glad we pressed on despite everything. There were so many obstacles to overcome and so many times we had to change our plans but again we have learned you just have to roll with things or they will knock you off course. In the end we had an amazing time camping, enjoying each others company, the wildlife and being in nature.
Remember, Adventure Awaits!!