This past weekend, I had the exhilarating experience of participating in the Women Outdoors Weekend (abbreviated WOW) at Lake Catherine State Park, near Hot Springs ( www.ArkansasStateParks.com ) A few years back, I attended a similar event closer to my home, at the Bull Shoals/White River State Park. That was SO MUCH FUN, that I decided to attend again, but do so in a different location, so I could explore another one of Arkansas' beautiful state parks!
Our "headquarters" for all the activities was a YURT, that is available for rentals within the park campgrounds. I learned that YURT is an abbreviation for "Year-round Universal Recreational Tent. It was surrounded by picnic tables, a fire pit, and an outdoor water source, and directly across the street from the shower house and restrooms. The inside of the YURT was equipped with tables, lights, bunk beds, fans, and ELECTRICITY!! The electricity was especially helpful for keeping our camera batteries and phone batteries charged up. The covered location was also a comfortable refuge when it started raining on Saturday morning!
It was only the instructors who slept in the YURT, and the rest of us slept in tents. The fee we paid included all of the equipment needed, although each camper brought their own sleeping bag. This photo shows my tent for the two nights I was there, and the good thing was I did not have to set it up! It was already set up when I arrived!
Our fee also included all of our meals, and Friday night's meal was a demonstration of Dutch oven cooking. My new friend, Veronica and I, were in charge of mixing the ingredients for a meatloaf, that was later put into a Dutch oven for baking.
The State Parks employee who led the Dutch oven demonstration is shown here, checking the status of charcoal briquettes, which were counted out to put around the Dutch ovens. She traveled from the newest addition to the Arkansas system----The Mississippi River State Park (where she serves as Superintendent), to provide us a fascinating history program about the origins of this type of meal preparation.
Our menu for Friday night included meatloaf, garlic/cheddar biscuits, macaroni and cheese, fresh green beans, and S'More Fudge Pie. Needless to say, it was delicious!
Many of the campsites at Lake Catherine State Park are right at the water's edge, making for a picturesque and relaxing setting.
On Saturday morning, the WOW leader, Cheryl Vincent ( who serves as the Assistant Superintendent at Lake Catherine State Park), prepared scrambled eggs, with green peppers and onions, which we put over tortillas, along with cheese and salsa, to make breakfast burritos. There was also hot coffee available at 6 am in the morning for early risers, and plenty of fresh fruit throughout the weekend.
After breakfast, the "Gear Girl" (aka, Justine Baker) from Ozark Outdoor Supply in Little Rock ( www.ozarkoutdoor.com ), gave an EXCELLENT presentation on items helpful to have in a daypack, when one goes hiking. All of the participants extended a big THANK YOU to Ozark Outdoor Supply ( as well as the Lake Catherine State Park gift shop) for a goodie bag that was full of helpful items for an outdoor adventure. I was especially glad to receive the Deuter sport Wash Bag ( www.deuterusa.com ), which is the perfect size for serving as my "priss up kit" when camping, as it has a hook to allow it to hang on a loop inside my tent.
After the gear demonstration, we headed out on Falls Branch Trail. This was where we could see some of the volunteer work done by an organization I belong to, called Arkansas Master Naturalists ( www.home.arkansasmasternaturalists.org ) . Each year, they choose a state park to assist, by providing volunteers skilled at trail building/trail repair. Cheryl said the bridge in this photo is one of many water crossings in the park, that were repaired by Master Naturalists.
Although the weather forecast said there was zero percent chance of rain, we got soaked on the entire route to the waterfalls. This would explain why us ladies look like we are participating in a wet t-shirt contest! Of course, "Gear Girl" had her waterproof jacket, while the rest of us, got drenched! The up side of the rain, however, was that it meant there was a bit of water coming over the falls, which is usually just a trickle at this time of year.
A historical marker near the entrance to the trails referenced a Biblical Psalm, which prompted me to see how it was paraphrased in The Message. The part that "jumped out at me" (because one of our "Leave No Trace" guidelines during the weekend encouraged hikers not to veer off the trail) was from Psalm 119:3 and says "That's right---you don't go off on your own; you walk straight along the road he set." This is good advice, whether it is on the trail in the woods, or the trail of life!
After our hike, we had a delicious lunch of sandwiches, pasta salad, assorted fresh vegetables, and fresh fruit. With my training as a Registered Dietitian, and leader of a healthy living class ( www.FirstPlace4Health.com ), I was very thankful that the meals were planned to provide plenty of healthy food choices.
After lunch, "Gear Girl" gave us a demonstration of the items needed for backpacking, and how to properly place the items into a backpack.
Justine had a device where each of us could be measured to get a backpack, perfectly suited to each individual's height and body build.
After the sample back pack was completely filled with all the items one would need for an overnight backpacking trip, she let those who wanted to, walk around in it, to see how it felt. This photo of me carrying the bulging back pack, reminded me of a friend of mine, who once said, she did not like the idea of carrying her house around on her back, and could not understand why any one would want to do such a thing! I have to admit, "it ain't easy"!!
Our next activity was to rendezvous on the lakeshore, beside the marina, for kayaking. Cheryl Vincent gave an excellent class on proper kayaking techniques, as well as the appropriate items to carry with you, in your kayak. Then we spent an enjoyable afternoon exploring one of the numerous tree-lined coves, that are within the park boundaries.
My favorite activity of the afternoon, was getting to try the relatively new sport of "Standup Paddle Boarding". Thanks to Ozark Outdoor Supply ( who sells the paddle boards ) and Justine, who carried the board on top of her car to the park, anyone who wanted to was able to attempt it. I was delighted that I managed to paddle around the cove without falling in!! In this photo, newbie paddler, Veronica, outshined us all, by doing some of her yoga stances, all while standing precariously on the board!! We were impressed!
Our last activity for the weekend, included an outing on one of the pontoon boats that the park has available for rental. Our leader, Cheryl Vincent, teaches boating safety courses, and was our "Captain". She also allowed those who wanted to, try their hand at steering the boat around the lake. Cheryl gave a fascinating history of the park, as we drove by the Henry Couch property. He is the one responsible for the donation of the land that made the park possible. His daughter was named Catherine, which is the origin of the name of the lake. If spending a weekend outdoors, in one of the beautiful Arkansas State Parks, in the presence of some fascinating women, is something that interests you, then put the second weekend in October on your calendar for 2014! Participating in a Women Outdoors Weekend will give you "MILES OF SMILES"! Tricia