DIY $100 Truck Bed Camper

Do you have a truck and enjoy camping in the outdoors? Are you also either a minimalist, have little storage area, or on a tight budget? Read on, fellow outdoors-person. Have I got a solution for you!

I love camping and traveling. Many of the lovely undeveloped camp areas in my newly adopted northwest home are little more than pull-outs along the steep and winding mountain roads. Finding space to pitch a tent can be challenging. I do have a pull-behind RV (read about the RV rehab on Brighty here) but sometimes I do not want the responsibility of pulling an extra 20 feet of trailer behind me. The fuel mileage is also a consideration. As a friend said, with an RV it isn’t miles to the gallon but gallons to the mile. For a quick and no-fuss getaway, being able to sleep IN the truck would be ideal for my situation. I have spent almost a full year researching the issue of truck bed camping, some factors I considered for my truck camping solution were:

  • Waterproof and weather proof
  • Ease of set up and take down
  • Minimal storage footprint
  • Cost (under $100.00)
  • Space to live and cook inside in case of inclement weather

I have had the good fortune to spend many nights in a pop-top camper that slides into the truck bed. It is probably the primo way to camp for comfort and convenience. They are mostly waterproof, are easy to set up, and have fabulous living space inside. However, these campers are very expensive, averaging $20,000+ new and used ones cost around $15,000. Additionally, a camper requires a protected place to store it when it isn’t on your truck.

A Pop-Up Camper fits perfectly into tight spots but they are $$$!

Another possibility is to buy a topper or cab for the truck bed and build it out. I researched the various toppers extensively and determined that a topper is not a good fit for me because I actually need to use the truck bed for throwing stuff into and unloading. Stuff like gravel or mule manure for which I use this easy unloader which fits over my tailgate; neither of these items works well with an installed topper. Toppers are not very waterproof or road-dust-proof, either. They seem to always have a leak at this corner or that window. While they are removable, it isn’t a simple job to take it off, load the truck with poop or gravel or bikes or 8 foot long boards, then clean out all that stuff and put the topper back on properly aligned to minimize water leaking and dust infiltration. Toppers cost around $2500 new. You can find used ones for certain trucks, especially older trucks but you still have the leaking issue. Still, this is a very popular avenue, especially if you already have a topper.

Tents that are made to be set up in a truck bed exist. I got to see one at my truck dealer. Maybe if MSR made one I would have faith it would last through a hearty storm and winds. You could maybe fit two sleeping bags inside it but you would still be stuck cooking outside. It costs around $300

Finally I decided to build my own truck bed camping system. Inspired by the frequent references to the pioneers who blazed trails to homestead this area, I began to think of life in a covered wagon. Certainly I could adapt my truck to a covered wagon! I knew it would need side walls, easy enough to build a wood frame; lots of trucks around here have lumber frames for transporting wood logs that were cut in the forest. Next stretch a waterproof cover over the walls, and better add some sort of peak to let rain and snow slide off and not cause puddling on the roof. That would take care of the structure. I can build a sleeping platform and mini-kitchen for living.

I lucked into a pile of wood on BLM land that was about to get burned. Some structure was apparently decommissioned and dismantled. I scavenged almost all of the wood needed for this project. A super bonus was the wood had already been fully cured and the plywood outgassed all it was going to. My lumber rack was built entirely out of this scavenged wood and there was plenty left over to build a kitchen sink and sleeping platform. The lumber rack would probably have cost about $20-30 if I had to buy the wood.

Leah the Tundra with her new lumber rack.

After some deliberation between wood vs PVC pipe for the roof structure, pipe won out based primarily on how easy it would be to store. The pipe and holders cost $10. It is a simple action to arch the pipe for the roof structure and for the porch cover.

Finding a cover was a little harder only because I really wanted to keep this entire build under $100. I ended up using a 16×30 tarp that was cut down to 16×20. I would have preferred Tyvek or maybe ripstop waterproof nylon to make my own cover and put the grommets exactly where I wanted but one has to make do sometimes. The tarp cost $50. I used bungee cords to hold the tarp in place and also have some rope in my camp kit in case I lose a cord.

With $60 already spent, I decided to take my “Hillbilly Camper” out for a test of concept run. I made a simple and slightly-precarious sleeping platform for me and devised a way to extend the platform for my dog to sleep with me. He is the best heater for those long winter camping nights and his very short fur and stoic temperament means I can snuggle my icy feet into his tummy without him moving away. I made a lip on the edge of the sleeping platform and, using the sink as a base, put a piece of plywood abutting the sleeping platform. Since neither of us are violent sleepers, this set up worked well for a test run. Plenty of room inside the camper to move around and I can almost stand up straight inside it. Sitting on the platform was quite roomy and would allow plenty of space to cook or read.

Since it was such a nice evening, I cooked on the tailgate and then we sat outside and enjoyed a campfire. It was perfect for burning all the grass seeds and burrs that accumulated on my snow boot laces. However, not every night will be so fine as this one. I built this sink and counter for those icky times. The “Kitchen” was made from all recycled materials. The sink came from Brighty’s demo, the wood from the BLM pile, and the bucket for gray water collection was hanging around. The side counter is hinged to fold down when not needed. Upgrades are planned but this is the down and dirty cheapest way to make a kitchen. One upgrade will be to install a faucet (also saved from the demolition) and use a foot pump to get water flowing. This upgrade will be used only during the warmer months when I don’t have to worry about freezing water lines.

When it was time to turn in, I folded the tarp over the porch awning and held it closed on the inside with small bungee cords. The temperature at 6:30 that night was 37F. The Mr Buddy Heater quickly warmed the small space up to make it comfortable while I read and got ready for sleep. I ran the heater for about 5 minutes on the lowest setting and that was sufficient for the evening.

I had placed two mats on the sleeping platform for cushion and insulation. These in conjunction with the wood worked perfectly for keeping the dog and me warm and comfy. The next morning I appreciated the previous evening’s foresight in placing the JetBoil and coffee-making needs next to me. I didn’t even have to get out of bed to get a cup of coffee.

Breaking down the camper was just as easy as setting it up. Being curious how it might manage in rain, I did an accordion-fold on the tarp as it hung over the lumber rack and removed the pipe. I then tucked the tarp over all the camp gear and held it in place with a cargo net. This technique would help prevent all the bedding and kitchen gear from getting soaking wet in the event of rain during a travel day. I think that, provided no items were on the floor of the truck, everything would stay dry.

I have already started on building a proper sleeping platform that will accommodate either a dog or another person without any wiggles in the legs. I will share that when it is completed. For now, I wanted to show you how a decent truck bed camper can be made for less than $100.

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The tarp above is the size I wish I had gotten. I bought one from Walmart and had to cut it down so I do not have grommets on one side.

Hells Canyon 2.0

Snake River, appropriately named

Ahh, once again I sallied forth to the hells of the nearby appropriately named canyon to spend a couple of weeks gorging on asparagus and test my new system of poison ivy avoidance.

The start of the trip was less than auspicious due to heavy rain causing a road to partially slide off the mountain thus, and rightly so, necessitating the closure of the only road to the trailhead from which we start our journey. Being a person who firmly believes if there is one way to do something, there are a thousand ways to do it, I began to consider options to the “wait and see” attitude of the people in charge of fixing the road. Wait and see as in, wait and see if the road slides further (it did, about 6 inches when I went to see for myself), wait and see if the rain will start up again or if conditions will dry enough to let heavy equipment up there. Regardless of what might come, the authorities were saying it could be a week or more before the road was actually open. After some discussion, the don mentioned an alternate route to get to the Snake River, one much less popular because, instead of starting at river level like the preferred trailhead does, this starts at mountaintop level, thus necessitating a 4,000 foot drop to the river which is done practically in one straight line following a creek. Have you ever taken 2,000 steps straight down? Boy, there were some shin muscles tweaking out at the end of that, I’ll tell you!

Ready for Antler hunting. Finn sports her GPS collar with the antenna

Leah also got to do what she was built to do, haul mules up a winding one-lane mountain road. Doesn’t she look grand?

Leah doing her job as a real ranch truck.

Here is an example of how harsh the terrain is here in Hells Canyon. This knife edged ridge looks crazy-sharp! And the weather was slightly ominous.

Heading out from Cow Creek. That is Oregon across the Snake River with all the snow on that seemingly flat horizon.

Okay, let’s see if Monty can remember that mules are not his friends and one cannot walk between the pack line.

Monty and the pack line

Here is one of maybe two switchbacks during the entire descent to the Snake River. It was a bit on the steep side, as per usual around here.

Never thought I’d wish for more switchbacks

And all that rain made the difference between creek and trail somewhat undetectable.

Trail IS creek

Finally we made it to Kirkwood Ranch on the Snake River. Lots of green grass for the mules to enjoy while we took a 3 minute break to stretch those shins. Only 11 more miles to go so better not dilly-dally. I’ll write a later post on the old homesteads I found in this area.

Lovely Kirkwood Ranch on the Snake River

We took turns walking and riding Stella, the don and I did. With Monty’s “issues” around me being on top of a mule, I rode only on the wide and flat spots where Monty could have space to make different choices if he found himself drawn to the mule’s legs. With a bit of babysitting, Monty only once cut in front of a mule during the whole trip and thankfully the mules were paused. Monty is definitely getting better but since he is who he is I don’t think I can ever relax when he is around mules. He just doesn’t believe they can hurt him. It’s so funny to watch how different the other two dogs are from him around the mules and also just being on the trail. The other two are hunting dogs, they roam hundreds of yards away up and down the hillsides and stay far away from mule feet. Monty does not get far from “his” pack, always running between people if we are not all together to check up on everyone. He also checks up on the mules though they don’t seem to appreciate his concern for their welfare.

Stella and the don

Here is my view from atop Stella with Monty safely following the don. No, the picture isn’t crooked, it just there are few flat spots around here.

My view from Stella

Hell’s Canyon is also the only place I’ve ever been where one has to be wary of poison ivy and rattlesnakes in the same place. I don’t mean along the same trail, I mean in the exact same place. Here’s a rattler. He’s little and not inclined to move fast but still I chose not to goof around with camera angles to try and get him and the poison ivy in the same shot this day. But see here, this photo is from a couple weeks later nearby and you can totally see the ivy. I swear, if it isn’t one thing it’s another… and I’m thinking I need to look into that rattlesnake vaccine they have for dogs.

Though the day started out cool with storms threatening, it cleared and became quiet warm as we headed up from the river to our base camp. By the time camp was reached, the mules had walked maybe 18 miles and the dogs had probably done twice that. Everyone was ready for a rest.

Sweaty ass

Boy, it’s amazing how quickly those dogs recharge! Especially Finn, who is not even 2 years old yet. You might remember her from last year, the puppy who runs through poison ivy all day and then wants to climb into your sleeping bag at night. Sorry, Finn, no snuggles from me this year. Finn had a GPS tracking collar to wear this year as she can sometimes roam a bit too far afield. She was actually tracked running 32 miles per hour on this trip! Now you see me, now you don’t.

One warm day the mules and I stayed in camp. Just watching these guys napping in the shade can make you feel sleepy. That is, until they start yawning. How can you not laugh at those faces!

This is me in every meeting ever held. “Try to keep the eyes open, c’mon… okay, close them but have a thoughtful look on your face so you appear to be really focused on what the speaker is droning on about… don’t yawn, don’t yawn, don’t yawnnnnnnnnnnnnn. Rats.”

Being so far removed from light pollution, we can see zillions of stars in our little slice of sky. One very early morning I decided to capture the gorgeousness of the darkness. With the full moon lighting the canyon walls, I held my breath and tried to channel complete stillness to take this photo of what I think is Sagittarius over the ridgeline. The nights are so mesmerizing one hardly notices the chill.

Stars over the canyon

And finally, the whole reason for this trip, imo…

Gatherer!

Asparagus! Freshly gathered. It would appear the animals here do not eat asparagus. See in this photo below how the green stalk is surrounded by dead dry stalks that, if not flopped over would be 4-5 feet tall. Those are last year’s asparagus. No one ate them. It was pretty early so the majority of asparagus hasn’t yet popped up enough to pick but I still got plenty to keep us in green veggies for the trip.

Growing wild

While basking in the glory of fresh tasty vegetables for dinner, I looked up and noticed a plane drawing lines across the sky.

Have you ever noticed that the contrails break up and begin to look like condensed chromosomes during metaphase? No? What, that’s just me that sees this? Must be all that biochem. Well, now you’ll start seeing it too, next time you see a contrail.

Metaphase

The advantage of traveling with the mules is that we can have good food, not just that dried stuff. I am terribly spoiled by the don, I will admit. He makes a great cup of coffee and then follows that up with a breakfast that would rival any fancy brunch restaurant.

In addition to asparagus,  the “purpose” of this trip is to find antlers. I’m not very good at that yet. In part because I’m still so overwhelmed by the newness of everything around me and I’m distracted by so much awesomeness. It’s also because I still have to look where I am walking so I take 10 steps looking at the ground, then stop and look around for antlers but then I see a waterfall, a burned log, a beautiful flower, my dog being cute or bored. But, strangely enough, I did find an antler all by myself! Sadly, it had sat out in the sun for many years or perhaps it had been engulfed in the fire that went through here a few years ago but either way it was beginning to “rot” and become chalky. I enjoyed the thrill of discovery and left it where it lay.

However, the don had spied an antler near camp and we took a morning walk to get it. I went down the hill to retrieve it, Monty got excited and wanted to help. (As an aside, in Houston these would be called mountains so I can honestly say I walked down a mountain to get this antler.)

Sadly the trip came to an end and it was time to pack up and head back to civilization and daily showering. Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper HC trip without a photo of the don shirtless. To be fair, by the end of April it does get very hot in the canyon and no sense getting one’s shirt all sweaty when you can’t easily wash it. I don’t mind at all.

A cowgirl’s dream

And on to Idaho, but first…

Back in that Idaho paradise
Just as spring began to show up on the Olympic peninsula, I left for the second winter of Idaho, aka April. The drive east across Washington was at a meandering speed, taking time to see all the historical roadside stops and scenic overviews. Why do we make false deadlines? I know I’m not the only person to rush past all the wonder trying to get to some place I’ve decided was going to be great. I slowed down at one spot and did some post holing to enjoy truly gorgeous views and saw several other vehicles pause, take a peek and then go one. Much of the coolness in the world can’t be experienced from the car, I’m here to tell you.Look at this waterfall with all the ice alongside!

And Mt Rainier- who do you think wears the regal white coat better?

.

Who wore it better?

I looked into lodging but ended up choosing a campsite in the forest. I had a truckbed full of stuff and I know one can’t leave all that out in a city and the weather was SO lovely and millions of stars. Monty loves a campfire story, as long as it isn’t a scary one

Here are a few photos from the drive to Idaho. I’m heading back into Hell’s Canyon now to find that wild asparagus from last year!

Apparently closed for the season
My best fella

It’s About Time!

It’s About Time!

Yowza, December 2018 was a blur! After beating a fast retreat from the wintery Norther Rockies with my Southern sandals-in-December tail between my legs, I made it to the one and only big city with the best food and winter and proceeded to try and squeeze an entire year of living into just a few weeks. Needless to say, by Christmas I was whuupped from the over-indulgence in visiting, eating, drinking, and all the other carryings-on.

Monty at the Montrose Paint Wall (formerly known as the Biscuit Wall)

Visiting the moody winter beaches of Galveston

Every party ends up in the kitchen

Snuggle Buddies!

A favorite place is the area around the Menil museum

The Water Wall with my favorite fellas.

Can anything be prettier than River Oaks at Christmas?

the don enjoying the outrageous display of lighting in River Oaks

Skyspace, the James Turrell thingy at Rice University with the almost-full moon above.

Dancing through the winter’s eve keeps the soul warm and snuggly

Happy that I got to see this kid for much of my time in town! Alex has always been my best date!

Enjoying the intersection of woods and urban at Memorial Park with the don

Maybe THIS is why some of the visit seemed a blur! Great hosts offering an out-of-this-world rum flight for enjoyment and testing liver function

Central Market- best grocery store ever. Even the don agrees!

Such a phenomenal view

Art. Life.

Now I want a bison on my truck!

My favorite, the Beer Can House

My other favorite!

I like big girls and I cannot lie

Moose and Monty creating mayhem. Okay, not really. These guys would probably run from the ducks

Monty had friends to visit, too

For real

the don came down to see the town I had been bragging on so much and that, too, was virtually non-stop action of sights, friends, family, and food. Fortunately we did not encounter mosquitos but any Gulf Coaster knows the perils of the December mosquito, so much so that Medicaid rightly provides spray.

It’s all about prevention, y’all.

Since Monty is not allowed to fly commercially, I drove down to Houston in my beloved Pearl, a 2007 Toyota Sequoia. It was the last year of this model and I still believe it to be the prettiest of all SUVs. Pearl was equally at home in the city or on country roads camping and acting as an RV. Her only challenge was the 2 wheel drive thing which wasn’t a challenge for most of her city-dwelling, summer-camping life. And even the one time she went to the snow it was in a relatively populated area with treated roads (and filled with people and stuff so she weighed quite a bit, too). Yes, until this rural living thing happened, Pearl was my jam. But then I did make a change and decide to try northwest country living and 2WD was not working out for me (as mentioned in a previous post). The hunt for a 4 wheel drive was on, and while I’m at it, maybe a truck, too. Most everyone out here drives a truck. They are good for hauling wood that you just cut in the forest to heat your home which is the only heat-source, btw, a not-uncommon thing out here. Trucks are also good for pulling trailers, whether it is a cargo trailer, horse trailer, or boat trailer. Oh, and did I mention I was also shopping for a cargo trailer? So yes, a truck it is. My oldest child was quite vocal about the idea of me driving a truck, “I just never saw you as a truck person.” Turns out I am not really a truck person. It was hard to get excited about truck shopping. My decision coming down to what would have the best resale value in a couple of years if/when I got tired of truck life and wanted a different vehicle.

Leah, about 15 minutes after she became mine but before I realized she wasn’t what I thought I was buying.

And so I present to you Leah.

Her name comes from the Judeo-Christian Bible story in which Jacob makes a deal to marry Laban’s daughter, Rachel, only to find after the wedding that he has been fooled into marrying Leah. In the purchase of my truck, Toyota’s brochures made it appear that the Ensuite system would have a navigation by map. When I test-drove the truck and mentioned the navigation, my salesman said that it would connect to my phone and I would download a specific app and then navigation would show on the screen. Fine. I LOVED the nav system in Pearl and it was quite my habit to glance at the map frequently.

I took possession of the truck and traded in my Pearl on Christmas Eve. On the morning of the 26th I was back at the dealer because I could not get a map to show on my screen. A couple of hours later I was sick to my stomach and asking to have Pearl back because it turns out that particular feature is not even available on this truck. And they wouldn’t give me Pearl back. I could probably have tried a law suit but in the end it just wasn’t worth it to me. Pearl had over 200,000 miles and a recurring emissions issue which cost over $900 to fix the first time.

Pearl turing 200,000 miles somewhere in the snowy mountains of Nevada. Notice all the warning lights are on

And so this truck’s name is Leah.

I am reminded that Dante wrote of Leah and Rachel in his poem about Pergatory. In his dream just before he reaches the paradise on Earth he sees Leah and Rachel, who in this poem are symbols of the active and thoughtful aspects of living, respectively. One translation has it as, “in my dream, I seemed to see a woman both young and fair; along a plain she gathered flowers, and even as she sang, she said: Whoever asks my name, know that I’m Leah and I apply my lovely hands to fashion a garland of the flowers I have gathered. To find delight within this mirror I adorn myself; whereas my sister Rachel never deserts her mirror; there she sits all day; she longs to see her fair eyes gazing, as I, to see my hands adorning, long: She is content with seeing, I with labor.” (Purgatorio, Canto XXVII, lines 97-108, Mandelbaum translation)

So in Dante’s poem, Leah represents the worker, the active part of the full life and was envisioned just before he entered the Garden of Eden or Paradise on Earth. That’s not a bad namesake.

Leah did a darn good job of getting me to my own little paradise. With the help/guidance/bad-ass-ness of my sister, Leah pulled the new cargo trailer filled with heavy outdoor furniture and other outdoor living items. And some clothes, and some kitchen items, and a bicycle… On the way I learned to tow a trailer at 70+ miles an hour on freeways. We were blessed with good weather for the first day but then rain and then freezing rain and then icy snow on curving mountain roads in the dark. Yeah. I didn’t drive that last part. I managed light snow on curving mountain roads up to about twilight and my sis was talking me through it, what to do if I hit a patch of ice (scream? No, fight your instinct and turn into the slide. Ummm, it takes training to fight your instincts and I have definitely NOT been trained unless there is some Jason Bourne shit going on here. Nope, upon reflection definitely no memory loss that could be tied to some secret mountain-ice-towing-assassin stuff. My only memory loss was that weekend in Mexico and some homemade mescal, back when you could safely get drunk in Mexico and not fear for your well-being.) Thankfully I only hit one or two tiny patches of ice and it felt a lot like hitting that gumbo clay back home after a gully-washer, just a little wiggle and the wheels were back to being best friends with the pavement. Of course, I was driving about 35-40 miles per hour on a 70 mph road so cars would occasionally pass me. Fine, let ‘em. But come dark, I was not going to drive. I am a person with extraordinary good luck but even I know when to fold. So the BadAssSis took over for the night. Or at least the hell-storm part of it and I drove again somewhere in the middle of the night with only rain. We did 2400+ miles in a weekend with only a 6 hour layover to sleep. Like I said, she’s rock hard bad ass. I’m more on the squishy side but can tag along sometimes.

Here’s a couple of photos. This is Leah and the trailer safely parked in Texas before the big road test.

Play it safe, y’all

Here is Monty all buckled up for safety. Dogs can be seriously hurt in car accidents if they aren’t secured. Also, you do not want 60 pounds of muscle hurtling around your head.

Again, this is for real

I wanted to find out if there should be a comma in this but decided that sometimes not knowing is funner.

Yes, there really is a Weed Police. It was here that the weather intimidated me. To my credit, just before reaching Weed, California I saw not one, not two, but THREE cars that had slid off the road, one a roll-over. And these cars were visible because they slid into the center median. The poor bastards who weren’t so lucky to slide towards the center of the highway slid right off the mountain. I was not in the right frame of mind to enjoy Weed. Maybe next time.

The sign might have read, “Sharp Curves Ahead, I hope you have your will updated.”

And here is a photo oh, maybe an hour later.  Yep, had it been me driving in this bit of road hell, Leah the Toyota would have been FORD (found on the road dead). That sign reads, “Sharp Curves Ahead.”

And finally, here is Leah enjoying the brand new driveway, if a 900+ foot stretch still counts as driveway, of the parcel of land that the don and I are developing on the western edge of Washington.

And one last photo, here is Brighty. If you will remember, her job is to be a winter home while the development occurs. She sat for a couple of months alone and, unfortunately had to bear some pretty harsh storms by herself and did not get out unscathed. But that is a story for another time.

Brighty and Leah

Wish you were here!

Oh, and here are some photos of the drive down from Idaho to Texas in early December 2018. For your viewing pleasure.

I purchased some turkey from Subway for the little Monty-ster. Turns out he actually enjoys eating meat

Hoover Dam

Hmmph, Monty was not so impressed by the Pony Express

Hell’s Canyon

 

Monty gazing out over the mountains of Hell’s Canyon

“The grandeur and originality of the views presented on every side beggar both the pencil and the pen. Nothing we had ever gazed upon in any other region could for a moment compare in wild majesty and impressive sternness with the series of scenes which here at every turn astonished our senses and filled us with awe and delight.” Benjamin L. E. Bonneville, an early explorer of Hell’s Canyon, wrote about the place I was getting ready to spend two weeks camping and hiking.

Sunset from the Cougar Basin campsite with a view into Oregon.

The area has seen much since white men entered its waters, from its early days of exploitation for copper and gold ore to inciting national division in the 1950s and again in the 1970s on damming the river to present-time recreational pursuits. For many years Hell’s Canyon was hailed as the deepest canyon but that is now contested. Regardless of the numbers, I was about to walk into a place of no outside contact. Not that this is a new experience as I have been solo hiking sections of the Continental Divide Trail for a number of years, but this time was different. I was heading into the area with three mules, three dogs, my friend I call the don and his brother. Would Hell’s Canyon live up to its name and reputation? What hellish fate might await, i wondered?

Could it be anymore perfect for a Texas girl than to have PURPLE bluebonnets?
Okay, technically a cousin to bluebonnets but that can be overlooked.

Obviously I have lived to tell the tale. And share some photos…

the don and his mules

Monty had never been around mules so it was with some slight trepidation that he was introduced to them. He did live through the two weeks but only through the grace of God who looks out for little white dogs.He was disbelieving these creatures were not just big dogs thus he continued to try and befriend them by getting too close to their feet. He would also try to insert himself in the mule train between two mules if I was riding a mule so I ended up in the saddle about 100 yards and then walking the remaining 18 miles into camp the first day. Monty did finally learn, mostly anyway, not to get underneath the mules and would walk very close to the back of the last mule. Thankfully the mules were very patient with this city boy who was just learning the ropes when it came to mule packing. Monty and I had that in common on this trip. One mule was particularly patient with me as I learned to halter and saddle and lead the mules and even let me braid his tail.

Monty learned to stay out of the mule train and trailed along behind. Can you see his tiny white body there?

Otis sporting a fancy tail-do. Definitely a sassy ass!

Hells Canyon will extract its pound of flesh, no doubt ’bout that. Just so you know, there are TWO different manifestations of poison ivy in these parts. There is the normal, vine-trailing-on-the-ground type found in moist areas like near creeks and under trees. Then there is another type that does not resemble a vine or a bush. This nasty and tricksy mo-fo is a stick about three feet tall with lovely white to cream dried-looking berries on it. At least that is how it looks in early spring, maybe in June it gets leaves or hairyness or something but in April it is just a lovely berry-topped stick with delicate red undertones hanging out with all the other grasses that looks like it is begging to be in a floral arrangement.

DO NOT BE FOOLED BY IT

A tricksy mo-fo , this poison ivy, growing along the trail and hillsides in very dry areas and with no leaves.

Another tip, if you are traveling with animals or some companion that goes tromping pell-mell through the grasses, DO NOT LET THAT BEING INTO YOUR SLEEPING BAG, even if it is a skinny puppy shivering in the cold night. That shivering puppy will run through the tricksy poison ivy sticks ALL DAY LONG and then, in the wee hours of the darkness, will bring all that urushiol into your bag and onto your skin. Just imagine what the results of hours and hours of laying in the poison oil will do to your skin as she cuddles up so sweetly to you. All the weight you have lost from so much lovely exercise will not be evident due to the horrible sores and swelling from the blisters and your new trail name will be Scritchers.

 

Only 6 months old, Finn already loved to run the hills all day and snuggle all night.

Three dog night. I finally learned to keep the dogs out of my sleeping bag yet they still loved to snuggle up to me. Here you can see Q, Finn, and Monty’s yellow coat.

Poison ivy legs. The rash was everywhere on my body except my upper back due to a snuggling puppy in my sleeping bag. So much for wearing skirts anytime soon.

This concludes my public service announcement.

Now for the good part, and if you heed my advice above, you can skip the icky and go straight to the good part. People tried to settle the canyon years ago and planted gardens. Most of the people and settlements did not last but some of their food-stuff is still there. If you go in early spring (as for this area, not the early spring of Houston) you will be fed well from the coffers of the canyon. the don knew of several spots where yummies were growing and shared them with me. Sadly I did not get photos of the morel mushrooms the don gathered and then cooked in butter on the wood stove (yes, for real. this is my life now) but i promise they were exquisite. The same day as the mushroom gathering, he showed me where asparagus would grow. Only a few stalks were showing then but when I went back a week later, JACKPOT!

Asparagus growing in the wilds of Hell’s Canyon. Can you believe the luck!?!

I gathered a quart ziplock bag and nibbled on quite a few stalks as I gathered and only took about 20% of what was showing. There is also an area where watercress grows and we enjoyed fresh greens pretty much every day of the trip.

Watercress growing along a creek just waiting to be made into a delicious salad.

Can you imagine a two-week camping trip with fresh asparagus and watercress and mushrooms? and all cooked over campfire or woodstove. Hard to believe yet I offer photographic proof.

Watercress salad with beets, coconut, and mango. The latter two were rehydrated since I have yet to find a mango tree in Hell’s Canyon.

Cooking asparagus over a campfire. Also on the menu this evening was polenta with tomato sauce which you can see in the background.

Monty was his usual majestic self and struck a pose on every rock formation he saw. Truly, I do not pose him and rarely do I even try to arrange a photo. Mostly he gets his vogue on and waits until I finally realize I should take a picture. He even photo bombs and, as usual, his version is much more interesting than my own. Do you think Ansel Adams might come back as a photogenic master in a dog body?

Monty photobombing as I try to shoot landscapes. As usual his version is way more interesting than my boring ol’ flower picture.

I’ll put more photos at the end of this post. At the time every single view was breathtaking and so I have tons of pictures of Monty posing with some dramatic view.

As you may know, I am a former city girl who has decided to try a completely different lifestyle. I am learning so much every day! For example, do you know where the antlers for those awesome chandeliers in hunting-themed lodges come from? Out here it is a hobby to collect the ginormous antlers that are shed naturally every spring by the elk. the don and his brother engage in antler hunting and I began a little hunting myself.  I was better at finding asparagus.

“Glassing” the hillside looking for antlers.

I spy an antler!

Here is one of the smaller antlers. Some were almost as big as me!

Fresh mint- perfect for adding to salads and also to a bit of rum

Waiting for snow to melt and getting a suntan at the same time

Still waiting

Dinnertime in Hell’s Canyon

A fresh and cold spring at just the right height for bottle filling. Hell’s Canyon will extract its pound of flesh but will also provide

Another awesome view of Sheep Creek

Spider on flower. I was so intrigued by this little guy hanging out in the flowering bushes just waiting for bugs

I forgot my hat one day and ended up making one from my bandana and some of the branches from the bush behind me. The branches were to make the brim and I have to say this worked out very well for the entire day!

Rose hips. Reminded me of chinese lanterns

Pictographs!

Curious Otis

the don and mules near suicide point. Can you see them on the trail?

My boy

A view into Oregon

Bear claw marks on pine. I promise, Mom, I never saw any bears this trip!

Brain freeze

Monty near Old Timer

Monty on the mountain

I don’t need inspirational quotes
I need coffee