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The car trip from Dallas, TX to Devil's Den State Park in Arkansas, only took us 4 1/2 hours. Even though I have been to Arkansas before for a wakeboarding trip, I had never been up in Devil's Den and was totally blown away by just how different it was. The flat plains of Texas began to turn into rolling hills, like mountains to a native Texan, but I am not a native Texan. As we entered Devil's Den State Park, Syfy and I both became very excited. With every turn around each tight corner, we drove deeper and deeper into the woods and farther away from society. Overwhelmed with happiness, I opened my window so that I could take huge breaths of the fresh air that my lungs missed while living in the city. “This is the BEST day ever!” Syfy shouted, opening his window to feel the cool forest air outside. I couldn't help but agree with him. This WAS looking like one of the best days ever.
Checking in at the ranger station for a backcountry pass is a must
Before we could simply drive to our parking spot and walk away from society for three days, we had to stop in at the Devil's Den ranger station to fill out a form for our free but required backcountry pass. After excitedly writing my name in as the group leader, I began to fill in the information that was being asked of us. When I got to the part on the form where they ask what day they should come looking for you , should you not return your pass, I realized that I was a tad apprehensive about being in charge of a party going on a nature-filled adventure. What if something happens? Am I equipped to handle whatever will be thrown our way? The answer was a resounding YES! I signed the form, and we walked out of the ranger station, to our car. Here we go! I thought to myself. Let the adventure begin!
Which way do we go? Follow the BLUE DIAMOND ROAD!
I'll admit, in the city, I consider myself directionally challenged, but out in the woods it can be even more difficult to discern where to go. We had a map, a compass, GPS maps on my phone, and an app that works even when not in cell range. At the ranger station, they had given us a photocopied map of the park and directions to where we should park our car, but we still started off confused as to where the trailhead was because of where we ended up parking. After walking around in circles at camp A, I finally got my bearings and my nerve and discovered where we were to start off our first miles together. The confused start had clearly made everyone, myself included, a little nervous about my leading our expedition into the unknown, so I jokingly cleared the tension in the air and told everyone we could turn around and go home now if they wanted. No one was truly willing to give up on our goal, so we pushed it out of our minds and began the first leg of our journey. Follow the blue diamond road! I exclaimed. Syfy giggled and we began looking for our first trail marker.
Fjording a waist-deep creek in our first quarter mile
I knew we had to cross a creek in our first mile, but I hadn't expected the fresh rain from the day before to cause said creek to be waist deep! When we walked up the rocky Butterfield Hiking Trail to the edge of the creek, the Hippy Hubby and I looked at each other and silently questioned if we were ready to do this with a 6-year-old in tow. Meanwhile, Syfy was excitedly dancing on the creekside shore, extremely stoked to get to walk through water so soon in our hike. Fortunately for us, there was barely any undertow and we had plenty of heat left in the day to dry our clothing off on our hike. We plowed through the water to the other side and began one of the toughest parts of the trail. A heavily rocky creekbed, ascending in elevation rather than the flat dirt paths that we were used to hiking back in TX.
Four miles of rocky creekbeds and elevation change
As we hiked the first four miles of the BHT, we climbed in elevation slowly but continuously, causing me and Syfy to have to stop frequently for breather breaks. According to my GPS, we were traveling at a pace that would put us at our desired stopping point, by 6 pm. It was on the late side, but we had started pretty late in the day, to begin with. The Hippy Hubby hadn't anticipated the amount of patience he would need to have when backpacking with a six-year-old. He wanted to just plow through our miles and be there, but when you are backpacking with someone with smaller legs, you have to take more breaks to accommodate their needs. Thinking of both of my team member's needs, I let him hike ahead of us, Syfy hiked in between us, and I followed up the rear to be sure that no one was left behind or needed anything. Sometimes a leader must lead from the back of the line! By mile 4, we had found our groove and were hustling along the trail, all of us looking forward to setting up camp for the evening. We still had one more hurdle to conquer, we had a waterfall to climb down.
Climbing down a waterfall when you can't feel your feet…
After losing feeling in my legs from the knees down, I couldn't give up on the idea that I could still do anything that I dreamed. I had worked very hard to walk normally so that I could continue doing the things that I loved. Hiking on this trail, super rocky, slippery, and wet, I questioned myself internally a million times Can I really do this? but I kept on going, ignoring those questions because I was doing what I love out in nature. I was doing it just like everyone who had come before me on this trail. Just after mile 4 we reached a straight decent down, the rain from the previous day had turned it into a very slick and rushing waterfall. We realized that we were going to have to climb down this waterfall to follow the trail. Not even thinking twice about it, the Hippy Hubby took my 35 lbs. pack off my back and carried both his and mine down the waterfall that was our trail. He then waited to help me if I needed it, holding out his hands in anticipation. With the help of my amazing Kelty Range 2.0 Trekking Poles, I managed to maneuver my way down the slippery path, landing in the creek bed at the bottom. Exhilarated at our accomplishments, and how well we were working together as a team, I whooped out in excitement and jumped around in the water, to the delight of Syfy who joined me in my victory dance splashing around in the water.
Finding camp for the night under the rocky ledge
Our last mile for the day, we were on the lookout for a good spot to camp in. The very first one that we came upon, I was so exhausted from the day, that I stated this is where we're camping for the night, I can't go on and that was that. This spot was brilliantly protected underneath a huge overhanging rocky ledge that had people's names burned into the wall. This was not a designated camping spot, so the fire ring that others before us had clearly used, was an illegal one. Wanting to show Syfy the rules when following the Leave No Trace guidelines, we chose not to use the illegal fire ring, and instead cooked our meals on our ultra lightweight backpacking stoves. Just around the corner from our hidden campsite cave, a waterfall majestically fell into the creek, amplifying the sounds of nature within our camp. The Hippy Hubby, new to sleeping outdoors, voiced his concern over wild animals that might want to come drink from the creek at night. Knowing we weren't in bear country, I told him that our noises would likely scare away most creatures in the vicinity. If not, I gave him the option to bang our pans together, should he feel the need to scare anything away.
The Kelty TN3 tent that we are talking about came from the good folks at Kelty (You can also find them on Facebook and Instagram). I was generously given the Kelty TN3 tent to review, but my opinions are my own! I will only share with you products that I myself love and use personally!
Setting up our tent was a breeze
With rain in our forecast for the evening, and clouds hanging above our heads, I knew I wouldn't get the chance to test out the awesome stargazing features of our brand new Kelty TN3 tent. I was going to have to put the rain fly on tonight. Wanting to get the best analysis of this tent, I had decided not to put the tent up at home first. We would test out just how easy this tent was to use the VERY FIRST TIME and by one person. In under 5-minutes I had our tent up and the rain-fly on all by myself. The shortened magnetic 14″ aluminum poles are color-coded, making even the first use extremely easy to figure out. I stood there in front of this tent, impressed by the simplicity of it. Everything about this tent was designed with intent and actual real life people in mind. It was extremely easy to put up and take down, and fit the 3 of us and all of our gear very comfortably every night of our trip. Not a drop of rain got into our tent, even when we had the doors to the rain fly tied open so that we could watch the animal night-life all around us. The Kelty TN3 took all of the guesswork out of setting up a tent, no matter how many tents you have set up before!
Outside Magazine voted “Gear of the Year” 2016
When looking for the right backpacking tent for the three of us, I wanted something super simple to put together, even for Syfy. I was stoked when Outside Magazine came out with their Best Tents for 2016 and Kelty's TN2 had made the cut for the same reasons that I loved it so much.
“There’s nothing flashy about the Tn2—and that’s part of why we fell in love with it. It’s just rock solid, dependable, and willing to lend a novice camper a hand…the Tn2 gives you everything you need and nothing you don’t, whether it’s your first tent or your tenth.” Outside Magazine
Coming together under one tent for the evening
As I cooked up our homemade dehydrated meals while sitting in the open tent, Syfy ran around camp playing with nature. He climbed the elephant-sized rocks next to our tent, pretending he was a mountain lion, roaring to his little heart's content. Ready to chow down on a hearty meal, we gathered in the tent to basically scarf our dinners down in under 10 minutes flat. Having promised Syfy some s'mores on this trip, I roasted a marshmallow in one of my stainless steel cups and smushed it onto the chocolate and graham crackers I had hidden in my pack. He was thoroughly delighted with this new delicious treat, so much so it became all he talked about throughout the coming miles that we would walk. Using my Good Night Sleep Tight essential oil roll-on on Syfy's feet and chest, we all laid down to chat about our trip so far. We agreed, it was fun hanging out together in a tent, without screens in front of our faces. I had anticipated it being difficult for him to fall asleep like usual, but it turned out he slept like a baby on the entire trip. While the Hippy Hubby and I ended up staying up all night thanks to my biggest mistake, not buying us sleeping pads. While Syfy slept like he had the comfiest bed ever, I ended up with bruises on my hips from my painful side-sleeping ways. Lesson learned. We will never forget the sleeping pads again. Ever.
Fending off the big scary…mice?
When I did finally fall asleep that first night, it was suddenly interrupted by my husband shaking me awake because he heard something HUGE step on a branch outside of our tent. Being the brave one…I turned the red light on my headlamp on and stuck my head out of the tent door. As I scanned the area with my red light, I looked for large animals or eye glare but found nothing but a bunch of mice searching around our camp for food scraps they would never find from us. One of them snapped a branch as my light stopped on him and I knew I had found our culprit. We giggled together in the darkness over our what was that?!? moment, and snuggled closer together because we had survived the big scary mice. I would check out the tent a couple more times throughout the night, but never saw anything more than mice.
To be continued…Find out what happens on our first family backpacking trip in my next post!
You can read the Hippy Family Backpacking Trip Part 1 HERE
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