Maroon Bells reflected in Maroon Lake

The mountains surrounding Maroon Bells Wilderness Area

We spent the final night of our Colorado road trip camping in the Maroon Bells Wilderness Area just outside of Aspen.  It was perhaps the most beautiful campsite I’ve ever stayed at.  The blooming wildflowers, majestic mountain peaks, and changing sky provided scenic views in every direction.

Our campground at Maroon Bells Wilderness Area

Aspen forests and wildflower meadows

Slender trunks of aspen trees

Brilliant green algae and reflections in Maroon Lake (No, I did not saturate the colors!)

Cutthroat trout rises to feed, Maroon Lake

A wildflower paradise

Photographers flocked like paparazzi to capture the sights around Maroon Bells

Native Colorado Columbine

Wildflowers like an avalanche of yellow

 

“It would be well, perhaps, if we were to spend more of our days and nights without any obstruction between us and the celestial bodies. . .”
     — Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Camping on the beach, North Padre Island

I don’t think Thoreau is talking about camping.  But in this day and age, it is rare indeed to spend the night outdoors.  I suppose there is no real reason why I can’t sleep outside in the open air in my yard in Seattle, but I’ve never done so.  I am spoiled for creature comforts – a mattress rather than hard ground, protection from dampness and bugs, and ready access to a bathroom with plumbing.

 I recall just once in my entire life when I slept out in the open air without a roof, car top, or tent fabric between me and the stars.  And that was in 1982 atop Masada in Israel.  I’m sure that my partners and I broke all sorts of rules by spending the night on the ruins of this ancient fortress, but no one chased us off.  And the next morning we had a spectacular view of the sun rising over the Dead Sea.

 Thoreau reminds me that I might be missing something by separating myself from the night sky all of my life.  And I think that something might just be a sense of awe and an understanding of my insignificance.  I live so much of my life in my mind, where I play the leading role.  Gazing into the infinite universe, I cannot but help feel how very small I am in the real scheme of things.  The stars and sky hold a sense of the eternal, and my short time on planet earth is just a blip.   That’s awesome, and humbling.

“We now no longer camp as for a night, but have settled down on earth and forgotten heaven.”
Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder, believes in the restorative and transformative power of nature.  He says, “The more high-tech our lives become, the more nature we need to achieve natural balance.”  The pace of technological change has accelerated since Thoreau’s time.  We may need unobstructed skies more than ever.

“When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things . . .
I rest in the grace of the world, and I am free.”
— Wendell Berry

Omelette-in-a-bag

One of my favorite breakfasts when car camping is “omelettes-in-a-bag.”  I’ve made these omelettes in zip-lock bags in the past, but worried about the possible release of harmful chemicals in the boiling process.  This time I saved and re-used the bags from my Trader Joe’s microwavable brown rice.  I have received reassurances from the Trader Joe’s customer service representatives that these bags are safe for microwaving and boiling.

These omelettes taste great, but they are also super easy to make.  And clean up is a snap because there is no dirty pan!  In fact, I start by bringing a pot of water to the boil, then pour out enough for hot chocolate or tea.  I use the rest of the water to boil the omelettes-in-a-bag.  And then after they are cooked through in about 3 to 5 minutes, I use the hot water for washing the forks and cups we used for breakfast.  Easy!

Choose your omelette fillings and place in bag. I used cooked broccoli, pre-cooked and diced bacon, and shredded cheese.

Add two fresh eggs to your bag.

Seal bag (I stapled mine shut) and then squish to mix ingredients.

Place bags in boiling water and allow to cook for 3 to 5 minutes until solid.

Slide omelettes out of bags and enjoy!

My daughter with the perfect toasted marshmallow (photo 1996)

My daughter with the perfect toasted marshmallow (photo 1996)

Campfire in a cup

Campfire in a cup

One of the pleasures of camping is toasting marshmallows and making s’mores. On one car camping trip with my daughter, I did not have room in my Honda Civic to carry dry firewood for a campfire.  So instead of having a big evening campfire, we gathered around a votive candle in an old coffee cup.  We actually roasted marshmallows, one at a time, over the tiny flame.  We called this our “Campfire-in-a Cup.”

I haven’t made a s’more since last summer, and since I’ve no camping plans, I’ve been looking for a s’mores recipe that might replicate the taste I’m craving.  Here is one recipe I came across in Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito.  The rich dark chocolate means that this is intensely chocolate-flavored.  A little serving of this recipe goes a long way.

S’More Nut Bars

2-1/4 c graham cracker crumbs (about 17 – 20 crackers)
1 Tbsp firmly packed dark brown sugar
2/3 c unsalted butter, melted
7-1/2 oz milk chocolate, coarsely chopped
7-1/2 oz dark chocolate (60 to 72 percent cacao), coarsely chopped
1-1/2 tsp light corn syrup
1 c heavy cream
10 marshmallows, cut into quarters
1/2 c lightly salted whole peanuts
1/2 c chopped lightly salted peanuts

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.  Butter the sides and bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan or spray it with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, stir together the graham cracker crumbs and brown sugar.  Add the butter.  Use your hands to combine the mixture, then turn it out into the prepared pan.  Using your hands, press the crust into an even layer along the bottom and up the sides of the pan.  Use the bottom of a measuring cup to create a perfectly even crust.

Bake the crust for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown.  Remove the pan from the oven and place on a cooling rack.

In a large heatproof bowl, toss the chocolates together.  Drizzle the corn syrup over the chocolate and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, bring the cream just to a boil.  Remove from the heat and pour the cream over the chocolate mixture.  Let stand for 2 to 3 minutes.  Startling in the center of the bowl and working your way out to the edges, whisk the chocolate mixture in a circle until completely smooth.  Fold in the marshmallows and the whole peanuts.  Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and use an offset spatula to spread it as evenly as possible.  Sprinkle the top with the chopped peanuts.

Refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or until set.  Cut into squares and serve.  The bars will keep in the refrigerator, tightly covered, for up to 3 days.

Chopped chocolate and graham cracker crust

Chopped chocolate and graham cracker crust

Preparing the marchmallows and peanuts

Preparing the marshmallows and peanuts

S'More Nut Bars

S'More Nut Bars

Yesterday Seattle experienced an historic high recorded temperature — 103 degrees!  My husband and I escaped the urban heat with a day trip to the ocean.  We got a head start by leaving Tuesday evening after work, and once we were on the ferry to the Olympic Peninsula, temperatures were at least 10 degrees cooler.  We pulled into a campground at Salt Creek Recreation Area just as the last vestiges of the red sunset were fading into nightfall.  We secured a lovely tent spot on a bluff overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and we spent a very comfortable night in the marine-cooled air.

Waking up to this view from inside our tent

Waking up to this view from inside our tent

Sun rising over the Strait of Juan de Fuca; Canada lost in the mist over the water

Sun rising over the Strait of Juan de Fuca; Canada lost in the mist over the water

Morning on the Strait of Juan de Fuca

Morning on the Strait of Juan de Fuca

We hit the road at 8 a.m. yesterday morning, driving west along the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Neah Bay.  I had never before traveled to the northwest corner of the continental United States.  To get there you take a long spur highway off U.S. 101.  You drive to the end of the road about 7 or 8 miles past Neah Bay, and then walk a lovely trail to viewpoints and platforms overlooking Cape Flattery — the end of the continent.  It was beautiful and cool, too!

Cape Flattery

Cape Flattery

Coastline at the northwest corner of the continental U.S.

Coastline at the northwest corner of the continental U.S.

Lighthouse on Tatoosh Island, off the coast at Cape Flattery

Lighthouse on Tatoosh Island, off the coast at Cape Flattery

We spent the rest of the day driving Hwy 101 around the Olympic Peninsula.  Where the highway neared the coast, we felt a discernible temperature drop of about 20 degrees, and it felt wonderful — like having air conditioning in the truck.  When the highway went inland, it felt like we were in a 100 degree oven.  The delays for highway construction were like a survival test.

We decided to spend the evening at the beach at Westport, and then drive back to Seattle after dark.  Once again, when we got to Westport, we were in a gray bank of clouds and fog.  The temperature there was 68 degrees!!  I knew we would be returning to the city’s heat wave, so I took my barefoot walk along the surf, wearing a hooded sweatshirt, and shivering at the cold water on my feet!  I am hanging on to those memories today, when temperatures are forecast to reach the high 90s and possibly 100 degrees again.