Andrea N.

Richmond

Joined July 2016

Ranger Review: Nature's Coffee Kettle at Middle Creek Campground

Campground Review

As a Ranger on The Dyrt, I sometimes receive compensation for reviewing campgrounds like this one. Middle Creek Campground is the perfect place to use as a base camp for all of the outdoor activities in the area. Getting here was a lot easier than expected. The campground is only 6 miles off the I-81 Arcadia exit. We were quickly in the Jefferson National Forest where the road winds through the forest along Jennings Creek. It was absolutely gorgeous. Around every turn we saw fishermen wading into the water or sitting on the banks.

Check-in is at the fully stocked camp store where you'll likely be greeted by the two resident dogs. They mostly lazed around all weekend and watched people coming and going. The RV sites are directly across from the camp store, but the tent sites were tucked back into the woods. The upper tent campground was closed for renovations during our stay, so we chose from the 8 or 9 sites located in the lower tent campground. All of the sites were roomy and featured a small fire pit, picnic table, water, and electricity. Several of them even had a pull-through site and would work well for a small pop-up. Bonus: most of the lower tent sites have direct access to the creek! There were only four other tent sites occupied the whole weekend. It was very quiet and peaceful.

We chose site #76 because the creek wound around the back of the campsite and had a gentle slope leading down to the creek. We knew our dogs would love splashing around in it! Once we got everything set up I realized that the site was bigger than I'd originally thought. There was more than enough room to set up our Kingdom 4 tent, 10' canopy, and camp kitchen to glamp in style. We brought a 15' lead for the 2yo beagle so he could go down to the creek on his own or hang out with us. Even at the end of his lead he was nowhere close to the road. Check out the video below for a 360' view!

The bathhouse was at the back of the camp store. Like the rest of the campground, the facilities aren't fancy, but they are functional and clean. Both men's and women's featured two showers where the water was nice and hot! There are even washers and dryers around the corner.

Firewood is available for purchase onsite. We paid $7 for a bundle at the camp store, and it was delivered to our site just a few minutes later. The bundle was huge! We had more than enough wood for two cooking fires.

Because our visit was so early in the year, we weren't able to access most of the amenities. There is a good-sized pool and pavilion on a hill behind the camp store. Right beside that is the swimming pond with two large slides in the middle, plus a small beach. There is another lake at the front of the campground designated for fishing. There are no trails in this campground, so if you want to hike, you'll need to drive about a mile out to where the Appalachian Trail meets Jennings Creek. Or, drive to one of many trail heads within the National Forest. There are also plenty of pull-off spots along the road if you want to wade into the creek.

During our stay, we observed the staff cleaning, fixing, and getting ready for camping season. The bathrooms got a fresh coat of paint. The roads through the campground were recently groomed with new crushed gravel. All of the picnic tables and sidewalks were being power washed. The game room was also being renovated! Downside: we didn't have water at our site the first day. About half-way through the second day one of the workers came around to let us know they were turning it on and to let it run for a bit since it had been off all winter. That made it much easier to wash dishes in a bucket at camp. There isn't a wash station in the campground for doing dishes, so we had to improvise the first night. The biggest turn-off for us at the campground was the RV section right across from the camp store. It seemed like the sites were really packed in there, one on top of the other. I've never been RV-ing before, so I'm not sure if this setup is typical, but I wanted to point it out.

All of the staff that we came into contact with were super friendly and helpful. We were immediately made to feel welcome. It felt like spending the weekend with friends and neighbors instead of strangers.

Product Review

As a Ranger for The Dyrt, I get products to test from time to time - today I am testing Nature's Coffee Kettle with Colombian Arabica Coffee. I am completely unable to start my day without coffee even when I'm sleeping in the woods. Nature's Coffee Kettle is a packable system that provides you with delicious, pour-over coffee in the backwoods. The "kettle" is a specially designed pouch with two sections. The top section holds the pre-filled coffee filter in place while you slowly pour hot water over the grounds. It features a zip-top so you can close it up while you're waiting for the magic to happen.The bottom section is the reservoir that holds all of that coffee goodness. Coffee refills are also available separately. The entire system packs flat for storage in a camp tote or in your backpack.

The directions on the back of the bag are super clear and even contain pictures. The key to making the perfect brew with Nature's Coffee Kettle is time. Don't rush it. This is not instant coffee. It is the real deal and will be worth every minute. Slowly pour 1 cup of hot water over the filter, zip up the top and let it sit for a minute or two so the grounds can soak up all of that water. This is the most important step. Then, unzip the top, and keep slowly adding the rest of the water. How much water? I used my coffee mugs to measure out the right amount of water into the kettle before boiling. After you've poured all the water into the bag zip it up again and let it sit. Then, just twist off the cap and pour!

The pouch is reusable, so don't toss it out. Dispose of the filter and rinse out the pouch. It will be ready to go the next time you need some caffeine. Nature's Coffee Kettle comes in a variety of coffee flavors as well as orange pekoe black tea, apple cider, and hot chocolate.

Ranger Review: Mountain House Turkey Dinner at Holliday Lake State Park

Campground Review

Holliday Lake State Park is located in the middle of the Buckingham State Forest, so it is completely surrounded by protected forest. It definitely feels like being in the middle of nowhere. There are several ways to get there, including some back roads. We took the back roads in and took the main road out. There is very limited reception in the park for radio and cell. We were able to check with the ranger to get updates on weather. A severe storm came through on the second night and the camp hosts drove through the campground to let everyone know it was on the way.

The rangers here are awesome! Very helpful and knowledgeable. They even came around passing out flyers Friday night for the activities that weekend. Some of the activities included spear throwing, how to start different types of fires, nocturnal animals sounds, and watching fish at night. On Saturday nights they turn on a few lights underneath the water so you can see the fish swimming around,

The ranger contact station houses a very small camp store with just the essentials. Don't count on them having exactly what you need because it is a very small selection. They do have ice and firewood for sale on-site. If you really need something there is a Wal-Mart about 15 minutes away in Appomattox.

The park is known for its lake and great fishing. I fished for crappie, but it was too hot on the shore and dogs aren't allowed in rental boats. While I was shore fishing several people rented the park's fishing boats with outboard motors. There's even a panfish boat trail on one end of the lake.

There weren't any lifeguards on duty during our stay, but the beach was still open. Plenty of families were in the water. The sign says swim at your own risk. There are "creatures" in the water for kids to climb on and jump off. The local fire-rescue crew was making use of the lake and floating dock for their water rescue training.

My favorite thing to do at a new park is go hiking. There are only about 10 miles of trails within the park, but there are miles and miles of trails within the surrounding forest. You can pick up the Carter Taylor Connector Trail near the campgrounds, which leads to the Carter Taylor Multi-use trail in Buckingham State Forest. The park map shows a good mixture of easy, moderate, and difficult trails. However, I never found one that I would consider easy. It is VERY hilly, so even the easiest trails have some climbs. There is even a 6.2 mile trail that circles the lake. It's great hiking, but get ready for a workout. Even my 2 yo beagle was worn out by the end.

Our campsite was fully shaded and included water/electricity hookups. Site R4 had a newer water connection with two spouts, one for the camper hookup, and one standard spout. We used the regular spout to fill up water bowls for our dogs all weekend. Nearly every site had a dog in it. They were really well-behaved. Lots of families camped and used multiple sites across the road from each other. The park was completely packed, but we still had a decent amount of privacy. There are trees in-between each of the camp sites so you aren't staring at your neighbors. We were able to hang up two hammocks right beside the tent pad.

The tent pads are some of the most generously sized I've seen in a state park. They were mostly level and topped with crushed gravel. Each site had a large picnic table, fire ring, bear pole, and room for a car. The paved area for parking and campers weren't as level, and most people got creative with leveling out the campers.

Product Review

As a Ranger for The Dyrt, I get products to test from time to time. During this trip I was testing out a new meal from Mountain House. We got to try the Turkey Dinner which is a freeze-dried meal in a pouch. This is the number one brand I use when backpacking, so I was really excited to try out a new selection. The pouch included two servings of 240 calories each. I used my Pocket Rocket to boil water, then poured the boiling water into the pouch, gave it a stir, and sealed it up. I always make sure the pouch is completely sealed, then lay it on its side. In my experience, this helps all of the freeze-dried goodness to soak up the water better. After five minutes, I opened up the bag, gave it another stir, and sealed it back up. My wife was just coming back from her shower and was so excited that dinner was already ready. It was super fast! She ate her half of dinner off of a camp plate, and I had my half out of the pouch. When backpacking I eat the entire pouch (calories are good!!), but for car camping it was the perfect amount to split.

The turkey dinner was absolutely delicious! There were full chunks of turkey in there. The stuffing was filling. I couldn't really see the veggies since they were chopped up, but the flavor was perfect! My favorite part of the meal was discovering the quote on the bottom of the pouch when I laid it on its side.

Ranger Review: Leatherman Charge ALX at Twin Lakes State Park, VA

Campground Review

The staff at this campground really went above and beyond to make sure I had all the correct information needed for my stay. They truly run like a well-oiled machine. They are the reason for the 3-stars. This was actually my second time at the park, but I didn't remember that until after I'd arrived and things started looking familiar. I should have known something was up if I didn't remember being here.

The campground itself is not my style. The sites were packed in close together and most of the tent only sites were tiny! There's even one site that wraps around a second site. After picking out my (first) site, I parked my car, looked around, and realized that there wouldn't be room for my both my tent and my friend's tent. I moved to the next site, put up my tent, and started looking for a place for my hammock. We're in the woods, it shouldn't be that hard. There were zero trees behind the second site. So, I moved again. Third time is a charm, right? We were able to get both tents up and found a place for both hammocks in between our site and the next. To give an idea of how close some of the sites are, the wood barrier around my site was only two feet away from the next site's barrier. I go camping to get away, not hang out with the neighbors.

The regulator on my lucky stove broke, so we cooked everything over a campfire. State Parks don't allow you to bring outside firewood (it's a good rule of thumb), so we bought their wood. All they had was huge pieces of fresh pine. I didn't bring a hatchet since I shouldn't need one for car camping. Luckily I had my Leatherman. More on that later.

The swimming lake is a good size. There is a concession stand, a beach with lifeguard, and a rental station for paddle boats. There were people in the water all weekend enjoying the awesome weather.

The lake trail passes right through the beach, then into the woods. The trail goes from sidewalk, to gravel, to jagged stones, to dirt, then blacktop. The last part of the trail is actually on an unmarked two-lane road over the spillway. All-in-all not the relaxing hike I had hoped for.

My take on this park is that it is best for families who love the water and want to go swimming every day. It does not have good hiking trails, or good camping - not the kind I'm looking for anyway.

Product Review

As a Ranger for The Dyrt, I get products to test from time to time - today I am testing the Leatherman Charge ALX. First, let me say this thing is AWESOME! I used it numerous times this weekend. It's fair to say that everything that could go wrong did go wrong. The regulator on my propane stove started acting wonky. I would be in the middle of cooking and the flame would go out. The only way to light it is to lift the grate in order to get the firestarter close to the burner. The cast iron grate was already scalding, so I used my Leatherman needle-nose pliers to lift it up. Voila! After relighting the grill the fourth time, we gave up on it and decided to build a fire.

The pine logs were HUGE! Plus, there was very little kindling in the campground to use as a firestarter. We found some large branches and used the handy saw on my Leather Charge ALX to cut them up into fire-sized pieces. The sawing took way less time than I would expect for a hand-sized tool! Then, I used the straight-blade knife to shave off some bark for a little fire-starter. This blade is sharp! We had a fire going in no time.

I used the knife to cut paracord for hanging my hammock, slicing my ribeye, and even used the diamond file to fix a broken nail. Hey, a girl's gotta have good nails even in the woods.

Now that I'm back home, I reach for the Leatherman any time something needs fixing. I don't have to lug a tool box around the house and yard to fix things. Everything I need is all in one amazing pocket-sized tool. This thing is the best!

A great park for a weekend get-away

The trails at this park are very well maintained. They are designated as hiking, biking, and/or horseback riding, so you'll know which trails are best for your activity.

This park has some of the best bike trails in the state - over 25 miles. Several new mountain-bike-only trails opened just this year. The difficulties are clearly marked as Novice through Expert. They even installed maintenance equipment at the entrance of each new trail so you can make minor adjustments without carrying your own equipment.

A number of the hiking trails through this park are wide fire roads. Smaller paths wind throughout the park connecting the larger trails together. Be sure to get a park map before you start your adventure. This is the largest state park in Virginia and it's easy to get turned around.

If you're into Geocaching, or want to learn how, you can pick up a hand-held GPS from the park office along with a list of the geocaches located in the park. The geocaches are rotated on a fairly frequent basis, so there will always be new caches for you to find.

Pocahontas State Park has a great Nature Center where you can pet or hold some of the smaller snakes, and watch the box turtles wander around. Here you can learn about the local plants and wildlife so you know what to look for out on the trail. There are even craft activities for the little ones. Just check with the park office or the Nature Center for a schedule of events.

For water lovers there is a large swimming pool that is open during the summer months. If you're camping for the night, your entrance to the pool is included in your stay. Or, if you prefer kayaks and canoes, you can put in at Swift Creek Lake for a flatwater paddle. The park has rental equipment if need to borrow gear.

The southern end of the park has been designed for the horse lovers. There is ample parking for trailers and miles of wide trails so you don't have to ride single file. The park includes new facilities for your horses including two exercise rings. There are no overnight facilities for horses at this park.

The camping sites are nothing special. Tent and RV camping are in the same area. They do provide plenty of room for your tent, and include a picnic table and fire ring. Many of the sites are in almost full sun, so you may want to bring a shade of some type with you.

Beware that there is a huge tick population in this park. Be sure to wear bug spray if you'll be out in the woods at any point.

All-in-all, this is a fantastic park for families. There is a little bit of everything for everyone in your family.