Accommodations, camp, destinations, Foodie, resources, travel tips

Caving, Camping, and Cooking

A few years ago, I took a camp cooking class at my local REI. The class instructor asked everyone what their cooking experience was at camps. As I thought back to the camping I had done, I realize I had mostly gone to restaurants or otherwise eaten cereal or other easy-to-make things. I had to tell him I didn’t really have experience, despite all the camping I had done.

Ever since then, I decided that I wanted to explore different ways I could cook at camp. My most recent camping experience was at Oregon Caves National Monument. While I had hiking, camping, and caving, I also got to enjoy delicious food thanks to Mountain House!

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I arrived at Cave Creek Campground, the rustic campground that is part of the Oregon Caves National Monument, on a Friday. I spent the afternoon setting up camp and enjoying the camp amenities. My campsite was right next to the creek! After a few hours of exploration and relaxation, it was time to start making dinner, which turned out to be relaxing as well!

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I decided to make chicken and rice. Now that sounds like it would be difficult to make at a campsite, but Mountain House made it super easy. Mountain House is a maker of freeze-dried camping food. They’re actually also based in Oregon, so it only felt right to use them on an Oregon camping trip! (Though I’m sure they’d be delicious no matter where you are.) Here’s all I had to do:

Step one: Boil water.

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Step two: Pour some water into the packet.

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Step three: Zip up the packet and wait a few minutes while it “cooks”.

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Step four: Enjoy! While this meal is tasty as-is, it’s also totally customizable. I decided to slice up a tomato and add that to the mix.

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After that, all I had to cook was the mandatory things that you have to cook for every camping trip: s’mores!

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Even the next morning, breakfast was simple, filling, and amazing. Mountain House makes breakfast meals as well, and I had those meals on both Saturday and Sunday morning.

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I spent most of Saturday away from the campground. The main attraction of Oregon Caves National Monument is about four miles uphill from the Cave Creek Campground. I went up there and opened and closed the caves that day! I took the first tour of the day, which told of all the stories about the cave held. And then I took the last tour, which was candlelit!

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In between those two tours, I went hiking, visited the visitor center at the Chalet, and took a guided tour of the Chateau.

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Because there weren’t any fires allowed in this area, I enjoyed some of the snacks I brought, and I got a little meal at the 50s-style diner in the Chateau. However, after the last tour when I went back to camp, I was craving another Mountain House meal!

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As I was camping, I realized that it was a great way to save money. My campsite only cost $10 a night, which is only a fraction of the price of a room at the Chateau! Because of that, I was able to take two tours, and I still had money left over for future adventures. Cooking my own food is something that always saves me money, whether I’m camping or at home. Mountain House made that easy to do even at a basic campsite. All I needed was hot water. (If for some reason you can’t get hot water, I tasted it before it was cooked. Trust me, it’s still good!) Even though I was eager to devour all of the Mountain House meals that I brought, if for some reason I wasn’t able to eat them, no worries. They’re good until 2048!

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(In case it wasn’t obvious, Mountain House provided me samples in order for me to write this post. No other compensation was made.)

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Have you ever camped at a National Park or Monument? Tell me about your experience in the comments below!

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camp, jobs, travel tips, writing

88 Things Every Camp Staff Member Needs to Know

In the last issue of Camp Business Magazine, I shared 88 of the many things I’ve learned while working on staff at several camps. If you’re in the middle of summer camp or considering doing something like this in the future, get a step ahead by learning these tips!

(If you want to read the published article, check out the May/June 2018 of Camp Business here.)

Getting the Job

  1. Camp is a wonderful gateway to a variety of jobs.

  2. You definitely shouldn’t get a camp job just for the money, especially since it’s pretty easy to find better-paying jobs. But since most of your expenses are covered, it’s a good job to work at while saving up for college, travel, or another big expense.

  3. Even if you have a specific position at camp, you may still sometimes find yourself doing things that weren’t mentioned in your job description.

  4. When you work together, eat together, play together, and live together, a sense of community is bound to form.

  5. The work you do can leave an eternal impact.

  6. Lots of camps experience this form of natural staff recruitment: As campers, young people see how fun it is to work at camp and wish they could do all the crazy things that their goofy counselors do. Many decide to apply once they are of age.

  7. Do you know someone who works at a camp? This can be advantageous in so many ways. They can give you tips for how to fill out your application or what to say in your interview. Ask if they could provide you with a reference. Some camps that have difficulty recruiting enough staff offer a refer-a-friend program to current or former workers. They’ll get a gift card or another bonus when you join the team, making this beneficial for both of you.

  8. You can also use traditional job search methods, like Craigslist and job boards, to try to find a camp that’s hiring.

  9. If you’re considering working at a camp, but cringe at the thought of being surrounded by a dozen kids at all hours of the day, don’t worry. There are many hats you can wear while working at camp, and counseling is an optional one.

  10. Working at camp can be advantageous for all ages and all walks of life.

  11. Camp can be a lifelong career!

  12. Plan ahead and apply early.

  13. Some camps are old-fashioned, while others are up-to-date on the latest technology. This means that figuring out how to apply is kind of like a scavenger hunt. You may find an application online, or you may have to snail mail your resume to the camp’s address.

  14. Camp requires sacrifice, and for some it takes more than others.

  15. You might be stuck with roommates you don’t know, which could turn into a positive or negative experience.

  16. Time is a major commitment. Camp takes up most, if not all, of summer, and it’s often more than a 40-hour workweek

  17. You’ll often miss out on sleep, alone time, and even bathroom time.

  18. Camp work is truly not for everyone.

  19. Camps aren’t limited to summer.

Packing

  1. You want to be prepared, because missing even one key item could leave you miserable. You don’t want to face mosquitos without insect repellant, or the sun without sunscreen, or Bible camp without a Bible!

  2. Overpacking will lead to what’s known as “stuffocation”: too much stuff crammed into tight quarters.

  3. Your roommates won’t appreciate your belongings overflowing into their space!

  4. Many camps will mail you a packet of onboarding information. Or, if the camp’s in tune with the 21st century, it can be found online. This packet might go over the camp rules, employee information like how you’ll get paid, and maybe even a map of the camp property. But the most important part of this packet is the packing list.

  5. Who said you had to keep things in a suitcase? Most big-box stores sell dresser-style drawers made entirely of plastic. These are about as lightweight as a suitcase, but so much more organized and better-looking.

  6. Regular bedding is a lot easier to clean than a sleeping bag.

  7. If you think you might get cold at night, flannel sheets are great.

  8. Find out what kind of decorations you’re allowed to have. (You may be limited, since nails, tacks, and adhesives can ruin walls.) Even a simple poster can brighten up a room, provided it’s in good taste.

  9. Camp bathrooms are used by a lot of people, and often don’t have much room to keep your toiletries.

  10. You should make sure to bring kitchen supplies especially if you’re on a special diet that calls for eating differently than what the camp will serve.

  11. If you wear a uniform at camp, you’ll probably only need a couple other shirts to wear while sleeping and on your days off.

  12. Camp clothes should always be practical for the environment.

  13. But be sure to pack at least one nice outfit. You’ll end up in a situation where either you use it, or you wish you brought it!

Child Wrangling

  1. Working at a kids’ camp is about the midpoint between being a babysitter and being a parent.

  2. If you’re a counselor, see if you can get a list of names of all your campers, before camp starts if possible.

  3. Prioritize learning real names over camp names. That’s the name you’ll need in the event of an emergency, as well as the one they’re most likely to respond to when you’re calling them.

  4. Start by learning the troublemakers’ names first. They’re the ones you’ll have to call out the most!

  5. When you’re in charge of campers, you’re really on the clock 24 hours a day. But hopefully you can take at least a few of those hours to sleep.

  6. Night and morning routines help establish a daily rhythm and set the right kind of mood for the time of day.

  7. Homesickness is bound to happen. And like a disease, it can quickly spread to more campers.

  8. Treat campers with special needs like the other campers as much as their disability allows. They are more than their disability.

  9. On the first night at camp, make sure that every clothing tag, toiletry, and book has a first and last name somewhere on it.

  10. Keep your eyes open for former campers when you’re out and about.

All Fun and Games

  1. Games may not seem as important as other aspects of camp. But in reality, games are an excellent skill-building opportunity, can open up conversations and teambuilding with campers, and are even a great marketing technique as campers will tell their friends about the fun they had.

  2. If there is a game or another activity that you don’t like, that’s okay. But campers should never be able to detect a hint of your animosity toward it.

  3. Teamwork is an important part of camp.

  4. If your camp has low ropes, a challenge course, or other teambuilding activities, try to do that with your team as soon as you can.

  5. Just about every activity can be more fun when done in the dark with glow sticks.

  6. Night hikes are a fun, educational, and memorable experience for all ages.

  7. The typical recipe for s’mores includes marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate, but don’t feel limited to that. Get creative with your substitutions and add-ons. The options are limitless.

  8. You can make indoor smores using chocolate syrup and marshmallow crème- this is a good option if you don’t want kids messing with fire.

Work Perks

  1. Camp provides you with an “outdoor education” of sorts. It’s a great time to learn a few nature facts you might have missed in school.

  2. If you have a fear of heights, you’ll probably have several opportunities at camp to challenge this fear.

  3. Camp would be the best place to wait out an apocalypse.

  4. Due to remote locations and other circumstances. the internet connection and cell service aren’t always the greatest, and some camps still don’t offer any connectivity at all.

  5. Going unplugged is good for you. It helps you become more mindful of your surroundings and what you’re doing. You get to live in the present. You get to learn to enjoy the silence.

  6. Camp can energize you by making you feel more useful, but it can zap your energy just as easily.

  7. It can be hard to get enough sleep, but try to the best you can. Be strict about enforcing quiet times, as it’s good both for you and the campers.

  8. You work an active job, so you probably won’t need to get up two hours early to go jogging.

Camp Crushes and Courtships

  1. If you work at a coed camp, a couple crushes are bound to arise among your coworkers, or even involving yourself.

  2. Many camps have adopted the “No Purpling” rule because the pink people at camp and the blue people at camp should not be close enough for their colors to blend. (For the record, the “No Purpling” rule also implies no “hot pinking” or “baby blueing”.)

  3. Although you’re probably sleeping in separate buildings from the opposite gender, you do spend most of your waking hours with your coworkers at camp. Because of this, you may feel closely connected to your coworkers, and at a faster pace than connections like these normally take.

  4. One problem with beginning a relationship outside of your normal environment is that it can be difficult to transfer this new romance back into your normal environment.

  5. If you have a significant other for a camp coworker, it shouldn’t be obvious to your other coworkers. Treat everyone equally, and don’t put anyone in the position of your third wheel.

  6. If you don’t want to deal with guy-girl drama, or you want to avoid the temptation that can come with coed camps, it might be advantageous for you to look for a camp that’s just for your gender.

  7. Camp provides a relationship benefit even for those who don’t end up in a relationship: You have the opportunity to observe the opposite gender act in ways at camp that you may not see in other environments.

Avoiding the Health Center

  1. If you see a safety hazard, either fix it or report it to someone who can.

  2. Make sure to remind your campers to take their meds when they’re supposed to.

  3. If you can handle it, offering to clean up vomit can be a big help. Yes, it’s gross. No, it probably isn’t in your job description.

  4. Make sure water is readily available.

  5. Wearing helmets on the rock wall and not diving in the shallow end applies to everyone, not just kids!

  6. One of the best things you can do is take care of your own health. Set a good example when it comes to wearing sunscreen, drinking water, and staying on trails.

  7. Ideally, all camps should provide all their staff with CPR and first aid training, but if camp doesn’t provide this, you should take it upon yourself to sign up for a course before the camp season.

  8. Traditionally, “camp food” meant cheap, tasteless bulk food. If that’s what you’re picturing, you’ll be glad to know that fewer and fewer camps are dishing up these mystery meals.

  9. If you have any concerns for your own personal health, call ahead of time to see how camp can accommodate you.

  10. It can be difficult to work at camp while simultaneously dealing with a health concern like diabetes, epilepsy, or asthma. But it’s certainly not impossible.

  11. Get to know your camp’s protocols. Follow the rules, even when no one’s looking.

Camp in Real Life

  1. Camps often hire on-call or part-time staff to help in the kitchen or with activities during weekend retreats throughout the year.

  2. Many leadership and office staff work year-round, so you could land a full-time camp job if you want to work through every season.

  3. There are many differences between camp in summer and the rest of the year. It’s typically toned-down, being less of a crazy place and more of a place to find rest and recharge. The atmosphere is definitely different.

  4. Working at camp is no vacation. But it can provide skills that help you enjoy travel more.

  5. You might be able to benefit from employee discounts on camp stays.

  6. Many camps offer staff reunions that allow their seasonal alumni to return in the off season to catch up on life.

  7. Even if your camp doesn’t offer staff reunions, it can still be beneficial to visit your former camps.

  8. Camp provides many positive, happy memories. But these experiences can sometimes bring hurt and heartache as well.

  9. Even in tough times, a camp community will help each through it.

  10. Camp can open doors not only at work, but also in extracurricular and volunteer activities.

  11. Your time at camp will prepare you for a whole slew of opportunities, wherever you go.

  12. Summer ends, the campfire goes out, and campers leave. The turn of the seasons at camp demonstrate how fragile and fleeting life is. But we are working for something far greater than that.