Van Meter State Park is a special place for me. As a child, we would take day trips down to the park to hike the trails and enjoy the outdoors. Trips such as these helped foster the love for hiking and the outdoors that I have today. Strangely enough, since Tammy and I met, we have never returned to Van Meter. There have been several times that we have considered it as a weekend camping location, but every time we chose another option. This past weekend we finally made it back to the park that I remember so fondly.
We packed up the car on Thursday night and left after work on Friday. Since the park isn’t too far from the house (just a little over an hour drive), we knew that we could make it there and get our camp set up before nightfall. We also figured since Van Meter isn’t a hugely popular park, we shouldn’t have an issue finding a campsite.
When we arrived at the park, there were only a few RV’s at the campground, and all of the basic campsites were still available. We found a site that was tucked back in some trees and started setting up camp. Shortly thereafter, the park host came around to collect the money for camping fees and firewood. She was then nice enough to go get the firewood and bring it to our campsite.
We got our site set up and decided it was time for dinner. We brought some brats and burgers and were going to get the opportunity to try out our new cooking system. We recently purchased a Camp Chef Everest stove using our REI dividends. We also purchased a Lodge cast iron griddle to use on top of it. We found out quickly that this setup is going to take some getting used to. The stove puts out 20,000 BTU’s per burner, which is a bit more than is needed to grill a burger. Also, we forgot to bring any oil, and new cast iron isn’t exactly non-stick, even though it is pre-seasoned. I will say that the stove seems well made and works well. I think the jury is still out on the griddle. Cast iron definitely has some advantages, such as holding heat well. However, that can also be a disadvantage when you finish cooking and have to wait for it to cool down to wash it. Other disadvantages are storage (tends to stay a bit greasy) and it slid around a bit on the stove. We will definitely use it again, but I am looking into alternatives.
The temperature starting dropping pretty quick on Friday night, which made it nice to sit by the fire. Tammy was also excited that it would be a good test of her new Enlightened Equipment Revelation quilt. She actually purchased the quilt last year, but she hasn’t had the opportunity to go camping since it came in. When we awoke on Saturday morning, it was 47 degrees and she said that she wasn’t once chilly. Hers is rated down to 30 degrees and I believe that she would be comfortable sleeping in it if temps approached that point.
Since this was primarily a relaxing weekend, we ate breakfast on Saturday morning and shortly thereafter, took a nap. We got back up and decided to do a little hiking before lunch. We hiked a short trail up to Vanmeter cemetery. Many of the graves dated pack to the 1800’s. We also began hiking the Oumessourit Wetland Boardwalk Trail, but turned back when we got to the boardwalk part. The “boardwalk” was a metal grate that Bagheera was not comfortable walking on.
We returned to camp, ate lunch, and decided to drive to the north end of the park. The short drive goes past some Indian burial mounds and ends at a small parking lot adjacent to three trailheads. We first took the quick hike on the Missouri River Overlook Trail. The view at the end was a bit disappointing, as you can see the river, but it is well out in the distance. At least the hike wasn’t long enough to build up much anticipation. We then began the Loess Hills Trail. This is a two mile trail that loosely follows the banks of Lake Wooldridge. The trail stayed in the woods the majority of the time, and the cool breeze blowing through the trees was wonderful. There were several wooden bridges on the trail that crossed small streams that were spring fed and emptied into the lake. As the trail wrapped around to the north side of the lake, it started to follow the bank more closely. We were able to look out across the lake and spot several logs by the water’s edge that each had several large turtles sunning themselves on. I have never seen that many turtles clustered together like that. Shortly after that, the trail crosses the lake dam, giving us a nice view of the lake (and a bench to enjoy the view).
We returned to camp, ate dinner and headed to bed. The next morning we awoke and tore down camp, ready to return home. I can say that this was a good trip and definitely gave us an opportunity to relax. I will also say that the trip was a bit strange for me. The park that I remember from my childhood was hardly recognizable. Not in a bad way, it just wasn’t as I remembered. I think this can often be the case as we revisit places from our youth. I think a child’s mind has a magical way of storing memories and when the same thing is seen through adult eyes, it doesn’t quite compare. That being said, Van Meter State Park is still a great park. I was quiet and provided several opportunities to explore nature. Tammy and I have already agreed that we will need to make a return trip.