Camping


Youth camps have graced the Kerrville area of the Texas Hill Country since the 1920s, but Presbyterians were the first denomination to start a summer church camp there. Methodists, Lutherans, and Catholics soon followed suite. Currently, one can visit nearby Mount Wesley, Camp Chrysalis, and TECABOCA.

Mo Ranch is a 500-acre conference and camp center west of Hunt, which is west of Kerrville. Formally a Conoco Oil Company retreat, Mo Ranch takes its name from corporate executive and former owner Daniel J. Moran, who created much of the grounds’ singular infrastructure with repurposed oilfield pipe and locally quarried limestone. The Presbyterian Church acquired the property in 1949.

Map of Mo Ranch

Map of Mo Ranch

I first visited Mo Ranch as a child when Dad took me there during one of our annual summer vacations in the hills. We stayed at Casa Bonita Lodges on the Guadalupe River’s South Fork. Nearby stood the Helter Skelter Shelter and the Hodge Podge Lodge. One morning, while the rest of the family (three sisters and our mother) enjoyed other activities, the males drove around to the Guadalupe’s north branch. Nine river crossings separate Hunt from Mo. Even on that first visit to the resort, I remember the renowned slide, down which thrill-seekers ride a short board into the river. Somewhere there’s a photo of young me standing next to the slide. In the early days, the narrow highway wound through the property; today, a new bridge bypasses the former entrance.

After attending junior-high-age Camp Aranama, the logical next step in my maturity was to go to Mo, which I first did as a camper in the summer of ’69. It was then that I met Sallie H., whom I regarded as my best girl, though she didn’t. Boys stayed in the River Dorm, girls in Loma Linda. During the week-long outing, we campers listened to contemporary songs such as The Sound of Silence and discussed them, always with a Christian slant. Canyon wrens would serenade us during dances and services in the auditorium. We ran across the catwalk, which floor you could see through, daring each other to look down. We’d drop toast off the structure to see if it would bounce. I took walks next to the Guadalupe and marveled at old outbuildings. The promise of romance electrified every encounter.

We enjoyed Cokes in the Teen Canteen and bought James Avery jewelry in the book store. I learned about Malcolm Boyd and Marshall McLuhan, buying their books. I’ve still got The Medium is the Massage and later discovered an audio version. Those ideas would be pivotal in my communications studies at UT later. Summer of ‘70 was the year Hurricane Celia hit Port Aransas dead-center. I had escaped to Mo earlier that week, and heard that Corpus was destroyed—an exaggeration. I also went to a choir camp at Mo one off-season, from which I still cherish the sheet music.

Sallie proved to be a powerful attractant to my getting to Austin, along with my big sister’s pioneering move there. Ironically, Sallie left Austin just as I arrived.

Presbyterian University Students at Mo Ranch, 1974

Presbyterian University Students
at Mo Ranch, 1974

I attended a bible church for my first couple terms at UT, but returned to the familiar Presbyterian fold in my junior year. That meant more trips to Mo, mainly for retreats during fall, winter, and spring. The photo shows one such visit. That’s me on the far right addressing our group outside the River Dorm. I’m not sure what I’m saying, but a good guess is a recitation of Prinderella and the Since, which I’d memorized back in high school for speech tournaments. My travel log records this trip on April 26, 1974, dutifully counting those nine river crossings. With each bridge, excitement would grow. A similar church group returned to Mo another time, camping at The Rapids just upstream of the facility’s more developed areas. On a different occasion, I provided music for a dance in the auditorium.

Flying Roof Yurt at Mo Ranch, 1975

Flying Roof Yurt at Mo Ranch, 1975

After obtaining my first degree (RTF) in December of ‘74, I was footloose and fancy-free for a few brief months. In early 1975, I heard about a hands-on workshop happening at Mo Ranch, so out I went. This was my first meeting with William S. Coperthwaite and my first time to help build a yurt. Bill, as he’s known, designed the modern yurt, a permanent version of the nomadic tents used for centuries in the steppes of Central Asia. Under Bill’s direction over a couple weekends, a crew of volunteers erected two nine-sided yurts just north of the catwalk. Each featured a flying roof of cylindrical sections. We’d hammer and saw by day, then hold conversations about architecture and social design in the evenings. These unique structures were meant to be staff quarters. The yurts lasted several years, but were, unfortunately, razed when new, unimpressed management took over. I, however, began a long relationship with Dr. Coperthwaite that continues to this day and that led to my building two yurts of my own.

Mo Ranch exemplifies a place of significant life happenings. The Hill Country is a special place on its own, but Mo became an even more extraordinary slice of those hills. Everything that makes the region attractive I found at Mo Ranch: juniper tree aromas, distant vistas, cold running waters, stout limestone ledges, and indigenous wildlife. Add to that physical beauty the important experiences of adolescent infatuation, hard work, deep thought, and fun times—and Mo remains unforgettable.

Bowl o’ Red

Bowl o’ Red

Serves 6

2 pounds ground meat

2 medium onions, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups spicy veggie juice or
tomato paste and water

16 oz. beef broth

2 tsp. hot soy sauce

2 tsp. chipotle Tabasco sauce

3 Tbsp. chili powder

1 tsp. salt (if none in broth)

½ tsp. black pepper

1 tsp. cayenne pepper

1 Tbsp. cumin

1 tsp. paprika

2 Tbsp. cornbread mix or masa

2 Tbsp. cool water

Brown meat, onions, and garlic; drain. Add all ingredients except masa and simmer over low heat for 2 hours, adding more veggie juice, water, or beer if needed. Combine masa with water; whisk until smooth. Add to bubbling chili and continue cooking for 15 minutes or until thickened. Garnish with cheese, yogurt, or sliced fresh jalapeno. Serve with crackers.

Enjoy!

My friends, family, and I enjoyed a fun and enlightened Kerrville Wine and Music Festival over the first September weekend. Besides the tastings and tunes, another main attraction for many folks is the experience of living outdoors. Others, most notably Dyanne Fry Cortez, write about Kerrville’s remarkable subculture, but this post might be the first detailed look at camping itself. Here is an account of the steps I take each festival to thrive without electricity, running water, or a flush toilet.

Background: I’ve been attending various Kerrville music events since 1979. Even that first year, camping seemed the best way to fully experience the amazing scene. I’d camped for years before, on my own and with various significant others and friends. But at Kerrville in the beautiful Texas Hill Country, I began to raise outdoor living to a fine art.

Beginning in 1973 with the simplest of equipment—a pup tent, mess kit, and folding chair—I gradually collected additional stuff. Soon, more items required crates and bags in which to tote them. Before long, things got jumbled and inconvenient. My first significant innovation was a chuck box, which I built in the early 80s.

Stacked Chuck Boxes

Stacked Chuck Boxes

Made of scrap lumber, the device features numerous compartments for plates, saucepans, a griddle, utensils, foil, hot pads, cutting boards, cups, and spices. A hinged front drops down to create a work surface held up with chains. Rope handles make it easy to carry, and a set of removable legs keeps it off the ground. Needless to say, the chuck box revolutionized our camping experience. I added a second “storey” to it in the late 80s, a miniature clone that created more storage space and another shelf.

In-Tents Housing

In-Tents Housing

Tents began small, got big during family times, and shrunk again as the nest emptied. In Texas, we’re not as concerned with staying warm as we are keeping cool. Most people don’t spend much time in a tent during the day, but use it for sleeping and as a clothes closet. Ideally, a good tent provides lots of ventilation but must also be ready for the inevitable downpours. Normal rain flies seldom suffice, so we learned to stretch plastic tarps over our cloth houses. More on tents shortly.

Since a tent is rather confining, we needed a place to hang out while conversing, eating, and reading. Awnings to the rescue! Eschewing the pre-made pop-ups and mass-marketed screened cabanas, I realized that a plastic tarp is great over a tent to keep rain off, but lousy to sit under during the day. It’s noisy in the breeze and hot beneath. Desiring more earthy materials, I fell in love with untreated canvas.

Awning on Poles

Awning on Poles

Such are hard to find in stores these days, but available through the mail. I used a couple of small ones at first, propped up on cedar poles that I myself had sawed. With a growing camp population, we needed more space. With friend Michael Dennis’s tipi-making skills, we sewed our own giant awning out of cotton duck in the early 90s. It measures some 9 x 13 feet and includes grommets and a rope sewn into the hem for added strength. In a nod to modern materials, a telescopic PVC pole holds up its middle. My auxiliary tarps can be attached in many ways to extend the shade. Canvas is quiet and cool. If the day is too warm, I wet the tarps to provide evaporative cooling.

60d Nail

60d Nail

To assure that a heavy awning withstands the vicissitudes of wind and weather, I need good ropes and good stakes. Long ago I became enamored with braided chord, the type used in Venetian blinds. I employ both cotton and nylon. It’s easily coiled into a hank and holds a knot well. I make constant use of five basic knots: bowline, two half-hitches, tautline hitch, sheet bend, and square knot. To secure a rope to the earth, I utilize flagged 60d nails (d being the old abbreviation for penny). These I discovered while working as a surveyor (a connection to maps and geography). In fact, the dude who introduced me to the Kerrville festival was Craig Crosby Cregar, a fellow surveyor. The nails are six inches long and easy to recover because of their bright ribbons. For heavier applications, I use 100d and 120d spikes, all driven in with a 3-pound sledge hammer named Mjolnir Junior. Bungee chords are also mighty handy around camp.

Tautline Hitch

Tautline Hitch

Collapsing Chair, Stool, Table

Collapsing Chair, Stool, Table

One of the disadvantages of going around on only two legs is that we must sit down often. My campers tried many varieties of nomadic chairs over these decades, but it’s hard to beat the humble folding camp stool. It’s comfortable to rest on and you can put a piece of plywood on it to form an instant side table. The prize-winning chair design is the one pictured below with the official Kerrville logo emblazoned on its front. I picked up a couple of these at a festival in the 80s and have used them ever since. The seat comes out from the bottom and slides into the back to form a compact shape. Their solid oak structure make them durable. I’ve replaced the canvas on both. The wooden table and camp stool also fold away.

Of course, we environmental types are attempting to wean ourselves from fossil fuel, but I draw the line at cooking and illumination. The Coleman-style camp stove is efficient and ubiquitous. Instead of buying the small disposable propane canisters, I use a refillable tank. Coleman lanterns are almost as widespread, but I don’t like their too-bright glare. As an alternative, I choose the soft glow of old-fashioned hurricane lanterns. My favorite brand is Dietz, filled with highly refined oil. They’re easily dimmed and provide gentle ambient light that aesthetically fits our canvas roof.

Dietz Lanterns of Many Color

Dietz Lanterns of Many Colors

As you can guess, the camp kept getting more elaborate every year. In the early days, we located in the meadow, which sports mostly level soft ground. But being in a low place between hills, it tends to flood and is then called the Mud-ow. The wettest festival year was in 1987, when skies rained for 15 out of 18 days. There was no dry pace in the entire campground, but areas with higher elevation at least didn’t contain standing water. That was the year my family—pregnant wife Vicki and three-year-old daughter Kristiana—moved up-slope to Sumac Ridge. It’s been my Kerrville site ever since.

View from Sumac Ridge

View from Sumac Ridge

Another tradition at the festival is to give your camp a name, especially if it’s a longstanding one with many inhabitants. In existence were such places as Camp Sweetness and Light, Camp Cuisine, and Camp Moco Verde. I searched for a moniker for mine. Ever since 1971, I’ve worn essence of patchouli, a pungent flower in the mint family. It was so deemed, and the name stuck. You can see Camp Patchouli on signs, equipment, and banners throughout the site. I also always fly the Earth Flag to announce my presence.

Signed Patchouli

Signed Patchouli

The only way to get water up Sumac Ridge is to carry it a jug at a time. By elevating certain containers, I set up a siphon or gravity-fed system for drinking and chores. We save melt water from ice chests to do dishes. We conserve ice by covering the chests with old sleeping bags as insulation.

Gravity-Fed Water System

Gravity-Fed Water System

Sleeping is always an issue, especially in a tent pitched on the Ranch’s rocky ground. I make sure the bed’s head slopes slightly uphill. Under ideal feng-shui conditions, our feet point south, but that’s not always possible given the terrain. We’ve tried many kinds of inflatable  mattresses, but they never ever hold air throughout a night. A stack of closed-cell foam pads works much better. I get my best Zs sleeping at Kerrville.

Bedroom Tent

Bedroom Tent

As my equipment collection got ever bigger, I needed a way to keep track of all those items. Solution: checklists. These got more elaborate, too. My current one is arranged geographically, corresponding to Camp Patchouli’s layout. It’s easier to remember things in groups.

Checklist

Checklist

The growing bulk of paraphernalia gave rise to a storage crisis. For many years, I simply stashed everything in the bottom of a closet. It was getting harder to access and a pain to haul out and pack. The crisis came to a head when I put my South Austin house on the market in 2006. Everything had to be moved. It was a perfect opportunity to build something Boy Scouts have used for years: a gear trailer. Such would provide secure storage and easy transport to camping events. Mine, however, would assuredly advance to another level of functionality and elegance.

Packed and Ready for Travel

Packed and Ready for Travel

Welcome the Chuck Wagon. It’s sort of an enlarged version of the chuck box, built on an off-the-shelf 4 x 6-foot trailer. The canvas and wood contrivance offers the expected stowage and mobility, but also becomes the camp kitchen and spare bedroom when emptied. A side hinges up to form an ample work surface. The roof raises to create a bit of shade and rain shed beneath. The opposite side also becomes an awning and lets breeze flow through.

Chuck Wagon Open and Bedecked

Chuck Wagon Open and Bedecked

Chuck Wagon as RV

Chuck Wagon as RV

Historical footnote: “Chuck” got its name from Charles Goodnight, famed Texas cattleman. He invented the chuck wagon to carry equipment and supplies for the long cattle drives up the trail. Chuck also denotes food, as in “up-chuck.”

Cowboy-Style Chuck Wagon

Cowboy-Style Chuck Wagon

Kup and Glasses

Kup and Glasses

In 1991, festival founder Rod Kennedy banned disposable vessels from the main theater area. This drastically reduced trash accumulation and, too, gave rise to the Kerr Kup, a reusable 16-ounce plastic container that comes with a circular clip to hang on your belt loop or pocket edge. Emblazoned with the festival logo, these kups in their many hues have become collectors’ items. I wear mine constantly every festival. Wine events issue similar souvenir wine glasses, with a different color every year. Two of the stemware reside in the chuck box, protected by beer koozies during transport.

Chameleon as Sunshade

Chameleon as Sunshade

Another fascinating product I discovered in the theater craft booths one year was the chameleon. This is a multipurpose garment that’s a cape, shirt, skirt, bag, pants, or dress, depending on your need at the time.

Crates Form Side Table

Crates Form Side Table

A great container for comparable miscellaneous gear is the milk crate. Light weight, durability, inexpensiveness, standard size, and interlocking design all contribute to their indispensability.

Carpets and Paving

Carpets and Paving

Another feature that adds pure comfort to the experience is rugs and mats. I use square-foot woven rice fiber ones at the tent’s threshold and brightly painted upside-down carpet remnants in front of the Chuck Wagon. Because our site on Sumac Ridge be relatively permanent, I laid down flagstones as pavement and salvaged 2×6’s to devise terracing. These stay put when we’re not at festival.

QVR Map

QVR Map

For many years, Quiet Valley Ranch had no scale map. Being the inveterate cartographer and surveyor, I took on the task to provide one. With help from my tipi friend and my son Sol’s classmates, we used a transit, range pole, and 100’ tape to fix locations of the grounds’ major places. I also dreamed up names for campground areas, such as Fenceline Heights, Sunrise Strip, and Sumac Ridge. I’ve published and sold this map since 1993 in both paper and cloth formats. On the reverse side, I include camping hints, a plant and animal inventory, and an essay on the ranch’s natural history. This geographer’s tool informs the nature walks I lead on every Sunday of every festival. The MapKerrChief comes in blue, tan, yellow, and goldenrod colors with hundreds of uses.

MapKerrChiefs with Patchouli Located

MapKerrChiefs with Patchouli Located

Leading a Nature Hike

Leading a Nature Hike

With the frequent drawing and reading that happens in camp, where do you keep your papers and books? Here’s the field desk:

Close-Up and In Use

Close-Up and In Use

It’s got compartments for maps, field guides, novels, pencils, pens, and other necessities. Akin to a chuck box, the field desk features a flat work surface. All told, the cute thing serves as the campground office.

Kerrville remains an inseparable part of my life, and I’m pleased have contributed to its success over the years. There’s just no place like Kerrville, and there are few places as homey as Camp Patchouli. Why not join us next festival?

Please share you own camping experiences and comments.

My friends, family, and I enjoyed another fun and enlightened Kerrville Wine and Music Festival over the first September weekend. Besides the tastings and tunes, another main attraction for many folks is the experience of living outdoors. Here is an account of the steps I take each festival to thrive without electricity, running water, or flush toilet.

Background: I’ve been attending various Kerrville music events since 1979. Even that first year, camping seemed the best way to fully experience the setting. I’d been camping for years before, on my own and with various spouses and friends. But at Kerrville in the beautiful Texas Hill Country, I began to raise outdoor living to a fine art.

Beginning with the simplest of equipment, usually a pup tent and a couple pots and pans, I’ve gradually achieved rising levels of sophistication. The first big step up was building a chuck box, which I did in the early 1980s.

Made of scrap lumber, the device features numerous compartments for plates, saucepans, a griddle, utensils, cups, and spices. A hinged front drops down to create a work surface. Rope handles make it easy to carry, and a set of removable legs keeps it off the ground. Needless to say, the chuck box revolutionized our camping experience. I added a second “storey” to it in the late 80s, creating more storage space and another shelf.

Tents began small, got big during family times, and shrunk again as the nest emptied. In Texas, we’re not as concerned with staying warm as we are keeping cool. Most people don’t spend much time in a tent during the day, but use it for sleeping and as a clothes closet. Consequently, a good tent provides lots of ventilation but must also be ready for the inevitable downpours. Normal rainflies seldom suffice, so we learned to stretch plastic tarps above the shelter.

Since a tent is rather confining, we needed a place to hang out while conversing, eating, and reading. Awnings to the rescue. Eschewing the pre-made pop-ups and screened cabanas on the market, I realized that a plastic tarp is great over a tent to keep rain off, but lousy to sit under during the day. It’s noisy in the breeze and hot beneath. Desiring more earthy materials, I fell in love with untreated canvas.

Such are hard to find in stores these days, but available through the mail. I used a couple of small ones at first, standing on cedar poles that I myself had sawed. With a growing camp population, we needed more space. With a friend’s know-how, we sewed our own giant awning out of cotton duck in the early 90s. It measures some

chairs, tables, stools

checklists

map, hints, P&A inventory, Kerr-chief

stove and lanterns

Chuck Wagon

earth flag, signs

milk crates

welcome mats

water system, dishwashing station

ropes, knots, bungees

nails, spikes, stakes

mattresses, pads

camp gets a name

rocks, logs

Kerr Kups