Thursday, October 30, 2014


It struck me this morning that the S.O. and I have now been living in this tiny fiberglass box for almost a full month -- and we're both still breathing. I believe he was less optimistic than I was; he expressed his astonishment after the first two weeks. I wasn't quite as surprised. After all, we manage to make it through long, cold winters while cohabiting in a house with less than 600 square feet of living space. We're used to tripping over each other. Of course, back up on the tundra I've got the Woman Cave and the museum to escape to occasionally and the S.O. has his shop and other places to go and things to do so it's not like we're stuck with each other 24/7.

Here at Montauk it no doubt helped that for most of the month the weather was close to perfect. When we weren't having to fulfill campground host duties, we could go exploring the local area, wander around the park, or just sit outside, people watch, and enjoy the fresh air. I'm not sure we would have done quite as well if it had rained more, especially once we realized just how damp it gets in the Guppy when conditions are wet outside. Between the condensation and various seals leaking, things got rather soggy and neither of us was in a particularly good mood -- although the S.O. was probably more irritable than I was. He slept on the side of the bed that turned into a swamp when the window above it leaked. That problem seems to have been solved, although we won't know for sure until there's another heavy rain. In any case, I think we've figured out some of the things we'd have to do to make even longer stays in the Guppy possible. The S.O. has been compiling a list of things to do; I've got a list of items to add to the basic supplies and equipment. Neither list is especially long, but we did manage to overlook some obvious things before we hit the road, like a camping ax and disposable gloves.* Live and learn.


*That combination does make it sound rather like a person is planning a career as a serial killer, but the ax is for firewood and the gloves are for connecting and disconnecting the hose from the black water tank.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Montauk State Park, Missouri

CCC-constructed picnic pavilion (aka shelter)
This feels a little weird. Usually if I spend more than five minutes in a park I'll do a post. All it takes is a ten minute walk in to see a waterfall and I've got half a dozen photos and several hundred words of verbiage up. Not this time. We've been at Montauk State Park for exactly 4 weeks today and I've yet to do much more than gripe about the fact some guys think Busch Lite cans are flammable. Not one word about the history of the park, where it's located, or the plethora of cultural resources, e.g., numerous structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

Montauk State Park is located in the Missouri Ozarks at the headwaters of the Current River. The river is formed where Pigeon Creek and the discharge from Montauk Spring merge. The Montauk Spring has an impressive discharge rate -- approximately 43 million gallons per day -- so the river is a real river from its start, which is an interesting contrast with my memories of the North Platte in Nebraska. The Platte is called a river as long as it's still in the state, but by the time you get to where it's flowing in from Wyoming you can step across it without worrying about getting your feet wet. But I digress. Montauk Spring is one of those interesting springs that bubbles up through sand. When there is a lot of water flowing through the aquifer, it can look like it's boiling. Missouri's been in drought for several years now so the boiling is now more like a gentle blooping, but you can still see the sand at the spring bubbling as the water flows up through it. The water is amazingly clear.
Fishermen downstream from the ruins of a low water bridge.

Since we arrived here, I've had several people ask me about the origins of the name Montauk. According to the park website, the area was named by settlers from Suffolk County, New York. It may be an old Indian name, as some people guess, but if it is, the Indians were from Long Island. The abundant water from the spring meant this area provided an ideal location for a flour mill. Several were built along the river; most burned down. The Montauk Mill constructed in 1896 survived; it operated for 30 years until the state purchased the land in 1926 and created a state park.

Montauk State Park is one of the oldest state parks in the Missouri state parks system. It is also one of four "trout parks" in Missouri. The other three are Bennett Spring, Roaring River, and Meramec.

The trout parks, Montauk included, are interesting from an organizational perspective because they involve cooperation between two separate state agencies: a cold water fish hatchery is co-located within or adjacent to each park. The hatcheries are operated by the Department of Conservation; the parks are operated by the Department of Natural Resources. Of the four trout parks, Montauk reputedly has the best fishing because, among other reasons cited, the river is managed in a way that keeps it as close to to a natural stream as possible. The park is large enough and the river contains enough bends that there are approximately 3 miles of river along which a person can fish. One section of the river is fly fishing only, but most is open to any lure or bait, artificial and live.
Rearing ponds at the hatchery

Most fishermen (which includes men, women, and kids), however, seem to congregate as close as possible to the upper end. This is despite the fact that when the fish are planted the plantings occur at multiple locations. You know, it's not like they open a door at the hatchery and tell the first 500 fish on any given day to "Go, swim free. You're on your own now, No more pellets; it's time you go looking for lunch instead of having it come to you." Nope. They load the fish into a truck and dump them in at a variety of points along the river. Nonetheless, based on the herd behavior of the people fishing and the way they seem to enjoy being shoulder-to-shoulder upstream from the campground, I'd guess that the fish that get dumped into the river at the locations farthest downstream from the actual hatchery are the ones that live the longest. There's a white board at the Lodge where successful fishermen can record catches they're particularly proud of; I noticed the other day that the most recent entry was an 8-lb trout. Obviously, not all the fish end up in a landing net right after being released.

Looking down the center of loop 2 on a day when the park was full.
There is more to Montauk SP than just the fish, of course. The park sits in a hollow in the Ozarks. The scenery is gorgeous, especially at this time of year. There's an abundance of wildlife. There are hiking trails. The park is lucky enough to have a naturalist who seems to have a gift for presenting interesting programs and connecting with any kids who are listening. The campground is a good one and has a nice playground for families camping with small children. There are numerous picnic tables scattered throughout the park, and there are two picnic pavilions (aka shelters). Two other playgrounds are located near the picnic shelters. It's a great family park.

As for the campground, the sites are almost all large enough that even someone with a leviathan of a Class A motorhome or a super-long travel trailer can park and not feel crowded. Although I've talked with campers who have been coming here since the 1960s who can recall when the campground was basically an open field and access was via the low water bridge shown above, the campgrounds now enjoy mature landscaping and the amenities campers today expect: electrical service and access to a showerhouse. (The only full service sites in the park are the campground host spaces.) The park has two showerhouses, both of which include laundry rooms with coin-operated washers and driers. The campground has four loops, one of which is basic, one has 30 amp electrical service, and two have 50 amp. Construction of a 5th loop is scheduled to begin in 2015. Whoever picked out the trees when they designed the campground loops knew what he or she was doing because there's a variety of deciduous species: maples, river birches, sycamores, sweet gums, oaks, etc., for shade along with smaller flowering trees like dogwoods and redbuds for visual interest.

Campground host site, Loop 2. 
In addition to the campground, there are a motel and rental cabins available for people who prefer more creature comforts (or less work) than a typical RV or tent provides. A number of the cabins were constructed by the CCC in the 1930s, but there are also newer units. The motel (aka The Lodge at Montauk) includes a full-service restaurant, a snack bar, and a store that sells fishing tackle, souvenirs, and a few basic groceries.

Montauk SP shares a boundary with Ozark National Scenic Riverways. OZAR begins where Montauk ends on the Current River. A number of interesting historic sites within OZAR -- the Susie Nicholls farm, the Welch Hospital ruins -- are within a few minutes drive of Montauk, as well as several locations for launching canoes or kayaks if a person is interested in floating the river.

People fishing from the remnants of the other low water bridge in the park.
Overall Montauk is a great place to camp if crowds don't bother you. This park is popular. Anyone coming here during the "on" season hoping to commune in silence with nature is doomed to disappointment. The No Camping Vacancies sign has gone up by the fee booth pretty early each weekend we've been here. During the peak months, reservable sites are often reserved many months in advance, and the first come first served sites tend to fill up remarkably fast. On Fridays and Saturdays RVs will be circling like sharks before noon hoping to see someone in one of those sites pull out. Even the basic sites fill up fast with people who still enjoy tent camping. It's a good thing most campers leave sites clean because when there's maybe a 10-second gap between one camper leaving and another one backing into that space, there's no way the hosts or regular maintenance are going to have time to check the site for trash. The park does hope to eventually complete a back country hiking trail that would include two hike-in camping sites, but that trail's development is probably several years away. In short, the park is awesome, but if you're looking for solitude, look elsewhere.

The incredibly onerous burdens of being a campground host

No real news or opinions, just a photo to illustrate just how much we're suffering here in Missouri.This campground hosting business is hard work.
The S.O. fishing.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Whatever happened to the Scotch?

Okay. So we're now in Missouri campground hosting at Montauk State Park. It's a lovely place. The park is situated at Montauk Springs, the headwaters of the Current River, and is in the Ozarks. The campground nestles next to the river and is nicely laid out with "mature" landscaping. Lots of humongous shade trees, relatively level ground, actual concrete pads on which campers can park their motorhomes or trailers. The campers run the gamut from young families with multiple small children muddling along in a humble pop-up or in tents to retirees with high dollar 5th wheel trailers or fresh off the assembly line Leviathans. There's a motorhome parked not far from us that I'd be willing to swear I saw on HGTV on a show dedicated to million dollar RVs, but there are also RVs that come close to being Randy Quaid specials. I guess our Guppy falls closer to the Randy Quaid end of the spectrum, but it's not alone in being an older model.

But, as usual, what I start off writing about isn't actually what's on my mind. What's actually on my mind is what's with all these trout fishermen who don't seem to have gotten the memo about the way trout fishermen are supposed to behave. I've read the Robert Traver books (Trout Madness, Trout Magic). Trout fishermen are solitary souls who stake out their piece of the river, focus obsessively on catching fish, and then go home (or back to their tent) to brood silently, thinking about the perfect fly and sipping Glenfiddich or some other single malt Scotch whiskey. They do not gather in herds around a campfire to consume massive amounts of Busch Lite (in cans, no less) and then fill the fire ring with the discarded cans of their horrible cheap beer.

Maybe I should assume it's all the guys (and gals) with their spin-casting rods. People who spin cast instead of fly fishing do tend to be a bit more casual in their outlook. At any rate, I don't see too many of them walking around looking like photos from an Orvis catalog. The fly fishermen get totally tricked out in waders and special vests and go stalking toward the river with their beautifully crafted wooden landing nets dangling on their backs; the spin casters amble casually by with a rod in one hand, a cheap landing net and small box of lures in the other, and maybe a pair of rubber boots on their feet. They're casting from shore; the fly fishermen are wading out into the middle of the river.

Of course, the fly fishermen have to get into the middle of the river in order to have space to whip all that line around. I took a fly fishing class in college -- I didn't learn much from it -- once the instructor got us to spread out along the banks of the Pilgrim River, I'd make sure I was as far away from him as possible, find a comfortable place to sit, and then read for an hour -- but I did figure out that fly fishing is a whole lot of work for not much fish. Spin casting, on the other hand, you can do from a lawn chair, which, in fact, is what a fair number of campers at this park do every day. There are several very nice areas set up for use by disabled fishermen, but if there's no one around who happens to be in an actual wheelchair and needs the space, anyone with a lawn chair can take advantage of the concrete piers.

In any case, from the perspective of a person who's getting to pick the beer cans out of the fire rings, it feels like there is something seriously wrong with the typical fisherman at this park. He or she is drinking the wrong beverage, and they're drinking it in much too social a setting. They need to do more silent brooding and less cheerful, hops-laden socializing. Either that, or someone needs to teach them all the difference between a campfire and a trash bin.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

All politics are local

We're now barely a month away from the November general election and I'm noticing the same thing here in Missouri that I noticed in 2012: if I use yard signs as evidence, people care the most about what's happening closest to them.  I see a lot of yard signs for local offices and almost none for state-wide or federal office. Who's running for U.S. Congress here in Farmington? If I relied solely on yard signs, I wouldn't have a clue. I haven't seen a single sign promoting anyone for Congress. I also haven't noticed much advertising on television, and what there has been hasn't been for anything happening here in Missouri. The political ads airing on the St. Louis stations all seem to be for candidates running in Illinois.

Although you know what's weird about those ads? I've yet to see one that's for a candidate. We keep seeing ads bashing the heck out of some guy running for Congress -- or maybe Senate. I'm not sure because the ads talk a lot about what a disaster he'd be if he got to Washington, but they never come right out and specify that he'd made a lousy Senator or a lousy Representative. The only thing that's sort of clear is he's running for office in Illinois. I have not, however, seen an ad actually talking up either the target of the attack ad or the guy who's running against him. It's bizarre. Makes a person wonder if the ballot will have a line for a candidate named "Not That Guy,"

I will say, however, it's nice to be here in Missouri during these last few weeks before the election. No matter how annoying political ads might get, we can ignore them all. They won't be pushing any candidates we care about. If we were still up on the tundra, the mailbox would be filling up with campaign literature and every other commercial on television would be telling us that Governor Snyder walks on water. Down here? From our perspective, it's a non-issue. We still have to fill out our absentee ballots and get them in the mail, but from our perspective the election is already over.

I kind of wish we could plan on a similar escape from politics in 2016, but given the hype and speculation already swirling around potential presidential candidates, I'm thinking the only way to escape politics then might be to plan on spending half the year in some other country.