Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree! When you think of a Christmas tree or any “evergreen” tree, do you ever wonder what the difference is between the types, or species? You may have heard the terms pine and spruce, hemlock and fir but never really could tell one from the other. Well, let’s take a look.
Common “softwoods”, these trees are relatively less dense than their hardwood counterparts, such as oak, maple, hickory and ash. What makes a hardwood versus a softwood is a little more complicatedly and can be found here, but let’s consider the cone-bearing, or coniferous, trees as softwoods and look at some of the differences.
You will find a variety of what are often called “evergreen” trees, but are actually types of pines, firs, spruces, and hemlock trees. All these trees are evergreen, meaning they are never without some green “leaves”, no matter the season, but not all evergreen trees are pines, spruces, firs, etc. To be more accurate we will refer to them as conifers. Common across the US and Canada, these trees are the traditional “Christmas Tree” types with needles and cones and mainly shaped like a pyramid. Most of Canada’s trees are conifers. In fact, over 50% of all Canadian trees are spruce species and if you’ve ever flown over Canada, you may have found yourself in awe at the sheer number of the green spires that stretch from coast to coast.
The woodlands of the United States are somewhat more diverse in composition and distribution. The eastern half of the United States has a greater percentage of hardwoods, led by oak and hickory forests, whereas the western states enjoy a majority of pines, firs and spruces covering their woodlands.
To tell the difference between a pine tree, a fir and a spruce, you can start by looking at the needles. Needles are found either in clusters or individually attached to the stem of a branch. Also, they will be either round or flattened. Further, you will find them either attached to the stem or to a small wooden peg.
Pine trees will have needles grouped in clusters- either 2, 3 or 5 needles. Interestingly, a red pine will have three needles and a white pine will have five needles, which can be remembered by the fact that RED has three letters and WHITE has five. Pine cones are very hard, woody and rough.
Spruce trees are the most numerous conifer in North America. They can be distinguished by their needles, which are squarish, rather than flat or round and which attach to little wooden pegs. Spruce cones are smoother and more flexible than pine cones and usually “drape” downward from the trees. Allegedly, the oldest living tree in the world is a Norway Spruce tree in Sweden, at over 9,500 years of age!
Fir trees have cones that stand up on branches instead of hanging. The cones are similar to spruce cones, softer and more flexible than pine cones. The major difference can be found in the needles of the fir which stick out individually from the branch. The Douglas fir is the most numerous of the fir tree varieties in North America and is a popular choice as a Christmas tree.
A couple other conifers of note include the hemlock and the sequoia. The hemlock tree will have branches that stick out horizontally from the trunk. The needles are typically much softer and laid out is a flat pattern. The sequoia is the family to which the Coast Redwood belongs. These redwood trees, found on the west coast of the US produce some of the tallest trees in the world including one named Hyperion, which hold the current record as the tallest know living tree, at more than 380 feet!
With recent passenger scuffles and power struggles, air travel has lost its luster. But sometimes the journey is just as important as the destination. If travel is your least favorite part of a family trip, why not consider an RV – otherwise known as a “home on wheels”?
Going camping in an RV allows you to slow down, kick back, and savor family time “in flux” from one stop to another. There’s no need to worry about unpacking your luggage, missing your connection or placing your pet in a kennel – your entire family travels with you. And just as homes and hotels run a gamut of shapes, sizes and styles, so do RVs vary, from the palatial to the petite to the pop-up trailer.
But no matter the level of amenities and creature comforts, RVs can boost the power of your vacation budget. Most RVs excel at weight and wind resistance—translating into fuel economy between eight and 20 MPG, depending on the RV you select. Here are tips to maximizing your RV muscle:
If your family enjoys home-cooked meals, make sure your RV has kitchen options. If you prefer to dine out, look for two-for-one coupons and early-bird specials while rolling by restaurants. And if you fall somewhere in between, consider eating out at lunch and eating dinner in. To trim even more from your food budget, think beyond the big box supermarkets: buy food and sundries at discount stores, dollar stores, church bazaars, flea markets, roadside veggie stands, thrift bakeries, and u-pick orchards.
Exploring the wonders of the outdoors is all about empowerment and freedom, but it’s easy for even experienced hikers to let excitement and fatigue cloud their judgement and lead them to some costly mistakes. We’re not trying to rain on any camper’s enthusiasm, but there are a few all-too-common issues that can lead to dangerous outcomes.
Failing to Stay on the Path
Whether it’s a brand-new hike or a patch of rugged country you’ve hiked a hundred times, it’s important to stay on the trails. Not only does hiking off-trail contribute to erosion and damage the local ecosystem, hikers are more likely to risk dangerous encounters with wildlife and even become downright lost when venturing down the path less traveled. Fallen trees, hidden holes or debris are everywhere off of the trails, and not only could these things injure even experienced hikers, but finding help in a hurry becomes that much more difficult when rescue works can’t get to you.
It’s true that nature can offer peace-filled solitude, but trekking into uncharted territory by yourself is a dangerous gambit. Anything can happen out on the trail, and without a fellow hiker nearby to go for help it’s far too easy to get into trouble with no hope of rescue. Traveling with a companion is just good safety, not to mention having someone to share the experience of hiking makes it all that much more fun!
While many hikers consider it a mark of personal pride to overcome every obstacle they encounter, it’s important to pay attention to the limitations of the hiking party overall. Because not everyone will be at the same level of physical fitness or possess the same amount of experience, it’s important to know everyone’s real capabilities and to minimize risk. It might seem like fun to push on to the campsite after dark or take a shortcut across a stream, remember the old saying: short cuts make long delays!
Much of the land in the United States and North America is rich and fertile. As the lyrics of “America the Beautiful” state of the landscape of the US, “…amber waves of grain, for purple mountain majesties, above the fruited plain!” When settlers from Europe came to this “new world” they were rewarded with beautiful views of lush greenery and rich soil. So what happened to the landscape of North America since the settlement of people from all over the world and are we at risk of losing the trees and fields that are left on this continent?
It can be difficult to grasp the sheer size of a country like the United States. If you take an early-summer flight from New York City to Los Angeles and look out the window along the way, you might be tempted to say that most of the country is full of green- green trees, green fields and farms, even green on most of the hills and bases of mountains. You will also notice some huge brown areas as well as rocky highlands. One thing that surprises many first-time flyers is how little of the country is covered by cities. You might expect that a country with over 300 million inhabitants living in hundreds of cities and thousands of towns would have to clear most of the land in the country for living space. But looking down from the sky what you will NOT see is a giant, paved metropolis spreading from coast to coast.
So how much of the US is actually covered by trees and how has that changed over time? The total land area of the US is about 2.3 billion acres. Since that number is big and difficult to picture, let’s use a graph. The chart, provided by the US Forestry Service (USFS) shows the number of acres of “forest” between 1760 and today. The term “Forest” as defined by the USFS covers most of the stands of trees in the country, excluding those in residential yards.
As you can see, before the major migrations of Europeans and the population boom that followed, the US was covered by a little more than a billion of the 2.3 billion acres of land. That’s about 46% of the total land area of the US covered in trees. By comparison, the land covered by forests at the start of this century was about 749 million acres or 33 percent. The amount of forested land dropped from the 1760’s to its low point around 1920, which coincided with the height of immigration to the US. But from the 1920’s onward, the amount of forest has leveled out and even increased slightly on average.
While the percentage of forested land changed more dramatically in some areas of the country than other (see chart 2), there are still many trees in the US, covering about one third of the country and the amount of trees remains fairly steady each year since new trees are planted as they are harvested. Of course, areas that were once forested may now be farmland and vice-versa, but there are still over 750 million acres of forests in the United States, and much more than that in Canada.
If you are interested in learning more about the forest use in the US, check out this site with more charts and data from the USFS.
Summer is one of the best seasons for exploring the outdoors, but even the most experienced hiker or camper can fall victim to that dreaded rash-inducing menace: poison ivy. Though the plant itself can be identified with its three-leaf growth pattern, there is no other guaranteed-easy method to proving that this itchy irritant is loose in your area. Even when dead, a poison ivy vine is capable of holding oils that can cause an allergic reaction! But don’t despair: even those with allergies to poison ivy can fight back by learning the science behind how the itch occurs, and with these tips you can keep yourself from ever having to suffer that dreaded rash ever again!
How it Occurs
Urushiol (the chemical name for the itchy oil) is found in poison ivy, poison sumac a poison oak, and is especially harmful to humans due to the autoimmune reaction is creates on the skin. Over 85% of people are naturally allergic to urushiol, and even those who aren’t can still show symptoms from enough exposure. The oil itself is greasy, nearly invisible and hardly water-soluble at all, transferring to surfaces like skin, hair and clothing with ease.
Why it Itches
Just touching poison ivy by itself isn’t typically enough to cause the allergic reaction, but rather leaving behind or not completely removing the oils off of your skin is what inevitably causes the red, blistering itch. Once the oil has remained on your skin for any length of time, the body metabolizes it through the skin before recognizing the urushiol as an antigen, which in turn sends white blood cells to fight the intruder. The problem is that the white blood cells attack the surrounding tissue as well as the oil, damaging the body and causing inflammation. With that knowledge it’s clear that the trick to beating the itch actually lies in the oil itself, and how to keep it at bay.
How to Prevent P.I.
If you think you’ve been exposed to poison ivy (or even after a hike through the woods), the first step to preventing a reaction is to remove your clothing and immediately wash it in a degreasing detergent. NEVER sleep or sit on furniture in clothes that may have been exposed to poison ivy, as urushiol easily rubs off on to other surfaces and can remain a danger for years. Next wash your hands and forearms with degreasing dish soap, being careful to attend to the creases and spaces between your fingers and on your hands as these areas are the most common places for urushiol to collect. Once your hands and forearms are washed, repeat one more time to make sure the oil has been completely removed. Next it’s a good idea to carefully wash your face, ears, and neck with degreasing soap as well since these areas may have been exposed to accidental contact. Follow up the whole cleaning regiment with a shower, and you can be sure the last of that nasty oil runs down the drain!
What is Geocaching?
Maybe you have heard this term before and maybe it’s new, but geocaching has been popular for several years now. Basically it is an activity in which you use GPS locations to search for, discover, and place items for others in a network across the country.
this fun trend combines the wonders of nature with the thrill of high-tech gadgets. Move aside hikers, because this incredibly fun hobby is outdoor treasure hunting with a twist, i.e. using a GPS to navigate to specific locations and track down hidden collections of items and prizes. Geocaching is great on your own or with a group, but no matter how many people come along you can rest assured that nature-lovers and technology-lovers alike will get to bond in the outdoors and have a great time doing it!
Finding hidden collections of items (known as caches) is the name of the game, and that means using your GPS or GPS-enabled mobile device to enter in coordinates. To begin your geocaching experience, sign up for a free account at www.geocaching.com to gain access to the millions of caches all across the world and the coordinates to find them. Once you have access to the database, it’s only a matter of deciding what kind of device you’d like to use in order to track down your caches and start having fun!
With the age of the smartphone in full swing, most geocachers today make use of their phone’s internal GPS to track and locate caches at the swipe of a finger. Geocaching has a few great apps that allow you to access and discover new caches on the go, but manually downloading the data is fine too. And don’t despair if you haven’t jumped on the smartphone bandwagon; there are plenty of personal GPS devices made specifically for geocaching and hiking that are available for sale.
Once you’ve decided what GPS style you’ll use, it’s time so search the geo (earth) for some caches (item collections)! For the most part geocaching is rule-free, but there are a few unspoken yet highly-honored practices you must observe when on the hunt:
aching is all about having fun and enjoying the outdoors! Head out and enjoy this summer!
That’s right campers: we had such a positive response from our first post on geocaching we wanted to make another, but this time instead of an introduction to the fun, we thought we’d dig a little deeper and offer some beginning advice. Part of the fun of geocaching is learning all of the little quirks involved in the process though, so we won’t be giving everything away, but hopefully if you or another camper wants to convince some yet-to-be-christened geocachers out there, you will have a good place to start!
The Geocacher’s Toolkit
While there’s no set requirements beyond a GPS device, there are a few things that can make life easier for a budding geocacher just learning the ropes, or for long-time geocachers that are looking for some tips.
Every geocacher has his or her own way of tracking down caches in the wild, but for the geocacher that’s just starting out, this list should help you hit the ground running! Caching is all about having fun and enjoying the outdoors- so head out and enjoy this summer!
Knot tying can be a surprisingly valuable skill when camping. From setting up a tent to performing first aid, you never know when you may need to tie a strong knot. Knowing six of the most important knots will prepare you for many common situations that may arise while camping.
1. Square Knot
One of the most basic knots is the square knot, which is a type of end knot. This knot is useful tying up bundles and packages. It is also used for first aid, where it can be used to tie a bandage around a wound to stop the bleeding quickly. The square knot is also known as the reef knot, from when sailors used it to reef sails, or tie down part of the sail in high winds.
One of the most important knots to know for emergency situations when out in the wilderness is the bowline knot. A bowline knot is used as a rescue knot in cases of mountain climbing, fires, or water accidents. This knot forms an open loop that is easy for someone to grab onto and be pulled up out of a dangerous situation.
The sheet bend knot is used for tying ropes of different materials together. In this knot, the loop of one rope is tied around the loop of the other. Its name comes from its traditional use of holding a sail in place. The rope for holding a sail in place was called a sheet, and using this knot was referred to as “bending” or tying the sheet.
4. Two Half Hitches
The two half hitches knot is used for tying a rope to a post, such as a tree, or a ring. This knot can be easily tightened or loosened based on the situation, which makes it ideal for making a clothesline or tying a boat to a dock. This knot consists of wrapping the rope around a support and looping the rope around itself in a half hitch, two times.
5. Clove Hitch
The clove hitch is an important pioneering knot that can be used for starting and finishing lashings. Lashings consist of sticks or poles held together with twine, rope or cord. Lashings are used in overnight camps to make the site more sturdy and can be used for things such as a towel rack, a table, or a tower.
6. Taut Line
A taut line hitch is used on ropes that are pulled taut. A common use of this knot is for rope that holds a tent secure to the ground. The taut line hitch can be tightened or loosened by pushing it up or down on the part of the rope that is standing.
While there are hundreds of types of knots, each useful for different situations and activities, knowing these essential six is a good start for campers and anyone heading out into the wilderness. Get a head start on your knowledge of tying knots and you’ll be prepared for a multitude of situations.
The sunshine can be an integral part of our camping experience in the summer, and during the summer months, it will usually factor into camping preparation. While sunshine can bring joy and fun to your day, too much of a good thing can be harmful, and it is important to be careful of the sun’s adverse effects. Too much sun can be dangerous in the case of sunburn, heat exhaustion, and dehydration. Overheating, along with dehydration, is a serious risk, especially for children and older adults. Keep your cool by reading our tips:
It’s always important for our health to drink enough fluids, but this is especially true when spending the day in the hot sun. Our body loses more fluids when it’s hot out, so drinking extra water is necessary. Proper hydration can prevent dehydration symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, and lightheadedness. Dehydration can also contribute to heat stroke and other health conditions. To add some flavor to your water, consider adding slices of lemon, orange, or mint, or even berries and other fruit slices for a sweeter drink. Another option is bringing an iced tea mix to enjoy. The key is to drink something; even coffee is better than nothing.
Keep your sunscreen close at hand! Avoid the red, sore, blistered or peeling skin that comes with severe sunburn. Packing sunscreen that offers broad spectrum protection is essential for preventing sunburn and staying safe from the sun’s harmful rays. Remember that sunscreen chemicals often degrade in the sun or rub off on towels and clothing, so re-apply frequently. It’s essential throughout the year, not just on scorching summer days; clouds and snow actually intensify rays. The best sunscreen is a broad-spectrum version, protecting against both UVA and UVB rays, with an SPF of 15 or higher. And don’t forget lipscreen to avoid disruptive chapping!
Heat exhaustion/heat stroke
Learn how to spot the symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Goose bumps, skin tingling, muscle cramps, dull headache, shallow breathing and nausea are all warning signs of heat exhaustion, caused by the body losing salt through exertion and perspiration. In cases of heatstroke, the body’s temperature rises to 104 degrees, causing impaired mental states such as agitation, confusion, or lethargy. That’s because the nerve cells in the brain and body are the most vulnerable to heat damage. As heat stroke progresses, blood flow to the skin increases; which, coupled with copious amounts of sweat, poses serious danger to the heart. Avoid a medical emergency by spraying your camper with cool water and applying wet clothes or ice packs to the armpits or groin.
Staying in the sun or in a hot environment for extended periods of time can lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke, so it’s important to take breaks from being outside in the direct sunlight. The most oppressive heat of the day occurs from 10 am to 4 pm. To avoid heat exhaustion during this time, it is important to not stay out under the sun for too long without finding shade or a shelter. Consider hiking first thing in the morning or in the early evening to be even safer.
A big part of the camping experience is being outside, close to nature. Being surrounded by woods and fields, lakes and stream can bring a sense of peace and well-being to many a camper. While it used to be common for every child to be familiar with the plant and animal life found outdoors, it is now much more common that a child may go years, or even most of their childhood never experiencing a walk through a forest or seeing the animals and animal tracks that are found near lakes, rivers and streams.
It is not surprising then, that most people grow up not knowing the different types of plants and trees that can be found near their homes. There are literally thousands of types of trees worldwide. In fact, one non-profit group called the Botanic Gardens Conservation International has documented over 1,400 species of tree in North America alone. And while that may sound like a huge variety, North America ranks rather low in the number of types of trees compared with other parts of the world. South America, for example boasts more than ten times as many tree species.
North American trees can be divided into many groupings. Botanist catalogs will show classifications such as Families, Genera, and Species. For our purposes we will look at some basic groupings, starting with the difference between hardwoods and softwoods.
Hardwoods, as the name suggests, are more dense and “harder” than their softer cousins. This is generally because they are slower-growing so the woody material is packed more tightly together. Some North American hardwoods include oak, beech, and ash, which is so hard that it is the traditional choice for baseball bats. In the hardwood category you are likely to find oaks, maples, hickory, beech, birch and ash trees most prevalent. In the Eastern half of the US you are more likely to find oaks and hickory trees and other hardwoods, while the Western half has relatively few hardwood forests.
North American softwoods include mostly pine tree varieties. The scale of “hardness” for trees is relative. For example, white ash may be three times harder than redwood (which is the softest tree in North America), but Brazilian Ebony is three times harder than white ash.
With hundreds of species of trees in North America, let’s look at just some of the more popular ones that you might encounter while camping or strolling a tree-lined avenue. Looking at common softwoods, you will find a variety of what are often called “evergreen” trees, but are actually types of pines, firs, spruces, and larch trees. Common across the US and Canada, these trees are the traditional “Christmas Tree” types with needles and cones and mainly shaped like a pyramid. The majority of Canada’s trees are of this “coniferous’, or cone-bearing type of tree. In fact, over 50% of all Canadian trees are spruces!
The woodlands of the United States are somewhat more diverse in composition and distribution—from the oak-hickory and maple-beech-birch forests dominating the North Eastern sections to wide expanses of pine forests in the Southern states and the primarily pine-laden forests of the West, heavy with Douglas firs and ponderosa pines.
Next time you find yourself in the woods, see if you can identify a few of the most common trees shown here.
Sitting around the campfire, listening to music can be one of the best evening activities at camp. But sometimes listening is just not good enough, so we’ve compiled a list of some classics that are well-suited to be played on guitar or sung around the fire. They may be old, they may be a little corny, but there’s a reason why these songs have stood the test of time for over 40 years.
1) “Blowin’ in the Wind” Written by Bob and released as a single in 1962 and then on Dylan’s 1963 album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. The song has been re-recorded hundreds of times and even featured in a scene in the 1994 movie Forrest Gump.
2) “Leaving on a Jet Plane” Written by John Denver, the most popular version was recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary for their 1967 album, Album 1700, becoming that group’s biggest hit, the only Number 1 on the United States’ Billboard Hot 100 chart. It’s a little sad and sweet but has a very catchy tune.
3) “Little Boxes” by Malvina Reynolds in 1962. A song, which on its surface simply highlights the uniformity of life in the suburbs of the United States, has sparked many philosophical discussions, was featured in AP US history textbooks in 2018, and was played on the TV show Weeds. We just think it’s a fun little song!
4) “Take Me Home, Country Roads” Another John Denver song, released in 1971, it made it to number 2 on Billboard‘s US Hot 100 singles that year. It is a tribute to the beauty of the state of West Virginia and is John Denver’s most downloaded song.
5) “Mr. Bojangles” Written by Jerry Jeff Walker in 1968, it’s most famous version was released by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in 1970. Walker said that he wrote the song after meeting a homeless man in jail who told the police his name was Mr. Bojangles, so that he could remain anonymous. The song has been recorded by dozens of artists including Billy Joel, John Denver, Neil Diamond, and Bob Dylan!
6) “California Dreamin’” – The most popular version, recorded by the Mamas & the Papas in 1965. Listed on the Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, it is intended to give warm visions of Los Angeles from the perspective of a colder New Yorker in winter.
7) “Let It Be” This famous Beatles song was written and sung by Paul McCartney, the last single before McCartney broke the news that he was leaving the band. As the title track for the album of the same name, “let It Be” held the record at the time of the highest debut on the Billboard Hot 100, starting at the number 6 spot.
If you play guitar and would like the lyrics and guitar chords to these and others, they can be readily found online. If you prefer, each of these songs is available for download or on streaming platforms, such as Spotify, so you can simply sit back, enjoy the campfire and stroll down memory lane.