Peyton Column Art

My Dad was a P.E. teacher, a coach, and an athletic director at Chadron State College; however, his advanced degree was not in physical education, not in coaching, and not in administration. His degree was in recreation…outdoor recreation.

He created a one-of-its-kind outdoor education program that took more than 2,000 sixth grade students to a church camp south of Chadron for three days of camping and outdoor education activities twice a year. Gothenburg’s teachers, Lawrence Wendelin, Dan Frerichs, Kathy Nichols, and Corrine Auld attended workshops taught by my Dad and then created their own sixth grade outdoor education program here in Gothenburg. A program that continues to this day. In 2001, on the 25th anniversary of the Gothenburg Outdoor Education program, my son Alex was a sixth grader!

My Dad also took adults who were not experienced in camping on a two-week mountain backpacking trip in Wyoming. His philosophy was that everyone needed to go into the Out-of-Doors and they needed to learn to do it right if they were going to enjoy it. Needless to say, I was introduced to camping at an early age. I love to camp. Cindy not so much, though she did accompany us on one Wyoming trek.

I enjoy mountain camping. I enjoy canoeing and the camping associated with that, and I enjoy camping in the Sandhills. My friend Jay and I made five 60+ mile treks across the Sandhills…camping wherever we found ourselves at the end of the day. But without a doubt my favorite camping is winter camping.

Winter camping? That sounds crazy but it isn’t. Pick a day when the weather is predicted to be dry. Get permission from a landowner along the river…and I must stress this. Alex once discovered that when camping on another person’s land that the old adage that it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission…was not true! He always gets permission now.

Build a fire, and cook. I think steaks cooked over an open wood fire

are the best tasting steaks you can have! Sit around the fire, take night hikes, enjoy the dark skies and the stars, and just generally relax.

We used to do this a lot; Jay Holmes, Mike McVay and myself, though I’m not sure Roger Kohler would say that he had a pleasant experience on his one-and-only (to my knowledge) winter camp on the Dismal. But then, it’s hard to have fun when you endure two days of blizzards and a cedar tree knocks your glasses into the river!

Nighttime is a special time to experience the fun of nature. One night we sat at the base of a small tree where a young raccoon had scampered getting away from us.

Another time we were awakened by some deer, sniffing our sleeping bags, trying to figure out what or who we were. Then there was the night Alex and I had to hold our dog to keep her from running off with some coyotes that came all the way into camp to try and lure her away. I actually had to get out of the bag and chase them off so we could get some sleep!

However the best winter camping experience was one Saturday night when Alex and Peter Sam were out camping on the 96 Ranch. The phone rang at 2:30 a.m. The dread of all parents! It was Alex. He and Peter were lying in their bags open to the sky. Twenty feet away, in the light of the flashlight was an animal. Alex asked if there were mountain lions in Gothenburg. I said it was possible and that one had been seen on the 96 more than once. He said he thought they were looking at one. We had two dogs at the time; a smaller dog named Lilly and a lab named Minnie. I asked if the animal was “Lilly-sized” or “Minnie-sized”. He said it was bigger than Minnie and that it was hissing and whipping its tail back and forth! Yep, Alex was looking at a mountain lion!

He asked what to do. I said both of you stand up and yell. It worked. The mountain lion left, they went to the pickup and got the shotgun and I don’t think either slept any more that night.

While just about everything else is shut down, the out-of-doors is still wide open. Get permission and take the kids on an early spring camping trip. Cook hotdogs and smores, tell stories, and who knows, maybe you’ll even get to see a mountain lion. How cool would that be!