Overnight Camp

Last week, Dahlem had its first overnight camping experience for kids.  This camp was planned for campers who have “aged out” of our reagular day camp; in other words, middle school kids.  We had three sign up, and on Tuesday we met to review all the things one needs to know when going camping.  Wednesday morning, they arrived with their gear.  Apparently, not too many families here go camping, in the traditional sense of the word, for our campers came with gear that wasn’t quite what one uses when one is hiking into the woods and setting up camp.  Still, we made do with what we had and had a great time.

Here we are, getting ready to depart:  Robbie, Pat, Daphne and Reilly.

We surely lucked out with the weather.  It was cool enough to keep the bugs in check, and nice and warm in the sun.  We headed down the trails to our campsite, which we had picked out the day before.  It was less than a half mile from the visitor center.

The first thing we had to do, was set up camp.



Once everyone’s tent was up, it was time for lunch.

Of course, we couldn’t just hand out lunch – we had to make the campers work for it.  The day before we taught them how to read maps and use a compass, so, in order to find their lunch, they had to follow a series of directions, with their compasses, and locate the food we would eat.

PBJ sandwiches, carrot sticks, apples, chips.



After lunch, it was time to dig the latrine.  We lucked out finding a hole that had already been started.  We suspect it was dug by a coyote.  So, we enlarged it and made use of it ourselves.

Once the hole was dug, the privacy screen went up,

and the “vacancy sign” was in place.  We were in business.

Pat showed the kids how to use a camp saw and they cut up some of our firewood for dinner.

And then we embarked on a water experiment.  We wanted to dig an “Indian well” and see if we could really get water this way.  The theory is that you did a hole just deep enough that water starts to seep in.


Once the hole fills with water, you empty it and let it refill.  You do this three times, and by the time it fills the third time, the water you are getting should be clean enough to drink, having been filtered by the earth.   We got really excited when the first flow started.  We would come back later to check on it.



Next we had to find water to fill our fire bucket.  We checked the vernal pool first.  True to its name, it was mostly empty of water by this time of the year.

We passed the field where the burn was this spring – it is full of iron weed and other native flowers – hooray!

We finally found enough water to fill our bucket at the stream by the Ecology Farm.

Back at camp, it was time to get things organized and start prepping for dinner.  Pat showed Robbie how to make a camp table to hold our kitchen gear.


A quick check on our Indian well found it quite full – at least three cups of water.  We used a camp cup to scoop it out and waited for it to refill.  In the end, the well did not refill more than maybe a half a cup – the first flush proved to be the most water we would get from it.  Our hopes were dashed, but it was still a pretty neat experiment.

Our campers, by now champion diggers, had to dig our fire pit.

We talked about the seven sizes of wood one needs to be successful in building a fire, and soon we had a good blaze going.  Of course, to cook dinner one needs coals, not flames.  So we fed wood to the fire and started to build our bed of coals.

Dinner was that old camp classic: foil dinners, or hobo dinners.  Take a piece of heavy duty aluminum foil and fill it with sliced potatoes, carrots, onions, chicken, etc…whatever you want to eat.  Add some water or butter, some seasonings, and fold it up good and tight.

Place your packet on the glowing coals and let it bake away.  You will need to turn it occasionally to make sure it cooks evenly.

While it was cooking, we cut some sticks and showed the kids how to do dough-on-a-stick.  We used a tube of French bread, broke off sections, and after rolling the dough into a rope, wrapped it around our sticks.

Then we had to cook it over the coals, which proved to be a bit of a challenge since our dinners were taking up most of the coal space!

Mm-mmm,  good!

Three thumbs up for our dinner!

After we ate, it was time to clean up.  Each camper had to wash and rinse his/her own dishes.

As the evening rolled around, we cooked some s’mores, and then we went for a walk.  Many bats were flying overhead at the vernal pool, which was a joy to see.  We did an impromptu lesson on bats and white-nose syndrome.  I had hoped we would get to do some star gazing, but it still just wasn’t dark enough, and by the time it was, the kids were pretty tired, and even Pat was fading.  So, we called it a night about 10:00/10:30.

All too soon it was morning.  I was very happy that it was a cool night – much easier for sleeping, fewer bugs.  The rest of the group, though, didn’t quite have the right bedding for an evening in the low 50s.  Still, we all made it through until morning.  By 7:30 Pat already had a fire going and it wasn’t long before we had coals enough for flapjacks.

Camp food always tastes the best, but these flapjacks were VERY good.  Kodiak Cakes get our seal of approval.

After breakfast, we went for another walk – our goal was to find the coyote den we had been told was nearby.

We lucked out…but I must say that it wasn’t very impressive.  This probably works just fine for the coyotes:  if it stood out, it would attract attention, which they probably don’t want.

As part of our “community service,” we had the kids dismantle shelters.  We build a lot of shelters here at Dahlem over the course of a year, and our woods are starting to look like they are filled with villages!  So, our campers took apart at least six!  Well done!


We encountered lots of toads and even a tree frog or two.

Back at camp, it was time to take down our tents and pack up.


We taught the kids “leave no trace” camping – so even our latrine had to vanish.

Because we had a couple hours still before the kids would be picked up, we loaded up the golf cart with their gear and I drove it back while Pat took them all on another hike out around the grassland and to the pond to look for green herons.


Overnight Camp at Dahlem was a success!  This may be a “one-and-done” program…or we may offer it again.  If you think you know some kids who would enjoy this, please let us know – this will help us in making the decision to do it again (or not).

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