Celestial Navigator – January 2015

Tonight, if you have a clear sky, set a goal for yourself of seeing all five visible planets. Byvisible planet, we mean any solar system planet that’s readily visible to the unaided eye. In their order going outward from the sun, the five visible planets are Mercury, Venus, Mars, (Earth), Jupiter and Saturn. These worlds have been observed by our ancestors since time immemorial.

Best of all, you don’t have to stay up all hours of the night to see these five visible planets. You can catch Mercury, Venus and Mars in the southwest at nightfall, Jupiter in the east at early-to-mid evening and Saturn in the southeast before dawn.

As dusk gives way to darkness, or about 60 to 75 minutes after sunset, look for Venus, Mercury and Mars in the direction of sunset. Mercury poses the biggest challenge because it’s the first planet to set behind the sun. If you can’t see Mercury with the unaided eye, you can always resort to binoculars. Aim them at dazzling Venus – which is easily visible above the sunset point. Then sweep with your binoculars, below Venus in the direction of the sunset point, to view Mercury in the same binocular field. Keep in mind that Mercury follows the sun beneath the horizon about 75 minutes later. Venus does likewise, a short time after Mercury.

Fortunately, the red planet Mars stays out for a couple hours after Mercury and Venus set. Mars is only modestly bright. Nonetheless, it is easy to see with the unaided eye. Roughly four hours after sunset, or after Mars has set in the west, look for super-brilliant Jupiter to rise in the east. Jupiter should be high enough to view by bedtime, even if your eastern view is somewhat obstructed by mountains or trees.

Once Jupiter climbs over the eastern horizon, it stays out for rest of the night. Jupiter swings up to its high point for the night around 2 to 3 a.m. (that’s local time, the time on your clock no matter where you are on Earth). Jupiter shines in the west just before dawn. Jupiter will be hard to miss, for this brilliant beauty outshines any star.

Saturn, the sixth planet outward from the sun, rises several hours before sunrise, lighting up the southeast sky during the predawn hours. Shortly before dawn, look for golden Saturn to shine above the red star Antares. Both are toward the sunrise direction.

Bottom line: Given clear skies, the five visible planets – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn – should be yours to behold on these January 2015 nights.

excerpts from earthsky.org

Camping Resolutions for 2015

Camping Resolutions for the New Year

How many of you have made your annual resolutions for the new year?  Things such as losing weight, saving more money, and being less stressed, for example.  All good things, but not ones that should necessarily require a resolution to achieve.

So we’ve put together a tangible, achievable list of resolutions that are sure to bring joy and a sense of fulfillment.  No, we are not talking about your weight or pocketbook – we’re talking about camping.  So here you go:

1.  Camp More Often – sure that sounds easy, but we know that it is not always easy to just grab your gear and escape. In order to achieve this resolution, you may consider searching for local campgrounds and backcountry that is ideal for quick one-night trips and that require less gear and preparation time.  Many of us tend to overlook local camping sites when we plan our trips far from home.  Hey, one night of camping beats not camping at all!

2.  Plan One Big Trip per Year – Camping is arguably the most cost-effective vacation you can take, and also the most relaxing.  But it usually takes a day or two to get into the groove, shed the cares of everyday life, and feel the rhythm of being outdoors.  Go to sleep when you’re tired, wake when you’re rested, eat when you’re hungry.

3.  Plan, Inspect, Prepare – taking time now during the winter months to prepare your gear, and to make necessary repairs ensures that you are ready to go, for one night or for longer, when camping opportunities arise.  This is also a good time of year to replace or upgrade  your gear as many manufacturers are clearing out last years inventory in preparation for the 2015 camping season.

4.  Take the Back Roads – your camping adventure doesn’t have to wait until you arrive at camp.  It can begin the moment you leave your driveway.  Do some homework before you leave – find the old roads and you’ll find lots of great history and things to see along the way.  Drive the interstates, and you’re bound to arrive at camp stressed and worn from the journey.  (We once drove from Salt Lake City to San Diego on old roads – the things we saw and learned on that trip could fill a book).

5.  Try New Recipes – many of us like to stick to our old ‘tried and true’ recipes, usually for the sake of simplicity, but you don’t have to be stuck with hot dogs and baked beans for dinner every night.  By doing some easy planning, and pre-trip food prep at home, you can eat like a king besides the fire.  And everyone is happier when they eat well.

6.  Buy an Inexpensive Telescope – or at the very least bring binoculars.  Since a fair amount of our waking time in camp is spent at night, don’t miss the free star show overhead every night.  Some telescopes are programmed to point automatically to night sky objects, and can provide an entire ‘tour’ of the night sky.  At the very least, there are free smart phone apps that instantly turn any novice into a celestial expert.  Binoculars can provide a great view of closer objects such as the moon.

So there you have it – 6 easy resolutions that are sure to make your year better, and your camping trips more enjoyable.

Happy Trails in 2015!

The Gear Doctor for January 2015

Throwing a sleeping roll and a tent into the back of a pick-up and hitting the road without a care in the world is one of the best parts of camping. But putting a little time and energy into planning your camping trip helps ensure that your precious vacation time is not spent driving around at midnight trying to find a safe, legal spot to lay your head.

Step 1

Match the amount of time you have with the distance you want to drive. Driving always takes slightly longer than you think. If your GPS unit tells you the drive is six hours long, give yourself at least an extra hour for impromptu coffee breaks, tourism and getting lost. Don’t plan campgrounds too far away from one another or you’ll spend too much time in the car and not enough time enjoying the scenery from your campsite.

Step 2

Pick out your stay places on a map and check for facilities in the locations you desire. Pick up a state map that marks the locations of state and national campgrounds and check online for private camping facilities.

Step 3

Make reservations either online or by calling the campground. Many facilities fill up during the heavy travel season in the summer, so it pays to get your spot secured. If you are traveling with an RV or a trailer, check to make sure the campground accepts your vehicle length and is easily accessible. Some campgrounds are situated off winding, dirt roads that aren’t recommended for large vehicles or trailers.  If you plan to backcountry camp, be sure to research the area you intend to visit for trail access, firewood collection, etc.

Step 4

Get your vehicle checked out before getting on the road, including the spare tire. Make sure you have the equipment for changing a flat, as well as extra oil and water. Trips that take you down long back roads may not have cell service, so prepare a solid emergency kit in case you get stuck.  A 12-volt tire pump and a can of Fix-A-Flat can turn a major hassle into a minor inconvenience.

Step 5

Call the local ranger station or highway patrol before heading out to get any information on road closures or hazards. Traveling into the remote countryside can find travelers staring at washed-out roads or getting stuck in the snow, even in the spring. Know where you’re going and what to expect to avoid unpleasant surprises. Do not rely solely on GPS units to map your journey in unfamiliar territory, and pay attention to the weather forecast.

Step 6

Pack a cooler carefully.  The less time the lid is open, the longer your ice will last.  Easy access to beverages helps reduce the amount of time digging through the ice for a soda.  Freeze as much food as possible, such as meat and extra water – this helps maintain your ice linger as well.  Pre-plan meals and combine the ingredients into one large bag, so accessing each meal from your cooler is quick and easy.  Wrap food in double plastic bags or airtight plastic container to avoid getting wet or soggy.

Step 7

Carry a little cash. Some gas stations and stores in remote locations only deal in cash or can be prone to having their card machines out of service. Likewise, have a few checks on hand for paying campground fees in no-host camps.

Step 8

Load your vehicle safely. Do not over-pack or tie it down with equipment it’s not designed to carry. Use a proper cargo rack, or rent a vehicle that can haul your stuff safely. In that vein, know that you will often have to park your vehicle at beaches and trail heads unfortunately prone to thievery. Make sure valuables are either out of view, well locked-down or with you at all times.

Excerpts from Nikki Jardin/USAToday.com

Cooky Jason’s January Recipe – Double Action Chicken

Chef Jason’s World Famous Double Action Chicken

Don’t kid yourselves, folks. This is the best way to do chicken. This is for thighs (my personal favorite), drumsticks, wings, or even quarters. (excluding boneless skinless breasts) This is also great because I really don’t like handling raw poultry at the campsite. So as always, some of the prep is done at home.

  • 2 to 3 pieces of chicken per camper, depending on which type you choose to go with
  • Olive oil to coat chicken, for baking
  • Salt and pepper to coat chicken, for baking
  • Several sprigs of rosemary
  • 1 cup fresh-chopped parsley
  • ¼ cup vinegar
  • 2 lemons, ¼ inch slices
  • 8 to 10 cloves of garlic, minced

Coat chicken in oil, salt, and pepper. Arrange chicken pieces on baking sheet and foil and bake for about 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven, or until done. Let cool.

Next, add pieces to zip top bag and fill with lemon slices, vinegar, rosemary sprigs, parsley, and minced garlic. You can also add a little chicken broth or stock here. Press out as much air as possible. This is going to be a marinade. Keep refrigerated and then keep cool in a cooler with ice for transport to the camp site. You can also feel free to add in any other seasonings or herbs of your choice. Experiment!

Since the chicken is basically already cooked, just throw it on the grill long enough to warm through and get grill marks on both sides, 5 to 7 minutes per side.

You can also marinade the chicken overnight in chicken broth, lemon juice, and various herbs for another level of flavor, which is what I do. You can serve with the dipping sauce of your choice, such as Buffalo, teriyaki, or BBQ.  Enjoy!

Questions/comments/requests/anecdotes/childhood stories? Feel free to drop me a line at jasonr@pahaque.com