Archive for the ‘Do It’ Category

Shine on You Crazy Geminid: A Guide to This Week’s Magnificent Meteor Shower

Are you a hardcore astronomy enthusiast? Are you a fan of all things sparkly and pretty? Are you a nature lover who enjoys the outdoors but isn’t really a huge fan of moving? If any of these applies to you, you won’t want to miss this week’s dazzling light show known as the Geminid meteor shower.

The Geminids in all their glory.[Image: www.hub.sierratradingpost.com]

The Geminids in all their glory.
[Image: http://www.hub.sierratradingpost.com

Much like a rat clawing its way to the top of a scrapheap, the Geminids have successfully elbowed out August’s pesky Perseids to become KING OF THE METEOR SHOWERS. When the Geminids first gained notice back in the 1830s, people thought they were mostly meh. Throughout the decades, however, the show has been steadily bulking up and increasing its rate of meteors per hour. All the hard work paid off, and now many scientists regard the Geminid meteor shower as providing the best display of the year. Take that, Perseids! What’s more, this year’s show coincides with the new moon, meaning there won’t be any moonlight to rudely mask the spectacle.

I don't think so, MOON!

I don’t think so, MOON!

If you want to get in on the action and find out what all this Geminids fuss is about, you’re in luck! Unlike rock climbing, ice fishing, snowboarding, or any other difficult hobby you’d like to try but haven’t because it’s a lot of work and, ugh, who has the time, stargazing requires practically no equipment, training, planning, or practice. (Unfortunately, that also means there are no opportunities to be really good at it and rub it in everyone’s face.) All you need are a dark sky, warm clothes, something to sit on, and some eyeballs.

Let’s hope you don’t have any important exams or meetings this Friday that would keep you from being up late on a school night, because the best viewing time for the show will stretch from late in the evening on Thursday, December 13 through dawn on Friday, December 14.

It will look sort of like this, but with shooting stars.

It will look sort of like this, but with shooting stars.

Should you wish to observe the show at an event made for watchin’, you’re in double luck. Plenty of state parks are offering viewing events. Check them out:

Delaware

What: Geminid Meteor Shower

Where: Cape Henlopen State Park

When: Fri, December 14, 2012, starting at 7:00 p.m.

From the State: Bundle up and keep your eyes on the sky as we watch one of nature’s great displays. Search the skies for other cosmological wonders.

FYI: Ages 7 and up with an adult. Limit 20. Pre-registration is required. $2 per person.

Louisiana

What: Stargazing

Where: Chemin-a-haut State Park

When: Fri, December 14, 2012, starting at 7:00 p.m.

From the State: Lay your blanket on the grass and lie on your back for one of the best shows in nature! The Geminid meteor shower will be at its peak and there will also be a telescope to view the stars with. A meet and greet with amateur astronomer, Kay Singer, will be held at the amphitheatre and then a short walk to the ball field for the viewing.

FYI: Please bring your own blankets and pillows. For more information call (888) 677-2436 toll free or 283-0812 locally.

New Jersey

What: Public Skywatch for Geminid Meteors

Where: Belleplain State Forest, Athletic Field near Lake Nummy

When: Friday, December 14, 2012, starting around 7:30 p.m.

FYI: This event is FREE and ADA-Accessible. Sponsored by the South Jersey Astronomy Club. Once inside Belleplain State Forest, follow signs to the free public parking lot, then walk the short distance onto the observing field. Telescopes will be set up to give a beautiful view of the night sky! Only red flashlights are allowed on the field. Rain or cloudy conditions on Friday night will move the event to Saturday. Bad weather on that night, though, will cancel the event. Any changes or cancellations will be announced on the home index page and also announced using the Yahoo SJAC Announce email list. For additional event and park information, contact the Belleplain State Forest Ranger Station at (609) 861-2404.

New York

What: Go and Catch A Falling Star!

Where: Evangola State Park

When: Thursday, December 13, 2012, 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

From the State: The Geminids are now considered by many experts as the most brilliant and reliable meteor shower surpassing the August Perseids shower! So bring a blanket and lawn chair and enjoy up to 120 blue green streaking meteors an hour!

FYI: For information and registration call (716) 549-1050.

North Carolina

What: Geminid Meteor Shower Watch

Where: Eno River State Park

When: Thu, December 13, 2012, starting at 8:30 p.m.

From the State: Bundle up, bring the hot chocolate and come out to the park to enjoy some winter stargazing. We’ll have a short indoor presentation and then head outside to watch for “shooting stars” on the peak of the Geminid meteor shower.

FYI: Call park office at (919) 383-1686 to register. Limit 18.

Virginia

What: Constellations and Campfires

Where: Caledon State Park

When: Thursday, December 13, 2012, 8:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.

From the State: Bring a blanket and a lawn chair for an evening of watching nature’s fireworks, shooting stars. The park staff will guide guests through some of the common constellations in the night sky. We will have a small campfire to warm up by and make a few s’mores.

FYI: Located at the picnic shelter. Children are allowed. No extra event fee. For more information call (540) 663-3861 or email www.dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/cal.shtml

The Great Indoors, Part 2: How to Bring the Outdoors In

It’s no secret that the state parks are full of exciting recreational opportunities all year round. With skiing, snowboarding, ice fishing, snowmobiling, dog sledding, and snowshoeing available at plenty of parks this winter, it really stinks when the weather outside is truly frightful and we just can’t make it to our favorite spot for winter fun. However, just because we’re stuck indoors doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the great outdoors. In fact, there are several ways we can bring the outdoors in and make our homes little nature havens to tide us over when the real deal is unavailable.

1.     Plants

This is perhaps a bit obvious, but filling your space with plants just may be the easiest and most effective way of injecting a bit of Mother Nature into your home.

Just be careful not to overdo it, or you may lose your couch in the brush like these poor folks.

Just be careful not to overdo it, or you may lose your couch in the brush like these poor folks.

In addition to reminding you of the great outdoors, seeing a beautiful braided ficus tree or blooming orchid every morning is sure to start your day off right by putting a smile on your face (as long as it’s still alive). If watering something everyday is a bit too much of a bother, stick a fake plant in the corner and be done with it! It’ll still be green and tree-like, so mission accomplished.

2.     Taxidermied Animals

Okay, so the idea of stuffed dead animals is obviously not for everyone, but if it suits your style, we think there may be no better way to honor nature in your home than by mounting a giant moose head in the living room. After all, we dare you to quickly name three things more outdoorsy than a moose. Bet you can’t do it!

This would look marvelous in the bathroom, don't you think?

This would look marvelous in the bathroom, don’t you think?

3.     Scented Candles

Who doesn’t love the aroma of marshmallows roasting over the fire, salty sea winds whipping through the air, or autumn leaves billowing up in smoke? Luckily, there are many companies that feel the same way we do and produce excellent scented candles to remind us of our favorite outdoor memories all year long.

This particular scent is Woodland Raccoon.

This particular scent is Woodland Raccoon.

For just a sample of what’s out there, Yankee Candle Shop sells candles scented like Autumn Leaves, Fireside, Balsam & Cedar, Grapevine and Oak, Beach Wood, and Eucalyptus, while White Barn Candle Company offers Marshmallow Fireside, Leaves, Mahogany Teakwood, Evergreen, and Cranberry Woods, and Virginia Candle Company perhaps beat them all with Applewood, Cabin Retreat, Redwood, At the Beach, Campfire Marshmallow, Dew Drops, and Velvet Woods. Light up a candle, close your eyes, and you may just forget you’re indoors at all.

4.     Nature CDs

Yeah, they’re kind of weird and strangely popular among people with waist-long French braids, but there’s no denying that Sounds of Nature-type CDs succeed at one thing: reminding us of the great outdoors. No matter your favorite nature sounds, from choirs of crickets to crashing waves, we guarantee you can find a CD full of them.

Sorry, if you want to hear what this bird is singing about, you'll have to buy his album.

Sorry, if you want to hear what this bird is singing about, you’ll have to buy his album.

If you’re real fancy and technological, and you probably are if you’re a Pocket Ranger® user, you can even download the Sounds of Nature app. Guess what else? Pandora offers a station called Nature Sounds Radio. There has never been an easier time to fall asleep to a gaggle of geese harmonizing in C minor.

5.     Indoor Camping

If you want to go all out and really have an outdoor experience in the comfort of your home, you may enjoy a night of indoor camping.

Think this will fit in the den?

Think this will fit in the den?

Luckily we’ve already covered all those bases here so read up and get your tent ready.

Pocket Ranger® Apps 101: How To Track Your Trails

It’s time for another edition of Pocket Ranger®’s “How To” guide, featuring the app’s GPS mapping feature. We know you all have been waiting anxiously to learn more about our cool, Pocket Ranger® app features, and this week we’re showing you how to track and record your trails. From hiking to biking and all other activities that require you to get up and get moving, Pocket Ranger®’s record feature lets you log how far you’ve traveled and share it with friends.

Recording your trail is easy, all you need is a smartphone and the Pocket Ranger® app, which is free to download for iPhone and Android on www.PocketRanger.com.

First, locate the RECORD icon on the app:

photo

Click me to record!

Press the record button in the GPS Map screen to record a track of your hike, run, bike ride, or any outdoor activity. Click the start flag on the map to monitor your progress as you record.

photo-1

Behold, the GPS map screen!

After the track is saved, it is added to the Tracks page. This plotted track can be shared among friends and family through e-mail, and can be be viewed in Google Earth, Google Maps, or any compatible application on your PC or Mac. Just remember that a clear satellite signal is needed for this function to work properly.

photo 1

Recall Track(s)

What are you waiting for? Go track your trails!

What are you waiting for? Go track your trails!

To recall saved tracks when returning to a park you have previously explored, press the first “menu” button from the side navigation bar.

Choose “My Tracks”

Locate the On/Off option and tap on either one, or choose individual tracks to show.

Click on the “Options” button to:

Share Track(s)

Export Tracks(s) in .kml and .gpx format

Add Photo View

Delete Track(s)

Share Your Experience

You can post a current position, waypoint, or track to your Facebook Wall. You are also able to share with others directly through email by simply registering recipients in the Share Settings menu.

Go Green, Go Hunting: The Benefits of Hunting Responsibly

Contributed by Will Jenkins, The Will to Hunt

Pan seared venison with rosemary and cherries is both delicious and an environmentally responsible dish.

Pan seared venison with rosemary and cherries is both delicious and an environmentally responsible dish.

Over the last few years “go green” and “organic” have become buzz words associated with living a clean and sustainable lifestyle. I’m sure if you aren’t a hunter or perhaps if you are, the last thing you associated with those terms is the stereotypical gun-toting hunter. While there are plenty of folks that hunt for trophies and some just for the tradition the majority hunt to eat. I’m not sure there’s a better source of organic meat out there!

Venison (which refers to any wild game meat, though most people use it to refer to any type of deer and sometimes elk or antelope) along with most wild game is a much healthier protein source, with higher levels of protein and lower levels of fat. The difference: you have to take an active role in the food chain to get it. Modern conservation and game management techniques are used to set limits  to protect the game animals. This prevents the mistakes of our past, when several species like the American Buffalo were hunted close to extinction. Thus creating the renewable part. You pay a premium for grass-fed, hormone-free or organic meat at the store. Most likely, there’s a good amount of that meat running around the woods within driving distance of your home. While there is some investment up front in the form of weapons, arrows or ammunition and gear, it’s relatively easy to get set up to procure your own meat. Plus, with apps like the Pocket Ranger®’s Fish & Wild, hunters can easily identify specific wildlife.

As hunters, we also help conserve the land animals that we take from. Hunters spend a good bit of money joining organizations like National Wild Turkey Federation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation or Mule Deer Association. On top of that the fees from licenses fund the local conservation police and other conservation projects. There’s also a 10% federal excise tax on all firearms and ammunition. All of this goes to conservation. Annually, all of this amounts to millions towards conservation, and since the firearms tax started in 1937, it has accounted for $4.2 Billion towards conservation.

While most people who read this blog are nature lovers, consider getting even closer to nature and getting right in the middle of the food chain. Even if you don’t hunt or never plan to, if you see a hunter out on public land and your first reaction isn’t the best, remember they’re helping financially back the whole conservation system and they’re providing organic meat for their family. By hunting, they’re “going green.”

If you’re interested in starting to hunt, most states now offer an apprentice type license that lets you hunt with a licensed hunter taking a safety course. Also, a great way to meet hunters is to find a local online hunting forum or local hunting organization. Most states have some sort of private non-profit hunting organization. In my experience they can be the best resources to help teach you and sometimes lend you gear to use to ease the financial burden of starting out.

Want a real-life example of green eating? Check out this bonus recipe!

Below is the winning recipe of The Mindful Carnivore Photo Contest, available on TheWilltoHunt.com.

Pan Seared Venison with Rosemary and Cherries

Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 tsps. chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp. coriander seeds (or 1/2 tsp. ground coriander if you can’t find the seeds)
  • 1 large clove garlic
  • 1 1/2 tsps. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 (1-lb.) venison tenderloin
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine
  • 1/4 cup dried tart cherries
  • 3/4 cup fat-free beef broth
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tsp. corn starch
  • 2 Tbsps. black currant jelly (or red, if you can’t find the black)

Directions

  1. Grind 1 tsps. of the rosemary with the coriander and garlic with a mortar and pestle to make a paste, then stir in 1/2 tsp. of the olive oil.
  2. Pat venison dry and put in a bowl, then rub with paste. Season well with pepper, then cover and chill 20 minutes.
  3. Preheat oven to 450. Heat a cast iron skillet over high heat until hot, then add remaining oil, tilting skillet to coat evenly. Season venison well with salt, then brown, turning once, about 6 minutes total.
  4. Transfer skillet to middle of oven and roast venison until an instant-read thermometer inserted diagonally into center registers 125 F, about 10 minutes (give or take). Transfer meat to a plate and cover tightly with foil.
  5. Add wine and cherries to skillet and deglaze by boiling over moderately high heat, stirring and scraping up brown bits. Stir together broth, water, cornstarch, and remaining 1/2 tsp. rosemary in a bowl and add to skillet. Simmer, stirring, until mixture is reduced and thickened (to your preference), about 5-10 minutes. Whisk in jelly and salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Cut venison into 1/4-inch-thick slices and serve with sauce.
  7. Makes 4 servings. Each serving about 196 calories and 3 grams of fat.

Blizzkrieg: A Guide to Snowball Fights

From ice-skating to ice fishing, cross-country skiing to snowmobiling, there’s never a shortage of outdoor recreation available to while away the winter hours at the state parks. However, one of our favorite types of winter fun is a bit less sophisticated than a graceful run down the slopes or lightning-fast jaunt through the woods.

Of course we’re talking about that old classic, the snowball fight!

Get pumped for a snowball fight, like this dog.

Get pumped for a snowball fight, like this dog.

Before you turn up your nose and write the pastime off as a silly kids game, let us just remind you that the snowball fight can, indeed, be a game of skill. Here’s how:

THE DO’S

        1.  Pack the perfect snowball.

This is first and foremost, obviously. You can’t win a snowball fight with no snowballs.  Good snowballs require good packing snow. That is, snow that’s not too wet (slush ball central) or light and powdery (won’t pack). You need snow that’s kind of warm without melting all over the place. Staging the snowball fight for a time when the sun has been shining a bit is a good way to ensure this.

When choosing snowball snow, use snow slightly below the surface. This layer has already been packed down a bit by the snow on top of it, which makes it easier to pack into a snowball. As you begin to form your missile, start with light pressure and then gradually increase it. If you start out slamming the snow together right off the bat, your attempt will likely wind up like this dork’s:

What's that? Zero? Oh, that must be how many snowballs you were able to make.

What’s that? Zero? Oh, that must be how many snowballs you were able to make with that sloppy technique.

   2.  Come prepared with top-notch gloves.

We say gloves and not mittens because it’s tough to pack a snowball when your fingers are lumped together like a bunch of carrots. It’s also hard to expertly craft a round of snowballs when your gloves are made out of crappy sweater material that soaks through in 4 seconds, leaving your fingers blue, numb, and fumbly.

How are those mittens working out for you, ya schmuck?

How are those mittens working out for you?

The ideal snowball fighting gloves will be made out of the same noisy material as your snow pants. Sure, the nails-on-a-chalkboard-like sound of your own fingers brushing against each other may rupture an eardrum or two, but you’ll be able to form a sick snowball, bro!

        3.  Don’t duck!

No, we don’t mean stand there and wait for someone to nail you in the face. You should definitely try to avoid being hit, but by dodging the snowball.  You know, moving left or right. While it’s human instinct to duck and let airborne objects pass overhead, keep in mind that the momentum fades a lot quicker in a lightweight snowball than it does in, say, a rock. If you duck to avoid a snowball, you could intercept it on its early drop to the ground and accidentally put yourself in the path of a direct hit – major faux pas!

Shouldn't have ducked, loser.

Shouldn’t have ducked.

Plus, snow gear tends to make one so lumpy and ungraceful, there’s no guarantee that a duck won’t result in an embarrassing loss of balance and a face-plant right into the snow. As you’ll recall, you’re trying to avoid a face full of snow, so remember to always dodge.

        4.  Be patient.

While we’re all diverse and unique snowflakes, we can hopefully agree that most everyone has a maximum of two hands. This severely limits the amount of snowballs one can hold and propel at you without needing a break to restock their supply. This is when you strike!

Be patient like this cool hawk, biding his time before swooping down on his prey.

Be patient like this cool hawk, biding his time before swooping down on his prey.

Hang on to your own snowball stash, and dodge, dodge, dodge until your opponent runs out of ammo. Then, attack when they’re at their most vulnerable–crouching and frantically forming balls of snow with their crappy, floppy mittens.  Got ‘em!

THE DO NOT’S

The Do Not’s are as important as the Do’s for ensuring the snowball fight is an enjoyable time for everyone involved.

  1.  Don’t aim for the head.

That’s what jerks do.

 2.  Don’t make soakers by dipping your snowball in water and effectively turning it into an ice ball.

This little weasel has "I make soakers" written alllllll over her.

This little weasel has “I make soakers” written alllllll over her.

        3.  Don’t secretly hide rocks or other dangerous projectiles in your snowball.

This could seriously injure someone.

        4.  Don’t gloat when you win.

Just forward your opponents this handy guide and wish them better luck next time.

The Big Chill: Quick Tips for Winterizing Your RV

While it may be a wee bit depressing having to pack up all of your summer and fall camping gear, and dig out the chunky sweaters and fur-lined boots, we choose to get amped for winter sports rather than sulking over all of the beaches at which we’d rather be this time of year. Most seasonal stashing is easy peasy, but those of us with RVs know that preparing for winter means a whole lot more work than putting lawn chairs in storage. Winterizing your recreational vehicle is a necessary seasonal routine that will help you prepare for the camping off-season, as well ensure that your vehicle is in tip-top shape and ready to go when spring shows its shining face again.

Here are a few tips for winterizing your RV that we learned from the pros and mostly apply to those of us who are paid an annual visit from Old Man Winter himself.

Winter RV

While winter camping is definitely doable, most people retire their RVs for the winter. [Image: http://www.rvcountry.blogspot.com

It’s Element-ary, My Dear Watson

Nothing wreaks havoc on a an out-of-commission vehicle like the elements: we’re talking snow, rain, salt, and even sand. Protecting your RV from these conditions is key to prolonging the vehicle’s lifespan, and while it is recommended that it is done so by keeping the vehicle in off-street storage, such as a garage, special tarps and covers are also available by specialty retailers for those without the option of fully storing their RV. A cover may still prove to be beneficial even if you are able to store your RV in a garage or similar facility, and can help regulate the temperature of the vehicle as it gets cold outside.

Snow isn't the old element you need to protect unused RVs from. [Image: www.thefuntimesguide.com]

Snow isn’t the only element you need to protect unused RVs from. [Image: http://www.thefuntimesguide.com

Everything Must Go

When it comes to cleaning out your RV, it’s good to adopt the “everything must go” mentality and rid your vehicle of any food, clothing, or clutter, so that come spring or summer you will have a fresh, clean start. It is recommended that even nonperishables are removed from the vehicle before it is placed in storage; extreme temperature changes can lead to spoilage or can explode if frozen, leading to a mess that can attract all kinds of critters and bacteria. It’s also a good idea to remove any valuables or personal non-camping items from the RV, as you aren’t likely to want to dig them out once you’ve put the vehicle into storage. We also suggest removing all linens from the beds and bathroom, giving them a good launder, and keeping them in a safe place until camping season.

Winterizing your RVs plumbing system can be tricky, but it's necessary to maintaining the integrity of your vehicle. [Image: www.rvupgradestore.com]

Winterizing your RVs plumbing system can be tricky, but it’s necessary to maintaining the integrity of your vehicle. [Image: http://www.rvupgradestore.com

Drain Game

Plumbing is probably the most important and complicated part of the winterizing process. Neglecting to drain your RV’s water heater can lead to the pipes freezing over, causing system damage that may cost you a pretty penny to fix. After your last visit to a campsite before placing your RV in storage, it is a good idea to empty both the freshwater and wastewater tanks at a nearby dump station. After unlatching tank drains, it’s smart to turn any and all faucets to purge the lines of any remaining fluids. Cleaning out the tanks is also important to keep mold from growing over the winter, holding tanks can be easily scrubbed by hand, while gray and fresh water tanks need to be flushed out using a higher strength cleaning agent, since there isn’t a direct access to the tank itself. Most RV supply stores and companies will sell specialty cleaners for these types of tanks, but if not baking soda or bleach work well in a pinch.

For a more detailed guide to protecting your engine and battery , check out the Complete Idiot’s Guide for How to  Winterize and Store Your RV.

Keep it Green, Keep it Clean: Ways to Explore the Outdoors Responsibly

With the exception of hoarders and proverbial pigs (not the cute, oinking four-legged kind rather the leave-trash-everywhere-biped kind) most of us know not to leave our trash and belongings behind. On camping trips, when our packs are filled with Ziplock®’s and all sorts of other containers, it’s tempting to leave it behind for another unsuspecting camper to clean up. Or the times when we think a balled-up wrapper and nearby trash bin makes us an NBA superstar only to miss the shot leave the “ball” on the ground.

We get it, sometimes cleaning up isn’t fun but it’s a MUST if we want to preserve our beautiful state and national parks and public lands. The parks belong to all of us so it’s our responsibility to care for and protect them for generations to come. Below are several guidelines to follow for responsible exploration. While we can’t take credit for such genius, we are happy to spread to the word in hopes of encouraging others to help keep Mother Nature clean.

Leave No Trace Seven Principles

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
The member-driven Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics teaches people how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly. This copyrighted information has been reprinted with permission from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org

 

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle 

This genius idea comes courtesy of the EPA. As former Envirocops in the ’90s, we’re very aware of the benefits of reducing waste, reusing materials and recycling what we can’t reuse.

  • Reduce the amount of paper and plastic materials you purchase and bring outdoors with you. Refusing paper or plastic bags at the store and bringing your own, for instance, can be a small step towards a big change.
  • Reuse items such as plastic bags, containers and even cans that you bring outdoors. Need a place to store your bait for a fishing trip? Rinse out a previously used container or can and use it as storage. Bring washable cups and other items outdoors instead of disposable ones.
  • Recycle all items that cannot be reused. Don’t toss everything in the trash! Things like cans, bottles, paper, and cardboard can be remade into either the same kind of thing or new products.

 

Wisconsin State Parks are all Carry In, Carry Out areas. [Image: http://www.dnr.wi.gov

Carry In, Carry Out 

Many parks (about 20 state park systems to date!) subscribe this principle, which, in most cases, means just that: carry out with you everything you carry in with you to the state park. Parks that follow this policy do not have trash cans so as to preserve the natural setting. Also, eliminating trash bins keeps pets and wild animals from rummaging through garbage. Pocket Ranger® apps contain information about the respective state parks that are Carry In, Carry Out areas.

Ohio State Parks offer great tips for ways to minimize waste:

  • Pack your picnic in reusable containers
  • Choose reusable eating utensils, cups and plates
  • Avoid products with excessive packaging
  • Bring a trash bag with you for your outing

Hibernation Smibernation: Four Great Ways to Stay Active in Winter

Our first inclination once the charm and whimsy of the holidays and cold weather fade is to grab a three-month supply of canned soup and hibernate until spring, but rather than cozying up to the cable and Internet, we’ve made it our goal to get active and stay active through the winter. While end-of-the-year gym membership deals are as enticing as the pumpkin pie you most likely indulged in this past week, we believe there isn’t a health club in town that compares to what Mother Nature has to offer you and those thunder thighs!

Contrary to popular belief, staying active outdoors in the winter months isn’t all that difficult with snow-centered sports such as snowshoeing and cross-country skiing to whip our butts into shape—it’s really just motivation and a good pair of gloves that stand between us and frosty fitness. Live in a no-snow zone? Great, you have no excuse not to get out there and get moving come December and January, and we will be relying on you guys to send us photos and travel logs of your snowless adventures! For those of us stuck with the fluffy white stuff for a few more months, here are some activities that’ll help you feel the burn no matter how cold it gets outside.

While not as popular as downhill or cross-country skiing, snowshoeing has seen some major mileage, originating in central Asia as early as 4,000 years ago. Snowshoeing allows for the adventure and sightseeing opportunities of hiking with the added challenge of wading through snow. Special, often racquet-like, shoes make it easier to glide through snowy terrain, yet allow for enough resistance to make the workout worth your while. On average 500 or so calories can be burned per hour while snowshoeing, more depending on the shoer’s weight, as well as the difficulty of the terrain. All in all snowshoeing on a regular basis is sure to get your turkey legs into tip-top shape while providing a double dose of snowy scenery that sure beats the pants off watching a bunch of sweaty dudes do bench presses and compare neck sizes.

Ever seen a pudgy figure skater? Well, there’s a reason, ice skating is not only a fun and thrilling pastime, but a challenging, heart-pumping sport that gives the body a head-to-toe workout. Ice skating is an activity the whole family can enjoy, and the often necessary hand-holding can transform it into a romantic affair. The best part about ice skating outdoors is it is usually low-cost if not free, taking the stress off your pocketbook and putting it where it belongs: your muscles!

Okay, okay, so it may not provide the same rush you may get from downhill skiing, but cross-country skiing is hard work! From Olympic race tracks to the backwoods, cross-country skiing is as challenging as you make it. As in cross-country running, this wintertime sport places a huge focus on endurance, and calls every major muscle group into action. Not only will you get a killer workout from cross-country skiing, but you’ll take in some spectacular sights as you cover major ground.

While it’s not likely that it’ll become an Olympic sport, wood chopping is one of the few chores that is rewarding in more way than one. Aside from the obvious benefit of providing fuel for your fire, chopping wood offers an excellent upper-body workout to which any woodsman or woman can attest. Next time you’re feeling flabby around the arm area, find the nearest stump and get to choppin’!

Watch Wildlife Re-enact the Holiday Season

With Thanksgiving already behind us and the mega holidays coming full-speed ahead, we thought it might be nice to take a deep breath and relax with some nature and wildlife. Unfortunately, the season’s weather, shopping, traveling, cooking, and family gathering restraints can make it difficult to venture off into the wilderness for a few days, as much as we may like to, so we decided to enjoy nature right here on our blog.

Please enjoy our interpretation of the holiday season as animated by various wildlife and members of the animal kingdom.

Thanksgiving is here!!!

I’m so pumped to do this:

And this:

HERE COMES THE TURKEY!

Did you seriously just try to steal a bite? AWAY! AWAY!

Uh oh, I ate too fast and now I’m covered in crumbs. 

Oh good, somebody brought a vacuum.

I think I ate too much… can you tell? I feel like I’m walking funny.

Yikes. I probably should avoid mirrors for a few days.

Oh what’s this?

A MIRROR AHHHH!

Okay, there’s no more food left. Everyone get out of here.

BYE!

Ugh, now it’s Black Friday. Time to stand outside the mall and wait for the doors to open.

IS SOMEONE COMING WITH A KEY?

OMG OMG OMG LET US IN!

Finally! Time to shop till I drop!

Did that man just snag the last iPhone 5? SEIZE HIM!

Okay, I think I got everything! Now I can head home!

Aw, crap. Mistletoe. Gotta stop and smooch someone.

Wowzers. That was nice. Now I have to snap back to reality and prepare to host the family.

GEESH, is it really time for another holiday meal? No time to think. Here they come!

There’s Grandma! Hi Grandma!

Aw, Grandma forgot who I am again.

Oh no, Cousin Sally brought her unruly kid.

So hyper!

What did you just say?

I HAVE DISH DUTY?

Ugh!

Remind me again why  I was excited for holiday season.

Seriously, is it over?

IT IS!!!!

Until next year, folks!

*All .gifs were found at the delightful www.icanhas.cheezburger.com

How to Get Free Passes to State Parks & Historic Sites

If it’s free, well, it’s for us. We’re all about gratis fun—free state park mobile tour guides, free fish & wildlife smartphone apps, free admission days at national parks—which is why we compiled a list of easy ways to finagle free admission to many of our nation’s beloved state and national parks. From volunteers to veterans, many state park systems offer free admission to various people and groups throughout the year. Below are just a few of the freebies that await at your nearest state park.

This way for FREE outdoor fun!

Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites

Free Annual ParkPass & Library Check-Out System

Supporting your state park system has some added perks, like a free annual park pass. Park goers who become members of the Friends of Georgia State Parks organization receive an annual park pass to Georgia State Parks and Historic sites, as well as other benefits. The mission of Friends is to partner with, promote and preserve Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites.

For a quick trip, Georgia residents with a valid library card are encouraged to visit their local library to check out a free ParkPass or Historic Site pass.

Louisiana State Parks 

Veterans Pass

Any Louisiana resident who is a veteran of the Armed Forces of the United States or is a disabled on account of previous military service shall be exempt from paying the day use entrance fee to any Louisiana state park. We like the sound of that!

Maine State Parks

Veterans Pass

Completed military service? Veterans of US Armed forces are eligible for a free, lifetime day-use pass to Maine state parks and historic sites. The free pass entitles veterans who were honorably discharged or received a general discharge under honorable conditions to free park entrance with proper identification.

Maryland Department of Natural Resources

Disability Pass & Over 62 Pass

Park goers over the age 62 or those with a disability may apply for a pass that entitles them to free admission to all state parks that charge service fees. Though the pass does not waive additional charges, such as boat launch or camping fees, visitors over the age of 62 may receive half-price camping Sunday through Thursday.

Washington State Parks (Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Fish and Wildlife Department)

Annual Parking Pass

You don’t have to shell out $30 for an annual parking pass for Washington State Park—several hours of labor will suffice. Park goers who volunteer for 24 hours cleaning up beaches, building trails or planting trees can earn an annual parking pass, which is approximately $10 per day. Those interested in volunteering will find opportunities posted on the park websites. Once service is completed, a ranger or other supervisor signs off on the hours. Volunteers do the work, mail in vouchers and receive a Discover Pass in return.

Many state park systems offer discounts on holidays, as well as reduced admission to students, seniors and veterans, so be sure to check your Pocket Ranger® app or the park website for more information.

Did we miss any freebies? Leave us a comment with your money-saving tips!

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