Camping at Bushwhacker Lake Conservation Area
September 30, 2006

When you plan to go camping, do just that. PLAN! Though I am not a newcomer to camping, I’m not a big time outfitter either.

I hadn’t been on a real, meaning more than one night, camping trip since my dad and I used to go to Stockton Lake every weekend in the spring years ago. We went during the crappie spawn. Back then there was still an attendant at the campgrounds to check everyone in. I can still remember the license plate number that we gave before getting our spot.

We got so good at setting up camp that in 10 minutes flat we had unloaded the tent--one of those old ones with the aluminum poles (remember those?)-- set it up, unpacked all the gear, and were ready to start fishing. Never was a word spoken between us. We knew what job had to be done and when.

What a difference now! I had decided at the last minute to take the family camping at Bushwhacker Conservation Area over the last long holiday weekend. Boy, was that a mistake, not taking the family camping but deciding at the last minute.

Bushwhacker Lake Conservation Area is located on the Barton-Vernon County line. It gets its name from a group of men who banded together around the time of the Civil War. They started their own guerrilla war with Kansas Jayhawkers who believed that these men were Confederate sympathizers.

At present, Bushwhacker, composed of nearly all prairie land, covers almost 4,500 acres. Before it became public land, much of the original prairie had been plowed and put into crop production. Management practices of this area today are in place to restore 1,200 acres of prairie through grazing, controlled burning and herbicide treatment. About 120 acres of native prairie are just as they were when the bison roamed the area.

A flock of prairie chickens still inhabit an area along the west side. Each fall and spring hundreds of waterfowl use the 157-acre lake and the numerous ponds that dot the area as a refueling rest stop on their trips north and south.

Since I already had all of the essentials for a camp-out except airbeds, that weren't essential until I got older, I made a quick trip to Wal-Mart to purchase them. For the kids I got two twin-size beds and for the wife and myself, I picked up the Ozark Mountain brand queen-size sold with a hand pump.

When my dad and I went camping, we got everything we needed in the back seat and trunk of the old Buick with some room to spare. It's funny but that isn’t the case anymore with two females living with you. Not that I don’t completely enjoy spending time with them, especially outdoors, but, it took two vehicles to transport everything.

My daughter Sissy is showing off a craw fish she found on one of our outdoor excursions.

We left Neosho about 6:30 Saturday evening. Since the women were starving, I figured it was in my best interest to let them have one last taste of civilization. I also figured that if we stopped to eat, that would give my son Dylan and I a better opportunity to start fishing sooner since I wouldn’t have to build a fire and start cooking.

After a stop at Babe’s on North Main in Joplin, we arrived at Bushwhacker about 8 p.m. We found a suitable campsite near the outhouse and boat ramp. As an added bonus the previous tenant left behind enough wood to last the whole time we would be there. Thanks whoever you are for even more time Dylan and I got to fish instead of looking for wood!

So, the next step is setting up camp and getting to that wonderful air pump. As Sissy, Dylan and I are building the customary campfire, the wife yells to me that the beds are not airing up at all. Time for me to take charge and show her how to operate a simple hand air pump. So I take my turn at it. I pumped and pumped and pumped some more and asked her several times if it looked like any air was getting into the bed, and she answered negatively several times.

“Enough of that, everybody saddle up, we are going to Wal-Mart in Nevada!” were the words I used with a few more expletives to express my true feelings! Let me tell you now, spend the extra $20 and buy a rechargeable air pump. It will more than pay for itself the first time you use it.

Back at camp we spent about six minutes airing up all three beds with the new pump. Finally, around 11:30 p.m. we get to bed. All appeared to be well, that is, until about 4 a.m. The wife wakes me to say she has to use the restroom.

"Well, ok, take off. You know the way," I tell her. Ohhhhhh Noooo! I have to go with her. So I get up, fire up the lantern, grab her hand and away we go skipping all the way. I open the door to the outhouse for her, hand her the lantern and keep a watch outside the door for wild bears, lions and tigers! I think I may have caught a glimpse of the boogeyman in the trees but I can’t confirm that.

Around the outside of the outhouse they have some 6X6 timbers for landscaping. As I’m standing there trying to mind my own business but, being that men are like Billy goats, I, being no exception, decide that I’m going to stand on top of the timber. And timber is what I should have yelled as I went tumbling down the embankment. 'Seems as if these things were just lying unsecured on the ground.

Holding an early morning bass is son Dylan.

Finally it's daylight. Thank goodness for that. My son Dylan and I hit the water for some early morning fishing. We caught a few but the fishing wasn’t as productive as I have seen before. We were back by 9 a.m. ready to fix some bacon, eggs, ham, and some taters that I diced up and fried. I have just three words, de lic ious! (Looks French, doesn't it?) That had to be one the best breakfast I've had in years.

After fiddling away the afternoon, we decide to do some evening fishing. Dylan and I take off to find the big bass. I put on a Hula-Popper for Dylan and I used a Rebel Minnow. It wasn’t long until Dylan had his first bite, and just after that he had his first fish. This went on for about 30 minutes. They were just tearing that Hula-Popper to pieces. I hadn’t had a nibble so it's time for both of us to be tossing Hula-Poppers and catching fish. This goes on until it's dang near dark, and I decide we need to get back to camp and cook some supper.

We're now in the groove. Everything went well our last night and the same the next morning. Dylan and I are on the water by 6:30 a.m. and fishing like there is no tomorrow until about 9 a.m. when we head back for some breakfast. In two days we went through two pounds of bacon, a dozen eggs, two ham steaks, and lots of taters and onions.

The final morning after my wife packed her car with stuff to take home, she and I decide that Dylan and I were going to stay and fish while she and Sissy were going to head back to do some shopping. Things couldn’t be better. It was a beautiful, sunning day. The wind that is normally present on the prairie was not blowing. There wasn't even a ripple on the water. It was like a sheet of glass. So with the goodbyes and the kisses completed and the women having taken off, Dylan and I headed for the boat.

In the process I began to realize that yesterday I had long pants on and today I was wearing shorts. When I drove to Wal-Mart the evening before it probably was those same jeans that I put my truck keys into. A frantic search of my pockets reveled that I did not have my keys now. I ran to the truck hoping that the wife once again took care of me and hid my keys there but a search turned up nothing. You know, for years I have meant to purchase one of the those silly little hide-a-key things but instead find myself standing there dumbfounded wondering what I am going to do. There is no telephone within a day’s walk of Bushwhacker.

My first thought was to just go fishing and hope sometime that evening she would send out a search party but the thought of not having any food stopped me. Oh yeah, as a last resort we could have cooked some fish rubbing two stones together to start a fire.

Heading back down to the boat ramp where Dylan already was waiting, I figured we could do a little fishing until our circumstances changed. I didn’t let Dylan know what the situation was. While at the ramp a nice older couple had just showed up to put their new boat in.

In exchange for helping them launch their new toy, I asked to use their cellphone that I discovered they had. From that location it didn't have any reception leading me to ask myself how we can send a man to the moon and back, a man to a space station and back, talk to them the whole time, yet I couldn't call my wife from earth to earth.

Amazing how panic will cloud one's thoughts. This very kind woman told me to run up to the top of the hill and try it. Duh! Off I go in a dead sprint. Eureka! Phone service. I quickly called the wife’s cell phone. Of course she doesn’t answer. I leave a message that her son and I are stranded. I thought I better call our home phone and leave a message to be double-dog-sure she gets at least one of the messages.

Happy and elated, I hop and skip back to the boat ramp while cheerfully singing songs out loud. OK, not really, but I was pretty dang happy. I handed the phone back to the woman and thanked her ecstatically. She asked if I had made contact and I told her that no but I did leave a couple of messages. Out of pure kindness, this lovely lady asked if I would like her to hide her phone on their vehicle so that it would be available for my use. I declined, stating she was too kind but that I was more than confident that my wife would get one of the messages and come to my rescue.

Although I knew the wife would be coming soon, I and Dylan could still get in some last minute fishing. I kept the boat in the vicinity of the ramp so I could keep an eye out for the cavalry. After about 45 minutes, I could see a dust cloud rising on the horizon of the prairie but was it from the cavalry or an Indian war party?

My wife's a good sport. We all had a good laugh at what had happened. Now Dylan and I could continue our fishing and the girls could go back to their shopping.

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