Labor Day weekend has always been the last summer fling for people with the outdoors at heart. Camping all of my life, it didn’t matter whether we were in a tent, pop-up camper, or RV, we were off to the lake for that last bit of fun in the sun.
My family always went to State Parks here in Missouri. We had nice camp sites, running water always available, a central shower house with hot water and flush toilets. When my parents started taking us camping, we were there prior to having designated camp sites that you had to pay for. It was a mad dash for the best spot. If you were meeting friends there you would place wood stakes with paper plates attached to them along the way so your friends would know where you were located. First group there always had to save space for the rest of the people in your party.
I have found over the last ten years or so that the Missouri state parks have become overused and overcrowded. There are reservation systems in place where you can reserve your site in advance, for a fee of course. There are so many people at the state parks that if you are camping to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, you can’t. RV’s, travel trailers, pop-up campers, boats and boat trailers, generators running all night seem to be common place now.
For those who like to “get away” from it all, stop looking at the state parks on holiday weekends. We did, and found a much more pleasant camping experience. If showers and flush toilets are a must, the place I am about to describe IS NOT FOR YOU.
We decided Friday night that we would head out for Labor Day weekend on Saturday morning. I knew we wouldn’t find a spot at a state park arriving on a Saturday afternoon, everything would be full. I picked an out of the way place to go. We don’t have a boat so there is no need for a lake on which we can ski. We were taking all three of our dogs on a camping trip for the first time. We didn’t know how two of the dogs would do; they had never been camping before. We were hoping that our Border Collie/Shetland Sheepdog mix Keegan would help calm the other two’s nerves. Keegan is an old pro at camping.
We packed all the gear, loaded the three dogs, Keegan, Clyde – St. Bernard mix, and Seamus – Great Pyrenees/Border Collie mix and pulled out of the driveway for Montrose Wildlife area in Henry county Missouri.
Montrose Wildlife Area is owned and run by the Missouri Department of
Conservation. Most conservation areas are better known for hunting and fishing rather than camping. Areas where camping is allowed may or may not have designated campsites. Some have NO facilities or amenities at all. Montrose has three designated campsite areas and a privy available at each one. (For anyone not familiar with the word ‘privy’ it is essentially an outhouse or also commonly called a vault toilet.) One camping area even has running drinking water – bonus! To give you fair warning, some privies at campsites are not as clean as simply going in the great outdoors. I know it seems impossible but some people are just pigs. There is no nice way to put it.
I didn’t print out directions to get there because we have a Magellan GPS unit. Stacy started putting in our destination only to find out that it didn’t exist in the GPS data base. It was hard to believe, this GPS can virtually find anything. We pulled back in the drive and I went inside to get some directions. In a flash we were on the road.
Montrose is only about an hour away from our house and has an interesting history. In the early 1950’s, a utility company bought nearly 4,000 acres of land along Deepwater Creek in Henry County as a site for a coal fired electrical generating plant and created a 1,600 acre lake to provide the water necessary to cool the plant. In 1957, the company leased about 3,600 acres of this land to the Missouri Department of Conservation which now manages this land for public use.
Montrose Lake, with its flow of warm water from the generating plant, offers good fishing especially for catfish. Over the years, it has also become a favorite of waterfowl and spectacular concentrations of ducks and geese visit the area each winter.
We arrived without a hitch. We drove through the first two campsites looking for a spot, only to decide that we would be around to many other campers. These areas were small, only about four campsites at the first area and ten at the second. Neither was full but we wanted to have a little space between us and other campers since, as I mentioned at the beginning, we just weren’t sure how the dogs would do. We drove a little further to the last camping area where we found about five other campers. We picked our spot away from everyone else and got ready to unload.
First thing you want to do when camping with your pets is to unload them first and walk them around the area. It makes setting up camp take a lot longer but it helps the dogs get acclimated to the new surroundings. There are new sounds, sights and smells that will get their adrenaline going. Remember, a calm, well walked, (tired), dog is a good dog.
However, an anxious dog has trouble succumbing to those feelings of being tired right away. I think it is similar to a sick dog suddenly seeming completely healthy once you get to the vet. The two dogs that had never been camping remained in a state of high alert for quite a while. They settled down eventually – when we did.
Now we had an issue with the off-leash thing. Keegan is perfect at being off leash and we only put one on him in the city (it is the law). Wherever it is legal and safe for him to be leash-less he can count on freedom to run. Why? He
comes back instantly when called. The other two were a mystery, so after our initial walk around the area we decided to stake the dogs in one spot while we set up camp. They hated it! They had never been tied up before and whined the entire time… well, Clyde (St. Bernard) did. He was hysterical – pacing, whining, etc. Not to mention the fact that we didn’t separate them enough and they almost instantly had their leashes tangled… needless to say it took a long time to set up.
Seamus (Great Pyr/BC) may be the most laid back of our dogs. He didn’t seem to mind being on a tie out; just a bit frustrated that the 3-4 leashes to which
he was attached would eventually stop him from where he wanted to go.
Clyde, on the other hand, was inconsolable. I don’t know why and I haven’t had a chance to ask our friend/trainer/behavior expert about any of this, but he bordered on hysterical. Whining that high pitched whine/cry combination was awful. Suddenly we had a choice to make: a) pack up and go home, b) ride it out for a while to see if he would stop, or c) go for it – try him off leash and pray.
After much deliberation, we went for it. We unhooked the leash from the tie-out and left it on his collar in the hopes that he wouldn’t realize he was free to go.
It took him a few minutes, but he realized it. But, in a good way! He stayed close and returned to us instantly when called any time he ventured out
farther than we thought was okay. And… the whining stopped. It was like a miracle. We could stay. The only time we put him back on the leash was when we went on a walk/hike. For some reason he insisted that he could not leave the campground without a leash, so we obliged. By insisted, I mean that as soon as we unhooked Seamus, Clyde would sit at our feet as he is supposed to at home when we are getting ready for our walk. He wouldn’t get up until the leash was on. It was probably the best idea anyway since he was so inexperienced at being an off-leash dog.
I must say that keeping a dog on a tie-out can be one big pain in the butt. The leash gets wrapped around the dog, the chairs, knocks over the water bowl no matter where you put it… we were really having trouble with it and Seamus didn’t love it either (even though he was a good sport about it). That said, the next ‘experiment’ was to see if he could be trusted off-leash.
Admittedly, we were pretty nervous about it and were pretty sure it wouldn’t work out very well – he’s notoriously stubborn, but we also thought we’d give him the chance to surprise us. Guess what? He didn’t surprise us one bit.
I unhooked him from the tie-out and left his leash hanging (the same ‘trick’ we used with Clyde). At first it looked like he’d come back when called because he did – exactly ONCE. After he decided he had fooled us, the next time he turned around and looked at me then ran the opposite direction. His ears didn’t even twitch at the sound of his name when I called him that time. He ran over to another campsite so I yelled at the guy to please grab his leash, but Seamus evidently gave him a signal of some sort that indicated it might not be a good idea. I called some more and he ran back my direction… just close enough for me to grab his hanging leash. Whew!
So, the “off-leash recall-ability” score standings are as follows:
Keegan = 100%
Clyde = 94%
Seamus = 3% +/- 3%
I guess we’ll have to work on that with Seamus. Camping with dogs is much more fun when your dog(s) can be off the leash at least some of the time. Perhaps we will write an article letting you know how that works out. I’ve never known how to train a dog to be off leash; I’ve only had dogs that could either do it or couldn’t.
Montrose Wildlife area and other conservation areas like it are great places for you to get away from the hustle and bustle of the daily grind. They are also outstanding places to camp with your pets. They offer light use by others
and normally have plenty of room to roam for your pets. Remember when looking at conservation areas for recreational camping that these areas are made and protected primarily for hunting and wildlife purposes. YOU must do your research in your state on hunting seasons. You do not want to be hiking trails with your dogs on or off leash during a hunting season of any kind. There are people that will mistake you and or your dog as a deer, dove, quail, rabbit, and any other animal you can think of that is legal to hunt.
So whether you are new to camping with your pets or a seasoned pro, get off the beaten path next time you venture out and check out wildlife areas in your state. I am sure you will find one as satisfying as we did. If you want to check out Montrose Wildlife area, here is the Missouri Department of Conservation website
For pictures and Video of the trip see below
A special thanks to our Expedition Paw Prints sponsor on this trip www.regularjoeoutdoors.com. Expedition Paw Prints gets its gear from Regular Joe… You should too!