Camping at Cooper Lake (Doctor’s Creek)

I am giddy to announce that we had a successful camping trip this past weekend!! Our camping trip to Cooper Lake (South Sulphur) last May was 24 hours since we found out my dad was really sick. Our camping trip to Turner Falls over Labor Day lasted about 24 hours because it was CRAZY! We were quite pleased that we made it over the 48-hour mark with this excursion.

After the CrAzY that was Turner Falls, we wanted to camp in a familiar spot so we’d have a decent shot at success. We camped at Cooper Lake on the South Sulphur side in May, and since we liked it, we wanted to go back. The sheltered sites were all booked, so I made reservations on the other side of the lake known as Doctor’s Creek.

The park is only an hour and fifteen minutes from our house. Easy drive. Here’s a fuzzy picture of us pulling out of the driveway. Our van was packed. Brian put some metal contraption on the back so we can haul the boys’ bikes and the cooler and such. When we drove out of the driveway, it scraped on the concrete. Camden piped up from the back seat, “This is terrible!” Bwahaha! He cracks us up when he takes phrases from his shows and uses them appropriately in conversation! =) Carson did bring Little Dog, but he’s holding Texas, the class pet. It was Carson’s weekend to care for him, so the little mutt came along with us.
headed to Doctors Creek

We headed out after lunch on Friday, and arrived early enough to have our pick of spots. My husband was thrilled with the sites. They were flat and spacious. Met the criteria on our list of camping demands:

•We prefer a destination less than 2 hours from home. Camden doesn’t love car travel, but under 2 hours is reasonable.
•We like having a site with a screened shelter. It’s not 100% necessity. Maybe 95%. It’s helpful to have a place (other than our van) to store our stuff…a place to flee from bugs when we are eating…a place to take refuge from rain.
•We need electricity and running water.
•We need to camp at a time of year when the temps get at least down in the low 70s at night so that we can sleep.
•We like a campground that has a beachy lake swim area. Really nice if the day-time temps are warm enough for swimming. We gotta have stuff to do, and swimming is a great past time for our guys.
•We need a reasonable amount of personal space. Instead of a free-for-all system, we like being assigned a number and having some room.

Here’s a picture of our site (#7) from the front. We ended up relocating our tent under the trees. There was tons of room to play. To the left is site #5, and there were two other screened shelters just across the road. This would be a great set-up for families and friends to do group camping.
Cooper lake Panoramic front Here’s a shot of the area taken the other direction. Look at all that room!
Site 7 big viewCamden always seems fascinated by watching the tent go up and come down. He followed Brian around and then assisted a bit.
tent set upWhile Brian was setting up the site, the boys rode their bikes and put the binoculars to good use.
binocular boysThere were all sorts of insects flying around when we first arrived. I called the front office to see if they’d tackle the wasp situation. Some guys came right way to spray and check things out. They were super friendly. Told our boys about the deer that hang out at our site and all the armadillos that live there as well. We had just spotted two armadillos, and the staff encouraged us to whisper so we could get a closer look. Camden hasn’t perfected the whisper quite yet, so the armadillos went running. The park ranger guys were walking through these trees and bushes looking for them.
armadillo spottingSince the weather was so nice and warm, we decided to head to the sandy beach area for a swim. Here’s a shot of the playground and sandy beach area:playground panoramic
And here’s a shot of the just the sandy beach:
sandy beach panoramicAs soon as we approached the water, Camden exclaimed, “At the beach!” He’s a hoot! Camden floated around, the guys tossed the ball around a bit, and there was much digging in the sand. We were the only people on the beach. It was wonderful!
Doctors Creek beach collageSince Carson had the class pet for the weekend, we had to get a picture of him and Little Dog on the sign.
no pets on beachHere’s a shot of the inside of our screened shelter. Many people sleep in them. We sleep in our tent and use the shelter to store our stuff, to prep food, and to eat in if the bugs are bad.
inside the shelterThe lake was less than 100 yards from our site. We walked down to check it out, and I snapped this picture of the boys before the sun set.
boys at sunset

Here’s a peek at the showers. They were pretty clean. Two shower stalls in each restroom. One stall had one shower head, and this one had two (a taller one and shorter one). Brian had shower duty and he said it went really well. Last year when we first camped, the shower situation did not sit well at all with Camden. He has never been a fan of water in his face, but due to his allergies, he needs to bathe every night. Brian has been working with him for quite some time trying to get him more used to the water. Two weeks ago, he had his first shower at home and he hasn’t turned back. Something as seemingly simple as a shower made this trip so much easier. YAY!
showerWe did spot quite a few armadillos. They kind of freak me out. So weird looking.
armadilloAfter showers, we sat by the campfire with Texas, the class pet. The boys were ready for bed at 9 o’clock so we turned in. Glad we did, because Camden was up in the night for a while. I was scrolling through Facebook and was reminded that we did our first camping trip to Eisenhower exactly a year ago. Super cool! We’ve come a long way in that time, and we are pretty convinced that the first weekend in October is perfect for camping!
camping sleeping collageHere’s Brian cooking breakfast while Camden warms up at the fire. Beautiful sunrise. Yummy aroma! Hottie hubby. Check. Check. Check.
Brian cookingThe boys had a blast driving the remote controlled cars. There was tons of space and even some mud.
RC adventuresWe had never done any of the hiking/biking trails in the past, so we decided to give it a whirl this trip. There were several different trails that were rated “easy” and close to 30 minutes. On Saturday, we did the south loop trail. The signs say “loop” but there really isn’t a loop. You just ride to the park/sandy beach area and then come back. We took snacks so that we could munch and then play for a while. The trail is great for little kids. Camden held his own on his adaptive bike.
south loop trailWe went back down to the sandy beach on Saturday. The boys played in the water before moving onto the playground. Camden loved the swings during this trip and wanted to swing way more than we were willing to push. That’s pretty standard in our world though.
Sat beach and playgroundThere was a small playground that was between our campsite and the restrooms.
little playgroundBrian and Carson played a lot of soccer during the weekend. It was awesome that there was so much space to play! Last time we were at Cooper Lake (South Sulphur) Brian did get some chigger bites when he was gathering fire starter in the brush. This time he sprayed himself and the boys down with white vinegar and we sprayed them with our homemade bug spray.
soccerWe started packing up mid-morning on Sunday. Camden was not pleased to be putting the tent away. Every time we came to our site during the weekend, he’d say “home sweet home.” It was so cute and fun affirmation that he was a happy camper.
snackin'After our site was packed up, we decided to go for another bike ride. We did the west loop this time. Labeled “easy” as well and same 30 minutes as the other one. There were lots of shady oak trees. Camden was disappointed that this trail didn’t take us to the beach or playground like the other one.
CooperLakeDocCreek1-002This was a really good trip. Sweet times for our little family. We are definitely fans of Cooper Lake State Park.
Camden happy camper

Camping at Turner Falls and Carson’s 1st Orioles Game

Forgot two things last week. Imagine that! Thanks to some sweet friends, the Youngs, who happen to be season ticket holders with the Texas Rangers, Carson and Brian were able to see the Orioles take on the Rangers. This was Carson’s first MLB game. Here are some fuzzy pics. =)
Os GameLast week we went on a bike ride. Carson and Brian went up ahead of us to check on something. As soon as they were out of sight, Camden says, “Catch Dad and Carson! Daddy and Carson are getting away! We have to hurry!” It was awesome!! To the best of my memory (not saying much), that is the longest chain of words that Camden has strung together that was unprompted and unscripted. Woohoo!!! Btw, have I mentioned how much we love Camden’s AMBUCS bike?! 😉
bikingI have been wanting to see the movie Inside Out. My kids aren’t really into full-length movies.  Carson said he’d go with our friends Ms. Leslie and Peyton. Carson saw his first movie (Frozen) with them as well. Peyton is a sweet friend who, like Carson, is not a fan of loud noises. They both bring their noise-cancelling headphones and tasty snacks, and we’re set. I’m a melancholy, so I loved the message of how joy and sadness go together. It’s life. Read the Psalms.
Inside OutWe’re still fairly new to camping as a family. Figuring out what works for us. We spent a day at Bonham State Park. It’s not a place we’d stay the night. We camped at Eisenhower State Park and will definitely return. We spent a night at Cooper Lake State Park. I’ll blog on that one of these days. Since we had a 3-day weekend with Labor Day, we decided to try out Turner Falls in Davis, OK.
After this most recent experience, we’ve been able to refine even more what helps to make a successful camping trip. Here’s what we’ve learned:

  • We prefer a destination less than 2 hours. Camden doesn’t love car travel, but under 2 hours is reasonable.
  • We like having a site with a screened shelter. It’s not 100% necessity. Maybe 95%. It’s helpful to have a place (other than our van) to store our stuff…a place to flee from bugs when we are eating…a place to take refuge from rain.
  • We need electricity and running water.
  • We need to camp at a time of year when the temps get in the low 70s at night so that we can sleep.
  • We like a campground that has a beachy lake swim area. Really nice if the day-time temps are warm enough for swimming. We gotta have stuff to do, and swimming is a great past time for our guys.
  • We need a reasonable amount of personal space. Instead of a free-for-all system, we like being assigned a number and having some room.

Man, we sound high-maintenance.

So…we planned on going to Turner Falls for 3 nights over Labor Day. My little guy gets super excited and asks often “how many more days” so we make him countdown calendars when he has something he’s looking forward to. Keeps us all more sane.
Countdown CalendarOur weekend at Turner Falls didn’t go so well, but I must admit…the reviews said DO NOT GO OVER LABOR DAY. But we didn’t listen. We went over Labor Day. Three days before we were to leave, we called the park to see if they sold firewood on site. No answer. For three days. We were a tad uneasy about heading out as we weren’t entirely sure they were open since no one was answering the phones. We kept Camden home from school on Friday. He’s allowed three unexcused absences in a 4-week period or ten in a 6-month period. Change of routine is tricky for him, so it was just easier to keep him home. Also gave us a chance to pack and load. Our goal was to leave after lunch. We pulled out a little after 1PM. It is about 120 miles from our house to Turner Falls. Close to two hours. I really wanted to get there before it got crazy crowded. I read that you could wait a couple of hours in line on holiday weekends just to get in. The park is first-come first-served, except for the screened shelters. We had called and reserved a shelter ahead of time. There were no lines when we arrived at 3PM. Woohoo! I had also read numerous reviews on how dirty the park was and how crowded it was. Since Texas and Oklahoma received so much rain at the beginning of the summer, there were a lot of parks that had to close, so I just kind of assumed that Turner Falls was getting the overflow from folks that didn’t have other places to camp. After all the talk about the trash, I was expecting it to be filthy. It wasn’t. (The bathrooms were disgusting, but hard not be with so many people.) You could tell they had lots of folks on duty to tend to trash and port-a-potties. I picked up about 7-8 grocery bags, but I think that was just the wind that got to someone’s sacks.

So…things went smoothly on the way in. We got a map and headed to our site. Screened shelter #3. Let me show you what we are used to in our limited experience. Here is Carson in front of the screened shelter site as Eisenhower State Park:

Outside Shelter
site #30

Here’s me inside of the shelter. There’s a picnic table and a concrete slab.
Inside ShelterWhen booking Turner Falls, I tried to find pictures of the shelters, but no luck. So I assumed they’d be similar. When we pulled up, we were surprised by how close together the shelters were to one another. Not nestled in the trees. Just a row of shelters. There was a place to park, but no spot for our tent. Inside the screened shelter were 4 twin beds. No table. We had a friend that was joining us for the weekend. She was bringing her small tent. We realized there was no place for our tents, so we had to come up with plan B. I so wish I would’ve taken pictures of the shelters to share, but my mind was thinking, “We have to hurry and get back down there to change our reservation before it gets busy.” We explained the situation at the gate and they were super friendly about switching our site. The screened shelters are $40 per night plus park admission (for us, daily admission was $30…$12 for each adult, $6 for Camden, and Carson was free since he is 5), so we were saving some money. Yay!

We drove around looking for tent sites. Brian and I had camped at Turner Falls back in 2006 and remember enjoying it. We even drove past our former tent site. It looked different. Like part of it had eroded. We had previously camped there in the fall, so it was prettier and less crowded. We were newlyweds. Young-ish and in love. We didn’t care so much about all this extra stuff. Anywho, we drove around till we finally found a site that seemed suitable. Near a stream. Flat and big enough for our tents. Here’s Brian getting ready to set up our tent. Not a bad site. Brian, as well as the spot for our tent. 😉
Tent Set UpThe boys rode their bikes and then took a break. We were the only people in this specific area at this point.Biking TFs
Seems like a pretty nice and peaceful little spot.
Break timeThen Brian realized some important info. Our spot had no water or electricity. Hmmm. In our limited experience, the standard tent sites had water and electric but the remote tent sites did not. Just never crossed our minds that none of the tent sites would have these lovely amenities. Water is super helpful for washing our dishes, and electric is super handy for a kiddo with autism. I’m sure there are kids on the spectrum that don’t need their iPads or electronics to go camping, but it’s super duper helpful for our family. If we are cooking or putting up the tent or whatever, we can get the iPad, put Camden in a chair, and know he’ll stay put. Screen time is limited when we camp, but it is still used. It wasn’t a deal-breaker, but a bit of a concern when staying three days.
Camden on pillowHere’s our tent set up. The storage containers would typically be in our screened shelter. Again, not a bad spot. Trees. Space. Near the stream.
Tent at TFs

I mentioned earlier that we had called for three days trying to see if firewood was available at the park. No answer. Our awesome friend, Courtney, said she’d bring some with her to be safe. She was coming later, so we needed a little bit of wood to start dinner. When we checked in, the gal at the front told us where to buy wood. Brian set up the tent and then went to get some. The place where they sell firewood was closed before 5pm. We looked around our area for some. Carson wanted to ride Camden’s adaptive bike so Brian pushed him up the little hill where he was looking for wood. I was also searching nearby. All of a sudden I look up to see Carson heading down the gravel/rocky hill on Camden’s bike. I hollered at him to slow down. It happened so fast, but he was out of control and couldn’t stop the bike as it went down the hill. My heart was racing and I was yelling at Brian to get him. We ran to Carson as fast as we could. I recalled a huge dumpster, our van, and some big trees on the way down. Thank God he didn’t run into any of those. The bike went from the top of the hill all the way down to the creek. Brian pulled a terrified Carson sopping wet out of the creek. He had a couple of bruises. I just kept hugging him and thanking God that he was okay. I couldn’t get a good picture, but here is a small part of the hill he came down and the creek where he and the bike ended up.
site of bike crashHere’s a shot of Courtney and Carson by our campfire. It was an odd placement and the area around the campfire was really uneven. Not the end of the world. Just a little odd. Kids tipping over in chairs and such.
Court Carson near streamThe stream was shallow and full of slippery rocks. I had read that it was important to bring water shoes for this reason. Glad we did. Carson fell in the water three different times while in his clothes. Should’ve kept him in his swimsuit most of the time. We were walking and I was telling Carson to be cautious. Not even five seconds later and I fell in. I should practice what I preach.
Walking in the creekHere’s another angle of our spot with Courtney’s tent set up. She was directly under the street light and was able to read her book at 10PM in her tent. Looking on the bright side.
tent viewCourtney brought her guitar since she knows our boys love music. We do our “Jesus music” before bath each night, so she was planning on playing her guitar to some familiar tunes. So sweet! We sang a few songs by the campfire and then Camden was really hankering for his familiar dvd. Courtney brought treats for ‘smores.
smoresBy this point we had relocated from our shelter to a tent spot with no water or electricity. It was hot. Brian had set up our tent and site and was sweating like a pig. We weren’t able to buy firewood so we collected our own up until Carson made that bee-line down the rocky path and into the creek, nearly giving us a heart attack. But we had a spot, were glad to have a good friend with us, had full bellies, etc. When we made it to our beds that evening, we were the only ones in our section (Cow Pen Road). Throughout the night, campers kept coming and coming. Lots of hammering rocks and tent stakes and lots of screaming kids. It was hot and the wind wasn’t blowing. Camden did not go to sleep that night. I used to struggle big time with migraines. Once I ditched artificial sweeteners, they decreased by about 95%. After that point, my triggers became extreme heat and cold and lack of sleep. Since it was hot and we didn’t sleep that night, I had a migraine the next morning. Brian made breakfast and took care of the boys while I laid in the tent. He was ready to bail on Turner Falls. The fact that we didn’t sleep combined with my migraine AND all of our friends that had joined us throughout the night, Brian felt it was best for us to cut our losses and go home. Let me show you what was going on next door to us.

Less than 15 feet from us, was a group of six tents in one small area. The only assigned spots at Turner Falls are the RV pads and the screened shelters. Everything else is a free for all. The place was packed! Filled to the gills packed. I admire how some cultures do life as a family unit. The whole crew comes together. Our little family could benefit from more of that. But we do like our personal space. We like being assigned a number and having our boundaries. The vast amounts of people at every turn is not what we are going for when we go camping. There were so many people that it was too crowded for the boys to ride their bikes or play with the remote-controlled cars.

Here’s a shot of our sheltered area site at Cooper Lake State Park. We did the South Sulphur side. We had lots of room.
boys at Cooper siteBrian thought it was best to head home, while Courtney and I were encouraging one more day. I had taken some Ibuprofen and applied essential oils. Courtney gave me a shoulder massage and I was feeling better. We hadn’t even been to the falls yet. We decided to go for a swim. There was a shuttle to take us up to the falls.shuttle bus
LOTS and LOTS of people everywhere. Forgot how to use the panoramic feature or I would show you. Just trust me. Lots of people. Courtney and I got in the water with the boys. It was crazy cold. We had fun. Camden laughed and laughed. =)
the falls
After the swim, we hit the hiking trail thinking we’d hike above the falls, but we ended up at a dead end where there was a little natural pool of freezing cold water.
hiking trail
More pics in the cold water.
Cold Cess Pool
We headed back to our site to eat lunch. We were on the fence about heading home. Courtney and I were still hoping to stay another day. Brian saw the wisdom in leaving. I was thinking we could get in another swim, have dinner, and then get some rest. Things went south, fast. Camden was exhausted. He was super upset. Brian and Camden stayed back at our campsite while Courtney, Carson and I went for another swim. While we were swimming, we realized it probably was best for us to pack up and head home. When we got back to our site, here’s how we found Camden:
Camden Napping
Camden hadn’t taken a nap since the flu of 2012, so we knew he was wiped out. Also realized that with the heat, he would more than likely struggle to sleep another night if we did stay. So while Camden napped, Courtney helped Carson get his fishing pole set up. She brought the pole as a surprise for him, but it didn’t seem like we’d have time. Carson asked numerous times about it, so I told Courtney just to humor him and drop the line in the little creek by our tent. Lo and behold that little turkey caught THREE fish in a row. He was so excited! Courtney is amazing with kids and she was so sweet to hook Carson up with fishing equipment. Here’s his first catch:
Carson's first catch
Here he is with Courtney during each of his three catches.
Carson 3 catches
We finished our lunch:
Carsons Chili
Took a group selfie:
TFs Group Selfie
Then we got the heck out of Dodge. Felt bad that Courtney had taken time off and we only stayed a night. Unfortunate that we did all the planning and packing for three nights. There are things we didn’t get to do like: visit the Arbuckle Wilderness Perserve, hike around the castle, consume the local fried pies, etc. I’m glad we went. We made some fun memories and we learned a bit more on what works and doesn’t work for our family camping trips. Camping in triple digits during Labor Day is not what works. Now we know. =)