Zach Elseman Photography and Marketing: Blog en-us ZachElsemanPhotography (Zach Elseman Photography and Marketing) Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:14:00 GMT Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:14:00 GMT Zach Elseman Photography and Marketing: Blog 120 90 Muhle Family Photos-Winter 2017 One of the most complicated aspects of planning a photo session is timing. The photographer is always looking at the best time for the images to be technically correct and effectively exposed, while the family is trying to juggle work, school and weather schedules. This photoshoot was no exception as we rescheduled a couple of times for various scheduling conflicts, but once we got to take the photos the results were well worth the wait.

The Muhle family is already a great group to photograph, but the sweetest part of this little family is the addition of baby Isaak that came within a week of their session. Mom and baby are both healthy and happy and enjoying the holidays. Now it's time to schedule a new shoot to include the new addition to the family.

I can't wait to photograph this family again very soon and I am so excited to welcome the new addition to the family. Baby Isaak is so very loved and we can't wait to love on him as much as we have Sarai and Aaron. 


(Zach Elseman Photography and Marketing) cherokee photography family photography murrell home oklahoma portrait photography tahlequah photography Tue, 26 Dec 2017 04:59:15 GMT
What to Pack for a Canadian Adventure-Gear Load-Out for Banff, Jasper, and Yoho National Parks  

One of my favorite aspects of any adventure is the preparation. The route planning, researching local attractions and trails, and packing enough gear to survive and enjoy ourselves, but not so much that we can't comfortably move in and out of airports, campsites, and local establishments. By the time this post goes live, the Okienomads will be married and on their way to Calgary, AB for a road trip through the Canadian Rockies in areas including Jasper, Banff, and Yoho National Parks. But what do you bring for an adventure in the Canadian Rockies when you plan on living out of an RV and hiking some of the most beautiful trails in North America?


Needless to say, we will need to dress warm. We plan on hiking and exploring nearly every day while in "The Great White North", so warm, synthetic layers are a must. We have a trail race when we get back stateside, so we will need to get in a couple of runs in Calgary and when we travel further North, so we will need a couple of pairs of shorts and the running shoes. 

For the colder nights in the RV, tights, gloves, and the down jacket will be huge if we run out of propane or if temps drop below freezing for too long. We opt for wool socks for obvious reasons to keep warm and stay dry.

I am not going to lie, I could wear my Patagonia hiking pants every day of the year and be happy as can be. I am packing a pair of jeans and a decent shirt in case we go out to eat or out on the town for the evening, historically, the jeans will stay in the bag for most of the trip. 

Swimsuit is in the bag for the Air BnB in Calgary and the hot springs along the way.


Photography Gear

We couldn't possibly travel to one of the most beautiful parts of the world and not take my camera and some gear to capture these amazing sights. I wanted to avoid taking a laptop as we would be leaving the RV unattended during most days in some very remote areas of Alberta and BC. Instead I am bringing the bulk of my CF memory cards for the 5d to avoid uploading until we get back. I think over 100 GB should be enough even with video files. The GoPro will tag along for time-lapse and hazardous condition shots and video with around 100 GB of memory as well. If you can't tell, I don't like running out of storage space while in the backcountry. 

The Dolica tripod is a new addition to the gear list and I hope it works out better than the cheap tripods that I have used in the past. The tripod weighs 4 pounds and folds down to a 2ft length so it will make carrying on the airplane and on hikes a breeze. Reviews are excellent and the price can't be beat at $50. With the chance of a Grizzly mauling or it falling into a freezing, glacier fed stream, I didn't want to chance losing a several hundred dollar tripod. I will post an in depth review when we get back, but initial impressions are good!

The Circular Polarizing Filter is needed to cut down snow and water reflections as well as maintain blue skies and clouds. The Neutral Density Filter will be used for waterfalls and other exposures needing long shutters. 

I opted to leave the drone at home for a couple of reasons. First, we are traveling on our honeymoon, I don't want to spend a romantic trip with my new wife flying a hive of angry bees over scenic Banff. That doesn't sound like fun to me. Second, because of the size. I love my drone. The 3DR Solo is great for the type of work that I use it for. However, it is huge! It would be a carry-on by itself. If I had something like a DJI Spark or Mavic that folds down small and can still record quality video and stills, I might consider lugging it around.


Other Miscellaneous Gear

Just when I thought we had everything that we needed for an expedition to Canada, my bride surprised me by picking up a pair of YakTrax for both of us. These simple devices improve traction on snow and ice and will be perfect for post-holing snow packed trails and scurrying across glaciers. There are a million reasons that I love this woman, and spontaneous & surprise gear purchases rank in the top 100 reasons for sure.

We are both packing winter sleeping bags as I am not confident in the insulation of a rental RV in the Canadian Rockies in October. I will also pack a bag liner to add a little extra warmth to the sleeping arrangement. Travel pillows will more than likely fly in the carry-on and be used heavily in our Houston layover. 

In order to get all of this gear on an airplane and across the continent we need some luggage. My clothing will be packed in an old REI duffel that has been on many adventures. My carry-on is a Patagonia Refugio 28L day pack. This day-pack has been my go-to since my 2nd year of college and carries my camera bag in the bottom, jackets on top, maps, chargers, and a book/journal, and passports in several well-designed pockets and a tripod in one side pocket with a Nalgene in the other side pocket. 

Rachael uses a NorthFace Base Camp Duffel as her checked bag and an Osprey 35L backpacking pack as her carry-on. If I know her at all, her checked bag will have plenty of clothing and shoes for any adventure that we might find and her carry-on will have her e-reader, plenty of snacks, and warm layers for her to stay warm in the freezing airport, plane, or public transport. 

What gear do you use when you travel? Comment on the blog or reach out to us on Instagram and YouTube as @okienomads. We love hearing from others traveling and trying to make things work in this lifestyle.






(Zach Elseman Photography and Marketing) adventure blog gear nature photography okienomads oklahoma tahlequah tahlequah photographer travel travel photography Sun, 08 Oct 2017 00:00:00 GMT
Fall 2017- Mini Portrait Sessions- $75 Fall 2017 Portrait Mini Sessions

I have been getting the itch to get back into portrait work! Mini-sessions only last an hour, so they don't take up your entire day. We can work around your schedule and shoot after work, before school, or after your kid's sports practice. You get 7-10 High Resolution images that you can use to print or post online and no fuss with having to order prints from me. Best of all, the session is fast, the processing is fast (less than a week), and it is affordable, only $75!

  • Up to 1 hour shoot time
  • 7-10 High-Res Images
  • Location in and around Tahlequah, OK
  • Quick Turnaround (usually less than 1 week)

I will be traveling from October 7-22, but will begin shooting after that time. Please contact me NOW to schedule your shoot for seniors, family, children or any other portrait work you need. I genuinely look forward to working with you and your family. As an added bonus, if you don't receive your images within a week of your shoot, I will refund your session fee entirely!


(Zach Elseman Photography and Marketing) @okienomads affordable photography cherokee cherokee county cherokee nation children children's photography family family photography native owned oklahoma oklahoma photography photographer photography photography deal portrait portrait photography senior senior photography tahlequah Wed, 27 Sep 2017 15:26:17 GMT
5 Tips for Ultra-Running Training Growing up, I had a hate/hate relationship with running. Running was something that I had to do to be competitive at team sports. This is an area that I think schools and parents can improve: teach your kids how to run. I spent most of high school having poor form, nutrition, and training habits. I spent most of college not caring about being fit at all. Once I graduated I felt a need to have a "thing". I was too broke for a nice bicycle and had too much student loan debt to take up long distance hiking. The cheapest and most accessible alternative was running.

I ran in my first short race in early 2016, it was a 4k. I didn't even know that 4k's existed until I ran in the Bentonville Valentines Day run and it took me nearly 21 minutes(8:35/M)! It was extremely slow, but it was a lot of fun. I was there at the invitation of some close friends and it was one of those "type-2" kinds of fun where you are unprepared and you feel like you might freeze to death.

I continued to use running as my primary form of exercise and set a goal to run a little farther and try my first half marathon. I signed up for the Red Fern Half Marathon in the spring of 2016 and began training. I ran Red Fern-2016 in 1:54:59 (8:49/M). At this point I officially had the "bug" and I signed up for the Pumpkin Holler Hundred 25k trail run in October of 2016. I finished the 25k in 02:29:15 (09:37/M). I took the winter off (by training for a 100-mile bike ride) and started running in the spring at NSU Founders Day 5k (22:37) and Red Fern Half (01:57:40) in preparation for running in the Pumpkin Holler Hunnerd 50K in October of 2017. 

This training includes weekly short runs and long weekend runs. The race in October takes place on the road the circumnavigates the JT Nickel Preserve outside of Tahlequah, OK. 

Courtesy of My most recent training run (VLOG HERE) took place from "Them Idiots" to "Mad Dog" and back then to "Waffle Stop" and back to "Them Idiots". If you haven't watched that episode of the VLOG yet, you really should. It is entertaining to say the least. I ran out of water and was almost stranded in the boonies after dark. 

By running these different races and training schedules I have learned a few things and I wanted to pass on some of that (limited) knowledge to anyone that wants to try to make running their "thing" or simply just try something new. Below are a few pointers to help you train more efficiently for long runs.

1. Take Your Time

It can be very disappointing to follow your favorite runners on Strava or social and see that they are knocking out huge distances at paces that you can't even imagine. Let this go. If you are running to compete with the best in the sport, stop reading this because you clearly don't need this advice. If you are just a normal human, keep reading. There is no normal running pace or time and if you are running just to have a faster time, you are missing out on a lot of joy that can be had on the road/trail. 

Start your training slow. Some experts suggest running at 50-75% of your goal race-day pace during your long training runs. This is especially important if you run in the boondocks like we do. Running slower helps keep your chance of injury down and gives you an opportunity to take in the scenery or enjoy the company of a running partner. If you can't have a conversation with your running partner due to heavy breathing, slow down.

2. Practice Good Form Over Speed

Foot strike- Pay attention to which part of your foot makes impact with the ground. The ideal strike for most is the "mid foot". Often new runners will strike their heal and feel all sorts of pain associated with the foot, ankle, and shins. Practice running slower with a proper strike to avoid some beginner growing pains.

Arm/Hand Position- For the average runner the forearm should be held at a 45º angle with the upper arm with a relaxed grip. Imagine running with a sleeve of crackers in your hands. You need to grip hard enough to hold on the them, but not hard enough to crush them. Practice with actual saltine crackers, they are cheap and you can always make soup after you hulk out on a couple of sleeves.

Leg Kick- Your legs should make a push-off motion with every stride. Try to avoid the "ultra-shuffle" where your feet barely come off of the ground. Sometimes this is unavoidable due to fatigue, but try to practice pushing off with your foot once it hits the ground. If you are at close to 100% effort, you should be almost kicking yourself in the rear. 

3. Nutrition if HUGE

This is the area that I struggle with the most. Nutrition. Eating and drinking properly is arguably the biggest indicator of success on race-day. It is important to cut out sugary drinks like gatorade, soda, and sweet tea. Instead try to drink plenty of water, unsweet tea, and sugar free sports drinks like G2 or Powerade ZERO. 

Eating properly during training can have a huge impact on your results. A healthy diet of lean meats, vegetables, and high-fiber grains is vital. We have a standing menu that includes at least 2-3 days of grilled chicken breast, whole grain brown rice, and some kind of vegetable that is often grilled as well. The other meals we alternate between pasta, nacho boats (recipe on the blog soon), and other moderately healthy meals. A good meal the night before and the morning before a race are important too. I try to eat some kind of gluten free pasta the night before and oatmeal and fruit the morning of a race. 

Before you head out for a long run, remember to pack enough calories to replenish any energy that you are losing. I try to shoot for 200-400 calories/hour of running. It is important to practice eating in your practice runs so that you can be ready to eat on the run when race day gets here. My running snacks include KIND bars, CLIF bars, trail mix, PB&J sandwiches and an assortment of Honey Stinger waffles and GU's. Try different snacks to find out what works for you, everyone is different.

4. Plan Ahead

If I am running more than 5 miles, I carry water on my person. I use the Nathan Trail Mix 1 to carry 18 oz. of water and a few snacks/GU's. I normally only run with water for a few reasons. Sports drinks are often sticky if they are left in the car after a run and are not fun to clean after a long weekend. I try to cache a sports drink with no sugar like Powerade Zero or Gatorade G2 along a run to replenish any electrolytes that are worked off. Take time before your run to map out where you are going and make a goal for hydration. Plan to sip water at least every 1/2 mile to 1 mile and listen to your body. If you feel thirsty, you are already behind. If your planned route has you away from safe water sources, drive the route before hand and drop hydration. I like to reuse sports drink bottles that way if I forget about them or stop short of a cache, I am not out a bottle. I make every effort to keep the road/trail clean however, and have gone back occasions to retrieve dropped water bottles.

Safety is an extremely important part of planning long runs. Before you leave, let someone know where you are going and when to start looking for you if you don't contact them by a certain time. It is also vital to know the environment you will be running in. If you are running in a mountainous region that is known to have afternoon storms and bears, it'd be a good idea to pack a jacket and some bear spray. You will thank me later!

5. Baby Steps

If you have never ran a mile in your life, start small. If you train 6 weeks for a half marathon, you are asking for trouble. Start by working your way up to a 5k and go from there. There are many "Couch to 5k" training programs that will outline how to get there. There are very few people who can decide to run a 50k, train for 12 weeks and not injure themselves. Set a 1, 2, and 5 year goal on what you would like to accomplish with your running, then develop a plan to get there and accomplish your goals. My 1 year goal was to win a race ✓. My 2 year goal is to run an ultra, which I plan to accomplish in October. And my 5 year goal is to place in an ultra. Once you have established your goals, share them with us on Instagram or in the blog comments. We love hearing about others being successful and accomplishing their dreams. 


If you haven't seen this yet, go check it out. Don't forget to like and subscribe to our channel!




(Zach Elseman Photography and Marketing) @okienomads adventure blog dehydration explore fitness hoimeiswhereyouparkit nature outdoors photography pumpkin holler hunnerd running skoolie trail running training vlog Thu, 14 Sep 2017 19:25:02 GMT
How You Can #helpharvey Today

The city of Houston, TX has been devastated by Hurricane Harvey. Houston is my birthplace and like many others, I have family that are being held hostage by the massive amounts of water that linger in the streets. 

Harvey dumped nearly 50 inches of water on the Houston Metroplex and continues to pour down as I type this. Many of us in other states feel helpless and aren't able to load up the kayaks and head south. Below are several ways that you can help Harvey Flood Victims. If you know of more resources, feel free to contact me and I will add them.

Greater Houston Community Foundation

This simple fund page setup by the Mayor's office in Houston is easy to use and will direct funding to flood victims.

United Way of Greater Houston

United Way maintains a disaster relief fund, but they anticipate that funds will be expelled quickly.

American Red Cross

Help the ARC provide meals, shelter and comfort to all effected by Harvey by texting "HARVEY" to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Visit the link to make a more substantial donation. 


The popular fundraising website is centralizing fundraising site wide to this link. 


Locally, check with your local churches, American Red Cross locations, and area fire and emergency crews about how you can send aid and donations to these areas. Many local governments are chipping in a helping hand in any way they can.

Also, check social media for good samaritans that are taking time and money out of their lives to go help. This country is continually reminded of the strength of the American people when faced with adversity.

Lastly, it doesn't matter if you are Christian, Muslim, green, white, or yellow, please pray/send good thoughts/sacrifice a lamb on an alter for the lives of those impacted by this great tragedy. I am a firm believer that a positive attitude behind a small donation can make a huge impact. Good vibes and prayers for The Bayou City.

(Zach Elseman Photography and Marketing) #harvey #helpharvey american red cross disaster disaster relief flood flooding harvey donate harvey relief houston houston flooding tx Tue, 29 Aug 2017 21:51:36 GMT
7 Tips for an Overnight Paddling Trip

We recently took off on a 2 night, 3 day trip on the Scenic Illinois River in Northeast Oklahoma. We floated from the Arkansas border to Tahlequah, OK. Check out the VLOG episode here! One of the most challenging aspects of an overnight trip is packing. I am going to show you 7 tips for how to pack your boat for a great trip on the river. This article will include how to’s, gear recommendations, and more so check it out.

1. Start with a Reliable Vessel

Insure that your boat is in good working order and that if you are going to experience large rapids that you have the necessary equipment like a spray skirt and a throw bag. The river that we floated has very few rapids and none of them are over class-1, so the throw bag can stay at home. We brought our spray skirts simply because we were expecting rain. 

A trip can go awry very quickly if you have a boat failure. A boat that takes on water or doesn't navigate properly can mean capsizing or getting pinned on riprap. Pay attention to the weight limit of your vessel as well. I do not hold manufacturer recommended weights as the final decider, but I was about 25 pounds over my recommended weight and that was about as far as I am willing to push it. I was sitting pretty low.

*Craigslist is a great place to find a gently used kayak for a much cheaper price than buying new. Good touring yaks can be had for under $1000. That is a steal!


2. Remember the Basics

The basic needs for survival are food, water and shelter, not necessarily in that order. A human can survive over 3 weeks without food, but will perish without water in 3-5 days. Shelter is important to maintain body temperature and protect from exposure and the elements. 

  • Water- We always bring plenty of water in addition to a means of purifying freshwater. We use the STERIPEN and it has never let us down in harsh environments. A helpful tip when harvesting water from a stagnant source, use a bandana or buff to filter out floaties before treating with the UV light.


Due to the river having fairly clean water, I normally carry 2-32 ounce Nalgene bottles. These bottles are nearly indestructible and make using the STERIPEN super easy. Each bottles takes 1 minute of UV exposure to produce drinkable water.


*If a precarious situation such as a thunderstorm keeps you in your tent, the Nalgene makes for an effective pee bottle too. 

  • Food- Pack extra food. Even if you are a super-ultra-lightweight hiker and you carry a scale to the trailhead to make sure you're not carrying too much, an extra couple of CLIF bars could be the difference in you having enough energy to swim, run, or hike to a nearby road or home for help. 

For a river trip, we normally stick with a small ice chest or cooler bag for items like chicken breasts, bacon, and other easily packable perishables. This time, we brought along eggs, bacon, and hash-browns for breakfast. For lunch we brought bread, lunch meat, and trail mix. For dinner we did fish, chicken, sausage and veggies. 

*Helpful Tip- Make Hobo-style meals ahead of time in aluminum foil and store them in freezer baggies in the cooler. Once you get to camp, throw them on the coals and enjoy. Once you're done, put the cooled aluminum back in the freezer bag for easy disposal.

  • Shelter-Always carry some kind of shelter, regardless of the length of your trip. A simple solar blanket and fire bag can keep you warm and dry in a bad situation. 

The last time that we didn't pack shelter on a trip was Land Run 100 in April of this year. We assumed that since it was a bike race, shelter would not be needed. FALSE. We found ourselves completely exhausted and borderline hypothermic at mile 34 in the middle of rural Logan County Oklahoma with nothing but soaked clothes and spotty cell reception. Had we packed a simple lighter and 2 space blankets (minimal weight), we would have been much more pleasant in the root cellar that we hunkered down in for 45 minutes waiting on help to arrive. 

On this trip, due to the chance of rain and the unavoidable onslaught of mosquitos, we opted to pack a backpacking tent sans stakes. The same coverage could be achieved for one person with a hammock and a bug net/tarp setup. Stakes are imperative when the chance for rain exists. Fancy backpacking tent flies aren’t designed to be used without stakes. We know, because we left ours at home and paid for it with soggy tent walls. 

*An ultralight tarp such as the Hennessy Hex can be used as a shelter in a pinch with just a couple of stakes and some tracking poles or paddles. 

3. Stay Dry

This one seems obvious, but most floaters don't take precautions to stay dry. Even some that know better, can get caught with their pants down. It is imperative that all of your dry gear and supplies (warmth, fire, and food) stay dry. If you are traveling with camera gear, it obviously needs to stay dry too.

On this trip, I took every precaution advised and secured all dry goods in dry bags, properly closed and stored in the water-tight hatch on the rear of my boat. After paddling most of the first day, I was told that my boat was riding low in the water. I pulled into our campsite and found my rear hatch completely full of water. I later found out that the skeg cable sheath had come undone and was leaking water into the hatch. My dry bags weren't all that dry. Especially the bag with my DSLR camera, lenses, and memory card in it. I pulled the dry bag out of the hull to find water visibly inside the bag. I released the dry bag only to find the camera bag completely soaked. When I opened the Lowepro Camera bag the contents were dry as a bone. I received that bag when I bought my camera and the seller didn't have anything else to send it in. Thanks Lowepro! The cheap dry bag has been moved to "mostly dry" duty for items like a tarp or rain jacket.

*Hypothermia can occur in very warm temperatures with the quick arrival of a summer storm, or prolonged periods without the ability to make a fire.

4. Pack Small

Most kayaks come equipped with small watertight hatches, so it is important to pack a lot of small dry bags instead of big ones. For a sit-in like my Jackson Rogue or Rachael's Pyrahna Fusion, the biggest dry bag I would suggest is a 10L bag. If you have a sit-on kayak or a canoe, you can probably get away with bigger bags, however, you will wast a considerable amount of space.

*If you must pack a large dry bag in a small kayak, place the half-packed bag in the spot where you want to pack it first, then fill items in until it fills the space, then roll it shut.

5. Pack Smart


I mentioned total weight earlier. Where you place the weight is extremely important as well. Too much weight in the bow or stern and the boat will not handle properly and may be more susceptible to rolls. Place heavier items near the middle of the cockpit and place your light-weight items toward the ends of your boat. Remember that lateral placement can effect handling as well. If you are heavier on the port side, remember that when you have to roll back over.

*If your creek/crossover kayak is equipped with a bulkhead and you are not floating whitewater, remove it for the additional storage space.

6. Flip Your Boat

Flipping your boat at night is helpful for a lot of reasons. First, it keeps your seat and cockpit dry, whether by dew or rain, no one likes a wet seat. Second,it discourages critters from crawling into your boat for the night and surprising you in the AM. Also remember to move your boat and paddles up and out of the water. Waking up to a missing boat is absolutely no fun and you float buddies with thank you for not having to taxi you down river.

*I make a habit of banging on my boat with a paddle when I approach in the morning to make sure there are no creepy crawlies waiting for me inside. 

7. Know Your Limits

Overnight paddling trips are one of my favorite ways to see new places and enjoy nature like most don't get to. However, multi-day trips open you up to possible fatigue and injury. Make sure that you are physically able to tackle the 15-20 miles per day that you plan to float in order to get back to your job by 8AM on Monday morning. It's often hard to call in to work from the river valley, only because of spotty cell service.

*Start with a few small day trips or over-nighters and slowly work your way up to longer expeditions. This way you will know what gear you need and how much you can handle.

Thank you so very much for taking the time out of your day to read along. We post all kinds of articles like this almost every week. Stick around and check out the pictures from our travels and check out our YouTube Channel for more content not published on the blog. We are always looking for brands and creators to partner with, please reach out if you are interested- 

As always, God Bless and be safe out there!

(Zach Elseman Photography and Marketing) @okienomads adventure blog built not bought explore fishing floating home is where you park it illinois river illinois river float jackson kayak kayak camping kayak camping tips nature ok overnight float overnight kayak photography river skoolie tahlequah tiny house travel travelok van vanlife vlog watts Sat, 05 Aug 2017 22:54:14 GMT
FREE Camping: Taos Ski Valley DCIM\100GOPRO\GOPR6278. With every trip that we take into the wild, we strive to not pay for camping. Nature should be free. There are a few exceptions, such as the folks over at Hotel Luna Mystica: those guys and girls know how to have a good time in the middle of the desert(pictured above), you should check them out. We spent a night with them on our last trip to Taos, NM. More on that later.

If you find yourself traveling to the Taos area during the summer season (Memorial Day to Labor Day) we have a camping area that is free and awesome! There are actually a couple of spots that we found on This is a free resource that shows user generated reports on FREE campsite locations around the country. We use this site nearly every time we camp in a new location. There is FREE camping EVERYWHERE! This post is about the free campsite that we chose which is right at the base of the ski runs and is a few steps from the Wheeler Peak trail. 

GPS Coordinates: 36.573815, -105.437082


From Taos, head North on US-64W. Turn right onto NM-150N. 150 will wind into the mountains and lead you directly to the ski resort area. Once you reach the main parking lot, stay left on Twining Rd. The main parking lot is the location of our back-up campsite that we didn't need to use. Take a hard left onto Zapp's/Porcupine/Kachina RD and travel toward the Bavarian. Once you reach the Phoenix Grill, hang a left on Bluejay Ridge Rd and drive until you can't drive any farther. The campsite is on your left.


There are no facilities at this location, but the woods (and lots of woods) are right there. Everything uphill from this spot is National Forest and all Leave No Trace precautions should be used. There is a nearby creek for water and bathing. It was in full run-off mode when we visited around Memorial Day and provided great noise at night. I am a big fan of using a SteriPen to treat all of our drinking water when camping, but this water was CLEAN. I think we could have gotten away without using the UV light this time around. 

There were two gear casualties on this trip and one happened at this campsite: the demise of my old friend and trusty hammock. The poor, bright blue, Walmart special couldn't support the weight of both of the Okienomads and ripped in two pieces during an afternoon cuddle sesh. So long old friend, thanks for the hangs. He has been replaced by a brand new ENOS Doublenest that I will be reviewing in a later post and in case you were wondering, it was a very worthwhile upgrade. 

The beauty of this campsite (besides the obvious) is it's proximity to the trailhead for Wheeler Peak. This campsite is at approximately 12,000' of elevation, so spend a day at camp then make a push for nearby Wheeler Peak (13,161'). The trail is well marked and even with a large amount of snow still on the trail, we found our way up to the top. Regardless of conditions, I suggest that you start at day break or earlier and get to the top before the crowds and before snow melt/thunderstorms in the afternoon. 

DCIM\105GOPRO Just before tree-line is Williams Lake. The lake was obviously still frozen when we arrived, but still made a beautiful campsite for several backpackers on a nearby ridge. If you are brave and warm natured, the peace and tranquility of this campsite might be worth the hike, but be prepared for high winds, temperatures below freezing, and critters that are very curious. Please use a bear bag and hang it properly away from your camp. 

The hike up from the lake got very steep and involved quite a bit of snow. I suggest bringing trekking poles as balance is hard to come by on the snow and ice. The poles may also come in handy on the way down in the slush. I wore trail running shoes and Rachael hiked in hiking boots. Neither of us were disappointed in our choice. 



DCIM\105GOPRO DCIM\105GOPRO We made it to the top and simply took in the sunlight and the view. It seemed like we might have been the first or second group on the summit and we passed  A LOT of hikers on our way down that had slept in. The peak allows some amazing views of the nearby San De Cristo range and farther Rocky Mountains in the distance. 

The hike down took around an hour and a half. With the snow pack still fairly deep, we were able to slide on our butts most of the way down. There would be GoPro footage, but the slide required a very specific set of skills to stay upright while sliding. 

This campground was excellent. We really enjoyed the distance from the trailhead, the privacy, and the natural beauty. This site ranks in my top 5 best campsites that I have ever been to. The only down-side that I could see would be if someone were staying in the ski house near the site. Constant traffic might be annoying, but we did not see a soul while we were there on a holiday weekend. I highly recommend this campsite to anyone in the Taos, NM area and look forward to the next time we make it back. And best of all, IT WAS FREE!

Thank you so much for reading and for following along on our adventures. To see more content, look around our website, check us out on YouTube and Instagram @okienomads and until next time, God bless!

Coming Soon- Campground Review: Hotel Luna Mystica



(Zach Elseman Photography and Marketing) @okienomads 13-er adventure blog explore free free camping hiking nature new mexico nm photography skoolie taos nm travel travel new mexico travel nm wheeler peak Mon, 24 Jul 2017 18:50:12 GMT
OKIENOMADS Gear Review- Mountainsmith Morrison 2 Person 3 Season Backpacking Tent  

I got the itch many years ago to try my hand at backpacking. The first and single most important piece of gear to get into the woods is a tent. The tent provides shelter, security and sometimes warmth. When you venture several miles from any civilization, a good tent can change a really crummy trip into a great experience in the woods.

My first backpacking experience is one of my favorite memories, but one of the worst experiences with a tent that I have ever had. A few (3) friends and I decided to undertake a daunting hiking trip spanning some 30+ miles over 4 days through the early spring Ozark Wilderness. Rain was barely in the forecast so we neglected to bring any real rain gear. We lucked out and avoided rain. The ground, however, was soaked from the previous 6 days of rain that hit the area. The awful Ozark Trail 4 man tent did not do what I had assumed it was made to do. This tent can be purchased at any of the thousands of Wal-Mart stores in the country and was created to be used in state parks and backyards when precipitation is not in the forecast.

We got soaked. To be fair there was a small creek running under the bottom of the tent and I am not sure the best of tents would have survived, but the big box store tent let us down. We were wet, cold, and unhappy that we lugged this big thing up and down the trails all spring break. 

Upon returning from that trip to the Ozarks (which ended in a snowstorm, ushering our unprepared group off the trail and back home) I began researching backpacking tents that had to fit a few criteria:

  • Price- The tent had to be less than $200. At the time, I was a college student with very little spending money. This dropped my options considerably as some ultralight tents can be had for upwards of $750! CRAZY!
  • Weight- I wanted a tent that I could haul on solo trips and also split with someone on longer hauls into the wild. The Morrison came in under 5lbs which was much more manageable than the 12-15lbs I was carrying with the Wally World tent. 
  • Space- I am 6'3" tall and had a very rough time finding a tent that I could lay in without my feet or head hitting the tent walls. I also wanted to be able to sit up and change or read while the doors are closed.
  • BONUS- If I could manage it, I wanted vestibules on both doors. It is so much more convenient to be able to store your pack and wet/dirty gear outside and still have peace of mind that it is protected by the rain fly.


My constraints were pretty rigorous, but I knew a tent had to exist with these specs. I tried out several tents such as the ALPS Mountaineering LYNX, The North Face Stormbreak, and the Kelty Salida series and none of them met my criteria. I then found the Mountain Smith Morrison 2 and it checked every box! 

The Morrison has several features that are big deal breakers for me now that I have used it rigorously for half a decade. 

  1. IT IS HUGE! There is so much room inside, it feels like a bigger tent sometimes. I would feel comfortable cramming a third person in on extremely raining trips if need be. I can fully stretch out without turning diagonally and I can sit up to read or change without bumping into anything. 
  2. It is one the simplest designs I have ever used. 2 poles, 4 stakes (for the tent, more with fly) and you are in business. It takes 2 people less than 2 minutes to set this tent up and less than 5 minutes solo. 
  3. It is well made! This tent is solid. When guyed down we have used this tent in 50-60 MPH winds with no damage to the tent or us inside. The zippers are all high quality and all vents/windows provide adequate ventilation for hot trips. Any tent will get sticky when it is 90◦+ outside. The tent also retains heat really well in cold trips. I have had it down to below freezing several times and there is a noticeable warmth when compared to being outside. 

Suggested changes-The tent is great right out of the box, but a few minor tweaks make it a spectacular 3 season backpacking tent.





First, quality stakes are a must. Although the stakes that come with the tent are sufficient for backyard/state park camping, I would not try to use them in rocky soil or muddy soil. We use MSR Cyclone stakes and they have been fantastic. The price is right and I have yet to remotely bend one.






Dry Sack



Second, the Morrison comes with a stuff sack that is great for storing the tent. I suggest you always hang or spread out your tent in a cool dry area, but if that isn't realistic than the provided sack will suffice. On the trail however, the sack will not cut it when it comes to compressing the tent down to as small of a package as possible.

We use a variety of stuff sacks accumulated over the years, but our newest is by far the favorite. Our Sea to Summit is a compression sack that is also water-resistant for when the rain or rapids get the best of you. You can cinch down the straps and compress the tent and rain fly to a very small (youth football) sized package. 








Over the years, we accumulate gear that sticks with us and has an impact on how we experience the wild places that we visit. This tent is one of those pieces of gear. I can't imagine going to the woods without it and it feels like home when I return to it. It seems crazy that a nylon shelter can feel like home, but I challenge you to give it a chance. You will be amazed at how much fun you can have in the woods with this little tent keeping you dry.

As always, follow us on Instagram to get the most up to date images and video from our trips and build progress on our bus. We would love it you would check out the rest of the blog and the YouTube page as well. All social media is @okienomads. Thanks for reading and have a blessed day!




*As you can see, there are embedded links throughout this post to products that we use and recommend. We will not provide affiliate links if we are not happy with the performance of a product. If you decide to purchase something using one of these links, a very small percentage of that sale goes to fund our adventures at no additional cost to you. If you are interested in an item, please use the links. It means a TON to us!

(Zach Elseman Photography and Marketing) #forgedforlife 2 person backpacking tent @okienomads Cheap backpacking tent Mountainsmith Mountainsmith Morrison 2 adventure backpacking tent blog built not bought bus camping cheap tent gear review home is where you park it photography school bus conversion skoolie tent review tiny house travel van vanlife Fri, 07 Jul 2017 17:40:13 GMT
NEW VLOG is LIVE! How to travel on a $50 budget We are always scraping together extra money to go on trips and buy better toys. Traveling cheaply is a great way to save money and still have a great time. In this VLOG we show our trip to Lee Creek, AR for a day of 4-wheeling and swimming in beautiful spring fed creek.



Below is some bonus material not in the VLOG that can help you travel cheaper.

  1. Pack your food- The initial investment in a good cooler or cooler bag will be made up quickly by not having to pay for expensive restaurants or extremely unhealthy fast food. Breakfast is easy: eggs, eggs, and more eggs. In hard camping egg container, the eggs stay in tact and are delicious warmed up on an old camp stove or over a fire. Lunch is normally turkey sandwiches. Spice things up with spicy mustard, pepper jack cheese, and avocado slices. Dinner can be as elaborate as you desire. Ours normally consists of chicken, sausage, peppers, and onion all wrapped in aluminum foil and thrown on the coals of a fire for an hour. 
  2. Don't pay to camp- It is tempting to pay for the campground that has hot showers and cable TV, but we find that these places are normally frustrating with a lot of noise, trash, and rude people. Using a resource like provides a database of free campsites all over the country with user reviews and pictures. Public restrooms and showers are everywhere when you start looking and most businesses will let you fill up your water jug for free. Which leads me to my next tip...
  3. Don't pay to drink- Hydration is extremely important, especially in the summertime. The best drink to hydrate you is water and it turns out, water is free. Water is available for free in most every restaurant, gas station, and business in the US. Devices like our SteriPen are useful when traveling in the backcountry because we can treat most fresh water and it be ready to drink in minutes. Coffee is a vice that we both struggle with on the road, but we have found that a travel French press and some pre-ground coffee does the trick. Our Stanley camp mugs nest together and don't take a lot of room.

If you have any suggestions or travel hacks that you have used to save money on the road, please leave a comment or e-mail us at As always, if you haven't yet, please subscribe on YouTube and follow us on Instagram. It is much appreciated and lets us know that viewers are enjoying the posts. 


(Zach Elseman Photography and Marketing) @okienomads AR Camping Arkansas Arkansas camping Arkansas outside NWA Northwest Arkansas Ozark National Forest adventure blog buslife explore hiking home is where you park it nature photography road trip skoolie tiny house travel vanlife Tue, 27 Jun 2017 00:34:48 GMT
Camping in a City Park in New Mexico  

Everyone has the feeling on a road trip where your eyes start getting heavy, your Red Bull is wearing off and you can only sing "Don't Stop Believing" so many times before it fails to keep you attentive. You might even venture to explore the rumble strips on the side of the expressway. This is a no-judgement-zone, we have all been there. 

Over the years I have developed this extremely low level of "give a crap" when it comes to camping. Once I am done driving, hiking, or generally doing anything, my next move is to find somewhere to sleep. My poor friends are looking for flat campsites or their girlfriends are looking for a cheap Air BnB or hotel room and I am over here trying to fold down the seats in the car and somehow fit my 6'3" frame in a 6' trunk. I guess I have accepted the inevitability of discomfort that comes with camping and backpacking. Your back aches from using a 1/2" thick blow-up sleeping pad that has a slow leak and your neck is sore because your stuff sack filled with your rancid clothes doesn't feel quite the same as your pillow at home. This is why God created fly-over towns. In most of these tiny dots on the map you can get by with laying your feet out of the window of the car and catching a few hours of shut-eye behind the truck stop or near a church parking lot.

Sometimes you get lucky and find a town that knows what you are shopping for and delivers! Enter San Jon, NM.

San Jon (pronounced "San Hone") is a village in Northeast New Mexico that has a city park specifically designated for camping and overnight parking. The city's population is around 300 as of 2000 and since I40 bypassed the town, most every business has died off and left town. However, dirtbag camping is alive and well in San Jon. 

We arrived around midnight on the Friday night of Memorial Day Weekend and were greeted by an 80's Class A motorhome on the South side of the park and the rest of the place to ourselves. We found the bathrooms to be nearly spotless and they had running hot water, score! We freshened up a little and setup the tent for a short stay. Due to the wind, we staked our backpacking tent down and enjoyed a mostly uninterrupted sleep. Another vehicle showed up in the middle of the night with an a-frame bumper-pull in tow and we were none the wiser. We awoke to light that only really happens in the desert and we were packed up in a matter of minutes. 

While walking around, you could tell that this town used to be something. It seemed like we were walking the streets of a town from a "Cars" movie where the entire town had lost it's identity when the interstate came through. I half expected to see a rusted dump truck parked on the corner of town. Instead there are vacant service stations, boats on blocks, and one lonely hotel that somehow stays in business. 

Our time in San Jon was short, but memorable. I recommend a visit to this town if you are passing through, especially if you are needing a place to crash for the night on I40 between Oklahoma and Arizona. A huge thanks goes out to the town of San Jon for looking out for us budget campers that would rather spend our money on gas and food for the next adventure than on camping. Your facilities are great and I can't wait to stop in your town again soon!

If you liked this post and want to see more like it, please look around the rest of the website and let us know what you think. We are on Instagram and YouTube as well as @okienomads, a like and follow or subscription would mean a lot and help you to keep up with us on the road. Have a blessed day and thanks for reading.

(Zach Elseman Photography and Marketing) @okienomads FREE CAMPING I40 Interstate 40 NM Camping New Mexico New Mexico Camping Taos Taos Ski Valley adventure blog buslife explore home is where you park it interstate 40 camping nature photography road trip travel vanlife Wed, 14 Jun 2017 21:37:40 GMT
Facebook is Bad For Your Health  

To some reading this blog, this might not be a shock. To others, however, this could be a revelation. Facebook is bad for you!

A recent study published by the Harvard Business Review took a sample size of 5,208 adults and they determined that there is a direct correlation between the amount of time a person spends on Facebook and that person’s well-being. This is counter to previous studies which showed that you could spend as much time on Facebook as you wanted, as long as it was “quality” time.

The activities observed in this study were simply liking of posts, clicking links, and creating your own posts. The measures for the study included self-reported life satisfaction, physical and mental health, and Body Mass Index (BMI). The fascinating thing about this study is that it took place over a period of two years! They found consistently that both liking others’ content and clicking links caused a significant reduction in self-reported physical and mental health, and life satisfaction.

Why do we continue to use this social network if it makes us feel worse about ourselves?

The answer is in the science of the brain. We trick ourselves into thinking that Facebook is meaningful social interaction, when it isn’t. According to podcaster and life-hacker Tim Ferris, “It's like a heroin addict who needs methadone”. Ferris suggests that his readers and listeners participate in social media fasts at least once a week. “It is incredible what a psychological relief it is and how much recovery it allows people to have,” said Ferris. That advice is coming from a guy who makes a large portion of his paycheck from social media! He benefits directly from users scrolling their timelines and even he is advising against spending as much time on social as we do.

Give it a shot this Easter weekend. Try a “Screen-free Saturday” as Ferris calls it, or spend the entire weekend interacting with your family or doing something that brings you more joy, not less.


Tim Ferris Interview

HBR Study Article

(Zach Elseman Photography and Marketing) blog easter explore facebook harvard business review health mindfullness nature okienomads personal improvement psychology social media tim ferris travel Sat, 15 Apr 2017 15:05:15 GMT
Trail to Eden, Glory Hole, and Top of the Buffalo

Trail to Eden, Glory Hole, and Top of the Buffalo     

Pettigrew, AR

Mark Twain once said, “The universal brotherhood of man is our most precious possession”. Truer words have never been spoken. It never ceases to amaze me how I can reconnect with a group of friends or brothers and nearly immediately pick back up where we left off. I was looking through galleries of pictures that I had taken on trips with friends over the past several years and nearly every year around the beginning of spring, I take a trip with close friends from college. We usually go backpacking or camping and this year was no exception. My friend Jesse planned a trip to the Buffalo National River to stay in a cabin near Pettigrew, AR and to day hike and mountain bike on the nearly endless miles of trails that abound in that area. HE NAILED IT!

We made our way East, meeting in Tahlequah, OK, stopping in Fayetteville, AR for food, supplies, and fuel, then we continued East to Pettigrew, AR. We passed through communities that seemed lost in time. Nearly everyone still had a tractor, a wood stove, and livestock. It was refreshing that some individuals still enjoy a simpler life. It was inspiring to me. While driving through one small community along the way, I look to my right and Jesse grabs his nose. It struck me as odd, but we continued on with our conversation. A few seconds later, he looked at his hand to see a blood drop or two. I ask if he is okay and he assures me he is okay. We drive a few more seconds and a look of terror comes over Jesse’s face as blood floods out of his nose and into his hands. I coast the truck into a church parking lot and come to a stop in front of the church doors. The vehicle behind us is likely as confused as the redneck farmers that are driving by. Jesse tries to exit the truck, but can’t undo his seat belt due to his blood covered hands. I release him from captivity and toss him a tampon from the glovebox. It always pays to have a girlfriend with a cool truck. He plugs his nose and the rest of the group gathers round as more locals drive by in confusion.

The poor community that was rocked by our nose bleed debacle.

Our digs for the weekend the Top of the Buffalo River Cabin is located on an organic farm and is completely sustained with solar power. There is a gravity fed water system, a sink, and several places to sleep including a loft. The cabin is heated by a woodstove and was a perfect location for our weekend plans. We unloaded our gear and supplies and got back on the dirt road that would lead us a few miles back to Hawksbill Crag at Whitaker Point.

Whitaker Point is an easily identifiable landmark thanks to its discernable shape and its popularity amongst travelers through Arkansas and the Arkansas Tourism ads that run images of it often. This was my first visit to the crag and I was impressed. The sheer mass of the rock and its height above the valley is colossal. Due to the recent rains in the area, the falls approaching the crag also made for interesting stops.

We spent a ton of time at the crag taking obligatory pictures of each other and returned to the cabin to enjoy a night of quiet and peacefulness. We prepared macaroni and cheese and enjoyed libations on the rear deck of the cabin while a lightning storm approached in the distance. The light show was really fantastic. Conversation ranged from love and loss to friendships and experiences. I pity any man that doesn’t have close friends to spend time with. It is absolutely refreshing.
I awoke the next morning with the sun and hopped on the mountain bike to explore the trails of the Upper Buffalo River Wilderness. The gravel roads were reminiscent of the same gravel I travelled down only one week prior in Stillwater. The difference was the temperature. Where Stilly was 37° and rainy, these Arkansas backroads were 60° and hard packed. I pedaled to a fire tower close by and enjoyed the sun coming up over the river valley. The tower appeared to still be in operation as it had a generator and Constantine wire draped along the top of the security fence. Once the sun was high enough to see the trail, I ventured into the most perfect set of switchback berms that I have ever ridden. I meandered my way across the valley and climbed up to our cabins backdoor. The guys had already made breakfast and appeared to be ready for a day of adventure, hiking, spelunking, and lots of dirt road travel.


We made our way North through the same rugged background that I had biked earlier that morning. Our destination was a trail head outside of Ponca, AR named Lost Valley. This trail was the avenue to which we would be able to see Eden Falls, a combination of a cave falls and waterfalls that litter the NW Arkansas hillside. This trail was absolutely worth the time and energy to put up with the huge crowd that surrounded the trail. There were hundreds of people on or around the trail and waterfalls. To be fair, it was the first really nice weekend of the spring season and conditions were perfect for waterfall chasing.

We wandered around the falls for quite a while taking pictures and enjoying the breaks in the crowds. We then made our way up to the cave that encompasses one of the coolest natural features that I have ever seen: a waterfall pouring out of the roof of the cave. It was easily 25 degrees cooler inside the cave and the journey through the eighteen-inch wide cavern was definitely worth it. I am not one for being in tight spaces for prolonged periods of time, but this is something I would definitely do again. Remember to bring a headlamp, grippy shoes, and a camera that can shoot in the dark (thanks Canon).

We ate lunch at the base of the falls and traversed back down the trail toward the car. On our way down, we came upon a couple in distress. The female, in her mid to early sixties was face down on the side of the trail, her walking stick at her side, and her shoulder wrapped around the base of a young tree. The husband was kneeling next to her, speaking softly. We gave aid in the best way we could with our minimalist packs and limited first aid. We helped the woman back to her feet and into a shoulder sling, and they insisted to be on their way. This event really convicted me about the amount of trauma gear that I carry with me on the trail. My kit needs some work!

Our next stop was Glory Hole Falls, around 30 minutes away. The trailhead is easy to find as it will have a ton of cars pulled off on the side of the highway. Follow the people. Glory Hole is an amazing phenomenon where the water has pooled in the same area on top of an outcropping for thousands of years and has worn down the rock to allow water to flow straight through. It is a sight to see in Arkansas. The hole is roughly 4-6 ft. in diameter and is approximately 20ft. from the floor below. I could have easily sat under that outcropping for hours if the guys would have let me. The group went around on the trail and I chose to scramble up the cliff faces opposite and met them at the creek above.

Once we left Glory Hole, we referenced Tim Ernst’s waterfall book and found the closest set of waterfalls and they were only 7-ish miles away. Little did we know that nearly all 7 miles were dirt roads with pot holes the size of small cars. We made it with little time to spare. The first set of falls on one side of the road were disappointing. There was little water flowing and it seemed that you would have had to be there in a flood to see them actually flowing. The second set was more impressive, but involved nearly an hour of bushwhacking to discover. We stopped to take in the sites and made our way out just in time for the sun to go down. We were out of water, exhausted, and rejuvenated by spending all day in nature. We ventured back to the cabin for a night of good chats, good brews, and a lightning storm like I have never seen.

We loaded up the next morning, turned off the solar system, and made our way back to Oklahoma. Trips to the Buffalo River Valley never cease to amaze me. The landscape is breathtaking every time I return. It also fascinates me that hardly anyone that I interact with in Oklahoma has been to the Buffalo or has even heard of it. It is a great place to visit to escape from the day-to-day and it is under 3 hours away!


(Zach Elseman Photography and Marketing) Mountain biking adventure arkansas blog explore hiking nature okienomads outdoors photography skoolie travel waterfalls Sun, 09 Apr 2017 00:29:51 GMT
4 Trips to Lowe's for a Bike Rack One of the biggest challenges for us in the planning stages of the bus was what to do with the two bikes that we wanted to bring along with us on our adventures. Being a little under 90 square feet, the inside of the bus was not an option. Our options were as follows:

  • Front hitch mounted bike rack- The pros of mounting bikes to the front was the relative ease and cost of installing a hitch receiver to the front bumper, we already had a hitch mounted bike rack, and we would always have an eye on our bikes while driving. The cons were that we would always have an eye on our bikes while driving, lighting could be hindered up front, and if we needed just one bike off of the rack we would have to remove the other. Plus, gas mileage would more than likely suffer.
  • Rear vertical mounted bike rack- The pros of mounting bikes on the rear of the bus is the relative cheapness of parts, we already owned roof rack trays for a roof rack, and there should be no effect on gas mileage. The cons were that we would have to drill into our bus and the wheels would have to be stored inside, which means less storage for other necessities (yes, bikes are necessities). 
  • Roof mounted bike rack- The pros of mounting bikes on the roof is that they are out of the way and secure from all but the most ambitious of thieves. The cons are that they would require both people to fetch them, the gas mileage would greatly suffer, and they would take up valuable real estate from our solar panels. Plus, I am not too keen on drilling holes in the roof anyways, the less the better.

We ultimately decided on mounting the bikes to the rear of the bus. It seemed like the best compromise and the least expensive in the long run, plus the best location overall for the bikes. 

We started by measuring, albeit incorrectly, the back door for our two pieces of galvanized pipe that would run the width of the rear door. We made our measurements and took off to the hardware store. Thankfully, Lowe's is only about 2 miles from my house as we went back several more times. On our first trip we picked out our 45° elbows, mounting flanges, and pipe and felt good coming back to the bus. That is until we realized that the 30" pipe that we got would not be long enough. Back to the store.

Before our second trip to Lowe's, we measured better. Not perfect, but better. We returned to the store and exchanged our pipe for longer pipe in the 36" variety. We came back to the bus and as fate would have it, this pipe was just a hair too long. Back to the store.

This time, we were right. Our measurements were perfect and we were not going to be defeated by this project. We returned to the store and thankfully had a different cashier than the two times previous. We found a friendly Lowe's associate named Daniel who also happened to be a cyclist and he assisted us with cutting and threading our pipe to the proper length. We exchanged contact information and went back to our project. 

The pipe fit like a dream! The flanges were in the right spots and everything was looking up. We started drilling holes and behold, we had not measured properly for the different thicknesses of the door that we were bolting into. We hung what we could on the door and developed a strategy to return the next day. I went to Lowe's the next morning and returned my incorrect bolts in shame. I found the right ones and tried to get out of there as quickly as possible. 

IT WORKED! All of the bolts and flanges and pipes fit and the bike rack worked! It was an important moment in an otherwise hectic weekend of a hernia, far too many trips to Lowe's and recovering from a hard training schedule. It felt good to get a small win!

The pipe had to be shimmed a little bit to fit snugly within the Yakima bike trays, but nothing a little duct tape couldn't fix. We got the trays mounted and had to throw a bike into the setup to make sure that it works.

The bike fit great and will only require one of us to load and unload. The rack does not interfere with the lights in any way and the rear door still opens and closes as it did before. We will update this post after next weekend when we run the bus through its paces at the Land Run 100 bike race in Stillwater, OK. Thank you so much to those of you that follow along and are reading these blog posts. It sincerely means a lot and we hope you are enjoying the journey as much as we are. As always, follow along on Instagram @okienomads and check out our YouTube channel when you get a chance.

(Zach Elseman Photography and Marketing) @okienomads adventure bike rack blog build built not bought bus gravel grinder home is where you park it install land run 100 lr100 mountain biking photography school bus conversion skoolie tiny house travel unlearn pavement van vanlife yakima Mon, 06 Mar 2017 02:12:30 GMT
Okie Nomads: Skoolie Floor Part 1




The thrill of tearing into a project for the first time is special. The dreams and plans start to take shape the second that the first seat is removed. The plan was very straight forward and is outlined below. This seems like it will be one of the most labor intensive parts of the build.

1. Remove bus seats

This proved to be interesting to say the least. Our first attempt involved a wrench inside the bus and an impact gun used under the bus. This worked marginally well if you don't count the dirt and debris landing on my face. Safety goggles are a must when working under any vehicle. We resorted to using the angle grinder on some of the tougher chairs. The bus seats are for sale if anyone is interested in NE Oklahoma/NW Arkansas; I've been known to deliver in exchange for splitting a six pack. Inquire for more details. We ended up scrapping the bus seats for a measly $17.

2. Remove rubber flooring

This proved to be a lot easier than I thought it would be. Simply remove the metal trim down the middle aisle and begin working the rubber up. A heat gun and some strong hands help to rip up the rubber, especially around the wheel wells. Recommended tools for this part include a heat gun, any kind of scraper your can try and gloves. Our subfloor was a little moist, so it made the rubber a little moist as well.

3. Remove plywood subfloor

Now things are getting fun. First, remove ALL screws/nails from the subfloor that you can find that aren't rusted. Many of our screws were rusted in place and were later removed with a cut-off wheel. The plywood was in a few different conditions depending on which quadrant of the bus you are in. One corner had firm, solid plywood that would not budge one inch without extreme persuasion. Other areas were a little damp and came up easily. Tools recommended for this step include gloves, power drill, angle grinder with a cut-off wheel, shovel, pry bars of varying sizes, chisels, hammer, a little bit of luck and a little bit of almond liquor in your coffee.

Non-Pro tip: If you are working in a shortie skoolie, be very gentle with the floor. Pry bars will puncture the floor and cause more problems for you in the long run. Take your time and try to enjoy yourself. It is some of the hardest labor you will do on your skoolie conversion.

4. Prep for paint

In order to protect our soon to be installed plywood and tongue and groove PERGO we wanted to seal up the floor as well as possible. We (mostly I) did a good amount of damage to the paper thin metal of the floor while removing the plywood so there were several holes to repair before paint could be applied. We used sheet metal from Lowes along with Liquid Nails construction adhesive and self tapping screws. The screws are only being used to hold down the patch panels and are very small. The sheet metal cut very well with tin snips.

The entire floor surface was hit with the drill and a wire brush. The same was used to scuff up the rest of the interior of the bus. Once all areas of flaking paint and residual glue are removed, vacuum/sweep the bus out several times before applying paint. Because our bus had no rust we opted to simply apply Rust-oleum directly to the floor. Our bus spent most of it's life in rural Central Oklahoma, so rust was not expected. Most of the holes in the floor were caused by me and the big pry bar!

Don't forget to tape off any areas that you don't want paint on. At this step we removed a lot of the decals and stickers that were present. Rachael is seriously talented with the heat gun and putty knife. According to her there is a sweet spot between not enough and too much heat. I believe her, because those stickers are gone! She also went back over the stickers with Acetone to try and remove any of the residue from the glue. You can barely tell there was a sticker there before paint even goes on. 

Finally, clean the floor with soap and water to remove any more dirt or grime before paint. Rinse and allow to dry before applying paint.

5. Wall Paint

Our plan was to paint the floor up to the chair rail (approx. 12") with the Rust-oleum and paint the rest of the interior with normal interior paint. The interior wall paint was first to go on in case of any drips or spills, we can just paint over it with the floor paint, which is darker. 

While Rachael was putting on the first coat of interior paint, I worked on the roof. This process will be documented in another blog post at a later time.

The first coat of interior paint went on really well considering that it was around 40° outside and around 65° in the bus with the help of our buddy heater. Rachael used a roller on the flat surfaces and a cheap 2" brush on the rest of the detail spots. After a few minutes of drying, it looked like this.


The second coat went on much better and I was done working on the roof, so I joined her to help. The painting goes much faster with two people hacking away at it.

All of this will be documented in an upcoming VLOG which you should definitely be on the lookout for. Check out our Instagram page @okienomads and YouTube channel under the same name. Thanks for reading!




(Zach Elseman Photography and Marketing) @okienomads adventure blog build built not bought bus bus demolition floor install home is where you park it install photography plywood rustoleum school bus conversion skoolie subfloor tiny house travel van vanlife Thu, 23 Feb 2017 20:02:07 GMT
New Year's Goal #1: Read 10 Books, Cover to Cover New Year’s Goal #1: Read 10 Books, Cover to Cover

I chose this goal because although I love reading, I find myself regularly reading half of a book and then not making time to finish it. There are several books on my shelf right now that have dog-ear marks half-way through the book and have for over a year. It is crazy. In 2017 I am going to read 10 books completely, and they are good ones.

I have chosen my books based on several traits. First, I picked several books that I have always wanted to read for whatever reason. Some I have owned for a while and some have sat in my Amazon wish list for years. Secondly, I picked several books that will hopefully be helpful in my development as a person. Third, I wanted to read a couple of books that are relevant to the climate of the society that I live in today. 

These are the books in the order that I plan on reading them this year:

1.    Rough Riders, Mark Lee Gardner

This narrative on the Theodore Roosevelt classic by the same name reaches into the intimate details of Teddy’s role in the Spanish-American war as a leader of the “Rough Riders” regiment. 

TR’s courage, manliness, and demand for involvement in something bigger than himself are all virtues that every man could strive for. I am fascinated by Roosevelt and look forward to digging into this conflict and his role in it more deeply.

2.    Patagonia Tools for Grassroots Activists, Nora Gallagher and Lisa Myers

Issued as a guide for Patagonia grantees and employees alike, “Tools for Grassroots Activists” is a rousing manual for combating environmental injustice.

I have always found Patagonia and Yvon Chouinard fascinating. Once I read “Let My People Go Surfing”, I was hooked. The company is impressive and I am excited to try and apply some best practices in my activism efforts.

3.    1984, George Orwell

The 1949 satirical story of then-future negative-distopian 1984, Orwell “narrates with infinite precision.

It is no surprise that sales of 1984 have increased since the presidential election, but I have had it on my shelf for far too long and President Trump has merely reminded me of the need to read it.

4.    The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis

A story of revelation, conversion, and salvation from one of the most gifted writers of the modern age; what is not to love?

This is another book that I have wanted to read for some time. Lewis’ insights in this book are said to be derived from his own conversion experience. 

5.    For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemmingway

Published in 1940, For Whom the Bell Tolls shows Hemingway’s personal fixation with the Spanish Civil War.

This novel was selected merely for its popularity and how much I enjoyed the other Ernest Hemmingway books that I have read. 

6.    On the Road, Jack Kerouac

Kerouac (one of my all-time favorites) describes a journey of learning and exploration of the American West specifically the colorful characters, immense landscapes, and personal growth.

I have thoroughly enjoyed Kerouac’s other works and I was told to save this book for an epic road trip, so I am doing just that (SPOILER ALERT-There is an epic road trip in my near future).

7.    Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M. Pirsig

Suggested to me from a professor as one of the best novels to introduce a person to philosophy and the deeper questions of life. This book includes personal growth, travel, and meditation on how to live BETTER.

8.    Cadillac Desert, Marc Reisner

    “It's a revealing, absorbing, often amusing and alarming report on where billions of their (taxpayer’s dollars have gone - and where a lot more are going.”  

–NY Times 

Cadillac Desert taps into the controversial history of water in the west and how much water and money is being wasted in the desert.

9.    A River Runs Through It, Norman Maclean

Made famous by the Brad Pitt film, A River Runs Through It is a story of nature,wonder, and growing up in rural Missoula, Montana.

 I hate this about myself, but I am reading this book solely because of how much I enjoyed the movie. I am a big fan of Brad Pitt’s, but I have a feeling I’m about to be a bigger fan of Norman Maclean.

10.    Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

This is the book that came out of left field. I have always appreciated Jane Austen as being truly gifted author, only based on what others had said. I had never actually cracked one of her books. After listening to an Art of Manliness Podcast I was convinced that this was a book that I needed to read.

That’s the list! I am going to read all 10 books by the end of 2017 and I will report back with my thoughts on each of them as I work my way through them. Feel free to leave me a comment with which book you think should be on my list and why! Thanks for reading and as always, check us out on Instagram and YouTube @okienomads.


(Zach Elseman Photography and Marketing) 1984 A River Runs Through It Cadillac Desert For Whom the Bell Tolls On the Road Patagonia tools for grassroots activists Pride and Prejudice The Screwtape Letters Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance adventure blog book book list reading reading club rough riders travel Fri, 17 Feb 2017 02:18:52 GMT
Okie Nomads: Skoolie Roof Repair

Gross huh? 

Our bus was used by a Central Oklahoma school district for the majority of its existence. That means it drove up and down red-dirt county roads, sat in the blistering sun every day of the summer, and was likely never washed properly. The roof was funky! I hauled the pressure washer up there and made short-ish work of the dirt and grime that was caked on our roof.

The side by side is very telling of the junk that was up there. It took around 35-40 minutes to remove all of the stuff from the roof. I then made a mad dash for the garage fan to dry the roof before it froze over night.


Once the roof was clean, I was ready to instal my Fantastic Fan and tape up our roof seams with Eternabond roof repair tape. 

First, I made sure the roof was extremely clean...well for a roof at least. It was clean enough that I would probably eat a sandwich off of it, but not pudding. Does that make sense? Anyways, once clean I was ready for my fan install.

Background-We had previously filled the void left by our emergency escape hatch with a piece of LEXAN. It is supposed to be extremely strong, cheaper than steel, and looked cool. Now when I installed the LEXAN I used a generous amount of waterproof sealant and plenty of self-tapping screws. This area hadn't leaked yet, but it was only a matter of time with so many screws coming through the roof. More on the story of how we lost the roof hatch...

Thanksgiving 2016- Rachael and I travelled to Jenks, OK to attend my nephew's 2 year old birthday party. We thought it would be nice to show the family the vehicle that we were going to be attempting to build and move into, so we drove the bus. As always, Rachael rode shotgun (which is really a folding camping chair pulled up next to the driver's seat) and we puttered our way to Jenks. The bus did great! We didn't have any problems and the family loved it! At one point we had my family and my sister-in-law's family all in it at once playing with buttons, opening doors, and asking outlandish questions about how we planned to poop in the bus. Once we left Jenks, we drove to Rachael's parent's house near Bixby, OK. We pulled in and were greeted with the same enthusiasm as we experienced with my family. The only difference was when her dad walked in the bus and asked, "Did you have a hole in your roof when you left Tahlequah?" 

We had lost our roof hatch door somewhere between Jenks, OK and Bixby, OK, which was quite a lot of ground to cover. On her father's advice, we took a different vehicle in search of the missing hatch lid, hoping that it wasn't the cause of some 20-car pile-up on the highway or something similarly devastating. Just before giving up our search near the half-way point of our route, we found a lonesome hatch door laying in the ditch like it belonged there. We retrieved it as quickly as possible and hopefully left no witnesses.

If you want the quick version of the install, check out the how-to video on our YouTube channel. If you haven't yet, subscribe to our channel and get updates when we post a new video.

I traced out a pattern on the LEXAN, drilled some corner holes, and used a jigsaw to cut the opening. The opening required some trimming, but the fan dropped in as easy as the instructions described (PS the instructions were of little help). 

The model of fan we purchased is one step up from the most bare bones model available and is available on Amazon. Check out our affiliate links at the bottom of this post for more information.

We picked this fan because it offered all of the functions that we needed: exhaust function and variable speeds. We don't need a wi-fi remote to control the fan on the roof of our ~100 square foot tiny house on wheels. The motivation for this project is to simplify life, not make it more complicated. 

Once the hole was cut and the fan fit snug, I laid down a run of Butyl tape (also in the affiliate links below) and sat the fan back in the hole. Ensure that the hinge of the fan cover is facing the front side of the vehicle and opens up to the rear. Once the tape of was down, I pre-drilled all of the holes and fastened the fan to the LEXAN with stainless steel bolts, washers, and nuts. The benefit of the LEXAN is that you can see the butyl tape sealing to the material from below and we felt very comfortable after watching the tape seal that we would have no problems with leaks.

Next was the task of taping off the seams of the bus roof with Eternabond Roof Repair tape (you guessed it, check out the affiliate links at the bottom for what we ordered). 

Non-Pro Tip: Eternabond is extremely sticky! It bonds almost immediately to everything, so have a plan before you peal off the backing.

I laid the tape along every roof seam and overlapped enough to cover the rivets as well. I then taped the front air vent-like contraption above the driver seat and taped off the LEXAN and Fantastic Fan. Importantly, I did not completely seal off the roof vent above the driver's seat. This will be where the power cables coming from our solar panels will enter the cab and run down to our batteries. More on that in a later blog post. Read the directions for the Eternabond carefully as the manufacturer describes practices to eliminate air bubbles and how to properly apply the tape. Because it is winter in Oklahoma, it is not warm enough to apply our roof paint yet. It needs somewhere around 50°

That's it! Now you have all of the information that you need to install your own Fantastic Fan and repair your roof! If you enjoyed the blog post and want to follow along on our build, follow us on Instagram @Okienomads and check out our YouTube channel for more videos like the one in this post.


As mentioned above, check out our affiliate links below and if you buy something through our links we get a commission and you get a great product...WIN-WIN!      


(Zach Elseman Photography and Marketing) @okienomads adventure blog build built not bought bus butyl tape eternabond fantastic fan home is where you park it install photography school bus conversion skoolie tiny house travel van vanlife Mon, 06 Feb 2017 03:21:41 GMT
Over Prepared and Underprepared: How both can keep you from exploring Mark Twain National Forest-Ironton, MO

Over Prepared and Underprepared: How both can keep you from exploring

By: Ethan Hayman

Whether you choose to explore the world around you by motor vehicle, bicycle, or by foot there is a fine line between wandering dangerously into the unknown with no preparation, being safely prepared for the adventure ahead, and being paralyzed by the insecurity of not having every piece of equipment you can imagine. If your goal is to explore the world and to be able to do so for a long time there are certain items and skills that will be necessities and others that can simply keep you from exploring at all. The most important question to ask is, do you want to sit around and wait for the stars to align, or do you want to plunge head first into the unknown and seize every opportunity for adventure?

The first multi day backpacking trip I ever did definitely fell on the less prepared end of the spectrum. Three of my best friends and I had planned out a five day fifty mile plus trek through the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri. Combined, we had very little experience and almost no proper gear suited to the task at hand. Those of us with some cash to spend invested in various items of the outdoors persuasion, and do we ever look back and laugh at those choices. Some items were solid selections. I purchased a pair of Vasque hiking boots which have now been worn for four years, gone hundreds of miles, summited peaks in Colorado, traversed the Grand Canyon, and waded through the Buffalo National River. I also bought a Fiskars chopping axe which weighed over five pounds and was proudly strapped to the outside of my pack to be carried fifty miles and was necessary approximately zero times. One friend opted to spend no money and wore old sneakers, military fatigues (in navy digital camouflage), and borrowed an ancient external frame backpack.

A defeated camp; Fishers axe on the right.

To keep a long story short, we got absolutely destroyed within two days of being on the trail. Five inches of rain fell the morning we were supposed to set off, turning our path into a tiny flowing river and making every step treacherous. The forecast also changed drastically from when we packed up and when we arrived leaving us expecting mild weather. Instead we woke up to snow falling the second morning. It was at this point that our spirits were broken and we decided to detour to a nearby state park and call for a very expensive shuttle ride back to our vehicle. Many experienced backpackers have told us we were foolish for going out with the equipment and lack of experience we had. We certainly felt foolish and were lucky that no serious injuries occured, communications were maintained, and there were options to bail out. To add to the point here, two of us attempted a return trip at the opposite time of the year with a different group and experienced one hundred degree temperatures and drought causing the expedition to throw in the towel at the exact same location as on the first attempt. All that being said, I am so thankful that I experienced both of those trips and would absolutely not trade the memories for anything. We learned a great deal about ourselves, our equipment, and our passion the hard way. And sometimes that’s the best way.

A river runs through it.

Since these experiences, many more lessons have been learned and many thousands of miles have been successfully traversed by foot, car, and bicycle. As I gain more experience and begin to slowly accumulate better, more useful equipment I find that sometimes I am held back by this desire to have all the right gear before setting off on the next adventure. Some of the hesitation is warranted, lack of potable water on our second trip to the MTNF could have been a fatal mistake, but I will probably be ok on every trip without a solar panel, 50” LED light bar or even steel bumpers on my expedition rig. While all of these can make certain situations easier, safer or simply more convenient the lack of them should never keep you from exploring the world around you.

As long as you have the basics covered, water/food, communications, first aid, navigation, and shelter I say go out and find something amazing in the world around you. Waiting until you have every tool and gadget will keep you from ever seeing the world and being totally unprepared could end your grand adventure we call life, but with minimal expense, basic gear and careful planning you should be all set to get out there and safely venture into the unknown.  


Today's post was by Ethan Hayman. Ethan is a hiker, wood-worker, and general outdoorsman. Ethan's adventures take him all over the South Central United States including Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico, and Arizona. Follow him on Facebook to keep up with his shenanagins.

If you would like to contribute to the blog, submit your short stories or articles to As always, check us out on Instagram @okienomads and on YouTube.

(Zach Elseman Photography and Marketing) @okienomads Expedition Portal Mark Twain National Forest TravelMO adventure backpacking backpacking Missouri blog expedition explore hiking mountain biking nature photography travel Sun, 15 Jan 2017 03:27:22 GMT
Okie Nomads: An Introduction to the Bus I have spent most of my adult life been coached like most members of my generation to find a good job, buy a house, and drive a nice car. I accomplished most of that by the time I was 25. I checked off a lot of these "accomplishments" by taking a couple of jobs that I didn't really have a passion for, taking on an "acceptable" amount of debt, and spending a lot of my free time working. Along the way, something has been itching at me. I felt that I was following along this plan that had been set in front of me to sacrifice my quality of life now so that I could afford things that I don't really need and that I can maybe retire by the time I am 70, then I can really start living. No thank you. I would rather make moves now to be happier, less environmentally burdensome, and require less to know more. Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard said it best, "The more you know, the less you need."

In the back of my brain the idea of living a simpler and more nomadic life appealed to me for many reasons. In that time I experienced a lot of life: I figured out what some of my passions are, that how I treat people should be of the highest priority, and that I am most satisfied when I follow my dreams and make them reality. So I did, I bought a bus. 

Not only did I (we) buy a bus, but I found someone else that had fantasized over the nomadic lifestyle for as long as I had. After seven years of living in Tahlequah, I met my future travel partner. Her travels took her to working at Ski Resorts in Colorado, bike shops in Alaska, and even a bicycle tour down the West Coast. She is impressive, intelligent, and even more excited about the bus than I am. Without further delay, the bus.

The Bus

We shopped for several months for the right vehicle. We bounced around between 80's conversion vans, sprinters with too many miles, and school buses. The criteria for our vehicle were as follows:

  1. TALL. I needed to be able to stand somewhat comfortably in the vehicle. This practically eliminated anything that wasn't a bus, sprinter, or high top. 
  2. CHEAP. This entire process has been centered around a modest budget. We could have worked until we were 60, retired and bought a $100,000 Sportsmobile and camped in every state park until we died, but that wasn't the point of this vehicle. We needed to pick something up for $4000 or less.
  3. EFFICIENT. Both of us are used to 30+MPG cars that can get us to most any trailhead or river and do it in style, so efficiency was important. Obviously a van/bus won't get that kind of mileage, but 10-15 MPG was expected. More than likely this meant we were shopping for a diesel. 

We found what we were looking for less than 30 miles from our town. A local church was upgrading and posted a craigslist ad that we found online after looking at a really sad bus a few miles away. We test drove the bus and returned home to research the motor and model of bus. The bus checked out for the most part with the exception of a missing rear air conditioner and a saggy floor. We drove away with a bus that fit our needs and our budget. Here are the craigslist images of our bus.


 photo 00d0d_6RSkfvoPxW7_600x450_zpsugzhsc3t.jpg

 photo 00Q0Q_lPOGPRJKt2e_600x450_zpsrfnsjhli.jpg

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The bus is a 2000 Chevy 4-window with a 6.5L Detroit diesel with 107,000 miles on it. The bus was ordered and owned by one school district for it's entire life. Registration and insurance wasn't as difficult as I expected it to be. Insurance is affordable and cheaper than any vehicle I have ever owned. By mid-November 2016, the bus was tagged, titled, and ready to be built to our desired specifications. The initial design looks something like this:

 photo bus full_zpswbqqujie.jpg

The build plan includes the following key features:

-Plenty of storage

-Queen-sized bed platform

-300 watt solar system

-Bike storage on the back of the bus (think roof rack mounted vertically)

-On board fresh and gray water tanks

-Hardwood floors

We are looking forward to tearing the bus down and getting our hands dirty with the build. If you want to follow along step by step, here are a few ways:

-Follow us on Instagram.

-Follow us on Skoolie.

-Stay tuned for videos posted to our YouTube page.

Thanks for reading and as always comments, suggestions, and questions are always welcome!


(Zach Elseman Photography and Marketing) @okienomads TravelOK adventure blog bus build explore nature photography road trip skoolie tiny house travel Sun, 08 Jan 2017 01:06:29 GMT
Goals for a New Year: 2017 The year 2016 brought about a lot of change in my life and a lot of new experiences.

In 2016:

  • I ran two half marathons; The Red Fern Half Marathon/13.1 miles in 1:54:59 and the Pumpkin Holler Hundred 25k/16.6 miles in 2:29:15. I have never considered myself a runner by any stretch of the imagination but this is a goal that I trained hard for in 2016 and I far exceeded my own expectations in both races and the training leading up to the races. I am now a runner and try to incorporate it into my weekly routine.
  • I spent more time outdoors in 2016 doing the activities that I really enjoy than I have in any year previous or all previous years combined. I estimate that I spent more than 150 days outside doing some form of physical activity in 2016. Activities range from walking, running, hiking, backpacking, kayaking, biking, yard work, etc. I very much enjoyed being a weekend warrior this year and plan to have as many outdoor days in 2017 if not more.
  • I lost 20-25 pounds and adopted a much healthier lifestyle and diet. I rarely drink pop, have completely kicked energy drinks, and I drink more water than I ever thought possible. I feel better and perform better at most everything I do.

I ripped off a goal-setting style for 2017 from the Mountain Meister podcast. They setup their goals on a 3 step system; the first is a goal that you can accomplish with little work and should be fairly simple to accomplish, the second is a 50/50 goal that you should be able to do in a perfect world, but you will still need to prepare and train and there is a chance you could still fail, and the third is the BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal). The BHAG is something that would require stars to align for you to accomplish it in addition to tons of practice and preparation. My goals are below:

  1. Read 10 books, cover to cover, in a year.
  2. Finish the 100 mile, Land Run, gravel bicycle race.
  3. Compete in an ultra-marathon.

What are your goals? I would love to hear about them in the comments, on Facebook, on Instagram or in an email

Have a great 2017!

(Zach Elseman Photography and Marketing) @okienomads New Years Resolutions blog explore goal-setting mountain meister nature travel Fri, 06 Jan 2017 21:23:04 GMT
Sometimes You Fail-Tactics to Overcome Project Failure and Rebound Quickly fail.

“Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” - Winston Churchill

One thing is nearly a guarantee in life, you WILL fail! It is nearly a certainty in this life we live. Sometimes projects don't come to fruition quite like you thought or you don't perform as well in a particular situation as you expected yourself to. In this blog post I am going to share an example of a failed project in my personal life and a few tips on how to rebound from a failure or setback.

At the beginning of 2016 I, like many others, chose to take on a project that was outside of my comfort zone that would push me to get better. I decided to attempt to visit all of the State Parks in the state of Oklahoma in a calendar year. I intended to use this project to accomplish several things: to visit parts of the state that I grew up in, to travel more than I did in 2015, and to have more days outside than I did in 2015. 

I started in January and visited a park simply because I had just purchased a new bike and wanted to put it to work on a decent trail. That started a series of visits to parks including some extremely local like Cherokee Landing and Sequoyah State Park and some that I had never visited like Osage Hills and Lake Murray State Park. Below are a few images from several of those trips throughout the year.



Those images show some of the best of the parks that I visited. The trips were not failures by themselves, but the project as a whole was a failure. I visited a measly 40% of Oklahoma state parks by November. FORTY PERCENT! I find it really healthy to figure out why a particular project failed. The biggest contributing factor to my failure was the number of other projects that I took on during 2016. During the same year I made/will make major repairs to my home and one of my vehicles, purchased a school bus and began converting it into a camper, and made two separate week-long trips to Colorado. All the while, maintaining a full time job. It has been one of the busiest and most fulfilling years of my life. 

Here is how I have recovered and bounced back from failure on a project:

  1. Reflect- Like I said above, I don't truly get over a failure or hang-up until I reflect on why a project did not go as planned. In my life, this is usually through lists and notes taken along the way and trying to look at the project objectively. This process helps to find small "wins" that might have still surfaced out of the failure. In the case of my project, I accomplished one of the main goals that I had set and traveled outside more than I did in 2015. 
  2. Socialize- Get out and interact with other people and don't fixate on your failure. In fact, share your failure with your peers and friends. By sharing your failure you are giving way to some potentially real human interaction and getting it out of your head and into the world. 
  3. Start a New Project- Dump your self into something new! One of the main reasons that I fizzled out on this project was due to some new opportunities like getting the chance to build out a school bus into a tiny home on wheels! (Stay tuned for that blog post in January of 2017)

Whatever you do, don't sit around and fixate on your failures. Get out and start something new. It doesn't have to be a resolution or a year-long project, but invest your time and effort into something that challenges you and helps you grow. Better yet, invest your time in helping others in need.

Do you have any similar stories of failure and bounce back? Please share them in the comments below or e-mail me at I am always looking for contributors to the blog or guest posts to my IG feed. As always, you can follow me on Instagram @okienomads

(Zach Elseman Photography and Marketing) 42 in 52 @okienomads Oklahoma Oklahoma State Parks Overcome Failure Project Failure Tour Tahlequah TravelOK adventure biking blog boating explore fishing hiking nature photography travel Sat, 24 Dec 2016 02:26:22 GMT
42 in 52: Lake Murray State Park Park Office: 13528 Scenic Hwy 77
Cabin/Lodge Check-in: 3323 Lodge Rd

ArdmoreOK 73401 

This blog post was supposed to go live during the summer. Because I failed at my State Parks project, I got disappointed and didn't post it. There will be a blog post on that failure soon. Until then, here is what you should have seen in the summer time.

I am a planner. I always have been. I like having an idea of where I am going to be at certain times, especially on road trips. So before I leave out on one of my adventures, I make a rough schedule and list of things to see. On occasion, the plan is flawless. Everything is open, the weather is perfect, and all of the gear works. Sometimes the plan fails. Circumstances outside of your control, weather, or general acts of God keep you from doing the thing that you planned on doing. This is a trip that falls into that category for me. Here was the plan:

Friday- Travel to Dripping Springs/Okmulgee to camp.

Saturday- Travel to Turner Falls and camp that night.

Sunday- Drive back through Thunderbird in Norman and have lunch on the way home. 

One day of that agenda completely fell apart, but I will get to that.

Day 1: Dripping Springs/Okmulgee State Park. If you haven't seen my blog post and gallery from this park, you should. 

Dripping Springs/Okmulgee Blog Post

Dripping Springs/Okmulgee Gallery

Day 1 went as planned. We camped in the park in sweltering heat and got on the road at a decent time on Saturday morning. 

Day 2: Saturday began like many others have with a healthy breakfast, a bike ride, and a loaded down car pointed toward the next adventure. The next adventure was supposed to be Turner Falls State Park. I have visited this park before as a young adult on a family spring break trip. You can see the images from that trip here! We turned off of I-35 onto State HWY-77 toward Davis and as we approached the park around 10:30AM, we saw something strange...a line.

We have been to several state parks over the last few months and nearly all of them have been weekend trips. Never before have I seen a line JUST TO GET IN to an Oklahoma State Park. There were over 100 cars in line on the highway just to turn into the park. The park is massive, there are numerous parking lots and campgrounds scattered across at least 100 acres of land and yet we managed to make it two cars from the entrance before the Sheriff closed the gate due to being at capacity. We pulled over at the overlook and devised a NEW plan. We would travel to Ardmore, OK and visit Lake Murray State Park instead and continue back to Turner Falls on a different trip. This turned out to be a great decision. 

Lake Murray was fantastic! I am amazed that I have lived in this state most of my life and have never seen it. Lake Murray is the oldest (1933) and largest (12,500 acres) state park in Oklahoma. The park offers nearly every type of campsite, room, lodge, or bunkhouse that you could need at a park and all appeared to be in excellent shape and very clean while we were there. We stayed in campsite just opposite of one of the marinas.

There was a beautiful sand swimming beach at one of the public access areas that although it was extremely busy, it was a great break from the heat. 

After a long swim, we road our bikes back to camp, took showers and made dinner. After dinner we went for a walk and enjoyed a beautiful sunset over the marina. I can only imagine the fun one could have on this lake with a power boat full of friends or a party barge loaded down for the weekend. For more information on renting boats or dock space at the marina, visit them here.

The sleeping was warm. However, it was the middle of summer, 20 miles north of Texas. We attempted to rig up a battery powered fan in the backpacking tent to no avail. This trip sparked our interest in a mobile camping vehicle of some sort (spoiler alert: we buy a school bus). I can't say enough about Lake Murray State Park. It was gorgeous, well managed, and simply the nicest state park I have ever visited in Oklahoma.

As always, you can see all of the images from this trip here!

Also, to keep up to date with where I am and what I am doing, follow me on Instagram @okienomads!

(Zach Elseman Photography and Marketing) 42 in 52 @okienomads Ardmore, OK Lake Murray Lake Murray State Park TravelOK Tucker Tower Tulsa Camping Tulsa, OK adventure biking blog boating explore fishing hiking mountain biking nature photography travel Fri, 16 Dec 2016 03:25:06 GMT
42 in 52: Okmulgee & Dripping Springs Lake State Park

16830 Dripping Springs Rd
OkmulgeeOK 74447 

Are you ever sitting at home on a Thursday or Friday thinking to yourself, "I'd really like to go see something new, but I really don't want to drive all day to get there"? The solution to your conundrum lies just south of Tulsa just off of HWY 75 at Okmulgee and Dripping Springs State Park. The lakes are known for their recreation and prowess as "Oklahoma's First Trophy Bass" Lake but the campgrounds and scenery shouldn't be ignored.

The campgrounds are operated by the City of Okmulgee and offer 47 semi-modern RV sites and 103 primitive campsites. The primitive campsites still offer water and restrooms. We found a spot on Dripping Springs Lake and we were 1 of 2 spots that were occupied on a weekend in the middle of the summer. This is rare and we were very fortunate. We were not fortunate with the weather (which might be why no one was out camping). It was easily 88 degrees once we settled in a campsite well after dark. A midnight swim was necessary to cool down and make the tent bearable for the rest of the night. 

We awoke to a beautiful view over the water and the sound of bass boats firing up in the nearby marina. The wind coming off the water was quite pleasant after the stagnant night of still air. 

Breakfast called for yogurt and fruit that managed to last in the cooler all weekend. Turns out, one large tub of yogurt is exactly the amount that two people need to mix with fruit for a weekend away. 

Once we got packed up, in typical "old person" style, we got our bikes ready and took a leisurely ride around the campground to pay our fees for the night. The camp host had a sweet setup with a legitimate ICE machine in the front yard. She, or her husband, had picked up one of our citronella candles from the night before. We asked her about it and she responded with "Help yourself" and pointed to the rear of her golf cart. We came out ahead in the citronella candle department that day.

We rode around the rest of the campground and watched as the "campers" in the RV section stirred from their air conditioned castles on wheels then headed back to the car to prepare for the next leg of the trip. On the way out of the park we found the infamous spillway that is often associated with the park. 

It normally looks like this:

Photo courtesy of

On a dry day in the middle of the summer, it looks like this:

It was a little bit of a let-down as you could imagine, but the park itself was a great surprise considering it's proximity to Tulsa. We got to climb all over the spillway then proceed back to the car for the next leg of this adventure. I would highly recommend this park to anyone looking for a weekend camping getaway or some time on the water either fishing or boating. For more information about the park, visit 

The next park in this series is Lake Murray State Park. Lake Murray is located near the Texas border in Southeast Oklahoma. Be on the lookout for my next blog post!

As always, you can see all of the images from this trip here!

Also, to keep up to date with where I am and what I am doing, follow me on Instagram @elsemanzach!

(Zach Elseman Photography and Marketing) 42 in 52 @elsemanzach Dripping Springs Lake Okmulgee Okmulgee, OK TravelOK Tulsa Camping Tulsa, OK adventure biking blog boating explore fishing hiking mountain biking nature photography spillway travel waterfall Wed, 31 Aug 2016 02:31:15 GMT
42 in 52: Sequoyah State Park  

Levee near Sequoyah State Park. 17131 Park 10
HulbertOK 74441 

One of Northeast Oklahoma's best kept secrets is hidden right outside of Wagoner, OK on HWY 51 at Sequoyah State Park. This state park boasts access to over 19,000 acres of water and 225 miles of shoreline which makes it a prime location for boaters and campers alike.

The park offers 5 campgrounds, named after each of the 5 civilized Native American tribes: Seminole, Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Cherokee. We stayed in the Choctaw Campground just down the hill from the RV sites. This area was as remote as you could get in the park on a busy Summer weekend. 

Sequoyah State Park Map

The park has numerous ADA compliant walking trails, hiking trails, and biking trails available and all were in good shape and maintained while we were there. The Whispering Springs Mountain Bike Trail has quickly become one of my favorite go-to trails around the Tahlequah area. The trail has several loops all totaling up to 14 miles. There are sections for every level of biking experience.

The park also offers an 18-hole, par-70 golf course that is fairly challenging and normally shows little traffic. The course is long and hilly and sections of the course border the lake. Be aware that if high water is present, part of the course could be under water. 

Our campsite was clean and well kept. We did however, have to pay an extra $2 for a site with a concrete table instead of a wooden table. This frustrated me, but there were very few sites available since we came in on a Saturday. We spent most of the evening exploring around the campground and spent a considerable amount of time at the levee that sits in a cove around the Choctaw campground. The levee gave way to beautiful views of the sunset and of the forest surrounding Lake Fort Gibson.

Levee at sunset near Choctaw Campground. We settled down that evening after a delicious meal and enjoyed a cup of wine and watching the fire-flies. Being next to the RV section normally means a much louder environment than most campgrounds with generators and engines running, not to mention the yappy dogs and small children. In this case, our tent site was quiet and almost scenic. Be sure to be on the look-out for my list of Top-10 Most Annoying People at State Parks in Oklahoma. 

Lake Fort Gibson is a great lake for boating and fishing. The water is less-clear than many lakes around the area, but the number of ramps and marinas makes Fort Gibson a great alternative to the busier and larger lakes in NE Oklahoma.

Lake Fort Gibson Map


Campfire at Choctaw Campground. We woke up with the sun to great weather. We made quick work of some breakfast burritos/tacos and loaded up the car to head home for the weekend. Sequoyah State Park was a pleasant surprise for being as close to Tahlequah as it is. This state park is a great option for a family trying to get out and have most of the comforts of home in addition to a beautiful lake. 

I want to hear from the readers of my blog...What State Park do you want me to visit next? What have you liked about the posts so far? I love to hear feedback and I hope my dedicated readers (you know who you are) really enjoy my travels and adventures.

As always, you can see all of the images from this trip here!

Also, to keep up to date with where I am and what I am doing, follow me on Instagram @elsemanzach!

(Zach Elseman Photography and Marketing) 42 in 52 @elsemanzach Hulbert, OK Lake Fort Gibson Tahlequah, OK Tour Tahlequah TravelOK adventure biking blog boating explore fishing hiking mountain biking nature photography travel Sat, 06 Aug 2016 02:19:44 GMT
42 in 52: Tenkiller State Park Sunset, Tenkiller State Park. If you haven't had a chance to check out Part 1 of my Cherokee County State Park Tour, take a look here: Cherokee Landing State Park. Cherokee Landing is a small State Park, but has a lot to offer. Once you check out Cherokee Landing, head South on HWY 82/100 toward Tenkiller State Park near Vian, OK.

Tenkiller State Park is located on the South end of Lake Tenkiller, near the dam. The park is near the designated SCUBA area, trout stream on the Lower Illinois River, and many other recreational areas on the lake.  Entrance, Tenkiller State Park When entering the park, you will notice the Entrance Sign claiming "Heaven in the Hills". This is an accurate description of what you will likely experience at Tenkiller State Park. The park offers cabins, RV sites with hookups, tent sites with electricity, and primitive tent sites all nested on a set of rolling hills over looking the beautiful valley containing the lake. Like most State Parks in this area, Tenkiller has been victim to much storm and flooding destruction over the past year. Several excellent and gorgeous campgrounds are closed simply due to the large amount of work let to do to clean them up. Piles of drift wood still abound in the remote sections of the park.

Nikki, the camping dog, liked our campsite (despite what that face might suggest). We selected a tent site in the campsite in the northernmost campground that was open in the park, Hickory Flats. This campground was mostly full, but the sites were far enough away that we hardly noticed our neighbors. We threw some vegetables and chicken into a couple of aluminum foil packets and fired up the camp stove. While we waited on dinner, the views of Lake Tenkiller did not disappoint.

Sunset, Lake Tenkiller. After dinner, we were greeted by a Park Ranger collecting camping fees. He was a colorful fellow to say the least. He educated us on several cool facts about the park and Oklahoma Parks in general. He reassured us that we would be safe in our campground because he just got a new taser. I felt comfortable in his abilities. We slept comfortably and quietly and were awoken to a light fog covering the water and the sounds of boats speeding by in the distance.

Breakfast in camp. We enjoyed a warm breakfast of egg, avocado, and bacon breakfast tacos with a tasty cup of french press coffee. It was delicious and much needed as we were going to burn some calories later in the day. We explored around the Shady Grove Campground, currently closed, and found several really cool campsites for a return trip to Tenkiller. We packed up and drove a couple of miles down the road to the Trout Stream below the dam.

Lower Illinois River Trout Stream Due to the large amount of rain that has hit this area lately, water had just been released the night before we arrived at the stream. Normally, the water here is extremely clear, cold, and moving quite fast. This area is great for trout fishing and very relaxing early in the morning, before most have arrived. Check fishing regulations and handling guidelines for trout before fishing this area.

If camping isn't your thing, but you still want to see this beautiful area of Northeast Oklahoma check out Fin & Feather Resort. My family has been staying at the 'Fin for what seems like the greater half of a century and have enjoyed going back every summer. The resort offers cabins in all sizes with the ability to facilitate large families or groups for the day or for a week. The complex offers a pool, tennis court, arcade, a couple of eateries, a fishing pond, and quick access to the lake and river. I highly recommend Fin & Feather, but book your room early, we reserve our spots the morning that the office begins taking reservations each season. 

If you are interested in exploring this section of Northeast Oklahoma and Lake Tenkiller, then the state park is a great spot to base camp from. There are far too many activities in the area to list. On the way to our next destination, Sequoyah State Park, we might have even found some cliffs to deep-water free-solo climb and potentially "fall" off of, feel free to e-mail me for details.

As always, thank you for reading my posts and for checking me out on Instagram @elsemanzach. Feel free to comment below and I am always game for suggestions of new places to explorer.

(Zach Elseman Photography and Marketing) 42 in 52 @elsemanzach Lake Tenkiller Tahlequah Tour Tahlequah TravelOK adventure blog explore fishing hiking nature photography travel trout fishing Sun, 05 Jun 2016 15:31:39 GMT
42 in 52: Cherokee Landing State Park

28610 Park 20, Park Hill, OK 74451

Directions to Cherokee Landing SP:

Follow OK-51 E and OK-351 to US-62 E/East Shawnee Bypass in Muskogee. Take the US-62 exit from OK-351. Follow OK-51 E and OK-351 to US-62 E/East Shawnee Bypass in Muskogee. Take the US-62 exit from OK-351. Follow US-62 to Park Hill, OK and turn South onto OK-82. Turn left across from Greenleaf Nursery to enter the park.

Cherokee Landing is an interesting state park that I have spent considerable time enjoying as a a resident of nearby Tahlequah, OK. Cherokee Landing is one of the smallest state parks in Oklahoma comparable in size to Grand Lake-Snowdale near Salina, OK. The park is located at the confluence of the Upper Illinois River and Caney Creek into Tenkiller Ferry Lake. The state park offers tent camping, RV sites, and large group pavilions for events such as family reunions or company picnics. The park rests at the end of a peninsula which provides a 270 degree view of Lake Tenkiller and the surrounding bluffs and shoreline. 

Beginning of a lunar eclipse as seen from Cherokee Landing State Park.

Cherokee Landing, like most state parks in Oklahoma was greatly effected by the flooding that took place in the area this winter. Piles of river rock and drift wood still abound in areas of the park as a result of the flooding. When I visited toward the end of May, a section of the tent camping was blocked off and still needed some work to be usable by guests. According to the TravelOK website, all park sites are open and operational as of May 26, 2016.

The park has several playgrounds, a softball field, disk golf course, and several boat docks for the enjoyment of visitors. Fishing on the lake is normally very productive with many species present in the lake. Several swimming beaches offer safe, shallow swimming in the clear water of Tenkiller. 

Cherokee Landing is hands down the most accessible state park on Lake Tenkiller for boating. The boat ramp is mild and wide enough for 2 boats and parking is excellent with plenty of spots. The north end of the lake offers many secluded coves as well as several marinas and restaurants right on the water such as Barnacle Bills, Pine Cove Marina, and Cookson Bend Marina.

Cherokee Landing is a great location for a family or large group to use as a base camp for numerous adventures in and around Tahlequah, OK. If you are looking for wild nature, Cherokee Landing is not for you. However, what it lacks in seclusion it makes up for in amenities, convenience, and natural beauty. Thank you for stopping by and reading my blog post. Be on the lookout for posts on Tenkiller State Park and Sequoyah State Park coming very soon!

Milky Way above, Cherokee Landing below.

As always, to keep up with my adventures in real-time and not have to wait on blog posts, follow me on Instagram @okienomads.

(Zach Elseman Photography and Marketing) @okienomads Cherokee Cherokee Landing County OK Tahlequah Tenkiller Lake adventure blog explore nature photography travel Mon, 30 May 2016 17:00:00 GMT
Bathtub Rocks-Tahlequah, OK 35.997521, -94.897183

One of my favorite aspects of living in Northeast Oklahoma and Tahlequah in general are the outdoor activities that are still generally well-kept secrets in the area. These are well-kept locations mostly due to the lack of an active population, lack of awareness, and lack of access to these areas. These factors, in addition to conservation efforts by The Nature Conservancy, the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission, and Oklahoma Department of Wildlife have helped to preserve some of these areas from over use, vandalism, and littering. 

The bathtub rocks are just a few miles northeast of Tahlequah and border the Nickle Preserve, run by the Nature Conservancy. The bathtub rocks are technically a part of D4569 RD (Oakdale DR) and a car with decent clearance is suggested if you plan on continuing down the road to either HWY 62 or HWY 10(my Honda Accord made it across with minimal undercarriage scraping). If continuing to HWY 10, you will pass by the previous location of historic Combs Bridge. The remains of the old bridge can still be seen on either shore of the Illinois River.

Video courtesy of Century 21 Wright Real Estate

The bathtub rocks have been carved by a creek flowing over them for centuries and the result is smooth slides and tubs that make for perfect swimming and summer lounging. The local crowd can fill up the tubs on the weekends so plan to arrive early and enjoy the sounds of the water and the nature of nearby Nickle Preserve in solitude. My travel companion and I spent a little over an hour at "The Tubs" and saw nearly 15 people who stayed an average of roughly 10 minutes each. 


When flowing, the creek meanders to the Illinois River and provides several deep pools deeper into the woods. I advise bringing along some water shoes to enjoy the creek further into the woods. Large boulders and over-hanging trees make for a scenic walk along/through the water. 

Although the tubs do not provide a full day of activity, it is an excellent stop on a series of dirt roads that meander through the foothills of the Ozarks that surround the Illinois River. Sites such as the Nickel Preserve and Goat's Bluff are scattered along the riverside and provide several opportunities for stopping and enjoying the beauty of the Illinois River Basin whether on foot, by bike, or in a vehicle. 

The bathtub rocks area is one of my favorites in Tahlequah for it's pure, natural beauty and the evidence left behind of thousands of years of weathering from the flowing water.

"None of Nature's landscapes are ugly so long as they are wild." -John Muir

As always, stay up to date with my adventures by following me on Instagram @okienomads.



(Zach Elseman Photography and Marketing) @elsemanzach adventure bathtub rocks blog cherokee county explore nature ok photography tahlequah travel Tue, 10 May 2016 00:19:41 GMT
42 in 52: Natural Falls State Park  

Natural Falls, once called Dripping Springs, is home to one of the most unique and picturesque landscapes in the entire state of Oklahoma. At the heart of Natural Falls State Park is, of course, the 77-foot waterfall.  Natural Falls is one of the two tallest waterfalls in the state, rivaled only by the 77-foot Turner Falls near Davis, OK. Despite the similarities in height and the fact that the two parks are the only pay-parks in the state, the parks surrounding Turner Falls and Natural Falls couldn’t be more different. I will describe my trip to Turner Falls in a later post, so be on the look-out later this summer.

Natural falls is located near Colcord, OK a short 6 miles from West Siloam Springs, OK on HWY 412. The park is easy to access from the highway via a short access road. The entrance to the park is underwhelming, but does boast a decent sized visitor center and gift shop. The visitor center’s primary function is to collect the $5 entrance fee from each car that enters the park. The gate attendant was very polite and helpful during my visit and offered up plenty of information about the most interesting aspects of the park.

Once I made it past the visitor center, I followed the attendant’s directions in order to get to the falls. I arrived at the park at 9AM on a Saturday and was the only person parked in the falls parking lot. I wanted to make it to the base of the falls early to get the best light and to avoid a large crowd. If you plan to visit during the heat of the summer, I would suggest arriving very early to avoid the heat and the droves of park visitors that frequent this spot every weekend during the summer.

As soon as I left the car I knew that Natural Falls State Park would not be what I had expected or hoped that it would be. Before I go any farther in this post I want to make it very clear that the state park does protect the waterfall and nearby foliage from damage and vandalism. I would hope that this is the primary function of this state park. However, the rest of the park seems very poorly laid out and very lack-luster considering that it is one of the few pay parks in the state. I digress.

The trail to the base of the falls meanders down a few hundred steps past several rocky outcroppings and between stretches of maple and oak trees. As I approached the bottom on the valley, blankets of ferns and mosses scatter across the moist bottom of the ravine. As the paved trail approaches the waterfall, rails and signs become abundant to ensure that park visitors are not traipsing on the plant life or swimming in the pools of spring water. The walkway is well maintained and runs under the overhead viewing platform some 80-feet above the forest floor. Benches are scattered along the walkway and provide a great place to sit and take in the falls.

I came to the park after nearly a week straight of water in the early spring, yet the falls were barely trickling and the main falls weren’t running. This left a lot to be desired visually, but the falls still had a magical characteristic to them. There is something soothing about sitting at the base of a waterfall with nothing in your ears but the sound of the water hitting the rocks below.

I spent a good deal of time at the base of the falls taking in the scenery and the quiet. It was a much needed escape from the week previous. Turkish playwright and novelist Mehmet Murat ildan said,“There is a hidden message in every waterfall. It says, if you are flexible, falling will not hurt you!” I found there was truth in that statement at the base of Dripping Springs.

Upon leaving the falls, the walking path turns into a dirt-packed hiking trail that crosses the creek and follows beside a small lake directly below the RV campsites on the bluff a hundred feet above. Remnants of the previous private owners of the park are scattered about the grounds in the form of outdoor light fixtures and the dam and pump at the west end of the lake. The dam and pump were put in place in the 1920’s to ensure that the falls did not run dry. Once the water makes its way over the dam, it slowly flows into the larger Illinois River around 3 miles downstream.

The trail turns rocky and climbs up to the same elevation as the entrance to the falls, but on the opposite side. Benches and signs are spread throughout the trail system that winds approximately 4 miles through the forest and grassland on the outskirts of the park. The hike is gradual and easy for even the most inexperienced hikers. I would suggest good tennis shoes to anyone that plans to walk the trails, but none of the trails are more than a few hundred yards from the main park and camping areas.

Once you reach the plateau above the lake, the trail splits and hikers can choose to go left back to the falls or right to follow the hiking trail further into the woods and grassland. Oddly enough, signs of a Frisbee golf course begin to show up in the middle of the hiking trail at the farthest edges of the park. I forgot to ask the employee at the visitor center about the status of the course, but it seemed to be in the very early stages of construction.

Tracks of all different species of animals litter the trail in the grassland area including deer, coyotes, and raccoons. I am sure other critters roam around this area of the park, but I did not encounter any. This area of the park was my first experience with the neighbors of the park. Unfortunately, Flint Creek Race Track sits just north of the State Park and sounds of the dirt track can be easily heard in the park. Even on a Saturday morning in the spring, the revving of engines severely distracts from the natural beauty that is present in the park.


Once I completed the loop, the trail returns to the overhead walkway above the falls. The bridge is very well constructed and offers decent views of the falls below. By around 11AM, several more visitors had entered the falls area and soon the peaceful solitude was drowned out by the sound of loud children and squeaking strollers. Upon exiting the falls trail, the parking lot was nearly full of cars.


The parks amenities seem very accommodating and ideal for RV/Camper camping. The RV spots are large and neatly interwoven with the surrounding forest. The park offers ADA compliance throughout, 30A/50A hookups, and bathrooms with showers on site. The tent sites leave much to be desired and most seem to be just strewn about any empty space available. Near the restrooms is a playground area that looks to be great if you are bringing along a little one. The park offers other activities such as fishing and volleyball.

Once I wrapped up my morning in the park, I drove a couple of miles down the road to stop by the Flint Creek Scenic River access point. This area is a close swimming and fishing area to the state park. I spent my time at Flint Creek planning my next trip and taking in some sun on the banks of the creek. This area offers very good and safe swimming as well as some of the best small-mouth bass fishing in the state. Any visit to Natural Falls should be accompanied by a visit to Flint Creek.

Natural Falls State Park was an interesting trip to say the least. The falls themselves are unique and impressive and are definitely worth the trip to Northeast Oklahoma. It is unfortunate that the park costs money to enter when so many others are free. I feel that the park could be more geared around the natural beauty of the area and less geared toward trying to add entertainment to nature. I understand this is the nature of State Parks in most instances, but this situation seemed very obvious at Natural Falls.

This state park is only the second of the forty-one state parks that I will visit in 2016. So many of Oklahoma’s state parks are built around beautiful lakes and rivers so keep watching for my next post to include a trip to a more Summer-friendly park. Thank you for reading my post and for visiting my site. If you want to see more images from this trip or others, please take a look at the galleries. As always, stay up to date with my adventures by following me on Instagram and Facebook. Have a blessed day!

To see all of the images from this trip, check them out here!

Also, to follow along nearly live, follow me on Instagram!

(Zach Elseman Photography and Marketing) 41 in 52 @elsemanzach Disk golf Natural Falls State Park TravelOK Where the Red Fern Grows hiking photography travel Fri, 15 Apr 2016 01:30:00 GMT
42 in 52: Greenleaf State Park Recently renovated welcome sign, Greenleaf State Park. It is only natural that the first state park I should visit on my 42 in 52 project is the one that is geographically close and also my personal favorite, Greenleaf State Park. Greenleaf State Park is located between Braggs, OK and Gore, OK on Highway 10A and is roughly 25 miles from Muskogee, OK. Greenleaf State Park is one of the original 7 state parks in the state of Oklahoma and thanks to its natural beauty, well maintained amenities, and proximity to Tulsa it remains one of the most popular parks in the state.

I will likely visit and review this state park again in the peak season of the year during the summer to truly show the spectacular offerings of this location. This off-season trip is meant to show the winter opportunities for recreation at Greenleaf.


From Tulsa, OK- Follow US-62E/OK-51E/OK-351(BA Expressway). Exit onto US-62E toward Ft. Gibson/Tahlequah. Merge onto US-62E and follow it 2.6 miles. Turn right onto OK-10S toward Braggs, OK/Camp Gruber. Follow OK-10S 15.2 miles, crossing over "Little Greenleaf" lake and the park sign will be on your left.

Image property of Google


Greenleaf State Park was created in the 1930's by the Civilian Conservation Corps(CCC) and the Work Projects Administration (WPA). Both of these organizations were integral in the creation of many of Oklahoma's State Parks, but that history lesson is best saved for another post. One of the many tell-tale signs of a CCC or WPA park is the rock architecture style shown below.

Cabin #12 at Greenleaf State Park


Greenleaf State Park offers many different options for lodging including an 8 person cabin, 4-person cabins (shown above), RV sites with water, electric, and sewer hook ups, and both traditional tent sites as well as tent sites with electric. Reservation costs for RV sites start at $20/night and tent sites cost $12/night. Tent sites are scattered around the park and offer impressive views of the neighboring 930-acre Greenleaf Lake. During the season, campgrounds are closely monitored by park staff and local law enforcement on Holiday and busy weekends. There are multiple septic-toilet sites on opposite ends of the park and well-maintained showers are available at one of the restroom areas.The park is kept clean and well manicured with very little high grass or other hiding places for ticks in the summer time. During the winter, camp sites are plentiful, but for good reason: Oklahoma winters can be very cold and often produce severe weather. Please exercise caution when camping or backpacking in this park between November and March. 

Lake Greenleaf- Lake-side CampsiteLake Greenleaf- Lake-side Campsite in 2014 Notice the Nissan Xterra in the foreground of the above picture. There will be several blog posts in the future documenting my journey to rebuild my Nissan to a new level of capability. In the meantime, I am exploring in my plenty capable 2013 Honda Accord V6 Sedan. Don't let the grocery-getter fool you, you can fit 5 adults and 5 backpacking packs in the trunk...I have witnesses!


My 2 expedition vehicles


Mountain Biking

During the winter months, there is much less to do in and around the park than in the warmer months of the year. However, that is not to say that a person cannot enjoy this beautiful park in the off-season. The park maintains a heated fishing dock that I have never had the opportunity to use, but every fishing story I have heard from the gentlemen leaving the dock has been very positive. A huge draw to the park in the winter is the abundance of cabins that are heated by both modern HVAC and a wood-burning fireplace. Wood is not provided but is available in the park gift shop and in the surrounding woods. The next most used asset of Greenleaf State Park in the winter is the 18-mile hiking trail that meanders around Greenleaf Lake, opposite the campgrounds. A detailed map is available at the Oklahoma Tourism & Recreation website and is available on Google Maps. *A word of warning: Cell phone service is extremely limited on the hiking trail, I advise downloading the Google Maps data to your device and not rely on cell signal for navigation.

"Ankle Express" Hiking Trail Map


The "Ankle Express" hiking trail comes by it's name honestly as it is a rocky, sometimes unpredictable trail that is perfect for warming up for a longer and tougher hike or to bring someone green into the hobby of backpacking. Elevation gain over the entire trail is minimal and moderately demanding. I would suggest hikers be in decent shape and consult a doctor before taking on anything more than a day-hike. I have hiked the "Ankle Express" before and I will fully review the backpacking merits of this trail in the later post on Greenleaf State Park. 

This trip to Greenleaf State Park had one purpose: to push my new Cannondale Trail 7 mountain bike to it's limits on a bonafide trail. I purchased this 2015 model bike on closeout from my local bike shop (LBS), Paceline Cyclery and I have been very impressed with the bike and the service I received from the owner of Paceline. 

Sign-in station for the "Oklahoma Ankle Express" The hiking trail starts in the State Park and offers a sign-in station for hikers and backpackers alike to sign in with their names, car information, and how long they plan to stay in the back-country. The sign-in station also provides the park staff to post notices concerning trail closures, hunting seasons, and pending military operations that might occur on the trail. It is worth noting that Greenleaf State Park is adjacent to the Camp Gruber Military Base. Park staff urges hikers, bikers and backpackers to exercise caution when leaving the trail and to only do so in an emergency as military exercises take place on a regular basis.

Trail 7 in her natural habitat.

The trail winds through the camp ground in a series of gentle single track with some short areas to stretch the bike's speed, but mostly easy riding. I suggest always wearing appropriate safety gear including a helmet. I managed to save my dome on several low hanging branches that I didn't see until it was too late. The trail then approaches the same highway 10A that creates the western border of the state park. Turn left onto the highway and continue across the bridge, the trail will turn to the left once across the bridge. 

Trail 7 resting before crossing the Greenleaf Lake bridge, quickly.

Once back on the trail, the terrain immediately gets more interesting with several dips and a couple of creek crossings before running into a decommissioned military road that is a minefield of asphalt. Directly across from the trail is a small side trail that leads to the Greenleaf spillway. The spillway is rarely flowing unless there has been heavy rains and high water. Lucky for me, torrential rains throughout the month of December yielded decent flow over the spillway.

Greenleaf Spillway after a month of rain.

 Return back to the asphalt road and turn left to get back to the trail. The trail runs un-interrupted for most of the remainder. Some military roads run alongside the trail in certain sections and are useful as landmarks if an emergency occurs and help is needed. Between the asphalt road and the swinging bridge is the most technical section of trail that runs alongside the lake. Take caution if riding a bicycle as many obstacles can jar your bike from the trail and send you plummeting into the lake. 

Moderate trail section on the "Ankle Express".

Cross over the swinging bridge and you will arrive at a T in the trail, turn left and follow the trail along the lake. This section of the trail offers the best mountain bike riding section of this trail and the least dangerous section. Several man-made bridges and downed trees offer excellent obstacles that my new 29-er rolled over without a problem. I did incur some small damage to my new bike that kept me in a limited number of gears, so I turned back and managed to get back to the trail-head without any major problems. I rode a total of around 8 miles round-trip and really enjoyed the trail and getting my bike legs back. The trail is kept in great shape and I only had to move a couple of small downed trees.

All in all, my winter experience at Greenleaf State Park was excellent and this visit only got me more excited for a trip back to this park when the weather warms up. I highly recommend this park to anyone trying to escape for a day hike with beautiful scenery and excellent facilities.


Lake Greenleaf To see all of the images from this trip, please visit the gallery here

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All comments are welcome and thanks for reading along!





(Zach Elseman Photography and Marketing) 42 in 52 @elsemanzach Greenleaf State Park Oklahoma Parks backpacking hiking mountain biking photography travel winter Thu, 28 Jan 2016 00:00:00 GMT
42 in 52: Adventures in Oklahoma's State Parks Having lived in Oklahoma for the majority of my 25 years on this planet, I have been fortunate enough to see a lot of God's creation in the Sooner State. However, in 2016, I am going to visit each of the 42 State Parks in Oklahoma. During the week I spend my time as a Finance Manager in Tahlequah, OK. Tahlequah (di-li-gwa in Cherokee) is the capital of the Cherokee Nation and is nestled at the foothills of the Ozark Mountains and is around 60 miles southeast of Tulsa, OK. When I am not working, I am exploring as much of nature as I can via car, mountain bike, kayak, or my feet.

The state of Oklahoma has 42 state parks scattered across the entire state. The map below shows a general breakdown of the locations of the most parks:

Photo property of

Thanks for visiting my blog and come back soon to check out each of the state parks that I visit in 2016.

P.S. Follow me on Instagram @elsemanzach

(Zach Elseman Photography and Marketing) 42 in 52 52 week challenge @elsemanzach Oklahoma State Parks kayaking mountain biking photography travel Sun, 24 Jan 2016 23:12:28 GMT