Christmas vacation | A magical tipi in the woods

New shoes, or a road trip? The best iPad available, or a weekend spent exploring a new state park? For me, the choice is easy. Memories are the best and longest-lasting gifts on the market. Those experiences stay with you forever and feel brand new every time you stumble upon a memory that causes you to stop, smile and reminisce. 

That's what I was looking to give my partner, Damon, when I went to Airbnb in search of a cozy weekend getaway to be his Christmas gift. I was hoping to find an apartment somewhere close to a state park or a cute little small town. How I ended up finding a twinkling tipi in the woods--I will never know.

The tipi listing was immediately too awesome to resist. It was situated on private property with plenty of space and freedom, our two dogs were not only allowed to come but could be off-leash the entire time, and there was a heated bathhouse just a short walk away. Since we would be staying the first weekend of December, where the high was estimated to be in the low 40s, that heated bathhouse was the deal breaker. I booked the tipi for a full weekend and didn't look back!

The tipi is located outside of Park Hills, Missouri so Damon and I had a bit of a drive from Columbia, but my goodness was it worth it. We pulled past the private property sign well after a thick darkness had settled in for the night, which made the first glimpse of our weekend home absolutely breathtaking. Magical is the only word that seems to do that moment justice. The air was crisp and still, our dogs were happily running through the woods, feverishly exploring new smells, and splayed out in front of us was a giant tipi situated on a beautiful deck surrounded by woods.

I could have turned around right then and still I would have had so much fun.

Once we bundled up with a few more layers and got our bags situated in the tipi, we set out to cook dinner. The deck had a grill and all the utensils needed to cook a delicious meal and, as part of Damon's gift, I had seasoned steaks and veggies ready to go. I popped open the complimentary bottle of wine (Yes! The tipi comes with wine!) while Damon fired up the grill. And that's when the coyotes made themselves known.

This video gives me chills every time I watch it. Coyotes calling in the night is one of my favorite sounds. Having grown up with farmland, that sound feels like home. Both of our dogs are used to hearing the echoing yips and yowls of coyotes, but its still pretty fun to watch them yowl back. No coyote would get anywhere near our little setup without going through Seamus and Ellie first!

Okay, so the second video from a couple weeks before the tipi trip was even a thing...but how cool are those calls!? This was our soundtrack falling asleep every night and it was absolutely amazing.

Speaking of sleep, let's talk sleeping arrangements for a minute. Going into this adventure, I had a healthy amount of worry about actually sleeping out there. Missouri in December is definitely no California. Lows in the 30s each night had me shivering just thinking about it. But the Airbnb owners, Keith and Benka, thought of everything! The bed had a heated mattress pad and a heated blanket. We actually woke up sweating the first night and had to turn them down! If you choose to go in the winter like we did (which we would highly recommend!), just be prepared to bundle up the entire time you're in the tipi unless you're under the toasty covers. And use the trusty camping tip that Damon taught me--sleep with your clothes for the next day under the covers with you. They were fresh-from-the-dryer warm putting them on in the morning!

Saturday brought the first chance to see the tipi in the daylight and explore the grounds. There are trails on the property, including a long section of abandoned railroad that's set up for a picnic!

Tell me that doesn't look like something straight out of American Horror Story.

We found these all over while we were walking around...

Have you ever seen this before!? I hadn't. They're called Frost Flowers. From what I've read, conditions have to be just right for frost flowers to form. The weather must be below freezing, but it's vital that the ground is above freezing. Kuriositas does a great job of explaining why it happens: 

"As the temperature gets to freezing or below the sap in the stem of the plants will expand.  As it does so the outer layer of the stem comes under increasing pressure and microscopically thin cracks, known as linear fissures, begin to form.  These will finally give way under the pressure of the sap and split open. Water is continuously being drawn up the plant’s stem while the ground remains unfrozen. It travels up the plants external structural axis (stem!) and reaches the split or splits.  As it does so, it oozes slowly out and it freezes.  Yet more water is coming behind it. This new water reaches the cracks and it too freezes, pushing the previous slither of ice away from the stem.  In this manner the amazing ‘petals’ that you see in these pictures are formed."

How cool is that!? 

Other than hanging out at the tipi, we had all of these grand plans for the weekend...the area is glittered with state parks that we really did have the best intentions of checking out. Johnson Shut-Ins, Elephant Rocks, and Taum Sauk Mountain are all right there (and all worth going to if you're in the area!). The Missouri Mines State Historic Site is also many fun places to explore! We knew we couldn't make it to them all but in the end we only ended up visiting one place – Old Village Mercantile. Candy heaven!

Even though there were so many other intriguing places around, we ended up deciding to stick close to the campground for a super relaxing, chill night. So we broke out the whiskey and hotdogs and spent the night huddled around a campfire.

P.S. If you've never listened to The Wailin' Jennys, you definitely should! It is the perfect Pandora station for a relaxing night in the woods.

The tipi even came equipped with all the fixing for smores! It was all packaged in this perfect little tin...which I accidentally stole when we left. Eep! It was an accident, I swear. I never thought I'd use our Sorry card, but it was the perfect card for the situation as I embarrassingly packed up the stolen tin and mailed it back to Keith and Benka.

Excluding the accidental thievery, Damon and I (and our two incredibly tired but happy dogs) had an outstanding weekend. It was the perfect way to celebrate Christmas, and it will be a gift that we will remember and cherish forever.

:: Haley ::

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