The best government program you’ve never heard of

Want to reconnect with nature this summer?  See part of the country you haven’t been to before?  Just get away from it all?  The National Recreation Reservation Service at has you covered.  They offer campsite, cabin, and lookout reservations/rentals online at National Parks and National Forests across the land.

About a month back I stumbled upon the site while looking for camping options in Idaho and western Montana.  You tell the site what dates you’re travelling and where you’d like to go.  It comes back with a list of places available to rent.  For the trip I was planning, we ended up finding the Jerry Walker Cabin in the Nez Perce National Forest.

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As you can tell from the map, the Jerry Walker Cabin is truly in the middle of the wilderness (there are 400 permanent residents in the 40 square miles around it).  According to a brief history provided in the cabin, the structure was built around 1930 as a summer home by Robert “Shorty” McMillan.  Its current namesake, Jerry Walker, entered the picture when he purchased it in 1967.  In 1980 the special use permit that allowed him to use the cabin as a recreational residence expired and Mr. Walker decided to donate the building to the U.S. Forest Service.  Now you can rent it for $20/night at

It doesn’t have water or electricity, but it is outfitted with a wood stove for heat and another for cooking (there’s also an ample supply of firewood chopped by the Forest Service in a shed behind the cabin).  It’s very close to the abandoned mining town of Orogrande and hiking trails to the Orogrande Summit and Buffalo and Gospel Humps.

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Thanks to Colin for taking and sharing the pictures!

We stayed at the cabin as the annual thaw was just getting underway.  While the last 45 minutes of road were still fairly muddy and icy, things were passable (4 wheel drive or snow experience highly recommended).  Hiking required snowshoes and the wood stove for heating was crucial to making the cabin comfortable, but the cabin’s appeal was already apparent in early April.

The scenery is beautiful and the remote location (and lack of cell service) made it very easy to feel away from it all.  During the height of summer, it could only get better.

So as you put together your own summer travel plans, consider a trip off the beaten path at – the federal government’s treasure trove of adventures.  (I’ve got my eye on some of the Northwest’s former elevated fire lookouts, myself).  Happy travels!

Got a Windows Phone? Some of my favorite free apps

One of the numbers they like to tout frequently is the total number of apps available for Windows Phone.  But while the total number has passed 16,000 recently, all that really matters is finding the good ones.  Especially the good ones that are also free.

Thought I’d share some of my favorite freebies; what are yours?

Screenshot of Wordament app

Wordament pits you versus the Internet in a multi-player word game similar to Boggle.  Find as many words as you can in 2 minutes, then see how you stack up versus everyone else who just played that round.  Great for a quick mental break, just try to avoid being sucked in for more rounds than your planned.   And bonus points to the app for how easy it is to get a username and get started.
More info | Download

Screenshot of 4th and Mayor
4th and Mayor

If you use both Foursquare and Windows Phone, 4th and Mayor is the way to go.  Faster than the “official” Foursquare app and with more features.  I’m especially a fan of the Explore and Nearby Specials features.
More info | Download

Screenshot of Groupon app
Screenshot of Groupon appGroupon

Sure you can find the new Groupon deal of the day, but even better is remembering to use the ones you already bought.  You have a fighting chance with the app that brings them with you on your phone.
More info | Download

Screenshot of the Bank of America app
Bank of America

The ubiquitous bank comes to Windows Phone.  Great for checking account balances or finding a branch that’s open, but Washington and Idaho customers can’t use billpay. 
More info | Download

PS – Don’t keep a savings account balance like the one in the screenshot at Bank of America. Find someone who will actually pay you some interest.

Now if only there were an easier way to share apps from the Marketplace than writing a blog post…