As a rule, good camp sites are not found along the beaten road. Of course, water is the prime essential, and in a country where water is scarce, you will stop at an old Camping ground; otherwise it is best to avoid such a place: for one thing, you don't want to be bothered with interlopers, and for another, the previous occupants will have stripped the neighborhood of good kindling and downwood, and may have left a legacy of rubbish and fleas.
A pleasant stopping-place is seldom far to seek in a hilly country that is well wooded. There are exceptions, as in the Ozarks, where the rock is a porous limestone, the drainage mostly is underground, and there are no brooks, nor are springs as common as one would expect, though when you do strike one it is a big one. Here a traveler must depend for water chiefly on the creeks and rivers, which may be miles apart.
In a level region, whether it be open plain or timbered bottom land, good water and a high and dry site may be hard to find.
In any case, when men are journeying through a wild country that is strange to them, they should begin at least two hours before sunset to keep a bright lookout for a good place on which to spend the night, and when such is found they had better accept it at once than run the risk of " murdering a night ' farther on, wherever the powers of darkness may force them to stop.
The essentials of a good camp fite are these:
1. Pure water.
2. Wood that burns well. In cold weather there should be either an abundance of sound downwood or some standing hardwood trees that are not too big for easy felling.
3. An open spot, level enough for the tent and campfire, but elevated above its surroundings so as to have good natural drainage. It must be well above any chance overflow from the sudden rise of a neighboring stream. Observe the previous flood marks.
5. Straight poles for the tent, or trees convenient for attaching the ridge rope.
6. Security against the spread of fire.
7. Exposure to direct sunlight during a part of the day, especially during the early morning hours.
8. In summer, exposure to whatever breezes may blow; in cold weather, protection against the prevailing wind.
Water, wood, and good drainage may be all you need for a " one-night stand," but the other points, too, should be considered when selecting the site for a fixed camp.
Be particularly careful about the* purity of your water supply. You come, let us say, to a mountain brook, that issues from thick forest. It ripples over clean rocks, it bubbles with air, it is clear as crystal, and cool to your thirsty throat. " Surely that is good water." But do you know where it comes from? Every mountain cabin is built close to a spring-branch. Somewhere up that brook there may be a clearing; in that clearing, a house; in that house, a case of dysentery or typhoid fever. I have known several cases of infection from just such a source. It is not true that running wate^ purifies itself.
When one must use well-water let him note the surrounding drainage. If the well is near a stable or outhouse, or if dishwater is thrown near it, let it alone. A well in sandy soil is more or less filtered by nature, but rocky or clayey earth may conduct disease germs a considerable distance underground. Never drink from the well of an abandoned farm: there is no telling what may have fallen into it.
A spring issuing from the living rock is worthy of confidence. Even if it be but a trickle you can scoop out a basin to receive it that soon will clear itself.
Sometimes a subaqueous spring may be found near the margin of a lake or river by paddling close inshore and trailing your hand in the water. When a cold spot is noted, go ashore and dig a few feet back from the water's edge. I have found such spring exits in the Mississippi some distance from the bank, and, by weighting a canteen, vying a string to it and another to the stopper, have brought up cool water from the river bed.
Disease germs are of animal, not vegetable, origin. Still waters are not necessarily unwholesome, even though there be rotting vegetation in them: the water of cedar and cypress swamps is good to drink, wherever there is a deep pool of it, unless polluted from some outside source. Lake water is safe if no settlements are on its border; but even so large a body as Lake Champlain has been condemned by state boards of health because of the sewage that runs into it.
When a stream is in flood it is likely to be contaminated by decayed animal matter.
When traveling in an alkali country, carry some vinegar or limes or lemons, or (better) a glass-stoppered bottle of hydrochloric acid. One teaspoonful of hydrochloric (muriatic) neutralizes about a gallon of water, and if there should be a little excess it will do no harm, but rather assist digestion. In default of acid, you may add a little Jamaica ginger and sugar to the water, making a weak ginger tea.
I used to clarify Mississippi water by stirring cornmeal in it and letting it settle, or by stirring a lump of alum in it until the mud began to precipitate, and then decanting the clear water. Lacking these, one can take a good handful of grass, tie it roughly in the form of a cone six or eight inches high, invert it, pour water slowly into the grass, and a runnel of comparatively clear water will trickle down through the small end.
The following simple method of purifying muddy-water is recommended by H. G. Kegley:
" Dip up what is needed, place it in such vessels as are available, and treat it to condensed milk, in the proportion of two tablespoonfuls of milk to five gallons of water. The sediment settles in a very short time. Next morning, if you desire to carry some of the water with you through the day, pour it from the settlings, and then boil the water and skim it. In that way the cream and any possibility of sourness will be removed. Water thus clarified remains palatable so long as it lasts".