Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Heading to Fredericksburg, Texas!

Our next stop for several days would be Fredericksburg, Texas.  On our way to Fredericksburg, we stopped at Inks Lake State Park to do some hiking and geocaching. The park ranger allowed us to park Sol near the entrance station so we could hike Pecan Flats Trail. Yes, the trail was named for the pecan trees growing in the area. I stood on the rocks above Bob while he grabbed one of the caches.
From the top of the rocks I had a great view of the Inks Lake area.
 This trail was rockier than most we have hiked this trip. The trail blazes were painted on the rocks.
 As with any rocky area, there were some interesting formations.
 From the trail overlook we could see Inks Lake and the nearby dam.
After our lunch stop and hike, it was time to travel on to Fredericksburg where we would use our Harvest Host membership to boondock at Messina Hof Winery. There are several Messina Hof Wineries in Texas, this one specializes in port.
We stayed at Messina Hof for two nights. The winery was a good stopping place to visit LBJ's Ranch.
First we walked the area around the living history farm. There were deer everywhere we looked!
On the farm, this ram was resting near the pathway. He was very unconcerned as we approached.
 Near the farm was part of the working ranch which Lyndon Johnson and Lady Bird left to the national park system. This photo of a long horn is deceptive. This guy's shoulder was as high as my shoulder and with his head, he was massive compared to other steers we have seen.
We enjoyed our walk around LBJ's ranch before driving to his ranch house to take the tour.
Just outside the ranch house was the hangar for Air Force One-Half, as LBJ nicknamed this plane.
We toured the house which is over 8500 square feet, before finding the geocache in the barbecue grove.
Then it was time to head back to the winery for one last visit to the tasting room. This is the extra bar that the staff use on the weekends when there are large crowds.
 We had a good time at the winery, but didn't want to out stay our welcome. We decided to move to Gillespie County Fairgrounds where we could boondock for several days and check out our solar panels. We have not boondocked more than two days anywhere since our trip to Smoky Mountains last September and it was still pretty hot, even in the mountains.  This would give us a chance to see how the panels would do under our normal boondocking conditions, but wait, the weather forecast says it is going to be 90 degrees! Oh, well, we are boondocking anyway!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Cedar Breaks Corps of Engineer Park, Georgetown, Texas

As usual, Bob and I didn't travel far on this beautiful day. We went from Jasper, Texas to Georgetown, Texas. We didn't have reservations and were hoping that by arriving on a Thursday we would be able to get a site through the weekend. Well, luck was on our side. When we asked the park attendant if he had a site for us, he said just for the night...then his wife said she thought someone cancelled a reservation 10 minutes ago that would be good for us. YES! A site was available for the entire weekend. We took the site until Monday so we wouldn't be dumping with everyone leaving on Sunday. We easily found our site proceeded to get set up. The site had a bit of a slant to it, but Bob was able to get us level without the front tires coming off the ground.
As with most Corps of Engineer parks, the site was huge! The above picture was taken from our picnic shelter. You can see our shelter in the back left of this photo.

That afternoon we walked around the campground and found that there was a great trail that started near the park entrance. The trail wandered around Georgetown Lake and was 26.9 miles long! No, we won't do the whole trail, but we will walk several sections. So our plan for the next day was to hike part of the trail and find the caches along the way.

The next morning, we prepared for a long hike. We planned to walk at least 3 miles out on the trail and return.
 Once we got to the lake, it was interesting to see the cactus growing near the lake. We were definitely in Texas Hill Country.
A little further down the trail, I saw the first wildflower of this trip. It was nestled in with a prickly pear cactus.
 There were several spots along the trail with a good overlook of the lake.
That afternoon, we found Rentsch Brewery in Georgetown. It was a beer only tasting room with outside seating. We enjoyed the ambiance of the area before heading to Wally World to pick up a few groceries.

The next day we walked another portion of the trail. We started at the park entrance and walked to the dam that created Georgetown Lake. We veered off the trail to do some geocaching.
 Someone had placed caches at the foot of a mesa. At first we thought they were on the mesa so we walked that trail only to discover all the caches were at the bottom. So, we hiked along the bottom of the mesa where there was no real trail just rocks and cacti, but we found all the caches.
At this time, we also realized that it was a three day weekend! We had forgotten about President's day, which meant everyone was going to be leaving on Monday, with us! Time to extend for a day! We were able to get our site for one more night so Tuesday would be our departure date. 

On Sunday we needed to do laundry. As we left the campground, there was a long line waiting of RVs waiting to use the dump station! We were glad we extended! We found the local laundromat and did that necessary chore. While the clothes were washing, we walked around the historic section of Georgetown.  After we got the clothes back to Sol, we headed toward Round Rock, Texas to eat lunch at Flix Brewery. They weren't showing any movies we were interested in seeing so we just at lunch and enjoyed a brew.

Monday, we drove around the lake to explore the other parks on the lake and to grab some caches.

We enjoyed our stay at Cedar Breaks in Georgetown, but it was time to move on and get a little closer to Arizona. Texas sure is a big state!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Moving into Texas

From Betty's RV Park we made our way into Texas. As usual, we took the backroads, only getting on I-10 at Lake Charles, Louisiana and traveling to the Texas Welcome Station to grab brochures to try to map our route through that huge state. Once we had our brochures, we exited the interstate and headed north on Texas Highway 62 to catch US Highway 96 to Jasper, Texas. Our plan was to stay at Sandy Creek Corps of Engineer Campground if they had vacancies. Luck was on our side and they had plenty of vacancies. The campground hosts let us drive through the park and pick a site. We chose site 42 overlooking Steinhagen Lake!
The rest of the afternoon, we looked over our brochures to try and decide  where we would go after our four night stay. We found out that there was a Texas state park within hiking distance of Sandy Creek! The next day we drove to the park to get a Texas State Park Pass. Unlike Florida parks, Texas charges an entrance fee for each occupant in a vehicle. Bob and I figured we would visit quite a few parks and that would make the pass worthwhile ($70 for a year). After purchasing our pass at Martin Dies, Jr. State Park Hen House Ridge Unit, we drove to the Walnut Ridge Unit just a mile down the road to do some hiking and geocaching. Texas state parks have geocaches located in them for the Texas State Challenge. We are going to see how many of these we can find and log this trip.

Our first hike was the Island Trail. The trail wound around an island and continued on shore for about a mile. Yes, it was a dreary day, but there was no rain in the forecast for the day. We took advantage of the cooler temperatures in the morning to do our hiking.
 Then we continued on to the other trails in this unit until we had walked them all!
 That afternoon we walked the trail from our campground to the state park just to get the Texas Challenge Geocache. We had everything we needed except the passport which we were supposed to use a special punch to mark. The cache was located on Slough Trail which intersected with the Sandy Creek Trail. We completed all the other tasks associated with the cache and would return to get the punch when we hiked Slough Trail the next day.

 Bob and I continued our hiking and geocaching in the state park the next day. Once again, we got an early start because there was rain forecast for the afternoon. We found all the caches hidden in the park and got the stamp for the Challenge Cache. We returned to our campsite and waited out the storm. This storm had heavy rain and winds, but we stayed warm and cozy in Sol.

The next day we drove around the area looking for geocaches. We stumbled upon a national forest campground in Angelina National Forest. The area was built by the CCC in the 1930s. The waterway was destroyed by floods in 2005, but the forest service rebuilt it to look similar to the original.
Much to our surprise, there was a trail that we would have liked to hike at the campground--Old Sawmill Trail---but we weren't prepared to hike that day. We put the trail on our list for a return trip to the area because it was time for us to move to our next destination in Georgetown, Texas.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Betty's RV Park, Abbeville, Louisiana

Ever since Bob and I started planning for our retirement and traveling the USA, we knew about Betty's RV Park. The only problem was it wasn't on the route we were traveling.....until this trip! We made a special effort to make sure we visited Betty's this trip. Now, I can hear you asking what is so special about Betty's? It is a small RV park with the best hostess in the area! Betty will show you the sights and the restaurants that are known for local flavors. That's right, I said show, not tell. She goes with her guests when they go as a group to a local eatery or event. Every evening on her patio, she hosts 'Happy Hour' and she provides a casserole or large dish for everyone to share. The guests also bring items and dinner is often not necessary. She shares information on local sights and people decide what suits them.

When we arrived at Betty's she came out and helped get us backed in our sight. She gave us a map of  small local towns and highlighted the restaurants that she thought were the best examples of Louisiana cooking.

After Bob and I got set up, we went for a walk around the neighborhood. We were met by every dog in the area, all friendly.

That evening, we went to our first 'Happy Hour'. It was decided that evening that everyone would eat at Shuck's the next day for lunch. I had the shrimp and grits which was recommended and Bob had the shrimp po' boy. Both dishes were excellent!

That evening at 'Happy Hour' one of the guests brought mac and cheese, I brought a cheese ball and someone else brought Girl Scout Cookies.  Everyone else provided different chips.

Bob and I decided to tour Avery Island the following day.  For those who don't know, Avery Island is the home of Tabasco Sauce! First we toured the museum and then we walked through the factory.
These are whiskey barrels that the Tabasco is aged in for 3 years. The tops are sealed with salt from the salt mines on Avery Island.
All around the property are items celebrating Tabasco.
The family of six flavors are all made on Avery Island. In the store, you can sample the six plus a few more flavors. Bob and I were both surprised at the ice cream flavored with Tabasco...it was really unexpectedly yummy.
After visiting the store we headed to Jungle Gardens which was started by the McIlhennys. The camellias, azaleas, and Japanese magnolias were in bloom.
Most people drive the three mile loop around the gardens, getting out take the short walks in some of the areas, but Bob and I decided to walk the loop.
In one section there is a Buddha that was given to the McIlhenny's in the early 1900s.
Ned McIlhenny founded a bird colony in the 1890s to protect the snowy egret which was nearing extinction. The egrets continue to flock to 'Bird City' to nest and have their young each year. The rookery is above water to help protect the birds from predators. Alligators also help by patrolling the waters around the rookery.
This snowy egret was taking a break from feeding its mate and nest building.
When we returned to Betty's we found out that her niece had been out crabbing and was bringing crabs for everyone. Here Betty is getting everything organized.
 Betty and her niece are showing off the crabs just before putting them on the table.
 Each guest brought something to contribute to the crab boil and we all had a great time!
Betty tried to trap us in her web for another few days, but we assured her we would return on our trip home.

Gulf Islands National Seashore

It was a short drive from Crawfordville to Gulf Islands National Seashore. This was our second trip to this park. Last trip we stayed in Loop A at Fort Pickens Campground. This trip we were in Loop E.
When we arrived and got set up, we took a walk to the fort. The blue heron were nesting in the treetops and the ospreys were adding to their nests.
 The next morning, we walked to the fort and walked the perimeter of the wall surrounding it.
 This is one of the guns used to protect Pensacola Bay during World War II.
 Another day we went geocaching in the town of Gulf Breeze. We found several caches in the local park. We had to visit the local library and ask for Alvin to claim another cache.
Before we left the Pensacola area, we made a trip to the navy base to stock our pantry and fridge. We also visited Pensacola Bay Brewery in the old section of Pensacola. Bob and I enjoyed our stay at Gulf Islands National Seashore and we got to have a night of rough weather in Sol! Our last night there, there were tornado watches and strong thunderstorms. We stayed safe and dry during the storm.

As with most trips, Bob made reservations for the time we were going to spend in the southeast. Our next reservation was for Betty's RV Park in Abbeville, Louisiana. It was farther than we wanted to drive in one day so we made a stop at L'Auberge Casino in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. We had the overflow parking lot all to ourselves for our overnight stay.
The next morning, after walking a portion of the levee trail that followed the Mississippi River, we were on the road to Betty's!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Our New Adventures

So we spent a record 3 months at home with a few side trips along the way. Now it is time to hit the road and slowly make our way to Tucson for the Escapade in March!

Our first stop was in Crawfordville, Florida to visit friends who were wintering in Florida. Bill and Bonnie have a new house with room for us to boondock in their driveway!
 While we were there, Bill and Bonnie took us to area parks so we could get in some hiking. Our first stop was Leon Sinks, part of Apalachicola National Forest. The trail takes you by several sinks or sinkholes. Some of the sinks were dry and others were wet.
 While we were hiking I spotted a pileated woodpecker and a whitetail deer.
 From Leon Sinks we drove to Wakulla Springs State Park to hike to Cherokee Sink. It was larger than the other sinks, but the water looked scummy near the banks.
 The trail circled Cherokee Sink and gave us different perspectives on the area.
While Bob, Bill and I were hiking, Bonnie stayed at the trailhead and read. She was recuperating from a broken foot!

Bob and I enjoyed our time with Bill and Bonnie. Bonnie's mother, Emma lives with them and she told amazing stories of when she was younger. She is now 96 years young! Bob and I hope to see them at their summer home in Colorado sometime in the future.

Bill, Bonnie, and Emma, thank you for feeding us and showing us the sights!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Another COE Park--White Oak Creek Recreation Area, Eufaula, Alabama

Well, it looks like I've done it again. We were heading home and I forgot to update the blog. Bob and I had a great time in the Eufaula, Alabama, area. We used White Oak Creek as our base to explore two state parks in Georgia and a Georgia brewery.

Our first trip was to Kolomoki Mounds State Park. It is a nice park with plenty of hiking trails. As usual, geocaching was on our list of things to do in the park. We hiked several trails and found all the caches that were active.
The park is based around mounds created by Native Americans many years ago. It is also one of the Georgia parks where you can earn the stair climber badge.
The next outing was to Providence Canyon Campground. This park exists due to poor farming practices in the 1800s. The farmers didn't know to terrace the rolling hills and the soil washed away leaving the canyon.
The views were totally unexpected for this part of Georgia.

After hiking Providence Canyon we made a stop in Omaha, Georgia. Yes, that's right, Omaha. There is a microbrewery located in Omaha. They brewery doesn't serve food, but there was a food truck located behind the building.

The last stop on our trip was Payne's Prairie State Park just south of Gainesville, Florida.
 Of course, we visited Swamp Head Brewery while we were near Gainesville.
We stayed for two nights as we had an appointment to get the speedometer changed out of Sol. The original only worked about 20% of the time and it was covered under our Freightliner warranty. The change only took 5 minutes and we were on the road home.

Once again, Bob and I enjoyed our time on the road and were looking forward to our next big adventure.