Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Autumn in Texas

Ah, the cool crisp days of Autumn. . . they must be happening somewhere, but certainly not around here!

We've been in the humid 80's and 90's every since returning home in mid September.

Some days it's been nice enough to do this. . .

And mow the yard and trim the weeds. . . . .

. . . and other days it did this . . .

 All that rain has been great for the plant life, and wonderful for the fireflies. They are usually a spring only phenomenon, and a real treat to watch. This year we have had so many they soon became commonplace.

Things have been dryer the last few weeks, so we aren't seeing them anymore, though I did see a straggler last night. Along with the fireflies, the butterflies are enjoying all the late-blooming wildflowers.

Common Mestra
We have, literally, hundred of  Common Mestras. They hover over the grass and open gravel areas all day. The boys and the dogs all like to run among them and see if they can catch one. They are a delicate little butterfly with pale coloring, so when flying they look dull white, but when they finally sit still they have a very nice pattern.

We've seen several butterflies we've never had in the yard before, like the Zebra Long Wing. We have a wild clematis blooming, and it's the preferred host plant for the Long Wing, so that must be what attracted it.
Zebra longwing on clematis vine
Butterflies come from caterpillars of course, so the downside of butterflies is that the caterpillars have attacked most of the plants in the vegetable garden, and they now look like skeletons! The spiders have been pretty active too, and we had a huge one guarding the back porch - he really set the tone around Halloween!

It's a good thing we've had the butterflies to watch from the porch, as the birds haven't really shown up like they usually do. We've had a few stray ones, but not the huge numbers that usually show up right after we return from the summer travels.

The fall weather has held so well that I decided I'd get brave and plant some peas. Raylan helped, and so far they are looking pretty good. I hope we don't get any sneak freezes before we get some kind of a harvest.  More photos of plants and wildlife here - with captions.

On our way to inspect the hog trap
In mid-October we had a chance to take a weekend camping trip to the Krebs' hunting lease over near Pipe Creek (between Boerne and Bandera.)

For those not familiar with Texas-style hunting, it's a bit different than the west coast. There's very little public land here, so hunting on BLM or forestry land isn't an option.

walking down Fossil Lane, as Jax calls it
People "lease" an opportunity to hunt on large landholdings and ranches. Some landholders lease to so many people that you might as well be in a public campground. In this case only the three Krebs men are on the lease, so there are no crowds to worry about.

The area is interesting, full of fossils, and a variety of wildflowers and varied terrain. We had a great time just visiting with the kids, taking the boys for walks and sitting around the campfire at night.  Skot did a little hunting but it was mostly just a fun time to relax and visit.

Album with more photos of that trip here.

In late October friends from Nevada visited for a week. They hadn't been to San Antonio for years, so we headed down there, stopping first at the Alamo and then to the Riverwalk for lunch. It was a really nice day, and the crowds weren't bad at all.

 Just as they left we geared up for the AMVET Post Chili Cook-off. It was combined with Halloween event this year, so costumes were in order - pirates for us.

We won first place with the chili and the theme! Another award for the cookporch and some cool goodies.Yeah!!!

Cook-off album here.

The boys had different costumes for their trick-or-treating, so they got to celebrate Halloween twice!

And now, all of a sudden, it's November, and our to-do list is longer than ever. At least we are never out of entertainment!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Trip Planning Resources

I’ve been asked by folks how we plan our trips and find the campgrounds that we stay in. I use a multitude of online resources to accomplish the planning that goes into a trip. It takes a lot of time to evaluate locations and campgrounds. Everyone travels differently and what works for us may not work for you.

Basic considerations
We like space around us, and nice, natural scenery. We prefer to stay in Corp of Engineer, Forest Service, and State Park campgrounds. The Federal Govt. campgrounds are a good value as we get 50% off fees with our senior card. We usually only stay in private RV parks when nothing else is available, or when we are making a “pit stop” to do laundry and replenish supplies. We maintain an Elks Club membership as several of the lodges throughout the country have RV parking, good food, cheap beer, and good conversation.

Our truck and trailer outfit is equipped to allow us to “dry camp” or “boondock” for several days at out-of-the-way locations. I have a solar system and batteries and a generator. We have a large water tanks and sewage tanks so we can stay for up to 8 or 9 days without difficulty without utility hook ups. This gives us a lot of freedom in choosing the types of places we can visit.

Another consideration in the selection of spots is our dogs. We try to be mindful of the temperatures and when it is predicted to be above 85 or 90 we try to get electric hookup so we can run our air conditioner. We like spots where we can exercise them off-lead and let them swim occasionally. Unfortunately during the summer you have to plan ahead in tourist-heavy area and make reservations to guarantee a spot.

After we determine the general destinations for the summer I began to look at potential routes. Our general style is to only drive 150 miles (more or less) on the days we travel. We sometimes travel 200 and almost never over 250. Depending on the schedule we try to stay at least two days in a nice spot and when we reach a destination will spend a week or more in the area.

Planning Tools
My truck has a built in GPS that I use as a general navigation tool. For my primary GPS I use my smart phone and Google Maps. I also use Google Maps on my computer to evaluate campsites and plan our route.

I start building a trip using Google maps and a purchased program RV Trip Wizard. It is expensive ($39.00) a year but saves a lot of trip planning time as it sources a multitude of campground types.

When choosing a site for a reservation I’ll take a look at the campground on maps in a satellite view if possible (some campgrounds have so many trees you can’t see the ground) and will usually pick a site on an outer loop with large spaces between sites if one is available.

I also use:
Ultimate Campgrounds
US Campgrounds Info
RV Park Reviews
I also use Delorme paper map books as part of my search process. They can be purchased online or in many outdoor supply stores.

I also go to individual states State Park web pages and use: Recreaction.gov and Reserve America.
Unfortunately no one source is complete and sometimes we will find a hidden gem of a campground and occasionally one that’s not so perfect . We have been for the most part lucky and we are pretty adaptable with what is available.

Wheeling It is blog that I enjoy for travel planning . They are full timers but travel in a similar manner to us and I rely on their evaluations.

When checking out campsites look at what hook ups are available. Not all campgrounds have electricity, water, or dump facilities available so plan ahead so you can have water on board or have a follow up location to dump the holding tanks. Also make sure the site is an appropriate size for your type of recreational vehicle. Evaluate site length, space for slide-outs and ease of access whenever possible.

In spite of all the planning weather and wildfires often cause us to alter our plans. We keep a sharp eye on the tracking sites and the local news, and re-route around potential problems. We’ve learned that, as a friend says, plans must be “firmly cast in Jell-o”. All the links mentioned here, in addition to others we have found useful, are in the side-bar to the right on the blog. Please let us know if any of them don’t work for you, and Happy Trails!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Heading for Home

The trees are turning toward fall colors, the days are cooling a bit, and the shadows are definately getting longer. We've been on the road since early June and are ready to get "back to the ranch", so to speak. Our next few days will be pretty much driving a direct line home, with few stops. We generally only do about 200 miles a day, even under these circumstances, but we won't be doing much sightseeing. The biggest challenge under these conditions is getting enough exercise for the dogs. Fortunately they like looking out the window too, and just getting in and out of the truck takes a good long jump, so they won't be too rusty by the time we get home.

Tuesday, September 6
We left Beatrice, Nebraska, a few minutes after 9 this morning, Kansas bound, bucking gusty head-winds all the way. The scenery is pretty much what we'd experienced the day before. . . farm fields of corn, soy beans, and occasionally sunflowers, and acre sand acres of perfectly mown grass. In one tidy little town after another, everyone has a HUGE front yard, and it's always freshly mowed. We've decided the farmers must be frustrated mid-season that they aren't riding their tractors, so they mow the grass . . . every other day by the look of it.

It only took about an hour to make the Kansas border, and then we made a brief stop in the little town of Winfield so I could visit Field of Fabric, a quilt shop (surprise!). I'm trying to get one of the little fabric license plates from each state we visit, and this shop fit nicely in our route.

Winfield is typical of so many of the towns we've gone through, with beautiful ornate brick buildings and other historic structures in their downtown area. I'd love to do a walking tour in some of these older downtowns.

I got the license plate and a few pieces of fabric for a quilt I've been planning for several years (and not a stitch sewn yet!),and we were off. Sort of a fly-by shopping experience.

Our stop for the evening is El Dorado State Park, just outside El Dorado Kansas. The Corp of Engineers developed the dam and reservoir, but the camping etc. is now managed by the Kansas State Park system. We selected a site in Big Oak loop, as this area of the park has the most trees, and with the heat climbing we wanted shade, and power for the air conditioning. Campsites in many sections of the park have no services.

We hate to make disparaging comments about parks, but this one needs help. Considering the price ($27, $5 to get into the park, and then $22 for the site for electric and water, no sewer) the place is woefully neglected and sad looking. Many of the gravel parking pads are very unlevel, and in many cases the gravel has sunk into the mud and is barely visible; the fire rings are rusted out, and the most frustrating thing for us, the registration system is very confusing!! They have a strange system of pricing things which isn't clear, and where/how/who to pay isn't clear as you get a different answer from everyone you ask.

At any rate, we did find an adequately long, level spot, in the shade. The host showed up around 6 PMso we registered with him. 'Turns out, he had been working in Eugene at the time we lived there! He's a radio engineer, and moved here recently - working for I Heart Radio.

One component to the pricing/quality situation here, I'm sure, is that there aren't a lot of other options in the area. We basically had the campground to ourselves for the evening so the crowds definately "thin" after Labor Day.

Tomorrow, it's on to Oklahoma!

Wednesday, Sept. 7
The morning sky was cloudy, though it was hard to tell with such deep shade from the trees. 'Still warm, but definately more comfortable than yesterday.  We departed early and made it into Oklahoma by 9:30, pausing again to visit a little shop in Stillwater.
At the the Sew and Sews shop I picked up their Row-by-row pattern, which has a military theme, and their license plate of course. The theme of the Row-by-row pattern designs this year is "Home Sweet Home" and it's been interesting to see the various interpretations.  The purchases all securely stashed in the rig, we proceeded south, down hwy. 77 and then 177 south to our home for the evening.

Much of this part of Oklahoma reminds me of hill country in Texas. Rolling limestone covered with trees and grass. It seems strange that it's all so green this late in the summer, but late rains have rejuvenated the plant life everywhere. You can see new growth in grassy patches that had been scorched by roadside fires earlier this summer.  There are even wildflowers along the road. It looks like early summer!

Our destination today, the little town of Purcell. Steve had found a little city park in Purcell with RV spaces mentioned in one of his many online database resources.

Upon arrival we found the spaces all occupied with folks that obviously had been fairly permanently settled it.

Steve checked at the golf course, where they manage the sites, and they said we could park on the grassy area just below the other sites. There was electricity available for the air conditioning, so that's all we needed. Bingo!

This really worked out better than one of the other sites would have, as the dogs had lots of grass and there weren't any close neighbors for them to bother. The really enjoyed a dip in the little lake, and then we all relaxed for the evening and enjoyed the grass and the view.

Thursday, Sept. 8
Another quilt shop is on the top of the list. I found this one listed in the Row-by-row participants and it seemed just too interesting to pass up. We planned our departure from Purcell so we reached the shop in Ardmore, Oklahoma, just as it was opening. The shop, Key Grocery and Quilts , is located in what used to be a grocery store, but now has very minimal food items, and is primarily quilting fabric and related items. They have a few garden seeds and some tools, and a few other items. It's a very interesting place, with lots of nooks and corners to investigate.

I picked up the license plate, of course, and some interesting fabric designed to be used like the currently popular adult coloring books.

The shop owner, Alicia Keys, was very generous with her information about how the technique works, and showed me a few examples. I can't wait to try it!

The little shop is housed in a building that used to also be a feed store, and the outside wall still carries the painted sign. A block away is the Ardmore train depot, which is in beautiful shape. The town has many beautiful old brick buildings, and clearly a lot of history. 

From Ardmore it was a straight shot to our destination for the evening, Waco  Lake, a Corp of Engineers Campground. We stayed here a couple of years ago with friends and loved it. The campground we stayed in then has been flooded out, due to the heavy rains last year, so we're on the other side of the lake.  

The dogs went for a swim as soon as we had made camp. It was in the 90's and after being in an air conditioned vehicle all day the heat really hit them once they were outside. I'm sure the water felt good.  Our site is mere steps away from the edge of the lake, so we had a perfect view. 
Everyone took a brief afternoon nap, and then after dinner we sat outside and watched a heron fish at the edge of the lake. He had company, there were several fireflies flitting about. I couldn't believe it, but Steve had seen some in Kansas too. The late summer rains have really benefited the little critters. 

In the morning we'll be heading home, so this is the last stop for this summer's adventures. We'll be posting any local travels over the fall and winter here too, so stay tuned!