Monday, May 29, 2017

Caprock Canyons State Park, TX

Friday, May 26
Lake Colorado City
We stayed here in 2013, back when the drought was pretty bad, so there was little water in the lake. Now, the lake is looking pretty good, very picturesque, surrounded by red, rocky cliffs and cactus. It's hard to get to the water though, so no swimming for the dogs. Typical of reservoirs, the lake walls are steep, and in most place dense with cactus and brush. It's a good lake for boat fishing, and there's an area set aside for shore fishing, so a little something for everyone. It was HOT, but we managed to chase the shade and rest up a bit from all the loading up chores. More fun tomorrow!

Saturday, May 27
We're up and out early, and on to the next stop, Cap Rock Canyons State Park.

Access to the park is through a little town named Quitaque. You could work all day at trying to figure out how they pronounce that, so I'll save you some time. . . they put the phonetic spelling up on the sign coming into town, . . .  it's "Kitty-quay". Quitaque is billed as The Bison Capital of Texas, as the state park is home to the Texas State Bison Herd. The bison theme is evident all over this little town, population 411. Yes, that's about all it's been for many years, but it the cutest, cleanest little town we've ever seen. This beautiful mural is on the wall of what turned out to be a solid block of empty shops, the windows of which are all filled with wonderful museum type displays.

All the shop doors along the block are emblazoned with the Quintaque Country Club logo.  There are a few business still in operation - cafe, gas, groceries, farm supplies etc. There's also a pottery studio, beautifully interpreting the bison theme on their walls.

Our first afternoon in the campground was spent trying to keep the rig below the 102 degrees outside. The weather was predicted to be cooling, and it did. A terrific wind came up during the night, and by 5:30 the next morning (Sunday) the temperature had dropped to 56. Seems there's no middle ground around here!

The natural history of  this park is interesting, and old. These brilliant red spires were carved by river erosion into layers of sandstone laid down  280-250 million years ago, when this area was still under the ocean. Now, the land is high plains prairie, covered with grass, junipers, and a wide variety of other plant life. The park is a network of trails of various lengths, allowing everyone to get up close to the geology, but you can see a lot just following the park road to the various campground sections. The views are spectacular! These cliffs are a deeper red than any we have seen previously.

 Archaeological evidence puts humans and bison here 10-12,000 years ago. A nicely arranged information area has a replica of the bones found locally and also a nice shelter with additional information, and a lot of cliff swallows that are also taking advantage of the shelter.

The park is home to bats, a fern cave, antelope, prairie dogs, many varieties of birds, and . . . as evidence shows, some very large rattle snakes!
It makes sense that in an area with protected prairie the original occupants would thrive, so the park is home to the Texas State Bison Herd.
This is a unique herd of southern plains bison.
At his wife * Mary Ann's urging, famed cattleman Charles Goodnight started the herd in 1878. It is one of the five foundation herds that saved this animal from extinction.

From the park brochure, "Following the death of the Goodnights, the herd eventually faded from public awareness until wildlife conservationist Wolfgang Frey learned about the remaining herd of 50 or so bison on the JA Ranch and contacted the state of Texas in 1994. After genetic testing by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, a rare genetic marker was discovered within the herd revealing it to be perhaps the last remaining group of southern plains bison. The JA Ranch donated the herd to Texas Parks and Wildlife, and in 1997 they were moved to Caprock Canyons State Park. Unique not only in its historical importance but also in its rare genetic makeup, the herd has been designated."
  ( * The link from Mary Ann's name provides a great history of the herd - worth the read!)

We heard from a ranger while we were at our last stop they were nursing a snake-bit buffalo calf here (sorry - bison - old habits - bison calf), so upon arrival we asked about it. It turns out, the cow had abandoned the calf, and that's why they had to bottle feed it, and it was also being treated for the rattlesnake bite. 'Not sure which event came first, but the little one is reported to be doing well.

We stayed in Honey Flat, space 14. Most of the full service (water and electric) campsites are comfortably wide, set back from the road, and carved into the brush so you have a bit of privacy. The park also provides a range of tenting and no service options. Restrooms with showers are available, but limited.

We've really enjoyed our stay here and there's plenty to do if we come back again. It's a beautiful park!

Caprock Canyons album

Tomorrow we depart for Kansas.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Mason, Texas

The Fort Mason City RV park is operated by the city, and backs up to Comanche Creek, surrounded by baseball fields, a playground, and a 9 hole golf course. It's a beautifully maintained, quiet park, and reservations are definately recommended as it's very popular with locals as well as travelers. We were lucky to find a spot, as most had already been reserved for the weekend.

A small marker just outside the campground gives details of the history.

The settlement of Mason grew up around Fort Mason which was established by the United States War Department as a front-line defense against Kiowa, Lipan Apache and Comanche, on July 6, 1851.
The fort was named in honor of George Thomson Mason, a United States Army second lieutenant killed in the Thornton Affair during the Mexican–American War near Brownsville, TX, on April 25, 1846.

The fort was home to several historic figures, among them Gen. Robert E. Lee. The fort was the last command for Gen. Lee before he left the U.S. Army to join the Confederacy. Ft. Mason is part of the Texas Forts Trail, a trail we'd like to follow one day so we can get the whole picture.

This is a fascinating little town, and it's too bad we lost the extra day we had planned to explore here. This is the prime place in the state to look for Texas Topaz, a section of the fort has been restored and is open for tours, and then there's the bronze statue of Old Yeller. Did you ever read Fred Gipson's book, Old Yeller - or see the Disney movie? Gipson grew up around Mason, and his stories definately reflect the area. You can read more about that here in a Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine article.

The downtown area is quaint, with shops and cafe's clustered around a classic courthouse. This place is just begging to be explored! We'll be back!

Friday, May 26, 2017

Packing the Wagon - Preparing to depart

"You've been doing this for so many years now it must be easy", someone said. . . meaning, it's easy to get ready to hit the road for the summer. Not so much. Like the pioneers, we do have a checklist, including the cast iron cooking pot, food stuffs and clothing.

The challenge is, every year is different, requiring different equipment, different clothes (like the year we added a cruise to Alaska) and Fate throws us different curve balls every year.

Last year's challenge was extensive water damage to the trailer, this year we had a variety of challenges. None were fatal, but we were beginning to feel a bit snake bit.

We were feeling a bit cocky as we thought we were on top of things schedule wise. The garden timers and drip hoses had been in place for several days (instead of the day before we leave), we'd already taken care of several small repairs and improvements on the rig, like a new storm door, and there was no major cleaning to do. We were right on schedule!

We don't drive the truck much when we aren't towing, but we did take it over to the kids about three weeks before we were due to depart - good thing! The cruise control didn't work - so to the dealer it went. Feeling very confident because the problem had been corrected ahead of time we went on with the packing and last minute projects. Departure scheduled for May 24.

Sunday, May 21. Loading a few things into the galley I noticed the light over the sink wasn't working, nor was the ceiling light by the door, or the fan. . . what's up with that? Steve went to work tracking it down - must be a bad ground - crawling around under the rig examining connections led to an onslaught of terrible insect bites, some with blisters, and no solution. Final determination - it was loose wires in the switch for the ceiling light causing the problem.How that impacted the other lights and the fan us unknown, but, crisis resolved.

With all the lights and fan running I went on with loading, only to come back after a trip to the house to find they'd all quit again. Heaving a big sigh, I went back in for another load, and came back to the rig to find them all working again. No explanation for that, but they are still working, so that's good enough for us!  On to the next challenge!

A couple of final loads of laundry to do, get one load going and on to other things, now go check on it. What? The tub's sitting there full of water (and wet clothes). Sigh., The repairman will be here Monday.

Monday, May 22. Super nice repairman, and boy were we happy to see him so soon. We feared we have to wait several days for someone to come out.  He fixed the washer and ordered a part for the dryer too (it had been cranky lately).  On to other chores on the list!

Tuesday, May 23. One of those chores was actually several small tasks, all of which required my mower/wagon to haul things around, do a little mowing at the edges, things like that. Well, ol' Chuy, as we call it, has always been a little cranky to start, but this time it started ok, then ran for a bit and croaked. It made it about 30 feet and then died, repeatedly. OK, it's dead, and scratch those chores off the list. I loaded the necessary stuff into a little red wagon and pulled it by hand around the yard - no fun with our steep grade and bumpy ground, but we got the job done. Chuy is now resting peacefully under a tarp and hopefully he'll be replaced when we get home in the fall. We'll give him a nice funeral - no telling how old he is (around 20), and he's given us great service, but why did the thing have to die today!  (Chuy is named for the bumper sticker he wears, from the restaurant in Van Horn, Tx)

Wednesday, May 24. This is supposed to be departure day, but we are one day behind schedule for obvious reasons. No pressure - we'll still be able to make the reservations that have been set up. Things went pretty well for most of the day, then late in the evening, when much of the very last minute items get finished up, our water service went out!! Really?? I'm glad we keep a few bottles of water in storage, so it wasn't too big a deal, but after all the toting and packing I did really miss my long soak in a hot bubble bath!

So, all of this is to say, every year is very different - and we hope we don't have another like this!

Thursday, May 25 - Yeah! We're On the Road Again! First stop, Mason, Texas.