Sunday, January 29, 2012

Tips on Retirement Planning

On Tuesday, January 31, Donna and I will have been retired for a full year. It has been a great year. I truly do love retirement. I've never felt more free in my life. I've learned a thing or two about retirement planning this year, and have a few tips for those of you who may soon be retiring.

First and foremost, determine as precisely as possible what your retirement income is going to be. Donna and I retired from TRS (Teacher Retirement System), and we were able to determine our retirement incomes to the cent. We knew what we would receive, and felt that we would be able to live on that for many years to come.

Next, prepare a budget based upon your retirement figures. I have a daily budget set up for us. This budget accounts for every penny we spend. If we purchase a cup of coffee at McDonald's, I enter it on our budget.

Once the budget is prepared, then about 6 months or so before you enter retirement, start living on that budget. You might find this difficult to do.

We retired at the end of January, 2011 but it was June before we were living within our budget. That means that the first 4 months of our retirement, we were in the red. Now, some of our expenses during this time are explainable. For example, we had to pay federal income taxes in March, and then we had moving expenses  in May. Both of these items put us over budget for those months. We also did a good bit of traveling in February. Still, we were over budget each of those first 4 months, and that concerned me.

Since June, we have been under budget every month -- and by a comfortable margin -- and we have taken several trips, including 2 trips to Laughlin, Nevada. It does take a while to get into a retirement rhythm, though, so I strongly encourage you to begin living within your new budget several months before you have to. If you are unable to live within that budget, perhaps you should reconsider whether now is a good time to retire.

You also need to consider that if you have difficulty living within that budget now, what will it be like in 5 or 10 years. Prices will continue to rise, but your retirement income will probably not increase. Since Donna and I expect to live another 20 years or more, it is important that we not only live within our budget but that we continue to put money back on a monthly basis.

I built 2 future expenses into our budget: property taxes and a future car. I put aside $300 each month for each of these (a total of $600 per month). Thus, when the time comes to pay taxes or buy a new car, we will already have the money.

And this leads me to another point. If you have debt, you probably shouldn't retire. You really need to be debt free and in a position where you pay cash for everything, whether it is a car, a house, a trip, or whatever. So, by putting money back each month for a future car, we will be able to pay cash when the time comes.

We have been able to do a number of things to reduce costs. One of the first things we did was to do away with our land phone line. We now use only our cell phones. That in itself gave us a savings of about $600 per year.

We also worked down to a single car, thereby eliminating auto insurance, maintenance and upkeep for a second car. The savings realized here is probably at least $1000 per year, if not more. Expenses here to consider are insurance, auto registration, annual inspections, and regularly scheduled maintenance at the very least.

We find that we eat out much less than we used to. I'm not sure exactly why this has happened. It may be that we simply don't have the need to eat out. When we worked, it was nice to go out for a meal to avoid cooking and cleaning up after a long day of work. Now, I find I'd rather eat at home; it's better food and it's just more comfortable to eat at home. When we do eat out, we normally go out at lunch and we usually look for specials. We're really quite happy with the places we do eat out and the quality we get.

For example, we recently ate lunch at a local "trendy" hotspot called The Cork and Pig. The place specializes in pizza and burgers/sandwiches. Even though it was lunch, the cheapest sandwich was a patty melt, which cost $9. I purchased the patty melt and Donna ordered the Cuban ($10). Both sandwiches came with fries. For this price, I expected real homemade french fries. I was disappointed. Basically, we got McDonald's fries with sandwiches that were, in my opinion, not very authentic. I've enjoyed patty melts for years, and what I got at the Cork and Pig was not a patty melt. Our total bill with drinks and tip was $26. We could have gone to Schlotzsky's and eaten for half that price and enjoyed much better food.

My point is that we are more selective about where we spend our money. We look for good value when we eat out, and there are plenty of places that offer good value. Trendy hotspots are selling decor and other things. I'm not interested in those items. We still have nice meals out. This past week we ate at a very nice local Mexican restaurant. Since we were able to order off the lunch menu, we had a much better meal than at the Cork and Pig and for about $10 less. On top of that, the service and decor was much better.

When we worked, we used to visit our local bookstores monthly and purchase books and magazines regularly. We no longer do that. We now visit our local library and check out books. We've also cancelled all magazine subscriptions. These actions have saved us hundreds of dollars.

Since we no longer have to dress professionally everyday, we are saving a considerable amount on clothing.

Overall, though, I strongly recommend that everyone prepare a budget and track expenses -- all expenses. Unless you do track expenses, you really don't know where your money is going. If you spend $3.00 a day for a cup of coffee from Starbuk's, that can easily result in an expenditure of several hundred dollars over the course of a year. Taking the time to track expenses is a small enough price to pay for the new freedom you are about to enjoy.

Good luck!

Friday, January 27, 2012

San Angelo SP: January 23, 2012

With rain and cooler weather forecast for our area for the next 2 days, we decided we had better take a hike before things got muddy. It may be a while before our next hike. As a side note, we did get almost 2 inches of rain the 2 days following this hike. That's great, but not nearly enough to replenish area lakes.

Up to this time, all of our hikes had originated from the southern section of the park. San Angelo State Park has two sides. The southern gate is just outside the western city limits of San Angelo. In fact, a housing subdivision known as Highland Range backs up to this section of the park. The northern gate is located just west of the community of Grape Creek, which lies north of San Angelo along US Highway 87, which goes to Big Spring, Lubbock, Amarillo, and points beyond.

We have just about covered all the trails in the southern section of the park, so this time we journeyed to the north section and started our hike at Bell's Trailhead. The northern section of the park has facilities for horses, including pens for holding them for overnight camping. As a result, this part of the park is used much more by horses, so it pays to watch your step.

Bell's Trailhead in the north part of San Angelo State Park
Our hike today consisted of numerous trails and a variety of scenery. We began at Bell's Trailhead, where we hopped on the Dinosaur Trail. This trail forms a large loop to the west. The trailhead is located very near the North Concho River, so numerous large trees, such as oaks and pecans, are in that area. The Dinosaur Trail quickly led us away from these trees, though, and we found ourselves in typical West Texas open country. About halfway along this trail, we crossed a creek, which had sporadic pools of water, probably from rains earlier in the month.Our first landmark was just beyond this creek at a small rest area.

Rest area on the Dinosaur Trail; note water trough for horses. Lots of prickly pear.
Our hike then began looping back to the Big Hill. The trail splits at the bottom, allowing you to bypass the hill if you do not want to undergo the climb, but since we like views, we decided to take the trail up the hill. One thing I've always appreciated about hiking is coming across things you don't expect. It might be a babbling brook you did not expect to find, or a stand of old growth trees that loggers never discovered. Sometimes the objects are man made. On this trip, we discovered a cross atop Big Hill.

Old Rugged Cross atop Big Hill
Stone marker at base of Old Rugged Cross

The marker for the cross indicated a connection with Loyd Bell. The Bell name occurs often in this area. We started our hike at Bell's Trailhead, for example, and there is a lookout on another trail in the park called Bell's Point, with a marker with similar contents. In San Angelo, there is Bell Street in the eastern part of town. I'd like to learn more about the Bell family, or at least Loyd Bell.

The next stretch of the trail was typical West Texas scenery, for the most part. We journeyed along the Badlands Trail for a while. There is a stretch through a dry creek area that looks like the badlands, so it is easy to see how the trail got its name. We then took the River Bend Trail, all the while hiking south.

Donna and I have hiked for several years. There are times when I begin a hike that I feel great, but after a couple of miles, I just don't seem to have the energy to hike very far. At other times, I start sluggish and dread the hike, but after a mile or two, I get my hiking legs and then really enjoy the hike. On this day, I started slow and never got better. After about 3 miles or so, I was ready to turn around and head home.

We soon reached a trail that turned east and headed towards a junction with other trails which would take us back to the trailhead. We came to an area called Ghost Camp. As with other areas of the park I've documented before, Ghost Camp is simply a collection of abandoned picnic tables and other facilities from the days when water actually backed up this far from O.C. Fisher Lake.

Abandoned boat ramp near Ghost Camp
At Ghost Camp, we turned back north to a site called River Bend Park. We decided this was a good place to stop. There are old picnic tables here, but they are still used from time to time by hikers, bikers, and equestrians. There is also a primitive toilet here. We snacked on cheese and crackers for a while and rested a bit. A couple of bikers came by heading north. They had probably started at Burkett Trailhead in the south part of the park and were heading to Bell's Trailhead. If so, they were making a round-trip journey of 17 miles, something I hope to do soon on my bike.

After leaving our rest area, we headed north along Slick Rock Trail, then took the Scenic Loop Trail. Just as we were entering the Scenic Loop Trail, our bike riders came by on their way back. They were making excellent time. Oh, to be young again!

The entire Scenic Loop area is dotted with native pecan trees. Along the trail, we spotted another unexpected site, a deer carcass.

Deer carcass on Scenic Loop Trail
We then took Shady Trail, which follows the North Concho River, back to the trailhead. Overall, our hike was probably about 6 or 7 miles.

This is a good trail for summer hikes because of the tree growth along the river. However, the river is really low these days, with no constant flow. Sometimes, there are only pools of water.

Pool of water in North Concho riverbed along Shady Trail

We need to do another 2 hikes or so in this section of the park, and then we will have covered just about the entire park.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

San Angelo SP: January 20, 2012

The weather forecast for Friday was sunny and warm, with highs reaching the low 80s. Sounded like a good time for a winter hike.

Donna and I drove out to nearby San Angelo State Park, the location for most of our recent hikes. Our goal is to hike all the trails out there. I had recently stated that there were 50 miles of trails in the park, but a feature story in this morning's newspaper stated that there are actually over 70 miles. That's a lot of hiking.

Donna and I have almost hiked all the trails easily accessible from the southern part of the park. There are a few trails near the main gate we have yet to hike and then some north of our previous hikes. We decided to hike that area today.

We recently upgraded our hiking packs. We opted for packs with built-in hydration systems. Although we don't require as much water during winter hikes, now is a good time to test new equipment. We filled the packs with water and then set out. Today we would park in the day use area on Pulliam Ridge (noted on park maps as Highland Range Scenic Lookout), and set out from there. In order to get as much distance as possible, we used the available dirt roads to cover the areas we had already explored. Hiking these roads is much easier than the trail system, which normally follows ridge lines and has numerous ups and downs. The roads are usually straight and smooth, so we are able to hike at a speed of about 3 mph or more on them as compared to 2 mph or less on the trails.

We quickly hiked more than 2 miles to the rest area which was the turn around point on our last hike in the park (see "San Angelo SP: January 5, 2012"). This was our "jumping off" point into the section of the park we had not been before.

We set off down Flintstone Trail. All along the trail, we pondered why the trail was named that, so we were anxious to arrive at the point on the trail called Flintstone Village.

Donna beside a sign indicating the trail. The covered structure atop the hill in the background is our destination, Cougar Outlook.
Unusual cactus along trail near Flintstone Village. I don't know much about cactus, but I believe this is some type of barrel cactus cluster.
Source of name for the trail; table and seats like you might find Fred, Wilma, Betty, and Barney using.

Our destination for the day was a place designated on our map as Cougar Outlook. It is located on a bluff just beyond Flintstone Village. Facilities provided there include 2 covered picnic tables, trail map, bike rack, and 2 hitching racks for horses.

Cougar Lookout

We stopped here for lunch and enjoyed cheese, sausage, and crackers. The view from this bluff was interesting. Obviously, at one time the lake backed up this far, but that was long, long ago. There are all sorts of "skeletons" in this area of a time when there was much more water here.

Abandoned boat ramp near Flintstone Village
In better times, this stairway would have led to water; now it leads only to prickly pear.

Sign of the times

These roofless picnic tables dot the area like ghosts.

Once upon a time, all of this to the horizon was covered with water.

North Concho River, the main waterway feeding Lake O. C. Fisher. There is actually some water in the river, and it  curves right. The dry bed below the water is a creek feeding into the river.

San Angelo State Park is built around O. C. Fisher Lake. If you look at a state road map, the lake looks quite large; in reality, it remains very low, currently at less than 1% capacity.

After lunch, Donna and I took the most direct route back to our vehicle we could. Among the numerous trails in the park, the one designated as a multi-use trail is the most direct route connecting the two sections of the park. We hiked this route back from Couger Outlook. Actually, most of the trail is a dirt road. It is 8.5 miles from the trailheads at the north and south sections. Since that is a 17 mile round trip, it is too far to walk; however, we hope to take our bikes out soon to make the round trip. I wanted to hike part of the trail to see what condition it is in as we are not good bikers, and it looks good for a bike trip.

I really enjoy hiking this park. Now, once it gets hot and there is little shade, I may feel differently, but during the winter when temps are mild and snakes are not prevalent, this is a good place to spend several hours.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Eagle Mountain Park: January 14, 2012

Donna and I spent last weekend with my brother Larry, who lives in north Ft. Worth.We had a great time and great food, but the highlight of the trip was the day we spent hiking at nearby Eagle Mountain Lake Park.

Eagle Mountain Lake Park is a 400-acre park on the east side of Eagle Mountain Lake. Within the park, a system of trails weave up and down the small hills and along the shoreline of Eagle Mountain Lake. Many scenic overlooks of the lake are available on the trail. A map of the trail system is available at Maps are also located throughout the park.

Although the early morning was chilly, by the time Donna, Larry, Nancy, and I hit the trail at 11:00 AM the day was beginning to warm. It would eventually rise to the mid-60s. At the trail head, there is a covered pavilion with picnic tables, restrooms, and various informational signs.

Some of the facilities at the trail head
Posted rules for the trail indicate the trail is for hiking only -- no bikes and no dogs. Throughout our hike, though, we would see several people escorted by their 4-legged companions.

The initial section of the trail is composed of crushed stone and is lined by rocks to make a very attractive trail. However, this soon gives way to a dirt trail.

Initial section of trail near trail head
Just past the trail head, a short loop trail leads hikers to a scenic overlook of Eagle Mountain Lake. Like most lakes in Texas, Eagle Mountain currently suffers from the drought, and the lake level is down.

View of Eagle Mountain Lake from scenic overlook on Overlook Trail (see map)
After returning to the Main Park Trail from the Overlook Trail (see map), our nice level trail of crushed stone gave way to a dirt trail, often a dual track but sometimes a single track. The area had recently enjoyed a rain, and there were several soggy sections of the trail. Although the trail is what I would consider overall as an easy trail, there are still some steep ups and downs which left my shins a bit sore a day or two afterwards. Most of all, I get winded climbing hills, but the more I hike the better I feel.

Maps like this are located at all major trail junctions. This is a nice park, and the trails are well done.
After hiking 1.395 miles (not counting the .24 mile of the Overlook Trail - see map), we left the Main Park Trail and began the South Overlook Trail. At the end of this .52 mile section of the trail, we reached another scenic overlook, which allowed one of the better views of the lake. A bench and a picnic table are conveniently located here.

Island in lake. Island is there even when lake is full.

Once past the scenic overlook, the trail becomes the Shoreline Trail. Initially, it twists its way down from the hill we were on until we were near the shoreline. Most of the park is tree-covered, so hiking in summer will allow numerous shaded stretches of trail. But since much of the trail is dual track, much of the trail is exposed to the sun.

Donna near open area along Shoreline Trail. Mileage stone does not accurately reflect our distance at that point.
Shoreline of Eagle Mountain Lake, taken from Shoreline Trail

After hiking more than 3 miles, we found a bench located just up from a point on the shoreline and had lunch and enjoyed the peace and quiet. A couple of boats raced by on the lake and a few birds worked the shoreline. Otherwise, it was nice and quiet. However, in the shade it soon grew just a bit cool, so 20 minutes later, we were up and walking again.

We finished the Shoreline Trail and found ourselves back on the Main Park Trail as we returned to the trail head.

An "up and down" section of the trail. Notice that Donna is not visible in the picture; she is hidden at the bottom of the slope. These "ups and downs" are the most challenging sections of the trail; thankfully, they are moderate and few.
Back at the trail head, we took a breather. At this point, we had done a distance of 4.832 miles according to the map of the trail system. However, my brother's GPS indicated we had done 5.82. We had ventured off the trail in a few areas, such as along the shore line, so our actual estimate was probably somewhere in between these two figures.

Larry wanted to do more hiking, so he led our angry mob along the Northwest Trail. This is a 2.72 section of trail (round trip) that covers the northwestern part of the park.

Bridge on Northwest Trail
This section of the trail had a nice rest area, complete with covered picnic table and restrooms. Again, this is a nice park, and it is well maintained.

Covered picnic table at rest area on Northwest Trail
Rest room facilities at rest area on Northwest Trail
On the Ridge Loop Trail, we climbed a steep ascent. Once atop, we were rewarded with probably our best views of the day.

Larry and Donna on rock outcropping overlooking Eagle Mountain Lake. Directly above Donna's head and across the water is the point where we stopped for lunch earlier in the day.
I have to admit, I was glad to finish this hike. On both sections of the trail, some of the steepest inclines are near the end. Altogether, we hiked a total of 7.552 miles according to the map of the trail system; however, Larry's GPS put us at 8.2 miles, so we were probably somewhere in between.

There were lots and lots of people on the trail today. When a beautiful warm and sunny day comes around in January, people get out and take advantage of it. We saw many families, including one father diligently pushing a baby stroller along the dirt trails. I would conservatively estimate we encountered at least 35 or more people out on the trails, but most were within a mile or so of the trail head. Once we got deeper into the system, such as the Shoreline Trail and the South Overlook Trail, we were virtually alone.

Larry and Nancy are good trail companions. This is the second hike we've enjoyed with them; the first was almost a year ago at Cleburne State Park just outside of nearby Cleburne, Texas.

Were I to hike this trail again, I would probably pick a weekday to avoid the crowds. Regardless, it is a good hike.

Monday, January 9, 2012

San Angelo SP: January 5, 2012

Temps were expected to reach upper 60s today, and that is good hiking weather. Donna and I headed back to the state park for another hike. We've really come to appreciate the hiking trails in this park. Not only are there lots of them (50 miles or more), but they are very well defined and maintained. I don't like trails that are overgrown because snakes can be hidden in the grass and brush, but SASP has very clear trails.

Each time we go out, we try to extend our hike and we try to walk trails we've not been on before. We are still trying to regain our hiking legs. We used to hike good distances, but we fell out of hiking when I became the caretaker to my father prior to his death. We've simply not gotten back into the "hiking rhythm" since then. Sure, we've been on many hikes since then, but we often allow lots of time to elapse between hikes. So, we still aren't able to hike the distances we once did -- and we are a bit older, too -- so we are taking it slow and easy as we regain our hiking legs.

This time we parked atop Pulliam Ridge (the Highland Range Scenic Overlook on the park map) to get us farther north. From there, we traveled over a bit of the Potts Creek Trail we hiked a few days earlier and used a dual-track road to connect to the Armadillo Ridge Trail. At this point, we took the Playground Trail, which wove along a ridge to Bell's Point.

Looking along our back trail from a slope up Armadillo Ridge. Our Tundra is parked on the high point in upper-left portion of picture. We are about 1 mile from the truck.
Animal blinds such as this are located throughout the SASP trail system.

Our first destination is a place called Bell's Point. It is simply a point on a ridge that affords a good view of the surrounding countryside. There are a few facilities at this location, such as a table and benches, and there are 2 water spigots. I do not know if the water is potable, but it can certainly be used for watering horses as these trails are used by equestrians.

Rest area at Bell's Point. Notice bike racks. This is a multi-use trail.
Marker at Bell's Point.
Star at Bell's Point.
If you use Google Earth, you can enter the following location and you should be able to see the star.

  • 31°29'10.13" N 100°32'21.65" W
In fact, if you zoom in close enough, you can see most of the single track trails Donna and I have been hiking the past week or so; you can certainly see the roads within the park.

From Bell's Point, we continued traveling north, still on the Playground Trail. The first part of this trail wound down through a wet-weather creek bottom, and for a while it looked as if we were returning in the same direction we had just come. But once we got below the Bell's Point overlook, the trail then turned back north. It was about this time that we looked behind us and noticed a female jogger quickly catching up. We stepped off the trail to allow her to pass. What a jog! We were at least 2, maybe 3 miles from where we parked, and most people who use the trails in this area park at Burkett Trail Head, which was an additional half mile farther away.  We would not see this lady again, so she was really putting away some miles. I wish I could do that.

We soon crossed another park road. There are lots of these roads in this park from the days when it was a Corps of Engineers park. We have not hiked any of them yet as we prefer the single track trails, which give us more of a sense of true hiking. But as we extend our hikes farther out, we will probably use some of these tracks as they are straighter and smoother, thus allowing us more mileage while requiring less energy. Once we crossed this road, we were officially on the Flintstone Trail.

Soon we were at a major trail junction. On some maps, it is marked simply as "Rest Area." Several trails merge at this location. It also has a water spigot, water trough for horses, and a map of the trail system.

Rest Area. Note bike racks; behind them, water spigot and trough. Map of trail system is directly above Donna's head.
This trail area is roughly the northernmost area of the south side of the park (that is not to say it is the halfway point between the 2 sides, though). There is a dirt surfaced road running north and south, and several trails meet here: both Turkey Creek Trails, Flintstone Trail, and another lesser dual track. SASP has an interesting trail system, and it became apparent to us here. As we prepared to turn back south, we wanted to take the Turkey Creek Trail, a long trail that parallels FM 2288 for about 2 miles or more. However, there are 2 Turkey Creek Trails -- one for bikers and hikers, and the second for horses and hikers. I like this.

Trail etiquette "suggests" that hikers yield to horses, and bikers yield to both hikers and horses. In reality, I've found this not to be the practice, though. I've done some mountain biking myself, so I don't mean to disparage bikers, but I find 90% or more of them to be dangerous on the trail. Most of them are on the trails for the thrill of zooming down hills and over rises. We've had some come close to hitting us without so much as an apology. They can be a terror as they suddenly fly over a hill heading straight for you. With this in mind, we decided to take the trail intended for horses and hikers.
Trail sign indicating the 2 Turkey Trails. This picture was taken at the southern terminus of the Turkey Trail, not at the northern terminus where we picked up the trail.

The trail back was rather uneventful. There was a dip through Turkey Creek that provided some tree cover; otherwise, the scenery was much like everything else we've seen in the park.

Turkey Creek Trail: not much out there.
At the southern end of the Turkey Trail, we crossed a crumbling paved road. As we were about to get back on the trail, a bike rider came bounding around the curve. He was not going fast and did not pose a danger, but he also did not yield to us; instead, we moved off the trail. Every once in a while, I consider sticking my hiking pole in their spokes, but that is just a thought that pleasures me; it is not something I would seriously consider doing.

At this point, we were back on the trail system we hiked on January 1. From here, it was a short 30 or 40 minute hike to the car along Armadillo Ridge and down through a mesquite flat. The worst part of the hike was the final quarter mile, which climbed up Pulliam Ridge to our truck.

I'm just about to post this item on a Monday morning. The rain has been falling since about midnight, and so far we've had about .6 inches of rain. This is our first rainfall of 2012, and we need so much more. It will be a few days before we get out for more hiking.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

San Angelo SP: January 1, 2012

Donna and I had so much fun hiking at San Angelo State Park last Friday that we decided to go again. The hike we took today was even more enjoyable.

Today, we parked at the Burkett Trail Head (see map) and headed west from there. If you read the previous post on hiking in SASP, then you will know this is where we turned around on that hike. My goal is to cover new territory each time we hike in this park until we've hiked all the trails.

The first stretch of the trail was on a dual track trail along high ground. As I mentioned in the previous post, when hiking along high ground in this park, you are usually hiking in rocky terrain among shorter vegetation.

Burkett Trail, near trail head. Hill on left is Highland Range Scenic Overlook, which is called Pulliam Point on most topographic  maps.

It was a cool day, and being on high ground with no trees left us exposed to the biting wind. We had dressed appropriately, but the wind still hit our exposed faces and made things a bit uncomfortable. The first part of the Burkett Trail heads due west for Pulliam Point, the hill where the Highland Range Scenic Overlook is located (see map). As we approached the hill, we gradually dipped down into some mesquite flats where we were more protected from the cool wind. The trail then wound southwest around the hill where it really grew cool because that part of the trail was in the shade from Pulliam Point.

We crossed a creek in this area. There is a bridge available for crossing the creek during wet weather, but since we are in the middle of a drought, Donna and I just crossed the dry bed.

Low water creek crossing. Note bridge at top right. Also, note shadows from Pulliam Point. It was cool in the shade.
Just after crossing the creek, we hit a trail junction and picked up the Potts Creek Trail. At this point, we were actually on the remains of an old road from the US Corps of Engineers days. The picture below shows the low-water crossing for that road.

Old US Corps of Engineers road at Burkett Trail and Potts Creek Trail junction.

The Potts Creek Trail wound through rather thick stands of mesquites and dipped down through a dry creek bed, where it then began an ascent up the next hill and then ran into the Armadillo Ridge Trail.

Armadillo Ridge Trail marker on rocky slope.We took the left fork.
The trail to the right winds around the hill and picks up other trails that go to the north side of the park. For our next outing, that is the way we will go. For today's hike, though, Donna and I took the left fork and then cut through an old Corps of Engineers park. We picked up a remnant of an old paved road that once led to the lake. It is my understanding that when the lake was first developed, a series of heavy rains fell and filled the lake to capacity almost immediately. This gave the impression that the lake might always be like this, but I don't believe it has been this full since. It currently is at about 1% capacity. As proof of this, see some of my pictures of O.C. Fisher Reservoir taken back in the summer.

Sign of better times. Taken at old park area just off Armadillo Ridge Trail
From the Armadillo Ridge Trail, we picked up Turkey Creek Trail for a short way until it intersected with the Armadillo Ridge Trail again. This next section of the trail is the most scenic we have seen so far in this park as it winds along a ledge overlooking a wet weather creek.

Armadillo Ridge Trail above Potts Creek

Potts Creek; see notes below
The picture immediately above is interesting. In the bottom center, the dry creek bed is visible, and it gives a good idea of the height involved. The trees, while mesquite, are probably 15-20 feet tall, and they are well below our elevation on the ledge above. The straight horizontal item in the upper-center portion of the picture is a bridge (see picture immediately below). The trail is also visible in several parts of the picture, especially the upper-left portion.

As the trail works down into the creek, it becomes the West Potts Creek Trail.

Donna on bridge on West Potts Creek Trail. This is the same bridge seen in the picture above.
The West Potts Creek Trail continued through the mesquite flats until it intersected with the paved road we saw earlier with the low-water crossing. Just as we were approaching that road, we could hear voices in the distance, but were unable to locate anyone. We crossed the road and picked up the Roller Coaster Trail, which climbs up to the Highland Range Scenic Overlook (Pulliam Point). From this high point, we were able to look back to the Armadillo Ridge Trail across the valley and see 2 equestrians on the opposite hill. It must have been their voices we heard earlier.

2 equestrians on hill to the west of Highland Range Scenic Overlook hill.

Roller Coaster Trail deserves its name as it winds up and down and around. We met 2 bikers on this stretch of the trail, and both were pushing their bikes up a very steep and rocky section of the trail. There was one particularly challenging section on a downhill slope where Donna slipped just a bit. However, she was taking it slowly using her pole, and she just ended up sitting down more or less with no damage done.

Fortunately, we were almost to the truck, so that was a good time to quit the trail.

I enjoyed this hike much better than the one we took 2 days earlier (see "San Angelo SP: December 30, 2011"). The hike on the ledge above Potts Creek was pretty scenic, and the vistas were a bit better from this area of the park. The 2 hills we climbed today are higher than anything we were on 2 days ago, and this certainly helped provide better vistas. However, we were fairly close to FM 2288 (the highway that connects the 2 parts of the park) for much of the hike today, and the traffic noise does take away from the spirit of isolation we enjoy. We even had several sightings of that highway.

Next time, we hope to hike the trail farther in the direction of the north side. We may even go to the north side and hike south. We'll see.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

San Angelo SP: December 30, 2011

The weather in San Angelo was beautiful the days immediately after Christmas, so Donna and I decided to get out and enjoy the sunny, warm weather. And what better way to enjoy such weather than by taking a hike. We headed out to San Angelo State Park, which is just on the west edge of San Angelo. SASP has about 50 miles of multi-use trails, so there are plenty of opportunities to stretch your legs out there.

We had hiked many of these trails about 1995 or so so when this park was added to the state park system. Prior to that, it was an US Corps of Engineers Park. Actually, the park consists of 2 "sides": the north side and the south side. By road, the entrances to the different sides are probably about 10 miles apart, but they are also connected by trails. The trails may be used by hikers, bikers, and equestrians.

Since it had been so long since our last hike here, we wanted to keep the hike short and simple. We parked our truck at the Chaparral Group Shelter (see map) and began our hike on the Chaparral Trail heading west.

Chaparral Trail

Along the ridges and hills, the trails tend to be rocky. This makes going up and down slopes somewhat treacherous, especially for older people. Lose rocks on slopes make footing difficult. But we had our hiking poles with us, so we had no problems.

The Chaparral Trail winds upstream from the old "Red Dam" and emerges at the Isabel Harte day use area. As we crossed the road there, we spotted a wild pig. At this point, we picked up the Winding Snake Trail, which wound through low areas dominated by mesquite flats.

Mesquite Flats on Winding Snake Trail

We passed through an old campground from the days when the Corps of Engineers operated the park. Most of the facilities were falling apart, and it gave us the feeling of a ghost town. We then soon emerged at the Burkett Trailhead.

Burkett Trail Head

Burkett Trailhead was the point where we turned around on this day. However, this trailhead is the jumping off place for the trail system that continues on to the north side of the park.

We had a short walk of a quarter mile or so up the paved road to hop on our next trail, Lanky Lackey. Since there are so many trails, we were able to map a loop so that we did not have to back track and go over the same trail twice. Lanky Lackey is a pretty nondescript trail that works its way back near Isabel Harte day use area, where it then becomes the Nature Trail. The Nature Trail had numerous numbered markers along the trail, so there might be a brochure available to detail plants and other nature items. However, we did not have the brochure, so I can't say for sure. Most of the Nature Trail is along lower elevations in areas that may have once held water from the lake. However, today it is dominated by mesquites and cactus.

Nature Trail: straight and level dirt path among the mesquites

After the Nature Trail, we then took a series of trails to work our way back to our truck. These included the Horny Toad Trail, Tally Valley Trail, and the Chaparral Trail.

I like the trails in this park. Based upon the limited hiking we have done there so far, there appears to be 2 types of trails: those along the hills/ridges and those in the flats. Trails along the ridges and hills require dealing with lose rocks. There is only shorter vegetation, such as cactus and scrub brush. In the flats, however, there are mesquites that would provide some shade in the summer months, and these trails are dirt and are much easier to walk on. As a result, hiking along the ridges/hills for us is slower as we are careful to avoid slipping on the lose rocks, while on the dirt in the flats we are able to make much better time.

The actual trails are normally single tracks, but occasionally there are dual tracks and sometimes old Corps of Engineer roads are available, and many of these are paved. Yes, the pavement is crumbling, but the foundation is still there. As I mentioned earlier, old campgrounds are scattered throughout the park, but these are no longer maintained as they are now so far away from the water (when water is in the lake).

Marker at trail head of Horny Toad Trail

The trails are normally marked, at least at trail heads (see image above). However, we did come across several trail junctions where there were no signs present.

My biggest complaint would have to be with the map -- or rather, the lack of. Most state parks have a pretty good map available on their websites in PDF format. However, the map for SASP does not show the bulk of the trails. I asked for a map at the gate, and they provided one that looked as if it had been copied and recopied numerous times. It was also discolored, making it difficult to read. It lacked several prominent locations, including the Highland Range Scenic Overlook, which really is a major landmark for people hiking along the western edge of the park. The map also does not give mileage, so I'm unsure how long our hike on this particular day was. My guess would be somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 miles.

Still, with all the miles of trails available at SASP, we plan to spend plenty of time out there footing our way through the mesquite and the cactus and enjoying the long-distance vistas.