Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Good Eats: Smokey Mo's BBQ

On a recent visit to Conroe, I was craving barbeque. Although Donna is not a big BBQ fan, there are some items on most BBQ menus that she enjoys, so it didn't take a lot of arm twisting to persuade her to join me.

I wanted to try Smokey Mo's, a place I had never visited before. There is a location at Interstate 45 and Teas Nursery Road (FM 3083) on the northern edge of Conroe, and we stopped in there.

Smokey Mo's is an Austin-based chain; actually, the original restaurant is located in Cedar Park. There are currently 11 locations, and all are in the Austin/San Antonio area except for 1 in Willis and 1 in Conroe.

I enjoyed my meal. I ordered the brisket/sausage combo with sides of pinto beans and cole slaw. The brisket was good meat and fell apart on my plate. The sausage was the Central Texas German style, with a touch of heat, but certainly not overbearing. It is my favorite type if sausage. Both sides were tasty. Donna ordered half a chicken, and the meat was juicy and tasty. A condiments bar provided onions, jalapenos, and pickle slices.

Best of all, prices were reasonable. My combo was $8.95 while Donna's chicken plate was $7.95.

The place is certainly on my radar now, and I'll stop in again.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Omega Farms

Donna's family lives in Conroe, so we recently visited the area for a few days. While there, we stayed at Omega Farms, an RV park located just outside of Willis, Texas, and a few minutes north of Conroe.

The park has some nice sites, but it also has many undesirable spots. Unfortunately, we were assigned a pull-thru spot somewhere in the middle. We had no shade, no table, no fire ring, and very little space on the side of the trailer where our awning is located.

Tight spots in the center area where the pull-thru sites are located. There wasn't even enough room to fully extend the awning, and not enough room to comfortably sit outside.

Although the park is surrounded by large trees, the center areas are nearly void of any shade. If you go, get a site around the perimeter of the park. Interior roads and sites are gravel, so there is a little dust. Residents do a good job of keeping speeds down, though.
Again, there are shady spots with tables and fire rings in the park -- we just didn't get one. There is also no cable TV, and the WiFi is very slow and is not secured.

Omega Farms RV Park

The laundry room was located near us. 3 small private bathrooms -- each with toilet, sink, and shower -- are also located in the same building as the laundry facilities.

Laundry room and bath house. 2 washers, 2 dryers, and 3 private bathrooms. Facilities are good, but probably the poorest maintained of any parks we've stayed in recently.

Donna did enjoy fishing in the private pond on the property, and she managed to catch several fish including a couple of large bass and some catfish, as well as numerous perch.

The pond. Donna enjoyed fishing here, and caught more fish than she has caught in a long, long time. It is well-stocked.
We probably won't return to Omega Farms. It's a decent place, especially if your stay is brief, but it does not provide the type of setting we prefer.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Lake Whitney State Park

I really don't like pulling a trailer; about 5 or 6 hours a day is about all I care to do. So on a recent long trip, we decided to break the trip up by stopping early one day at Lake Whitney State Park.

Lake Whitney State Park is located just west of Whitney, Texas, which is about 30 miles or so north of Waco. Lake Whitney, covering 37 square miles, was formed in 1951 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed a dam on the Brazos River.

Since we were just stopping for one night, we did not even unhook the trailer. We did as little as possible to make things comfortable for the night. After getting set up, we then took a walk around the loop road, which is probably about 3 miles.

The park is pretty, and is covered by live oak, blackjack oak, and post oak. We saw numerous deer on our walk, and we were also visited by 2 deer who approached our camp site. We even had a snake cross the road in front of us.

The park offers various recreational opportunities, including boating, swimming, fishing, and hiking.

Below are some pictures we took while on our walk.

Our campsite. Even though we did not unhitch the trailer from the truck, we did hook up water and electricity and raise the antennae. We wanted to make an early start next morning.
Star View campground for tent campers
Shelters, with a bit of the lake visible in the background between the oaks
Wildflowers in an open prairie area
Trail Head to the hiking trail
View of the lake from the boat ramp. The boat ramp is located on a feeder creek, not the main body of the lake.

Friday, May 18, 2012

San Angelo Nature Center

Another stop while our daughter and her family were visiting was the San Angelo Nature Center, located on Lake Nasworthy.

The Nature Center is something of a cross between a mini museum and a mini zoo. It is a wonderful place for smaller children to learn about nature. The wonderful staff there bring out all sorts of animals and allow the children to touch and pet them.

Most of the exhibits deal with small animals that live in the western part of Texas, so its a good place to go when you want to identify a local critter.

Those are some pretty good sized snakes. At top is a boa; at bottom is a python. The brave man next to the cage is my fearless son-in-law, Michael.
Wall-O-Snakes. These are harmless (left) and venomous (right) snakes of the Concho Valley

Donna found a small turtle

Exterior of the Nature Center, with a bit of Lake Nasworthy showing in the right background

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Fort Concho

Recently, our daughter and her family spent the weekend with us. We spent Saturday visiting a couple of sites around San Angelo, starting with Fort Concho.

Fort Concho was established on the south bank of the North Concho River in 1867. Like other military posts in this part of Texas, it was created to protect settlers and immigrants as the frontier pushed ever farther west. In 1889, the fort was abandoned as the Indian threat no longer existed.

Today, Fort Concho is a National Historic Landmark. It is an active place, with numerous events taking place there throughout the year. The day we were there, for example, the Texas Mesquite Association was holding an arts festival in 2 or 3 buildings of the fort, so we were able to browse their goodies as well.

Fort Concho is an integral part of the history of San Angelo. It was a leading factor in the establishment of numerous business on the north bank of the river, an area now consisting of downtown San Angelo, including historic Concho Avenue. Downtown San Angelo is a wonderful place to park your car and just wander around. There are wonderful and interesting shops and numerous places to eat.

One of the best ways to learn about what life at Fort Concho was like is by reading a novel by Elmer Kelton, a noted author I've mentioned more than once in this blog. His novel The Wolf and the Buffalo deals with old Fort Concho, the rowdy town of Santa Angela across the river, the "buffalo soldiers" of the post, and the Comanches they encountered in the settling of the west. It is a great story, and shows with historical accuracy what life was like on the Texas frontier.

Any trip to San Angelo would be incomplete without a stop at Fort Concho.

Officers' Row
Uniform display in the Visitor Center
Post headquarters in center, with quartermasters' quarters and commissary to the left
Enlisted men's barracks

The Museum of Telephony is located in one of the officer's quarters.

Some of the beautiful mesquite items on display at the Texas Mesquite Association's art festival

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Biking Around Lake Brownwood SP

On our second day at Lake Brownwood, Donna went fishing near the fishing pier (see map). I've never liked fishing, so I decided to take a bike ride around the park. I had a great time.

Of all the places we had been the previous week or more, none had wildflowers any better than this park. That is not to say that the park had larger spreads or more, but the stands I saw were thick and bright.

I rode every paved road in the park, including the roads that led down to the cabins. Following are the pictures I took on my ride.

A good stand of bluebonnets at the entrance to the Willow Point campground

Notice how far below the fishing pier the water is. If you look closely, you'll see Donna seated between the end of the pier and the water line. She has yellow clothing on.

Another good stand of bluebonnets in the Willow Point campground
Notice the rich color of this patch of bluebonnets on the road that leads to cabins 14-17

One of the park cabins

The park has many facilities, including 17 cabins, 10 screened shelters, and numerous campsites. Unfortunately, most of the buildings are old and in need of repair. The current economic climate, however, has hit the park hard.

Screened shelters

The Group Recreation Hall

I like this picture with the bluebonnets framed by the dead mesquite limb

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Lake Brownwood State Park

Lake Brownwood State Park is a 537 acre park located on Lake Brownwood about 20 miles north of Brownwood, Texas. There are few state parks in West Texas with full hookups for RVers, and this park is one of them.

We picked an excellent time to visit. Upon arrival, only 3 other RVs were in the Council Bluff campground where we would spend the next 3 nights (see map). In all, there are 20 campsites in this campground. Before leaving Fredericksburg, we used Google Earth to view the campground in order to find the best campsites. So, when we arrived at the park, we had a short list of 3 sites were were interested in. As luck would have it, our top site was occupied; it would turn out that that site (number 78) was, indeed, the best site, at least for this time of year. Instead, we opted for site 88, which had good shade from Black Jack Oaks.

Our trailer in site 88
As you would expect, the lake was way, way down. Formed by Pecan Bayou, a tributary of the Colorado River, and Jim Ned Creek, the lake is rather scenic, with hills and limestone outcroppings, at least in the area where we camped.

You can tell from the shoreline how far down the lake is. This was taken from a bluff near our campsite.
We enjoyed our time at the park; it was just what we were looking for. Few people were at the lake since we were there Monday through Thursday. The morning we left, only 7 sites in our campground were occupied, all by older people. Donna fished several times, while I enjoyed riding my bike. We also did some very short hiking. Mostly, we just enjoyed the quiet, cooked on the grill, and enjoyed a campfire. It was a good way to end our trip.

I took a lengthy bike ride around the lake, snapping pictures of whatever interested me. Those pictures will be in the next, and final installment, for this trip.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Brownwood, Texas

The next and final stop on our trip was Lake Brownwood State Park, located about 20 miles north of Brownwood. After spending 4 nights in a commercial park in a town, we were looking forward to some time in a park.

We were up fairly early on Monday, April 16. Although we didn't have a long drive, we wanted to get to the park as early as possible in order to get a good spot.

We headed north on US 87 out of Fredericksburg. We crossed the San Saba River about 20 or 25 miles out of town. For the 10 miles or so between the river and Mason, we saw good stands of wildflowers, probably the best we had seen thus far.

Mason is a lovely little Hill Country town. In a way, it is a smaller, less known version of Fredericksburg. It was settled largely by German immigrants, many of whom were talented stone masons who were instrumental in the construction of numerous buildings in the area, including Fort Concho in nearby San Angelo. Like many other towns along the edge of the frontier, a military post was established here. Fort Mason was located on a hill in the southern part of present day Mason in 1851.

Mason was the site of the famous "Hoo Doo War", which could basically be described as a feud between German ranchers and ex-Confederate soldiers. Johnny Ringo, who would later face off against the Earp brothers in Tombstone, Arizona, was involved in the feud.

The most famous native son of Mason is Fred Gipson, the author of Old Yeller and Savage Sam. The story lines and settings came straight out of the rugged countryside of Mason County, which was located on the Comanche frontier.

Today, Mason is a quiet community with a beautiful courthouse and some sturdy stone houses that reflect their German builders. Ranching and farming dominate the landscape, but the downtown area has some interesting businesses to attract the tourist passing through. Sounds like another trip to me.

Next town was Brady, which touts itself as the geographical center of Texas. Brady is a bustling community of about 5,500 people. We stopped briefly at the Walmart as we entered town to replenish our supplies. We've passed through Brady off and on for over 20 years but have never really spent any time there. There is a lake on the west side of town I've always wanted to see, but have never taken the time to do so.

After our stop, we got back on the road, taking US 377 the remaining 40 or so miles to Brownwood.

Brownwood, the home of Howard Payne University, is another of those places we've passed through for years. We've spent the night there many times in our travels across Texas, but we've never taken the time to do the tourist thing. One place we've always wanted to stop is Underwoods Cafeteria. Underwoods is sort of a legend in the area, and we've promised ourselves we would stop one day. On a recent trip through town, we planned to stop; however, on arrival we discovered it was closed on that day of the week. This time, however, it was open, and we enjoyed it.

Underwoods doesn't serve the best food around, but they do serve some good, homestyle food. There are basically half a dozen or so meats on the menu, and you select the one you want. I opted for German sausage while Donna had a hankering for fried chicken. After that selection, then you get unlimited side dishes. I had mashed potatoes, corn, and chile beans, and all were good. Cobbler is also included; from the selections of apple, peach, and blueberry, I chose the apple, and that was an excellent choice. Service is excellent, and our drink glasses were kept full and the warm yeast bread kept coming. It was a good day.

After the meal, we stopped for gasoline, then headed to the park.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Fredericksburg, Texas

I've mentioned elsewhere on this site that Fredericksburg, Texas, is one of my favorite cities in Texas.

Fredericksburg has a truly interesting history, which begins with the German immigrants who settled the area in 1846, built the town we know today, and named it in honor of Prince Frederick of Prussia. For years, residents of the community refused to learn English, and they attempted to insulate themselves from state and national politics. A German language newspaper was printed well into the 20th century.

Today, Fredericksburg is a thriving community of over 10,000. It's Main Street (Highway 290 running east/west) is lined with shops visited by tourists. On Main Street, you can find several German restaurants and bakeries, gift stores, book shops, arts and crafts shops that sell items ranging from candles to quilts and everything in between, a brewery and winery, and many other shops of interest.  Bed and breakfast establishments are scattered throughout the community, many just a block or two off Main Street.

Attractions abound throughout the area. These include
The Fredericksburg area is being touted by some as the "New Napa" because of the number of wineries in the area. And there are a few breweries as well. A list of area wineries is found here.

And don't forget the fresh produce and fruit available in season. Fredericksburg peaches are popular throughout the state, but they grow other fruits and vegetables there as well, and most stands can be found along US 290 between Stonewall and Fredericksburg.

The above is just a sample of some of the things we like about Fredericksburg. These and many others keep us returning to this quaint German town again and again.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Hiking Report: Enchanted Rock State Natural Area

It's hard for me to go to Fredericksburg without hiking at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, located about 16 miles north of Fredericksburg on Ranch Road 965 (North Milam Street in Fredericksburg). We've hiked the loop trail there twice, but the place looks different each time we go there, depending on the time of year, the weather, and other conditions.

According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife website, Enchanted Rock is a "huge, pink granite exfoliation dome, that rises 425 feet above ground, 1825 feet above sea level, and covers 640 acres. It is one of the largest batholiths (underground rock formation uncovered by erosion) in the United States."

Actually, the park consists of 5 "rocks", or hills. They are, from west to east, Little Rock, Enchanted Rock, Turkey Peak, Freshman Mountain, and Buzzard's Roost. All reach an altitude of at least 1500 feet.

If you look at a map of the park, you can trace our path to some degree. We began on the west, following the loop trail. Near Moss Lake, we split from the Loop Trail and hiked into Echo Canyon and spent some time there. From Echo Canyon, we followed the Base Trail around the base of Enchanted Rock. All along the base, we took several little trails up to the base of Enchanted Rock and inspected numerous interesting rock formations. These trails also lead to where rock climbers begin their ascent up the rock.

Farther to the east, we followed Turkey Pass Trail, we took us between Enchanted Rock and Freshman Mountain and Turkey Peak. After passing Frog Pond and crossing Sandy Creek, we then reconnected with the Loop Trail to end our hike.

Granite dome of Little Rock
This picture of Little Rock shows how the "exfoliated" rocks gradually slide down the hill side.

Monarch butterflies seemed to like these flowers

Donna, with Moss Lake and Little Rock in the background

Can you see the trail? Much of the trail is on granite; there are wooden markers and rock cairns to locate the trail at these times.

These rocks are in Echo Canyon. You can actually walk between the larger rocks; you can see the top of the slit behind the smaller rock in front.

Enchanted Rock. Rock climbers from all over like to climb these slopes. Too steep for me!

Another example of "exfoliating" rocks sliding down the side of Enchanted Rock.

And this is what it looks like when those rocks reach bottom. Of course, this can take dozens, hundreds, even thousands of years.

View from the top of Turkey Peak Pass