Sunday, April 29, 2012

Wildseed Farms

If you like wildflowers and gardening, then you have to stop in at Wildseed Farms on US 290 about 6 or 7 miles east of Fredericksburg. There are 200 acres of wildflowers here, and different flowers appear at different times of the year.

When you tire of wandering the grounds admiring the color of the wildflowers, then stroll through the Market Center, where you can find other plants, seeds, pots, and just about any other item appropriate for a garden. If you get tired, then stop in at the Brewbonnet Biergarten for snacks, ice cream, sandwiches, and other refreshments, including beer and wine.

But the best thing about the Wildseed Farms is outside. Below are some of the pictures I took while there.

Wildseed Farms Market Center


A field of wildflowers
A field of wildflowers, perhaps primrose

Petunias

Red Poppies

Rocket Larkspur

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Fredericksburg RV Park

We left Junction on Thursday, April 12, for the second destination of our journey -- Fredericksburg RV Park in Fredericksburg, Texas. We would stay here for 4 nights.

Although the park has good amenities -- cable TV, WiFi, clean laundry facilities, clean and private bathrooms -- it is not the type of place I prefer to stay. Sites are very close together, and no fires are allowed. There is a lack of privacy since RVs are so close together. But the amenities are good, and it is located conveniently to many area attractions.

We always try to get a feel for the community in the RV parks where we stay, and this park definitely has a community. Although many residents are short term, like us, many are here for months on end. Across from us, for example, was a couple from Ontario, Canada. Several residents had wooden porches constructed for their RVs, so they were certainly here for the long haul.

But many of the residents were like us and were here only for a short time. To our north was a row of Born Free class C motorhomes, who were in town for a rally. During the 4 nights we were there, we had 3 different neighbors in the site just to our east. On the last night, a retired army officer and his wife pulled in. They had come from San Diego, where they were trying to sell their home now that they planned to RV full time. They were stopping to see friends in San Antonio, then continuing on to Georgia to a college graduation of a relative.

And that is one of the most interesting things about these parks -- the people you meet. I also enjoy watching how other folks set up and take down their rigs when they arrive and leave. I pick up a few tricks from time to time by doing this. And I enjoy looking over the gear and equipment they use.

But really, we just more or less bide our time in these commercial parks. What we really enjoy is staying in state parks where we are closer to nature and the sites normally are a bit roomier. But for 4 nights, we'll make the best of this park while we enjoy the sites around Fredericksburg.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Fort McKavett

Fort McKavett is near Junction -- about 40 miles or so one way -- so we drove over during our stay in Junction to tour the old fort that General William T. Sheridan once called the "prettiest post in Texas."

Located on Ranch Road 864 just south of US 190 between Menard and Eldorado, Fort McKavett was -- and still is -- an isolated post. Established in 1852, the fort was one of many located along the Texas frontier to protect settlers and travelers from Indian depredations. It was abandoned prior to the Civil War, then reopened in 1868 to serve mainly as a supply depot in the war against Comanches who had made inroads during the Civil War. Following the end of Indian hostilities, the post was finally abandoned for good in 1883. In 1968, the post was purchased by the state and was, for years, part of the state park system. Today it is operated by the Texas Historical Commission.

There are quite a few surviving buildings at the post. It is located on a rise -- it would be too presumptuous to call it a hill -- and it affords a commanding view of the surrounding area.

The post hospital today serves as the park headquarters. The white buildings to the left are the privy on the left and the "dead room" (morgue) on the right.
Captain's Quarters at opposite end of post from hospital.
Ruins of commanding officer's quarters

Lieutenant's Row facing the parade ground
These are the only barracks that have been restored. They are furnished and open for viewing.
Post headquarters
Donna found this cactus growing out of a rock wall
After touring the post, we then took a walk along the Government Road Nature Trail. This road, built by the fort's soldiers, ran from the fort down to the springs, lime kiln, and rock quarry. The springs are actually the headwaters of the San Saba River, and they provided the post with its fresh water supply. The lime kiln provided limestone and quicklime for the construction of the fort. Of course, the quarry provided the stones used in the construction of the post.

Pretty patch of bluebonnets along the nature trail
Lime Kiln
Spring and headwaters of the San Saba River
Rock Quarry
Bluebonnets set against limestone outcropping
Donna in a patch of bluebonnets

Friday, April 20, 2012

Hiking South Llano River State Park

We had scheduled Tuesday, April 10, for a long hike at South Llano River State Park, about 3 or 4 miles south of Junction on US 377. We used to camp here in our folding trailer about 20 years ago when our daughter was in junior high. We spent many a summer day in the cool, clear, spring-fed waters of the South Llano River, floating down the river from the low-water crossing to a take out point farther downstream. Deer and turkey are prevalent throughout the park; in fact, a section along the river is "one of the most substantial and oldest winter turkey roosts in the central portion of the state". [TPWD website] From October to March, this area of the park is closed to visitors so the turkeys will not be disturbed.

The southern part of the park is actually the Walter Buck Wildlife Management Area. It is closed periodically throughout the year as public hunts are conducted. This section of the park consists of over 2100 acres, and most of the trails are contained in this area.

As luck would have it. a public hunt was underway the day we showed up, so we were unable to hike the southern portion of the park, which was our plan. Instead, we had to content ourselves to hike the area along the river. This section of the park has just over 500 acres, so hiking is limited. We ended up only hiking about 4 miles in all.

The park was lush after the wet winter and recent rains, so everything looked healthy. We were surprised by how much the park has changed over the years. For example, we were unable to locate the spot where we would take out after floating the river.

Below are some pictures we snapped during our short hike. Hopefully, we will return soon and hike the southern portion of the park.

The South Llano River, looking west.
Native pecans along the river, where the turkeys roost and feed
Bird blind just north of the campground

Buck Lake, north of the campground

Low-water crossing at park entrance. We used to put in on the other side of the bridge, then shoot under the bridge and down the river for a leisurely float. Good times!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Wildflower Tour 2012

On Monday, April 9, Donna and I headed to the Hill Country for our "Wildflower Tour 2012". First stop was Junction, Texas. To get to Junction, we retraced the route we took when heading to the Garner area in late February. See "Southern Hill Country Trip, 2012" for more details.

Our destination in Junction was the North Llano River RV Park, located on the south bank of the North Llano River on the north edge of Junction. We planned to spend 3 nights there. That would give us the chance to do a little hiking and a little sight-seeing before moving on to our next destination.

The park there was formerly a KOA park, but it is now privately owned. We enjoyed our stay there. Sites are spacious, and most -- if not all -- are pull-thrus. Cable TV and Internet are included in the price. However, during our stay, the wireless was not working well; staff were attempting to remedy the problem and were in the process of replacing the router. Bathrooms and laundry facilities there were quite clean and well maintained.

Donna spent quite a bit of time fishing in the river, but did not catch anything of note.

Good trees and spacious sites. Our trailer is the one with the picture window at the back near the center of the picture.

Donna relaxing in the shade of a pecan tree at our trailer. Note the North Llano River in the background.
Our view to the west.
Junction has much to recommend it. It is an easy overnight stop for east/west travelers with several nice hotels and many good eating places. On our first day there, we picked up some delicious sausage at Lum's, a locally owned BBQ place we've frequented for years. There is also a Cooper's BBQ along the interstate. This is part of the Cooper's Old Time Pit BBQ chain. If you like a strong smoke taste to your meat -- like I do -- then stop in at any of the Cooper's locations.

In addition to BBQ, there are other good places in town to eat, most notably Isaaks for regular Ameircan style dining and La Familia for Mexican food.

The North and South Llano rivers merge in the downtown Junction area, thus the name of the town. The area is covered by impressive hills, rich and fertile valleys, and spring fed streams. It really is a lovely area.

The park appears to cater more to overnight travelers rather than to long-term residents, as some RV parks do. Each evening as we would sit out, we would be entertained by a parade of new arrivals pulling in for an overnight stay. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Gardening

Have you started your garden yet?

Donna and I have a small garden. So far, we've planted red and 1015 onions, radishes, beets, lettuce, tomatoes, bell and jalapeno peppers, carrots, cucumbers, and some herbs.

We've been eating some radishes from the garden; I love their crispy, fresh taste. We can probably start harvesting "green" onions now while waiting for the bulk of the onion crop to mature.

I've never had too much luck with tomatoes; I think I've always placed mine where they get too much sun. So this year, I set up a screen to protect them from the sun, and I believe this is having a very positive effect. When I cleared my garden area, I did so along the fence line on our northeast side. As a result, plants there receive a lot of sun, especially afternoon sun. In addition, the sun reflects off the fence, adding even more heat. The screen will help give the tomatoes and peppers some relief. I also have been saving coffee grounds for quite a while, and I'm conducting a little test. I've given half the tomato plants a generous helping of the coffee grounds, and expect them to get a little extra boost. I've also used grass clippings to mulch around all the plants.

Tomatoes under the sun screen. This was taken about 2 weeks ago. Today, the plants are about twice this size and covered with blooms.
Red onions on left, 1015s on right. Reds are farther along.
We've also added to our cactus bed lately. We've added 2 mountain laurels and 2 oleanders. Mountain laurels can really be beautiful in bloom. Our cactus bed is now almost complete, and in a couple of years it should have some good color from the purple sage, mountain laurels, and oleanders.

Mountain laurels in full bloom. These are at the LBJ National Historic Site in Johnson City.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Masters

I used to watch a lot of sports on television, especially football. Until I was about 30, I spent Saturdays and Sundays in front of the tube watching a game -- any game.

I don't watch much football or anything else these days. I'd rather spend my time doing something rather than watching other people doing something. How much time do we waste glued to the tube watching people play a game? I'd rather be hiking or gardening or traveling or working on a project -- anything constructive.

But more than that, we've lost something from sports over the years -- sportsmanship. The current story regarding the New Orleans Saints and their "head hunting" philosophy is just the latest example. There are so many others, like grown men dancing in the end zone after making a touchdown. Last weekend while channel surfing, Donna and I happened across a hockey game. There were about 4 minutes left in the game. It took about half an hour to play the remaining 4 minutes because of all the delays due to fights breaking out -- and the fans loved it!

But one sport I do enjoy watching on TV is golf, especially when there is a major tournament underway. Sportsmanship is still alive and well in golf, and most of the players still behave in a gentlemanly manner. Sure, you have a few occasional outbreaks of temper where someone slams down a club after a bad drive, but these are rare.

One of the nice things about golf is that it is one of the few games where people do not directly compete against each other; instead, they compete primarily against a course, against the elements, and against themselves. Indirectly, a charge up the leader board by a prominent player may affect another player's strategy or how he/she plays a hole, but mainly each player struggles against the course, the elements, and themselves.

I enjoyed the Masters this past weekend. Now that I'm retired, I was able to watch it all 4 days. The final 2 days of golf tournaments always pairs players in order based upon score. However, the first 2 days players play in groups of 3, and they are mixed together irregardless of score. So you might have someone who is 5 under playing with someone who is 10 over. This provides an opportunity to see the entire field of players. It was fun, for example, to watch Tom Watson as he barely missed the cut on the final holes on Friday.

Yes, there were a few outbreaks of bad sportsmanship. Henrick Stenson pounded his club after his second bad shot on the 18th on Thursday, and Tiger Woods threw his club down in disgust and then kicked it on Friday -- an act for which he will probably be fined as conduct unbecoming a professional. The microphone also caught Tiger using a bit of profanity on Friday. It was a bad day for Tiger. But overall, the players were composed and amiable, and most are grateful to even be playing in such a legendary tournament.

And things got better on Saturday.

Yeah, Fred Couples dropped a few strokes, made a bit of a comeback, then fell again. And other players rose on the leader board. Phil Mickelson, whom Donna and I routinely root for, played the first nine holes at even par. Then magic occurred on the back 9. First he birdied a hole. Then he birdied another. Then he eagled the 13th. He continued to rise on the leader board until he and Peter Hanson were only 1 stroke apart, thus pairing them for the final round on Sunday.

And Sunday didn't disappoint, either. At the end of the day, Louis Oosthuizen and Bubba Watson were tied. After the first playoff hole, they remained tied. Then on the second playoff hole, both hit bad drives. Oosthuizen hit a tree, and although his drive landed in the fairway, he was far short of the green. Watson was in the woods, unable to even see the green. Oosthuizen hit his second shot and landed short of the green, while Watson hit one of those magical shots he has become famous for and ended up only 10 feet or so from the hole. The tournament ended when Oosthuizen bogeyed the hole and Watson parred it.

A lot of people find watching golf on television boring as compared to the more active sports like football and basketball. But watch The Legend of Bagger Vance sometime, and perhaps you might get a feel for the passion and history of the game.

And isn't Augusta National one of the prettiest courses you'll ever see, especially in spring with the azaleas and dogwoods in bloom?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Coke County Wildflowers

Rick Smith is a feature writer for our local newspaper, The San Angelo Standard Times. I've enjoyed Rick's columns since we first moved to the area in the early 1990s. Recently, Rick has written two columns about wildflowers. Back on March 29th, Rick wrote "Hills Are Alive with Wildflowers" about the best places to view wildflowers in the Hill Country.

In yesterday's paper, Rick wrote "Stop and Smell the Bluebonnets, Near or Far". The article outlines a route heading north out of San Angelo up to the neighboring community of Robert Lee in Coke County that might offer the best wildflower viewing in the Concho Valley. Sounds like a day trip to me, so Donna and I hopped in the truck this morning and went in search of West Texas bluebonnets.

Robert Lee is about 30 miles north of San Angelo on state highway 208. It's a nice drive. About 10 miles out, the country begins to change. There seem to be more trees in that area, and there are certainly more hills.

High point about halfway to Robert Lee. You can see the highway curving in the distance.
 We saw isolated patches of wildflowers, mainly bluebonnets, from time to time on our trip. The best area was just outside of Robert Lee on a side road.

Bluebonnets along FM 2034, just south of Robert Lee. This picture looks due south.
Close up of an isolated stand of bluebonnets
After viewing the wildflowers, we drove around Robert Lee. We have passed through here numerous times in the past, but have never taken the time to look around town. Robert Lee is a small community of about 1,000 people, and the school facility is very attractive. There are few businesses in town, and I would suppose the residents drive to San Angelo for almost everything.

The town is located just north of the Colorado River, which is little more than a ditch at this location. Still, it is significant enough to have formed Lake E. V. Spence just to the west of the city. Unfortunately, that lake is now almost empty, containing less than 1% of its capacity. On top of that, the lake has provided the town its only source of water for years, so Robert Lee is suffering greatly now. The town has rushed to complete a 12-mile pipeline to the neighboring community of Bronte for water; until its completion, water has had to be trucked in.

In the meantime, residents of Robert Lee have cut back water use 80%.

We really need some extended rains.

Monday, April 2, 2012

New Website

I've started a new website, and I invite you to take a peek at it. It's called "The Good Life", and you can find it at https://sites.google.com/site/kcdonnagoodlife/. There is also a link in the upper-right corner of this page.

I've enjoyed this blog and plan to continue posting entries, but I wanted a better way to organize all my interests, and a website seemed the best way. I only have a few pages thus far, but you can get a good idea of what I'm hoping to accomplish. For example, one page will be devoted to hiking. There you can find reviews of the many trails Donna and I have hiked in recent years. I don't have all our reviews posted yet, but I'm working on it. And I have lots of pictures from hikes I never wrote any text for. I'll go back, write a short entry for each hike, and then post some representative pictures.

Another page focuses on the places we have traveled in the past year or so.

Many of the items link back to the blog. For example, some of the hike reviews link back to reviews I have posted on the blog, and the same with our travels.

So I invite you to drop in from time to time and keep up with what is going on in our lives.