Thursday, December 31, 2015

Boot Hill RV Resort

Tuesday, December 22 . . .

We spent the first night of our journey to Laughlin at Boot Hill RV Resort, located about halfway between Tularosa and Alamogordo, New Mexico, on the east side of US Highway 54. Boot Hill RV Resort is a good overnight stop. The employees are friendly and attentive, and sites are large and spacious. All your basic amenities -- except for cable TV -- are available, and all worked fine except for the WiFi. Restrooms and laundry were well maintained and in good working order. We paid a rate of $27 for a single night stay, but the posted weekly rate is $125 (plus electricity) while the monthly rate is $225 (plus electricity). Although the park is located right next to a US highway, traffic noise was not a problem. Few trees are located in the gravel park, but this is the desert, after all. For the realistic traveler, this is a very decent RV park with views of the mountains to the east.

Below are some pictures of this very nice RV park.

Office for Boot Hill RV Resort

Two private bathrooms are provided for the guests. They are well maintained.

Entrance to the laundry. The entrance to the showers is on the left side of this building.
Our site, #501, was long enough that we were able to stay connected. In the morning, all we had to do was disconnect the water and electric, bring in the slide, and we were on the road.

Some of the other pull thru sites waiting for travelers to pull in.

Back-in sites are located along the perimeter of the property. Those are the Sacramento Mountains in the background.
Rental cabins are also available on the property.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

On the Road: Alamogordo, NM, to Marana, AZ

December 23, 2015 . .

Today’s journey would prove to be not only the longest of our 3 days, but also the most difficult.

The day started easily enough. Because we had not unhitched the night before, it took just a few minutes to disconnect the water and electricity before hitting the road at 7:15. We took the bypass around Alamogordo and picked up US 70 on the southwest side of the city for the 70 mile drive to Las Cruces. The sun came out and the road was flat and straight with little breeze. It was good driving.

But as we climbed to the pass through the Organ Mountains just east of Las Cruces, the sun gave away, the wind picked up, and the rain came. I was glad to get through the pass. We hopped on I-25 for a few miles south to connect to I-10, then began our long trek west following this highway. We crossed the nearly dry Rio Grande, then climbed 2 long hills up from the river valley. Once out of the climb, we had a flat road ahead of us. I was able to set the cruise across this flat land, and our mpg held at just over 10. Life was good. There was a crosswind, but it really didn’t bother me much.

Donna snapped this photo of a rainbow ending next to the highway as we approached the pass through the Organ Mountains.

This photo shows the pass on the left a little better.

We stopped for gas and coffee in Deming, then continued westward through Lordsburg with another gas stop at Wilcox, Arizona. Donna had made 2 sandwiches before leaving Alamogordo, so she pulled these from the fridge and we had a bit of lunch.

I was feeling pretty good about our day. I was holding the truck to a steady 60 mph and enjoying the drive. We had just over an hour to go to reach our destination. Then, just west of Benson, our good day faded away. Without any warning, I noticed traffic was stopped ahead. There had been no signs along the road. So, we fell in line and began inching our way westward. We would stay in this traffic gridlock for 2 hours while we went only 8 miles. At first, we had no idea what the problem was, but gradually we began seeing signs that announced construction ahead. So, after nearly 2 hours, we finally reached the construction area.

So, once through the gridlock, we passed through Tucson and pulled into Valley of the Sun RV Park in the small community of Marana about 20 miles north of Tucson. I’ll review that RV park in another entry.

We were able to maintain 9.8 mpg for the trip today despite the long periods of idling in the construction zone.

Monday, December 28, 2015

On the Road: Lubbock, TX, to Alamogordo, NM

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

For our trip to Laughlin, we decided to take what we call the “Southern Route.” It would have been shorter to angle up to Interstate 40 (our “Northern Route”), then shoot across, but a winter storm was approaching the area and we did not want to take any chances, especially with areas in higher elevations like Flagstaff, Arizona. We decided to make the trip in 3 days.

Leg 1 of our journey would be the shortest leg of the journey at 291 miles. We left Lubbock about 9:30 and headed down US 62 for about 40 miles to Brownfield. This is familiar territory to us, as we lived in Wellman, a small town just outside of Brownfield, for 3 years in the mid-1980s. The short drive was down a nice 4 lane highway. The wind was blowing, but not much at the time.

At Brownfield, we turned due west on US 380, and the trip immediately became more challenging. First, we lost our nice 4-lane divided highway. Next, the wind grew stronger out of the southwest. This had 2 negative effects. It really buffeted our trailer around, causing driving to be a bit more stressful. It also reduced our gas mileage. We started the day getting nearly 12 mpg, but that figure dropped rapidly once we began heading into the strong wind.

US 380 from Brownfield to the Texas/New Mexico border has numerous passing lanes, so this helped as there is considerable traffic on this highway. Just before leaving Texas, we stopped in the small community of Plains for gas and coffee. While the drive so far had been through farm land, the country west of Plains gradually transitioned into traditional range land. With flat terrain and no trees, vistas seem endless. Yes, there are occasional dips and swells, but the land is pretty flat. The sun was out, and had it not been for the wind, the drive would have been pleasant.

For RVers who might be reading this, the small New Mexico community of Tatum has a couple of gas stations at the town’s major intersection where access is easy for big rigs.

From Brownfield to Roswell is 134 long miles of 2 lane traffic, so we were happy to reach this city on the Pecos River. But for westbound RVers, getting gas is difficult. There are few stations with room for trucks pulling trailers. We were finally able to negotiate a small 2 pump station, though. At Roswell, US 380 merges with US 70 and becomes 4 lanes.

About halfway between Roswell and Ruidoso, the highway begins following the Rio Hondo. This is really a lovely stretch, as the tree-lined river is dotted with small farms and ranches. At the town of Hondo, US 380 heads northwest following the Rio Bonito, while US 70 continues west following the Rio Ruidoso. Hills begin to close in as the road weaves through the valleys of these rivers.

As we approached Ruidoso, we began seeing snow on the mountains, especially on the northern slopes. We lost our sun and seemed to climb into the clouds, and we even passed through a few light flakes of snow as our temperature dropped from the mid 50s to the lower 30s. We crossed the summit near the Inn of the Mountain Gods and began seeing clear skies ahead. From Roswell to Ruidoso, we had gradually climbed higher and higher while our mpg had gradually decreased. And although the highway is excellent, our average speed was also greatly reduced because of the climbs, the curves, and the weather. At our lowest, we were only averaging just under 8 mpg. But once we passed the summit, conditions improved and our mpg increased.

On the east side of Ruidoso, only a little snow is visible on the upper and northern slopes.
On the west side of Ruidoso near the summit, snow was a bit more prevalent.
Soon, we were in the small village of Tularosa, where we turned south for our few remaining miles to Boot Hill RV Park. I’ll enter a review of this park in another entry. Out mpg for the day averaged at 8.8.

Friday, December 25, 2015

We Made It!

Friday, December 25, Christmas morning . . . .

First of all, Merry Christmas. How I wish the peace and love of this special season could spread across the world and calm the troubled waters out there.

After a 3 day trip, we made it to Laughlin, Nevada, yesterday afternoon. This area will be our base of operations for the next 2 or 3 months as we monitor our progress up the wait list at Rio Concho West.

We are currently staying at the Avi KOA, located next to the Avi Casino about 10 or 15 miles south of Laughlin. As soon as we arrived yesterday, I stayed at the trailer and set up while Donna took a load of clothes to the laundry room. We got all settled in yesterday, and we feel good about being in a place with which we are familiar.

Over the next couple of weeks or so, I'll post entries about our trip out here and the places where we stayed.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Trip Update

Early Tuesday morning, December 22, 2015 . . . .

If things had gone as planned, we would have been in Alamogordo, New Mexico, this morning, preparing to head to our next stop in Marana, Arizona. But things haven't gone as planned.

Last week was quite busy, but we managed to close on our house on Friday at the appointed time. We had moved all of our furniture into storage the previous day, and had spent Thursday night in our trailer at San Angelo State Park. But we were experiencing a problem with our trailer, and did not feel comfortable setting out on a lengthy out-of-state trip in it. So, we altered our plans.

We did go on to Big Spring on Friday after the closing, as planned. We spent Saturday with Courtney and her band of ruffians, and we enjoyed an early Christmas with them. But instead of remaining in Big Spring until Monday and then departing for Alamogordo, we left on Sunday and headed to Lubbock. I had made an appointment at Camping World to look at the trailer on Monday morning, and we would stay there as long as needed to make repairs.

We took the trailer in early yesterday morning and it was out by noon. Camping World does a good job. When we decided to come to Lubbock to make repairs, we planned to just spend a week here. That would give us time to make sure everything was working on the trailer, and it would get us through the Christmas weekend. But plans seem to be made to be broken.

Watching the weather the past couple of days, we see that a cold front is moving into the region on Saturday, December 26. It will bring below freezing temps at night and moisture with it, quite possibly in the form of snow. If we stay through the bad weather, then a cold system will settle along our route west for quite a while following the front, making travel in that direction a bit unpleasant for a while, thereby delaying our trip west even longer. The smart thing to do would be to pack up and head west this morning. We could arrive in Laughlin on Christmas Eve and avoid any bad weather along the way.

The problem is that I'm down in my back. I'm having trouble performing normal movements, much less movements required to get a trailer ready for travel. But I hate to miss this window of good weather before the bad moves in. I might have to get the whip out and put Miss Donna to work.

So, no telling where we will spend Christmas. In case I don't have a WiFi connection, let me wish you an early Merry Christmas.

I'll see you down the road.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Where Are We Going?

After visiting our daughter and her family in the Big Spring, Texas, area immediately following closing on our house, we will head towards Laughlin, Nevada. If you've followed our blog over the years, you know how much we enjoy that area. Laughlin has a climate comparable to San Angelo; that is, the winter temperature is roughly the same, though it is noticeably more arid in Laughlin. We plan to make Laughlin our base for the winter months, with occasional forays to Las Vegas, Death Valley, and other nearby areas.

It's a long way from Big Spring to Laughlin, roughly about 1,000 miles. By car, we usually make that trip in about 18 hours or so, normally spread over 2 days. Pulling a trailer will take us longer. We plan to take the better part of 3 days to get there. We will average about 350 miles each day. Yes, we could knuckle down and make the trip in 2 days, but pulling a trailer for a 1,000 miles is much more challenging than simply driving a car the same distance. As a rule, I try to limit trips pulling the trailer to 250 miles or less per day. I can go farther, of course, but I prefer not to. My longest day towing a trailer was about 3 years ago when we pulled our Rockwood from Laughlin, Nevada, to Santa Rosa, New Mexico, a distance of about 600 miles. But that was a long day, and one I don't care to repeat. We left Laughlin in the dark and did not get to Santa Rosa until after dark.

Several things make pulling a trailer more difficult. First, you have to stop more often for gas, and that slows you considerably. With my current trailer, I average about 11 miles per gallon. When traveling out West where distances between towns are greater, I generally try to refuel when my gauge gets to about half a tank. This can result in refueling every 2 to 3 hours or so. As a safety precaution, I always carry at least 1 spare 5 gallon tank of gasoline. In the West, I often carry 2.

Second, most trailer tires are rated for driving at 65 mph or less. You'll see people on the highways zipping along faster than that pulling their trailers, but you get careless people everywhere. As a rule, I try to keep my towing speed to 60 mph or less. Not only is it safer, but I get better mileage at a slower speed, and I enjoy the trip more. You know the old adage: "Slow down and smell the roses".

Trailer sway, especially with bumper-pull trailers like mine, can make towing a bit nerve wracking. If winds are high and especially if they are blowing crosswise into the trailer, a trip can turn into a stressful white-knuckle affair. Especially on interstates, 18 wheelers passing at high speeds can create fish-tailing on the trailer. I find that by staying alert, I can move over to the far right side of my lane when I see trucks moving up to pass and this somewhat diminishes the fish-tailing effect. I do have sway bars, and they certainly help, but they do not entirely eliminate trailer sway.

In a car, it is easy to turn on your cruise control and have a somewhat relaxing drive. You can't really use cruise control when towing as it would over-stress your engine. As you go up and down hills, you are constantly working the accelerator to build speed as needed. And on two-lane roads when cars stack up behind you, things get a bit stressful. So many drivers tend to become impatient, and they often pass in dangerous stretches. You have to be constantly alert.

When pulling a trailer, it takes time to build speed from a standing stop. So when you pass through towns and reduce your speed, stop at traffic lights, or pull off for fuel, food, or other reasons, it takes longer to return to your top cruising speed than it does when you are in a zippy car.

So, a somewhat relaxing 300 mile trip that may take 5 hours or less by car can turn into a stressful 7 hour trip or longer when pulling a trailer. And at the end of that time, I find myself to be more worn out than if I had driven the same distance in a car.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Prescribed Burn at San Angelo State Park

San Angelo State Park has been conducting a prescribed burn recently. The recent rather calm winds in the area have cooperated to create a good window for the burn. Donna and I had seen the plumes of smoke as we darted about town running errands, and the local news stations carried updates each night.

With the good weather, we decided to get out and get a bit of exercise. With all of the preparations for our move, we had been neglecting our health, and we both really wanted to get out and stretch our legs. We thought it might be interesting to walk in the park and check on the burn. However, on the particular day we picked, the burn was near the headquarters building and admittance to the park was restricted. So, we turned around and headed to the dam.

The land below the dam had already been subjected to the burn, but an occasional pillar of smoke could still be seen rising into the sky.

According to information provided on the Concho Valley Home Page, "Prescribed burns are used as a management tool in state parks to improve habitat for wildlife by restoring forest and prairie habitats on [sic] the park that were historically maintained by natural fires.  They also are conducted to reduce the amount of available fuels, such as leaf litter, fallen branches, understory growth and dead trees that accumulate naturally and from storm events.  By reducing the amount of available fuels, prescribed burns reduce the chance for a potentially destructive wildfire to occur."

About 1,000 acres were included in the burn. Below are some pictures I took from the dam.

This area had been burned in the days prior to our walk. The fire had been contained by the large rocks forming the foundation of the dam and the lake itself.

I zoomed in for this shot. The fire only burns undergrowth, leaf litter, and similar fuel. Mesquites will survive the fire. Notice the burned prickly pear cactus plants.
Most of the burn on this day was concentrated near the park headquarters. The southerly wind blew the smoke over the lake.

Previously burned area between park road and lake.

Two lone smoke pillars rise from previously burned area along base of dam.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Planning for the Move

Donna and I are busy these days getting ready for the move. We don't work as fast as we once did, nor do we work as long, but we are pretty steady. We're gradually getting there.

We are carefully coordinating the close date on the house. We officially close the morning of Friday, December 18. To make this run as smoothly as possible, we'll park the trailer at our house on Monday, December 14. We'll spend that afternoon loading the trailer. We have to pack carefully since we'll need to take everything with us we will need for the next 4 to 6 months -- or longer. We will also turn on the trailer fridge to allow it to begin cooling so that we can load items from the fridge in the house. The next day, we'll take the trailer about 2 or 3 miles down the road to our state park (San Angelo State Park) and set the trailer up there. We'll connect the electricity so the fridge will run, but we won't connect the water yet because we will still be living in the house. After all, at this time of year, we could have a freeze at any time.

Wednesday morning, we have some appointments, but later that afternoon, we'll do our final packing. The movers come early Thursday so we want everything to be ready for them. We really don't have much, so I don't expect the movers to take long. I'll then take the movers to our storage facility and help them unload our belongings there. In the meantime, Donna will be cleaning the house to get it ready for the new owners. We will spend Thursday night in the trailer. When we get there, all we'll have to do is turn on the water and we should be ready to relax a bit.

Friday morning, we meet the buyers at the title company, sign the papers, and deposit the check. We then head back to the trailer, hook up, and head on down the road on a new adventure.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Camping World, Lubbock, Texas

We returned home yesterday from Camping World in Lubbock, Texas, where we had several upgrades added to our trailer. (See "Prepping the Trailer for Our Trip"). Now, we haven't had the chance to test everything we had done to the trailer, but at this moment, we are quite pleased with the work performed and the service we received.

Throughout the process, the employees at Camping World whom we worked with kept us informed as to the progress that was being made. The work was completed at the time we had agreed upon, and when we arrived to pick up the trailer, our service advisor (Lance) and a technician (Jason) went out to the trailer with us to answer all of our questions about the work performed. Now, everything may fall apart tomorrow and nothing works, but right now, I'm quite happy with the work they performed.

One of the nice things about Camping World is that Good Sam members such as me get a 10% discount on items. And Camping World has some great items for the RV enthusiast. The place does a thriving online business. For the RV product you just can't find anywhere else, visit Camping World online and I bet you can find what you are looking for.

Additionally, work performed by Camping World is guaranteed for 1 year, and repairs can be made by any Camping World location. Since we will be traveling far and wide in the next few months, I felt that this was a smart move. If something does go wrong with any of the modifications we made, I'll just head towards the nearest Camping World and get the needed repairs done. Although Camping World does not have outlets in every city, they are conveniently located in over 85 locations around the country, including 6 locations in Texas.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Prepping the Trailer for our Trip

We bought our trailer with long term considerations in mind. We knew that during the interim between selling our house and moving to RCW (Rio Concho West) that we would be living in the trailer for anywhere from several weeks to several months, but we also knew that we needed to consider other times; especially the months and years after getting settled at Rio Concho West. Our present Coachmen Freedom Express 246RKS is smaller and lighter than our previous trailer and, admittedly, it is not nearly as comfortable. Being smaller and lighter, it is easier to tow, and with long term travel in mind, that is why we purchased it.

But we are about to be living in the trailer for several months now, and we'd like it to be as comfortable as possible, so we are making a few modifications. Tomorrow, we'll take the trailer to Camping World in Lubbock to get the following work done.

For some time now, we've been disappointed in the reception we get through our antenna. We've camped in many of the same parks where we previously camped in our Rockwood trailer, and we simply don't pick up as many channels with our current trailer as we did with the Rockwood. I'd go so far as to say we pick up roughly about half the number of channels, if that many. The Rockwood had an antenna you raised when you were parked, and you could then rotate it to get improved reception. On our Coachmen, we have a permanently raised stationery"batwing" style antenna. It's nice to not have to worry about raising or lowering it, but it probably only picks up stations in a 30 mile radius or so. We are upgrading to a more powerful antenna.

I also do not like how the propane regulator works on our Coachmen. We have two 20 pound propane tanks that supply gas for cooking and heating, and occasionally for the water heater and the refrigerator depending on our location. There are two options for setting the regulator. First, you can point it to a single tank. When that tank becomes empty, then no more propane is going to the items that need it. You have to physically go outside and switch the regulator from the empty tank to the second tank. Second, you can set the regulator to both tanks. In this case, propane will be pulled evenly from both tanks until both are empty. Then you are stuck with 2 empty tanks and no propane. Not good. On our recent trip to Kerrville, we had 2 or 3 cold mornings in the 40s. On our last cold morning, I hopped out of bed to a really cold trailer. I attempted to turn on the stove to heat some water, but the burner would not light. Ah, empty tank. So, in 42 degree weather, I threw on some clothes and hurried out to the front of the trailer to switch the regulator to our full tank. That's not a big issue because it wasn't that cold. I will upgrade the regulator to one that will automatically switch from an empty tank to a full tank. This is the type I had on the Rockwood, and it works well. You just need to periodically check your tanks to make sure how much propane you have. In cold weather, I always carry an extra 20 pound tank so that we do not run out. In really cold weather, it is not unusual to go through about 2 tanks per week.

The biggest and most expensive upgrade, though, is something much less noticeable, but very important. Since we are heading out as the coldest time of the year sets in, I'm concerned about my water tanks. The trailer has three tanks: grey water (sinks and shower), black water (toilet), and fresh water. The fresh water tank is 49 gallons while the other two are 33 gallons each. In areas with temperatures below 32 degrees, the water in these tanks can freeze. Now, their location on the underside of the trailer will provide some warmth that seeps out from the trailer, but if temps get low enough, the contents of those tanks can freeze. To prevent this, we are installing some tank heating pads. We had these on the Rockwood; in fact, the trailer came equipped with them from the factory, and I really appreciated this feature. When the weather is below freezing, I'll flip switches from inside the trailer to turn on the pads. They are attached to the bottom of the tanks and will warm the contents to prevent any freezing.

I'll still have to worry about water freezing in the hose that connects to the city water where we are camping. I will wrap it in insulation, then cover that insulation with a layer of duct tape. That will help for minor freezes. For colder weather, I'll simply need to leave a tap slightly open to allow water to drip all night.

We hope to go places where the weather is pleasant during the winter, but just about any place in the continental US can get a hard freeze. We are planning ahead to avoid any problems.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

We've Gone and Done It Again

People are supposed to get smarter as they get older. I think just the opposite happens with Donna and me. Actually, I think it is Donna who is leading me astray. When I met her, I was an innocent young man, naive to the ways of the world. I didn't have a single grey hair when we met. Now, I'm falling apart, making foolish mistakes left and right, and I have quite a bit of grey hair. Sounds like an open and shut case to me.

Back in June, I wrote about how we had applied for a home in Rio Concho West (see "The Plan"). We have slowly been moving up the wait list since we applied almost a year ago in December 2014. As I indicated in "The Plan", we wanted to sell our house just before a house became available at Rio Concho West. The question is, when do you sell? It's really a kind of balancing act.Sell too early and you're homeless for a long time; sell to late, and you don't have the money available from the sale of the old house to apply to the new house.

Getting a bit anxious, we put our house on the market on October 22. We expected the house to be on the market about 2 or 3 months, followed by another month and a half or so for the closing process. That would mean we would move out in February or later, just as winter was beginning to give way to spring. Perfect timing!

Boy, were we wrong.

Our house sold in 12 days. We close on December 18, less than 2 months from the time the house went on the market. That means we are about to be homeless just as winter is starting rather than ending.

So, beginning December 18, we will once again be living in a travel trailer. And how long will we homeless? It's hard to tell. Since we put our house on the market, we have not moved up the wait list a single spot. It's as if the process lured us in and then simply froze. It could be summer 2016 or even later before something becomes available. And once something does become available, we might not like that particular house or location. Once we reach the top of the wait list, we have 3 chances to select a house. If we turn down all 3 houses, then we go back to the bottom of the list and start all over again.

So, you have 2 old reprobates who are slow learners about to head off into the coldest time of year in a travel trailer which has practically zero insulation value.

Anybody have a spare bedroom they aren't using for the next few months?

We'll see you down the road.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Hike Report: The Loop Trail, Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, November 2015

On a recent brief visit to Fredericksburg, Donna and I decided to take a short hike at nearby Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, which is almost 20 miles north of town. Over the years, we've probably hiked the trails at this park a half dozen times. The trails for the most part are well-maintained, and the views are unique and interesting. However, should you decide to visit the park, be aware that the gates close when the parking lot becomes full. Be sure to read the "park closures" information on their web page before heading to the park. Even though we hiked the park on a Tuesday, the park filled considerably by the time we left around noon.

To view a previous entry on this park, please see "Hiking Report: Enchanted Rock State Natural Area" from May 2012.

The drive to the park is interesting in and of itself. As we crossed Crabapple Creek, about 12 or 13 miles north of Fredericksburg, we looked to the west and saw some elk grazing in an open meadow. What an unusual site for anywhere in Texas.

Bull elk grazing in a pasture on the west side of FM 965 just north of Crabapple Creek.
Initially, we intended to follow the 4.25 mile Loop Trail around the granite domes of the park (see Trails Map). This is our favorite hike in the park as well as the longest single trail. There are no extreme ups and downs on the trail, though there is a a long, steady slope on the west side of the loop trail.

Entrance sign to the park, with the Big Rock as background.
We always park our vehicle in the far east end of the parking lot and then walk west through the parking lot and hit the trail head there. Then as we loop around in a clockwise direction, we end our hike at the vehicle. Initially, the trail is wide, clear, and well maintained, and gradually climbs up a long granite slope to some good views on the west side of the loop. There is a scenic viewing area that spurs off this trail about a mile in. If you've not hiked here before, take the short hike down this short spur to enjoy the view.

Many of the trails in the park are this well maintained. This trail is composed of crushed granite.

You can clearly see the trail worn on this exposed granite along the western part of the Loop Trail.

After the spur trail to the scenic overlook, the trail heads northeast and slopes down to the Walnut Springs Primitive Camping Area. The Walnut Springs Trail splits due north while the Loop Trail continues northeast.

Trail junction at Walnut Springs Camping Area. Note kiosk along trail as well as primitive toilet in left part of picture through brush.

At Moss Lake, we decided to veer off the Loop Trail to see the lake. After viewing the lake, we should have backtracked to the trail junction to continue on the loop trail, but the map indicated that the Moss Lake Trail would wind back to the north and intersect the Loop Trail. However, this section of the trail system was not clearly marked and we wandered around the splinter trails in the Moss Lake Primitive Camping Area for quite a while before giving up and heading towards Echo Canyon.

Donna standing in front of Moss Lake with Enchanted Rock in the background.
Another view of Moss Lake. Enchanted Rock on left, Little Rock on right.

One of the problems in this park is all the splinter trails that branch off in various directions. These trails are not marked, and this causes some confusion. Normally, we try to stay on marked trails, but in this area of the park, even these trails are not clearly marked.

Near Echo Canyon, we picked up the Base Trail and followed it east along the base of the Big Rock (Enchanted Rock). This area is one of the more popular areas with rock climbers; indeed, Enchanted Rock SNA is one of the premier rock climbing venues in the state. For further information, check the Climbing Areas Map as well as the Climbing Information section of the park's website.

Heading towards Echo Canyon, the trail crosses exposed granite. If you look closely, you can actually see where the trail is worn in the rock. Also, there is a small vertical sign in the center of the picture. Such signs mark the way when there is no visible trail.
This is why rock climbers throng to this park. This slope is probably about 200 feet high.
We had seen quite a bit of water in the park. The Hill Country in general had received numerous rains in the past 2 weeks. We've hiked the Loop Trail in the past after some heavy rains, and we found ourselves having to wade in pretty deep water to cross Sandy Creek. We did not know what the creek looked like on this trip, but we really didn't want to do any wading, so we decided to follow the Turkey Pass Trail through the pass -- or gap -- between Enchanted Rock and Freshman Mountain. There is a great deal of exposed granite on this route, and the various rock piles are always interesting. Be sure to watch for signs to lead you across the trailless granite, though.

Over time, rocks crack, exfoliate, and slide to the bottom to create rock piles.

Rock pile of exfoliated rocks.
Views from the pass are nice, and the climb down was fairly easy. It's really just a matter of patiently picking your steps and taking your time. At the bottom of the descent is Frog Pond. Here we headed west along the Frontside Trail, which led us to the Summit Trail, where we began encountering numerous people heading off to climb to the summit of Enchanted Rock. Up until this time, we had only seen 1 person on the trail, and she was quite a ways off.

View south from Turkey Pass
Frog Pond

Summit Trail to Enchanted Rock. If you look closely in the center of the picture just below the "tree line" so to speak, you'll see a person with white top and dark pants climbing the trail.
There are quite a few trails in the park, though none are very long or challenging. Normally, trails are well marked and well maintained. There really is something for everyone here, from the novice beginner to experienced rock climbers

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Good Eats: Classics Burgers and "Moore", Kerrville, Texas

Donna and I are always on the lookout for an old fashioned hamburger. We're not interested in some trendy new twist on a burger; in fact, I wish they would call these contraptions by some name other than burger. I'm not interested in all sorts of things being added to the burger, and I don't want something so large that I can't take a decent bite without the thing falling apart. I just want a good, old fashioned beef burger with lettuce, onion, tomato, mustard, and pickles. I want the patty hand formed fresh upon ordering, and I only need about a quarter pound meat. I like the bun to be toasted, and a thick slice of cheese on top is very welcome.

We found a pretty good place on our recent trip to Kerrville. Classics Burgers and "Moore" serves up a very good burger for a very decent price. The restaurant is owned by Mike and Cindy Piper, a couple well known to Kerrville residents. The Pipers also own and operate the very popular Hill Country Cafe, located downtown a few doors down from the Kerr County courthouse. The Hill Country Cafe has been in operation since 1942, so you know something good is happening there.

Classics Burgers has not been around that long; they only opened in 2002. But in that time, they have garnered 11 Reader's Choice awards and were listed a few years ago in Texas Monthly magazine as having one of the top 50 burgers in Texas.

The restaurant is a simple affair, set back from Sidney Baker Street south of the Guadalupe River and just south of the H.E.B. complex. The restaurant is decorated with pictures of classic stars of the past, such as James Dean, Elvis Presley, and Marilyn Monroe. Orders are taken at the counter, then the meals are delivered to your table. Again, it is a simple affair and, for me, that is a good thing.

The burger was everything we hoped it would be. It was a good, solid, traditional burger. We shared some french fries and onion rings. Donna enjoyed their fries though I did not care so much for them, but I loved their onion rings. The batter clung to the rings and did not fall apart when eaten.

Most of their burgers are 6 ounces. It was only after we ordered and were half-way through our meals that we noticed that they also had a senior menu, which serves burgers with 4 ounce patties. Next time we visit the place -- and we certainly will be back -- we will order off the senior menu. And for those of you who like "specialty" burgers, they have a wide assortment. I'll stick with the old reliable classic burger myself.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Hill Country Drives, October 2015

Some of the most beautiful drives in Texas are found in the Hill Country. And of these, some of the most interesting are the lesser-used county and farm-to-market roads that crisscross the countryside.

On our recent trip, we took Texas 16 from Kerrville to Bandera on our way to Hill Country State Natural Area. This state highway spans Texas from near Wichita Falls in the north to Zapata on the Rio Grande in the south. Now, the quicker and easier way to get from Kerrville to Bandera is to take Highway 173, a scenic enough highway itself with smooth surface and nice shoulders and numerous passing lanes. But Texas 16 is so much more scenic.

As you leave Kerrville heading south, the highway looks good. The shoulders are wide, surface is smooth, and speed limit is normal. But at the junction with Highway 2771 (known locally as "Lower Turtle Creek Road"), things change pretty quickly. The shoulders disappear, the speed limit drops, and the country gets wilder in appearance. At points, the turns are so sharp that the speed limit drops to 15 MPH.The road often  parallels creeks with a few low-water crossings. The countryside is really pretty. Numerous small ranches -- and some larger ones, I suppose -- dot the roadside. The popular Escondida Resort is located about halfway between Kerrville and Medina. The Medina Children's Home also operates a nice facility on the east side of the highway.

Upon arriving in Medina, the road widens and the speed limit increases to what most folks would consider "normal". The highway then follows the cypress-lined Medina River from Medina to Bandera.

The other interesting drive we took was from Comfort, a small community east of Kerrville, up to the Old Tunnel State Park. The tunnel actually offers little of interest to daytime visitors, so I won't report on it. But the drive to the park is interesting.

We left Comfort heading east on FM 473. Just under 5 miles from the intersection of US 87, Old Road 9 splits off of FM 473 and heads due north. If you happen to be going to the tunnel from Fredericksburg, the road is called either the Old San Antonio Road or the Old Fredericksburg Road. It is a slow 8 miles from the intersection to the park, but take your time and savor the view. The road is narrow and there are numerous sharp curves. Look carefully and you may see some exotic wildlife in the open areas along the roadway. Imagine what it was like to travel this road 100 or even 150 years ago.

The park is located right on the road. About 100 yards down a side road is the very popular Alamo Springs Cafe. We had planned to eat lunch here, but the cafe was not open at the time. Oh well, just an excuse to travel some more Texas back roads at another time.

For our return to Kerrville, we continued north about 2 more miles, then turned west on Grape Creek Road. Although not as scenic as the road we traveled to get here, Grape Creek Road is still interesting. We crossed a number of cattle guards, and there is loose livestock in the area, so drive slowly. The landscape is dotted by various small properties. It's a peaceful drive, and one that should not be hurried.

Once we intersected with US 87, we turned south, kicked the speedometer up to normal speeds, and soon found ourselves back in Comfort and later Kerrville.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Hike Report: Hill Country State Natural Area

During our recent stay at Kerrville-Schreiner Park, we decided to do a short hike at Hill Country State Natural Area. Unlike most parks in the Texas Parks and Wildlife system, Hill Country SNA is not developed. There is not a single bit of pavement within this remote park, located about 10 miles southwest of Bandera, nor are there any developed camp sites. But the park does offer over 40 miles of trails, and it is arguably the most popular park in the state for equestrians.

The rustic headquarters building at Hill Country SNA
This was not our first visit to the park. We originally visited the park in July 2006, when we took a 6 or 7 mile hike almost due west from the headquarters building. On our most recent outing, we followed a trail more or less in a southerly direction from the headquarters. By using the park map, we followed trail 8 for most of our hike, working our way up and down a series of hills along a utility ROW. After looping back to the north, we then followed West Verde Creek and a park road along a few trails, especially trail 8A, until we arrived back at the truck near headquarters.

Trailhead across from the parking area near headquarters
On our previous trip to the park, we were virtually alone in the park. It was July then, and quite hot, and few people were willing to venture out in the summer heat to hike. But today, the temperature was quite pleasant, and a number of vehicles were parked at headquarters, including at least 3 trucks with horse trailers.

Since the area had seen some heavy rains recently, I planned a hike to avoid low lying areas and any creeks as much as possible without hiking portions of the park we had already seen. And because we are not as adventurous as we were just a few years ago, I tried to pick easier trails. On the park map, single and double track trails are clearly indicated, so I picked a trail with double tracks hoping that the trail would be clear.

A double-track trail. This was near the beginning of trail 8. Actually, this is a road to me, much more than a "double-track" trail. But I'm not complaining a bit.
This trail sign appeared at the junction of trails 8 and 8A. It is indicative of trail signs in the park. The top 4 symbols are related to trail 8A while the bottom 3 apply to trail 8. The colored sections indicate trail difficulty. Basically, the straighter the horizontal line, the easier the trail. The arrows indicate direction. The symbol just below 8A indicates a group camp along that portion of the trail. We followed 8, which would require a bit of elevation change.
There were quite a few trees and much brush along the trail, but I was able to snap this view of surrounding hills.
The park, like many Texas parks, was originally a ranch. Many of the double-track trails were originally ranch roads, used by trucks and jeeps. There are also a number of old ranch structures throughout the park, and we came across several during the hike today.

The trail passes to the left of this old ranch structure.

Depending on your location, the trail surface is a mix. On most slopes and high ground, the surface tends towards exposed rock. Most loose stones range in size from golf ball to football size. Much rock is embedded in the ground with jagged edges jutting up to trip you. Regardless, you really have to watch your step around all the rock. Along lower elevations, especially near West Verde Creek, the trail is dirt and is rather easy walking.

This picture clearly illustrates the mix of rocks you'll encounter, from loose stones to embedded rocks that jut above the ground's surface.
About a third of the way through our hike, we encountered this utility ROW, which stretch for nearly half a mile in all. Notice that at this point the trail is really just a single-track, not the double-track indicated on the map. If you are referring to the map, this is the section of trail 8 located between the two asterisks.
This photo, near the end of the utility ROW, illustrates both elevation change and the rocky nature of the trail.
More structures from ranching days. Horse trough in center. I guess the structure on left is some type of cistern, while the structure on the right might be a pump house of some sort.
From time to time, there are some nice views.
Near the Comanche Bluff Camp Area (see map), we became a bit lost. I was hoping we could stay on the south side of West Verde Creek. When we first entered the park in the truck, there was a low-water crossing over this creek, so I knew that there was water in the creek from recent rains. I really did not want to have to do a water crossing. I'm getting to be a lazy hiker in my senior years, I guess. I could not tell clearly from the map, but it appeared that there was a trail (8B, perhaps) that would keep us on the south side of the creek and allow us to rejoin 8A for an easy walk back to our truck. But in the section of the park around the scenic overlook (again, see map), the trails were not marked at all. After scouting around some, I did find a ledge trail above the creek, but I knew there was no way I'd get Donna up there walking along a ledge, so we decided to work our way over to the park road.

Ledge above West Verde Creek, seen in part below. Note trail on other side of creek.
We were able to cross the creek on a dry low-water crossing near the Chapas Croup Camp Area. We then followed the road for perhaps a third of a mile before we found a place where we could cross the creek without getting too wet.

The Chapas Group Camp Area is just an old ranch house. It sits in a lovely grove of oak trees along the banks of West Verde Creek.

Looking upstream along West Verde Creek from low-water crossing.

West Verde Creek. The ledge pictured several pictures above would be along the top of the ridge in the background of this picture.

This picture was taken after we crossed the creek. We emerged on the trail on the left, then worked our way across the creek on high points of ground. We kept relatively dry.

We made a couple of attempts to cross the creek, but the water was too deep at those locations. So we continued to hike up the road towards headquarters. We then found a trail heading towards the creek near where Trail 9 hits the road. We found the creek to be rather shallow here and were able to successfully cross with only the soles of our shoes getting wet.

The trail from that point on was very easy. We met a couple of ladies on horseback and yielded the trail to them -- as trail etiquette warrants -- and soon found ourselves back on trail 8 heading for our truck.

This park offers some good hiking. The elevation changes are not too great. Because there are so many trails, you should be able to hike the park several times without repeating previous hikes.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Stonehenge II

One of the most unusual sites you're likely to see in the Texas Hill Country is Stonehenge II. Started as a lark by Doug Hill in 1989, Stonehenge II is roughly 2/3 the size of the original in England. The stones are about 90 percent the height and 60 percent the width of the original.

After the original arch was in place, Al Sheppard, the owner of the land, then commissioned Doug Hill to complete the project. Nine months later, the steel and concrete circle was finished. To complement the work, Sheppard added a couple of equally mysterious figures from Easter Island.

Since its completion, Stonehenge II was removed from Al Sheppard's land and relocated on the campus of the Hill Country Arts Foundation. To visit the site, head west from Kerrville on Highway 27. In Ingram, Highway 27 (the Junction Highway) veers northwest while Highway 39 continues west along the Guadalupe River. Take Highway 39 another .7 mile. After passing the Old Ingram Loop and then crossing Johnson Creek, you will see Stonehenge II on the south side of the highway. I do not recall seeing a sign indicating its location.

Stonehenge II, near Ingram, Texas

I placed Donna on the altar, then sacrificed her. She had gotten a bit too sassy.

Copy of a stone from Easter Island stands in front of Stonehenge II; another Easter Island figure is located nearby