Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Hike Report: Multiple Trails at Mother Neff State Park

During our stay at Mother Neff State Park, we did a bit of hiking. Since the park is not large, trail distances are limited, and there are only about 5 miles of trails within the park. We did roughly half of that amount, but it was a very interesting and pleasant hike. There are quite a few "points of interest" in this little park.

The map of the park, which also shows the trails, is pretty reliable, but there are some details that are a bit off. I'll point these out as I move through the hike. If you have some trail savvy and can read a map with common sense, you should be able to get around just fine.

We began our hike in the multi-use camping loop and took the Tower Trail. The trail head for this trail is located in the parking area directly across from the restrooms. This section of trail is relatively flat, and passes through an area of good grass and numerous trees.

Start of Tower Trail at parking area across from restrooms. Trail is barely discernible in center of picture.
I believe these are junipers, but I'm not a tree expert.There are several thick wooded areas like this.

The trail in this section is outlined in rocks. This section is arrow straight.
After half a mile or so, we came to the bird blind (see picture below). It's a typical bird blind, much like others in the state park system. There is seating behind glass, and a bird guide is available on the wall. In the viewing area, water and bird feeders are available to attract birds.

Bird blind
Just past the bird blind, there is a trail junction. Actually, the trail is to the right (north). The trail to the left (south) is actually a spur that leads to the Tower. The trail map is a bit misleading here. We took the spur a very short distance (50 yards, perhaps) to the Tower. Climb to the top of the tower, which is on a rise, and you will be slightly above the tree line, thereby having views of the surrounding country.

The Tower
Looking west from atop the Tower
After checking out the Tower, we returned down the spur and continued on the trail for a short distance. The next trail junction gave us 2 options: north (right) would take us to the Wash Pond, while west (left) would take us to the cave. We decided to go to the cave, then return to the Wash Pond trail on our way back to the campground.

We then crossed a bridge, where a small seep provided a small trickle of water. The area had received heavy rain the previous 2 weeks, so the seep may have been running only because of that. Just beyond the bridge is the old CCC Table, which sits at another trail junction. I do not know the significance of this table, but based on the name, it must related to the Civilian Conservation Corps who built this park in the early days. At the junction, we headed west (right), which led us up a steep slope to a parking area on the road connecting the two sections of the park (see previous entry, "Mother Neff State Park"). The connecting road, though less than a mile in length, has 2 or 3 parking areas to allow visitors to access the trail system.

CCC Table
Once on the road, we walked towards the southern portion of the park for perhaps a quarter mile at most before coming to another parking area with a trail leading down to the cave. The "cave" is actually an overhang that measures 45 feet deep and about 90 feet long. Tonkawa Indians used this "cave". According to the information available, the area is called a cave rather than a rock shelter because of the "living features" along the back of the cave. I noticed several areas where water was dripping along the back wall.

Trail leading down to the cave, which is partially obscured by small trees.

Partial view of the cave, with its overhang clearly visible.
Green stains along back wall indicate where water seeps in. I suppose these are the "living features" mentioned in the information provided about the cave.
This is the view the inhabitants of the cave would have had. This ravine has steep slopes on either side.
View of the cave from the trail as we walked away towards the east.

After visiting the cave, we followed the trail down the ravine in an easterly direction until we intersected with the "Lost Trail," which heads south to the older section of the park. Instead, we turned north, following the stream bed formed by the waters of the Wash Pond as they work their way towards the Leon River. Soon we found ourselves again at the CCC Table. We recrossed the bridge we had crossed earlier, then turned north (left) on the Wash Pond Trail.

Another trail junction on the right appeared, but we continued on the Wash Pond Trail. We soon could hear water running. Another trail to our right, the Prairie Trail, does not appear on the map, but it led down to a stream crossing where water flowed over some rocks. We checked this out, then continued on the Wash Pond Trail as the map indicates the trail passes by this site before continuing on to the Canyon Trail, which would lead us back to the campground. However, the Wash Pond itself is the end of the trail, and is located next to a parking area on the connecting road.

The Wash Pond is fed by springs that are close to the surface. Today, these springs only run after recent rains. A major area of runoff is in the top center of this picture.
After visiting the Wash Pond, we retraced our steps to the Prairie Trail turn off and took that trail. The stream we crossed there is runoff from the Wash Pond. We then followed the Prairie Trail back to our campground.

Looking upstream towards the Wash Pond from the Prairie Trail crossing of the small creek.
Rocks in stream bed are used for stepping stones; they also create a small water fall.

The trails we hiked were easy, but there are some steep climbs in a couple of places. Almost the entire trail was in the woods. This is really a pleasant hike with lots to see for such a short hike.

An excellent hike report on this trail system is available at Texas Hiking.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Mother Neff State Park

Donna and I just returned from a short trip to Mother Neff State Park. This is a jewel of a park, and I started not to write about it because I want to keep this place to myself. Once people find out just how nice it is, it will be overrun, I'm afraid.

Mother Neff State Park is in the center of a triangle formed by Waco, Temple, and Gatesville. It's main entrance is less than a mile south of Texas 107, which runs from Gatesville to Moody.

Today, the park encompasses almost 400 acres. The park is named for Isabella Eleanor Neff, who donated the original 6 acres of the park. Over time, the park acquired additional tracts of land, including a 250 acre tract from "Mother" Neff's son, Pat M. Neff, who served as Governor of Texas from 1929 to 1932 and was instrumental in the development of the Texas State Parks system. Additional information on the development of this park is available at http://tpwd.texas.gov/publications/pwdpubs/media/pwd_lf_p4503_0022h.pdf.

Activities at the park are mainly limited to camping and nature pursuits, such as fishing, hiking, and bird watching. Most of the park is fairly flat except for a deep ravine slicing through the center of the park from north to south. Numerous trees dominate the central portion of the park, including junipers, oaks, elms, and pecans, among others. Various bird species abound throughout the park.

The park has recently undergone a massive upgrade, with a new headquarters located in the north section of the park and a new 20 site campground, all with full hookups. I did not take pictures of the campground, but you can find some very good ones @ http://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/mother-neff/fees-facilities/campsites. Just click on the picture for the type of campsite you are interested in to bring up the pictures.

Bath house in the new camping loop

Interior of men's bath house

Handicapped shower in men's bath house

The park is bounded on the east by highway 236. Although it is not a busy highway by any means, campsites nearest the highway do get more highway noise. Also, 3 or 4 of those campsites have no trees, so they have a rather barren look. We stayed in campsite 16, which is a pull through, and we were very happy there.

Access to this section of the road is blocked to large rigs, like motorhomes and travel trailers.
A road with limited access connects the old part of the park in the south with the new section in the north. This is a narrow, twisting road, and large rigs are not allowed on this section of road, which is just under 1 mile in length. I think it would be a good place to ride a bike, as there is little up and down on this stretch.

The south part of the park is the older section. The park is bounded on the south by the muddy Leon River, and fishing is available there. Today this section is a day use area.

Rock Tabernacle in the older section of the park

Breezeway building in the older section of the park

The muddy Leon River, looking downstream from the bridge just outside the old park entrance

Logjam on the Leon River, looking upstream from the bridge just outside the entrance to the older section of the park. Note park building in background right center.
Mother Neff SP is almost halfway between San Angelo and Donna's home of Conroe, just north of Houston. We plan to make it a regular stop as we make our periodic trips to the Conroe area. It's a peaceful park, and a good place to spend a few days just enjoying nature.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

On the Road: San Angelo, TX, to Mother Neff State Park

We recently took our trailer to Mother Neff State Park (see map below) for a short trip. We intended the trip to be longer and include other state parks, but because of mechanical problems, we had to cut the trip short and return home. I'll discuss this in another entry.

But for now, let me tell you about the trip we did get to make.

200 miles from San Angelo to Mother Neff State Park
Note: When I write these types of "On the Road" entries, I do so from the perspective of an RVer. I discuss the roads, for example, as well as convenient stopping places.

The first part of the trip -- from Angelo to Ballinger -- was easy enough. That 36 miles on US 67 is relatively level, straight, and 4 lanes. There was little wind the entire trip, so I was getting good gas mileage. On 4 lanes, I normally cruise along about 55 - 58 mph when pulling the trailer. During this portion of the trip, I was able to get 12.4 mpg. This stretch of the trip passes through farm land and only 2 small towns: Miles, which has a wonderful meat market -- Sklenarik's --should you ever pass through (try their jalapeno cheese sausage) and then Rowena, the birthplace of the infamous Bonnie Parker of "Bonnie and Clyde" fame.

The land along US 67 from Ballinger to Santa Anna is almost completely devoted to ranching. The terrain is hilly and covered with mesquite, prickly pear, and native grasses. The roadway is 2 lanes, but with a few passing lanes. Actually, there are more passing lanes heading west than east, but any passing lanes help. On highways like this, I normally continue driving about 55-58 mph, but when I first see a car in my rear view mirror, I kick it up to 60. Once the car gets close, I then move up to 65, but that is as fast as I will go when pulling a trailer. Most trailer tires are rated for 65 mph, and I don't want to push my luck. I increase my speed because I don't want to slow traffic down any more than I have to. If I can, I will pull on the shoulder and allow them to pass, but this particular roadway does not have good shoulders for that.

Near the end of this stretch, the roadway tops out on a high hill and the 3 hills north of Santa Anna are clearly visible. Actually, they first appear miles farther west. These familiar hills are landmarks to travelers in this region, both modern and earlier travelers, such as Indians and pioneers. At Santa Anna, the roadway once again becomes 4 lanes as it passes through Bangs and then enters Brownwood, the largest town on the trip other than San Angelo.

We stopped for fuel in Brownwood, then turned south on highway 84/183 and headed to Goldthwaite. We kept the 4 lanes to Zephyr, about 15 miles southeast of Brownwood. From Zephyr to Goldthwaite, the roadway is 2 lanes with good shoulders and regular passing lanes from time to time. Most of the traffic on this highway turns at Goldthwaite and continues south towards Austin on US 183, but we turned due east and stayed on US 84. The next 50 miles was more ranch land. The road surface, still 2 lanes, has good shoulders and periodic passing lanes.

At Gatesville, there are 2 good places for RVers to gas up. There is a Shell station on the extreme west side of town -- where the 2 lanes expand to 4 lanes for town. On the east side is a station at the intersection of Texas 36 and US 84. Both have competitive prices. When we were there, both stations had regular for $2.03, while the best price in town was at $2.01; however, it was at a station I could not manipulate with my rig.

From Gatesville, we took highway 107 for the remaining 20 miles to our turnoff to the park. A word of warning for those that might want to visit this park is in order. The park has undergone massive renovations in the last year or so. A new park entrance is in place on the north end of the park. All RVs must enter here. The old entrance just north of the Leon River is still open, but you can't get to the campground from there with a big rig. To make matters worse, there is no park sign indicating the entrance to the park, though the name of the park is on the entrance walls along the park road. The trouble is, you will be passing the park when you see the entrance. Yep, we missed the entrance and went a mile farther down the road to the old entrance, where you can drive in and make a circle and then head back.

It was a good trip. Our overall mileage was 11.6. There was little traffic most of the trip, so I was able to keep my speed to that 55-58 range for the most part, thereby ensuring pretty good mileage.

In the next 2 entries, I'll described the park and take you on a hike with us.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

We Survived

It was a rough 4 days and 3 nights, but Donna and I survived -- barely. Donna took the brunt of the attack from our grandsons, as they all follow her around. I was able to hide away in a safe room quite a bit.

The lads are full of life, that's for sure. Having 2 young ones just a year apart is really trying. They both require so much attention. Donna and Camden really bonded. I'm afraid that little guy is going to miss his Gammaw now that he has returned home. He really took a liking to her.

Jensen is crawling everywhere, and he's able to pull himself up. He doesn't crawl on his hands and knees; rather, he crawls like a spider on his hands and feet with his bottom sticking up. He makes good time. And Camden climbs on everything. You really have to watch him or he'll do a high dive off of something.

And then there's Xander, who is easy going but quite lively himself. He's a bottomless pit who eats us out of house and home. As soon as he's done with one meal, he's asking for snacks. But he's a big help with his little brothers.

Donna and I are used to being alone. Our house is always in order and usually very quiet. When the grandsons come, that all changes. Toys are scattered all over the house, kids are running in every direction, there's laughing and screaming and crying. It's really hard to adjust to the change when they visit.

I personally think that Xander called a meeting each night while we were sleeping so that he and his little brothers could plot destruction and mayhem for the next day. 

This is what monsters look like when they are sleeping. Actually, they're really only recharging their batteries for another spell of pillaging and looting.

Camden unleashed in our back yard. He seems to be interested in his shadow.
Jensen will probably be walking the next time we see him.
The Godfather of the Monsters himself, Mr. Xander. He sits back and calls the shots.

Monday, March 16, 2015

A Last Minute Reprieve

Like a death row inmate at the last minute, Donna and I got a reprieve from our daughter. She has to delay her trip here for a day. That gives Donna and me 1 more day before we have to face the music from Courtney and her little assassins.

But the reprieve is only for one day. That bunch of ruffians will be here tomorrow. 

To celebrate our extra day of peace and calm, Donna and I decided to do a short walk out at the park. We were disappointed that more people were not taking advantage of the park. The 2 campgrounds we passed were probably only about 60% to 70% full.

The weather was beautiful: temp was about 70 with plenty of sunshine and very little wind. It's a rare day to have such a beautiful day in this area, for the wind usually blows pretty hard this time of year.

We caught sight of a small group of wild pigs. I don't know much about pigs and I don't know what the difference is between a feral pig, a wild pig, and a javelina.

The lake at the park is now completely dry. Since our heavy rains last May or so, we've had at least a little water in the lake, but no more. We could really use a period of steady rain. We need several inches over several days, so that runoff can fill our area lakes.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

I'm a Marked Man

I've been pretty busy lately. I've been looking for a good place to hide. In fact, I've thought about building a safe room. You see, the Sheriff is coming to town, and he's bringing that posse of ruffians with him.

Yeah, the Terror of West Texas is on his way. He'll be here Monday, and he plans to stay several days. He's been pretty busy lately terrorizing villages to the north of us, but he's getting a bit bored with that, so he's set his sights on his old grandparents. We went out today to stock up on medication. I hope we can survive.

Next week is Spring Break for most West Texas schools, so Courtney and the boys plan to spend the week with us. Xander and Jensen are no problem; they're both happy, easy going boys. But that Camden . . . . that boy's a handful, and he has no fear of anything. He's jump off the roof without giving it a second thought.

We haven't seen the lads since Christmas, and the two younger ones are still at the age where they change quite a bit between visits. Xander is pretty much the same from visit to visit; he's absolutely no trouble at all. All three are so different in appearance and behavior and personality.

I'll let you know next week how we fare.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Short Trip to East Texas

Donna and I took a short trip to East Texas earlier this week. It was cold and wet when we left and cold and wet when we returned. I'm really ready for spring.

Because of the bad weather, we did not take our trailer. Instead, we did the hotel trip.

It was nice to see the colors of East Texas. There was lots of green grass, some dogwoods, some redbuds, and some daffodils among others. The rivers were full, and lakes and stock tanks were in good shape. East Texas appears to be a well-watered country right now.

We've had a lot of wet weather in San Angelo as well, but not to the same degree. Over the past 3 weeks or so, we've had numerous freezes, and a little bit of ice, sleet, and snow, but altogether I bet we haven't had more than half an inch of moisture at the most. So, we've had all the treacherous weather without the advantages of good moisture. Our lakes are still drying out, our pastures are still over-grazed, and there just isn't much color.

But the year is still young, and I still hope for good rains as spring approaches.