Saturday, May 30, 2015

Summary of Hill Country Trip

What a difference 2 weeks makes. On our recent trip to the Hill County, we had rain everyday, but nothing dangerous. It was enough, though, to keep the ground saturated, so that when the rains started falling harder about a week ago, flooding began. I'm glad we were back home before all the flooding happened. While camped at Blanco State Park, we were a mere 100 yards or less from that then peaceful river. In a mass email from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department I received yesterday, they warned subscribers about the recent floods and damage to the parks in Texas, some of which will need to close for repairs. The email also contained this link to a You Tube video of Blanco State Park after the flood. On May 23, 2015 over 12 inches of rain led the Blanco River to crest at 40 feet (breaking the gauge) causing significant flooding and damage to the park. Again, this video is after the flooding and shows the damage.

In my entries for the trip, which I previously posted, I did not include everything we did. I mentioned only 2 places that we ate, the Phoenix Saloon in New Braunfels and the Salt Lick in Driftwood. (See "San Marcos Day Trip" and "Good Eats: The Salt Lick, Driftwood, Texas.") But we ate other places as well. For example, while in Blanco, we ate at two places.

After our hike at Inks Lake State Park (see "Hike Report: Inks Lake State Park"), we stopped in at Old 300 BBQ on the square in downtown Blanco. We weren't particularly hungry, so we only had chopped beef sandwiches. I don't normally order chopped beef, but felt an urge to that day. I enjoyed the sandwich, enough so that I want to go back and sample their brisket. What we really wanted, though, was to sample their beer. They have $2 draft beer every weekday from 3 to 6, and after our hike we were a bit thirsty. They have 4 beers on tap, 2 from the local brewery, Real Ale Brewing Company. I can't recall exactly which beers from this brewery they carried, but we only sampled 1. They also carried a beer from the Twisted X Brewing Company in nearby Driftwood. Again, I don't recall what the specific beer was. There was another craft beer on tap, but again, I don't recall the name. In all honesty, we didn't care for the beer they carried. That's not to say they were bad; they just weren't what we enjoy. We prefer dark porters with hints of chocolate and coffee. But this is definitely a place I'll return to and, yes, I'll sample their beers again because I really like draft beer.

We also ate at the Hacienda El Charro right outside the entrance to the state park in Blanco. This is a tiny place, but I liked the food. It's nothing fancy and nothing to write home about, but the food is quite decent and reasonably priced. And since it's just outside the park gate, it's an easy walk.

In addition to eating out and the other activities I posted, we also drove down to Guadalupe River State Park one day to explore there. We had hoped to hike, but it poured on us during the drive there, then sprinkled the rest of the time. Perhaps we can hike there another time. While in the park, we also looked at camping facilities in case we should want to camp there sometime. They do not have full hookups, though, so we'll probably pass up camping there and just return to Blanco -- when it dries out.

And of course, Donna fished quite a bit. It was easy at Blanco for her to grab a pole, some lures, and walk the short distance to the river and cast her line about. It keeps her happy and out of trouble most of the time, so it's a good way to get her out of my hair for a while. I just wish she'd bring something home to eat from time to time.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

There's Water in Them There Lakes

San Angelo and the Concho Valley have been blessed with some good rains this year. As I write this, our area is about 5 inches above our average for this time of year. About 10 days ago, the area had some record-breaking rainfall, receiving anywhere from 2 to 6 inches in a very short period of time. We recorded 4.5 inches at our house. There was flooding all over the area, but the worst damage seemed to be along the North Concho River, which runs in a southwesterly direction from near Big Spring down through the heart of San Angelo where it merges with the South Concho River.

As a result, we now have water in O. C. Fisher Reservoir, which is the lake within the confines of San Angelo State Park. We've had virtually no water in that lake since we moved here about 4 years ago.

For contrast, here are a couple of pictures taken almost 4 years apart. The first is O.C. Fisher Reservoir on August 5, 2011. The second was taken just a few days ago.

O. C. Fisher Reservoir from August 5, 2011

O. C. Fisher from almost the same location on May 24, 2015
Today, O. C. Fisher has over 15,000 acre feet of water. Twin Buttes, another lake that was virtually bone dry a couple of weeks ago, now has more than 20,000 acre feet. Twin buttes is located due west of San Angelo and is fed by the Middle Concho watershed while O. C. Fisher is fed by the North Concho watershed.

O. C. Fisher from Isabell Harte Park within the state park. This picture shows that the lake could still hold quite a bit more water.

We've had good rain this spring. In fact, we are 4 to 5 inches above our average for this time of year. Farms and especially ranches are looking much healthier. There is much improved forage for livestock.

But this doesn't mean the drought is over as I hear many people say. Yes, pastures look better and there is water in our lakes. But our main resource lake, O. H. Ivie, has seen little improvement from the rains. Ivie is located about 60 miles due east and is fed by the Colorado and Concho Rivers and their tributaries. We get our water from this lake. Even though these areas have seen good rains as well, the runoff hasn't been as good and the rise in the lake has not been as significant as with other lakes. Still, we'll take what we can get.

On a related note, I arose early 2 days after our heavy rains. As I drove down our alley, I noticed 3 yards whose sprinklers were running. What a waste. I do not know why people can't turn off their sprinkler systems until they need them. All you have to do is push a single button on most systems. We must learn to eliminate this type of wasteful behavior.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

38 Years and Counting

The old woman and I were married 38 years ago today. Our longevity together is a testament to my patience and easy-going personality. I do have a lot to put up with. Anyone who knows us will tell you that.

To celebrate this momentous occasion, I got the old girl up early and took her to San Angelo State Park for a 5 mile road walk (See "Walking San Angelo State Park"). I do my best to make sure she doesn't put on any excess weight. I'm always thinking about her, you know.

After our walk, I took her out to a $12.94 meal at my favorite fast food restaurant. Nothing's too good for for my wife. After our romantic lunch, we then went to Sam's Wholesale Club to pick up some food supplies.

We then came home. After a nap, I mowed the yard while Donna cleaned the house.

And that's how 2 old codgers celebrate 38 years of marriage. I do know how to show a girl a good time.

Seriously, we travel all the time and eat out quite a bit. We've simply reached the point where birthdays, anniversaries, and such are pretty much like any other day. We celebrate every day and always look forward to tomorrow.

Our best to all of you.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Hike Report: Kerrville-Schreiner Park

On our first day at Kerrville-Schreiner Park, we decided to do a short hike. It was a cool day for mid-May, probably in the mid 60s, and a light mist was falling. From our trailer at site 115, we took the short walk to the first trail head along the main park road. This was the Red Trail, labeled a relatively easy 1.1 mile trail. A kiosk was at the trail head. Click here for a map of the park.

Trail head for Red Trail, a "relatively easy 1.1 mile trail"

Shortly after heading down the trail, we came to a junction. The Red Trail is a loop trail, so either fork we followed would keep us on the Red Trail. We took the right fork and headed in a counter-clockwise direction. The trail wound through thickets of ash juniper. As with all the trails we would hike in the park, it was well worn and well maintained. Signs appeared from time to time indicating the color of the trail, and occasionally a letter would appear, such as “A” or “B”. We never figured out what these letters were for.

Well defined trails, with color signage posted. Also note sign farther down on right fork. Arrows are outlined in appropriately colored paint to indicate trail. The sign above the arrows states "BE AWARE Wild animals exist in the park that can be dangerous. Favorable habitat/unconfirmed sightings of: Venomous snakes, Fox, Mountain Lion, Coyote. Don't hike alone. Please report any sightings to park headquarters." But there is this potential almost any time you hike in Texas west of I-35.
Looks like someone buried their beloved pet here. The marker reads: "Snow Ball. 5-12-63 to 2-16-75"

Straight segment of the trail through ash juniper

After walking about half of the Red Trail loop, we came to a junction with the Green Trail, labeled a moderately difficult 1.95 mile trail. We walked almost the entire length of this trail, though, and did not find it moderately difficult. In fact, we found it no different from the Red Trail except in length.

The Green Trail eventually junctions with the Orange Trail, labeled a “steep and difficult” trail of 1.4 miles. Just a few feet to the right is another junction where the Orange Trail loop begins. We followed the right fork in a counter-clockwise direction. Eventually, the trail makes a sharp turn where the park property line ends. There are some nice views in different directions here. We then followed the fence line in the general direction we had just come from, basically a southwesterly direction, I believe. The trail then makes a short climb to the highest point on the trail. Aside from this climb, I found this trail to be no more difficult than the other trails. The views from the top are quite good. If you look carefully, you can see the airport, the VA Hospital, and other sites.

View from high point on Orange Trail.

VA Hospital north of the park

The trail then quickly dips back down to the loop junction and on to its junction with the Blue Trail. We followed this “relatively easy” jeep trail for 1.3 miles to the main park road.

Blue Trail, described as a "jeep trail" on the map.
If you total all the mileage, it would seem that we hiked a total of almost 5 miles (all of the Orange and Blue trails, plus most of the Green Trail and half of the Red Trail). However, it took us only an hour and a half, so I would guess the distance to be much less, perhaps 4 miles at most. We encountered only 1 other person on the trail.

The trail is in great shape, very clear and well maintained. Signage is good all along the trail.I felt it to be a relatively easy hike, mostly through ash juniper.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Kerrville-Schreiner Park

Kerrville-Schreiner Park is a 517 acre park owned and operated by the city of Kerrville. Originally, the park was a city park, but was deeded to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in the 1930s and was a state park for many years, but control was returned to the city in 2004.

We had never stayed here before, so we planned a stay of only 2 nights on our way home from Blanco just to check it out. It’s a nice park, and we plan to visit again.

The park is in the southeast side of Kerrville and is divided by Texas 173, which is the highway running from Kerrville to Bandera. The section north of the highway borders the south bank of the Guadalupe River. I’m sure this section of the park is brimming with people during the summer. The section south of the highway is much larger and contains the hiking trails.

The Guadalupe River forms the north border of the park. This picture is looking downstream from the day use area (see map in brochure)

Camping is available in both sections. For RVers, there are 30 amp and 50 amp camping areas on both sides of the river. The 50 amp campground in the north section has the only covered picnic tables in the park. Oddly, though, the utilities in these sites are split. The sewer connection is on one side of the pull through while the water and electricity are on the other. In addition to RV sites and tent camping, numerous "mini" cabins are also available. From what we could tell, these are a step up from shelters and contain air conditioning, but no bathroom facilities. Tent camping is also available in both sides of the park.

Some of the mini cabins in the park. These are located in the "High Point" area. Note air conditioner in the unit on right.

A couple of the tent sites in the "Fawn Hide-a-Way" campground. I did not see electrical outlets, and I believe 2 campsites may share a water spigot.
Exterior of restroom located in Pecan Loop on the north section.

The Pecan Loop campground in the north section has 30 amp full hookup sites. These sites appear to be more level than those in the Deer Field Loop.

A brochure, complete with map, description of facilities, fees, and other information is available here.

We stayed in the Deer Field Loop camping area in the south section in site 115. All sites in this campground are pull-through, and based on my observations, I would say most are not level. They are 30 amp sites with full hookups. All interior roads and sites are paved. Our camping area was very quiet at night. It is far enough from Highway 173 that we could hear little if any highway noise. Camping areas in the north section are closer to the road and would probably be exposed to much more highway noise.

There is a laundromat located behind the bathroom in the Deer Field Loop, but machines are exposed to the elements, so I would not use them. We did locate a small laundromat on Highway 173 near its intersection with Highway 16, and it appeared to be quite nice.

We camped in the Deer Field Loop camping area in site 115.

Utilities in this campground are conveniently located close together. Note table and fire ring. Tables in this campground are not covered. Note that sites are well maintained. Mowing was going on while we were there.
Showers in men's bathroom in Deer Field Loop. In addition to these 2 shower stalls, there is also a handicapped stall located behind door on right.

Men's bathroom in Deer Field Loop. Bathrooms appeared to be well maintained.

Check-in, by the way, is at the park headquarters in the north section. About 100 yards in on the south section, there is a gate that requires a code. If you don’t have the code and need to turn around, it is a tight fit for most rigs, so be sure to check in at the headquarters in the north section first.

The park is well maintained. Sites are regularly mowed and all roads and sites are paved. Deer are plentiful throughout the park and wander through the campgrounds throughout the day.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Good Eats: The Salt Lick, Driftwood, Texas

I’m not a BBQ snob. I don’t get embroiled in those discussions of whether Memphis BBQ is better than Kansas City BBQ, for example, or if Carolina BBQ is better than Texas BBQ. Whatever BBQ you like is the best BBQ. Most of us are influenced greatly by the BBQ we ate growing up. For me, that would be the sliced brisket from Sam’sOriginal Restaurant in Fairfield, Texas. (See "Good Eats: Sam's Original Restaurant and BBQ, Fairfield, Texas" from August 2012). That BBQ has more or less been the standard for me over the years. It is smoked over hardwoods, and just pulls apart on your plate. When served, it is covered in a sweet BBQ sauce. The potato salad, beans, and bread are among the best I’ve ever had.

But over the years, my tastes have altered, and today I prefer to use no sauce when possible. It’s kind of like a steak with me. When served a steak, I always sample a bite. To me, a properly seasoned and cooked steak needs no sauce. The same with BBQ. If the BBQ is truly good, it does not need sauce. And that is one of the many things I like about the central Texas meat markets. Most of them just serve meat, and some of them don’t even provide any type of sauce other than hot sauce. It's that rich smoky flavor that I crave these days.

I’ve heard about the Salt Lick outside of Austin near Driftwood for years. It has been featured on numerous food shows. Needless to say, it has a reputation. I knew that as a good Texan, I could not go to my grave without at least one visit to this legendary establishment. So during our stay at Blanco, we took the short drive through the winding narrow backroads of the Hill Country to Driftwood to see what the fuss was all about.

We were impressed with the scope of the place upon arrival. The parking lot is huge, and the restaurant itself sprawls through the oaks. We arrived a few minutes before 11, and only a few other people were ahead of us. We stood in line outside at a little booth. A young lady would then greet us, escort us in and seat us with our menus. It is a slow process, as the distance from the booth to our table was probably about 50 yards. The problem is not the distance, but the time it takes the young lady to escort a group in, then return for the next customers. But we figured the wait would be worth it.

We were disappointed.

We decided to try the senior combo plates (see the Driftwood menu). Donna ordered the sausage and ribs while I ordered the brisket and sausage. We could then share so that we could sample a variety of meats. These plates cost $9.95, a reasonable price for a reasonable BBQ dinner these days. We each were served a dish with about 6 slices of sausage. I had one thin strip of brisket, perhaps the thickness of a crepe, while Donna had 1 rib. So, that $9.95 wasn't looking like a good value now. The meat lacked any real flavor, and the brisket was a bit tough. It wasn’t bad; it just didn’t have the flavor we’ve grown to love in smoked meats. And that is because the meat isn’t smoked. It is cooked over an open pit, so there is no smoking; note the picture on their web site.

The sides were a bit unusual as well. The potato salad was basically potatoes cut into squares and boiled, then mixed with some brown liquid that coated them and provided a bit of flavor. I saw no bits of things one normally puts in potato salad, such as pickles or onions. Donna said that some of her potatoes were not done enough. The slaw also was merely shredded cabbage coated in some sort of slightly seasoned mix, but it, too, had little flavor. The beans were  fine, and the bread was great.

So, is the food at the Salt Lick bad? No, not at all. I cleaned my plate. But it is not what Donna and I look for in BBQ these days. We prefer places such as Smitty’s Market in Lockhart or City Market in Luling. I suspect that a lot of folks simply eat at the Salt Lick because of its legendary status. But if you look over the web site, you'll see all sorts of testimonials from various organizations, publications, and others, so a lot of people like this place.

And one final thing. Should you go to the Salt Lick, be sure to take cash.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Hike Report: Inks Lake State Park

I’ve wanted to hike Inks Lake State Park for some years now, but never seemed to get around to it. On our recent trip to Blanco State Park, we decided to make the short drive north and visit this popular park.

We put together a hike consisting of parts of 3 trail systems and their “connecting” trails. When you check in at the office, be sure to pick up one of the trail maps just to the inside right of the door. I neglected to do this because I thought the official Inks Lake State Park facilities map was a good map of the trails, but it does not show all the trails, nor does it name them. At this time, this trail map is not available online.

We began our hike at the parking area next to the park headquarters. Initially, we followed the “green” trail, which heads south on a good crushed rock surface. The green trail is actually the “Lake Trail.” The complete trail is 2 miles, and we walked almost the entire length. At less than a quarter mile, we arrived at our first decision. A side trail veered west, and no sign was present to direct us. But the park map showed such a trail, so we continued south, which was the right decision. The first of many sizable granite outcroppings rose up before us, and an arm of the lake appeared on our right.

Trailhead near park headquarters. These kiosks are located at major trail junctions throughout the trail system.
Granite outcroppings such as this are very common along the trail.

Arm of Inks Lake near the start of the trail.
Down the trail, another trail junction appeared, this one marked with an “Interpretive Trail” sign. Again, the map showed a trail heading east confirming our location, so we continued south. Near the end of this hike later in the day, we would come out on this trail. We crossed a small foot bridge, and walked briefly along Park Road 4. At some point here, there is another trail junction, but I never saw it. This part of the trail is simply a loop, and we were on the right-hand part of the loop. It took us up and over small granite covered hills. Wildflowers and prickly pear cactus were in bloom, and there are many views of the lake.

Prickly pear in bloom along the trail.

The trail affords numerous good views, including this one of the Inks Lake dam.

Along much of the trail, including the section we were currently on, the trail crosses very rocky areas where no trail is visible. But if you look closely, you can see where people have walked before, and there often is a “trail” of sorts on the rock. But also look for the painted blazes. At this point, since we were on the green trail, we sought out the round green blazes painted on rock surfaces. From time to time, flat metal posts were present. Occasionally, you may need to simply stop and look about before spotting your next blaze, but they are there.

At this granite outcropping, you can clearly see the trail worn across the rock over time. Numerous rock cairns also populate the rock. We stopped so that Donna could build her own cairn.
At the next signless trail junction, we decided to head south. We almost immediately crossed Park Road 4 on this “connecting” trail, then hit a trail junction with a kiosk. This was the blue trail, otherwise known as the “Wilderness Trail.” It’s total length is also 2 miles. It “circles through juniper woodlands over rough grounds” according to the kiosk info. We followed this loop trail in a counter-clockwise direction. At this point, we were “off” the park map and relying solely on what we had seen on the kiosk map. From that map, we knew this trail had only 1 other junction besides the one we had entered the trail from, so we felt confident.

I find things like this tree growth interesting. Pioneers might have cut off the growth and fashioned it into a bowl of some wort.
This little beauty is about to burst forth. You can find beauty everywhere in nature.

Notice the blue blaze in center foreground, as well as the rocks lining the trail.

In places along the Wilderness Trail, grass and other plant growth began crowding the trail. In some places, it was chest high.
Overall, we would follow the Woodland Trail for almost all of its 2 mile length. This was the longest section of the hike. It took us over an hour. We were constantly working our way up or down hills, threading our way through boulders. There were also sections of very tall grass we found ourselves walking through. The Hill Country has enjoyed good rain this spring, and the lush countryside was evidence of this. In a couple of places, the growth was chest high. The trail itself was always worn and visible, but the grass and brush would crowd in from the sides. Near the end of this trail, we spotted a mature doe grazing, but she darted off as soon as she became aware of our presence.

After more than an hour on this trail, I was beginning to wonder if we would ever hit our trail junction. But we finally found it, and another kiosk was available. We took the connecting trail east. At some point, according to the map, the connecting trail should have had a junction with a south trail heading off to a youth camp area. I never saw this trail, though. I did see a 2 wheel track intersect our trail from a northerly direction at an angle. We followed it for a short distance before it veered off in a southerly direction, but I did not see a sign.

It's always reassuring to come across a kiosk on a trail.
At our next trail junction, we picked up the Pecan Flats Trail, or yellow trail. The total trail length is 3.3 miles, but we took the left junction north for only a mile or so before we worked our way back across the Park Road to rejoin the green trail at the fork where I mentioned the “Interpretive Trail” sign earlier. But this left part of the Pecan Flats Trail is very scenic, with good views of the lake and a distant view of the dam on Lake Buchanan. This trail also has numbered markers, so pick up an interpretive guide at the headquarters to help you identify things along the way.

Distant view of the Lake Buchanan Dam.

Wildflowers looked great on the hike. We were too late for the bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes, but there were plenty of other flowers to see.

Deer near the end of the hike.

The scenery is great on the trails. The hike does require some effort. It seems as if we were almost constantly climbing or descending, working our way slowly around rocks and boulders. Although the elevation change is not much throughout the park, the constant up and down can tire you out. And be careful walking around the boulders. Some have areas where rattlesnakes can be resting out of sight.

We encountered only 1 group of 4 senior citizens on our hike, accompanied by their unleashed dog. Otherwise, we had the trail to ourselves even though the park was bristling with visitors. Road noise from Park Road 4 is fairly constant. Otherwise, it was a nice and peaceful hike.