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

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Kerrville-Schreiner Park, October 2015

Donna and I have just returned from a great week spent at Kerrville-Schreiner Park in Kerrville, Texas. This city park is quickly becoming our "go to" park, for many reasons. First of all, it has full hookups for our trailer, and that is always good for RVers. Second, the park is located just on the southeast edge of town, so it is convenient to city services, such as restaurants and grocery stores. And even though it is so near town, it retains a great rural feel about it. I don't think there has been a single day yet when we have not viewed deer grazing somewhere in our campground.

I've written about this park before, so I'll try not to repeat myself here. For further reading, you may refer to these previous entries:
The weather really cooperated with us for the week. Daily highs usually reached the mid to upper 70s. A few of the nights were a bit chilly, dipping down into the low 40s, so we did have to run our furnace some. We did experience about 36 hours of on-and-off rain near the end of our stay, but it was a gentle rain for the most part, the kind that you love to sleep to.

We spent a great deal of time outside just enjoying the weather and the scenic setting. Kerr County lifted its burn ban just prior to our arrival, so we were able to enjoy a fire on a couple of nights. We also took strolls around the park, rode our bikes a bit, and enjoyed 3 local restaurants. We also took a short hike at a nearby park, and I'll report on this in a separate entry. It really was just a peaceful week for us, a chance to really enjoy being outdoors.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this trip is that practically all the other guests in our campground were like us. They were people our age out to enjoy being outdoors. During summer months, younger campers descend on the park to enjoy the river, and it verges a bit on a party atmosphere. But the group this time was very quiet. Each day, we'd see our neighbors all around sitting out, cooking on their grills, enjoying camp fires, taking walks around the park, riding their bicycles, and just enjoying the atmosphere. It wasn't loud, and no one disturbed anyone else. It was really quite nice.

Below are some pictures related to the park.

The original party girl enjoying one of our fires. It was perfect weather for an evening fire.
The road through our campground. Our campsite is on the right.
I often wonder who designs RV sites. Note how the utilities are spread apart. In another campground nearby, the sewer is located on the opposite side of the trailer from the other utilities. What were they thinking?

Empty campsites to the east of us. I really like how the trees are located, and all the camp sites in this campground are pull through.
Deer often get pretty close. Note the picnic table in foreground. Deer routinely graze through the campground.
These 6 deer reminded me of meerkats as they popped their heads up and watched me as I took this picture. That is the rear of our trailer in the background.

Several deer grazing through a nearby camp site.