Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 Camping Trips

2014 Camping Trips

Jan 24-26: Lake Livingston SP
Jan 31-Feb 2: Brazos Bend SP, SETPUCC
Feb 21-23: Goliad SP, Karankawa Camping Area
March 29-30: Bastrop SP, Copperas Creek loop
April 17-20 (Easter): TSRR Campground in Rusk, Johnson's, Monte's
July 11-13: Steven F Austin SP
August 28-Sept 1 (Labor Day): TSRR Campground in Rusk, SETPUCC
September 19-21: Blanco SP, Brovosky's
October 24-26: Lockhart SP
November 7-9th: Buescher SP, Cozy Circle, SETPUCC
December 13th: Stephen F Austin SP
December 26-30th (Christmas): Cleburne SP, Poplar Point

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Dinosaur Valley SP

RDB and I woke to beautiful blue skies the Sunday of our after-Christmas-camping trip and drove over to Glen Rose for lunch and a visit to the Dinosaur Valley State Park.  If you were to ask me which, if any, state parks we visited as a family when I was growing up, this would probably be the only one I could name - with its close proximity to the overnight camp we each attended as kids, Mom would add this on as part of the adventure.  And as little kids, there was not much cooler than splashing around in the river and searching for dinosaur tracks.  

Headquarters at this park contains a mini exhibit on the tracks you'll see in the Paluxy river.  Dinosaur tracks were found in 1909 (after a major flood came thru the area the year before) and the park opened to the public in 1972 with the mission to preserve the tracks and provide the public a place to learn about them.  I couldn't help but feel a little giddy walking around and getting our entry permit and trail maps - there was something so nostalgic about being back at this park after so many years. 

Just down the road from park headquarters is the gift shop and the life-sized dinosaur models.  We learned that these two dinos were originally crafted for the 1964-65 New York World's Fair as part of the "Sinclair Dinoland."  There's actually a neat video of the exhibit and a bit more info on Sinclair Oil Co's sponsorship of the Fair over at Roadside America. (Start the video at 9:20 if you want to jump past all the 'commercial' stuff for Sinclair and go straight to Dinoland.)  If you take a moment to read the plaques nearby these two mammoth sculptures, you'll also learn that the brontosaurus's head is inaccurate.  Actually, once that bit of scientific fact was discovered in the late '80s, TPWD changed the head on the model to accurately depict that of the actual dinosaur.  Problem was, it looked like a 'pinhead' and was so poorly received by the public, that in the mid '90s, they changed it back to the original Sinclair version.  Their explanation?  "By the 1990's the park recognized that the Sinclair models had become pieces of history in their own right and in 1995 decided to restore the models to the way they looked at the 1965 World's Fair." Go figure!

We did a little shopping in the gift shop (gotta love that my park pass gives me a 10% discount!) and them made our way down to the river to see the main attraction: real 'live' dinosaur tracks!

The tracks are located on the opposing bank of the river, (green arrow in the picture bottom right above) so you have to use the stepping stones to get across.  The weather was just beautiful on Sunday, so we didn't mind the hike to cross the river and see the tracks.  It's funny - when you return to a place you visited so many times as a kid the things you remember: I can remember the parking lot, but not the treacherously steep steps to get down to the river.  I can remember playing in the water all afternoon, but don't recall how shallow it seemed to be (and so clear!).  I remember seeing the tracks, but don't recall how small they really are.

What I remember most is how much fun we had as a family on those trips to Glen Rose and Dino Valley.  How perfect everything seemed to be on those sunny summer days.  I couldn't help but reach out to Mom and say thanks.  Where we didn't have cell reception at Cleburne SP, we did here, so I texted her.

Me: At Dino Valley SP. Scores of wonderful childhood memories running thru my heart like the crystal clear waters over the tracks. Thank you. You did good Momma, so very good for us kiddos.

Mom: Just loved you, loved life, and wanted you to love it too!

Me: Its making me cry. I had forgotten how much sweetness there was when we were little. I hope to give my kids half of what you gave us, and their little hearts should be more than full.

Mom: Really, nothing compared to being your (all of your) momma. Most satisfying and rewarding thing I've done. You were beautiful sweet smart good kids and have become extraordinary adults - which was my dream

We spent the better part of a few hours at the park - walking the trials, taking photos, drinking in the wonder of the day.  I so greatly enjoy that RDB and I have carved out this part of our lives together - that we're putting in place a habit of adventure and travel, unplugging and visiting the natural spaces around us.  I dream about what fun it will be when we have kids of our own to join us on these travels.  Someday, we'll bring them here - where they can learn about dinosaurs and splash in the cool water and create sweet memories of their own.  And if in the distant future someone asks them, What parks did your family visit when you were growing up? May they answer: So many, I can't remember!

Friday, December 26, 2014


"And suddenly there was with the angel 
a multitude of the heavenly host, 
praising God and saying: 

Glory to God in the highest!
And on earth - peace! 
Good will toward men!" 
- Luke 2:13-14, KJV


It's been a wonderful Christmas season - so relaxing, and peaceful, and calm.  RDB and I made the decision early on to stay home and not travel (as in, no mad-dash trip to NC or PA, and not even the 3+ hour drive to DFW).  We spent Christmas day at the house, had a splendid brunch with RandShe and then a quiet dinner at home, just us.  It was perfect.

We left out for Cleburne State Park the day after Christmas.  It  was a slow and restful morning at the house, with some cleaning up before we left so that we could enjoy coming home to a clean house at the end of our trip (thanks RDB!). With a bit of a drive to Cleburne and not getting on the road till after 1pm it meant (yet another!) late check-in.  I called the park in advance and they had a map with highlighted available sites taped to the headquarters doors when we pulled in around quarter to 9pm.  The drive into the park past headquarters is a long and windy, hilly road - you feel like you're traveling forever to get to the sites, but it was worth it.  We backed ourselves into (and took a few attempts to level out) site 54.  When I completed our check-in Saturday morning, the Ranger gave us a 'cookie' for Diesel - which he thoroughly enjoyed! In return, I gifted them a few of the blog pencils and told them I'd write a review (Hi ya'll!) and post it to their Facebook page.  I love the parks that have taken a hold of social media and are using it to their advantage!! (BTW - the park offers free (slow) wifi; and since you'll have no signal with Verizon, this is a great benefit!)

We woke to a cold and gray morning - the Christmas song "Baby, it's cold outside!" quickly became the theme for Saturday.  No biggie for us - we just hung out in the nice and warm camper and watched Blazing Saddles.  If you haven't watched it in a while, you may be as shocked as I was with what Mel Brooks was able to get away with back in the mid-70's  (Kid you not - every other line I was thinking: Well, you can't say that today. Check out the movie quotes and you'll see why.)

Spoiled Dobie hanging out on the couch-bed with us.

I put together a ham-and-beans stew for dinner via the crockpot (recipe coming shortly) using some of the leftover HoneyBaked ham we had for Christmas brunch.  Just to give you a heads up - it turned out AWESOME with the meat literally falling off the bone.  As I worked on a few thank-you cards for the Christmas gifts we had received, RDB downloaded the GroundStation app.  Too bad the app couldn't air-lift us to the nearest Post Office (that was a real wild-goose-chase later Saturday evening!)

Bottom right: that's an aerial view of Cleburne State Park via the GroundStation app.  We can't wait to start that adventure!

We went for a hike just before dusk.  The trails at Cleburne SP are very well groomed - in some areas hard-packed dirt and wide enough for RDB and I to easily walk side-by-side.  As nicely groomed as they were, though, they weren't very well marked in some spots.  We were on the Coyote Run trail and there are a few places where you can tell it veers off - but even with the trail map, it was heard to tell if that was the actual trail veering in another direction, or just that so many hikers had gone off in that specific spot that it created a side trail.  Waypoints or markers would have made this park's trail system stellar.  But don't get me wrong - we were still greatly impressed with how well they had been maintained.

Sunday morning we woke up to blue skies.  I mean, really blue skies.... Look:

...which completely thrilled me, because we were heading over to Glen Rose for the day - to enjoy a meal out and visit Dinosaur Valley State Park (you can read about that visit here.)

We had lunch at the Roadhouse Grill (bottom right photo above).  When I asked RDB what he'd say about our lunch on Sunday he said: "Delicious!  Outstanding service!  What more could you ask for?" and he's absolutely right.  I had a Jack Daniel's glazed pork chop that was juicy and flavorful, and way more than you could eat in one setting. RDB enjoyed the chicken-salad sandwich that had shredded and pulled chicken on thin toasted bread.  We really enjoyed the old-house-turned-restaurant  that seems to be common in the small towns we visit.

The downtown area was still decorated for the holidays which made it so much sweeter to stop and take a few pictures.  On the way into town to the Roadhouse Grill we passed Glen Lake Camp - where I went to church camp for several summers as a little girl.  It was amazing to see how much it's changed over the years.

Here drone-y, drone-y, drone-y.....

Back at Cleburne SP that evening, Rich took his Rolling Spider Mini-drone for a quick flight.  And by quick, I mean, abrupt. Accelerated. Gone in a flash.  Because that's what happened.  It took off, straight up into that beautiful blue sky we'd been enjoying all day, never to bee seen again.  We'd heard stories of these mini-drones soaring up uncontrollably, but really, that's the stuff where you say: "it'll never happen to us," right?  Well, it happened.  Blue Sky: 1, Us: 0

Monday morning we woke to golden orange sunlight streaming in thru the windows of our camper. It was odd: I didn't remember waking to sunlight so strong the past two mornings - then I recalled that the clouds had broken yesterday and what we were experiencing this morning was a true, clear sky sunrise at the park. Can I tell you - it was glorious? That my (one and only) picture doesn't do it justice?

Monday brought along more blue skies and more fun - Mom and  her friend N-ta came over for lunch and to hang out for a bit.  Less than 10 minutes from Cleburne SP is the outdoor Chisholm Trail Museum.  Free to walk around and explore, it was the perfect after lunch adventure.  We had the pleasure of the site to ourselves and spent time talking to the blacksmith and a docent who graciously opened up several of the buildings for us to explore inside.  Having two former schoolmarms with us, it was neat to see the old school house and "The Original Blue Back Speller."  I suppose it's no coincidence that "matrimony" and "mercenary" were in the same spelling list!?  I was spellbound by the Little Free Library they had on-site. (So much so, that I've already located one near our house to drop a few books I've finished reading over the holiday break.)  The rusted tin used as ceiling tiles in the Stagecoach Station was beautiful too. As Mom is doing some remodeling of her house, she commented that pressed tin would be an awesome addition to the ceiling of her screened in porch.

We were all feeling the effects of the good meal, great conversations, and fresh-air adventures as Mom and N-ta headed back towards home and RDB and I enjoyed quiet naps in the camper.  We had most of the windows open, drinking in the cool fresh air and watching the golden orange sunlight slowly fade away. By the previous evening, most of the campers who were there when we checked in had left, so we nearly had the entire camping loop to ourselves.  It was sweet to laze around and listen to nature buzz and hum the rest of the afternoon away.

With a blink, it all seems to go by so quickly - before we knew it, it was Tuesday morning and our little trip to paradise was over.  We were packing up and heading back home with dreams of where our trips will take us this next year.  We've got our sights on Davis Mountains SP in the fall, but I sure wouldn't mind coming right back here to Cleburne SP.

I know, I know.  I say that. All. The. Time.

We were in Site #54 in the Poplar Point loop at Cleburne State Park.  Due to the hilly terrain, be prepared to do some side-to-side leveling of your camper.  The sites are all pretty close to each other, but scraggly cypress trees provide a decent amount of privacy.  This spot didn't have a clear lake view, however, less than 50 yards away you had direct access to the shoreline.  The bath house was nice - warm! clean! - and very un-crowded in this full hook-ups loop.  There's no park store at this campground, so you'll have to go into the town of Cleburne (about 15 minutes) for ice, firewood, etc.  Bummer: no bumper sticker to support the park!  Another bummer, be it slight: since we had such poor cell reception, we couldn't do any geocaching even though there are some hidden in the park.

Check back soon for Camping Cooking #12: Ham & Beans Slow-Cooker Stew.

For more camping photos, go here.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Camping Cache - Steven F Austin State Park

Beagle Scout Troop 89
Amp it Up

Dropped off our new blog pencils.  
Picked up several tiny ticks.  NOT a fair trade!!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Greatest Gifts

You know it's gonna be a great weekend when you're greeted by a giant turkey wearing a Santa hat, right?  

RDB and I had planned to head back out to Steven F Austin State Park Friday, but after a long week we decided to skip Friday and head over Saturday instead. The great thing about SFA SP is that it's only an hour from the house, so its an easy drive and we can still get most of the day at the park.  It was time to re-buy my Texas State Parks Pass and I did so as we checked in.  I've mentioned before, if you're an avid camper, it is absolutely worth the money spent on it.  We got a treat on top of the normal savings, this time: usually, when you don't show for a night, you loose your deposit (one night's worth of camping) but for whatever kind reason, the Ranger didn't charge me for missing Friday night, and used the deposit to pay for our now one-night stay. I love you TPWD!

The holiday season is fast approaching again. A moment of truth: I'm really bad at giving gifts. Not that I can't figure out what someone wants, oh no, it's that I'm so excited that I've gotten someone something that I know they'll love, that I can't wait until their birthday, Christmas, or whatever occasion spurred the need for a present, to give it to them. Most of the time, I give gifts within hours of having bought them. Days if I'm lucky or distracted.  RDB's Christmas present was no different.  He came home Friday and unwrapped his gift: a Parrot Minidrone Rolling Spider.

I wanted him to have it for this trip so that he could have some flight time outside somewhere other than just our backyard, so most of Saturday was spent flying the drone (and waiting for it to recharge). You get an average of 8 minutes flight time with a 1.5 hour recharge. So, yes, extra batteries are on order! It's incredibly stable for such a small quadra-copter. It has a set of 'training wheels' that give you a bit of protection as you're learning to navigate using the FreeFlight3 app on your smartphone. The wheels also give you the unique ability to 'roll' the drone up walls and across the ceiling (thus, the Rolling Spider name, I guess!). Diesel was outside for our first few flights and as much as we're fans of it - he most certainly was not!

The sun is setting pretty close to 5:30pm these days - the short winter days make it seem like night lasts forever.  For us - that's no problem.  A few glasses of wine after dinner and a gorgeous roaring fire and we are, ahem, happy campers. 

We were sitting outside enjoying our coffee on Sunday morning when RDB handed me his phone. "Four out of five stars," he said.  It was Tony's Family Restaurant - we were going out for breakfast.  You wouldn't think, from the looks of the place, that you'd have fast friendly service and good down-home country fixings, but Tony's delivered on both fronts.  I'm pretty sure RDB's coffee cup (as tiny as it was) was never once empty and the biscuit that came with my breakfast was nearly as big as the palm of my hand.  Just an FYI - its a little confusing when you first come in - it's seat yourself and a waitress will be with you very quickly.  It was no Chess Club Cafe, but with prompt service and good food, (and I'm not having to cook or clean up!) I'm sure we'll be back.

We did a bit of geocaching after breakfast - went into town to find one, only to be put off by a large number of people enjoying the park it was hidden in.  We went back to the campground and found 2 there... before we realized that 1) we had walked thru a field of tiny ticks and had accumulated a few unwelcome hitch-hikers, and 2) Diesel had shoved his nose into some kind of thorn bush and had several still stuck.  Needless to say, that cut our caching adventures short very quickly!

After getting the thorns out of Diesel's snout, it was back outside for another drone flight.  The neat thing about the Rolling Spider are the training wheels - they offer the cool roll-up-the-wall feature, but can also be detached for normal flight.  I think I finally found an electronic gift that my hubby really likes!

Start small.  Bigger things to come....

Oh, and I keep forgetting - but it's perhaps the coolest thing: the Rolling Spider has a camera, too!  The pictures aren't the highest quality, but it's still pretty neat.  Not bad for our first venture into aerial photography... hint hint.

We packed up and headed home right around the 2pm mark. Another thing I really like about our State Parks is the late check-out; it means we don't have to rush packing up and going home. Sometimes RDB and I have the best conversations when we're hanging out camping and this morning was no exception.  I sure do love how well we communicate.

./`./`./` "I'm dreaming of a fawn Dobie..." ./`./`./`

We were in site #1 (again) at Steven F Austin SP. We were here previously in the dead heat of summer - this time was much nicer. I'm not sure the weather could have been more perfect for our adventures this weekend.  I come home every time relaxed, refreshed and renewed in my love for RDB and our life together.  Being his wife has been the greatest gift.  It was funny - I was reading back thru the blog Saturday morning before we left for this trip and was reminded that this Saturday was 12-13-14: what could have been our alternate wedding date.  I cannot say how glad I am that we wed last year instead and that we've enjoyed all this time camping along for our Honeymoon.  

Merry Christmas to me!

For more camping (and drone!) photos, go here.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Camping Crafts Corner #2: God's Eye

I can remember creating these stick-and-yarn crafts back at the Methodist Church Camp I went to during the summers when I was little.  For the eternal life of me, :-) I couldn't tell you what the religious significance of them were.  Wikipedia takes it way off into the mystic realm, and I'm pretty sure that wasn't the message at this very conservative little camp in Glen Rose, TX way-back-when.  Huh.  Learn something different every day I guess.

Ok, on to our craft: a God's Eye.... or Sticks-and-Yarn.  *shrug*

This one's pretty simple - you'll need the following supplies:

Sticks (about the same diameter and length)
and Yarn (any kind will do!)

Tie the two sticks together so that the create a cross, and secure tightly with the end of your piece of yarn.

Since I was the only one partaking in this crafting session (RDB was napping and Diesel, well, I had to steal my skein of yarn back from him at one point!) I didn't cut off a piece of yarn - but if you're doing this with several kiddos, cut each kid a piece that's about one yard long and if they go thru that, you can always tie another piece of yarn on.

The assembly for these are pretty simple from this point, you wrap the yarn over-under-across each twig working your way out from the center in a pattern....

And repeat...

And repeat again...

And that's really about it.  If you want to get 'fancy' you can switch directions at some point (like I did) and that will put your weaving opposite to what you had been (the pattern is still the same over-under-across just in the opposite direction). This adds an opposing layer to your weave.

And then its...

You get the point.

Once your God's eye is as big as you desire, you can tie off the end with a simple knot.  Easy simple craft, lots of meditation-repetitive mantra and hand motions.  It kept me throughly distracted for at least half an hour.

Ya know, maybe that was the significance of these way-back-when? A half an hour that the camp counselors could zone out while we went over-under-across, over-under-across, over-under-across....

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Work. Life. Balance.

It's nearly a week after we've gotten back from our latest camping trip and I'm just now getting to a post. The laundry from that weekend is still in the hamper in the back of the truck.  Diesel's still wearing his camping collar.  I think the only thing that got done when we got home was unpacking the cooler and ordering a pizza.

Work has been insanely busy these past few weeks - at last count, I've got seven different projects that I'm a part of: some of my own choosing - like applying for a different role in my same company - and some that I'm honored to be chosen for - like the Leadership Development Program that will run the next nine months giving me access to Senior VP mentorship - and some that are just busy work but I'm expected to participate nonetheless.  I'm worn thin, and pretty sure the next project that comes my way I'm gonna have to turn down.

Life is sweet. RDB and I celebrated our first anniversary this week... but I was in Dallas for work the actual day.  We had planned to go out to a really fancy dinner last night, but that fell thru.  We're looking forward to the holiday season and the knowledge that we'll be spending it with each other. 



I'm still searching for that balance part.


We left out of town Friday night after having put Clyde in the shop to fix a sensor that was causing the engine to loose power - thanks, btw, for all the great suggestions on things to do to fix it ya'll - too bad it still needed repair work.  We were excited to head over to Buescher State Park as this was another SETPUCC weekend and we knew of several families that were planning to attend.

Arriving at the park after dark is always an adventure. This time around, there was both a Ranger and a Fire Captain there at the check-in board.  I grabbed my map, found my name, asked for a recommendation of the three sites still available and Ranger Steve asked: "Do you work for TPWD? You sure look like you know what you're doing!"  That just made my day!

We woke Saturday morning to the sound of (lots) of kids running around and having fun.  A little after 9am, we heard a bull-horn from down in the tent camping area: "Alright Ninja Campers!!"  Come to find out - there was a karate club camping there this weekend, and although they were well behaved, they were quite a noisy bunch!

Diesel was the belle-of-the-ball this weekend.  We had several campers walk past him and compliment how quiet he was being and how well behaved he was.  I really think that there are 3 things that factor into that: 1 - his bark collar, 2 - he really is a sweet dog, and 3 - he's more afraid of you than you are of him!

As RDB took a nap Saturday afternoon, I wanted to work on a craft (more on that in another post) but as I set up to play around, I noticed the very large tree behind our site was just *perfect* for climbing.  Yes, I know I'm 30-something years old and it's probably been a decade or more since I last climbed a tree, but this one just called to me.  So, up I went!  A couple of people walked by, commented on Diesel being such a "good looking dog," and I yelled down "Thanks!" from the top of the tree.  Laughter ensued as the guy asked if I had been treed by the Doberman and did I need him to call the Ranger to come rescue me?

Not too far from Buescher SP is the Kreische Brewery State Historical Site and Monument Hill. If you're staying anywhere near LaGrange, you really should drop by for a visit. No entry fees, and the view is outstanding!

We spent the better part of the evening by the campfire in the center area of our loop. Cozy Circle there at Buescher was certainly created with group camping in mind - every site has its own fire ring and privacy, but there's a nice cleared out area (with a few trees) in the center and a table and fire ring there for the community to use.  We bought 3 bucket's worth of cedar logs from the park headquarters and enjoyed a great time talking and fellowshipping around the fire.  

M&D were Scouts this time around, and  JS and DP were there, too (they have a new truck - it's nice!)  The Host - now renamed Camper Bob - McG, and J&D were also there.  It was great to get to spend time with these couples who are becoming friends and welcoming us into their group.  I think Camper Bob said it best with the *awesome* gift he gave us:

We were in site #5 - which was definitely the ADA site, all paved, and a little odd - the table and fire ring were behind the camper because of the way the site was laid out.  We met the camp hosts, Anna and David before we left - Anna came out to thank me as I was walking around the fire ring in the middle with my trash bag (something I always do before we leave: walk around and pick up an little pieces of trash we might have missed, weather its ours or not, and also make sure I didn't miss any Diesel bombs).  She said that it makes her life so much easier when we take that extra step. I mentioned that its one of the easiest ways to make sure the park is taken care of so we can enjoy them for years to come!

For more camping photos, go here.