September 18, 2009

Summer Days Fade Away

The hot Texas summer is fading away...and I couldn't be more happy. The truth is it is too damn hot to camp in Texas during the summer. As the fall approaches, so does the ideal camping season. I anxiously await getting away on the weekends, sitting by the fire, communing with nature, and spending quality time with loved ones.

The summer is going out with a bang. We have two get aways planned. September 25-27 we are heading to Turner Falls with some friends. The following weekend, October 2-4 we will be at Lake Texoma with my parents.

Of course, I will report back on these adventures. Stay tuned...

July 8, 2009

New Braunfels Tubing Trip, Part III: The Aftermath

After each camping adventure, I like to solicite input and after-thoughts about the trip. This is my fellow campers opportunity to put in their own two cents on the blog. So here it is, Part III (the finale) of the New Braunfels series.

What was the worst thing that happened?
Brent says: The sunburn!! Also, the river water was too low.
Joe says: The absolute worst was having to drop a deuce in the raunchy porta-potties before I discovered where the restrooms were. The next worst thing was when I ripped up my foot by jumping into the river barefoot
Kristi says: I got a monster headache the first night, and while everyone was out joking and giggling, I was laying down in my tent waiting for the Aleve to kick-in. Running a close second, my husbands injury which was a serious downer. Then, I had to nurse him back to better.
Jimmy says: Ditto, Brent. The river was too low and I got a sunburn.

What was the funniest thing that happened?
Brent says: “There are SO many!?!” The first night we had a major case of the giggles – everything was funny. That was also the night that Jimmy decided to take his tube for a test drive. He must have tried 5 times, in the dark, to get into the tube – he hadn’t found his technique yet.
Kristi says: Oh, Bless his heart. My husband was so melo-dramatic…”EE-MER-GIN-SEE!! Everybody STOP what you are doing! I think I broke my foot!” …Joe stupidly jumped into the river without water shoes or sneakers and ripped up the bottom of his foot. Everything is more dramatic when you’ve been drinking all day. Just ask anyone that was there, this was by far the funniest thing that happened.
Jimmy says: “He-He-He. There are couple of them”. Brent was in a goofy mood the first night and had us all giggling. That weird guy crossed over from the other side of the river with his guitar and was improvising songs.
Joe says: I forgot how to bong a beer right.
Joe says: A funny thing happened on the drive to NB. A suburban of what appeared to be a bunch of college kids was driving crazy. I have little patience for poor drivers. So when the suburban cut us off, I pulled up next to the driver and flipped them the bird. We passed the suburban and didn’t think anything more about them. A few minutes later, they pull up directly in front of us and three full moons were pressed up against the back window. We burst into laughter. I guess this was not the desired response, so they proceeded to moon us several more times over the next few miles. We gave them a friendly tap on the horn and give them thumbs up. It was too funny to stay mad. To bad Kristi didn’t pull the camera out fast enough…

What was the best thing that happened?
Jimmy says: The steak was BAD ASS! It was right on time.
Joe says: Hanging out. “I have no one defining moment…What was the best thing? Oh! Finding the toilet!” We spent the first half day using what were easily the most disgusting porta-potties ever. Late into the first night, Jimmy discovered the real restrooms. They were a little further away, but worth the walk.
Brent says: I meet a new friend – a lady friend from Houston.
Kristi says: I did not get a sun burn! I was the only one that did not get burned in some shape or form. Thank you SPF 50. Plus I had a great time with everyone on this trip.

What will you do differently next time?
Joe says: (1) wait until the river flow is higher, (2) know where the bathrooms are before you need them.
Jimmy says: Take my own tube and implement the two car method where you park one care at then end and another car at the beginning and go back to get the other car at the end. I would rather find a cheap hotel and have somewhere to go cool off.
Brent says: “More frequent sunblock application.”

Kristi says: I will check out another camp ground. The place way stayed had sooo much potential. But they just didn't keep up with things like they needed to. They need to swap out the porta-potties more frequently and clean the restrooms/showers more frequently.

What item(s) do you wish you had brought with you?
Brent and Jimmy say: “More Beer!” They concluded that they need to keep 2 or 3 in the trunk for reserves.
Joe says: A hat. I had to buy one.
Kristi says: Usually when we camp we don’t have the luxury of electric hook up. So, I didn’t think to bring any electronics. However, it might have been nice to have a box fan in the tent. If I go back in the dead of summer to another camp site with electric hook-ups, I think I will bring a fan.

June 29, 2009

New Braunfels Tubing Trip, Part II: Things are heating up!

Thanks for tuning in for Part II of the New Braunfels blog series. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to read Part I before proceeding.

Just to recap, the five of us (Joe, Kristi, Brent, Jimmy, and Cheryl) arrived in New Braunfels (NB) Saturday. We kick around our camp site Saturday afternoon and evening. After much joviality and comradery, we turned in for the night in anticipation of hitting the river the next day, Sunday.

The sun was up early and bright Sunday morning, and eventually we all rolled out of our tents. I had premade some sausage, egg, and cheese breakfast tacos, and we just threw them over the fire to heat up. We each made a sandwich to serve as our lunch as we floated down the river. Because we had to rent a tube just for the cooler, we repacked everything we would need as we floated down the river into one large cooler. Once all of the logistics were squared away, we changed into our swim suits and water shoes and covered ourselves with sunblock. By about 11:00 we walked over to the river outfitter, paid for our tube rentals and patiently waited for the "short yellow bus" to take us to our drop off point.

The tubing “laws” are different depending on which river you float in NB. For example, the Comal River requires that your cooler be smaller then 16 quarts. Where as, on the Guadalupe River, the cooler size doesn’t matter. Also you can not drink alcohol within the city limits of NB. Parts of the Comal run through the city limits, so alcohol consumption is prohibited. On the contrary, there are not any tubing trips down the Guadalupe that run through city limits, so anything goes – except glass. You can not have glass containers on either river.

Now most of us agreed that one of the biggest bummers of the weekend was that the river levels were really low and the flow was extremely slow (I'm a poet and I didn't know it). We considered floating the Comal which did not have these problems, but then we were limited in cooler size and drinking activities. We decided to stick with the Guadalupe for convenience despite the river being low.

River outfitters were only taking tubers up the river about 1.5 miles for a 6 hour float. There were parts of the river that were so low you had to pick up your tube and walk through them. And in yet other parts of the river, the flow was literally moving backwards. We linked all of our tubes together and took turns being the navigator -- the person who would pull along the tube convoy (this is not a hard job, just not exactly relaxing).

Despite the river being low, we still had a great time and met several entertaining people along the way. From the frat boys that Joe chugged beer with to the large group we shared the “short yellow bus” with. The most memorable of our fellow floaters were Germany and Ben. We met up with them in the latter portion of our float down the river. As the afternoon was drawing to a close and the beer supplies running low, we gratefully pulled our tubes out of the river directly to our camp site (gotta love the convenience) with our two new friends from Houston, Germany and Ben. (We referred to Germany as such because she had moved to Texas from Germany when she was 16.)

It just so happened that our next door neighbors decided not to stay over Sunday night due to the heat, so our new friends moved into their camp site. Our party of five has now grown to seven. Brent and Germany hit it off immediately and spent a good portion of the evening becoming better acquainted.

I later heard that it got up to 102F that day. I frequently and generously applied suncreen, SPF 50, at least once an hour. I was in the sun ALL DAY (with not much of a base tan to start with), and I was successful in avoiding a sunburn. The rest of them were not so lucky resulting in everything from basic peeling (Joe) to blistering knees (Jimmy) to beet red stomach and ankles (Brent).

After a yummy dinner of rib-eye steaks, Joe and I decided to take a dip in the river to cool off again before it got too dark. This is when the day took a turn for the worse. As you may know, you have to wear water shoes (or old tennis) in the water, because the floor of the river can be very jagged and dangerous to tender skin. My husband, bless his heart, jumped into the river (about 3 feet deep) feet first WITHOUT anything on his feet. He briefly complained of hurting his foot and then seemed to move past it as he swam further out into the river. After a few minutes past and the pain started setting in, he reached down a touched his foot to check for damaged. It was at this moment that the reality of his injury set in. He later stated that he reached down and felt his skin flapping in the water.

As he hustled back towards the river banks, he hollered to the crew, “EMERGENCY!! EVERYBODY STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING! I broke my foot. I need to go to the emergency room. QUICK! Get a towel.” Our friends momentarily paused to soak up the gravity of what he was saying. Then everyone bustled into motion, including myself.

Let me reiterate that it was now almost completely night and it was definitely hard to see. I dug through the utility box and located the first aid kit (What is it boy scouts say? Be Prepared). As I was digging through the kit to locate supplies appropriate for dressing my husband’s foot, he lost patience with us. Apparently, we were not moving fast enough. He demanded that Jimmy hand him the bottle of Jack Daniels so that he could disinfect his wound the Wild West way while further insisting that we find an emergency room. Thank God at that exact moment, I found the disinfecting wipes and talked him out of it.

The injury was on the arch of his left foot. Rather then the rocky rumble digging straight into the flesh (vertical) , he suffered a horizontal injury that basically removed many layers (a thick chunk) of skin, leaving it hanging on by one side. After the initial bleeding stopped, I disinfected the wound, covered it with an antibacterial cream, and dressed the wound with sterile gauze and wrapped it with an ace bandage. It was a fairly nasty injury, and Joe hobbled around for the rest of the weekend (and the next 10 days or so). For now, the crisis was over and the emergency room avoided.

Jimmy, being the ever-outgoing character he is, also met a dude at a camp site from across the river while taking a post-tubing swim. Next thing we know, this guy popped over to our campsite with a guitar. It was getting late. Joe and I had an exhausting day, and so we decided to turn in. We gradually drifted off to the comedic (slightly obnoxious) singing/guitar antics of our across-the-river neighbor.

Joe and I woke up around 7:30 Monday morning. We both needed to use the restroom and absolutely refused to use the porta-potties. Since we forgot to pack shampoo and body soap, we decided to head up to the corner Shell a mile or so away to use decent restrooms and purchase shower toiletries. After a day and a half in the river we felt fairly funktified, so we headed back to the camp grounds to use their token showers (Yes, I did say "token showers". You had to pay a dollar for one token that would buy you 10 minutes). After we showered, brushed our teeth, and put on some fresh clean clothes, we headed back to the campsite to start disassembling everything. Gradually, the late night partiers started crawling out of the tents. Quietly we all got to work packing up our gear, knowing that our great vacation was drawing to a close.

After saying our goodbyes and exchanging info with our new Houston buddies, we threw our last few personal effects into the back of the Explorer and set off. Jimmy and Cheryl decided to skip the BBQ lunch. It is rare that we make it to this part of the world. So Joe, Brent, and I took the slight detour through Lockhart, TX , the Barbeque Capital of Texas. The lunch of ribs, sausage, and brisket was the perfect end to this camping adventure.

What’s next? Part III. Get the words straight from the horses’ mouth – Jimmy, Brent, Joe, and I weigh in on our own personal best, worst, funniest, etc…

June 24, 2009

New Braunfels Tubing Trip, Part I: In the beginning...

A blog so good that it has to be serialized. As much as I would like to just dump it all on you at once, I assure you that it would be much too much to digest all at once. So, here is part 1 of 3 of the long anticipated New Braunfels camping/tubing trip.

Most of us are trying to tighten the belt a bit these days. It just is not a good time in the world to spend frivolously. Joe and I knew that we would not embark on an extravagent trip this year, but that is no reason to deprive ourselves of some quality vacation fun. Two years ago, with our good friend Brent (aka Fire Master B), we took a long weekend trip down to New Braunfels, TX for tubing. It was such a blast, and we have been talking about it ever since. So, it seemed only natural that we make it back to New Braunfels again.

We had been talking about camping/tubing in New Braunfels for months. Brent, Joe, and I finally set a date for the second weekend in June and we made the reservations about a month out. It is highly unlikely to get a decent campsite reservation during peak season at ANY campsite on the New Braunfels river with one month advance reservations. Oh, you can camp, but you will be stuck with "overflow, first-come first serve" camping which sucks (I would recommend making your reservations a good 6 months in advance). So, the fact the I got a river side camp site with one month notice is next to a miracle. It just so happens that I called literally two minutes after someone else had cancelled. So, we lucked our way into a riverside camp site with electricity.

For those of you who have been camping with me or have heard me talk about camping, I take a very planned and practical approach to my camp trip planning. I plan all the meals for the weekend; I cook and prepare as much food in advance as I can; I keep a stocked utility bin with everything from steak knives to rain panchos to batteries to first aid kits. As soon as the camp site reservation was made (and paid for in advance). I started down my pre-trip checklist : menu, grocery list, laundry, restock utility bin, travel arrangements, etc...

The plan was to spend two nights in New Braunfels (NB) over the weekend of June 13-15. We would leave Saturday morning, and return Monday afternoon. This is a very strong NB strategy in order to maximize our fun and minimize the annoying drunk college students (Yes, I know! I was one of them once upon a time). The plan was to arrive Saturday afternoon, set up camp, and just kick around the camp site Saturday evening. The vast majority of people hit the river on Saturday, so we were able to avoid the bulk of the tubing crowd. Instead, we hit the river on Sunday when there are still enough people to make the journey entertaining without it getting to be too crowded or irksome. After the river, we would camp over one last night and depart Monday morning. On our way back we would take a detour through Lockhart, TX, the Barbeque Capital of Texas, for some good grub.

If you are going to NB there are a few must haves: sunblock, water shoes or old tennies, plenty of water (to thin out the alcohol in your blood stream...and because NB can get so very HOT), and a bathing suit. We started planning some of the logistics, and before long we had two other people joining us -- Jimmy (Jimbo or Jumbo to his friends) and his friend Cheryl. We decided that Brent would ride down with us Saturday morning in the Explorer and Jimmy and Cheryl would leave around noon when Cheryl got off of work to join us later in the evening.

So around 9:00 Saturday morning, Joe and I arrived at Brent's house, loaded up his gear (we were packed to the hilt), and got on the road. We had a pleasant drive down to NB despite ongoing construction north of Waco and MAJOR traffic congestion through Austin due to the annual ROT Biker Rally (FYI...Take 183 towards the airport over to 71-Ben White to avoid downtown traffic).

We arrived at Camp Huaco Springs (part of the Rockin' R outfitters) to find that the property was on a good slice of prime river property. Although, the camp sites themselves are packed up next to each other like sardines. Half of the fun of camping in a place like NB is getting to know your neighbors. So, we were generally okay with that. We unloaded the cars, put up the tents, and just got settled into our spot. Over the next few hours, we checked in with Jimmy and Cheryl from time to time to check on their travel progress. They were running a bit behind, and furthermore, got caught up in the Rally traffic through Austin (despite our warning to detour around downtown). No biggie, we just didn't want to have to put up a tent in the dark -- there is not much worse on a camp trip then putting up a tent in the dark.

Eventually Jimmy and Cheryl arrived while we were cooking our dinner of hamburgers and brats. Their timing was good, because they brought the potato salad and Jimmy's homemade baked beans to accompany our burgers. While Joe finished with the cookout, Brent and I helped Jimmy and Cheryl get their tent up. After a full meal on our belly's we sat back in our camp chairs and finally relaxed after a full day. It was hot and we took frequent dips in the river to cool off.

The people watching along the river on a Saturday afternoon was incredible. Hundreds, possible thousands of people passed by our stretch of riverfront property all afternoon. By this point, most tubers had been floating the river for hours. This translates to hours of beer guzzeling in the hot sun. I will just let your imagination fill in the blanks.

The river traffic gradually tapered off and the sun dipped down beyond the tree line. Despite the pending dark, Jimmy decided he was ready to test drive his tube. Now, where the rest of us just decided to rent tubes from the river outfitters, Jimmy made an investment in his own river rube. After blowing up the tube, Jimmy decided to take the tube just a short distance around the bend to check out Slumber Falls rapids (which is within a walking distance). We already had a case of the giggles from the campsite banter and people watching, but Jimmy's three attempts to get settled into the tube kicked our giggles up to full roaring laughter. Admittedly our spirited mood may have been slightly lubricated by the beer.

Despite the hilarity, I had a monster headache. I retired to the tent to rest my head. It was relatively early in the evening, so I had hoped to get back in the saddle that evening once the Aleve kicked in. Next thing I know, my husband is laying beside me in the tent with an aching belly. We were a sad pair. After a while my headache dulled enough that I could join our friends for a few more hours of comradery. Eventually, we all started to fizzle out. Knowing that we would have an exhausting day on the river, we turned in.

Stay tuned for Part II of the New Braunfels blog series to find out why we almost went to the Emergency Room Sunday evening...

June 18, 2009

Return to Foster Farm

On Friday, March 27th, four friends set off on a camping adventure...

Okay, I know exactly what you are thinking..."March 27th? That was almost three months ago. Yes, I have been very delinquent. So, I only have 4 "official" blog followers. But judging from the number of people that have given me a hard time for my delinquent blogging, there are plenty of closet followers.

There are a lot of reasons for my delinquency. First of all, I couldn't find the cord to upload the pictures from my camera. Then, on the weekend of April 17th, Joe and I went ot Vegas for my cousin, Stephanie's wedding. Well, to my great dismay, I lost my camera in a cab. A dozen calls later to the cab campany's lost and found, and still no camera. Major bummer. Then our next camping trip, a family reunion (on my Mom's side) to Turner Falls, got cancelled because of bad weather. I guess I just lost my motivation.

So, no pictures to accompany this blog. Where was I... Oh yes. On Friday March 27th, four friends set off on a camping adventure. We had been trying for months to convince our dear friend K-Dog to accompany us on a camping trip. He works long hard hours, and getting him out of town for a weekend is damn near impossible. After much begging and pleading, he finally carved some time out for a camping trip. Brent was kind enough to host us out a Foster Farm for the weekend. So, around 7:00pm on Friday evening we set off on an hour drive to Lone Oak, Texas convoy style.

Let me preface this by saying that it had been raining all week long. If my recollection serves me correctly, it had even rained a bit earlier Friday morning. But, the rain had stopped and the forecast was that it would be clear sailing the rest of the weekend. So, we moved forward with our plans.

So here was the plan -- when we arrived, we were going to hook up the trailer to the tractor, throw all of the gear into the trailer, and haul everything to the camp site. To our dismay, we realized that the tractor had a flat tire. And not just a slightly deflated tire. I am talking about the metal was touching the ground. Slight inconvenience.

Plan B -- We would load up the Explorer (maybe two loads) and drive the Explorer to the campsite and unload from there. As we assessed the terrain we realized that the most of the travel to the campsite was extremely muddy and swampy (I assure you the description of swampy is no exageration). There was a high possibility that if we had driven the Explorer into the swampy terrain that it would have gotten stuck in the mud. We couldn't chance this since we did not have the tractor (remember the flat) to haul the Explorer out. Now the situation was getting done right disasterous.

On to Plan C -- We would drive the Explorer as far as we felt would be safe, and then haul load after load (after load) using the ATV. So, we executed Plan C driving about 60% of the way to our destination. We got out and walked the rest of the way. Remember the swamps I mentioned...well, we had to wade through these swamps of ankle deep goock (I know that is not a real word). Our feet were soaked to the bone. It was cold and wet and things were definately not going well. Even the ever optimistic K-Dog started had a few moments of pessimism.

It took nearly two hours to get everything hauled to the camp site. I would estimate that it was about 10pm by this time. We had only the light of our flashlights to start making camp. It was a bit overwhelming. It was in the low 40s and we were wet. Out number one priority was to get a fire going. At least we had the foresight to gather some dry kindling from the barn before making our trek to the camp site. However, it took some time before we could find enough dry wood to start a fire. It was not easy going. We must have fumbled with the fire for about 20 minutes. Then Brent to the rescue. I don't know if it is his natural outdoor skills or his military training, but Brent had the fire up and going in a matter of minutes. It was for this great feat that Brent earned his camping name -- Fire Master B.

Things were starting to look up. We had a good fire going which helped to light up the camp site. Now we each set off to put up our tents and make up our homes for the next two nights. About an hour later, we were all set up with some food on the fire for dinner. Things were definately looking up. We proped our damp feet up to fire and tossed back a few drinks. Before we knew it, we were even joking about the tractor debaucle.

We got such a late start, it was only natural that the festivities went into the wee hours of the morning. I have no clue how late we were up. 3am? 4am? All I know is that I sleep like a baby.

Despite the bright morning sun, we all sleep in the next morning. By the time we got up and had some breakfast, it was almost noon. My memory is a little fuzzy from here. I know that there were a few trip to the house to take care of personal business. There was also some ATVing around the property. It wasn't long before we were back to the campsite drinking and jesting with each other. Like I said, Saturday was pretty fuzzy for me. Perhaps one of my fellow campers can offer some enlihgtening details in the blog comments.

The only thing that stands out in my mind was a interpretive dialogue of an owl interraction. It sounded as if the two owls might be "getting imtimate" with perhaps some reluctance from one of the parties. My husband offered up to the group his interpretation of the conversation that transpired. (Disclaimer -- this is slightly obscene. Not for the kiddos). It went something like this -- "I don't care if you have a headache. You better get down there, hoot your ass off for some Advil, and take this owl penis". Yes, obscene. But in the moment, it had us rolling on the dirt.

Sunday morning we mobilized at a decent hour. Well, all except Camp Master B. Even though he was awake, he refused to leave the comforts of the tent. For a good 30 mintues he carried on converation from inside the zipped up tent. It was then that he started refer to himself as "The Tent". I would throw a bottle of water into the tent and he would say "The Tent is pleased". In refering to the quantities of alcohol that he drank the night before, it would be "The Tent is hungover". After a while, K-Dog and I decided it was time for "The Tent" to get up off his lazy you know what. So we creep up to either side of the tent (the actual tent) and unhooked the rainfly. The bright morning sun flooded in and "The Tent was not pleased". Well, it was effective but the person formally know as "The Tent" was pissy about the whole thing. He soon got over it, because it was rather humorous.

So that was that. In summary, we polished off a big bottle of Jager, a big bottle of Vodka, and about 2 cases of beer. This blog is about 3 months late, but still worth sharing.

Coming soon...Tubing and camping in New Braunfels.

March 20, 2009

Coyote Ugly? I Don't Think So.

Today's blogging is in anticipation of our upcoming camping trip (March 27 - 29). We are excited about this trip for several reasons. (1) This trip is going to be a full weekend. All of our prior adventures have been over-nighters. (2) We finally talked our good friend K-dog into joining us. We have been working on bring ing him back to the wild for many months now. (3) We are returning to Foster Farm (of course Brent will be there, too).

For the faithful followers, you might recall prior blogging of our last trip to Foster Farm, one of my personal favorite adventures.
Foster Farm, Loan Oak, TX
Foster Farm in Retrospect

My mind sentimentally turns to one of my favorite experiences from our last visit to Foster Farm -- the evening serenade from the chorus of coyotes. It was a grounding and unique experience for this city girl.

So, in preparation for our upcoming visit to Foster Farm, I put my fingers to the walking via wikipedia and learned more about these canine cousins. Since I know that some of you probably think my coyote reverence is crazy, I have decided to share some fun facts.

  • Coyotes grow to be between 19 and 45 pounds with larger sub-species mostly in the northeast United States. For a frame of reference, my dogs are about 75 pounds each.
  • Coyotes have a 90% carnivorous diet, made up mostly of small mammals (filed mice, groundhogs, rabbits, squirrels), as well as some snakes and large insects. Even in packs, they are unlikely to prey on animals larger then they are (with the exception of some livestock).
  • Coyotes by nature are timid of humans, and will avoid them. As such, coyote attacks on humans are rare and uncommon.
  • Hearing a coyote is much more common than seeing one. The calls a coyote makes are high-pitched and variously described as howls, yips, yelps and barks. These calls may be a long rising and falling note (a howl) or a series of short notes (yips). These calls are most often heard at dusk or night, and are most common during the spring mating season.
Given that coyotes are nocturnal and naturally timid of humans and larger animals (i.e. my dogs), we are unlikely to see them during this or any camping adventure. The only evidence of their presence is the chorus of howls and yips, making it that much more revered and treasured.

March 3, 2009

Cedar Hill State Park - A Review

As the primary blogger on this site, I (Kristi) really feel that it is my purpose and obligation to make a "review" of each state park facility that we visit. My intentions are two-fold: (1) to document our likes and dislikes of each site we visit, ultimately developing a list of our favorite State Parks based on our experience, and (2) Share our findings with others that may find it useful in planning their own camping adventures. So, without further ado, here are my "take aways" of Cedar Hill State Park:

Restrooms: generally speaking the restrooms were well maintained. As it was cold weather outside, the restrooms were heated. I did notice some trash and debris on the floors. However, I discovered that there was a large youth group in the same part of the park as us. I suspect some of this debris was simply due to the youngsters disregard for cleaning up after themselves. I also noted that the restroom facilities had solar panels on the roofs. It is certainly very eco-friendly and green to use solar power.

Activities: I really believe that Cedar Hill State Park caters to the "day use" crowd just as much as the "over-nighters". The park has a large marina on Joe Pool lake with a bait shop for the fishers. Their is a large fishing pier and several smaller fishing piers . Incredible hiking and mountain bike trails that some have labeled as ranking among the best in Texas state parks (so says the Texas Park and Wildlife website). A good chunk of the property for this state park was granted by the Penn family. Still today, the Penn Farm Agricultural History Center is on site and available for daily tours. There are over 200 day use, and both a large and small pavillion for group events.

Strengths: As previously mentioned, all of the activities available for state park patrons are a MAJOR strength. The park is also very large relative to other state parks, so there is plenty of camp sites and facilities to accommodate many people. The location is also very convenient to the DFW metroplex.

Weaknesses: In several ways, the items that are strengths are also weaknesses. The State park is almost too big. You have to get in your car and drive to another area of the park to participate in activities. Furthermore, the campsite is almost too close to the city. it is literally right off of two major highways, and depending on your location, you might be able to hear and see the highway. If you are trying to "get away" this might not be a good thing. Many of the campsite were on the smaller side and very close to neighboring camp sites with little barrier. This state park has over 350 campsites, so I am sure this is not the case everywhere. But, some of the campsites do seem to be packed in there (although this might be good if your party needs multiple sites). Fees are more expensive then other state parks.

Overall Impression: We definitely want to return. The hiking trails we have seen were awesome, and we would like to check more of them out. It is also very convenient to home -- less time in the car means more time camping. If I do go back, I will be very discriminating on picking a camp site, as I do not want to be too close to the highway, nor do I want a site with little barriers from my neighbors. I suspect this park will be very busy during more camping friendly seasons, so that might be another consideration.

Cedar Hill State Park

On Saturday, February 21st, we turned our adventuring eyes to our backyard (not literally, although the thought has crossed our mind). We drove about 30 minutes southwest of Garland to Cedar Hill, TX near I-20 and 67, just outside of Dallas city limit but still within the metroplex.

Cedar Hill State Park sits right on Joe Pool Lake. As usual, our camping trip was just an over-nighter. The wind was blowing very strong that evening right over the lake, further magnifying the cold. Our first camp site (#53) was right on the water in the Shady Ridge Camping Area and directly in the path of the strong wind. After about 5 minutes we realized that this was not going to do for the entire evening. So, we relocated to the Eagle Ford Camping Area (camp site #95) which was further inland -- much better.

The highlight of the evening was our dinner. This should be no surprise as most of our camping adventures include a noteworthy meal. This time we decided to keep things simple. We made baked potatoes with butter and sour cream and bacon cheeseburgers. We must say it was one of the better bacon cheeseburgers that we have ever made. Food always tastes better cooked over a wood fire.

It was a cold night. As a matter of fact, when we woke up around 7:30 am, it was still 27 degrees outside. We do not know exactly how cold it got overnight, but you can imagine...Fortunately, both of our sleeping bags are rated for -5 degrees. As long as we were in our bags, we were fairly cozy. Our dogs were probably a little uncomfortable in the cold, but we let them cuddle up close to us on the air mattress. At one point, Joe shared his covers with Bronte, who seemed to have trouble settling in.

The next morning, we got the fire going again and heated up some sausage, egg, and cheese taquitos that Kristi had pre-made. It was a simple, quick, and delicious meal given us the fuel we would need for a morning of hiking.
First things first, we packed up all of our gear and cleaned up our site. Then we set out in our car to the south side of the State Park where the hiking trails were -- specifically the Duck Pond Trail (sadly no ducks were in the pond on this particular day). We both agree that our favorite part of this camp trip was the hiking.

We spent about two hours Saturday morning (from about 10:00 to noon) hiking around various state park trails. Our ultimate goal was to reach the "scenic overview" located a the top of one of hills that we hiked up. The view was very nice, but the nature along the way was equally good. We really look forward to returning to Cedar Hill so that we can check out more of the trails.

In checking out the Cedar Hill State Park slide show (to the right), you will notice many scenic and nature pictures. Regretfully, we did not do it justice. In the spring, with the trees and vegetation in blossom, it must be breathtaking. We look forward to returning for some more kodak moments. We also took a lot of pictures of the many facilities at Cedar Hill State Park. On of the best features of this park is the many "day use" opportunities -- fishing, picnicking, swimming, boating. We tried to share some of this via our photos.

February 26, 2009

Foster Farm in Retrospect

Well, this is long overdo, but we wanted to share some of the most memorable take aways from our camping adventure to our friend Brent's property (referred to as "Foster Farm").

What was the best thing that happened?
Joe says: I finally got to fire off my rifle. There just aren't many (legal) opportunities in the city.
Kristi says: I didn't say anything stupid (refer back to the Lake Bob Sandlin "eye spy" joke).

What was your favorite activity?
Joe says: Other then firing off my rifle (as mentioned in the "best" question), I really enjoyed riding around the property on the ATV 4-Wheeler.
Kristi says: I really enjoyed riding the ATV for the first time. I also enjoyed the commradery with Joe, Brent, Lyn, and myself around the campfire after dinner. I also loved the big campfires. Brent and Joe built some HUGE fires (not quite bonfire quality, but almost)

What was the funniest thing that happened?
Joe says: I am a little embarrased to admit this, but I was kind of chicken about going late night exploring through the trails. What can I say? The coyotes were a little detering.
Kristi says: I am so glad that Joe 'fessed up to backing out of the late night hike, because if he hadn't, I was going to put him on blast. Here is the scenario: We got far enough away from the camp site to where we could barely see the camp fire anymore, and Joe insisted that we turn back around. In retrospect, it was probably the right move seeing that Brent later admitted the trails had changed since the last time he was out there. Drunken inspired hikes at midnight can wait until the next time...

What is your favorite memory?
Joe says: Saturday night we made beef fajitas for dinner with all of the fixin's. I can not get them out of my mind. Fajitas will definately be in the regular camping cuisine rotation.
Kristi says: It was one of those nights when the moon shines so full and bright that it lights up the entire clearing. We were looking up a the stars and Joe fixated on a rather unique tree. This specific tree was entirely bare with the exception of one "poof" of leaves on the higher limbs. It was such a unique quality that the tree was dubbed (and will forever more be known as) the Dr. Suess tree.

What was the worst thing that happened?
Joe says: Manual labor... Brent, Lyn (Brent's father), and I moved about 3 dozen large cuts of tree into the shed. It was exhausting.
Kristi says: Joe chastized me for letting the dogs play and swim in the pond.

What is a must do if you return?
Joe says: fish in the pond, explore more of the property, shoot my gun off again
Kristi says: I definately want to return so that we can explore more and check other camp site locations. I want to go on the ATV again.

February 9, 2009

Foster Farm In Lone Oak, TX

This weeks camping adventure takes us about an hour east of Dallas on Interstate 30. Once we neared Greenville, TX, we took Highway 69 towards Lone Oak (population 521) boasting one lonely stop light in the middle of town.

Our friend, Brent invited us out to his family property just outside of Lone Oak to camp, explore, and hike over his 50 acres of property. Being city folk (for the most part), we weren't sure exactly how big 50 acres was, but Brent assured us 50 acres was plenty enough room for us to have an over-night camp adventure.

So, in the early afternoon on Saturday, February 7th, we headed out of town towards our camping destination with our dogs in tow. It was a short ride, just about an hour from start to finish (heck it can take over an hour just to drive across the Dallas metroplex).

When we first arrived we were greeted by Lyn, Brent's father. He was busy working in his workshop taking advantage of a few more weeks of cooler weather to cut wood before it gets too hot (which could be as early as March in Texas). Our particular camp site destination was about half a mile deep into the property and difficult to reach by car. So Lyn suggested that we load up the trailer hitched to his tractor and haul it out there.

While, the guys were loading up the trailer, Kristi and the dogs checked out the pond just behind the workshop. It wasn't long before the dogs were knee deep in water along the shore line of the pond. Kristi proceeded to test Bronte's resolve by throwing sticks repeatedly into the pond coaxing Bronte to fetch. Bronte is known to fetch a tennis ball out any body of water with little hesitation, but this was a first for him to fetch sticks. After several tries, he figured out how this game was played, and proudly emerged from the pond soaked to the bone dropping the stick on the pond bank in front of Kristi.

After Joe gave Kristi a brief chastising for letting the dogs play in the pond water, Lyn took off on the tractor towards the campsite. We all, soaking dogs included, followed behind on foot. After a 10 minute walk or so, we ended up at our destination, a modest sized clearing among the cedars. Lyn drop us off and set back towards the workshop to take advantage of the remaining daylight hours.

Then it was straight to the business of setting up camp, our home for the next 24 hours or so. We were able to get set up and ready in short order. Brent and Joe proceeded to forage in the nearby forest to get a good collection of firewood to get us through the evening. We were fortunate that the weather was in the low 70s with an expected low that evening of 50ish, so the fire was more for utility then necessity.

We decided to get dinner going shortly after 5:00 so that we could get some of the cooking and preparation done before he sun went down. The menu that evening was beef fajitas with grilled onions and bell peppers with spanish rice on the side. Lyn provided us with an excellent grill that a prior camper had left behind. We put it to good work.

By 6:00 dinner was in full swing on the grill. Lyn, with some Corona's at his side, joined us for dinner shortly after dark. It wasn't long before the campsite feel silent as we all stuffed our faces with fresh of the grill fajitas. YUM!!

After a few hours of story sharing around the campfire, including stories of the local coyotes, wild boars, and armadillos, Lyn left us to fend for ourselves for the rest of the evening. It wasn't far into the evening when we heard the first chorus of coyotes. They serenaded us several times over the course of that evening. A few 6-packs later, both the fire and our energy started to fizzle out. It was time to turn it in for the night. We knew we would need some rest and energy for the fun we were to have the next morning.

As we lay in our respective tents, we fell asleep to the sound of the coyotes' chorus.

Brent was the first one awake, shortly after 7:00 am. He coaxed the fire back into full roar just as Kristi stumbled sleepily from her tent. By 8:00 Kristi and Brent went to the business of getting breakfast going -- griddle cakes, scrambled eggs, and bacon. The aromas of the food enticed Joe from the tent just in time for the food to be served.

We allowed our food to digest for an hour or so before making it out on our first hike of the morning. With the dogs at our heels, we set out on the path that we attempted to follow the previous evening (we were too chicken that we wouldn't be able to find our way back in the dead of the night). Joe set out on the 4-wheeler while Brent, Kristi, and the dogs hiked behind. We explored a good portion of the property that day -- Brent estimates that we covered at least 20 acres.

After 45 minutes or so, Kristi took her turn on the 4-wheeler. Naturally cautious, she started off at a slow golf cart speed, and gradually worked her way up to a more respectable speed. After 25 minutes or so of circling a rather large clearing, Brent took over and showed us how to ride a 4-wheeler.

Brent disappeared down one of the many trails. We could hear him from a distance, never sure which way he was heading or coming from. So, Joe and Kristi continued to hike through the many paths heading back toward the camp site (our at least we thought we were headed the right direction). A short while later, Brent turned back up with some cold beers, and a definite pathway back to the camp site. By this time, it was starting to warm up outside, and our dogs were exhausted and in need of something to drink (okay, so we were tired too).

As the morning drew to a close, we let our very tired dogs (and our tired feet) have a rest. It wouldn't be long before we needed to start tearing down our camp site and packing up our belongings. So, after a brief rest, we got down to the business of packing up. The clouds started to roll in and the wind started to pick up. We knew that the weather predicted rain later in the evening, but the signs were that maybe it was rolling in sooner. After a short debacle with the wind carrying away a temporarily unstaked tent, we managed to finish packing up everything.

The day would not be complete until Joe had the opportunity to take a few shots from his rifle. Living in the city, there are few opportunities for shooting practice. So, like a little boy with a new toy, Joe took aim and fired at a foothill. (Check out the slide show for a great action shot. You can see Joe reel back a bit as the gun kicks back and smoke spews from the barrel of the rifle. The picture could not have been timed any better).

At this point, we felt like perhaps the Cochran's Explorer could make it over to the campsite for loading up purposes. So, for the last time, we hiked back to the main house to greet Lyn and pick up the Explorer.

About 30 minutes later we had the truck and Brent's car all loaded up and ready for the short trip back home. Now, it was time to pay the piper -- Lyn in this case. The guys spent the next hour or so helping Lyn haul large sections of tree trunks into the workshop in preparation for chopping. These farm hands were exhausted, and ready to return to the luxuries of home after an eventful and busy camping adventure.

January 29, 2009

What REALLY happened at Lake Bob Sandlin

Okay, so I had an epiphany that what readers and visitors to this blog really want to know is the scoop, and gossip, and dirty details of our camping adventures. After all, half of the adventure of camping is the stories that come out of it. So, for those of you just itching for the nitty-gritty, here are the highlights

What was the best things that happened?
Joe says: Bronte, our almost 5 year old male dog, finally decided to man up. Seems that given the opportunity, some natural instincts kicked in. He was very protective of the ladies, following them anywhere outside of the fire area. Also, He was on constant guard, patroling the camp site. We were very proud of him. (For those of you that haven't met Bronte, he is a cuddlely and lovey attention mongor at home -- a bit of a sissy actually).
Kristi Says: All of the careful planning, supply lists, and shopping came to fruition. I was very pleased that we had just about everything that we needed. We were well prepared and organized, and we had a great time.

What was the worst thing that happened?
Joe says: Definately the hangover. Whose idea was it to bring a bottle of Jack? Oh, yeah...that was my idea.
Kristi says: I became the butt of not 1 but 2 ongoing jokes. One was an instance of a joke referenceing eye-spy gone awry (see also "What was the funniest thing that happened" for more details). The other was a comparison of my attire to a gansta thug (It was chilly so I wore a ski/skull cap and I wore a hoodie sweatshirt with a hoodie part pulled up -- somehow this envoked images of a hood thug). I was referred to as Gangsta thug the rest of the evening -- So not me.

What was the funniest thing that happened?
Joe says: Kristi as Gangsta Thug is a close tie with the Eye Spy debaucle.
Kristi says: Ok, I will admit that the funniest thing to happen was an idiot comment I made. Let me set the stage -- It is late in the evening, it is pitch dark outside, except for the roaring fire. Joe says "Eye spy something orange". I look around the camp site and it occurs to me that everything looks black and grey. Everyone kind of chuckles -- I figured it was because Joe said "eye spy". That was kind of funny in an unexpected way. Then as I look across the fire to Joe, I say "I don't see anything orange" and I was serious. Well Duh! Jokes on me, the fire is orange. I had only been staring at it for hours on end. Just goes to show, that sometimes the most obvious answer is literally right in front of you.

Lessons learned?
Joe says: If you are going camping with Mike, bring a fire extinguisher. He likes to build bonfires.
Kristi says: If your camp sites offers running water, find the water spigget early. I didn't find it until we were literally leaving. (Good thing I brough plenty of water with me. It is just a waste to use bottled water to rinse of pots and pans. You want to use free water for that).

January 27, 2009

Test Drive

We decided that in 2009, we were going do more camping. It is a great way to see new sites, commune with nature, and it is a fairly cheap getaway for the weekend. So last week, we started to piece together our camping equipment. (As a side note, we must say that Bass Pro Shop is the coolest place.) So, after three evenings of shopping we finally felt we had acquired the basic necessities for camping.

We were so eager to "test drive" our new toys that we planned an overnight camping trip. After several hours of perusing the
Texas Parks & Wildlife website, we decided to go the the Lake Bob Sandlin State Park. This park is about 1 hour and 45 minutes east of Dallas on I-30 just before Mount Pleasant -- in the pine lands of Texas. Our friends, Mike And Kelly joined us for the inaugural trip (So, for the purposes of this story "We" refers to Joe, Kristi, Mike, and Kelly, plus our dogs ,Bronte and Mia).

We left Saturday afternoon around 3:00 (because Joe and Kristi had committments in the morning) and arrived just before 5:00. That gave us about one hour to get our tents up and get the fire going -- which we managed to pull off despite this being the first time to assemble our tent.

Did I mention that it was somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 degrees outside? We HAD to have a fire to keep us warm. Although, I am grateful that there was no wind and we were well blocked in by the trees. It took a few attempts, but by 8:00 we had a roaring fire.

There were about 30 camp sites in the
Fort Sherman section of the park. We were at camp site #11 which is a lake side campsite. We were the only people in Fort Sherman. It was awesome! It was as if we had the entire state park to ourselves. We could be as boisterous and obnoxious as we wanted to be (and trust me, we were boisterous after we got a few drinks in our system). Plus our dogs, who also went on the trip, were able to roam loose without bothering anyone -- they had their own adventures.

We stayed up until the wee hours of morning enjoying camp food, drinks, good company, and a warm fire. Shortly after 3:00, we stumbled our way back to our tents. The next morning we enjoyed pancakes, eggs, and sausage while nursing our headaches. Before we knew it, it was time to pack up and head home.

Our next camping trip will be an overnighter on Saturday, February 7th. Location is still to be determined but it will be close to the Dallas area as we don't want to drive far for just a one night camp trip.

Intersted in going? Email or call us.

Lake Bob Sandlin State Park

We found Lake Bob Sandlin State Park on the Texas Parks & Wildlife website.

Camp Site: The camp site was very large, and well secluded from neighboring camp sites. several "premium" campsites are right on the lake with a lovely view. The site included electric hook-ups (for RVers) and a water spigget (which is hidden behind the electric hook-up -- we had a hard time finding it).

Restroom Facilities: The restroom facility was a short walk from the site. It was a very nice and clean facility with 3 toilet stalls, three sinks, and three shower stalls. The water in the shower was nice and hot and the restroom area was also heated (probably a/c in the summer).

Other Activities: Like many of the Texas State Parks, Lake Bob Sandlin offers many hiking trials, fishing, and other events and activities. Because we were there for less then 24 hours, we didn't have much time to check out the other offerings .

Overall Impression: We will definately return to Lake Bob Sandlin State Park. We are eager to check out what the park offers. Both the camp site and facilities exceeded our expectations.