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.