Tag Archives: State Park

#Opt Out (Freeze Out)

(Ok, I know this is WAY LATE but that’s what happens when you have photos on one computer and write a post an another…)

Typically, every year Hubby and I “opt out” from the jumble of Thanksgiving and Black Friday and use that time off of work to head out to the middle of nowhere and camp. (Even REI does #optoutside so you can share your photos from your hiking adventures, rather than getting run-over by a crowd trying to get the cheap tvs at Walmart for Black Friday.) A year ago we went to Big Bend National Park, and this year we decided to go to Palo Duro Canyon State Park outside of Amarillo, Texas. It’s the same amount of time in the car, and neither of us had ever been there before so we wanted to give it a shot. After we had booked our trip we discovered Run Away campers, and fell in love. They are affordable, they are comfortable, and they are TINY! We ordered our little Range Runner model camper (it’s actually the largest model they have at 6’x8′) from Florida and it was delivered just a few days later! We were excited to get it before our camping trip because that meant we would be able to glamp (glam camp) instead of being in a tent, which had been the original plan. The first chance I got, I called the Park Service phone number for reservations, but they were out of RV camp sites! I was sad, but I thought, ‘One last trip of rocks in the back and waking up stiff. After this, we will use the camper.’ But as we got closer to the date, every time we checked the weather it was looking worse and worse. The high for the day dropped from being in the 40s to being in the low 20s with freezing rain. It was going to be miserable. We were going to cancel, defeated and depressed. Until Hubby got the idea to check the RV site availability again. Lo and behold, other people had checked the weather too, and cancelled their trip so there were spaces available! I did a happy dance and we started planning for the trip once again. We left before the crack of dawn on Thanksgiving Day since it was a 9 hour drive, and got there just in time for the park office to tell us that the weather is going to get worse, so they will probably close the office over the weekend. “That’s fine,” we told them. “We have a tv and a stack of movies.” But we had no idea what we were in for.

The rain turned to sleet, and the sleet turned to ice. We tried hiking around our camp site a little bit but the mud was caking onto anything that touched it and making a huge mess. I was afraid of slipping and hurting my back so I was being extremely careful. We got back to the camper to thaw out and ended up having to heat up canned soup inside the camper because it was too miserable to cook outside.

From Thursday night to Saturday morning we watched 3 of the Planet of the Apes movies and Season 2 of Scrubs. We got a little bit of cabin fever so we bundled up and headed out to do a little birding once the ice stopped falling. There was a thick layer of ice on every surface. Walking through parking lots was difficult because it was so slippery. But I got some great bird shots anyway! We saw a huge flock of turkeys (30 or more) and each bird had ice frozen on its back. We went to a birding station and the Cardinals and Finches had frozen feathers also.

female cardinal Gold Finch male cardinal turkeysWe headed back to camp to hike around a bit more (now that the ground was frozen, the mud wasn’t an issue) and Hubby saw the Park Host come by to fill the bathrooms with toilet paper. He went to go talk to them and they told his that the road to get out of the park was closed and we wouldn’t be able to get out until noon on Sunday! That was a problem. With a 9 hour drive, that was cutting it close. What if the roads didn’t improve and we were stuck longer? The last thing I wanted was to get home at 2 am and have to go to work the next day. So Hubby and I loaded up into the truck and checked the road for ourselves. He has all wheel drive so we weren’t concerned, and any point that the road looked icy, we would get out and check it before driving on it. (The road to get out of the park goes up through the canyon, so if you lose traction on the icy road, it’s quite a tumble down). The road seemed fine as we headed up, and I had him stop a few times so I could get pictures of the beautiful ice-covered grasses and yucca and barbed-wire fence.

frozen grassI even heard coyotes howling VERY close to me and I was so happy to hear them. Every time I hear coyotes, I’m the only one around for miles (while Hubby sits in the warm car!) and it seems like they are singing to me. I even saw one of the singers a few minutes later!

coyoteWe finally made our way to the park entrance and saw that the gate was wide open. The park host had told us it was closed and locked and we couldn’t get out! So we looked at each other and came to this conclusion: If the road freezes, it will be over night. The road is passable now, but in the morning there is no guarantee. So we got out while the getting was good and headed to Amarillo to spend the night.

We headed back down the park road and hooked up the camper. In 20 minutes we were back on the road, carefully heading out of the park. The highway was frozen so we took it slow and then pulled into the parking lot of our destination: The Big Texan steak ranch. Part of our plan on this trip had been to eat at The Big Texan because it’s an icon! It has been on tv shows like Man vs. Food and Day Tripper because they do the 72 ounce steak challenge. You have to consume a 72 ounce steak, a baked potato, a shrimp cocktail, salad, and a bread roll, all in 60 minutes. Of course, we weren’t going to be PARTICIPATING in the steak challenge, but we still wanted to eat there. Also, as it turned out, The Big Texan has a hotel ON SITE so we didn’t have to go anywhere by the end of the night! The parking lot was an ice rink so I was really happy we didn’t have to get back on the highway and find somewhere else to stay. (Also, I just saw on their website that they now have an RV park too, so that’s good to know in case our next trip to Palo Duro gets cut short again!)

The next morning, before heading home, we stopped at Cadillac Ranch.cadillacs3cadillacs

It’s literally a bunch of Cadillacs from the 1940s-1960s that were jammed into the ground in the 1970s as an art installation. The thing is, it’s legal to do graffiti art at this site. I guess that’s kind of the point – everyone is an artist if they are given the chance. We had never seen it before, and we might never come back to Amarillo again, so we had it on our list of must-dos while we were on the trip. We trudged out to the cars through the snow and ice, took a couple pictures, and got back to our heated car as quickly as possible. But I noticed some interesting things while we were there: there are so many layers of paint on the cars, that it looks like the cars are melting.

frozen paintThere had been people out at the site spray-painting in the snow and ice, so that the frost on the cars was painted orange and blue. The snow on the ground was also used as a temporary canvas, saying the typical “So-and-so Loves So-and-so” and happy holidays. Also, even the barbed-wire that surrounds the property had been painted. It was surprisingly beautiful.

Once we were done at Cadillac Ranch we headed home, stopping in Dallas to see some family, and then making our slow trudge home (the drive from Dallas to Houston is supposed to take 3 hours, but for any number of reasons, it always takes 6).

Our trips are always adventurous even if they don’t go as planned. I guess that’s how I know I love my Hubby too, because instead of being ready to kill each other by the end of the trip, we were planning our next adventure!

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Luxury Backpacking

As soon as I found out that I was getting Good Friday off of work, I called Hubby and said “WE HAVE TO GO CAMPING!” I hadn’t gone camping since Grad School, with the exception of one Canoe Camping trip that we did with a couple friends 2 YEARS AGO.  I had been feeling the itch to go camping for a while, and that was the perfect weekend to do it. Living in Texas, just about anywhere you want to get is a day’s drive to get there, so you want more than just one night away to appreciate the time you spent outdoors, not just in your car getting there.  The most beautiful areas of Texas are west of my current location, and the closest pretty place is about 3 hours away. But of course, since I didn’t know I was getting Good Friday off until most people already had their Easter plans, most of the pretty places we wanted to go were all booked up.

Enter – Inks Lake State Park. This is a tiny state park on a tiny lake which is part of the Colorado River chain of lakes in the hill country.  It is south of Lake Buchanan, which is a much larger lake, but they had campsites available for the Easter weekend so I booked it as soon as possible. The drive to Inks Lake was beautiful.  My favorite landscape type – rocks, hills, cactus, and huge trees, surrounded us. And to top it all off, we were having an amazing wildflower season, so the entire drive was breath-taking.

DSC_0009

Puddle in the rock
Puddle in the rock
Adorable little cactus
Adorable little cactus
China berry blooms
China berry blooms
Teeny Tiny succulents
Teeny Tiny succulents
Buckeye Selena King
Buckeye Selena King
Claret Cup Cactus
Claret Cup Cactus
Hubby at the top
Hubby at the top
Dry creek bed
Dry creek bed
Prickly pear skeleton
Prickly pear skeleton
Indian Paintbrush and rocks
Indian Paintbrush and rocks
Butterfly on Indian Blanket
Butterfly on Indian Blanket
Bluebonnets on the trail
Bluebonnets on the trail
Giant Spiderwort
Giant Spiderwort

The reason I say we were “luxury backpacking” is because the trail from the car was only 1.5 miles.  The backpacking we were used to was 12-16 mile long hikes in the mountains. Very different.  Because of the short distance we were going to be traveling we took a few items that we wouldn’t have carried on a 16 mile hike in the Chisos Mountains. Such as: eggs, wine, cookies, my giant camera with giant lens and a tripod. Things such as these were typically left at home on previous trips to save on weight. And on longer hikes where we didn’t have refrigeration, we would have to bring all of our food with us and it usually consisted of some sort of noodles and a packet of tuna or something. Since this was LUXURY backpacking, we only brought one day’s worth of food to camp at a time (and it was really awesome food at that!) That way we could keep all the extra food in the car in the big cooler, nice and cold, and go get it the next day when we had nice light-weight empty packs to carry.

Day 1: We got to the park at about noon and headed into our camp site. Then we had the rest of the afternoon to explore the trails and hills around us. I was constantly taking pictures and Hubby was walking around exploring and waiting patiently for me to finish whatever I was trying to take pictures of. When we got back to camp we started making dinner – home-made beef stew and biscuits.

While Hubby cooked dinner, I was practicing my night-time photography techniques. It didn't go well.
While Hubby cooked dinner, I was practicing my night-time photography techniques. It didn’t go well.

This is not quick or easy over one small burner, but as I write this it is literally making my stomach growl, thinking of what a great meal it made.  The stew cooked pretty slowly since it was fresh, raw potatoes, carrots, and onions, but once it was done, Hubby put it off to the side to cool while he made “biscuits.” Now, I say “biscuits” instead of biscuits because although it was Bisquick biscuit mix, we didn’t have a way of baking them. Instead they were more like biscuit pancakes. Hubby wasn’t sure how they were going to turn out so he didn’t want me to get my hopes up, but they were perfect! Slightly burnt in the middle where the flame hits the pan, just enough to give it that campfire flavor. We ripped them in half and dunked them into the perfect stew. The only problem was that there was a bit too much food, and no way to store any leftovers. I felt guilty about throwing it away because it was so good, and there isn’t really a good place to throw food anyway (because raccoons can always figure out where you put food) so I enjoyed my gluttony and pretty much couldn’t move for the rest of the night.  For dessert we had Whole Foods cookies from the cookie bar, drank our adult beverages, and then hiked to the top of the hill by our camp to watch the stars.

It was a perfect night.

(Except for one thing. My camera had a little accident. >:{ So these are the only photos I have from the trip. BUT it was still a fantastic trip, and my camera is fixed, so all’s well that ends well, right?)

The next day we hiked around and watched the boats at the boat ramp, got some sodas at the general store, and even headed to Longhorn Cavern State Park, which was pretty much next door, to check out the cavern.

Now, you might be thinking, “come on World Traveler…you have been to Carlsbad Caverns. How can ANY cave even top that? What’s the point of even going to other caves after you have seen Carlsbad?”

Well Fellow Adventurers, first of all, I find all caves interesting, but this one had the strangest back story you have ever heard! First, it wasn’t a cave formed by water dripping over eons creating beautiful “sculptures” but it was formed by an underwater river. It was also a hang out for Comanche Indians, smugglers, bandits, train robbers, and at one time it was a Speakeasy. Yes. In the middle of nowhere Burnet, Texas, there was a Speakeasy in a cave.

Longhorn Cavern Speakeasy

(Photo courtesy of http://bougiegrnk.blogspot.com/ where you can read all about his travels, too!)

The cave was an awesome surprise on this trip that we wouldn’t have had time to do if we had only gone camping for one night instead of two. We went back to Inks Lake State Park, watched the boats some more, and then headed back to camp for a nap, and then we watched a spectacular sunset on the hill overlooking Inks Lake.

This trip couldn’t have gone better, and we definitely plan on going back, maybe taking a couple of the dogs with us next time. I recommend this park if you were thinking about going!

Panoramic Sunset
Sunset Over Inks Lake