Monday, April 28, 2014

Onward and Upward (Northwest)

From the Abilene area I traveled northwest through Lubbock to the small Texas town of Littlefield, birthplace of country music legend, Waylon Jennings.  In his honor the town named a park (and a lot of other stuff) after Waylon.

Ahh the magic four letter word.....Free.
One of the ways small towns like Littlefield entice RVers from driving straight through their city limits is to set up RV parks with free hookups, hoping that during the time their guests are parked there the guests will also engage in economic activity like grocery shopping or dining in restaurants.  That's what Waylon Jennings RV Park is and from what I observed during my short stay there the "enticement" works.

June 15, 1937 - February 13, 2002
The RV park itself is part of a larger park complex that has multiple softball fields and the largest horseshoe setup I've ever seen.

A sign said Waylon threw the inaugural horseshoe when the park opened. 
The camp spots and the electricity are free but there is a metal contribution box on a pole in the RV area where visitors can defray the city's costs somewhat, I wrote the city of Littlefield a check for $10 and slipped it through the boxes slot, it was a good deal!  Even though the park is on the main north/south highway through Littlefield traffic noise wasn't really a problem.  The spaces are on a first come basis so I wouldn't advise trying for one on a Friday evening but it's a convenient, cost-effective stop if you're heading northwest out of Lubbock, say.  My goal is to get back up into Colorado so I'll keep moving north and west.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The death of a lake

When I traveled to Abilene State Park, 20 miles south of Abilene, TX I thought I'd be doing another campground review post.  The park was adjacent to the big, dam created, Lake Abilene and I envisioned lots of pictures of fishing and boating taking place on the water.  Unfortunately Texas, and much of the western US, has been suffering through a historic drought for much of the last 5 years and I was prepared to see reduced water levels in Lake Abilene, but I wasn't prepared for this.

Lake Abilene taken not far from where the "shore" would be.
After proceeding to my campsite within Abilene State park I had wondered why I, with the exception of one other camper, had the campground to myself, riding my bike up the hill to the lake pretty much answered that one.

A little strip of water where a big lake once was.
Incongruously, the official Abilene State Park map that is given to new arrivals still shows a diagram of the lake as if it was full and even proscribes the daily limits on various fish that are present (I was only allowed 5 large mouth bass per day!) or I should say WERE present.

No kidding!
During "normal" rainfall years I believe Abilene State Park with it's access to Lake Abilene would be one of the nicer parks in the Texas state system but, after seeing the heartbreaking state of the lake I couldn't give a fair campground review and I stayed just the two nights I had paid for site unseen.  Driving past many of the churches in the Abilene area you see "Pray for rain." on many of the signs in front of the churches.  I'll second that.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Campground Review: Lake Somerville State Park - Birch Creek Unit

Travel 10 miles northwest from Brenham, TX to Somerville and you'll be within reach of one of the jewels of the Texas State Park system, Lake Somerville State Park.  Somerville Lake was created in 1967 by the US Army Corps of Engineers damming Yegua Creek in the Brazos River basin.

The beach along Somerville Lake.
The maximum depth of the lake is listed as 38 feet but with the drought was probably lower than this during my visit to the park but, at 11,500 acres it's a pretty impressive body of inland water.  The state park is along the northern shore of the lake and had 120 RV campsites separated into three camp areas.  I stayed in the Yaupon Camping Area and totally lucked out when the ranger offered me Site 30 which she explained was "Right on the lake."  Score!

The Tank nestled under the trees at Site 30--lake in the background.
Here's the campground data sheet:

Hookups:                                20, 30, 50 amp, water
Fire ring:                                  yes
Water Access:                         yes
Dump station:                          yes
WiFi:                                       no
Level sites:                              most are, the ones near the lake slope towards the water
Laundry:                                  no
Store:                                      no
Pool:                                       no
Shade:                                     yes
Verizon reception:                   3g, 3 bars
Millenicom reception:              3 out of 4 bars
Cost:                                       $15 per night

I originally had only intended to stay two nights at the park but after setting up camp and seeing what a prime site I was in I jumped on Wally the Mountain Bike and pedaled the mile and a half back to the ranger station and signed up for two additional days.

The trail to the lake from Site 30.
There are over 20 miles of hiking and biking trails within Lake Somerville, many paralleling the lake with the added Spring bonus of beautiful flowers.

The Lake Trail parallels the beach for much of it's length.
It wasn't named Bluebonnet Trail but it could have been.
Here's a closer view.

 Did someone ask what the sunrise over Somerville Lake looked like?

Sometimes being an early riser has it's rewards!
After close to a year on the road I've stayed at a good portion of the Texas State Park system and I'll put Lake Somerville State Park right up there with the best, particularly if you're interested in water activities like boating, fishing or just zoning out on the beach.  It fills up pretty quickly but if you can, request either Site 30 like I had or it's adjacent Site 29 which has a similar lake access, you'll love it!

Thanks for reading!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Battleship Memorial Park Mobile, AL

Driving through Mobile on I-10 I've driven by the park where the battleship Alabama is berthed and visible from the highway dozens of times and invariably said to myself "I bet it'd be cool to go tour that thing."  I never stopped though, always having a more pressing destination in mind.....well not this day!

The USS Alabama (BB-60) was a South Dakota-class battleship commissioned in 1942, that, after decades of service, the US Navy ordered scrapped in 1962.  The citizens of Alabama formed a committee to save the battleship as a memorial to the men and women who had fought in World War II and the ship was awarded to the state in 1964.  The big ship was towed to Mobile from the Pacific and became a museum ship in January, 1965.

From the bow looking at the huge 16 inch guns.
The Alabama served in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters from late-1942 until the end of WW II.  Her 9 16 inch guns could shoot a 2700 pound shell (about the weight of a small car) 36,000 yards (20 miles) with pinpoint accuracy.

View of the massive ship from the shoreline.
 The park commission charges $3 for a vehicle to enter the park and then, to tour the ship, aircraft pavilion and the submarine USS Drum costs $13 more.  You enter the actual park through a store that sells memorabilia and also the museum pass.

That's the entry store in the background.  Front are anti aircraft guns.
In 1969 the park commission added another WWII veteran, the Gato-class submarine USS Drum to the park.  Originally in the bay behind the Alabama the Drum was moved to a land display to preserve it from the corrosive Mobile Bay waters.

The USS Drum.
The park commission has both an iPhone and Android app that provides detailed explanations of predetermined points of interest.  The spots are numbered and you type the number into the app and read the detailed explanation of what you're viewing.

Wonder how easy it was to sleep in those bunks atop a torpedo?

The park also has an aircraft pavilion with planes from several eras displayed.

An A-6 attack aircraft inside the pavilion.
 Planes too big for the aircraft pavilion are displayed outside.

Giant 8 engined B-52 bomber displayed outdoors at the park.
All those times I had driven by Battleship Memorial Park I had been right, it was very cool to tour it!  Anyone interested in history and naval ships and combat aircraft will find this park incredibly interesting and well conceived.  It's a great way to spend an afternoon.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Campground Review: Rocky Bayou State Park, Niceville, FL

Preparatory to leaving the beautiful weather in Florida I spent 3 nights in Rocky Bayou State Park north of Destin and just outside of  Niceville, FL.  Rocky Bayou is a smaller state park within the Florida state park system with 42 RV camping sites that come with full hookups.

Right off Florida Highway 20.
Here's the Rocky Bayou data sheet:

Hookups:                                 20, 30 50 amp.  Water.
Fire ring:                                  Yes
Water Access:                         Yes
Dump station:                          Yes
WiFi:                                       No
Level sites:                               Yes
Laundry:                                  Yes
Store:                                       Just park memorabilia
Pool:                                        No
Shade:                                     Yes
Verizon reception:                    4g, 2 out of 4
Millenicom reception:               3 out of 4 bars
Cost:                                       $16 / night

Rocky Bayou State Park is located on the north shore of the beautiful Choctawhatchee Bay with 14 of the campsites having access or limited access directly to the water.  If you go try to reserve sites 29 - 37 for best water access.

Choctawhatchee Bay from the shore of the state park.
The campsites are shaded by large sand pines which are the predominant tree within the park.  I originally only signed up for two days but enjoyed my stay so much I extended my stay for a third night, although it involved moving to another site which turned out to be one of the sites with water access so no complaining here.

View through the sand pines from my "improved" third day site.
There are three separate hiking trails within Rocky Bayou, Red Cedar, and Rocky Bayou trails are smaller 6/10ths of a mile walks and the Sand Pine trail is a little over a mile in length.  All trails offer lots of opportunities to view Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Osprey, Hawks and Bald Eagles.  Binoculars and field guides are available from the ranger station at the entrance to the park.

The Red Cedar Trail.

Needless to say I stayed dry during my stay.
If you aren't able to bring watercraft with you on your stay at Rocky Bayou there are canoes and kayaks available for hourly rental.

Plenty of rental kayaks available.
 My stay at Rocky Bayou was extremely quiet and relaxing with simply perfect weather all three days.  Some of the more widely known parks in the area (like those on the Gulf) are tough to get into due to campsites being 100% reserved months in advance but Rocky Bayou State Park is somewhat of a "secret" and often will suffice as a fail safe if you need to camp in the area around Destin.  You won't regret camping there and I know I'll be back.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Spring Training Lakeland, FL

One of the other fun activities we did while Camping Buddy Becky was accompanying the Tank in Florida was to attend a Detroit Tiger Spring Training game versus the Toronto Blue Jays at the Tigers' beautiful Marchant Joker (no idea where "Joker" gets into the name) Stadium in Lakeland, FL.

Sold out Marchant Stadium.
If you are ever in Florida in March I would strongly advise attending a game or two, it's a blast!  Our plan had been to attend two games but the first one got rained out but, as you can see from the photos, the game we DID attend had perfect sunny 78 degree weather.

We definitely weren't in the "front row".
If you do decide to go to Marchant Joker Stadium for a game our advice is to plan to arrive at least an hour before game time as there's somewhat an air of pandemonium regarding the purchase of tickets and which line is "Will Call" and which is for purchasing tickets.  Also, don't expect top-notch major league action as the managers play a lot of rookies to see who is going to make the trip north with the team for the regular season.  We left with the Tigers up 10-0, before the game was over the Tigers had scored 8 more runs, a real cliffhanger!

The Berm behind Left Field.  Work on your tan while you watch the game!
 Thanks for reading!