Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Never a Dull Moment

I had just spent a really fun weekend in Austin, staying at my sister's place.  On Saturday we did a 10 KM walk a group was sponsoring that went around the newly built Boardwalk Trail which skirts the southern edge of Lady Bird Lake.

Part of the $23 million Boardwalk over Lady Bird Lake, Austin.
My sister Victoria (left) and Camping Buddy Becky pausing during the 10k.

We did some geocaching the next morning and found all three caches we looked for around Austin.  Later in the day I watched the Texans win a football game (not a common occurrence) so all in all it was a pretty cool weekend......until:

Blowout city!
I guess I really shouldn't complain because in the entire 16 months I've been full-timing in the Tank this is the first mechanical problem I've encountered (and think of some of those BLM roads the Tank had to negotiate.).  My daughter had given me a AAA Membership for Father's Day last year and I was at least smart enough to renew it when it came time so 45 minutes after I called it in a AAA wrecker came with a real car jack  ( the ones GM provides are a joke and potentially dangerous to lift a truck with in my opinion) and the Tank was back up and running shortly after.  Note to self:  buy a decent truck jack next time I pass an O'Reillys or Autozone.

If you're in Austin check out the Boardwalk Trail, it's pretty cool and a great walk (we did over 17,000 pedometer-measured steps during the walk).

Thanks for Reading!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Campground Review: Stephen F. Austin State Park San Felipe, TX

About 30 miles west of Houston a little north of I-10 lies Stephen F Austin State Park.  I camped there for three days in mid-September to utilize the park's electrical hookups to run the Tank's AC and avoid the high-90's temperatures.

The park is bordered on the east by the Stephen F Austin (discerning a pattern yet?) golf course and along it's northern border by the Brazos River.

View of the Brazos from a bike path within the park.
The park's 600+ acres were deeded to Texas Parks and Wildlife in 1940 by the San Felipe de Austin Corporation.  At the time the park contained a 9 hole golf course which was eventually sold to a private company becoming what is now the aforementioned Stephen F Austin Golf Club.  There are over 6 miles of hiking and biking trails cutting through the park and the park even has a small stage and outdoor amphitheater.

The outdoor stage at the park.
Here's the Stephen F. Austin State Park data sheet:

Hookups:                                 15, 30, amp, water
Fire ring:                                  yes
Water Access:                         yes (river)
Fresh Water:                            yes
Trash Service:                          yes
Toilets:                                    yes
Showers:                                 yes
Dump station:                         yes
WiFi:                                       no
Level sites:                              yes
Laundry:                                  no
Store:                                      no
Pool:                                       no
Shade:                                     yes
Verizon reception:                   4G, 2 out of 4 bars     
Millenicom reception:            3 out of 4 bars
Cost:                                       $22 / night

I was camping in the middle of the week so the park was mostly empty except for the hundreds of deer throughout the park.

Deer frequently came right up to my campsite.
Along with the bike trails there is an interpretive Nature Trail with lots of fauna labels describing what plants you're looking at.

The entrance to the Nature Trail.
 One of the hiking/bike paths, The Brazos Bottom Trail, leads to the Brazos River providing the park's water access.

The park trail along the Brazos.
All of the park's trails are marked as "Easy" difficulty level.  The ones I rode Wally the mountain bike along were level and hard-packed or lightly graveled.

A bike path through the woods.
The park has basketball and volley ball courts and a playground for the kids.  There are separate RV camping, tent camping and primitive camping areas within the park.   Stephen F. Austin State Park is really a first class camping experience just outside of Houston.  I was there during the "off-season" and enjoyed the solitude.  The rangers said the park gets full on the weekends and you'll need to reserve a space well ahead of time.  I would recommend you try camping the park, you'll really enjoy it!

Thanks for reading!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Campground Review: Cass County Park Atlanta, TX

Continuing the trip towards Houston I entered North Texas and stayed at Cass County Park near Atlanta, TX for a couple days.  My major attraction to the park was hookups so I could run the Tank's AC (September in Texas is still miserably hot and humid) and the very reasonable $16 per night camping fee.

Cass  County Park is on the southern shore of  big Wright Patman Lake
Wright Patman Lake is a reservoir the Army Corps of Engineers created by damming the Sulfur River.  Cass County Park is one of nine parks spread around the lake and it was about one third full during my stay.  Here's the data sheet on Cass County Park:

Hookups:                                 15, 20 and 50 amp.  Water and sewer.
Fire ring:                                 Yes
Water Access:                         Yes
Fresh Water:                            Yes
Trash Service:                          Yes
Toilets:                                    Yes                                                     
Showers:                                 Yes
Dump station:                          Yes
WiFi:                                       No
Level sites:                              Yes
Laundry:                                  No
Store:                                       No
Pool:                                        No
Shade:                                     Yes
Verizon reception:                   3G, 2 out of 5 bars     
Millenicom reception:             2 out of 4 bars
Cost:                                      $16 / night

The Tank's site under the shade trees.

There was a lot of fishing activity on the lake, both from boats and from the shore.

The boat ramp at Cass County Park.
 There is a sort-of swimming area at the park but the beachfront could use a little extra sand.

The beach at the park.
The park is both a camping and day use picnic destination so there are picnic areas set up around the grounds.

All the shade makes grass growth difficult in much of the park.
 I enjoyed my stay at Cass County Park but, in reality, the experience was really just "ok".  The overall impression the facilities and campsites themselves leave is one of needing some attention and updating. On the other hand I've stayed at campgrounds with no hookups that charge $15/night or more so really for $16 for full hookups the park still provides a good value and camping on a waterfront is always a plus.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Campground Review: Canal Park Delphi, IN

After about a month of enjoying Michigan's scenery and mild summer temperatures I decided to head back down to Houston where some business awaited.  My first layover on that long journey was at Delphi, IN, which is about 15 miles northeast of Lafayette.  On the north side of the town is Canal Park, which is named for the Wabash and Erie Canal which passed through Delphi in the mid-1800's.

Boat rides, museum, outdoor exhibits...there's a lot to do.
The Wabash and Erie Canal was constructed to link the Great Lakes (at Toledo, Ohio) to the Ohio River at Evansville, IN and, by extension, to the Gulf of Mexico.  At 460 miles it's the longest canal ever built in North America.  It was dug by workers with hand shovels no powered equipment was used!  Construction started in 1832 and the canal opened operations in 1846 but after only a decade of operation it became apparent the canal wasn't economically viable and the last boat ran in 1876 although long portions of the canal had shutdown long before then,  Railroads were a much quicker way to move goods than the canal's 3 mph horse-drawn boats.

From Toledo all the way to Evansville.
You self register to camp at the park at the "Gray Barn" which is a replica of the barns the canal horses were housed in about every 10 miles along the length of the canal.

Each set of horses only pulled for 10 miles then were relieved.
The park has three full-hookup RV sites and then a huge grassy field with power poles where campers can plug into 20 amp hookups for their tents or RV's.
Here's the Canal Park data sheet:

Hookups:                                 20, 30, 50 amp water and sewer
Fire ring:                                  Yes
Water Access:                         Yes (river)
Fresh Water:                            Yes
Trash Service:                          Yes
Toilets:                                    Yes - flush
Showers:                                 Yes
Dump station:                          No
WiFi:                                       No                  
Level sites:                              Yes
Laundry:                                  No
Store:                                       No
Pool:                                        No
Shade:                                     Yes
Verizon reception:                   Spotty – 1 bar of 1G
Millenicom reception:              Spotty – 1 out of 5 bars
Cost:                                       $14 per night for a 20 amp hookup, $22 for a full hookup

I stayed two nights at Canal Park over Labor Day weekend and surprisingly there were only two other RV's there along with a single tent camper.

Replica of a canal boat set up as playground equipment.
 There is a recreation of what early Delphi looked like set up in the park that you can tour through.

Plaques throughout the park describe what  you are viewing.
On weekends there are boat rides in an electrically propelled canal boat available for purchase.

Boat rides!
This is the Gray Bridge which was built over the canal in 1913 in another Indiana County.  The park commission had it disassembled and reassembled in Canal Park.

The bridge now links pedestrian trails on each side of the canal.
To enable the canal to pass through changes in elevation along the 460 miles it ran locks were emplaced much like the locks in the Panama Canal although on a smaller scale.

A non-working replica canal lock.
I originally chose to camp at Canal Park because of it's reasonably priced campsites but I came away impressed by the canal exhibits.  I learned a lot about the canal which, frankly, I didn't even remember from school days.  I'd recommend Canal Park as a great family weekend camping/educational destination, it was really peaceful camping there.

Thanks for reading!