Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My 5 Favorite Campsites for 2014

I  just reviewed all my 2014 camp I did a lot of boondocking this year, especially when I compare this year to 2013 when I was "learning the ropes" about full-timing and depended much more on pay-RV parks with full hookups.  I camped at some really nice parks throughout the US and tough as it may be chose the 5 camping areas I found the best for varying reasons.  Here they are from fifth to overall number 1.

Number 5:  Brazoria County Free Beach  Surfside, TX

I'm a sucker for two things Brazoria County Free Beach provides:  camping on the Gulf Coast beach and no camping fee.  You can read my review here:  Brazoria County Free Beach Review

The Tank's campsite at high tide.

Number 4:  Kartchner Caverns State Park  Benson, AZ

The only pay campsite in the 2014 top 5, Kartchner Caverns State Park simply has to be experienced to appreciate the "it factor" of the extensive cavern system it encompasses.  It is truly unique and worth the trip to Benson, AZ.  Here's my two part reviews:  Kartchner Caverns State Park Review Part 1  Kartchner Caverns State Park Review Part 2

The trail head for the Guindani Trail hike.

Number 3:  Coyote Ridge Long Term Visitors Area (LTVA) Yuma, AZ
I lied earlier, you have to buy a camp permit from the BLM ($45 for 2 weeks) to camp at Coyote Ridge so this is the second pay campsite on my top 5 list, although the $3/day fee is pretty minimal.

No doubt named after the noisy nocturnal packs.
My review of the LTVA site is here:  Coyote Ridge LTVA Review .
Number 2:  Spring Creek Park  Tomball, TX 
Normally when you boondock you have no electrical or water hookups so you have to be self-contained in those departments, either with solar panels or a generator and a big fresh water tank.  When you "boondock" at beautiful Spring Creek Park the county provides you with free electric hookups along with water an sewer for up to 7 days!  That's what I call roughing it.

A few miles west of 249 in Tomball, TX.
Here's the review I wrote:  Spring Creek Park Review .

Number 1:  Sweet Briar Recreation Area  Mandan, ND

The county of Morton in North Dakota has set up an almost perfect boondocking situation around Sweet Briar Lake with incredibly spacious campsites that are available free for up to 14 days.  I stayed there in July of this year and the weather was perfect, the fish in the lake were biting, kayaking on the calm lake couldn't have been better, and as a bonus Verizon reception was great!  This is a real gem of a campsite and, truthfully, I'd never have thought a site in North Dakota of all states would be my favorite for this year but there you have it.  Sweet Briar wins!  Sweet Briar Recreation Area Review

A gravel road runs along the west side of the lake providing site access.
Thanks for reading and Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas everyone!  Thanks for reading the blog this year, I've really enjoyed keeping you up to date on my meanderings across the country.

Houston's Walk of Lights -- over 4000 bulbs that change color via computer control
Check back before New Years to see my Top Five 2014 campsites.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Campground Review: Cedar Hill Park Wallisville, TX

Located on the northeast bank of Lake Charlotte Cedar Hill Park is another of Chambers County's parks that you are allowed to camp for free if you obtain emailed permission from the County Commissioner's office (phone number to call is available on the park's website).  I traveled to the park in early December for three days of camping.

"Primitive camping by permit".
The park was opened in 2000 and is managed by Chambers County under a lease agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers, who built the park.  During the time of the Texan revolution the park was part of a resort area that was serviced by two-masted schooners that could sail up the Trinity River from Galveston right into Lake Charlotte.  That passage is no longer viable as the southern end of Lake Charlotte has silted up too much.  The park is part of the Corps of Engineers giant 23,000 acre Wallisville Lake Project.

Spanish moss covered Cedar trees near the kayak launch site.
The park is somewhat like two separate parks next to each other.  As you drive into the park off of Lake Charlotte Road you enter a day-use picnic area with vaulted restrooms and covered picnic areas.

The open "day-use" side of Cedar Hill Park.
If you continue along the road on the right in the above photo you come to the portion of the park that has Lake Charlotte lake shore and the part I chose to set up camp in.

The Tank's site.  This area was much more shaded and nearer the lake.
Here's Cedar Hill Park's data sheet:

Hookups:                                 None
Fire ring:                                  No
Water Access:                         Yes
Fresh Water:                            Yes
Trash Service:                          Yes
Toilets:                                    Yes - vault
Showers:                                 No
Dump station:                          No
WiFi:                                       No
Level sites:                              Yes
Laundry:                                  No
Store:                                       No
Pool:                                        No
Shade:                                     Yes
Verizon reception:                   4G-2 Bars
Internet reception:                   2 out of 4 Bars
Cost:                                      Free for up to 3 nights

One of the nice features of Cedar Hill Park is the more than nine miles of hiking trails cut through the forest surrounding the park.

One of the bench lined hiking trails -- part of a 9 mile layout.
Lake Charlotte's lake front is very heavily treed and even though the hiking trails parallel it's shore this is a typical view of the lake:

Lake Charlotte from a trail bench.
 There IS electricity available under a gazebo covered picnic area on the day-use side which you are prohibited from hooking your RV up to but if you needed to charge a phone or a laptop you could do it.

This covered area has electrical outlets.
One side of the park has an observation deck that allows viewing of a swamp area that a nearby sign says contains myriad different wildlife (no mention of gators.).

The swamp view observation deck.
The swamp you observe.
It was so great camping at Cedar Hill Park!  Probably due to the winter season I had the park completely to myself with an occasional exception of a kayak fisherman.  I think it's really cool that Chambers County, unlike a majority of Texas counties, allows permitted camping in some of it's parks.  Plan a camping trip to Cedar Hill Park and Lake Charlotte, you'll really enjoy it!

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Campground Review: Ft. Anahuac Park Anahuac, TX

Historical Background:

In November of 1830 on a bluff overlooking the mouth of the Trinity River the Mexican authorities began construction of a fort to control traffic entering the Texas Territory and to enforce the Law of April 6, 1830 which was passed to stop the free flowing Anglo immigration from the US into Texas.  (Irony anyone?)  One of six such forts built along the coast, all named with Mexican names, the one on the Trinity was called Fort Anahuac after the home of the ancient Aztecs.  The Mexican garrison at Fort Anahuac reached a high of 295 officers and men in 1832.  Colonel William Travis was briefly imprisoned at the fort in 1832 for the illegal importation of slaves into Texas, he had brought his man-servant with him from the US.  In June of 1832 Texan insurgents attacked the fort to free Travis and after they successfully captured the fort it caught fire and burned.  This attack is often referred to as the opening of the Texan Revolution.  Colonel Travis was to lead the defense of the Alamo four years later in 1836.

A stone marker is placed on the Fort's site, nothing remains of the Fort.

Fort Anahuac Park is a Chambers County park located in the southwest corner of the Texas town of Anahuac on the Liberty River just as it enters Galveston Bay.  I traveled there in late November to take advantage of the three day free stay policy Chambers County offers at a number of their county parks.

This vista of the park was taken on the only non-rainy day I stayed.
Fort Anahuac Park is pretty large for a county park and offers three boat launch ramps, a lit fishing pier, three lit baseball fields, a restroom with showers, covered picnic gazebos with electricity, playground equipment and a bird watching boardwalk through the marshes complete with observation towers.

Here's the Fort Anahuac Park data sheet:

Hookups:                                 30 amp but use is prohibited
Fire ring:                                  No
Water Access:                         Yes
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:                   4G, 2 of 4 bars
Internet reception:                   3 of 4 bars
Cost:                                     Free for up to 3 nights

The fishing pier which is brightly lit at night.
Given that Chambers County let me stay free for three nights you'd guess that I wouldn't have anything to complain about regarding my stay and you'd be ALMOST right.  When you email the County Commissioner's secretary to obtain permission to camp at the park (you can't just go there and camp without permission) she emails you a PDF of the park rules.  One of the rules prohibits tying into any of the parks electricity which is fine -- it's their electricity.  But why then are there dozens of RV hookup boxes with live electricity spread around the park if no one is allowed to hookup to them??  The rules warn that you'll be asked to leave if you are found electrically hooked up.

A Kindle getting a surreptitious charge on top of a prohibited hookup box. 
The hookup ban is policed too, a park employee drove his county pickup up to a meter near where I was camped and wrote down the meter reading.....just to be sure!

Note the lack of a hookup cable on the Tank....Yay solar panels!
I wish I had experienced better weather during my stay at Fort Anahuac Park.  Instead I endured two and a half days of fairly constant rain and wind which precluded my even walking down to the bird watching boardwalk through the marshes.  I probably made a bigger deal out of the hookup ban than I needed but something about it just seemed wrong-headed but it's not a big deal for a RV with a solar setup and really, the price of the stay can't be beat.  Overall I was very impressed with the park and will make a point of returning hoping for decent weather this time.

Thanks for reading!