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Wintering in Texas

 
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This is our second winter out west and once again, as we did two years ago, we've decided to leave New Mexico and go wander through Texas. New Mexico is just a little too chilly for us.

We did have a great fall, however - almost three months in New Mexico and you can read about our meandering around the state.

10 Dec 13: Today we bid farewell to New Mexico as we headed east into the Lone Star state. Our plan is to travel down along the Rio Grande River valley in search of warmer climes.As we passed the NM-TX state line, the Franklin Mountains appeared in our windshield, and we could see the steady uphill climb of the Transmountain Highway over the mountains, the road we planned to take rather than the interstate highway which loops down around and through El Paso. As we started up the hill, we passed this heavily-laden bicyclist slowly cranking his way up. And he does have a climb ahead of him: the highway begins in the valley at 3800' and tops off at the pass at 5280'.

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The view southwestward from near the top of the pass. Those are Mexican mountains in the distance. tx2013-005

But what's the rush? First we've decided to stay a couple of weeks at the FAMCAMP at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. It's a really nice campground with great facilities, very reasonable rates and close to El Paso. When we arrived there were only two empty sites out of 133, and one of them was back a few rows from the highway, so it's considerably quieter than we've experienced in our previous stays here.

22 Dec 13: My, the tempus sure does fugit! We've been comfortably ensconced at the Fort Bliss FAMCAMP in El Paso for nearly two weeks now. It may well be another two weeks before we head out into south Texas. We'd just as soon stay put here until after the holidays. The weather has been generally rather pleasant, with the exception of yesterday, when we had some rain showers and VERY strong winds of up to 40-50 mph. Even with the levelers deployed, we were rocking' and rollin'. But at least it hasn't been terribly cold. Yesterday afternoon, though, we could see a slight dusting of snow on the mountains about a mile or two behind us.

Last week we discovered that we were victims of the Michelin recall of 1.2 million tires. So after a few phone calls to both Michelin and a couple of local dealers, we had to spend part of a day getting the six tires replaced. The good news is that our old tires were 3 1/2 years old and the new replacement tires cost us absolutely nothing, so now we're good for a few more years.

8 Jan 14: Happy New Year to all! May 2014 bring you health, happiness and safe travels.

I'm afraid we don't have much new to report. We're still at Fort Bliss in El Paso. We would have left last week, but we seem to be in the right corner of the country for some generally pleasant weather. This is our 5th week here and in that time we've had exactly one day with some rain. The dreaded Polar Vortex has passed us by, making points east of here a lot chillier and wetter. Lots of sun here with temperatures in the 50's and 60's.

Actually it's a good thing we're still here, for I discovered the seal on one of the hydraulic cylinders in our leveliing system was leaking. I made some calls a couple of days ago and found one RV repair guy that said he'd take a look at it. He did and suggested we go to a hydraulic shop which could repair the cylinder for a lot less than simply replacing it with a new cyclinder. Knowing that our brand of levelers, Kwikee, is no longer manufactured, made that seem like an excellent suggestion. He called a shop, we went over; they pulled the cylinder off the RV, smoothed down the piston which had become pitted from the weather, and remounted it. I suppose it will be only a matter of time before the other three pistons will need the same treatment.

27 Jan 14: Well, well, here we are.....still in El Paso. Seven weeks now, thanks to the weather. It's great here and lousy out to the east, so why would we want to head that way yet?

5 Feb 14: Pretty boring, eh? Yeap, we're still in El Paso - 8 weeks now. Weather conditions are still the same and we're quite happy here as opposed to being further east in the cold, rain, snow and ice. Maybe next week - we'll see.

I did have to fly home last week. My sister's husband Dave finally came to the end of his 4-year battle with cancer. He was the big brother I never had and I shall miss him greatly.

11 Feb 14: Well, folks, we finally decided it was time to depart El Paso and get headed toward home....not that we're in any rush. We still have about two months before we want or need to be home in New England.

There's not much choice of roads when eastbound from El Paso - good ole I-10 is about it. Boring!! Wanna buy some cheap land?

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As we watched the tempersture go down as we drove, we were beginning to question the wisdom of our decision. When we stopped for lunch, the temperature was 33 degrees and there was rime ice on the brush and grass from overnight ice fog. Brrrr.

tx2013-015 Approaching Balmorhea State Park, we passed the little Mission Mary, which once served the community of Calera (which no longer exists). The mission was built in 1925 and has been preserved as a monument to the little churches that served residents of small communities like Calera.

Pulling into the campground at Balmorhea SP, we found our assigned spot directly across from another Lazy Daze; turned out to be Kathy Lautz, whom we had met a few months ago at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque.

12 Feb 14: A chilly morning - 19 degrees, but it's warming up rapidly. Supposed to hit mid-60's and then in another day or two, the 80's.

13 Feb 14: Movin' on today. On the way out of town, we made a slight detour to check out Balmorhea Lake County Park. No facilities of any type, but it had 8 campsites right on the shore of Balmorhea Lake with picnic tables and fire rings. We'll have to remember that the next time we're out this way. Then it was back to our old friend I-10 for about a hundred miles eastward to the town of Iraan. 

About all we saw of any interest on this stretch of I-10 was an Oscar Weiner-mobile zipping westward. Also lots of dead skunks along the road. We made it back to the Central Time Zone today, losing an hour of our day. Now we have to get used to a new TV schedule.

 Iraan (I wonder where the second "a" came from?) operates three small RV parks and we thought we might spend a night at one of them. But not to be - all three were filled with obviously long-term tenants and no spots were available. Since it was still early afternoon, we decided to press on to our next destination, the Caverns of Sonora Campground, where we had no problem getting a campsite for a few days.

15 Feb 14: Wow - talk about some spectacular weather: sunny and 75 the past three days. That's more like it.

Yesterday we did the tour of the Caverns of Sonora - pretty amazing. The tours wends it way through nearly two miles of the cave system and takes about two hours to complete. The temperature in the cave is 72 degrees with very high humidity. The many shapes and styles of formation is truly incredible, although not as colorful as we expected.

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One of the rarest formations found anywhere on earth was in the Caverns of Sonora - a very thin pair of what looked exactly like butterfly wings, about 5" long and very delicate (bottom right). Cavern officials believe on November 21, 2006, a group of visitors distracted a tour guide with the intent of destroying the cavern's most famous formation, known as the Butterfly, a bladed helictite. They broke off one of the wings; there is a $20,000 reward for its safe return. It's really hard to believe that are people who would do that sort of thing.

20 Feb 14: Oh my goodness - three days with no cell or internet service. How relaxing! We spent that time at South Llano River State Park just south of Junction, TX. It really seemed odd to have no communication at all. Our Verizon service was in roaming mode, so we didn't want to use the cell phone, and although our data plan (with its separate modem) is supposed to have no roaming fees, it just "couldn't connect to the remote computer."

Other than that, South Llano River is a nice little park with widely-spaced sites, and miles of hiking and biking trails. The park is also a favorite roosting spot for the rare Rio Grand Turkey, with about 800 of them gathering in the trees along the river every afternoon. To protect them, that portion of the park is open to visitors only a few hours at mid-day, when they're off gallivanting around. Thus we never saw any.

I did finally get my bicycle off the rear of the LD, and after replacing a tube, I was able to ride some of the trails in the park. llano river22

We left South Llano this morning and headed eastward to Pedernales Falls State Park, a little west of Austin. We hoped to stay the weekend, but they're booked full tomorrow and Saturday nights. The ranger in the office, a gal from MA who loved my Red Sox hat, said she would put us on a waiting list in case something opens up tomorrow. But we've decided to go ahead and hit the road in the morning - it's only 45 miles south down to a Corps of Engineers Park on Canyon Lake. It has quite a few first-come/first-served sites, so we should be OK.

Still seeing lots of dead skunks along the highway.

25 Feb 14: We made it to Potter's Creek Park (COE) Friday morning and as hoped, we had no problem getting a site. Fully half of the 124 sites here are first-come/first-served. We picked a site down near the water.....the only problem being that with the lake level well below normal, we can only say we're near the normal water level, not the actual water line. Potter's Creek is unusual for a COE park in that it allows for long-term stays over the winter months, from late October to early March. One has to apply every two weeks to stay another two weeks, but approval is pretty much automatic.

There's almost always some entertainment of some sort at a campground. Today we were out for our daily walk and went by someone who had just arrived and was trying to back his big Diesel pusher into their campsite. As we approached, the driver was leaning out the window trying to get his wife's attention, who was on the other side of the rig. Liz told her that her husband wanted to talk to her, to which she replied "You can talk to him" in  a disgusted manner. Obviously getting settled was not going well.

Some rather unusual birds visited the campground today - a pair of Egyptian Geese. They're a little bigger than a duck and have very interesting markings, including a ring around their necks, dark circles around their eyes, and a black circle on their chest. Apparently they are what are called exotic birds, originally brought to this country for a zoo, farm, or private collection.

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From Wikipedia: It is native to Africa south of the Sahara and the Nile Valley. Egyptian Geese were considered sacred by the ancient Egyptians, and appeared in much of their artwork. They have been raised for food and extensively bred in parts of Africa since they were domesticated by the ancient Egyptians. Because of their popularity chiefly as ornamental bird, escapes are common and small feral  populations have become established in Europe and the Americas.

1 Mar 14: We've extended our stay at Potter's Creek twice now. The last time we re-upped, we were able to move to another site a lot closer to the water. Nice to have a different perspective on things once in a while.

potters creek025 This past Wednesday was a pretty miserable day, weather-wise. It rained almost the entire day and temperatures went down all through the day. The high temp for the day was 56 back at midnight and by noon it was down in the mid-thirties with a hefty wind. We were quite comfy, though, in our trusty LD. The rain ended late in the afternoon and the clearing line appeared just at sunset, so we did get a brief glimpse of the sun before it sank below the horizon.

More interesting weather this morning: we awoke to a cloudless sky and bright sunshine (once the sun was up). But about an hour after sunrise a bank of low stratus clouds and fog moved in rather quickly and in a few minutes we could barely see the lake.

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The fog didn't stop this group of fishermen from their being out on the water. The water was still with no horizon visible so that their boat appeared to be floating in the air. potters creek032

 8 Mar 14: Hey -  it's March! It's almost Spring! C'mon , Winter, give it up and get outta here! We'll never get home if something doesn't happen tp improve the weather a bit. Well, we are on the move eastward, although not at a very speedy pace. It's been a month since we left El Paso and we're barely two-thirds of the way across Texas.  We did leave Potter's Creek COE Park last Monday and made it a whopping 56 miles to Bastrop, TX, where we spent a few days at the Lower Colorado River Authority's North Shore Park on Lake Bastrop.

north shore lcra22 The major reason for stopping in Bastrop was to enjoy dinner out with some friends from my Air National Guard days. But based on a forecast for freezing rain to begin in the evening, they decided against being out on the highway and we postponed our get-together for a couple of days. Can't say I blame them, for although the rain held off until late that evening, it sure did coat things with a layer of ice. We gathered at the Texas Roadhouse in Bastrop for dinner, where we enjoyed some delicious hamburgers.
As we departed the Bastrop area, we drove through quite a few miles of countryside burned by the huge Bastrop Fire of Sep-Oct 2011. The Bastrop fire has been described as the worst in Texas wildfire history, burning 600 homes in a 40-square mile area east of Austin. tx2013-032
tx2013-033 One of the legions of WxToad fans <VBG> wrote me recently that she liked my pictures of animals. So here ya go, JP - a pig on a pole. We passed by this little bistro in the town of Burton, TX, on our way to Lake Somerville.
Then it was on to Rocky Creek COE Park on Lake Somerville on Thursday. This coming week is Spring Break here in Texas and it's nigh impossible to get campsites; that's why we decided it might be smart to arrive a day or two before the weekend at a Corps of Engineers park, where there are quite a few non-reservable sites. The park was pretty empty when we arrived and we got a beautiful private site right beside the lake. Yesterday, Friday, folks started rolling in and by tonight the place will be full. We'll probably end up staying tthrough next weekend, since there will be little hope of finding a site anywhere else. rocky creek02 

 14 Mar 14: Oh my, look at the calendar - we have only 4-5 weeks left before we need to be home to begin our rounds of doctors and dentists appointments. And here we are still in Texas! Spring supposedly arrives in a few days and we'll hope that it brings an end to winter back East and we can make some progress eastward.

We had an interesting almost-disaster yesterday as we dumped our black and grey tanks. Occasionally when dumping we find that the black tank needs an extra flush and rinse, using a hose hooked to the outside spigot. Now we've been doing this for many years, but yesterday was a first. I handed Liz the hose through the bathroom window and when she was ready, with the hose aimed down the toilet, I turned on the faucet. I had closed the dump valve in order to build up the water in the tank to help flush it out better. Suddenly Liz is yelling "Stop, stop!", repeated several times each time more frantic than the previous. Meanwhile I'm madly trying to get the faucet turned off. Turns out that the water had completely filled the tank, the downtube and was rapidly filling the toilet bowl. By the time I got the water off, the bowl was about 2/3 full! At least I got it shut off before the water and its contents overflowed the bowl - not a pretty vision.

6936 So after that little fiasco, we headed into town to find the Post Office, after which we parked by the railroad tracks while we ate lunch.

18 Mar 14: We survived Spring Break at Rocky Creek and left there Monday. We headed eastward towards Jasper where we are spending a couple of nights at Martin Dies Jr. State Park on B. A. Steinhagen Reservoir. On previous trips through Texas, we have stayed at two different COE parks on Steinhagen, but since we still had a coupon good for a half-price second night at a Texas state park, we decided to go to Martin Dies.

Our last sunset in Texas! martin dies06
sancrk8 Back in 2007 we stayed at Sandy Creek COE Park which is right beside Martin Dies Jr. At that the lake had been drained so the dam could be repaired. Quite a different look with green grass and shrubs all across the lakebed.

While at Martin Dies, we had a little problem with our electrical system in the coach. Back at Rocky Creek we had a problem one day with the surge protector not wanting to kick in. Although it did finally seem to resolve itself, I failed to find the source of the problem. At Martin Dies, shortly after plugging in to the shore power, we detected a hot electrical smell and traced it to a loose connection on the surge protector output terminals. Some insulation on the "hot" wire had melted a bit. I was able to cut off a bit of the burned wire and reconnect it, tightening down all the connections while I was at it. Moral of this tale: check the electrical connections on all the panels (12V and 110V) occasionally; vibration from traveling may loosen them.

So....it's time to say farewell to Texas and get on the move homeward. Feel free to tag along.