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  • Archive for the ‘Outdoors’ Category

    The sunshine from Thanksgiving Day had disappeared when we woke up on Friday morning. It was cloudy and dreary outside and quite chilly. When I packed for the trip I overloaded on clothes for Forest and blankets for sleeping. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to convince Forest to wear a hat but in the end he managed to keep it on. I think he was actually cold and realized he was warm and cozy with the hat on.

    After sleeping in for awhile and being a little lazy in the tent that morning we managed to get up and eat breakfast before deciding on our hiking adventures for the day. An interesting feature to this park is that the entire prairie area at the front of the park is only open for use during the hours of 10am-3pm to allow the Rio Grande turkey to safely roost the rest of the time. There was a slight buffer between the closed area and the campsite where visitors could walk to the bird blinds set up in that area, but otherwise it was off limits during off hours.

    From our campsite that morning we were able to see turkey in the scrub/prairie behind our site. The turkey meandered through the campsites further down, too. Turkey are not common in our part of Texas and they are an animal I miss seeing that we often saw when we lived in Florida. So, encountering the turkey here was a bonus point to the trip. Because of the hour restrictions we decided to go for our hike that morning on the trails in the turkey roost area and possibly hike the backcountry trails later that afternoon or the following day. While the temperature was chilly and the sky overcast, the lighting for photos was perfect in my opinion.

    Chris packed up his backpacking fishing rod so he could fish at Buck Lake and along the river when we got to it. Since we had no agenda we took our time walking the trails and I was able to poke around, looking for photo opportunities in the woods. There were quite a few people out hiking or riding their bikes that morning, which was nice to see, but it was a fairly quiet walk otherwise. Forest looked tired and in generally had an air of malaise about him but he would perk up whenever Chris caught a fish so I wasn’t too worried. I just figured his teeth were hurting (he’d been poking at them) or he was cold.

    We came back to camp for lunch and Chris wanted to go back to the river to fish but Forest and I were ready for nap time. Our usual two hour nap turned into a 3-3.5 hour nap that afternoon followed by playtime in the tent afterward. There was no hiking that afternoon. That’s how I like some camping days though, to be relaxing and restful. And the cozy weather made it all that much easier to pile up under the covers for the afternoon.

    It turned out, around midnight later that night, that there was something to that malaise with Forest. He ended up vomiting twice which we were able to clean up fairly well and get him back to sleep. Somehow he managed to at least put on the appearance that he was fine the next morning and we decided to stay instead of head home, which is what I’d tossed out as an idea in the middle of the night. Neither situation sounded fun: sick kid while camping or sick kid on 6 hour car ride home. Chris nor I ended up sick so I’m not quite sure if it was just a bug or something he’d eaten. All I can say is that I’m thankful I’d packed more towels than usual—I had them planned for potty training oopsies and not for this situation!

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    Thanksgiving, and our typical camping ritual, came as a much needed respite this year in the post-election angst and haze of the last few weeks. Weather is always the factor on if a camping trip will happen this time of year; last year we were rained out and changed our plans for a weekend in Galveston. It appeared that the weather was going to mostly cooperate so we headed off for South Llano River State Park which is west of San Antonio off of I-10 near the town of Junction. The drive out on Thursday went as smoothly as it could go with a stop at Buc-ees to pick up lunch to eat somewhere down the road since most restaurants were closed for the holiday. We stopped in Fredericksburg to eat lunch and despite most of the businesses in the historic downtown being closed, there were quite a few tourists out walking the streets. After our lunch and a playground pit stop, we kept heading west and arrived at the state park mid-afternoon to set up camp.

    Sometimes when you get to a state park you aren’t quite sure how their campsites will be situated. Often you will find crammed together sites that were poorly planned or have a hard time finding a good place to situate your tent. Site 33 turned out to be spacious with lots of room for a toddler to roam and plenty of space between our neighbors. Honestly, most of the campsites here were well planned and I don’t think you could really go wrong when choosing a site.

    The trail system in the state park was much more robust than I had thought but we only had a little time before dinner so Chris, Forest, and I opted for a short but semi-steep hike up to a Scenic Overlook. The sun was out and the air was warm and our out-of-shape selves had to take a few stops to catch our breath on the way up. The trail to the top was an old road; the property was formerly a homestead and ranch so some trails are really just former roadways.

    Our legs stretched out from the car ride, we popped over to the river crossing for Chris to fish for a few minutes and Forest to play. There was new places to explore and the sun was perfect and I took photo after photo. It was truly the golden hour with the early evening sun shining on the changing foliage. Explorations over, it was dinner time. Chris had smoked a turkey the weekend before and whipped up some gravy to go with it. We kept our Thanksgiving feast fairly simple with yeast rolls and mac and cheese as our sides. I was missing the dressing but before we left I figured I’d just save it to make for Christmas.

    Dusk settled in and we ate dinner by lantern light, something we rarely do while camping. I hurried to do the dishes by headlamp and we cleaned up camp to turn in for the night. More explorations were waiting for us the following day!

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    On our way up to Caddo Lake we passed a sign for Martin Creek Lake State Park. It looked enticing so when we were deciding what to do on Sunday morning, stay near Caddo and find something to do or head back towards home and do something in another park, we opted to check out this park before we hit up lunch in the town of Henderson. As we turned down the park road I saw that the lake had a power plant on the opposite shore. When we checked in at the park office the trees shielded most of the view so I put the idea of camping at the state park on my list, that is, until we got out of the car. While we couldn’t directly see the power plant from where we were hiking or where we parked at the trailhead, there was a constant low humming noise that really disrupted the natural setting.

    Despite that, we did get out and hike the Old Henderson Loop which turned out to be pleasant despite the noise. The Old Henderson Loop is part of the Old Henderson to Shreveport road and it turns out there was quite a bit of interesting history in the area. I did like this park which makes it too bad about the low humming. I wonder if it is constant? If you are in the area or driving through the trails are worth getting out on for exploring!

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    There are just handful of trails at Caddo Lake State Park and it was easy to cover them all in a short amount of time. Surprisingly there was a good amount of terrain change on the trails, at least for this part of Texas. That’s because there are quite a bit of slope forests in the region associated with creek systems. We had to split our hiking time up between my parents so that one of them stayed back to watch their Boston terrier, Daisy. Mom hiked with us Friday afternoon after we’d set up camp and we promptly got lost on the trails because they weren’t labeled appropriately. Luckily we had the trail map and could guesstimate where we were in relation to the trailhead and we easily found our way back. It was overcast on Friday which gave off a cozy fall-like vibe in the forest.

    On Saturday morning Dad hiked with us and the clouds broke and we got some sunshine through the canopy. It was beautiful to look up and see the changing colors on the trees and to look across the forest at the leaves littering the slopes that lead to the creeks. It reminded me somewhat of Sabine National Forest and our time in parts of that area six years ago. I wanted to take off cross-forest, exploring what might be lurking in the leaf litter or growing along the creeks but we never did get off to explore.

    About five photos up you see me holding a big seed. There was one particular spot on the trail where there were many of them littering the area and I couldn’t figure out what kind of seed it was. Upon initial inspection before I picked it up I thought it was a fungus but once I looked it over a little more closely I was baffled. Now I think it might be a black walnut seed. Anyone else have an idea for that? I believe Chris called the toad a few more photos up an East Texas toad.

    Overall, a great trail system in the park but I was left wishing the park was bigger so there would be more to explore!

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    Last weekend Chris and I met my parents at Caddo Lake State Park in northeast Texas. It is a 5ish hour haul from our house with stops for the toddler. And while it is about the same distance time-wise of other places we go to in the Hill Country, this just seems like a harder place to get to because of the need to take multiple smaller highways to navigate through east Texas. There’s not really a direct route.

    We took Friday off to make it a more enjoyable weekend due to the distance and my parents came down on Friday as well. I really loved this state park for multiple reasons, one being that it happened to be pretty quiet. I’m not sure if it was because it is a smaller campground or because of its location but it seems we’ve had problems (my parents included) recently with loud campgrounds and campers turning the volume up at the sites once the sun set. The only noise that was a problem here was our campground was relatively near the road so we heard cars driving by quite often; the campers were pretty quiet. In fact, the toddler was probably the loudest person in our section!

    With the abnormally (or hey, maybe it’s the new normal, especially now post-election) warm weather fall has seemed to show up much but we did find some semblance of the season and a bit of a cozy feeling at the state park. The forest was starting to turn various shades of brown, yellow, red, and orange and a cool front brought a chill for the evenings and mornings. It was perfect weather, honestly.

    Having my parents at the campsite, though it was cut short due to illness from my mom, was wonderful. They got to play with Forest and we got to chat and hang out with them. I like this joint camping thing! It was quiet Sunday morning when we woke and they weren’t there.

    I am definitely looking forward to returning to this state park in the future when Forest is more boat ready because paddling on the lake will be a lot of fun. There’s also a Wildlife Management Areas and National Wildlife Refuge nearby that would be worth checking out, too. Chris and I rented a small boat six years ago to tool around the lake and had a lot of fun; the area is ripe with exploration!

    I’ll be back soon with a write-up about the hiking in the state park as well as hiking another trail at another state park in our way home last Sunday.

    Happy weekend, y’all!

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    Old CCC entrance to the park

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    Before breaking down camp and heading home after our camping trip, we went for morning hike along the Wild Horse Creek, Highway, and Ashe Juniper trails. We saw no one along the trails until we were almost back to the car. The trail starts along Wild Horse Creek which is a pretty, spring-flowing creek that looked great for exploring when Forest gets a bit bigger. The trail gently undulates and climbs but levels out after awhile. It was quiet along the trail, not a lot of activity, though plenty of plant identifying to be had for the botany geeks like us. We didn’t complete the Ashe Juniper trail, and instead took a short break at the junction of the second loop and began heading back towards the car. As much as I wanted to have done more trails in the park with elevation gain, I think we all enjoyed just being on another trail with less people.

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    After our hike up Old Baldy, Chris wanted something more mellow and less terrain oriented. The Frio Canyon Trail takes a loop around the prairie portion of the north end of the park. We hiked it after dinner one evening and it was not busy at all, which made for a pleasant walk. There was a section on the west side of the park, near the road, that felt a little bit like being in south-central Texas, near Brenham, reminding me of the Somerville Trailway; it had a slight bottomland/scrubby marsh feel to it though it certainly was not wet at the time we hiked.

    The hike was peaceful, exactly how an evening hike should be. The light just right. The air—probably a little warm but not bad. Definitely a trail that probably gets biked on more than hiked. A great place to look out for deer, turkey, and maybe even feral pigs!

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    Our hike up to Old Baldy last weekend did not start well. We hadn’t been hiking all summer and so it was an adjustment for Forest to get back into the backpack and for Chris to carry him. The trouble started when we left the very busy Pecan Grove camping area to head up the trail when Forest began wailing and throwing himself all over the backpack. Not only is this uncomfortable for Chris, Forest was also trying to sneak his arms out from under the straps and trying to escape. It took us a few minutes to realize he wanted to people watch at the campground instead of going down the trail. We opted to appease him for a few minutes, walking down to the camp store and around the campground before attempting our hike up the trail to Old Baldy. That still didn’t help enough because the first quarter mile of the hike all you could hear was a wailing toddler.

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    Eventually he did calm down, which greatly helped our sanity and hiking enjoyment. The Old Baldy trail is probably the most popular trail in the park despite it being one of the steepest. Once at the top you get a spectacular view of the surrounding Hill Country!

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    Having not done any hiking in awhile, there were definitely some strenuous moments along the trail. A few spots required three and four points of contact, particularly when hiking back down. All of that did not deter quite a flow of people to use the trail.

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    A view of the Frio River.

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    Along the trail were quite a bit of fall blooming wildflowers coloring the landscape.

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    Our descent back to the campground included hiking the Foshee Trail to connect a loop with the Bird and White Rock Cave Trails. Both of those trails were relatively quiet compared to the Old Baldy trail.

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    Most of the trail along the Foshee Trail included quiet ridge walking with a few undulations in terrain. The Bird Trail was steeper as it connected back down to the White Rock Cave Trail.

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    A look back at Old Baldy.

    The hike was great but Chris was pretty beat after carrying a 26 lb toddler up that terrain. We don’t have that kind of elevation change over here in SE Texas which makes that kind of hiking a little tough.

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    It isn’t often that we’re out in the area SW of San Antonio so when we were there this time around I made sure to grab our tree book to see what might be in the area. We were in luck, just up the road from Garner State Park was the Rio Frio Landmark tree located in the very tiny ‘town’ of Rio Frio located on the east side of the Frio River.

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    Forest was not interested in taking a nap on Saturday afternoon despite all of my attempts to get him to lay down in the tent so we did what all parents do when they know their kid needs a nap, we took a drive! We headed up to Leakey (pronounced Lay-key) and we weren’t on the road long before he was out. We took a few minutes through the town and noted a few neat places to check out next time we are in the area before we detoured off another farm-to-market road towards Rio Frio. The descriptions in the book are kind of vague and the online information is better but I hadn’t checked out the page since a few days prior to our trip. The only thing we knew to do was drive slowly through town. That was pretty easy but we made it to the river and knew we’d missed the tree. I pulled the book back out and parsed out the information and sure enough we found the tree hiding before a short fence with some overgrown shrubs in front of a pretty Victorian house.

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    Wouldn’t you like to have a tree like that in your yard?

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    Since Forest was sleeping we quietly escaped the car to take a few photos while he snoozed.

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    There were two other trees we could have grabbed along the way home but one had died in the 1980s and was replaced with an offspring tree that is now only 30 years old and the other tree was on private property that the owners didn’t allow visitors to access. At least we were able to see something we might not have otherwise!

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