OK, everything isn’t perfect in Texas. The weather is indeed unpredictable and we got snow. Not just a little either (although it is a pittance by New England standards) but a couple of inches with some ice rain thrown in for good measure. Thankfully we had a pretty short travel day scheduled on Easter Sunday and could take our time in the morning waiting for it to thaw. We don’t even own an ice scraper anymore, so around 10am Lee broke down and went up on the roof to clear the roof and slide-outs with a broom. The truck windows were thawed by turning the car on and the ice on the stairs that stopped them from being closed…well, Lee got creative and used our metal grill spatula. Have to say it did a nice job. So we didn’t roll out until 11am, which is extremely unusual for us, but I have to say I found the late morning way more relaxing. I may have to talk Lee into more of those.
The drive itself was largely uneventful, especially once all the ice/snow melted off the hood of the truck. It was long stretches of farm land with thousands of windmills in the fields. We also saw some oil rigs and despite what I have heard they didn’t bother me at all. I give huge credit to the farmers who grow crops, raise cattle, and harvest energy via either oil or solar on their fields. The wind in particular I find impressive and good for them for finding a way to make a family farm profitable. It’s smart 21st century farming and makes me hopeful for our future as a country.
Lee had picked Abilene State Park for our overnight stay and our GPS took us on a weird route waaay off the interstate to get there. We did get to see more of the countryside (including my first amazing Longhorn Steer with HUGE horns), but it ended up making for a longish day. I was tired when we got to the park and very annoyed when we discovered that our $18 a night campsite was actually $28 because Texas parks charge a $5 per day per person fee whether you are camping there or not. I really, really don’t like that, especially because Reserve America doesn’t tell you that when you make the reservations. If you live in a state or have camped there before you just know it, but we have been caught by that more than once. I was also pretty under impressed by the general state of neglect of the park, culminating in our fire pit which was full of trash and even a piece of cooked chicken. Totally gross. For $28 a night I expect better. The site itself was very nice, large, wooded, and nice space between you and your neighbor but for an overnight stay I didn’t think all the extra effort to get there was worth it.
This is where Lee and I (and many others) disagree. I think State Parks in general are over rated and not the end all be all of our stays. Lee, along with many of our friends, would always pick them as a first choice because the sites are so nice and there are no people right on top of you. I think they generally aren’t worth the hassle for an overnight stay and are usually not the cheapest option. I think that’s why Lee and I love City/County parks so much. In general, they combine his love of a more roomy site with my love for a good deal and relative convenience. Of course, this is only for overnight stays, if you are staying in a place for a while and can take advantage of the trails etc many state parks are a good choice, but be careful about hidden costs when booking them. Either way, I really hate paying for a site that isn’t clean. Whether private or government the campsites and surrounding area should be free of trash and this park is definitely a disappointment in that category.
One bright note though was we did do our first geocache as a couple. We downloaded the app back in Texas and haven’t done much with it, so I was pleasantly surprised when Lee found a geocache .10 miles from our site. We wandered over and found it pretty easily and Lee really liked the treasure hunt aspect of gecaching. Plus I finally got to drop off a trackable I picked up in Arizona so felt pretty good about helping it towards it mission of finding someplace colder. I think the snow we experienced this morning definitely qualified! (Trackables have a unique number and a stated mission. They aren’t that common so the fact that I found one on my 2nd geocache experience was cool. It also is some pressure though because you need to help it accomplish it’s mission and I was glad to get it out of the glove compartment and on its way).
The next morning we had a short drive, but wanted to be on our way so we left around 9:30. I did stop and tell the park ranger about the chicken leg. She explained (with a bit of an attitude) they had 3,400 guests over the weekend and were two rangers short. Although I appreciated the explanation I was not crazy about the lack of an apology. A simple “I am sorry that happened” followed up with an explanation goes a long way with me. Anyway, we drove to Junction, Texas, through the small town, down some side streets to Morgan Shady RV Park. The older woman who runs the campground was not there when we arrived and the sites are not all clearly marked. But after pulling up the map and doing some detective work we found our spot. It had a great view of the river and full hookups and although $30 was on the steep side, I really, really liked this park. Tons of birds on the river and hardly anyone else there, plus the lady was very nice. It is a little gem of a site and I guess she’s been unsuccessful selling up, but someone really should snap this park up and spruce it up. Anyway, no sooner had we setup then Lee wanted to go geocaching and one short walk turned into driving around town and 2 hours later he had found 4 of them. I loved his enthusiasm and it was fun to log them, but I really was getting hungry!
The next day we had talked about going to the The Texas White House (President LBJ’s family ranch), because Mary one of our blog readers had recommended it and is currently volunteering there. We loved the river so much though, we were seriously tempted to take a float. The campground owner gave us the names of two different people. One wanted to drive our truck back…Lee was like nope, but the second was only $20 and said she would meet us at the campground at 10am. Since all three types of kingfishers (which I have never seen) are on the river, we couldn’t pass it up. It was a cloudy morning with a 20% chance of rain, but we got up and got all our gear ready. Then waited and waited, at 10:15 Lee finally called but received no answer and at 10:25 am we called it and went back to Plan A of the LBJ ranch. We drove out to the park through this great little town of Fredericksburg which is in Texas wine country. The town was founded by Germans and has tons of restaurants and cool gift shops. We couldn’t stop though because we were already behind schedule, but I definitely want to go back and check out that town.
The LBJ ranch is a little confusing because there are actually three different historic parks in three different locations and none of these are the Presidential library which is located in Austin. The ranch itself is in Stonewall and is one of those places that is part State and part Federal. You stop at the visitors center/gift shop, which is run by the State Park system, to get a free parking pass, then drive down a road to the ranch which is a National Park, which has its own gift shop…weird. I asked at the State Park if they had heard of Mary and Ron, but no one had. Then when we did the auto tour of the ranch we stopped at the barn and I asked the Ranch Manager, but he had a couple of Ron’s working for him and no idea if they were married to Mary. Despite not being able to find Mary the auto tour was very cool. When LBJ donated the land he stipulated that it stay a working ranch and they have a herd of long horn cattle there. Lee had a long conversation with the ranch manager about volunteering there, as he as always wanted to work on a ranch, and I wandered down to the pens and took some picture with one of the big bulls.
The ranch manager was very nice and answered my many questions about cows. He seem a little perplexed at first by why I was so interested, but I explained I spent a lot of time looking at cows out the window as we traveled and since they were raised in all kinds of terrains had some built up questions that needed answering. He did confirm that different types of terrain could support more of less cows and he taught us that the Bull Texas Longhorns had wider but shorter horns than the Steers which had the really super, long ones. Then we had to talk about the difference between a Steer and Bull (Steer’s are essentially castrated) and it was a very interesting conversation. Although we might not be able to volunteer there since it doesn’t pay anything, it does renew my interest in finding us a ranching job in the summer of 2017. So if anyone hears anything please let me know.
At the end of the auto tour we reached the house and paid $3 for a tour of the first floor (the grounds and auto tour are all free). I decided to ask one more time about Mary and hit pay dirt. The Park Ranger went out a door and grabbed her and in she came. At first she was a little confused (she said the accent threw her as I don’t write with an accent lol), but soon we were chatting away. Mary and Ron have RVed for years but just became full timers in January. They are from Texas and took this work kamping gig to give their kids and grandkids time to get used to the transition (super smart in my opinion) and in the process she said she has really enjoyed herself.
I told her how grateful we were for the recommendation and she is the first reader I have gotten a recommendation from, gone, and met. We took an instant liking to each other, but she said she had to leave and give the next tour. Well guess what we had already booked that tour!!! How awesome was that. She did a really good job by the way, especially for a self-proclaimed introvert and she said the whole experience has helped her get out of her comfort zone. Unfortunately, there are no pictures inside the house because of the families deal with the park service, but I absolutely recommend it. It is definitely a home that was also transformed into a presidential working environment. Fascinating.
Regardless of your politics I highly recommend seeing this. I wasn’t a big fan of his going in (like him a bit better now), but either way the historical significance of the place cannot be denied. Because of his love of the land he and Lady Bird worked together to create 60 new federal parks and we are all reaping the benefits of those today. Yes his role in Vietnam was pretty awful, but he was also a man thrust into a situation no one expected and how he handled it (basically by running the country from Texas) is interesting. Thank you again Mary for recommending it and it was such a pleasure meeting you. I really hope we see each other again down the road.
After the tour, we left and headed back to meet Jim and Diana for the first time. Jim and Diana are fellow graduates of the RV Dreams class of 2014, but we had never met because they went to the Fall Rally. Jim and I became acquainted on the RV-Dreams forum and I started reading his blog because I really loved their story. They RVed for years and decided to sell their house, getting the call for the sale while they were at the rally. They went ahead and sold and then moved into their rig, but stayed in Michigan because Diana needed to be close to ailing mother. What’s very impressive to me is that they spent the entire winter in Michigan. He did an amazing job of winterizing their rig and when the rest of us were all running around, they stayed and took care of family first. Impressive. When Diana’s mom passed, the went down to Florida and as sad as I was for them for the death I was very happy that they were finally able to start their travels. Jim is a history buff and writes about the history of every place they visit and they also find little known places in their travels. I love the blog and as you often do felt like I knew them. He really won my heart though, when he sent me a private message after Lee put regular gas in the diesel tank. It was so supportive and so caring, it almost made me cry. So when we were happening to cross each other on I-10, Lee and I changed our plans slightly so we could meet them.
When we arrived at the campground after the long drive, they gave us a few minutes to get settled then came over. I only knew Diana though through Jim’s writing so it was very fun to really get to know her and since Lee doesn’t read their blog or do the forums he was new to them both. There is a danger when you finally meet people you have read about for so long that you jump ahead because you think you know them. You may know parts of them, but certainly not the whole story, but I think we were all careful not to fall into that trap. They got to hear Lee’s version of several of our stories and we got to learn more about them. We talked a lot about blogging and of course we talked about full timing. We swapped stories, shared RV modifications, and in a very short time we truly bonded. Although it was a short visit, I absolutely know we will see them in the future and it was wonderful getting to know more of our RV-Dreams family. Oh and on a side note, Lee (who is always a little tentative about meeting “the internet people”) liked Mary, Jim, and Diana very very much. Since both instances were such a great experience I think I will have more luck getting him to open up to more of these meetings in the future.
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