Wild About Texas

Texas has done it again.  Dawny and I have been enchanted by another one of their State Parks.

As I have mentioned in previous posts about campgrounds and ratings, our basic requirements are simple but fairly specific.  Succinctly put:  wonderful dog walks, decent 30-amp sites, good Verizon signal, and a budget-friendly price.

Martin Dies, Jr. State Park sits on the swampy banks of the Steinhagen Reservoir in east Texas.  “Caution: Alligators…” is boldly stamped on a prominent sign at the park’s entrance.  Admittedly, this steered our dog walks towards the middle of the road during the first part of our three night stay.  We are happy to report that there was plenty of asphalt ribbon to keep us exercised and entertained.

The park has lots of foot trails for fearless folks looking to wander through nature’s swampy wilds.  After the first creepy-crawly free day, we ventured a bit more off the road so Dawny could sniffle around the pine needles and greenery, leaving her two scents in the perfect spot.

Some of the best waterfront sites are for tent campers.  As a former tent camper from several lifetimes ago, I respect and appreciate that these spaces are reserved for those least likely to block the view and enjoyment of others.  For their part, tent campers probably appreciate not being surrounded by monster RVs complete with bright porch lights drowning out the stars and TVs chattering nonsense well into the night.  I remember turning my nose up at those lumbering beasts back in the impertinent righteousness of my own youth.

For those of us no longer physically able to last a night in a tent, let alone get a wink of sleep in one, there are 30-amp electric/water RV sites in the Hen House Ridge section.  Some of the asphalt pull-through pads are a bit bumpy and short, though, which might be challenging for those with a big rig.  There are 50-amp electric/water back-in sites elsewhere in the park.

It is a beautiful park with a wild flavor to it.  Splendid shade is provided by towering trees all around.  Many of the RV sites border Gum Slough–a backwater creek–their picnic table and fire ring areas providing front-row seats to their own private alligator habitat.  Be careful, though.  Sitting by one of those fires on a moonless night could well invite nightmares of alligator eyes lurking, stalking… drip-swoosh, drip-swoosh… tick-tock…  Yikes!

Back to civilization!  Not only was I able to get a strong Verizon signal for my phone and internet hotspot, my over-the-air antenna picked up several major network channels.  I am ashamed to say–but I’ll get over it and say it anyways–it was the TV signal that sealed my third night.  I was only going to stay two nights, but having the crazed civilized world crash into the serenity of the past two TV-sparse months was too much to resist.  What can I say?  I lack discipline.

For anyone looking for a good, efficient source of RV campground reviews, visit the website www.rvparkreviews.com.  I finally signed up and will do my good-camper duty by posting reviews there as often as I can, although I may still share a more circuitous journey to the same conclusions here.

The Comfort of a Circle

Our time in Texas is coming to a close and Dawny and I have been heartened by a blessed circle of friendships.  New friends, old friends, and unexpected friends.

Last week I was talking with Lee, a volunteer at the Escapees CARE Center (www.escapeescare.org), and we discovered that we know each other’s blogs.  Now we know each other.  How sweet is that?  She is a solo traveler, like me, with a four-legged companion (in her case, a “curious cat”).  Lee writes a beautiful blog, www.overtlysimple.com, where she journals her thoughts and experiences starting a few years before she became a full-time RV traveler two years ago.

I was also able to catch up with many of my old friends who reside at CARE.  Lorraine, who full-timed with a tiny towed trailer before settling down at CARE, continues to exercise her creative talents on her newest blog, www.threequartersandcounting.com.  In addition to nourishing her green thumb on pots upon pots of plantings, she builds bottle trees to brighten her tiny yard and the yards of many of her CARE neighbors.  Lorraine’s blog from her traveling days can be found at:  www.tabteardroptravels.blogspot.com.

Another friend from CARE, Brian, treated me to several lunches at the dining room–the cooks there are awesome–and shared charming stories that he has been writing about his life.  Bud, with whom I used to share a table at meal time and an occasional dance during Thursday afternoon jam sessions, greeted me with a great big smile and a big strong hug when I showed up again.  Tom, another former table-mate, is a newlywed now, married to Patsy, whom he met at CARE.  It brings a special joy to see new love sprout from a couple strolling through the twilight gardens.

A few of my old friends have, unfortunately, passed on, leaving a vivid reminder to let your last word be a kind word, your last hug be warm, and your parting smile, sincere.  For they may well be the last.  And it is a blessed gift if sweetness lingers when emptiness reigns.

Dawny and I are also grateful for new friendships, with Marsha, Mr. Mike, and Uncle Joe at the top of our list.  There is a real community spirit at this campground (Escapees Rainbow’s End RV Park).  While Dawny has been showered with cookies and love, I have enjoyed our walks, many friendly visits, and an occasional movie at the campground club house.  Dawny’s Uncle Joe doubles as The Movie Man, showing movies two nights per week, complete with popcorn and a delectable assortment of sweet treats, all at his own expense and effort.  There are many other activities that take place during the week for those who enjoy socializing.

It has been a fine winter.  The Good Lord and Lady Luck willing, we will return to this area next year.  Meanwhile, we are preparing for our journey to Florida in a few days.  We look forward to seeing old-new friends at the campground we wintered at the past two years, as well as a visit with a good friend from an online RV forum.  Then, onward we shall roll to our old homestead in Virginia.

We are starting to wear a comfortable path on these roads we travel upon, with more and more way stations containing familiar, welcoming faces.  We are not randomly wandering.  We are not inefficiently zig-zagging.  We are riding on a giant circle of hugs.

Holiday Way Stations

Hello!  Just stopping by to note a couple of absolutely lovely State Park campgrounds Dawny and I have stayed at during our trek south and west.  Out of a possible total of five stars, they each earned all five.

Keep in mind that everyone has different criteria on what makes a campground great, so what I find wonderful, you may think dismal.  For starters, there is a big difference in what is required to comfortably accommodate a 35 foot fifth-wheel trailer and its tow vehicle vs. a 25-foot motorhome with no toad (my set up).

It is always a good idea to google reviews of any park you are considering.  My favorite site for that information is RV Park Reviews at www.rvparkreviews.com.  If I was a good citizen of the camping community, I would contribute my own reviews to the site and not just be a taker.  Alas, I haven’t gotten around to it yet, but I plan to.

Meanwhile, just so you understand the criteria involved in my ranking system, for me a park scores high for:

  • Pretty surroundings and good roads and paths for enjoyable walks with Dawny;
  • Sites not too un-level and preferably gravel or paved so that it isn’t a muddy mess in the rain (with just a small motorhome with leveling jacks and blocks, it is usually pretty easy to find a workable site);
  • Sites not on top of one another (I’d rather look at trees than another RV 10 feet away or, worse yet, have someone’s sewer hookup just a few feet from my window or door);
  • Electrical hookup (30 amp) at the site with potable water and a dump station available on premises (bonus points when water and/or sewer is available at the site without additional cost);
  • Decent Verizon signal for phone and internet hotspot (I don’t use campground-supplied wifi, even when it is available);
  • Enough TV stations accessible with my antenna so that if I stay more than a couple of days, I don’t go crazy (nice to have at least one or two of the major networks plus a few others, like the Movie Channel, PBS, CW, Laff, or Escape–yes, when all else fails, I can quietly freak out over true crime stories);
  • Reasonably priced (no higher than $25/night with bonus points for every dollar under);
  • The intangible factor, generally communicated through friendliness, cleanliness, goodwill, and the overall aura of the place.

Based on the above, here are two five-star spots from this leg of my journey:

Lake Catherine State Park, Hot Springs, Arkansas, 501/844-4176 (https://www.arkansasstateparks.com/lakecatherine):  Heavily wooded campground bordering a small lake.  Two of the three campground loops are right on the lake.  Rates are $22/night for 30 amp electric and water hookup.  Full hookup sites available for an additional charge.  Great walking available around the camping loops, park roads, and woodland trails.  Just 12 miles north of I-30 near Hot Springs.  The picture at the top of this post is my view of the lake through my front window, graced by the start of my Christmas decorations on the dash.

Lake Bob Sandlin State Park, Pittsburg, Texas, 903/572-5531 (can’t get the link to work but easy enough to search for the park on google):  Also a heavily wooded campground, this one is on a large lake in northeast Texas (about 60 miles west of Texarkana and a tad south of I-30).  A handful of the campsites are on the water, and a boat ramp, swimming beach, and picnic areas are a short drive from the campground.  Many of the camping sites are quite short, yet the overall spaciousness between the sites is extraordinarily generous.  The rate for 30 amp electric & water hookup is $22/night, which includes the $4 surcharge for those like me who do not invest in the annual Texas State Parks pass.

The snowman picture is of Christmas decorations at one of Bob Sandlin’s campsites on the water.  One weekend early each December, the park offers free camping as long as you decorate your site.  All you need is a simple string of lights–but you are welcome to bring so much more.  Pretty nifty, neighborly holiday idea, and winner of the intangible factor, hands-down!  (I also saw something at Bob Sandlin that was jaw-dropping amazing.  Two times in less than a 24-hour period, I saw park staff walking the campground loops picking up ground trash.  Nice!)

Happy camping, happy holidays one and all.  May you stay warm, safe, and healthy, with loved ones and friends close to your heart (if not within arm’s reach).