Wednesday, April 1, 2020

2020 - Chasing Blue Bonnets In The Texas Hill Country

All our trips start off the same.  Get a month out and the anticipation starts.  We load our camper, get the fridge cool, clean the water system and fill the water tank.  The day we leave the cooler gets filled and iced down. The trailer is hooked up and everything is ready to go.  Susan gets home from the YMCA at 12:30pm and we pull out of the driveway. We are on our way.   This trip was different and I think for the near future all trips will be different.  Covid-19 changed all of this.  Indiana like other states were in the throws of new orders and regulations. As we traveled South you could still go into a fast food place, order and eat.   When we got into the heart of Texas we went to one restaurant and then used the drive through exclusively.  By then the Texas Governor had closed all bars and restaurants.  This was going to be the new norm for a long period of time.  There was a fog hanging over this trip.  We kept drifting to thoughts about our family.  Our daughter had to lay off 300+ hourly staff and their company closed 18 restaurants.  We see the stock market take huge plunges, and we see a retirement life that has drastically changed.  

 Long Branch SP sunset

Great Salt Plains State Park, Jet, OK
 Arkansas River

We both have family in Texas and couldn’t visit anyone.  Isolated in our campsite, camper, and truck gave us some peace and direction.  We had such wonderful scenery and were thankful to be able spend time in the outdoors. For now Texas and Indiana haven’t closed their state parks.  There are restroom restrictions.  The park offices and stores are closed, and in many cases the state park entry has been waved.  Reservations must be made online.  Many National Parks are closed or are delaying their opening.  Hopefully things will improve during the next couple of months.

Our first stop was at Long Branch State Park in Missouri.  We had a beautiful sunset and a good night sleep.  We headed South west to our second stop at Salt Plains State Park in Jet, OK.  Our site was right next to the Arkansas River. 

Our destination was Caprock Canyon State Park, in the Texas Panhandle, just South of Amarillo, TX.  There we met up with fellow Four Wheel Camper, David Franklin.  We took several hikes together and sat around the campfire on Saturday night, all the while maintaining our 6’ separation.

David Franklin and myself, fun couple of days hiking and sitting around the campfire

Caprock at sunset

We spent two days at Caprock Canyon SP and head South along the back roads of Texas to Inks Lake State Park.  Our site was on the Lake.  The Colorado River is dammed at 6 locations creating Lake Buchanan, Inks Lake, Lake LBJ, Lake Marble Falls, Lake Travis, and Lake Austin.  This area along the Colorado River is beautiful. We maintained our separation from people and and enjoyed some fishing, watching sunsets, and grilling our meals.

 Inks Lake

Homemade Pizza on the grill

Grilled sausage in pita bread

 Light dinner on a travel day
Grilled Salmon and red potatos

Breakfast Omlet and Sarah checking out her bananna
Saint Patty's Day - corn beef hash with eggs

Fresh pie from the Blue Bonnet Cafe in Llanos, TX

There are a series of 6 lakes and dams along the Colorado River, starting with Buchanan Lake to the West and ending with Lake Austin in Austin, TX before the Colorado River turns South to the Gulf of Mexico.

On two days we drove the Blue Bonnet Loop starting in Burnet, Tx, then to Llano, Tx, Fredericksburg, TX, Johnson City, TX, Marble Falls, TX, and back Burnet, TX.  Between Llano and Fredericksburg is the Willow City Loop, a beautiful loop drive in the big loop.  The Blue Bonnets were beautiful.

Blue Bonnet Loop

 Blue Bonnets & Indian Paint Brush

 Indian Paint Brush

We drove around the lake to Camp Longhorn.  Susan worked there as a camp counselor in 1972.  Lots of changes over the past 48 years.  They publish a book each year, similar to a high school yearbook.

We stopped in Johnson City and visited LBJ's boyhood home.  All of the offices were closed and there were no tours, so our stop was short.

LBJ's childhood home

Over several days we talked about extending our stay in Texas.  Both of our part time jobs have shut down under the State of Indiana, shelter in place.  All of the Indiana YMCA’s are closed for the duration.  After much dialog we decided it was safer to be at home and not 1,200 miles away. 

Millwood Lake State Park, in SW Arkansas

It was a fun trip, and we look forward to returning to Texas when things recover.  For the last five years we have been at Galveston Island State Park, camping at the beach campground.  Texas Parks has closed the beach campground for the next 3 years to rebuild the campground.  Hurricane Ike in 2008 wiped out approximately 60% of the campsites.  They are doing a complete re-building to get back to approximately 75 campsites. 

Everyone be safe.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

2019 - Idaho_Montana - Part Four

Part Four

We were up early, packed up and headed into McCall for fuel and a big breakfast at the Pancake House.

We drove around Payette Lake on Hwy. 55 through parts of the Payette National Forest, connecting with Hwy. 95, continuing North through the Payette National Forest and Nez Perce National Forest.  The drive was beautiful as we had pine trees on both sides of the road.

Several of the campgrounds along Hwy. 12 that we marked as possible sites were closed and the gates locked.  We passed close to a dozen closed campgrounds.  We crossed over Lolo Pass at the Idaho/Montana border and stopped to talk to the ranger.  They had 4’-6’ of snow two days before.  There was snow on the ground and in the pine trees.  We decided to cross into Montana and stop at Lolo Hotsprings.  They have a campground and we picked a site, and then walked across the road to soak in the hotspring.  We started in the outdoor cooling pool (80 degrees) and then moved into the indoor pool, which was 104 degrees.  We soaked for an hour.  We regretted not trying some of the other hotsprings along our route, and plan on stopping on our next trip to Idaho.

Big Timber, MT to Badlands National Park

Badlands NP to Anita Lake State Park, IA

Anita Lake SP to Carmel, IN

Three Forks, MT

We drove west on Highway 12, picking up I-90 and heading to Three Forks, MT.  We stopped at the famous Wheat Montana Bakery for lunch. 

We had not decided on a place to camp, so we decided to check out Missouri Headwaters State Park.  The campground was very small and crowded.  We drove up to the viewing area.  This is a point were Lewis & Clark camped during their journey.  This is a place where the Jefferson River and Madison River end the Missouri River begins.  A mile downstream the Gallatin River flows into the Missouri, thus the name Three Forks

 Lolo Pass

 Homestake Pass 6,393 ele

We then back tracked slightly to check out Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park.  We were able to get and electric site, and the campground was close to the Jefferson River.  There were only 2-3 campers in the campground, so we basically had the campground to ourselves.  We had the Tobacco Root Mountains as a backdrop.  The caverns were closed for the season.

We headed back to Wheat Montana Bakery for their famous pastries.  Our next destination was Big Timber, MT to spend a couple of days with my cousin.  On the way we stopped in Livingston.  I had not been in Livingston since 1961.  In 1959-61 we would catch the Northern Pacific Limited from Livingston to Chicago Union Station.  I had heard that a number of years ago the railroad station had been re-modeled.  I wanted to walk the grounds and take a few photos.  It has been all freight since the ‘70’s.  Passenger service was moved to the Hi-Line through Havre, MT and Glacier National Park.

Livingston, MT Train Station, once the station for the Northern Pacific Railroad, their emblem on the decorative corners

We arrived at my cousins house and he cooked a pizza for lunch and then we headed to his cabin on the Boulder River for a day.  The Beartooth- Absaroka were covered with snow and there was a little on the ground around the cabin and along the river bank.  We had a great day at the cabin.  The next morning I got an hour and a half of flyfishing.  I might have had 1-2 hts, but no luck.  Four fishing days and I was  0-4. 

Lions Head

We drove back into Big Timber after lunch and then we took my cousins to dinner at our favorite place, The Grand Hotel.  We love staying there for a night, but this trip we didn’t have enough time. 

We camped at the house, and in the morning after our goodbyes we headed to the pastry shop and then decided to go to Badlands National Park a day early.

The Northern Pacific made a 6am mail stop in Big Timber and this is where I got off the train. My grandmother, aunts and other relatives would all be waiting along the tracks.  1959-61

Crazy Moutnains, the only mountain range in Montana not part of the Rockies

Sarah waiting for her banana slices

We arrived at Badlands National Park around 4:30pm, and after a 29 mile drive on the loop road arrived at the campground.  We hoped to get the site we reserved for the next night, but it was full so we picked the site next to it and moved when the person had left and the host placed our reserved card on the post.  In the middle of the first night there 35-45 mph winds, with wind gusts from 50-65 mph

We spent the entire day Saturday sightseeing throughout the park, and visited the Minute Man Missile Visitor Center and Silo D-9, a deactivated site.  We stopped at the only National Grasslands Visitor Center, but it isn’t open on the weekends.  We did drive through the grasslands.  For lunch we drove into Wall, SD and visited the famous Wall Drugstore.  


We were up early and departed for home.  We drove over 9 hours and spent our last night camped at Anita Lake State Park in western Iowa.  We had a site on the lake and the sunset was beautiful.  We arrived home around 5 pm on Monday October 7th.  This was a great trip and we were sad that it ended.  

Our trip lasted eighteen days and covered 5,103 miles.  There is so much more to see in Idaho and Montana.  We enjoyed every minute of the trip and look forward to spending more time in Idaho.