Friday, May 27, 2016

Houston Astros, SKP Headquarters, TT Lake Conroe

Posted from Red Bay, AL
(Click on Pics to Enlarge)

So what in the heck do these three totally different subjects have in common?  I'm still playing catch up with my blog entries and this was the most recent places we visited before heading toward our current location.

We are members of Thousand Trails and had never been to the Lake Conroe campground in Willis, TX.  We knew that this preserve had been recently updated, so we were anxious to take a look.

Several of the TTs we had visited in the past need some tender loving care, but Lake Conroe has done a very nice job. First off, we liked the spaciousness of the sites. It's nice not to be on top of your neighbors for a change.

The pool area and associated buildings were very nice. During our entire 2-week stay, the pool was used very little and gave us the opportunity to do water aerobics many days.

Many nice areas to use to just sit around the pool without even going in the water.

Paul, here's a hot tub picture just for you! (Best wishes for a speedy recovery from some recent physical setbacks).

Of course I had to look for the pickleball courts.  They have 4 newly re-surfaced courts, but we found no one to play with the entire time we were there.  Must have been the wrong time of the season.

For more pictures of TT-Lake Conroe click here to view them in Google+ Albums.

Our blog readers know that we like to attend Major and Minor League Baseball games when possible. The closest Major League team is the Houston Astros. The first question becomes how best to get to the game? and how to avoid big city parking fees?  After a bit of research we decided to park at the northern most metro rail stop and take the light rail to the ballpark.

The decision to use the metro worked well. One early hitch, however.  We pulled into the Northline Transit Center and discovered that a parking permit was required. Of course we had none, so a quick jaunt to the adjacent Walmart lot worked great. (See Walmart's good for something besides RV parking.  LOL)  If you are ever in Houston and decide to travel downtown, this is the way to go.  It cost just $1.25 per person each way and the ticket allows to unlimited transfers within a 3-hour period.  A single day ticket can also be purchased for just $3 per person and allows unlimited travel on the bus and light rail system for the entire day. One of the better transportation deals we've found.

We watched the Houston Astros play the Cleveland Indians on a Wednesday afternoon game. Usually a mid-day game draws few fans, but the crowd was actually pretty good. This is a domed-station which can be opened and closed.  Because there was a slight chance of rain today, the roof was closed.  It made for a very comfortable environment to watch the game.

Thanks to Randy Warner's comment below, I added this section after writing the original blog.  We almost never purchase our tickets at the ballpark, but get them ahead of time by going online. This time we used an online broker named Vivid Seats. The seats we had were $23 if you purchased them directly from the Houston Astros site. We purchased them for $3 each from Vivid Seats (and there were no additional handling fees.) We thought that was a really good find until we got to the ballpark and purchased some food.  A hot dog, pretzel, and a drink for each of us cost $34. Looks like they got us back in the end!

The game turned into a marathon. The Astros won the game on a walk off home run in the bottom of the 14th inning by a score of 4-3. This was the longest game in the Major League season up to that point.

We are also lifetime members of The Escapees RV Club. We feel that this organization is truly dedicated to the interests of RVers, and especially extended or fulltime RVers. If you have any questions about this group, please look at the link above or ask us a question in the comment section at the end of this blog.

For additional pictures on the visit to the ball park, click here.

The headquarters for the Escapees Club is located in Livingston, TX. Although we have been members since 2008, we had never visited.  Livingston is approximately 50 minutes from the TT-Lake Conroe preserve, so off we went. It was a nice drive and the headquarters was a pleasant surprise.

The campsites near the entrance were roomy and well tended.

One of the unique features of the Escapees group is the CARE program. CARE is an acronym for Continuing Assistance for Retired Escapees. I'm not going to cut and paste information of this program here (click on the link above), but we found it to be a well administered and well conceived program.

The facility was very clean and we had the opportunity to speak directly to the care manager at length about the program.

A thrift shop has been recently opened where the generated sales are turned directly back to the CARE center residents. They also run the shop.  Very cool idea I thought.

For additional pictures on SKP Livingston, click here.

Well, we're only a couple of weeks behind in our blogging now! The next few blogs will probably include outlays of cash.  Stay tuned!

Thanks for stopping by to take a look!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Yes, We Like to Eat!

Posted from Red Bay, AL
(Click on Pics to Enlarge)

I titled this blog after putting it together.  I didn't realize how many "eating" pictures were involved until after I wrote this blog of our travels to Fredericksburg, TX, and then on to Luling, TX.

After Fort Davis, TX we (along with Paul and Laura) moved further east to Johnson Creek RV Resort just west of Kerrville, TX. This was a very nice find of a campground by Paul.  All of the sites were concrete and most had long pull thrus.  The utilities all functioned well  We stayed for 4 nights, and with 2 nights of 33% discounts (Escapees) and 2 nights of 50% discounts (Passport America), the rate was very reasonable.

Fredericksburg, TX is about a 45 minute drive from the campground, so on Saturday (4/30) we decided to make the trip. Although Fredericksburg is a nice town to visit, I was somewhat disappointed.  I had heard about the large German influence in the history of the town and expected to see more of that than what we found.

There were some signs such as the Pioneer Memorial at the Vereins Kirche Museum. (Society Church) This was built soon after the first German settlers arrived. It served as a town hall, school, fort, and a church for all denominations. The original building was demolished in 1896, but local citizens rebuilt it in 1935.

For lunch, we looked for some semblance of an authentic German restaurant. We found the Auslander Restaurant and Biergarten. The food was excellent and the chance to eat outside added to the experience.

After Kerrville, Paul and Laura and we split up to continue our summer travels in different directions. We traveled just a short distance east along Interstate 10 and stopped for a few nights at Riverbend RV Park near Luling, TX. Another Passport America park and a nice location to explore some of the sights in the area.  One of the main reasons to stop was to visit my Aunt and Cousin who live just outside of Austin, TX in nearby Lago Vista.  I hadn't seen either of them in a couple of years, so the chance to get together was very nice.  Aunt Carol's place sits high on the hill above Lake Travis.

Back to that "eating" thing again, Carol wanted to take us to a restaurant named the Oasis Restaurant which overlooks Lake Travis.

The seating is arranged on many levels, all with a gorgeous view of the lake.

Dinner was excellent and the chance to meet up with family was even better.

The real bonus for this restaurant, and a favorite my many of the patrons, is the ability to view the sunset from the comfort of your table.

As if we hadn't already eaten enough in the last few days, our next goal was to find a good barbeque place.  After all, we are in Texas. After checking the reviews, we decided to drive north a short distance from Luling to Lockhart and try Black's BBQ. 

Black's BBQ  began in 1932 and is now owned by the fourth generation of the original creators. The business in Lockhart claims to be the oldest BBQ place in Texas.

I chose sliced beef brisket and a spicy sausage for dinner.  I will concede that it was the most tender brisket I've ever eaten. The slightly smoky BBQ taste (without any sauce or toppings) was excellent. I believe that they will also mail order.  Um, just a thought!

That's enough food for one blog.  In the next blog, I'll continue to talk about our stay in Luling and I promise no more food talk in that one.

As always, more pictures are available in our Google+ Albums.
For:    Fredericksburg, TX
Thanks for stopping by to take a look!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Next Stop: Ft. Davis, TX

Posted from Willis, TX
(Click on Pics to Enlarge)

After a very enjoyable week exploring the Big Bend area, we packed up and headed 120 miles north to Fort Davis, TX. Fort Davis is a bit more populated and has more stores than Lajitas (but not many).  We booked four nights at MacMillen RV Park. This park was certainly nothing special, but worked out fine for what we needed, just a place to use as a home base while visiting the area. The pull thrus were long and the utilities worked well. The entire area was very windy while we were here.

The things we wanted to see and do while in the area included taking the Scenic Loop Drive, visit the Fort Davis National Historic Site, and spend some nighttime hours viewing the stars at the McDonald Observatory.

The Scenic Loop Drive starts just south of Fort Davis on Rt. 166, then returns on Rt. 118. Along the route, which takes about 2 hours with stops, we viewed some nice vistas.

The McDonald Observatory is located on Mount Locke and Mount Folkes.  More on the observatory later.

We stopped near the end of the loop at an old wayside stop (not maintained any longer) to eat lunch. Have to get the important things taken care of!


We arrived back in Fort Davis and decided to take a walking tour of the town. Remember, this town isn't too large.  In typical Texas style, the town was built in a square around the court house.  The Jeff Davis County court house was built in 1910-1911. I love these old court houses.

Although the court court looks like a set out of an old western movie, this courtroom is still in everyday use today.

The busiest place in town seemed to be the Fort Davis Drug Store and Hotel.  This place was busy each day we passed by.

The next day we visited Fort Davis National Historic Site.            From the NPS site:

"A key post in the defense system of western Texas, Fort Davis played a major role in the history of the Southwest. From 1854 until 1891, troops stationed at the post protected emigrants, freighters, mail coaches, and travelers on the San Antonio-El Paso Road hoping to reach the gold fields of California. 
 From 1854 to 1861 , troops of the Eighth Infantry spent much of their time in the field pursuing Comanches, Kiowas, and Apaches.
Fort Davis's primary role of safeguarding the west Texas frontier against the Comanches and Apaches continued until 1881.
In June 1891, as a result of the army's efforts to consolidate its frontier garrisons, Fort Davis was ordered abandoned, having "outlived its usefulness. "Seventy years later, in 1961, the fort was authorized as a national historic site, a unit of the National Park Service."

There are several very well restored buildings at the fort to visit. If you visit, be sure and stop first at the Visitor's Center and watch the short video presentation which explains the history of the fort.

After the tour of Fort Davis Historic Site we made a short drive back to the center of town and ate lunch at the Fort Davis Drug Store. Pretty neat old place and the food was good as well.

The best of modern facilities also.

The true highlight of our stay in the Fort Davis area happened on the last night of our stay.  Paul and Laura had reserved tickets for us in advance to attend two of the programs at the McDonald Observatory. Now let me preface this by saying that I know very little about astronomy, but being in one of the "darkest sky" areas in all of the United States, I was excited to learn.

We attended the Starlight Party and Twilight Programs during a very clear and almost moonless night.  I have no pictures from this for two reasons: (1) my small camera wouldn't be able to detail much of the night sky for inclusion in the blog and (2) lighting devices (including cellphones and cameras) are very much discouraged during the outside programs.

The Twilight Program is an educational program which was entitled "Modeling the Night Sky" on the date of our visit. This programs attempts to educate about the construction of our solar system and the way in which planets' movements interact.

The Starlight Party was an all outdoor program which included a talk about viewing and locating the constellations and major stars and planets.  After the talk the group was allowed to view these through a series of pre-focused telescopes, both small and large.  This was very cool!!  I would certainly like to return to the MacDonald Observatory someday and take a day tour of the facility.

Although it took several days to explore the Fort Davis area, I've really just touched on some of the highlights in this blog.

Please take a look at our Google+ Albums for more pictures of:

Thanks for stopping by to take a look!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Wrapping Up Big Bend National Park

Posted from Willis, TX
(Click on Pics to Enlarge)

I've decided to combine Days 2 and 3 in Big Bend National Park into this one blog. With that being said, Big Bend NP definitely deserves multiple days to even scratch the surface when visiting this fairly large park.

On our second day into the park we visited the Chisos Basin area and wound up finally at the Chisos Basin Visitor's Center. The first part of the drive has some spectacular scenery.

The visitor's center at Chisos Basin is in a developed area with restaurant and even a lodge.  We took a short hike on the Windows Overlook Trail from the Visitor's Center.  This trail is handicapped accessible and only a short distance to the overlook.

The "window" is an area in the rock face which allows a great view of the valley below. In the following picture the "V" is the window.

A short distance back up the Chisos Basin Road and we were at the Lost Mine trailhead.  The full Lost Mine Trail is about 4.8 miles roundtrip, but due to time constraints we decided to hike up to the Overlook which was about 2 miles roundtrip.  Several nice views of Casa Grande Peak can be seen along the trail.

Here's our little group at the Overlook Point on the Lost Mine Trail.

The views from this area were certainly worth the hike up.

By the time we got back to the trailhead it was lunchtime.  We drove back to the Visitor's Center and had a nice picnic in one of the covered pavilions nearby.

Additional photos from Day 2 in Big Bend NP can be viewed in our Google+ Albums.

Our third day into Big Bend NP was probably my favorite day.  We hiked several trails and the views along the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive were spectacular.  Just onto the Scenic Drive we came upon the remains of the Sam Nail Ranch.  This was an example of an early ranch in this area in which the desert was partially transformed by the planting of fig and pecan trees. This old windmill actually still works and provides water for this little "oasis" in the desert.

There's not too much left of the adobe ranch house today.  All I can say is these early settlers must have been hardy souls.

The first trail of the day was called Upper Burro Mesa Pour-Off Trail.  There was first a short hike thru a relatively flat area leading to a rocky gorge area.

Many more photos are included in our Big Bend Day #3 of our Google+ Albums.  Please be sure and take a look.

Driving further along the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive took us to higher elevations and more scenic vistas.  In the far center of this picture is the remains of the Homer Wilson line camp which was part of the Homer Wilson Ranch.  The buildings in the Blue Creek Canyon have not been used since 1945.

A. roadside pull off allowed a view of Mule Ears Peak in the distance. The peaks are actually much larger than they appear from this vantage point.

The Tuff Canyon Trail was only a short 3/4 mile hike, but it gave you a nice look at the dry canyon and the sheer walls running up each side.

As far as I'm concerned, the real gem of this entire Scenic Drive lies at the end in an area named the Santa Elena Canyon.  The trail begins at the Rio Grande water level, heads up to give some great views of the canyon walls, then descends again back to the river level.

The canyon walls in this area stretch to a height of 1500 feet.

This view from one of the higher observation points on the trail show Mexico on the right side of the river and the United States to the left.

The river is a popular place to kayak and canoe.  These folks are taking a guided tour down the river.

As we were hiking back to the trailhead we saw a fair number of Mexican Marines training (or eating lunch) on their side of the river.  A few of them are visible walking along the trail, on the far side of the river, in this picture.

As I said before, Day #3 was my favorite day in the Park, but I certainly enjoyed all of them. If you decide to go for a visit, allow several days for exploration.  Get off the roads and explore the trails.  There are trails of all lengths and difficulty levels to enjoy.

To view additional Day #2 pictures, click here to view our Google+ Albums.
To view additional Day #3 pictures, click here.

For anyone who has read this far I need some advise on the "readability" of  our blog.
I changed the way I display pictures in this blog posting from the way I normally display them.  In today's blog, I placed the pictures beneath the associated text. In previous blog posts I've usually wrapped the text on either the right or left side of the pictures.

Question:  Which format do you prefer?  Please feel free to leave a comment below. I'm always looking for ways to make the blog easier to read.

Thanks for stopping by to take a look!