TEXAS HILL COUNTRY HEAVEN part 1

Now time for a more recent adventure

We had one weekend left until the children came back from vacation with their father, and we had opted to sneak out of town for one last romantic adventure until we were a family of four, and not just the two of us.  The weekend was wide open – I was cruising getaway airfares, contemplating different destinations – but we were also considering making a geocaching event south of San Antonio, so we had concentrated some attempts in that general direction.  We also had some ideas about returning to Lost Maples State Park.  We had been there last summer during this great road trip I have slowly been writing about, and promised ourselves we would go back.  We were also very interested in finding a dog-friendly destination, as the dogs had been cooped up a lot lately.

He asked me if I had “that list of cabins near Lost Maples” that he had sent me at some undetermined time last year, even though he was unsure if he sent it via email or during a chat session.  I had no idea what he was talking about, but was obsessively googling pet-friendly cabins near San Antonio and Lost Maples, and I found the website of something that sounded just like what we were interested in.  I sent it to him over chat, and he says, “oh, you found it!”.  Coincidence?  Or some kind of hidden meaning…whatever it was, I decided to go with it, and that is how we ended up at FoxFire Cabins for the weekend.

After a long drive the night before after work, in which we saw at least two dozen whitetail deer along the backroads, we ate our breakfast, then hurried out for a morning hike in Lost Maples State Park.  FoxFire is just one mile down the road from the park , so it was a short drive, but we had to do it almost twice because I forgot our Texas Parks and Wildlife Department passport.  See, we’ve been working on this little geocaching challenge they got going on, where if you find the special cache hidden in each of the state parks, and prove it by marking your card with the special marker in each cache, and answer a question about an indigenous animal from the parks by using a clue card in each one, and then send the passport in when you have found ten of the twelve in each region, you can get a nifty coin and bragging rights.  We finished the Houston region a few weeks back, and didn’t want to miss the chance to work on the Hill Country region.

The hike to this particular cache in Lost Maples was about two miles round trip.  Along the way, we had to cross several streams, which we remembered last year as being much higher.  This area of Texas has been hit very hard with this year’s drought.  We saw evidence of this all over the region.  This park had more water than any of the other parks we saw, though.  When we got to the “ponds” section, there was enough water in the pond to go swimming in, if you didn’t mind a marshy entrance.  We saw little trickles of water along the creek banks.

After we found the cache, we sat for a while on a bench near the ponds and watched the birds with the binoculars.  There were several very large cardinals, males and females, flitting about.  Two birds lingered in the branches above us, and were very curious and unafraid, even with our three dogs near our sides.  They came within a few feet of us, watching us quizzically from the ground or branches right above us.  After much discussion and comparison later, we determined that these were olive-sided flycatchers.

After this pause for reflection, we walked back to the truck, then drove back to the cabin for lunch and brief lounging before getting back in the vehicle for more exploring.  I will have to write about those adventures later, though.  I have the cold nose of a dog nudging me to go for a walk, and my baby to snuggle, before my kids get home in a couple of hours.  I hope to post more regularly soon about not only this trip, but the ones that came before it, and the ones that will come after.

Travelogues: Amarillo By Evening

In planning the great western road trip starting in Houston, there are a few choices on how to reach the scenic vistas of the west.  One way out is to head through Amarillo.  We weren’t on a quest to see cities, though, we were on a quest to experience state and national parks, and to camp everywhere.  I had heard from a friend years ago that Palo Duro State Park was one of the prettiest places she had ever seen, so we set our overnight sights on this.

But then we had to get there.  And we have a real talent for turning road trip drive times into easily twice as long as they should be taking.  Mostly this is because of geocaching, but at the same time, it is kind of the point of our journey, and it helps us to get out and really experience the places we are driving by, plus the dogs have to go to the bathroom sometime, right?  We only stopped for eight or nine geocaches, but somehow that put us in Amarillo around dinnertime.  The most memorable was GC242PKL, “Lonestar, Where Are You Out Tonight?”.  This one was named after a Norah Jones song, which just happened to come on our music player in the car as we were driving away from it, eery, huh?  This picture is from one of the caches along the way, perhaps that one.

After stopping for Subway sandwiches in Amarillo, we started trying to find our way to Palo Duro.  Now, I should explain that there was some difficulty planning this trip because we didn’t know when we would be able to leave town, due to some exhusband and childcare issues.   Anyways, the point is, we did not have camping reservations, but I had called at one point and they said the office would be open until ten pm and it was first come first serve on the camping and there would most likely be spots available.

What we DIDN’T know was 1) that we just happened to be going to Palo Duro when they were having a big bike race and 2) when they said there would be spots available, they didn’t specify they would not be camp sites, but in the overflow parking lot, tent to tent with strangers, and 3) that when they had you pay for this parking spot, they also did not specify that the bathrooms would be locked from 11 pm to 7 am.  So no bathrooms, no privacy, very little nature.  There were raucous, interesting people having wild times in that parking lot tonight, when we, on our “honeymoon” camping trip first night together, just wanted to get naked and close.

Which we did anyway, because my attraction for him is shameless.  However, I should also mention that this was our first time camping in the same tent together, and he set up the two person tent, and we had 120 pounds of dog with us.  I looked at the tent and just laughed, not seeing how all four of us were going to fit in that tent together.  And he was right, we did, but his dogs were awful close during our delicious closeness.  Ever since this trip, I joke about how his dogs and I have quite an intimate relationship.

Anyways I digress.  Point is that night had an element of weirdness to it.  But in the morning, we let it all go in pursuit of trying to get a good time lapse video of the sunrise.  We walked and walked down this road in the park trying to find a good spot, which really in a way chafed us because normally we would have been able to drive down the road looking, but the gate into the park from where we were camping was locked until the park officially opened.  We ended up losing time to the walk, but finally we found a spot to set up the camera.  Then we went down a path behind the camera, silent with the sunrise, and surprised a herd of bighorn sheep, who took off along a ledge with amazing balance and beauty.

After our sunrise video was complete, we walked back to our camping spot and had some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, spread with his pocket knife in leiu of more proper equipment and slices of jalapeno cheese bread that I had bought at Buccees on the way up and was with us for way too long on this road trip. Then we took off to go exploring and geocaching in the park, which had officially opened.

We had to keep weaving around bikers, and there was some frustration about not knowing which trail we needed to get on as well.  After this experience, I recommend loading custom maps of the park trails overlayed on top of the loaded geocaches on the GPS unit, so one can know for sure which trail they need to be on.  We spent two hours driving around and made aborted attempts on trails before we finally got on the Sunflower Trail, which took us most of the way to the cache we had been focused on: GCHCGB, “Turkey Roost”.

After finding this cache, we were done with the park and this part of our journey.  We left a lot more to explore out there, but we were on our way to Colorado at this point. The rest of the story will have to come later.

Travelogues: Silver Gate, MT

(Note:  originally I meant to write about our road trip adventures in blog form back in last summer, right after we got home from them.  About six months later, J finally got around to creating this website for me, and now almost a year later, I am finally getting around to writing about them, so we don’t forget.  Because we already are.  I couldn’t remember the name of this town for a week when we were relating a story about it and I had to look it up!  So, without further ado and for the prospect of prosterity, here is the first chapter in last year’s adventures, which actually happened in the middle.  This year, if we can make a road trip happen, hopefully I can write as we go).

We originally came into Silver Gate, Montana, on the hunt for bear claws.  This was halfway through a road trip from Texas to Montana that had involved a lot of camping, in which we  were doing very little eating, and we especially had not had a lot of sweets.  We had spent the whole day driving from Billings, Montana, through Bear Tooth Pass, and now, in the early afternoon, were finding ourselves in this little town nearing the north eastern gate of Yellowstone and were a mite bit famished.

There was a geocache we were looking for in this town, and it was near a bakery, and had talked about bear claws on the cache page. We had been thinking about this for nearly on an hour before we came into town.  I think we had not eaten lunch and this is why we were so hungry; the last thing I remember us eating was breakfast at the hotel in Billings.  We had spent the morning geocaching and doing some mild hiking in Red Lodge, and then had driven through snowy, icy conditions up on Bear Tooth, then had spend the afternoon hiking and geocaching through some incredibly scenic off road areas in Wyoming, and here we were, travelers with wet boots and low blood sugar….and the bakery was closed!

Words cannot express our disappointment.  Of course, it was like three or four in the afternoon, so I don’t know why we thought a donut shop, essentially, would still be open, but we had to settle for some overpriced convenience store donuts, which were pretty crappy.  Then we drove to the northeast gate of Yellowstone, thinking we would be able to get a camping spot for the night.  Denied again!  All the camping spots were already full.  The lady at the gate recommended we turn back around and drive the mile or so back into town and find a place at a hotel or lodge there.

We rented a cabin for the night at Silver Gate Cabins, after some negotiation to find one within our price range.  Our cabin was called the Schoolhouse.  It was very cute, and the two of us still occasionally send the pic of the inside of it to each other and talk about how we miss it.  We were so cold and wet and miserable when we checked in, so the thought of staying in a comfy bed instead of camping one more misty night made us so happy.  We ended up changing out of our wet boots, then driving back out towards that Yellowstone gate, and spent a couple hours driving around looking at wildlife with the scope, taking pics, and answering questions for earthcaches.

When we came back that evening, we had looked over our provisions, which I think at the time included a half eaten loaf of jalapeno cheese bread and two lipton cup of soups, plus maybe some yogurt pretzels, and then looked over at the cafe across the street, its neon light still blinking on, and decided to forego another night of lipton soup and walk across the street instead.

I’ll never forget that night.  At least I hope I never do.  This Log Cabin Cafe (http://www.thelogcabincafe.com/about), the one across the street, looked simple but was actually really nice on the inside.  The room sort of curved around in a circle, so it had an intimate feel, and it had a very romantic ambiance.  We both ordered buffalo burgers, which was sort of ironic since we had spent the last two hours watching them cavort and being happy there was a place where they were protected like this.  We had a great conversation in which I learned a lot about how he came to be who he is, which I still think about sometimes.  And when we walked back across the street, there was that sharp crispness to the air that you only feel in mountain towns, and the stars littered the skies, and I looked at him and felt more in love than I ever had, so happy to be arm and arm with him on this moment, so full and warm and content and joyful.

And I think that is the feeling we miss when we reminisce about that night, even though that feeling never left us.  It is just that sometimes it has so much more clarity, when there is nothing else but us and the sky and our wild adventures, that the feeling is that much sharper.

There was a journal inside the School House where people left stories of their time there, and I did the same, writing one whole page worth of where we had come from, where we were going, and what we had seen and done along the way.  As I wrote it, I had the sense that we were at the beginning of an amazing journey together, kind of like a honeymoon.  It was not the beginning of our relationship, but at the same time our road trip that year was a celebration of freedom, of some of the “fences” that had kept us from each other being torn down, and the start of a new life where we could see each other more, be together more.  And now we are together all the time and hopefully for all time, and I think, I hope that at the end of our days we’ll still be reminiscing about that night, but we will also have many more behind us that are just that special.

Hopefully ones where we actually get bear claws.