When you’ve been on the road for a month and a half, you smell a lot of skunks. And if you have a 4-year-old, that means you talk about smelling skunks a lot.
In fact, skunks are kind of like celebrities for Braden and he’s vigilantly kept his eyes open for skunks in state parks.
Then, at McKinney Falls State Park in Texas, we found one. As Braden and I biked by, a little skunk was about 10-feet off the trail. He turned, lifted his tail and scampered away.
“I’m glad he didn’t spray us,” I told Braden.
“Yeah because if he did we’d have to wash off in tomato juice,” Braden said.
“How did you know that,” I asked him. “How did you get some smart?”
“I’ve been camping” he said.
With that, here we go from Texas
Austin — Highest Temp 99 degrees
Personally, I’ve made it an annual goal of mine to avoid Texas in July.
I fell short of that goal this year due to an important conference for work in Austin.
Austin is apparently a little farther west than I thought. We opened the door of the camper and Braden was excited to see cactus. Then when he got closer he thought they were “just for decoration” because they were too skinny to be real cacti.
We stayed at McKinney Falls State Park, which we’d read about on our favorite full-time RVing blog Take That Exit. It was a great park with some really unique rock and water features including two waterfalls straight out of a Hollywood tropical island set. They also had excellent bike trails connecting everything. While not super close to the conference (30 mins away on the north side of town at The Domain), it was easy to get downtown but still felt a remote. Water and electric sites for $20 made this one of the best deals we’ve run across. I also met some great folks at the conference. Most of them didn’t even seem weirded out by the fact that I was living in a van down by the river.
While in Austin, we ate Torchy’s Tacos, County Line BBQ, took a photo with the Willie Nelson statue, explored the Thinkery Children’s Museum, got charged by a chihuahua, saw the bats come out from under the bridge and toured the state capitol. Many of these activities (aside from the chihuahua) came from tips we got from our resident Austin friend Jake Daniels. Hi Jake! Jake is a talented photographer I worked with at the Times Free Press.
The state capitol was way bigger than any other states I’ve seen.
(That’s exactly what you wanted me to say, isn’t it Texas?) It was also full of statues and since we had already told Braden there was a Willie Nelson statue in Austin, he asked if every statue we saw — Sam Houston, Stephen Austin, and the like — was Willie.
At the capitol we also saw our first Pokemon player, who explained the game to us. It was kind of like seeing the first zombie in a horror movie. You’re both drawn in and repulsed at the same time. And (just like the horror movie), after you notice the first one, you suddenly realize they are all around you. Braden and Jess really enjoyed the Thinkery and believe it to be the best children’s museum so far.
Unfortunately, in Austin we also ran into our first RV mechanical problem. After everything was packed, cranked and ready to move out I tried to reel in the awning and … nothing. The motor had shorted out and there isn’t really a good way to roll it up manually. There is a way, but it involved a clothesline, ratchet straps, lots of time on the roof, a busted step stool and a call to Good Sam Roadside Assistance. And sweating. Lots of sweating. We got it strapped to the roof, by tying it to the ladder on the back end and looping a strap all the way down the to frame underneath on the opposite side of front end of the awning. It held, but the straps flapped loudly at times. Plus we didn’t look as cool.
Waco — Highest Temp: 99 degrees
We got really lucky here. The awning delayed us enough to where we didn’t get to Waco until about 5:30. Our whole reason for stopping in Waco was to see the Waco Mammoths National Monument and the Doctor Pepper Museum. Both closed at 5, but the Mammoths had a special “movie in the park” where they were reopening at 7:30 p.m. Score! The site is the second newest national park in the system, created last year in one of those terrible things Obama did by going around the Do-Nothing Congress. Congress fought him on this, but I think the POTUS made the right call.
Politics aside, the mammoths were very neat to see. There were originally a couple dozen from this one site that were found and a couple of the skeletons are still left in place. One of the cool parts was that the work is not done yet and once everything gets set up as a National Monument, they’re going to start digging again to see what other secrets the dirt may be hiding.
For the night in Waco we stayed at Northcrest RV Park. It’s billed as a “working man’s RV park,” but it was quiet, laundry was cheap and the host “Park Mark” was very nice, if a little bit unbalanced. His office is a tree house he’s built during the 20 years he’s owned the park. There are mini Statues of Liberty everywhere. He was an “ask him the time and he’ll tell you about his time living in a tent city” kind of guy. Fun place and we’d definitely go back.
Dinosaur Valley State Park — Hottest temp: 97 degrees
Dinosaur Valley went from being a disappointing stop to one of the highlights of the trip — all because Jess wanted to walk a little farther.
The park is famous for it’s dinosaur footprints that you can see in the creek bed. We had seen one print a couple of feet deep in some stagnant, hot water pools. It looked exactly like the kind of pool where unlucky people find flesh-eating bacteria so we stayed away. We went to several other sites and couldn’t find anything. At that point I had settled for telling myself that one real dinosaur footprint is more than I’d seen before. Wasn’t that enough?
Then Jess wanted to go see the Ballroom Track Site. It’s called the Ballroom, because there are so many footprints it looks like the dinosaurs had been dancing. But the rangers had said the water was too high and it’s a lot farther down the trail than the other sites. But Jess persisted. When we got to the Ballroom, the prints were all there laid out in front of us, under about a foot of clear water. It was a pretty awesome experience to put my foot in a print made by a dinosaur right at this spot 65 million years ago. The mostly clearly defined footprints came from an acrocanthosaurus , apparently. That moment made the entire trip to Dinosaur Valley worthwhile. We saw a modern day reptile on the trail, which we believe was a copperhead.
Also, after visiting Sea Rim, McKinney Falls and Dinosaur Valley, I feel somewhat qualified to say that Texas has the trashiest state parks of anywhere we’ve ever been. There were cans, bottles, bags, papers, plastic caps, deflated floats, half-buried camping chairs, forks, juice boxes and other trash in a lot of places they shouldn’t have been at all three parks. I’m not sure if park staff at other places clean up better than at Texas parks or if more people litter in Texas parks, but the clutter really took away from the experience. The campground hosts spots were empty at most of the parks (they’re not hosting in July in Texas!) so that may have had a lot to do with it. We threw away dozens of pieces of trash at our stops, but barely made a dent. Get it together Texas — you’ve got some beautiful places that you’re junking up.
Lake Tawokoni — Highest Temp: 98 degrees
Our last stop in Texas was a Thousand Trails Campground in Point Texas on Lake Tawokoni. We joined Thousand Trails for $445 this year and get to stay almost unlimited time at their parks in the South. It was a nice park with a pool and a mini-golf course where Braden played his first game of putt-putt. It looked more like hockey, but hey.
We went to the area for me to visit a client in Quitman. As far as such visits go, these are always fun and this one didn’t disappoint — especially when it came to predators that bite people. One of the stories we worked on was about a big cat rescue. It was all going well until I made a lion mad. I was inside one fence for photos, but still had a fence between us. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that roar. On the positive side, I almost learned how to levitate back over the fence and got some good bladder control practice.
Then in my second predator encounter, at lunch at Seth’s (my favorite restaurant in the world), a snake (copperhead?) crawled into the truck where several of the telephone company folks were riding. He crawled up inside the grill of the truck and came back out a few minutes later. When he was, Seth and one of the cooks bashed him with a shovel and disposed of him. I took the slightly unmanly approach of standing back and taking photos.
As I mentioned, Seth’s in Quitman Texas is my favorite restaurant I have ever found and I was pleased to eat there for shrimp Alfredo dinner Tuesday, DGS (crawfish tails, mushrooms, squash, cream sauce) lunch Wednesday, burgers on Wednesday night and catfish for Thursday lunch. I only regret that I missed ribs on Thursday night. Seriously folks, it’s worth the drive for just the red beans and rice or the white chocolate bread pudding. We’ll be back in Texas in October and I know I’m headed back to Seth’s.
Until then, we’re headed to Arkansas.
— The Central Time Zone is huge. Eastern is pretty tiny
— Animals seen in Texas: Road runners, scissor-tail flycatchers, long horn cattle, armadillo, skunk, copperhead
— Apparently Jess learned way back in Myrtle Beach that the most frequent snake bites at state parks happen with Dad’s at night taking out trash, going to the bath house or walking dogs. The snakes like the warm pavement after dark apparently. I’m a Dad and I do all of those things, but she apparently failed to mentioned this until several states later.