Friday, May 30, 2014

We said goodbye to the Armadillo… Hello New Mexico!

Willow City Loop Texas 048

Monahans Sandhills 002After nearly three months we have finally escaped the state of Texas!  We said goodbye to the armadillo, Texas BBQ, Tex-Mex, HEB’s and all of its wildflowers. It was great to take our time enjoying our former home state. However it was time to leave Monahans Sandhills State Park to make a longer than normal drive of over 150 miles. We crossed into the Chihuahuan Desert and into New Mexico. We also left Central Time behind and entered into Mountain Time.

After passing through the small towns of Kermit, Texas and Jal, New Mexico we drove through the heart of Carlsbad, New Mexico. Many come here to visit the Carlsbad Caverns National Park but we visited there before so we were moving on about 20 miles north of town to an Escapees Park In Lakewood, New Mexico. We plan to stay there a week and explore the towns of Carlsbad to our south and Artesia to our north. We may even make a foray into the mountains near Cloudcroft.

imageAs we passed Brantley Lake State Park we turned off of state highway 285 and drove about 1.5 miles to “The Ranch” an Escapees Park. As we checked in they rang the bell to let others know that “newbies” had arrived at The Ranch. We backed into site number 9 that is a rather large site on a gravel pad with a storage building on the pad. We decided not to put out our outdoor carpet since the office cautioned about rattlesnake and scorpion sightings in the park. That made Sharon a little jumpy.

image   image

We figure that since we are out in the middle of nowhere that we may be spending more time in the park than out of it as we normally do. We are biding our time before heading to Albuquerque where I have a doctor’s appointment on June 9th so we have some time to kill…

imageWe were told that they have a daily happy hour here at The Ranch at four in the afternoon so since it was nearly four we made happy hour our first day. We met a lot a very friendly escapees and although the happy hour was a short one (everyone had  a previously planned eating out event) we enjoyed the friendliness of the park’s patrons. 

Already we have noticed hummingbirds, scaled quails and a ladder back woodpecker near our site along with expansive desert views.  Though it will be a little hot here and not a lot to do at least the coyotes will serenade us to sleep at night… I think we will mostly just relax this week here in Lakewood, New Mexico.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Monahans Sandhills State Park, Our last stop in Texas…

Monahans Sandhills 023

Odessa and Monahans Tx 011Our stay at Monahans Sandhills State Park in Monahans, Texas has been very enjoyable… The park consists of over 3,800 acres of beautiful wind-sculpted nearly white sand dunes. Dunes as high as 70 feet high reside right outside the front door of our RV and the sand is even slowly taking over the picnic tables, grills and shade shelter. We only drove about 50 miles from our last stop in Midland and we couldn’t have picked a better time to move on as Midland has had severe thunderstorms with hail and even had a couple of twisters touch down. Fifty miles west in Monahans we have only had a few drops of rain…. timing is everything!

Monahans Sandhills 048 Monahans Sandhills 051

What an enormous challenge these dune must have been for the early Texas pioneers as their wagon trains inched across the state. This sand would have been a major hurdle for these slow moving vehicles of the past… The Native Americans ,though, loved the dunes as they Monahans Sandhills 027had access to a great water simply by digging a deep hole in the sand between dunes. This water underneath the sands supplies all the nourishment necessary to one of the largest oak forests in the USA. You wouldn’t know it though as the oaks are the Harvard Oaks that rarely get larger than three feet in height’'.

There is a windmill in view outside our door that on occasion will start whirling in the wind but sounds as if it could use a bit of oiling. Along with the bright blue sky, it has been picturesque with the dunes as it's backdrop but it has also been a prop for some beautiful sunset views.  We have found it serves as a locator for the the RV Park as well especially when we have been wandering around the dunes. Hiking the dunes is a blast and provides for a great workout.  There are so many dunes to trek that anytime we were unsure where we were we simply climbed a tall dune and looked for that windmill as our beacon!    

Odessa and Monahans Tx 023  Monahans Sandhills 005

There are some nice hiking and biking opportunities in the park but during our stay here over the Memorial Day weekend, the most prevalent activity we observed Monahans Sandhills 009was sand sledding and sand surfing. We saw numerous children sled down, run back up and slide down again.  When they tired of that, they'd lay down and roll down the hill. This would go on for hours.  After the holiday Sharon and I took a walk in the dunes and found three sand sleds (actually they are called sand discs) left behind by the holiday revelers! Since we hadn’t tried this activity yet we gave it a whirl. All I have to say is that for the little bit of fun you get going down the dunes it is hardly worth the effort it takes to climb back to the top of the dunes… I must be getting old!

We really enjoyed our stay here and if we ever make it back this way we will certainly stop in again. We so enjoyed the serenity offered here and at only $14 per night (if you have the Texas Parks Pass which we do) you just can’t beat it…

image   Monahans Sandhills 055   Monahans Sandhills 054

Well, we are finally moving on out of Texas today and will drive about three hours to our next park just north of Carlsbad, New Mexico.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Midland-Odessa Texas–A short visit…

Midland TX 013

Cottontail RabbitWe only stayed in the Midland-Odessa area of Texas for a few days and we didn’t get out too much since there was an area of disturbed weather near us. Mostly the thunderstorms dodged us and only on the last night did we get any real rain and lightning.Thankfully although there was hail all around us none fell on us… Whew! I read where in the first hour of the storm that hit Midland they received more rain than they had gotten since the beginning of 2014 and it was just under a inch!

This part of the part of the state is known mostly for its oil and the most visible sight is that of thousands of oil pump jacks.  We found there is not much to see or do in Midland and Odessa.  However we did find a couple of interesting places. One was a nature trail nearly adjacent to our RV park and the other was a replica of Stonehenge at the University of Texas at Permian Basin.

Midland TX 011Basket Flowers

Less than a quarter mile walk away from the RV Park we found a really neat site called the I-20 Wildlife Preserve. As the name implies this preserve is adjacent to Interstate 20 but visitors can scarcely hear the passing trucks as the vegetation in the preserve is dense and the wonderful trail system surrounds a small marshy lake. Trails are complete with boardwalks, bird blinds and short piers out onto the marshland.  This truly was a real gem here in Midland Texas. We spotted lots of western birds including a pair of fledgling roadrunners and a couple of baby song sparrows being fed by their mother. Rabbits were plentiful and cute…

 Odessa and Monahans Tx 003image

The other really cool find was the replica of Stonehenge located at the University of Texas – Permian Basin. Not the exact dimensions of the one in England as it is shorter in height with the tallest stone being only 19 feet as compared to the 22 foot height on the original in England. However, the 20 stone blocks are of the exact horizontal dimensions and they are similar in size, shape, and appearance to the ancient Stonehenge in southwestern England.  It was unveiled in the summer of 2004. The stones of the replica are positioned exactly as they are in England. One glaring difference is that the original is said to have taken 2000 years to complete while Odessa’s replica was completed in merely six weeks. Pretty cool place to visit and it is free… an early retired person favorite entry fee!

Midland TX 032 Odessa and Monahans Tx 006

Stonehenge isn’t the only British icon that was reproduced in Odessa as there is also a replica of the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. We missed these two attractions but while driving around we did visit the Minor League AA baseball facility and even stopped by to snap a photo of the world’s tallest jack rabbit. Don’t get me going…. This city did adopt the jackrabbit as its icon and the artistic statues can be seen all over town. So the next time you are driving down the road past towns like Midland or Odessa pull over for a visit and stay awhile. Check them out you just might be glad that you paused to see the sights!

We are now at Monahans Sandhills State Park where we will stay and explore for the next few days…

Saturday, May 24, 2014

A Cool Spot to Visit - Eola School Brewery, Eola, Texas…

Midland TX 005

Midland TX 002Our last day in San Angelo, Texas the weather had changed a bit as there was a 40% chance of rain and they could really use any rain  they can muster here. Since we had done most of what we wanted to do in the area we decided to make a road trip over to Eola, Texas. Why Eola? When we were driving to San Angelo we passed a sign on the highway advertising the Eola School Brewery. I commented to Sharon that I couldn’t imagine a brewery out in the middle of nowhere like this.

When we settled in at our site in Midland we read about it and decided we should backtrack over there in the CRV for a road trip to check it out. Driving east from Midland we drove past vast fields of wheat ready for harvest. When we pulled up to the old school house, it instantly reminded us of the many McMenamins Pubs in Oregon. McMenamins is a chain of 65 brewpubs/breweries housed in old run down historic buildings brought back to life by these brothers.

Midland TX 029Midland TX 031As we got out of the car a fellow was working on the front door and it turned out to be the owner/brew master of Eola School Brewery, James “Mark” Cannon. He asked if we were here to sample some of the beers or to eat (he has a restaurant here as well as the brewery). Since we were here to sample his beers he escorted into the old school building and down a hall to the tasting room.

Now before I go any further let me describe this place… It is a old run down school building that Mark bought and decided to turn into a restaurant/brewery. Mark is the only guy working here with no other employees and as he told us in his southern Arkansas drawl he works 16 hours a day with most of his time spent renovating this somewhat dilapidated building. After chatting with him a bit he told us he lived in Portland Oregon for ten years and it was the McMenamins Pubs that inspired him to convert this old school house into a brewery. Wow that confirmed our initial feelings about this place…

Midland TX 028Midland TX 020

In looking around the room it felt like we were back in school as the menu was written in chalk on the old blackboard and the old wooden school chairs were scattered about little tables. We almost expected to hear the school bell ring to tell us to move on to our next class… As we looked up we noticed he had painted a large state flag of Texas on the corrugated tin ceiling. Moving outside we noticed how much work has been accomplished and yet still needs to be done. Mark even described to us how he learned to cut glass and has replaced all the glass in the arched windows in the picture below…

Midland TX 026Midland TX 030

We sampled his three beers on tap – the Farm Ale, his IPA and a nice a silky smooth Stout beer all of which were very fine brews. Now one oddity here is that beer is served in a Styrofoam cup…. yes I said a Styrofoam cup! So if you want a cold beer in a glass you better bring your own!

imageMidland TX 027

We spent a couple hours talking with Mark and touring the building seeing the work he has done as well as hearing his future plans for his place.It is definitely a major work in progress so if you are inclined not to want to visit a place still undergoing major renovations then this won’t be the place for you. However, if you want a unique experience and a chance to see a one man operation brewing up some tasty beverages then by all means make the trip on over to Eola School Brewery. You will be greeted by brew master himself, the owner James “Mark” Cannon and what a friendly, interesting fellow he is…

The next morning we headed a little further west and north to land in Midland, Texas at the Midland RV Park where we will stay for a few days before moving on down the road of retirement…

Thursday, May 22, 2014

A Visit to San Angelo, Texas…

Heyduke© 2014

We really enjoyed the serenity and solitude that South Llano River State Park  in Junction, Texas offered but we were also looking forward to having some WIFI, cell service and some over the air TV channels. I guess we really didn't realize how much we used this stuff until it was all inaccessible…

Heyduke© 2014San Angelo Texas 021

Anyway, we made the 115 mile drive a little further north and a little further west to land at San Angelo State Park. Interesting to note that San Angelo State Park was once a Corps of Engineers Park but was turned over to the State. Shortly thereafter O.C. Fisher Lake,  the major feature of this park, dried up and by 2011 nary a drop was left in the lake. The lake has been dry so long due to the extended drought in this area  as also evidenced by the thousands of mesquite trees dead from inability to find any water below the ground. As a result San Angelo State Park is a somewhat barren and waterless park. It may give us insight as to what will eventually happen in much of the southwest unless better water conservation measures are taken.

San Angelo Texas 024  San Angelo Texas 022

Nonetheless we have still enjoyed the mountain biking trails in the park as well as the hiking along the Concho River in downtown San Angelo. San Angelo has spent a lot of money at their Visitor’s Center and have spruced up all along the Concho River making this area very inviting to the casual traveler as well as the local walkers and joggers. There is a lot of art along the river and some interesting pieces under the bridges such as a  mosaic Volkswagen. Also scattered all over town are artistic symbolic pieces similar to what is found in many other towns all over the USA, in this case they are rams.

San Angelo Texas 033  San Angelo Texas 037

We enjoyed some great Tex Mex cuisine at one of the oldest restaurants in town called Henry’s Diner. We also had some nice draught beers at the Zone One Bar. There is even a small Craft Beer Bar in downtown called Sam’s Draft House which has the best assortment of craft beers in town. Near the center of town is the Old Fort Concho, a National Landmark open to the public as well.

San Angelo Texas 054    San Angelo Texas 031

The old downtown on Conch Street has the historical remnants of what was once a vibrant San Angelo as can still be seen as life has been infused in several murals onto the old buildings which now house shops of all kinds.Sharon particularly enjoyed browsing the General Store with its unique Texas trinkets and candies.  As we strolled we also admired the old monarch in the sky, the old Hilton Tower, which has a Spanish look inside its newly restored lobby.  It is now home to the Cactus Hotel, a fitting name for this area. While we likely won’t revisit this area anytime too soon we have enjoyed our short stay here and we always believe every town has its own story to tell… as does San Angelo!

San Angelo Texas 050  Heyduke© 2014

What I enjoyed best of all were the sunsets we enjoyed from our vast site in this arid patch of land… After some route planning we decided next we will move the short distance west to check out the town of Midland, Texas.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

This Place is for the Birds, Literally…

Scrub JayBike Riding at South Llano River SP

So with no internet, no television and very poor cell phone service the last few days at South Llano River State Park in Junction, Texas we decided to take in all that the park had to offer. There are a lot of bike and hike trails and one well planned interpretive trail with markers describing the plants growing adjacent to the trail. A few plaques were missing and we fear the Texas drought no doubt took its toll on a few of the plants.

Bike Riding at South Llano River SPBike Riding at South Llano River SP

One morning we decided to do a little mountain biking so we set off on a 2-3 hour loop that took us along the park’s boundary and into a neat area with a nice limestone bluff. The trail was tough as it was mostly composed of very loose pieces of limestone making the riding a bit Painted Bunting treacherous.  Add in a couple of really steep inclines and needless to say when we were finished we had gotten much more of a workout than we had originally planned. 

On the hottest day we joined many of our fellow visitors over to the South Llano river to wade in the cool, clear waters.  It was fun to watch a group of boy scouts pass by in canoes and families on their yellow rental tubes ($5.00 for the day at the park office) floating by.  We laughed with one couple as their schnauzer seemed to love swimming and couldn't stay out of the water for long.

As with our stay near Canyon Lake the deer were plentiful and paraded through the campground each and every morning. I saw lots of rabbits and squirrels as well. We even had a family of ground squirrels near our campsite so as I sipped my coffee in the morning I watched the three “children” wrestle and play near their well built home in the ground.

Ground SquirrelsSummer Tanager

But I would be remiss if I did not mention that we found this to be the best birding park we have been to in Texas with the exception of the one in Mission, Texas. When we first arrived here we took a spot that was being “guarded” by a Vermillion Flycatcher. I later discovered that their was a nesting pair here when I saw a fledgling fall out of its nest. Then I noticed both mother and father actively feeding it while it remained flightless on the ground. Not sure if the fledgling made it through the night but I sure hope so…

Vermillion Flycatcher femaleVermillion Flycatcher male

They are three or four superbly set up bird blinds allowing visitors a “bird’s eye” view of a wide Painted Bunting range of bird species. It is a wonderful place to see some of the most colorful birds in North America . What did we see? We saw tons of the most beautiful bird (in my opinion) in the USA, the Painted Buntings.  They are plentiful and easy to photograph either in the bird blinds, in the campground or along the trails. We also saw the Vermillion Flycatcher, the Indigo Bunting, Summer Tanager’s, Yellow Breasted Chats and beautiful Scrub Jays. I was happy to see the rare Black Capped Flycatchers here in their native habitat, though I found they are nearly impossible to photograph.

Each afternoon  those last few days we spent about 30-45 minutes at a nearby McDonalds using their free WIFI. Well nearly free as we decided it was a good idea to enjoy a chocolate sundae while catching up on all the world’s goings on and to plan for our next destination (where we are right now)… San Angelo State Park!