Texas Wildflowers 2013

1-Bluebonnets2While folks in the northeast are still struggling with record snowfall, our Texas RV campers are already enjoying their first glimpses of spring as wildflowers begin to bloom.

Before you go…
In Texas, more than 5,000 species of wildflowers line the highways, and April is usually considered the prime month for the ever-popular bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes. But this year, the flowers seem to be popping up early. If you’re planning a Texas RV tour to see the wildflowers in Central Texas this year, you may want to visit the Texas Department of Transportation’s website or call the wildflower hotline at 800-452-9292 in advance of your trip to get the most current information on the best viewing spots.

1-PaintbrushPhoto tips…
As many of you know, my hubby, Bill Reaves, spent the better part of three decades photographing Texas for Texas Parks and Wildlife and for Texas Highways. One of his all-time favorite drives is the 13-mile long Willow City Loop near Fredericksburg. If you go, you can set up camp at one of Fredericksburg’s top-notch RV parks, and if you want to take photos, Bill shared four tips for photographing wildflowers:

  1. You’ll get your best photos on a cloudy day.
  2. Experiment with using your flash and decide which photos you like best.
  3. Don’t be afraid to move in close on your subject.
  4. Photograph early or late in the day to avoid harsh shadows.

1-BluebonnetsWatch your step…
And, here are a few more things you may want to think about before you pack up the travel trailer and take to the roadsides:

  • Watch for traffic. It’s easy to get distracted by the vibrant flowers and forget to watch for oncoming traffic when you’re crossing the road or opening your vehicle door.
  • Before you plop your child or grandchild into the flowers for photos, check the area for fire ants and rattlesnakes and copperheads. The snakes have been known to rest in the shade of the flowers.
  • Be aware that Willow City Loop roadsides are privately owned. Do not trespass to get the shot. Make sure you’re on public right-of-ways or consider visiting cultivated fields such as those found at the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center http://www.wildflower.org/ or Wildseed Farms http://www.wildseedfarms.com/.
  • Don’t trample the flowers. While it’s not illegal to pick them, it’s important step lightly and not to damage flowers. They need to go to seed and create a whole new crop for next year.

Be sure to share your wildflower photos on our Facebook page! We’d love to see your smiling faces!

~ G. Elaine Acker

Spring Birding in Texas

An RV Road Trip can be the Ideal Way to Experience Spring Birding in Texas!

2025001/1600AUTO3/28/09In my mind, there are three types of birders.

Type 1: Hey, look at that… pretty bird. Hmmm. Wish I had binoculars.

Type 2: Hey, look at that Roseate Spoonbill (calls bird by name). Here, look through my super-sharp high-powered binoculars. This one’s a juvenile. You can tell because it’s still got a pale pinkish-white feathered head.(Pays attention to details.)

Type 3: Hey, drop what you’re doing THIS INSTANT and head to (insert name of someplace obscure). There’s been a (fill in the blank with a rare bird) sighting there and we have to check it off our life list NOW!

DSCN1820On most of my RV trips, I’m a Type 1, with occasional aspirations of achieving Type 2. My friends and fellow RV enthusiasts Sharon and Jeff Richardson are firmly in the Type 2 camp with occasional Type 3 tendencies.

Because spring birding is such a big deal in Texas,  I asked Sharon for a few tips.

Birding 1“We experienced the migration at the Upper Texas Coast last spring, and realized that we had witnessed the premier springtime birding event by catching glimpses of the Warblers and hundreds of other types of song birds arriving from across the Gulf,” she said. “We birded along the coast and saw the tons of shorebirds and were totally enamored with Roseate Spoonbills, Whooping Cranes and all the Herons and Egrets.”

6.720001/350AUTO11/10/09This year, Sharon and Jeff explored the Valley. “WOW,” said Sharon. “We spent 3-1/2 days there, and visited about a dozen sites – not counting pulling off the road when the expert birders who were with us spotted White -tailed Kites and Peregrine Falcons. There are numerous wetlands and nature preserves in the Valley and we didn’t even scratch the surface.”

If you’re hooking up the travel trailer and planning a do-it-yourself birding excursion, you can browse online and learn more about the spring migrations and the species you can find in your own neck of the woods. Check out your local Audubon Society page for starters. The Audubon societies often offer classes and free, guided bird walks on weekends.

Are you a Type 3? Then check out Ebird.org. Sharon says it’s the go-to website when you want to find a particular species, get info on all the birds being seen at specific locations, and post and keep track of your own personal checklists.

I also hear that Sharon’s friend Laurie Foss leads exotic birding trips for JB Journeys, so if you’re inclined to wander internationally, be sure to give Laurie a call.

Last but not least, if you want to connect with other Texas birders, visit the Texbirds Facebook page or become part of their Facebook group for camaraderie, fun photos and lots of information about birds in every corner of the state.

You know, spring break is coming up… Maybe it’s time for us Type 1 people to head out in the RV to check out the “pretty birds” and learn a trick or two from those Type 2 and 3 birders among us! Thanks Sharon!

~G. Elaine Acker

Plan your Valentine’s Day RV Trip Now!

Photo Credit: Texas Parks and Wildlife

Photo Credit: Texas Parks and Wildlife

Newsflash: Valentine’s Day is exactly 10 days away. It’s on a Thursday this year, which makes this the perfect time to plan a long weekend for two in your travel trailer.

Texas is a romantic place, with plenty of hideaways for picnics, stargazing, sunsets, and long hikes. I could go on and on, but here are three ideas to jumpstart your imagination as you plan the perfect Valentine’s Day RV road trip.

1. Spend the weekend in Fredericksburg. There are several terrific RV parks to choose from, and Enchanted Rock is nearby.  You can hike to the top and have a picnic for two with sweeping vistas of the Texas Hill Country. To make life easier, just stop by the Clear River Pecan Company on Main Street and ask them to make sandwiches and pack a few sweets for your for that picnic.

2. If the beach is more your style, spend some time on South Padre Island. You can make memories watching dolphins in the wild on a Dolphin Watch tour, or meeting a sea turtle in person at Sea Turtles, Inc. You can also stroll hand in hand along the Laguna Madre Nature Trail, a boardwalk that crosses four acres of marshland that’s home to many species of coastal birds. For camping, check out the South Padre KOA!

3. One more option is paddling trip through East Texas, exploring the sloughs along Spring Creek near Martin Dies Jr. State Park on the edge of the Big Thicket. Texas Parks and Wildlife has three, well-marked paddling trails that lead you through the old growth, river bottom hardwood forest. They also offer guided tours. You can camp right there at the park, and canoes and shuttle services are available.

What do you have planned for Valentine’s Day? If you’ve got other ideas about some of Texas’s most romantic spots for Valentine’s weekend, let us know! We’d love to add them to our list!

Groundhog Day!

PhilSince 1887, the legendary Punxsutawney Phil pops outside to have a peek at the weather on February 2nd.

After a long winter sleep, he’s taking a look around for his shadow. If he sees it, it’s a sign that six more weeks of bad weather are on the way, and returns to his hole. If there’s no shadow, he says, “Ah! Spring is here!” and stays above ground.

I’ve been reading all about groundhogs (cute little critters!), but especially Phil and the events planned on Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. It looks like a fun, quirky slice of Americana, and if I lived closer, I’d hook up the Airstream and head that way. There are several RV parks nearby, and if you’re within driving distance, you can find one on GoErie.com!

Cargo RackSo if Phil were the RV-loving type, what would that shadow say about the next few weeks? If he sees his shadow, we should probably spend the next few weeks making plans for all the fun things we’ll do when spring does arrive. Maybe you can get out that maintenance checklist and get your rig ready to roll. Or, maybe you can stock up on a few new gadgets and accessories. I know there are lots of goodies like this cargo rack to hold all the extra toys online in the Camper Clinic II online store.

And if he doesn’t see his shadow, it’s time to roll! I say break out the maps and plan a sweetheart’s road trip for Valentine’s Day, or look ahead to spring break. It’s just a few weeks away!

Have a great Groundhog Day weekend!

~ G. Elaine Acker

 

 

 

Bundle Up and Go Play Outside!

This latest blast of cold air means it’s officially winter in my book, even if the calendar says winter won’t be here until December 21.

It may be tempting to stay indoors but I’ve discovered there are plenty of outdoor activities that make it worth bundling up and leaving the cozy RV.

How about a navigation class? REI always has great classes that teach you about your newest outdoor interest. It’s easy practice navigating with short routes outside, and you can learn all about using a map and compass, and a GPS, and how to mark and follow waypoints.

And with those new navigation skills, you may want to try Geocaching.  People have hidden secret caches across the landscape – in remote areas, in city parks, and even underwater – and it’s fun for the whole family to go find them. These days, you can even use your smart phone. I’m thinking it would be fun to plan geocaching stops along the route for every RV road trip! Here’s a video that walks you through your first geocache adventure.

Finally, if you like hiking and you’re heading to a place with snow on the ground, consider snowshoeing. You can rent snowshoes and discover the winter landscape in a whole new way. Many of the National Parks offer snowshoeing trails, so browse their website to find a park near you.  They’ve also got a calendar of winter activities if you need more inspiration.

Now, the weekend is here! I suggest you bundle up and go play outside!

~ G. Elaine Acker

Texas Fall Foliage

I really wanted to take you with me on an Airstream tour to see all the fabulous fall foliage, but with a state as big as Texas, we’d never see it all!

Luckily, some of our favorite Texas websites have done the driving for us. Here are a few links to help you find scenic drives and prime camping spots close to you.

Fall Foliage Tyler Texas

The City of Tyler is home base for several gorgeous East Texas driving tours. Photo credit: Tyler Texas Online.

From Texas Parks and Wildlife
Whether you’re pulling your camper to the East Texas Pineywoods or setting up in the higher elevations in west Texas’s Davis Mountains State Park, Texas Parks and Wildlife has several great suggestions for places to watch the seasons change.

Click here for Texas Parks and Wildlife’s picks.

And don’t forget that you can still go to Camper Clinic II’s Facebook page, “Like” the page, and Camper Clinic II will add another dollar to its donation to help Texas State Parks. While you’re there, click “share” and help spread the word!

From Texas Highways
In this month’s issue, East Texas photographer Joe Lowery reminds us to slow down and enjoy the view. “I’m often asked how I found a certain scenic location, and how difficult it was to reach the spot,” he writes. “While I have a few adventurous tales to share, for the most part photography is about slowing down long enough to see what we normally rush past.”

Click here to read Joe’s article.

And the magazine offered great ideas from the past couple of years as well.

Click here for picks from 2011.

Click here for picks from 2010.

Finally, Texas Monthly tips its Stetson to McKittrick Canyon and the City of Winnsboro, two often overlooked viewing spots.

Caprock Canyon

Thanks to Dee Dee Honea for sharing this funny picture. What a hoot! And now, Dee Dee’s entered to win too.

If you’re out camping this month, don’t forget to send us YOUR photos of the gorgeous fall colors, the critters along the hiking path, or just photos of happy times with you and your family at your favorite park. When you do, you’ll be entered to win a free one-year Texas Parks pass!

~ G. Elaine Acker

 

 

 

 

Bat Watching in Texas

Q: What flies at speeds of 60 mph, eats 200 million pounds of insects in a single night, and attracts thousands of tourists to Texas every year?

A: Mexican free-tailed bats!

Mexican Free-tailed Bats in FlightTexas is home to 32 of the United States’ 45 bat species, but by far the most numerous are Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasilensis). Approximately 100 million bats of this species alone live in Central Texas from April through October, patrolling the night skies, dining on pesky insects (including moths that attack farmers’ crops and mosquitoes), and congregating to form some of the world’s largest bat colonies.

If you enjoy sitting outside your RV in the evenings, you’ve probably seen them swooping down and feeding above the treetops and around streelights, or even taking a sip of water from the RV park’s pool.

Austin’s Congress Avenue Bridge, one of the most popular eco-tourism sites in the state, is home to the world’s largest urban bat colony. More than 100,000 people from around the world visit every year.

Other awesome spectacles can be found across Texas, including the world’s largest bat colony at Bracken Cave near San Antonio. Natural Bridge Caverns, mentioned in last week’s cave post, hosts guided tours to the cave where 20 million bats surge from beneath the earth in a cloud so thick it can be detected on Doppler radar.

Bat FlightTexas Parks and Wildlife also offers lots of great RV camping spots complete with exciting bat-watching experiences at abandoned railroad tunnels and caves, and still others are located on private property. Clearly, bats are not just for Halloween anymore. They are good for the environment, good for the economy, and most important, they’re good old-fashioned family fun.

August is prime time for bat watching in Texas, because the young pups start flying with the moms, creating an even bigger spectacle as the bats emerge at dusk. Public viewing sites at Texas’ caves, tunnels, and bridges offer a personal, unforgettable experience with some of nature’s most misunderstood creatures.

Congress Avenue Bridge, Austin

Congress Avenue BridgeLocated about a mile south of state capitol, this is the world’s largest urban colony with 1.5 million bats. Find a spot at the Austin American-Statesman’s observation area at southeast corner of bridge, or join a sight-seeing cruise Lady Bird Lake. My absolute favorite way to watch is to rent one of the little electric boats from Capital Cruises, pack a nice dinner and a bottle of wine, and cruise the lake until sunset. The bats generally fly around dusk, but remember, these are wild animals that don’t adhere to human schedules.

Eckert James River Bat Cave, Mason

Managed by The Nature Conservancy of Texas, the cave is home to approximately four million bats. Tours run Thursday-Sunday, from 6 p.m.- 9 p.m. Some sunrise tours of the bats returning from their nocturnal hunts are also offered.

Frio Cave, Concan

This is the state’s second largest colony, with 10 to 12 million bats. Guided tours cost $12 per person. For a full schedule, visit: http://www.friobatflight.com/

Texas Parks and Wildlife

Texas Parks and Wildlife hosts several bat-watching sites. Contact the parks or visit department website for details. Hours, fees, and restrictions vary.

Clarity Tunnel, Caprock Canyons State Park, Quitaque

Devil’s Sinkhole, Devil’s Sinkhole State Natural Area, Rocksprings

Old Tunnel State Park, Sisterdale

Stuart Bat Cave, Kickapoo Cavern State Park, Brackettville

Add a stop at a bat cave to your next road trip and enjoy one of nature’s most amazing shows!

~ G. Elaine Acker