Nature Tourism in Texas: Best places to watch and photograph wildlife

This month, we’re highlighting Texas Parks and Wildlife. And for every new “like” on Facebook, we’re donating $1 to help save Texas’ State Parks.  Please “like” our page on Facebook and share links to our campaign with your friends and fans!


Photo by Mike Sloat

Wildlife means big bucks. Not just the whitetail variety, but real revenue for Texas cities that promote nature tourism. From butterflies in Mission to prairie dogs in Muleshoe, the wildlife programs promoted by Texas Parks and Wildlife offer opportunities for RV travelers to connect with nature in a personal way, and help promote conservation and sustainable development statewide.

If you want to discover the amazing diversity of wildlife in Texas, you can start by checking out the Texas Parks and Wildlife’s website. On the left side of the webpage you’ll find links to Birding and Nature Festivals, Great Texas Wildlife Trails, and Texas Paddling Trails – plenty of ideas to help you plan your next camping trip!

Here’s more info about three nature tourism events planned for October.

National Wildlife Refuge Week – October 9-15
Since Theodore Roosevelt established the first national wildlife refuge in 1903, the Refuge System has become the world’s premier habitat conservation system, encompassing 553 refuges and 38 wetland management districts. Special programs are planned for several of Texas’s 17 refuges over the next few weeks.

Texas Butterfly Festival – Mission, Texas
The Lower Rio Grande Valley of South Texas is the most biologically diverse region in the United States with 300 species of butterflies and 512 species of birds. The Butterfly Festival is scheduled for October 25-28.

Wild in Willacy – Raymondville & Port Mansfield, Texas
The 13th annual Wild in Willacy celebration is planned from October 30 through November 3rd and includes music, ranch tours, and cook offs. Tours offer nature lovers the opportunity to “get up close and personal” with many species of wildlife in what organizers describe as one of the wildest places in Texas.

And if you go, don’t forget your camera! Texas photographer Mike Sloat offered a few tips on getting great wildlife shots.

“Photographing animals is a little different,” said Mike. “You need to know what animals you might run into, and how you might expect them to behave. There’s a ton of information on the Internet to help you plan ahead. Remember that you never want to corner an animal. Stay back, and use a telephoto lens when you can.”

Whooping Crane

Mike understands whooping crane behavior, and was ready when this one landed. Why? There were three other whooping cranes just to the right of this image and he’d already noted that this particular crane was aggressively territorial and knew he’d come back in for a landing. (Photo copyright Mike Sloat)

Mike is a frequent nature tourist, and shared a couple of his photos along with information about how he got the shot. “I use different lenses, depending on the animal I’m photographing,” he said. “For example, with whooping cranes along the coast, I’m using a 200-400mm lens, or even a 600mm lens. I also shoot wildlife in Aperture mode.  If your camera offers this setting, it will allow the camera to set the shutter speed and let you concentrate on your subject.”

Mike suggests “panning” or moving your lens with the animal before clicking the shutter.  If your camera allows you to shoot multiple frames per second, you can often capture all of the action in several images – one of which may be that special shot you’re hoping for.


When he got this shot, Mike had his Nikon camera set on “Continuous High” setting, shooting multiple frames per second. There were 35 images before this shot and 6 after. This one was the “money” shot. (Photo copyright Mike Sloat)

Experienced nature tourism guides will help you stay safe while you’re exploring nature as well. Mike’s encounter with a 14-foot gator was a great reminder to always be alert. “The gator was near a photo blind, and when we entered, the gator charged, unannounced,” he said. “Always have a way out.”  Mike described the situation as “unhealthy.” Judging from the photo, I’d guess that’s an understatement, but like any great photographer, Mike took advantage of the opportunity and got the shot.

Be sure to send us YOUR wildlife and camping photos this month! When you do, you’ll be entered to win a free one-year Texas State Parks pass!

~G. Elaine Acker

Meet Texas Parks and Wildlife’s Chief Photographer, Earl Nottingham

Earl NottinghamThis week, I talked to Earl Nottingham, chief photographer at Texas Parks and Wildlife. He shared a few thoughts on his favorite places to shoot photographs. He also offered a quick photo tip for our readers.

“If I have one favorite place to shoot in Texas, it’s the Big Bend region,” says Earl. “Specifically, Big Bend Ranch State Park. This is photographer’s country and there is everything to shoot here from grand landscapes to wildlife to flowers. I find it is a very addictive country in that it keeps drawing you back.”

I have to agree with Earl on Big Bend. I find myself hitching up the travel trailer and heading back there time after time. I’ve written articles for Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine about four-wheel drive trips with my sisters, hiking the South Rim, and rafting on the Rio Grande, and I never get tired of it. You could literally spend a lifetime there and never see it all.

Earl also reminded me that we’re approaching prime time for the fall bird migration. “If you’re a bird photographer, the Texas coast is the place to be during migration,” he said. “From the smallest hummingbird to the graceful whooping crane, the variety of birds along the Texas coast draws birders from around the world.”

Whooping CranesTo learn more about all the birding hot spots and activities at the parks, check out Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine’s article written by the agency’s Nature Tourism Manager Shelly Plante. The article includes guided bird walks, talks, bird banding and much more.

Whether you’re a serious birder adding species to your life list, or simply enjoy exploring the colorful diversity of birds in Texas (a whopping 638 species!) There are plenty of great places to take your camper and hang out along the coast.

Earl’s photo tip of the day

“The three most important things that make a good photograph are light, light and light,” says Earl. “To be more specific, regardless of your subject, the quality of light is what makes a beautiful photograph. Typically, shooting during early morning or later evening hours produces a more eloquent light. Also, days with unique atmospheric conditions such as fog or even rain adds interest to a photograph. Try to avoid harsh noonday light, which is typically the time most photos are shot.”

Don’t forget to email us YOUR photos from the parks, or photos you’ve taken of wildlife! You’ll be entered to win a one-year Texas parks pass!

What’s YOUR favorite Texas State Park?

This week, Camper Clinic II kicked off its campaign to raise money for Texas’ state parks, which are facing an unprecedented budget shortfall.  Camper Clinic II fans can help by doing two things: 1) Go to the Camper Clinic II Facebook page and clicking “Like.” For every like up to $1,500, Camper Clinic II will donate another dollar to the parks. 2) Share the campaign with friends. It’s important to raise money for the parks, but it’s also important to raise awareness about the challenges being faced by these Texas treasures!

From now through the end of October, we’ll use this blog to explore the parks, discover the wildlife, and remember our outdoor heritage. Be sure to join us on this journey!

~G. Elaine Acker


Tailgating with Camper Clinic II

Hook ‘em. Gig ‘em. Sic ‘em. Wreck ‘em. Whatever your favorite football saying, there’s a tailgate party waiting for you. All you need is a truck and your travel trailer, and you’re all set!

Longhorn cadillac

Tailgating at the Bob Bullock Museum in Austin. Photo by University of Texas Sports Information.

Before every Longhorn home game, Camper Clinic II staffers can be found tailgating with fans in the parking lot at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. They’ll set up a camper or two, put up the awning, fire up the smoker, and turn on the tvs. You should definitely grab a brew, wander over, and introduce yourself!


“Texas, barbecue, beer and football,” said Christopher Morse, a 2000 film graduate in a 2011 article by ESPN on tailgating. “Some things just go together.”

Aggie Tailgate Party

Photo credit: TAMU Times.

Last year, the Bleacher Report named both the Longhorn and Aggie tailgating parties among the 25 great places to tailgate before you die. I’m still mourning the fact that we can’t do both at the same time anymore… but I digress.

Sigh. Maybe I’ll seek comfort in tailgating food.

Pulled Pork

Photo Credit: The Food Network

I found endless inspiration on The Food Network. But in the true, State of Texas football spirit, I’ve got to go with barbecue. This pulled pork makes my mouth water. Sure, it takes a few hours to cook, but hey, you’re tailgating, right?

Whether you tailgate at home, or take your camper on road trips to away games, tailgating with other fans is the best recipe for fall football fun!


By G. Elaine Acker




Dove Hunting with the Girls

“My dad would never let his little girl go hunting with the boys,” said San Antonio’s Helena Hauk, president of 5th Gear Consulting, which specializes in SBA loans and commercial real estate. But this month, she finally got her chance. She teamed up with a friend at Alamo Title to organize and host the “Annie Get your Gun” ladies dove hunt for their friends and colleagues on a ranch just outside San Antonio.

Girls huntingIn south Texas much of the dove hunting happens on open pastures and agriculture fields, sometimes edged by stands of trees. The birds can be found flying near the water tanks or feeding in sunflower stands planted to dissuade them from dining on the crops. The scenery can be as gorgeous as a Van Gogh painting, but the realities of a hunting trip also include dog-day summer heat, ticks, chiggers and fire ants. Oh my.

The perfect remedy for those realities is a travel trailer, and Helena knew just whom to call: Dad, who’s otherwise known as Don Goodson, General Manager of Camper Clinic II in Buda. “I grew up in the RV industry and camping,” said Helena. “And I know RVs are the best way to set up a home base at an outdoor event like football games or hunting. We wanted restrooms, A/C, a place to sit out the ‘elements,’ and a place to keep the food safe from the dirt, flies, and… horses. We had some very nosy horses literally nudging us for food!”

Like many Texas gals, Helena grew up handling guns and shooting at ranges, so planning her first dove hunt with friends and colleagues wasn’t a stretch. And everything she needed to know about hunter safety, licenses, and the latest regulations was readily available on the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.

The boys have been enjoying hunts in the great outdoors for centuries. Now, it’s the girls’ turn!

~G. Elaine Acker

Visit the Rockport Hummerbird Festival September 13-16, 2012

Got Hummingbirds?

Photo of Rockport’s Hummerbird Festival by Diane Lloyd.

My cousin Shannon, who lives near Houston and writes the blog DirtnKids just reminded me that the hummingbird migration is just around the corner. “Remember how many of them were here this time last year?” she asked. “Hundreds, I tell you.  It was amazing. There was literally a queue of 30-40 hummers on a 10-seater.  If we have the same volume of them as we did last year, we’ll set up a ‘hand feed’ station for the kids.  I’ll record the video, of course, and share it.  ‘Cause that’s what I do.”

If getting up close and personal with hummingbirds at a “hand feed” station sounds like fun, you should definitely take that travel trailer to Rockport next weekend for the Hummerbird Festival. Activities include banding (I can’t imagine how tiny those bands must be!), talks by birding experts, and plenty of opportunities to view the vibrant hummingbirds.

Did you know?

Photo by Diane Lloyd, Rockport-Fulton Hummerbird Website.

    • Hummingbirds are the tiniest birds in the world.
    • Hummingbirds can flash their bright colors, as well as hide them when needed.
    • The bright radiant color on hummingbirds comes from iridescent coloring like on a soap bubble or prism.
    • A hummingbird’s brain is 4.2% of its body weight, the largest proportion in the bird kingdom.

I found these and lots more fun facts at the World of Hummingbirds site!

If you’re headed to the Rockport-Fulton area, their website also suggests 51 other fun things to do along the coast. So hook up the trailer and go have fun next weekend!

I’m looking forward to seeing my cousin Shannon’s photos and videos, and I’m sure she’ll let me share them here with you as well. In the meantime, are you seeing more hummers moving through your area? Are you going camping in Rockport next weekend? Got any great photos of your own to share? Let us know!

~ G. Elaine Acker, Airstream Writer



Santa Fe Indian Market

Trip Planner: Santa Fe’s Indian Market

Summertime in Santa Fe offers RVers an incredible high-desert climate to escape the oppressive heat in other parts of the country. It’s also one of the most artistic climates in the country, with festivals throughout the summer.

Indian Market Photo Collage

Photos courtesy Southwestern Association for Indian Arts, which organizes a full week of Native art and cultural celebrations.

Organized by the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts, the Indian Market is a 91-year-old Native art market. More than 1,100 Native artists from 100 recognized tribes across the U.S. and Canada converge to sell their high-quality, authentic Native art ranging from jewelry and textiles to pottery and paintings.

If you’d like to attend this year’s Indian Market, here’s what you need to know:

When: August 18-19, 2012

Where: Santa Fe, New Mexico on the Plaza

What: Artwork and Native cultural celebrations

RV Parks: I’ve stayed at Los Campos RV Park  in the past. While it’s not the most scenic, it’s clean and convenient, located just 4.5 miles from the Santa Fe Plaza on Cerillos, one of the main roads through Santa Fe.  It’s tucked back behind a Penske lot, so you’ll have to follow their directions closely to find them. Just across Cerillos from Los Campos is Trailer Ranch. While I haven’t personally stayed there, I’ve driven through and it’s charming. I’ve also heard great things about them from others. Finally, there’s a pretty little KOA campground.  It’s further out from town, but offers a great mountain setting.  Another great bonus for the KOA is that it’s just down the road from Bobcat Bite, which in my opinion has the best hamburger in the world! When you stop by, say hello to Bonnie for me!

Advice: Plan ahead. This is one of the most popular events of the year, attended by more than 100,000 people (more than doubling the city’s population). You won’t be able to just drive up to the market and park. Watch the local newspaper for information about park and ride options. Also, if you have a special interest in a particular type of artwork, such as pottery, spend a little time learning about the artists and use the market map to plan your shopping route. It’s easy to get overwhelmed once you’re there.

Have you been to the Indian Market before? What’s your favorite thing about Santa Fe?

~ G. Elaine Acker

P.S. If you visit the market, be sure to share some photos! And, if you’re enjoying this RV blog, just enter your email to subscribe. You’ll be notified every time we write a new post!

10 Pet Safety Tips for Summer

Last month, we asked our RV family to send us ideas for the best places to camp with pets, and to share your pet photos. Thanks so much to everyone who participated! We were quickly reminded just how much we love our critters!

Dogs on Town Lake

And with the summer temperatures now surging past 100, I thought this would be a great time to share a few tips to help keep pets safe during the summer on those RV road trips. I first created this list after founding Pets America in 2005, and even though it’s been circulated a few times, it never hurts to review!

1. Keep your emergency information with you at all times. When an emergency situation happens, it’s not the time to start frantically searching for your veterinarian’s phone number, or the address of the nearest emergency clinic. Keep important numbers and medical information for your pet up to date and in your wallet or by the phone at all times.

2. Get to know your pet so that you can recognize an emergency. Learn to take your pet’s pulse, count resting breaths and pants when exercising, and ask your veterinarian how to take your pet’s temperature. Knowing what is normal for your pet will help you recognize an emergency soon enough to take action to minimize danger. Normal temperatures on cats and dogs are around 101 degrees. Anything over 103 is an emergency.

3. Never leave an animal in a parked car. Even when it’s only 80 degrees outside, the inside of a car can heat up to more than 120 degrees in just minutes. And, leaving the windows partially rolled down won’t do the trick. Even if you plan to be in the store for “just a minute,” your pet is at risk of a heat stroke.

4. Keep animals out direct sunlight during the heat of the day, roughly 10 am to 6 pm. Dogs can only regulate their body temperature by panting and by a tiny amount of evaporation of sweat through the pads of their feet.  When overheated, heatstroke can occur and lead to brain damage or death. Older, younger, overweight, and snub-nosed breeds such as bulldogs, pugs, shih tzus, etc. can have an especially difficult time with the heat. Also, long-haired breeds may need a summer trim to keep cool. Just remember not to shave the hair too close, creating a risk of sunburn and skin irritation. We humans can pull on a pair of shorts and a tank top, while our dogs or cats are still wearing a full set of furry “coveralls.”  A good rule of thumb is, if you’re uncomfortable, your pet is uncomfortable.

5. Know the signs of heat stroke. As described in this video, symptoms of heat stroke in dogs include excessive panting, drooling, rapid pulse and fever. Immediately run cool (not ice cold) water over the animal and wrap with cool towels before transporting your pet to the veterinarian.  Try offering your pet ice cubes to lick to begin to re-hydrate. Panting in cats is not normal, and if it lasts more than a few minutes, can be a sign of distress. See number 9, “kitty quirks” for more information on cats and heat stroke.

6. Prevent sunburn. Animals can get sunburned too, especially short-haired dogs, or dogs and cats with pink skin and white hair. Limit your pet’s exposure when the sun is unusually strong, and ask your veterinarian about an appropriate brand of sun block such as a non-irritating, zinc oxide, that can be applied to his or her ears and nose 30 minutes before going outside.

7. Always make sure animals have access to fresh water and shade. Try spraying down favorite shaded areas a few times during the day to create an outdoor “evaporative cooling system.” For outdoor dogs, try filling a kiddie pool with water and leaving it in the shade. Just be sure to change the water often to make sure you don’t inadvertently hatch a new batch of mosquitoes.

8. Avoid strenuous exercise with your dog on extremely hot days, and do not exercise during the intense, mid-day heat. In hot climates, veterinarians recommend limiting activity to the early morning or late evening, about an hour after the sun has gone down. Be sure to bring along water, make frequent stops to allow your dog to rest and hydrate, and keep activity to 20 minutes or less. Remember that your dogs are eager to please and will keep going until you tell them to stop.

9. Test the heat radiating from the sidewalk or street for yourself. These hard surfaces absorb and hold heat. If it’s too hot for you to stand on in your bare feet, it will be too hot for the sensitive pads of your pet’s feet as well. And, while it’s never a good idea for a pet to ride in the back of an open pickup truck, the same principle applies. Place your hand against the bed of the pickup truck. If the metal surface is too hot for your hand, it’s too hot for your animals.

10. Understand kitty quirks. Cats exhibit many of the same symptoms as dogs when stressed by the heat. Early signs of heat stroke can be panting that lasts more than a few minutes, anxiety and pacing, increased heartbeat, respiratory distress or hyperventilation, lethargy, and an increased body temperature. And, oddly enough, cats affected by heat may actually drink less when they should be drinking more. Add ice cubes to their water bowl, or encourage kitty to drink by dabbing a little water at the corner of his or her mouth.

Be safe, and we’ll look forward to meeting you and your critters on the road!

~ G. Elaine Acker


Father’s Day Gift Ideas for the RV Guy

Gerald Acker Fishing

Gerald Acker fishing on Lake Cherokee in the 1950s

Growing up, I used to spend weeks thinking up the perfect gift for Father’s Day. My dad was a “fishing guy,” so a new rod, a trolling motor, or even a batch of new lures were always safe bets. Hand tools weren’t a bad choice either.

If you’ve got an RV guy in the family, you’re lucky. They’re easy to buy for too. I prowled the Camper Clinic II catalog of parts and accessories, and polled my cousins for ideas, and here are four good picks.

GPS – Here’s a GPS unit that not only helps you figure out where you’re headed, but also helps with trip planning, tracks your favorite camping spots, and predicts traffic patterns. I found this one on Amazon, and they had quite a few other suggestions, too.

AudioBooks – My cousin Donnie always has an audio book going, whether he’s on the road or not. A subscription to helps reduce the costs of the books and keeps you entertained on long road trips!

Power tools – Even simple power tools such as  a drill can come in handy on the road. With the right adapter (available through Camper Cinic II of course), you can make quick work out of setting the stabilizers. (Visit the Camper Clinic II catalog of RV parts and accessories and search “drill adapter.”

RV HandbookIf your RV guy likes to tinker, I found another goodie in the catalog called The RV Handbook. It’s always handy to have a reference guide nearby if you should encounter a “speed bump” in the midst of your journey. This book includes checklists, photos and schematics with easy to understand operating tips, and user friendly “how to” advice.




What about you? What are your great ideas for Father’s Day?

Contributed by G. Elaine Acker




Hurricane Preparedness Tips for RV Campers

Mina and Freddie evacuatingWhen Hurricane Ike hit the Texas coast in 2008, I was working as a public information officer for the American Red Cross of Central Texas. Based in Austin, we opened 23 shelters for evacuees fleeing Galveston, and in partnership with Pets America, ensured that both people and pets were well cared for.

During the chaos, I couldn’t help but wonder about my buddies who were RV camping in Galveston. Did they get out before the traffic got bad? Did they have plenty of gasoline to make it safely out of harm’s way? Did they have an evacuation plan?

Hurricane Satellite ImageHurricane Season 2012 officially began on June 1, and and NOAA is predicting an “above normal” season of hurricane activity.

“The United States was fortunate last year,” said Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “Winds steered most of the season’s tropical storms and all hurricanes away from our coastlines. However we can’t count on luck to get us through this season. We need to be prepared, especially with this above-normal outlook.”

If you don’t already have an emergency kit for your RV, here’s a link to a great checklist of preparedness supplies.

And, this checklist from Pets America will help you ensure that your furry family members are included in any emergency preparedness plans.

Houston Jam of 2005 Photo

This photo was taken during the evacuation of Houston during Hurricane Rita in 2005. The photo appeared in's "Worst Traffic Jams in History" page.

If you’re traveling along the Gulf or Atlantic coasts in your RV this summer and hear that a tropical depression is forming offshore, here are my additional suggestions based on several years experience in emergency management:

  1. Watch the weather reports, and plan more than one evacuation route well in advance.
  2. Evacuate early. Lines of traffic and stretch for miles and move at a snail’s pace once mandatory evacuations are ordered. Gasoline shortages are common.
  3. Stock extra supplies, including bottled water and non-perishable foods and be sure to include your pets in all emergency plans.
  4. Keep your gas tank filled.
  5. Keep your RV’s fresh water tank filled.
  6. Keep your gray and black water tanks emptied.
  7. Check your insurance policy to ensure that you have all the coverage you might need. (But if you evacuate early, you shouldn’t need your insurance agent after the storm!)

By all means enjoy the beach this summer, but make plans now to keep the whole family safe!

Contributed by writer G. Elaine Acker.

One perfect quart of sweet iced tea

There is no family RV gathering – during the summer or any other time of year, for that matter – when my family doesn’t have gallons and gallons of sweet tea readily available. Did you know that Americans consume about 3 billion (yes, with a “B”) gallons of tea every year? I’m guessing the Acker family accounts for about half of that.

So, in honor of the fact that June is Iced-tea Month, not to mention that I’m personally addicted, I thought I’d share the classic recipe I learned from my mom. I’ve adapted it to a personal serving size: one perfect quart.

Glass of Sweet Iced-teaSweet Iced Tea Recipe

  • Open four packets of your favorite black tea, such as the classic orange pekoe.
  • Place the packets in a one-quart measuring cup – preferably glass.
  • Add ½ cup of sugar to the measuring cup.
  • Boil 2 cups of water.
  • Pour boiling water over the tea and sugar.
  • Stir until the sugar has melted.
  • Let this steep for at least 30 minutes. Longer is better, but by the time I remember to make the tea, I’m usually ready to drink it right away, and 30 minutes is about the limit of my patience.
  • Remove the tea bags and give them a squeeze to get those last drops of flavor into the cup.
  • Add two cups of cold water.
  • Stir.
  • Pour over ice.
  • Take a sip and say, “ahhhhhh!”

I don’t tend to be all that adventurous when it comes to my tea. I like the classic sweet tea because it tastes like sweet summer memories.

But I recently discovered two recipes that are getting good reviews for hibiscus tea and peach tea, and depending on my mood, these flavors can be a nice switch.

Another easy way to make tea while you’re out and about in your RV is to make sun tea. With six tea bags, a two-quart glass jar, and a few hours of sunlight, you’ll have fresh brewed tea.

Finally, if you want to finish off your tea with a little flair, reach for a wedge of lime or lemon (not a slice, mind you – you just can’t squeeze a slice), a sprig of mint, or hibiscus flowers.

What are your favorite iced-tea recipes?


Contributed by writer G. Elaine Acker