F1 Fever in Austin

RV Camping at the Newest Formula One Track Puts you at the Heart of the Action

Mario Andretti

Photo Credit: Circuit of the Americas

After last month’s ribbon-cutting ceremony and a lap around the track, Formula One racing legend Mario Andretti pronounced Austin’s new Circuit of the Americas F1 track “absolutely fantastic.” Competing drivers will make their way around the 20-turn, 3.4-mile track for the first time on November 16 with the race scheduled for Sunday, November 18 at 1:00 pm Central time.

Race-day ceremonies will include a pre-race tribute flyover by four iconic fighter aircraft symbolizing the history of the United States Air Force. This Heritage Flight, an aerial display of U.S. combat history, will include: Captain Garrett Dover in the F-16 Fighting Falcon, Dan Friedkin and Tom Gregory in two vintage P-51 Mustangs and Steve Hinton in a vintage P-38 Lightning.

Historic Aircraft

Photo Credit: Circuit of the Americas

At the heart of the action will be a few lucky people in travel trailers who nabbed prime, track-side parking spaces. “There’s been a huge amount of interest since the inception of the project,” said circuit spokeswoman Ali Putnam, talking about the RV parking options. “The demand is there. It’s something people are looking forward to — watching the race from that perspective — so that’s something we wanted to offer.”

Andrew Booth, a spokesman for Florida’s Daytona International Speedway, which hosts NASCAR and other races, echoed Putnam’s sentiments. “It’s a great way to experience 100 percent of an event,” he said. “You really feel like you’re in the middle of the action. It’s almost like you’re tailgating during the entire race.”

Race Car

Photo Credit: Circuit of the Americas

This heart-of-the-action tailgating experience doesn’t come cheap. $15,000 buys a secured RV spot with hookups for up to four races a year and includes eight tickets to each race.

When I called for the latest info, Circuit of the Americas officials declined to say whether the RV sites were sold out or whether there was a waiting list – don’t ask me why – so if you’re interested, you’ll have to give them a call: 512-301-6600. Then tell us what you learned!

And if you’re camping at the track on race day, be sure to take a few photos and send them our way!

Ladies and gentlemen… start your engines!

~G. Elaine Acker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Antique Shopping in Round Top, Texas

Kathy Johnson, owner of Pieces of the Past in Johnson City, has enabled my husband’s architectural antiques habit for the past 15 years. When I started researching camping trips to Round Top, I knew exactly whom to call! She offered to share a few insider secrets, so now we can all plan an October road trip! ~Elaine

The Inside Scoop on Antiques Week at Round Top and Warrenton

By Guest Blogger Kathy Johnson, Owner, Pieces of the Past

Antiques in WarrentonRound Top Weekend.  You’ve heard of it, right? It’s one of the biggest collections of antique…ers and junk…ers in the country. Made famous more than 40 years ago by Houston’s Emma Lee Turney, you’ll find Round Top tucked halfway between Houston and Austin.

The Spring show is the first weekend in April and the fall show is the first weekend in October.

 I’ll let you in on a little secret…that’s not exactly correct.

My advice? Don’t go those weekends.  Go at least one week prior to those dates.  Why?  Because all the dealers and shoppers “in the know” have already arrived, set up, and started shopping. Some have even been there for two or three weeks.

No way you say?

WAY, I say.

Warrenton AntiquesWhen you decide to go will depend on what you want to see and do. Two of the big shows, Marburger and the Red Barn, have very specific start and end dates.  You can check their websites for dates and information.

In my opinion, Warrenton has some of the best shopping and deals to be found…especially for those out and about before the “published” show dates.  There are a very large number of Fields/Shows and if you haven’t been before, you may be a little overwhelmed.

What’s a person to do?

Kathy Johnson

Kathy travels to Round Top in her retro Airstream.

A good way to plan for the show is to get that camper up and running and ready for a road trip.  This might be a good time to leave the dogs and kids at home so you’ll have more room to carry your treasures.  There are several reasons the RV is the way to go.  You’ll probably get hot, tired, confused, and hungry during your trip; and, you may be just a bit upset at all the “sold” tags you’ll see on the things you would like to have bought.  Last minute hotels and B & B’s are scarce, but you can usually find a RV site.  Then, you’ll have the luxury of going to your place for a quick lunch and nap or to drop off your treasures.  And, while you’re hanging out under your awning for happy hour or your morning coffee, you will certainly meet some of the coolest people and hear some of the best stories around (well, at least at Elaine’s place, anyway).

To find an RV park, check out the Round Top Chamber of Commerce website. The Chamber staff is very helpful, and you can feel free to call them with any questions.

Warrenton AntiquesWhen you get to Round Top, pick up The Show Daily. It’s a must for all of you new folks.  It has all the info you’ll need, such as maps, info on dealers, and stories on the shows; you can find it in some of the local businesses and restaurants, and a lot of the dealers will have it as well.  Check it out online if you want to plan in advance. It also has suggestions about the best places to eat, and even who will ship your purchases.  You’ll never see all of the fields and shows…in fact, you’ll be lucky if you drive past half of them. So The Show Daily is the perfect way to plan each day.

Finally, here’s a tip on the weather. It’s Texas. One day it will be so hot you can’t stand it, and another it’ll be chilly and rainy.  Pack a hat and a water bottle, and throw in some rubber boots (after all, for the most part, you’re walking in cow pastures).  Some folks bring wagons to carry their goodies; some even bring golf carts to carry their tired bodies and beat the other guys to the next dealer.

I’m a University of Texas fan, so I’ll close with a quote from coach Mack Brown: “Come early, stay late and get loud!”

…I’ll end with, “and have fun!!!”

Tips for Traveling with Pets

8 ways to keep your pets safe on the road

While writing Pets America’s Pet First Aid Guide, I had an opportunity to work with lots of amazing emergency care veterinarians who offered advice on traveling safely with pets.

Golden Retriever in RV

Bella is a golden retriever who absolutely loves RVing with her pack, the Medleys! Vickie Medley write the blog www.sentimentaljourneyz.com.

If you’re taking your pets on camping trips, you’re probably already savvy about how to plan your route and care for your pets along the way. But I thought you might appreciate a few reminders.

  1. Research emergency vets along your route through the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society. You can search for clinics all across the U.S.
  2. Get referrals ahead of time for reliable pet sitters at your destination. http://www.petsitters.org/
  3. Make sure your pet wears identification tags at all times. Add a temporary tag with the local number at your campground.
  4. If your pet has a microchip (of course they do!), call your microchip company to verify that your contact info is up to date.
  5. Talk to your vet about motion sickness. If your pet is new to the travel trailer experience, take a short ride in your tow vehicle to see how your pet reacts, and to find out if they’re prone to motion sickness. If so, talk to your vet about solutions.
  6. Never leave your pet in the hot vehicle. Even if it’s a comfortable 80 degrees outside, the temperature inside the vehicle can reach 120 deadly degrees in a matter of minutes.
  7. Use a crate or harness to secure your pet inside the tow vehicle. Pet seats give pets a comfortable place to sit while the harness secures them safely to a seatbelt. This restraint can save a life.
  8. Take frequent breaks and enjoy the RV journey!

And finally, some pets are homebodies that will never become your next road warrior. And that’s okay. You can show them pictures of what they missed when you get back home.

Jack Russell Terrier

Rosie is always ready to travel with her mom and dad, the DiBonas, who share their Airstream adventures on the blog Streaming Together.

I’ve worked closely with the awesome staff at the Texas Veterinary Medical Association, and they’ve got even more great tips on animal care.

Thanks for sharing pictures of you and your pets on the road! We love it!

~ G. Elaine Acker

Airstream Turns 80

Austin is a time capsule for Airstream history

Bambi AirstreamThis week, I’ve been camping at one of my favorite parks in Austin. Nope. I’m not telling you the name of it, because it’s already hard enough to get a spot! I(But it’s easy enough to find it if you’re really determined…)

International AirstreamLast week, I got my Airstream set up in a nice, shady spot, and took a walk around. The park – and Austin itself, now that I think about it – is something of a time capsule for Airstreams. From aging Bambis to food trucks to my own late-model International, Austin’s got it all.

The Huffington Post recently shared an article that captures Airstream nostalgia with 21 photos that pay tribute to this little slice of Americana, including a shot of one Austin’s very own “Hey Cupcake” trailers.

Food truck Airstream

As Airstream turns 80, we thought you might like to take a quick road trip down memory lane with us!

Check out the Huffington Post.

 

 

Enjoy!

~G. Elaine Acker

P.S. If you’re one of our regular readers, don’t forget to subscribe and you’ll be notified when we write new posts!

Celebrate National S’mores Day on August 10!

Get ready! National S’mores Day is Friday, August 10! If you’re like me, you have lots of happy memories of sitting around the campfire with a marshmallow on the end of a sharp stick or coat hanger and this weekend’s a great time to munch and make new memories!

S'More photo

Here’s a double-decker s’more! Yum! (PRNewsFoto/The Hershey Company)

We don’t usually drop a lot of brand names here, unless we’re talking RVs, but in this case I’ll make an exception. I mean, really, to make a proper s’more, you need Hershey’s chocolate packaged in its neat, flat little squares.

“It’s time for National S’mores Day, which means family fun, campfire stories and gooey S’mores,” said Anna Lingeris, spokesperson for The Hershey Company.

The first s’mores recipe was published in the Girl Scouts handbook in 1927 and this weekend, you can keep the tradition alive, whether you’re at home or camping in your RV this weekend. Making s’mores usually involves a campfire, but you can wrap your s’more in foil and grill it for 1-2 minutes each side or pop it in the oven if it’s just too hot for a campfire, or if you want to take the party indoors in the air conditioning!
Classic S’Mores Recipe
1 graham cracker (broken in half)
1 Hershey bar (broken to fit on the cracker)
1 large marshmallow
Heat the marshmallow over an open campfire until it begins to brown and melt. Sandwich the chocolate between the cracker and the how marshmallow. Let it sit for a minute to allow the chocolate to melt a bit and the marshmallow to cool. Keep the napkins handy!
Here’s another recipe from Paula Deen for making s’mores in the oven.
And if you need one last good reason to make a s’more here it is. I’m on the road in my Airstream this week, and my hubby called this morning to inform me that dark chocolate has more antioxidants than blueberries. So, there you have it. Make that Hershey bar a dark chocolate bar, and you’re all set!

Do you make s’mores with your family when you’re camping? Do you have any fun stories or different recipes share?

Happy S’mores Weekend!

Weird Roadside Attractions

Exploring the Weird and Wonderful in Texas

In my continuing quest to beat the triple digit heat, on my latest RV trek, I started looking for indoor adventures. There are plenty of great museums along almost any beaten path, and they’re definitely worth exploring. But today I want to be surprised. I want the unexpected. The weird.

I stumbled across the website: Weird U.S., and found lots of great places for “weird” on your next RV road trip across Texas and beyond. The website lists Texas’s Ancient Mysteries, Bizarre Beasts, and Unexplained Phenomena. Here’s a peek at a couple of listings under “Roadside Oddities.”

Eiffel Tower, Paris, Texas

Photo from the Weird U.S. Website. Thank you!

If Paris, France isn’t on your travel list, you can still check out the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Texas. This one’s 65 feet tall and topped with a big red cowboy hat.

In Houston, The Orange Show is a 3000 square foot, complex art installation that pays tribute to what its creator, Jeff McKissack, thought was the world’s most perfect food.

Stonehenge II, Hunt, Texas

Photo from the Weird U.S. Website. Thank you!

Some of our Olympic athletes may be visiting the real Stonehenge about now, but in Hunt, Texas, you can visit Stonehenge II, along with a couple of very large replica heads from Easter Island.

There are plenty more oddities on the lists! Which ones have you visited? Send us a note about any weird spots we need to visit!

~ G, Elaine Acker

 

August is National Catfish Month

Family RV Gatherings Call for Fried Catfish!

August is National Catfish Month. Who knew? So I just had to share this old photo of my dad with his prize catfish caught on Lake Cherokee in East Texas.

Gerald Acker and Catfish

Gerald Acker caught this prize catfish on Lake Cherokee in East Texas. Probably in the 60s and probably on a trot line.

Some of my best family memories involve catfish fries with all the cousins hanging out by the lake. Usually, my dad and the uncles had caught the fish we ate, but these days, it’s easy to find fresh, U.S. farm-raised catfish at the store. (Beware of imported catfish! Just sayin’…)

Now, we can make new family memories at almost any lake, pulling our RVs and swapping stories and recipes. And while we mostly fix the traditional fried catfish in a cornmeal batter, I found a huge variety of recipes, from fried to blackened, on the U.S. catfish home page. Maybe it’s time to try something new!

Here’s a beer-batter recipe from NASCAR driver Ryan Newman.

Beer battered catfish

Photo from the U.S. Catfish website. Thank you!

1/2 cup unsifted all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon Everglade seasoning, optional
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves, crushed
3/4 cup room-temperature beer
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Vegetable oil
1 pound U.S. Farm-Raised Catfish fillets, cut into 3 to 4 inch wide strips

1. In a medium bowl, combine flour, cornstarch, Cajun seasoning, garlic powder, Everglades seasoning (if using), baking powder, paprika, white and red peppers and oregano.
2. If not using Everglade seasoning, add 1/2 teaspoon salt.
3. Whisk in beer and egg until smooth.
4. Cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.
5. When ready to cook: In a deep skillet or large pan, pour vegetable oil to the depth of 3 inches; heat to 375°F.
6. Stir batter and fold in catfish. When oil is hot, lift fish strips with tongs, draining excess batter; place catfish in oil several pieces at a time (do not over crowd).
7. Fry until well browned on all sides, about 3 minutes. Remove to paper towels to drain. Keep warm, repeat with remaining catfish.

YIELD: About 24 pieces

(Original recipe by Jim Campbell of Griffin, Georgia)

What are some of your favorite recipes for family RV gatherings? If you have a great catfish recipe to share, we’d love to hear from you!

~ 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

 

 

 

 

Photo Tips from the Pros

What can I do if the light’s not right?

For 36 years, my husband, photographer and photo editor Bill Reaves, shared the stories of Texas in the pages of Texas Parks and Wildlife and Texas Highways magazines. I’ve browsed through his photo files, and I’m convinced he personally set foot in every single nook and cranny in the state.

Add his experience to that of the dozens of talented freelance photographers he worked with over the years, and there’s a wealth of photo knowledge out there that I’ll just bet they’re willing to share.

One of the great things about traveling in an RV, is that you have an opportunity to take as much photo gear as you’d like on your road trip. Or, you can just use your pocket camera and take better photos with a few tips from the pros.

I’ll be publishing lots of photos and tips over the coming months, so if you’re enjoying the blog, subscribe and keep in touch! (And send us photos from your RV road trips!)

Today, Bill and I talked about being flexible when trying to get “the shot.”

Photo Tip: Think outside the portrait

Cowboy

Note the harsh shadows across the cowboy’s face. You may need to rethink your shot when the lighting just doesn’t cooperate.

You may want the perfect portrait shot, but find that the light is just too harsh. In the photo of the cowboy, you’ll see that the sunlight is almost directly overhead, and the brim of the cowboy hat casts a dark shadow over the subject’s face.

Chaps

This tight photo of the worn leather says a lot about the cowboy and his way of life.

There are a couple of solutions here. You can push the hat back from the face and add a little flash fill, or, you can be flexible, and look for another shot. I found that a tight shot of the worn boots, spurs and chaps, said as much about the ranch and its people as the portrait would have. Maybe more.  ~Bill Reaves

Remember, we’d love to see your photos, too!

~ Elaine Acker, Airstream Writer

 

Texas Cave Tours

Texas’s Show Caves are Cool Works of Art

Christmas Tree Room

No tour of the Caverns of Sonora is complete without a visit to the Christmas Tree Room! Many thanks to the Caverns for letting us post their gorgeous photos!

I didn’t realize until I started working on this blog post that I’ve visited nearly every commercial show cave in Texas. Add that to the time I’ve spent in wild caves crawling along behind my biologist friends, and I’ve racked up a quite a few memorable hours underground.

One of my friends asked me recently to name my favorite cave. Honestly? I have two answers: 1) whichever cave is closest, and 2) the one that gets me out of the summer heat! The temperature in most of the caves is a comfy, 60-something degrees.  Ahhh!

Butterfly formation

This natural butterfly formation at the Caverns of Sonora is famous worldwide. Photo courtesy Caverns of Sonora.

So here’s my recommendation for your next RV camping excursion. Find a park near a commercial cave and enjoy a guided tour or two. In addition to the show cave tours, several of the commercial tour operators are now offering wild cave tours. And, many also specialized tours for photography, natural history, or geology buffs.

Here are a few suggestions:

Caverns of Sonora

After seeing the Caverns for the first time, National Speleological Society co-founder, Bill Stephenson said, “Its beauty cannot be exaggerated, even by Texans.” In 1966 the site was designated as a National Natural Landmark by the United States Department of the Interior, and is one of the most active caves in the world with over 95% of its formations still “growing”. There’s an RV park located right in the center of the working ranch that surrounds the caverns, so plan to take a nice long break here. It’s the perfect stopover on I-10 between San Antonio and Big Bend National Park.

Longhorn Cavern State Park

If you visit Longhorn Cavern, you’ll learn all about its history as an underground saloon and dance hall. While you’re in the area, I’d suggest camping at Ink’s Lake State Park and enjoying some time in the water too. I just checked, and this lake is full and inviting!

Inner Space Cavern

Inner Space Cavern

Photo courtesy Inner Space Cavern. Thanks so much for the sneak peek!

Inner Space Cavern

Photo courtesy Inner Space Cavern. Gorgeous!

Inner Space Cavern

Photo Courtesy Inner Space Cavern.

This was the first commercial cavern I ever visited. When the guide told the story of the cavern’s discovery in 1963, I could only imagine what it would’ve been like to be that first adventurous TXDOT employee who dropped into the pitch-black void while standing on a drill bit. You’ll hear the whole story on the tour! It’s located just north of Austin.

Natural BridgNatural Bridge Cavernse Caverns

This one’s just 30 minutes north of San Antonio, and they’ve got several specialized tours on the list. They’re also planning a zip line, so be sure to ask about that as well! While you’re in the area, you can continue the “keep cool” theme by camping at Guadalupe River State Park and doing a little tubing.

 

Cave Without a Name

Guadalupe River State Park is also a great “home base” for this cave excursion, or, check out one of the RV parks in Fredericksburg and do a little shopping too. The cave is located just 12 miles from Boerne.

Moon Milk Falls

Moon Milk Falls. Photo courtesy Caverns of Sonora.

I’m forever in awe of the crystalline formations, stalactites and stalagmites, which decorate Texas’s Hill Country caves. I love the inky blackness when they briefly turn out the lights, and I love the history and folklore the guides share on each tour. It’s the perfect summer outing!

Which caves have you visited? Which is your favorite? Let us know!

~ Elaine