Five Travel Resolutions for the New Year

I think New Year’s is my favorite holiday! It’s the one time of year everyone dreams BIG!

Do you need a few travel ideas for 2013? Here are five of my favorite destinations and outdoor pastimes!

1. BalloonsThe Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. I’d been to the Balloon Fiesta before, but this past year, I stayed there in my RV. I LOVED IT! There’s nothing like camping right there on the grounds of the Fiesta where you don’t miss a single minute of the action! I WILL be at this one in 2013, too.

2. Big Bend. Those two words cover a lot of territory, because there are scenic views, gorgeous hikes, and rafting experiences to be had at nearly every turn. If you can’t decide what to do, call my friends Greg and Valynda Hennington at Far Flung Outdoor Center for advice. They’ve helped create some awesome memories for me and my family, from ATV treks to moonlit nights on the Rio Grande.

Photo copyright Mike Sloat. Thanks, Mike, for sharing your amazing work with us this past year!

Photo copyright Mike Sloat. Thanks, Mike, for sharing your amazing work with us this past year!

3. ZiplineZiplining. I tried this for the first time while camping at the KOA in Branson, MO a couple of years ago. If they have zipline tours anywhere near your next destination, try it!   (P.S. If you’re in Branson, DO NOT MISS the show SIX!)

4. Become an outdoor chef. I love outdoor cooking, and in particular, love Dutch oven cooking. There’s just something empowering about putting a bunch of ingredients in black cast-iron pot, putting it over a fire, and serving a bunch of hungry campers.

5. Mix it up. If you love going to the mountains, try a trip to the swamp! If you love meat and potatoes, try some tofu! (Ok, that might be a stretch…). If you’re dreaming of owning a RV, go for it!

What’s on your personal bucket list? Plan at least one grand adventure for you and your family this year. It’s 2013, and there’s no time like the present!

E+AirstreamHappy New Year to All!

~ G. Elaine Acker

 

Campaign for Texas State Parks a Success!

Sunset over Blue Mountain

Sunset over Blue Mountain, taken from the top of Skyline Drive in Davis Mountains State Park. (Photo credit: G. Elaine Acker)

For the past month, Camper Clinic II has been celebrating Texas State Parks and as promised, we’ll be donating $1 for every new Facebook fan who joined us between September 25 and October 31. That’s $527!

We appreciate all of our fans who stopped by the Camper Clinic II Facebook Page, and we want to give a shout out to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department staff and volunteers. We know you work long hours to keep the parks clean, well-maintained, and open for all of us RV campers to enjoy, and we can’t thank you enough!

We also want to congratulate the people who won the one-year Texas State Parks passes!

Galveston Island State Park

Galveston Island State Park. Photo by Robyn Ball.

Our first winner is Robyn Ball, who shared her photos of Galveston Island State Park and a female collared lizard she discovered in Caprock Canyon State Park. Thanks to all of you who sent your photos! We loved seeing them, and shared several on Facebook during October.

Our second winner is Heather Amaro – one of our most recent Facebook Fans!

We’ll be in touch with both of you shortly and will send you the details on your passes.

Speaking of photography, we also need to thank Earl Nottingham, Mike Sloat, and my very own hubby, Bill Reaves, for sharing their wildlife and parks photos and photo tips and generally brightening the pages of this blog for the past month.

Keep camping, and I’ll see you in the parks!

~ G. Elaine Acker

10 Favorite Texas Hikes – Part 2

Earlier this week, I shared my top 5 favorite hikes. Here are hikes number 6 – 10. Be sure to send us photos from your favorite Texas hikes and you’ll be entered to win a free one-year Texas State Parks pass!

Grapevine Hills

Photo credit: Mike Sloat. Thanks, Mike!

6. Grapevine Hills – I first discovered Grapevine Hills on a Jeep tour with Far Flung Adventures. Grapevine Hills is an easy, 2.2 mile hike, which I think a lot of people overlook. That’s one of the real advantages of a Jeep tour. You’ll have a guide to show you those undiscovered nooks and crannies!

Camping: You can stay at the Basin Campground  if your trailer will fit, or, head over to Big Bend Resort & Adventures.

7. Big Bend’s Hot Springs Historic District – For years, Big Bend’s Hot Springs have attracted people who believe that the warm waters can “cure what ails you.” The buildings that served as a store and post office in the early 1900s still stand at the trailhead, and along the path, you’ll see pictographs, proving that the waters have attracted people since prehistoric times. Plan to soak in the 105-degree waters yourself, and you’ll see why!

Camping: The Rio Grande Village is a great place to set up camp if you want to visit the Hot Springs. There are 100-sites, but no hookups, and the park only accepts reservations during certain months of the year. It’s first-come, first-served, from mid-April through mid-November. Alternatively, a paved campground operated by Forever Resorts has 25 sites with hookups.

8. Hill Country State Natural Area – Located near Bandera, Hill Country State Natural Area is an undeveloped haven for hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders. Although the park offers 40 miles of multi-use trails, one of the best is the Comanche Bluff trail, which is a 4.2 mile loop through classic, Hill Country terrain, ranging from clear, flowing streams to rocky slopes and historic ranch buildings. My favorite memory from this park is of walking through an oak motte during the monarch butterfly migration one crisp October afternoon. Have you ever been surrounded by a swarm of butterflies? Magical.

Camping: You can camp near the the old Bar-O ranch house (no hookups available) or, if it’s not booked, in the Chapa’s Camp group camping and equestrian area where there’s electricity and water available.

9. South Rim – The trailhead for the South Rim is at the Chisos Basin, and at 13.5-miles, it’s Big Bend’s longest trail. This hike will take you a full day, and you’ll need to take plenty of water with you. I guarantee that the diverse meadows and forests along the way, combined with the panoramic views of the Chisos Mountains from the top, will make it worth the effort.

Camping: If your rig is 24-feet or less, you can plan to camp in one of 60 available sites at the Basin Campground. The winding roads to the basin and the small campsites make it challenging for longer trailers to make it to this camping area. As an alternative, check out Big Bend Resort & Adventures.  They have 131 sites and full hookups.

10. Boquillas Canyon  – A fit of nostalgia puts this one on the list. It’s a short, 1.4-mile round trip hike, but Boquillas Canyon on the list because I’m remembering the days when it was possible to hike the canyon without a care in the world, and freely cross the border. Here, I waded in the water with my sisters, visited a Mexican cantina, and practiced my Spanish with patient villagers.

With any luck, the border will be open again soon (it was originally scheduled to reopen last Spring, and my fingers are crossed for this fall) reconnecting Boquillas with its extended Big Bend family on the other side.

Camping: The Rio Grande Village is a great place to set up camp if you want to visit the Hot Springs. There are 100-sites, but no hookups, and the park only accepts reservations during certain months of the year. It’s first-come, first-served, from mid-April through mid-November. Alternatively, a paved campground operated by Forever Resorts has 25 sites with hookups.

Those are my favorites. What are yours?

Be sure to visit the Camper Clinic II Facebook page and click “Like” to add another dollar to our donation to help protect Texas State Parks! AND, be sure to share the campaign link with friends!

~G. Elaine Acker

Texas State Parks: 10 Hidden Gems

Beat the crowds and discover 10 of Texas’ overlooked state parks
by Rob McCorkle, Texas Parks and Wildlife

This month, we’re highlighting Texas Parks and Wildlife. And for every new “like” on Facebook, Camper Clinic II is 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!

Palo Duro Canyon

Parks like Palo Duro Canyon get – and deserve! – lots of attention. But Texas has many more hidden gems waiting to be discovered. (Photo copyright Mike Sloat)

Texas state parks make up a sprawling spider web of more than 90 sites stretching from Amarillo to Brownsville and El Paso to Sabine Pass. Most of us have frequented or at least heard of iconic parks like Bastrop, Garner, Palo Duro Canyon and others. But what about the lesser-known, unpolished gems in remote pockets of Texas just begging to be discovered?

Whether you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path spelunking adventure, a glimpse of prehistoric Texas, a place for your kids to see a longhorn or bison, the perfect spot to pitch a tent beneath starry skies or simply a peaceful refuge from frenetic urban life, the following 10 unsung state parks have you covered.

Consider spending a day, a weekend or a week in one of these under-the-radar parks and discover why “Life’s Better Outside.”

  1. Village Creek State Park – Lumberton, Hardin County

  2. Seminole Canyon State Park & Historic Site – Comstock, Val Verde County

  3. Copper Breaks State Park – Quanah, Hardeman County

  4. Caprock Canyons State Park – Quitaque, Briscoe County

    Texas Bison Herd at Caprock Canyons

    Camper Clinic II fan Bob McSpadden shared this photo of the Texas Bison Herd heading to Lake Theo for water at Caprock Canyons State Park. Send us your photos, too, and you’ll be entered to win a one-year Texas State Park pass!

  5. Kickapoo Cavern State Park – Brackettville, Kinney/Edwards counties

  6. Estero Llano Grande State Park – Weslaco, Hidalgo County

  7. Fort Richardson State Park & Historic Site – Jacksboro, Jack County

  8. Goliad State Park & Historic Site – Goliad, Goliad County

  9. Meridian State Park – Meridian, Bosque County

  10. Purtis Creek State Park – Eustace, Van Zandt and Henderson counties

Female Collared Lizard

Robyn Ball, another Camper Clinic II fan, enjoys watching wildlife in the state parks, and snapped this shot of a female collared lizard in Caprock Canyons State Park.

This excerpt was reprinted with permission. Visit Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine to read all about Rob’s list of hidden gems! All are great choices for your next road trip with your travel trailer!

Many thanks to Mike Sloat and Bob McSpadden for sharing their photos photos for this blog post! Send us your photos of camping trips or wildlife, and you’ll be entered to win a one year State Parks Pass!

~G. Elaine Acker

 

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!

Coyote

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.

Gator

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

Wade Fishing along the Texas Coast

If you’re camping anywhere along the Texas coast this Labor Day weekend, you may be interested in trying a little wade fishing.

I found this helpful video from Texas Parks and Wildlife, which explores some popular fishing spots, and I talked to my photographer buddy, Mike Sloat, who owns Texas and Southwest Outdoor Photography, for a few tips.

Surf fishing photo

Surf fishing on Mustang Beach. Photo copyright Micheal Sloat.

“When I was around 8 years old, my Dad took me wade fishing and surf fishing along the coast,” said Mike. “We used to fish the flats of Keller’s Bay, Red Fish lake, Swan Lake, Carancahua Bay and Menefee Lake.” Like many anglers, Mike and his dad always wore blue jeans and tennis shoes, but with the water quality somewhat iffy these days, a good pair of waders can be a good idea.

And when they caught a keeper, Mike added it to his long stringer, which he clipped to his belt and pulled behind him.  It’s not common for sharks to come and feed from your stringer, but it’s not unheard of, either. The further away from you the fish on the stringer are, the better.

You’ll also want to learn the “stingray shuffle.” “Be sure to slide your feet along the bottom to bump stringrays,” Mike added. “It’s hard to enjoy a holiday weekend with a stingray barb in your leg.”

Kayak photo

Sometimes a kayak can get you to that perfect fishing spot. If you’re taking pictures, be aware that the reflections off the water can fool your camera into thinking the scene is much brighter than it really is. Photo copyright Micheal Sloat.

I asked Mike about tips for photography in and around the water. “I recommend a waterproof camera, or at least a water tight housing,” he said. “You can get away without one for a short time, but if you’re using a expensive camera, one day it’ll happen: there’ll be a large wave, you’ll step off in a hole, or you’ll just drop it.”

When you’re taking pictures, also be aware that water reflects a tremendous amount of light. Double check your settings and be sure your camera is properly metering on your subject. Then, play with reflections on the water, try for that perfect sunset shot, or freeze the action as your kids splash in the water and chase away every fish in the vicinity.

Holiday camp outs and fishing trips are about family fun! When you take your travel trailer to the coast, even when you leave the water without a fish, those photos and memories  last a lifetime!

Care to share your fish stories??? And, if you take photos this weekend, be sure to send us one!

~ G. Elaine Acker