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

Happy Texas Independence Day: March 2

Texas is a state of mind. Texas is an obsession. Above all, Texas is a nation in every sense of the word. ~John Steinbeck

This Texas Parks and Wildlife Photo portrays the Battle of San Jacinto where Texian troops defeated the Mexican Army and won Texas's independence from Mexico.

This Texas Parks and Wildlife Photo portrays the Battle of San Jacinto where Texian troops defeated the Mexican Army and won Texas’s independence from Mexico.

March 2, 2013, marks the 177th anniversary of Texas’s declaration of independence from Mexico.

March and April,1836, were busy months in Texas. The Alamo was under siege, and early settlers were fleeing San Felipe de Austin where Stephen F. Austin had established a colony and began planning the Texas Revolution. Austin’s fellow revolutionaries were making their way to Washington, Texas (now Washington-on-the-Brazos) to formally declare their independence, and General Sam Houston was soundly defeating Mexican General Santa Anna at San Jacinto.

If you’re looking for a reason to hook up the travel trailer this weekend, try celebrating Texas Independence Day by visiting the San Jacinto Battleground, or maybe Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site near Brenham.

Texas Parks and Wildlife is hosting a two-day festival at Washington-on-the-Brazos with music, historic demonstrations and re-enactments, and all admission fees will be waived during the celebration weekend.

While you’re out and about in your RV, you can also check out the Washington-on-the-Brazos Loop, one of the Great Texas Wildlife Trails. And don’t forget, Brenham is one of the best spots in the state for wildflowers!

For more ideas on RV camping, check out the Brenham website.

However, and wherever, you celebrate, Happy Texas Independence Day!

~ 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!

National Thank You Month

¡Gracias… Merci… Danke… Grazie… Thank you!

Guess what. It’s National Thank You Month. And I’m thinking about you, the people who take the time to stop by our blog, as well as all the people who make life fun and just a bit smoother when I’m in my travel trailer, out on the road.
With that in mind, here are a few shout-outs:
A_S-125x1251. Thank you to the amazing service team at Camper Clinic II who keep my Airstream in tip-top shape and ready to roll!
2. Thank you to the emergency roadside assistance crews at the Good Sam Club who are always on standby should the unexpected occur!
3. Thank you to the tolerant and patient wait staff at those terrific “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” that Food Network star Guy Fieri helps us discover along the highways!

Photo credit: Mark Peterson; The Food Network.

Photo credit: Mark Peterson; The Food Network.

4. Thank you to the owners staff of all the KOA parks, Texas state parks, and other RV hot spots for giving us beautiful, clean sites to use as a home base while we go exploring in your neck of the woods!
5. Thank you, our fellow camping enthusiasts, Facebook friends, and Camper Clinic II customers, for sharing the journey. You make it fun!

If, like me, you’re thinking about ways you can say thank you and surprise those wonderful people in the list above, here are a few ideas. Try leaving a note and an extra-large tip for a deserving waiter or waitress; bake something yummy for park or service staff; and post a photo or note on our Facebook or Pinterest pages and give a shout out to the people you’ve met on your travels.

Any other ideas about great ways to surprise someone with a Thank You? Let us know! See you on the road and as always, thanks for stopping by and spending time with us online!

~ G. Elaine Acker

 

This New Year, Resolve to Go Outdoors!

Family hiking and camping at Daingerfield State Park in East Texas. (Photo credit: Texas Parks and Wildlife)

Family hiking and camping at Daingerfield State Park in East Texas. (Photo credit: Texas Parks and Wildlife)

For years, some of the most popular New Year’s resolutions have been to exercise and spend more time in nature.

For those of us who love traveling in our travel trailers, that usually means road trips across Texas and beyond. Now, for the second year in a row, you can combine all three by participating in First Day Hikes at at parks all across the country on Jan. 1.

In Texas, during the inaugural year of First Day Hikes at the start of 2012, more than 1,100 people showed up at 47 Texas state parks. For 2013 more hikes and locations are scheduled, and they range from short, leisurely walks, to birding hikes, to nature tours along the Gulf Coast, to challenging treks in mountainous terrain. The best part is that you can come back to the RV afterward and relax by the campfire!

couple_hiking_at_mother_neff_sp--bryan_frazier“In addition to drawing new users to parks on January first, we hope to see return visitors from last year as families start to embrace First Day Hikes as a beloved tradition from year to year,” said Interpretive Services Assistant Director Karen Blizzard, the Texas coordinator for First Day Hikes.

Most all hikes will be guided by state park staff or expert volunteers and feature an interpretive message about native plants, animals or park history. The walks average one to two miles in length, but many also offer shorter or longer trek options as well.

If you want to participate, make a few advance preparations. Some hikes require  reservations, and in most instances, you’ll will want to wear sturdy shoes, and bring drinking water and a hiking stick. Park entrance fees apply in most places, and many parks are leading the First Day Hike at no extra cost.

Recent on-site visitor surveys in Texas parks revealed that hiking trails were the most sought-after amenity by park visitors, and many Texas state parks have added newly built or recently improved hiking and biking trails in order to meet growing demand.

first day hike logo design curtFor details about First Day Hikes in Texas State Parks, visit the Texas Parks and Wildlife website for locations, descriptions, and park contact information. Or, if you’re spending New Year’s on the road in your RV, check out the First Day Hikes site for an outing near you!

~ G. Elaine Acker

 

Discover Texas’ Magical Holiday Lights Displays

This morning, I was reading fellow RV traveler Vickie Medley’s funny Bah Humbug post about her latest trip to Walmart. The holidays often turn into a full-contact sport, and it made me wonder, “Is there still a place where it still possible to skip the chaos and soak in the magic of the holidays?”

Photo credit: Johnson City Chamber of Commerce

I didn’t have to think long before I realized that for me, the magic is still there in the colorful lights that transform our everyday yards, courthouses, and parks into wonderlands. So yes, there are lots of places to enjoy in Texas!

I looked up three of my favorite lights displays and included them below. And I’m also including some links to other festivals and light displays from our friends at Texas Co-op Power Magazine and Texas Highways.

 

Snowman in lights

Photo credit: Marshall Wonderland of Lights

Marshall’s Wonderland of Lights

This was the courthouse that came to mind. I’ve spent many memorable evenings at Marshall’s Wonderland of Lights, and I know there’s a full schedule of festival activities planned through the end of December. Maybe you’d want to try taking the travel trailer to Caddo Lake State Park on this trip?

Hill Country Regional Christmas Trail

If you’re traveling the Hill Country this month, you’re in luck. Several communities have collaborated to create the Hill Country Regional Christmas Lighting Trail.

I haven’t done the whole trail, but I’ve spent time in Johnson City. I think it’d be great to take the camper to Pedernales State Park or Blanco State Park and venture out from there!

 

Kemah Boat Parade

Photo Credit: Claire Kemah.net

Kemah Boat Parade

When I lived in Houston, one thing that added excitement to my holiday was the Kemah Boat Parade. There’s just something weird and wonderful about seeing a boat decorated with holiday lights. I haven’t camped there, but just looked online and found Marina Bay Resort and it looks wonderful!

And there’s so much more going on across Texas this month! The events posted on the Texas Highways and the Texas Co-op Power sites list lights and festivals from Galveston to The Colony, so there’s plenty of holiday spirit to go around.

Try to relax and re-discover the magic! Have you decorated your RV for the holidays? Send us a photo! And, feel free to send us your favorite events and lighting displays to add to our list!

~ G. Elaine Acker

Celebrate Native American Heritage Month

Most of us now know that the romanticized, pilgrim-Indian Thanksgiving we learned about in elementary school is more fairy tale than historic truth. And if you decide to brush up on your history before our next national feast next week, there are plenty of enlightening websites ripe for the Googling, so I won’t go into detail here.

But, it just so happens that November is Native American Heritage month, making this a great time to reflect on the Native cultures that have influenced our nation, including foods, art, music, crafts, and more. The President recently issued this proclamation: “This month, we celebrate and honor the many ways American Indians and Alaska Natives have enriched our Nation, and we renew our commitment to respecting each tribe’s identity while ensuring equal opportunity to pursue the American dream.”

Those of us who roam the roads in our travel trailers have a great opportunity to experience those cultures and Native American history firsthand.

First, you can do a little online research, starting with the Native American Month website. Here, a number of leading institutions, including The Library of Congress, the National Park Service and the Smithsonian, have collaborated to create a site that highlights events around the country, and includes online museum exhibits, support for veterans, audio, videos, and resources for teachers.

And, here are a few more interesting links:

  • The National Park Service has created a special list of park sites called “Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary: Places Reflecting America’s Diverse Cultures” not only for sites of Native American significance but all cultures of the Americas.
  • The National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, DC, is not to be missed if you’re anywhere near our nation’s Capital, with our without your RV!
  • Also, with Veteran’s Day fresh on our minds, you can read more about Native American Veterans from World War II to Iraq with this collection of personal stories.

My favorite website so far is the Texas Historical Commission’s site, which includes links to groups working to preserve native cultures, and to two great stops on any East Texas road trip: Caddo Mounds State Historic Site, and Livingston, home of the Alabama-Coushatta tribe.

 

You’ll find Caddo Mounds just 26 miles west of Nacogdoches. Three earthen mounds still rise from the lush green landscape where the Caddo Indians, a mound-building culture, first built a village and ceremonial center 1,200 years ago. Artifacts on display include pottery, tools, and weapons. There’s a KOA campground close by in Rusk, or, you may want to reserve a campsite at Mission Tejas State Park.

In Livingston, you’ll find the Alabama-Coushatta tribe, which called Texas home long before Texas became a state. The tribe proudly shares their heritage through special events and craft shows, and RV camping with full hookups is available on site in the tribal community. You may also want to consider RV campsites at Lake Livingston State Park, just 20 miles or so down the road, or check out the Livingston KOA.

The next time you hitch up your camper, whether or not it’s officially Native American Heritage Month, think about spending some time exploring sites that highlight the rich, varied, culture of Texas’s Indian tribes.

What sites have you visited? Any recommendations?

~ 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

Favorite Camping Desserts

October is National Dessert Month: let’s finish our State Parks campaign with a great dessert treat!

All month long, we’ve been celebrating Texas State Parks. For every new “Like” on the Camper Clinic II’ Facebook page, we’ve added another dollar to our donation to protect the parks. If you clicked, “Like” or sent us a photo of you having fun camping, we’ve also added your name to our drawing for a one-year Texas State Parks Pass!

October is also National Dessert Month, so we thought we’d go beyond the s’mores and cook up a special dessert (or three) to celebrate with all our new RV friends and fans!

First, here’s one that in some circles could be considered healthy.

Apple in foil

Photo credit: Allrecipes.com

Campfire Cinnamon Apples

Ingredients:

1 apple per person (Fuji or Granny Smith apples both work well)
1 tablespoon of butter per apple
½ teaspoon cinnamon per apple

Instructions:

Cut a “well” into the apple from the top, removing the core and seeds, but not cutting all the way through the bottom. If you do cut all the way through, don’t worry about it. You’re camping! Add 1 tablespoon of butter and ½ teaspoon of cinnamon. Wrap the apple in heavy-duty foil and find a cozy place for the apple to rest among the coals. If it’s covered on all sides, it should be ready in about 10 minutes. You can also make this on the grill, turning the apple after 5 minutes to ensure that it’s cooked all the way through.

I picked this next recipe because it just looks like big fun by the campfire.

Campfire Eclairs

Eclairs

Photo credit: Donna Kelly/Mom Click

This recipe came from blogger Donna Kelly on Mom Click. Donna takes a tube of crescent roll dough, wraps it around a water-soaked wooden dowel, cooks the dough over the campfire, adds a chocolate pudding filling, and tops it all with whipped cream from a can. Dreamy!

There’s a variation on these on the KOA website  where Rus Scherer and Jamie Thompson have used vanilla pudding and chocolate frosting. I vote we all go experiment and share our favorites!

Finally, I always know I can rely on my Dutch oven for a special, tasty treat. I’ve shared my peach cobbler recipe here before, but if my hubby is tagging along, it helps if the name of the dessert has the word “chocolate,” in it. I’d love to claim this chocolate cake recipe for my own, but it’s from Hershey’s Kitchens (who else?) that I adapted for the Dutch oven.

 

Chocolate cake

This pretty slice came from the Hershey Kitchens. No, yours won’t look like this out of the Dutch oven, but it’ll taste even better because you made it outside!

Dutch Oven Chocolate Sour Cream Cake

Ingredients:

1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1-3/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup HERSHEY’S Cocoa
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 container (16 oz.) dairy sour cream
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Prepare your coals. You’ll need about 25 coals, including 8 on the bottom and 17 on the lid.

Line a 12-inch Dutch oven with heavy-duty foil and spray with cooking spray. You can also use parchment paper.

Mix together the dry ingredients. You can make your life easier by putting all the dry ingredients together in a baggie before you head out on your camping trip. When you’re ready, dump the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl, then add the rest of the ingredients and beat until you have a smooth batter. If you’re in your trailer, you may have a hand-mixer available, but good old-fashioned muscle works too. The batter will be thick. Pour the batter into your Dutch oven and smooth it across the bottom.

Arrange your coals evenly – 8 on bottom and 17 on top – and allow the cake to bake for about 30-40 minutes. Use caution when you remove the lid. Ashes don’t make a tasty topping. The cake is done when a toothpick comes out clean.

Let the cake cool in the Dutch oven for about 15 minutes before lifting it out using the edges of the foil. You can then turn it onto a plate. Gently remove the foil and frost the cake with canned frosting, or use a dusting of powdered sugar.

So glad you could join us for dessert! Do you have any favorite road trip desserts you’d like to share?

~G. Elaine Acker

 

 

Outdoors Halloween Events Scheduled at Texas State Parks

This month, 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! When you do, you’ll be entered to win a one year Texas State Parks pass!


Guest post by Rob McCorkle, Texas Parks & Wildlife

If you’re looking for a different and healthier way to help your youngsters celebrate Halloween, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department invites you to visit its state parks and fisheries centers for some special treats.

Campfire

We’re all looking forward to campfires, but be sure and check with the park office to make sure there are no burn bans in effect! Safety first!

Ray Roberts Lake State Park in Valley View invites all little ghosts and goblins to the Johnson Branch unit of the park on Oct. 20 for the Spooky Critter Hike from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.  The park will host a very special night of family fun, candy, surprises and educational talk about critters of the night! Each time you find a night critter with a ranger on our short hike, there will be a treat waiting for you! Participants are encouraged to dress up! Please RSVP if possible by calling (940) 637-2294. No pets are allowed on the hike.

For the sixth year in the row, Estero Llano Grande State Park in Weslaco will present the Spooky Science Fest – Protectors of the Park from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 20. Superheroes of all ages from across the universe will be in a battle to save Texas State Parks, as well as our natural and cultural resources, from the clutches of evil. There will be Superhero photos, a mad science lab, games, crafts, hay rides, live animals, costume contests, food, drinks and much, more. What can you do to save the park? The cost is $6 for adults, $4 for children 12 and under, and $2 for those with a Texas State Parks Passport. Call (956) 565-3919 for more information or visit: http://www.worldbirdingcenter.org/

On that same Saturday, Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site between Brenham and Navasota will be hosting a look at funerary practices of early Texas with a tour of the Old Washington Cemetery. The “Burying the Dead” program will be presented at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. and is open to all ages. Children must be accompanied by an adult.

Return to the state historic site the following day to listen to costumed presenters tell Revolutionary Ghost Stories about the spirits who haunted the Lone Star State in its early days.  Presentations will take place at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Arrive 5 to 10 minutes early at the Visitors Center to stroll to a period setting for the 30 to 45-minute, chill-inducing storytelling about things that go bump in the Texas night. Fees are $5 for adults, students $5 and free for children 6 and younger. For additional details, please call (936) 878-2214, ext. 224.

Carved Pumpkin

You can find some great pumpkin carving patterns online at Zombie Pumpkins.

Representatives of Athens businesses and organizations will hand out free candy treats during the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center’s annual Halloween at the Hatchery from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 25. For more information, call (903) 670-2266.

Bring your little ghouls and goblins to Fort Richardson State Park & Historic Site in Jacksboro after 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 27 and pay no entry fee during the Trunk or Treat and Ghost Walk. Let your youngsters trick or treat through the campsites from 5:30 p.m. to dusk, and then go for a Ghost Walk around the historic site. Call (940) 567-3506 for more information.

Ray Roberts Lake State Park (Johnson and Isle Du Bois units) in North Texas will be awarding prizes to the top three Jack O’ Lanterns in the Great Pumpkin Carving Contest, from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 27. One entry per family, please. Halloween treats and a spooky campfire session await Halloween revelers. For more details, call (940) 637-2294.

Take a walk down the Haunted Trail at Martin Dies, Jr. State Park in Jasper and encounter scary monsters and frightening ghouls. The haunted hike takes place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Cozy up to the campfire while roasting a hotdog and marshmallows provided by the Friends of Martin Dies Jr. State Park for a $1 donation to the group. Get a temporary Halloween tattoo, play games and win prizes. Call (409) 384-5231 for details.

Sea Center Texas in Lake Jackson will host its 6th annual Halloween Spooktacular from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 28. Children and adults are encouraged to dress up in their favorite costume and participate in crafts, face painting, picture taking, games and trick-or-treating through the Visitor Center. The costume contest is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Winners will receive a trophy and prizes. Admission is free, but there is a $5 fee for participation in craft activities. For more information, call (979) 292-0100.

To see a complete listing of Halloween events at state parks, visit the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Web site.