RV Camping at Goose Island State Park

Enjoy RV Camping in Texas at Goose Island State Park

Deer at entrance at Goose Island State ParkFor the past four days, I’ve spent my evenings enjoying Gulf breezes in the shade of oaks, and waking up to the sounds of cicadas in Goose Island State Park.

Located on Aransas Bay just 15 minutes east of Rockport, the park offers hiking trails that wind through oak groves, RV camping in woodland or bayside campsites, fishing from the park’s piers (or even from your campsite!), and extraordinary bird watching opportunities in the marsh areas.

Pelicans at Goose Island state park

Goose Island State Park Fishing Pier

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fishing from RV campsite at Goose Island State Park

 

While you’re in the area, be sure to visit Rockport. You’ll find great places to eat, like Charlotte Plummers, Moondog Seaside Eatery, or  The Daily Grind, which is the best place for a coffee or lunch break when you’re exploring the art galleries in the Historic District. (Hint: the quiches get rave reviews!) For more ideas on places to go and things to do, visit the Rockport-Fulton website!

Rockport may be best known for its annual HummerBird Celebration. This year, the event celebrates its 25th Anniversary, and is scheduled for September 12-15.

Here are a few tips for RV camping at Goose Island State Park:

1. The oaks grow close to the road and close tightly around many of the campsites. (You’ll see lots of reflectors marking the branches that are likely to nip your RV.) Call the park in advance and make sure you’re comfortable that your rig will fit.

The Big Tree at Goose Island State Park2. Take a bicycle. Goose Island State Park is large, and it’s fun to cycle along Lantana Loop, Warbler Way, or Redfish Road.

3. Don’t miss the “Big Tree.” It’s located about a mile east of Goose Island State Park. It’s the State Champion Coastal Live Oak, and it’s more than 1,000 years old.

Whatever your favorite coastal activity may be, Goose Island State Park is a great home base for RV camping. Be sure to stop by and say hello to to the team at Camper Clinic if you need any supplies for your trip!

~ G. Elaine Acker

 

Muleshoe, Texas

Last week, while one of my favorite road-trip friends, Lucy, and I were driving through West Texas, I was reminded just how many endearing (and amusing!) landmarks are out there to entertain those of us who do lots of RV travel in Texas.

MuleMuleshoeTXDOT

Photo from TXDOT archives.

The whole conversation started because Lucy grew up in West Texas, and we were approaching Muleshoe.

Suddenly, we were on a quest to find the World’s Largest Muleshoe and the mule statue itself that she remembered from childhood, as well as other West Texas roadside attractions.

Lucy spent some time browsing on her iPad as we rolled between freshly plowed cotton fields.  There are a couple of websites that mention the mule and the giant muleshoe, but… apparently times change.

250px-Muleshoe_sign_IMG_0421What we did find was the Muleshoe Heritage Center on Highway 84. The complex of buildings includes an old railroad depot, a ranch house(which was purchased as a kit in 1915 for $2,763 and shipped Muleshoe on a train), a log cabin, and much more. There’s also a large, 15-ton muleshoe at the front entrance, so it’s easy to find, and there’s a huge parking lot, so it’s an easy stop even when you’re pulling your travel trailer.

Today, I found the vintage photo from TXDOT of the mule statue. I tried to call the Chamber of Commerce, but, no answer. If anyone knows exactly where to find the statue or what the heck happened to the original, famous muleshoe, do tell!

~ G. Elaine Acker

 

 

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

Discovering Grapevine, Texas

AirstreamToday, my Airstream is perched on a little peninsula at The Vineyards Campground overlooking Scott’s Landing Marina on Lake Grapevine. The last couple of days have been chilly, but the setting sun still makes it look warm and inviting.

Bass Pro ShopAs it turns out, Grapevine is a great little winter getaway. I spent some quality time this morning at Texas’s largest Bass Pro Shop, before wandering down the streets of the historic downtown area where there are antiques, gourmet foods, galleries and gifts.

Wine is also big here in Grapevine. There are eight winery tasting rooms, wine trails, and wine trains. There’s even a Sweetheart Wine Trail if you’re looking for a special something to do for Valentine’s Day next month.

And, when your RV road trip includes the kiddos, you can add the Legoland Discovery Center to your itinerary, along with a trip to the Sea Life Grapevine Aquarium.

Vineyards signBut tonight, I’m going to enjoy the RV campground. I have my very own little deck here at the campsite, overlooking the lake, and a floating dock where the ducks and geese gather for an evening meal. There’s a fire pit waiting for a pile of wood, and a bag of marshmallows in the pantry. Now all I have to do is sit back and wait for the stars to appear.

 

~ 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

 

 

Texas Fall Foliage

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

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

Fall Foliage Tyler Texas

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

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

Click here for Texas Parks and Wildlife’s picks.

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

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

Click here to read Joe’s article.

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

Click here for picks from 2011.

Click here for picks from 2010.

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

Caprock Canyon

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

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

~ G. Elaine Acker

 

 

 

 

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

Weekend Wanderer: Caddo Lake State Park

I’m a native East Texas girl, some of my favorite memories are of trips my family and I took to Caddo Lake State Park. It’s a great weekend getaway for camping, fishing, or just  exploring.

Great Blue Heron in Cypress Swamp

A great blue heron waits for dinner to swim by in one of Caddo's cypress swamps.

On my family’s last visit, we paddled kayaks along Alligator Bayou, floated between cypress trees draped with Spanish moss, ate a picnic on the bank, and watched great blue herons fishing among the water lilies. The landscape was, and remains, basically unchanged from the early 1800s when Caddo Indians skimmed the waters in dugout canoes. The state park itself is situated on Big Cypress Bayou, but Caddo’s complex maze of cypress swamps stretches across 25,400 acres into Louisiana.

Kayaking on Caddo LakeBecause it’s easy to become disoriented in the swamps, Caddo is probably best explored on short kayak excursions from the park, or on guided tours. The park will provide a list of local tour guides when you check in, but I found one online that looks especially interesting: Caddo Outback Tours. Operated by John and Diane Winn in Karnack, Texas (also the birthplace of Lady Bird Johnson, by the way), they offer flexibility on tour times, and niche tours, from photography to gators. I’m always fascinated when tour guides take us through places such as Old Folks Playground, Red Belly, and Hog Wallow – crazy names that distinguish Caddo’s nooks from its crannies.

Every time we visit Caddo, we make it a point to eat at Big Pines Lodge where they serve awesome fried catfish. I was heartbroken in 2009 when the restaurant burned to the ground, but Kevin Allen and Shell Sanford have rebuilt the lodge, which reopened about six months ago. They’re back and I’m told it’s better than ever!

Now that I’ve made myself homesick, I guess I’d better go plan my next visit to Caddo.

If you’ve been to Caddo Lake State Park, be sure to reply and share your memories!

~ Elaine

P.S.

If you visit Caddo Lake, you’ll need these links:

Reserve your camping spot at Caddo Lake State Park:

http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/caddo_lake/

Check out the Big Pines Lodge menu:

http://www.bigpineslodge.com/images/Big%20Pines%20Menu/BPL%20Menu%20REV%2019/index.html

Consider a nice meal at nearby River Bend Restaurant. I haven’t been there, but it’s getting great reviews.

http://www.facebook.com/pages/RiverBend-Restaurant-on-Caddo-Lake/148418491867158

Book a guided tour: http://caddolaketours.com/