Sunday, January 29, 2012

Come Hell Or High Water

     Or a dirty house, a stack of papers to grade or contracts to write we still managed to get out of town for a night. Just down the road a bit past Bastrop to Buescher State Park. We didn't leave till after 3 the boy had a basketball game. Glad we stayed around for that because he made a free throw and missing that proud ear to ear grin would have been a crime.
     So this was another inaugural trip for Ruby. It was Paco and Mom's first time in Ruby alone (cue the Barry White :) ) We cruised down thru Bastrop listening to some new tunes courtesy of a good friend who loves music. He gave us a whole case logic case (remember those) full of not just tapes but mix tapes. I want to take a longer trip soon just to listen to tapes. Seeing some of the devastation around Bastrop was sad but not nearly as heartbreaking as what we would see the next day.
     We pulled up to the park just at sunset, good thing we had reservations. Home for the night was the Lakeview loop site #41. I'm telling you the specifics because I think it was the best spot of the whole park. It backed into a ridge and there was only one neighbor. Overall a very quaint and quiet campground, all tents. Two campsites over was a very brave dad with 4 kids. They seemed to be having a great time and Dad was patiently and respectfully listening to his girls debate the qualities of Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez.
     Because it was already getting dark Paco started a huge fire. I think he bought all the wood at the camp entrance. But that was a good thing because the temperature dropped fast.
      We love the boy but it was a nice change to camp alone. Just to sit around the fire, discuss life things and be mushy. Paco and I are kindred spirits who relish our time together. And NO hot dogs! Just beer, wine, almonds and jalapeno chips. We were so engrossed in our conversations that we kind of forgot to eat.
     AND then we heard it, well Paco heard it before but it was my first time to hear it. The barred owl mating call. I have never heard something so unusual; it was fast, loud and done. Kind of reminded me of camping in Connecticut. I heard a similar cry and asked Paco what the mysterious noise was he replied. "Uh that would be the tent just across the way."  They too had a mating call similar to the barred owl!
     Lots of wine and stories later I was sleepy so I went to our bed. This time we tried replicating our big bed at home. We had blankets, comforter, quilts and pillows. One of my biggest complaints about camping is the sleeping bag. It traps you in and is not conductive to cuddling. Even with all the blankets it was ***cold! Don't think I have ever slept so close to Paco all night long.
     We slept in later than usual without the boy climbing in and out. I arose first and sat with my coffee and basked in the morning sun. No agenda, no email, no phone or to do list. Just me and the birds, wish every morning began this way. Once Paco finally woke up we decided to do a quick hike before leaving. It was a 7 mile loop but we only did half of it. On the trail we came across another couple. There seemed to be something flapping from their behind. I just figured it was their backpack strap. Uh no it was a tail like thing, kind of like a squirrel tail. It was really funny and I bite my lip as we passed them so I wouldn't laugh. I bet they bought them at Bucees! The rest of the hike was quiet as we were regaining our equilibrium from the night before. We did come very close to a red shouldered hawk, so close you could see it blinking it's eyes. She just stared at us showing off her beautiful plumage.
     I wanted to stay longer. I did not want to go home to reality but Paco had work to do and the boy would be home soon. In true Ruby spirit we took the back roads home and that was where we saw the real devastation of the fires. Tall forests completely charred and mailboxes to no homes. The hardest image to see was that of a tall white stone fireplace all alone in a black abyss. Heartbreaking.. But there were already many homes rebuilt and still many others under construction. The people of Bastrop have a fighting spirit.

     Well got some busy weekends ahead so Ruby will take a 2 week break and then we will be back at it.. Get out there and share your adventures!

Monday, January 16, 2012


    I always thought these were the words to one of my favorite Steve Miller songs. As we drove down the road I was belting it out, "Chug-a-lug it's driving me mad making me crazy." Paco said, "What did you just say and I confidently sang out, "Chug-a-lug!"  He then informed that it was Jungle Love not Chug-a-Lug, whatever I will still sing Chug-a-lug it sounds better!
     This weekend's adventure was not far just about an hour and a half away. Who knew so many state parks were so close? We picked Palmetto state park for our next adventure. Palmetto is south close to Gonzales and a tiny town called Ottine. We arrived late afternoon (basketball is going to present a bit of a challenge for a while). The park office was closed so just drove in and picked a site. This park was much more tent friendly in fact there were only a few rv's and those belonged to the camp host.
     Seriously took us 10 minutes to set Ruby up. She attracted a lot of attention this trip. Within thirty minutes of arriving 3 people stopped to check her out. "What in-carnation is that?"  Our camp host, from Michigan also admired Ruby commenting that she looked brand new..The campground itself was small but quaint. We were surrounded by many tall post oaks, cedar elm, sycamore and pecan trees.
     We got a fire going quickly and the temperatures fell just as fast. Probably our coldest night of camping yet. Had Nathan's hotdogs again (I am over the hotdogs!) and broke out the chat pack-a conversation card pack that we got at Waterloo many moons ago. They are fun conversation starters that make us laugh and sometimes even get into heated debates. The boy was really tired, after his first basketball game and retired especially early. I managed to stay up a little longer but the long run (where I got lost earlier that morning) and the wine lulled me into sleepy mode.  But before I hit my bag I heard the coyotes and a barred owl. Paco braved the clear beautiful night alone and came to bed later reporting that he heard 3 owls; the barred, screech and great horned owl! Along with a donkey and random country dogs.
     Slept great and didn't hear a thing (I sleep with ear plugs) but it was *** cold!  Once I got up I was surprised to feel that it was actually warmer outside then in Ruby. We lazed around and read had some coffee and non-burnt oatmeal. I was in Ruby changing when a family walking by decided to stop and check out Ruby. I whispered loudly to Paco to get them away that I was well... naked. He snickered and opened the sliding door to show the full moon...just kidding he quickly answered their questions and said that someone was changing otherwise he would show them the inside. I breathed again..
     We walked to the headquarters to register and pay. It was only about 1/4 of a mile away but we saw several bluebirds, a kinglet and an orange-crowned warbler-all in about 5 minutes. The ranger at the headquarters was nice but very dry and warned us to make sure that our fires were out. We then set out to hike several loops around the park. It was an interesting hike so many birds! This time Paco wrote them all down for me..white throated sparrow, mockingbird, Caracas, phoebes, cardinals, Carolina wren, winter wren, red-shouldered hawk and more I am sure that I am forgetting. The terrain ranged from riparian to Ottine swamp with boardwalks and these huge palmetto palms (which reminded me of palm Sunday) to more of a South Texas landscape with mesquite, anacua trees and  prickly pears. There were tell-tale signs of the draught, huge keeled over trees some with trunks as big as trucks. And little signs if spring with thousands of paper whites ready to bloom. The trail was well marked, in fact the whole thing was covered in crushed granite. It would have made a great trail run. I spotted a deer about 100 yards away. I have a good eye and would be a great hunter if I didn't cry.
     The boy got way ahead of us and the dense brush made me a tad nervous of more hog encounters but none this trip. We finished the trail and found ourselves in front of a grand stone hall that was made during the Great Depression by the CCC under F.D.R. There was a great old black and white photo of the men who worked on it. Reminded me of my dad's dad who did some work in California for the CCC.
     Went back to the campground and chowed on some jerkey and cheetos and found the campground pretty much cleared out. There were goldfinches by the hundreds cleaning up the crumbs it was quite amazing to see them all.  We walked to the front lake area and discovered a smaller pond, about the size of an olympic size pool that was swarmed with fishermen. Figured it must have been stocked. We then caught the last 20 seconds of the Texans and Ravens game on radio from a ranger. He talked football for a while and told us that the Saints had won?! He was really old..We considered a boat rental but decided to just hike around the small lake instead. It was a spooky light, very wintery. Great backdrop for the great blue heron on the bank of the lake. All this walking made me sleepy so I took a nap in Ruby.
     A much warmer evening..When Paco bought firewood the camp host had no change so we ended up with about 180 pounds of wood!  The fire started early and stayed big and bright! We thought it would be a quiet night but then the college kids next to us started drinking and it got louder and louder and very entertaining. Although I don't think the park host found it too entertaining. Still heard the coyotes' cries and later the owls returned.
     Packed up quickly the next morning and we were hungry. We planned to hit Lockhart on the drive home. We did have to stop and marvel at a convenient store, not it was too large to be considered a convenience store it was..well a Buc cees!  I had never seen such an establishment. Not sure what impressed me the most the endless bathroom stalls or the hunting attire selection? All we wanted was a ball point pen and a fountain drink. Who would have thought you could buy a whole stuffed buck head in the middle of nowhere?  
   Took the long and scenic way back and saw things you just don't normally see in Austin..
*an old dilapidated billboard in someones front yard with those letters that you arrange-it said "Life without Jesus is like a broken pencil there is no point"
*Kowboy Chiropractic
*2 boxer dogs in the middle of a trampoline
*Every oil pumping jack in the city of Lulling was made into some kind of a character
Just more interesting to take the long way home...

Oh and we got to eat at Smitty's!  Yum..I am not a rib girl I like brisket and sausage but these ribs, well I would eat these ribs. We bought a lot and figured we would bring it home-we ate it all!
Well till next time..get out there!

*This trip was dedicated to out sweet Esme!* We love you and you will always be with us on our adventures. :)



Sunday, January 1, 2012

Ruby's Maiden Voyage

     Well as you can imagine I wanted to drive Ruby everywhere and all the time. But she did already have 82,000 miles on her and has Paco gently reminded me she was an investment. Even though we took her to the best Volkwagen repair ship in Austin, Vee-Dub, and she got a clean bill of health. In fact they said that she was one of the best, BEST and CLEANEST Eurovans they had ever seen! So I drove her a few times to school and that was it.
     Fast forward a month and it was full on Christmas Season! Our original plans fell thru and so we were luckily in Austin. But I had a bad itch to go somewhere and asked Paco to plan our first camping getaway in Mi Rubi (her Spanish name.) We couldn't got too far because we only had two days. I manically began sorting our camping gear and making lists (which I need to write about because everyone should have an essential camping list!) Without a list I did a pretty good job, even Paco was impressed. Then we headed to our neighborhood Wally World to pick up some grub; it's just not a camping trip without Nathan's Dogs. I also had to get the boy some new long underwear for his ever growing limbs. It did feel weird buying our camping staples in the winter.
     The next day early afternoon we were off. We decided that the maiden voyage would be sans girls, Juno and Sassy (our dogs) so we could work out all of the kinks (this was a very good decision as you'll soon read about.)  So with me at the wheel in my giant shades and birkenstocks we took off listening to James Taylor on our cassette player. How cool is that a cassette player! I had to order cassettes off of ebay and got some random tapes. Need to add that to the list..
     She rode like a dream. If you have never driven a Eurovan or been a passenger in the front "co-captain" chair then you are missing out. I feel like I am king, well queen of the road. The boy was spread out in the back with a book and Paco was able unwind from his last minute work projects.
     The drive was about 2 hours. Once we got onto the back roads the scenery was refreshing. Recent rains had made the fields lush with winter grasses and lots of cows basking in the sunshine. We could not have had more perfect weather. One of the roads (if Paco was typing this he would be inclined to specifically name all the roads) had an old railroad track bridge/tunnel thing that I might have gone a little too fast thru but it was all good.
     The park was called Lake Somerville, the Birch Creek Unit. As we rolled to the park headquarters we noticed it looked rather empty. We pretty much had our pick of sites. Our Texas State Parks are facing major budget cuts-really sad..We did our part by purchasing a state park pass. The park manager, John was super kind and helped us on our way.
     Maybe 30 minutes!! It took us maybe 30 minutes to set up our Ruby for camping and mind you that was our very first time to set her all up so really it will probably take us max 15 minutes. We popped her up, pulled out the camping chairs and laid out the bed and PRESTO! We were DONE. Now usually when we camp with the tent it takes us about an hour to get everything set up.
     After arranging our chairs around the fire ring and buying some wood we walked down to the lake, well what was left of the lake. Surprisingly it was quite beautiful in a rustic, wintery way. There were these sections along the beach of tall reeds where we observed hundreds of red-wing blackbirds diving in for the night. We then caught a beautiful sunset and headed back to make a huge fire. (Paco and the boys favorite part of the night!)
     The dogs were yummy but not burnt the way I like them (remember to add tongs to the master list). We were just chilling around the fire watching the night sky slowly fill up with stars when we heard a crunchy sound. We turned to look and low and behold there was a fat (really obese) raccoon stealing our Cheetos. He or she didn't even care that we were staring they just kept stuffing their face. Finally Paco yelled and it slowly sauntered off (mind you that pig came back three more times thru the night!)
     Two dogs and countless other "crap" food later the boy was ready to retire. We sent him up to his perch and he was out. I managed to hang a little longer with Paco where we drank and reflected on the past year. Then I went to bed-downstairs. So much more comfortable then a tent even a tent with an air mattress. Paco tucked and kissed and watched Fatty come back fo rme before he finally retired.
     Ruby has curtains-isn't that cute! We closed them but one side was missing a panel so the morning sun slowly woke us up. Usually when we are camping we are far from home and always on some kind of plan or agenda. This trip there was no plan or agenda and it was heaven! We slowly woke up. I had coffee and made the boy hot cocoa. Later I burned some oatmeal~just made it more campy tasting :)..Then we hung around the reclaimed fire and I crocheted, the boy explored and Paco pondered. It was divine!
*A little gripe* These massive rv's spend hours setting up including their satellites and then they stay inside the RV almost the whole time! What is the point of camping?? Ok I am done..
     Once it warmed up we decided to go for a hike. Nowhere in particular just hike along stop and see the birds (ok so Paco is a HUGE birder and quite the expert) he will see this and make me go back and write each species we saw like the tit mouse, cardinal, more to come I'm sure..We hiked past the park office and then into another area of the park that was deserted. We were in one part where there was tall dried grasses and I heard a shuffling. I looked and saw what I thought were deer at first but then I thought they seemed rather short for deer and realized they were hogs; feral hogs about 10 yards ahead of us! Paco told us to quietly start walking back when one of the hogs at the end of the procession stopped and stared directly at us. This is where I thought I was so thankful that we did not have Juno or Sassy with us. Kind of cool and scary at the same time. Later when we told John about the hogs he informed us that the park would be having a public hunt next weekend.
     On the return hike we decided to walk along the shore. It was full of empty clam shells and other treasures for 10 year old boys. The boy stripped down to his boxers as it got surprisingly warm. I found a beautiful piece of driftwood and got my arm workout carrying it for a while. We went to the corner store by the park entrance to get more wood and matches (ahem..opps I forgot that in my packing) and settled in for our last huge fire.

     The best part of camping to me besides the beautiful scenery is the time I get to spend with my family with no distractions. Just talking, sharing and laughing. We even had a very important talk with the boy about important life stuff.  Our last night we also made a pact to try to hit every Texas State Park within the next two years! And so begins our Journey..Hope you will follow us and be inspired to get out there yourselves..

Ruby's Journey to Texas

     Ruby came into our lives the night before Thanksgiving. She rolled up on one of those tall car transport trucks late in the night. She was so high up I was worried she would fall off. She rolled safely onto our street and I had to refrain from squealing and waking up the neighbors. Paco and I took her for a spin and promptly filled her with gas.
     Ruby is a 2002 Volkwagen Eurovan Westfalia. She is a beautiful ruby red color. I have wanted a Eurovan for as long as I can recall. My dream was always just that a dream until Paco, the boy and I left a cafe in Flagstaff, Arizona 3 years ago. We were on our first family camping adventure across the West. There in front of the cafe was a Eurovan with a For Sale sign prominently placed in the window. Paco casually joked that it would make a cool addition to our fleet and the seed was planted!
     Many searches and failed attempts later we finally found our Ruby! She came to us from Saint Helena, California. It was a rather bold move for a family of 3 to purchase such a thing sight unseen but we felt in our hearts that this was the ONE.
     Thanksgiving Day we finally got to explore Ruby's awesome features, the collapsible card table, the pop up camper and seats that pulled out into a bed for two. We then squealed and screamed with JOY!
     Thus begins our adventures with Ruby and the open road...