Big Southwestern Trip Stop #3, McKinney Falls State Park in Austin

McKinney Falls State Park was a great spot from which to see Austin and is a wonderful park in general. The sites are large and our site #42 was perfect.

We chose to camp in Austin because it was close to nearby family and we loved the McKinney State Park.  It offered everything we needed for two days in the area.  This park had very nice showers too.   Our site was very large, offered a lot of privacy, and was only about 200 feet from the bathhouse, which was immaculate.   The park is very close to downtown Austin with the only downside of some road noise.

Site # 42

We would be away from the campsite for all of our one full day there, so we did not do anything beyond hooking up power and water and putting a tarp over the gear that rides inside our camper.  Rain was expected and we wanted to be able depart easily.

We needed an indoor activity and had arranged to meet a couple of beloved cousins at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library and Museum.  We enjoyed the museum and learned a lot about this country’s thirty-sixth president (1963-1969). The android in the photo below depicts Johnson’s mannerisms and the way he used humor to make a point.

President Johnson Android

The library included a replica of the Oval Office as it was in the Johnson years.

Replica of Oval Office

Johnson was known for being very persuasive and for getting up close and personal.  There was a name for it, “The Johnson Treatment.”

Big Guy and cousin getting the “Johnson Treatment”

The library also included a video about events in his presidency, articles from the Johnson family’s  life, an exhibit of pop culture of the time, and a film about his family life.  We were there about two hours and thoroughly enjoyed it.

We then had a very nice lunch with the cousins at Quality Seafood, which has amazing gumbo!  It was great spending quality time with them and we were appreciative that they drove quite a few miles in the rain to hang with us.

Hanging out with cousins

Before heading back to our campsite, we visited the Texas State Capitol, which is the largest state capital in the United States.  The Italian Renaissance Revival building, which was completed in 1888, is quite beautiful.  At the time of its construction, it was reputed to be the seventh largest building in the world.

Texas State Capitol
View from inside the rotunda
The dome
The Senate Floor
The House of Representatives

An enormous underground extension was added in 1993. It doubled the space available for state business.  In the photo below, you can see the Capitol Building through the skylight.

Looking up from underground extension

We took a free guided tour, which was very informative.  After the tour, we rented a couple of movies at Redbox and headed back to camp.  This was another part of the rainy day plan.

Our next stop is Del Rio, Texas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big Southwestern Trip, Stop #2 Sea Rim State Park in Texas

Sea Rim State Park was a new experience for us—no showers and a pit toilet.

Sea Rim was our first experience in a Texas State Park.  It was chosen because it was along our southwest path and near Houston, where we have relatives.  The ratings were good and I booked it without thoroughly researching.  The day before we were to camp there, I read reviews from several sources.  Three things that I read concerned me:

  1.  There were no indoor showers.  Only outdoor showers for removing sand.
  2. Allegators were prominently mentioned in the reviews.  Sightings were numerous!  Late night treks to the restroom concerned me.
  3. Mosquitos were mentioned as being vicious.  I had naively thought that since we were traveling in the winter,  we would not have significant problems with them.

We adopted a stoic attitude, recognizing that not all of the time spent on this trip will be comfortable and there will be challenges.  I told my husband I was going to be “pioneer woman”.

It actually was not as bad as I feared. Our son told us that when he had been camping with no showers, they used baby wipes.  I had stowed some towelettes designed for just that purpose from when my husband was in the hospital so we had a solution for the lack of a shower.

Site # 4

Though it was about 2 p.m. when we arrived, it was amazingly foggy.  The sun was shining, but it barely showed through the fog.  It looked very “other worldly.”  Our campsite was simple as it was for only one night.  It is a very long drive into Sea Rim through oil well facilities with little or no commerce and restaurant options were non-existent.  My big guy cooked a nice meal for us.  It was pleasant and bugs were not bothering us at that time.

We walked over the boardwalk to the beach and it was even foggier there, but it felt good to have the salt air blowing in us.  It was so humid that my hair remained damp the entire time we were outside.

Foggy view of the gulf
A foggy walk on the beach

We enjoyed our afternoon.  We did not see a single alligator, which was fine by me, though my husband would have liked it.

As soon as it was almost dark, the mosquito army arrived and we were under siege.  At least two dozen managed to make it into our cabin and we were killing mosquitoes for at least an hour.  I have identified about eight bites and my husband got quite a few too.  Most unpleasant!

On the plus side, the temperature was comfortable and were fell asleep to the sounds and smell of the sea.  The restroom was close and not bad, though it was what is described as a pit toilet.  It was basically a building with a men’s and women’s toilet over a pit about six feet deep.  Surprisingly, it did not smell bad.  The facility was clean and well-maintained.  I did look out for alligators as I made the trek.

The next morning, most of the fog had lifted and it was a beautiful, sunny day.  This remote park was lovely if you don’t consider the mosquitoes.  The ranger did say that they were very bad when we arrived.

Ready to go to Austin
View of the marsh and boardwalk 

The next stop is McKinney State Park in Austin and it has showers.  Yea!

 

Sea Rim State Park

 

Big Southwestern Trip, Stop # 1 Natchez State Park in Mississippi

We are taking a winter trip along the southwestern border of the United States in our T@G MAXL camper. Stop number one was in Mississippi.

Natchez State Park was the first stop of our first long trip in our teardrop camper.  The longest prior trip was seven days and this trip is expected to last about four weeks.  We don’t really know what to expect as we have never spent so much continuous time in our tiny camper and have not driven in most of the areas.  Lastly, although we will be south of most of the country, we will be traveling in the winter.  Exciting—but scary!

One of the trip goals was to limit driving hours to 3-5 hours each day.  Natchez was a five hour drive and on the long end of our goal, but it gets us well on our path.

It was our first time to camp in Mississippi.  We reserved site 46 through Reserve America.  It was pretty inexpensive, only $16.05 for the night. The  campground was nice with typical state park facilities.  Fishing and hunting are big activities in the area and it is my understanding that the fishing is especially good at the lake in the campground.

Rain was expected that night, so we did not really set up camp.  We just moved items that were in our camper to a picnic table and plugged in the electric cord.  We had a couple of places to visit and were having dinner out, so it would be dark when we returned.

Items removed from our the camper

Natchez is a city with a very interesting past.  I was surprised to learn that before the Civil War, more than half the millionaires in the entire country lived in Natchez.   Consequently, there are an abundance of very elegant mansions that still exist from that time.

Longwood, an Oriental Villa, is the largest octagonal house in the United States, designed by famous Philadelphia architect, Samuel Sloan.  Construction began in 1860 and it was to provide 30,000 square feet of living space.  It had been under construction for about eighteen months when it was halted in 1861 as tensions rose regarding the Civil War.   The owners, Haller and Julia Nutt, had the basement area completed early and were living in it while the remaining construction was occurring.  The remaining interior levels were never completed.

Longwood
Plan for First Floor
Interior room
View of upper floors through the dome

Longwood’s wealthy owner became sick and died while in his 40’s, but his wife and their children lived in it for many decades in this unfinished status.   Longwood was often referred to over the years as Nutt’s Folly.  It was acquired by the Pilgrimage Garden Club in 1970 and was designed a historic landmark in 1971.

The estate has many beautiful live oak trees such as the one below.

One of several live oak trees

Another amazing architectural design in Natchez is St Mary’s Basilica. Natchez was designated the See of the Roman Catholic Church in Mississippi and construction began in 1842 of the only church built as a cathedral in Mississippi.  It has been designated a minor basilica.

St. Mary’s Basilica

It is a beautiful building.  Unfortunately, we arrived at a time when mass was just beginning, so we did not get to take photos of the interior.  I would have loved to be able to just sit quietly in all that beauty and splendor for a few minutes.  Our schedule did not allow for a return to the basilica on this visit, but we want to see it again if we are in the area.

Main entrance with papal coat of arms on the left

Dinner was at the highly-rated Roux 61 Seafood and Grill and it lived up to its reputation.  We arrived at approximately 4 p.m. and the parking lot was full. We had some incredible chargrilled oysters!  Our favorites were the oysters, slaw, hush puppies, and bread pudding.  We shared a seafood platter and the fish and seafood were also good.   This was a very,very good meal!

Roux 61 Seafood and Grill

After dinner, we returned to our camper and watched a movie.  It was raining, but  we were dry and cozy and the temperature was perfect.

There is still much more to see in Natchez and we hope to return.

Next stop, Sea Rim State Park in Sabine Pass, Texas!

 

Planning That First Long Trip

This upcoming trip will last almost a month and cover over 5,000 miles. Previously, our longest trip was only one week and just a few hundred miles. This post covers how we tackled the planning for this much longer trip.

This trip in our teardrop begins along the U.S. southwestern border with the return back east along a bit more northern path.  It is a cool weather trip and the desire is to camp in areas with milder weather.

Planning Framework

  • Limit driving to approximately three to five hours a day.
  • Extend the trip all the way to California with camping in the path of our destination primarily near the southwestern border to minimize the impact of cold weather.
  • Travel a slightly more northern route on the return home to visit other states.
  • Stay overnight in as many states as possible.  We have a goal of camping in all the lower 48 states and we have a long way to go to reach that goal.
  • Travel early in the day to avoid driving at night and having to set up in the dark.
  • Campsites will be simple without the use of a lot of outdoor amenities as we will not be staying long in any single spot.  We purchased a smaller side tent for this trip as it is easier to use.
  • Cooking will be minimal as well, with most breakfasts at the campsites and a late lunch out in the local area.  We want to avoid chain restaurants and experience some of the better cuisine in each area.   Very small snacks such as fruit or popcorn will be our dinner.  We hope to lose a little weight on the trip or at least not gain any.
  • Visit a couple of special areas that are off the path:  Moab,  Utah and Alabama Hills, California.  I was blown away by photos posted by some campers of those spots and we determined it was worth driving extra miles to visit.  If it later becomes too much, we can omit one or both of these stops.
  • Expect to do laundry and buy groceries.  This means that packing will not have to include many more clothes than packed on previous trips and food initially packed will be breakfast and snacking options.

Determining the Stops

Once we had a framework, defining the stops on the trip was just finding places on the map that offered good camping options within the miles we would travel in a day.  We wanted to stay near towns and cities with a priority to those we have never seen or have wanted to visit.

Reservations 

One big question:  to reserve or not to reserve?   We have read about campers who just find overnight places as they go along.  This is appealing because on a long trip with many stops,  you may want to stay more or less time than you would plan.  I also worried that if everything is reserved and something happens to your plans, it could be quite costly.  Additionally, reservations would remove that stay longer or leave early option.   Ultimately, we did a hybrid.  We reserved the first few sites close to our departure date because we were fairly certain of how long we would be at those stops.  After those few stops, we are winging it!

A  written document details all our planned stops.  As time permitted, I would work on a new location.  This included researching camping options, restaurants, and activities in the area.  I also put our stops on a map.  This has helped to make this trip come alive for us before we left.  I think it has also helped to make us more prepared.

Additional Considerations

  • Mail: Our neighbor normally gets our mail when we travel, but we did not want to ask for such a long trip.  The Postal Service will put a hold on your mail and we are using this option.
  • Medications:  We had to do some advance filling of prescriptions to ensure an adequate supply over several weeks.
  • Indoor plants:  We have requested a family member to assist with this task.
  • Avoid Water Issues:  Turn off hot and cold water to washing machine while away to avoid leaking hoses.  This recommendation was from a member of a Facebook camping group.
  • Bill Paying:  Extra concern has be taken to ensure that critical bills do not go unpaid while we are not be seeing our mail.  We paid up as many bills as we could prior to leaving and set a few reminders to ensure that those expected to be issued while we were gone were handled.
  • Set travel notices:  Notified bank and credit company when and where we will be traveling.
  • Tow Vehicle and Camper Maintenance:  Oil changes, tire rotation, and replacement wiper blades were part of our preparation.  Also, overall safety checks of both camper and vehicle.
  • Supplemental Heating:  As this is a cold weather trip with many unknowns, we needed more than our usual electric blanket option.  We purchased a small ceramic heater for our travels.
  • Clothing for Various Weather:  Typical expected weather is highs in 60s and lows in the 30s.  However, warmer days and cooler nights may occur.  Layered clothing , plus coats, hats, and gloves are part of our preparations.

A lot of planning has gone into this trip.   Let’s hope that it helps it to go smoother.  We will post our adventures and assess how well this plan works.  We are excited, but just a teeny bit apprehensive as we have only been camping about eighteen months and this is very new territory for us.

Fingers crossed!