Another Loss

We just lost yet another loved one in our life, this time very suddenly and definitely unexpected.

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Late last October, we spent a very quick weekend camping with some friends.  We all needed a little break from our everyday lives, and I really needed a couple of nights away to refresh a bit as we were dealing with the hard situation of slowly losing my sweet cousin.  These long-time friends gladly joined us, as they had just purchased a brand new fifth wheel, and we shared their happiness as they took their new trailer on an inaugural trip with us.

Hubby worked with this man for thirty years, and they were good friends.  Sadly, we just lost this dear friend to a tragic accident.  One day, this friend was at work with Hubby, and the next day, he was gone.  He did not survive but a few brief minutes after the horrible crash.

Over three decades, this friend and Hubby grew very close.  They had a lot in common and helped and supported each other in ways other friends could not at times.  He and his wife were looking forward to their retirement years very soon, and they were especially looking forward to camping regularly with family and friends and even meeting new people on the road.  We were looking forward to being a part of that with them in coming years, too.

My heart is truly breaking following this tragic news that we received while on a drive around sunset with the dogs in the car.  Hubby completely broke down in tears, and it was all I could do to keep some composure myself to try to comfort him.   I drove us home as he wept and called other friends to share the sad news, and I remember seeing one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen in some time as I drove.

We memorialized and buried our friend, along with many others who loved him.  He ended his life well, after many years of heartache, and for that healing, I am very grateful today.  He will most definitely be missed.  So many times in situations like this, I struggle to see how his family will go on without him, but I also know that in every situation I’ve known in the past, they always find a way, even though it is seldom easy for them.

I’m sure I will remember our friend every time we revisit the places we camped with him and his wife and enjoyed their company in some beautiful scenic spots, and I hope that over time, I can remember in gratitude and not in sadness.

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.
– Marcel Proust

The photos shared in today’s post are from our last trip with our friends back in October, a trip that I remember so fondly.  We had a great time acquainting them with this particular park a little more, and these photos represent some memorable moments we shared together.  It was a lovely time enjoying good friends, beautiful scenery and more than a few much needed laughs.  We also loaned him an extra HDMI cable to use, since he forgot to buy one, and Hubby had great fun teasing him about it.

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Memorable sunsets
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Hidden lake that few people know about
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Beautiful fall colors

 

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Seeing lots of bison and their young up close
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Hiking around the lake

I am feeling fairly guilty right now as I mourn the fact that this is the fifth loved one we have lost in the past fifteen months.  We lost three family members and a good friend last year, and now we’ve lost another friend.  The more I think about being a little resentful of this fact, the more guilty I feel.  Perhaps it is time to quit looking at death in this way and start being more grateful for the blessing of having these people in my life for the time they were here.  As we grow older, we will no doubt continue to lose loved ones like this, and I don’t want the pity party to only grow within me.

This is a very hard loss for many of us, and if you are a praying person, please say a prayer for his family and friends.

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Easter Week at the Lake

We enjoyed a few days at Lake Brownwood State Park just before Easter once again.  Springtime is such a great time to visit this lovely park, and for the first time since we began visiting here is early 2012, the lake was completely full!  This was also our yearly pilgrimage to see our beautiful Texas bluebonnets once again.  A trip to see the bluebonnets in spring holds a special place in my heart, dating back to my childhood days with my family when we would make a trip to another lake in central Texas in the spring, often during this very same week when we had a break from school for Easter.

Here are two views of the same spot at Lake Brownwood in the day use area.  The first photo is from last year at this same time, and the second photo is from last week.

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2015
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2016

 

While we certainly missed all of those beautiful bluebonnets that we saw last year, it was such a treat to finally see this beautiful lake completely full with green grass and trees all around.  The lake actually filled up shortly after our visit last year after significant rains came to much of the state to finally end the drought that began in 2011, but this was our first time back to the lake since the rains came.

There are several campgrounds in the park, and we always enjoy the Council Bluff campground with the full hookups, nice shady sites, great views of the lake and easy access to some nice trails afforded there.  In fact, the overlook in this campground is one of my favorite places in the entire park, especially at sunset.

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Council Bluff overlook, about a minute walk from our campsite
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View from Council Bluff overlook
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Council Bluff overlook
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Council Bluff campground in the morning
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Area behind our campsite in Council Bluff where we saw some wild turkeys
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Sunset view from Council Bluff overlook

 

I captured a few photos of some pretty birds in the campground, including my first photos of our state bird of Texas, the mockingbird, which we do not see very often in our part of the state, unfortunately.  These pretty birds have a beautiful wingspan, too.

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Mockingbird, the state bird of Texas
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Northern Cardinal
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Mockingbird

 

The Willow Point campground, which sits right on the lake, is another beautiful place to camp in the park, offering water and electric sites with easy lake access.  The gorgeous day use area also sits next to this campground, and a nice fishing pier and boat ramp is within an easy walk.  We actually decided to return to the park midweek at some point and camp in Willow Point to take full advantage of the lake access, too.

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Swimming spot at the day use area
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Lovely day use area
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A nice campsite in Willow Point campground
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Lakeside campsites in Willow Point campround
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Willow Point campground
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Patch of bluebonnets near the day use area
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Beautiful bluebonnet

 

Lake Brownwood State Park is one of 29 CCC Legacy Parks in the Texas State Park system, and the most impressive site in the park is the historic lodge, built by the CCC during the Great Depression.  Hubby’s father was part of a CCC group in the hill country in that time, so all of the CCC facilities throughout the state hold a special place in our hearts, for sure.

I always enjoy seeing this beautiful and impressive building on each trip, and each year on Easter Sunday, a sunrise service is held here at a gorgeous overlook that has a great view of the lake as the sun shines its first golden rays over the lake.

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Historic CCC lodge
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Monument at the historic lodge
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Big patio behind the historic lodge
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Beautiful overlook area near the historic lodge
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Sunrise service is held in this beautiful spot every Easter morning.

 

Of course, a visit to this area is not complete without enjoying a meal at a truly iconic restaurant in the town of Brownwood, which is 22 miles south of the park.  Underwood’s Cafeteria is not to be missed when in this area, and you can’t miss it when driving through town with those large signs.  We opted to dine here at lunch on Thursday before the holiday crowds came to the area, which was a good plan.  Underwood’s Cafeteria has been in business for 70 years as of this year and is still going strong with some of the best BBQ anywhere at a fair price.

We had a great, relaxing trip back to this area, and even the dogs had a great time, I think.  We took the car along on this trip instead of the motorcycle, as the weather was a bit cooler than on previous trips, so we took them with us on some nice drives here for the first time.  Easy access to some of our favorite hiking trails from our campsite also allowed us to take them hiking every day, and we especially enjoyed hiking the Texas Oak Trail above the lake at sunset each day.

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Big Red loves to look out the window at our fellow campers.
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Girly Girl enjoying a morning nap in the sunshine in the RV.

 

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Wordless Wednesday – Bluebonnets

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Valentine’s Day RV Weekend

Our little getaway to Caprock Canyons State Park

The weather has been truly outstanding for the past couple of weeks, and we finally got out in the RV for Valentine’s Day weekend, after more than three months of missing our RV travels.  Even though Hubby is out of vacation days until early March, we still managed a quick trip out to Caprock Canyons State Park for the weekend while the weather was pretty much perfect.

We hoped to once again see our bison pals, but they were likely down in the remote parts of the canyon where the temperatures are a bit higher than they are up on the rim where the RV campground is.  As the weather warms up, they will likely return to areas where visitors can see them once again.

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We looked and looked for the bison, but they were nowhere to be found on this trip.

 

 

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Our bison pals, including a cute baby, back in the early summer of 2015

 

I had one interesting live photographic subject during the trip, though, as a pretty roadrunner decided it was time to pose for a photo shoot in the nice morning light.  My only real challenge was to capture the roadrunner without a lot of bison droppings in the photo along with it.  While the bison couldn’t be found last weekend, their remnants were certainly still there!

These are my first decent photographs of a roadrunner, and I’m happy to share them today.  Note the difference in the feathers on the head in the two photographs.

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Beautiful roadrunner!
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Feathers on the head are up!

 

This roadrunner didn’t seem to mind me gradually inching closer and closer for the shots, but when I was finished taking photos, it immediately took off running at full speed, a fun site to see.  Fortunately, I didn’t see a coyote in pursuit, even though we heard several of them in the early nighttime hours on Saturday night near our RV.  I love to hear coyotes howl.  It always gives me chills to hear them at night in the vast expanse of this lonely and beautiful land, and I can’t help but feel very fortunate to see and hear nature at its best at times like this.

I also captured a few photographs of the prairie dogs near our campsite, including the faithful “guard” to the RV campground entrance.  This one also greeted us repeatedly on our last trip at the end of October, and I was glad to see it still on point and performing it’s duties nicely.  These prairie dogs definitely saw their shadows on Ground Hog day a couple of weeks ago, but I’m not so sure that we are due six more weeks of winter.  The weather has truly been beautiful lately and looks to remain that way for the near future.

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Prairie dog at the entrance to the campground

 

I just adore the beautiful red canyons in this park, and the next photo is a slightly zoomed-in view from our campsite on this trip.  Not all of the RV sites afford this great sight, so we were once again fortunate to grab a site with a view.  Whether we have a canyon view or not, we always love to camp here, as the sites are spacious and well separated from next door neighbors.

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View from our campsite, slightly zoomed-in

 

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The panoramic view, looking northwest from near the campground

 

One of my favorite spots in any park we’ve ever visited is the amphitheater here in this park, which is just a nice walk down the road from the campground.  The views are just breathtaking, and I always make at least one solo walk here on each trip for a little quiet time, usually in the morning when the light illuminates the canyon walls so nicely.

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Walkway to the amphitheater

 

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Mere photos don’t do justice to the grandeur of this beautiful spot.
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One of the prettiest places to be in the morning!
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View looking west from the amphitheater

On Saturday afternoon, we rode the highway loop from Quitaque to Flomot to Monk’s Crossing and back to the park on the motorcycle, which is always an enjoyable ride in pretty weather.  Clarity Tunnel (aka The Bat Cave) is undergoing some work at this time, and the work is scheduled to continue through sometime in April.  We still want to ride the rail-to-trail route on our bicycles to the cave sometime, but we definitely need to do it in cool weather.  Friends have made this ride and loved it, and I’m ready to check it off my “bucket list,” hopefully sometime this year.  If not, we would also enjoy reserving a spot on the new shuttle bus in the park to ride to the cave one evening this summer, too.

Lake Theo in the park is still full, as the snows back in January no doubt helped to keep it that way.  We enjoyed a nice hike with the dogs to the lake and saw many people fishing and just enjoying their day out at the lake in the beautiful weather once again.  Here are some photos that I took of the lake a few months ago soon after the rains filled the lake.  It is a beautiful place, especially when things are green and the wildflowers have bloomed.

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Lake Theo after rains filled the lake, Spring 2015
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Day use area and swimming area at Lake Theo
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So great to see the lake up again, especially at the fishing pier.

 

I haven’t even shared any photos down in the canyon in this post but will do that another time.  The canyon area in this park is truly striking, and in some ways, we think it is prettier than it’s more popular big cousin, Palo Duro Canyon State Park, which is about two hours to the northwest.  Both are beautiful places, to be sure, but we are especially fond of this gem of a park.

 

 

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Wordless Wednesday – “Little Ferdinand”

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Memorial Day Weekend Recap

We visited our two beautiful canyon state parks in one day!

First, my heart is breaking for my fellow Texans downstate today.  Devastating floods have hit many areas, and there is so much hurt right now.  Of course, the much-needed rain will be very welcome once this crisis is over, but many are paying a heavy price for it right now.  The dam on the lake at Bastrop State Park failed, and the lake water has now mostly run out.  This is the same state park that was hit by a devastating wild-fire a few years ago, too.  Scenic little Wimberly in the hill country, which is a huge tourist town, saw a flood of epic proportions over the weekend, with the Blanco River rising 30 feet overnight.  Many cities and state parks have been impacted or shut down.  To have such a devastating situation hit on a holiday weekend just made it all the more challenging for those trying to keep people safe through it all.  I honestly don’t know right now how many people are missing or have lost their lives.  Please pray for those impacted by floods in Texas today. 

Texas Flooding Photos – The Boston Globe

Our decision to forego a long weekend camping trip due to the weather was a good one.  Storms hit our general area, but nothing like the unbelievable storms that hit downstate.  Hubby and I made a long Sunday drive instead, visiting both Caprock Canyons State Park and award-winning Palo Duro Canyon State Park in one day by car with the dogs and a picnic lunch on a beautiful little outing while the weather was nice, and I will share some pictures of our “grand canyons” adventure soon.  Visiting both of the canyon state parks in the Panhandle in one day is always a great scenic drive and a fairly easy one for us.  After all the recent rains, it was beautiful in a way we’ve not seen until now.  We did not start visiting the state parks regularly until 2011 when we bought our RV, the first year of the drought, and it is only getting better and better as more rain falls and renews our land at last.  I also took some great photos of the baby bison at Caprock Canyons.  (I am loving the new camera and lenses!)

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Later on, I will also share a few suggestions for anyone that is interested in visiting the canyon parks, as we learned some new information on this little outing that opens up new options, especially for anyone that would like to see Palo Duro Canyon but not take their RV down that fairly scary mile-long 10% grade road (with no shoulder and lots of people on bicycles at times) into and out of the park.  We were quite surprised to see a number of improvements in the park, which will make visiting an even better, and more reliable, experience in the canyon.  If we are “experts” on any state parks, it would be these two.  We have been visiting Palo Duro Canyon for five decades and have watched its popularity absolutely skyrocket with visitors from all over the world.  However, we actually prefer taking our RV to Caprock Canyons most of the time.  More to come on these wonderful parks!

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Wide-angle view of a portion of the 10% road into Palo Duro Canyon State Park, as shot from a pull-out on the road.

On Monday, we just relaxed at home and enjoyed a nice dinner at home with our son.  I definitely missed Mom joining us for this little family time, but we had a wonderful time together.  Hubby finally showed our son his pictures from his most recent trips to China and Europe, and we had a tasty dinner of spicy sausage and cabbage, which is quite possibly their favorite dish ever.  Son requested it, and Hubby prepared it.  My kind of meal!

I have so much to write about from our “grand canyons” adventure and also our week-long trip to Maui.  Unfortunately, I also have quite a bit to do right now at home, but I will eventually catch up on writing and sharing pictures here.  I’ve also committed to editing pictures for a friend and her hubby, who just returned from Kauai for their 40th wedding anniversary.  It is my little anniversary gift to them.

We don’t have any more vacations firmly planned at this time, but we will likely make a trip north somewhere over 4th of July week/weekend.  Hubby will be on the road for business more than usual over the next couple of months, and I hope to finally make some real progress on catching up on chores at home, in addition to writing and sharing photos of our most recent trips.  I have some great photos to share!

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Birds, Bunnies, Butterflies, Bicycles and Beauty

Our visit to Lake Colorado City State Park

Just over three years ago, we purchased our first RV with the hope that we could get away more often and allow Hubby to quit losing vacation days each year.  We wanted a way to be able to leave town on short notice with our dogs, get some good exercise and re-charge our “batteries” without breaking the bank in the process.  Being long-weekend RV warriors has been all we wanted and even more.

Recently, we made such a trip in the RV once again when we realized on a Thursday evening that the weekend weather was going to be beautiful and would be a nice time to go out.  All of the regular state parks that we visit were already booked, so we decided to check out a “new-to-us” state park in the RV for the first time.  We had discussed camping at this particular state park for the past couple of years, wanting to pick a good time to visit.  This was actually a perfect time to make that trip, so off we went.

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Lake Colorado City as seen at the day use area close to the boat dock

Lake Colorado City State Park is a state recreation area on the banks of Lake Colorado City.  Unfortunately, the drought of 2011 brought the lake level down, as it did so many lakes in this part of the state, and RV camping is less popular here than most state parks now for that reason.  The park sits only ten miles from I-20, a very busy interstate, so I’ve found it a bit odd that more RV travelers don’t check it out for an overnight stay.  Overnight RV sites in the nearby Permian Basin area are practically impossible to find these days due to the oil boom there, which would only seem to potentially increase some RV traffic here.  After visiting the park, there are probably more RV campers than advance reservations would suggest, with many probably just pulling in without a reservation, since they are not needed right now for the most part.

We made a quick trip in the car to check out the RV sites back in February, and we were pleasantly surprised at how nice this RV park was.  Of course, the trees are primarily mesquite trees and are lower profile for the most part, so spending time at this park in the heat of summer would not be something we would do unless the weather was cooler than normal.

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Interesting mesquite at our campsite

The weather was quite beautiful while we were there on this most recent trip in the RV.  The entire area was so wonderfully green, and wildflowers were everywhere, putting on a nice show for us all over the park.  We even saw a few patches of bluebonnets, which was quite unexpected.

Here is my “Top Ten List” for reasons to camp at Lake Colorado City State Park right now, not in any particular order.  Make a special note of #10, since this is a nice option that is unique to this park from what we’ve seen.

1.  We would most definitely drive ten miles from the interstate to overnight camp here if we were traveling.  Most commercial RV parks in this general area honestly leave a lot to be desired while this one is quite nice with good spacing between sites.  Some sites are back-in and some are pull-through.  We had a water and electric pull-through site for $22 per night.  All tables have covers, and the sites are mostly level, too.  If arriving after office hours, there is a phone number to call to gain admittance, as the park is actually locked after hours.  We were given the code to the lock when we checked in, just in case we needed to leave after hours.  The park personnel are very friendly, too.

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Sunrise across the lake at our campsite
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View looking north from our campsite to the adjacent sites

2.  This park is a popular birding park, and over 300 species of birds have been documented here.  It is a little oasis in this area.  Even in the RV campground, there are birds everywhere, and they were quite loud in the mornings due to the sheer number of them chirping.  On one quick morning walk, I saw two roadrunners, numerous scissortails, two different kinds of quail, cardinals and several others I couldn’t identify right away.  A professional photographer and his wife were camped near us in their RV, and he was out just after sunrise taking photos of the birds and took photos for quite a while.  The park staff also conducts periodic bird watching and counting events, inviting the public to join in the day-long fun.

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Roadrunner on our morning walk in the campground

3.  If you like bunnies, this is your park.  In fact, there were so many cottontail rabbits in the campground that our dogs would go a little nuts every time we took them outside for a walk.  I have never seen so many bunnies in one place.  They were so cute.

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Girly Girl watching one of the many bunnies
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Cottontail bunny being very quiet nearby as I took the dogs on a walk around the campground
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Bunny in the road at the campground

4.  We saw many pretty butterflies.  It made me realize that I really don’t see them too often at home anymore.  Seeing them was a real treat, even though I didn’t get a photo of them on this trip.

5.  This is a great place to ride bicycles, at least for us.  We prefer a mostly flat area to ride with only gentle hills, and this was perfect for us throughout the park and gave us a good consistent workout.  In fact, our long morning ride was one of the nicest bicycle rides we have had since we bought our new touring bikes a couple of years ago.

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Getting ready to ride bikes at our pretty pull-through site with the lake in the distance

6.  The real treat for us on this trip was the beautiful wildflowers and prickly pear cactus which were all over the park and in the campground areas.  It was a delight to once again see beautiful flowers, just as we did on our visit last month to Lake Brownwood State Park.

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7.  I suspect that most RV campers here these days are couples who are traveling and might just want a quiet place to camp for a brief stay, which keeps this park a pretty low-key place for now.  There is really no recreation on the lake except fishing and kayaking right now, and those activities take place in a different area of the park.  (The park will host a new guided kayaking program this summer, which could be a lot of fun, especially in the mornings.  They even provide the kayaks.  We may give it a try at some point, too.)  The couple camped closest to us was on a cross-country route headed to Yosemite from Florida and stopped overnight here when other state parks were full.  I suspect this is a common tale for this park.

8.  The town of Colorado City sits right on I-20 and has a big Affiliated grocery store.  It would be a great place to affordably restock groceries, whether you camp at the state park or not.  There are other places to eat in town, although we saw mostly fast food places closer to the interstate.  We are always good for a stop at Dairy Queen when traveling, though, and there is also a Sonic in town for ice cream.  No, that is not on my diet, but perhaps you could indulge for me.

9.  This is a uncrowded park and is very peaceful and quiet.  Most state parks these days cannot boast that fact on weekends, and it was a welcome respite for us, to be sure.  Peace and quiet is always a bonus for us, and I believe others would also enjoy this peaceful place in good weather conditions when it’s not too hot and not too cold.  It’s just a great place to relax and get away from it all.

Girly Girl Lounging in the RV
Girly Girl lounging in the RV on her horse blanket, since it was Kentucky Derby day

10.  Small cabins with attached RV sites are available that front the lake, and they are quite nice.  While we camped at a regular RV site on our trip, we are considering going back sometime and renting a cabin with the RV hookups next to it.  Our dogs could stay in the RV, since they are not allowed in the cabins, and we could enjoy the extra air-conditioned space, the nice shaded patio in front and also have quick access to the lake to fish or swim.  Each cabin has a tall grill outside and a fire pit on the ground.

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Cabins face the lake

The cost is only $60 per night, plus tax, including the hookups for the RV. Guests could come along and have their own place to sleep in the cabin, along with air conditioning, a small fridge and a microwave oven.  Each cabin can sleep six but would comfortably sleep four people in separate beds consisting of two sets of bunk beds.  No linens are provided.

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View of the lake from cabin porch
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View inside a cabin
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RV site right behind the cabin. Some RV pads are wider than this one.

 If we go back to kayak sometime, I think we will opt for this arrangement, since the kayak tours take place in summer months.  We would appreciate the extra air-conditioned space in summer months, since it can get quite hot here.  In fact, Hubby would be quite content to camp with this particular set-up for more than a weekend, too.

After the miracle rains of the past week in our area, I’m certainly not discounting the fact that this smaller lake could quickly fill up once again, and we are hoping and praying for that to happen.  We’ve seen just such an event take place with another area lake this week.  Lake Colorado City was down even before the 2011 drought, though, and motor boaters have not been able to get their boats in the lake for about ten years now.  I’m sure if the lake comes back up, the summer boating crowd will quickly return.

In summary, this state park may not necessarily be a destination park for most people, but it has some definite benefits to visitors, especially to those traveling by RV.  We will definitely be returning to this park, along with several others in our travel rotation, for weekend trips.

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