Monday, June 18, 2018

Camping Caprocks Canyon

Sunrise at the Childress Walmart.

Time to go fuel up, scrape the 10 hours’ worth of yesterday’s bugs off the windshield, (Yep, 10 hours of driving and still well within Texas) and head on across the last 60 miles to Caprock Canyons State Park

Childress is about halfway between Amarillo and Wichita Falls and the 24 hr. Childress Walmart is very popular with truck-drivers, so much so that it appears Walmart, maybe in conjunction with the small Pilot truck-stop just to the east which has limited parking, built a truck parking addition to the parking lot.

If you are a large RV I wouldn’t recommend trying to park in that area though. There’s not quite enough truck parking around here as it is and most of the rest of the Walmart lot is signed as no truck parking, but it doesn’t say anything about RV parking. Otherwise there’s a fairly decent set of rest areas about 35 miles southeast on US-287 between Quanah and Chillicothe

Me, I just pull in next to one of the outlying cart-corrals where I’m not interfering with the available ‘swinging space’ required to turn long trucks. The disadvantage of this is that it puts me right next to a cart-corral but because it's far from the doors not many people use it, especially during the overnight-hours when I'm there.

There’s a few camping choices available at Caprock, though I can’t personally recommend the walk-in tent sites there on Lake Theo. Each site does have a sheltered table but it all looks more like a picnic area turned into a campground as an afterthought, so the sites are small and crammed right on top of each other with no privacy.

Most RV-ers choose the Honey Flat Camping Area which is a nice easy, flatish drive from the visitor center, with the exception of the dip over the Lake Theo spillway, and has both 30 amp as well as 50 amp sites with water.

But been there, done that, and wasn’t impressed.

Not that there’s anything wrong with the sites,

My Honey Flats campsite in 2016

but the last half-dozen or so times I’ve been on water-electric sites I never bothered to break out my power cord, which seems like a waste of my camp-site dollars when there’s less expensive alternatives; although expensive is relative with a 30 amp water-electric site running $17 and the tent sites I'll get to in a moment costing $12. 

One thing to watch out for if driving past Honey Flats is the prairie dog town inside that red circled area back there on the map. Most of the inhabitants are pretty laid back but there are some that will panic and run in unpredictable directions so you don’t want to be going too fast through here.

And in one case there’s a burrow right in the middle of the road! Which I might not have noticed at all except I saw a prairie dog dive into it.

In addition to full-featured Honey flats campsites there's also a couple of primitive backpack camps in the park, or, for those with horses, the Wild Horse Equestrian camp, but my choice of campsite this stay was to drive down into the canyon (Honey Flats is up on the rim) to one of the two tent camping areas. The parking area at Little Red Tent Camping Area is – well parking-lot like, which is no big deal if you are actually staying in a tent, which I’m not.

The thing Little Red Tent Camping Area has going for it that South Prong does not is shelters at each site.

One thing to note about driving back this far into the park is not just one, but two steep dips in the road resulting in four 16% grades. This is steep enough that first-gear is not going to hold so you will have to use the brakes.

No trailers over 15 feet are allowed on this section of the road, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend anything with a long wheelbase and overhangs because of the sharp turns and abrupt grade changes, but I have seen a 27 ft Class C down here, (Just cruising by, it never stopped.)

Another thing to watch for pretty much anywhere in the park are the bison, such as this pair of bulls I encountered on my way into my campsite.  (It was probably these same two bulls that played a part in a minor drama several days later, but I’ll get to that in another post.)

South Prong Tent Camping area, right at the end of the park road, is less parking-lot-ish and some of the sites seem to be more private, but there are no shelters here,


which is not that big a deal if you carry your own shelter.  I was also able to take advantage of a screen of Mesquite to shelter my shelter from the afternoon sun.

And I’m soon all “set up” at site 49 where all my cooking and sleeping will be done in The Van.

Sunday afternoon generated an intermittent stream of looky-loos that drove to the end of the road, around the loop and back out again, most without stopping, but that died off as the sun set and for the next 5 nights I was pretty much alone except for the occasional vehicle parked at the trail-head (Upper Canyon Trail) and one tent-camper that set up on the other side of the loop and stayed one night.

My kind of place! (When a ranger shopping for a small RV of his own stopped by on my last evening there to ask some questions about The Van I found that my unused voice didn't want to work properly at all)

Something to pay attention to, though there is a pit toilet at both Little Red and South Prong tent areas, there's no water beyond Honey Flats, which is also the nearest trash disposal, so bring what aqua you need and pack the trash out!

This place is nestled down at the mouth of a canyon that wanders another two miles towards the escarpment that seperates the rolling plains to the east and the south plains to the west. In a later post I’ll give you a sample of the abrupt and startling demarcation between these two geological features.

But for now I can’t help staring at the cliff behind me which, to varying degrees of clarity depending on the angle of the sun, appears to have a frieze carved into it,

including someone wearing a coned ceremonial hat.

A couple of final notes about coming to Caprock.

Though Quitique, 4 miles away, was the first US town to go to a completely wireless phone system (Installed by GTE in 1991, but they switched back to the old wired system two years later) don't expect data-grade cell signal around here.

In fact you will probably not have enough signal for even a low-tech voice-call from most of the park.

For that reason it's best to download the available PDF trail-maps well before you get here, like back at Estilline out there on a main highway. This could be especially important because the visitor center may have run out of paper maps, as was the case when I arrived this time. (Fortunately part of my pre-trip-prep is to download maps.)

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Need For Speed!

Proof positive that us Texans are bat-shit crazy about our right to kill ourselves with excess speed!

I’m just on the outskirts of Estilline where the eastern end of Texas-86 dead-ends at US-287. Forty miles west of here is Quitaque. In between is two lanes of twisting state road threading between ranches and cotton fields as it tracks along an un-named ridge. (on the south side of the road water drains to the North Pease River and on the north to the Little Red River)

Bob Wills’ tour bus at sunrise

Thirty miles in, offering a temporary respite from the blistering speed, is the town of Turkey, population 421, home town of Bob Wills – king of country swing.

From here it’s another 10 miles to Quitaque, (kit-a-kway) population 411, home town of Jimmy Ross – President of Lions Club International 2006-2007. No, I’m serous! As you come into town from the west there’s a big sign saying so.

Halfway in between Turkey and Quitaque is an unmapped place called Valley View, home of Valley School, which is shared by the two towns plus an unincorporated area, (Flomot, population 181) all spread out across three different counties.  Next to Valley School is the Valley View Drive-in movie theater. The sign says ‘closed for winter’, but I’m not sure how many years ago now that was. . .

So what?

Well Quitaque is 4 miles south of Caprock Canyons State Park and more on that in future posts,

Estimating off the white line, which by Federal mandate is 10' long, (Who says the government never did anything for us?) the driver taking this photo is, if I'm being generous, about 90 feet behind the truck. At 55.5 mph the proper following distance of 2 seconds is 162.8 feet. Now who's the bad driver?

but as long as we’re on the subject of speed, (or at least I am.) there’s been some grumbling on forums and blogs lately about slow trucks passing slower trucks and inconveniencing other drivers who want to go even faster, and this image has been bandied about to illustrate the point

I actually question that the numbers pasted into the image are realistic since many of the big trucking companies, including Schneider there on the right,  govern their fleet trucks at 62 MPH while owner-operators, which carry their own liability insurance, contracted to the carrier are often governed at 65 MPH. (These are not arbitrary speeds but rather are derived from hundreds of millions of miles worth of data that’s been crunched down to optimum delivery times verses operating cost, safety, and equipment wear-and-tear. Maybe the rest of us should sit up and take notice?)

Being one of those laid-back drivers that doesn’t mind slowing down (On Texas-86 I ended up behind an old travel-trailer recently pulled out of the weeds and doing no more than 55 lest it fall apart on one of the turns. Rather than go through the stress and risk of passing on a twisting 2-lane so I could get back up to my usual 60 to 65, I just sat back and relaxed for the next 20 miles.) I got to wondering what the real, rather than the perceived, effects of road-speed are. 

For a typical scenario on a Texas freeway I took truck A doing 62 and truck B coming up behind doing 65. The speed difference amounts to truck B covering 264 feet per minute more than truck A. If truck B pulls out to pass when a truck and a half length behind truck A, about 113 feet between front bumper and back of trailer, and moves back over when the rear of the trailer is a truck and a half length ahead of truck A, that’s a total difference of 375 feet truck B has to make up out there in the passing lane, which, given the difference in the speed of the two trucks will take 1.42 minutes. If during that 1.42 minutes, speedy-car, running at 75 MPH and coming up behind truck B at the exact moment truck B pulls out to pass, will lose a whole 1250 feet of forward progress compared to spending the same 1.42 minutes doing 75 MPH. Barring any other such incidents, at the end of one hour speedy-car, assuming speedy-car sticks to the 75 MPH speed limit the rest of the time, will have covered 74.76326 miles instead of the 75 the driver was hoping for. That difference of 0.236742 miles cost the driver a whole 11.55303 seconds.

Oh boo-hoo!! It takes most of us longer than that to fish our credit-card out after the checker has rung us up. (I swear, a lot of us act as if having to actually pay at the check-out comes as a surprise every time!)

11.5 seconds is also the time it takes to do a pretty decent 100 yard dash, but of course, being American, speedy-car’s driver is 20 to 30 pounds overweight and hasn’t done anything more strenuous in the past 5 years than a quick shuffle from couch to fridge and back during a commercial break so couldn’t run for 100 yards all in one shot at any speed.  . .

But let’s make the whole thing worse and say truck B was doing 63 to truck A’s 62. Then it takes a whopping 4.261364 minutes to make the pass and at the end of the hour speedy-car is 41.59091 seconds behind. My question is just what the hell is so important that 42 seconds, less than the time it takes to watch just one more commercial on TV, is worth getting riled up about???

Unthinking shit like that riles me up!

Monday, June 11, 2018

Conversations With Myself (If Only You Could Hear Them!)

Recently I was taking a break along the trail in Pedernales Falls State Park when this guy went by at a fairly good clip.

There was no one with him and he never saw me, and yet as he quick-timed by, probably racking up his daily 10,000, he was talking up a storm from earshot to earshot.

But that’s OK. I get where he’s coming from because when hiking I also ‘get into the zone’. Only, as is my nature, I keep the conversations inside my head.

And what conversations they are! Under the impetus of foot-born passage through nature I write blog-posts worthy of comparison to Kerouac and Keralt. Posts that not only shine a precise and edifying light on little bits of America, but also show incredible insight into the human condition.


But alas, (Such a literary word that – Alas –) by the time I get to the keyboard all that’s left of my brilliant monologues are scraps. Scraps that, no matter how I put them together, don’t make a damn lick-a sense. . .

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Flipped My Lid

I never drive with my vent-covers open, and I’ve been stationary in worse winds, so I guess it was fatigue in combination with a fairly stiff wind that caused the cover on my Fantastic Vent to fail mid-trip recently.

I was sitting in the relative shade of the spun-around passenger seat with the side and rear doors open as well as the windows and both vents, reading a book while The Van rocked gently in the wind when I heard an unusual rattling over my head. When I looked up I saw the vent cover doing things I’ve never seen it do before.

Now if this was like seeing The Daughter riding a two-wheeler for the first time, which comes to mind as an example of a happy thing that I'd never seen before, that would be one thing, but to see the vent cover flopping around loose up there on the roof, that was not a happy first.

Like virtually every vent cover made, there’s a slotted plate attached to the underside of the cover that the end of the lift/lower lever rides in,

but unlike most vent covers, on mine one of the attachment points for this plate had snapped off, releasing the end of the lever arm so that the hinge was now the only thing keeping the cover and The Van connected to each other.

I still had a few days left on this trip and a flapping vent cover was unacceptable so, working from below, cramming my fingers through the little gaps of the 10 fan-blades between me and the cover, I managed to tame the exuberant cover (Did I mention it was windy?) and wedge it firmly, but inoperably, into the closed position.

Not ideal since it was pretty damn warm, like high 90's, but better than a 14” hole in the roof.

Once back at home base I contacted PPL to make sure they had the proper vent cover in stock before making the long drive to pick it up from one of their store-front locations (PPL has on-line sales but uses FED-EX who will not deliver to either our physical address nor to the P O Box) They did not so I had to wait a couple days for them to get it shipped to my pickup point of choice.

The original cover is smoke, but I ordered white this time to more closely match the Max-Air vent on the other side of the solar-panel. I don’t know for sure, but it seems like the metal plate on the new cover has sturdier attachment points than the original cover. I’ll tell you in about 8 years if it holds up any better.

Initial inspection of the hinge attachment looked a little scary, what with all the rusted screw-heads, but I didn’t need to worry because they backed out with no problem. Since they’ve been doing their job just fine and I can’t normally see up there anyway, reusing the same screws to attach the new cover was no problem, saving me trying to hunt down short, course threaded, stainless replacement screws.

As these screws go into a plastic strip I made sure the torque setting on my screwdriver was set to minimum as I drove them slowly home, then gave each one more little tweak to set them in firmly without risking stripping the plastic. 

But first, since the vent stays open most the time, there was 8 years’ worth of gunk up there,

so I took a moment to give everything a cursory swipe with a damp rag,

before installing the new cover.

As long as I was up there in the vicinity (Out of a sense of self-preservation I don’t get up on The Van’s roof very often) I decided it might be time to remove that  silly bat-wing antenna for the TV I chucked out of The Van years ago.

But not wanting to risk disturbing any water-tight seals and create a whole new mess to clean up, I left the bracket and cable in place.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Guess Who Came To Dinner

Usually the bucks around here stay over on the other side of the pond. Once in a while I might see them on our side down by the tractor barn, but not very often.


But for the past few days this guy has been stopping by the snack bar just outside our back door.

And no, he’s not grimacing at me, he’s just busy putting the first grind on the corn he’s scarfing up while totally ignoring the berry-scented deer-feed.

In this shot, taken with a 24mm wide-angle, you get an idea of how close he’s getting to me as I stand at my computer desk.

The one scarfing corn is the oldest, and ring-leader, of a little band of three bucks that have been hanging around together for the past month or so. And as such he’s either the only one allowed down on the corn or the only one with the balls to be enticed all the way down the encircling bank to get at it.

This one, the youngest, wouldn’t mind a bit of corn, but not enough to actually come down and get it.

But this guy, the middle one of the group, he’s going to pretend that I’m not standing there only a few feet away. In fact he’s going to pretend so hard that he won’t even look at me.

I was so focused on the bucks that I nearly missed the doe slipping by near the top of the hill with a fresh, new little one tagging along behind.

I asked them to wait up a moment while I framed the perfect shot, but mom, the same mom that brought last year’s little one down by the feeder about a year ago, was having none of that and with a quiet bleat had her little charge trotting into the tree-line where no camera can go.

< EDIT >

Little one in the highlighted area at the top of the cut-bank which was as close as she was going to get

About a week later mom came down to snarf some corn and deer-feed as she is wont to do, but this time the little one was tagging along instead of bedded down somewhere.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Madrone In The Morning


Not exactly what I would call a pretty trailhead, even in the flattering light of early morning,

but it is what it is.

Fortunately I don’t have to trudge the powerline right-of-way very far before

making a sharp right into far more pleasant environs, although most anything is more pleasant than hanging around under those humming, snapping power lines which conjure up images of a bug creeping along under the imminent threat of a bug-zapper.

The 4.5 mile Madrone trail is mostly contained in a little slice of Pedernales Falls State Park that is on the south side of CR-201 and for the most part is, for the area, a relatively flat hike among Juniper with a healthy scattering of hardwoods for variety.

The trail is named for the Madrone trees which put in a few rare appearances here at the southern end of the park. As can be seen in the photo above the bark of the Madrone is often a distinctive red and, unlike many trees, doesn’t grow with the tree but is shed in long flakes to reveal the next, fresh smooth layer.

I know there’s at least one larger specimen along this trail because I’ve seen it before, in fact the image above comes from a 2015 hike on this trail,

but today the best I could come up with was this seedling protected by a ring of stones as it struggles to survive right at the edge of the trail.

The seeds are barbed so it’s not unreasonable to expect that a few years ago this one hitched a temporary ride to this spot on a hiker’s pant-leg. Maybe even mine!

With a little luck maybe this one will survive long enough to one day be classified as a tree.

The Madrone Trail is not in itself a loop, but by piecing it together with parts of the Juniper Ridge Trail it can be turned into one.

Though like the Madrone, the Juniper Ridge Trail has a minimum of vertical challenges, it crosses distinctly more pitched and rocky terrain than Madrone. Juniper Ridge was designed and built by a mountain bike club out of Austin and it shows.

Rather than backing off into the easier ground a few feet away, the Juniper Ridge Trail clings right to the rocky edge of a number of ravines as it zig-zags across the  park for over 9 miles, sometimes just barely clinging to the edge of drop-offs.

Given my skills, or rather lack of, as a mountain-biker you won’t catch me riding it, but as a hike it's actually pretty good.

Using the Madrone and Juniper Ridge, I could have created an 8 mile loop that traverses most of the southern end of the park, as I have in the past, but I was actually supposed to be heading home to chores rather than out here hiking today, so I used a piece of the Windmill Road to cut things down to a 5 hour, five and a half mile bit of procrastination instead.