50th Texas State Park and Loving Every Minute of It!

50th Texas State Park and Loving Every Minute of It!

Scott and I finally made it to our 50th Texas State Park, Pedernales Falls State Park, just outside of Johnson City.  We were able to do a little hiking and just enjoy being in the outdoors. While we were there, we took a few minutes and did a quick Outside Our Box so we could celebrate our latest goal achievement.

We had such an amazing time getting lost on the hike and seeing some of the Pedernales River.  The camping looked to be clean and comfortable so we will be looking to visit again so we can kayak the river eventually.

Thanks for all the support all of you have shared and all the encouragement.

Venturing Out Into the Lost Pines

Venturing Out Into the Lost Pines

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While we were on our Labor Day Weekend Trip to the Bastrop area, we were able to mark off five more Texas State Parks:  Bastrop State ParkBuescher State ParkGoliad State Park/State Historic Site (Zaragosa Birthplace State Historic Site), Monument Hill – Kreische Brewery State Historic Site, and Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site.  We were not expecting to pick up Goliad, Monument Hill or Washington-on-the-Brazos, but something unexpected happened on Saturday, but that’s another post.

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Friday we went with our friends John and Faye Cobb to Bastrop and Buescher State Parks.  John and Faye are part of the Friends of the Lost Pines group and they LOVE these two parks.  True Bastrop has been through a lot of major changes over the past five years between a huge forest fire in 2011 and the loss of their CCC built dam in 2015, but it is a very, very nice park with so much history.  While we drove the along State Park Road 1A, B, and C, they told us stories about the building of the parks, visiting of the populous, and the violence of Mother Nature.

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When we drove through the CCC built entry way, I could see why John and Faye loved this park; it was beautiful.  The drive towards the headquarters building meandered lazily past loblolly pines and a mix of late summer wildflowers.  Before you arrive at the office, there is a large spring fed pond.  This pond is where many El Camino Real Travelers had stopped along their travels to San Antonio; portions of the historic road run through the park. Bastrop State Park is part of the El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail.

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We stopped in to the park to get paid up and introduce me as a representative of Texans for State Parks and Stitchntravel.com.  It is always nice to go inside to check-in instead of just stopping at the gate.  Scott and I have found we love meeting the park staff and volunteers.  I honestly can’t say we have ever met anyone working for/volunteering for the parks that we don’t enjoy meeting.  When you visit one of the Texas State Parks, stop in to the office and visit with them.  You will also find, at many of the parks, a Park Store where you can pick up patches, t-shirts, and other souvenirs.  Most of the time these stores are run by the park’s Friends group.

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Once checked-in and all the “technical” stuff was finished, we hopped back in the truck and headed further into Bastrop.  John drove us to the rectory which is a CCC built building.  This building is definitely a work of art and craftsmanship.  Arthur Fehr was the architect for this part and he wanted to make sure that it did not distract from the rolling hills and pine forests that surrounded this building.  He required the use of native materials in the construction of the rectory, cabins, bridges, and dam.

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Because of the history of this park and the importance the CCC, there was a huge fear during the 2011 fire that these would be destroyed.  Looking to the north of this building you can see just how close the fire came.  Fortunately, the buildings escaped the danger, and it is here for future generations to cherish and enjoy.

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We continued to drive through the park and see the destructions of the 2011 fire.  I was just stunned at how much of a loss this park had and how so many of their beloved pines had been affected.  How often do we hear about forest fires but yet never truly think of the damaged landscape?  Scott and I were faced with this damaged sight and were completely speechless.

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Fortunately, Scott and I try very hard to find the beauty in all places, including places that have been ravaged by disaster.  Because Faye and John were giving us a tour, we learned about all the things the park, conservationists, and friends group were doing to help the park heal.  All throughout the park you could see signs of life and the land working at healing.  I will save the details for a future post, but know that the success of this park is due to the volunteers and staff working hard to care for this land by planting trees and disaster clean up.  Their efforts are definitely noticeable.

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We really loved the camp sites at this park.  Those sites that were were for RV use were nicely situated and had some amazing views.

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Since we are tent campers still, we seem to really take notice of the areas were tents can be placed so they are flat and in a good position.  Not only this but, since each site can have up to four tents, is there room for more than one and no crowding.  This camping area was very well set up for just this type of situation.

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And then of course the bathhouse is near and an area to camp under a sheltered area with plenty of space.  I do love the CCC era construction very pretty to look at.

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One thing Bastrop State Park is known for is her cabins.  These were all made by the CCC and are all unique from each other.  Each cabin has a sitting area and fire pit as well as bathroom and kitchen.  I so want to stay in one of them eventually.

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As we continued, John took us to the failed dam.  The water that rushed from the downed dam was said to be 40-feet in height and tore down trees and destroyed camping areas.  You can see here the damage from that failure.  Keep in mind this dam was built in the 1930’s and the area was receiving more rain than they had.  It didn’t fail because of the construction, it was just overwhelmed from the amount of rain over the past year.

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John wanted us to enjoy one of the best views of the park so he took us up to one of the overlooks that survived the fire. This is another CCC built building and it has so much character.  The cement used to make the foundation was made with the local pebbles, the stones to build the structure are from the area, and the wood used to create the interesting interior of the space was from the area as well.

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We neared the 1A road loop, we noticed we were heading out of Bastrop State Park.  The road we were on would connect us to the back of Buescher State Park.

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The road we would take to Buescher State Park was Park Road 1C.  It was an eleven mile drive and it would take us up hills, down into valleys, and through the original loblolly pine forest.  It was beautiful.  The road was only wide enough for two vehicles and was very twisty, turny.  With every turn we took, Scott wanted to stop and take photos while all I could say was, “Oh, wow…”

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We finally arrived through the back “door” of Buescher and were greeted by a small sign telling us we were entering the park.  There was a definite difference between these two parks.  While Bastrop was a park in the middle of a loblolly pine forest, Buescher had no loblolly pines that I could see.  Here the majority of trees I saw was Post Oaks with other varieties mixed about.

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Because we arrived through the back entry, our first encounter was the CCC built group pavilion. There is an outdoor fireplace and plenty of picnic tables inside.  Across the way you will find the bathrooms  and plenty of locations to enjoy a day outside.

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This park had another one of those twisty, turny roads that traveled through a canopy of moss covered trees and past a small waterfall of water coming off Buescher “lake”.

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As we turned one of the turns, we were completely surrounded by the trees on either side of the road.  It was literally a tunnel and I felt as if I were in a dream or story book.  I have always loved these types of drives, surrounded by trees and mysterious turns.  Because of the efforts of those who fought for the park system we are able to have a small glimpse into the world our ancestors traveled through.

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If you find yourself in the Austin, Texas, area, you really should go about 30 miles east to the city of Bastrop and visit these two state parks.  You will not regret your time there and you will view a world where nature has taken the destruction of a forest fire and use it to make something of even more beauty.

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Can They Actually Do THAT To A National Park?

Can They Actually Do THAT To A National Park?

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In 1906 Oklahoma had a National Park; it was actually the seventh National Park created, yet it is no longer as such. I was surprised to find the Chickasaw National Recreation Area just outside Sulphur, Oklahoma, was once Platt National Park, named after Orville H. Platt who was a Connecticut Senator who served on the Committee on Indian Affairs.

Oklahoma was once Indian Territory and these mineral springs were known to the Chickasaw and Choctaw to be “healing” waters.  They would come together here to be refreshed and cooled during the summer months. Because the “white” man was beginning to encroach on this Native American place of healing and camping, the tribes approached the 1902 government about taking the area to be turned into a place where everyone was able to us use and enjoy instead of it being taken and used privately.  It was then turned into the seventh National Park, Sulphur was moved a little ways from the area and there it sat for many years being used as a health spa complete with golf course.

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The was not used for much more than mineral springs, health spas, and cattle grazing until the 1930’s when the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) began to work on area. The CCC company working on the Platt National Park was Company 808.  This company worked on the park creating bridges, making swimming areas, building spring coverings, planting over 60 types of trees and so much more for eight years until they were moved to the Rocky Mountains National Park in 1940.  The community of Sulphur was appreciative of these young men and did what they could to help them have an clean, attractive camp by donating many gallons of paint for their barracks.

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Even though this was the smallest of all the National Parks, Platt National Park brought in many visitors and helped to create a highway system enabling the masses to visit the area. Unfortunately, because this park was not on the same degree of grandeur as Yellowstone or Yosemite National Parks, it was not seen to be of the same superior status. Seventy years after this seventh national park was created, it was no longer a park, but a recreation area.  The park was combined with the Arbuckle Recreation Area (Lake Arbuckle) being renamed the Chickasaw National Recreation Area.

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Taking time to visit the Sulphur area to enjoy this hidden gem, you will find the Chickasaw National Recreation Area Headquarters/Chickasaw Visitor Center is directly across from the main gate.  It is a recent build and rather beautiful.  You will find information about the park, local attractions and history; lots and lots of history to be enjoyed here.

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Even though this is no longer a national park, you can camp in the campgrounds that were once well visited as Platt National Park.  There are three areas:  Central Campground, which is ten group camp sites; Cold Springs Campground, which is directly across from the Travertine Creek and has 63 sites and open from May through September; and finally, the Rock Creek Campground, where 105 year round sites can be found near Veterans Lake.

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Scott and I have been begging friends and family to meet us halfway between them and us for a time of celebration and relaxation, but they never seem to be interested.  Now with the knowledge of this having once been one of the first national parks, I feel an urgency to visit again; I long to camp beneath the trees lovingly planted by Company 808, to swim in the swimming hole where hundreds of thousands have cooled themselves during hot summer days, and to hike the paths once walked by those who had the courage to give up something so special and important to their people to save it for further generations to enjoy.

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Taking time to visit the Sulphur area to enjoy this hidden gem, you will find the Chickasaw National Recreation Area Headquarters/Chickasaw Visitor Center is directly across from the main gate.  It is a recent build and rather beautiful.  You will find information about the park, local attractions and history; lots and lots of history to be enjoyed here. (The photo below is a direct link to their site’s photo; unfortunately, we have not been able to visit the center as of the writing of this post.)

For a very good video on this beautiful park, please click HERE.

If you are interested in a deeper, more intense amount of history about this location, please click HERE.

For the NPR story that caught our attention, click HERE.

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4N36 Part 1 – Mother Neff State Park – The First State Park In Texas

 

20160417_074651Last weekend Scott and I went to four state parks in a 36 hour time period and three of them were new to us.  We visited Longhorn Caverns State Park (30), Inks Lake State Park (31), Mother Neff State Park (32) and our ever favorite Dinosaur Valley State Park.  We had an amazing time getting know these parks, but I am going to discuss Mother Neff State Park first.  Scott has been working very hard trying to get photos processed, but we have been extremely busy since arriving home.Neff-02096We had stayed at a hotel Saturday night so we woke up around 6:00am well rested and ready for coffee and breakfast.  We were packed and on the road soon after to visit Mother Neff State Park, the very first State Park in Texas, no matter how wet it was going to be.  As we rode along Highway 236 we were pleasently surprised with the lush green pastures and beautiful wildflowers along the roadside, but we were stunned as we rounded a corner to find the Leon River filled with a giant log jam created by the Spring 2015 Flood.Neff-02098Because of this log jam in the river, it caused the flood waters to rush the historical CCC entryway and buildings.  The flooding was so terrible it has caused many of the extremely old trees to be lost adding to the log jam and causing much damage throughout the rest of the lower part of the park.20160417_102256_resizedThe historical part of the park is being cleaned up, but it is a slow process because of the dangerous situation.  The park has been trying to clear out the log jam, but because of the continuing rain in Texas they have not been able to do so.Neff-02091 Neff-02090 Neff-02087We spoke with Park Ranger Miles about this situation.  He explained that the silt from the flood sufficated the trees killing them.  Because they were so old and it was spring, the tops of the trees where huge making the tops heavier causing them to topple.  This is an extremly dangerous situation which is why this area is still closed a year later.  Scott and I ask that you respect the signs and stay out of these areas; this is for your safety because it is really, really that dangerous.Neff-0208420160417_074222_resizedBecause of this dangerous situation and the damage to the old headquarters office, the park has a new headquarters that was opened for use on January 2015.  It is not far from the old entry gate and it is well worth experiencing.Neff-02024Neff-02026 Neff-02083This new building is more than just the headquarters of Mother Neff, it is also the gift shop, museum, and home to a very interesting display.  This display, the “Memories Made, Memories Shared“, allows people to leave messages about their visit to the park on tags as well as showing the most recent Instagram posts with the hashtag #motherneff.  If you visit the park headquarters, you should really see the comments children have left.  Those comments are priceless.
memoriesCollageAs for the park, it was a wonderful place even in the rain.  The only camping area open is the camping loop with 20 water/electric/sewer sites because the original tent sites are located in the damaged area of the park.   If you are wanting to camp here, please make sure to make reservations online at the Texas State Parks Online Reservation site because walk-ins are not guarenteed to finding an open site.  With that being said, let’s talk about the best part of this park, the beauty of its nature.
20160417_084422_resizedBecause we visited the park during the spring we were able to enjoy many things about this park.  We were able to see Hill Country at its greenest since we have had a very wet winter and spring.  This is a wonderful sight if you have a chance to see it.  Because of all the rain The Washpond is full and the limestone creek leading to it is running as well. This spot is a swimming hole for many when it is up.
washpondCollageWe were able to catch a glimpse of some wildlife and able to capture some of them in photos.  There was a doe minding her own buisness as we snapped away.  Scott seemed to have a great time taking photos of birds, well, I should say trying to take photos of them because everytime he went to take one the birds would fly off laughing at him.
Neff-02044Neff-02067Neff-02068Neff-02081Of course the most amazing thing I saw was the wildflowers.  I loved the colors of each; the blues of the Blue Bonnets, purples of the Winecups, yellows of the Coneflowers, the oranges of the Indian Paintbrushes and the reds of the Firewheels set the fields a glow.Neff-02051Neff-02059We weren’t able to do much hiking at this park due to the rain causing issues with my knee, but it was one we will be visiting again; hopefully soon.
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Plugging In While Plugged Out

 Have you ever camped? I mean really camped; sleeping in a tent, cooking over an open fire, or relaxed without any cellphone or internet service? Scott and I have camped many times and cooked over an open fire, but we never really camped without being plugged into the internet and cellphone service before. This past weekend was just that!
 
We were unsure how things would go because we had no reception at all on our phones and I was unable to Instagram, Facebook or blog about our adventure the full weekend. However, the experience left us looking for more opportunities to do just that again – be completely disconnected from the electronic, internet world.
 
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What are the benefits I can hear you asking with thoughts thinking of nothing but bordom left to happen. Well, there was not one thing boring about this whole weekend. When we arrived, we had to set up camp. We then checked the park out via the truck. Once we finished that, we found some things to look at and discuss between the two of us. Things like what each other knew about the CCC, which trails we would venture out on Friday morning and when we would cook dinner. Then things got really weird; we met the neighbors!
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     (Here Gladys holds Chewy while Chewy and her Robin smile affectionaly at each other.)
 
Friday was one of those day where the breeze was perfect and the sky was bright. It made the morning hike delightful. As usual, Scott and I took photos and chatted about what we knew and didn’t know about the wild flowers, trees and geology. I was able to find a shell fossil and I did my normal happy dance. There was so much to explore and, because it was a CCC park, we were able to relax at different times upon the benches made in the 1930’s.
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The Texans for State Parks Conference stated Friday evening with an informal discussion of what each of the Friends groups were doing for and in their state parks.  The groups are as different to each other as the parks are to the other parks.  There was Colorado Bend State Park with their caving, trail building and primative lifestyle; Brazos Bend State Park having a strict volunteer program where their members are happy to spend 48 or more volunteer hours giving trail tours, working in the gift shop/nature center, and presenting programs throughout the year; and then there were the other groups like Fort Boggy State Park who were actively rebuilding cabins, Cedar Hill working to fix flood damaged marina/day-use areas, and Lake Brownwood and Lake Cleburne encouraging guests to celebrate the seasons with Christmas Decorating Contests and Spring Runs.  So much diversity and yet they were doing the same thing; they were enjoying their park while sharing their love of those parks with others.
That evening Scott and I were also made aware of the Northeast Texas Trails (NeTT) system that has been started.  It will eventually be a bicycling and hiking path that will ramble along 130 miles across Northeastern Texas from Farmington, Texas, to New Boston, Texas.  They have some trails completed; cleaning up and preparing others, and working to obtain other parts of the property they are supposed to have.  Earl Ericson has been working tirelessly to get this project up and going.  He lost his leg when a car hit him while he was on a bicycle.  He has made it his life’s work to get something for those who want to hike or bike safely.  Scott and I can see this being something we can get behind and get extremely excited about.  It would be a wonderful opportunity to train for the Camino de Santago in Spain.
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After all the presentations were finished, we headed to our little campsite home.  There was time for hot cocoa and chatting beside Robin & Gail’s campfire.  It was peaceful and relaxing without a television, laptop, or cellphones.  It made an end to a good Friday.
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Saturday we had to get up and head back to the Oak Lodge for a full day of meetings about legislation, volunteers, and panels.  Because Scott wanted the pre-sunrising light, we left earlier than we needed to.  He went to the Grand Staircase nearby to take photos while I went in to help set up breakfast for everyone attending the conference.  I was really glad to help since we were not really part of any group there.  This, however, didn’t stop everyone from welcoming us and including us in the questions and discussions.  Unfortunately, we were one of the younger people who were attending and this brought up a few concerns within the panels.  It seems that a majority of volunteers within the Friends groups are the retired, older generation.  Often this causes some of the needs to modernize to be overlooked and feared.  Fortunately, there are some who are younger and are helping the state parks to move forward in the area of media, internet, and technology.
Scott was able to connect with Barbara who is one of the equestrian people working on the future park Palo Pino Mountains State Park.  It was really nice for him to get positive feedback that he is welcome to jump in and take part within the group.  This is one of his favorite places to do astrophotography and he wants to invest his time and energy on it.  Myself, I found the NeTT and the administrative part to the Volunteer side of things.  I see a need for those who are planning to do the NeTT in one go whether hiking or biking and I feel excited in how I can help.  There is also the administrative jobs I enjoy doing that the Texas Parks and Wildlife offices in Austin need help with.  We also have found a place for us within the Brazos/Paluxy area so we have plenty of opportunities for us.  Now to decide how to make all of this work.  I realize it is one step at a time, but at least we know we belong.
That evening we went back to the neighbor’s campfire and were able to enjoy the company of Robin, Gail, Gladys and her family.  We were pleasently surprised by Johnny as he pulled out his guitar and began singing.  Scott was in heaven.  Since we decided to step away from the SCA he has not been able to partake in what are called Bardic Circles.  He has missed entertaining and being entertained around a campfire enjoying the time with friends.  It was a wonderful night and we so hated to see it end.  There will be more camping trips with Robin and Gail’s group, that we have been promised.
Once we were packed up Sunday morning, we said our good-bye to our new friends, hopped in the truck and headed home.  When I asked him what was his favorite part of the long weekend, Scott told me it was Saturday night around the campfire.  Then he added that he was happy we had finally found a place to belong.
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Abilene State Park Adventure

A couple of weeks ago we decided I needed to have a break from the Black Friday craziness so we headed out to Abilene State Park.  It was a really nice trip; well, for a day trip.

Abilene is about 150 miles from Fort Worth and that comes out to about 2.5 hours travel time.  We started out fairly early, about 9am, and it took us forever to get there!  It was a little after 4:00pm when we pulled into the Ranger office.  Fortunately for us, it was due to the wonderful surprises we came across on the drive there.

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As we drove towards Abilene on highway 20, I noticed a white bridge just off to the right.  Well, I pulled off 20 and headed to the bridge.  Turns out it was a bridge built over the Brazos in 1932 along old Highway 80.  This was the main highway to be used until the new Highway 20 came about.  Unfortunately it bypassed this small area causing there to not be much traffic.  However, it has been preserved by a family who decided to keep it alive by creating an RV/camping area.

 

brazosCollageJust off the Brazos River, under the bridge is a place called Brazos River Camp Ground and The Catfish Cafe.  We stopped and walked the camp grounds to find a really nice area for both RV’s and tenting.  The RV area had good hookups and a nice area to park; however, it had a pretty steep driveway.  The tenting area was just as nice and spread out.  I can’t wait to visit them this next summer.

The Catfish Cafe is a mom and pop place as well.  They originally opened to feed the weekenders who stayed at the camp ground so their hours are Thursday-Sundays only.  The food is very good and well worth the hour trip from Fort Worth!  We stopped in and had pie for a snack and then moved on towards Abilene.

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Thurber, Texas, Ghost Mining Town

We weren’t on the road thirty minutes when we saw this tower in the distance.  Turns out it was Thurber, Texas.  Now a ghost town, Thurber was a town owned by Texas and Pacific Coal Company and was very much alive from 1888 until sometime in the 1930’s.  It is well worth your stop to visit the ruins and grab a bite to eat at the Smokestack.

After walking around a bit, we drove onward to Abilene.  The drive is a very pretty one that was rather surprising to me.  I had never realized the landscape had huge ridges and the elevation was higher in the west than in Fort Worth.  Downtown Fort Worth is only 612 feet above sea level while Abilene is about 1,790 feet above.  While we drove up a 6% upgrade at one point that put us up to overt 2100 feet!  I realize this is nothing compared to other places we will visit in the future, but we were thrilled.  I had no idea elevation went higher the further west we went.  It has answered so many questions about why West Texas gets worse winter weather than we do in Fort Worth.

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Wind Farm just north of Abilene.

As we came closer to Abilene, we could see wind turbines in the distance.  Being who I am, extremely too curious for my own good, we turned off the highway and took a gravel road to find these amazing monsters!  The wet mud-gravel road and huge amounts of dust was well worth the adventure.  You could hear them cutting the air as the wind moved them. The wind farm we found was the Lone Star Wind Farm just off hwy 351.  If I would have realized there was a paved road to them, I probably still wouldn’t have taken it.  It’s just how we adventure.

After this side trip we drove through Abilene to find food and then headed out to Abilene State Park.

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It is a very pretty park and one of the few that has a swimming pool.  Most of the parks are located just off a lake and you will find all sorts of water sports to be had.  However, Abilene Lake is just down the road from the State Park entrance.  They have lots of camping spots for tenting and rving, cabins and YURTS!  I was out of my mind with excitement when we came across the yurts.  What made these so wonderful is they each come with a fridge, microwave, air conditioner, heater AND furniture.  These rent for about $50 a night and some of them come with an actual shelter and outdoor grills!  I really want to go again and stay in one for a weekend.

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This park is full of other interesting structures as well as the yurts.  This was a place that was part of the Civilian Conservation Corps  (CCC). Most of the public buildings on the site are from this time period which was from the 1930’s to the 1940’s.  To learn more about the CCC there is an interactive exhibit called “A New Deal for Texas” and it is well worth your time.

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Abilene State Park

I am in love with this park.  There is so much to do and many hiking trails.  We actually did a short one that took us to the bird watching shelter.  After we looked around and explored, we decided to go to the lake just down the road.  It is Texas State Park owned and we had a surprise waiting for us.

Texas is in the tenth year of a drought.  Apparently the DFW metroplex area and East Texas hasn’t been hit as hard as West Texas.  Neither Scott or myself had any clue how bad the drought was until we turned the corner to enter the lake gate.  The gate was closed and locked and the lake was gone.  It has dried up. Lake Abilene is only a skeleton. From the gate you can see where the dam water works is, the shelters, the lake house, but that is it.

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Lake Abilene is no more.

After we spent time trying to comprehend what has happened to the lake, we decided it was time to head home.  This was a sobering trip and helped us to understand the great need the great state of Texas has.  So please, when you think of us, think of Texas and pray for the much needed rain.

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