An Eclipsed Trip

Scott and I were able to go on a four-day road trip to see the total eclipse recently.  We traveled into Kansas and found it to be more than fields of corn.  I had no clue there were so many rolling hills and beautiful places here; we have been to the Witchita area and found it to be prairies and F-L-A-T.  However, as we drove up I-69, this was not the Kansas we experienced before.

While we drove our way up to the Kansas City, Kansas, area to visit our friend Amy and view the eclipse, Scott and I visited two new Kansas State Parks, Elk City State Park and Eisenhower State Park.  These would be the first two parks for this state for us and we were not disappointed at all.

Elk City State Park was beautiful.  As we drove through the park we found amazing oak and hickory trees surrounding the campsites with full hook-ups.  I could actually see the Beast parked in the spots and us hiking along the many trails and enjoying the lake.

If you drive out of the park, you will find a road that will take you to an overlook of the lake.  It goes up, up, up to a stone building and a fantastic view.

The plaque on the building says, “This overlook and its vistas of America are dedicated to the memory of Tulsa District employees and those citizens who have made significant contributions to the mission of the U.S. Army Corps of  Engineers.  Those who are honored, while from many walks of life, were united in their dedication to help build a stronger and better nation.  Today their efforts live on in the memories of their families and co-workers who look to their examples as guideposts for the future.”

I just fell in love with the view and the fact that it had a connection with Tulsa, a place that has deep roots in our lives.  It has made this place special for us and I look forward to spending more time.  It always amazes me how we seem to find some type of connection with the parks we visit. Here it was an outlook.

Yes, you see that right, we went to Kansas and visited Eisenhower State Park.  But wait, didn’t we just leave Eisenhower State Park where I park hosted?  Yes, but that was in Texas on Lake Texoma. These two parks are totally different, but both are fantastic to visit.  We were able to stop and chat with some of this park’s Park Hosts and they had some very funny stories, like most hosts do.  In my experience at the Texas Eisenhower, we would have many calls for the Kansas park; turns out they had many calls for the Texas park too.  The host we spoke with at the Park Store said she had a man come in for his reservation, but there was nothing there for him because he had made it for the Texas park.  I know it has happened at the park in Texas because I came across it happening.  It can be frustrating, but it has taught me to be a bit more careful when making our reservations.

Photo from Eisenhower State Park website.

The Kansas’ Eisenhower is a good example of the rolling plains you will find in the state.  There are not as many trees as Elk City State Park, where we visited earlier that morning, but you will find plenty of trees within each of the campsites and the normal full hook-ups.  Both of us liked the feel of the park and how they provided plenty of opportunities for shade and beating the summer heat.  The shade covers were unique and fun.  We eventually drove the full park and found ourselves ready to head towards Kansas City to spend time with our friend Amy.

Sunday morning the three of us were up and ready to hit a Missouri State Park named Weston Bend State Park just across the Missouri River from Leavenworth, Kansas.  It was our first park in the state of Missouri and it was perfect.  The park system, as you can see from the above photo, is celebrating their 100 year anniversary, which thrills us because we get to celebrate along with them.  The day was perfect for this visit and we were able to take a nice hike along one of the more difficult trails Scott and I have taken.

We took a mixture of the Harpst, Northridge, and Paved Bike Trails. I found myself wondering if we were crazy to take this mixture, but I really had an amazing time.  Our friend Amy is an avid hiker and is in excellent shape so knowing that I was able to keep up with her on her slower pace made me feel as if I was a bit accomplished.  I have not been able to do much hiking since we moved back up to Tulsa from Eisenhower (the Texas one) so I was needing to grab my outdoorphines.

One of the things Scott and I are trying to do is get out of the house and do new things.  Doing this we have found ourselves meeting new, interesting people; tasting unique, cultural foods; and visiting fun, out-of-our-way places.  We have, in this process, discovered so many things about ourselves as individuals and a couple.  Myself, I never thought I would be doing the things we do because I was never one to enjoy the outdoors, but I am riding a bike, hiking trails, and going to new places.  The one thing I have learned from all this is that we can’t lock ourselves away and expect experiences to come to us, we have to step out of our comfort zone and just try.

On Monday we were on a mission, we had a full eclipse to observe.  In order to see the full eclipse though w had to find the right place.  Scott and Amy had decided to look at White Cloud, Kansas, for the viewing.  To get there we opted to take the Glacial Hills Scenic Drive and it did not disappoint.

 

It was almost surreal to think about the glacier that traveled across these hills leaving the large stone deposits to create the rolling hills we drove past filled with green fields of corn and soybeans.  As we came closer and closer to our destination, you could see people lining up along edges of fields preparing for the eclipse. This was a once in a lifetime chance and it seemed as if everyone was showing up to experience it.

An hour and a half after leaving Amy’s house, we arrived in White Cloud and the end (or beginning) of the Glacier Hills Scenic Drive.  Here we found a marker for the for the Lewis & Clark Trail and information about the drive.  Unfortunetly, the sky was overcast and Scott and Amy decided to go further north into Nebraska.

We still had time to get ourselves up to our eclipse viewing destination Indian Cave State Park, we just had to get moving because the bridge to take us directly there was being worked on and we had to take a detour.

Within forty-five minutes we arrived at Indian Cave State Park in the pouring rain.  It was raining so hard we were not able to stop for an entry photo.  It was not looking good for the eclipse, but we were at our first Nebraska State Park and it was beautiful even in the rain.  Fortunately for us, the rain stopped within the first twenty minutes of our arrival.  Driving through the park to visit the cave where you could view prehistoric Native American petroglyphs.  It was a little difficult to view them because of the many decades of people scratching their names in the same rocks, but you can find the petroglyphs if you look.  It caused us to question what the tribe’s elders thought of the petroglyphs and how much trouble the “artists” got in to from their graffiti.

Finishing our viewing of the cave, we looked for a good spot to view the full eclipse.  The sky was overcast and it was too late for us to find another location to do the viewing, so we were now committed to this location.  From the shore of the Missouri River, Scott and I set ourselves ready for the on-coming eclipse with our special NASA approved glasses while our friend Amy decided to climb the trail at Trailhead 11 and enjoy a run during the eclipse.

As the moon began it’s path across the sun, Scott took photos and I pouted because the viewing was awful.  We were able to see the beginning stages on the sun, but because of the overcast sky we were not able to view the full eclipse.  However, we did experience the darkness and the 360 degree twilight.  I actually saw some fireflies in the middle of the day and that was pretty cool.  There will be another total eclipse traveling across the United States in 2024 and that gives us another opportunity.

Just as suddenly as the excitement began, people started packing up and leaving.  Having been lucky enough to not come across lots of traffic while we were enroute, we were going to pay our dues on the way out.  What should have been a twenty-minute drive took us an hour and a half!

Even though we were not able to view the eclipse, we were able to come closer to our State Park Goal by four new State Parks, visit a new state, and, most importantly, spent some amazing time with our good friend Amy.  It was such a fantastic trip and I can’t wait to go back to the Kansas City area and see what else we can find.

 

 

 

 

On Top Of An Enchanted Rock

On Top Of An Enchanted Rock

In 2016 Scott and I were just over 20,000 miles in travel miles; this included a trip to San Francisco, Yosemite, and Athens, Georgia. We also visited Oklahoma and the Western edges of Arkansas using up about 9,000 miles for all of that, the left over miles were in Texas. We are actually focused on visiting all 95 of the Texas State Parks and have managed to visit 48 of those before the end of the year. This took us all over the plains areas of the state, the piney woods, and even into the Hill Country just north of the Austin area. Fortunately, we also were able to visit the far southwestern area of the Davis Mountains helping to give us many, many miles of travel in Texas.

Over the first three weeks of January 2017, we have worked hard at not traveling outside the Dallas-Fort Worth area; but instead, we are finding things locally to keep us entertained. However, we were not able to tame the travel bug much longer. Since I was having to attend the Texans for State Parks Board Meeting in Austin, Scott and I decided it would be the perfect jumping off point to visit a few new-to-us Texas State Parks west of Austin. He took off Thursday and Friday from work and we were set for a good amount of traveling on a four day weekend.

Thursday morning we left later than we had expected from our friends John and Faye’s, but it was worth spending a few more hours with good friends. They are always generous and happy to play host to us. They sent us on our way and we headed to our first of eight state parks, two of which were the only ones not new for us.  We needed to move quickly, but stopped to view a couple of the scenic overlooks on our way towards Inks Lake State Park.


We stayed at Inks Lake State Park for two nights because they had an available cabin. Unfortunately, weekends in Texas there are rarely campsites or cabins available, no matter the time of year. If you are expecting to stay within the Texas State Park system, especially on weekends, you must make reservations as soon as you know when you are planning to visit, even then you are not always able to get a cabin.


We arrived at Inks, obtained our cabin key, and dropped off bedding, clothing and other such things then immediately headed towards Enchanted Rock State Natural Area.  The is located just south of Llano off highway 16. Just before reaching the turn off (RM965), we noticed a sign that said, “Closed When Flashing – Enchanted Rock State Natural Area 9 miles.” It was not flashing, but according to Texas Hill Country website, the pack fills up fast on weekends and is closed due to lack of parking space and the insane amount of people.  Fortunately, we were there on a Thursday so it was not full, but there were a lot of people.

This location is the site of a huge pink granite rock that stands 1825 feet high and is one of only two such sites like this in the United States; the other location is Stone Mountain located just northeast of Atlanta, Georgia. While the Texas batholith is much smaller than the one in Georgia, it is still impressive. Both of these granite rocks were once magma chambers for what was once volcanos.  Over time, the magma became granite and the soil around them was eroded away leaving these beautiful stones.


This giant rock welcomes all who wish to climb its seemingly smooth surface to enjoy a unique landscape called sky islands and vernal pools. Here we found what could be compared to tide pools only with cacti and lizards. These depressions shelter different types of plants and animals that have adapted to this hot/cold, windy, and barren environment. In fact, by studying these depressions, ecologists learn how plants and animals come together and live in this habitat; how they modify their environment and help develop soils where there is no soil; and, how plant and animal communities are created and change over time and situation.

In the stone, as we climbed we saw long lines of crystals which have been created by an intense pressure of earth movement and the heat from having been a magma chamber.  Unfortunately, I am not a geologist so I do not know all the right terms and explanations. I do know when the sun hits the granite just right, you can see the crystals within it shine and shimmer reflecting the rays of light.


Scott and I took our time to climb this giant rock, which is an estimated 45-minute climb. Unsurprisingly, it took us over an hour, but we were more concerned with my knee and our safety. Taking it slowly, we took many breaks so we could evaluate my pain level; they were definitely needed breaks for this, resting, and drinking water. Neither of us are use to the hiking, especially such a vertical path; however, we were both determined to reach the top to see the view and to find the survey marker we were positive would be there.

At one point, I almost gave up. I was two-thirds of the way up and I was just exhausted, of course, the knee was telling me off at this point. I told Scott to just continue and I would wait for him. He suggested we sit and drink some water and rest a bit. This was definitely good advice because about fifteen minutes later I was ready to attack the rest of the climb. He reminded me it was okay if I didn’t go, but asked me if I would regret not reaching the top. I would have regretted it very much. This was something I had on my personal “bucket list” and I decided I was just tired and not in much pain.  I was wearing my knee brace and using my trekking poles so the knee did not have as much pressure as it would have.  It always amazes me how using the correct equipment can make an activity so much more enjoyable.

Upon reaching the final five feet of the climb, the sky island made itself known and I was stunned at the beauty of vernal pools. There were small trees, cacti, pools of creatures and algae, I even found one of in the shape of a lopsided heart containing fern looking plants. I was amazed to see the life growing out of the large, round granite rock. Then I looked up and saw the surrounding landscape. My eyes tried to take it all in at once, only to find I was tearing up. I had made it to the top and was able to see the quick rising hills all around the country side full of cedars, scrub oaks and green winter grasses. Needless to say, I was completely overwhelmed and thrilled at my success.


Suddenly, Scott says, “There has to be a geological survey marker somewhere on this rock!” He quickly walked towards the location he believed to be the highest spot on the rock and there it was; the US Geological Society had placed their mark on the hill to show that it was significant. For hikers today, it is a symbol that they have beaten nature and achieved a great height. For me, it was proof that if I had to stay focused and not give up; I could not have done that without my husband, he encouraged me and reminded me not to give up.


Eventually, we decided it was time to climb down the granite mountain and prepare to take some night sky photos, which was the true reason we had visited this park. The Milky Way was supposed to show itself near the center between the two granite domes and he was determined to get a very nice shot of it. Fortunately for us, I had packed hot chocolate and plenty of warm layers. It was so extremely cold and I hate being cold.

The nine figures at the top of the rock are people.

At one point, while he was taking photos, we heard the worst sound (link goes to TheCrotalusfreak‘s YouTube channel).  It sounded like a person in pain screaming in bursts of three. It sent chills up my spine for sure. I am very prone to my imagination running off with me and it had jumped out of my skin and was running around in fear. It didn’t help any that Scott says, “I sure hope that’s not a person hurt or worse.” I then began to think the worst. Come to find out from another couple who were also taking night sky photos, they had seen a bobcat approaching. They shined their flashlights at him and scared him off. I felt relief to know it was nothing more than a cat named Bob.


At one point the cold had convinced Scott it was time to pack up and return to our little cabin at Inks Lake State Park. We had an hours drive late in the evening, but it was sure to be an interesting one. Deer roam all over the area and often there are carcasses near the road showing the dangers for the wildlife among humans. We actually saw about three deer, but, fortunately for them and us, we had no ill-fated meeting.

This deer was hanging around at Inks Lake State Park when first arrived, he was one of at least a dozen we saw that day before the drive in the dark.

Upon arriving at our home for the next two days, we made beds and promptly went to sleep. The day seemed as if it had been 24 hours long between the driving, climbing, and adventuring. We were ready for a rest because the next morning we would be up and ready to adventure again at a new-to-us Texas State Park; Pedernales Falls State Park would be our 50th State Park and we ready to celebrate.

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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All For Stew and Corncakes

All For Stew and Corncakes

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Often when Scott and I travel, we do not make solid plans.  This, I know now, is not normal for most people; however, I do not believe we are your normal travelers.  Most of the time we find a spot on the map and plan to be in that area for a specific amount of time and THAT is as close to planning as we get to normal.  With this thought in mind, it will help you understand what happened on our Labor Day Weekend trip to the Bastrop area.

When Scott made it home on Thursday, because everything was packed, we headed out by 3:30pm.  The puppies were kissed and loved on, the puppy sitter and good friend Peter would be in and out throughout the time to give walks, lovin’s, food, and many, many bacon treats. We stopped long enough to get drinks and travel treats for ourselves and we headed out to enjoy a work-cation with our friends John and Faye, leaders of the Friends of the Lost Pines State Parks.  We were looking at a three and a half-hour trip so we were looking forward to a delicious John stew and Faye’s corn cakes.

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When we were about thirty minutes from the town of West, Texas, you could see a huge, dark storm to the south with plenty of dramatic lightning and what looked to be sheets of heavy rain.  I looked up the weather radar for the area and there was a huge line of storms for miles along highway 35.  There was a rather large RED circle in the middle of this storm and we were headed right for it.  Scott, being the calm person he normally is, was soon to discover himself driving extremely slow through torrential rain where you could barely see the cars five feet in front of you.  The traffic had, unsurprisingly, slowed to a crawl and there were yellow hazard lights blinks for as far as we could see;  this was not more than five feet ahead of us, as I said before.  To be honest, I would not have been shocked to find the road ahead of us flooded and us sitting at a solid stop for hours and hours while the water rose and engulfed our little truck.  Luckily, we did not meet any flood waters and were soon south of the storm continuing on our way towards Waco.

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If you have been following us long, you will know that we tend to take roads we normally haven’t been on and don’t always have a sense of time when we do take new roads.  Highway 77 was not any different. One of our goals was to pick up two counties on the way down to Bastrop that evening; this was not a difficult thing, it was just driving along the road to get where we planned to end up eventually.

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Since we were past the rain, the drive seemed to be going nicely and we were making great time until we came across the city of Camron in Milam County, Texas.  This was one of the counties we needed to cross off our list and we recently decided to get as many photos of the county courthouses as we could.  Because of this I convinced Scott to drive a couple of blocks from highway 77 so we could get the photo of the Milam County Courthouse; we did not regret it at all.

Miliam County Courthouse

 

One of the things about the county courthouses in Texas is that there is usually a county jail near by if not directly next to it.   However, this jail building was across the street and it looked like a castle; it was built in 1895  by the Pauly Jail Building and Manufacturing Company of St. Louis.  There is just something about the design and workmanship of this generation.

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I know you really can’t tell how dark it had gotten when we were taking photos here, but it was near 8pm and we still had an fourty-five minutes to an hour to go.  You can see many more photos of this county courthouse and jail buildings on your Flickr page HERE.  On this trip we were able to cross off ten counties and we were able to get photos of nine of the courthouses.  We are still processing the photos so those should be on Flickr soon.

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We finally made it to our destination and John’s stew was fantastic and Faye’s corn cakes were amazing!  Such a very long trip, but it was nice to come in to a nice hot meal.  We were also greeted by their three wonderful furbabies and a really nice comfy bed.  We had a big day coming up and we were exhausted so it was time eat and rest.

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