Texas is a big state and we had to cross it to get where we were going. We have been through Texas before. Dick’s brother Dan lived in Fort Davis, Texas in a mountain range that reminded me of California and we visited him there in 2010. We drove the length of the panhandle and we made a stop in Lubbock to visit a colleague there before continuing to Fort Davis. Last year we began our trip south by driving to Galveston and we stayed there a week after a side trip close enough to Dallas to meet with colleagues there. So we had travelled the length of the west side and the middle from north to south. This time we had no agenda, we just need to get through Texas to the other side.
We left Albuquerque New Mexico and began the trip east on the I40 interstate. (Just in case you are wondering I40 east starts with some big steep hills climbing over 2000 feet to the mountain pass but we had no issues making the climb. The road was never a grade about about 6% and at every hill there were extra passing lanes so we could go as slowly as we need to. The total climb occurs over about 15 miles.) Our goal was Lake McLelland Recreation Area which is a National Forest campground. We found out about this spot by consulting the free and low cost campground website which has a wide variety of places suitable for both boon docking and staying cheaply. The site lists everything from welcoming Walmarts, to truck parking lots in remote areas where boon docking RVs are also welcome, to free municipal campgrounds, to all kinds of other campgrounds that charge $15 or less to stay.
This part of Texas is what you expect if you’ve ever seen old cowboy movies. It is miles and miles of flat bushland and desert punctuated by the occasional oil rig. One of the new dominant items in the region of miles and miles and miles of huge windmills. I have never seen so many windmills. I have mixed feeling about windmills because they are considered “green energy” by those who accept the idea of anthropogenic climate change and the harm they think it will inflict on the earth. Yet these things are certain death to birds, bats and butterflies that get in their way. Their presence means that animals who have evolved to require wide sky no longer feel welcome. The windmills have seriously damaged populations of such creatures like the prairie grouse. The other thing that bothers me about windmills is the power they provide is intermittent. The day we were traveling there was no wind and these great structures were still as far as the eye could see. Because of this, windmills must have coal, natural gas or hydro electric back ups equalling their capacity for days when there is no wind. They are unreliable. This means windmills are generally not financially feasible without massive government subsidies and that means higher taxes, and higher utilities costs to consumers. To me they are great twirling white elephants, a passing fad, that will eventually result in rusting dead hulks spread all over the prairies when the fad passes.
We pulled into the Lake McLelland campground after dark. When we awoke in the morning it was a huge disappointment. The place was falling apart. The trees were twisted and mostly dead. There was a lot of blackened debris. The washrooms were perfectly clean around the toilets and the sinks but everywhere else there were bird nests, insect nests and other wildlife that had moved inside due to multiple chunks of missing roof and broken windows. There was also natural debris and garbage piled in every corner. When we started filling our tank to shower, our faucet spewed everywhere like a fire hydrant on loco weed. It was cracked on two sides down its length. The electric posts were similarly damaged. We walked around the campsite looking for a better spot. We like to stay two nights at each campground, one day to travel, one day to recover and enjoy the area. We could not find a site better than the one we were already in. Worse for us, I awoke wheezing and my husband had developed a nagging cough and eye irritation. While looking for a better spot, I spoke to one of the other campers who was a local from the area. He told me that the area had suffered devastating wildfires and severe storms that summer. I hope they fix the place up but we decided to move along that day instead of staying two nights.
Our second stop was at the Lake Arrowhead State Park. The drive was amazing. No more flat prairie; we now went up and down through gently rolling hills. The new campsite was a considerable improvement over Lake McClellan. The park was well kept and the bathrooms were clean although they could have used a coat of fresh paint. We saw a lot of big fat Texas size gophers, the big ones as big as our cat, which the locals called prairie dogs. They were comical and charming. They would pop up and chirp at us with their short tails up like a white tailed deer. If you approached them they vanish down their holes only to pop up behind us at another hole and chirp at us again. Misty tried several times to catch one but the prairie dogs easily defeated her. I could see they were playing with her and finding her gullibility amusing. Fred, being older and wiser, just ignored them. We saw several family groups consisting of a mom and half a dozen or more fat babies. These groups moved in big herds of dozens seeking grass further from their holes and if someone chirped everyone ran for home. I saw a big raptor who had a lot more luck than Misty and made off with a fat one for lunch.
We had hoped to go canoeing but it was far too windy. The lake was covered with white caps even in the quiet bay of the swim areas. Temperatures soared into the 80s (28C) so that we had to use the air conditioning in the trailer for a brief time in the afternoon. In addition to gophers and raptors there were many other birds. We saw familiar white pelicans from home, chickadees and thrashers in great numbers in addition to many other birds we were not familiar with in their winter plumage. The campground also had a small pump jack which had begun pumping oil before the establishment of the state park and it is still pumping today. It stank of sweet crude and thumped and bumped and made grinding noises around the clock so we were careful to pick a campsite far away among the prairie dogs. They were quiet at night.
We left the next morning for Bonham State park. We had planned to go farther but we had a flat tire just outside of Nocona, Texas. There was a lot of construction and it was slow going with frequent trips on the shoulder. We must have hit a nail or something. We were lucky because the tire did not blow out. It slowly deflated and then the tire flew off as we drove on the rim unaware. A farmer and his wife flagged us down and we stopped just inside town, astounded to see the damage we hadn’t felt.
Our only warning was I heard a funny metallic noise about a mile from Nocoma and I said to Dick “I hear something funny.”
He replied, “So close the window.”
I did and the noise went away so I stopped worrying about that funny noise until the farmer and his wife flagged us down. I must learn not to defer to Dick. Next time I hear a funny noise we stop and check.
We called CAA from Nocoma and they had someone there within forty minutes to change the tire. The folks there were so kind and helpful that Nocoma is now my absolute favourite part of Texas. We had the best southern style pecan pie I ever had at the Texas BBQ just down the street from the hardware store across the street from where our injured rig was parked in the heart of Trump country.
A retired police officer gave Dick a lift to Mike’s, the tire store six blocks away on the other side of town. After the CAA guy changed our tire to our spare, the nice folks at Mike’s cleaned up and repaired the rim and mounted a new tire for us at a very modest charge. We were on way in under three hours. Still, we were behind schedule and Bonham was close enough that we were able to get there before sunset.
I am so glad we did! Bonham was a really nice state park and I was struck by how varied Texas is. In two stops we had come from a rather barren nasty desert to a lush green swamp cypress groves and mixed southern deciduous oaks, maples, magnolias and sycamores. A cold front came through so that the daytime high barely reached 40F (4C). In spite of the lovely little reservoir/lake we decided to forego canoeing again. This time it was just too cold. We did walk around the lake on the lovely trail. The highlight was when we came up to a big tree and we startled dozens, maybe even hundreds, of black vultures. We were right up close to them when they saw us and then took off. The thunder of their wings was wonderful. They are such huge birds and in a weird ugly way, absolutely magnificent.
We were going to go straight east to go over the top of Louisiana. The forecast was for more cold weather and even the possibility of snow. We decided to go south first instead of east. This also allowed us to travel through some new territory we hadn’t seen before. We got to travel the east Texas lakes and forest areas on our way to Brookeland Texas.
Our original plan was to stay at the Army Corps of Engineer campsite at Mill Creek. However we found out on arrival that during the winter they have no mechanism for accepting cash payments. You can only stay if you have reservations made in advance. We tried telephoning but could not get through to their reservation system and we did not have internet access. So we checked into the nearby Brookeland’s KOA. After days of no sewer hookup or internet we really appreciated having full hook ups and WIFI. We did our laundry and got all caught up on our email and planned more of our trip. Imagine our surprise to wake to a sunny warm day but snow everywhere. It was two inches of the kind of fast melting light snow we often see in October and April back home in Manitoba. For Texans and other southerners it was both a rare and wonderful delight and a nightmare. Folks down here don’t know how to drive in light snow. Schools were closed and children were out trying to make their first snowman and snow ball. The snow had quit where we were and the roads were already dry but road reports and weather forecast said that snow was going to fall all day in eastern Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. After some internet searching and with the help of my absolute favourite websites RV Parks Review we found a National Forest campground in Louisiana not far from Alexandria outside the snow area. We left Texas heading east through the lovely heavily rolling hills east of Brookeland.
I came away with yet another impression of Texas. Texas is huge. Texas is varied in both climate and topography and demanding of those who live there. Most important, Texans are generally big hearted and ready to help strangers. It is a place rich in resources and one of its greatest resources is its people. It is as broad and big as the Texas twang they speak with. I could be happy living in Texas, especially in the south east where it is lush and green, even in winter. Of course, since I don’t tolerate heat over 80F (27C) willingly, I’d have to go somewhere else for summer, like Manitoba.