Saturday, April 8, 2017

Traveling Back Roads (Mostly)

One last shot of our neighbor longhorns before leaving
Leander KOA on Thursday morning.
On Thursday, April 6, we began driving out of Texas headed for Smoky's mom in Illinois, stopping that first night in Gilmer, Texas at Watts RV Park. Traveling to Gilmer gave us a chance to see another part of the state, one not considered Hill Country. We were pleasantly surprised at how many beautiful flowers we saw along the roadside.
Roadside wildflowers in northeast Texas.

Smoky had read somewhere that the Texas Department of Transportation is considered the world's biggest gardener (we hope we remembered this correctly). I discovered on the TDOT website that roadside wildflower programs have been in place since 1932. Now, TDOT buys and sows about 30,000 pounds of wildflower seeds along the roadsides each year.

Roadside verbena were abundant and found in many colors.
Encouraging native species of flowers and grasses cuts back on the mowing required, a win-win for everyone. And traveling down the state highways in northeast Texas was thrilling.

These beautiful yellow flowers were
abundant along the roadside to Gilmer, TX.
By Friday, April 7, we had driven out of Texas and into Arkansas. Before crossing the state line, we stopped to see what the bright yellow flower was that covered large patches of Texas roadside. They were beautiful. We are having trouble identifying them, so let us know if you have a clue.

Friday night we stayed at Catherine's Landing at Hot Springs. The campground was large and right on Lake Catherine. The heated pool was beautiful and popular, and the bath houses were modern and clean. I had a bad experience in the laundry room, however, and had to rewash one load late Friday night after it came out of the washer dirtier than when I put it in! Ugh!

View from Scenic Byway 7 of the Grand Canyon
of the Ozarks.

The weather has been beautiful for these travel days--blue skies, temperatures in the high 70s during the day and cooling down at night. Saturday we traveled on small winding Scenic Byway 7 through the Hot Springs National Park and then through the Ozarks on our way to Harrison, Arkansas. The views were amazing along this curvy road, which is considered by some to be one of the ten most scenic roads in the nation.

Harrison Village Campground.
We arrived after 6 at the Harrison Village Campground, where owner Mike patiently waited for us after his closing time. Mike and lovely wife Becky have owned the campground for 11 seasons, and it is a really charming place to stay.

Harrison Village Campground's
amazing laundry room! You don't
see the ironing board, comfy
chairs, and reading material.
Mike, Harrison Village
Campground owner.

I shared my laundry fiasco from Saturday night with Mike, and he suggested I check out his laundry. Wow! It is great. I've always been crazy about washing clothes. I got it from my grandmother, who also loved doing laundry. Mike's laundry room would have made my Nannie proud! This is our last night camping before moving to our permanent spot in Illinois, and we're voting Harrison Village Campground our favorite spot!

Off to bed!
Tonight's almost full moon!


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Last Day in Texas Hill Country

Today (Wednesday, April 5) was our last full day in the Austin area. We wanted to explore a little of the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, so we took a couple of their shorter hikes. This was a nice change from previous days.

Balcones is home to the endangered golden-cheeked warbler, which we hoped to see today. We heard several bird songs which could have been the warbler and caught glimpses of birds in the woods, but only the birds know their identity!

Blue curls (Phacilia congestaI
In spite of slim pickings in the bird department, we saw a lot of wildflowers, including several surprises. One looked very much like the purple fringed phacelia back in the Smokies. We discovered it is called Blue curls (Phacilia congesta) here.

Lovely tall flower which we now
know is blue-eyed grass.
We also saw some blue-eyed grass that looked exceedingly tall. We thought it was blue-eyed grass and then we changed our minds. Next, we thought it was Prairie Pleatleaf from the Iris family, which would explain why it was so tall! After further research, now Smoky says it must be blue-eyed grass after all!

"Olive" Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys
gryneus gryneus
) on a White Milkwort
(Polygala alba).

Skipper butterfly on phlox.
Smoky also had a great time photographing some tiny butterflies, smaller than my thumbnail. The colors on them was spectacular. It is truly amazing how much detail you can see when you examine the macro photographs of these beauties.
This unknown damsel species caught our eye
at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, TX.

We are a little sad to be leaving Texas but, as grateful as we are for this opportunity, we look forward to being home again. We have lots of memories to store away. It will be fun to relive those as we look back through Smoky's photographs.

My plan is to post a few more blog entries about this trip, perhaps summarizing our experience and sharing some additional photos. Thanks for following along with us.


Smoky's April 4 Photo Trip

Smoky's Bluebonnet Tours trip with photographer Jason Weingart was lots of fun. I think, in a way, it pleased Smoky that several of the places Jason carried the group were places we had discovered on our own. Those, plus several other nice spots, made the tour worthwhile.

Here are a few of Smoky's favorite images. There will be more to come.

Bluebonnets in a field west of Llano on Highway 29.

Abandoned railroad tracks overtaken by bluebonnets north of Kingsland. 

Old farm building in a field of bluebonnets north of Marble Falls at sunset.

This is my favorite so far -- the bluebonnets really look amazing!
Smoky finished processing more of his photos. Here are some other favorites.
Another angle of the old farm with bluebonnets.

This photo was taken at sunset (probably a high ISO and tripod).
Yarrow from earlier in the afternoon.

Butterfly on Indian blanket.


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Quiet Day (at least for me)

It's Tuesday, April 4, and today has been a stay-at-home day for me. Smoky is out with a local photographer going to some of his favorite flower spots. He'll be home soon with lots of great images, I'm sure.

In the meantime, I want to post some of my photos. First, a couple of Indian blanket that just caught my eye.
The Indian blanket really stands out against a darker background.

I love the mix of orange and blue.

I've been wandering along the roadsides, looking at flowers and grasses for days, and in my mind's eye I've been seeing images that I couldn't capture in my camera. Tonight, I brought those images into my photo software and tweaked them some till I got them the way my mind's eye wanted them.

See what you think.
I saw flowers peaking out among the waving grasses, with just hints of color visible.

The yellow flowers (whose name escapes me) were like little dancing fairies.

Tomorrow, I'll post photos from Smoky's excursion tonight. They will be amazing, I'm sure.


Monday, April 3, 2017

Roadrunner Day

The roadrunner, according to Wikipedia, is a fast-running ground cuckoo with a long tail and a crest. It is found in the southwestern United States and Mexico, usually in the desert. We saw one today on Texas Route 1431 east of Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. As it is with most roadrunners, our viewing lasted only a few brief seconds. In fact, by the time Smoky was out of the truck, the roadrunner was gone. But we saw it!
Our resident longhorns, who fondly nuzzled each other
just before Smoky took this photo.

We were roadrunners today, too, but at a more modest pace. After watching and photographing our resident longhorn steers and cows, we drove north on Highway 183 until it intersected with 29. We headed northwest past Bertram and Burnet. Not too far past Burnet we spotted a sign on the left labeling a small secondary road as a Texas Hill Country Trail. It also said the road went to Kingsland, and since that was our destination, we turned.

Lovely scene along the Texas Hill
Country Trail, Park Road 4W
Bluebonnets, Indian blanket, and Indian paintbrush
on Park Road 4W.

What a great choice that was. The wildflowers on this road were some of the best we've seen so far this trip. The beauty of the flowers was enhanced even more by the pull-offs along the roadside, some of the first we've found in the Hill Country. This road bordered on Inks Lake State Park, which likely is the reason we found pull-offs here where we haven't found many before. Most Texas land is privately owned, and we have been advised over and over not to trespass.
Indian blanket closeup.

Indian blankets are beautiful around this area right now.
I asked Smoky today how rural Texans manage to interact with their neighbors. These ranches are big, or really big, or huge, or mega huge. And most every one of them has a fence all around the property with a locked gate at the entrance. Oh well, enough complaining. Back to today, which was marvelous!
Spiderwort (tradescantia) caught in a sunbeam.

We both took lots of photographs; Smoky even ran the battery completely down on his camera. By the end of the day, we had found several "new" flowers (ones we had not seen this trip) and a zebra-tailed lizard (Callisaurus spp.) in Inks Lake State Park. I shot a short video of the lizard, but we'll have to wait for better wifi connection to add it to the blog.

Zebra-tailed lizard blends in with the
granite rock really well.

Here is Smoky's still photo of the zebra-tailed lizard. He can curl his tail up over his body, much like a scorpion.

On the way home we stopped at a Tex Mex restaurant for dinner. It wasn't as good as the last place, but we cleaned our plates anyway.
Black and white version of last night's
boat-tailed grackle.

Color version of last night's boat-
tailed grackle.

On the way back to the truck, the boat-tailed grackles were busy in the parking lot. Smoky got a great shot of a male. I like both the black and white and the color versions.


Sunday, April 2, 2017

Longhorn Day

Today (April 2) was a quiet day. Smoky called it recuperation day. I did laundry and went to the grocery store. Let's talk grocery stores for a minute. This area of Texas has H-E-B Grocery stores. I've shopped at H-E-B twice now and I'm a fan! Not only do they have lots of fresh produce, prices are reasonable and there are lots of organic products. The store has a sign when you walk in saying they are focused on selling products without high-fructose corn syrup. Yea!

We're talking big, folks.  Texas big. Think Walmart on steroids. Texans (and visitors like me) swarm these stores. You'll only find H-E-B in Texas and Mexico, which is a fairly recent expansion. According to Wikipedia, the business grew to $13 billion in 2006. I'm going to miss H-E-B when we head home.

This afternoon, Smoky looked out our trailer door and noticed that the longhorn cattle were in the field right behind our parking spot. He grabbed the camera and headed down the road to get some pictures.
We saw four adult longhorn just over the fence from our trailer (and some
bluebonnets are in the field!).
Smoky had not been photographing long when our neighbor came out of his trailer carrying a bag of Mission tortilla chips. He said to me, "They like chips. Watch." Then he started calling for Oreo, the name his grandson had given to the biggest steer. In a few minutes, Oreo and one of the cows walked down the field toward us. Meanwhile, Smoky was still shooting some distance away.

Afraid he was going to miss the excitement with the tortilla chips, I called him. And called. And called. Finally he glanced my way and headed to the neighbor with the chips. By this time Oreo and the other adults (two cows and one other steer) had made their way to us. Oreo wasn't shy at all about poking his head over the fence to get better access to the chips.
Meet Oreo, Texas longhorn, up close and personal!
These longhorns love tortilla chips!

When Smoky got to us, he showed me what he had been photographing when I called him.
Smoky saw and photographed the young calf, who was born in this field. 
No wonder he didn't respond right away!
He's a cute little thing, isn't he?
I met another of our neighbors while doing laundry, learned that her husband Ron loved photography, and learned they were going out with a local guide for a bluebonnet tour on Tuesday morning. She graciously got the information about the guide, and Smoky was able to sign up with him as well. His trip is Tuesday late afternoon/evening. If you want a sneak peak at what encouraged Smoky to sign up, go to this website. I expect we'll have a bunch of photos to post after Tuesday!


Back to Luckenbach for April Fool's Day

April Fool's Day, and we couldn't think of a single joke. Oh wait, I didn't really lose my camera. April Fool's!!

It was sad leaving Fredericksburg -- what a great place to be -- but we were looking forward to stopping by Luckenbach again on our way to Leander (just outside of Austin) for the next leg of our trip. Smoky had a date with the Snail Creek Hat Company to pick up his new cowboy hat.
Snail Creek Hat Company, Luckenbach, Texas.

Snail Creek must do a brisk business in Luckenbach. They are only open on weekends, and they had lots of hats in their small shop. Smoky had talked with Tony Wilson a few days ago about the hat he wanted, and Tony promised to have some on hand.
Some of the hats at Snail Creek Hat Company.

Smoky in his new hat!
This special hat, called a Golden Gus by SunBody Hats, is made of palm fiber and has a soft, comfortable feel to it. Here's how SunBody describes it on their website:
This is a very soft and comfortable hat. 4" brim, 5-1/2" crown. Pressed. Not Stiffened. Re-shaping not recommended. Brown bound edge. Mexican fine pressed palm.
Smoky looks great in his new hat. It is just what he wanted. Especially after they added a leather chin strap to it!

While at Luckenbach, we decided to try Amy's Apple Pie Fries again, and they were just as yummy this time as last. I talked with Amy about her fries last time we were there. She said she decided to try them because no one else was making them. Although she wouldn't give out her recipe, I tried to watch the preparation. Maybe I'll try making some when we get back home.
Amy herself!
Her famous apple pie fries!

Add your license to the wall in Luckenbach.
The day was a little overcast, so Smoky's photos of the town turned out better than on our last trip. Here are some of our favorites.
Luckenbach Post Office.
Luckenbach picnic table carvings.
Pink evening primroses on the way to Leander.

Our spot at Leander KOA.
We checked into the Leander KOA mid afternoon, got settled in our spot before the rain started, and hunkered down for an upcoming storm, set to hit in the wee hours of Sunday morning. Smoky even had time to take a picture of a spiderwort growing along the fence behind our spot.
Tradescantia (spiderwort), Leander