RV Camping The
American South West
Week One

This post contains affiliate links for products we value and believe you will find helpful. See full disclosure here.

 

MAR 25, 2021. OAK POINT CAMPGROUND

*V-jer is our T@B 400 Trailer

*Saturn tows V-jer

 

BACKGROUND NOTES. Wanda and I are starting our first travel venture in 2021 - a four-month trip through Southwest US.


Our current RV configuration includes a small 18’ NuCamp T@B 400 travel trailer that we affectionately call V-Jer, referencing an obscure Star Trek movie. We pull V-Jer with a Ford Transit cargo van, a support vehicle and toy wagon that hauls our electric kayaks and electric bikes. In keeping with the NASA theme, we named the van Saturn V, or Saturn for short, after the heavy-lift rockets that took Apollo to the moon in the 70s.

V-Jer1.jpg
V-Jer2.jpg

The eyes fought hard to stay shut at 4 am. It took 12 minutes to pry them open, then another 3 minutes to emerge from the warmth of the cocoon of blankets wrapped around me. However, we were determined to turn the ignition key to start our trip at 5 am sharp.

Yesterday was a whirlwind of last-minute packing and house cleaning. Every thirty minutes or so, I'd luckily run across some vital piece of equipment lurking in a dark corner that we nearly left behind. By 8 pm, our camper, nicknamed V-Jer, was hitched to our van, nicknamed Saturn. Like a saddled horse, our setup was itching to go, as we were.

Our final chore was to wipe down the floors. We cleaned every nook and cranny of the house for the past two weeks, except the floors. We found old lost socks behind the washer and dryer, extra chargers and charging cords in drawers that no one opened in months, dust bunnies the size of softballs, and spiders that built web mansions behind furniture that no one moved in a year. That is our insanity. We are messy when we live at home, but when we leave, the house sparkles. At 10 pm, we put the final touches on the floors. It was time to shower and head to bed.

It was 5:18 am when Saturn and V-Jer launched from our driveway. Not quite 5 am sharp but darn close. Today's goal was both simple yet profound. We were going to leave any remnant of winter completely behind. March and April in Wisconsin can be sneaky. These two mischievous months can lull you with a preview of mild spring weather only to blindside you with blizzards of thick wet snow, laughing at your gullibility.

Mar 25 Oak Point Campground VicinityMap.
Mar 25 Oak Point Campground.jpg

I was surprised at how well we set up camp for the first time this season. Wanda's expert hand signals guided me to a perfect parking spot for V-Jer. Oak Point Campground is the only National Forest Campground in the Shawnee National Forest with electric and water hookups. It is pricey for a National Forest Campground at $22 a night. Even with our Senior Pass, it was $16 a night. However, we got a large level site near a lovely lake at a price far cheaper than a comparable private campground.

Mar 25 Oak Point Campground Photo4a.jpg

The electric and water hook up went smoothly, V-Jer's porch awning slid into place with few hiccups, and with our doormat laid out, it was time to eat. I made a batch of chicken soup last night and filled up several thermos bottles with hot soup just before we left. It was still hot at supper time and tasted fantastic. We were tired from basically sitting on our butts all day long, so we both laid down to close our eyes for a second or two. Thirty minutes later, we both awoke disoriented. Ah, yes, on the road again. It started to rain, negating my idea of walking the hiking trail around the lake.

 

Tomorrow, we will explore some trails and land formations in the National Forest. Then, either Saturday or Sunday, we will make one last long push for Texas before we take smaller chunks of the road. Eventually, we will roam New Mexico and Utah and somewhere else.

MAR 26, 2021. BELL SMITH SPRINGS, CAVE IN ROCK, ELIZABETHTOWN

 

*V-jer is our T@B 400 Trailer

*Saturn tows V-jer


Gosh, we needed that! A spectacular day like today is why we love this stuff. Not only did it become shorts and short-sleeve weather by the afternoon, but the trails and the scenic drives were spectacular.

I had forgotten how comfortable V-Jer's bed is and waking up refreshed after a deep sleep filled with dreams we can never remember. It was already 54º when we rendezvoused with a mini-canyon and a natural bridge at 8:30 am.

About 18 miles from our campsite, Bell Smith Springs comprises four trail loops totaling some 12 or so miles. The area is a sand-stone canyon carved out by a small jade-colored fast-moving river. The tall limestone cliffs that boxed in the river were multi-colored with layers and stripes. Some giant boulders were also curiously pockmarked, providing an odd but interesting texture. I read somewhere that this is the only spot in Illinois that features a natural arching stone bridge.

Mar 25 Oak Point Campground Vicinity Map

To access the canyon at Bell Smith a set of narrow steps were squeezed in between these two limestone monoliths. Wanda emerges at the end of the stairway.

Mar 25 Oak Point Campground Photo1.jpg
Mar 25 Oak Point Campground Photo2.jpg

We blew the whole morning in this heaven-on-earth spot, yet according to my Gaia GPS Trail app, we only covered three miles. Stopping every three feet for a photoshoot didn't help to add miles. If you add in all the vertical miles scrambling up and down rocks, boulders, and cliff sides, I'm sure we could triple that number.

Mar 26 Bell Smith Springs4.jpg
Mar 26 Bell Smith Springs5.jpg
Mar 26 Bell Smith Springs9.jpg
Mar 26 Bell Smith Springs10a.JPG

Like a dummy, I forgot the Illinois Gazetteer with all of our stops planned out, so a return to V-Jer after our morning hike was necessary. Backtracking set us back quite a bit, forcing me to modify the agenda and giving up the Garden of the Gods area to follow the Ohio River to Cave In Rock State Park.

Along the way, we stopped at quaint little towns that caught our interest. Every review of Elizabethtown's tiny Ohio River town bragged about the E-Town Restaurant floating out into the river. I was drooling for a good old-fashioned hamburger, the first of the year, as we walked up to the gangplank. Sadly, it was closed, another victim of COVID-19. Hopefully, it is just temporary, as the website promised.

PHOTOS: I asked the owner of the property if the blooming tree was a magnolia. He said he only knew it by the name “beautiful tree”.  On the right is a barge crossing in front of the famous E-Town Restaurant in Elizabethtown.

 
Mar 26 Elizabethtown1a.JPG
Mar 26 Elizabethtown2a.jpg

The village of Cave In Rock, population 350, has two claims to fame. With the nearest bridge over the river being an hour's drive away in Paducah, Cave In Rock's ferry is a vital link to Kentucky. The ferry constantly runs from 6 am to 9:30 pm and seems to never cross the river empty.

Mar 26 Ferry4a
Mar 26 Ferry3a.JPG

Cave In Rock State Park is on the outskirts of the town of Cave In Rock. So, what is all this business about a cave in some rock? It just so happens that a short stretch along the Ohio River's northern bank next to the town is a tall lonesome limestone cliff. At the foot of the cliff is a rather large cave that thieves and robbers used to hang out in, waiting to plunder boats and rafts floating down the Ohio River in the 1800s. The cave was large and muddy from the dripping ceiling.

 
Mar 26 Cave In Rock2a.JPG
Mar 26 Cave In Rock3.aJPG.JPG

After slippin' and slidin' in the muddy cave, we decided to take the ferry to Kentucky. There is a QT (quaint town) 15 miles south of the crossing that needed a visit. Marion was indeed a quaint town well maintained with brand new streets and well-kept buildings. However, there weren't any interesting shops or funky bars with the kind of character for quaintness.

But the countryside was stunningly beautiful. We drove a 45-mile loop of back roads back to the ferry. The skinny blacktop roads with no shoulders climbed and dove and wound around a prosperous and clean rural countryside. This end of Kentucky was visibly more prosperous than southern Illinois, just across Big Muddy Ohio River.

With many more trails to explore, like the Mini Grand Canyon and the Garden of the Gods, we expect to return to the Shawanee National Forest in the future. Shawnee National Forest would be an excellent first stop on the way to North Carolina for another trip.  

It is time to continue southbound. Back at camp, we packed as much as we could for another early morning departure. Tomorrow we head for Piney Point Campground on Wright Patman Lake near Texarkana, Texas.

Mar 25 Oak Point Campground Photo4.jpg

MAR 27, 2021. PINEY POINT CAMPGROUND

 

*V-jer is our T@B 400 Trailer

*Saturn tows V-jer


We broke camp last night. All we had to do was pack the electric and water hookups and mate V-Jer's hitch to Saturn's ball. We had even backed Saturn up to match V-Jer's waiting hitch before going to bed perfectly.

 

Still, it took nearly an hour to leave the campground, mainly because it was pitch black at 5 am. We also had to drive up to the water dump station and jettison our grey water tank in the dark. Being the first time this season, Wanda and I were like the Keystone Cops. First thing, I drove up on the wrong side of the dump station. Then we fumbled with assembling the sewer hose components. Finally, at 6:18 am, we turned onto the highway.

It was another 9 hours of driving southwest down to the Texarkana area in Texas's northeast corner, just over the Red River separating Texas from Arkansas and then Louisiana. Google Maps guided us along the expressways that made for a boring ride.

We did see our share of southern billboards. Most prevalent were the personal injury lawyers. One firm specialized in accidents involving 18 wheelers. It wasn't clear if they represented the truckers or the drivers in the other schmucked vehicles. Another lawyer in a big cowboy hat lassoed the lucky phone number of 777-7777. A lady detective bragged, "She Spies - Private Eye."


My favorite billboard depicted a woman on her knees with her handcuffed hands held out pleadingly in front of her. The caption was, "Shackled by Lust? Hope in Jesus."

We reached Piney Point Campground at 3:30 pm. It was a terrific campground laid out on the southern bank of Wright Patman Reservoir with electric and water hookups next to the perfectly level parking pad. We were only going to spend one evening here and didn't even unhitch V-Jer.

Mar 27 STE - Piney Point Route Map.jpg
Mar 27 PineyVicinityMap.jpg
Mar 27 Piney Point VicinityMap5.jpg
Mar 27 Piney Point Campsite2.JPG
Mar 27 Piney Point Campsite.JPG
Mar 27 Piney Point Campsite3.JPG

No sooner did we get everything situated than the sky opened up. The rest of the evening and much of the night knocked us around with heavy winds, wicked lightning, booming thunder, and torrential rain. The nature trails that we had hoped to stretch our legs never got touched by our feet. I did manage to scope out the bathrooms, which turned out to be clean with tiled shower stalls.

Mar 27 Piney Point Storm.JPG
 

MAR 28 2021: JIM HOGG CAMPGROUND, TEXAS

 

*V-jer is our T@B 400 NuCamp Trailer.

*Saturn is our Cargo Van that tows V-jer


I got up to witness the most spectacular full moon hovering over Wright Patman Lake Reservoir at o’dark thirty in the morning. With little to do except drive off, we drove off.

*V-jer is our T@B 400 Trailer

*Saturn tows V-jer


I got up to witness the most spectacular full moon hovering over Wright Patman Lake Reservoir at o’dark thirty in the morning. With little to do except drive off, we drove off.

Mar 27 Piney Point Night2a.JPG

The expressways to Austin greeted us with our familiar personal injury lawyers. They must spend millions on billboards. The same dozen lawyers cornered the lion’s share of the billboards from southern Illinois to Austin. I noticed that one lawyer had to settle for the phone number 888-8888 since the lucky lawyer already hogged all the 7s.
 

STE - Jim Hogg Route Map .jpg
Jim Hogg Park Vicinity Map2 - AUSTIN.jpg

This trip was a bit shorter, arriving at the Jim Hogg Campground at 1:30 pm. This Army Corps of Engineers’ operated campground on the Georgetown Lake Reservoir, near Georgetown, and near the Texas capital of Austin. Jim Hogg, whoever he might have been, would be proud of this manicured campground in his namesake.

With our lifetime America The Beautiful Senior Pass, these federal campgrounds are half price. We paid $13 a night for this campground, including electric and water hookups. For once, it pays to be a geezer.

We hit our stride and had V-Jer set up in a half-hour. Time to explore the area. The Army Corp of Engineers administers the land around the entire reservoir. They have many campgrounds, beaches, a couple of boat landings, and a 26-mile hiking trail circumscribing around the lake.

 
Jim Hogg Image3a - AUSTIN.JPG

Russell Park, across the lake from our campground, is also an ACE (Army Corp of Engineers) campsight. Although the sun was toasty warm, the breeze coming off the lake was cool. One brave young couple was sitting out in the water in lawn chairs. The woman explained that this was her only day off and, damn it, she would spend it at the beach. She further explained that it was too cold to swim and settled on sitting in her chair in the water - it made sense to me.

Jim Hogg Image6a - AUSTIN.JPG
 
Jim Hogg Image5a - AUSTIN.JPG

Next, I got my rugged Ecco hiking sandals on, Wanda and I lit out for a portion of the trail that followed the San Gabriel River that feeds into the reservoir. The Wright Patman Lake and the Georgetown reservoir are very low, so the small San Gabriel wasn’t helping much.

Jim Hogg Image7a - AUSTIN.JPG
Jim Hogg Image12a - AUSTIN.JPG
Jim Hogg Image8a- AUSTIN.JPG

The trail, lined with areas of dense thickets and open expanses ladened with cactus, kept us entranced as we hoofed an easy 4-mile trek, according to the Gaia GPS app.

Jim Hogg Image18a - AUSTIN.JPG
Jim Hogg Image13a - AUSTIN.JPG
Jim Hogg Image15a - AUSTIN.JPG
Jim Hogg Image16a - AUSTIN.JPG

We got back to V-Jer around 6:15 pm. As Wanda set up a table outside in the warm but fading sunlight, I cooked up some veggies. We will spend the rest of the evening figuring out what to do with the next three days in the Austin area.

Jim Hogg Image20a - AUSTIN.JPG
 
 

*V-jer is our T@B 400 Trailer.

*Saturn tows V-jer.


What an incredible day! The weather was picture perfect, and we were on the go, flittering here and there all day long. Our primary goal was to visit the many quaint towns (QTs) that ring the Austin area. Funny thing, when I Googled quaint towns in Texas, 90% that popped up were within 50 miles of Austin.

Burnet: We rolled into Burnet around 8:30 am on a cold Texas morning - only 43º. The stores were not yet open for business. The historic town square was small and anchored by the town hall. In the front of the town hall was a unique walk-the-tile history of the area, which turned out to be a fun way to get an overview. The stores that surrounded the square were mundane. Burnett was the first QT (quaint town) that didn't seem to be living up to the QT label. After a quick walk around the square, we left for the next QT on the list. However, for those who want to visit Burnett after 8:30 am, I found The DayTripper informative.

Jim Hogg Park OVERVIEW willow loop Map -
 

Falkenstein Castle: Once we left Burnet, we entered what is called The Hill Country. We finally left the urbanization around Austin behind and experienced the natural hilly countryside of central Texas. The roads are gorgeous, with rolling backroads that snake through a forest of miniature trees.  
 

We knew that Falkenstein Castle was closed to tourists, but we wanted a photo of it from the outside. We visited the famous Ludwig Castle in Germany and loved the setting, and according to all the reviews we read, the Falkenstien Castle is also in a fantastic setting. 

 

The reviews were right. The setting was fantastic. The problem, however, was one of photographing the majestic scene. The road that provided the nicest overlook had no shoulder and tons of "No Parking" signs along the roadside. What did we do? We stopped, quickly ran out of the van, took the picture, and popped back into the van before anyone could object.

Jim Hogg Long Horn Castle1a - AUSTIN.JPG
 

Longhorn Cavern State Park: This park is home to the longest cavern in Texas. Being only a million years old, it hasn't had the time to build the stalactites and stalagmites that a much older cavern, like Carlsbad, has, but it is beautiful nonetheless.

 

Before taking the cavern tour, we were determined to get in some hiking. Longhorn Cavern State Park has three miles of pleasant hiking trails. The thick forest of Juniper trees was more like miniature deformed intertwined cedar trees and very different from Wisconsin's Junipers. Without an actual trail, you could never just walk through these forests full of tightly packed thickets of low juniper branches.

The Cavern tour started at 11 am with 20 other masked amateur spelunkers. The $20 excursion was over a mile long and lasted 1 3/4 hours. The cavern was primarily various shades of creamy pastel colors featuring several open rooms connected by long hallways. We have experienced more spectacular caves, but few this long. The tour guide, Sam was so informative.

Jim Hogg Long Horn Cavern1a - AUSTIN.JPG

The cave was populated by 125 of the world's tiniest bats, as counted by the state park staff. We saw a dozen or so, and they were cute little things.

My favorite room was the crystal room. It was like walking through a giant geode. Huge crystals refracted the lights expertly set up to show thee gem sparkle.  Human History . Civilian Conservation Corps . Texas Parks and Wildlife .

Jim Hogg Long Horn Cavern9a.JPG
Jim Hogg Long Horn Cavern15a.JPG
Jim Hogg Long Horn Cavern21a.JPG
Jim Hogg Long Horn Cavern30a.JPG

Llano: Llano bragged of having a BBQ joint that George W. Bush especially liked. The downtown was a step up in my view of quaintness when compared to Burnet. The town hall was courtly with its brownstones and clock tower. There were a handful of the offbeat bars that one would expect in a QT. Although Burnet had a handcrafted winery, Llano had a brewpub, a distillery, and a winery on one side street just off the main drag. Scattered throughout the town were more breweries and wineries. The Hill Country is the capital of handcrafted spirits of all kinds, as we discovered during our road tour.

Well, George W. Bush, whatever one thought of him, did know his BBQ. Of course, we stopped off at Cooper's Old Time Pit Barb-B-Que joint for dinner. We split the Texas-sized thick pork chop marinated to extreme tenderloin tenderness, seasoned to perfection, and grilled on an outdoor pit. Of course, a side order of macaroni and cheese with jalapeños and grilled bacon made for a complete Texas-style treat. Beans and sweet tea are part of the menu and all made for a scrumptious takeout dinner on a rugged bluff we found while driving the Willow City Loop.  

 
 
Jim Hogg Llano1a- AUSTIN.JPG
Jim Hogg Llano5a- AUSTIN.JPG
Jim Hogg Llano6- AUSTIN.jpg
Jim Hogg Llano4a- AUSTIN.JPG
Jim Hogg Llano2a- AUSTIN.JPG
 

Willow City: Well, that was a bust. Willow City was more like "Willow Bend In The Road." It is mainly the gateway to the Willow City Loop Drive.

 

Willow City Loop: Highway 16 from Llano to Willow City is beautiful, however about 10 miles north of Willow City, a famous side road takes a roundabout route through the most picturesque backcountry. Called the Willow City Loop, this narrow blacktop road follows a rocky ledge through ranch country. 

 

The topography and the road forced us to drive at 25 mph, but who would want to go any faster? We just wanted to soak it all in. We enjoyed our takeout BBQ at the bottom of an exceptionally rugged bluff. The chop was so perfectly flavored that we couldn't bear to alter it with the BBQ sauce. Fortunately, we had asked the cook to cut the chop into slices. We wouldn't have been able to gnaw the whole thick piece of meat.

 

Fredericksburg: Fredricksburg is what a QT is all about. Founded in 1846 by a German immigrant named Meusebach, Fredericksburg is a vibrant small city with character. Meusebach successfully negotiated peace treaties with the local native Americans allowing the town to thrive quickly. The Nimitz family were also early settlers. Of course, a famous descendent from the Nimitz family line, Rear Admiral Chester Nimitz, was the US Naval hero of WWII in the Pacific theater. Fredericksburg lavishly honors him downtown with a statute and historical information plaques. 

The town has taken advantage of its German heritage, sporting various German cuisine restaurants and more than its share of craft brewpubs with beer gardens. 

 

But, in The Hill Country, wineries are king, and Fredericksburg has its share of wine gardens. The competition in the wine-making business must be brutal in The Hill Country. 

 

Fredericksburg is a charming mixture of antiquey western funkiness, loud German overtones, and some Wisconsin Door County small-town charm. Wanda and I liked Fredericksburg, Texas, a lot.

Jim Hogg Fredericksburg3a- AUSTIN.JPG
Jim Hogg Fredericksburg4a- AUSTIN.JPG
 

Luckenbach: “Let’s go to Luckenbach Texas, with Waylon and Willie and the boys.” - Waylon Jennings.

 

We had to check out Luckenbach, a population of three. It may be small, but it is the definition of Kool. The town is country music, pure and simple.

 

Many excellent acoustic musicians were rippin' out some incredible tunes with tight harmonies and soulful lines even on a late Monday afternoon. Wanda ordered a bottle of Texas Hill Country red wine, and I got a Shriner Bock beer. The tab came to $4.10. What? The red wine was a 12 ounce corked bottle of the locally made stuff. The buildings were down-home. The music was down-home. Even booze prices were down-home. I can't say enough about Luckenbach, Texas. 

Jim Hogg Luchenbalk4a- AUSTIN.JPG
Jim Hogg Luchenbalk2a- AUSTIN.JPG
Jim Hogg Luchenbalk8- AUSTIN.JPG

Johnson City: This was the hometown of former President Lyndon B. Johnson. It wasn't much of a town but the town hall sandstone buildingwas impressive. We walked around the one block, noticed the expected winery, and noted a moonshine distillery on the same block. There was a sign pointing down the road to the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, but it was getting late. That was just about all there was to see in Johnson City.

 
 
Jim Hogg Johnson City1a- AUSTIN.JPG

Wine country: The Hill Country road between Luckenbach and Jim Hogg Campground was lined with wineries. Jeez, it was one winery after another, after another, after another. As I said, the competition must be brutal.

*V-jer is our T@B 400 Trailer.

*Saturn tows V-jer.

I woke up with BBQ on the brain. I thoroughly enjoyed Coopers Pit BBQ pork chop yesterday, but Lockhart is the Texas BBQ capital, and it was on the agenda to visit today.

Texas BBQ, we are learning, is nothing like what we think of as BBQ. I was expecting gigantic meat sandwiches with tons of fixin's and slathered with sweet-tangy red sauces. Not even close. In Texas, it's solely about the meat. It is aged to tenderness, smoked for about a decade, slow-cooked for a couple of months on low smoldering wood heat, and lightly seasoned with salt and pepper. That's it. If you want BBQ sauces, go to Wisconsin.

Jim Hogg Park BBQ1a - AUSTIN.JPG
Jim Hogg Park Kreuz3a - AUSTIN.JPG

However, we had time to burn, so we first stopped off at McKinney Falls State Park on Austin's southern border. There wasn't a day pass fee at Longhorn Cavern State Park, so I was shocked to be hit up for $12 to drive through the main gate. In exchange for the $12 bucks, I got a paper map of the park. The park follows Onion Creek for a couple of miles. We walked half the pleasantly shaded park trails. Gaia GPS clocked us at 4.5 miles of walking.

Jim Hogg McKinneyParkVicinityMap2 - AUST
Jim Hogg Park McKinney Trail 1a - AUSTIN
 
Jim Hogg Park McKinney Trail 5a - AUSTIN
Jim Hogg McKinneyParkMap - AUSTIN.jpg

I'd give the park a B-. The trails were pleasant, and the grounds were clean. The poor Onion Creek was a bit of a mess. The two waterfalls were more like water trickles, but the rock formations cut by the creek were interesting. The areas of slower running water pooled up in slimy algae blooms and, unfortunately, smelled too putrid to hang  around. 

Jim Hogg Park McKinney Trail 4a - AUSTIN
Jim Hogg Park McKinney Trail 3a - AUSTIN

At 2:30 pm, with stomachs growling FEED ME, we plugged Lockhart into Google Maps. There are three ultra-famous BBQ joints in Lockhart, Texas: Kreuz, Black's, and Smittys. All three had smoked cheese and jalapeño stuffed sausages, smoked brontosaurus-sized ribs, thick smoked briskets, and smoked prime ribs the size of three stacked dinner plates.

What do we do? Sample something at each joint, of course. We read that the smoked cheese and jalapeño sausages at Kreuz are to die for - they were. The explosion of smoky goodness was nothing short of primal. The cheesy jalapeños didn't overpower but blended in perfectly. Like Cooper's chops, it was a home run. Texas BBQ is up 2-0.

 
Jim Hogg Park Kreuz1a - AUSTIN.JPG
Jim Hogg Park Kreuz1b - AUSTIN.JPG

Next, we hit Smittys for the smoked prime rib. To pace ourselves, we only ate half of one order. Tomorrow's leftovers will be a treat. The meat just melted in your mouth like soft caramel. Just wow! Texas BBQ: 3-0.
 

 
Jim Hogg Park Smitty2a - AUSTIN.JPG
Jim Hogg Park Smitty3a - AUSTIN.JPG

We picked up the blackened, fall-off-the-bone, spectacular ribs from Black's to complete the trifecta. The size of the rib bone had to be a joke. It was so crazy big that it must have come from a mastodon. When you picked up the giant bone, the huge chunk of meat fell right off. The caramelized blackened edges were so intensely flavorful it is impossible to describe. Again, we could only eat half of one order. Oh yeah, we got a side of peach cobbler at Black's. With the cobbler getting on base, the ribs hit the ball way out of the park. Texas BBQ wins 5-0.

Again, wow, just wow! I have to give it up to Texas, and especially Lockhart. They do know BBQ.

 
Jim Hogg Park Black3 - AUSTIN.jpg
Jim Hogg Park BBQ20a - AUSTIN.JPG
 

*V-jer is our T@B 400 Trailer.

*Saturn tows V-jer.

All the info I had on the free beach camping near Port Lavaca was pre-COVID. I had a hard time finding current updates. Was the camping area still open? If open, will it be overcrowded with RVers taking advantage of free camping? We decided to take a chance and entered the coordinates into Google Maps. 3 1/2 hours later, we arrived to find the beach still open to camping, still free, and plenty of places available.

Magnolia Beach Route Map.jpg
Magnolio Vicinity Map.jpg
Magnolio Vicinity Map2.jpg

The sand was mixed with lots of seashells, giving the surface enough solidity to keep our tires from sinking to oblivion. The ground was perfectly level. The Gulf of Mexico is only 10'' from our front door. Bloggers, YouTubers, and articles have assured me that the tide here isn't a problem. Every other trailer and RV is also hugging the water.

Magnolia Beach Camper2.jpg
Magnolia Beach Camper3.jpg
Magnolia Beach1.jpg
Magnolia Beach houses1.jpg
Magnolia Beach2.jpg
Magnolia Beach3.jpg

I can't say we did much once settled in. We spent a lot of time trying out a new email app. If all goes well, it should present these journals in a more orderly and professional manner. Well, we'll just see about that!

 

We did manage to drive into Port Lavaca. HEB is a giant Walmart-like store here. We stopped to take advantage of the cheap gas, $2.48, and pick up a couple of essentials at the grocery store - like margaritas. You can't be practically living in the water without margaritas. 

 

For supper, we steamed some veggies and heated the leftover BBQ. Wow, Texas BBQ is even better reheated.Those ribs were just smoky, primal, succulent, melt-in-your-mouth tender, full of natural meat flavor. Look, I love German sausages and smoked meats. But BBQ from Lockhart, Texas, is world-class spectacular.

 

I have amassed a list of thoughts and observations that I can share now that we have a bit of a lull:

 

Deer herd: In Jim Hogg Campground and the surrounding subdivision, there roams a large contingency of deer just cruising around without a care. It very much reminds me of the herd that calls Luxury Estates subdivision in St. Germain, WI home.

Cowboy Church: Texas is squarely in the Bible Belt. There are all sorts of novel-sounding evangelical denominations. Most start with "First" something or other. There never is a 5th or 10th. 


The best name we came across was the 1st Cowboy Church of Burnet County. It must be a big deal as we saw several signs for it, although we never saw the actual church.

First Cowboy Church.jpg

Armadillos: These nocturnal animals are adorable. We read somewhere that armadillos hardly ever come out during the day, but we saw one on the side of the road in broad daylight. By the time I stopped, backed up, and got out of the van to take its pictured, it just lumbered away. 

 

Gas prices: So far, Illinois had the most expensive gas, right around $3.10 a gallon. Texas gas prices are all over the place. The cheapest has been $2.39, but it has ranged up to $2.89. In Georgetown, we bought gas for $2.43, with the station across the road going for $2.79. That's crazy.

 

Masks: I am pleasantly shocked that despite the governor's dismissal of COVID and masks, Texas's mask-wearing is just about 95%.  

 

Time to explore the Texas coastline. South of Magnolia Beach is Rockport, reportedly a QT (Quaint Town) with the cleanest beach in Texas.

Magnolia Beach Rockport Route Map.jpg

Rockport is part of a long narrow peninsula jutting into the Gulf. The rest of the peninsula is studded with Florida-style expensive homes lining the channels with access to the sea. As clean as the beach is, it just didn't hold up to the magnificent beaches in Portugal or the various Mexican Rivieras or the wonderful Caribbean island beaches we have enjoyed. I know that's not fair, but Rockport is touting this beach as the best-in-Texas.

Magnolia Beach to Rockport Route Map.jpg
Magnolia Beach Rockport 1.jpg
Magnolia Beach Rockport 2.jpg
Magnolia Beach Rockport 3.jpg
Magnolia Beach Rockport 4.jpg

Downtown Rockport is a collection of artsy, funky shops with junk art done well. I liked Rockport and its beach. For the most part, Rockport is new, and well maintained. Port Lavaca is a bit rough around the edges, so Rockport was a pleasant surprise.

Magnolia Beach Rockport 5.jpg
Magnolia Beach Rockport 8.jpg
Magnolia Beach Rockport 6.jpg
Magnolia Beach Rockport 10.jpg

Port Aransas. Continuing south, we crossed a causeway and then rode a ferry to Port Aransas, located on the northern end of a long barrier island named Mustang Island. The ferry operation was impressive. There were four ferry boats hustling vehicles as fast as they could across a short waterway. Considering that we had just crossed a major waterway on a long causeway, the traffic here was surprising. I guess after spending a ton of money on the fancy causeway, there was no money left for the last short expanse of water to Port Aransas.

 
Rockport to Port Aransas Route Map.jpg
Magnolia Beach Rockport 11.jpg
 

Mustang Island. We quickly skipped through Port Aransas and headed down the long sand dune that made up Mustang Island. Much of the island has recently built up with expensive gated communities. Cinnamon Shores is a development outfit that seems to have the lion's share of the development. Most gated communities we passed by had the Cinnamon Shores logo plastered on its entrance signage.

Finally, development gave way to a pure sand dune, which the Mustang Island State Park preserved. We were going to drive into the park for a quick look-see, but they wanted $10. Since we were heading for the Padre Island National Seashore just south of the Mustang Island State Park, we didn't stop.

Port Aransas to Mustang Island.jpg
 

Padre Island. I have been intrigued by Padre Island National Seashore for a long time. This barrier island is a long undeveloped spit of sand dune that protects about 70 miles of Texas coastline. Free boondock camping is allowed on the Gulf side of the island, as long as you can get to it. With the dynamic nature of sand and tides, which can be extremely challenging, it isn't easy to access.

Mustang Island to Padre Island.jpg
 

North Beach with free boondock camping. The first free beach area is called North Beach. The tide was, indeed, high today. The campers were hugging the slightly higher but looser sand in an attempt to be away from the angry surf the ferocious wind was whipping up. One rig got buried in the sand. The poor owner was fitfully shoveling sand as fast as he could to give his axels some daylight. He looked hopelessly dug in.

Padre Island North Beach.jpg
Magnolia Beach Rockport 17.jpg
Magnolia Beach Rockport 14.jpg
Magnolia Beach Rockport 13.jpg

Malaquite Campground. The next camping area, Malaquite, is an organized campground with flush toilets, hot showers, water, and a sewer dump station. At $14 a night, it was the most expensive campground on the National Seashore. For us with Senior Passes, it would only come to $7 per night - not bad. The layout was cramped but well away from the roaring surf, eager to reach the free campers.

The entire South Beach area stretches for miles and is available for free boondocking. But again, that means driving on the sand. Like the much shorter North Beach, there isn't road access.

 
North Beach to Malaquite on Padre Island
Magnolia Beach Rockport 15.jpg
 

Bird Island Basin Campground. There is one more campground that is semi-developed and on a waterfront. Bird Island Basin Campground is parking lot style and tightly packed. It is on the west side of Padre Island, facing the more placid inland waters that the long spit of sand is protecting. It costs $8 per night with a couple of vault toilets.

North Beach to Malaquite to Bird Island.
Magnolia Beach Rockport 20.jpg

It turns out that this body of water is a windsurfing haven. The wind still howls, but the smaller body of water doesn't get whipped up into such a froth. The majority of the campers seemed to be windsurfing enthusiasts. Whenever I watch windsurfers, I notice that it must be a challenging sport to master. Most windsurfers spend most of their time in the water trying to get back on their boards. Out of the twentyish surfers we watched, there were two or three accomplished surfers who could stay on their boards flying about in that fast wind.

Magnolia Beach Rockport 21.jpg
 

Malaquite Visitor Center. The visitor center is a hub for the public swimming beach. Today, the visitor's center was filled with signs begging people not to swim. There were strong rip tides, rough surf, and nasty jellyfish, guaranteeing a tragic outcome. I didn't notice anyone in the water. Besides all the ugly water-related stuff, the wind coming off the Gulf was too cold to swim.

North Beach to Malaquite to Bird Island