Balmorhea State Park: An Oasis in the Desert

Plopped in the middle of the prickly, dry Chihuahuan Desert of West Texas, the spring-fed pool at Balmorhea State Park is an oasis in the desert.

San Solomon Springs is home to varied species of waterfowl and two thumb-size species of endangered fish: the Comanche Springs pupfish and the Pecos gambusia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
San Solomon Springs is home to varied species of waterfowl and two thumb-size species of endangered fish: the Comanche Springs pupfish and the Pecos gambusia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And any time you have water in the desert it’s going to be a special place.

It’s a hot haul across I-10 from El Paso to San Antonio. Most RVers speed along in an air-conditioned hurry to the next big name destination. Little do they realize as they whiz past Exit 206 what they’re missing less than fifteen minutes off the freeway: 46 grassy acres with wetlands and towering cottonwoods that shade canals, an RV campground and motel-style retro lodging, and an immense enclosed spring-fed pool.

The pool is open daily. It is fed by San Solomon Springs; 22 to 28 million gallons of water flow through it each day. At 25 feet deep, and with a capacity of more than 3.5 million gallons, the pool has plenty of room for swimmers and offers a unique setting for scuba and skin diving.

The site has long attracted people: American Indians, Spanish explorers, Mexican farmers, and U.S. soldiers watered up here long before the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) turned a desert wetland into a spring-fed pool in the 1930s.

The CCC established a camp at the 1.75-acre swimming pool and built concession buildings and a park residence. They enclosed and sculpted the pool into a 200-foot circle over the spring and two long tangents (389 feet and 180 feet long) that form a “V.” At the end of one tangent, the depth is only three feet, making it an ideal area for swimmers and children. The entire area is lined with limestone and bordered with flagstone paving.

A 3-acre reconstructed desert wetlands and canals built at the park in 1995 provides habitat for migrating birds, and a refuge for indigenous aquatic, fowl, and amphibian life. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A 3-acre reconstructed desert wetlands and canals built at the park in 1995 provides habitat for migrating birds, and a refuge for indigenous aquatic, fowl, and amphibian life. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Private concessionaires operated the park until the 1960s, when the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department took it over. Today visitors flock from around the state and far beyond to dip a toe or two or scuba dive into crystal-clear waters of the enormous V-shaped pool with a natural bottom. On hot summer weekends, the park fills to capacity by noon and vehicles are turned away.

Native reeds and bulrushes sway in the San Solomon Cienega, a 3-acre reconstructed desert wetlands and canals built at the park in 1995 to provide habitat for migrating birds, and a refuge for indigenous aquatic, fowl, and amphibian life.

Set amongst canals, San Solomon Springs Courts offer motel-style retro lodging built by the CCC in the 1930s with a Southwestern adobe look. There are 18 rooms and all are designated as non-smoking.

Birders flock to the Park for sightings of phoebes, rails, kingfishers, sparrows, quail, wrens, hawks, pigeons, hummingbirds, roadrunners, and many others.

To call Balmorhea State Park a popular dive site is an understatement. From Labor Day through Memorial Day, which is the park’s low season, each weekend as many as 10 different dive operations find the friendly waters of San Solomon Springs ideal for certifying divers from entry level (Open Water) to specialties such as Rescue, Photography, Videography, Naturalist, or Night. Each of them brings groups of 10 to 15 dive students.

Call it oasis or paradise; scuba divers call it fun!

One can swim, scuba dive, snorkel, sunbathe, bird watch, picnic, play in the playground, sit under a shade tree by the springs, camp, enjoy the beautiful sunrises and sunsets, and motel or RV it. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
One can swim, scuba dive, snorkel, sunbathe, bird watch, picnic, play in the playground, sit under a shade tree by the springs, camp, enjoy the beautiful sunrises and sunsets, and motel or RV it. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Solomon Springs may be the only dive site that provides entertainment for the whole family.  One can swim, scuba dive, snorkel, sunbathe, bird watch, picnic, play in the playground, sit under a shade tree by the springs, camp, enjoy the beautiful sunrises and sunsets, and motel or RV it.

Details

Balmorhea State Park

Entrance Fee: $7/adult; children 12 years and under, free

Camping: 6 campsites with water, $11; 16 campsites with water and electric, $14; 12 campsites with water, electric, and cable TV, $17; all campsites + daily entrance fee

Elevation: 3,205 feet

Directions: From I-10 westbound, take Balmorhea Exit 206, FM 2903 south to Balmorhea, then Texas 17 east 4 miles to the Park; from I-10 eastbound, take Toyahvale/Ft. Davis Exit 192, Ranch Road 3078 east 12 miles to the park.

Address: P.O. Box 15, Toyahvale, TX 79786

Phone: (432) 375-2370

Website: www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/balmorhea

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…
No matter how far we may wander, Texas lingers with us, coloring our perceptions of the world.

—Elmer Kelto

Read More

Alabama State Parks Celebrate 75 Years

From the beaches of the Gulf Coast to the Appalachian foothills, Alabama State Parks reflect every facet of the state’s rich natural landscape and in 2014 the state’s park system will celebrate a milestone—its 75th anniversary.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The parks system preserves some of the most magical wonders of the state, such as Oak Mountain, Monte Sano, Cathedral Caverns, Guntersville, Wind Creek, DeSoto, and Gulf Coast.

Throughout the year, Alabama’s 22 state parks will host a variety of hikes, nature walks and programs, dining and camping specials, and various other events highlighting 75 years of service.

“Alabama State Parks recently launched a public relations campaign acknowledging the many partners we have in our parks,” said Greg Lein, Alabama State Parks Director.

“We hope the 75th anniversary celebration will strengthen our connection with all the visitors and other partners who make these parks possible. Alabama’s park system exists thanks to their support and we need it now more than ever.”

The acquisition of land for public use has deep roots. The National Forest System began in 1891. In 1916, the National Park Service was established to oversee a growing network of parks that included icons such as Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Sequoia National Park.

Alabama’s park system began in the 1920s with Cheaha State Park being the longest continually operating facility. There were 11 state parks in Alabama by 1933 including Bromley, Cheaha, Fort Toulouse, Geneva, Little River, Panther Creek, St. Stephens, Sumter, Talladega County, The Lagoons, and Weogufka.

Talmadge Butler Boardwalk Trail, DeSoto State Park
Talmadge Butler Boardwalk Trail, DeSoto State Park

Many of the original park structures and infrastructure were built by the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) and can still be seen when visiting a modern Alabama State Park.

The Division of State Parks, Monuments, and Historic Sites was created to oversee management of the park system in 1939.

Back in 1939 when the first state parks were opened in Alabama, they were not created to make money.

One hundred percent of the state park operational funds are now generated through visitors and the remaining maintenance funds decided by the Alabama Legislature. The revenue to operate and maintain the 22 state parks is generated by user fees (i.e., gate entry, lodging, boat launch access, RV and camp sites, etc.).

Today, one of Alabama’s 22 state parks is within an hour drive from most any community in the state and offers a wide variety of outdoor recreation opportunities including:

Five resort parks featuring lodge, restaurant, and convention facilities.

Ten parks with modern cottages and chalets.

Twenty-one parks with modern campgrounds.

Two parks with cave tours.

The Parks Path Golf Trail.

The Gulf State Park Fishing Pier and Gulf Adventure Center Hummingbird Zipline.

Three parks with marinas and many more fishing and boating opportunities.

Picnic pavilions perfect for any outdoor gathering.

Various museums highlighting the rich cultural and natural heritage of the local communities.

Buck's Pocket State Park
Buck’s Pocket State Park

More than 200 miles of hiking, biking, horseback riding, and walking trails.
Thousands of acres of water-based recreation ranging from mountain lakes and rushing streams to the sandy beaches of the Gulf of Mexico.

It’s time to take an Alabama Road Trip.

Details

Alabama Tourism

Website: alabama.travel

Alabama State Parks

downloadThe Alabama State Parks Division operates and maintains 22 state parks encompassing approximately 48,000 acres of land and water.

These Parks rely on visitor fees and the support of other Partners like local communities to fund the majority of their operations. Partners Pay the Way.

Visit the website for information about the Alabama State Parks 75th Anniversary Celebration and for lodging, camping, and dining specials and event announcements.

Phone: (800) ALAPARK (252-7275)

Website: alapark.com

Worth Pondering…

Sweet home Alabama
Where the skies are so blue
Sweet home Alabama
Lord, I’m coming home to you
Here I come, Alabama

Read More

Want a Room with a View? Rent a Fire Tower

To call it a room with a view is an understatement.

Seneca State Forest fire tower is being converted into an overnight camping facility. (Source: wvgazette.com)
Seneca State Forest fire tower is being converted into an overnight camping facility. (Source: wvgazette.com)

The West Virginia state park system’s newest overnight accommodation was built to take in the most complete panorama possible of the Pocahontas County highlands and Greenbrier River Valley.

The Thorny Mountain Fire Tower, built in 1935 on a platform 55 feet above the top of a 3,415-foot peak in Seneca State Forest, is being renovated and refitted for a new life as a backcountry retreat, the Charleston Gazette reports.

“This is the only fire tower in the state that was built in the western style, with a large cab that let the observer live on top of the tower, instead of in a cabin at its base,” said Bob Beanblossom, regional administrator for the West Virginia State Park system.

Beanblossom, whose career with the state began as a Division of Forestry firefighter and included time as an observer in a Mingo County fire tower, came up with the idea of converting the tower into a lodging venue.

“Out West, a number of inactive fire towers and their cabins are available to the public” by paying fees to the U.S. Forest Service or other agencies,” he said.

“When work on the Thorny Mountain tower is complete, probably sometime in June, it will be one of a very few fire towers in the east that people can stay in.”

For several years, the fire tower observer’s cabin atop Bald Knob in Cass Scenic Railroad State Park has been available to rent for those seeking an off-the-grid, off-the-beaten-path wilderness getaway.

Rich Mountain Fire Tower, located on the highest peak of the Ouchita Mountains, Oklahoma (Source: adventuresofacouchsurfer.files.wordpress.com)
Rich Mountain Fire Tower, located on the highest peak of the Ouchita Mountains, Oklahoma (Source: adventuresofacouchsurfer.files.wordpress.com)

In addition to providing a unique experience for guests, renovation of the Thorny  Mountain tower for public use also assures its preservation and serves an educational role for those who visit it, reports the Charleston Gazette.

The tower cab will be equipped with a history of the tower, an account covering the daily routine of the observer, and a description of how the fire observer system worked.

The tower’s Osborne Fire Finder alidade, a device used by observers to pinpoint the locations of fires, is being restored in the Seneca State Forest shop and will be returned to the cab.

West Virginia’s first fire towers were erected in 1916, but they were two-story “Jenny Lind” style buildings with living quarters on the lower level and observation space on the top floor. Starting in the 1920s, observer towers perched several stories above the ground atop wooden or steel support beams began to appear on some of the higher peaks across the state.

In 1935, a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) crew built the Thorny Mountain Tower to replace a tower that had been built on nearby Michael Mountain during the 1920s. Seasonal observers lived and worked in the Thorny Mountain Tower until 1988, two years before the use of manned observation towers was completely phased out in the state.

More than 80 towers were built on peaks across the state on both state and federally managed land, but only about a dozen of them still stand, according to Beanblossom.

Observers at the Thorny Mountain Tower slept in cots, got heat from a wood stove, and used a rope and pulley system to bring food, firewood and water into the cab.

Beds, water, and firewood will be provided, along with a picnic table, grill, fire ring, and pit toilet at the base of the tower. A solar lighting and battery charging system will be installed.  Guests will be able to drive to the base of the tower, reports the Charleston Gazette.

“We’ll tell guests that it will be like rustic camping, only the tent will have really hard walls and a great view,” said Rob Sovine, superintendent of both Cass Scenic Railroad State Park and Seneca State Forest.

“The idea of coming up here and sitting on the deck and reading a book really appeals to me.”

A Seneca State Forest maintenance crew has replaced the wooden stair steps leading up to the cab, the catwalk surrounding it, and is working on the cab’s windows and window frames.

Beanblossom said the tower cab will be available to rent for $50 per night through the Seneca State Forest office at Dunmore. Seneca State Forest also rents eight off-the-grid “pioneer” cabins, with hand-pumped water, gas refrigerators, gaslights, and wood-burning cook stoves. Five are located along the shore of four-acre Seneca Lake, and come equipped with canoes, while the others overlook the Greenbrier River.

Seneca is West Virginia’s first state forest, created in 1924 to ensure timber and wildlife resources for the future in an era of heavy industrial logging. The state began operating a tree nursery at the forest in 1928. During the 1930s, Seneca State Forest was home to the largest and most varied populations of wildlife to be found anywhere in West Virginia, according to Sovine.

Details

Seneca State Forest

headerPhone: (304) 799-6213

Website: senecastateforest.com

Worth Pondering…

Keep your eyes on the horizon and blaze a trail.

Read More

Joys of a Texas Bucket List

Texas is big and brawny in every way, a state brimming with natural assets.

After leaving the pool, spring waters ebb slowly through the cattails, rushes and reeds of San Solomon Cienega. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
After leaving the pool, spring waters ebb slowly through the cattails, rushes and reeds of San Solomon Cienega. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether visiting rugged mountains, sandy beaches, wild canyons, or the piney woods, the “Lone Star State” pleases travelers in a million wonderful ways.

Our Texas RV Travel Bucket List continues.

Balmorhea State Park

Balmorhea State Park is located on less than 50 acres in the foothills of the Davis Mountains. For thousands of years SanSolomon Springs has provided a cool, wet respite for anyone who happened by this desert oasis.

The pool as it now stands was built in the mid-1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and holds more than 3,500,000 gallons of clear spring water with a constant temperature of 72 to 76 degrees. The pool covers 1.75 acres and reaches depths of 25 feet, making it a mecca for desert-bound scuba divers. The huge pool is fed by the springs at a rate of up to 28 million gallons daily.

At historic San Solomon Springs, facilities include a motel, RV camping sites, rest rooms with hot showers, shaded picnic areas, and a playground.

For those inclined to recline, however, there are countless spots along the pool’s edge where you can plant a chair or a blanket and set up camp for the day. It is hard to imagine in the middle of this hot, desert land that such an oasis isn’t a mirage, but just one toe dipped in the cool waters will convince you to linger a while longer.

Fed by San Solomon Springs, 22 – 28 million gallons of water flow through the pool each day. At 25 feet deep, and with a capacity of more than 3.5 million gallons, the pool has plenty of room for swimmers and offers a unique setting for scuba and skin diving and aquatic life. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Fed by San Solomon Springs, 22 – 28 million gallons of water flow through the pool each day. At 25 feet deep, and with a capacity of more than 3.5 million gallons, the pool has plenty of room for swimmers and offers a unique setting for scuba and skin diving and aquatic life. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Maples State Natural Area

Lost Maples State Natural Area is a combination of steep, rugged limestone canyons; springs; plateau grasslands; wooded slopes; and clear streams.

This natural area features a large, isolated stand of uncommon Uvalde bigtooth maple, which dons an amazing display of fall colors. Generally, the foliage changes the last two weeks of October through the first two weeks of November.

However, the park is a great year-round destination.

Visitors to Lost Maples State Natural Area enjoy Hiking, backpacking, birdwatching, swimming, picnicking, and fishing. The park has plenty of marked trails, and rugged terrain that provides excellent views of the natural beauty of the area, especially the maples.

Collin Street Bakery

Just like the gift exchange at work, fruitcakes are a part of the holiday season whether you like them or not. But how far would you travel for a fruitcake if it was one of the most famous Christmas cakes in the world? Would you travel over 2,950 miles? We did!

This company, one of America’s foremost mail-order food companies, ships over a million of their DeLuxe Fruitcakes around the world each year. Set aside your preconceived notions about fruitcake. This confection is incredible.

Each cake is 80 percent fruit and nuts with no artificial ingredients. To ensure they have the most luscious fruit and best pecans, the company owns an organic pineapple and papaya farm in Costa Rica and the world’s largest pecan sheller in Corsicana. Cherries are bought from Oregon and Washington, and the golden raisins come from California.

The 100,000-square-foot bakery on Seventh Avenue (formerly on Collin Street, where the business originated and got its name), operates quietly for nine months of the year, producing a variety of cookies, cakes, pies, and the occasional fruitcake. But from October through mid-December, the batter flies and the staff swells from 100 regular employees to 700 to produce over 30,000 fruitcakes (75,000 pounds) a day.

Don’t worry if fruitcake isn’t your thing. Collin Street Bakery makes plenty of other items that have attracted a devoted following. There’s a deep dish pecan pie, chocolate fudge pecan pie, white chocolate macadamia cheesecake, White House pumpkin cake, apricot pecan cake, and pecan coffee Bundt cake.

Would you travel over 2,950 miles for a Collin Street Bakery DeLuxe Fruitcakes? We did! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Would you travel over 2,950 miles for a Collin Street Bakery DeLuxe Fruitcakes? We did! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Collin Street Bakery, which has been selling its famous DeLuxe fruitcakes since 1896 from a downtown store, now has three locations. A branch store and cafe, opened in late 2006, occupy a gleaming white Southern-plantation-style building in the new Corsicana Crossing shopping area beside Interstate 45 about 55 miles south of Dallas.

Several years ago Collin Street Bakery opened a third location on Interstate 35 just north of Waco (exit 338A) and another is on the way in Tyler. It was the Waco location that we visited.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Please Note: This is part 5 of an on-going series on our Texas Bucket List

Worth Pondering…

I love Texas because Texas is future-oriented, because Texans think anything is possible. Texans think big.

—Phil Gramm

Read More

Vintage Trailer Transformed into Art Museum

Three artists based in Methow Valley, Washington, that span three generations are working together to revitalize their once-thriving logging community.

Reclaimed vintage Spartan travel trailer a new home for local Methow Valley artists. (Photo credit: Don Nelson)
Reclaimed vintage Spartan travel trailer a new home for local Methow Valley artists. (Photo credit: Don Nelson)

One of their projects involves restoring a 1951 Spartan Imperial Mansion travel trailer to display unique and experimental work from local, regional, and national artists.

The project started, as many ideas do, with some people sitting around talking and wondering if there might be a way to find some space with low or no overhead “an empty room somewhere” to display local artists’ work, free and open to the public on an “honor system” basis, according to a news release.

The artists—Matt Armbrust, Jeff Winslow, and Steve Ward—recalled hearing about an Airstream travel trailer that had been converted to a mobile art display.

Ward, an admitted Craigslist prowler, knew where to find it. Online browsing led him to Malaga, near Wenatchee where a 36-foot 1951 Spartan Imperial Mansion travel trailer was available. A top-of-the-line Spartan like this once cost about $6,000 new. This deteriorated hulk was going for $800.

Ward and Armbrust drove down to take a look. On first inspection, it didn’t look like much of a bargain.

Artists Jeff Winslow, left, Steve Ward and Matt Armbrust in the gutted interior of the Spartan travel trailer they are turning into a mobile art gallery. (Photo credit: Don Nelson)
Artists Jeff Winslow, left, Steve Ward and Matt Armbrust in the gutted interior of the Spartan travel trailer they are turning into a mobile art gallery. (Photo credit: Don Nelson)

“It was pretty grim,” Armbrust recalls.

“I looked at it and said, ‘no way.’ Then we got obsessed with it.”

Spartan Aircraft All-Aluminum Trailercoaches, which resemble Airstream trailers because of their smooth, shiny exterior, were manufactured from 1946 to 1960 by Spartan Aircraft Company of Tulsa, Oklahoma. At that time, the company was owned by legendary industrialist J. Paul Getty. Spartans were high-end travel trailers noted for their quality.

That was last summer. The Spartan is now on display—far from finished, but looking much better.

Deciding to buy it and getting it to the Methow Valley were separate challenges. That was resolved when valley resident Steve Morse agreed to tow the trailer back to the Methow, rolling on temporary tires Ward removed from a truck he owns.

So far, they have gutted the interior, stripped the paint, replaced the sub-flooring, and purchased an actual floor. They also reclaimed kiln slats that were once used for drying lumber and have invested a good deal of their own funding thus far.

Their home base is on the TwispWorks campus, a former U.S. Forest Service Ranger Station commissioned during the Great Depression and built by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

Located in downtown Twisp, TwispWorks is a community-driven project with the entire site comprising 17-buildings over 6.5-acres. Its board of directors has systematically restored and revitalized this historic area into spaces for artist studios, nonprofit organizations, and local businesses.

“We view this 36-foot classic camper as both an inspiring and challenging space for art installations,” they said in a news release.

“We want the Spartan to be a platform for experimental art, and a space for artists to take chances. From the viewer’s perspective, we want to engender excitement about art and engage them on a new level. ”

Despite numerous skilled artists in their region, show space for experimental/edgy art is limited and there are few ways for local artists to take their work on the road.

“We feel this is a crucial niche for engaging people in art and for encouraging artists to create works outside of a traditional gallery setting. We want to fill this gap through the creation of the Spartan Art Project,” they added.

Spartan Art Project (Photo credit: Don Nelson)
Spartan Art Project (Photo credit: Don Nelson)

In order to bring the Spartan up to form, the artists need to wire the interior, replace the windows, patch aluminum, install walls, put in a solar lighting system, and make a few upgrades that will make the Spartan officially roadworthy.

“We are working hard to use reclaimed, local products and accepting the donated time of the Methow Valley’s very skilled and generous community to finish the Spartan Art Project by spring 2013,” they added.

Worth Pondering…

Hold fast to your dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.

—Langston Hughes

Read More

Texas State Park Receives $10,000 from Coca-Cola

Bastrop State Parkwas awarded a $10,000 grant from Coca-Cola and will use the windfall to underwrite the continued building of new park trails.

Camping in the “lost pines” at Bastrop State Park prior to the fire. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The fire-ravaged Texas State Park is received the grant in connection with Coca-Cola’s “America Is Your Park” campaign, in which parks nationwide competed to win the most votes for a top grant of $100,000 from Coca-Cola’s Live Positively initiative.

Bastrop State Park came in 12th with 661,565 votes. “America’s Favorite Park” is Pratt Park in Prattville, Alabama, with 28,734,539 votes.

Pratt Park receives a $100,000 grant from Coca-Cola’s Live Positively initiative.

“The tremendous support we received from people and companies for Bastrop State Park is testament to the special place this park holds in the minds and hearts of Texans,” said Brent Leisure, Texas State Parks director.

“We are very appreciative of Coca-Cola’s $10,000 donation that will allow us to hire America’s YouthWorks to complete new trails in the park.”

Bastrop and Buesher state parks are connected by Park Road 1. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since last year’s horrific Labor Day Weekend fire that hit 96 percent of the 6,500-acre state park, more than $200,000 in donations for Bastrop State Park recovery have come from a variety of sources.

The donations have helped Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) initiate a contract with American YouthWorks to assist with restoration efforts that include clearing downed trees and other debris, restoring park trails, and constructing hand-hewn pine log bridges.

Despite the destruction of much of its loblolly pine forests, Bastrop State Park is seeing the growth of some vegetation and the return of park customers who are coming to camp, rent a cabin, fish, play golf, and picnic. Visitors can stay at all four campgrounds and the 13 climate-controlled cabins, which are sporting new shingle roofs, and most of the park trails have been reopened.

Effects of 2011 Wildfire

In September 2011, Bastrop State Park and the surrounding loblolly pine forest were stricken by wildfire that affected 96 percent of the park. However, firefighters were able to save the historic cabins and facilities that were constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corpsin the 1930s.

The park is recovering from the fire, and most trails, campsites, and facilities have reopened to the public. All areas of the park are open except the following, which will remain closed until further notice:

  • Area east of Harmon Road including that section of the Lost Pines Hiking Trail
  • Gotier Trace and areas north and south of the road
  • Primitive Camping

Campaign to Replace 4 Million Burned Trees

State parks officials have kicked off a campaign to raise money to replace millions of the loblolly pine trees that were lost during the wildfires. The campaign is intended to replace 4 million trees on 16,000 acres. Foresters say it will be at least 30 years before the loblolly pine seedlings grow to resemble a forest.

Two million trees will be planted in the park and another two million outside the park. The more than $4 million fundraising effort will be led by the Arbor Day Foundation.

Rediscover Bastrop State Park

Bastrop and Buesher (pictured above) state parks are connected by Park Road 1. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rediscover Bastrop State Park on Saturday, September 1

FREE park entry from 1-4 p.m.

One year ago, wildfire swept through Bastrop State Park. Find out what the future of the pines looks like through guided hikes, exhibits, and activities for all ages.

Meet firefighters who helped defend the park during last September’s wildfire, and learn how you can help the forest recover. Scheduled activities include:

  • Guided hikes at 2:00, 2:30, and 3:00 p.m.
  • See artifacts recovered from the fire
  • Meet ambassador Houston toads
  • Make your own toad abode
  • Meet a firefighter
  • See fire engines and equipment
  • Volunteer opportunities
  • Demonstrations and much more!

Details

Bastrop State Park

Elevation: 374-600 feet

Entrance fee: $4/person

Camping fees: Campsites with water, $12; campsites with water and electric, $20; campsites with electric, water, and sewer, $20

Address: 3005 Hwy 21 East, PO Box 518, Bastrop TX 78602 (Note: Address does not show up in most mapping software)

Directions: 1 mile east of Bastrop on Texas 21, also accessible from the east on Texas 71 or by way of Buescher State Park along Park Road 1

Contact: (512) 321-2101

Website: tpwd.state.tx.us

Worth Pondering…

I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do.

—Willa Cather

Read More

Arkansas State Parks Specialty License Plate Available

The 52 state parks of Arkansas comprise one of the finest systems of parks and museums in the U.S.

Display your pride in the park system, and help provide college scholarships for the next generation of park professionals, by purchasing a specialty license plate featuring Arkansas State Parks.

The new license plate just premiered and is available for Arkansans to purchase at the Office of Motor Vehicles.

The license tag has a brown background, gold lettering, a rustic structure depicted on one side, and a green tree on the other. White lettering along the bottom gives the web address of www.ArkansasStateParks.com.

“This is the first in what will be a series of specialty license plates depicting settings and experiences that can be enjoyed in Arkansas’s state parks,” according to State Parks Director Greg Butts.

He noted that this initial license plate features a twilight outdoor scene by historic Mather Lodge at Petit Jean State Park, the native log and stone lodge built in the 1930s when the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) constructed Arkansas’s first state park.

Each plate includes the two-letter prefix “PK” that is the designation for a park on a topographical map.

Butts noted that depicting a scene from Arkansas’s first state park and including a CCC-built work seemed the right—the natural—choice for this first Arkansas State Parks license plate.

The structure is Mather Lodge at Petit Jean State Park near Morrilton.

In 1923, the area around Cedar Falls on Petit Jean Mountain was acquired by the state as the first land for state park purposes.

However, the actual development of Arkansas’s state park system began in 1933 with the Great Depression-era work projects of the CCC, the civilian “Tree Army” of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.

CCC camps were established at Arkansas’s first six state parks. The CCC/rustic-style facilities constructed at these parks formed the backbone for all future development within Arkansas’s state park system. In Arkansas, and other states across the U.S., the significant public works projects of the CCC endure as a legacy to their craftsmanship and conservation achievements.

Butts emphasized, “Arkansas’s state parks are about making special memories in special places. We hope the new Arkansas State Parks license plate will bring memories made in the state parks back to mind, and encourage you to visit these state natural and historic treasures and make new ones.”

The Arkansas State Parks specialty license plate is available from the Office of Motor Vehicles, Special License Unit, of the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration (ADF&A).

Butts noted that proceeds from the sale of the plates will support scholarships to college students in conservation, recreation, and park management programs.

The plates cost $35 each, with $25 going towards the scholarship fund and $10 for administration fees to the ADF&A.

Mount Magazine State Park (Source: arkansasstateparks.com)

Details about the Arkansas State Parks specialty license plate and a listing of the Revenue Special License Offices around Arkansas where the plate can be purchased are featured on the ADF&A website at Specialty Plates.
Details

Arkansas State Parks

Division of State Parks, Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

Address: 1 Capitol Mall, Little Rock, Arkansas 72201

Phone: (888) 287-2757 (V/TT)

Website: arkansasstateparks.com

Related Stories

Worth Pondering…

We can never have enough of nature.

—Henry David Thoreau

Read More

Grand Reopening for Texas State Park

One of Texas’ oldest state parks, closed for almost a year for $5 million in capital improvements, has been born anew and will host a free grand reopening on Saturday, October 15.

Daingerfield State Park, in Morris County southwest of Texarkana, is a 506 acre recreational area that includes an 80 acre lake. (Credit: vidisi/Panoramio)

Carved out of the pine and hardwood forests of northeast Texas in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), Daingerfield State Park shut down on July 5, 2010 and re-opened to the public June 24, 2011.

According to a state park news release, Daingerfield is pulling out all the stops on October 15 with a 1 p.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony, a host of exhibits, interpretive programming, and refreshments. The $3 entry fee is being waived for the day.

From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., park visitors will be able to participate in a host of special activities and peruse the Operation Game Thief and Latino Legacy exhibits while listening to live music. There will be park staff-led canoe tours, nature hikes and geocaching, and inflatable “jumpy place” for kids.

Visitors to the 506-acre park will discover three new restrooms, upgraded campgrounds that include full hookup sites, a new wastewater system, a new dock with boat rentals and refurbished boathouse/interpretive center, a new State Park Store, and major renovations to a number of CCC buildings, such as the popular group facility. Historic Bass Lodge, which sleeps 13 in five bedrooms, has had a total makeover inside and out, with new central air and heat, new furnishings and appliances, and a remodeled bathroom that meets Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards.

Plan now to attend the free grand reopening of Daingerfield State Park on Saturday, October 15. (Credit: txrattler20/Panoramio)

“The neat thing about the renovations is that this is an opportunity for us to take the CCC structures, renovate them, and have an improved facility,” park superintendent John Thomas said. “This is putting them back into the original condition it was built for and designed back in the 1930s. The roofs on the buildings are made from wooden cedar shake, like the ones in 1938.”

Down by the 80-acre lake, park visitors will see how construction crews have converted the large pavilion/bath house that once served as a concession area into an air-conditioned and heated park store and group dining hall with upgraded kitchen facilities for day use.

“When people who haven’t been here in a while, come back to visit, they’ll notice some real major changes,” says Thomas. “There will be a ‘wow effect” for sure. Having this park open again is a big deal for this part of Texas.”

With the steady drought this summer, the lake recreation has not ceased.

“The lake is 5.5 feet low,” Thomas said. “The lake is good, and has held its own well; it is very clear. Even with the water level down, people still launch boats and fish and continue other recreation on the lake.”

Thomas expects the coming fall months to be as busy as ever, as customers welcome cooler weather conducive to camping, hiking and fishing, and relaxing.

Although northeast Texas is known for pines, each fall the park is a delight as sweetgum, oak, and maple trees produce dazzling shades of red and gold, offering a stark contrast to those famous evergreens.

Campers can choose from 40 campsites with full hookups, water and electricity, and 12 water-only tent sites, ranging from $10 to $20 a night. Persons seeking more creature comforts, can book one of three climate-controlled cabins, featuring either two or three bedrooms, a bath room, fully-equipped kitchen, and screened-in front porches.

Details

Daingerfield State Park

Daingerfield State Park: Getting Better All The Time. (Credit: TPWD)

Elevation: 402 feet

Camping Facilities: 12 tent sites; 30 RV sites with full hookups (back-in); 10 premium RV sites with full hookups (pull-through)

Day-use fee: $3

Camping fee: $10-20

Phone: (903) 645-2921.

Website: tpwd.state.tx.us/daingerfield

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

The forces of nature and their impact on the Texas landscape and sky combine to offer an element of drama that would whet the imagination of artists from any medium.

—Wyman Meinzer

Read More

Five Things You Need to Know Today: September 9

Since I like things to come in fives (and tens), here are five things YOU need to know TODAY!

1. Texas Wildfires Update

Estimated power restoration timeline. Credit: Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative)

Wildfires continue to scorch the Texas countryside already parched from a long, dry summer. The latest count says more than 1400 homes near Brastrop have been destroyed this week and two lives have been lost. More than 180 fires have raced across 118,000-plus acres this fire season.

Yesterday marked the two-hundred-ninety-seventh consecutive day of wildfires in Texas.

Texas Parks and Wildlife fire-fighting personnel were continuing with clean up work at Bastrop State Park yesterday (September 8), having saved almost all the historic Depression-era structures on the 6,000-acre park just east of fire-ravaged Bastrop. The number of firefighters and equipment involved has been scaled down, but personnel were still working with assorted hotspots on the park and keeping a wary eye on the wind speed as a weak cold front passed through the area.

The fire began Sunday afternoon, and through Tuesday afternoon, TPWD remained very concerned about the Civilian Conservation Corps cabins and other buildings on the park. Some firefighters worked 30 hours straight without rest or sleep in battling the blaze.
The park and nearby Buescher State Park remain closed to the public until further notice.

Note: The above information is an update from yesterday’s post, Wildfires Rage across Texas

2. Motorhome Safety Tips from Freightliner Corp

Plan ahead to avoid preventable mishaps while RVing. Tire care and maintenance are key, so begin by checking the condition of your tires, inspecting each one closely for sidewall cracks on both sides, excessive wear and cuts on the treads and sidewalls. Measure your tread depth and make sure you’re rolling on at least 4/32-inch-deep tread on the front axle tires and 2/32-inch-deep tread on the rear axle tires.

Let's Go RVing to Capitol Reef National Park, Utah. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Check each tire’s pressure and adjust it to the manufacturer’s specified pressure per weight on each corner of the coach. Remember: All RV tire manufacturers recommend four corner weights to account for variations in weight distribution once travelers get their own belongings on board. It’s worth noting that it does not matter whether you use nitrogen or air from a compressor—tire pressure must be adjusted to the coach’s weight before traveling.

Review your chassis’ servicing records to ensure it’s not overdue for any regular maintenance.

Make sure crucial fluids are at proper levels, including engine oil, transmission fluid, power steering fluid, diesel exhaust fluid and windshield washer fluid.

3. Careless Griller Charged with RV Park Fire

A misdemeanor charge of reckless damage or destruction was filed Tuesday (September 6) against a Cibolo, Texas man accused of starting the June 19 grass fire that caused nearly $500,000 in losses to Top of the Hill RV Park and destroyed several mobile homes, the San Antonio Express-News reported.

The complaint filed in justice of the peace court says Alexander J. Lopez, 33, transported live coals on Interstate 10 that fell to the ground and ignited the fire, which burned 140 acres. Alerted by other I-10 motorists as the fire burned, investigators say they stopped Lopez’s eastbound truck and found in its trailer a barbecue grill that was used at an earlier picnic and held burning embers.

4. The Phaeton

Let's Go RVing to Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Phaeton is the best-selling vehicle for Tiffin Motorhomes. The Phaeton got its name from president/founder Bob Tiffin, father of Alabama kicking legend Van. The elder Tiffin is a classic car enthusiast, and back in the day—in this case the late 1890s—the Phaeton was the cream of the crop of horseless carriages. In today’s, the four horses that powered the original could ride shotgun.

5. Proper Weight Distribution
Proper weight distribution is important when loading the RV. Each manufacturer has taken into consideration the location of appliances, cabinets, and additional components for proper weight distribution from side to side and front to back. When loading your RV, distribute heavy items evenly. They should be placed in such a way that they do not shift during travel.

Have a great weekend.

Until next time, safe RV travels, and we’ll see you on the road!

Worth Pondering…

Dare to live the life you dreamed for yourself. Go forward and make your dreams come true.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

Read More

Wildfires Rage across Texas

The Texas wildfire news continues to be horrific and heartbreaking. Bastrop State Park, known for its famous Lost Pines habitat, historic CCC structures, and the endangered Houston toad, is the latest state park to be struck by wildfire. Just 100 acres of the park’s 6,000-acreage have survived.

A relaxing day at Buesher State Park last winter. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nearby Buescher State Park is also closed during the wildfire emergency but remains unharmed as we go to press.

This year, some of Texas’ biggest, hottest wildfires in memory have consumed over 3.6 million acres so far, causing devastating hardship and loss for humans and habitat.

Recovery will take a long time for people and habitat. Wild lands recovery depends on a lot of things, but most importantly rain.

Visiting a state park that has burned earlier this year offers a chance to observe wildfire recovery first hand, such as Possum Kingdom State Park where only 200 of the park’s 1500 lakeside acres were saved from wildfire. Over the next months, you can watch nature’s remarkable response begin to show.

Wildfires Consuming Bastrop State Park

In this week’s news release, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) incident commander Robert Crossman indicated that all but about 100 acres of the 6,000-acre park have been blackened by fire, but firefighters have so far been able to save most of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)-constructed structures on the park, with two possible exceptions—two CCC observation structures believed to have been damaged.

“We still have critical fire behavior threatening the CCC cabins,” Crossman said. He said firefighters, assisted by newly arrived federal firefighters, dealt with two flare-ups at the park overnight, one at midnight and the other at 5 a.m. today (Tuesday, September 6).

Bastrop State Park entrance burning. (Credit: Alan Fisher, © TPWD)

Firefighters are using heavy equipment, much of it provided by donors who responded to a TPWD call for assistance, and water trucks to build fire breaks and saturate the ground around the historic structures.

“The outpouring of support from these companies has been nothing short of extraordinary,” said Carter Smith, TPWD executive director. “Without hesitation, they sent over heavy equipment, machinery, and operators, and water tanks to aid our firefighters on site. These resources have been indispensible.”

TPWD has about 75-plus personnel responding to wildfires in the Bastrop area, including state park firefighters, parks police, and game wardens.

The fire has damaged the regional state park headquarters on State Highway 71, about four miles from the park. In addition, several TPWD employees lost their homes in Bastrop County. Some TPWD vehicles and other equipment were also destroyed.

State parks officials are still planning to make an all-out effort to save historic structures in the park, many of which were constructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

“Much of Bastrop State Park has been burned and our firefighters have once again shown their mettle with incredible effort to save the historic district of this National Historic Landmark,” said State Parks Director Brent Leisure, whose home and that of Buescher State Park superintendent Cullen Sartor were among those destroyed by the fire. “Countless homes have been saved. Despite the outstanding effort, this fire has outstripped our capabilities to protect all things.”

Bastrop fire. (Credit: Alan Fisher, © TPWD)

While Bastrop State Park and nearby Buescher State Park are closed, all other area parks remain open, including nearby Palmetto State Park and Monument Hill State Historic Site.

Park officials are also concerned about threats to the endangered Houston toad. The 124,000-acre Lost Pines area of Bastrop County, which includes the state park, is home to the largest known population of the small, reclusive amphibians in the U.S.

Leisure said the toad has already been stressed by the ongoing drought and loss of habitat caused by wildfires will likely impact the toad further.

21.5 Percent Cut in 2012 Budget

In other state park news, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission recently approved a 2012 budget that reflects a 21.5 percent cut in TPWD funding over the next two years. The agency is trying to limit impacts on the public involving state parks, fisheries, and wildlife, and leaders say there are ways the public can help.

The 2012 operating and capital budget approved August 25 by the commission totals $332.31 million, down from $423.2 million in 2011 and $468.8 million in 2010.

Related

Worth Pondering…
No matter how far we may wander, Texas lingers with us, coloring our perceptions of the world.

—Elmer Kelto

Read More