Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Back In The Southwest

Businesses all over town have frog themed murals

One of the most enjoyable parts of traveling is enjoying the culinary traditions of so many areas of the country. And, Louisiana certainly does not disappoint when it comes to food. In the spring of 2013 Sarah and I stopped at Rayne, Louisiana to eat at Chef Roy's. (see the post here) and I made a return to this wonderful restaurant an absolute must. I arrived in Rayne late in the morning and secured a site at the Frog City RV park. As soon as the Mary Joan was settled in I headed to Chef Roy's for lunch. A cup of seafood gumbo followed by Catfish Acadiana was a taste sensation. That evening I further indulged by returning to Randal's in Lafayette for crawfish and music where Sarah and I had also enjoyed a fine evening two years ago.
In Rayne, Louisiana it just might rain frogs
Frog sculptures are everywhere
The next day I drove to Double Lake Recreation area in Coldspring, Texas just north of Houston. This put me just 45 minutes from an RV storage facility near the Bush International airport where I left the Mary Joan safe from snow, sleet and salt for our return in early December. 

Sarah and I returned to Houston on December 5th. The owner of the RV storage facility, Ralph, was kind enough to pick us up at the airport and deliver us to the Mary Joan. When we checked our trailer electrical connections I noticed that, while the brake lights and turn signals on the trailer were working properly, the running lights and trailer brakes weren't working. It has happened before that slight oxidation on the connections could cause this and usually just unplugging and reconnecting the plug would fix the problem. Not this time. With a couple hours of daylight remaining I decided it was safe to drive to this day's destination, Stephen Austin State Park which I calculated we could make just before dark. I just needed to be very cautious about stopping without trailer brakes.

Before leaving the Houston area we needed to secure provisions for our trip at a large grocery store. We found HEB to be a well stocked and reasonably priced grocery store. When we returned to the Mary Joan with our food and wine water was pouring from the belly pan of the trailer. It was the fresh water from our water tank. I had treated the tank with chlorine prior to storing it because we had gotten bad water somewhere on our last trip. My first thought was that I had overdone the bleach and a gasket had failed. Being late on a Saturday afternoon I knew there were no RV service centers open until Monday. Not wanting to be delayed by two or more days we decided to press on with bottled water for drinking and depend on our next park to have a hydrant from which to get more water. 
Deformed tubing. We don't need the drain until next year. A simple plug from Home Depot solved the problem.

We almost made it to the park before dark, but we had to drive for about 15 miles in the dark without running lights on the trailer. Even with a perfectly functioning rig, I don't like to pull the trailer at night. Too many things can go wrong. This knowledge was reinforced when the driver of a car entering the freeway decided not to yield but to cut dangerously close in front of me. I was leaving about 150 feet between me and the vehicle in front to avoid the danger of needing to stop suddenly. Just as the car pulled in front of me, the car in front of that swerved suddenly into and out of the breakdown lane. At first I thought it was someone driving while distracted by their cell phone. Then, from beneath the car in front of me came a large piece of truck tire that the first car avoided. There was no time to react and the tire hit the front left part of the truck. Fortunately, it didn't go under the truck but was deflected to the side and it missed the Mary Joan. 

We arrived at the state park in the dark after the office had closed only to discover that the road into the park itself was closed. Recent flooding had damaged a bridge into the campground. A sign  was posted on the office door stating the park was open and to ask for directions around the road block. I guess it didn't occur to the sign maker to include those directions for late arrivals like us. Without lights and brakes, water for the trailer and not knowing whether we had sustained any damage by the flying tire, we elected to boon dock in the parking lot next to the park office. 

We got up early the next morning and found that the damage from the tire was minimal, a broken license plate holder and the lower air dam below the bumper was cracked and partially dislodged. Using a small fingernail file I cleaned the contacts on the trailer connection and decided to push on. We knew we could wait to diagnose and fix the water problem at our next stop, McKinney Falls State Park which is just outside of Austin, only about 150 miles to the west. 

At McKinney Falls State Park I removed the access panels to the water tank and water pump. I discovered that during the manufacturing of the Mary Joan the drain pitcock had been installed about 3/8" to high and the installer had severely kinked the short vinyl hose that connected the valve to the tank. The hose had cracked open at the flexure, allowing the water to drain from the tank. Since the only purpose for the valve is to drain the tank for winterizing or flushing and I didn't have the tools to reposition the valve I decided to put a plug in place of the fitting on the tank to which the hose connected. A twenty minute drive to Home Depot and back plus $0.85 later solved the problem.

With the happy feeling that we had weathered a rough beginning to our trip, we eagerly pointed the truck west to enjoy the scenery and the bright warm Texas climate. If you have read much of our blog, you know that Sarah and I like to avoid the Interstate Highway system whenever possible. Google Maps makes this so much easier because of the ability to literally "see" all the roads. Most road maps cannot display the details as well as the computer. In addition to the details, street and satellite views give us more confidence to use lesser known routes. Taking US290 from Austin we turned north in the beautiful town of Fredericksburg onto Texas 965 which took us to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. 
Enchanted Rock
Vernal pool on the summit of Enchanted Rock

Enchanted Rock is a portion of a 100 square mile piece of granite that has been uplifted to expose a nearly 500' high monolith.  Sarah and I spent a couple hours here to climb the rock and enjoy the views. Rather than retracing our path back down Texas 965, we continued north to Rt16 to the town of Llano then west on Rt 29 through the towns of Art and Mason. At the town of Grit we turned south onto Rt377 to Junction and the South Llano State Park.  On these roads we saw hundreds of deer, prong horn sheep, herons, turkeys and even some roadrunners. At the park Sarah was delighted by the antics of the armadillos that are abundant there.
I want to go home to the armadillo. Actually, it tried to jump into Sarah's lap
Friendly armadillo

To reach our next destination, Seminole Canyon State Park, we traveled Rt377 through the towns of Telegraph and Rocksprings to the city of Del Rio. At Del Rio we stopped to purchase a few more provisions and avail ourselves of cell phone service which we had been without for the previous two days. 
Seminole Canyon

From Del Rio we took US90 to Seminole Canyon and easily cleared the Border Patrol checkpoint at Comstock arriving at one of our favorite parks in Texas.  We checked in early enough to get our bikes out and ride the Rio Grande Trail to where the canyon empties into the Rio Grande river. It felt good to be warm and in the sun for the six mile roundtrip ride in the desert. 

The next morning we took the tour down into the canyon with the guide to revisit the ancient pictographs we enjoyed so much on our last stay in Seminole Canyon State Park. The site is restricted, which is why we had to have a guide. But, hearing a different perspective about the origins of these paintings and the people who created them made the second visit more meaningful. 

We don't know where we will go tomorrow, so stay tuned.

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