Spring Break 2019 – State Park Explorations

For our family, the countdown to a camping trip both feels like an eternity and rushes by as we go through the necessary prep to be out in nature for any number of days. But the fire starters had been made, the camping notebook filled out, and the to-buy checklist had been crossed off.

We were eager to get on the road.

Jeff parked the camper out front the night before and the kids and I packed up everything we could before bed. Jeff spent the next day going back and forth between working and packing the rest of the stuff we needed for our trip and getting additional help from the kids, who got home early after a half day of school. When I finally got home from work, our son walked right up to me and said, “What do you need to get because we need to go!” Apparently he was ready to get this show on the road. With everything except toiletries and a couple food items packed, it didn’t take much to finish up and spend the next three hours traveling to Bastrop State Park.

It was nearly dark by the time we arrived at the park and discovered a nice pull-in spot with full hook-up (a luxury in a state park but not entirely unheard of in Texas) and plenty of green area behind our site. The layout made for a quick set up, until we connected the sewer hose. The last time we had camped was our Christmas break trip and during much of that trip, we were dealing with freezing or nearly freezing temperatures. Apparently some of the water in both the gray and black tanks had frozen while we were camping during the last couple nights and thawed out once warmer temperatures returned to the Houston area. I opened the waste fitting so I could connect the sewer hose and out gushed gross, smelly water, covering my hands in a disgusting mess of who knows what. (It happened quickly but I was still mentally reliving that scene in Robin Williams’s RV when he dumped the waste tank for the first time on their roadtrip.) I raced down to the campground bathroom and washed my hands twice until I was satisfied that they were thoroughly clean before I was willing to help with the rest of our set-up.

By the time camp was set up and pulled pork dinner consumed, we were ready for bed. Everyone was excited, but we had a lot planned for the next three days and we all needed sleep.

The closer we got to our planned five day, four night trip to Bastrop State Park with a day trip into Austin, the worse the upcoming forecast looked. By the time we left on Friday afternoon we were slotted to have rain at some point every single day, but when I woke up on Saturday morning to a wet ground and dark clouds on the horizon, the sun was right behind the clouds doing its best to break through. A morning hike still looked like a very real possibility.

When we can, we find at least one ranger or volunteer led hike in hopes that we will find out something new about the park and area that we never knew before. We managed to scarf down our celebratory camping breakfast of eggs, sausage, and bacon in time to make it to the “Discover the Lost Pines” guided hike, which took us on a mile-long hike that highlighted the history of the 2011 forest fire that almost completely destroyed the state park and also demonstrated the ways that park and local authorities were helping with recovery of the Lost Pines. The interesting and informative hike went at a much slower pace than we were accustomed to and the temperatures crept up to over 80 degrees, something we hadn’t seen in well over a month.

By the time we returned to our campsite, we were warm, thirsty, hungry, and both kids needed an attitude adjustment, which was quickly fixed after everyone was fed.

I’m terrible at relaxing, which is one of the reasons that camping is so good for me. When I’m home I’ll find something to clean or some kind of work that “needs” to be done on my computer. That afternoon I had none of that. I picked up one of the books I had selected for the trip, put my chair in the shade, and immersed myself in a story purely for my own entertainment. The kids vacillated between reading their books, riding their bikes, and heading for the playground.

By late afternoon we knew we needed to head towards Austin for our planned ghost tour for that night (more on that later), but we decided to check out Buescher State Park first. It’s only about 10 miles from Bastrop and we wanted to know what they offered as well. We stopped at the office, got a map, and headed into the park, driving around to look at the campgrounds. We came around the curve of one campground and discovered the entrance to the 0.1 mile CCC Crossover Trail. Since Jeff appreciates everything and anything CCC related, we decided to check it out before we headed to Austin for the night.

The next morning, despite the late night before (and the change to Daylight Savings Time), both kids were up and ready to face the day. By the time Jeff was finally up, the kids and I had picked up a Junior Ranger backpack from the front desk (an absolute must for families with kids), we had explored the Historic Starter House and golf shelter, they had divided their backpack goodies, and we were ready for our next hike.

While interesting, our volunteer led hike the day before had been informative but slow. Also, the large group had prevented me from taking all the pictures that I wanted of just our kids as we explored the trails. This time I could finally get a photo of the historic water fountain (without a lot of people in the way) and our kids could go at their own pace. At the last minute, I asked Jeff if we should also take the dogs. Yeah, I know, one should always take their dogs on a hike if they can help it, but both dogs had been in such a rush to not be left behind at home, we had completely forgotten to bring their better leashes, including our dual leash which helps to balance out our dogs (since one likes to pull and the other likes to stop and sniff everything).

We each grabbed a leash and took them anyway.

We extended the hike, going a different direction than we had the day before, still taking the Piney Hill Spur but then continuing on to the Pine Warbler Trail instead of the Post Oak Spur that our trail guide had taken us on as we discovered the Lost Pines. Our daughter used her wildflower guide from the backpack to identify every flower that she could. Our son used his snake guide from the backpack to try to identify the snake that he claimed he saw (which Jeff and I did not see). I took memory keepsake pictures to my heart’s content. And Jeff walked twice as far as the rest of us as he tried to train our younger pup how not to pull while using a leash that neither were used to using.

We spent the early afternoon reading, playing Oregon Trail (the card game), and sending the kids back out on their bikes and down to the playground. Then we decided to check out the other side of the park. We discovered the Pioneer Village Cabin Area, a loop of cabins that were built by the CCC during the 1930s. Amazed by the 80-year-old workmanship, we experienced a slight mishap when we accidentally backed into a severely angled tree (creating a small, irritating dent in our truck’s tailgate) but we kept touring through the loops, ogling at the wood and stone structures.

We continued on to the Fehr’s Overlook Shelter, another CCC structure constructed during the 1930s, and looked out over the entire valley. Arthur Fehr, the architect for the CCC projects across the US during the 1930s, was from the Bastrop area. It was his natural design that was carried into CCC projects around the country, a design that Jeff and I have enjoyed in many of the state parks we have stayed in from Texas to Indiana.

Our full day of exploring ended with a relaxing campfire and discussions of plans for our following day in Austin. Our last full day of hanging out in the state park was nearly perfect (if you didn’t count the minor tree collision).

The next evening, when we pulled back into Bastrop after our full day in Austin, both kids begged to be dropped off at the playground. We happily obliged and then headed “home” to let out the dogs and start dinner. By the time I was finished walking both dogs around the loop, Jeff was halfway done cooking the chicken for fajitas and looking for the veggies to finish out the meal.

After a late dinner, we enjoyed our last campfire of our short camping trip. The kids built the “log cabin,” our seven-year-old son proved that he was better at lighting matches than me and got the fire starter lit on the second match, and we snuggled in front of the roaring fire, staring into the flames and talking about our favorite parts of the trip. With all of the things that we did over four days, for both kids it was the time together as a family, and as cheesy as that sounds, I’m going to take it.

And even though we were planning to leave as early as possible on our last morning, it seemed that none of us were eager to rush. We woke up to a wet mist that permeated everything we had left outside, particular our camp chairs that we had left next to the dying fire. The kids made fast friends with the family that was tent camping across the street and vacillated between hopping on their bikes and bouncing their basketballs. We talked to the grandmother who had brought her youngest son and grandbabies (the same children our kids were playing with) and talked shop about different camping trips and adventures, eventually showing them our magnet and state map sticker collections.

But we had to leave eventually. When we pulled out of the park, I was more relaxed and refreshed than I had felt in months. I just wish we didn’t have to wait for a couple more months before we get to do it again.