Monthly Archives: February 2018

Mountain Bike Trail Review: Texas Hill Country

This is a Texas hill country mountain bike trail review by Jeff. He has so much fun playing, that his review posts are somewhat delayed!

LonghornMy first experience riding Texas was east of Austin at a place called Rocky Hill Ranch. It had rained the day before, so I figured the trails would be well-packed, not dusty, and ready to ride. What was not known was this area is actually low country and my bike went from weighing a trim 27.5 pounds when I started to what seemed like 60 pounds from the sticky, red mud that caked both my wheels and bike while riding a fire connector road to one of the interconnecting trails. I cut that trip short and only did 4 miles as essentially an out and back. Consequently, my first ride out of the gate was not exactly a pleasurable ride, however, I was entertained by the nearby long horns. I am sure that during drier conditions the trail would have been fabulous, but it just didn’t work for me on that day.

mapMy impression of Texas mountain biking changed in a positive way once exposed to the enjoyable riding offered in Texas Hill Country near San Antonio. After stopping at a nearby bike shop (Gotta Ride Bikes), they directed me to two trails which offer the best in the area: Flat Rock Ranch near Comfort, Texas and Madrone Trail overlooking Canyon Lake.  Flat Rock Ranch was smooth and flowy, while Madrone Trail was like picking through a rock garden. Let me start with Flat Rock Ranch first.

Getting to Flat Rock Ranch was easy, just off the highway, but you have to eventually drive your car through a gate which keeps the cows corralled. Being from Florida I am not exactly indoctrinated to this type of trail head entrance. After parking my car, I paid the $10.00 fee and proceeded to the west loop. They have about 29 miles of trails, but the western loop was plenty for me getting about 15 miles out of the run. Although the trail was well marked, my Mountain Bike Project App kept me informed of my progress along the way. If you are a traveler and want a rocking app for mountain bike trails around the country, you should download this jewel. Although the first half of the trail was generally a slow and steady ascent up the mountain, the periodic ups and downs during the ascent kept it always interesting. You know the top is near when the tight switch backs start appearing. It gets a little technical going up the switch backs, but it should be a comfort to know the downhill is not far.

bikeOnce at the top, get ready for a rocking smooth downhill which seems like it just doesn’t stop. After a couple more climbs it is pretty much downhill all the way to the car. This is an active farm, so don’t be surprised by the cows and horned sheep getting out of your way or observing your progress during the descent. This place would be great for cross country races or endurance events. My mind wanted to continue onto the east loop, but my legs just wouldn’t support that decision. I hear that the east loop is shorter and a little more technical, but likely more of the same.

MadroneThe Madone trails did not disappoint either. After parking the car, I proceeded into the loop which yielded about 8 miles. Although this loop was much shorter than Flat Rock Ranch, it felt like doing many more miles. As the loop progresses, you are constantly picking a line through the multiple rock gardens, both up and down hills. Although this is not my cup of tea I managed to keep the bike upright and on two wheels most of the time, and can appreciate the technical appeal of this trail. While picking a path through the rock gardens, distractions abound with the marvelous views of Canyon Lake. Half way through I had a magnificent view of the lake and took a much needed break. Eventually you wind back to the car, shocks fully tested. If anything was marginally loose on the bike before, it likely needs some maintenance now.



Big Bend Adventures Part 3: State Park and surrounding towns

IMG_3603To the west of the Big Bend National Park is the nearly-as-large Big Bend Ranch State Park. This park has fewer paved roads and is known primarily for its 4 wheel drive “roads” and multi use trails (equestrian, hiking, and mountain biking).  Back in the trails you’ll find remnants of mining and ranching structures. There are a few short and easily-accessible hikes to features such as hoodoos, the Rio Grande river, and a closed canyon. Jeff spent several days mountain biking on the trails, but he’ll have to do his own post on that!

IMG_3585The paved road on the south side of the park parallels the Rio Grande River and is a beautiful drive, or motorcycle ride. Driving all the way through to the other side brings you out to the small town of Presidio, Texas. It is known as a border crossing town (accessing the town of  Ojinaga, Chihuahua, Mexico) and for frequently being the hottest town in the US during the summer. There’s not much else going on there.

The south visitor’s center contains an informative exhibit describing the geological history, flora and fauna of the area. At the northwest entrance (near Presidio),  you find the historic site of Fort Leaton, a well preserved fortified adobe compound. If offers a glimpse into the turbulent days when the fort served as defensive outpost and supply station in the wilderness on the Rio Grande.

Entrance to the park is $5 per person, per day and includes access to all features and the Fort.

Between the two Parks lies the town of Terlingua, TX. Known for it’s “ghost town” ruins, it was formerly a mining town. The ruins are remnants of worker housing. Some of the remnants have been restored and incorporated into modern buildings. One historic building that remains in use is the Terlingua trading company, the former mining company store. At the time, the store was the most fully stocked establishment between San Antonio and El Paso, serving the needs of the minors and surrounding community. It also harkens back to the time when miners were paid in “scrip” redeemable only at this store.  The town also hosts a self-proclaimed “world’s best chili cook off” in November of each year. Visiting as we did in February, I can’t judge the validity of this claim.

About 70 miles north of Terlingua lies the town of Alpine, situated at an elevation of over 4400 feet. Alpine has the closest supermarket, fast food restaurant, and movie theater. It also is the home to the Museum of the Big Bend, a small but information-rich museum about the area’s history. Located on the campus of the Sul Rose University, admission to the museum is free.

Two weeks here has allowed us to explore this area and we are moving on to a new location: Las Cruces, New Mexico!

Big Bend Adventures Part 2: Crossing to Mexico

Just on the other side of the Rio Grande River in the Big Bend National Park lies Mexico, and the small border town of Boquilles del Carmen. Years ago, crossing to the small towns just on the other side was casually done, with no border crossing formalities. That all stopped after 9-11, when the border was closed indefinitely.

The tourist town dwindled to almost nothing when tourist traffic stopped. In April 2013, the border re-opened as an official port of entry, open Wednesday through Sunday only.  The tiny border village revived, and exists primarily as a tourist village with two restaurants, a tiny hotel, and one telephone line.  I have been through many border crossings, but this one has to be the most unique.

002We parked and entered the small border crossing building. The park ranger explained the process, including what we could (and could not) bring back across the border. We could bring handicrafts, but no minerals, animal bones or alcoholic beverages. Since there was no mechanism to collect taxes at this small station, no tequila allowed over the border (except in your stomach!)

From the building, we walked down a winding path to the bank of the Rio Grande River. Seeing us arrive, a rowboat was dispatched for us from across the river. Technically, one could swim across, but looking at the swift current dissuaded us from even the thought. 27750846_10212958025119151_1434082334826610130_nOnce rowed across, we climbed up the other side,  paid the $5 per person round trip fee and were asked if we wanted a ride to the village, about 3/4 mile away. We had the choice of a burro, horse or truck. We could certainly have walked the distance, but hey, how often do you get a chance to ride a burro! We ponied up the $5 each (round trip) and mounted our donkeys, and plodded off on the only road toward the village, led by a guide. Frankly we could have walked faster, but riding a donkey was a whole lot more fun.

Once we reached the outskirts of the village, we dismounted and our guide gave us a tour of the town. He spoke almost no English, but Jeff’s Spanish was just sufficient to make communication possible.  He escorted us first to the Mexican customs office, a white trailer surrounded by a chain link fence. We filled out the necessary forms, showed our passports, and were on our way in a few minutes.

006We walked through the town, littered with tables full of local handicrafts for sale.  We trekked to the nearby hot springs  — but had to hastily retreat because the spring was in use as a makeshift bathing facility. I usually enjoy meeting our Mexican neighbors, but not quite that intimately. As we continued, we learned about their clinic and toured the town hotel. It was more like a hostel, but for $20 person, it offered a lodging option. If you missed the 5 pm closing time for the border crossing, you would need it! Our guide’s wife worked at the hotel and just coincidentally had her own collection of handicrafts for sale where I picked up a couple of things (of course).

Growing thirsty and a big hungry, it was close enough to lunch time, so we backtracked to one of the two town restaurants. We could choose from burritos, tacos or tamales, and we both opted for the tamales. They were delicious, especially when chased down with a local beer (or two).  The restaurant owner (who spoke perfect English) coincidentally had a few things for sale, and I picked up a supply Mexican vanilla extract.

After lunch, we figured we had pretty well done the town. We checked back in at the Mexican office, turned in our paperwork and had our passports stamped.  We then headed back to mount our burros for the slow amble back to the river. After dismounting, we thanked and tipped our guide and clambered back into the rowboat for the return trip across the river. Back at the US border crossing building we were metered one at a time to a kiosk where we scanned our passports and were interviewed by a remote customs agent. It took just a couple of minutes each. Formalities concluded, we were officially back on US soil.

It was as very interesting day, although more expensive than one might expect. Transportation (boat and burro) was $20, lunch was $25. Adding in souvenirs and guide tip, the total was around $80 for a few hours in town.  But, this is the village’s primary source of revenue so in my opinion, it’s money well spent for a unique experience.

Big Bend Adventures Part 1: Big Bend National Park

IMG_3569The Big Bend area of Texas is a vast corner of wilderness where desert meets mountains and the Rio Grande River. The area includes two large parks (Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park) and several small towns to explore. Our RV park was tucked right into the middle of it all.

Big Bend National Park is one of the least visited parks in the US due to its remote location, averaging only around 380,000 visitors per year. In contrast, our beloved Great Smoky Mountain National Park hosts over 11 million visits per year! As a result, Big Bend definitely feels wild and remote by comparison. At times, you will literally see no one on the roads or trails.

The National Park amenities include scenic drives, hiking trails of varying lengths, several visitor centers, campgrounds (both primitive and  with hook ups) and even a lodge. The volcanic origin Chisos Mountains occupy the interior of the park, thrusting  to nearly 8,000 feet in altitude. They are surrounded by a vast desert expanse, interrupted at intervals by massive water carved canyons. At the south end of the Park winds the sinuous Rio Grande River. Due to the terrain’s variety, there are a number of ecosystems contained within the park including deep desert, grassland, river floodplain and forested mountain. It is a geologist’s playground, with its ancient seabed, marshland, volcano and water erosion past all written in the rocks. Fortunately, I carry my own geologist with me. The area is a hotbed for fossils – a dinosaur bone exhibit describes the extensive fossil record found there.

IMG_3580I haven’t spent much time exploring the desert and was struck with how harsh the environment seems. The sun is intensely hot, making even a cool day seem overly warm. I can’t even imagine how hot the summer would be. Everything growing is spiky and uninviting. Yet, hiding under the spikes is the occasional shy flower. You can see for miles, making distances deceiving. It’s beautiful, but a forbidding beauty. It’s nice to explore and see, but frankly, not someplace I’d want to stay for a long visit.

1B1ED27F000005DC-2982714-The_star_of_each_show_was_the_Road_Runner_and_his_nemesis_Wile_E-a-37_1425649607845It amazes me that anything can live successfully in this environment, but wildlife and people do indeed live here. Driving around the park we spied a coyote and then, shortly after, a road runner. Immediately the cartoon theme song jumped into my brain and stayed as an earworm for the rest of the trip. [Road runner … the coyote’s after you. Road runner … if he catches you you’re through!]  Now it’s in YOUR brain too! <evil chuckle>

javelina-cballouWe also caught our first glimpse of a small mammal – the javalina. It looks something like a cross between a feral pig and a guinea pig. I “borrowed” this photo from the national park service website so you can see what it looks like. These tough little guys munch down prickly pear and other spiny vegetation with no problem at all. He scuttled away from us quickly, but I don’t think I would want to tangle with him.

People have also weathered this harsh environment for thousands of years as evidenced by ancient rock art and crumbling remains of settler homes and outbuildings. 100 year old windmills still pump water into cisterns, maintaining small oases in the desert expanse.

27658076_10212958027679215_620040175042453053_nSpeaking of oases, the south end of the park includes a small hot spring which bubbles up and over into the Rio Grande. Once a resort, the corralled spring still delights tourists looking for a relaxing dip. I wouldn’t want to test it during the summer, but on a 50-degree day, the 105 degree hot spring was quite inviting.

Next up:  the Big Bend adventure continues!


Campground Review: Big Bend Resort & Adventures, Study Butte, TX


  • Name: Big Bend Resort & Adventures
  • Dates of stay: Feb 5-19, 2018
  • Location: Terlingua / Study Butte Tx (near Big Bend National Park)
  • Type of campground: Private / Independent
  • Cost: $33 / night, FHU back in site
  • Additional fees: Showers $2 / 6 minutes
  • Stay limit: none
  • Accepts mail / packages: yes
  • Cell reception: cell OK, data slow
  • Website:
  • Pros: Good value, proximity to Big Bend area parks
  • Cons: mineral-y tasting water, desert heat in summer

Full Review

Big Bend National Park is one of the least visited national parks for good reason — it’s out in the middle of nowhere. As a result, there aren’t too many RV parks to choose from if you want to be close to the park. But, fortunately, Big Bend Resort & Adventures is quite an adequate campground to stay at while exploring the region. The campground is located conveniently between the National Park and the Big Bend Ranch State Park.

Since this is a “resort” with a few hotel rooms (along with the RV park), the park offers a restaurant, game room, gift shop, and small general store along with the usual coin laundry facility and restrooms/showers. The resort also offers tours and horseback riding excursions. A gas station is conveniently located on site.

All of these facilities are basic/limited, as one might expect given the isolated nature of the area. If you want to take a shower in the bath house, it will cost you $2 for 6 minutes! I understand that’s not unusual for a desert resort, but it was the first time we had encountered pay showers. I perused the laundry room ($2.00/load), but half of the machines were out of order. Fortunately, we have both shower and laundry equipment in our bus and don’t have to pay extra or rely on the campground facilities!

The campground has 120 campsites, with spaces suitable for all rig sizes. Our gravel site was back-in this time, but the internal roadway is very wide, allowing us to maneuver into the site with no problem.  Our campsite was wide enough to allow us to park our truck next to the bus. It is desert camping – no fire ring (burn ban in the area) and our site did not have a picnic table (some did). We had the usual full hook ups with 50 amp electric service, water and sewer connections. Being in the desert, the water had a distinct mineral taste which Jeff did not like. We bought bottled water for drinking.

I was initially faked out by the site’s cable box and excitedly hooked up our never-before-used cable, only to find that cable TV is currently offered only to the hotel rooms. If you don’t have satellite TV, you will get absolutely no channels! The area is too far away from civilization to pick up any digital over the air channels. Free wifi was available, but only in the game room. However, our AT&T cell signal was surprising adequate, so long as you are in or near the small town. The data connection was accessible, but slow. Once you venture into the park, you are pretty much off the grid.

The nearest big box store is miles away, but there is a small grocery store down the road as well as a bicycle outfitter. You can get the basics, but it is advisable to stock up before you head this direction. We stayed overnight at the Super WalMart in Fort Stockton and did our shopping there before heading south the next day.

The campground accepts Good Sam discount, but our weekly rate was a better deal at $33/night. There aren’t a lot of frills and no planned activities, but Big Bend Resort provides a reasonably-priced base camp from which to explore the Big Bend area. This IS the desert and gets unreasonably hot in the summer time. We were here in February and the desert sun was still quite warm some days. It’s best to visit in the winter time.

Bottom Line: Basic full hook up site at a reasonable cost near the Big Bend.

Living in the moment

yesterday_is_history_tomorrow_is_a_mystery_today_is_a_gift_of_god_which_is_why_we_call_it_the_presentThe other night I dreamed that I was hired back at Motorola, my workplace of 24 years. I joyfully greeted all of my colleague friends and prepared to jump back into my old role. When I awoke, I wondered why I had dreamed that? I ‘ve been gone from there for over 4 years. We’re on the road, living our new dreams. Why revisit the past?

2241_50061503745_9293_nA day later, this photo popped up on Facebook as a “my memories” photo from 9 years ago of Jeff, our two sons, and good friend Jose.  It was taken during our 2008 summer trip to the Smokey mountains – our last as an entire family. After that vacation trip, our older son became busy with summer high school football training and then with college and didn’t accompany us on our Gatlinburg trips. Our younger son went with us one more time, the summer before his life was cut short in that fateful auto accident. I had to wonder – what was the message for me here?

Looking back, I realize that time period was a most productive time of my life. I was frantically busy juggling a demanding and responsible job, substantive church volunteer work, along with my responsibilities as wife and mother. I had many great relationships in all of those domains. That time was a GOOD period in my life; rich and satisfying in all aspects. However, truly free time was almost nonexistent and I fantasized about freedom and adventure – the life I have now. Did I fully appreciate that season of life when I was living it? Sometimes maybe, but certainly not always.

My life has changed dramatically in the last few years. Our older son grew up and moved on, and then our younger son died, turning us into instant empty nesters. My job became a stressful grind after multiple company sell-offs and layoffs, fracturing and scattering my work family. I took an offered early retirement package and got out, transitioning into a part time consulting job. My church organization went through difficult times, breaking up my church family. I ultimately drifted away, unable to get past painful memories there.  The last few years have seen me through a painful process of deconstructing and reconstructing practically my entire life.  Did I appreciate that time while I was experiencing it? Not really, it was mostly painful. But, in retrospect, I can see that it was necessary to tear down the life I once had, in order to rebuild and create the life that I have now.

If you’re a country music fan, you may know the Trace Adkins song “You’re Going to Miss This”. It follows the journey of a young women who at different stages of her life (teenager, newlywed, young mother) is always looking ahead, rather than appreciating the season of life she is in. The chorus goes:

You’re gonna miss this
You’re gonna want this back
You’re gonna wish these days hadn’t gone by so fast
These are some good times
So take a good look around
You may not know it now
But you’re gonna miss this

I can relate. In my life, I’ve frequently had the tendency to look ahead in time, instead of focusing on living in the NOW, the present moment. I think that’s what I’m being reminded of here – to realize that each day has value. Even in my time on the road, it’s easy to get lost in the planning and looking forward to the next stop on the journey, rather than focusing on this place, this time.

This is what I think the Universe was trying to say to me:  Seize the day. Smell the roses. Watch the sunset. Tell your loved ones how much you appreciate them. Fully, mindfully, experience the present moment for the gift that it is.

I’ll keep working on that.

Texas Hill Country – biking and friends

Our visit to Flatonia Texas was, well, a bit disappointing. The RV site was boggy, not much was going on in the area (although the winery was nice), and Jeff’s muddy mountain bike trails were a total bust. In contrast, our time here near Boerne (pronounced Ber-ney) Texas has been absolutely fantastic.

I’ve never really explored the Texas hill country. It’s just beautiful with green rolling hills which remind me a bit of Tuscany. There’s even a burgeoning wine industry here, who knew? Being hilly, it makes sense that there are a number of mountain biking trails in the area, which Jeff explored. He’ll have to do his own trail review post later!

We stayed about 30 minutes outside of San Antonio, which is known for its historic missions. There are four missions (five if you count the Alamo) along the San Antonio “missions trail” which you can access by car, or by an eight mile biking/hiking trail which winds along the San Antonio River. It’s actually part of the San Antonio Missions National Park, a national historic site. Cool! Biking and sightseeing – sign me up!

So we loaded up our bicycles and found a parking spot ($3 all day!) not too far from the Alamo and pedaled away. We figured it would be easiest to bike all the way to the end first, then visit the missions as we worked our way back. With the help of our iPhone GPS we located the start of the actual bike path and then figured out that it was about 4 miles to the FIRST mission, and then the path went 8 miles beyond that to the farthest mission. OK, no problem. What are a few more miles? But we also didn’t realize that you had to divert off the path by at least a half mile to a couple of the missions. Or that the path wasn’t exactly flat – it was somewhat hilly! And then we accidently turned off onto another bike trail for a mile or two and had to backtrack. Toward the end, we got turned around in downtown San Antonio finding our way back to the Alamo. All told, by the time we got back to the car, I had clocked 30 miles. I was tired. You CAN drive to all of the missions, if you aren’t up for quite that epic of a biking day. San Antonio also has a network of bicycle rental stations called B cycle. We saw B cycle stations all up and down the trail, so it would be possible to drive to one of the missions, rent a bicycle and do just part of the trail. It is a beautiful ride along the river and the section between the four missions is an easy ride. There’s not a lot of shade though, so in the summer, I expect it can get very hot.

IMG_3556The historic missions were fantastic! I didn’t know (or had forgotten) the impact that the Spanish Catholic missions had on the area. Life for the native Indians was hard and the missions offered food, education and shelter. But in exchange they had to give up their way of life, accept a new religion and pledge fealty to the King of Spain. I’m not sure  in the end whether they were better off, or worse. All of the missions are still active Catholic parish churches and admission to the historic sites is free. Free tours are also available at Mission San Jose, the largest and best preserved of the four. We finished up at the Alamo, which was almost a disappointment after seeing the other missions. (At least admission was free there too). But we got to all of them – mission accomplished! (sorry)

IMG_3558One of the very best parts of traveling the country is having the opportunity to visit far-flung friends. We reached out to long-time friends Cheryl and Carlos, who had relocated a couple of years ago from South Florida to Fredericksburg. We were able to connect and spent a wonderful day touring on our motorcycles and exploring historic Fredericksburg and environs. We got to see their new home, catch up on news, and had some great food. Another day they came to our place and we got to show off our beautiful bus, drink wine and grill burgers. What a nice visit we had! It’s wonderful to have a network of friends and family all over this beautiful country.

Sometimes we visit an area and feel that we’ve “done it”, move on. This area has so much more to explore. We’ll definitely be back!

Next up:  Big Bend National Park!

Campground Review: Top of the Hill RV Resort, Boerne, TX


  • Name: Top of the Hill RV Resort
  • Dates of stay: Jan 29 – Feb 4, 2018
  • Location: 12 Green Cedar Road, Boerne, TX 78006
  • Type of campground: Private / Independent
  • Cost: $22.50/night (Passport America rate)
  • Additional fees: none
  • Stay limit: none
  • Accepts mail / packages: yes
  • Cell reception: ATT good
  • Website:
  • Pros: great value, large site, convenient to I-10, nice people
  • Cons: none! We liked it here.

Full Review

After the Flatonia ex-cow-pasture boggy site, this RV site was heaven! Top of the Hill RV park is located, well, on top of a hill a few miles west of Boerne (pronounced Ber-ney) on I-10 off of Exit 533. The RV sites are terraced up a hill that looks a bit intimidating at first, but is actually surprisingly easy to navigate. We snaked up the hill to an extra-long pull through site at the top. We didn’t even need to unhook our toad first.  The gravel site was level and, we were happy to determine, firmly solid. Our jacks didn’t sink a millimeter. We had full hook ups (50 amp electric, water, sewer) and enough room to park our large pick up truck front OR rear. The site also included a picnic table. No fire ring, and no fire in the community fire ring at present due to dry conditions.

The campground is immaculately maintained with a swimming pool, coin laundry, banquet room, club house, and office/store. There were a few planned activities:  bingo on Thursday night, coffee/donuts on Saturday morning, and sporadic pot lucks and ice cream socials. Overall the campground vibe was very quiet.

The office staff and campground host were very nice. I ordered a package from Amazon during our stay, and the office called me to make sure I knew it had arrived. Side note: I never assume that a campground will accept mail/packages, I always ask before I ship!

The campground offered wifi for light duty surfing (not intended for streaming), but we found our AT&T signal to be adequate for our internet needs. San Antonio channels are available over the air and our satellite dish worked without obstruction. Our premium site normally runs $45/night, but with our  Passport America 50% discount, it was only $22.50 / night. Sweet! They also accept Good Sam discount and offer weekly and monthly discount rates.

Top of the Hill offers a centralized location from which to explore the Texas Hill Country. San Antonio is about 30 minutes away, and the town of Boerne with Wal-Mart and a huge H-E-B grocery store is only about 15 minutes up the road.

This was a fantastic value for such a nicely kept site. I would stay here again happily.

Bottom Line: Great value, central location, nice people. Nothing not to like!