Weekends and holidays are the worst time for us. Not because of nostalgia for times when we enjoyed the breaks from work in the past, but because those are the times when the crowds come out and the best camp spots are taken. Fortunately, the state parks we found in Texas don’t seem to be the destinations of choice for most vacationers. Maybe they prefer the festivities of New Orleans, or the warm tropical-like humidity of Florida and some of the other southern states, but even during the busy Christmas to New Year’s break, we had no trouble finding great camping spots in Texas. With one exception, that is.
Although Big Bend National Park seems to come up often as a “must see” destination when visiting Texas (at least according to Google), a few days before Christmas, we found out Big Bend National Park would need to be scratched from our travel map. Maybe national parks are more popular than state parks, but when Kat inquired if they had camping available around Christmas, we were sad to find out that all the campgrounds, even the most remote “dispersed camping” sites that require high clearance 4X4s (which would be okay for us) were full until mid-January. Kat was also told that they had people waiting at the park gates for a cancellation and asked us to please stay away.
So we skipped Big Bend as a destination. But we didn’t feel disappointed. Experience has taught us to go with the flow and that there are many more just as attractive places to camp that aren’t nearly as crowded. As soon as we entered Texas, every one of the campgrounds we visited had something special to offer. The mostly empty Cedar Hills State Park just outside of Dallas, for example, had an in-park exhibit featuring rusty old farm equipment, stuff I love to photograph. Our campsite offered a stunning view of a lake I forgot the name of. The sunset was glorious and the night was frosty and cold, which made us feel at home and carried us into a deep sleep.
We spent two nights at Dinosaur Valley State Park. We appreciated the excellent trail map (Texas State Parks have the best trail maps out of any place we’ve visited both in Canada and the USA) and hiked along some interesting paths through forests of gnarled oaks and other trees. The actual dinosaur footprints were’t that impressive (maybe because they were submerged under water) but we were both amused by the enormous fiberglass T-rex and what I thought was was Fred Flinstone’s Brontasauraus near the park entrance. Melo barked at the T-rex.
Clambering around the water carved dips and pools in the limestone bedrock of Pedernales Falls a few days later brought out the kids in us. The only taint was the ranger watching us and the other visitors from the top of the canyon wall. There was a swimming ban becase of the potential for flash floods and maybe he was there to reinforce it, but we needed to keep Melo and Pix on leash most of the time, which was a bit restrictive.
We spent the two days of Christmas at Lost Maples State Park, a picturesque place with an idyllic little stream running nearby and some invigorating hikes that took us up to the crests of the cliffs surrounding the park. We didn’t see any maples though and I wondered about the park’s name. But even if the maples would have been easy to spot, during the winter all the deciduous trees lose their leaves, even as far south as Texas and, without leaves, it’s really hard to distinguish one tree from the next.
On Christmas Eve, we listened to Bach while sipping some local white wine I bought earlier that day when we stopped in the pretty and Germany-in-Texas town of Fredericksburg. Fredericksburg was probably the most ‘Christmassy’ place I’ve ever seen, with almost every store window proudly displaying festive cheer. The only thing it was missing was snow. At the central park the highlight was a revolving carousel tower as tall as a tree. Supposedly it’s called a Weihnachtspyramides, or Christmas pyramid. Most of us have seen the wooden candle-powered table top versions. It was all very pretty, but we quickly grew tired of the noise and traffic and moved on.
I already talked about our magical stay at Seminole Canyon State Park in my previous post. For our transition into the new year, we drove to Davis Mountains State Park near Fort Davis and arrived late in the afternoon of the 30th. I left Kat behind in the camper to pack away our groceries and prepare dinner (I know, typical male…) while I took the dogs out to expend some energy. I left an hour or so before sunset and told Kat I was just going to hike the short (about two miles) but steep “Montezuma Quail Trail” hike. But half an hour in, when I got to where the trail forked to go back to the campground, I didn’t want to stop. The air, the space, the lighting — they all inspired me and the spirit of aliveness that had been rekindled inside of me while walking in solitude on the trails at Seminole Canyon State Park was being fuelled by the ambience of the trail. Although the sun was swiftly sinking behind the golden hills of flaxen grass, I decided to take the fork to the right.
The “Indian Lodge Trail” was listed as “challenging” in the map they hand out at the park office, but I didn’t care. Yes, it was steep and rocky, but my biggest frustration was trying to encourage Melo to keep up with us. There was a sign at the park entry warning that a mountain lion had been spotted in the area which made me a bit uneasy, but also forced me to attune to the area a bit more than I normally might have. Maybe it was because of the distraction of all the new smells, or maybe it was because Melo was having issues with her anal glands again, but she was more sluggish than usual. At one point, as I stopped to chat to a solitary hiker going the opposite direction, Melo and Pix both picked up something that looked disturbingly like sausage-sized hunks of dried black poop. They tried to give me the “Hey, look what I found daddy!” look, but I yelled for them to “drop it,” and they did.
It was getting dark as I made my way down the last stretch of the trail. I figured Kat would be worried and know how the mind can create all sorts of catastrophes when the last light of day fades. But I wanted to stop at the Black Bear Lodge restaurant at the end of the trail to see if we could go there for dinner on New Year’s Eve and save Kat the trouble of preparing dinner in the truck camper.
The next afternoon we did go there, but the meal was poor. Kat had a nice enough looking grilled trout but I had a sorry slab of “Southwestern” chicken that looked like it came out of a LeMenu box. Kat also says she heard the sound of a microwave as our meal was prepared and, considering that it was only 4:30 in the afternoon and we were the only customers, we knew whatever was being nuked — probably the mashed potatoes and steamed squash — was probably for us. The restaurant also didn’t have a license to serve alcohol, so we couldn’t even have a glass of wine or beer with dinner.
But it didn’t matter. Our moods were good, the meal was cheap, and Kat didn’t need to cook. When we came back home to our camper, we fed and walked the dogs, grateful that we were healthy and able to spend New Year’s deep in the heart of the mountains. For the first time since we began our journey seven months ago, we took advantage of the free cable that was offered at our site. The coaxial cable was wound around a large rock so, after returning from dinner, I carefully unwound it, connected it to the plug at the side of our camper, unhinged our TV from its travel harness (for the first time since starting our trip), and cycled through the fifty or so stations offered. It took me a bit of time to figure out how to get the aspect ratio correct so that everyone didn’t look wide and squat like characters from The Wizard of Oz.
It didn’t take long to realize that the chaotic energy of the world of commercial TV hadn’t changed since we last watched it years ago before the internet and when we still had regular cable TV. As I flicked through the channels, there was the same frenetic noise and attention-grabbing chatter of reality TV, the recycled shows with forced and contrived attempts at drama, the derivative formulaic comedies, all interspersed with way too many pandering and insulting commercials. I felt the glow from my hikes over the past few days quickly dissipating. It felt like we were being poisoned with a foul consciousness. Perhaps for the benefit of Kat’s parents Sid and Vera, whose ashes are travelling with us in our camper’s basement, we stopped at TCM to watch That’s Entertainment, a tribute to the great musicals of the forties and fifties. Although some of the snippets of Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Ester Williams, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Judy Garland were interesting enough, my mind started wandering and I quickly realized that I never really cared for the dance numbers in the old musicals. I think my parents liked them well enough, and I know Kat enjoyed some of them as a kid, but I always found the Busby Berkeley Gene Kelly choreography, no matter how well orchestrated and challenging to the dancers, didn’t resonate with me.
Eventually That’s Entertainment ended and we watched a bit of an old episode of Twilight Zone, the episode where Dick York, the bug-eyed “Darren” of Bewitched fame, tosses a coin to a street vendor selling newspapers and the coin lands neither heads nor tails, but on its edge. For the rest of the day he can hear the private, and often offensive, thoughts of anyone he encounters. Kat was intrigued, but we could only make it to the second commercial break break before growing tired of someone trying to sell us something we had no interest in purchasing.
Some of the stations were showing New Year’s festivities out of New York and New Orleans. I stopped for a moment where one blond female singer was belching out yet another manufactured pop song complete with obligatory throat growl and carefully timed arm waving, with regular camera pans to a prominently placed group of lip syncing teenage fans also waving their arms like trees in the wind. By then, I couldn’t stand the energy and flickering glow of the TV any longer and, by nine o’clock, the TV was off and locked back into its travel harness.
Instead, we lit a candle, listened to uplifting spiritual music woven around old Sanskrit chants, and just talked. We talked about our journey so far, our regrets, the things that moved us, and the things that made us sad. “I don’t have any special dreams anymore,” I said to Kat.
As we talked, we tried to ignore the huge Class B that had pulled in directly behind us just after dark, its bright headlights illuminating the interior of our camper through the back door window. But they settled soon enough and a short time later a dark and turbulent storm rolled in over the hills, complete with lightening and grumbles of thunder. For a few minutes, we experienced almost torrential rain and I was concerned that the dry creek we were camped nearby would overflow and a flood would carry us far away.
But the storm soon cleared and, just before midnight, we went outside with Melo and Pix and stood under a clear, cold, starry night sky. We kept our flashlights off and quietly counted down to midnight. The campground around us was as still as the night was dark. At the appropriate time, we kissed under the silver stars, held each other tight, and knew that life was good.
That night we slept deeply and soundly, as we usually do when the nights are cool. Before I awoke on the first morning of the new year, I had a dream that I was at a convention of sorts. I was surrounded by inventors, artists, poets, filmakers, musicians — the creative elite. In my dream, I was charismatic, self-assured, and filled with a presence that drew others to me. A beautiful and angelic-looking woman, her shoulder-length hair rippling with golden waves, came to my side and accompanied me. I felt a deep, spiritual, and clear love — a type of love that only manifests in the purest and holiest of dreams — as we walked to a field where people were flying magnificent and magical devices that have yet to be invented.
When I awoke, I was still filled with love and feelings of contentment. I felt a strong and vital force flowing through me and, as I became more awake, I meditated on these feelings, attempting to crystallize them in my soul so that, going forward, they would help propel me though those days of doubt and darkness that so often permeate my life.
The first sun of the new year illuminated our camper, warming it from without. After a simple but wonderful breakfast, with Melo and Pix at rest on the couch between us, I watched Kat draw a Tarot reading, as she always does on the first day of a new year. She was using the deck I picked up for her during my visit to Germany many ears ago. I felt tremendous love for her, the same love I felt in my dream. As I heard the intrusive RV from the night before start up behind us in preparation to leave, I knew that this was going to be a good year.
One of the last places we visited in Texas was the surprisingly serene Monahans Sandhills State Park. We arrived just after a windstorm had swept the miles of empty white sand dunes clean of footprints. All the dunes were rippled and reminded me of the purified beaches we walked on after the tides went out while visiting the east coast of Canada. Considering that most of Texas was once under the sea, I thought this was appropriate.
Kat talks about our transition from one year to the next in this post if you want to get another perspective on our little world: