Tuesday, December 26, 2017

A Look Back at 2017 and a Peek Forward to 2018

As we approach 2018 Barb and I have been talking about what a crazy year it has been and what the new year might bring. I can hardly remember what I did yesterday let alone what we did the past year so I had to review our posts to remind myself of how much we really did over the year.
I am happy to report that Barb’s New Year’s resolution to kill me did not come to fruition (well there is always the next couple days).  I think the fact that I documented her first two attempts of the year scared her off and she is going to keep me around until the heat is off.

Throughout the year we drove from Arizona to Ontario and almost back again driving just under 8,000 miles which is the least amount we have driven in the almost 4 years we have been on the road.
Our 2017 Travel Map
Over the year we met lots of new people. We met Roger and Cindi, Kim and Shawn, Rick and Kathy, Guy and Sue, Butch as well as Jim and Brenda. And although it felt like we already knew them, we finally met John and Pam in person last February and also long time virtual friends Jim and Diana. Of course we reconnected with many of our old friends in Quartzsite, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ontario. Too many to list to mention….

We went on countless hikes but our most memorable and toughest was the Picacho Peak hike last February. The coolest new place we visited was the Lake Powell/Antelope Canyon area.

Thinking back at what our biggest accomplishments were two things come to mind and both are vastly different. The first was our land purchase, we had been looking for several years and finally found our piece of paradise. The second thing is our progress with Dakota. She came a long way throughout the year and we are thrilled with her progress. We still have some work to do but we are overall very happy.
It was fun reliving the year going through the posts. A lot of great memories and a lot of great pictures. As I looked through each of the pictures I picked my personal top 8. Some may have made the list because the pictures themselves were something I was really proud of and others because they brought back great memories.
My overall favorite picture of the year! Makes my heart smile just looking at it

Barb taking Farmer and Brother Bob out fishing

Cowboy Kevin doing some fence work 

Dakota's first duck hunt!

The Girls hanging out in Q last January. Who do you think the boss is?

Barb and I at Antelope Canyon

Two of my favorite wildlife pictures......

Our biggest surprise for the year? Getting Jim and Brenda as neighbors in South Dakota. Barb and I still talk about how a quick visit by them turned into several months with them purchasing the property next door. Somethings you could just never imagine!  
So what will next year bring?
As of right now it looks like we will be in Texas/New Mexico in January, Arizona in February, Oregon in March and South Dakota in April. From there we have no idea….. I know one thing for sure…. We will be in North Dakota and Ontario sometime during the year. As I was going through each of the posts from last year I yearned to get back to these places. We are also going to run out to Pennsylvania to visit our daughter at some point as well. Our original plans were going to head up north into Manitoba in the spring then east across Ontario and down the east coast into Florida for the winter. But now that we have bought the South Dakota property all those plans are up in the air. We want to be in South Dakota to help our friend Kevin build his house so our travel plans depend on his construction schedule. When time permits we are going to sneak out for trips as often as we can but at this point we have no idea when and if they will happen.

But back to this week….. We arrived in  San Antonio on December 23rd    and checked into the Braunig Lake RV Resort for 4 days. With the Passport America price it came to $28/night. It was a very clean, nice park with full hookups, we would definitely stay here again.
Our first adventure was to visit The Alamo. We were surprised that this historic sight was right in the middle of downtown. The city did a really good job of preserving this church and surrounding building. Dating back to 1718 these buildings and church are packed with over 200 years of history. The story and accompanying historical artifacts were very interesting. A couple things we found very interesting were rifles and knives owned by Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie who both died in battle at the Alamo in 1836. Entrance into the Alamo is free but they do offer audio tours for $7 and guided tours for $20. 
The Alamo
Just a short distance away (across the street) you can access the San Antonio Riverwalk. We really did not know what to expect but in our minds we were picturing a river with grassy banks and sidewalks along the edge. What we found was a canal that runs through the city, under streets, between buildings.....very cool. Restaurants and shops line both sides of the canal. Huge trees that have to be hundreds of year old also line the banks. For being in the downtown of a big city we were impressed with how clean the entire area was.

The architecture of some of the older buildings was incredible....
St. Joseph Catholic Church

The courthouse
Christmas Eve night we watched Miracle on 34th Street and watched the National Dog Show. Both were very entertaining for different reasons. Miracle on 34th Street was entertaining not only because it is a holiday classic but also because it is so politically incorrect by todays standards. The dog show on the other hand was entertaining because Daisy and Dakota enjoyed it just as much as we did. They watched each of the dogs paraded around the arena and I think each had their favorites. Daisy's favorite was the French Bulldog while Dakota's was a Collie. In the end the Bloodhound won Best of Show.

Christmas day we just chilled around the RV park and took it easy. Barb cooked a prime rib in the oven and we had a nice quiet day together.

Our final San Antonio adventure involved getting together with fellow fulltimers Cori and Greg who also own RV Solar Solutions. If you are ever in the market to put solar on your rig they are your guys! We met them at The Blue Star Brewing Company. We have not been to a brewery in quite a while (at least a few weeks)! We each got a flight of beer consisting of all but two of their brews. My favorite was Apache Amber while Barb's was Spire Stout.
Greg and I have not even ordered our beers yet!
We had not seen Cori and Greg in almost a year when we got together for a few days in Tucson. We had a great time back then when we went to The Retro Game Show and this time was no different. Although we may only see some people once or twice a year (or even once every couple of years) but it like you have been in contact all year long. Greg and Cori are like that. As an extra bonus Greg even smiled for the picture!

With our San Antonio adventure complete we are taking another unexpected turn. We were planning on heading south towards North and South Padre Island but we are going to save that for another year when the hurricane recovery is further along. Instead we are headed back north again to meet up with some friends we met this past summer at Pasha Lake Cabins. This week looks like the start of another adventure......Stay tuned!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Christmas on the Road

The girls are all ready for Christmas!
 Only a few days until Christmas! By far, our favorite holiday. So many memories of the kids growing up. One that comes to mind immediately is the one where Barb was pregnant with Forrest and Jessica's broken arm was in a sling. Jessica would put out a plate of cookies and coco for Santa and of course some celery and carrots for the reindeer!
Hard to believe this was over 30 years ago!
We always lived in the country and one of our annual traditions was going out and cutting our own Christmas tree.  This was not an event to be taken casually, it was a 2-3 hour event at the tree farm where we walk through hundreds of trees looking for just the perfect tree. We would walk and walk and walk…..narrowing our choices down until we found the perfect one.
Christmas on the road is really hard for us to get used to. Oh, we still spend hours looking for the perfect tree (well at least it seems like hours) but now it is at Home Depot and there are only about 20 to choose from.

Our Home Depot tree
We hear the Christmas music and see the lights but with no snow and no family nearby it just does not seem like Christmas. They still send us gifts but even that too can be a challenge. Last year when we were in Quartzsite we were able to send and receive packages at Quiet Times. They are a reliable business that you can send and receive packages from. This year however things are a bit different. We are a moving target. The kids have asked several times where they could send packages and there are several things I would have liked to order but the lack of a reliable place to ship to prevented both. Since we were always moving, we were rarely in one place long enough to wait for a package. When we were in one place for a week or more or when we could predict our location long enough out to have packages shipped to I could not find a place I trusted to have packages delivered there. I researched many shipping stores but review after review said they lost packages (even the UPS stores). So in the end, the kids held onto their packages and I did all my shopping at brick and mortar locations.

Regardless of where we are or who we are with Christmas will always be special in our hearts.  

Leaving Red and Pam in Junction we headed 4 hours north (and a little east) to Granbury where we were going to meet a friend of Barb’s who had moved to Granbury a few years ago. Chris and Barb were barrel racing buddies traveling from Wisconsin to Oklahoma for various barrel races. They had not seen each other in several years and spent hours over the next two days talking and catching up.
There was our welcoming committee at Chris and Charlie's (Lexi, Gracie & Peanut)
Granbury is a cool little place. Chris and her husband Charlie took us on a tour of the town square which was decorated for Christmas and we went out to eat twice at Hoffbrau Steak House and Babe’s Chicken Dinner House. Both excellent restaurants.  Two days was too short and we will be back to spend more time exploring and visiting the area.
Chris and Charlie outside of Babe's
Our next stop was Waco. Since it was only an hour and a half and we were not in a hurry, we took the scenic route.......which was fog the entire way. 
Up until a couple of years ago the only thing we heard or knew about Waco was the Branch Davidian incident. Certainly not a very good event to be known for. More recently however, it has gained notoriety for the show Fixer Upper which we are huge fans of and the main reason we came to Waco.  This show has done more for the city of Waco than any ad campaign could ever do.

We camped at the Airport COE Park on Waco Lake. At $24/night (Water/Electric) this is a scenic park right on the lake and close to town.
Our site at Waco Lake

 Based on what we had seen on Fixer Upper, we had envisioned Waco as this quaint, quiet country town. They would show these cute houses in the city and out in the country and set about remodeling them. Although the country is very appealing what we encountered in the city was a different story. What we found was a rather large city that was rundown and somewhat dirty. Oh, there were pockets of nice neighborhoods but for the most part….not so much.
Our first stop was the Magnolia Market Silos which is featured on many of the episodes. Man, was it packed, it seemed like everyone else had the same idea as we did. A converted grain elevator, the shops were quite cute with lots of country décor that we envision ourselves decorating our place with. My sister Carol had given us a gift card for Magnolia Market last summer so we were anxious to find just the right thing to use it on. We ended up buying two things; a really nice bottle/vase type thing (that is how I would describe it) and a jingle bell wreath.
The Silos

From there we went to Magnolia Baking Company right next door where we each got a delicious cupcake. The perfect way to end that trip!
Ready for a cupcake?
Lunch was at Chuy’s. We had never heard of it before visiting Red and Pam last week but when I asked Red’s brother Greg where his favorite place to eat was he did not hesitate when he replied “Chewies” (At least, that is what I thought he said)  But when I goggled it, it came up Chuy’s. It is a Tex/Mex place and there just so happened to be one in Waco. When we pulled in, the parking lot was absolutely packed! I ordered a chicken enchilada while Barb got the Stuffed Avocado. Barb is a connoisseur of Mexican food and thought it was outstanding. I took one bite it mine and my mouth was on fire, it looks like Barb had her dinner to!
The Stuffed Avocado meal

Then it was off to Brazos Valley Cheese where we taste tested some cheeses and bought a few.

Curiosity got the better of us and drove out to the Branch Davidian Memorial and we had to see what was out there. Not much really, it is still an active Church group with several houses behind a locked gate. The sign said, visitors were welcome if the gate was open. Here is a picture of the memorial from the website.
The Branch Davidian Memorial
Two days and three hours later we found ourselves at McKinney Falls State Park in Austin. We were only able to get a site for 3 nights so we had to make the most of it! We first stayed at this park in January of 2015. We remember it well, as this is was the park where we had one of our most stressful moments as a FT’er and where we learned our second valuable lesson (our first was Don’t Trust Your GPS). I remember and can still see Barb walking away from me in frustrated and in tears because I being stubborn trying to fit into a site.  It was at this park we learned not to try and squeeze into a tight spot just because you think or know you can do it. Funny thing is when I went back to reread that post it mentioned nothing about this incident. I guess it was something we just wanted to forget!

But back to 2017….. Austin is well known for two things; food trucks and their BBQ and we planned to take advantage of both. Our first day we went downtown to visit the food trucks! We were quickly reminded why we have always lived in the country. Austin may be smaller than Dallas, Chicago, Minneapolis and others, it was way too busy for us. We researched a couple of food trucks we wanted to try the first one was Angry Egg Roll. We drove around until we found it, parked and walked over. Unfortunately it was closed, actually we were glad it was closed as after looking at how run down it was and the trash outside, we were not going to eat there anyway.
Who would want to eat here?
We went back to the truck and headed over to Torchy's Tacos where the results were much better. We finally got the egg rolls we were craving at the Little Thai Food trailer. Both were excellent and would highly recommend both of them.
Little Thai

Rain prevented us from going out on a planned hike our second day but we did get some Christmas shopping done, presents wrapped and some house cleaning done. Time to swap out the South Dakota clothing for the shorts and t-shirts. The highs have been in the mid 70's and lows in the 60's. The dogs are panting and I am panting. We actually turned on the AC to cool everyone off a little.

We did brave the rain and get out to our #1 favorite BBQ so far in our travels. The Salt Lick is located in Driftwood Texas and only about 30 minutes from McKinney Falls. A quick check of our blog from when we were here last reminded me to get the sausage and ribs. They allow you to bring your own beer so I brought a couple of Revolver Sidewinders (Thanks Chris!) and Barb brought a Coffee Porter. The food was great and we got out of there under $70 for dinner, dessert and the tip.

The smell and sight or smoked meats was mouth watering!

Very comfortable atmosphere
Today we head south for Christmas in San Antonio, the River Walk should be beautiful!

You didn't think I could have a post without a deer picture did you? I took this one in Austin

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Daisy Meets a New Friend in Texas!

Daisy made a new friend this week in Dominic!
Barb is the ultimate route planner. She spends hours hovered over a map and the internet finding places to stay and interesting sights to see using the most efficient routes. She had the next few weeks planned taking us from north Texas to central Texas down to southern Texas. Sights to see, places to stay and people we were hoping to visit. Our friends Red and Pam were on the route and we hoped to catch up with them as we swung through central Texas. Well, they must not have gotten the memo as they were leaving well before we planned on getting to their area.  
So we scrapped our plans, packed up and made a beeline to go see them! They were staying at their brother’s place just south of Junction. The total trip was about 7 hours much of which was through flat, open farm country. Those of you who know us, know we are fascinated with farming. It is so interesting to see what and how crops are raised across the country. Cotton seems to be the primary crop in this area of Texas. Miles and miles of cotton fields dotted with oil rigs. The combines and other harvest equipment used down here are a lot different that we are used to seeing up north!
A cotton baler dropping another bale....
As we got closer to Junction the open, flat terrain was replaced with wooded hills. Of everyplace we have seen so far in Texas, we like the hill country the most. The diversity of this area is very cool. Junction itself, is a cute little town of just under 3,000 people and where the North, South and Main Llano Rivers meet.   
Red and Pam were about 20 minutes outside of Junction down a gravel road with several large ranches on it. A couple of the ranches are high fence game farms with exotic animals on them Aoudads, Axis deer, Blackbucks, among others inhabit these ranches.
The road in....
We had not seen Red and Pam since the winter of ’15 in Quartzsite so when we met them on the road a few miles from their place it was hugs and handshakes all around. We followed them to their rig where we met Greg, Red’s brother, who owns the property.
Greg's place with our rigs on the right
After getting settled Red took me for a walk to an area overlooking one of several game feeders on the property. Texas has a totally different view on game management compared to South Dakota. While it is illegal to bait the deer in South Dakota, Texas encourages and even rewards property owners for feeding the wildlife.
In addition to whitetail, Greg’s property also has wild pigs, coyote, bobcat, mountain lion as well as axis deer and blackbuck antelope. All are native to the area with the exception of the axis and blackbuck (both native to India) which apparently escaped from an exotic game ranch several years ago and are thriving/breeding in the surrounding countryside. Part of Greg’s wildlife exemption requirements with the state is that he needs to feed, manage and record the wildlife on his property and part of that is harvesting some of the animals.  Red asked if I would be interested in hunting an axis deer. Would I?!!??! I could not say yes quick enough! They can be hunted year round as they compete with the native species and the state does not want them out in the wild.

But first we needed to get a new hunting blind in place. We spent the next morning painting and transporting it to the field.

We did not like the way the color looked on it so we painted it a darker green the next day as well.
Red said I could shoot an axis buck or doe but said that there was one particular buck in the area that he would hold out for. I hunted morning and night for 3 days seeing countless whitetails, axis does and a smaller axis buck.
A look at the terrain in the area

Whitetail doe

The smaller Axis buck
Meanwhile Pam and Barb went geocaching, went for walks along the country roads and even washed our rig and the trucks! We had lunch at a local BBQ restaurant and of course had to check out the Donut Palace.  We had great dinners every night and we have not eaten that well in quite a while! Did we marry the right women or what?!?!
Another great meal being prepared!

A toast to good friends

Barb torching her world famous crème brulee  
The last day of our stay I was prepared to harvest an axis doe if the opportunity presented itself. Red wanted some meat and we agreed to split anything I shot. I went to the newly constructed blind while Red went to another stand a little ways away where he was going to take a whitetail doe if the opportunity arose.

I sat there watching several whitetail does and a pretty nice buck and I could see the smaller axis buck bedded about 300 yards out along a tree line but no sign of axis does or the bigger buck. The whitetail does grazed off and headed towards Red so I knew it was just a matter of time before I would hear him shoot. About 5 minutes later, what should walk into view? The big axis buck! Earlier, I had asked Red how I would know the big one when I saw him and he said; “As soon as you see it you will know it’s him” And boy was he right! I had the rifle up and on him within seconds of seeing him. Within seconds of my shot, I heard a shot come from Red’s direction. My buck was down and if I knew Red, he had a doe down as well!
We met back at the rigs about 20 minutes later to compare notes and indeed we both had harvested animals.
Red was a great guide!
Now the work began! The following day (we stayed an extra day now) was dedicated to visiting the local taxidermist followed by processing the deer. Both Barb and Pam joined in on the fun as well!
Barb and Pam cutting up some pork trimmings to mix with the venison

Red and I grinding some burger!
Making some bratwurst
We had a great time with Red, Pam and Greg and cannot thank them enough for their hospitality! We left Junction the following morning and headed back north to continue our original plan. 
Meanwhile, we have been closely following the news coming out of South Dakota where the 3rd largest fire in Black Hills history has burned over 57,000+ acres (84 square miles) and devastated Custer State Park. Although our property was out of the path, over 70% of the park was burned. As of Saturday night (12/16) 80% of the fire is under control. The buffalo (60 head), antelope and elk herds were able to escape the fire but the burros were not so lucky. All 9 have been located but are being treated for burns. The park is asking for donations of both hay and money to help.  

The black/red outline is the fire area
Next stop Ganbury where we plan on spending a few days with one of Barb’s barrel racing friends who moved to the area several years ago!