In late November, we haven't seen any speedboats racing by on
Belton Lake, but several fishing boats dot the lake each day. No
one is wearing bathing suits or swimming at the beach, but Jim
and I have been soaking up the Texas rays as we run and
bike the extensive network of trails and roads through the recreation
area. And there aren't very many folks enjoying picnics outside
this time of year (despite temps in the 60s and 70s and
sunshine most days), but the place is absolutely packed every
night with visitors coming from far and wide to drive through
the five-mile-long Nature in Lights holiday extravaganza.
We picked a good time to visit
BLORA, without even realizing
We chose what we figured was peace and quiet, spacious
campsites, and nice scenery over a closer proximity to the
main "populated" area of Fort Hood when we decided to check out
BLORA before the other camping area at this humongous Army post.
We made an excellent choice hanging out here for the past eleven
days, even though it's over ten miles to reach civilization (i.e,
the main parts of the post, and the towns of Killeen and
Temple). The West Fort Hood Travel Camp simply doesn't compare
with BLORA, at least by our standards. It looks like a parking
lot; our campground looks like a park.
Belton Lake is a Corps of Engineers lake that was filled with
water from the Leon River from 1949 to 1954. It is located west
of Temple in central Texas. The lake and dam are used for flood
damage reduction, water conservation, fish and wildlife habitat,
and general recreation.
The southern and western sides of the lake are within the
boundaries of Fort Hood but are not under the same tight
security standards and restrictions as the main post. BLORA
covers about 800 acres on the south side of the lake.
here for a .pdf map of
BLORA and the surrounding area. It will take a few seconds to
One of many pavilions at Belton Lake
Civilians may pay to use the rec area for swimming, the water
slide, boating, fishing, picnicking, mountain biking, horseback
riding, viewing the light display during the holiday season, and
other activities. Only active and retired military ID holders and
their families may use the RV campgrounds and cottages, however.
They don't have to pay any extra for some of the activities like
using the mountain bike course, paddle boating, or viewing the
light display but some other things like horseback riding have a
fee for everyone.
(MOSTLY) SERENE CAMPING
As mentioned in the
last entry, there are three
separate RV campgrounds within BLORA. We drove through all of
them before choosing our site at Cottage RV Park, shown in the
Our campground loop is located about a quarter mile from the entrance and office on
the "high side" of the park. We overlook the lake,
which is about 200 feet
below us. We're near the ~
900-foot peak of Sparta Mountain, which amuses us. I mean, 900'
isn't what we'd call a mountain! Our house in Virginia is
located 90 feet higher than that -- in the Roanoke Valley.
There's what we affectionately call the "HitchHiker
We can see
the lake from our camper but it's a half-mile walk, run, or ride
over a cliff
to reach it. (Don't worry; there's a nice road over that
cliff. It's easy to drive but it's work to run or cycle back up
it.) We got the next-to-last site available in this campground the morning we arrived;
it has only eleven RV sites and about that many cottages
that can be rented. Half or more of the spots were still
available in the other two units, Deer and Cedar, which have 20-28 sites each.
They are down the hill, closer to the lake, and a
longer drive through the rec area.
One section of Deer RV Park with a view of
We chose the Cottage area for its convenience and full hook-ups.
It's been very quiet at night and our neighbors are considerate.
We occasionally hear artillery fire and Blackhawk helicopters
during the daytime but never at night. There are many acres of
training ground between us and the main post.
The sites at Cedar RV Park are the closest
to the lake.
Deer and Cedar RV Parks don't
have sewer connections, just water and electricity. Deer Park is
heavily treed (with lots of deer!) and contains the only laundry
area at BLORA -- one washer and one dryer. We chose to use a
laundromat on base when we needed to wash clothes. Cedar Park is
close to the lakeshore and more open. Park staff warned us
that it gets windy there. It has also gotten fairly windy at
Cottage Park at times since we're up so high on the mountain
(wink, wink). There is also a large open field behind us with
only a few trees to stop the wind:
The price for our large site with full hook-ups, three large trees, a
charcoal grill, two picnic tables
(one with a roof), a view of the
lake, and easy access to the entrance is only $11.25/night with our
senior discount (without the discount, the winter rate for full
hookups is $15/day). That's hard to beat. Although there aren't any
low weekly rates, campers can get great monthly and even yearly
rates at BLORA.
RUNNING & CYCLING AT BLORA
Jim and I have gone out every day to run, walk, and/or ride our
mountain bike in the recreation area. There are five or six
miles of paved roads throughout BLORA and an unknown number of
trails in the
mountain bike park.
According to the web site, there are several loops of varying
difficulty ranging from four to fourteen miles.
I haven't found a map of the bike trails on-line. Our detailed
paper map, like the one on the board (above) at the MTB parking
area, shows lots of novice, intermediate, and advanced trails in a confusing maze
that simply doesn't match some of the areas we explored. It's
impossible for me to determine total distances accurately, but I'd guess
there are 25-30 miles of dirt single track and double track
trails out there. We weren't able to find all of them because of
the complete lack of markings at many of the intersections, signs that are
down and don't point the right way any more, and trails that
One of only a few signs at intersections.
This one is set in concrete but is usually lying down
because of the wind. I set it up to take
this picture and hope I got the arrows going the right
You'd have to be either nuts or under age 25 to have the bravado
to ride some of the trails that go up and down the cliffs!
They've got names like "Medivac Mountain," "Got Oxygen?"
"Shortcut," "Minefield," "Devil's Backbone," "Lizard Lounge,"
and "Off the Back." (You can tell who they are trying to entice:
and Cody "ran" one of those trails their first time out there.
Jim hated it and almost didn't go back until I told him I found
some smoother, flatter sections where we could train.
Cody hesitates near the edge of a cliff
before the trail descends precipitiously.
After that neither of us ran or rode on the very rocky, deep
sandy, or steep sections but mostly kept to "novice" trails that
more closely match the Sunmart course we'll be running next
weekend. I tended to do longer loops and out-and-backs on the
trails for one to three hours, while Jim did a few two- and
three-hour sessions of 500-meter
out-and-backs so he could practice his run-walk pattern and pace
Longbow Lane, where we did a lot of miles
back and forth
We also did a 3-hour run on a 1K paved loop next to the lake
that had 80 feet of elevation gain and 80 feet of loss per loop. Jim did
20 loops = 3,200 feet of gain and loss in 12.4 miles. I
did 17 loops in the same time frame.
We ran past these unlit
holiday decorations on every loop:
Lit up, it's an animated scene with elves and a choo-choo train
Cody ran many of the loops
with us. Here Jim gets ready to throw a stick in the lake for
Cody to retrieve before beginning the first loop:
Since we don't need near that much hill training, we did that
workout only once. Our other runs were on the dirt bike trails.
BTW, we saw only three cyclists on the bike course all the times
we were out there running or riding. I'm a novice rider so I was
limited to about five miles of easy trails. Others were just too
rocky or too loose sand for my meager MTB skills. I did more road miles on
the bike than trail miles. I know the trails at our next
destination, Huntsville SP, are much better maintained and will
be more fun to ride. Ditto for the regional parks around
NATURE IN LIGHTS
When Jim first contacted BLORA about camping here, the woman
giving him information emphasized that if we arrived on
or after November 21 we needed to be inside the gate by 5 PM
"because of the lights." Jim mentioned it to me, but neither of
us had a
clue what she was talking about.
Oh, boy. NOW we understand! Once the "lights" came on the
after we arrived, we made sure we were never outside the gate
After dark, the BLORA office is disguised
as the North Pole.
This is the twelfth year for BLORA's popular holiday
light show. It lasts for
six or seven weeks, until January 4. The rather deserted park during the
winter day is transformed into a magical wonderland by night --
and becomes very crowded with cars lined up outside for miles
before they can even get into the park.
of little multi-colored lights decorate over a hundred
holiday-inspired scenes strung along a five-mile route through
the park. Cars crawl along with their lights dimmed,
their occupants ooo-ing and ahhh-ing over the still displays and
the animated ones choreographed to music. There's everything
from a surfing Santa to a nativity scene to a reminder of
reality on an Army post:
Jim and I were wise to drive through the very first night,
before the hoards arrived. That was pure luck because we didn't
know just how popular this attraction is. We stopped several times to take
photos of some of the more elaborate displays, such as the
large Lakeside Pavilion (which looks like a large house)
and this elaborate animated "bakery" scene near the marina:
Some of our photos came out OK, many didn't. I kept saying I'd
go back out and WALK parts of the "course;" I never did go
down the hill to the major displays near the lake because the
traffic was so heavy from about 6 to 10 PM every night. Jim enjoyed the show
once but I couldn't get him to go back out again. Now that we're
ready to leave, I wish I'd driven the route another time or two.
That gives us some incentive to return another year . . .
I did walk over to the entrance two more times this week to
re-take some photos there, such as these Nordic skaters and skiers:
We can see some of the pretty lights
from our camper. If we look hard we can also see the headlights
of vehicles lined up at the gate to pay their $5 fee to enter
(more for van-loads of people). It's pretty amazing to watch.
Fortunately, none of that traffic goes through our campground
loop and we can't hear it.
Last night I talked with a couple of
the security guards at the entrance. They just rolled their eyes when I asked
how many people come through each year -- many thousands. Both
indicated the fun really hasn't begun. On busy nights the
cars are lined up, barely moving, for miles in either direction
on Sparta/Nolan Road outside the park. They said people drive
all the way from Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio for the
spectacle. I'm impressed.
Halfway through the light tour visitors can stop at Santa's
Village for food, drinks, seasonal crafts, and photos with
The highlight of the light show comes at the very end (as do all
grand finales!), a point
about four miles from our campsite and on a road that's
closed during the day. It's a 500-foot
long tunnel of lights that pulses from just a skeleton of lights to the full
Monty as you drive through. It's
The pictures I took as Jim was driving through the tunnel
inadvertently came out looking like "special effects" shots,
. . . so I got out at the far end and took a series of
photos while holding the camera as steady as I could. Here are
some of the most clear ones in sequence:
Vehicles exit BLORA on a different road than they enter. They're out
of luck if they have to go back toward the entrance or into the
park, with all
the new folks lined up to do the tour. That's the main
reason we haven't driven through a second time. It could take a
long time to get back to our campsite. Guess I'm glad we're leaving
tomorrow, since the guards say the crowds only get worse as
Christmas gets closer. Yikes.
Next entry: what we did on our excursions to the main
post at Fort Hood, the second largest military installation in
How did the last eleven days at BLORA go so fast? For that
matter, where did November go??
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and
Tater (in spirit)
© 2008 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil