I felt like I'd won the lottery a few days ago when I bought two fancy greeting
cards at the PX that retailed elsewhere for $8.78 plus tax.
A sign in the card section indicated all the cards were 20% off that
day, so I was pretty surprised when the $4.99 card (Jim's Valentine's
Day card; don't tell!) rang up at only $3.06. I'm no math whiz
but I immediately knew that was significantly more than 20% off. The
next card said $3.79; it rang up for only $2.38. Wow, I thought. Two
fancy cards for only $5.44! (My calculator later confirmed that was 38%
So when the cashier smiled and pulled out the $2 coupon, I was one happy
lady!! I thought it was very nice of her to do it, considering I had no idea it
was available. How often do you get customer service like that in any
That brought the price of two fancy cards down to only $3.44.
Oh -- and there's no usurious 8.25% sales tax on items at the PX
either. There is no sales tax at a PX. Nada, zip, zero. That's one of the perks
of either being in the military or retired from it. (Prices on goods aren't
always lower than discount stores like WalMart, however.)
San Antonio's popular River Walk
Yup, I won the lottery that day. I did tell Jim about my little
coup but he'll have to wait until February 14 to see the fancy card!
A WEEK OF COMPARATIVE LUXURY
last travel-related entry
(Sunday, January 10) I mentioned that we were leaving the Hill Country State Natural
Area near Bandera, TX and heading to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, a fairly
short drive of only 66 miles to our next campsite.
We'd just spent a frigid weekend with temperatures dipping down to 10°F.
on the morning that the Bandera ultras began. All four nights we were
there were well below freezing. Brrr.
One of the courtyards at The Alamo in San Antonio
How cold was it?? Just east of
Bandera on TX 16 we passed a waterfall that was frozen solid!
If we hadn't been
hauling the fiver, I would have asked Jim to stop so I could take a
photo of it. I haven't seen a frozen waterfall since we moved from
Montana. A frozen waterfall is such an anomaly in southern Texas
that several other folks had stopped and were taking pictures of it when we drove by.
Although we (mostly) kept warm
enough inside the HitchHiker, by Sunday we'd run through most of our propane and
gasoline after four days of boon-docking in the natural
area and we were really looking forward to spending the next
eight days with full hookups (water,
clean concrete pads, nice green grass, good cell phone and internet service,
reception, a laundry room 200 feet away, nice workout
facilities on post, nearby running, walking, and cycling opportunities, and proximity to
downtown San Antonio, and attractions like the Alamo and Riverwalk.
That's what I mean about comparative
It's good to be back! Boon-docking has its advantages
but in the winter it's nice to have more conveniences like running water. One of the
first things Jim did when we arrived was to wash the truck, camper, and Cody,
all of which got very dusty at the natural area.
Day is done: colorful sunset over the Fort Sam
Fort Sam charges a very reasonable $17/day** or $102/week to the military
families and retirees who camp here. There is also a monthly rate. One month is
the longest reservation folks can make unless there are special circumstances,
such as extended treatment at the hospital on post.
** Comparable private campground sites are in the $35-$55/night range now.
That's why we rarely stay in a private campground unless we can get a really
good monthly rate.
We've stayed several times previously at
Fort Sam's "Fam-Camp" and love it. So do a lot of other
military families. It's
a good idea to make reservations early for any of the winter months. We were
surprised to be able to reserve eight days in mid-January since we didn't make
our reservations until a few weeks ago. There have been very few spots
empty during the past week; they've all been full the two weekends we
have been here.
This week's stay in the campground has had a bit
of extra intrigue.
We're within sight of the Brook Army Medical Hospital on post. It's in the
background of the next photo, separated from the campground by some
fencing, a railroad track, and the Fort Sam equestrian center:
Brook Army Medical Hospital is where they're housing and treating Major Hasan, the Islamic terrorist who
"allegedly" (innocent-until-proven-guilty and all that) murdered all those
military folks at Fort Hood a
couple months ago. Fort Sam was on lock down one day last week when someone
got on post and tried to see Hasan, alternately claiming to be his doctor or
lawyer. The "visitor" is still at large and his motive is unknown
-- get Hasan
out or kill him?
We had no trouble getting on post when we arrived with the camper last Sunday or
several times since then when we've gone off-post to run
errands. We like the convenience but wonder how secure the place really
is. The guards eyeball our military IDs, make sure the photos look reasonably
like us, and wave us through with a cheery greeting. This has always been one
of the easiest military installations we've entered. We were
scrutinized more closely than that at one of the Border Patrol checks on I-10
Of course, the Fort Hood incident was an "inside job" (Hasan worked there) so
you can't really feel secure anywhere you go, even on a military post.
Every time we've visited Fort Sam the past three years the nearby freeways and
many areas on post
have been under construction. There's a lot going on around here and it's
interesting to watch the progress from year to year.
The $2 billion project at Fort Sam by the Defense Base Realignment and Closure
Commission (known as BRAC) to consolidate military installations is still
underway. When the work is completed about 4,000 more jobs will be added here.
San Antonio has been one of the most recession-proof cities in the country this
decade because of all the military installations in the area. Besides Fort Sam
there are Brooks AFB, Lackland AFB, Randolph AFB, and Camp Bullis Military
Reservation. The local housing and job markets haven't been devastated like
they have been in many areas.
In fact, Texas in general is doing quite well compared to other states. I'll
have more to say about that in another entry about state park closures around
One of the first things we noticed on arrival at Fort Sam was a brand new bridge
(next photo) spanning Salado Creek, which bisects the post. They hadn't even begun
construction on that when we were here last winter. When we made reservations
we were given notice of the reroute to approach the campground but the large
size of the
handsome bridge was still a surprise to us:
You have to realize what it used to look like to understand our
We used to cross a very low bridge on a narrow road over the creek each time we left or returned
to the campground, either by vehicle or on foot. The next picture shows the
old route, which was barely above creek level during a drought, and the
new, much more sensible bridge in the background:
I took that photo this morning. Until this past week, that's more water than
we've ever seen over the low bridge. It's always been dry when we drove,
cycled, or ran over it.
We know the area floods but we've only seen post-flood
evidence on prior visits -- matted weeds, debris up high in trees and in fences
-- but no high water.
Last week we saw first hand just how seriously
flooded that low area can get.
I'll show some flood photos in a little bit to graphically
illustrate just how necessary that bridge is. Soon it will carry a lot more
traffic than just people going to the campground, helipad, and guard armory;
a large laboratory is being built across from the campground and already heavy
construction equipment is using the new bridge and road.
A NEW PROJECT FOR US TO "SUPERVISE"
Soon after our arrival last Sunday we set
out to retrace our various running/hiking/cycling routes near the campground.
One of our loops with no traffic used to
encircle a large, empty training field right across from the campground entrance. Now we can use
only about half of the loop due to construction of a research lab
emerging out of the weeds and mud:
Jim and Cody walk past the construction site across from
our campground early in the week.
Same view, after a deluge of rain. I like the
in the puddle.
After a wet week, work continues on Saturday and Sunday to
It'll be interesting to see if the building
when we return next winter. Even though it has eliminated some of our
running/cycling route, it's fun to "supervise" the construction while we're
here. We both enjoy watching construction projects, especially ones with big
cranes and front-end loaders.
There is considerable construction of new training facilities, housing
units, and other buildings closer to the center of the post but I didn't take
pictures of those. That maze doesn't look much different to us than it did a
year ago. Although some streets are closed/rerouted, we remembered how to get
around post OK and it was easy to reach the fitness center, PX, etc.
For our military friends: note that diesel
fuel is usually (in our experience) several cents cheaper at the nearby Wal-Mart
on Harry Wurzbach Road than it is on post.
We had three nice sunny days at the beginning of the week as
temperatures gradually warmed up to their average of low 40s at
night and mid-60s during the day.
Since we haven't had many
"average temperature" days so far this winter in Arizona or
Texas, we made the most of them. We got outside as much as
possible. We even found a new trail spur
near the campground that we hadn't noticed before:
Salado Creek and Salado Park; the creek is
a little higher than normal but nowhere near flooded.
Huge live oak draped with Spanish moss;
this trail was under several feet of water
a couple days later.
The San Antonio area had gotten a lot of rain before our arrival so we did
have to modify a couple of our trail routes to avoid some of the
stickiest mud we've ever seen. I didn't ride Jim's mountain bike
through the bad spots either. It would have gotten completely
mired. This soil must have a
lot of clay in it because it really cakes the bottoms and sides of your
shoes. Before long we were lugging around several extra pounds of glop until
we could effectively scrape it off (not an easy task).
And that was before the deluge hit.
Love the green grass in January (above)!
The trail below still looks like winter.
We knew a major storm was on its way so
we ran, walked, and cycled as much as possible early in the
week. Many of those miles were on pavement to avoid the mud.
Jim's favorite venue to run was on the golf course:
He could run on either paved paths or grass. He never got
evicted and on the rainy days when he ran there he had the place
Golfers are even wimpier than we are in the rain!
HERE IT COMES . . .
The rain started on Wednesday and continued for three straight
days; it was especially hard on Thursday night and all
day Friday. It began to feel epic in nature by the time it
stopped. I never did hear the exact final total accumulation
but it was in the 6-7" range at the campground.
Temperatures hovered around 50°F.
those three days. It was not pleasant to run or walk
in the rain but we sucked it up the first two days and went
out anyway. We stayed on pavement to avoid the world's
Remember when I said I've found
some advantages to walking vs running? One of them is being able
to carry an umbrella if it's raining! Came in very handy last
week . . . It's a lot less comfortable to walk in the
rain than run in it.
Didn't need an umbrella this morning when I
took a photo of the cemetery at Fort Sam.
When it wasn't raining too horribly
hard on Wednesday and Thursday we also drove around to run errands.
We get cabin fever pretty easily, even when it's miserable
another weight workout at one of the fitness centers on post and got
my hair permed at the PX (not as cheap as last year since
they've become a snazzy Paul Mitchell studio). We got our mail
via General Delivery at the Post Office and it was like
Christmas all over again, with holiday cards and real letters
(!) that weren't in the last package we got in December. We
shopped at Lowe's, WalMart, and Sam's Club.
We also checked out two city parks
for trails (Brackenridge and McAllister) but they were so muddy
we didn't run or walk there. We filed McAllister away in our
memory banks for future
reference; it has about fifteen miles of paved and dirt trails.
Then the deluge came.
On Friday so many streets were
flooded in San Antonio (at least fifty of them were closed) that we
stayed inside the camper all day except to go to the fitness
center on post to do a workout there. It was a good day to
install our new Turbo Tax software and start working on our 2009
Oh, boy. You can imagine how much fun
After the rain started I kept an
eye on Salado Creek and the old bridge every time we went over
the new bridge. I was fascinated with the rising water,
remembering my rides and walks across the low bridge just a few
days earlier when the water was only an inch or two deep on the
cement, as in one of the photos farther up in this entry.
Approach to the low bridge at Salado Park
on Friday, when the water was just below its peak.
Unfortunately, I never got a
picture from the new bridge looking down at the creek at its
flood peak on Friday. It was always raining too hard when we
crossed the bridge or someone was behind us; there isn't
any place to pull over.
The picture above and the two below
were taken Friday afternoon from another angle -- the old road
to the low bridge. Soon after I took these photos they closed
access to this area for two days. Salado Park is behind me on the right. It got
badly flooded, too.
The new "high bridge" is in the background; the
old "low bridge" is under several feet of water.
The creek normally flows well to the right
in this angle.
Looking toward the park; the creek normally
flows in the background.
us was a happy camper by Friday afternoon -- literally or
figuratively. Enough is enough!
Working on taxes for several hours will do that to you, too.
After three days we were just about as miserable inside the
camper as outside in the rain. The HitchHiker is old, relatively small, and not built like a house to
withstand extremes of weather -- hot or cold, snow or
It became very humid inside;
running our two small electric heaters and the propane furnace
didn't work to remove any appreciable humidity. The single-pane windows remained
fogged up for several days, water pooling at the bottom of the
frames. Running ceiling vents in the living area and bathroom
We had old towels lying over most of the tan-colored
carpet so we didn't get it wet or muddy when we came inside. Thank goodness we were on a concrete
pad and didn't have much mud right around the camper. We can
take our shoes off, but Cody can't!
Tree debris and fence damage where the
water had been several feet high (photo taken Sunday)
Poor Cody. He loves to swim but he's not wild about going out to "potty"
in the rain. Once out, however, he likes to sniff anything and
everything and leave tree-mail (p-mail?) to establish his territory. After
(finally) finishing his business, his fur is still damp when he
comes back in even though we towel him off.
Think wet, stinky 80# of dog after
three days of rain . . . and lots of wet towels
Which reminds me of a funny expression we heard from a Southern
caller to the Neal Boortz radio show one day: "You got
a dog that stinks, you still love him because he's your dog."
Although the caller was making some political reference I've
since forgotten I latched onto the phrase and I'm using it literally
Life doesn't get much better than this for
a Lab: a creek and a stick to retrieve! (Cody's not a duck
Isn't camping fun?? And this is like being in the Hilton
compared to camping in a tent . . .
OK, I'll stop whining. At least San Antonio was substantially warmer than the previous
week and we didn't have several feet of snow like some other
folks we know.
ON A MISSION
Mercifully, the rain stopped late Friday night and we awoke
Saturday to a
bit of sunshine. By afternoon it was 62°F.
and mostly sunny. The creek level was still high but gradually
The trails and even the roads near
the campground were such a sodden mess that we didn't even go
out for a run or walk. After doing laundry (lots of wet and
dirty towels, dog bed covers, and running clothes), we resumed
our search in earnest for the perfect RV. We've had it with the HitchHiker. I'll talk more about
that in the next entry.
Today was another beautiful, sunny
day in the low 60s, which is about normal for this time of year
in San Antonio. Both of us got out for a longer run (Jim 16
miles) and walk (Cody and me, 2+ hours). I also rode my bike
View from the new bridge down to the old
all of this (and more) was under several
feet of water two days earlier.
The water in Salado Creek was way
down (see photo above) but what a mess it left!
I could tell exactly how high it got by
all the vegetation that was flattened. New trash was stuck ten
to twelve feet high in the trees.
Logs washed up well beyond the creek banks in Salado Park.
Leaves, branches, and other debris were plastered high on the
fencing around the park, up that hill in the background in the
photo above. Some of the high chain link fencing
even washed out. At least half of the park was flooded this
time. Two days after the rain stopped it was still too muddy
to walk on the grass that had been under water.
Since local RV dealers were closed on Sunday we spent several
hours that afternoon conducting more online research regarding
Tomorrow morning we're heading north to the town of Fredericksburg
to visit a dealer that carries a brand of 5th wheel campers that we've
researched but haven't viewed yet (except an older model owned
by a couple camping near us at Fort Sam). Our next campground
reservation begins on January 25 at Huntsville State Park, where
Jim is still considering running the Rocky Raccoon 50-miler.
Between now and then our plans are fluid, depending where our RV
quest takes us around the state.
Stay tuned to see where we go and whether we find what we want
at a price we can live with!
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2010 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil