We're baaaack! Let's go find some alligators!!
Not so fast. They've
been hunkered down pretty well this week and hard to spot.
Typical alligator territory:
along the White Oak Trail (2-12-11)
Even though this rather tropical state park is not all that far from
the Gulf of Mexico, Jim and I still haven't found the summery weather
we've been craving all winter. A week ago we thought we did, but we were
Huntsville State Park, which is about 90 miles north of Brazos Bend
as the crow flies (111 miles the way we drove it), was finally starting
to warm up a bit when we left last Sunday. Mid-60s F., sunshine . . .
ahhhh. We had our fingers crossed that spring weather was here to stay in
southern Texas, and that Brazos Bend would be even balmier.
Even in the winter, the views at
Elm Lake are beautiful. (2-6-11)
The warm weather lasted only a couple of days, however.
Then the temperatures
started dropping until they reached the 20s F. on Wednesday, all the way
down to 22° early Thursday morning. It was
still in the mid-20s overnight until Saturday. This morning was a
comparatively balmy 32°, still considerably below normal.
Dang! It hasn't been a good week for 'gator-watching at Brazos Bend.
There are usually lots of 'gators
along the Spillway Trail, but not this week. (2-6-11)
Otherwise, our first week here has been pretty good. The weather at Brazos Bend sure beats the snow, sleet, icy roads, and 10°F.
temperatures farther north in Texas . . . and this
afternoon the temperatures are back up in the 70s.
That's what I'm talkin' about.
A birdhouse and trees are reflected in the
still blue waters of Pilant Slough. (2-6-11)
was so warm this afternoon -- and we are so un-acclimated to even the 70s
F. -- that Cody and I had to turn around on our afternoon hike
out on the remote Creekwood Trail before I wanted to; I wasn't carrying enough water for the two of
us in the sudden "heat wave."
FUN & GAMES @ FLYING J
Die-hard football fans will note that Sunday, February 6, the day we
drove through Houston from Huntsville SP to Brazos Bend SP, was The Big
Day -- Super Bowl Sunday.
Jim and I are not die-hard football fans. The only reason we knew it
was Super Bowl Sunday was because of the incessant media coverage that
was impossible to completely ignore, try as we might.
Above and below: two views
of New Horseshoe Lake (2-12-11)
We assumed mid-day Sunday would be a good day to travel through the
metro area because so many people would be home, preoccupied with the
game, and not out on the freeways. We were mostly right about that;
traffic was fairly light for a Sunday, and moving well except for the
construction that never seems to end in the Conroe area.
We needed diesel for the truck and propane for the camper, plus Jim
really wanted to weigh the camper with and without the truck, so we
stopped at Flying J at exit 64 on I-45.
We were surprised how crowded the place was when we drove in. The
huge truck parking area and fuel lanes were absolutely PACKED with
semis, even more than overnight when drivers stop for some shut-eye. The
trucks were snugged up like sardines in a can. We were able to get
into an RV lane to get fuel, but it took 20 minutes to cajole an
attendant to come outside to fill one of our propane tanks. The
employees were swamped.
What's going on? we wondered.
Birds of a feather . . . a line
cross the levee trail from Elm Lake to Pilant Slough. (2-7-11)
A clerk quickly clued us in: the truck drivers were hunkered
down in the parking lot so they could get WiFi to watch the Super Bowl!
Many also wandered inside to purchase food and drinks, pay for fuel, use the
restrooms, chit chat, etc.
This was THEIR Super Bowl party!
Numerous birds dot the sky above
Creekfield Lake. (2-8-11)
I was surprised that Jim still insisted on weighing the camper. The
scales were in that crowded parking lot but no one was using them. We
had to wind around through the trucks with our 5th-wheel in tow to get positioned correctly on the
We wondered what the truckers thought of us -- probably
that we were looking for a place to park to listen to the game, too!
I forgot to take a picture of the
truck and camper on the scales together.
The Cameo is in the background
(red box) while Jim weighs the truck by itself.
After weighing the camper and truck together, Jim parked the Cameo
behind a row of trucks he knew wouldn't be going anywhere soon, put the
Big Foot hydraulic levelers down, unhitched the truck, weighed it on the
scales alone, then returned to hitch the camper back up.
The whole weighing process took maybe 20 minutes, including the time
it took Jim to go back inside the store to pay for the privilege. It
gave us some useful information (we're within our various weight
limits -- axels, tongue, etc.) and it was fairly painless, considering
the things that could have gone wrong.
Another birdhouse and ducks along the Spillway
Then we were on our way again to Brazos Bend, thankful there were
that many fewer trucks on the freeway.
GOOD KARMA + EXPERIENCE PAY OFF
We were smitten with Brazos Bend State Park after spending most of the
March here last spring. It was far enough south that we finally
found the warm weather we'd been craving all winter in Arizona and Texas
-- kinda like this year, too!
In 2010 I suggested going to BBSP somewhat on a
whim that began with the enticing description of the place in the Texas
State Parks brochure. We'd never been there before. We researched
further on the official park
website and thought it'd be a nice
place place to spend a few days.
We were right!
We lucked into a campground host position simply because one
was unexpectedly available when we arrived and we had the nerve to ask for it. Our original
three-day paid reservation ended up lasting four weeks -- and most of
it was "free." (I expounded on the subject of "free" camping not really
being free in an earlier
entry this year.)
One of the paying customers in our campground loop
almost all of the sites are large and
We enjoyed the park and being CG hosts so much that we signed up to
do it all over again this year -- except we wanted to get here
a few weeks earlier, in hopes of warmer weather sooner. There are lots worse places to be
We've also discovered in the past few months that some of the hosts
in other Texas parks we've talked to are rather envious of our position
at Brazos Bend. Several folks told us they've applied but have always
been told there aren't any positions available in the winter ('course,
there are plenty of host jobs available in May-September when it's
unbearably hot and humid!).
We already knew BBSP is one of the top state
parks in the entire country. We didn't realize until talking to these
people just how selective a popular park can be, not only with choosing
its paid staff but also its volunteer hosts. We are truly glad we
lucked into the position last year and did a good enough job that they'd
invite us back again.
Waterfowl enjoy a sunny late winter day on Elm
Lake. So did we! (2-6-11)
It really pays to be a "veteran" host with a particular park.
From what we've read and experienced, that's generally true with local,
state, and national parks everywhere, not just in Texas. We've
inquired the last two years about hosting at Huntsville SP during the winter since we
spend so much time there but the same hosts keep returning there, too.
there haven't been any positions available at Huntsville until May. That doesn't work
Our plan is to stay here at Brazos Bend for about nine weeks this time, leaving
April 8 or 9 to go back to our house in Virginia.
Lots of colorful shirts for
volunteers and staff to sell at park HQ. (2-9-11)
coordinator would like us to stay until the end of April so we can work
Easter weekend, which is even busier at the park than Spring Break in
mid-March will be.
We told her the first day we saw her that we wouldn't be able to stay
that long. We have too much to do in Roanoke in April, including getting my
three-week series of Orthovisc knee injections again. We need to leave
Virginia in early May for
the Jemez Mountain race in New Mexico and the rest of our summer trip to
Picnicking (above) and fishing
(below) at Elm Lake are enjoyable every month of the year. (2-12-11)
We are already on a waiting list to host here in January and
February, 2012; March shouldn't be a problem, but earlier in the
winter the folks with more seniority than us have already put in their
dibs so we aren't assured of a position then. We'll just have to wait to
see if any couples change their mind.
In fact, we may change our plans and spend more time in
southern AZ next winter. We aren't sure we want to host at Brazos Bend
every year. There are too many other places to see!
WELCOME TO OUR HOME FOR THE NEXT TWO MONTHS
When we checked into the park last weekend we weren't sure which of the two
campground loops we'd be assigned for the duration of our stay. We were
clear that we didn't want one of the new host sites in the maintenance
area. Photos of the two sites that the volunteer coordinator e-mailed us were downright ugly
and we don't like the location, even (especially!) after seeing them. We
really wanted to be near the visitors in the campgrounds. Being
available to answer questions and mingle with the other campers is one
of the best parts of the hosting job.
Not to worry. We were assigned to what I consider to be the el
primo host site, #141. It has a large yard and is the ultimate
We're in the first site on the
left in the 100-Loop AKA Burr Oak Camping Area.
The 5th-wheel past ours belongs
to the other host couple in our loop. (2-7-11)
We assumed Ben and Bev were still in site #141. That's the site they
always had in recent years. Last year we were camped next to them in #139.
The volunteer coordinator told us we'd probably be in one of the two
host sites in the 200-Loop this year.
and Bev had to leave earlier than planned this winter and their site was
suddenly available at the end of January.
Did we want it?
You betcha! We love it:
Another view of our campsite (2-7-11)
We are also pleased to have Leo and Rilla, a retired couple from
Ontario, Canada, as our next-door neighbors for the next six weeks. They
are in #139, our previous site.
They've been hosting here during
the winter for about five years. They left about the time of our
arrival last year and we didn't get acquainted with them then. They will
be here until mid-March this year.
The host sites have full hook-ups, including sewers. When they are
vacant other visitors can use them for $25/night but they cannot be
The other 70+ RV sites in the 100- and 200-loops have water and 30-amp electricity but
no sewers; they are $20/night. Our host site has outlets for 30
and 50 amps but the 50-amp circuit doesn't work. That's not a
problem for us. We're used to having only 30 amps at most of the
public campgrounds where we stay. Heck, we boondock (no hookups at all)
so often that 30 amps are a treat! We just have to juggle which
energy-hungry appliances like the AC and microwave we use at once.
The only real downside with the sites at Brazos Bend is a very weak
Verizon MiFi signal. At least it's better than the Verizon broadband set-up we had last
year. When Jim wants to download a large file like a video or upload
lots of my pictures to our website, he takes his laptop to the Nature
Center or HQ and uses the park's free WiFi.
We have good TV reception with our standard RV roof antenna. Folks
with satellite service have even better reception.
I wrote quite a bit about the park's facilities and accommodations in
last year's journal so I won't reiterate all that here.
The view from my desk (2-7-11)
The best thing is that all of this is "free" for nine weeks! Do the
math for nine weeks at $25/day and you'll see that we are saving a big
chunk of change that will make our average daily CG cost quite
attractive this winter. I'll let you know the final number after we get
to Roanoke and park the Cameo for a few weeks.
HOW WE'LL PAY FOR OUR "FREE" CAMPSITE
We do have to contribute some sweat equity to get this deal, of
course -- a minimum of 25 hours of volunteer work per week per couple, to
We quickly learned last year, however, that it's real easy to put in
a lot more hours than that without realizing it. Although it's up to the
individual or couple whether they put in extra hours, there's some peer
pressure to do so -- and it looks to be worse this year than
I'll let you know how that goes!
Typical winter Monday when the
100-Loop is mostly empty; it fills up every weekend, though. (2-7-11)
So far we've been busy with several jobs we did last year and we're
in training for some new ones that should make our jobs either more
interesting . . . or more stressful. The volunteer coordinator's
expectations of us are higher this year since she knows more about our
mental and physical capabilities and we'll be here longer this time.
Our goal is to keep the work as fun as possible and have enough time for
I'll talk more about our various jobs in subsequent entries. Now I
want to show you what the park looks like in early February.
(Continued on the
next page so the photos will load
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2011 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil