2011 RUNNING & TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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   WEEK 2 @ BRAZOS BEND STATE PARK:
  SPRING HAS DEFINITELY SPRUNG

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 20

 
"Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it."
~ Confucious
 
 

It's been very easy to see the beauty at Brazos Bend lately. In just the past seven days there's been a noticeable difference in how the park looks. All it took was a week of very muggy, sunny, warmer-than-normal weather and the place is really starting to look like spring!

This is what we've wanted all winter, although a little less humidity and fog would be nice. Some mornings the mist from the Gulf is dripping like rain off the Spanish moss on the live oak trees.


Spanish moss hangs from the branches of live oak trees in the 200-Loop (2-15-11)

You're probably wondering if I'm complaining or bragging! Neither, really.

It will just take some time for Jim, Cody, and me to acclimate ourselves to humid 70s F. after all the cold weather we've had this winter. On days we aren't doing our camp hosting jobs in the mornings we try to get out on the trails for runs, walks, and rides right after breakfast. It's more humid then, but cooler. Otherwise, we go out after lunch and just sweat it out.

It's 'way better than cold rain or snow, after all.


Elm Lake  (2-15-11)

Although the Cameo is much better insulated than our old Hitch Hiker 5th-wheel camper we keep the windows and door closed when it's humid outside. We don't want any mustiness or mildew inside. We're also running one of the air conditioners at a rather high setting (usually about 78 F.) during the daytime to keep the interior of the coach more dry, and using the electric heaters at night for the same purpose. The temperatures this week have been moderate enough at night (50s-60s) that we really don't need the heat to stay warm, just dry.


Creekfield Lake looks summery even with bare tree branches.  (2-19-11)

We haven't had any rain in the past week, just that mist I mentioned. The fog is so thick some mornings that the plants are bathed in moisture, and that's made a noticeable difference in the green plants floating in the lakes, the grass, other groundcovers, and wildflowers.

Flowers? Yes, something besides dandelions!

By the end of this week I've seen white and purple violets -- definitely a harbinger of spring -- some short yellow buttercups,

and tall yellows stems with clusters of multiple daisy-like flowers:

I took both of those photos yesterday. I remember all of those flowers being quite prolific here last March. Bet they're all over the park en masse in another week or two, if the weather stays this balmy.

The leaves are not responding as quickly. Deciduous shrubs and trees still have mostly-bare branches.

No rain this week = even drier trails (yay!) and lower water in the sloughs and some of the lakes. Not sure if that's so good. The easiest way for me to determine the water level is by how much is flowing over the concrete under the spillway bridge:


Less water, more floating aquatic plants under the spillway bridge this week (3-18-11)

Another "barometer" is the level of water in the (not so) Big Creek at the bridge near the campground:

At normal flow you can't see any of that reddish mud; during late winter flooding, the water is well up into the trees.

FULL HOUSE

One of the first things we heard in our campground host meeting upon arrival at Brazos Bend was the good news that the campgrounds are booked on weekends from now through fall.

That's good news for the park, maybe not-so-good news for visitors trying to make reservations! We ran into that last March before we lucked into the CG host job. We could reserve for three weekdays, but not into the weekend (although the staff person who checked us in said she knew not everyone would show up, so she did allow us to extend our reservation through that weekend).

Brazos Bend is typical of other state parks in Texas during the school year (cooler months) -- the campgrounds are only 15-25% occupied during weekdays, primarily with tourists, and near capacity on Friday and Saturday nights when more local folks can enjoy a two-day break from work and school.


Saturdays at Brazos Bend = full campground  (3-19-11)

One difference between the parks in Texas that we've noticed the last two winters is the high number of scouting troops that reserve campsites at Brazos Bend. We haven't observed that at the other parks where we've camped, even Huntsville. They get some Scouts in December, January, and February, but not nearly as many. Perhaps more go there later in the spring when we aren't there.

Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, and Boy Scouts come from all over the Houston metro area to camp at Brazos Bend. They arrive all Friday afternoon and evening, and leave early Sunday morning. They not only reserve the three large group camping sites near Hale Lake, they also take up about half the RV/tent sites in the Burr Oak (100s) and Red Buckeye (200s) camping loops.

They come with trailers to haul their gear and set up multiple tents at each site. Note the turquoise tent I highlighted in the photo below; it's suspended off the ground. I haven't seen that before.

The Scout groups are a little noisier than one couple or family per site but they are always well-behaved and clean up after themselves better than some of the other campground visitors do. I think it's great that the kids have the opportunity to enjoy the park like they do. They attend the nature talks, go hiking on the trails, ride their bikes on the paved roads throughout the park, and learn camping and teamwork skills.

This weekend includes the President's Day holiday tomorrow, so the place is packed. What surprised me most was the number of campers who came and went on Saturday and Sunday. I would have expected folks to be here for three or four nights in a row.

That made our weekend patrol job busier. I'll explain more about our responsibilities when we do that job in another entry.

CHANGES IN THE PARK THIS YEAR

There are two main differences in facilities and accommodations at the park since we were here last year.

One of the fourteen screened shelters is now enclosed and has air conditioning. Unlike the other shelters, this one now has a lock and guests have to check  in and out with the campground host on duty. It's like renting the dining hall -- upon checking in the person who is reserving the space must sign a check-list verifying the place is clean inside and out and that everything is in working order (lights, AC, fans, etc.). When they're ready to leave, the host meets them to verify they are leaving the place in the same condition.


Several of the roomy shelters

It's a little more work for the hosts but the guests really like #3 since it's been enclosed. The park may enclose more of the screened rooms.

There are also tentative plans to build a new, larger nature center in the field across from the present structure. It's just not big enough for all the visitors and potential displays.

Funds for that will probably be raised from the very active volunteer organization that supports the park. Although the Texas state parks are in relatively good shape compared to those in other states, there isn't much funding available for a huge project like this. Brazos Bend is one of the most popular parks in Texas and brings in a lot of $$$ to sustain its operation so hopefully it can raise the necessary funds to improve the nature center. The current building may be turned into a lodge, which would also be an asset to the park.

Right now park staff has a major headache with half of its restrooms. We heard all about that during our first campground host meeting this year.


These large portable potties have sinks and running water. "Real" restroom is in the rear.

Throughout the winter three of the six large restrooms in the park have been closed while undergoing renovation. The work was supposed to be done by now but one thing after another has gone wrong with the project, including cost overruns and contractors that haven't paid their subcontractors.

There's a big push now to get the work done before the hordes arrive for spring break in mid-March.

Above and below:  this temporary mobile unit has decent showers

Meanwhile, people camping in the two campground loops and the shelters must either use the nice portable units (with showers, even!) or go to one of the un-renovated restrooms without showers in the three picnic areas. Staff in the HQ/entrance building and folks who camp near it in the overflow area have to use a smaller wheelchair-accessible porta-potty. 

We are so glad we have a sewer at our site so we can use our own private bathroom!

SERVICES OUTSIDE THE PARK

We still have to go outside the park to do our laundry. The often-malfunctioning washers and dryers behind the restroom in the 200-Loop are also under renovation and may not be available for use until after we leave in April.

Last year we never did find a Laundromat we liked in neighboring communities. We looked harder this year and came up with a good one about 20 miles away in the city of Rosenberg (3205 Avenue I, for those interested).

Another problem we had last year was the length of the drive to Missouri City to use a YMCA, about 29 miles one way. There was a Walmart and AAA nearby, and Sam's Club, another Walmart, and a Post Office in Sugar Land.


Elm Lake   (2-15-11)

This time we did some more research and found a Walmart, YMCA, Post Office, chiropractor, and other businesses we could use in Richmond, all about 20 miles from the park. That's still a hike, but closer than Missouri City. We did go to Missouri City and Sugar Land several times to use the other YMCA, shop at Sam's Club, and eat lunch at a really good Thai restaurant (Thai Cottage II), but for more routine trips to Walmart and the Laundromat, we just drove to Richmond-Rosenberg this year.


Fishing pier on Elm Lake  (2-15-11)

Most of the Y's we use when traveling don't have indoor pools or whirlpools; Jim likes to sit in the whirlpool to relax the muscles in his back and legs. It's good therapy for his injured knee, too. We were happy to discover that the Y in Richmond has both an indoor pool and a whirlpool.

We are able to use our convenient plastic Houston-area YMCA cards in Conroe (north of the metro area), Missouri City, and Richmond. We just swipe the card on the scanner when we go in, instead of signing in on a register for guests. We are each allowed thirty free visits per calendar year.

DID YOU SAY CHIROPRACTOR?

Yep. Jim never did heal properly from his meniscus surgery in early December. His knee doesn't bother him when he's moving around, even running, but it aches when he's sedentary. The worst is when he's trying to sleep. He just can't get comfortable and he's losing a lot of sleep.

OTC pain meds are no help. Stronger prescription pain meds and sleeping pills do help, but they don't address the underlying cause, whatever that is. His (our) orthopedist in Roanoke is surprised that Jim's having this problem from such routine, simple surgery and he can't determine the cause from 1,800 miles away. His remedy was to stop running for a while.

Jim's frustrated because he can't sleep well and he can't train adequately. So he decided to find someone who can help until we get back to Roanoke in a couple months.

 
Just chillin'  (2-18-11)

We both value the services of a well-trained chiropractor. The ones we've used over the years in Atlanta, Billings, and Roanoke have had good holistic solutions for our various running and aging issues. Even when we're traveling we've found competent chiropractors and other medical providers around the country when we've needed them, usually by luck rather than solid references from other patients.

Jim looked online to see who within 20-30 miles of the park was a preferred provider with his insurance company and found the names of several chiropractors. The closest was a young woman in Richmond who specializes in sports medicine. He called her office, described his problem, got some answers he liked, and made an appointment for a few days later to see her. He made an appointment with another chiropractor near the first one, in case he didn't like the looks of her office; that was Plan B.

On one of our trips to Richmond/Rosenberg for other errands we did a drive-by at both medical offices. Jim was OK with the looks of both, so he kept his original appointment.

I went with him to his first appointment with the chiropractor on Monday of this week. We were both impressed with how thorough she was in evaluating Jim's problems and current condition (including his very tight back and leg muscles) and with her multi-disciplinary treatment.

We were also glad to see that she is a well-trained and toned athlete herself. We always wonder about medical professionals who are not in good physical shape themselves. How are they supposed to motivate their patients to be healthy if they aren't good role models?


All wrapped up:  Cody amuses Jim by being a goof-ball.  (2-20-11)

That first appointment lasted almost two hours, including the doctor's verbal and physical evaluation, chiropractic adjustment, deep-tissue massage around the knee, and recommendations for treatment at home (specific stretching, icing, etc.).

Jim had asked our orthopedist if he should get PT after his knee surgery but the doc didn't recommend it. We didn't think to ask about massage, and he didn't mention it.

The chiropractor said some deep tissue work would have probably helped Jim's knee tissues to heal properly. She talked about remodeling/realigning the muscle fibers properly around his knee because they didn't properly heal after surgery. That sounded like stuff we've heard previously, especially from massage therapists, and it made sense to us.

After being poked and pummeled and getting lots of useful advice and encouragement, Jim not only felt better when he left the office, he also slept better that night. He went in for two more sessions this week, which concentrated more on deep tissue work and stretching than alignment. He's also been gently stretching at home as instructed, and icing his knee several times a day.


Our Specialized TriCross bike is fun to ride both on and off pavement. (2-17-11)

Our orthopedist had already told Jim to take several weeks off from running and the chiropractor agreed with that in order to hasten his recovery. He's able to do some walking and cycling to keep from going too crazy but the chiropractor advised him to go easy with both activities while she's still treating him.

He'll see the chiropractor two or three more times next week and determine whether he'll continue after that. He feels like there is some improvement in both his knee and his ability to sleep, and the price is right -- only a $25 co-pay for each fairly lengthy visit.

THIS WEEK'S CRITTER COUNT

Continued on next page . . .

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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2011 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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