Category Archives: State Park

photo of car and trailer in Palo Dura State Park

Packing in the Rain

Teardrop trail log: June 22

And the rain came…… Waking up to the pitter patter of little rain drops on the trailer, instills a sense of dread in even the most experienced teardrop camper. Visions of wet chairs, canopy and all the other equipment was enough to make me want to pull the covers up and go back to sleep.

On our inaugural outing with the Ambassador, we had a heavy rain shower on our very first night at Palo Duro State Park. From this experience, we had compiled a long list of lessons learned. The two plastic totes with fold-over lids I had used for condiments and larger items had filled with water on that first trip. The solution was to stack them and place a garbage bag over the top box. Garbage bags became the go-to-solution for wet gear of all descriptions as well as a preventative measure for a leaking water container on the floor inside the trailer. We have gotten better about stowing things in the hatch and under the trailer. Sigh – garbage bags in hand, it was time to dash, pack and move out!

photo of The Mark Twain Birthplace State Historic Site

Mark Twain’s Birthplace

photo of Mark Twain's birthplace in Florida Missouri

Mark Twain’s birthplace in Florida Missouri

photo of Mark Twain's birthplace bedroom

The bedroom as it was

Teardrop Trail Log: June 15, 2016

After a night in Mark Twain State Park, we decided to visit his birthplace, accidentally discovered the day before. The original two-room clapboard structure is housed in a substantial museum, with exhibits, a reading room, several first editions of his novels and a handwritten manuscript of Tom Sawyer.

The house itself was moved from it’s original nearby site, now flooded in the reservoir created by damming the Salt River. It is furnished, and gives a good idea of early nineteenth-century life in the midwest.

Samuel Clemens, who went by the pen name Mark Twain, was born in Florida, Missouri on November of 1835 and lived there for the first four years of his life. The family then moved to Hannibal, Missouri — more famously known as his boyhood home.

photo of placard with Mark Twain quote

Without doing any work …

One exhibit on flax, a primary crop of early America, shows the stages of production. From planting in the spring to harvest, to processing, spinning and weaving with period tools. A river boat exhibit shows various artifacts including a wheelhouse mockup. Another outlines Twain’s interest in technology including the first private telephone in the world. It is complete with handwritten records showing service outages — perhaps the forerunner of modern Internet uptime agreements?

Finally, there are several exhibits of furniture and other effects from his late nineteenth-century home in Hartford, Connecticut. The exhibit includes a carriage and street diorama.

photo of raided egg carriers

Raccoon Caper #2 – The Nocturnal Invasion

Teardrop Trail Log: June 14, 2016

Camp Mark Twain State Park established and a scrumptious chicken dinner under our belts, we cleaned the dishes and put away the food. We’ve camped in numerous national and state parks in the last few years, and have developed a bedtime routine. Galley closed, kitchen boxes stacked and Igloo cooler closed. Time for bed. Marilyn is usually earlier into bed than me, but I was tired as well and we turned in. Soon we were both asleep.

photo of Raccoon crime in Progress

Raccoon crime in Progress

I’m a light sleeper and usually up in the middle of the night, but this night I was awakened by a commotion outside. Crash! Bang! What on earth?! I sleep next to the door in our teardrop, and grabbing my iPhone (always ready for a photo!) I opened the door and leaned out. We had a raccoon in camp, and he was exploring our stuff. Pushing the door open and stepping out, I made some noise and the invader escaped. Even though it was dark, I could see we’d been raided. The cooler was open, and various wrappers were scattered around. Well, the damage was already done so I went back to bed. We could survey the crime scene in the morning.

photo of the evidence

The evidence

Marilyn was the first one up in the morning and cleaned up the mess. The raccoon had opened the Igloo cooler (we even have trouble opening that!) and scored a pound of bacon, a pound of butter, two pounds of lunch meat, several eggs and a yogurt.

photo of opening the egg carrier

Not easy to open

It was able to open the egg containers and that’s not easy. It was also able to get the meat and bacon out of zipper bags without destroying them. Apparently they can work the zipper pulls. Their scientific name is appropriate: Procyon lotor or extremely dexterous front paws.

Later, when Marilyn went to the camp office to buy more ice, she mentioned the raid, and the camp host wasn’t surprised. It seems the local raccoons have developed a taste for beer and are able to open pull-tab cans. Two nights of camping so far, and two incidents. I wonder if they prefer lagers or ales?

photo of Igloo cooler

Tiny raccoon fingerprints

photo of campsite at Mark Twain State Park

The Girl Strikes Again

Teardrop Trail Log: June 14, 2016

image of online map

The Girl

Jim was enjoying his mocha as we left Morberly and headed for Mark Twain State Park in Florida, Missouri. We pulled out the National Geographic Road Atlas and double-checked the route, before we left civilization. We’d learned the hard way about reliable Internet connectivity in rural areas, so I Googled the trip – 49 min (40.8 mi) via US-24 E and MO-154 E. It seemed simple enough, but the “Girl,” our name for the online voice that provides directions, created delays and led us to some very unusual destinations on other trips down the Teardrop Trail. We needed to get there early enough to get a campsite. We headed out along Route 24, turning on Missouri 154, a two lane rural road taking commands from the “Girl.” She lead us to Mark Twain Birthplace State Historic Site. Confused, we walked up to the door only see that the facility had closed. No campground in sight. We decided to back track. As we proceeded back on MO-154, we saw a rather large stone display that said “Florida.”

photo of Florida, Missouri sign

Florida, Missouri

We were in the right place, sort of. Soon we found a sign that pointed to camping. We searched and eventually found the Badger Campground and the entrance booth was still staffed by the friendly campground host. We had arrived just in time to get the camp site. The “Girl” had struck again.


photo of Marilyn and Jim in front of a teardrop trailer

The Adventure Begins …

Teardrop Trail Log: June 12, 2016. Red Power Roundup trip start.

Building, modifying, cleaning, planning and packing complete, the day of departure finally arrived. If we didn’t have it, we didn’t need it. We left midday, intending to reach Lake Bob Sandlin State Park in northeast Texas by early evening. Marilyn had a route, and it looked like a great day for travel.

All went well for the first hour or two and we joined I-35 at Round Rock. It was Sunday and I commented on how well traffic was moving. I must have jinxed it, because we encountered the first construction shortly after around Salado, and it continued all the way to Waco. What should have been an hour took more that two. Not a great start.

photo of American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea)

American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea)

To avoid further construction, we turned onto Highway 31 towards Corsicana, reasoning we would see the back country, and go through a few quaint, small towns. The scenery was beautiful, and we encountered a vast expanse of American Water Lilies in Henderson County between Trinidad and Malakoff. We pulled into the roadside park to make photos. The sky was threatening however, with consequences later in the day.

photo of threatening sky

The sky threatened …

Turning north on Highway 19 at Athens, Texas, we were still making good time. Marilyn wanted to head northeast, more directly toward the state park. At Canton, we turned onto FM 17 (a two-lane “farm to market” road). More great scenery. Lush fields of hay with stands of tall pine trees dotted the landscape, set off by a dramatic sky. Although not Interstate speeds, we were sailing along when …

photo of car fire near Fruitvale, Texas

A fiery road-block near Fruitvale, Texas

We encountered a blazing car fire with traffic stopped in both directions. Sitting in the long line of cars for about 10 minutes, it was clear that it might be hours before the road opened. We had to go back. Now I had to turn our rig around on a narrow, two-lane road with no shoulders and no place to pull out — all with an audience of the several dozen.


Marshaling my best backing skills, I completed the U-turn in a few minutes. Thank goodness our rig is small. Anything larger and we would have been stuck. Retracing our steps back to Canton, we took I-20 West and re-joined Highway 19.

By now the light was fading, and we would have to set up in the dark. We’ve done it before, and it’s not so bad. Then it started to rain. Hard. Driving toward Sulphur Springs, the downpour worsened, with poor visibility as well. Perhaps a nice motel room would be best.

Reaching Sulphur Springs and I-30, we headed east toward Mount Pleasant. Marilyn called ahead and made a reservation. Arriving around 10, we loaded into the room in the pouring rain. Although low cost, a warm, dry room seems like a palace when compared with setting up in a dark, rainy campsite. Roughing it in a Motel 6 is still camping, right?

photo of car and trailer in the rain

Mt. Pleasant Motel

photo of Road Atlas with Stickies

Planning Our Latest Adventure on the Teardrop Trail

Marilyn, July 25:

We got a jump start on this year’s trip as we pulled out of the Missouri State Fairgrounds in June of 2015. Someone mentioned that camping spaces would be very limited for the 2016 Red Power Round Up, so upon our return to Roy Creek Ranch, I got online and booked reservations for one of the coveted campsites.

I love planning trips and I’ve never been one to wing it. It is inspiring, like putting together a multi-dimensional puzzle. Making dreams reality. I started by making list of places we might want to visit on the route from Roy Creek Ranch to Red Power Round Up in Union Grove Wisconsin and the adventure home. I used Google Maps to get the distances between points of interest, inviting restaurants and camping possibilities. Then we have an idea of how long it will take to get to the next stop and the possible route. This list helps to answer the question, “Are we there yet?” Yes, adults still ask this time-honored question.

The next step was to create a list of optional activities in the states we’d be driving through. I’d put out an inquiry on Facebook to get recommendations from friends for must-see attractions. An extensive Internet search followed, investigating possibilities along the route. I compiled a list of activities and points of interest. The list included Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Taliesin, House on the Rock, Pullman National Monument and more.

photo of Road atlas detail

Road atlas detail

In the past, we used Jim’s well-loved 2004 Road Master Atlas to plan our trips on the Teardrop Trail, but this year, he got us a New National Geographic Road Atlas, Adventure Edition. We sat down with the with the new atlas and sticky notes to mark the points of interest along our route.

I revisited many of the check lists I found online to make sure that we had everything for this trip. On the trip to West Texas, someone had forgotten a pair of flip flops. Some of our other treks have taken us off the retail track, making replacing forgotten items a challenge if not impossible.

As the departure date approached, details came into focus and reservations were made for the first two legs of our trip, but this would be a different kind of excursion down the Teardrop Trail – one without a complete itinerary. Another travel blogger ascribed luck as an important aspect of the trip. After our stop in Kansas City, we would be planning as we traveled. Each stop at a visitors’ center or tourism office could bring a wealth of new maps, magazines and opportunities. It would now be plan-as-you-go with a dash of serendipity thrown in.

photo of Travel brochures

Travel brochures

photo of a Cienegas (Desert Wetland)

The Animals of Balmorhea

Teardrop Trail Log: March 30, 2016

Balmorhea is a unique desert environment because of the San Solomon Springs. Currently flowing at the rate 15 million gallons per day, this artesian spring is fed by an underground aquifer and rainwater from the nearby Davis Mountains. At a constant 72ºF – 76ºF, it makes for a brisk swim in the nearly 2-acre pool before flowing through a series of canals to the restored 3-acre Cienegas (spanish for wetlands). Then it’s on to irrigate a variety of crops from cotton to cantaloupes in the over 10,000-acre project. Chlorine-free, its crystal-clear 25-foot-deep central pool is a favorite with divers.

photo of the Comanche Spring Pupfish in Balmorhea pool

Comanche Spring Pupfish

Image of a Camanche Springs Pupfish

Camanche Springs Pupfish

Originally dredged to improve irrigation flow in the 1936 Civilian Conservation Corps project that created the park, the Cienegas were partially restored in 1995 and then enlarged in 2011 in order to protect habitat for endangered species.

photo of Pecos Gambusia

Pecos Gambusia

The Comanche Springs Pupfish and Pecos Gambusia, both listed as endangered, make Balmorhea their home. The Pupfish can be found in the pool, while they both can be found in the restored marshland.

photo of an American Coot (Fulica americana)

American Coot (Fulica americana)

Many other species make their home here, including the American Coot, Red-eared Slider turtle, Texas Spiny Soft-shell turtle and a variety of other fish and birds. The Cienegas are quite special. A large, covered wooden deck overlooks the marshland, and there is a lot to see. With the crystal water, you can see all the way to the bottom, and watch the fish and turtles motor around the pool. Not a bad way to spend an hour or two. There is also an underwater viewing port, where you can watch the proceedings from an underwater perspective.

photo of a Cienegas with Red Eared Slider and Texas Spiney Softshell Turtle, and Pecos Gambusia

Cienegas with Red Eared Slider and Texas Spiney Softshell Turtle, and Pecos Gambusia

Some of animals are quite bold, and we had frequent visits from a Greater Roadrunner and several Desert Cottontails. I guess regular exposure makes us seem benign, and the roadrunner spent time with us each morning, looking around as if to say: “What’s for breakfast?”

photo of The View at Seminole Canyon

The Wildflowers of Seminole Canyon State Park

Teardrop Trail Log: March 23, 2016

We stayed in Seminole Canyon State Park our first night out, and found there had been recent rain in the high desert. That, combined with the time of year (late March) led to a profusion of wildflowers — the best I have ever seen in the arid Texas landscape. Marilyn and I spent a couple of pleasant hours photographing what we saw.

The light was perfect too. Many of the photos were taken less than an hour before sunset — the Magic Light that photographers love …

photo of The Golden Hour in Seminole Canyon

The Golden Hour in Seminole Canyon