Sunday, August 28, 2011

It's Hot! At Union Grove Park, Stillhouse Hollow Lake

August 26-28, 2011

Ursula had an issue on Thursday night when Lee and I went up to get her. We’d already had a challenging time, since I realized I had lost the keys to Lee’s Maxima when all my keys fell off the keyring after choir practice on Wednesday night. It is very dark in that parking lot, and the key fob is black. We went out there to look for it, but nope, it wasn’t there.

We had a nice Italian dinner at Zio’s in Georgetown, to make up for that, then went to get Ursula. She started up fine, but Lee could not get the headlights to come on. Poor Lee got whacked on the head real well by one of the doors as he tried to see if the problem was a fuse. We even got checked up on by the RV park owners. I saw a cool native tarantula, and a little bunny, so those were highlights of the visit. We left her and came home hoping we could get her fixed in time to go camping!

Friday I went to my new job really early so I could leave early. Meanwhile, Lee took Ursula to Crestview again and sat in their parking lot and worked there. He got a lot done, apparently. They didn’t get her in to look at her until 3 pm, but luckily the issue was an easy one—both her front headlights had burned out, at the same time! Lee said to the repair guy, “That was really strange,” and the guy said, “I’ve seen stranger.”

Since Lee was already in Georgetown, Jennifer came by the house and got me, and we drove to Crestview together. Then we caravanned to our destination, Union Grove Park, which is due west of Salado (Salado being about 15 miles north of Georgetown).
Ursula's glamour shot at our campsite. note snazzy new yellow step.

The park is on a very large manmade lake (all the lakes we got are manmade—Texas did not come equipped with original lakes). Stillhouse Hollow Lake is the source of our drinking water, as a matter of fact. It comes from a huge pipeline. Since we continue to drink stuff and water plants, the lake is quite low.
All that light colored stuff is usually under water. Note small tree. Someday it will be big.

Watch out, Lee! You are in the middle of the swimming area! That water could be up to 6 feet deep! Only it isn't.
You can't say they didn't warn me!

Nonetheless, the park is probably lovely when it is green and has a real lake. It is not bad now. We got a great spot (other than no shade) right on the lake. This made for some of the most wonderful bird watching ever! It was hard to keep track of all the cool birds. We spend most of our time watching a great blue heron, some great egrets, and beautiful yellow warblers. There were also lots of killdeer, barn swallows and mourning doves. There were a few sandpipers on Sunday morning, and a pair of bluebirds late Saturday night. Wow, they are so blue.

This guy caused a lot of discussion. Was he a try-colored heron? Was he a great blue? Was he an escapee from Azkaban?

Here are some killdeer too far away to see without binoculars.

We also saw lots of deer. Each evening the whole herd, at least 13 of them, would come down to the lake and drink. I also startled them on my Saturday morning walk—I really interrupted their agenda, apparently.

This doe is not pleased that I am trying to walk on HER road. The sign says to yield to her.

The deer look for grass that is not dead.

We really enjoyed the sunrises and sunsets the whole time we were here. Lots of photos were taken. The second night a fire had been burning that made the colors even more intense.

Friday night sunset. You can see there are nice woods out a ways from the RV sites.

Saturday night sunset. Wish I could PhotoShop the dumpster out of the photo! Smoke is on the right.

More pretty clouds on Saturday night.
The east at sunset Saturday.
Sunday morning sunrise. Clouds, a rare thing lately.

Since this has been the hottest weekend in the history of this part of the country, there were definitely some heat issues when living in an aluminum box. Poor Ursula could not keep up with the sun—the air conditioning worked fine, but the walls were just radiating heat into the living area. We did get a nice tall oscillating fan that helped, and we just didn’t move much for a while in the late afternoon, just sitting and eating watermelon.

To get away from the heat at least for a bit, we decided to take advantage of the fact that we had Jennifer’s car and drive into Salado. We ate at a really pleasant little restaurant in the touristy section of Salado, where the highlight was coconut cream pie for me and Jennifer. Best I ever had. They baked their own bread there, as well. After that we did a little shopping, and I got two interesting tops to wear. Then we went to a store with a wonderful selection of household items, lots all natural. Jennifer liked the bamboo dinnerware. We got some candle holders that were made out of pretty colored bottles, a beaded hummingbird for Ursula, and a lovely clear glass hanging thing to put a piece of ivy or other plant in. I hope we can get that to grow in the RV!

Lee decided he wanted to look for a fancier lens for his camera, so we went back to Georgetown again to the Wolf Camera store in Wolf Ranch. No relation. The sales guy was a bird watcher, so we liked him a lot—he confirmed that the warblers WERE yellow warblers. Lee got a tripod for his camera, which should mean lots better photos to post here. But, no lens. They didn’t have the telephoto he wanted. However, they DID have binoculars there. We’d been sharing my pair, and I expressed a desire for ones I could see more stuff with. They had some really lovely Nikon ones at the camera shop, with bigger lenses and more power, but not very heavy or bulky. Lee got a pair for each of us. It sounds sort of extravagant, but I have to say we probably already got our money’s worth out of them in just the weekend! We got such great views of the shore birds and the warblers! And we could see what everyone around the lake was doing. I am sorta in love with the binoculars.

A yellow warbler caught and ate a moth for us.

As I was practicing looking for birds Saturday night, I saw a head bobbing in the lake. I told Lee I found a turtle and suggested he look with me at it. Well, that turtle turned out to be a really, really big snake.I saw white on it so thought it may have been a water moccasin, but it was suggested by a friend that it might be a black water snake. Whatever it was, it was a big one. Probably the biggest living snake I ever saw in the wild (I have seen some huge dead rattlesnakes). It just slowly swam along the shoreline looking for something to eat, no doubt. I am just SO glad we did not go swimming in that part of the lake, like we had originally planned!

It really was a fun lake to observe. There were interesting bugs, the fish splashing around, a few boaters to watch. When it was too hot in the day or too buggy at night we all nerded out and played Words with Friends on our phones. Jennifer and I also tried out the Big Boggle game I just bought. It was lots of fun, though it took a while to come back to me. I sure like that game.
Union Grove Park from the boat ramp across the lake. Ursula is to the right of the boat ramp you see across the water.

We really had a relaxing weekend of doing whatever we wanted and exploring a bit. Glad Jennifer could join us again!

Jennifer’s Report

"It’s just been a very peaceful weekend. No road noise, just very few people around, very few cars. I was surprised at how much wildlife we saw, considering the drought, but I guess I should not have been. My favorite highlight, I would have to say, was seeing the yellow warblers. My lowlight was being hot yesterday afternoon. Also, the little trip into Salado, the lunch, the shopping, the driving to Georgetown—sightseeing around here—it was all enjoyable."

Site Review

Union Grove Park is one of a number of parks on Stillhouse Hollow Lake. The nice part about Union Grove is that there really isn’t a day use area, so the only folks there are you and the other campers. The sites are spaced well and nearly all of them are right on the lake. Not many sites have trees, though they have planted lots and are keeping them watered. In a few years, there will be nice shade, but still good views.

The lake is right at the beginning of Hill Country, so there are lots of hills around, mostly amusing little bumps that just stick up out of nowhere.The lake has lots of really big freshwater bivalves. They look like clams, not mussels, so I don’t know what they are. There is apparently lots for fish and birds to eat, because there are many around! You can see one neighborhood from the park, but the rest of the view is other parks and woods. I am sure it is really nice looking with more water and fewer dead and dying pieces of vegetation. From the sign we read when we drove around the wildlife management area adjacent to the park, we could have seen wild turkeys, too.

It’s a bit hard to drive Ursula on the very winding, narrow roads, but the electric service and water were good. All in all, it is a very nice, secluded place to camp, yet not far at all from the fun and food of Salado, which is one of my favorite places to go. For all those reasons, I predict we will return. Lee said it was his favorite park so far, but noted he has said this about each of them, so far.


We just had sandwiches for meals, and some toast for lunch. Jennifer brought fruit and watermelon, and that was refreshing. It was too hot to cook the eggs I had brought.

Highlight: For me the excellent bird watching was a huge highlight. We had such a great vantage point by the lake and didn’t have to go looking—the birds came to us!

Lowlight: It really was too hot for humans. I sure hope the drought and heat wave break soon.

Lessons Learned

  • Those tarps we bought are really great. Lee rigged them up to cover the windows getting hit hardest by the afternoon sun, and it helped a lot.
  • The lights on the awning won’t work. They get all tangled if it auto-retracts. We will have to come up with another plan for lights. On the other hand, we were happy to find out that the solar lights that got left at The Farm still work. We will get the outdoor lighting situation figured out eventually. We got rid of the two other solar lights that don’t work, so at least we have three we can use to light our outdoor area. It helped to mark where the steps from the tent/eating area were outside of Ursula this time.
  • Having a sturdy portable step stool is great. Lee bought one while at the RV place, and it sure made climbing in easier, even though Ursula’s front was up sort of high. I am also very fond of the little milk stool Lee got me in Cuero last weekend. It makes sitting on the couch easier, and really improves riding in the front passenger seat. My feet have somewhere to land now.


  1. Loved this report, especially the pictures. You sure did see a lot of wildlife!

    I have never RV camped before so I don't know much about how you would manage outdoor lighting right up next to the vehicle, but I thought I would mention that a friend picked up this lantern last week during our camping trip and MAN is it ever bright. The brightest lantern I've ever seen in my life. And the nice part about it is that you can separate the four sections of the lantern and carry them around with you if more than one person needs a good strong light.

  2. I have seen that lantern! We also have an LED lantern,too. We avoid really bright lights unless we need them, because they attract so many bugs. I like the little dim ones because they give enough light so you won't trip on stuff, but can still see the stars.