Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Something Extra from Stillhouse Hollow

Here are a few extra pictures from our trip to Stillhouse Hollow Lake.

Fun on the Water

A Great White

Party Lights

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.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Another Weekend at the Farm

We took off work Friday to go to the farm and visit Dad again. Actually, I took off work. Suna's old job ended at about 10:00. I thought she'd be home by 10, but she didn't turn in her badge until then.
On the way down, I figured out why Ursula has been running hot in the hills. The automatic transmission doesn't downshift soon enough. It wants to keep her RPMs down around 1500, which is great for a big truck. But the shift point under load is about 2300-2500, so I need to keep the RPMs much higher than I've been taught a diesel should run. I tried manually downshifting, and she ran much cooler but still not cool enough.
I needed to get to the tax assessor's office in DeWitt county to straighten out a bit of trouble with this year's assessment. Unfortunately iy turned out to be wasted effort. I was told they can fix the problem going forward but didn't hold out any hope for the current year.
So we took Dad out to eat at Aunt Di's. The American food there is always good, but That night, we were treated to live country music featuring several half-hearted singers. They played most of the songs I played in country bands in the '70s. At one point, I told Suna, "I saw the lead guitarist using a tuner, so I'm going to assume those are just the wrong notes." If you're ever hungry in Yorktown on a Friday night, I recommend Aunt Di's...before the band starts.
We slept in Saturday. Then hung out listening to birds for a while. Eventually, we went in hang with Dad. He was in a particularly crotchety mood, and I was not long on patience. That was a recurring theme this weekend. We got along best when we were napping.
We met some friends from Victoria at a Rosie’s Cafe after finding out the place the originally wanted to eat was only open during extremely limited hours. Must be nice! Touching base with Jim and Esther was really nice. So was catching them up on the latest church gossip.

You know they are UUs, because Jim and Esther would touch Suna even wearing a Heathen t-shirt

Afterward, we strolled down to Wagner's Hardware & Gifts to browse their eclectic selection of small town arcana. In the main store, you can get anything from traditional hardware (plumbing, electrical parts, and the like) to the world’s tiniest horseshoes. Jim and Esther had other things to do, so they left us to wander upstairs to Gram’s Attic, which is something of a more eclectic extension to the main hardware store. There we found Suna the perfect three legged stool.
Suna put her new stool to work as soon as we got back to the farm.
We expected Chris to show up any time. But business on the coast kept him tied down. About six, he texted that he would be in late. Unfortunately, more complications arose, and we missed him all together.
Dad keeps busy watering his new Jiggs grass. Even if people think it’s crazy to start new grass during a drought, it keeps Dad busy and happy—“Out of the beer joints” as he would say.
Doesn’t Dad look happy priming the pump to the spray rig Chris engineered?

It takes about 45 minutes to fill the 200 gallon tank and less than 5 to dump it.

On Sunday, I grilled a bunch of boneless beef ribs and ate them for lunch. I did what I usually do on a grill. I got the coals too hot and made the meat a little chewy. But Dad wanted me to hurry up and get 'er done, and they tasted great. So I guess two out of three ain't bad. We ate, made our good-byes, and headed for home so we could make Jeff's birthday dinner.
I took the toll road around Austin on the way home. That route is a long and, in places, fairly steep grade (for Central Texas). Even downshifting as I had on the way down, Ursula ran hot again. I thought flushing the coolant and downshifting had solved that, but not hardly. Guess I need to be even more aggressive. As Dad would say, "We'll see."

PS from Suna

I just thought I'd share a couple of photos from the weekend.

Sunsets are so beautiful when you have an endless horizon.
This beautiful butterfly was on this weedy vine that was so shiny!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Where's Ursula Been Lately?

Ursula has not been lumbering very far from home the last couple of weeks. Last weekend we took her in to get some maintenance done. Lee had looked at the oil in her generator, and it was all clotted and icky, plus she was due a big transmission service and oil change in the engine.

We took her to Crestview, an RV place that is very near where she is stored in rural Georgetown (note that the danged website plays music and talks to you--making this former webmaster say "grr"). While we were there, I meandered through the showroom and fell in love with a 5th wheel that had real furniture, a spacious bedroom, actual dining room chairs, and a desk. Oh, and a fireplace. Not on the list for the future, however--Ursula is just fine, thanks. We did get a water filter to put in her fresh water hose, which will mean we can drink water from the taps and use it for cooking. Probably the water in most places is OK, but this is a good precaution, I think.

After that, since Lee had recently purchased Maxine, our new Black Cherry colored Maxima (see long car story below), we decided to go for a drive.

Maxine, the 4-door sports car
As I have mentioned before in this blog, we are in the middle of pretty much the worst drought ever, and certainly one of the hottest periods since they began keeping track of such things here. We visited a couple of parks on Lake Georgetown that recently re-opened, to see if they would be good camping spots. One park, Russell, had no RV camping, but nice picnic areas with shelters.
Russell Park on Lake Georgetown, I think. Or one of the others.
We checked out Cedar Breaks, where we will probably camp this fall, and Jim Hogg as well. We could not get into the camping area, since you have to have a gate pass (must have been part of their recent upgrades), but it looked OK. The lakes are very, very low.
This shows the swimming beach at Cedar Breaks Park, I think,, or what once was the beach. You can see the rope that designates where it is safe to swim, high and dry in the middle of the land.
There is still plenty of water, but is is quite low. At least boats can still use the ramps, Those must be quite good ramps.
A cove that is no longer much of a cove.
 We also drove a lot around Williamson County (where we live, but way in a corner). Many of our favorite streams and low water crossings are no longer either.
This is a branch of the San Gabriel River. Usually this is all covered. On the other side, the river is totally dry. (Sorry I didn't get a picture). A bit further down, a stream feeds back in and the water starts up.
That was all sort of depressing. You see a LOT of trees losing leaves and turning brown now. I really wish it would rain.

Today we went to pick Ursula up, and Lee reports that she shifts much better. She should, seeing as these are NOT cheap service calls. Owning an RV is quite an investment.

Ursula lumbering back to her home, along I35 on the frontage road. Note the actual clouds in the sky that did not make rain. We washed the bird poop off later, too.
We were unhappy to discover the fridge in Ursula had been turned off. There went our frozen meals and my coffee creamer. Buh. We will remember THAT for next time she gets serviced! Luckily, it wasn't too much stuff--just a dinner, some nice corn, and two little frozen dinners.We will replace them before our next trip, which is another visit to The Farm. We hope to leave on Friday early--it's the end of my job at Dell, and I may just show up, and in my badge and computer and leave early if I am finished with my work. (I start a new job the next Monday! A real job, or at least contract to hire!)

Car Story

I said earlier I would share a car story. We have had a major upheaval in the car department. When my dad died, my brother and I inherited his car and some money that was in the bank. I asked for the car, since I was worried about Kynan driving his Saab all over the place for concerts and volunteer work. So, last weekend or weekend before last, he flew to North Carolina and got the 2007 MINI that was Dad's. It's name is "Princely" since that was on its license plate. (Dad went by "Prince.") His dad was nice enough to drive with him, then flew back from Dallas.

It's considerably smaller than Gregor, the Saab, but much, much newer and safer. We turned around and gave Gregor to a UU ministerial candidate who suddenly found herself with no transportation. Her words were something to the effect of, "This is much nicer than what I had pictures when you said 'free car'!" Other than difficulty in shifting it, she will do OK. It already has a nice Unitarian Universalist symbol in the bumper sticker, alongside Kynan's liberal bumper stickers.
Gregor's new sticker.
It was a really good car and lasted him a long time--but it's clutch cable kept breaking, and at its age, I knew it was not good for long distances.

Meanwhile, Declan's Volvo, which we had only had a year, decided it had enough. The gas tank developed a leak, so he could not fill it all the way (not that he did often!). I figured that was sort of dangerous. Then it had a flat tire, and when we took it in to get new tires, they told us they could not do a wheel balancing. The entire front assembly sorta moved around at will. No wonder the tires had gone bad. Fixing those things would have been WAY more than the car was worth. We reluctantly had to send it away, donating it to the local NPR station. I felt really, really bad doing this, since he loved the car so much, and it had his valuable Dio sticker on it. But, I also didn't want him to die on the road when the front axles fell off.
The Volvo, with its cool new red stripe. In the sky you see a helicopter dropping water to put out a brush fire VERY near our house. Another story.
So, he is driving Lee's truck now, which is not at all the cool teen transportation he desires. On the other hand, it holds a lot of musical equipment, even bass amps. So, it has uses. The MINI would not have done that. Anywho, this explains why Maxine the Maxima showed up. Now we all have something to drive built in a year that starts with a 2. I hope the neighbor who seemed to think our multiple vehicles were an eyesore likes his new scenery.

Transferring all the insurances, titles and tags has been quite a feat of endurance and patience. I even am recognized at the Tax Assessor's office now. Glad to have it all taken care of, soon as we officially transfer the title to the new Saab owner (that was the ONLY one I could not locate anywhere in the house).

I do think it funny we now have a Maxima, two MINIs and an Ultra(sport). Lots of size related vehicle names. Not sure what the Sierra is named after--a land formation, I guess.

Back to travel reporting next week.