Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Wright Patman Lake and Sam Rayburn Lake COE

At our last stop in Arkansas, we mentioned this great Mexican restaurant in Murfreesboro.  Well, we couldn't resist a quick stop on the way to Texas to pick up some great take-out. 

The "see you tomorrow" is what each of the restaurant waiters and manager say when you leave.
From the large number of patrons here for lunch on a Monday, we would say it is quite accurate.

The manager was quite friendly and interesting.  From Texas, he went out of his way to be sure we had plenty of salsa and chips and sopapilla (a sweetened fried dough). That was in addition to burritos, chimichanga, and fajitas.  We had enough food for two meals.

Our first stop is Malden Lake COE at Wright Patman lake.  When looking for Corps parks, we assume that we might be on some back roads.  It is always!!! a good idea to check directions from the Corps as well as looking at a map and using your GPS navigation.  This park is fairly easy to get to.  But along the way you will follow US highways, state highways, county roads, and what in Texas they call farm to market roads (labelled FM).

The point is that some of the roads might be quite narrow and even sometimes gravel.  Once you arrive, you will find a very friendly and  helpful park host to help you find a site. We find that other snowbirds tend not to venture too far from the highways.  Their loss.
As in other COE parks, Malden is a definite fisherman's paradise.  This one is also a home for a number of hunters.

Doesn't Lady Blue look comfortable?

The lake is right over that little rise behind Lady Blue. We had a nice private site this way and decided not to go for the water view.

Wright Patman is a large lake with many access points.  This campground is on a small cove, but it has full access to the entire lake.

This picture is from one of the boat ramps. The fisherman is one of many that were there.

Jan is looking forward to hiking the Pepper Jack Dusty Trail. Actually, after we had asked about hiking trails, the host went out with his leaf blower to clear the leaves and pine needles( or pine straw as they call it sometimes in Texas).

Good thing, because without clearing the trail, we had no idea where it went.

The trail, though short, went along a good section of the lake.

A good, brisk , fall walk in the woods.

Our next stop is all the way around the lake to Piney Point .  This COE park is right off of route 59.  But, not wanting to take it easy, we followed our GPS over some back roads.  Pretty farm country. 

Not too remote, because we actually had an automated railroad crossing to wait at while a very long train passed by.  Lots of different container units, some piggy back. 

How sharp of all of you to notice that we are back at a water  view site.  This campground--Piney Point--is a smaller campground next to a larger campground called Rocky Point.  With few signs and little fanfare, this park is usually quite quiet.  We were the only ones here for one night. The other nights we were joined by one other camper.  We decided that we were able to take this site because the other campers had a much longer unit that would not fit here.  We had the whole little peninsula to ourselves.  The sunset is from inside Lady Blue.

Jan and I had to figure that Wright Patman Lake has to be on a birding migration route.  The white birds are white pelicans which are common to the area.  But on this rainy day, they are joined by hundreds of ducks.  We couldn't be sure, but they looked quite a bit like a type of cormorant.  They spent the entire time that we are able to watch them diving for food.  Every now and then the pelicans would chase a few of them, probably quite happy to see them leave.

Eustis, our traveling moose from Maine, is always on the lookout for deer or other animals.  None to be seen on this road which takes us through the Angelina National Forest to our stop on Sam Rayburn Lake.  Some of you might be old enough to remember Sam Rayburn as the Democrat from Texas who held the position of Speaker of the House in the US Congress. He was Speaker for 17 years, the longest tenure in US history. 

This stop is at Hanks Creek Park.  Note that Sam Rayburn Lake is also known as Sam Rayburn Reservoir.  There is another side to our travels.  As you notice from our road picture, it is raining.  It has been raining off and on for a week or more and we are due for a few more days and inches of rain. 

But, Lady Blue is dry, warm, and comfortable.

Hanks Creek is a long way down the road from Jasper, Texas.  We find a number of "reserved" signs on the sites because we have entered Thanksgiving week.  Our host greets us to see if we have a reservation.  Since we do not, he suggests that we call to see about what sites might be open and then reserve on the spot.  Great.
Except, we have no phone signal---nothing.  So we find a nice site and then use his phone in the camp office to call and reserve--a very nice site for --3 nights because of the rain forecast.  Those of you who were wondering where we were, will now realize that we were in a very nice site for 3days with no phone, no internet, and one channel of TV.  Just like the old days! Except then, there was no TV either.  It made us remember that trip with all of our family to Mount Katahdin in Maine.  Out with tents and little equipment about a quarter to half a mile away from our van in a primitive campsite.  And yes, probably one of our most memorable camping trips ever.

The view of Lady Blue from across the water.  With the rain, most of the few campers that were here went home for a few days.  It seems that most campers we run into live very close to the parks and enjoy them on weekends whenever possible.

The view from the water sites is quite nice.  On this trip, though, we are quite happy to have a more protected site from the cold winds and rain.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Denby Point to Weston Point COE

From Crystal Springs COE, it's a short drive on rural roads to Denby Point COE.  A very quiet and beautiful COE on Lake Ouachita. Quieter than Crystal Springs, there is more separation between sites.  In both cases we are visited by,and talk to, very pleasant campground hosts.  This host indicates that at this time of year, you could stay until March 1st.  The usual limit is 14 days.  On these sites, there are electric and water hookups. All for $9 per night.  We asked about other opportunities.  Our host indicated that there are a number of Corps parks, National Forest, and other camps that are available for free. They are smaller, sometimes not as level, and--as usual--do not have water, electric, or dump stations.

Colors have started to fade, but still a few brighter yellows and reds out in the campground.  The temperature has dropped and we plan for a cold night in the lower 20's with daytime temperatures in the 40's.  Sounds like New England.

Oh, that's right---NO SNOW!

Jan and I are impressed with the Corps setups for group areas.  Denby has two large sites that can accommodate a large number of campers--like scouts or families.  We are impressed to see these group stone fireplaces with  benches all around.

At Crystal Springs and Denby Point most of the campers seem to be prepared for fishing.  The local campers come with impressive boats.  Many are good, fairly new bass fishing boats.  They have large motors on back, sometimes around 225HP, plus electric trolling motors.  The boat trailers are double axle with fancy flairs over the wheel wells.

Speaking of fishing, I am including this link for Lake Ouachita information    Quite the lake at 40 miles long and with 970 miles of shoreline.

Bassmaster Magazine lists Ouachita as one the top 100 bass lakes and it is in the top 10 nationally for largemouth bass.

Lake Ouachita State Park, Crystal Springs, and Denby Point were the three parks we stayed at on Lake Ouachita.  There were many other possibilities, but these seem to be the most popular. Also, some of the others are closed for the winter.

We, as you may have noted, prefer the Corps parks.

There are other lakes in Arkansas, and we head for Lake Greeson.  Along the way, we must find groceries and do laundry.  Laundry is always a challenge.  Sometimes there is a laundry in the campground.  Even in some Corps parks there might be a small laundromat or two.  Private campgrounds often have laundromats and they can range from small to large, old to new, reasonable to quite expensive, and clean to ----not so clean.  We leave Denby Point on beautiful back roads and keep a lookout for laundromats.  Sometimes we get some help from apps like Yelp or our All Stays(camping app).  We also know from our apps that a small campground in Murfreesboro, AR has a laundromat.  We also have had our mail forwarded to Murfreesboro, so this will work fine.

Along the way we see three laundromats. The first looked quite new and clean, but we did not see it in time to turn in and there was no turn around near. So we continued.  Quite close to the post office, we see another---looks good.   After picking up our mail, we circle back in the quiet town of Murfreesboro and drive into the " now opened" fairly new laundromat.  Good choice.  Nice big machines and washing is $1.50 per load and drying takes $1.00.  Not bad at all.

As often happens, there is an unplanned plus.  A great little Mexican restaurant, Los Agaves, is right across from the laundromat.  Yelp has given it a good review, and when we step inside, we have a nice chat with the young owner and his helper.  Great lunch.  Jan has a chicken chimichanga and I have a burrito.  All served with lots of fresh taco style chips, green tomatilla sauce, and a salsa.  As well as fixings for the sandwiches.  All of that for $12--total--for the two of us.   Gotta love serendipity.

Since we are all set with our laundry, we decide to head back up north a few miles to another corps park, Kirby Landing.  We settle on Weston Point campground which is another great spot.

This one has a full hookup section which is almost full.  But there is a wonderful section of electric and water only that is totally empty.  GREAT!  we move in.  All for the price of $6 per night--offseason!

Most of these parks have marinas--run privately--with a large number of boats.  In this case, there a lot of houseboat sized water vessels.
If you look closely, you will note that these boats have two levels.  There is a wrap around staircase at the stern as well as --often--a water slide--into the water-- from the second level.  They all look large enough for a good sized family or a number of friends.

Does this look like a good camping site?  Again, in most Corps parks, there is good separation.  They most often have good workers keeping the sites and the bathrooms quite clean.  We note that also , most often, the showers and bathrooms are well heated.

Lady Blue seems quite happy.  We are somewhat surprised to actually have satellite reception through the trees.  Our only neighbors are the occasional blue heron, pileated woodpecker, and many other birds.  Most of the campers here in Weston are seemingly intent on using their ATV's to hunt.  One group of men were headed out to find the "large buck" they had seen.  We make a note to stay hiking on campground roads only!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Petit Jean State Park to Crystal Springs COE

Still on the Arkansas River, we head northwest to Petit Jean State Park. The story of Petit Jean and the first Arkansas State Park may be found here.

The story of this park also centers around----you guessed it---the Civilian Conservation Corps  .

This visitor's center building was from that period--in this case 1933 to 1941.

Just as a note, after the stock market crash in 1929, the unemployment figures reached 23 per cent by 1932.  Part of the New Deal of Roosevelt was to put these millions of workers back to work.

This CCC camp was 200 men , working for $1 per day.  While most other camps were young men between 17 and 25 years of age, this camp was mostly men between the ages of 35 and 45 . Most were native Arkansans and had wives and children.

Jan and I had a long hike in the rain from our campsite through the CCC ruins---old chimneys and stone work from the old camp---to the Mather Lodge.  The old section of the lodge dates from the CCC period and the newer sections fit right in.

This sign for Stephen Mather reminded us of Mather Point at the Grand Canyon.  He was a very important key to the beginnings of the national park system.  In this instance he is noted for also being the Founder of the Conference on State Parks.

The lodge is perfectly located for a magnificent view towards the Arkansas River valley.

Rainy day or not, the view is still breathtaking.

However, we do decide to take a rain check on hiking down the steep and slippery trails.

Instead we head right, into the lodge through the old lobby of the original building.  On a cold , rainy day the fire is a welcome sight.

At the restaurant in the lodge, the menu advertises chicken noodle soup.  We add a few french fries and onion rings in order to enjoy this view from our table.

If it had not been raining, we might have hiked down to the falls.  This picture was taken on our earlier trip in 2007.

Also on the property is this old pioneer cabin from 1845.  It has been well maintained and is used to show a real cabin where Owen and Jane West reared 9 children---5 of whom were born in this cabin.

Back in the 1800's, these walls were probably fully sealed --no see through holes.

However, it gets cold in Arkansas and we could imagine this being quite chilly, even with 11 people inside.

We had to throw in another picture from 2007 on a sunnier day.  This view from just east of the state park shows the flat and fertile farmland with the Arkansas River in the distance.

After Petit Jean we head west on back roads towards Russellville for Old Post COE park on the Arkansas River. 

Once again, with the Old Folks pass, we find a nice site backed up to the Arkansas River.  All for $10 per night.  

By the way, our travels on the back roads indicate that Arkansas can have some pretty bright and colorful foliage in early November.

Our comfortable little campground is connected to a large public park run by the COE.  All of the area is maintained for the public around this dam and lock and also hydroelectric plant.

This area was an important crossroads in the 1800's.

The local signs remind us that this is part of the Trail of Tears. That is the name given to the trail that the Indians were forced to travel to Oklahoma.  Not our country's finest moment.

Just like back in New England, the Old Post Road refers to the old coaches carrying mail--in this case from Little Rock west.

The main building for the COE also houses a small museum.

A lot of space is given to the steamboat era which began about 1820.

We don't see as many barges on the Arkansas as we did on the Mississippi, but there a number that go by our campsite each day.

Jan ran out and up to the locks to get this picture of one going upstream into the locks.

The locks will raise about 5 stories and the barges will continue on upstream.

We can not get close enough for this picture. But the museum shows a set of barges in the lock.

Tight fit!

We used to wonder why they would still use barges in the modern era.

This chart would seem to indicate why.

The hydroelectric plant can produce 100,000 megawatts of electricity per month.  This is enough to power 80,000 homes.  

Hydropower plants burn no fuel.  There is no cost for coal or oil and there are no global warming gasses produced.

It reminds us of the plans noted when we visited Campobello Island for a tidal power plant.  Plans were drawn and the idea seemed good with cooperation between Canada and the US.  The 20 plus foot tides would seem to guarantee cheap electricity.  But the plans never turned into reality and the cost became prohibitive for building the plant.

From Russellville, we head south over more back roads to Lake Ouachita.

We would like to pronounce it Wacheetah.  But the locals like to accent the first syllable for Wash' i taw.

It is another large wandering lake in west central Arkansas. 

Generally speaking, we have found state parks to be more expensive--sometimes on a par with private campgrounds.  But we are happy to note that this state park gives us an electric and water site for $15.68 --weekday and out of state senior rate.

There are no cars allowed on this road through the tenting area.  Even the tenters have to park outside and carry in their gear.  But what beautiful sites.
For RVers, we would recommend Area B on top of a hill --no hookups--for smaller self contained units.

And that brings us back to COE parks.  We are now in Crystal Lake COE park in Crystal Lake.  This is on the southern shore of Lake Ouachita.  Great separation between sites with lots of  privacy for $10 per night.
We can sit and watch the boat launch area across the way.
This is from our living room.  There are a large number of boats each day ---all fishing boats--mostly bass boats.  The lake is noted for superior fishing for bass, crappie, bream, and catfish.  It is also stocked with smallmouth bass, walleye, and stripers.  We think we will just sit back for the weekend and enjoy!