Walter and Sara On the road to who knows where
It was a sunny day on Sunday January 24th and the temperatures got up into the high 60’s—lovely. The campground which had been nearly full on Saturday when we arrived at Huntsville State Park, emptied out almost entirely leaving us with a nice view of the lake.

Campsite view Huntsville State Park

Even though the campground was emptying out there were still lots of people on the trails—walkers, joggers, runners and mountain bikers. Clearly this is a favorite place for the locals to come and enjoy the great outdoors.

We opted to hike the Prairie Branch Trail that skirts the edge of Raven Lake before it loops through the woods. The lakeside portion of the trail is closed to bikes, which was nice because it’s always a little exciting to have bikes roaring up behind you on a narrow trail.

The trail starts at the end of the campground and takes you out to a view of the lake.

Raven Lake Huntsville SP

There were folks out in small boats fishing but no one along the shore on our side. We did see someone on the far side of the lake standing on the shore fishing though.

This part of the trail had lots of boardwalks both short and long. We have fun debating when these are bridges or boardwalks. We’ve decided that if they have a little rise or ramp they’re a bridge. Otherwise unless they cross a creek, they’re a boardwalk. So this little gem is a bridge.

Boardwalk Huntsville State Park

This trail takes you out towards the end of the lake where things are clearly pretty shallow.

Raven Lake Huntsville SP

There was a Great Egret hunting in among the floating plants in the shallows.

Great Egret Raven Lake Huntsville SP

And there were very large palmettos along the trail and lake too.

Palmetto Huntsville SP

The boardwalks were numbered—I guess to keep track of them and their need for repair. Heck, even the benches (and the trees in the campground) were numbered in this park. But this long boardwalk was in 3 sections and it only got one number.

Long boardwalk Huntsville SP

There were lots of loblolly pines here but no magnolias. Instead, they have dogwood trees—in fact there is a whole trail named for them that you can walk when they’re in bloom in a month or so. This tree trunk caught my eye because it had a big hole in it. When I got down to photograph it, I realized there was a hole all the way through and water in the bottom inside of the trunk.

Tree with hole in trunk

The trail meets two others at the end of the lake—one takes you to the other side to complete a loop of the lake and the other takes you off to the Lone Star Trail—a National Recreation Trail in the Sam Houston National Forest (next door) that is 129 miles long.

We chose to complete the loop on the Prairie Branch Trail. And thrill of thrills it went up a hill! Be still my heart. We’ve been hiking for over a month on perfectly flat trails. Everything on the coast and in southeast Texas was flat. And now that we’ve moved a bit west things have changed. It was such a pleasure to have to go up a little rise. This section of the trail had mountain bikers on it and they were hauling as they came down the trail towards the lake. We kept our eyes and ears peeled for them—and the runners—and managed not to get run over.

To finish off our hike, we walked over to the fishing pier in the campground. There were folks setting up to fish and they said they usually caught crappie here.     

Fishing pier view Hunstville SP

There were warning signs for alligators but we didn’t see any.

I did spot an American Goldfinch flitting in the trees and he even landed on a wall long enough for me to get a picture. This is either a male with winter plumage or a female with regular plumage. Bird ID can be such an interesting challenge!

American Goldfinch

On the way back to the trailer I stopped to take a photo of Genevieve perched on the little rise that gave us such a nice peekaboo view of the lake.

Genevieve Silver Palace Huntsville SP

We got back in time for Walter to watch both of the play-off games—both of which were highly entertaining unless of course you were a Patriots or a Cardinals fan. My condolences if you were.

At about 8:30, there was a tap on our dining room window. I looked out to see two people trying to talk to us through the glass. I opened the door and they turned out to be a young couple (carrying their very tired little dog) who had gone for a hike and gotten lost. Now they wanted to know where their car might be. We asked them in and tried to give them a map and directions and clearly they were too tired and befuddled. So I put on my shoes, got out a flashlight (they didn’t have one) and walked them towards the trailhead. And low and behold, there parked in front of the bathroom was their car—even closer than they thought. They had hiked all the way around the lake (6.8 miles not counting the wandering around they did trying to find their car). They’d come for a little hike and then a picnic at sundown—oops. At least their picnic dinner was waiting for them in the car and they were just a little worn out. It was fun to put my camp host hat back on and be able to help out.

Monday January 25th, we drove south on I-45 to the town of The Woodlands, a HUGE planned unit development just north of Houston. There were enormous houses and very high end stores along with all the other standard shopping. We’d driven down so that Walter could have his eyes checked. It took some doing finding the doctor’s office but we got there and got it done. It takes about 2 weeks for new glasses to arrive and that’s fine. We timed this to go with our trip to Livingston to hop through the hoops to become Texas residents. By the time we’re done with that the glasses should be ready. While we were there we did a few errands and visited their Trader Joes since supplies were getting low—it’s been over 2 months since we’ve seen one.

We had rain off and on in the afternoon and it continued through the night. The next morning it was still partly cloudy. We drove north up I-45 to do laundry in Huntsville (home of Sam Houston University) and passed this 70 foot statue of Sam Houston that is right next to the freeway.  

Sam Houston statue I-45

They say that it is the largest statue of an American hero anywhere in the world. But since it’s next to the freeway the only way to capture a photo is from your car as you roar by at 75 mph.

Sam Houston Statue Huntsville TX

The Laundromat wasn’t in great shape (lots of out of order signs and nothing was real clean) but it did a decent job of getting the clothes clean and dry. For once we had no other errands so we just drove on back to the rig.

On Wednesday January 27th, we pulled up stakes to move to Lake Livingston State Park. As we were driving to the dump station we noticed a lot of activity over in the lake. There was a large flock of ducks splashing and diving (with what looked like gulls in flight above them).

Ducks fishing Huntsville SP

Clearly they were following a school of fish since they were diving and moving all together and then changed direction and came back the way they’d come after a few minutes. It was really a fun show.

We motored on back east about 50 miles to Lake Livingston State Park. We got a nice 30 amp site with water and electric for $18 a night in a loop with only the Camp Hosts in it. We even got a bit of a peekaboo view of the lake through much denser trees than over in Huntsville. Livingston is still considered to be in the Pineywoods rather than the Big Thicket but the trees are definitely denser than further west at Huntsville. Actually, we’ve learned that the Big Thicket is considered part of the ecosystem that is called the Pineywoods. But you know, the thicket is thicker no matter what you call it all.

Late in the afternoon, Mother Nature began to put on a show. There was a bit of haze over the lake and it lit up nicely. I found my way down to the shore of the lake to get this shot of the opalescent sky.

Late afternoon Lake Livingston SP

A little later it had turned peach and I figured out how to get a view without having to scramble all the way down to the shore.

Sunset Lake Livingston SP

Finally it turned pink once the sun set.

Sunset Lake Livingston SP

Thursday January 28th, Walter went off to have his teeth cleaned. What an experience! He ended up in a dentist’s office that was a clinic with 17 dentists (10 examining rooms) and a waiting room full of people. Even though he had a 1:00 pm appointment he didn’t get out of there until 5 pm. I’d stayed home to work on our change of address process (you do not want to know how many websites I had to visit in this 2 hour exercise. We clearly have to many accounts, cards and memberships) and had begun to think that maybe he’d been abducted by aliens. Note to self, do not make an appointment with a dentist in a clinic again (beware of places with ‘and associates’ in their name)! It was not a good experience at all.

On Friday January 29th, it was sunny and I spied this big fat squirrel in the tree outside our window.   

Squirrel Livingston SP

The squirrels here were so tame that clearly people feed them even though there are don’t feed the wildlife signs. One came up and joined me up on the table when I walked over to the picnic table and then followed me around as I put things away.

We packed up and headed into Livingston with the intent of hopping through the first Livingston-based hoop in the Texas Domicile project: getting the truck and trailer inspected. First we discovered we needed copies of our latest evidence of insurance—and we discovered the ones we had in the truck were out of date. After a trip onto the internet we got the truck’s okay but we had to call our agent in Washington to get the one for the trailer. With these in hand we unsuccessfully programed to GPS for the first place on our list for an inspection (the auto repair and dealers do it). Once we finally found the place it turned out that the state’s website was wrong and they didn’t do trailer inspections. Even better, we were told that we had to have Texas insurance before we could get an inspection—nowhere in any of the info I’d read had they told you that. Ah well. We have lots of time so it was no big deal, just a little frustrating.

We gave a deep sigh and headed over to Rainbow’s End RV Park, the headquarters of the Escapees, and signed up for a spot for a week and set up camp. Their 30 amp sites are $21 a night for a full hookup with an Escapee membership and you get one night free when you stay a week. Once we were set up, I called the local Farmers Insurance Agent to get the ball rolling on Texas Insurance. We should have that handled by Monday morning so we can head out and try to get the inspection done then. In Polk County you don’t have to have an emissions test. This inspection is just to make sure your lights and brakes work. We haven’t lived in a state that required that for a good long time.

Saturday was sunny and warm (75 degrees) and we set out for Lowes (to get one screw that actually did the job first try) and Walmart to do errands and grocery shopping. There was a large group of motorcycles gathering in the Walmart parking lot so I took a photo of them. When we came out later they were all gone. And yes, gas in Livingston was $1.46 a gallon at several stations. We’ve gotten really spoiled this winter with gas prices so low. Diesel is down under $2.00 too. (And 5 days later the price was down to $1.41 at this station).

Motorcycles at Walmart Livingston TX

With our shopping, done we went home and just had a quiet afternoon. It’s odd being in an RV park again after almost a month of state parks—it’s much more like being in a neighborhood. We both prefer being out in the country but since we have so many things to do in town this week, being closer in makes sense.

On Sunday January 31st, we had partly cloudy skies and temps in the mid 70’s—we’re at the top of the weather roller coaster ride again with warm humid air coming in off the Gulf of Mexico. After Walter made waffles for breakfast (yum) we headed back out to Lake Livingston State Park for a little outdoors time. We took the short nature trail near the park entrance because the map said that there was a Nutmeg Hickory tree along the way that was pretty rare in these parts. However, they didn’t put a sign up to tell you which tree it was and there were a lot of trees out there... They had GPS coordinates for it but we’re not so high tech that we take our GPS with us on walks through the woods. So we missed the tree, if it’s actually still there. There was also supposed to be a Witness Tree which marked where the old boundary for the park was. What we found in that location was a fairly fresh stump...

We shrugged and got back in the truck and drove to the parking area for the Pineywoods Nature Trail. This trail is about .9 miles long and is entirely accessible since the whole thing is boardwalk. We followed the boardwalk out to a wide spot where there was a viewing area.

Boardwalk on Pinewoods Trail Lake Livingston SP

The trail winds through the woods which are pretty thin here. They lost a lot of trees in 2008 when Hurricane Ike can through with winds up to 120 mph. Then they had a drought from 2011 to 2013 that weakened those that remained and they lost a lot to bugs. So they’ve come through and taken out the dead trees leaving the forest comparatively open.

The trail takes you to a small pond known as the Duck Pond. There is a nice little blind there with windows in the walls so you can watch birds—mostly herons and egrets since they say despite the name there rarely are ducks here. We saw no birds at all out here except for a sparrow. But I did see a turtle out across the pond. But he was too far away for a photo. As we walked along I noticed this vine that had worked its way high up into this young loblolly pine. Look at the rootlets holding it in place.

Vine growing up small loblolly pine

We came to a big sign that said Wild Plum Creek with a nice long bridge to cross what turned out to be a very small stream (maybe a foot across) full of milky white water.

Wild Plum Creek bridge

There’s a little spur off the trail to a landing overlooking Frog Pond.

Frog Pond Pineywood Trail Lake Livingston

We could hear a lone tree frog ribbeting away but since they are pretty small, we didn’t find him. I saw my second lizard here but he scuttled away before I got my camera out.

There is an equestrian-only trail here so they have signs to make sure you know that the horses have the right of way when you cross their trail.  

Equestrian Trail sign Yield to Horses

However, my guess is that the trail is closed for now—just a bit too wet. It was even wetter the other direction and there was a pond across it when we crossed it on the other end of the trail.

Equestrian trail Lake Livingston SP

We stopped for a few minutes to sit on a bench and listen to the birds—I think there were warblers singing—and I noticed this tree with lovely white bark.

White bark of unknown tree

I don’t know what it is but with luck I’ll find out.

We had another lizard scuttle his way across the trail and I’d just about given up trying to get a photo when I spied this guy on a tree trunk near the end of the trail and he froze in place!  

Lizard on a tree trunk Lake Livingston TX

The map of the park mentioned that there was a observation platform somewhere in the park but it didn’t say where it was. Walter suggested that we drive down by the Park Store and see if it was in that area. And sure enough there it was right next to the store and the boat ramp and moorage.

Observation Tower Lake Livingston SP

We climbed up and got a nice view of the lake and surrounding area. You can see that the dock at the boat ramp has had a bit of trouble.

 Broken dock Lake Livingston SP

They have a second boat ramp just south of here so it’s no big deal. They had some high waves with our last storm and lost a number of structures along the lake. But the view has survived.

Lake Livingston Panorama

Most of the lake has private waterfront houses on it. So the State Park provides some of the only public access there is to the lake. They have boat moorage and a nice fishing pier here. And there were folks out fishing.

Boat moorage Lake Livingston SP

It was breezy (and very humid) and there was a pretty good chop on the lake so there were very few boats out.

Lake Livingston panorama

We went into the store and I talked with the rangers who were twiddling their thumbs in the store since it was Sunday afternoon and most of the visitors had gone home. They gave us some great suggestions about state parks to visit in the next leg of our journey across Texas.

We had a nice picnic lunch overlooking the lake and then went home and had a nap. Life is good.