Mission Tejas State Park: Hidden Gem in the Pines

Every state has parks that are well known and visited. Then there are the more obscure parks that don’t get the limelight. Yet, they can hold hidden gems.

Stayed two nights in the hilly piney woods of East Texas, specifically at the northern end of the Davy Crockett National Forest at the Mission Tejas State Park. I lived in Texas for over 35 years and frequented many of those big named parks, and never heard of this one or the Fort Parker State Park I stayed before here for three nights previous. I missed out on a lot of nice, less-populated state parks during those years in Texas.

From the park’s history brochure: “The park was built in 1934 by Company 888 of the Civilian Conservation Corps as a commemorative representation of Mission San Francisco de los Tejas, the first Spanish mission in the province of Texas, which was established in 1690.”

The campsites here are tight and hilly, so a bit challenging backing into them. At least I don’t have the trouble these big trailers all around me had. Score another point for Travato’s ease and nimbleness!

Today’s highlight was a meandering, long hike through the park’s piney hills and valleys. For those used to trail hikes at state parks, you know the gamble whether trail maps they hand out are reasonably accurate or not. Some are, while others like this park’s seemed drawn from someone’s memory, rather than reflecting reality. At one point about half way on the three-mile hike (overall probably more like four miles counting verticals since the park has a vertical elevation change of over 400′), and even five or more miles counting the actual route versus the trail map’s fantasy route. In places, the path went left when the map showed right, or ran straight when in fact it zig-zagged down into a valley. I gave up reconnoitering via the map and just followed the path. There’s a Zen-like life statement in that last sentence I’m sure.

I stopped many times to listen to the quiet and the occasional bird and wind rustling and scattering the fallen leaves on the path. I tried to imagine what it must have been like back when the mission was active and the local Hasinai Indians roamed the woods. No doubt it looked as I was seeing it, without the paths constructed by park crews through the years. But even some of those, essentially fallen leaf-covered narrow foot paths, might have existed as natural animal and Indian paths through the woods.

12,000 steps later I was back at the replica mission house where I started, trusting the path I was on would lead me home. Today that home was Tamasté and the anticipation of tonight’s dinner: camp stove pan-grilled peppers and chicken strips, companioned by chilled red wine as the stars begin to come out overhead.

Goodbye Florida, Hello Texas!

I’ve been in Florida since December 20, or about 51 days, the longest I’ve ever spent in Florida. Guess it seems right, since I’m now a Florida resident. Will be back around by November or December, so meantime goodbye Florida with its warm air and blue waters…and hello Texas and its familiarity (lived here over 35 years in various places). My arrival in Texas was a bit too chilly, compared to the reviving warmth of Florida, but at least it’s not “chilly” like Ohio right now.

Florida Highlights

Beaches – While part of nature, these delights deserve their own highlight. Besides the white sands, blue-green waters, sounds of waves cresting and rolling in, sea birds, and fantastic people watching, beach walking has always been a soothing, relaxing, de-stressing activity for me. Walking and looking for seashells is a naturally present-minded activity where thinking about anything else is nearly impossible.

Family – Had several long visits with brother/family (Tampa area) and sister/family (Sarasota). Been ages since we’ve had that much time together. Good stuff.

Nature – Other than no black bear or panther sightings, I saw countless cool birds (including my first roseate spoonbill), manatees, alligators, fox, coyote and a variety of fauna especially a healthy dose of calming, relaxing palm trees. Took many long, rejuvenating hikes in pine forests, on beaches, in mixed wilderness areas.

New friends – Met many Travatoites in campgrounds and made some solid connections for budding, long-term friendships. Having the commonality of vanlife, travel, and (mostly) retired status, makes for easy opening conversations and lots to talk about. An introvert can be very social once a door of familiarity cracks open.

Retiree credentials – Not exactly a highlight, but is in the sense of completing the steps for medicare, social security, company retiree benefits, and fixed-income budget living. Ugh. Ten years ago none of those would be in my highlight reel, but aging has a way to make such things a big deal. These and obtaining my Florida driver’s license and voter’s registration without a huge hassle ), were necessary checkmarks for the days and years ahead. Voter’s registration for full-time RV or boat lifestyles in some Florida counties was temporarily in peril, but but settled by the time I got here.

Self-reliance – Learning to function and supporting myself in this lifestyle solidified during my Florida time. Living in a van and doing the daily things needed to take care of oneself is quite different than a house and the convenience of known resources when needed. While I’ve not spent a lot of time boondocking, which has its own, unique self-reliance skills, I have learned how to be self-sustaining while living in Tamasté.

Tamasté – Many things finished or refined in and about Tamasté during my days in Florida. I continue to tweak things, but now from an experienced view versus a perceived one. Adapting well to living like this, but yearn for times ahead where I can stay in one place for at least a week at a time. Enjoyed hopping around Florida to take everything in (check out the spaghetti routing on my Tripline map), and certainly Tamasté’s setup/breakdown is quick. Yet the desired settling into habit for writing work and life pondering has occurred only in fragments so far. Heading west I’ll have longer stay-put stops where I’m hoping these will become routine.

Warmth – Having left Michigan/Ohio with temperatures in the teens and twenties, it’s been so nice to have warm weather and no snow to shovel, or windshields to de-ice, or layers of clothing to wear daily. Florida had its cold spells, but by comparison are not cold nor long-lasting.

Florida Lowlights

To be fair, not all went perfect but such is life. Overall, a great time with few low moments, all of which were fortunately brief. Still, have to share the oops and acks as well.

  • Tamasté damage. While no permanent (or too expensive) damage, several rookie errors happened.

    • While visiting the St. Augustine Lighthouse, I drove under a too-low-, too-large oak tree branch and thought I’d sheared off the a/c on the roof! Loud? Sounded like an explosion from inside the van. Fortunately, only scratches, no damage.
    • Another time I backed onto a large rock resulting in tearing, then loosing, a rear tire mud flap ($150 oopsie as it will turn out).
    • And lastly, not seeing a speed bump which, when traveling too fast in a five-ton vehicle full of a LOT of little, loose parts, results in a loud cacophony of unholy sounds. They say an RV is like driving a house through an earthquake, and that mistake was at least an 8.0 on the dumb-ass richter scale of RV tremors.
  • Traveller’s sickness. Worst case of food poisoning (salmonella we think) I’ve every had hit me at one campsite and lasted about seven hours. Nothing worse than a) being alone when that sick, b) unable to go for help, or even know where to go, and c) messing up the small box you live and sleep in while sick. Fortunately, having gone through this before, I knew I wouldn’t die, but for a while there I wanted to! Checkbox marked on the “sick while solo traveling” bucket list from hell.
     

I look forward to next winter’s wanderings around Florida and will be smarter then from my time in Florida this year. Not wanting to plan that far ahead, I will have to make some state park reservations if I hope to stay longer than a day or two in each place, which is the goal for next year.

For now, it’s time for a Texas visit with friends and familiar places, and spend some sprit-rejuvenating time in far West Texas in the Big Bend/Davis Mountains areas. After that, it’s New Mexico wandering time for a month of intense nature and exploring a favorite part of the Southwest.

Ranch Life

Stayed a few nights over the weekend at a friend’s ranch in central, mid-Florida. Anytime I’ve stayed a places in the country with acreage and separation from neighbors it’s always been a refreshing, calming place to be. This weekend’s stopover was that and more.

They raise cattle, have horses, donkeys, dogs, lots of kids, nearby relatives, the whole family compound feeling that all made for a laid back, restful visit. I’m used to ranch land in Texas, but Florida ranch land is an interesting mix of pine trees and palm trees, sandy soil and big, blue skies. Their ranch abuts a nice lake adding beautiful sunsets, fishing, and the occasional alligator (the other distinctive difference from Texas ranches).

I used want to have a place in the country, with room to roam and visual separation from neighbors. That dream still smolders inside, but given the work it takes to maintain such a place, I think I’m past that dream, barring some windfall that would allow me to pay people to do everything! But visiting such places is still a delight and much thanks to my friend for the offer to stay. Definitely on the list for next winter’s places to be.

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Sandy Perfection

There are many reasons to come to Florida, and near the top of most lists is probably its beaches. With white (or close) sands and that amazing emerald-like water, a good beach is a joy to wander aimless and lose your thoughts while enjoying this part of our natural world. For someone who’s beach exposure was mostly Galveston and its brown sand and water, Florida beaches are heaven.

In my travels these last two months, I’ve visited a lot of beaches but none seemed to be THE beach…until yesterday.

Several people told me to check out Vero Beach, and unusually laid back and less touristy beachside town (and it’s now on my list of possible Florida places to base from). After driving around town (and stopping for the necessary laundry time-out) I decided I’d wander over to and drive down the outer island on my way to Highland-Hammocks State Park.

I stumbled upon Avalon State Park off North Hutchinson Island, the long stretch of land bordering the Atlantic opposite Vero Beach city. Boasting to have more than a mile of “increasingly rare undeveloped beachfront” (a fact I discovered after the visit), it turns out to be the best Florida beach I’ve seen…so far. Pictures below tell the story. I was hoping they had campgrounds, but alas, there’s just the one, small parking area off the highway for beach access. The rest of the 650 acres is a nature and wildlife preserve, a fantastic way to protect areas in our development-crazed world.

No gallery this time; too pretty not to show full width. Enjoy!

Keys or Bust

When the concept of what I’m doing first emerged and I thought about places I wanted to go, Key West in Florida was near the top of the list. Who hasn’t thought about that romanticized place, its blue-green waters, 90 miles from Havana, Hemingway’s six-toed cats, the whole island-tropical paradise.

Truth is, if traveling to Florida in season you have somewhere between none and slim to score a camping or RV spot anywhere along the Keys. Oh, I tried, but everything was solidly booked up and boondocking is not really an option there. I’d accepted that I wouldn’t get to the Keys this trip, but fate, fortunate, or just plain good luck happened and I got someone’s cancellation at Bahia Honda State Park the night before I stayed there.

The park is about one-third the way between Marathon and Key West, and past the the famous seven-mile bridge. Although only for one night, I was able to experience the drive down the keys (really long…about three hours from mainland to Key West, and mostly slow with lots of cars…LOTS). The natural scenery and that gorgeous blue-green water where it appeared between the touristy stuff made the arduous drive worth it.

This particularly park is not the best one to stay at, IMHO, but worked for me to taste the Keys and feel what it would be like if I plan better and score a seven-day stay next winter. Bahia Honda is pretty and natural enough, but it sits RIGHT on the highway, so traffic noise out-shouted the surf and birds. Still, glad I got to stay there. On the way back, I stopped at several other parks to scope them out, and loved the John Pennekamp State Park just south of Key Largo (will try to get my Keys week booked there). While a long ways from Key West, it had better beaches and the campsites were not close to the highway!

And believe it or not, I’d like to try the Keys in the summer since tourists and traffic are the lowest and roaming around much easier to do. Except for that furnace blast of heat and humidity, might be an interesting approach.

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Hover over images to read caption, if there.

When It’s Warm, Bake Memories

I’m still lingering in Florida, which is one of the few warm places in the country right now so makes sense to take my time leaving! Heading toward exiting the state around February 8 or so, then heading to Texas and beyond. Meanwhile, still have places and memories to bake before I leave Florida behind until next winter.

Big news is I finally scored a spot in the Keys at Bahia Honda State Park, a near-impossibility this time of year. Unfortunately, only have one day to explore, but I’ll make the most of it. Yes, expect pretty pictures soon of all that warm sea and sand.

Photo by Lisette.
Meanwhile, winding up a wonderful stay with new friends in Miami today where Tamasté got a new alarm system installed. Will help me feel a little better wandering away from the van, especially out west where I’ll do a lot more hiking and time away from the van. System protects via alarm, plus detects glass breaking, impact, and GPS location. Cool app allows me to see where it is and activate the alarm, handy when I go to a restaurant and forget to activate the alarm.

The house I’m staying at (well, the driveway since I’m overnighting in the van) is a gorgeous example of tropical luxury and taking advantage of the Miami climate.

Every imaginable fruit tree you can grow in this climate they have here in multiples: banana, mandarin orange, kumquat, mango, papaya, coconut, several citrus trees I can’t pronounce, passion fruit and on and on. Paired with that are several fish ponds, including a massive koi pond, a chicken coop, and about a dozen or more large aviary cages, some occupied by exotic macaws, parrots from several countries, and even a rescue squirrel that lives in the large, parrot aviary! Said squirrel is very old, about 12 years (maybe 14?), well beyond the usual life of a wild squirrel. They rescued her as an abandoned runt and nursed it to health and a long life. Cats, dogs (two amazing Belgian Groenendaels, seen in the pix above), family headquarters for nine children, 18 grandchildren…it’s quite the place and lifestyle as you can imagine.

Can you find three silver Travatos?
We even had a mini-Travato meet up and wonderful Cuban lunch with five Travato owners and had four silver Travatos parked together! Always nice to talk “shop” with fellow Travato owners and travellers, share how we’ve all customized our rigts to suit our lifestyles. Add to that a tour of the birds and fruit trees and it was an excellent get-together. But it’s impossible to photograph four Travatos in this setting, so you’ll have to imagine there’s one more hidden behind the three in this picture.

So while I get Tamasté ready for my trip down the Keys to Bahia Honda, enjoy some images from this wonderful home and my relaxed visit.