Roaring River State Park

Cassville, Missouri – June, 2016 Jim and I enjoyed a week living in the city, getting caught up on annual appointments, and visiting our kids. Then we were ready for some fresh air and fresh fish. So we headed to one of our favorite Missouri state parks, Roaring River. I mentioned it briefly last summer. But it has so much to offer it deserves its own post.

We have visited this park at least once a year for about 20 years. I clearly remember tent camping near this very spot when our baby was about 4. We have visited in a succession of campers since then; from our first 1970 Coleman popup, to our Trailmanor, and finally graduating to 5th wheels. We have so very many wonderful memories here!

I was really looking forward to hiking all my favorite trails again. There are 7 trails totaling just over 10 miles. You can also add a lot of mileage to the hikes by walking to the trailheads instead of driving.

The most interesting trail in the park is Devil’s Kitchen. It is a mile and a half with quite a bit of elevation gain. The payoff is beautiful bluffs along much of the trail followed by the highlight. Devil’s Kitchen is a half-hazard looking pile of rocks that form a cavern.

Supposedly the cavern hid guerilla soldiers during the civil war.

My favorite part of the Fire Tower Trail is the less than 1 mile section between the end of campground C and where the trail crosses the highway. The path leads you between the river and a very scenic series of bluffs.

The shortest hike in the park is Deer Leap. It is 100 steps leading to an overlook with a view of the hatchery and the spring pond.

The pond is where they keep the big momma trout they use to stock the remainder of the stream.

Spring water gushes out of the ground under this cliff and there is often some runoff from above creating a waterfall.

It’s fun to watch the fish in the stream even if you have no interest in catching and/or eating them. The water is so clear there are many great fish photo ops.

Trout is our favorite freshwater fish to eat so thankfully Jim did have some luck and caught enough for two plentiful meals. Here is day one’s catch.

You probably see some sad, dying fish. I see trout almandine!

It was super hot during our visit but thankfully there are plenty of places to keep cool around here. In the middle of the park is a popular swimming hole that is very family friendly and has enough water coming in and out to keep it fresh when the water is reasonably high.

Later in the summer this water can become a bit stagnant. Then people tend to gravitate to the camp swimming pool, which can be a lifesaver if you have kids in tow.

Some parts of the trout stream are designated multi-use and wading and swimming there can be fun. Our favorite swimming spot is a short drive past campground C. It is the first right after the Fire Tower Trailhead on the left. There is a memorial gravesite for the Russell’s, the original homesteaders, who wisely located their home next to a perfect little swimming hole. The water is usually about waste deep and has its own scenic bluff and waterfall.

We have visited this spot many times and never ran into another soul. I’m sure someone had swum their before our arrival one day because the generally clear water was mucked up. But it was still refreshing.

The campground here is extremely well maintained. Our spacious, electric only site averaged $24 per night including the reservation fee. The park has lots of cabins and a lovely lodge so it is a great place to meet family and friends that want to enjoy the great outdoors with you but aren’t thrilled about camping.

Texas’ Colorado River

Columbus, TX – February, 2016 West of Houston a short ways is the Colorado River, no relation to the more famous river by the same name out west. This Colorado River starts and ends in the state of Texas. We decided to spend a week at the Thousand Trails Colorado River Campground since the weather was looking promising, the river looked like a good one to kayak, and the campground was practically free with our membership.

The town of Columbus is fairly small and has many charming characteristics. It has the basic necessities: a far from super Walmart, two grocery stores, three Redbox. There are lots of beautiful old homes and a quaint town square with a gorgeous courthouse.

It is located between the banks of the river since the river makes a dramatic curve, an oxbow, north of town and returns on the other side of town.

We are always on the lookout for such a place where we can put the kayaks in on one side, have a pleasant float, and then take out on the other side and just walk back to get our truck. This place is perfect. It’s a 6 mile float but only a 1 mile walk between the two accesses. The walk is through the small town and the only downside is that you have to cross two bridges, the longest one had absolutely no room for pedestrians. We pondered this problem at length.

We looked for another access with no luck. We studied the nearby railroad bridge which had a nice wide platform you could walk on but also had a no trespassing sign. Jim was willing to walk the railroad bridge. I was willing to chance the highway since the cars can move over but a train cannot. We each thought the other was completely insane. We did agree if we only had a bike the bridge could be safely ridden over.

We had called the outfitter in town, Howell Canoe Livery, and left a message early in the week to ask about water conditions on the float. They didn’t open until Thursday so when they called back and said they’d help us shuttle our truck for only $10 we agreed our safety and marital bliss was worth that much.

We put in on Friday just before lunch. We only saw 3 other kayakers all day. The river was low but we never dragged. It was mostly flat water with only one or two minor rapids.

We watched this bird struggle with his meal for quite a while. No wonder, that’s a pretty big catch for someone with no teeth. He finally managed to swallow it.

The Colorado is considered a good bass river but the outfitter said no one was having much luck recently. Another kayaker that put in just after us and fishes the river frequently said he hadn’t caught a fish all year. So Jim was pleased that he caught 3 bass that day, the first before even leaving camp.

Earlier in the week we put in at the campground’s boat ramp one afternoon to see how far we could get up river. Jim has a trolling motor on a custom mount he built for his kayak. It is really great on lakes but can get him upstream in a river if the current is not too strong. In the slow stretches he can even tow me. Here is the view from my position of leisure.

I use a retractable pet leash as a tow rope. Jim seemed to take issue with being literally on a short leash when we first set up the system. It works well and he got over it. We do get some looks from other floaters and usually a comment or two. But on this day there was not another person on this stretch of the river and the only looks we got were from the many cows that stared at us from the river’s edge.

We got about a mile and a half up stream in an hour. We had plenty of battery power left and could have gone farther but it was already 2 o’clock. I paddled about half the way and let Jim tow me the rest.

The only problem with the motor is that it gets in the way of Jim’s paddling.  So he motored most of the way and only paddled in a couple places it was too shallow to run. There were very few places that had a strong current so we could have made it without the motor if we chose to.

Over the next two hours we floated back to camp and stopped at one gravel bar. Besides the cows we saw lots of turtles, two huge red headed woodpeckers, and a muskrat.

We visited Houston a couple times during the week to pick up this or that. Houston has about every store you could ever want. I had read about a restaurant in an old movie theatre that I wanted to visit. I decided it was a shame we had been to Texas twice in the last year and hadn’t gone to a Tex-Mex restaurant.

The restaurant was fun. They showed an old western on the screen while we ate. The food was pretty good and reasonably priced.

We thought we might go downtown after lunch but decided the trip from the store we wanted to visit to the restaurant was sightseeing enough. The fastest route was by a tollway that was exclusively for those with a prepaid tag. We really didn’t mind taking surface streets because we wanted to see more of Houston. What we saw was the grittier side of Houston, many miles of adult bookstores and strip clubs.

I’m sure if we had more time we would have found a lot of things we enjoyed in Houston but they sure don’t make it very easy to get around this city.  My biggest issue is with their toll roads.  They have many toll roads around the city and their system is not visitor friendly.

Most of their toll roads do not have manned toll booths.  They have entire highways that require you to pre-purchase a tag in order to access them.  This requires a one-time fee of $15 plus a deposit into your account of $40!  Ridiculous!

We encountered the same issue last year in Austin.  One particularly bad traffic day we said to heck with it and took the unmanned toll road.  We got a bill in the mail months later.  Ten dollars was high for 8 miles of toll road but better than being stuck in gridlock for hours.

Some of Houston’s roads say that you need a tag but it turns out that they have toll express lanes and you can in fact use the free lanes without getting charged a toll.  When a highway says things like “last free exit” and “EZ Tag required” I tend to believe it and get off the highway if there is another alternative.

After our first visit I went to their website to try to make sense of it.  It was not very helpful. So I called and waited 30 minutes for a customer service agent to answer my questions.  She was nice and helpful.  But it didn’t change the fact that their whole system sucks the big one!

The best advice she gave me was that if I chose to take a toll road, or inadvertently ended up on one, to just wait a couple days then give them a call. They would then be able to tell me what I owed and take a payment over the phone with only a $1.50 service fee.  OK rant over.

A Cautionary Tale

Pismo Beach, CA November, 2015  We were so excited to find this awesome boondocking spot and I couldn’t wait to share it but first I have to admit some of the difficulties we encountered.

Just south of Pismo Beach, California, is the Oceana Dunes State Recreation Area. Jim found it while looking at a satellite view of the area surrounding the relatively expensive campground we were at in Pismo Beach. It sounded familiar to me and I realized a friend had sent me info on it several years ago.

We drove the beach one morning and it looked like a great spot. You can camp anywhere on the beach that you want after the first mile marker and the fee is $10 per night. It was only a few miles from our campground at Pismo Coastal Village where we had a midweek special of $40 PN for full hookups.

We were cautious so we drove over and checked it out again before moving our rig over on a Thursday morning. We drove to mile marker 4 (which is actually only 2 1/2 miles from the Pier Avenue access) and found a great spot. We made a U turn so our door would face away from the blowing wind and sand and got stuck mid turn. It was ridiculous how fast we got mired down in the loose sand!

We grabbed our travel shovel and several small pieces of plywood and started digging ourselves out. But I don’t think we ever would have gotten out of that first predicament on our own. Thankfully we didn’t have to as an awesome couple that was familiar with the area soon stopped, pulled out a tow rope, and started helping. Over an hour later we had disconnected the 5th wheel and reconnected at a 90 degree angle, another local good samaritan had stopped with a longer shovel, and we finally got out of our original dilemma. We gave huge thank yous all around and cash to anyone that would accept it.

We still had to do a U turn though to get into a good position to camp for the weekend and so we would be pointed toward the exit when it was time to leave. I’ll be darned if we didn’t get stuck again mid turn despite being on the more hard packed “road.” We were within sight of the original couple that had helped us. They were hooked up and getting ready to leave. It was embarrassing! Some other guys in 4 wheel drive trucks with big knobby tires stopped. We weren’t too far gone this time and they quickly pulled us out of that mess and gave us some more pointers about driving in California sand. I insisted they take some beer money.

The short story is that wet sand is our friend on this beach. Also we had to let our tire pressure down to 38 pounds despite what we had read to the contrary. I think the weight of our rig had a lot to do with it as she’s on the heavy side (don’t tell her I said so). After paying people to help us we figure the cost of camping here was $21 per night for our 5 night stay.

Although we had the best time camping here, I can only cautiously recommend it. People were getting stuck all the time! But others were always offering to pull them out. It was a real affirmation of the human spirit.

We spent a total of 9 days in the area and really enjoyed our visit. While at Pismo Coastal Village we walked to the pier every day where there is free fishing without a license.

We also walked to the Monarch Butterfly Grove where butterflies come to spend the winter.

And we enjoyed a visit to the Dinosaur Caves area in Shell Beach a few miles north.

But once we moved to Oceana Dunes we just settled in and didn’t get out much.

We walked the beach for miles. Jim surf fished. We had a campfire every evening. And we people watched. It was a bit loud on the weekend with tons of 4 wheelers and such. But we just sat in our chairs and watched the parade of people and machines with the ocean as its backdrop.

On our last night a couple pulled in next to us in a motorhome and promptly got stuck. They asked Jim’s advice and he said something like “looks like you’re home, come join us at our fire when you get set up.” So they did. We enjoyed visiting with them and the next morning we helped tow them back to the firmer sand before going on our way.

We had wondered all week if we were going to have any trouble getting out. It was like a small cloud hanging over the otherwise perfect days. We had aired our tires back up for a trip to the store and at first we tried getting out without letting the air out. But we finally had to air down. After that, a little digging, and the placement of plywood where necessary we were gratefully on our way.

Edisto Beach

Edisto Island, South Carolina – August, 2015 We only had a few days before we planned to head west and wanted to spend them on a beach. So we chose the nearest one and headed that way. Edisto Island has a great state park. It occupies about a third of the island’s beachfront real estate and has an amazing beachside campground with 74 sites. Of course, some advance planning is required to get a beachside campsite and we all know that is not our strong point so lucky for us they have a second campground called Live Oak a half mile up the highway from the beach that had plenty of vacancies during our stay. We were impressed that this campground had wide roads and large, level sites. We were less than impressed with the $51 per night rate.

This island is not very commercialized. There were only a couple beach stores and only about a half dozen restaurants. There was a relatively well stocked little grocery store just outside the state park’s gate. The island is rather remote (25 miles to the next reasonably sized town) but in comparison to Hunting Island where the nearest grocery store was 20 miles away, this is a metropolis.

The Edisto Island travel brochure only listed 3 things on their local attractions page: the Edisto Island Museum, a serpentarium, and the state park’s environmental education center. The weather looked rather questionable for the weekend and I thought we might end up visiting some of these if we got rained out one day but when we did get rained out, on Sunday, they were all closed.

What this island primarily has going for it is several miles of uninterrupted beach front. You can walk and walk and walk without running out of beach and that is exactly what we did. The island’s beachfront is divided into the state park’s shoreline which is completely undeveloped and looks like this.

You can see a few of the campers in the campground. This was taken at high tide when the beach did get a bit narrow.

The state park’s boundary marks the beginning of development and the remainder of the island looks like this.

There is one house after another for the rest of the beach which wraps all the way around the end of the island. Edisto has no main beach parking lot besides the one in the state park. Instead they have over 30 beach accesses squeezed between the homes, most with several parking spaces each. I would guess that during their busy season a lot of people park on the street and the roads gets pretty crowded. We were there the weekend before Labor Day and showers were forecast so we had no trouble finding parking spots even for our monstrous truck. Since we had to drive to the beach from camp anyway we chose a different access point each time we wanted to take a walk and saw quite a lot of the beach and many, many beach houses.

Jim had been dying to fish in the ocean but was not looking forward to another expensive out of state fishing license so he was pleasantly surprised when he learned a 14 day non-resident fishing license for either fresh or salt water is only $11 in South Carolina. Since we had shrimp in the freezer he didn’t even have to buy bait. Between the rains and the tides he only fished for a couple hours but he had a good time and got some nibbles. We didn’t see any fisherman catch a single fish all weekend.

This island is a 2 hour drive from Hunting Beach where we recently visited but is only about 10 miles north by water. So the water was pretty much the same, warm with almost no visibility. Even so, we didn’t see any dolphins like we had at Hunting Beach but on the plus side I didn’t see a single mosquito either. We will certainly return to Edisto Beach for an extended visit some day but will plan it far enough in advance to get a beachside site. There is nothing better than walking out your front door and being a short walk from the beach

Misery

Missouri – July 2015 When we headed to Missouri a month ago we thought we would go west again right after my family reunion last weekend. I had hoped to be in Montana by now. But the universe had other plans and so we are still here and will be for another week or two. Two of our income properties have unexpectedly been vacated in the last 10 days. We joke that there is a conspiracy to keep us here in the state we fondly refer to as Misery instead of Missouri. But we are quite lucky this happened while we were in the area instead of 2000 miles away.

When we do finally break away in a couple weeks we are actually planning a road trip east and then swinging back through Missouri about Labor Day before finally proceeding west, most likely skipping Montana and Washington and going to Oregon. While we are here we are enjoying the beautiful rivers the Ozarks are blessed with. We’ve got plenty of free places to park our home. And we are saving a ton on fuel!

We enjoyed the Current River some more now that it is near normal river level. We backed our rig up to the river bank so that there was an amazing view outside our kitchen window. And we parked under a huge tree where we got lots of shade. One evening a pretty large limb in that tree broke. It was tenuously hanging on to the tree but most of it was on our trailer. We thought it was best to leave it and hoped we could drive out from under it when we left in several days. A big storm the next night moved it around quite a bit but it still held on. The day we prepared to leave we discovered this.

It fell the rest of the way down and was resting on top of our trailer. We hadn’t heard it fall so assume it wasn’t terribly violent and thankfully there was no damage to the trailer roof. I started to shove it off the roof but was damaging the roof’s edge in the process. Jim got a saw and we cut it in to 3 pieces we could safely throw off the roof.

The next weekend we parked in our friends’ driveway 20 miles south of Springfield and enjoyed their property and pool for a few days. They live very near the James River which is a pretty little river that is a convenient place to float when you are in the Springfield area. We chose to float from Hootentown to mud bank on Sunday. Hootentown is a campground that is as hick as its name implies and mud bank is exactly that, a muddy, messy take out just off the highway. There were a ton of people floating above Hootentown as evidenced by those waiting for a shuttle when we put in. But we only saw a half dozen other kayakers on our 9 mile float.

The boys had fun fishing and caught bluegill, smallmouth bass, and goggle eye. It didn’t matter what they caught because we wouldn’t have eaten anything out of this part of the river that flows out of Springfield Lake.

The next weekend we took our 4 year old granddaughter camping at Roaring River Park near Cassville, Missouri. It is a trout park operated by the Missouri State Parks. It’s about an hour from Springfield and since Jim loves to fish for trout we have camped here many, many times over the years. We had not taken our grandchild here before but knew that it would be the perfect place.

There are some great, short hikes (our favorite is Devil’s Kitchen). It has wonderful playgrounds (some right by the stream) and lots of places to wade and take a dip. Of course, the fishing is good but as we expected it didn’t hold a 4 year old’s attention for very long.

The highlight of her trip was the swimming pool. They have a very nice pool. It does cost a few dollars extra to get in but was so worth it. We spent about an hour each afternoon there. Our granddaughter had a ball each time, made some new friends, and sufficiently wore herself out so that we didn’t have to worry about a struggle at bedtime. She was more than ready to go to sleep by the time it was lights out.

Delta Colorado

Delta, Colorado – June 2015 We drove a whole 39 miles south from our last camp to the town of Delta. The house we had last occupied back in Missouri was supposed to close at the end of the week and although we had signed the bulk of the documents at a title company before leaving Grand Junction, we needed to be reachable until the actual closing on Friday afternoon. There were still a hundred things that could go wrong between now and then and we did not want to be out of touch for long.

Delta kept us in civilization with 4 bars and 4G but nearer to the places we wanted to visit. Because we knew we had to sit tight for a whole week we chose to take advantage of the weekly rate at Valley Sunset RV Ranch. Most campgrounds weekly rate is equivalent to about 6 days at their regular rate. Valley Sunset’s rates were no exception at $25 per day or $150 per week plus tax. The park had about a hundred sights and all but about 20 appeared to be occupied by full timers. It was pretty well maintained though and a good value.

We were most excited about visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. We had made a brief stop there on a family road trip 15 years ago and were smitten. If we hadn’t needed to stay in cell phone reach we would definitely have camped near it. As usual, things worked out for the best. Although we were still very impressed with the canyon, there really was not that much to do there. There were not many developed trails on the South Rim, and even fewer on the North Rim (a 2 hour drive away). I would like to go back and spend a couple of nights camping there the next time we are in Colorado. It is very remote and I bet the night sky is amazing.

I still love this place. It is like a mini Grand Canyon but in greys and greens instead of red hues.

We took the hike to Warner Point. It was a little over 1 ½ miles roundtrip with around 500 feet in elevation change. I was surprised how winded we got. This was our first hike at any sort of altitude and the 8500 foot elevation really made a difference. But the views were definitely worth it.

If you visit I recommend taking the time drive the East Portal Road. The Gunnison Diversion Dam is very scenic and you can walk down to the river below it.

The road down to the dam was fun. It is about 8 miles, paved, and has up to a 16% grade. I wouldn’t want to try that with the trailer in tow!

Wednesday we took a drive to Basalt, Colorado to some fishing. Google said it was a 2 ½ hour drive. We hoped to make it in 2 but with road construction we were lucky we made it in 3. The scenic drive alone was worth the trip. There were gorgeous waterfalls everywhere from the snowmelt. And we stopped to check out these strange ovens along the road in Redstone. They were used to make coke fuel from coal mined in the area in the late 1800’s.

Jim had a great time fishing the gold medal waters of the Fryingpan River just below the dam 14 miles upstream of Basalt. We expected crowds and were pleased to only see a half dozen other fisherman while we were there. They have very strict guidelines regarding what trout you can keep. He caught 3 trout; a brown too small to bother with and two rainbow which have to be released. One rainbow was probably 3 pounds and he was pleased to have landed it on a 2 pound leader. I rarely fish but enjoyed walking along the river while Jim did. I think he got the better workout, trudging around in soaking wader boots and fighting 14 inch trout.

Thursday and Friday we had to stay close to town because of the closing and then about noon Friday, when we found out the deal was done, it started raining and poured for two days. By Saturday afternoon we were so stir crazy we said to heck with the rain, threw on our coats, and drove to the Gunnison River for a walk. It was not one of our best hikes, but we were grateful for the fresh air.

Sunday dawned clear and sunny. We packed a lunch and headed to the Grand Mesa area, another beautiful drive. Our original destination, Island Lake, was still frozen over. But we found a group of lakes at a slightly lower elevation that were not. The fishing wasn’t great. I think the fish were still hibernating. Jim did get one bite and the fish snapped his 2 pound leader without ever breaking water so we’ll never know what he had on the line. We only saw one person catch anything, a small rainbow trout. So we took a hike. Some of the trails were still covered in several feet of snow but the trail around Beaver Lake was mostly clear. The snow melting and running into the lakes was beautiful.

It was a lovely day and a great ending to our week in Delta.