Saturday, February 26, 2011

Fairfield Texas State Park

Saturday Morty rolls 60 more miles on to the Prairies and Lakes region of Texas where Fairfield State Park is located. This is a much larger park than the last several, and it has a few more weekend campers too. We get a site right on the edge of the lake where we have a great view of the wildlife -- while sitting under our awning, we watch an armadillo stroll across, looking for some fallen leaves to root through. Our second bald eagle flies over Morty here. The first was on our Michigan trip. Having left the Pineywoods region, there are no loblolly pines to be seen anywhere.

On the way, we passed the first HEB grocery store of this trip, and stopped in to pick up a supply of Gephardt chili powder to meet the needs of my brother who has not been back in time to replenish his supply. We also got a little for ourselves -- that's got to be some gooood chili powder, so now we ourselves are in eager anticipatory delight.

The twenty or so week-enders all head out on Sunday, leaving us alone with the camp hosts. The morning's clouds persist until about an hour after the 2 PM check out time, when the skies clear completely and the temperature rises to  the predicted 80 degrees. The new solitude is wonderful -- we begin thinking of extending for a third day here.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Mission Tejas State Park

A leisurely 65 mile drive and Morty arrives at Mission Tejas State Park the first Spanish mission in East Texas, established out of fear that the French were about to lay claim to these lands.

Here the Caddoan speaking Hasinai Indians greeted the Spaniards with the word "tayshas" meaning "friends." Eventually the place came to be Texas as the word evolved, and then the natives were sent off to the reservation in the furtherance of friendship. This must be why we hablamos español hoy.

Wikipedia lists the loblolly pine as extending in the Southeast US from the Carolinas to just about this far in Texas.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Verizon Cell Service

Just have to mention that the Droid phone from Verizon has me back on line like a champ, even though I'm sitting in the East Texas boonies known as Pineywoods. Sprint is in roaming mode, with no hope of any data connection.

The funniest part, is that I had been reviewing the available options at least monthly for the last year and a half, and had absolutely no clue that Verizon had a bargain plan for the over 65 set. I suppose I was a little reluctant to leave Sprint and its 20% discount to big company employees since there was no way for a retiree to get a comparable deal with either company.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Martin Creek Texas State Park

We drove Morty another 30 or so miles to Martin Creek State Park where there is a prescribed burn going on. Lynne and I are usually so anti-smoke that I braced for some discomfort. But even when the wind briefly started the smoke our way at dinner time, we just went in Morty and closed the vents and were fine.

This lake is used for cooling by a power plant on the opposite shore, so the water is warmer than usual -- good for some types of fishing, not necessarily for eating. There is a sandbar across from our site leading to an island, so first thing we did was hike out there and circle the island. Again, the RVers here are less than 10% of capacity, so the rangers were especially glad to have us coming in.

This morning we awoke snuggled under the comforter because the overnight temp went to 48 degrees. At least this morning dawned bright and clear, breaking the overcast morning pattern we have had since arriving in Texas. The weather is looking good with the exception of thunder storms on Thursday, but the temperatures are looking fine.

Sprint has let me down in this entire region, while I could see Verizon users were having no trouble getting on the internet. So today we stopped at the Wal-Mart enroute and picked up a Verizon HTC Incredible. I was looking for just a data card to shave the monthly fees to $50 but they had none in stock. Then I saw that the senior talk and data plan combined were only $60 with an Android phone for another $30, we became Verizon customers, and are very happy with the service so far. Since we use Google Voice, the new phone is also tied to our one and only number 614-859-9365. Give us a call sometime.

HTC Incredible cell phone at Amazon

Caddo Lake Texas State Park

Morty rolls south a paltry 37 miles to Caddo Lake State Park right on the road to Uncertain, TX [I'm a little uncertain of the spelling, some maps show a capital C]. The ride itself was a stunning study of life in northeast Texas. Gently rolling hills and creek valleys with some grand homes and more subsistence-level dwellings, albeit all with big fleets of big personal vehicles. The February temperatures are pushing through the upper 70s now, and sitting shirtless taking in a few rays of vitamin D, I'm thinking this might be a really good place to live.

The state parks have an annual Pass that covers your per-person admission fee, and comes with four coupons for half-off stays of two nights or more. The big improvement from last year, is that the pass has now gone electronic, and the coupons are no longer mailed to your residence. That means that you can use them right away resulting in a substantial discount on the $60 price even before considering the waived admission fees. Especially with the magnificent quality of the Texas Park system, this is an absolute no-brainer, “Highly Recommended”. Still the office rangers, at both parks this trip, seem mildly surprised when non-residents ask for the $60 Park Pass – something to wonder about, or is it just saying something about the current state of economics education?

Caddo Lake is the only natural lake in the entire state of Texas. It was formed by a natural damming of trees and logs, which man promptly removed to drain the swamp. The lake then disappeared. The solution was to build a dam. Yeah! civilization!!!

Caddo Lake is a small park, with about 60 RV sites and a dozen cabins. Total occupants on this Presidents' Day weekend, amount to about a dozen individuals or six of the sites. We are camped in a grove of mostly oaks and live oaks which are all bare for the winter, so the Sun shines through with nearly full force raising the temperatures. It's now too warm for the long sleeve shirt I've been wearing, so time to change to short sleeves, then off to explore on the bikes.. We even put on Morty's vinyl wheel covers on the south side to protect the rubber from two days more of the ultraviolet rays [most RV tires are killed not by miles or road hazards, but by sitting in direct sunlight.]

We see the cypress swamp and the livery where the canoes, paddles and life vests are all available on the honor system – $11 an hour, or $20 per half day, deposit in the hole in the wall. The array of colors and textures cried out for some photography and I tried to oblige. The swamp is alive with turtles, some of monstrous size sunning themselves on every available log, while others swim on by the fishing pier. The locals are besides themselves with the abundance of sand bass, but we not only don't see them, we also do not see any fishermen with their catch.

Some sections of the forest are thick with lob lolly pine and others are exclusively oak – hard to tell what makes one win out over the other, but the hilliness may have something to do with it.

There is only one camper within viewing range, and that is at a cabin up the road from us over 200 feet away. Yet there is a Verizon MiFi device showing up in the wireless connection of my computer. I can't even get a Sprint phone signal to call on. So I've been wondering if maybe it's time to sign up with Verizon – just a thought.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Atlanta Texas State Park

Saturday in Atlanta State Park dawns a little overcast, but the Sun soon bursts forth turning the day glorious. We bike around the park, looking for the winter residents, but the six inches of snow that were here a couple of weeks ago, probably sent them scurrying further South. We get a few pictures of the lake and environs. We asked the ranger about what to see in the park, and learned that a dude drowned here six weeks ago, having fallen from his boat. The boat was found going around in circles, and was loaded with Indian artifacts that he had removed from the eroding banks of the lake. So that raises our interest level a lot as we explore on bike.

There are some hills here, which need the bikes' granny gears to climb, and we go down them with both brakes applied, still doing 30 mile per hour. There's some fun there.

Sunday dawns pretty much like Saturday weather-wise. We decide to head a little further South with a shopping stop. But, Atlanta holds much appeal for our spending some more quiet time here.

Any spare change?

As we dined at a Little Rock McDonalds, a dude at the next table asked “Any spare change?” No was my reply, (if I can't use a credit card with rebates, I really don't want to do business.) A little later, he asked another guy, with similar economics training, the same question but this fellow offered to buy him something to eat -- in this case a large fry and a chicken sandwich. But just then the store's computer crashed and they couldn't sell anything. So this good Samaritan voluntered to run next door to Wendy's to fill the dude's order, which he did, bringing it back to the McDonalds. He comments that he knows what it's like to have to do without, and then takes his leave. Then before the dude begins to partake alone, the manager, perhaps seeing a golden opportunity to move a freeloader along, comes around to tell him that he can't eat “that” in “here.”

So what happens next? Does the dude a) take the meal outside? b) give the manager a little lip about how this would have been a McDonald's meal except for the fact that they could not sell it due to their computer crash? or c) throw the unopened food into the trash and return to his seat?

Hint: No good deed goes unpunished.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Rolling through the Mid-South

Yesterday, we departed Gahanna around 3PM. Today, we are camping in Texas – Atlanta, Texas more specifically. About 650 miles and we finally hit on some wonderful weather. The first roadside rest stop in Texas had free WiFi which we used to download the latest park guide. We were hoping for at least some little clue as to which parks themselves had WiFi, but this is still lacking. It is as if the park system still considers this amenity as untested and of unknown demand. The powers that be should stop by some of these parks and see the huddled masses in the sacred WiFi zones trying to get and keep a signal while pounding out the latest email and twitters. Then they would no longer withhold such precious information from us digerati.

Maybe we will stay a while here on Lake Wright Patman – sounds a little Air Force-y, no? We arrived in the dark and had to register our own selves, and find our own site. Tomorrow will be the reckoning day with the park rangers. Since this our first camp site of this trip, it is due in no small part to how wonderful we found the park rangers in Texas last year.

The ranger interaction is, however, going somewhat less spectacular this time. We called about the availability of sites on Goose Island, where we watched the Whooping Cranes last year, but were handled very rudely by a lady who wouldn't give us the time of day. A couple of calls later, we finally found out that there are no sites until April – “All right? Good by.” must be oh-so nice to have virtually infinite demand and a very finite supply.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Morty's trip into Spring 2011

The coming of the February thaw (aided by the cleaning up of the new year's bills and taxes) means that the time is ripe to set out on the highway again seeing the USA in our Chevrolet. Morty's preparations went smoothly except for the tire pressure check. This essential procedure again resulted in a sliced open finger from one of the two remaining decorative wheel covers – man, do I hate those things. Every time I have checked the air pressure, I have come away with a sliced finger from those buggers. Now, I am beginning to see that those sharp edges need to filed down before I next insert my precious digits. The current synthetic oil would have 53% of its life remaining if it were non-synthetic. Does anyone know how that all factors out? The water holding tank is full to just under the two-thirds level. The batteries are at their level best. The dump tanks are empty. The gen-set is working with its oil topped off. And, the hole and crack in the roof vents are temporarily sealed with package tape – something which I know will blow off sooner or later, but is a good fix while it holds.

The weather is cool-to-warm, but cloudy and misty as we traverse Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas. But soon after crossing into the Lone Star, the skies clear and the temperature rises to the upper 60's. The gods are unquestionably smiling on this dash to better climes.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

New Toy for Google Voice -- OBi110

While we have been extremely satisfied with Google Voice phone service, I couldn't resist a new product which promised to kick it up several levels. I'm talking about the OBI110 analog telephone adapter (ATA).

This little box is only three inches across, but functions much like your own private phone company. It provides much improved voice clarity and features that would cost at least $40 per month from AT&T. It may be out of stock currently, but was selling for $50 when I ordered from Amazon a week ago.

The other features that are really interesting include:

Connects to an existing land line which can be used according to how you dial the phone or program the OBi. Incoming calls on the land line can be programmed to ring distinctively to minimize the intrusion of robo-calls.

Connects to up to two internet telephone providers, which in my case are both Google Voice. My new number is 614 859 9385 in addition to the existing 614 859 9365.

Allows three-way and call waiting. Also provides caller ID.

Most importantly for us, it eliminates the need to use the computer to dial calls, and restores full functionality to your cordless phones.

While it is almost plug and play, there are still enough potential sticking points, that I recommend it only for nerds and hackers, or at least those with friends who qualify as such. But for those, the verdict is Highly Recommended.