We left Lajitas on March 28th with conflicting emotions. Our hearts were heavy leaving our friends, however we were excited about being back on the road and exploring some new territory, albeit for a short while. We had the month of April to play, Chris having the month off before a year of full-time employment. The plan was to spend some of our time “new home” shopping, and the rest of the time exploring more of Arkansas, specifically the Ozarks.
An small leak in our black tank dump valve (yuck!, who said rv’ing is all glamorous) is responsible for our quest for a new home (RV)… An innocent stop for parts at an RV dealership near Austin Texas on our way out in the fall somehow “inspired us”… Over the winter we did some serious research and soul searching… do we really need a new camper? After much deliberation we decided we did! Our route home was designed to included many stops at dealerships along the way to view a variety of specific models.
Our first stop was in Texas Hill Country to check out a few state parks that came highly recommended. Chris had to work for the first few days but we managed to fit in the sights between Sunday and a few afternoons. First stop was Lost Maples State Park where we managed to do 8 of the 11 miles of trail. It seems many parks have a “Monkey Rock” and Lost Maples was one of them. It was quite pretty with a nice creek that ran through much of the trails. The girls had a blast running around in and out of the water… We eventually got busted for having them off leash by a park ranger… Sometimes its hard to follow the rules…
Garner State Park, although highly recommended and said to be “the nicest state park in Texas” by some, didn’t make the grade in our book. We hiked a few miles of trail, investigated an interesting moth (or was he investigating us???), and checked out Crystal Cave. We just didn’t see it… very open and exposed trails with a fair share of garbage, limited views (compared to what we are used to), graffiti in the cave… Oh well… you win some you lose some.
The last afternoon in this area we opted for a motorcycle ride. We headed out on a popular ride in the area called The Three Sisters. A nice ride but once again we have experienced more interesting, scenic, and exciting. I was happy though… it had been quite a while since I was on my bike. We were happy to move on… or so we thought. As luck would have it we broke a spring on the rear axle of the trailer. Ok, some luck involved…Chris caught it when we were at a rest stop and we avoided crashing on the I35 doing 70mph. After about 5 hours, a roadside service call, much labor on Chris’s part, and about $350.00 we had two new springs and were ready to roll!
The next few days were allotted for restocking supplies and checking out some RV dealers in the Dallas area. From here we headed to Russellville Arkansas, our first stop in the Ozarks. What a great area! Lots of state parks, national forest areas, waterfalls, and nice motorcycle riding.
The weather was beginning to prove a bit challenging. We started to see lower temperatures, gray and some rain. In between the inclement weather we managed to take in quite a few sights. First stop was Petite Jean State Park. Though a bit foggy and wet, we managed to hike about 6 miles and got to see much of the park highlights.
We explored the overlooks above the Cedar Creek Falls… See the young girl at the bottom? She posed for us when she spotted us on a cliff above. We found some interesting rock structures and stopped to check out the Mathers Lodge, pretty impressive!
From there we hit the Seven Hollows trail. It became evident early on what a hollow actually was. We felt like we were on some quest working our way through hollow after hollow, each having its own personality. We happened by a pretty impressive rock arch and a hidden “Grotto”. Nice park and a good day even if we got a little wet.
The next two days we headed out on the motorcycles. The first day we fought the fog and drizzle but had a good time none the less since the roads were fun to ride and there were some pretty things to see.
We happened upon a few of the prettiest blue butterflies frolicking in the woods. Ok, so I happened upon them when I went behind a tree to go potty. From then the hunt was on and Chris chased them around for 20 minutes trying to get a picture.
The second day was much better. The weather improved and we got some good information from the National Forest Ranger station. We were off to find a few waterfalls and Pedestal Rocks/Kings Bluff Trails. First stop was Falling Waters, a bit off the beaten path…but best swimming hole ever! Too bad it wasn’t swimming weather.
We found Pedestal Rocks/Kings Bluff and hiked the 4 miles of trail. This is where we started to discover the “tick” issue in Arkansas. Never have I found so many tics on myself as I did when we were in Arkansas. It all started on this hike, not fun and very freaky. I think I found 5 on myself after this short hike! For the next few weeks we felt like things were crawling on us all the time. We became hyper-vigilant wherever we went, especially with the girls.
Ticks aside, the hike was ok… Again we have seen so much better. It was good to stretch our legs and we did grab a few shots to document the day.
Last stop of the day was Haw Creek Falls, located in a small campground on the way home. Not bad. Apparently this area is loaded with waterfalls. Next time we will make time to hunt for more!
Mt Magazine State Park is home to the highest peak in Arkansas. Of course we had to check it out. Again, not much to see… We did several of the trails, hit the “epic” highest point, Signal Hill, then checked out the lodge. Here we found another crazy moth… They grow them big in these parts!
Our second stop in Arkansas was right on the Arkansas Missouri border. We were about 10 miles from Branson MO, an Ozark town in southwest Missouri known for it’s famous boulevard lined with theaters. Although historically the shows were mostly country music, the current venues are more diverse. It was quite the spectacle… but not our thing.
It was here that we hooked up with some travel friends we had met last year in Lajitas. Alissa and Kendal live just outside of Eureka Springs and have similar hobbies and interests. We spent a few days hanging with them and having them show us around their stomping grounds. Of course the weather was not cooperating… We took a short hike in Beaver Dam on the Dogwood Trail before the rain started… oh well off to try some local beer and grab dinner!
We were happy when Alissa and Kendall decided to join us at Cricket Creek ACE (Army Core of Engineers) campground for a night and to do some riding. They are big dirt bike riders and know the area well. I warned them I was a bit lame on the dirt but they were great sports and took me along. I did good for me but definitely slowed everyone down. It was fun and the perfect challenge for me… I was actually sad we had to head home! It was great getting together with them and we look forward to seeing them again! They will be our neighbors in Lajitas for the month of January!
Next stop was supposed to be Lake of the Ozarks area but the weather was not lending itself to any major sight seeing in the foreseeable future. We changed our plan and decide to stop near Meramec State Park about 80 miles south of St. Louis. We spent the day exploring the park but were put off once again by the ticks… We wound up walking the roads in the park after finding numerous ticks on us and the girls after a 1 mile trail. It was a nice little park with quite a few caves and some pretty blue/purple flowers…
Best part of this stop was The Public House Brewery that we visited that evening. Decent beers, nice atmosphere, nice people…
Next stop Joliette Illinois. We picked this location as it was somewhat central to a few RV dealers we wanted to check out. It was also not far from Starved Rock State Park that was highly recommended by a couple we met in Arkansas. We spent several days here checking out campers and one full day at Starved Rock. The more we shop, the more we change our minds… oye…
Starved Rock was better than expected and one day was the perfect amount of time for exploring it. The park runs along the Illinois River and is home to many canyons and little waterfalls created from erosion along the river. We managed to see much of the park in the 8 miles we walked. We happened upon a very cool waterfall on one of the spur trails.
Not our Picture
Now it was time to get serious! Off to Elkhart Indiana (RV capital of the world) for an RV show and some serious shopping! We had the chance to visit several of the factories where the RV’s we were interested in were made. The production lines were impressive. We had private tours lasting almost 2 hours… It was great seeing what goes into the products and the quality of the workmanship. A little tidbit of trivia… the production lines run Monday-Friday from about 5 AM to about 1 PM. Many of the workers are Amish and have their own farms and families to tend to in the afternoon. We stayed in Howe Indiana and unbeknownst to us, Howe is home to a large population of Amish families. It was amazing how many horse and cart’s we passed on the back roads and in town.
Not our Picture…
We weren’t in Indiana long but of course managed to check out one brewery in Elkhart. Iechyd da (Iechyd da is a Welsh toast which literally means “Good Health.” It’s like saying Cheers, Salute, Na zdrowie or Prost!) is a small town brewery with friendly staff and patrons. The beer was tasty and cold and we had a good time chatting with some locals. Go figure, they all worked in the RV business… so we were doing research, right?
There was only one more stop left on our journey home. We had always wanted to stop and see Cayahoga National Park in Ohio. Cayahoga was located relatively close to a few dealerships that had the make/models we had narrowed things down to. We spent only a brief time in the park, which was located with a rural residential area. It was raining and cold so our plan to hike some of the trails was thwarted. We did check out a few sights, one of which was a very cool waterfall.
We had to see things one last time… It was here that we finally made a decision… Ok, we narrowed it down to two models by Grand Design. It was between the 350M and the 380TH. You will have to stay tuned for where we landed!
We made it home safe and sound. Thankfully the house was in good shape. The only real problem was our pool that didn’t make it through the winter. Ahhhhh, the pleasures of home ownership…We needed some summer projects… NOT!
We will be off the road for about 5 months… Plan to head back out the beginning of October 2015.