Exploring the Texas Hill Country around Canyon Lake

There is so much to see and do in the Texas Hill Country we could have stayed a month and not seen in all. Unfortunately, we only had about two weeks to explore this beautiful area in the heart of Texas. The hill country includes San Antonio and Austin and extends west about 200 miles. Driving through the area on mostly twisting, two lane roads we saw canyons and creeks, dance halls and wineries, historic sites and ranches, quaint small towns and old homesteads, green grass and more wildflowers than I ever imagined. We dined on barbeque and schnitzel and I bought a cowboy hat!

Our first home base in the hill country was Cranes Mill, a beautiful Corps of Engineers park on Canyon Lake near New Braunfels. We enjoyed driving on the country roads to explore the area. The bluebonnets were really starting to bloom and we saw more and more each day.

The first order of business was to eat some Texas Barbeque. One of my brothers lived in San Antonio for a few years and told us not to miss the Salt Lick in Driftwood, Texas. We started out our first full day in the hill country driving the back roads to have our first taste of brisket, ribs, sausage and turkey. After our delicious lunch we stopped to visit the Dr. Joseph Pound homestead. Dr. Pound and his family settled there in 1853 and raised 9 children. His descendants lived in the home continuously until 1983.

On a beautiful sunny Friday we took a drive to Luckenbach and a winery near Fredericksburg.

We enjoyed touring the LBJ State Park and Historic Site in Stonewall. Lyndon  Johnson was our 36th president and spent much of his presidency at his ranch on the Perdanales River. Adjacent to the ranch is the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm, a working farm which recreates a Hill Country farm at the turn of the 20th century.

The driving tour of his ranch goes around the air strip where he would land in a small plane he called Air Force One Half because Air Force One was too large to land on the landing strip. President Johnson left the ranch to be enjoyed by all the people so there is no charge to tour the park.

We also enjoyed visiting some of the towns in the area. Many of the older buildings in the hill country are made of stone because of the lack of wood for building.

On a sunny Palm Sunday we strolled through the town of Gruene where we enjoyed music at one of the oldest dance halls in Texas. Our Sunday drive continued to the artistic town of Wimberley and a walk along the banks of the Cypress Creek.

While driving around we passed many interesting ranches and the Albert Dance Hall and Twin Sisters Dance Hall. Although we were still a little early to see the bluebonnets in all their glory we enjoyed seeing patches of them beside the roads.

When we weren’t sightseeing we enjoyed our large lake front campsite at Crane’s Mill.

Best Campgrounds of the year – 2014

Although we didn’t wander too much in our RV this year our travels took us to some very memorable places. We visited family, camped by lakes and rivers, got together with old friends, visited a distillery, watched barges go by on the Mississippi River, went to 2 Georgia away games, and ate award winning barbeque and tamales.

During our 2014 travels we camped in  8 states and stayed in a total of 17 different parks: 7 state parks, 5 private RV parks, and 5  federal parks.

So here it is, the first ever “Wandering Dawgs best campgrounds of the year” list.

Number 3: Claytor Lake State Park, Dublin, Virginia.

Claytor Lake State Park is our favorite place to stay when visiting family in Virginia. We’ve returned several times and enjoyed each stay.

There are plenty of things to do in the area to keep you busy. The state park has a nice beach and swimming area, hiking trails, a marina, and gift shop with free Wi-Fi. The Blue Ridge Parkway is close enough for a day trip and Virginia Tech in Blacksburg is just a short drive away.

We always stay in one of the big pull through sites in section D. Each site has water and electric, a picnic table, and fire pit. The sites are wide enough that you don’t feel like you are on top of your neighbor. There are no waterfront sites in the park but the lake is just a short walk from the campground.

We visited Claytor Lake State Park in April, 2014 and also in May, 2013.

Number 2: Maumelle COE on the Arkansas River in Little Rock, Arkansas

Maumelle is a popular Corps of Engineers park in Little Rock, Arkansas. This is a very popular park so reservations are recommended especially on the weekends. Our site, just a few steps from the lake, was a large back in with water and electric hookups, a big patio area with a fire pit and picnic table, and a beautiful view of the Arkansas River.

The campground is conveniently located in Little Rock and close to shopping. The park has a boat ramp, playground, basketball court and a picnic area. It is a good home base for exploring the area. We enjoyed a day trip to Petit Jean State Park.

We visited Maumelle Campground in October, 2014.

Number 1: Mississippi River State Park, Marianna, Arkansas

Not only the best campground of 2014, but I would rate this one of the best state park campgrounds ever!

The park is located in the Mississippi Delta on the Crowley’s Ridge Parkway and the Great River Road within the St. Francis National Forest. We stayed in the Beech Point Campground on a peninsula in Bear Creek Lake. There are only 17 sites in the campground with 14 full hookup waterfront sites and 3 tent sites.  Ours was a large pull through with a big patio area for the picnic table and fire ring. Everything was clean and new, the staff at the visitor’s center and the rangers were friendly and helpful, and the view from our site couldn’t be beat.

This is a great place to sit and watch the resident Great Blue Heron and turtles on the lake. The visitor’s center has a very well done and interesting interpretive center about the Mississippi Delta. The lake is a popular fishing destination and if you enjoy scenic drives the Great River Road and Crowley’s Ridge Parkway are both close by. Oh, and award winning barbeque is just a short drive from the campground.

We’re already trying to figure out when we can camp here again!

We visited Mississippi River State Park in October, 2014.

Honorable Mention:

  • Winfield COE on J Strom Thurmond Lake in Appling, Georgia.
  • Lake Chicot State Park, Lake Village, Arkansas.
  • Trail of Tears State Park, Jackson, Missouri.

Where do you think we will wander next year? Stay tuned…

Happy New Year!!

Two COE campgrounds in Alabama

Our last two stops on the way home to Georgia were two Corps of Engineers campgrounds in Alabama. I made last minute reservations for two nights in Tuscaloosa and two nights in Montgomery. Our drive from Arkansas to Tuscaloosa was pretty long for us. We drove east through the entire state of Mississippi with fields of cotton still on the vine on both sides of the road. As we traveled through Mississippi we passed by several places of interest:

  • The Jim Henson Museum near his birthplace in Leland, Mississippi
  • B.B. King’s birthplace of Itta Bena, Mississippi
  • Greenwood, Mississippi with signs proclaiming it the cotton capital of the world
  • Tennessee Williams’ birthplace of Columbus, Mississippi.

We arrived at Deerlick Creek on Holt Lake on the Black Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway in the rolling hills northeast of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Behind our RV were a few steps up to a patio area with fire ring and picnic table. With trees all around we felt like the only campers there. Our two nights there were quiet and peaceful.

We had to make this tight turn and go down the hill to turn around before we could exit the campground
We had to make this tight turn and go down the hill to turn around before we could exit the campground

Our site 28 was on a hill in the RBLU loop. We enjoyed this park but I would not recommend staying in this loop with a big rig. Getting out of the loop was a challenge. We drove down the hill, made a sharp left turn to continue down the hill, and turned around in a very tight turnaround to go back up the hill to exit the park. We had an audience watching but I never doubted Henry’s towing skills!   Our second Alabama COE park was Gunter Hill on R. E. Bob Woodruff Lake in Montgomery, Alabama. I really felt at home when I saw Spanish Moss on the trees. We were in site 99 in the older section of the campground in a beautiful lake front site. There is a newer section which has been renovated with paved sites and full hookups. When we arrived the Saturday before Halloween we discovered the park was full for their traditional Halloween Trick-or-Treat. Families reserve their site six months in advance for this popular event. Elaborate Halloween decorations were seen throughout the park. I love it when we stumble upon an unexpected event! It was a great place to end our fall trip.


Beside the Arkansas River in Little Rock, Arkansas

Maumelle Campground is a beautiful Corps of Engineers park next to the Arkansas River in Little Rock, Arkansas. This is a popular family destination and was almost full on the weekend. Just a few miles from grocery stores, shopping, and restaurants it was the perfect place for us to stay. The big sites are all paved with picnic table and fire pit. Our site was on the water with our camper set up beneath pecan trees.

On Friday we took a day trip to the first Arkansas state park, Petit Jean State Park. The 55 mile trip took us through several small towns. The final miles of the journey were up steep, winding roads until we reached the top of Petit Jean Mountain and the state park.

The legend of how Petit Jean mountain was named began in the 1700’s when a French nobleman named Chavet became engaged. He was soon leaving to explore part the Louisiana Territory and claim some of the land. His fiance wanted to get married before he left so she could accompany him on his journey. He refused because he didn’t want her to have to suffer the hardships they would encounter. She disguised herself as a cabin boy named Petit Jean and went on the exploration with him without his knowledge. Chavet never knew who she was until she fell ill and a doctor discovered the truth. She is buried on top of the mountain which was named after her.

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Spring Road Trip

Our first stop on our spring road trip was in Appling, Georgia at one of the Corps of Engineers Campgrounds on the shore of J Strom Thurmond Lake. For three nights we enjoyed the peace and tranquility of our lake front campsite.

When it is springtime in Georgia the Wild Dogwoods and Carolina Jasmine add splashes of white and yellow throughout the woods.

We took a short drive to Harlem, Georgia to visit the birthplace of Oliver Hardy. He was born there in 1892 and moved to Milledgeville, Georgia with his mother after his father died. He attended the Military College of Georgia there and the University of Georgia for a short time. There are images of him all through town and in October the whole town celebrates with a Laurel and Hardy Festival.

On Saturday we took a drive to Modoc, South Carolina to meet with friends Bill and Carol who are work campers there. We had a great time catching up with them and making some new RV friends.