Prairie Dogs and Wildflowers at Lake Arrowhead

Every once in a while we discover an unexpected gem of a park. We just needed a quiet, restful place to stay for a couple of days after our adventure in Palo Duro Canyon. A place where we could buy some groceries and just chill. Lake Arrowhead State Park south of Wichita Falls sounded like it would fit the bill. As it turned out we enjoyed it so much we stayed an extra day.

It was wonderful seeing so much green after the brown plains of Texas. We had a nice big site with plenty of green grass and trees. There were hardly any other campers in the park and we sometimes felt like the only ones there.

Green all around at Lake Arrowhead
A great place to chill

Texas has been going through a drought for several years and many lakes have suffered because of it. Lake Arrowhead is really low and has been for a while. The fishing pier is high and dry and all of the boat ramps are closed.

Lake Arrowhead is really low
Lake Arrowhead is really low

There is a Prairie Dog Town in the park that has spread to some of the campsites. Some of the holes were right beside the road and Blondie tried to stick her nose in them as we walked by. The Prairie Dogs would scamper away to their hole and disappear as Blondie and I approached on foot. They would stay around longer when we drove by in the truck.

Prairie Dog Mama and babies
Prairie Dog Mama and her pups next to the picnic table in one of the campsites
Prairie Dog at Lake Arrowhead
Prairie Dog protecting his turf
Prairie Dog at Lake Arrowhead
Prairie Dog at Lake Arrowhead

There is a working oil pump in the campground. After seeing so many of them in the fields as we drove through Texas it was interesting to see one up close. The engineering term for this type pump is a walking beam. More common names for it are horsehead pump, nodding donkey, beam pump, rod pump, grasshopper, thirsty bird, pump jack or jack pump.

Inspecting an oil pump in the park
Inspecting an oil pump in the park

I was happy to see bluebonnets and other wildflowers growing beside the road.

It was a great place to chill before continuing our trek east.

The ranger who checked us in was very friendly and helpful and gave us great directions to shopping in Wichita Falls. She also recommended the Branding Iron for barbeque and it was delicious.

Our site was a pull through with paved pad, large grass sitting area, a covered picnic table and fire ring. The site had water and electric hookups. There was a bath house close by, several picnic areas and hiking trails in the park.

If you would like to read my detailed campground review of this park, click here.

Palo Duro Canyon – The Grand Canyon of Texas

Our campsite in Palo Duro Canyon
Our campsite in Palo Duro Canyon

I was really looking forward to camping in Palo Duro Canyon. Just the idea of looking up at the canyon walls from our campsite was enough to plan our trip around a stay in the park. It was worth the two mile drive into Palo Duro Canyon down several switchbacks and a 10% grade to get to one of our most memorable campsites in all of our camping years. Our site in the Sagebrush campground had great views of the canyon and a private little sitting area behind our RV.

Our private picnic area behind the RV
Our private picnic area behind the RV

Known as the Grand Canyon of Texas, Palo Duro Canyon is the second largest canyon in the United States. With 16 miles of paved roads through the canyon and miles of hiking, biking, and horse trails, there is enough to make everyone happy.

One of the most popular trails in the park is the Lighthouse Trail through the canyon for a close up look at the Lighthouse formation, the symbol of the state park. The multi-use trail is about a 6 mile round trip from the parking lot. We started out early on a cool Sunday morning and encountered cyclists, runners, and other hikers but no horses along the trail. A transplanted Georgian who now lives in Amarillo stopped to chat as we passed each other on the trail.

View from the Lighthouse Trail
View from the Lighthouse Trail

The trail was packed red dirt and rock but not difficult. Our plan was to go to the base of the lighthouse but when two different hikers stopped to tell us about two rattlesnakes ahead of us I was done. Henry went a little farther and tried to convince me there was no sign of them but I wouldn’t budge! I was tired and ready to head back so we turned around about .2 miles before the end of the trail. We were done for the day when we got back to the campsite and loafed the rest of the afternoon.

Although there was no wildlife along the trail (except for the rattlesnakes we didn’t see) there was plenty of wildlife in the park. On the first afternoon I spotted a threatened Texas Horned Lizard in our campsite.

This Texas Horned Lizard ran through our campsite
This Texas Horned Lizard ran through our campsite

This Mule Deer beside the road wasn’t afraid of me.

Mule Deer
Mule Deer

Wild Turkeys wandered through the campground one evening.

Wild Turkeys wandered through the campground
Wild Turkeys wandered through the campground

We took a short hike to explore the Hole In the Wall.

And explored the replica of a Cowboy Dugout.

Cowboy Dugout
Cowboy Dugout

There was a rainbow one afternoon.

Rainbow after a short rain shower
Rainbow after a short rain shower

We saw T-Bone, one of the resident Texas Longhorns in the park.

T-Bone, one of the Texas Longhorns
T-Bone, one of the Texas Longhorns

We enjoyed our stay so much I think this is now my favorite state park!

There are several campgrounds in Palo Duro Canyon State Park with backpacking, equestrian sites, tent sites, and RV sites with water and electricity.Our site in the Sagebrush Campground had large private sitting area with a covered shelter over the picnic table and a fire ring. There are hiking, biking and equestrian trails. There are also several day use picnic areas, cabins, stables with guided horseback rides, an interpretive center, and the Trading Post Restaurant and Park store. If you would like to read my detailed campground review of this park, click here.

 

Into the Texas Plains

The landscape changed from vibrant green rolling hills and roads lined with bluebonnets to flat, brown plains as we drove north to the small town of Buffalo Gap where we camped at Abilene State Park. Huge buffalo herds once traveled through the area where the town is today. Many of the cattle drives also came through the area.

Visiting with my friend Tim was the highlight of the day!
Visiting with my friend Tim was the highlight of the day!

We had a great visit with my high school friend Tim, a 7th generation Texan who has lived in Arlington most of his life. He picked a beautiful, sunny day to drive over to Buffalo Gap to see us.

We drove to nearby Abilene to see the western heritage exhibits at the Frontier Texas museum in Abilene. We learned a lot about the history of the area from the prehistoric days to the wild west. Everything was very well done through exhibits and two excellent films.

From Buffalo Gap we continued through the Texas panhandle driving through miles and miles of plains to Lubbock. Around Sweetwater we saw huge wind farms on top of the buttes and lots of oil pumps across the plains. As we approached Lubbock there were huge cotton fields on either side of the road.

The highlight of our trip to Lubbock was a visit to the Buddy Holly Center. Buddy Holly was born and raised in Lubbock and began his music career there. Two of his biggest hits with Buddy Holly and the Crickets were “That’ll be the Day” and “Oh Boy”.

Buddy’s music was a big inspiration to many of the British bands who became superstars later. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Elton John all credit Buddy Holly as a big influence in their music. The Rolling Stones first hit, “Not Fade Away”, was a Buddy Holly song.

Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. Richardson (“The Big Bopper”) died tragically in a plane crash on February 2, 1959 while touring across the Midwest. One of the members of Buddy’s touring band for the tour was Waylon Jennings. Waylon was supposed to be on the plane but gave up his seat to J.P. Richardson who had the flu.

To visit Abilene we stayed at Abilene State Park in Buffalo Gap. Our site was a large back in surrounded by woods with water and electric hookups, a picnic table and fire pit. Go here to read my review of this park.

To visit Lubbock we stayed at the Mesa Verde RV Park in Wolfforth. Our site was a large pull through with full hookups. The park has a swimming pool (not open when we were there), two laundries, free WiFi, two enclosed dog walks, and very nice, helpful owners. Go here to read my review of this park.

Hiking Enchanted Rock and the Llano Fiddle Fest

We weren’t ready to leave the Texas Hill country just yet. With Inks Lake full for Easter weekend we had to vacate our lake front campsite and find another place to stay. We really liked the town of Llano and found a private RV park beside the Llano river that had a site for the three nights.

Enchanted Rock State Park is short drive south of Llano so on Saturday we set out early in the morning  in hopes of beating the Easter weekend crowds. We arrived at the park entrance before 9:30 only to find a line of cars waiting to get in. It only took a few minutes to get our parking permit, park and head for the summit trail. Many families were out enjoying the climb to the top.

The  highest point of Enchanted Rock 1,825 is feet above sea level. Climbing the Rock is like climbing the stairs of a 30- or 40-story building. My fitbit said I climbed 56 floors that day!

We had a great time at the Llano Fiddle Fest. After a picnic lunch at the bottom of Enchanted Rock we returned to Llano to go the LanTex Theater to hear some of the fiddlers in the 38th  Llano Open Fiddle Contest.  I don’t know anything about Texas Fiddling but I know I enjoyed all of the contestants we heard.

On Sunday morning we drove to the Llano Museum to hear some more fiddling and eat a Cowboy Breakfast put on by the Llano Historical Society. We got there as the ladies were starting to put everything away but they told us to come on into the kitchen for some biscuits and sausage gravy. The volunteers were so friendly and nice. I love small towns!

Spencer and Rains were playing old time fiddle tunes in one of the rooms in the museum. Tricia Spencer grew up in Kansas and learned to play from her grandparents. Howard Rains is a native Texas artist. We enjoyed listening to their music and bought one of their CD’s.

Saturday afternoon after climbing Enchanted Rock and listening to fiddling we returned to Cooper’s BBQ to get some take out for our Easter dinner on Sunday. The line was wrapped around the building but after a short wait we arrived at the pits to choose our meat right off the grill. We chose a chicken half, brisket and pork tenderloin.  We got some beans, sauce, and jalepenos to go with it and were back at the campground to rest after our busy day.

Llano River
Llano River

Riverway RV Park was our home while in Llano. This private park takes Passport America and Good Sam. All the sites are large pull through sites with full hookups, WiFi, and cable. There is a large clubhouse with kitchen, meeting room and a very nice laundry. The RV park is located on the Llano River only about a mile from downtown Llano. There is a short trail to the Llano River. Wildflowers were blooming beside the trail when we were there. Go here for my review of this park.