Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Falcon Has Landed

Kaw lake turned out to be one of our favorite campgrounds. It may have been the weather, which finally turned off cool and sunny. Or, perhaps it was the lovely big campsites and view of the lake.

Certainly a contributing factor was our camp-ground neighbors. Kaw lake is apparently noteworthy in that part of the country as a world-class catfish lake, and a number of our fellow RVers were there for just that reason. They were in pursuit of "blue cats." At least 1/3 of the sites were occupied by fishermen. You could spot them because morning and evening they hung their catches on lines strung between trees, or elaborate A-frame racks. The photo below is typical (though not pretty!).

Most fish are caught on trot lines or "jug lines" fashioned from gallon milk cartons, each with several hooks attached. The fish we saw were mostly in the 15-30 pound range, with some of 35 pounds or more. That's a lot of catfish filets! I wish we could have stayed another weekend for the annual "catfish tournament." Who knows what we might have seen!

We again headed south, through Central and Southern Oklahoma. The secenery was at times spectacular, like the red clay hills below. We crossed the Red River, and immediately felt at home.

On the advice of RV friends Rocky and Sheri Rhoades, we stayed at Hickory Creek COE campground on Lake Lewisville just outside of Denton. Hickory Creek is lovely, with several miles of hiking or biking trails and some sites overlooking the lake.

The dogs had a grand time watching squirrels and taking walks. However, Nickie had another "close encounter" with a skunk the evening before we left. John had released her and Feathers for a short "potty stop" before bedtime when he smelled the unmistakable odor of skunk. He called in the dogs, but not before Nickie found where the skunk had sprayed and rolled in its "perfume." Fortunately, a bath took away most of the smell, but there is still a faint aroma of eau de polecat if you get close to her.

With a cold front predicted and rain forecast, we hooked up and headed home on October 21, twelve weeks and four days after leaving Austin. We found everything here in good order, but are now trying to reacquaint ourselves with the location of the essentials of everyday life. It's amazing how fast one can forget on which side of the sink the silverwear is located, or how the TV tuner works.

Oh, and we're already beginning to plan our next adventure, so stay tuned!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Homeward Bound

We left Junction City Thursday after lunch, and drove as far as Wichita, KA, before stopping for the night. The highlight of the trip was sighting several "kettles" of migrating hawks. They were far enough away that we couldn't determine what species they were....or if there were several. It was breathtaking, though. We pulled over on the side of the road, got out and watched for several minutes until they spiraled out of site, headed south. That wasn't the end of our hawk-watching, however. Northern Harriers, with their distinctive white rump-patches, winter here. Redtailed Hawks are everywhere, soaring over the fields and woods or perched on a fence post like this one.

As evening approached, we passed up a world-class state park on El Dorado Lake just outside El Dorado because the sites that were available were muddy. We'll stay there in the future, though. There were plenty of trees and large open areas where the dogs could run.

In retrospect, I wish we had braved the mud instead of going on to Wichita. There are only three RV parks in town. One was on the far west side of town and another had sites so small that even our 33-foot RV wouldn't fit. So, we chose USI RV Park on the east side of Wichita. I will say that it was clean, and had level gravel sites and a nice grassy area for walking dogs. However, it was very close to the (apparently requisite for urban parks) railroad tracks. From what I could tell, the trains started running about 3 a.m., and continued every 30 minutes or so until morning. The park also backed up to a pig farm. Fortunately, the wind was from the other direction so we got only an occasional piggy whiff. The dogs were very intrigued, though. The squealing piglets sounded like prey to them! One night there was more than enough!

On the advice of RV friends Jack and Danielle Mayer, we drove south into Oklahoma and camped at Coon Creek Cove Park on Kaw Lake northeast of Ponca City. The park is a Corps of Engineers park, and is just lovely. The sites are large and well-spaced, with plenty of open areas. Sites have water and electric service, and there are bath houses spaced throughout.

Our site backs up to a little slough off Kaw Lake, and is a mecca for birdwatchers. On Saturday we looked out our window and saw a dozen or so species at once. Among them were Great Blue Herons, Great White Herons, a flock of Canada Geese, several duck species, American White Pelicans and seagulls.

The one below is (we think) a juvenile Great Blue Heron that John calls Leroy. He hangs out below our campsite and fishes from dawn until dusk.

We have also seen a number of woodpeckers and flocks of Eastern Bluebirds in the trees around our campsite. (I never knew bluebirds traveled in flocks!) In addition, there are medium-sized birds of some kind that travel in great dark flocks, wheeling and twirling across the sky.

This area is on the edge of the tall-grass prairie, and rolling, grassy hills alternate with oak woodlands. The grasslands have taken on their fall colors, and the rusty-red big and little bluestem are providing color to the landscape. There are a number of very large ranches in this area. We ate lunch at a local barbecue joint alongside a "real" cowboy, complete with boots, spurs, chaps and a sweat-stained hat.

When driving along the back roads, we saw miles and miles of fences, herds of fat cattle,and a scattering of oil wells, but very few houses or outbuildings. Native stone is often used to build "posts" like these to support gates or fence corners.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Back to The Flatlands

Eastern Colorado and Western Kansas aren't at their best right now. The landscape is flat to gently rolling, rendered mostly in shades of beige and gray. Corn fields ready for harvest are gray-brown. Just-plowed fields are brown. Roadsides are beige. Occasionally the monochrome pallette is broken by a field of maize in shades of russet-red. The only real color comes from the big green John Deere tractors, bright red Case combines spitting out streams of golden corn, and other farm equipment.

We proceeded east from Denver across 100 or so miles of eastern Colorado, then into Kansas. For the first half of the day, I didn't see a single rock except for the rock fence posts. Those rocks were quarried and shaped by early settlers because there weren't enough trees to make into posts. (Don't ask me where they quarried the rock; I didn't see any likely spots.) It's interesting that the rock posts have often been incorporated into new fences, like the one below.

Near Russell, Kansas, trees begin to appear and the landscape began to look more like North Central Texas. What didn't seem like North Central Texas (when we left on this trip) was the cold, rainy weather that set in in early October, and which has continued through mid-month. That, combined with the wind...and more wind...and more wind, has made the weather pretty disagreeable.

On the very bright side, though, has been the camaraderie of the members of the Escapee's Heavy Duty Truck group we joined in Hutchinson for their annual rally. Some 30 or so members spent the first week of October sharing stories, attending seminars and generally enjoying the fellowship of like-minded RVers. Many of the attendees are "full-timers" who live (and in some cases work) on the road. Others, like us, travel part-time, but pull their RVs with heavy or medium duty trucks. Their tow vehicles are shown here in our annual group picture.

Our truck is the one in the center of the front row to the left of the big blue Peterbilt. If you look closely at the closeup of our truck, you may be able to see Feathers "driving" and Nickie and riding shotgun.

After leaving Hutchinson, we traveled some 100 miles to Junction City, KA, for a visit to the New Horizons RV manufacturing plant where our RV was "born" some 12 years ago. We were there to have some minor repair work done on our coach, while a couple of friends were shopping for new fifth wheel RVs. We'll leave tomorrow and begin working our way back to Texas.