Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Trailer Talk Tuesday: Our Misadventures at Garner State Park

Garner State Park

You know how some vacations just don't quite come together?  All the pieces don't fall into place and you're left feeling like you're just scrambling to make it work?  This is one of those stories.  Buckle your seatbelt; it was a long and bumpy ride.

This past July we decided to finally take to the kids to see one of the most storied Texas state parks, Garner State Park in Concan, Texas.  It's on the beautiful Frio River in the Hill Country and spending the day floating on a tube in 70 degree water sounded lovely since it felt like we had been living on the surface of the sun for most of the summer.  A few months prior to the trip, I made reservations online for a campsite.  I felt like I had made a major score, because these spots fill up a year in advance.  Someone must have just cancelled and we got a primo spot.  Off to a good start!

not our primo spot

A couple of days before we were to head out we brought the Shasta to the house to get her all spiffed up and loaded with goodies.

A photo posted by @bluejeansandturquoise on

I had contacted Garner and told them we would be driving in that Friday night.   The park office closed at 10 pm (the website now says 11, but that still wouldn't have helped...), so, if we were going to make our camping spot for Friday night we would need to check in before 10:00.  Google Maps showed a 6 hour drive and I added an hour for towing speed plus an hour for stopping for dinner, etc.  For you math whizzes, I calculated that we needed to leave no later than 2:00 in order to make it in time.  We're used to setting up a campsite in the dark, since we live 6 hours from just about anywhere we want to visit.  This was going to work out JUST FINE.

We own our own business, which, for the uninitiated, would give you the impression that we can just take off whenever we want.  When your name's on the building, though, you feel responsible for everything going on and you (and by you, I mean my husband) feel like you have to have your hand in everything going on.  This explains why we left at 3:00 instead of 2:00.  Ok.  We'll just have to hustle, I said.  No stopping for dinner--it will be sandwiches from the camper.  But nobody listens to me.

We made a stop at a Wal-Mart on the way to see if they had innertubes for sale.  It's the end of summer in a town on the edge of the oil patch.  They do not have innertubes.  We hop back in the vehicle with our dinner ready to go and head on down the road.  I have the map as a screenshot on my phone at this point, because we are heading into the great unknown.  Our cellular plan is with Verizon and this particular part of Texas might as well be on the moon as far as they're concerned.  There are occasionally small towns where we might have one bar of coverage, but for the most part, there is No Service.  Fun.

I'm checking the time and doing mental math to see how close we are to making or missing the office hours at Garner.  About 20 miles outside of the next small town, we hear something.  And feel something.  And a super-cool little light starts flashing on the dash--we have a flat.  Mr. BJandT pulls over and goes to check it out.  Since we are, according to Verizon, in the middle of nowhere and in the dark, we decided to limp along to the next town.  We finally make it to Mayberry and they have rolled up the streets for the evening.  We go to the first convenience store we find open and go inside to purchase a can of fix-a-flat.  Fortunately, they do have that.  Unfortunately, their air hose machine is jammed and doesn't work.

As we stand there like fools in the dark, trying to will the machine to put air in our tire, a guy drives by in a broken-down pick up truck and says "Hey, that one doesn't work!  I've got an air compressor at my house.  If you'll follow me, I'll get you fixed up."

This was one of those great crossroad moments:  Do I stay here in the parking lot all night in the heat with no electricity until the town wakes back up and someone can fix this tire?  or Do I follow the dude in the sketchy truck down a dirt road to his trailer so he can "help" us?


We're all about adventure around here, so, I ignored the little voice in my head saying, "ARE YOU CRAZY?!?!?!?" and we followed the stranger in the truck down the dirt road to certain death his air compressor.

"Old Indian", as he asked us to call him, did not steal our stuff, hack us into little pieces and throw us in the ravine.  He was exactly the kind of guy you would hope to find in a small town--helpful, friendly and possessing of many and various tools with which to fix broken down vehicles.  His little air compressor couldn't totally fill up our tire, but it did help and he sent us on our way with a sigh of relief that we didn't die and a renewed confidence in the good will of our fellow man.

At the edge of town, we pulled into another closed filling station which had another broken air hose.  A few blocks down we spotted a Lowe's grocery store, but its air hose was missing a nozzle.  Perhaps these businesses could collaborate and cobble together one good air hose out of all of their parts for their citizenry and out-of-town guests, but I digress.  The grocery store did have a big empty parking lot and good lighting, so, we parked and Big Brother got a lesson in changing tires.  We unhooked the camper and the boys got busy fixing our SUV.

By this time, it was clear that Garner State Park would be closed by the time we got there.  My stress about that was somewhat dissipated by the happy fact that we had not been dismembered by a serial killer on a back road, so, I set about holding my phone up to try to get what little signal I could find.

I managed to find an RV park in Junction and someone actually answered the phone.  God Bless the North Llano River RV Park.  They have what is called an overflow lot with electrical hook-ups that you can pull into after hours.

The boys finished with the tire, we hooked up the camper again and headed to Junction.  We found the RV park with no trouble and got settled in for the night.

The next morning we cooked breakfast and had a walk around the park.  It's a lovely place and we will definitely be staying there again on our next trip to the Hill Country.

We were off to Garner State Park!  (insert all the happy emojis)  I had read on various websites that Garner fills up quickly and that you have to be there early for a day pass or you won't get in.  I wasn't worried about that, though.  We had a reservation!

So, we drive into the park and see ALL the cars.  No problem.  We'll just park and I'll go in and check things out.  We walk into a waiting room of people.  I ask a lady, "Where do you go if you have a reservation?"  She just laughed and pointed at ALL the people and said "We all have reservations."

People of the Great State of Texas, we have camped at many parks--Palo Duro, Copper Breaks, Monahans Sand Hills just to name a few.  NEVER have I seen such a jumbled up mess as this.  We got to the park at 10:00.  In the morning.  At 2:00, in the AFTERNOON, we were finally the next in line to say to the person across the desk, "yes, we have a reservation" and receive our campsite number and a little map.  

By the time we got our camper unhooked and our swimsuits on, it was 2:30 and too late to tube the river.  We made our way to the little camp store and they told us the swimming hole by the dam was fun and nice and might make up for not actually tubing the Frio.  Um, no, but nice try.

Anyway, we did get to the river and it was beautiful and cold and we had fun swimming around and lazing around on the tubes we bought at the store.  We also purchased an underwater camera, but do you know what happens when one of your kids drops it on the concrete steps and doesn't tell you?  Water gets in the camera.  Here are a few of the great pics we took:

We finally made it to the Frio!
These kayaks do not have the chicken pox.

The spots make it vintage-y looking, right?

After swimming, we went back to the campsite, showered and grilled steaks on the fire pit.  One of the big traditions at Garner is the dance at the CCC pavilion built in the 1930s.  I guess the camps around the area bring kids to the dance, because it was crazy crowded with the middle-school/high school set and I don't think they were all camping at the state park.  We had a great time and made the kids dance with us until we all decided it was time to head to the air conditioning.

After a full 7 1/2 hours of fun at Garner, we hit the hay because we had to leave at the crack of dawn to have Little Sis back in time for band camp at the local university.  Yep, you read that right.  Seven-and-a-half-hours at the park.  I put the sausage wraps in the crockpot to be ready in the morning and we were out of there by 7 am Sunday morning. 

Our Go-To Pulling Out of Camp Breakfast
This is the easiest breakfast ever, which is why we have it on the mornings we're pulling out of camp.  I wrap four Opa's sausages in tinfoil and leave them in the crockpot overnight on low.  In the morning, everyone gets their choice of flour or corn tortillas, Rudy's BBQ sauce, mustard or whatever they would like and we are good to go.  No dishes to clean up, not even the crockpot, if you place a layer of tinfoil under the wrapped sausages.  Winning!

We had no problems making it home in time to get her to band camp registration.  Since there was no cell coverage, we had plenty of time to talk about the weekend.  
Lessons learned?

  • Unless we can make it to Garner State Park during a weekday, we should probably leave that park to a fall weekend, when it's not so crazy.  The park itself didn't seem overly crowded, but the process of checking in leaves a whole lot to be desired.
  • We need a little bit more margin in our traveling times when pulling a camper.  
  • Wal-Marts in dry climates do not carry swimming innertubes in late July.
  • Do not schedule camping trips when you have to be back at a certain time on Sunday afternoon.

On the positive side?
  • we were so lucky/blessed/fortunate that the flat tire wasn't as bad as it could have been and that we were able to make it to town.  That was much more preferable to being stranded on the side of a two-lane highway in the dark.  In the middle of nowhere.  
  • we were so lucky/blessed/fortunate to have met "Old Indian" and that he was willing to help us.  He really was a nice guy and it was nice to see someone willing to help out others in distress.  And he didn't rob and/or kill us.
  • we were so lucky/blessed/fortunate that we were able to find a place to camp in Junction.  90 degree weather is no joke when you're sleeping in a tin can and the fans and a.c. made it much more pleasant.
  • we were so lucky/blessed/fortunate to have gotten to camp in one of the prettiest and oldest of Texas' state parks.  Garner really was beautiful and the Frio was absolutely everything I'd heard it was.  People come back here year after year with their families and now I can see why.
  • we were so lucky/blessed/fortunate to have gotten to spend a weekend with our kids and have this string of adventures.  They'll have tales to tell!
If you're still with me at this point, thank you!  We really did have a great time and can't wait to take our next camping trip in Sundance the Shasta!

On the Road Again

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