Monday, May 8, 2017


Local travel in May starts to become iffy around greater Houston, both because of the heat and because red bug (chigger) infestations are on the rise.  Red bugs make mosquitoes look like the plague of outdoor amateurs.  And northerners.  Whenever I see a #vanlife person eschew indoor van plumbing or showers, I immediately know that they are not from the south, and don't travel in the south in warmer weather and thus know little about parasite control (showering immediately after hiking is one of the best ways to control the mites).  One good red bug infestation would change their minds overnight, oh hell yes.

Despite this plague, we had a cold front come through and we took full advantage of it with about 43 hours in the Coldspring, Texas area, leaving Friday afternoon around 3 p.m., arriving in time to take advantage of the evening, and returning home Sunday morning around 9 a.m. before all hell broke loose traffic-wise on Houston's freeways.  Here are a few photos.
Here's the fun part of boondocking:  I picked our destination basically by closing my eyes and pointing my finger at a map.  That location ended up being a hunter camp in the Sam Houston National Forest
I picked our destination by closing my eyes and pointing my finger at a map.  That's pretty cool when you think about it.
It can't easily be done unless your rig is equipped to boondock.  More than two years of sporadic free time we've now devoted to working on ours for this purpose.  
Hunter camps are great resources but in our area it's important to remember that, during the off-season when no hunts are in progress, they tend to attract horse people.  And horse people run generators.  Such was the case with our first night, although we had enough separation that it really wasn't noisy enough to cause a major disturbance.

I did a 3-mile hike that first evening on a second hunting camp road that was chained off to vehicles.
The cold front had left some interesting blow-downs.  Vegetation looking like it had just been deposited five minutes previously.
Neither my husband nor I had ever seen this flower before, and we have about 70 years cumulatively in greater Houston.  
It looked like a variant on the black-eyed Susan, which are everywhere in our area.
And always photogenic.
Post-hike pondering of all those noises and smells out there. 
We had a wonderfully cool overnight, with temps falling into the 50s.
Our dog had to wear her "horse blanket" in these two crisp mornings.  It's actually an IKEA Toftbo bath mat, somewhat non-skid on the back, so friction holds it in place.  We shave our dog routinely, otherwise her entire body would be as long as her tail.  This is a necessity in subtropical Houston with its temps that reach over 100 degrees, but it's a bit of an inconvenience on cold spring mornings in Coldspring Texas.  
After our overnight at the hunter's camp, we moved on to the Big Creek Scenic Area.
Forest Service roads... I had great fun messing with our new Garmin 770 LMT GPS unit during this trip.  I absolutely, emphatically do not recommend running this device in RV mode, and this Air Forums thread explains exactly why with examples that I developed based on my testing.  But it seems to work coherently in car mode.  I will need it later this summer for my intended plan to drive across the continent solo, without the benefit of a human navigator. 

While off-leash, the dog is trained to remain behind the human, to minimize the chances of viper encounter.  In my blog post about Lake Houston Park, I showed a pic of a water moccasin that we encountered.  In this area, copperheads were a larger danger.  
The greater Houston area consists of flat coastal plain and piney woods remnants, for the most part.  Floral diversity tends to be limited and subtle in woods such as these.
Blue-green and yellow-green forest floor assemblages in one place... I've never seen this before. 
We chose Big Creek for this reason, because of the topography (rare for this area) and diversity.
This section of the Lone Star Hiking Trail was in excellent condition due to its exclusive use as a hiking trail.  As much as I want to see outdoor activities expanding in quintessentially car-crazy Houston, I often end up defaulting to the cliche' "Houston we have a problem" whenever I encounter a trail that has been destroyed by off-road cyclists.  
More flowers I don't usually see.
After the Big Creek hike, we moved on to Double Lake.  We got there before noon and the hosts advised us that there were a few hook-up campsites remaining.
You might be tempted to look at this and exclaim, "Whadda deal!" because hook-up sites appear to cost less than primitive sites. But that price means 'on top of'.  Generally I'm very pleased that the prices have risen this way ($37 total for our overnight, including day use fee).  Twelve years ago when I stayed here, the modern-day construct of workampers (camp hosts) had not yet been invented.  Those people need to be there to maintain order and to protect the facilities, and they need to get paid. 
We don't need hook-ups, but we decided to stay a second overnight and it was a convenient location, so we purchased one of the remaining hook-up locations.  Actually there were multiple open, non-reserved locations.  This park engages an internet reservation service, but like every other one I've seen in Texas, it's woefully inaccurate.  It shows far less availability than is actually present.  Campgrounds like this lose substantial revenue for lack of reservation technology investments.
During the hottest part of the day, I strung up one of my hammocks at our campsite and gazed at the sky.  My husband and I are both fairly driven people and it's rare to have a day of "down time" like this. 
My husband had never been to Double Lake.  It's a great car-camping location, so I had been there 12 years previously when my daughter was small and we were still doing multi-family group camping with her friends.
The doubleness for which Double Lake is well-known.  All lakes produce reflections, but this one amplifies the process due to its size and orientation relative to the sun.  
This wasn't even a very good day for the reflections.  Depending on weather conditions and canoeing intensity, they can get much more vivid than this. 
My husband taking stealth photos of the dog and I, except his phone camera lens is always dirty, giving that classic cell phone milky appearance.  
We hiked another 3 miles down the Lone Star Trail, but not before having a picnic.
And one of us had a nap.  Is that the face of pure bliss, or what?  But if you sit on the ground like this, there might be chiggers.  And yes there were, on this day. 
Two of the items without which one should never travel in a camper van are duct tape and gallon-sized zip lock bags.  Here's an example why.
My Osprey in-pack water bladder burst a leak at one of its sonic or thermal welds.  You can't see it because it's covered with duct tape, but IMO it was clearly the result of exceptionally poor product design (the REI site says "no longer available" and it gets plenty of one-star reviews - no surprise).  My husband responded to this event by ordering me a military-grade bladder as a replacement.  I'm sure glad this failure didn't occur later this year when I plan to be boondocking and long-distance hiking in Middle Of Nowhere, Canada.  
I was a bit bummed coming back from this trip, as it might be our last prior to my departure for Canada later this year (my husband will join me some time later by flying up and we'll drive back together).  Between our schedules and the impending hot weather, our seasonal camping door is closing here in greater Houston.
I don't know if there's any scientific validity to claims about "forest bathing", but a WSJ (I think that was the source) article appeared on the same day as this trip, so here's an excerpt.  I'd link it but now that I'm on my desktop instead of my phone, I can't seem to find it.

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