rv 10/7/2020

For most RVers, RVing is a way to avoid the winter. We use our RVs to follow the sun and stay in “snowbird” areas such as Florida, Texas, Arizona, or California. The end of fall signals the start of an annual migration of thousands of RVers to the south and the west. Our goal is to avoid the winter slush and cold. However, some RVers, either by choice or by circumstance, end up living in their RVs in cold weather areas. This article is for both those RVers who “got left behind” and those that choose to seek out cold weather camping.

The Benefits

There are benefits to cold weather RVing. You will not have to contend with mosquitoes, and there will be fewer other insects to deal with. Because most RVers have headed to warmer areas, there will be less competition for available spaces, and the spaces that are available should be at the off-season rates. Some activities such as skiing (downhill or cross-country), snowboarding, snowmobiling, hunting, ice fishing, or snowshoeing require being in cold weather locations. And finally, the beauty and serenity of a winter landscape is hard to surpass.

Planning Ahead

With careful planning and preparation, your RV can be an enjoyable way to live in or visit the many beautiful winter areas accessible by RVs.

If you need to travel in order to get to your winter camping spot, be sure to reduce your driving speeds and allow yourself plenty of time to get to your destination during daylight. It is a good habit to check the weather forecast for the area you are traveling through and to call the Highway Patrol for any road condition or weather alerts. Before leaving, make sure your RV is properly prepared for the cold you are going to encounter. Your cold weather RVing experience will be warmer and less stressful if you are properly prepared.

You should anticipate driving in icy, snowy and windy weather. Make sure your windshield wipers are functioning and that the wiper blades are in good condition. Check the condition of your tires. Check your antifreeze protection level to make sure it is low enough for the area you are going to visit. If you are driving from a warm area into a cold area you may need a fuel additive in order to avoid jelling of the diesel fuel at low temperatures (in cold weather areas the additive is already in the fuel). Check your heating system to make sure that it is functioning properly. (You don’t want to arrive in minus 10 degree weather and find out your furnace won’t light). Fill your propane tank before departing.

Batteries do not function well in cold weather. (At 0 F, the useable amp hours of your batteries will be about half of their rated capacity). Check the condition of your batteries. Replace batteries as necessary before starting your trip.

If the weather will be below freezing when you start out on your trip, it will help if you turn the furnace on in your RV a full day before you leave. This will give the furnace time to preheat the interior of your RV and provide a more comfortable trip. Also, when you arrive at your campsite, it will be much easier to maintain the temperature than to heat up a cold RV.

Just in case something goes wrong, be sure to pack plenty of blankets, at least a gallon of bottled water (per person) and a cell phone.

Getting Warm

Heating an RV in severe weather is different than heating one for more moderate temperatures. In moderate temperatures (above freezing), properly vented catalytic heaters may be all you need. (I would not go to sleep with an unvented catalytic heater, even if it had an oxygen sensor shutdown). However, catalytic heaters are not appropriate for temperatures below freezing. Too much ventilation is required to avoid water vapor buildup and oxygen depletion.

A properly operating propane furnace or a diesel-fired hydronic heater is required for cold weather RVing. Most RVs are designed with furnaces for a moderate climate. If you are living in cold weather or visit cold weather areas often, you may need additional heating capacity. A rough formula for computing your minimum heater requirement is: temperature difference (T), times wall area of the RV (A), divided by R value of the RV insulation, divided by an efficiency factor for the furnace (.60). For most RVs with single pane windows try R3 for the insulation factor. For RVs that follow the advice in this article, try R6. The wall area will be approximately equal to length times 29, plus 100 (for a 32′ RV this computes to 1028). If you want to be able to maintain 60 degrees inside when it is minus 20 outside (80 degree temperature difference) and you have a well-insulated (R6) RV that is 32′ long, you would need a furnace or furnaces rated at a minimum of 22,844 BTU/hr. (80*1028/6*.6=22,844).

Electric space heaters or ceramic heaters can be used as a supplement to your furnace, but not as a substitute. Never attempt to heat your RV with the propane oven or stove.

Keeping Warm

Some RVs are built with cold weather in mind. These RVs will have better insulated walls and ceilings, and perhaps even insulated floors. You will find that they have double pane windows and heated bays. The entire plumbing system is kept heated by engine heat while driving and by the RV heaters while camping. Having an RV designed for cold weather use is an advantage, but not a necessity. There are many things that you can do to improve your ability to stay warm in most RVs.

To begin with, don’t try to keep your RV heated to 75+ degrees. Consider setting the thermostat to 62 degrees during the day and 50 degrees overnight (letting it get too cold at night will just cause a problem heating it up the next day). To compensate, use cold weather clothing (layered) during the day and evening, and plenty of blankets at night. Some people like to use electric blankets.

If you will be staying for more than a few days, consider “skirting” your RV. This will cut down on the heat loss through the floor and will keep the cold winds from blowing under the RV and right up through your floor. You can purchase professional skirts for many RVs, or you can use a simple system we have used for years. Purchase some heavy mil plastic (in rolls) and some duct tape. Tape the plastic to the RV. The wrap should go all the way around the RV and drop to the ground with enough extra material at the bottom to allow you to place rocks or boards on it in order to keep it on the ground in case of winds. Try to park the RV to take advantage of morning sun.

Insulate your windows. You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars for double pane windows. You can buy inexpensive plastic windows that will Velcro in place. Or, there are products available that use a thin plastic material that you tape and heat shrink to the window.

If you have heavy drapes that will cover the windshield, use them. If not, consider hanging a blanket or quilt between the windshield and the living area.

Your skylights and roof vents are an escape hatch for warm air. Purchase insulating covers for them or make your own. We use 4″ foam rubber and cut a piece to size so that it will fit snugly in place.

RV doors are not only a good way for you to get in and out, but are a great way for cold to get in and warmth to get out. Keep the door open as little as possible. Check the door for obvious gaps and fix the gaps with insulating tape or sealant. You can even make a door cover that will attach to the door using Velcro.

If you are really serious about it, make a thorough inspection of your RV bays and undercarriage and fill any cracks or holes with caulking (plumbing and electrical are the major areas).

The Plumbing

If your plumbing compartment is not heated, you will need to run a furnace vent to the compartment, or purchase an electric space heater (with thermostat) to install in the plumbing bay. If you will be doing considerable driving in freezing weather or boondocking, you will need to provide a heating source that uses propane or diesel fuel to keep the bays heated. Our RV uses hydronic heating (hot water passing through a “heat exchanger”) provided by the engine cooling system to provide heated bays and hot water while traveling.

Our experience is that even with heated bays, severe temperatures (below minus 10 degrees) require additional effort to avoid freezing of water within the plumbing system. Any part of the plumbing system that is not inside the RV should be wrapped with electrical heat tape and then covered with pipe insulation. Pay particular attention to the water pump and lines entering and exiting it. If you are using heat tape on plastic plumbing, make sure you use a heat tape designed for that application.

To prevent holding tanks from freezing, you can purchase heating pads for the tanks. Ultraheat sells one that is thermostatically controlled (on at 44 degrees, off at 64 degrees). They will run on 12 or 120-volts. These units will keep the contents of exposed gray and black water holding tanks liquid at wind-chill temperatures of 20 degrees below zero. In addition to the tanks themselves, you can heat the sewage lines leading from the tanks by adding pipe heaters (available from Ultraheat) or by using heat tape. As an alternative, nontoxic antifreeze can be added to the black or gray water tanks to prevent freezing. However, be sure to add additional antifreeze as more waste is added.

When hookups are available, it is best to keep the sewage tank valves closed, and dump the tanks when they are near full. Add at least 5 gallons of water after dumping. We prefer not to leave the water hose connected. We use water from the fresh water tank until it is about ¼ full, then we refill it. If you choose to leave the water hose attached, make sure it is well insulated. Also, we do not leave the sewer hose connected. We attach it only when we are dumping. If you choose to leave it attached, make sure it is heat wrapped or well insulated (or both).

Cold Weather Boondocking

Many RVers prefer “boondocking” (camping without hookups). Frequently hookups will not be available near your favorite ski resort, fishing hole or hunting spot, so boondocking becomes a necessity. Under the best of conditions, boondocking is challenging. In cold weather, it is something only the hardy or the foolhardy should attempt.

As in warm weather boondocking, the battery is frequently the limiting factor. In cold weather camping, your battery capacity can easily by reduced by 50 percent. Also, the battery voltage may be a volt higher than in warmer climate use. Because of the higher battery voltage, your battery charger may not fully charge the batteries. Even more than during warm weather boondocking, additional batteries can be a way of extending your stay. Keeping your batteries warmer will increase their usefulness, but never keep your batteries inside the RV or in an unvented location.

The charging capacity of your inverter/charger or another charging source should be at least 20 amps, preferably more. Some battery chargers are adjustable to compensate for temperature differences. If you will be doing a lot of cold weather boondocking, they are highly recommended.

The refrigerator (even when operating on propane) uses a substantial amount of battery power. When camping in near freezing or below temperatures, consider turning the refrigerator off, at least overnight. You will be surprised how cold items will remain.

Because of a lack of available power, heating the plumbing bays or using a tank heater may be impractical. In this case, I suggest that the fresh water system should be winterized with antifreeze before leaving home. Water for drinking and cooking should be stored inside the RV in plastic containers.

I do not recommend leaving the gray water valve open (some do). Even a small accumulation of water can freeze and block the sewer line.

Propane will liquefy (and therefore no longer work in your RV) somewhere around minus 44 degrees. Propane tanks are not in enclosed bays, so are more susceptible to the elements. However, we have spent weeks in weather at minus 25 degrees with the wind chill reaching minus 50 degrees, and never had a failure of our propane system.

Combating Moisture

Unfortunately, along with winter RVing comes an excess of moisture. It can cover the windows, run down the walls, accumulate in closets and dampen clothes and bedding. This water comes from the difference in outside and inside air temperatures, cooking, showering, catalytic heaters, and just plain breathing. (During the winter, we lose more water from our bodies than usual. We need to be sure to drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration).

In order to make heating the RV and maintaining the heat easier, we have insulated it. This is directly at odds with trying to reduce condensation. The same airtight, well-insulated RV that is desired for maintaining heat can cause the condensation problem. Since the large amounts of moisture that we generate through normal living (washing, breathing and cooking) can’t readily escape through the walls or around sealed doors, it instead becomes liquid (or freezes) on contact with cold surfaces like window glass or metal window frames.

The easiest way to combat this water vapor or condensation is through the use of a portable dehumidifier. However even without a dehumidifier, there are steps that can be taken to reduce condensation.

Double pane windows (as discussed earlier) are a big help. Even using the acrylic or shrink-wrap windows will help. This protective layer of plastic film insulates by forming an air pocket and (as a fringe benefit) keeps the moist inside air away from the cold windows, decreasing condensation. Of course, these are not intended to be permanent, do not open and will have to be removed in the spring for ventilation.

Make sure that all roof vents (refrigerator, stove, bathroom) are free of snow and debris so that they can allow proper ventilation. At night, it is a good idea to leave a roof vent or a window partially open. Leave cabinet and closet doors open to allow for better air circulation.

Conclusion

Winter can be a spectacular time to go camping, even in the more severe climates. Winter camping in an RV is not for everyone. However, those that choose it can increase their chances of a pleasant time by having proper advance planning and the right equipment. Winter camping requires special attention to heating and insulation matters, knowledge of power requirements, and proper ventilation. Drive safely and enjoy!
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This month, we’re highlighting Texas Parks and Wildlife. And for every new “like” on Facebook, Camper Clinic II is donating $1 to help save Texas’ State Parks. Please “like” our page on Facebook and “share” links to our campaign with your friends and fans!

Many thanks to Lance Snead for sharing this gorgeous image from Cattail Falls in Big Bend National Park!

What makes a great hike? Sometimes it’s the scenery or the history, but most often, for me, it’s the memories made along the way. Which means that what really counts is that you take that travel trailer out, set up camp in your favorite landscape, then go outside and play!

This morning, I started writing this post to highlight a few of my favorite Texas State Park hikes. But then I started remembering good times in Big Bend National Park, the “favorites” list kept getting longer. So I’ll share my top five here, and post the next five later this week. I’ll be interested in hearing your suggestions for new favorites, too!

Here are the first five on my list of 10 personal favorite hiking spots and ideas about where to set up your camper:

Seminole Canyon State Park – Located in Comstock, Texas, just west of Del Rio, Seminole Canyon was home to prehistoric Indians. The park offers guided, 2-mile hikes (moderately strenuous) to the bottom of the canyon and then up to the Fate Bell Shelter, one of the oldest cave dwellings in America. The first time I visited and saw the rock art paintings, the place captured my imagination, and made me wonder what it would take to not only survive, but thrive, living in the Chihuahuan Desert. I started meeting with archeologists and first wrote an article for Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine, and later, a book called Life in a Rock Shelter. This hike remains my favorite after all these years.

Camping: Facilities include 23 campsites with water and electric hookups.

Colorado Bend State Park – Near Bend, Texas, Colorado Bend is situated on the Colorado River. There’s plenty to do there, from fishing and paddling, to wild cave tours, but one of my favorite activities is the hike to Gorman Falls. It’s a 1.5-mile round trip hike on the guided tour, or, a rugged, 3-mile hike along the Gorman Falls trail. At 60-feet high, the falls are startling, with rushing water and ferns you’d expect to find in a lush tropical environment rather than Central Texas.

Camping: Facilities include 9 “boon docking” campsites. There are no hookups or dump facilities.

Cattail Falls – My sister and I discovered this hidden gem of a hike courtesy of our friends at Far Flung Adventures, and I’m sharing it with you on the condition that you promise you’ll treat the area with the utmost respect. The ecosystem along this trail is so fragile you won’t find the trail on the park maps.

The trailhead is off Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive near Sam Nail Ranch (you’ll turn onto an unmarked dirt road and travel about a half mile to the trailhead. Once you’re there, you’ll see a sign by an oak.) It’s a four-mile round trip hike, and on a morning hike, you may see a diversity of wildlife along the trail. The real attraction is at the end of the trail, however, when you’ll find a cascading waterfall and crystal clear pool. (You’re basically on the back side of the popular “window” formation in the basin.) Please do not go into the pool! Just sit beside it, relax, and enjoy a quiet break.

I’ve enjoyed a few warm sunsets at Big Bend Resort.

Camping: You can stay at the Basin Campground if your trailer will fit. Because of the winding roads and small campsites, park officials advise those towing trailer rigs of 20 feet or more to think twice before attempting to camp at the Basin. Alternatively, you may want to check out Big Bend Resort & Adventures.

Santa Elena Canyon – It’s the sound of a canyon wren I remember most from this hike. The trailhead starts at the end of Ross Maxwell scenic drive and is only 1.7 miles long. It can get interesting, though, as you cross Terlingua Creek. Be sure it’s safe before you cross. If the current is swift, you’ll want to save this hike for another day. If it’s safe to cross, you’ll follow the trail into the canyon, along the Rio Grande, and through huge bounders. Pack a lunch, because you’ll want to hang out awhile along the river.

Camping: Try making Big Bend Resort & Adventures your home base. They have 131 sites and full hookups.

Sometimes, it’s about sharing the hike with someone fun! It was chilly, but my friend Sharon and I had a blast at Enchanted Rock!

Enchanted Rock – Enchanted Rock is a 425-foot high pink granite dome with a trail that goes straight up the side of the dome. At the top, you’ll enjoy panoramic views of the Hill Country, and you can explore a small cave. This trail is a great half-day adventure, and is an easy trip from Austin or Fredericksburg.

Camping: You wont find any trailer sites at Enchanted Rock, but there are numerous choices in nearby Fredericksburg. The Fredericksburg website should help you get started.

Where should I go hiking next? What are your recommendations?

Be sure to share photos of YOUR favorite hikes for a chance to win a free, one-year Texas State Parks Pass!

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Earlier this week, I shared my top 5 favorite hikes. Here are hikes number 6 – 10. Be sure to send us photos from your favorite Texas hikes and you’ll be entered to win a free one-year Texas State Parks pass!

Photo credit: Mike Sloat. Thanks, Mike!

6. Grapevine Hills – I first discovered Grapevine Hills on a Jeep tour with Far Flung Adventures. Grapevine Hills is an easy, 2.2 mile hike, which I think a lot of people overlook. That’s one of the real advantages of a Jeep tour. You’ll have a guide to show you those undiscovered nooks and crannies!

Camping: You can stay at the Basin Campground if your trailer will fit, or, head over to Big Bend Resort & Adventures.

7. Big Bend’s Hot Springs Historic District – For years, Big Bend’s Hot Springs have attracted people who believe that the warm waters can “cure what ails you.” The buildings that served as a store and post office in the early 1900s still stand at the trailhead, and along the path, you’ll see pictographs, proving that the waters have attracted people since prehistoric times. Plan to soak in the 105-degree waters yourself, and you’ll see why!

Camping: The Rio Grande Village is a great place to set up camp if you want to visit the Hot Springs. There are 100-sites, but no hookups, and the park only accepts reservations during certain months of the year. It’s first-come, first-served, from mid-April through mid-November. Alternatively, a paved campground operated by Forever Resorts has 25 sites with hookups.

8. Hill Country State Natural Area – Located near Bandera, Hill Country State Natural Area is an undeveloped haven for hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders. Although the park offers 40 miles of multi-use trails, one of the best is the Comanche Bluff trail, which is a 4.2 mile loop through classic, Hill Country terrain, ranging from clear, flowing streams to rocky slopes and historic ranch buildings. My favorite memory from this park is of walking through an oak motte during the monarch butterfly migration one crisp October afternoon. Have you ever been surrounded by a swarm of butterflies? Magical.

Camping: You can camp near the the old Bar-O ranch house (no hookups available) or, if it’s not booked, in the Chapa’s Camp group camping and equestrian area where there’s electricity and water available.

9. South Rim – The trailhead for the South Rim is at the Chisos Basin, and at 13.5-miles, it’s Big Bend’s longest trail. This hike will take you a full day, and you’ll need to take plenty of water with you. I guarantee that the diverse meadows and forests along the way, combined with the panoramic views of the Chisos Mountains from the top, will make it worth the effort.

Camping: If your rig is 24-feet or less, you can plan to camp in one of 60 available sites at the Basin Campground. The winding roads to the basin and the small campsites make it challenging for longer trailers to make it to this camping area. As an alternative, check out Big Bend Resort & Adventures. They have 131 sites and full hookups.

10. Boquillas Canyon – A fit of nostalgia puts this one on the list. It’s a short, 1.4-mile round trip hike, but Boquillas Canyon on the list because I’m remembering the days when it was possible to hike the canyon without a care in the world, and freely cross the border. Here, I waded in the water with my sisters, visited a Mexican cantina, and practiced my Spanish with patient villagers.

With any luck, the border will be open again soon (it was originally scheduled to reopen last Spring, and my fingers are crossed for this fall) reconnecting Boquillas with its extended Big Bend family on the other side.

Camping: The Rio Grande Village is a great place to set up camp if you want to visit the Hot Springs. There are 100-sites, but no hookups, and the park only accepts reservations during certain months of the year. It’s first-come, first-served, from mid-April through mid-November. Alternatively, a paved campground operated by Forever Resorts has 25 sites with hookups.

Those are my favorites. What are yours?

Be sure to visit the Camper Clinic II Facebook page and click “Like” to add another dollar to our donation to help protect Texas State Parks! AND, be sure to share the campaign link with friends!

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Q: What flies at speeds of 60 mph, eats 200 million pounds of insects in a single night, and attracts thousands of tourists to Texas every year?

A: Mexican free-tailed bats!

Texas is home to 32 of the United States’ 45 bat species, but by far the most numerous are Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasilensis). Approximately 100 million bats of this species alone live in Central Texas from April through October, patrolling the night skies, dining on pesky insects (including moths that attack farmers’ crops and mosquitoes), and congregating to form some of the world’s largest bat colonies.

If you enjoy sitting outside your RV in the evenings, you’ve probably seen them swooping down and feeding above the treetops and around streelights, or even taking a sip of water from the RV park’s pool.

Austin’s Congress Avenue Bridge, one of the most popular eco-tourism sites in the state, is home to the world’s largest urban bat colony. More than 100,000 people from around the world visit every year.

Other awesome spectacles can be found across Texas, including the world’s largest bat colony at Bracken Cave near San Antonio. Natural Bridge Caverns, mentioned in last week’s cave post, hosts guided tours to the cave where 20 million bats surge from beneath the earth in a cloud so thick it can be detected on Doppler radar.

Texas Parks and Wildlife also offers lots of great RV camping spots complete with exciting bat-watching experiences at abandoned railroad tunnels and caves, and still others are located on private property. Clearly, bats are not just for Halloween anymore. They are good for the environment, good for the economy, and most important, they’re good old-fashioned family fun.

August is prime time for bat watching in Texas, because the young pups start flying with the moms, creating an even bigger spectacle as the bats emerge at dusk. Public viewing sites at Texas’ caves, tunnels, and bridges offer a personal, unforgettable experience with some of nature’s most misunderstood creatures.

Congress Avenue Bridge, Austin

Located about a mile south of state capitol, this is the world’s largest urban colony with 1.5 million bats. Find a spot at the Austin American-Statesman’s observation area at southeast corner of bridge, or join a sight-seeing cruise Lady Bird Lake. My absolute favorite way to watch is to rent one of the little electric boats from Capital Cruises, pack a nice dinner and a bottle of wine, and cruise the lake until sunset. The bats generally fly around dusk, but remember, these are wild animals that don’t adhere to human schedules.

Eckert James River Bat Cave, Mason
Managed by The Nature Conservancy of Texas, the cave is home to approximately four million bats. Tours run Thursday-Sunday, from 6 p.m.- 9 p.m. Some sunrise tours of the bats returning from their nocturnal hunts are also offered.

Frio Cave, Concan
This is the state’s second largest colony, with 10 to 12 million bats. Guided tours cost $12 per person. For a full schedule, visit: http://www.friobatflight.com/

Texas Parks and Wildlife
Texas Parks and Wildlife hosts several bat-watching sites. Contact the parks or visit department website for details. Hours, fees, and restrictions vary.

Clarity Tunnel, Caprock Canyons State Park, Quitaque
Devil’s Sinkhole, Devil’s Sinkhole State Natural Area, Rocksprings

Old Tunnel State Park, Sisterdale

Stuart Bat Cave, Kickapoo Cavern State Park, Brackettville
Add a stop at a bat cave to your next road trip and enjoy one of nature’s most amazing shows!

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The Easter Bunny will be hopping through several Texas state parks this weekend. If you’re planning to hitch up your travel trailer and enjoy a long Easter weekend, check out the events at these state parks!

Photo (c) Texas Parks and Wildlife

Martin Dies, Jr. State Park, Jasper, Texas
The thick forests of East Texas offer plenty of interesting hiding spots for the Easter Egg hunt scheduled for Saturday, March 30 from 10:00 -11:00 a.m. There will be colorful eggs filled with candy and prizes for the younger ones, while the park will offer games and prizes for the older kids. Bring your basket and join the fun!

Lake Bob Sandlin State Park, Pittsburg, Texas
On Saturday, March 30, from 1:00 – 3:00 p.m., the day-use area on Lake Bob Sandlin will set the stage for their annual Easter Egg Hunt, with candy and some extra-special eggs with gift certificate prizes inside! Located near Pittsburg in northeast Texas, the park is a great home base while you explore the area, stock up on the world-famous Pittsburg Hot Links, and discover a little aviation history by visiting the Ezekiel Airship (maybe the first flight really DID take place in Texas!)

Cooper Lake State Park, Cooper, Texas
Located in north central Texas, the park’s South Sulphur Unit has plans to hide more than 1,500 eggs filled with candy and prizes, and kids ages 1-10 are invited to come out for the hunt. There are separate areas for the 1-4 year olds, and the 5-10 year olds, just to keep it fun for all. The Easter Egg Hunt begins promptly at 1:00 p.m., and the park is even offering free admission from 1:00 – 2:00 p.m. for the hunt. But plan to be there early! When the kids start the hunt, they can clean out the place in no time!

Mission Tejas State Park, Grapeland, Texas
Located on the northern edge of the Davy Crockett National Forest in East Texas, the Mission Tejas Easter Egg Hunt will begin at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, March 30. The park asks that all the kiddos bring their own baskets.

Then, on Easter Sunday, the Friends of Mission Tejas State Park will host an Easter Sunrise Service at 6:45 a.m. at The Mission – the first Spanish Mission to be built in Texas. Park admission is free for everyone attending the service.

Indian Lodge Easter Feast, Fort Davis
The Black Bear Restaurant, located at Indian Lodge in the Davis Mountains State Park in West Texas, is serving a full Easter Feast from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Easter Sunday, March 31, 2013. Reservations are strongly recommended, and guests should call the Lodge directly at (432) 426-3254 ext. 330. The cost is $25 for Adults, $9 for Children under 12, and park admission is free for restaurant guests. Check out the mouthwatering menu!

Photo (c) Texas Parks and Wildlife

Dinosaur Valley State Park,

If the kids prefer dinosaurs to Easter bunnies, head over to Dinosaur Valley in Glen Rose, just a few miles southwest of Fort Worth. On Saturday morning, March 30, they’re hosting a workshop on the migrating Monarch butterflies, and also a
Native American Play Day, with programs about the life ways of the Caddo Indians.

Then, on Sunday, March 31, the park will host its “Eggstraordinary Eggstravaganza,” beginning with a special surprise at 2:00 p.m.

Better Homes and Gardens has all the information on creating tie-dyed eggs!

Finally, if you’re looking forward to coloring and hiding your own Easter eggs, Better Homes and Gardens offers tips for tie-dying Easter eggs. I’m fascinated, and may have to give that one a try!

It’s easy to reserve your
RVcampsite at Texas State Parks online. Just
visit the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.
Wherever you go, have a fabulous Easter! And don’t forget to send us photos or from your Easter Egg hunts, or
share them with us on our Facebook page!
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October is National Dessert Month: let’s finish our State Parks campaign with a great dessert treat!

All month long, we’ve been celebrating Texas State Parks. For every new “Like” on the Camper Clinic II’ Facebook page, we’ve added another dollar to our donation to protect the parks. If you clicked, “Like” or sent us a photo of you having fun camping, we’ve also added your name to our drawing for a one-year Texas State Parks Pass!

October is also National Dessert Month, so we thought we’d go beyond the s’mores and cook up a special dessert (or three) to celebrate with all our new RV friends and fans!

First, here’s one that in some circles could be considered healthy.

Photo credit: Allrecipes.com

Campfire Cinnamon Apples

Ingredients:

1 apple per person (Fuji or Granny Smith apples both work well)
1 tablespoon of butter per apple
½ teaspoon cinnamon per apple

Instructions:

Cut a “well” into the apple from the top, removing the core and seeds, but not cutting all the way through the bottom. If you do cut all the way through, don’t worry about it. You’re camping! Add 1 tablespoon of butter and ½ teaspoon of cinnamon. Wrap the apple in heavy-duty foil and find a cozy place for the apple to rest among the coals. If it’s covered on all sides, it should be ready in about 10 minutes. You can also make this on the grill, turning the apple after 5 minutes to ensure that it’s cooked all the way through.

I picked this next recipe because it just looks like big fun by the campfire.

Campfire Eclairs

Photo credit: Donna Kelly/Mom Click

This recipe came from blogger Donna Kelly on Mom Click. Donna takes a tube of crescent roll dough, wraps it around a water-soaked wooden dowel, cooks the dough over the campfire, adds a chocolate pudding filling, and tops it all with whipped cream from a can. Dreamy!

There’s a variation on these on the KOA website where Rus Scherer and Jamie Thompson have used vanilla pudding and chocolate frosting. I vote we all go experiment and share our favorites!

Finally, I always know I can rely on my Dutch oven for a special, tasty treat. I’ve shared my peach cobbler recipe here before, but if my hubby is tagging along, it helps if the name of the dessert has the word “chocolate,” in it. I’d love to claim this chocolate cake recipe for my own, but it’s from Hershey’s Kitchens (who else?) that I adapted for the Dutch oven.

This pretty slice came from the Hershey Kitchens. No, yours won’t look like this out of the Dutch oven, but it’ll taste even better because you made it outside!

Dutch Oven Chocolate Sour Cream Cake

Ingredients:

1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1-3/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup HERSHEY’S Cocoa
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 container (16 oz.) dairy sour cream
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Prepare your coals. You’ll need about 25 coals, including 8 on the bottom and 17 on the lid.

Line a 12-inch Dutch oven with heavy-duty foil and spray with cooking spray. You can also use parchment paper.

Mix together the dry ingredients. You can make your life easier by putting all the dry ingredients together in a baggie before you head out on your camping trip. When you’re ready, dump the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl, then add the rest of the ingredients and beat until you have a smooth batter. If you’re in your trailer, you may have a hand-mixer available, but good old-fashioned muscle works too. The batter will be thick. Pour the batter into your Dutch oven and smooth it across the bottom.

Arrange your coals evenly – 8 on bottom and 17 on top – and allow the cake to bake for about 30-40 minutes. Use caution when you remove the lid. Ashes don’t make a tasty topping. The cake is done when a toothpick comes out clean.

Let the cake cool in the Dutch oven for about 15 minutes before lifting it out using the edges of the foil. You can then turn it onto a plate. Gently remove the foil and frost the cake with canned frosting, or use a dusting of powdered sugar.

So glad you could join us for dessert! Do you have any favorite road trip desserts you’d like to share?

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Answer these 7 questions to help choose the right RV for you!

With 18 different brands of RV trailers in all shapes and sizes on the Camper Clinic II lot, how in the world do you decide which one is best for your family?

In my family, I’m traveling in my Texas Airstream, my sister is in her Fifth Wheel, and my cousin is in her Motorhome. So that alone tells you that RV choices are as different as the personalities towing (or driving) them.

To choose the right RV, you might want to start thinking about the following questions:

How big is your family? Whether you’re traveling solo or taking a big family with you, you’ll need a trailer with enough space for everyone to sleep comfortably.
Where do you want to go? There are places that just aren’t suited for a large motorhome or trailer. For example, to camp at the Basin in Big Bend National Park, you’ll need a rig that’s less than 24 feet to make it up the tight curves. Of course, if your heart isn’t set on camping right there at the Basin, there are campgrounds in Terlingua or at Rio Grande Village that can accommodate campers of all sizes.
Are you going for a weekend? Or extended trips? Or RVing full time? For simple weekend trips, you’ll find basic models that will suit you just fine. But, if you’re taking long RV trips (trust me), you’ll start to wish for creature comforts before you’ve logged very many miles. It’s better to begin with a slightly larger, more comfortable rig from the beginning.
What are you going to do when you get there? If you’re planning to spend lots of time in and around your RV, then that’s yet another reason to choose a more luxurious model. If you’re spending most of your time on the hiking trail or paddling on the rivers and in the bays, maybe you just need a comfortable place to rest your weary but happy bones at the end of the day.
Do you need to take your toys with you? As one of the sales folks once told me, when you go on an RV road trip, you’re taking everything you need, and nothing you don’t. It’s great to stock the trailer with everything you’ll need on the road, and if that “must have” list includes canoes, kayaks, four-wheelers, mountain bikes, or other toys, then the toy hauler is no doubt right for you. There are lots of new and used toy haulers on the Camper Clinic II lot.
Do you like to buy new, or used vehicles? If you like the idea of a brand new travel trailer that no one’s ever used before, then go with a new one that fits your budget. If you don’t mind buying one that has been down the road a time or two, then you’re in luck. Camper Clinic II takes in clean used RVs in great condition every week.
What’s your budget? You can get a brand new travel trailer, such as an Aspen Trail, for as little as $11,000, or you can spend $130,000+ on an Airstream Interstate Van. And there are plenty of travel trailers, toy haulers, and fifth wheels waiting in between.
So even though the choices might seem a little overwhelming at first, the good news is that there’s something for every lifestyle and every budget. And if you need help thinking things through, the Camper Clinic II staff are always here to help.

See you on the road!

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This month, we’re highlighting Texas Parks and Wildlife. And for every new “like” on Facebook, we’re donating $1 to help save Texas’ State Parks. Please “like” our page on Facebook and share links to our campaign with your friends and fans!

Photo by Mike Sloat

Wildlife means big bucks. Not just the whitetail variety, but real revenue for Texas cities that promote nature tourism. From butterflies in Mission to prairie dogs in Muleshoe, the wildlife programs promoted by Texas Parks and Wildlife offer opportunities for RV travelers to connect with nature in a personal way, and help promote conservation and sustainable development statewide.

If you want to discover the amazing diversity of wildlife in Texas, you can start by checking out the Texas Parks and Wildlife’s website. On the left side of the webpage you’ll find links to Birding and Nature Festivals, Great Texas Wildlife Trails, and Texas Paddling Trails – plenty of ideas to help you plan your next camping trip!

Here’s more info about three nature tourism events planned for October.

National Wildlife Refuge Week – October 9-15
Since Theodore Roosevelt established the first national wildlife refuge in 1903, the Refuge System has become the world’s premier habitat conservation system, encompassing 553 refuges and 38 wetland management districts. Special programs are planned for several of Texas’s 17 refuges over the next few weeks.

Texas Butterfly Festival – Mission, Texas
The Lower Rio Grande Valley of South Texas is the most biologically diverse region in the United States with 300 species of butterflies and 512 species of birds. The Butterfly Festival is scheduled for October 25-28.

Wild in Willacy – Raymondville & Port Mansfield, Texas
The 13th annual Wild in Willacy celebration is planned from October 30 through November 3rd and includes music, ranch tours, and cook offs. Tours offer nature lovers the opportunity to “get up close and personal” with many species of wildlife in what organizers describe as one of the wildest places in Texas.

And if you go, don’t forget your camera! Texas photographer Mike Sloat offered a few tips on getting great wildlife shots.

“Photographing animals is a little different,” said Mike. “You need to know what animals you might run into, and how you might expect them to behave. There’s a ton of information on the Internet to help you plan ahead. Remember that you never want to corner an animal. Stay back, and use a telephoto lens when you can.”

Mike understands whooping crane behavior, and was ready when this one landed. Why? There were three other whooping cranes just to the right of this image and he’d already noted that this particular crane was aggressively territorial and knew he’d come back in for a landing. (Photo copyright Mike Sloat)

Mike is a frequent nature tourist, and shared a couple of his photos along with information about how he got the shot. “I use different lenses, depending on the animal I’m photographing,” he said. “For example, with whooping cranes along the coast, I’m using a 200-400mm lens, or even a 600mm lens. I also shoot wildlife in Aperture mode. If your camera offers this setting, it will allow the camera to set the shutter speed and let you concentrate on your subject.”

Mike suggests “panning” or moving your lens with the animal before clicking the shutter. If your camera allows you to shoot multiple frames per second, you can often capture all of the action in several images – one of which may be that special shot you’re hoping for.

When he got this shot, Mike had his Nikon camera set on “Continuous High” setting, shooting multiple frames per second. There were 35 images before this shot and 6 after. This one was the “money” shot. (Photo copyright Mike Sloat)

Experienced nature tourism guides will help you stay safe while you’re exploring nature as well. Mike’s encounter with a 14-foot gator was a great reminder to always be alert. “The gator was near a photo blind, and when we entered, the gator charged, unannounced,” he said. “Always have a way out.” Mike described the situation as “unhealthy.” Judging from the photo, I’d guess that’s an understatement, but like any great photographer, Mike took advantage of the opportunity and got the shot.

Be sure to send us YOUR wildlife and camping photos this month! When you do, you’ll be entered to win a free one-year Texas State Parks pass!

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An RV Road Trip can be the Ideal Way to Experience Spring Birding in Texas!

In my mind, there are three types of birders.

Type 1: Hey, look at that… pretty bird. Hmmm. Wish I had binoculars.

Type 2: Hey, look at that Roseate Spoonbill (calls bird by name). Here, look through my super-sharp high-powered binoculars. This one’s a juvenile. You can tell because it’s still got a pale pinkish-white feathered head.(Pays attention to details.)

Type 3: Hey, drop what you’re doing THIS INSTANT and head to (insert name of someplace obscure). There’s been a (fill in the blank with a rare bird) sighting there and we have to check it off our life list NOW!

On most of my RV trips, I’m a Type 1, with occasional aspirations of achieving Type 2. My friends and fellow RV enthusiasts Sharon and Jeff Richardson are firmly in the Type 2 camp with occasional Type 3 tendencies.

Because spring birding is such a big deal in Texas, I asked Sharon for a few tips.

“We experienced the migration at the Upper Texas Coast last spring, and realized that we had witnessed the premier springtime birding event by catching glimpses of the Warblers and hundreds of other types of song birds arriving from across the Gulf,” she said. “We birded along the coast and saw the tons of shorebirds and were totally enamored with Roseate Spoonbills, Whooping Cranes and all the Herons and Egrets.”

This year, Sharon and Jeff explored the Valley. “WOW,” said Sharon. “We spent 3-1/2 days there, and visited about a dozen sites – not counting pulling off the road when the expert birders who were with us spotted White -tailed Kites and Peregrine Falcons. There are numerous wetlands and nature preserves in the Valley and we didn’t even scratch the surface.”

If you’re hooking up the travel trailer and planning a do-it-yourself birding excursion, you can browse online and learn more about the spring migrations and the species you can find in your own neck of the woods. Check out your local Audubon Society page for starters. The Audubon societies often offer classes and free, guided bird walks on weekends.

Are you a Type 3? Then check out Ebird.org. Sharon says it’s the go-to website when you want to find a particular species, get info on all the birds being seen at specific locations, and post and keep track of your own personal checklists.

I also hear that Sharon’s friend Laurie Foss leads exotic birding trips for JB Journeys, so if you’re inclined to wander internationally, be sure to give Laurie a call.

Last but not least, if you want to connect with other Texas birders, visit the Texbirds Facebook page or become part of their Facebook group for camaraderie, fun photos and lots of information about birds in every corner of the state.

You know, spring break is coming up… Maybe it’s time for us Type 1 people to head out in the RV to check out the “pretty birds” and learn a trick or two from those Type 2 and 3 birders among us! Thanks Sharon!

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Summertime is synonymous with family reunions. Some people embrace this fact with wild enthusiasm, while others greet the idea with a deep groan and an eye roll.

Which one are you?

The Ackers take up a lot of space. There are typically anywhere from 80 – 120 people at our family reunions, so finding a location that can accommodate those who like to RV as well and those who prefer cabins is essential.

I fall into the first camp. I absolutely love getting together with all my cousins. We may not see each other but once every year or two, but when it’s family reunion time, we always pick up right where we left off.

Twice now, I’ve had the honor of helping plan our Acker Family Reunion, so I thought I’d share a few tips and ideas about organizing a family reunion.

When you’re planning a family reunion, start well in advance. For a group our size, with more than 100 people, we’ll usually plan a year ahead. It takes time to find the right place and negotiate a good deal. Alternatively, if you get the urge to have a spontaneous reunion this summer, don’t spend your time worrying about planning and details. Just make a command decision about the date and location, and send out a note announcing where you’ll be and when. Then, see who shows up! You can let everyone be responsible for their own reservations and food.
Make a list of your “must haves” before you start researching a family reunion destination. For example, the Acker family must have access to water, be it a lake, river, or ocean. We must have a place that’s pet friendly, and we must find a location that can accommodate 100 or more people, preferably in a combination of cabins and RV camping. Then, when you begin your research, you’ll be able to narrow the list of contenders quickly.
Involve the family in the planning. While you don’t want an abundance of cooks in the proverbial planning kitchen, it’s great to get input. I did a quick, free, online survey using Survey Monkey to narrow down the options for dates, a location, and preferred activities. Just remember that you won’t be able to please all of the people, so don’t try. There will still be something for everyone.
Offer planned activities and plenty of down time. Sometimes it’s hard to find the right balance. You’ll probably want a couple of planned, full-group activities, but it’s also important to have down time for reconnecting one on one. We usually plan our group activities around mealtimes. We’ll do a chili cook-off or catfish fry one evening, and then buy the food for one group meal so there’s at least one evening where no one has to cook. I’m proud to say I won the last chili cook-off, but of course, one of my cousins is convinced “he wuz robbed!” We’ll both look forward to the next showdown!
Special heirloom items, such as this handmade quilt, can be great for raffles.

Our auctions include family treasures as well as homemade goodies.

Consider adding a fundraising event, such as an auction, to your list of activities to ensure there’s money in the kitty for the next year’s reunion. It costs money to hold blocks of rooms, pay for fun extras like boat rentals, or buy keepsakes to take home. We always announce to the group how much is in the kitty and hand it off to the next intrepid reunion planner, who’s diligent with the accounting.We’ve auctioned things such as family heirlooms, homemade pickles or hot sauce, and even garage sale type items. And, my especially talented cousin Jane made a quilt, which we raffled off. We wanted everyone to have an equal opportunity to win!

Keep in touch and share your enthusiasm. Over the years, we’ve used everything from printed newsletters, to emails, to Facebook to keep in touch and share our random bursts of family happiness. This keeps people engaged and boosts the number of people who show up. After all, no one wants to miss out!
Be flexible. Our family met last summer at Canyon of the Eagles in Burnet, Texas. It was a great spot for us, because they have gorgeous vistas of Lake Buchanan, cabins, and RV camping. By the time July 2011 came around, Texas was experiencing record heat, the drought was in full swing, lowering lake levels, and burn bans were in effect. We rolled with it, opting out of the rented ski boat for safety reasons, and choosing to rent kayaks and canoes instead. We found ourselves gathering poolside instead of swimming in the lake, and a lot of the chili cooking happened in crock pots instead of over a burner.
So, if you’re the brave one who’s planning your next reunion, my advice is to take your time, enjoy the experience, and don’t get caught up in a quest for perfection.

The goal is to spend quality time together, make a few new memories, and maybe capture a few embarrassing photos that can be used against your relatives in the future. If you’ve accomplished those three things, your reunion is complete!

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Experience Texas’s chili cookoffs from the comfort of your RV.

Who knew judging chili could be such hard work?

Last Saturday, my hubby and I served as judges for the Lone Star Resort‘s annual chili cookoff.

Held in Austin, it was a Chili Appreciation Society sanctioned event that allows participants to earn points that will enable them to compete in the International Chili Championship in Terlingua.

I never fully appreciated the complexities of chili judging before last weekend! My hat’s off to our host and event organizer, Ken Rodd. I learned a lot, and thought you might enjoy a few fun facts about chili cooking and judging, and the drama of chili cookoffs.

Frank Tolbert, who published the book, A Bowl of Red, in 1953, was one of the founders of the Terlingua cookoff. Click on the photo for Frank’s recipe.

Rules for the Chili Cooks

CHILI MUST BE COOKED FROM SCRATCH – “Scratch” is defined as starting with raw meat. No marinating is allowed. Commercial chili powder is permissible, but complete commercial chili mixes (“just add meat” mixes that contain pre-measured spices) are NOT permitted. (Right. If I’m at a chili cookoff, I’m expecting something far more exotic than I can whip up at home with the help of my friend Wick. No offense, R.I.P. Wick.)

NO FILLERS – Beans, macaroni, rice, hominy, or other similar ingredients are not permitted. (I guess there really is a rule about NO beans in Texas chili!)

PYROTECHNICS – No chili contestant may discharge firearms or use any pyrotechnics or explosives at a chili cookoff. Contestants discharging firearms and/or using explosives or other pyrotechnics will be disqualified from the chili cookoff. (I don’t even want to know what happened that resulted in this written rule!)

Rules for the Judges

JUDGING CRITERIA AND SCORING – A single score takes into consideration the five criteria for scoring chili: Aroma, Consistency, Red Color, Taste, Aftertaste.

TABLE MONITORS – Each judging table will have a knowledgeable table monitor to instruct judges, control table talk, answer questions, and enforce CASI judging rules. Discussion of the chili will not be permitted at judging tables. (And as we learned, spouses are not allowed to sit together.)

INSPECTION OF CUPS – It is the responsibility of table monitors – especially on the preliminary tables – to remove each lid, look at the chili, and check each cup for interior marks and fillers before placing the chili on the table for judging. (Chili judging IS an exact science. If you want to read even more rules and try to understand how the chili cups are assigned to judges and distributed, good luck! Here’s the link to the rules!)

The Drama

It took three years, from 1967 to 1969, to crown the first cookoff winner. Held in Terlingua, the first cookoff was declared a draw, and the results of the second were never known, since after a secret ballot vote, the ballot box was stolen at gunpoint and thrown into a mine shaft. In 1969, C.V. Wood, Jr., the man who built Disneyland for Walt Disney, entered and was crowned champ.

As is usually the case with human nature, chili politics eventually split the cookoff into bickering groups. Today, the two main groups that have evolved are: The Chili Appreciation Society, and the International Chili Society, which is based in California.

From the Texas RV traveler’s perspective, I think I’d rather leave the politics at home. I just want to enjoy the road trip, have fun camping, watch the showmanship, and taste some awesome chili. If you agree, you can check out the upcoming chili cookoffs on both societies’ websites above and start planning!

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See you on the road!

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