Thursday, August 21, 2014

Easter Weekend 2014 - Camping at Martin Dies Jr State Park

A Friday with no school and a work holiday means adventure time!  We hit the road mid-morning for Martin Dies Jr State Park, one of the few parks that still had online reservations available for the holiday weekend by the time we finally made plans!  The approximately 2.5 hour drive from Houston area was fairly scenic and we were amused to drive through Cut and Shoot, TX.  We towed the canoe and used the bike hitch simultaneously for the first time...  it looked a little sketchy with how far the canoe hung off the back of its little trailer but it worked!

Martin Dies Jr is a huge park, with camping in several different areas.  We were tent camping with friends and had 2 sites together, with picnic sites on one side and more campsites on the other so we had a small measure of privacy on the edge of what turned out to be a noisy, all-night-party group of campers nearby.  Our nearest restroom was clean but had only a faucet for washing, so for bedtime prep we drove to the further away but larger restroom, which was crazy busy, with a line almost out the door for showers.  All in all we preferred being further from the busy-ness!

We camped on the south side of the park, on the woodsy side across the street from the lake/reservoir so that the kids could run free without parents constantly worrying about the water or the drop-off to the water.  A playground with swings was a short walk away and close enough the older kids could manage alone.  Friday afternoon and into the evening the kids explored and played and rode bikes and rioted in all the tents and in general just had a blast being with friends and free to run wild!  We also went on a short hike and geocache hunt, and were super bummed to not find the geocache even with extra kids hunting all through the bushes (and doing great at avoiding the poison ivy).  Dinner around the fire followed by roasting marshmallows and making s'mores concluded a lovely camping evening.

Saturday morning after breakfast we headed over to the main lodge for the free Easter Egg Hunt put on by the rangers.  It was nice that they had a separate area for the younger kiddos so Bear could also do some finding!

More treats were in store for the kiddos because the rangers also put on several carnival games where you could win little prizes.  A timed obstacle course brought out the competitive spirit as the kids raced around and over and carried eggs and rode a stick horse as fast as they could.  The rangers gave out prizes for fastest times by age group and somehow our Wolf won fastest overall!

We put in the canoe at the boat launch into the reservoir on the northwest of the Walnut Ridge Unit, making a couple loops so all the kids who wanted to had a chance to go out.  After the previous day's geocache failure, I was desperate to try again...  so Wolf and his friend and I ran down a trail hoping for a quick find and happily had success this time!  After lunch, we made one more paddle stop to explore Gum Slough, which was narrower and more interesting to me than the open water of the reservoir.

Besides the all-night party, we enjoyed Martin Dies Jr State Park and I hope we'll go back someday to paddle more and find that geocache!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Visiting Glen Rose - The Dinosaur Capital of Texas

We embarked on the 4 hour drive to Glen Rose in the late afternoon, stopping in Clifton for dinner.  We sampled Johnny's Place for dinner - super friendly, so-so food.  We passed through Glen Rose well after dark and headed for our reservation at the Fossil Rim Lodge.  With our last-minute reservation we almost didn't get in the gate...  but prayers were answered and we got the gate code at the last second before we gave up!  We stayed in the Parrot Room, which had a king bed and just enough room for the full size blowup on the floor for the kiddos.  We were impressed by the step-down jacuzzi shower/tub in the bathroom but since we arrived late and left early we didn't have time to try it out.

In the morning we were first to arrive at the breakfast cabin.  The peaceful breakfast with a fabulous view of some of the park animals was half the reason we stayed at The Lodge!  We had a filling and delicious private breakfast, which was enlivened by the boys calling out animals they spotted and popping out on onto the deck to get a better view.
Part of the breakfast view

One of our breakfast visitors

View of The Lodge in the morning

The night's stay included entry into Fossil Rim Wildlife Center and was was the other half of the reason we stayed at The Lodge.  The drive-through safari was fantastic, the best one we've been on so far!  We saw and fed too many animals to list up close!  Some of our favorites were the zebras, ostriches, and elk.  We also loved seeing the giraffes, cheetahs, and rhinos not so close!  We had a picnic at the Overlook before continuing our safari.  We were glad to be in the truck since many of the animals did not hesitate to stick their heads in the window.  But the only one we had to roll the windows up for were the ostriches - just a little too close and those beaks a little too scary!

Just a few of the animals we saw on safari at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center

Next we visited Dinosaur Valley State Park, just a short drive back toward Glen Rose.  The small visitor center at the ranger station/entrance was worth a stop to learn about what we'd be seeing in the park.  At The Blue Hole dinosaur track viewing area, you could see the tracks in the pond very well from above but my boys headed off down the path right away.  It was a fun little hike with some slippery steep spots, and then we climbed over broken rocks to get a closer view of the tracks submerged in the water.  The next track viewing area required crossing the river on large flat rocks placed for that purpose - a fun little adventure for my boys who don't have easy access to rivers and streams and jumping from rock to rock!  The sauropod trackway near the river was worth the crossing too!  Learn more about the discovery of the tracks and how some of them came to be at the Smithsonian here
I hope someday we'll come back and hike to the other tracks in the park!

At The Blue Hole - Submerged Three-Toed Theropod Track, thought to be from Acrocanthosaurus

We had some time before we wanted to eat dinner so we decided to check out Big Rocks Park, which turned out to be another fun chance to climb and explore and play.  We even captured a photo of a rock shaped like a heart!  After winding through the maze-like giant boulders we came to the river bank, where we threw rocks into the water, even successfully skipping some.

Adventuring at Big Rocks Park

For dinner we visited Hammond's BBQ, where we had a great dinner and enjoyed the live music!  We ended the day to our boys' surprise and delight by going swimming at the La Quinta pool.

All around Glen Rose there are huge dinosaur models advertising Dinosaur World and giraffe models advertising Fossil Rim Wildlife Center.  We drove past Dinosaur World on our way to/from Dinosaur Valley State Park.  So by Saturday morning the boys were super excited to finally go inside!  It is an expensive attraction for it's size, but it was really fun and the boys loved every minute.  The walk to see life-size (?) models of many interesting dinos was really well done, digging in the sand for actual fossils was fun for the boys, and The Boneyard where the kids work on excavating a model dino skeleton from sand was fun when not too crowded.  The good-sized playground was also very much enjoyed by our boys.  We walked through "the museum" but having recently been to the amazing paleontology hall at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, we were pretty unimpressed.  Between the playground and The Boneyard our boys could have spent several more hours getting the most out of their ticket price, but the parents' boredom soon sent us on our way...

Fun at Dinosaur World

Before getting on the road for home we visited the Storiebook Cafe for lunch.  I loved the atmosphere, the kids loved the playroom, and Brandon loved the local root beer!  The food was tasty and just what we were looking for, too!  We were also lucky enough to get to dance the twist to get 10% off our meal!

One last stop at Pie Peddlers set us up for the long drive home.  We shared a slice of the blackberry pie, the lemon chess pie, and the buttermilk pie - all of which were I-wish-I-had-a-whole-pie delicious!

Mmmm, Pie!

Glen Rose, Texas, made for a fun-filled and still relaxing weekend adventure for our family!  We hope to go back in a few years to do it all over again, and maybe next time even get a chance to visit The Windmill Farm and Creation Evidence Museum, try some more bed & breakfasts, and sample more local restaurants!