Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Trains, Caves, and Fellowship

Friday, November 16, 2012

Actually, a week before this trip, we brought Mammoth home and positioned her into the driveway for some maintenance. She received some reinforcements on areas of her slides, and a few other things. She also had an appointment to get her wheel bearings checked and brakes adjusted. Though we were having no issues, we were told this was proper maintenance, much like getting an oil-change for a car.

Thursday, we loaded up our stuff, and Friday finished up the last of the loading and a few errands. Once Tony got home from work, we hitched up and hit the road.

On the road again!

Hot air balloons!

Pretty sunset

Our destination, Big Chief RV Resort at Lake Buchanan near Burnet, TX.

Due to the time change, it gets dark about 5:45pm. Thus, we were "in the dark" most of the trip. I-35 was not too much fun in the dark, as lots of construction is underway. However, the GPS did divert us towards Killeen and Lampasas, and then south, so we didn't have to deal with it in the later part of the evening. We stopped at a McDonald's for a quick bite near Waco. Once we were off the beaten path, we encountered rolling, curvy hills and almost pitch black with lots of trees lining the road. Due to visibility, we took it much slower and didn't get to the RV park until nearly 9PM. Our packet was waiting, and we found our spot quickly and easily pulled in and began setting up.

The temp was probably in the 50s, but it felt good. The sites all had a light on top of the hookups, so the park was somewhat illuminated. While we were setting up a deer came walking by, a doe, that didn't seem too frightened by us. She walked within 25 feet of us. Then, a buck followed, and obviously he had something else on his mind so he didn't really pay attention to us.

doe grazing

buck in hot pursuit

We stopped and watched them for a bit, then as they got father away, we finished our work. While Tony was moving the truck, I noticed one of the headlights was OUT! No wonder we had a hard time seeing!

Once we finished outside, we went inside to get set up. It was cold enough to get the furnace going, but the rig warmed up nicely, and we got to bed about 10:45PM.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Today we had to get up and get going. The temperature was cool, but not cold, and the sun was shining. It was going to be a perfect day!

Our site

Buchanan lake view

I had made reservations for tickets on the Austin & Texas Central Railroad scenic train. We had to drive to Cedar Park, TX to board the train, which would then take us to Burnet, TX... drop us off for a bit of lunch and shopping, then return. We scampered out the door about 8:30AM, and made it to Cedar Park with no problems. Tony took lots of photos around the depot area while we waited to board the train.

Walking to the depot area


Watching the train come into the depot

Our railcar, the Silver Pine

Our seats were assigned, so there was not the mad rush to board as some of the previous train rides we have been on. Our car was part of a fleet of cars that was used in service on the California Zephyr, a joint venture between the Denver Rio Grande Western, Burlington Route, and Western Pacific railroads. It was called the Silver Pine. All of the trains are pulled by a diesel engine since their steam engine is being restored. (Click here to read more about it.)

Me and the Silver Pine

The engine

The ride was interesting and unique, some through urban settings, while other through small towns and countryside. The ride was about 2 hours, and they had fruit and water available for passengers. You could also visit the concession car, which had other refreshments and souvenirs. The cars' windows we closed, but you could stand between cars and observe while the train was moving. It was great to be able to move about the train during the trip.

View from between cars

Crossing the Llano River. The large blocks in the river are huge chunks of granite, that fell from the train while being transported for the construction of the State Capital. The river has carried them downstream.

Lots of cedars on the way

Once we arrived in Burnet, we decided to take the shuttle to eat at Highlanders Restaurant. We had heard good things about it from other Heartland Owners, so we decided not to waste time looking. We had a terrific buffet meal of baked and fried chicken, veggies and salad. We got plenty! After lunch we took the shuttle back to the square, and did some shopping.

The Highlander. Heartland-Member approved.

At 1:30 we headed over to watch the staged "gunfight show". While I was waiting for it to start, Tony said he was going to take some pics of the train, and wandered over to it. After a while he returned during the show, but he had a big grin on his face. He said he got to go INSIDE the CAB of the diesel engine! Once the gunfight was over, we boarded the train and headed back to Cedar Park. All-in-all, a fun time.

The gunfight

Inside the engine cab: the engineer, the conductor, and Tony

The engineer

Tony and the conductor in the cab

Time to board and head back to Cedar Park

After the train ride, we decided to look for an auto parts store and get a new headlight. My phone said there were 4 stores nearby, so we picked one where we could see the sign, and headed there. Tony got a new bulb, and quickly had it replaced.

We headed back to the RV park, and arrived to a VERY WARM RIG. Whoops! We had left the electric fireplace running! It managed to make the entire rig very toasty, so we opened a few windows to cool it back off. After dinner we didn't do too much as we were so very tired from a busy day. I was so tired I went to be before 9PM.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Today, we took it easy and were lazy around the rig for a while. After lunch, we headed to Longhorn Cavern State Park, which was only about 12 miles from us. It was a nice, scenic drive, along the edge of Inks Lake State Park through the rolling hill country. We arrived about 30 minutes before the tour, so we took pics, shopped in the gift store and explored the buildings. There is a lot of history linked to this cave, and I am sure it is fascinating reading.

Walking to the buildings

Historic Landmark designations

Outside of the old administration building

Inside the old administration building. This was a fireplace made from stone.

At 2PM, the tour began. We had 34 on the tour, with little ones on up to older folks. One of the interesting things was that the entrance has a metal gate, which must remain locked while we are touring. They made this very clear before we started, in case anyone had issues with that. The tour was about 1.5 hours and we walked 3/4 of a mile in and 3/4 of a mile out (some was the same route).
Most of the cave is fairly level, and well lighted, but there are some inclines, and some rough terrain. It was not strenuous, like some others we've been in.  It is not ADA compliant, as it is a historical landmark, and thus, they cannot change anything about the park/cave (including the 54 steps to get to the entrance).

At the entrance, waiting to go in.

At the entrance, looking up

low clearance

The Park Guide was excellent, telling us the history and geologic formations we are seeing.

During the tour, we kept taking lots of pics, and sure enough, we were near the back of the group.

Parts of the cave were used during prohibition as a speak-easy and dance hall.

Formations carved by the underground river.

Formation called the eagle's wings

Formation caused by pressure and bubbles, called the termite room.

Lots of crystals

Tony enjoying taking many pics underground.

Not much headroom

We had a great time in the cave, and were really glad we made a point to go. After the cave tour we walked around the area some more and went up onto the observation tower, located on the property. what a view!

We climbed up about 2 stories to the top

Don't look down the stairs!

View was 360*, here's one direction looking back towards the main buildings. 
You can see the Park Host's rig, just barely, near the road.

After we headed back home, Tony cooked low carb spaghetti. It was wonderful! We also watched the first half of "The Dust Bowl", a Ken Burns film series, on PBS. We really like his series on the National Parks, so we looked forward to watching this one.

We were exhausted, but happy.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Today the weather was supposed to be partly cloudy with a chance for rain, but it looked like it was going to stay away and we were going to have another nice day. We had plans to meet up with our Heartland friends, Jay & Stella and Dan & Ruth Ann. Jay & Stella are Park Hosts at Inks Lake State Park until Jan. 1, while Dan & Ruth Ann live in nearby Austin. We all met about 11AM, and visited for a while.

Visiting friends at Inks Lake

About 12, we headed to eat at Cooper's Old Time Bar-B-Q in Llano, TX. It was really good! You picked your meat out before you even enter the building... outside at the pit, then you go in to pick your sides and drink and pay. Tony had prime rib, while I had sausage. We will definitely be back!
Cooper's Bar-B-Que

Pick your meat from the pit

Tony's prime rib

After lunch, we dropped in on the Mammoth at our site at Big Chief, and everyone visited for a while until Dan and Ruth Ann decided to head home (to beat the dark) and the rest of us headed back to Inks Lake (about 7 miles away).

Visiting in the Mammoth

Jay gave us a tour of the park while he checked the firewood stacks, (we saw many deer, as it was getting about sunset), and then we went back to their rig to visit and Stella and I talked some business. Jay got a fire going and we enjoyed being outside in the cool air with a gentle flickering campfire, good company, and great conversation.

Jay's fire

We finally decided to call it quits about 8:30ish, said our goodbyes and headed back to our Mammoth. We had leftover spaghetti and watched the second half of "The Dust Bowl". I was falling asleep at the end, and we headed off to bed shortly after.

Another great day!!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

This morning we got up and started getting ready to leave. We knew we wanted to stop at Camping World on the way, so I thought since we didn't do any prep last night, we'd better get hopping to get it all done and out by 11AM. We made quick work of it and got out of the park about 10:30AM.

Getting ready to hit the road

The drive was easy and we took Hwy 281 rather than going back to I-35. The leaves were changing beautifully on lots of the trees, but I could never get a shot while we were driving that did it justice.

fall leaves in the hill country

We stopped at the Koffee Kup in Hico for lunch. They are well known for their pies and cakes, but they are also a terrific hometown diner with great food. Right as we pulled in, a Heartland Bighorn pulled in, too! I don't know if we had met them before, but we sure acted like we knew each other. They were stopping for chocolates, and were headed to San Marcos.

I had remembered the Koffee Kup had some low-carb dishes on the menu when we had been there another time. They did not disappoint!  I had a taco salad-like meal, and Tony had a chicken wrap. Both each under 7 carbs! We then went next door to Wiseman House Chocolates. Oh my. Not a good place to be on a diet!! We were good and did not sample, but managed to find some sugar-free varieties!

The Koffee Kup - Notice the sign, RV Parking in back!

RV Parking at the Koffee Kup

The Wiesman House, across the street from the Koffee Kup

We hit the road again, and made it to Camping World. As we were driving by, Tony saw some new Heartlands at ExploreUSA, right next door to Camping World. We had a few things on our list, so we didn't dawdle too much. We then decided to go by ExploreUSA and see what they had. We were glad we did, we got to see the new Bighorn 3260, and the new Landmark Sequoia. They are both brand new floor plans. We really liked certain features, but still like some of the others better. Nice work Heartland, continuing to offer new products based on customer feedback. These are nice-looking rigs.

After our Heartland fix, we hit the road again... and merged into I-35 traffic, right at rush-hour! Yuck! Well, sure enough, we encountered traffic, but also a backup due to road construction that narrowed four lanes to two. We were not confident to change lanes, because we didn't want to end up somewhere we didn't want to go. We probably sat in traffic about 45 minutes. Luckily, we had a full tank and a restroom break, as well as snacks to eat, before we got into the mess.

We got home about 7:30PM, unloaded the trailer, ate the rest of the spaghetti and collapsed. We'll take Mammoth back to storage tomorrow.

We really had a great trip... Trains, Caves, and Fellowship, OH YEAH!