Getting the hell out of tornado alley-headed South To Texas…

One evening of tornado sirens and shelters was enough for us! In the morning at Rolling Retreats RV sites we looked at the fridge, still sitting at 42°…not cold enough. We swung past the office to return one of the workers, Travis’s Hoodie, he left in the front. He’d shown us pictures of his tricked out Land Rover…not an off road tricked out but a chollo tricked out mobile, shiny rims, low profile tires, you don’t go off road with that one I said laughing, he smiled, nah…Apparently it could take up to two days for the dometic fridge to return to a normal freezing temperature…two days…what to do with everything in the freezer, that was defrosted. “I guess we should have mentioned that” Liz, the lady who took care of us said…why didn’t they turn the fridge off to avoid this? Inquiring minds want to know. We’d be patient, get some ice, and get the hell out of here. Copper Breaks State Park was 106 miles South into Texas, the fridge would start to cool by tonight we thought….

We took Oklahoma #6 straight South passing fields and old buildings, so many abandoned homes and farmsteads. When you see building after destroyed building you wonder…tornado? We finally passed the welcome to Texas sign and continued South through small towns with names like Duke, El Dorado and Quanah. Copper Breaks State Park was just off the Texas 6, we checked in and drove down past a very very low reservoir before pulling into an almost empty campground. It was very quiet.

From the park website.

“Copper Breaks State Park is a state park in Hardeman County, Texas, located approximately 12 miles (19 km) south of Quanah, the county seat. It covers 1,898.8 acres (768.4 ha) and contains two small lakes and 10 miles (16 km) of trails….currently one lake, one very very small lake…
The Comanche were the dominant tribe of the plains. They hunted, took shelter and sought medicine from the spirit world in the Pease River area. They believed that spirits dwelled in the Medicine Mounds, four domes about 10 miles east of the park.

In 1860, a young scout for the Texas Rangers named Charles Goodnight found signs of a Comanche camp near the Pease River. The rangers tracked the band, and a gun battle ensued. The rangers captured a woman and her infant.

That woman was Cynthia Ann Parker.

A large band of warriors had captured Parker in 1836, and the Nocona Comanche adopted her. She later married a Comanche chief named Peta Nocona. The couple had three children, one of whom was Quanah Parker.
After her capture in 1860, Cynthia Ann was returned to her relatives. She never adapted to a settler’s life. She wanted to rejoin the Comanche but wasn’t allowed to do so.
Quanah Parker was the last war chief of the Comanche. He led raids across the Texas plains and fought the U.S. Army. The Comanche finally surrendered in 1875 and were forced onto a reservation at Fort Sill in Oklahoma.
After the surrender, Quanah Parker became an advocate for his people. “

“Originally, Copper Breaks was part of the land held by the Comanche and Kiowa. Comanche mound sites can be found in Hardeman County, but not in the park itself. Purchased from a private landowner in 1970, the state park opened to the public in 1974. Not much left of the lake currently…Dreams of riches:
George B. McClellan, former commander of the Army of the Potomac, took up mining after the Civil War. He noticed copper deposits in northwest Texas while on an expedition in 1852.

He formed the Grand Belt Copper Company in 1877 based on a geologic report and eyewitness accounts of plentiful copper deposits. The company purchased 200,000 acres in Hardeman County for 25 cents per acre.

Later that year he set out from Fort Worth with a large entourage of engineers, miners, carpenters, laborers, horses, wagons and supplies. McClellan’s personal belongings included a full-size metal bathtub, carpets and fine furniture.

After a three-year suspension in operations while McClellan served as governor of New Jersey, mining resumed in 1884.

He and his employees found ore mainly near the surface. They collected it from a broad area, including multiple sites within the present-day park. Up to 100 employees worked the steam-powered machinery and rock-crushing equipment. A nearby shantytown of saloons, brothels and other frontier businesses soon appeared.

Major obstacles blocked McClellan’s dream of riches, including fuel and water shortages, transportation issues . . . and his death in 1885. The company continued limited operations for three more years before closing.

Later attempts to mine copper were also unsuccessful.”

From the park website.

We walked along past the very much closed boat launch for a very long time down what used to be a stream before we found the water. Was hoping for some ducks, or birds…nothing in sight except for a few spiders scurrying across the cracks in the now dried up mud. This all used to be under water. Copper Breaks is a semi-arid region receiving 23.4 inches (590 mm) of rainfall in an average year, allowing the growth of bunch grasses, and narrow shallow breaks of mesquite, juniper, cottonwood, some scattered native pecan, hackberry, soapberry and a variety of wildflowers. It was feeling very desolate, but quiet and the fastest internet we have had on the trip…not a lot of users or competition? Who knows! Our fridge was still not working…sigh…we decided to go to the town of Quanah in the morning and get some ice to see what we could save.

I can’t say I was happy in the morning, the low rumble of thunder was making me feel a bit uneasy. There were thunderstorm warnings to the South of us but no tornado warnings, the wunderweather app radar was my friend! A new chatty neighbour with three dogs (Groot growled, not nice dogs he said!) from Dallas waylaid us before we headed North to Quanah, past the Dually truck auto carwash (only in Texas) and left on the #287 to the local grocery/hardware store. We bought some ice and next door at the Dollar General I found some small totes I could put in the bottom of the fridge. We’d read turning the fridge off for 24 hours might help with an ammonia coolant block, let things settle in the cooling coil.

The clouds on the way back to the park were eerie, they looked like hills but moved and changed shape close to the horizon, swirling like fog but they were dark gray and blue. Never seen anything like it. At the park we had a sprinkling of rain but no more, when we headed south the next morning, it was cold! The small towns we passed through had puddles lining their roads so they did get unleashed upon. I was reflecting on the incredibly violent history of the movement of people West displacing and killing the Comanches here, should we really even wonder about today’s violence? What has changed?…Not much. Our chatty neighbour told us that the Texas Rangers today would have been labeled a domestic terrorist group for the acts of violence they committed.

Gentry’s Grocery said it was open but the door was padlocked shut. Two thirds of the town’s storefronts were abandoned, for sale, or simply vacant. These small towns along the Texas 6 with names like Crowell, Knox City and Rule looked abandoned in places. The grocery building was built by M.F. Thacker in 1899…our changing world as rural communities are slowly shrinking. For sale…or rent?…not for fifty cents…Talk to Marshall D. Capps, the lawyer next door. Then a Goat Milk Soap Company? OK! The garage we passed wasn’t fixing anything anytime soon…a history perhaps of boom and then bust.

The road seemed to go on forever in places, past hundreds of wind turbines, first time I’d seen a bent blade! Through more small towns and past fields waiting for Spring to come. Our destination was Abilene State Park, another new to us stop.

A Mexican friend once asked me “There are no poor people in the US, like Mexico are they?” He was educated but if all they know of America comes from TV they don’t realize it is not always the glowing rendition Hollywood supplies. Did families just walk away? The end of a dream… a few bad crops, the bank takes the house and land and agro business takes over?

At the end of Texas 6 we turned East then South again on bigger roads and past towns that had survived. You wondered how much the road system played into these births and deaths of towns in rural America.

Abilene State Park was located South of the town, through a oak tree lined village called Buffalo Gap. Our GPS wanted to take us through town, we should have followed in instead of a few very rural roads we ended up on to arrive…Ha! I am the navigator, some days…don’t go as well as others. The low stately live oaks we passed under in Buffalo Gap had me cringing thinking of roof vents and AC units, we have had enough issues without wiping something else out but we breezed under, in my mind with inches to spare…we were fine. The main campground was full and we ended up in what they called Wagon Wheel campground which is what it sounds like, you backed into your site around a large rounded area filled with oak and pecan trees. There were bathrooms in the center and picnic tables, I think it is their overflow area and where large groups can convene.

From the park website, not exactly a long review;) Ha!

The state acquired the property in 1933 from the city of Abilene. The park, with 529.4 acres, is southwest of Abilene, in Taylor County.

The Civilian Conservation Corps built the park’s facilities in the early 1930s. Abilene State Park opened on May 10, 1934.

And finally…bird song! Noise from nature other than whistling winds and thunder! I put my bird feeders up and we had a sudden rush of visitors much to the cats delight, even the feeder stuck to the back window had cardinals visiting, bird song and colour! It took my mind of what we were now calling our defunct fridge!

Now, about the fridge. We went through some options, returning to Elk City wasn’t one of them but Home Depot had some mini fridges/bar fridges that would fit at the end of the kitchen island that wouldn’t break the bank as a plan B so to speak and I could tie it in or bungee it to keep it from moving so once we were settled, off we went back North into town. We passed the oddest abandoned building, it looked like a Southern mansion, or funeral parlour (It was beside a church so maybe I thought!) but no, it had a long history. Another fixer upper here in South Abilene. Fairy tale or monstrosity? You be the judge:)…/Close-to-a-Fairy-Tale…

One guy wrote: This place is perfect for an end-of-the-world party. Seriously, a little spit and elbow grease, and this place will be cleaned up perfectly in order to enjoy armageddon.
South Abilene reminds me of the Pete Seeger song “Little Boxes” but instead of little boxes there are 4000 square foot subdivisions of McMansions. No trees, no life just a nod to rampant consumerism surrounded by Dollar Stores…and churches….and the pickup in the Home Depot parking lot said it all…In the ever so PC correct Texas…sigh…not…where you can’t drink alcohol openly at a State Park at your campsite but you can carry your AK 47 around? Something is seriously wrong here. I felt exhausted, the drive down, the bad road to the park, going to Home Depot, our fridge failing, I felt like I was ready to cry. We did find a fridge and luckily the dumpster was close as we had to throw out most of what we had left, I hate waste, just one of those days. We got back to the trailer with our nifty new fridge, plugged it in, it was cooling, but making a very odd noise…enough for today, if we tipped it back a small amount the noise would stop, we’ll deal with this again in the morning we decided!

In the morning I needed to go for a walk, shake off the blues. The pecan trees had leafed out overnight and the Black Crested Titmouses, mice, were having a feast. Butterflies were flitting about, the sun was shining and the butterflies! In the rest of the park and on some trails where there was grass small flowers were blooming and the ground was alive with Sleepy Oranges and Southern Dogface (who names these guys???)

I was looking for the bird blind on the park map, hoping to see something new. What I did notice was the people walking or sitting, with the exception of an older gentleman at the bird blind who was quite chatty everyone else averted their eyes, didn’t want to make eye contact, didn’t even want to know you were there, Southern California style “I am in my own bubble and you don’t exist”…maybe it’s just city people, or people who live in fear I was thinking. Very sad. I tried several times on the trail, they just immediately looked away and walked past you…maybe I am invisible? Ha! A useful superpower, but no, Mike saw me;)

and the mini fridge…was still making that noise. We bundled it up with all it’s accessories and put it back in the truck and returned it to Home Depot after calling the nice lady in appliances, yes, they had one more, a floor model and we could plug it in before we picked it up. We did, plug it in, it had a small ding on the front, was $30 cheaper so off we went with a new to us aqua coloured fridge that didn’t make strange noises! Yeah! Rocket promptly seized the opportunity to call it his throne! We stopped by an odd ALDI grocery store, it was like a mini Costco, we didn’t get much as the packaging was too large and things were very close to their best before date, or past..0_0…and finally found another grocery store on our way back to the park. We were stumped as to why the Aldi had such high reviews…it’s cheap I told Mike…just make sure you eat it today;)

Our new fridge:)

Now I was ready to get the hell out of Abilene, we didn’t even go look at the lake after reading the map. I loved the “area shown does not represent current lake levels“…I didn’t need to go look at another drained reservoir. South llano Park was a short jump, just over two hours South and we had been here before! It was a lovely park and the campsite I reserved was close to the one we’d had before, trails, birds, a Groot, Gamora and Rocket approved park!

Venison world, gas, a convenience store and a cowboy church? Who could ask for anything more ya’ll! State road 83. We passed through Menard and Eden (there was no garden..Ha!) I was hoping for a good photo opportunity! Nope. As we approached the interstate 10 the ranch gates got bigger and more elaborate, and OK, yes some were really tacky. We went up and down the hills, Texas Hill country before arriving in Junction, the town North of South Llano State Park. We passed Lums BBQ, mental note…dinner for tonight as we threw most of our meat away the day before.

South LLano River State Park from the Texas Parks website:

Walter Buck so loved his ranch, that he donated it to Texas Parks & Wildlife so others could also enjoy it.

Walter White Buck, Jr. moved to this area with his family in 1910 when he was 18 years old. They lived in the house that is now park head­quarters, and the younger Buck took over the family ranch after his father died.
Buck felt strong­ly about con­ser­ving the land. After his father died, he reduced his 1,000 head of sheep, goats and cattle by nearly half. Even­tu­ally, he ran only 125 head of cattle, which he later sold. Caring for the land and not over­grazing his live­stock allowed him to survive a five-year drought in the 1950s.  
In two of the best years, Buck harvested 75,000 pounds of pecans. He enjoyed caring for the pecan trees, which included both native and cul­tivated varieties.
A bachelor all his life, Buck used to say that this land was his one great love. He do­nated his whole property to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in 1977 for wild­life conservation or park purposes. The park opened in 1990.
South Llano River State Park expanded from about 600 acres to 2,600 acres in 2011, when the Walter Buck Wildlife Management Area became part of the state park. This backcountry area offers hiking, moun­tain biking, and primitive camping.

OMG!!!! Armadillos! Nine Banded Armadillo to be exact! Crossing the road right in front of us on the way in! How cute is this armoured pig like dinosaur?! The sites here are so wonderfully far apart any neighbouring campers are not imposed upon you! Even Armadillo chasing ones…yes..0_0….If alarmed, nine-banded armadillos can flee with surprising speed! As I found when trying to photograph this fascinating creature, Found two burrows as well. What was really disturbing though is our neighbours, camped next to us, thankfully not too close, were throwing rocks and wood at one that had come out to feed on the lawn. Because their nasty yappy little dog was barking at it. Come to a park, come to nature, then chase it away. F@cking citidiots! The woman after throwing rocks at this very small armadillo, too scared to get within 15′ of it had to call her husband over to chase it away with an umbrella…are you kidding me? They have poor eyesight. Maybe that one had GREAT BIG Fangs! (they can’t really bite, their mouth is very small) I am appalled at humans, we are the INVASIVE species…

The nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus), also known as the nine-banded long-nosed armadillo or common long-nosed armadillo, is a mammal found in North, Central, and South America, making it the most widespread of the armadillos. The nine-banded armadillo is a solitary, mainly nocturnal animal, found in many kinds of habitats, from mature and secondary rainforests to grassland and dry scrub. It is an insectivore, feeding chiefly on ants, termites, and other small invertebrates. I waited all afternoon for one to walk by the trailer again! Rocket said “Müther…these armoured pigs called armadillos smell funny!: Ha!

Not only does this park have one bird blind! But 4 of them! I could see the “Acorn” site from the trailer. There were these amazing yellow blooms, almost looked like holly leaves, that smelled like you were walking past vats of freshly extracted honey! Intoxicating smell!

Mahonia trifoliolata is a species of flowering plant in the family Berberidaceae, in southwestern North America. Common names include agarita, agrito, algerita, currant-of-Texas, wild currant, and chaparral berry. The name Agarita comes from the Spanish verb agarrar, which means “to grab”. The ending “-ita” is often added to little things, so agarita means “grabs a little”. This was probably said because the bush is a bit scratchy but does not have significant spines. Typical characteristics are grey-green to blue-grey leaves, yellow flowers in February to April and the red berries appearing in May. The most important harvest organ are the berries, though the roots and seeds can also be used. The plant is well adapted to hot temperatures and dry conditions. In areas where it occurs naturally, it is also liked by many wild animals. Birds like to eat the fruits, small mammals use the plant for cover. The shrub is also considered to be a good nectar source for honey bees and other insects. As the trifoliate leaves are tough and spiny, they aren’t eaten by cattle or deer.

I wandered back to the bird blind and a Ladder Backed Woodpecker was the only bird there! The ladder-backed woodpecker (Dryobates scalaris) is a North American woodpecker. Back in the woods I heard a pecking noise and found a newly excavated nest hole, A Northern Mocking bird sat on an Agarita bush. So much life! Just what we have been searching for!

Our site in the woods

In the morning after the cat walks I wandered back to the bird blind to see if it was busier, a few OGB’s…old grey buggers, ha! Do they always have grey hair and beards, well, the ladies don’t, usually! Ha! All with binoculars! Actually there were several hard core birders there who could tell me what every bird was in the blind and why they were there! Very helpful!

There was even a grumpy know it all guy who kept telling us to keep our voices down, except when HE wanted to talk it was fine! Ha! We were speaking quietly! Ha! I only made it to two, of the four blinds. Walking in the 88° heat was getting to me! Ha! Too cold, too hot! The 2nd one I wandered off to was full of birds and empty of humans up near the tent camping area.

There were SO many Northern Cardinals! They were bathing in the water feature and splashing around. Truly a wonderful sight!

It’s not often you get these blinds to yourself! One of the birders was very excited at seeing a Fox Sparrow, a new bird to me as well! The blind was such a noisy in a wonderful way, the Pine siskins and Goldfinches bathing were a full time comedy routine!

Mr. Know it all arrived in the bird blind just as I was leaving, Ha! I was going to walk to the blind out by the office but halfway there realized it was further than I thought and I cut back through the fields on a shaded path back to where the trailer was. There were Robins and Eastern Bluebirds gathering nest material, Spring is in the air! I heard a turkey cackle in the bushes behind us so followed the sound to see a beautiful male strutting his stuff!

I was a bit shocked when a doe walked across in front of me while turkey stalking! It’s an Indian deer! A Chital (Axis axis). In 1932, axis deer were introduced to Texas. In 1988, self-sustaining herds were found in 27 counties, located in Central and South Texas. The chital ranges over 8–30°N in India and through Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. What a beauty! I sat behind the trailer and watched a very well endowed fox squirrel foraging for nuts, not that he needed anymore;) Ha!

The fox squirrel (Sciurus niger), also known as the eastern fox squirrel or Bryant’s fox squirrel, is the largest species of tree squirrel native to North America. Despite the differences in size and coloration, it is sometimes mistaken for American red squirrels or eastern gray squirrels in areas where the species co-exist. Rocket said they looked delicious! Ha! Then he realized how big it was! Nah…maybe another day! Ha!

Not much blooming other than the Agarita bush and this Dakota Mock Vervain. The Tasajillo here in Texas or Christmas Cholla-Cylindropuntia leptocaulis was full of fruit on the paths around the fields. I ended the day chasing a Red Naped Sapsucker around the pecan trees by the trailer hoping he’d come out into the sun, every time he did, I wasn’t fast enough to get the shot. Such colourful birds, we had them at the ranch in Baja. The Red Admiral Butterfly was more cooperative.

Before we left the next morning, it was a bit longer jump to Choke Canyon State Park, three and a half hours (cat patience limit!) I took one last trip out to the blind behind the trailer before we headed South once again, over the new flood concrete and water gauge headed towards San Antonio. Mrs. Ladder Backed Woodpecker was there, a beautiful Cardinal and a Fox sparrow settled down for a nap:) A Black Crested Titmouse was checking out the Woodpeckers nest, building inspecter no doubt;) ha!

But Choke Canyon (what happened there?) is a new park, and a new story as I close out this birding novel! Stay tuned amigos for more reservoirs and green jays! At least South Llano River State Park was a river! Woohoo! A low river;) Ha!

One thought on “Getting the hell out of tornado alley-headed South To Texas…

  1. Wow , glad your out of the tornado alley… your new fridge ,,,,,hope it doesnt give you anymore troubles……travel safe…..On the Road Again

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