29 January 2012

We’ve just finished a seven-night stay at Cedar Hill State Park, a simple, quiet park on the southern tapers of the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. The park lies on the eastern banks of Joe Pool Lake with an extensive modern campground, a nice marina, the historic Penn Farm, and a number of nice, easy hikes. It’s situated within only a couple miles of busy Cedar Hill, TX, with all the shopping sprawl of North Dallas, but the park itself is somehow quiet & lovely.

For the most part, once again, we had the entire park to ourselves. We enjoyed being the only campers on our entire camping loop until, on Friday & Saturday, a few weekenders rolled in nearby. But for most of the week, we enjoyed beautiful, private panoramic views of the lake from our trailer. There’s well over 300 campsites at Cedar Hill SP, and most of them appear to be well-groomed & positioned, but I believe we had the best site of all. Perched halfway up a hill, our site, number 112, shared a large common green space with about a half dozen other sites (all vacant, of course), which made it really easy to have Jack outside, exploring without having to worry. Like having our own backyard (which is often the promise, but seldom the reality of camping). The sites here are paved cement and level, featuring full-hookups, a covered picnic table, and a fire pit. And best of all, our hill faces west, where every night we’ve been treated to a spectacular sunset. Just incredible, really.

With our extended stay, we decided to invest in a Texas State Parks pass. They’re just $70 per year per vehicle and provide free access to all of Texas’ state parks, each of which otherwise charges a day-use fee. Cedar Hill’s fee is $5 per adult per day, meaning our seven-night stay would have cost us $70 in fees anyway! We were impressed with a lot of things about Texas State Parks, like that there’s free, unlicensed fishing within any of the parks. The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department website is pretty fantastic too, with all the right kinds of information, including short introductory videos on YouTube for each park.

The only criticism I have for TPWD is that the entry-experience is a little rigid. In many other states’ parks, you’re welcome—even encouraged—to go drive around and pick out your own spot, before retuning to the office and paying. Not here. (And not in the few other parks we’ve been to in Texas.) Here you have to park, walk to the office, let them pick a site for you, then, after you’ve gone and looked at your state-issued site, judged & ruled on its suitability, and perhaps found it less-than-perfect, you have to call, request a different site, and then return to the office to redo your paperwork. Anyway, that happened. The process repeats itself in a milder form every time you re-enter the park, since they diligently check your window tag each pass through the gate. (This is far from unusual, of course, but feels more like security theater than anything else, especially when the park is currently so empty.) Overall, the user experience suffers, I think, from the aggressive gating of the parks. But then, Texans do love their fences.

Part of me is tempted to concede that these policies may actually be keeping Texas parks safer, or cleaner, or at least less-subject to vandalism and hooliganism. That certainly may be true; I have no particular reason to doubt it, given how much we’ve enjoyed our stay, and the quality of all the facilities, but I do lament the awkwardness of the security-heavy “welcome” into the park.

Mid-week, we got hit by a massive rainstorm, causing flooding all over this part of the state. We got a little over 4” locally, which meant a steady rain for most of a full day, and Joe Pool Lake going from historic lows to a foot above normal literally overnight. We took a cozy day inside and enjoyed the sound of the rain on the Airstream’s aluminum shell. It’s really one of my favorite things about the trailer; the hollow aluminum amplifies the rain, to the point of crazy loud at times, where you can really feel it. (Hopefully not literally feel the rain, though we’ve discovered the trailer does have a few leaks.) Since then, we’ve been back to unseasonably-warm, beautifully-sunny days and we’re a little sad to go. But our seven consecutive nights here is now our longest stay in any single campsite so far and we’re ready to move on!

And so on to Austin it is, one of our favorite cities anywhere. We’re staying at the coveted Pecan Grove RV Park, within walking distance to Zilker Park, the shops & restaurants of South Congress, and even downtown, too. Last time we were in Austin (sans trailer) we took a walk through the Pecan Grove and counted over a dozen Airstreams, so we’ll be among friends! More from Austin, later.