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STOP #258

As far as our moving days go, today's was off to a good start. We are moving a little less than 100 miles today and check-out time here at Ratcliff Lake Rec Area isn't until 2PM, with check-in at the next campground, Cagle Rec Area, officially being the same time, 2PM. The "unofficial" check-in time is after 12 NOON, which is when check-out time is and theoretically our campsite should be vacant.

We lazily broke down camp and even had time to squeeze in showers before leaving this morning. We vacated our campsite around 11AM, dumped our tanks on the way out of the campground and spent the next two hours driving towards our new destination, arriving at 1PM.

With COVID restrictions in effect, gone are the days of driving up to the check-in station, confirming your reservation with a park ranger and receiving a tag to hang on your rear view mirror with your campsite number, check-out date and possible gate code to re-enter the park after dark.

If that would have been the case this afternoon, half of our blunders would have been avoided and the other half would have been immediately brought to our attention. Instead, this is what happened!

In the calendar app on my laptop I make notes about where we are heading next, what campsite we are on and how many days we are staying. All of this data is entered when I make the reservation, usually six months in advance of the reservation date.

Then on moving days I make a habit of checking this information immediately after uploading the blog post for our most recent visit.

I now program our GPS with coordinates from our current specific campsite to next specific campsite. I used to only program it from campground to campground, but some of these campgrounds are huge and the chances of getting lost somewhere between the entrance drive into the campground and our actual campsite is a real possiblilty.

Even with all these precautions taken not to make a mistake, today was just the perfect storm of mishaps. We arrived at the campground without mishap, but then everything went wrong. As expected there was no one manning the check-in station, so we were on our own to locate our campsite. It is usually now when I ask Tricia to check the calendar app on her phone to verify which campsite we are on, since I only commit the site number to memory and don't write it down.

For some unknown reason the campground was recorded in her information, but the campsite number was not. In this case we check the calendar app on my phone, which is supposed to be synced to my laptop, which is where all of the email confirmations are stored.

My phone app had Campsite #9 listed for our reservation, how I still don't know? My memory had me believing our campsite was #35. At this point I unexplainably turned off the GPS, we were here afterall and I didn't need the GPS and Tricia both telling me where to turn. We found Campsite #9 and backed in, unhitched the truck and trailer, then Tricia began the process of leveling THE POD front to back from inside the trailer using the remote control for the tounge jack. I was in the process of hooking up the electric power and filling our fresh water tank with just enough water for our stay.

This is when the Campground Host arrived in his golf cart and mentioned we could only stay on the site for one night, because tomorrow (Friday) the site was reserved for five nights. I said I know, I have this site reserved for five nights, but it begins today. He admitted his information is not always completely up to date, especially when there are last minute changes to the reservation. I told him that I made the reservation six months ago and never changed anything. He asked for the name on the reservation and I asked for a chance to go inside and check my email confirmation on my laptop.

When I came back out of the trailer the Campground Host had returned and informed me he didn't have any reservation under my name. I explained we discovered we were on the wrong site number, that we were actually reserved for Campsite #35. He said that makes sense why he didn't have us listed, it was on a different campground loop and he only had listings for his loop, sites #1-19.

We apologised and mentioned that in three and a half years on the road this had never happened to us. He said it happens here all the time. We hooked the trailer back up to the truck and ventured further into the forest to the next campground loop. Here we found Campsite #35 and began the process of once again unhooking the trailer.

When all was done I thought, let me double check the small dry erase board that is attached to the campsite number post at the entrance to our campsite. That's when I noticed we only had a four day reservation instead of five like I thought. I got online and checked if our site was available for an extra night and it was not, darn it!

Next I checked to see if our next campsite could be extended to arrive a day early, no again! Now what to do? I checked the route between the two campgrounds and saw an Army Corps of Engineers campground about equal distance between both. Not ideal, but a one night stay is not the worst that could happen, it sure beats an overnight Walmart stop. Luckily there were some vacancies and we booked a beautiful waterfront site with water and electric hookups for $13, that's a $7 savings from what we would have paid if we stayed here in the forest. Plus it beaks up a long 200+ mile travel day into two shorter ones.

In the end I guess everything worked out just fine for us!

FRIDAY - It's been over two weeks ago since we've done laundry. Well, as Mel Fisher used to say, Today is the Day! Google Maps tells us that if we exit the park and head a few miles south on Interstate 45 there is a laundromat called Flip Flop Coin Op. Don't believe me? Google it.

Anyway we load up ROVER with our dirty clothes and head out. We follow the directions to the laundromat location only to find a tall concrete wall with iron gates and it's closed with no one around? This has happened to us before, so we return to Google and find another laundromat 10 miles further south on the Interstate. What choice do we have, the truck is already loaded and it needs to be done.

We found the second laundry location right where it's supposed to be, so I drop of Tricia and set out to take care of a few of my own things. We are running a little bit low on cash so I hit up the ATM at a nearby branch office, so as not to pay any ATM service fees.

It happens to be in the same location as a giant sized Kroger Grocery Store and there are a few items we need. I've been looking for some of the McCormick Tex-Mex Chili seasoning packets to make my Key West Chili recipe and can't find them anywhere. You'd think they would be in every grocery store in Texas, but I can't find them anywhere? The other items on my list were all easy to find.

Kroger has a gas station in the parking lot and their price is $2.89 for Regular. Me trying to save a buck or two, fire up the Gas Buddy App on my phone and find a station five more miles south on the Interstate with gas selling at $2.67, according to the app. Off I go! I arrive and find the price is $2.89 just like Kroger was. I report my findings to the Gas Buddy app so no one else gets conned into believing the price. I think sometimes the gas station owners post their own fake prices to pull in business.

I get back on the app and find another station with gas at $2.70, but it's another mile and a half south on the Interstate. I've still got time so off I go again!

You guessed it! I arrive and find the price to be $2.89, so I once again update the Gas Buddy App with my findings. While sitting there updating the app I look across the street and spot a small gas station with an old style sign you have to change the numbers on manually and their price is posted as $2.75, but once I arrive at the pump, I find that's the Cash Price. If you are using a Debit Card the price is $2.79 and a Credit Card Purchase will cost you $2.83 a gallon.

I'm not only frustrated with all this running around, but I'm running out of time, Tricia (now nearly 7 miles away) will be finished with the laundry soon and it's lunchtime.

If I would have indeed found gas for $2.67 I would have saved $4.40 on my 20 gallon purchase. At $2.70 it would have still been $3.80 savings, but at $2.83 my savings dwindled to just $1.20 for my efforts. I was still able to use my Ducks Unlimited VISA Card to save 5% on my gasoline purchase which gave me another $2.80 off.

I arrived back at the laundromat just in time to help Tricia finish folding the clothes, load them in the truck and discuss where to go for lunch.

Our best choices in this area are a Taco Bell, a Jack-in-the-Box Burger joint, or take a chance on the never before seen Bubba T's Cajun Kitchen location right across the street from the laundromat. Turns out Tricia made the right call to head across the street.

Bubba T's only has two locations, the one here in Willis, TX and the other is 25 miles south in Spring, TX, their original location.

With such a tough looking Alligator Chef logo the food must be good!

They have an extensive menu and it was difficult making our selections.

I ordered a bowl of their Seafood (shrimp and crawfish) Gumbo as an appetizer and it arrived at the table within minutes with our drinks. I was so hungry and it smelled so good I just had to take a taste. Ten short minutes later the gumbo was gone and I was anxiously awaiting my entrée selection of the Cajun Combo which is Blackened Catfish and Shrimp Creole, served with Jambalaya Rice and Jalapeño Hush Puppies.

Tricia ordered the Blackened Mahi Taco with Coleslaw. We fully intended to take a photo of our meal, but once it arrived at the table the thought of waiting another moment to eat completely left our heads. Sorry, once again, to all you foodies!

It was the best authentic cajun meal we've had outside of New Orleans in all our travels.

SATURDAY - With another cold front coming through here tomorrow and a forecast of rain we decided to get out of THE POD today and have a little fun.

On the eastern side of the Sam Houston National Forest is another campground with reservable sites featuring water-electric-sewer hookups. We decided to go check it out, just in case we ever find ourselves in the area in the future, because you know we don't like to repeat visits when there is somewhere new to experience.

Double Lake Recreation Area campground is very similar to the Cagle Recreation Area campground where we are now. If you are a mountain biker Double Lake Rec Area is where you want to be and if you are a fisherman then Cagle Rec Area is where you want to be.

We drove through the campground and noted the best campsites for us to select if we found ourselves interested in visiting here. Afterward we were headed for home and realized it was getting close to lunchtime again. We had a decision to make, eat-out or eat-in at home?

Since we forgot to take a photo of our meals yesterday we made the decision to drive all the way back to Bubba T's for our second meal there in two days. Oooooh the sacrifices we make, just for our foodie readers, we hope you appreciate it! :-)

Tricia enjoyed her Blackened Mahi Taco so much yesterday she ordered it again, only this time with the Jambalaya Rice for a side instead of the Coleslaw, after tasting my rice yesterday.

I changed up my order only slightly by ordering the Crawfish Combo which is Fried Crawfish Tails and Crawfish Etouffee, once again served with Jambalaya Rice and Jalapeño Hush Puppies.

Once again the food was outstanding, but I think next time we'll be looking to sample some TexMex cuisine.

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STOP #257

Texas has the highest posted legal speed limit in the entire country. If you get on Texas State Highway 130 on the east state of Austin you'll see the only 85MPH speed limit signs in the country. Thankfully we weren't on that highway with THE POD today, but 80MPH speed limits are common on most rural Texas Interstate Highways.

What we did see were numerous speed limit signs of 75MPH on two-lane country roads that connect small towns together all over Texas. Now I won't tow THE POD over 65MPH without a good reason. It's just not safe for a half-ton cargo pickup truck (our Ford F-150) to tow a nearly 4-ton travel trailer (THE POD) any faster. Physics just makes that a bad idea!

Sure our truck is "capable" of towing a trailer 85 MPH, and maybe the driver is even skilled enough to handle that kind of speed, but the weight ratio between the truck and trailer just shouldn't be pushed to those limits. Not to even mention the fact that the brakes were never meant to safely stop that much weight in an emergency situation.

When the speed limit is either 70MPH or 75MPH, we travel at 65MPH when towing THE POD. If we stack up 3 or more vehicles behind us on a two-lane road I'll look for a place to safely pull off the road to let everyone pass. If nowhere safe can be found there are short passing lanes set up every 20 or so miles, usually along an uphill section of the road and they'll just have to wait for one of those to pass us.

We arrived safe and sound at our reserved campsite at Ratcliff Lake Recreation Area in the Davy Crockett National Forest. It was a little bit after noon and like most of our journey today, it was raining when we arrived, which only made the driving conditions today even more dangerous!

The campsite photos were taken the next day after the rain stopped.

Our spacious site with the woods for a backyard.

Wasn't much of a view until the rain stopped.

TUESDAY - The last time we purchased propane was back in August. Lately we've been frequently running our furnance at night to keep our water tanks from freezing up, it uses a lot of propane, much more than the oven and stove top do.

We only have one and a half of our three 30lb. propane tanks left full, therefore it's time to refill the empty tank. The town of Crockett is about 20 miles away and fortunately they have a Tractor Supply Store with a propane filling station.

A large number of RVers like the convenience of using the standard 20lb. tanks, you know the ones you can exchange at Home Depot and outside of many gasoline stations. However, you pay extra for that convenience, about 25% extra. You know me, always trying to save a dollar here and there! They all add up.

After purchasing the propane we located the cheapest price in town for gasoline, thanks to my Gas Buddy app, at the Murphy Station outside of Walmart. Across the street from Walmart we saw a "new to us" burger chain and we were supposed to look for lunch while in town.

TX Burger was started in 1973 and currently has eleven locations across East Texas. Their claim to fame is using only all natural, never frozen, Nolan Ryan Angus Beef for their burgers and creating hand spun milk shakes using Blue Bell Ice Cream.

In case you didn't know, Nolan Ryan is a Hall of Fame Major League baseball pitcher who played for the Houston Astros from 1980-1988 and finished his career playing for the Texas Rangers from 1989-1993. Nolan Ryan's has pitched 7 no-hitter games, three more than any other Major League pitcher. Today Nolan Ryan co-owns several cattle ranches throughout Texas.

Also the Blue Bell Ice Cream company was founded in Brenham, Texas in 1907. So between the burgers and the ice cream they're keeping it an all Texas menu.

With all that said you'd think it would be a winning combination. Tricia's Cheddar Jalapeño Bun (which was an extra $1.25) was the best thing about the whole meal. The burgers were nothing special, I prefer the burger from the other Texas chain restaurant, Whataburger (with over 700 Texas locations). And the hand-spun shake was very thin with ice cream.

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STOP #256

I was updating our data tracking spreadsheet this morning, like I do every morning, with our daily temperatures from AccuWeather's website when I saw a story headline that read,

"45 years ago: The day it snowed in Miami".

I was working at Miramar Lanes at the time as a 21-year old mechanic and remember just staring out the front doors of the bowling alley early that morning, watching the snow land on my 1975 Pontiac Trans Am, wondering if it would hurt the "big bird decal" on the hood.

If the AccuWeather website story is truly accurate, like when has the weatherman ever got it wrong, January 19, 1977 was the first, and last time, it ever snowed that far south in Florida. Oh, how I remember the good old days!

Our original plans were to spend this weekend at a campsite in the Angelina National Forest, but none of their campsites have electrical hookups available. So "Plan B" went into effect and we booked a last minute reservation at an Army Corps of Engineers park in the same vicinity.

Why the change? Honestly we just chickened out! The overnight lows forecast for this weekend are 25°F, 21°F, 23°F & 36°F, with daytime highs only ranging between the low 40s°F up into mid 50s°F. That's just too damn cold for too damn long to be without electricity for heating THE POD's holding tanks and come to think of it, for us too!

Our lakefront Campsite #26 at Mill Creek Park, 10 miles outside of Jasper, TX.

We have a huge side yard outside our front door.

FRIDAY - With it being way to cold to enjoy anything outdoors today (mid-40s°F) we decided to spend our time (and money on gas) driving around checking out all the other Federal Campgrounds in this area.

There are three Angelina National Forest campgrounds that can accommodate THE POD. None of them have hookups for water or electric and none of them had anyone camping in them while we visited today.

There are five other Army Corps of Engineer campgrounds (not counting the one we are in now) on the Sam Rayburn Reservoir which is surrounded by the Angeline National Forest. We checked out four of them and are pleased that after seeing all of them, we would still pick the one we are in now.

As you can see in the photo below, we have the entire corner of this campground to ourselves.

SUNDAY - We found a hidden gem of a BBQ joint just outside of the campground entrance. It's called Texas Joe's Backporch BBQ and it's literally just that, a husband and wife team who 3 years ago opened a BBQ joint from the enclosed back porch of their modest home. They are only open Thursday through Sunday for lunch and dinner, so Steve still has time for his second love, fishing!

We didn't take any food pictures because well, the food ain't pretty, but it sure is mighty tasty. It's served in styrofoam containers and paper bowls. You'll be eating with plastic utensils and drinking from styrofoam cups. Guess it saves them from the need for a dishwasher!

There are only three four-seater booths inside of the enclosed back porch, but lots of seating outside in the yard under a huge shade tree for when the weather allows. We liked it so much we ate there twice in four days, something we hardly ever do!

Upon our arrival here on Thursday we drove right past it and agreed we would go have lunch there after we got setup on the campsite. The food was so good and inexpensive we promised to return for lunch on Sunday. We gladly kept our promise!

This is the view of their gravel parking lot from the road leading to the campground.

Their self made welcome sign pointing out the entrance to the back porch.

There's me, just chatting away while waiting for my meal to be prepared.

After waking up to 26°F temperatures this morning, the afternoon high was a comfortable 66°F, warm enough to enjoy our final sunset here at the Sam Rayburn Reservoir.

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STOP #255

We've got a long 250+ mile travel day ahead of us today! We are leaving Western Mississippi, crossing over the entire state of Louisiana and landing in Eastern Texas. So we need to get an early start because we are arriving at a small 20 site First Come First Serve campground in the Sabine National Forest. The fact that it's a Monday should guarantee there are a least a few vacancies for us to choose from when we arrive around noon.

We were on the road by 7:30AM and it wasn't long before we were crossing over the Mississippi River between the towns of Natchez, MS and Vidalia, LA.

The 4,205 foot Natchez-Vidalia Bridge is interesting because the current westbound bridge (the one we were on) was built it 1940 and was originally used for both east and west bound traffic. It's two lanes are only 8-foot wide (with no shoulders) and THE POD (and most other large trailers) are 8 1/2 foot wide. It makes for a somewhat tight fit when someone absolutely feels the need to pass you while still on the bridge.

Watch this short 8-second clip from a video Tricia just happened to be shooting while crossing the bridge. A white pickup truck passed us just as I was sliding over to the left edge of my lane to dodge a cardboard box coming up on the right hand curb.

The center span of the bridge is also where the state line is, notice the green Louisiana sign at the end of the video!

The newer eastbound bridge (built in 1988) has today's standard 11-foot wide lanes with both inside and outside shoulders.

Thankfully the rest of our trip was pretty uneventful after getting off to a little bit of a rocky start.

We arrived at Boles Field Campground around noontime, just as we had planned, and found only one other camper there in addition to the Camp Host. We had plenty of sites to choose from.

The campground occupies both sides of Forest Road 2694. The north side of the road is where the Camp Host, a pavilion and amphitheater, bathhouse with hot showers, and the Iron Ranger pay station are located. Along with the first half dozen campsites.

The south side of the road is where you'll find the balance of the campsites. They are all in one long row set not terribly far off the roadway. Each site has an electric and water hookup, picnic table and ground grill. There are also two centrally located trash pickup bins for us to use.

All of this for the Grand Total of just $3 a night, using our Lifetime Senior Pass, $6 a night for everyone else. I guess even "the bargins" are bigger here in Texas!

Campsite #11 at Boles Field Campground in the Sabine National Forest.

Those are our only neighbors way down there in the A-Liner style trailer.

TUESDAY - There is another attraction located here at Boles Field Campground that we haven't mentioned. It struck us as "just a little bit odd".

We weren't quite sure what to make of it when we first selected our campsite. After checking it out I told Tricia if she hears any hound dogs baying in the middle of the night I wasn't going to be the one to go outside to check it out!

It's located just on the other side of the driveway in front of our campsite and I'd be willing to bet none of you have any idea what it is! I sure didn't have a clue.

As you can see the signage reads,
National Hall of Fame Cemetery of Fox Hounds.

After checking out the cemetery we hopped into ROVER to go check out another Forest Service campground located nearby on the Toledo Bend Reservoir. The east side of the reservoir is in Louisiana and the west side is here in Texas. This campground does not have electrical hookups and with temperatures at, or below freezing, for the next few days we wouldn't even consider moving over here to save the $.50 a night. It's only $2.50 a night here and even I'm not that frugal (or foolish)! We love our little electric space heaters too much to give them up.

Campsite #24 at Ragtown Campground is high up on a bluff overlooking the reservoir.

It's quite the view from up here.

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