Troy W.
Austin, TX
Joined May 2018
A happy camper - traveling, hiking, camping, backpacking. Find me at www.theadventurebegins.tv or Social Media (FB, IG, YT, PIN) @troyfromtexas
Russell Park + Trees + Trail + Lake

This is a review of the established campsites at Russell Park along the San Gabriel River Trail. Reservations for campsites can be made through (877) 444-6777 or www.recreation.gov.

These are drive up campsites where you may park your car next to your assigned site. The campsites have a sun awning, picnic table, campfire pit/grill. Russell Park has 27 tent-only sites with no utilities. Check-in time for reservations is 3 pm and check-out time is 2pm. There is a designated swimming area within the campground. 

One of the advantages of this park is that it sits along the San Gabriel River Trail. The trail circles Lake Georgetown and is 26.2 miles. It passes through forests, grasslands, over some small hills and across a few tributaries. I'd say that 40% of the trail has some tree coverage, but 60% is exposed. In the summer be aware that the combination of the temperature and the exposure makes this trail uncomfortable to hike. Take precautions, drink lots of water and stay in the shade all that you can. While you are walking within site of Lake Georgetown, it is not always convenient to access the water. So carry plenty of water. 

The trail is getting more and more popular with backpackers, so it is likely that you may see others on the trail. On weekends you may encounter scout troops practicing. During the weekdays you may not see a single person. Dogs are allowed on the trail, but it is nice to keep them on lease.

Sawyer Park Primitive Campsites

This is a review of the Sawyer Park primitive (dispersed) campsites along the San Gabriel River Trail. There are no facilities or amenities are this campsite. Leave No Trace principals should be practiced.

Upon entering one of the access points, park your car for free near the trailhead. It is good to advise one of the park administers that you will be hiking or place a note inside your car that you are hiking. 

The Sawyer Park site is only accessible by hiking or by a boat. It is about 5 miles from the Tejas Campground and 5 miles from Cedar Breaks Campground. This is primitive (dispersed) camping. There are a few areas with clear land or tent pads where you may camp. But there are also zones where you may simply camp wherever you can setup a tent or hammock. There is an old latrine at this site, but it is in poor shape and no-one really uses it. Be prepared to dig a cat hole. 

Many people stay at this site while hiking the San Gabriel River Trail. The trail circles Lake Georgetown and is 26.2 miles. It passes through forests, grasslands, over some small hills and across a few tributaries.

In the summer be aware that the combination of the temperature and the exposure can make this trail uncomfortable to hike. Take precautions, drink lots of water and stay in the shade all that you can. While you may be hiking within site of Lake Georgetown, it is not always convenient to access the water. So carry plenty of water while hiking - at least 2 liters. 

The trail is getting more and more popular with backpackers, so it is likely that you may see others on the trail. On weekends you may encounter scout troops practicing backpacking. During the weekdays you may not see a single person. Dogs are allowed on the trail, but it is nice to keep them on lease.

San Gabriel River Trail + Lake

This is a review of the primitive (dispersed) campsites along the San Gabriel River Trail. 

Upon entering one of the access points, park your car for free near the trailhead. It is good to advise one of the park attendants that you will be hiking or place a note inside your car that you are hiking. 

The trail circles Lake Georgetown and is 26.2 miles. It passes through forests, grasslands, over some small hills and across a few tributaries. 

This is prmitive (dispersed) camping. There are no facilities or amenities are these camp areas. Pack in some water and bring a water filter to obtain more. Leave No Trace principals should be practiced. 

There are a few areas with tent pads or clear areas where you may camp. But there are also zones where you may simply camp wherever you can setup a tent or hammock.  I'd say that 40% of the trail has some tree coverage, but 60% is exposed. 

In the summer be aware that the combination of the temperature and the exposure can make this trail uncomfortable to hike. Take precautions, drink lots of water and stay in the shade all that you can. While you may be hiking within site of Lake Georgetown and the water, it is not always convenient to access the water. So be sure to carry plenty of water - at least 2 liters.

The trail is getting more and more popular with backpackers, so it is likely that you may see others on the trail. On weekends you may encounter scout troops practicing backpacking. During the weekdays you may not see a single person.

Dogs are allowed on the trail, but it is nice to keep them on lease.

Blanco State Park + River Access + Town + Lots of RVs

Blanco State Park is kind of an interesting park. It is located within the city of Blanco, Texas. It is a small park with the main attraction being that it is located on the Blanco River, thus there is river access. 

If you need any supplies there are two grocery store in the town of Blanco. There is also a cute little town square with a couple of nice restaurants. We ate at the Redbud Cafe and it was great.

We arrived at the park after the sun had set. We entered the park, crossed over a bridge  and found our campsite on a loop road. I would say that most of the other campsites were filled with RVs. I suppose that if you have an RV and like having the conveniences of a town nearby this might be the campground for you. 

Our group was camping in tents and hammocks so we found the campground a bit unusual. There were tent pads to set up tents and plenty of trees to hang some hammocks. In addition, there was a parking spot, water, electricity, open space, picnic table, sun awning and grill. There were restrooms nearby our campsite. I would say that the restrooms could stand an update.

The main attraction of this park is that it is located on the banks of the Blanco River. We were able to hike, swim and explore the river downstream from the main park. 

I'd say if you were looking for peace and quiet in a natural setting, this may not be the best option. If you're looking for an RV campground with access to a river and a town, then this might be perfect for you.

Big Spring State Park + Scenic Overlook

Big Spring State Park is a small park with a big scenic overlook of the town of Big Spring, Texas. There is no fee to enter the park.

This park sits on the top of a small mountain in the middle of the town of Big Spring. If you need food or supplies there are grocery stores in the nearby town of Big Spring. Once you enter the park there are various hiking and biking trails. There are picnic areas and restrooms. 

Perhaps the main attraction of this park is the scenic overlook of the town and the surrounding valley. There is a indoor/outdoor building structure that may be reserved for events. Next to the building structure is a playground. Many of the playground structures looked kind of old.

From what I could gather there are plans to renovate the park. There was also a sign that there was no overnight camping at the park. There were spaces that looked like campsites, but overnight camping was not allowed. Much of the infrastructure appeared old and in need of renovation. Hopefully the park will be renovated and open for camping in the future.

Go for the view, but go somewhere else for camping. To the east of Big Springs there are parks with camping at Lake Colorado City State Park and still further east there is Abilene State Park.

Ranger Review: Wenzel Shenanigan 5 Teepee Tent at Inks Lake State Park

What could be better than camping lakeside during the summer?

Maybe camping lakeside in a teepee! I'll get to that later. 

Campground Review:

Some friends and I decided to go on a little camping trip this summer. 

I've found that it's always beneficial to camp near shade and water in the summer when temperatures are at a peak. I searched TheDyrt.com for a suitable campground. Once I found Inks Lake State Park, I realized that we could camp near the lake and have easy access to the water. I searched around a little bit until I found what I thought might be the perfect campsite - site #304. Unfortunately #304 was reserved, but #303 was available. The site offered shade and access to the water. Done.

We set out for the park after work on a Friday. We stopped along the way to have dinner in the town of Burnet at a cool little cafe called Bill's Burgers, Wings and Things. The food was great and the atmosphere was festive. If you need to pick up supplies or groceries, there are supermarkets in the town of Burnet.

We arrived at our campsite somewhat late at 7:30pm, so we quickly set up camp. 

Inks Lake State Park is a nice park nestled in the hill country of Texas. It is a short one hour drive from Austin. The park has a variety of facilities and activities for just about everyone. The main attractions of this park are the lake, the hiking trails and the Devil's Waterhole. From our campsite we could access the lake for paddling or fishing. We could also access the hiking trail that passes around the lake. There were brand new bathroom facilities at the park and they were some of the nicest bathrooms that I've ever seen at a campground. 

We went for a hike on one of the trails. There are some unique rock formations in the park called gneiss. While hiking among the gneiss it feels like you're on another planet. 

One of the highlights of the trip was visiting the cove within the park called the Devil's Waterhole. We brought tubes to float in and chill in the water. I’ve always found that this is the best way to beat the heat in the summer. There is one side of the cove in which people climb the banks up to a rock outcropping to jump into the water below. There are some outcroppings 10 feet above the water, 20 feet and 30 feet. I jumped off the 20 foot high cliff and touched the bottom, so I didn't jump off the 30 feet cliff. It is fun jumping and it is entertaining watching others jump.

There's a little of something for everyone at Inks Lake State Park.

Product Review of Wenzel's Shenanigan 5 Teepee Tent 

As a Ranger for The Dyrt, from time to time I am provided products to test. For this outing I was provided a Wenzel Shenanigan 5 Teepee Tent. Weeeeeee!

For more info: https://wenzelco.com/shenanigan-5/

We arrived at our campground somewhat late in the evening at 7:30pm. Luckily we were able to quickly and easily set up our new Wenzel Shenanigan teepee tent. 

Basically, all we had to do was to find a flat clear area, spread out the tent, stake in the 6 stakes and then place on end of the included pole into the top of the tent and the bottom of the pole into a fastener in the bottom of the tent. And the tent was ready. 

I'd say that this is one of the best features of this tent - it is so easy to setup. 

Another benefit is that it is so fun. Weeeeee. Who wouldn't want to hangout in a teepee tent? The tent is available in your choice of two color patterns - blue or red. I chose the blue. It makes we want to smile every time that I see it.

The tent is a single wall tent. I believe that the material is treated for weather protection, but I wouldn't say that it is built for extreme rain or weather. It does have some nice ventilation options with a vented door, 3 windows, 2 ceiling vents and 2 floor vents. 

In the middle of summer in the middle of the day, this is a cool and fun place to chill.

The Shenanigan 5 tent is specified as a 5 person tent. However, like most tents the specified number is probably optimistic. Perhaps 2 adults and 3 children would fit inside. We found that there was plenty of room for 3 adults and gear.

I'd say that the pros of this tent are: 1. it is just so much fun. 2. it is easy to setup. 3. it is reasonably priced. 4. the color patterns are cool. 5. even tall people can stand up in this tent. 6. kids of all ages will love it.

I'd say the cons of this tent are: 1. not designed for extreme weather. 2. the side walls do limit shoulder space. 3. I prefer door entrances with one continuous zipper instead of three separate zippers. 

In summary, I'm pretty happy with the tent. I plan to use it for car camping weekends, as a shade tent for day outings and maybe even for fun times in the backyard.

Abilene State Park + Trees + Swimming Pool + Lake (sort of)

Abilene State Park is an interesting park to visit in the middle of Texas. The park is a short drive from the City of Abilene so it receives quite a few visitors on the weekend. During the weekday, you'll find considerably more peace and quiet. 

You can pick up supplies in the city and there is also a small store within the park office with some snacks and souvenirs.

The park has a nice grove of trees scattered around the open spaces and the campsites which can provide sanctuary shade from the summer sun. The campsites have clearings for tents, picnic tables, fire pits and water. There are restrooms nearby which have sinks, toilets and shower, all of which could stand some updating. There's a swimming pool which is often the main attraction of this park. 

When I was planning a visit to the park I thought that it would be nice to be right on the shores of Lake Abilene. However, I discovered that the main park area and campsites are in one area and the access point to the lake is in another area. You actually need to drive outside of the park, down the road and enter into another part of the park. There's a dirt road to access the lakefront and once you are at the lakefront there is a little beach. I guess that this is one reason why so many people appear to prefer hanging out at the swimming pool. 

The arrangement of the facilities is a little strange and many of the facilities could use an update. For this reason I only rate this park 3 out of 5.

Lake Brownwood State Park + Swimming + Boating + Fishing

I would rate this park 3.5 out of 5 stars. The park has a variety of facilities which earns it a 4 star rating. But the quality of the facilities only earns it a 3 star rating. So it averages out to 3.5 in my opinion.

Lake Brownwood State Park is pretty much located in the center of Texas. However, it is a bit of a drive from many of the major cities like Houston, San Antonio, Austin and Dallas. It is fairly convenient to reach from Abilene and San Angelo. If you need to pick up camping supplies there are grocery stores and sporting good stores in the nearby town of Brownwood.

The main attraction of the park is that it is situated on the shores of Lake Brownwood. There are ample opportunities to take advantage of lakeside activities like swimming, boating and fishing. There are a variety of camping options with tent sites, cabana sites and RV sites. At most of the sites there are nice oak trees that provide shade and can support a hammock. Note that Texas State Parks require 2 inch suspension straps when hanging a hammock. There are boat ramps, fishing piers and a loop hiking trail. The hiking trail is a loop trail, fairly level, but I would say moderately interesting. The real attraction of this park is the lake.

Some of the facilities such as the restrooms and the cabanas are a bit dated and could benefit from an update. The staff was very friendly when I visited. And the other campers were respectful.

I would like to say that I visited the park during a weekday when the park had few visitors. However, I've heard that on the weekend the park fills up quickly and can be quite busy.

Guadalupe Peak + Views + Carlsbad Caverns

The main reason why you might want to stay at this campsite during your visit to West Texas and Guadalupe Mountains National Park is to summit Guadalupe Peak and stand on the highest point in Texas. And the main reason why you hike to the peak is to see the views. 

There are no facilities or amenities at this campsite - no water, no restrooms, no shelters, no firewood, no wifi. Just views that stretch on for miles and miles.

You'll likely start your trip by checking into the Pine Spring Visitor Center where you can obtain a backcountry use permit. Permits are issued on a first come, first serve basis so try to arrive as early as possible and preferably before noon. During peak visitation periods permits may be in demand, so it might be a good idea to stay one night at the Pine Spring campground. If the Pine Spring campground is full, there is some Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land nearby in New Mexico. Ask the visitor center for more info. The backcountry permit authorizes camping in designated sites in the established backcountry campsites. Fires are prohibited so containerized fuel is your best bet to be used for cooking.

The hike from the Pine Springs Visitor Center to the Guadalupe Peak campground is 3.1 miles - and it is almost all uphill. The hike from the Guadalupe Peak campsite to the peak is an additional 1 mile. The campsite is on a nook of the mountain and marginally protected from high winds. There are a few trees and a few rock windbreaks near the tent pads. The winds often exceed 80 miles per hour, so even if it is not windy when you arrive, secure your tent with additional guy lines. Elevation gain from the visitor center to this campsite is about 2200 feet. You'll need to carry all of your water for your ascent and descent so be prepared to haul 4 to 8 liters depending on the season, heat and personal needs. 

After you've conquered Guadalupe Peak and hiked around other parts of the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, check out the nearby Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico.

Caprock Canyon South Prong primitive camping area + Bison + Red Rock

Caprock Canyon South Prong primitive camping area

The Caprock Canyon South Prong primitive camping site is about a 1 mile hike from the South Prong Tent camping area and the trailhead.

You’ll hike up and down some ravines and up a hill to reach it. If you’re able to camp at this site you’ll be rewarded with great views of the mountains and the valley. The red rock formations in this park are amazing.

I highly recommend hiking the Upper South Prong trail to the Fern Cave and then returning via the Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail.

Other highlights at this park include watching the prairie dogs and bison roam freely on the plains.

The only downside for this park is that to see some of the attractions you might need to drive because they are located far apart. The bison tend to gather on the open plains. The prairie dogs are located near the Honey Flat campground. Both of these attractions are far from the South Prong Camping Area. 

This park is located in the panhandle of Texas so it’s likely that you will have to drive a long distance to reach this park. if you would like to breakup the drive consider stopping over in Abilene to grab a bite to eat, see the worlds largest buffalo skull, or see the worlds largest paper airplane.

Long Creek Campsite on the Eagle Rock Loop + Fish!

The Long Creek Primitive Campsite is located in the Ouachita National Forest along the Little Missouri Trail on the eastern section of the Eagle Rock Loop. The only way to access this site is by entering at a trailhead and hiking in to the site. The nearest trailhead is at Albert Pike Recreation Area. This is a primitive dispersed campsite, but the ground has been cleared. The site is located alongside a creek.

On your hike into this site you will be rewarded with beautiful scenery as you walk through majestic forests of oak. You'll also see a variety of plants and forest creatures. The campsite is along Long Creek so you will have access to water. Perhaps 100 feet up river from our campsite I found a nice fishing hole and caught and released 7 trout and 1 sunfish within about 1 hour. 

There is adequate clear space to set up a tent or numerous trees to string up a hammock. There are no facilities nearby. You can collect and filter water from the river and dig a hole to poop in the woods. Please practice Leave No Trace in this area. 

Trekking poles are recommended to aid in tackling the various inclines and declines of the trail.

If you need any supplies before entering the Ouachita National Forest stop off in the town of De Queen where there are various grocery stores, restaurants and gas stations. 

During the spring and summer the insects can be intense. I advise treating clothing and gear with permethrin to prevent ticks and pacaridin for other insects.

Big Bend National Park - Chisos Basin Group Campsite

This review is specific to the Chisos Basin Group Campsites. I actually prefer the Chisos Basin Group Campsites over the regular Chisos Basin Campsites. The group sites require a minimum of 9 people and a maximum of 20 people. The group campsites are located on a separate loop with only 7 campsites. The regular campsites are located in a cluster with about 60 campsites side by side - there is little privacy. I've found the group campsites have a similar view of the Chisos Mountains and the valley. There is one restroom for the group sites which has sinks and toilets, but no showers. There are no showers in the Chisos Basin except at the Lodge. 

Three of the group campsites have sun shades (sites P, Q and R) and the remainder are exposed. If you can reserve a campsite with a sun shade it will be worth it. The sun and the wind can be very intense throughout the year. It is highly recommended that you secure your tent with extra guy lines and tent spikes. 

The Window Trail trailhead starts from one corner of the group campsites. It's a short and moderate difficulty trail with a scenic view of the valley and sunset. If you hike the Window Trail to see the sunset, be sure to bring a flashlight because it can be difficult to find your way back once the sun goes down. Other highly recommended trails include the Emory Peak Trail, Lost Mine Trail and the Santa Elena Trail.

Living Waters on Lake Travis - Glamping on the Lake

Living Waters on Lake Travis is a lakeside venue for romantic getaways, yoga retreats, weddings, songwriting retreats, family reunions, work retreats and glamping (glamorous camping). You can rent one structure for a personal getaway or rent them all for a group event.

I attended a special event at this venue. There are various whimsical houses, cabins, yurts and tents in which to stay. There is an open lawn for group gatherings, a covered gazebo for outdoor yoga and a boathouse for lakeside activities. In addition there are amenities such as hammocks, lawn chairs, porches and tents in which to relax. The venue offers a variety of personal services such as massage, yoga, a private chef and watercraft rental. 

Whether you would like to be active or sedentary, Living Waters on Lake Travis might meet your needs.

Ranger Review: Liquid IV at Straight Creek Campsite on the Eagle Rock Loop

Park Review

The Straight Creek Primitive Campsite is located in the Ouachita National Forest along the Athens Big Fork trail on the western section of the Eagle Rock Loop. The only way to access this site is by entering at a trailhead and hiking in to the site. This is a primitive dispersed campsite, but the ground has been cleared. The site is located in a valley between two mountains and is located alongside a creek.

On your hike into this site you will be rewarded with beautiful scenery as you walk through majestic forests of oak, pine and maple. You'll also see a variety of flowers and plants. The campsite is near Straight Creek so you will have access to water.

There is adequate clear space to set up a tent or numerous trees to string up a hammock. There are no facilities nearby. You can collect and filter water from the river and dig a hole to poop in the woods. Please practice Leave No Trace in this area. 

Trekking poles are recommended to aid in tackling the various inclines and declines of the trail.

If you need any supplies before entering the Ouachita National Forest stop off in the town of De Queen where there are various grocery stores, restaurants and gas stations. 

During the spring and summer the insects can be intense. I advise treating clothing and gear with permethrin to prevent ticks and pacaridin for other insects.

Product Review

As a Ranger for The Dyrt, from time to time I receive products to test. For this trip I was provided some electrolyte drink mix by Liquid IV.

I ordered the product directly from the company website https://liquid-iv.com. The product was delivered quickly and ahead of schedule. I ordered the variety pack which included three flavors - Lemon Lime, Acai Berry and Passion Fruit. There were 8 packets of each flavor. It is recommended that each packet be added to 16 ozs. or 0.5 liter of water.  At first I found it a little difficult to open the packets cleanly. I then realized that I needed to completely tear the top of the packet across the top to expose the opening. After opening the packet, pour the powder into the water, then mix or shake the solution vigorously. The solution dissolved and mixed easily. 

Liquid IV claims that their solution has 3x the electrolytes of traditional sport drinks. It is non-gmo, vegan, gluten free, dairy free, soy free and made in the USA. 

I first tried the passion fruit flavor because I thought that it was the most unique. The flavor was rather light. I then tried the lemon lime flavor and found it to be stronger. The acai berry was somewhere in the middle. The flavors of Liquid IV are not as sweet as other mixes like Gatorade or PowerAid - which is a good thing. I've stopped drinking traditional sport drinks because of their high sugar content in overly sweet flavor. The Liquid IV solution was about right for me. 

Things that I liked:

1. Variety of flavors

2. Flavor was not overly sweet

3. Instructions were clear

Things that could be improved:

1. Packaging could be simplified for easier opening

2. Packaging could be minimized

Ranger Review: Morsel Spork at Viles Branch Creek Primitive Campsite

Park Review

The Viles Branch Creek Primitive Campsite is located in the Ouachita National Forest along the Athens Big Fork trail on the southern section of the Eagle Rock Loop. The only way to access this site is by entering at a trailhead and hiking in to the site. This is a primitive dispersed campsite, but the ground has been cleared and there are visible campfire locations. There is adequate clear space to set up a tent or numerous trees to string up a hammock. There are no facilities nearby. You can collect and filter water from the river and dig a hole to poop in the woods. Please practice Leave No Trace in this area. 

On your hike into this site you will be rewarded with beautiful scenery as you walk through majestic forests of oak, pine, maple and pecan trees. You will hike along the Viles Branch Creek and need to cross the creek various times. It is possible to fish in the creek, but we only caught small sunfish. In the nearby Little Missouri River there are larger fish. You'll hear birds singing all day long. We did have critters visit us in the evening so be prepared to hang your food in a tree or carry a protective canister.

Bring hiking shoes and water shoes for the various river crossings. Trekking poles are also recommended to aid in the river crossings and for tackling the various inclines and declines of the trail.

If you need any supplies before entering the Ouachita National Forest stop off in the town of De Queen where there are various grocery stores, restaurants and gas stations. 

During the spring and summer the insects can be intense. I advise treating clothing and gear beforehand with permethrin to prevent ticks and use pacaridin on the spot for other insects.

Product Review

As a Ranger for The Dyrt, from time to time I get products to test. For this trip I was provided some Morsel Long Handle Sporks. 

Fork it, Spoon it, Scrape it… is what you can do with Morsel Long Handle Sporks. 

Like many camping sporks the Morsel product has a fork end and a spoon end. The fork end also has a slightly serrated edge to slice pieces of your meal. The spoon end also has a uniquely shaped rubber edge that can be used as a spatula. The sporks come in regular and long handle forms. I chose the long handle sporks to make it easier to eat out of our backpacking food bags. The long handle allow one to access your food while keeping your hand and fingers clean. The long handle makes eating your meal a more enjoyable experience.

The sporks also come in a variety of colors. This is handy when you are camping with a group so that each person can choose and remember which spork belongs to them. 

One of the truly unique features of the spork is the spoon/spatula end. The end of the spoon is shaped like a spatula and has a soft rubber or silicon edge. This edge makes it easy to scrape morsels of food from the corners of your pot, bag or plate. This ensures that you eat every last piece of food, but it also makes clean up of your pot, bag or plate easier. 

I packed the sporks in my food bag inside my backpack for the entire trip. I was a little concerned that the sporks might break, but they held up well. Overall, I was very satisfied using the Morsel Sporks. 

Things that I liked most about the Morsel Sporks:

1. Long handle

2. Spatula/Spoon edge

3. Variety of colors

Albert Pike Recreation Area - Day Use Only

The Albert Pike Recreation Area is now for Day Use Only. As a result of flooding and potential flooding the former campground is now a day use area with parking spaces, picnic tables, water faucets and restrooms with toilets, sinks and showers. 

The main attraction of this area is the easy access to the Little Missouri River and the hiking trails along the Eagle Rock Loop. The river and the hiking trails are beautiful. If you need supplies, the town of De Queen has a number of stores, restaurants, gas stations and services available. The small town of Langley has a convenience store/gas station. 

Depending on the time of year the mosquitos and black flies can be pervasive. The facilities are showing their age and some wear. On the weekend this area gets a high number of visitors, so it is best to arrive early in the day.

Caprock Canyons State Park + Red Rock + Bison

I'd actually like to rate this park a 4.5. It earns a 4 for facilities and a 5 for things to do. Take a trip back in time with a visit to Caprock Canyon State Park. The bison, canyon and red rock formations will remind you of an old western movie. Add in a few prairie dogs for fun. There's lots to do at this park from hiking, camping, backpacking, fishing, watching wildlife and exploring old railroad tunnels. The highlight for me was spending an afternoon just watching the bison wander on the open plain. They are such peaceful creatures. We stayed at the South Prong Primitive Campsite #48. There was a fire ring with a grill and a lantern pole. We purchased our own firewood in town and had a nice campfire. We did not have a restroom nearby, but took advantage of the restroom at the ranger station and cafe. We hiked the South Prong trail to the Fern Cave and took the Hayes Ridge Overlook trail back to our campsite. We hiked a little bit of the Eagle Point trail in search of the natural bridge, but were unable to find it. I'll have to go back when I have more time.

Ranger Review: Mountain House Beef Stew at Tejas Park Lake Georgetown

Park Review

Tejas Park sits on the south side of Georgetown Lake in the Hill Country of Texas. The park offers good opportunities for hiking, camping and backpacking, fishing, wading or floating and features plenty of large, grassy open areas for enjoying the scenic countryside. 

There is a basic restroom with toilets. There is a water faucet near the Park Host's trailer. There are fire rings at the campsites and it is possible to collect fallen wood for a fire if there is not a fire ban in effect. There is a large parking lot, a large open field with campsites and my favorite is the group campsite at the end of the large open field. These sites can be reserved on recreation.gov

The Goodwater Trail is a trail that circles Lake Georgetown and runs about 28 miles. When backpacking the Goodwater Loop people typically start/park at either Tejas Park Trailhead, Jim Hogg Trailhead or Cedar Breaks Trailhead. If you are backpacking the loop parking and hiking are free. If you are using the park facilities just for the day, there is a day use fee.

The Hosts at this campground are typically very friendly. If you camp during the winter look up in the trees and you might just see some mistletoe.

Product Review

As a Ranger for The Dyrt, from time to time I get products to test. For this trip I was provided one package of Mountain House Beef Stew. The challenge was to create a dish using the beef stew as an ingredient. I decided to use Bread, Idahoan Mashed Potatoes and Mountain House Beef Stew to create a dish I called Brotato Stew. Unfortunately I was only provide one package of beef stew so we divided up the meal amongst six people and ate the meal as an appetizer.

Here are the instructions:

Boil 4 cups of water in a pot.

Pour 2 cups of boiled water into the Mountain House Beef Stew package and let it sit for 10 minutes.

Mix 2 cups of boiled water with the Idahoan Mashed Potatoes in a bowl or cup and mix thoroughly.

Using Onion rolls or Ciabata bread, cut the top of the bread and form a little bowl.

Spread the prepared Idahoan Mashed Potato into the bread bowl.

Spread the prepared Mountain House Beef Stew on top of the Mashed Potatoes.

Enjoy!

For more info about Mountain House visit their website at https://www.mountainhouse.com

Ranger Review: RovR RollR 60 Cooler at Colorado Bend State Park

Park Review

I've visited Colorado Bend State Park a number times and it never disappoints. There are rivers, streams, water holes, trees, caves and plenty of hike and bike trails to explore. 

This park offers drive-up, walk-in, hike-in primitive and group campsites. This park is becoming more and more popular, so it is recommended to reserve a site at least 3-4 weeks in advance or 3 to 4 months in advance for the group sites.

The park is a short distance from the town of Lampasas in the Texas Hill Country. In fact, if you need any supplies you might want to pick them up at the HEB Grocery Store in Lampasas because there are not many easy options for purchasing supplies once you enter the park - it is a long drive out of the park to the nearest store.

The drive-up, walk-in and group sites have a picnic table, fire ring with grill, lantern post, water nearby and restrooms nearby. However, there are no RV hookups. 

The primitive hike-in sites offer a patch of cleared space - no water, no electricity and no restrooms. However, there is plenty of peace and quiet.

My group opted for a hike-in primitive site along the river. Previously, the park allowed campers in the primitive area to simply find a clear patch of space and camp. Recently they instituted a new reservation system which has 8 designated campsites that are reservable. We had campsite 6. I think campsite 7 or 8 would be the best. The hike to these primitive sites is a little under 1 mile, so be prepared to carry your gear. In this area of the park, the Colorado River is a short walk from each campsite; there were a variety of birds at play in the trees; and there were prints and other evidence of wildlife. 

Many people visit this park to boat or fish the Colorado River. A Texas fishing license is not required if you fish within the park boundaries. Check with the Park Ranger for which fish are biting.

Our group was visiting primarily to hike and explore some of the unique features of the park such as Gorman's Cave, Gorman's Falls and the Spicewood Springs trail and water holes.

Overall I believe that our group had a great time and I had the opportunity to explore and discover some new areas of the park.

Product Review

As a Ranger for The Dyrt, from time to time I get products to test. For this trip I was testing the RovR RollR 60 cooler.

The RovR RollR 60 cooler is a rotomolded cooler with wheels, a pull handle and some cleaver attachments. The RollR 60 model holds 60 quarts of content. The company also sells 45 and 80 quart models. Like other rotomolded coolers the walls are thick, insulated and offer great cold storage capability. RovR says that their coolers can hold ice for up to 10 days. We were just camping for a couple of days and it certainly kept our items nice and cold. 

What really separates this cooler from other coolers are some of the unique features. First, the cooler has rugged wheels and a pull handle. For this trip I knew that we had to hike to our campsite for a little under a mile. Under no circumstances would I ever carry a cooler into a backcountry site. However, the RovR RollR worked out perfectly and we were able to haul the cooler with our food and drinks over some pretty rough terrain. The wheels were large enough to roll over rocks, roots and uneven surfaces. The pull handle extends to a convenient hight which allows a person to pull it comfortably without bending over. The pull handle also has grips on each side which allows one person to pull the cooler solo or two people to pull the cooler in tandem. This feature was key and we used two people to pull our cooler over some hills and through some muck. 

Inside the cooler there is a special bin that can hold items that may not need to be chilled like bread, towels or utensils. This feature is so important to keep items separate and dry when moisture develops or the ice starts to melt. The bin itself has an internal divider which further aids with organization. I put my spices and condiments on one side and cooking and cleaning utensils on the other side. I then place my bread on top. The bin is shaped perfectly to hold a full loaf of bread across the bin where it will not get squished. The floor of the cooler is gradually sloped so that when ice does start to melt the resulting water will easily run out of the drain hole. I was so impressed with the overall design of the cooler and the thought that must have gone into the design. I can tell that the designer was a user of coolers with all of the thoughtful touches.

On the outside of the cooler there are a few really unique design features. The cooler comes with a folding tote container which is attached to the top with velcro straps. When not in use the tote folds completely flat, lays on the top and can serve as a cushion for sitting. When needed, the tote can be unfolded and it becomes an additional container which can hold extra gear like a stove, pots and pans, camp chair or paper towels. Brilliant! In addition, the tote can be removed entirely from the top and placed to the side or moved to a picnic table. This is great feature - it is like having two carrying containers in one. There are additional fixtures on the cooler which are designed to attached auxiliary items like a cutting board or drink holders. There is even a fixture which allows one to attach an extension that can be attached to a bicycle. Thus, one can pull the cooler behind a bicycle like a trailer. Ingenious! 

I think that these are just some of the unique features and functions of the RovR RollR cooler. I’m sure that after additional use I will discover other cleaver features that the designers incorporated into this cooler.

I will say that I accidentally and unintentionally abused this cooler on this trip more than I anticipated. We pulled it over rough terrain, up a hill, through muddy water, and let it sit outside all day. After I got home I washed and cleaned it and to my amazement it did clean up easily. The only thing that I did notice was that the tote on top is a light colored silver. Since I dragged the cooler through the mud, some dirt stains showed up easily on the tote. I would probably recommend choosing one of the other tote designs with a darker color to avoid this issue. However, I use my coolers for their functionality and I’m not too concerned that it might look well used. I see myself getting many uses and many years out of this awesome little cooler. I'm thinking about buying the bicycle attachment arm to increase my options even more.

For more info you can visit the company website at: https://rovrproducts.com

Ranger Review: RoM Outdoors Backpack at McKinney Falls State Park

Campground Review

This Texas State Park is just a short 15 minute drive from downtown Austin. It is only a 5 minute drive from the Austin airport. The close vicinity to the city does mean that this park has a constant flow of visitors. In the summer it is extremely busy with day visitors, weekend campers and long-term campers. In the winter it is moderately busy. The park has lots of forest trails to hike as well as some interesting rock formations around the creek and water holes. The most noted feature of the park is definitely the Upper and Lower Falls.

This park has a variety of facilities including cabins, RV sites, tent sites and group sites.

There are water, electricity and restrooms with flush toilets and sinks near all the campsites. At the premium campsites there are all of these amenities plus showers. This park is great for swimming, fishing, hiking and bicycling.

You might see deer, raccoons, armadillos and occasionally snakes. All of the wildlife should be left undisturbed. Except for the fish. Fishing is allowed in the park and one will not need a state fishing license when fishing within the park.

This is a very family friendly and well-managed park with the only downside being that the park is often very busy with visitors.

Product Review

As a Ranger for The Dyrt, I get products to test from time to time - today I am testing the RoM Outdoors Backpack.

The RoM Pack (pronounced "Roam") is a backpack, blanket and poncho all in one piece of gear. It is made of heavy duty 600D fabric which is water-resistant and appears to be very durable. The total volume of the pack is about 3000 cu. in. Their slogan is, "Let Adventure Unfold". The unique feature of this pack is that the backpack unfolds into a blanket. In addition, it can be unfolded into a poncho.

While I tend to use ultralight gear when I'm hiking or backpacking, I found this pack useful for fly fishing. I was able to carry my boots, waders, hammock, rod, reel, net and fishing tackle nicely. Once I reached my destination, I unfolded it to use as blanket. See the demonstration video. While I had good sunny weather, I could foresee using this piece of gear as a poncho if a thunderstorm were to roll in and I wanted to wait out the storm.

The Pros:

Unique multiuse design

Heavy duty water-resistant material

The blanket material is soft

When used as a poncho, it is also insulating.

Multiple pockets (2 removable pockets) with Molly straps

Designed and Made in the USA

The Cons:

Heavy in comparison to other backpacks

Straps and pockets somewhat obstruct use while using it as a poncho

Water bottle pockets could be larger to accommodate various sizes

For more info:

https://romoutdoors.com/product/rom-pack/