Last weekend we made attempt #2 at a family camping trip. Overall, I think it went much better. The lower temperatures were a big help! And it didn’t hurt that Aaron’s parents joined us, either.
Here are the kids, all buckled up and ready to go! We left Friday after breakfast and it took about an hour and a half to get to Mother Neff State Park, which is near Moody, Texas. Mother Neff is the first of the Texas state parks. It’s named after Isabella Neff, the mother of governor Pat Neff (later a president of Baylor University, sic ’em, Bears!). Mother Neff wanted land available for public use, and when she died she left a few acres she owned for that purpose. More land was purchased and donated, and the park is about 300 acres now. It was flooded badly in 2007 and is still in need of some repairs, which will be taking place in the next year or two. It’s not a very large park, but we had a nice camp site and enough trails to keep us busy on Saturday.
Packing went better this time than last time, but I’m hoping with more practice we’ll have a better idea of what we need and what we don’t.
Here we go along the trail! The prairie trails were closed for renovation and construction of more campsites, which left us some nice wooded trails.
And there are our trailblazers! Evan led the way on most of the hikes. Nathan tried valiantly to keep up, but spent some time being carried as well. We had some purpose to our hiking: Mother Neff State Park has a junior ranger program and Evan wanted to earn his badge and certificate. We had a page of questions to fill out and some activities to complete. Several of the questions were about various areas of the park reachable via the hiking trails.
Here was another goal while we were hiking: the state parks geocaches! Geocaching is sort of like a treasure hunt. People hide containers of various sizes (in this case, an ammo box, down by Evan’s hands) and post the GPS coordinates. Other people can get the coordinates and try to find the caches. Inside, there’s a log you can sign to indicate you found the cache. In the larger caches like this one, there’s often a stash of small goodies or “swag.” You can take your own items and trade for something of equal or lesser value. The boys traded in a plastic dinosaur and policeman, and they got a different plastic dinosaur and a happy meal toy.
Crossing a wooden bridge with Grandpa. The creek was dry.
Here’s our first major destination: Tonkawa Cave. It’s really just a large overhanging shelf of rock, but they believe it was used as a shelter by some of the Tonkawa Indians. The boys thought it was pretty amazing. It’s 45 feet from the drip line to the back wall, and about 90 feet wide. It was hard to get a picture that really captured the size of it. It’s pretty spacious.
And here was our second stop: the washpond. It doesn’t look like much these days, because the springs that feed it don’t do well with the lowering of the water table due to all the other water use in the area. The current drought doesn’t help much, either. But historians believe it was likely a source of drinking water for the Indians in the area, and that early settlers may have used it for washing. When the Civilian Conservation Corps were working in the park in the 1930s, they put a concrete cap at the end of the pond (off camera to the right) and local teenagers used it for a swimming hole. At the time it was about 8 feet deep. Now it’s about 4 feet deep when full, due to the settling of silt.
And here’s Evan with the results of one of his junior ranger activities: filling a small big with trash picked up in the park. We carried the bag with us while hiking, and collected quite a number of things over the course of the day. Evan was very proud of himself. We all helped spot things, but Evan picked most of it up himself unless it was hard to reach.
After our morning hikes, we headed “home” for lunch. These two had fun playing while we got their food ready.
Here’s one end of the table — three hungry hikers!
Nathan didn’t last too long on our afternoon hike. By the way, that backpack has a story. When we checked in at the office, I saw a row of “Nature Exploration Packs” for free rental. I asked about them and found out they were backpacks full of nature guides, various tools (flashlight, compass, etc.), a journal, and other useful goodies for exploring and appreciating the park. You initial for each item on a list when you check it out, and if everything is there when you take it back there’s no charge. We definitely couldn’t resist that!
Here’s the indefatigable Evan, chattering away. Grandma is carrying his trash collection bag for him. We walked along the camp road to get to the starting point of our next hike.
And look: this time there’s even a picture of me! See that red spot on Meg’s forehead? That’s because during her afternoon “nap” time she and Nathan kept butting heads through the mesh wall of her pack ‘n’ play and giggling at each other. She finally slept a little after I got the boys up to go listen to the Saturday afternoon ranger talk.
Here’s half the crew making their way up some steps on the trail.
And here’s Evan, leading the way as usual! We were on our way to the ranger station to turn in Evan’s worksheet and bag of trash.
And here he is being sworn in as a junior ranger at Mother Neff State Park.
He’s worn this badge nonstop since Saturday afternoon. He’s very proud of it — and he worked hard for it!
Time to get a few other things done, so that’s it for now.