Category Archives: Texas

Frolicking with friends in Texas

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We are lucky that we have great friends in Texas as Texas is HUGE and takes a good day and a half to drive across, so it’s nice to have some places to stop and play.  Going both east and west we made stops in San Marcos to kayak and Houston to play and regroup.

Our Houston stop is at Kelly & Phil’s house and it’s a fabulous pit stop. Everyone gets to decompress a bit and stretch their legs in a low key way. Hunter has non stop fun with Phil, making wacky things on the 3-D printer, playing with remote control toys, doing bizarre science experiments and making original music productions on garage band. We always manage to get in a leisurely walk and bike ride to explore. Funny that we’ve now been there three times but yet never really hit the highlights of Houston – it just feels like too much effort and would take us away from the joy of connecting with friends in a low key way.

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Our stop in San Marcos is all about kayaking with our friend Ben, who got a new addition this year! San Marcos is spring fed so the water is in the 70’s year round. It’s a small play section on the river with three waves or drops and makes for a fun afternoon.

We got really lucky on both our visits this year  (November & January) with sunny afternoons, which made for a great pit stop to get back on the water (or in the water) and just play.

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An oasis in west Texas – San Solomon Springs/ Balmorhea State Park

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San Solomon Springs has provided water for humans and animals for thousands of years. Native Americans also used the springs before explorers and settlers came to the area. In 1849, the springs were known as Mescalero Springs, for the Mescalero Apache who watered their horses here.

Mexican farmers called the springs “San Solomon Springs.” They dug the first canals by hand, and then used the water to irrigate crops. They sold those crops to residents of Fort Davis. With plentiful water and the arrival of the railroad, a cattle ranching industry emerged in the 1880s. In 1927, the Bureau of Reclamation dredged the springs and constructed a canal to better harness their flow.

Today, after the spring water flows through the pool and cienegas, it enters irrigation canals and travels about 3.5 miles east to Balmorhea Lake. Farmers today use that water to irrigate thousands of acres of crops such as alfalfa and cotton.

The State Parks Board acquired nearly 46 acres around San Solomon Springs in 1934. Civilian Conservation Corps Company 1856 built the park between 1935 and 1940.

After a long long day of driving we arrived at Balmorhea State Park in the early evening – an hour before the pool closed. We quickly got set up and headed out for a swim in the springs, which are around 72f year round. The park facilities were built in the 1930’s so are starting to age a bit BUT it is really neat to swim in what looks like a swimming pool but is actually a living and breathing ecosystem. The sides are concrete and a portion of the bottom is as well until it gives way to a natural bottom that is covered with greenery and lots of fish. It was a nice end to a long day…

DSCN1307It was a bit chilly the next day but we were hopeful that this would make the springs water feel even warmer! We headed off with warm layers, towels and all our snorkel stuff in search of turtles and cool fish! The campground is a 5 minute walk from the pool which is nice and convenient. It’s also a bargain at only $17 per night (in addition to your park entrance fee of $15 for the family).

Hunter had fun being the go-pro operator and swam around chasing fish and turtles for quite a while.

The springs exit the pool into a canal system and you can walk around these canals between the campground and the pool. We had fun watching the turtles and ducks play and they seemed equally curious about us!

Balmorhea State Park is a great stop and breaks up the long drive on I-10 through west Texas. We definitely recommend this to everyone!

Weekend in Houston with friends

laser tagWe recuperated from our week in Mexico by spending the weekend with friends Kelly and Phil that live in Houston, Texas. Based on our internet research the Houston area has a plethora of things for families to do, both indoors and out. I’ll declare up front that we did almost none of them! After spending a week on the road, and most specifically the last 24 hours in motion, we were pooped!

After much discussion, and the turning down of an invitation to check out a tall ship in Galveston, we opted for a do nothing day on our first day. Somehow this lead to Hunter and Phil bonding over all things remote controlled… Hunter became the new owner of a drone and much time was spent pulling it out of trees while perfecting the flying of it. A pellet shooting tank ended up also sneaking into our duffle bag but we drew the line at the creepy crawly robot!

We finally mustered enough energy by the afternoon to head out on a neighbourhood bike ride. They live in a funky neighbourhood that is just outside the downtown loop and has a broad mix of residents, including their own flock of peacocks that roam aimlessly! Hunter was beyond thrilled to get to ride Phil’s electric bike – even though he could barely reach the pedals or stop safely.

Sunday Phil took us out to the Texas Renaissance Festival, which was quite a cultural experience! It was people watching at it’s best, with many different interpretations of the Renaissance time period. It’s neat to see people so passionate about something that they travel the country as part of these various festivals.

We enjoyed the jousting however found it frustrating that the matches were only 20 minutes long and that the competition was spread through out the day, with the intention of keeping you there longer and getting you to keep coming back to the stadium. Our favourite “show” was Oskar’s Sword Instruction – the audience selects 2 different weapons (out of about 10 that he has) and then Oskar demonstrates how to use them in battle. It was quite instructional as well as humorous. Every strategy ends with his “grab them by the crotch and throw them out the window” tactic, which Hunter found hilarious.

The Renaissance Festival runs for 8 weekends through October and November. We were all quite impressed with the permanent facilities and structure that they have in place and the sheer volume of people that they run through over the 8 weeks. We were there on the very last day and it was still jam packed!

We awoke Monday and it was pouring rain, with a forecast to continue with that theme all day. After  a flurry of internet research, we all opted to spend a lazy day around the house and then head out to the Main Event for Monday Night Madness – all in pricing for laser tag, bowling, mini golf and billiards… What more could you want in a day! It’s not a surprise that this decision was driven by the 11 year old vote but we all ended up having an evening full of giggles and fun.

We look forward to venturing back to the Houston area another time to check out the Houston Children’s Museum, Houston Museum of Natural Science,  NASA, and the Gulf Coast. A big thanks to Kelly and Phil for the wonderful hospitality (even allowing the short term corruption of chips, pop AND hotdogs in the house) and we are certainly looking forward to playing again soon!

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Adventures in life & road schooling in Mexico

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Our paddling season ended fairly abruptly in mid September when we went from warm harvest weather to cold and snow. Back in the spring when we were making our winter plans, we decided that a venture back down to Mexico to paddle in November would be a great way to bridge between fall paddling and our Ecuador Christmas Adventure.

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Our first Mexico paddling experience was earlier this year in February with Ben Kvanli of the Olympic Outdoor Centre in San Marcos, Texas. He had such a solid knowledge of the area that we decided to work with him to arrange a “reunion” trip to go to Mexico for US Thanksgiving with the new friends we met on the February trip. It was a bit of an epic journey… Whitehorse to Vancouver, Vancouver to Los Angeles and then Los Angeles to San Antonio.

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Ben’s trips are based out of San Marcos, Texas and everyone piles into a white van and drives 16 hours to the San Luis Potosi region of Mexico. The van leaves San Marcos at midnight to hit the Mexican border at first light and then make it down to Aldea Huasteca, the main lodge, by early afternoon. 16 hours in a passenger van are not the most comfortable way to start a trip and definitely caused some humming and hawing on our part – did we really want to do that again? Ben’s coaching and guiding ability tipped it over the edge for us – he did such a great job with Hunter in February and it was a safe road schooling opportunity in rural Mexico.

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As with any paddling trip, there were some unexpected adventures along the way…

  • The friends that we had originally planned to go with on the trip were unable to go at the last minute, which was a real disappointment. The upside was we made 3 new friends that I’m certain we will also cross paths with in the future as we continue to adventure. Hunter’s first response was “we’re going to paddle with strangers?” and then I reminded him that our friends that we were planning on going with were strangers when we met them in February…

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  • broken valve stem on one of the tires when we tried to fill up the air just prior to crossing the border in Pharr, Texas, resulting in breakfast at a Mexican bakery and roadside shop. When you shop in a Mexican bakery, you are given a tray that is about the size of a 12 inch pizza and then you go around and select the goods from the various cases. We bought a few items we knew (croissants, danishes) and a few items we didn’t – probably 8 items in total, for a whole $3.00
  • broken belt on tire #2, discovered while driving, which resulted in us driving at half speed for the last 3 hours of the trip. The upside of this was we went into Ciudad Valles and had dinner at Tacos Richard – a favourite of Hunter’s from February. This was the beginning of him boldly ordering his own food and venturing into use of Spanish, something he was fairly unwilling to do in February.
  • big bulge in tire #3 that was discovered on day 3 during shuttling, which resulted in a long leisurely lunch in Valles at a restaurant with internet access while it was replaced. More menu decoding and ordering for Hunter

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  • Tim ended up getting moderately sick due to some Tacos at the Hotsprings and this kept him from paddling the class 4/5 Santa Maria run, which is a 7 hour paddle and has a take out where you climb up the side of the 300 foot Tamul waterfall. The flip side was we had a well needed sleep-in as a family and spent a down day laying about in the sun on the grass and playing soccer, which made Hunter really happy.

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  • We all enjoyed the patio life at the end of the Santos River at the Huasteca Secreta and ended up not getting on the road early enough to make it to Ciudad Victoria on the way back to the border. We ended up pulling off the road after driving the highway in the dark too long and wandering into the town of Llera de Canales. After driving around in circles and accidentally driving down a one way street the wrong way, which happened to be in front of the Police station, we ended up having a friendly chat with a Police Man and he found us a hotel to stay at. You get the keys by walking into a small storefront that sells clothes and tourist items and then walk around the corner and down the block to get to the hotel, which is up some stairs and on the 2nd floor of the building. There were 6 rooms in total, with 4 of them being finished. The upside is that they were relatively clean, had showers and basic wifi. The highlight of this stop was the family run taco shop that we found, and ended up sitting out in the street on plastic chairs while eating dinner. They were so excited to meet us that they asked for a group photo before we left.

Overall the paddling was good – the water was warm, we weren’t in dry suits and Hunter successfully paddled a number of drops and runs that he wasn’t comfortable paddling in February.

Upon reflection, the biggest highlights of the trip were all about Hunter:

  • The growth that was evident in his paddling skills and confidence level.
  • His continued willingness to engage with people of all ages and backgrounds – I can confidently say that he made more new friends than we did on this trip…His new buddies Jo and Cole helped to make this a special week.
  • His desire to be independent and learn how to engage in Spanish. He learned to order his own food and at one point asked for money so he could go and get himself an ice-cream, which meant heading off to another area of the large mexican grocery store we were in and managing the transaction on his own.

 

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While we didn’t get much “book learning” done during our 7 days away, this was another validation of the positive impact that Road Schooling has on kids and it continues to excite me about the possibilities as we go forward.

We’re all busy working on our Spanish and looking forward to Ecuador in three weeks!

Slalom practice at Rio Vista Water Park, San Marcos TX

hunter surfing the wave rio vistaThe Rio Vista white water park in San Marcos, Texas was created from an old low head dam. It has 3 sections with wave features and cables to hang gates from. The top wave is the largest and then they decrease in size from there.

After getting back from Mexico we stayed for the weekend and got to run gates with Ben Kvanli of the Olympic Outdoor Centre. It was lots of fun and some fabulous coaching. Like anything, improvement comes from the accumulation of many small things. It was great to have Ben there to provide tips and tricks.

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Rock Star Paddling

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The Rio Vista whitewater park in San Marcos, Texas is AMAZING…  The water is a consistent 72f (20c), the air temps are warm all year round and they have stadium lights so you can paddle at night. WOW WOW WOW

Ben Kvanli at the Olympic Outdoor Centre generously allowed us to camp in his yard about a block away from the whitewater park and on the banks of the San Marcos river. We got there Thursday afternoon and arranged to paddle with him that night – what an experience!!!

We wandered down the trail and hit the water just after 7:3o pm. The park has 3 waves with the first one having a 6 foot slide into a wave. We have a bunch of paddling goals for the year – Hunter getting his combat role, Lee  & Hunter becoming comfortable with drops and all of us spending more time in the water and having fun. The park was a great opportunity to play on the slide and get some time in the water. Doing it all in the dark made it soooo COOL!!!

Hunter also got to experience gates and the tutelage of Ben (Olympian), which was a great gift. He gained lots of confidence and came out of the water with a huge smile on his face.