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Texas Wheel Estates

From Fort Davis to Goose Island, RV campers seek Texas state parks for an immersion in nature with all the comforts of home.

By Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

It's nearly 4 p.m., and Carroll Drummond stands at the door, peering through the mesquite trees, waiting for his brother-in-law to arrive. Every afternoon, the two men head for the Dairy Queen in Goliad, where they'll sit in a booth, sip cups of steaming coffee, and chat. Back at home, Carroll's wife, June - serenaded by a host of cardinals and mourning doves outside her window - works on some bookkeeping at the dining table. Over on a gray couch, Romeo, the couple's black toy poodle, is snoozing. Energetic and high-strung, he'll soon be ready for June to take him for a walk along the road beneath the trees.

While the Drummonds' daily routine certainly sounds normal, their mode of abode is far from that. What sets this small but comfortable home apart from most? Six large wheels and a diesel engine. For the past five years, the retired couple has lived full-time in a recreational camping vehicle. Hence, their "neighborhood" differs from the norm, too. For the time being, they're parked at Goliad State Park, one of their favorite places to stay.

"Goliad is our home base," explains June, seated in the living area of their 37-foot-long motor coach. "Our son and daughter live in the county, and I grew up in Goliad and Refugio."

Besides being familiar with the area, the Drummonds love the park's quiet, tree-shaded campground and its many conveniences. Twenty "pull-through" sites have water, sewage and 50-amp electric service. The campground is located near the San Antonio River and Mission Esp'ritu Santo, the park's historic focal point.

Now and then, the Drummonds think about abandoning such idyllic settings as Goliad State Park and living "normally" again. "A few years ago, we considered living in a house again," June says. "But we decided it was foolish to keep a house when we have our 'condo on wheels.' We call it our 'wheel estate.'"

RVing on the Rise

Not everyone claims an RV as their permanent home. But millions of Americans of all ages do own some kind of camping vehicle, which they use for weekend jaunts and/or long vacations. According to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, 7.2 million RVs - motor homes, travel trailers, fifth-wheel trailers, truck campers and folding camping trailers - are on the road these days.

Industry experts predict that the number of RV owners will likely rise as more and more people choose to travel by vehicle instead of by air, especially in the aftermath of Sept. 11. "Domestic road travel is dominating U.S. tourism," says Ken Sommer, RVIA public relations manager. "Families want to reconnect with the outdoors, spend quality time together and avoid the hassles of flying."

Many of those RVers head for the Lone Star State. "Texas ranks as one of the all-time favorite destinations," Sommer says. "People enjoy the splendid scenery, beautiful coastline and byways, the deserts, plus the many RV campgrounds and state and national parks."

Call of the Outdoors

Being close to nature is what many RVers want and find when they park their rig at a Texas state park. That's a big reason why Roger and Trudy Wolfe, who have RVed full-time for nearly two years, continue to visit Goliad State Park regularly. Roger especially enjoys the view of the tree-shaded campground from his couch inside their 38-foot-long motor coach, which integrates the driver/passenger seats and living areas into one unit.

"How can you not love it here?" he asks, waving his hand toward the open Venetian blinds behind him. "Just look out the window!"

"We watch the birds," Trudy adds. "We've seen a barn owl, a gray fox, and a hawk."

Park Hosting

Jim and Mary Young, who hail from Oklahoma, love the salty smell of the sea. So they sign up as park hosts at Galveston Island State Park, where they man the fee booth and live full-time near the beach in a 35-foot, fifth-wheel trailer. (A fifth-wheel, as with other towable RVs - pop-up camping trailers, truck campers and conventional travel trailers - allows them simply to unhitch their camper and take off where they want to go.) "Hosting is a good way to travel and see the country," Jim says. "This way, we can stay longer in an area than if we were vacationing."

When not on duty, the couple heads for the beach and stroll along the shore. Or they explore the park's inland trails in search of wading and flying birds. Boardwalks across the marshes and an observation tower provide more prime places for birdwatching.

At Bastrop State Park, Larry Sutton parks his fifth-wheel RV for as long as six months and works as a park host. Sutton, 72, started RVing full time in 1991 with his wife, Donna. The couple traveled extensively across the nation. After she died three years later, Larry decided to cut back on his driving and become a park host. "Things are different now," he says. "I don't feel like traveling as much, and it gets lonely on the road."

As a park host, Larry works in the park in exchange for a campsite. "I do site checks, help at the office, help with the pool and sell day passes," he says. "In past years, I've cleaned out brush and done repair work at the cabins."

In Sutton's opinion, he gets the better half of the trade. "Just look at the size of my back yard!" he exclaims, nodding toward a dense forest of towering loblolly pines and hardwood trees that tower over his trailer. During the week, Sutton also bicycles along the park's winding roads and hilly trails, and plays several rounds of golf at the park's 18-hole course.

In East Texas, majestic pine trees abound at Mission Tejas State Park, where full-timers Ruth and Randy Compton of Livingston served as hosts earlier this year. Their two-month stay was so relaxing that the couple hopes to return next year.

"The park is a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the fast-paced world," Ruth says. Tucked into the northern edge of the Davy Crockett National Forest, the heavily wooded, 363-acre park has more than three miles of hiking trails and a three-acre pond, where visitors can fish for perch and bream. In March, dogwood trees burst into clouds of white blooms.

Short-Term Fun

The fun of RVing is not just for full-timers. Lots of people take their RVs out for weekend trips and/or extended vacations to state parks.

Elenor and Rudy Zepeda of North Richland Hills have visited Texas state parks a number of times since they bought their 30-foot-long travel trailer more than 10 years ago. One of their favorite getaways is rugged Davis Mountains State Park in West Texas.

"The peace of the landscape and the sounds of birds are supremely relaxing," Elenor says. Nestled in Keesey Canyon between two mountains, many campsites overlook the rocky, usually dry Keesey Creek. Foot trails crisscross the grassy mountainsides dotted with pi-on pine and juniper trees. Skyline Drive curves to the top of one mountain, where visitors can enjoy breathtaking panoramic views. A marked hiking trail from the mountaintop meanders down to Fort Davis National Historic Site.

Sometimes staying closer to home is what Harold and Jackie Bishop of Austin prefer. "Our favorite nearby campsites are McKinney Falls State Park and Blanco State Park," says Harold. At the Hill Country park in the small town of Blanco, the couple walk along the Blanco River, which winds through the park. Sometimes they trek downtown to a local cafe for breakfast or to browse through antique stores. At McKinney Falls in Austin, they like to wander along a paved hike-and-bike trail, which loops around part of the park and past Onion Creek. At nearly every campsite, dense stands of live oaks and cedars create an atmosphere of privacy and seclusion.

While most people prefer to travel on their own, others team up with organized RV groups, such as the WesTex Chapter of the Family Motor Coach Association. Every other month, 30 to 40 motor coach owners travel to a predetermined campground in Texas. For three days they socialize, share meals and participate in a schedule of programs, which usually includes arts and crafts. Traditionally, they've held their RV rendezvous at commercial campgrounds; this year, however, members decided to try out a few state parks, such as McKinney Falls and Davis Mountains.

"It's been a new adventure for us, because we've been going to commercial campgrounds since the early '80s," says Herb Currie, who lives in Bryan and is a FMCA national director. "It's easier to maneuver our coaches in the commercial campgrounds, but the aesthetics aren't there. Commercial campgrounds are smaller. The sites are more refined; usually they're asphalt, and they're closer together. A state park is more wooded and spread out. Sites are more tucked away."

Family-Style RVing

Martha and Jim Roehrick of Deer Park have taken their 16-year-old daughter, Jessica, to state parks since she was 3. In the beginning, the family tent-camped. Now they own a 27-foot travel trailer.

"For years, we have tried to take a friend or two of hers with us so they may experience what we enjoy so much," Martha says. "We've had a ball. It's great for kids. They need to learn that there's a different way to live."

The Roehricks, who purchase a Texas Conservation Passport every year, have visited a number of state parks, including Choke Canyon, Martin Dies, Jr., Fairfield Lake and many others. "We love exploring the falls at Pedernales Falls State Park, and the RV sites are private and close to the river," Martha says. "We've been thrilled by the wildlife at Choke Canyon. The deer, turkey and javelina walked right through a lovely meadow that our RV site backed up to. We love the water and appreciate the RV sites at Inks Lake, Martin Dies and Galveston Island. Lake Texana has pretty sites within walking distance of beautiful trails, and Fairfield has the most roadrunners we've ever seen."

RVers Charlene and Roy Dequeant of Hankamer often take their grandsons along on weekend excursions. "They take their bikes and rollerblades, then they go do their thing," Charlene says. "I provide plenty of snacks, and we cook over the fire. We've been to Brazos Bend, Garner, Lake Livingston and Lake Texana."

Free Spirits

Unlike most RVers, who make a conscious decision to pull up their roots and become nomads, Dale and Alma Irvin seemingly drifted into full-time RVing. And they're still drifting.

Back in 1997, the couple sold their farm in Arkansas and started traveling with their Australian shepherd, Shep, in a 28-foot fifth-wheel. In 1999, they bought property on Canyon Lake in Central Texas and tried to settle down again, but a year later they sold the place and hit the road again. For the past three years, they've stopped and stayed a few weeks at Goliad State Park, a favorite campground of theirs. It's also where they rendezvous with their long-time friends, Roger and Trudy Wolfe.

"We still haven't decided if we're gonna RV full-time," Dale says with a grin. "We just keep going."

Sheryl Smith-Rodgers is a freelance writer living in Blanco.

Texas Conservation Passport

A Texas Conservation Passport allows the holder entry into all state parks for one year. Passports may be purchased for $50 each at any state park; with a credit card by calling (800) 895-4248 (press the extension for license purchasing).

For More Information

For Texas state parks information and reservations, call (512) 389-8900, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays; closed on major holidays. For reservations via Internet, fax, or e-mail, go to www.tpwd.state.tx.us/park/admin/res/.

RV USA, www.RVusa.com. Classified ads, recipes, forums, destination information, products, clubs.

RV Site, www.rvsite.com. Dealers, campgrounds, associations, forums, RVer Research, www.rversearch.com. Dozens of links to cooking, dealers, forums, classifieds, clubs, events, publications.

The National Recreational Vehicle Owners Club, www.nrvoc.com. For a free video on getting started, call (888) GO-RVING or visit www.GoRVing.com.

Texas Recreational Vehicle Association, www.trva.org, (800) 880-7303.

Favorite Places

Here's a short list of state parks that are popular with RVers. Learn more about RV facilities in Texas state parks. For reservations, call (512) 389-8900 or go to park reservations page.

Abilene State Park

(915) 572-3204

Campsites with water and electricity, campsites with water, and campsites with water nearby are available. The park also has a group trailer area (sites with water and electricity) and large trailer sites with water and electricity. Facilities include restrooms with and without showers, trailer dump stations, swimming pool and nature trail.

Bastrop State Park

(512) 321-2101

Campsites with water and campsites with water and electricity are available. Facilities include restrooms with showers, picnic sites, dining hall, swimming pool, 18-hole golf course, backpack areas along an 8.5-mile hiking trail and 3.5 additional miles of hiking trails.

Blanco State Park

(830) 833-4333

Campsites with water and electricity and campsites with water, electricity and sewer are available. Facilities include restrooms with and without showers, picnic pavilions, playgrounds, a sanitary dump station and a 3/4-mile loop trail.

Cedar Hill State Park

(972) 291-3900

All campsites have electricity and water and are located in wooded areas. Facilities include restrooms with showers, picnic sites with tables and grills, two boat ramps, group picnic pavilions, trailer dump stations, 4.5 miles of hiking/backpacking trails and 10.3 miles of mountain bike trails.

Choke Canyon State Park

(361) 786-3868

Calliham Unit: Campsites with water and electricity are available. Facilities include restrooms with showers, a trailer dump station, group picnic pavilions, group dining hall, recreation hall, amphitheater, sports complex with a gymnasium, swimming pool with bathhouse, shuffleboard, tennis, volleyball and full basketball courts. Choke Canyon also offers a wildlife-viewing blind, two miles of hiking trails, a mile-long bird trail with feeders, and a wildlife educational center that offers educational programs.

Davis Mountains State Park

(915) 426-3337

The half of the park north of State Highway 118 has been designated the Limpia Canyon Primitive Area, a special-use area (special rules apply). It includes 10 miles of backcountry hiking trails and six primitive backpacking campsites. South of State Highway 118, campsites with water, campsites with water and electricity and campsites with water, electricity, sewer and cable TV connection are available. Facilities include restrooms with and without showers, a picnic area, a playground, an interpretive center, and 6 1/2 miles of hiking trails.

Fairfield Lake State Park

(903) 389-4514

Campsites with water and campsites with water and electricity are available. Facilities include restrooms with and without showers, a lighted fishing pier, a fish-cleaning shelter, boat ramps, a trailer dump station, playgrounds, a group dining hall, an amphitheater, 15 miles of hiking and biking trails, a two-mile nature trail and a one-mile birding trail.

Galveston Island State Park

(409) 737-1222

Campsites with water and electricity are available. Facilities include restrooms with showers, picnic sites, a fish-cleaning shelter, an interpretive center, four miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, a nature trail and a boat ramp nearby.

Goliad State Park

(361) 645-3405

Campsites with water and electricity and campsites with water, electricity and sewer are available. Facilities include restrooms with and without showers, a museum, a replica of a mission, a workshop, an interpretive center, a swimming pool, picnic sites, a trailer dump station, a group dining hall, a playground, a .3-mile nature trail and a 1-1/2-mile river trail.

Goose Island State Park

(361) 729-2858

Shade shelter campsites ("open cabanas") with water and electricity near the bay, campsites with water and electricity in a tree-shaded area, and campsites with water in a shady area are available. Facilities include picnic sites (some with shade shelters), restrooms with and without showers, double-lane boat ramp, a lighted fishing pier with two fish-cleaning tables, hiking trails, bird sanctuaries and recreation hall.

Inks Lake State Park

(512) 793-2223

Campsites with water are available. Facilities include restrooms with showers, picnic sites, an amphitheater, lighted fishing piers, a boat ramp, eight playgrounds, a nine-hole golf course and 7-1/2 miles of hiking trails.

Lake Brownwood State Park

(915) 784-5223

Campsites with water and electricity and campsites with water, electricity, and sewer are available, as well as campsites with water in the area. Facilities include restrooms with and without showers, picnic sites, trailer dump station, fish-cleaning facility, a fishing pier with lights, launching ramps, a floating boat dock, 2-1/2 miles of hiking trails, and a 1/2-mile nature trail.

Martin Dies, Jr. State Park

(409) 384-5231

Campsites with water and electricity and campsites with water are available. Facilities include restrooms with showers, trailer dump stations, group dining/meeting hall, playgrounds, lighted fishing piers, fish-cleaning facilities, boat ramps, 5.3 miles of multi-use trails for hiking, mountain biking and nature/interpretive trails.

McKinney Falls State Park

(512) 243-1643

Campsites with water and electricity are available. Facilities include restrooms with showers, picnic sites, interpretive center, dining hall, amphitheater, four miles of hiking and biking trails, 3-1/2 miles of paved trails and a 3/4-mile interpretive trail.

Mission Tejas State Park

(936) 687-2394

Campsites with water, campsites with water and electricity, and campsites with water, electricity and sewer are available. Facilities include restrooms with and without showers, a mission representation, a restored log home, picnic sites, a trailer dump station, an amphitheater, a playground and 3-1/2 miles of hiking trails.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park

(806) 488-2227

Campsites with water and electricity and campsites with water are available. Facilities include a trailer dump station, shade shelters, picnic tables, grills, restrooms and 35 miles of multi-use trails. An outdoor theater, visitor center and horse stables are available inside the park.

Pedernales Falls State Park

(830) 868-7304

Campsites with water and electricity are available. Facilities include restrooms with showers, a trailer dump station, picnic sites, a bird-viewing station, 20 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, 10 miles of equestrian trails and 14 miles of backpacking trails.

South Llano River State Park

(915) 446-3994

Campsites with water and electricity are available. Facilities include restrooms with showers, a trailer dump station, a picnic and day-use area near the river, five miles of hiking/mountain biking/nature study trails in the Turkey Roost area and bird blinds.

Tyler State Park

(903) 597-5338

Campsites with water and electricity and campsites with water are available. Facilities include restrooms with and without showers, picnic sites, a trailer rally area, trailer dump stations (no sewer hookups), a group dining hall, a two-mile hiking trail, a 13-mile mountain bike trail, a 3/4-mile nature trail and a lakeshore amphitheater.

Other state parks with sewer, electric and water hookups include:

  • Atlanta State Park: (903) 796-6476
  • Caddo Lake State Park: (903) 679-3351
  • Cleburne State Park: (817) 645-4215
  • Daingerfield State Park: (903) 645-2921
  • Eisenhower State Park: (903) 465-1956
  • Falcon State Park: (956) 848-5327
  • Kerrville-Schreiner State Park: (830) 257-5392
  • Lake Corpus Christi State Park: (361) 547-2635
  • Lake Whitney State Park: (254) 694-3793
  • Lockhart State Park: (512) 398-3479
  • Palmetto State Park: (830) 672-3266
  • Rusk/Palestine State Parks: (903) 683-5126
  • Stephen F. Austin State Park: (979) 885-3613

Other state parks with electric and water hookups only:

  • Balmorhea State Park: (915) 375-2370
  • Bonham State Park: (903) 583-5022
  • Brazos Bend State Park: (979) 553-5101
  • Buescher State Park: (512) 237-2241
  • Caprock Canyons State Park and Trailway: (806) 455-1492
  • Cooper Lake State Parks: (903) 395-3100 (Doctors Creek Unit), (903) 945-5256 (South Sulphur Unit)
  • Copper Breaks State Park: (940) 839-4331
  • Dinosaur Valley State Park: (254) 897-4588
  • Fort Griffin State Park and Historic Site: (915) 762-3592
  • Fort Parker State Park: (254) 562-5751
  • Fort Richardson State Pak and Historic Site: (940) 567-3506
  • Garner State Park: (830) 232-6132
  • Guadalupe River State Park: (830) 438-2656
  • Hueco Tanks State Historic Site: (915) 857-1135
  • Huntsville State Park: (936) 295-5644
  • Lake Arrowhead State Park: (940) 528-2211
  • Lake Bob Sandlin State Park: (903) 572-5531
  • Lake Casa Blanca International State Park: (956) 725-3826
  • Lake Colorado City State Park: (915) 728-3931
  • Lake Livingston State Park: (936) 365-2201
  • Lake Mineral Wells State Park and Trailway: (940) 328-1171
  • Lake Somerville State Parks: (979) 535-7763 (Birch Creek Unit), (979) 289-2392 (Nails Creek Unit)
  • Lake Texana State Park: (361) 782-5718
  • Lost Maples State Natural Area: (830) 966-3413
  • Martin Creek Lake State Park: (903) 836-4336
  • Meridian State Park: (254) 435-2536
  • Monahans Sandhills State Park: (915) 943-2092
  • Mother Neff State Park: (254) 853-2389
  • Mustang Island State Park: (361) 749-5246
  • Possum Kingdom State Park: (940) 549-1803
  • Purtis Creek State Park: (903) 425-2332
  • Ray Roberts Lake State Parks: (940) 686-2148 (Isle du Bois Unit), (940) 637-2294 (Johnson Branch Unit)
  • San Angelo State Park: (915) 949-4757
  • Sabine Pass Battleground State Park and Historic Site: (409) 971-2451
  • Sea Rim State Park: (409) 971-2559
  • Seminole Canyon State Historic Site: (915) 292-4464
  • Village Creek State Park: (409) 755-7322

Other state parks with water hookups only:

  • Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park: (956) 585-1107 (RV facilities scheduled to close permanently in fall 2002)
  • Lake Houston State Park: (281) 354-6881
  • Old Fort Parker State Historic Site: (254) 729-5253

Other state parks with drive-up sites with no hookups:

  • Big Bend Ranch State Park: (915) 229-3416
  • Colorado Bend State Park: (915) 628-3240
  • Devils River State Natural Area: (830) 395-2133
  • Franklin Mountains State Park: (915) 566-6441

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