Have you ever camped? I mean really camped; sleeping in a tent, cooking over an open fire, or relaxed without any cellphone or internet service? Scott and I have camped many times and cooked over an open fire, but we never really camped without being plugged into the internet and cellphone service before. This past weekend was just that!
We were unsure how things would go because we had no reception at all on our phones and I was unable to Instagram, Facebook or blog about our adventure the full weekend. However, the experience left us looking for more opportunities to do just that again – be completely disconnected from the electronic, internet world.
What are the benefits I can hear you asking with thoughts thinking of nothing but bordom left to happen. Well, there was not one thing boring about this whole weekend. When we arrived, we had to set up camp. We then checked the park out via the truck. Once we finished that, we found some things to look at and discuss between the two of us. Things like what each other knew about the CCC, which trails we would venture out on Friday morning and when we would cook dinner. Then things got really weird; we met the neighbors!
     (Here Gladys holds Chewy while Chewy and her Robin smile affectionaly at each other.)
Friday was one of those day where the breeze was perfect and the sky was bright. It made the morning hike delightful. As usual, Scott and I took photos and chatted about what we knew and didn’t know about the wild flowers, trees and geology. I was able to find a shell fossil and I did my normal happy dance. There was so much to explore and, because it was a CCC park, we were able to relax at different times upon the benches made in the 1930’s.
The Texans for State Parks Conference stated Friday evening with an informal discussion of what each of the Friends groups were doing for and in their state parks.  The groups are as different to each other as the parks are to the other parks.  There was Colorado Bend State Park with their caving, trail building and primative lifestyle; Brazos Bend State Park having a strict volunteer program where their members are happy to spend 48 or more volunteer hours giving trail tours, working in the gift shop/nature center, and presenting programs throughout the year; and then there were the other groups like Fort Boggy State Park who were actively rebuilding cabins, Cedar Hill working to fix flood damaged marina/day-use areas, and Lake Brownwood and Lake Cleburne encouraging guests to celebrate the seasons with Christmas Decorating Contests and Spring Runs.  So much diversity and yet they were doing the same thing; they were enjoying their park while sharing their love of those parks with others.
That evening Scott and I were also made aware of the Northeast Texas Trails (NeTT) system that has been started.  It will eventually be a bicycling and hiking path that will ramble along 130 miles across Northeastern Texas from Farmington, Texas, to New Boston, Texas.  They have some trails completed; cleaning up and preparing others, and working to obtain other parts of the property they are supposed to have.  Earl Ericson has been working tirelessly to get this project up and going.  He lost his leg when a car hit him while he was on a bicycle.  He has made it his life’s work to get something for those who want to hike or bike safely.  Scott and I can see this being something we can get behind and get extremely excited about.  It would be a wonderful opportunity to train for the Camino de Santago in Spain.
After all the presentations were finished, we headed to our little campsite home.  There was time for hot cocoa and chatting beside Robin & Gail’s campfire.  It was peaceful and relaxing without a television, laptop, or cellphones.  It made an end to a good Friday.
Saturday we had to get up and head back to the Oak Lodge for a full day of meetings about legislation, volunteers, and panels.  Because Scott wanted the pre-sunrising light, we left earlier than we needed to.  He went to the Grand Staircase nearby to take photos while I went in to help set up breakfast for everyone attending the conference.  I was really glad to help since we were not really part of any group there.  This, however, didn’t stop everyone from welcoming us and including us in the questions and discussions.  Unfortunately, we were one of the younger people who were attending and this brought up a few concerns within the panels.  It seems that a majority of volunteers within the Friends groups are the retired, older generation.  Often this causes some of the needs to modernize to be overlooked and feared.  Fortunately, there are some who are younger and are helping the state parks to move forward in the area of media, internet, and technology.
Scott was able to connect with Barbara who is one of the equestrian people working on the future park Palo Pino Mountains State Park.  It was really nice for him to get positive feedback that he is welcome to jump in and take part within the group.  This is one of his favorite places to do astrophotography and he wants to invest his time and energy on it.  Myself, I found the NeTT and the administrative part to the Volunteer side of things.  I see a need for those who are planning to do the NeTT in one go whether hiking or biking and I feel excited in how I can help.  There is also the administrative jobs I enjoy doing that the Texas Parks and Wildlife offices in Austin need help with.  We also have found a place for us within the Brazos/Paluxy area so we have plenty of opportunities for us.  Now to decide how to make all of this work.  I realize it is one step at a time, but at least we know we belong.
That evening we went back to the neighbor’s campfire and were able to enjoy the company of Robin, Gail, Gladys and her family.  We were pleasently surprised by Johnny as he pulled out his guitar and began singing.  Scott was in heaven.  Since we decided to step away from the SCA he has not been able to partake in what are called Bardic Circles.  He has missed entertaining and being entertained around a campfire enjoying the time with friends.  It was a wonderful night and we so hated to see it end.  There will be more camping trips with Robin and Gail’s group, that we have been promised.
Once we were packed up Sunday morning, we said our good-bye to our new friends, hopped in the truck and headed home.  When I asked him what was his favorite part of the long weekend, Scott told me it was Saturday night around the campfire.  Then he added that he was happy we had finally found a place to belong.