Road Miles: 146
Trail Miles: 2.7
Sites: Fort Griffin State Historic Site, DeCordova Bend Park
Travel Buddy: RaggedyCrow
I felt a little better when I woke up, much less stressed after a little extra sleep and a little less dust and wind. I explored the campground a bit, and discovered that our site (#19) has its own access to Mill Creek, which is pretty awesome. I hiked a bit of the Mill Creek Nature Trail, which is short, but not well-signed once you leave the trailheads (there are two access points to this trail). At one point you hit a dirt road, and it’s unclear if this is actually the trail or not.
After a delightful hot (and free!) shower, we packed up and headed across the road to the visitor center to check in, exploring the fort grounds along the way. You can take a golf cart tour, but we just walked it. The volunteer was delightful: a fountain of local lore and knowledge, and super helpful. I found it particularly interesting to learn that this site used to be administered by Texas Parks & Wildlife, and it had become fairly run-down. Once it was transferred to the State Historical Commission, “they came in and fixed everything: the campground, the bathrooms, cleaned everything up, everything.”
This would implies that Texas places more value on showcasing its history than providing quality access to recreational opportunities on public lands. At first I thought the better conditions and upkeep at this site were probably due to higher fees, but comparing it to fees at Palo Duro Canyon SP negated that argument: the total for two adults to camp at a site with electricity and water at Fort Griffin is $23; at Palo Duro it’s $34-$36. Since Palo Duro is one of the most popular state parks in Texas, I looked up two other state parks to compare fees and found that they are fairly consistent. The same scenario would cost $30-$32 at Lake Tawakoni outside of Dallas, and $34-$38 at Guadalupe River outside of San Antonio. Of course, I don’t know what the conditions at Fort Griffin were like before it was transitioned to a historic site, and I don’t know what campground conditions are like at the three state parks I mention here, but the fact that it’s substantially cheaper to overnight at a reportedly nicer State Historic Site than at a State Park definitely merits noting.
We left the visitor center to be greeted by the Official State of Texas Longhorn herd, which also resides at the Fort. Those suckers are huge! And apparently free-range at times, so if you visit, don’t be in a hurry, because in a human / longhorn showdown, my money is on the bull! We stopped by the nearby historic town of Fort Griffin on our way out of the area. This frontier town on the Great Western Cattle Trail was notorious as an intersection of soldiers, traders, and outlaws. The names of those who spent time here reads like a who’s who of the Wild West, including Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and Big Nose Kate. It was a worthwhile stop. It’s all on private property, however, so if you visit, make sure to respect the owner’s request to stay on the road and designated walkways, and don’t enter any of the buildings.
On the road again, we stopped at the Prairie Star Deli & Grill at the gas station in Albany for lunch. Although it had been recommended to us as the best place for lunch in town, neither the food nor the service was particularly great. We then hit the Wal-Mart in Eastland, where Wal-Mart is what it is, but the customer service was awesome. After checking the typical spots, I asked an employee if they had any whole salami. He walked me back to the typical spot, and pointed out some pre-sliced. I thanked him and said it wouldn’t work for me; I don’t have a fridge and whole salami keeps longer. I went on about my business, and almost ten minutes later, I turned a corner, and there he was again! Holding up a whole summer sausage with a very hopeful look on his face. “This isn’t salami, it’s summer sausage. It has kind of a …different… taste. But maybe it would work for you?”
Dammit. I HATE summer sausage. I said it was ok, I would just do without the salami for now, and thanked him for going out of his way to try to help. He looked crestfallen. “It’s no problem,” he replied, looking down at his shoes, “I just wish I could buy you a fridge is all.”
AW! Suddenly, I felt better about spending money at Wal-Mart, at THIS Wal-Mart, that provides this guy with a job. I even went back in and finally got a cooler for the van.
By now, it’s pretty late in the afternoon, and we haven’t gotten very far down the road. I had wanted to visit Dinosaur Valley SP, but it was too late to get a decent visit in today, and rain was forecast for tomorrow, in which case being able to see the dinosaur tracks in the riverbeds was unlikely. So, there was no point paying to camp there if we could find a free spot. We found DeCordova Bend Park near Fort Worth through freecampsites.net and arrived just before dark, and just in time to see a spectacular lightning show across the Brazos River, on which the park sits.