The Hill Country and Spicewood, Texas

On Thursday, February 28, 2018, we set the GPS to route our drive to Hill Country Lakes RV Resort in Briarcliff, Texas. I was sad to leave behind the waddling Muscovy ducks, but more so the grackle blackbirds. I got used to the bird’s whistles and how they sounded like they were playing scales on an otamatone, and of course, their grackles, which brought to mind a toy machine gun. I never knew a bird could have so many different sounds.

As we started to pull out of our site, the lady from the office came up to Jon and handed him $85.00. Apparently, she had charged us the summer rate rather than the winter rate. They could have easily kept our extra payment without us knowing the difference. I’m so glad they were honest and refunded our money.

With all the construction on the major highways, we didn’t relish our drive through Houston. We lucked out, though, breezing along without too much traffic to navigate.

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Partial Houston Skyline

East of Houston, we saw this new Amazon fulfillment center nearing completion, which will house more than 400 employees.

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Gigantic Amazon Fulfillment Building

We stopped in La Grange, Texas, for lunch at the Back Porch BBQ & Grill. I’m a sucker for a pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw and an Arnold Palmer was the perfect drink to wash it down.

 

Walking back to the truck, however, Jon noticed something weird with the sewer connection. On further inspection, he realized the cap was missing and the piece of double elbow pipe was barely hanging on, yanked from its connection. Darn, Jon rolled over that old alligator (tire tread) after all. Thank goodness, the damage did not extend to or beyond the valve.

 

We settled in at Hill Country Lakes RV in Spicewood, Texas, with the sewer repair the first task on our agenda.

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Hill Country Lakes RV Resort Office
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RV Spots at Hill Country Lakes RV are Tucked in Among the Trees

RV Sewer Repair

The park hosts directed us to Hill Country RV, Inc. in Marble Falls for the parts needed to fix the sewer. We drove there early the next day and ordered a reducer to go from 3” to 1-1/2” pipe. They promised it would arrive around 2:00 p.m. the next day. Jon picked up a 3” double elbow from a plumbing supply warehouse. At Home Depot, he bought ABS cement, lengths of 3” and 1-1/2” PVC pipe, and a hacksaw. Jon fixed what he could without the missing piece, then waited until the next day to complete the repair. After letting it sit overnight, the repair passed the tests with no leaks. Hooray, we had our sewer back.

 

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Repaired Sewer Connection

 

Population Growth

Driving north out of Austin on our way to Spicewood, we had noticed a mass of growth from houses to townhouses, condos, and apartments and shopping centers where all the national restaurant and retail chains had set up shop. Our drive to Lakeway to visit with our friends was more of the same.

World Population Review lists Austin as the 11th largest city in the United States and the 3rd largest state capital. Austin’s metropolitan area’s population is forecasted to reach 3.2 million by 2030. No wonder it felt like the city was taking the country out of The Hill Country. The hills, once graced with greenery are now taken over with housing and shopping centers with more construction on the way. I guess that’s the price of progress and growth, but in some respects, it makes me sad. Where will people go to get their nature fix?

Pace Bend County Park

A drive through Pace Bend County Park brought us back to nature. The park has 20 improved and 400 primitive campsites. All of the 20 water and electric sites were reserved for the weekend, but it looked like they might have been open during the week.

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Campsite or Picnic Area Near the Lake

Launch a boat and fish, take a hike, or sit under a tree and read a book. This little slice of nature is going to become more precious as the growth continues.

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A Couple of Anglers Trying Their Luck

Reimers Ranch County Park

Reimers Ranch County Park was another place to get back to nature. We packed a lunch and drove out to the park. The four-mile hike along the river and through the bluff in the warm humid weather made me thankful that property like this has been set aside for future generations to experience the outdoors.

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Which Way Do We Go?
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Rain Drops Appear to Float Above the Ground
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River Wasn’t Deep Enough to Put in a Kayak
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Large Trees Along the Trail
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Signs of Spring
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Comfort Station

Family Business Beer Company

We had seen Family Business Beer Company on our way to Reimers Ranch and decided to check it out on our way back. This was a nice place to enjoy a cold flight of beers and bag of chips after our hike.

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Family Business Owner’s Residence

The grounds are set up for bean bag toss games to keep patrons busy, and a children’s playground to conquer the little one’s boredom while parents taste the beer. Plenty of seating is provided, or bring your own.

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Picnic Tables and Bean Bag Toss Games For Guests
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Playground for the Kiddos

For a bite to eat a food trailer serves a variety of treats.

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Inside, larger groups will find the long bistro tables accommodating.

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Inside Family Business Beer Company
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Wide Porches with Plenty of Seating

Of our flight, only one suited our taste, the Haulin Oats. Jon and I prefer amber and wheat beer over IPAs, which are more popular here.

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From Left to Right: Fox, King Biscuit, Haulin Oats, and Grackle

Mansfield Dam

Along the Texas Colorado River stands Mansfield Dam. Completed in 1941, the dam rises 278 feet high, is 7,089 feet long, and 213 feet thick at the base. Named for U.S. Representative J.J. Mansfield, Lake Travis can store up to 369 billion US gallons of water.

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This Used to be the Road Across the Mansfield Hydroelectric Dam

The hydroelectric power plant generates up to 108 megawatts of electricity.

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A Four Lane Highway Replaced the Dam Road
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View of Dam Near Boat Launch

A Couple More Restaurants

We had the occasion to visit a couple of restaurants during our visit. While in Marble Falls, we stopped in at Blue Bonnet Café for their “pie happy hour.” The meringue on the lemon pie was the fluffiest we’d ever seen and not overly sweet.

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Sevens Out BBQ, the restaurant next to our RV park, invited the guests to a BBQ giveaway to celebrate their grand opening. We managed to get a sample tray with brisket, sausage and ribs, potato salad, coleslaw, and what I think was bread pudding. Everything was delicious, even the bread pudding, which usually is not my favorite.

I wouldn’t mind coming back to Spicewood someday for the peace and quiet away from the city growth and the great BBQ.

Next up we head to Waco, Texas.

 

 

Home Again – Home Again

Jon here, taking over blogging duties this week for an episode on RV maintenance and upgrades.

All about Tires

Having researched the RV forums for months, I found that the frequency of separation of the original Trailer King ST225/75R-15 8 Ply tires was so great that they had earned the nickname “China Bombs.” I had planned to replace our trailer tires after our winter 2017 trip. We came up short of home by 500 miles when, as noted in the last post, one of the tires separated and damaged the trailer.

After two weeks, we picked up the trailer from Sky River RV where they repaired the damage and drove immediately to the closest Discount Tire store in Paso Robles to replace the five tires, including the spare. We didn’t want to chance another tire blowing out before we got the rig home.

I found the Carlisle brand received great reviews on the forums. So we went with the Carlisle Radial Trail HD ST225/75R15 10 Ply (instead of the 8 ply) for an increased load rating and peace of mind.

General Cleaning and Maintenance

After putting about 4500 miles on the trailer, it was time for some much-needed cleaning and maintenance. The first thing we do is tag-team the cleaning of the trailer interior. I clean the toilet, sinks, and the refrigerator. Linda vacuums, dusts, and wipes down the cabinetry. Then I come in and scrub the floors with the Swiffer wet jet. Next is the exterior. Linda climbs the ladder to scrub the roof and inspect all the seals. When she finds subpar seals, I fetch the Dicor self-leveling sealing caulk made especially for RV rubber roofs to make the necessary repairs. Once done, I wash the back, sides, and of course the bug encrusted front of the fifth-wheel as well as the awning.

Running Lights

The next thing on the list is to repair anything that had become inoperable. One item had driven me crazy. Whenever we hook up the trailer to the truck, we always operate the lights so that the running lights illuminate. For no apparent reason, the running lights quit. I found that a 15-amp fuse on the truck’s fuse panel had blown. I replaced the fuse and the lights worked…for about a minute. Realizing there must be a short somewhere in the running lights circuit, I left the blown fuse in and didn’t worry about the running lights. Whatever the cause, it did not affect any other lights on the trailer and I could figure it out once we got home.

I got lucky. Another round of research revealed the blown fuse was a common problem on many Cougar fifth wheels. The wire that connects the right front side marker light with the left front side marker light runs under the fiberglass skin and on top of a metal cross brace. Apparently, the wire over time smashes against the metal cross brace when the trailer is hooked to the truck, causing a short when the wire’s insulation wears through. The wire was so smashed I couldn’t pull it out. The fix was to run a new wire through the front storage and abandon the old wire. That fixed it! Ray Burr of www.loveyourrv.com figured this out. Ray has a Cougar 5th Wheel trailer too and he experienced the exact same problem. Thanks Ray!

Solar Power

With the coming camping season nearly upon us, I decided to research solar panels for the trailer with the goal to provide enough juice to charge the batteries when camping without electrical hookups. I found a complete solar panel kit that looked like it would be a good fit for the Cougar.

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Renogy 100 Watt Monocrystalline Solar Panels

Last year I had upgraded our single 12-volt deep cycle battery that was good for about 80 amp hours to two 6 volt deep-cycle golf cart batteries. The two 6-volt batteries wired in series gives 12 volts but supplies 230 amp hours.

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230 Amp Hours Battery Bank

With the bigger battery bank already installed, I was setup to install the solar panels. I ordered through Amazon the Renogy kit that included two 100-watt monocrystalline solar panels, one charge controller, all the wires for connecting everything together, plus all the mounting hardware.

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Renogy Wanderer Solar Charge Controller With Fuses and Panels Shut Off Switch
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Close Up of Charger Controller

I was concerned about drilling holes for the mounting brackets in the roof of the trailer but after consulting various forums and videos, I felt confident I could do the work without causing any leaks. I created a short video of my install of the system here: YouTube Video.

I also replaced the sewer plumbing vent while completing the installation. We’ve not had problems with smells but thought I’d give the Camco Cyclone vent a try.

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Camco Cyclone Sewer Plumbing Vent Rotates 360 Degrees With the Wind

Suspension Upgrade

The final chore before our next trip was a suspension upgrade. When I learned the trailer suspensions supplied to the trailer manufacturers do not allow for greasing the shackles on the leaf springs, I was appalled. Even worse, the thicknesses of the shackles are subpar and the bushings used are made of some type of plastic. Bottom line is these items wear out in as little as 10,000 miles and we were near that range. The fix is to install a heavy-duty shackle upgrade kit by MorRyde. For more information, go here: MorRyde Shackle Upgrade Kit.

This job requires lifting the trailer and removing the wheels (one side at a time) so the suspension can be disassembled and reassembled. I just don’t have enough space beside our house to safely attempt this job. So we made an appointment six weeks ago at Happy Daze RV in Livermore, California and the work is being done as I write this.

With new tires, a clean trailer, working running lights, a new solar system, and a safer suspension, it looks like we are ready to pack up and hit the road for our summer 2017 adventure. As soon as Happy Daze calls to say the work is completed, of course.