We discovered Antelope Island State Park quite by accident. Joy spontaneously picked up a free RV travel publication that happened to have an article describing the park. We decided the park was centrally located on our fall line from Durango to Yellowstone so we called and made reservations. The initial park alerts warned about this being the hatching season for fierce gnats immune to bug sprays and described the only remedy was to wear long sleeved shirts, long pants and hats with nets. The entry to this isolated island in the Great Salt Lake is a seven mile causeway. While coming across the causeway, there was a distinct odor coming from the marsh on each side. We both looked at each other and agreed this stop was going to be a boom or bust and that we may have to cancel our reservations for the following 3 days.
Antelope Island had been the working ranch of the Garr family at its inception in 1878 and remained a working ranch until it was turned over to the state of Utah in 1981. The island is approximately 14 miles long and 4 ½ miles wide. In this relatively small area, it is amazing how the terrain changes from flat plains to steep rocky hill tops. Today the park service offers only 26 primitive camp sites (no electricity or running water). The camp sites are excellent- each with paved pads and covered picnic tables with wonderful panoramic views. There are some paved roads on the island and an estimated 30 miles of hiking trails. Today Antelope Island is the home of 500-700 buffalo, an untold number of birds, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and pronghorn antelope along with all sorts of other wildlife.
We are pleased to report we did not experience the gnats we were warned about and the marsh odor ended as soon as we got off the causeway. While here, we have had 3 Buffalo, we nicknamed “Los Tres Amigos”, visit our campsite each day. Yesterday (while in the truck) we stopped to watch a herd of about 150 buffalo heading toward us. Within a few minutes, we found ourselves in the middle of the herd as they crossed the road to reach the grasslands on the other side. The animals kept within 10—15 feet of the truck. This stop on the way to Alaska has turned out to be nothing short of amazing.
Beaumont and Brenham, TX were two overnight stops on our way to the Texas Hill Country. The oil industry was in evidence everywhere- drilling, refineries, chemical plants etc. We lucked into a BBQ cook off in Beaumont by a statewide group called the Go Texans which benefits education. The night before the judging they had a Fish Fry and dance which they invited us to join. The catfish was outstanding and watching them Two Step was really enjoyable. We’ve decided the next time we come to Texas we will know how to Two Step and line dance! We stayed on the grounds of Elk lodges in both towns and were warmly welcomed and given some great local information. They treated us to Boudin and Armadillo Ball appetizers which we will try to replicate when we return home.
Driving from Brenham and then on through Austin brought two lane country roads lined with the wild flowers, the meandering narrow rivers and the rustic small towns of the Hill Country. Along the road to the picturesque German town of Fredericksburg, we purchased freshly picked peaches from the Vogel Orchard- the sweetest, juiciest peaches we have ever eaten. We finally got to see the iconic Longhorn close up along the winding roads near the Pedernales Falls State Park. For us, two of the highlights of the Park were the Bird Blind with its viewing area of the migratory and native birds and the hike through the rocky terrain to the Falls. The LBJ Ranch located on the Pedernales River along with the Texas White House was a fascinating personal glimpse of a President’s life. The ranch was a unique blend of history and nature.
Following Gary Wilkins’ suggestion, we packed up the Silver Manatee in Tally and headed to Pensacola on April 23rd (aka John’s Birthday) and traveled to the Blue Lagoon State Park. One of the high points of this stop was the National Naval Air Museum located on the Naval Air Station (NAS) which is also the home base for the Blue Angels. The Naval Air Museum is a state of the art museum which houses 150+ vintage military airplanes and special walk through exhibits primarily run by volunteers. Fortunately for us, the Blue Angels were in town and early one morning, we were able to watch their practice with a small hometown crowd right beside the runway for a very special experience. Also located on the NAS, was the historic Pensacola Lighthouse built in 1859 on the Pensacola Bay. We took a car tour through the Seville Square Historic district filled with charming shops, galleries & cafes. On our next visit, we will definitely plan to take a walking tour of the historic downtown topped off with a dinner at McGuire’s, but we had another “not to miss” rec by Gary to see- Ft. Pickens, a pre-Civil War brick fort, used by the Army until 1947. Ironically, the Fort was built by slave labor from 1829-1834 to fight off foreign entities to protect Pensacola Bay and the Navy yard, but the only shots ever fired from the Fort were during the Civil War. The Fort was utilized by the government to detain military prisoners and housed Geronimo and a small group of Apaches in Ft. Pickens as prisoners for one year prior to their transportation to Fort Sill, OK where Geronimo subsequently passed away. The approach to Ft. Pickens from downtown is a scenic drive through the Gulf Islands National Seashore with pristine sand dunes, sea oats and white sugar sand on both sides. Pensacola truly gave us a hands on history lesson and a chance to see the awesome beauty of Florida & the Gulf Islands.