Saturday, March 12, 2016

Viva la Texas: Wild Hogs, BBQ, and Good Friends

      No trip ever goes as planned and the last half of our winter circuit has been no exception.  We had planned on spending a few days on the Gulf Coast near Cameron, LA , but that was not to be.  Suffice it to say that due to the 'Poltergeist Check Engine Light' we diverted our itinerary to Lake Charles and another Chevy dealer appointment.
      Once fixed (hopefully) we again set our sails west back into Texas and Palmetto State Park near our hog hunting destination of Gonzales, TX.

      This is a lovely Texas State Park with acres of trails filled with large oaks, elms, sweet gums, saw palmettos, and of course shade sitting next to the San Marcos River.  It is only $21/day for water, electric, and sewer.  We stayed at the ranch last year for our hunt, but it is $40/day for just a parking space and water/electric.   
NOTE:  Unfortunately after 2 days we were forced to move camp to an RV park the other side of Gonzales, but nearer the ranch.  The state park was 'reservation full' for the weekend and we didn't have one.  We moved our camp to the 4L RV Ranch.  This is a very nice park with lots of amenities, but with it's share of problems.  It is a bit pricey at $35/day, the office is only sporadically open, the WiFi (although with several towers is weak), and there were NO dumpsters of any type.  We had to take our trash to town daily to dispose wherever we could find.  But to be fair, there are nice men's and women's showers, a good laundry room, and a very nice pool.  This was still a good place from which to stage 'base camp', and butcher shop afterwards.  We always butcher our own game. 
      Independence Ranch is a private ranch that offers hunts for a variety of exotic game, but hogs are #1.  I was only looking to harvest a single hog so I chose the single day hunt.   Their prices have gone up this year, but a three day hunt/2 hog hunt with lodge, meals, guide, etc. runs $399; still a good deal.  My single day hunt runs $250.   Additionally, the Texas non-resident license is $48. 

      I have already fulfilled my ambition of bagging a boar with a handgun so this year I utilized my standard big game rifle, Remington 700BDL in 7mm Rem Mag.  I was looking for a bit bigger tusker. We have the standard RV freezer, but also an extra Engel 43 quart DC freezer I added a few years ago for stocking up for boondocking purposes.  The morning of the hunt dawned bright and pleasant with mid 70s forecast.   This hunt was very much like last year's in that there wasn't much activity in the morning, but midday resulted in 'hogs-a-plenty'.  After several episodes of pigs side stepping my blind I was finally able to connect with another very nice 105 lb. feeder hog.  Not the biggest or meanest, but certainly a fine eating animal. 

       After the ranch staff did a nice, neat job gutting and quartering, they put the beast in the cooler.  These kids do a very nice job.  Just like my pork I chilled for a couple of hours before collecting my booty and heading back to camp.  I was able to chat at length with the Ranch Chef about his preparations of Wild Boar.  I learned some very interesting tips.  Last year I found that younger hogs are the best eating as long as they are cooled quickly after butchering.  They are quite tender, but there isn't much taste.  I injected and marinated my hams in Morton Tender Quick for two weeks before cooking.  This produced a very tasty ham.  The chef taught me that injection is the key with your choice of ingredients.  Then a good dry rub before cooking adds all the flavor you're looking for.  I really do love a finishing sauce of Peach Habanero, but others will work as well according to your tastes.  Barb and I have always prided ourselves in processing our game from kill to freezer.  As such, I brought the pig quarters back to the RV and we finished the process resulting in 46 lbs. of very nice vacuum sealed and frozen hams, ribs, stew meat, tenderloin and tenderloin medallions, a shoulder roast, and fajita meat. 

       When we departed Gonzales we headed NW to set up camp at the BBQ Capital of Texas.  However, the state park at Lockhart was booked and once again we were left to procure our own RV park site.  We stayed at Leisure RV Resort in Fentress, TX very near our destination.  Although a very nice park on the banks of the San Marcos River, the cost here was even higher at $40/day after our Good Sam Club discount.  It is a very nice park.  After setting up Barb and I chilled with Roux down by the San Marcos River for a bit then we went to dinner at the only BBQ joint we didn't hit last on our trip through;  City Market in Luling, TX. 
       This is another of the highest ranked BBQ places not only in Texas, but the nation as well.  They only serve brisket, sausage, and ribs.  They have several sides:  beans, jalapeno peppers, pickles, pickled eggs, onion slices, or potato salad.  There is, of course your choice of beverages.  Barb and I had the ribs and sausage.  The ribs were WONDERFUL; crunchy on the outside and moist on the inside.  I thought the sausage was very nicely flavored as well, some of the best I have ever had.  The food is served typical Texas style:  on butcher paper with napkins and white bread.  Napkins consist of a roll of paper towels.  Simple presentation, great food! 

      We also picked up our forwarded mail in Lockhart and I got to dabble once again in chicken gizzards for lunch!  Yumdoggees!   We got our absentee ballots in the mail.  Once we filled them out they were back in the mail home the next day.  The next day we stepped out of our comfort zone for a few hours and ventured into the legend that is Austin.  I haven't been to Austin, TX for many years and couldn't believe how BIG it has become.  A megalopolis!  Thanks to IPhone GPS we found Whole Foods, Petco, Verizon, Spec's, and a stylist for Barb's hair without spending too much time battling TRAFFIC.  I did upgrade my IPhone (mostly due to Barb being sick and tired of me complaining about my old one) 

      Spec's, you ask?   It is the Texas liquor store equivalent of Sam's Club........huge, (about the size of a Best Buy) and they have everything!  Interestingly, Spec's does have several isles of specialty items including foods, condiments, and sauces.  I didn't find the exact brand of Peach Habanero Sauce I was looking for, but did find a very nice substitute.   It is THE BOMB for the last hour of a roasted Wild Hog Ham!   We kicked back for the evening enjoying leftover meatloaf and watching "Spotlight", the Oscar Winner for Best Film.  What a profoundly incredible film.  It is troubling and a bit difficult to watch at times, but certainly qualified for it's Oscar win.    
      The next day we were fortunate to spend part of the afternoon visiting with fellow USAF retirees Jesse and Anna Shanks in San Marcos.  We not only got to meet their son James, but Miss Anna served a Cajun Boil complete with Shrimp, Sausage, Taters, and Corn.......DELISH!  It was certainly good to catch up and visit again.   I don't know what it is about Central Texas, but Barb and I always feel comfortable here.  A land of mesquite, cattle ranches, cactus, well as small towns and big metropolitan areas alike.  There is plenty of sunshine....a little something for everyone.  You're only crowded or isolated if you want to be.  Everywhere, anywhere.......friends are easy to make.  They're warm; they define southern hospitality. 

      One night we cranked up the charcoal grill and enjoyed some wild boar brats which were certainly better than the ones we got from a butcher several months on our trip.  I traded for these with the Ranch Chef...Our last day in Fentress consisted of a Chevy oil change appointment (yippee, the 'check engine' light is still out), some laundry, and one last BBQ meal out.  Barb decided she wanted Black's BBQ Beef Ribs again so there we went.  

      Barb ordered the 1.77 lb. beef rib (shown top left) while I went with the pork baby backs and jalapeno cheese sausage.  All of the meal was delicious with the Corn Maque Choux and sausages exceptional.  This is not a cheap meal with all the meat being sold as weighed per pound, but I assure you it is definitely worth it! 
       Trucking the short 90 mile hop north to Salado we 'moochdocked' with another USAF retiree, Jody Arnold and his wife, Juanita.  Jody owns a beautiful 97 acre ranch on a hill just east of Salado, complete with RV hookup with 20/50 amp power, water, and sewage dump as well. 


      He raises horses, a cow, and an unintentional pack of coyotes.  Their ranch has a great view.  We utilized the hookups out by the barn which were a blessing.   We ate very well while here, as both Jody and Juanita are great cooks: steaks, Tomato Pesto Chicken, and we even went out one night to the local village of Theon for a great German meal.  We treated them one night to great BBQ at Johnny's and one night I prepared a new dish; a delicious Reuben Casserole.  Again, we felt at home here in Central Texas.  Good friends make that possible. 

      We planned on visiting for a couple of days, but this is spring time in Texas and the entire area, known as Tornado Alley, became pretty active.  Rain, big front, thunderstorms, hail, and even a few tornadoes were forecast.  We thought about leaving early, but you can't outrun a spring time front when you are traveling nearly 700 miles to your next destination.  Jody and Juanita were gracious enough to let us hunker down the extra days till the system passed.  We did develop a small roof leak at the TV antenna joint so a fix of Flex Seal did the trick.  Yep, this is the stuff you see on TV.  You know.....cut the bottom out of your boat and put a door there, just seal it with Flex Seal and VOILA IT FLOATS!  I guess I just hope our RV still floats...
      Before we left I prepared a big pot of Chicken Tasso Andouille Gumbo that we shared with Jody and Juanita and can still eat leftovers for several nights on the road.  We did stay even a couple of days longer as Barb was helping Juanita with her business backlog.  She has a very successful custom sewing business specializing in scrubs for hospital staff.  She is always loaded with orders and Barb really enjoyed helping her catch up as well as deliver some orders.  The two ladies seemed to bond nicely over the work.  Once underway we headed NE nearly 700 miles towards Missouri and Barb's family.  This would be several days of boondocking as we like to keep our travel days short.  Besides, we are getting closer by the day to the end of this winter's journey and were in no hurry.  IMPORTANT TRAVEL NOTE:  THE FOUR STATES FAIRGROUNDS CAMPING AREA IN TEXARKANA, AR IS NO LONGER OPEN.  IT CLOSED IN 2014.  WE CAME THROUGH THE OPEN GATES AND SET UP CAMP BEFORE THEY CAME AROUND AND INFORMED US, BUT THEY WERE VERY KIND IN LETTING US STAY ONE NIGHT.  The other 2 nights on our voyage to Mizzou were courtesy of Wal Mart. 

NOTE:  I have always based my 'boondocking' statistics on the fact that the average RV park cost is $30 per day.  We have had no luck finding any boondocking spots the entire month of February (Louisiana or Texas) during our travels, which increased our budget more than anticipated.  The average costs for these parks has been between $35-$45 a day.  There is always Wal Mart and we will take our turn there when traveling, but not for a 5-7 day stay.  I may have to re-evaluate my numbers.  As of this blog our total boondocking days number only 14 days.

"Maybe the journey isn't so much about becoming anything.  Maybe it's about unbecoming everything that isn't you so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place"

WiFi courtesy of my Verizon MiFi Hotspot

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