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Last month I took the family on a road trip up to Northwest Arkansas where we rented a cabin in the Boston Mountains at Devil’s Den State Park.  The impetus for the trip was LSU’s road game in Fayetteville – I’ve always enjoyed travelling to see the Tigers play and have typically made it to one road game a year.  Amanda and I had never been to that part of Arkansas and a trip to see some Fall color wasn’t a bad idea so we decided to make a trip of it.

The drive was about 10 hours, most of it coming on the highway rather than the interstate.  The drive from Little Rock toward Fort Smith on I-40 in the Arkansas River valley is quite pleasant.  When you’re from Louisiana just seeing elevation change is nice.

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Any road trip with a 1 year old is always longer than it should be, but for the most part she handled it like a champ.  After breakfast in Natchez we had to stop and play at a park in Monticello.  We then managed to make it all the way to Alma before Olivia had really had enough of the car.

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My first impression of the park was of admiration for the old CCC architecture.  There were rustic old stone and log cabin buildings spread in the woods among Lee Creek Valley, they actually fit in well with the scenery.  We were lucky enough to catch the tail end of Fall up there, with lots of orange, yellows, and reds throughout.  The temperature change from Baton Rouge to NW Arkansas was pretty sharp, it was bitterly cold through our entire stay up there.  We were determined to not let it be a deterrent to our enjoyment in the woods and we enjoyed a few different hikes around the park.

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The Devil’s Den trail is a 1.3 mile loop that really showcased the sandstone caves, crevices, and bluffs that the area is known for.

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One of the more interesting parts of the trail was along Lee Creek where people, over time, had constructed a seemingly endless amount of rock cairns.  Olivia did her best to play Godzilla and knock a few down, I’m sure eventually a flood will take out the rest.

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Lee Creek, which was shallow and clear, had me longing for warmer temps so I could try my luck for some Ozark smallmouth.  The forecast had been so cold though that I didn’t even pack a rod.

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In a bid to see more Fall color in the area we made the drive one day over to Natural Dam, a natural rock dam spanning 200 feet along Mountain Fork Creek.  The kids loved playing with the rocks on the cobble beach just below the dam.

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We did make our way into Fayetteville on Saturday for the game where we went to the Farmers Market in Downtown Square then spent the rest of the day tailgating until game time.  The Razorbacks had not done much this season to capture the attention of local fans so we basically had the campus to ourselves.  There really wasn’t even a strong LSU contingent there.  My parents also made the trip to Devil’s Den and were nice enough to keep the kids while Amanda and I went to the game.  We were treated to some complimentary tickets not long before game time by a nice Arkansas fan, I can’t thank that woman enough, they were great seats too!  The game wasn’t a thriller by any stretch of the imagination, but the stadium was nice, they had hot chocolate delivery, the fans were pleasant, and the Tigers got the W so it was a good experience all around.

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It was really nice to spend quality time with the family where cell service was shoddy at best.  I think the kids really enjoyed being somewhere new and spending as much time outside as we did.  After this trip and spending the night in a tent at Audubon Zoo with Marin back in October I’m hoping we will make more of an effort to go camping next year.

I had to work on the “Best Bank” earlier this Fall and found myself with a little time to kill not too far away from the Jean Lafitte NHP.  I decided to check it out and get a bit of exercise walking some of the trails.  Jean Lafitte seems like one of those places that gets forgotten about alongside all the other attractions New Orleans has to offer, I know that I’ve driven past it a few times without even thinking twice about stopping.  I’m glad I finally gave it a go because I really enjoyed my walk in the swamp.  The park boasts an incredible amount of boardwalk that winds it’s way into the Northern  Barataria estuary – the swamp was beautiful and the critters were plentiful, but I couldn’t get over the fact that I walked a few miles on boardwalk, someone had to put all that together!

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Amanda and I took a somewhat last minute, short notice road trip over the Independence Day holiday to the Texas Hill Country, where we stayed in a cabin outside of Fredericksburg. We set out after work Wednesday evening and made it to the cabin REAL early Thursday morning, driving in the dark from about Houston westward. Over the last 1.5 hours of the drive we counted about 62 deer passed on the road, which was both exciting and a little nerve racking.

We woke up Thursday morning and stepped outside on our deck to a pretty impressive view, where we were soon joined by a couple of hungry deer. The reason we had a view was that our cabin actually sat on the ridge that separates the Pedernales and Guadalupe watersheds.

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Thursday was spent in and around Fredericksburg just playing tourist. The downtown historic district was pretty cool, but I think Amanda got the biggest kick when we got back to the cabin. We chatted with the owner who lives on site and he invited us over to come see the baby skunks and fawn they had been raising. The skunks had just been descented so they were okay to handle and the fawn had lost its mother, so they were bottle feeding it back to health. Amanda is not much of an
“animals as pets” person, she loves them at a distance, so it was fun to watch her pet the skunk and the deer. We ended the day in true American fashion with steaks on the grill. Admittedly we didn’t go see any fireworks on the 4th, opting to stay in and watch them on TV.

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On Friday I convinced Amanda to head to the South Llano with me so that I could try and catch a Guadalupe bass while I was within their native range. The state fish of Texas, they are only found in the Hill Country region, think of them like a Texas brook trout. The South Llano was a pretty river, much wider and deeper than I thought it would be, at least in parts, which made wading a little tough. It really looked like big largemouth territory though I didn’t catch any. I caught a few Guadalupe bass, 9″ was the biggest, and lots of different sunfish, which was a nod to how diverse the river is. I also got to see the Rio Grande cichlid in it’s native environment while I watched pairs of them protect their spawning beds.

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Neither of us had really ever visited the Texas Hill Country (sure I’ve been to Schlitterbahn in New Braunfels, but that hardly counts) so the landscape was a pretty stark contrast to what we were use to. The hills are covered in short, stubby Texas live oak and prickly pear cactus, it was almost like being in a different country as I walked back to the car.

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We headed back to Fredericksburg via US 290 and had to do a double take as we passed a herd of deer under some trees. They weren’t the normal white tailed deer we had been seeing, they had to be something exotic, I know the ranches have plenty of exotics. We just couldn’t put our finger on what exotic they were. Some locals tried to tell us they were Axis Deer, but their antlers looked more like Reindeer to us, I’m still not really sure what we saw, but there is a large herd of them under some trees on a ranch outside of Harper.

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We capped the day at Old Tunnel State Park, where we got to see the bat emergence. No good pictures were taken as it was close to 9pm, but imagine a swirling vortex of millions of bats leaving an old tunnel and flying downhill just over the tree tops – a pretty cool sight to behold.

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Saturday we decided to take a trip over to Enchanted Rock to do a little hiking. Enchanted Rock, like Stone Mountain in Georgia, is a huge granite batholith. Enchanted Rock though is a bit further from civilization and by default, less touristy. Don’t get me wrong there were plenty of tourists there (including us), but  Stone Mountain is like the Gatlinburg of Atlanta, you’ll just have to check it out for yourself. I like to imagine Enchanted Rock being more like Uluru out in Australia, landscape and all. We hiked to the top, then came down and made a loop around the rock. It was a nice hike that got pretty hot toward the end. I failed to mention so far that the weather was awesome the entire time we were there. Highs were in the mid 90s, but lows were mid 60s – mornings were very pleasant.

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We stopped for lunch in Fredericksburg where I had some killer enchiladas at Mahaley’s Cafe. Then we headed over to the Pedernales Brewing Company for a tour and some beer. Wore out from our hike, we napped at the cabin after that and finished the trip with another solid meal at Alamo Springs Cafe – one of the best burgers I’ve ever had.

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On the way back to the cabin I had to stop for a picture with this agave, as you can see it was a pretty impressive size. We also ran into some more deer. As we came to find out, the Hill Country has a deer problem. We counted over 260 deer during our stay there.

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Sunday we woke up and hit the road for the long trek back to Baton Rouge. We really had a lot of fun on our trip to Texas. If you are looking for lodging in the area, I can safely recommend the Walnut Canyon Cabins near Alamo Springs. Dave and Laurie were incredible hosts and the cabins were the perfect getaway for just the two of us.

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