Sunday, May 25, 2014

Hiking in North Texas Part 2: Ray Roberts Lake State Park Greenbelt Corridor

Earlier this month we tried a new hiking place, and this weekend we decided to explore another hiking destination in the Dallas area. We went to the Ray Roberts Lake State Park Greenbelt Corridor, which is a 10-mile hiking and biking path that starts at 380 and ends at the dam at Ray Roberts Lake. It is 10 miles each direction, so 20 miles round-trip. It also has a separate equestrian trail and a canoe/kayak launch site, since the greenbelt path follows the Trinity River and connects Lake Lewisville with Ray Roberts Lake.

To get there from McKinney, we went west on 380 until shortly before Denton. The entrance to the trail is easy to miss, but there is a brown sign you can see from the road on the right side.

 The parking lot off of 380:

The trail map:

The self-pay station:

There were "chemical toilets" at the start of the trail:

The trail is crushed limestone and is 10-15 feet wide:

There are a few trail off-shoots that lead to the Trinity River:

And we crossed under a railroad track bridge:

So we walked almost 2 miles up the trail and then decided to turn back because I wasn't sure how far my 3-year-old could walk with the round-trip included.  Here are the pros and cons for this hiking trail:

*  Ample parking
*  Wide trail that is suitable for bikes and jogging strollers
*  The first several miles are shaded by trees
*  We could hear a lot of birds and woodpeckers

*  Since it is a state park, the entrance fee is $7 per person. Kids 12 and under are free.
*  The toilets really stink. When we were returning, we could smell them from quite a ways off. We do use the bathroom in a lot of parks, but my kids were really grossed out by these.
*  There is no water fountain here--the closest one is 6.5 miles up the trail when it crosses FM 428.
*  There were no mile markers on the trail, which I thought was odd since there were so many runners.
*  The scenery did not change. We were surrounded by trees, but it all looked exactly the same with almost no variation. The trail has a scenic overlook that overlooks a meadow further up, but it was about 5 miles up the trail. The river was muddy and had trash on the side.
*  While there were a few picnic tables in the parking lot area, there were no benches or tables on this trail. We just moved to the side of the trail to rehydrate and refuel.
*  I was warned about this from a website before we arrived, but there appears to be a lot of poison ivy here on the sides of the trail.

We are glad we tried it, and we were able to hike a good distance with the kids, but I think this trail is better suited for cyclists or runners who can go a further distance and cover more ground with a better variety of scenery.

Have you been on this trail? Do you like it?

Monday, May 19, 2014

Spilling the beans (again!)

We finally told our kids about our next vacation! We've had this booked for nearly 2 years and have managed to keep it a secret from the kids. Even though it's still over 4 months away, I wanted to tell them so that they can learn about the finances behind the vacation. We still have to save some money over the summer for this trip, and I want my kids to understand that these big trips just don't happen without some financial planning and sacrifices. We are going on a 7-night Disney Cruise and will celebrate our 10 year anniversary and my daughter's birthday on-board.

For the big reveal, I sent the kids on a scavenger hunt around the house with clues about our vacation. The final clue was a puzzle that revealed our cruise.

The first clue was an aerial view of the Orlando airport with its airport code.

The next clue showed a photo of something we would do on our trip...
Airplane watching at Maho beach in St. Maarten!

A few more clues revealed information about the language spoken at our port destinations and a photo of the Halloween tree. (Our cruise will have special Halloween-themed activities).
And then of course the final puzzle.
My kids have never had the surprised, screaming, over-the-top reaction you see on many videos--but they were excited and have talked about the trip non-stop for the past 2 days. We've started watching some YouTube videos about the ship and our destinations.

So it's nice to have this secret revealed and out in the open at our house. Although I'm running out of ideas on how to surprise them with our next vacation.

How far in advance do you tell your kids about your vacations? How do you prepare them and get them excited?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Hiking in North Texas Part 1: Oak Point Nature Preserve

I was raised in Colorado. While I don't miss the snow, cold weather or downhill skiing, I DO miss all of the fantastic hiking. I have fabulous memories of hiking the trails at Mount Falcon Park as a kid with my family. I love the workout that comes with hiking in the mountains, and the sense of adventure that comes with turning a curve and never knowing what view you will see around the corner.

Now that my home is in North Texas, the hiking opportunities are not the same. Hiking is also not part of the state's culture like it is in Colorado. But I miss it, and I want my kids to experience hiking. And since an upcoming vacation next winter will involve some significant hiking, I want to get my family prepared so that we can enjoy the views without being so wiped out.

This part of Texas has a lot of paved walking and cycling paths, but I was somewhat unfamiliar with dirt trail hiking choices. I stumbled across this article, and we decided to try hiking at Oak Point Nature Preserve since it is the closest to our house.

Oak Point is one of Plano's newer parks on the east side of town. It has 3.5 miles of paved trails and 5 miles of soft surface trails. This park was also appealing to us because cyclists are not permitted on the soft trails, which we figured would be easier with our kids and dog.

Ready for our adventure.

We parked in the main parking lot off Los Rios Blvd. and walked on the paved path for a few feet until we saw the trail head for the Caddo Trail. Once we got on the dirt trails, we followed Rowlett Creek under tall trees that covered the trails in shade.

We saw some interesting tree root systems along the way.

And we had to climb over some large tree trunks throughout the paths. We figured these were there on purpose to deter cyclists from entering the trails.

The trails were narrow, so we had to walk single file. We ran into several benches along the way. My youngest kept saying, "We're exploring the forest! We're in the FOREST!"

We came out of the trails to the paved path at the south side of the lake. We stopped for a snack and to observe the turtles, frogs and fish.

Lots of turtles

We saw some cyclists on the paved path taking photos of something, and one came by and warned us about a copperhead snake on the path ahead.

We decided to walk back to our car on the paved path on the other side of the lake, but next time I think we would go the opposite way and explore the dirt trails on the other side of the creek. We were there a little less than 2 hours, and none of us were too wiped out. The kids say they want to return there to hike again.

We plan to try out a different hiking spot next week. Have you been hiking in North Texas? Where do you recommend?