Thursday, March 31, 2011

Millwood Landing Golf Club

How nice is it to walk outside and have the staff at your campground/golf course pick you up to take you over to the the golf cart barn to grab a golf cart? At which point you drive the golf cart back to your trailer to load up your golf bags and drive onto the course to play 18 holes? Let me tell you it's wonderful! Add to that a ridiculously low price to play golf (a special favor from the pro shop employee) and it was a fun day.

To be perfectly honest, the golf course here is a little rough. The staff is watering the fairways and greens but they haven't kept up with the grass cutting (as a matter of fact they were cutting the fairways as we were playing today) and the fairways need some reseeding as do the greens. This golf course is set up beautifully for play, however, and with the influx of a little money could be a wonderful little golf course. There are some houses along the back nine but for the most part it's just you and the golf course. There are plenty of mature trees lining the fairways and Denny found a lot of them, but straight shots will get you par easily. Even I made a couple today. There were only five other golfers on the course today which is a shame because the course can be a challenge and it reminded us of one of our favorite courses in the hilly area of northwestern South Carolina.

For the golf course statistics; Denny played the blue tees for a total yardage of 6413 yards. The rating/slope is 70.4/118. I played the ladies red tee at 4731 yards with a rating/slope of 68.4/122. There are sand traps on the course but they didn't come into play much for us (okay, one time for me) and the only troublesome water is the 16th hole which is a par 3 (shown in the picture below.)
This is a pretty, well-laid out course that has tremendous potential if there was a little money invested in its maintenance and upkeep. And it's always nice to play at a leisurely pace (especially when your husband is hitting WAY errant shots into the woods.) We liked it.

Crater of Diamonds State Park

I've used a pick axe to mine coal in Nova Scotia, picked up garnets from the ground in Maine, sluiced for rubies and sapphires in North Carolina and now I've dug for diamonds in Arkansas.

The Crater of Diamonds State Park is the only diamond mine in the world that is open to the public for mining. Arriving at the Crater of Diamonds State Park you'll see people wandering around with pick axes, 5 gallon buckets, trowels, box screens and wearing heavy rubber mucking boots. And here came Denny and I with our little gardening trowel and a small little bucket and knee pad--what rank amateurs we were! But we were soon to find that you can rent (for a large deposit) all the tools you need to either dry-screen or wet-screen for diamonds here at the park.Upon entering the visitor center/mine entrance you will pay your $7 adult entry fee (no senior discount, sigh) and then you are pointed in the direction of the mine. There is a small display of rough diamonds in the lobby of the visitor center so you at least have an idea of what you are looking for. Walking downstairs to the video area, there are some story boards that tell of finds by other people and there's a brief video clip on how to dry screen for diamonds and one on how to wet-screen for them. Then you walk to the cashier where you can purchase trowels, plastic booties, bags and other supplies or you can rent a basic kit (bucket, shovel, two screens) for your search. Then you walk out to the mine, which is simply 37 acres of plowed field.There is no rhyme or reason as to how you'll find diamonds or where. They have been found by people walking along the furrowed rows and simply picking them up, by people digging down deep and washing buckets of gravel in the sluice area and by people shaking a shovel's worth of dirt through a box screen. Denny and I rented a box screen which Denny used while I hand-sifted through the dirt. You are told that you should lo0k for "the sparkle" but unfortunately we picked a cold, damp, dreary, overcast day to go to the park so we didn't have that advantage. Plus it had rained on Monday so the ground was damp to sit upon and to try to work through the box screen was difficult as in places digging in the soil would just bring up clay-like lumps of dirt. We did work through the greenish colored soil that is known to bear diamonds but alas, there was no joy in Mudville this day. On the 20th of March someone went home with a 2 carat white diamond but we were diamond-less on this search. It was fun, but we left sooner than we would like because it was cold and windy and we became thoroughly chilled which took away from our little adventure. We would both like to return someday but the next time we would bring something to sit upon, either a waterproof mat or a camp stool or folding chair and I would make sure it's a bright sunny day and that the park staff had recently plowed the fields (apparently they do that every so often.) Overall it was a good experience and we definitely would return if we were ever in the area again.

Now I just have to find an emerald mine....

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Tawakoni Golf Club

Tawakoni (ta WAH ko nee) Golf Club in West Tawakoni, Texas has the potential of being a really nice little golf course with some terrific views of Lake Tawakoni as you play. At the moment however, the course is a tad on the rough side and I'm not sure if that's because it is winter here or if that is its normal condition. There is no apparent watering system for the tee boxes or fairways and it shows. The greens seem to be watered and kept cut so there is that to be thankful for. But a drive down the middle of the fairway can hit a clump of grass on that hardpan surface and kick straight right or left on you for no reason. And here we thought we'd play well because the Texas winds were quiet for once!From the men's blue (championship) tees the golf course is 6697 yards long with a rating/slope of 72.6/124. The white tees make the course 6320 yards long with a rating/slope of 70.7/121. There are also senior and women's tees. The women's yardage is 5050 yards with a rating/slope of 69.7/116. I was able to get more distance on low flying shots due to the hard surface of the course since the ball would run quite far if it didn't hit a rough spot. Large oak trees lining the fairways can be a problem although the fairways are reasonably wide. Ten of the holes have water that can come into play (and did). There are a couple of sand traps on hole eleven which I remember because I shot out of one into the other, but I can't recall sand traps on many of the other holes. Or else Denny and I just managed to avoid the sand traps on all the other holes.

Green fees with a riding cart were $24 each, credit cards accepted. There didn't seem to be a snack bar or restaurant on the grounds so it is bring your own here. A sign in the parking lot says no alcoholic beverages are allowed on the grounds but the empty beer cans in the garbage cans at the tee boxes seemed to put the lie to that.

I have to say that despite the golf course's condition we had fun playing here. There were only about 20 other people on the golf course with us and we never had anyone on our heels during play. That always makes for a more relaxing round of golf and usually better scores for the two of us. A sunny day, no wind, low humidity and out playing golf with my best friend. It just doesn't get any better than that.
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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Water Witchery

As I sit here watching the sparkling waters of Lake Tawakoni I realize how very lucky I am to be able to live the lifestyle of full time travel. It's 5 o'clock and the sunlight has turned the surface of the lake into millions of diamond-like sparkles and fishing boats are simply dark silhouettes against the light. I am content to sit for hours just watching the water birds diving and swooping in the peaceful calm of day. This is how I always react when I am in the vicinity of water--I hunker down and settle in. Around water I am content to just "be".

Perhaps that comes from spending many an hour at my grandfather's side sitting with cane poles in our hands fishing for crappie and catfish. Or from the lulling action of the water when sitting a boat trolling for walleye or pike or anchored in the reeds while attempting to lure a lake perch onto my line. Maybe it's the hours I've spent walking beaches with Denny or my mother. Whatever the reason, I feel at peace here and on this day, the second anniversary of my mother's death, that's a good thing. A very good thing.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Quiet Time

I've been AWOL again. For the past two weeks we've simply sat here under the pecan trees,listening to the sounds of the woodpeckers and the owls.

Patches and I walk along the riverbank, she looking for ground squirrels and gophers, me looking for fish other than the carp that abounds here.Occasionally I'm able to drag Denny out of the trailer, once to play miniature golf here on the grounds of the campground...
and sometimes to make the one mile loop around the dirt road where haughty hawks look down upon us...

or naughty deer let us know what they think of us wandering around in their territory. (You'll have to click the picture and look closely to see what I'm talking about) Being so far from a big town is nice for the peace and quiet, but not so good for sightseeing. The cost of diesel fuel makes us think twice about driving 120 miles for a 45 minute tour of a beer brewery and a free beer. Instead I pour us a nice cool adult beverage and we sit in the shade of our trailer watching the cardinals, wrens and squirrels chasing each other in a springtime mating ritual that often makes us laugh.Sometimes the best way to travel is to stay "home".

Friday, March 11, 2011

Columbus Golf Course

There aren't a lot of inexpensive golf courses in Colorado County, Texas, nor are there a lot of eighteen hole golf courses. Most of the courses are several miles away and with the price of diesel fuel currently at $3.79 or more here, Denny and I chose to play the local nine hole golf course here in Columbus, Texas.

Columbus Golf Course is a little pricey at $30 per person to play 18 holes with a riding cart but the cost of driving a lot farther out cancels out the benefit of a cheaper round. Denny and I weren't real impressed when we walked into the clubhouse, which is supposedly undergoing remodeling. For the time being the pro shop is in the bar which is also the snack bar. There are no balls for sale, no golf clubs, no shoes, no alcoholic beverages of any sort, no hot food. You have the choice of a variety of bags of chips and soda pop should you become hungry during your round. I suggest you bring your own snacks and drinks.

Once we walked over to the first tee we were pleasantly surprised by the condition of the fairways and greens. The course plays 5635 yards for the men who start off playing the blue tees on the front nine and the red tees on the back nine. The slope/rating is 120/66.5. For the women the yardage is 4804, playing the white and the red tees.

Mature oak trees caused us the most problems with their low hanging branches. Denny and I both hit into and through the trees several times although the fairways aren't really all that narrow. It's simply an errant shot can cost you an extra shot or two. There are several ponds fronting or beside some of the holes which also makes the round a little more interesting.

Speaking of interesting, how many golf courses have a cemetery as a hazard? Click on the picture below to enlarge it and look on the right side of the photo to see what I mean. This is the 7th/16th hole which has an extreme dogleg to the right passing behind the cemetery after you hit the ball off the tee. I actually took this photograph well to the left of the tee box to show the cemetery better. Believe me, the slightest slice and your ball will be resting in the cemetery.
The eighth hole is also made a bit more interesting by the fact that there are two greens for the hole, both protected by water. You play the green on the right on the front nine and the green on the left on the back nine. And I hit my two of my best drives each time on this hole, meaning I hit the ball hard enough for it to roll into the water. And here the ponds are either too murky or the banks drop off too steeply to be able to retrieve any balls. Just consider them lost if you hit into the water at this course.
Prices go up $10 on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. This is a walkable course and this time of year Denny and I were among only a handful of players on the course in the late morning hours. Despite the price, we'll probably go back next week, simply to attempt to play the course better than we did the first time.

And if you are hungry afterward, we suggest Schobel's Restaurant in town. If you get there before 2:30PM they have an excellent lunch buffet or a great lunch menu.
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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

300 Miles

My friend Vicki left a comment on FB asking me what I thought of Columbus, Texas. We arrived here Monday afternoon and here are my thoughts so far: night and day.

To say our month in Harlingen was a windy one would be a tad of an understatement. The wind sounds different here, being buffered by 200 year old pecan trees that surround our section of the campground. In the late afternoon instead of increasing in strength, the winds faded to a gentle breeze, allowing me to sit outside and read a magazine without having the wind rip the pages from my hands. In Harlingen we had to weight all of our plates, napkins and cups at happy hour to prevent them from being blown into the next county.

There is real grass here, not that brown straw-like stuff that crackles and crunches as you walk across it. A herd of more than fifty deer went running across the meadow the evening of our arrival, making us smile as we quickly lost count in their passing. Instead of sparrows, doves and grackles, I'm watching meadow larks, cardinals, sparrows, chickadees, cormorants and three different types of woodpeckers including that Woody Woodpecker of birds, the pileated woodpecker.
In Harlingen we were camped at a RV resort; a community of over 800 grass and concrete sites neatly lined up in rows along asphalt roadways surrounded by chain link fence topped with barbed wire. Here, the campsites have a gravel pad to park upon as well as gravel roads and we're parked backed up to the Colorado River.Monday night Denny and I ran into town and had the best meal we've had in weeks at a locally owned and operated restaurant, where the townspeople come in to sit and jaw for a while. They have kolaches here, although I'll make my own now that they are on my mind.

But the best part? I can sit outside at dusk without a heavy hoodie and watch the world go by without being beaten about and chilled by the never ending wind.

So what do I think of Columbus, Texas? I like it.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Time Passages*

*Al Stewart, songwriter

Almost a month has come and gone since we arrived in Harlingen. We will have memories of friends, sun and wind. Lots of wind.

Ten years ago Denny and I spent two months here. We visited the military academy and the museum, drove way up to the King Ranch and toured it, toured aloe factories (no longer here) and fruit packing plants (also no longer here) so this trip was for enjoying our time with our friends and just chilling. Computer problems meant I didn't chill as much as I would like but I was finally able to get a little color back on my face thanks to sunny days.

I got a new toy this month; a Kindle. Denny discovered we could use credit card points to buy gift cards to the Amazon site so I indulged myself in a Kindle. I've been busy downloading old classics and favorites as well as some free word games to work my brain cells as I walk the cat. Free is good! Normally I like to take my camera on our walks, but this campground is basically all asphalt and concrete so picture taking opportunities have been few and far between. So I've been working my mind instead while Patches stalks birds and jack rabbits (who simply scurry out of range and sniff in disgust as she comes near.)

My biggest complaint about this area; it needs fun, locally owned and operated restaurants that specialize in American foods or foods of a nationality that is not Mexican. There is a dearth of good restaurants here which is a shame considering the number of "winter Texans" that arrive by the thousands after Christmas.

I think we are now totally finished with the Rio Grande Valley. Denny had fun playing golf with the guys instead of his golf duffer wife and I enjoyed a little time to myself after all these years of 24/7 togetherness. Sad to say, this part of Texas simply doesn't appeal to us for whatever reason. There are places where you instantly feel comfortable or "at home". This just isn't one of them. Monday we'll pack up and head north to explore a different area of Texas. It's my turn to play some golf with my man.
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