My sister lives in Sugar Land, Texas, near Houston. She and her husband, Don, also have a log cabin on Lake LBJ, west of Austin. So Texas was a draw for us, and we wanted to get there before the summer heat. We planned to meet at Inks Lake State Park, northwest of Austin, where we would camp a couple of nights before going to their cabin for Memorial Day weekend.
Kate and I drove for two days from Santa Fe (stopping at Waylon Jennings RV Park near Lubbock). We got to Llano, a cute little town half an hour from the park, at dusk and parked for the night in a city park. The park has areas set up for RVs, with hookups, for just $15 a night. We figured we’d get some sleep, then get to the state park early to nab a good site.
State Park Shuffle
Texas state parks have some interesting rules when it comes to campsites. You can make a reservation, but you don’t get to choose a site until you get to the park. When I called the park beforehand, I was told that people start lining up at 8:00 for registration, which begins at 9:00. Because it was the week before Memorial Day weekend, they were expecting a full park.
So I got up early and drove in the CRV from Llano to the park, getting there at 8:30. The office was already filled with people wanting to check in or switch to a different site. It was 9:45 before I had my campsite registration in hand. Checkout isn’t until 2:00, but the site I chose was vacated early, so I called Kate and she drove Bessie over. I’d gotten a good site on the lake shore, and we set up camp, blew up our canoe, had lunch, and waited for Beth and Don.
Beth and Don arrived mid-afternoon from Sugar Land, and Beth and I were downright giddy to see each other. Beth is my only sister, and we are close as can be. When my mother was alive and living in Sugar Land, I would fly in twice a year to visit and help out however I could. Mom had Alzheimer’s the last seven years of her life, and although she lived in assisted care, so much fell on Beth’s shoulders. (For more on my relationship with my mother and her struggle with Alzheimer’s, see Disappearing Act.) But I’d only been back once since my mom died two years ago, and Kate hadn’t see Beth and Don since Mom’s memorial service.
My little sister is the most creative, fun, unabashedly silly person I know. As a kid, she made up plays and musicals and always had a part for me. She dragged our little brother into tea parties with costumes and elaborately detailed personas that must be properly assumed. Concocted 1950s dance parties, neighborhood circuses, scavenger hunts… As an adult, she was a creative dramatics teacher and at reunions, she’d direct activities for all the little cousins.
At 58, she hasn’t changed a bit. She can belt out a show-tune medley like a pro, complete with overly dramatic gestures and expressions. When a recent surgical procedure sent her home with a catheter for a week, she wrote a hilarious rap song about the humiliating ordeal. (I have this on video and could use it as collateral if she ever starts to care what other people think.)
I’m not sure I could ever get enough of my sister. And she married a man who not only appreciates the wildness of her nature but encourages it and joins in himself from time to time. So the four of us were excited to see each other again and have a good stretch of time together.
There was one site right next to us, empty when we arrived, and we watched it carefully because its occupants could make or break our time there. When we saw a family with four young kids pull in, we weren’t sure what to think, but they won us over quickly. The mom’s dreadlocks reminded us of our son, Jesse (his dreads hit his waist), and the kids were all adorable. They introduced themselves right off. The kids were Lily, Sailor (I love that!), Alder, and baby Matilda. The parents didn’t look old enough to have these kids, but they were so patient and sweet with them, not once showing frustration.
When they brought out their pet bunny, Magda, on a leash, we couldn’t keep our hands off her. The kids shared watermelon with us, sat down, and chatted like old friends. Under different circumstances, it might have felt invasive, but we loved this family and absolutely enjoyed having them nearby.
We’re so used to crystal clear lakes in Oregon, we weren’t impressed by the muddy brown water in the lake. So even though we were dripping hot, we didn’t swim. We couldn’t keep Bailey out of the water that first afternoon, she was so excited to be camping right on it. But because of her abscess, we bathed her after and tried to keep her clean.
We were happy to get a chance to use our blow-up canoe. First Beth and I went out (with Bailey, of course), then Kate and I. At one of the lake, there’s a swimming hole with rocky cliffs that are perfect for jumping from. We hung out there for a while and watched kids taking turns jumping into the water.
At nightfall our first evening, lightning and thunder started up and we raced around in the balmy wind, folding up chairs and covering bikes. We nestled into Bessie just as the downpour hit, and the storm carried on all night, pounding the roof so hard we had to shout to each other to be heard.
Beth and Don had pitched a tent, but when the storm was clearly going nowhere, Beth and I drenched ourselves with a quick run to the tent and retrieved their stuff. Good thing Bessie is big enough for all of us, with the drop-down bed over the front seats and the dinette bed.
I’d been to Inks Lake once before on a day trip from the cabin, but I’d never seen it green and lush like this. This was the peak of the wildflower season for Texas Hill Country, and recent rains were like steroid injections for plant life. We’d missed the blue bonnets, but yellow and red daisies crowded every open patch, pushing up against the cacti.
The day after the rainstorm, the sun came out and we hiked up rocky hills for views of the lake and streams that were now roaring waterfalls. Wildflowers escorted us all the way, and the pathway seemed enchanted.
When we arrived at the park, we were warned that two rabid foxes had been captured at the park the week before. And a rabid possum before that. So when we watched a cardinal attacking the windows and mirrors of our car relentlessly, for all three days, it was the first thing that came to mind. Can birds get rabies? But I think this studly bird was protecting its territory from that damned look-alike that would not be frightened away from the confines of the car.
With a 2:00 checkout, we thought we’d spend another half day on the lake, but the weather report was bleak. So after breakfast our second morning, we packed it up and hightailed it for the cabin.