Our first completely off-grid trip in the Prairie Schooner was to Colorado Bend State Park Texas. We had always, on prior test drives, been within close proximity to electricity/water/air-conditioning/potty/people who loved us… This was the first real Field Test of the Prairie Schooner and our preparations for #VanLife .

​Colorado Bend State Park Texas
The first thing that struck us was the cacophony of cicadas, singing in the trees around us. They do this amazing thing that makes me think of The Wave at sporting events… You can hear a multitude of cicadas across the river, begin their song and hear The Wave progress along the bank as others join in. We often sat in silent appreciation of the ebb and swell of their “song”.
Semi-primitive camping in Texas during July is not necessarily the most enjoyable of events, due to the heat and drought conditions, but it was a much needed respite for us since we have been going 120% on the minimalizing, van conversion, work, and housework for six months straight. Knowing that things would be “a smidge warm”, as Texans understatedly put it, we planned for light and cool meals, extra hydration, shade, and naps!
Dinner, Night 1
We were rewarded with a very welcome break from the stress and pressure of our life recently. Not a car alarm or horn was heard for three days and two nights… Exactly what we needed! We arrived Wednesday afternoon, and left Friday afternoon as the population began to pick up. With zero AT&T cell service, not a noise was heard that wasn’t a sound of nature! As a Pet-Friendly park, they request that you keep the pooches on a short leash (6′) and with you at all times.
In addition to friendly and knowledgeable park staff and volunteers, our only contact for the first day or two were snuffling armadillos, mischievous raccoons, plentiful deer with many fawns, industrious red ants, elegant Grey Sand Cranes, graceful White Egrets, and Red-tailed Hawks.
As with most Texas State Parks, they have composting toilets available for visitors, along with fresh water and even an open-air shower. The park is largely undeveloped, with very minimal improvements. (We used the drive-up tent sites that are only improved with two parking stones, one picnic table, one fire pit, and one HUGE shepherd’s hook for a lantern. Each site was nestled under huge Live Oaks with sprawling canopies for plentiful shade.) With the drought conditions, there was a Burn Ban in effect, so our propane Camp Chef Stove & Oven was the perfect choice of equipment.
When we placed our reservation, we inquired as to which sites would have morning sunshine (feed the solar panels) and afternoon shade (beat the heat) and were given the preferred sites that we should request. With a $5 per person entrance fee per day, we seriously considered renewing our annual State Park Pass, but opted to hold off on the purchase due to budgetary considerations. (If at all possible, the State Park Pass is something every Texan should have!) The drive-in tent sites rented for $15 per night, and were spacious enough that even over a weekend, you would not be too crowded by a neighbor.
While the Colorado River is the highlight Colorado River, Colorado Bend State Parkof this park, it boasts a stunning waterfall (Gorman Falls), some wonderful caving (tours available), and a series of spring-fed pools with limestone bottoms and crystal clear water. There were fishermen on the River, and kayak rentals available.
After a day of rest, recreation, and copious amounts of relaxation, following dinner we sat in our camp chairs in the dark, watching the Milky Way coast across the sky and counting falling stars. The night sky was crystal clear and the stars were breathtaking!
The dark of night brought out a new assortment of creatures and critters with what appeared to be a mass migration of armadillos. They are curious and inquisitive little creatures with very poor eyesight. More than one was fascinated by the white dog, and she was just as fascinated with them! One armour-plated giant trundled directly up to her with no sense of fear or impending doom! We had to actually put her way, in the van, to get them to leave her alone. Sily ‘dillers!
When it is so very hot and dry with a breeze, lots of hydration is needed! The breeze helps to keep you cool, but it deceptively evaporates your sweat as soon as you can sprout it, so you mistakenly think its not so hot and that you aren’t’ even sweating. This is very incorrect and can quickly lead to heat issues. Make sure you are drinking durned near a quart of water every hour, so that you need to use the restroom every hour.
We used about ten gallons of water every day, six gallons in drinking water for two adults and two 50-pound dogs, plus another four gallons of non-drinking water for rinsing dishes, wetting the dogs’ fur to help keep them from overheating (dogs don’t sweat, so this is additional cooling for them), human rinsing (blowing dust itches), dog bowls (they drank both types of water, plus river water and spring pool water), and cooking.
The solar shower worked like a charm! The first day, Solar Hot Water & Showerwe had tepid water and it was refreshing to use for rinsing off. The subsequent days, we filled it up at night and it solar warmed all day to make some seriously hot water – almost too hot with which to bathe, but fantastic for dish washing and foot washing and laundry rinsing. Three-gallons was enough for two semi-showers and one set of dish washing.
I had forgotten about SAND BURRs! Oh my… what a horrible little weed! The poor dogs and their linoleum paws… “tenderfoot” barely begins to describe it! LOL! First they begin walking on all four paws, and soon its a three-legged dog, and then suddenly it becomes a two-legged dog and you have to stop to take pity on them and deburr their little tootsies. That good laugh out of the way – they also stick to women’s foamy flip-flops and men’s shoelaces… Take your shoes off before getting into the van!
Coffee, Tea, and an Epiphany
So, the first morning, shortly after dawn, as we were beginning to stir and start our day, I set out to make a cup of coffee for me and a cup of Earl Grey for Rock.
I stood there, feeling the little waves of warmth lap against my skin on the breeze from the gas flames, seeing the morning sunshine shimmering on the pan of water, hearing the little song birds twittering around us, smelling the faint scent of coffee grounds waiting for their hot water, and anticipating the taste of fresh coffee that would soon wash through my mouth… it dawned on me.
With all of our “modern conveniences” that are sold to us as time-saving equipment, all we have done is removed ourselves from the present moment of making coffee and hurled ourselves in to the multi-tasking mindlessness of poking a button on the coffee pot and turning to go answer eMails while it percolates.
We miss out on the silence in our mind, of simply enjoying the moment and patiently waiting for the coffee water to heat.
I enjoyed the quiet of mind and the lack of busy-ness that my single-tasking afforded me. And my coffee had never tasted better…
… and we really were “living in a van, down by the river!”
Official YouTube for Colorado Bend State Park Texas

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