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Test Trip – Chapter 3

Waco, TX

Sadly, our first “long” stay at a campground came to an end.  We were excited to continue our journey, but unsure about how any other campgrounds could compete with The Vineyards Campground & Cabins in Grapevine, TX.  Well, less wind would be a start.  Fewer planes flying overhead, that would help too.  We got neither.  This stop included a little bit of everything: tourism, truck maintenance, rig upgrades, and extreme weather.

Airport Park

Our next destination was a U.S. Army Core of Engineers (USACE) campground – Airport Park in Waco, TX.  We’ve heard good things about USACE parks, which prompted a few questions.  Why does the Army make campgrounds?  What’s so good about these parks that everyone seems to rave about?  How can it be so good, but still be so inexpensive to camp there? 

The USACE mission is to “Deliver vital engineering solutions, in collaboration with our partners, to secure our Nation, energize our economy, and reduce disaster risk.”  So, in addition to building military facilities, they focus on disaster mitigation and the conservation of natural resources by building levees, dams, and recreation areas.  Most of the campgrounds are located next to lakes (like Lake Waco) and wilderness areas that provide day passes for boating, fishing, and hunting.  The campgrounds generally provide large sites with electric and water connections, sometimes a sewer connection, and have a 2-week stay limit.  They fall into the category of State Parks which keeps the costs down.

Our site at the Airport Park campground was huge, less than 100 yards from Lake Waco, and it included full hookups, a picnic table, and a charcoal grill.  The park was extremely clean and well maintained, and the picnic area next to our site was raked like a zen garden.  Our only complaint is that there was a good amount of airplane noise during the day, but this wasn’t a big surprise – it’s called Airport Park.  It’s not a commercial airport, so the noise subsided around 8 PM, unlike the DFW traffic at our campsite in Grapevine.


The main event for us in Waco was a visit to Magnolia Silos, the 4-square block property that is the business hub of the brand created by Chip and Joanna Gaines, the couple that came to fame on their HG TV show, Fixer Upper.  Our day began with a delicious breakfast at Magnolia Table, the restaurant that resides a few miles away from the Magnolia Silos property.  The service was friendly and the menu had lots of options with fresh takes on classic breakfast items.

We arrived at the Silos to find more than we expected.  The property includes gardens, a coffee shop, bakery, food trucks, a pristinely restored church, and multiple shopping options – the six cozy boutiques that line a bright green grassy area, or the Magnolia Home and Magnolia Market stores.  The wiffle ball field was an unexpected highlight that provided the necessary equipment to allow families to enjoy their time together at the Silos.  The whole property is bright and flowery, and you could easily spend a day here without breaking the bank. However, this requires more willpower than we had as we strolled around the unique offerings and branded souvenirs.

Prior to the existence of Magnolia, most of us probably associated Waco, TX with the cult-related disaster that occurred in the 90’s.  It’s really great to see how Chip and Joanna Gaines have, in our opinion, successfully rebranded the city of Waco.


While waiting for Walter’s tires to be rotated and balanced, I took a short walk over to the nearby Home Depot to find supplies for a few simple upgrades we have had on our list for years – outdoor lighting and a new shower head. 

The shower head upgrade was cheap and easy, and we regret not doing it sooner.  If you have an RV, do yourself a favor and don’t wait to make this improvement.  Our new shower head was not specifically for trailers and RVs, but it has a button to pause the spray of water, and that’s pretty much the only thing that differentiates the mobile shower heads from the ones at home.  This feature is handy for a couple of reasons.  First, the shower is small and it’s hard to get soapy when you can’t avoid the stream of water.  Second, it’s important to consider your grey tank capacity when camping without a sewer connection or boondocking.  Minimal use of water is essential when you don’t have the option to empty the tanks without moving the rig.  Installation required nothing more than unscrewing the existing shower head hose and connecting the new one.  The connection was the same size and the existing wall mount fit the new shower head perfectly.

The outdoor lighting upgrade was even more simple – multi-colored rope lights.  We purchased a model that is expandable and specifically designed for outdoor use.  On our next trip, we plan to enhance our lighting experience by connecting a Wi-Fi plug or a simple timer that will automatically turn the lights on at night and off during the day.

The Wind, Again

Everything was going well until our second last night in Waco.  The wind picked up and we took advantage of our recent experience in Grapevine by checking our weather apps and listening to our emergency weather radio.  Soon after, the unnerving winds were joined by rain and lightning, and our mobile apps informed us that there were tornado warnings in the area.  Outside, the chairs, rug, and shoebox – the plastic tackle box that stores flip-flops, sneakers, and boots – were making their way to new locations around our campsite.  I ran out to gather and store everything and when I returned, I asked the girls if they wanted to seek shelter in the cinderblock bathrooms that were a few hundred yards away from us.  They said yes, we grabbed Layla and Lucy, and ran part of the way to the car, but turned back because we couldn’t see anything outside.  When we looked toward the bathrooms, we saw nothing but blackness.  Everyone was soaking wet in the few seconds we spent outside.  We spent a few minutes staring at each other – me trying to remain super calm and not upset the rest of the family, and Honeybunch thinking, “Why are you being so calm?  We need to take action!”

Moments later, we heard an alarm that sounded like an air raid was approaching.  After a brief consultation with our friendly, full-timer neighbors Dan and Ginger, we decided to try the bathroom trip again.  We jumped in the truck, sped down the road with a fogged-up windshield, and pulled into the barely visible lot next to the restrooms and showers.  There were already a few other cars there.  The first door we tried was locked and we opened the next door to find ourselves in a small, single-shower room.  The wind howled around the structure and we invited Dan and Ginger to join us when we heard them arrive.  4 people, a dog, and a cat – that was pretty much the limit of this little room.  Dan calmed us all as he struck up a conversation about National Park passes, a new subject of interest to us, and we were grateful for the distraction.

After 20-30 minutes the winds declined and the frightening howls were quieter, but not quite gone.  Everyone left the shower room and headed back to the rigs where we immediately packed “go bags”, regretting our lack of preparedness during the first evacuation.  Luckily for us, Ginger was prepared, and she generously shared a towel and blanket as we shivered and sheltered from the storm.

Waco Mammoth National Monument

On our last day in Waco, we dusted ourselves off and headed to the Waco Mammoth National Monument.  We were excited to get our first stamp for the National Parks Passport booklet and to buy the America the Beautiful Annual Parks pass, an $80 purchase that will grant us admission to National Parks and Monuments for the next 12 months.  We arrived to discover we had forgotten to bring the passport booklet and they don’t sell annual passes here.  Thankfully, the parks are prepared for this, and they sell small, round stickers that can be stamped and them transferred to the passport booklet.

So, we paid the fee for three entries and began the short walk to the dig shelter that housed the fossilized remains of six Columbian mammoths and a saber-toothed cat.  It is believed that the herd was trapped by rising flood waters from the Bosque River roughly 70,000 years ago.  These fossils are unique because they all remain exactly where they were found in 1978 and the sheltering structure was built around them, allowing for public viewing, further excavation, and scientific study.  The site wasn’t established as a National Monument until 2015.

Next Time, Maybe

The stay in Waco went by quickly and was definitely overshadowed by the tornado scare.  If I can ever convince Honeybunch and Special K to return, there are a few sites still on the list; the Dr. Pepper Museum, the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame (the law enforcement outfit, not the baseball team), Cameron Park Zoo, and the Mayborn Museum Complex.  In any case, the Test Trip goes on and we’re really hitting our stride when it comes to campsite/trailer setup and teardown.  We’ve already learned a lot about long-term travel and we can’t wait to add more experiences to our list, preferably excluding extreme winds and storm warnings.

1 Comment

  1. Brenda C

    Great riding Jeffrey!! I could feel my anxiety build as I read about you coping with the tornado warnings !! Yikes. Sounds like quite an adventure overall and hope this is just one of many!! Love ya…Brend

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