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  • J.F. Rowan

Buffalo Lake NWR - Umbarger, TX.

Yes, our last night at Palo Duro Canyon State Park had an interesting twist to it, to say the least. (If you have not read the last blog, go back and read at least the ending.) As it turned out, our new neighbors mistakenly locked themselves out of their rented "Class-A" coach! When the lady of the coach exclaimed to us, “I have made a terrible mistake, I’ve locked us out of our coach, and one of my dogs is still in there!”, Yvette and I both looked at each other, jaws dropped. The temperature inside the coach was cool so the dog would be safe, at least for a bit. But no-one had any real cell service so calling AAA (or anyone else for that matter) was not in the cards. It was just after 5 PM so there wouldn't even be anyone in the campground office. On a hunch, I got out of my chair and said, “I have an idea, let's take a look at the door.” For the sake of security, I won’t tell you exactly what I did, but within 2 minutes, I had the door open. It was a 1000 to 1 shot, and it worked. They were very grateful and we made two new friends. Great people that we won’t soon forget. The next morning we left camp smiling as we passed their coach and headed to our next destination.

Palo Duro Canyon to Buffalo Lake National Wildlife Refuge

A relitively short distance between Palo Duro and Buffalo Lake.

The following day...

It is 7 AM and I awake to the sound of not one, but two distant trains. Their horn blasts remind me of sitting on our porch at our old homestead and hearing the Montreal train heading through Cushman Center (Massachusetts) on an early summer evening. I seem to dream almost every time I sleep dreaming mostly in the morning just before I awake. The dreams usually consist of someone I know, a place I am familiar with and most generally are in color. Those first few moments when I finally awake, I don’t generally know where I am other than a bed. Today, I look out my bunk window and I see a long almost empty row of primitive campsites. Primitive in the sense that there are no hookups (water, electric, septic etc). Just a slightly worn area where vehicles have parked and a set of concrete picnic tables. Oh yeah, now I remember! We’re at Buffalo Lake National Wildlife Refuge!

One of the more typical "bare bones" campsites. Worked well for us as we had everything we needed onboard.

By the end of the first day, there is only one other guest parked about 400 yards from us. We don’t hear them or pay much attention to them. Like us, they are probably here for the same reason we are. For a little bit of what Mother Nature has to offer and some peace a quiet through this Easter Holiday weekend. This refuge, and I think other refuge areas in general, are little-known secrets among campers. Only those willing to do the research find out there are primitive sites like this that cost very little and are located across the country. They (“They” being the federal government) have either accidentally or coincidentally made it difficult to find these places even with the luxury of today’s internet. The design of some of the government’s “Fish and Wildlife” website doesn’t always allow for “logical” navigation. Finding information can be a lot like finding a needle in a haystack. But if you have someone like my wife who likes to dig for information like its a murder mystery, eventually all will be revealed. Once Yvette gets a hint as to the likelihood of a free or almost free camping area, she’s like a Bass after a minnow. The legal pad, pen, and scribe come out of hiding and the hunt is on! We don’t usually have access to the internet while we camp so the best time for her to search is while we drive using the trucks “Wifi hot-spot”. Most places are so remote, we barely get phone service (Verizon). However, our truck is covered by an AT&T data plan who’s coverage seems to be more prevalent here and out west than our Verizon plan. You can tell when Yvette is “on the case” when we go for miles while her head is staring down at her iPad totally focused, her scribe making occasional sweeping movements across her screen, occasionally taking notes on her legal pad. How she doesn’t get carsick doing this is beyond me.

Migratory birds seemed sparse, but you could still find some good birding with a little work.

So it was when we went into the town of Canyon (TX) the other day. During a random search, Yvette discovered this particular wildlife refuge on the map, not 30 miles from our then current spot at Palo Duro Canyons and decided as soon as we had internet service (again, while we were heading to town for provisions) she would do some investigating. About ten minutes into our trip to Canyon she proclaimed, “After we get groceries, I want to go on a little road trip, a fact-finding mission.” all the while keeping her head down still concentrating on her screen. Sure enough, after a quick grocery stop, she plugged in coordinates into the trucks nav system of our new destination.

Self-Check In just outside gate.

Twenty or so minutes later I see a sign, “Buffalo Lake NWR Next Left". The access road is about a mile of well-maintained dirt road and you arrive at a gate prefaced by a small shelter on the right-hand side that houses the self-payment envelope kiosk, posters of refuge information and rules about the facility. Our understanding of what information we have is that if you have the “America The Beautiful” pass, the $2 per night camp fee is waived. I may have mentioned this before, but the $4 per night fee at Muleshoe NWR was also waived when we stayed there. (Click here for the Mule Shoe Blog). We fill out the ticket for day use just to check out the park, and head to the main office to ask for details and clarification. The neat little government building is locked. “Huh,” I say to my wife, “Sort of reminds me of Muleshoe.” Meaning we went to the office there during the week and it too was locked and unmanned for no apparent reason.

As with other places we've visited, fire prevention sometimes requires a prescribed burning.

We proceed through the gate and note the sign that says, “Automatic gate closed and locked at 8 PM). There is a spike strip on the exit side of the entrance that will shred the tires of anyone that attempts to get into the park after hours through the exit side. We drive through the camping area and though primitive, they are clean, have a decent view and have updated vault toilets at either end of the strip of sites. After a quick survey of the sites, we decided when our time was up at Palo Duro State Park our next stop would be Buffalo Lake.

Tire shredder will stop those from getting in after hours.

So that’s how we got here. As I write this (which usually happens over a period of days) there have been a few strange events that have occurred. First, a couple came flying in with a Jeep Cherokee. They drove up and down the strip of sites, finally pulling into one about 200 yards away. In broad daylight, the guy jumped out of the jeep and relieved himself while the gal got out, squatted, and did the same. Apparently, the two bathrooms they passed didn’t register. They would proceed to stay the night, in a small tent and then leave the next day “hell bent for election” all the while distributing their accumulated garbage in the wind as they drove. Yvette picked up what she could, but the Texas winds got the best of it and it can still be seen caught amongst the Yucca. The next night we were treated to a couple that seemed innocent at first, in their sixties, smiles, and waves as they passed us and set up camp. Then like a light switch, the yelling began for about two hours straight. The “F” bomb delivered a few hundred times along with other names I’ll leave to your imagination. They left the next morning before sun-up. Finally, a woman in her thirties drove into the area about 2 PM (Easter Sunday mind you…), didn’t register and parked her small SUV about the sites away from ours. She sat in her car, by herself. After about 3 hours, Yvette went to check on her and she said she was fine, she just wanted a little quiet time on her Easter Sunday. Other than taking a few minutes to drive to the bathroom 400 feet away (yes, I did say, “drive”) she stayed in the spot until about 930 PM.

Just a few nieghbors.

So, never a dull moment for sure. You have to stay alert and aware of whats going on without being too paranoid. We put out security cameras, lock the doors and keep our heads up and on a swivel. During our entire stay at Buffalo Lake, there has not been a Sheriff or any refuge official that has driven by. A little disconcerting, but we don’t let that keep us from enjoying the solitude and the wildlife that’s here. A decent trail system and plenty of information Kiosks around to give us an idea of what kind of “management” is being done in the area. Though if I’m being honest, it seems that the lack of water and the annual decrease in the size of the Aquifers seem to be downplayed a bit. There are other stories and history of this area that are interesting, so do a google search if you crave more tidbits. We have a few more days here and then it’s off to Meredith Lake NWR, also in Texas, as we make our way to Colorado.

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