Friday, December 19, 2014

Trip Report: Hidalgo’s Festival of Lights (Videos)

Riding the Santa Express Through the Festival of Lights (Videos)

On December 18, 2014, Linda and I visited Hidalgo’s Festival of Lights.  The night was rainy, which made riding in the Santa Express a little uncomfortable, but we still had fun.  I used the helmet camera again and I think the video is better this time.  The Festival of Lights is very similar to a previous trip to Santa’s Ranch

The Festival of Lights Entrance
The Festival of Lights Entrance


Festival of Lights Background

The City of Hidalgo, along with a community of volunteers and local sponsors, has been hosting the Festival of Lights for 24 years as of 2014.  There are multiple ways to tour the lights.  You can drive your own vehicle by following the directional signs or ride a trolley at city hall. The Festival of Lights starts at 704 E. Texano Dr., Hidalgo, TX.  Furthermore, the Festival of Lights is the largest light festival in Texas with over 3 million lights this year divided up among 8 locations.  The event runs from December 1st to the 31st starting 6:00 PM.

The Express will take us all over Hidalgo for the tour
Santa's Express Warming Up

The price to tour the lights in your own car is free! However, if you want to ride the trolley and receive a dinner with musical entertainment that deal is available for $12.  To get tickets, call (956) 843-5311.  Finally, there are carnival rides, photos with Santa, and Mexican artisans at city hall for even more fun.

A little empty at the time because of the rain.
The Carnival available during the festival.  A little empty at the time because of the rain.

Dinner

The dinner starts at 5:30 PM, but we found a parking space (don’t worry someone will direct you into a parking lot) around 5:00 because we didn't want to be late.  We walked over to the city hall porch where there were multiple tables lined up for eating.  Our dinner was a choice of coffee, tea, or water, brisket, green beans, corn, mash potatoes, a roll, and a piece of cake.

The Lights

After dinner, we walked over to the trolley pick up location, but because it was raining, they were running three trams instead of the trolley aka Santa's Express.  We missed those first three trams, so the staff moved us over to a covered area for a 30 minute wait.  However, they decided to fire up the Santa Express shortly after that, and we hopped right on.

The Penguins

The start of the tour took us past Eskimo and multiple penguins.  Cars are backed up in this area because it is the start of the tour and the entrance to the parking lot.  We then moved on to an area with Mexican themed designs, like a Mayan Pyramid.


Train Station

After a bit, we made it to Santa’s Train Station in Old Hidalgo.  The theme comes from the actual Hidalgo train station (it’s no longer in use though).  At the corner, there is a fire truck and a fire dog, followed by Santa’s Candy Workshop.


Christmas Around the World

One of the final locations on our tour is the Christmas Around the World section.  There are multiple world recognized buildings like the Eiffel Tower and the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  After this it was a short ride back to city hall where we exited Santa’s Express.  The weather resulted in the live music being moved under a small tent, which was overcrowded.  So, we decided to head home for the night.


In Other News

In other news, Team Adventures With BeeGee will be taking the Christmas holiday and New Year’s off, so unfortunately there will be no new post until after that time.  However, there will be more post after that time and we look forward to you checking them out.  Until then, happy holidays and have a good New Year’s. 

What has been your favorite Christmas light even this year?  If you like the blog, go ahead and follow us on Facebook.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Our Wish List for 2015

Our Goals and Wishes for 2015

It is only tradition to prepare a set of goals for the New Year’s, and we have been thinking about all the fun things that we would like to do in 2015.  More likely, these goals will end up being more of a wish list than anything else.  I asked everyone about his or her goals and this is what we came up with.

hoping all our wishes come true!
BeeGee getting in the holiday spirit and hoping all our wishes come true!


BeeGee’s Wish List

1.  BeeGee’s biggest goal/wish for 2015 is spending as much time as possible in the outdoors or wilderness with her human companions.  She loves being outdoors with her friends
2.  BeeGee’s second goal is to run through at least 20 different swamps or murky water.  It feels good, cools her off, and there are just so many amazing smells.
3.  Her third wish for me to let her chase the stray cats we come across in our adventures and around our apartment.  Unfortunately, she probably won’t have this wish come true, just for everybody’s safety.
4.  Her final wish is that it is a good year for lizards.  BeeGee loves finding lizards on our hikes and trying to pounce on them as they hide on the edge of trails.  She has never been successful in catching one, but she will keep trying.

Jack’s Wish List

1.  Jack’s first wish is to fully explore the Enchanted Rock State Nature Area.  This includes walking to the highest point and exploring the caves in the park.
2.  His second wish would be to backpack Palo Duro Canyon State Park.  The canyon is the second deepest in the USA (the Grand Canyon is the only deeper canyon) and has over 30 miles of trails to explore.
3.  Jack’s third wish is to hike Longhorn Cavern State Park.  There are multiple tours available at the cave system, including a paranormal tour during the evenings.
4.  Jack’s final wish is to backpack Colorado Bend.  This park has it all with 32 miles of trails, caving, and swimming.

Linda’s Wish List

1.  Linda’s first wish would be to go fully into remission.  She is currently struggling with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), and this makes getting outdoors difficult.
2.  Linda’s second wish is to spend some time hiking in Scandinavia.  One amazing place she would love to hike is Kungsleden, Sweden.

Athena’s Wish List

1.  Athena would really like to visit McDonald’s Observatory in west Texas.  It’s a great place to visit and to see all those stars.
2.  Athena would also like to visit Enchanted Rock State Nature Area.  It has been a few years since she has explored the area and would love to get back out there.

Jarrett’s Wish List

1.  My first wish would be to spend around a week in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.  Just like Jack, I think this park has a lot to offer. 
2.  For my second wish, I would like to complete my first thru hike on the Lone Star Hiking Trail.  The trail is 130 ish miles long, but I would love to have an official thru hike under my belt. 
3.  My final wish, and most unlikely would be to take a backpacking and packraft trip.  I would backpack in Big Bend National Park and then packraft down the Rio Grande. 

If you could do anything you wanted, what would be your ultimate outdoor adventure in 2015?  If you like the blog, go ahead and follow us on Facebook.

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Trip Report: Monte Bella Trail Park

Riding the Monte Bella Trails

On December 14th, I finally made it to the mountain bike trails in Brownsville, Texas.  It was nice to ride a new trail, see some new scenery, and gain some new experiences.  If I were given 2 words to describe the Monte Bella Trails, they would be turns and flat. 

Background Information

Location: West Alton Gloor Boulevard, Brownsville, TX 78520
Admission: Free
Elevation: 790 to 950ft
Weather:  Partially cloudy, windy, 78F
Difficulty: Easy

The Monte Bella Trails were opened by the City of Brownsville in 2007.  There is currently 7 ish miles of trails that fit compactly in 100 acres.  This means you see a lot of tight turns and pass by other sections of trail as you flow through the park.  The “trails” are just short segments that are named, but there is no other way to ride.  In addition, there are 2 port-o-potties and a hand washing station on the premises, but permanent restrooms are being built.  Furthermore, there is a large field for sports, like soccer or football.  Finally, the parking lot is large, all gravel, muddy, and full of potholes so be careful.

The entrance sign to the Monte Bella Trails Park
The Monte Bella Parks Entrance


The Outer Loop

The Outer Loop is just a smooth, easy trail that travels around the large field at the park.  This trail is almost as easy as riding on the road.  Plus, it isn’t a required trail to make it over to the more difficult trails.  However, this trail is great for family rides or as a warm up segment.

Ridge Line #1

After a quick ride across a canal/ditch, you arrive at Ridge Line Trail.  Ridge Line is another smooth, easy trail that rides along one of the ridges of the canal.  The segment eventually curves into the woods and you reach a fork in the road.  Turn right (for a longer ride) to Pumba and left to Easy Does It.

The ride across the canal and up to Ridge Line #1
The ride across the canal and up to Ridge Line #1

Pumba Trail

On my ride, Pumba Trail was marked off from a recent mountain bike race.  I went under the red tape and almost immediately found 2-inch deep water and lots of mud.  After gingerly making it past the muddy section, I found branches growing into the trail, logs and sticks all over the track, and overgrown grass along the edges.  It doesn’t seem like people ride this section too often and I would avoid it in the future until it dries up.  However, the trail seems like it could be a fun trail with short climbs and drops.
 
The Fork for Pumba and Easy Does It
The Fork for Pumba and Easy Does It

The long section of muddy trail on Pumba
The long section of muddy trail on Pumba


Easy Does It Trail

Easy Does It is another extremely flat and smooth trail.  I was able to ride this section fairly fast, but there are some very tight turn and switchbacks throughout this section, which kept me on my toes.
 
An extremely tight turn on Easy Does It
An extremely tight turn on Easy Does It


Blair Witch

Just like Pumba, Blair Witch had been taped off for a recent mountain bike race.  This made it a little difficult to start out because the trail starts with a decent downhill.  I started by riding under the tape and down the hill.  Right at the bottom of the hill, I attempted to dodge a small branch at face level and ended up falling.  After getting up and dusting off, I continued on Blair Witch extremely slowly.  The trail was in rough shape with large branches blocking the trail (to the point I wasn’t able to duck under them on my bike) and fallen logs and sticks spread frequently on the trail.  This looks like a good trail when maintained, but I would skip it in the future. 

I can even see the spot I fell in this photo.
The downhill entrance to Blair Witch.  I can even see the spot I fell in this photo.

Frequent low branches made this a slow ride
Low Branches on Blair Witch. Frequent low branches made this a slow ride

3-Acre Loop

The 3-Acre Loop segment was pretty similar to all the other sections of the Monte Bella Trails.  The trail is smooth and fast with a few tight turns and switchbacks thrown in to keep it interesting.
 
full of tight turns and switchbacks
Another tight turn found on 3 Acre Loop

Woop-Dee-Doos

Next, I came to a fork in the trail, to the left was the emergency exit, and to the right was Woop-Dee-Doos.  The emergency exit runs down the middle of the park and is available at multiple points for a quick exit.  Woop-Dee-Doos is a short segment that is almost a straight line and mostly flat.  However, there is this wooden bridge/ up and over to add some much needed excitement.  When I first found the structure, I rode up and inspected it.  The wood is still sturdy, but it’s beginning to look a little dangerous.  I ended riding over it once and it was pretty nerve wracking, but thankfully, I survived.

Be careful on that thing!
The wooden bridge found on Woop-Dee-Doos.  Be careful on that thing!

Cactus Patch

Next up was the Cactus Patch segment, which turned out to be pretty enjoyable.  There was sparse cactus throughout the tide, but nothing like the cactus forest of the Mission Trails .  The track is smooth and flowing, which make for a fast ride.  Plus, there is a downed tree that has been converted into a large mound.  This was a lot of fun to ride over.  

A few cactus patches spread throughout the Cactus Patch Segment
A few cactus patches spread throughout the Cactus Patch Segment

Shingle Tracks/April Fool's/Ridge Line #2

I then came to Shingle Track, which was short, quick, and nothing else worth mentioning.  The only purpose is to connect with April Fool's.  April Fool's is another extremely short ride, but turned out to be the most fun I had on the ride.  It is an extremely fast ride, which you ride down a ditch, up the sides, and over mounds all while riding as fast as you can.  You exit at Ridge Line #2, which takes you parallel to the first segment (Ridge Line #1) and is a smooth, easy ride overlooking the main canal.

A hard left and a quick descent downhill and you are flying through April Fools
A hard left and a quick descent downhill and you are flying through April Fools

Serpentine

The final segment is Serpentine, which takes you back to the park entrance.  This turned out to be another of my favorite sections.  Serpentine is another segment that focuses on tight turns, but many of the turns are built on mounds.  This makes it a little more technical and a faster ride than other sections.  This really increased the excitement for me.

the final segment to finish your ride
Serpentine: the final segment to finish your ride

Final Thoughts

It was nice to finally make it over to Brownsville to ride.  The trails there are nice, but definitely not my favorite.  This should be expected because it’s a beginners course and very easy.  I plan to ride it again every time I make it over to Brownsville.  If you live in the area, make sure you get out there and try it. 

What are your thoughts on the Monte Bella Trails Park?  If you like the blog, go ahead and follow us on Facebook.

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Friday, December 12, 2014

Gear Review: Ahnu Montara Boots

My New Boots: Ahnu Montara Boots

Three weeks ago, I needed black or brown polishable comfortable work boots for my new job. The human resources woman suggested $30 polishable tennis shoes from Wal-Mart; but when I talked to my dad (who is on his feet all the time for his job); I was convinced I needed a higher quality shoe.

I headed over to REI because some of my favorite purchases have come from there (a rain jacket, touring backpack, and no-blister hiking socks). I tried some recommendations on at the downtown Austin REI location, but they did not have many choices or anything in my size in men’s shoes. I took the employees advice to trek up to the north location, but was feeling skeptical, especially because it was raining. I came upon one men’s boot that fit the bill, but was a size too big on my bigger foot.  I was clopping around so no go. Across the table, though, was this pair:  the Ahnu Montara Boot.

ready for work and play
The Ahnu Montara Boots: ready for work and play


The shoe guy came up to me and began to tell me the perks of the boot:  better version of Gore-Tex for really breathable waterproofness, Vibram sole (which my chacos and Vasque hiking shoes have and I love love love) and good ankle protection. The one downside he said was they were not for more than day long hikes, but I just wear them for the work day so that didn’t sound like too much of an issue.

Ready for a hard days work
Ahnu Montara Boots: Ready for a hard days work

The website now says they retail at $160, but I lucked out and they were $110 in-store. I know there is also a low-top version of this shoe if boots are not your jam.

Having to buy them and immediately start putting them to use, I worried about breaking them in.

Breaking Them in: Here is what I did.

I bought them on Friday, wore them while I worked on Saturday for six hours in the cold rain. I knew instantly they were a terrific purchase. My feet were the only thing warm and dry that day.  I gave my feet a rest from the new boots on Sunday and Monday, but wore them the next two days while learning the ropes of my job. Had Thanksgiving off, and worked a short Friday. The following Monday I started wearing them every day for work. By the end of the week, I definitely noticed a sensitive spot on the outer edge of one of my big toes. I used a band-aid for extra cushion while I worked on Friday, but then made sure to not wear them over the weekend. I was back in good shape by Monday.


comfortable enough to just relax in
Ahnu Montara Boots:  comfortable enough to just relax in

So far, I have not noticed a downside to them. They ran half-size small for me so I had to get a 9.5 when I usually wear a 9 running shoe. When it is real cold, wool socks are nice with them; however, any temperature above 50 degrees Fahrenheit is too hot, so regular tube socks work well. The shoe salesman at REI taught me how to tie them properly and I have never had them untie on the job. I have put roughly 40 miles on these boots and cannot wait to keep on walking in them!

What are your favorite pair of hiking shoes/boots? Also, if you like the blog, please follow us on Facebook.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Gear Review: GPS App Recommendations

3 Outstanding GPS Apps for Smartphones

For most people smartphones have become an important tool for going on adventures.  Most smartphones now include a camera, GPS functionality, music player, and a phone.  The big benefit is significantly decreasing the amount of gadgets and electronics you need to take with you when adventuring. 

As smartphones keep getting smarter, the number of amazing GPS/tracker apps just keeps increasing.  While, I haven’t used all of GPS apps out there (probably not possible), I have used 3 apps frequently for shorter duration adventures:  Google My Tracks, Endomondo, and Strava.  These apps work great for road cycling, mountain biking, or day hikes that are under 6 hours.  Anything much longer and my phone will run out of juice. 

Google My Tracks

When I began mountain biking in North Carolina, I quickly realized I needed a GPS tracking app to track basic data. Plus, it’s nice to know where you’ve been and how to get back.  I started with My Tracks because its ease of use and simple design.  Moreover, it records only path, speed, distance, and elevation.  My Tracks has almost no bells and whistles.  There are no social media sharing option or sense of community.  However, you can export your track as .gpx, .kml, or .tcx file, as well as watch your ride in Google Earth.  If all you care about is tracking your own data, then this is probably the app for you. My Tracks is available on Android (there is a version available for iOS, buts not a Google Product).  

The simple interface of Google My Tracks app
The simple interface of Google My Tracks

Endomondo

The next GPS app, I stumbled onto was Endomondo, mainly because it was more social oriented and tracks various sports (like running, cycling, and squash).  You can share your activities on Facebook and your friends can watch your progress live.  Plus, Endomondo records more data points: distance, duration, average and max speeds, calories, altitude, ascent, and descent.  Another nice feature is the ability to integrate this app into 3rd party apps.  If you use other apps like FitBit or MyFitnessPal, Endomondo will automatically export your data.  Furthermore, if you use a Bluetooth enable heart rate monitor like FitBit’s, you can connect that with Endomondo as well.  Finally, Endomondo host frequent challenges to push you to exercise more. 

Tracking a run using the Endomondo app
Tracking a run using the Endomondo app

I ended up upgrading to Endomondo Pro specifically for the battery saving mode.  Unfortunately, this really didn’t work on my phone.  It used pretty much the same amount of battery, while decreasing GPS accuracy.  If you need an app that is social and integrates with many other apps, Endomondo is probably the GPS app for you.  Endomondo is available on Android and iOS. 

Strava

I ended up using Strava because I liked the challenges and the king of the mountain (KOM) feature.  Strava also tracks multiple activities, but not as many as Endomondo.  Plus, it allows you to add the equipment you used, like which shoes you ran in or which bike you rode.  Strava records a large amount of data: distance, total duration, moving duration, average and max speeds, calories, altitude, ascent, descent, and estimated power.  Furthermore, Strava is very social.  You can share your rides on social media, give kudos and interact with other users, and compete on segments against other Strava users.  Specifically, the KOM feature shows your ranking against others who are riding/running the same trails you do.  Finally, is great about combining data to show you weekly and yearly totals.

The multiple screens available using the Strava app
The multiple screens available using the Strava app

Using Strava I was able to significantly decrease my ride times for multiple trails in my area because I could see how others were riding the trails.  This forced me to push myself harder.   In addition, I was able to compare my weekly and yearly stats to those I was competing against, which allowed me to spend more time on a bike.  Strava is available on Android and iOS.

Final Thoughts

If all you need is a simple GPS tracking app than My Tracks is likely your best option.  If you like being social and integrating with 3rd party apps, then Endomondo is the way to go.  If you are like me, data minded and a tad bit competitive, then Strava might work best for you. 

What other GPS apps have you used and which is your all-time favorite? If you like the blog, go ahead and follow us on Facebook.

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Monday, December 8, 2014

Book Review: Everest Pilgrim

A Book Review Over Everest Pilgrim

Today’s book review will cover Everest Pilgrim: A Solo Trek to Nepal’s Everest Base Camp and Beyond.  The book was interesting from cover to cover and an easy read.  It mostly covers a trek through the mountains of Nepal, but provides some useful information for someone looking to plan a trip.  In addition to today’s review, there are many others so go ahead and check out all our book reviews.

The front cover of Everest Pilgrim.
The front cover of Everest Pilgrim.


Background Information

Everest Pilgrim is approximately 151 pages and is only available in digital format at this time (I don’t think there will ever be a paper version).  This book was written by Tristan Higbee and is available for $3.99; however, I was able to get the book free from Amazon during a sale.  Higbee has published over 40 Kindle eBooks on various topics and runs a few different websites. 

Everest Pilgrim is a book about Higbee’s solo trek through the Himalayas in Nepal.  It begins with the purchasing of gear in Nepal, describes the walk and scenery between each small mountain village, and an appendix covering most of the information needed to plan your own solo hike.

What I Liked

The book provides good descriptions over the interesting places in Nepal that Higbee visited.  Plus, this book is extremely inspirational, and makes me want to get out and go adventure.  Straight from the author, “I loved my time spent hiking in Nepal’s Himalaya, but most of what I experienced can be experienced anywhere. Any mountains will do. Just go for it. If you don’t have mountains nearby, go out into whatever form nature takes in your area.”  He is correct, we all need to just get out there and have fun.

Another great aspect about this eBook is the color pictures.  As a frequent reader of eBooks, pictures tend to be rare and I don’t think I’ve seen any others with color pictures.  Moreover, the pictures are from some of the highest mountains in the world, which is truly awe inspiring. 

The Not So Good

This was just a solid book in almost every way, so there isn’t much that is bad.  My only real issue, even if it is kind of petty, is the book’s title.  I find it to be a little misleading.  The furthest Higbee makes it is to the Everest Base Camp, but to me the title implies he climb Mount Everest.  In addition, the Everest base camp is one of the last places Higbee visits, so there is only a little bit beyond.  And that is about all I didn’t like

Final Thoughts

I would recommend this to anyone who needs an inspirational adventure story or for those interested in a trek through the Himalayans.  However, I feel most people would find this an interesting read.  While I find the book to be a little expensive, I’d say go ahead and read it (If the price ever drops to $1.99 or below it is a must read).


Disclaimer: I purchased the reviewed copy and received no compensation for my review.

What inspirational book did you read most recently? If you like the blog, go ahead and follow us on Facebook.

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Friday, December 5, 2014

Outdoor News for December

Exciting News for Early December

While I missed reporting any news for the month of November, I am prepared to share the news I’ve found interesting for early December (mostly December at least).  First off, there are a lot of holiday options (Christmas and New Year’s) available in Texas State Parks, and I am hoping to experience a few.  Also, if you live in the Bastrop area, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department needs volunteers.  In national news, national park fees could be increasing in 2015 and learn more about the graffiti found in 8 parks.  Or you can check out our previous news reports.  Just updated: the City of McAllen is preparing for the largest parade in the area.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) News

As we near Christmas, TPWD will host 50+ holiday themed events during the month of December in over 40 parks.  There are a multitude of events from hayrides to hot coco and Christmas lights.  The holiday’s brochure can be found here, so have a nice holiday at a park.

The Christmas tree lighting. Courtesy of TPWD
The Christmas tree lighting at Lyndon B Johnson State Park. Courtesy of TPWD

Looking even further ahead to New Year’s Eve and Day, TPWD is participating in the First Day’s Hike initiative (an initiative to help people get a healthy start to the New Year).  67 Texas state parks are having hikes.  The majority of hikes will be on New Year’s Day, but for the adventurous, there will be a few on New Year’s Eve at midnight.  You can check out the complete list of hikes here.

In 2011, wildfires destroyed 96% of the “Lost Pines” forest in Bastrop State Park.  The park is located 30 miles south of Austin, TX and I spent a few summers there at Boy Scout summer camps.  TPWD and others have begun reforesting the Lost Pines forest and plan for a total of 40,000 volunteer planted trees.  To do this TPWD needs your help in 2014 and 2015.  As someone who enjoyed the area in their youth, I’d like to ask you to volunteer if you are able/in the area.  To volunteer just head here and sign up.

The Lost Pines after the 2011 Bastrop Wildfire.  Courtesy of AdobeAirStream
The Lost Pines after the 2011 Bastrop Wildfire.  Courtesy of AdobeAirStream

National Park Service (NPS) News

In NPS news, over 130 national parks have been given approval to increase annual passes, admission fees, and campsite fees in 2015.  While at first I was disappointed in the price increase, but after thinking about it for a bit, I’m fine with it.  The NPS has stated one reason is that there critical infrastructure projects that need funding.  The second reason is to prepare the parks for the 100th anniversary in 2016.  Even with price increases of 50%, national parks are still a bargain for a vacation compared to other places.  Plus, the extra funding will go into making the parks better than ever, so money well spent.

In other NPS news, albeit late, Instagram user creepy tings (now deleted) traveled to 8 different national parks and used acrylic paint to leave graffiti in each of the parks visited.  The story was released on Modern Hiker and is still being updated.  The NPS is working to find out more and to remove the graffiti, but the work is slow.

City of McAllen


The City of McAllen is planning the largest parade in the Rio Grande Valley on Saturday December 6th.  The fun begins with a Tamale Fest at McAllen Park beginning at noon, then a kid’s fun run at 4 pm, and followed by a Candlelight Posada at 5:15 pm.  Finally, the parade will begin at 6 pm and is going to have over 13 helium balloons.  Some of the balloons will be over 60 ft. tall.  Even better, multiple celebrities will be in the parade as well. If you are in the RGV area, you have to check this it.  I bet it’s going to be a blast!

Have you heard any new outdoor news? Then go ahead and share it!  Plus, If you like the blog, go ahead and follow us on Facebook.

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