Bill and Kit’s 2011 Excellent Adventure-Journal #9


“Half the pleasure of a visit to Big Bend National Park, as in certain other affairs, lies in the advance upon the object of our desire”.

Edward Abbey

Sunday, February 6th, through Tuesday, February 8th, 2011—Big Bend National Park:  We are very excited to finally get to this National Park.  Folks that have followed our travels over the past two years may remember we wanted to visit Big Bend however something always seemed to cause us to alter our plans.

Big Bend is the 15th largest park in the system and is very remote.  There is virtually no way to just drive through on the way to somewhere else.  It takes a committed traveler to venture off of US-90 and find their way to Big Bend.  The road leading to the park is miles and miles of miles and miles and one encounters not one town on the long journey.

Big Bend has a unique topography.  The altitude ranges from 1,850 feet along the Rio Grande to over 7,800 feet at its highest elevation.  There are 180 miles of dirt roads to explore and another 200 plus miles of hiking trails.  The weather can range from the 20’s in the winter to over 100 degrees in the summer.

It is one of the most unique and diverse National Parks in the system ranging from the Chihuahuan Desert lowlands to its lofty mountain peaks featuring many hardwood trees and often, during the winter, snow.

A historically active seismic area, there are a good many features in the park made up of the solidified magma.  These “monuments” have emerged over many years by the action of wind and water constantly eroding the softer surrounding material.

The Big Bend area has been home to native people long before there was an official border.  American and Mexican peoples would freely move about this area in guarded mutual recognition.   Later farmers and ranchers settled the area and freely moved back and forth across the river to hunt and trade.  The National Park was established in 1944 while World War II raged around the globe.  Many old homesteads and ranchers huts survive in this arid dessert environment and are accessible for exploration.

One such place is this small “Jacal” where Gilberto Luna raised a large family until his death in 1947 at 108 years old.

The long low purpose built home is made of dried Ocotillo covered with mud plaster, a technique called “Wattle and Daub”.  There is little headroom but the structure is reported to stay warm in the mild winters and a good 20 degrees cooler than the surrounding desert in the heat of summer.

Back at camp one morning we were lounging around enjoying the beautiful weather and noticed this sprightly fellow come running by.

Followed a short time later by this wily critter:

We were both alarmed that at any minute a large iron anvil would drop from the sky.  Then we realized that there hadn’t been any packages delivered from The Acme Corporation in recent days so the likelihood of being squashed by an anvil was remote.

As usual, the Roadrunner out maneuvered the Coyote even though Wily was wearing his rocket backpack.  The bird then emitted the unique roadrunner call that all seasoned ornithologist recognize—MEEP, MEEP!

However he then did a curious thing.  The little bird stopped about 6 feet from our location, turned his back to the sun and puffed out his plumage for a few seconds.

This may have been the birds attempt to warm his body in the rather cool morning.  Or it may have been his victory dance as the wily Coyote careened off an adjacent cliff and hung in midair for a few seconds before plummeting to the valley below and landing with a small puff of dust.  Either way, it was an interesting sight.  Boy I love nature!

We spent lots of enjoyable hours exploring the interior of the park by way of the many dirt roads that lace the area.

On many of these abandoned roads there are the ruins of ranching huts.   Cattlemen would spend days on the open range tending to their herd and would find shelter in these isolated huts.

The dry stack wall construction of a century ago is still holding up with virtually no maintenance.  How would your modern home look, if it were treated the same?

We spent part of one day driving up into the Chisos Mountains near the center of the park.  The road, although paved, was steep and winding.  Now Kit does not like steep and winding……probably as a result of the ill-fated trek up to Jerome, Arizona on last year’s trip or maybe the climb up into Oatman, Arizona she endured the year before that.  Anyway I tried to placate Kit’s fears by explaining that this road was paved, there were guard rails at all the hairpin turns and that at least we were not pulling the trailer as in the past.  However Kit was having none of that and devised her own method to enjoy the ride as well as the lofty overlooks we encountered at every turn.

Well, she made it…..and what a trooper.  As a way of acknowledging her courage and thanking her for at least putting up with my desire to see what’s up the road we enjoyed an incredible lunch at the Chisos Mountain Lodge, a CCC built structure that has been catering to the traveling public since before the park was established.

The sandwich I have on my plate is actually a Bison Burger and it was incredible.  Kit enjoyed a Chicken Wrap (no pun intended).  The young fellow who waited on us spends half the year working at the lodge.  Then come summer he heads north to work as a sea kayak guide in Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park.  Being that we were his only customer he spent quite a bit of time telling us of his life and we talked a great deal about kayaking.

The Chisos Mountains are a green oasis in the surrounding arid desert.

At 7,800 feet this semi-alpine environment supports pine, fir, cypress, oaks and even maple trees.  It was cool up in the mountains and the shady areas still contained snow from last week’s storm.  The views and scenery were incredible.

There is a campground in the mountains but it is limited to tents or small van type (class B) motorhomes.  My bruzzin Dewey and bruzzin-in law Bea camped here last summer and reported fantastic hiking in the area.  When it approaches 100 degrees on the desert floor, it is a comfortable 80 degrees here in the mountains.

Before leaving Chisos Basin, we had a nice chat with the ranger in the visitors’ center who gave us a line on what to see.  As it turned out, he spends his summer as a park ranger at Acadia National Park up home way.

On another day, we spent time enjoying the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive which leads to the small village of Castolon and the historic La Harmonia Trading Post.  While driving along the scenic drive we noticed a large cat paralleling the road for about 30 yards before darting back into the sagebrush.  Describing the encounter to the park ranger at Castolon he said we likely spotted a mountain lion, a rather rare occurrence.  He asked us to fill out a Wildlife Spotting Report with the information on what we witnessed and our names and address.  It was all pretty exciting.

All along this beautiful byway we stopped to snap photos of the terrain and plant life.

The little store in the village in Castolon was established in 1922 to support the cavalry troops that patrolled the border on the lookout for Mexican bandits.  The proprietor named his store La Harmonia in order to lend it an international feel and to help promote harmony between the US and Mexican citizens that inhabited the area.

While exploring the western edge of Big Bend we stopped to check out the third campground in the park.  Cottonwood sits west of Castolon near Santa Elena Canyon.  Like the Rio Grande Village campground, it too sits near the river and provides only dry camping.  It also features an excellent access point for a 118 mile multi-day river camping adventure downriver to Rio Grande Village.  The Rio Grande Trip is a classic wilderness camping opportunity as one paddles the river which makes the large u-turn that gives Big Bend National Park its name.

The Rio Grande’s source is the Colorado River, which is a mere trickle by the time it makes its way to the border and Mexico’s Rio Concho which provides the majority of the rivers flow.  Like other rivers, the Rio Grande has carved deep canyons over the centuries and has created a fertile floodplain that supports animal life and human settlements.

The day we visited Cottonwood campground there were even fewer folks camping than at Rio Grande Village.  In addition to the three intrepid and hardy souls that set up camp here was this inquisitive and voracious fellow.

That folks is a Javelina…..a rather mean and nasty wild animal that resembles a pig.  Like Yogi in Yellowstone National Park, Piggy has a way of getting into ones food stash.  All hardened campstites in the park have armored food enclousures to thwart the Javelina’s foraging.

The critter is mostly head and the head is mostly teeth.  The body is like a tank and those stubby little legs can move the beast at a pretty good clip…..don’t ask how I know this.

On the final full day in the park, Kit needed some quiet time and “strongly suggested” I go somewhere outside and play.  So never missing an opportunity to paddle a new river I headed to the Rio Grande.

After pulling a river permit from the ranger’s office I set out to paddle up river toward Hot Springs.  The flow at this point was light and the paddling was easy.  Now I have done a lot of river paddling but this felt kinda weird……I had the entire United States to the right of me and the entire country of Mexico to the Left.

The canyon walls were very tall and quite imposing.  There were many places where large menacing rocks overhung the river.

At one point I stopped to watch and photograph a hawk up on its lofty perch high up the canyon wall.  Photo luck allowed me to capture its mate as it returned to the nest.

I soon encountered a bit of quick water which I was able to paddle through followed by a second set of rips that I had to eddy out and walk around.

It wasn’t that the current was that strong it was just too shallow to get a good paddle stroke so I kept sliding backwards.

The third set of rips did me in…..no sooner than I entered the quick water then the current caught my bow, spun the boat around and I headed for Mexican soil.  Now, before I could acquire a river permit from the park service ranger I had to read two pages of what not to do.  Number one rule was “Do not make landfall in Mexico”!  Fearing I would be captured by the Federales and end up in a Mexican prison with some dude named Big Pedro, I quickly grabbed handfuls of river bottom to slow my speed.  Regaining my composure I tried a second time with the same result.  So, since the US side of the river at that particular location was a 200 foot vertical wall I decided to end my quest for the fabled Hot Springs Pool and head back down river.

I decided to allow the river current to carry me along so I could relax and scan the cliffs for anything of interest.

I spotted a cluster of nests built by Cliff Swallows high up on the canyon walls.  There was movement in a few of the nests but I never did see any birds about.

I did, however come upon these fellows lazing about in the afternoon sun.

At my slow pace I was able to study the river for any signs of fish.  The water was a rather unique shade of green and not at all like the blue hue of the water on the rivers back home in Maine.  In addition, the water was very opaque.  If there was any fish, I sure wasn’t able to detect them.

Passing the point I departed a few hours ago I decided to float down river some distance.

I came to another section of quick water and not seeing anything of interest so far, I turned the boat around and headed for home.

As the sun sets across the Rio Grande on our final night in the park we both vowed to return and continue our exploration of this incredible American gem.

Kit’s Corner:  We had a real nice time in Big Bend NP.  I was not too sure about going that far south but it turned out to be a good call.  Like Death Valley last year, I had no idea how picturesque it would be.  Very happy we finally got to see the park.  Most of our time there, the daytime temps were in the 80’s.  The morning we left, the temp and dropped overnight to 18 degrees!  Whoa!  What happened?  I had to dig out my parka again.

Love, Dad/Bill/Poppy and Mom/Kit/Guma

Bill and Kit’s 2011 Excellent Adventure-Journal #8

On the road again
Going places that I’ve never been
Seeing things that I may never see again
I can’t wait to get on the road again

Willie Nelson


First a side note.  As I mentioned in our last journal, I spent a considerable amount of time in my misguided youth hanging around the beaches of Southern California and conniving ways to acquire various surfboards with virtually no money.  I and most of my buddies made them ourselves from the castoff debris of the legitimate surfboard manufacturing industry.  Below is a very old photo sent to me of a young Bill in the garage surf shop of a school friend.

Yep, folks…..that lanky and somewhat dorky 13 year old is the rather sophisticated and cosmopolitan fellow you know today.  There is indeed hope for all.

 

Saturday, February 5, 2011:  Hopping on US-90 we reluctantly left Fort Clark Springs and continued our trek west.  At 0930 it is clear, there is no wind and temperatures are in the mid 30’s.

During the day’s travel we passed the following interesting places, all of which we have enjoyed on previous trips and highly recommend.

Encountered our second Border Patrol checkpoint of the trip and again passed without incident.

Good thing I wasn’t wearing that serape and sombrero that I picked up in Del Rio.

All along US-90 there were parallel single lane dirt roads.  Periodically we would come across a Border Patrol truck dragging some tires chained together apparently to smooth out the road.  This would create large plumes of dust which could be seen for many miles.

We couldn’t figure it out until we learned that the tire dragging process was accomplished every afternoon to obliterate any residual footprints so any fresh human activity could be detected the next morning.  Seemed like a rather labor intensive and archaic way to detect illegal alien traffic but I guess it must be effective.

After gassing up with $3.60/Gallon fuel at the Last Stop Gas Station in Marathon, Texas we headed south on TX-385 and an hour later arrived at Big Bend National Park.

Flashing our Senior Pass we motored past the gate.  The long drive into the interior of this vast National Park was made easier by the recent pavement due to Stimulus Money.  In addition new and accommodating scenic overlooks have been added to make enjoying the scenery along the drive safer and more pleasant.

An hour later we arrived at our intended campground near Rio Grande Village where we selected a very nice spot for our stay.

As in most National Park Campgrounds, the sites do not feature any hookups so back to dry camping for the next few days.  The weather looked to be clear and temperate so we shouldn’t need to run the heater.  In addition, there were coin operated showers in the village down the road.  The campground was right on the Rio Grande River and only about 200 yards from Mexico.  After setting up camp, Kit and I took the short walk down the trail to the river overlook.

Folks, that is the country of Mexico across that very narrow and somewhat shallow watery border.  However there was not a manmade barrier or sign anywhere around.  After careful observation I did notice a line of sombreros that seemed to float across the river……weird.  I guess the harsh environment and steep cliffs would keep all but the most intrepid illegal alien from finding their way north and landing in Roswell, New Mexico.

There are many trails that lead from the campground; one of the more popular ones is a nature trail that starts out crossing a small backwater of the Rio Grande.

This area is reported to be prime bird watching habitat although we noticed little activity this afternoon.

Perhaps we will have to return tomorrow and sit quietly in the predawn darkness to await sunrise and then, possibly we may have better luck.  Proper decorum prevents me from reporting how this suggestion was taken by Kit.

On an earlier trek we noticed some activity across the river.

These fellows appeared to be diligently working on some kind of task as their transportation waited patiently nearby.  Pulling out our binoculars we observed they were working on some kind of handmade crafts.  Sure enough a short distance further down the trail we encountered this display of Mexican hiking staffs and other crafts for sale.

On closer examination we were intrigued by the artwork on the “Sotol” staffs and the brightly painted rocks as well as the intricate handwork of the wire scorpions.

The “store” operated on the honor system as the merchants were across the river and there was no one else around but Kit and I.  There was a price list on the ground held down by stones and an old soda bottle for depositing payment of your purchase.  Oh, I should mention that there is no official crossing anywhere along the 119 mile border within Big Bend National Park.  So apparently the merchants would swim across the river under cover of darkness, collect the day’s proceeds, replenish the inventory, and swim back to Mexico all before daybreak.  I guess NAFTA really does work!

Before returning to camp, we stopped to enjoy the sunset across the Rio Grande.

Then as an added treat we enjoyed how the waning sun illuminated the far mountains through a valley window.  The following picture does not do justice to the intense colors that changed hue as the sun fell.  Or, for that matter the broad expanse of this beautiful sight.

Back at camp we enjoyed a nice meal and turned in early.  Funny thing about dry camping; we tend to go to bed and wake up in rhythm with the sun and not the clock.  Around midnight, I woke to take care of age related business and then stepped outside to admire the brilliant stars in the inky black night sky.  Big Bend is a “dark skies” park so any artificial lighting is kept to a minimum.  What a spectacular sight…..the stars at night are indeed big and bright deep in the heart of Texas!  To add even more magic to the moment, there was a chorus of coyote howls and yelps that appeared to come from all directions.

I fumbled for my star wheel and was able to pick out a few constellations.  However, I really wanted to see Pluto because I hear the star wonks have decreed it is no longer a planet, but rather some kind of galactic oddity.  Pluto refused to show her face…..or maybe my star wheel was missing a spoke or two.

Back in the warm bed, I fell asleep and dreamt about the exploration that lay ahead.  It has been a very nice first day at Big Bend National Park……stay tuned for the rest of the story.

Kit’s Corner:  We picked a great time to come to Big Bend.  The temps were warm, the breeze very nice and refreshing – and the campground was perfect.  We used the generator just a bit in the morning and evening to take the chill off; the rest of the days were nice and comfortable.  We were anxious to check out all the park had to offer.

Love, Dad/Bill/Poppy and Mom/Kit/Guma

Bill and Kit’s 2011 Excellent Adventure-Journal #7

Bill and Kit’s 2011 Excellent Adventure-Journal #7

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”

Martin Buber

Monday, January 31, 2011:  Up and on the road by 0910 under cloudy skies, high humidity and a temperature of 66 degrees.  Feels like a bit of weather could be brewing.

Stopped at a little bait shop in town that also sold propane for a fill up of our depleted bottle (propane not bait).

We merged onto I-37 heading north to quickly clear the Corpus Christi traffic.  On the road only a short time I noticed a large piece of poly plastic sheeting in my travel lane.  Sandwiched between a semi and an auto I had no alternative but to drive over the thing.  As luck would have it the plastic got hung up underneath the truck and made a god awful noise.  So off the Interstate to clear the offending liter.

Back on I-37 we were passed by a brightly decorated motorhome.  The driver honked and the passenger waved as they slowly moved past.

They must have noticed our Veterans license plate.  Not sure if that rig belonged to an Army Academy scout or one of the Academy baseball coaches.  Note the highway sign…..I couldn’t have planned that any better if I had tried!

Around noon we tired of the Interstate and moved onto TX-281 heading north.  Near Pleasanton, Texas we dropped down to TX-97 then shifting onto TX-140 we, once again, headed west.  Soon we came across this unusual site a short distance outside Charlotte, Texas.

It was actually a cattle ranch but it appears the farmer was an avid windmill collector…..there had to be 20 of the things on his property and most were revolving slowly in the breeze.  It was an interesting sight and an amazing sound from all that antique machinery.  However I bet the place would have driven Don Quixote crazy!

Soon we were on TX-85, and headed northerly.  This particular stretch of road had to be the Road Kill Capital of the United States.  Mile after mile we passed the remains of various hapless wildlife that tried to cross the road.  Not sure why here but we were glad to get to TX-117 where the carnage abated.

On TX-117 near Uvalde, Texas we rejoined our old friend US-90 and continued our westward trek.  Nearing the town of Del Rio, we encountered our first Border Patrol checkpoint of the trip.  The Border Patrol Officer was very pleasant but looked to be about 15 years old.  We were quickly identified as Native American Gringos and allowed to continue on.

Now, one might surmise that there has to be a faster and more direct route from Corpus Christi, to Del Rio, Texas and they would be right.  However what fun would that be?  Part of our road trip philosophy is to meander about as we pinball our way to California.  We have accumulated 3,169 miles on this trip so far.  A quick MapQuest check shows that a direct route from Brunswick, Maine to San Diego, California would only be 3,173 miles.  Now that explains why we have owned our little camper for only two and a half years and already have put 34,000 miles on her.  We must be nuts!

Speaking of our little camper, there is an austerity move afoot in the US to downsize homes.  The Tiny Home movement is espousing the simplified lifestyle of living in a 400 square foot or less home.  Unfamiliar with this latest fad?  Check it out at http://www.tumbleweedhouses.com/.  We figure with our 176 square foot camper we are real trendsetters!

Nearing Del Rio, Texas we had considered staying at the RV Park on Laughlin Air Force Base.  However, we learned from a fellow RV Warrior that there was a little known and utterly intriguing place to camp in the small burg of Brackettville, Texas by the name of Fort Clark Springs.  We pulled in for an overnight and stayed four days.  What a Gem!

 

Tuesday, February 1st through Friday, February 4th, 2011–Fort Clark Springs, Brackettville, Texas:  You know how fisherman hate to divulge that perfect stream or pond for fear that others will descend upon it?  That’s the way we feel about Fort Clark Springs.  However this place is too perfect not to share with our RV friends…..just keep it a secret.

First a little history, Fort Clark was first recognized as a great location for an Army Fort in 1852.  Situated alongside the spring fed Las Moras River it provided access to Mexico and Indian Settlements which gave the location strategic importance.  During its long history, Fort Clark was home to the Seminole-Negro Indian Scouts, The famed Buffalo Soldiers and The 9th and 10th mounted cavalry of the US Army.  Following World War II the horse cavalry became obsolete so the fort was deactivated and sold as salvage to a local developer.  As an interesting side note, the developer tore down some of the older wooden structures and sold the reclaimed lumber to folks in this tree sparse area.  He made enough money form this simple act to recoup his initial investment.

Today it is a thriving 2,700 acre residential community enjoyed mostly by “Winter Texans” who own homes, RV lots or stay in the hotels and condos on the property.  But this isn’t your typical retirement community.  Many of the former forts administration, residential, and working buildings are now restored and turned into private homes.  The place has a very rustic and authentic feel to it but with some modern touches.  There are two golf courses, a large spring fed swimming pool that maintains a year round temperature of 68 degrees, and 21 miles of trails for use by hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians.

There are even some RV lots for sale.  They are very reasonable and come with large RV canopies and built in storage areas.  Each of these privately owned RV lots have been individually personalized and landscaped by the owner.  The attached storage structures alone are as big as some mobile homes.

There just might be one of these RV lots in our future.  After all, this place is centrally located to the areas we like to explore, generally the weather is agreeable and the facility provides most everything we enjoy.

Fort Clark spawned a resupply town outside the post that was settled by a Mr. Brackett.  Brackettville, as it was known, grew and thrived as most small towns located near military bases do.  However when the post was closed the town slowly dried up so about one half, literally, of the main drag is a ghost town.

Sharing the opposite side of the street from the buildings shown above were the town office, a post office and some retail shops, including a really neat old time hardware store.  It must be interesting for the Town Clerk to conduct the towns current business while looking across the street at the towns past.

Here is an interior shot of the building on the right.

The little town had a lot of character and demanded more exploration than we gave it which we will rectify on our next visit.

The RV Park features 85 full hookup sites and the fees are very reasonable.  The park is managed by Shirley, a Texas gal with a big heart and boundless energy.  We picked a nice site on the edge of the park that gave us a great view of the wildlife that finds sanctuary in the surrounding brush.

Our next door neighbors, Mitch and Henrietta (Hank), who we met as soon as we arrived were a delightful couple from Mahnomen, Minnesota.  Mitch is a retired Navy Hospital Corpsman so he and I wasted no time comparing careers and swapping sea stories.  They kind of took us under their wing and showed us around Fort Clark.  They even treated us at their favorite ice cream joint.

There is a lot of wildlife, both the animal and the human kind, which abound in the RV Park.  Most days, there were visits to our site by a bunch of Turkeys, the animal kind-not the human kind.

Some white tail deer came by to visit as well.  Here, dad and son explore the field outside our camper window.

I guess they figured that we were OK as they soon called the rest of the family in.

We were in the park less than an hour when two couples stopped by to welcome us and invite us to that evening’s pot luck supper which we gladly accepted.  Most of the folks in the RV Park are from the US northern Midwest or central Canada; however there was an interesting fellow from Jackman, Maine.

Salty lived for many years on Spenser Road, a stone’s throw from Spenser Rips on the Moose River.  A waterway I and many others know well from frequent canoe and kayak trips.  Salty sold his place a while back, bought a motorhome and spends the winter in the southwest.  When he returns to Maine he sets up camp at Caratunk.  His work background is in automotive mechanics where he worked as a car builder and mechanic for a sponsored WRC Pro Rally team.

I mentioned the 21 miles of multi-use trails and took advantage of exploring about 25% of them.  Most were old jeep trails (double track) with a few game trails (single track) to add interest.  The area was fairly flat with some small hills and a few woops.  The tread was mostly hard pack with some loose pebbles and sandy areas to keep you paying attention.  Great riding!!!!!

Some of the trails paralleled the Las Moras River.

As a traffic speed control device, the Fort Clark Springs Association utilizes these mobile speed bumps on the fastest trails.

This little fellow was sunning himself right in the middle of the trail until I stopped to dig out my camera…..then he waddled off into the underbrush, turned around and gave me an irritated look.

Boy, that’s a face only a mother could love……I guess Armadillos (pronounced armordillers) are put on this earth to prove that God (or insert deity of choice) has a sense of humor.

Stopped for a rest and snack by a nice little pond where there were more deer frolicking about.

This place feels like living in a Bambi movie.  I bet it is even prettier in the spring.

Riding the trail to the fence that surrounds the 2,700 acres I took a perimeter road for a ways.  Soon I came to a neighboring goat farm.  As I stopped to investigate, all the animals stopped their busy activity, walked over to the fence, and stared right back at me.  This Mexican standoff went on for a few minutes until the goats got bored and returned to their goatly duties, whatever that was.

I had the uncanny feeling that I was the unique one out here in the middle of nowhere and the goats were interested in observing me as an exotic animal might be observed in a zoo.  What a weird feeling that was.  I expected some of them to throw some peanuts over the fence to watch me scramble to eat them.

All in all a great day of riding in a fabulous natural area…..all only a few miles from the Mexican border.

Fort Clark Springs is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places and the current management works tirelessly to preserve the past history while accommodating the association’s homeowners and guests.  In addition many of the remaining structures that once comprised the fort are open and available for private use.  Check it all out at:  http://www.fortclark.com/.

While at Fort Clark Springs, the weather kept getting progressively colder.  One day it was 83 degrees…..and 24 hours later it was 41 degrees.  Out came the long pants and jackets.  We did think of moving on but our next destination was Big Bend National Park which is at much higher altitude and was predicting snow and ice…..so we stayed put.  Fort Clark Springs turned out to be a pretty nice place to be pinned down by the weather.

One evening the temperature dropped to 18 degrees, what the…..!  It’s warmer in Maine for God sake!!!  Many folks experienced frozen and busted pipes.  We never even hooked our water hose up, relying instead on the onboard water source which is stored in a heated compartment.  As cold as it was at least it stayed dry.  Back home it has been snowing…..a lot.  Our daughter sent us the following picture of the two feet of snow she encountered this morning.

On one of the colder days we drove the thirty miles into Del Rio to poke around and re-supply.  We received a tip from a local on a great Mexican restaurant where we enjoyed an incredible meal.  Manuel’s began as a restaurant in neighboring Acuna, Mexico and many folks from Del Rio would head across the border to enjoy their food.  However after 9/11 it was more difficult to travel freely so the family opened a satellite restaurant in Del Rio.  We knew we were in a locally favorite spot as all the conversations surrounding us were in Spanish.  We felt very welcome and didn’t once hear the word “gringo” mentioned.

Before we left Covington, Louisiana last week, Johnny and Eileen presented us with some homemade crab cakes and some fig jam made from fruit grown on their property.  We enjoyed both while here and want to thank them again for their hospitably and kindness.

We reluctantly decided to move on.  However the morning we left was the weekly all you can eat breakfast…..so we enjoyed a nice home cooked meal prepared by fellow RV Park residents.

The fellow on the left is a Winter Texan from northern Minnesota and the fry cook is from Saskatchewan, Canada.  The park was called to breakfast at 0700 by the ringing of a bell which stood in front of the chow hall.  The food was excellent…..and cheap!

On to Big Bend National Park!

Kit’s Corner:  Fort Clark Springs has turned out to be one of our most delightful stops during this trip.  During our short time there, we met lots of nice people and explored quite a bit of the area.  We met at least 3 couples from Minnesota (my home state) and enjoyed hearing about things to do and see up that way.  Seeing all the deer and turkeys each day was fun, too.  Our stay there was during a cold spell so we were indoors more than we would have liked but, it warmed up before we left to more seasonable temps.

Love, Dad/Bill/Poppy and Mom/Kit/Guma

Bill and Kit’s 2011 Excellent Adventure-Journal #6

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.”

Jawaharial Nehru

Wednesday, January 26th through Sunday, January 30th, 2011—Texas Gulf Coast:  We are still camped at NAS Corpus Christi, Texas and enjoying this centrally located site for further exploration of the area.

A day on Mustang Island: Port Aransas Is on Mustang Island, one of the many barrier islands that nature has provided to protect the Gulf Coast shoreline.  It is a resort beach community, not unlike Old Orchard Beach, Maine.  Port Aransas features the usual seafood joints, gift shops, taverns and surf shops.  Here is the entrance to one of the larger tourist shops.

I gotta tell you…..it was kinda weird walking through the digestive system of that large fiberglass shark and coming out the other end right into the main part of the shop.  However after looking at the millions of pieces of Chinese goods I’m convinced most of the merchandise took the same path.

After poking around a few island shops we enjoyed a great seafood dinner at a place called Fins which was right on the water.   Fried Oysters for me and a Crab Cake for Kit…..both fresh and very good.  The restaurants even catered to the sport fisherman in the area in that they will cook your days catch and serve it with all the traditional side dishes.

In this area of Texas the beach is used as part of the public highway, weather permitting, and was as smooth as many paved roads.  We drove many miles of the beach and stopped often to do some beach combing.

And as you can see from the photo below camping is allowed right on the beach for a nominal fee.  Our next trip to this area, and there will definitely be a next time, we will plan on spending a few days camping on the beach.  Of course this would be a dry camping opportunity…..unless there is a particularly high tide.

The sunsets across the Laguna Madre, also known as The Gulf Intercostal Waterway, are spectacular.  I bet the sunrises over the gulf from a beach campsite would be just as nice.

A day on Padre Island National Seashore: Our Golden Age Pass worked its magic once again as we paid no fee to enter this National Park facility.

There are very few paved roads in the park.  Just a few miles from the park entrance to the visitor’s center and to both developed campgrounds.  As in Port Aransas the rest of the traveling is done on the beach.

The “road”  in the photo above goes on for sixty miles…..and then one would have to reverse direction and drive back the sixty miles to get out of the park.  The first five miles are pretty good and can be navigated by an average passenger car.  From then on it gets a bit rough and the sand is softer.  We drove down about fifteen miles before we pulled over to have a picnic.

Padre Island is a wildlife refuge and a world recognized bird watching habitat.  During the day we viewed many varied and unusual birds.  The photos that follow are just a few of the many birds we encountered along with my feeble attempt to identify them.

There were Pelicans:

And Blue Heron:

And what I think might be Tern’s:

Although I will have to comment that those birds looked like little old and balding guys hanging around the park.  If so…..I doubt they would be feeding the pigeons.

And then we saw what I think might a Plover.

And a bunch of birds in flight that I couldn’t identify in the Bird Identification for Dummies book that we brought along.

On all of the above, I’m going to have to rely on my buddy David to correct the mistakes and fill in the blanks.  I’ve mentioned Dave before…..he is a wild bird expert and an accomplished wildlife photographer.  Dave and his wife Betty live near us in Maine and they too escape the cold, however they flee to their home in Florida.  To see some of Dave’s incredible wildlife photos please visit his website, A Wilder Side of Life at:  http://davewhitewildlife.blogspot.com/.

The consistent sea breeze provided many opportunities to play with my kites.  Even though the kite in the photo below is a relatively small 1.5 meter parafoil there was enough breeze to, at times, drag me across the smooth sand.

This area is world renowned for windsurfing and kite sailing.  There are many places in the park that have wind socks and wind velocity flags to assist the folks who enjoy participating in those two wind powered sports.

While I was out flying my kite, Kit was napping in the truck.  Returning I snuck up on her and tried to snap a picture.  Not quick and/or quiet enough…..she caught me and wasn’t none too happy.

Just kidding…..actually that little fellow is a “Ghost Crab” and it was skittering about underfoot as I was trying to fly the kite.  It’s a wonder I didn’t step on him.

Kit’s Corner:  Loved Port Aransas, especially the gift shop that swallowed Bill up and spit him out on the back side.  I  Didn’t buy anything there, but it was nice to just check things out.  We loved the long unspoiled beaches in Port A and on Padre Island.  Hope to go there again and camp on the beach.

Love, Dad/Bill/Poppy and Mom/Kit/Guma

Bill and Kit’s 2011 Excellent Adventure-Journal #5

“A journey is like marriage.  The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.”

John Steinbeck


Tuesday, January 25, 2011:  Up to clear skies, wind and 45 degree temperatures…..brrrrrr.  We need to head further south!!!

On the road at 1015 by way of TX-35S and then TX-80.  A ways out of San Marcos, Texas we came across this rather interesting sign for skydiving lessons.

The little sign says; “There’s no such thing as a perfectly good airplane–LEARN TO SKYDIVE”.  Talk about your effective advertising!

We began to pick up the distinctive odor of crude oil that we noticed last year.  There are oil wells scattered all about and storage tanks strategically placed as well.  The smell was faint but quite noticeable.  To the folks from these parts I bet it smells like money.

I also noticed a number of signs for hysterical markers.  I was reluctant to stop as I fell for that one out in California last year.  But curiosity got the best of me and I finally pulled over to read what was on the sign.  Once again…..just some dumb history stuff, and…..still – not – funny…..Hello!

As we neared the town of Cuero, Texas we moved onto TX87S.  Soon we passed the Cuero High School building and the home of the Fighting Gobblers.  Bet that school takes some ribbing from the other high schools in the area.

We came to TX-35 once again and headed south making our way toward Corpus Christi, Texas.  Pulling into the RV Park on the Naval Air Station we discovered they were packed with “Winter Texans”.  However enjoying another bit of road magic we scored a full hook up site anyway, which looked to be the last one available.  The RV Park features large, level paved sites and occupies a large area near the end of the base.  There is a beach and adjacent fishing pier that juts out into the Gulf.

Yep, that is full sunshine you see and the trailer door and windows are wide open.  The temperature is in the mid 70’s.  True warmth at last!

You might also notice that the spare tire is missing from the rear of the trailer.  Well…..after 31,000 miles over predominantly rough back roads one of the tire bracket supports failed.  Fortunately I noticed the break before our spare tire became someone else’s hood ornament.

Also, Marvelous Monkey (remember him?) remarked that he is having a great time with Mr. Bill on this trip and was thankful to be in warm and sunny south Texas.  He also really liked the kayak prominently mounted on our truck.  I think he believes it’s a giant banana.

Wednesday, January 26th through Sunday, January 30th, 2011–Corpus Christi, Texas:  Well we only expected to be here for a day or two, but after discovering lots to explore, we decided we just had to stay longer.  The warm temperatures, tropical feel and gentle sea breezes just reinforced the decision.

Our site was reserved by some other “Winter Texan”.  Likely one who plans ahead, unlike us.  So we moved to the overflow field which meant dry camping for the remainder of the stay.  The RV Park manager did put us on a waiting list for the next available full hook up spot however.  As we have discovered on past trips the overflow sites are generally larger, which provides more privacy, they are more peaceful and generally feature scenic views.  So since we can dry camp for up to ten days before filling our holding tanks, we just elected to stay here and removed our name from the waiting list.  As an added bonus the overflow sites were half the cost of the regular sites and they were closer to the water!  The sunrise over the Gulf of Mexico each morning was a real treat.

The park has a few wild critters about.  Prairie Dogs that we never did see…..but their presence was evident by the many dirt piles spread about.  And Jack Rabbits that we did see, a lot, and all over the place.

The out of proportion ears on those bunnies play a vital role in their survival.  They allow the animal to hear much better, which is important when there isn’t much cover around to hide from predators.  And they act like radiators which help to cool the animal in the hot summer sun.  However I bet when those guys go on vacation to, let’s say Southern California, they get a lot of flak from the local bunnies. They are likely called Dumbo, and other derogatory names.  Just like some poor kid had to endure in a certain San Diego school back in the late 1950’s.

We spent the first day getting settled in, doing some shopping and oz’ing around the base.  The RV Park is right on the Gulf of Mexico and within striking distance of Port Aransas to the north and Padre Island National Seashore to the south.  We wound up enjoying five full and very enjoyable days in this area.  And a significant trip milestone the temperatures were in the 70’s and 80’s so out came the sunscreen, sandals, shorts and t-shirts…..yea!

Naval Air Station (NAS) Corpus Christi sits south of the city of Corpus Christi and supports flight training for young Navy and Marine Corps aviators similar to the mission at NAS Pensacola.  During World War II, 35,000 pilots earned their wings here.  Every day except Sunday we noticed pilots learning the ropes in T-34 turboprop aircraft and the twin engine T-44.  President George Bush (the 1st) trained here in 1943 and holds the distinction as the youngest person to graduate and earn the gold wings of a US Navy aviator.

The base is also home to the Corpus Christi Army Depot, the largest helicopter repair facility in the world.  In addition the US Coast Guard and Homeland Security Agency has a large presence here as well.  This large multi-tenant base represents every branch of the US Military except the Air Force.  Wait…..I did see a sign for the USAF Golf Course and Pilates Studio so I guess I stand corrected.

One afternoon I took out my bike and explored the base.  Soon I came to the old seaplane ramp and what remained of the hangers.

At this site in the 1940’s PBY seaplanes were based.  I found this particularly interesting as family history has me riding a seaplane as we returned stateside from my birthplace, The Territory of Hawaii, in 1949.

There were many trails on base that are suitable for walking and biking.  This one parallels the Gulf of Mexico shoreline and provides access to the fertile Golf waters for sport fishing, boating and beach combing.

I stopped to visit with on old fellow who was using a unique fishing rig.  He was “Sail Fishing” and his rig consisted of a foam float with a maneuverable sail.  This was attached to 5,000 feet of 120# test line and secured to a motorized winch in the bed of his truck.  The main line had many leaders attached with baited hooks.  He would determine the wind direction, set the sail, and let the rig navigate out onto the bay.  After waiting an hour or so he would winch the whole thing in and recover his catch…..up to twenty fish at times.

Back at camp, we met an interesting couple from Idaho.  Jim is a former Navy A-4 pilot and a recent retiree from the US Interior Department where he worked as a pilot in Wildfire Management.  They were really into biking, kayaking and hiking so we shared a few stories and invited them to Maine to park their camper in our dooryard and explore our little corner of the universe.  Likewise they invited us to Idaho to do the same.  You meet some of the most interesting and nicest folks on the road.

The easy access to the Gulf prompted me to take the kayak out for a few hours.  It was warm but very windy as I paddled around the point and explored a few low lying islands that appeared to be bird nesting sites.  There were many unusual looking seabirds poking around in the mud flats or diving for fish from above.  I didn’t take any pictures as the heavy sea spray prevented me from removing my camera from its protective (zip lock bag) case.

On a warm but overcast day we decided to explore the city of Corpus Christi and enjoy a few tourist sites.  The city is host to a floating museum, the former USS Lexington a retired US Navy aircraft carrier.  Never missing an opportunity to poke around old military hardware I left Kit at the foot of the gangway, as I did many times in my 22 year Navy career, and walked aboard.

Kit was delighted to oz around the many gift shops, art galleries and cafes in the area.  The carrier sits close aboard Corpus Christi Bay and even in winter it is the local hangout spot.  Kit reported she noticed an old guy hanging out at the beach…..he was wearing a trench coat.

The Lexington CV-16, is the oldest remaining aircraft carrier in the world.  Built at the Quincy Massachusetts shipyard in 1943 she served continuously until her decommissioning in 1991.

The Lexington started life as an Attack Carrier (CV), later converted to an Anti-submarine Carrier (CVS) and finally served her remaining years as a Training Carrier (CVT).  She is 872 feet long and carried a crew of 2,600 personnel.

As a museum most of her spaces are open to the public and contain many displays depicting shipboard life as well as other military history of her time.

This huge ship has an escalator…..the only one I have ever heard about onboard a US Navy ship.  Boy the aviation Navy is sure different…..we had to use ladders to get from deck to deck.

There are a number of vintage and modern aircraft on display as well as the varied self-defense weapons that she carried during her war years.

The gun mount shown in the picture above is a 5inch-38 caliber.  I served on a destroyer that featured these type mounts and was assigned as part of the gun crew.  While on the gun line north of the DMZ in Vietnam waters we fired so many rounds through those mounts that the paint literally burned off all the barrels.

One would think that with an arsenal this formidable that this grand old lady could be repurposed into a Homeland Security asset.  After all she sits close to Mexico where drug thugs are terrorizing the border towns of Texas.  But…..what do I know?

After touring the Lexington, I rejoined Kit and we headed downtown to seek out the Texas Surf Museum…..yep, they actually have one.

Kit and I, having grown up in San Diego, were fully imersed in the California surf culture.  Of course we knew there was very good surfing in Hawaii and had heard of pockets of good surf along the east coast but we had no idea that the sport was flourishing here as well.

This museum was incredible.  It featured a number of vintage and modern boards representing the evolution of the sport from the 1950’s through modern times.

As a woodworker I particularuly enjoyed seeing the vintage balsa and mahogany boards from the late 1950’s.  They were truly functional works of art!

There was also an interesting display on “Tanker Surfing” where surfers would paddle their boards out into the shipping channels of the Intercoastal waterway and actually catch the bow or stern waves of departing or returning freighters and tankers.  These rides could last for miles.

However there were two displays really interested me as they both represented milestones in my teenage years growing up in southern California.

The first was a very large, and as I remember, a very heavy surfboard that was simular to a model that I actually learned to surf on.  The hollow board was made of plywood and covered with fiberglass.  The board was impossible to turn but very stable and afforded a nice ride on the smaller San Diego breaks.  There was a brass plug in the nose that I had to use to drain water when the thing leaked, as it often did.  The board was actually a paddle board used by Abalone fisherman  to harvest the shellfish in the1950’s.  However it was all I could afford and served me for those first few years.  The board on display was the same size and basic shape as the one I owned although mine was white.

The next display that I could really relate to was a replica of a traditional neighborhood garage board shop.  There were many of these around and they tended to be the hangout spots when the surf was down.

After I got tired of trying to surf on that large, heavy, white tank I convinced my mom to purchase some reject Clark Foam blanks from the Gordon & Smith shop in town.  She then provided the resources for the fiberglass materials and I set up a stand very similar to the one above and hand shaped my very first real surfboard using many of the same hand tools shown in the display.  I later went on to build two additional boards (one that I actually sold…..for very little profit) and a Knee-board.

I stood and looked at that display a long time…..it sure brought back some fond memories.

Stay tuned for the rest of our adventure in south Texas when we visit Port Aransas and Padre Island national Seashore.

Kit’s Corner:  According to some of the locals, it seems we hit upon the very best weather of the season in Corpus Christi!  Everywhere we went, people were raving about how nice it was.  Good for us, as we had not had any real warm temps up until then.  We really loved the area and enjoyed our time at that particular campground.  We both met some real nice people.  As we were leaving, while on my morning walk, I noticed a car with Maine plates.  The people were out so I stopped to chat with them.  Turns out, they are from Lebanon, ME!  They have just sold their home and are transitioning to full time camping.  They still plan to spend a few months in Maine each summer with their family who they then invite to join them for the holidays in a warmer climate.

Love, Dad/Bill/Poppy and Mom/Kit/Guma

Bill and Kit’s 2011 Excellent Adventure-Journal #4

“All the pathos and irony of leaving one’s youth behind is thus implicit in every joyous moment of travel: one knows that the first joy can never be recovered, and the wise traveler learns not to repeat successes but tries new places all the time”.

Paul Fussell

Wednesday, January 19, 2011:  It is 0900 and reluctantly, we leave Covington, Louisiana and our good friends Johnny and Eileen.

We used I-10 to quickly get west of the New Orleans morning traffic.  In a few miles we dropped down on LA-12 to the town of Pumpkin Center and soon we were heading southwest on LA-22, the Louisiana Scenic Byway.

This is the Atchafalaya Basin area…..at 20 miles wide and 150 miles long it is largest swamp in the United States.  A note of disclosure, I couldn’t find a safe place to pull over and snap a few photos so I grabbed the following from Google Images…..it does represent how the area looked however.

We passed many bayous with homes built on pier’s out over the water.  In the larger communities there were tall earthen levees that provided some protection to the area by any storm related surge of water.  Some of the levees had grazing cattle clinging to the steep terrain like mountain goats.  There were large stands of live oak trees draped with Spanish moss and many Cyprus trees at the water’s edge.

Coming to the small town of Stephensville, Louisiana we stopped for lunch in a nice waterfront park.  I walked a short ways down the road to the Stephensville Elementary School where I was greeted by Dr. Rawls, the principal.  I told him of Marvelous Monkey and the Pennsylvania school’s geography project and he told me the history of the town which I promptly wrote on a card that I’ll send to Stephens’s school.  When I asked about the levee across the road from the school, he said that the potential of flooding didn’t concern him but that the swamp on the other side did.  Almost on a weekly basis an alligator from the swamp finds its way onto school property.  He has taken it upon himself to patrol the grounds daily before the school children are let out for recess.  When he does encounter an alligator he casually shoos it away by throwing small stones at it.

Back on the road we soon came to LA-90 and continued west toward Lafayette.  We notice signs that announced “Future Corridor of Interstate 49”.  Looks like highway progress is coming to this are of rural Louisiana…..too bad.

Around mid-afternoon we came to the town of New Iberia and headed south toward Avery Island and the land of Tabasco.  Paying a one dollar toll to cross the twenty foot bridge to this private island we made our way to the Tabasco visitors’ center.  We enjoyed a presentation of the history of the Avery and McIlhenny families, the cultivation of the Tabasco peppers and production of Tabasco Brand Pepper Sauce.

We learned that the finished sauce is put in white oak barrels where it ages for three years.  As an interesting side note, the barrels are actually leftover whiskey barrels purchased from the Johnny Walker distillery.  At the end of the aging process the sauce is mixed with a little vinegar and Avery island salt then allowed to steep before being bottled.

During the factory tour we watched the predominantly automated process of filling, capping and labeling the bottles.  There are actually six different flavors of pepper sauce being manufactured and sold worldwide.  We even received some free samples!

The women in the picture below comprise the Quality Assurance Department.  The QA inspector who is seated personally samples every bottle of the finished product as it exits the production line.  She then carefully recaps the bottle and sends it down the line for the final process of applying the clear plastic tamper band.  She is known as “Iron Stomach Irene” and has consumed millions of ounces of Tabasco during her many years with the company.

OK…..I made that last part up.  But they do have a very rigorous and controlled quality procedure which makes Tabasco the world’s finest pepper sauce.

The Pepper Pickers, also known as the Peter Pipers, are charged with picking a peck of peppers an hour by use of a sophisticated diagnostic tool.  This piece of test equipment is called “le petit bâton rouge”.  Absolutely true…..it is a little red stick painted the correct Tabasco Pepper hue that the pickers hold beside each pepper to determine optimum ripeness.  If any peppers enter the factory before they are ripe the offending Peter Piper Pepper Picker is severely chastised and punished by a whack from the “le gros bâton noir.  OK…..um, I made that part up as well.  Sorry, I must be under the influence of Tabasco, I can’t help myself, I need help!

After the factory tour, we made our way to the company store where all things Tabasco was offered for sale.  After picking up some souvenirs we decided to have an early dinner at the Tabasco Cafe.  Keeping with my tradition to sample many regional foods on this trip, I had a Louisiana Boudin (pronounced Boo Dan), a sausage of sorts.  Now the thing tasted far better than it looked.  I did take a few pictures of the Boudin before I ate it but none of them made the thing look remotely edible.  I have no idea what was in it…..as with most sausage, that’s probably a good thing.  So if anyone Google’s the ingredients that go into a Louisiana Boudin…..please keep it to yourselves.  Kit being far more sensible enjoyed some red beans and rice, another great regional food.

Avery Island is also a private wildlife refuge.  In the late 1800’s the Snowy Egret was slaughtered to near extension by “plume hunters”.  They were looking to sell the magnificent feathers to milliners for use in the making of ladies hats.  The son of the founder of the Tabasco Company, Edward Avery McIlhenny, worked diligently to save these beautiful birds by creating a wetland and bird sanctuary.  Today the island is home to hundreds of nesting pairs of snowy Egrets as well as other migratory birds.

Back to New Iberia, LA and west on LA-90 where we connected with I-10 once again.  Nearing the little town of Egan, Louisiana and being it was late afternoon we decided to stop for the night.  We located a very convenient and fairly run down RV Park right off the interstate.  It was cheap and had everything we needed so we pulled in for the night.  Later came a good old boy in a beat up motorhome and entertained us with his life story.  His tale sounded like every Country and Western song you ever heard and would take a whole journal issue to relate.  See me sometime and I’ll fill in the details.

The RV Park was next to a swamp and there was an alligator barrier fence to keep the critters at bay.  I did notice a woman with rather large hair walking her small dog on one of those retractable leashes, you know, the ones that look kinda like a fishing reel.  Any way she proceeded to walk Fluffy along the bank of that swamp…..guess she was trolling.

Thursday, January 20, 2011:  Up and gone by 1000 under cloudy skies and temperatures in the 50’s.  Back on I-10 and heading west toward Lake Charles, Louisiana.  Being as this area is dead flat, there is no wind and very little traffic I decided to conduct a mileage check:

  • 55 MPH=12.4 MPG
  • 60 MPH=10.8 MPG
  • 65 MPH=10.2 MPG
  • 70 MPH=  8.4 MPG

Yea, I know…..it doesn’t make sense to me either.  I guess the speed vs. miles per gallon ratio is not consistent.  So, anyway…..can you guess what speed we favor?

Pulled into a truck stop near Lake Charles, LA for fuel and something to snack on.  Keeping with my regional diet plan I selected a bag of Spicy Cracklin.  I could have had a southern three course meal by adding a homemade Moon Pie and a fine vintage RC Cola, but I wasn’t that hungry…..or adventurous.  The menu also featured corn dogs and fried Boudin Balls sitting majestically in a plastic box under a heat lamp.  Some good eatin there, I tell ya.  A virtual one stop backwoods marketplace…..one is able to get fuel and gas.

Rolled into Texas around noon and stopped at a very nice visitors’ center to get our “Winter Texan” stamp of approval.  We picked up maps, brochures and information for our journey into South Texas.  As we walked back to the parking lot we noticed that our little rig was made into a motorhome/fifth wheel sandwich.  Oh, the indignity.  I wonder what kinda mileage those monsters get.

We considered getting off I-10 and taking a detour through Galveston, TX but we wanted to be at Kit’s sisters’ place by the weekend so we decided to explore that area on a future trip.

Back on I-10 we noticed a sign that said “El Paso 880 miles”.  Yikes…..Texas really is one big state.  Back east we covered 10 states in that distance.

Near Beaumont, Texas we drove through a heavy wind and rain storm.  We considered pulling off the interstate and waiting it out.  However we noticed the skies ahead appeared to be brighter so we just slowed down and took it real easy.  Within five minutes we punched out the other side of the storm and there was even sun peeking through the clouds.  I had forgotten how intense and short the storms can be in this area of the country.  There were no reports of tornado’s but the storm looked as if it could have spawned some.

The winds remained strong from the west…..unfortunately we were now headed straight into them.  I did a quick mileage check and discovered at 60 MPH our MPG had dropped to 8.5.  It always amazes me the effect of wind resistance on a high profile vehicle.

Tired of the Interstate, we pulled off on TX-71 toward Austin.  Soon we crossed the Colorado River…..huh?  Then we crossed that same river three more times…..triple huh???  Hope it isn’t thee Colorado River or Lucy has some serious splanin to do (that last sentence works better if you say it out loud using a Ricky Ricardo voice).

Pulled into a Wal*Mart parking lot for some groceries and walking around time.  We then retreated to our camper and enjoyed a nice meal while watching all the local folks try and peer into our tinted windows.  That is always hilarious because the windows are so dark that if we leave the lights off there is no way anyone can see inside…..but we have a really nice view of everything outside.  We even spotted a few local Walmartians in their native dress.

Pulled into Kyle, Texas and a nice reunion with Kit’s sister and her husband Don.  They too escaped California a few years ago and really love living the Texas lifestyle.  As in the past, they allowed us to camp in their dooryard or what I like to call “The Open Bar Ranch and RV Park.

Friday, January 20th through Monday, January 24th, 2011–Kyle Texas:  Howdy, pardner!  Now where did I last leave my Stetson?

We enjoyed a great four day stay in Kyle, Texas which is located about 25 miles south of Austin.  This is our fourth time in this very nice area of Texas in the past two years.  Since we have already seen most everything, we decided to just take a few down days to clean out the truck and trailer, attend to some vehicle maintenance, eat some great Texas food and visit with our hosts.

Don and Char live in a very nice newer development…..however this is Texas and the Texas lifestyle is never far away.  Here is a photo of their neighbors, just a couple of houses down.

The above picture appears to have some symbolism.  There must be some commentary there concerning bovine race relations but I’ll be darned if I can figure it out.

One can’t visit south Texas without sampling some great Texas Barbeque.  Char and Don drove us through the beautiful hill country west of their home to Driftwood, Texas and a locally favorite joint called The Saltlick.

The Beef Brisket, Sausage and Pork Ribs were just incredible……and the complete meal was plentiful and fairly inexpensive.  The town of Driftwood is in a dry county so it’s BYOB which further adds to the value.

The place was founded by an old guy that built a barbeque pit in a shed on his property.  He would sleep in a cot beside the pit and feed wood to the fire all night long.  When done, he would sell his barbeque to friends, neighbors and the occasionally traveller who would come along.  Soon, word spread and he built a screen room around his pit to provide onsite dining.  The place continued to gain a following and he added on some more.  Today The Saltlick can feed 200 people in one sitting and will often see 2,000 folks a night feasting on the best barbeque in existence…..all of it coming off the original pit.

Website for The Salt Lick Restaurant:  http://www.saltlickbbq.com/index.html and another for a pretty good review on the place:  http://www.travel-austin-texas.com/salt-lick.html.  This area has a lot to offer, but if it didn’t, I would still travel here for the food.  Absolutely incredible.

Don and Char have a nesting pair of rare and erotic birds that they are raising in their backyard.  These Dry Plains Flamingo’s (genus: Pinkus Wireleggus) are difficult to keep in the hot Texas sun and must be monitored constantly.  Fortunately Don enjoys watching over them with a cold beer in his hand.

We spent part of the afternoon visiting with a couple of ex-patriots from Maine.  Ray and Darlene, originally from Topsham, Maine, moved to Texas a few years ago.  They have been long time RV enthusiasts, even hosting in a few state campgrounds.  Just recently, they decided to return to full time RV’ing and are very excited about living the nomadic lifestyle once again.

One morning Don provided an authentic south Texas breakfast.  We enjoyed Migas, Kolaches and sampled some Menudo.  It all was excellent!

Now Kyle is near Austin, the state capital and a city with a lot of traffic.  Many folks that have to commute into Austin on a daily basis use their horns and a digit or two as much, if not more, than their brakes.  The automotive original equipment horns are too wimpy so many commuters have upgraded to a larger horn as this fellow did.

Well, tomorrow is Tuesday, January 25th and we have been on our excellent adventure for two whole weeks.  Our plan is to leave in the morning for the Texas Gulf Coast and the town of Corpus Christi.  Stay tuned.

Kit’s Corner:  We had a nice few days of downtime in Kyle.  Next time through, we may try and take in some of the famous country music in Austin.  It always seems like by Saturday night, we are all “exhausted” by our downtime and content watching TV for a few hours.  Must be an age thing.  Maybe, we could just take a nap during the afternoon to gain some energy…. LOL.

Love, Dad/Bill/Poppy and Mom/Kit/Guma