2007 Our trip to Texas in the RV

Our trip to Texas during the winter of 2007
Our trip down the Atlantic Seaboard to Big Bend National Park in Texas and back
Winter 2007

Date: Friday, January 12, 2007

My stepfather John got a “no-special-treatment” ok at his six week checkup after his hip replacement surgery so we were good to go.

We left Mother and John’s to go to Oromocto and put our truck away for the winter. We had meetings with friends on the Saturday and then we were going to leave first thing on Sunday. Well the best laid plans of mice and men work out about equal. We couldn’t get the truck into the barn. Our tenant had put up a fence along one edge of the drive down into the barn but with its angle and the ice in front of the barn there was no way we could park the truck inside the barn without rearranging everything in the barn from one side to the other. So rather than fight with it we put a couple of tarps down on the pad where the RV normally winters and drove the truck unto the tarps.

The next thing was the weather forecast. Sunday was forecast to be messy in Maine. Rain, freezing rain, snow and cold were all in the mix. We sat down with the Internet and a few weather sites and figured that if we were in Chelmsford by 2pm we were probably going to have rain and that was about it. Much later and we were pushing our luck, in order to get in any earlier we would have to leave EXTREMELY early.

Date: Sunday January 14, 2007

We had a great dinner and discussions with Mike and Judy McKendy about the Bahamas and living aboard, something they hope to do after they retire. We stayed at Mike and Judy’s on Saturday night and left about 5 a.m. with the idea that we would get at least to Bangor and if we couldn’t get any further we would grab a hotel room and wait out the weather. When we filled up in Houlton it was 7 degrees F (-16C). The engine heat was designed to heat the cab of a truck not a modest apartment on wheels. We did string a blanket over the back of the seats and did try to slow down some of the heat heading aft into oblivion and did manage to get the forward cab merely cold rather than down right frigid. By the time we got to Dysart’s truck stop on the south side of Bangor it had warmed up a fair amount but it was still cold. We sat down and started breakfast and looked out into a complete white out. We thought that we were done for the day and that after breakfast we would be heading back into Bangor to look for a place to stay. But as they say if you don’t like the weather wait a minute, it’ll change. It did. By the time we were walking back to the RV it had stopped snowing and there was about ¼ in of snow on the ground, but the sky was cloudy, no snow, just cold. We were off to see if we could get to Augusta. By the time we got to Portland it was raining sometimes down right HARD! We watched the antenna and it wasn’t building up any ice so we were happy to continue on past Kittery and on toward Mass. Shortly after this we started getting freezing rain, the antenna started to get a little bigger as the ice started to build up. We were less than an hour away and the roads were mostly wet with no ice building up yet so we pushed on, by the time we got to my brother’s in Chelmsford, the rig was noticeably heavy with ice. She felt top heavy in the turns, the mirrors, antenna and the cab-over had over a half inch of ice coating everything. None of the roads were the least bit icy but we were happy to be settled. Monday was scheduled to be more sleet etc so we imposed on John and Millie for another day and waited for better weather.

Date: Tuesday January 16, 2007

We waited for the sun to come up to warm the roads and to let the traffic ease a bit before leaving toward the sunny south(we hoped). With our late start we only made it to Hazelton, PA before we had to pack it in for the night. We grabbed a Traveler’s Discount booklet and picked out a hotel. The discounts in those little books are better than CAA, AAA, or any other discount program we have heard of. We can also usually find a hotel to park the rig that is cheaper than private campgrounds. Millie is still in winterized condition so we have few amenities on board until we can get farther south and bring her systems back to into operation. The hotel was nice, warm, with hot showers to boot. The restaurant next door was pretty good too.

Date: Wednesday January 17, 2007

We were up reasonably early and made it to Newport News and one of our favorite campgrounds on Wednesday afternoon. Thursday was supposed to be 48F with sleet and rain. We stayed brought the systems back on line. We filled the fresh water tank as well as the hot water tank and flushed the lines. We filled and drained the tanks three times and ran a fairly strong Javex mix through the system to clean out any bacteria that may have poked its head in during the down time. After all that we drained all the systems and only partially filled the fresh tank again. We took advantage of the dump station and as the weather started to let up on the rain we were back on the pad in time for a nice walk around the park. We walked all of the five loops of the park, only two of which are open for campers. It was nice to see a small yard of deer in the park. We counted as many as nine at any one time. We walked over to the “Discovery Center” which unfortunately was closed. We did discover a large set of earthen works used by the Confederacy to defend Richmond in the Civil war. There were lots of signs explaining the role of the earthen defenses and where the Union and Confederate troops fought against each other. Interesting stuff if you like US history.

Date: Friday January 18, 2007

After leaving Newport News we made our way down to the NC Visitor Center. A place we have spent many nights on our way up and down the ICW with our boat. From there we went on to Elizabeth City on our continuing ICW (by RV) journey. We were going to try to stop at the parking lot in front of the free docks but this being a workday they were packed with locals. There were no boats on the dock, which was not surprising. We decided to head toward the Outer Banks where we wanted to go with the boat but never have taken the time. We slipped into the Walmart at Kitty Hawk and crashed for the night.

Date: Saturday January 19, 2007

Kitty Hawk NC became famous as the place where the Wright brother’s flew the first heavier than air aircraft in 1903. The Wright Brothers had been coming to Kitty Hawk for a few years at that point. There is a national monument there now and we had a great time looking around the grounds and the exhibits. I didn’t know that the Wright brothers were as scientifically grounded as they were. One of their accomplishments that I thought was more interesting than the airplane was their use of their own custom built wind tunnel for the testing and development of wings. They used the wind tunnel to test over 200 different “aero foils”. In 1902 they had a glider that had all of the functional pieces of the 1903 airplane except for an engine and propellers. They were also the first to understand that planes had to be able to correct for roll, pitch, and yawl. The glider had all basics covered. It was also interesting that instead of today’s ailerons that move a small portion of the wing to control the roll of the aircraft they actually had a mechanism to warp the wings of their biplane, that mechanism was controlled by a yoke that they used by moving their hips back and forth.

The last pieces needed for the aircraft was an engine. A four cylinder engine that had four inch pistons that moved a stroke of four inches, it was cast aluminum with steel liners for the pistons. It produced about 12 HP, in less than a minute it produced less than half of that because of the heated air entering the engine from the red hot manifold.

The four flights they made on Dec 17 1903, all in more or less a straight line and the total of all four flights was 100 seconds. The plane was launched from a monorail and landed on wooden skids.

From there we went to Jockey’s Ridge State Park, a park to preserve the tallest sand dunes on the east coast of the U.S. The sand dunes fluctuate between 80 and 100 ft above sea level. They have an active school of hang-gliding there. We didn’t bite. The dunes were interesting to see. The dunes were just starting to dry out from the large amounts of rain that we had in the past few days and there were some very interesting colors and patterns in the shifting sands as a result.

We continued on down the outer banks and visited the first of a series of light houses, Bodie Island Light house. Bodie Island(pronounced Body, in fact some of the old charts of the island does have it listed as Body Island) has tall black and white bands (2 Black, 3 white with a black superstructure housing a Fresnel lens) As we continued down the banks to Cape Hatteras we notice that there were few if any places open. We figured if nothing was open maybe the rangers would let us stay in the parking lot overnight but no go they kicked us out about 6 and we made our way back up the road until we came to a Food-Lion (one of the popular grocery store chains in the area) and they were happy to let us camp over to one side of the parking lot.

Date: Sunday January 20, 2007

We continued down the road, caught the ferry to Ocracoke and then a two and a half hour ferry ride to the main land. We stopped at Morehead city not far from one of our favorite anchorages at Spooner’s Creek. Skipper Bob lists a Food-Lion near by but he doesn’t list the ton of other shops within walking distance of the Food-Lion including a Walmart Supercenter.

Date: Monday January 21, 2007

We left our Spooner’s Creek parking lot and continued and following our route down the ICW through Camp Lejeune Marine training base (another anchorage) by Topsail Beach (another Anchorage) to stop at the Carolina Beach State Park beside Snow’s Cut, one of the more notorious stretches of water in the ICW. The currents are swift, the small boat traffic is insane on the weekends, and there is usually shoaling to contend with between Wrightsville Beach and Snow’s Cut. We normally are on our way to Pipeline Canal and bypass the marina at Carolina Beach State Park but it is nice to hear that they have appropriated funds to dredge the entrance a little deeper. Carolina Beach State park was interesting with it’s walking trails. It was another civil war site with a few plaques that talked about its strategic value. There are a number of interesting botanical walks. One is the flytrap walk. It is a walk that takes you into an area where there are a number of carnivorous plants including the Venus Flytrap. The Venus Flytrap grows natively only within 75 miles of Wilmington

Date: Tuesday January 22, 2007

We left Carolina Beach and continued and following the ICW this time actually on the water, courtesy of another of the NC Ferries. We landed not far from one of our favorite anchorages at the Pipeline Canal and then continued down the coast passing by a few more anchorages, Calabash Creek, Barefoot landing, and Prince Creek. We actually stopped not very far from Prince Creek at the Huntington Beach State Park. We stopped near here on the way home and visited with Henri and Monique Giasson and we tried calling them on the phone again today (we think they are in the area but no luck). We also called John and Shirley Sullivan to say we were going to arrive tomorrow but without luck there either. We left a message and we will land there tomorrow ready or not. We want to spend the first part of the day at the Brookgreen Sculpture Garden across the street from the park.

Date: Wednesday Jan 23, 2007

Henri Giasson was one of the many people that helped us prepare for our first boat trip to the south. He also was there to help us on our last trip north. He was in Murtle Beach for a few months last spring and knocked on our hull when we were in Barefoot Landing. He showed us around and drove us down to show us the entrance to Brookgreen Gardens. He said it was one of his favorite spots to spend some time in the area. When we were on our way through we had to check it out. We were very glad we did. They are spectacular.

The Brookgreen Gardens were opened in 1931 by Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington as America’s first public sculpture garden. The collection is now over 1200 pieces of representative sculpture. It is composed entirely of American artists, either native or immigrants. It is physically located on one of Carolina’s early rice plantations. The live oaks in the park date back to the time of the rice plantation and stand majestically after over 250 years. The Huntington’s acquired over 9000 acres and part of the land is also Huntington Beach State Park. Anna Hyatt Huntington was a successful sculptor before meeting her husband. He was a philanthropist and commented once that wherever he walked museums popped up. We have actually been to a couple of others, one other impressive museum is the Newport News Mariner’s Museum.

Their original home was built on the site of the State Park and you can walk around which we did the day before. The home, Antalya, was built during the depression by the locals under the direction of Arthur, without the aid of an architect. The house itself was a make work project that employed many people in a place hard it by the depression. The house is a 200 foot square structure along the lines of a Moorish castle. The living area was on the outer ring, the inner courtyard housed an enclosed walkway and a watchtower like structure that actually held the cistern. There was a large outdoor studio as well as an indoor studio for Anna. Anna’s thing was animals and it was not uncommon for her to have a menagerie of animals that she used as models for her sculptures. Fox, bear, horses, alligators, peacocks, monkeys, and assorted animals were kept so she could observe how they moved and looked. This was a place where they came to get away from things. They had her studios, their living area, a place for their secretary and servants but no room for guests. No spare bedrooms at all. The home is not in good shape and has seen many better days, but it was still worth wondering around in for an hour or so.

One thing to note if you are planning to visit and stay in the park. There is a coupon available at the desk where you register that has a coupon that give you $2 off the $12 admission price to the gardens. The $12 entrance gives you a 1 week pass to the gardens.

The sculpture garden was well worth a few days of visiting but we were only able to stay and walk the gardens for 4-5 hours before we had to make our way down to see John and Shirley Sullivan and their son Collyn.

Date: Feb 1, 2007

We spent several days visiting with John, Shirley, Collyn as well as Shirley’s sister Janet and her hubby Joe. We lucked out when a friend of Shirley’s let her borrow a “tourist pass for locals”. It is sponsored by one of the local banks and it give you admission for four to a number of local attractions, discounts at restaurants, etc. We used it to get into Middleton Plantation and it was great to spend the afternoon walking around looking at the old rice plantation.

The rice was actually an African crop and the slaves knew more than the “masters”. The “masters” did learn and developed a variety called Carolina Gold. The grounds of the plantation are well worth spending a few hours strolling around.

John wanted to go to the Charleston Boat Show, and who am I to ever turn down going to a boat show! Bonnie and I were looking to replace her rain suit. It has many of its best days behind it as well as a quite a few not so good days under its belt. We figured that we would have plenty of chance to check out all kinds of foul weather gear. Boat shows at home are a few boats and lots of stuff to go on boats. This boat show was completely different. It was packed with boats. All were recreational fishing boats, mostly smaller 20-26, but a few up to 35 feet and $265,000 USD. Nice toys to be sure but big price tags.

We were shocked at how expensive they were. We are planning on building our boat for a lot less than most of the 25 footers at the show. Of course, we aren’t planning on having 3 250 hp outboards on the back either.

The thing that surprised us most was the lack of boat “stuff” at the show. No suit for Bonnie, no rain gear at the show at all.

We also lucked into the Customer appreciation Day at the South Carolina Aquarium. So we got in free at another great tourist trap! The aquarium is huge with lots of small tanks showing local varieties of fish and other kinds of aquatic life. Including a fish that has two front feet which it uses to scoot itself around on the bottom. These are big feet relative to the size of the fish. I called him, Darwin! Their huge tank has lots of neat stuff including turtles, a few varieties of sharks, tuna, jacks, and even a moray eel or two. Great stuff. They have an area for traveling exhibits and this exhibit’s was on the Amazon. Lots of spiders, snakes, and piranha.

We let John get away to work before heading down toward Tybee Island near Savannah. The KOA nearby was nice enough to fill our propane tank, the Citgo was happy to fill our gas tank even if we had to run the credit card through twice to get the tank full but at $1.99 I was willing to run it a few times.

We went to visit Beaufort and walked around the quaint little town. We remember walking around on our first trip south on the boat. We visited some of the same spots and enjoyed them again.

The next day we went toward Tybee Island and We stopped at Fort Polanski to do the tourist thing. We were impressed by the fort it was an interesting piece of Civil War history. The Fort was the first defeated by new technology, the rifled barreled cannon. The Fort was massive and it’s 25 million bricks were thought to be impenetrable. The old smooth bore cannon’s effective range was close to the distance from Tybee Island to the fort so they were not effective but the new rifled guns destroyed the fort in short order. The Union troops pounded a hole in the wall and had a round come dangerously close to the magazine. The commander of the fort choose to surrender the fort and his men rather than loose them all with the 40,000 pounds of black powder in the magazine. Probably a good choice for the union troops as well.

We were disappointed with Tybee. It was an extremely crowded shopping and tourist island and we decided a night in the Walmart in Savannah was better than a night in the campground at Tybee.

The next day we made it to Jekyll Island. We spent a day here with our boat and had a great time touring the houses and biking on the island. We decided to spend a couple of days here and have a “Sunday” and relax a bit. Our first day was spent walking around Jekyll Island. The Island does not have a down time. The campground was nearly FULL. There are dozens of campers who spend months in the campground. The spaces are tight and getting into them is sometimes a trick. But check in early if you don’t have reservations.

We checked in and then played tourist, walking round all of the homes. We even had coffee and cinnamon buns in the Café inside of the famous Jekyll Island Club. Most of the houses have been taken over by hotel rooms and are basically off limits to the tours. We were debating going on another tour but were glad we didn’t when we saw them going into the same houses as we went into the first time on the island.

Those who know Bonnie’s passion for beach glass will get a kick out of the “Island Treasures” program on the island held during January and February. The Island has commissioned a select group of artists to create glass floats that mimic the old floats used on fishing nets. Theses “floats” are seeded on the island’s 10 miles of beach (four a day, every day, during January and February, we were told) to give an incentive to beachcombers. We spent an hour or so looking on the southern end of the island near the picnic area after our walk around the houses with no luck. The next day we wanted to relax and just walk the beaches and have a “Sunday”. So we relaxed and had a late breakfast and then walked up to the north end beach’s picnic site and watched a few boats fight the falling tide of Jekyll Creek. From there we walked along the bike path and we heard something and Bonnie asked if it was surf or wind. I thought surf but we walked that way to make sure. I was right it was surf and we were at the driftwood beach. This area was a section of a live oak forest that the ocean was reclaiming. The soil around the roots has been eroded away and the trees have all died. The beach is covered with dead live oak trees that provide a stark view of the power of the ocean. We walked up the beach a short way and found an Island Treasure! A beautiful blue and green hand blown sea glass float was sitting near the dunes.

We walked all over the driftwood beach but only found one. The next day we walked another beach before leaving and heading to the visitor center to register our find (and get packing material). My picture should be on their web site shortly.

We left there and headed toward St. Mary’s Georgia. St. Mary’s is a great place to visit by boat. The people are very friendly. The current roars though the anchorage but the community makes up for it in friendliness. St. Mary’s is where you catch the ferry to Cumberland Island to see the horses. We had seen the horses many times, one of our favorite anchorages is on the Brickhill River about half way up the island and almost every morning we have seen the wild horses browsing near our boat. One of the other popular anchorages, although we have never gone there is called Drum Island. It lies between Drum Island and Cumberland Island near where the ferry docks. We looked at the Visitor Center and got a few of the brochures and continued on our walk around town. It was back to a Walmart campground that night and we decided that we wanted to take a ferry out to Cumberland the next day. The ferry leaves at 9 a.m. so we had to be underway early for us. We noticed a set of long parking slots near the boat ramp the day before. There were a few trucks with boat trailers parked when we arrived. It was one of the few times I ever pulled Millie into a parking slot and we were too small. The nice little sign in front of us also said parking for 36 hours maximum. Sounded great to us!

We were over on the 9 a.m. ferry and the guide gave us a long and interesting history from the aboriginal transients of the area though the slave plantations and the eventual purchase of most of the island by the Carnegies. They weren’t allowed to purchase a property at Jekyll Island. Even if they were invited to spend time there, they weren’t OLD MONEY! They eventually acquired over 9000 acres of Cumberland Island and built several huge cottages that are very impressive all by themselves. The four story tabby mansion called Dungeness is now in ruins. It was a winter haunt for the Carnegies and when they were in attendance there were over 250 people employed. During the summer down time it was down into the 50 or so people. The Carnegies built cottages for their children. We were familiar with one called Plum Orchard as we anchor beside it on the Brickhill. We have walked around Plum Orchard a few times. There are tours on the second and fourth Sunday of the month, which we have never managed to hit yet. We will some day, sigh.

After the mother died Dungeness lay idle and after a while it was decided to remove most of the furnishings. There was some animosity between the locals who like to hunt on the island and the owners who operated it as a private hunting preserve for them and their guests and kept it posted as “No Hunting”. There was a run in between a few poachers and the owners and words and even gunfire was exchanged between them. A poacher was killed and two days later Dungeness lay in ruins. The mansion had been torched.

Developers have been trying to get their hooks into the island for years but according to the ranger it is very much an outside influence. The Carnegies’ descendants for the most part donated their lands to the National Park Service so that the island would remain undeveloped. The NPS has control of 90% of the island. The lands and beaches are beautiful to walk and if you have the chance it is well worth the day.

The downtown parking lot does get a little noisy until about midnight.

We left from St. Mary’s and filled up at our first gas station at $2.06 a gallon, not too bad. We do remember Florida as having more expensive gas. The first station on the Florida border was $2.46 GULP. Not staying in Florida long! We wanted to see Fort Clinch we didn’t bother going to the fort on our first RV trip in 2000, and after seeing it every year from the ICW we wanted to actually visit the fort so we set our sight for the Fort Clinch State Park. Gas in Fernandina Beach is $2.16 so it is a little better.

It is a short distance between St Mary’s and Fernandina Beach so we arrived early enough that we could do the fort in a day. We did the check in and when he wrote our check out date on our bill as 05/02. The check reminded me that it was February 4th, Bonnie’s birthday. We walked the fort and beach for a few hours and looked for horses on the end of Cumberland Island but we didn’t see any.

I made a cake while Bonnie had an afternoon nap and gave her a hand blown glass float for her birthday!

Date: Feb 5, 2007

We were in the mood to start our westward run toward Texas but the cold was still chasing us. It was in the freezing zone at night and sweatshirt and heavy jacket weather during the day. We motored our way to Douglas Georgia and stayed at the Walmart not far away from General Coffee State Park. We needed a Sunday, a day of rest from the road. Staging into the park would count as a Sunday as we would be traveling less than ten miles to our campsite for the day.

Bonnie made the remark that this RV trip is a lot more like our boat trips than the first RV trip. We are up early, stop early, have our anchor down, stopping at a lot more “anchorages” (Walmart Parking lots!) rather than marinas (campgrounds), and we are staging into marinas.

Date: Feb 6

General Coffee State Park is an example of a Heritage Farm. There were a number of exhibits of farm machinery, animals (turkeys, mule, pig, ducks, chickens, geese, and a few wild extras including alligators, snakes and turtles). One of the more interesting areas was the display on tapping the pine trees to get sap to make turpentine. It was an interesting show of how little the harvesting has changed in 200 years.

After walking the nature trail and touring the Heritage Farm it was a day of human maintenance, showers, a couple loads of laundry, and a long anchor down followed by a walk around to see the other campers in the park (about 10 in all). We have had at least a few RVs with us every night, even in the Walmarts. Our record was about 12 RVs in a Walmart.

Date: Feb 7

The next day we were in the mood for making miles. We were up early and heading west,
and the next few days it was a state a night. Enterprise Alabama, Hattiesburg Mississippi (with a lunch stop at The Brick Pit in Mobile, it is listed in “Eat your way across America” a listing of great little places to eat along the way ) This area is called the Pine Belt for a reason. Huge expanses of Pine forest growing straight as an arrow 40 or 50 feet before the first branch. We even passed by a small forest fire burning next to the highway on the other side of the road (Thank you!) The next day we stopped in Alexandria LA after crossing the Mississippi River and huge cotton fields as flat as a pancake as far as you could see. We stopped at a LA visitor center for lunch and went into get a map and was told about a Mardi Gras Parade in Lafayette the next night so we decided to slow down a bit. We didn’t make it to Lafayette that night but were staged in close enough to make it an easy trip the next day.

Date: Feb 10 Lafayette LA

The parade in Lafayette takes place in downtown Lafayette in the “historical district” which is also the business district. The tourist info center was advertising a fundraiser for the youth group of the First United Methodist Church, parking for the parade! Sounded great to us. We asked about spending the night and it was a bit rich but it was a fundraiser so what the heck. We were the only one of the three RVs that stayed. The others went back to Walmart for the night. The Parade was pretty cool. The first set of beads thrown at us came from the parade marshal, Eric Estrada. I have no idea why he was the parade marshal. His float was followed by many other floats with a lot more beads were thrown our way. We have two Walmart bags of them. The three primary colors of the beads are purple(Faith), Gold(Power), and Green(Justice). We have other colors as well but I’m not sure what they represent.

We had a contingent of three young guys (they looked about 20) with their girlfriends and what looked like a couple of parents beside us. They were just back from Iraq. Their poster said they were they were on leave and that poster collected them probably five or six Walmart bags full of beads alone. We talked to a couple from Maine who had moved to Colorado near Cortez. He talked about fishing crawfish in the lake out west. He even had pictures. The kid from Louisiana couldn’t believe the size of the crawfish. The kid from Texas said “Man we catch those on our hooks and stomp on them and use’em as bait. Down here they eat the bait.” Interesting characters you meet.

Date: Feb 11

We debated sticking around for more festivities and even called the KOA in New Orleans but they were full up. We decided to ditch the idea and headed west, it was still cold. We were hugging the coast and avoided Houston by heading to the barrier islands and using the ferries to skip down toward Galveston. It is hard to believe the number of oil refineries, chemical plants, plastic plants, and oil related industrial plants along the coast near Galveston. Galveston’s official elevation according to the Texas highway map is 20 feet. Driving through I’m not sure they didn’t exaggerate a little. It is easy to see why they get real nervous when a storm threatens. A good 30 foot storm surge could do get a lot of stuff wet.

We did see a lot of oil rigs nodding their heads pulling the dragon from the ground. We also saw large herds of cattle sharing the same fields. What was weird was the lack of residential housing. We traveled a long way inland after long stretches of hotels before we ran into a small section of residential housing.

From there we used the ferries, bridges and to skip down the seashore. It was interesting crossing the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. Something we hope to do when we bring our next boat south.

We stopped at Mustang Island State Park for the night. It was scheduled to be cold and the ability to plug in the electric heater would be welcome.

From there we headed out toward the Padre Island National Seashore and planned on spending a couple of days.

We spent our anniversary walking the beach and watching the shore birds twitch among the waves rolling on the coast, including taking in a couple of lectures from the National Park Service. The first day we took the Beach Walk and the Deck Talk. The Beach walk was interesting and the guide was from Florida and move here from Everglades National Park in Florida several years before. He walked the beach and talked about the sea turtles and other things that use the beach. At one point he noticed a Portuguese Man of War jellyfish. He talked about how a couple of newly weds learned about how dangerous these little guys are, and “it doesn’t matter how big they are, even the little guys, you can put’em in a freeze for 60 days, take’em out, and they’ll still sting ya.” The newly weds were playing on the beach and she picked one up by the sail and tossed the jellyfish at her hubby. It landed on his bare chest and after being stung very badly they ran back to the HQ building. There is a long ramp up to the building and on the way up is a set of fresh water showers for washing the sand off. They stopped and tried to rinse off the stingers and the stinger cells of the saltwater jellyfish immediately sucked up lots more moisture via osmosis and exploded, immediately injected their full load of venom. He spent several days in hospital. Lesson learned, don’t wash off a jellyfish sting with fresh water.

One thing that is interesting was the way the currents work in the Gulf of Mexico. The large amount of rain this fall washed a lot of bamboo, water lilies, and other debris from Louisiana and Mississippi and it all is washed down toward Padre Island and dumped. The days we were there lots of Water Lily seed pods were scattered on the beach.

The deck talk was interesting they have a touch table full of shells, sea beans, and lots of neat stuff to play with.

The next day we went to the Turtle Talk given to us in the Amphitheater, as it was too cold to do a beach walk. The talk was given to us by one of the National Park Service people only this time it was a young woman from Maine. She and her husband had moved down here a little over a year ago. It was interesting listening to her talk about the climate as apposed to the Floridian talk about the climate the day before. As far as she is concerned it never gets cold here. She turns the AC on in March and off in December and that is more to keep the humidity down. She sets it at 78F and lets it run.

Our Floridian guide gave the evening talk, and he had lots of neat stuff to say about the native residents of the islands and in the area. He had lots of interesting hides and skulls to show. One of the interesting things he said was there is a rule that the same species of animal will gain size as it moves north. The deer in Keys are much smaller than those in Maine, same is true of coyotes and other species. As they move north they need more fat and body weight to survive and that means a bigger skeletal structure etc.

We were starting to get tired of moving and we started looking for a place to crash. We had a few more places to check out but we were basically ready to settle down for a while. The first place that was on Bonnie’s places to stop was the King Ranch. One of the biggest ranches. Rhode Island’s function in America was exercised again, that function is to be so small that people can claim how much bigger they are than Rhode Island. King Ranch is bigger than Rhode Island. It is still a going concern and we did a tour of one area of the ranch and it is still an interesting place. Lots of cattle oil and other stuff going on. They generated their own breed of cattle here the Saint Gertrudis.

We visited the King Ranch Saddle Shop, lots of neat stuff there, and stopped at Kingsville for the night.

Another ranch, bigger than Rhode Island, was the Kenedy Ranch. It was run by the Kenedy family until the last matriarch of the family died in the mid 80s. She was a devote catholic and having no heirs she left the ranch and it’s holdings in a trust administered by the Catholic church. Apparently there were a few unhappy campers as the legal challenges ended up in the Supreme court of the US a few times during the more than 15 years of legal fighting that went on. We left the Kenedy Museum in Sarita in plenty of time to get to Harlington. The Texas Travel centers have wireless internet, one thing that we noticed is that although quite a few places have wireless internet, very few seem to have it working! We paid our bills while we had a chance and then went looking for a place to stay for a while.

We looked at a few places, Bonnie didn’t like a couple I chose, I didn’t like a couple she chose. We decided to try Rio RV park for a few days to see what we thought. It offered wireless internet(It never did work), a hummingbird and butterfly garden(Long gone in preference to another camp site), free guided day trips to Mexico(Which we did enjoy), as well as site with full hookups. We settled on staying three nights. We decided to take a day trip down to Boca Chica Beach an isolated beach at the end of the road where you can camp for free along the five miles of sand along the coast. The five miles ends at the Rio Grand River and Mexico is on the other side. When we got back to Rio RV park our spot had been filled by another camper. It took the operators of the campground over half an hour to figure out where they were going to put us. The next day we were going on the day trip to Mexico and we decided that we were very happy to have checked the little box saying we needed a drive.

We got a drive with a couple from Manitoba who had come south to check out a place to play golf for the winter. (We promptly looked at the map when we got home, yes we are south of Manitoba.) I didn’t realize how far west we had come. The guide said this was one of the nicest border towns that he has been in. No crime to speak of, the people won’t pester you as they do in some places, and there are lots of places to get cheap dental work, eyeglasses, and prescriptions. We drove to a parking lot and walked across the toll bridge that is the border to get into Mexico, it costs 25 cents to get in, 30 cents to get out. The tollgates are coin operated and they don’t take pennies.

Progresso Mexico is a place with a pharmacy on every corner and a couple in the middle of the block too, the only thing more popular than pharmacies are dentists. Some of them according to the guide, are very well trained and has had dentists on the tour check them out and came back extremely impressed. There were lots of street vendors selling everything from silver and stone jewelry to puppets and beads. One of the more interesting things for us was watching an airbrush artist create interesting and impressive paintings on heavy glass vases. We actually watched him make several of them and decided to get one as a souvenir of Mexico. At $20 a pop we figured he was making about $60 to $80 an hour that day. Bonnie timed him and it took him about 20 minutes to make ours.

One of the interesting sidelights was the attitude toward the Mexicans. The winter Texans (the northerner’s who come south) has much less respect for them than the Texans who work with them every day. The rancher’s have great respect for the vacaro (Mexican cowboys).

The next day we decided to leave Rio RV Campground and head toward one of the Texas State parks. There was a Camping World on the way in Mission that I wanted to stop at and check out a few things for the RV. We stopped at the Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Site, the first battlefield of the US-Mexico war. The US troops got wiped out and US President Polk got his victory. The call of “American blood shed on American soil” garnered the support he needed for a war with Mexico. He had campaigned on the pledge to extend the US to the Pacific Ocean. It helped that he drew the boundary at the Rio Grand rather where Mexico (and the independent state of Texas) drew it at the Nueces River. There was a line in the National Park Service’s Palo Alto Battlefield brochure that made me wonder about history repeating itself “Less than half a year after Polk had declared the peaceful acquisition of Rio Grand, the United States and Mexico entered a two-year conflict to decide the matter.”

We drove down the road along the Rio Grand and just west of the road to Progresso, Mexico we stopped for lunch at a little place called the La Haceinda. It was a great authentic Mexican food, definitely an entry for our version of “where to eat”.

Past Progresso we worked our way west to Mission where we were planning a Walmart and a Camping World stop.

Texas has an interesting variation of a highway. It is like regular highways in the sense that it has two lanes going each direction with a median in the middle. What is different is that it has a median on each side with two more lanes going in the same direction. So if you are traveling west on the Interstate 83 and you see a Walmart on the opposite side of the highway you take the exit off Interstate 83 to get onto Business 83 then you exit off the right side of Business 83 and find a bridge where you cross 8 lanes of traffic with three medians and then merge back on Business 83 going East until you get to the Walmart. Kind of like an eight lane highway with four restricted express lanes in the middle. It would work better if they actually told you how to get to the bridges crossing the highway.

We stocked up on food and the next morning we were off for a week at Falcon State Park. Falcon State Park is Birding paradise. We aren’t birders but we still saw a few interesting birds that we don’t normally see at home. On one of the first walks around the campground Bonnie saw her first Roadrunner! The little dudes really do get up and go! What was funny was that they seem to follow almost the same route every day. About noon one would appear at our campsite and run down between the next site and ours, then by two he was back running to beat the band the other direction. We weren’t sure who was having more fun the bird people watching or the people bird watching.

We walked the nature trails almost every day, a walk in the morning and then another road walk in the evening. The temps have gone from the 70s during the day to pushing 90s really hard. It is not humid which is saving Bonnie. It is too hot to do a lot during the mid part of the day but we are doing a bit of reading and talking with a few of our neighbors. We have one from Halifax they went to a bloodless bullfight the other day. It was pretty cool

We did have a great success! The desert blossomed while we were here. Thousands of tiny flowers of every color, most very tiny about the size of your small fingernail, but a few were about the size of your finger and thumb forming a circle, then there were the yucca’s their blossoms are huge, near volleyball size. There are very few cactus here. We will see more of them when we get around to Big Bend I suspect.

We leave tomorrow and are planning on heading up toward Laredo and a State park called Lake Casa Blanco for a few days. It is the end of February already.

We decided to sit for an extra day in Laredo and relax. Laredo has a real drug problem as most of the drugs entering the US come in via Laredo. Not a place to do a Walmart campsite. We stopped at Lake Casa Blanca State Park and did a walk around the park. There are ruins of something here that looks like an old mission but there is no signage and not much by way of historical information. It is definitely a good place to use if you are planning a stop at Laredo. We walked over to the Laredo International Fair and Exposition(LIFE) and were the only people in shorts and Ts Everyone else was in long pants sweats and heavy clothes. The exposition wasn’t much but 4H is a very big thing here and we sat and watched the sheep judging. We were impressed with the judge who spent a lot of time judging the animals and then really took the time to explain to each contestant why they were ranked as they were. Then he gave the audience an explanation of why they first five finishers were ranked as they were and what he was looking for. It was interesting. Some of the most interesting exhibitors were the high school crafts. The art classes reminded me I was supposed to be spending more time trying to learn to draw on this trip.

Ken Reeder loaned me a Drawing for Dummys book and I bought a few pencils, erasers, and a sketchbook. I’ve got all of five pages used so far, so I must get back to that. I’ll use the excuse that we are traveling more than I thought we would.

We left Laredo and headed toward Seminole Canyon State Park. A park offering guided tours of a Mesa Verde style cliff dwelling with primitive rock art. If you are interested check out http://www.rockart.org and see some of the stuff.

We arrived just in time to have the office close. We checked in with the camphost and were up early the next day and walked the mile and a half to the headquarters and checked in to the first tour of the day down to the Fate Bell shelter. Before the tour we got most of the way through the excellent presentation on the Rock art at the Visitor Center. We were almost done looking at the presentation when it was time for the tour to start. The shelter is down in a overhang in the canyon below the headquarters building. Volunteers of the Rock Art Foundation gave the tour. Greg Williams and another guide called Dave. They are volunteers from San Antonio. Who drive out for the weekend and give the tours, one at the park and one at the Galloway White Shaman Preserve. We talked Dave into Greg giving us a drive the mile and half down to the Preserve and they took us to the scenic overlook at the Pecos River where it crosses US90. It was a spectacular view of the green waters of the Pecos flowing down into the Rio Grande.

From there we did the White Shaman Shelter tour with Greg and Dave and four other visitors. It was a long walk down into the shelter with some very impressive works of art. From there Dave asked us if we would like to go for another hour and look at more of the Preserve. The other four had had enough and quit we were happy to continue on and we walked around the preserve for another hour looking at the desert and looking at other site where there had been encampments. The walk around the canyon was spectacular all by itself. Dave dropped us back at the Visitor Center and we were going to finish the presentation when we decided it was time to walk home the mile and a half to the RV. We were tired it had been a long day.

The next day we were greeted with a cool day with a wind blowing lightly from the north. Bonnie and I wanted to walk The Rio Grande Trail, a three and a half mile trial one way to the bank of the Rio Grande River. Mind you we had no intention of getting our feet wet. It is a 160 foot sheer drop to water 100 feet deep. What is nice is there is a look off at the end of the trail at a cave across the mouth of Seminole Canyon where there is a spectacular cave for rock art. There is a 15 foot long painted panther, an image that reoccurs several times around the canyon. We started along the walk and saw a trail toward the edge of the canyon. We walked out to see pretty spectacular cliffs and down where a few canyons came together within about 100 yards of one another. We looked at the map and there was the Presso Trail that branched off the Rio Grand Trail and if we walked around on the edge of the canyon we would run into the trailhead of Presso Trail. So we walked along the edge of the canyon and met up with the trailhead. On the opposite side of the canyon was a herd of sheep. This area produces the vast majority of angora wool for the US. The walk out the Presso Trail was uneventful and had little signage until we got to the very end and all it said was “Presso Trail 1 mile” When we sat down at the half way shelter we figured out it was about 11 am the day was going to stay cool and if everything worked out we would be doing about a 10 mile day. We had lunch at the Panther cave and I actually managed to get a good picture of the panther with the digital camera through the lens of the binoculars. We walked down beyond the end of the trail and got a few pictures of the Rio Grande. It is actually all flood waters of the Amistad Dam here. The Rio Grande River that played a role in the shipping of cotton for the Confederate states is no longer a navigable river.

The Chihuahuan Desert is extremely pretty and the desert is just starting to blossom here. Only a few blossoms are starting to appear. The sunsets are spectacular into the mountains of Mexico.

Our last day in the park we walked town to the park headquarters and did the Windmill Trail 0.3 of a mile and that seemed plenty long with the 1.5 there and back from the campground.

Tomorrow we are planning to head to Big Bend National park where we will be for a couple of weeks.

Stuff added April 05 2007

We arrived in Big Bend with all of the campgrounds listed on the board a Panther Junction showing FULL.

We have spent many nights in FULL campgrounds so we went to Rio Grande Village Campground and asked at the store if they had any sites in the Full Service area. They had three so we grabbed one and were ready to settle in. They don’t give refunds but they don’t take reservations so if you get a spot you can keep it for up to two weeks by coming in first thing in the morning and paying up that day. We figured three nights would be a good start and went in to set up.

In the day of modern communications Big Bend is an interesting place. There are no AM radio stations, no FM radio stations, no cell phones, and no newspapers. Even our marine band radio did not pick up any NOAA weather broadcasts. If you didn’t have a satellite dish you had the two pay phones as your link to the world. What was funny was I had a wireless Internet connection. I looked around and sure enough there was a satellite Internet uplink on one of the VERY fancy rigs a few rigs away. I sent out an email and did a few Internet things. A soon as that rig disappeared so would my Internet connection.

Bonnie and I got up early in the morning and headed up to the Daniel’s Ranch and the trailhead for the Hot Springs Trail. Walking in the desert is an interesting experience. Most people think of the desert as a barren place, but the desert is a place full of life. It is a hard place to live and anything that lives here has to be tenacious, bull headed, and have a mean streak. Even the plants here bite back, any animal here is a predator, all of the spiders, snakes, and even the ants here are animals to give respect to, they bite, they sting, and they adapt to the harsh existence here. There are many animals that are found only here. Almost all of the plants here have some food, water, or medicinal value; they also have barbs, hooks, spines, or some manner of self-defense. And everywhere, if you look for it there is beauty.

The trail across to the Hot Springs is 2.8 miles one way. We left early in the morning to take advantage of the morning cool. It was a nice cool morning and we had a long walk with spectacular views over the Rio Grande. The first 0.3 of a mile is up hill, steeply up hill after that is just constant up and down. The Hot Springs is on the edge of the Rio Grande River and you can actually have one foot in the hot water of the spring (105 degrees F) and the other foot in the cool water of the Rio Grande. The Rio Grande is a heavily used river. It is actually dry at times for a long stretch between El Paso and were the Rio Chonchos from Mexico pours into the Rio Grande. When we were there the rangers were estimated that 80% of the water flowing through the park had its origin in Mexico. We had a great talk with a number of people from all over the states from Maine to Utah. A few were new to Big Bend like use and a lot had been coming for many, many, years. We talked to a NPS
wildfire firefighter from Utah that had worked with the Diablos (contract fire fighters from Mexico). The couple from Maine had been coming to Big Bend for a dozen years or more. The topics ranged from prohibition, border security, Mexicans, and every topic in between. The couple from Maine had an interesting method for refilling their water jugs. The hot spring came bubbling up out of a brick lined 6 by 8 inch pipe, he would cover the top of the mouth of the bottle with his hand submerge the bottle deep in the spring and then allow the air to be pushed out of the bottle, then he would put his hand back over the top, pull the bottle from the well, cap it and then put it in a cavity by the wall where the cool waters from the Rio Grande refrigerated it. He had been doing it for years with no ill effects he says. We didn’t refill our bottles that way but we were almost sorry we didn’t by the time we got back to the campground. We were hot and thirst campers by the time we got
back.

We sat at the back of the camper and watched the sunset change the colors of the Sierra del Carman Mountains of Mexico. The colors were much prettier on the mountains of the east than skies of the western sunset.

The next day we got new neighbors George(whose real name is Dorothy) and Jack. They were full timers who are on a transition cruise from Yuma to Wesleco Texas. They were stopping at Big Bend for a few days. They mentioned they were interested in Newfoundland this summer and we talked with them for while. The next day we did a small hike up to the visitor center, around the nature trial, and around the “full” unserviced campground and noted at least a dozen empty sites. Jack biked around the night before and said there were probably twenty or thirty empty slots. There is a lot of movement every day so even if the parks are marked full it is probably worth checking.

We asked the volunteers at Visitor Center about taking our Rig up to the Chisos Mountains and using the campground. They are RV’ers and understand a little more about moving RVs and agreed with the warnings about not taking our rig up there. We could probably negotiate the 15% grades and the switchbacks (rated for maximum of 24 foot long vehicles) but the campsites are small and not very level. They also take reservations and since it was March break week in Texas the campground was packed. But they did say we could go over to Cottonwood on the west side of the park there was only a 10% grade and only one tight switchback near Sotol Vista that was a problem. They had taken their 32 foot fifth wheel to Cottonwood. We had to give up the idea of taking Millie up to the Chisos Basin, I was more worried about Millie’s 136000 km on the 15% grade than I was about the turns.

That night George, Jack, Bonnie, and I went up to the top of the Nature trail and watched the sunset from the high point in the area. It was a truly spectacular sunset, both east and west views! We said goodnight and a few minutes later Jack came over and invited us to go the Boquillas Canyon ranger talk in the morning and then they were going to do the Window Trail in the Chisos Canyon the next morning. We couldn’t thank them enough we were off to the Chisos something we would have missed until we change rigs. We did a small hike down the Boquillas Canyon and saw a number of horse corralled at the end of the canyon. We talk to a professional photographer from Charleston who makes very large black and white prints. He was on his way to Death Valley to do a photo workshop, an interesting guy to talk to. The Boquillas Canyon is well worth a walk when you’re in the area.

The Chisos mountain range is completely enclosed by the Big Bend National Park. It sits almost in the center of the park. The highest peak is Emory Peak at 7825 feet, which looks impressive from Rio Grand Village’s 1850 feet. There is a trail that goes from the basin (5401 ft) up to Emory Peak. The CCC did the Chisos Basin campground and a lot of the trails. As usual the work was well done and is still standing up well.

We came back from the window trail and had lunch at the restaurant at the Lodge. The food was good and not overly expensive, a pleasant surprise. We got back to the Rio Grand Village and watched the sunset in the east from behind our rigs. George and Jack were gone on their way the next day.

We took a Sunday and relaxed around the rig with only a few walks around the campgrounds. It was nice to spend a little time not doing a whole lot. We have been walking several miles in the desert every day and it kind of builds up on you. We drank a lot of water all day just to make sure we were hydrated. The most common cause of death in the desert is dehydration, the second is less obvious, drowning. The desert has about the same ability to absorb water as your average concrete slab. Any rain in the mountains miles away can cause a flash flood where you are. One of the things you notice is the effort that is put into drainage in the desert. The roads are extremely well drained and the places that aren’t often have little flood boards nearby that give you a guess at the level of water in the puddle in front of you.

We decided that we would walk down to the cottonwood trees at the Daniel’s Ranch and look around there a bit but fate intervened. Someone came running down a trail and jumped into car and took off he was back a couple minutes later and he ran by us toward the trail. I asked if there was a problem and someone had broken their ankle on the trail and asked if we would come help. We went and about a quarter-mile up the trail there was a woman kneeling over a man trying to protect him from the sun. Her son Gabe was very excited telling everyone that he had a broken leg and was legally blind and on and on. I looked at him and asked him how he was doing. He was not in a lot of pain but when I looked at his leg it was very badly swollen locally, his foot didn’t quite align with his leg and when I asked him if he heard it when it broke he said yes. There wasn’t a lot we could do without any med kit at all. The guy that brought us up explained that he had called the ranger from the
camp store and they were on their way. He had been going up on the trail when they had met the family coming down, the gentleman now on the ground had stepped to the side to let them by, lost his footing, then twisted and fell with a snap. Other than his ankle, a few scrapes and a cactus thorn or two he seemed fine and in very good condition. Bonnie and I took over shade duty from the woman and it turned out he was a colonel in the air force(retired), had 25% vision and was staying at the Stillwells Campground outside the park. After half to three-quarters of an hour we had refilled our water jugs from passing hikers and the Ranger had arrived. Jeff Webb was from New Hampshire and had a very large med kit. He called for a Horse Evacuation. The colonel and Bonnie talked about Oromocto and asked how we felt about Canadians in Afghanistan. I was surprised he knew anything about it. We haven’t heard more than two mentions of Canada since being in the US and they were about Oil
and Oil workers.

We often chuckle and say stereotypes exist for a reason. Our stereotype arrived with a vengeance when Whit arrived with “Jeep” a quarter horse. He was a dead ringer for George Strait, long and lean, spoke with a slow western drawl and tipped his hat to all the ladies. A while later the colonel was loaded on Jeep and going down the mountain.

The next day we drove from Rio Grande Village all the way to Santa Elena Canyon and back. Texas March break time is now. Apparently all the school districts were given the option of the week of the 11th or the week of the 18th as March break and the place is showing full everyday, and most days the full serviced sites are full. The non-serviced sites are harder to tell because they have places that are reserved with no one in them.

We didn’t want to gamble on getting a site in Cottonwood so we reserved our site for a couple more days and then headed out.

We filled up at the Panther Junction gas station. Panther Junction is more or less the center of the park with Rio Grand Village about 25 southeast from Panther Junction. It has the same price for gas as the store in Rio Grand Village ($2.83 per gallon, Marathon (40 miles north of the park) was $2.75, the going price in Waco as I write this is about $2.39) it is 30 miles to Persimmon Gap(the Northern entrance to the park) and Cottonwood is 35 miles away at the southwestern edge of the park. The trip to Cottonwood campground did have about 5 sites available but we were happy to be heading back to RGV.

We walked up Santa Elena Canyon it was a short and easy trip. The canyon is well worth the trip and was very neat for us because we got to see an number of plants in leaf. The Ocotillo is also called the Devil’s Walking Stick. It looks like a bunch of walking sticks plunked into the ground only the walking sticks are covered with thorns. The Ocotillo blossoms are bright red and yellow flowers at the end of each stick. If there is sufficient moisture the Ocotillo will produce an abundance of small green leaves which will dry up and drop off when the moisture dries up. The green stocks of the Ocotillo are green and contain the chlorophyll needed to produce energy without the leaves. Desert plants must be seen to be appreciated.
Santa Elena Canyon is the end of the trail and we were going to spend most of the rest of the day working our way back to the RGV. There are a number of small settlements along the edge of the river that were stores that serviced settlements on both sides of the border. Mexican residents used the stores of the park up until 2002 when the informal border crossings were closed, ending a mutually beneficial relationship that dated back to 1919.

Castolon was a military outpost during the Mexican Revolutionary War. The buildings were then reused a number of times by settlers and finally the park. The area also was mined for mercury, lead, zinc, and silver. There are several buildings that are open for viewing including a store and adobe house and a visitor center with information on the park and this part of the park in particular.

We continued up to Tuff’s Canyon and walked up to the overlook. From there we went up to the Pouroff, a place that the water from the desert will pour off, a waterfall with no water most of the time. You walk up the dry creek bed and it reminded me of walking in heavy grainy snow that your feet sinks in four or five inches before you fetch up. Walking the creek bed was interesting with lots of neat flowers, blossoming trees with lots of bees, two kinds of butterflies, and even something called a hummingbird moth. Maneuvered like a hummingbird but had the body of a moth.

We made it up the 10% grade and turned into Sotol Vista to an impressive overlook. The trip from there seemed all down hill to Rio Grande Village. It was a long day but well worth the trip to the Santa Elena Canyon. The Cottonwood Campground is a nice place to visit but it is even further from trail heads than Rio Grande Village. The Chisos has lots of trails right from the area of the campground. Rio Grand Village only a couple.

>From there we relaxed for a day and headed out toward the Marfa Mystery Lights. The Marfa Mystery Lights have been appearing near Marfa forever. The first report by a cowboy was in 1883 who thought they were Apache camp fires. The Apache thought they were stars dropping to earth, others considered them UFOs. The appear ALMOST every night. We didn’t see them so their still a mystery to us. But Marfa was our most westerly destination before we started home.

Our first major stop (not counting picnic sites and rest areas) was at the Sonora Caverns and even then we didn’t stop at the caverns overnight. Texas has a policy that you can stay in their picnic areas, highway rest areas, and Visitor Information Centers for up to 24 hours as long as you don’t erect a structure(tent) although we did see one tent pitched on the asphalt in front of a car. If you add in Walmarts we don’t pay for a lot of camping. After our experience in Brownsville we have signed off of private campgrounds and will use State and National parks whenever possible. The Texas state parks charge a per person per day entrance fee on top of camping fees. They also have a $80 per year pass which covers Bonnie and I for the per diem fees. We got the money out of our Texas Pass quite quickly. We bought the $80 US National Park Pass but have only used it to cover $72 in fees. We will probably cover the remaining $8 before we leave the US. It’s a goal.

Many of the state parks in the south have laundry facilities.

The Sonora Caverns advertise several different tours but are currently offering only one daily. The 1.7 mile underground loop covers a wide variety of formations from cave bacon “Both H.E.B. Bacon(lots of colors or ‘meat’) and Walmart Bacon(Mostly fat)”, Soda Straws, draperies, moon milk falls (white calcite flows), flow stone, stalactites, stalagmites, columns, cave popcorn, and a form of extrusion that I forget the name of. The colors in the cave seem a lot better in my photos than they were in my memory. If you like to look at caves the Sonora Caverns were well worth the trip. The campground was cheaper than I thought it would be at $15 per night but the rest stop nearby was free.

Bonnie wanted to go to the Lyndon Banes Johnson Parks. There is a national/state park that together do a tour of the Ranch that contains the Texas Whitehouse. Mrs. Johnson is still alive and in residence at the Whitehouse, so access to the actual house is off limits. . She has had a stroke and still has most of her faculties other than her speech as I understand it. She is in her nineties. From there we went to Johnsonville where the National park maintains a number of properties related to the family and the area. There was not an abundance of information about the LBJ policies that is available at the LBJ Library in Austin (I think).

We tried to get into a state park but ran into the Texas March break problem and it was full so we ended up in a picnic area when we really didn’t want to but such is life when you don’t want to plan ahead. We were listening to the local NPR station (One of few stations with actual news on it), and heard the Willie Nelson has launched his new recording company the Padenalis Recording company named after the river that flows near his home near Austin, the same river that flows through the LBJ Ranch and the river that we could see below us from the picnic site.

We passed from the Chihuahuan Desert to the Texas Hill Country with the LBJ Ranch, and then onto the Prairies and Lake region and then the Pine Woods region. Texas is an amazingly diverse place. Bonnie and I will probably not return to the Brownsville area again, but never say never. Big Bend is still on the places to go, we will return there without question. We were impressed with the Fredericksburg area.
We were aiming at the Natchez Trace Parkway. But this put us tantalizingly close to Ruby M Mize Azalea Garden, at the Steven F Austin State University. (SFA U, don’t say it I’ve already thought of a few zingers on that one.) The Azaleas were amazing there was a see of red, white, pink, purple, with a dash of yellow, and green. Azaleas were dominant but there were lots of magnolias, rhododendrons and other flowers as well, even on a cloudy day the colors were magnificent.

We rushed across Louisiana and made it to Natchez and the beginning of the Natchez Trace Parkway. They have a number of Antebellum houses available for touring but we weren’t in the mood so we headed for the first campground in the park heading north.

The Natchez Trace is a story of people on the move. It is a traditional route of the Natchez, Chickasaw and Choctaw Indians, the French had it mapped out by 1733. By 1785 Ohio River Valley Farmers were floating their flatboats with crops and products down the Mississippi all the way to Natchez or New Orleans. The flat boats were sold as building material and the Trace was their return route. The growing number of travelers marked the trace that it is still very visible in places. Some places the trace has been eroded so badly it is a gully cut into the earth over 15 feet deep. There are other places were the earth is still packed hard enough that little grows in the compacted soil. Wherever there are traveler’s traveling there are “services” that grow up to “service” them and some of the inns locally called stands offered all manner of services to the traveler. None of the more extravagant services exist on the trace today. Today it is an unhurried route from Natchez to
Nashville. The speed limit is 50 mph something Millie seems to happily do. It is a far cry from the 80 mph speed limit in Texas (75 and 80 on Interstate 10, most of the “back” roads were merely 70 mph)

There are a few campgrounds available on the trace but the one we were planning on stopping on was closed while the NPS did a controlled forest fire to clean out the brush around the campground before camping season hit in full force.

We ended up doing a Walmart stop in Clinton Miss.

We were running a little low on clothes so we are scheduling a stop for a couple of days at Tombigbee State Park for a little R+R and laundry.

We are planning on staying a few days in Nashville before we move on. Most of the Corps of Engineer parks and state parks around Nashville don’t open until the April 1st so we seem to be running about a week early. But that may do bad things on the other end.

Date March 27, 2007

We traveled for a couple of days from Tombigbee State Park. We had a great time walking around the park and visiting with a few people vacationing, weekending and generally enjoying the park. There was a family in the park camped beside us. It was really interesting to see the extended family together. The Father and the his 4 year old daughter Harley arrived with a tent trailer and the mother and her 17 year old daughter Megan arrived after work. Megan’s boyfriend showed up a hour or so later and they piled into the tent trailer for night. Harley never stopped riding her bike all day. The dad and the son played Frisbee Golf. A while later another daughter arrived she was early twenties with a 6 month old. She and her hubby were off with the stroller. We enjoyed seeing the family enjoying their time together. (Harley was definitely an opps).
We walked the nature trail and the roads to get a chance for a little exercise, we even helped a couple guys try to find their Frisbee. We left Tombigbee with a few pounds less dirt in the laundry, the tanks empty, including our fresh water take almost empty (opps).

We got back on the Trace and started to work our way up to Nashville. We noticed that the batteries were not charging properly. Normally the voltage showing on the system at the end of the day is showing 14 volts when the engine gets shut off and will drop to 12.6 as the system cools off. We were starting to see around 13 dropping to 12.4 (80% charge) even after a full day. I started watching and noticed we were spending a little bit of time changing and lot of time discharging. We had the starter and alternator rebuilt before we left so they should be fine. The starter has been grinding on starting so we were wondering if we had a battery problem. We ran out of water so we had to go over by the washhouse to get water. The charging system worked fine. We moved into another empty slot in the campground and started the engine a couple more times to test and they charging system came up without a hitch. We were trying doing a little scheduling for Nashville and it made the
sense to spend an extra day at the Lewis Merewether Campground there are no service beside a single washroom, a single spigot for water, no dumpstation, no power or other services besides a few walking trails (We saw this really cool black snake about 6 feet long.) They also don’t charge camping fees either. We decided to stick around for a day and getting fuel and charging the batteries if they would charge. We made a short run off the trace from the Lewis Merewether Campground to get fuel and 2 cycle oil for the generator and Millie. We came back to the campground and ran the generator to charge the batteries. On the run out we had a lot of discharge with very little charging. The voltage was getting close to value that would cause us to stop whether we wanted to or not. We spent the day charging batteries and notice quickly that the starting battery was not absorbing charge the way it should (1 problem to be dealt with.) Talking to other campers Columbia was probably a
better choice than Nashville for getting the rig repaired.

We went to Columbia and got a new battery and that didn’t fix the charging problem (didn’t really expect it to but you can always hope). The Walmart guy suggested getting the alternator tested in the rig at the Advanced Auto up the street. It tested ok but it was only putting out 12.16 volts (OK?). They suggested a place up the street but they were backed up a couple of days and they suggested the Gateway Tire and Service Center, just before the Ford Dealer (our last choice). The Gateway did replace the alternator and everything came up the way it should. We drove back to the campground and settled in restocked in groceries, wine, fuel, a new battery, and alternator and we were settled for our 3:30 anchor down.
We hope it is fixed and that with the new battery will fix our starter problem, the other thing we had rebuilt before we left.

As we started up the next day (The Starter grinded badly even with the new battery, sigh), the thundershowers were just ending. The last stretch of the Trace was our first day of serious rain in almost two months. We can really only remember one day of rain near Jekyll Island in Georgia.
We pulled off the Trace while one heavy rain shower hit but other than that we really didn’t have any problems, the alternator worked well.

At the end of the Natchez Trace where it joins Tenn. Highway 100, the Loveless Motel and Café welcomes travelers. It is an interesting place, listed in “Eat Your Way Across America, and “1000 Places to See Before You Die.” The Eat Your Way suggested the Loveless Famous Ham and the Fried Chicken. We had the Ham and the Watermelon Ribs. The Ham was good but not a retry, the Watermelon Ribs were incredible. The Ribs are smoked for 5-7 hours then covered in watermelon (for tenderness not flavor) and smoked another 5-7 hours. They are incredible not to be missed.

We picked up a few local advertising papers and made the rest of the way to Walmart to spend the rest of the day trying to figure out what we can see and how long we stay.

We will be looking for Grand Ole Opry tickets, the Saturday show has Martina McBride, Terri Clark and a group called “Little Big Town” as well as numerous others.

We made our way to the Parthenon. Actually the only full scale replica of the Parthenon in Athens. It was made as the central part of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition in 1892. The citizens of Nashville loved it so much they kept it. The original replica was made of wood brick plaster and wood lath meant to last six months. The permanent replica was rebuilt with concrete between 1921 and 1931. The Nashville Parthenon even has a version of the 42 foot tall Athena that has been lost in Greece. There are no records of what the Original Greek Athena looked like other than a few basic measurements and statistics. I think she looks more like a big boned girl from the mid-west rather than your classical Greek goddess, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

We took a run downtown and had a difficult time finding a place to park Millie. We ended up crossing the river and parking near LP field at the foot of the Pedestrian Bridge to downtown. It turned out to be an excellent parking place. We didn’t have to worry about meters, time limits, and it was about a five to ten minute walk to the District, home to most of the live music venues. We walked over to the visitor center and got a bit of information and the all important maps. We walked over to the Ryman Auditorium and got tickets for both the “Mississippi at the Ryman”, a fundraiser for Ole Miss scholarships, and the Grand Old Opry. Buying tickets for both events ended up saving us $5 per ticket on the Opry.

We came out of the Ryman and spent the next several hours touring the District watching the local performers at some of the famous honky-tonks in Nashville, “Legends on Broadway”, “Tootsies Orchid Lounge”, “The Stage on Broadway”, and a few others I can’t remember at the moment. We were late getting our dinner and had to scarf it down at the last minute before running back up to the Ryman for the “Mississippi at the Ryman” concert.

The “Mississippi at the Ryman” event was hosted by John Grisham (novelist) and had Marty Stuart, Steve Azar, and Amy Grant as the headliners. Marty Stuart put on a great show that lasted almost an hour and actually kept going on longer than he was supposed to and he just kept playing and playing. (We found out later he was leaving the next day to do a concert in New York City and was back the day after that for the Opry. ) He put on a good show, which we enjoyed even if Blue Grass is not our favorite form of music. It was a four-hour show. The Ryman is called the “Home Church of Country Music” as it was once a church an the seats in the Ryman are still church pews. Thinking about sitting for four hours in a church pew. The show was that good!

We went back to our Walmart and didn’t get up until late in the morning.

We went back to the Nashville and did a walking tour around the downtown area including lunch at “Coyote Ugly Saloon”. We were practically the only people in the bar beside the waitress who was a very pretty young lady who sat at our table and talked with us for probably half an hour while we waited. She is a Florida girl that calls herself a traveler. She has a B.A. and a B. Ed. She is working in Nashville and is looking at moving on, a friend is living in Illinois, and that may be next stop. She was interesting. We ordered a variety of appetizers for lunch and the Coyote Rolls were the hands down winner. The hot wings were good. The jalapeno poppers were ok but too cheesy.

We continued our walking tour and stopped at the Tennessee War Memorial, the Legislature, and Printers Alley. Printers Alley was the home of the large printing industry that grew up in the Nashville area. Many religious publications still are printed in Nashville. Printers Alley workers now wear much less than the workers of the old printing industry, and the ink they wear is a bit heavier and probably a little more colorful.
We were back to the District at the end of the walking tour and we ran into a guy from Ontario that was playing at Legends on the next shift. We went to back to see him perform an hour or so later. We spent several hours “doing the District”. Of all the acts we saw in the two days we toured the district there was only one that we thought might have a chance at actually making it big.

We left the District and headed toward a new Walmart and came across two “Marketplace” Walmarts. They are the smaller versions and we weren’t sure we wanted to park at either because of location or space. So we went back and stopped at the BIG K and the manager was ok with us staying there.
Our last day in Nashville was for the Grand Ole Opry. We were up and at the Opry Mills mall early in the morning. There was an RV already there, they were just walking to the mall when we arrived. They arrived about 1am the previous night and were not bothered by security. We parked behind them and headed over to the mall. It is a mall of more than a hundred stores, including themed restaurants like the Rainforest Café, the Aquarium, and the Stingray Grill.

We toured the mall and then walked over to the Orpy Museum and then over to the Gaylord Opryland Hotel. We walked around the enclosed area of the hotel for almost an hour. There are four different areas within the hotel. The largest has ½ mile of walking “trails” or boardwalks included in the atrium. Another had 1/3 of a mile the shortest is only something like 1/5 of a mile. The largest also has a “river tour”. A boat ride follows the concrete river around the interior of the atrium.

We walked back to Millie and moved her up to the other end of the Opry Mills parking lot closer to the Grand Ole Opry. We then noticed the “No overnight parking” signs that weren’t at the other end of the mall. We had supper and listened to the early show that was broadcast on the radio station and as it was finishing we headed over to the Opry for the late show. There was a cop directing traffic and we asked him where to go for the Mezzanine Level and if it was ok to Overnight in the rig. The metro cops don’t deal with the parking lot that is handled by the mall security but his understanding was that as long as you were out of the way they don’t mind you staying overnight.

The Grand Ole Opry was a great show, including well-known artists such as: Martina McBride, Terry Clark, Little Big Town, artists that were well-known a few years ago including: Connie Smith, Porter Wagoner, Riders in the Sky, George Hamilton IV, and Bill Homes. It also had a few not so well known names, including the current winner of Nashville Idol: Angela Hacker.

The Grand Ole Opry has tried to maintain links to the Ryman. It has a circle of flooring cut from the Ryman that is center stage for the new show. The seating looks a lot like church pews but they have improved the lighting and sound, added a lot of seats to handle the new and larger audiences. They also added a bit of modern technology, complex lighting systems, large video screens, and a modern sound system. We noted as soon we sat down, something else that we particularly appreciated after the four-hour concert at the Ryman, padding.

When we got out of the Orpy the parking lot was a zoo. People were going everywhere and nowhere very fast. So we said that if they wanted us to move, we would, but we were going to bed.

It was the quietest night we have had since Big Bend. We were up and on our way out of town before most of Nashville was awake. We started making our way north and a little east. After almost a week of dry camping we were low on water and need to dump the tanks so it was time for a campground. We headed up to “My Kentucky Home State Park” for a bunch of housekeeping tasks.

After My Kentucky Home we decided to make a run to my brother Dan’s house in St. Catharine’s Ont. I was surprised at how close to the rhomb line it was from Texas. I wonder how far it is from a great circle route, probably even closer than the rhomb line. It took us three days to get from My Kentucky Home State Park to Dan’s. It was wonderful and warm the first two days but the last day started getting colder and it was scheduled to freeze tonight. We made it to Dan’s and plugged in for a couple of days of visiting.

It started snowing about 3 hours after we picked up the power cord. Two days from sleeping in the buff to sleeping with long underwear and joggers.

Welcome to Canada BURRR.


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