Eastward Bound

Texas to Mississippi – March, 2016  After our return from Mexico we planned to make our way eastward to the Atlantic. We didn’t have a hard deadline for getting there so we moseyed that way, preferring to drive no more than a few hours a day and spend two nights at most stops.

This schedule of travel gives us a day and a half in each location. Often that is no where near enough time to appreciate what an area has to offer. For some stops it is almost too long.

First up was Port Arthur, Texas. It was an easy drive from Houston and we needed a place to unpack and catch up on laundry. We also needed to stock up on groceries as we had virtually nothing in the trailer to eat after cleaning out and turning off the frig for the camper’s two week stay in a storage lot.

We found a great campground called Pleasure Island RV Park with full hookups for $30 per night. It appeared to be primarily occupied by employees of the surrounding oil industry. We hardly saw anyone during our stay. We heard them fire up their trucks and drive off about 5 in the morning and I briefly saw a lady now and then doing laundry and such. But in general it was a ghost campground.

Many of the water views in the area were some variation of this.  I loved the fires from the smoke stacks.

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Pleasure Island is a man-made island created by the dredgings left over when they cut the shipping channel in 1899. There isn’t a beach there but there is an awesome boardwalk built along the water’s edge that went on for quite a ways. There were other walking paths as well and a fishing pier a short ways from camp. After a couple extremely quiet days we had restocked and regrouped and were ready to move on.

We chose our next stop, Breaux Bridge, Louisiana for its proximity to a Ford dealership. Our check engine light had been on for a while. Jim had checked it out with his diagnostic tool and was certain it wasn’t anything serious, but he still didn’t want to put a ton of miles on the truck before having it fixed. We made a 7:30 appointment at Courtesy Ford and were all fixed up and on our way in an hour. The rest of our day and a half visit to the area was a joy as well.

We were smack dab in the middle of the Acadiana (French Cajun) region. Breaux Bridge is considered the Crawfish Capitol of the World so getting some local cuisine was high on our to do list. Based on a recommendation from Big Dude’s Eclectic Ramblings we stopped by Poche’s Market. We chose some crawfish boudin and some andouille sausage, both of which turned out amazing.

The town has a really quaint downtown area. It is reached by this interesting old bridge, which I presume is the source of the town’s name.

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It has many cute gift shops and flea markets and we spent a pleasant hour or so perusing them.

The most enjoyable part of our stay was a visit to Lake Martin just a few miles from town. It is very swamp like, at least along the edges by the road. We drove slowly along the road in search of a boardwalk built over the lake. We found it and took the short walk around it. The cypress trees were quite remarkable.

And Jim spotted part of a gator with an impressive tale. We couldn’t see any more of him.

He never moved but maybe that was for the best.

We drove slowly back along the lake road keeping a closer eye out for wildlife. Jim saw a snake in the creek along the other side of the road, and an absolutely gorgeous blue heron flew over us. As we looked toward the lake, way back in the trees there were hundreds of white blobs.

It was time to pull out the telescopic lens.

Great Egret I believe. Many had their feathers spread out drying them.

We liked our campground, Pioneer Acadian Village ($32 full hookups). They really went out of their way to make the place homey. They have a big front porch on the laundry with rocking chairs and a nice deck over the river that ran by camp.

In a rather gloomy spot on the other side of the deck I found these beauties. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen them before.

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We really enjoyed our visit to this area. I adored the local accent. It didn’t matter if they were speaking what I presume was French or if they were speaking English, their accent was very soothing.

This was definitely one of those places where a day and a half only scratched the surface. I would like to stay over a weekend next time we visit this area and enjoy some of the local music. But we were trying to stay ahead of a storm system so we moved along.

We picked another spot a couple hours down the road in Mississippi where we could get to the beach easily. Pass Christian was the name of the town and the RV Park. The campground was a little crowded and dumpy but at $14 a night for full hookups with our Passport America discount, who were we to complain. It was only a short drive from miles and miles of beaches.

Beach Boulevard runs beside the ocean for many miles. On the other side of this highway in Pass Christian are many impressive mansions. Along the median they have carved some of the dead trees into sculptures like this one.

We enjoyed walks on the beaches but the water didn’t look particularly inviting to us. We picked up fresh shrimp on the dock in town for $4.99 per pound! That always endears an area to us. And the birds on the docks were entertaining.

But this was one of the stops where a day and a half was sufficient for our explorations. We don’t feel any need to return and were excited to move on to Florida.

Texas’ Colorado River

Columbus, TX – February, 2016 West of Houston a short ways is the Colorado River, no relation to the more famous river by the same name out west. This Colorado River starts and ends in the state of Texas. We decided to spend a week at the Thousand Trails Colorado River Campground since the weather was looking promising, the river looked like a good one to kayak, and the campground was practically free with our membership.

The town of Columbus is fairly small and has many charming characteristics. It has the basic necessities: a far from super Walmart, two grocery stores, three Redbox. There are lots of beautiful old homes and a quaint town square with a gorgeous courthouse.

It is located between the banks of the river since the river makes a dramatic curve, an oxbow, north of town and returns on the other side of town.

We are always on the lookout for such a place where we can put the kayaks in on one side, have a pleasant float, and then take out on the other side and just walk back to get our truck. This place is perfect. It’s a 6 mile float but only a 1 mile walk between the two accesses. The walk is through the small town and the only downside is that you have to cross two bridges, the longest one had absolutely no room for pedestrians. We pondered this problem at length.

We looked for another access with no luck. We studied the nearby railroad bridge which had a nice wide platform you could walk on but also had a no trespassing sign. Jim was willing to walk the railroad bridge. I was willing to chance the highway since the cars can move over but a train cannot. We each thought the other was completely insane. We did agree if we only had a bike the bridge could be safely ridden over.

We had called the outfitter in town, Howell Canoe Livery, and left a message early in the week to ask about water conditions on the float. They didn’t open until Thursday so when they called back and said they’d help us shuttle our truck for only $10 we agreed our safety and marital bliss was worth that much.

We put in on Friday just before lunch. We only saw 3 other kayakers all day. The river was low but we never dragged. It was mostly flat water with only one or two minor rapids.

We watched this bird struggle with his meal for quite a while. No wonder, that’s a pretty big catch for someone with no teeth. He finally managed to swallow it.

The Colorado is considered a good bass river but the outfitter said no one was having much luck recently. Another kayaker that put in just after us and fishes the river frequently said he hadn’t caught a fish all year. So Jim was pleased that he caught 3 bass that day, the first before even leaving camp.

Earlier in the week we put in at the campground’s boat ramp one afternoon to see how far we could get up river. Jim has a trolling motor on a custom mount he built for his kayak. It is really great on lakes but can get him upstream in a river if the current is not too strong. In the slow stretches he can even tow me. Here is the view from my position of leisure.

I use a retractable pet leash as a tow rope. Jim seemed to take issue with being literally on a short leash when we first set up the system. It works well and he got over it. We do get some looks from other floaters and usually a comment or two. But on this day there was not another person on this stretch of the river and the only looks we got were from the many cows that stared at us from the river’s edge.

We got about a mile and a half up stream in an hour. We had plenty of battery power left and could have gone farther but it was already 2 o’clock. I paddled about half the way and let Jim tow me the rest.

The only problem with the motor is that it gets in the way of Jim’s paddling.  So he motored most of the way and only paddled in a couple places it was too shallow to run. There were very few places that had a strong current so we could have made it without the motor if we chose to.

Over the next two hours we floated back to camp and stopped at one gravel bar. Besides the cows we saw lots of turtles, two huge red headed woodpeckers, and a muskrat.

We visited Houston a couple times during the week to pick up this or that. Houston has about every store you could ever want. I had read about a restaurant in an old movie theatre that I wanted to visit. I decided it was a shame we had been to Texas twice in the last year and hadn’t gone to a Tex-Mex restaurant.

The restaurant was fun. They showed an old western on the screen while we ate. The food was pretty good and reasonably priced.

We thought we might go downtown after lunch but decided the trip from the store we wanted to visit to the restaurant was sightseeing enough. The fastest route was by a tollway that was exclusively for those with a prepaid tag. We really didn’t mind taking surface streets because we wanted to see more of Houston. What we saw was the grittier side of Houston, many miles of adult bookstores and strip clubs.

I’m sure if we had more time we would have found a lot of things we enjoyed in Houston but they sure don’t make it very easy to get around this city.  My biggest issue is with their toll roads.  They have many toll roads around the city and their system is not visitor friendly.

Most of their toll roads do not have manned toll booths.  They have entire highways that require you to pre-purchase a tag in order to access them.  This requires a one-time fee of $15 plus a deposit into your account of $40!  Ridiculous!

We encountered the same issue last year in Austin.  One particularly bad traffic day we said to heck with it and took the unmanned toll road.  We got a bill in the mail months later.  Ten dollars was high for 8 miles of toll road but better than being stuck in gridlock for hours.

Some of Houston’s roads say that you need a tag but it turns out that they have toll express lanes and you can in fact use the free lanes without getting charged a toll.  When a highway says things like “last free exit” and “EZ Tag required” I tend to believe it and get off the highway if there is another alternative.

After our first visit I went to their website to try to make sense of it.  It was not very helpful. So I called and waited 30 minutes for a customer service agent to answer my questions.  She was nice and helpful.  But it didn’t change the fact that their whole system sucks the big one!

The best advice she gave me was that if I chose to take a toll road, or inadvertently ended up on one, to just wait a couple days then give them a call. They would then be able to tell me what I owed and take a payment over the phone with only a $1.50 service fee.  OK rant over.

Sunny And 75

It’s a holiday when we’re together, I wannna stay with you forever. Somewhere, somewhere sunny and 75…” Joe Nichols

Riviera to South Padre Island, TX – January/February 2016 We had two weeks of pretty perfect south Texas weather. All but a couple days were sunny and mid 70’s. Better yet the nights were mild and rarely got below 50.

We arrived at Seawind Campground on the banks of Baffin Bay exhausted from three long days of driving. We were greeted by a warm wind and flowering trees. Seawind is right next to the bay with only a public park separating it from the water. We had a good view of the bay from our site although we were separated from it by a tall chain link fence.

We were soon walking along the shore enjoying the balmy afternoon. When we awoke the next day to a 65 degree morning we couldn’t even wait for daylight to get moving and put in a couple miles.

We were rewarded with a beautiful sunrise. The park has a long fishing pier and a little strip of beach that disappears when the tide is high.

After two nights and one full day of rest we were ready to move on to our original destination. Our plan was to stay just north of Brownsville for a few nights at Palmdale RV Resort while we explored the area and decided where we wanted to spend the time we had. We really enjoyed this park. It was friendly and had a great heated pool.

It was only 26 miles to South Padre Island so we considered staying there and driving to the island a few times. The reality was that the drive took forever with all the speed zones. We drove out first thing to check out the available campgrounds and knew we didn’t want to make that drive more than necessary.

We decided to move to the county’s Isla Blanca Park for the few days that promised the best weather. They have sites from $30-40. We were surprised to find a premium beachside site available and gratefully accepted it. It had full hookups and included cable.

Our only concern about this park was that several reviews mentioned an odor. We checked it out on our first visit only briefly and agreed there was a slight odor we could live with. After getting set up we took a stroll around the park and quickly found the smell we had read about.

On the bay side of the park is a fenced in area where I presume they treat the sewer. It reeked and we walked quickly away and avoided that side of the park the remainder of our stay. If we had gotten one of the sites on that side of the park we would have complained about the odor too. Actually we would have moved, to the mainland if necessary. It was nasty!

But on our side of the park the world was lovely. The ocean breezes smelled sweet, the sun shone, the beach was a short walk away, and it went on for miles. There was no end to the beachcombing that could be done here.

On the very southernmost point of the island, inside the park, is this beautiful memorial to all the seamen that have sailed out of this port and never returned.

Jim finally succumbed to the call of his rod and reel. There was a long jetty at the end of the beach that was said to have good fishing.

He set off to the end of the jetty the first morning. He returned a couple hours later having enjoyed his outing but with only one fish story to share.

He hadn’t gotten a single nibble and the other fishermen didn’t appear to be having any luck either. However at one point several of them started catching pufferfish. Since the spines of the puffer are poisonous he was entertained watching them try to get them off their lines and return them to the water without getting stuck.

Just north of town is an area where you can drive on the beach. We loaded up our chairs and a cooler and headed there in the afternoon. We pulled out onto the beach and soon staked out a great spot. It was a gorgeous 75 degree afternoon. The wind was a bit chilly but I planted our chairs beside the truck and it blocked most of it.

It was a fun beach with people driving by and a couple kite surfers floating by. This sand surfer had a very interesting homemade, wind powered contraption.

We had a great afternoon and managed to get a little sun.

The next day we put our kayaks in on the west side of the island in the Laguna Madre, a coastal lagoon. The weather was warm again without a cloud in the sky. We paddled up wind for a mile or so then let the wind blow us back past our put in. The water was surprisingly clear and despite paddling quite a ways from shore I don’t think it was ever over our heads. Jim saw a ray and a few fish jumped around us.

On Monday the weather was expected to be rainy and cold on the island but only 26 miles inland it reached over 80 degrees. We moved back to Palmdale first thing that morning before the rain came. It was a good deal at only $23 PN for full hookups with Passport America. The residents were entertaining and we had a fabulous afternoon visiting with them around the pool.

We explored the Brownsville area. Other than pretty decent shopping options I wasn’t terribly impressed. We drove out to the Brazos Island State Park which is the southernmost beach in Texas. It goes all the way to the Mexican border at the mouth of the Rio Grande River. It was a pretty and fairly deserted beach you can drive on. We chose to walk the beach as the tide was coming in and it was pretty narrow in places.

Since we eventually have to make our way north we decided to spend a few more days at Seawind, another great deal at $18 PN Passport America. It is only 8 miles off the highway and we really liked it there. We enjoyed more long walks along the shore. There were lots of birds.

None particularly special but entertaining none the less.

We had lots of colorful visitors to the fence outside our kitchen window. They would not come around when we were outside so I finally shot some through the glass.

We had a lovely two weeks in southern Texas. Almost every person we met exclaimed about the great weather they are having this year. Apparently the last couple years weren’t this pleasant. We are grateful to be living the way we are so we can just move when the weather doesn’t suit us.

Reflections on a Year Well Spent

Ajo, AZ to Kingsville, TX – January, 2016 The passing of the calendar year coupled with the one year anniversary of us hitting the road is a logical time to reflect on our expectations, realities, and what’s next.

We have been incredibly pleased with our first year on the road. It is everything we had hoped for and more. Any minor concerns we had have virtually vanished. Do we feel safe boondocking in remote locations? Yes. Can we really live on this budget? Yes. Are we gonna strangle each other if we spend every waking moment together and live in less than 400 square feet? Not yet!

Many of our goals revolved around our health. Together we lost over 40 pounds this year. More importantly we are stronger and the aches and pains I feared might worsen with exercise have instead improved.

We try, and generally succeed, at walking no less than 3 miles every single day. But are we ready to tackle mountains? Not yet. Have our eating habits changed? Not significantly.

We nicknamed this first year “The Highlight Tour.” We endeavored to see all the sights out west that we had not yet seen that we would be really disappointed if we never made it to. Many destinations we cheerfully checked off our bucket list. Others were checked and then moved to the growing list of places we plan to return to for a longer visit in the in the years to come. A small few we just didn’t get to but they got moved to the list of places we’ll see on another western roadtrip, hopefully in 2017.

The west was so much more than we expected. Arizona was more mountainous, southern California was greener, everywhere people were friendlier than we ever imagined. Our expectations were surpassed at every turn. But the southwest just wasn’t warm enough for us to want to spend a whole winter.

We experienced several weeks of nighttime lows in the 20s and 30s. It got chilly very quickly in the late afternoon and it often took until almost lunch for it to warm up in the morning. That’s too many hours that we are stuck in the camper staying warm instead of outside being active. We certainly plan to spend a lot more time in the southwest but we will go further south, hopefully to Mexico, for the coldest months of the year.

Since we had committed months ago to being in Houston by mid-February and that was still four weeks away, we decided we were ready to move it on over to Texas. Last year when we were at Padre Island National Seashore we had been too excited about heading west to explore any further south in Texas. So now we wanted to go as far south as we could in Texas to spend a couple weeks before going to Houston as planned.

We had just boondocked for seven days so we stopped in Benson, Arizona at the Escapees Saguaro Co-op for a couple nights to dump our tanks, fill up on water, and recharge our batteries. We loved this park when we passed through last spring. They charge $20 per night plus electric which after taxes averaged out to $27.50 per night. It is a friendly park, convenient, and has one of the cleanest and least expensive laundromats I’d found all year. I was behind on my laundry so this appealed to me.

I was looking forward to making our next stop a winery a couple hours east of Benson. The St. Clair Winery just off I-10 east of Deming, New Mexico, participates in the Harvest Host program which allows RVs to stay at farms and wineries for one night. I joined the program and used it to stay at Tularosa Vineyards near Alamogordo, New Mexico last spring. I had heard about the St. Clair Winery shortly after we had passed that way and was disappointed we had missed it.

I read that you could fill your own containers at this winery with very reasonably priced wine. I couldn’t believe I had missed such a gem! We actually decided to travel further that day but I insisted we stop anyway. This place was awesome! Unfortunately this past year they stopped letting you bring your own containers. Instead you have to buy their container and then you can bring it back as many times as you like.

The prices were still great and the wine was too. They will sell you a filled magnum, the equivalent of 2 bottles of wine, for about $10 and if you bring their bottle back they will refill it for around $6. I loved their sweet white and sweet red. It is probably for the best that I don’t live nearby.

We generally prefer to travel no more than 2-3 hours a day but Jim said he was willing to put in some longer days in order to reach southern Texas’ warmer temperatures. So we passed up staying at the winery in sweet bliss and instead set our sights on the other side of El Paso. After a late start and too short a stop at St. Clair’s we were slated to arrive late on a Friday afternoon.

I kept reading references to bad traffic conditions on I-10 in El Paso and was not terribly excited about heading into that late on a Friday afternoon. So when I mentioned that the Texas Welcome Center at Exit 1, a good 15 miles north of El Paso, had good overnight RV parking Jim agreed that it wouldn’t hurt to stop by on our way through and see if it would suffice for the night.

We had not yet spent a night in a rest area even though Texas has some rather nice ones and 24 hours of parking is allowed at each. The problem is that they are generally very close to the highway and, more importantly, you have no idea how many semis might join you before morning. Semis are rather noisy and not our first choice for neighbors.

The nice thing about this welcome center was that it was set back a fairly good distance from the highway and there were three parking lots; one for cars, one for RV’s, and one for semi-trucks.

We arrived before 3 and were the only ones parked in the RV lot so we took the only spot that had a yard.

We walked in to talk to the folks in the welcome center. They were very friendly and, well, welcoming. So we put out our slides and made ourselves at home. We walked around the parking lot and next door to an RV dealer. Then we made some dinner and watched TV. It turned out to be quieter than some RV parks we’ve stayed at.

When we awoke in the morning one pickup truck camper had joined us in the RV lot and a dozen semis had stopped in their lot. Surprisingly a couple motorhomes had chosen to stop in the semi lot. Weird! We were pretty pleased with our free camping location especially since we had gotten a good night’s sleep and saved $40 on the campground we planned to stop at.

We got a very early start the next day and drove about 450 miles to Junction, Texas. I had read about a city park in Junction that had free camping and all the reviews were good. We decided to drive through and if we didn’t like what we saw we could head over to one of the town’s RV parks. We expected a large gravel parking lot but what we got was amazing. The park was spread out near a small dam. There was a motorhome parked along the lakeshore and we nabbed a spot at the other end of the park below the dam. This was the view out our front door.

There was plenty of room for lots of other rigs but it was just the two of us on a Saturday night. I imagine it is a very popular place in the warmer months.

We got going the next morning intending to make it all the way to our destination about 6 hours away. But when we ran into construction on Highway 77 near Kingsville we agreed we had had enough driving and that this was close enough. I found us a campground on the nearby Baffin Bay for a couple nights and that is where we began the south Texas portion of our journey.

New Mexico to Oklahoma

Navajo Dam, NM to Quapaw, OK – June, 2015

We decided to spend the month of July in our home state of Missouri. We wanted to arrive at the end of June so we could catch one of our granddaughter’s t-ball games and enjoy Independence Day with our friends. We plan to stay through a family reunion at the end of July then resume our journey. Once we made that decision we thought of a ton of ways it would make life easier and save us money. We scheduled doctors’ appointments we’d intended to skip, maintenance on the truck and trailer with mechanics we know and trust, and work on a rental house we would have hired out. It cost us about $300 in fuel to make the trip and it will cost the same to get back on track but we’ll spend most of the month camped on the properties of our friends and family so the savings in campground fees alone will balance that out.

We had a little time before we wanted to start back and had decided on a southerly route through Albuquerque so we thought we’d spend a few days at Navajo Lake in New Mexico. Jim had hoped to do a lot of fishing in Colorado but many of the rivers on his must fish list were flooded during our visit. He heard the fishing at this lake was good and that the San Juan River was not flooding below the lake where its waters are controlled by the dam. We made a reservation at the Navajo Lake State Park through Reserve America. One of the few reservable sites still available was in the Juniper Loop. The description said it was large enough for a 40 foot rig, plenty big enough for our 35 foot 5th wheel. Because I had heard such great things about New Mexico State Parks and the only one we had visited had supported this praise, I never thought to check campground reviews. Lesson learned!

This was one of the worst campgrounds we have ever seen. The Juniper loop is quite a ways down a pretty poor dirt road but the loop itself was so tight we had no business taking our rig around it. It was a narrow road, the turns were too tight, and there were pylons lining it so there was little room for error. The site we had reserved was possibly 40 foot on one side but because of its angle I doubt it was even 30 foot on the other. It also had pylons lining its perimeter. If by some miracle we could have maneuvered in to it a corner of our rig would have stuck out in the already narrow road.  We left, grateful to have only suffered some minor scratches from tree branches. We stopped at the first campground in the park, which was paved and had a campground host, to inquire if they had any first come first serve sites available that we could fit in but did not find any. This loop was also very badly laid out and the sites were small and crowded. Later we called Reserve America and did get a full refund.

We headed to the town of Navajo Dam where the next closest camping options were. After our frustrating morning we were happy to find a gravel parking lot with electric sites at Abe’s Motel & Fly Shop for $20. We paid for one night not certain what our next move was. After lunch we headed out in the truck to explore the river. The state park has another campground on the river called Cottonwood Loop that we were told is newer and well laid out. We headed that way but the road to it was horrendous. After a mile or so at 2 miles an hour we gave up and turned back. I can’t imagine they don’t have a better way to reach that campground but I sure couldn’t find any evidence of it. We decided we’d had enough of this place and we would start the trek to Missouri the next morning. We agreed that this was the worst experience we’ve had since our journey began and also that if this was the worst thing to happen to us that we have it pretty darn good.

The next day we drove a whole 5 hours and stopped in Santa Rosa, NM. We had a pleasant stay at the Santa Rosa RV Park for $30 and enjoyed a spectacular New Mexico sunset.

The following day we made the short 2 ½ hour hop to Amarillo, Texas and stayed at Amarillo Ranch RV Park for $35. As RVers we just had to visit The RV Museum. It is behind the Jack Sisemore Traveland RV store. There is limited parking and you walk in to the store wondering “what museum?”. But just ask and they will be happy to escort you out back to a large building with dozens of vintage RVs. It really is a great collection and there is no admission fee. We enjoyed about on hour of poking around all the cool exhibits.

Jim loved the Flxible Bus from the movie RV.

The next day we decided to drive as long as we could stand to. We could have made it all the way in under 10 hours but after 8 we were pretty road weary. So we set our sights on a place we were familiar with and only 90 miles from our final destination. Downstream Casino is in the very northeast corner of Oklahoma. In fact, most of their parking lot is in Kansas and their convenience store and RV park are in Missouri. They built an awesome RV park just a couple years ago. It’s all paved, the sites have water and electric, and we’ve never seen it crowded. I love their neon sign.

We are not much for gambling but we have come here several times to meet friends, to see concerts, and sometimes even to gamble. It is basically free. You have to get one of their player’s cards and then each card owner gets one free night. So a couple can stay for two nights free. If you gamble, you can earn points and get more free nights. The best thing about this place is they allow registered RV guests to use their pool. One of our favorite trips we stopped on the way back from a weekend camping in Arkansas and spent a whole day at the pool. We had so much fun we agreed to stay and do it again a second day. We never set foot on the casino floor but spent the money we would normally have budgeted for gambling on food and beverages at the pool bar. I don’t think we’ve ever gone to this pool that we didn’t meet someone interesting. After 8 hours on the road we had a light dinner and headed over. It was great to cool off, wind down with a couple adult beverages, and make another new friend.

Santa Elena Canyon

Big Bend NP, Texas – March 2015

I was determined to get my kayak on the Rio Grande River. I had read that because of the limited number of put ins the shortest float available was about 10 miles. Given the slow pace of the river I imagined that would be a very long day. Luckily I ran in to an outfitter on the riverbank my first day.   He was setting up lunch for his charges at a riverside picnic area and I asked him about the river conditions. He said the prettiest place in the park was inside the Santa Elena Canyon and that the simplest way to see it was to put in at the end of it and paddle up as far as I could.

So the very next day I loaded up the kayak and headed that way. The canyon is located at the very end of the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. At the outfitter’s suggestion I drove past the official boat launch about a mile before the end of the road and parked instead at the trail head. I then carried the kayak several hundred feet to the water’s edge.

Paddling up the river was pretty easy. The river averaged only about 20 feet wide inside the canyon and although I knew the water level was down I was still very surprised to realize it was rarely over 2 feet deep. The water was gray and you couldn’t see into it at all. The biggest challenge was finding a channel deep enough to paddle through. It was often easier to get out and pull the kayak over a shallow area than fight the current in the narrow channel deep enough to float.

I quickly got beyond where the hikers could see and the canyon was stunning.DIGITAL CAMERA

I made it one and a half miles upriver to this spot.


Unfortunately I could not explore this cave because it was on the Mexico side of the river and landing on their shore is against the law. A couple local canoers floated by and I asked them if the cave was natural or man made because it looked like it could be a mine. They said it was natural, the result of volcanic activity. They also said I should be able to make it another mile and a half up river before I would have to turn back. I decided I was satisfied with the days paddling. Instead I enjoyed the large American gravel bar across from the cave for a while then slowly floated back out.


I would definitely like to do this float again on a warmer day, start earlier, and try to get 3 miles up it as they suggested. Maybe on my next visit to Big Bend.

Big Bend National Park

Big Bend NP, Texas – March 2015

After two weeks near the north end of the Padre Islands I was undecided whether to continue to South Padre or head to the next must see on my list, Big Bend National Park. Even 20 minutes from the turn to South Padre I was still entertaining the possibility of heading south. But it finally came down to having a limited gas budget. And South Padre was 150 miles out of my way.

I was hoping to boondock in Big Bend National Park but, sadly, it was not to be. They have a limited number of boondocking sites (or as they call them backcountry campsites). There were about 6 sites that could accommodate a rig like mine and I had to compete for these spots with backpackers, tenters, and car campers. I could have had a free place to park almost every night but I would have had to move every day or so. That hassle was not worth the savings. So instead I bit the bullet and paid a whopping $14 per night for a sight with no hookups at the Rio Grande Village Campground. Here is a sunrise pic taken just outside my camper door.

Big Bend is everything I ever imagined and more.  I thoroughly enjoyed my stay.  The mountains and rock formations are a geologists dream.  Most views are stunning and many are just plain weird looking.  Here is my first view of the Rio Grande River and Mexico on the other side.

The varieties of cacti are also strange and beautiful.

You can easily find an outstanding hike every day. My favorite was Pine Canyon. It is 2 miles out and 2 back. The trailhead is at the end of a 6 mile 4 wheel drive only road. The most difficult part about the road is that most of it is only wide enough for one vehicle and the turnouts are few and far between. It’s remoteness is partly why it was one of my favorite trails. I only saw one other party on the trail as I was returning to my truck.
The trail meandered along a dessert path for the first mile and a half without a single bench, log, or rock to sit on. Finally a large boulder appeared and lunch was served. Immediately after that the path changed completely and entered a forested area along a currently dry creek bed. If you were dropped in to the middle of this forest you would have never guessed you were in the middle of a dessert. It was amazing! That “little” rock in the pic below is the trail’s destination but first you have to walk between the two mountains to its right.

This trail is surrounded on all sides by mountains. The views are constantly changing as you make your way up and back down the trail. I’m very glad I enjoyed these views on the way up the trail because about halfway back down I almost stumbled over a very large rattlesnake sunning itself across the trail. The trail was about 4 feet wide and the snake stuck over into the brush on both sides so I am guessing he was 5 or 6 feet long. He appeared to be about 2 inches wide in the middle. I was surprised to say the least and turned around faster than I thought possible and retreated about 5 feet. After some yelling he reluctantly slithered away. I didn’t pay much attention to the view after that and was more careful to keep an eye on the trails for the rest of my excursions.

Port A Texas

Port Aranses, TX – Feb 2015

I decided to spend my second week on the Texas coast at the town of Port Aranses, otherwise known as Port A. It is about 20 miles north of Padre on Mustang Island. I had some friends coming to visit from Missouri and I thought they would appreciate being close to a town with shopping and restaurants especially if the weather turned nasty for a couple days during their stay, which looked likely.

The county operates a campground on the beach in Port A called The I.B. McGee Beach Park. It is surrounded by dunes so it feels secluded but it is only a mile from town. The campground is not much to look at but as usual it comes down to location, location, location. You can boondock on the beach here for $12 per night but I chose to stay in a sight with water and electric that was just off the beach so I could recharge my batteries fully and use their electricity to run my heat pump instead of using my propane on those chilly nights. The sight was $25 per night but the weekly rate was $150.

The beach was not as pretty as the national seashore but it was still very nice. Here you could drive up and down it as well but there were pylons keeping you from driving to the water’s edge. You are allowed to build a fire almost anywhere on the beach and we took advantage of this several times that week, even cooking a big breakfast on the fire one morning.

Port A sits at the entrance to Corpus Christi’s port so many ships enter the channel between it and the next island, St John. It can be entertaining to watch the ships go by. Some are extremely large and standing on the jetty they glide by very close.

The jetty was built in the 1940’s if you are to believe the dates stamped in to the concrete. It protrudes more than a quarter mile out in to the ocean to protect the shipping channel and is a very popular fishing spot. Many camp in their cars or campers right next to it and fish round the clock. I gave the fishing a try but didn’t have any luck. This pelican joined me one day. He walked a long way down the jetty to stand very possessively next to my tackle box and eyeball me. I suppose he thought I’d get sick of fishing and throw out the shrimp I was using for bait.

Port A had more pelicans than any other place I’ve visited. During a walk I discovered this group on the University of Texas campus. A sign indicated that the area was for birds affected by the oil spill. There were cages for some birds including an owl and a hawk but these pelicans were obviously free to come and go as they wished.

Port A was a fun little town with quaint shops and quirky restaurants and bars. It was not very busy while I was there and some of its businesses were closed. It appeared to be gearing up for spring break and I imagine it is a hoppin little place in the summer.

Padre Island National Seashore

Padre Island, Texas – February 2015

Ultimately my reason for heading to Texas was to check out Padre Island. I love the beach and wanted to try boondocking (living without water or electric hookups) for an extended period, so after my visit to San Marcos and San Antonio that is where I headed.

The Padre Island National Seashore has several options for camping that are cheap or free. I planned to stay at the very cheap Malaquite Campground ($8 per night, no hookups) my first night and check out the FREE beach camping, then move if I was so inspired. However, the campground was full when I arrived. Instead I parked at the Malaquite visitor center and walked a couple miles down the beach to scope out the situation.

It was Saturday so the beach was crowded. There were lots of cars and trucks driving up and down the beach and plenty of campers set up next to the dunes. These campers ranged from people just spending the night in their cars to monstrous motorhomes. Here’s a view of the beach with the campers parked next to the dunes that I took on a less busy day and with the tide out. When the tide comes in it gets within 20 feet of these campers.

The sand was very hard from everyone driving up and down it and I found a spot about a mile from where the road ends that wouldn’t crowd the neighbors. I walked back and got the camper, drove to the new location, and was set up within the hour. This was the view out my living room window.

That Saturday was the busiest day of my stay with headlights driving by well into the night. The next day, a Sunday, was less crazy with fewer day visitors. I drove my scooter down the beach about 5 miles that morning and there were big trailers and motor homes as far as I drove. At the 5 mile mark is a warning to not proceed without 4 wheel drive. I don’t doubt there were more campers past that mark but I was satisfied with what I had seen. I debated moving my fifth wheel farther down the beach to where the campers were further apart but decided to stay put.

If I visited again I would go another couple miles before stopping. I met a young man that was staying on the beach in his SUV while he looked for work in the area. He had driven as far as 24 miles down the beach and said that you could go up to 60 miles. I might take my scooter a ways past the 5 mile marker next time I visit.

On the way back from my Sunday morning scooter ride I saw a motor home that had pulled a little too far off of the hard packed sand and gotten stuck. I went and got my 4 wheel drive pickup and helped pull them out but it wasn’t easy to get traction and took almost an hour. Getting stuck can certainly suck all the fun out of free camping. I’ve heard that a professional tow can run a thousand dollars or more!

I spent most of the week boondocking on the beach. I was pleased with how well my solar panels performed even though it was cloudy most days. I was also happy with my use of water. I only had one half of a 100 gallon water tank when I arrived. When I left 6 days later my tank read empty but I never actually ran out of water. About Tuesday it got cool and rainy and there were as few as three campers on the beach that night. I was a little worried about the weather making it hard to get out but I asked around and was told “if it gets really bad the rangers will come tell you to move”. The winds were crazy loud but the rain just packed the sand in harder.

I loved my stay and will definitely be back. The sunrises were spectacular!

And the birds were very entertaining!

The beach can look a little trashy at times. Because of the prevailing currents most of the trash is a result of anything dropped in to the Gulf of Mexico. I took a grocery bag with me on my two mile hike one morning and brought it back full. When I hiked the same section a couple days later there was hardly any trash to pick up.

Although the beach camping is free, there is a fee to enter the park. I understand it is $10 per vehicle for a 7 day pass or $20 per vehicle for an annual pass. Since I plan to visit a lot of national parks this year I bought the America the Beautiful annual pass to all the national parks for $80. Despite the excesses of my first week on the road I was able balance my budget of $20 per night for campsites by the end of my second week by boondocking for free for 6 nights even including the $80 I paid for my park pass.

Hit the Road Jack!!

Missouri to San Antonio – February 2015

After years of dreaming, months of planning, and weeks of packing it’s finally a reality. No more sticks and bricks home for me. The house is remodeled, emptied, and on the market. Practically everything I own is packed in to (stuffed under or strapped on to) my 30 foot fifth wheel and Ford pickup.

The first day of this epic adventure I woke up at 4 am excited to get under way. I still had to finish loading up, clean the house for the last time, and hook up the trailer. I finally hit the road about 9 am. I originally planned to get to my first destination, Dallas, by dinnertime. I got to Tulsa by lunchtime and things went downhill from there. The Oklahoma roads from Tulsa to the state line were terrible! I’ve made the trip several times but never with the trailer and facing a headwind the whole way.

About three I started looking for a place to call it a day. I wanted to get out of Oklahoma though so I stopped at the first Texas State Park I could find. Eisenhower State Park is on Texoma Lake which, as the name implies, is on the Texas Oklahoma state line. It was a very nice place to call home for the night, reasonably priced, and, most important, in the right place.

The next day I finally pulled in to a little town east of Dallas where my brother lives to visit with him and his family for the weekend. There were not a lot of camping options there so I chose an RV park behind a gas station for its proximity to my brother’s home and reasonable rates. I didn’t have very high expectations but it actually turned out to be clean, quiet, and much more pleasant than expected.

After a weekend spent visiting, eating too much, and playing with the great-nephews I was ready to move on Monday morning and see what this full time lifestyle was really about. I had planned to head to San Antonio next but because of a recommendation from my nephew I decided instead to go to San Marcos which is just an hour north of San Antonio. It turned out to be excellent advice.

I found a very nice campground that was well out of the price range I have budgeted per night. But Pecan Park Riverside RV had a coupon on their website for 30% off weeknights, they were right on the river and next door to the outfitter I planned to use, and they had an indoor heated pool. Sold!!

This was my first look at the San Marcos River where it flowed past camp.


The town of San Marcos is built around the river. It is spring water and incredibly clear for several miles. I checked out the town and access the first day and floated the second. The river first flows through the University of Texas campus. I put in at the city park and then paddled up stream through the campus.

If I ever went back to college this would be my kind of school with a beautiful, clear river running through it. There are big wide steps down to the water so the students can access the swimming area, a shed full of kayaks, and a boat dock.


The river flowed through town for several miles and there were beautiful pedestrian bridges over it and parks built along it. The best parts of the float were definitely in town since that is where the water was clearest and because of the sheer novelty of floating through a town of 50 some thousand people but feeling relatively remote. After the last city park the river was a bit slow and not as clear. And then there was this!


The outfitter had mentioned porting over a dam but I never expected anything this big. It was a little intimidating from the top but turned out to be not as hard as it looked. Those big blocks were very helpful. It would have been very difficult to do had I been alone. The view of the dam from below was pretty.


I would definitely recommend this float. But if I had it to do again I would have just floated through town and taken out at the last city park.

On my last day in San Marcos I drove in to San Antonio. I have been trying to visit this city for 15 years and it never seemed to work out. I’m very glad I finally made it. I went to The Alamo and then walked around the oldest portion of the riverwalk where it makes a loop through the historic district. My first trip around the loop I was getting a sense of the place and oohing and ahhing over all the old buildings and bridges. Next I took the riverboat tour which I considered reasonably priced at only $8 per person and extremely informative. I then took another walk around the loop to get a better look at all the things they’d pointed out on the tour that I’d missed the first time.


It is a beautiful place and I definitely plan to come back and spend a week or so here in the years to come.