Saturday, December 31, 2011

Welcome to the Gaff!

We have spent the better part of the last two days with our Palms buddies, Keith and Penne and a few friends of theirs...and new friends of ours. Thursday we stayed around home, doing chores, cleaning, etc. After which we met up with Keith and Penne for dinner at a local Mexican restaurant. It was fabulous eating with wonderful company. These two are the nicest people we have met on our trip and are incredibly young at heart and full of zest for life. We managed to behave, eat our Chimichanga's and were back home at a very reasonable hour.
Friday, Keith and Penne invited us to go to "town" with a few friends. I went with Penne, John and M.J. a bit earlier as they had a few errands to run in Corpus. After which we met Jeff,Keith,Walt,Ann,Bill,and Teresa for another wonderful meal out at Nico's Steakhouse. It was a really fun table of 10. We especially enjoyed meeting Bill and Teresa who are also new to full-timing and also heading to Florida next week. They are currently in a Rockport RV park while everyone else at the table is at the Palms. Great group of residents who certainly have given us good reason to come back this way.

Keith and Penne
We had just gotten home and were starting on giving the BP a bath, when Keith and Penne walked up and presented us with a bottle of Johnny Red and an invite to dinner later that evening on the island. Turns out Bill and Teresa had called them up and suggested we meet out on the island (Port Aransas) for pizza and beer! How could we refuse that! The BP got a quick bath and we soon were back on the road heading to Port A with our buddies.
The Gaff was our destination and what an awesome bar. This was genuine, no airs, down-home, and ultra friendly pizza joint. The six of us enjoyed a few pitchers, a few (delicious)  pizza's and more than a few laughs.
Teresa and Bill

As a sidebar, the Gaff seems to be a graffiti lovers paradise. The entire ceiling was covered with "autographs" and personal artwork. I thought it would be great to add our own personal stamp but when I asked the bartender for a Sharpie, I was told you have to "buy" a tile and they were all sold out. Oooops. I may have defaced someones personal ceiling tile, not quite by accident! The bathroom was the real work of art though...

We went on to have a quick beer at the Port Aransas Brewing Co. then headed out to catch the ferry back home. It was yet another fun evening and Jeff and I feel to blessed to have met all these wonderful folks!

Today has been a quiet end to a year of pretty significant events in our lives (though not as tumultuous as the two years prior). We are counting our blessings, and looking forward to what the next year may bring. We are grateful for our family and old friends and the new friends as well. We will be moving on in the morning to Beaumont, Texas for 3 days then onto Louisiana! But tonight....New Years Eve at the Palms (they are having a dance!). And goodbyes to Keith, Penne and 2011!!!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Armadillo Sighting!!!

We had a great day at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Located about 50 miles north, ANWR is famous for being a Whooping Crane winter spot. 115,000 acres of gulf shore, salt and fresh water ponds and good old Texas prairie. Not the most exciting land views but by far, this was the best wildlife viewing we have experienced so far. Right across from the visitors center is the Alligator Viewing area. And there they small juvenile and one big guy who swam around with a bird of some kind in his mouth. Why he didn't eat it, I don't know. But there it was.
The little guy
This was too we went on the Rail Trail/Heron Flats Trail (about 2 miles). It was actually spooky walking on the opposite side of the marsh that we had just seen two gators in. They could have been anywhere and I know (from TV) that they move super fast. Well, we did see 2 more gators in the first 1/2 mile, a large one on the opposite bank and a small guy resting on a log not four feet from the trail. Very Cool!
The trail wound through a heavily forested (and mosquito) area then down to the gulf where we were suppose to see the ginormous Whooping Cranes (which this park claims to have in excess of 250 every winter). Not a one. Lots of geese, ducks, etc... No Cranes.  After winding back through mosquito-ville (we did see 2 deer in the woods), we came back around to Alligator Alley and who should we see...
I may have a new favorite animal! He was completely oblivious to us and after getting home and researching some, I know why. Armadillo factoids...
First off, pronounce it Arm-a-de-yo (not arm-a-dill-o).
They have a great sense of smell but lousy eyesight and hearing.
They eat ground bugs that they smell underground and then dig up with their claws.
They especially love grubs and dig them up, earning them an unpopular status with homeowners.
They mate in June but the egg does not implant until November, then give birth in March.
They always have quadruplets, 4 identical babies that form from the same egg (and are obviously, the same sex.)
The Armadillo found in Texas is the nine-banded Armadillo, and he does not curl up in a ball when threatened. He runs!
They do, however, jump up to 3 feet in the air when startled which is why so many are killed on the roads.
Armadillo means "Little Armour" but his Latin name means "nine banded rabbit" because under the armour, they look like rabbits.
Of the 13 varieties, only the Nine-Banded lives in the US. The rest are in Latin America.
They are so cold sensitive that a cold snap can wipe out an   areas entire population.
They sleep 17 hours a day and have 3 hour REM cycles (humans have 2 hour REM cycles).

After all this excitement, we stopped back at the visitors center for much needed bug spray (I did not know those buggers would be so prolific, and vicious, near the gulf) and drove to the start of the 16 mile Wildlife Loop (and saw a family of Raccoons on the way). We got the bikes out of the truck bed and we were off, for the first real ride we have had in a loooooong time! And the first real exercise we have had since leaving Davis Mountain. It was a beautiful ride, honestly very flat. But still, a good 16 mile ride. The entire ride featured exactly one Armadillo! Shit-tons of scat on the road (get it?) but no other animals.
When we returned to the start we did one more short walk on the bay Boardwalk/Big Tree Trail. No Cranes.

Another Texas fact...they (Texans) are inordinately proud of their "Oak Trees" (which is what Big Tree Trail is all about). But honestly, as cool and gnarly as they may be, they are not big. In fact, they more often than not are about the size of a large bush. If you want to see "Big Oaks", come to Minnesota!
To summarize...we saw
4 Alligators
3 Armadillos (one more on the drive home)
3 Raccoons
2 Deer
1 Whooping Crane (on the drive out)
And too many of these to even count...
Turkey Vulture

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Bird Watching in Port Aransas

Christmas came and went with very little celebration around the BP. The weather went from bad to completely miserable by Christmas Eve and so the day was spent literally laying around, watching movie after movie. Christmas Day was dark and gloomy but at least it was dry. We got out (a little) for a movie and our big Christmas dinner at Sonic...hey, I cooked Christmas Eve! I did get to Skype with my entire family in 3 separate Skype sessions but it wasn't like being with my kids and holding the grandkids on my lap. I missed them all terribly. But, we got through the "Big One" without a major breakdown!

Monday started out pretty gray again so we went Corpus Christi to accomplish some much needed BB work and AT+T work. Jeff's phone had completely died a few days back and the official diagnosis is...death from internal damage. Guess he dropped it once to often. He is allowed a new phone/contract on Jan. 1 so unfortunately he will be phoneless until then. After AT+T it was on to Firestone for new brakes on the BB. We picked this particular place due to it's proximity to the mall, thinking we could waste the few hours it would take. 7 HOURS....and $900 (just for the  front brakes!) LATER. Hope I never see another mall again. On the plus side, the day ended up sunny and warm. And that took care of Monday.

Today was a beauty right from the start. We drove back out to Port Aransas to visit a few of the many bird watching parks and beaches where migratory birds are suppose to be "winter Texans". The first stop was the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center. This as a memorial park that is basically a boardwalk into a marsh inland.

There were a few cormorants, ducks and pelicans and quite a few turtles making cute little highways in the muddy bottom of this shallow pond. There are suppose to be 2 resident American Alligators but they were no where to be seen....darn it!

Next we went to the Port Aransas Nature Preserve. This was a complete bust. Dried up "ponds" and one butterfly. That was the extent of the wildlife. So we drove down to the marina and walked around there for a bit, imagining what it would be like to live on a boat instead of in an RV!

We stopped for a great lunch at Trout Street Bar and Grill right in the marina. I had fresh caught Gulf Shrimp and we also sampled the crab cakes. Delish!!!

Next we walked off our lunch at the I.B. Magee Beach Park and the South Jetty, where there were many fisherman trying for "blacks" and "reds" along the way.

The Jetty

Our Favorite Bird

Jeff had a nasty slip and fall on the Jetty. Nothing hurt but his pride though his clothes got pretty messed up by some slimy goop on the Jetty. So we decided to check out the beach shops in hopes of finding a clean pair of shorts for him to change into.
The shops were your typical tourist crap stores but we did manage to find a pair of reasonably priced (read sale) shorts and he was able to enjoy the rest of the afternoon dry and goop free!

It was absolutely beautiful today with highs in the 70's and clear blue skies. Certainly improved my attitude!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

An Aransas Pass Christmas

We arrived in Aransas Pass (and the Palms RV Resort) Thursday. It is a very nice and very new RV Resort just outside of the town of Aransas Pass (which is a small "suburb" town of Chorpus Christi). It was beautiful when we arrived, sunny and low 60's so I immediately wanted, and needed, to head to the water and the beach. We drove toward Port Aransas and took the ferry over to the town and Mustang Island. It is a very typically beach town with the usual resorts and beachwear shoppes lining every road in town. Nice, though, to see Palm Trees again, smell the water/dead fish aroma and see waves crashing the shoreline. We didn't really know where to go or what to do so we drove a bit then took a road labelled "beach road access". It was very quiet on the island and even quieter on the beach. In fact, there wasn't a soul to be seen either way we looked...and this beach goes on forever. The odd thing about this beach can drive on it. The beach itself is the "beach road". I have never seen this before and it was a little disturbing. Seemed like it ruined the beach and since it isn't a particularly wide beach, seemed a bit dangerous as well (when people are actually present, that is).
After a questioning look at Jeff, I pulled onto the sand. And immediately was sunk, and stuck. A few minuted in 4-wheel drive got us out of the sand but I opted for the road back to the highway after that! We ended up driving the entire length of Mustang Island and just before North Padre Island, turned off and into Corpus Christi and circled back home. That evening we took a walk through the park to check it out and met a couple enjoying the hot tub. Keith and Penne invited us to "go get a cocktail and get your suits on" and join them. So we did and ended up having a really fun evening with new friends. I think Jeff and I both enjoyed talking to people other than each other, plus these two were so nice and a whole lot of fun!

Chorpus Christi Beach

Yesterday was gloomy and cold so we went to what was, mostly, an indoor activity...touring the USS Lexington. The "Blue Ghost" is an aircraft carrier built in 1943, decommissioned in 1991 and called the Blue Ghost because of her original blue paint (she was never camouflaged) and the fact that the Japs repeatedly reported her as sunk, yet she'd show up again and again in thier backyard!

In Nov. of '44 a kamikaze pilot even hit the USS Lexington, killing 50 and injuring 132, yet within hours she had returned to normal flight operations. Tough boat, awesome history lesson. The ship is now a museum, not just for her history but the history of many other WWII ships and also had a great Pearl Harbor exhibit. The USS Lex was used in the film "Pearl Harbor" and there was an entire exhibit of that as well. There is also an IMAX Theater right on board and we watched a film called "Fighter Pilot".

Needless to say, we spent the entire day on board and did not even see the whole tour! Headed home about 4 and made a necessary grocery stop on the way. No hot-tubbing last night. It was windy and brrrrr cold!

Today is even worse and we are getting some slack for having brought this weather here. I refuse to take the blame but did notice on the national weather news this morning that Texas is literally the only spot in the country experiencing inclimate weather today. What the heck???? Even Minnesota is having warmer, dryer than normal weather. I think our temps are about even today too....48 here, 40 there! I'm happy for my family and friends in Minnesota but not too happy for Jeff and I (and all the other snow birds down here).

This is what happens when you get charged with "bad weather"!
It's Christmas Eve and it looks like our plans for the day include laundry and cleaning, maybe some bad football games (any game the Packers aren't in) and one good pot-roast dinner. I will probably not even get out of sweatpants today. Might take a nap too.

Missing my family. Missing my friends.

Merry Christmas to you all. Wishing everyone peace, love and happiness.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

San Antonio

We spent the greater part of the last two days in and around San Antonio....and is it ever fun!
Monday morning rain gave way to....dark clouds and cold. It was clear that going to the River Walk was not in the cards for Monday. We hit up a few errands and eventually made our way to the Quarry, which is actually an old quarry, now a varied and really cute "outdoor" mall. Our destination was a boot/leather shop in the mall. It did have the softest, cutest cowboy boots I have ever seen but since $600 boots are not in my price range, we just had a look and then headed OUT THE DOOR!

Our next stop was a local brewery called Freetail. We walked in the door (it was about 2 p.m.) and were told they did not open until 4. But the employee who intercepted us was very nice and gave us directions to his "favorite local pub" that was nearby, and then made us promise to come back at 4. So that's what we did...spent a pleasurable hour and a half at the Hills and Dales Pub that had an assortment of literally hundreds of bottled beers and about 30 on tap.

Authentic Texas Pub!
We kept our promise and returned to Freetail for a small batch porter and a bite to eat. The food was not outstanding but the beer and the ambiance was. We had a great time.

Tuesdays weather was just slightly better. It was not clear, but not raining either. Highs were expected to be in the 50's so we hit downtown and the River Walk. First stop was The Alamo, which is right downtown, and as Jeff had promised, there wasn't really too much to see but I did enjoy learning some about this old mission/fort where the infamous fall of the Texas freedom fighters (including Daniel Boone) occurred.

After The Alamo we went to the Buckhorn Saloon and Museum, which is actually 2 museums in one. The original proprietor collected animal horns, taxidermy and "oddities" from around the world for his personal collection museum. They also had a Texas Rangers museum, which was really interesting historically.

Yes, that's an actual "Manboon"

We also had lunch at The Buckhorn and had a  hilarious bartender who had story after story about the famous people he has met working there as well as some of the most idiotic things he has had people ask him. Like "Are all the animals on the wall dead?" and "Why did they build the Alamo right downtown?"  Peter was awesome and we enjoyed a rather long lunch break with him and the hundreds of (maybe) dead animals on the walls!
After experiencing all the Buckhorn had to offer (food, museums and entertaining staff) we walked to La Villita, which is an old market square for local artists and what we actually found was pretty much a bunch of over-priced import crap. On to the Riverwalk, of course, San Antonio's most famous draw.

 And it was every bit as beautiful as I had imagined. Of course, in the spring, the flowers would be an added bonus and in the summer sitting "riverside" with a cold drink would be lovely too but what we got was incredible...the trees along the river swathed in Christmas lights.

There were a ton of people walking along, and it actually got kind of congested. I had the bright idea that we should catch one of the river barge tours and see the entire length of the Riverwalk via boat. We made our way to one of the two areas for embarking and there was a line of people at least three city blocks long who obviously had the same brainiac idea. I am not a fan of waiting in lines so we settled on walking around the river and, later, dinner "riverside" at an Irish pub called Durty Nelly's. Jeff was looking a little tired by then and we had shuttled into downtown from a Park-n-Ride, so we pulled ourselves away from The Riverwalk and made our way home.
Despite our desire to see Austin, it just didn't seem like it was worth the 2+ hour round trip to spend the day there (I think the nightlife is more of the Austin draw than the "daylife"). We also wanted to get BB's oil changed so today, Jeff tended to the oil and I tended to walking around New Braunfels downtown while it was being done. Not much to see there but it was fun people watching! I think the rest of today is for cleaning and some R+R before heading south in the morning. Weather today remains cool and gray. Reports for Aransas Pass is just slightly warmer and just slightly greater chance of seeing the sun. Keeping my fingers crossed.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Y'all are in Texas now!

We left Las Cruces Wednesday morning in the drizzling rain, and we were darn happy to leave. Originally I had thought we could go right from there to San Antonio....I forgot that Texas is a friggin BIG state. So we revamped our itinerary to get about 1/2 way and settled on Davis Mountain State Park in Fort Davis as a stopping point Wednesday.
Shortly after leaving Las Cruces, we stopped at a Campers World to pick up a few items that we have lost, broken or forgotten! And shortly after that, we were welcomed into Texas. El Paso, specifically. Which, as it turns out, sits RIGHT on the Mexican border. We are driving down I-10 and I see this neighborhood that is literally a shanty town. I remark to Jeff "Wow, that is so bad it looks just like a Mexican slum". To which he replies...
"It is!"  Sure enough, we were gazing upon a lovely border town.

We figured at this point we would see even more Border Patrol than we had in the last month. Not necessarily. We did have a few helicopters over-head and one stop right in the middle of I-10.

All they did was ask us if we had any "body" in the RV. Nope, just a cat. Okay, go ahead....

We arrived at Davis Mountain State park about 3. The park is 4 miles outside of Fort Davis, which I thought, would be a town of some size. It was quite chilly but we received a hearty welcome from the office gals with about a thousand "Y'all's" thrown in. As in...Where y'all from? How long y'all stayin? Do y'all have any pets? Is it just the 2 of y'all? Etc...Etc... Nice park though. Surrounded by Mountains and plenty of wildlife promised (as in "Y'all will see lots of wildlife now!").

We got settled in and went for a quick bike ride up to the Indian Lodge in the park. Saw our first wildlife....2 deer! Really hoping to see some Javelina here. They're so cute...don't y'all agree?

Thursday was still quite chilly and mostly cloudy so we went into "town" and toured Fort Davis. It actually was pretty darn cool (the fort, and the temp). The local schoolkids were there having an outing so volunteers were dressed in period costumes and they even fired a cannon...twice! The history and the remains of the buildings (circa 1870's) was super interesting and the surrounding mountains were, of course, stunning.

After nearly two hours at the fort we went further into town...downtown I guess you would say. They did have a grocery, a hat shop (cowboy), a post office, a pretty decent "whole foods" store, and a drugstore/soda fountain. We had to go there for just a little bite to eat and were surprised by not only how good it was but how authentic it was.
This was a small town Texas style soda fountain at it's best. Complete with a huge Christmas tree decorated with Cowboy Santa's and lariats and a string of cowboy hats entwined with garland from one end of the store to the other. Best find in town, that's for sure! Drove back to the park and did the "skyline drive" which was scenic but we were sure glad we didn't have the BP behind us.
Looking down on the campground

Since we had a late bite to eat we decided to take in a hike on the "Montezuma Quail Viewing Trail". It's about 4 p.m. and the trail is shown to be a 1.5 mile loop. Well, we took alittle detour and ended up, as it turns out, on this trail...
We didn't know we were on a hazardous trail (well, actually, we did know it was hazardous just by the hiking conditions), as the trail was marked at the END...not at the point where we had picked it up on the mountain side. Let's just say it was an adventure and we were really lucky to both make it down in one piece, nothing broken! The end of the trail is where Javelina are reported to visit nightly but not that night. Boo!
However, I was sitting outside that night and a heard a noise next to me. Just the faintest little rustle. I was a bit freaked out by the dark, the quiet and the potential animals so I was equipped with a flashlight which I whipped out and on with amazing speed. Sitting on a rock, about 10 feet to my right, is a beautiful Gray Fox, who then shoots me a nasty look and prances off under the BP and into the dark, dark woods.

Friday came in cold and wet so we drove down the road to the McDonald Observatory. Pert of the University of Austin, it houses the third largest telescope in the US. There were 7 in our tour group and we had a great, and extremely knowledgeable, tour guide, Mark. I honestly have never been too interested in astronomy, but Mark changed all that. We left with a ton of new knowledge and a few books as well.

Got home and made my husband his fav dinner, Chicken Fried Steak, and hit the rack about 9 p.m.

Saturday was again, very cold (45) and very gloomy and, frankly, I just didn't feel so hot. Or maybe I was just cold. Or maybe just tired. At any rate, I did get into town to do laundry in the morning and then proceeded to lay around and watch TV the remainder of the day. I think Jeff was just fine with this as he indulged in a lazy day as well. We did pick away at a few chores during the course of the day and late afternoon even had a visitor for happy hour...
First one deer, then the other, walked pretty much right up to the BP. Jeff was speaking quietly to them and I went to get some lettuce to toss out for a snack.

She looked at Jeff like...are you kidding me? Lettuce? So we got a few apples and cut them up for the finicky buggers. One was happy with that option, the other just walked away.

Munch Munch Munch

We were ready to get on the road by 9 this morning and we knew it would be one of our longer days on the road as San Antonio is 400 miles from Fort Davis and we actually were going to be staying in New Braunfels, which is an additional 15 miles WEST of San Antonio. But, a good day to drive as, once again, it was cloudy and cold. Just as Jeff walked to the truck to pull it around, what does he see...
Little bugger just comes jogging out of the creek bed behind our campsite and noses around the site next to us. No hurry, no fear. I am practically dancing around (as I mentioned before, we really wanted to see one of these Javelinas...don't call them pigs).

They are really adorable. And as much as I know they are a nuscense and can be highly dangerous, especially to small animals and small dogs (I'd change my tune if one ever messed with my dog-nephew, Finley), I just can't help but like them. I guess I have been known to like a lot of despicable creatures.
Anyway, after ooohing and awwwing, we left by 9 and arrived at Hilltop RV Resort in New Braunfels by 4. Still cloudy, but, oh so much warmer! It was mid 60's on arrival. After 4 days of 40's....feels pretty good. Settled in, dinner ate and grocery shopping done by 8 p.m. We will be here until Thursday, at which time we head south for ten days in Aransas Pass. Until then we will tour San Antonio at least one day and Austin another. BB needs an oil change and Jeff has some laundry to do (Xena had an accident on the way here!).  Praying for sun and warmth...