Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas on the Gulf Coast of Texas

We arrived in Port Aransas, TX on a breezy, cold day.  Our path took us right through Corpus Christi, and as we passed the big plants and negotiated heavy traffic we worried that we'd made a huge mistake by committing to our site for a whole month. We were hoping for peace and quiet, tropical breezes and warm sticky days on the beach. Once we got on the East side of town we found the island and beaches we were looking for and breathed a sigh of relief that we hadn't inadvertently booked a spot downwind of a refinery for a month.

Missing chunks where Harvey took a bite - a common sight
Every time we commit to a month somewhere some disaster happens.  We hoped to break our unlucky streak by picking a place that was already pre-disastered and this part of Texas was hit with Hurricane Harvey just a few months ago.  From the looks of it most of the island took heavy damage; the folks are working hard and fast to bring the homes, businesses and roads back up to snuff, the resulting cacophony of noise could hardly be called restful but at least it is productive and we are impressed with how quickly they are progressing.

About four days ago it finally stopped raining and warmed up. It's now in the 70's and breezy and a little sticky, I think this is more normal for here, and that we arrived during a strange cold spell for the region. We are right on the beach and the sand is super silky and fine and white, it's absolutely beautiful. The dog gets to run on the beach several times a day with one or both of us. The slightest breeze disturbs the sand on the surface and it makes the most beautiful designs on the beach. All in all it feels very tropical and we don't even care that we vacuum the sand out of the rig several times a day between Lance's boot and Chloe tracking it in. I leave my flipflops outside.

Last weekend I discovered the National Park at South Padre Island. The turtles that come ashore there to lay eggs are called Kemp ridley sea turtles and the females weigh in at around 125 lbs. I sure wish we could see one but they lay eggs in the Spring and they hatch in August so we missed them.  
Office space progress
We have used the downtime and a solid mailing address to get some projects rolling.  The new office design has tested well this week so I will proceed with sanding, paint, and applying the fabric to the surface soon. We made friends with the maintenance crew here at the park and they offered us use of their workspace and their belt sander.  We ordered some new cushion guts for the settee chairs, and some parts to repair the blinds and curtains here and there. All of these are little things that go wrong with a 20-year old RV, I suppose, and still significantly less hassle than my house was on its best day.

We made reservations at a swanky fish restaurant with a view for Christmas Eve dinner, and we intend to graze through Christmas day here at the beach, Lance may slow cook a roast or maybe not.  We are learning the quirks of our convection oven and the metal plate my Mom bought us is turning out to be quite handy for one-dish meals.

They allow beach driving here, probably not during turtle season though. Lance took the motorcycle out for a run down the beach the other day and came home with a huge grin, it inspired him to buy a drone camera with a Follow Me feature, so we will get some footage of both of us riding on the beach in the coming weeks, and maybe paddling on the Gulf ICW too if it arrives in time.

Folks around here are big birders.  They've got me hooked on looking for this one bird now called a rose spoon billed something or other. It is pink and sort of reminds me of a short fat flamingo, with a spoon-shaped bill it uses to stir up the water and filter feed. I look for it all along the waterline nowadays and am charging the Porta-Bote battery to go in search of one in the ICW soon. The water there is only 4 feet deep, shouldn't be a problem for the Porta Bote with its shallow draft, and the quiet electric motor should allow us to sneak in on the bird colonies undisturbed. Chloe in the bow is another story... she does love to bark at and chase birds. I got her a new lifevest with a solid handle on the top so the next time she falls off my paddleboard it will be easier to lift her back on.

We campaigned hard for a space on the Florida Keys for February but it looked like we weren't going to get in anywhere, snowbirds book FL a year or two in advance. We were well into laying out Plan B when we got a surprise call back from someone with a cancellation and we're in!  The problem is that it wasn't the schedule we wanted, so we'll be rushing from here to there and bypassing New Orleans and a lot of other cool stuff I really wanted to see/do. We have 1400+ miles to cover in 7 days, our preferred distance for a bus day is 200 miles so we won't be collecting any dust on the way down. All we could get secured there was 2 weeks so when they boot us out in early February we can meander back through the places I wanted to see at that time.  I expect it will pay to be flexible.

In the meantime, we are enjoying the Southern hospitality of Texas until mid-January. Folks are friendly and the weather is perfect, and it feels good to pump some money directly into the local economy while they rebuild.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Gila Cliff Dwellings

How to Drive Carefree

Classic trailer in Silver City NM
I love our new carefree lifestyle, go where we want when we want, fill the fuel tank and go...right? Maybe not so much. We are currently in the middle of our circumnavigation of the US and I thought I would give you a glimpse into the process we use to pick our next destination. To be honest I still don't know where I'll be in a month. We are shooting for Florida, but if we can't find a spot that works for us we'll have to wing it.
Windmill & well at Seminole SP in TX
First, it has to be fun. I don't want to spend a month in a parking lot looking at a Walmart; so a nice view and something fun to do. NO SNOW! Don't mind being in it, don't want to drive in it. We like 70-80 degrees, great temperature for motorcycling and paddling kayaks. OK, now distance, a three hundred mile day is about the end of the world for me more or less, depending on the quality of the road. How far is our next destination? Do we need to break up the trip into smaller bites? If so, where do we stay, and how long? What about Shawna's work schedule? Will she need good quality internet while we are in transit? What about after we arrive, does the park have good WiFi, or do we need to use one of our cellular data plans? Is there a large town or city nearby in case we need to service the RV? Is it likely to be on fire when we get there? All this gets baked into our decision when we move. 
Old timey graffiti in Gila Cave Dwellings

The process looks something like this, open Google Maps for the area we are interested in, search for RV parks in the area. Ask locals for a recommendation if possible. Read the reviews on Google. Switch to satellite view to make sure we aren't booking a spot in an industrial area or a dirt lot. Don't see anything we like, move on to apps, RV parky and the like. Read the reviews, check them out on street view. Find a place we like, now it's time to check Verizon, Sprint, and ATT's coverage maps (these are the carriers we have available on board). We have found that park wifi is usually spotty at best and I like to have two backups. Shawna's work doesn't require a lot of bandwidth but it has to be solid. One of the things we've found to be hard to find while on the road is propane. We have a large tank, but we still need fuel about once a month. Some parks have a mobile truck that comes by, some don't. Put a propane stop in our plans if necessary.
Gratuitous photo 
We are still caravaning, we pull a ten foot utility trailer containing our motorcycles behind the bus and drive our Subaru. So we need to know about parking, in a pull through spot we can usually fit the whole shebang. If not the trailer goes in overflow parking. Are we carefree yet?  We have a place to stay, viable internet, now how do we get there? We bought a RV-specific GPS, basically you enter the size of your rig and it's supposed to route you around low bridges, bad roads etc. In practice it's been a nightmare. It has routed us over dangerous mountain passes when there was a perfectly good road that would have shaved over three hours off our trip. So now before we leave we have to do a reality check using an app called Trucker Path. Why I haven't thrown the GPS in the trash is just a testament to my cheapskatery, I keep hoping the next update will solve all my problems and we will live happily ever after. So that's about it, place to stay, work resources, and a viable route to get there. Fun Travels!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Silver City NM, land of the Gila Cliff Dwellings

Our stay in Silver City New Mexico was brief, as the nights are getting colder.

A friend recommended we make some time to see the Gila Cliff Dwellings, and it was good advice.  These cliff dwellings were built around around 1230 AD, accurately dated by the core samples of the wood used as supports in the structures; an early prelude to rebar, and the visible wood within the caverns still looks very good.

From their prime location on the New Mexico cliffside, these people had an easily defensible space which took advantage of the winter sun and summer shade.

Gila Cliff Dwellings

The ride out there from Silver City was only 44 miles but it took over 2 hours because it was very windy and steep. We decided to leave the motorcycles and take the car, this decision was heavily debated but decided to be in the best interest of Lance's foot, which still isn't quite healed.  The dog was the big winner here, getting to join us for the ride instead of waiting on the bus.  We were glad we brought plenty of water and snacks because this turned out to be an all day venture and there was nothing to be purchased anywhere.  We are getting smarter about this, as it seems to be the recurring theme for our National Parks.

The RV park we chose in Silver City was Rose Valley RV park, which was spacious and beautifully maintained.  We certainly couldn't complain about the neighbors making noise... some of these graves go back to the 1800s, I can't imagine the day-to-day challenges life as a pioneer and miner must have dished up around here.
Very quiet neighbors
We love this little town but can definitely feel the icy breath of Old Man Winter right behind us, it's time to hit the road in the general direction of South and East.

We made reservations in Corpus Christi TX for a whole 30-day stint, it's right on the beach in the Gulf of Mexico, we expect tropical-like conditions there.  It's over 849 miles from Silver City NM to Corpus Christi TX, we intended to break it into easy 200-mile days, but after elbowing our way through El Paso we didn't find much to slow us down so we just kept going, covering over 400 miles that first day and coming to rest in Marathon, TX before pushing on to Del Rio, which puts us less than 300 miles from our destination on the Gulf Coast.

It's good that we paused here, as we seem to be in the sweet spot for the current weather. The neighboring towns are suffering snow and overnight freezing but we're snug and dry here in Del Rio.

Thursday, December 7, 2017


I don't know about you but I keep a mental list of all the animals I run into. There is nothing I like better than adding an animal to the list.
Elk Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon didn't disappoint, nothing new for the list, but a few old friends.  Elk so tame they didn't even react to Chloe the wonder dog. A bald eagle soaring overhead, crazy Tassel Eared squirrels, coyotes vocalizing at night, all free for the price of admission. As we travel across the country the fauna is slowly changing.

Wild Turkey Bodega Bay
 The finches here in New Mexico have a splash of red on their heads, just a little different from the ones at home, the jack rabbits are much larger than their cousins in California. When I first started diving I was astonished at the diversity of life in the kelp forests along the North coast, seals, sea lions, jelly fish, wolf eels, abalone, black sea bass, moray eels, rock fish, the list is endless. Hundreds of dives later I am never bored. I don't think I'll be adding to my list quite as fast as I was when I dove regularly, but they'll come.
Big Horn Sheep Joshua Tree 

A late addition! An 80-pound javelina tried to commit suicide into the bus on highway 90 outside of the town of Del Rio, no photo, too busy pooping myself. One more for the list.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Scottsdale AZ and Wiley Coyote cactus

Scottsdale has an interesting sense of style.  Sort of like if Orange County and Las Vegas had a baby and it really liked to golf.

The homes here tend to be single-level adobe ranch-style homes. The yards tend to not have any lawn, just the local granite-rock dirt and the occasional cactus or a small, pretty collection of succulents.  Simple. Beautiful. Lots of room for the circular driveway on which to park your multiple shiny cars.

And there's golf courses everywhere.  The lush, green lawns juxtapose sharply against the red rock and yellow earth of the natural landscape.

All the chain stores you know and love are here.  I rejoiced in finding an REI and a Total Wine where I spent a grand total of 4 hours shopping and bought a grand total of one dog life vest (to replace Chloe's that disappeared on garage sale day) and three bottles of liquor to replace our depleted favorites. Shopping requires a significantly different approach when every purchase must fit in a small space. I tried on everything at REI but didn't love anything enough to justify first evicting something I already owned from its closet space.
The pool area at our swanky RV resort in Fort McDowell
We are on the East side of Scottsdale in a little town called Fort McDowell at a super swanky RV resort that only had a few days availability for us. Everybody here are the resort looks at us with the same wide eyes and frightened expression and mutters comments like "the snowbirds are coming, the snowbirds are coming". I've never met one, but from the expressions on everyone's faces here in Arizona I imagine snowbirds must be like zombies or locusts, consuming everything and laying waste to all.  I expect we'll find out soon enough, we've been warned to start booking our January and February spots early. So we should probably put a real plan together soon, I suppose.
Saguaro Cactus at the RV resort
The area around here is straight out of a Wiley Coyote cartoon. The cactus closest to our park spot is easily 30' tall and the mountains seem to sort of repeat on a loop - jagged or pyramid shaped, flat and melted-looking, rounded and smooth with colorful rocks spilled around, repeat.  At night you can hear the coyotes storytelling to one another around the valley, little yips and songs from one part of the valley to the other, it's beautiful and a little haunting.  Stewie and Starfish are showing less than the usual amount of interest in exploring outside so they must have some survival instinct left despite their domesticity.

After work this morning we are moving on to New Mexico.