Saturday, January 31, 2009

Maps Update

We have added a 2009 map and updated our maps to include more information on the campgrounds. We now have a web address where available, the number of days we stayed, the cost per day, and what discounts we used. Longer stays usually mean a weekly or monthly rate applies and, in some cases, more than one discount was used. PA is used for Passport America, GS for Good Sams which are listed in the Trailer Life Directory, and SKP for Escapees. We always look for Passport parks first, since they offer a 50% discount, though they usually have length of stay restrictions. The paragraph below is the amended previous post on our maps.

We have three maps on the blog that show our 2007/08/09 travels and the location of all the campgrounds. The sun represents where we are presently. The maps are interactive so you can move them around and if you click on view larger map, it will go to a full page google map. Clicking on a pinpoint or the list on the left will give you the campground name and address as well as other information such as what hook ups are available. FHU is full hookups (water, electric and sewer) and W, E, S is used when full hookups are not offered. Dry indicates a campground with no hookups and boondock means we were not in a campground. We have also given each park a letter grade which reflects our global opinion. A nice place that was expensive would get a lower grade while great location and scenery will trump no hook ups. We try to keep our campground expenses under $20.00 a day. You can also use the maps to get directions to the campgrounds.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Good Bye Rockport

A few of the "Happy Hour" gang gathered to see us off.
A fish fry with all the trimmings.
The fisherman are also the cooks.
Mike and Loretta, a couple in the park who made us feel really welcome.
Nanc kayaking on Little Bay.
A friend waiting for Jim to catch a fish.
Watersedge RV Park from the fishing pier.
Sunrise across Aransas Bay.

We are wrapping up our stay at Watersedge RV Park in Rockport and next week we will be heading a couple hundred miles south to Port Isabel. We have had a great time here and the longer we stayed the more we liked about the area. We have complained some about the consistency of the weather but, overall, it has been fine. Economically, it is much less expensive than Florida and it is not nearly as crowded. There is a lot to do in the area including biking, fishing, birding, kayaking, visiting the areas historical sites, museums and cultural events. We were disappointed in the local restaurants, finding them to be just so so. We tried at least a half dozen and really weren't very impressed. We thought the seafood would be better. We have made many new friends who made us feel welcome from the moment we pulled in. We have enjoyed the happy hours, fish fries, covered dish dinners, and holiday celebrations. This is the longest we have stayed in one place since we have been on the road and it has been a good place to pass the winter months.

One new adventure we had was renting kayaks so we could get out on the water and explore. Captain Tom from the birding tour delivered a trailer full of kayaks to Little Bay, just a short distance from the RV park. We had the afternoon to try as many as we liked. We started out in a tandem so Nanc could get her sea legs and be comfortable on the water. We each then used four other models to get a feel for different designs. Even though it was a little windy, we paddled around the bay to view the birds and along the canals looking at the beautiful homes. One thing we discovered is you do get a little damp in a kayak and, in Nanc's case, very wet if your sandals stick in the mud as you are sitting down in the kayak and you fall in the water. All in all we really enjoyed kayaking and are seriously considering purchasing two at some time in the future.

We enjoyed the last couple days spending time with our RV friends. On Saturday we met Gary and Deb Pearce and went to dinner at Pepito's in Aransas Pass. After dinner they invited us to their place for an evening of talk about our travels. It was great seeing them and their super friendly dog, Ellie. On Sunday afternoon we attended a concert at the Rockport Center for the Arts with Allan, Sharon, Mark and Renita. The performance included Carpe Diem String Quartet along with pianists, Michelle Schumann and eight year old, Antony Sutanto. We really enjoyed the concert and look forward to returning to Rockport in the future to take advantage of more of what the arts center has to offer. After the concert we went to the China A restaurant for dinner. We want to thank Sharon, Alan, Mark and Renita for treating us to a great meal which they gave as a going away gift. We also want to thank them for good conversation and the chance to get to know them better. It is really nice making new friends, getting tips and suggestions about all the places they have visited and where they plan to go in the future. It is wonderful being able to stay in touch via the Internet and, hopefully, meeting up again somewhere down the road.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Fulton Mansion & USS Lexington

Fulton Mansion
The parlor with the latest in 1870's decor.
The library and one of the fireplaces that were in each room as part of the central heating system.
This illustration shows the wall and floor construction.
USS Lexington
The rising sun flag marks the spot where a Japanese kamikaze hit the ship.
An animation of catapulting and catching planes.
Navy aircraft on the flight deck.
Jim, Allan, Nanc,Mark, Sharon & Renita aboard the Lex.

We took a tour of one of the most unique places in Rockport, the Fulton Mansion. It was known as Oakhurst when the Fultons lived at the mansion. The house, built 1874 by George and Harriet Fulton, was the most modern house in south Texas at the time. It had central heating and ventilation, gas lights, indoor plumbing with hot and cold running water and the latest decor and furnishings. George Fulton, a man of many talents, was a Philadelphia orphan who came to Texas in 1836 to participate in the fight for independence but arrived to late for the war. He became a teacher for the family of Henry Smith and married Henry's daughter Harriet. After inheriting his father-in-laws land, he acquired over 25,000 acres and made his fortune selling cattle. The construction of Oakhurst was unique because it was built without studs or floor joists. All the walls were built by stacking 1 1/2 x 5 foot pine boards and nailing them together. The floors are solid with pine boards nailed together and supported with I-beams. As a result, this home has been able to withstand several hurricanes over the years. The home offers an interesting look at how the other half lived in the late 1800's.

Another day we went with Mark, Renita, Allan and Sharon to Corpus Christi and toured the USS Lexington Museum on the Bay, an Essex class aircraft carrier. The Lex served during WWII and was later modernized and recommissioned to serve a total of 40 years. The self guided tour includes the flight deck, bridge, hangar, engine room and living areas. An IMAX movie is also included in the admission fee. The ship was built during the war and served in most battles in the Pacific theater. The 910 foot Lex was heavily damaged when it was hit by a Japanese kamikaze but was repaired in time to be the first ship of her class to sail into Tokyo Harbor. The flight deck has a number of planes showing a wide range of Navy aircraft. This is the fourth WWII ship we have been on in the last 18 months. Each one, battleship, submarine, LST and aircraft carrier, is unique and gives you new insight into how our sailors lived and the hardships they faced in defending our country.

On Tuesday we were glued to the TV watching all the events in DC. It was all very exciting for a couple of yellow dog Democrats and we both cheered when we saw that helicopter lift off to return "W" to Texas. We wish the best for President Obama, his family and the members of his administration.

The weather here is MUCH improved with more sun and warm temps and less fog and clouds. We will be moving south to Port Isabel next week and are hoping the weather will go with us. We understand we are not getting any sympathy from those people up north when we complain. It's all relative.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Texas is for the Bird(er)s

Captain Tom
Whooping crane searching for blue crabs.
Two whoopers take flight.
Great Egret
Allan and Sharon Frey
Royal Tern
"White" Great Blue Heron
Up close with the dolphin.
Jim and Mark fish the shipping channel.
Dinner tonight

We took advantage of a couple days of beautiful weather and on one of those days went on a whooping crane tour aboard the Skimmer with Captain Tom out of Fulton Harbor. The tour explores the shorelines of the Aransas Wildlife Refuge and because of the Skimmer's shallow draft, it is able to access more of the refuges habitat which covers over 15,000 acres. There are larger boats but they are not able to get into the real shallow water (1 1/2 feet) like the Skimmer. We were told it is possible to see as many as 100 species of birds and although we lost count, we did see many different kinds of birds and other wildlife. We boarded the boat at 9:00 AM along with another couple from the RV park, Sharon and Allan Frey. It was a rare warm and sunny day with calm winds and water. There were approximately 40 other people on the boat, many of whom were "serious birders" with photo equipment that really put our little digital camera to shame and caused us to suffer from lens envy. Even so, because Captain Tom was able to get real close to several birds, especially the rare and beautiful whooping crane, we were able to obtain some very nice photos. Whooping cranes, magnificent birds which are found only in North America, stand approximately 5 feet tall with a wingspan measuring about 7-1/2 feet. Between September and November they leave northern Canada and migrate 2,500 miles to southern Texas where they mate and raise their young. Their favorite food in Texas is the blue crab which is in short supply this year because the lack of rain has reduced the needed fresh water flowing into the bay. They return to the very isolated Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Canada between April and May. This group of about 270 birds makes up over half of all the surviving whooping cranes, wild and in captivity in the world. They mate for life and travel in flocks of 2 to 7 with a family consisting of two adults and a yearling. Whoopers normally lay two eggs but usually raise only one chick though pairs may sometimes be found. In addition to the whooping cranes, we saw a "white" great blue heron which is a rare sight here in Texas. We also saw gulls, terns, sandpipers, egrets, roseate spoonbills, ibis, herons, king fishers, white and brown pelicans, oyster catchers, willets, osprey, a great variety of ducks and many more. You can see why this is truly a birders paradise. As an additional treat, there were several dolphins playing in the waters around our boat resulting in more great pictures. We really, really enjoyed this excursion and recommend it to anyone interested in seeing a variety of birds. We also recommend that you take this particular tour out of Fulton Harbor because the smaller boat allows you to see more and gives you greater photo opportunities.

The next day we went fishing out on the jetty in Aransas Pass. This is where the big ships come into the channel from the Gulf of Mexico. We met Mark and Renita Brackin, our RV park neighbors, and spent the afternoon enjoying the sun, watching the birds and dolphins playing in the channel and catching some fish. I even caught a keeper which Nanc cooked up for dinner that evening. Aahh, life is good!
One evening we had dinner with Gary & Deb Pearce, Class of 07 Escapees, who we have met several times on the road. Gary is work camping at a nearby RV park for the winter. We also had a visit from Gary & Anita Heke, who we met at Betty's in Louisiana, when they passed through on their way to the Rio Grande Valley. It is always great to see new friends we have met in our travels.

In other really big news, my pension has finally been finalized, I will get my first social security check this month and we can burn the mortgage on the motorhome. Aahh, LIFE IS GREAT!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Rockport Area

The Big Tree
A raccoon searching for food along the water.
Feral pigs which are a major problem in the refuge.
If you look closely, there are 13 gators and a snake in this little waterhole.
A ship passing in front of the ferry as we waited to cross the channel to Port Aransas.
Click on this pic to blow it up and you will see a dolphin jumping at the bow.
A very wet Miss Terry helps Jim launch.
All dressed up to welcome in 2009. The beautiful backdrop was painted by Shirley. We hope this is the only snow we see this year.
Mike, Shirley, Mark, Renita and Nanc get ready to celebrate.

The weather in Texas has gotten better and we have been doing a few more things in the area. One afternoon we drove to the Big Tree, which is the largest live oak in Texas. The tree, located at Goose Island State Park in Lamar, is 44 feet high with a circumference of 35 feet and a crown of 89 feet and is estimated to be over 1000 years old. It is surrounded by many offspring creating a grove of live oaks. While there, we had another small world thing when we met four people who were originally from PA and one couple has a son who lives in Charleroi which is near Wash, PA. That day we also visited Aransas National Wildlife Refuge where we saw a lot of animals but did not get up close with many birds. There are several walking trails and a 16 mile auto loop for viewing the wildlife. The refuge is the winter home to over 200 whooping cranes which were nearly extinct in 1941 when there were only 15 in North America. The whoopers summer at Wood Buffalo National Park in Northwest Territories, Canada. We are planning on taking a boat trip from Rockport to get a better look at the whooping cranes on the outer islands of the refuge. We went back to Port Aransas on Mustang Island to spend some time on the beach. To get to the island you have to take a short ferry ride across the shipping channel where large ocean going ships pass through. As the ships move through the channel, the dolphins can be seen "surfing" along in the swells pushed up by the bows. Port A has a lot more commercial development than Rockport but is still a neat area with much to do.

Because we are often around water, we have talked about getting kayaks to get out on the water. I saw on Nick's Blog that Nick Russell was interested in selling his kayak so I contacted him and went for a test paddle. While it was a great deal we decided that the timing was just not right since we would have to buy a second one for Nanc, a car rack and many other accessories. Unfortunately, while helping me launch, Nick's wife Terry slipped and went into the water up to her chest and over her cell phone. The good news she was only wet and not injured and they were due for a new phone from their plan. We really appreciated them taking the time to show us the kayak and even though we decided not to buy just yet, the information was quite helpful and we have a better understanding of what it all involves.

We had a great time ringing in the new year with many new friends at a party in the park's clubhouse. As usual, there was plenty of great food, music, dancing and conversation. Many of us even stayed up to midnight to officially welcome in 2009.