Saturday, February 28, 2009

Sun, Turtles, Birds & FRIENDS

Georgie & Tom enjoying the warm Texas weather. You need to click here to see how Tom has changed since he got a haircut on January 20th when the new president was sworn in. He had vowed not to get it cut as long as Bush was in office.
Birds along the gulf coast.
You can see that this turtle is missing a flipper.
Look closely and you can see a green jay and a chachalaca.
A heron wading near the Laguna Madre Trail.
Nanc, Tom & Georgie basking in the setting sun.
Texas Sunset
Jim, Nanc, Joe, Jin, Tom & Georgie enjoying an evening out.

Once again we had a personal mail delivery from our friends Tom & Georgie who drove to South Texas and spent a great week with us. We had a wonderful time going to the beach, dining out, watching the sunsets and catching up on everything going on back in Wash, PA.

One day we visited the Sea Turtles on South Padre Island, a nonprofit rescue center started by Ila Loetscher in 1977. The center rescues ill and injured turtles and works to nurse them back to health. Turtles that have lost only one flipper can be released back into the gulf but those that are severely injured, often missing more than one flipper, are sent to other zoos and aquariums or kept at the center to help educate the public on the plight of the gulf turtles, all of which are endangered or threatened. Many of the injuries are caused by the turtles being caught in fishing lines or fishing nets while other injuries are the result of predators. They were even experimenting on a prosthetic flipper to help a turtle which had only one. The center allows up close views of turtles from young small hawksbills to large nearly full grown leatherbacks weighing up to 300 pounds.

We also took Tom & Georgie birding on the Laguna Madre Trail on Padre Island and to the Sabal Palm Audubon Center in Brownsville. Sabal Palm has some of the only protected palm forest remaining along the Rio Grande. The area is an excellent habitat for birds and other animals with trails that take you through the forest and along the river and lake and offers great opportunities to view many species. We saw a variety of ducks and wading birds, chachalacas, green jays and a kingfisher. The jays and chachalacas are native only to the Rio Grande Valley in the US.

We took advantage of the warm weather by walking on the beach collecting shells and watching the wildlife. We watched beautiful sunsets across Laguna Madre Bay while enjoying our favorite beverage at a couple of local pubs. We also got to play euchre several times which we used to play regularly with the gang back in Wash, PA. On another evening we had dinner with our realtor and his wife, Joe and Jin Koval, who just happened to be here vacationing. They have been coming to Padre Island for years and are the ones who recommended we try it for the winter. We are really glad they did as we have enjoyed it very much and plan to return.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

More of South Texas

Shrimp boats in the harbor at Port Isabel.
Looking from the motorhome at a ship heading out into the gulf.
Looking out for pirates while fishing on South Padre Island.
A HUGE oil rig cuts through the fog on its way to the gulf.
On the beach at Boca Chica.
Ditsy Dotty is saying we have arrived! NOT!!
Trophies from Port Isabel sport fishing tournaments.
Those who served here in the Mexican American and Civil Wars.

We have accepted the fact that it is always windy and continue to enjoy South Texas. It has been in the 70's and 80's with sunny skies almost every day. We love watching the birds as well as all the interesting things that go by on the water. We have done more exploring going to the Brownsville area and the beach at Boca Chica. We can see Boca Chica from the motorhome but it is a forty mile drive to the end of the paved road to get there. It is a beautiful beach with very few people. You can drive on the beach from where the Rio Grande enters the Gulf of Mexico to the inlet at South Padre Island. Driving to Boca Chica beach we only passed a few cars but the Border Patrol has a permanent check point set up where you must stop for inspection on your return trip. We did get to use our new GPS (Ditsy Dotty) which we purchased with gift certificates given to us by my brother and sister-in-law, Rick and Denise, for Christmas. She got us to a restaurant in Brownsville without a hitch so we decided we would go to Rasaca de La Palma State Park to do some birding. The picture above shows the results of that trip so I don't think we will be throwing our maps away.

We toured the Port Isabel Historic Museum which offers interesting exhibits on local history and the shrimp fishing industry. At its height over 12 million tons of shrimp a year came through this area. Presently, forty percent of the country's shrimp is still shipped from Port Isabel. The history of the development of sports fishing and tourism is also shown. Historically, there was a dispute over this land that lies between the Neuces River near Corpus Christi which Mexico said was the border and the Rio Grande which the US claimed as the border. The Mexican American War was fought to settle that dispute. The first battle of that war was fought near here at Palo Alto in 1846. The US won the war after Mexico City was captured in 1847. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hildago established the border and ceded all of California, Nevada, Utah and parts of four other states to the US. Among the soldiers who fought here were Grant, Lee and Meade who later played important roles in the Civil War. Ironically, the last battle of that war was fought near here at Palmito Ranch more than a month after Lee's surrender.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Living on Wheels

We have been on the road for over 18 months and are really loving this new lifestyle. While we have chronicled the many adventures we have had, there are many routine things that are made very different by living in a house on wheels. Some of these differences are because our home is both mobile and self contained. Electricity, as an example, can come from plugging in at a campground but you can have 20, 30, or 50 amps. This has a real impact on which of the many on board appliances we can use. One place we stayed in Ohio gave you a 20 amp fuse and if it blew you had no power. At other places the power (unlike a stix and brix) is not consistent, which can also cause damage. We like having 50 amp because it enables us to run all electric items without worry. If you have 20 or 30 amp you must closely monitor everything you use. We also have a generator to provide power and charge the batteries if we are not plugged in but this runs on diesel fuel which last summer was near $5.00 per gallon. You can purchase solar panels to replace some of the need for a generator, but we don't think it is cost efficient. Even at $5.00 per gallon you can run the generator a long time for the several thousands it would cost to install solar panels. Additionally, we have a inverter that converts battery power to AC electricity to run some appliances but this quickly uses the 12 volt battery power that is the source for most of our lights and provides the "spark" to start things (fridge, water heater and furnace) that run on LP gas. We carry LP gas for the furnace, water heater, fridge and cooking. Both the fridge and the water heater can also run on electricity when you have enough power. For our water supply we also have two sources, either attaching a hose to a spigot in a campground or from our 110 gallon on board water tank, which requires the batteries to run the pump. Our practice of spraying Clorox on the spigot before we hook up the water was reinforced when we recently saw someone at an empty site running water and letting his dog drink from it. Of course water must be disposed of so we have two sewage systems on board. One is for "gray water" (shower, washer & sinks) and the other is for "black water" (toilet.) When in a full hook up campground a hose, also known as the "stinky slinky," can be attached directly to a sewer line. But, unlike a house, we must empty the black water after the tank is full because leaving it trickle out will result in a hardened "mound of doom" and this is something you never want to deal with. After you empty the black tank it must be flushed out by attaching a hose (not the same one used for drinking water) to the tank. The emptying of the black tank has lead to an occasional toxic spill. An unnamed friend once turned on the wrong hose and in a short time wondered why water was running out of the stand pipe on the roof and down the side of the rig. At the same time, on the inside his wife wondered why the toilet was making a strange noise and flushed it to check the problem. The good news, they now know the toilet seal works. The bad news, the sudden opening of the seal caused a terrible eruption of _ _ _ _. So just when you think all is well something happens resulting in an emergency hazmat clean up. We discovered while having no water or sewer hook up for 14 days we can make the black tank last for 13. You don't want to have the urge to go in the middle of the last night so it is good to know your limit. When you do not have a sewer hook up you must empty at a dump station where there is always a line of waiting RVers watching and critiquing your technique. Another way to empty the sewer is into a blue boy, a waste water carrier on wheels that we call a "turd trolley." We have not gone there yet. Though you should NEVER fill your fresh water with the dump flush hose, it does not take very long on the road before you see someone doing just that. Another thing that is different on the road is garbage disposal. At our stix and brix home, once a week we put the garbage on the curb and when we came home from work it was gone. Very rarely do they pick up the garbage in a campground so you get to carry it to the dumpster each day. Often, especially after a long weekend, it is filled and overflowing with several days of trash. This can be a very aromatic experience on a hot day so we generally take a romantic after dinner stroll together so we can tag team the dumpster for quick disposal. While many misadventures involving RV systems are shown hilariously in the movies Christmas Vacation and RV living them in real life is just as funny (when looking back).

While all the systems were overwhelming in the beginning we are really glad we no longer have a stix and brix home. To reinforce this, Allan and Sharon, a couple we met in Rockport, had a pipe break at their home in Arizona and the house had severe damage that was not covered by insurance. As to our old house, while just recently reading the local paper on line I could see it in the background of a front page photo telling of a shooting in the old neighborhood. I just think about those kinds of things when I'm washing out the stinky slinky and realize it isn't a bad job at all.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Los Fresnos Rodeo

Riding the bull while the bullfighter taunts it and the clown on the barrel gets ready to attract it away from the rider.
Many of the rides were less than eight seconds.
A roping team chases down a steer.
The team has the steer with one rope on the horns and the other on the hind legs.
A Bucking Bronc
A cowboy jumps off a perfectly good horse to wrestle a steer to the ground.
After the cowboy has roped the calf the horse keeps the rope taut while the cowboy ties the calf's feet.
The barrel rider is a blur as she speeds to the finish line.
What a hoot as the kids chase the calves to pull the ribbon off its tail to win a prize.

Another first for us was attending the nearby Los Fresnos PRCA Rodeo that included many different types of events based on the skills used by cowboys on the ranch. The events were bull riding, bronc riding, team roping, steer wrestling, tie down roping and women's barrel riding. The rodeo clown, Rudy Burns, not only entertained the crowd with his antics, he also helped attract the bulls away from the riders after they where done with their 8 seconds (or less) atop these raging animals. Two bullfighters, Rex Dunn and Wacey Munsell, also helped rescue the fallen bull riders after running in front of the bulls to taunt them so they will jump faster and higher. The Outlaws Drill Team did horse mounted drills and carried flags and banners of rodeo sponsors. For the kids they had several 4H members in the arena chasing calves with ribbons tied to their tails which the kids needed to grab for a prize. The whole event was very entertaining and we truly enjoyed this traditional Western show. It was jam packed with entertainment and there was never a dull moment. We have always talked of attending the Calgary Stampede and seeing this small rodeo convinced us we need to definitely include that in our future travels.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Looking Over Texas

Port Isabel Lighthouse
Looking from the top of the lighthouse over Port Isabel at Laguna Madre Bay and South Padre Island.
Not a great pic but check out that temp.
Nanc at the top.
Lighthouse Keeper's Cottage
Sunset across the bay.
Iwo Jima Memorial
So True
We continue to enjoy South Texas. Even with the winds we were warned of, the temps in the 70's almost every day make it very pleasant. A wind chill of 70 is very tolerable. We explored more of the area and visited the Port Isabel Lighthouse which, at 72 feet, towers over the town. It is visible across Laguna Madre Bay from Brazos Santiago Pass where ships enter the protected waters of the bay from the Gulf of Mexico. We see ships arriving and departing the Brownsville Ship Channel several times a week from our motorhome. Built in 1852, the lighthouse survived the Civil War and many hurricanes and in 1952 became Texas' smallest state park. It is the only lighthouse on the Texas coast that is open to the public and the only one we have visited that allows you to get up into the room were the lens used to be. There is also a replica of the keeper's cottage on the grounds that serves as a visitors center. The view from the top is well worth the climb.

We have discovered that by going to South Padre Island you can get a beautiful view of the sunset over the bay. Since we are more likely to see it set than rise, we have gone across the Queen Isabella Causeway a couple times to enjoy the view from outdoor bars that offer sunset specials. You know you are in the right place weather wise when there are restaurants and bars with only roll up shades and no exterior walls.

Another day we drove to Harlingen to the Marine Military Academy to see the Iwo Jima Memorial. The memorial, which is the original working model that sculptor Dr. Felix de Weldon used to make the bronze castings for the memorial in Arlington National Cemetery, was given to the Academy in 1981. The Academy was chosen because it is the only military school based on the customs and traditions of the U. S. Marine Corps. Also, Harlon Block, a Marine in the memorial, was from nearby Weslaco. It depicts the raising of the American flag on Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima, the first Japanese land taken by the US on February 23, 1945 as captured in a photograph by Joe Rosenthal. Three of the five Marines, PFC Franklin R. Sousley, SGT Michael Strank and CPL Harlon Block where killed in later action on the island. The other two Marines, PFC Ira Hayes and PFC Rene A. Gagnon along with Navy corpsman PM2/C John H. Bradley posed for the sculptor which was dedicated in Arlington in 1954. We have seen the Arlington Memorial many times and this one is just as impressive in size and meaning. Just a couple of years ago I learned that my Uncle Art was on Iwo Jima and witnessed the raising of the flag but, like many veterans, never talked about his war experiences. The Academy's museum is honoring the service of all those who where on Iwo Jima by registering Marine veterans who were there.

Monday, February 2, 2009

South Texas

The bridge swings out of the way for a passing barge and tug boat.
The Class of 2007 expresses its opinion of the service at Pepe's.
iQuad performing their kite routine.
The crowd watching the kites.
The Laguna Madre Trail and Whaling Wall with kites flying overhead.
Night Heron & Egret
King Rail
Celebrating the "six-pack" victory with Steeler fans.
The Point mural at Club Pelican West.

We are now at Long Island Village in Port Isabel where we will be for the next month. To get to the park you must cross a unique private bridge owned by the park which is a barge that swings open for boat traffic to pass. This park is like none we have stayed in as it has hundreds of sites and most have permanent trailers and double wides along over 5 miles of interior roads. There is a par three golf course, indoor and outdoor pools, tennis courts and many scheduled activities. We have a nice site and through our big picture window (windshield) we can see Laguna Madre Bay, South Padre Island and the sunrise if we get up early enough. So far the weather has been very good with only one day of temps in the 50's and several in the 70's with sunny skies, although it tends to be windy.
On Tuesday we drove to Mission in the Rio Grande Valley for a luncheon with several members of the Escapees Class of 2007. It was great seeing and talking to everyone again and we also met some new members. We always enjoy sharing tales of our travels with these folks. While the socialization and conversation was great, the service at Pepe's on the River left much to be desired and several people didn't get their meals. The restaurant is located on the banks of the Rio Grande and another group of diners were using the spot to drive golf balls across the river into Mexico. Whatever floats your boat! Our initial reaction to The Valley is there is no need for a fence to keep illegals out because anyone who can find their way through all the shopping malls and many lanes of traffic without being killed should be allowed to stay in the USA. It's a jungle out there!!
We have explored the area near the RV park and have been to the beach on South Padre Island, the longest barrier island in the world. The south end of the island has many eateries, shops and high rise condos but north of all this are miles of natural beach with just a few houses. There is still a lot of evidence of the island being hit by Hurricane Dolly with roofs covered by the famous blue tarps and buildings with windows and doors boarded up. On Saturday we went to the SPI Kite Fest, a great event to have here since it seems to always be windy. There were many kites anchored in the sand and a demonstration by the quad line flying team, iQuad, who choreographed their kite routine to music. Anyone could fly their own kite and, of course, kites where for sale. It was a very colorful and fun event and the kite fliers were amazing. That same day we went birding on the Laguna Madre Nature Trail, a boardwalk across the marsh that allows you to get an up close view of many different birds. We saw a large variety in a very short distance. This Spring a new 10,000 square foot birding center will be opening with a longer trail and more blinds.
On Super Bowl Sunday we went to Club Pelican West, a club that advertised "A party for Steeler fans by Steeler fans!" and had a great time watching SIX-BURGH win a classic game. The buffet included kielbasa and sauerkraut but they did not have Iron City beer. The club is owned by the band, Pelican West, whose members are from the Pittsburgh area and there is a huge mural of the Point on one wall. There were many Terrible Towels, a Pittsburgh sports memorabilia corner and a number of team jerseys and t-shirts. While there were a few Arizona fans, none of them had any team colors or shirts so the day was for the Black & Gold. If you get to South Padre make sure you stop by the club and show your support for these Pittsburghers.