Friday, April 30, 2010

What a Day

This was not the way to begin our day, especially when we hoped to be on the road by 9 am. John went out a little before 8:30 to prepare the trailer for travel. That is when he discovered we had a flat tire. The brochure for the Sam Houston Jones State Park included an ad for a local tire company. John called them and arranged for them to send out a road service company with four new tires. He had felt for a while we needed new tires and this confirmed it.

SJ, of SJ's Road and Tire Service arrived sometime after 10 with the tires. He was very methodical, precise and careful in everything he did. The trailer has aluminum wheels, which need special care. We were impressed with the work he did.

It was close to noon before he was finished. We enjoyed getting to know him and appreciated his work.

It wasn't till after we had made the arrangements for the tires that we remembered our Good Sam Emergency Road Service policy. After sitting on hold for 15 minutes, I learned they would have paid for the flat tire service if we had called them first. We can submit the bill we paid and hope for reimbursement. If there is a next time, maybe we will remember to call them first.

As we drove east on I-10 and then I-12 to Fontainbleau State Park on the north shore of Lake Ponchartrain, we saw numerous trucks hauling something made of orange plastic and folded in long sections. It wasn't till we watched the evening news that we realized they are the plastic booms that will be put in the Gulf of Mexico to try to contain the oil spill from that oil well explosion. That sure puts our minor inconvenience in the morning into perspective.

The local news is dominated by the story, even more than the national news, because of the impending damage to wildlife, the fishing industry and tourism in this state that is still recovering from hurricanes Katrina and Ike. What a tragedy! Just days ago we visited wildlife areas on the bayous and coastal areas of the state. They are so beautiful and they are facing possible devastation. How sad.

Along the road we also drove over a gigantic bridge that crosses the Atchafalaya Basin. With a total length of 96,095 feet (29,290 m) or 18.2 miles, it is the tenth longest bridge in the world by total length. We went on a boat tour of the swamp three years ago in mid-March. In late April the trees have leafed out and the water is much higher than when we were there.

Monday, before leaving the Lake Charles area, we went to town to eat southern food for lunch and ended up at a locals' favorite restaurant, Southern Spice. John had a Cajun spiced roast beef and cheese po-boy. I had a shrimp po-boy. In case you don't know what a po-boy is (we didn't), here is the definition from Wikipedia, "A po' boy (also po-boy, po boy, or poor boy) is a traditional submarine sandwich from Louisiana. It almost always consists of meat or seafood, usually fried, served on baguette-like Louisiana French bread."

Then we drove to the old downtown area of Lake Charles and the Historic Charpentier District of the city. According to the Trailer Life Directory (don't you love my sources?) this district has "one of the finest collections of Victorian architecture in the state, dating from the late 1800s. Since there were no architects in evidence here until the early 1900s, the structures reflect the individual characteristics of the carpenters (charpentiers in French) and builders."
Here are pictures of a couple of the houses.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Alligators, Bayous and Crab

There you have the ABC's of our Tuesday. We drove the Creole Nature Trail though far south Louisiana. We saw lots of alligators. After we stopped at the Cameron Prairie NWR Visitor Center, we drove their Pintail Trail and Boardwalk.

At first we didn't understand why there was a warning that hiking was not allowed on the trail. That was before we saw this fellow.

And this one.

And this one.

No wonder we couldn't hike. We didn't even get out of the truck to take pictures. As our eyes became trained to see the alligators, they were everywhere. Interesting, but scary We understand why we saw these signs posted in the area.

The Creole Trail goes south through all the bayous and farms between I-10 and the Gulf of Mexico. This is what much of the countryside looks like.

We drove through Cameron, one of the towns hit hard by Hurricane Ike in 2008. First we noticed these new houses built on stilts.

And others built on a small hill of earth as well as stilts.

Someone used to live on this concrete pad. Their home is entirely gone.

It is truly amazing how much damage a hurricane can do.

Further on we made a short trip on a ferry. It only cost $1 to cross the small bayou or river. I think it is a regular part of life for those who live here.

I had read it was blue crab season, but I had no idea how you catch crabs. It seems you tie a sturdy string around a large portion of chicken leg and thigh, then lower it into the water.

When it starts to jiggle, you pull it up and catch the crabs that are trying to gnaw on the chicken leg and put them in a net.

Here you can see how many crab two women had caught and saved in their cooler. You also can see the blue color on the crab legs.

In addition to alligators, bayous and crab, we saw turtles. This one was the road in the state park as we left in the morning.

And we saw these in the wildlife refuge.

We also saw butterflies.

And lots of birds, including this Baltimore (or Northern) Oriole

and an Indigo Bunting

and also this Scarlet Tanager.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Great State Parks

We are staying in Sam Houston Jones State Park in Louisiana. This is the 18th state where we have stayed in a state park. National Parks are called "America's Best Idea" and we agree. But maybe state parks are America's Second Best Idea. Although we have a site that was the devil to back into and on some sites (not ours) the electric and water are very far away, we love this place. We have a great, large site.

This is the first time we have parked in the middle of a swamp and it is beautiful.

Look at all the Spanish Moss hanging off these Baldcypress trees.

After dinner last night we rode our bikes around to see if we could find wildlife. Obviously, lots of other people also like to ride bikes at that time of night, and many of them aren't in the campgrounds here.

Cypress trees have "knees." These are roots that show above the ground. When I saw them, I said I thought the roots were coming up for air. A sign along the pond said that is one theory of why the knees develop--when the water rises, these root extension provide oxygen to the tree.

We saw interesting ducks (or are they geese?). They look like turkeys in a duck or goose body.

In the cabin area we saw this flowering bush. It looks like an azalea to me.

The most exciting event of the evening was getting this close to a Snowy Egret. Isn't it beautiful?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Aaargh, Houston!

Unfortunately, there is no way to drive east out of Texas on Interstate 10 without going through Houston. I had planned our route using the outer ring road around the city, but then realized it is a toll road and is open only to people who have a transponder to pay the toll fee. That's not us. And for some reason Cairn (our GPS, remember?) didn't choose the I-612 ring road either. This is the second time we have tried to drive into Houston on a Sunday and the traffic was terrible. The same thing happened three years ago. This is what traffic looked like yesterday as we were approaching I-10.

The closer we got to the ramp to I-10, the slower it was. We spent so much time stopped and creeping at 5 mph or less, our arrival time in Beaumont was 50 minutes later than what had originally been estimated. When we got close enough to the ramp to I-10 to see it was a parking lot as far as we could see, we finally pulled out into the through lanes and drove five miles to the northern part of I-612 and used that road to access I-10. We don't know what had been going on but we did merge into very light traffic on I-10. The traffic jam we had been in must have still been holding up those vehicles.

As we drove the last part of our journey on open roads. This is a crawfish farm. Who knew farmers raised crawfish?

A little further down the road we passed this complex. It looks like a refinery to me. The sign said it was a chemical plant. I guess that means it refines oil into chemicals.

We spent the night in Beaumont, today it is on to Louisiana.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


Friday we drove to the Texas Gulf Coast and visited the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. What a great day we had! All of the travel was on non-interstate roads. That means two-lane roads with little or no shoulder. And often the speed limit is 65 or 70 mph. There are interstate highways with speed limits of only 55. But the good side is that most of the time we were the only car on the road. Once and a while we did encounter some farm machinery, like this ... whatever it is.

As we drove down the last section of road before the wildlife area, we saw a wild hog. They are large and ugly. No picture, though. I didn't have the camera out at that point. We had seen them several years ago when we were hosting in a Texas State Park. And the visitor center at the wildlife area had some information about them.

Since we were right on the Gulf Coast, the roads in the wildlife area are fairly flat and we were able to bike the 10-mile round trip route to a viewing platform. There is also the choice of a 16-mile loop road, but we had other things we wanted to do that day, as well, so we just rode the 10 miles. It is very difficult to bike with a camera and long lens around my neck, so I took very few pictures. Along the way we saw an armadillo, white tailed deer, a snake, a turkey, a cardinal and either Eastern Bluebirds or Indigo Buntings. Once we came around a corner and several bright blue birds flew away. I didn't get a close enough view to see what they were, but both of these blue birds are present on the Texas Gulf Coast and there are bluebird boxes around the wildlife area.

Near the observation tower we played hide and seek with this small alligator.

It was in shallow water and alternately showed most of its body and went down into the water so only the head and eyes showed. It turned to keep an eye on us.

A flock of 200 endangered Whooping Cranes winters on the Aransas wildlife refuge. They leave by mid-April to their summer nesting area at Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada. The best way to see them during the winter is from boat tours out of nearby Rockport. One pair is usually visible from the Observation Tower. I did get this picture of a white bird from the tower. I don't really know if it is a Whooping Crane or not, since it is now late April. But it is an impressive bird.

The forests all around this area are full of live oaks. They seem to present a great home for birds, one that provides lots of protection from prying human eyes. We hear lots of birds, but don't see many.

We really enjoyed the wildlife refuge and would like to return. We are thinking about volunteering there in the winter in a couple of years.

After our bike ride, we drove to Rockport. It is a busy seaside town with lots of shops and big-box stores. We had lunch at this BBQ restaurant. We came to Texas to eat BBQ and this was our first opportunity. It was OK.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What a Beautiful Day!

And by that I mean how much beauty we saw today. Before leaving the Corps park we had been staying in for five days, we did our weight-training exercises. As I was doing that I looked out the window and saw the wind wasn't blowing and the lake was sort of foggy and really pretty. I changed my shoes and picked up the camera to take some pictures.

These are two of the views we saw each day, but this morning they were certainly more special.

To get from the Corps park to Goliad State Park, where we are staying for four nights, Cairn (our GPS) took us down FM (Farm to Market) and Texas roads 306, 46, 123, and 119. Most of the time we were on two lane roads with no shoulder. But it was certainly worth it. Texas had an especially wet and cool winter and now everyone is enjoying the benefit of beautiful wildflowers. This is the third time we have been in Texas in April and we have never seen such flowers. The colors were blue, purple, yellow, orange and red. Since there was no place to pull over, some of the photos are blurry, but I had to post them so you get some idea of what we saw today.

We had never seen Goliad State Park, but we read the reviews on and decided it would be a good place to stay while we visited the Texas coast. It is wonderful! We have a 50-amp site with full hookups and it is huge.

This shows the site from our picnic table to the RV. We share this large grassy area, which is twice as wide as this photo shows, with one other site--if it is occupied. We thought the Corps of Engineers site was great. This is even better.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Visiting New Friends and Moving On

Tomorrow we move on from the Corps of Engineers park where we have been parked since Friday. We have loved the many deer we have seen, the music of birdsong that we hear from before dawn till nightfall, the view of the lake and the shade from many live oak trees. The sun came out today, which makes it even more difficult to move on. But it is difficult to travel if we don't drive to a new place every few days.

In addition to bluebonnets, the local roads are bordered by these beautiful yellow flowers. They aren't poppies, but some sort of small daisy. They sure are pretty.

Sunday we drove to Boerne, a small town originally founded by German immigrants, not too far from where we are staying. We drove by the River Road Park on our way here and again as we drove back into town over the weekend.

Lots of ducks and geese are swimming in the Guadalupe River (I think), which runs through the town. Many people were picnicking in the park.

We enjoyed looking at the shops in town, but we have discovered that since we no longer live in a stick house, there is very little "stuff" we are interested in looking at seriously or buying. A number of the buildings in town remind us of what we saw in New Orleans three years ago.

For the past two years we have been reading a blog called "Art and Connie's RV Adventures." They also have been reading my blog. They gave support and asked questions as we prepared to go on the road full time and we supported them as they performed the same tasks months later. Today we finally met each other. They have been staying in an RV park about 40 miles from here and we drove up to have lunch with them. It was fun to finally see them in person and share stories of our life on the road. We live a rather unusual life and it is good to make contact with people who understand what our life is like. John took this picture of Art, Connie and me after lunch.