Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Padre Island National Seashore



Yesterday we took a 25 mile drive south to Padre Island, which at 70 miles long is the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world. It looked like a beautiful day for a walk on the beach, until the volunteers at the visitor center warned us about the dead fish. That nasty red tide is still causing problems along the Texas Gulf Coast. In fact a couple days we were both coughing when we walked and rode our bikes. After the big front came through this weekend and the winds shifted to the north, we haven’t noticed anything, but it sure did a number on the fish.


We walked a couple miles and as far as we could see there were thousands of dead fish. Luckily the tide was out and we could walk closer to the water to avoid them. And since they just washed up the day before and it was cool, there was no smell (yet).

The volunteer told us to look out for a rare fish, which she had marked with a cross in the sand. It’s called a stargazer, since it’s eyes (and mouth) are on the top of it’s head. All the better to see and eat other little unsuspecting fish that swim over it as it’s buried in the sand.


We think this is the top of a Portuguese Man Of War jellyfish.


For some reason, our beach here on Mustang Island near Port Aransas hasn’t had any dead fish washing up on it. That definitely spoiled the beauty of Padre Island for us.

Today we took a bike ride and went back to the birding center. Still haven’t seen a Roseatte Spoonbill, the official bird of Port Aransas. And we were hoping to see an alligator. Didn’t see either of those, but we did get to watch this nutria eating the sawgrass. He was kind of cute, but the sign said they are very destructive.



Also what we think is a cormorant. There were lots of them in the water.


And turtles upon turtles. Look closely or click to enlarge the image.


And one of our favorites.


We leave here tomorrow for Mission, TX, where we plan to spend the month of December.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Hanging Out in Port “A”



Port Aransas began as a small fishing village but soon became a major seaport and tourist destination. Port “A” takes up the northern 8 miles of the 18 mile long Mustang Island, and Mustang Island State Park takes up the southern 5 miles. It’s a nice place to spend some time, a very laid back beach community but not overly built up.

We spent one day riding our bikes around town and stopping at several of the bird watching areas. Most of the wetlands are dry because of the drought this year, so there wasn’t much to see. There is a permanent pond at the Leonabell Turnbull Birding Center, though, so we got to see lots of ducks. There are two alligators that live there but they were hiding.




We’ve seen more birds in the pond behind the campground and at the University of Texas Wetlands Management Center adjacent to the park.



Another day we walked into town to sit by the channel and watch the ships and dolphins. Not a single ship came by while we were there but we did see some dolphins. The nice thing is we can see the tops of the big ships going by from our site, since we are facing the channel.


Yesterday we needed some groceries and decided to go to Corpus Christi to shop and visit the South Texas Botanical Gardens. It was a bit disappointing, again mostly because of the drought, but we saw some beautiful flowers and resident animals. This iguana was especially handsome.


And we enjoyed talking to the birds.



And speaking of birds, today we braved the wind and cold temperatures (it barely got to 60 with 30mph winds) and went for a short walk. These guys were patiently waiting to catch the slow drip from the water faucet.


It’s supposed to get in the 30s tonight, and low 60s tomorrow. Quite a change from our first few days here in the 80’s.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving From Port Aransas, TX



We had a short drive of 60 plus miles yesterday to Port Aransas, passing one RV park after another as we neared Rockport. Having read about problems with red tide, (a toxic algae that kills fish and irritates the eyes and throat) on the beaches, we weren’t sure we wanted to be near the coast, so we stopped in Aransas Pass to look at a couple RV parks near the bay. Boy, were they depressing! Jim decided as long as we could get electric he would rather stay on the beach and if the red tide got bad we could just hang out inside with the AC running. Mustang Island State Park was booked, but I.B. Magee Beach Park had plenty of sites.

We didn’t realize getting here meant another free ferry ride but we’re getting to be pros at it now. This one is less than a five minute ride and they have it down to a science getting vehicles on and off. So we are staying on Mustang Island for a week, behind the dunes but just a short walk under the park office to the Gulf.


This is a no frills kind of place, but we do have water and electric, and they have a dump station and a really nice new office and bathhouse building. The weekly rate is $150, or $25/night. The sites are fairly large so we aren’t staring at the side of another RV, and we are protected from the wind here. I like it. This is our backyard.


We took a long walk on the beach and nearby jetty yesterday afternoon. Lots of ships going in and out of the pass and lots of birds.





The water is pretty but after spending a month at Pensacola Beach, the brown hard packed sand isn’t very appealing. It is much easier to walk on, though. Or drive on if you wish.


This morning I got up and went for a walk on the beach and around the campground.



Discovered a boardwalk around a marsh and pond just behind our site.


I think this will be great location to explore the Port Aransas and Corpus Christi areas. And we didn’t notice any effects of red tide on our walks so far. The lady at the office said it can change daily with the wind, though.

I asked Jim the other day what he wanted for Thanksgiving dinner, and I was not surprised to hear him say pizza. So I am making a whole wheat roasted veggie pizza and no crust pumpkin pie. Bet you wish you were dining with us today.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Anahuac and Port Lavaca, TX


Yesterday we drove 180 miles, the majority on I-10, to get to Trinity Bay RV Park in Anahuac, TX. It is a Passport America park, full hookups and cable for $17.50. It wasn’t bad and not far from the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, which we planned to visit today. When we got out to unhook the car, the mosquitoes attacked both of us immediately. I’m not usually bothered by them, so we knew they must be bad.


I talked Jim into spraying down with Off and taking a walk around Ft. Anahuac Park, adjacent to the RV park. It was getting dark, but very windy, so the bugs stayed away. Saw this sign on one of the roads going to the water. Not exactly sure what it meant, but Jim figured it was to keep 4WDs off the dirt/grassy area when it’s wet.


There was an elaborate, well lit fishing pier and a good road to take a long walk on.


We wanted to visit the Anahuac NWR to meet Judy, of Travels With Emma blog fame. She is volunteering at the refuge and offered to take us on a tour. With the plentiful mosquitoes, and the threat of severe thunderstorms for tomorrow, we decided to skip the refuge and move on today. Hate we didn’t get to meet you, Judy. Maybe next time.

It was another long drive for us today, 210 miles, taking the longer scenic coastal route to avoid going near Houston. We got to take the free Galveston Island Ferry, funded by TxDOT.


The 2.7 miles takes about 15 minutes, and was a nice smooth ride. Like the ferry we took on Lake Erie in August, we were jammed in pretty tightly.

Took this out the back window.


We had views of the water from much of the drive today. What struck us as odd  on Galveston Island was there were lots of newly built beach homes on pilings with cattle ranches just across the road. A little different than Florida!

There is also a lot of oil industry.


I found a city park in Port Lavaca, Lighthouse Beach RV Park and Bird Sanctuary. Unfortunately i couldn’t access the website due to being blocked by the computer as an attack page. The most recent RV Park Review was from Jan 2011, which said the rate was $20. We pulled up to the entrance station and the volunteers said to go pick a site and they would come around to collect. There was no sign with campsite rates. We selected the last waterfront site next to the day use parking, which has a nice view.



When the camp host finished getting my information, he said make the check out to the City of Port Lavaca for $70 for the 2 nights we plan to stay. $70??!! That is now the record for the highest price we’ve ever paid for a site. At least we’re on the water and we have full hookups with cable. Next time I will be sure to make a phone call or ask before we set up. Live and learn!

There are other amenities as well like this nice boardwalk for bird watching just behind our site, and a couple washers and dryers at the clubhouse, which we need to make use of tomorrow. And so far no mosquitoes.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Acadiana Park, Lafayette, LA



We were happy to find Acadiana Park Campground, a city of Lafayette park in a nice neighborhood not far from downtown. There is water and electric at the site, and a dump station, for $13 a night. And there aren’t many people here, even on the weekend.

About 15 miles west of crossing the Mississippi, we came to the long, long I-10 bridge over the Atchafalaya Basin, the largest swamp in the US. We’ve driven it several times before, but never checked to see how long it is.Turns out it is 18.2 miles, making it the 14th longest bridge in the world. It crosses over bayous,swamps and marshes, and is actually very scenic.



As we neared our campsite we saw a new body style Lazy Daze, and got to meet the owner, Trecil, who’s been full timing for a year in his 2010. He is heading to Florida along the route we just came from, and had spent some time in Texas, where we are going, so we swapped campground ideas and talked about full timing and the joys of early retirement.

On Friday nights in the spring and fall there is a free concert from 6-8:30 in downtown Lafayette at Park International, a fenced park with a huge stage. This week it was the Tab Benoit Band, and it turned out to be a great concert. He is an excellent blues guitarist, playing a range of music from blues to rock to Cajun and a little country. We haven’t been to a concert in a long time, and it was really an enjoyable evening. Of course, we don’t get out much!

Somewhere near Baton Rouge Friday on our way to Lafayette, the windshield got hit by a rock, so we had a nice chip with star shape cracks radiating from it, Jim called Safelite, which was 7 miles from the campground, and they were open Saturday morning, although they don’t do mobile repairs on Saturday. That was fine, we just drove the rig there and got it repaired before it got bigger and necessitated a whole windshield replacement like we had to do a couple years ago in Utah.

Yesterday afternoon we hiked the 3 miles of trails in the park. There is an elaborate boardwalk system and a nice nature center.


The trails were covered in fallen leaves, but there was still some fall color in a few of the trees. We were surprised we weren’t being bothered by bugs. It turned out to be a very pleasant place to spend the weekend.




Our plan today is to stop in Anahuac, Texas.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Davis Bayou Campground, Ocean Springs, MS



We spent the past two nights at Davis Bayou in Ocean Springs, MS, part of Gulf Islands National Seashore. The Mississippi Gulf islands are only accessible by boat, but there is a small area of National Park on Davis Bayou, on the mainland. It’s a very nice campground, lots of trees, a great area to ride bikes and walk. And it’s only $8 (water and electric) with Jim’s senior pass! Not sure why we never camped here before when we lived in Pensacola. Guess living so close to the beach, we were always wanting to head to the mountains and forests.

After we got set up, the camp host came by, and Jim walked over to the office to get a trail map. A couple pulled up on bikes, and asked if I was Gayle. He said he read the blog that morning and figured we would be staying here. It was John and Ellen, and as it turns out I had read their blog in the past, which apparently he no longer writes. After Jim came back we chatted for a few minutes about their upcoming plans to volunteer for the NPS in Georgia and South Carolina. Sorry we didn’t get to talk with them longer, but we were all getting eaten up by no-see-ums.

We then got out the Off, sprayed down and went for a walk around the park and the bayou before the sun went down. I’m sure not liking these short days.




Yesterday morning I made a run to Wal-Mart, just a mile or so east of the park entrance, while Jim did some backing up on the computer. After lunch we went for a bike ride around Ocean Springs. There is a bike route around town, and although there are signs, we managed to miss some and were glad to have had the map. We ended up riding over 18 miles. Ocean Springs is a beautiful area, with a historic downtown full of galleries, shops, restaurants, and lovely old homes. Except for some still vacant lots along the water, there is no other evidence of the damage it suffered in 2005 from hurricane Katrina.

We rode past this tree with a sign on it. Guess they figured the age by the circumference. It was huge, but there were lots of others just as big.



After leaving downtown, we followed the route to the beaches, which took us to the Biloxi Bay Bridge. The original bridge had been destroyed by Katrina, and this new six lane structure replaced it, partially opening more than two years after the hurricane. All six lanes opened in April 2008, including a wide bike/pedestrian lane.

I found this photo of the damaged bridge.


And the new super structure, 1.7 miles long.


When we realized we could ride over it, we set off for Biloxi. The last time we were there after Katrina, the Grand Casino’s main gambling structure was about a mile down the road on the other side of the water. The casinos all had to be built on the water, so they were all washed away. When the state realized how much revenue they were losing, they changed the law to allow them be on land.

Remnants of the old Grand behind the blue fencing. The casino is now across the road in the hotel. That’s the Palace Casino and hotel in the background.


The Hard Rock was just about to have it’s grand opening when Katrina hit. Looks like they are back to normal now.


Biloxi is certainly not the bustling place it used to be, since now there are only a handful of casinos. All the small ones on the water, some of which were actually on boats, were destroyed and haven’t been rebuilt. I’m sure the economy has a lot to do with that.

We had an enjoyable couple days here, but we’re moving on to Lafayette, LA for the weekend.