*****

Denali from Talkeetna, Alaska 2017

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Lots to Write About Today

I have really been in a Blogger Slump for some time. It has seemed that I just didn't have anything to write about. No disasters nor spectacular events. We have been just "living" our RV dream life. Seeing new places and enjoying new things at a slow and easy pace. I am constantly reminded of how big and diverse our country is. We haven't gotten to know the towns nor the people very well, but we have discovered more of the wonders of the park lands and beaches. If home is where we park it, then all of the USA is our home.

Speaking of "homes" as of today we are members of the SKP Jojoba Hills Resort in Aguanga, California. We have been on the wait list for a few months, and have passed on two other "lot offers" but decided when they called us with this one to say "yes". So now we will have a "home base" where we will spend some months each winter and be close to where our daughter lives. 

I have no desire to buy or live in another house at this time. Becoming members of the Jojoba Cooperative is a perfect solution. No property taxes, no need to worry about it when we are not there, and no humongous financial investment. Since we put our lot in the rental pool, the lot will be cared for while we are gone. So nice.

 "We are ... Seeing the USA" has a great collection of pictures of Jojoba. I found it while Googling Jojoba, and now have a new, wonderful blog to follow! 

We will not be going back to California until next fall. We still consider ourselves full timers. We have several years' worth of places to go to and things to see. But, it is nice to know we have a place waiting for us. 

2+ YEARS: On April 1, it will be two years since the sale of our house in the Santa Cruz Mountains closed and we became free of homeowner responsibilities and expenses! When people ask me how long we have been full timing, I say two and a half, because we lived in the Alfa for more than six months while the house was on the market. 


Rain: The weather has been variable while we have been at Gulf Shores. Heavy rain, light rain, partly cloudy, sunny, rain... etc.  We have gotten out a few days, and stayed cozy and dry at home on others.



Last week on the stormiest day, we went to see the movie "Zootopia". It was delightful. I'm sure everyone will enjoy the cuteness, but older kids and adults will see the anti-profiling message.


Inspired by the name of the movie, we decided to visit the small local zoo in Gulf Shores on one of the sunny days. 

Small is an accurate description. Feeding the goats was a highlight!



The peacock did give us a bit of a show. To bad that rope was in front of him.













I liked the tortoise.

But as zoos go, it was quite old fashioned in that the animals had pens and cages, not simulated habitats. 



Only the pacing tigers seemed to mind.














More Rain:
We had a quiet Easter Sunday at the Alfa. Well, not exactly "quiet" because the waves of hard rain kept pounding down from the skies. I felt bad for the many families of campers around us who were at the park for a vacation weekend. I guess that is one of the advantages of being on this journey full-time. A few rainy days don't ruin our plans. They just delay our outdoor activities by a day or two.

On another, non-rainy day, we went to explore a bit of history just down the road from Gulf Shores.



Fort Morgan is a "Coastal Defense Fort" built after the war of 1812. It sits at the mouth of the Mobile Bay on the Gulf of Mexico. 




The fort was the site of a major battle during the Civil War, was manned during the Spanish-American War, and used as a training base during World War I. 

It was an interesting piece of history and a nice day trip.

To wrap up this post, I just have to end with this picture:



Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Gulf Shores, Alabama Post #1

On our second day here at Gulf Shores State Park in Alabama, we decided to explore the beach. First we walked out along a fairly long boardwalk to the beach. The boardwalk protects the dunes from big tourist feet.




I guess I was feeling a bit artistic. I enjoyed just looking at the lines created by the grasses in the sand.







The sand on the beach was very white. As it turned out, walking on the beach sand bothered my foot and back, so we went back to the car and drove over to the pier you see in the distance in this picture.


I found my foot was quite OK walking on the level pier surface.   


There were a few pelicans on the pier that were quite tame.  This guy allowed me to come quite close to him. He was quite near the fish cleaning station and was waiting for hand outs from the fishermen.



This one was further along on the pier. This fisherman offered him a piece of bait, but he didn't take it. I wondered if he couldn't really see it.







However when the man dangled it above him, he quickly snatched it.





All along the pier there were lots of people fishing. Most didn't seem to be catching much.



But, these were two of four good size Sheepsheads one couple had caught. It was enough that I visited the fishing equipment shop on the pier to inquire about renting fishing gear and getting licenses for a day.  However, as we talked I learned that 6 AM was probably the best time to fish.  

I'm thinking it over. We will be here for two weeks.  But we are really NOT morning people.  We can buy fresh caught fish at a local shop!

We shall see.  Fishing?  Or sleeping in?  

Which would you do?

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Flooding and Detour

We had planned on driving east on I-10 out of Houston and heading toward New Orleans. But due to all the rain, I-10 was closed at the bridge over the Sabine River.  According to the Department of Transportation, the recommended detour involved going northeast to I-20 and Shreveport Louisiana, then back south. This would have been over 300 miles out of our way.

Craig did some homework the night before our departure and found a route that only took us out of our way by about 160 miles.  


The land was flooded as far as we could see. This was not even a major river crossing.
Knowing that our next park reservation was farther than we usually drive in one day, I left one night unplanned. I wasn't sure, with having to get through Houston traffic, how far we would get. For just an overnight, I like to check availability as we drive. I usually can find a Passport America park along our route.


Many of the trees are budding and showing lots of little leaves. Others, like these are still bare. 
It was a good thing we were open, because although we went over 350 miles on the first day, we did not get all the way back to our planned route. I found a small commercial park just outside of Baton Rouge.


We noticed this herd of cows standing in the middle of a flooded field and wondered why they didn't go to the higher grassy area that was within their fenced pasture. We saw several groups like this. As far as I could tell there was no feed station where they were. 

A friendly tree.
Even though our stop at Fountainbleau State Park was only for two days, we were glad to see the RV area was not flooded, and the big old trees gave us a sheltered feel.





I bet this tree would have some good stories if it could speak.
We stopped here two years ago on our way back to California from Florida. It is across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans.


Our reason for a visit to New Orleans, this time, was to eat at Cochon Butcher, another of the restaurants on Craig's Yelp Top 100 list. 




Although it gets rave reviews, I found the food to be too salty and too greasy for my taste. But it was one of those places we wanted to experience. Most are unique and wonderful. This one was not.

[From Craig] One of the neat things about full-timing is you can treat a place like New Orleans as a cornucopia of things to do and places to go, or you can stop for a single restaurant if you want to.

Monday dawned cool, crisp, and sunny. A beautiful day to drive. For us, the destinations are important, but the travel between is the adventure. 

We are so lucky.  Life is good.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Houston

After our weeks on the seashore, with little else to do than take walks on the beach and hang out in the Alfa, we arrived in Houston to many wonderful activity choices.



The azaleas were in full bloom on an afternoon spent at the Bayou Bend Gardens.


I wore the pink butterfly cap I bought in Arizona. It fit in well with the flowers


Not all were shades of pink.

Sunday evening we went to dinner at the beautiful home of one of our college friends and his wife. Although we have not seen each other for 40 years, thanks to the internet and email we are still connected, and reminiscing and conversation came easily.

Image from the Web
I'm usually not impressed by seeing famous people.  Meeting them, perhaps, but not just seeing them walking by on the sidewalk. But, at one point, while we were sitting in their wood paneled library, our host called me over to look out the window. A spry looking, white haired lady was taking her evening walk with a burly man in a dark suit. It was one of their neighbors, Barbara Bush!





The next evening we all went out together to a Brazilian steakhouse,
Chama Gaucha. It is one of the top 100 restaurants in the country as ranked by  Yelp. Craig likes to use it and Trip Advisor as we travel through cities we are not familiar with. He keeps the top 100 list on the desktop.

It sure was good! If you like beef or other grilled meats, it is a joy. There is no menu. After having a small salad at the salad bar, the diners stay at their tables while waiters bring selections of perfectly grilled meat around. You tell them if you want rare or well done or something in-between, and they slice a beautifully thin slice for you. They also offer chicken, lamb, and shrimp. New items are constantly offered, and you have a little card that you have at your place to let them know when you are ready or not.  

Yumm! There is also a Chama Gaucha in Chicago. 

We are still very much tourists. We were discouraged from trying to go to the Houston Museum district by very heavy traffic and road construction. I think every family in Houston was trying to take their kids to the Zoo or Natural History Museum on Tuesday. It is spring break time so I guess that could be expected. 

So, when we couldn't find parking, we headed across town to the NASA Space Center.



One highlight for me was seeing the 747 with the shuttle on its back. We were able to go inside both.



We also were interested to see the command center used for the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs. I remember seeing it on TV and thinking how modern it all was. What you see in the room are not computers. The actual computer was on the floor below. Although I did not take a picture of it with someone's hand holding a cell phone in it on purpose, the image brings to mind what the guide told us about the computing power used. The computer had two megabytes, which is what a few pictures on a smartphone use! 




I knew the launch rockets were big, are big, but knowing and standing next to one are two different things.  They have a building with a complete Saturn V rocket in it.

In our down time at the Stephen Austin State park, we were not really able to take any short hikes. We could have walked the park road, but all of the trails were closed due to flooding. 



We were able to get a look at part of the river. After we saw the Brazos River at I-10, we decided that this was not the main river, just a flooded side channel.

Although the skies were overcast all week, we only had actual rain during the night. The humidity was very high, and I was amazed there were no mosquitos.



Without pesky bugs, I could spread out my books and maps to start making plans for our route up the East Coast. For me the first step is to work with the truckers' map book and my calendar to estimate the distances between places we want to see and the dates we will be in any particular place.

We prefer to either stay in the outskirts of small towns, or at state parks. Most of them take reservations. I have a feeling that I should be making reservations now, rather than waiting too long.  

After I get a rough list, I check reviews and availability on the computer. If we can't get into the state parks I look into private commercial parks, starting with places that give a discount to Passport America, Escapees, and Good Sam members.  

Some people say they just drive along and stop when the mood strikes them. The few times we have done that, I was uncomfortable all day.

How do you plan your trips?

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Looking for Advice about the East Coast

Our spring and early summer plan is to go up the East Coast, visiting places like Savannah, Charleston, Virginia Beach, New York City, and on up to Maine. We are still not sure if we want to go on into the Maritime provinces, or swing back into the Adirondack Mountains for the summer.  If we go into Canada, we can still get to the Adirondacks on our way back. 

I have made reservations up to Savanah, leaving there on April 12, but I am looking for advice and recommendations from there on north. 

I know some of my readers are from the East Coast, and might have some interesting and useful things to share. 

We usually don't boondock, but are OK with a night or two of dry camping if nothing else is available, or if the place is special.

One big question I have is, has anyone taken their RV over/through the Chesapeake Tunnel and bridge system? We know the tolls are a bit stiff, but are ok with that. We are within the height restrictions.  

From what I have been reading, they do have wind restrictions, and if it is over 40 mph, a Class A rig would not be allowed to cross. We wouldn't want to anyway! But what I'm wondering is how often do the winds get that high, and is there a best time of day to cross?

Any thoughts on these questions will be much appreciated. You can leave your recommendations as a comment, or if you want you can send me an email.

Since there are no pictures for this post, I though I'd share a few of my latest Adult Coloring Book pages.
Picture from Blue Star Stress Relieving Animal Designs
Colored with Sharpie Ultra-Fine Pens
Picture from Creative Haven Mandalas Coloring Book
Colored with Prismacolor Colored Pencils

Picture from Blue Star Stress Relieving Animal Designs
Colored with Sharpie Ultra-Fine Pens











Sunday, March 13, 2016

Matagorda Bay Nature Park

In January, when I made our spring plans, I only made one reservation far in advance, and that was at Gulf Shores state park in Alabama for March 24 to April 3. Other than that, our general plan has been to take our time driving south along the Rio Grande, and then the Gulf Coast of Texas, making reservations a few days ahead as we went. This has worked quite well. The only times we have found our first choice campgrounds full were in Tucson, when the big Gem and Mineral Show was in town, and in Houston, due to it being Spring Break time. But even for these places we were able to find acceptable space at other places. 


Our most recent stop was at the Matagorda Bay Nature Center and RV park for five nights. 

There were two RV loops, and when we pulled in on Monday,  all of the other RVs were in the other one. When we left on Saturday the place was full. 

We spent much of the week hunkered down in the rig because there were pretty big rain storms raging across the area. We later learned some areas of Texas got ten inches, and there was flooding in Mississippi and Louisiana. The Alfa is really very comfortable under such circumstances, and it did force us to get our tax records in order and sent them off to our accountant.


On the morning before the rain started we went on a guided "beachcombing" walk with a ranger. She saw a lot of things we might have missed, and a few we would not. 

This is a hubcap size moon jelly that had washed up.





On another morning, after a pretty violent night of thunder and lightening, we took a walk out this long pier to overlook a stone jetty.















The surf pretty wild, and the waves were full of sand.



It would not have been a good day to be swimming or fishing from the beach.



But, at the edge of the waves the birds continued their never ending search for small tidbits from the sea.




Saturday morning we said goodby to the Gulf for a while and headed inland a bit. We have landed at the Stephen F. Austin State Park, which is about 40 miles northwest of Houston. 

The grasses are lush, the birds are singing their little beaks off, and the tall trees are draped with Spanish Moss. 



A very pretty place indeed! 

Best of all, we are again within driving distance of a Trader Joe's. It has been more than a month. As soon as we were settled, we were off to fill the freezer and cupboards with goodies!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Padre Island National Seashore

Well, here we are at yet another wonderful beach location! 

We left Mission Texas, near the Mexican border, on Thursday morning with a local weather forecast of 95° as a high. The humidity level was also quite uncomfortable for me. 

About 200 miles north on the gulf near Corpus Christi, we found an unreserved spot at the Malaquite Campground in the Padre Island National Seashore. We were quite lucky to get one of the last spots available.  In fact the last spot was taken shortly after we pulled in.

The campground is a dry-camp parking lot that has 49 RV or tent spaces available on a drive-in-only basis. There is a sand berm separating the RVs from the beach, but the ocean is visible and the beautiful sea breeze is a joy to feel. Daytime temps are in the 70s and night-time is a bit cooler! Neither AC nor heating has been needed while we've been here.


Our spot, looking north

Our spot, looking south. 


The RVs across the road face the dune that separates the RVs from the beach.


This sign and beach access is right across the road from our Alfa.

Not far from our campground is access to South Beach where RVs can overnight for free. If we had not lucked out in getting a spot we would have gone there, but I was quite happy to have the firm paved parking place, and not risk getting the Alfa stuck in the sand. Camping here costs $8 per night, or if you have a Senior Pass as we do, $4.  Sweet!




We did take a jeep ride down South Beach. The entry point was a bit soft, but the beach itself was quite nice to drive on. There were a number of RVs camped there, but I was still happy not to get as much salt and sand on the underside of the Alfa. 




We have taken several beach walks. We like to watch the sea birds. Craig calls this picture "one of these things is not like the others" I call it "Drill Sergeant."



When we were in the Florida Keys we saw many pink jellyfish washed up on the beaches. Here we have seen many blue balloon-like blobs on the edge of the surf. They are Portuguese Man-of-War jellyfish: not to be messed with!

There are many brown pelicans flying and fishing. When we were at the visitors center we overheard someone asking why they were all flying north and not south. This is a reasonable question, because we have seen more than 95% going north and less than 5% going south.




We enjoyed watching some of the pelicans diving for fish. This guy caught one a few seconds after this picture was taken.





On Sunday we drove a short distance to the Bird Island Campground that faces the Laguna Madre, which is about 100 miles long and is part of the intracoastal waterway .



Here there is a single line of dry-camping spots that face the water. The cost is $5 per night, $2.50 if you have a senior pass.

We walked along the unattractive beach to the boat launch area where we saw some fishermen cleaning their fish and feeding the scraps to the white pelicans and other sea birds.



This was considered a small catch!



The guys that had just finished said they had tossed over 70 fish carcasses to the pelicans and they were quite full!



These four just floated there and didn't go after anything more.

Another interesting thing we did was to go out to the beach at night.
The stars were very bright, the wind was strong, and our flashlights revealed many small crabs in the wet sand.




BOO!