Monday, January 15, 2001

Part IV

For some reason, this seems to be our practice trip for long rambling retirement trips. We just move with the weather and our own inclinations. Once a week or so, we do a chores day and do laundry, shopping, and whatever other errands or projects need doing. The rest of the time we just ramble. We make plans; and they change daily.

I've been thinking about work again lately. I think it's time to head back that direction soon. I'd better treat it well. That work is what will make the extended trips of the future possible.

We went back to the marsh boardwalk again before we left South Padre. We were happy to see the clapper rail, but I really want to see an American Bittern. A Least Bittern would be cool, but there is not as much chance of finding that. We talked to some people at the boardwalk that had seen an American Bittern there earlier in the day, so we've watched and watched. Zero. Maybe we'll stumble into a good marsh up around Corpus Christi.

Our birding has shifted a little. Rather than just looking at all the birds we see until we see something new, we're more likely to research what birds there are in an area, pick out which ones we want to see, then go looking for specific birds. Just a little shift in focus. We still look at all the birds we see as well.

We're back at the beach. Got an oceanside site at Malaquite. It's on the Gulf of Mexico: waves and sand and everything. Won't do much birding here. We'll mostly just hang out on the beach. Maybe we can get a kite out tomorrow. Haven't flown a kite yet. I got Judy a couple cool kites for Christmas. One of them has a forty-five foot tail. Besides, most of the birds here are those crummy shorebirds that all look alike in the winter anyway.

Had a pretty good dinner. Judy roasted a turkey. That, along with mashed potatoes, dressing, cranberry sauce, and peach nectar came together nicely.

And still, we call it camping.

Took a walk after dinner. Got to watch a giant orange moon rise up out of the ocean. Spectacular.

On these January trips we hang out with all the old people in RV parks. Snowbirds and Winter Texans. We pick up lots of advice along the way about what to do as we get older and how to age gracefully. Yesterday's words of wisdom from Frank, the campground host, were: "You're only as young as the women you keep." I think that was a reference to the young woman with me. Works for me.

Took Annie for a two mile run along the beach. This was my chance to run barefoot in the sand along, and sometimes in, the water. Annie is a riot. She runs ten times farther than I do in the same amount of time, and with considerably more enthusiasm. I think I look better when we're through though. My ears aren't nearly as wet.

Now Annie's getting a bath and blow dry while I'm writing this. Ooh. Maybe I could finagle a turn next.

I've noticed something that will apply to longer trips in the future. I haven't done the usual exercises for several weeks and my lower back is beginning to talk to me. I run every day, but that doesn't do much for the back. I think I need to get back to the back machine and the ab machine. I'll need to figure out something portable for future trips.

We were standing on the beach watching some shorebirds, sorting out Willets, Sanderlings, Ruddy Turnstones, and Red Knots; when a falcon popped over the dunes and crashed into the middle of them. He didn't get any of them and flew away empty taloned, but it made the birds disappear in both directions as far as we could see for twenty minutes.

I think I may be dealing with a sleep disorder. We slept some twelve hour nights at the start of the trip just to catch up. Then we slept some more because it felt good. Then we slept some more because we could. I thought I would have been saturated by now. Instead, I find that if we go to bed late, or get up early, and I don't get my twelve hours I only get ten, I feel cheated.

We have coyotes here that are way way too unafraid. It's spooky to be driving down the beach and see a coyote in the middle of the day, and he doesn't run and hide when you see him. Instead, he comes right up to see if you have something good to eat. We're being pretty careful with the pets, but it wouldn't take much of a lapse to lose one. Right now it's nighttime, and Rags is rattling on the screen door trying to get out to play in the dark. Not a good idea.

We didn't do much today: a chores day. Did some laundry. Bought some food. Washed some windows. Watched some football. Walked on the beach.

Now we're planning our return to civilization. We'll leave the beach first thing tomorrow morning and take several days to get home.

Friday, January 12, 2001

Part C

Well, we did it. We pried ourselves loose from Goose Island State Park. We headed south.

We got fogged out of every attempt to go out on the birding boat. Maybe next trip. I should mention that fog is a real treat for us. We don't get much fog in the dry climate of Colorado. It reminds us of our youth.

Judy found a really neat shirt with a roseate spoonbill, and a great egret on it she wanted in a shop in Rockport, but they were out of her size. So "Dovie" was kind enough to paint one up for her at home Saturday and Sunday, so we could pick it up Monday on our way out of town.

Found a racquetball court in Fulton just before we left. We played for an hour just before we picked up the shirt. There is not much racquetball going on in Fulton. The girl at the club said there are four people who use the court. It clearly has not had any maintenance in years. There are two giant screw eyes sticking out of the side walls so they can string a net to play walley-ball. A hole has been kicked in the bottom of the back wall (and then stuffed with paper towels) and there is loose plaster all around it. The ball comes off the front wall so dead, that I hit it a couple of times, then hit it to Judy and said "Oops. I broke the ball. Let me get a new one." But then checked the ball and found it was still intact. Even with a new ball, every hit came off the front wall like a freshly broken ball. All in all, a bizarre racquetball experience, but it sure felt good to hit for awhile.

Spent a little time on the gulf. Got to watch a flock of thirty black skimmers feed for as long as we wanted to stay in the area. Their lower mandible is longer than the upper. They fly just above the water with their lower bill cutting right through the water as they fly. They fly around and around out in the waves and in as close as the water receding from shore after each wave. You can see their heads snap everytime they snag something. Looks like an advil life to me. But then, come to think of it, that's what I have already.

Judy is having a rough day today. We crossed on the ferry boat at Port Aransas, watching the pelicans and dolphins. Then, at our favorite Port Aransas lunch place, she had to eat so much shrimp and fish and chips, that her stomach is still upset. Of course she had to eat it all to prove that she really needed it all, because she refused to just share some of mine with me.

Then we had to drive over a hundred and fifty miles today, and she got overtired and cranky. Things are a little better now that we're stopped for the night. But she doesn't want anything for dinner but Alka-Seltzer, and she doesn't find the noises coming from her stomach nearly as entertaining as I do. Nothing another ten or twelve hours of sleep won't fix.

So we're in a County Park just outside Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, on the twenty-sixth parallel. Can't go much farther south in this country. We're at the same latitude as Miami. We'll get up and bird this park tomorrow morning, go take a look at Laguna Atascosa after that, and probably finish the day in an RV park at the southern tip of South Padre Island. There is a lighthouse state park there we need to take a look at.

Got a good look at an Aplomado Falcon. Very rare. Very beautiful.

Still at the park outside of Laguna Atascosa. Just at dusk last night, a great pack of howling coyotes within fifty feet of us. Later, Judy and Annie finished Annie's last walk for the evening abruptly. Out in the dark walking by themselves, the bushes started rustling, growling, and snorting right next to them. Annie decided she'd rather be in Judy's arms. She leaped there all by herself. Judy decided Annie didn't really have to pee anymore that night. My guess is they had a close encounter with javelina in the dark.

Parked on South Padre Island. Our goal was the county RV park here. But it turns out they only have a little over a thousand RV sites, and you can't get in without a reservation. It's not what we're used to. It's a lot like making a reservation to camp in the middle of a city. Unhooked and explored with the minivan, and found a dry-camping community out on the flats on the Laguna Madre side of the island. There are twenty or thirty motorhomes parked on the sand next to the dunes. We'll park about five hundred yards out on the flats at the waters edge. The middle part of the sand looks pretty soft, but there are some nice hard packed tracks across it. I checked the weather radio, and high tide will be at 6pm. I'm sure we're parked above any recent high tide levels... Nice marsh birding boardwalk at the Convention Center. Saw a clapper rail and a marsh wren.

OK. I was right. We were above the high tide mark by almost ten feet of essentially level sand. Pretty smooth huh?

It tends to be another five degrees or so warmer on this end of the island, and this far south. We'll have highs and lows in the seventies and sixties. But there is just something about this whole southern section of Texas that we don't enjoy as much as a little bit back to the north; up around Corpus Christi. Or maybe it's that there is something about the northern end of the island we enjoy that is lacking down here. Anyway, we'll go back up to the beach to Malaquite campground on North Padre Island to finish up our trip.

Monday, January 8, 2001

Part two

Now we've been at Goose Island for a week or so. Had some cool rainy weather. Had some warm sunny weather. Got too cold and windy on the bayfront, so we moved into the oak forest. Perfectly still back here and feels much warmer without the wind chill. We figure we'll head farther south when we're through exploring up here. Can't tell when that will be. Every couple of days we sign up for a couple more days. The weather is much too nice to move now. We may have to hope for some rainy crummy weather soon.

Seen lots of cool stuff. Lots of birds: some new to us. Big birds like whoopers. Favorites like pelicans. Exotic ones like roseate spoonbills. Cool ones like harrier hawks. Goofy ones like wild turkeys. We've been in the middle of a pack of javelinas, and seen lots of deer and raccoons. We had a six armadillo day. We met a nice lady from England who guides birding treks all over the world. We saw gas for $1.16 a gallon.

Found a great restaurant called the boiling pot. They come to your table, cover it with butcher paper, tie bibs around your neck, and leave a roll of paper towels. Then they bring your boiled dinner of king crab, snow crab, blue crab, whole shrimp, slices of spicy cajun sausage, corn on the cob pieces, and potatoes, dump it in the middle of the table, hand you each a wooden mallet, and leave. (They leave small loaves of bread, butter, and a cup of melted butter for each of us for the crab.) There are condiments like cocktail sauce for the shrimp, but no place to put them except to squirt a pile on the table. What fun! What great food!

Both pets are eating a well balance diet. Judy feeds them at the same time. The cat eats all the cat food he wants, then switches over to the dog food. The dog thinks the cat food tastes really great, so always saves room.

We might have to change the cat's name. We've been calling him filbert in reference to apparent brain size, but we may have to switch to fat albert. He is really packing it on. And he is so limp. Know how when you come through the door with both arms loaded with groceries, and the cat is in the way, and you push him out of the way with your foot? It doesn't work with this cat. He doesn't get the hint and leap out of the way. As soon as your foot hits him, he just falls on the floor. Then to get the door open the rest of the way, or make room to close it, you end up driving him around the floor with your foot until you get him where you want him.

Every night, in the middle of the night, if you get up to pee, the cat is right there with you, falling on your feet and purring and making it difficult to walk. He really is great company. We're glad we brought him. Today we took the puppy with us all day in the car and took the cat too. He just rides along, sleeps a lot, says hello when you come back to the car, and doesn't cause any trouble at all.

This is day eleven with no racquet ball. We went to the athletic club in Corpus Christi. They would be glad to sell us a short-term membership. They have racquetball courts, but no challenge nights, and no shuttle. Nothing I can step into to find some immediate competetive games.

Now we have a three-quarter waxing moon. Crummy for stargazing. Perfect for moonlit evening walks through the oak forest: well lit with clear moonshadows and lots of great gnarled oak tree silhouettes against the sky.

We found a private boat for a birding trip. Captain Sally will take just the two of us out to remote undisturbed places so we can see all the birds we want. Looking forward to that.

OOPS! Got up this morning to heavy fog. Waited for it to burn off. Met Sally at the boat ramp at one pm. Still soup. No birding today. Maybe tomorrow. Can't recall what we did the rest of the day, but we must have enjoyed it. But tonight, we had the spookiest moonlight walk. Still very foggy, but not very deep, so it was darker, but we still had enough moonlight to see by. The gnarly oak silhouettes got stranger. We found ourseves saying things like "Do those two lights in the distance look like giant cat eyes?" and "Don't go out onto the moors at night." and "Whatever you do, don't leave the road."

We stayed on the road. Walked all the way out to the bayside sites and back. Disturbed lots of creatures in the dark as we walked by. They croaked and groaned and complained and scuttled and flapped and clucked and splashed as appropriate.

We get the puppy so tired at night after playing all day long and long walks in the evening, that if we don't go to bed in time, she gets so tired she jumps up into her crate, falls asleep, and starts snoring. Way cute.

Went seafood in the motorhome tonight. Crab legs, lobster tail, steak, baked potato, and a glass of wine. Camping is not like it used to be.

Found a nice house for sale on the water in Key Allegro, a nicer section of Fulton. We pulled up in front. Judy guessed the price at one million-five. Knowing things are a little depressed around here, I guessed the price at under a million. We walked around it and looked in the windows. Large rooms. Lots of glass. Small lot. The large deck on the rear fronts right on the water. A cement bulkhead. A person could catch flounder for dinner right from the deck. Great view of the bay. The bay looks like the ocean, except there are no swells. It is so large, you can see islands and boats, but you can't really see the other side. Two hundred seventy-nine thousand.

Wednesday, January 3, 2001



A last minute rear furnace fix from Richard the RV man and we're off to lose some latitude. In Louisville, we're at about 40 degrees north latitude. Edmonds, by comparison, is almost 48 degrees. San Mateo is about 37.5.

Great weather for traveling. We stopped early for the night at Capulin Volcano in Northeastern New Mexico. Only lost three degrees of latitude today. We were the only motorhome in the park. We hooked up and dewinterized the motorhome (we flushed all the red antifreeze out of the freshwater system). In the process, I discovered something really cool. There are three valves at the pump/fresh water tank. I had figured out two of them, but not the third. Today it revealed its mystery to me. Leave the other two closed and open the third while you're hooked up to city water, and the fresh water tank fills. I don't have to disconnect the hose and go fill the tank from the outside water fill anymore.

We stopped at an elevation of 7,000 feet. What we lost in latitude, we more than made up for in elevation. It was way too cold to leave hooked up overnight. I unplugged everything but the electricity. It's a little dry here so I fired up the humidifier we carry. We're definitely in vacation mode. Struggled to stay up until eight o'clock before we went to bed.


Had a low of fifteen degrees! No problem with the water system. The tanks are tucked up inside where it's warm like testicles on a cold day.

Anybody remember the "ice palace" scene from Dr. Zhivago? That was us this morning. Every piece of glass was covered with ice on the inside. Anything, not fabric, remotely close to a window was covered with frost. Lots of ice to melt off before we could even see outside at all. The pets had a quiet night. Slept straight through.

Had an interesting drive east and then south through the Texas Panhandle. A nice sunny day today, but we drove through the aftermath of a twenty inch blizzard for the ninety miles between Dumas and Amarillo. The highway was reduced to one very rutted snow-packed lane each direction. There were snowy mounds of stranded and abandoned vehicles everywhere. No place to pull over for lunch and have any hopes of getting started again, so Judy fed me a sandwich while I drove. We got as far south as Lubbock before we stopped for the night. We are in an RV park, but we drove through unbroken snow to get into our site. Hope we make it out ok tomorrow morning. We're down to thirty-seven degrees latitude and down to 3,000 feet in elevation. Should be a lot warmer tonight than last night. We didn't struggle to stay up at all. We were asleep by seven-thirty.


Wow! Fourteen degrees last night. We could hear and feel every wheel on the motorhome and tow car break free from the ice, and then we drove out just fine. The pets had a great night last night. They'll have to sleep all day today to rest up for the next one.

Lubbock has no snow equipment to clear the roads. Whatever melted the day before was now thick puddles and streams of ice. Slow going to Big Spring. Another beautiful blue sky day. Made it as far south as South Llano River State Park. Now we're just over thirty degrees latitude, and down to 1,200 feet in elevation. The temperature was sixty degrees when we stopped. Surely we'll get a warmer night tonight.

We've had good luck with birds here before, so we stopped with enough daylight left for a good look. This is where we saw the vermilion flycatcher a couple years ago. We discovered a new bird blind a hundred yards up a trail. Saw lots of cardinals and spotted towhees. We got three new sparrows, and a canyon towhee. Had a flock of wild turkeys glide past directly overhead. They are the most bizarre looking birds in flight.

Annie has to go outside to pee tonight, but she saw/heard/smelled something out there and is terrified. She just sits on the opposite side of the house from the door and stares at it growling. Judy will have to try going out there with her.

We'll have to decide where we're going soon. When we turned left at Raton, that confirmed that we were, in fact, going to Southern Texas, and not Organ Pipe, or Southern California. Now, we're within a day's drive of the coast, and we have to decide if we want to start at the north end of our range, at Goose Island, or farther down at Padre Island, or farther still, in the Brownsville area, or inland in the Rio Grande Valley.


It was a lot warmer. The only frost this morning was outside the motorhome.

Football games today. The Broncos don't play until tomorrow, so we can drive and listen to them on the radio if we want. Go Broncos.

The animals are pretty entertaining. They are a great pair. They have settled into a rhythm, each critter with it's own responsibility. First, as soon as we settle down for the night, they start the game where they take turns chasing each other from our bed in the rear to the dash in the front, and back. This involves lots of blocking and tackling, biting and growling. The primary rule seems to be "touch the floor as few times as possible." The route mostly involves furniture and walls.

Then, when the puppy has had enough, she picks the spot on the covers stretched between us that looks most like a hammock and proceeds to perform her best impression of a large stone. It's a little known fact, except among pet owners, that the weight of a dog is directly proportional to its state of relaxation. By the time we got up this morning, Annie weighed over forty pounds!

The cat has a different responisbility. No one knows exactly what it is, but sometime after the dog falls asleep and we fall asleep, it involves clearing off all the unnecessary or inappropriate items left on shelves or bedside cabinets, like change or jewelry, or a watch turned so the face will be visible to me the next morning so I'll know what time it is when I wake up, and carrying them to other rooms and batting them about until they dissapear under or behind furniture. He ensures that each morning will be moment of discovery and renewal for us.

We already knew that Annie was a good traveler. The biggest surprise has been Rags. When I carried him out to the motorhome to leave the first day, he was a little spooked by the engine noise when we walked in front of it. But when I carried him inside and set him down on the couch, he fell over onto his back to get his belly rubbed and started purring. The entire rest of the trip has been that easy with him. He and Annie play/sleep/eat/wander around together during the day. When we stop and take Annie out, the cat never bolts. He stands at the top of the stairs, or against the screen watching, but when you open the door, he still just stands there and watches.

Before we left, we bought a harness for the cat. When we put it on him at home to get him used to it, it looked like he had been pinned to the floor. He was so humiliated, he refused to move. We had to leave it on him for a week before he could walk and play normally again. Now, we hook the other leash to him, and we can walk both of the pets at the same time. He doesn't walk perfectly smoothly on the leash, but from the very first time, he walks around on it. It works best when we follow him. He doesn't like the part where he is supposed to follow us as much yet. It looks pretty funny to come back from my run at a rest stop to find Judy headed down the road with one leash in each hand, walking them both at once. They are about the same size, but each with completely different posture.

Well, we decided on the north end. Nice day. Nice drive. We're parked at Goose Island State Park, about fifteen feet from the water of the sheltered bay. But that's at low tide.

Twenty-eight degrees of latitude and much warmer.

That'll do for now.

Aah. Life on the beach.

We'll use this as a home base for a few days.