Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wrap up by the numbers

We left on our first big motor home trip August 2, 2011 and got back to Salt Lake City December 6, 2011.  Here’s a wrap up by the numbers:
Length of trip: 126 days
States visited: 17  
Miles traveled: 6,180 
Most expensive campground:  Lake Pontchartrain RV Park in New Orleans at $56 a night.
Least expensive campground (besides the free places):  Leith Run National Recreation Area near Marietta, Ohio at $10.60 a night.
Average spent on campsite (does not include nights at my mom’s or at friends):  $19 a night.
Top five expenses in order, starting with the most expensive: RV gas; campsites;  RV repairs, groceries; eating out.
We stayed overnight (and longer) at 33 places:
16 state parks
4 private campgrounds
2 wineries
2 homes of family
2 National Recreation Areas
1 BLM land
1 WalMart
1 Indian Casino
1 friend's home
1 military base
1 Army Corp of Engineers campground
1 hotel
And now some subjective thoughts:
--Most picturesque towns:  Port Gibson, Mississippi and Marietta, Ohio.  During the Civil War General Grant supposedly said Port Gibston was “too pretty to burn”; Marietta is on the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingham Rivers and has lovely old mansions.
--Most interesting historical sites:  Lincoln Boyhood Home; Vicksburg, MS National Military Park; and the Marietta Ohio/Parkersburg, West Virginia area.
--Favorite single place we visited:  Hard to pick, but Bev says the Henderson home in Parkersburg, WV.  Jim says the Gulf of Mexico as he’d never seen it before and he likes the beach.
--Best “wow” moments:  Looking at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers near Cairo, IL; how the flooding of the Missouri River impacted Niobrara,NE; and every time we crossed a bridge spanning the Ohio or the Mississippi Rivers.
--Least favorite park:  Chain of Lakes, Indiana, but only because it was the last weekend before school started -- so it was crowded and everyone was noisily getting in their last hurrahs.  It would likely be wonderful in the off season,  especially with a kayak.
--Favorite foods:  Beignets in New Orleans; the Mexican food in Deming, NM; the cod and mussels at Sandy and Carl’s; and anything my mom makes.
--Nicest campgrounds:   Leith Run near Marietta, Ohio, because it was small (only 19 sites), we were so close to the Ohio River and our fellow campers made it feel like we were living in a friendly neighborhood; Balmoreah, TX because it is a watery oasis in the desert with white adobe buildings and red tile roofs; Rockhound State Park in NM because of the views, stars, cactus and large campsites; Muscatine, IA Army Corps of Engineers site which was right on the Mississippi.
--A place we could probably move to:  Tucson, AZ
We’re having fun at home in Salt Lake City (but it's cold!) and will resume our travels and our blog after the holidays.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Homeward bound for the Holidays

Tonight will be our fifth night at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base's Agave Gulch FamCamp in Tucson, AZ.  Tomorrow morning we’ll take our motor home to an RV storage facility, and then start the drive home to Salt Lake City in our tow car.  We’ll come back to Tucson sometime in January and figure out the rest of our winter travel plans.  Both of us are looking forward to staying in one place for a while, and think Tucson might be a good first choice.

We’ve done a little sight seeing, but mostly we’ve gotten the rig ready to store. Since it can get chilly in Tucson (the area is having a cold spell right now, which means night time temps hover around freezing--although we were told that last year Tucson had several days where it never got above 19 degrees) and we won’t be around to monitor things, we drained our water and storage tanks and added antifreeze.  We also gave the rig an extra thorough cleaning.
To our Salt Lake friends:  See you soon.  To everyone else: I might not be posting much while we’re in Utah but at the very least will pick this back up in January. Have a wonderful holiday.
And:  Happy birthday today to my Mom on #91.  I love you!
Jim at Tucson's Barrio Brewing company where we had lunch.
A shot of the Pima County courthouse.
The “Occupy Tucson” campsite in downtown Tucson.
Jim and Cooper taking a break from cleaning the rig.
Our rig lined up with the others at FamCamp.  

Friday, December 2, 2011

Wild Blue Yonder

We’re camping at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base's "Agave Gulch FamCamp," in Tucson, AZ.    The campground is right on the military base.  It’s the ultimate gated community where you also hear reveille every morning and the Star Spangled Banner every night. And everybody  -- even people driving cars -- stops while the music plays. 
FamCamp has nearly 300 rig spaces with electricity and water, a laundry, dog walking area, and a dog wash. Plus, we have access to most of the services on the base -- gas station, the commissary where we can buy groceries, a “BX” which is a department store, fitness center and more.  The staff here has been great; we can see why it’s been voted the best military campgrounds for the last few years running.
We’ve met several of our neighbors.  The first two were Vietnam vets being treated at the nearby VA Hospital for Agent Orange-related diseases.  I’m grateful the closest Jim got to Vietnam was its shore.
Our view from the edge of the campground.   Campers can stay at the FamCamp for 21 days and can extend for another 21 days if no one is camping in the base's overflow area (a campground without water and electricity) waiting to get in.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


In order to get a camping space, we try to arrive at new locations on Mondays and Thursdays. On Mondays the weekend crowds have just left.  On Thursday they haven't yet arrived.  So far it's worked out great and I was skeptical when Rockhound State park in south central New Mexico told me they might not have a spot available on a Monday night.  
But I got on line and paid the extra money it cost to get an advance reservation.  I’m glad I did.  There might have been an open space or two, but that was all.
And I can see why.  The camp grounds were nestled at the foot of the Little Florida (pronounced Flo-Rita) mountains.  The cactus was beautiful. The night time stars were wonderful.  Our campsite was huge.  Three are two other State Park nearby (Pancho Villa State Park and City of Rocks) and nearby Deming, NM has a great Mexican restaurant (Si Senor) and a brew pub and Jim wants to go back.
Bonus that has nothing to do with our travels:  Today I read my adopted hometown’s newspaper, the Salt Lake Tribune, and this was one of the headlines:
The last line of the story is my favorite:  "The dog and any ducks within range at the time of the accident were uninjured." (The hunter is OK, too, except for his pride.) 
Jim hooks up the water and electricity to our rig at Rockhound State Park near Deming, NM.  Our tow car is parked on the other side of the picnic table shelter to the left; normally at a state park, another rig would be where our car is, if not closer.
A scenery shot.
Visitors' Center at Rockhound State Park.  
You can just barely see a dark spot in the middle of this photo -- it's a blimp outfitted with cameras and high-tech equipment and tethered over the US-Mexican border for use by the border patrol.  Also, between El Paso and Las Cruces, all the westbound traffic on Interstate was pulled over by the border patrol.  We were waved on, as were other cars near us, but a pick up truck was being thoroughly searched.  
More scenery.  I'd love to be here when the cactus blooms.
The campground with our rig and tow car in the foreground.  This photo and the scenery shots were taken from two mile hiking trail that makes a half circle around the campground and includes a walk through a desert arboretum.  There is also a well-marked display of desert plants near the visitors' center.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Good thing Bev has a sense of humor

Monday morning we left Texas for New Mexico.  Bev almost didn’t make the trip as quickly as Jim.
We were about 75 miles south east of El Paso -- the middle of nowhere -- when Jim thought he got an error message on our brake system and pulled off onto the shoulder of Interstate 10.  I went to the back of the rig to get the owner’s manual while Jim went out to the tow car.  Then I grabbed my set of rig keys and went outside to help Jim.  When I got to the tow car, I didn’t see Jim ... but I did see the rig starting to pull back on I-10.   I ran to the rig’s passenger window, pounded on the window, and Jim looked a me like he was seeing a ghost.  But he did stop the rig. 
Luckily for us, once we got back on I-10 we both started to laugh ... especially when we saw the next road sign, which read “Prison area.  Do not pick up hitch hikers.”  It would have been a long 250-mile walk.

Sorry, no photos available.

Monday, November 28, 2011

This is Sandy Wood for Star Date

For years, I've heard a short radio program about astronomy called Star Date.  The narrator is named Sandy Wood, and she’s got a great voice.  Plus, I always learn something.  Sandy Wood always mentions that she’s with the University of Texas McDonald Observatory, but I've never thought much about the observatory, other than it was probably somewhere in Austin.
Well, it's not in Austin; instead it's 450 miles west of Austin in the Texas west desert at an altitude of 6800 feet.  I didn't know that until I took a walk Saturday (Ohio State had just lost to Michigan and I needed a TV-football-watching break) and saw a road sign pointing to “University of Texas McDonald Observatory.” So Jim (who almost always goes along with my “hey, let's do this" ideas) and I drove almost 50 miles for a visit.
I actually thought it was only 32 miles.  But when you’ve driven 32 and see another sign that says it’s an addition 16... well, you’re almost there, so why not.
The McDonald Observatory was made possible by Texas banker William Johnson McDonald, who died in 1926 and endowed money to the University of Texas for an astronomical observatory.  The U of T didn't even have an astronomy department at the time.  But after some prolonged legal haggling (McDonald’s relatives contested the will) the first of the observatories' 5 telescopes was built.
At the observatory, we saw a brief movie about it’s history and a presentation about sunspots that included live views of the sun.
Some of what we learned:
Violet and blue stars are the hottest; orange and red stars are cooler.
You can impress people by calling heat waves thermal turbulence.
The sun is about the same temperature as Houston in the summer (I think that was a joke.)

It was a great visit.  If you want to learn more about the McDonald Observatory, here's the link:
On our way to the observatory, we came across the Calera Chapel. It was built in the early 1900s, restored in 2003, and always open. And it is all by itself.
The newest telescope at the McDonald Observatory. The observatory's location in the Davis Mountains has the darkest sky in North America because there is very little light pollution.
Two other telescopes.  People who maintain the equipment actually live at the mountain. 
Scenery near the observatory.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Baby it’s cold outside

Last night it got down to about 25 degrees; it might get in that neighborhood again tonight.  We stay plenty warm in the rig, but we do worry about the rig’s water pipes freezing -- that would cause a major inconvenience and an expensive repair.  So we did about the same thing we’d do at home:  Disconnect the outside water hose, leave the cabinets open so water pipes are exposed to warmer air, and left the heat on.  And in this case, we ran both a small portable electric heater and one that runs on propane.  We’re hooked up to electricity here, and our rig has an electric water heater -- but just to make sure our water system didn’t freeze, we turned on our propane water heater, too.
This morning there were some small icicles dripping off our water filter.  But other than that, all was well.

This photo is taken from the middle of the rig toward the cab and it’s one of the low tech ways we keep the rig warm.  What you’re seeing is a down quilt hanging from the sleeping area over the cab.  The quilt helps keep cold air out of our living space.
This morning a sparrow kept looking in the window by our dinette.  Bev put some wheat thin crumbs on the window ledge. We soon had a party. And probably you-know-what all over the roof.
And from Texas: The Christmas season has begun!

Texas' Balmorhea State Park

We’ll be at Balmorhea State Park in tiny Toyahvale, Texas until tomorrow.   The park includes what looks like a motel complex right out of the 1950s, but was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in in 1935.    
The centerpiece of the campground is a two acre swimming pool also built by the CCC. Most of the pool is 25 feet deep and used by both swimmers and scuba divers; the bottom of the deep area is natural rock and has turtles and fish.  The pool is fed by the San Solomon Spring, and the water is about 74 degrees year round.  The spring also feeds a small pond and several canals at the park, plus the park’s cienega or desert wetlands.
Because the park is so quaint, I asked the rangers if movies had been made here.  They told me no, but that the film “Giant” was made in Marfa, about 60 miles south.  “Giant” starred Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean and was made in 1956, so it’s been a while.    
And I know I’m breaking a promise to Steve H. to run photos of Jim and me in our blog --- but here are photos I took this morning of Balmorhea State Park.
Some scuba divers take advantage of the park's huge swimming pool. This photo was actually taken yesterday -- and you can see we went from sunny to cloudy.
These buildings are shelters over picnic tables at each camp site.  The ranger also told me that the lead singer for Led Zeppelin, Robert Plant, camped here recently.  Right now, the only people here are me, Jim, three other motor home campers and a tent camper.
One of the canals that run through the park.  The water in the canals and the pool is crystalline. All of the buildings -- including the campsite shelters -- are made of white plaster and have red tile roofs.
The Davis Mountain Range as seen from the park.
The motel-like complex at the park. Jim says it looks like ones he and his sister stayed in with his parents while traveling to his dad’s jobs building dams in the western US.
The Balmorhea State Park office. Jim thought "Balmorhea" was a biblical reference; I thought maybe it was Spanish.  Turns out it’s a combination of the first few letters of the names of three people who developed the nearby city of the same name.  It's pronounced Ball-more-ray.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Going barless

We've been without internet access for several days.  This and the 3 posts before it are what I would have published had we any Verizon bars.
We left this morning for Balmorhea State Park in Toyahvale, Texas, about 150 miles southeast of El Paso -- the “desert flatlands” of west Texas.  Jim picked Balmorhea because it's in the right direction (west) and the right distance (250 miles) from our previous stop.  So far it looks charming.  Plus it has internet and cell phone access, which we’ve been without since Tuesday.  We did get a few Thanksgiving cell phone calls in to family, but were not able to reach everyone (love you, Ashley) and another call dropped and we couldn't reconnect (love you, Paul).

The drive from South Llano State Park in Texas’ hill country to Balmorhea was windy and almost uneventful...but not quite.  Since we hadn't had any internet access for a while, Jim asked me to download a book on his Kindle.  When I got up to get his Kindle, I saw our big sun shade on the outside of the rig's big back window hanging kitty-corner.  If it fell off, it could get caught in the front wheels of the tow car and create all sorts of havoc.  

We were on a part of Texas I-10 with few exits; luckily for us, one was coming up.  We stopped, Jim wrestled the shade off the the back of the rig in the wind, and the shade is now resting comfortably under a picnic table (and Jim is now resting comfortable on the couch).  We’ll get the shade reattached in Tucson or Salt Lake City.

Bottom line:  We are safe and sound in a new place. And Jim has cable TV and is looking forward to a football weekend.
This big sunshade Bev is holding was hanging kitty corner over the rear rig window while we were driving west on I-10 at 60 miles an hour.   Jim checked our other two sunshades and they are OK.
The camping shelters at Balmorhea State Park have red tile roofs.  There is also a cienega, or desert wetland, near by. 

Our Thanksgiving Day

Here's a photo from the six mile hike we took Thanksgiving morning at South Llano River State Park.

Three miles into the hike we came across this windmill.  It powers a pump that supplies water for the park.
Because we'd recently spent six days in the salt air at the Gulf of Mexico, we decided we'd better wash that salt off the rig, so we found a car wash big enough for motor homes in the little Texas town of Junction, TX.  Here Jim makes sure the bottom of the rig gets clean.

And finally, the easiest Thanksgiving dinner I ever cooked:   Turkey sandwiches, canned cranberry sauce, candied yams (also from a can, but I actually cooked them, using a recipe on the can), a pumpkin pie we bought at the Navy commissary in Corpus Christi, and the kind of whipped cream you can squirt right into your mouth.   Delish!

Happy Thanksgiving to our family

Two Thanksgivings ago:  From front left going clockwise: Paul, Shad holding Mia, Bev, Jim, Season, Lee holding Owen, and Ashley in the middle.
Bev's family (minus Paul and Toby) last Thanksgiving, when we also celebrated Mom's 90th birthday.  Top row:  Suzie, Brooke, Jill, Trudy, Don, Mia on Shad's shoulders.  Also left to right: Bob, Ashley, Ben, Mom, Jim.

The family at Ashley and Shad's wedding ... even their daughter Mia attended via the magic of photoshop.  Plus we have Paul (back row, second from left)  and Toby (kneeling, right).  Ash and Shad are having another baby in April.
Mom and Bev.
The cousins as kids:  From left: Toby, Brooke, Paul, Ashley, and Ben in the front.
Season and Lee with Owen about a year ago.  They are expecting another boy in early January.

Texas hill country

We left Mustang Island Tuesday and made our longest one-day drive yet -- 290 miles.  That doesn’t sound like lot of miles unless you are driving 40-feet worth of vehicle.   But the roads were good, Jim is a great driver, we made good time, and we spent Tuesday evening, Wednesday and Thanksgiving Day at South Llano River State Park in Junction, TX about a hundred miles northwest of San Antonio.
Junction is in the Texas hill country, so we’re seeing rolling countryside once again, instead of landscape literally as flat as a piece of paper.  The scenery is what I think of when I hear the phrase “Texas cowboy” --- cactus, sprawling trees, dry washes, shallow rivers, and yucca-type plants.  
South Llano River State Park was donated to Texas by Walter Buck, who moved here with his parents, sister and brother in1910.  Never married, Mr. Buck took care of his mom after his dad died, and raised goats, cattle and pecans (and was also a rained jeweler).  In 1977, Mr. Buck donated his 2,500 acre property on the condition that it be used as a park and/or for wildlife conservation.  The park, which opened in 1990, has hiking trails, bird sanctuaries, bird blinds where visitors can watch wildlife, and pecan trees all over the place.  What they call the “bottomland” portion of the park is one of Texas’ largest and oldest winter turkey roosts.   Up to 800 turkeys spend winter at the park eating the abundant pecans and acorns.  During the winter the turkey roosts are closed to the public because the birds scare easily.  We’re figuring that’s especially true around Thanksgiving. 
In the 1970s, Walter Buck harvested 75,000 pounds of pecans every year.   That happens to be an oak tree over our rig -- we figure pecans sound as loud as the acorns when they hit the roof of your rig.
The South Llano River.  The locals pronounce it “Lan-o” without the y-sound used in a Spanish pronunciation. 
Just a scene that looks like Texas to me.  In the foreground are Prickly Pear cactus.
Jim and what’s left of an armadillo he caught. (That’s a joke, but the skin is that of an armadillo Cooper sniffed it out.)
Up to 800 Rio Grande wild turkeys roost at the park in the winter.  In the spring, they leave and travel up to 30 miles to find a nesting area.  Then they return the next winter.
You can go 80 on the freeway in Texas.  Jim might be tempted to get the rig up to that speed, but if we drive over 65 mph we’d ruin our tow car’s transmission. 
There are three bird blinds in the park where people can watch the birds.  Here we saw a scarlet tanager taking a bath.  Volunteers fill feeders at the blinds every day. We’re thinking volunteers help with park maintenance, too, as this is one of the cleanest parks we’ve seen.  Even though it’s a wildlife sanctuary, they allow deer hunting here at certain times of the year.
Jim misread this sign and thought we were to show up here for Thanksgiving dinner.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Coastal Bend

The Coastal Bend... that's what they call the neck of the woods we're in.  It's where the gulf shore of Texas curves to the south.

And just off that bend -- and near the Mustang Island State Park where we are staying -- is the Corpus Christi Naval Air Station (NAS).  Jim retired from the Navy Reserve, and I like to go to military commissaries -- so we checked it out today. The base has an RV park for active or retired military; we’re thinking of staying there on a future trip.  We also bought groceries at the commissary, then came back to the rig and did chores.  Plus we got in our walk on the beach.

Jim waiting for our lunch at the Naval Air Station.
Jim and a Blue Angel plane. The Chief of Naval Air Training selects the Blue Angels Commanding Officer, also called the “Boss” --  and that chief is headquartered at the NAS Corpus Christi, Texas.
Two guys fishing by the granite jetty nea
r Mustang Island State Park. 
Goose neck barnacles find a home on a plastic bottle. I wouldn't call the beaches we've seen especially trashy but we've seen plenty of stuff, including plastic bottles, popped balloons attached to celebratory ribbons, paper plates, juice boxes, Styrofoam containers, and fishing line.   Plastic is the worst because it doesn't biodegrade; instead it breaks up into little pieces that fish and birds eat, which clogs their digestive systems and kills them.  

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Bait, tackle, ice

This afternoon we drove to Port Aransas, a town on the north edge of Mustang Island.  It's a fishing, beach and resort town of about 2500 people -- but during the summer the population gets as big as 60,000.  There is only one road in and out of Port Aransas, and on the one side you have to enter via ferry -- so I can’t imagine the crowds.  But today there were just people fishing. And us walking around.
A University of Texas guard pelican. Brown pelicans are endangered, but we saw quite a few.
Another brown pelican. 
We walked around the interpretive center at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute in Post Aransas.
This huge shark mouth is actually the entrance to a Port Aransas beachwear store. 
This jetty near Mustang Island State Park is made out of huge blocks of pink, gray and black granite.  We saw a similar one in Port Aransas; the one in town was built in the early 1900s.  The granite was brought it by rail, then moved into place on barges. The jetties are popular fishing spots.