"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Friday, January 31, 2014

Coolest Bike Carrier Ever!

While visiting Padre Island National Seashore and driving on the beach we encountered a French Canadian couple with this great addition to their travel set-up.  It's the KOMO Multi-Purpose Bike Carrier.  Not only does it protect your bikes from the salt, sand, road dirt, rain and theft, it provides additional storage for adventure equipment.

The bummer for us is that it is mounted on a double trailer hitch - one on each side of the vehicle's rear.  Who the heck has those? Both Ms. Subaru and our fifth-wheel already have single hitches and we can't see switching them out. But it's tempting.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Texas "Move on Over" Lane

Around here there's a unique custom of the road to which we are becoming acclimated. If you are driving on a two land road with wide shoulders, and a car comes up fast behind you and blinks its lights, you are expected to drive onto the shoulder and let the car pass.

I was first initiated to this cultural anomaly many years ago when I was driving my little Volkswagon Bug in Texas and a big semi-truck bore down on me, flashed its lights, and literally forced me off the road. Scared the *#!!#* out of me.

Here are a few points of clarification that we've gathered so far:
  • There is no expectation that anyone will slow down during these maneuvers. 70 mph is no problem.
  • There are no exceptions made if, for instance, there are cars coming from the other direction - the moving over evidently allows cars to pass without concern for oncoming traffic. 
  • There are no markings or signs indicating that this is the customary behavior or legal use of the shoulder/right lane.
  • The maneuver can be performed without the flashing lights - the slower driver simply anticipates the needs of the car behind it and drives onto the shoulder as if it is the polite thing to do. The flashing lights seem to be for the benefit of out-of-towners like me, as if to say:

"Move on over stupid, I'm comin' around!"
(One learns quickly under these circumstances.)

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi

This aquarium is an indoor/outdoor kind of place, so it was a perfectly sunny, 65ish kind of day for a visit. It's on the north side of Corpus (as the locals call it) just across the Harbor Bridge, which you can see in the picture below, taken in front of the aquarium. 

It's also right next to the USS Lexington, another popular attraction that we haven't visited yet.

The aquarium is situated on the Port of Corpus Christ, a busy deep water channel. While we were there a huge ship loaded with five or six windmill blades passed by.  There is a large windmill field nearby, where this ship may have been heading. This is really Rick's kind of place and he was probably more interested in the ships than the creatures inside the aquarium. He made me take this picture.

The displays are about equally divided between indoors and out, and one of the first to catch our eye was the dolphin pool, covered by this grand sunshade. 

Between shows, the dolphins are in the pool just swimming around and peeking at the visitors.

Downstairs below the pool there is an underwater viewing window, but when we got there the dolphins were somehow gone.  Throughout the aquarium there were lots of preschool aged kids with their parents. No school groups thankfully. The place was kind of empty and that was really nice for taking pictures.

Back up top, we watched the dolphin show, which was probably one of the best things there.  Several little were kids jumping and twirling around too, doing ecstatic dances about the dolphins.

Nearby there was a pool of small stingrays you could touch. They're soft and slippery.

Another large tank held a few sea turtles...

…who really like this one window a lot so it was easy to get this eye to eye perspective.

There was also an alligator pond with one alligator, a small shark tank with no sharks, an otter pool with one otter, and a small arena for wildlife shows. We went to that, but it was too bad to even mention.  Overall, I'd say this is an underwhelming aquarium (Rick says "rinky-dink"), with no really impressive exhibits or collections.  Many of the animals are rescue cases, and are alone in their tanks or cages. That always makes for a kind of sad milieu.

Inside there are several different areas, focused on different things: jellyfish, reefs, the Amazon. One tank held about ten lion fish with a map nearby showing the spread of this venomous invasive species in the Western hemisphere over the past ten years.  Scary. 

The jellyfish were my favorites. So elegant. 

There were several tanks with large and small tropical fish, and lots of opportunities for close inspection.

The Amazon exhibit seems to be the newest.  Above is a piranha and below are tiny colorful frogs (obviously). 

One last look at the otter who wants a playmate…(see us in the reflection?)

Over the next few days I'm going to try a new style of shorter blogs.  Hope you'll check them out and let me know how you like them. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Padre Island National Seashore, Texas

The Gulf beaches here in Texas are all pretty similar - long flat stretches of sand with low scrub dunes - so our visit to Padre Island didn't really deliver any surprises.  It looks very much like Mustang Island, but with no commercial development, which is nice of course. 

Along the one road into the National Seashore there are some informational plaques about the cultural and natural history. Several Native Americas tribes lived here, and later there were cattle ranchers and cowboys. 

A stop at the Visitor's Center (which looks a lot like a corral, doesn't it?) and a talk by one of the rangers explained a lot about the sea life we have been seeing intermittently on the beach.  Right now the sea turtles are having trouble with the cold water temperatures in the Laguna Madre (the large shallow body of water between the islands and the mainland) where they forage. The Seashore runs daily rescue missions out into the lagoon and brings cold stunned turtles back to their facilities to revive and then relocate them.

All the beaches in Texas are considered roads, so driving on them is the norm.  Rick, Ms. Subaru and I have a hard time getting our heads around that, but we did it anyway.  Seems sacrilegious somehow. This was Ms. Subaru's first sand drive, and she earned her stripes. We'll be calling her Captain Subaru soon.

On both the gulf and the lagoon sides of the island there are several minimal service campgrounds right on the beach that look nice even for big rigs.  At "Bird Island" there is also a marina and a wind surfing launching area. We explored a little bit and saw lots of gulls and white pelicans. 

On our way out we got our pictures taken (I presume) along with everyone else passing in or out the park gates.  Do you think NSA has enough cameras here? 

Today we're going to the Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi, so I hope to get some good pictures of wannabe wildlife there.  Stay tuned.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Breakfast with the Birds on the Beach

Since arriving here in Port Aransas, Texas, on Mustang Island, we've been getting up before dawn and walking on the beach as the sun rises. Just us and the birds who are getting breakfast from the bounty of the Gulf waters.  Every day it's different.

Some mornings the great blue herons are out doing their lone fishing.

 Usually there are gulls and terns and a few other shore birds I can't identify for sure.

One morning we saw a crested caracara, which is a big deal for us, though they are relatively common down here, and are the national symbol of Mexico. They are very striking and I wish we'd been able to get a good shot of one. 

The sea life and debris that washes up is different every morning as well. The first morning there were lots of moon jellyfish and sea whip coral (which looks like heavy duty fishing line or some kind of seaweed, but isn't). 

The second morning there were starfish. 

The third morning there was nothing. All the jellies and stars were gone, like they'd never been there. The next day the pen shells started (foreground below). 

Now, see the little volcano-like bumps on the sand? Read on...

Every morning there are a handful of guys walking the beach with these yard-long plastic pipe hand pumps that they stick down into the little volcanoes and suck up a sloshy pump full of sand and water. They exhaust the slurry out onto the sand and quickly grab for something little that they see in the wash. We finally asked one guy what he was after and he told us ghost shrimp, and showed us his catch.  They were white and orangish soft shelled squirmy things that did look a little like shrimp. 

Here's a link to more than you'd ever want to know about ghost shrimp pumps. Seems that ghost shrimp are primo ocean fishing bait and fisherman come out early to get bait for their day of fishing.

We've taken to carrying garbage bags with us and picking up a bag or two each of man-made beach debris on our return walk. There isn't a lot of garbage on the beach - just the usual collection of water bottles, old gloves and flip flops, plastic bags and candy wrappers - but it feels good to be helping to keep the beach clean.

We're parked at Gulf Waters RV Resort for the month and are liking it very much. It's an ownership park with some rental sites. We were lucky to reserve one about four months ago as they are completely full. 

The park is just over the dunes from the beach in a relatively undeveloped part of Mustang Island, about 10 miles south of Port Aransas. The landscaping in the park is very pretty, there's a pool and a hot tub, a book exchange and a laundromat - all things we like to have. The area is interesting - lots of birding. In fact we are planning on going to see some whooping cranes in Rockport soon. Corpus Christi is about 15 miles away with everything you could ever need or want.  We'll probably check out the Texas State Aquarium there too.

As usual on our longer stays, we're catching up on maintenance. We've got a leaky window, some dry and cracking weather stripping around the slides, a funky hot water heater and the persistent issue with our hydraulic jacks drifting. We hope to get all that taken care of with the help of a mobile RV repair guy around here, or maybe in San Antonio. It'll keep us amused.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Moving South Along the Texas Gulf Coast.

We've moved out of Louisiana and are heading toward Corpus Christi, making a couple of stops along the way. We both found ourselves feeling really happy as we drove into Texas. It felt good to be back. I danced along in my car, listening to my Texas playlist. (Have I mentioned that I have a playlist for every state we've visited? Texas is one of my favorites, featuring George Strait and Lyle Lovett, among others.)

First we made a short stop in Beaumont at Hidden Lake RV Park - a very pleasant medium-sized private park. Last night we stopped at Brackenridge Recreational Complex, in Edna, where we will be for about a week. It's a large regional park on the shores of Lake Texana, with lots of space, a marina, hiking/biking trails, a paintball park, nature preserve and even an enormous state-of-the-art rodeo arena.

 We have a site right on the lake with a great view. 

When we arrived it was very windy but warm, so I took a walk to take some sunset pictures.

This view looks across the water to the nature preserve.


It stayed warm overnight and when I woke up early it was calm and warm, 
so I jumped up and went for a misty morning walk.

This is the paintball park, empty and eerie.

As the sun came up it was still warm, but within about 10 minutes the wind picked up 
and it got wicked cold.  I hurried home.

Now it's still cold and even more windy, so once we got our propane tank filled 
we both hunkered down to stay warm inside for the rest of this now grey winter day.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A Zydeco New Year's Eve

To end our time here in Louisiana and bring in the New Year with a big bang we partied to the joyful zydeco music of Geno Delafose and the French Rockin' Boogie.  What an evening!

Geno is a favorite of the zydeco music world, and is the son of one of the zydeco pioneers. He's a local guy who lives on his ranch in southern Louisiana. He's got a charming smile and the kind of voice you could listen to all night. Although he plays all over the country, he performs a good deal of the time right here in his backyard. On New Year's Eve he was playing in the Vermillionville Performance Center in Lafayette, Louisiana. People come from all over the country to celebrate New Year's Eve here and dance zydeco. 

The venue has tables that seat 6-8 around the edge of a medium sized hall, and a large dance floor, because you can't stay in your seat while listening to this music! It is an infectious, high energy kind of music and the folks around here love to dance, so the floor was packed for every dance. Rick and I don't know how to do zydeco (despite a great lesson from our friend Heidi 15 year ago), but we got up and danced to the Cajun waltzes and slower two-steps.  We love the music and enjoy watching the dancers. Check out this link to see just what zydeco dancing is all about. I can't even begin to describe it in words. 

We had wonderful tablemates - John and Lily from Broussard, LA. They've owned and run Norbert's, a home-cooking restaurant in Broussard, for almost 50 years. They were so welcoming and generous that we felt right at home. Boy could they dance (at 70 and 80 years old)!! Lily made sure we had plenty to eat and drink (gratis) all through the evening, as she cooked the meat pies and her daughter was running the house! We really got lucky. 

And guess what else! Today, January 1, 2014, is Rick's and my 15th anniversary. Another great reason to celebrate!