Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Texas April 2016 Westward Ho! No. 5 Into Texas and onto the Gulf

This is  really long post covering our travel from LA to Corpus Christi and then our visit with our nephew Chris.  It starts on Apr 3 and goes until the 10th. Only a week but oh so much info.

So. Texas.  A state with which I had a ridiculously biased relationship based partly on politics (and mainly on ignorance Ah yes, Ignorance-such a lovely trait!) and even then I am nutsy kookoo since two of my favorite "media people" are Bill Moyers and the late (fabulous) Molly Ivins and they are both Texans.  I have friends who are from or live in Texas and range the political spectrum so I decided to keep an open mind and honestly, the kindness, politeness and all round friendliness of the Texans we have already met as I write this would have bashed open my closed mind even had I not decided to.

We were driving west on I-10 and just after passing Lake Charles and all the refineries our first stop was the westbound rest area at the border.  While the eastbound Welcome Center was in LA the westbound was in Orange, TX.  As we pulled in we saw a line of "big plastic boxes with doors" and I wondered about a state Welcome Center that put out Porta-Potties in a Visitor Center.  We alighted and I made my way to the center's building which I then saw was Closed.  And then I remembered-this is the area that just a few weeks ago had been flooded and around which my nephew had driven on his way to his new posting in Corpus Christi.  Then I noticed the bushes.  They all had a coating of mud. And then I started talking to two of the workers.  Yes, the flood waters had been 7 feet high and although the center is on stilts it was flooded and everything ruined.  Yes, the Watch for Snakes signs were serious.  One of the workers had just found a cottonmouth in his yard and he lived nearby.  And no, there were no brochures or other tourist information booklets available yet so after walking the pets we continued onward, westward...

 We drove through Beaumont still on I-10, and then hung a louie (turned left) and headed south to Winnie.  When we got there and found the Winnie-Stowell County Park we realized we still had lots of driving time that we could handle and why not head to the Bolivar Peninsula and boondock in one of the places we'd read about.  We hoped we could make it to Rollover Pass and we did-easily.  We got to the Gulf and turned right with the Gulf on our left and the Anahac National Wildlife Refuge on our right. Bolivar Peninsula extends out into Galveston Bay on the far east border of TX.  At the end, Port Bolivar, is a ferry that runs 24 hours a day, every 15-20 minutes, takes all sizes of cars and rigs and is free.  This was our destination for the next day but first we'd spend a night at Rollover Pass.  

Heading south on TX 124

We'd read that there was a camping fee ($10) to park in one of the areas next to the canal but when we arrived we saw a sign saying a city employee would come collect it or we could pay a local business owner.  We drove in and spied a space far to the right, removed from the line of trucks and fishermen.  It was solid, had a great view of the water and the birds.  Oh, yes the birds!  Hundreds of them and ALL of them raising a racket.  It was getting to late afternoon and it was migration time. So, we set up.  Cadbury did NOT like it.  I think there were too many birds and he prefers a bit on concrete or asphalt on which to roll and scratch.  But, the rest of us did.  And there were all sorts of people arriving with binoculars and that's when we found out that this is a prime spot for birders (bird watchers) and this was the beginning of migration.  From the several couples with whom I conversed I learned not only the names of the various species but that their plumage changes when it's breeding time so we could see which birds were ready and which weren't.  So cool.  I stood there taking pictures of some of the birds and then because...

The MoHo in place and it did not flood

Snowy Egret

American Avocets

Marbled Godwits and a gull

 Phoenix was feeling better and she was eager to walk, we walked over to the beach.  There was a guy selling bait shrimp so we asked him about paying. When we showed him our spot though he said it was private property but said there wouldn't be a problem...or a charge.  We also asked him about getting water because we had inadvertently forgotten to fill our water tank and were close to empty.  We knew we wouldn't need much water overnight but figured we should have back up.  He said he'd be happy to fill a 5 gallon bucket for us so we said we'd come back in the morning.

Laughing Gull ready to breed (red beak)

Pelican ready to breed (white on head)

Royal Tern (breeding)

So, after walking the beach which, despite being on the Gulf, is not at all like the beaches on the MS and FL areas of the Gulf we headed back and had dinner.  The sun was starting to set in a rather spectacular fashion so I grabbed my camera and opened the door and that's when I experienced mosquitoes like I never have!  I grew up in the tropics and lived in Egypt, I actually am rarely bothered by them but WOW!  They were dive bombing me and as big as birds.  Once I made it around the MoHo there was a breeze and they were less obtrusive but my I have a number of pictures that I had to delete because I was swiping at a mosquito at the same time as clicking and the shots were all over the place. So I got my tripod. Just as I'd decided it was too dark, I turned and gliding toward me were what at first looked like swans.  I then realized they were white pelicans.  They lazily swam by and I managed with a really high ISO (so they are a bit grainy) to get some pictures.  It was really quite ethereal.

American Avocets-the dark headed ones are ready to breed-check out those delicate beaks!

More avocets-ready on the left!

I was taking pictures of the avocets when a fisherman came walking over to collect his stuff and up they went

Across the water the sun was lighting up the houses beautifully

Marching to a different drummer (in the middle)

These next shots are of Skimmers-they fly at amazing speeds with their beaks skimming the top of the water

After dark we settled in for our evening reading when a car pulled up alongside us.  We greeted the woman driving and her first words made me dread what was to follow: "Hi y'all.  That's my house back there..." (Oh No!  Now it's going to be "This is private property and you need to leave now!")..."I just wanted to let y'all know that sometimes it floods here and I wanted to make sure you knew that in case you wanted to move a bit. I'm sorry I couldn't tell you earlier but I was a class and just saw you when I got home.  I'm sorry for botherin' y'all so late.  If you need anything I'm just right there." What???  So THIS is what they mean by "the people in Texas are really friendly!"  OK, I know, it could happen anywhere but it was such a surprise that we both just looked at each other and smiled.  The birds, who'd kept up their racket until dark were quiet, we checked the tide tables and high tide had passed so we stayed put.  We also decided that it was so nice here we'd stay another day.

The next morning I could not resist taking more pictures, this time of the sunrise and once again I was reminded of the dive bombing mosquitoes.  But the birds and the light was so beautiful...(and yes, we have mosquito repellent- Natrapel- which is great but I didn't want to waste time and lose the lighting)

the moon was still up as the pelicans flew by

One roseate spoonbill.  It was still very dark so it's grainy but I love these birds!

This American Bittern came around both mornings and flew off as soon as the sun rose

We spent the next day simply enjoying the time relaxing, watching the birds and talking to the various sets of people who came to photograph and record the birds they'd seen.  I cannot see spending the time that many of them do, and some are REALLY dedicated, but I appreciated so much the knowledge some of them imparted and loved sharing the joy of watching nature's beauty.

One of the tasks we've resolved to be more diligent about is checking our tire pressure.  Except for the ghastly car tire blow out in Dec., we have had no problems but finally got serious about our TireMinder system and have been checking the tires.  One of them was a bit low so the morning we left Rollover Pass we decided we'd look for a gas station with air. Luckily (it turns out, because the only gas station with air was 30 miles behind us) we saw a tire store and pulled in hoping they'd have air.  They did.  The guy was really nice and blew up not only the one that was low but all the others to get them to their optimum pressures.  For free.  As we pulled out of the campsite the alarm for No Flow of propane on the refrigerator had gone off and I could not figure it out.  It had been on for the past 3 days and did not come on when I tried "rebooting" it, so I took the opportunity to turn it off, thinking we'd have to on the ferry anyway.  Sure enough we were asked AND had to open the compartment and show the guy.  We were the last vehicle allowed on and the crossing was lovely and smooth.  We debarked and drove down Galveston Island to the town.  Our first stop was the Visitor Center which had a large parking lot where we could leave the MoHo while we walked around seeing the sites. Mysteriously, when I checked the propane it came back on with no problem and I breathed a sigh of relief.

But first, lunch and of course, as soon as we saw an old fashioned drug store with lunch counter we knew where it would be.  A decent lunch-burgers, of course, because we were on spinning stools at a counter in a drug store AND a chocolate milkshake for me-in our bellies we started our walking tour.  

Note the blanket under the bench

Don standing UNDER the water level mark from Hurricane Ike (2008)

We headed toward the Harborside area to see what we thought was an exhibit about the Great Storm-the hurricane of 1900 that virtually flattened much of Galveston and in which 6,000 people lost their lives.  However, it was a movie, it would be in 45 minutes and we had more to see and not that much time so...another day.

We walked back to the library to look at the interesting exhibit there and the Art of the Southwest display and then we headed through the residential area to the Bishop's Palace and the Sacred Heart Church across the street.  The church looks like a wedding cake and I'd noticed it immediately as we drove by.  The "Palace" AKA Gresham Castle, was built by  Col. Walter Gresham from 1886-1892 and has been cited by the AIA as one of the 100 most important buildings in the US.  While I know many love the grandeur and the decor of the Victorian Age and all the things that riches can buy the house left me cold.  Too much dark wood I guess but it was interesting and I did like the Library and the Summer Porch. :-) Oh and the bathroom!  I loved the bathroom. Don has the patience to listen to those recorders that do the self-guided walking tours so he learned a lot more than I did.  BUT, when I mentioned this to the docent he gave me a sheet with information on it. Sooo much easier.

Church of the Sacred Heart

Bishop's Palace

The Library

The Summer Porch

Central Hallway

On the ceiling of the chapel.  The Bishop converted one of the Gresham's dressing rooms into a chapel.

View of the church from the library

It's not modern and I love it

Has to be one of my favorite flowers-Datura or Nightshade-poison and beautiful

What is so interesting though is seeing these houses and learning the histories and understanding how these places grew and how that affects them today.  The residential part of Galveston was not that different from the area we walked around where there were old buildings mixed with the new (and many of them being repaired after Hurricane Ike which blew through in 2008) but the Seawall area, the area down on the gulf was one long line of fun and every fast food place known in the US!  We didn't walk it, we drove down Seawall toward San Luis Pass and off the island but from our vantage point we were able to see families, and young people, and older ones too, strolling along, lying on the beach, fishing or going on rides at the Amusement Park.  Seawall, by the way, is a sea wall that was built after the Great Storm, in 1902.

Pleasure Pier on Seawall

Entrance to Pleasure Pier



the beach

When we left Rollover Pass, after two days with no showers, little water and a growing pile of laundry we had decided that rather than another night of boondocking we'd find a park and at least have showers.  Fortuitously, the Quintana Beach County Park, just outside Freeport, had a space, with electric and water AND washers and dryers so on we drove down the Bluewater Highway,  over San Luis Pass, around Brazosport and through the refinery filled town of Freeport over the bridge to Quintana where we were once again on a beach on the gulf with lovely breezes and MOSQUITOES. The ones here are legendary but honestly they were not as bad as Rollover Pass.  The beach was huge, the park has nice little cabins for rent on the bluff above it and the campground was nice and quiet.  

After taking a shower and doing laundry I stopped and ended up yakking with a Mennonite couple from Manitoba (Canada) until Don came looking for me.  They had been doing mission work helping to rebuild homes damaged in storms and had taken a week to recover.  He is a truck driver who crosses the US-Canada border every day and had many stories to tell about how things have changed over the years.

That night we discussed whether or not we should stop, as we'd planned, in Matagorda, or simply drive on to Padre Island since our drive was going to be another long one.  There was so much to see in Matagorda that we finally realized we'd be frustrated or rushed or both so we'd skip it.  That also meant we did not have to leave at the break of dawn but could take some time to relax.  Yeah, lucky. The next morning I turned on the TireMinder to check the tires (we also use a gauge for accurate measures) and the alarm sounded for the front left tire-the one we'd stopped to fill.  Except this time the pressure reading was 81-it should be, and had been the day before:105.  I looked at it and it had clearly lost air.  Within an hour it was down another 2 PSI and, while we could attach the air pump and pump it up, we had no idea what was wrong and how far we'd have to go to have it looked at.  So, I called our handy roadside service and within 1/2 hour the nicest, most helpful guy was there to change the tire.  He also checked the other tires (the guy the day before was unsure how accurate his gauge was) and filled them to exact pressures.  And so, at 12:18pm we hit the road confident that our tires were safe and headed for Padre Island National Seashore.

Six hours later, after driving for what seemed like forever across 15 miles of flat lands with low scrub we pulled into the Malaquite Campground.  We wanted to be on the beach side of the island and although camping on the sand is allowed we were not going to chance it.  Getting stuck in sand costs thousands of dollars to get out and with the weather changing every day...There were no beach sites (which are actually behind the dunes anyway) but there was one on the parking lot side that faced a space between the last RV and the tents.  The beach was beautiful, the winds were up (we learned later these are "breezes" and I went down to register and pay.  It's a self pay system and I noticed on the board that there were several campers scheduled to leave the next day.  Sure enough, the next morning one of the sites across the way opened up.  Don went and asked the camp host if we could move and we did-just in the nick of time since a coach pulled in looking for a space.  We set up and then I headed off to town for a badly needed haircut and groceries.  At least I didn't have laundry to do.  Those chores done I made a bunch of phone calls because we had absolutely NO cell reception again and we needed to arrange getting together with Chris, or nephew, the Marine.  Luck was with me.  He texted while I was in the grocery store and we spoke and arranged to have dinner the next night. We both rode our bikes that afternoon although Don rode both on the road and the beach and I did only the roads and then after dinner took a walk on the beach collecting as much of the plastic as we could.  Padre Island is the primary nesting site for Kemp Ridley sea turtles and if you have ever seen the result of a baby turtle that has swum into a plastic ring, as I have, you would never toss any of them without cutting them.   

Friday we went to town. First we got misdirected because the address we had for the Visitor Center was the old one and it is now the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.  We found the new Center, right along the waterfront and after collecting some information walked most of the length of the rather spectacular corniche or Shoreline Blvd.  It was quite breezy and on the way back we took a more inland route before going back to the car to go meet Chris for dinner.  

 ...let the currents carry him sideways back to the piling...
 ...where he dried out his wings.

What an excellent and fun time. Called the Ginger Cafe, it's Asian and Mediterranean food, cooked and served by waiters who spoke Arabic and I had a great time speaking it again and asking about my favorite dishes.  We had an assortment of appetizers which are all ones I loved- hummus, Baba Ghanouj, falafel, foul muddammas, tabouleh (made the right way with hardly any burghul) and which Don and Chris both sampled and loved.  I then had one of my favorites-mansaf-which here was served as Lamb shanks on rice. A truly enjoyable evening catching up with Chris.  And we decided to get together the next day and drive to Kingsville for the Wings Over Texas air show with the Blue Angels.

This is the Coast Guard plane which dropped streamers (see below) to see which way the wind was blowing in preparation for the parachuters  from the Black Daggers. The Black Daggers are the official U.S. Army Special Operations Command Parachute Demonstration Team.

Amazingly each of these guys landed within 10 feet of the drop mark

I cannot remember the name of the pilot of this plane but he was quite amazing.  He joined the military in 1958 so is in his 70s now but the way he handled this plane was amazing.  The best part was that you could tell he LOVED what he was doing.  While the egos and bravado of some of the fliers was evident along with their skill this guy's joy was infectious.

Fat Albert the C-130 transport plane that starts every Blue Angels performance.  The pilot is a woman.

There is a part of me that cringes at the idea of the money that is spent on shows of this sort when there is so much need BUT there is another part of me that cannot help but admre the dedication to excellence that is seen here.  There were a number of "acts" (see the pics) and the Marine Silent Drill Team as well as the Blue Angels.  But from the mechanics who work on the planes to the pilots each and every one of them strives for excellence and when you are flying 800 mph and passing another plane flying the same speed you had better be doing everything exactly right.  To spend time with Chris, who is now in his twin engine flight training, having completed his helicopter training in Pensacola, I seee the same attention to getting everything right and doing it well.  It's a nice change because too often we are left feeling that the person on the other end of the phone or across the counter is doing just enough to get by.  Bravo to these men and women.  

We got back to Padre Island in time for another beach walk and nice sunset behind the dunes.

On April 10th it was time to head north to Texas Hill Country and Canyon Lake