Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Winter Texan adventures come to an end

Jan. 17 to 30, 2008

Most outdoors activities came to a screeching halt – the weather has been miserably wet, foggy and cold. We haven’t seen the sun in days. Yes I know that it is MUCH colder in other parts of the country, but I just didn’t expect it here. Bicycles have been parked and umbrellas and long underwear are out along with turtleneck knit sweaters and scarves.

The words below from Pastor Chuck Swindoll became my mantra during these days:

One of the beautiful things about the right attitude is that, with it, every day has sunshine. You don't have to have cloudless days for there to be sunshine days.

Dreary days or not, activities continued: Line dance class three days a week, our daily happy hour, and such.

January 19 was Carol Rayburn’s birthday. And regardless of her hoping to ignore it, she opened some gifts at Happy Hour that day. Roberta had collected various items (including a chocolate bar) from their recent 4-month Alaska Adventure. They were individually wrapped and surprised Carol greatly.

Thanks to Roberta, we met another single gal traveler, Carole Davis. Carole was camping with a group called Open Road Singles. This group was having a Texas Get-Together at a nearby RV park. Carole joined us one evening at a pizza place. Ten of us enjoyed pizza and conversation.

There are plenty nice people at Driftwood, but I do have some favorites – Lin and Bertha Gillam. This traveling duo has homes in the Doe Run, Missouri, and Sheridan Wyoming. He is retired from FAA and her from the US Forest Service. Both have had amazing adventures in their past careers. During her 26-year career, Bertha was a trailblazer for the Forest Service, becoming the first woman to rise to a high position.

The end of January was fast approaching and time for me to leave and head west – looking for the sun! My experiences in the Rockport/Fulton area have been interesting and the weather not as warm as I had expected in this gulf-coastal area, but all in all I’m glad I came. I’ve had a great time with my Winnie friends – they all contributed to this being an outstanding three-month trip. I take a variety of memories with me, including new friends and acquaintances. Here’s what country/western singer Tim McGraw has to say about this:

We all take different paths in life,

but no matter where we go, we take a little of each other everywhere.

Saturday, January 26, my day to leave.

I will travel four days, stopping each night, to get me to Pancho Villa State Park.

But first a stop at the tire shop to have my tire pressure checked and to replace my dead battery. Yep, contrary to advice and the example of others, I neglected to run my engine. When I was ready to leave, no go! Carol R. brought her car and jumper cables over and it eventually started long enough to get to a service shop.

Fortunately I was not driving far my first day out – just 112 miles to Choke Canyon State Park. My route zig-zagged – Highways and numbered roads: 1069, 35, 188, 181, 59, 281 and 72. (Yes, I could have taken 35 to 37 to 72, but as you know, Jeremiah and I prefer the back roads. Today’s drive took me through Beeville, George West and Three Rivers (home to a huge power plant).

Choke Canyon State Park. Ahhh, the sun! Temperature this afternoon was 70 degrees. The 385-acre park is on land that extends into the Choke Canyon Reservoir created by a dam on the Frio (cold) River. Wildlife is abundant. Being on a bird migration route – and still early in the migration season – I saw plenty of birds, including Vermillion flycatchers, cardinals, green jays, a woodpecker and grackles. And I wasn't even really looking for birds. This evening a small herd of deer - I'm guessing white tailed - just wandered through.

I can see water to the west, north and south of where I'm parked. Sites are well spaced out - blacktop parking area with mowed grass elsewhere, covered shelter with picnic table, 30 and 50 amp. The roads throughout the park are blacktop and flat - would be great for biking.

Finally I could bask in the sun! This first evening back on the road rewarded me with a gorgeous sunset over the lake.

Sunday, Jan. 27

After a good night sleep, this morning I awoke to a fogged-in park. Since I would be driving less than 200 miles today, I had a leisurely morning. My priority each day is to enjoy coffee and spend time with Cat, my Bible study and then breakfast.

When I left, it was still foggy for about 10 miles of Highway 72 and Highway 97 was mostly under construction. So the first 50 miles were very slow-going. Only one car passed me from the other direction – it felt like my private highway. Then I was on I-35 for 16 miles, at the town of Dilley my roads wee 117 and then 83 to Garner State Park.

One of the most interesting stretches of road was from Dilley to Batesville. There were huge agricultural fields, field crops, cattle, cotton. The entire area was groomed and well-kept. Cattle were grazing in some of the fields – and there was an interesting feeder. I figured out that the top piece made the feeder’s wind shield move as the wind changed. NOTE added after original posting: thanks to friend Larry, he said the "feeder" was actually a place where the cattle salt/mineral blocks are. They are off the ground and protected from wind and rain.

Then came Batesville – from the outskirts of this small town to the interior it was one junk and trash heap. Small run-down houses, yards of cars – some working and some obviously not – people milling about appeared to be all Hispanic – probably field workers and their families, basically a town with no pride. The intersection of two highways was a flea market.

Uvalde sounded like an interesting town and I was due for a break from driving, so after a stop for gas and groceries I drove around. This would be a good town to spend several days. It was a Wild West town on the San Antonio to El Paso Trail. Infamous Pat Garret moved here after shooting Billy the Kid in New Mexico. Another Western legend, cowgirl Dale Evans (Roy Roger’s gal) is an Uvalde native. It also was the hometown of John Nance Garner, who served as a US congressman, Speaker of the House and FDR’s first and second-term vice president. His former home has been turned into a museum bearing his wife’s name.

After 178 miles I arrived at Garner State Park. The Frio River runs through it. It’s huge and is Texas’ most popular summertime park. It features a miniature golf course, paddleboat rentals and a massive stone structure with a large outdoors dance pavilion. This pavilion, built in the 30s as a CCC project, is the social center for summer visitors because it has a free jukebox stocked with Johnny Cash, George Strait and Jimmie Rodgers records.

The park has several hundred camping sites, located in spread-out areas, for RVs. It may be wall-to-wall campers – RVs and tents – in the summer, but I was the only camper in the 66-site area in the Oakmont portion.

Monday, Jan. 28

When I set out on Monday morning, I was not sure just where I would end up for the night. I had three places in mind, but along the way I decided just to have a long driving day and get to Van Horn, Texas. This was our first Texas stop in early November.

Tuesday, Jan. 29

This morning I completed the last 200 miles to Pancho Villa State Park. Well, since I took a wrong exit in El Paso, I probably added another 15 miles, and had an unplanned tour. Eventually I got on Highway 9 that took me right to the front entrance of the park.

January 30 – Pancho Villa State Park

The sun is out and the temperature is in the low 70s. Cat is out exploring her favorite park, Jeremiah is content to content to be parked and is hoping that all the dampness that has crept in her innards during the last month will evaporate. My heart is singing and memories of my life as a Winter Texas are added to my “adventure bank.” Life is good.

On to adventures in 2008!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Time flies while you’re having fun!

January 16, 2008

Well, time certainly has flown.

Since I last posted to my blog, I’ve been busy adventuring and writing/editing the upcoming Personal Chef Magazine (my remaining freelance work-for-pay job).

Loving the line dance classes

Having found line dance classes held at the nearby convention center on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, they became my favorite form of exercise. It had been many years since I had taught line dances with my dance partner Pete. I discovered that since that time, the dances had greatly changed. Mary and Martha, the two line dance instructors, keep the classes moving along and in an hour they lead 7 or 8 dances – nearly all of them new ones to me. I start the morning with the intermediate class. I’ve been able to keep up with most of them. During the next hour they lead an advanced class that moves rather quickly and has moves I’m not familiar with; I struggle through one or two of them. Then I often stay for the beginners’ class as a refresher on moves and steps that I know.

Corpus Christi – locals just say Corpus, eliminating the Christi, and some Texans pronounce it “carpus”

We’ve made a few trips to Corpus for shopping and airport trips (Elizabeth and Roberta went to their homes for a week-plus each), a much larger city than I expected. The Port of Corpus is the second largest in Texas, based on amount of tonnage handled. Industries in the area include petro-chemicals (five refineries and six chemical plants), tourism military bases, ranching, fishing and agriculture.

Spanning the ship channel is an immense cantilever bridge – 620 feet long and 250 feet high.

Port Lavaca and Port O’Connor

Roberta, Elizabeth and I (Carol R. was in South Dakota) took a day trip north to Port Lavaca and Port O’Connor. Port Lavaca was once a major shipping point for exported cattle, thus the name. The town’s main industry is commercial and sport fishing. We were here near lunchtime and headed for a delicious lunch at The Green Iguana café.

Then we drove to Port O’Connor. This small town is mostly a home port for commercial fishig boats, shrimp trawlers, charter boats offering deep-sea fishing trips and boats offering shuttle service to nearby Matagorda Island. As we entered the town, this art gallery caught our

Unfortunately, it was closed. We drove through
an area of homes built on the waterway. The homes on stilts featured a boat garage below.

Whooping Cranes

When friend Selma and Fanny were here for a couple of days, we went on a Whooping Crane sightseeing boat tour – the best way to see the birds. It was a chilly morning, and sadly the cranes were so far in the distance there was no opportunity to take a photo of these amazing critters. We did see many waterfowl, many taking advantage of ‘islands’ in the bay that were formed by oyster shells.

Whooping Cranes, once down to just 10, are the
largest birds in North America with a 7.5-feet
wingspread. With the help and protection they have made an amazing comeback. Whoopers mate for life and migrate in family groups of two to seven birds. They spend winters here on the Aransas Refuge; summers in Canada. They make this 2,500-mile trip in just 30 days!

USS Lexington – aka Lady Lex and “Blue Ghost” (by Japan in WWII because it continued to appear in battle after having been reported sunk on four occasions)

It is the most famous aircraft carriers in US Naval WWII history. I toured the five public
touring areas that covered 11 of the 16 decks: the Flight Deck – larger than three football fields, Foc’sle, Gallery Deck, Engine Room/Sick Bay, and Hangar Deck. From the flight deck of this floating naval museum I had a great view of Corpus Christi, its Bay vista and the Hwy. 35 Harbor Bridge.

Texas State Aquarium

This aquarium – one of the largest seashore aquariums in the country – displays more than 2,000 marine animals native to the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. It features a ‘touch pool’, the huge 132.500-gallon ‘Islands of Steel’ that replicates a reef habitat created by steel-legged oil rigs. We enjoyed the dolphin show and the bird show.

Gospel Music Festival

When I decided to spend two winter months in the Rockport/Fulton area, I had no idea that they host an annual 3-Day Gospel Music Festival. This year was the 13th one and featured 16 gospel groups/individuals from around the country. I went two of the three days and certainly was blessed by the music and the messages, and had opportunities to talk with some of the singers. I bought CDs from my two favorite groups: Crimson River Quartet (from Mission Viejo, Calif.) and the Shiloh Quartet (from Kennedale, Texas).

Winter Texan t-shirt

I saw this Winter Texas t-shirt and have been laughing about it since. It shows a motorhome and a man and a woman. The caption says, “Winter Texans – where the women are not pregnant, but the men look like they are!” And as I look around at the numerous folks who have escaped bitter winter of their home states, it is a sad but true statement.

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

This 70,500 acre refuge, founded in 1937 by President Franklin D.Roosevelt, captured our attention on two days. It is winter home of endangered whooping cranes and a dozen other endangered species including the brown pelican and least tern, Attwater’s prairie chicken, bald eagle, peregrine and aplomado falcons, Eskimo curlew, gray wolf, red wolf, jaguarundi and coati.

On our first visit there, we took the vehicle loop, took several of the nature trails including one that went up to a viewing platform in hopes of seeing whooping cranes. We didn’t see any in detail, but perhaps at a distance. We did enjoy various waterfowl and my first armadillo.

Our second visit was for a volunteer-led nature viewing trip. After the morning drive with him and after our picnic lunch, Carol R and I took a nature hike and were fortunate to spot a fairly large alligator. I was about 7 feet from this critter that was keeping an eye on us. Reportedly they are really fast creatures and we should not expect to outrun it. We ended this trip with a short drive to the Dairy Queen in the town of Tivoli.

Goose Island State Recreation Area

On our way back from the second visit to the wildlife refuge, we explored Goose Island State Recreation Area. This 314-acre park is at the southernmost top of the Lamar Peninsula. The mainland section of the park has numerous Live Oak trees, redbay woodlands, coastal prairies and wet inland meadows. The island itself, 140 acres of salt marsh, salt flats and grasslands, is great for viewing waterfowl. The recreation area also includes RV camping sites in two areas: woodland area on the mainland portion and beach-front area on the island. The park offers some free events to all. One is a camera workshop that I plan to take soon, the other is a bird walk that also is on my to-do list. Winnie 3 (Elizabeth) is going to move to Goose Island on Jan. 31.

The Big Tree, aka Lamar Oak, Bishop’s Oak and Goose Island Oak

This state-champion live oak tree is also at the Goose Island State Recreation Area. The tree measures 35 feet in circumference, the total height is 44 feet, and the crown has a spread of 89 feet. It is advertised as ‘more than 1,000 years old’ but the ranger there said no tree-ring bore has been taken and he suspects it to be much older than that.

Kingsville, Texas

Carol R and I took a day trip to this Texas town, home to King Ranch, Texas A&M and the Kingsville U.S. Naval Air Station.

King Ranch, Museum and Saddle Shop -

A day trip to Kingsville, Texas, rewarded us with a guided van tour of the ranch, museum and saddle shop. The ranch is the largest privately owned ranch in the world, covering more than 1.2 million acres in four Texas counties, and is home to more than 60,000 cattle and 300 quarter horses. It has more than 2,000 miles of fences and 500 miles of roads. The brand, which you can see on the entry sign, is a running W. The ranch was founded by Captain Richard King in 1853. The Santa Gertrudis breed (a cross between the Indian Brahman and the British shorthorn) of cattle was developed here. The ranch also produced the first registered American Quarter Horse named Wimpy. The ranch has produced several Kentucky Derby winners including the 1946 Triple Crown winner Assault.

My favorite Ranch story is about the horse Assault the Club Footed Comet that had been scheduled to be put down after problems that started with stepping on a surveyor’s stake. Here’s what the story says:

The story of ASSAULT, with the breeding of a champion in his bloodlines, is one that epitomizes the heart and courage of a great racehorse. By BOLD VENTURE and out of Igual, he became the greatest of King Ranch's major stakes winners, completing a racing career that brought eighteen victories and total earnings of $674,720. Health problems plagued him throughout his racing years. Not only did he suffer from kidney, splint bone, wrenched ankle, bad knee and bleeding problems; he overcame a major injury sustained as a foal, having stepped on what was believed to have been a surveyor's stake, which caused the foot to become infected and the damaged hoof to be cut almost entirely away. He wore a special shoe on that foot for the rest of his life and limped at a walk or a trot, but at a gallop he ran perfectly: hence the nickname "The Club-Footed Comet." It is incorrect to say that he was club-footed; when he was in a standing position, the misshapen foot showed no discernible defect.

Max Hirsch, a native Texan who became King Ranch's trainer in 1936, reminisced before his death, "He [ASSAULT] never showed any signs that it was hurting him... I think that when the foot still hurt him, he got in the habit of protecting it with an awkward gait, and then he kept it up. But he galloped true. There wasn't a thing wrong with his action when he went fast." Warren Mehrtens, the twenty-five year old jockey who rode the thoroughbred to the Triple Crown victory said, "He beat whatever they threw at him to race that year... ASSAULT was all heart... He was just better than all the horses around." Eddie Arcaro, a Hall of Fame jockey, rode ASSAULT in some of his later races. He said in a recent interview, "ASSAULT was fun to ride. He moved up on you quick, then exploded." Richard Stone Reeves, America's premier equine artist said, "He was not what you'd call a picture horse. He was a liver chestnut but not very robust. He looked almost on the delicate side when I first saw him."

Our tour included a stop at a cabin where cowboy oldtimer Alberto (Lolo) Trevino talked about his work on the ranch and played some songs on his harmonica.

The museum houses a photo essay of life on the King Ranch in the early 1940s, saddles, guns, and antique carriages and vintage cars including a custom designed Buick Eight hunting car built in 1949. Sadly, taking photos in the museum was not permitted. The saddle shop had lots of expensive merchandise, but it was fun to look through.

Area weather

Although you can hear grumbling about the “cold weather” I’ve noticed that we are consistently 20- to 30-degrees warmer than Albuquerque; and a whole lot warmer than many other areas. And the humidity can get quite high. This entire Gulf Coastal area gets an on-shore breeze that help with the humidity issues. I’m writing this on January 16 – the second cloudy, rainy days. In fact, I think it rained all last night.

My February plans

The highlight of my mid February to early March will be a visit from Granddaughter Melody who recently completed her 4+ Navy enlistment. She and her new husband Derrick will be returning to the States as he completes his 5+ Navy enlistment. He will be sent to a Navy base in Washington State for out-processing and she will be flying to Albuquerque while he is there. Then they two of them will be moving to Indiana where he plans to become an Indiana State Patrolman.

My March plans

My semi-annual medical checkups occur in late March, so I’ll be traveling to North San Diego County. I’ll be working on travel and visit plans later.