Sunday, January 31, 2010

City of Rocks State Park, New Mexico

We picked Sunday’s destination according to our time-tested formula: a state park at the correct distance and in the proper direction. Except that we checked it out in the AAA book and found it omitted showers. So we switched to City of Rocks State Park in New Mexico. Amazingly it featured volcanic rock formations that were strikingly similar to those at Hueco Tanks.

New Mexico is undergoing budget stress [big surprise]. They are wisely dealing with it by closing the state’s parks periodically for one or two day periods. This requires all campers to leave for the closure. I guess nobody ever thought that expelling paying customers might possibly cut into overall revenue and increase costs by far more than the temporary savings – managing state budgets can be soooo simple.

We arrived around 5 PM and the office was already closed, so we were on our own as far as finding a site and figuring out how to pay for it. At least the $14 rate was commensurate with the level of service received.

As the Sun was setting, we hiked the monoliths and botanical garden and got some decent pictures of the amazing rock formations. We were also treated to a stunning Moon rise and brilliant stars in a very dark sky.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Hueco Tanks State Park, Texas

Morty left Balmorhea this morning, after a brief stop at the ranger station WiFi to upload yesterday’s blog. Then it was straight through for about 250 miles, not all of them West, to take us to today’s destination, Hueco Tanks – about 30 miles East of El Paso, far into west Texas. Today Morty celebrates rolling over 10,000 miles with us since May. We drove scenic route 1111 about 40 miles North from I-10 which gave us quite a few memorable mountain views.

The trouble with the back roads is that you never know how far you are from fuel. As we were approaching both our destination and that problematical fuel gauge “E” I asked Miss Garmina where the nearby fueling places might be found. Fortunately, she knew that we had to drive past the Hueco turn-off about 5 miles and then backtrack. The last prior gas station we passed was over 90 miles back. I would have been really uncomfortable setting up camp with too little fuel to run the generator. So another word of praise for Garmin and the credit card company that gave it to us for opening a new account that hasn’t been used since.

We were surprised at the amount of Saturday truck traffic on I-10 – much more than we had experienced recently. Again on this drive we saw snow remaining from the storm two nights ago, but as the day wore on the temperatures did climb into the upper 50s and if you were in direct sun you were plenty warm. The wind out of the North dying down was probably the biggest factor in becoming more comfortable – all a combination of the storm moving further east while we drove further west.

As we crossed over the Sierra Diablo Mountains we entered the Mountain Time zone. Unbelievably, this is my first experience in Mountain Time – Lynne says it is like most other time zones -- give or take an hour. That was a little unexpected bonus to lengthen our day. This means that it took us two weeks to cross the Central Time zone -- for those playing along at home.

Hueco  [say Waco and be done with it] Tanks is both a unique archaeological site and a magnet for rock climbers from all over the country. On weekends year-round, the park fills up with climbers and many are turned away or sitting on the side of the road waiting for others to leave. Camping also requires a reservation, and many of the motor home/trailer sites are filled with tent campers intent on maximizing their climbing experience.

A pretty big show is made of having a ranger on the road several miles before the park entrance turning away all without the proper advance arrangements by radioing “headquarters.” Headquarters is staffed by one ranger gal who handles the phone inquiries and reservations, climbing inquiries and passes, registering new campers, and singing up participants for the park tours as well as tracking the work of the ranger out on the road and responding to his queries – I guess having a list out on the road would get out of date or something else bad. This is probably why it took us about five tries to get through on the phone yesterday.

Not to underplay the archaeological rock art and artifacts, this was also a station on the Butterfield Overland Mail in the 1860s between St. Louis and San Francisco. The ruins of that building are next to the 1898 adobe Escontrias Ranch house that serves as the park’s interpretive center. All visitors must watch a 15-minute video explaining the significance of the park’s treasures and delicateness of its environment in this center. You are issued a wallet card good for one year meaning that the video requirement is waived if you return in the next year.

There is an abundance of contrails in the sky, indicating that we are under a major east-west high altitude jet route [my flight training is failing me as to the proper term].  Lynne has been fascinated with the cactus colors and flowers – we will need to learn a little more about them. Tomorrow morning we will be joining a ranger to walk through the rock art of the mountains here – perhaps then we can get our questions answered.

As amenities go, this park has electric and water, extremely quiet and picturesque sites, recent plumbing, though no soap in the restrooms, one shower per gender, WiFi only at the Interpretive Center and ranger station, Sprint on analog roaming, and no television.

Hueco Tanks Rock Art

Rock art was the subject of our morning rock climb at Hueco Tanks. I didn’t expect real rock climbing for a group that included the over-62-set but I was wrong. We were climbing rocks where we could have easily slipped and tumbled down rock faces of 30 feet or more. But it was necessary to get to most of the best original prehistoric and early western petroglyphs and pictographs.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Balmorhea State Park, Texas

The night at Seminole Canyon was scary -- lots of wind and lightning, even a little hail. The weather map showed us in a tornado-warning box, but we heard nothing from the locals. Still, we discussed where the best ditch was in case the worst developed. But the sun rose in the clear skies of the high-pressure system that followed the monster low. The only trouble was the huge pumping wind from the North that sent the temperatures plunging to near or below freezing.

As much as we wanted to stay to hike and bike the canyon, the cold wind was just too much of a keebosh. So we elected to motor on. Our extended stays at Mustang and Goose had lowered our daily average miles to 88, which is okay since we are shooting for 85 – but left practically no cushion at all. We looked at the map of Texas State Parks and came up with Balmorhea as being one to up the average. So off we went. Today’s drive of 240 miles brought our average up to 100 for a little more cushion.

What a drive through the desert. There were several 60-mile legs between civilizations. We were well short of the mountains yet encountered snow on the road during the drive – so reminiscent of a similar motor home drive we had on the South Island of New Zealand many years ago.

The diversity we’ve encountered in the Texas State Parks is remarkable. Balmorhea is mostly a hot spring coming from the Apache Mountains that are the first mountains we have seen heading west. There is a huge swimming pool fashioned out of the spring that flows at a constant 72 degrees. Out from the pool, the water crosses the campground and creates a restored wetland for several endangered species. There we saw the endangered little fish and a big turtle with some Red-winged Blackbirds singing accompaniment. From there the spring water flows on to irrigate farms and ranches. Snow was still on the ground here right up until sunset, but several hearty souls and a scuba diving class as well as several ducks, some black catfish, and many other flora and fauna were enjoying the warmth of the spring. I would have had a dunk too, if it weren’t for that stiff, cold breeze on the walk back to Morty.  Besides, tomorrow is another day.

As we were walking through the campgrounds, a guy in a huge land-yacht asked us whether it would be a good idea to hook the hose up to the water spigot in light of the cold temperatures. I told him it wasn’t blowing any warmer, but probably wouldn’t be cold enough to freeze water under pressure. I added that I wasn’t hooking mine up though –- but mostly because I’m lazy and we don’t use that much water. Since he was being so talkative, I couldn’t resist a small needle: I noticed he had Montana license tags, so I asked him if he really lived in Montana [where there is no sales tax on motor homes]. He said no he lived in Iowa. So I said, “Wow! You’re saving a bunch of state sales tax then – sweet.”  He suddenly got a lot less talkative. But that had to be a savings in the mid-five figures range. Side note: to be legal with Montana tags you need the legal structures in place and that makes the legally-compliant answer to my question: “No I don’t live there, but my corporation [or whatever] does.”

The other amenities besides swimming are about average. On a frigid Friday night, the park is only about 15% occupied. The WiFi is only near the ranger station, the plumbing is fairly recent but tidy, except that there is no soap at the sinks. There are no television stations that we could find, yet only some of the water and electric sites have cable. Sprint cell service is on digital roaming which means no internet tethering for us and a better write-up for you. Today’s pictures were all taken with the Canon s90.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Seminole Canyon State Park, Texas

This morning in Choke Canyon we were faced with a weather front that impacted our travel plans. Coming in from the West were rain, storms and cold. We had been thinking of taking a small chunk going North to Garner State Park but that would have been into worse weather. Then we considered heading way South to Lake Casa Blanca, but that would have thrown us off our progress plan. That pretty much left heading West on a 200 mile chunk that theoretically would take us through the worst of the weather into the desert and near the Rio Grande -- specifically to Seminole Canon State Park.

Experiencing life in the desert has always been a fascination of mine and now I am there at last. We can see Mexico from our front porch. We can also see the prehistoric caves and shelters going back 6000 years or more where man stampeded buffalo off cliffs to their deaths. Rain has been a factor here yesterday and earlier today, but the dryness of the ground and plants is abundantly evident.

The ranger station has a very nice museum describing the history of the site. We had time to walk around a little and get some scenery pictures. Also needed time to wash Morty again, since in driving through the rain, he accumulated half of south Texas on his shell. Small milestone of the trip: we went past 2000 miles today. Facilities at Seminole Canyon are surprisingly good --  modern restrooms; also the campsites all have free WiFi internet which works very well. Word of caution: the park is 60 miles or 45 miles from food and fuel.

Tonight we are getting a pretty good rain that will probably keep us indoors until it lets up some. Also we are getting a pretty good lightning and thunder show. And the temperature is dropping from the mid-sixties of the afternoon to probably the forties. It will be interesting to see how our weather avoidance tactics play out.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Choke Canyon State Park, Texas

Before leaving Goose Island, we went on a shore bird walk - at least for me until I was killing three mosquitoes with one swat in the marsh area. Another unique feature, as we were packing up for the road, a ranger stopped by around 9 and asked if we wanted to extend another day. We already had reservations at Choke so declined. When we left at 11 there was another RV waiting for our space. Seems like really efficient operations.

Choke Canyon maybe used to be a canyon, but now it is a reservoir. There are two state parks here - both are named Choke Canyon but only the Callihan Unit has camping. Camping should be a little simpler, but since Ms. Garmina knew what we wanted all is fine. She even managed to direct us to a fine H E B store at about the mid point -- so the pantry is stocked again -- everything except the boxed wine which was out of stock.

We are about 30 miles south of San Antonio. Half of the trip from Goose was over very flat farm land. The second half was hill country cattle land. The feeling is isolated, but there is plenty of TV and adequate cell coverage. Once again, there is plenty of space for each RV and the park seems just about full at mid-week. The restrooms are a little dated, but entirely adequate.

We walked over to the Bird Sanctuary and waited quietly for a flock of about six cardinal pairs and other stunning birds to come in and get a bite to eat. The green-yellow-blue specimen is a Green Jay visiting from Mexico or South America. The little red fellow with the dark wings and eye socket is probably a Vermillion Flycatcher. We also roamed over to the reservoir and spotted a few more bird photo ops. Shot all these with the Nikon D90.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Goose Island, TX

Day three at Goose Island was devoted to photography. Some Buzzards waiting for the sun to send some thermals rising, Roseate Spoonbills chowing down breakfast, and territorial Whooping Cranes taking center stage. The sunrise wasn’t too shabby either.

The Whooping Cranes were out in force -- three pair. One was in the pasture where they seemed pretty groggy. Another pair was in St. Charles Bay stirring up food. The third pair was just south of the Big Tree and were making their way down to the bay. When they got to the bay, after a few bites, the second pair sent over the enforcer to shoo them away and they took flight for the pasture. Pretty exciting morning.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Goose Island Wildlife

Some photos of: the back bay during morning feeding, turtles sunning, the Whooping Crane pair a little further off, and the Big Tree -- over 1000 years old.

Some other features of this park: near perfection in rest rooms and showers, great biking, sunsets. We have extended our stay through Tuesday.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Goose Island State Park,Texas

Morty headed North to Goose from Mustang this morning around 9 am. The wait for the ferry was only a couple of minutes. This time Morty got a front row seat, two actually, because of his being horizontally challenged.

More helpful and smiley State Park Rangers here. I should have mentioned that at Mustang, the gate guard wanted to know if she could write down our license tag for us to take into the desk ranger. I mean how much more helpful could they possibly be?

There is no beach to speak of here on Aransas Bay. Our bay front site is on a seawall but we have an absolutely magnificent view of the bay on one side and the marshes with tons of seabirds on the other. On my first stroll down the site loop, I'm pretty sure I got a picture of another Roseate Spoonbill. Now I'm hoping for a Whooping Crane. Actually got a pair and a pair of brown-headed pintail ducks.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Corpus Christi, Texas

One sign said that we had entered the city limits of Corpus Christi, but we have seen no hint of said metropolis. If it exists it is across the bay, beyond our range of sight. We do have a fair number of TV channels, so they must come from nearby. We seem to be getting some weak analog signals from Mexico on the "-0" channels. One more thing to think about is that, in general, it seems that Public Television stations are better represented and delivered in state parks than any other broadcast network. Cell phone service is also a little better than minimal -- we get to surf the web most of the time we try it.

Mustang island is a barrier island, and although we passed by some developed portions on our way here, everything we can see from the park is prairie-like grass and dunes. The building in the park are poured concrete to be nearly hurricane proof. An interesting arrangement for the restrooms, which are over the showers -- it may take some time for me to figure that one out. The restrooms and showers are far below average -- flaking paint on home-made partitions, ancient plumbing, no privacy area for changing and drying, and open to every mosquito in the county.

The sun is struggling to shine through the high clouds, and raise the temperatures into the 70s. It was enough to burn off this morning's fog, but maybe not for the rest of the job. Recent rains seem to have flooded the beach parking lot causing it to be unusable. Park rangers are running a pump but it is very slow going.

Back story on a couple of pictures: we saw the Roseate Spoonbill flock on Friday morning about three-quarters of the way to Mustang Island. Ms. Garmina knew that we were on the ferry and prepared us for the disembarkation. There seem to be a lot of starfish washed up on the beach. Warnings are still up about red tide striking this area last fall. Morty thought he was pretty big hunk when they assigned him two lanes on the ferry.

We are paying $16 a night to camp here -- a very reasonable rate. Tomorrow we head 36 miles north to Goose Island State Park, were the rate is $20, but they say they have fishing tackle to loan.

And, if you are playing along or just keeping score at home, the drain cap magically reappeared yesterday -- it had just come loose, and temporarily lodged itself on top of the plumbing. And we isolated the clicking sound to the coach door where everything seems firmly enough attached to put the whole issue into the benign category. So all is well again with Morty.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Mustang Island State Park, Texas

Morty’s travel to Mustang Island was a little out of the ordinary. The first part was about 60 miles over Farm Roads at an average speed of about 60 mph. Then we turned onto the series of barrier islands leading to the park and discovered that we were in for a ferry ride. The ferry operation was massive if not long. There were five ferries on the same route, each with their own dock and waiting line. The best part was that they were free – another first for Morty and us all. And short too, the whole ride was over in less than 10 minutes. Today, we have put more miles on Morty, than he had when we acquired him.

It seemed like we were too far from a Wal-Mart to bother looking, so we stocked up at the H E B in Aransas Pass. Quite a good shopping experience – good selection and low prices. The only thing we couldn’t find was the sport drink Power Zero, but we could have looked harder as we really didn’t find any sport drinks.

The beach is huge and deserted by all but a few park RVers. The sand is brown and the shells and starfish are abundant. The number of RV sites are few but close together. The open park grounds are huge. The Sun comes out about 4 in the afternoon. We are looking forward to a day off from driving.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Goliad State Park, Texas

This morning as we departed Brazos Bend, we were stopped by a tree that had fallen across the road. It didn't leave enough room for Morty to get by although smaller trucks could make the squeeze. We were stranded until the calls could be put into the maintenance folks who soon arrived in legion with power saws and a front-end loader to make quick work of the clean-up. This is the only road into the park and the tree had to have fallen after these guys reported for work. No harm, no foul -- but we wonder what if we were just a little earlier and said tree had drawn a bead on our beloved Morty.

Morty selected Goliad, because of its perfect distance from Brazos Bend -- 174 miles, and the Galveston and Gulf coast parks in that range were still rebuilding from Hurricane Ike. The magic in using criteria like that is that you open yourself up to discoveries of perfect little gems that would so easily get missed. Goliad is the perfect example. This tiny little park on the San Antonio river has only 20 pull-thru sites plus a few cabins, tent sites, and 20 more electric-only sites across the highway. But the main attraction is the restored mission complex from the 1700's. These meager ruins were reconstructed by the CCC in the 1930's and stand today as a beautiful reminder of how this country first developed.

With the sky as clear as a bell, we re-evaluated the likelihood of spending more time in Texas and opted for the $60 annual pass. If the weather improvement was not enough, the decision was made even easier when the ranger pointed out that some other parks have higher per-day charges that would lower the break even point further than the $6 charges that we had encountered so far. After that we noticed that the weather in New Mexico was still rather wintery while Texas would probably be much warmer and clearer.

We continue to be very favorably impressed by the Texas Park Rangers and other park personnel. Boy, they couldn't be any friendlier or more helpful. Even though Lynne and I were the only visitors in sight, the ranger running the museum gave us all the spiel we wanted about the history and life style of the mission, and came and sought us out again when the local volunteers were putting on a spinning and weaving demonstration. You just could not ask for better ambassadors of your state -- Well done, Texas!

Since tomorrow is Friday, and experiencing the limited capacity of the parks of Texas so far. And with the recommendation of the ranger gals who checked us in, we phoned for reservations for the next couple of coastal parks we were interested in: Goose Island and Mustang Island. Goose was already full for Friday, and Mustang was down to its last two sites. So we booked Mustang Island for the next two nights to get through the week-end.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Brazos Bend State Park, Texas

Before we left Louisiana this morning, I gave the park WiFi one more chance. It caused warnings that its security certificates were not acceptable, but I forged ahead determined not to do anything sensitive. This time I got a familiar page that I had seen before in gathering park information so I nearly ignored it as useless, but then I saw that there was a little new area with a blurb and button to accept the parks access conditions which I clicked. The speed and access was amazing -- too bad that their security certificates aren’t current or up to regular Internet standards. So there is another [at least partial] plus to our top ratings for Louisiana State Parks.

Brazos Bend State Park is about 20 miles southwest of Houston and about 185 miles southwest of Lake Charles. So Morty did a great job getting us here through a few showers and lots of road grime – he was covered in it. My first order of business was giving him a thorough scrubbing so he is looking a lot better now. I tried to use a plastic nozzle that I had used a couple of times before, but today, it seemed all stretched out and unable to stay on with moderate water pressure. There’s $2 and change down the drain. I’d return it to Meijer except that I’ll probably have forgotten about it before we get back into their Midwest market.

We somehow lost our drainpipe cap. So that will have to go on our list for the next Wal-Mart stop. On yesterday’s stop we picked up a 9 x 12 foot patio carpet for those sandy sites to help keep the interior a little cleaner. It is supposed to be available in a variety of colors besides only the tan and white that we have been able to find. We finally discovered how much we do like the tan and white combination. We also have an annoying rattle in the roof area that is coincident with speed. Looked at the TV antenna wiring and the surrounding area on top of Morty, but could not find any likely suspects.

In looking at the web site to plan this stop, we noticed that Brazos Bend is on Texas route FM something or other. When we got here we finally figured out from the road signs the FM stands for FarM Road. That may be a little misleading to those of us from smaller states because here it means a wide smooth concrete paved highway that just happens to be in farm country. In taking Route 8 around Houston, we encountered 3 tollbooths needing a total of $5 -- just sayin’. Texas parks have a $3 daily charge per person [over 65] or a $65 annual pass on top of the $20 camping fee. That makes the break-even point 11 nights of camping. That seems like a lot for our current schedule, so we will defer getting the pass for now. Other Brazos/Texas details: only about 5% full, excellent back-in sites – many triple-wide, 30 amp power, water, very friendly rangers, large rambling park grounds, camping sites are relatively few for such a large park, no-license required for park fishing more than 25 TV channels in English and probably more than 15 in Spanish.

We are getting warm scattered rain showers here at Brazos, so we left the bikes in the garage and walked to the park’s Nature Center -- very nice display of the park’s wild life. Afternoon temperature today was 69. We learned that alligators don’t hibernate in the winter. They just move to the bottom of the lake and surface for a breath only once in as much as 10 or 12 hours. Their summer breathing when submerged is more like once every 5 or 6 minutes. If I had web access right now, I would verify those numbers for you.

Small observation: in Ohio big car dealers and such who want to stand out fly huge American Flags. They do in Texas too, just that it’s the Lone Star flag. It seems like we have seen about 20 times more Texas flags today than American – just sayin’.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Sam Houston Jones State Park, Louisiana

We awoke to a little early morning fog at sunrise which yielded up some pretty fine photos – again with the Canon s90 at hand. They should be at the end of the Tickfaw album, just preceding this post.

Morty put another free day in the bank with one more consecutive driving day of 170 miles. We were just able to stay in Louisiana with its low prices at the westernmost state park known as Sam Houston Jones. This park is just North of Lake Charles. The prices here are the same as before, but we noticed a new schedule of transaction charges: $3 for walk-in; $5 for using the web site, and $9 for using ReserveAmerica. No wonder I’ve been leery of using the third party site. Can you imagine my reaction if I were charged an extra $9 for making my $8 site rental. Ouch!

Fortunately, reservations are hardly necessary, the park is only about 15% full tonight, though some late arrivals are inevitable. I am getting to like our noon arrivals more and more. The routine of driving for three hours before lunch is working well for us, because first, we can stop for a McDonalds breakfast, when we arrive, we have a larger selection of sites, then we have lunch in the park followed by bike-borne explorations. Then we are soon tired and ready for appetizers and dinner, an early bedding, and ready for an early start all over again -- maybe too Spartan for most, but a good routine for us. Mentioning McDonalds, we are obliged to report that some are doing away with the $0.50 senior coffee because of the expanded breakfast $1 value menu -- we win, we lose this time all in the same place.

As we drove, the skies clouded over, looking quite wintry by Ohio standards, but the temperatures climbed into the 70’s. Today’s wildlife list is fairly short: deer, ibis and duck. We are in Calcasieu Parish on the Calcasieu River, and again, most of the heat-loving critters are on sabbatical. A quartet of yearling deer came up to Morty just as were about to unpack the bikes. Lynne remarked that they looked very thin, so I spread out a little birdseed on the picnic bench, and one came over and licked most of it up. A second had less courage and could only manage a bite while the last two looked on in disgust -- quite a demonstration of peer pressure.

Tomorrow we enter Lone Star where the weather will dictate how far south our path takes us. Tonight I’m struggling with a marginal cell phone connection, so there’s no telling when we’ll get this post up.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Louisiana Rental

Tickfaw State Park in Louisiana is 174 miles down the road from Spanish Fort -- the perfect distance for Morty's new travel plan except for not camping in Mississippi even though we completely crossed over it [albeit the short way]. That's okay, Morty, we'll get back to do some Camping there before not too long.

Today, MLK's birthday celebration is just a little more joyous for us because we are also mindful of the Louisiana Purchase giving us this great land -- some government plans have proven wise and good. We however will just be renting a bit of the bayou for the day. Actually, Louisiana State Parks may be an RVer's Nirvana. Tickfaw is near perfection. Some highlights: paved sites, water and 50 amp power, free Wifi [not that I've gotten a good connection with it -- the cell phone tethering with Sprint is working fine], 50% senior discount with the National Parks Senior Pass card, plastic payments accepted, great boardwalks to the river and through the cypress forests, adequate and convenient trash collection, good bathouses, no weird regulations, and it is all available for $8 per night with a $3 transaction fee. Now that's some good campin'. Plus we have perfect weather: sky severe clear, temperatures in the mid 60s. We will probably want to angle in another stay in Louisiana tomorrow night regardless of the distance covered.

We drove for the morning, and set up camp just about noon. Lynne made some sandwiches and then we set out exploring on the bikes. We explored the roads of the park and hiked the boardwalks and stopped in the Nature Center. Lynne spotted our first armadillo, but then we saw a couple more, one meandering along the road foraging for food very nonchalantly. Must be a fairly common site in these parts. We were also impressed by the geckos and the cypress knees and trees. The park ranger told us we might see the turkey flock making its way back to the roosting area in the late afternoon, but no luck. We sat out on the recliners for our late afternoon sip of wine and watched the locals walking by in their winter wraps. We of course were in shorts, tees and sandals -- so glad to have left behind the snow and real cold. Skyward a flock of about 50 vultures circled lazily overhead drifting with the breeze slowly westward. Something we will be joining in tomorrow morning -- except for the lazily part.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sweet Home Alabama Parks - Spanish Fort

Morty was determined to make camp in Alabama, even though we were crossing it the short way and very early in the day. So we looked up the Alabama State Parks site on the web and found Meaher State Park in Spanish Fort just East of Mobile. If you were relying on the 2009 AAA Southeastern Campbook, you would probably never pick this park because it is substantially upgraded and tripled in size from their listing. We have a paved pad, full hookups including 50 amp power, a strong cellphone signal from Sprint, a few TV channels over the air, a waterfront on Mobile Bay, automatic senior discount, and lots of wildlife with wetland boardwalks for $26 per night. Just no plastic payments, thank you.

So instead of a 99 mile leg, we only got about 50. Perhaps we should take an overview of what is required mileage-wise to make it to Yosemite on this trip. In round numbers we have 5,000 miles to go there and return home by mid-March. We'll also say that on average we drive every second day so that we can count on 30 driving days. That means that for this trip we need to up our driving chunks to 170 miles. [Also every time we miss that drive on the second day, the remaining chunks increase in size.] Pre -reitrement that would have been a very slow day. Now, it's very doable without getting crazy, it's something we will have to keep in mind when Morty starts whining about camping in every state possible.

Today is Sunday, and we have only a marginal TV signal, perhaps we will get to see some NFL playoff action. We hiked the park and found a couple of boardwalks that we had all to ourselves for wildlife spotting -- no gators but a couple of very photogenic birds. I took the Nikon D90 along with the 70-300  zoom lens and was glad to have the fast frame rate and quick focusing that this combo gives me. Despite the dreary day with only a few sunny rays peaking through, I got some interesting shots.

We're seeing more and more parks removing all convenient trash containers as a cost savings. This has the unintended consequence of having more trash tossed in inappropriate places where it will be very expensive to clean up. I hope our park managers are in line to get some of that free stimulus money and use it to return the trash containers.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Naval Aviation Museum

Saturday's rain started on Friday night, before Lynne could get in her shower. Sleep was perfect -- Morty has perfected the playing of the patter of precipitation better than anyone. As planned, it was a good day to finish off our tour of the Museum aboard Naval Air Station Pensacola [in proper Navy-speak]. Today, Saturday, was a lot different from yesterday because a lot of families had a lot of kids there to enjoy climbing on the flight simulators and such.

We mainly focused on the mezzanine level that surrounds the main display floor. This is great because it brings you nose-to-nose with the suspended display aircraft, but there are also many recreations of places like carrier decks, dirigible gondolas and South Pacific outposts. We will see if the pictures do it justice. We were amazed at how the planes are suspended from the building steel structure with no visible reinforcements. Some like the gliders and even the Cessna 150 equivalent were rotating free in in the wind currents. Before leaving we stopped for lunch in the Cubi Bar and Cafe for a couple of reasonably priced salads that were very good and some great service from Lolita from the Philippines -- highly recommended and not at all what you might expect.

The rain continued until around two in the afternoon when we left to replenish a few supplies at the local Wal-Mart. When we returned, I took a walk in the surf in trunks and t-shirt, and found the water to be nearly cold enough to cramp my feet. Everyone else out there was fully dressed for winter or running, but it was nowhere near that cold -- probably mid fifties again, air and water both.

The sand was remarkable because it reminded me perfectly of the sand-box sand we had as kids on Pennington Rd. The white creamish color, texture, puckers from the rain drops, feel under my feet, and especially the smell took me right back more than sixty years. A huge scarcity of shells, only one of the smallest clam-like shells we had grown accustomed to in North Carolina was to be found. Just now I am realizing that I have only driven by Gulf Coast beaches, never before have I experienced them first hand. So there is a first for me.

Oak Grove Park

RV Genie Pays a Visit to Mortimer! Overnight the furnace repaired itself and was working fine to take the chill off for breakfast. We're glad it doesn't need immediate repairs, but wonder how strange it would be if our furnace had some aversion to the cold.

The Oak Grove Park campground we are in is different from all others we have experienced to date. It is restricted to the military and sponsored guests. It is small -- only 45 sites on a mile and a half of beachfront. The bathhouse is nicer than any we have ever experienced -- finished in ceramic tile and impervious plastic, heated and probably air conditioned, and clean -- twice a day clean; hospital clean! Although the camp is full, it is quieter than you could ever expect. The coin laundry room is locked -- you must sign out a key from the office. Another restriction we have never before seen: No metal detectors allowed. We are happy campers -- but quiet and unobrusive guests.

Friday, January 15, 2010


Yesterday we finally left Gahanna -- still in a freeze. The icicles hanging from our front roof broke all records going back at least 24 years. But it was dry and bright so that we were able to get out the garden hose and fill Morty's water tank -- something that I was expecting not to be possible in those conditions.

We left at 2:30 PM and drove to Tennessee, stopping at 10:30 -- about 400 miles -- but still in a hard freeze. It was a little distressing to find Morty's furnace suddenly dysfunctional. On top of that the coach batteries were dead from running the tank heaters all day -- something that I thought was supposed to be handled by the engine charging system. That makes two things needing some attention.

Today, we were up and at it at the crack of dawn, driving another 400 plus miles to the Naval Air Station at Pensacola. When we stopped for lunch we were dumbfounded to see McDonalds stuck in a time-warp and still serving breakfast. Who knew that Alabama observes Central Time.

We were headed for the Naval Aviation Museum aboard ["on" would not be proper navy-speak] the base, but saw that there was a family campground on the Gulf there also. We pulled in and were lucky enough to get their last available site. Also lucky enough to look like we might fit in well enough with retired military to garner a sponsorship from the campground hosts -- otherwise the camp is not open to civilians.

The weather here is delightfully mild -- mid 60s to mid 50s. Still, everyone here is pleased with the warming trend, the same as we are. Rain is forecast tomorrow, so we plan to give the Museum a thorough going over. Today's quick look was very favorable. We took turns sitting in simulators for helicoptors and transports and were amazed at the work-loads involved in each. This is the home of the Navy's Blue Angels.

Between apetizers and dinner, we walked down to the beach, and in the near-darkness saw a Great Blue Heron swoop in down to the water's edge looking for a good fishing spot. More amazement from the Canon S90 in extremely low light

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Winter Dreamin

The 101st blog entry. The last before we set out for the Southwest. At last we can expect to be above freezing in the deep South.

We went to Damascus to visit the mother-in-law. We went to Waldo for fried baloney sandwiches. Now we will be heading for Pensacola.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Such a Winter's Day

I'd be safe and warm
if I was in L.A
California Dreamin'
on such a winter's day

Monday, January 04, 2010

Weather Holdest -- Held Hostage

The Cold extends all the way to the southern Gulf of Mexico with the promise of further temperature drops. Lynne wants to restart the paper.

The weather is warm in the sunny southwest. The folks already at Quartzsite, Arizona are probably having a grand time. We are stuck -- the only consolation is that it is in the comfort of our own home.

We are shoveling snow four or five times a day. Al Gore is beside himself with mirth. At least we are able to keep up with our workouts.

It is bad -- but it could be worse -- a lot worse.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Weather Holder -- Warmer Memories

There's no warming in sight. So we sit tight and look at some memories from July -- Airventure to be more specific. These were taken with my Nikon D40 -- with some lens dirt that has since been cleaned away. My neighbor who went with me wondered how my camera was able to fire off shots so quickly. The answer is simply  that is the way most Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras work.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Weather Hold

Saturday came -- and went. The freezing cold is penetrating to central Florida. No point in trying to travel in such mess and cold. So we sit tight and run a few errands.

Our traditional first Saturday night of the month is Gallery Hop in the Short North. So we do that in a snow storm and get a few pics. A few more effortless available light grabs with the Canon S90. I am continually impressed by these results. It's hard to believe how hobbled I was with the Pentax Optio Wpi.

We were blocked out of Buca di Beppo -- no matter. Dinner at J. Liu's in Worthington was very good -- having the best Pad Thai in Columbus -- recommended.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy New Year

The celebrations are now behind us. We wait now for only the completion of the Rose Bowl. Tomorrow, Saturday we will head South unless the weather is just too stacked against us. I would like to make for Pensacola, but that too has a weather contingency attached to it.

On Christmas day, my brother drove down from Cleveland and we went to our favorite restaurant McCormick & Schmick's. Once again they delivered a magnificent dinner. We went back there a few days ago to get a gift card for some friends, who later suggested that we stop there for dinner after our traditional New Year's Eve movie. That turned out wonderfully. We had a table of 10. I was the only one to order the celebration dinner which came with a flute of champaign. When it came time for the bubbly they served it to all ten of us at the table -- that is really classy.