On The Road Again (Well, Almost…)

 

Two really honest, friendly, guys mooching for bucks, French Quarter

Two really honest, friendly, guys mooching for bucks in the French Quarter, New Orleans, LA.  We contributed to their noble cause. (February/2015)

Well, Dee Dee and I (and Charlie and Marshall Dylan) have pretty much got the RV packed up and we are ready to head on down the road again for our next adventure.  We are departing on Sunday, November 1; our eventual goal for this trip will, once again, be New Orleans, LA.  But with lots of stops along the way, which include Blackfoot (ID), Death Valley, Las Vegas, Dead Horse Ranch (AZ), Apache Junction (AZ), Benson (AZ), all the way across Texas to Louisiana and finally to The Big Easy.  Most of the way we will be travelling with our long-time friends Gary and Debbie (and their African Gray parrot, Pepper).  Should be a hoot.

So, keep your eye out for our hopefully regular blog postings (depending on WiFi connections), with lots of pictures, as usual.

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Our first installment should hit in early November.  Wahoo!

 

The Final Chapter…

The Final Chapter…

I bet you all have been wondering just what the hell happened to us?  Were we swallowed by a haunted bayou someplace in the wilds of Louisiana?  Or eaten by a pack of ravenous ‘gators?  Kidnapped by Crazy Canadians? Or did we just turn around and head back to Key West, to lay on the beach, drink margaritas and chill until all of our credit cards were maxed out or we ran out of Land Shark beer?

Well, none of the above, actually.  You can attribute this prolonged lack of our communication to just sloth and pure laziness on my part.  (The reality is that it take me about 12-16 hours to prepare each chapter of this blog and I simply just could not bring myself to sit down and get to it.)

Until now…

We made it home pretty much in one piece (well, some pieces got left and other pieces got added, but you are going to have to keep reading to figure out exactly what that means.)  We have been back home in Silver Lake, WA, since Sunday, March 22.  But, let’s go back several weeks to where we left off, near Lafayette, Louisiana…

We stayed a couple of nights at the Frog City RV Park, in Duson.  We had intended on going back to Prejean’s Cajun Restaurant in Lafayette one more time but decided to try this other place, near Duson (just down the road from Lafayette) on the advice of some locals.  Big mistake.  BIG mistake.  Deep fried everything.  And pretty bland.  And over cooked.  And mediocre service.  But, at least the beer was cold.  Oh well…we can always head back to Prejean’s on the next trip.

Entering Texas on the way back West - Mile Marker 899

Entering Texas on the way back West – Mile Marker 899

On the road once again, we passed through Lake Charles and then exited Louisiana on Interstate 10 and entered Texas…dismayed, but not surprised to note that the first mile marker we saw indicated ‘899.’  Gads!  (By comparison, from San Ysidro, near Tijuana, to the Oregon border –  taking The 5 all the way – is only 796 miles…so that gives you a sense of scale.)  It’s a l-o-n-g way across Texas on The 10 – it took us over 4 days of pretty steady driving.

After passing through Beaumont, the first major city we came to was Houston – and it’s one huge city.  We were on the beltway going around the major metropolitan area and were cruising along in fairly light traffic until we encountered this incredible traffic jam that went on for miles and miles.  Turns out there was some major bridge construction going on that caused a ‘funneling’ from 6 lanes down to ONE lane.  That delayed us by about 2 hours.  Oh well…

First overnight stop in Texas was at Columbus, where we stayed in a funky, but functional, RV park.  We had dinner at a pretty good Tex/Mex place nearby (Los Cabos) that evening.

Next day, back again on The 10 headed west.  We skirted San Antonio on the Beltway without encountering much traffic, and are now headed into the wilds of West Texas.  There just ain’t much out there.

At all.  Hardly anything.

Including RV parks.  Even Google Maps gets confounded when you do a search for them.  We ended up in Ozona, where we stopped at one of the few-and-far-between spots we could find.  This place did not even have a name, unless you call the giant sign by the freeway that said, in ten-foot-tall letters, ‘RV Park,’ a name.  Actually, it should have been called ‘Shit-Hole RV Park.’  It was raining and we were tired, so we pulled into the place and discovered that we had to walk a 2 blocks block back across the highway to a motel (a Super 8 – another dump) to check in.  Got a ride from some guy who dropped me off out front.  Went inside, no one there.  Waited 20 minutes.  Finally walked over to an adjacent restaurant and asked them where the guy was who runs the motel.  They called him and he showed up 10 minutes later, with no apology.  So I tell him we want to check into the ‘RV Park’ across the highway.  “Forty dolla,” says he, in his middle-eastern accent.  “Did you say ’20 dollars?’,” says I.  “No, 40 dolla, cash, no discounts,” snarls he.  “Not even Good Sam, AARP, AAA, anything?” says I.  “No.” says he.  “And cash.” says he.  So, I paid it, with a mental protest, plotting someway to get even (and I did…)  I walked back across the street to find a spot (“Stay anywhere you can find,” said he.)  The place was a total Shit Hole, like I said above.  A third world country.  Dirty.  Garbage everywhere.  And dog crap (That’s how Charlie and I got even.)  It looked like most of the spots were occupied by (fracking) oil workers (there is a major oil boom going on in Texas.)  We pulled into a spot, leveled the RV and retreated inside until morning.  Took the Glock with us, just in case.

The next morning, we could not get out of there fast enough.

OK, on the road again.  Still in Texas and still heading west on The 10.  Next stop was Van Horn, a dying West Texas town (somewhat reminiscent of the town in the movie, “The Last Picture Show”)  but with a remarkably nice RV Park – clean, friendly and big spaces.  And a nice dog run for the dog.  We headed out to get diesel for the truck and find a place to eat.  Found fuel, but no restaurant.

A day later, STILL in Texas, but FINALLY getting to El Paso and then crossing back into New Mexico.  Wahoo!  We passed through Las Cruces and stopped in Lordsburg.  Now, we usually avoid KOA’s like the plague (they are usually over-priced and under-aesthic’ed), but RV parks in Lordsburg were on the sparse side so we had to opt for this place.  I have to admit we were pleasantly surprised.  Reasonable rate.  Nice size space.  Friendly.  Clean.  OK, we’re happy.  Nearby was Kranberries Family Restaurant (when you see ‘Family’ in the name of a restaurant, it also means ‘no beer.’)  Dinner was pretty blah, with probably the weirdest nacho’s we have ever had: 50 chips-out-of-a-bag and smothered in at least a gallon of genuine Velveeta.  Oh, and 10 pepper slices on top, too.  Dee Dee told me to quit bitching about them and lighten up…it’s probably just a local custom, some sort of Tex/Mex thing.   But, the employees were, as in the custom almost everywhere in Texas, very friendly.

Bob, Carol and Dee Dee - old Modesto friends

Bob, Carol and Dee Dee – old Modesto friends, in Tucson

Back on The 10, headed out of New Mexico, into Arizona.  Passed through Benson (where we stayed with our friends Gary and Debbie a couple of months before, on the way East.)  On to Tucson, were we first headed to an RV park we found on the Inner-Net (and the Inner-Net never lies – never ever.)   Pulled in, drove around, and headed right back out.  It was ghetto.  Found another place near Old Tucson – Desert Trails RV Park.  The owner’s first name was Pericles and he was one terrific guy.  They had ONE spot available (it’s still high-season in the desert) and we got it.  This was a great place – outside of town in the midst of the Sonoran Desert and very peaceful.  Incredible landscapes and scenery.  We loved it.  While there we had a delightful visit with an old Modesto friend, Carol Lancaster-Mingus, who taught Television classes and was a stellar member of the faculty.  Such a great, gracious, lady who showed us around her home town and treated us to an absolutely delightful dinner in a restaurant where we watched the sun set on the Catalina Mountains.  Wonderful evening!

After departing the Tucson area, we were on to Mesa, where we checked into a very high-class RV park, called Mesa Spirit, where we stayed for FREE, courtesy of LaMesa RV, in Mesa.  Here is the ‘Reader’s Digest’ version of the next part of the story:

Just picked up the new RV...leaving the lot at LaMesa RV in Mesa

Just picked up the new RV…leaving the lot at LaMesa RV in Mesa

Just picked up the new RV...leaving the lot at LaMesa RV in Mesa

Just picked up the new RV…leaving the lot at LaMesa RV in Mesa

Our new RV basking in the Arizona sun, a 2015 Class A Winnebago Adventurer

Our new RV basking in the Arizona sun, a 2015 Class A Winnebago Adventurer

Dee Dee waxing the new 'Winnie'

Dee Dee waxing the new ‘Winnie’

We had been talking on-and-off for over a year about possibly trading in our 5th-wheel for a Class A motor home.  While on this trip, we started doing lots of research on what we wanted, and once that was done, finding a dealer with the right price.  We talked to several in Washington and Oregon, but could not come to terms on either the trade-in value and/or the purchase price.  So, we finally settled on LaMesa RV (in Mesa) who gave us a fair deal and treated us well.  Plus, it was the end of the RV season for them, so they were unloading inventory.  So, on Saturday, March 7, (after closing the deal and spending the night in the LaMesa RV parking lot) we moved from one unit to the other; this was a long, stressful day that almost did us in, as it got very warm in the afternoon.  Plus, we had A LOT of stuff.

Our new rig is a Class A 2015 Winnebago Adventurer.  We opted for gas instead of diesel.  Yes, there are many pro’s and con’s regarding this choice, but we just could not justify the huge additional expense of a diesel pusher.  And, as it turns out, we have been very pleased with our choice.  It’s a great coach.

In 1970, when Dee Dee and I were living in a double-wide trailer out in Mesa, I built this sink for my darkroom.  When we sold the place and moved to New York in 1973, I sold it to Neil for $10.  And he still has it...one frugal guy.

In 1970, when Dee Dee and I were living in a double-wide trailer out in Mesa, I built this sink for my darkroom. When we sold the place and moved to New York in 1973, I sold it to my friend, Neil Miller, for $10. And he still has it…one frugal guy.

Neil, in front of some of his multitude of 'stuff', discussing a new group of prints

Neil, in front of some of his multitude of ‘stuff’, discussing a new group of prints

"Neil, I TOLD you not to tell THAT story..."

“Neil, I TOLD you not to tell THAT story…”

After moving all our ‘stuff’ across from the 5th wheel to the Winnie, we drove back to the Mesa Spirit RV Park and stayed another 3 days, once again compliments of LaMesa RV.   While we were based here, we headed down to Gilbert to have lunch with an old friend from my ASU graduate school days, Neil Miller, and his wife, Marilyn.  They have a great place and we really had a great time…especially seeing all of Neil’s ‘stuff.’  What a collector he is.

I spent the next 2 days about as close to death (and hell) as I ever want to come.  Somehow I either got a massive dose of food poisoning, or some kind of really virulent flu.  Whatever it was, it really tore me up for 36 hours.  Not at all pleasant.

At a Mariners game - Bob, Dee Dee, Gary and Debbie

At a Mariners game – Bob, Dee Dee, Gary and Debbie

Moment of the pitch, Mariners vs. Rockies

Moment of the pitch, Mariners vs. Rockies

Us in Peoria at a Mariners vs. Rockies game

Us in Peoria at a Mariners vs. Rockies game

As the ‘disease’ was beginning to wane, we limped back out to Lost Dutchman State Park in Apache Junction.  We had stayed there several months before, at the beginning of our trip and enjoyed it so much that we booked in for another 5 days.  Here we once again met up with our Prescott buddies, Debbie and Gary.  We took in a Mariners/Rockies spring training game out in Peoria (it takes 75 minutes, driving 60 miles an hour on the freeways, to get from Mesa to Peoria…the Phoenix area is huge.)  Seattle lost 4-1, but we still had a great time.  The Peoria stadium facility is very nice venue (heck, beer is only $7 for a 16 oz. can) and we chatted with lots of folks who come down here mainly to watch the pre-season games.  Everybody was having a good time.

Cook'n chick'n, watching the sunset on the Superstition Mountains, Lost Dutchman State Park

Cook’n chick’n, watching the sunset on the Superstition Mountains, Lost Dutchman State Park

The end of the day, just after sunset, Superstition Mountains

The end of the day, just after sunset, Superstition Mountains

Well, just as our last stay (in December) at Lost Dutchman was disrupted by a chronic truck problem, this one was no different.   The day after the game, Dee Dee and I were out getting diesel for the pickup (we did not trade this in on new RV) and we got a text message from Gary telling us he was in the hospital.  What the heck is this??!!  Turns out that about 11 PM the night before he started experiencing some chest pain, so he called the paramedics and they came out to get him.  The weird thing is that they were staying right across the road from us and we did not hear a thing!  And there was both an ambulance AND a fire truck!  So, we head right over to the hospital to see him.  He looks good, and is in fine spirits, but they want to do an angiogram to take a look at his heart, so he has to hang out for another day.

The day he was discharged was the same day we had to depart Lost Dutchman State Park and continue heading back home.  So, we worked with the Park to get his stay extended for a few hours to allow him time to get ready to leave.  We got his RV squared away and left.  Turns out that he felt well enough (even after the angiogram) to drive back to Prescott.  Debbie followed in their car.  (We talked with him the next day and he said he was really tired and pretty sore – felt rode hard and put away dirty.)

Dusk, Lost Dutchman State Park, Apache Junction.

Dusk, Lost Dutchman State Park, Apache Junction.

Whew.  Well, we have not given up on Lost Dutchman…as they say, 3rd time’s a charm…

So, we continue west, stopping at this totally cool RV park right on the river in Needles – Fender’s River Road Resort.  We had this HUGE spot with a great view.  Once again, we lucked out and got their last spot, due to a recent cancellation.  This is on our list of good places to stay if we make a return trip in this direction.

The view from our spot at Fender's River's Edge RV Resort.  Quiet place, lots of space and a place for Charlie to take a swim in the Mighty Colorado.

The view from our spot at Fender’s River’s Edge RV Resort. Quiet place, lots of space and a place for Charlie to take a swim in the Mighty Colorado.

By this time, the ‘free’ 1/2 tank of gas that La Mesa RV had given us was pretty much gone, so we headed out in the truck to find a place to re-fuel.  We had heard that gas prices in California were out of line with other states, but imagine our surprise when every gas station in Needles was over $4 per gallon!  We mentioned our dismay to our waitress at dinner (Wagon Wheel Restaurant, great place) and she told us to head back across the river into Arizona where it was about $1/gallon less.  What a difference a mile can make.  Turns out that Needles gas stations (greedy bastards) were an anomaly; the remainder of our gas stops in California were not that far out of line.

Next destination, Bakersfield, at a regular stopping place, the Orange Grove RV Park.  We stayed there for a couple of days to cool our jets (we had an absolutely ‘delightful’ meal at Sizzler…don’t ask why we stopped there…just dumb, I guess.)

(Really) old golfing buddies: Bob, Juan and Bill.  We had a wonderful day playing together again at the Spanos Reserve Course in Lodi

(Really) old golfing buddies: Bob, Juan and Bill. We had a wonderful day playing together again at the Spanos Reserve Course in Lodi

On to Lodi for 2 more days, where we stayed at this fairly nice, but W-A-Y overpriced place, Flag City RV Park, located near the intersection of Highway 12 and The 5.  I guess you could say the best thing about it was the 5 acre fenced dog run; Charlie was in Dog Heaven.  Here Bob met up with 2 really old and good friends and golfing buddies from Modesto Daze, Bill Woodard and Juan Alvarez.  What a great time we all had playing a round at the Spanos Reserve course.  Hard, but fair.  Re-kindled many great memories.  We also had a great dinner with an old water-skiing-and-drinking buddy, Daryl Verkerk, and his new girl friend, a delightful lady and lots of fun.  That was a nostalgic evening of reminiscing about days gone by.

We left Lodi on March 20th and now the ‘end’ is really in sight.  Next stop was Yreka at another funky place that we managed to squeeze into (also on our list of places to skip next time…).  Then on to Albany, Oregon, for a stay at the Blue Ox RV park, a bit hard to find, and sorta cramped spaces, but adequate…except for no dog run at all.

And then, down the home stretch to Silver Lake, where we finally arrived HOME at noon on Sunday, March 22, after a short 3-hour drive.  We made it down the driveway with no problems (I drove the RV all the way back from Mesa, with Dee Dee following in the truck.)  We pulled in and let ‘The Boys’ out to finally be able to run free after being pretty much confined for over 4 months.  They were pretty pleased about that.  The house looked great – just like we had left it.  Thanks to our neighbor, Karson, for checking it a couple of times a week and texting us that things looked good, and to our nephew Stacey and his wife, Lynne, who came down once a month to start the vehicles, water the plants and look things over.

So there you have it, folks.  The end of our 4-month, 12,000+ mile journey all the way to Key West and back.  We stayed at 50 different locations.  What a wonderful, memorable time we had.  We enjoyed sharing our adventures (and mis-adventures) with all of you and hope you had a good – vicarious – experience.  This installment to the blog, Chapter 12, is the last for this trip…but stay tuned.  There will be other travel experiences in our not-too-distant future that we will be sharing with you.  We have already started the preliminary plans for our next trip, which will probably begin around next November 1.  We might even head back to Florida…one never knows…

Following are the ‘Top 46’ most favorite pictures of our journey, since this post was somewhat devoid of visuals (too busy travelling…)

Steve, Big Al, Bob and Bud, long-time golf partners

Steve, Big Al, Bob and Bud, long-time golf partners

Dee Dee with a Rocker after the seeing 'Rock of Ages' in Las Vegas

Dee Dee with a Rocker after the seeing ‘Rock of Ages’ at the Venetian in Las Vegas

Charlie doing his most favorite thing at Lake Mead

Charlie doing his most favorite thing at Lake Mead

 

Side wash, flowing into Furnace Creek Wash. Death Valley National Park

Side wash, flowing into Furnace Creek Wash. Death Valley National Park

Probably an Alien spaceship, commandeered by the NPS, near Furnace Creek, Death Valley National Park

Probably an Alien spaceship, commandeered by the NPS, near Furnace Creek, Death Valley National Park

Prickly pear cactus, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Prickly pear cactus, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Cool looking flowers, near our B & B, Key West, Florida.

Cool looking flowers, near our B & B, Key West, Florida.

Live Oak and palmettos, near the 'Shell Mound' area, Cedar Key, FL.

Live Oak and palmettos, near the ‘Shell Mound’ area, Cedar Key, Florida

Dee Dee and Peggy Sue at Peggy Sue's 50's Diner, near Yermo, CA

Dee Dee and Peggy Sue at Peggy Sue’s 50’s Diner, near Yermo, CA

Dee Dee and Charlie, at Hole in the Wall, Death Valley National Park

Dee Dee and Charlie, at Hole in the Wall, Death Valley National Park

Cloud inversion, canyon view, off of Hermit's Rest Road, Grand Canyou South Rim

Cloud inversion, canyon view, off of Hermit’s Rest Road, Grand Canyon South Rim

Giant cow, probably affected by CIA Area 51 'testing' in the 1950's.  Our truck and 5th wheel are there to give it some perspective

Giant cow, probably affected by CIA Area 51 ‘testing’ in the 1950’s. Our truck and 5th wheel are there, parked just a few feet away,  to give it some perspective

Marshall Dylan and Jeckle-The Raven, Trailer Village Campground, Grand Canyon

Marshall Dylan and Jeckle-The Raven, Trailer Village Campground, Grand Canyon National Park

Cockatiel, Oasis Bird Sancturary, near Benson, Arizona.  Pretty smart bird who gnawed away part of a protective barrier to get a better view

Cockatiel, Oasis Bird Sancturary, near Benson, Arizona. Pretty smart bird who gnawed away part of a protective barrier to get a better view

Dee Dee and Charlie walking the dunes at White Sand National Monument, New Mexico

Dee Dee and Charlie walking the dunes at White Sand National Monument, New Mexico

Dee Dee and her Boys, Tombstone, Arizona

Dee Dee and her Boys, Tombstone, Arizona

Ocotillo cactus detail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Ocotillo cactus detail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

View of Mexico, the Rio Grande River and Texas, Big Bend National Park.  Look carefully and you can see our 5th wheel in the left center of the image

View of Mexico, the Rio Grande River and Texas, Big Bend National Park. Look carefully and you can see our 5th wheel in the left center of the image

Beach cabanas, Mustang Island State Park, near Corpus Christi, Texas

Beach cabanas, Mustang Island State Park, near Corpus Christi, Texas

Yum yum!  Fried green tomatoes with shrimp sauce, Prelean's Cajun Restaurant, Lafayette, LA

Yum yum! Fried green tomatoes with shrimp sauce, Prelean’s Cajun Restaurant, Lafayette, LA

Two really honest, friendly, guys mooching for bucks, French Quarter

Two really honest, friendly, guys mooching for bucks, French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana

Big mask, Voodoo shop in the French Quarter

Big mask, Voodoo shop in the French Quarter

Bicycles, near Jackson Square, French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana

Bicycles, near Jackson Square, French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana

'Oysters Royal House', Hurricanes and stuffed mushrooms, on the second story street balcony, Royal House, in the French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana

‘Oysters Royal House’, Hurricanes and stuffed mushrooms, on the second story street balcony, Royal House, in the French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana

Dee Dee and  her new friend, voodoo shop in the French quarter

Dee Dee and her new friend, voodoo shop in the French quarter

Historic Oak tree with moss, City Park, New Orleans, Louisiana

Historic Oak tree with moss, City Park, New Orleans, Louisiana

View of family tombs, St. Louis Cemetery #3, New Orleans, Louisiana

View of family tombs, St. Louis Cemetery #3, New Orleans, Louisiana

Voodoo shop window, French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana

Voodoo shop window, French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana

Sunrise, from our spot at thee Ho-Hum RV Park in Carrabelle, Florida.  And it's like this almost every morning.

Sunrise, from our spot at thee Ho-Hum RV Park in Carrabelle, Florida. And it’s like this almost every morning.

Porch at the Sunset RV Park, Cedar Key, Florida

Porch at the Sunset RV Park, Cedar Key, Florida

Giant shell, Pensacola, FL.

Giant shell, Pensacola, Florida

Foam on the beach, near our site at the Ho-Hum RV Park, Carrabelle, Florida

Foam on the beach, near our site at the Ho-Hum RV Park, Carrabelle, Florida

View from our site, Ho-Hum RV Park, Carrabelle, Florida

View from our site, Ho-Hum RV Park, Carrabelle, Florida

Dusk, Carrabelle, Florida

Dusk, Carrabelle, Florida

Live Oaks, near 'Shell Mound,' Cedar Key, Florida

Live Oaks, near ‘Shell Mound,’ Cedar Key, Florida

Giant stone crab, Carrabelle, Florida

Giant stone crab, Carrabelle, Florida

Why did the chicken(s) cross the road?  Key West, Florida

Why did the chicken(s) cross the road? Key West, Florida

Having a Land Shark Beer at Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, Key West, Florida.

Having a Land Shark Beer at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, Key West, Florida.

On air boat tour of the mangroves, Everglades National Park, Florida

On air boat tour of the mangroves, Everglades National Park, Florida

The attack of the giant crustaceans, near Marathon, Florida, in the Keys.

The attack of the giant crustaceans, near Marathon, Florida, in the Keys.

Bog-ass ' gator in sunning himself in the mangroves, Everglades National Park, Florida

Bog-ass ‘ gator in sunning himself in the mangroves, Everglades National Park, Florida

Key West - the end, and the beginning - of the trail for us.

Key West – the end, and the beginning – of the trail for us.

Our digs at the Chokoloskee RV Park, in Florida.

Our digs at the Chokoloskee RV Park, in Florida.

Palm trees on the shore at Chokoloskee RV Park, Florida

Palm trees on the shore at Chokoloskee RV Park, Florida

(Really) old golfing buddies: Bob, Juan and Bill.  We had a wonderful day playing together again at the Spanos Reserve Course in Lodi

(Really) old golfing buddies: Bob, Juan and Bill. We had a wonderful day playing together again at the Spanos Reserve Course in Lodi

Us, in the a mangrove tunnel, Everglades National Park, Florida

Us, in the a mangrove tunnel, Everglades National Park, Florida

 

All the best to each of you,

 

Bob, Dee Dee, Charlie and Marshall Dylan

On to Key West – The Conch Republic

Key West, the turning point of our trip.  Wahoo!

Key West, the turning point of our trip. Wahoo!

The further we get into Florida, the more crowded it gets.  More traffic and the campground spaces are smaller – and less available.  This all started once we left Carrabelle (on Florida’s ‘Forgotten Coast.’)  But, that’s to be expected this time of the year.  Everyone knows that Florida is a mecca for snowbirds (OK, we are one); in particular South Florida on the Gulf side.

Our drive from Dade City to Chokoloskee seemed like 250 miles of construction zones.  Then, once we hit Everglade City (about 3 miles from Chokoloskee Island) we ran smack into the annual Seafood Festival that dominates the entire town for 3 days.  After about 15 detours, we made it through town and to our destination – Chokoloskee Island RV Park, where we stayed for 2 weeks.  The folks who run this place, Sonny and Carmen, were super friendly and pretty much set the ‘climate’ for the place.  It’s an older park, composed of about 70% park models and 30% RV spaces.  We had a pretty good spot, wedged (literally) in between 2 park models.  It took a bit of doing to get in, but with Sonny’s expert help we made it unscathed.  Downside of this place – no dog run.  Charlie was bummed.

Our digs at the Chokoloskee RV Park, in Florida.

Our digs at the Chokoloskee RV Park, in Florida.

Palm trees on the shore at Chokoloskee RV Park.

Palm trees on the Gulf shore at Chokoloskee RV Park.

This was a beautiful place, at the end of the road; there is a 3-mile long causeway that gets you there.  It’s on the edge of Everglades National Park, and it really feels like it.  Most of the folks we met here were from places like Tennessee, Georgia, Arkansas, Michigan and even Maine – but not a soul from west of the Mississippi River.  No ‘Left Coasters;’ we were it.  All the folks very laid back and friendly, most cordial and welcoming – easy to be around.  However, when we told them where were from, their eyes just glazed over; they had no concept of the ‘Left Coast’, and really did not seem to care too much about it.  The end of the world for them seemed to be the Mississippi River.  No kidding.  The most common comment we got was, “Don’t it rain a lot up there?”

Platters of food at the Seafood Festival in Everglades City, Florida.

Platters of food at the Seafood Festival in Everglades City, Florida.

Bike parking lot at the Seafood Festival, Everglade City, Florida.

Bike parking lot at the Seafood Festival, Everglades City, Florida.

Once we got settled in we headed back over to Everglades City for the annual Seafood Festival.  This is a big deal here and it swells the population of the area from about 5,000 to 100,000 for 3 days.  We got there early, but still had to park about 6 blocks away.  To be honest, the most we can say about it was that it was extremely crowded.  The seafood was mediocre and very expensive – and mostly deep fried.  The vendors that sold other stuff were essentially the same ones you will find at almost street fair anywhere.  We stayed about 3 hours and then left when it got so crowded you could hardly move.  But, we now can say we had been there.

One of the most popular foods in the area is Stone crab; they were in season when we were there.  They are harvested in traps about 10 – 20 miles off-shore.  When caught, one claw is broken off and the crab is return to regenerate a new one; they can do this 4-5 times in their life-cycle.  We went to a local restaurant one day to try them out.  They were on the menu as a side dish – $26 for four claws! (Tourist price…much cheaper for locals as we discovered later.)  The shells are very thick and hard, and come to you pre-cracked since is takes a small hammer to break them open.  There is not much meat to them, and what there is somewhat bland.  But, we are spoiled on Dungeness crabs from the PNW.

This was the air boat we were on during a tour of the mangroves in Everglades National Park.

This was the air boat we were on during a tour of the mangroves in Everglades National Park.

On the airboat in the Everglades, with Jim and Linda, a couple from Ontario that we met in Chokoloskee.  Interesting couple...

On the airboat in the Everglades, with Jim and Linda, a couple from Ontario that we met in Chokoloskee. Interesting folks…

On air boat tour of the mangroves, Everglades National Park.

On air boat tour of the mangroves, Everglades National Park.

With Bobby, our Everglades airboat tour guide.

With Bobby, our Everglades airboat tour guide.

We took an air boat tour through the mangrove swamp; pretty interesting.  Our guide, Bobby (a local good ol’ boy), was a fun guy and knew the area well.  In some ways, it’s designed to be a thrill ride through mangrove tunnels, accompanied with a lot of sliding sharp turns.  It was an OK experience and we had a good time.  We asked Bobbie if we would see any ‘gators and he told us no, as they don’t like salt water – a statement that was later nullified when we took a NPS boat tour (in a small boat powered by an outboard motor) a few days later, with a different guide; he told us that was BS…and we saw a big-ass ‘gator to prove it.  We also saw a few manatees – beautiful, huge mammals.  That was pretty cool.

Us, in the a mangrove tunnel, Everglades National Park.

Us, in the a mangrove tunnel, Everglades National Park.

Our NPS tour guide, during a boat trip in the Everglades.  Cool guy, calm, laid back and we forgot his name...

Our NPS tour guide, during a boat trip in the Everglades. Cool guy, calm, laid back and we forgot his name…

Pelican on a post, in Everglades National Park.

Pelican on a post, in Everglades National Park.

Osprey, feeding on a fish, in the mangroves, Everglades National Park.

Osprey, feeding on a fish, in the mangroves, Everglades National Park.

Bog-ass ' gator in sunning himself in the mangroves, Everglades National Park.

Bog-ass ‘ gator in sunning himself in the mangroves, Everglades National Park.

Little 'gators, Everglades National Park.

Little ‘gators, Everglades National Park.

Dee Dee, ' gator wrestling in the Everglades, Florida.

Dee Dee, ‘ gator wrestling in the Everglades, Florida.

We booked a room in Key West and headed down there for a few days.  On the way there, you head deeper into the Everglades and have the opportunity to see an immense amount of wildlife – mainly a variety of birds.  It’s really a beautiful and quite amazing journey.  On the way to Key West we made a stop at the smallest US Post Office in the United States, located in Ochopee, FL.

The smallest UP Post Office in the United States, Ocallal, Florida.

The smallest UP Post Office in the United States, Ochopee, Florida.

About 22 miles south of Homestead you come to Key Largo, the beginning of the 100 miles drive on the causeways to Key West.  The average speed the entire way is 45 MPH.  We were travelling on a Sunday – that slowed us down quite a bit.  It seemed like it was bumper-to-bumper traffic the entire trip, but that was fine since it was a great drive.

Front view of our B & B in Key West.

Front view of our B & B in Key West.

A view of our B & B in Key West, Florida.

A view of our B & B in Key West, Florida.

Key West is nothing like we had envisioned.  I was thinking of sandy, palm tree-lined beaches with a few people sitting on them, drinking margaritas, kick’n back listening to Jimmy Buffet tunes.  (OK, not really, but that would have been the ideal, huh?)  In reality, it’s about 8 square miles packed with humanity.  Lots of traffic – and zillions of motor scooters – and very old and narrow streets.  It’s a real party town with lots of and bars (all good) and restaurants (mostly all good).  We found this pet-friendly B & B place at the last minute – a bit pricey ($275/night), but it was right downtown.  We were there in ‘high season’ so there was really not that much to choose from – especially since we waited until about 2 days before to try to get a room reservation.  (We decided not to bring our 5th wheel down for the stay, as RV parks – if you could even get in – and you could not – were charging from $150 – $300+ per NIGHT.  Arrrgghhhh!!)

Cool looking flowers, near our B & B in Key West, Florida.

Cool looking flowers, near our B & B in Key West, Florida.

Palms outside our B & B in Key West, Florida.

Palms outside our B & B in Key West, Florida.

Anyhow, once we found our B & B, we discovered that there was no designated parking – you were on your own.  (This fact was conveniently not mentioned when we made the reservation.)  But, it all worked out great.  I let Dee Dee off in front of the house and then circled the block about 5 times until a disabled spot opened up RIGHT IN FRONT!  Wahoo!!  (We have a disabled placard from Washington.)  We squeezed in and dropped anchor there for 2 days.  The room was very nice – old, ‘Key West Funky,’ in a nice old, historic, neighborhood about a block from the Trolley line (a really neat way to get around – we used it a lot), and the downtown area.  We had a terrific time here and loved every minute of it!  The people are great and there is so much to see and do.  And yes, we did seek out the original Jimmy Buffet’s Margaretiville Bar and had a beer.  It was a cool place, with a great bartender; and we just missed seeing Jimmy…he was there about 6 weeks before we got there.  Oh yeah, also made it to the Hog’s Breath Bar, drank, and bought several of their obligatory t-shirts.  One downside to being in Key West this time of the year, we discovered, were the HUGE cruise ships that came in constantly, sometimes 2-3 at a time; each one dumped a couple thousand folks into town.  Oh well…

Southern most point of the United States in Key West.  We don't know any of these people.  There as a line of folks over a block long, waiting to get a picture of themselves here.  This one was taken from the trolley...

Southern most point of the United States in Key West. We don’t know any of these people. There was a line of folks over a block long, waiting to get a picture of themselves here. This one was taken from the (moving)  trolley…

Tourist waiting for sunset, an evening ritual in Key West.  We don't know any of these people.

Tourists waiting for sunset, an evening ritual in Key West. We don’t know any of these people.  But, it was a really good excuse to drink…

Sunset, Key West, Florida.

Sunset, Key West, Florida.

Cool old truck outside a restaurant in Key West, Florida.

Cool old truck outside B.O.’s Fish Wagon in Key West, Florida.

B.O.'s Fish Wagon, Key West, Florida.  We had beer and conch fritters here.  The inside was funkier than the outside...

B.O.’s Fish Wagon, Key West, Florida. We had beer and conch fritters here. The inside was funkier than the outside…

Conch fritters, Key West, Florida.  Delicious!

Conch fritters at B.O.’s Fish Wagon, Key West, Florida. Delicious!

Dee Dee, at Pepe's Resturant in Key West.  Pepe's is the oldest restaurant in Key West, in continuous operation for over 100 years.  It was about a block from our B & B; we ate there every morning.

Dee Dee, at Pepe’s Cafe in Key West. Pepe’s is the oldest restaurant in Key West, in continuous operation for over 100 years. It was about a block from our B & B; we ate there every morning.

Two obvious bikers, waiting for a table at Pepe's Restaurant in Key West.  We don't know these people, they just looked great in their matching shirts...

Two obvious bikers, waiting for a table at Pepe’s Café, in Key West. We don’t know these people, they just looked great in their matching shirts…

Outside Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, Key West, Florida.

Outside Jimmy Buffett’s original Margaritaville, Key West, Florida.

Having a Land Shark Beer at Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, Key West, Florida.

Having a Land Shark Beer at Jimmy Buffett’s original Margaritaville, Key West, Florida.

Key West - the end, and the beginning - of the trail for us.

Key West – the end, and the beginning – of the trail for us.

Why did the chicken(s) cross the road?

Why did the chicken(s) cross the road?

After 2 days, we departed Paradise, much poorer but happy, and headed back up to Chokoloskee.  Our stay here marked the turning point of our trip.  After driving over 8,500 miles, we were now officially starting our journey back to Washington.  It was a sad, and yet happy time.  And what better place than Key West, Florida, for it to happen.  And, we will so miss all the chickens that populate the place…

The attack of the giant crustaceans, near Marathon, Florida, in the Keys.

The attack of the giant crustaceans, near Marathon, Florida, in the Keys.

On the way back up Highway 1, through the Keys, we stopped at a few RV Parks to see about booking for a month next year.  Once we found out what it would cost we decided to reconsider.  We found this KOA about 14 miles from Key West that was over $3,000 (plus tax) per month, and units were crammed so tight it was a true wonderment as to how they even managed to get in in the first place.  Unbelievable.  About 30 miles further up on the road, in Grassy Key – not too far from Marathon – we found a ‘much better’ deal – only $2,300 (plus tax) per month.  We decided that if we ever returned (and we hope to, someday), we would probably stay at one of the several RV campgrounds in the Everglades, drive down to Key West and then stay in one of the pet-friendly hotels we found that are on the Trolley line.  And, we would make our room reservations a year in advance – almost a necessity.  After checking with several locals, they suggested coming in December.  The crowds are smaller and the weather is not too bad.

The day we drove back up to Chokoloskee was a warm one – about 80 degrees.  When we passed back through Everglades National Park (again) we counted at least 50 ‘gators sunning themselves on the shores of the canal that bordered the highway.  That was a really great experience.

With our old Modesto friends, Jim and Diane Weatherford, who now live in Dade City, Florida.

With our old Modesto friends, Jim and Diane Weatherford, who now live in Dade City, Florida.

After 2 relaxing weeks on Chokoloskee Island, we headed back north to Dade City to visit some old friends from Modesto, Jim and Diane Weatherford – that was a hoot.  Such great people.  On the way there, we got stuck in a huge traffic jam on Highway 75.  The freeway was totally closed for about 5 hours.  We detoured around the area (along with everyone else…); that elongated our drive by about 4 hours.  Made for a very looong day.

After Dade City, our next stop was Tallahassee where we stayed at one of the crappiest RV parks of the trip – semi-rude (and clueless) check-in lady and way over-priced.  But, we were tired and there was just no place else to stop.  There is much more to this story, but let’s just say it’s on our list of places not to stay ever again.  Not that Tallahassee is a place to be avoided – it’s definitely a great city; we would definitely visit there again…just stay someplace else.

Inside the oldest Catholic Church in Alabama; Mobile, Alabama.

Inside the oldest Catholic Church in Alabama; Mobile, Alabama.

Highway 10, coming out of the tunnel, in Mobile, Alabama.  Their unique City Hall/Courthouse is in the background.

Highway 10, coming out of the tunnel, in Mobile, Alabama. Their unique City Hall/Courthouse is in the background.

Detail, Courthouse Building, Mobile, Alabama.

Detail, Courthouse Building, Mobile, Alabama.

Eggs benedict, ala Spot of Tea Restaurant, Mobile, Alabama.

Eggs benedict, ala Spot of Tea Restaurant, Mobile, Alabama.

Our wonderful host and owner, Ruby, at the Spot of Tea restaurant in old downtown Mobile, Alabama.

Our wonderful host and owner, Ruby, at the Spot of Tea restaurant in old downtown Mobile, Alabama.

View of the USS 'Alabama,' in Mobile, Alabama.

View of the USS ‘Alabama,’ in Mobile, Alabama.

In Mobile, Alabama.  From the bow of the USS Alabama looking aft.

In Mobile, Alabama. From the bow of the USS Alabama looking aft.

Dee Dee on the USS Alabama in Mobile.  Big-ass guns, huh?

Dee Dee on the USS Alabama in Mobile. Big-ass guns, huh?

Dog repair facility on the USS Alabama, in Mobile.  Charlie was beyond repair...

Dog repair facility on the USS Alabama, in Mobile. Charlie was beyond repair…

Getting ready to board the submarine 'Drum' in Mobile, Alabama.

Getting ready to board the submarine ‘Drum’ in Mobile, Alabama.

As we progressed further West, our next stop was Mobile, Alabama.  We spent 3 days here resting up at this terrific RV park – clean, quite, in the woods just outside of town and – can you believe it? – $23 per night!  The cheapest stay of our entire trip, so far.  Not to mention our gracious (it seems everyone in the south is gracious) host, Charlie.  What a neat guy.  We took a day and enjoyed old downtown Mobile where we toured a (4/5 scale) reconstruction historic Fort Conte and then took the free trolley around the historic district.  We had a very friendly driver to explain stuff, and shared the bus with several ‘locals’ who kept us thoroughly entertained.  We had an incredible meal at this very nice restaurant, ‘Spot of Tea,’ where we met Ruby, the owner, who is also a great ambassador for the city of Mobile.  Next we headed over to see the warship USS ‘Alabama’ and the submarine, ‘Drum,’ as well as a very good aerospace museum.  We did more walking and climbing then one could ever imagine.  Exciting, and very tiring, day.  We would come back to Mobile in a heat beat.  It’s a great city.

Thibodeaux's Restaurant in Duson, LA - we took a risk for dinner and it really paid off.  Great place.

Thibodeaux’s Restaurant in Duson, LA – we took a risk for dinner and it really paid off. Great place.

OK, as I type, we are back near Lafayette, Louisiana, where we stayed about 6 weeks ago, on our way to Florida.  A great town with incredible Cajun food.  We are staying at a different place, about 10 miles down the road in Deson.  Nice park, great place to run Charlie-the-Dog, and very friendly.  Last night, we drove into town (Duson) and found this really funky restaurant called Thibodeaux’s.  Looked questionable from the outside, and when we walked in the question got bigger…two old folks watching Judge Judy on an old TV, and not another person to be seen.  But what the hell, we risked it.  Oh, and ‘no alcohol served here,’ when we asked our waiter for a beer (he was partially deaf and had to get his wife to come over to get order.)  But, the food was excellent, and as we sat there, we discovered that they did a terrific take-out business.  So, don’t let outward appearances deceive you…

Later today, we are going back to Prejean’s Cajun Restaurant (we ate there twice on our trip east) for more of our favorite – fried green tomatoes.  Tomorrow, we are headed further west on Interstate 10 and plan to stop about 100 miles or so, on the other side of Houston…

Stay tuned for the next exciting chapter…

Waiting For The Sun…

Back-Track To January 1, 2015…

So, to bring you all up to speed, recall that we decided to depart Big Bend National Park (heading for Del Rio, Texas) a few days early due to impending snotty weather (which we escaped by a matter of hours) and just way too much humanity.

But, let’s back up just a bit.  I wrote all of the last blog post whilst still in the midst of a nasty bout with the flu.  In doing so, I left out some stuff I should not have (and left in quite a few typos…).

First of all, I forgot to post a picture of my friend Neil Miller and me, sitting in his classic Morgan roadster, while we were still at Lost Dutchman State Park, near Apache Junction.  A thousand pardons Neil…so here it is now.

Bob and Neil, in Neil's very cool historic Morgan.  Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona.

Bob and Neil, in Neil’s very cool historic Morgan. Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona.

Next, fast forwarding to Big Bend National Park, I neglected to mention a side trip we took into an area called Chisos Basin.  It’s about an 8 mile drive off of Highway 385, turning off not too far from the Panther Junction Visitor Center.  The drive into the area offers some magnificent views as you pass through several different desert and high desert ecosystems during the roughly 2000 foot elevation gain on the way in.  An extremely magnificent part of the Park…at least until you get to Chisos Basin.  What the NPS has allowed to happen there (for whatever reason) is a total atrocity.   After passing through a beautiful environment on the way in, you are dismayed to find a hotel, restaurant, bar, incredibly horrible traffic and a campground that is so cramped and crowded that it comes close to resembling tenement housing.  OK, this is just our opinion.   Also, unless you are either tent camping or pulling a small tent trailer, you won’t even make it down the road.  Perhaps this place would be more palatable during such a non-busy time of the year, and yes, the time between Christmas and New Year’s is probably about the worst time to be staying almost anywhere.  But, that’s just our opinion.

January 3, 2015 – San Antonio, Texas

Don't mess with Texas

Don’t mess with Texas

The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas

The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas

The Bob, San Antonio River Walk, Texas

The Bob, San Antonio River Walk, Texas

Ceviche, San Antonio River Walk, Texas

Ceviche, San Antonio River Walk, Texas

We arrived in San Antonio, Texas, with me still fighting the flu and a persistent, horrible cough.  Despite this, we did some normal tourist stuff, like going to The Alamo and then to the River Walk.  The Alamo on a Sunday was predictably crowded.  But, still and all, it’s an extremely informative historical site, about 30% of which has been preserved (the rest falling to ‘progress.’)  The monument is maintained and funded by a Historical Society, composed totally of volunteers; they have done an extremely commendable job.  It’s free to get in, but there are copious donation boxes spread throughout the site.  What is somewhat disappointing is what now surrounds The Alamo: a sprawling mass of places like ‘Ripley’s Believe-It-Or-Not’ and numerous other establishments of the same venue.  Sorta takes the air out of the piece of history you have just visited.  The River Walk area is OK…but touristy as one would expect.  We had a couple of over-priced margaritas and some damnpretty good ceviche.  Another kinda cool thing we did was take the city bus from the RV Park where we were staying into the downtown area.  Not bad at all getting there, but the trip back proved to be somewhat of a challenge for two old geezers who have not had to figure out a bus schedule in years.  After about an hour or so and walking more than a just few block, we finally found the right stop.   The Bob was so excited on the way home that he pulled the ‘stop cord’ about ½ mile too early.  You could see Dee Dee mouthing the words ‘Dumb Ass.’

January 7, 2015 – Corpus Christi, Texas

We are now at the Mustang Island State Park, located on Mustang Island, just South East of Corpus Christi.

It has been 10 days since we last saw the sun (except for a brief moment in San Antonio).  We feel like we are doomed.  And, we gulped down our last dose of Vitamin D several days ago.

Mustang Island State Park, Texas

Mustang Island State Park, Texas

Blowing sand and barrier fence, Mustang Island State Park, Texas

Blowing sand and barrier fence, Mustang Island State Park, Texas

Beach cabanas, Mustang Island State Park, Texas

Beach cabanas, Mustang Island State Park, Texas

Wahooo!  Charlie is in Doggy Heaven on the beach, Mustang Island State Park, Texas

Wahooo! Charlie is in Doggy Heaven on the beach, Mustang Island State Park, Texas

This Texas State Park has a good campground, complete with a cabana to provide shade from the sun, which we did not have to worry about the whole time we were there.  It rained hard and was very windy most of the time.  The only saving grace in all of this was the fact that the rattle snakes stayed ‘indoors’, which certainly provided Dee Dee with a certain degree of relief.  We were almost right on the beach – maybe only about a 3 block walk.  Charlie was in doggy heaven; he got to chase a tennis ball and swim in the surf until he could hardly lift his tongue off the sand.  Wahoo!  Texas State Parks has an interesting fee structure:  the campsites are fairly spacious and have water and power (there is a sewer dump conveniently located on the way out.)  The rate is $20 per night, which seems reasonable until you factor in a $5 per day, per person, park use fee.  That brings your stay there to $30 per night.  Still and all, given the locale, not too bad a deal.

Ferry docks, Mustang Island, texas

Ferry docks, Mustang Island, texas

ferry view mirror dee dee

Barrier posts in surf, Padre Island National Seashore, Texas

Barrier posts in surf, Padre Island National Seashore, Texas

We drove down the island and took the FREE ferry (there were FIVE of them running full-tilt boogie) off the Island and over to the mainland, and then drove a big circle back through Corpus Christi and back to Mustang Island.  The next day, we headed over to Padre Island, driving over a small causeway that links it to Mustang Island.  At the end of the road is Padre Island National Seashore.  Located on the south Texas coast, Padre Island National Seashore protects the longest undeveloped stretch of barrier island in the world, with nearly 70 miles of sand and shell beaches, windswept dunes and seemingly endless grasslands.  And the majority of the 70 miles is roadless.  But, you can drive on the beach (most of the time, except certain portions that are closed when sea turtle are nesting) and camp.  Four-wheel drive is almost required to do this.  There is an excellent campground there as well, but it’s total dry camping.  The cool thing about this campground is that it is RIGHT on the beach.  The surf seems to almost break into your campsite.  This place is first-come-first-serve, and it was pretty full.

Due to the still crappy weather in the area, we opted to spend an additional day here and wait out the weather.

January 11, 2015 – Galveston Island, Texas

It’s been more than 2 weeks since we have seen the sun (well, it did manage to peak out for about 5 seconds one afternoon.)  Our skin is taking on a bluish tint and our hands are now perpetually wrinkled due to the rain.  One piece of good news is that finally, after more than 2 weeks, my case of the flu and cough seems to have almost totally dissipated.

Diesel price, just outside of Galveston, Texas.  We drove a mile further down the road and it was $2.49/gallon

Diesel price, just outside of Galveston, Texas. We drove a mile further down the road and it was $2.49/gallon

Galveston is a very cool place.  And, it’s really a ‘summer-time’ place as you can see by the multitude of tourist business that dominate the 14+ mile long Seawall Boulevard.  It almost resembles Coney Island in many ways.  As your drive down this long stretch, the city is on one side of the road and the Gulf of Mexico is on the other.  We are staying at this very neat place called Dellanera RV Park, which is run by the County Parks.  Our site is right on the beach – so close that we hear the Gulf of Mexico surf breaking, all the time.  As we look out our back window, and especially at night, we can see a few off-shore oil rigs and several anchored tankers, waiting to be off-loaded at the several refineries in the area.

Dee Dee and the Boyz, Dellenera RV Park, Galveston Island, Texas

Dee Dee and the Boyz, Dellenera RV Park, Galveston Island, Texas

Fence, washed out beach and surf, Dellenera RV Park, Galveston Island, Texas

Fence, washed out beach and surf, Dellenera RV Park, Galveston Island, Texas

One issue we encountered, however, is that the beach immediately out front was being reconstructed because it was pretty much destroyed during the last hurricane.  This is accomplished by essentially hauling tons and tons and tons of sand and re-positioning it on the beach.  This is really a minor issue as we can walk about a block through the RV Park and take a small path down to portion of the frontage that is still in good condition.  Once again, Charlie is very appreciative of the surf-and-sand environment we continue to provide for him.  And, he now seems to spend an equal amount of time in the surf as he does chasing a tennis ball.  We need to get him a board.

Prop and ferry dock, Galveston Island, Texas

Prop and ferry dock, Galveston Island, Texas

New house foundation, Galveston Island, Texas

New house foundation, Galveston Island, Texas

House, Galveston Island, Texas

House, Galveston Island, Texas

Houses, Galveston Island, Texas

Houses, Galveston Island, Texas

As we drove around exploring, we came across another of the FREE Texas ferries, off the north east side of Galveston Island.  Very efficient operation.  We counted 5 ferry docks at this location.  Another thing we noticed is that almost all the houses on Galveston Island are built on ‘stilts’ – 12” X 12” pressure-treated timbers (or in some cases, telephone poles) driven into the ground.  The actual house sits about 12 – 18 feet in the air.  The reason is obvious – protection from flooding caused by hurricanes.

January 15 – still no sun!  We depart here (Galveston Island) this morning, headed for Carencro, Louisiana, where we will be staying at the Bayou Wilderness RV Park.  Stay tuned…

Leaving Arizona, Headed To Texas!

Point of Rocks RV Park, between Prescott and Prescott Valley, Arizona

Point of Rocks RV Park, between Prescott and Prescott Valley, Arizona

The last installment of the blog found us at the Point of Rocks RV park, a delightful, friendly and beautiful place located between Prescott and Prescott Valley, Arizona.  This unique place is nestled among large boulders.  The spaces are generous and there is lots of privacy.  Point of Rocks is an older park and it’s age is showing somewhat, but still and all, it’s a very cool place.

Debbie, Gary, Dee Dee and Thee Bob at an excellent post-Thanksgiving, Pre-Christmas turkey dinner prepared by Debbie.

Debbie, Gary, Dee Dee and The Bob at an excellent post-Thanksgiving, Pre-Christmas turkey dinner prepared by Debbie.

As usual, we had a great time visiting our good friends Gary and Debbie Paulson.  Had a nice post-Thanksgiving-Pre-Christmas turkey dinner at their place.  Also got to visit their latest land acquisition, a nice acre of land way out in the county, where they plan to build their teeny-weeny retirement home.

I mentioned in the previous post that the check engine light on our truck came on as we were pulling up the long hill in I-40, after departing Bullhead City, AZ.  We took it into the Dodge dealer in Prescott who did their best to get it fixed, but they were constrained by factory procedures.  Here is what we had to go through:

First trip to the dealer – they re-flashed the ROM.  That fix lasted about day.

Second trip to the dealer – they replaced a wiring harness.  That fix lasted about an hour.

Third trip to the dealer – they replaced the oxygen sensors.  That last about 3 hours. As we were leaving town, on our way to Apache Junction and Lost Dutchman State Park, it came on again. So, we spent almost 2 entire days, and a total of 3 trips back to the dealership.

View of Superstition Mountain from our campsite at Lost Dutchman State Park

View of Superstition Mountain from our campsite at Lost Dutchman State Park

Impending blooms, cholla cactus, Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

Impending blooms, cholla cactus, Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

Sunrise silhouettes Superstition Mountain, Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

Sunrise silhouettes Superstition Mountain, Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

Desert detail, Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

Desert detail, Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

Storm clouds over Superstition Mountain, Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

Storm clouds over Superstition Mountain, Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

Desert scene, Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

Desert scene, Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

Every Arizona State Park we have visited has been excellent, and Lost Dutchman is no exception.  It’s a magnificent place, located at the very foot of the Superstition Mountains.  Large spaces, great views and a very friendly staff, largely consisting of volunteers.  We spent 3 days there and I had a great visit with an old ASU graduate school buddy, Neil Miller, who showed up in his vintage Morgan, a very cool automobile.  We would have like to have spent more time exploring the area, but, as outlined above, the truck check engine light continued to plague us.  I managed to get a local Dodge dealer to squeeze us in on a Friday morning, and act of pure kindness on their part since their service department was totally maxed out.  I showed up at 8 AM and they told me that it should be fixed by noon.  Noon came and I was told 3 PM as they were having a hard time diagnosing the problem.  3 PM came and went.  Finally, at 5:45 PM it was completed.  We had to spend the entire day at the dealership waiting, instead of being out walking the trails of Superstition Mountain.  Turns out the issue was a wire running to a sending module (which they also replaced) to an oxygen sensor  was not properly seated.  They blamed it on the Prescott dealer.  Anyhow, they seemed to have fixed the issue, as we have not seen the light come back on. (Knock on wood.)  Even though we had to miss a lot of Lost Dutchman SP and the surrounding area, we have already booked another 5 days in March (where are going to meet up with Gary and Debbie) and plan to do lots of exploring.  This is really a very cool place.

OK then.  From Lost Dutchman State Park we headed south to Benson, AZ., to meet up with our friends Gary and Debbie, and their brand shiney, new, spiffy, very cool  Winnebago motorhome.  And, just as we travel with our guys, Charlie-the-dog and Dylan-the-cat, they bring their African Gray parrot, Pepper – big cage and all.  We all stayed at this nice RV park, Cochise Terrace, which sits up on a hill, overlooking the town.  Nice views and plenty of space for the dog to run and the cat to skulk around.  We did a couple of day trips, the first to Kartchner Caverns State Park, where there are a series of ‘live’ caves (meaning that water is still present, causing features in the caves to continue growing.)  Kartchner Caverns (named after the original land owners) is very well protected; the groups that travel through them are kept small – our tour to the ‘Big Room’ was limited to 15 people.  They protect the delicate cave infrastructure in several ways: to enter the caves you pass through 3 airlocks and a ‘mist bath’ to minimize disbursement of lint.  This Arizona State Park is well managed and the tour is well worth the $23/person admission.  And, if we had the whole thing to do over again, we would have stayed at the campground in the Park.  Great views and plenty of space.  Maybe next time.

Gary, Dee Dee and Debbie with our very knowledgeable bird tour guide at the Oasis Bird Sanctuary north of Benson, Arizona.  She knew the name of almost every one of the 850-plus birds located there.  No kidding.

Gary, Dee Dee and Debbie with our very knowledgeable bird tour guide at the Oasis Bird Sanctuary north of Benson, Arizona. She knew the name of almost every one of the 850-plus birds located there. No kidding.

Dee Dee with our good friends, Gary and Debbie, at the entrance to the Oasis Bird Sanctuary, north of Benson, Arizona

Dee Dee with our good friends, Gary and Debbie, at the entrance to the Oasis Bird Sanctuary, north of Benson, Arizona

Cockatiel, Oasis Bird Sancturary, near Benson, Arizona.  Pretty smart bird who gnawed away part of a protective barrier to get a better view

Cockatiel, Oasis Bird Sancturary, near Benson, Arizona. Pretty smart bird who gnawed away part of a protective barrier to get a better view

Bright red Macaw, Oasis Bird Sanctuary, near Benson, Arizona

Bright red Macaw, Oasis Bird Sanctuary, near Benson, Arizona

Dee Dee and African Gray parrot, Oasis Bird Sanctuary, near Benson, Arizona

Dee Dee and African Gray parrot, Oasis Bird Sanctuary, near Benson, Arizona

Our second trip was (way) out to the Oasis Bird Sanctuary, which can be found about 30 miles north of Benson; the last 7 miles of the trip are on a dirt road.   This is a very cool place that houses over 850 exotic birds.  They end up here because they were abandoned by their owners (dick heads), caught by different Animal Control agencies, or just given up by their owners.  Also, this is the last stop for all the birds, many of whom can live for more than 50 years.  They are guaranteed a good home for the remainder of their life.  Although they get requests almost every day to adopt birds, they can only take in about 20 per year.  This is an amazing place that is composed of many aviaries sitting on several acres, well worth the visit.  It operates totally on donations from a variety of sources.  And, you must schedule your visit in advance.  They spent about 3 hours with us and we got to walk right into most of the aviaries.  What a great experience.  And, you have no idea how NOISEY birds can be.  After the tour, a donation is expected – they tell you this in advance. (Gary gave them the equivalent of $25/person.)  Finally, you must make arrangements in advance for a tour…you can’t just show up.

Dee Dee and her boys, Tombstone, Arizona

Dee Dee and her boys, Tombstone, Arizona

Dee Dee trying on hats at a store in Tombstone, Arizona.  A sign next to the hats said, "Hats are for buying, not for picture taking."  Guess I musta missed it.

Dee Dee trying on hats at a store in Tombstone, Arizona. A sign next to the hats read, “Hats are for buying, not for picture taking.” Guess I musta missed it.

After Gary and Debbie departed so Gary could go back to work (sucker!), we took another day trip down to Tombstone, about 25 miles south of Benson.  Pretty much what you might expect – touristy to a large extent, but still fun to walk around.  Big Nose Kate’s Saloon is pretty neat inside.  One thing definitely worth a visit is the old Cochise County Courthouse, which has been converted to an excellent museum.  Here, you get a real sense of what life was like when the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday walked the streets.

Dunes, White Sands National Recreation Area

Dunes, White Sands National Recreation Area

Dune detail, White Sand National Recreation Area

Dune detail, White Sand National Recreation Area

Metals walkway over protected area, White Sands National Monument

Metals walkway over protected area, White Sands National Monument

Dee Dee and Charlie walking the dunes at White Sand National Monument, New Mexico

Dee Dee and Charlie walking the dunes at White Sand National Monument, New Mexico

Charlie's been here.  White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

Charlie’s been here. White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

From Benson, we head off to Las Cruces, New Mexico for a few days.  Las Cruces is primarily a military town, supported by the White Sands Missile Range.  It’s a very friendly, historic and rapidly growing area.  It also is the location of the worst Denny’s Restaurant on the planet.  No kidding.  Barf City.  It’s as if they actually try to provide the customer with world-class crappy service, long waits, cold food, botched orders, luke warm coffee and no utensils.  No Kidding.  (And we are actually Denny’s fans.)   To counter this experience, on Christmas Day we found another Denny’s in town (the ONLY restaurant in the area that was open); it was OK, so Denny’s partially redeemed themselves.

We also drove out to White Sands National Monument for the day.  Great wave-like dunes of sand have engulfed 275 square miles of desert, creating the world’s largest gypsum dune field. The sand really is pure white and there is a nice drive right through the dunes.  Despite the crowds, we easily found places where you could walk where there were no other people and no footprints.

Merry Christmas from Las Cruces, New Mexico

Merry Christmas from Las Cruces, New Mexico

After Las Cruces, we headed down I-90 for Alpine, Texas, via El Paso.  It was cold and spitting snow as we passed through town.  Once we cleared El Paso, the real space of Texas started to reveal itself.  Texas is BIG, and you can really feel it.  It’s a long way from anything to anywhere.  We really like Texas.  One the way to Alpine you pass through Marfa, known for the fake Prada storefront just west of town.  It’s formality and shape stand out in stark contrast to the surrounding prairie.  We would have shared a picture of it with you, but by the time we passed it there was no room to pullover.  Bummer.

One of the notable features when you are entering Alpine is the old (but still active) railroad overpass on I-90.  Even though I-90 is a main thoroughfare, the clearance of the bridge is only about 13’ 4”.  The height of our 5th wheel is also 13’4”, so we decided not to risk and to take a well-traveled detour around it.  The locals tell a story of the time a large semi-truck/trailer passed under and didn’t quite make it.  Almost everyone in town showed up with their lawn chairs to watch as they let the air of the tires to lower the vehicle enough to clear.  Wahooo!

We stayed at this place called the Lost Alaskan RV Park, about a mile north of town.  One of the very best places we have stayed so far.  Extremely friendly and very spacious.  With a great fenced dog run, so it rates high on Charlie’s list as well.  It seems as if everyone in Texas we have met so far seems genuinely happy to meet you.  What a place.

After Alpine, we headed south to Big Bend National Park, located at the ‘Big Bend’ of the Rio Grande River between Texas and Mexico.  Several friends who are considering traveling to Big Bend NP have asked us for our opinion of the place, so here ya go…

Ocotillo cactus detail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Ocotillo cactus detail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Detail, prickly pear cactus, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Detail, prickly pear cactus, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Big Bend is an immense and magnificent place.  ‘Spectacular’ is a fitting adjective.  Amazing, rugged mountains and beautiful desert.  Very remote in many ways (Alpine and Sanderson, about 100 miles away, are the closest towns.)  There is a lot to see and do in this place, but be prepared to drive a long way to anything to see stuff.  OK, that’s the ‘up’ side.  The downside (at least for some people) is that it’s an older National Park that has not really been upgraded for contemporary RV’s (some of you might see that as a positive.)  There are several campgrounds, but they are all geared for tent campers or very small RV’s – like under 24’ LOA.  Also, be prepared to dry camp (not really a bid deal – there are places to fill up with water before you enter the campgrounds) as none of the campgrounds have any services at the sites, except for one commercial operation located at the south end of the park in Rio Grande Village; it’s a total joke and we suggest avoiding it.  If you have ever stayed at an RV park in Las Vegas (known for cramming rigs into very small spaces), then you be right at home in this place.  It’s basically a converted parking lot and extremely narrow.  We drove through it and there was barely room even for our truck to pass through.  It’s a wonderment how any of the RV’s in there (the place was packed) got in there.

View of Mexico, the Rio Grande River and Texas.  Look carefully and you can see our 5th wheel in the left center of the image

View of Mexico, the Rio Grande River and Texas. Look carefully and you can see our 5th wheel in the lower right center of the image

Mexicans cross the Rio Grand and leave this little volunteer 'stores' and many locations along the Rio Grande River in Big Bend National Park.

Mexicans cross the Rio Grand and leave these little volunteer souvenir ‘stores’ at many locations along the Rio Grande River in Big Bend National Park.

Mexican cowboy crossing the Rio Grand to check on his souvenir sales

Mexican cowboy crossing the Rio Grand to check on his souvenir sales

Mexican cowboy who crossed the river on his magnificent palomino

Mexican cowboy who crossed the river on his magnificent palomino

Waxy cactus (I forget the real name) used for making candles, cosmetics, etc.  Big Bend National Park, Texas

Waxy cactus (I forget the real name) used for making candles, cosmetics, etc. Big Bend National Park, Texas

Reed detail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Reed detail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Prickly pear cactus, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Prickly pear cactus, Big Bend National Park, Texas

We stayed at the main campground at the south end of the park in Rio Grande Village.  Beautiful sites, lots of trees and space in between.  But, only about 3-4 of them can accommodate RV’s over 30’ in length.  If you plan to go here, it’s imperative that you make a reservation on-line.  (If you want a suggestion as to which sites are the largest, feel free to contact us and we will give you a recommendation.)  We were lucky and had reserved a site that would fit us, but even then getting in was a bit of a struggle.  Also of note is a Texas State Park immediately to the west, and adjacent to, Big Bend National Park.   Dee Dee talked to a guy who had been there and was told the accommodations there were better.  Something to look into for next time.

We cut our visit to Big Bend National Park short for two reasons:  there was a nasty weather front moving in; getting out of there for our next destination, Del Rio, also on the Rio Grande/Mexico border, might have been problematic.  But perhaps the biggest reason was the mass of humanity that invaded the Park for the Christmas/New Year’s break.  There were just too many people; they were everywhere you went.  Traffic was awful.  And speaking of traffic, we encountered numerous DWA’s who really should not be allowed anywhere near a car or highway.  No kidding.

So, three days into our planned 6 day stay we left for Del Rio, Texas.  And a good thing, too, as we were literally about 3 hours ahead of freezing rain and impassible (several were closed) roads.  We stayed at this place called Broke Mill RV park.  Friendly and adequate, but about 6 miles from town.  Del Rio is actually a pretty big place (it has a super Walmart, so there ya go…)  You can take a cab across the border to Ciudad Acuna, but the guy who ran the RV park said it’s hardly worth the visit because ‘there was nothing really there.’  So we decided to skip it.  I forgot to mention (above) that as we were leaving Big Bend NP I started to feel sort of crappy.  Well, once we hit Del Rio, the flu set in pretty good.  I have not been really ‘flu sick’ in years, so this was pretty surprising.  So, most of our 4 days in Del Rio were spent with me being sick.  And, I was still ill as we packed up and headed for San Antonio, where I got worse with horrible congestion and a severe cough (but, the accompanying hallucinations were pretty good.)   As of today (January 6), I think I am on the road to recovery.  Dee Dee is fine – let’s just hope I have not passed this nasty thing on to her.

And so this chapter ends.  Stay tuned for the next installment…