02-13 to 02-18-2014 Five Days in Fort De Soto

Current Location: Fort De Soto Campground 67 degrees F and sunny

Fort Desoto.NEF-006The front door is wide open to the dappled sun coming through the trees here in our campground.  It feels very much like some kind of tropical jungle, with lots of palms and thick vegetation surrounding the campsites.  The temperatures are cool but the sun is absolutely brilliant. 

My muscles feel like jelly in that good way that happens when they are getting properly used.  Mo is reading and napping in the back of the rig while I process photos and try to condense our days into something readable.  Mark Johnson, over at the Box Canyon Blog, is lately one of my favorite writers.  Last night he wrote about how so many of us, RV bloggers specifically, talk about all the wonders of this lifestyle and none of the downside.  Problem is, I can’t at the moment find a downside.  I think it might be like labor…when it is over, you forget.  Especially when the sun is shining.

Fort Desoto-010Because of the mix-up in our original reservation, we had to move after our first night here, and tomorrow will have to move again to another campsite.  It isn’t a big problem, though, and we like the new spot we are moving to as much as the first one.  This site, 147, is huge and is one of the few pull through’s in this part of the park.  Even though it is also private, it is so big that it feels a bit like a road and we are just plopped down in the middle of it.  Still, the shade on this warmish sunny afternoon is lovely.

Fort De Soto is actually a Pinellas County Park, south of St Petersburg.  It consists of five offshore keys, or islands, lying to the city’s south-southwest: Madelaine Key, St. Jean Key, St. Christopher Key, Bonne Fortune Key and the main island, Mullet Key. All are connected by either bridge or causeway to each other. The island group is accessible by a toll road from the mainland. Water everywhere!  Many of the campsites are waterfront, and half the park is dog friendly.  Campsites become available six months before your intended booking date, and when I attempted to book our sites, I had a bit of difficulty getting one, much less a waterfront site.  I keep forgetting about little things like holiday weekends. 

Fort Desoto-004It is a truly beautiful park, with gorgeous white sand beaches, calm bayous for kayaking, mangrove swamps and sea oats on sugar sand.  The campground is thick with palms and life oaks that hang over the roadways, with warning signs saying to watch for low hanging branches, yet I have seen many very large rigs parked in the private,  spacious campsites.  It is a bit spendy.  I keep forgetting what we paid for this park, maybe on purpose…maybe because it was prepaid six months ago.  With taxes and such, I think it was a bit over $40 per night, probably will qualify as our spendiest camp for the entire three months.

Fort Desoto-020It is worth every single penny.  As I said, water everywhere, even a large off leash dog beach and a huge doggie park with a cooling wash station for hot summer days or getting out the salt water after doggie swims. 

A paved bicycle trail runs the entire length of the key from end to end and past the campground with workout stations placed here and there and an occasional sign naming trees or plants in the area. 

The park is named for Fort De Soto, located at the point where Mullet Key intercepts the channel into Tampa Bay. It was first surveyed in 1849 and Union troops were stationed here during the Civil War to aid in the blockade of Tampa Bay.  It wasn’t until the Spanish-American war however, that the fort was built.  It operated as a strategic defense from 1898 to 1910 and was decommissioned after that time.There are a few cannon and some ramparts to view at the site of the fort, but the most interesting exhibit are one bunker with old photos of the history of the fort and old maps of the surrounding keys. 

on the bike trail at Fort DeSotoI don’t think many people come here to see the fort, however.  This place is all about the water, with a large boat launch area to the north, and countless spots where a kayak can launch.  On one of the blustery days when we explored North Beach, we saw kite surfers doing their thing on the wild water.  The winds were over 10 mph and watching those guys fly across the water was almost as impressive as watching them fall.  Neither of us could figure out how someone would go about learning this crazy sport.

Wildlife is everywhere, the small variety, especially raccoons.  They are so dang cute, and of course they raid the garbage cans and campsites.  Signs everywhere proclaim, don’t feed the wildlife!.  And the birds!  There are birds everywhere, especially shore and water birds.  Mo keeps saying…oh another egret?  How many photos of egrets and herons can you take? Egrets here seem a bit like robins in the north country in springtime.

into the slough north of North Beach on Mullet KeyWe have so enjoyed our time here.  With good weather most of the time and several days to enjoy it, we have biked the trail, walked the beaches, kayaked the bayous and taken Abby to the dog beach.  I do not remember when we did what at all, everything is running together.  I think that is how it is supposed to be when relaxing at a great camp, right?

All the spacious restrooms are an open design with round buildings and open drains around the inside edge.  Interesting and functional.  At each restroom there is a washer and dryer for a buck each outside on the breezeway.  There are also a great number of garbage cans, almost a pair for every few sites, and it seems they are emptied quite often. There is a boat launch, and a small camp store.  Getting back to town for any kind of shopping requires a bit of driving and two bridge tolls of less than a dollar each, so it is better to come here with all that is needed for your stay.

Pass a Grille-006What I do remember is early yesterday morning, rising before sunrise to get over to Pass a Grille Beach south of St Pete Beach for my little ceremony for Bel.  I had promised her I would take her to the beach, so after almost a year since her passing, I finally was able to keep that promise.  Bel was honored with a setting full moon over the gulf as the sun rose in the east over the bay. 

Pass a Grille is a tiny treasure, a peninsula less than a mile wide south along the gulf with a long lovely beach.  Unlike much of the Florida coastline, here the houses are less than two stories and are on the other side of the road from the beach walk and access to the beach is completely public.  Much of the town is on the National Historic Register. No dogs again, but that wasn’t a problem for us on this early morning since we left Abby back at the MoHo to keep Jeremy company.

Pass a Grille-010Afterward, Mo and I decided that a good breakfast was in order and driving north past the gorgeous Don Cesar Hotel toward St Pete Beach, we found a funky little place called the Toasted Monkey.  With friendly down home waitresses in shorts, mimosa’s on the breakfast menu, and several menu items with gravy, we had a great breakfast. One shared plate was plenty for the two of us. We even got a touch of TV.  I think there were at least a dozen in the restaurant and we could see 4 or so from our table.  Maybe it was a sports bar.  We did get to see the US hocky team playing Russia and were glad to hear that they won.

We then tried to find somewhere to buy our traditional Sees chocolates, with the official Sees website stating that a kiosk was available in St Petersburg.  Suddenly we were in Florida hell, the Florida that all the westerners cite when they say they would never come to Florida because it is too full of people and traffic.  It was nasty.  I kept thinking about how awful it would be to actually live here. 

Pass a Grille.NEF-003I found the Sees at Dillards, my favorite department store, but I wasn’t in the least bit of a mood for shopping and got out of there fast…in time to get back on a busy road and try to find our way across a busy town back to our idyllic little island campground.  Whew!

More excitement came on Saturday as we waited for the month’s mail to arrive USPS Express.  With a guaranteed Saturday delivery, we were a bit anxious when nothing had arrived at the campground by 4 pm.  Finally the desk help, and old southern boy, said, “Well, I don’t think anyone went to get the mail today.”   Seems as though the mail is delivered in a box on the other side of the bridge and the post office refuses to come out to the island.  (Sure wish they had told us that when they insisted we should have our mail sent directly to the campground!)

Pass a GrilleThe help decided they could make the 15 minute run to the Post Office to pick up mail after all, and after another half an hour I returned to the office to find that the expected packet of mail did NOT come with the Saturday delivery.  UhOh.  There is a lot of stuff in that packet, including a big refund check for our Michelin tires and all our income tax papers.  Sheesh.  With the holiday I was in a panic thinking we would have to figure out a way to wait around until Tuesday afternoon for the mail to be delivered.

Home to the rig to check the tracking number which said the packet was out for delivery on Saturday at 10 AM.  ???  I went back up to the office, where the old southern boy sheepishly held up our packet saying, “I guess someone delivered it this morning and it was on the desk.  No one thought to look on the desk”.  Ok Then.  All is well that ends well and we got our mail.  I am glad we only have to do this one more time on this trip and hopefully the mid March mail delivery will be without incident.

Mo on the beach at Fort DeSotoI used the crock pot again to make some carnitas beef and as it was cooking, instead of those wonderful smells wafting through the MoHo we kept thinking, “What IS that smell?!”  I had purchased a carnitas spicy sauce slow cooking packet at Whole Foods, one of my few luxury purchases. After several hours it was so bad that I had to put the crock pot outside and turn on the fan.  I can’t even give the meat to the animals because it is too spicy.  I have no idea what the weird flavor in that sauce was, but I hope I never encounter it again.

See, Mark Johnson?  All isn’t perfect in the RV world.

fort desoto imageryTomorrow the forecast is for even warmer temperatures, clear skies and no wind.  That calls for another kayak, another walk on the dog beach, another bike ride and hopefully something tasty for supper.  Tonight it will be tasty cheese quesadillas, with lots of jalapenos and no meat.

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

yellow crowned night herons are not the least bit skittish

1-21-2014 Judy finds the spoonbills

Current Location: Belle Chase LA, NAS: Temperature: 33 degrees F spitting wet stuff

Anahuac NWR_102I do believe that anyone who has an RV blog probably knows about Judy, the Bird Lady of Blogland.  She has hundreds of followers, uncounted readers, and if you are lucky enough to be anywhere in the vicinity, she is likely to have offered to share her refuges with you.  I think nearly every blogger that I follow has at one time or another declined to identify a bird in favor of Judy’s final say-so on the matter, me included.

When we realized that we were traveling within a few miles of Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, Judy’s current volunteer location, I contacted her privately and asked where we might camp if we wanted to see the refuge.  With her usual generous spirit, she piped up, “Right here on my concrete pad if you don’t mind roughing it with 30 amp.  I have the day off and would love to show you the refuge if you have time”.Judy and Emma

Well, then!  Lucky us!

Judy offered us a place to stay and a tour of the refugeWe arrived on a sunny but windy afternoon and within a few moments were getting set up at the maintenance area of the refuge where Judy is currently parked.  I let my guard down for a moment…bad bad bad…and Jeremy immediately jumped out of the rig to investigate.  Usually not a problem, but I’ll let Judy tell the story here. She tells the story better than I would and you get another chance to see her sense of humor shine.

With an attempt to thank Judy for her hospitality, I offered to cook grilled chicken with rice and salad.  We visited on the patio, but the chilly winds drove us inside our rig for dinner.  We enjoyed having someone to share a meal at our new dinette.

Anahuac NWR_009I kinda knew that Judy had a dry sense of humor, but as our evening wore on and we shared our supper, all that good stuff started showing up.  We had a nice time getting to know each other and talking about travels, birds, volunteering, refuges, and yes…a bit of talk about other bloggers.  I guess it is only natural and of course it was all good stuff.

Judy knew I wanted to see spoonbills, but as we began our morning explorations, I let her know that seeing the snow geese do their thing was also high on my list.  With a few hours to spend at the refuge, we saw so much more than we could have on our own.  There is nothing quite like having a pro around to really show you the ropes.

snow geese at AnahuacJudy took us to several locations where we saw huge flocks of snow geese, and during the entire time she was sharing bits and pieces of her extensive knowledge of the history of the refuge, the devastation of hurricane Ike, and attempts to restore the wetlands to good condition.  Shoveler’s Pond, for instance, a fresh water environment, was completely inundated by the storm surge and the salt water killed all the natural vegetation.  Restoration included removing the salt contaminated soil completely and starting over.Anahuac NWR_034

Even with the high winds, we saw more than I ever expected.  Judy thought that the winds might have actually been in our favor because the birds were hunkering down.  Watching snow geese fly and hearing their sound is thrilling, something I seek out in the Klamath Basin where they move through in March. 

blue winged tealJudy took us right to several huge flocks, that obligingly put on a great show.  I took many photos, and also did a video recording of the sounds.  There is just nothing like it, except for maybe the sound of a huge flock of tundra swans.

Anahuac NWR_089As we drove around Shoveler’s Pond, Judy kept saying she couldn’t guarantee a sighting of the ‘big pink birds”, the roseate spoonbills.  I actually saw them first, and hollered, “Look, there they are!”  Sure enough we found them on one of the distant dikes across the pond, but Judy knew where the grasses would part enough for a closer view.  I finally saw the spoonbills, and even managed a photo or two.Anahuac NWR_157

After a bit of time watching the birds on the dike, they decided that I needed to see them fly, and took off just for us, knowing that of course we needed a fabulous photo op.

Anahuac NWR_191Judy says that if we return in March and are nearby, we can see the spoonbill rookeries on High Island, where birders come from all over the world to see the birds congregating after their exhausting travels over the Gulf of Mexico on their return north. 

What a treat it was to spend time with Judy and to see Anahuac  (did you know it is pronounced ana whack??) NWR as we would have never seen it without her. 

At noon, we packed up, hooked up, and ambled off toward Louisiana

Up Next:  Sam Houston Jones State Park, Lake Charles, Louisiana

1-17 and 1-19 2014 Padre Island National Seashore and kayaks in the water

Padre Island_005We only gave ourselves a single day to explore Padre Island National Seashore.  I am sure folks who love this place dearly are appalled that we didn’t take the time to settle in to the rhythm of the waves, and to really enjoy the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world.

Padre Island is truly a national treasure, one I had heard very little of until recently when I found bloggers talking about their time volunteering on the island.  North Padre Island is a bit different.  Technically it is a neighborhood of Corpus Christi, with many upscale seasonal homes on the intracoastal waterway, surf shops, and all that go with that beach resort kind of atmosphere. 

Padre Island_137Unlike what I read about South Padre Island, North Padre Island seems to be a bit more laid back, not quite so crowded, maybe not quite as popular with the spring break crowd.  Very few high rises were to be seen. Just a few miles south, however, is the entrance to the national seashore.  The entrance is still a few miles from the visitor center at Malaquite Beach, and the broad expanse of the barrier island seems a bit featureless until time is taken to look at it a bit more closely. Camping is allowed both in two main campgrounds that are accessible by road, and along the entire 65 mile length of the shore with a park permit.  There is an additional campground at Yarborough Pass at milepost 15 ( through the dunes) that is on Laguna Madre, inland from the beach, and is accessible by 4 wheel drive or by boat.

Crested Caracara Caracara cheriwayWe decided to drive to Bird Island and discovered one of the campgrounds, with several rigs settled in along the silty beach bordering Laguna Madre.  It was here that I first saw this very weird bird that I later discovered was the national bird of Mexico, a crested caracara.  There were white pelicans settling in on an exposed bar in the lagoon, and the wind was blowing hard.  Perfect for windsailing, which seems to be a popular pastime at this site.

Continuing down the road toward the visitor center, we found a short interpretive trail with a nice path that led through the grasslands.  The ecology of a barrier island is complex: simplified it consists of the beach, the dunes, the grasslands, the wetlands, and the lagoon separating the island from the mainland.  The grasslands are full of all sorts of plants and wildlife, and we saw the lovely vermillion butterfly.The weather was cool and windy for our walk, and the sun was brilliant.

Padre Island_026Dog friendly beaches and trails were another great surprise about the seashore.  We were happy to have Abby with us all day on the trails and on the beach, although even with pavement, there were many stickers on the trail that Mo had to pull from Abby’s paws. Again, the national seashore is almost 70 miles of coastal frontage with no roads providing access.  The only access is in your vehicle, right on the beach. 

Padre Island_114The first 5 miles don’t require a 4 wheel drive, but it is recommended after that distance, due to drifting dunes that build up along the route. The warning sign at the 5 mile marker regarding illegal activity and smugglers was a bit sobering.

We drove about 10 miles, most of the time we were the only ones on the beach, and it was very windy and cool enough that we were grateful for the protection of the car.  This landscape is a place where immersion would take commitment.  It would be wonderful to take the MoHo as far as we could manage and just sit there and watch the water and the view change with the shifting light.  Instead, it was an exploratory trip and we decided that we will definitely return to explore it in depth.Padre Island_130

Shoreline trash is a big enough subject that it is directly addressed in the park brochure.  Seems as though most of the trash is blown in from the Gulf and there are both public and private programs to try to clean it up.  It would be a never ending project. An entire day could be devoted to picking up all sorts of flotsam and jetsam that must be dumped from ships or who knows where.  It was a shocking, actually.  More trash than I have ever seen on a beach anywhere.  In an nearly pristine wilderness. Trash bags are provided at the access roads to help with the garbage pickup. Made me really sad, and yet overwhelmed enough that I didn’t fill a garbage bag and try to take it back.  Sorry Erin. I did manage to pick up a lot of trash at the NAS beach.Padre Island_132

Unlike the complex, ever changing coastline of the Pacific, this gulf shore feels infinite…going on and on what seems like forever, with very little change.  The subtle differences would have to be experienced at a slower pace.  As nesting grounds for the endangered Kemp’s-ridley turtles, there would be nests to watch for as early as April, but with the chill winds, we saw no sign of turtles.Padre Island_126

The story of the Kemp’s-ridley turtle is fascinating.  Nearly extinct, they were losing their nesting sites to development, so biologists put Padre Island sand in their incubators to help them imprint, released them after tagging them from the shore, and recently tagged turtles have been returning and nesting in what was not an original nesting site for them.  Although five different species of sea turtles nest on the island, we saw no nests and no turtles.  Still too early in the season, I am sure.

foggy morning for our first Texas launchIn spite of the chill wind, seeing that expansive shoreline was fascinating, especially for me as a westerner with a Pacific ocean mindset.  I loved it.  Loved that I could just walk and walk and walk if I had the opportunity.  I would imagine we will return to this place again and continue our explorations.

We waited for several days for the winds to lessen enough to launch our kayaks, and on our last day in Corpus Christi were rewarded with a calm not so chilly morning.  There was a bit of fog to accompany us as we drove once again across the bay toward Mustang Island and turned north toward Aransas Pass.

We read about the Mustang Island Paddling Trail, where there are several launch sites, and official markers for the trail.  Being inexperienced in this area, it seemed like a good idea to try a marked route. 

Mustang cove day_032The trails are on the bay side of Mustang Island, in brackish water that has a very silty, muddy bottom, dotted with islands and inlets.  If you have ever tried to navigate in a completely flat landscape filled with water, you can imagine how challenging it was to figure out where we were.  I didn’t have the official GPS with me, just a good printed map of the trails, and the google earth imagery.

Mustang cove day_014Sure am glad I also had the phone GPS.  In spite of my reasonably good navigation skills, I had no clue where we were on the map without turning on the phone and trying to figure out where that blue dot was!  It was fun, not too windy, and there were enough birds around to keep things interesting.  I was quite delighted to finally find the route marker number 11, and then number 10.  We had completely missed the rest of them. 

It isn’t a difficult place to keep track of where you need to go, it just is a bit tricky avoiding lagoons that might dead end into mud without an outlet.  We probably paddled a short five miles or so, in water that wasn’t the least bit exciting and very very shallow in many places.  Still, it was good to get out in the kayaks for a morning at least and experience a bit of Texas water.

As mentioned in the previous post, we topped off our morning kayak with our fabulous afternoon with Erin and Mui.  It was a great way to spend our last day in this area that was brand new to us until now. I especially enjoyed trying to photograph all the birds.  As they say, the best equipment in the world still needs the photographer.  In spite of Deanna’s great lens, I have a long way to go before I get those shots of their eyes in perfect focus.  I’ll keep trying.01-17-2014 Padre Island Seashore

Next:  Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge and a visit with Judy

 

1-14 to 1-19-2014 Coastal Corpus Christi

the beach on north Padre IslandWe discovered almost as soon as we parked in the NAS at Corpus Christi, that our short time here would only be enough to barely get a taste of all this area has to offer.  Especially in winter, the south Texas coast draws many snowbirds from all over the country ready to experience the delights of a warm seacoast location for an extended stay. 

For years, Mo had read about the draw to the South Texas Coast for retirees and wanted to see the area.  Port Isabel, South Padre Island, and Brownsville destinations were originally on the list of places for us to go on this trip.  Initially we actually planned to drive south for a long day trip to explore from our NAS location, but discovered that the trip to South Padre Island required a 400 mile round trip inland and back out to the southern end of the island which is no longer connected in any way to the northern end.

Visiting the National Seashore was much higher on our list than checking out giant high rise condos on South Padre Island, and it didn’t take many internet searches for us to make that decision.  Instead, we stayed fairly close to our campground, taking each day to explore a different part of greater Corpus Christi.

The NAS is at point A on the google map, and other sites often required a bit of backtracking.  We actually got pretty good at figuring out how to get in and out of the base and onto the network of one way roads that parallel the main freeway that crosses from Corpus Christi Bay to Padre Island.

On our first full day here, we decided to just try to get our bearings, do some driving, and attempt to understand a part of the world that was completely new to us.  Driving….west? east??  (this place is still a directional challenge for me) oh yes…It was east and then north….we crossed the Laguna Madre, a large brackish water lagoon that extends the full length of Padre Island, the longest natural barrier island in the world, and lies between the island Captureand the mainland.

driving on the beach on north Padre IslandThese barrier islands are incredibly important on coastlines that are susceptible to hurricanes, stopping the major surge of water before it inundates the mainland with its full force.  Mustang Island is north of Padre Island, an additional island in the chain of many such barrier islands.  Mustang Island is home to a state park, some official paddling trails on the bay side, and a long, level open beach for strolling.  The beach is also for driving, a new concept to me except for a moment in Daytona Beach.

Here the beach drive makes sense.  The Gulf water is the mother of all, and tire tracks along the beach are obliterated with each movement of the water.  There are access roads from the main island highway that enter the beach between the dunes at several intervals.  4 wheel drive isn’t required, but there are warnings about getting stuck in the sand, and we did see a few stuck cars.

Padre Island and_074What was surprising, though, was how open and empty the beach seemed, even with the option of driving.  Cars and people were few and far between, punctuated rarely by a motorhome, and pickups with huge fishing poles mounted on their bumpers.  I think fishing is the big draw in this part of this area.  I had no idea what a sheepshead was but daughter Deborah caught one on this very beach. That is one scary looking ugly fish!  those teeth!!

Padre Island and_067We drove the beach slowly, enjoying the gentle surf and birds, and then continued into Port Aransas to find the free ferry that crosses the bay in just a few minutes to Aransas Pass.  It is amazing how efficiently the workers manage the load, and when we left town on Monday morning, they managed our motorhome and toad with as much ease as they had managed our previous trips with just the baby car.

I had heard from Erin that there were “whoopers” just outside Goose Island State Park, and armed with well written directions, we drove north through Fulton Beach, across the bridge and out beyond the state park to try to find the birds.  At the time, I kept getting comments saying, “don’t miss the whoopers!”, so I figured I had better make the effort.  After we found the pair, resting in a small draw on a large field of private land, I did some searching and discovered that I had a very fuzzy image of 2 of only 457 birds that are known to exist.  Well.  Alright then!.  Being on private land, we were not able to walk close, and my lens just couldn’t quite get there.  But with the rarity of these birds, I feel pretty lucky to have any photo at all.Padre Island and_150

We were just a short distance from the famous “Big Tree”, a live oak that is more than 1,000 years old.  Folks have spent a huge amount of time and energy taking care of this tree.  I can imagine Sherry trying to hug it, but she couldn’t get close enough with the protective fences.  The stories of the hurricanes and development that this beautiful old tree has survived are uncountable.Padre Island and_127

Ambling back through Fulton Beach, we found a moderately recommended restaurant on the water for lunch.  Alice Faye’s had not a sign of “fish and chips” on the menu, the main reason Mo and I were searching for a restaurant.  Padre Island and_122Coastal locations set the mouth to watering for some real fish and chips.  Instead, once again, we found lots of shrimp and oysters, and the catch of the day, fried or naked, was pollack, and was a bit pricey for a spontaneous lunch. Instead, I had some shrimp which was OK and Mo had a French dip which was actually pretty fantastic.

We were home early enough in the afternoon on that day that I could take full advantage of the free washers and dryers at the campground to once again freshen up all the rugs and blankets and anything else that might have a trace of kitty hair on it.  Loved that most of all about that campground, I can tell you!Corpus Christi_014

On another day we opted to go downtown to check out the city of Corpus Christi.  There are some quirkie things about this city that are a bit hard to figure out.  Some areas are truly gorgeous, and the seawall and beautiful kiosks provide wonderful photo ops with all the reflections.  Corpus Christi_012

The Art Museum and Science Museum are at the end of the Ocean Drive, and the area seems a bit deserted, especially on a Saturday. Corpus Christi_025

It is worth seeking out the beautiful Watergarden falls on the grounds of the museum. The approach to the waterfall is a rippling stream with stone square blocks that create a small rapid.  The sound is gentle and lovely.  There is nothing quite like the roar of the falls down the steps within the circle of the cascading water.  It is as wild and loud as many waterfalls I have experienced. The artist understood sound as a work of art as well as vision.

In that same area were large expanses that appeared to be devastated by a hurricane and nothing had been rebuilt.  Felt a bit strange. The large bridge in the photo above is the Harbor Bridge that crosses Corpus Christi Bay northeast to Portland, Texas.01-18-2014 Corpus Christi

Looking up the history, the only really big hurricane was in 1919 and the areas we were seeing were all warehouse districts at that time.  In the same vicinity is Heritage Park, a delightful project of 9 beautiful huge homes, relocated from various parts of the city to this little neighborhood.  The craziest thing we saw was the old Nueces County Courthouse, built in 1914, with some pretty amazing historical moments in its past.  Abandoned in 1977, the huge and beautiful building sits empty and rotting behind a chain link fence right near the downtown part of the city.

the Nueces coutrhouse was abandoned in 1977 built in 1914Best part of the day for us was a visit to the Railroad Seafood Station and Brewery downtown on Chaparral. The atmosphere was typical brewery, once an old warehouse, with lots of open industrial stuff on the ceiling, dark colors and wooden tables and booths.  I tried one of their current brews, a blond something that was pretty hoppy, but just as our wonderful waiter told me, after three sips it was perfect.  The menu was fabulous, but of course, no fish and chips.  Mo opted instead for some kind of specialty onion rings, with a bit of sweetness and homemade tartar sauce with very finely chopped veggies.

something extra tasty about these onion rings and spicy tartar sauceI opted for the the specialty coconut shrimp and the two sides of veggies and potatoes I chose with a homemade sweet chili sauce were what Sean, our waiter, called the Holy Trinity of food in that restaurant.  He wasn’t exaggerating.  Those little red potatoes were buttery smooth, with edges crisped and roasted with perfectly caramelized onions.  The fresh veggies were tender crisp and only lightly seasoned with herbs and lemon.  The home made chili sauce was the perfect hotness for the best coconut shrimp ever to pass my lips. Remember, I ate coconut shrimp a few years ago in Key West!.  I ended the meal with Sean’s own homemade key lime pie.  Sean and I exchanged email addresses and he wants me to write to him when I get to Key West to let him know if their pie is any better than his.

tender roasted potatoes with caramelized onions, sweet chili sauce for the coconut shrimp and delicate tender crisp veggies in a lemony light sauceYes, it was perfect.  Soft yellow as key lime should be, with a crust thin enough that it didn’t overpower the pie, and without that fake cheesecake taste and texture you now get in some key lime pie recipes from various locations.  Yes, it was a meal to remember, and it was a good thing I didn’t completely wear out my swooning abilities because our meal with Erin and Mui was the very next day!

If you click on my google photos link on the left side of the blog, there are a ton of photos there if you are interested.

Next up: Padre Island National Seashore and a morning kayak at Shamrock Cove

Six Days off the Grid

Waking early Wednesday morning, I looked out over Medicine Lake, smooth as silk, without a ripple anywhere. 

quiet morning at 41 degrees and no windThe skies were clear and only a faint bit of smoke remained on the eastern horizon.  Our days of doing nothing were about to begin with a meandering 3.5 mile loop around the perimeter of the lake.

CaptureOur campground site is at the upper mid right of the map above, the swimming beach is the far right marker, the best fishing hole is on the lower left on the lake and the Brownell Cabin in on the lower bottom left on the shore.  The good bike trail goes to Little Medicine Lake on the upper left shore.  Somehow slipping into a kayak in the early morning feels like nothing at all, no effort, just a silky glide across water so clear I can count fish and silence only broken by the cry of ospreys. Mo on the morning miasma at Medicine Lake

I don’t know how long we were out there that first morning, maybe a couple of hours, but by the time we returned to camp the wind had picked up a bit and the smoke was disappearing completely.  The day began with french press coffee and tiny donuts before we went out on the water and waiting for a mid morning hearty brunch seems to work best for us on this kind of trip.  toward the meadow on a perfectly still morning on Medicine Lake

The day would have continued without much fanfare, but as we settled onto the beach for a bit of sunny doing more nothing, our neighbor approached us all full of conversation and questions.  She wanted to know where we were from, where we got our kayaks, and if we wanted to join up with their kayaking group from the Medford area.  Martha was a very gregarious, talkative, and friendly woman and by the time she left, we had exchanged emails and had plans to contact each other for a day on Recreation Creek. 

we just rolled the trailer down the hill by hand from 45 to 43Not long after that conversation, she and her friend pulled out of the site just next to us, number 43.  Earlier, when we found out they were moving, I asked Mo if maybe we should relocate, and she said, “No Way!!”  But after they left, and we walked over to the site, the very easy, not steep, and not rocky path directly to the beach from the camp spot changed her mind.  Ok, let’s do it!

site 43 from the back of the MoHoWithin minutes we pulled in the slide and backed the MoHo down the 50 yards or so to the much bigger, much more level, much more private site even closer to the lake.  The funniest part of all was later when I was reviewing my photos, I realized that we had camped in this site back in 2005.  How could I forget?!? Rather than hooking up the trailer, we just rolled it down the hill by hand to the new site, and floated the kayaks over to their new beach..  site 43 in 2013

So much for doing nothing!  After getting all settled in again, I had to run around in a flurry trying to take photos of the new site to remember why we made the move.  It was a great plan and for the next several days we said over and over how happy we were that we didn’t have to get up and down that rocky trail to the beach from 45.  Funny, I think I remember saying yesterday that 45 was such a great site.  Well, it is, but only if you can’t get into 43.

view out the back of the MoHo in our new siteA bit later we were down on the beach again when another woman came up to us asking questions about the boats and our rig.  Seems as though she and her husband were camping and were hoping to eventually retire and buy a small motorhome of some kind.  Before long we discovered that her husband was the base commander at Kingsley Field back in Klamath Falls and she was some kind of retired air force officer who now had three kids.  I swear this woman didn’t look a day over 35.  I guess some people make all the right choices at the right moment.  She talked about her travels in the world, her husband, being active duty parents, and all about how much they loved living in Klamath Falls. People in campgrounds are just so incredibly friendly.

Ansel and Barbara on Medicine LakeIt wasn’t long afterward that another couple moved into our vacated site 45, only they at least were camping with a tent.  Next thing you know, they are coming down the trail asking about the kayaks.  They were from San Francisco, at least that is what they said at first.  When we responded with “Oh, where in San Francisco?” she said, “Pacifica”.  Then when Mo said she had taught in Pacifica for 25 years, they started talking about driving Devils Slide and the new tunnel, and then it came out that they actually live in Montera, just a few blocks away from Mo’s ranch in Montera where she lived for that 25 years while teaching.  We all laughed about how you just say “San Francisco” to folks you assume won’t have a clue where Montera actually is located.  How does that happen anyway? 

It turned out that Barbara and Ansel were a highly entertaining couple, with some crazy quirks and a LOT of stories that they liked to tell with gusto.  They also had a brand new inflatable kayak and were fairly new kayakers and wanted some advice about where to go on the lake.  By this time it was very windy and there was no way anyone was going out on that lake in a kayak.  We knew there was a small window of quiet usually in the morning for silky boating and told them to be up and on the water by 7 if they wanted to take advantage of it.thunderstorms maybe?

We spent the rest of the day doing our usual nothing, which includes some reading, some sitting and watching the sky, throwing balls for Abby in the water, watching the lake, and eating.  We used the Weber Q for our suppers and the days just seemed to run all together.  I had taken the computer with me, thinking that I could at least write for the blog with the inverter or when the generator was on, but sure enough, I had forgotten the plug!  I am having to remember all this several days later since writing with a pencil is something I just can’t seem to do any more at all. I didn’t even take photos for two entire days and the only way to remember what we did is to go back over the photos.

evening at site 43 on Medicine LakeWe kayaked every morning and some evenings, had a big campfire every night where I roasted marshmallows and filled them with little pieces of chocolate that would melt perfectly.  We had great dinners, and wonderful big breakfasts that were closer to lunch and never bothered with lunches the entire time. 

water knotweed polygonum amphibiumWe went for short hikes up to the Glass Flow, rode our bikes up to Little Medicine Lake on the lovely bike trail.  We tried to ride to Arnica Sink on the not so lovely bike trail that was deep sandy pumice mined with fat lava rocks.  We turned around on that one and decided that riding on the road was much more fun. Sue in the knotweed at Medicine Lake

The birds are always a highlight, and after a few mornings I actually recognized the two blue herons that flew from shore to shore.  It is always a decision as to how close to get, with the rule being if the bird is uncomfortable and starts to look nervous, you are too close.  I think I got too close to these herons.  I felt guilty, and then would think, well maybe if I am really slow and still it would be ok, but it wasn’t, they flew away, and dang!  I need a longer lens.blue heron on Medicine Lake

The lake is populated with at least a dozen ospreys, perched on snags on the east and west shorelines and always entertaining with the diving and fishing.  We also saw one bald eagle on the west side one morning, and a couple of red tailed hawks and another hawk that I couldn’t identify.

osprey, one of several patrolling the lake I was surprised to see several vultures as well, as I don’t remember seeing them at this kind of high altitude before.  There was one Great Egret in the meadow on the first morning, too far for a photo, and he wasn’t there again.  Ducks were surprisingly few, with just a little group of young ones without a mother paddling along on the east side of the lake.

Mo and I don’t fish, but we had a great time searching for fish in the clear water, with some great success along the southwest shoreline where one of the springs comes up.  Sometimes we could see six to ten trout, maybe 14 inches or so, swimming around beneath us.  We also love paddling into the knotweed with the happy pink flowers standing up above the water and making for some great photos with my pink kayak.

blue heron high in the treeOn one of our days the winds blew so incredibly hard I decided to spend a large part of the day inside the rig knitting a luscious wrap that I have been working on for much too long. The sound of that wind was fabulous, and the clarity it brought to the sky was breathtaking.  I loved it, even though it made it too wild on the lake to take out the kayaks or try to take a swim.

I completely finished reading a great book about cheese, and Spain, and slow food, and betrayal.  It was written so well that I had to highlight phrase after phrase of beautiful words to remember.  I highly recommend “The Telling Room”, by Michael Paternini.  Reading that makes me feel like I have read something worthwhile is great. We even had time for watching a couple of movies in the evenings, with the inverter handling it just fine without having to run the generator.  I laugh to remember that we had this rig for several years before we knew it would do that. 

Finally on our second to the last day, the wind died down completely, and I managed to slip into that crystalline water for a great swim.  Cold, but great.  Barbara and Ansel came down the hill to join me, but neither one of them could manage to get all the way in.  I probably wouldn’t have stayed in as long as I did if I hadn’t been trying to convince them to swim with me.  The day heated up beautifully, but with the warmer temperatures and no winds, before long there was a bit of smoke in the air again.  Nothing like Grants Pass a couple of weeks ago, but smoke nonetheless.

Mama heading for the salt lick on the Brownell ranch with Richard coming to say hello to usOn our last morning kayak, we took our slow time meandering around the lake.  While admiring the old historic cabin on the southwest shore, the owner came down to the shore to visit with us.  I must say I haven’t had such a busy social life in a very long time!  He regaled us with stories about the cabin, built in 1928 by his wife’s father who saved the life of the original owner of the property.  When asked what he would like in return for saving his life, the man said, “If you ever sell the property, sell it to me”.  Sure enough that is how he got it.  Now there are three sisters who share the space with extended family who have memories of staying there as girls in the 1940’s.  They live there 3 months out of the year and then return to Morro Bay in California.  Mo on Medicine Lake

He told us that  the first trout were brought to the lake on mules in 1880 and by the 40’s there were huge browns in that lake that the girls remember catching.  In the 60’s however, chubs were winning, and the Fish and Game decided to kill the lake and start over.  Now the fish that are planted each spring are fairly well fished out of the lake with no big old boys left.  The deepest hole in the lake is about 150 feet, but the rest of the lake is quite shallow.  It was great to get local stories from the local folks.  He even said we were welcome to hike up behind his place to Brownell Meadows but we will have to wait for the next trip to take him up on the offer.  Besides, this was the camping trip for doing nothing and we were getting a bit carried away with all the somethings that we were doing.sunset at Medicine Lake

When it was time to leave, once more the campground was very nearly empty, with only a few occupied sites even over in the busy Medicine Campground.  Our Hogue camp was almost completely empty.  How often can you find an empty campground on a lovely lake in the middle of August!?! We read on the campground sign that there was an RV dump nearby but turned the wrong direction and ended up going south on 49 instead of where we were supposed to go.  As many times as we have been to Medicine Lake, I still needed to get out the map to be sure we were on the right road heading home.sunset at Medicine Lake

Down from the Highlands, summer set in again, with temperatures rising ten degrees in as many miles and smoke thickening the air as we approached Klamath Falls.  bummer.  At least we got a nice break from it, and Rocky Point has enough thick forest to help oxygenate the air a bit.  I just read that Janna and Mike tried to see Crater Lake this week.  Such a bummer and bad timing.  I an only imagine how disappointing it must be for folks who travel from all over the world to see the beautiful lake and its gorgeous blue.  Ah well, Medicine Lake isn’t quite as blue, or as big, or as dramatic, but it was lovely and perfect and I am so glad that after five years we finally took our Medicine.