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

Internet Magic

Currently in Lake Charles, LA sunny and 53 F with a very light breeze

Mustang cove day_062Our time at the NAS Shields Campground between Corpus Christi and North Padre Island was idyllic, and yet it seemed to fly by much more quickly than I ever imagined it would.  Except for the winds, our weather was perfect for exploring in a light jacket, and sadly for the drought-stricken Texas coast, we had no rain.  Sometimes a cloud cover would pop up, just enough for making photos interesting, but never a drop did fall.  At other times, we were shrouded in foggy mornings, but while we were there, the fog always seemed to lift just in time to give us views of whatever vista we had chosen for the day.

When I planned this trip, I had no clue what the weather might be, because as all Coastal Texans know, it is wildly unpredictable.  I also didn’t know whether we would even like the area enough to want to spend more time here, or if we would be disappointed that our reservation didn’t run out sooner.  I guess that is one of the delights of travel to new places.  Wait and See.

silty beach with lots of shells on the Corpus Christi Bay at NASNone of it mattered, however, because I would have come to this area no matter what on my trip east for other reasons.  Daughter Deborah lived near enough when she was in Texas that she fished for sheephead and even caught a Manta Ray on the beach at Port Aransas.  She wanted me to see it.  But the biggest draw for me was a meeting with a friend that I had looked forward to ever since I knew that we would be in the same area at the same time.

I archive email messages that I receive from fellow bloggers, and gmail just informed me this morning that I have 269 messages from EE.  The first one was back in November of 2011, when I had been reading her blog and admiring her wonderful static maps that always work.  Erin wrote back to me with detailed information about how to do it, and that began an online friendship that included comments of each other’s blogs, and private emails over the years.

Mustang cove day_043Since Erin and Mui travel so much of the world, I treasure her writing and photography.  She goes places I dream of and may never manage.  Erin’s info guided Mo and I during several legs of our trip to Alaska and through some of Alberta, and I pay attention to the parks where they have stayed since full-timing.  I won’t repeat the stories, but they are a great example of a couple who planned to go full time, planned it carefully and carried out the plans. 

Yes, we clicked.  Somehow that just happens.  But it wasn’t just Erin that I clicked with, it was Erin and Mui as a couple that I so respected.  Erin is the blogger and photographer, and Mui is the video king, fixit king, and cooking king superb.  In their blog I saw that the two of them are a couple, not linked totally at the hip, but in a solid union of like-minded best friends.  Through emails and comments, I learned that they were bright people, without being the least bit pretentious, and that they had a great sense of humor and an artistic eye. 

How do we do thisMo and I spent time both on Mustang Island, on the Padre Island National Seashore, and in downtown Corpus Christi while we were here, but before I write about those adventures, I wanted to share a bit about our visits with this truly delightful couple I was lucky enough to find through the magic of the internet.

We gave ourselves a day to get our bearings around the area before our planned lunch get together on Thursday the 16th.  Thinking originally that we might kayak before lunch, the wind completely nixed those plans and I actually had enough time to write and catch up on bills and such before we drove the short distance back toward the city to an area along Highway 358 that has several big restaurants and box stores.  Even though there are good chain restaurants nearby that we enjoy, we decided instead to go for the true Texas thing and met at Rudy’s BBQ.

Texas BBQ a new experienceYes, it was the real Texas BBQ experience, the one my daughter talks about with nostalgia.  We got there a bit early and had a few moments to try to get our bearings and figure out just how to manage a meal in this big barn like place with lots of people running around and no one paying a bit of attention to a couple of Yankees with wide eyes.

Erin and Mui showed up almost right away and the four of us negotiated the ordering counter and the big iced bin of adult beverages.  We paid for our BBQ by the pound, with individual side dishes, and carried it all back to the table in what looked like a square laundry basket.  Plates were large torn off sheets of butcher paper.

carry your food in a deep tray because there is a lot of it and its goodThe bbq was fall off the bone fabulous, but the meeting with new friends was even more so.  It is just so wonderful to have a real conversation with people who talk enough to be entertaining, who bring in fascinating subjects, and then ask real questions and actually wait for you to answer those questions with interest.  My kind of conversation!  I just hope I can do it as well as Mui and Erin.

Even before we met for lunch, the two of them had already invited Mo and I to their home the following Sunday for hamburgers.  I guess Erin was optimistic that our meeting would go well and there would be no surprises.  We parted after a reasonable time for a first visit, looking forward to the next time.  Erin and Mui are great friends for us in many ways, especially since we have similar styles in the “togetherness” thing.  We love a good time together, and then we each appreciate time to do our own thing.  That works perfectly for people like us.

Mustang cove day_046On Sunday, after our morning kayak on the bayside of Mustang Island, we were very excited to go to Gulf Waters Resort where Erin and Mui are staying.  By then, I knew that “hamburgers” had morphed into a full fledged Turkish meal, with all the fixin’s and yes…all those great little bowls of veggies that go with any good Turkish meal.

Their home is as beautiful as they are, and Mui’s cooking skills were beyond description. Mui started our afternoon meal with homemade hummus, drizzled with a couple of kinds of olive oil and pita crackers.  I think he mentioned that his Turkish mother said something about, “Did you peel the garbanzos”?  You have to be kidding me!  and no, he didn’t peel the garbanzos, but the hummus was the best I ever tasted.

Mustang cove day_054It was coolish and breezy outside, so we were invited indoors to a beautifully set table and Mui poured a great bottle of red something or other that was perfect. While we ate, Mui talked about meals in Turkey, where eating goes on for hours, with many courses offered one at a time and often lasting until midnight.  Erin told stories of their life and we talked about so many interesting subjects, not one of which had to do with politics, religion, other bloggers, or grandchildren.  Such wonderful conversation.  And yet I didn’t feel as though I had to be “smart” or “witty” or say the right things.  How many times do you really get real conversations like that in your life from new friends?!

cacık (cold cucumber soup with cucumbersThe meal was just so incredible, and I spent as much time swooning and ooh-ing and aah-ing as I did actually eating, but still managed to have seconds of everything except dessert.  Mui bbq’d perfect little Turkish meatballs, flattened a bit, that tasted rich and just a tiny bit like falafel.  We had köfte (meatballs) and domatesli pilav (rice made with tomatoes), cacık (cold cucumber soup with yogurt, piyaz (white bean salad), and zeytinyağlı taze fasulye (green beans cooked in olive oil). All but the soup was served at room temperature in the traditional Turkish style.  Mui explained that this tradition accounts for the very long time spent actually eating the meal.  Keeping food hot would be impossible.

köfte (meatballs) and domatesli pilav (rice made with tomatoes), cacık (cold cucumber soup with cucumbers, piyaz (white bean salad), and zeytinyağlı taze fasulye (green beans cooked in olive oil).After our extended afternoon meal, Erin, Mo and I opted for a long walk on the beach, just across the dunes from their beautiful site in the park.  The sand was the perfect texture for long easy walking, and waves were gentle and musical, the skies were clear with just that little bit of mistiness that seems to hang around these beaches.  Have I mentioned the conversation?  I noticed the sun beginning to descend to the horizon before I realized just how far we had walked and we all decided to turn back.

We had a wonderful time during our stay in this lovely part of Texas, but this meeting and yes, this meal, were the highlight.  Somehow Erin was exactly the person as I knew her to be.  Isn’t it amazing how that can happen?  Yes, the internet can be incredibly magical.  In another life and another time I would have certainly missed out on these delightful friends.  Mustang cove day_072Mustang cove day_070

Next: Visiting Padre Island National Seashore and Aransas Pass


1-13 and 1-14 2014 Big Bend to Seminole Canyon to Corpus Christi

I guess it is time for a reminder.  Mo had forgotten this little trick and she reads the blog often.  Hover over the photos for the caption, and if you click on them you will get a larger image.

inside the visitor center at Seminole CanyonSeems as though Big Bend struck a popular note for blog readers.  Lots of folks have either visited or wished that they could and I have enjoyed reading the comments about the different ways of visiting the park.  Some have immersed for a much longer time than we did, doing many of the hikes we couldn’t.  Others traveled through for just a day-long road trip, and still managed to see the Scenic route, Santa Elena Canyon, and the Chisos Basin.  Many expressed a desire to return for more time.  That is my desire as well, and it was with a bit of nostalgia that we packed up on Monday morning getting ready for the long drive across south Texas to our next destination.

rest stop texas styleAfter last night’s sunset, with all the clouds milling about, it was surprising to wake to perfectly clear skies and a LOT of wind.  The previous day driving through the park, the winds had been up to 35 MPH, and on the high exposed ridges, sometimes it felt as though the kayaks would just lift us, car and all, and dump us into the desert.  Didn’t happen, of course, but we were a bit worried about those winds, so Mo double checked all the rigging for the bikes and kayaks before we left on our next leg of the journey.

From point A at Rio Grande Village in Big Bend, to point F at the NAS Corpus Christi is 557 miles, more than we wanted to do in a day.  I spent some time last summer trying to figure out this route and where to stay, but it was again with the great letter from MBZ that I found Seminole Canyon State Park, (Point B).  At first I thought I wouldn’t bother to make a reservation, but thought again and did so.  I was glad I had when we arrived Monday afternoon and discovered the park nearly full.map across texas

The drive was uneventful, the Panther Junction highway north to Marathon travels through large alluvial desert landscapes that were a bit less than spectacular.  There was dust in the air from the winds, but thankfully those winds died down a bit during the day and we had no problems.

Seminole Canyon_004In Marathon we filled up the MoHo at 3.53 per gallon, a mistake since we could have continued a few miles farther to Sanderson where fuel was back to the going price of 3.07.  I tried to look up gas prices with Gas Buddy, but somehow missed the opportunity at Sanderson.  The only station at Marathon was quite small, and I asked the owner if it was the only station in town.  He replied, “Now it is, that burned down building next door was a Shell station owned by my brother.  We think it was lightning or something and it burned down a couple of weeks ago”.  That seemed a bit interesting, I thought. Two gas stations owned by brothers in a little town and one burns down?

The route was uneventful, with large spaces filled with emptiness punctuated by an occasional ranch gate and somewhat dull wide landscapes.  This part of Texas was as empty as Big Bend, but instead of being really empty, there were fences and telephone poles, and garbage on the roadsides. 

Seminole Canyon rock art tourOnce we again approached the Rio Grande River to the east, the landscape shifted a bit, with shallow canyons and rolling hills covered with brush giving a reprieve from the boredom.  We arrived at Seminole Canyon around 2 in the afternoon, checking in at the visitor center for our reserved campsite.  What a surprise!! 

It seems that Seminole Canyon is home to one of the more fascinating rock art sites in the southwest.  Unlike the Fremont and Anasazi rock art in the Utah and New Mexico canyons, the pictographs in Seminole Canyon are from a separate group of indigenous people and are referred to as Pecos Style.  There are no petroglyphs (carved images in stone) but the pictographs (painted images) are beautiful.

Seminole Canyon rock art tourThe visitor center had some wonderful imagery of what we could see in the canyon below, but we discovered that the only way to hike to the Fate Bell Shelter was on a tour.  Tours are conducted by volunteers at 10AM and 3PM.  Hmm…it was 2:30.  Could we get set up and back down to the center in time for the tour?  Were we really UP for a tour after driving all day??  Yup, of course.  You do it when you can.  Rest is not an option if there is something cool to see that we might never see again.

Our guide, Kevin, was incredibly informed, and wonderfully talkative.  He explained in detail about the different plants, showing us which yucca worked best for making rope, and which plant had the most saponin, used as an emulsifier with pounded rock to make the paint used in the pictographs.

Seminole Canyon rock art tourThe path to the shelter was in good shape, with paved rocky steps and guardrails where it was steep.  It was only a mile or so down into the canyon.  Even though Seminole Canyon drains into the Rio Grande, it isn’t an actual river, just a big “wash” that fills with water from overland flow after rains. 

We enjoyed all the detail of the tour, and since we were the only two people on the tour we had Kevin’s undivided attention.  Forgot to mention, the tour costs $5. per person, and we had no idea, so didn’t bring wallets.  The park staff said, “Fine, just drop it by in the morning before you leave”.  Pretty nice.

Kevin took us into the shelter, explaining the various pictographs and discussed the saddest aspect of all.  The limestone walls, after 4,000 years, are degrading, and the pictographs so visible for that time are disappearing.  In the 1930’s, an artist/historian Forrest Kirkland painted detailed watercolors of the images, and there are displays of those paintings at the site.  Comparing what they saw in the 30’s with what is seen now, the expectation is that the rock art will only be visible for another 25 years or so.Seminole Canyon rock art tour

Seminole Canyon rock art tourSeminole Canyon_054Questioning why there hasn’t been similar deterioration in Colorado Plateau rock art, he suggested that the humidity form the giant Amistad Reservoir has shifted the climate and the limestone is susceptible to degrading as a result.  Interesting theory.  Another interesting theory links the Pecos Style rock art to the Huichol Indians of Mexico.  A new book by a recognized authority on rock art will be coming out soon that discusses this possible relationship.Seminole Canyon rock art tour

By the time we got back to the campground, the sun was getting low in the sky.  The campground sits high on the mesa above the canyon, and we were asked if we wanted a pull through site with no view or a back in site with a better view.  We were directed to site number 1, and had no idea what she meant by a view.  The only view we had was from the step of the MoHo of the flat, brushy mesa and our very nice shade shelter. 

Seminole Canyon rock art tourBest thing about this park was the number of trails that follow the perimeter of the canyon.  The trails are all dog friendly, although prickly things abound and Mo spent some time picking stickers from Abby’s paws even in the area around our camp.  It was too late to take the six mile trail  to the Panther Cave overlook at the junction of the canyon with the Rio Grande, and even too late for the 3 mile hike along the edge of the canyon.  Darkness was falling quickly and we were ready to relax.

Still, I was surprised at this great little park, with electric and water, a good dump station that was actually angled the right way, and a wonderful visitor center with nice trails.  A good spot to spend some time.  As usual, this trip is an exploratory one for us, covering new ground and finding places that we may want to see again and give a bit more time.  Not sure if this would be a destination, but if we were passing this way, I might stay two nights at least to give us a full day of hiking and exploring.

driving into the morning sun going east in Texas at Amistad ReservoirOn Tuesday morning we continued east toward Corpus Christi, following a route farther south than Google Maps suggested.  I didn’t want to go up to San Antonio and through Pleasanton, wanted to see parts I hadn’t seen before so we drove south to get fuel at the HEB in Eagle Pass.  Daughter Deb discovered HEB stores when she lived in San Antonio and says they are even better than our beloved Fred Meyer stores in the northwest.  Sure enough, I found some guacamole, fresh made and fantastic, a couple of bottles of wine and a few supplies that we needed while Mo fueled up the rig at the big station with the best price around.

looks like they really pay attentionThe rest of the day, through Carizzo Springs, and east toward Alice, we were somewhat appalled at the level of ugliness.  Oil is king here, and the highway I chose was heavy with big truck traffic, and where the traffic was less along highway 44, the road was bumpy like a roller coaster.  The views were of what is called “Texas Brush Country” and it was definitely brushy.  It was also flat, but the brush made it seem really claustrophobic compared to some of the flat country we have been farther north.

There are huge wild game reserves in this area, with gates so big we sometimes wondered why someone would build a house so close to the road.  Oops, nope, it is a gate.  We saw some Orricks and some other wild animals behind the fences, lined up ready for someone to shoot them.  I once worked for someone who came down here to shoot a wild boar, and I had to dust that dang thing down in the game room.  Haunted me. 

site 43 not too crowded as long as you don't mind sea spray and windThe landscape just seem to get flatter and flatter as we approached Corpus Christi, a wide coastal plain without much to see right up to the point when we entered the Naval Air Station gate and could finally see Corpus Christi Bay to the…north??  east??  south??  I make maps, remember?  I have a great sense of direction, remember?  Well here on this flat coastal plain where the water is everywhere and the big water is in the wrong direction, half the time I have no idea which direction I am facing.

We checked in at the marina as directed, and decided on one of the available water front sites with a large cement pad and full hookups.  We were warned that it could be windy and that there was a lot of sea spray.  Still, we wanted the site because it seems as if it is all alone our here on the peninsula, even though the campground is full.  Sure glad I had a reservation here!

rising moon at NAS Shields CampgroundThe laundry is just across the way from our site, so I trundled off with soiled rugs and blankets to discover a huge, clean beautiful laundry with home style machines and they were all free!  Yippee!!  I just love having the chance to freshen everything up without having to pay a huge ransom to do it.

We watched the sun set and the moon rise at the same time, tried to figure out which way was east and which way was west…oh yeah…that sun thing, but it still didn’t help much when looking at the maps and trying to figure out which way we were traveling the next day.  Everything, I mean everything is at an angle of some sort and is surrounded by water.  It is fun, and after a few days here I am beginning to get my bearings, but I was surely glad for all the map aids I had in the baby car when we went exploring.

We have been here for a few days now, with some fun adventures in Port Aransas, on North Padre Island and the National Seashore still to write about, and a great time meeting up with friends.  More to come soon!