Mustang Island State Park, TX, February 2017

Mustang Island State Park is actually on Mustang Island which runs along the Gulf Coast from Corpus Christi at the south end to Port Aransas at the north end. Corpus Christi is on the main land. You have to go on a long causeway over the bay and then up and over the Inter-Coastal Waterway to the very north end of Padre Island. Going over these causeways is a bit nerve-wracking.  Susan doesn’t like to look to the right going over them.  The lanes narrow and it is up a huge hill and you can’t see anything but sky.  We just get in the lane and stay calm.

The north end of Padre Island has lots of condos and resort-like things, stores to buy beach stuff, food places, a hardware store, gas stations and a laundromat.  But we turned north and go over the channel between Padre and Mustang Islands.  Mustang Island stretches north for about 15 miles.  There is pretty much nothing until you get to Port Aransas at the far end of the island. The first six miles on the Gulf side are part of the State Park.

The campground is about five miles up.  It is a pretty basic campground with water and electric.  The sites are probably 25 ft wide and have a covered picnic table.  These are wider than most private parks and half the price too. The parks we looked at in Port Aransas made us glad we chose the State Park.

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It is a wide parking lot with 48 campsites but better than many.  There are four additional volunteer spots, the staff is friendly and it is clean.  There are showers and bathrooms at one end.

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The sites were nice, ours faces the Gulf sand dune.  The ocean is just a couple hundred yards away.

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And it is Texas and there are snakes. We haven’t seen any. Day time temperatures have been between low 60’s and mid 80’s and usually a pretty good breeze coming from the Gulf. The wind and the humidity make if feel cool.

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The Moon comes up before the sun goes down.  Almost Full

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Feb 10, a Full Snow Moon in the penumbra shadow of the Earth.  It is very humid here, early and late fog. It makes for fuzzy pictures.  The blue dot below is actually a greenish comet named Comet 45P. It is at its closest to the Earth tonight. Unlike many comets is has little sign of a tail.  It is hard to see with the naked eye so binoculars or some camera enhancement is needed.

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And every clear night for the past three weeks we have been able to see the International Space Station.  It is quite bright and pretty easy to see it move.

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Every kind of camping rig you can imagine.  Our friend, Bob was asking about small trailers. Lots of them. There were three Airstreams here.  This stubby one was pretty old but functional.

The park as five miles of beach heading south.  The beach is a State Highway and you can drive on it and camp anywhere.

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If you can get there you can camp there.

More on the beach, Port Aransas, The Padre Island National Seashore, the aircraft carrier USS Lexington and more.  Later.

Roger and Susan

 

Quintana Beach County Park, January 2017

We have been to Texas three times since we bought our coach.  The first time we stopped in NAC and then headed to Big Bend National Park.  The second time we stopped in NAC, then in the Hill Country north of New Braunfels (think of German, Texans and accordions) and then on to Guadalupe Mountains National Park. We have friends who suggest we come to the “Valley”.  This is the very southern tip of Texas in the Mission area.  It is an hour or more from the Gulf.  It is tempting but we wanted to try some Gulf Coast locations first.

Quintana Beach County Park popped up on our look at list pretty quickly.  It had been recommended by others and when we did a search for County and City campgrounds on our AllStays Camp and RV app there it was.

Quintana is a small island community (population 56) right on the Gulf near Freeport TX about 100 miles down the coast from Houston. It has been here since the 1500’s and is named after a Mexican General. During the Civil War there were more than 2,000 people living here. After a series of hurricanes in the early 1900’s only three homes survived.  Two of them are now  located in the County Park.  Today there are a few beach homes, a 50 acre RV park and more than six miles of beach.  It is located next to the main ship channel leading into Freeport area.  There are automobile unloading docks, chemical docks, LNG docks, container docks and more.

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We had to go high over the Houston Ship Channel on a cable stayed style of bridge. This one was high, wide and long.  For ships to go underneath it needs to be about 200 feet above the water.  I thought this was interesting because this style of bridge was considered for the Hastings bridge during the design process.  It came in second.

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One thing in common all along the coast is endless construction.  down the road from the campground they are building huge LNG (Liquid Natural Gas) facilities where the natural gas is compressed into a liquid and then loaded on to ships.

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From out on the jetty in clearer weather you can see the LNG plant going up. Further down is another plant going in.  The cooling fans on the right are about 80 feet tall.

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We had a nice campsite, they are spread out and roomy.  Full hookups for $22/night.

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And the beach.  High 60’s and 70’s so nice for walking on the beach, not so much for swimming.  And there were alligators perhaps but we never saw any.

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Lots of beach and a fishing pier.

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And kite flying.

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And ships going by.

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And leftovers from WWII protecting us.

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While we were here we celebrated our 42nd anniversary with a nice dinner at a local fish place.

And came back to see the Moon and the International Space Station.

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The moon was much more yellow and the Space Station was very bright. If you watched for a bit you could see it moving.

That’s about it from 10 days at Quintana. Nice to just stop for a while with nothing scheduled.  A very nice place, we would go back.  On to Mustang Island State Park on Padre Island, further south.

Thanks to Susan for editing.

More later,

Roger and Susan

Baytown, TX January 2017

Our friends Rudy and Carolyn live east of Baytown, TX which is east of Houston.  They are full-timers but have a  nice home base. It has a covered space to park their coach and cars and it looks out on a fairly good-sized lake which is where a sand pit used to be. There are quite a few lakes like this in the area.  There are fish and turtles and birds and ducks and even a beaver.  And once in a while an alligator will stop by for a visit.

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There is space for another coach to visit so that is where we parked.  Douglas and Amanda also came by to visit. There was space for them as well just down the road.

Rudy and Carolyn took us to a good burger joint, Tookies.  To them it was just down the road. To us it seemed like it was half way across town.  Not really but Texas folks seem willing to drive a long way.

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And we had to go to the Monument Inn, probably even further away but great food.  It is right on the Houston Ship Channel and at the end of the road.  There is a ferry-boat that takes cars across but we went by road.  The San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site is right near the Monument Inn.  It commemorates the defeat of the Mexican Army in 1836 after the Texans were massacred at the Alamo.  For Texans this is where independence was won.

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And nearby is the dreadnought Battleship, the USS Texas.  It is the last remaining battleship to serve in both WWI and WWII.  Commissioned in 1914, she was one of the most powerful ships of the time. She was the first US battleship to have anti-aircraft guns and directors and range finders to control gun fire.  After WWI she was converted to oil burning boilers, added armor against torpedoes and was equipped with one of the first naval radars.img_6541

At the beginning of WWII She was the flagship of the Atlantic Fleet and participated in D-Day in 1944.  Her final battle now is against time and rust.

Back at the Monument Inn dinner was wonderful.  Everyone took home some leftovers. During dinner a pretty big thunderstorm blew through and every cell phone in the place sounded the severe weather alert.  Amazing. It rained heavily during dinner but by the time we were ready to leave it had stopped.

Off in the distance Exxon was burning off oil and gas. Rudy said that they only do that when there is some sort of problem.  All of the refineries and chemical plants are interconnected by pipelines. The output of one plant feeds several more down the pipe that do more processing.  If something breaks down further along there is no stopping production or storing anything, they just burn it off.  They were burning off a lot!

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Some of these fire plumes were a couple hundred feet high. On the way back we had to make some detours to avoid flooding.  And back at the lake we could see the flames burning and hear them too.  They sounded like jet engines at an airport and burned most of the night.

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Amanda made a handsomely decorated cookie bar in honor of the South Shore Expedition. Ralph took this picture and entertained us with Texas Humor. He should have been a standup comedian. We ate some cookie bars and then the youngsters played Quidler and Uno. A&D keep us up late enough until they win. What fun it is to have good friends.

And then it was time to leave.  We are heading for Quintana Beach and Amanda and Douglas were heading for Livingston, TX. But first we had to go to Buc ee’s for fuel. These are giant gas stations and everything else stores often with a hundred pumps.  Diesel was $2.14/gal and Rudy has a discount card that made it $2.04.  Between the two of us we bought more than 250 gallons!

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Some waiting was required.

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And then after what seemed like Minnesota Goodbyes and lots of hugs we were off.

More later,

Roger and Susan

Nacogdoches, January 2017

Nacogdoches sounds like something you might get at a local Mexican food place.  It would likely have cheese on it and be tasty.  But it is a small town in East Texas, about the same size as Hastings and a county seat as well.  It is also the home to the Stephen F Austin State University whose student population swells the total to almost 37,000. Unlike Hastings it has a Lowes big box store and many, many more restaurants. We have discovered over several visits that going out to eat, especially lunch, is a big chunk of the social fabric.

It is also the home to Foretravel which started in CM Fore’s backyard.  The story goes that his son needed a high school project and since the Fores liked to travel they built their own motorhome in 1967. It was 29′ long and named the “Speedy Marie” after CM’s wife.  They built more in the back yard for a while and when it looked like a business they moved into a big building on the outskirts of town.  By 1974 they introduced the industry’s first diesel motorhome and were among the first to use fiberglass instead of aluminum, real hardwood cabinetry, full airbag suspension and many other features not found in any other motor homes at that time.  Foretravels have always been a smaller manufacturer in this market.  Their coaches are at the very high-end price point in the market.  Their peak production was in about 1998 when they built almost 300 coaches.  The vast majority of these were built to order.  Market forces caused them to get smaller during the early 2000’s and Foretravel was sold to new owners in 2005.  The new ownership moved to design and build new, bigger coaches aimed at the very highest end of the market.  Today Foretravel builds 20-24 coaches a year and more that are used as mobile command centers and functions like that.  Their primary competition is Newell coaches (about 30 a year) and Prevost bus conversions, all custom-built to order.

http://www.foretravel.com/


The main reason for our NAC stop was to get the front seats removed, un-upholstered, all new foam inserted, re-upholstered, cleaned and reinstalled. Motorhomes of Texas had a special on this in the October. I talked to their remodel manager and he said they would honor that price in January when we came down.  And when it was all done it was even less than the original estimate and they had it done in half the time they estimated.  They also did an engine oil and filters change, serviced the generator, fixed an air leak and did maintenance work on the rear brakes at the same time.

http://motorhomesoftexas.com/

The seats turned out very well.

Motorhomes of Texas (MOT) is just up the highway from Foretravel.  They have facilities on both sides of the highway.  NAC has a big supporting industry built up around Foretravel.  Old Town Motorcoach does service and sells some coaches. World Line Motors does all sorts of mechanical repairs. Beau Reece has a shop and does mobile repairs. Xtreme Paint and Graphics is the go-to place for fiberglass repairs and paint.  And there are more in the area as well.  So with all of the expertise close at hand it is no wonder that many owners make a stop in NAC part of their travel plans.

For us it is way more than just a service stop.  We have been here now three times and have met many other owners and made many new friends.  Several of them live in NAC.  This year as we did two years ago we helped Mike and Jackie Harbordt and Don Cox make a lunch for all of the folks at MOT. Actually Don makes his really good Texas Gumbo in normal and spicy versions, gallons of it.  The rest of us make salads and desserts.  Susan make a common Minnesota Lime Green Jello salad with cottage cheese and pineapple. She made a really big bowl which was good because it meant leftovers for us.

Don, the Gumbo King,  Jane, Jackie and Keith Risch, 35 years experience with Foretravels

Our friends Douglas and Amanda were on their way south from a 6 week Holiday visit to St Louis and they stopped in NAC for some basic service work as well.  Amanda brought decorated cookie bars.  There was also a chocolate fudgie brownie cake gooey yummy desert and a banana pudding cake with Nilla cookies, oh my!

All of the folks at MOT rotated in and out of their lunch room for lunch. Don’s gumbo is always a big hit and there wasn’t much left. We got to visit with folks and have some lunch too.  Don and Mike do this maybe three times a year to show appreciation for all of the help and good service they get from MOT.

After we were done at MOT we went over to Foretravel’s campground where we can stay for free.  Amanda and Douglas came over as well. We went to Auntie Pastas for dinner.  The next day, Saturday, we went to a nearby COE park on the Sam Rayburn Reservoir for a couple of nights.

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We wanted to be back in NAC Monday to meet Carol and Scott. I have known Scott for several years now through the Forum and we have come close to crossing paths twice but missed.  This time they had recently purchased a 2001 42′ coach from another Forum member in Virgina and sold their 2002 36′ coach to someone in TX. So they went to get the coach in Virginia, drove it back to TX, moved from one coach to the other, finished the sale of the 2002 coach and headed to NAC to get a new satellite dish installed. Our paths finally crossed.  So we got to go out for dinner with them and spend some time doing the show and tell thing.

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We also met George and Steph from Virginia.  They were in NAC to go to Xtreme to get new headlights installed like we did two years ago.  They are another nice couple.  George is just in the final steps of adding solar power to the roof of their coach, a new inverter/charger, all new charge controllers and monitors and a new set of lithium-ion batteries.  This is all cutting edge technology and it was interesting to see how he had done it.  Lithium batteries last a long time, hold charge for a long time and recharge quickly. They are expensive and don’t like to be hot or cold.  So George has added heat to the battery bay as well as air conditioning.  He has added a multi-page display that shows how the system is working using pictures to represent the components and moving arrows to show the flow of power.  Very cool!

We got together with Douglas and Amanda on a couple of nights to play Quidler and Uno. Lots of fun but we always stay up too late.

After all of the visiting and work was done it was time to head to see Rudy and Carolyn in Baytown, TX near Houston.  That is our next stop.

More later,

Roger and Susan

Maumelle COE Park, Little Rock AR, January, 2017

Kansas City Overnight.

OK, I know we stopped at Camp Wal-Mart just south of Kansas City, MO on our first night out but there is not much to report from there.  We went into the store and walked around the inside three times and then bought a few things. A light supper and an early night.  It was still cold, probably in the teens but everything was as it should be. We brought along an electric blanket and put it on the bed under the quilt and turned it on when we left that morning.  I had placed a temperature sensor under it so once we got parked and settled in it was 72 degrees under the quilt and the memory foam mattress was no longer as hard as a brick the way it gets at sub-zero temps.

Off towards Little Rock.

A good night’s sleep and off the next morning down through Missouri and a bit east towards Little Rock, AR.  We have been down through Missouri before but usually went more west though Kansas and Oklahoma.  There are toll roads that way and the worst case is almost $100 for a motor home with a towed car (a toad).  So we went the other way towards Little Rock and then back SW towards Nacogdoches.

Maumelle COE.

We were headed for Maumelle COE (Corps of Engineers) campground on the Arkansas River just west of Little Rock and across the river from Toad Suck Holler. We thought we could take a day off and wash road grime off the coach.  The drive was nice but there are almost no rest stops along the way. The drive through the southern end of the Ozarks was pretty with long, high curving  bridges crossing from one ridge to the next.  The part through Bentonville and Fayetteville AR was a bit dreary.  Lots of small towns and road construction.  You would think that with all of the Wal-Mart money in the area that it would have been better. Someday it will be.

We arrived at Maumelle about three in the afternoon after two days of driving on dry roads in clear weather.  There was some dust but it was hardly worth cleaning. We selected one spot but the water wasn’t working (cold the night before, 40’s today) so we moved to one that did.  The COE are usually very nice and cheap, $11 a night here with our geezer pass.

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We hadn’t been there for more than an hour or two when another Foretravel drove into the park.

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It was people I recognized from the Owner’s Forum.  They found a nice spot over by the river where the water was working.  We went over to say Hi.  It was Jan and Bill Velting from Michigan.  Bill had a medical problem a couple of years ago that left him with limited function in his legs.  He can still drive but has pretty limited mobility beyond that.  So Jan has learned how to do all of the things that need to be done.  They had pulled into their site so that they were facing the river which put their electrical cord coming out of the coach on the opposite side  from the power post.  She tried going around the front of the coach but came up about a foot short so she wasn’t sure what to do.  Susan and I do this frequently for the sake of the view.  The solution often times is to run the power cord under the coach rather than around it.  I usually tie a small rope to a wrench from the tool box which makes it easy to toss from one side of the coach underneath to the other side.  We tie the rope to the cord and pull it under and plug it in. When we are really far away I have an extra 50 foot, 50 amp cord in the new bay. We helped her get connected and chatted for a while.  They were just glad to be south and warm and were going to stay for a couple of weeks.

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That is Jan and Bill in the distance. We decided to stay for another day just to take a break.  We were on schedule or even ahead a bit so there was no hurry.

Bill posted something on the Forum that they had met us. The next day another FT owner from Little Rock read we were then and came to visit.  His name was Steve and was a very talkative fellow.  He told us about all the good places to eat and the ones to avoid. He told us that he called his wife the “nagivator”.  Pretty funny but not something I would ever call Susan.

It turned out that this route’s length was within 20 miles or so of the toll roads and Dallas route.  Much better.

More later,

Roger and Susan

 

 

The Storm before the Calm, December 2016

We didn’t go anywhere last winter after I tore up my shoulder after falling on the ice. I had it rebuilt in February followed by six months of rehab.  I tore three of the four rotator cuff tendons and one of two bicep tendons.  Don’t do this. The surgery was difficult and painful.  Then almost a month before you can sleep in a bed. And then rehab, twice a week for another two months and then once a week.  My rehab person was great.  I know much more about how shoulders work than ever before.

After the “Empty Space Recovery” we winterized the coach. This means we drain out all of the tanks and all of the water lines and then pump an RV potable anti-freeze through all of the water lines, all of the faucets, all of the drains and the water pump. This is essential to protect the water system from freezing. We also fill the fuel tank with #1 diesel and a winter anti-gel additive and a biocide. And the we drive the coach about 40 miles, run the generator for at least a half hour and the AquaHot diesel boiler until the water is hot (about 20 minutes). The anti-gel keeps the fuel flowing when it gets cold and the biocide keeps algae from growing in the fuel, really it does  grow in diesel fuel and it will quickly clog the fuel filters.

And then the coach goes in the coach house (barn), the tires are inflated to maximum pressure and the coach waits until we are ready to go.  Well almost.  We try to get the coach out on its 40 mile warmup run once a month when the roads are clear and dry and run the generator and the AquaHot.  A little exercise is good. None is not.

November and the first half of December was very mild, warmer than normal, not much snow but we got rain as late as Christmas. It makes us wonder why we want to leave.

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And then snow and cold.  Our target exit date was January 7-9. We are headed for Texas, Arizona, Utah and New Mexico.

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Now I remember.  But it is still beautiful.

Just after the New Year we turned on minimal heat in the coach, enough to warm it up to about 40 degrees.  I adjusted the tire pressures to normal. We started moving stuff into the coach and bins we had removed from the basement back in.  The basement spaces are heated as well so they were OK. On Thursday the refrigerator was turned on. On Friday the diesel side of the AquaHot was on.  The coach is now at 68 degrees and the engine is being preheated as well using the heat from the AquaHot.  All of the last of our clothes, pantry food and refrigerator and freezer food is loaded.  All of the last-minute stuff that needs to be done in the house is finished up.  We are ready to go. Saturday morning, the water is off, cameras on, heat turned down, everything that needs to be off is off and on is on.  It is minus 4 degrees. I am ready with my new Minion Christmas hat.  Is it Bob? Yes!

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The barn doors are opened, the coach starts right up, the engine is at 65 degrees right away, the Jeep is connected, lights are tested, thumbs up all around.  The barn is closed up and locked.  One last pass through the house and all is as it should be, doors are locked and garage doors are closed.  Inside the coach it is close to 70 degrees, all is ready for departure especially us. One last deep breath and we are off at 8:30 AM.  Perfect. It is clear and  dry, an 8 hour day including stops to change drivers and lunch and we will be 30 miles south of Kansas City at Camp Wal-Mart before dark.

I have had a couple chats with my friend Mike Harbordt from Nacogdoches about what happens when we travel. Neither of us is going on vacation when we travel.  We are just going to be somewhere else. We are in our coaches, a different place than home but at home just as well. All of the busy stuff gets left behind.  Of course what has to be done still gets done but a sense of calm comes with leaving, leaving all of what is not necessary behind. There is time to look out the window and wonder, to read a good book, to take a walk listening to the new sounds around you. To be quiet, to talk with each other, to go to bed early and sleep late. Sometimes this happens quickly, sometime it takes a while but it comes.  We both feel like time somehow slows down a bit, less to do has more time. It is a comfortable feeling, the calm after the storm.

More later,

Roger and Susan