Fontainebleau State Park – Mandeville Louisiana

After making our way out of Texas and western Louisiana along Interstates 10 and 12 we arrived at Fountainebleau State Park outside the small town of Mandeville Louisiana located on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. We learned of the park through friends we met in Texas. It’s located about 45 minutes from New Orleans over the interstate highway or a 24 mile long causeway that extends across the lake to the highway leading to New Orleans.

Unfortunately, shortly after arrival the virus thing was starting to come up at which time we made a decision to leave early and find a place to hold up for a month. We are now stopped at a wonderful small lake in rural Mississippi located about two hours from our next planned destination in northern Mississippi for late April.

Our spot at Fontainebleau State Park. They have pull-throughs as well. We stayed in the north loop which is newer and more spread out than the south loop.

Neither of us really enjoy visiting larger cities as much as spending time in nature or touring out to the way places. So there was no plan to go into New Orleans.  The park was a wonderful place to spend time outside.

We learned about the origins of the people that settled the area and the old sugar plantation that had become the park. Camped not far from us was a local resident whose family were among the original settlers, being French and coming out of Nova Scotia. Yep, they were Cajuns and I wish we could have enjoyed a campfire or food together but with social distancing we all agreed talking from more than six feet away was a good thing.

We would have loved to spend two weeks in the area but cut the visit to 11 days as we were using our waste tanks. Our spot had no sewer connection. We wanted to limit our exposure within the well maintained public facilities.

Our dog Huck had developed a mass below his lip so we had that cut off at a local veterenarian. His breed is good for that. This would be our third visit to a vet while traveling over the past year. Finding and working with a vet is no problem. Karen discovered an awesome meat market on the way to the vet so we later loaded up our freezer with excellent meat, to include local sausage at a very good price. We are discovering meat markets are something to look for while traveling. Often the selection is better than at the local grocery store.

Karen caught up on the laundry, using the facility late at night when no one was around. The park was not that busy anyway and there was no charge to use the machines!

She hangs some clothing to dry from two shower curtains. When our fifth wheel was built we had them leave off the shower door and we added an extend-a-rod. We also have a rod above the shower that is spring loaded and stays in place. Great area to hang wet towels.

Zoomed in at 20x – this is New Orleans in the faint distance across the lake.

Unfortunately we did not tour the visitors center but discovered a wonderful boardwalk through the wetland attached to the park. Spring had arrived and we enjoyed the flowers. My dad would have liked this place as the wild Iris flowers were everywhere. Even the parking lot near the lake hosted a wonderful view of nature.

Photo from along one of the nature trails in the park

Along the walk to the lake is a marsh area. Found four gators living there that we could see. They were about four feet long and not interested in visiting with us. Keeping a distance of 35′ is recommended as they can run fast for short bursts.

As is a custom of Karen’s, she left a stack of rocks behind. 

Lafayette Louisiana – Virus Thing

Fortunately for both Karen and I, we keep finding that we enjoy the same style of fulltime RV travel. This includes no particular interest in seeing big cities or spending overnight stops bouncing around the country.  We left Texas for our next destination which is Fontainebleau State Park on the north shore of Lake Pontchatrain in Mandeville Louisiana where we are currently living. The trip here included a two night stop at an RV park off Interstate 10 then on to Lafayette Louisiana for a four night stay at the Bayou Wilderness RV Resort.

As we entered Louisiana eastbound on busy Interstate 10 we stopped at the state’s welcome center.  So far, Louisiana takes the prize for the most wonderful greeting.  We stepped out of the truck into a landscape that depicts exactly what we thought Louisiana might look like, having never been here before.

Why Lafayette Louisiana for a stop?  It was not to see the popular Tabasco factory. It just happened to be the next place that had an interesting RV park within the 200 miles we prefer to travel in a day.

Louisiana welcome center – Eastbound I-10. View from parking lot. The drive on I-10 is different to include a bridge across the nations largest swamp which is a 15 minute drive at 60 miles an hour.

Our stay at the Bayou Wilderness Park in Lafayette was rewarding although we considered it a stop-over on our way to a destination. Below are a few photos I took at the place, one of which might be a candidate for the all times favorite list.

My favorite. It’s a pond about 100 yards from our camping spot
This is Huck’s bathtub. Doubles as a place to store the outdoor grill.

We had four days to take in the sites. As usual we asked the lady in the office where we should go having explained we really want to get to know the state’s history and local people. She referred us to Vermilionville which is a living history village demonstrating the buildings common to the area during the 1700 and 1800’s. Here I would learn the difference between a Cajun and Creole person and that settlements in northern Louisiana were older as folks had a hard time making a living in southern Louisiana back then. Once we got back to the RV park I referred the place as a must stop to the French speaking Canadians parked next to us.

Model of the village
Very well done location. All the buildings are like small museums with individual topics.
Blacksmith shop
Karen complained that I had her pull us over to the other bank using the rope ferry. I had to hold the camera.

Before I close this post I’d like to pass on how we are dealing with the coronavirus thing while living in an RV facing travels ahead. I suspect this is a better time to react rather than to plan as every day there are changes as to what is going on. As I’m sure all the travelers are doing, we are watching for updates at several websites as to what parks are open or closed. Neither of us are panicking but are being careful to follow the governments recommendations on how to stay safe.

As I mentioned earlier we are currently stopped at a state park 26 miles north of New Orleans where the city is quickly becoming a bad virus area. We have an appointment in northern Mississippi at the end of the April. We are moving to a park in central Mississippi that has full hookups so we can avoid using the public showers. It’s a park we believe we will be able to find enough to do to stay busy for a month, expecting all the tourist stuff to shut down. It happens to be a rural area within a reasonable distance to a hospital and a local town for shopping. This is our first planned monthly stop. Hopefully we will just be able to add another point to the list of things to overcome while traveling fulltime. Although the pandemic is a big one compared to other events.

I’m using the blue paper shop towels from Walmart to make Clorox wipes.  Just take two towels folded and soak/spray each with a bleach solution.  Fortunately we had two bottles of hand sanitizer before the virus hit and a third that is out of date. We leave a bottle at the front door and each agreed anytime we come in from outside when we are around anyone or anything away from our camper we use the hand sanitizer or wash our hands when arriving back home. I wipe down all common surfaces we touch every couple of days with the Clorox wipes I’ve made.  Bought 10 pounds of rice and some dried beans for our emergency stash. RVers know how to be industrious as we don’t carry a lot of supplies we don’t have the room for. 

I suspect this is a good time to be getting some extra sleep and taking care not to catch a bug from all the pollen and other effects of springs arrival. We are being careful to come inside when the dust kicks up such as the campground mowing or high winds.  Short-term solutions to trying and stay healthy, if for any other reason, to be able to fight off sickness should that happen.

(update 3/24/20 at 8:00 pm) – The Louisiana state park we are located is closing in two days due to the virus. Management went door to door to make sure everyone had a place to move, which we do with the planned trip to central Mississippi.  About an hour later Mississippi reports a rare damaging tornado hit Tishomingo, Ms. The Vanleigh Service Center location, to which we are planned to arrive at the end of April, is in the area of the tornado. Area buildings were damaged to include flattening of the Dollar General Store a couple blocks south of the Vanleigh Service Center where they reported in short order the Service Center is fine. A door was blown off the building and one fifth wheel was flipped. 

I’ve been watching Mississippi’s response to the coronavirus issues and am impressed.  Glad to be heading that way to enjoy our stay for a month on a lake near a rural town with hospitals.

It’s weird but all this is making life exciting! 

Remember Goliad – the Other Alamo

Who knew southeastern Texas would hold so many treasures related to the history of Texas:

From Washington-on-the-Brazos where the Texas Declaration of Independence from Mexico was signed or Sam Houston’s final home in Huntsville both within driving distance from Livingston Texas. From the Alamo in San Antonio.  To the massacre at Goliad and final Battle at San Jacinto near Houston Texas.

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I for one never knew the battle cry at San Jacinto, the final victory location, was actually “Remember the Alamo – Remember Goliad.”

I spent hours pouring over Texas history to learn about the state Karen and I now call home. At times I wondered this “late” in life why bother to study all this other than out of curiosity. Of course the best answer would be when one tours these locations we have a better understanding of the events that took place having studied them compared to just reading the tour signs. Texas is an interesting and substantial part of  United States history.

I’ll get to the photos and report regarding our stay at the must see Goliad State Park shortly.

In 1528 the first Europeans arrived around Goliad.  Missions were established as were forts to guard them. Communities grew around the missions and forts. In 1718 the Alamo Mission housed a military post. In 1722 a mission and fort were constructed in Goliad. By 1730 the Spanish had sent 30 expeditions into what is now called Texas. I found these dates remarkable when comparing them against Jamestown Colony in Virginia being founded on the American east coast in 1607.

Mexico gained independence from Spain and had trouble getting citizens to settle within their northern border in what we call Texas. One of two men whom would become the founding fathers of Texas, Stephen F. Austin moved from southeastern Missouri. He had successfully gained a land grant which his father had been working on. Mexico granted him 200,000 acres and a place to move in 300 Anglo-American families who meshed with the thinly populated Mexicans. Austin was known for his diplomacy.  Samuel Houston, who had gained a reputation as a soldier/politician, decided to resign as Governor of Tennessee and take a position working with the Indians in Texas but became interested in the rebellion.

Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna came to power as president in Mexico and proclaimed himself as dictator.  Concerned the Anglo-American population was growing in Texas a law was passed to stop migration. This and other issues resulted in the Texas population declaring its independence from Mexico. Stephen Auston had been sent to Mexico City to argue for the rights of the Texans. He was jailed for two years as a result. Santa Anna marched an army north to stop the rebellion. You know the story of the Alamo where a portion of the Texas Army was camped. Santa Anna rode in under a black flag meaning there would be no surrender. The Texans numbering roughly 200 fought and died. Meanwhile at Goliad Texas there was a garrison of Texas soldiers who ended up surrendering to the Mexican Army, having not been able to make it to the Alamo in time to provide reinforcements. Santa Anna ordered the Goliad Texans to be executed. The roughly 400 Texans, who had surrendered, were marched out in three directions from the fort. The Mexican Army opened fire killing all of them. Bodies were left where they lay. Texas troops would later bury them. Years later, boy scouts found a skeleton and a monument was built on the site.

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Karen standing at the steps of the Goliad massacre and burial site. Notice the wildflowers coming up in the adjoining landscape which is kept as a wildflower field.

The Texas Revolution occurred over a period of just six to seven months and ended at the Battle of San Jacinto, a river at present day Houston where Santa Anna was literally caught with his pants down and his army was preparing to take a nap. The Texans charged yelling “Remember the Alamo – Remember Goliad”. Santa Anna’s army was pushed back into the water and shot to death.  He surrendered and signed a treaty.

Houston would become Texas first President and Austin it’s Secretary of State. The republics first permanent capital building was established in Austin Texas. The first 10 years were financially difficult. Two US Presidents would not agree to statehood for Texas who had requested it. By 1845 public opinion in the United States changes and Texas came in as a state in ’46.

There were disputes as to where the southern boarder of Texas was. In 1847 US troops invaded Mexico and captured Mexico City. This was the Mexican-American War.  The United States paid Mexico 15 million for war damages and assumed 3.5 million in debt owed by Mexico to US citizens. Mexico agreed the boarder would be the Rio Grande River. Mexico also gave up claim to New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, California and western Colorado. It’s notable that United States President Andrew Jackson had wanted to buy Mexico rather fight for it, having not joined in the earlier war for Texas independence. To me this period of time seems as important as the Louisiana Purchase.

I do want to pass along just a little more information about Goliad Texas. This 800 square mile county has a population density of only 8.4 people per square mile compared to the county I lived in back in Kansas City with 544 per square mile.  Goliad Texas is 36% Hispanic and are descendants of native Texans who fought alongside the Anglo-America’s for their independence. This is the birthplace of Texas ranching that grew so large at one time the Spanish King was taxing the Mexican population based on unbranded cattle.

In 1999 the Texas State Senate named Goliad as the official location for the celebration of Cinco De Mayo. Why – because Mexican General Ignacio Zaragoza was born in Goliad and would later lead a Mexican Army in the final defeat of the French during their war with France in 1862.  Cinco De Mayo celebrates that victory.

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On the grounds of the Fort is a museum ran by the State Parks depicting where General Zaragoza was born. As communities grew around the forts it was common for soldiers to retire and live in the same area. Their sons would often become soldiers.

As a side note, at the beginning of the American Civil War Texas would succeed from the Union. Sam Houston, then Governor of Texas was dead-set against succession, he being a strong supporter of the United States. The citizens removed him from office as Governor.  Later he would represent the State in congress.  Stephen Austin passed away in 1836.

Whew, think I got through the history lecture and should have my facts correctly written. Now for the photos and description of the time we lived (stayed in our RV) at Goliad.

Goliad State Park has two RV camping areas, one of which are pull-throughs with full hookup. We stayed in the loop that is no more than a large gravel/paved parking lot where you back into your spot with electic and water at the rear of the camper. Bring an extra water house to reach. Each space has a fire pit, grill and covered picnic table. I booked a corner spot where our front door opened to a grassy area.

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Although we parked in a row we were able to get a corner spot so our awning opened to a grass area. Behind the RV is the covered picnic table.

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We made good friends of the folks with the horse/front living space trailer. The couple travel doing pipeline work and leave their RV at home, preferring the cargo capacity of the trailer for heavy tools. Ex-Navy Seal with some good stories!  I think they enjoyed the ribs I’ve learned to cook on the gas grill. Their friendly pit-bull dog got Karen’s attention. Mutual like of dogs so often seems to be a gateway into friendships in this lifestyle.

On site is a large Spanish Mission and nearby fort to tour.  The downtown area buildings, almost in there entirety, are on the national register for historic buildings to include an interesting courthouse where out front is the large “hanging tree”. Karen and I like to go to the square in small towns during lunch hour and find a diner after walking around. Located at the intersection of US 59 and 183/Alternate 77, Goliad is easy to get to.

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The hanging tree – once convicted they marched you out directly to this tree. Surrounding the downtown courthouse are monuments with different topics.

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Courthouse for Goliad County

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I thought this was an interesting pocket-park in the downtown area. Good use of space after an old building falls down.

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It’s so nice to discover treasures to visit that were not part of the plan six months earlier. As we drove to the campsite we noticed a sign for a drop-off or take-out point for those interesting in a kayak trip down the gentle spring feed San Antonio River. We checked with the office who recommended a local who for $15 took us upstream to begin the 6 mile float trip. He knew every area of the river, recommending if we want to float for shorter periods or even overnight he knew where to take us. Call Dan at 361-491-0126. We forgot to take along drinking water and Dan insisted we wait while he drove off to buy some. He said he usually kept a cooler with water but this time of year is a slow period for boaters. Lots of vegetation and wild animals to see along the route.  Along with cattle grazing on the river’s sloped banks. We parked the truck at the takeout point and enjoyed using our Sea Eagle inflatable.

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If you enjoy boating, this is a must if at the State Park. The river is gentle.

It may be that as these are the first Spanish fort and mission I’ve ever toured that makes their size and construction so fascinating. Maybe they look just like the others scattered around once Spanish held territories. For sure the church chapel at the fort holds a unique place in history. It’s one of the longest running church congregations that’s been in place since the chapel was build in the 1700’s. Mass is still held in the chapel.

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The fort is huge and walled all around.

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Catholic Chapel – The original remains used for church.  Hope the Nun at the entrance did not mind me asking if there would be anyone bearing a sword and cross running around. We talked to this fellow for awhile. I wish I had time to volunteer with him at the fort.

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The museum at the fort is well done. Each doorway has a small sign that states what the room was originally used for. One was the living quarters for Colonel Fannin who along with his troops died outside when shot to death by the Mexican Army after they surrender. He was the last to die, asking that he not be shot in the face, be given a Christian buriel and his possession be sent home to his family. Well – They shot him in the head and he was buried in a mass grave. The Mexican soldiers stole his personal possessions.

And finally – the Mission on the grounds of the State Park where we camped.  Of particular interest is the Mission was restored after very few walls remained.  Apparently over time the citizens of Goliad were allowed to haul off rocks for other construction. Well done museum inside.

 

After our stay at Goliad we moved to another campground in preparation for our Sunday trip through busy Houston Texas traffic. We are now parked near Lafayette Louisiana in Cajun territory.

Outside and Truck Storage

Thought I’d throw together this quick post with photos regarding what our outside and truck storage has become. Karen and I did not plan extensively as to where we would be storing everything from the beginning, knowing from experience stuff just seems to find its spot.  Although a key to being organized and keeping this tiny space usable is to know every item has its spot and to put that item back into its spot when you are done using it.

Keep in mind we have a 35′ fifth wheel. The basement area is generally not as large as a 40′ model.  I opted to not have the RV built ready for a generator because I did not want the front basement/garage space taken up by a box for the generator.  Also our cabinets inside the RV extend to the top of the flat ceiling thereby offering more inside storage well within the gross weight limits of the RV.

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In our truck you can see the following:

  • I don’t store anything that would have a chance of interfering with the fifth wheel hitch operation to include the emergency break-away wire.
  • I kept our extendable ladder although it is heavy but fits well under the trucks roll up bed cover canister.
  • A five gallon gas can although I don’t keep it full. I try and have eight hours of gas for the generator knowing I can buy more.
  • Rolled up under the gas can is an extra garden house. The can sits in the center of the hose.
  • An extra 2.5 gallon container of diesel exhaust fluid (D.E.F) for our diesel truck. Our trucks D.E.F tank holds about 6.5 gallons. Always carry extra because it can be very hard to find in small towns and if you run out it could be miles away finding any. Meanwhile your truck will not run or runs poorly without it.
  • The red box you see is our emergency road triangles in case we break down on the side of the road. I keep the yellow vest inside the truck.
  • Our 3400 watt generator is strapped to the inside of the truck with the exhaust facing out towards the tailgate. Although it weighs only 76 pounds, I can run it without moving it from the truck. The power cord from the RV easily reaches it.
  • I could not live without the locking tonneau truck bed cover.  I also have a 15′ cable I can run through everything when traveling if I want but have never used it for that.
  • One item not visible is a two step ladder. I use this as a step to climb into the truck bed, for various places around the RV and store it under the fifth wheel pin when parked as a reminder not to pump my head on the pin.

Here are a few photos of our two basement storage areas:

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  • I kept storage containers from our old sticks and bricks house to use rather than buying new. They fit well.
  • I put the sewer connections in a five gallon bucket. Right now I’m still using a trash bag for the sewer hose. I keep all things related to drinking water inside a separate tote with a good lid.
  • I store items we don’t need access to on a regular basis in the front basement/garage. In the black storage boxes are items sorted by use. One for extra clothes or anything we might otherwise store inside the RV. One box for camping stuff. One for fluids/RV parts and another for larger tools, grease gun, caulking gun and such.
  • In the basement areas, one photo is the utility side and the other the passenger side. The largest container holds our dirty grill and doubles as a bathtub for the dog.  You will find the stuff you use the most will be in the front and top of everything else. When we arrive at a spot, depending on how long we will be there, the chairs, rug and other stuff come out which opens up the basement space for easy access.
  • Notable is the tool bag in front. Some tools I tend to use at stops more often and face them to the front. Such as a level to check our adjustable stairs.

 

I’m working on a few more posts that may keep you coming back to my blog for a reason and commenting with ideas you might have.  I’ll post them when finished, some of which have been months in the making such as:

  1. Finishing up a serious list on RV maintenance.
  2. Attempt to downsize chemicals, waxes, bug spray and more.
  3. My list of tips covering RV living that I had not commonly seen in five years of reading other’s lists.
  4. I have kept a list of every thing I ever fixed or need to fix on the RV.  Right down to if I caulked a joint or tightening screws. The reason for the detailed list is to help set expecations for others who might be considering a future in an RV. Will probably post this after or end of April appointment with the Vanleigh factory repair center.

And a bunch more….

We have left Goliad Texas and are migrating towards Mandeville Louisiana. Right now we are setup at a campsite ready to drive through Houston Texas on a Sunday.  Found a great website to check live Houston highway traffic called traffic.houstontranstar.org.

Rockport and Aransas Texas – Gulf Coast Visit

Karen and I finished up our first visit to the Texas Gulf Coast and happily report we enjoyed the stay. Karen once lived in Michigan and enjoyed sailing on the big lakes. She was excited to get back to the big water on the coast. For me, living in Kansas City away from water, oceans are amazing wonders.

We ended up taking US Highway 77 south to the coast.  Interstate 10 intersects with US 77 at Schulenburg Texas where an area resident suggested we visit the Painted Churches and nearby Shiner Brewery. US 35 basically runs parallel with the coast from Rockport to Corpus Cristi. Both are excellent highways.

Our stop in Schulenburg would have to be postponed. Once we left the Texas Coast, we moved a short 60 miles north to Goliad which is rich in Texas History. I’m hoping you will enjoy the upcoming post on Goliad where we decided to extend our stay. Barbara from Escapees told Karen about Goliad when we were parked in Livingston. Thank you!

Now on to what we found in the Rockport Texas area:

Map of the areas this report covers

The general area where we noticed the most RV’s, presumably winter Texans, were in the Rockport, and Aransas Pass areas. If you drive from Aransas Pass and take a short ferry ride you arrive at a large island where there is an improved and easily driven highway running down the middle which is Texas 361. We drove the entire length from Port Aransas, through Mustang/Padre Island and over a bridge to Corpus Christi.  If you don’t like ferry rides then come in over the bridge in Corpus.  Although I saw a semi-truck and large RV’s on the ferry.  Of course, no ferry ride is needed to get into the Rockport/Aransas Pass area. And the drive down Texas 361 on the island includes passing through Padre Island where we spent no time researching available RV parks.

Port Aransas appears to be the tourist spot with many RV parks. Rockport and Aransas Pass are small towns but with plenty to do. Luckily one aspect of RV travel which Karen and I strongly agree is we don’t like big cities such as Corpus Christi. The USS Lexington and Texas State Aquarium are popular and fortunately outside the main areas of Corpus Christi.

I’ll describe this part of the Texas coast line as having a thin barrier island just off shore.  To get to open ocean we generally traveled to the island.  The question we had when first arriving was of course where are the beaches.  During our 19 day stay we discovered and  recommend Rockport Beach, Mustang Island State Park, and the public beaches next to the USS Lexington in Corpus Christi.  For sure there are other beaches and maybe had we been there longer we would have found them.  For example we never made it to  the beaches at Port Aransas where I suggest you first research the area to see where you want to go.

I had watched YouTube video on salt water fishing, having never experienced it.  I’ll just say you can pull off the road about anywhere down here and fish.  Locals say everything will bite on shrimp bait.  Unfortunately we did not have a chance to do any fishing.  On so many occasions in this lifestyle we find ourselves saying “next time” we will get to that. Sometimes we just enjoy hanging around home as we are not on vacation and really don’t want to use all our energy running around making sure to see everything.

I’ll continue this blog in the order of occurrence so you can decide where you might want to visit first.  If you are keeping a list of places to visit, I’d make the Rockport area a must stop.

Our First Camping Stop – Goose Island State Park

I’ll describe Goose Island as a rugged older park consisting of two camping areas.  One, called the woods, is where we stayed. The second area is on the beach and probably the reason most come here.  Unfortunately the beach campsites and long fishing pier were still shut down after the 2017 hurricane. But workers are on the job getting it ready.  You will notice windy conditions (and ant colonies) are the norm down here. There is no usable beach at Goose Island but you can walk from the campground to the water and watch the fishermen come in. Texas State Parks do not require a fishing license and a local guide told me wait for the tide to come in as the waters are shallow there. You can maneuver a tall rig in the park but be careful. The entire coastline is a bird watchers dream and Goose Island is a base from which we found campers travel for bird watching opportunities.     

 

 Day Trip to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

Apparently there is only one remaining flock of wild Whooping Cranes left and Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is one spot on their migration path. Unbeknownst to us, we toured the area when they were at the Refuge. Karen captured some good photos with the better camera which are not readily available (I’m too lazy to get a copy). This is a huge refuge with free admission using our America the Beautiful Pass. Finally saw an alligator resting on a bank and took that photo zoomed in with my cell phone. Lots of trails to travel, one leading to a marsh where we walked out to about 100 yards from the Whooping Cranes. There were a dozen people in the area hauling large camera lenses. This is a drive-through park with stops along the way. Or you can walk several excellent trails. It’s an all day event so bring water or get some at the park store. Among the reasons we camped at Goose Island State Park was to shorten the drive to the Refuge where the main entrance is in the boondocks.  The drive there is entertaining for those of us not used to Texas landscape. Coming in at least second place for most interesting was Karen finally got to see an Armadillo. I’ve tried with no success to point them out dead on the side of the road in Southern Missouri.  At the Refuge one literally ran past her feet and starting digging a hole in front of her. It does not get any better than that.  I’m always impressed with vegetation in new areas and the Refuge was full of wild colorful plants.

 

Our Second Camping Spot – Aransas Bay RV Resort

I really don’t like the phrase camping spot. I prefer calling it the next place we lived.

As we like to keep our options open, we don’t book many RV spots ahead of our trips. I had a list of possible locations kept from other’s blogs, none of which had any spots open. Karen checked and found Aransas Bay RV Resort. A little pricy for weekly stays but we were under budget for the month having stayed at Corp. of Engineer and State Parks. Notable for me was Karen picked a spot I thought she would have called one of those parking lots she does not enjoy. Turned out she found the spot to be relaxing after days in the bush. Long concrete drives and real grass. No dust and very nice landscaping. I personally can live about anywhere but find the variety a plus.  According to management, only about seven couples have been returning year after year for the winter. Each day about half the park would empty out as people left working jobs in the area. Prefect place to catch up on maintenance under the trailer.

A story for another blog will be upon arrival I had management trim tree branches so I could back into our spot. Did a great job of backing but nearly two weeks later I had forgotten there was one remaining limb. Yup – hit that with the roof when we left and I’ll do a relatively minor repair with the Eternabond tape I keep for such emergencies. Someday I’ll post about what we can take as serious incidents that make this lifestyle not so great. I’m developing an attitude that I’ll let nothing stop us.  Another story for the fulltime camper battle scars.

We may come back to this park as it’s conveniently located and the monthly rates are reasonable. The one photo I took of our camping spot sucked.  Others would be the interesting places we ate to include seafood – twice.  Noticed our first off shore drilling rigs parked near the ferry boat crossing at Port Aransas. And finally a decent beach at Rockport Public Beach were it cost $5 to enter if anyone is at the pay booth. As the Resort had little walking space for dogs compared to what Huck is used to, we drove to the local Memorial Park for some off-leash time and interesting hike.

The Texas Department of Transportation manages the free ferry service from the mainland onto the island at Port Aransas. First time for me on a ferry and although it was a short trip the motion of the water while sitting in our truck was no big deal. Just watch the people directing traffic and you will be fine.  Glad we took the ferry because it was yet another confidence builder. When every day creates new experiences it can be overwhelming and even cause anxiety. Thankfully for us every trip is building upon others making this lifestyle more enjoyable. It takes time and we are now only six months into it. We already get the question from locals as to what it’s like to travel full time in an RV. I’m starting to shorten up the answer to “it’s a whole lot of hassle that’s overshadowed by the wonderful places you would otherwise never have been able to see.”

Okay, maybe you need a break from this long blog post. I like to be thorough. The flag above is out our back window at the Resort. I zoomed in for a photo. Every morning when I woke to make coffee I could see the wind blowing the large flag.  Small stuff creates good experiences even if it’s not the Grand Canyon.

Day trip to the USS Lexington Aircraft Carrier

Waited five years to see her.  Although this is not the first, or some say the original, USS Lexington that was sunk at the Battle of the Coral Sea off the shores of Australia when the United States was yet again saving another country’s ass from the Japanese in WW 2. I watched a video where in 2018 they found the wreck. I learned larger ships were converted to aircraft carriers. This version of the USS Lexington, parked now as a museum in Corpus Christi, was built as a carrier.  Many navel aviators would earn their wings through the years as the ship was stationed in Pensacola Florida at one time for training. They say no other carrier has had more landings on its flight deck.

In high school I joined Navy JROTC. Our commander was an active duty navel aviator and our Senior Chief wanted me to join the Pacific Fleet where he felt I would someday make captain on a destroyer. Our neighbor at home was a navel aviator with a patch on his jacket to show he crashed in Vietnam. My stepmother was a TWA stewardess which was headquartered in Kansas City. She was able to get me behind the scenes at the local airshow. I developed a desire to be in the military and felt navel aviators are the best in the business. Went to Great Lakes Navel Training Center one summer, then San Diego the next. My senior trip was to the navel aviator training center in Pensacola.  To make the story shorter – my vision went bad so I went in the Army as a Military Policeman as a second option.  As I look back I don’t think I would have had the tolerance for air combat anyway.

Onboard the Lex I found my most favorite plane on the flight deck. Well before Tom Cruise and Top Gun I appreciated the F14 Tomcat. In this case they are restoring one.  I found it amusing to learn the modern Navy has tracked 30 million dollar aircraft locations using what is referred to as a Weegy board. Literally a board with tiny planes they move around to show which ones, for example, are next to take off.  At the RV Resort the office manager does the same with their camping spots where some want her to enter the modern computer age. I passed that trivia on to her as well.

This is a four to six hour tour. Lots of walking and climbing what civilians call stairs. The head locations (toilet) are scattered and small. We asked the volunteer on the bridge if he wanted a drink of water or coffee and he said no, the nearest usable head was seven decks below. I found it notable portions of the ship are flooded for ballast according to a sign.  Boy did I want to wonder off from the marked tour path but I’m not a rule breaker.

There is a restaurant onboard where we took in a snack. At the other end of the ship is a very large movie theater where 3-D glasses are issued for the story of the ships history. This is a well done walking self-tour with signs although we got confused in the engine room and backtracked. Took a neat photo out a portal (window) of downtown Corpus Christi and others of the beach next door and tiny people walking at the water line as viewed from the flight deck. There is lots of interesting stuff to report on. Karen played on the unarmed but otherwise working anti-aircraft guns as if shooting down a Kamikaze. There is a Japanese flag painted on the ships superstructure (tower) where one got away and actually hit the ship during a battle in WW 2.  This second Lexington did see battle in the war and patrolled the waters well after that.

I took a photo of one room where a vast display highlights rope knot tying, intending to send that back to the guys at the Sheriff’s Office. We could have used the display. They will get the joke.

I still want to see the Yorktown, now on display in South Carolina. I’d also like to find a WW2 era battleship, having missed the Missouri in Honolulu.

Next to the USS Lexington is the Texas State Aquarium. I would not have had the energy to see both the same day. Although the Lexington has it’s own parking lot I was concerned when I looked at Google Earth if a dually truck would fit well. The Resort manager said just drive there. Lots of dually trucks in Texas she laughed. Fortunately the shoreline at the beach is lined with roadside parking. I picked a spot at the end of a row where no one would be parked in front of me so I could hang over the line a bit. Bring a quarter (.25 cents) for every hour you want to be parked. We planned to be there four hours. I set my cell phone timer to go off thirty minutes early so we would have time to get off the ship. The particular shoreline here looks to be a tourist area with colorful buildings.

 

Final Destination – Mustang Island State Park

We did not camp here. No spots were open but all is well as it’s a short drive from Aransas. The camping area is not much to brag about but the walk between the sand dunes are revealing as they open to a wave soaked beach. Karen packed a lunch and we ate under a wood canopy over the picnic table. You can drive on this beach but we decided to avoid the saltwater spray. Our dog Huck has never been near the ocean. I took his leash having found a wet area where the larger waves came ashore at times.  It might be wrong on my part but I got a good laugh when a wave came in and soaked his paws about two inches up. I knew what he was thinking in surprise as he ran for shore. I also noticed someone could walk yards off the beach into the water and a fishing area off a point. As we have a Texas State Park Pass we avoided the $4 each daily fee. Five miles of beach on the actual Gulf is wonderful.

Noticed a young couple taking a selfie photo with the ocean as the backdrop. I suck at taking those but decided that must be what folks in love do or maybe they use it to tease family back home that you are on the beach in 75 degree weather. Took a selfie…. The best part for me was watching Karen stroll on the beach. I knew well she longed for it.

And thank you Jeff and Ester Harper for the KC Chiefs Super Bowl field shirts. Saved mine for the special occasion during the walk on the beach. A box full with a hat arrived for us in the mail when forwarded to Aransas Bay from our mail service out of Livingston Texas. For some reason the folks down here from Houston still thought they could have won in the playoffs. I told them we (KC Chiefs) practiced 50 years to make it.

If you have read this far in the blog I might as well conclude with I dedicate this post to my cousin Kathy who commented months ago – “where are the photos”.

We Arrived in Rockport Texas and RV Life Info

On the way to the Rockport/Aransas Bay Texas area we spent five days at Lake Sumerville Texas Corp. of Engineer (COE) Park.  Sumerville was not much to write home about (I’ll do it anyway) however it was nice to finally be out of the pine forests of eastern Texas. We met an older couple who were from the area. They invited us over for food and conversation along with their grandchildren. They also showed us how to discreetly lure the huge deer herd that frequents the area.

We LOVE to met with locals because they know all the best tourist spots which can include what to see and where to camp anywhere in the state.  The reservation system for Sumerville COE does not feature individual photos of camping spots. Those of us with taller rigs and multiple slides have to be concerned with having wide and tall spaces. I like to look over photos of each spot, not only to check the size, but also the access to back-in such as level ground somewhat free of ditches, maybe on a curve where it’s easier to back in and is there another spot directly across the road that could cause a problem. Backing into a spot requires quit a bit of road space to turn the truck. At first I was concerned to always back in from the driver’s side of the truck where I could see the back of the trailer. If you back in the direction of the passenger side they call that a blind back-in. No worries, Karen has a radio and can yell at me to stop before I hit anything. I just watch the tires of whatever side of the trailer I can see in the mirrors. Where the tires go so does the trailer. Before I start backing Karen and I agree where we want the back tires to end up within the camping spot.

I looked at a Google Earth view of the campground and selected a spot out in the open which lacked trees. That way I knew I could get in.  After arrival Karen and I walked the campground and wrote down the best of the best spots for big rigs in the event we want to return to the park. I keep our schedule in Google Calendar and add our notes for that particular period of time (event). Easy to look back later and find the notes.

I should also add a great way to check a camping spot when you arrive is to see where the tire tracks went off road, or where there are damaged trees limbs or sign posts. That’s a good clue as to what to avoid when backing. It seems if you stop for a moment and think how you plan to leave the spot that leads to the best idea of how to back-in. Also after we get setup and have time to take a walk I look over access to the dump station where upon leaving we will empty our water waste tanks.  Those can be tricky to maneuver in a big rig. I’m proud to say in nearly 3500 miles of travel I’ve only bumped a rear trailer tire over/off a curb one time.  For real!  Unfortunately that was during my driver’s test where I wanted to impress the examiner and show how I could turn into the correct lane from a parking lot onto a two lane road. Later I found the Sony PlayStation game came out of it’s cabinet, dangled from the power cord and swung into the television screen below. Oh well, we wanted to get a different TV anyway.  Stuff happens.

The drive to south Texas was uneventful. We cut over to US 77 which led directly to the Rockport area. Our first stop was Goose Island Texas State Park.  Those who know the area might wonder how it’s doing after taking a direct hit from Hurricane Harvey (category 4) about three years ago. They are open for business!  Yes, there are still some wrecked buildings and maybe some RV parks and businesses that closed for good.  But the sun is bright and the traffic is light during this time of year. Besides all ya need is a sandy beach, Walmart, a gas station and Wataburger to enjoy life down here.

Folks back home might wonder where Rockport is and why go there. It’s located northeast of Corpus Christi on the Texas Gulf Coast. Smaller town with plenty to do within driving distance. I learned about it years ago while reading other’s blogs.  You can’t beat sunny seventy-five degree weather in mid February. Southern Texas is one of several places snowbirds hangout, meaning those of us running from the cold for the season. Just check the weather data for the month and look for highs in the 70’s and that’s where we are going.

If you are planning a future in an RV, write down Rockport as a must visit area.

Snowbirds chase 70 degree weather. Generally speaking anywhere at or below Interstate 10.

Well, not to confuse things but I accidently hit publish rather than save so you are getting an abbreviated idea of what this post was about.  I’ll add the photos and where we went in Rockport within a second post once we get closer to leaving the area in a couple weeks.

There are two amazing blog posts I also want to direct your way. Especially if you are thinking about becoming a fulltime RVer. Take time to read them! I’m saving myself the future effort of coming up with anything close to how well they are written.

Chapter 3 Travels Blog regarding RV life.

Live Laugh RV and decision to get a home base.  Ingrid directed her readers to Chapter 3 Travels for more info.

Livingston Texas – Escapees and State Park Campgrounds

We finally made it back onto the road after more than a month in the Livingston Texas area. We are currently located at Lake Somerville Texas, Yegua Corp. of Engineer park. I believe I already mentioned in a post we took US 59 south from Texarkana to get to Livingston. Great road that leads to Houston Texas.

Back in Livingston we split or time between the Escapees Rainbow Park and the nearby State Park. At Escapees we stayed in a rustic area of the park called the “trees” which is under pine trees. It’s a huge park as it is the home of the Escapees Club, started back in the 1970’s. Folks here stay for years, especially if they decide to come off the road. Sections of the park include spaces open to the sun on the “hill”. Some have bought leased spaces and others yet have purchased large lots with houses on them.  Attached to the park is a Care Center where there are 58 spaces for folks with medical issues or just finishing out life while staying in their RV’s.  The Care Center is awesome to include opportunities to volunteer for a month or more. I was impressed with the hospital accommodations in Livingston and I can see why folks stay here and take advantage of the Care Center’s transportation for medical needs. We also met up with a local who handles moving rigs for those that can no longer do it or who have to move into the Care Center, which also offers 24 hour emergency services for RV issues.

We made many new friends and for the first time had a blog follower drive out to meet us from where they were staying in Conroe Texas. (Mike, Debbie from California commented below she and Steve from Down the Road Blog had met you guys also – small world – maybe.)

Thank you for making the trip to Escapees for a visit. We enjoyed our short time with Mike and Sandy of the Phannie and Mae Blog!

We met David and Nancy from Illinois who were staying in the park for a couple months. Their dogs, Bubbles and Gypsy, for some reason thought Huck liked to play. I really liked those dogs and we will miss David and Nancy a little 🙂 for sure. When you are new to fulltiming it helps to meet others who are new to the game, especially for emotional support or whatever. See ya next time! My sister’s will like this photo.

This area of the Escapees Rainbow Park in Livingston is called “the Trees”. Plenty of room for big rigs with full hookups. Also a handy walk to the laundry and other facilities. Weekly stays with 50 amp service are $141. Monthly stays were somewhere around $340 plus electric which a neighbor said was an extra $40 in the winter when not running AC.  I was surprised to meet several military veterans staying here who had traumatic brain injuries.  Texas even puts “Veteran” on your driver’s license if you have your DD214 form.  We took the one week deal with options to extend a week at a time.  That way we can pull out whenever we want and have a back-up plan if we need to stay longer.

If you are using the Escapees mail service this is where your mail ends up. The front half of the building is the Escapees Headquarters with the mail distribution center in the rear. They have a walk-up window so those that are staying in the park can get their mail. They received the hugest of packages as well. I would see two or three semi trucks arrive with mail each day. Escapees has an agreement with the US Postal Services and there own zip code which is 77399.

Noticed this decal on the slide of a fifth wheel. We are looking to get one.

Karen handcrafted our “Christmas tree” this year. The pine cones also make great fire starters. We  picked a spot to stay through the holidays as campgrounds fill up. We attended the Escapees dinner where there were nine people at our table. Each brought a dish and the RV park provided meat and gravy. The event center was packed.

We watched the Kansas City Chief’s win in the playoffs and Super Bowl along with others at the club house. For the game against the Tennessee Titians we went into town at one of the many Mexican restaurants where I informed a Tennessean his team’s name did not even bear the name of a city and that the entire state had to come together to support one. Ya, I know they are from Nashville. Oh well, I knew the Chief’s owed the Titans a beating and performed as expected. It was equally interesting to be near Houston while the Chief’s handed them a huge upset. I’m most happy for the Chief’s Couch, Andy Reid.  If you follow football I’m sure you will agree that of all the people on the field at the Super Bowl there were none that deserved the win more than Andy Reid himself.

On rainy days at Escapees we took advantage of the large library of books and some 2400 videos you can take back to your rig.  Experienced RVers could be found on every corner to answer questions. We took day trips and visited a few local sites. Some of which were hard to discover other than asking the locals where to go.

The Big Thicket National  Preserve 

This area is huge! You can access trails all over southeast Texas. Points I found remarkable is the Big Thicket was the first national preserves in the country and is recognized by the United Nations for its bio-diversity.  The drive to the visitors center is worth it. But stay on the paved roads unless you have a truck or similar. Some of the back country roads wash out which for us was a fun trip in itself.

On one of several trails in the Big Thicket. Karen wondered what sound we were hearing. I’ve spent some time back-packing and heard the sound before. It was the sound of quite. Almost like a faint wind blowing.

The Rock Shop

The Rock Shop – if there is another place on earth like this I sure don’t know where it is. And yes, Mr. Johnson said he has been to Quartzite several times in 50 years. The owner is in his 90’s and a ball of fire. We got lucky and he took us to his music shop to listen to some old toons he had written, having run with some old-time country music stars. His wife has passed away. Judging by his description of their life together you can tell he loved that lady dearly.

Johnson’s Rock Shop is off the back-roads and is a series of buildings handcrafted by the Johnsons. Inside each building are specific rock collections.

Inside one building with our friend from Illinois, David.

Karen’s hobby is making things from shiny rocks, like this and pins to wear. Yep, rocks are heavy for an RV lifestyle. But don’t worry, she gives her assembled pieces to people we meet – just warning ya. She is so artistic.

American Indian Youth PowWow

This was the first reservation I can ever recall visiting. Afterwards I read up on regulation and laws which I knew would be specific to the reservation to some degree. I figured as they have a casino on the grounds they were used to visitors. I told Karen I was not taking any photos until I saw someone else taking photos.

The costume colors worn by dancers were wonderful. We watched what others were doing, such as standing for honor dances, to make sure we did not offend anyone. Karen dropped her new Texas driver’s license somewhere and we notified the management. Later a tribal elder sent her a Facebook message saying a child found the license. He met Karen in Livingston to return the license.

Lake Livingston is one of the largest inland lakes in Texas which butts up against the Sam Houston National Forrest. The state park was wonderful with full hookup spots on concrete. In Texas you can fish without a license in state parks which we took advantage of despite not catching much. We asked a local about alligators as we were in southeast Texas. He fished Lake Livingston for more than 50 years and said they are way up in the creeks that feed the lake, although in the summer he has seen big ones in the open water presumably swimming to an island. If you are near here at some point in your travels then make Lake Livingston a planned stop for at least a week. We purchased the Texas State Park Pass which pays for itself in about seven nights stay.  We are using the State Park Pass all over the state of Texas this year.

Our spot at Lake Livingston State Park. Full hookups on concrete pads for $18 a night after we bought the annual park pass.

Way beyond in the horizon is Sam Houston National Forest.

After Lake Livingston we moved back to the Escapees Park for awhile. It sure turned out to be a mild winter. We never saw freezing temperatures and started noticing what we think are spring flowers before the end of January.

We have been in the pine forested areas now for a couple months. The trees were wonderful to see and hike amongst although the pine pollen was not good for our dog Huck and Karen. Moving to central Texas would bring a change of scenery and tree types.

Once we finish up with our short stay here in Somerville Texas we are moving on to the Corpus Christi area.