Thursday, June 30, 2011

June 30

The good life as an RV'er
Today it's just one month ago since we returned from our 9000-mile trip through the U.S. and Canada. That makes me think about how I enjoy life in an RV.
Ready for a cup of Coffee? - A break along the road
Traveling with an RV has a lot of benefits. Take f.ex. you have misplaced something, let's say a document. Unlike in your house where you have to search high and low through several rooms or even two stories, there is a good chance that you will find the document somewhere in a drawer of the RV, after all you have a pretty limited space at hand.
Parked out in the desert - 3 weeks or 3 months -- it doesn't matter
Space, is a keyword when it come to living in an RV. As we usually spend 6 months away from home, we feel that we require a certain amount of room around us. Thus we prefer our 40footer Bus. BUT, we also know couples who live in the smallest type RV, barely 15ft long and much narrower than our bus.    
Somewhere in the Carolina's
Important for all RV'ers is the feeling of Independence and freedom from a usual life at home. I also feel generally renewed and get back a notion of being part of an adventure. 
A stop along the Interstate
Another very nice thing is the camaraderie between RV'ers, and I think I have found out that it originates in the fact that people on the road and away from home are usually "off duty", meaning retired or at least semi-retired. If I feel any stress underway, I know I've done it to myself. Nobody else can be blamed for it. I am the one having tons of time, I can wait at the border for hours, if necessary, as I have everything I need within my reach.
If the weather turns bad, I can simply park for a day or two and wait it all out. It has happened, and will happen again.
Crossing State borders - how many have we done....?
Being on the road I never need to make a reservation if I don't want to. I can always pull in on a truck-stop or an empty space behind a gas station for the night. I never need to be annoyed about slow service in a restaurant as my supper is cooked and served right here - in my RV.

Then there are all the beautiful places we can visit, nothing is too far away, it'll just take a couple of extra days. National Parks, State Parks and even regional Parks are mostly great places to visit. And it is really easy to drop-in with friends and family - as you'll bring your very own accommodation with you.
An early morning in Montana
Of course there are also responsibilities, like f.ex. checking on my vehicles safety features. Tires and air-pressure needs to be checked daily, all lights around the rig have to work a.s.o. but if I keep my rig serviced it won't give me any major problems.
Eager to get going... our true friend and travel companion
"On the Road again" is a popular old song and we play it occasionally when rolling down the Interstate. 

We just hope that gas prices are not climbing to even higher astronomical levels. It will have a devastating effect on RV'ing and the RV-industry as a whole.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Mission San Jose

June 29

When Spanish rulers decided to go north from Mexico to explore the land, seeking for gold and riches, they eventually got into the San Antonio area. Where ever the Spanish arrived, Monks followed and started to build missions for converting the Native population into true believers. Missions were built many places in Texas and southern Arizona.
En route to Port Aransas, we stopped in San Antonio to "take in" the city. San Antonio has several Missions from those long-gone days.

The Mission San Jose is another example for buildings done by the Spanish Monks. The physical work, however, was performed by the native Americans. It was the goal of the Spanish empire to convert the Indians to the catholic faith making them to obeying Spanish citizens of NEW SPAIN as the country was called at the time.
 The transformation from hunters and gatherers to hard working farmers proved not to be easy. The Mission housed a varying number of Indians.  Even though many Indians learned to farm, over 70% of them died as a result of diseases incubated by Europeans before traveling to America. The first American cowboys were actually Indians called Vaqueros.
The Mission San Jose was not the only one in this area. Around San Antonio are four other Missions. The buildings were erected to secure the land for New Spain.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

At the Gulf of Mexico

June 28

Lets get back to the year 2006. When we had visited the Big Bend National Park we were bound for the Texas Coast with Mustang and South Padre Island.

After a weeklong drive through dry desert we now look upon the deep blue surface of Laguna Madre south of Corpus Christi.

 "Corpus", as the city is called by the locals, is the 10th biggest harbor in the U.S..
After crossing the bridge which leads over to the Barrier Islands, traffic decreases. A relatively narrow Island road brings us up to Port Aransas. The history of Port A. is that of a local port of fishery. That and some cattle were the main sources of income until Tourism got a hold of the island. Now Real Estate prices have risen to heaven and the town lives of the many visitors coming for recreation. Marinas and Rv-Resorts are filled up, even now off season. Restaurants and souvenir stores make out the majority of business establishments. Many ornithologists come here to watch for migrating birds to and from Mexico.

Padre Island
We watch for a place to stay when arriving town. After som back and forth we are told about some free camping on the county beach.

Canadian Flag at the Gulf of Mexico
Tanker heading towards Corpus Christi

Campers on the Beach at Port Aransas

But this information we received at the Chamber of Commerce proves to be wrong. They charge $10.00/night for literally no service. But we decide to stay for 3 nights to get some time looking for alternatives. Apparently neither the town nor the County is prepared for long term visitors, as they do not offer any rebate. Only the hook-up site at $18.00/night offers a weekly rate of $110.00. way too much if you want to stay 2 months. Well, at least it is pretty easy to park the trailer here. The beach is wide and has a solid compacted layer of sand. Many other RV's are using the beach for a short term stay. 

On the 3. day we drive off to explore other places. There is a number of access roads between mile marker 27 and 34 where one can camp for 3 days without paying a daily charge. However the users have to purchase a $12.00 sticker, good for a year. However this is of no use for us, since we do not want to move our rig again after 3 days. So we drive down south on Padre Island where there is a National Seashore.

This place is offering two categories of camping. One may either use the official dry camping site above the beach for $8.00/night or a free beach camping on the North Beach, South Beach or Bird-Island-Basin (bay-side). Both places have a time limit of 14 days camping. For Bird-Island-Basin one would have to pay a user fee of either $5.00/day or a one-year valid pass of 10.00. So there is nothing entirely for free. On the North Beach, as well as on the South Beach there is a time limit of 2 weeks, then one has to move out for at least 48 hours before returning. A maximum stay of 65 days/year are allowed. All this might change a lot during the coming years as there is a generally increasing demand for camping.  Because of high winds and a similar high tide we decided to camp on the bay-side at bird-basin. We obtained the free camping permit, pay the one-time user fee and were lucky enough to get rigged up before there comes a whole bunch of more RV's looking for the same. Our big rear window is pointing right towards the lagoon and the sunset

Sunset over Laguna Madre
Contrary to Holtville we've got a lot of weather here. Our first storm hit us from the north (probably a canadian) and it comes out of a sudden I'd not believe being possible. We are sitting at our dinner and suddenly the wind starts howling, shaking the trailer so violently that we get really scared. 
With solar panels out and against the wind the noise is unbearable. And it is DARK, when it happens. I get out and hitch on the trailer. That smoothens the rocking a bit. Then we haul in the bedroom slide, because you just can't sleep there with it being out. During the night it rocks and clatters all around but towards morning it calms down a bit.

Padre Island National Seashore encompasses 133,000 acres of America's vanishing barrier islands. It is the longest remaining undeveloped barrier island in the world. White sand beaches, interior grasslands, ephemeral ponds and the Laguna Madre provide habitat for a wide variety of flora and fauna. The seashore receives an average of 800,000 visitors per year. The majority of the visitors are from the regional area.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Wild Fires in Arizona and New Mexico

June 27

During our last winter trip we also visited parts of New Mexico and Arizona. 
Areas in New Mexico along the border to Arizona are now burning. So is the area west of Los Alamos, a city which is host to America's biggest High-Tech Lab. 18,000 people are living in Los Alamos and the city is been ordered evacuated. On the picture below you can see the lights of the city with a giant fire burning on a ridge behind (west) of the city. The fire is approaching fast.

In danger and evacuated is also the Bandelier National Monument, where we had wonderful days exploring the ancient caves up along the valley. The fires there are threatening the freshly renovated visitor center. The Park Administration has removed artifacts from their facilities. Our hearts are heavy with sorrow when we see these wonderful landscapes being a victim of those fires. We also feel terribly sorry for the people of all the evacuated towns and cities in Arizona and New Mexico, people who have lost everything they owned.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A walk through the Park
When the fog lifted off after lunch, I suggested a walk through the Roosevelt Park's natural area. 

We parked the car close to the beach and followed the main Park Road to Lower Duck Point at the south end of the island. This walk is about 4.8km return. 

I know it is hard to describe in words, but the smell from fresh grass, the blossoms of the wild roses and the forest as a whole was mesmerizing after the rain yesterday. We met another couple which had come over from Maine. They were full of praise over the island.

At lower Duck Point


June 26

The Island is still foggy and we might get a few rain showers today as well. So there isn't much to get to outside. So my thoughts are wandering back a  few years to our first big journey south. It has always meant a lot to me to do a thing for the first time. And, strangely, the memories of the first journey are still the strongest. We had wonderful days that winter. After first venturing down the West Coast we arrived at Holtville,CA.  We stayed until the middle of January. Then we went on through Arizona with the goal of Southern Texas and the Gulf of Mexico.

Underway we stopped for a few days to visit the Big Bend National Park  at the Rio Grande. And here is our account from those days.

Prickly Pear Cactus 
Our first whole day in the Big Bend National Park and we spend it on the campground. The warm spring weather feels pleasant and makes us lazy.
We undertake a few walks in the vicinity. One of our walks brings us down to the Rio Grande. Just across the water maybe 25 yards away is the international border -
Both sides are overgrown with river cane. The green waters of the river are floating lazily downstreams.
A friendly ranger we meet upon tells us that the entire area has been a farm until 1940. Afterwards it got into the possession of the National Park Service. The brilliant irrigation system could be maintained ensuring that the mighty cottonwood trees are still alive and thriving.  On a regular basis the former fields, now the campground are flooded with the river waters. A pump is bringing the water into the irrigation ditches from where it can led from one area to the other

Javelinas are roaming freely throughout the Park

Today we want to explore the Santa Elena Canyon. Cut 1200ft. down into the rock the Rio Grande has been running here for millions of years.
The internal park road runs from Rio Grande Village via Panther Junction along the Chiso Mountains until it meets the river again at the north side of the park. We stop at the various exhibitsalong the road. They teach us about the geology, fauna and flora of the region.
Many places we see rugged mountain lines. Not unlike palisades they run across the landscape. These are casts where lava has risen through. This lava proved to be harder than the surrounding sand stone material and consequently withstood the process of erosion.

Ruin of an old farmstead 
The impressive north side of the National Park is probably the most important place to visit.The river runs in the 1200ft. deep Santa Elena Canyon and is bordered on the Mexican side by Sierra Ponce From the parking lot vis-a-vis the canyon I make the walk into the canyon. At the end of the trail the canyon is barely 10-12 yards wide. America on this side, Mexico on the other.

Since dogs are not allowed on the trails, Bea waits with them at he paking lot
We return over the Old Maverick Road. Old Maverick is 14mile stretch of dirt road. It is very rough and it is not recommended for other than 4x4 vehicles. A few places it runs through washes and it'll rattle you through. Contrary to the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, we took this morning, the Old Maverick runs through flat terrain. It connects to the paved park road at Maverick Junction. From there one might either leave the park toward Study Butte/Terlingua or return via Panther Junction to Rio Grande Village.

The Rio Grande or Rio Bravo as it is called in Mexico

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A rainy Day

June 25

I guess it is just fair that we get a little rain from time to time. Parts of North Dakota are just about drowning in flood waters. The pictures we see from Minot are down right scary. Friends from North Dakota are writing us that the floods are just from rain, while the real snow melt hasn't even begun to affect the rivers. The Garrison Dam holding back the Sakakawea, is full and excess waters are now flooding down the Missouri River at the tune of 1.1million gallons per second!!
In Minot they expect another 9ft of rising waters.

So, looking out onto the grey Passamaquoddy Bay, I realize that we have nothing to complain about, even though the Bicentennial celebrations in Lubec,ME are not happening out in the open. Of course we do hope for a sunny day on July 1, Canada Day.

A rainy view into the yard

Friday, June 24, 2011

Campobello --- Island of Flowers

June 24

I'm just coming back from a walk along the North Road. Down below the road, on an empty lot stands a patch of Lupines. They were standing in the golden rays of this late afternoon. I saw two ladies being busy with taking pictures of the lupines. One of them turned towards me exclaiming "What a  beautiful island".  Yep, they are right. Campobello IS VERY beautiful. And Bea had taken pictures of the flowers  just days earlier. She was also in a neighbor's garden where she found orange Rhododendrons.

And here are her pictures:

With a view over the Passamaquoddy Bay

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Kodachrome Basin

June 23

The Kodachrome Basin is a small, popular Utah State Park situated a few miles south of UT 12 due east of Bryce Canyon, and reached by a paved road. The park contains eroded, multicolored rock formations in various shades of red, yellow, pink, white and brown; together with the (usually) deep blue sky and occasional green vegetation this combination led the National Geographical Society to name the area, with the consent of the Kodak Film Corp. The one unique feature of the park is the presence of many spires or 'chimneys' of rock, known as sand pipes, which are thought to be solidified sediment that filled ancient springs or geysers, left standing after the softer surrounding Entrada sandstone rock weathered away.
Exploring: All trails and features can be explored in less than one day. The best place to see the sand pipes and other formations is the Grand Parade along the park road, and two easy footpaths wind through the nearby rocks. The road ends at a 27 site campground, where the short but rather steep and narrow Eagles View Trail begins. This climbs 460 feet to a pass at the top of the cliffs encircling the basin and offers the best overall views. Another longer route is the Panorama Trail, a 3 mile loop past more pipes to another good viewpoint from where a continuation path heads further west to the site of an old geyser. An unpaved road forks east from near the ranger residence, with two branches, one leading to Chimney Rock - the largest sand pipe in the park, and the other towards Shakespeare Arch.