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Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Church Point Mardi Gras Two!

Aside from Betty's famous Southern hospitality, and the camaraderie of the other RV'ers we meet there, and the infamous Mandatory Happy Hours, and the endless Cajun and Zydeco music, one of the things that keep us coming back to Betty's RV Park in Abbeville, Louisiana is the old-time, original, country-style Mardi Gras she squires us to in nearby Church Point, Louisiana.  We get to the farm of our hosts early in the morning, before the roads close, and in time to see all of the preparation.  This year, we got to our destination so early that we had to pack our coffee and breakfast:

Betty is a good friend of our hosts, Miss Kate and Mr. Brian.  Here is a photo, taken in 2018 by our friend Bernie Rosling, of Miss Kate (L) and Betty (R):

No Mardi Gras is complete without the gumbo (displayed by our friends Dan and Merlene) --

-- and the whole roast pig (hidden from view in the Cajun Microwave below):

By mealtime, the pork will have come out of the smoker and be pulled and sliced into plenty of servings for everyone:

By around 11am or noon, the Mardi Gras Parade Marshal arrives on horseback, leading the (mostly drunken) revellers onto the farm field, where they ask the farmer for a chicken for their gumbo pots:

The chickens really don't have much to say about this business, and they glumly await their fates:

Soon, the chicken is released, and revellers tear off across the farm field, sliding in the mud as they dive to catch the chicken:

Eventually, one of the revellers comes up winners.  This year's victor displayed his prize.  Again, the chicken was not amused:

Once the farmer has bribed the revellers with meat for the pot, the revellers return the favor by parading past the property:

Not all are on horseback --

-- in fact many ride on homemade floats or walk along the parade route.  This masked reveller stopped to dance a turn with Kathy:

For the most part, the fancy costumes are found among the parading revellers, but occasionally, one spots parties watching the parade who are more of a spectacle than the parade itself.  One of our friends asked these two femme fatales to take our group photo.  The lady on the left just walked out onto the highway and singlehandedly stopped traffic more powerfully than Superman ever could do, simply with her commanding voice and policewoman's hand.  Then she calmly took our photo and waves the traffic to continue on its way.

For parade watchers, part of the fun is to catch beads from the revellers on the floats.  Kathy is not too shabby at that sport:

After the parade, and some gumbo and pork, it's time for the Children's Chicken Run!  This is at least as entertaining as the other parts of the festivities, as you will see from this video of the children's chicken run!

The eventual winner, a young girl who, if you watched the video carefully, looked as if she's gotten left by the wayside in the chicken's first roundelay, but streamed back into the action as the chicken passed a second time.

Here, she holds her prize.  David asked her, "What are you going to do with the chicken?"  She answered, "Keep it for a pet!"  David queried, "Have you named him?"  The reply:  "Yes!  Mardi!"

Back at Betty's ranch, Kathy added her extra beads as mulch for the garden and we admired the bright Mardi Gras colors, a fitting, quiet end to a day of raucus celebration:

Laissez les bon temps roulez!

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Sea Rim Again

We first visited Sea Rim State Park in Texas in January 2018, and wrote about it in a number of blog entries, most notably this one.  This visit is a month and a half later in the season, and we noticed two significant changes:  first, it's warmer this time than it was in 2018 (but not warm enough yet to paddle our kayaks in the estuaries -- we'll have to come back again to do that); second, with the warmer weather has come a big welcoming committee of mosquitoes.  Ruby kitten hasn't seen them before, and thinks it's great fun to chase them!

We had fog for much of our drive along the Gulf Coast from Galveston, east to Sea Rim.  One of the highlights of our drive was this beautiful, graceful, gold-highlighted Fred Hartman Bridge, which connects LaPorte, Texas with Baytown, Texas, crossing the Houston Ship Channel.  Fred Harman founded the Houston Chapter of the Baseball Writers Association.  (We think it's nice that someone like that would get a bridge after him.)

Interestingly, the highway crossing here was through the prior Baytown Tunnel, but the ship channel had to be deepened and the tunnel was in the way, so they just built a bridge instead.  It's a mighty high bridge.

Again, because we want to spend two weeks with Betty at her RV Park in Abbeville, Louisiana (travelling there tomorrow), and we want to get back to Pennsylvania in time for Katie's birthday in April, we have to cut a number of our stays shorter than we would like.

So we got cloudy, cool weather.

That's okay.  We know how to make the most of any place and any weather.  When we woke up on our one day here, on Wednesday, February 19, 2020, we decided to take a 4-mile walk along the beach, which is nearly pristine except for the ubiquitous tar balls that floated in, no doubt, from those Gulf oil spills.

Here we are at the start of our walk.  No entrance fee, because we are camping here.

The beach is very flat with firm sand, so the walk was easy.  We spotted gulls and terns, and this immense, somewhat irregular flying wedge of geese headed west along the shoreline:

They were followed closely by a small, perhaps 24-goose wedge that was geometrically perfect.  Obviously the geese that lead that little family know exactly what they are doing.  Besides, they could concentrate on form while simply following the larger flock.

The beach has litter barrels about every 100 yards.  They are in good shape and it appears that visitors have been very good about using them.  Many of the barrel frames had notices posted asking visitors to report any sea turtle sightings:

We ran into one snowy egret who, finally disturbed by our gaze, flew off up a little stream.  We caught him in his graceful motion as he flew away from us:

So, you say, what else does one do with a cool, windy day where, nevertheless, the mosquitoes are a bit annoying?  We answer:  Bake bread and make veggie sausage!  We've been planning to do this since we arrived back from Myanmar in January.  The projects were most successful.

We loaded all our favorite ingredients into the veggie sausage:  quinoa, black beans, chick peas, oats, spinach, carrots, onion, sun-dried tomatoes and the kitchen sink.  Flavored with a little Cajun Garlic Sauce, some thyme and cilantro, these veggie patties will warm our tummies on future mornings.

Meanwhile, the bread was rising, and when we were done with the veggie sausage, we put the bread into the oven to bake.  Voila, Rosemary-Olive Bread:

Did we mention that we couldn't resist trying it, and, yes, it was very light, moist and tasty:

Little Ruby enjoys a good project in the RV.  She jumps in and participates with all  four paws.  Eventually, all that cooking tired her out, and she collapse onto the dashboard for a nap.  She slept so hard, she barely stirred when we set off the smoke detector by opening the oven to pull out the bread.

We spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning our cooking dishes and enjoying the view out our windows.  Ruby is now in full swing with her twice-daily walks.  She still doesn't tolerate the halter-and-leash more than about 15 minutes before trying to outrace it or outwit David by wrapping it around tires and trying to back out of the harness.  Still, she really enjoys the outside enrichment.  She chased mosquitoes here, and in one case leaped at least two feet into the air in pursuit of one of those little buggers.

We promised Betty we would get to Abbeville by noon on Thursday, February 20, so we had to get up at 5:30 am to be on the road by 7:30.  While our trip was only scheduled to take about 3.5 hours, we were uncertain about the ferry (whether it would be operating, or if we would be too big to take it), so we allowed ourselves extra time in case we needed to detour north by road in order to cross into Louisiana.

However, all went according to plan.  We arrived at the Cameron Ferry and were first in line.  We got a great view of the ferry as it approached our side:

We loaded quickly -- there were only seven vehicles in all.  We were the largest.  Twenty minutes after we loaded, we were docking on the other side:

We unloaded, were on our way promptly, and made it to Betty's RV Park before the appointed hour of noon.

We can't wait for the next two weeks of Cajun adventures!

Monday, February 17, 2020

Return to Jamaica Beach

We're moving across the Gulf Coast toward Betty's RV Park in Abbeville, Louisiana for the Mardi Gras season!  This was a short stop on Galveston Island in Texas, at one of our favorite RV parks - Jamaica Beach RV Resort.  As we crossed the bridge onto the island from the west, we wondered what kind of weather we would find:

It turned out that the forecast for our stay was for fog -- and a significant chance of rain.  So much for our bragging to daughter Katie that we would be walking on the beach in bare feet, shorts and t-shirts on a sunny day.

Nevertheless, we got up this morning optimistic over our chance to revisit one of our favorite campgrounds and take a long walk along the beach.  We started our coffee walk with a sighting of a local egret:

One thing we enjoy about this RV park is its social activities.  When we were here in 2014, we joined in a group outing to watch the Galveston Mardi Gras parade and taste BBQ smoked by our campground hosts.  This year, we're missing Mardi Gras, but we had a chance to check out the campground's float:

Since we were here in 2014, the campground has nearly doubled in size, extending toward Galveston Bay from its frontage on Termini-San Luis Pass Road next to the Gulf of Mexico beach.  We walked the path back toward the bay and found some interesting swings set out for guests to enjoy the quiet bay waters:

Our big goal for today was to walk on the beach, and we were able to get a 4-mile stroll.  It was foggy and colder than we would have liked, but we still enjoyed our first walk along a seashore since November when we visited the beach with Darla on our visit in Riverside California.

The locals are working hard to expand and protect the dunes along this stretch of Galveston Island.  Many of the dunes are covered with low bushes and grasses, and drainage channels seem to have found their way through the dunes without causing much damage to the sandy storm barriers:

It was almost lunchtime when we returned from the beach, and we wanted to check out at least one Galveston eatery we hadn't tried before.  We ended up picking Katie's Seafood Restaurant, on the bay side of Galveston.  After enjoying an all-seafood lunch, we hopped over to Katie's nearby seafood market, where we picked up some redfish and snapper to put away to cook for dinner in the coming days.

We got home, did some chores, and let Ruby and Baxter out for their daily afternoon sniffs.  We had bought a few types of gin to add to our collection for a planned gin-tasting at Betty's RV Park, and we had little tastes of what we purchased.  Now it's time to kick back, our chores done, anticipating a light dinner.

Ruby, however, is still busy.  As we speak, she is planning the route for our next move to Sea Rim State Park near Port Arthur, Texas.  Just now, she looked up to announce that it would be about a 3.5 hour drive, and she had found the optimum route.

That's our Ruby.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

On our way east, we're returning to the Gulf Coast, but this year have added a stop near Corpus Christi.  We're staying in Rockport, a small, unassuming vacation town near Port Aransas.  We have had only one day here, so we used it to scout the area for a longer stay when we return west.

As it turned out, Rockport is celebrating "Lamardi Gras" this weekend -- a Mardi Gras festival to benefit the volunteer fire department for the local community of Lamar.  A Mardi Gras parade was held Friday night, and this morning, Saturday, February 15, 2020, the fun continued at Rockport Market Days at the Rockport Harbor.  We stumbled on the craft and food fair as we were driving north to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, and decided to stop by to see what it was all about.

There was a very interesting and eclectic gathering of craft vendors and food vendors.  We bought some unique balsamic vinegar, scrumptious tamales, and some unusual jellies and salsa.  After stashing our booty in the Jeep, we walked across to the harbor to take a look.  There is a pretty little beach on the mint-blue-green water:

Continuing on our way, we arrived, some miles north, at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge:

The refuge, which includes nearly all of 38-mile Matagorda Island, is best known for its prominent place in the American wildlife conservation movement. It was established by President Franklin Roosevelt as the Aransas Migratory Waterfowl Refuge as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife. He issued a proclamation in 1940 changing the name to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge, which embraces the wintering grounds for the whooping crane, was established just in time to help preserve the endangered species:  in 1941, only 15 whooping cranes survived in the wild.  Today, thanks to stringent conservation efforts by the Refuge, other public agencies, including Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta, Canada, the nesting habitat of the Whooping Crane's summer range, and Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin, the wild whooping crane population now exceeds 800.

One of the explanatory signs in the Refuge displays the most prominent waterfowl to be seen in the refuge.  We were surprised that we actually saw all of them!

The Refuge is comprised of wetlands and barrier dunes and islands that together make up a complex web of sand, vegetation, salt water and fresh water in which animal life thrives:

The Refuge has a number of hiking trails that are strategically located for the best views of wildlife.  We decided to hike the trail recommended by the Visitor Center volunteer -- the Heron Flats Trail.  As we walked, we spotted several types of grasses growing lushly in the moist soil:

Some wildflowers are blooming, and we spotted three:

Animal life was more diverse than just waterfowl.  Kathy spotted this young alligator sunning himself on a log in one of the freshwater ponds near our hiking path:

This group of coots and a ducky friend swam nearby, diving for food.  It appeared there was much to eat, including bug life and small fish:

The most exciting encounter we had, however, was to spot this pair of whooping cranes flying along one of the small waterways near us.  Because each lifelong mated pair of whooping cranes occupy and defend a territory of about 250 acres, we realized that this is probably the only pair of the rare birds that could be spotted in the vicinity of the visitor center.

 After enjoying Heron Flats Trail, we drove down to the observation towers and boardwalk further south along the shore of Blackjack Peninsula.  The boardwalk reaches out to the beach through a rich and diverse wetland:

At the end of the boardwalk, a sandy beach graced the tree-lined shore:

We returned on the boardwalk to the observation towers and climbed them to get a broader view of the Refuge.  It stretched on for miles to the south:

By this time it was getting late and we also wanted to visit nearby Goose Island State Park, which allows active day use of a similar environment and boasts a large campground.  We popped into the entrance station and chatted with a park ranger about the campground, hiking trails in the park, and where we could put our kayaks into the bay for paddling.  The park and campground are impressive, and we decided that we should stay here on our next visit.  Because Goose Island State Park is close to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, we would be able to return to bike the Refuge's auto loop trail and kayak its waters as well.

While this wasn't a dramatic hiking outing, and we didn't have much time to explore the area, we consider this short stay a success because it gives us another destination for future adventures!

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Scouting the Eclipse in Uvalde, Texas

We're already excited about the Solar Eclipse in April 2024!  We agreed with our friends Jane and Kim to help scout out possible viewing locations with maximum totality duration and best chance of weather.  Since the line of totality will run in a southwesterly-to-northeasterly direction from near Piedras Negras, Mexico, on the U.S. border, through Maine, and totality duration will be the greatest the further south one views the eclipse, it was pretty easy to conclude that we should explore South Texas just north of the Mexican border.

The largest town in that area is Uvalde, Texas, which is about a 1.5 hour drive west and south of San Antonio.  We found a rustic campground near Uvalde called Chalk Bluff River Resort and set down levelling jacks for a few days in order to have enough time to scout the area.

The setting for our campground is pretty striking, with sheer limestone bluffs rising over the Nueces River, which runs along the back of the campground:

The Nueces River is not large -- most of it looks wadeable -- but what is most striking about it is its wide streambed of rounded limestone rocks that glisten white in the sun.  Here is a view east along the river --

-- and a view west:

The current owners bought the campground recently and are working hard to spruce it up.  It looks like it was established in the 1950's or 1960's, and most of the facilities have not been renovated since then.  It is huge, though, and boasts 32 full service RV sites, 60 furnished, but very rustic, cabins (many with air conditioning), and 100 tent campsites.

While the campground's website mentions that it offers animal feeding and petting, we had no idea what a menagerie we and the cats would be wandering into.  Our first afternoon, we were greeted by this roaming female turkey (pea hen?), who made it her business to wander over to our campsite every afternoon and every morning, just about the time we walked Baxter and Ruby, to see what we were doing.  When she wasn't doing that, she was frequenting the goat pen across from us, harassing and chasing the cute little goats.

It wasn't surprising to find some horses, who were very friendly (obviously hoping for a snack), and we obliged them with fistfuls of fresh grass from our side of the fence:

Some pens had deer (labelled on the sign as, "Axis Deer"), and they were equally friendly and desirous of handouts:

Along that line, however, South Texas is home to more wild deer than we have seen in any region we have visited.  The campground itself is home to two or three small herds, which we would rustle up on every morning's coffee walk.  As you can imagine, deer hunting is popular in the region and, unfortunately, we spotted many deer on the roadside that had become the victims of 75 mph drivers.

One pen in the campground was home to rabbit-like rodents that we suspect were agouti:

Yet another, more exotic friend in the pens was this sweet ostrich that only begged food and did not hiss or bite (at least when we were greeting it):

But the most interesting animal of all was this very friendly camel, who, when s/he spotted us this morning, made a beeline toward us and begged for some sweet, fresh grass.  David obliged him/her and made a friend -- and still has his hand, to boot:

The results of our Eclipse Scouting Expedition are confidential and secret, to be shared only with Jane and Kim.  However, we can report on one unique site we discovered, which could be the location for eclipse viewing because of its open hilltops -- Ox Ranch:

To our dismay, it is a so-called "hunting ranch" or "shooting ranch."  The only purpose of visiting it is to eat and sleep in luxury while spending your days hunting the innocent creatures who graze freely, unaware of what fate awaits them:

We stopped into the lodge to inquire about what pricing would be available for a visit to spend a day photographing the eclipse.  We had a hunch it would not be cheap when we saw the lodge:

The lodge interior only confirmed our suspicions, and the only question left in our mind was how much such a visit would set one back:

Suffice it to say that, if you have to ask the per-night price, you can't afford it.  We dutifully reported the idea to Jane and Kim, but came away feeling poorer just for having been told the price, and felt that there would be many cheaper options to enjoy the eclipse in this area.

We've finished our scouting project, and tomorrow we head over to the Gulf Coast near South Padre Island.  Many snowbirding RV'ers like to spend the winter there, and we're curious about the area.  We'll proceed on along the Gulf Coast, staying briefly at Jamaica Beach RV Resort in Galveston, one of our favorites, and Sea Rim State Park, near Port Arthur, another favorite, before moving on to an extended stay for Mardi Gras at one of our MOST favorites:  Betty's RV Park, in Abbeville, Louisiana!

Stay tuned for much adventure.