Thursday, February 28, 2019

Searching for the Whooping Cranes

From the Aransas NWR website: 

In the freshwater and brackish marshes of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, a distinct and wild trumpeting call rings across the marsh. It is the whooping crane, Grus americana, the rarest crane species and one of the rarest birds in North America. All of the whooping cranes alive today, both wild and captive, are descendants of the last 15 remaining cranes that were found wintering at the Aransas Refuge in 1941.

The only natural wild flock of whooping cranes nests in Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories of Canada. Whoopers mate for life but have been known to re-mate following the death of their mate. They may survive up to 25 years in the wild and 35 to 40 years in captivity. Adults generally begin to produce eggs when they reach four or five years of age and then will lay two eggs, usually rearing only one chick. In late spring and summer, their nests are built on small islands of bulrushes, cattails, and sedges. Dry years can result in heavy predation with few young surviving. In the fall, the migration begins. The whooping cranes will fly 2,500 miles from Wood Buffalo National Park to their wintering grounds on the Texas coast at Aransas Refuge.

We knew that when we arrived in Port Aransas we would be close to the wildlife refuge where the whooping cranes spend the winter, so we made plans with our friends, Rick & Karen, to do looking for them.  We looked into boat tours, but they were pretty expensive, so we decided to take our bikes up to the wildlife refuge and do some biking and hiking.  Sunday started out overcast and foggy in Port Aransas, but it was predicted to clear up in the afternoon, and the inland areas were supposed to clear even earlier.  We stopped for a quick lunch at Whataburger in Rockport, and by the time we were on the road to the refuge, the sun was out and it was turning into a beautiful day.

We stopped at the Contact Station to show our National Park passes, pick up a map, and get some tips on where to see the cranes.  They’re using just a little building right now, since their Visitor Center has not yet been rebuilt after Hurricane Harvey.  Armed with a plan, we unloaded the bikes and set out on the refuge road.

Our first stop was at a popular gator pond,and we were not disappointed.

Zoomed in . . .

We crossed the bridge over the gator pond, and walked along the Heron Flats Trail.

This trail took us to a small observation deck where there were several telescopes focused on the whooping cranes in the distance.  We could see them really well through the telescope, but not so well without.  As we walked up, a huge flock of cranes flew overhead . . . but too far away to get a good picture.  It also didn’t help that I left the motorhome without my camera, so I only had my phone to take pictures with!  Fortunately, Rick had his camera a zoom lens, and he shared a few photos with me.

The trail took us along the back side of the gator pond, where we spotted several more alligators enjoying the sunny afternoon.

And one more off by himself in another area of the pond.

We walked along the trail until we got to an area that was really muddy.  Debating on whether or not to continue, some people coming the other way (with shoes completely covered in mud!) said that you never really get a good view of the cranes from the trail, so we turned around and headed back to the bikes.

We continued riding along on the refuge road, enjoying the view of the Gulf of Mexico, and keeping an eye out for cranes and other birds flying alongside of us.

We didn’t see any birds as we rode along, but we did see some interesting plants, and we really enjoyed the beautiful weather and bright blue sky.

Our next stop was the observation deck at Jones Lake, a small inland lake where ducks and other water birds like to hang out.

Still smiling at this point!

Five miles in from the Refuge entrance, we reached the Observation Tower that overlooks the coastal marshland and the Gulf of Mexico.

It was a long, winding ramp leading up to the tower – making us feel like we were in line for a roller coaster at Cedar Point!

There was a group of buzzards hanging out in a nearby tree,

looking ominous,

but fortunately not on the tower or the walkway.  Although there was plenty of evidence that they do spend a lot of time there – what a mess – yuck!

From the tower, we had a great view of the surrounding area,

and were able to spot some wildlife – deer in the marsh, and a great blue heron.

Our timing was perfect to as we arrived at the top of the tower -- a whooping crane flew past and we (OK, Rick) w ere able to get a few pictures.

In this first shot, it almost looks like a pelican . . .

but there are the characteristic black-tipped wings!

There he goes!

It was time for us to get going, too.  We had five miles to ride back to the Jeeps, and Karen wasn’t looking forward to it!  Plus, as always happens, the wind had taken a turn and was blowing strongly against us as we made our way back!

It felt like it was taking twice as long to get back to the parking lot!

The moon was starting to make an appearance already!


The last couple of miles were brutal, especially next to the open water, but we all made it back!  AS the sun was beginning to set, the deer were coming out, too . . . there must have been 30 of them hanging out around the entrance, so I stopped to take a couple pictures before they ran off.

Rick & Karen headed straight back to the RV Resort, but Tom & I had to stop at H.E.B for some groceries on the way back, so we stopped for a light dinner, too.

Pizza, accompanied by live entertainment,

and a beautiful sunset as we approached Rockport!

It turned out to be a beautiful day, and we were glad to spend it with friends!

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Moving from the Valley to Port A

Just a quick post to update everybody on our location.  On the 15th of February, we said good-bye to the Rio Grande Valley and travelled about 175 miles north along the coast to Port Aransas, a barrier island of the coast of Corpus Christie.

The drive was uneventful, including successful passage through a Border checkpoint on Highway 77, about an hour north of the valley.  We pulled into the Port A RV Resort right around noon, and quickly got set up.

We were meeting up with some friends we had met in Fort Myers several years ago, so we spent the rest of the day getting caught up with them and went out for pizza that night.

We’ve been here a week now, and have been surprised to see how different the weather is here from the valley . . . it’s definitely cooler, and being right on the coast, we get sea fog most evenings, and wake up to heavy fog in the morning.  Our highs here have mostly been in the low 60s, and overcast skies for much of the week. 

We were also shocked to find this critter crossing the road in front of our RV one day this week!  Yikes!  I would have expected to see them down in the desert climate of the Valley, not here at the beach!

He kept moving, so we left him alone, and a couple days later he re-appeared on the next road over, and they caught him and relocated him to the nature preserve next door (we think that’s where he came from in the first place!)

Yesterday was our first really warm day, but it was still overcast in the morning, so Tom decided it would be a good day to wash the motorhome and Jeep.  Not exactly my idea of fun, but it really needed it, so I agreed.

We weren’t the only ones that had that idea, either . . . I think I saw at least a dozen other people out washing their RVs.  With that job done, we relaxed in the hot tub for a couple hours after dinner . . . ahhh!

The sun was just setting as we were heading to the pool, and it was beautiful!

This morning, we woke up to bright sunshine coming through the windows – I think that was a first since we’ve been here!  It was still a little chilly, and very windy, but the sun was wonderful!

After church, we took a drive down to the beach.

There were a bunch of people fishing off the jetty, and a large group of kite surfers on the beach, and a few already in the water.

We walked for a bit on the jetty, but the waves were crashing into it and threatening to soak us, so we turned back toward the beach.

One more selfie!

From the beach, we drove past the Marina where we spotted the shrimp boat that we had heard about at the RV Park.  We stopped to check it out and found out that they had just sold out for the day.  I guess Tom has to wait until next weekend for shrimp, unless he decides to go to one of the fish markets in town.

On the way back home, we picked up some donuts and had coffee and donuts out on the patio with Rick & Karen when we got back to the RV.

We made plans to go to the American Legion in Rockport, where they have oysters on Sundays starting at 1pm . . . . well, the three of them were going . . . I was going to do some grocery shopping while they were at lunch; I have no interest in oysters!

Before that, Tom wanted to get the roof waxed, and I waxed the outside of the windows while he was on the roof.  We finished right at 1pm, and Rick & Karen were ready to go.

The motorhome is looking pretty good!

When we drove up from the valley, we came through Corpus Christie and crossed over to Mustang Island via a bridge.  Here at the north end of the island, though, there’s a ferry that takes you across the narrow shipping channel.  It’s a pretty efficient operation . . . and it’s free!

We had a little bit of a wait this afternoon . . . I think we might have had a ferry driver in training!

Tom was pretty apprehensive about taking the motorhome on the ferry when we leave here next month, but after crossing on it several times this week, we’re pretty comfortable with it.  While we waited today, we saw a 45’ Dutch Star tag axle towing a Jeep come off the ferry . . . so I guess we’ll be OK!

I dropped Tom off at the American Legion with Rick & Karen and dove to H.E.B.  I wasn’t there more than a few minutes, and he was already texting me that they had their lunch.  They were bummed because the Legion was out of baked oysters and they wouldn’t make anymore, so they had to settle for fried, which they said weren’t as good.  Oh well!

Tom and I finished up our shopping (I was almost done when they got there), and headed back to the RV in time to catch the last few minutes of the MSU – UofM basketball game . . . and the Spartans won!  Yeah!  Go Green!

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Boat Tour of the Rio Grande River

Before we wrapped up our stay in the Valley, we had several activities planned with a group from the campground.

First up was a boat tour of the Rio Grande River, leaving from the Riverside Club in Mission.  We had a quick lunch at the bar while waiting for out tour time, and then everybody got loaded onto the boat – our group almost filled the entire boat!

It was a beautiful day for a boat ride!

From the Riverside Club, we travelled downriver as far as we could go, turning around at the Anzalduas Dam, and then travelling upriver beyond the Riverside Club for some distance before turning around and heading back.

Along the river on the US side east of the Riverside Club was the Lower Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge, where the land has been left in its natural state.

The Mexico side, though, was mostly privately owned and there were several recreation areas that looked really nice.  Our boat driver told us that most were privately owned by businesses, for the recreational use of their employees and families.

Clearly it’s not all poverty on the Mexican side of the river.

Continuing downriver, at one point we could see a short section of concrete border wall . . . one of the few sections of wall in this area.

This area of the river was really wide, more like a lake than a river, partly because of the dam, but also due to a re-routing of the river during the last flood.  We’re told that the river does that a lot – during a flood season, it overflows its banks, creating a new path, and after the water recedes the river doesn’t go back to it original path.  In this case, the changing path of the river took out half of a city park on the Mexico side.

AS the river twists and turns, you can occasional end of with the US to your south and Mexico tot he north of the river . . . which just doesn’t seem right!

We travelled through one of those areas as we got close to the Dam.  That’s the US Border Patrol to our south.

We reached the Dam and turned around to head back upriver.

I thought we would see more wildlife along the river than we did, but we did spot a few Blue Herons and Egrets, several groups of turtles sunning themselves on logs, and a group of American Coots – which our tour guide said were also known as Mud Hens – hey, now I know where Toledo’s Baseball Team got their name!

We also saw evidence of the illegal border crossings that are a pretty regular event in this section of the Rio Grande Valley.

According to our tour guide, rafts like this one abandoned on the US side of the river are a common sight, and it’s not unusual even for him to see the Border Control boats chasing down these boats and turning them back.  This section of the Rio Grande Valley is actually one of the more active areas for illegal crossings, which is why it is targeted to get a border wall in the very near future.

Part of the problem is these businesses along the river – not just the Riverside Club, but also several campgrounds, like the Chimney Campground,

and some private homes, as well – like this one, built up high in order to survive the floods – but when the wall goes in, they’re going to find themselves on the wrong side of it.

For now, there are several camera stations along the river, some manned and others remotely monitored, keeping an eye on the activity.

Just a short distance downriver from the Riverside Club is the La Lomita Chapel, a historic structure that also happens to be in the area of land that is between the river and the designated site for the border wall. 

In the late 1800s, the Missionary Priests, the Oblates of Immaculate Mary, were travelling between their headquarters in Brownsville and Roma, often meeting at this point along the Rio Grande River where they ministered to the poor who lived along the river in both Texas and Mexico.

They established a mission at this location and gradually a small village grew around it.

Only the chapel remains today, and the land around it is maintained as a small park by a group of volunteers.  It’s a very pretty area, and hopefully some type of compromise can be reached to keep it accessible to the public.

There are several shrines to Mary in the chapel.

A very beautiful, peaceful place!

Since we were in Mission for the day, we made plans to meet up with RV-Dreams friends, Ed & Marilyn, at their site at Retama Village after our boat tour.  We met them at the Branson Rally back in 2008 . . . and haven;t seen them since then, although we are able to keep up with each other through facebook and our blogs.

We spent several hours visiting, and like it often is with RV friends, it didn’t feel at all like we haven’t seen each other in 11 years!

Thanks for having us over, Ed & Marilyn!

AS if Monday’s adventure wasn’t enough, we  went back to Mexico again on Tuesday with a group form the RV Park.

They mostly hang out at one of the bars, but Tom and I explored Progreso again,

and ate breakfast at the Bakery Cafe, while enjoying the sounds of a Mariachi Band!

It was a fun day, and I picked up several bottles of vanilla to take home for my sisters . . . along with a few other snacks, and some baked goods from the Bakery.

On Valentine’s Day, the RV Park had a potluck dinner, complete with music by Dave . . . it was a very nice gathering, and a great way to wrap up our stay!

We enjoyed our stay in the Valley this winter, and we’re glad we checked it out this year!  Once again, we saw new things, had new experiences, and met some more great RVers that are now our friends! 

What more could you want!?!

Monday, February 11, 2019

Motorhome Maintenance–Windshield

We’d been here about a month, sitting in one place, not moving at all, when one morning we noticed a line in the center of the windshield.  Tom thought it was a drip of water, but after looking closer, we realized that it was a crack . . . and we had no idea where it came from!  The next day, it had moved a little further, and started taking a turn toward the side of the windshield.

We weren’t confident that we could find a place to replace the windshield this far south in Texas, and thought we might have to wait until we got up closer to Corpus Christi or Houston before we could get it fixed.  Tom started researching the MH forums online, and calling a few RVer friends, and found an RV glass company that works with installers all over the nation.  He called them, and actually found out that we had a better chance of finding an installer, and even a mobile installer, down here in the RGV.  He recommended a shop in McAllen that can do mobile RV windshield replacements, who they’ve worked with on over 100 RVs. 

We decided to go ahead and get it done, so we had them initiate the claim with our insurance company . . . and were pleasantly surprised to hear that we had a $0 deductible!  The windshield was ordered, and we were told it would take a couple weeks to get to us from the glass company in Oregon.

One day when we were in McAllen, we found the shop and stopped in to talk to the manager.  He explained that they typically schedule RV installs for Saturdays, because he needs to bring 4-5 guys along, and that it needs to be a warm and dry day.

The first weekend after our windshield arrived was incredibly windy, so they could not do the install and we had to wait until the following weekend.  We got a surprise call on the Thursday afternoon, saying that they were going to come out on Friday morning, if that was OK.  We said sure, and were ready for them when they arrived.  In additional to clearing off the dash area, we had to bring in all the slides and dump all the air out of the suspension.

They got right to work, loosening the old windshield from the gasket.

It gave them a little trouble, but after some pounding and prying between the glass and the gasket, it finally broke loose, and they got it out.

With the glass removed, we could get a better look at the crack, and we could also feel the stone chip that started it – way at the very top edge of the windshield, right up against the gasket.  It was in the dark area of the windshield, and from inside there was no way to see it because the top of the windshield is above the bottom of the overhead cabinets.  We didn’t even know we had a stone chip there, and have no idea when we got it.

When the windshield came out, the gasket cam loose from the fiberglass, and the rain gutter above the gasket came off entirely.  Tom had wanted that replaced anyway, so they had a new one with them.  They got the gasket back in place, and put the new windshield in.

It took a little bit of time to make sure the glass was seated properly in the gasket, and once they were sure it was, they added the new rain gutter to the top.

They were really good about pointing out anything that they found out of the ordinary, and explaining the process they were following in installing the new glass.  There was a little bit of concern over the amount of flexibility in the fiberglass above the windshield, but after a call to the glass company, we determined that it was OK to continue with the install.

The final step was to seal the space between the gasket and the rain gutter, and then they washed the whole windshield.

We needed to leave the slides in and the air out of the suspension for the rest of the day, preferably 24 hours, to allow the urethane to fully cure.

It looks good . . .

and no crack!

They did a good job – we were really happy with it!  The total process took about 2 hours.

We had originally planned to go to the South Padre Island Kite Festival that day with a group from the RV Park, but by the time the windshield was done, they had already been gone a couple hours, so we decided to wait and go on Saturday.  We talked to a few of the people who went, and they said it was good but that the beach was very wet, with huge puddles everywhere from the rain we had gotten during the week.  They also said it was very foggy for the first couple hours that they were there.

We had hoped that the weather would be better on Saturday, but it wasn’t.  As we reached South Padre, we could see that the entire island was blanketed in fog – we didn’t have much hope of seeing anything.

We parked at the Visitor Center next to the beach, so we wouldn’t have to drive through the puddles, and sat for a while hoping that the fog might lift.

It didn’t, though, and eventually started to rain, so we left and went back to the RV Park for the fish fry dinner they were having that afternoon.  That was a bummer – we had been looking forward to the kite festival!

We had much better weather on Sunday, and I was able to get some sun and read for a couple hours!

Ah, that was nice!!

Meanwhile in Michigan, they were preparing for the big snow and deep freeze headed their way!  Bryce and his friends took advantage of an earlier snow and went snow tubing, before it got too cold.

Bryce with two of his roommates,

and Bryce & Hannah,

Most of the group of friends . . . looks like they had fun!

We had 4 days of super warm temperatures in the high 80s, and then this past weekend, the cold weather settled in down here, forcing us to spend most of our time inside, watching movies . . . and I got some sewing done . . . finished my new wall hanging.

When we did go out, we just did some shopping and tried a new BBQ restaurant that looked interesting.

We actually parked in the back of the building and were going to walk around the front, but a guys outside directed us to a back door, taking us right past the smokers where he was cooking the meat for the following day.

Between all that smoking meat, and the burning oak, it smelled so good out there . . . and the fire felt pretty good too!  The day before, when it was 85 degrees out, it would not have felt so good in there!

Inside, it’s like a big open warehouse with a giant bar in the middle of the room.  They also had another smaller room for private parties.  It was a cool-looking place,

and the food was really good, too!  We split a turkey sandwich and a brisket sandwich, and Tom got beans with his, and I had a salad. 

Fortunately, the cold only lasted for 2 days, and now we’re back into the 70s/80s for this week – we like that much better!