Motoring Across America

With James "Alex" Alexander

with James "Alex" Alexander



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Blog 299: Christmas on the Island

Laguna to South Padre Island KOA

Hard to believe, but we had been at the Refuge for almost two months—time for a break! We cranked up the coach and took the easy 40-minute trek over to the KOA on South Padre Island.

KOA
The KOA is right over the causeway from the mainland, right on Laguna Madre, with views of the Gulf and South Bay. We watched out our front windows to see white ibis and roseate spoonbills feeding on the mud flats.

Pier 19
Another benefit of our location is that Pier 19, the over-the-water restaurant, adjoins the KOA property and is a three-minute walk from our coach. Good, reasonably priced food and drinks that you can enjoy while watching pelicans, shorebirds, and tourists heading out to fish, watch dolphins, or play pirate.

Runs on the Beach
If you head north on Highway 100, you soon reach the end of the road. With sand all around, one is bordered by Laguna Madre on the west and the Gulf of Mexico on the east. Here I let Mitzy loose and let Jack run wild on the light-brown sand. While we were playing, Jan picked up trash.

Running Jack on Sand

Sea Turtle Rescue
Just down the road is the Sea Turtle Rescue. As the name implies, they rescue sea turtles in need, nurture them back to health, and then release them or provide permanent homes for those unable to return to the wild.

Best-Laid Plans
We had plans to go to the beach another time or two, visit the birding center, and do more general exploring. Alas, the temperature dropped like cash at a casino (all the way down to 49 degrees), the mist/light rain gained momentum like a lead dog at the Iditarod, and the winds picked up like politicians at a rally. So, we buttoned up, settled down like bears entering hibernation, and headed back to Pier 19.

More Bird Pics from the Refuge
Here are an American avocet, a black-necked stilt, a ladderback woodpecker, a red-tailed hawk, a mourning dove, and a royal tern.

American Avocet

Black-Necked Stilt

Ladder-Back Woodpecker

Red-Tailed Hawk

Mourning Dove

Royal Tern

Old Trucks
Here are three old trucks from the Old Truck Reserve.

Old Truck 1

Old Truck 2

Old Truck 3

See you next time.

Blog 298: Let it Snow

Oh, Christmas Tree
With lots of help from our young neighbor, John Harvey, we got our Christmas tree up, trimmed, and lighted. In South Texas, snow is something youngsters only see on TV—except for this year! Only the third snow in 125 years fell and, combined with the famous Texas wind, blew down our Monument to the Seasons. Oh well, it quickly warmed and the tree was restored (and bolstered by the addition of more bricks).

Christmas Tree

John Harvey and Christmas Tree

Snow

BRRRRRRRRR!
I took a short trip to the north country—visiting the Detroit area for work. Great client, but the weather was dreary, cold, and snowy—had an unexpected weather stayover in Dallas, but made it back to Brownsville eventually. Great to be back.

Stray Dogs
We like this area a lot—beautiful area populated with lots of good people. However, on a sad note, too many people discard their pets like trash into a bin—dropping them off in the country to fend for themselves. Often they link up with other strays for comraderie and protection. Our friends here at the Refuge have taken the lead in supporting the dogs’ survival: daily feeding the strays and also paying the vet bills on one pup and making it adoptable. The county constable also feeds this crew and we carry a 50-pound bag of whatever-is-on-sale dog food in the back of our Jeep. Guess it does take a village.

One worn down, tail-dragging, blind-in-one-eye pup wandered into the Refuge. Nikki quickly provided food, water, and comfort. On a strong note, John Harvey’s family adopted this pup. He is in good hands.

Nikki and Talbott Pup

Speaking of pups, here is a shot of a brown dog (well taken care of) that daily guards the entrance to its master’s ranch.

Neighborhood Pup

Birds and Critters
Here are more animal pics taken at the Refuge—Jan’s favorite is the close up of the Caracara—she says he looks like the Shah of Iran!

Coyote

Golden-Fronted Woodpecker

Great-Tailed Grackle

Mockingbird on Yucca Flower

Sandhill Cranes with Moon

Caracara Close-Up

Old Trucks
Here are three old trucks from the Old Truck Reserve.

Old Truck 1

Old Truck 2

Old Truck 3

See you next time.

Blog 297: Hot Then Cold, Short But Sweet

We are enjoying our stay at the wildlife refuge--nice to be experiencing an area we had never explored. Our tours have started, and so far, so good.

Birds
Here are a few shots of birds we have seen. In order, great kiscadee, kestrel, great blue heron, and roadrunner:

Great Kiskadee

Kestrel

Great Blue Heron

Roadrunner 3

Horse Crippler
Here is a photo of a rare cactus, the Horse Crippler--any guesses why it has this name?

Horse Crippler Cactus

Texas Tortoise
Here is a Texas tortoise, related to the gopher tortoises found in Florida. Kind of boxy, but cute.

Texas Tortoise

Nilgai
Last time I posted a male Nilgai. This week it is a female chowing down.

Nilgai Cow

Old Trucks
Here are three old trucks from the Old Truck Reserve.

Old Truck 1

Old Truck 2

Old Truck 3

See you next time.

Blog 296: On to the Lower Rio Grande Valley

Waynesville to Los Fresnos

The Journey
From Pride RV in Waynesville, we headed south and west staying at the Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park near McCalla, Alabama, the Pavilion RV Park in West Monroe, Louisiana, the New Adventure RV Park and Horse Hotel outside of Coldspring Texas, and the Gateway to the Gulf RV Park in Coldspring, Texas, before reaching our winter destination at the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, about 30 miles north of Brownsville and near Los Fresnos, Texas.

Another LANWR Sign

Laguna Atascosa NWR
An informal greeting committee met us as we passed the entrance sign and drove into the refuge—five roadrunners strutted across the road in front of us (one at a time) in what appeared to be a welcoming procession. Native Americans consider the Greater Roadrunner sacred, so we took their presence as a powerful omen and a sign of good luck—it’s gonna be a great stay!

Roadrunner

The Refuge
Laguna Atascosa is roughly 100,000 acres consisting of four parcels of land. It is a world-class birding location with over 400 avian species either staying there year ‘round, wintering, or stopping off their migratory path for a few days of rest and fueling up for the next leg of
their journey. It is also the home of several endangered and threatened species—check out https://www.fws.gov/refuge/laguna_atascosa/.

Here is a recent article on the ocelot and the refuge:
https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona-environment/2017/11/21/ocelots-try-survive-world-barely-knows-they-exist/824032001/.

Here are a few bird pics I have taken since we arrived. In order is the green jay, mockingbird, Harris’s hawk, and a long-billed thrasher. Quite good looking, don’t you think?

Green Jay

Mockingbird

Harris's Hawk

Long-Billed Thrasher

Our Gig
Jan and I are the “interpreters” for the wildlife tours. We will be hosting three-hour tram tours that go through four different habitats of the refuge along a 15-mile route. All kinds of cool critters live along the way. Below is a shot of the majestic caracara I shot on a practice run. Also, the refuge is home of nilgai (pronounced “nil’ guy”), an antelope on steroids (they weigh up to 600+ pounds)—an exotic species native to Pakistan and India. Below is a photo of a male.

Caracara 2

Male Nilgai

View from Our Campsite
We live in the Volunteer Village on the refuge, a very nice RV campground with 11 sites for the volunteers. We have a wonderful view in which to check out nature in action. Jack and Mitzy also love to just sit and scope out the carousel of critters that come through our backyard from time to time. Here is a shot of Jack in critter-watching mode, an armadillo, Stretch the Texas indigo snake (he’s a good one), a Mexican ground squirrel, and Angelina the javelina.

Batman Jack

Armadillo

Texas Indigo Snake

Mexican Ground Squirrel

Javelina

Eight-Legged Friend
It is our habit, when time allows, to take a family drive in the late afternoon to look for sights to see and critters to capture with the camera. Jan usually drives, Jack has the backseat, and I sit shotgun with Mitzy on my lap with my camera on a bean bag pointing out the window.

One day as we were driving down the road, Jan cranks the wheel and does a 180-degree turn. She jumps out the door to rescue a tarantula that was trying to cross a busy road (his odds of not being splat were quite poor). She pulls her sweatshirt sleeve down over her right hand, lowers it to the ground, and the tarantula clings on. Jan walks over to the opposite shoulder of the road and shakes her arm to free her rescued friend. The tarantula is not easily released and slowly starts to trek up Jan’s arm. I yell at her to stop so that I can take a picture, but when the big guy reaches her shoulder and her attempts to loosen her eight-legged buddy are unsuccessful, she whips off her sweatshirt, throws it to the ground, and runs back to the car wearing just her sports bra on top. Of course, I got the shot, loosened the grip of our new friend, and returned the sweatshirt to Jan to put on before traffic overtook us.

Tarantula 2

Old Trucks
Here are two old trucks from the Old Truck Reserve.

Old Truck 1

Old Truck 2

See you next time.

Blog 295: Smoky and Blue

Elkhart to Waynesville

Columbus, Indiana
From Goshen, we headed south to Columbus, Indiana, to stay a couple of nights at Columbus Woods-N-Water Campground. Nice and quiet, and guess what?—it is surrounded by woods and water—nice to experience truth in advertising.

Glasgow, Kentucky
From Columbus, we headed south in the rain (hurricane aftermath) down I-65 to Bailey’s Point Campground, another Corps of Engineer campground at Barren River Lake (about an hour south of Mammoth Cave National Park). It is a heavily wooded campground beside a huge lake—solitude abounds. They have an interesting tradition at the campgrounds that we just missed out on. The second weekend of October every year they have a “Boo Fest,” where most all campers decorate their campground sites for Halloween and many of them go all out. To many folks, this is a tradition—a chance to get together with friends and outdo each other on decorations. All kinds of activities are planned. The local kids have a break, so the place is exciting as well as quite scary! We left on Friday morning missing out on the main excitement.

Kentucky is the home of narrow winding roads, tasty bourbon, and fields of tobacco. Here is a shot of one of the cool tobacco barns.

Tobacco Barn

Chinese Buffet
The little town of Glasgow is kinda quaint, but limited in what it has to offer to sophisticated travelers like us. :’) With really low expectations on my part, we stopped for lunch at the China King and had their buffet for $7 a person. Just amazing! Really, really, good. There were close to 40 pans of really tasty Schezuan-style food. From zippy hot-and-sour soup to crab and shrimp and dozens of noodle dishes—wonderful stop.

Waynesville, NC
From Glasgow, I let the Google Maps take us the shortest route to Waynesville, NC—my bad. We poked along very narrow, very curvy blacktops for a couple hours. Beautiful country, but poor Jan was driving the bus and had to be on full alert as she guided us along the way at 15 miles an hour tops.

We chose Waynesville because of its close proximity to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and access to the Blue Ridge Parkway. We had talked about seeing the colors here for years and had planned on it the year the government and the national park system were shut down. This time we made it. Our Pride RV Resort campground was just seven minutes from Maggie Valley decorated to the hilt for the fall season and Halloween—you couldn’t go ten feet without seeing pumpkins, witches, and other scary decorations. There were lots of antiques—here is a sign I found intriguing. The old trucks you will see later all came from Maggie Valley.

Flying Gas Man

Dog Park
Waynesville has a nice dog park within a manicured city park that we took the pups to several times. Here is a shot of a resting Golden.

Resting Golden

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
We had allotted one specific day to do a full-court press on shooting the fall colors. Alas, just as we had the car loaded, the rain came—first a soft mist, then a sprinkle, and the occasional downpour. However, we were out of the campground before sunrise (which never came), drove through Maggie Valley, and turned west on the Blue Ridge Parkway winding our way to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center inside the Great Smoky Mountain NP.* The ranger was helpful but not hopeful as we discussed possible destinations. He said it was not the best year for fall colors because the very warm temperatures a few months back had a big impact. He also said that because of the rain, rising winds, and lousy visibility, we may not be able to absorb the usual experience of the park. Hey, we were there, so we headed north driving adjacent the Oconaluftee River. We first stopped at the Mingus Mill, once the only grist mill for miles around. It was pouring rain, but we all got out of the car to check things out. After five minutes, both pups were doing their impression of drowned rats, and with gloomy looks led us back to the car. We drove for another hour, seeing a few colors along the river, but saw nothing but bright gray as we passed by the scenic pullouts. We accepted defeat, but decide to try again the next day.

Mingus Mill

Smoky View

*Depending upon your perspective, this where the Blue Ridge Parkway ends at Milepost 469. The Blue Ridge Parkway is its own National Park that for 469 miles links the Shenandoah National Park with the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in the south, starting in the northern part of Virginia and ending at the southern part of North Carolina.

Blue Ridge Parkway
Fortunately, we had another day to explore. This time we drove through Maggie Valley but turned left instead of right on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was a chilly 40 degrees but the sky was clear to partly cloudy—great day for a road trip. We took the Parkway for over 40 miles. We have heard horror stories about the horrendous crowds in both the Smoky Mt. Park and the Parkway during prime season. Being there on a weekday just off season had its perks—traffic was light making things much more enjoyable.

We stopped at Waterrock Knob where Jack and I hiked the trail to the top to admire the views. Truth in advertising again—the literature stated steep and rocky and it was spot on! Nice views from the summit.

From there we stopped at several turnouts and gushed out an “ooh” or an “ahh” when appropriate. At the Pisgah Mountain, we turned around taking the back way to Waynesville and then on to our camp. Beautiful trip—I can only imagine what it must look like in a prime year! We hope to find out.

Blue Ridge Scenic

Blue Ridge Scenic 2

Funky Blue Ridge Wall

Top of Watterock Knob

Old Trucks
Here are five old trucks from Maggie Valley.

Old Truck 1

Old Truck 2

Old Truck 3

Old Truck 4

Old Truck 5