Celebrating three years on the road!

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It’s hard to believe we’ve been on the road for three years now.  It seems like just yesterday that we embarked on this journey to explore our beautiful country on March 1, 2012.  How time flies!  And here we are three years later, continuing to make wonderful memories along the way.

We are pretty much still on track with our set goals, and we picked up 10 new states during the past year.  But unlike previous years, our pace slowed down a bit and we stayed longer at most stops throughout the midwest.  On previous anniversaries I posted about our favorite hiking and biking trails.  Alas, we had fewer opportunities for those activities this past year.  It’s not that we didn’t stay active, but we just didn’t do enough memorable walks or bike rides to give a useful report.

So instead I will commence our celebration with highlights of what things come to mind as we review our third year on the road.  Note that the map below depicts our travels during calendar year 2014 – on March 1st we were in northern Florida and heading west:

Our actual route followed our planned route fairly closely, including a couple of detours. We began our third year in the Florida panhandle and traveled  to our farthest northern stop at Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  Then, back down we went – about as far as you can get in south Texas – for the winter.

Along the way, we just had to detour for some time with the birds on our favorite Island at Dauphin Island, Alabama.  And even though it was a bit out of the way, our second detour was to have the excellent team at Freightliner do Betsy’s annual maintenance in Gaffney, South Carolina.

Highlights during our third year of travel:

Weather – Gulf Shores, Alabama

Looking back at what we endured while at Gulf Shores, Alabama makes us shudder.  A five-hour non-stop parade of severe thunderstorms went right over us, with the downpour, winds and thousands of lightning strikes forcing a sleepless night.  We got 15″ of rain that day, an all-time record for the area.  Being in the middle of an historic storm was not exactly what we had signed on for, but we really had nowhere to run to.  We were fortunate to not have any serious damage from that one, because other folks around us certainly did.

The full story is here.

Chiggers Attack – Peru, Indiana

How can I forget those nasty bites?  I was miserable for several weeks from the party those microscopic monsters had on my waist and tummy.  Non-stop itching and scratching reddened my skin and was very uncomfortable.  Oh my, I’m scratching myself right now just thinking about it!

The full story is here.

Adult Chigger

My number one arch enemy, the larvae of a nasty Chigger.  Look out you little monster, here comes my finger to crush you!

The Great Lakes

As we hail from California, the Great Lakes were just “big lakes out there somewhere” to us.  But after seeing and touching all of them I can easily name them now – with a vivid picture of each in my mind.  Now I know that the Great Lakes consist of five separate lakes, and together they form one interconnected body of fresh water.  Four of them are bounded by both the U.S. and Canada – Lake SuperiorLake HuronLake Erie and Lake Ontario.  Only Lake Michigan is entirely within the United States.

The full story is here.

Great Lakes

The Great Lakes on a t-shirt

Film Locations – Mackinac Island, MI and Dyersville, IA

Who doesn’t want to see a place where a great movie was set?  Biking around Mackinac Island was a must for us and our friends, and while there we stopped at the Grand Hotel. That’s where the 1980 film “Somewhere in Time,” starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour, was filmed on location.  We just gawked at the grounds and outside of the majestic hotel, as $10 was a bit pricey just to step into the lobby for a picture.

The full story is here.

Grand Hotel, Mackinaw Island

The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, viewed from the ferry we took across

25 years later, the iconic phrases “If you build it, he will come,” and “Is this heaven?  No, it’s Iowa.”  are not forgotten.  We visited the site that made those words famous, the Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa.  The cornfields and baseball field were just as they looked in the 1989 movie. To complete our experience, we watched the movies again and commented about how fun it was to be there.

The full story is here.

Field of Dreams

Field of Dreams – Dyersville, Iowa

Man-made Marvel – St Louis, MO

Yup, you guessed it – the 630 ft. tall Gateway Arch.  It is the monument to memorialize the role of St. Louis in the westward expansion of the United States.  Riding to the top of this awesome structure was on our bucket list, and we were amazed by the grand view of the city of St Louis and beyond.

The full story is here.

Gateway Arch, St Louis, Mo

You have to see this thing in person to believe it!

Fall Foliage in the Ozarks – Fayetteville, Arkansas

The south has its own version of Vermont for taking in the fall colors – the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas.  If you can’t make it to Vermont for leaf peeping in Autumn, a great alternate would be the Ozarks.

The full story is here.

Yellow Rock Outlook

Vermont? No, but still gorgeous!

Birding Galore – Alabama, Wisconsin and Texas

Painted Bunting

Painted Bunting is so darn beautiful!

The birding experiences I had during the past year were rich and varied, from Alabama to Wisconsin to Texas. We were very fortunate to be at Dauphin Island, Alabama when spring migration was underway.  It seemed to be just raining beautiful birds!

At Gulf Shores, Alabama I joined Laurel and Eric to observe bird banding and do some bird watching as well.  In Baraboo, Wisconsin I visited the International Crane Foundation, whose stated mission is to work worldwide to save the endangered Whooping Cranes.  It was here that I saw all 15 species of cranes in the Gruidae family.

Coastal birding with Ingrid in Port Aransas was so much fun – I think the birds knew our names and tried to hide from us!  Then at the birding mecca, also known as the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas, Birdie and I were involved in finding and identifying our feathered friends.  Many of them are Texas specialties.

Full stories of my birding escapades:

Dauphin Island is for the birds – Dauphin Island, Alabama

The blogger’s biking and birding bonanza in ‘bama – Gulf Shores, Alabama

If you’re into Cranes, read on! – Baraboo, Wisconsin

Two Birders of a feather – Port Aransas, Texas

Winged Wonders Abound – Rio Grande Valley, Texas

Hiking

We did lots of hikes, but the best of them were in the Great Smoky Mountains and Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina.  Those mountains provided a beautiful scenic backdrop for some heart-pumping, lung-busting hikes.  We’d love to go back there!

Full stories on the Great Smoky Mountains and Blue Ridge Mountains

Family and Friends

Family and friends, old and new, always make our journey fun and exciting.  Reconnecting with old buddies from my hometown and some of my family is always a joy.  Best of all, I got to spend quality time with my super-cute grand niece Hattie in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

The connections we made with fellow bloggers continued to flourish.  We met new friends Laurel and Eric of Raven and Chicadee; Carla and Jerry of CozybeGone and Faye and Dave of the Wandering Camels.   Reuniting with Ingrid and Al of Live Laugh RV and Bob and Susan of Travelbug in Texas was icing on the cake.  Bloggers are all fun-loving people who shared travel stories, a few drinks and some home-cooked meals and outdoor activities.  Having a grand time with these lovely people created memories that we’ll always cherish.  Somewhere, someday we’ll meet again.

Health

While in Port Aransas in January, we kept several doctors busy as we were pronounced alive and well.  But come February, shortly after our birthdays, I had some scary symptoms that prompted two visits to emergency rooms.  For unknown reasons, my blood pressure had spiked like crazy.  Much to my disdain, I am now taking daily medication and everything seems to be fine.

An eye exam for Steve showed early traces of glaucoma, which was not unexpected since his dad had it when he was in his 50’s.  He decided to be proactive and underwent laser surgery.  This was the best option for our nomadic lifestyle, since it should lower his eye pressures for quite a while with just daily drops and fewer follow-up appointments.

Now we are in good health, and Steve determined that we can haul our new medications around without exceeding Betsy’s weight limit 🙂

Steve said he’s glad his heart is in good shape, because the medical bills should start coming in any day now!  We’re glad to have Betsy and ourselves “good to go”, and excited to start heading back north to get back on track with some serious hiking!

Finally, the stats for the past year:

My wonderful hubby and recorder of all things travel-related has this to report:

Miles traveled:  5,631

Diesel burned:  729 gallons

Average mileage:  7.7 mpg

Average price per gallon for diesel:  $3.66

Number of campgrounds we stayed at:  46

Average campground price:  $29/night
(we budgeted $35/night, so we’re happy with this)

In closing

Blogging is sometimes a chore 🙂   But with the connections we have made during the past three years, sharing our experiences in the blogosphere is so worthwhile and satisfying.  I thank all of our readers and followers who have been with us for the ride.  I hope you are still enjoying it, for we are not done yet!  Whether you’d like to drop us a line or just read through our stories, we appreciate you stopping by.

We have 10 states to go, and estimate that we’ll have them all completed by the fall of 2016.  Then we’ll start traveling more like “normal” adventurers, taking long trips to places we missed or just want to spend more time at.

 

Next up:  Where to in 2015?



 

Winged Wonders Abound! – Rio Grande Valley, Texas

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Yellow-headed blackbird
Green Jay

The unmistakable Green Jays having a little discussion

The Rio Grande Valley (RGV) is reputedly one of the nation’s top spots for bird-watching. What the valley lacks in breathtaking views and warm winter weather, it makes up for in its array of bird species – some of which are seen only in this area.  RGV is nestled into the tip of South Texas, with the Rio Grande River running along its southern border and serving as the Mexico/U.S. border. The diverse habitats found in the area – which is a convergence of two major migratory flyways – is the primary reason for the remarkable number of birds seen here.  The nine valley communities partnering with Texas Parks and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service capitalized on that, and with birding a year-round event the tourism economy has been buoyed.

I was ecstatic  just to be here at the birding mecca.  With nine distinct World Birding Centers to choose from, plus additional nature hot spots, I was in heaven! A fledgeling birder like myself was super-happy when my friend – with the appropriate nickname “Birdie” – guided me in my favorite recreation.  She is an ardent and serious birder whom we first met in Alaska in 2012.  She and four other single women were caravanning through Alaska, and we bumped into her several times while there.  Finally, on her last day in Alaska, we introduced ourselves and exchanged email addresses.  We had not heard from her until her surprise email message arrived while we were here in RGV. She just happens to be wintering here too – how about that?

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Birdie and I meeting up to “hunt” for our feathered friends

And was our adventure together a success?  Judge for yourself!

Couch's Kingbird

Couch’s Kingbird

Altamira Oriole

Altamira Oriole

Finding birds in this vast area can be a daunting task, but Birdie made it easy as she had been here before and was familiar with the valley.  We listened, we watched, we identified and we photographed many birds at Estero Llano Grande State Park, Frontera Audobon Society, Edinburg Scenic Wetlands and at the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. As you may have guessed I took many, many pictures of the most popular Texas specialties that you only see here in the southern part of the Lone Star State.

Common Chachalaca

Common Chachalaca

Great Kiskadee

Great Kiskadee

Tagging along with Birdie, I became more in tune to listening to a bird’s sound.  I learned that birds can be more easily detected and identified by ear than by eye.  And with the help of her high-powered Swarovski spotting scope, I manage to observe birds I would usually have ignored or missed.  With amazing clarity, the scope made the bird’s field marks much easier to identify.  Frankly, my new binoculars were put to shame after trying out her gear!

Green Parakeet

Green Parakeet

Common Pauraque

Common Pauraque – a nocturnal bird.

Black-crested Titmouse

Black-crested Titmouse

Birding is big business here.  I oftentimes saw parking lots packed at the various birding centers, even on weekdays.  Families, couples and individuals could be seen lugging binoculars, cameras and field guides out to visit their feathered friends. Birds are not the only winged wonders that attract people here.  In October, butterflies are the main spectacle, as folks witness migrating butterflies resting during their long journey south.

Not only did I learn a lot after just a few days hanging out with Birdie, but I also had a great time interacting with nature!  Thank you, Birdie, for your time, knowledge and patience.  I hope we meet again somewhere down the road. To see more of my recent bird captures, click here to see my updated bird gallery page.

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What a pleasure to hang out with a real birding expert!

During my adventures, Steve was completing the last of Betsy’s little maintenance items, and she’s ready to head on down the road at the end of the month.  He was finally willing to join me for a little bird watching, since we probably won’t be back here for a long time (hey, he likes birds too – just not as much as I do!). We checked out the birding centers at Quinta Mazatlan, the National Butterfly Center, the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse, South Padre Island and at the Laguna Atascosa Wildlife Refuge. Of course, he found a way to include interesting lunch stops and some other tours along the way! While birding is very rewarding at the World Birding Centers, the two unaffiliated Wildlife Refuges that we visited, the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge and the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge also offered more to admire than just birds. Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge The Santa Ana NWR is riparian forest, with Spanish Moss draping Cedar Elm, Texas Ebony and Mexican Ash trees.

Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge

Birders at Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge

Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge The Laguna Atascosa NWR is described as a landscape of coastal prairie, thorn forest, sand and clay dunes, and tidal flats set within thousands of acres of wetlands.  It borders the lower Laguna Madre and was established in 1946 to provide habitat for wintering waterfowl and other migratory birds, principally redhead ducks.

Laguna Atascosa NWR

Just a few of the 80% of North America’s Redhead Ducks that winter at Redhead Ridge

Laguna Atascosa NWR

We finally saw the elusive Nilgai that everyone talks about down here!

Laguna Atascosa NWR

Searching for the White-tailed Hawk

Reddish Egret

A parade of shorebirds with the Reddish Egret leading the Skimmers, Terns and a Cormorant

Finally, we made it to the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center, where we enjoyed even more sightings of coastal birds…

South Padre Birding Center

Steve loves his maps!

…some American Wideon quack-quacks being monitored by a Great Blue Heron… Great Blue Heron …and the American Skimmers were busy fishing.

American Skimmer

The American Skimmer “skims” his lower bill along the top of the water, which acts as a lure for fish.  Amazing!

For the last time, I caught a glimpse of one of my favorite coastal birds, the Roseate Spoonbill:

Roseate Spoonbill

A Spoonbill hanging out with some Northern Pintails

Well, that’s a lot of birds and just a few of the more than 500 documented species that live or migrate here.  Even if you are not a birder and you happen to be in Rio Grande Valley, you have to admire these creatures which are everywhere.  I can only imagine what it must be like here during the fall and spring migrations – it would be raining birds then!  I consider spending time with nature and watching birds in particular a healing energy for myself.

Next up:  Celebrating 3 years on the road!