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?



 

A Glimpse of South Texas – Riviera, TX

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Copper Hawk
Seawind RV Park

We’ve been waiting for weather like this for a while!

While Steve was busy ticking items off his long list of winter maintenance for Betsy, I continued to “terrorize the local birds”, as he likes to describe it.  When your home base is at Riviera, Texas, fishing and birding are pretty much the order of the day.  If those activities aren’t your cup of tea, you might as well just drive on.

We stopped here as a mid-way point between Corpus Cristi and Mission, and Steve wanted to finish his maintenance work on the sunny days that were forecast during our stay.  Except for our excursion to King Ranch we didn’t do much on most days, and simply enjoyed the nice weather.

This area of southern Texas can be described as flatland covered with dense thorny vegetation, and live oak woodlands mixed with brush and grassland.  Prickly Pear cactus and Honey Mesquite trees thrive here.  The wide open space made me feel like we were in the middle of nowhere, and because there isn’t a lot of rain here it was the first spot we stayed this year that was actually a bit arid and desert-like.

Riviera Texas

Riviera Texas

A bunch of Sandhill Cranes scouring a freshly-tilled field for yum-yums

Although there were no hiking/biking trails here, we had access to several quiet county roads where we could ride or walk and rarely see a car.

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Here I am doing bird and Javelina reconnaissance.  We saw a lot of Javelina tracks, but never the real thing.  Since they are nocturnal, Steve even went out at 5:30am a couple of times to find them – but they managed to evade him!

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The birds will never see me in this camouflaged outfit!

Our home base was at SeaWind RV Resort (Steve’s review here), located 22 miles southeast of Kingsville on Baffin Bay.  Locals claim this is the best area for trout fishing anywhere along the Gulf Coast, and since fishing is the main activity here the county park next door has overflow parking for boats and extra vehicles.  If you like to fish, this is a spot you should consider when in the area.

Prickly Pear cactus next to the bay – an unusual combination

wpid33812-2015-01-21-TX-1720426.jpgOnce Steve began his work and my presence wasn’t needed (OK, my presence wasn’t wanted!), I did some serious bird watching and gave my camera a good workout.  Many birds came to us – or specifically to a tree near us – and Steve laughed as I converted Betsy into a bird blind.

Being close to birds always makes me happy, and watching them jockey for a spot on the feeder was great entertainment.  It definitely lowered my blood pressure and made me smile.

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Red-winged Blackbirds sparring for a spot on the feeder

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The sparrows didn’t fool with the Green Jay, but they beat the heck out of each other!

Cowbirds

We want food, we want food!

Cowbirs

The feeders are empty, we’re outta here!

Bird life in this area is quite unique, with many species that aren’t commonly found anywhere else in the U.S.  I was lucky that I didn’t have to walk or drive far to get my “bird fix”.  As long as I kept the feeder full these little Texans were happy to hang out in a big tree right outside our window.

Green Jay

Say hello to this beautiful Green Jay

Green Jay

I’m handsome, really!

Great Kiskadee

I’m great, I’m great says the Great Kiskadee

Golden Fronted Woodpecker

I have gold on my beak – Golden-fronted Woodpecker

We also watched the water birds at the pond inside the park:

Seawind RV Park

Black necked stilt

Black-necked Stilt

If I got bored with birds in the trees, I could go to the beach and watch the waterfowl. I saw an Egret that appeared to be losing its mind, running around in circles and apparently chasing fish.  I knew that was odd behavior for Great Egrets or Snowy Egrets, but as I got closer I realized it was actually a white morph Reddish Egret!  Their hunting technique differs from the others, who just kind of walk along until dinner crosses their path.

Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret

As fishing is the main event here, these avid fishermen were on the pier from dawn to dusk every day.

Baffin Bay

This pier is lighted, so folks can stay out as late as they want

Our stop at Riviera, Texas is not for everyone – unless you are a birder or a fisherman.  But not a bad place to just hang out and enjoy the sunshine, either!

 

Up next:  Moving to our farthest-south location for the year.



A reunion with good friends at Galveston Island, TX

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White Pelican

Winter weather arrived too early to suit us this year, impacting 43 states – including Texas, which got hit hard.  The surge of cold air pushed all the way down to the gulf coast and then moved east.  At least we weren’t in Buffalo!

Our days at Galveston Island were a mixture of blustery cold and wet days, interspersed with a few sunny breaks.  As I write this, strong winds and heavy rain have been lambasting us for hours.  I know I shouldn’t whine, since our friends up north are dealing with record cold temps and piles of snow.

Galveston Island

The ocean was angry during most of our 10-day stay

Storm Clouds

Wind blown clouds over Galveston

When we arrived in Galveston, we immediately saw the prominent seawall along the gulf. We learned that the initial 3.3 miles of it was built after the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history wiped out the town and killed 6000 people in September, 1900.  After that hurricane the island was raised and the seawall was built.

Galveston has been hit with hurricanes several times since then, and over the years the seawall has been extended.  It is now 10 miles long, 17 feet high and 5 feet wide at the top with a curved design that carries waves upwards.  This  protective barrier has helped save Galveston Island from being inundated during several storms, and it has even been designated as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.

Galveston Seawall

Seawall at Galveston

Storm Memorial 1900

1900 Storm Memorial

Pleasure Pier at Galveston

As usual, we made the best of what nature provided us.  And this was an exciting stop, as we were reuniting with our good friends, Al and Ingrid whom we first met in December, 2012 at Cave Creek State Park in Arizona.  Since then we’ve been following each other’s travel tales, as they were hanging out mostly in the western states as we were gallivanting around in the East.  Fast forward to a few weeks ago, we were excited to learn that they will also be wintering in Texas, and in fact would be at Galveston Island when we arrived.  Ingrid’s outstanding photography will grab you, so be sure to check her out at Live Laugh RV and see where they’ve been and what they’re up to.

Since they arrived here a few days ahead of us, they instantly became our resource for things to do and see.  And mind you there are plenty of things to do and see on Galveston Island.  Had the weather cooperated, our 10-day stay here would have been packed with outdoor activities.  But it did not deter the four of us from getting together and strolling through the historic downtown one rainy day, filling our time with drinks and laughter.  We’re glad that we were able to get together a few times during our stay – these guys are fun to hang out with!

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Burgers and beer (that’s actually a snifter of good stout in front of Steve) – good stuff!

As you may know, Texas has plenty of birding opportunities – just like Florida.  Knowing that got Ingrid and I pumped up for some birding time with no holds barred, as we snapped pictures of our feathered friends.

So one day we bundled up, grabbed our cameras and went around the island to areas where we could enjoy a variety of birds.  We were not disappointed, for they were there ready to pose for us or just minding their own business.

 

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While the girls were enjoying all of the photo ops, Steve and Al took their own excursion to the Galveston Offshore Oil Rig Museum.

Ocean Star offshore oilrig

Ocean Star offshore oil rig

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Replica of a single link of chain used to anchor an oil platform to the ocean floor.  Each link weighs over 500 pounds!

After getting our fill of of snapping pictures of birds, Ingrid took me to the East End Historical District and we followed the self-guided Galveston Tree Sculptures Tour.

I failed to remember that on September 13, 2008 Hurricane Ike covered most of Galveston Island in a tidal surge.  Before that calamity which even the seawall couldn’t prevent, majestic oaks had lined the neighborhood streets. The surge uprooted many oak trees and thousands more lay in ruins.

Today, homeowners and various artists have repurposed these trees into works of art.  There were 21 tree sculptures that could be seen tucked in gardens and side yards throughout the area for us to enjoy.

Along the tree sculpture route, block by block we saw and admired elegant historic homes with very diverse architecture.

Later in the day we continued our birding at Galveston Island State Park, where we were parked (Steve’s review here).  From our big smiles below you can tell we were both enjoying our day – with no hubbies to deter us from taking hundreds of pictures 🙂

Happy birders

Happy birders

The island has a lot to offer, and I would have liked to do more exploring with Ingrid, had the weather permitted.  But part of our stay here had to be dedicated to preparing for our big trip overseas.  Since Al and Ingrid will be here into December and the weather is improving, they will have more opportunities to explore the island.  And it turns out that we’ll be seeing them again further south after we return from our trip – yay!

Next up:  Betsy gets a break as we fly away