Sun, Wind, Rain – Repeat

Lately, each time I decide to start a new post, I’m amazed to see how much time has elapsed since the last one. Has it really been two weeks? This is our sixth campground since my last post, so I’ll just hit the high spots.

You are probably sick of hearing me rag about the Texas spring winds, but they were truly incredible and uncomfortable. When your camping plans include cooking and eating outside everyday, the last thing you want are howling 30mph winds.20180412_130530-1799708842.jpg They plagued us at our stops at Lofers Bend West and Ratcliff Lake. Both were pleasant spots to camp – Lofers Bend (on the water), and Ratcliff Lake (more of a woodsy, rustic spot). Nothing really remarkable about either of them, but both nice enough for a return trip for a quick overnight. I did have a horrifying encounter with this gigantic spider in the shower at Ratcliff Lake, but I think a few years of therapy will help me get past this. That’s a quarter placed in the vicinity for size perspective. That thing was a monster!20180414_1101071864957766.jpgNearly every year since we’ve been on the road, Galveston Island State Park has been a place where we’ve tried to land for several days. Although the Beachside campground is nothing more than a parking lot with decent-sized lots, firepits, and picnic tables, it IS right on the Gulf of Mexico. Listening to the roaring surf every night, having miles of beach to wander every day, in addition to all the historical sites of the area is a treat. (It was slightly less of a treat because of the extremely high winds when we were there, but…)20180415_1627591612159452.jpgFrom the campground, we can cycle on the beach, then down the Seawall all the way to the historic end of town – about 15 miles one way. It’s a great ride. Although you can’t tell from this photo, the seawall is about 6-8 feet above the sandy beach.20180416_1201491253756854.jpgThis year, we tried to do a couple of new things – we cycled all the way to the south (or west?) end of Galveston Island down the beach. The sand on the island is perfect for cycling. Just find the sweet spot between the not-too-wet, and the not-too-dry sand and crank away. It’s doable, but still much harder than trail or road riding.20180418_1043002011903451.jpgBy the time we made it 15 miles down the beach, we were whipped! But, we would not have been able to do this (with our mountain bikes) on the sand at San Clemente in CA, or along the Lake Michigan shoreline. It’s all about sand texture, baby.

On the way back, we mostly took the road, which was a comparative breeze! (pun intended) Along the way, we stopped to chat with an old hippie guy who had a bunch of kites up in the air. His biggest was 19 feet long! At one point, he had nine kites up at once.20180417_170808823855851.jpg20180418_1327161389457496.jpgFunny thing – the shark kite on the far right took a dive just as were were leaving – it punched over the string of the kite to its left, which then got tangled up in the string of the gigantic blue octopus kite. Both crashed onto the roof of a closed-up beach house. Lesson: Sharks are dangerous. Hope the owner was able to retrieve them. We didn’t hang around to find out.

The other new thing we did was to explore the Ocean Star Museum. This is an 1970s era Gulf of Mexico drilling rig/platform which has been turned into a museum. It was fascinating. Did you know that the oil company that President George HW Bush was an owner of the company that developed one of the first offshore drilling platforms? This particular rig was put into service in 1969, and decommissioned in 1984 – a reliatively short life, due to rapidly changing technology. Much of the original equipment is still there to see, as well as lots of photos and artifacts of life on the rig. Can you imagine having 28 people evacuate into this emergency “bell” lifeboat? It had food, water, and automatic sprayers on the outside to spray seawater on it to keep the occupants cool until rescue. It’s hard to tell size from the photo, but I can guarantee you that 28 people would be nose to nose inside. 20180419_1334521414555063.jpgA diving suit from the same era was also featured. Again, I was horrified at the thought of being encased inside.

The Ocean Star was designed to drill up to 5 miles deep, and to accommodate 100 workers. There were scale models of many types of platforms, and an area devoted to the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf off the Louisiana coast.

What was most fascinating to me was how these platforms are installed. They are erected onshore then towed into place on huge barges, which then tip the platforms off into the sea where they are fastened down by underwater robots and secured by cables stretching miles out from the platform in every direction. Wouldn’t it be amazing to see one on the move?20180419_1409251212290084.jpgFrom our campsite at Galveston Island, we could see several working platforms in the Gulf – there are hundreds of them out there. At night especially, the lights twinkle in the distance. Three other mothballed platforms, either undergoing repairs or waiting for a new assignment waited in the harbor. These smaller exploration platforms are called ‘jackups’, because they can be jacked up on a base, then moved when their task is finished. The larger production platforms are permanent until decommissioned after approximately 30 years.20180421_133503675878780.jpg It was an interesting afternoon. There’s much to be learned here – a bargain for the $10 entry fee.20180419_1402071281299882.jpgOf course, we had to wander around Galveston for a few hours. After Hurricane Ike in 2008, many homeowners turned their downed trees into sculptures, primarily by three chainsaw sculptors. How about this one with a Wizard of Oz theme?20180419_1528511278978464.jpgLots of interesting things to do and see in Galveston. We’ll be back again.

Our next camp was a fisherman’s dream at S. Toledo Bend State Park, just across the border into Louisiana. If you’re into bass fishing, Toledo Bend is sacred ground. Ours was one of the few campsites that didn’t have a bigass bass boat parked alongside.20180420_1816101022983571.jpgWe had a great site there, and enjoyed all the commotion of a busy weekend. Kids and bikes everywhere – 50 Cubscouts, a gigantic thunderstorm, and a free concert by a group of mountain dulcimer enthusiasts. 20180421_155536650940952.jpgWhile I have to admit that each song sounded pretty much the same (even the ones they sang), their warmth and dedication was infectious. This guy tapped on the board (secured by his butt), and it forced the little wooden dolls to dance. 20180421_1559351717086712.jpg

I did a bit of wandering on my bike, as I wanted to see the dam that formed Toledo Bend. I managed to get down a sandy road on the back side of the dam. There were folks fishing everywhere, although there didn’t seem to be too many fish being caught. Sometimes it’s more about the fishing than the fish, I guess. I did see one guy down at the shore who was bowfishing. Ugh – I gave him a pretty wide berth.20180421_1226111968847915.jpg20180421_12332946344939.jpgThere was just one gate open in the dam releasing water to the back. Probably 100 white pelicans were hanging around there, watching the water rush down the backside of the dam, waiting for a fish to fly past. Pity the poor fish who thought he had finally made it to freedom from the pursuit of 100s of fishermen to be nabbed by a pelican on the final burst to freedom.20180421_13070898435999.jpgWe spent a single night alongside the Natchez Trace in Mississippi as we plow eastward. Perhaps on a different day this would be a pleasant stop, but we were terrorized by thousands of mosquitos, each easily the size of a Buick. We could hardly cover up enough to run down to the bathroom. omg – it was awful at Rocky Springs Campground

But tonight is our reward. A lucky pick of a campground at Deerlick Creek Recreation Area (Corps of Engineers) in Tuscaloosa has rewarded us with probably the most beautiful campsite we have ever had.20180423_1620001136378522.jpgOur own deck, water/electric, and a great view of Deerlick Creek. Every now and the a barge rumbles past, pushing some unknown commodity down toward the Gulf. All this for only $13/night with our Senior Pass. Although we’ve only been here for a few hours, we’re already sad that we can only stay two nights. If any readers of this blog are Spartan fans, you’ll be happy to know that we thumbed our noses as we passed Nick Sabin’s Crimson Tide cathedral on the way in. We may have to cycle over there to explore a bit tomorrow.

End of the Road

Heading into our last two nights of camping for this trip, we hoped that the campground we chose would be decent.  A bit of solitude, a firepit – we don’t ask for much.  Meriwether Lewis National Monument in Hohenwald, TN delivered in a big way.  This 25-site campground is a gem.20150401_172802Nestled into the rolling hills of Little Swan Creek along the Natchez Trace Parkway, the Park offers camping (rustic, although there are flush toilets), and hiking in a gorgeous setting.  Campsites are staggered along the edge of a ridge, so each offers a private view.  It couldn’t have been more perfect.20150331_151529After a harrowing day on the road – we must have gone through seven narrow construction zones – we quickly set up, snapped a leash on Jezzy, and headed for a trail to shake off the effects of a tense trip.  (A little explanation here – it was my day to drive.  Between truck traffic, construction zones, and unexpected craters that bounced us around mercilessly, it was hideous.  John was grinding his teeth, and I actually got cramps in my hand, so tight was my grip on the wheel.)  After 200 miles or so, I gladly surrendered the driver’s seat, and became a very docile passenger.

The Natchez Trace is an old route, used for hundreds of years by Native Americans, traders, and armies.  The Old Trace is still visible, the many feet traveling before us have trampled a permanent path through the forest.20150331_164300 20150331_165235The Natchez Trace Parkway follows the general route of the Old Trace, and is a National Park, stretching for 444 miles from Nashville to Natchez.

Our campground is located at the burial site of Meriwether Lewis, part of the famous exploration team Lewis and Clark.  I was astonished to learn that he died when he was only 35 years old.  Lewis was on his way to Washington DC, when he stopped for the night at Grinder House, one of many spots along the Trace where one could spend the night and get a meal.  Sadly, the reason for his journey was that the US Government had refused to reimburse him for many of his expenses on his historic journey,  Without these funds, he was bankrupt.  So, armed with his receipts and documentation, he was headed to DC to plead his case.  He stopped, had dinner, went to sleep, and was dead the next morning.  The exact cause was never determined.20150331_16491520150331_165138This is a beautiful spot – one to which we would happily return.20150331_170233One of the reasons we selected this area for our final campsite of our winter trip was that we had arranged to tour the Oliver Travel Trailer factory.  From time to time, we entertain ourselves with thoughts of trading up to a slightly larger trailer – one that would offer a few more comforts.  We had heard of the Oliver, and thought it might be a good fit for us.  We had a great tour.  But, while the Oliver is impressive, and has features that we loved, we don’t think it’s The One.  We’ve decided to try to boost the comfort level of the Fireball a bit.  It’s time to try to enlist the woodworking skills and ingenuity of my brother-in-law Jerry!

Heading home, we always try to stay in Evansville with John’s brother for a few days.  Our route took us along the Natchez Trace Parkway for the first 20 miles or so.  It’s a gorgeous roadway, although it was one of those overcast days that flatten photographs, and suck the color out of everything.  You’ll have to take my word for the beauty. 20150402_093350Those little specks on the ground are cows.

We stopped to check out Jackson Falls.  20150402_09342320150402_09492120150402_095216I’m pretty sure these are Shagbark Hickory trees – aptly named.  20150402_10025820150402_100138It was really hard to get a decent exposure!

Ahhhh, Evansville.  Such a wonderful stop for us – we get to spend time with Don and John, and lounge in the luxury of their beautiful home.  Best sheets ever!  Spring has already sprung there – flowers everywhere, green grass, leaves on trees.  Don was ready to plant his tomatoes for the year already.  On one of our walks, Jezzy tried to investigate this squirrel more closely.20150402_163449 If that squirrel hadn’t blinked, I swear that we would still be there.  It must have been two minutes of the Big Staredown.

All good things must end, and we’re home.  As I sit here, I can see the Fireball in the driveway, begging me to come out and clean.  We’ve got lots of work and some minor repairs to do before we can hit the road again.  The house and yard need attention as well.  The 2014/2015 Winter Escape has ended.