Solo California winter 2020.
My first solo, human wise, and I was nervous about it all. First overnight rest stop dispelled any worries. Solo travel is great. Actually I did make a solo trip from St. Pete to Oklahoma to buy my New Horizons fifth wheel but I didn't consider that travel.
Of course Holly rode shotgun and that was a big help. Before we left she got a grooming, 20#s of chicken cooked, de-skinned and de-boned, and four quarts of chicken broth. When that's gone she'll have to make do like a regular dog, or I'll make more.
After many fits and starts my
journey finally got under way on a fine if chilly Friday afternoon. I
prefer to pass through Baton Rouge, LA on a Saturday due to it's legendary river
bottleneck, and then Houston's high speed sprawl on a Sunday. After that
the sailing west is relatively smooth, with only the likes of El Paso to contend
with. Until this trip my normal routine has been to start
on a Saturday which meant a tough 600+ mile day
run to the Atchafalaya Welcome Center west of Baton Rouge.
As inevitably I(we) get a late start, we arrive
in the wee hours of Sunday morning exhausted. Leaving Friday, late as it
was, I was able to get 275 miles cut out of my Saturday Baton Rouge run and as I
was already on the road there wasn't a late start on Saturday.
I drove until I was too tired to safely proceed and ended up at a rest area, mile 60, in the vicinity of Crestview, FL. My preferred guide to safe, legal and free overnight parking, "Days End Directory" had it listed as one of the rest areas where over-night parking was condoned. As are most of the stops listed in the directory it was a good lead. I was able to pull up side to to a large wooded area instead of parallel parking in among the big rigs. Rather nice and the price is right in my budget.
37 degrees this morning, clear and crisp. Another cup of coffee and I'll be on the road before 6:00 AM looking for diesel. I think the Alabama Welcome Center is calling me for breakfast...
Apparently it was the Mississippi Welcome Center I heard calling my name and that is where Holly and I stopped for breakfast and a good walk. I had my usual, avocado on toast and black coffee, Holly, kibbles with chicken broth and chicken pieces.
The center had a nice walking path along some woods and I decided to prod Holly along. I'm delighted to say she responded as well as I could expect. About half way through our walk we ran into one of those miscreants who thinks walking his dog in a public place without a leash is ok. At about 75 yards the dog spots Holly and makes a charge, hair on the back bristled up and plenty of growling. I picked Holly up so at least my legs were between her and her would be attacker. Eventually the dog's owner made his way over and let me know there was nothing to worry about, his dog was nothing but friendly. It appeared to me the dog wanted nothing more than to tear into Holly for whatever reason but I didn't argue the point. After coaxing his dog perhaps 100' away the dog decided it was going to have none of that and charged again. Finally Mr. Miscreant got the message and put his dog on a leash. To Holly's credit she shook it off and continued the walk.
Up at 4:30, coffee, walk the dog, quick scan of internet, tidy up and hit the road by 6:00 AM.
8:00 breakfast at the Texas Welcome Center. This was an all business welcome center, not warm and inviting like the Mississippi one of yesterday morning but it was raining anyway. Same menu. Houston looming. Jacksonville, FL may be the largest city in the US but it doesn't hold a candle to the sprawl and intensity of Houston.
Houston is gladly history for me now and I'm safely camped at a city park in Victoria, TX. Victoria was the only place on my way to Padre Island that was a reasonable distance, about 360 miles, and cheap at $12 a night. Free is better but sometimes you just have to pay the piper and move on. And it is within easy striking distance from to Padre Island, it has a Wellsfargo which I'm in need of and decent grocery stores. I need to stock up for the remoteness of Padre Island camping although I don't think I'll have the patience to just chill at the beach for long.
When I got here the camping loop overlooking the nature park was full. The place is fairly dumpy anyway so without a prime spot I was looking to move on. There just happened to be a couple with a 25' Airstream and a silver Dodge Ram messing about outside so I asked them if by chance they were pulling out. As luck would have it, yes they were so I waited and took their spot. They also clued me in on Magnolia Beach with it's free on the beach camping, which is where they were heading and where I'm heading tomorrow unless plans change as they tend to. It's only 35 miles from here so I can do my business in town and be there in plenty of time, before noon. And they also clued me in on accessing the north end of Padre Island by free ferry which is also on my agenda now. I really want to get all the way down to South Padre Island then follow the US/Mexican border up to the Big Bend area. We will see how it goes. But it does seem the best places and itineraries are stumbled into by chatting with people on the circuit.
Well I thought I was safely camped in Victoria and it was almost an uneventful day. One last quick walk with Holly and I turned to see a male Pit Bull making a bee line for Holly. Thankfully I was able to get her up into my arms with not a moment to spare. When the owner, someone camped a few spots over, fetched his dog he assured me all he wanted to do was play. I wasn't really willing to risk Holly in order to find out what the dog's intentions were. I'm going to make my run along the coast to check things out but I think it's time for me to seek out some remote desert locations to enjoy.
Victoria is about half the size
of Gainesville, 67,000 or so, and is the county seat of Victoria County.
It is the retail and commerce hub of the five surrounding counties compromising
about 111,000 people. Much like Houston is endless sprawl of intense
development, the Victoria area is endless sprawl of open space, mostly pretty
rich looking farm land where the rows stretch beyond where these old eyes can
see. It doesn't seem like a bad town, nothing fancy but not the repeated
sameness of modern sprawl. Streets are pretty wide, traffic moves along
nicely and before you know it you're out in the endless farms.
The dust up with the Pit Bull at the campground left a sour taste in my mouth of the place but that could happen anywhere really. It happened pretty frequently in St. Pete. I just need to do a couple of things. One is to be more aware of my surroundings. I just happened to look over in time to avert disaster but with Buddy I had learned to expect an attack at any moment so I was always on the lookout. With Holly, being a female, I let my guard down as I have it in my head female dogs don't draw the aggression like a male dog. Apparently Holly has what Buddy had, something that makes dogs want to attack. There is no hesitation or scoping things out, they just go for it. And like Buddy, when Holly is nervous about an area I need to pay attention. By whatever senses they do seem to be able to know if a place is safe or not. I need to heed their instincts a bit more. I learned to pay close attention to Buddy's sixth sense but I've only now come to appreciate Holly's. There was no doubt she was nervous in that campground and apparently for good reason.
After camping Victoria I really wasn't expecting to take a liking to what free beach camping on the Texas coast would offer. Holly, after her encounter, spent the rest of our Victoria stay in my lap if at all possible. She was most anxious to depart the locale and I was only too happy to oblige. A cup of coffee, the briefest of a dawn potty walk on full alert, then it was off to town to take care of business. HEB opened at 6:00 AM so I was good to hit there then Wellsfargo, then the highway. I was so sure I was going to be disappointed with Magnolia Beach I didn't dump my tanks at the RV park nor fill my water, usually a mistake and this was no different. Magnolia Beach is a marvelous place sparsely inhabited by people delighted to be here, on their best behavior and who have their dogs under control. I'll not let my guard down but all appears quiet on the paw front. In the most recent past, previous to this month actually, there was no limit to how long one could stay and because of that policy there developed a regular community that filled the place every winter, same mob ever year. That can be good and that can be bad. Somehow human nature tends to turn free into something to abuse and take advantage of. I'm not personally a big fan of authority or rules but sometimes they are needed. In this case the free forever was changed to free for two weeks, then git for awhile and you can come back. That seems to have disbursed the mob and now it is a place only sparsely inhabited by folks who stumble in here on word of mouth and can't believe their luck, such as me.After more years of beach life than anyone could rightfully expect in one life I thought I'd had my fill of it really. The thought of parking on a beach and being content to just hang and enjoy the weather and atmosphere really no longer entered my mind. It turns out what I really lost any interest in was what development has turned beach life into, a concentrated mob scene. Not really a place amenable to someone not particularly fond of humans in concentration. This place reminds me, at least as of this moment, of the old Florida I'd loved long ago. It's a world I thought lost and I'm glad to get a taste of it, if only briefly, once again.
And Holly is very happy here. She is not nervous in the least to step outside. She is quite comfortable taking walks on the beach right at our campsite but just 1/4 mile or so down the beach it's completely deserted and we can toss tennis balls as far down the beach as we want and not disturb anyone because there's not anyone there. It is nice to see her collapse exhausted into her (my) bed at night.
Off to Padre Island I go. We take the ferry across to Port Aransas as suggested, which puts us on the north end of the island, and head for Malaquite Campground. Water was empty and holding tank full so a campground with facilites was a priority, and Malaquite has facilities. I pull in a grabbed a spot as they are prone to filling up, then make my way back to the watering and dumping statiion.
So with my water filled and tanks dumped I got a good nights sleep. Due to it's popularity every spot was taken at the campground and living was tight. That's ok if there are no options but there was an option and it was close. Other than not being next to the dump station and not being paved asphalt, I haven't a clue why Bird Island Campground is maybe 20% filled and the other campground is full every night. Whatever the reason it worked for me. I packed and moved first thing in the morning and have what is for me a great spot with plenty of room around.
As the weather is cold, wet and blustery I had thought about just heading out for Yuma then realized this is exactly the kind of weather I like. Nobody is on the beach or the trails, they came in to get off the road then hunker down in the RV. So I'm going to stay here until the last moment and enjoy the miserable conditions. The wind is also keeping the mosquitoes at bay. I've run into two in the RV and they are monsters. I bet this place can be brutal when the weather is nicer. No mosquitoes and nobody venturing out of their RVs, what's not to like? Unless something happens to change the perspective, I'm expecting to stay here until early Saturday afternoon then shove off for Boerne, TX, which is just NW of San Antonio. There is a welcome center in Boerne I've stayed at several times that's a perfect departure point for the endless miles of West Texas.
I had a relaxing couple of days at Bird Island Campground. Holly and I did a good bit of hiking which we both needed. Hiking is not something Holly enjoys naturally but she's been a trooper and tagged along enough to satisfy my need. Most of our hiking was along the swampy inter coastal side of the island but we did get out on the beach for a few hikes and she obviously liked that better. It was mostly overcast, windy and cool which was a mixed blessing. Fellow campers were mostly missing in action holed up in their condos on wheels, and mosquitoes and biting flies held at bay. OTOH, my solar only power system began to run close to empty the last day due to the steady overcast and my need to use the power hungry heating system just a bit. In the last 24 hours the skies began to clear and the wind abate, helping my solar system catch up, but then the mosquitoes and biting flies began to show what they have to offer.
Holly and I did a hike out to an old cattle ranch line camp late in the last afternoon. Once out at the swampy old campsite we were pounced on by the flies and mosquitoes. We ended up jogging back to the truck after exploring the site to minimize our exposure to those beasts. Just before that excursion we took a long beach walk and the weather was perfect, light breeze, maybe 65 degrees. We went past the popular Malaquite Campground and it was full up with shiny new RVs and not a soul out on the beach, not one. The must have been something particularly good on Netflix. At about 3:00 PM we finally got on the road hoping to make it to Boerne before dark but it wasn't to be. I timed things just perfect to hit San Antonio just at dusk, not one of my favorite RVing activities. But we made it safely to the Boerne Welcome Center, fueling up just before parking so we can make an early exit and not have to deal with that.
The Long Road West
Reporting in from, currently, a
rest stop just SE of El Paso, TX. I stopped for the breakfast break and to
let traffic in El Paso dissipate a bit before venturing forth to find what I-10
El Paso has in store for me.
I left the welcome center in Boerne early, just before 5:00 AM feeling smug in my early birdness, imagining how many miles I, the seasoned traveler, will have under his belt before my fellow freeloading campers stir. To my surprise the guy parked just in front of me was already gone. I was up at four, maybe not out of bed yet but up, so he must have lit out real early.
There were deer in the green way beside where I parked when I got in that night. There were deer again in the morning. There were deer along the interstate, both alive and dead. I grudgingly came to the conclusion leaving this area at 0 dark thirty maybe wasn't such a good idea. I decided to pull into the first rest stop and go back to bed until daylight.
Besides avoiding the potential for a nasty deer encounter daylight reminded me this is where I really start to enjoy the sightseeing while driving, Texas Hill Country. From San Antonio on, clear to California the scenery is one I love. This is the sixth coast to coast trip for me in the last 10 years and every town, rest stop, hilltop and valley have become familiar. I had established it in my brain that sections of this drive, maybe two days worth, were nothing but bleak and barren expanses but I don't feel that way anymore. I enjoy every mile.
Four days of Organ Pipe NM
The Elks Club in Gila Bend is on
my list of cheap overnight spots and it didn't disappoint.
The people were very friendly and I was the
only one in a huge quite gravel lot.
As planned brother Rick arrived and the folks
at the Elks were more than accommodating in letting us leave his truck parked
there while we had our fun in the desert.
I'd like to say we did everything there was to do and then some but we didn't. Just being at Organ Pipe is relaxing like few other places. Nobody needs to know but I like walking through campgrounds like this and chatting with the other folks. I ended up meeting a lot of nice people, at least nice when they are out camping. The campground itself is a large circle with roads cutting across and campsites along those roads. Hiking the perimeter road is nice but then out 10' to 50' or so is a trail through the cactus and that is my preferred hike. And then there is a 1.6 mile hike to the visitor center that although it parallels the campground access road by only a short distance when there's no traffic on the road it seems like you are miles out in the desert alone. That 3.2 mile round trip is a respectable hike for old guys. And we took the 21 mile dirt road trail, in the truck, through the desert that's part of the park.
We ate regularly and well. We talked and laughed a lot as the Browning/Oleski lot is wont to do. And we read in the peaceful quiet. On the forth day we pulled out of the site right at noon, check out time, and headed for my next stop, the Quechan Casino in Winterhaven, CA. Along the way we stopped at a favorite Mexican restaurant in Yuma to pick up lunch which we ate at my new camp site, a large gravel parking lot who's big attraction is it's the closest place to the border crossing.
The most convenient parking for
me to cross into Mexico is the Quechan Casino RV/truck parking area. $10 a
night or $50 a week, I opted to sign on for a week long stay. Within a few
days I'd had my fill of the RV area and moved over to the area mostly reserved
for the truckers. Even though the parking area was no more than half
full, usually 1/3, I kept having people, well twice anyway, pull in right next
to me. We all have things that bother us that really shouldn't, at least I
think we all do, and this is one I have little patience for. My space is
my space and either back off or I'll leave.
Mexico is like it's always been around here. I suppose I/we are extremely fortunate to have settled in on what apparently is the last safe haven for border crossing. I know there are quite a few other places were people cross but the stories around the parking areas about other locations don't give me any desire to experiment. You do hear the occasional story about poor dental work but never anything about dangerous situations. The locals are polite and friendly and the shopping is much more interesting than US based methods. I'm not much for dickering on price with these folks but they do make it impossibly easy at times. I picked up a gallon of honey for $25. The guy started at $30, which was fine with me but while I was mulling over his other selections he was slashing his prices in 1/2 to 2/3 for other people. I probably could have bought it for $15, $20 would have been easy, I had to offer a tad less just to have a little self respect. I picked up the customary bottle of liquor but there's never any dickering on liquor. The liquor prices aren't really that great, although in times past they were, so I don't know why having a bottle of liquor in a purple bag when going back across the border is almost as important as having a passport.
The first day here it rained steady all day, not a common occurrence in these parts. I was fine as I had time to kill until Donna showed up. In the desert when it rains the local plants quickly go from shriveled up and dead looking to sprouting blooms in profusion. Even though I'm in what amounts to waste land seeing all the sprouting plants while taking my walks has been very enjoyable. Ocotillo is one of my favorite cactus and they have gone from dry shriveled skeletons to green stalks covered in leaves in the few days I've been here. In a couple more days they should be full of read blooms but the promise of that event, as much as I like it, won't keep me from hitting the road back east as soon as the opportunity presents it's self.
Donna's dental visit was over in three days so it was time to hit the road home. Lots to do still. I had a truck load of Rick's stuff I needed to drop off before heading to Kentucky to drop Donna off and pick a load of her stuff to return and store. So it was on the road and hard driving home. A pandemic awaits.