Friday, November 30, 2018

Van Horn, El Paso, Anthony.

Onto New Mexico.
____ Day 27. A ground-frost on the morning of our departure from the State Park. After a quick ride to the Indian Lodge and a climb up the Skyline Drive in the Mack; we call in at Porter's Thrift Store in Fort Davis for supplies. On to Martha, to check-out the artistic town before taking a straight and level Highway 90 to Van Horn, passing endless groves of pecan-nut trees. The Pilot Truck-stop gives us a chance to do laundry during a warmer night as we check the up-coming weather and adapt our plans accordingly.

____ Day 28. Cold weather with sub-zero temperatures for the next week is about to hit the region as we are stalled; waiting to honour a commitment that we made to some friends. In the end we decide to find an RV Park for a week; the need for electrical hook-up being the biggest factor. There are boondocking places in the area on BLM land but we go for the comfort option because of the weather reports. Into the West Texas RV Park at Anthony; just over the border into New Mexico. On the edge of the El Paso urban sprawl, two blocks from Interstate 10.

____ Day 29. The place is all RVs, with no mobile homes, so it is not "Trailer Park" in the true sense. However, there are plenty of permanent residents and plenty here for just the Winter with just a few spots left for overnight and weekly stays. Many RV parks are now like this with many people looking for affordable housing. Park managers can keep the spots full with long-term stays and services for the traveler come second. It is all dust and gravel outside but the washrooms and showers are spotless inside. No old vehicles up on bricks with their wheels off as it says "No oil changes or vehicle repairs" in the site rules but that doesn't stop me getting out the grease gun and giving the Mack some lubrication. It didn't say anything about no preventive maintenance.

Winnibago Revel on a 4x4 Mercedes Benz Sprinter Van. If i didn't have the Mack then I would probably get one of these.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Dark Skies of the Davis Mountains.

US Highway 90 through no country for old men.
____ Day 25. US Highway 90 most of the way; through near ghost-towns such as Dryden and Sanderson. Fuel is pricey if available at all. Langtry does boast a Travel Information Centre; part of the Judge Roy Bean Courthouse and Bar compound but nothing else. Alpine has more and we stock-up as we leave the 90 and head into the Davis Mountains. The State Park will be our home for two dark nights as we climb into what is reckoned to be the best star gazing in the USA. A blanket of darkness does descend but going out of the Mack reveals we are not alone. A whole herd of Javelinas are foraging all around the truck; the small wild pigs seemed less alarmed than we were.

____ Day 26. A day on the bicycles as we set-off early to climb the Highway 118 to the McDonald Observatory, perched on the highest peak. For over 70 years, this has been a world leader in deep-space exploration; the climb to the top on two wheels is exploring if I still have the stamina for such things. Part of the University of Texas, the observatory is a welcoming place for the public with tours and star parties after dark. For me, the best part was the 12 mile run back down to the campsite. Davis Mountains State Park is from the same era as the observatory; built by CCC, the Civil Conservation Corps, part of an employment initiative from the Great Depression of the 1930's. We have sheltered spot with power and water; the nearby showers are the best so far with great pressure washing after an strenuous day.

Judge Roy Bean had a thing about Lillie Langtry.

Bulldog's view of US Highway 90, East to West in the Pecos.

Davis Mountains State Park where the solar panels topped-up the house-batteries despite the trees.

Two white dots on the mountain-top are telescopes of the McDonald Observatory.

The McDonald Observatory has an excellent Visitor Centre with cafe. I was tempted to ask for a Big Mac and fries.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Del Rio.

Texas Hill Country down to the Rio Grande.

____ Day 22. From San Antonio we had taken the Interstate 10 West; spending the night at a Rest Area near Kerrville. After using the area’s sani-dump and re-filling with fresh water, we headed off into Texas Hill Country on the Hill Country Trail. Following the Guadalupe River as it wound its way through an arid limestone landscape. Finishing the day at the Lost Maples State Park, where we booked in for two nights at their 30 site Camping area.

____ Day 23. Just one night at a campsite seldom gives you chance to get a feel for an area and very little value for money if you arrive late and leave early. Two nights gave us a full day to explore the gorge of the Sabinal River on the hiking and biking trails. The weather wasn’t too good with hardly any sunshine but plenty of colour in the leaves of the trees, including the Lost Maples. The Maples are an oasis of their species; left in the heart of Texas after the retreat of the last Ice Age with no others within a thousand miles. A neat and tidy campsite, even if the showers were a little low pressure [like the weather]. We signed up for the Texas State Park Membership Card; free entry and discount camping at sixty sites throughout Texas. Looks like we are heading for a giant game of join-up-the-dots.

____ Day 24. Up early and up into the clouds, climbing the high winding road from Vanderpool to Leakey and onto Camp Wood. Heading for Del Rio. But detoured to Uvalde with the FM334 closed before Brackettville; forty miles extra, not funny when you are struggling to get 9 mpg across hilly terrain. Restocked at Del Rio’s busy Walmart before taking US Highway 90 westwards with the Rio Grande on our left. West Texas desert of cactus and sage to the Seminole Canyon and another two-nighter at the State Park.

____ Day 25. Looking out from the Mack, we can see clear across to Mexico from our elevated campsite but the vista gives no clue to the Rio Grande that is running below at the bottom of a steep-sided canyon. Quite a boring landscape until you descend into the riverbed of the Seminole Canyon and find the cave paintings from the area’s inhabitants of 4000 years ago. We take the $8.00 guided tour that starts at 10.00; before it gets too hot for the strenuous climb down and return. The afternoon is spent riding the stony trail to the confluence of the Seminole and the Rio Grande; warm weather in November but it would be scorching hot in Summer. Another  nice campsite with friendly staff and neighbours; this time with much better showers.
Camped in the Sabinal Gorge at Lost Maples State Park in Texas Hill Country.

Sabinal River at Lost Maples has good Bass fishing.

High exposed campsite at Seminole Canyon overlooking Mexico.

Indian rock paintings at the Fate Bell Shelter in the Seminole Canyon. Much faded from when first painted.

The 400 foot long, 60 foot deep Fate Bell Shelter as seen from the riverbed at the floor of the Seminole Canyon.

The boat-in only Panther Shelter near the confluence of the Seminole and Rio Grande, now part of the Amistad Reservoir.

Friday, November 23, 2018

The Alamo And The Missions By Bike.

The bike trail beside the San Antonio River and the Five Missions.

____ Day 19. We decide to move on from the hard-packed beach. It has been another day of wind and rain but that is not a factor in our re-location; most of the US is under the cloak of a cold front. Magnolia Beach has its good points and it’s bad when it comes to boon-docking. Good: Great waterfront parking with ample space for the biggest of rigs. No hassle; friendly locals and fellow boon-dockers that accept the tradition of long-term RV parking on the beach. It felt safe; no shady characters wandering around looking for their next hit plus the longer-term residents would watch your stuff. Bad: No supply of fresh water or a place to dump grey and black water. There is a washroom on the beach but the showers were closed when we were there. No nearby supply of groceries; the C-store in Magnolia Beach has fuel and filtered water and beer but everything else is bought from Port Lavaca [a 25 mile round trip.] Other points: Windy almost all the time. Good flat roads for cycling in the area.

____ Day 20. Away by mid-morning and back-tracking to Victoria for supplies at the Walmart before taking the US Highway all the way to San Antonio. Sunniest day for a while and the cheapest fuel of the trip so far. $2.86 for a US gallon, 3.8 litres. Finding a bob-tail spot at the Flying’J on Interstate 10; I hesitate to park the RV in truckstops when I know they will be busy and full. I wouldn’t want to take the last spot that some tired and hard-working driver might need; but I know pretty well where I can find a unused place at a truckstop that usually doesn’t get full. It’s also a chance for Wi-Fi, which was lacking on the beach.

____ Day 22. A day that had been carefully planned with only the weather left to chance; the day of the Alamo visit. We leave the Flying’J at the end of rush-hour and take Interstate 410 Loop to Exit 44; it is signposted to the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. It leads to the Espada Mission, the most southerly of the five old Spanish Missions on the banks of the San Antonio River. A small parking lot has security cameras, so we feel safe in leaving the Mack for a few hours as we unload the bikes and set-off up-stream. After visiting Espada, we call in at San Juan Mission followed by San Jose Mission which is the biggest of the five and in hindsight, probably the best spot to park a big RV if doing the River Trail by bike. Fourth mission is Concepcion followed by the entry into San Antonio City. The River Trail becomes the River Walk and pedestrian only, so we take to the streets, heading for The San Antonio De Valero Mission; otherwise known as The Alamo. Right in the heart of the city and busy; but free entry and the queues are not long. Well worth the effort and an interesting hour in the old church and grounds before cycling back to the Mack. A twenty mile round-trip ride in over-cast conditions but on a very well-marked and maintained bike path. Another one off the bucket-list.   

Mission Concepcion

Mission San Jose

The Largest of the Missions, San Jose. 

Mission San Juan.

Mission Espada

Mission Espada, where we parked the Mack.

In with the bob-tails at the Flying'J.

At the Alamo. I should have reminded the photographer to get it all in.

A souvenir that's now in daily use.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Colder Weather.

____ Day 12: A calm misty morning gave the prospect of a bicycle ride into Port Lavaca to replenish supplies but by the time breakfast had finished; the wind was whipping-up white-caps on Magnolia Bay. A low pressure weather system was sweeping snow into Northern Texas and headed our way. Magnolia Beach is north-facing and unusual for the Gulf Coast; with a north wind it reminded me of bitterly cold expeditions to the North Norfolk Coast and childhood memories of Brancaster and Wells-next-to-Sea. The town of Magnolia Beach stirred up ghosts-past from Jaywick-on-Sea; where the dilapidated and ramshackle holiday homes were the pride and joy of so many. Another day of relentless pegging on the crib board and the generator powering the fan-heater.

____ Day 13: First casualty of the motor-home’s infrastructure is when the shower pump seizes solid. It was exactly the same model as the sink-water supply’s pump but always twice as noisy. Stripping it down; it was a wonder that it ever worked at all, with the pump bearing jammed in at an alarming angle. It was a day to re-stock with food and water; so we packed everything on board and swung by the Tractor Supply Company after a tour of Walmart and a free Wi-fi breakfast at McDonalds. TSC had the correct 2 gallon per minute sprayer pump but at a price that had before included 15 gallon tank. But the new pump proudly boasts “Made in the USA.” The old one had “Made in China” stamped on the bottom.

____ Day 14: I have suffered a lot of uncomfortable hours while living in a truck over the years but was determined to keep discomfort at bay for my time in the Mack. A tank full of fuel for the generator cost $10 and it ran for over nine hours; powering the fan heater, the fluorescent lights and charging the house batteries at the same time. Another cold day with a biting northerly wind and not what we came here for.

____ Day 15: At last! Sunshine, a chance get on the bikes and go for a ride to Alamo Beach. It sounds like it should be on the list of D-Day destinations but is just along the coast from Magnolia Beach; a better class of coastal properties and nowhere to park an RV for free. Then back to the Mack and sit in the Sun; chatting to everyone walking their dogs and a bloke from Bournemouth and his Texan girlfriend. Everybody is very friendly and waves when they pass, even the council workmen; who have been repairing pot-holes in the beach. I am not joking. A proper road runs parallel to the beach, less than 50 yards away, but most traffic uses the beach; just to see what’s going on.

Pelicans and rough sea of Magnolia Bay

Alamo Beach, looking towards Port Lavaca.

Watching ships pass by while supervising the solar power intake.

Indianola Cemetery; no Arbons interred.

Sunsets come too early.

_____ Volvos

____ Day 16:  Two big Volvo rigs arrived within a few hours of each other, coincidence as they did not know each other. Both fully loaded with all the toys, bells and whistles. Kings of the beach and any other place they cared to park with RVs. We might see them again as they are heading to Arizona for the Winter. Size is not everything but most people go big if they are wintering in the South. Long travel trailers and 5th wheelers pulled by big pick-up trucks are the most common. Followed by big motor-homes; the motor-coach variety and those based on extended-chassis pick-ups. There is a smattering of all other shapes and sizes including slide-in campers and van conversions plus the stealth-campers; panel vans that don’t appear to be live-aboard vehicles.

____ Day 17: Neighbours come and go; there is a general shuffling of the pack every day. Some big motor-homes have a small car in tow; the pick-ups can drop what they are pulling and go for supplies. But we have to pack-up and go into town every so often. Today’s trip is for laundry with a chance to stock-up on food also. Seventeen days between the washing of our clothes seems about right. In the afternoon we cycle to the village of Powderhorn, on the Powderhorn Bayou; calling in at the Indianola Cemetery on the way back. Burial site of both Union and Confederate soldiers from the Civil War as they battled for control of the Intracoastal Waterway. 1867 seemed a particularly bad year for infant deaths as cholera and yellow fever took a heavy toll.

____ Day 18: As we are now settled in at Magnolia Beach; there is plenty of time to catch up on all those little jobs that need doing on the truck. Squeaky doors and cupboards that are now more noticeable and irritating. Bathroom door oiled, rubbish chute door re-aligned; all other door and locks oiled and cleaned. Someone could now come in while we slept; take a dump in the bathroom, steal our garbage and we would not hear a thing. But after three days of good weather; the wind picks up on Sunday afternoon and rain comes in across the white-capped Magnolia Bay.

Watching coasters.

Both big rigs had small wheelers with them; a Smart Car and a Jeep.

The Smart Car could be alternated with a pair of Can-Am Spyders.

The Mack is a distant third.

First impressions of Magnolia Beach are not good.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018


Red flag: Magnolia Beach, Texas.

____ Day 8: Away from Schulenburg, mid-morning, onto Victoria with a long shopping list of everything we will need for the next installment of the adventure. We are entering the World of Boondocking with supplies from Wally’s World. Boondocking is the name given to living off the grid in a RV without paying anything for your parking spot. Facilities will be sparse, distant or non-existent and all food and water has to be taken for the planned length of stay in your chosen wilderness. Boondocking sites were once passed on by word of mouth or found by chance but now there is an app for your phone and plenty of information on the Internet. Magnolia Beach is on Google Maps along-side the words “Free RV Camping.” We arrived at 2.30 in the afternoon and neatly split the 200 yard gap between two travel trailers. 

____ Day 9: Our arrival in warm sunshine was followed by a stormy night and the worry of possible beach erosion. Parked only 20 yards from the high-tide line; I got dressed and went out to check the safety of the Mack, twice. Fortunately the beach is made up of hard-packed crushed sea-shells and very little sand; there was no noticeable difference to the shore-line throughout the day as the rain and strong winds continued until dusk. Magnolia Beach is on the mainland side of the Intra-Coastal Waterway and sheltered from the Gulf of Mexico by Matagorda Island. It was a day to stay inside, play crib and wonder if we had picked a good time to visit the South Texas coast.

____ Day 10: There are two types of Boondocker: the Nomad and the Snowbird. The Snowbirds are from the frozen North and escaping from the cold, harsh North American Winters; the Nomads are living full-time in RVs and each and every one is escaping from something or other. With an overcast but dry Saturday; we had a chance to meet many of our neighbours as Snowbirds and Nomads came to check-out the ex-fire truck on the beach.

____ Day 11: Another dull but dry day as we rode the bikes to the nearby village of Indianola; once the largest seaport in Texas before hurricanes destroyed the town in the 1860’s and Galveston took away the sea traffic. Now it is the site of a few scattered houses on stilts and the Indianola Fishing Marina. We took advantage of the all-you–can-eat pancake breakfast as plenty of veterans came to fish-free on Remembrance Day. The solar panels struggled to keep up with the demand of the last few cloudy days and the generator was needed to give the house batteries a charge; the first time since the system’s installation. Probably due to the shorter daylight hours of November with the interior lights being used so much more. Might need to get some candles. 

Parked by the shore at Magnolia Beach

The first camels in America arrived at Indianola shortly before the Ameican Civil War. They fought for the South.

Our neighbours on the hard-packed shingle beach.

Many local buildings have suffered from the ravages of the wind.

Big ships and barges pass close to shore as they navigate the Intracoastal Waterway.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Into Oklahoma.

Days 4,5,6 and 7.
____ Day 4: Out of the Love's at McPherson and down to the only bit of toll-road on the trip; $2.50 for the Kansas Turnpike from Wichita to the Oklahoma state border. Good Wi-Fi connection at the Belle Plaine Service Area helps soften the blow. Bright sunshine all day as we  make our way to the Flying'J at Oklahoma City for the overnight stop and a shower. Fifty gallons of fuel gets you a free shower but with just a 48 gallon fuel tank on the Mack; we have to do two fills of over 25 gallons to qualify.

____ Day 5: Flying'J and Pilot are very accommodating to motor homes and it is never a problem to tuck the Mack into a parking spot on the car park. I don't want to take a spot in among the big-rigs as I know how some places get full and the last thing that an over-worked and over-tired trucker needs is to find that a motor-home has taken the last empty stall when their hours are about to run out. We are the only motor-home staying over-night but there are at least twenty people sleeping in their cars and pick-up trucks. In the morning we take the bikes off the rack and ride the nearby river trail. Seven miles of paved cycle track between the Oklahoma River and Interstate 40 terminating at the state-of-the-art rowing facility of the US Olympic team. On the road again in early afternoon; the day's drive is just a short hop down to the Winstar Casino at the OK/TX state line.

____ Day 6: A rest-day in the finely manicured grounds of Winstar's own RV park. Very posh with very posh clientele but very good value. The first night is free for first-timers, $20 a night for casino club members; this includes electrical, water and sewer hook-ups. All very nice and with sunshine all day; some quiet country roads to ride the bikes and hot showers afterwards. The only disappointment was the end of the free breakfast buffets for over 55's on Wednesday and Thursdays; it now takes far too much gambling on your members club card to qualify. It seems far too many local seniors had been rocking-up just for the free grub and never playing the machines.

____ Day 7: Interstate 35 West is now virtually road-works free through Fort Worth after I had continually been held-up for the past twelve years. The tolled express lanes are finally up and running! After Waco we take the US Highway 77 for a night at the Pilot at Schulenburg; temperatures of 29 degrees C make the truck too hot and uncomfortable when we stop but the fact that I had left the heater running in the living quarters might have had something to do with it.

Self-catering is the key to economic road-trips.

Out of Kansas into Oklahoma.

The Mack, parked among high-end RVs at the Winstar.

Cycle track beside the river in Oklahoma City.

Wind turbines. I wonder if a small one would help power the house-batteries in the Mack.

Cycling the back roads in Southern Oklahoma.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Adventure Begins................

Day 1 to Day 3.
____ Day 1: Heading South for the Winter in a re-configured fire-rescue truck maybe not everybody's idea of retirement but that is what I have chosen. October was full of bureaucratic bullshit as I battled to get my five pension-plans to pay me what I had planned for. It was like getting blood out of a stone with endless paperwork. The end result will not amount to enough for a pot to piss-in but I'm sure I can have one winter in the Sun and reconsider my future afterwards. Meanwhile the Mack went into Integrity Ventures for new leaf springs on the back and a new fuel tank.

So it was November the First when Cheryl and I finally left home on a frosty morning. Final banking, insurance and  wheel-nut re-torques meant it was late into the afternoon when we crossed into North Dakota. Fuel at the Grand Forks Flying'J and into the Petro at Fargo for the night; slipping into a bob-tail spot as the rain settled in for the night.

____ Day 2: Rain for most of the day as we took Interstate 29 to Watertown, South Dakota, and our first visit to Walmart for supplies and drinking water. Then US Highway 81 to Norfolk, Nebraska, but not before soaking myself with diesel when the pump blew-back at Casey's in Freeman. Just what I did not want; the living-quarters reeking of fuel-oil after just Day 2.

____ Day 3: Love's at Norfolk didn't have a laundry so the clothes didn't get washed until the Petro at York. From there, the weather brightened-up and we reached McPherson just before dusk. Much warmer already but not hot enough for shorts.

It's not everyday that you get to park next to a legend.