February 16, 2014

A Little Winter Along the Gulf Coast

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”  John Steinbeck

Carol writes:  We enjoyed our 5-week stay at Naval Station Mayport near Jacksonville.  It was great to get back to a few creature comforts in the Navy lodges and cabins as we waited for our RV to arrive.  In addition, Jacksonville was a very convenient place for us to get minor RV repairs and servicing.  For those of you who wonder, we were able to get the section of running board reattached that we had ripped off in Portugal.  It is so nice not to have to ride with that monstrosity inside the coach.  Certainly, taking it in and out every day when we camped was getting old for Al.

As we started our slow meander back to Colorado, we decided to linger along the Gulf coast,

where we hoped to soak up some warm, sunny days and reconnect with friends and family along the way. 

Camping at Camp Blanding on the shores of Kingsley Lake, a perfectly round lake that is called the ‘Silver Dollar Lake’ by pilots who use it as a landmark from the sky

Our first reunion was with Jim, a Naval Academy classmate of Al’s, and his wife, Anne.  We had a delightful lunch with them at the same restaurant where we had lunch together back in March 2013 when we were passing through on our way to the east coast at the start of our RV adventure.  It was interesting catching up on their family news, along with talking about how our life on the road in the European campground scene actually worked out.

After lunch with Jim and Anne, we spent a night at a Florida State Park where the sight of blue herons was a delight for all the birders.  Al got a pic of this one from a distance, but since he had to use maximum zoom quality wasn’t the best.

Over the next few days we started to read numerous reports about an ice storm that was headed our way—the so called “storm of a generation.”  We decided to hunker down in Destin at an Army recreation site that we had discovered when we were visiting our daughter back in March on our way to the east coast.  We wanted to check it out; with a storm bearing down on us, that seemed like a pretty sensible plan. 

I swear we actually sensed the precise moment the cold air arrived as we took a brief walk out on the piers of the recreation site.  It was eerie to see the fog blow in right before our eyes.  Time to head inside and hunker down!

As it turned out, the “storm of a generation” was a doozy! The day of the storm our campground hosts informed us that all the local bridges had been closed to traffic.  Life along the Emerald Coast pretty much had come to a screeching halt.  Overnight, the side of our RV side facing the water became encased in ice.

As experienced RVers, we should have known to disconnect the water hose overnight, but we didn’t and the next morning it was frozen solid.  Our water pump had also frozen, so that meant for the next day or so any water we needed for cooking, washing hands or flushing the toilet had to be poured out of portable plastic jugs.  We weren’t the only ones caught by surprise at the freezing temps; many fellow RVers in camp also had frozen lines of some sort.  This ‘fun in the sun thing’ along the Gulf coast wasn’t working out quite as we had planned! 

However, the day after the storm was beautiful and sunny, perfect for that meal that we had been looking forward to at McGuire’s Irish Pub, a favorite of our daughter’s during the time she lived in Destin.   

Before we crossed the Florida line into Alabama, we enjoyed one more brief visit to the incredibly beautiful ‘sugar beach’ along the National Seashore.

We spent the days around Super Bowl camped at one of our favorite stops in Alabama—Gulf State Park.  We spent a pleasant couple of days catching up with my cousin Jeanette and her husband Al.  Graciously, we were invited to a Super Bowl party hosted by one of Jeanette’s volleyball buddies.  Most of the partygoers were Bronco fans, so we felt very welcome…and had lots of sympathetic pats on the back throughout the game.  We had a wonderful time talking with various guests.  As always, it was great to drop in on Jeanette and Al, meet some of their friends, and share a bit of their lifestyle in Gulf Shores. 

The day after Super Bowl we headed to Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, for a brief visit with Mike and Mary, dear friends that we met early in our marriage during our Slidell, Louisiana, days.  In Bay St. Louis we decided to try camping at the Hollywood Casino campground instead of our customary spot at the local state park.  Great choice!  For me, the trees draped in Spanish moss evoked wonderful iconic images of the years we lived in the Deep South.

As is always the case, we had laughing-good times with Mike and Mary and enjoyed catching up with their family news, and sharing our adventures of the past year with them.

I always feel like we are back west when we cross the Mississippi River,

but that’s just an arbitrary division and east Texas isn’t really the scenery that I have come to associate with our home in Colorado.  We will have to head several hundred more miles west for the sagebrush and dry mountain deserts of home.

Meanwhile…in Longview, Texas, we spent an afternoon visiting with Al’s Uncle Frank and Aunt Pat and several members of their large extended family.  The last time we visited them was 24 years ago—back in 1990 when we were on the road during our first RV adventure as a family of four in a 29-foot travel trailer pulled by a Suburban.  We had lots of fun reminiscing with them a quarter of a century down the road!  There sure were a lot of cousins, grandchildren and great-grandchildren that we had never met.

Hard as we tried, for the next several days we couldn’t catch a warm day anywhere in east Texas—not in Livingston Lake State Park,

not on Galveston Island,

not at Lake Texana,

and especially not along the bay south of Houston.

This winter the jet stream had certainly deviated from its customary path.  Lots of the campers we talked to were downright cranky with week upon week of unseasonably cold weather.  Even these horses on the beach showed reluctance to go very far into the cold Gulf waters.

A few days later, another winter storm of “potentially catastrophic proportions” blew through the Texas Gulf coast; however, when the day after dawned sunny and clear, we spotted lots of campers scurrying out of the doors of their trailers and RVs--like ants out of an anthill—just to catch some warm rays of sun on their faces for the first time in many days.  On Mustang Island we took a short beach walk to celebrate the end of a long string of cold, misty days.  Now, this is why we lingered on the Gulf instead of heading back to Colorado!

We continued heading south along the Texas barrier islands to Malaquite Beach Campground on Padre Island,

which had one of the most beautiful, unspoiled beaches we have ever seen.  The dunes, grasslands, and tidal flats have been restored to their natural habitat over the past 30 years, and the results are breathtaking! Padre Island lays claim to being the longest undeveloped stretch of barrier island in the world, and it goes on for over 70 miles!  What a thrill to be able to camp right on the beach behind the dunes with a nearly full moon rising over the water.  We had found a little piece of paradise, and we decided to stay an extra day!

During our first day on Padre Island, as temperatures continued to climb, we couldn’t wait to get on the beach.  We were so enamored with Padre Island’s totally unspoiled landscape that on the spur of the moment we joined the afternoon birding excursion with a park volunteer so we could view some of the species of birds that can be found on this stretch of Padre Island, which claims to be a globally significant birding area.

Long-billed curlew

Blue Heron
After 3 days on lovely Padre Island, we were sorry we had to go, but by now we had a fairly firm schedule we had to keep as we slowly headed back to Colorado.  Our last walk on the beach was on Valentine’s Day, which also happened to be our 36th wedding anniversary.  As we neared the end of our wonderful year of adventure on the road together, we couldn’t think of a better way to spend our anniversary.

Happy Anniversary to Us!

What a treat to come upon this ghost crab as we headed back to camp.

 Ghost Crab with Chapstick for perspective

The full harvest moon rising over the Gulf of Mexico that night was the perfect ending to a wonderful stay on Padre Island.

“Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed ... We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in.”   Wallace Stegner,  “The Sound of Mountain Water”

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