Wednesday, January 2, 2008





Today is rainy and overcast, but warmer than yesterday.

I awoke with badly swollen hands, especially the left. It is so swollen that the skin hurts from being stretched so much. I also have itchy welts on my ear and rear end. I gave in during the night to take a Reactine, which I hate to take because it affects me very strongly. As a result, I didn’t wake up until 11:00 a.m.

Despite This setback, I wanted to see what birds were around, and on my first walk with Ripley I saw two plovers (don’t know what kind) and two sanderlings beside the bay. Later, I saw what might have been tufted ducks (white with black heads and not an indigenous specie), a black crowned night heron and a little blue heron in the picnic area.

I celebrated by baking the remainder of the tin of Pillsbury cinnamon rolls for breakfast. Yum!

After moving to the dump station and depositing my wastewater and greywater, I continued on down Highway 35 to Aransas Pass. It was close to 2:00 p.m. when I pulled out and I still felt somewhat groggy from the Reactine I had taken during the early morning. Gas cost $2.89/gallon and propane $2.85/gallon.

In order to get to my next destination, it was necessary to take the car ferry across to Port Aransas, and much to my surprise, it is free!! There aren’t many bargains like that anymore.

Here’s a shot of Ripley in the RV as we head over on the ferry. The ferry crosses the main shipping channel down to Corpus Christi, and I was told that dolphins often leap in front of the ferries. Alas, not on this trip.


I always try to head to a visitor center when I arrive in a new state or a new city, and the one in Port Aransas had lots of brochures about Mustang Island, birding and the features of this little town. Many northerners make this their winter destination, and the locals lovingly call them “winter Texans”. The population of the island doubles in size during the winter months. There are many kinds of rentals here – condos, B&B’s, cabins, motels, and of course, RV campgrounds. Restaurants featuring fresh seafood and Texas beef abound, as do souvenir stores. Here’s one of the more bizarre storefronts.

For my first night on the island, I decided to head to Mustang Island State Park, especially as it advertised primitive camping on the beach. However, upon my arrival, I learned that the beach camping was not available, so I had to settle for camping at a site next to the dunes and next to the highway – not exactly what I had in mind, but it was getting late. The fee was $16 plus $4 park fee.

After hooking up, I took Ripley down to the beach and let her off leash. She had a wild time racing up and down the almost deserted beachfront, which goes for miles and miles. She managed to scare up some of the shorebirds and I tried to discourage her from doing this. My protests fell on deaf ears, and it was wonderful to see her joyful expression as she tore around. She has to be confined so much of the time.

As near as I could tell from checking with my Peterson Field Guide, I saw piping plovers and herring gulls.

I had been warned about staying off the dunes – first, because they are very environmentally sensitive and second, because there are venomous snakes there. It didn’t matter, as just walking along the beach looking out over the Gulf of Mexico, was a breathtaking experience.

Dunes at Mustang Island state Park

For supper I finished up the open bottle of Pinot Grigio, along with salad and spaghetti.

My left hand is slowly returning to normal. I wish I knew the cause of this flare-up. In any event, I am glad to see that the symptoms are not worsening. Over the past few years, this has happened twice where I had to go to hospital because my tongue and the interior of my mouth swelled and I was in danger of asphyxiating. A dermatologist had given me all the standard tests and couldn’t determine what my allergy is. He suggested eliminating everything foodwise and environmentally one at a time, but this is almost an impossible task. I had hoped it was due primarily to stress, and that once I took this trip, I wouldn’t see the reaction again.

Wherever I have been traveling, I have listened from time to time to NPR (National Public Radio), which is available across the nation, with additional local news. It features classical music and discussion shows and is a nice change from country, Christian and rock music, which are the primary choices wherever I go


It rained off and on during the night, and the wind rocked the RV, despite the buffer zone of the dunes. My hand is back to normal size, but now I have hives on my legs and neck.

I was so pleased to find hot water in the showers this morning – but even more thrilled to see that there were tree frogs inside the building. I think these are two different species, but one may be the juvenile stage of the same specie.

Since I had electricity, I decided to try out the central vacuum that came with the RV. I had never bothered to use it until today, but I have to say that it did quite a good job, especially in the nooks and crannies. I have only used a broom up until now.

Ripley and I made our way down to the beach again where she raced around in and out of the surf. We continued along to a rock jetty nearby, where there were some fishermen trying their luck.

And surfers!

You can’t go to a beach without collecting seashells, so I started my own collection while we toodled along. Naturally, I had my camera and binoculars and bird book with me too, and found willets, brown pelicans and some sanderlings along the shore.



Before check-out time at 2:00 p.m. we headed back 14 miles to Port Aransas, after I had noticed a bicycle shop ad in one of the brochures I had picked up. You will recall that I had damaged the front wheel on my bike during an attempt to turn around in a subdivision a few days ago, and thought that I would see what Nautical Wheelers could do for me. As it happened, they had a used wheel of a very expensive type, and put it on for me for $28. The owner, Jim, was very friendly and helpful, even offering to take the bike off the RV mounting, and then replacing it after it was repaired.

Besides renting and repairing bikes, Nautical Wheelers also rents out electric cars. They are street legal, run on batteries that can take you around the island for 25 miles. They come in all different colours, and I thought this one was especially cool.

Jim’s shop also featured the most beautiful tote bags hand-painted by Laura Busch, who lives in Taos, New Mexico. It was most tempting to buy one, but I am on a budget, and I don’t know exactly when I would use it. They were too beautiful to use! Perhaps I’ll see her work in New Mexico, and I understand she also does pottery designs. I’m a sucker for this kind of thing, and if I had more room in the RV, by now I would have a huge collection of “stuff”. Instead, I have a few tiny figurines (gorilla, orangutan, otter, manatee, turtle, meerkat) and postcards.

Souvenir store in Port Aransas


Mustang Island is on the Texas Coastal Birding Trail and is considered a real hotspot for migratory birds. Those who were only passing through have mostly left to continue their migration, but many make this island their winter home, and the locals have accommodated birding enthusiasts by constructing several viewing sites. The main one is the Leona Belle

Turnbull Birding Center right in town. It is located right beside the wastewater treatment plant which has been painted with a huge mural of various birds. The trail leads down to a long boardwalk and viewing tower, with scopes, that overlook a saltmarsh. The marsh is home to two alligators, “Boots” and “Bags”, but I didn’t see either one of them. Apparently they help to keep down the local population of nutria.

Here is another example of an introduced species gone wild. A few decades ago, many nutria were imported and fur farms were set up to breed these rodents. However, the demand for their fur declined and many operators simply let the nutria loose. They have reproduced in vast numbers all over the southern United States, and are considered quite a nuisance, as they feed mostly on the small grasses that are vital to some marine life.

So, if Boots and Bags are keeping the population under control, that’s a good thing.

I didn’t see the alligators, but I did see these two large turtles in the shallows beside the

boardwalk. They appear to be two different species. The larger one had its head underwater searching for food, so the shot does not really show how large it actually was.

The birdlife here at this center was simply amazing. Everywhere you looked there were birds – blue winged teals, great egrets, great blue heron, anhingas, brown pelicans, white pelicans, and a huge number of roseate spoonbills, plus other birds that I couldn’t identify.

My friend Jutta had told me that she and her friend Scott had camped out on the beach for free in this area, and I wanted to give that a try. Jim, at Nautical Wheelers, had explained to me how this works. The entire beach (which stretches all along the island for about 25 miles) is available for camping; but in most places a permit must be purchased which allows you to stay for up to three days at a time. The permit costs $20 for the year. But there is a section of the beach between markers 27 and 34 where a permit is not required, as well as just outside the city park. I chose to go to this latter area because there are street lights for added security. I have to admit at being a little nervous. Nearby is a building that was constructed with a $ 1.3 million grant. It serves as an office and contains showers and restrooms for campers who have paid the town fee. It seems like a very expensive building!

The city park stretches between the jetty where the fishing channel is, and the pier. It seemed strange just to pull over and set up for the night. There was just one RV inside the city park, and a few cars and trucks in the early evening, but only the RV and mine remained overnight.

Now this is boondocking! No electricity. No water. And that is the beauty of an RV. It contains its own source of electricity (generator) and water tank. With moderate use of the toilet and water I can boondock for up to three days before needing to dump and running out of water.

As the sun was setting over the Gulf of Mexico, I took Ripley for a walk out on the long pier and contemplated how lucky I was to be able to take this in. Just a year ago I was fighting my way through rush hour traffic daily to go home, or else traveling down through the city to the Air Canada Center to my second job as an usher there, or else attending a COTERC board meeting or working on COTERC business at home in the evening. It was a never-ending cycle of work. And now, I was taking in a beautiful sunset followed by a meal of pork chop, potatoes, mixed vegetable, salad and peaches in my RV, and then a moonlight walk along the beach.

To top if all off, my shortwave radio brought me Garrison Keiler and his Prairie Home Companion show. That man has such a sense of humour.


It was quite a night. The wind howled madly and really rocked the RV around. I wondered whether it would tip over or not, but decided that it would take stronger gusts to accomplish that feat. But I didn’t sleep well, and stayed awake until about 3:00 a.m. feeling itchy. I still had the comforter that I had bought as a bargain on the bed, so I decided to change it for the old one, just in case there was something in the material that was causing my allergy.

I did finally fall asleep, but was up around 7:00 a.m. eager to take Ripley out for a walk on the beach once again. The temperature was around 45 degrees F and I even wore gloves. Out on the pier, I caught this photo of two seagulls who were having a hard time making progress through the gusty weather.

Today is my brother’s 64th birthday, and I expect that he celebrated it with his family.

I decided to move over to the jetty area, and park the RV facing the ship channel, just as many other cars were doing. Apparently, it is quite a hobby to sit and watch the ships come up, and possibly see dolphins. Only some hardy fishermen were actually out on the jetty as it was very cold and blowing like crazy. As I sat in the driver’s seat, I noticed a large flock of Brewer’s blackbirds right beside me (thanks again to the Peterson guide). Out in the channel brown pelicans were swooping down to catch their breakfast in their large pouched bills. They would swoop down like an airplane, gliding just above the water’s surface then would either grab a fish or else rise up again to try another location. Cormorants were also diving in and out of the waves. The water in the channel is slightly sheltered, and thus less of a challenge than out on the gulf itself.

I now realize that my oil gauge is faulty. I decided to check on the oil level even though the gauge said it was only half empty. Thank goodness I did, as it was just about out of oil, and wouldn’t it have been great is I had seized the engine!! I hurriedly got to the nearest gas station and bought a couple of quarts. Gas was $2.89/gallon.

Having had such good luck at the Leona Belle Turnbull Birding Center yesterday, I decided to make it my first destination today. Besides the ducks and pelicans, I saw American coots, a Louisiana heron and black-necked stilts. Still no alligators.

I had noticed a laundromat (called washaterias here), so decided it was time to get some laundry

done, and it happened to be located adjacent to Paradise Pond, another birding outlook. At the observation deck, I met a woman who is a winter Texan and lives in Wichita, Kansas the rest of the year. She is an ardent birder and was very helpful in pointing out birds to me. She mentioned that she was involved in the Audubon Christmas Bird Count that takes place tomorrow all over North and Central America. There were many immature and adult black crowned night herons in the trees around the pond as well as a ruby crowned warbler and a belted kingfisher. Over twenty painted turtles basked on the logs.

She also mentioned that one of her friends encountered a rattlesnake as she turned the corner of the boardwalk, so I do need to be more careful in these parts, especially for Ripley’s sake.

My laundry was ready for the dryers when I returned, and helped myself to some of the tabloid magazines available while I waited. They are fun to read from time to time when there is nothing else.

We went down to the city park adjacent to the car ferry, where I made a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch. Later, Ripley and I took a walk. She is really bothered by these pesky little burrs in the grass and stops for me to pick them out of her paws. The park itself contains environmental messages about helping migratory birds who have lost much of their habitat en route, with signs advocating planting bushes and trees, as well as providing a small pond of fresh water. At the other end there is a horseshoe pit, a playground, an observation deck overlooking the ship channel, a small amphitheatre dedicated to a local country star Patsy Jones, and a marina. Ripley and I walked along the sidewalk past these various places, and came across this heron on the rocks. There were again many brown pelicans either perched or out fishing. On the other side of the channel in Aransas Pass there was a large ship moored, and I learned that the Texas Treasure is a floating casino that takes people offshore to gamble.

I couldn’t come all this way and not have fresh fish. I chose two pieces of grouper ($7.25) and decided to have one for supper and to freeze the other.

On the way out of Port Aransas, I stopped at the Alister South Inn which advertised wireless internet. As has been the case whenever I have stopped at a motel, the management was gracious enough to allow me to use their wireless connection to check emails.

It was getting on in the day. Dusk comes so early (around 6:00 p.m.), so I wanted to be settled before then. I decided to try the beach between markers 27 and 34, even though it was quite deserted when I arrived. It is a little early yet, but I was told that after Christmas the beach would be lined up with RV’s, and I can understand why. At this time of year, there is something wild about being on the Gulf, right on the beach, with the dunes behind you, the surf pounding on the shore. During the day the weather had got milder, and a walk on the beach was very appealing.

The markers themselves are quite interesting. This is a turtle nesting beach for the Ridleys Kemp sea turtle. It is now late in the season so there is no danger of encountering a turtle. But the markers along the beach help the researchers in their work, to locate, record and monitor nesting sites. Having done some of this work in Costa Rica, I can vouch for the fact that it is a magical experience to witness these huge sea creatures as they lumber up on land, dig their nests and deposit their eggs, usually at night. After laying about 100 eggs, the turtles use their flippers to cover up the nest, and then they return to the sea. It is one of nature’s wonders, and I regret that I am too late to witness it here.

Ripley seems to really enjoy herself racing along the surf, or else going up to the edge of the dunes. The beach itself is quite wide, even at high tide – about 200 yards and it is actually considered a city road, with speed limits. Indeed, trucks and cars do pass along it from time to time, so I keep a close eye on Ripley.

I braised the grouper in a garlic butter sauce for supper – Delicious!! My shortwave tuned in Radio Cuba as my dinner music.

Another night walk with Ripley. The lights from the offshore oil rigs twinkled in the dark. The wind had died down, and the weather was quite pleasant as we walked along the shore.

As I settled down for the night, I looked out at a star-filled night and fell asleep lulled by the hypnotic sound of the surf.


It was a tad cool overnight, but Rip and I snuggled under the blankets and kept warm. It might have been a good idea for me to have brought along my small propane heater that is in my trailer in Muskoka.

I could stay here much longer, but my holding tanks will only endure one more day before they will need to be emptied. There are no public facilities to do this, so I have two choices – either consider moving on, or else going to one of the RV parks and paying. None of the parks are on the beach, so I don’t find this option very appealing. I am also supposed to be in New Mexico on December 20th.

It’s a difficult but pleasant quandary to be in, and I pondered it while I lay in bed reading USA Today as the dawn came up, and a new day began.

I was the only one on the beach this morning at dawn. Pelicans and gulls flew by as Ripley and I walked; the scene was very serene. Many people pay tons of money for an experience like this, while I am enjoying it for free!

The beach is considered a town road, and has a speed limit of 15 MPH, but not everyone heeds that limit. There are several access roads leading from the main highway down to the beach area, and I’ve seen a number of cars traveling up and down. Some just sit and watch the ocean. I can relate to that.

Today the temperature is very mild, the sun is shining; the skies are clear. The US Coast Guard helicopter makes regular runs along the coastline. I suppose they are on the watch for illegal activity.

Because Ripley had enjoyed Javier’s beach ball so much, I had bought one for her for 93 cents. I took it out for our next walk, but unfortunately the wind was gustier than I had anticipated and it blew away down the beach faster than Ripley could keep up with it. Goodbye, beach ball! I collected seashells as we strolled, and passed by a flock of royal terns. I met a couple from Oregon who were walking their miniature pinscher, a dog even smaller than Ripley, and the two of them played with each other.

Later, I phoned my friend Jutta in Canada, who had told me about this beach, just to thank her. I probably would not have come here otherwise. She told me that there was lots of snow, with freezing temperatures back there. I can’t help but feel a little smug.
No struggling through rush hour traffic; no shoveling snow; no getting stuck in my long driveway; no pipes freezing. What concerns me, though, is that the temperature in New Mexico does dip below freezing during the night. I have to admit that I did not do my research when I made it my destination for six weeks. I based my decision on the fact that the campground I am going to is owned by Loners on Wheels and the monthly rental is very reasonable. And besides, I wanted to explore that state and its neighbour, Arizona.

After dark, Ripley and I went for another walk. I noticed that I have three neighbours tonight – a conversion van, a tent and an RV (the occupants were watching TV). Even though she is white, Ripley disappears into the darkness very easily and I lose track of her. There are no stars tonight, but it is still wonderfully peaceful.


Another RV arrived overnight. I guess the winter Texans are starting to arrive. It was mild enough to have the window open during the night, so that the surf was even louder.


Ripley and I took a final walk along the beach before departing. We came across a man who was using a homemade suction pump to pull shrimp out of their holes in the surf. He uses the shrimp for bait for fishing. We came across a heron standing in the water’s edge and I guided Ripley around him carefully so that we wouldn’t disturb it.

Back on the main road, I stopped briefly at a saltmarsh lookout where there were snowy egrets, immature (white) little blue herons, lots of teals and American coots, white ibis and Wilson’s pharalope.

We then went on to the city park adjacent to the ferry landing, for one last walk around, and came across the same great blue heron standing on the path. I really wanted to see dolphins before leaving, but there were none following the ship in the channel.

I really will have to come back here in the future. Meantime, we got underway across some smaller roads, in order to hook up with Highway 37 out of Corpus Christi. To my amazement, I spied a caracara just standing by the side of the very busy highway.

After a few hours, we arrived at Travelers World RV Resort, within the city limits of San Antonio. For $17.50 I got not only the usual hook-ups but also the use of the pool, hot tub, cable RV and games room, thanks to Passport America. There is a gate that leads from the RV park directly into the city park, and Ripley was happy to be able to run around checking out all the new smells.

How do you tell if you are in an authentic Mexican restaurant? When all the servers speak only Spanish! Right across the road from the RV park is Taqueria Guadalajara. I couldn’t resist trying it out, and for $8.11 I got beefsteak, refried beans, rice, warm tortillas and Dos Equis beer. To add to the atmosphere, a Spanish-speaking soap opera was on the TV. I got a chance to try out my rusty Spanish, in any event.

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