This is why we RV

Sandhill Cranes
Sandhill Cranes

When we pulled out of Corpus Christi, Texas, we spent three days driving before arriving in Benson, Arizona (965 miles – 1553 Km).  Our plan was to spend the week at an Escapees Park – SKP Saguaro Co-op – getting caught up on household chores.  We did the exact same thing last year and it worked out very well.

Great Horned Owl
Great Horned Owls

We washed, we waxed, we cleaned, we fixed and still managed to get in some fine desert hikes along with a little socializing.

It felt great to be back in the desert and dry out from all the moisture we encountered along the Texas Gulf Coast.  And warm up…. darn that Polar Vortex!

Once our chores were complete, we were ready for a little boondocking and I knew just the place; a place I had been looking forward to visiting since leaving Texas.  I first heard about Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area near McNeal, Arizona, from my friend MonaLiza and then again from fellow blogger Nina.  Nina did a great review on the place.

Pintail Ducks
Pintail Ducks

This 1500 acre wildlife area in southeastern Arizona is known as a major roosting site for 20,000 to 30,000 Sandhill Cranes.  That is not a typo… we’re talking twenty to thirty THOUSAND Sandhill Cranes.Sandhill Cranes

The arid grasslands, surrounding agriculture, and shallow waters provide the perfect environment for not only cranes but a bunch of other wildlife as well.  We saw several kinds of ducks, a huge flock of snow geese, a pair of great horned owls, hawks, other birds, and although we didn’t see any coyotes we sure heard them during the night.

bird photography
My RV is in the distance on the right…….. near the picnic shelter.
RVing lifestyle
That’s us on the left. Our home for 3 nights

But the main attraction at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area remains the cranes.  Imagine the sound of thousands upon thousands of Sandhill Cranes taking flight.  Imagine the sight of wave after wave of these magnificent birds filling the sky.  Imagine laying in bed at night falling asleep to the trumpeting sound of cranes.  Very, very cool…. and this is why we RV.  The nearest hotel is over thirty miles away in Tombstone, Arizona, but in my RV I get to sleep amongst the cranes.  For this craniac, it just doesn’t get much better.Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes

After spending three days at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, I began to understand the behavior of these cranes.  However on day one, I did not know what to expect.  I awoke slightly before 6:00 a.m. and shortly thereafter I heard the start of the cranes distinctive rolling cries. bird watchingNot wanting to miss any action, I jumped out of bed, bundled up, and proceeded to stroll down to the viewing platform.  It was cold – 37 degrees Fahrenheit.  It was dark – almost an hour before sunrise. I was the only one out and about in our little neighborhood of about nine RV’s.  photographing birdsroosting cranesLook at all those cranes in the water in the above photo.  The cranes spend the night standing in the shallow waters to evade predators and each morning they fly out to feed and socialize in the surrounding fields.

I had heard the mass ascension of cranes at sunrise is not to be missed.

As I approached the viewing platform, a huge group of cranes took flight.  It was still pretty dark, thus they were silhouetted, but the sound…. oh my gosh, the sound.

wildlife in Arizona
All those black spots in the sky are Cranes

Roosting cranesAs hundreds of cranes lifted off, I could hear the rush of their wings.  It was loud.  In addition, their constant bugling made for anything but a quiet sunrise.

Their distinct trumpeting would continue until the group landed in a field.

Over the next hour, wave after wave of hundreds of cranes would take off, and shortly after sunrise, all the cranes had moved on.  By that point in the morning, I was no longer alone at the viewing platform.

A crowd had gathered to watch this  memorable sight and sound.

Wildlife areas in ArizonaRoosting cranesHaving left the nights safety of the water, they were off to forage for food in farmer John’s fields.  I’m not sure how the local farmers feel about this.roosting cranesSometime time between 9:30 and 10:30 a.m. it was time for a coffee break and they would again return in waves to the waters edge.  I could hear them in the distance and ready my camera.  Very considerate of them to let me know they were coming, huh!roosting cranesAnd then there was sunset…. almost more spectacular than sunrise.cranes

In waves, they would return to the shallow waters as far from land as possible.  Mates will stand close together calling in a synchronized and complex duet.  Females make 2 calls for every one from the male.  Do I hear a “yes dear”?Cranes in the wild

Our three day stay was over way too fast (there is a 3 day camp stay limit within a 7 day period).  I do believe Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area will become a regular stopping point for us as our travels take us between Texas and Arizona.  I love RVing!Cranes in the wildCranes

RV
Entrance to Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area

boondocking

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Mission San Xavier

Today’s WordPress photo challenge is the “Rule of Thirds”. Arizona Missions

We arrived in Tucson, Arizona, a couple of days ago and my first ‘must see’ stop was Mission San Xavier del Bac.  The stunning Spanish architecture and beautifully landscaped grounds made for a fun and interesting photographic opportunity.Mission San Xavier del BacMission San Xavier del Bac is a historic Spanish Catholic mission located about 10 miles south of downtown Tucson.  The church was built between 1783 and 1797 and is the oldest European structure in Arizona.Mission San Xavier del Bac

The mission was originally founded by an Italian Jesuit, Padre Eusebio Kino.  San Xavier is still actively run by Franciscans and continues to serve the local community.Mission San Xavier del BacOver 200,000 visitors come here each year from around the world to view what is considered some of the finest Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States.Mission San XavierThere was so much to explore and take in at the mission…. more than I expected. So if you do visit, plan on spending at least an hour versus the 20 minutes we scheduled.  I guess that means, I’ll just have to revisit.RoadrunnerAnd since Jen over at WordPress challenged us to experiment with the Rule of Thirds with a little bokeh (blur), I thought I’d end the post with this photo of an unusual cactus bloom located near the entrance to San Xavier.Spanish missions

The Spanish Missions of Arizona (True Books)
Moon Arizona & the Grand Canyon (Moon Handbooks)

Ménage à Trois

It was a beautiful January day along the Texas Gulf Coast.  I was in the midst of a photo shoot with my model Rosie, a lovely Roseate Spoonbill.Roseate SpoonbillShe was quite the model.  Beautiful, talented, and very accommodating.birding along the Texas Gulf CoastShe tilted her head this wayTexas Gulf Coast birding trailAnd then that way.  One leg up.photographing birdsNow it was time for a break.  “Take five, Rosie”.  She heads off to the water for some refreshment.birding Port Aransas

Spoonbills
This is Bill the spoonbill enjoying a morning snack

In the meantime, Mr. Spoonbill was minding his own business enjoying a mid morning snack when he just happened to glance up….. and there she was, in all her pink glory….. Rosie tilts her head in a coy demur manner all the while batting her eyes. wildlife photography“Like what you see, Big Boy?”  Bill’s mouth opens wide….”hubba, hubba”….. he drools. wildlife photographyThe vision of loveliness is irresistible.  He starts in her direction.photographing wildlifeHe quickens the pace. While approaching Rosie, he yells, “Hey babe, whatz happenin?”wildlife photography

Rosie is not impressed by his crude behavior and mutters, “I’m outta here” and quickly flies off.roseate spoonbillBill can’t figure out why she flew off and screams, “STEL…LAAAA”!birding in Port Aransasand goes for the chasePort Aransas TexasBut Bill, having a rather short attention span, was quickly distracted by the beautiful blue coloring of a Tri-colored Heron. wildlife photographyAs he lands near Hailey Heron, the tri-colored heron, Rosie is soon forgotten and a new quest ensues.birding in Port Aransas Texas“Hey, there Babe.  Is it true what they say….. once you go blue you never go back?”tri-colored heron“Say, What!”, says Hailey Heron in a frazzled tone.  Just then Bill has the best idea ever….. why pick between pink or blue? ….. Ménage à Trois!threesome

Here’s wishing you a very Happy Valentines Day with a happy ending Rockport Texas
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Moving down the coast

Whew!  We made it back to Arizona and are now camped near the town of Benson.  All I can say is Texas is one BIG state.  Before I start posting about our Arizona adventures, I want to finish up with the places we stayed while in Texas…….Rockport Texas

After a very fun stay in Galveston, Texas it was time to hit the road again.  We had four days in between reservations.  That meant, we had four days to do a three and a half hour drive.  Now that’s what I call meandering.

We still hadn’t firmly made up our minds about where we wanted to stay during that four-day time frame.  So we just hit the road moving south along the Texas Gulf Coast.  We had two options in mind; the Matagorda Bay Nature Park or Goose Island State Park.  Hmm, decisions!

When you purchase the yearly Texas State Park Pass for $70, you and your accompanying guests get free access to all Texas State Parks plus you’re given four cyber coupons good for 1/2 off a night of camping.  With that in mind, we decided on Goose Island State Park and put one of those coupons to use.

Beach camping
Goose Island State Park – Bay side campsites

Goose Island State ParkWe opted for a bay side site wanting to bask in as much sunshine as possible.  The other camping loops are nestled in a grove of oak trees with lots of low-lying branches and plenty of shade.  The folks at Goose Island State Park are very accommodating and upon check-in they will allow you to drive through the campground first and pick out Beach campinga site.  That’s a huge bonus as many of the bay side sites are not very level.  Some have a huge hump.

The campsites located in the loops with the oak trees could be challenging for bigger RV’s, so it’s nice to lay eyes on the sites first.

We lucked out with excellent weather during this 3 night stay.  Keep in mind while camping close to the water that salt spray is very corrosive and it only takes a couple of days for rust to show up. Last year, when the wind and weather kicked up, we saw a wave or two actually hit some RV’s camped in these bay side sites, but it doesn’t take actual contact to start the corrosion.

FYI – this part of Texas has sketchy Verizon coverage.  We had no problem with our internet but we did have issues talking on the phone.  This is AT&T country.  We received about 3 TV channels with our Jack Antenna.

Texas State Parks
A view of the fishing pier out my RV window at sunrise at Goose Island State Park
Mustang Island State Park
Mustang Island State Park – parking lot style camping

Port Aransas TexasFrom Goose Island State Park we continued down the coast to Mustang Island State Park for our scheduled two-week stay. This was a 45 minute drive and included a ferry crossing.

The campground isn’t the greatest but we love the area.  Within a short walk from the campsite over the dunes are miles and miles of gorgeous beach.  Corpus Christi, Texas is an easy 20 minute drive away with plenty of sights and shopping.  The quaint beach town of Port Aransas is 10 minutes up the road.

At Mustang Island State Park we had good Verizon coverage – internet and phone.  We pulled in a dozen TV channels with our over the air antenna.  When you book a week, the rate is discounted. The on site bath house is probably the oldest and most rustic we’ve encountered in the last couple of years.  I’m trying to be diplomatic, but between you and me, I thought the showers were pretty bad – old with lack of privacy. But overall we enjoyed our stay at Mustang Island State Park and would definitely stay here again.

Sand dunes
Me relaxing amongst the dunes and listening to the waves at Mustang Island State Park

How about some other camping options on Mustang Island?  Trust me when I say, you won’t run out of choices.

Mustang Island State Park

Boondocking
These tents were pitched along the shipping channel near Charlie’s Pasture Nature Center
Port Aransas
This RV was parked on the beach in Port Aransas near I.B. Magee Park

BoondockingBoondocking in the area?  YES!  Overnight camping is allowed in quite a few areas on Mustang Island but requires a permit from Nueces County for a fee.  Padre Island National Seashore has miles of sandy beach geared toward tenting and offers two dry camping campgrounds for RV’s.  Fees are very inexpensive

On the Aransas Pass side of the channel there is free boondocking and usually one or two RV’s at any given time can be spotted.  On weekends it can be busier.

Do note; the ground is rutted with some soft, sandy spots.  It would be wise to be able to read the lay of the land and have a good understanding of low tide versus high tide.

Mustang Island offers a multitude of private RV parks.  My folks used to winter at Pioneer RV Resort and it’s a very nice RV park.  If luxury is your thing, check out Gulf Waters RV Resort.  There are at least 3 more RV parks I drove by in the town of Port Aransas but they all seemed cramped and something I wouldn’t be interested in, not to say they aren’t nice, just not my cup of tea.

Polly Anna
Buy shrimp right off the boat in Port Aransas

Ok, let’s wrap up this post with the RV park where we spent the month of January.  This was our second January at this park and I viewed it a whole lot differently this year than last year.  I found it more enjoyable this go around, perhaps because I knew exactly what to expect.

Hidden Oaks RV Park
Entrance – Hidden Oaks RV Resort

First, the park was chosen by Al’s buddy and if you recall the whole reason for us being in Rockport, Texas, was for the guys to do manly things with manly men.  That said, Hidden Oaks RV Park is a no frills, rustic kind of place and located just down the road from Goose Island State Park.  It’s an ideal place for Sportsmen.  There’s even an apartment available in the club house for a nightly/weekly rate.

Although there aren’t any Park Models on site, there are trailers kept here year round as second homes.  The sites are close together, grassy with some gravel.  There are oak trees and low branches making maneuvering a bit of a challenge in spots.

Hidden Oaks RV Park
We stayed in one of their newer sites this year

The unique oak trees are pretty much a theme around Rockport as are goat heads…. you know, those tiny little burrs that stick to everything including pooches poor paws. We’ve encountered those little suckers everywhere in southern Texas and boy do they stick…. and hurt!

Last year I did check out a bunch more RV parks in the Rockport area and did not find anything more inviting than Hidden Oaks. On that note, let me share what I DID enjoy about the place.

Hidden Oaks RV Resort is located in a rural residential area and just down the street from the state park making it great for bike rides and walks.  Whooping cranes and Sandhill cranes hang out just a couple of blocks away and I could hear the cranes from my RV.  On occasion they even flew over the RV Park.  Management and guests are ALL extremely helpful, friendly, and engaging.  And the price is right at $300 for the month plus electric.  It fits our needs and interests and we would stay here again.  Remember this part of Texas is a birder’s and angler’s paradise.

Verizon and TV coverage is sketchy – same as I noted for Goose Island State Park.Corpus Christi Texas

So that’s it for my Texas campground review.  Let me know if I missed something or if you have any questions.  Happy trails!

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Let’s talk campgrounds

I don’t normally do campground reviews or talk too much about the places we park.  First, there are a lot of great bloggers out there that do a much better job in that department than I could ever do.  Second, reviews are subjective.  I’d feel badly hurting anyone’s feelings or recommending a place only to have someone else sorely disappointed.

Brahma calf
Can we talk?

After our 3 month Texas Gulf Coast adventure, I’ve had a few bloggers express interest in the places we camped and would appreciate a little more information.  Thus, I’ve decided to do a quick and dirty on my Texas campground experience.

photographySo let’s grab a drink and I’ll tell you the where, why, and MY opinion.

I’m not always fond of making reservations because I like to keep our plans fluid.  What I mean is if we really enjoy a location and want to stay longer, I want that flexibility.  The opposite holds true as well, and yes, there have been plenty of places that were a total let down and I couldn’t wait to move on.

But alas, reservations are a necessity especially in popular places and during holiday weekends or special events.

Another tidbit that’s important to ME are views and space.  Therefore we prefer staying in State Parks, National Forests, or boondock in the backcountry.  I’ll gladly give up the convenience of hook-ups for nature and views.  But there is a time and place when a Private RV Park is the perfect venue, especially when near a large metropolitan area.

Knowing I wanted to spend a month on Galveston Island had me searching for Private RV Parks for that leg of our journey.  The Galveston Island State Park was already booked on the weekends during our time frame, plus you can only reserve a two-week stay. I liked the idea of staying near the state park so I could do some hiking and bird watching there and that was the main reason I chose the Jamaica Beach RV Resort.

Jamaica Beach RV Resort
checking in at the Jamaica Beach RV Resort, Galveston Island, Texas

It did not disappoint.  All sites are pull-thru, concrete, and level.  Each site offers a picnic table, full hook-ups, and are relatively nicely spaced.  A monthly stay in a private park is always the most economical rate versus the nightly rate with the exception of the discounted nightly rate with a Passport America or Escapees membership.  Do note: be informed and don’t assume, as discounts are not always applicable or honored and usually apply to a one or two night stay only and quite often not on weekends.Jamaica Beach

Jamaica Beach RV ResortThe Jamaica Beach RV Resort has two swimming pools, a mini golf course with a cute pirate theme, and a pond with ducks.

The on-site laundry facility was also convenient and rarely busy.

The one big negative is the beach is located across the street (a busy road) at a public access point.  Also, road noise can be heard within the RV park especially at those sites located closer to the busy road.

We did enjoy our month at this park. I would stay here again and even recommend it, but we did check out a few other options in the area for future reference.

Galveston Island State Park is ok and offers two different types of camping experiences.  They have a campground on the ocean side for those beach goers and another on the bayside for birders, kayakers, and anglers.  Our friends MonaLiza and Steve stayed on the bayside and wrote a review. Click here to read Steve’s review.  Do note; the state park does fill up on weekends.  Thus, I would highly recommend a reservation.Galveston Island State ParkI did visit the state park regularly during my stay on Galveston Island. I found the trails the majority of the time were too wet to navigate with tennis shoes.  Muck boots would be more appropriate, but I still managed to find plenty of  photographic opportunities.Galveston Texas

Here are a few other options of places to stay for a Galveston Island visit;
Dellanera RV Park is owned and managed by the county and is in a great location. There’s few amenities, the sites are gravel, and it’s on the ocean.  It looks ok.
Bayou Shores RV Park would probably be my last choice.  I didn’t like the location and it seemed a little unkempt.
Ron Hoover Oasis RV Park is connected with the RV retail store.  We found ourselves visiting their parts department several times.  The RV park looks nice and private. It’s even located next to a large county park (not visible from the RV park) with water access.  It’s actually located on the mainland and not the island near exit 10 thus it’s not that far from Galveston.  Anglers and Kayakers would like this place.
Tiki Tom’s looked like an interesting place and is definitely geared toward anglers and boaters.

Is there boondocking on Galveston Island?  I wouldn’t plan on it.  There’s no overnight camping allowed anywhere on the beach on Galveston Island – county ordinance.  I’m not sure they’ll even allow you to overnight in the Wal-Mart parking lot.  Sorry, I failed to confirm that tidbit.  Throughout the island we did notice lots of signs stating, “No overnight parking”.  So if there is boondocking, we didn’t find it.Galveston Island

Next up, we’ll move on down the coast.

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The art of compromise

Living a mobile lifestyle with a partner in 250 square feet, requires the ability to communicate and compromise.  Compromise becomes even more important when the individuals don’t always share common interests.Lamar Texas

Compromise has never been a problem for hubby and me.  I tell him where we’re going, what we’re doing, and he says, “Yes, Dear”.  And that my friends is how to survive 30 plus years of marriage …. 😆

northern shoveler duckBut in all seriousness, Al and I have always supported and encouraged each others interests and passions.  We enjoy doing things together as well as separately.  It works for us and has for over thirty years.

Al and I are fortunate in that we’ve both had the opportunity to travel extensively over the years internationally and domestically, but that travel was predominantly to metropolitan areas.  Thus, we now enjoy focusing our travels on small towns, back country roads, and all things nature which makes this RV lifestyle a perfect fit.  Neither one of us has a so called bucket list, but we do have a mental list of “wouldn’t mind visiting there”.  It’s sort of a …… if it works fine, if it doesn’t work that’s fine too kind of list.

duck hunting in TexasAl’s pretty laid back and easy going about our travels and for the most part leaves the planning up to me.

After I brief him on tentative plans, we’ll bounce ideas back and forth. He’ll occasionally add his two cents or express any concerns, and then the trip planning commences followed by a few necessary reservations.  For the most part, he rolls with my whims.

On that note, last summer during our winter planning phase, Al mentioned how he really wanted to do a repeat of the previous January and meet up with his buddy again in Rockport, Texas, to engage in sportsman stuff.  Initially, I wanted to stay in the desert southwest, but since this was something he really wanted to do, I felt it was my turn to roll with his whim and compromise.

Plus, I didn’t think returning to the area  would be so bad.  It would allow me the opportunity to commune with whooping cranes and all my other feathered friends while hubby was occupied elsewhere.roseate spoonbill

And then I got to thinking since we were coming to Texas anyway, this would be the perfect opportunity to explore some other areas along the Texas Gulf Coast, which is how we ended up spending time in Galveston and Port Aransas.

Texas Gulf CoastAlthough I have had a relatively nice time along the Texas Gulf Coast, all things considered, the lure of an Arizona sunset is hard to resist.  The abundant sunshine and dry heat of the desert beckons.

As our scheduled stay in Texas was nearing an end, Al started dropping hints about extending our stay.  He said something along the lines of, “We have no commitments in February.  Why don’t we just stay here a little longer”?

He asks this question as the winds are howling, the rain is pouring, and I’m bundled up in layers of clothing trying to keep warm.

I ponder…..  Keep that thought in mind while I digress for a moment….
From the moment we purchased the RV, Al made every effort to train me on all her workings and we split the driving so I’m comfortable towing her.  When I became so ill last winter, it made an indelible impression upon us just how important it is that he and I are both able to handle all aspects of this lifestyle.  With the exception of backing her up, I’m quite capable in the handling of all duties.

As for Al’s cross training, he has improved in doing laundry, vacuuming, and cooking (well, his culinary skills are still lacking, but edible. That’s a work in progress – hehe).  Both of us can handle the demands of this lifestyle together and independently.

QuartzsiteSo back to me contemplating Al’s thoughts on extending our Texas stay.  Remember the weather is nasty as we have this discussion.  I wait for the loud furnace to shut off so I’m sure he can hear my response.

“You’d like to stay in Texas longer?”  I confirm. He nods.  “No problem honey, but please check with Denny to make sure his couch is a sleeper, because come Monday the jacks are coming up and the wheels will be rolling.  Whether you’ll be sitting next to me is your choice.  I’m flexible”.

Adirondack chairAl burst out into laughter and said, “Ah, you are a wise one. Perhaps it was foolish of me to see to it that you can handle all aspects of this RV because I have no doubt to your capabilities.  I assure you, when you have this puppy ready to roll, I’ll be sitting next to you”.

It was the best of times; exploring fun new places and getting together with fellow bloggers.  It was the worst of times; nasty weather and illness.  It was the age of wisdom; as we age, we hopefully become wiser.  Al is second guessing the wisdom of his actions in making sure I can handle the RV by myself.  It was the age of foolish; We’re never too old to act a little foolishly.  It’s all about the laughter.  In the end, I am no fool and would never dream of leaving my partner in crime beyond.

Arizona here WE come!whooping crane

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