Monday, March 16, 2020

We Join the Birders of South Texas

We've got a carved captain just like this one on the boat.
Note: As we publish this blog we are actually back in Olympia.  Arrived Saturday to a very strange place and we're dealing with it just like everyone else.  No matter, let's get back to our journey..........................

“Taxi!”  We stood blinking in the sun at San Antonio International Airport.  While loading our bags into the trunk I gave the taxi driver the address of the storage yard.  As normal, in Mexico, I asked, “How much?”  He pointed at the meter and said he was not sure, maybe $25 or $30.  “Pesos?” I hopefully asked.   Connie said, “We’re in the US now honey.  Put on your seat belt.”

Not yet noon, we had time to hook up the rig, air up the tires, eat a sandwich, provision at the store with food, wine, water, and ice, and point the rig southeast towards Corpus Christi.  Humming “On the Road Again” we fled to the coast.  In Corpus, just to make a long, complicated day a little easier, we found an Airbnb king size bedroom in a family house and a place to plug in the battery charger for the tent trailer’s house bank so as to give it a good topping off after sitting in a dirt lot for 50 days.  The Thai food restaurant was quite a treat, after eating Mexican food all that time.

Padre and Mustang Islands are thin strips of land separating the myriad coastal passages from the Gulf of Mexico.  We took the bridge out to the island and found Mustang Island State Park where we just missed out on grabbing the last camping spot available.  This was just as well because a strong wind was coming ashore from the southeast making it pretty uncomfortable.  Just off shore we could see the line of oil rigs.   Just inshore we couldn’t miss the miles of refineries dotting the horizon.  Those same refineries have polluted Corpus Christi bay to the point where people are advised not to swim in those waters.

Port Aaron's Ass

We drove up island to Port Aransas, which we kept calling “Aaron’s Ass”, saw the sign that said they were taking no RVs on the ferry because of extreme low tides,(it was the full moon), and got in line anyway. We made it on. The tide cycle was at the high.  A set of five small ferries plowed across the 100 yard wide body of water called Humble Basin.   Towering oil rigs sat waiting to be towed out to sea.  Across from Port Aaron’s Ass is Aaron’s Ass Pass, a town still suffering from hurricane damage.  We made our way up through Rockport and across the bridge to Goose Island State Park.

“Nothing available.  Would you like to stay in our overflow parking lot?”  Reluctantly, we set up the tent camper and got our nest organized after being away from the rig for almost two months.  Through the night we heard huge engines pushing a barge (or oil rig) out to sea.  Trains, trucks, and in the morning, jet boats and the early morning garbage truck attacking the dumpster just steps away from our sleeping quarters. 

Being told that we could only make reservations online, I went to the park office and found internet and was in the process when I got a cell call from the agent in that same office.  “I think you are standing outside.  Somebody had to abandon their reservation because their rig was too big to fit in the space.  Do you want it?”  Badda badda boom, we had a spot for two days.

Goose Island is a good birding area (86 species spotted in January) with nice hiking paths and we enjoyed our two extra days there and wanted to stay a couple more.  I went to the office to sit out front and use the internet.  I got online and found another available site for Monday and Tuesday but there was a glitch with my Texas park pass and I could not book with my discount.   The web site advised me to call the reservation line to sort it out.  The reservation line is closed on weekends.  The attendant at the office could not help me because all future reservations have to be made online.  But the online booking service could not process my pass.  I decided to wait until Monday and hope for the best.  Texas, there’s gotta be a better way!

We now realize that we should do our research and book our stays ahead of time so we’re not stuck in a parking lot with nowhere to set up.  I went back up to the office to research our future stops in south Texas and the internet was down and stayed down all weekend.  OK, this is a game we are playing and we’ve got to get better at it.  Come Monday, we sorted out the problem with our park pass (The parks department had installed a new reservation system), got our next two days reserved, then I drove to the nearest McDonalds to find reliable internet to start working on the next three weeks of reservations.  While trying to book at Big Bend National Park, that booking site went down and stayed down for two days.  Looks like the feds are taking Texas’s lead in how not to run a reservation system.

Our traveling in Texas now goes like this:  We have our tea and breakfast and watch the wildlife.  Then Connie practices her music while I go off in the truck to find internet or water or propane.  I spend a few hours researching and booking camping spots and catching up on blog entries.  We join back up around 1:00 PM and have a light lunch.  Then we go for a long hike.  In the afternoon we find firewood and get the fire ready for starting.  At 5:00 PM we have a glass of wine and watch the birds.  Just before sunset we might take another walk then we light the fire and sometimes add some charcoal so we can cook on the grill.  After dinner we sit around the fire for a while, and retire to bed with a book or a movie on the laptop.  That’s our life right now in South Texas.  Not bad.

After Goose Island we went to Laredo and the International State Park there where we camped among some odd vehicles which we finally figured out were rigs used by workers in town for the big carnival.  We were living with Carnies!  They had brightly decorated trailers advertising candy corn and funnel cakes.  We’d see a picnic table full of dumpy guys drinking beer and cooking on the grill, waiting for the weekend and some work.  They’d whoop and holler in the evening then quiet down pretty quick and get up early the next morning to drive to town to do their shift setting up the midway.  We were surrounded by clowns!  We felt right at home.

On the weekend the sleepy park came alive as the locals arrived en masse with beer, BBQ, fishing poles, and kids on bikes, kids on inner tubes, kids in strollers, kids playing in the mud.  Saturday evening was joyfully active, Mexican music everywhere.  By Sunday night, all was quiet again, except for the clowns.

I’ll say this for Laredo, it’s a pretty good provisioning town. Shrimp and crab at the H.E.B. store, cheap wine, and some organic produce.  Driving through downtown, we made it to the border park that sits at the Rio Grande.  Do not climb the fence!  People poured across the bridge.

Border Patrol trucks hovered. We noticed a pair wet under wear and pants on the USA riverbank… hmmm… potentially swimming illegals?

Our next stop was Falcon State Park, about two hours south of Laredo.  We provisioned well, knowing there were no good markets close to that lonely area of the border.  Here at Falcon we have good trails and many birds and many people looking at birds.  This whole area of South Texas near the Rio Grande is a wintering destination for hundreds of species. This is the point where I’d normally insert a beautiful picture of the colorful birds that frequent our site.  I guess we just don’t have what it takes to take a proper picture of a bird.  All our shots are at the tail end of a bird making its way out of the frame.  Zoom in and you’ve got a smudgy blot that only we know is a very attractive bird.  Oh well.   

We’ve got a nice little quiet camping spot where we do our daily routine.  An extra treat here is watching the banded peccaries root their way through our campsite.  These look a little sleeker and cuter than their Javalina cousins we saw in Arizona.  Being bigger and slower, we have a few pictures of these.

Day one and Day two the afternoon temperatures soared to 90 degrees.  We lay in the tent camper trying not to move, following the Mexico example of taking a siesta when it becomes overwhelmingly hot.  I wake to the sound of a mighty diesel pulling up alongside us.  The truck stops and idles… for a long long time.  The wind is coming from the south and waifs the diesel exhaust right into our sleeping quarters.  Finally, we accept the fact that HE is not going to turn off that engine any time soon.  I get up, get dressed, then approach the gentleman who is chatting away with my neighbor.  I was curt and to the point, asking him to turn off the rig.  He looked forlorn, sad that he had offended... didn't realize.

Connie had given up and was walking to the restroom.  He got in his truck and left… and evidently went up to the same restroom where Connie was, where he let that rig idle while he was doing his business there.  Connie returned feeling pursued.  I felt guilty for a while for jumping on the guy’s case.  Later, we googled the phrase, “Why do men let their diesel truck engines run too long?”  The simple answer is that there is no good reason, it’s a manly thing to do.

Yes, this is the border fence at Laredo Texas and that is the Rio Grande

After sweating it out for two days, the rain came and the temperatures dropped from 90/70 to 55/42.  Now we’re huddled around the fire and running the heater nonstop inside the camper.  Fearing that we’d run out of propane, I decided to make the run south 20 miles to the town of Roma Texas to provision.  The only propane store in Roma was closed.  We drove east another ten miles and found a farm store to top off our propane tank.  On the way back we found a water kiosk and filled our drinking water jugs.  Then we looked for and finally found the one liquor store in the town of 10,000 people.  A couple of dozen dusty bottles of liquor, in a small shop that had to be unlocked by the clerk in the adjoining convenience store, was the extent of the city’s liquor supply.  “Any place to buy wine here?”  “Walmart is 20 miles down the road.” 

Inside the convenience store we met a Hispanic man. We did the usual,“Where are you from?” thing.  He had come here from Appalachia eight years ago and was working putting up wind mills.  Wind turbines, I call them. Yes, the horizon is beautifully scattered with them, something that makes me feel better being that the rest of the state is stuffed with oil derricks and pipelines.

“Yep, we’re putting up more windmills every day down here.  Can’t wait, though, for the border wall to start.  That will be a good job.”  Connie couldn’t help but say, “Isn’t Mexico going to pay for that?” “Oh no. WE aren’t going to pay.  The Cartel is going to build it.”  I had to extract Connie from the conversation so we could choose our dusty bottle of liquor.  Pulling her away, I noticed the guy’s cap with the words, “Fuck You”, surrounded by five point stars. We tried to sort out his logic on the drive back to the park.  Even after numerous swigs from our dusty bottle of rum we could not figure it out.

It’s cold on our final day at Falcon State Park and it’s 11:00 AM and time for me to go in search of internet.  Connie is already at it with the accordion.
Our next stop will be at Lake Amistad near Del Rio. There is good birding there. Then it’s on to Big Bend where we hope to luck into a “first come first served” site for about four days.  After that, we’ve got three nights at Hueco Tanks, just east of El Paso.  Then we’ll be done messing with Texas, and it will be about time! Time for Cool Breeze to hit the road. 

No comments:

Post a Comment