Thursday, January 31, 2013

Between Rockport and Fulton, Texas…

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The distance between Rockport, TX and Fulton, TX is not very far. In fact the little loop we like to drive is only 13.5 miles round-trip from our RV park (at first I typed resort but I think park fits it better). While both are small Texas coastal towns of less than 10,000 population they both sport their their own sense of community pride.

The towns of Rockport and Fulton are what I would call sister cities and the towns are often referred to as "Rockport-Fulton." Rockport is named for the rocky ledge that runs along its shoreline and now considers itself a fishing village. Fulton is the smaller of the two towns with less than 2,000 people calling it home. But unlike the towns of Bryan, TX and College Station, TX where we once lived these two towns have put their individualities and independence aside for the good of the people and share some city services such as the Rockport-Fulton High School in Rockport that serves both communities.

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But the drive along the coastline is the part we like best as the landscape is reminiscent of the coastlines of the northeastern USA in that there is little beach and more craggy shoreline as oyster shells replace sand on most of the exposed beaches. The oyster has been locally celebrated and revered for the past 32 years during the annual Fulton Oysterfest held in March and is sponsored by the Fulton Volunteer Fire Department. Sadly we will be out of the area long before the celebration or we would surely attend.

This part of the Texas coastline also features large windswept mottes of live oaks. The beauty of each tree has been slowly shaped and carved by the prevailing winds along this part of the coastline. Though short in stature and bent by the wind they still hold for us a unique stately grace.

Lesser Scaup   Redhead

Another treat along this drive is that the bay waters at this time of year are brimming with ducks.  Although we have mostly seen Red Heads and Scaup, often upon closer look we have noted many other species who also call this area home. It is obvious these birds have been visiting this part of Texas long before the “Winter Texans” discovered this place…

Monday, January 28, 2013

Goose Island State Park…

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2013-01-21 Rockport Port A 055A short 10 to 15 minutes drive from our RV park just over the Capano Causeway is Goose Island State Park. Goose Island State Park is located on Aransas Bay and is known more for its fishing than for its beaching or swimming. In fact there is no swimming area demarcated in the park. One of the benefits of us having purchased the Annual State Park pass is that not only do we get free entry to the park (normally $5.00 per person entry) but we also don’t need a fishing license to fish in the park.  Texas Parks and Wildlife allows anyone visiting a state park
to fish anywhere inside the boundaries of that park without a license. A license even for us as a state resident is nearly $50.00.

2013-01-21 Rockport Port A 058Goose Island State Park allows RV camping and there are some nice spots right on the water if that is your cup of tea… no sewage but they do have 50 amp service and a dump station. They also have a huge lighted fishing pier that drew my attention. I noticed as we walked out on the pier that there were some people catching a few sheepshead and most were using live shrimp. I was going to try fishing with artificial lures. After many casts of various lures I proclaimed all the fish in Aransas Bay safe from me for the rest of the day… Not a single bite…Sharon, it seemed, was just happy to be beside the ocean once again.  She happily read a new book while I was fishing taking occasional breaks to use binoculars to observe the shore birds or boats passing by.  Despite my bad luck in catching a fish dinner, we both were glad we came to visit the park on this beautiful crisp sunny day.

2013-01-21 Rockport Port A 065Upon leaving the pier and heading back toward the exit we saw and decided to drive the inland loop of RV sites..  The RV sites in this loop were quite different than the waterside sites in that they were tucked into the trees affording much more privacy and spaciousness, Within this loop we stumbled upon a parking area alongside a nature trail we chose to investigate. Although we did not encounter many birds to identify, we did enjoy the walk through the wooded area hearing the sea breeze rushing through the trees loosening a few dead leaves that floated down around us as we walked reminding us it is still wintertime even in these mild temperatures.

2013-01-21 Rockport Port A 067Our next destination near Goose Island State Park was the Big Tree. This massive Live Oak tree is said to be over 1,000 years old and measures over 38 feet in circumference. I am not real sure how they determined this tree to be that old since the only way to age the tree is to count the tree rings of the trunk… but I will take their word for it. No matter how old it is this tree has a lot of character and no doubt has “seen” a lot of history. While looking at the tree I saw a pair of whooping cranes flying over the adjacent pasture. These endangered species are making a nice rebound thanks to the efforts of conservationists protecting not only the birds but their habitat as well. We plan a future visit to their coastal home near here at Aransas Wildlife Refuge.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

A day in Port Aransas, Texas…

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2013-01-21 Rockport Port A 002With the weather hovering in the low 70’s F for the highs we decided that it would be a great day to drive over to Aransas Pass and take the ferry over to Port Aransas. The Port Aransas Ferry is a FREE service connecting Mustang Island and Port Aransas with the mainland. The ferry runs seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day and is capable of taking large RV’s and trucks. We saw several RV’s with either large trailers or cars in tow on the ferries. However, their website warns that your vehicle plus towable’s overall length should not exceed 55 feet.

Riding the ferry brought back many memories for us as we visited this part of Texas coast extensively during the 1970’s and 1980’s. Needless to say a lot has changed yet the ferry still takes people and the cars/trucks back and forth… back and forth. We were really surprised that a bridge had not been built across2013-01-21 Rockport Port A 004 this stretch of water but we thought maybe they didn’t do so since it is so short a distance and is still in navigable waters. I mean can you image how steep such a bridge would be to accommodate ship traffic in such a short stretch of water?

Traveling across the waterway it is always fun to scan the water as dolphins are commonly seen during transit. Sure enough we spotted a small group of three moving up the ship channel in the wake of a ship passing by. Once across we made our way over to the harbor to see if the Scat Cat was still here. The Scat Cat was a charter 2013-01-21 Rockport Port A 018fishing boat we took out to the red snapper banks years ago. We still have fond memories of catching over 20 snapper one day. It was also Sharon’s first experience deep sea fishing. Happily we saw that the Scat Cat is still in port along with its’ sister ship the Wharf Cat. In reminiscing we realized we were last on the Scat Cat over 35 years ago… Yikes!

We then drove to the Gulf side of Mustang Island where cars are permitted to 2013-01-21 Rockport Port A 011drive onto the beach. We avoided driving in the surf though as rust could become our worst enemy so simply driving the beachside was more appealing to us. We parked and sat in our chairs just taking in the sights and sounds of the ocean… The surf always lulls us into a slightly unconscious state. Although it was still a little chilly on the beach with temperatures in the upper 60’s we noticed it didn't stop the beach goers and the plentiful fishermen.

2013-01-21 Rockport Port A 036Before leaving we went over to Pioneer RV Village Resort nearby to visit Catherine, Jo Beth and Grace of RV Crazy fame. We had planned to meet around happy hour to share stories and see their new rig. We last saw them when we inadvertently camped beside them in Las Cruces sometime last year. Small world this RV’ing world is… As before it was great visiting with them and we even made plans to meet again during our stay…

Thursday, January 24, 2013

What’s up in Rockport, Texas?

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As we neared our departure from the Rio Grande Valley the most asked question was, "why are you leaving the RGV to go to Rockport?" Well, besides the obvious reason that we were only able to get a two month reservation at Bentsen Palm Village RV Park we also wanted to revisit an area that was a vacation place for us when we were much younger living in San Antonio, Texas.

2013-01-21 Rockport Port A 012Once we arrived in Rockport and settled in at our RV park we started making the list of things we wanted to do:

  • take the ferry over to Port Aransas and revisit it… I spent a great deal of my youth there for summer trips during my high school years at South San Antonio High School.2013-01-21 Rockport Port A 030
  • reacquaint ourselves with Rockport, Texas… a place we came to for one of our wedding anniversaries.
  • re-visit the Fulton Mansion… although Sharon has never been to it I helped clear trees from all around the property during a serious tropical storm that downed many trees on the property.
  • get a little coastal fishing in for me and a little beach time for Sharon… we can never get enough of either of these activities.
  • visit Goose Island State Park, Matagorda Island State Park and Aransas National Wildlife Refuge… I still fondly remember when Texas Parks and Wildlife first acquired Matagorda Island and one of my jobs was to do a flora and fauna checklist of the property…
  • several bloggers we have met, and some we haven't are wintering here!2013-01-21 Rockport Port A 037… we hope to reconnect with as many of them as we can and meet as many new future friends as well.
  • eat some fresh seafood… whether it is a fish I catch or the catch of the day at the boat dock, Sharon is on a mission to find good shrimp or oyster po'boy sandwich.

There are other things we plan to do but sometimes it is also nice to simply relax and do nothing!… thankfully we have gotten off to a a good start since the weather here has been fantastic and has us jumping with joy like the White Pelican in this picture…

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Copano Bay RV Resort, Rockport, TX…

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Copano Bay Resort DockSunday we left Mission, Texas and drove a little over 100 miles for a planned stop in the city of Kingsville, Texas. Why Kingsville? It turns out an old college classmate of mine from when I was majoring in Wildlife and Fisheries Science at Texas A&M University is now a professor at Texas A&M University-Kingsville. He is a very prominent researcher who probably knows more about ocelots and jaguarondi in Texas than anyone else in the world.

Cpano Bay RV Resort 012We got to Kingsville near noon and my friend Mike promised us breakfast tacos if we showed up at his house for lunch. It was as if time had stood still upon seeing him! We reconnected and shared war stories, past and present. It was a real treat to meet his newly graduated college-aged daughter (geeesh where did the time go?) and visit with his wife once again. That two hours flew by and sadly it was time for us to hit the road so we could make it to Rockport before dusk…

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Cpano Bay RV Resort 010Another hour plus up the road we pulled into Copano Bay RV Resort where we will stay until February 19th. I was a bit reluctant in booking this place because it had been previously owned (with a different name) and had some fairly negative reviews. As a result I had lowered my expectations which was probably a good thing since this is not a “resort.” It is however, inexpensive ($300 per month plus 21.50 for cable TV) and it is a nice enough spot for us to spend a month enjoying this part of the central Texas coast.

The park definitely shows signs of its age as it has had a rough life along this windy and salty part of the Texas coast. The sites are tight but not really any tighter than those we experienced in Florida. It seems the closer to water the RV park is, the tighter Cpano Bay RV Resort 016the sites become.. just the price one pays to be near the ocean. It seems to be a friendly park so we look forward to hopefully meeting some new friends here as well.

One of the best things I have found in the park is a pier perched over a large salt lake on the bayside of Rockport. Because this dock faces to the west the sunsets and happy hour will go hand-in-hand. I plan to enjoy many sunsets at this park and the serenity they bring…

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Last days in the RGV–Rio Grande Valley…

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Retama Village and Santa Ana NWR 026Before leaving Retama Village and the RGV we had a couple of things we wanted to do before we left. One was to visit Santa Ana National WIldlife Refuge and the other was to take one last visit to Nuevo Progreso, Mexico with our RGV friends.

One morning we drove the 20-30 minute trip east to Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. Those of us with the National Park Pass are allowed in free otherwise there is a $3.00 vehicle parking fee charged. The first Sunday of each Retama Village and Santa Ana NWR 014month is also free and the hours are 8 am to 4 pm.

The refuge was established in 1943 for the protection of migratory birds however, it also is a refuge for butterflies and many other species not found anywhere else in the United States beyond deep South Texas. Seldom seen critters such as the endangered ocelot and the jaguarondi call this place home. There is are over 12 miles of trails through the vegetation typical of the south Texas RGV before it was clear cut and extensively farmed. There are a lot of wetlands since this area is managed (flooded) for waterfowl and as a result there are lots of ducks down here at this time of the year. We enjoyed strolling through the park observing the birds and butterflies through trails lined with Spanish moss draped trees.

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Next up was our last trip to Mexico, this time with our new friends that we made while wintering here in the RGV. With Darla, Bret, Randy and Holly in tow we headed to Nuevo Progreso to meet up with “Fester and CC” one more time. Needless to say we had a blast and enjoyed our last 1.50 Mexican beverages along with another fun lunch at a restaurant called Red Snapper. We won’t bore you with the details since I have blogged about Nuevo Progreso before but lets just say it is a fun and safe place Progreso et al 016to visit while down here in the RGV, just the diversion we needed.

Sunday morning finds us getting the motorhome ready for its northward trek as we will make our way some 200 miles north to Rockport Texas where we will stay at Copano Bay RV Resort, a place we will call home for one more winter month. There are quite a few bloggers wintering in this area that we surely plan to meet up with… always fun to meet new people and those we have crossed paths with before…

Friday, January 18, 2013

Retama Village, Mission, Tx…

Retama Village and Santa Ana NWR 001Our Tuesday morning move over to Retama Village started off a bit rocky. When we got the motorhome all ready to go I put the key into the ignition only to hear the telltale sound of an engine trying to start on a dead battery. Crappers! Well last time this happened I simply fired up the generator to charge the battery but that didn't work this time. As dead as the battery was it appeared this was perhaps going to take longer than we were allowed to stay in our site since someone else was due to arrive at noon right after we were to leave.

Retama Village and Santa Ana NWR 003Then I remembered a switch on the console labeled “Aux Start” which I thought might help my cause. Only problem was I had never used it before so I had to search the internet to find out how to use it. Now I know exactly what it does and how to use it. The Aux Start button uses the house batteries instead of the engine batteries to start the RV. To use it you simple hold the button down while simultaneously turning the key to start the engine. It worked like a charm… We have been on the road nearly two years and I am still learning new things about this rig.

Retama Village and Santa Ana NWR 007Well once we got settled in at our space at Retama Village we let the front office know we were available for the guided tour offered as part of our free stay.  Our guide was a developer/sales associate for the park named Eddie. Eddie was a nice and friendly fellow who originally hailed from Arkansas.Our tour began with the large,elegantly decorated clubhouse as well as the large outdoor grill and party plaza.  Next we saw the fabulous pool and hot tub, Adjacent to the pool we were shown the fitness room, craft room, laundry facility and mailboxes.  He then drove us around the development and described what the community had to offer.

Retama Village and Santa Ana NWR 009Retama Village is located within the 2,500-acre Bentsen Palm Development Master Planned Community in Mission, Texas. It is a member owned park but members are allowed to rent out their sites.  Some of the owners have their sites up for sale or have sold sites back to the community planners to sell. Also within the community are one and two bedroom stucco homes with large RV carports as well as conventional homes without the RV garages for those who have decided to give up RV’ing but still want to be around those who do. The pool, hot tub, fitness room and club house are all great facilities. Eddie graciously gave us a tour of his two bedroom home with the RV carport.

Retama Village and Santa Ana NWR 012The footprint of the home was about 1100 square feet and to us it looked huge. If nothing else we now know that we could easily live in a much smaller house than we once lived in. Eddie's tour was a very low key, low pressure tour and took less than an hour. We still don’t know what our future plans will be but can see ourselves in a setting similar to Retama Village. Now we are free to enjoy the five free nights that we have here. On Sunday we will head onward to Rockport, our next home for one month…

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Our last day at Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort

01-11-2013 Progresso Mexico 00601-11-2013 Progresso Mexico 004Tuesday was our last day at Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort and with it came our last sunrise. It is hard to believe we have been here for two months… When we first arrived here in Mission we were pretty excited to experience the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. It didn’t take long for us to think we had made a big mistake considering our early experiences here at this park. But a short trip to our friend’s house in Laredo for Thanksgiving gave us a chance to put the chaos behind us and return with a better attitude thus enabling us to enjoy this park upon our return. Thanks again Beth and Eduardo for that opportunity…

01-11-2013 Progresso Mexico 005With that fresh start we have come to really appreciate our time here at the park. We have made several new friends here that we definitely hope to see again. So to those friends we met who live in the states of Wisconsin, Montana, Arkansas or New York we gave fair warning to look out… you never know when the Hinton’s will show up…

Just before our last day we went a short distance up the road to meet some fellow bloggers, Kevin and Evelyn, writers of the blog RV Khronicles of Kevelyn. Like us, they are fulltimers and loving the lifestyle.  It is always fun to share information with other fulltimers. A highlight was hearing about working at Amazon as work campers during the Christmas Season as they have done the past two years. They had a wealth of South Padre Birding Center 049information and although the work sounded intense the pay sure was pretty good for the 10 or so weeks put in.We feel it is always fun meeting bloggers…

Tuesday morning we moved less than a mile over to Retama Village, which is actually adjacent to the park we are leaving.  Retama Village is a park where there is a mix of lots owned and those rented out by owners.  There is also a section of  large high end RV houses with covered garages for the RV as well as a section of simpler houses for those who have decided to give up RV’ing. The entire village shares a fabulous South Padre Birding Center 044million dollar clubhouse.  Fortunately we heard there was a “Discover Retama” program for first time visitors where you can stay for free for 5 nights… yes that is FREE for five nights… So what the heck we decided to check out the RV park and its amenities since you never know where we will end up after RV’ing.

Despite the cold weather that settled into the Rio Grande Valley I even made one last afternoon trip to the hot tub… a place I visited regularly and will certainly miss. That evening on our last night at Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort we went to our last “Newbie” night where all the newbies (people who have never been here before this year) had a pot luck. After some good food and conversation we invited two couples over to the motorhome for some more adult beverages and lots of laughs…

Monday, January 14, 2013

Meeting Bloggers in Nuevo Progresso, Mexico…


Progreso MX with "CC and Fester"On our first trip to Nuevo Progreso, Mexico we went with a very nice couple from Rochester, NY whom we met here in the park. They were willing to have us tag along since we mentioned never having been and thought it would be best to go with someone who had experience traveling there already..

clip_image001After taking and passing our introductory course on Nuevo Progreso with Joan and Dave we felt comfortable enough to go on our own with our daughter Katie while she was down here in the Valley visiting during Christmas. We had a a blast showing her around town partaking in some of their $1.50 Bohemia and Corona cervezas. Katie picked up some vanilla, a kilo of fresh made corn tortillas and a bottle of Captain Morgan to take back with her for a housewarming celebration planned upon her return home to North Carolina.

Well since we had so much fun the first two times we went we figured we would probably go another time or two before leaving the Valley on January 20th. One morning I was reading blogs and came across “Fester and CC’s” blog,The Next Chapter" Rated RV-13. There was a post about how they frequent Progresso and I left a comment that next time they went to let us know and we would meet them there. After all it is always fun to meet other bloggers…

Progresso Mexico 025Well one day I get an email and “Fester” invited us to meet them this past Friday. We agreed to meet at the international bridge turnstiles at 10:45 am. We got to the bridge pretty much on time and had no problem noticing the smiling Fester and CC there waiting for us. As we made our introductions we found out Fester and “CC” actually have other names! Next we paid our 50 cents to cross the border and I still find it interesting that going into Mexico is as easy as paying 50 cents… I mean you don’t talk to anybody or anything, just simply walk on into town. It is not as quite as easy on the return into the USA.

We immediately went over to the El Disco Shopping Center where there is a small bar named Pancho's located near the front right hand side of the marketplace. We decided that it wasn’t too early to have a drink, after all it was 12:00 somewhere! So the first $1.50 Bohemia of the day for me was in the books… Now Fester and CC are Progreso regulars and as a result know a large contingent of other regulars. Thus, as soon as we sat down we were introduced to about 10 other RV’ers. Thinking this was going to be the group we would be joining we engaged in conversation only to find this group was leaving and we were actually waiting for others to join us.

After another Bohemia they arrived and new introductions were in order… As everyone chatted and learned of each other’s shopping desires in Mexico a plan was in place and our guide CC led the way. As we ambled into and out of one shop after another we learned about many of their preferred purveyors in town from imageFester and CC. Soon it was determined that before we had too many beverages we had better stop for lunch… so off we went to Garcia’s Restaurant, a nice somewhat upscale restaurant – I mean we even had cloth napkins! Sharon and I split a Mexican plate that was very good. Prices were about what you find in the USA but the unique ambiance and friendly staff were priceless. Lunch was about $11.00 including tip and we didn’t buy drinks since we were already carrying some with us when we arrived at the restaurant.

We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the streets of Mexico enjoying both adult beverages and adult conversation… although it may have digressed on a couple of occasions creating laughter and a true vacation atmosphere… Since it was nearing 5:00 pm we decided it best to leave so we paid our 25 cents to leave Mexico (yes it is cheaper to get out than to get in) and made our way through customs.

Another wonderful day was had as we not only enjoyed another day in Mexico but also the opportunity to meet new friends who showed us a great time… How much fun did we have? So much so that we plan to meet Fester and CC again next Friday before we depart the Rio Grand Valley and head to Rockport, Texas.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

South Padre Island Nature and Birding Center…

Roseate Spoonbill

South Padre Birding Center 106Here at the Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort there are organized bird watching tours every Thursday morning and this past Thursday the destination was the South Padre Island Nature and Birding Center. Basically anyone intersted in the tour signs up at the guest services office for the (free) trip and then caravans in their own transportation to the destination. From our park it is about a one hour and fifteen minute drive over to South Padre Island.

We all met at the front of the park and left by 7:30 a.m. (yes, that is extremely early for Sharon) and got to the facility just before it opened at 9:00 a.m. We rode with our friends Brett and Darla whom we met here at the park. The entry fee was $4.00 each for seniors. After paying there is access to their observation tower, the exhibits as well as the extensive boardwalks and trails.

South Padre Birding Center Coot

Gulf FritillaryThe South Padre Island Birding & Nature Center is at the southern tip of South Padre Island, which by the way is the world’s longest barrier island. South Padre Island is a rather thin and long island between the shallow Laguna Madre and the expansive Gulf of Mexico. The Center is near the convention center and encompasses about 50 acres of varied habitats from dune meadows, salt marshes,intertidal flats and even a fresh water habitat.

We spent several hours walking along the boardwalks observing the birds up very close and personal. There were even a couple of American Alligators and schools of mullet in the brackish and fresh water ponds.The birds in this park seem to be so at ease with people that they Mullet in tidal poolare not very skittish at all. They seemed to be carrying on with life as if we weren’t even there. This made it much easier to locate some of the more secretive birds as we were even able to see Clapper Rails and the American Bittern. I was even able to photograph both birds however, the Clapper Rail photo was only of its lower torso…

Great Blue HeronBlue Winged TealAmerican AlligatorCommon MoorhenAmerican Bittern

Sharon Bret and Darla

We enjoyed strolling along the 4800 feet of boardwalks as people shared their sightings while we shared ours thereby giving us the chance to see and identify most of the listed varieties of birds and butterflies. As we finished up our walk we went up the five story observation tower that offered some nice panoramic views of the Laguna Madre as well as the beaches and dunes of South Padre Island and the Gulf of Mexico. After our birding expedition we made our way back south on the island and stopped for a late lunch at Parrot Eye’s. They have a great lunch special there of delicious grilled jumbo shrimp for only $6.95. Some inexpensive draft beer selections along with some great conversation with Brett and Darla made our last trip to South Padre a really fun day…