Sunday, February 28, 2021

Surviving the Big Freeze in Texas (Part 2)…


The epic 2021 Texas cold front swept down to us in South Padre Island. With the power suddenly going out we thought, no problem, we will fire up the generator to keep warm. Well the generator wouldn’t start because the cold temperature had apparently killed our batteries. The realization came we were going to have to endure a cold night since it didn’t look like the power would be turned back on anytime soon.

The next morning we woke up to a VERY cold interior so we hopped in the car to get warm and to make a mad dash over to Harlingen Texas to purchase the last two Duracell 12 volt batteries for our coach’s chassis along with 2 Duracell 6 volt golf cart batteries to replace our house batteries.

No photo description available.

With temperatures now in the upper 20’s outside and the winds blowing around 30 miles per hour South Texas no longer resembled the warm and cozy winter retreat we had envisioned. We hurried back to the RV park and I went outside to install the new batteries. I could only attempt a little work before my hands and face got numb so I would have to jump back into the car with Sharon to warm up by getting out of the wind.

While installing the batteries I did get a hefty spark when a negative cable inadvertently touched a positive terminal. Startling to say the least. After about thirty minutes the batteries were installed and I came back inside to see if we were had power now. As I checked out our inverter I noticed  we were unable to invert DC power into AC, Crap…


It appeared the inverter was not charging or inverting. We now had batteries but no inverter to assist our power needs. At least the house batteries were new so we would be able to turn on a little propane heat before they discharged. Finding some good winter clothes and all the blankets we own, we managed to live through another night with no power.

We were getting a little trickle of solar power on the following cloudy days to provide us a little heat before the batteries would get so low I would turn it off. With not enough power to start the generator we had yet ANOTHER cold night. The next morning the inside of the RV was 41 degrees. We had now been without power for 48 hours.


Things couldn’t be worse… Could they? Well, you might be wondering why we simply didn’t start the RV motor and use it to charge the batteries. Well, guess what? Even with the new batteries the RV wouldn’t start. I would turn the key and got nothing… not a click, not a grunt…. not anything. It simply would not start.

As I said in our part one blog about this bitter cold event, it would be many days before the power would be restored. On a freezing cold day after 72 hours with no power I called Xantrex and troubleshot our inverter only to discover that the inverter was toast. We obviously would need a replacement. No problem as I assumed I would be able to overnight one and install it the next day.


In the meantime I found a Freightliner Mechanic who would come to our dead RV and try to figure out what was wrong with it. So here we are with no power, no water, a dead inverter and an RV that won’t start. Are we having fun yet?

NOTE:  We are currently in South Padre Island in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas until March 8th…   

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Surviving the Big Freeze in Texas (Part 1)…


We knew that south Texas would occasionally get a cold front that would dip way down to the southern tip and into Mexico so we were expecting a few cold days during our stay here. We got way more than we bargained for…

We have been on the road nearly 10 years and have only experienced one day with a temperature below 32 degrees when it hit 31 one morning while we were leaving the Florida panhandle in March. We hoped to never see another day below freezing. Well that worked out pretty well until this winter.


A polar vortex from the north pole broke off and headed south bringing with it sub-freezing temperatures to many folks including everyone in Texas. It was reported this was the only time in history that all the counties in Texas were under a winter storm advisory at the same time.

I’m sure many of you who reside in northern regions of the USA would scoff at the Texans and what they call cold, Well, we too, have lived in colder states in our lives and I will tell you this was a real winter storm. Wind chills well below zero reached deep into southern Texas and our son in San Antonio got about 6 inches of snow and lows in the teens.

What about us here in South Padre Island? Our low dipped down to 25 degree F. Maybe not cold to Wisconsinites or North Dakotans but with added winds blowing steady at 30 to 35 mph it made for a frosty week. As Texans endured this frigid weather they overloaded the electrical grid and our power went out at 2:00 am one night for about an hour and a half.


I got up and tried to fire up the generator only to discover my batteries were low (they were due for replacement).. As a result I had to fire up the diesel engine to charge the batteries enough to fire up the generator! Once the genny was going the gas heater came back on and started to warm us up.

I waited until the power came back on about 3:30 and went back to bed only to be awakened once again hearing beeps telling me the power was out again. A  few minutes before five with the inside temperature in the RV hovering in the 50’s I fired up the genny again. Little did we know then it would be many days before the power would be restored.


I the meantime we bundled up and let the heater do what it could to add incremental warmth to the inside of the RV. I also proactively turned on the faucets inside allowing water to drip once I realized the forecast low of 32 was going to be exceeded. We awoke to no water so I assumed they froze up anyhow…  It turned out water was out on South Padre Island as well. Sigh.

We found ourselves trying to stay warm, with no water in our RV waiting for the big thaw and praying for no damage left behind, It could be way worse as the sea turtles and brown pelicans were being rescued after suffering from temperature shock. Sadly I am sure many of the cacti and palm trees will be lost here in the park as well. To keep things as cheery as I could I posted pictures of birds from another of our excursions to the Laguna Madre Trail before the big freeze… 

NOTE:  We are currently in South Padre Island in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas until March 1st…   

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Hiking/Birding Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, TX


Looking for an outing away from the beach because it was foggy we decided to drive over to Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is 3.3 square miles of protected forest. It’s southern boundary is the Rio Grande river and it is surrounded by agricultural fields.


This particular type of vegetation found in south Texas has been decimated by conversion into agricultural use. They say 95 percent of this habitat is gone and  Santa Ana remains a small piece of what's left. Over 400 species of birds have been sighted inside and at least 450 species of plants grow here which are in kind  pollinated by half of all of North America’s butterfly species. Other rarities found only in this type of habitat include the endangered ocelots and, jaguarundis.


As we pulled into the parking lot we found a map of the trails in the park. With Covid the park was open but unmanned   We found the trailhead and set out into the fields of honey mesquite and acacia tangles. The park has several resacas ((remnants of pieces of the Rio Grande river that were cut off) Near the resacas are Rio Grande elm, live oaks and ash with the larger trees adorned in Spanish moss.


Texas Rose-bellied Lizards were abundant and we saw them skitter off the trail ahead as we walked.. We could hear the endemic Kiskadee Flycatchers and Green Jays. The resacas had a few pull outs for visitors to see birds along with a few bird blinds strategically placed.


Our hike took us to the Hawkwatch Tower first where we were hoping to see a Hook-billed Kite but didn’t. Next we wandered onto the Willow Lakes Trail and took the 1.6 mile loop around it. This trail featured a lot of open water as well as marshy wetlands and an open old growth oak forest.


We were fortunate to spot some interesting birds along the trail. We saw several Least Grebes and lots of different duck species. The highlight in the open water was seeing a pair of Cinnamon Teal moving quickly back into the Bulrushes to hide out of sight. I was able to snap one photo before they did so.


We lingered at the large bird blind on Willow Lake and spotted lots of Pintail Ducks, Mottled Ducks, American Coots and a pair of Ring-necked Ducks bathing in the waters. What a great little hike we found in this wildlife refuge. Sharon took one photo on the trail that looked as if it were a painting. We were certainly glad we made the trip especially since Delia’s Tamales was nearby where we dashed in to purchase some freshly made spicy pork tamales for dinner back at home. We chalked up another great day in South Texas, which has turned out to be a great winter stay.


NOTE:  We are currently in South Padre Island in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas until March 1st…   

Monday, February 8, 2021

Beaches and Birds in South Padre Island TX…


As we close in on the end of our three month stay here in South Padre Island we are really enjoying the fact that we can walk the beach everyday without having to drive anywhere. We can also see birds not seen anywhere else in the USA except right here where we are.


With Covid-19 still rearing its ugly head we have found beach combing and bird watching to be excellent diversions while the world is combating this nasty disease. Each morning we walk from our RV site to the beach to look at all the beautiful shells that wash up. While South Padre Island is known for its winds, the windier it is the better the shelling is.


In these tumultuous times walking along the beach is one of the most relaxing things we do. We so look forward to these walks that when it is a bit too chilly in the morning we take our walk in the afternoon. We have seen yellow sea whips, various jellyfish including Portuguese Man of Wars, starfish, dead puffers, various dead fish and even (sadly) a dead Green Sea Turtle. We have also been blessed to find several beautiful sundial shells which we have never seen anywhere but here on this beach.


Often after our beach walks we have a leisurely lunch then often we decide to venture out to birding areas nearby. Our favorite spot is the Laguna Nature Trail behind the town’s Convention Center. This short walk covers a lot of different vegetative types yielding a bounty of different bird species.


Our favorites we usually see are the Roseate Spoonbills, the Black Bellied Whistling Ducks, the Sora Rail and the Least Bittern. What we love most is that we never know what we will see and we do often see something new each time we go.


Birding in the Rio Grande Valley yields rarities and birds only seen in this part of the USA. Birds like the Kiskadee Flycatcher, Grey Hawk, Harris Hawk, Green Jay and the Olive Sparrow aren’t seen anywhere else in the USA except is deep south Texas making each outing a new adventure.


We can’t believe it is already February as we will be leaving on March first. We are certainly enjoying our winter stay here in the Rio Grande Valley a lot more than we expected… who knows…. we may return sooner than later!

NOTE:  We are currently in South Padre Island in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas until March 1st…