After a two and half month layover at Eagle Hammock RV Park, Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, GA we were once again on the move. Our wintering over location is Mission, TX.
Although we spent ten weeks in Southeast Georgia, our time there was in the not- too-exciting category. We were there primarily to get our annual doctor and dentist visits out of the way. We also took care of some more of our never used stuff that we didn’t need to be carrying around, paying to store or storing with friends. Of course we reconnected with many of our friends and had some wonderful times. With that in mind and with apologies to those we spent quality time with while in Georgia, I will pass over this period.
When we left Kings Bay, we wanted to stop and visit our friends Gidget and Chip Harman who are near full timers currently in the Destin/Eglin Air Force Base, Florida area. We stayed at the same campground the Harmans are in, Maxwell Air Force Base Family Camp at Lake Pippen Recreation Area. Don’t be confused, Maxwell Air Force Base is in fact in Alabama. However, this family camp located in Northwest Florida is operated by Maxwell Air Force Base. Chip, who has retired a couple of times now, is currently a contract instructor at the combined Explosive Ordinance School. Having spent his Navy career as an Explosive Ordinance Detachment Officer and a second career as an ROTC instructor, he is a perfect fit for the job. The fact that he loves blowing stuff up makes it a job he really likes getting out of bed to go to each day. By the way, the Harmans are the folks we spent the summer of 2007 camp hosting with at Eagle Hammock. We have remained close to them in thought if not in distance since going our separate ways following our tour together. They honored us earlier this fall with a visit with us while on their way to North Carolina from Florida. That was another memorable get together.
At any rate we timed our departure from Georgia so we could spend a few days with the Harmans before they left the area for the holidays. Of course being in the Destin area meant there would be some shopping involved in our visit. Connie, Gidget and I spent the better part of one day strolling around the outlet mall. The important thing to note about our day of shopping was the tremendous discounts being offered by most of the stores in the mall. I mean serious discounts. There were 70% discounts off of merchandise that had already been reduced 30%. One store had the normal outlet store discount plus 40% off plus 60% off that plus 10% for club members. For once I was just a little sorry we live in a motorhome as there were some wonderful items with my name on them but no place to store them in the coach. We did a good job of sticking to our budget and as importantly sticking to our confined storage space. There were some purchases made though.
The best part of my shopping experience was helping Gidget pick out a new computer and then getting to assist her in setting it up and personalizing it for her. She has been talking about getting a computer for herself for a couple of years now, so I was honored to be the trusted agent to guide her through the purchase. She really didn’t want Chip involved in the purchase as she wanted this machine to be hers and hers alone. I joked with her that I should password protect the start-up so Chip couldn’t get into it and mess with anything. We got a good chuckle over that, but in the end I left it open. I did persuade her to use many of the tools I use that hopefully will make her experience more enjoyable and safer. It was fun helping her get something new and gain some independence at the same time. I hope she enjoys her new computer. I must admit that she has not sent me any e-mails from her new account since leaving for North Carolina.
While we were camped at the Maxwell Air Force Base Family Camp at Lake Pippen Recreation Area we witnessed some gorgeous sunsets. I have included a couple of photos I took of one of those sunsets in the album that is linked to this article.
From the Destin area our next intermediate destination was Houston, Texas. To get to Houston we had to pass Gulfport, Mississippi. We had never been to Gulfport, so I planned the drive such that we could spend the night there. While I was on active duty and we were stationed in Italy, we had a wonderful young couple, Chris and Kim Redding, and their two cute children as neighbors. He was a brand new Chief Petty Officer in the Sea Bees. Now he is a seasoned Master Chief Petty Officer with something like 28 years of service and currently stationed at the home of the Sea Bees, Gulfport, Mississippi. So, naturally, we tried to make contact with them. Unfortunately we did not have contact information such as a telephone number until we got to Gulfport and a local phone book. When we tried to call we got voice mail. We didn’t get a return telephone call until we were getting ready to get underway the following morning. So, an opportunity missed. Connie did get an opportunity to catch up with Kim on all that is going on in the Redding family. This will be the first Christmas since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began that Chris will not be deployed to a war zone. We were sorry we could not get together, but it was good to talk to Kim just the same.
We also ran into a couple we had spent last winter in Arizona with. Like us, they were looking for a warmer place to spend this winter. They seemed to have found the place they wanted to be, as they had extended their stay in Gulfport for the season just before we arrived. We spent a little time catching up with them and as we were leaving for the evening, Bob reminded us to keep the awning tied down tight while in Mission as he remembered it as being a pretty windy place in the winter. I was not particularly happy to hear that. We will see. At any rate it was good to run into someone we know from somewhere else.
We eventually arrived in Houston where we had planned four nights so we could help our friends for a few days. Our friends Ron and Cathy Allen who we served with two times while Ron and I were on active duty are now living and working in Korea. Their daughter lives in the Houston area and has just moved into a new home with her twin daughters. Cathy and Ron are back in the country to help her get settled, visit other relatives and enjoy the holidays. We volunteered to assist in the settling process. That included moving a bunch of stuff from the garage to a storage unit a few miles away. Ron rented a truck and we spent one morning acting like twenty-something movers. We got the job done without breaking anything or getting anything really wet from the rain that started late in the unloading process. We felt good about that accomplishment. The next day was supposed to be spent on erecting one of those backyard swing, slide, climb- upon things. I cannot remember how many parts there were to this set, but there were nearly 1,000 screws and bolts to put it all together. Anyway, it was so cold and rainy that day, that Ron and I punted and worked on easy stuff inside the house instead. That meant we had the erector set from hell as a one day project our last full day in town. We got started fairly early in the morning and worked until it was too dark to make sense of what we were doing. We worked steadily and took only one break to drink coffee. Ron had to make a run to the hardware store as the kit did not include enough lag bolts of a specific length. While he was gone, I moved on through the next several steps, so no time was lost. At the end of the day we were only about two thirds of the way through the instruction book. Yes, I said book. I felt bad that we were unable to get it done before I left town, but at least we seemed to have gotten the worst of it out of the way. The base was complete including flooring and guard rails. The swing beam was fitted with the hardware and had only to be placed on the support beam on one side and on a yet to be constructed A-frame on the other end. The slide and some additional hardware would essentially complete the job. At least that was the way I saw it. Ron may have had a different vision once he got back to it the following day.
We really had a great time visiting with Ron and Cathy and starting to work on our plans to visit them in Korea next spring. We enjoyed being around their daughter Amanda and her two daughters Faith and Grace. Of course Connie loved seeing the two dogs, Maggie and Murphy.
Of course we found some wonderful restaurants to end our days with. A visit with the Allens would not be complete without great food being involved.
From Houston we drove to Corpus Christi where we stayed at Shields RV Park on Naval Air Station Corpus Christi. This is a wonderful RV park on a pretty darned good base. The park is on the coast giving us a wonderful view. In fact as I stepped out of the coach the first evening we were here I walked right into the moonrise of the century. When I opened the door the moon filled the gap. I quickly called Connie to see it and then got my camera to take some photos. The best of those are in the album linked to this article.
In addition to the great moonrise, this base also has a no kidding operational club. Following dinner our first night (Friday) we walked the 200 yards or so to the club and joined a growing group of folks in and out of uniform enjoying the camaraderie of force. The bar manager told us that the club has met all of its income goals for the past 15 years. He also let us know that the club offers breakfast, lunch and dinner five days a week, dinner on the sixth night and a brunch on Sundays. We took advantage of the brunch on Sunday. That was a treat as we usually eat a really light breakfast. We went early and would recommend that going a little later would probably result in a bit better experience. The staff was still setting up some thirty minutes into the hours of operation. The food was good, not great, but good. The price was right. I think what they are doing here is great for the families living on or near the base. There is truly something for everyone and every pay grade going on at this all hands club.
The only drawback to Corpus Christi was the wind. I don’t know if the wind we experienced are seasonal, related to a specific system in the area or what can be expected all the time. I can tell you that they drove me nuts.
We spent Saturday trying to bird up the coast at the Aransas Wildlife Refuge. The wind was just as bad up there as in Corpus. We were there to see what we could see, but we really wanted to see the Sandhill and Whooping Cranes. We finally saw a small group of Sandhill Cranes coming back to the refuge after a day of foraging elsewhere, so it was not a complete bust. There were other great sightings we had not counted on. We were watching a small group of Little Blue Herons with a Great Blue Heron and a White Ibis. They were feeding in an open area of the marsh. We had a rather obstructed view as the marsh grasses between them and us was much taller than the birds making it difficult to get really good looks at the birds. Suddenly there was a splash and all the Herons flew up and sort of hovered above where they had been feeding. As I watched the herons, Connie scanned the opposite shoreline and saw what had caused the commotion. A bobcat had snatched the Ibis and made a meal or at least a snack of him right in front of us. As we continued along the trail we spotted several alligators. We found that Texas alligators are much lighter in color than Florida alligators. They also seemed a bit more lethargic. That was fine with us as we passed one pair on our side of a small pond that were no more than ten feet from us as we walked passed. We also saw a mother gator with five little fellows soaking up what warmth the sun could give them with the wind as it was. Our list of critters continued to grow with the addition of a number of javelina, several deer and a young opossum. The birding wasn’t that bad either. We bagged some 34 species with a number that got away just because they were too far away to identify with the wind blowing us around like a couple of rag dolls. All in all it was a pretty darned good day. I took no photos as the light was as bad as the wind. I didn’t need a bunch of photos that were out of focus because the photographer couldn’t hold the camera still enough for the long exposure times required by the soft light conditions.
Our last day in the Corpus Christi area took us to North Padre Island with more birding in mind. However, the wind was just as bad there as anywhere else we had been in the area. The drive was pretty nice, but we had a pretty miserable time trying to find and identify birds.
We did do some driving around in the evenings while in the Corpus Christi area. We were usually looking for a place to eat. We saw a lot of really neat Christmas lights as we drove along. We made it a point to return just after dusk to one house that was wrapped in red lights. I got some great shots of this single tree. I hope you like them as much as we do.
To get to the Album associated with this article, simply click the link below. Use the slide show and set the time for at least 7 seconds so you have time to read the captions as well as look at the images.
Don’t forget to hit the back button on your browser to return to the blog.
The drive from Corpus Christi to Mission was about 190 miles. That should have been a no brainer, but we got to fight wind and eventually rain in order to get here. We got here safe and sound albeit a bit buffeted and covered with road grime from the rain. We are spending the winter at Bentsen Palms RV Resort. This place is located right outside the gate to Bentsen- Rio Grande State Park, one of the birdiest places in the valley. The resort even has a walk-through gate that connects the resort to the park’s parking lot.
The winter population in this resort is heavily loaded with Canadians. In fact we seem to be surrounded by them. Our immediate neighbors to the left are from British Columbia. The folks to the right are from Alberta, and the couple across the street is from Ontario. There is a couple close by from New York, but they have been coming here so long they are nearly Canadian. They certainly have an Ontario sort of accent. Most of the people we have met so far, and that is a lot of folks, have been coming here for several years. That speaks volumes for the management of this place. The resort is really well laid out and maintained. Even though the sites are fairly close together, you don’t get the feeling that you are packed in. I think that is because the property is laid out in a series of circles with pull though sites forming the rings and then back-in sites form a perimeter around the circles. The sites are concrete with grass strips between sites and bushes and flowers that separate the patios from the grass strips between the sites.
The resort sponsors a wide variety of activities from bird walks to bicycle trips, to margarita nights. There was a Christmas Eve social and of course a New Year’s Eve party. I managed to over indulge at New Year’s, but that is a story that need not be told. We felt a little behind the power curve as Christmas and New Years rolled around and we knew the names of so few of our neighbors. We arrived on December 16, making it a little tough to meet everyone. By the time Christmas rolled around last year we had been socializing with our fellow campers for well over a month and therefore knew them much better. Further complicating matters, due to the fact that most of the folks who are here are return visitors they already have relationships with most of the neighborhood. That said, we are getting to know a lot of people and we are having a great time doing it.
We were able to get ourselves signed up to participate in the Christmas Bird Count for the count circle that includes the state park. Connie and I had spent three or four days in the park getting familiar with the lay of the land and more importantly the hiding places for all the birds. When we were assigned to the internal trails of the park we were elated. That elation was short lived when we learned that another team would be on the actual roads leaving us the more quiet trails with few open areas and therefore few birds to find. We did get to go to the Hawk Tower which overlooks an ox-bow giving us the opportunity to count ducks and wading birds. It was a fun day, but for our team a not so productive day. The weather leading up to the count day had been just wonderful. On count day the skies were overcast and the wind was pretty bad (not bad enough to bring in the awning, but bad enough to keep many birds down). Since we were in the park in the late afternoon when the local newspaper’s journalist arrived to cover the bird count we got to be the group that was interviewed. I say we, but in fact, Connie was the principle spokesperson for the group and she did a wonderful job of educating the young reporter on importance of the Christmas Bird Count as well as the industry of bird watching. Later a photographer came around and captured some images of us trying to find anything to count. It was really getting late when he showed up and there just were no birds moving. Anyway, the Sunday edition of “The Monitor”, the Mission daily newspaper, had Connie’s picture on the front page with a wonderful article and two more photos on page B1. The day ended with a pot luck dinner and the official count tally. For the day there were 171 species counted, which was pretty darned good given the weather. Our little group gathered some 56 species which was not great. We worked hard for nearly every bird that was not at the Hawk Tower.
I have not taken any photos since we got here, but I am sure that will change as we get more comfortable with our surroundings. So, standby for future posts.
Connie and I have sort of rededicated ourselves to our personal fitness. Connie found a gym where she is being doing aerobics and I have miles of roads and trails to run on. We have been doing the fitness thing on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. On most of the other days we have wound up waking five or more miles in pursuit of birds. If we can keep this up, we should be in pretty good shape when we leave here. Stay tuned.