Monday, December 21, 2015

Busy Times at our Winter Home in Texas

Foggy Sunrise Vista from our Back Yard

Roger here....   This is a long overdue post (our first since returning to our winter home in Mission, Texas).  We tend to follow routines during the winter months that would soon become uninteresting in a blog, due to repetitiveness. 

 Nonetheless, ping pong for Roger, genealogy for Dianne, happy hours with friends, daily morning 3-4 mile walks with our dogs, organizing the clubhouse library (Dianne), volunteering at a local pet rescue, doctor visits, bike rides, etc. do keep us quite busy.  That being said, we thought that a few of our activities might be of interest.

Colorful Green Jays at a feeder
BENTSEN RIO GRANDE VALLEY STATE PARK....  If you follow our blog, you know that we spend time here.  This year we started a Sunday morning ritual of taking long walks with the dogs in this nearby (walking distance) park. 

 This morning we walked 7.5 miles through the park and along the Rio Grande trail.  This trail was destroyed by flooding (due to a hurricane) a few years ago, but now has a new walking surface and some interesting views.

The plant life is slowly recovering from the flood waters that were several feet deep. It is sad, though, that there is not a single cactus along the trail where they were once abundant in both numbers and variety.  Most were much taller than Dianne (even taller than me :-).

Photo taken on the same trail in February 2010, before the hurricane and flood
A park ranger has told us that the sole remaining cactus in the park survived after being planted atop a tree by the birds before the flooding.   It is still there, high above the grassy brush.

NEW FURNITURE....  During last summer's travels we purchased some new furniture for our casita.  The side-by side recliners...

... and side tables are so comfortable.  They arrived a few weeks after our return.  Getting them out of the packing materials and in front of the TV took half a day (well worth it).  Dismantling the pallet and sawing it into pieces that fit into our garbage can took considerably more time.  Note to self --- no more deliveries on wooden pallets.

Our other furniture purchase  was an oak, mission style bench (additional seating for company).  We managed to lug this home from Northern Indiana in our motor home, moving it on and off the bed each time we broke camp.  After we put it in place, the cat quickly decided "to heck with company, they obviously bought this for me."  (Note the pet blanket that keeps cat hair off the seat cushion.)

BLOOD MOON PARTY...  Impromptu parties are the best.  We joined several of our neighbors in the middle of the street to watch the lunar eclipse and subsequent shadow that turned the silver moon into a red moon.  Too bad we did not have a camera capable of capturing that spectacular image.


Margaritas with Barb and Greg at El Disco (a wonderland of Mexican wares --- with a bar.

The Red Panty Bar.  Check out the guy with the new hat.
We spent a day in Nuevo Progreso, a Mexican Border Town, with good friends Barb and Greg.  Nuevo Progreso is an easy town to visit.  We parked on the Texas side and walked across the Rio Grande bridge to the center of this small Mexican town that is a magnet for winter Texans.  It is full of dental offices, pharmacies, locals peddling their wares, oh, and places to enjoy margaritas.  

VISITORS!...   That looks like my brother, Dick, and his wife, Pam, in the car behind the Retama Village gate.  Dick had a business meeting in San Antonio so he rented a car and made a four-hour drive straight south to visit us for a long weekend.  It is always good to spend time with my baby brother, my only sibling, and his sweet wife, Pam.

Dianne always prepares delicious meals when company arrives.  Check out these breakfast enchiladas.

There is more company to come.  Our Indiana camping buddies, Chuck and Cindy, will be spending a good amount of time with us in a couple of weeks.  Friends, Mike and Brenda, will be visiting for a few days in February.


Foreground ---  Rio Grande River.    Background --- burning sugar cane field
This weekly informal gathering takes place under a palapa (grass-roofed pavilion) next to the Rio Grande River.  It involves a group of neighborhood guys solving the problems (too many of them) of the world while consuming adult beverages. 

CHRISTMAS...  The village always looks great at Christmas-time.  The clubhouse is festive and individual homes with their bright lights are fun to walk by during our nightly walks with the dogs.  The lights above hang from the pergola over our patio in the back yard.

Our friend Marina made a perfect elf!
Christmas in the Village is an annual activity in which neighbors follow a tractor-drawn wagon full of carolers as they travel to selected homes for snacks and beverages.  This elf sought out individuals, giving Hershey Kisses to the good ones, and atomic fire bombs to the not-so-good.  (I am not telling which I received).  By the way --- I have a new favorite holiday drink --- creme de menthe and chocolate vodka in a glass coated with chocolate syrup.  Yum!

BIKING...  My major exercise routine (other than walking) is riding several miles on my bike. I used to swim laps, but a scary bout with skin cancer (now gone) prevents me from swimming in the bright Texas sunlight.  So after covering up with sunscreen and UPF clothing, biking has become my new way to stay fit.  I often ride in the state park, but I also enjoy ten-mile pedals along a canal and through the Texas scrub on a nearby bike trail.  

LANDSCAPING...  I have always enjoyed landscaping around the houses we have owned.  Our little casita is no exception.  The wooden gate in the back of this photo leads to a storage/utility area.  Our covered patio is to the left.  Originally, the gate opened onto mulch.  It did not work well because the mulch was usually too deep to fully open the gate.  Another problem was the traveling mulch that found its way onto the patio.  My solution was to cut the mulched planting area in half with a divider, and create a flagstone and river rock walking area.  I think it looks better, no more mulch on the patio, and the gate now opens.

Dianne and I planted a Mexican flame vine and two butterfly vines in the now narrower mulched area.  When we bought the butterfly vines we assumed they attracted butterflies.  As it turns out, the name comes from the seed pods that look like butterflies.

Bandido loves to intimidate the rabbits that goad him on the other side of the wire fence.  His lunges toward the fence were destroying a small cactus that Dianne planted.  The solution was adding more cactus both in the ground and in pots, creating a barrier to his attacks.  He can still get to the corner, but he has to run around the spiky plants.  It seems to be working.

Greg's Mist is an invasive plant that DOES attract hundred of butterflies.  We love watching the butterflies, but we do not enjoy having the plant invade other areas of the garden.  Soooo ...  I build a wall out of tumblestones to contain the area.  I jokingly refer to it as the Trump Wall; however, I have no hope of having Mexico pay for it :-).  Unfortunately, Tequila now thinks this is a great place to hunt for lizards.  

NEW NEIGHBORS... lots of them.  We are thoroughly enjoying our new next-door neighbors, Don and Sue.  It looks like our once lonely casita at the far end of Retama Village is soon-to-be full of other new neighbors, as well.  Lots of construction going on!
Our casita is at the far right of the picture.

SUNSETS....   This post started with a foggy sunrise.  Let's end it with a few of the jaw-dropping sunsets that we frequently see.  As Dianne will affirm (with rolled eyes), I do love taking pictures of sunsets.


Tradition requires that we end our posts with pictures of our furry kids.  First, a tug-o-war with a not-long-for-this-world new toy taking the place of the traditional rope.

Next, Tequila patiently waiting to lick the left-over yogurt from my breakfast dish.  Hard to resist those eyes. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Texas Rangers - Waco, Texas

Original Early Texas Ranger Badge, fashioned from a Mexican Coin

Roger here....  We are truly on a fast track (for us) on the way back to our winter home in Mission, Texas. 

 Our typical routine on travel days is to rise when the sun wakes us up.  Drink coffee.  Spend a little time on the computer.  Eat breakfast (usually yogurt and blueberries).  Take the dogs on a walk. Get the motor home ready to drive.  And drive.

Some people like to drive for the entire day.  We prefer to drive less than four hours so we can enjoy the rest of the day.  This may not be everyone's preference, but it works well for us.  That being said, it takes more days of driving when we travel longer distances.

When we left central Arkansas, we knew it would involve several days of driving to get to our home at Retama Village (most of it in the state of Texas).  

Texas Ranger Statue
Waco, Texas was a half-way point and had two museums that we wanted to visit (the Dr Pepper Museum --- Dianne's choice --- and the Texas Ranger Museum).  We decided to spend two nights at an Army Corps of Engineers Campground on Waco Lake to break up the trip a bit, and to allow adequate time for both museum visits.  

Unfortunately for Dianne, the Dr Pepper Museum was closed on Mondays, but we had a very interesting visit at the Texas Ranger Museum.  I will let Dianne take it from here.

Dianne here:  Roger always has me write the museum entries, because I love museums!   I'll post some of the items that caught my eye, along with descriptive captions.

All the flags which have flown over Texas 
Spain, France, Mexico, Republic of Texas (still the Texas State Flag), Confederate States of America, and USA.

Map of Spanish Tejas, showing major Indian tribes

Early guns used by Texas Rangers
Guns pretty much bore me, but these examples of the very early ones were interesting.  

At 11:00 we went into the theater to watch a very interesting video about the history of the Texas Rangers.   It explained that the very first Texas Rangers used whatever guns they had brought with them from Kentucky or wherever else they had once lived.   These didn't hold up well in fights against the Indians, because they were single shot and took up to a minute and a half to reload, while the Indians could shoot off several arrows during that much time.  The colt repeater evened the fight, especially if the ranger carried two of them.  If you are into guns, there were LOTS and LOTS of gun displays.   The only thing I found interesting were the guns you could lift and hold, showing just how heavy they were -- up to five pounds!

Entrance to one of the display rooms
After entering the room above, we saw several posters and displays of Texas Rangers through the years in film and on TV.   One of my favorite TV shows as a kid was the Lone Ranger...

Other TV shows based upon Texas Rangers include "Laredo" and "Walker, Texas Ranger."
My favorite mini-series was also based upon two retired Texas Rangers.   I've watched "Lonesome Dove" and read the book twice each.

Other displays showed the clothing worn by Rangers over the years, and saddles and other items.

One thing we learned during the video was that it was the Texas Rangers who finally took down Bonnie and Clyde in the 1930s.   Here's an oil painting which depicts the final ambush:

The video we watched showed actual photographs taken at the scene of the takedown, with Bonnie and Clyde still inside the car.

We spent a good two hours in the museum -- money well spent to view this interesting aspect of Texas history.  Someday I still hope to also see the Dr Pepper museum!    Back to Roger....

Roger here...  Waco is the home of Baylor University.  I love college football and have come to appreciate the football programs at Baylor (and Texas Christian).  Don't misunderstand, Purdue is still my team during good years and bad years, and always will be.  The Big Ten is still my favorite conference.  However, since I am enjoying Texas football, it was cool to see McLane Stadium in the distance.  

Wandering around a museum can build an appetite. As we left the museum, the museum greeter highly recommended the Brazos Bar and Bistro in the Indigo Hotel for lunch.  

Chicken-black bean nachos
We are so glad that we took her advice!  Dianne had chicken-black bean nachos (picture to the right).  I had the stuffed avocado in the photo below.  We both agreed that it may well have been the best restaurant meal we have had since leaving Texas last May.  It was so good, that each of us gained a pound :-(.  Back to smoothies for lunch for a while.  

Stuffed Avocado

One last welcome back to Texas story...   On the way back to the motor home we stopped by our favorite Texas grocery store, 
H-E-B.  We stopped to get a few groceries to get us back to our home in Mission.  I also bought an insulated Baylor Bears cup in the "Gear Store."  It will be perfect for cool drinks on the warm Rio Grande Valley days to come.

I am writing this from an RV park on the south side of San Antonio.  We will drive home tomorrow.  

We will continue to post occasionally from Retama Village (if there is anything to write about), but not very frequently.  We do plan to take a few shorter trips this winter that might be of interest.  We'll pick back up next April or May when we once again hit the road.

Dianne again:   One of the things we'll be doing when we're at home again is volunteering to walk the dogs at Cinderella Pet Rescue two mornings a week.  The pet photo of the day is not our dogs, but the newest additions who were picked up in Mission, Texas this past week as strays.  I consider all the dogs at Cinderella "my" dogs too!  These two were skinny and malnourished (as you can tell from the photo).   Now they're at Cinderella, being well fed and protected, and will have a chance at a new life with a loving forever home. 

 In the photo below they've been fed and had their bath, probably their first bath ever.   Their new names are Sunbeam and Moonbeam.   I can't wait to meet them and become one of their walking pals!   Let's hope they both find awesome families to love them forever.  
Sibling Cuddle Time after their First-Ever bath

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Lake Ouachita State Park --- Another Arkansas Stunner

Lake Ouachita taken from Point 50 on the Caddo Bend Trail

Roger here...  One last hurrah in Arkansas before we cross the border into Texas.  We honestly thought that no other place in Arkansas could compete with Petit Jean State Park, but Lake Ouachita does ---for different reasons.  Petit Jean has multiple amazing hiking trails and views.  Lake Ouachita (pronounced Wash-a-taw) has water activities (kayaking for me) and one great trail with stunning views.  

 Both parks have spacious and  amazing full-hook-up campsites with scenic and tranquil views.  Enough of the comparisons.  Our sitting view at Lake Ouachita is a separate graveled area that overlooks the forest and an arm of Lake Ouachita visible below.  We spent all of our campground time (other than sleeping) in those chairs.  Well, we did a little sleeping in the chairs, too.

So Peaceful!

On our first night, we passed the walk-in tent sites  during our evening walk.  What views they have, plus they have access to the lake.  There is also a secluded boat ramp (separate from the marina) in the camping area.  

Area B sites right on the water
It rained during our first full day, but the rain brought a drop in the temperatures and humidity.  By the time morning arrived, the weather was perfect.  Time to get busy.  We decided to leash up the dogs and explore the state park. 

 At our first stop (down the road via a hiking trail and sidewalk) we found a different camping area.  We are in Area A.  Area B has recently been upgraded to include full-hook-up sites.  They look pretty good. We made note of our "favorite" sites in Area B for a return visit.  As we passed Area C we saw that it was under reconstruction and was closed during our visit. They were adding full hookups to that area as well.  

Further down the sidewalk we walked by the rentable cabins.  They are actually modern, two-story apartments with every amenity...

... even satellite TV.  One of the cabins is handicapped-accessible.  All of them have decks in the back with scenic views of the lake.  This would be a great park for RVers to spend time with their non-RVing friends.  

Check out the space behind  the units.

Decks overlooking the lake

On our walk to see the swimming beach, we stopped at the Three Sisters' Springs.  These historic springs (three of them) claim to cure a number of ailments, dependent upon which spring you decide to bathe in.  

Each of the springs has its own list of curable health issues.  I do not know if they are truly effective, but I put my right hand in one of the springs, and it seems much healthier than my left hand.  Creepy.

The Three Streams 

The swimming beach was just past the springs.  Quite the scenic place for a swim!  The water temperature was 82 degrees on this day.  Not bad.  By the way, as with most beaches (except in Oregon) dogs are not allowed on the beach, so we stayed on the pavement.  They were not happy.  They got over it.  The view from the beach was spectacular:

It was steeper than it looks in this photo -- D.
A little side story....  Dianne does sometimes whine during the less-than-pleasant  aspects of some of our longer walks.  Could be the humidity, too many people, too hot, too cold, too semi-warm, too semi-cool, too clammy, and TOO STEEP.  The walk down to the springs and the beach was TOO STEEP.  I told her to "get over it," but she had the last laugh.

We trudged all the way back up the hill.  We walked 20 yards and paused to catch our breath.  Dianne said "I think I left my water bottle back at the springs."  I then used my late mom's favorite expression, "You gotta be kiddin'!"   Dianne offered to go back down the hill, full well knowing that I would not let her.  So down I went.

Found it!  Up, up, up again.

On my way

I'll carry it in my water sling for the rest of the walk, dear.

Dianne here:  I have to relate a story from our dating years.  I lived and worked about an hour and fifteen minutes from Roger's parents' home in Pendleton, Indiana.  One afternoon he drove an hour+ to pick me up to take me home for dinner with his family.   Later that evening he drove me the hour+ back to my apartment in Frankfort, Indiana.   As I got out of the car to go in, I realized I had left my purse and my keys at his parents' house!   There was nothing to do but drive me an hour+ back to get the purse, then drive the hour+ back to my apartment to take me home, then he had to drive another hour+ back to Pendleton, by this time after midnight.   He handled this with such grace and chivalry that I knew then and there that he was a "keeper"!   Now, that being said, after being married now for 43 years if I were to do that again I'm not sure his reaction would be quite so calm.  Back to Roger....

A few days prior to this walk, we watched a documentary about Lake Ouachita and its geology.    Many of the interesting rock formations along the lake consist of quartz-infused shale.  I noticed both kinds of rock during our walk.  As a former science teacher, I had to take a picture of this shale...

 ... and this quartz

Before returning to our campsite, we took a short walk along a forest loop.  A gentle walk in a sylvan setting.

Our morning exploratory walk with the dogs amounted to 4.5 miles altogether.  After lunch, Dianne enjoyed some quiet time in one of our comfortable outdoor chairs.  I was restless and in the mood to do something different.  I actually knew earlier in the day that I would probably be renting a kayak at the marina.

The rental fee was only $6/hour or $15 for the day.  Pretty reasonable.  Two hours would be about right for me.  The trip across the main channel of the lake was choppier and more challenging than I expected, but the muscle strain felt good, especially in the setting.

I paddled into a small cove (or so I thought) that the man at the marina suggested.  

I paddled toward an interesting looking rock formation at the back of the cove....

... and discovered a hidden waterway to the right.

I spent the majority of my time in the kayak exploring that waterway and its various offshoots. It was so tranquil.  I was totally alone.  Loved it.

Crystal Clear Water completely surrounded by Ouachita National Forest

I could have stayed in that cove for the rest of the day, but time was running out.  I snapped this picture of the Ouachita Mountains before paddling back into the main channel.

On the other side of the lake I found a break in the forest.  In 2011 an E-2 tornado rampaged through this area, felling most of the trees along its path.  This more open area is evidence of the forest recovering.  

People who know me can probably see me looking at my watch.  I don't like to be late.  It was time to paddle back to the marina.  I had just enough time.

When I returned, I found Dianne enjoying a sudoku and Tequila resting on her Coolaroo.

The next morning (our last day at Lake Ouachita) we packed snacks and tackled the Caddo Bend Trail.

The beige area on the map shows the tornado damage from 2011
The 4-mile trail skirts the perimeter of a scenic peninsula.  The trail was interesting.  The views were amazing.  Into the woods.....

Early in the hike we passed through the tornado damage from 2011.  It was easy to imagine the swath of destruction that passed across the peninsula and into the lake.

The glimpses of the lake and its many inlets were beautiful....

.... So was the small flower that Dianne carefully photographed.

The view at the Point 50 observation deck was indescribable.

 Photos from the last two miles of the hike....

Nothing like some fungi to wrap up the hike :-)

After lunch we drove to an RV park near Hot Springs to spend a little time with our friends from Retama Village, Eddie and Mary Catherine.  They were in Hot Springs to see their new great-granddaughter.  They had just returned from a huge trip to Labrador, Newfoundland and the Maritime Provinces.  It was great to see them.  

Dianne again:  Eddie, being an Arkansan through and through, explained a few puzzlements we had about his state:

1.  How in the world does Arkansas have such awesome state parks and keep them so up-to-date?
Eddie explained that years ago the Arkansas legislature passed a quarter-cent sales tax dedicated to tourism and the state park system.  I will tell you that Arkansas state parks put most others to shame.  We will definitely go back again and again, and plan to try to visit them all.

2.  Why are there no mosquitos at Lake Ouachita?
Eddie explained that the shale drains so well that there is no breeding ground for them.   We were never bothered by mosquitos while there, even in the evening and early morning.  Back to Roger....

We will see Eddie and Mary Catherine again soon  in south Texas.   

The next blogs will be from Texas.  Passing into the state at Texarkana is the half-way point (distance-wise) of our trip.

The pet pictures of the day....

Hey Bandido, why did you tangle this stick with your dog tie-out?

Oh.  OK.  You figured out how to play tug without involving us.