Our Trip to Self Isolation

Let’s finish this winter journey by saying the weather the last few days have almost been unbearable.  The temperature has been close to 30 degrees every day and the humidity is in the 90s. What little breeze we have had has been very welcome.  So it is time to head home.

Originally our plan was to leave South Padre Island at the end of March and then venture over to Big Bend National Park.  We were going to spend about one week exploring this area of Texas and the Rio Grand River, then ambling home from there, going through New Mexico and Colorado. With the current state of affairs with Covid-19, all the State Parks were closed so there wasn’t much use going home that way. Instead we extended our stay at South Padre Island another ten days. We left for home on April 9th. 

Day 1, April 9th 

We pulled out of our campsite about 8 am.  It was a beautiful day for a road trip, until we got to Austin. The truck was reporting a temperature of 33 degrees and then we drove through a rain storm.  In about 1/2 hour the temperature had dropped to 19. What a change in temperature. 

At about 5:30 we pulled into the highway rest stop just south of Belton Tx which is south of Waco. We are here for the night. After a quick supper we were in bed by 6:30. The bathrooms and exercise yard are both closed. You don’t often see truckers stretching on the exercise equipment but you do see them using the washrooms. I am not sure what they are supposed to do. 

As we closed down for the night, ready for a rest, we noticed that our water pump wasn’t working. I gave it a quick look over, there were no blown fuses and there was power at the switch. Further investigation will be required once we get home. It’s a minor inconvenience, but we can work around it.

Day 2, April 10th, Good Friday

We pulled out of the rest stop about 7:30, the temperature was reporting in at 14 degrees, the high was 19. A little bit cooler than yesterday but I’m still in my shorts. This morning, instead of waking up to the songs of the Great Tailed Grackle and the Northern Mockingbird we woke up to the sound of diesel engines on both sides of the RV. 

We also had a surprise this morning, the water pump magically started working. Not sure how or why but it will make things a lot easier. 

We broke out of Texas around lunch time. Imagine that, a day and a half to go through one state. Travelled through Oklahoma and then entered Kansas.  We pulled over into a Kansas Turnpike rest centre around 5 pm. Again a quick supper and we were in bed by 7:00. 

While driving north of Austin we commented that the highway guys should be out cutting the weeds in ditch. As we approached Temple and on into Waco we realized why the ditches weren’t mowed, the Blue Bonnets were in bloom. They really bring a splash of colour to otherwise green vegetation. Normally we see them south of Austin but not this year. As we travelled north, the ditches were first filled with Indian Blanket and then came the Blue Bonnets and then the Indian Paintbrush. It is nice to see the increase in colour in the ditch while we are watching the decrease in colour in the trees. Yesterday the trees were in full bloom, displaying their many colours. Today we see trees that are just starting to leaf out and then trees that are still in their winter sleep. 

I wonder what tomorrow will bring?

Day 3, April 11

Well we left or rest stop around 7:30 again and drove until 5:00. We hit 4 states today, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota. 

We are in farming country now. At the beginning of the day the crops were up. As we progressed north we could see the farmers out working their fields. at the end of the day the fields were untouched.  I think the farmers in Iowa had a meeting and today was the day they picked to burn their stubble. We must have driven through smoky skies for over 2 hours. It was terrible. 

The temperature fluctuated from 14 when we got going to a peak of 20. When we stopped the temperature had dropped to 12. 

While driving through Nebraska the radio station we were listening to was reporting a winter storm watch for tomorrow. You now, winter like conditions, strong winds, freezing rain, blowing snow. We weren’t sure of the area this was supposed to be affecting but as we drove the radio station signal got so weak we had to change stations.  Good, maybe we are out of the storm area, we thought.  Nope. As we entered South Dakota, we heard the same warning for tomorrow.

I guess we will wake up tomorrow and see if we are hitting the highway or staying put at this rest stop in Vermillion, South Dakota. 

It’s time for bed. I wonder if tonight I’ll finish the book I started 2 days ago?

Day 4, April 12

Let me tell you, I did finish my book last night. The bad guy got his just rewards but at the end the heroine was implicated in something bad. Just enough to get you hooked on the next book in the series.  Which I am reading right now and may finish tonight.

You see we are stuck in the rest stop in Vermillion.  Around 5:30 this morning it started to blow and rain. The rain quickly turned to snow and started collecting on the ground.  We checked the conditions around 9:00, the ground was white with snow, the wind was blowing fiercely from the north and visibility was greatly reduced.  We are here for the day, trying to stay warm. 

I went out to start the truck and put a little charge back into the RV and phone batteries, it was -3 degrees. I talked to a trucker that had driven in from the south, he said the roads were getting worse as headed north, oh joy.  He thought it would only last the day and that Monday would be better.  The worker at the rest station wasn’t sure of the weather forecast so he called his son in Sioux Falls. It seems this disturbance is only hitting South Dakota, North Dakota is fine, and with the weather model he was looking at, this should pass through tonight. 

As the day progressed the snow stopped and the wind subsided. The road here in the parking lot is all slushy from the truck traffic.  I am sure if things don’t change the highway crews will be out tonight and Interstate 29 will be fine in the morning, ready for us to continue our journey.

Now, back to my book.

Day 5, April 13, Easter Monday

What a day. We hit the road about 8 o’clock with a beautiful sunny day ahead of us.  The highway crews did a phenomenal  job clearing the highway.  It was perfectly dry, for an hour or two. While driving north we soon ran into “snow showers” as they called it on the radio.  Snow showers my eye. There were times we were in white out conditions but travel 2 or 3 minutes and you were back in the sunshine.  This went on most of the day. 

To makes things more exciting, there was a detour on Interstate 29. This took us into unfamiliar territory. It’s a good thing we had just fuelled up as there were no diesel pumps along this route.  As we travelled west and then north, parallel to the interstate, not knowing when we would be back to it, we thought we would be past our normal rest spot when we returned. To our surprise we weren’t, just a few miles north and we would be at our familiar rest spot on I-29 for the night.  To our surprise, 1/2 the rest stop parking lot was underwater. We suspected that this was the same water that had probably closed I-29. Now what to do?  The day was marching on and we needed to stop soon. 

We could either stop for fuel in Pembina, just south of the Canada/USA border and try and stay the night.  We could cross into Canada and get fuel in St Agatha Manitoba and see if they would let us park in their lot for the night or we could just drive until we hit Brandon Manitoba.  We know of a large fuel station there we could probably stay for the night. Oh the choices.

We ended up staying in Pembina at the TrackGas filling station/truck stop. Tomorrow we will cross back into Canada and progress as far as we can. We normally stop at the Manitoba/Saskatchewan tourist booth but we will probably get there too early in the day and will continue on into Saskatchewan. 

And yes I did finish book 2 in the Mason Black series. The bad guy from book one had a sister. She got what was coming to her and the detective (Mason Black) redeemed himself.  Spoiler alert, there was another hook at the end of this book to try and compel you to pick up the third book in the series. It did hook me and I am starting to read it tonight. 

Day 6, April 14

Well I have to say what a night. We were parked between 2 semi trailers in the TrackGas parking lot. The wind was howling down between us. There was no escaping it. With the furnace running non stop we could only reach 14 degrees which is a little chilly. Before we went to bed I opened up our last propane tank hoping it would last the night and wondered what we would do with one more night on the road with no propane. 

We awoke in the morning about 5:00 just shivering wondering what the heck. We quickly considered the situation and finally jumped out of bed around 6:00 and quickly put on as many clothes as we could find, just to try and get warm.  It looked like we had run out of propane.  Needless to say we sat in the truck while it warmed us up. Before we pulled down the road, I went and checked the stove.  Propane. Now why did the stove light but not the furnace? A problem for another day. 

A few minutes into our trip and we were talking to the less than pleasant CBSC Officer. She read us the riot act regarding self quarantine and that she should be the last person we talk to for the next 14 days. She explained the possible fines if we broke the law and even gave us a reminder sheet to study. She did however wish us a safe trip. 

We continued onto ring road around Winnipeg and fuelled up at Petro Canada in Brandon. Luckily I could pay at the pump because according to the CBSC Officer, I wasn’t suppose to talk to anyone.  We stopped for the night at the Flying J in Balgonie,  we filled up and parked and guess what, the furnace is now working.  Must be gremlins. Tomorrow we should be home by lunchtime to start day 2 of our self isolation. 

Day 7, April 15

The furnace kept us warm all night and in the morning we saw clear sunny skies. It was going to be a great day. 

 We backed into our driveway around lunchtime, happy to be home. We have always said it takes us 6 1/2 day to take this trip but here we were only 5 1/2 days in. Why a day shorter this time. Well I have to say that this was quite an enjoyable drive, well, as enjoyable as any 3500 km road trip can be. I think the enjoyment, or should I say the reduced stress, is a direct result of there being fewer vehicles on the road.  Certainly the semi trucks were out keeping the county running but there were noticeably fewer passenger vehicles. If you weren’t driving in or near a major city, the roads were almost abandoned. Certainly there were more passenger vehicles as you drove into and through cities but certainly not the volume we had experienced in previous years. This made it much less stressful as you negotiated the interchanges and construction detours.  One other interesting thing we noticed was the lack of vehicles in the commercial areas adjacent to the Interstate. Whole parking lots around restaurants, big box stores and casinos were empty. Almost like a ghost town, very interesting.

Well we are glad to be back home, waiting for the colours of spring to pop and getting back to my book. If you are interested, check out “Hush”, “Lady Luck”, or “Ruin” by Adam Nichols. 

That’s the end of this winter’s adventure and our trip to self isolation. I wonder what the next fourteen days will bring. Stay tuned to find out.

It’s Not All Doom And Gloom

Things are changing around here, almost daily. It seems there is a new shelter in place order, either by the State Governor or the County Judge every day. It is hard to keep track of what is allowed and what isn’t.  At one time you couldn’t gather with more that ten people. I think this is still the case. The city beach access points were open so you could still get onto the beach, they are now closed. The beach adjacent to the RV park is still open but only accessible to the people in the park. The park is closed except for those of us living here. The beach is still open but if you are on the beach you have to be moving. I was told you have to be recreating not relaxing.  So no beach chairs or umbrellas and there is no sitting on the boardwalk.  Again you must be moving, not relaxing.

Travel has been restricted to only what is necessary. Yesterday we went out for a pizza (pick-up only) and only saw 6 vehicles during our 15 minute drive.  Today, on our way back from Port Isabel, we were stopped by the police as we entered the island and were asked where we were staying.  I guess you need a reason to be on South Padre Island.

With all these restrictions and the negative news on the TV, I went out for a walk yesterday looking for cheery, normal things.  Something to, hopefully brighten your day and take your mind off of all the craziness.

Behind our camper is a vegetation buffer zone that consists mostly of prickly pear cactus and yucca plants.  While out trying to get a picture of a northern mockingbird I spied this little fellow.

Just behind the huge cactus he was perched on was a splash of colour hiding in the tall dead grass.

Keep in mind that we are in a drought situation here.  I believe they more than 2 inches behind in the average rainfall for this time of year.  Yet the plants are starting to wake up for the spring.

There are a lot of cactus here in the park as well as a lot of ground cover, especially over the dunes. Here are a few flowers I encountered on my walk.

The petals on the prickly pear cactus flower are soft and delicate. Almost like tissue paper.

It would be amazing to see this cactus in a few days when all the flowers have popped open.

A vine that covers the dunes.

Ground cover in the butterfly garden.

The monarch butterflies are on the move.

Another vine that covers the dunes.

From the boardwalk, the beach is almost empty.

Installed on the boardwalk are huge shade umbrellas. Perched on top is a Great-Tailed Grackle.

While walking out over the dunes I spied a rather large hole in the dune.  I suspected it was a Ghost Crab hole and decided to take a closer look. I could see some legs so I sat down to see what he was up to.  After about 30 minutes it was obvious he was house cleaning.

While I was waiting on the ghost crab I spied a small green plant behind his home. I never really took notice of it until I spied a butterfly flittering about.  This plant had very small white flowers.  Small, as in the size of the head of a pin.

Some of you may know that I am fascinated by the Great Blue Heron. They are such magnificent birds standing over 50 inches tall.  Here is a picture of the tracks they leave behind.

Great Blue Herron footprint, on the right. My shoe was added for a size reference.

More flowers that I encountered during my walk.

How delicate are those petals?

For the last month or so we have had the dredger “Columbia” working the Brazos Santiago Pass.  Taking sand from the bottom of the channel, I suppose to maintain its depth and then dumping it off shore near an artificial reef they are building.  It has been interesting to watch, but the constant drone of the machines can get a little tiring.

Here is the bulk carrier “Pacific Merit” turning the corner by the Boy Scouts camp.

When these ships are leaving or entering the channel, it’s always exciting to see the dolphins playing in the bow wave.

Often we will see a small boat racing out, or into the channel with the words “PILOT” written on the side.  This is the boat that taxis the harbour pilot either out to the ship that will soon be navigating the channel or back from a ship that has already gone through the channel.

Here you can see the accommodation ladder hanging down the side of the ship. Also notice there is another ladder hanging straight down to enable the Pilot access on and off the ship. A close look at the markings on the side of the ship reveals the bottom of this ladder is still about 8 metres above the water. Watch out for that first step!

The stern of these ships are very similar. There would be the operating bridge, the living quarters of the crew as well as the galley and recreation areas.  On the outside superstructure there is usually an orange object.  This is the ships life raft.  If needed the crew would pile in, strap themselves down.  Someone would pull the pin and this thing would jettison down the rails into the cold ocean.  Now that would be some kind of ride, don’t you think?

Here is a closer look at the stern of the Star Luster showing the orange life raft.

The Star Luster is classified as a general cargo ship.  As it passed by, going into Brownsville, it looked like it had the body sections for wind turbines .

I have almost run out of pictures and will leave you with a stray cat that adopted us back in November and has been hanging around ever since. She hangs out with us every day along with one of her siblings.

And I can’t leave without sharing with you another one of our wonderful sunsets.

As you can see, it’s not all doom and gloom.  There is some bright things to see and be thankful for.  We are all in this together so play safe, be smart, wash your hands, don’t touch your face and stay home. 😎


Covid-19 Update

Well things sure are a changin’.

We are winding down our winter stay here in Texas.  We have reservations at Isla Blanca Park until the end of March.  We then plan to leave and make our way over to Big Bend National Park.  It should take us about 2 days to get there and are planning on staying a week.  That should give us enough time to drive through the park, as well as visit the nearby Big Bend Ranch State Park.  From there we will make our way home, arriving sometime in the middle of April.  These two parks should allow us to see some interesting scenery as well as possibly take some star pictures in the dark sky.

Let’s turn off the blender and see what pours out.

I checked the other day and Big Bend National Park was closed.  I see today that the park gates and roads are open, so who knows what is going to be open at the end of the month.  I think it is safe to say we won’t be going to Big Bend this year. Of course we can always visit next November when we arrive in Texas or in April 2021 when we are on our way home.

Talking about safe.  I think we are in a very safe location as there has been NO confirmed cases of the virus in the Rio Grande Valley, even though it was reported today that a visitor to South Padre Island has tested positive after he got home to Michigan.

To keep us safe, Cameron County has closed the park.  No, they are not kicking us out, they just aren’t accepting any new visitors and you need a special tag for your vehicle window to show you are staying in the park. Without that tag you can’t get in. Those people in the area that might have purchased a monthly or yearly pass to the park will not be allowed access because they won’t have that special tag. So with limited access there are very few people enjoying the beach or fishing on the jetty.

The Governor has also declared a state of emergency.  Along with this declaration, right in the middle of Spring Break, there are many restrictions for the business’s on the island.  These are very similar to the restrictions imposed by Government of Saskatchewan. Some of the restrictions limit the size of gatherings, advise the recommended social distance, restaurant and bars are limited to 50% of their capacity, the beach access points are closed, no live or DJ entertainment and the dance floors are closed. If you have been here, you know that almost every bar, restaurant and coffee shop has live entertainment and dancing. These restrictions are really going to hit the economy hard here on the island.  Oh, and most of the spring break visitors, those pumping million of dollars into the island economy, have gone home as all their concerts have been cancelled.

We will stay safe as long is there is food and fuel available. I don’t think fuel is going to be a problem, but groceries, that’s another question. There is a grocery store on the island and it has been reported to be well stocked.  But you are paying island prices.  In Port Isabel there are two grocery stores, Walmart and HEB. On our last visit, both HEB and Walmart were sold out of toilet paper as well as hand sanitizer and most cleaning products. One of our neighbours was at Walmart today and reported that they were sold out of eggs and a lot of meat products but their fresh produce was fully stocked. We have to go into town tomorrow to pick up a few things so we will see what the shelves look like. I am sure this will pass as the supplies arrive and the hoarding  stop.  Really, how much toilet paper do you really need?

What is on the horizon for us?

Well we are here until the end of the month. At that time we will re-asses our situation. Right now the options that I see are start coming home right away or stay here (in the safe zone) for another week or two before we head north.

We should also be relatively safe on our way home as we are self contained and will only be in contact with other people at fuel stops. Crossing the border might also be interesting. I know there will be a few more hoops to jump through and if we are showing any symptoms we may be referred to medical attention on the Canadian side.  Besides that, once we get home, a fourteen day self isolation will be required.

Well that’s our situation, as it stands today.  I am sure things will change that will affect us, probably daily.  But for now we are acting smart and being responsible.

If you are interested in learning more about this virus, head on over to the World Health Organization.


Another Fish Story

A few days ago, six of our Winter Texan friends went deep sea fishing.  They had tried it last year, had a good time and wanted a repeat. They went out with the same charter company, that  sails out of Port Mansfield.  You can have a look at the map showing Port Mansfield here. Zoom in and out to get a feel for how far they are away from the south tip of the island.  Also have a look at how close they are to Corpus Christi.

The charter company sails out of Port Mansfield, through the slice of water that goes through the island (known as the Mansfield Cut) and travels almost to Corpus Christi before a fishing line gets wet. By the way, you can drive on the beach to the “cut”.  It is about 45 Kms north of beach access 5.

The fishermen/women spend about 2 hours underway before they get to the fishing hole. One of our friends described it as being blind folded and tied up in a washing machine. From the stories we were told I understand there was a bit of wave action. Not only when they were underway but also as the boat bobbed around while they were fishing. So much so, some of the participants had to stay inside the cabin. Others were compelled to hang their heads over the side of the boat to get a better look at the water (if you know what I mean). We all laughed about it later.

Well their adventure was a repeat.  The women in the group caught the most “keepers”, same as last year. Although this year the men did bring home one or two fish, unlike last year when they were skunked.

We were glad to hear they had a full day of fun and excitement and appreciated their invitation to dinner a few nights after their trip. Most of the restaurants on the island will cook your catch with you only having to buy your side dishes. So, like last year, twelve of us we headed out to Blackbeards and had a wonderful dinner of (mostly) Red Snapper prepared in a number of ways

Some of the stories told around the table may have been fish stories.  Most of them were funny.  But one thing I know for sure is the fish was very good, the friendship was excellent and the memories will live a long time.

Weather Report

Well the weather hasn’t changed much from our last post.  We have a few nice days, you know, the sun is shining, the wind is calm and short pants are the order of the day. Then we will get a cold north wind with temperatures dropping to near freezing at night.

Well yesterday was a little cool but the sun was out.  Around 10 PM the wind picked up.  Holy Smoke did it pick up, gusting to 45 MPH. Prior to this I had lowered my flag pole as I didn’t want to hear it creaking all night long and didn’t want to damage my windsock.  Let me tell you the RV rocked all night long with the wind gusts.

In the morning the sun was up, but the wind was still here, unlike my windsock that had escaped from the confines of my flagpole.  It ended up across the street in my neighbours yard. I will have to come up with a better way of keeping the flag pole and windsock together.

We went out to do some errands today and drove by the beach.  Let me tell you, with the wind, the ocean was angry, very angry.  When we returned I decided to walk out on the beach and see the power of the ocean as it crashed into the jetty.  I was surprised to see the surf was very high on the beach, almost reaching the dunes. There was not a lot of dry sand.

Here is a Great Blue Heron standing in the surf waiting for dinner to present its self. You can see the jetty in the background and if you look close near the top you can see the waves crashing on the jetty across the channel.

Here is a look down the jetty, toward the Gulf of Mexico. You can see the turbulence of the ocean as the water splashes over the rocks. The rocks that are normally dry and full of fisherman

I tried to take some video looking out over the jetty and onto the beach so you could see the power. Unfortunately the wind was blowing so fiercely that I couldn’t hold the camera still so there are no videos showing the rough side of the jetty.  However, I was able to capture the power of the water on the calm side of the jetty.  You can have a look here if you are interested. There were still people fishing.  Mind you, they were sitting back from the edge so they didn’t get wet.

Here is a video showing how the wind is moving the sand from the beach, over the jetty and into the Brazos Santiago Pass. These two videos were taken close to the red dot on the map.

As I walked through the parking lot used by the fishermen, I noticed this lone heron perched on top of a light pole. He looked a little disgusted about the wind. He might have been a little hungry too.

I am not sure if I mentioned before but a cat (actually 3 cats) have adopted us. We often find them laying on our deck chairs or sitting on our picnic table. This is what I found after my walk to the jetty. It probably doesn’t help that we are feeding them.

I think the weather for the next day or two will be similar except the wind will decrease and change direction and we will get a bit of a warm up. We are on our last month here on the island so are hoping for some GREAT weather.