January, 2020 – Houston, Texas

While this post is named Houston, our actual destination for the next two weeks is the small town south of Houston called Pearland.  Especially since it is on the south side of town, our drive was just about 1.5 hours from Galveston Island.  Nearly all of the trip was along I-45 so it was an easy trip and we arrived early in the afternoon.  We were staying at Pearwood RV Park, which is located about 5 miles off the interstate next to a small regional airport that was used primarily for helicopter training while we were there.  Every nice day had helicopters taking off and buzzing around the area.  Pearwood is a highly rated RV Park, of which it is well deserved.  They are in the process of opening up a new section to the park that will more than double its size.  However, it is still a work in progress as they are still completing the swimming pool, offices, and pond in the new section.  So there was mud and construction vehicles all around that area.  Assuming it will be similar to the landscaped pond in the old section, it is going to be very nice when they get done.  We were the very first guests to use our site in the new section and over the next two weeks, this new section nearly filled up with RVs.  They had recently laid in new sod, which looked great, but was very uneven and soupy with all the rain.  It stayed that way the entire time we were there.  I could certainly recommend this RV park in the future as it will eventually be very nice.  My only complaint is that I wished they had angled the sites more as it was nearly a 90 degree turn to back in.  Especially since there was deep mud on the other side of the road with the pond, it made it difficult to back in.  Thankfully, the road was two lanes and therefore wide and they provided a concrete area for an additional vehicle so at least the entry point into the site was wide as well.  I must be getting pretty good with backing up the RV as I was able to get it into the site in one try.  I did have to pull forward to the edge of the mud a couple of times to straighten out the approach since they did not angle it enough.

Our whole purpose with staying for two weeks here was to get new tires installed on the RV.  Before coming I had made an appointment with a local commercial tire place in Houston for first thing Tuesday morning.  Not knowing how long it would take to drive 15 miles into Houston, we decided to not unhook the RV from the truck.  This made for an interesting night with the RV at a definite angle, but we both managed to not roll out of bed during the night.  Early Tuesday morning, before the sun was up, we put in the slides and pulled the RV into the Houston traffic.  It was good that we left so early as it took nearly 45 minutes to make the 15 minute drive.  Initially we passed right by the shop as the only sign they had was for Cooper Tires and there was barely enough room to pull the trailer into the parking lot.  We pulled into a laundry parking lot a few blocks beyond it and called to get directions.  Sure enough, this tiny shop was our location to we got the RV turned around in the parking lot and headed back to pull in beside a another trailer.  Come to find out they had sold the tires they had for us to another customer on Monday, so there was a delay as they got another set from a tire dealer.  While this was going on, Kal and I went across the street to a local diner for breakfast.  After we ate, we found them busy installing our tires right there in the parking lot!! Obviously this shop was set up more to install tires along the side of a highway as we saw multiple trucks being dispatched as calls came in.  In any case, they did not take long to install a new set of tires.  I was surprised to find out they don’t balance trailer tires since the weight of the RV would keep the tires from wobbling anyway, or at least that was what they told me.  In any case, by midmorning we were done and on our way back to the RV Park.  When we pulled in, the Park Manager met us and offered to help us back the RV into the site.  I did not want to tell him that I did it myself with no problem the day before, but accept his help.  Following his directions I tried three times to back the RV into the site with no luck.  With many years experience driving a large rig, he offered to back it in for me and I let the “expert” take the wheel.  It took him another four attempts to back the RV in, once putting the RV tires into the grass where they promptly sunk in deep, nearly jackknifing the trailer trying to turn it too sharp, and finally putting the entire front end of the truck into the mud across the road before he got it safely into the site.  Frankly, I was glad to see all the problems.  I guess I am getting pretty good at this, at least with my RV and truck.  I know how fast the RV is going to turn and when to begin straightening out the truck to follow it into a site.

Over the next few days the weather was cloudy and cool, but no rain.  So I took advantage of the situation and cleaned the roof, the exterior of the RV and the truck.  We also did laundry and I cleaned the inside of the RV.  Sunday was Kal’s birthday so we did drive into a nearby Applebee’s for a steak lunch while we watched the Kansas City NFL playoff game.

Monday was Martin Luther Holiday so we headed south to the Lyndon B Johnson Space Center.  For anyone who remembers the Apollo Missions to the moon or the Space Shuttle, the Command Center at Houston is a big part of these memories.  Except for the launches and landings (or splashdowns) all of the TV came out of these Command Centers.  We expected to see mock ups of these Command Center, however, we saw a whole lot more than we anticipated.  The museum is a celebration of NASA and manned spaceflight from Mercury, through Apollo, to the Space Shuttle, Skylab, and the International Space Station and even exhibits about the future missions to Mars.  I did not realize there were 135 Space Shuttle Missions, but they had an entire wall of photographs of every astronaut team from Mercury to the present.  They also have a sample of the space suits and other memorabilia on display.  You can even touch a moon rock.  In any case, we spent so much time in the museum and eating lunch that we did not allow enough time for the tram rides.  They have two tram rides, each taking over an hour, and we only had time for one of them.  We choose to visit the training facility, so off we went on a chilly winter day around the many testing and storage buildings on the Center to their training facility where astronauts get familiar with full scale mock ups of their space vehicles.  Of course, now the mock ups are for future trips back to the moon in preparation for the Mars mission.  They also are testing out robots to be used on these missions.  The end of the tour is a stop at the last Apollo rocket that was scheduled to go to the moon before the program was canceled.  I have seen Apollo rockets before, but it was always from a distance with the rocket set vertically.  Here they have the rocket laid out on the ground and you get to walk around it, almost close enough to touch it.  You get a true measure of its enormous size!!  After the tram ride we headed outside to the Independence Space Shuttle that they have positioned on top of the modified 747 used to transport it.  You may not remember the Independence, I certainly didn’t, but it was the Space Shuttle they used to test landing procedures by launching it off the 747.  You get the opportunity to walk inside the Space Shuttle and get a feeling for the very cramped living space and huge cargo bay.  There are also exhibits within the 747 which has been totally stripped of everything inside except for a couple of seats!!  Without all the insulation it would get very cold inside before they launched the shuttle.  It was a full day of remembering our past in space flight and looking to the future, all without seeing a mock up of the Command Center as we had expected!

Tuesday was another nice day so we headed east to the San Jacinto Battle State Historic Site.  This is the site of the final and decisive battle for Texas Independence from Mexico.  Back in March of 1836, President Santa Anna, the dictator of Mexico, led a large army into Texas to put an end to the rebellion.  On March 6, 1836 the Alamo fell to Santa Anna and all the defenders were killed.  Santa Anna began moving east destroying everything in his path taking Goliad on March 27, again ordering all the surrendering Texans executed.  These two actions further enraged the Texans volunteers under the command of Sam Houston, especially since Houston refused to fight and retreated over 120 miles east away from the Mexican army.  He was labeled a coward by his men who began deserting reducing his army to about 800 from a high of over 1200.  Believing the revolution was nearly finished, Santa Anna began dividing his forces.  On April 14, the new Texan government escaped from New Washington to Galveston Island just as Santa Anna’s forces arrives.  He decides to quickly move north towards Lynchburg to cut off Houston who he believed was attempting to also escape to Galveston Island.  However, Houston had learned that the force moving against him was also about 900 soldiers and he finally had the conditions he was waiting for.  Therefore, he quickly moved east to Lynch’s Landing on Buffalo Bayou arriving on April 16 just ahead of Santa Anna.  Both forces made camp not 500 yards from each other.  Over night the Mexicans built defensive breastworks using anything they could lay their hands on and prepared to wait, especially since Houston had chosen a position he could not retreat from due to the bayou.  However, Santa Anna also chose a location for his camp that was not defensible with only limited lines for retreat on the backside of a small ridge between him and the Texans.  He also did not post sentries.  Early the next morning Santa Anna was reinforced with an additional 500 men, who were not only green recruits but had also been on the march for 24 hours.  He allowed them to sleep in the afternoon and everyone took a break.  However, Houston was not resting.  In the morning he sent his cavalry around the Mexicans to destroy the only bridge available for their retreat.  In the afternoon, he sent his cavalry around to the extreme left end of the Mexican camp and managed to move his two cannons to within 200 yards of the breastworks.  His men advanced quietly through the tall grass to within a few yards of the Mexicans.  At 4:30 the cannons opened fire and the men charged the barricades.  The Mexicans were caught completely by surprise, many of them either sleeping or taking baths.  The battle, if you can call it that, lasted 18 minutes before the Mexicans were in wild retreat into the marshes.  Yelling cries of “Remember the Alamo” or “Remember Goliad” the Texans killed any Mexican soldiers they could chase down.  In total they killed more Mexicans that died at the Alamo or Goliad combined while only 7 Texans died.  However, the true victory was that they captured Santa Anna himself.  There was still over 4000 Mexican soldiers in Texas.  However, they negotiated with Santa Anna who ordered all the soldiers to withdraw.  Thus, this one battle basically ended the Texas Revolution which became the Republic of Texas.

Today the battlefield is commemorated by a HUGE (567 feet) stone tower, which is the tallest stone monument in the world being 14 feet higher than the Washington Monument.  Just another example of how Texas always has the largest of everything :).  It is truly an impressive structure towering over the marshes of the battlefield and the Port of Houston with its huge refinery complexes.  Within the tower they have a great movie about the history of the revolution and San Jacinto Battle and some great exhibits of each time period from colonization through the World Wars.  There is also an elevator that carries you to an enclosed observation platform that provides stunning views in all directions.  Finally, there is a short driving tour, since the battlefield was so small, from the Texan camp next to the Houston Port where you can watch all manner of barges and ships, to the Mexican breastworks and marshes they attempted to escape into.

After eating lunch watching the barges we headed over to the USS Texas, the last surviving dreadnought class battleship from World War I.  While physically docked within the San Jacinto Battle State Historic Site, it is actually its own State Historic Site.  The Texas saw action during both world wars being decommissioned in 1948.  It functioned as an escort vessel early in World War II, but also participated in the North Africa landing and Normandy Invasion.  It was then transferred to the Pacific where it participated in the Battles of Iwo Jima and Okanawa.  I am sure it has a great story to tell, unfortunately, it is in the process of major repairs and was not open for visitors.  So we got a few pictures from the shore before heading back to the campground.

Wednesday and Thursday were stormy so we just stayed in the campground where I found time to begin getting caught up on this blog and making some reservations for February.  The weather was much nicer on Thursday so we headed south back to the coast to explore the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge.  This is a 14,000 acre refuge to protect fresh and salt water habitats for migratory waterfowl and neotropical birds.  They have miles of hiking trails, however, after slogging our way through the 0.6 mile Great Slough Trail near the Discovery Center we decided to stick to the roads.  We did see a number of waterfowl (ducks, egrets, heron, etc) along and in the Great Slough while we hiked.  However, the muddy sections of the trail was just too much.  However, we really enjoyed the 7 mile auto tour on the refuge.  On one side of the road would be a freshwater slough or lake and the other side would be salt marshes along the Intercoastal Waterway.  We did not see as many birds as we expected from the literature where the refuge is supposed to be “filled up” with geese, ducks, and other waterfowl.  Still it was a nice afternoon and we enjoyed the drive.

The weekend was again spent relaxing in the campground doing laundry and writing on this blog for a few hours.

January, 2020 – Galveston, Texas

On Monday we drove from Beaumont to our furthest southern point for this year, Galveston Island.  The drive was not very far, being less than 2 hours, however, most of the trip was navigating around the southern tip of Houston to get to Galveston.  The roads were all four lane ranging from I-10 to state highways through the huge refineries south of Houston.  Our location for the week was the 2,000 acre Galveston Island State Park.  Especially since the campgrounds near the beach are still being repaired following the many recent hurricanes to hit the island, there are only a few campsites on the bayside of the park.  There are two loops of campsites, the first without water hookup.  Therefore, our site was in the second loop which had both electric and water hookups.  Unfortunately, this meant there was a hike to the bathroom which was located on the other loop.  All of the 10 RV campsites are located around the outside of a circle with a pavilion in the center.  Each site is quite spacious with a picnic table.  Fire rings were also available but they were actually located across the road around the interior of the circle.  An interesting design, but likely meant to protect the campsites.  As I told William when we talked on Monday, there was nothing to stop the wind and we were fully exposed to any storms off of the Gulf.  This fact would become important later in the week.

Campsite

Since a front was predicted for later in the week, we took advantage of the fair weather on Tuesday to do some hiking in the state park.  They have a number of hiking trails on the bay side of the park.  As I mentioned, the ocean side of the park was closed for repairs so we could not access any of the beaches.  However, we enjoyed a short loop around some interior fresh water ponds near the park offices and a 2 mile loop through the wetlands overlooking the bay.  This loop included two viewing platforms that were elevated high enough to see quite far into the bay and the many islands along the shore.  The number of shore birds was incredible.  All of the paths are easy and we had a good time watching all of the birds.

Wednesday was also relatively nice, although cloudy and windy.  So we headed into Galveston to check out the Magic Carpet Miniature Golf course along Seawall Boulevard.  I was not very impressed with the course when we pulled up, as it looked to be very small.  However, I was completely wrong.  In this relatively small area they managed to pack in two 18 hole courses.  Especially since Kal won a free game on the last hole, we ended up playing both courses.  They were both a lot of fun with many interesting obstacles and challenges.  There were the usual moving objects blocking the pathway to the hole, but there were a number of interesting challenges that I have never seen before.  A couple of the holes had multiple fairway holes that would drop your ball in surprising places, one hole had a ramp that flipped the ball back towards you on a raised platform, and there were a number of holes that required you to hit the ball along a narrow ramp into the mouth of some creature.  I ended up begin very impressed with the course.

Since there was not really anything else to do on the island unless we wanted to head across the bay, so we just stayed in the campground on Thursday and Friday working on this blog and making reservations.  As predicted Friday the weather began to turn as the next front came our way.  The bad weather was forecast to hit over night and by 11 that evening the predicted storms were to be north of Houston and nothing severe in our area.  So we headed to bed.  Around 2 in the morning we were both woke up with the RV severely shaking with southwest winds off of the Gulf.  There was also a banging noise and upon looking out the window we saw the awning had broken lose from its ties.  A while back the motor on the awning had quit working and I had rolled out the awning to see what could be done.  A new motor and probably a new awning was going to be necessary, however, since we rarely used it we decided to wait getting it fixed.  I had disengaged the motor from the awning and had trouble getting the holes to line back up to reattach the motor.  So we had used some plastic zip-ties to secure the awning so it would not unroll on its own.  This had proved to be sufficient for traveling 65 miles on the highways with no problem.  However, the wind had now broken these ties and the awning was half unrolled and flapping frantically in the wind.  I found the wind was too strong to even open the door and I am not sure what I thought I would do if I got outside!!  The winds must have been at least tropical force and we had never seen anything like it.  After about 15 minutes of banging in the wind, the awning broke its supports near the door and flipped up over the roof of the RV and began banging on the other side of the RV.  Still, there was nothing we could do until morning.  For the better part of the next hour we paced and yelled at the storm in the RV and hoped it did not tear up our RV or flip it over.  Once the wind and torrential rains died down a bit I went back to bed to get what sleep I could and Kal spent the rest of the night in the recliner.  The next morning was still too windy with heavy gusts to even think about getting on top of the RV.  So we spent the day worrying about the damage and getting naps. By mid-morning the wind had died down enough to get on the roof and survey the damage.  To my surprise the awning had missed all the stuff on the roof.  It flipped up in between the two air conditioners missing the vents and TV antennae.  There was a couple of tears in the rubber at the edge of the roof.  A neighbor saw what had happened and offered the use of his ladder to get the awning down.  Taking out the bolts holding the other side of the awning took just a few minutes and we had it on the ground.  At this point a volunteer at the park drove by and offered to take the broken awning off our hands and dispose of it.  This was a big relief as it was certainly too large to put into their dumpster without cutting it up somehow.  Our neighbor also had some tape designed to repair rubber roof tears and kindly offered us the use of it, as well as, a tube of silicone to patch the holes where the awning attached.  However, it remained too windy for the rest of the day to patch the roof, so we decided to get some naps and wait until Sunday.  By Sunday the weather was calms and sunny, so I got up on the roof and got it patched.  The tape worked great and along with the silicone we got everything patched up and the holes filled.  I truly appreciate the assistance our neighbor provided and the state park volunteer who hauled off the broken awning.  We had survived a terrible storm with only minor damage to the RV and a broken awning they we rarely used anyway.  I hope we never spend another storm like that in the RV.  If we had known of the severe storm, either from the TV, sirens, or phone notices, we would NOT have been in the RV to start with.  This was certainly not an experience I want to ever repeat!!!