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!!!

January, 2020 – Beaumont, Texas

The trip south from Jasper to Beaumont was short and easy as most of it was along 4 lane highways.  Our next destination was Gulf Coast RV Resort which is located along I-10 just west of Beaumont.  Thankfully, our GPS had us leave the Interstate and travel along a parallel county highway since the exit for the RV park was closed as they replace the bridge over the interstate.  While more expensive then we like to spend, Gulf Coast RV Resort was a beautiful RV Resort.  It had all the amenities you could ask for including a free breakfast of hot waffles or biscuit and gravy.  This was a little much and unexpected.  We only took advantage of this once during the week preferring to eat breakfast in our RV.  TV reception was excellent, which we preferred over their cable hookups.  Phone reception was also excellent so we had great internet access.  They have free WiFi, however it was not as good as our hotspot.  It was a nice change from the COE and state parks, however, we still prefer them.

Campsite

Tuesday was cool and sunny so we headed out to find some hiking opportunities.  We had moved from the north end of the Big Thicket National Preserve to the south end, so we headed back into the Big Thicket to do another couple of hikes.  The Pitcher Plant Trail and the Sundew Trail are both about a mile in length and easy trails through a savannah and pitcher plant bogs.  While we saw a few pitcher plants on the Sundew Trail, it was the Pitcher Plant Trail that had the most remnants of pitcher plants.  In January, it can be difficult to pick out the dried up pitcher plants, however, it was obvious the trail went through a bog that would have thousands of plants during the summer.  While we could only imagine what it would be like during the summer, the mosquitoes and other bugs were at a minimum, which was great.  We had two nice, easy walks on a beautiful winter day.

Wednesday was New Years, which would have passed unnoticed, except we traveled into Buffalo Wild Wings to watch Auburn get embarrassed by Minnesota.  Once again it was obvious their season was over after they upset Alabama in the Iron Bowl.  Their offense never got going and even their defense was not up to par!  Still it was fun watching the game while eating a good lunch.

The weather on Thursday turned wet, so we headed east into Louisiana to check out the Delta Downs Racetrack and Casino just across the state line.  Delta Downs is a huge complex that includes not only a full racetrack and casino, but also a luxury hotel and many restaurants, grills, and bars.  We had a good afternoon and came out about normal for us.  By this I mean we lost about half of the money we started with.

Friday was spent doing laundry and cleaning.  On Saturday we headed into downtown Beaumont to explore the Texas Energy Museum.  We were surprised there were very few people at the museum, although I guess being so close to New Year could be the reason.  The Texas Energy Museum is a great museum and I would recommend putting it on your list of places to visit.  It is very logically organized beginning with the creation of oil during the early years of our planet.  This oil then slowly collects in pockets in the ground that can often be seen from surface features.  The museum then moves through the history of the oil boom in southeast Texas beginning with the Spindletop gusher in 1901.  You learn how oil is pumped out of the ground and how the drilling is done both on land and under the Gulf.  There are then models of refineries and detailed information about the many refining processes that leads to an amazing number of products, of which gasoline is only a small part of.  You learn how plastics are made from petroleum and other products.  It is an amazing display of information and we spent more than 2 hours in this relatively small museum.

Sunday was spent in the campground while I worked some on this blog.

December, 2019 – Jasper, Texas

Our trip back into Texas was not long, taking only about 2 hours, even though none of the trip was along interstates.  We traveled to the shore of Lake Sam Rayburn, which is the largest man made lake in Texas, to Twin Dikes Park.  This is another Corps of Engineers Campground and, like others, is very nicely laid out along the shore of a lake.  The sites are all large with paved RV pad.  In this case, many of the sites have full hookups, which is essential since we stayed for two weeks, and even had a cover over the picnic table.  This was very nice whenever the weather turned wet.  The only drawback to the campground was that the bathroom within easy walking distance, was closed for repairs.  So we had to drive to the other camping area to use the bathroom there.  Once again we had a long view over the lake and watch some truly spectacular sunsets over the next two weeks.

The main reason for camping in this area was to explore the Big Thicket National Preserve, however, we held off on this until Wednesday since Tuesday was cold and very windy.  After spending a day in the campground, we loaded up on Wednesday and drove south to the Visitor Center of the Big Thicket National Preserve.  As the name implies this National Park Service site is mostly a cooperative effort with other federal agencies (US Forest Service and US Fish and Wildlife Service), state parks, and private preserves to a very small part of the original Big Thicket region.  Due to a complex mosaic of soils and relatively flat terrain, the Big Thicket region of southeast Texas, is one of the most biologically diverse regions in the world.  There are at least 8 separate ecosystems ranging from dry savannas and longleaf pine stands through side slopes of mixed pine-hardwood thickets, to riparian zones along rivers and many cypress bogs.  Throughout this entire region there are miles of hiking trails and water courses that could be explored.  We found out a lot more information at the Visitor Center which has a number of nice exhibits about each of the ecosystems that make up the Big Thicket.  We opted to stay close to the Visitor Center and explored the plant communities on the Kirby Nature Trail.  This trail includes a number of interlocking loops that can be used to create hikes from 1.5 to 2.5 miles in length.  We did a number of the loops that added up to about 2 miles in length.  The trail was very easy as it meanders from a slope forest of longleaf and loblolly to a riparian zone along Village Creek.  There was also a side loop that descended into a cypress bog.  It was a nice walk on a cool, but calm and sunny, winter afternoon.

On Thursday I took care of another of the reasons for camping in the area and that was to take the truck into the Ford dealership in Jasper to get its first oil change.  While they were doing that they also took care of two recalls and checked out everything.  Friday was another cold day, so we decided to stay close and just drove into Jasper to check out the Jasper County Historical Museum on the courthouse square in the center of Jasper.  This is a small museum of only two rooms that was jam packed with historical artifacts from the county.  They obviously need to have a much larger space and, especially since they were in the process of reorganizing the exhibits, it was mostly a jumble of items.  We found a number of interesting items and learned the basic history of the county from the volunteer working at the museum.  We also ran into a local resident that is the nephew of E.V. Smith from Alabama.  Due to this he had a direct tie to Auburn and we enjoyed talking to him about his uncle and memories of Auburn.  All totaled we spent about two hours in the museum and then went to lunch at a local Mexican restaurant before heading back to the campground.

Saturday was spent doing laundry and cleaning the RV and on Sunday we got ready to travel back to Dallas for Christmas.  From Jasper we had just over a 4 hour drive back to Mark’s house in Frisco.  We got an early start to make yet another appointment with my dentist to once again adjust my new denture.  Hopefully, this will be the last adjustment.  I am hopeful since most of my problem was due to an infection that had set in due to a piece of a tooth that did not get removed.  Armed with some prescription mouthwash to deal with the infection, I am looking forward to begin finally able to eat a complete meal again.  Tuesday was Christmas Eve, and we spent the day with Mark and his family.  Christmas morning began with breakfast at the hotel where we ran into Phil and his family that had drove all the way from Birmingham on Christmas Eve.  We had a good time getting caught up before heading over to Mark for Christmas.  Unlike last year where Christmas was just us and Kal’s father, it was nice to have a house full of family including all ages from us to the very young.   After opening the presents the day became a time to visit and await a very fancy Christmas dinner.  We had not only ham, but also duck along with more side dishes then we could possibly consume, although we made a grand effort.  I ate what I could, which was unfortunately not as much as I would have like.  After dinner the kids took off to spend the evening out and we headed back to the hotel.

Thursday was spent traveling back to Jasper and Friday we just stayed and relaxed in the campground.  However, on Saturday we traveled north to Lufkin to check out the Texas Forestry Museum.  As a forester, this museum was a requirement.  However, I would recommend it to anyone who visits the area.  They do a very good job of telling the history of forest management practices, logging, and forest industry in the state.  As with the rest of the south, forestry began as a logging operation which increased in intensity as railroads transformed the transportation of logs out of the woods.  Forest industry began with small sawmills scattered throughout the region, beginning along rivers where logs were floated to the mill, to literally anywhere railroads could be used to congregate the harvest.  Today, as with the rest of the south, the main product is pulp and paper and the logging of smaller pine on logging trucks.  The museum does a very good job of telling this story including a detailed description of the pulp and paper process.  Outside they have a number of machines, including planters, skidders, harvesting machines, and even a logging train with loading crane.  This was something I had not seen outside of pictures.  There was even a short urban forestry trail where they identified all the trees along the trail.  There was even some surprises on the trail, for instance, a swamp sugar maple, that I never heard of.

Sunday was spent again in the campground before heading out on Monday for the coast.

December, 2019 – Natchitoches, Louisiana

When I started to make reservations for taking us south of Dallas, I noticed there was a National Park site in western Louisiana.  Especially since we had not spent much time in Louisiana south of I-20, it was not too surprising there was more to see in the state.  What did surprise me was the number of historical state parks in the same area around Natchitoches, Louisiana.  So we pulled the RV back out of Texas to Shreveport before heading south to Ajax County Livin’ RV Park north of Natchitoches.  The trip was easy as it was all along interstates with rest stops along the way.  We pulled into Country Livin’ early in the afternoon and had no problem getting set up on their pull through site.  All of the sites are grassy, which could be a problem after a heavy rain.  We had good TV reception and since we were less than a mile from the interstate the phone coverage was excellent.  Since we now have unlimited 4G access with my new IPad, I was able to stream both Mandalorian on our free year of Disney+ and Discovery on Jenny’s CBS Access.  We were also able to stream the Auburn basketball game using our new hotspot, so when we have good phone coverage there will be no limit to what we can stream.

After spending Tuesday doing laundry and cleaning, it was time to get out and explore the many historical locations.  Since our main reason for coming to Natchitoches was to explore the Cane River Creole National Historical Park, we headed south of Natchitoches to the location of two pre-Civil War plantations. Both Oakland and Magnolia Plantations began as land grants from the Spanish government in the late 1700s. Both families were long term Creole families, which only meant they were at least second generation colonists.  In this case they were both French, the Prud’hommes at Oakland and LeComte at Magnolia.  The cash crop at Oakland began with tobacco and indigo, but it was not until the early 1800s when they changed over to cotton that the plantation began to grow.  Magnolia was one of the first plantations in the area to grow cotton and soon increased in size and importance.  While the workforce was all enslaved people, this was a combination of those with African descent from the Caribbean Islands and Native Americans.  Rather than follow the harsh slavery laws of most of the south, they followed a more lenient set of laws deriving from the Code Noir of the Spanish.  These laws required the slaves be treated humanely and the owners had to care for them and their families.  There was also a pathway to freedom in the laws, so there were a number of skilled freemen living in the area.  Both plantations were very successful prior to the Civil War, often bringing over $1 million from the cotton crop each year.  However, the Civil War put an end to this.  Both plantations were damaged during the Red River campaign in 1864 with crops and some buildings, including the Magnolia plantation home, burned.  Following the war, most of the slaves continued to work the plantations as tenant farmers, however, the plantations never truly recovered.  The families continued to live and operate the farms into the 20th century, so when they were acquired by the National Park Service, they were both in very good condition.  They are the best preserved Creole Plantations from that time period with many outbuildings and artifacts still intact.  Both of the plantations are along the Cane River, which is one of the channels that make up the Red River.  They are close enough to each other that they can both be visited in a single day, so we spent the morning exploring Oakland before moving to Magnolia after lunch.  The plantation home and outbuildings at Oakland are in amazing condition.  Unfortunately, we had just missed the morning tour of the plantation home, but we were able to explore the grounds.  As with other plantations before the Civil War, they were mostly self-sufficient, so you see many buildings associated with skills such as blacksmithing, county store, cooking, and laundry, as well as, those associated with the farm including barns and homes for the slaves and overseer.  Most of these buildings had exhibits, along with the provided map, gave a good overview of life prior to the Civil War.  The most surprising building was the pigeonnier where they raised pigeons, a southern delicacy that denotes wealth.

The outbuildings at Magnolia were even more impressive.  Unfortunately, the plantation home was burned during the Civil War, but the family did rebuild it.  However, the new building is not part of the park.  However, there is a nice country store, overseer/hospital home, barns, and slave quarters.  The slave quarters were unusual as they were constructed of brick instead of wood. It is believed this was to display their wealth to the steamships on the Cane River.  It certainly was not for the benefits of the slaves which still lived in small structures with dirt floors and a single room.  After the Civil War, the tenant farmers were allowed to open up the wall between the duplex thus increasing their living space to two rooms.  The last family moved out in the 1960s.  Most amazing was the large barn that housed the steam operated cotton gin and baler.  They even had the largest baler still surviving that predated steam engines.  This 30 foot tall wooden structure was nothing more than a huge press that would be filled with cotton and then compressed using a huge screw operated by horses or mules.  It was something worth seeing.

Thursday was wet with the threat of more rain for most of the day so we headed north to the Horseshoe Casino in Bossier City.  For a change, we both did well and just about broke even for the afternoon.  After a nice early dinner we headed back to the campgrounds for the evening.

For Friday, it was back to exploring the other historical state parks in the area.  We started with Fort St Jean Baptiste State Historic Site in Natchitoches.  Back in the early 1700s, this area was the border between the French and Spanish.  To stop Spanish encroachment from Mexico and Texas, the French constructed and garrisoned a fort on the Cane River, which at the time was the main channel of the Red River, in 1716.  As the French were all about trading and befriending the local Indians, the fort became a major trade center and the town of Natchitoches grew up along the river.  The fort continued to serve as a military outpost until 1762, when the territory was ceded to Spain following the French and Indian Wars.  While the fort never saw any direct action, it continued to support a thriving trade business along the river.  Today they have reconstructed the fort according to surviving plans for the fort.  Unfortunately, the reconstructed fort is not exactly the location of the original fort.  Due partly to the changing river course and mostly to the fact they built a bridge over the original site.  It is always interesting to actually be able to see the forts, especially to how small they were.  The palisade surrounding the fort is barely big enough to house a couple of barracks, a guardhouse, quartermaster, commandant house, church, and a couple of storage sheds.  It was obviously not intended to house the garrison on a long term basis, especially since most of the soldiers, including the commandant, lived in houses in Natchitoches.

Since it only took a bit over an hour to explore the reconstructed fort, for the afternoon we drove about 15 miles to the Spanish counterpart: Los Adeas State Historic Site.  Los Adeas was the Spanish answer to Fort St. Jean Baptiste located close to their Mission.  For the French, the primary interest was trade with the Indians, whereas, the Spanish were more into converting them to Catholicism.  Thus the many missions throughout the southwest along with presido, or forts to protect them.  Unfortunately, the site chosen for the mission and fort were very poor for agriculture.  There was a constant shortage of food and other supplies as crops routinely failed on the poor soils.  Thus there was a constant stream of trade with the French at Natchitoches even though it was illegal as all supplies were to come from Spain.  However, since Mexico City was over 800 miles away, what else could they do?  Los Adeas was important enough to the Spanish that in 1729, it became the administrative seat for the entire province for the next 44 years.  Thus, within the fort were the administrative offices and residences.  Today there is nothing left of Los Adeas, however, archeologists have discovered the original layout of the fort and most of the buildings which are marked out with timbers.  There is also a nice hiking trail that begins at the fort and winds its way through the woods to the site of the nearby mission.  It was a nice walk on a cool winter afternoon.

We spent Saturday in the campground, however, on Sunday we ventured forth again to the site of the Mansfield State Historic Site, one of the last major battles of the Civil War.  In 1863, the Union had captured Vicksburg and was in control of the entire Mississippi River, cutting the Confederacy in two.  The Civil War in the West then moved to isolate Texas beginning with the capture of Shreveport.  General Banks brought 13,000 soldiers up the Red River by gunboat to Natchitoches where they disembarked to make the march to Shreveport.  Not expecting any engagement until they were close to Shreveport, he allowed his army to get strung out for miles along the road.  However, General Taylor selected a site 4 miles south of Mansfield, still 20 miles from Shreveport, to position his 10,500 Confederate troops across the road.  He used his cavalry to harass and slow down the Union advance on April 7, 1864 in a number of small skirmishes.  On April 8, the two armies formed up against each other.  However, General Banks was still strung out for miles and was only able to form up about 6500 soldiers by 4:00 in the afternoon when General Taylor ordered the charge.  The Confederates took terrible casualties in the initial charge, but especially since these soldiers were defending their home, they did not stop the charge and overran the Union lines.  The Union army broke and ran with the Confederates in hot pursuit for the next two miles.  Finally, most of the rest of the Union army had formed a defensive line and stopped several attempts by the Confederates before darkness fell.  Over night the Union withdrew to Pleasant Hill, where on April 9 there was another terrific battle and heavy casualties.  Once again, the Union withdrew during the night and kept moving all the way back to New Orleans.  Thus the Red River Campaign ended after two days of fierce fighting, this time with a Confederate victory.  Since the Civil War ended just a few months later, the Union never again attempted to seize Shreveport or invade Texas.  The Mansfield State Historic Site is not very large and protects only a small part of the initial battlefield south of Mansfield.  The Visitor Center has a excellent set of exhibits about the Civil War, the Mansfield and Pleasant Hill Battles, and the aftermath.  There is also a short hike around this piece of the battlefield with a brochure explaining the disposition of forces prior to the Confederate advance.  The battlefield is certainly worth visiting for anyone interested in the Civil War, especially if you are not familiar with the Red River Campaign, which we had never heard of.

 

December, 2019 – Tyler, Texas

The drive southeast out of the Dallas area to Tyler, Texas was a slow trip since none of it was along interstates.  So far, even the Farm to Market (FM) roads are excellent so the delay was due to all the small towns along the way.  Even then it only took less than 2 hours to make the trip.  Our GPS did a strange thing trying to take us directly to the campground instead of the main entrance of the state park.  Fortunately, the road it wanted us to turn on was closed with a gate, so we just headed on around to the main entrance.  We got checked in and then drove the 2 miles to the campground around the lake that is in the center of the park.  Unfortunately, we missed our turn into the campground loop and had to drive all around the lake in order to try again.  The layout of the campground was amazing.  All the full hookups sites were on a single loop with sites on both sides of the road.  Every one of the sites is a pull-through off the side of the road with the hookup between the RV and the road.  This meant your front door opened up away from the road.  What an amazing concept!!  It was very easy to get hooked up for the week.

Campsite

We had two main focuses for the week.  The first, was to travel back to the dentist to adjust my denture and the second was to get our Christmas shopping done.  On Tuesday we headed into Tyler to do some shopping which included stopping at a Verizon store to upgrade our phone plan.  We decided to finally go with iPhones 8 with unlimited data.  We also decided to get a new iPad which would also have unlimited data.  A new jetpack with 15 GB rounded out the plan.  Since each of the devices could also be used at hotspots with 15GB data, this should increase our data to 60 GB which is 4 times what we had.  In addition, each of the three devices have unlimited data with speed caps after 50 GB.  We hope this means we can finally start streaming more programs we would like to watch, just as long as we have a good phone connection.  After figuring this all out, we went to lunch with an old friend that lives nearby, Ron and his partner John.  Ron, who now is known by his middle name, Scott, was once married to my sister and is the father of her two children.  Over the past several years, he has reconnected with our niece and we were glad to have the opportunity to spend some time with him and his partner over lunch.  We still consider him as a part of our family.  Except for the fact that they had to watch me eating nothing more than mashed potatoes and mac&cheese, it was a very good time and we look forward to spending more time in the spring when we start back north for the year.

RonAndJohn

Wednesday was back to the dentist in Plano, Texas which was a 2.5 hour drive on the interstate.  After he adjusted my denture, which made it a LOT better, we took Pam out to lunch.  Then we drove all the way back to Tyler, making a long day in the truck.

Thursday was back to figuring out Christmas with some shopping in Tyler and ordering presents on-line.  Friday was spent finishing this up and working on this blog.  For Saturday, it was one more time to Tyler to pick up our phones, iPad, and jetpack from Verizon before heading to Best Buy for accessories.  Merry Christmas!  We then went to lunch at Applebees where we spent the afternoon watching LSU beat Georgia in the SEC Champsionship.  Sunday was back relaxing in the campground before our long trip on Monday to Louisiana.

November, 2019 – Dallas, Texas

For two weeks after returning from North Carolina, we camped in Lavonia Park COE campground.  For the first week we stayed in the same campsite, but then on Sunday we had to move to a different campsite as ours was reserved.  We literally moved across the road to a new campsite, so except for our view changing slightly, there was little difference.  Whereas, the previous campsite was sloped so we had to use boards under the front pads to level the RV, this new campsite was just the opposite.  We had to put a board under each tire in order to be able to lower the front end as low as it could go to get it level.  In addition, the sewer hookup was behind the RV which meant we could not reach it even with our extension on the sewer hose.  We ended up having to haul the full tanks to our next stop on Monday to be able to empty them.

Campsite2

We had two reasons for staying an additional two weeks in the same campground.  First, was to spend Thanksgiving with Mark and his friends and family.  The second, was to get a brand new full denture.  This meant I visited the dentist twice the first week to get impressions made and check the bite and again the day before Thanksgiving to remove the last of my teeth.  This made Thanksgiving very interesting as I could hardly eat anything with the new denture that badly needed to be adjusted.  However, this would have to wait at least a week to allow everything to heal up.  While Thanksgiving dinner was special with turkey, dressing, gravy, mac&cheese, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, deviled eggs, etc, all I could eat was a little bit of the softer foods!  Kal had a good time playing with her grand-nieces and we both enjoyed time with Mark, Pam, and their friends and family.

We also managed to drive the hour to Mark’s on both Saturdays to watch college football which included the amazing Iron Bowl when we beat Alabama destroying their chances of playing for the national championship.  As is often the case lately when we win the Iron Bowl it had it’s share of controversy.  The end of the first half saw Auburn, with no time outs, be allowed to get their field goal team on the field while the refs checked replay and put 1 second back on the clock.  Even more amazing was the end of the game when Alabama missed a field goal to tie it and Auburn was able to run the clock out when they fooled Alabama using a strange line up for the punt.  Alabama ended up with too many players on the field and the resulting penalty gave us a first down!!  Another memorable Iron Bowl.  Other than those trips to Mark and my trips to the dentist we spent the time relaxing in the campground.