Thursday, February 7, 2019

2018's List of Favorite Things

Since we started traveling full-time, we enjoy looking back each year to find our favorites. We had a shorter travel loop this year, so our hiking list is shorter. But our kayaking list is longer, as we made our way through Minnesota--the land of 10,000 lakes. The length of these two lists might also be related to the fact that Denisa's sprained ankle kept us off the trails for a while. But a swollen and bruised ankle can rest quite nicely propped up on the side of our inflatable kayak. We also found that many of the midwestern states we visited this year have some great bike trails. So it is a nice trip down memory lane as we list some of our favorites for 2018. We would definitely recommend each one of these experiences to fellow travelers. Be sure to read to the end because one of our favorite list of favorites is the last one--our Favorite Experiences.

FAVORITE KAYAKING



Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore - Michigan's Upper Peninsula
Boundary Waters - Hegman Lake - Ely, Minnesota
Boundary Waters - Numbered Lakes - Ely, Minnesota
Ash River Falls - Voyageurs National Park - Minnesota
Ozawindib Lake - Itasca State Park - Minnesota
Spring River - Twin Bridges State Park - Grove, Oklahoma
Steinhagen Lake - Martin Dies Jr. State Park - Jasper, Texas
Cypress Trails - Caddo Lake State Park - Uncertain, Texas
Lake Kabetogama - Voyageurs National Park - Minnesota





FAVORITE HIKES



Chapel Rock Trail - Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore - Michigan's Upper Peninsula
Horse Thief Springs Trail - Cedar Lake, Oklahoma
Cascade Rivers State Park - Lake Superior's North Shore - Minnesota
Temperance River State Park - Lake Superior's North Shore - Minnesota
Baldy Dune - C.S. Mott Nature Preserve - Bear Lake, Michigan






FAVORITE BIKING




Katy Trail - New Franklin to Rocheport, Missouri
Tow Path on the Erie Canal - Delphi, Indiana
Pumpkinvine Trail thru Amish Country - Shipshewana, Indiana
Lake Bemidji State Park - Bemidji, Minnesota
Martin Dies Jr. State Park trails - Jasper, Texas
Mackinac Island, Michigan





FAVORITE FESTIVALS



Art Prize - Grand Rapids, Michigan
Apple Festival - Niles, Michigan
University of Missouri Homecoming - Columbia, Missouri
Hill Climb - Newport, Indiana
Battle of the Gumbo Gladiators - Shreveport, Louisiana
Petoskey Bay Festival - Petoskey, Michigan




FAVORITE EXPERIENCES



Hunting for Petoskey Stones - Lake Michigan's Eastern Shores
Amish Bakeries and Farms - Northern Indiana
Picking Blueberries around the lakes of Northern Minnesota
Eating fresh-caught walleye fish that our neighbors caught on Lake Kabetogama, Minnesota
Listening to the Call of the Loon - Minnesota's State Bird
Attending the College National Baseball Championship Game - Omaha, Nebraska
Watching the big cargo ships dock on the Great Lakes
Finding all the Covered Bridges in Parke County, Indiana
Watching the Whopping Cranes near Rockport, Texas
Boat Ride with new Friends around the Apostle Islands, Bayfield, Wisconsin
Being at the Hospital when our first Granddaughter was Born in Kansas City, Missouri
Enjoying the beautiful outdoor Wedding of our Youngest Son and his Bride in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma




2018 was a great year of traveling, and we were proud to welcome two new members into our little family. We have wandered God's wonders in new and special ways this past year!

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Our 2018 Travel Map and Summary

Every year Mark makes a map that outlines where we traveled the previous year. It's always fun for us to see our path. We're a little late in getting it published, but he finally had a chance to connect all the dots for 2018. The following map includes points that represent stops of at least one night. The list on the right contains the name of each campground. Clicking on the picture below will make if easier to read. As you can see, we made a figure-8 this year.

We started 2018 in the panhandle of Oklahoma. Then we made a quick trip down to the tip of Texas for a stay of two months during the coldest part of the winter. We headed north as the rest of the country thawed out. That's when 2018 became "the year of the family." We were back in Oklahoma to spend time with Mark's parents in the spring.  Dot #18 was another longer stay, as we stayed two months to properly spoil our first grandchild after her birth on May 2. Then we had another big event as we drove to Oklahoma City for our youngest son's wedding. What a busy spring!

We were back on the road at the end of June, heading straight north to get out of the heat. We went all the way to the Canadian border, enjoying northern's Minnesota's Voyageur National Park and the Boundary Waters. This was the summer of the Great Lakes, as we explored Lake Superior and Lake Michigan. Even though we didn't get any ocean-time in 2018, we decided these lakes are so big they feel like an ocean. We made our way across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and then hugged the east coastline of Lake Michigan as we started our drive south.

In 2018 we added nine more states to our list of places visited in our motor home, as we headed back towards home through Indiana and Illinois.

Our year by the numbers:
We parked at 55 different camping spots.
Our average nightly camping fee is $12.85 (includes free nights boondocking or staying with family and friends).
Our average paid nightly camping fee is $18.04.
We visited 11 different states this year.
We spent $1,832.06 on 600.77 gallons of diesel (at an average price $3.05 per gallon) for the motor home.
We spent $36.47 on 12.95 gallons of DEF for the motor home.
We don't even try to keep up with the amount of gasoline we purchase for the car, as we use it to explore while we are camped.

2018 was another great year of family time and wandering more of God's wonders!

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Rocking in the Rio Grande Valley

Since this is our fifth year to come to Bentsen Grove Resort, we've tried most of the varied activities here. But this year we're trying something new to us--the Rock Club. In our travels this year, we've been picking up rocks, and we're excited to see what we can do with them this winter. We found that the first step is getting trained in all the equipment here at this resort. They have a work room filled with rock saws and polishers of every shape and size.

After cutting a slab of rock, the next step can be cutting it down to the size needed to make a piece of jewelry. Even though it looks like Denisa is about to cut off all her fingers, she's actually trimming a rock slab into an oval shape that can be polished.

During our training, the other rock club members described their weekly rock hunts. Every Friday they go to an area ranch, where they have permission to pick up rocks. So we were up early to meet the rest of the group at 7:15 a.m. for our first Rio Grande Valley rock hunt.

It was an hour's drive west to get to our destination, and it was raining most of the way. The good news is that the moisture made the rocks really shine. The water droplets also clung to this spider web, making it almost as pretty as the petrified wood and agates we were finding.

Our new French-Canadian friend, Guy (pronounced Gee in French), took us under his wing. He showed us examples of different rocks we were finding. We also found a lot of "leaverite." Those are the plain rocks that you should "leave her right" there.

You might notice that Guy has a long metal scoop for picking up rocks so he doesn't have to bend over so many times. He also warned us that this tool was useful for another reason if you look closely at the picture below.

Many times scorpions are hiding among the rocks, and we found a good number on our first rock hunt.

We walked a couple miles, always with our head down to find the next treasure. It's easy to get lost among this tall grass and brush. Our walk took us up a hill, where we could finally see the landscape around us and our vehicles waiting below.

Our best finds of the day were the lacy agates that this part of Texas are known for. Mark found this one already broken open to reveal it's lacy inside.

With Guy's instruction, we came to recognize the rough outsides of these fancy stones. 

Hopefully, we'll learn to cut or tumble these beauties before we leave this winter. We also found some nice pieces of petrified wood. The minerals in the area gave them some interesting color as the wood turned into rock a long time ago.

Again, we hope to learn to make something that we can take with us in the motor home.

After a good morning outside, we found that the rock club eats lunch together on the way home. We are just a few miles from the Mexican border, and we stopped at a little restaurant where the menu was only in Spanish. We decided that the "especial" was the way to go.

It was very special! For $7.50 we got a generous portion of grilled chicken, peppers, and onions smothered in cheese. With sides of rice and beans and an appetizer of little corn pancakes it was a great authentic Mexican end to our authentic day. We liked our rock hunting adventure, and another new activity to try here in South Texas.

After a morning of rock hunting, we switched to another form of rocking for the evening. Every Friday evening, the park hosts a live band for a dance. The dance floor was packed as we enjoyed the rock and roll of the 1960s and 1970s. You have never seen so many old people having fun as we danced to the music like we were still in high school. So this Friday included a good day of Rockin' with old and new friends here at Bentsen Grove Resort!

Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Super Blood Moon and "Working" in South Texas

We had heard the hype about the "super blood wolf moon" on the national news, so we made plans to stay up to see it. We had a nice clear evening, so we were treated with a clear view of this lunar eclipse several nights ago. We first took pictures when the bright full moon was in full view of the palm tree in our back yard. In the picture below, the lunar eclipse is just starting, taking its first nip out of the bottom of the moon.

Then we watched as the moon traveled into the earth's shadow. According to one of the sources we read, the red color we are beginning to see is because the moon is only receiving the red filtered light from the earth's surface.

Even at 10:30 p.m. we were outside in our shirt sleeves here in south Texas. We were getting sore necks from looking up high in the sky as the bright edge of the moon became just a little cap on the red moon. It feels like we are witnessing another of God's wonders!

It's not a great picture, but it's the best our camera could do of the historical super blood wolf moon over South Texas. We'll have to wait 2.5 more years for another spectacle like this.

Just in case you should think that our life in South Texas is just gazing at the moon at night and lounging by the pool during the day, we do work occasionally. Mark is doing handy-man projects at his mother-in-law's house. He has updated her wifi, and worked on her bathroom plumbing. We even  have pictorial evidence that we actually do some work.  We spent a good part of one day raking leaves at Denisa's Mother's place. Those ten bags of leaves are evidence that we actually do work some times.

After all that raking, the grass underneath had to be mowed. The lawns aren't big, so Mark is still smiling doing lawn work on a beautiful blue sky day.

There's also the work of picking fruit, most of which we eat fresh. But we are also juicing until our freezer is full, so we can enjoy this taste of sunshine even after we leave the valley. While Mark is working at juicing, he's also watching some football on another beautiful day.

This might be stretching it a little, but there's also the work of deciding where to eat each evening. We do cook a couple times each week. Then several days we eat meals at the cafe at the rec hall inside the park. But on other nights, someone has to find the best places to eat among the hundreds of choices in the Rio Grande Valley. This is a fun place that we have revisited several times. It's a little odd to find a little German restaurant among the palm trees, but we recommend Schneider's German Gasthaus and Biergarten.

It's another day in paradise, as we're working our way through more of God's wonders.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Final Stretch of Road to South Texas

We often plan travel days around good weather forecasts. But we were on the road this morning in spite of the predicted rain. On this last leg of our trip south, we usually play the game to see who can spot the first palm trees. Today we spotted them through a rain-streaked windshield.

It's a long drive from the most northern point of Texas to the southern tip. When we travel we use three different travel aids. We use google maps on our smart phone, the big-rig GPS, and Denisa holds a paper map. You can't have too much road information when driving a rig that is 53-feet long! Denisa likes to keep her paper maps, where she highlights the roads we travel. She uses a different color of highlighter for each day. You can see the blue and yellow highlighted trail from the northern edge of the panhandle all the way down to the southern tip of Texas. That's 820 miles in ten days--moving faster than usual for us.

We pulled into our winter destination at Bentsen Grove Resort in the misty rain. We're back in our camping spot at site 626, hemmed in between a couple orange trees. We had to wait until a prettier day to take a picture of our south Texas home.

We are here mostly because Denisa's Mother spends her winters in this park. She has been coming to the Rio Grande Valley for six months each year for the past 33 years--and all of those at this same park. After getting the motor home set up, we went immediately into fun mode. The next morning we found ourselves at the Winter Texan Expo at the McAllen Convention Center. In the picture below you can see the back of Denisa and her Mother's head, with the rest of the white-haired and balding crowd.

We  played all the games and spun all the prize wheels and came home with a tote full of free stuff. We have a winter's supply of pens and note pads, and coupons for food at area restaurants and grocery stores. We also got t-shirts, golf towels, eye glass cleaners, bingo daubers, candy, key light, coozies . . . Denisa made a hole-in-one at the game below for more prizes, as did Mark. We also won a couple of the door prizes--a $25 restaurant coupon and a large goodie bag from a local business. It was a successful morning.

We feel very welcomed in the Rio Grande Valley, and we're now immersed in the activities at Bentsen Grove Resort. We'll be here for a month or two, enjoying the fun and fellowship with a growing number of friends we have met from years before. It's hard to believe that this is our fifth winter to camp at this park as we continue wandering His wonders!

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Lake Corpus Christi State Park with Friends

We normally pull out of our camping spots by noon, but we were moving on Sunday this week. By the time we went to church with Mark's brother's family and ate lunch, we were on the road later than usual. But Sunday afternoon is a good time to make the drive down the middle of San Antonio, as traffic was light. At the end of a three-hour drive straight south, we pulled into our next destination right before sundown. As we look overhead, it looks like we're not the only ones heading south.

Lake Corpus Christi State Park is a popular camping spot. We found friendly neighbors here, and a welcoming committee with a whole herd of deer on the hill beside our motor home.

One would suppose that this lake was close to the city by the same name. But in fact, we are 45 miles away from the coast. But even without the ocean, we have plenty of water views here at the lake.

After steady travel for the past week, we are looking forward to a day at the lake. We decided not to make the drive into Corpus Christi since we visited there last year. We were greeted by more deer sightings the next morning--this time by the male member of the herd.

We had gotten an email from friends that we met this summer in Springfield, Illinois. Dale and Pam were in San Antonio, spending time with a daughter that lived there. They knew our plans were to head south through Texas after Christmas. We were excited that they were willing to drive over an hour south to meet us here at the lake. We hiked all the trails at the state park together, and got to catch up on their new full-time travel experiences since we met them this summer.

We'll be watching their journey as they head to Florida. They're going to the Pro-Bowl football game, followed by time at Disney World with grandchildren. It sounds like they'll have a good winter!

We ended our day with good food at a local restaurant. Texas publishes a top 50 barbecue restaurant list, and Smolik's in Mathis, Texas, made that list. After Smolik's barbecue, we bought their signature cinnamon rolls and cookies at their Czech bakery before Dale and Pam headed back to San Antonio. What a sweet way to end a sweet day at Lake Corpus Christi State Park!

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Guadalupe River State Park (Again)!

After three days at the Pedernales Falls state park, we were on the road for the short trip to our next Texas State Park--Guadalupe River.

We camped at this state park when we started our full-time journey four years ago. In fact, if you look at a blog entry in 2015, you will find an almost identical picture taken beside the Guadalupe River.

We were wearing jackets four years ago when we visited Guadalupe River in January. But that year was different because we hiked all the trails here. Because of all the rain in the area this year, all the trails are closed now. For a couple of wanderers that enjoy a good hike, it was tough to be limited to a walk by the river.

So that's one of the reasons we jumped at the chance to go on the special weekend hike that was led by a volunteer naturalist in the Honey Creek Nature Area adjacent to the state park.

Our hike took us along the beautifully clear spring-fed Honey Creek. This nature area is only open with a chaperone, and we enjoyed the information from our guide.

We have hiked among rocks covered with lichen, but today our guide told us we were hiking among plants covered with lichen. This combination of algae and fungi makes a very interesting plant.

It was a beautiful place to be on a beautiful day. So we are glad to get to wander God's wonders even if the trail was muddy.

The reason we are making a return trip to Guadalupe River state park is because it is just few miles away from Mark's brother and sister-in-law's home.  We got to celebrate Lizzie's birthday while we were here. After Mark helped with assembling it, we warmed up beside Lizzie's birthday present--a gas powered fire pit table.

We were lucky that their son and family were also celebrating with them this weekend. So we took a family picture right before we all left for church on Sunday.

We enjoy spending time with all our great nieces and nephews, and we see that some of them act like Uncle Mark. These two little boys were climbing trees just like Great Uncle Mark (with a little help from Uncle Mark to get to that first tall branch).

After three days camped at the Guadalupe River, we were glad to get another dose of family time. But it's time to wander down the road for more South Texas adventures.