Monday, February 18, 2013

Southwest Trip Wrap-Up

Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.  
 ~ Rachel Carson ~

5,566 Miles in 49 Days.              National Parks Sites Visited: 12


Trip Costs 

$236 per week.

My target was $225/week.  Depending on gas prices, I think I can easily achieve that in the future.

For one thing, I won't be spending $67 at a gift shop again.  That happened at McDonald Observatory and, trust me, I could have spent more.  I still regret not getting the 300-piece solar system jigsaw puzzle.  But, seriously, that slip really affected my average cost. 

Shockingly, gasoline accounted for 72% of my expenses.  I really can't do much about that, other than stay home.  The most I paid per gallon was $3.45 and the least was $2.99.  Fortunately, the GDB mileage continues to improve and is now at 14.6 MPG (compared to 13.4 MPG when I bought it).

I spent $288 in campground fees over 12 nights.  Now that I'm comfortable camping for free, I will not likely spend that much in the future.  An exception to that would be if the weather is hot and I need A/C.     

BTW, I did not count groceries or small cash purchases as I would have had those expenses even at home.


McDonald Observatory
White Sands National Monument
LBJ Ranch

Shrimp and Grits at the Blowfly Inn in Gulfport, MS
Migas  at Casa Garcia in Austin, TX 
Boudin and Biscuits at Frank's in Baton Rouge, LA
(Honorable Mention: Charbroiled Cheeseburger at the Ft. Davis Drugstore in Ft. Davis, TX)

Visiting with Sharon (twice!)
The Rubber Tramp Rendevous
Coffee with the Good Luck Ducks

I wouldn't have changed anything.  Well, except the mouse in the house - that was no fun. 
I was able to travel the way I prefer with frequent location changes based on a loose itinerary of touring National Park sites.  And, thankfully, I learned an enormous amount about traveling and living in the GDB. 

I'm busy planning my next trip in late Spring.  It's an ambitious one - so far, I have 15 NP sites on my list!   

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Home Again!

How lovely to be home!  Especially a freshly-painted one.  Our friend Jamie did a magnificent job.  It feels like a new house. 
Doris was rather underwhelmed to see me. 

She has decided, in my absence, that John is her special favorite.  With good reason!  He’s mine too.
I’ve been busy going through mail, washing loads of laundry, cleaning out the GDB, and just doing some general organizing.   I'm enjoying using all the water I want!  There will be plenty to keep me occupied in the near future: doctors’ appointments, tax prep, and of course – planning for my next trip! 

I long to go where the buffalo roam.  Probably late Spring. 

And I’ll spend the next month or so trying to get a handle on my new career as an online nursing professor.  In March, I will be shadowing a fellow faculty member who is teaching a research course.   My first class assignment should start in April.  

My new office?
In further news, I have an interview this week with a graduate program.  The position is one of Clinical Faculty Advisor and would include some travel to clinical teaching sites and overseeing students’ learning experiences.  I’ve always enjoyed that type of thing in the past. 

However, I’m concerned that where they will need me to travel will not be necessarily where I want to go.  For example: think Buffalo, New York in February or Pascagoula, Mississippi in July.  I’ll know more next week whether it’s a good fit or not. 
In the next few days, I’ll post a wrap-up of my trip. 

BTW, thanks to everyone for following along!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Biloxi, MS

Last full day of this trip.  I'm torn - eager to get back home, and yet, so very sad it's almost over.  The GDB has been so good to me, I hate to abandon her tomorrow. 

This afternoon, I reached the Gulf Coast here in

Where the

grow like weeds.

I'm in Biloxi

overnighting at the Imperial Palace Casino

from my skylight

It's quiet, safe, and in close proximity to I-10 where I will be spend most of tomorrow.  After the breakfast buffet, of course! 

Speaking of breakfast.  You can't beat Frank's in Baton Rouge on Airline Highway. 

They make their own biscuits and their own boudin. 

to say nothing of the sausage gravy.

It's the finest boudin I've ever had.  No contest.  The casing is paper thin and the filling is so light, it's actually fluffy.  I don't know how they do it, but it's every bit as good as I remember.  If you are a boudin fan, they do mail order.

I managed to save a little boudin for John.  The guy behind the counter (who took this photo) and I agree .... now THAT'S love!  I also walked away with some seafood gumbo for dinner tonight.  Assuming I'm ever hungry again, that is.

Before leaving Baton Rouge, I visited a few more landmarks from our past.  This is Earl K. Long Memorial Hospital where I began my nursing career 28 years ago.  I worked in Women's Services on the 3rd floor on the right.  The building looks exactly the same.   

A beautiful day in the mid-60s and abundant sunshine made the scenic route to Pass Christian-Gulfport-Biloxi via US-90 even more scenic.  This is what you see out the passenger window for miles and miles. 

I've come a long way from the desert! 

Not far from the casino is where the shrimping fleet moors.

And where this Great Heron feeds.

After this 7-week journey, it's hard to believe I'll be back home tomorrow afternoon!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Baton Rouge, LA

Made it to Baton Rouge late this morning.  I am staying the night here on College Road close to the LSU campus.  I thought perhaps this was a rare 2-story Wal-Mart, but, no – it just has an exceedingly high ceiling.

Baton Rouge is special town for me.  John & I lived here for 4 years from 1985 – 1989.  We really loved it here and have returned as visitors several times since then.  We had good times, good friends, and really good food.  It took a long time after we moved away from here before our taste buds became re-accustomed to the usual fare.  Everything tasted so dull!
Speaking of which.  I don’t know if other RVers are like me and always on the lookout for condiments.  I scored big today and got these creole seasoning packets.  Only in Louisiana!

I drove around our old neighborhood, where we had our first house, with its pretty lawns and even larger oaks now.  It was sadly nostalgic, probably because all that was so long ago.  I thought about how much life has changed since then and all the people we’ve lost - the 2-leggers and the 4-leggers.  I really wished John was with me. 
Stopped at Brewbacher’s for a late lunch and the customary oyster po-boy, an old favorite.

It was mediocre.  The bread was dry, there wasn’t enough dressing, and the oysters weren’t seasoned well.  The po-boy, fries, and tea came to $15.48! 
Earlier in the day, I had to stop here in Gonzales, LA.

We just don’t have these in my little hometown.  With 165,000 sq. ft. of retail space, a restaurant, a wildlife museum, nature trail, lake, and aquarium, there was plenty to see and do.  Free!  Can you believe I walked out of there without buying anything? 

Sorry so blurry but, as I discovered today, when a Large-Mouth Bass comes straight for you, there's not much reaction time. 

Note the Mardi Gras beads. 

BTW, I checked with management and this Cabela's does allow overnight parking.   Though it's not open 24 hours, it appears to be a safe area and would make a nice overnight stop. 
In other news, I had my first faculty meeting tonight.  An online meeting is infinitely better than the face-to-face version.  I think I’m going to like this distance-teaching gig!

                               Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Lafayette, LA

Spent most of the morning trying to escape the gravitational pull of the mass that is Houston. 
Houston is so big!  How big is it?  I imagine one could get on I-610 and never ever leave its orbit. 

A Perfectly Ugly Day of Driving


All the elements of ugly were present on I-10 today: drizzle, fog, wall-to-wall semis, and lots of road sludge.  BUT, it was perfect because I’m in the GBD! 
I just set the cruise control on 60, stayed in the slow lane, and enjoyed Sirius – comedy, jazz, Frankie, the book channel (Sherlock Holmes, Pride and Prejudice) and a few classic radio shows (The Great Gildersleeve, Casey: Crime Photographer).  All this, plus the knowledge that bisque awaited me, made it a relaxing 270-mile day. 
Like they say, a bad day on I-10 beats a good day at work.

Cruise Control: The Downside

You zone out and forget to look for Shipley’s Don-Nuts until it’s simply too late. 

The GDB needs a long hot shower. 

Grit + Grime

Mouth watering and primed for bisque, I pull up to the Blue Dog CafĂ© and find it closed!


Because it’s Fat Tuesday! 
The purple hair and beads tip me off.  The drunken Cajuns don’t - I expect that part.  Had I gotten to town 30 minutes earlier, my route would have shut down for the Mardi Gras parade instead of the minor gridlock I encountered. 
Facing the disappointment of a bisque-less evening, I swerved into Popeye’s on the way to Camp Wal-Mart to get some red beans & rice & biscuit to have with my spicy sausage. 

Sharon’s brother, Mike, has this sausage specially made for him in College Station.  This particular version is venison, wild boar, cheese, and jalapeno.  No surprise that it’s incredibly tasty. 

Headed to our old home – Baton Rouge – tomorrow.  Good thing my taste buds are in peak condition!
Goodnight from Lafayette! 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Sealy, TX

Over-nighting here at Wal-Mart after leaving Austin this afternoon.

I spent another fun 4 days with my old buddy Sharon.  She took great care of me – we had lots of good laughs and lots of good food.  I really miss her company tonight. 
Let me back up a bit.  

When I left Ft. Davis on Wednesday, my ultimate destination was Fredericksburg.  The town caught my attention on the way west back in January and I wanted to explore it further. 

In an amazing coincidence, another Roadtrekker – Jacqueline – who I had met in Quartzsite spent the night in the same Ft. Stockton WalMart I did!  What are the odds?  We discovered it the next morning.  Since we were both headed toward Fredericksburg, we made plans to have lunch together.  We had a tasty lunch and a nice time together.  I didn't get a photo of her or her rig, but here’s the weiner schnitzel anyway. 

Fredericksburg has a great Main Street built for browsing, complete with a Five-And-Dime. 
The shop was classic dime store. 
When was the last time you saw candy cigarettes for sale?  Or Lava soap?   

My mind was a bit preoccupied though because, that same morning, I was awakened at 4:15 AM by the unmistakable scurrying sound of a mouse in the house!  He was munching away in the pantry.  The story of how I ultimately rid myself of him later that next night is a long one.  Suffice it to say, I now have a permanent arsenal of steel traps and will be better prepared when/if it should happen again. 


At least I got to see that his intrusive little corpse was properly carted away from the Lady Bird Johnson Municipal RV Park.

Tomorrow I head to Lafayette in the middle of Cajun country.  I’ll almost feel like I’m home! 
Goodnight from Texas! 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

McDonald Observatory

I arrived for the Twilight Program and Star Party at McDonald Observatory last night before sundown.  This bluebird appeared and perched on my rearview mirror for the longest time.  I think he was admiring his reflection in my window tinting!  Who can blame him?

I can think of few happier ways to spend an evening than staring at the universe.  At the end of the night, I didn’t want to leave!  This is an event I would go out of my way to do over and over again.  The weather was ideal – a moonless, clear sky, with temps in the 40s.  The altitude up on Mount Locke is just shy of 7,000 ft.
Visitor's Center from above
After relieving the irresistibly gift shop of much of its inventory, I attended the twilight program in the visitor center auditorium. 
Shannon, a staff astronomer, entertained us for an hour explaining how our solar system moves about.  He did a great job of illustrating why we see certain constellations at certain times of the year.
By then it was dark and we moved out to the amphitheater for the star party.  The amphitheater is dimly lit with low red lights that allow one’s eyes to accommodate to the darkness.  The presenter spent some time pointing with a laser at some, shall we say, high points. 

The first was the International Space Station!  As if on cue, it came into view in the southwest sky and we were able to track it for a while until it disappeared from view.  The ISS orbits the earth every 90 minutes and what you see is actually the sun reflecting off the ISS. 
Web Photo
Amazing in any case, but especially when you consider that the Wright Brothers first got off the ground just over 100 years ago!
Next the presenter talked about some of the many constellations on view and pointed out the objects we would see in the 5 awaiting telescopes.  I’ve never seen such a rich field of stars!   Even the stars on the horizon were plainly visible.     

The 5 telescope stations, manned by knowledgeable staff and volunteers, revealed the following sights.  I’ll try to use web photos that faithfully reproduce what I saw.

Andromeda Galaxy
Crab Nebula
Jupiter and 4 of its Moons.  The ones that got Galileo into so much trouble.
Double clusters in Perseus
Orion Nebula

My favorite was the Orion Nebulae located close to the middle star in Orion’s sword .  I returned to the 18” telescope several times to see the “star nursery” with a pocket in the middle of the gas that contained 4 very young stars.  It was magnificent.

Later, I was chatting with Shannon and mentioned how thrilling it was to see the Orion Nebulae.  He surprised me by abruptly swinging his 22” telescope around to give me a wide-field view!  I saw the Nebula again, only this time enlarged even further and with a richer deeper backdrop.  A thrill ran through me, it was so beautiful. 
Shannon remarked that he’s not easily impressed, but this particularly sight always did that for him.  I was so grateful he gave me another look at that amazing sight.
Later, as I reluctantly walked back to the GDB to leave, I heard a singular sound in the quiet night.  I listened for it again.  There it was!  Coyotes barking and howling from within the surrounding hills and canyons.  I listened for a long time.

What a sound! 
What a night!

Here are some photos I took on the previous day’s self-guided tour of the Observatory. 
The Hobby-Ebberly Telescope - largest mirror in the world at 3-stories tall.  It uses spectroscopy to tells us about the distance, age, and fate of stars.

The 107" telescope.

Great views on the drive up, up, up.

Oh, the  places we'll go!