Mercer Magic

After my stay at Mission Tejas State Park, TX, I spent four days in The Woodlands visiting some long-time friends and roaming the area where I’d lived for close to fifteen years.

On one of the days after the gloomy, wet weather paused and let the sun come out to play, I revisited Mercer Arboretum and Botanic Gardens north of Houston with one of my Woodlands friends. This beautiful, nature respite from the intensity and crowdedness of Houston was always a favorite place to spend some time.

This wasn’t the best time of year to see the plants and flowers, but still an enjoyable visit. Sadly though, one of my favorite spots was in the back at the turtle pond and the extensive displays of bamboo varities around the pond. Fast forward to Hurricane Harvey and 20′ of flood waters over the gardens and alas, the bamboo displays and turtle pond are no more. The arboretum staff has worked hard restoring things, but the gardens are a shadow of what they were when I last visited. In time, I’m sure they’ll return to their former glory.

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Invisible Days

Sunset over Lake Holloman near Alamogordo, NM

Wow…it’s been 12 days since I last posted. Doesn’t feel that long. I have a lot of posts coming soon covering the beautiful areas I’ve romped around in since the last post.

One of the pleasant surprises about retirement and being nomadic, is the calendar becomes useless. Oh, I have to know dates/days at times to make reservations here and there, but in general, I’m pretty clueless as to what day it is or the date for that matter. And I find that a good thing.

Driving up from El Paso to a dispersed camp site for tonight near Alamogordo, N.M., I had to cheat and look at the iPhone calendar to know it was Thursday (it is Thursday, yes?). These aren’t early mind-goofy moments, it’s that to a nomad the day or date is really not that important, save a few have-to-be-there engagements, thus it’s easy to lose track…a lot.

While I was working, every day had it’s own personality and each week tracked through the cycles of these day-moods: Monday was the dreaded back-to-work-but-weekend-too-short mood, Tuesday was when one actually got back fully into the work mode. Wednesday’s notorious as “hump” day reminding you you’re halfway there. Thursday was probably slighted and a forgetful day since it followed the celebratory “hump” day and preceded the much beloved Friday, which as every knows, is the BEST day of the work week because it’s the LAST day of the work week! And the weekend: two all-too-short days to unwind, have fun, spend the money you earned M-F, and get ready for the coming Monday.

To me, now, in this nomadic wandering lifestyle, one day’s pretty much the same as any other day. I’ve even lost track and gone looking for a restaurant, only to discover they were closed on…Sunday! Just another nameless day to me.

Mission Tejas State Park: Hidden Gem in the Pines

Every state has parks that are well known and visited. Then there are the more obscure parks that don’t get the limelight. Yet, they can hold hidden gems.

Stayed two nights in the hilly piney woods of East Texas, specifically at the northern end of the Davy Crockett National Forest at the Mission Tejas State Park. I lived in Texas for over 35 years and frequented many of those big named parks, and never heard of this one or the Fort Parker State Park I stayed before here for three nights previous. I missed out on a lot of nice, less-populated state parks during those years in Texas.

From the park’s history brochure: “The park was built in 1934 by Company 888 of the Civilian Conservation Corps as a commemorative representation of Mission San Francisco de los Tejas, the first Spanish mission in the province of Texas, which was established in 1690.”

The campsites here are tight and hilly, so a bit challenging backing into them. At least I don’t have the trouble these big trailers all around me had. Score another point for Travato’s ease and nimbleness!

Today’s highlight was a meandering, long hike through the park’s piney hills and valleys. For those used to trail hikes at state parks, you know the gamble whether trail maps they hand out are reasonably accurate or not. Some are, while others like this park’s seemed drawn from someone’s memory, rather than reflecting reality. At one point about half way on the three-mile hike (overall probably more like four miles counting verticals since the park has a vertical elevation change of over 400′), and even five or more miles counting the actual route versus the trail map’s fantasy route. In places, the path went left when the map showed right, or ran straight when in fact it zig-zagged down into a valley. I gave up reconnoitering via the map and just followed the path. There’s a Zen-like life statement in that last sentence I’m sure.

I stopped many times to listen to the quiet and the occasional bird and wind rustling and scattering the fallen leaves on the path. I tried to imagine what it must have been like back when the mission was active and the local Hasinai Indians roamed the woods. No doubt it looked as I was seeing it, without the paths constructed by park crews through the years. But even some of those, essentially fallen leaf-covered narrow foot paths, might have existed as natural animal and Indian paths through the woods.

12,000 steps later I was back at the replica mission house where I started, trusting the path I was on would lead me home. Today that home was Tamasté and the anticipation of tonight’s dinner: camp stove pan-grilled peppers and chicken strips, companioned by chilled red wine as the stars begin to come out overhead.

Goodbye Florida, Hello Texas!

I’ve been in Florida since December 20, or about 51 days, the longest I’ve ever spent in Florida. Guess it seems right, since I’m now a Florida resident. Will be back around by November or December, so meantime goodbye Florida with its warm air and blue waters…and hello Texas and its familiarity (lived here over 35 years in various places). My arrival in Texas was a bit too chilly, compared to the reviving warmth of Florida, but at least it’s not “chilly” like Ohio right now.

Florida Highlights

Beaches – While part of nature, these delights deserve their own highlight. Besides the white sands, blue-green waters, sounds of waves cresting and rolling in, sea birds, and fantastic people watching, beach walking has always been a soothing, relaxing, de-stressing activity for me. Walking and looking for seashells is a naturally present-minded activity where thinking about anything else is nearly impossible.

Family – Had several long visits with brother/family (Tampa area) and sister/family (Sarasota). Been ages since we’ve had that much time together. Good stuff.

Nature – Other than no black bear or panther sightings, I saw countless cool birds (including my first roseate spoonbill), manatees, alligators, fox, coyote and a variety of fauna especially a healthy dose of calming, relaxing palm trees. Took many long, rejuvenating hikes in pine forests, on beaches, in mixed wilderness areas.

New friends – Met many Travatoites in campgrounds and made some solid connections for budding, long-term friendships. Having the commonality of vanlife, travel, and (mostly) retired status, makes for easy opening conversations and lots to talk about. An introvert can be very social once a door of familiarity cracks open.

Retiree credentials – Not exactly a highlight, but is in the sense of completing the steps for medicare, social security, company retiree benefits, and fixed-income budget living. Ugh. Ten years ago none of those would be in my highlight reel, but aging has a way to make such things a big deal. These and obtaining my Florida driver’s license and voter’s registration without a huge hassle ), were necessary checkmarks for the days and years ahead. Voter’s registration for full-time RV or boat lifestyles in some Florida counties was temporarily in peril, but but settled by the time I got here.

Self-reliance – Learning to function and supporting myself in this lifestyle solidified during my Florida time. Living in a van and doing the daily things needed to take care of oneself is quite different than a house and the convenience of known resources when needed. While I’ve not spent a lot of time boondocking, which has its own, unique self-reliance skills, I have learned how to be self-sustaining while living in Tamasté.

Tamasté – Many things finished or refined in and about Tamasté during my days in Florida. I continue to tweak things, but now from an experienced view versus a perceived one. Adapting well to living like this, but yearn for times ahead where I can stay in one place for at least a week at a time. Enjoyed hopping around Florida to take everything in (check out the spaghetti routing on my Tripline map), and certainly Tamasté’s setup/breakdown is quick. Yet the desired settling into habit for writing work and life pondering has occurred only in fragments so far. Heading west I’ll have longer stay-put stops where I’m hoping these will become routine.

Warmth – Having left Michigan/Ohio with temperatures in the teens and twenties, it’s been so nice to have warm weather and no snow to shovel, or windshields to de-ice, or layers of clothing to wear daily. Florida had its cold spells, but by comparison are not cold nor long-lasting.

Florida Lowlights

To be fair, not all went perfect but such is life. Overall, a great time with few low moments, all of which were fortunately brief. Still, have to share the oops and acks as well.

  • Tamasté damage. While no permanent (or too expensive) damage, several rookie errors happened.

    • While visiting the St. Augustine Lighthouse, I drove under a too-low-, too-large oak tree branch and thought I’d sheared off the a/c on the roof! Loud? Sounded like an explosion from inside the van. Fortunately, only scratches, no damage.
    • Another time I backed onto a large rock resulting in tearing, then loosing, a rear tire mud flap ($150 oopsie as it will turn out).
    • And lastly, not seeing a speed bump which, when traveling too fast in a five-ton vehicle full of a LOT of little, loose parts, results in a loud cacophony of unholy sounds. They say an RV is like driving a house through an earthquake, and that mistake was at least an 8.0 on the dumb-ass richter scale of RV tremors.
  • Traveller’s sickness. Worst case of food poisoning (salmonella we think) I’ve every had hit me at one campsite and lasted about seven hours. Nothing worse than a) being alone when that sick, b) unable to go for help, or even know where to go, and c) messing up the small box you live and sleep in while sick. Fortunately, having gone through this before, I knew I wouldn’t die, but for a while there I wanted to! Checkbox marked on the “sick while solo traveling” bucket list from hell.
     

I look forward to next winter’s wanderings around Florida and will be smarter then from my time in Florida this year. Not wanting to plan that far ahead, I will have to make some state park reservations if I hope to stay longer than a day or two in each place, which is the goal for next year.

For now, it’s time for a Texas visit with friends and familiar places, and spend some sprit-rejuvenating time in far West Texas in the Big Bend/Davis Mountains areas. After that, it’s New Mexico wandering time for a month of intense nature and exploring a favorite part of the Southwest.

Ranch Life

Stayed a few nights over the weekend at a friend’s ranch in central, mid-Florida. Anytime I’ve stayed a places in the country with acreage and separation from neighbors it’s always been a refreshing, calming place to be. This weekend’s stopover was that and more.

They raise cattle, have horses, donkeys, dogs, lots of kids, nearby relatives, the whole family compound feeling that all made for a laid back, restful visit. I’m used to ranch land in Texas, but Florida ranch land is an interesting mix of pine trees and palm trees, sandy soil and big, blue skies. Their ranch abuts a nice lake adding beautiful sunsets, fishing, and the occasional alligator (the other distinctive difference from Texas ranches).

I used want to have a place in the country, with room to roam and visual separation from neighbors. That dream still smolders inside, but given the work it takes to maintain such a place, I think I’m past that dream, barring some windfall that would allow me to pay people to do everything! But visiting such places is still a delight and much thanks to my friend for the offer to stay. Definitely on the list for next winter’s places to be.

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Sandy Perfection

There are many reasons to come to Florida, and near the top of most lists is probably its beaches. With white (or close) sands and that amazing emerald-like water, a good beach is a joy to wander aimless and lose your thoughts while enjoying this part of our natural world. For someone who’s beach exposure was mostly Galveston and its brown sand and water, Florida beaches are heaven.

In my travels these last two months, I’ve visited a lot of beaches but none seemed to be THE beach…until yesterday.

Several people told me to check out Vero Beach, and unusually laid back and less touristy beachside town (and it’s now on my list of possible Florida places to base from). After driving around town (and stopping for the necessary laundry time-out) I decided I’d wander over to and drive down the outer island on my way to Highland-Hammocks State Park.

I stumbled upon Avalon State Park off North Hutchinson Island, the long stretch of land bordering the Atlantic opposite Vero Beach city. Boasting to have more than a mile of “increasingly rare undeveloped beachfront” (a fact I discovered after the visit), it turns out to be the best Florida beach I’ve seen…so far. Pictures below tell the story. I was hoping they had campgrounds, but alas, there’s just the one, small parking area off the highway for beach access. The rest of the 650 acres is a nature and wildlife preserve, a fantastic way to protect areas in our development-crazed world.

No gallery this time; too pretty not to show full width. Enjoy!