STE3 Hop 2: Aransas Pass TX to League City TX

STE3 Hop 2

STE3 Hop 2

186 miles, almost entirely on TX 35. Cumulative tow miles: 369. Truck miles: 191. Cumulative truck miles: 489.

This hop was more interesting than the previous two as it brushed the coast and had some nice causeways over two broad and very scenic bays. While it was just a state road, it was in good shape and much of it was 4 lanes. Not a bad hop.

The Palms

The Palms

Our Aransas Pass home was The Palms RV Park, a very nice park just 11 miles from the Route 1069 Campground – our home in Rockport less than a week prior. This park was unique in the STE in that it was a back-in site rather than a pull-through. We prefer the pull-through variety because they are easier to get into. But this park had none and we really wanted to stay there because we were considering it for a winter residence in 2018. But we are no longer considering it. It is just too small – only about 150 sites. And the cable was nearly unusable. But other than those negatives I really liked the park. The people were great, the laundry room was very nice and they had a large library and pool.

It probably took a couple of minutes longer to get into the back-in site, but it wasn’t difficult. Maybe 5 years ago it would have been difficult, but not now.

When I was removing the sewer hose in Brownsville I realized that one of my secondary hoses (I have 3) has a small hole and needed to be replaced. I needed the two remaining hoses to set up in Aransas Pass and in doing so discovered that a second hose – my main, favorite one – also had a small tear and needed to be replaced. Two hoses out of three failing at basically the same time. So I had to run down to WalMart and get replacements. I got a replacement for the cable connection, too, because we have been having so much trouble with signal quality on our main TV and thought that replacing the 50′ connection with a 25′ connection might help. The jury is out on that one. It probably helped a bit, but not much.

Dog park

Dog park

The pool

The pool

Our site

Our site

STE3 Hop 1: Brownsville TX to Aransas Pass TX

STE3 Hop 1

STE3 Hop 1

183 miles via TX 511, I-69E, US 77, TX 44, TX 358, I-37 and TX 35. Cumulative tow miles: 183. Truck miles: 298. Cumulative truck miles: 298.

This was a truly boring ride. At least coming south, via US 281, there was some farm activity. Going north on US there was nothing because there were no farms, just scrub brush. At least the weather was sunny and warm. And very, very humid. We had to turn on the AC, which is rare in our truck.

Our 3 nights in Brownsville were at the Breeze Lake Campground. This was a fairly large (250 sites) campground with mostly park models and long-term residents. The number of transient sites was probably no more than 50.

First let me say that the campers we met there were friendly and helpful. Other than that, I have nothing good to say about this campground.

The negatives:

  • The park management was terrible. First, they gave us a site that was occupied, then gave us incorrect directions to another site.  The office was not open during the posted open hours.  There was no place to leave the key card when we left.  Stupid stuff.  These people have no clue how to run a campground.
  • The roads were in terrible condition.  Big potholes, mud everywhere.
  • The roads were so narrow that I could not turn into my “pull-thru” site – I had to go around to the other side and back in.
  • The utility boxes at the sites were also in terrible shape.  Defunct cable hanging on them (the cable service had been terminated), rusty electrical boxes.
  • The sites were very poorly marked.  I had to get out of the truck and walk along the row of pull-thrus to find my site.  Again, stupid management?  How much effort would it take to clearly mark the transient sites?

Bottom line: this was one of the worst parks we have ever visited.  You would have to pay us to return here.

The additional truck miles were from two fairly long trips made to look for possible seasonal RV parks for next winter. We found one we liked: Llano Grande Resort and Country Club in Mercedes TX. There is just no question that this park offers great value: winter monthly rates under $700 ((we will be paying more than $1000 per month in Naples FL this year), with beautiful facilities, large sites (in some areas of the park) and an associated golf course with low rates. It is also just a few miles from Progreso Mexico where we could get cheap dental work done if necessary. So we will definitely consider it. The problem, we suspect, is that the sites that we would need for our large rig are going to be very popular. It is unlikely that we could get in. But we might try.

STE3 preview

Our 10,000 mile journey is nearing its end.  Our winter home – Naples FL – is just down the road, one segment away.  This final segment is planned to take 16 days with 9 hops covering about 1700 miles. That is 2 nights per hop.  The only planned 3 night stay will be near New Orleans, which Jett has visited but I haven’t.  Other than New Orleans and checking out some RV parks (and hurricane damage) near Houston, it is mostly a matter of getting the miles behind us with short stays in interesting places.

The planned route:

STE3 Plan

STE3 Plan

STE2 wrapup

Our arrival in Brownsville TX concluded the second segment of the Second Trip East (STE2). The segment by the numbers:

  • 9 hops
  • 19 nights
  • 1912 tow miles
  • 2390 truck miles
  • $719.07 in campground fees ($37.85 per night)

The actual route differed from the planned route only in minor ways, mostly due to missed turns or, in one case, a decision to skip a road that looked too narrow.  The biggest difference was the RV parks.  We had to select a different RV park for Austin because the first choice (and second choice, and third choice…) was booked.  I also changed the penultimate stop because I thought I found a better option.

Highlights:

  • Completing our map, YAY!  We didn’t do 48 states in 48 months, as originally planned, but we got all 48 in 61 months.  That feels like a major – if unimportant – accomplishment.
  • Seeing Jett’s sister, nephew and niece in Austin.  It is always nice to catch up with her family.
  • Seeing first-hand the utter devastation left by Hurricane Harvey.  It was stunning and sobering.
  • Losing money at the Choctaw Casino in Durant OK. No, we don’t enjoy losing money but the casino is beautiful, the machines were fun and the RV park there is spectacular.
  • Checking out some of the RV parks in south Texas.  It is unlikely that we will choose to winter here, but it is an option and we now have a much better idea what that option offers.

Lowlights:

  • The weather.  It continued to be very chilly through the first 7 hops.  Not until we got to Rockport TX did it warm up.  Now, in Brownsville TX, sweat is dripping from my brow as I type this.  Be careful what you ask for.
  • The scenery. After months in the Rockies, the Cascades and the Oregon coastal range, the flatness of Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas was pretty boring.  I didn’t get many good photos in this segment.
  • The ridiculously bad RV park that we stayed at in Brownsville.  Pitted roads with deep mud, sharp corners, poorly marked sites, office staff who gave me the wrong directions to my site and no electricity when we set up (not the park’s fault, but it contributed to my sense of being in a really bad park). One of the worst in our 5+ years of travel. I will report on this park when I document STE3 Hop 1.
  • Probably wasting $500 to buy a new TV because we thought the old one just couldn’t pull in weak stations.  Well, the new one is just as bad.  The upside is we donated the TV in Rockport.  I’m sure the RV park there – or one of their long-term residents – will appreciate it.

STE2 Hop 9: Rockport TX to Brownsville TX

STE2 Hop 9

STE2 Hop 9

247 miles via TX 35, US 181, I-37, US 77, I-2, US 83, FM 511 and local roads at each end and to find a gas station in San Jose TX. Cumulative tow miles: 1912. Truck miles: 460. Cumulative truck miles: 2390.

This was the worst hop of the trip. Why? Let me count the ways.

  1. Our intended path over to US 281 included a bypass, on FM 1930, around Alice. Well, FM 1930 was a very narrow road which I opted to skip, so we had to go through Alice.  Not that Alice was a bustling metropolis, but this unexpected adjustment to our route was indicative of what was to come.
  2. Our planned refueling stop was at the H-E-B in San Jose TX.  But the GPS missed it and told me to take the next exit.  There was no way to get back to it except to execute a very long U-turn.  So we went off on local roads looking for a suitable service station.
  3. We found an Exxon, but it had only one diesel pump and some guy was camped out there, apparently having gone into the convenience store to get a corn dog and chat up the clerk.  I decided to go on, which meant snaking my way through the pumps.  I had to move the window washing canister and give Jett a heart attack as I got within 4 inches of pumps both up front and in the rear.
  4. We chose the WalMart next.  I was able to fill up there, but exiting required a very tight left turn.  A bus driver helped me navigate my way out of there.
  5. The staff at the campground gave me the wrong directions to our site and when I got there I found a trailer set up where I was supposed to go.  A call to the office resulted in a reassignment two sites down.  But the markings on the sites were so poor that I tried to enter at the wrong point.  Other campers corrected me on that, but the turn was so tight that I couldn’t make it.  I had to go around and back into my “pull-through” site.
  6. When we started to set up I discovered that we had no electrical power.  Another call to the office.  Apparently power was out to about a quarter of the park. They would look into it.
  7. We went out to dinner and then decided to look for generators.  I found one that was plenty powerful enough, but too big (it would have to fit into the bed of the truck). I found another that was small enough but not powerful enough.  The “just right” one was out of stock.
  8. When we got back the power was on. But the freezer had been off for about 8 hours. We had to toss the ice and we are still considering whether anything else needs to go.

Our home in Rockport TX for 3 nights was the Route 1069 RV Park. This is a bare bones park with a lot of long-term residents. Very small – maybe 50 sites. Our pull-through was small (we had to park cross-ways behind the RV), but at least we could get into it. And, quite surprisingly, the park had very good cable TV – over 70 channels. The park still had some residual damage from Hurricane Harvey (see the previous post for photos of its trashed playground set) and they were cutting down tilting trees.

Odd bus

Odd bus

Our site

Our site

There were some old rigs in the park, including one unique converted tour bus. No slides, maybe 300 sq ft interior space and 3 air conditioning units on the roof. 100 sq ft per unit? Just what goes on in there?

I didn’t like the park at first, but we actually had a good time there. I would return.

I spent the first day touring some RV parks in the area (and found one that was worth a second look) and taking photos of the hurricane damage. The second day I took Jett back to see the one park that impressed me and to show her some of the devastation. We dined out at the only restaurant open for business. I won’t mention it because I can’t recommend it.

Rockport TX after Hurricane Harvey

Wrecked 5-story boat storage facility

Wrecked 5-story boat storage facility

Hurricane Harvey roared ashore at Rockport TX the evening of Aug 25, then raked the area for over a week with torrential rains and strong winds. Recovery is underway but even now, more than 2 months later, parts of Rockport look like the hurricane roared through last night. The most stunning example of total devastation is the 5-story boat storage facility, which I am sure was fully loaded with boats that owners took out of the water before the storm to keep them safe. Well, they weren’t safe there. There are now hundreds of boats that are total losses, along with the building itself.

A typical side street

A typical side street

A roof, I think, peeled off

A roof, I think, peeled off

But the most poignant scenes can be found on nearly every side street in town. The cleanup efforts have not reached there yet, so the streets are lined with debris of all kinds, including fallen trees, wood from roofs and sheds ripped apart and mattresses, furniture and even toys that were destroyed by the rains. Nobody escaped unscathed and some look like they have lost everything. Everywhere you look you see homes that can’t possibly be occupied. But they are.

RVs that were left on site were also destroyed. Dozens like the one shown line streets throughout the area. I asked the owner of the RV park where we stayed whether any RVs were lost in the storm. Yes, she said – 9 completely destroyed.

Many businesses were lost, too. There was exactly one restaurant the we could find in downtown Rockport that was open for business. Many convenience stores and gas stations remain shuttered.

It is going to be a LONG time before Rockport returns to normal. I can’t even imagine how much it is all going to cost.

One of many destroyed RVs

One of many destroyed RVs

Random debris along TX 35

Random debris along TX 35


One of the most puzzling things I saw was the debris just inland from the shore south of Corpus Christie. The city did not get hit very hard – sustained winds there were barely minimum hurricane force, compared to the 140 mph winds that smashed Rockport. But the shore had lots of debris, including things like a chest freezer and other heavy appliances, more than a mile from the nearest home. How did they get there? I can only guess that they floated south from Rockport and washed in with the tide.

One very thin silver lining: there is going to be a LOT of cheap firewood this winter.

Shore debris

Shore debris

Destroyed playground at our camp

Destroyed playground at our camp

Firewood

Firewood

STE2 Hop 8: Austin TX to Rockport TX

STE2 Hop 8

STE2 Hop 8

212 miles via TX 620, TX 71, TX 210, US 183, TX 188 and some local roads, with a refueling stop. Cumulative tow miles: 1665. Truck miles: 367. Cumulative truck miles: 1930.

The refueling stop was unplanned and was due to remembering, too late – I was already hitched up – that I hadn’t taken the truck down to the corner gas station to fill the tank. So we had to start off looking for a place that we could get the rig into. We found one about 10 miles into the journey, which wasn’t all bad as it reduced the anxiety on the destination end when the gauge hovered near “E”.

Once again, the trip was pretty boring. Lots of flat farmland (after fighting our way through Austin church traffic) and nothing to really catch our attention until we were about 20 miles from Rockport. Then the Hurricane Harvey damage started to show up. Fences down, roofs being repaired, piles of debris lining the road.

Rockport itself is, reportedly, a mess. I will check it out today. But the park is located directly across the street from a restaurant that is being rebuilt. Looks like it lost most of its roof and windows and probably had lots of water damage.

We spent our three nights in Austin at La Hacienda RV Resort. This is a very nice medium-sized park near Lake Travis. It was packed, which didn’t surprise me a lot as I had had a lot of trouble finding a park in the Austin area that had vacancy. I asked the office staff why it was so difficult finding a campsite near Austin and the answer surprised me: winter seasonals are starting to arrive. That is very different than our experience in Florida where the parks seem to be only about half full until Christmas. I guess snowbirds in Texas roost earlier.

The biggest problem with the site we was given at La Hacienda was that it was designed for a motorhome – you drive in, back out. Except with a fifth wheel you can’t just drive in because you need to unhitch, too. We were lucky in that our site was at the end of the row with a large grassy field to our right, so I was able to unhitch and drive around using the field. But we had to back out of the site, which is, I believe, a first for us.

We have been having problems with the large 47″ TV in our living room. It has always been very poor at pulling in stations, whether we are on cable or antenna. Typically we get about two-thirds of the stations that the bedroom TV gets. Lately, this problem has been compounded with the screen simply going black at random times. As I was out, taking Rusty for a grooming, I got a text from Jett telling me to buy a TV while I was out. Well, the PetSmart was right across the street from a Best Buy, so I returned with a groomed dog and a new TV and spent most of the day on Friday replacing the television. It was harder than I expected, mostly due to the two televisions having very different mount points. I had to improvise to get the new TV mounted.

Our site

Our site

Swapping out the TV

Swapping out the TV

Sadly, the new TV doesn’t pull in stations much better than the old one, so the problem must be in the cable connection. Which is not easily solved. The new TV does have a better picture on the stations it gets and does have WiFi, so we now theoretically have the ability to use Netflix. And it doesn’t go black. But I now have a used 37″ Samsung TV that is probably not as bad as I thought, so I need to find a way to donate it – to either a person or an organization.

Part of the attraction of the Austin area was visiting with Jett’s nephew and niece and having another spectacular dinner at his restaurant, Café Malta. If you ever get to Austin, make an effort to get to this restaurant. It is always imaginative and always superb. The big winners this time were the cream of broccoli soup, the braised lamb ribs and the brisket ravioli.

Braised lamb ribs

Braised lamb ribs

Jett’s sister was also visiting which was another reason for being there at this particular time. Of course we had to have a couple of games of hand, knee and foot and I am happy to report that Christine and I simply crushed Jett and her niece.

STE2 Hop 7: Corsicana TX to Austin TX

STE2 Hop 7

STE2 Hop 7

156 miles via TX 31, I-35 and TX 620. Cumulative tow miles: 1453. Truck miles: 165. Cumulative truck miles: 1563.

Texas is boring. There is no notable scenery. It really is a matter of putting in the time to get where you are going. Fortunately, this hop required only 3 hours of driving and they were uneventful. Except for the wind which in this case was mostly in our face. But it was strong enough to buffet us. And make me grateful that it wasn’t coming at us sideways.

Our home for 2 nights in Corsicana was the American RV Park (and Sales – but we didn’t see anything for sale). This is a medium-sized park with mostly long-term residents. But they had two rows of pull-throughs and they were long enough to fit us comfortably. And their ice was about the best we have found on this trip and only $1.79 for 10 lbs – cheaper that WalMart. Small things like that make me happy.

Not a lot of amenities but we didn’t care. It was quiet so we got some good sleep. It was also just a half-mile from WalMart, so we were able to replenish the pantry. We dined out at Sirloin Stockade which turned out to be a Sizzler-style steakhouse. Not an epicurean delight, but decent food at a decent price. We happened to arrive on Senior Wednesday which meant that we dined for about $8 each. With unlimited (small, thin) sirloin steaks. Jett had two, I had one (but I also had some pot roast).

One problem with our site: there was a huge nest of fire ants right next to the sewer connection. I knelt for about 30 seconds to hook up the hose and when I stood I saw about 200 ants roaming around my right leg. I brushed them off quickly and didn’t think any more of it. Until my hand and leg started tingling. Now, nearly a week later, my leg is still covered with red welts. But, oddly, they neither hurt nor itch.

STE2 Hop 6: Durant OK to Corsicana TX

STE2 Hop 6

STE2 Hop 6

157 miles via US 75, I-635, I-45 and TX 31 with a brief stop to figure out how we screwed up. Cumulative tow miles: 1297. Truck miles: 173. Cumulative truck miles: 1398.

This was another hop that didn’t exactly go as planned. I intended to take a route that used US 69 instead of US 75 because we had had enough of 75 and didn’t like it very much. But after we exited onto US 69 and passed through Denison TX, we missed a turn and ended up back on US 75. We stopped at a truck stop to get our bearings and decided that it would be best to take US 75 down to the outskirts of Dallas, then use I-635 to go around rather than through. We picked up I-45 south of Dallas and it was pretty simple from there.

Not much scenery on this hop. And the roads – notably US 75 – were very rough. Not a fun hop to drive.

Our home is Durant OK was the Durant KOA, conveniently located adjacent to the Choctaw Casino. The campground was superb. Without question the best KOA we have ever seen. All pull-thrus. Wide concrete pads, plenty of room for the truck, landscaping and a very nice patio set, all included. A gorgeous clubhouse, a double dog park. There is nothing bad to say about this campground. We would stay here again in a heartbeat.

We also loved the casino, despite losing about $200 there. It is big and beautiful with a wide variety of slot machines and entertainment options, including a movie theater and a bowling alley. It also had some very fine fast food dining options including Smashburger which is now our favorite burger place.

The view from our site at night

The view from our site at night

Ready to leave our site

Ready to leave our site

STE2 Hop 5: Bartlesville OK to Durant OK

STE2 Hop 5

STE2 Hop 5

222 miles via US 75, with a refueling stop and an unexpected detour in Tulsa. Cumulative tow miles: 1140. Truck miles: 285. Cumulative truck miles: 1225.

This was probably the longest hop we have ever traveled on a single US route. US 75 travels basically due south all the way, so it was a logical choice. Google wanted to divert us onto a toll road south of Tulsa, but we don’t like toll roads so we continued on US 75. Or tried to. Turns out there was a closed ramp for where US 75 turned west in Tulsa and I missed the detour sign, so I had to scramble and find my own detour. It cost us a couple of miles and about 5 minutes. Not a big problem.

We didn’t like US 75 much. Parts of it were smooth and wide, but most of it was narrow and bumpy. And more sharp curves than I expected. The rough ride jumbled things in the RV pretty good. Jett didn’t like the curves.

Our home in Bartlesville was the Riverside RV Resort. I didn’t have high hopes for this park. On Google Earth it looked small and the sites looked cramped. But we were given one of the few pull-through sites in the park and it worked out very nicely. It put our window side up against the creek, which gave us a lot of privacy. We didn’t even drop our shades at night.

We spent our free day in Pawhuska (see my previous post) and spent the night surviving a severe thunderstorm. Before the storm hit I took Rusty out for a walk where I was trying to find a place to shelter in case we received a tornado warning. Didn’t find much – Plan B was to drop down into the river ravine and hang onto roots. Not much of a plan, but, fortunately, I didn’t have to execute it. The rain was heavy only for about an hour. The lightning was too frequent and too close, but did no damage – except the loud clap at 3:11am the made both Jett and me pop up out of bed.

I never like severe thunderstorms in Oklahoma.

I was chatting with our neighbor the morning after and the topic of Rockport TX arose – our STE2 Hop 8 destination. She said she was there just 2 weeks ago and the Hurricane Harvey devastation is hard to believe. She showed me some photos. Horrible. I expect we will see things we have never seen before when we get down there.

Today we are going to the Choctaw Casino. We will probably lose money there – money that we should have donated to Hurricane Harvey relief.