Gateway To Mars…!

While we were in South Texas, you may remember we got the chance to visit Boca Chica Beach, home of the official Gateway to Mars. Well, official in the mind of Elon Musk, anyway. This is where you’ll find Starbase, which is Musk’s bid to create his own spaceport, capable ultimately of sending people to Mars. Starbase is currently the focus of his Starship heavy-launch project, and it was truly amazing that we were able to stand right next to it and take this video of the set-up…

Catch Our RV Journey on YouTube!

The journey itself might be over, and our “A Year On The Road” RV adventure is officially in the books, but you can still catch up with all the excitement and intrigue on our YouTube channel, which now has almost 100 snapshot videos of different aspects of the trip in the bag.

Javelinas! Jevelinas! Finally, we get to see Javelinas!

From Pictured Rocks National Seashore in Michigan to Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, plus dozens of fascinating places and experiences in between, this is our chance to wow you with the visuals of this epic RV journey across 23 states.

Our latest contribution is all about those elusive Javelinas in Texas, but you’ll also find recent videos that highlight the vibrant Historic Market Square in San Antonio, Big Bend National Park and a stunning tequila sunset in New Mexico.

Check it all out on this link:

The stunning Natural Bridge Caverns just north of San Antonio featured in a recent snapshot video

A Year On The Road in The Independent, Pt 7

Regular blog readers will know our grand year-long RV adventure is being serialized in the UK’s Independent newspaper, and the latest instalment is now online.

It covers the northern part of our Arizona travels, and you can find it on this link:

The majestic Grand Canyon

The Month 11 Travel Map

As keen-eyed blog readers will know, we have just hit the 11 month mark in our grand “A Year On The Road” RV trek across the US. After Louisiana, we arrived in coastal Mississippi, our 23rd state in this epic voyage.

The story so far – 11 months on the road (NB: The pin-points are not our only stopping points – there are more than 60 of those so far!)

Since our last monthly update, we have covered another 181 miles – a totally sedate travel distance at this stage of our journey (especially when we covered more than 2,200 in the first month!).

In the last month we have moved from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to Biloxi, Mississippi, and our traveling has been a lot more focused on the areas close by, rather than trying to cover vast distances quickly. Even including the last two months, we have only gone a total of 672 miles in our trusty Winnebago, Indefatigable (or Fati for short).

The last two full months of our journey, from Port Aransas in Texas all the way along the Gulf Coast to Biloxi via Louisiana

Mind you, we have still covered some territory in our trusty tow car, Nippy, putting an additional 2,534 miles on our little Ford Fiesta (and 3,991 in the past two months), which shows that we’ve completely changed the balance of our touring – going shorter distances in Fati but doing more exploration in Nippy.

Now, with just a month left of our travels (but still more than 550 miles from home), it definitely feels like the end of our grand adventure is firmly in sight, which is very hard to contemplate after such a prolonged – and intense – period of traveling.

In total, we have come 9,225 miles in Fati since leaving home, and another 24,604 in Nippy, for a grand total of 33,829 around this amazing country. Eat your heart out, Hardest Geezer!

Beads, Boats, And Brilliant Birding

If you’ve seen the movie, The Big Year, you know how passionate birders can be about their hobby. We’re casual birders at best, but we do enjoy seeing wildlife we can’t see in Florida. While much of Texas is known for its exceptional birding, it turns out our next destination, Port Aransas, offers some of the best in the state.

We arrived on Fat Tuesday and were delighted to hear there would be a Padre Gras golf cart parade that afternoon, the island’s answer to Mardi Gras. Campers were lining their chairs up along the campground’s main streets, and we joined them.

What a great way to start our stay!

We were all set for the fun of clapping and cheering as each cart went by, but hadn’t thought about the paraders throwing beads and candy. Ruthie got to wear the beads for a while, then we gave them to our neighbor’s granddaughter. We doled out the six or eight pieces of candy over the following few evenings and called them “dessert.”

A fair bit of our five-day stay was spent wandering around wetlands and reserves with our binoculars. Many of the birds that live here or migrate here for winter are familiar to us; ibis, certain kinds of ducks, herons, egrets, and some cranes, but we were excited to see some new ones, including Roseate Spoonbills and the endangered Whooping Crane.

There was a big flock of Spoonbills here, too, but they were just too far for our camera to capture.

Three whole Whopping Cranes!

Florida has plenty of pelicans along its shores, but we don’t see them inland, so they’re still special to us. Here, they have both Brown and White Pelicans.

This little fellow wasn’t reacting to people passing by, and within a short time two women from a rescue center showed up and carefully took him away. We hope he’s feeling much better now!


Gators are always a bit special, but we’re pretty used to seeing them. In this instance, the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center’s resident gator, called Boots by the locals, is a great huge whompin’ example of the species, measuring in at 14 feet. He’s a grumpy 50-year-old who chased away his only potential buddy, Stumpy, who was missing a leg. Stumpy got relocated, then relocated again, and is now living in Beaumont, our destination a few weeks from now.

You could make a lot of boots out of Boots…if he didn’t kill you first.

Ship-watching is practically a sport hereabouts, and we joined the locals at Roberts Point Park, where cargo ships enter the channel to pick up oil from the refineries and then head back out to sea to make their deliveries.

There is a pier not far from the park that gives you a view of the ships that’s so close you can almost see the faces of their crew members. It’s also a great spot for fishing, and we watched a man feeding the small fish he caught to a couple of pelicans. His wife told us the pelicans sometimes attack the man, but it never seemed to occur to them that it was the natural result of hand-feeding a wild animal. We sort of hoped some of the bites hurt.

We had planned to take a trip out to San Jose Island (a.k.a. St. Jo’s), a private island whose owner lets people visit the beach, but the weather was turning and the primary draws are fishing and swimming, so we made the round-trip without getting off the little ferry.

Finally out on the water.

This is pretty much all there is to do on the island. Probably wonderful in summer, but not so much in winter when it’s cold and wet.

Ruthie was not impressed. At ALL. The vibration of the ferry totally unnerved her, and we could hear her thanking all the blessed angels in heaven when her feet were back on terra firma. That dog can pull – hard! – when she wants to go back to the car.

Ruthie looks calm here, but she was shaking and panting and having a real fit for herself. One of the passengers on our return trip helped by petting her head while I patted her rear.

The island is all chopped up in this area, and while there are bridges, it sometimes requires less milage to take the free car ferry from Port Aransas to Aransas Pass, and that would be our route when it was time to move on to Port Lavaca. But first, we wanted to give it a try in Nippy to be sure we knew how to do it in Fati.

Loading and unloading area. The whole set-up was super efficient, and surprisingly quick.

We were directed into that spot to the right of the pickup truck. Score!

We got an up-front view for our crossing, and were astonished at how totally without movement the journey felt. It was only by being able to see the shore that we knew we were moving at all.

Our view.

Our final two days in the area were so rainy and windy we ended up staying home. Happily, Port Aransas is small, so we felt we got the best out of it that a wet winter could give.

It’s All About The Sea In Corpus Christi

We have encountered countless Spanish, Native American, French, and German business names and locations during our journey, and, after a while, our brains automatically translated them into English, sometimes with humorous results. We were looking forward to visiting Body of Christ – Corpus Christi – an iconic port city along Texas’s Gulf Coast, named for the Roman Catholic Feast Day that was going on when the place was “discovered” by the Spanish in 1519.

We had two major attractions in mind, along with more fabulous Mexican food, and a heaping helping of seafood, at least for Simon.

“You like dessert, Jennifer, not coffee.”
My go-to line when Simon orders a sweet coffee drink. This time, though, it was a milkshake.

The city’s personality is defined by its beaches, its fishing, and its bridges, one of which can be seen for miles in every direction. As big as it is, though, an even bigger bridge is taking shape next to it, presumably to accommodate the ever-growing size of ocean-going vessels that make their way into and out of the port.

Existing bridge is too low.

New bridge will be gigantic.

The skies were a bit grim to start with, but it was still pleasant enough for a walk (and a drive) along the beach. Ruthie was okay with the hard-packed sand, and happily trotted along when we made a trip out to Padre Island National Seashore.

Happy girl! She loves the hard-packed beaches.

The first attraction we wanted to visit was the huge aircraft carrier parked in Corpus Christi Bay. Ruthie couldn’t be left alone for an hour or more, so Susan waited with her in the car while Simon toured the ship. He’ll take over the blog for this part:

Walking up the ramp to the main deck entrance of the mighty U.S.S. Lexington is like walking back in history, to the turmoil of World War II and the life-or-death struggle in the Pacific theater, where aircraft carriers were the big dogs of most battles and the USA’s fleet helped to carry the day in some of the bloodiest exchanges of the War.

You feel that heritage almost immediately as you enter the gaping Hangar Deck, where the aircraft were stored when not on a mission. Amazingly, up to 60 planes could be stored here, but the area – which covers 40,000 square feet – is now given over to a variety of exhibits, video presentations, a Pearl Harbor memorial, several flight simulators, and a few vintage aircraft.

The Lexington has a long and illustrious history, from her commissioning in 1943 to service with the Seventh Fleet out of San Diego, when it was on call to serve as a major deterrent in places such as Formosa, Laos, and Cuba, before taking up training operations from 1962-1991, when she was decommissioned and eventually moved to Corpus Christi as a permanent museum and tribute to the many men and women who served in the carrier fleet.

All this history is available on a series of self-guided tours, and I did two of them, starting with the Lower Decks tour that takes visitors deep into the bowels of a ship that needed a crew of about 3,000 during the War (and 1,550 in later years). It includes a visit to the engine room, galley, medical and dental facilities and much more, including several memorials to other aircraft carriers and their crews.

The other must-do tour is the Flight Deck, the vast open space that is the carrier’s “airport,” covering two full acres. It is 910 feet long and 460 feet wide and had to be reconfigured for jet aircraft in the 1950s, but is an immense experience that includes more than a dozen different aircraft. You can also visit the captain’s bridge for an excellent overview of the Flight Deck.

There is a LOT to like about the whole experience and it would take you most of the day to take it all in. It remains a formidable figure on the Corpus Christi shoreline and presents an educational history trip through a grim period of the 20th century. The ship was actually hit and badly damaged by a Japanese Kamikaze plane in late 1944, killing 50 crewmen and injuring another 132, and there is a very heartfelt tribute to all the victims, which really brings home the full magnitude of the War’s horrors. Perhaps a bit much for young children, but a valuable lesson for older ones. 

(Susan here again) With crummy weather heading in the next day, we drove out to the Texas State Aquarium for some time exploring what’s under Corpus Christi’s coastal waters. Obviously, we know SeaWorld in Orlando very well, with it’s big-scale experience, and this was on a much more intimate scale. Where the Lexington may have been beyond most youngsters, the aquarium is ideal for them and the grownups who love them.

We have a thing for themed environments when it comes to educational experiences, and the aquarium didn’t disappoint.

The most peevish beings in the world. They are SO LOUD, and they squabble constantly, which is actually quite hilarious

There was also a dolphin show, but we only arrived in time for the finale.

Our five days in Corpus Christi went by fast. We tried a few recommended restaurants, we spent a lot of time on the Island, and we were glad to have been there during the calm before the storm, when Spring Breakers and then the summer crowds would descend on this wonderful gem of a city.

Well, Hello Old Friend!

Even though we live inland, Florida’s Gulf Coast has been a presence in our lives for nearly two decades. We write about it, we watch it for hurricanes, and we’ve traveled its full length for work and for enjoyment. Little did we know how much we’d feel that old familiar friend’s presence again.

After being in the mountains and the desert for so long, the coast, the smell of water, and the humidity came as a slight shock. What also came as a surprise was the look of South Padre Island. We had to remind ourselves over and over that we weren’t in Daytona, or Clearwater, or Miami after we crossed the big causeway over the Intracoastal Waterway. Had we been blindfolded and dropped on one of the area’s three main drags, we’d have put money on being in Florida.

South Padre also stands out as having its own character. Very touristy in the heart of the strip, but when we drove to the literal end of the road, it felt like we were in Michigan’s upper peninsula, driving right along Lake Michigan’s coast, with sand dunes on both sides and not a whole lot else.

At this remote end of the island, we found lots of RVers boondocking (camping with no hookups). Several vans and a few Class Cs and Fifth-Wheels were parked right off the road, obviously hanging out for several days.

We walked along the hard-packed beachfront, took cheeky side-eye glances into other people’s rigs (from a respectable distance), and appreciated the solitude while also knowing it wouldn’t work for us. Apart from anything else, we couldn’t have turned Fati around in such limited space.

Lunch at Mahi Nic – which came as a recommendation and was right along a canal – felt exactly like being at one of hundreds of waterside dining spots we’ve been to in Florida. We both ordered hot dogs (bacon-wrapped Captain Hearty dog for Simon, with chipotle mayo and pico de gallo; Nate Dog for Susan, with mustard, ketchup, onions, and pickle relish), with a side order of fries.

This is not something either of us would usually order, and we don’t know what possessed us. We do know the dogs were superb, and the fries were as big as our heads. We also now know that Susan can’t eat hot dogs that have a lot of garlic in them.

That is one big, whompin’-ass fry!

We had a nice wander around the beach, but both of us were really tired. It had been so long since we’d broken camp and moved in Fati, and the wind had been strong enough during our drive to require extra concentration and arm muscles, we really did feel the effects. South Padre Island KOA Holiday made a pleasant waterside base for our stay, and we were quite happy to relax a bit, enjoying the sound of the breeze through the palm trees.

Not a bad view!

Dinner that evening came from Viva, and had it been warmer outside we probably would have eaten at their indoor-outdoor dining room that faced the Intracoastal Waterway. Instead, we got a carry-out and ate at home, then called it a night after watching two episodes of the Great British Baking Show, our go-to indulgence when our brains don’t want to think anymore.

Simon went for the Gulf Shrimp and veggies

Susan had fish and heirloom carrots.

And a beautiful sunset made it taste even better.

We were up and out relatively early the next day, heading for breakfast at Josephine’s Kitchen. Susan went for two feather-light crepes with fruit, Simon dove into the Avocado Benedict, and our server brought Ruthie the best “pup cup” she’s ever had in her whole wide life. It was filled with bacon and blueberries, but she decided there was no reason to eat blueberries when bacon was around.

Pup cup of delight!

Next we popped over to Sea Turtle, Inc. This small operation rescues and rehabilitates sea turtles, and the facility had several long-term and short-term residents, as well as interesting displays featuring the local sea life. It’s all about education, and again, we felt very much like we were back home in Florida.

Did you know turtles yawn? Us either!
Ruthie did not understand the assignment.

Think whatever feels comfortable for you about SeaWorld in Orlando, but do bear in mind, the work they do rescuing and rehabilitating sea turtles, manatees, and other living beings is absolutely second to none. We know their facilities well, and it’s astonishing how much they’ve added to the welfare of the seas and sea life.

The South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center was right next door, and we could easily have spent hours there, even though we don’t consider ourselves birders and can’t identify most of what we’re seeing. What a fantastic place! When migrations are going on, it must be utterly spectacular.

The view from the third floor of the nature center’s observation tower.

An egret, probably, and some duck things with beautiful faces.

Although the facility is mostly outdoors, dogs are not allowed on the walkways. We understand this; dogs bark, and birds don’t like that. Still, our Ruthie would have loved it. So many good sniffs!

This bird surely has a real name, but for us it was a Vulture Kingfisher.

Even small children know this one’s name.
Bob. It’s Bob.

Variety Pack of birds.

Directly across the main strip from the birding center was Clayton’s Beach Bar, “the biggest beach bar in Texas.” Simon cannot pass up places like this. It is simply impossible for him to do so. Two fish sandwiches and a beer each later, we were perfectly chilled and in the mood to pass judgement upon those who were dancing to the band that had begun to play.

The bar so big it’s like being on the upper deck of a cruise ship.

When the band showed up Simon said, “They’re going to open with something big. ZZ Top, maybe.” What they really opened with was something akin to a dirge. Very funeral-sounding, and nothing we could identify. It didn’t get a whole lot better from there, and when people started dancing to “I got friends in low places,” it looked like none of them were dancing to the same song, or to the song that was actually being played. But they were having fun, and that’s all that counts, so we bid them a silent goodbye and went back to Fati until dinnertime.

Meatball Café was our choice for the evening, partly because Simon had been craving pizza, Susan can’t have it, and the café offered eight-inch pizzas, salad, bruschetta, and calamari. Half a side salad and some bruschetta was enough for Susan, and Simon was a happy boy with his pizza.  We have no photos of this meal. We don’t know why.

We’d done a lot of dining at or from restaurants, as the area’s tourism was eager for us to try several restaurants, and we had enough left over to see us through the next day. We were so full afterwards that we may have skipped a meal…or two.

A Year On The Road – The 8-Month Map

Here we are at the two-thirds mark of our grand ‘A Year On The Road’ RV adventure, and we have reached deep south Texas. We are currently in Donna, TX, and we have traveled a full 928 miles in the last month from our December base in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Our route from Las Cruces took us down through El Paso to Van Horn, and then on to Alpine (for the magnificent Big Bend National Park), before heading further south to Del Rio and then Castroville for Christmas (just outside San Antonio). The New Year then took us southwest to Donna via Kingsville.

All safely set up at our RV resort in Donna, Texas. We could end up being here a whole month!

Our total RV mileage since we left home is now 8,242 and Texas is our 20th state (not counting Florida). That 928 miles probably doesn’t sound like much, but it is more than the total for months 6 and 7 combined, as we had started a significant slow-down in favor of being longer in one place and exploring further by car.

The story so far. The full track of our trip in Fati is in yellow, and our multiple side-trips in Nippy are shown in pink. We still have another 1,500 miles or so to get home!

Our little Ford Fiesta, Nippy, has put in an additional 1,558 miles in the past month, giving her a total to date of 19,708. Combined with Fati, we have driven a grand total of 27,825 miles, or basically enough to have gone right the way round the world, plus an extra 2,924 miles!

We had to make sure we didn’t arrive too early at our Donna campground, so we paid a call to the local Post Office (which had a nice empty parking lot!)

In all honesty, we are not looking to break any long-distance records at this stage. We knew we had to get some miles under our belt by January as the weather becomes a major factor at this time of year, and we need to stay as far south as possible. RVs are not built to travel far during the depths of winter and, even being this far south has had its challenges, with temps dropping below freezing several times this month. Including the wind-chill, we hit 15F/-9.5C at its coldest and, living in what amounts to a glorified tin can, that gets REALLY cold, really quickly!

Our route from here will hug the Texas coast all the way to Louisiana in March, and we should just be warming up again by then!

Simon, Susan & Ruthie

Snug as a dog in a rug!

Missions, Caverns, And A Whole Lotta Food

Our itinerary had been thrown into chaos compliments of Ruthie’s turbo-charged backside, but as things settled down for her, we ventured out again to pick up on the highlights. Some of our plans had to be scrapped, some fell through due to a major college football bowl game that had most of downtown San Antonio in worse chaos than Ruthie’s gut, but there was still plenty to enjoy, if our stamina allowed.

Ruthie gets a lot of love when we venture out. She’s incredibly patient and gentle with children.

Mission San José was known as “The Queen of Missions” for its larger-than-average size, and indeed, the church does cut an imposing figure over the huge courtyard outside. Simon and I both thought a mission was a just church; instead, it’s typically a community with living quarters, trades, agricultural work, and a church. But the mistake is an easy one to make, since the goal of forming the “community” was to convert native peoples to Catholicism, which would then generate new taxes for the King of Spain.

Conversion was the native peoples’ path to safety from the very people who were making them unsafe. Their diets would change, their spiritual lives would change, their clothing and housing would change. And the names they were given at birth? Yeah, those changed, too. The timeless dilemma: what would you do to keep your children and the people you love safe?

We were part of a guided tour, but Ruthie was getting so much attention we backed off a bit. Even the ranger was (fondly) distracted by her.

Inside the church.

This area formerly housed the missionaries and lay people who ensured the communities’ regimented schedule of toil and thrice-daily prayer were upheld.

This is one-third of a working family’s “apartment.” Up to 15 people lived and slept in each apartment, spaces so small they wouldn’t even qualify as a “tiny home” today.

Apartments from the outside. They run the full length of three sides of the compound. The structure out front is a communal oven.

We’d been given a reservation at a downtown hot-spot’s outdoor patio (where dogs are allowed) for lunch the next day, but when we arrived, we were told they weren’t seating anyone outside. The line to get in was, in our estimation, more than an hour long, which just wasn’t going to work, especially since we had plans for the afternoon.

This is about one-quarter of the line waiting to get in.

Instead, we returned to the Pearl area and grabbed a quick taco lunch.

In 1960, four students from a nearby college “discovered” what is now Natural Bridge Caverns, and Simon joined a guided tour that afternoon while Susan kept an eye on Ruthie. Kennels were available, but in her still-delicate condition we didn’t want to leave her.

The two flat slabs that form a bridge above the cavern’s entryway were the inspiration for its name.

10,000-year-old stone tools, projectile points, and a pre-historic cooking hearth were discovered in the cavern when the entrance was being excavated. How cool is that?

Ponds formed in the lower level of the canyon, with incredibly clear water due to filtration by the surrounding limestone, and the lack of pollution and debris.

You can see the smooth, dark walkway in the center of this photo, which gives you an idea of size.

We were glad we only had a taco for lunch when we reached Backyard on Broadway that evening. Boasting the most enormous outdoor seating area we’d seen at any restaurant, anywhere, we grabbed a picnic table away from a group gathering and a load of excited children, and were rewarded with a quiet meal. It was incredible how little the sound traveled.

This is about one-eigtth of the outdoor space.

Simon ordered Hummus Spread with veggies to share, and the Viva Las Tejas sandwich (two beef patties, two cheeses, bell peppers, onions, jalapenos, and spicy sauce), which he devoured. Our server also recommended the Sweet Potato Fries, which we both devoured.

Susan went for the Not Your Father’s BBQ (pulled pork sandwich), and managed about half of it, minus the bun. Damn you, tempting Sweet Potato Fries!

Two Bro’s BBQ Market was our lunch stop the next day, and we’re glad it came as a recommendation, because A) we never would have found it otherwise and 2) we might not have chosen it due to its rather rustic location. It turned out to be one of those “locals” spots that no one wants to reveal so that tourists don’t mob it.

When a meat joint has a skull on their buffet table, you know they’re confident in their beef.

This guy is going to make sure Simon gets all the right stuff.

“What should we try?” Simon asked the manager, and he came away carrying a tray loaded with smoked jalapeno poppers wrapped in bacon; BBQ baked beans; Texas-sized bread slices; a massive Big Bro Sandwich piled high with smoked brisket, smoked pulled pork, and an entire sausage, topped with pickles and coleslaw; and a pint of “Cheesy Chop,” made up of chopped smoked brisket and mac & cheese. Lord help us!

Good God!

Drinks were an informal affair. Simply choose one and push the dispenser button on a Home Depot five-gallon jug. And yes, that most Southern of drinks, Kool-Aid, was an option.

I may have been bundled up a bit, with a shirt, two sweaters, and Puffy Coat. Don’t judge me!

Straight away, we knew we were beaten. After a generous sampling of the obscenely-large sandwich, Simon pulled out a half of the sausage, made it into a smaller sandwich, and we saved the rest for later.

So, that white part at the top of the sausage isn’t the sausage. It’s the graphic on Simon’s sweatshirt. Every time I see this photo I think, “What’s that…?” so I thought I’d mention it.

We ate as much as we could of the rest of it, but it was like mice had nibbled on it. That meal ended up making two more meals the next day, and our microwave still smells like a smoker, more than a week later.

The building at the very back and the one on the left are where the goodness happens. You can smell the meat smokers even when they’re not doing their jobs.

Stuffed to the gills, a long, slow walk around the nature retreat of Phil Hardberger Park Conservancy was in order, where, we were told, we’d find the Land Bridge and Skywalk. The park’s trails reminded us of Kensington Metropark, a favorite place for getting away from it all when we lived in Michigan.

It may have been a bit chilly.

Ruthie engaged in her favorite activity (sniffing).

The Skywalk goes on for a long, long way. We only did part of it, since Ruthie really can’t do much hiking and she’d already walked a bit too far to reach it.

We had been booked in for a meal at Breakaway Brewing Company, but we were all food-ed out. Instead, we popped by to sample some of the brewpub’s beers, and ended up having a nice chat with the bartenders. A warm, homey feeling ended the day.

Our bartender was adorable, and knew her beers well. Great choices!

Twice we’d made attempts to visit Historic Market Square in San Antonio (originally a gift from the King of Spain in 1730, and former home of the “Chili Queens” who served up that comforting dish in days gone by), but the chaos of Christmas week made parking impossible. Determined to give it one more try, we headed into town, and finally succeeded.

Note the person walking into the shop, to give you an idea of size.

What a fun place, filled with Latin sounds, bright colors, every tourist souvenir you could imagine, lots of umbrella drinks, and a general air of Christmas cheer! We were so glad we made the effort. Take a little stroll with us:

Strollin’ through the market.

Those allergy symptoms Susan had were no longer acting like allergies, and when Simon came down with them we knew we were in head cold territory; the unwitting victims of an unwanted gift. Annoying, yes, but considering all the other cr@p going around, not the worst thing in the world.

We knew we needed a mental and physical break at this point anyway, and our upcoming five weeks in the Donna, Harlingen, and South Padre Island areas of extreme southwestern Texas were arriving just at the right time.

Merry Christmas! Enjoy The Gift!

Two things inspired us to make campground reservations more than a year in advance when we were planning our Year on the Road: popularity, and the holidays. Yellowstone wins for popularity, and Christmas wins for tough-to-get holiday reservations in warm climates, so those dates were at the top of our list, more than a year in advance.

Susan was up at midnight hitting “Reserve” the moment our dates for Yellowstone opened, and she got one of the last two available sites, just minutes after the booking window opened. She did the same for our Christmas 2023 campground in Castroville, Texas, just outside San Antonio. When our schedule changed after dropping Washington and Oregon, we re-worked it around that booking, and on December 23, 2023, we arrived at Alsatian RV Resort, 16 months after the reservation was made.

But first we Wallydocked in a Walmart parking lot just outside Amistad National Recreation Area in Del Rio, Texas on the way south, to break up the long journey. Evenings at Walmart are a spectator sport. Nights are a study in tiny-home living with no conveniences; no jacks down for stabilization, no slides out for a flat bed, no water from the faucets, and no heat. It got down to 34F that night.

Simon can sleep anywhere, so it’s the sofa for him, wrapped up like a burrito.

Susan gets the folded-up bed, which sounds comfy but isn’t. Everything that rides on it during travel stays on it at night. There’s nowhere else for stuff to go.

We had a supercharged itinerary during our stay in Castroville, thanks to Visit San Antonio, who searched out all the best things to do and places to eat in the city, with us and Ruthie in mind. Susan’s allergies were in high gear due to all the cedar pollen, but she chose to power through and venture out amongst the people. Allergies aren’t contagious.

Simon’s Christmas decorating masterpiece.

Christmas Eve morning, we were off to Pearl Farmer’s Market at San Antonio’s swish Pearl lifestyle center filled with shops and restaurants, where we could pick up loads of fresh produce for dinner that night and for Christmas Day.

But wait. This being Christmas Eve, the farmers were all home getting ready for friends and family, and didn’t show up. No market today. Still, we had a reservation for brunch at Southerleigh, with patio seating for maximum pre-holiday people watching.

Simon opted for a craft beer and the Southern Fried Chicken, featuring what looked like half a chicken nestled on the most pillowy, fluffy, feather-light biscuit you could imagine, and served with crispy potatoes. In our house, it would feed two. In San Antonio it fed one, with a few sad potatoes left straggling on the plate.

Susan went for a mimosa and the Heirloom Tomato Salad with fresh ricotta, basil oil, and sweet balsamic mustard seeds, which doesn’t sound like much but was pure magic when you’re craving vegetables.

The Alamo (yes, that Alamo) was on our schedule for later in the week, but with time to spare today, we headed a few blocks over for a visit. Now, if you’re like us, you picture the Alamo out in the boonies somewhere, far away from anyone who might have been able to come to the rescue of those poor Texas soldiers and save them from a thirteen-day siege and inevitable death at the hands of the Mexican army.

But boonies grow into towns, and towns grow into cities, and the former Spanish mission is now in the very heart of San Antonio. The Alamo is, obviously, on Texan land, having been surrendered by Mexico after further battles, bloodshed, and loss of lives. A courtyard remembers characters from that awful time, some of whom became legends in U.S. history.

John William Smith, San Antonio’s first mayor, who fought in the Texas war for independence.

Emily West, a free woman of color who was kidnapped by the Mexican cavalry and later inspired the song, “The Yellow Rose of Texas.”

James Bowie, pioneer, land and slave speculator, best known for his distinctive “Bowie knife,” and not known enough for his “ownership” of human beings.

David “Davy” Crockett, legendary frontiersman and congressman who, as the song goes, “killed him a bar when he was only three.” He and Bowie both died at the Alamo.

Christmas Day! A day to distract ourselves from being away from loved ones by having a movie marathon, opening our gifts to each other, and enjoying a lovely meal.

Christmas Eve dinner had been a snacky affair due to all that fried chicken Simon had for lunch, but today we were in for a treat.

Simon requested Beef Bourguignon, Texas has good steak, and we had that bottle of Lemon Olive Oil from our visit to Queen Creek Olive Mill in Mesa that would make a nice dressing for arugula salad with shaved parmesan. Score!

We gave each other new reusable thermal mugs to keep our coffee and tea hot on moving days, wrapped up so we felt special. Simon chose a box of Lindt chocolates while we were out shopping; Susan picked up a Whitman’s Sampler in memory of her childhood, when that was the “fancy candy;” and we threw in a candy cane we’d been given at a previous campground, all of which made us felt as right as we could about the day, given our unusual circumstances.

Ruthie’s digestive tract still wasn’t cooperating, and after several nights of very broken sleep for her and for us, it was time to get her in with a vet. We’d had no luck on Christmas Eve, Christmas day, or December 26, but the wonderful Alamo Area Veterinary Clinic had an opening on December 27, so we rescheduled our touring and got her sorted out. Three medications and 24 hours later, she made a miraculous recovery, so we considered her vet bill a Christmas gift.

A little light reading while waiting for the vet.

Dr. Baker-Arguelles spent a long time with us and Ruthie, listening to our concerns and explaining the process we’re now in with our pup. And while we expect her to have many more happy months of travel, we know our girl has beat the Labrador life-expectancy odds. Every day is a gift.