Friday, April 15, 2011

Travelling home now. We packed up the big truck and headed out of Trophy Gardens, Alamo Texas on Sunday, April 10 at 9:30 AM. Our first night on the road was at the Isle of Capri Casino Hotel, Lake Charles, Louisiana. We arrived about 6 PM and had some supper and signed up for their players card and spent some of their bonus bucks on the slots. We stayed the next morning there until noon so that we could get a few more bonus bucks - senior's monday special.

Then we took off for the Paragon Casino in Marksville, Louisiana - only about 3 hours north. Another nice hotel room - this one had alligators and fish ponds in the hotel lobby. Another feature was their cinema with 4 theatres - so we watched "The Lincoln Lawyer" starring Matthew McConaughay and Marissa Tomai that night.

Off early on Tuesday morning for an 8 hour drive up to Tunica, Mississippi - a Harrah Casino hotel for the night. We crossed the Mississippi River and headed north. The Tunica area has 10 large casinos and is the 3rd largest casino draw in the USA - after Las Vegas and Atlantic City. We toured the new Tunica Museum and learned about the area - which was a very poor area until the casino started up about 10 years ago and now it is a destination in itself. The Harrah Casino didn't give us any fun money to play with so we went casino hoping and found one that had senior's day and signed up there for a player's card and had some fun. We did find a coffee shop in one casino that was an internet hotspot so we checked on our emails. All these casino hotels charge for internet in the rooms - from $6 to $12/night so we found other places for free.

On Wednesday, we got on the road early for our 8 hour drive to Cherokee, North Carolina - another Harrah Casino. Our travel took us through Tennessee - from Memphis to Nashville through Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg (very touristy area - all kinds of theme parks - Dollywood is there - and dinner theatres, wax museum, etc) and over the Smoky Mountains into Cherokee. It is a beautiful area - perfect for hiking in the woods but we didn't have the time - although the weather was sunny and warm and the wild flowers (including trilliums) were blooming in the forest. We have been enjoying the spring blossoms on the trees - especially the dogwood and cherry trees. This Casino Hotel is on an Indian Reservation and has alot of Indian art - wood and stone decor. It seems very new and is expanding by building another 500 room hotel on site too.

Thursday morning - another 7 hour drive - destination Tom and Diana's house in Chesapeake, Virginia. Here we are relaxing for a few days - this afternoon we played golf - 18 holes on a real golf course - a first for me - no great shots but it was fun. Tonight - a fish fry at Tom and Diana's church.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Yesterday was our hottest day in Texas. We considered putting on our air conditioner in the trailer but we knew a cold front was coming in and by the time we went to bed the temperature had dropped to 70 and was 60 by the morning. Check out the thermometer in our trailer in this picture. Not much difference from inside to outside. I spent most of the day at the pool.

Today Don and I went on a Tour of the La Sal Del Rey Wildlife Tract. This is a tour offered by the Valley Nature Centre with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. We had to be at the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge at 7:30 AM. We were loaded in a 12 passenger van and drove with a park naturalist for an hour north to one of 3 natural salt lakes. El Sal Del Rey, Spanish for "Salt for the King" was first located by the Spaniards in 1697 and quickly claimed for the king. They harvested salt here that was hauled out by ox carts to the Gulf, into Mexico as far away as Mexico City, and to all the Missions in Texas. Salt was the first Valley export. In 1747, the first Spanish settlers started commercial salt harvesting and 1/5 was set aside for the King. Salt was harvested commercially until 1936, and production has recently been started again by oilfield companies to use the brine for drilling fluids (it acts as a lubricant).

The salt lakes became involved in important Texas court cases as state mineral laws and changed in the late 1860's from public to private. The lakes and mineral rights became private domain in 1866.

We were out walking on the sand like it was a thin coating of ice. It has not rained here for many weeks so with the dry conditions, more salt is visible. Some birds were visible - small birds on shore and a flock of 8 white pelicans were floating on the water. We did see some wild turkeys in the brush. Our tour lasted till 1 PM and then we walked around Santa Ana and actually saw more birds there. At this time there is a"hawk watch" in the park. Lots of hawks roost in the trees there at night and will fly up to the high warm thermal winds in the morning to travel north.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Getting close to the end of this winter lifestyle in Texas. We have said goodbye to many of our neighbours this week as they head back up north. We have set our takeoff date for April 10 and will slowly make it over to see Tom and Diana in Virginia Beach by the 14 and proceed to Ontario on the 17th. So what have we done lately other than golf, swim, bike, eat and play games? On Saturday, March 26th, another neighbour Barb and I went to the Texas Women's Expo at the McAllen Convention Centre. It was the first time an event like this was held in the Rio Grande Valley and it seemed to be well attended by the ladies of the valley. It was the first event I had been to that I saw more local Hispanic people than Winter Texans. We enjoyed visiting the exhibitor booths and listening to speakers on Yoga, Feng Shui decorating, heart health and even a little fashion show. There was a salon doing haircuts, manicures, eyebrow waxing etc but the line-ups for that were long. On March 30 we enjoyed a boat cruise out of South Padre Island that toured the port of Brownsville. (We had won this trip for 2, as a prize from a Casino Night we had in the park. Don and I accumulated enough points by playing Blackjack that we made the winning bid on this trip at the end of the night point auction.) The Brownsville Ship Channel has been open since 1936 and is located at the southern most tip of Texas. It is a 17 mile channel. It was a windy day but we were sheltered for the Gulf of Mexico waves by travelling on this channel of the "Laguna Madre" which is the inner-coastal waterway. Cruising in the port of Brownsville we saw ships in drydock - for repairs. Also many shrimp boats were in the port. Apparently the shrimp season was just shutting down and will reopen in July. They informed us that the shrimp nets now have turtle guards so if the turtle get in the net there is a spot where they can escape. We also saw oil drilling platforms waiting to go out in the Gulf of Mexico. They come complete with helicopter pads but you have to be important to travel out the rig that way - regular personnel and supplies are transported by boat.It is built like a giant jack (all four corners can be ratcheted down so that it sits on the bottom. The biggest industry in the port seemed to be the selvaging of old ships. The big tankers, cargo ships, old navy ships, etc are cut up with giant blow torches after all the wiring and tubing, etc are removed. The metal is cut up in finer parts and loaded on a cargo ship to be taken to China to be reprocessed into metal spools for export to factories whereever. Glad to see the old ships aren't just put out of service and abandoned or sunk in the oceans? The cruise lasted about 3 hours and was followed by a late taco lunch, which was included in the trip and served in a restaurant on the pier. The next morning we did a Border Patrol Tour that the park arranged with their bus. We travelled to the Westlaco division of the Border Patrol in the Rio Grande Valley. We had an interesting talk for one of the agents - she showed us her M-16 fully automatic rifle ( and let some guys of the group hold it - not loaded), her bulletproof vest, bullets from her pistol (223 cal 60 grain steel jacketed), night vision goggles and an infrared camera, and her snake protective shin guards. They catch up to 300 illegals sneaking across the border in the Rio Grande Valley a day - a million a year are caught across the the length of the southern border from Brownsville Tx. to San Diago Ca. They showed us the holding area where the illegals are processed and there were about 30 in the cells from the night before, half female and half from points further south than Mx., after which they see a judge and then receive a sentence depending on the number of times they have been caught. After they serve their time they are deported, the mexicans dropped off by truck but the others have to be flown to thir country of origin. There is also alot of illegal drugs that get seized - 700,000 pounds of marijuana last year. The age range to apply to be a border patrol agent is from 19 to 39 years of age. The women who spoke to our group was out of the navy after 11 years there but wanted to be closer to home to her 3 kids so she applied for this job - better pay too.