Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Random Thoughts on the Way Home

Location: Port Arthur RV Resort; Port Arthur, Texas
On a map, it's along the Sabine River were the Louisiana/Texas border meets the Gulf of Mexico.

Stop #12.
Last one before home.
It's been a while since I've made a post to the blog. Nothing is wrong, I've just been lazy at doing it. I'm at my last stop before heading back home to Louisiana but this post will include some pictures from the Galveston area that I didn't post yet. My plan was to stop here for two nights but ended up extending an additional two nights. The extension was to allow a cold front to pass through Louisiana plus two additional drying days for my campground site in Mansfield to dry out. The owner of the park had to do some digging to unplug a sewer blockage. I'll see about the condition of it tomorrow. I hope it is OK, because the owner said the campground was full due to a large pipeline and other work going on in the area. I asked Brandon to drive around the area to see if the other RV parks were full and he said, yes they are. So, if I can't get into my old site, I'm not sure where I'll be staying tomorrow.
My campsite here at Port Arthur. It is the most crowded campground I've stayed at on this trip and am feeling a bit claustrophobic. 
I really enjoyed my stay on Bolivar. It is just a relaxing place. It was windy, rainy and chilly for several of the days though. I took a few rides on the ferry to go into Galveston for eating and a little exploring. I didn't make a night crossing on the ferry this time and that disappointed me some. I celebrated Mardi Gras with a parade that passed down the highway directly in front of the campground. Crystal Beach put on a nice parade with lots of decorated four wheelers and a few floats. It was a good way to pass a few hours.

Riding the ferry is always a great thing. I make it a point to cross with Liberty in tow so I can get on the platform and look directly down on her roof. I discovered a minor problem that way many years ago. It is a peaceful trip.

As always, I had to check out the "teapot house". Over the years, I've watch it fall into disrepair but the time I was here, someone had started fixing it up. They are doing a great job.

Looking directly at the "teapot house".

I got stopped at a red light in front of the old motel we used to come to when the kids were small. It was a great location, directly across from the beach with a balcony overlooking the Gulf and Seawall Blvd traffic. Great time, great memories. 

One of the better views while driving the Seawall in Galveston.

Crystal Beach Mardi Gras Parade. Directly in front of the campground and within a stones throw of Liberty.

These two ladies were camped next to me in the campground. The dog's name was Emily and she received lots of beads and dog treats from the parade. I posted this picture for "you know who" who liked Elvis a lot, crazy lot.

The view from Fort Travis on Bolivar. That is the entrance to Galveston Bay and the Houston Ship Chanel. Most of those ships are riding at anchor. On a nicer weather day, it is a great place to sit on the benches and watch the ships go by.
Port Arthur and the surrounding area is currently going though a boom town expansion. I was here about five years ago and it seemed like a dying town about to close up shop and blow away. Now though, there are dozens and dozens of new stores and businesses opened with more being built. Several new RV parks are being built with all of the existing ones full. I was lucky to get into this campground. The Texas economy has been looking good at all of the places I've been on this trip, but the coastal cities are doing really good. It's nice to see an old town get new life. 
I'll be passing over the bridge on the left tomorrow when I leave this area. The bridge I'll be using is the newer one. The one on the right is the famous Rainbow Bridge. 

This picture gives an idea of the steepness of the old Rainbow Bridge.
I know I'll never permanently live near an oil refinery or gas plant. When I was camped near the plants at Quintana Beach, I started getting a tickle in the back of my throat with some sneezing thrown in for good measure. I thought I was getting sick so I started some self-doctoring. But when I got to the Galveston area on the Bolivar Peninsula and much farther away from any plants, the symptoms went away. Once I got here to Port Arthur, the symptoms came back within a few hours after setting up camp. I'm anxious to see if they go away when I get back home.

The booming economy down here is largely due to the advent of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and horizontal drilling used during the oil/natural gas well drilling. This process has dramatically increased the amount of oil/natural gas being recovered. The U.S. is now not only energy independent, but energy dominant. This has been wanted since the late 70's during the oil embargo by the OPEC nations. It's now here. In fact, a natural gas "import" plant was built about 15 years ago just across the state line in Louisiana. Their plan was to unload natural gas tankers and pipeline it into the country. Before it could be completed, so much natural gas was being found and pumped out of the ground in the U.S., the plant was converted to an "export" plant instead. Now, ships are going there to be loaded with natural gas for shipping overseas. This is a great thing worldwide. But, the Democrats want to change all of that and take us back in time. We will see how that goes for them and the country.
This is a picture of the Cheneire Natural Gas export plant. It was a cloudy day when I drove by.

Same Cheneire plant. You can tell by the number of cranes, they are still expanding.

A trip to Sabine Pass on the Texas side. The river on the left is the Sabine River and is capable of receiving ocean going ships.

This picture was taken between Freeport and Galveston. Just a large refinery located in the middle of nowhere.
For those of ya'll familiar with the Bolivar Peninsula, I'm sure you know where Rollover Pass is located. It's a cut between the Gulf of Mexico and the East Bay of Galveston Bay. It actually makes a large chunk of Bolivar Peninsula an island instead of a peninsula. Well, I was shocked as I was leaving the area to head here and saw Rollover Pass was filled in with dirt. Apparently, the pass was causing such large amounts of siltation on the bay and nearby Intracoastal Waterway that the state decided it was better to just fill it in. A lot of fishermen in the area are up in arms about it. I can remember my father talking about fishing at the pass in his younger days. It seems things are always changing. There was so much work going on at the pass, I wasn't able to take any pictures as I passed through. Oh well.

A view along a canal near Sabine Pass on the Texas side. I could tell I was going to get that lens flair when I took the picture. It just sort of adds a little bit to the picture. A little lagniappe. 
Ya'll take care of each other. I'll Cya down the road.


Thursday, February 20, 2020

The Texas City Disaster

Location: Bolivar Peninsula RV Park; Crystal Beach, Texas.

This is Stop #11
The Galveston area is always a stop for me when coming or going to Texas. I planned to stay at the Galveston State Park, but the Gulf side camping is closed for re-construction and I didn't want to stay in the Bay Side camping area. So, my old reliable campground is the one I'm at and will be for seven days. I've stayed here several times over the years. I like staying on Bolivar Peninsula since it is less rushed than Galveston. There isn't a lot businesses open on the peninsula during the off season, so if I want a big grocery store or to eat out I have to take the free ferry into Galveston. That's not a problem for me since I like the ferry. 

There isn't a lot that I haven't seen in this area, but there was one thing that I had heard about over the years before I started RV'ing that I wanted to check out. It is in a town about 20 miles away. The town is named Texas City. I don't know why the town founders couldn't get more creative with the name, but it became world famous. The sad thing is the reason it became famous is being forgotten by each generation since it happened. I remember my parents mentioning it a few times over the years as I was growing up. My parents would have been in their early to mid twenties when the disaster happened and would have been living close by this area. I don't know exactly where they were living at the time but do know it was in this part of Texas, with "this part" meaning within 100 miles of here. Both passed away many years ago so I can't ask them any more questions. I wish I could because I never asked enough when they were alive. A lesson learned much too late. 

The disaster is the Texas City explosion that occurred in 1947. The town of Texas City is located on Galveston Bay between Galveston and Houston. It really grew up during World War II when the chemical and oil industries located a lot their plants and storage sites there. It was a deep water port with railroad lines ending at the port. Freighters and tankers would have been a regular site along the bay front during and after the war. But during a few days in 1947, and explosion almost wiped out the entire town. It did kill all of the city's firefighters and destroyed all of the firefighting equipment in town. It injured over 4,000 people and killed almost 600. The actual number is unknown since so many people came and went back then, there is no way of knowing who was there. The explosion set of seismographs as far away as Denver, Colorado and broke windows in Houston. It damaged or destroyed 1,000 homes and businesses. The concussion of the explosion was so great, it destroyed two small airplanes that were flying over the port area. As if the explosion wasn't bad enough, it created a fifteen foot high wave of water that washed inland liked a tidal wave. Pieces of red hot metal was tossed into the air and rained down on adjacent industries and ships setting them on fire and causing secondary explosions. 

Wow, sounds like a bad movie, uh? What could have caused such a great explosion back in 1947? The answer? Fertilizer. Yep, fertilizer. The same type of fertilizer used in the Oklahoma City bombing back in 1995. Most of us that were of age during 1995 were a little shocked by the damage to the federal building in Oklahoma. Then we found out it was caused by about 2 tons of fertilizer (Ammonium Nitrate) stored in a rental truck. The news outlets at the time mentioned something about Texas City, but the real time pictures and news of the OKC bombing drowned out any historical reference. So, the other day, I went in search of that historical reference. 

The crazies that set off the bomb in Oklahoma City used 2 tons of ammonium nitrate. Now imagine what 2,300 tons would do. Well, you don't have to imagine because there are pictures of just such damage. Those 2,300 tons were stowed on the ship, S.S. Grandcamp. The ship was a converted Liberty Ship that the U.S. gave/loaned/sold to France. Remember, we made over 2,700 of those small freighters, we called Liberty Ships during the war so we had to do something with them. A fire started in the cargo hold of the ship. Some say a tossed cigarette by a longshoreman, but nobody probably knows for sure. The fire alarm was sounded and all of the firefighters in Texas City responded. The fire drew spectators to the pier to watch the firemen do their job. Many of those spectators were children. The fire couldn't be put out with the regular firefighter methods because as ammonium nitrate burns it creates its own oxygen which causes the fire to burn hotter and hotter until it explodes. That explosion set off a series of chain reactions. Oil storage tanks were set on fire which exploded, the Monsanto chemical plant exploded, another ship, the S.S. High Flyer was in port for repairs and also carried ammonium nitrate so she was set on fire by the first explosion which eventually caused her to explode. The port facility and town were almost completely destroyed. 

It was the deadliest industrial disaster in U.S. history and one of the largest, non-nuclear explosions, ever. This was seventy years ago and is largely forgotten. At some point in a child's 12 years of schooling, they should be taught about this disaster as a way of showing them that things happen and we must learn from them. Many safety regulations came about because of this disaster, which is good. 

The only thing left to see in Texas City about the disaster is a small memorial maintained by the city. That is what I came to see. I wanted to see what a city and its people do to memorialize such a tragic event. I guess most people that lived through that would want to forget it and not erect monuments as a constant reminder. So, I was happy to see what they did instead of monuments. It is a small cemetery containing 63 caskets of the unidentified dead. Each site has a number corresponding with information contained at the city in case, "a new inquiry were ever necessary, the information would be available."

This is the entrance to the park. The pagoda structure give the history of the event.

This is the anchor from the S.S. Grandcamp. It weighs about 2 tons and the explosion tossed it a little more that
1 1/2 miles away.

The simple entrance to the cemetery portion of the memorial

It's a small memorial and this view covers almost all of it.

I was confused at first because I didn't see any graves. The caskets are laid out in a semi-circle around the pool. Apparently the graves were maintained and protected very well for a while so some of the markers and stones were destroyed or stolen. Eventually, you couldn't tell where the graves were located. The city eventually collected the markers or made replacements and placed them in two locations on either side of the pool. So in a sense, the actual locations of the unknown, is unknown.

Lest we forget.
I think the memorial park is the right way for the city to heal.

Ya'll take care of each other. I'll Cya down the road.   

Saturday, February 15, 2020

An Incomplete Jetty Walk

Location: Quintana Beach Country Park and RV Campground; Quintana Beach, Texas

Stop #10
I was at this campground about a year ago and figured I wouldn't be back. I was wrong. As I was looking for campgrounds on this trip, this one kept bugging me to come back but I didn't know why. So I re-read my blog post from back then and discovered why it was gnawing at me. You can read it here,

I guess my mind was telling me to come back to complete the walk along the jetty. I couldn't finish the walk last year due to the waves crashing over the jetty. I had wanted to get to the end but couldn't. I had to turn around. Even with not completing the walk, it was a very special time that remains fresh and alive in my "silent echoes". So, with that in mind, I figured I would stop here for a few days and complete the walk. But as they say, ",,,,the best laid plans of mice and men." The weather forecast was iffy for the three days of my stay here. The wind was the main culprit along with high temperatures in the mid-50's for the first two days. I chose day two to hit the jetty because even though today (Saturday) would be better weather-wise, the weekend would bring tons of people to the park and jetty. A walk along a jetty is OK with people, but it is just much better alone. The windchill was down into the upper 30's for the walk with winds steady at 15 to 20, with gusts near 30. It was not a pleasant day for a walk, but I gave it a shot. Even though I was about midway between high and low tide, the wind was playing heck with the waves. As I got to about the half-way point I could tell I wouldn't make it to the end. The wind was blowing the waves in and across the jetty at the very end. Maybe it is like this all the time except on no-wind, low tide days. I'm a planner, but this walk wasn't important enough to try to coordinate all of those events. So I went as far as I could, AGAIN, and turned around. I will not be back for a third attempt.
This is the beginning of the jetty. The ship channel is on the left which was the wind-ward side today. On the right is a beach and swimming area and the lee-ward side today. Notice the small speck on the horizon just to the left of the jetty. We will get to that later.

This is the swimming area and you can see it is at low tide. 

A little bit farther along the jetty. Lots of large driftwood has blown up on the jetty. Notice the speck on the horizon again.

Looking back to shore. You can really see the difference between the calm area on the left and the whitecaps on the right.

This picture shows how wet it is at the end of the jetty due to waves crashing over it. I was only able to go just a little bit more. I didn't want to take a chance on getting wet with it being so cold outside. The speck has become a ship entering the harbor.
I was rewarded with a plus though. As I was on the jetty, a semi-large tanker came into Freeport harbor. Two tugs met her and escorted her to her berth. I guess it was a half and half walk. I didn't make it to the end of the jetty, butt to the end, but able to see the ship pass close by as I was walking.
It's a tanker. Not a big one, but still a tanker. 

The pilot boat has already passed and I didn't get a picture of it. There are two tugs waiting on the tanker. I was very surprised at the speed she was going. I expected it to be much slower. 

Now she's past with one tug on the starboard side and one following astern. 
 My only purpose of stopping here was the jetty walk. Tomorrow is moving day and I'll be going to one of my favorite places that holds many great memories for me not only in my solo travels, but vacations from long ago with my wife and children.
My campsite. It's the same site I stayed in last time.

I'm putting this picture here as a reminder as to how cold and windy it was. A less hard-headed man may have waited for a better day, but not me. (wait a minute, that doesn't sound right)
Ya'll take care of each other. I'll Cya down the road. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Matagorda Bay and Colorado River (Texas)

Location: Matagorda Bay Nature Park and RV Campground; Matagorda, Texas

This is stop #9

The weather front finally pushed on through late last night. It brought chilly weather with temperatures in the mid 50's but no fog. It wasn't perfect weather but it was good enough for me to do some exploring. The clouds are suppose to clear out and bring in clear skies with plenty of sun over the next few days. But, I'll be seeing that nice weather from a different location since tomorrow is moving day. Even with the poor weather, I think I've seen what I came to see and won't need to come back. This place is sort of out of the way and off the beaten path. It does have a great beach to beachcomb, but in much better weather. I doubt that will be enough to bring me back.
A nice picture of Liberty out the side window of Freedom.
The campground is at the end of a peninsula of land that runs parallel with one of the legs of the Colorado River (Texas). It empties into the Gulf of Mexico about a thousand yards from the campground. The nearest town, Matagorda, is about 7 miles north of the campground. It's a small, two gas station, town. There isn't much activity or many places open since it's the off-season. I imagine it is really hopping during the summer though. 

Long straight highway from Matagorda to the Nature Park. That is the Colorado River on the right side and on the left side is the back water from East Matgorda Bay.
How is this for lucky timing. I stopped to snap a picture of the Welcome sign and a small shrimp boat was underway going down the Colorado towards the Gulf. 
This place is close enough to San Antonio, Austin and Houston for people to come on the weekend. I'm glad I came without the crowds. I was able to wander around and explore essentially all by myself. 

One of the things I wanted to see was the ship locks on the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) where the Colorado River crosses it. Even though they are called locks, they serve more as flood gates when the Colorado River gets high. The Corp of Engineers and others have screwed around with the water flow in this area for many, many decades. Mistakes were made and corrected by shifting the river around. There are now essentially two legs of the Colorado with the  locks/floodgates installed sometime in the 60's (I think). I drove around trying to find a way to get a closer look at the locks but I couldn't get past some of gates across the access roads. Lots of these restricted access points are a result of 9-11. Oh well, I did get one picture that is worth posting.
I got this picture by stopping on the top of the new bridge that crosses the Intracoastal Waterway. It is a new, elevated bridge and replaces an old lift bridge. Timing my crossing so no traffic was coming, I was able to stop and take a couple pictures out the side window of Freedom. In the picture you can see the lock in the far background is open on both ends. The middle portion of the water is the main leg of the Colorado River that empties into West Matagorda Bay. Upstream is to the right and downstream to the left. The lock in the foreground has one gate open and one closed. The water meandering off to the left is the east leg of the Colorado that goes on to the campground and the Gulf. 
While driving around Matagorda trying to find an access to the locks, I stumbled on an old abandoned house. It must have been one of the best houses in town during its day. A two story house with several dormers and a large spire with windows must have been really elaborate when it was new. I was hoping there was a local museum so I could ask about the house but there wasn't any listed on Google Maps. Oh well, it will be just another one of those things that will rattle around inside without any definitive answers.
It's hard to estimate the age but I would guess it may be from the 1920's. I doubt something like this would have been built during the Great Depression or the War Years. It seems older than the 50's or 60's plus the style doesn't match for those decades. It must have been something when it was new. If only houses could talk.
 The last thing I wanted to do was walk the elevated boardwalk from the Nature Park to one of the jetties. It's about 1/3 of a mile long and goes out over the beach and surf. I noticed it on Google Earth a few years ago when I planning a different trip. It was out of the way on that trip so I put it on my list of places to see later. Well, later was now and I saw it today. It was a little chilly with the wind blowing but was a great walk with a really nice view. As usual, I was the only one there which made it extra nice.
The beginning of the walkway headed to the Gulf

Looking back at the walkway and up the coast at the surf line. 

Looking ahead to the end of the walkway. You can go down to the beach or to the jetty.

Have to look backwards every now and then just to make sure you remember where you came from. 

The view of the open Gulf and jetty from the end of the walkway.

A view up the coast from the end of the walkway.

Looking out to the Gulf and beyond. It was a nice viewing spot.
Like I said, tomorrow is moving day and it will be another short tow to a place I've been to before. Last time I was there, I didn't finish something that I started, so I'll give it another go this time. The weather seems like it will be in my favor. 

Ya'll take care of each other. I'll Cya down the road.    

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Thinking Sites Along the Way

Location: Matagorda Bay Nature Park and RV Campground; Matagorda, Texas

Stop #9
It was a short tow of only 120 miles but I needed to stretch it out to about a three hour trip so I wouldn't show up to early here at Matagorda. I was also watching the weather since storms were passing through the area and I knew I may have to slow down or speed up. The roads were in great shape so I just locked in cruise control at 55 mph and took my time. It was a very easy drive with the roads mostly straight and flat. I wished it had been a clearer day since it was a very dense overcast sky with misting rain off and on. The temperature was in the low sixties, perfect for window down, cruising weather. It was one of those days where the traffic was light and I could let my mind wander. It was a good thinking drive. 

A couple of things along the way got me to thinking. One was an isolated shade tree in the middle of a freshly plowed field.

It got me to thinking about how it got there, who planted it, how old was it, how many men stopped under it for their noon meal, how many wives or girlfriends met their men there for a picnic or to bring them fresh cold water. I imagined a story about the many generations of men and women who worked this land. I thought of the first man who cleared the land and planted the first crop. With that crop, a sapling grew. Every time he passed it he told himself to cut it down before it got bigger. But, instead, he let it grow. Now, seventy five years later, his great great grandson is working in the same field in the middle of a very hot summer. The sun is beating down with barely a breath of breeze. Every step brings a puff of dust from underfoot. On towards noon he would be soaking wet with sweat and dusty from head to toe. As he reaches for the lukewarm water jug in the tractor he glaces towards the old shade tree and there she is; his wife of many years, standing under the tree with a fresh jug of iced cold water. It was as if she read his mind and knew he needed a break. As he walked towards her, he sensed he wasn't alone. Alongside him were three other men walking towards their wives. While he was kissing her and reaching for the water, the rest of the people faded away leaving only him and her.

The land around the tree looked to be freshly plowed, so I felt good in knowing that at least one more generation was enjoying the tree. But as I drove on by, I wondered how many more future generations the tree would provide shade for such loving acts.

On down the road, I saw another interesting sight. 
I saw the flags first. The American and Texas flags were flapping in the wind and caught my attention from about a mile away. 

As I got closer I noticed the building was actually a church, but something looked odd about it. All of the windows were shuttered. Thinking about it, shutters on a church seems rare. And for them to be closed seemed ever more rare. It told me it wasn't used that often. Maybe it was part of a chain of churches using a circuit preacher. That is still done in parts of Louisiana so maybe it's here too. Also, the church was not facing the roadway and it had no parking lot, that was odd. Then I noticed the graves surrounding the church-house. Now roadside graveyards are not unusual for these parts of Texas and most of the south, but these were different. From what I could tell as I whizzed by, almost all of the graves had new headstones. What could have happened here? Was there a family tragedy that claimed many family members at the same time? Perhaps the land had changed ownership and the new owners wanted to establish a family graveyard. I've traveled a lot of roads around this country from border to border and coast to coast, but I've never seen a set up like this.

It is still rainy, chilly and foggy here so no explorations today. There are a couple of things I came here to see and I hope the weather clears out of here tomorrow since that is my last day here. The slow moving cold front is supposed to pass on out into the gulf late tomorrow. We will see.

My campsite here at Matagorda
Ya'll take care of each other. I'll Cya down the road.