On a whim we pack the van and head to Texas!
As we write this week’s blog from our Southern Minnesota home base, the wind is fiercely blowing snow and we have near zero visibility. Temperatures are in the freezing zone! So far it’s been a brutal winter.
We need to get away!
A few weeks ago, we had some open days in our work schedules and, on a whim, made the decision to pack up our 2019 Ford Transit camper van and head south. The goal was to drive far enough south to lose the snow and see warmer temperatures.
This winter has been so weird. Freezing cold temperatures have blanketed the entire nation since the beginning of the new year. Earlier this week, it was snowing in the Los Angeles, CA region!
Our quest to find warmer temperatures was going to equate to a lot of driving.
The plan was to drive, drive, drive until we got to the Gulf of Mexico in Corpus Christi, Texas.
It would take us two overnight stops before we could arrive at the KOA Holiday Corpus Christi campgrounds, but we felt that it was worth it to shed the cold and rid ourselves of “Cabin Fever!”
The faster we got down there, the more time we would have to enjoy the warmth.
Why Corpus Christi, Texas?
To be honest, it was our third choice of Gulf locations.
Looking at our weather app’s future forecast, areas along the Gulf in Alabama and Florida where we wanted to go, were expecting rain storms during the week we were planning on visiting.
Although those beautiful white sand beaches were calling our names, they’d have to wait until another time. We just didn’t want to be stuck inside the van all week watching the rain.
If you live in this area of the country with snow, you are fully aware you can’t just “pack up the van and drive south.” We had a lot of pre-trip prep work to do before we were on the road headed south.
This prep work included sweeping snow off the roof of the van, and scraping ice off the windshield, remnants from the most recent snow “event.”
Our two lithium batteries would have to be brought out from our warm garage and reinstalled in the van. These batteries, like us, are not fans of cold weather. The special batteries provide power for our interior lights and refrigerator. We often plug in the van to keep the charge at 100-percent and help keep the batteries warm.
Once that was done, we began warming up the van using the dash heater. Then we started to bring out our clothing, bedding, and food for the trip.
Taking advantage of good weather
Once we were all packed up, it was time to hit the road. Thankfully we had a window of opportunity to head out of town with some sunshine, and mostly dry and snow-free roads.
It took us about 4 and a half hours of driving on Highway 169 (mostly) to stop seeing snow on the ground. It was right around the Iowa-Missouri border.
Kim is the navigator on our trips and uses iPhone maps and Google Maps apps as our main route guidance. Sometimes one will end up working better or is easier to follow the roads than the other, depending on the situation.
We got onto Interstate 49 outside of Kansas City and continued south as the sun was setting. After checking out a few possible overnight parking locations suggested by the App “RV-Parky,” we decided to spend the night at the Flying J Travel Plaza in, of all places, Peculiar, MO.
This particular truck stop is on the “less massive” end of the truck stop spectrum and offers five RV pull through parking lanes and a number of back-in curb parking spots next to the convenience store. We double checked with the clerk to make sure it was cool to park where we did. She said we could park anywhere in that lot overnight.
The parking lot is surrounded by grassy areas and several nearby trash cans, which made it very convenient to walk the dogs and dispose of their “puppy pickles.”
The lot is well lit. It was nice to see several other vans spending the night as well. JK said he was woken up when a semi-truck cab (without a trailer) decided to pull in right alongside of us. His stereo was blaring when he first pulled in. The engine idle and air brake noise was constant all night.
Next morning, we had planned to eat breakfast at the Denny’s Restaurant attached to the Flying J convenience store, but they weren’t open as early as they posted on their sign. We ended up grabbing some coffee from the store and headed back onto the Interstate.
Get your kicks on Route 66
Kim noticed a couple of tourist attractions along the way that we wanted to divert and stop for. One was a small section of the famous Route 66 near Joplin, Missouri. This section is off the main highway and runs through a rural residential area. Signs are posted and, although it is only a few miles long, it gave us our Route 66 “kicks!”
While motoring along the Route, we happened upon the Route 66 Heroes Museum just outside of Joplin. The small museum is a labor of love and honors veterans and first responders.
Retired Gunnery Sergeant USMC C.R. Swatosh has collected a huge array of military memorabilia spanning from World War II through present day.
We spent a few minutes touring the converted pole barn museum and listening to Swatosh’s stories.
The Route 66 Heroes Museum is free to visit. Swatosh lives right next door and will open the doors when he sees you pull up.
From Route 66, we headed to a little-known corner of Missouri, where it meets with Oklahoma and Arkansas.
Tri-state selfie time
It’s probably not as famous as the Four Corners marker in the Southwest, but the ARK-MO-OK Tri-State marker, located on Route 43 in Sulphur Springs, near the town of Noel, MO is a fun detour nonetheless. According to https://www.atlasobscura.com, there are more than 60 such places in the U.S where the borderlines of three states converge.
Here’s the backstory according to Atlas Obscura:
“A large, engraved marker stone sits upon a 10-foot round cement circle, which has bronze markers indicating where each state’s line is.
Atlas Obscura notes that in 1915, the Ozark Culture Club installed the marble pedestal, the middle marker, with the name of each state and its date of admittance to the United States inscribed on the appropriate side. The fourth side, straddling Arkansas and Missouri, has the club’s name.”
After a set of selfies and video clips of us standing at the roadside marker in all three states, we got back on course towards Texas.
We’re not paying a toll!
We drove over into Oklahoma, through the small town of Jay, then towards Checotah, the childhood home of Country music superstar Carrie Underwood. When Kim found out they charge a toll to take the road into Checotah, she was aghast. Needless to say, we abandoned that plan and rerouted.
Continuing on Interstate 49, past Fort Smith, Arkansas the Interstate just disappears. Highway 71 took its place until we reached Texarkana, Texas (or was it Texarkana, Arkansas? Very confusing!) where Interstate 49 reappeared as if by magic!
It was dark when we slipped into northwest Louisiana on our way towards Shreveport. We didn’t say goodbye to Texas for long. We bypassed Shreveport and ended up back into the Lone Star State via Highway 79. We stopped for the night at the Carthage, TX rest area.
How many states?
If you are keeping score, to get to this point we have driven through seven states not counting the jog into Texas twice. Let’s tally them up. Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, and back into Texas again. Whoo!
After leaving the rest area, we stopped for gas before continuing our trek south. We didn’t know it at the time, but this was going to be a long and trying day on the road.
We had taken a suggested route from one of the map apps that ended up on a dirt road. Backtrack!
We eventually got ourselves back on the right route and had been driving through very thick fog for about 30 or 40-minutes when JK discovered his wallet was not in his pants pocket. Panicked, we pulled over on the side of the road to look everywhere in the van’s cab.
Retracing his motions, we concluded it must have dropped from his pocket after filling up at the Shell gas station.
His normal routine of pumping gas, getting a receipt, and putting his wallet back in his pants pocket was thrown off when he discovered a dead mouse stuck in a tiny ¼-inch wide seam in the gas fill door area of the van!
JK was able to finally pry the mouse out from his narrow grave while at the same time putting the gas nozzle back in the pump, punching “YES” for a receipt, and jumping back into the driver’s seat.
We backtracked yet again.
Of course, all the worst-case scenarios were racing through our heads as we turned the van around and drove all the way back to the gas station. What were the odds that it would still be there? Slim to none. Blood pressures were definitely on the rise. But we had to check. The gas station wasn’t answering the phone!
It seemed like the drive back to the Shell station took for…ev…er! We pulled up to the pump. No wallet on the ground. The dead mouse was still there on the pavement, but no wallet.
JK got out and went into the store to ask if anyone had turned in a wallet. After asking a few questions about the lost wallet, the store clerk said yes, a very nice woman had found it on the ground and brought it back to the store.
There are still great, honest people in this world.
We pulled the van over to the station parking lot and took a few minutes to recuperate from the trauma before getting back onto the highway again.
Most of the trip to Port Arthur, TX was riddled with construction zone after construction zone. And not just a little pavement patch. These were all full-blown, Texas-style major highway and bridge construction projects going on.
Galveston, oh Galveston.
At long last we made it to the shores of the Gulf of Mexico in Galveston, Texas. Although we still had several hours of night driving ahead of us to get to the Corpus Christi KOA campground, that didn’t matter. We had to stop at the beach and take in the surf and salt air for a while.
Galveston, made famous back in 1969 in the Glenn Campbell/Jimmy Webb hit Country song, is an island connected to the mainland by highway bridge. The city is an interesting mix of tourist attractions, waterfront hotels, old oil money mansions, national chain stores and restaurants, international shipping, and heavy industry.
The air smells of a mixture of salt water and petroleum.
The City of Galveston’s coastline features a very long stretch of sandy public beach area to enjoy, including Stewart Beach, Porretto Beach, Palisades Palms Beach, and East Beach.
We drove out onto the hard-packed sand parking lot at Stewart Beach, then walked out to the water.
I still hear your sea waves crashing
The Gulf water was cold, but the beach area looked clean and was being enjoyed by many.
Offshore oil drilling platforms are easily spotted from the beach, as are the various cargo ships, tanker ships and cruise ships coming and leaving the Port of Galveston.
Royal Caribbean Cruise Line has a large dock and International Terminal in Galveston.
The sun was beginning to set, and we had to tear ourselves away from the surf and continue southwest to Corpus Christi.
Of course, we would take the longer, more scenic route to Corpus Christi.
Galveston features a drivable seawall, Seawall Blvd., that offers protection from coastal tide surges and a promenade for walking and bicycle riding.
We passed the famous Galveston Pleasure Pier amusement park, numerous hotels and theme restaurants and shops.
High rent district
The two-lane road becomes Termini San Luis Pass Road as it parallels the coast. Here, in the Jamaica Beach area we found hundreds of elevated beach home communities.
Prices for these places range to nearly a million dollars. Only a few actually have a view of the Gulf water from their porches.
It’s a $2 toll to cross the San Luis Bridge to get onto the mainland again. Here the Bluewater Highway skirts Christmas Bay before turning inland at Freeport. Kim was okay paying this toll, but still fuming over the Carrie Underwood toll road debacle back in Oklahoma! Lol
There are several campgrounds along this stretch of Gulf Coast, including the Jamaica Beach RV Park, Bluewater RV Resort, Cedar Cut RV Park, and the Galveston Island KOA Holiday.
Many camping opportunities
Another option is the RV “friendly” Brazoria Beach Dispersed Camping beach along the Bluewater highway near the town of Surfside. Be aware that accessibility to the beach camping area depends on tide, and sand conditions. https://www.campendium.com/brazoria-beach
We spotted a Buc-ee’s convenience store across from a massive Olin Corp. chemical plant and decided to fill our gas tank and get some dinner before driving on into the night.
Splurging, we finally got to try the Buc-ee’s famous BBQ brisket sandwich. It was very good. Yummy!
From Freeport to Corpus Christi would be a 3-plus hour leg of our journey, getting us to the campground way after 10 p.m. Little did we realize just how huge Corpus Christi is.
In our minds, we picture a touristy Gulf town similar to Galveston. If we had done our homework, we would have been more prepared to face the big city highway nightmare.
Big city nights
As you probably know, we are not big city drivers. We avoid them at all costs, even if it adds time to our travels.
Add to the already stressful day not knowing how to quickly watch the maps, navigate city freeways and expressways, major road and high-rise bridge construction and reduced night driving vision, we were flabbergasted by that point.
After missing our off ramp and driving an extra 20-minutes looping around the city to get back around to where we needed to be, we finally pulled into our little coastal campground totally exhausted.
Thankfully our check in packet was pinned to the late arrivals board and we were able to locate our campsite for the next few days.
NEXT TIME: We set up roots at the KOA for a couple of days, but did we experience the warm Gulf Coast weather we drove 2 ½-days for? You’ll have to read next week’s blog to find out.
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