Ginger and Ken drive to Alaska from Texas, through Wichita, Madison, Chicago, Corpus....

We decided to make a lifestyle change and move. Following are tales of our trips, packing mishaps, beautiful drives, visitations and more! This is Texas2Alaska2 because it is my second time to make the drive.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Migrants from Alaska Stop Here, as are we

If you just take out a map and look at it for a while, you may just come across something that sounds of interest to you. I did before we drove many times between Kansas and Texas and in Oklahoma I saw the Great Salt Plains. It is not too far from Interstate 35 which made for a nice, yet another, side trip off of another major trip. This spot was of interest to me because I felt it was a major resting spot-or destination-for migrant birds. 

At this point it is just early October, so there may not be a huge conglomeration of birds yet. But you never know until you look. So we meandered off the main highway for what seemed like hours and hours. In this part of northern Oklahoma, there is not a lot of civilization, and at the time of the evening we were passing through, not much open. However, if one happens to be a prairie lover, this was a nice drive. 

The Great Salt Plains (GSP) is a state park and national wildlife refuge. Not only does it serve as a major resting area for migratory birds, it is a fully functioning prairie habitat and permanent home for many species of wildlife. On this wonderful October day, the GSP was very quiet. There were some whooping cranes present, in addition to western sandpipers and plovers. Ken, being the good Eagle Scout, also spotted an ornate box turtle and a snake (too slithery quick to identify). The native grasses where radiantly golden and shimmery with all their seed heads mature and waving in the breeze. 

From the U.S. Fish & Wildlife website, 
“As a major migration rest area for hundreds of thousands of birds during spring, summer, and fall, the Salt Plains protects and manages a diversity of habitat. Migrants feed on the salt brine flies that hatch when water is available. Peak fall and spring migration of ducks, geese, and sandhill cranes on the refuge can number nearly 100,000 birds.”

For my Austin bird and plant loving friends, I recommend a weekend trip to northwestern Oklahoma for a fall or spring migration visit. However, this early fall day was quite pleasant. 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Distraction Way off the Map

The biggest distraction came when Ken and I decided to go back to Texas to take sailing class. Ken needed to complete the physical and paperwork for his TWIC card (the Transportation Workers Card instituted by Homeland Security, which by the way is administered by defense contractor Lockheed Martin. Notice, the payment check is actually made to Lockheed Martin, not any U.S. Government dept.-anyway, a whole other story)

Completing the sailing course would give us more skills and time on the water to add to the Coast Guard licensing requirements to become a pilot. I figured if we could both get down there, Captain Jim could help Ken complete his paperwork. Jim could also direct us to an approved doctor for the required exams. We planned the trip for the weekend when it was easier for mommy to take care of the little charmer. 

Captain Jim of Third Coast Captains, was Ken’s instructor for the Coast Guard boat piloting course. He was also our sailing instructor, and a gracious host. We were able to stay on his sailboat and take advantage of learning boat parts and the marina. The city of Corpus Christi operates a municipal marina,  that is very well kept, has great amenities, and is priced very reasonably. Anyone planning a trip to the Texas coast should not overlook this valuable resource. 

Our host boat, a Chris Craft named the Robert James, above Ginger at the helm, right Ken at the right with students from the previous week's class, below sunset Corpus Christi Bay.

Certification through the American Sailing Association, requires a short classroom course followed by a test and hours operating a sailboat. It is entirely possible to complete this course in a weekend which Ken and I did. We also were able to stay a few extra days to reinforce our skills.  Below: the Corpus Christi Municipal Marina, the Robert James to the left.

We could so live on this boat!!! This was our home for nearly a week. Great size, tall enough for us 6 footers, constant breeze to funnel through the hatches, very nice. Thank you so much Captain Jim and the Robert James! We had a fabulous week. Left: the Robert James in its slip at night, Right: Ken in the galley below deck, Below: Ken topside.

On our return trip to Wichita, we decided to go through Houston so we could visit some friends and see Ken’s daughter one more time before the big trip. On the route, we knew we  needed dinner and asked Captian Jim if he had a suggestion. He did not hesitate in recommending Hinzes BBQ in Wharton, Texas . In one of our many GPS misadventures, I typed in every form of BBQ, American restaurant, and spelling of Hinze I could think of. However, miss Mage could not tell us where to stop. Thankfully, we saw the lighted sign in time to stop. It was right on the main road (minor highway) so it was easy to pull over. Jim was right, it was well worth the stop. And, it was open at 9pm, something very rare for a BBQ place and a BBQ place in a remote location. Anyone making this drive needing a meal, Hinzes is definitely savory. 
The time in Houston was short. We visited our friends Eddie, Josie and Abella briefly. Baby Bella you are a cutie pie handful! Keep persevering Eddie, you have a great family. We stopped in to see where Ken’s daughter Carla works, stayed one night in a not so great Comfort Inn and set off the next morning for Dallas. Leaving Houston, both reminded of how much we do not like that city.
We spent the next night in Dallas visiting Ken’s son and had a wonderful time. It was worth it and important. Thanks! Hopefully we made connections that will enable the kids to feel compelled to visit Alaska. It would be a great experience.