Harvest Host Nights Help Budget

Birding along coastal waters, whether the Gulf of Mexico or the Great Lakes, such as Lake Erie, necessitates taking time to view birds, edit photos, record observation details in eBird, and drive from location to location. My days are 24/7 outdoors with at least 6 hours of observing birds in the different locations per day. So why pay more money for a campground to only sleep 9 hours and leave? As a result, I searched for Harvest Host locations, specifically wineries and breweries. What a wonderful way to end a day with a glass of wine or mug of beer, talk with other people at the establishment and all at a lower price than an established campground!

Refresher: what is Harvest Host? If you have a self-contained recreational vehicle and need no hook-ups (electrical, water, septic) for a night, there may be a business offering its parking lot or a farmer their field for you to stay the night. Travelers arrive when requested and leave the next morning also as requested. Basically you are not interrupting the Harvest Host’s flow of business. It is recommended you pay the host $20 for this opportunity. I have spent $60 at a cheese place and $80 for a full course dinner elsewhere … which I would have done anyway if I had stayed at a state park or other campground.

I chose many Harvest Host locations: 2 in Texas, 1 in Louisiana, 1 in Mississippi and 1 in Georgia for my southern stretch of this pre-planned travel.Then during my warbler-seeking period, I visited 2 in Ohio. Here is the scoop on each of them.

Haak Winery in Santa Fe, Texas: beautiful property and building. Large parking lot so many RVs could be at his site, yet I was the only one. Interesting wines on their wine tasting menu.

Frascone Winery in Anahuac, Texas: Wish the host was there the night I was since I was looking forward to a glass of wine and alligator egg rolls, but not happening this time. Small area so I cannot imagine too many RV being in it. Quiet night except for 2 neighborhood dogs barking at times.

Houmas House & Gardens in Darrow, Louisiana: Space provided for about six RVs. I loved the mansion tour and eating dinner at the Carriage House. Beautiful property with even a garden tour possible. A cafe was available for morning meal, but I walked on the levee across the road to see birds and barges on the river and left early.

Fort Bayou Brewing Company in Ocean Springs, Mississippi: Parking lot had 4 other campers. Restaurant for meal and beer, but I ate prior to arriving here so enjoyed a beer with 4 interesting guys at the bar. A quiet night, good sleep!

Coastal Empire Brewing Company in Savannah, GA A couple and a single guy were also staying the night here, each with their fun stories. Our vehicles were on different sides of the establishment. Beer was tasty and I bought a 6-pack. Great night sleep…quiet!

I took a break from NYS visits to check out warbler migration in NW Ohio. Doing this period, I stayed one night at a Harvest Host: Debonné Winery in Madison, Ohio, then a couple of KOA nights in Perrysburg, OH, followed by a Harvest Host: Paper Moon Winery in Vermilion, OH and finally Silver Crest Cellars in Madison, Ohio. The wineries have beautiful properties and tasting rooms and serve lighter wines than California wines since their growing season is shorter here in the NE USA. Their parking lots were great for my overnights and quiet.

I discovered 4 Harvest Host locations night after night are probably my max. I truly want a shower, no matter how good wilderness wipes are to use. It is also nice every couple of weeks to have a hotel stay, unless lousy weather gets to me and then it may be sooner. Living 24/7 outdoors requires plenty of energy, along with greater flexibility when weather is rainy. Often I feel my days are short. At sunset I read in my van, walk the local area, return to the van and read, and soon after, I call it a night! When at a hotel I am often busy till 10pm. Interesting how we make use of time and place. It’s all good when I can remain flexible. 

Great recommendation to see the sunset at Vermilion’s small beach:

Sunset at Vermilion, OH beach

I loved this red-light green light at Silver Crest Cellars ….

Georgia’s On My Mind….

Ones mind – body connection is healthiest when in synch, especially when traveling. Driving a southern route from Arizona across Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and the panhandle of Florida was a good idea. However, my body was unhappy. The gray, cold days in Florida where I had hopes of a few relaxing days were not to be; thus even my mind was frustrated. My van travel is best when I can also sit outdoors to sketch, read or exercise. Since it was not happening in Florida, Georgia was on my mind!

I chuckle to myself as I make my administrative/executive decision to leave my camp site one day earlier than planned … as if someone was going to stop me? As a solo traveler, I decide to treat myself to a hotel stay in Savannah, Georgia. Before arriving at the hotel, I went birding at Oatland Island Wildlife Center, visited the Isle of Hope neighborhood, and saw the Eugene Talmadge Memorial Bridge. This 1991 cable-stayed bridge replaced the original 1953 cantilever truss bridge so maritime traffic could have 185 feet of vertical clearance as they moved along the Savannah River. As I looked at the bridge I thought how amazing it must have been to see it being constructed though the years … it is massive! (I could not find a place to stop and get a good photo.) There is much controversy regarding the name of the bridge that you can read elsewhere when you research a photo of the bridge. Downtown Savannah was congested, especially near City Market, thus no interest to me.

From Florida to Georgia, I drove many local roads, the blue highway, to see small towns, farms, ranches, fields and forests. Driving a two lane road, one each direction, is easy to enjoy until a logging truck, a truck with an over-sized load with modular house halves, or tractor truck trailer barrels towards and then by you. Ones mind must believe others are sober, alert and good drivers. And really it is not better when on a major highway. Speed limit signs seem to have no effect even with notice that detector devices are monitoring our movement. I have not seen more than 2 police cars yet in my travels.

If you come to Savannah, visit Oatland Wildlife Center. Honestly, I am not a fan of zoos, but this place has animals in large cages and good-sized, fenced, wildlife areas so deer, wolves and bison can roam in their own enclosures. It is a good place for a family with young children to visit so all can be outdoors and have some discussion about animals. I spent my time off the main path as the families were visiting the animals here. I was there for birding and did see three new birds: pine warbler, northern parula and wood storks. The wood storks were nesting high in the trees (a rookery). That was interesting to see.

Empire Coastal Brewing Company was my Harvest Host the next night in Savannah. I met fellow campers; we talked and had a beer. It was a nice quiet night …  a regular campground or hotel room costs more per night. Here the $20 price was right: the cost of a  beer as we talked and a six-pack to go. I would return here if I am ever in the area again.

Pine Warbler
Wood stork

The next day I visited Tom Triplett Community Park. Talked with many local people as we were all out walking the trail around the lake. I was so excited to photograph a new bird for me: swallow-tailed kite! A few seconds of hesitation and it would have been gone behind trees and I would never have seen it or photographed it! I was glad Georgia was on my mind and I followed through to visit a day earlier! Mind and body are in synch and life is good!

It’s Okay To Pivot From Your Travel Plan

Where was I, when someone recommended I visit Florida’s St Mark’s Wildlife Refuge if I was in the panhandle area? As it was, I would be! An easy right hand turn and slightly more than an hour drive, a slight deviation from my plan. Wow, I could have spent days at this refuge; it was great recommendation. That’s really not hard to imagine since I can spend hours at a highway rest stop! That is what birding has done to me!

Fortunately while at the refuge, I beat the rain which did come as a downpour a few hours after my arrival. Until then I could walk some trails, stop along the refuge road and look for any interesting birds. Two new birds are added to my bird life list: semi-palmated plover and brown-headed nuthatch. (I am still trying to get a photo of that nuthatch.)

Semi-palmated plover

At another point on this trip while driving a Georgian blue highway before connecting to an interstate, I saw a Nature Conservancy sign at Altama Plantation Wildlife Management Area. As a supporter of Nature Conservancy since 1980, I stopped at this location. After a mile, one lane, drive in …. onto the road’s shoulder as 2 other cars were leaving … there is a registration box. It looked like a good place to hike.  Unfortunately I had little time and no land pass permitting me to visit here this day, plus I was not sure if it was deer, turkey, small game or waterfowl hunting season. (Note to self: add it to a future visit list.)

And then there was a turn I took to South Carolina’s oldest Angel Oak Tree. I was pleasantly surprised to see the number of people visiting this almost 1,000 year old oak tree! The tree is huge … 60 feet in height with its thick branches stretching every which way. I include a photo with some people in it so you can get a sense of its size. (Look closely to see the people.)

Angle Oak Tree in Charleston, South Carolina

Sometimes a turn is a necessary one, such as when needing to use a toilet. I stopped at a rest area in Virginia and spent a couple of hours bird watching. The highway traffic noise overwhelmed some of the bird songs, but there were quite a few birds to see. I had my 200 – 500 mm lens on my camera and all on a tripod since the birds were loving the tall deciduous trees. To other people stopping at this rest area it was obvious what I was doing. I had a conversation with a man from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We talked about birds, Merlin Bird ID app, and my interest in getting to that area of Michigan some time. About an hour later I returned to my van and I saw a note tucked at the van window. The Michigan people provided their name and phone number and wrote, “call if you happen to be in the area” visiting the refuge he mentioned. Very kind! I’ll see if that travel can fit into my plan. So many places to go!

A nice note was left for me!

Finally, it was not my plan to write this blog post now because I should be on the road and arriving at my campsite in an hour or so. However, Google maps … my co-pilot has informed me there is a car accident ahead and slowing us all for at least one hour 3 minutes. The last time I was slowed due to an accident … actually the last one was yesterday, a tractor truck trailer accident … fortunately my exit was before the crash site so I only had a half hour delay. The week prior, a RV pulling a car was disabled in a tunnel and that was more than an hour delay. What did I learn about all of this? If a rest area is available, stop there and not creep along in the delayed traffic! It also reinforces the importance of always have plenty gas or EV in your car!

Tunnel view as I watched emergency vehicles help.

The latest: the traffic is now backed up all the way from crash site to this rest area, so I guess I am staying here for a longer period of time or at least till this traffic starts moving again. Thankfully I can be flexible!

My Travel Adventure to the East Coast Begins!

My eastward van travel from Arizona to New York will be unlike last year’s trip. No freezing Colorado or Nebraska nights for me! Although seeing the sandhill cranes come to roost at night and take off in the morning in Nebraska was spectacular! Part one during this travel: discover what birds I can along the coastal waters of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida. I also decided to stay at Harvest Host locations … since I spent money for that annual membership … and really wanted to determine if it was a good option beyond KOA campgrounds.

Well the cold weather began my first night in Las Cruces, New Mexico, but with my winter sleeping bag I was fine! My favorite breakfast place is The Shed Restaurant in town. It was wonderful talking with the waitress I met on past visits. There is something to be said when we can connect with people time and time again across the USA as one travels. I again visited South Llano River Park in Junction, Texas while on my way to San Antonio. Besides viewing birds I saw my first live armadillo!

I loved the warm weather in San Antonio, Texas and a return visit to birdwatch at Mitchell Lake. While at this location a woman told me about Crescent Bend Nature Center just about a half hour away. Of course, I went there too. Next time I will make time to bicycle the gravel paths at this place.

A big surprise was meeting a family I had met at the San Antonio KOA last November. With a glass of wine and good conversation, we caught up with each other and how life has been treating us. It truly is a not small world, but simply amazing when your path crosses with another when hundreds of miles from each ones home! Rain always threatened, but I decided I brought my bicycle to ride so I hopped on it for a quick ride before rain and leaving San Antonio. One new bird: cave swallow, yet no good photo. They flew too fast for me to even take a photo.

South Llano River Park photos:

Black-chinned hummingbird
Armadillo… quite an interesting look!

Mitchell Lake, San Antonio, Texas bird photo:

Black-necked stilt

At Crescent Bend Nature Center, this northern cardinal spent many minutes looking at the window and the side mirror of the car belonging to a couple of woman who were relaxing at the park. We were amazed at the amount of time it spent there.

Northern cardinal

Finally, 2 black vultures preening each other:

One With An Ocean Wave …

How many of us find the special spot to sit and simply be present? I noticed while observing the Pacific Ocean, I could sit and be one with each wave flowing in and then out … flowing in again and out … There is almost something hypnotic about it! I noticed other people finding a place to sit and looking out on the ocean or others who are fishing for hours at a time and have no worry about not catching one single fish.

One recent time while sitting by the ocean’s edge, I noticed a spurt of water coming from a rock. As I spent time watching the hole in the rock, I noticed as the water ebbed and flowed it was spurting out of the hole. Look at the sequence of photos to see the hole, some water and the gush of water. I watched it for awhile as I was one with each wave of the ocean!

See the slit in the rock, middle of photo.
I notice small amount of water.
The wave comes in and a gush of water!

I cannot get to an ocean each time I want to sit in a quiet space, but I know there are other places I can enjoy. Do you have a quiet place in your home, your neighborhood, or where you love to travel and sit quietly? I hope so, as there is a need for us to be calm at times and a space of quiet can help. Enjoy your place wherever it may be.

Point Loma Tide Pools, California

I live in land-locked Arizona, so getting to the Pacific Ocean a few times a year is great travel fun for me. I’ve written about various California places, but walking at low tide at the intertidal pools within Cabrillo National Monument is worth a visit. Time to visit the Point Loma Tide Pools in the San Diego area!

Be sure to know when the tides are during your visit. You do not want to be caught in high tide when the water is just over 7 feet in depth. If you are looking for sea anemones, crabs and other living things it is best to be here at low tide. At this location there are 2 high and 2 low tides most days. Google it or ask a ranger the tide schedule.

I love checking out the pools of water and seeing living things there or in the cliff’s edge. See the crabs in the photo below? And look at all the life clinging to the cliffside!

Once again we see the power of water as these smaller pools were made.

Many people visit these pools, so plan your arrival as early as you can. Cabrillo National Monument which is where this place is, opens at 9am each day. I have been here other times and found the parking lot closed due to it being full. Of course there is plenty of other spots to stop at this national monument so consider doing that too. Of course, I was happy to get a good photo of a snowy egret flying by!

San Diego Visit: Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

When in California’s San Diego area, stop by Sunset Cliffs Natural Park. You can easily walk this park above the ocean water on the cliff, where signs will remind you of cliffs possibly being unstable, and/or hike down a steep set of metal steps to the ocean’s water. (Connected to and north of the park is Sunset Cliffs Coastal Trail, also worth visiting as I did, but this post is about Sunset Cliffs Natural Park.)

I walked around the park to observe the beautiful views across the ocean and also see the local plants and birds. Many walkers, runners and visitors were at the park.

Then I hiked down the steps to be at the ocean’s water. It is fascinating to see the result of years of water’s erosion of the cliffside and the tunnels that were created. Water is a powerful force of nature! We often forget this fact until we are reminded when seeing the effects of flooding with people, cars and/or homes carried away or cliff erosion and a RV going over a cliff. I was at the stairway’s mid-point when I took the two photos so you have a sense of the steps. Take your time and you’ll be fine walking the steps.

Great fun to listen to the water, walk on the rocks and enjoy the day! Check out this park if you are in the area!

My Van … Simple Travel.

I often camp at Kampgrounds of America (KOA) locations due to the clean restrooms, security, and the fact there are many locations around the USA where I can easily book a site. Each night I walk around the campground to stretch my legs and talk with fellow campers. I continue to be amazed on the size and variety of vehicles people use for their travel. My van is puny compared to some of the other travel vehicles. That’s okay though. My van allows me to travel and live simply.

See my white van in the middle of all?

Conversations are often about the fact I have no additional air-conditioning or heating unit and that the van is a short length. Well for one person it is large enough! If it gets too cold or hot in a place, then it would be time for me to move on anyway, right? Or get snuggled in my down sleeping bag or have a breeze blowing though the van screens.

The luxury of moving on is always available. As a matter of fact, I rarely leave items at the campsite even when I plan to be there for a few days. This worked to my advantage one time while in Barstow, California. It was so hot, over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, that I decided to take a drive and run the AC so I could cool off. While realizing the temperature was never going to be low enough to sleep comfortably in the van and I was not going to set up my tent since it still would be too hot, I decided to lose my campground cost, drive elsewhere, and get a hotel stay. I hope that does not happen often, but the flexibility I had made it all easy to accomplish.

Life and travel goes on in my van!

Love Multi-Use Trails!

Loving the outdoors may bring you to it by a neighborhood walk or a drive to a local park. More and more, you will discover trails are available for all of us to use at the same time. These multi-use trails allow hikers, runners, cyclists, snowshoers and horseback riders to be on a trail to enjoy the outdoors.

Need an app listing trails in your area or wondering what trails to visit while in a new area? Check out the All Trails app and you’ll discover there are many places to be outdoors. Go ahead and have some fun!

Wine, Cheese and Chocolate …and I’m There!

My reality lately though is I am not at the winery to enjoy this combo of food with wine; however, once again Papapietro Perry had a live at winery and virtual event at the same time.

I think is very slick how our world has changed and more programs are available to us through zoom. Papapietro Perry winery staff have gotten better with their programs and to combine it now with people at the winery was an excellent idea. We were concerned that they would not continue the virtual events, but they did!

At this event, we started with a delicious 2021 Chardonnay from Peters vineyard with Toma cheese from Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company. Sip of wine, bite of cheese, another sip of wine and then to try it all with Volo’s orange chocolate … which has orange pieces in it! Point Reyes creamery is a women-owned business with very happy cows and many different cheeses! Volo Chocolate was founded by a husband-and-wife team hand-making “bean to bar” chocolates.

Next tasting was 2019 Pinot Noir also from Peter’s vineyard, paired with Pimento cheese spread and dark chocolate with olive oil and roasted almonds. I love Papapietro Perry’s pinot noir … which is the reason we are wine club members with them… thanks to Pedroncelli Winery sending us just a short distance from their place to Papapietro Perry when they heard we were looking for delicious pinot noir. I was hesitant about the cheese spread but actually found it very tasty. The next day I took it and spread it on bread as my cheese with a turkey sandwich … delicious!

The final tasting was 2019 Pinot Noir from Nunes vineyard. Quinta cheese has a bark wrap around it and when left out about 1/2 hour before the tasting, it is like brie in its melting. With some ooze of cheese on a cracker and a sip of wine, wonderful! We followed this up with mocha bar….yum!

Papapietro Perry Winery is in Headsburg, California … check it out if you enjoy wines and specifically pinot noir. Pedroncelli Winery is in Geyserville, California and also has excellent wines …zinfandel …especially their Mother Clone. So if you are in California, you now have two wineries to enjoy tastings at. Let me know what you think of their wines!