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Florida to Nevada: Driving Mom Home -- March 2012

After partially recovering from knee surgery, Mom and I drove from Dunedin, FL, to Las Vegas, NV, where she will continue recovering and I will get to spend time with my sweet wife. This page chronicles our road trip across the country. Map of the trip.

dunedin
Departing Martha's home in Dunedin, FL

Day 1. March 02. Dunedin, FL, to Inverness, FL.

We left Dunedin mid-morning and drove to Inverness, arriving early afternoon and staying with Mom's old friends Fred and Jane. Later in the afternoon, we walked in Fort Cooper State Park to see the site of an old fort used during the Second Seminole War in 1836 (only part of one wall remains). Mom walked about a mile, partially on a dirt road, and several Pileated Woodpeckers entertained us by chattering as they pecked holes in the trees and White-eyed Vireos sang in the shrubs. We had dinner at a local fish fry place with excellent food. [more photos]

Homosassas Springs
Homosassas Springs State Wildlife Park, FL

Day 2. March 03. Inverness, FL.

Visited Homosassas Springs with Fred and Jane. Stayed with Fred and Jane for a second night. Good photos of bird species not usually available at close range at the wildlife park. Dinner at Pete's Fish Restaurant way out on a key; excellent eats. [more photos]

wakulla springs
The grand lodge at Wakulla Springs State Park, FL

Day 3. March 04. Inverness, FL, to Wakulla Springs, FL.

We drove north and west making a few little stops to St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. We had hoped to see Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, but only saw a few birds and a nice lighthouse. We then drove to Wakulla Springs and spent the night at the historic lodge. For dinner, we ate Subway sandwiches on a park bench because the lodge would not honor their advertised special. In the late evening and early darkness, I hiked about 1.5 miles on a trail in the swamp were the first-of-the-season Spring Peepers (little frogs) singing in the darkness and Barred Owls called occasionally. [more photos]

wakulla springs
Wakulla Springs boat tour, FL
Day 4. March 05. Wakulla Springs, FL, to Mexico Beach, FL.

I got up early and went birding in the early morning sub-freezing temperatures and finally saw a Red-headed Woodpecker. Later, rather than continue our restaurant boycott, we ate breakfast at the lodge, then took the boat tour down the river. We missed the boat by a few minutes, so we had an hour to look for birds and manatees. The 45-minute boat ride was good, and our captain knew the proper names of the birds and other things he identified for us (which was unusual, in my experience). After that, we drove to St. Joseph State Park (a spit of sand in the Gulf) and saw Brown-headed Nuthatches and Eastern Bluebirds. Continuing, we drove to Mexico Beach (just before Panama Beach) and stayed in the El Governor Hotel for about $100 in room overlooking the ocean. Cooked mac-and-cheese in the room for dinner and listened to stormy waves crashing on the shore all night. [more photos]

gulf islands
Gulf Islands National Seashore, FL
Day 5. March 06. Mexico Beach, FL, to Biloxi, MS.

We ate breakfast in the room, then drove west through Panama City. It was spring break for the college kids, but the Girls-Gone-Wild were sleeping it off on this cold and windy morning. We stopped along the shore a couple of times at various parts of Gulf Islands National Seashore and Mom walked in the sand. We took a ferry across Mobile Bay to Dauphin Island, which even at $20.50, was better than driving all the way around the bay. On Dauphin Island, AL, we stopped at a Civil War fort on the tip of island for a quick lunch, and later stopped at a nice park in a stand of old pine-oak woods. Continuing, we drove out of Alabama and stopped at the Star Motel in Biloxi, MS, just past sunset. From the motel, we could look out on hurricane reconstruction efforts and bits of the Gulf Shore. [more photos]

Fort Pike
Hoofing it across Fort Pike, LA

Day 6. March 07. Biloxi, MS, to Port Arthur, TX.

It seemed like a long day in the car (375 miles), but we made it clear across Louisiana today, driving as close to the Gulf of Mexico as possible west of New Orleans. We made a few stops, including a lunch break at Fort Pike, a Civil War Fort. We made it into Port Arthur just after sunset. [more photos]

galveston
Along the seawall in Galveston, TX

Day 7. March 08. Port Arthur, TX, to Port Lavaca, TX.

Another long day, but not so long at only 275 miles. We headed west and south from Port Arthur across the salt marshes of east Texas to the Gulf Coast, then followed the coast southwest to Galveston, arriving on the ferry. Galveston was stormy, but dry, and we spent a few minutes walking along the seawall. I was thrilled to photograph a Neotropic Cormorant feeding among the rocks that line the seawall. Continuing, we stopped along the shore a few times and took one longer break along a river in a nice park. We arrived at Port Lavaca, which some might remember from a trip a year ago, in the evening and settled in. [more photos]

March 09
Whooping Cranes foraging in a salt marsh

Day 8. March 09. Port Lavaca, TX, to Corpus Christi, TX.

Today was cold and windy, or wet and cold and windy, all day. We skipped an early morning walk on a pier in Port Lavaca and headed directly to Aransas NWR in hopes of seeing Whooping Cranes. When leaving refuge headquarters, I got the best view of the day as four cranes flew over the parking lot. Out on the refuge, I saw several cranes, but at a great distance in the rain, and Mom saw none. We did see a Wild Turkey, a few white-tailed deer, and two raccoons. A Great Kiskadee at the visitor center put on a brief show, and we saw one Caracara. Continuing south, we saw two Whooping Cranes along the highway, stopped at a small natural area in Rockport, and stopped at a few other places along causeways. After a 4th ferry in 4 days, we arrived at my cousin Bethany's house in Corpus Christi in late afternoon to find that she had fallen earlier in the day and injured her knee. Her father, my Uncle Dawson, is aging gracefully at Bethany's and is in good spirits. [more photos]

Day 9
View from inside the house!

Day 9. March 10. Corpus Christi, TX, to Austin, TX.

We delayed departing Corpus Christi because Frank took Bethany out for medical attention on her knee and we stayed in the house to watch Uncle Dawson. We had a pleasant morning watching birds (Northern Caracara, Osprey, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Neotropic Cormorant) out the back window while Uncle Dawson took care of himself. The delay gave the weather time to stop raining and clear a bit, so that was good. We departed about 2 PM and drove north to Austin, arriving at my sister's house in time for dinner.

day 10
Relaxing in Austin

Day 10. March 11. Austin, TX.

Quiet, relaxing day in Austin. Cathy took Mom out to an art museum, and I stayed at the house all day, only getting out twice to walk the dog. It was nice to have a day off from driving.

Day 11
Always stylish, Mom dresses to match the hotel

Day 11. March 12. Austin, TX, to Fort Stockton, TX.

We departed Austin about 8:30 AM and drove west in the fog for most of an hour. By the time we got to the LBJ Ranch in Johnson City, the weather had cleared and we stopped for a nice walk in the sunshine listening to Eastern Meadowlarks sing. Continuing, we hit Interstate-10, and for the first time on the drive home, hit the big road and blasted for home. We stopped several times to stretch Mom's (and my) legs, and one rest area had a few interesting birds (Canyon Towhee, perhaps Savannah Sparrows), but otherwise we just blasted down the highway. We stopped at Fort Stockton for the night, making for a short day. I want to stop at a state park just west of here, and we didn't want to arrive just as they were closing for the day.

Day 12
Mom at Balmorhea State Park (San Solomon Spring)

Day 12. March 13. Fort Stockton, TX to Lordsburg, NM.

We got up and out fairly early, using the time to enjoy Balmorhea State Park. We had visited this park when I was young, but I didn't remember much of it (although they may have added a lot of infrastructure over the last 45 years). There were lots of birds, but mostly Red-winged Blackbirds and House Sparrows. We did see a Great Horned Owl, Say's Phoebe, Black Phoebe, Eastern Phoebe (a rare mix of phoebe species), and Ladder-backed Woodpecker, so it feels like I'm getting close to home. Continuing, we drove pretty hard across West Texas and most of the way across New Mexico. We stopped several times to walk and work Mom's legs, and we had a great Mexican dinner in a little place in Lordsburg.

Day 13
Rustler Park, high in the Chiricahua Mountains

Day 13. March 14. Lordsburg, NM to Casa Grande, AZ.

We had a big breakfast in Lordsburg, then headed out early with a bit of frost atop the car. We drove to Portal, Arizona, and birded around town, finding such species as Lark Bunting, Pyrrhuloxia, Black-throated Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, and Acorn Woodpecker. We then drove up into the Chiricahua Mountains and visited favorite birding sites in Cave Canyon (Mexican Jay), South Fork (Bridled Titmouse), and Rustler Park (Yellow-eyed Junco). The area had been burned by a big fire in 2011, but the intense burn was spotty, so the forest that remains is a patchwork of blackened hillsides mixed among thriving green forests. We drove over the mountains and down to Chiricahua National Monument, where we spent the late afternoon. Finally, we stopped for a few minutes at the Wilcox Playa (about 2,000 Sandhill Cranes!), then put petal to the metal and drove all the way to Casa Grande on the south side of Phoenix, Arizona, arriving well after dark.

Day 14
Arriving in Las Vegas

Day 14. March 15. Casa Grande, AZ to Las Vegas, NV.

We were up and out fairly early, excited about getting home to see Liz. We sailed through Phoenix just as the morning rush was settling down. Just south of Wickenburg, we stopped at the Hassayampa Roadside Rest Area, which is a great place to watch riparian birds and other birds migrating along a river corridor. We had hoped to see Vermilion Flycatchers, but none were present today - perhaps it still is too early in the year. Continuing, we stopped for lunch and to stretch the legs. I stopped for a few minutes to asses trailhead conditions changed by highway construction, and then we crossed the Colorado River into Nevada. Our last stop was at the "big horn" park in Boulder City where a group of 7 rams and 1 ewe were grazing on the lawn. Continuing into Las Vegas, we arrived just in time to get caught in the rush-hour traffic -- not the best welcome home -- but Liz made up for it when we arrived home about 6 PM.

Note: All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 120317

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