Beach & Bayou Life: Nomads Along the Gulf Coast in Month #33

I sometimes forget how peaceful it is to walk along the ocean. It’s been a while since we’ve been to a beach, so we spent the bulk of Month #33 of camper life along the Gulf Coast of Texas on Galveston Island. This served as a vacation destination for my parents, who survived yet another miserable Illinois winter and flew out to see us. It was also a welcome change of scenery for us.

To continue on with this spring’s Gulf Coast theme, we’re taking the next few days off for a long-distance bike trip along the Gulf with stops in FOUR states along the way!

But first, here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of homes on the road.

Huntsville State Park, Texas: Home on the Road #110

Before we hit the beach and the bayou, we settled into the pine forests of Huntsville State Park in Texas. This was one of my favorite campgrounds in a VERY long time because of the spacious site that felt like having our own little backyard. It was also insanely easy to access pretty much every type of outdoor recreation. Finally being rewarded with the perfect 70s and sunny weather that we came to Texas for didn’t hurt either!

  • Highlights: Getting a little better at mountain biking, getting out on the lake twice to kayak and SUP, close-by hikes and trail runs, sitting in a hammock, painting with acrylic on canvas, few distractions meant getting lots of work done in advance of some exciting trips coming up.
  • Lowlights: Some party-hardy campers nearby who can still manage to stay up until 4am (how? why?! I’m old.), kinda sucking at getting a campfire started on two different evenings.

Galveston Island, Texas: Home on the Road #111

Although we’ve camped on beaches in our tent, this was the closest we’ve ever camped to a beach in the RV. We literally just had to walk across a parking lot to be greeted by sand and surf, and of course a few off-leash dogs. After getting settled in, my parents flew into Houston and we brought them down to Galveston for a little slice of island life as well.

The weather was rainy but not nearly as bad as last year in Oregon. Top sightseeing stops included an Amazon distribution center tour, a dolphin cruise in the bay, murder mystery show at a local theater, offshore drilling rig museum (because…Texas), beach time, and hanging out at our camper by the lagoon.

  • Highlights: A view of the ocean from our RV, great campground Wi-Fi, decent laundry facilities to catch up after recent state park stays, a successful parents’ visit with lots of solid quality time, spending time at the beach, staying active with biking/boating/lifting, feeling really on top of my work.
  • Lowlights: First sunburn of the season (you think I’d have learned by now), trying to hike and only finding mud pits instead, doing taxes and paying an insane amount to the government as usual.

Lake Charles, Louisiana: Home on the Road #112

Now it’s time to take a break from Texas and explore a bit further along the Gulf Coast! We’re staying at Intracoastal Park south of Lake Charles, under a bridge and among the huge barges passing by. It feels like we’re officially bayou people.

  • Highlights: Watching the huge barges pass by our camper (but what’s ON them?!), kayaking among the barges and swamps too, chill place with few distractions so pretty work productive despite getting slammed with every new project all at once, warm weather in the 70s-90s, winning $34 playing video roulette at the nearby Golden Nugget Lake Charles casino, finally buying new running shoes (bright pink!) to replace the ones my toes are sticking though. 
  • Lowlights: The insanely loud noises of camping pretty much under a metal bridge, no electricity for a day after 2 transformers blew out during a thunderstorm, mosquitoes galore, nothing ever dries in this humidity, camper leaks from ongoing rain.


This Month’s Ramblings from the Road

  • I finally painted something! Working on my trees and landscape scenes here while enjoying some awesome weather and a big campsite at Huntsville State Park.

  • Wildflowers are in bloom in Texas! It’s nothing like the photos I’ve been seeing come out of California lately, but it’s still nice. These are some of my favorites. They’re called confetti lantana. They’re also reminding me that I want a garden.

  • I always enjoy a good game of mini golf and can get a bit competitive (i.e. belligerent) with it. This was a course near our beach campground in Galveston. Although the husband and I tend to be evenly matched at most games, I won this game by 2 putts…just for the record.


Looking Ahead to Next Month

I’m posting this a couple days early because tomorrow we’re setting out on an epic Gulf Coast biking adventure. We’ll be tent-camping in four states in four nights (Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana) between bike rides with Monkey in tow via dog trailer. There’s are heavy chances of rain and storms, so I have no doubt that this will be quite the adventure.

Afterwards, we’ll be coming back to our home base near Lake Charles, visiting our favorite chimpanzee nonprofit sanctuary (Chimp Haven) near Shreveport, quickly moving back through Texas, and then reaching Albuquerque, New Mexico. The pace quickens from here on out because literally days after returning from Japan, we caught the overseas travel bug and, on a whim, booked a week-long trip from ABQ to Hawaii! Neither of us has been to the islands before, and it sounded like a solid way to celebrate the husband’s birthday and our marriage anniversary.

But first, on with this bayou bike adventure. Wish us luck, sunny skies, and no flat tires!


Catch up with the journey:

Bald Cypress Reflection: A Pantoum Poem

While driving from New Orleans to Shreveport on New Year’s Day, I pulled over at Chicot State Park for a healthy dose of nature to kick off the new year. The park runs along a 20-mile hiking/mountain biking trail that encircles Lake Chicot, passing by a number of primitive campsites along the way.

The mostly-flat trail meandered across gentle rolling hills and through bottomland hardwood forests. It was a peaceful place, void of crowds and roadside noise.

But what stood out the most to me were the bald cypress trees. Native to southern swamps, bald cypress trees form in characteristic groves and raise conical “knees” from their underwater roots. Their leaves may have been dead, but their preserved beauty provided me with inspiration at the onset of a promising new year.

I chose Chicot State Park as the subject of my latest poem and decided upon the pantoum as an appropriate poetic form. Originating in Malaysia in the 15th century, pantoums are composed of four line stanzas, in which select lines are repeated in subsequent stanzas and take on new meaning when repeated.

With that lengthy introduction out of the way, allow me to share with you the first draft of Bald Cypress Reflection.

Bald Cypress Reflection: A Pantoum Poem

On New Year’s Day in Twenty-Fourteen
A mild Louisiana breeze blew through
Rugged boots trudged toward gentle hills
Along an endless trail of dirt

Chicot Park Trailhead

A mild Louisiana breeze blew through
Bald cypress trees waved side to side
Along an endless trail of dirt
Filled with mystery and ominous warning

First view of the bald cypress

Bald cypress trees waved side to side
Perched in the swamp and coated in frost
Filled with mystery and ominous warning
Silence never spoke so loudly

An eerie stillness in the swamp

Perched in the swamp and coated in frost
My weary legs and wearier mind
Silence never spoke so loudly
Signs of life through subtle reflection

Are those berries beginning to form?

My weary legs and wearier mind
A click preserved the image forever
Signs of life through subtle reflection
Southern swamps swallowed me whole

Snapping a shot along the hike

A click preserved the image forever
Rugged boots trudged toward gentle hills
Southern swamps swallowed me whole
On New Year’s Day in Twenty-Fourteen

A Visit to Chimp Haven Sanctuary – Keithville, Louisiana

What better way to kick off the new year than with a bunch of chimpanzees?!

One of many great facial expressions

Chimp Haven is a national chimpanzee sanctuary located 22 miles southwest of Shreveport, Louisiana in the Eddie D. Jones Nature Park. My boyfriend and I have been moderately obsessed with monkeys and apes for awhile now (yes, there’s a difference – learn about it!).

Informational sign

While randomly trolling the Internet for monkey pictures on a lazy Saturday morning, we stumbled upon Chimp Haven’s website. And unlike the other sanctuary we follow and support, the Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary, Chimp Haven opens its doors to the public a couple times a year.

Front entrance

We attended a “morning edition” of Chimp Chat & Chew at the nonprofit sanctuary last month. This event included a behind-the-scenes tour, staff presentation, breakfast, and an up-close visit see the sanctuary residents. Most of the residents come to live here after being retired from research laboratories, and others are rescued people who’ve unsuccessfully tried to keep chimps as pets. These programs last for two hours and cost $50 for adults and $25 for children.

Parking lot

The sanctuary entrance was tucked away and unassuming. We pulled up to the gate and called the office on the intercom to be let in. There were only a couple other cars in the lot, and only three other people waiting to attend the event in the lobby area. The lobby walls were lined with photographs and maps of the sanctuary’s construction back in 2003, which began on 200 acres of forest donated by the residents of Caddo Parish, Louisiana

Sanctuary lobby

One staff members, Andrea, led us five chimp enthusiasts to the back of the facility to collect on the breakfast we were promised. Breakfast consisted of mini egg & sausage sandwiches, bagels, fruit, coffee, and juice. Once we were settled around the table in the conference room, Andrea cued up a power point presentation and told us about how the sanctuary has grown over the years.

Chimp generosity

Then Skye, a chimp caregiver, gave a presentation about the most common facial expressions chimpanzees make and what they mean. Both staff members were incredibly well-educated about chimpanzee behavior and very open to answer all our questions.

Chilly morning for the chimps

One of the most social chimps, Henry, “interrupted” the presentation by climbing to the top of the tallest structure in his enclosure and capturing the attention of all of us gazing out the window. It was feeding time, so we were led us out onto the roof to watch the staff toss bananas, onions, cucumbers, oranges, and cabbage down to the chimps in two separate enclosure areas.

Stereotypical banana eating

It was a chilly day in January (about 40-degrees Fahrenheit), so most chimps briefly popped out of their enclosure windows to grab the produce and pop back inside. Some of the more agile chimps actually caught the fruits and vegetables in their hands as they plummeted down from the roof.

Fruit sharing

Chimps climbed to the top of their wooden structure, wandered around to get our attention, and basked in the warm sunshine. One castrated male chimp slung a pink and brown stuffed monkey on its back and carried it around like it was his own baby. Andrea said that Grandma, a 60-year-old chimp, loved playing with stuffed animals too.

Stuffed animal caregiver

After feeding time, we boarded an open-air, tractor-pulled wagon to tour the grounds. Although we didn’t see any chimps playing in the woods (probably because of the cold weather), they apparently have free reign of the open space. The trees here aren’t exactly tropical, but it’s nice for them to at least have some trees around to climb and play on.

Boarding the tractor wagon

The sanctuary is expanding, which is great news considering how many research laboratories are closing and how many more chimps are in need of a safe home. We saw lots of construction was going on as we rolled by on the wagon near the sections for quarantined chimps infected with Hepatitis C, HIV, and AIDS. The sanctuary has around 70 residents now, so I’ll be curious to see how many more move in after the new construction is complete.

New construction

There are a few baby chimps living at the sanctuary, not because Chimp Haven breeds them, but because sometimes vasectomies just don’t stick. Andrea told us the story of one particular male who had a vasectomy three separate times and still impregnated a female. Clearly, that’s a body programmed to procreate! Although it was only through a fence, I did catch a glimpse of the ridiculously adorable Valentina Rose, a one-year-old chimp that I recently donated to as a Christmas gift.

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The tractor pulled us along a small river, which serves as a protective barrier since chimps aren’t able to swim. Andrea encouraged us to take as many pictures and ask as many questions as we wanted so we could learn as much about the habitat and species as possible.

One of the chimp enclosures

When the wagon ride came to an end, we filed back into the presentation room to view some of the artwork created by the chimps. I’m not ashamed to admit that their abstract paintings are on par with my own. They had a slew of merchandise available for purchase, including t-shirts, sweatshirts, polos, artwork prints, and postcards. Since it’s all just stored in tubs and carried in on demand, I couldn’t help but think a little store would be a great addition to the visitor’s center.

One of the chimp enclosures

At the end of our Chimp Chat & Chew event, I felt more attached to these primates than I ever had before, and more educated about their behavior, mannerisms, and challenges. As we were getting our last photographs of the chimps and saying our goodbyes, Andrea mentioned a resident volunteer program that the sanctuary offers. The sanctuary has a couple trailers available onsite for volunteer lodging, as long as you put in 20 hours per week – something I would like to try later this year.

Chimpanzee Place

If you’re interested in learning more about Chimp Haven’s volunteer program, reach out to Education Specialist, Andrea Falcetto at 318-925-9575 or [email protected] To donate to Chimp Haven, visit the sanctuary website or check out the chimps’ wishlist of desired toy, food, nesting, and sensory enrichment items.

chimp stretch

So if you ever find yourself anywhere near northern Louisiana or eastern Texas, check Chimp Haven’s website to see if they’re hosting a public event at that time. Or simply plan a road around their schedule, like we did, to experience a truly unique habitat and support a great cause.

Posing with "my apes"

It’s not a zoo, not a roadside attraction, and not a breeding ground. It’s a safe, caring, and comfortable home for wild chimps who were deprived of a natural life and have been given a second chance. I found inspiration at Chimp Haven, which is the best souvenir I could ever hope to bring back home.