Friday, September 19, 2014

Camping at Goose Island State Park

Our Fall birding vacation was timed around the Hummer Bird Celebration 2014 in Rockport, TX and the Hawk Watch festival in Robstown, TX.  As we had done last year, we chose to camp at the nearby Goose Island State Park, in the wooded section, arriving late Friday night. We had hoped that this site would give us convenient access to the hummingbird festival and give us an opportunity to see migrating birds right in the park.

Mosquitoes - We had remembered some mosquitoes from our November trip. What we had not counted on was how much worse they would be in September. This especially after the strong rains last week which continued on and off throughout our stay.

Edward's Story: It was dark when we arrived at the campsite and, per our usual routine, Danielle got out to provide directions while I backed the trailer. Our radios seemed to be acting flaky so we relied more on her hand signals with the flashlight. As we backed, Danielle seemed to be giving random, jerky hand signals and I was getting progressively more confused and frustrated, especially since we were trying to negotiate a tight fit. When I got out to help check on the trailer leveling, I found her in a near panic threatening to go back home that night because of the mosquitoes. Up until that point, I had not had very many of them on me so thought she was over-reacting. Danielle's Story: I got out as usual to help Edward back. Unfortunately, our radios weren't working well, so I tried using hand signals. However, my arms and legs were completely covered in mosquitoes within about 5 seconds of getting out of the truck. They tried to get in my mouth and were flying in behind my glasses trying to get to my eyes. I kept trying to brush them away while shouting directions to Edward that he didn't seem to hear. When we finally got the trailer leveled, I went in and refused to come back out. Edward, who hadn't been attacked quite as badly as I was, didn't seem to understand why I was in such a state.  

We were both very glad to be in the trailer at last ... now where is that damned flyswatter?

We had honestly never experienced mosquitoes like this. Our first morning there, since Danielle would not go outside, I took a walk by myself on the nature trail looking for birds ... there are birds here, right? I was quickly engulfed in mosquitoes and was horrified to see my arms and legs covered with hundreds of these nasty critters which were capable of biting through clothing. So this is what Danielle had experienced, yikes! When I started the walk, I thought that my mosquito netting hat was a bit silly. By the end, I was thinking "We're gonna need a bigger net."

After going to the hummingbird festival, we went to the local tackle and hunting shop and stocked up on every repellent we could find to see what would work. We tried the following as part of our "science experiment"
  • DEET spray
  • Citronella spray
  • Permethrin based shirt and pants
  • Mosquito jacket and hood
  • OFF Clip-On fan driven repellent
  • ThermaCELL repellent
  • Octenol Bug Zapper
We found DEET was useful for exposed hands if used at 100% concentration. Spraying 30% solution on clothing didn't seem to do anything. The mosquito jacket was mandatory every time we stepped outside but we still had to be careful to wear other billowy clothing underneath or we got bit right through the netting. As long as we were stationary, the ThermaCell device was awesome. It uses a little butane flame to heat a chemical strip which has to be replaced every three hours or so. It creates a thin, slightly acrid haze in a couple-person radius and takes about 10 minutes to be concentrated enough to be useful. Once going, it really does keep most of the mosquitoes away, enough that the netting deals with the rest. We placed one ThermaCell near the trailer door and took another to place on the picnic table at the bird feeding station or to go to the camp restrooms. All the rest of the products we tried were completely worthless.

Here we are in our fashionable garb. Vali only stay outside for the duration of the shot as he kept biting at his undersides and wanted back in.

We also tried a bug zapper with an Octenol attractant strip. I expected to kill some mosquitoes and moths ... I did not expect the entire zapper grid to be covered in a fuzzy layer of bugs every day. Though the zapper was entertaining, I suspect it had no value in reducing mosquitoes in the campsite. Next time, we will leave it at home and let the birds have the bugs instead.

Here is our campsite just before we left. Each heavy rain would completely flood the site and garner a new crop of the hellish bugs. Fortunately, the sandy soil had good drainage so, at least, we were not slogging around in water pools all of the time.

We had chosen Goose Island State Park over Mustang Island State Park in the hope of seeing more birds. The cruel irony is that Mustang Island, which had no mosquitoes, is where we saw almost all of the interesting birds on this trip.

Internet - The first few days in camp, Danielle had to spend evenings preparing class material and re-recording an on-line lecture. Despite the advertisement of such, we found out last year that there is no usable WiFi in any part of the wooded area of the park. Before leaving, I enhanced our RV WiFi project and created a coaxial cable entry point on the rear of the trailer using an N-connector bulkhead allowing me to connect a 9dB Verizon 4G LTE external antenna to Danielle's MiFi Jetpack. This gave us reliable LTE internet access throughout the park despite being technically in the 3G coverage area. Here is the alternate antenna on the extendable pole

Macerator - After our Christmas camping trip last year, we bought ourselves a macerator for the sewage line. Earlier this year, I installed a 12V power outlet at the back of the trailer to power the device. We used it on our trip to Las Cruces in the spring, but this trip was our first chance to test pumping the waste water up into our 22 gallon Barker Tote-Along left in the bed of the truck. Below on the left, I am running the pump fully garbed in mosquito netting with a the ThermaCELL running on the ground near me. A 50' run of heavy black garden hose leads up in to the bed of the truck parked in front of the trailer. Three trips provides a full emptying of the gray and black water tanks. It is much faster to make runs to the dumping station since we don't have to tow it along at slow speeds.

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