Llano Grande Resort and Country Club (January 3 – February 2, 2017)

We arrived at Llano Grande Resort on January 3rd for a 30-day stay. Llano Grande is definitely the largest resort we’ve stayed at, with over 1,100 sites. The resort is home to a large number of Winter Texans, aged 55+, and it was quickly apparent that most of the population are semi-permanent residents (at least for the winters). Llano Grande is divided into East, West and North sections. We stayed in the North Section, which is the newest. Each section has a combination of RVs, park models and mobile homes. The amenities include a championship golf course, 4 heated pools, lighted tennis and pickleball courts and a 25,000 square foot event center. Their activity calendar has more activities each day than anyone could ask for.

We had originally planned to stay at a resort closer to the Gulf of Mexico but, when Phil accepted a couple of weeks of contract work for Methode Electronics at their warehouse in McAllen, TX, we decided to move closer to it. Llano Grande is only a 26-mile drive from the warehouse. As it turned out, Phil didn’t end up needing to visit the warehouse as much as had been expected but we were happy we had decided to stay at Llano Grande.

Llano Grande is only about 10 miles north of the Mexican border town of Nuevo Progreso. Nuevo Progreso has a population of only about 10,000 but has about 100 dentist offices to serve the many Americans who walk across the border for cheap dental work. Nuevo Progreso is in the state of Tamaulipas. The U.S. State Department has issued an advisory against travel to Tamaulipas due to drug cartel violence, although Nuevo Progreso was not specifically mentioned. Regardless, we do not intend to visit Mexico this trip.

The weather over the first couple of weeks was not conducive to being outside very much. Although the temperature was generally great, with daytime highs in the mid-70s to low-80s, the winds were quite strong, averaging about 15-20 mph with gusts in the 30+ mph range. Fortunately, we had received a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle of Wrigley Field from Katie for Christmas and that kept us busy for several days. The puzzle was too long to fit on our kitchen table so Jan constructed a table out of a large cardboard box that we could work on. The box actually worked out better anyway since it enabled us to move the puzzle off the kitchen table when it was time to eat.


On January 8th, we attended our first concert at the Event Center. The performer was John Sager, a singer and entertainer from Branson, MO who spends the winter doing concerts in South Texas.

On January 13th, we went to the All Valley RV Show in Mercedes. Although we did wander in and out of a number of RVs, we didn’t see anything that tempted us to trade in our current rig. We spent most of our time at the vendors’ booths and picked up various brochures and bought a few gadgets.

On January 14th, we were back at the Event Center for a concert by the Oak Ridge Boys. It was a good show. This was actually the first of five nights the Oak Ridge Boys were appearing at Llano Grande and there was quite a large crowd. We learned that the group, the Oak Ridge Boys, has actually existed since the 1940’s. The four current members, although obviously not part of the original group, have been together a long time. In fact, the newcomer in the group has been with them for over 40 years.


One of the amenities of our site is that there is an orange tree on each side of us. Phil picked oranges to use in our weekend juice but Jan found the taste to be overly acidic. Upon further research, we learned that 95% of the oranges grown in this area are of a variety known as “sour oranges.” Sour oranges are primarily used in the making of such products as orange marmalade. Fortunately, we have a mobile farmers market that comes to Llano Grande each week so we’ve had an inexpensive source for fresh produce and some non-sour oranges.

On January 16th, we made the 50-mile drive to South Padre Island. The weather was somewhat overcast and windy but we’d gotten tired of waiting for ideal weather. We visited the Visitor’s Center and saw two enormous sandcastles.

Then we headed to Laguna Bob for lunch. As the name implies, we ate on the deck that overlooked the lagoon and were able to watch the fishing boats coming and going. Several birds stayed nearby, just waiting for a handout.

After lunch, we strolled along the beach on the Gulf of Mexico side of the island.

On our drive home, we stopped in Los Fresnos for photographs at “little Graceland” but did not enter the museum. As we learned later, little Graceland is the private home of Simon Vega, an Army buddy of Elvis. He has turned his home into an Elvis museum and the website claims that the home is one of the most visited private homes in the U.S.

On January 20th, we spent most of the day watching the inauguration of Donald J. Trump. We also took advantage of calm winds to remove everything from our rig’s basement and thoroughly clean it for the first time in 15 months. Phil also installed the mud flap he had ordered to replace the one that had torn off in July. He had originally reinstalled the torn off one in the summer but, upon arrival in Texas, had discovered that it was at risk of falling off again. Phil had learned that it is illegal to drive a dually registered in Texas without mud flaps on the rear.

On January 23rd, we returned to South Padre Island for a 4-hour Port of Brownsville boat cruise that we had purchased at the RV show. Although we had had some concerns about the weather when we made our reservations, the day was perfect for a cruise; sunny, mid-70s and low winds. We, and about 50 others, joined the crew onboard the boat at noon. Since we were near the end of the line for boarding, we were unable to find a seat on the upper deck. However, we found a nice seat in the stern that provided good views of both sides.

After we exited the harbor, we passed through the swing bridge that connects the Texas mainland with the small island village of Long Island.

Then we traveled along the Gulf Inter-coastal Waterway where oil rigs are constructed and repaired. We passed the Noble Tom Madden, a mobile oil rig that cost $650 million to construct, and the Safe Lancia, a semi-submersible “accommodation rig” that serves as housing and office space for 550 oil rig workers.

Next we traveled along the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. The wildlife refuge serves as a vital winter stopover for a wide variety of migratory birds, including an estimated 80% of the North American population of redhead ducks. The refuge is also home to 45 mammal species.

We cruised through the shrimp boat basin. We saw a few shrimp boats at work; these were very popular with the local pelicans and gulls. We learned that the Texas wild shrimp industry is in a deep decline due to lower cost imported and farm-raised shrimp. Less than ¼ of the fleet of Texas shrimp boats are expected to go to sea this year due to the depressed price of shrimp.

The next part of the cruise took us past numerous ship salvage yards where old cargo and decommissioned US Navy ships were being cut apart for scrap metal. We learned that it takes about a year to completely scrap a cargo ship. Among the Navy ships being dismantled, we saw two aircraft carriers, the USS Constellation and the USS Saratoga, and two former destroyer tender ships, the Shenandoah and the Yellowstone. It was sad to see these ships being torn apart after hearing about their service during recent wars.

Lunch was served as we passed through the salvage yards. Our meal consisted of a Cajun shrimp boil that included shrimp, sausage, potatoes and corn on the cob that was prepared onboard. Although it was a little tricky to manage a paper plate on our knees while dealing with peel-and-eat shrimp, the food was very good.


After lunch, the cruise continued to the Port of Brownsville where we saw cargo ships being loaded and unloaded.

Cargo ship being loaded Port of Brownsville

The return trip was somewhat faster since our course was entirely on the Brownsville Ship Channel and bypassed the Inter-coastal Waterway.

Although the cruise line actually offers dolphin watching tours, we were fortunate to see pods of dolphins racing along behind our boat on three occasions. It was amazing to see how quickly they swam.


Our cruise returned to dock at 4 pm and we headed for home. However, we did remember to stop for a picture at the South Padre Island welcome sign that we had missed on three previous occasions.


On Monday, January 27th, we decided to visit one of the many birding parks that the Rio Grande Valley is known for. We drove to one and discovered that the park was closed on Mondays. We then discovered another one but it was also closed on Mondays. So, after deciding that we were not destined to do any birding that day, we went to explore the historic downtowns of Weslaco and Mercedes, TX. One of Mercedes’ claims to fame is that they have large boots scattered around town, each one decorated to honor a school. We stopped and took pictures of a couple of them. We ate lunch at Papa Joe’s, a small restaurant that was the highest rated in Mercedes. The restaurant was decorated with all kinds of memorabilia.

On February 1st, we started getting ready to leave Llano Grande Resort. Phil washed the rig and managed to keep from falling off the roof. It was the first time he had washed it himself, since most RV parks don’t allow guests to wash their rigs onsite.

On February 2nd, we were back on the road again. It felt a little strange to be moving again since we had been parked for a month. We drove about 240 miles and spent the night at Braunig Lake RV park. We had spent a couple of nights at this park before heading to Mercedes and had had a good-sized site. However, this time, we got squeezed into a very narrow site and only had about a foot between our living room slide and our neighbor’s slide and their yapping dog.  Fortunately, it was only one night and then we were back on the road, heading to the Hill Country for two months.



Our Run to the Border (December 27, 2016 – January 3, 2017)

We left Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park in Eva, TN on the morning of December 27th and began our 1,100 mile trek to Mercedes, TX. Since Jason and Jarrod had left the previous evening, we were able to make an early start. However, since we hadn’t had a sewer hookup at our site, we had to make a stop at the park’s dump station first. The lane to the dump station was obviously designed with smaller rigs in mind and had a sharp curve in the middle. We had to be very careful to avoid hitting a tree on one side and a steep ditch on the other.

Once we got underway, the first day was almost entirely on I-40. We spent the night at the Downtown Riverside RV Park in North Little Rock, AR. We had stayed at this park in November 2015. It’s a city-owned park on the banks of the Arkansas River, with a pedestrian bridge across the river to the Clinton Presidential Library. Rather than deal with the difficult back-in we had faced last time, we requested a pull-through site and were set up and ready to relax in a fraction of the time.

On December 28th we only drove 150 miles to Texarkana, TX. Our primary reason for stopping in Texarkana was to get all our vehicles inspected. Texas requires that all vehicles be inspected annually as part of the registration renewal process. However, if you are out of state when your registration expires, you can renew your registration without the inspection but must get the vehicles inspected within 3 days of re-entering the state. We took the RV to be inspected at Shady Pines RV Center where we had had it inspected in December 2015. Since our fifth-wheel is not motorized, the inspection really didn’t involve much more than checking the lights and turn signals. After passing the inspection, we set up for the night next door at the affiliated Shady Pines RV Park.

Phil drove the Nissan a few miles back into town to get it inspected. The mechanic told Phil that, since the vehicle is registered in Polk County and Polk County requires an emission test, he wouldn’t be able to perform the inspection for us. This didn’t sound right since we had gotten our vehicles inspected in Texarkana previously but Phil decided to get us some lunch before investigating the matter any further. While Phil was sitting in the drive-through line at McDonald’s, Jan called him rather franticly to report that there had been a major accident with our rig and truck. About 15 minutes after we had leveled the fifth-wheel, the front legs had lowered, bringing the front end down on the tailgate of the truck and putting a large dent in the front end of the fifth-wheel. By the time Phil got back to the RV Park, one of the neighbors had already gone next door to summon the Service Manager for assistance. Phil moved the truck forward a few feet and we were greatly relieved to see the dent in the fiberglass on the front end of the rig pop right back into shape. There was also no apparent damage to the tailgate of the truck. When the Service Manager arrived, he surmised that the problem was due to a leak in the hydraulics that control the legs and the two rear slide-outs. He added a quart of hydraulic fluid and we bled some air out of the lines. He also placed a couple of jack stands under the front of our rig as a caution in case the legs failed again.

That afternoon, Phil verified that Polk County doesn’t require an emission test so he was able to get the Nissan and RAM inspected.  Overnight we were pleased that the front legs did not drop again. Early the next morning, we hooked up the rig and took it next door to have it inspected more closely while we went to breakfast. Since we didn’t know what they would find, we were prepared to stay in Texarkana another night. However, by 10 am, we got word that there didn’t appear to be any immediate problem that would cause us to delay our travels. The RV service tech had added another quart of hydraulic fluid to bring the level up to where it should be. The Service Manager told Phil that they normally add hydraulic fluid a few ounces at a time so, to add two quarts at once, we most likely have a leak somewhere. Although they could not find any significant leak, the bottom of our rig is enclosed so it is possible that any leaked hydraulic fluid could be absorbed by the insulation. The Service Manager said that the only way to know for sure would be to remove the panels on the bottom of the rig, which would require about eight hours of labor. The Service Manager advised against doing this since our extended warranty would not pay for the labor unless they actually found a broken part. As an alternative, the service tech drew a line on the hydraulic fluid tank so we can monitor any future leaking. If it continues to leak, we will need to take the rig for service at a dealer who sells our brand.

After leaving the RV dealer, we started our 250-mile drive to Waco, TX. Since we’d heard horror stories about construction delays on the freeways around Dallas, we decided to avoid Dallas and instead take the state highways that run between Texarkana and Waco. There were a lot of highway changes and we traveled through many small towns along this route. The GPS only failed us once and instructed Phil to turn down a small back road that looked particularly uninviting. Instead, Phil continued driving until he found a business where he could get the rig turned around. The rest of the drive was uneventful and we arrived at North Crest RV Park in Waco. The owner greeted us warmly and led us to our site. Although we had requested a pull-through site, the owner noticed that we had a satellite dish and he backed us into a site that had the greatest chance of getting a DirecTV signal. The satellite worked great although the Wi-Fi was somewhat spotty. The card for North Crest RV Park referred to it as a “working man’s campground.” We weren’t sure whether this referred to the clientele or the owner, since both appeared to be true.

After having driven for three days straight, we had decided to spend two nights in Waco. However, we discovered that Waco doesn’t really have a lot to see. Other than Baylor University, Waco’s main attractions are the original Dr. Pepper bottling plant and an archaeological dig where the remains of mammoths and other prehistoric creatures could be seen. Instead, we visited Magnolia Market at the Silos based on reviews we had read online. Magnolia Market is essentially a home goods store established by Chip and Joanna Grimes, hosts of HGTV’s show Fixer Upper, but it is much more than that. The Market is based in a rather run-down part of Waco and is built around a number of industrial silos. In addition to the home goods store, there is a bakery and garden shop. Between the stores is a large play area that is stocked with sport equipment and games for use by children and adults alike. There are numerous food trucks that ring the play area. The Magnolia Market was clearly a major attraction for Waco as there were lines for everything and the neighboring Baptist Church was doing a thriving business charging $10 a car for parking.

On December 31st, we left Waco and headed 200 miles south on I-35 to Braunig Lake RV Resort in Elmendorf, TX, a suburb of San Antonio. This was our second consecutive New Year’s Eve in the San Antonio area but, this year, we were too tired from driving to venture out. We managed to stay awake until midnight to see in the new year.

On New Year’s Day, the campground hosted a free lunch. Although the main courses were hot dogs and hamburgers, so many of the campers brought other food that it was quite a feast. We made sure to have some black eyed peas and hog jowls.

On January 2nd, we drove 150 miles, mostly on I-37, to Kingsville, TX. We spent the night at Nature’s Own RV Resort. This small campground was very neatly laid-out and might have been a nice site for a longer stay if there had been more to do in Kingsville. Actually, if we’d arrived earlier, we would have toured King Ranch, the largest ranch in the U.S. King Ranch is as large as the state of Rhode Island and covers parts of six Texas counties.

On January 3rd, we finished our journey with a 110-mile drive to Llano Grande Resort and Country Club in Mercedes, TX, about 20 minutes north of the Mexico border. The temperature was 84 degrees when we arrived, not bad at all for January 3rd. We were very glad to be able to settle down and not have to drive again for a month.