Saturday, March 27, 2010


Well - Thursday, March 25 we were headed to ‘historic’ Fredericksburg, TX in the Hill Country. What we were looking forward to the most was some greenery - grass, trees, flowers, anything other than DIRT and DUST! It was a long travel day (7 hours) with only a quick lunch stop at a roadside rest area where we quickly downed a GREAT pasta and chicken salad that Gary made.

We settled into our new RV park, spent about 2 hours trying to get the 2” layer of dust from Big Bend out of Magic and then headed to Main Street to get a glimpse of Fredericksburg. As Gary said, it is really strange to see all these long German names in the middle of Texas. So - why is Fredericksburg historical? The town was settled by immigrant families from Germany in 1846 and has more than 700 historical structures in the historic district and many on the National Register of Historic Places (you need to use ‘historic’ lots of times to describe this town - that’s why it is so historic:-)!)

Approximately 40% of all Texas peaches are grown in Fredericksburg and the surrounding county. Unfortunately, we are a little early as peach season typically runs mid to late May thru early August:-(

Perhaps the real import of the town is that it is the birthplace (we were in the house) of Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet during World War II. As such, it is also the home of the National Museum of the Pacific War operated by the Admiral Nimitz Foundation, the only institution in the continental US dedicated exclusively to telling the story of the Pacific Theater battles of WW II. This museum walks one chronologically through the various battles in the Pacific beginning with the lead-up to Pearl Harbor (including the reasons for the animosity of Japan to China and therefore the US who was supporting China) to dropping the bombs on Japan. This is done with various forms including combinations of audio and visual displays. The museum also includes displays of both Allied and Japanese aircraft, tanks, guns and other large artifacts made famous during the Pacific War campaigns. This is a fabulous exhibit and we were only sorry we did not allow more time to go thru it. When we come back, at least a full day will be devoted to this Museum.

The National Museum of the Pacific War

The other important site just outside of Fredericksburg in Stonewall, TX is the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, which includes LBJ’s birthplace (complete with out house - see Gary below), the one-room schoolhouse where the President began his schooling at the age of 4, the family cemetery and final resting place of the President and First Lady and the Texas White House. The Texas White House was the sight of many important meetings with the President, Secretary of State and Joint Chiefs during the Viet Nam war - many on the front lawn under the old oak trees. Even so - the house was modest and homey with personal touches. One of those touches are pillows given as gifts - including a pillow particularly liked by LBJ on a chair in his office which says “It is my ranch and I do as I damn please”. His daughter, Luci, joked, “If the house had caught fire one possession Daddy would have tried to save was this pillow”.

We both had a feeling similar to when we visited Graceland - although this house in Texas was the sight of much history and the home of a President of the United States it was relatively simple. Again - a sign of how much more simple things were back in the 50’s and 60’s.

Lyndon Johnson's Birthplace

The LBJ Loo

The Johnson Family Cemetery on the Ranch Property

The small stone portion of the Texas White House in the right of the picture is the original house built in the 1800's

We wished we could buy our diesel on the ranch at the metered price of 35 1/2 cents per gallon.

Visiting these two museums/historical parks - it amazed both of us how little we recall of our own American history. Neither of us - even though we were both young adults - remember LBJ’s death or the fact that he was only 64 when he died - and only in his 50’s when in office (he just always seemed OLD). We were also surprised to see a bust of Eisenhower on the bookshelves behind LBJ’s desk! While Eisenhower was President, LBJ was Majority Leader of the Senate and Sam Rayburn (D) was Speaker of the House - which means we had a Republican President and a Democratic Congress. BUT, they actually worked together!! So much so, that LBJ had a great admiration for Eisenhower. Where is this civility today??????

Anyway - we have enjoyed this part of our trip immensely and are now looking for a couple of good (audio) books on these eras in history to listen to on the rest of our trip. If any one has any suggestions - please let us know?!?!

While in this area we also took a side trip to Gruene (pronounced ‘green’), Texas to take in more history and dance a spell. Gruene was also settled by German farmers in 1840 - these planting cotton. Cotton became the number one cash crop and Gruene grew - adding a cotton gin and a dance hall and saloon - Gruene Hall - which became the center of the community’s social life. In the early 1900’s the boll weevil and the Depression were too much for the town and most of the businesses went under - except for Gruene Hall which never closed - and is still open today! And, in fact, has helped to revive the town. AND, of course, that is why Gary and I went to check out Gruene - with our boots on and ready to do a little scootin’ - we danced a little two step (and waltz) and listened to Reckless Kelly. This morning was a little rough - as we aren’t made for 1AM nights any more. But, we were glad to have spun around such an old dance floor:-)

The longest continuously operating dance hall in Texas.

Things were sort of quiet in Gruene Hall during our afternoon visit. That certainly changed by the evening reopening.

Shod and ready to scoot.

It is now Saturday, March 27, and we are moving on to the Austin area - still in the Hill Country - AND still appreciating the green and lack of dust!! Today will be a very slow day - as we are still recovering from our VERY late night.

Back soon - E & G

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Too Many Titles

SO - Gary and I have discussed over the last couple of days what the title of this posting would be and came up with way toooooo many titles! There was -


Never Know What You Will Find In the Middle of No Where

Don’t Judge a Town or National Park but It’s First Look

First Impressions Should NOT Be Lasting

Etc., Etc., Etc.

As we left our ‘parking lot’ camping space (which prepared us for any needed emergency stops in the WalMart parking lots) in the Guadalupe Mountains NP, we left the snow and 29 degree temperatures behind and headed for Big Bend NP in Texas and looked forward to having FULL hook-ups and internet access (as advertised!).

As we headed down the road on a Sunday morning, Elizabeth was quite happy driving along passing only about a dozen cars all morning on the state roads that led us down the way. All of a sudden we passed this ‘bus stop’ (at least that is what it looked like) on the side of the road in the middle of no where that was a “Prada” stop. Yes - that is what it said - “PRADA”!! In the middle of no where in Texas?!?!? (Turns out this was an artist installation that proved so popular it is still there).

A Prada Surprise

Not too much further down the road was this ‘thing’ - again in the middle of no where! Gary and I were back and forth - is it a plane - no a blimp - a balloon - a blimp tethered. Finally an answer - it was a tethered blimp that is a US Air Force tethered aerostat radar station!! All we could think of was - perhaps our son-in-law’s station in Lemoore, CA was not so bad - after all he could be in this middle of no where!!

If Heather thinks Lemoore is in the middle of nowhere, she should try outside Marfa, TX

We continued on this state route in the middle of no where - and reached the town of Marfa, TX where we decided we might be prudent to fill up the fuel tank. While Gary was taking care of the fuel - Elizabeth was looking at all the ‘street’ signs - one of which was the sign to the right to the Paisano Hotel, which was used as the base camp by the director, George Stevens, of “Giant” during its filming. Maybe this was something to go check out - which we did - and found a beautiful, old hotel with wonderful tile detail that truly made this a building to see and admire.

Giant Film Production HQ

Great tile work

Good thing the Palace was closed, it made parking easy

This led us to a wonderful, bohemian sort of place for breakfast/lunch. A very local place that we would have never found, much less go into, without the recommendation - and it was very good.

The Austin Cafe in Marfa. A local hang-out

Finally, we decided it was time for us to continue our trek to Big Bend NP and our new camp/home for the next few days with all the amenities we had missed during the past few days:-)???? I must say that one BIG thing we have learned on this trip is - Never Judge a Town or NP by Your FIRST Look or Impression!!!!

Here we were in the metroplex of Study Butte/Terlingua in all its glory - the western entrance to Big Bend NP. Like so many towns we are familiar with, these two little towns were founded at the turn of the 20th century as mining towns and grew together when the Park came into being.

Yes, that is the entire Metroplex in the background

- And our new and improved (???) campground - Gary calls it “The Quarry”!

I have seen so much grit and dust as I have here.

We do have all the hook ups as promised - BUT, the wi-fi is in the cafe. Not quite as efficient as access in Magic:-( After getting set at ‘camp’ we did our usual ‘tour of the town’ and headed to the National Park entrance to get info.

Entering Big Bend, the least attended National Park in the System.

On the way back we checked out a little of the town and booked a river raft trip for the next day. We also stopped at a little General Store to check it out and to see if they might have a coffee pot for Gary to replace the one that ‘died’ a couple of days ago (Gary gets really grouchy without his 12 cups of coffee in the morning - and NO he can’t use the espresso machine for this!). What a GREAT little place. Anything and everything you could want - and it doesn’t break the bank to buy things there. We found just the coffee pot Gary was looking for, ice cream sandwiches and nutty bars for our afternoon snack AND MOST IMPORTANT - home made tortillas:-) We took those back to Magic and had them with some of that red chili con carne from Mesilla - VERY HAPPY CAMPERS despite the quarry.

A great little general store.

Monday, March 22 - A river raft trip on the Rio Grande or Rio Bravo del Norte in Mexico. The middle of the Rio Grande is the border between the United States and Mexico - for those who have forgotten. So, as we paddled down the river we were in both countries at the same time - and back and forth between the two. We also stopped and took a hike into a beautiful canyon on the other side of the river - therefore we were in Mexico. All of this is done without our passports! However, we were assured that the river rafters have an agreement with the Border Patrol on what will and won’t be done. Guess so - as we are still here and not in a Mexican - or American - jail for going across the border without our passport.

Our river rafting group

The Rio Grande

We saw hundreds of turtles on the river

Rio Grande Duo in Mexico

Lunch break

When you are in an area such as this, though, with our towns on one side of the river and Mexican towns on the other, you get a real different view of how to maintain (or not) our borders. Especially when for years citizens of both countries have crossed the river at will to eat or buy goods and then returned. All very innocently and without a desire to stay. A difficult situation for sure.

Of course our river guide - Rebecca - gave us sooooo much local information about the flora and animal life as well as much information on the geology of the area. Most of the animal life along the river consisted of birds. AND - for our birder friends - we were fortunate enough to see the rare double breasted mattress thrasher:-) Rebecca also armed us with information on places to eat and hikes to take so we were enlightened and ready for our next couple of days by the end of the raft trip.

After the trip we NEEDED our afternoon ice cream break -- so back to the General Store -- then home to get ready for dinner. As we learned at the General Store that Monday is 2-4-1 burger night at the Starlight Theater!! Julie and Mike - you would have loved it:-) Not only did you get your burgers BUT there was also live entertainment and a full bar. What more could you ask for?!?!

YES - this is the Starlight Theater

Tuesday - Another day in Big Bend. Today we are off on a couple of hikes. We drove to the southeastern corner of the Park to Rio Grande Village and Boquillas Canyon.

On our way -

As you might guess, a mighty river like the Rio Grande has carved many canyons along its course. Each has its own character - all beautiful in their own way.

Boquillas Canyon gave us our first REAL view of the ‘closeness’ of America to Mexico. (On our raft trip we were in a canyon with very high walls on the Mexican side - so there was no interaction with Mexican locals.) As we drove out to the mouth of the canyon and the trail head we saw small Mexican villages just the other side of the river. Keep in mind - all of this area is NP on the US side so no development and Protected Area on the Mexico side so there is little development. At view points and along the trails there was ‘merchandise’ for the Americans to buy left by the Mexicans who had come across the river on horse. You took what you wanted, left your cash and they came back to collect the money and restock. We saw them come back and forth - and some even approached us. We only assume they did watch for Border Patrol and stayed away when they saw them.

The local merchants with their horses, waiting across the river

When we started down the trail into Boquillas Canyon, we saw another little ‘camp’ that appeared to be more Mexican Nationals as there were many little ‘merchandise displays’ along this trail. When we got to the bottom of the trail and down along the river we saw a Border Patrol with what appeared to be one of the Mexican Nationals who had come across on his horse. They talked for a few minutes as we were walking in their direction. As we got close, the Border Patrol led the Mexican Nat. away and kept saying to him “tell them its OK”. Again, assuming the Border Patrol was having the Mexican radio (with a VERY sophisticated radio) to the rest of the ‘camp’ on the other side of the river that he was OK - not knowing for sure what that might mean?!?! I must admit, Gary and I were both sad if he was being arrested. Clearly, these men do NOT come over here and stay. Anyway, we continued on our hike and on the return we learned that ALL our assumptions were wrong - and once again - DON’T ASSUME!! On the way back we saw a couple of Mexican Nat’s going down the middle of the river. Of course, Gary noted that their canoe was full of photo equipment and the man walking was coming our way with additional equipment. I had to talk to him, as I was concerned that if he was on our side he might get arrested as the man before him. Turns out the camp on the other side of the river was about 50 people there to do a film for Mexican tourism - and the man I was talking to was leading the group. They were going into the canyon to get the beauty of the canyon. As he said “there is so much beauty in Mexico, but right now all anyone hears about are all the drug murders”. We also asked about the man we had seen earlier and learned that he came over to talk to the Border Patrol to attempt to get more boats for their equipment! And, we saw him coming back down the path as we reached the end. So - all was good - and this made this little hike VERY interesting.

The Mexican Tourism film crew

Looking for more boats for his crew

More film equipment

After this excitement, we were ready for our afternoon ice cream, and then drove to our next destination - the Chisos Basin. The Chisos Basin is 5400’ in elevation and is surrounded by the highest peaks in the park - the highest of which is 7300’. This area was much more to our liking - NOT a sand box!!

After checking out the Visitor Center here (and getting another stamp in our NP Passport), we took a short little loop trail of about 2 miles. The most impressive view here was to look to “The Window”, which is a V between mountains that provides a wonderful view of the Santa Elena area.

Hiking the Chisos Basin Trail

This had provided a pretty full day. So, we stopped by Magic to pick up our ‘drinks’ (byob at the restaurant) and we were off to a little Mexican food restaurant about 14 miles north of town - Tivo’s. ‘Mother’ does all the cooking and ‘Son’ waits on the tables. Needless to say, we had another fantastic Mexican food dinner with some of the hottest red chili we have ever had. Even Gary’s forehead was in a sweat!!

After dinner, we were having a lovely evening sitting outside watching basketball when wind gusts came up that just about knocked us off our chairs. We made a mad dash inside and closed the slides. This morning we had dust and grit an inch thick EVERYWHERE!!

Despite the fact that we are not enamored with all the desert and sand here, we did have another hike we wanted to do in the Chisos Mountains. So, we postponed our departure from Big Bend by a day to hike the Lost Mine Trail in the Chisos area. On our drive in to the trail head, we came upon a family/herd of Javelinas having breakfast by the side of the road. Then when we got to the trail head, we had an escort of a couple of mule deer.

Have a Javelina??

Really nice hike

This little mule deer didn't mind sharing the trail

The Lost Mine Trail took us up 1100’ in about 2.5 miles to a ridge across from the Casa Grande (the Big House), which is the tallest point in the Big Bend NP. Great hike and GREAT views.

Beautiful vistas - Casa Grande in the background

After this hike we needed some time sitting - so we took a drive to the third area of the park - the Santa Elena Canyon area. Another beautiful canyon with sheer rock walls.

The Santa Elena canyon on the Rio Grande

We were glad we stayed - but are now ready to head to some GREEN!!! (We truly hope.)

Off to the Hill Country tomorrow. More later - E&G

Monday, March 22, 2010

National Parks

Well - the last two days have been dedicated to two of this country’s many National Parks (NP’s) and has been quite interesting - in many respects.

Friday, March 19th, we headed to Guadalupe Mountains National Park which is about 130 miles east of El Paso, about 50 miles west of Carlsbad, is actually in Texas but borders New Mexico - AND there is NOTHING else around! The only RV “park” any where around is the one in the NP trail head parking lot - has NO hook-ups (meaning no water, electricity or sewer!) - and is available on a first come first serve basis. Knowing all of this, we headed here anyway with full fresh water and propane tanks, empty black and grey water tanks and plenty of food! We did plan an early arrival hoping we would be one of the first to arrive on a Friday afternoon so we could get a spot to park. Luckily (I think) we were. Wally, our camp host, was over to greet us immediately and to point out the campground registration ‘bucket’ where Gary had to leave his Sr. Pass information and $8 for our camp spot for the next two nights!! Yes, I did say $8 for the two nights. Of course the amenities (no water, electricity or sewer) were reflective of the $4/night fee. Nevertheless - Gary loves the fact that his Sr. Pass is getting such deals and getting us into all the NP’s FREE!! We LOVE being SR’s:-))

Welcome to the Guadalupe National Park

After set-up (which did NOT take long since we had nothing to hook-up:-(), we did our usual trek to the Visitor Center to get the lay of the land. With fists full of maps and literature and advice from the Rangers, we selected our hike for the afternoon - Devil’s Hall Trail. This was abut 2.5 miles (5 miles round-trip) into Pine Springs Canyon and a natural rock staircase.

The Devil's Hall was not devilish at all

Short break along the creek

Hold up that tree, please

Nice masonry

Lots of beautiful views along the way

We came upon a Ranger on the hike and learned that we were to have wind gusts up to 60 miles an hour during the night and 30% possibility of snow! SO - when we returned to Magic our evening went like this:

Gary BBQ’d a flank steak outside (doesn’t use any electricity or propane) while I quickly fixed corn on the cob and rice inside (using propane only). The wind was already buffeting Magic around - so ALL the ‘slides’ came in and we ate at the small kitchen table by candle light (no electricity). As soon as the dishes were done, we retreated to the bed (remember all slides were in) and watched March Madness from there in the dark. We had a GREAT evening:-)!!

This morning we DID wake up to SNOW (we only thought we left that behind in Park City!)!!

After 60 mph winds we woke up to snow in the campground

Our destination today was Carlsbad Caverns NP (another stamp in our NP Passport:-)), a spectacular cave system that achieved ‘World Heritage Site’ status in 1995. We descended through the Natural Entrance, which took us down about 800 feet in one mile. On this walk we saw such notables as Devil’s Spring, Whale’s Mouth and Iceberg Rock. This then brought us to the “Big Room” where we saw the Lion’s Tail, Hall of Giants, Bottomless Pit and Rock of Ages (which was NOT Gary!). Hard to believe anything this HUGE is all underground. We also had to keep reminding ourselves that we were in a natural wonder and NOT a Disneyland ride!?!?!

The cavern was warm and comfortable after the below freezing temps outside

Not sure what we would have done if the lights went out.

More gorgeous works of nature

One more stop on the way back to our ‘camp ground’ - the Pinery. Yet another Butterfield Trail stagecoach station at the foot of the Guadalupe Mountains.

The stage lines covered the southwest. Everywhere we go there is another marker.

Tomorrow on our way to Big Bend NP in the southwest corner of Texas. We DO have reservations at an RV Park there that has FULL hook-ups:-)!!

More in a few days - E & G