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Wending Our Way Across West Texas

Wending Our Way Across West Texas

Posted by on May 20, 2016 in Art, Gallery, Texas, Travel | 28 comments

One of the best things about road trips is discovering out-of-the-way gems that we would never otherwise visit. When we’re traveling across the vast expanse of Texas, there are always plenty of opportunities for new adventures, often in the most unlikely of places.

Leaving Austin, we headed to Carlsbad Caverns in southeastern New Mexico. In between is almost 500 miles of West Texas—a drive that can seem interminable. But our journey took us through the beautiful Hill Country at the peak of wildflower season, to interesting and art-centric San Angelo (in the middle of nowhere) and to sledding in the sand dunes at Monahans Sandhills State Park (in the middle of another nowhere). Should you find yourself traveling through this area of Texas, we highly recommend both.

San Angelo State Park: San Angelo, TX

This was our second visit to San Angelo State Park, so we knew we had something to look forward to at the end of our 200-mile drive from Austin. We settled into our lovely, spacious site beneath the shade trees, and spent a couple of days enjoying the peace and quiet. Our only expedition was a drive into San Angelo, 15 miles away—in part for a laundry extravaganza and truck washing, but mostly to enjoy a walk along the Concho River and to see if anything was blooming in the water lily garden.

The River Walk in San Angelo is one of the prettiest we’ve seen anywhere. It meanders for four miles downtown along the Concho River, named for the freshwater mussels that contain beautifully colored freshwater pearls (concho means “shell” in Spanish). Along the banks of the river many other treasures can be found—interesting mosaics, sculptures, fountains, and a few slightly bizarre sheep statues, each one decorated by a local artist to honor San Angelo’s heritage as a wool marketing center. (Lots more sheep as well as a plethora of murals can be found in the historic downtown.)

Close by is the International Water Lily Garden, certainly not something one expects to find in West Texas. When we were there a couple of years ago in the fall, there were hundreds of various water lilies in bloom. This time, in late April, just a few were blooming. But even one water lily in bloom is a beautiful thing to behold.

About the campground:

There are two camping sections at San Angelo State Park. Although it’s further from town, we prefer the north (Bald Eagle) section, which has large shade trees—a good thing in West Texas. Water and electric hookups, good Verizon, $20/night plus $4 per person daily fee if you don’t have the Texas State Parks Pass. (We always buy the annual pass—it’s $70 per year, and worth it if you stay more than seven nights in Texas parks because of all of the assorted discounts.)

Monahans Sandhills State Park: Monahans, TX

Another reasonable drive of 170 miles brought us to Monahans Sandhills State Park, in the midst of a truly barren part of Texas. This place has a stark beauty and makes a fun stopover for a couple of days (as long as no high winds are forecast).

The rangers at the Visitor Center loaned us a couple of neon orange discs for sledding and we took to the dunes the afternoon we arrived and again early in the morning. Each night, the slate is wiped clean and the sand dunes are again pristine. We discovered that early morning is the best time for sledding—when the sand is cool, there’s no friction to slow you down. We had a blast—and it’s a good workout sledding down and climbing back up the dunes.

It’s a windy place, and I was curious as to why the dunes haven’t completely blown away. Displays at the interesting little Visitor Center explained why: The wind changes directions from season to season, and although the dune tops change continually, they end up in just about the same position over the course of a year. It’s described as “a constantly shifting yet balanced state of dynamic equilibrium.” Sounds almost spiritual, doesn’t it?

About the campground:

The park has 26 campsites at the edge of the dunes with water, electric, and a covered picnic table. Quiet, dark night skies, and magical when the moon rises over the dunes. Good Verizon. $15 per night (plus $4 per person daily fee if you don’t have the Texas State Parks Pass).

Next Up: It’s A Long Way Down: Carlsbad Caverns

Wending Our Way Across West Texas

In The Former Town Of Bugscuffle

Wildflower Season In Texas

Stopping For Photos Along The Way

In A Field Of Firewheels

Firewheels And Bluebonnets

Huge Peaceful Site At San Angelo State Park

San Angelo Water Lily Gardens

First Water Lilies Of The Season

A Lovely Yellow Water Lily

Riverwalk Along The Concho River

Mosaic Sculptures On The Riverwalk

Mosaic Covered VW Bug

One Of Many Art Sheep In San Angelo

Fancy Entrance To Monahans Sandhills State Park

Fair Warning

Visitor Center Monahans Sandhills circa 1957

Simple But Sweet Visitor Center

Campsite At Monahans Sandhills State Park

Afternoon Sledding In The Dunes

More Dune Sledding In The Early Morning

Finding The Steepest Dunes

Patterns In The Sand

Javelina Tracks Across The Dunes

Whiptail Lizard Tracks

Wending Our Way Across West Texas
In The Former Town Of Bugscuffle
Wildflower Season In Texas
Stopping For Photos Along The Way
In A Field Of Firewheels
Firewheels And Bluebonnets
Huge Peaceful Site At San Angelo State Park
San Angelo Water Lily Gardens
First Water Lilies Of The Season
A Lovely Yellow Water Lily
Riverwalk Along The Concho River
Mosaic Sculptures On The Riverwalk
Mosaic Covered VW Bug
One Of Many Art Sheep In San Angelo
Fancy Entrance To Monahans Sandhills State Park
Fair Warning
Visitor Center Monahans Sandhills circa 1957
Simple But Sweet Visitor Center
Campsite At Monahans Sandhills State Park
Afternoon Sledding In The Dunes
More Dune Sledding In The Early Morning
Finding The Steepest Dunes
Patterns In The Sand
Javelina Tracks Across The Dunes
Whiptail Lizard Tracks
Wending Our Way Across West Texas thumbnail
In The Former Town Of Bugscuffle thumbnail
Wildflower Season In Texas thumbnail
Stopping For Photos Along The Way thumbnail
In A Field Of Firewheels thumbnail
Firewheels And Bluebonnets thumbnail
Huge Peaceful Site At San Angelo State Park thumbnail
San Angelo Water Lily Gardens thumbnail
First Water Lilies Of The Season thumbnail
A Lovely Yellow Water Lily thumbnail
Riverwalk Along The Concho River thumbnail
Mosaic Sculptures On The Riverwalk thumbnail
Mosaic Covered VW Bug thumbnail
One Of Many Art Sheep In San Angelo thumbnail
Fancy Entrance To Monahans Sandhills State Park thumbnail
Fair Warning thumbnail
Visitor Center Monahans Sandhills circa 1957 thumbnail
Simple But Sweet Visitor Center thumbnail
Campsite At Monahans Sandhills State Park thumbnail
Afternoon Sledding In The Dunes thumbnail
More Dune Sledding In The Early Morning thumbnail
Finding The Steepest Dunes thumbnail
Patterns In The Sand thumbnail
Javelina Tracks Across The Dunes thumbnail
Whiptail Lizard Tracks thumbnail

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It’s Always A Good Time: Austin, TX

It’s Always A Good Time: Austin, TX

Posted by on May 17, 2016 in Biking, Food, Gallery, Texas, Travel | 22 comments

There is no shortage of fun things to do in Austin. It’s kind of a problem, actually. There are an infinite number of enticing possibilities—hiking and biking trails, intriguing restaurants and coffee shops and breweries, music and art and museums, interesting shops and galleries and events—it’s not easy to choose. I finally had to stop reading Trip Advisor and Yelp reviews, because I was driving myself crazy.

The last week of April, we spent four nights at Pecan Grove RV Park, in the heart of Austin. We had a great time, even though I had the worst attack of hay fever I’ve ever had in my life (apparently I’m allergic to pecan tree pollen).

This was our second trip to Austin, and we enjoyed it just as much as our first visit a couple of years ago. It would undoubtedly be more peaceful staying outside of town, but it wouldn’t be anywhere near as convenient. Plus, we enjoy the laid-back, old-school Austin vibe of Pecan Grove.

This unassuming little retro trailer park was established in the 40’s, and miraculously, it’s hanging on, right in the big middle of everything. This was our second time staying at Pecan Grove, and we find it to be ideal for our needs. Despite my sneezing fits, we biked for hours every day through beautiful Zilker Park and on the miles of multi-use trails along the shores of Lady Bird Lake (both are within easy biking distance of the RV park).

To give myself a break from the deluge of pollen outdoors, we visited the Texas State Capitol Building just a few blocks away, where we enjoyed a free and interesting tour of the biggest state capitol building in the United States. The symbolic “Lone Star” is found everywhere, from the Texas state flag, to the dome, terrazzo floor, and chandeliers of the capitol (plus everywhere else in Texas, when you look around).

Texas is the only state that was once an independent republic, and this is a point of pride for Texans—some of whom insist that they can secede if they don’t like the way things are going in Washington (according to our tour guide, they can’t really get away with it). To learn more about Texas history, we spent several hours in the nearby Bullock Museum, an excellent venue with a cowboy flair and a gigantic Texas star out front (of course, what else would you expect?).

To round out our three days in Austin, we spent an evening at the South Congress Bridge to watch the nightly emergence of Mexican free-tailed bats. Beneath the bridge resides the largest urban bat colony in North America, and it’s quite a sight at dusk to see hundreds of thousands of bats emerging in a spiraling tornado, heading out for their evening meal of mosquitoes and moths.

As for us, we generally cook at home, but we always enjoy a meal or two out if we’re in a place where the options are interesting. We finally settled on Launderette, located in a renovated Laundromat/gas station. It was a great choice—our meal was delicious (green curry mussels and tandoori grilled prawns), the ambiance is cool retro Austin, and the service gracious.

One more thing—if you find yourself in Austin, don’t miss Lick Honest Ice Creams. They work their magic from the finest ingredients, starting with milk and cream from local grass-fed dairy cows. Eric had espresso (no surprise) and I had goat cheese-thyme-honey. Definitely a top contender for best ice cream ever.

There’s always more to explore in Austin. We’ll be back.

About the RV Park:

We love Pecan Grove RV Park. Although the park is peaceful, we use our blackout shades and sound machine—after all, we’re in the middle of the city. The residents are friendly and the manager, who has been there for years, is great. There are (very funky) restrooms/showers and a laundry on site, but we didn’t use the facilities. All sites have full hookups, and there’s good Wi-Fi; $40/night. With only 12 spaces for overnight travelers, make your reservations early.

Next Up: Wending Our Way Through West Texas

Night Shot In Austin, TX

At Home In Pecan Grove RV Park

Living In Harmony

Been Here A Long Time

The Corner Market

Austin Biking Trails Are The Best

Downtown Austin

Biking Along Lady Bird Lake

Murals Along The Bike Path

Barton Springs On The Bike Path

Food Trucks Are Everywhere

Entrance To Zilker Park

Zilker Park Botanical Gardens

In The Butterfly Garden

View From Zilker Park

Texas State Capitol Building

The Capitol Rotunda Dome

The Texas Capitol Rotunda Floor

Cool Texas Star Lights In The Capitol

Texas State History Museum

Cowboy Culture And Oil Wells

Evening Gathering For The Bat Flight

Waiting For The Bats

Finally Managed To Choose A Restaurant

Retro Vibe Inside Launderette

Delicious Lunch At Launderette

Green Curry Mussels

Lick Ice Cream Shop

Austin Quirkiness On Congress Avenue

Night Shot In Austin, TX
At Home In Pecan Grove RV Park
Living In Harmony
Been Here A Long Time
The Corner Market
Austin Biking Trails Are The Best
Downtown Austin
Biking Along Lady Bird Lake
Murals Along The Bike Path
Barton Springs On The Bike Path
Food Trucks Are Everywhere
Entrance To Zilker Park
Zilker Park Botanical Gardens
In The Butterfly Garden
View From Zilker Park
Texas State Capitol Building
The Capitol Rotunda Dome
The Texas Capitol Rotunda Floor
Cool Texas Star Lights In The Capitol
Texas State History Museum
Cowboy Culture And Oil Wells
Evening Gathering For The Bat Flight
Waiting For The Bats
Finally Managed To Choose A Restaurant
Retro Vibe Inside Launderette
Delicious Lunch At Launderette
Green Curry Mussels
Lick Ice Cream Shop
Austin Quirkiness On Congress  Avenue
Night Shot In Austin, TX thumbnail
At Home In Pecan Grove RV Park thumbnail
Living In Harmony thumbnail
Been Here A Long Time thumbnail
The Corner Market thumbnail
Austin Biking Trails Are The Best thumbnail
Downtown Austin thumbnail
Biking Along Lady Bird Lake thumbnail
Murals Along The Bike Path thumbnail
Barton Springs On The Bike Path thumbnail
Food Trucks Are Everywhere thumbnail
Entrance To Zilker Park thumbnail
Zilker Park Botanical Gardens thumbnail
In The Butterfly Garden thumbnail
View From Zilker Park thumbnail
Texas State Capitol Building thumbnail
The Capitol Rotunda Dome thumbnail
The Texas Capitol Rotunda Floor thumbnail
Cool Texas Star Lights In The Capitol thumbnail
Texas State History Museum thumbnail
Cowboy Culture And Oil Wells thumbnail
Evening Gathering For The Bat Flight thumbnail
Waiting For The Bats thumbnail
Finally Managed To Choose A Restaurant thumbnail
Retro Vibe Inside Launderette thumbnail
Delicious Lunch At Launderette thumbnail
Green Curry Mussels thumbnail
Lick Ice Cream Shop thumbnail
Austin Quirkiness On Congress  Avenue thumbnail

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A Birder’s Paradise: High Island, TX

A Birder’s Paradise: High Island, TX

Posted by on May 8, 2016 in Biking, Birding, Gallery, Texas, Travel | 38 comments

A visit to High Island is on every birder’s dream list. People flock to this tiny town from all over the world in the springtime to witness one of the great wonders of bird migration—the return of our feathered friends from their winter homes in Central and South America to their spring nesting grounds in North America. What makes High Island so unique is the location—it’s one of the first and highest landfalls that the birds encounter after their arduous flight across the Gulf of Mexico.

Even if you’re not a bird nerd, this is an enthralling place. We knew this was a great location to see colorful spring migrants, such as orioles, tanagers, and warblers. But we had no idea that High Island also shelters an enormous rookery for egrets and spoonbills. Any other views we’ve had of spoonbills or egrets in our travels were totally blown away by our close encounters with these magnificently beautiful creatures nesting on High Island.

We spent hours at the rookery—appropriately named Sanctuary Ponds—watching Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, and Roseate Spoonbills performing their elaborate courtship rituals, building nests, and raising their young. It is nothing short of mesmerizing.

When we weren’t in the rookery, we were walking the trails in Smith Oaks and Boy Scout Woods in search of colorful migrants. Any time in April is a good time to catch the migration on High Island, although there’s no guaranteed “best” time. The birds come and go with the winds and the storms, and there’s no telling what you’ll find on the trails. But April is also the best time to visit the rookery, and there’s no question that you’ll see lots of egrets and spoonbills.

High Island is miniscule, with a population of about 500. Stock up on groceries before you arrive, and don’t plan on eating out unless you’re up for a long drive. We were happy to ensconce ourselves at the conveniently located little RV Park, where we barely moved our truck for three days. All of the birding locations are within a mile or so of the park, and we spent our time biking and birding all day, every day.

We had a delightful time, except for a brief moment in Boy Scout Woods. I’d bought an adorable shortbread cookie decorated like a Blackburnian Warbler from the local Audubon Society folks. It was really cute, and I had plans to keep it (for what reason, I’m not certain). But when I turned around, I discovered that Eric had taken a big bite out of the cookie. Me: “I can’t believe you ate the bird! You bit the head right off!” Eric: “It was a cookie, what did you expect?” (In his defense, he wasn’t aware of my long-term plans for the cookie.)

About the RV Park:

High Island RV Park is a delightful, peaceful little park, with 20 paved sites offering full-hookups, showers, laundry, and good Wi-Fi, $30/night. Best of all, the park is within walking distance of Boy Scout Woods, and only a mile from Smith Oaks and Sanctuary Ponds. Reservations are taken six months in advance; if you want to go mid-March through mid-May, you probably need reservations because it fills up with—you guessed it—birders.

Next Up: It’s Always A Good Time: Austin, TX

A Birder's Paradise: High Island, TX

Ready To Go Find The Birdies

At Sanctuary Ponds

Lots Of Big Lenses At The Ponds

Close Quarters In The Nesting Colonies

Tending The Nest

Great Egret Eggs Are A Pale Blue-Green Color

Great Egret Courtship Dance

Elaborate Courtship Display Of Great Egret

Just Hatched

Mama, Mama, Mama!

Feed Me!

These Babies Are Almost Ready To Leave The Nest

Beautiful Roseate Spoonbill

Courtship Display

Crossing Bills During Courtship Ritual

Nesting Roseate Spoonbills

Snowy Egrets In Breeding Plumage

Snowy Egret Courtship Display

Purple Gallinule In The Reeds

A Happy Birder In Smith Oaks

At Boy Scout Woods

Birdwatching In The Swamp

On The Boardwalk

An Unexpected Visitor On The Boardwalk

On The Trails In Boy Scout Woods

Summer Tanager Eating Mulberries

Scarlet Tanager

Rose-Breasted Grosbeak

Indigo Bunting, First-Year Male

Baltimore Oriole

Artistic Bird Cookies To Benefit The Refuge

Right Before He Bit The Head Off

High Island RV Park

Tucked Into Our Site At High Island RV Park

A Birder's Paradise: High Island, TX
Ready To Go Find The Birdies
At Sanctuary Ponds
Lots Of Big Lenses At The Ponds
Close Quarters In The Nesting Colonies
Tending The Nest
Great Egret Eggs Are A Pale Blue-Green Color
Great Egret Courtship Dance
Elaborate Courtship Display Of Great Egret
Just Hatched
Mama, Mama, Mama!
Feed Me!
These Babies Are Almost Ready To Leave The Nest
Beautiful Roseate Spoonbill
Courtship Display
Crossing Bills During Courtship Ritual
Nesting Roseate Spoonbills
Snowy Egrets In Breeding Plumage
Snowy Egret Courtship Display
Purple Gallinule In The Reeds
A Happy Birder  In Smith Oaks
At Boy Scout  Woods
Birdwatching In The Swamp
On The Boardwalk
An Unexpected Visitor On The Boardwalk
On The Trails In Boy Scout Woods
Summer Tanager Eating Mulberries
Scarlet Tanager
Rose-Breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting, First-Year Male
Baltimore Oriole
Artistic Bird Cookies To Benefit The Refuge
Right Before He Bit The Head Off
High Island RV Park
Tucked Into Our Site At High Island RV Park
A Birder's Paradise: High Island, TX thumbnail
Ready To Go Find The Birdies thumbnail
At Sanctuary Ponds thumbnail
Lots Of Big Lenses At The Ponds thumbnail
Close Quarters In The Nesting Colonies thumbnail
Tending The Nest thumbnail
Great Egret Eggs Are A Pale Blue-Green Color thumbnail
Great Egret Courtship Dance thumbnail
Elaborate Courtship Display Of Great Egret thumbnail
Just Hatched thumbnail
Mama, Mama, Mama! thumbnail
Feed Me! thumbnail
These Babies Are Almost Ready To Leave The Nest thumbnail
Beautiful Roseate Spoonbill thumbnail
Courtship Display thumbnail
Crossing Bills During Courtship Ritual thumbnail
Nesting Roseate Spoonbills thumbnail
Snowy Egrets In Breeding Plumage thumbnail
Snowy Egret Courtship Display thumbnail
Purple Gallinule In The Reeds thumbnail
A Happy Birder  In Smith Oaks thumbnail
At Boy Scout  Woods thumbnail
Birdwatching In The Swamp thumbnail
On The Boardwalk thumbnail
An Unexpected Visitor On The Boardwalk thumbnail
On The Trails In Boy Scout Woods thumbnail
Summer Tanager Eating Mulberries thumbnail
Scarlet Tanager thumbnail
Rose-Breasted Grosbeak thumbnail
Indigo Bunting, First-Year Male thumbnail
Baltimore Oriole thumbnail
Artistic Bird Cookies To Benefit The Refuge thumbnail
Right Before He Bit The Head Off thumbnail
High Island RV Park thumbnail
Tucked Into Our Site At High Island RV Park thumbnail

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Westward Ho!

Westward Ho!

Posted by on Jun 3, 2014 in Biking, Birding, Gallery, Hiking, Texas, Travel | 22 comments

We’ve traversed Texas many times in our cross-country journeys on our way back and forth to Florida to visit family. We’re always looking for new places to explore—but as far as we’ve been able to figure out, there are only a handful of places worth stopping in the 500-mile drive from the Hill Country to the border of New Mexico. Fortunately, these are all unique destinations that we enjoy revisiting.

Here, the three stops we made in early May as we blasted our way out of Texas:

• South Llano River State Park

At a mere 65 miles from Fredericksburg, a couple of days at South Llano River State Park ease us into the upcoming desolation of west Texas. This beautiful and peaceful park has a lovely river running through it, plenty of oaks for shade, miles of hiking and biking trails, and a very pretty campground with spacious sites. It’s also a birder’s paradise, with numerous elaborate bird blinds set up throughout the park.

This was our first time here during spring migration, and we delighted in finding dozens of species, including beautiful painted buntings, bright red cardinals, comical black capped titmice, and brilliant summer tanagers feeding and bathing. In the backcountry, we enjoyed hearing and watching a variety of warblers and other songbirds in the enormous oaks and junipers. We also searched for and had great sightings of the endangered golden-cheeked warbler and black-capped vireo. (I know this isn’t of interest to anyone who isn’t into birding, but it really is fun—kind of like a treasure hunt.)

• Balmorhea State Park

About 200 miles of barren landscape along US 290 brings us to Balmorhea State Park, a true oasis in the middle of pretty much nothing. The park is built around a natural spring-fed huge swimming pool created by the CCC in the early 1930’s. The water is a comfortable 72 degrees year round, and you swim with whatever happens to live in the spring—tadpoles, fish, and assorted ducks. The campground is barren desert scape, with attractive CCC-built picnic shelters in Spanish Colonial style with stucco exteriors and red tile roofs. And the sunsets are generally stunning.

• Hueco Tanks State Park

The desolation increases in the 200-mile stretch along I-10 to El Paso. Staying in El Paso is not high on our list of desires, so we were delighted a couple of years ago to discover Hueco Tanks State Park, located just 30 miles northeast of the city, but hundreds of years away in history and culture. Hueco Tanks is known for fabulous rock art—more than 3,000 pictographs have been documented in this ancient outdoor art gallery, including 200 unique masks scattered throughout the boulders in caves, under overhangs, and on rock faces.

The state is serious about protecting the treasures found here. Before you can set foot in the park, you’re required to attend an orientation and watch a short video; you’re then issued a permit that’s good for a year. Although there are four distinct hiking areas, three are accessible only with a guide (a couple of years ago, we were lucky enough to be there to do a guided tour). The fourth, North Mountain, is open to the public—but only by permit, and limited to 75 people per day.

The rock art is mostly hidden; you have to work to find it. Sometimes it’s a relatively easy hike, other times finding the art requires an adventure—the Kiva Caves, for example. This spectacular hike is within the North Mountain area, which means no guide is required, but with no signage, you need directions from the rangers, which go something like this: “Hike toward the boulders that look like a duck, then hike toward the rock formation that looks like an alligator. The alligator is pointing directly to the mouth of the cave.”

They leave out the part about scrambling over the boulders, climbing up the rock face, and figuring out how to navigate the last steep rocky area and chasm that lies just before the alligator. The first time we hiked to Kiva Cave a couple of years ago, I turned to Eric and said, “You have got to be kidding me.” The entrance to the cave is about 18 inches high, which means to enter you have to slide in on your belly. From the outside, the cave simply looks like a yawning black hole. Eric went first, and then lured me in with, “I found them!”

The cave opens up immediately into a beautiful sunlit cathedral of rock. As your eyes adjust, the first two masks appear, colored red with ochre; the other five take a bit more searching. The masks were painted 900 years ago by the Jornada Mogollon, a farming and foraging culture that made this area home; the huecos (hollows in the boulders) captured enough rainwater to make life in this arid land possible. To the Jornada Mogollon, the painted masks represented their ancestral spirits, and acted as a bridge between the human and the spirit worlds.

We saw only a handful of other people hiking the two days that we were there. The campground is beautiful, with 20 sites nestled into the red rocks. The tight restrictions extend to campers—you must return to your campsite by 5:00, and you’re not allowed to wander outside of the campground after that time. I admit to feeling a bit shackled by the curfew; we would have liked to hike up the mountain at sunset. But it’s worth it to know that these gorgeous pictographs are so diligently protected.

Westward Ho!

Biking And Birding

Painted Bunting

Black Chinned Hummingbird

Summer Tanager

Black Capped Titmouse And Painted Bunting Bathing

Hummingbird In Bird Bath

On The Trails At South Llano

Blue Gray Gnatcatcher

Yellow Breasted Chat

Biking The Backcountry Trails

Rufous Crowned Sparrow

Black Capped Vireo

Baby Bunny (The Size Of A Teacup)

Campground Balmorhea State Park

Pool At Balmorhea

Our Campsite At Hueco Tanks

Ramada At Every Campsite

Interesting Trails

Colorful Lizard

Just Before Curfew

Prickly Pear Cactus Blooms

Hiking To The Kiva Caves

Steep Climb On The Rock Face

View From Above

Hueco

Approaching The Alligator

At The Entrance To Kiva Cave

Inside The Cave

Found The First Two Masks

More Masks On The Right

Photographing The Masks

Two Masks

Another Mask

Wow

That Was So Worth It!

Ocotillo In Bloom

Collared Lizard

Canyon Wren Singing

Westward Ho!
Biking And Birding
Painted Bunting
Black Chinned Hummingbird
Summer Tanager
Black Capped Titmouse And Painted Bunting Bathing
Hummingbird In Bird Bath
On The Trails At South Llano
Blue Gray Gnatcatcher
Yellow Breasted Chat
Biking The Backcountry Trails
Rufous Crowned Sparrow
Black Capped Vireo
Baby Bunny (The Size Of A Teacup)
Campground Balmorhea State Park
Pool At Balmorhea
Our Campsite At Hueco Tanks
Ramada At Every Campsite
Interesting Trails
Colorful Lizard
Just Before Curfew
Prickly Pear Cactus Blooms
Hiking To The Kiva Caves
Steep Climb On The Rock Face
View From Above
Hueco
Approaching The Alligator
At The Entrance To Kiva Cave
Inside The Cave
Found The First Two Masks
More Masks On The Right
Photographing The Masks
Two Masks
Another Mask
Wow
That Was So Worth It!
Ocotillo In Bloom
Collared Lizard
Canyon Wren Singing
Westward Ho! thumbnail
Biking And Birding  thumbnail
Painted Bunting  thumbnail
Black Chinned Hummingbird  thumbnail
Summer Tanager  thumbnail
Black Capped Titmouse And Painted Bunting Bathing thumbnail
Hummingbird In Bird Bath  thumbnail
On The Trails At South Llano  thumbnail
Blue Gray Gnatcatcher  thumbnail
Yellow Breasted Chat  thumbnail
Biking The Backcountry Trails  thumbnail
Rufous Crowned Sparrow  thumbnail
Black Capped Vireo thumbnail
Baby Bunny (The Size Of A Teacup)  thumbnail
Campground Balmorhea State Park thumbnail
Pool At Balmorhea  thumbnail
Our Campsite At Hueco Tanks thumbnail
Ramada At Every Campsite  thumbnail
Interesting Trails  thumbnail
Colorful Lizard  thumbnail
Just Before Curfew  thumbnail
Prickly Pear Cactus Blooms  thumbnail
Hiking To The Kiva Caves  thumbnail
Steep Climb On The Rock Face  thumbnail
View From Above  thumbnail
Hueco  thumbnail
Approaching The Alligator  thumbnail
At The Entrance To Kiva Cave  thumbnail
Inside The Cave  thumbnail
Found The First Two Masks thumbnail
More Masks On The Right  thumbnail
Photographing The Masks thumbnail
Two Masks  thumbnail
Another Mask  thumbnail
Wow  thumbnail
That Was So Worth It! thumbnail
Ocotillo In Bloom  thumbnail
Collared Lizard thumbnail
Canyon Wren Singing  thumbnail

 

 

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The Making Of LBJ

The Making Of LBJ

Posted by on May 30, 2014 in Gallery, National Parks, Texas, Travel | 22 comments

Idoodled and daydreamed my way through history classes in high school and college. Fortunately, my short-term memory was good enough that I could spend an evening memorizing dates/people/and events—just enough to pass exams. And then, of course, I promptly forgot everything.

Now, though, we’re on The Mother of All Field Trips, visiting places where history happened, and hearing personal stories of the involved parties. And I’m finding history to be far more interesting.

While staying in Fredericksburg, we immersed ourselves in a crash course on Lyndon Baines Johnson, a native of the Hill Country and, as you know, the 36th president of our country. We didn’t intend to spend an entire day focused on LBJ, but we found ourselves drawn into the story of his life. We started in Johnson City (founded by LBJ’s family in the 1870’s), where we toured the white clapboard farmhouse that was his boyhood home (no electricity, no indoor plumbing) and learned a bit about his family (a grandiose, alcoholic politician for a father and a domineering, intellectual mother). A photo of Lyndon, age 7, hangs in his childhood bedroom; he sits on the front steps in overalls and a cowboy hat—the inscription reads, “In a pensive mood. No doubt.

The excellent LBJ National Park Visitor Center is just around the corner, where we learned about Johnson’s life and what he accomplished in his relatively brief 64 years on this earth. The short story: LBJ was a complicated man with a burning agenda to create The Great Society, with the goal of eliminating racial injustice and poverty. While many think of him as dictatorial and grandiose, an equal number remember him as compassionate and generous.

Despite his personality flaws, there’s no question that Johnson was dedicated to improving the lot of those less fortunate—he was never far from his memories of a childhood without electricity or running water and his education in a one-room schoolhouse. Johnson’s astonishing legacy includes the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the War on Poverty, Medicare, and protection for the environment. Throughout his administration, more National Park Service sites were designated or expanded than during any other.

Sadly, the Vietnam War overshadowed Johnson’s presidency—he believed that the war was essential to stop the spread of Communism (as did the majority of his advisors) and he couldn’t manage to extricate himself or our country. He was painfully aware of public sentiment and agonized that people would remember him only for the war, and not for his commitment to creating the Great Society. After leaving the Presidency, he was often depressed, morosely listening to “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” his favorite song—“When you’re weary, feeling small, when tears are in your eyes… And friends just can’t be found…”

We continued our immersion in LBJ’s life in nearby Stonewall, the site of the LBJ Ranch and home. LBJ and Lady Bird spent so much time here during his presidency that it came to be known as the Texas White House. Many important state meetings took place on the front lawn in the shade of the 400-year old oaks overlooking the Pedernales River.

Walking into the Texas White House is like stepping back into the 1960’s, down to the chrome yellow Formica kitchen countertops and the turquoise Naugahyde furniture in President Johnson’s office. It was as though they had just stepped out for a moment; Johnson’s suits, cowboy boots and Stetsons in his closet; tailored dresses and brightly colored kaftans in Lady Bird’s closets. A pillow on LBJ’s recliner is embroidered in turquoise script that says, “This is my ranch, and I do as I damn please.” The embroidered pillows on Lady Bird’s bed say, “I slept, and dreamed that life was beauty. I awoke and found that life was duty.” Amazing how a sentence embroidered on a pillow can sum up an approach to life.

It was interesting to hear stories of exactly how President Johnson accomplished so much. He lived and breathed politics 18-20 hours a day, and demanded that everyone who worked for him do the same. He had 72 phones installed in the Texas White House, including one in the dining room table handy to his outrageous brown-and-white cowhide upholstered swivel-dining chair (which Lady Bird despised), where he carried on phone conversations while entertaining guests. He was crude, charming, and relentless. The isolation of the Texas White House served his purposes—once there, guests were captive until President Johnson got his way.

LBJ was also fond of practical jokes; he loved taking unsuspecting visitors for a ride in his amphibious car, pretending the brakes had failed while driving full speed into the lake. And he enjoyed giving gifts—there’s an entire room filled with leftover gifts emblazoned with the Presidential seal, including the usual cigarette lighters and cuff links, but also his trademark Stetsons—and bizarrely enough, electric toothbrushes. When asked, “Why toothbrushes?” he said, “I want people to think of me right away when they wake up and right before they go to bed.”

He was undoubtedly enormously challenging to live with, but Lady Bird was always at his side to smooth things over. She was powerful in her own gracious, genteel way—her legacy is the Beautification Act of 1965, which pioneered environmental protection and beautification and is responsible for the wildflowers abundantly found along Texas highways.

LBJ genuinely felt a deep attachment to the land and his heritage. He longed for the Hill Country, “where people know when you are sick, love you while you are alive, and miss you when you die.” He was born, lived for the last two decades of his life, died, and was buried on the LBJ Ranch in the Johnson Family Cemetery. The President and Mrs. Johnson donated the ranch and their home to the National Park Service as a historic site, and Lady Bird lived there part-time—often seen waving to visitors from the porch—until her death in 2007.

We returned another day to visit the Sauer-Beckmann Farm, a living history farm that is part of the LBJ Historical Park. It’s an authentic Hill Country farmstead that recreates life as it was in the early 1900’s for a Texas-German family; the rangers and volunteers do everything just as it was done at that time: milking cows and making butter and cheese, keeping chickens and collecting eggs, raising hogs for meat, making soap, growing a vegetable garden and tending fruit trees, keeping house and cooking meals. Walking through the gate, we felt as though we had stepped back in time 100 years. We liked it so much that we’re considering volunteering there for a month or two at some point in our travels. (But not during hog butchering season.)

A note about the photos: For some ridiculous unexplained reason, photos are not allowed inside of the Texas White House. So I scrounged around and found a couple of interior shots on the Internet that were taken by people who didn’t have a companion hissing, “Don’t even THINK about taking photos with your phone!”

The Making Of LBJ

Boyhood Home

Scenery Along The Way

LBJ's Childhood Bedroom

Lyndon's Baseball Glove

As A Young Boy

Kitchen Of Boyhood Home

Bluebonnets In Johnson City

On The Front Porch

Entrance To LBJ Ranch

LBJ's Herefords

The Texas White House

400-Year-Old Oak Tree

Three TV's In Every Room

LBJ's Office At Texas White House

LBJ's Lazy Boy

Gifts From The President

LBJ's Amphibious Car

Air Force One-Half

LBJ And LadyBird's Final Resting Place

LBJ State Historic Park

Sauer Beckmann Farm

Windmill And Water Tank

Wandering The Farmstead

The Barn And Milk Cow

Just Stepped Out Of A Mud Bath

An Enormous Ram

Egg Suppliers

Park Ranger In Authentic Dress

The Farmhouse Kitchen

Fresh Eggs

Kitchen Cupboard

Pickles And Preserves

Farmhouse Bedroom

Antique Rocking Horse

Home Remedies

Lard For Soapmaking

Cold Cellar

The Making Of LBJ
Boyhood Home
Scenery Along The Way
LBJ's Childhood Bedroom
Lyndon's Baseball Glove
As A Young Boy
Kitchen Of Boyhood Home
Bluebonnets In Johnson City
On The Front Porch
Entrance To LBJ Ranch
LBJ's Herefords
The Texas White House
400-Year-Old Oak Tree
Three TV's In Every Room
LBJ's Office At Texas White House
LBJ's Lazy Boy
Gifts From The President
LBJ's Amphibious Car
Air Force One-Half
LBJ And LadyBird's Final Resting Place
LBJ State Historic Park
Sauer Beckmann Farm
Windmill And Water Tank
Wandering The Farmstead
The Barn And Milk Cow
Just Stepped Out Of A Mud Bath
An Enormous Ram
Egg Suppliers
Park Ranger In  Authentic Dress
The Farmhouse Kitchen
Fresh Eggs
Kitchen Cupboard
Pickles And Preserves
Farmhouse Bedroom
Antique Rocking Horse
Home Remedies
Lard For Soapmaking
Cold Cellar
The Making Of LBJ  thumbnail
Boyhood Home  thumbnail
Scenery Along The Way  thumbnail
LBJ's Childhood Bedroom thumbnail
Lyndon's Baseball Glove  thumbnail
As A Young Boy  thumbnail
Kitchen Of Boyhood Home  thumbnail
Bluebonnets In Johnson City  thumbnail
On The Front Porch thumbnail
Entrance To LBJ Ranch  thumbnail
LBJ's Herefords  thumbnail
The Texas White House  thumbnail
400-Year-Old Oak Tree  thumbnail
Three TV's In Every Room thumbnail
LBJ's Office At Texas White House  thumbnail
LBJ's Lazy Boy  thumbnail
Gifts From The President  thumbnail
LBJ's Amphibious Car  thumbnail
Air Force One-Half  thumbnail
LBJ And LadyBird's Final Resting Place  thumbnail
LBJ State Historic Park  thumbnail
Sauer Beckmann Farm  thumbnail
Windmill And Water Tank  thumbnail
Wandering The Farmstead  thumbnail
The Barn And Milk Cow thumbnail
Just Stepped Out Of A Mud Bath  thumbnail
An Enormous Ram  thumbnail
Egg Suppliers  thumbnail
Park Ranger In  Authentic Dress thumbnail
The Farmhouse Kitchen  thumbnail
Fresh Eggs  thumbnail
Kitchen Cupboard  thumbnail
Pickles And Preserves  thumbnail
Farmhouse Bedroom  thumbnail
Antique Rocking Horse  thumbnail
Home Remedies thumbnail
Lard For Soapmaking  thumbnail
Cold Cellar  thumbnail

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Wine And Wildflowers, Texas Style

Wine And Wildflowers, Texas Style

Posted by on May 21, 2014 in Food, Gallery, Music, Texas, Travel | 34 comments

Whatever Texas does, Texas does it big. You want wildflowers? Texas will give you huge expanses of wildflowers, rolling hills covered with cobalt blue lupine (the beloved “bluebonnets”), brilliant red Indian paintbrush, sunny yellow coreopsis, and hundreds more. Much of the state has always been grasslands, which makes for large stands of sun-loving wildflowers, helped along by the 30,000 pounds of wildflower seed sown by the Texas Department of Transportation each year.

Texas has been preserving and encouraging wildflowers and native grasses along all rights of way since 1934. By so doing, they’ve controlled erosion, reduced the need for mowing, and provided habitat for wildlife. It certainly makes for beautiful drives along the Texas roadways. And also created a few slightly heated interchanges in the front seat of our truck that went something like this:

Wow, did you see that? Pull over so that I can take a picture.”

“I can’t pull over! There’s no place to pull over!”

“But I want to take pictures of the flowers. We just passed by an amazing field of flowers with (choose one: horses/old tractor/cows/old barn/rolling hills)!” 

“This is a two-lane road! I’m pulling the trailer! There’s no place to pull over!”

“Well how am I going to take pictures? I can’t take good pictures while we’re driving at 55 miles per hour.”

“There’s no place to pull over! You’re going to have to wait until there’s a safe place to pull over!”

“But that’s not where the flowers are!”

Even though Texas has suffered from a three-year drought, we still found an abundance of wildflowers as we traveled from Breaux Bridge, Louisiana to Fredericksburg, Texas. This is the heart of the Hill Country, known for some of the finest wildflower displays in the state. En route, we spent an unmemorable overnight at Village Creek State Park in Lumberton (151 mile drive) and two pleasant nights at Lake Somerville (180 mile drive) in a gorgeous Corps of Engineers campground. That’s where we discovered our first stand of bluebonnets that we could photograph at our leisure.

Another 170 mile drive brought us to Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park, just a few miles outside of the lovely town of Fredericksburg. We settled in for a week of exploring the area, which included a visit to a wildflower farm, a wine and music festival, a trip to the wine country, a gorgeous hike to a unique geological formation, and a small local nature festival of winged creatures. We also strolled the historic downtown area, and enjoyed an excellent dinner at Vaudeville, a unique supper club.

Here, the highlights of our wine and wildflowers adventures in the Texas Hill Country:

• Exploring Fredericksburg: It’s a pretty, small town (population 10,500) founded by Germans in 1846. Many descendants of the original settlers still live here, are proud of their heritage, and maintain a number of historic buildings, including the Vereins Kirche, which served as the town hall and church for all denominations. The Pioneer Museum Complex down the street is worth an hour or two; it’s a 3-acre museum with a dozen relocated original early German structures, including a schoolhouse and Sunday house, which the settlers used only on the weekends when they came into town to attend church and stock up on supplies.

• Wildseed Farms: Seven miles east of Fredericksburg is Wildseed Farms, the largest working wildflower farm in the country, with 200 acres of wildflower fields. It’s a beautiful place to visit in springtime; we were there during the Hill Country Wine and Music Festival, which made it even more fun.

• Hill Country Wine And Music Festival: We planned our visit to Fredericksburg to coincide with this event. In a beautiful location amongst fields of blooming wildflowers, we enjoyed locally produced wines from eight vintners and great music, including the famous (in some circles) country music artist John Arthur Martinez (he was great!). Everyone in Texas waltzes and two-steps, and we dusted off our waltzing skills to join in. Seeing as how we’ll likely continue to spend a good bit of time in Texas in our travels, I’ve convinced Eric that we need to learn to two-step.

• Wine Country: At least two-dozen boutique wineries are in the hills east of Fredericksburg; some folks are calling it the next Napa Valley. The terrain and the wineries are beautiful, and we sampled a wide variety of tasty wines (and even champagne). We did most of our wine tasting at the festival, but also spent a leisurely hot afternoon at Becker Vineyards with a chilled Riesling.

• Wings Over The Hills Festival: We were delighted to discover that this annual local festival was taking place right next door to our campground in the park. The highlight for us was a hike with James L. Lasswell, a renowned dragonfly expert and author. I think dragonflies may be even more difficult to identify than birds.

• Enchanted Rock Natural Area: Rising 425 feet above the terrain to 1,825 feet above sea level, this massive pink granite dome gave us our first opportunity for a “real” hike in many months (we’ve been at sea level since last November). The name comes from the Tonkawa Indians, who believed the creaking and groaning sounds coming from the rock at night were the rock “talking.” (The sounds are actually caused by the rock cooling at night after it heats up during the day.) It’s a gorgeous hike, and the cacti were just beginning to bloom.

• Luckenbach: Made famous by Waylon Jennings’ 1977 hit “Luckenbach, Texas” we couldn’t pass up a visit to this iconic Texas wide-spot-in-the-road, which consists of a general store, saloon, and country dance hall. The Sunday afternoon “Picker’s Circle” was full of characters and free-roaming chickens. It wasn’t quite as lively as our recent music experiences in Breaux Bridge and New Orleans, but we agreed we would return in the future for an event at the dance hall. Time to get practicing on our Texas Two-Step!

Wine And Wildflowers, Texas Style

Lake Somerville COE Campground

Roadside Wildflowers

A Profusion Of Bluebonnets

Bluebonnets, Paintbrush, And Native Grasses

In The Bluebonnets

Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher

Great Egret

Campsite Lady Bird Johnson Park

Wildflower Display At Birding Festival

The Wing Span Of A Turkey Vulture

On A Walk With Dragonfly Experts

Red Yucca Flower Stalk

Hill Country Wine And Music Festival

Beautiful Day For The Wine Festival

Wildseed Farms

Seed Gardens At Wildseed Farms

Poppy Fields

John Arthur Martinez

Cowboy Hats And Boots Are De Rigueur

Texas Two-Stepping

Becker Winery

Wine Tasting

An Afternoon At Becker Vineyards

Enchanted Rock Natural Area

Enchanted Rock

Boulder Strewn Path

Up And Up And Up

Almost To The Top

Vernal Pool On Top Of Enchanted Rock

Purple Wildflowers (Spiderwort)

Prickly Pear Cactus

Hedgehog Cactus

Canyon Wren

Historic Fredericksburg

The Vereins Kirche

A Sunday House

School's In Session

He Always Has The Answer

Settlers' Cabin

Spinning Wheel

Lone Star Quilt

Boot Shine Stand

A Barbed Wire Collection

Downtown Fredericksburg

Nouveau Texas Style

Dinner At Vaudeville

First Course At Vaudeville Supper Club

Luckenbach Texas

Luckenbach General Store

Hanging Out In Luckenbach

Sunday Afternoon Pickers Circle

Green Dragonfly

Wine And Wildflowers, Texas Style
Lake Somerville COE Campground
Roadside Wildflowers
A Profusion Of Bluebonnets
Bluebonnets, Paintbrush, And Native Grasses
In The Bluebonnets
Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher
Great Egret
Campsite Lady Bird Johnson Park
Wildflower Display At Birding Festival
The Wing Span Of A Turkey Vulture
On A Walk With Dragonfly Experts
Red Yucca Flower Stalk
Hill Country Wine And Music Festival
Beautiful Day For The Wine Festival
Wildseed Farms
Seed Gardens At Wildseed Farms
Poppy Fields
John Arthur Martinez
Cowboy Hats And Boots Are De Rigueur
Texas Two-Stepping
Becker Winery
Wine Tasting
An Afternoon At Becker Vineyards
Enchanted Rock Natural Area
Enchanted Rock
Boulder Strewn Path
Up And Up And Up
Almost To The Top
Vernal Pool On Top Of Enchanted Rock
Purple Wildflowers (Spiderwort)
Prickly Pear Cactus
Hedgehog Cactus
Canyon Wren
Historic Fredericksburg
The Vereins Kirche
A Sunday House
School's In Session
He Always Has The Answer
Settlers' Cabin
Spinning Wheel
Lone Star Quilt
Boot Shine Stand
A Barbed Wire Collection
Downtown Fredericksburg
Nouveau Texas Style
Dinner At Vaudeville
First Course At Vaudeville Supper Club
Luckenbach Texas
Luckenbach General Store
Hanging Out In Luckenbach
Sunday Afternoon Pickers Circle
Green Dragonfly
Wine And Wildflowers, Texas Style  thumbnail
Lake Somerville COE Campground  thumbnail
Roadside Wildflowers  thumbnail
A Profusion Of Bluebonnets  thumbnail
Bluebonnets, Paintbrush, And Native Grasses  thumbnail
In The Bluebonnets  thumbnail
Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher  thumbnail
Great Egret  thumbnail
Campsite Lady Bird Johnson Park  thumbnail
Wildflower Display At Birding Festival  thumbnail
The Wing Span Of A Turkey Vulture  thumbnail
On A Walk With Dragonfly Experts thumbnail
Red Yucca Flower Stalk  thumbnail
Hill Country Wine And Music Festival  thumbnail
Beautiful Day For The Wine Festival  thumbnail
Wildseed Farms  thumbnail
Seed Gardens At Wildseed Farms  thumbnail
Poppy Fields  thumbnail
John Arthur Martinez  thumbnail
Cowboy Hats And Boots Are De Rigueur  thumbnail
Texas Two-Stepping  thumbnail
Becker Winery thumbnail
Wine Tasting  thumbnail
An Afternoon At Becker Vineyards  thumbnail
Enchanted Rock Natural Area  thumbnail
Enchanted Rock  thumbnail
Boulder Strewn Path  thumbnail
Up And Up And Up  thumbnail
Almost To The Top  thumbnail
Vernal Pool On Top Of Enchanted Rock  thumbnail
Purple Wildflowers (Spiderwort)  thumbnail
Prickly Pear Cactus  thumbnail
Hedgehog Cactus  thumbnail
Canyon Wren thumbnail
Historic Fredericksburg  thumbnail
The Vereins Kirche  thumbnail
A Sunday House  thumbnail
School's In Session  thumbnail
He Always Has The Answer   thumbnail
Settlers' Cabin thumbnail
Spinning Wheel  thumbnail
Lone Star Quilt thumbnail
Boot Shine Stand  thumbnail
A Barbed Wire Collection  thumbnail
Downtown Fredericksburg thumbnail
Nouveau Texas Style  thumbnail
Dinner At Vaudeville  thumbnail
First Course At Vaudeville Supper Club thumbnail
Luckenbach Texas  thumbnail
Luckenbach General Store  thumbnail
Hanging Out In Luckenbach  thumbnail
Sunday Afternoon Pickers Circle thumbnail
Green Dragonfly  thumbnail

 

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