2017 Trip Two: Tour of Texas April 21

Terlingua Texas Friday April 21

Desert View just west of Big Bend National Park boundary

Hot and Dusty. The schedule for the day was a three-hour Jeep trip into the backcountry. While our Subaru is all wheel drive, it is not high clearance. This is our fourth Jeep ride into backcountry since we began traveling. It provides us with an opportunity to see terrain up close and personal that we would not view or hike to under normal conditions, particularly when the temperature for the day quickly climbed into the 90s.

Driving to Christmas mountains

The Jeep had a canvass top with bench seats that were raised to provide a good view. Unfortunately, I spent part of the time bracing myself since the seats were vinyl. As the Jeep drove into the backcountry, the land traversed was rarely flat. On the vinyl seats, when the Jeep went downhill, I tended to slide forward and down, even wearing a seatbelt to assist in holding one upright. Not exactly the worst problem in the world, but the legs did get a workout stopping my slides. I know, it is a tough life traveling, isn’t it, but what else do I have to complain about?

Housing styles in the desert

Randy, our guide, gave us a geology and botany lesson as we drove along the dirt tracks. We gained several thousand feet in elevation between Terlingua and the turn-around point, although the elevation gain was not usually noticeable. There were a few homes out in the desert, trying to live off the grid. There were more “pads”; a clearing with a small cabin or car port where people might spend a weekend or a week away from the city. First requirement, build a shelter device and a water retention system. Almost all water out here is provided by collecting and saving rainwater. Normal rainfall is 10 inches per year.

Desert Views

This area is all part of the Chihuahuan Desert. The Chihuahuan is the largest of four deserts in North America, stretching down well into Mexico. Vegetation changes based on rainfall and elevation, the only wildlife we saw was a jack-rabbit. Evidently most of the wildlife hunts and travels at night. Smart.

Randy mentioned the force generated by the flash floods that occur when it rains. A friend had built a concrete dam along an arroyo, it took the floods only two years to wipe it out. The guides have to monitor the weather and the area. Rains that occur further north can put the road we traveled under water and/or mud even when it is clear and dry around Terlingua. That is similar to the Terlingua Creek rising down by Santa Elena Canyon on our hike Wednesday even though there had not been any rainfall around the canyon.

The Terlingua area had some ranchers trying to make a living here, but the main economic force was the mining of cinnabar to produce mercury. After WWII, the need for mercury in switches and bombs took a nosedive and the population got up and left. It got so bad, the town was classified as a ghost town. Today there is a population of less than a hundred but with the people in nearby Study Butte, the population is over 300.

Dining in Terlingua

Terlingua markets itself as one of the gateways to Big Bend and the Terlingua ghost town is a part of the marketing. A couple of bars and gift stores bring in the tourists, along with some RV parks. A Texas Chili Cook-Off in the fall can attract 10,000 people and a hundred state police to patrol and control the drinking. Although limited in number, we found the restaurants to be good. We had dinner at the Starlight twice, with live music. La Kiva, built like a cave, was a second dinner site with good food. Both had their share of characters, whether they were local or tourists was hard to determine. Lunch has been at a gas station cafe and an artsy, artisanal cafe. The cat at the artsy cafe must have been related to the cat at the Far Flung Outdoors center. At Far Flung it sat on the counter where you paid your bill since it was the Queen of the outfit. At the cafe, it was constantly rubbing our legs despite the entreaties of its own.

Photos from Terlingua ghost town

The ghost town still has remnants of buildings, mine shafts, and machinery from the mining days. The old mining company store made of adobe is still here along with the Catholic Church, jail, theater and cemetery. It survives due to the mix of artists, ex-hippies, and free-thinkers who enjoy life here.

Friday afternoon we drove to Lajitas Texas and visited the Burton Warnock Center of Big Bend Ranch State Park. The state park is east of the Big Bend National Park, the visitor center has an exhibit about the Chihuahuan Desert. The exhibit is nice, the center not terribly busy. We chose not to go hiking in the afternoon heat so our time here was short.

The fire pit was busier tonight than Thursday evening. While the fire creates some glare for Starlight viewing, the stars are still more plentiful and clearer than in cities. We woke at 4 AM and spent some time watching stars from our patio.

Ed and Chris.

Categories: road trip, travel | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

2017 Trip Two: Tour of Texas. April 20

Terlingua Texas Thursday April 20

Canoe trip on the Rio Grande River

It is currently 98 degrees Fahrenheit in Terlingua. We are very happy we chose to schedule our canoe trip on the Rio Grande River for the morning. Far Flung Outdoor Center in Terlingua was the outfitter; just a few hundred feet from our casita. There were 18 people and three guides on this trip. While on the Rio Grande, it was not within Big Bend National Park. We drove past Lajitas, a small town with one resort and the entrance to the Big Bend Ranch State Park. The state park is one-third the size of the national park, still very large. There is a national park in Mexico that is on the opposite side of much of the two Big Bend parks.

The scenery along the route to and from the canoe launch site

The drive to the put-in location on the river takes about 45 minutes from Terlingua. The actual canoe ride is about two and one half to three hours. We had a mild current with us but there was a headwind pushing against us. It was a curse for slowing us down, it was a blessing as a cooling factor. If you did not paddle, though, you did not get anywhere. So arm exercise was the health benefit of the day. This stretch of the river involves a few minor rapid type spots, most of it was easy for the canoes to handle. Close to shore you might get hung up on low water and rocks but the main channel was probably 3 to 4 feet deep. There were “S” curves where some skill was needed to not run into the weeds growing high along the bank when you got to turn two or three.

Canoeing on the Rio Grande River

Canoeing on the Rio Grande River

Not all of our companions were skilled in handling a canoe. I would call Chris and I “advanced beginners” and we seemed to be about the best of the bunch. One canoe in front of us made a habit of going from one bank of the river to the next; frequently we had to hang back in order to avoid ramming them broadside. One couple, most were man-woman couples, were sad to see it end as “we were just getting the hang of it”.

At our rest stop on the shore in Mexico

We made one stop during the paddle, it was on the south side of the bank so we were in Mexico at the time. The rock walls were high on both sides of the river, although frequently a flat stretch of land ranging between fifty yards to a half mile existed before the walls came up.

By the time we returned to Far Flung, had lunch and showered, we decided to take the rest of the day off. Too hot to hike the desert and too far to get anywhere.

Ed and Chris Thursday April 20

Categories: road trip, travel | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

2017 Trip Two: Tour of Texas. April 19

Terlingua Texas Wednesday April 19

Santa Elena Canyon

Remember that brown, yucky water I have been writing about? Well, today we got to walk in it. That’s the headline, next comes the story.

Our goal for today was to hike the Santa Elena Canyon Trail. It was on our priority list, it was recommended by one of our Evergreen hosts, and a fellow hiker said it was nice but do it early before it gets too hot. Well, it is 38 miles from Chisos Lodge in the center of the park to Santa Elena Canyon on the southwest side of the park. With speed limits on the straight aways of 35 or 45 mph, it took us 75 minutes to reach the trail head. Did I mention Big Bend is a large park?

Driving along the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive

The drive takes us down out of the mountain area around Chisos Lodge, through desert with varying rocky formations along the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. Generally the rock formations are brown to gray, we saw only one section of rock that had red and white coloring. It reminded us a bit of the Badlands in South Dakota. There was a particularly nice view as we came over a rise and saw the desert in front of us stretching out to the mountain border with Mexico.

Santa Elena Canyon, Mexico wall on left, US wall on right, canyon in middle

Santa Elena Canyon is at least seven miles long with cliffs ranging between 1,000 to 1,500 feet in height. The Rio Grande runs through the canyon, thus separating the cliffs in Mexico from the cliffs in the United States. The hike up Santa Elena Canyon starts where the river flows out of the canyon. To hike it, you cross the bed of the Terlingua Creek, climb up an embankment, walk through a brief shady flat section, and then hike up and down and up and down a rocky path before reaching a flat section that parallels the Rio Grande River.

Starting the hike, through the flat land, on the rocky trail, looking down from the trail back towards where we started with Rio Grande on your right

Rain had fallen farther up the watershed of the Terlingua Creek that raised the water in the creek bed from one inch to almost a foot, necessitating a hike into the water. Luckily a volunteer was on hand to guide us at the start of the trail. One actually had to cross the creek twice as the path had braided into channels before reaching the Rio Grande. We aimed for the shallowest sections to cross, managing to drown our shoes in water but only getting a portion of our pants wet. Glad we were not wearing jeans, the gear we have is quick drying.

At the end of the trail, can you spot Chris at the lower right center?

The round trip took us just under two hours at our slow pace and reflecting the temperature, already into the high 80s. The hike was memorable and delightful, a mild breeze helped to keep us cool. A canoe junket from an outfitter was working its way up the river, I assume they were going to follow the current on the return trip.

Crossing Terlingua Creek coming back from Santa Elena Canyon

On the return trip we passed a couple with two young children who had just crossed Terlingua Creek. They were trying to dry out and commenting that they had not planned on a water crossing. As we reached the area where we would have to cross Terlingua Creek, the volunteer was not there. We advised two people contemplating the hike on how best to cross. As we made our way back, we both slipped on the bank and landed on our butts, half in the water and half in the mud. With dignity, we got up, washed off our hands and pants in the nice, brown creek water and headed back to our car. At the car, we switched shoes, dumping out the accumulated water from the shoes. We changed into shorts and had lunch; granola bars and warm water.

Parked for the oasis walk, can you spot the snake?

Driving through the desert

Our plan for the afternoon did not change. To reach our lodging in Terlingua, we back tracked on the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, stopping at several overlooks to take advantage of photo opportunities we passed by on our drive to Santa Elena. We only walked one short trail out to an old homestead with its derelict windmill and a newer windmill. The water provides for a desert oasis, the greenery could be seen for miles before you reached it.

Our casita at Far Flung Adventures

Terlingua and Study Butte are very small towns, relying on Big Bend visitors to survive. We are only here due to the lodging at the casitas at Far Flung Outdoor Center. Terlingua is classified as a ghost town although there are now 250 some people living here. Most residents ae artists, musicians or work in Big Bend or with various outfitters dependent on Big Bend.

We are taking a canoe trip tomorrow and a jeep trip on Friday. More importantly, the casitas are very nice. Roomy, a small kitchenette, back porch, TV and radio, AND decent Internet. Dinner looks like it will be at one of two halfway decent restaurants in town, the Starlight Theater with live music.

Ed and Chris. Terlingua. April 19

Categories: road trip, travel | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2017 Trip Two: Tour of Texas April 18

Big Bend National Park, Tuesday April 18

Along one of our hikes to the Rio Grande River

The Rio Grande River is the 4th or 5th longest river (depending on how some rivers are measured) in the U.S. at 1,896 miles, about 1,200 of which form the border between Mexico and the U.S. The river is also heavily drawn down for irrigation and at its location here in Big Bend National Park, it is currently flowing between 2.5 and 5 feet deep. The river here is wadeable, we observed a man riding across the river on a mule followed by his dog.

For those of you worried about illegal border crossings, recognize that crossing the river is probably the easiest portion of the journey. The terrain here is hot, rocky, dry, and terribly inhospitable. The river is brown and you would not want to slip and ingest any of the water. We have observed airplanes overhead and we passed through a checkpoint with cameras recording us and our vehicle as we drove here.

The U.S. and Mexico have had rocky relations for much of our history. Remember Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and California were once part of Mexico. We have normally treated Mexico with disrespect when we deigned to consider them at all. So today’s bombast is nothing new, even if unnecessary and counter-productive.

Some desert plants

So much for the politics. We spent most of the day’s hiking time going to the river or along the river. Now, I will admit once again that we no longer are interested in hiking 12-15 miles a day with great changes in elevation. Shorter hikes at a slower pace are just fine. Our goal normally is to see specific, varied sections of the area we are visiting. Enjoying the view, listening to birds, viewing wildlife are all primary goals.

Examples of desert blooms

For instance today we saw: a road runner, minnows in a backwater of the Rio Grande, small blossoms of red, yellow, blue, and white on varied plants, bird nests stuck in crevices high up in rock walls, three desert bighorn sheep (or auodad, a non-native species introduced by accident), a man on horseback with his dog plus the guy on a mule crossing the river, rabbits, multiple lizards and slithering creatures, prickly pear plants trying to bloom, and tons of birds we don’t even try to identify. Big Bend is supposedly a birder’s paradise; the diversity of birds and plants is huge based on its varied topography. We did not see Mexican black bear or mountain lions, both of which are plentiful in the park.

Top: Desert mighorn sheep. Bottom: Mountain they were on top of

This national park is ranked 45 out of 59 in attendance. The walks are not crowded, but there are enough people to meet and talk to on each walk. It seems like there is always some connection; they lived where we used to live, or a relative does; we traveled to the same park or location; or we share tips on various trails in the park.

Hot Springs: The old general store, part of the hike, the pictographs, and the springs by the Rio Grande

We traveled to Hot Springs, a small pool framed by rocks next to the Rio Grande. One couple was in the pool, it did not look that inviting although there is probably some bragging rights to say you did it. The walk to the pool passes by the old general store and post office. This area has been inhabited by Indians years ago, there are pictographs on the rock walls. We had our first glance of the Rio Grande River as a border river, noting that it is not very wide, was flowing fast, and was a yucky brown color. Oh, right, we are going on a raft trip in this river Thursday. Great.

After lunch of a granola bar and warm water, we hiked to the river again, walking through a back water area. The path crossed flood plains heavy with deposited rock and sand. (Forgive me while I swear. The Internet system here did not successfully save about 30 minutes of writing which would have taken us up to the end of the day. Of course, that version was much more interesting than the re-creation I will now attempt.)

Animal figurines top; re-stocker? on horseback

Along the path we observed the man on horseback, with a dog trailing behind him. He was carrying some colorful sticks which from a distance we could not clearly make out. Later on we figured what it was. In several locations, there is a homemade stand of animal figurines and carved walking sticks. Next to them is a small can for honor system payment for the items. There is a note on the can indicating that your payments will go to assist the schoolchildren at an elementary school in Mexico. Nice touch, we thought, although we did not make a purchase. However, reading park material when we returned to our room we discovered that this process is illegal. Anything which we purchase is considered contraband and could be seized from us.

Boquillas Canyon: the rocky path, view of the river bend, path along the River, the canyon entrance

Panorama of Boquillas canyon through bend in Rio Grande RIver

Our next hike to the Rio Grande took us to Boquillas Canyon. The river takes another bend here before it enters into the canyon. The canyon walls are 1200 feet high but we did not wade into the water to observe them closely. This hike involved more elevation gain and loss than the other two and occurred during the early afternoon when the temperatures were approaching 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The path was primarily in the sun so we were pleased to return to our car.

Back at Chisos Lodge, we rested up before taking another short hike close to our room. Dinner was in the Lodge restaurant, the food has been surprisingly good and affordable. There is no TV, radio,or phones; so hiking and enjoying the outdoors is pretty much it. We plan to view the sunset once again and check out the stars to determine if they are as bright tonight as they were last night.

Tomorrow we check out but spend three more days in the park. We are just moving our lodging to the small town of Terlingua on the west side of the park.

April 19, 3:30 PM Hallelujah. New lodging internet service is great!

View after the rain storm Monday night

Ed and Chris for April 18

Categories: road trip, travel | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

2017 Trip Two: Tour of Texas April 17

Big Bend National Park, Monday April 17

At the entrance to Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park, Monday April 17

Well, we are finally at Big Bend National Park. Along with viewing the sandhill cranes along the Platte River, seeing the Texas wildflowers, this was one of the primary new sights that inspired this trip. It is just under 500 miles from Kerrville, and Chris drove the entire trip. I think the 80 mph speed limit energized her. We thought the scenery along the way would be boring, but found it enjoyable as the topography changed from the Hill Country to flat plains to desert to mountains. Not much color in the rocks though.

Driving from Kerrville to Big Bend

Lunch was at a regional chain of steakhouses in Fort Stockton but we both opted for the extensive salad bar-see, we can eat our fruits and vegetables. The skies were a gorgeous blue with fluffy clouds, it was a nice change from the multiple gray days we encountered recently.

Driving into the mountains for Chisos Lodge

We arrived in time to see the introductory video at one of the visitors centers but we checked in at Chisos Mountain Lodge, located inside the park, up in the mountainous area. Big Bend is the 14th largest national park, 7th largest outside of Alaska. Due to its remote location, it is not heavily visited in comparison to the other large parks. The combination of desert (Chihuahuan), river (Rio Grande), and mountains (Chisos range) makes it unique. The park warns that the road to the lodge is steep and winding, but we found it tame. The road is off-limits to RVs and large trailers.

Peak behind Chicos Lodge

The storm approaches

Sunset photos

We had dinner in the lodge restaurant, with window view seats overlooking the mountains and a storm off in the distance. By the time we returned to our room, the storm had arrived. Mild at first, it turned cold with a brief, fierce hail storm. When the rain had passed, the sun came out and we took a walk observing a rainbow and the interplay of dark clouds and sunlight. Numerous people joined us at an overlook to watch the sunset and take the requisite sunset photos.

Our camera is unable to take photos of the night sky, but it is amazing out here away from the lights of civilization. The stars are brighter and more numerous. When the moon rises later in the night, it dims the affect of the stars but does not eliminate it.

There is no cell phone coverage at the Lodge, it is spotty elsewhere. There is slow WiFi here but expect postings to be sporadic for the next few days.

Pictures take a long time to load. I may add a few of todays on tomorrow’s post.

Ed and Chris.

Categories: road trip, travel | Tags: | Leave a comment

2017 Trip Two: Tour of Texas April 15-16

Kerrville, Texas. Sunday April 16

Saturday April 15

National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas

Bombs and Blossoms, the theme of the last two days. We drove to Fredericksburg, 30 minutes away, and home to a German community that immigrated to Texas before the Civil War. Germans constitute one of the largest European immigrant groups in Texas, and the Texas Hill Country was one of the major destinations for them. Germans left their homeland due to inheritance laws that gave all family land to the eldest son, due to crop failures, and religious oppression.

The Nimitz family was part of that German immigrant wave. From the Nimitz’ family tree sprang Chester Nimitz who was the Admiral serving as Commander-in-Chief Pacific after the Japanese attached Pearl Harbor. Fredericksburg is home to a fantastic National Museum of the Pacific War which started as a museum honoring Admiral Nimitz.

Nimitz during WWII, Nimitz with his grandfather, Nimitz statue in front of Hotel Nimitz

Chester Nimitz’ dad died a few months before he was born in 1885 and his grandfather was a major male influence in his life. The grandfather’s tales of life on the sea sparked an interest in the military and Chester tried to obtain an appointment to West Point (free tuition too). All of the Texas appointments had been made but he was told there were still appointments available for the Naval Academy. He went for it, and diligently studying, he got the appointment and passed the entrance exam.

Nimitz made a name for himself early, one of the first to promote the submarine service. (Yes, they had them back then.) We worked his way up over the years, and Roosevelt tapped him as the Chief for the Pacific War. During the war, titles changed and two other areas were carved out for separate command; for instance, so Douglas McArthur could command the Philippines area. However, Nimitz was the person who led the combined military forces of the Allies to victory over Japan in WWII.

The museum has a new 33,000 square foot gallery to go with the old Nimitz hotel which displays Nimitz family memorabilia. The new gallery uses large display boards, videos, personal testimony, computer kiosks, and battle graphics to retrace the causes, conduct, and legacy of the war. The amount of information is overwhelming. One excellent element of the museum was the significant allocation of exhibit space to the causes leading up to World War II in Asia. I walked away reflecting on the role face, poor economies, military dominance over civilian rule, ancient feuds between countries, and the development of national self-myths have in encouraging people to support wars.

The Pacific Theater is detailed campaign by campaign. The fighting was influenced by the Japanese unwillingness to surrender, making the casualty tolls high for limited land space captured. As in many events in life, luck, poor decisions, and mistakes play a crucial role, not just heroics, good planning, coordination, etc.

One of the Sunday houses in Fredericksburg

The rest of the day was spent in Fredericksburg. The Vereins Kirche Museum illustrates the history of the German immigrants in Fredericksburg. The museum mentions Sunday houses, small houses built by farmers in Fredericksburg so farm families could shop on Saturday and worship on Sunday before returning to the farms the rest of the week. The German immigrants reversed their living practice from Germany; in Germany they lived in towns and walked out to the farms daily. In America, they lived on the farms and came to the towns to shop and worship.

The drive to and from Fredericksburg from Kerrville only takes 30 minutes, we enjoyed wildflowers along the roads as part of our day’s activities.

Sunday, April 16. Easter Sunday

Wildflowers in Texas Hill Country

We slept in and went to 11 AM Mass in Kerrville. As part of the introductions, visitors were asked to stand and state where they were from. Chris mentioned we were from Minnesota. The woman up front of course said: “Great, from Minnesota-o-o-ta” trying to replicate the Scandinavian accent. After Mass, a guy came up to me and introduced himself; he had been a city manager in Shoreview MN and his son still lives around Cretin High School.

Wildflowers in Texas Hill Country

The rest of the day was driving. We thought we had seen wildflowers before but today’s crop was overwhelming. Red and yellow were the predominant colors from the artist’s palette but blues, whites, and purples were also present. We drove north from Fredericksburg along 495 to Llano, then east to Burnet, south to Marble Falls and back to Llano and Fredericksburg. It was stunning; it rivaled the wildflowers we saw at Revelstoke National Park in British Columbia and at Mount St. Helen’s in Washington State. Miles upon miles of multi-colored hues along the shoulders of the roads. Unfortuantely, most roads had absolutely no shoulder and a speed limit of 70 mph. Well,maybe it was alright or I would have been stopping constantly to shoot more pictures. Once again the sky was gray and overcast or the pictures would be more vibrant. It was a great way to end our time in the Hill Country and to enjoy God’s beauty on Easter Sunday.

Wildflowers in Texas Hill Country

Dinner was at a German restaurant (what else?) in Fredericksburg,


Video of wildflowers

Ed and Chris. April 16

Categories: road trip, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

2017 Trip Two: Tour of Texas April 14

Kerrville Texas Friday April 14

The LBJ Ranch-The Texas White House

I admit it. Texas “Hill Country” is hilly, hillier than the eastern portion around Ennis and Waco. The Balcones Fault Zone that we briefly discussed in yesterday’s post about the Meadows Center in San Marcos did its job. The fault zone runs from Del Rio by the Rio Grande northeast towards Dallas. Today’s drive showcased hills, escarpments, and valleys. Roads have dips where flooding occurs during heavy rains. Those flat lands closer to the Gulf are gone.

Driving around the Texas Hill Country

Our drive today was 200 miles north from San Antonio to Johnson City and then southwest to Kerrville-with a few back and forths for exploratory purposes. Motorcycles were out in greater numbers than previously seen. Wildflowers were not as extensive as a week ago but still present and profuse periodically. Cattle and sheep were frequent. This is supposed to be an area where peaches grow but we were not able to identify any orchards. The large number of vineyards and wineries did catch us by surprise although we did not stop at any. The day was normally cloudy so outdoor pictures are not vibrant, but at least it did not rain.

LBJ, Lyndon Baines Johnson, our 36th President, was our primary target for the day. We spent hours visiting his birthplace, his boyhood home, his grave, and his ranch-the Texas White House. All three are located in the Texas Hill Country within twenty miles of each other. People of my generation identify Johnson with the Vietnam War and while the displays cover this, our blog post will list a few other facts of his life and Presidential career. Such as the fact that LBJ spent over 25% of his time as President working at the Texas White House.

LBJ’s mother, Rebekah, went to college and received a degree in journalism (so did Lady Bird). Very unusual for a woman at that point in history. Education was important to her, one of the reasons the family moved from the countryside where he was born into Johnson City where the schools were better. Rebekah tutored him also, and concentrated on debate and elocution, two traits that would aid him greatly in his political career.

LBJ’s boyhood home in Johnson City Texas

LBJ’s father served for 12 years in the Texas Legislature and Lyndon learned political skills from him. LBJ visited him while the Legislature was in session and went out on the campaign trail with his father. His father would meet constituents at home but Rebekah made him hold many meetings outdoors on the porch due to the smoking and cussing that occurred. LBJ’s bedroom abutted the porch, though, so his informal education in politics was not hampered.

Early in LBJ’s career in Congress, he had promised his constituents that they would get electricity in Johnson City. Recognize that electricity was not universal, in fact, most rural areas did not have electricity. It was too expensive for electrical companies to set up power plants and run wires for less populated communities. During the Depression, FDR and Congress passed the Rural Electrification Act to allow for the formation of electrical cooperatives in rural areas. The federal government would provide and guarantee loans for that purpose but REA regulations set minimum population levels that Johnson City did not meet. LBJ was not able to convince the REA administrator to waive the requirements so he went directly to FDR who granted a waiver just for the Johnson City area.

Where LBJ signed the education bill, on a picnic table outside his one room school house with his first teacher by his side.

During Johnson’s five-year stint as President, over 1000 pieces of legislation were passed. Only during Franklin Roosevelt’s twelve years was a greater number of bills made into law. LBJ’s time as Minority Senate Leader and then Majority Senate Leader put him in a rare position to get legislation passed. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 was signed into law by LBJ sitting at a picnic table outside the first school he attended with his first teacher by his side.

One has to wonder how LBJ would operate today. He sold his legislation to conservatives on giving a helping hand so people can improve themselves. Today, we seem to be in a mood to not do anything for people but to make them improve all on their own, despite poor schools, broken families, poverty, ill-health, etc. We could use his political skills today and his concern for helping people.

We had lunch in Hye TX, a small unincorporated community where the cafe is housed with the post office. At this post office in 1965, LBJ’s Postmaster General was sworn in. Down the road ten miles, we had a snack of peach ice cream at a small cafe/gift store/fruit stand.

On our drive to our hotel in Kerrville, we stopped in Luckenbach. Luckenbach, I believe, exists solely as a place where an establishment acts as a general store, bar, and dance hall. During the afternoon, free music flows. An eclectic gathering of locals, tourists, bikers, and VW drivers were in the crowd. (Evidently the Texas VW Classic is happening in Fredericksburg this weekend.)

Video of Luckenbach Texas

Ed and Chris

Categories: road trip, travel | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2017 Trip Two: Tour of Texas April 12-13

Austin, Texas. April 12. Wednesday

Graffiti Hill in Austin

1,483. That is the number of school children scheduled to be visiting the Bullock State History museum today, as we were told by several docents and employees. It was the largest number in several weeks and they expected to be busy. They were busy, but the museum is large (three floors) and we were not overly bothered by throngs of young students.

Our arrival at the museum was preceded by dropping off our car at the Austin Subaru dealership for its 30,000 mile check-up. It was a little before it was needed but there aren’t any dealerships in the sections of West Texas we will be visiting over the next week to ten days and the miles will be adding up. The dealership provided us with a ride downtown and picked us up in the afternoon.

Bullock Texas State History Museum

AAA rates this museum as a gem and said to expect to spend three hours here. We were here for 4.5 hours, including lunch in their cafe and did a pretty good job of visiting exhibits of interest. There were two exhibits that we went through quickly (Music Festivals and Stevie Ray Vaughn).

As one expects of a state history museum, the focus is on Texas history from Native Americans through its time under Spanish and then Mexican rule up to the 20th century. The Texas Independence movement a highlight and is told from the American side, as one would expect. The Mexican immigrants and European settlers that were invited into this province of Mexico were losing their previously granted freedom of action and subject to stronger central Mexican rule. They chafed under it and demanded their independence. Mexico said no way and the Mexican army was the better prepared.

Then in 1836 came Mexican victories at the Alamo and Goliad (lesser known outside of Texas but the Texas rebels were slaughtered by the Mexican forces). Instead of shutting down the independence drive, the two losses fueled it. Sam Houston and his troops defeated the larger and better trained Mexican forces under Santa Anna at San Jacinto and Texas became a newly independent country. In 1845, under request of the Republic of Texas, Texas was annexed into the United States. It was not an easy decision, even though many Texans were for it from the beginning. Some Texans wanted to remain a separate country and many US Northerners did not want an additional slave holding state to enter the US. The Republic of Texas faced a mounting debt, a weak currency, and continual threats of invasion by Mexico. Becoming part of the Unites States addressed those issues. The Mexican-American Was of 1846-48 (or from the Mexican side, the War of the United States against Mexico) resolved the question of Texas and portions of today’s Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and California were added to the United States.

I was struck by how long-lasting and deep can be the development of cultural myths and story lines. All history is complicated but people have a pattern of developing a concise world view that is usually based on some facts but which facts are kept and which discarded form the lens by which we decide current issues.

Texas’ varied geography is shown along with the crops and minerals produced by those different geographic areas. Wool, rice, cotton, cattle, goats, lumber, mercury mining, wheat, and oil all played a major role in different areas. The new role of technology is presented but we breezed through that.

As we have seen in other museums, the fact that cowboys were not really white males with European ancestry but began as Mexicans and were significantly influenced by newly freed blacks after the Civil War was prominently shown.

The Broken Spoke honey tonk restaurant in Austin

Our Evergreen hosts took us to a honky-tonk restaurant (the Broken Spoke) for dinner and for a ride around Austin. The photo at the top of the page illustrates “Graffiti Hill”, a landmark Austin shows off to outsiders. People are invited to paint their own graffiti message and the wall changes constantly. We saw several new works of art going up as we stood there.

Treaty Oak in Austin

A second stop was the Treaty Oak, the last remaining oak tree from a grove of trees (the others fell victim to neglect and urban development) standing when, according to folklore, Stephen Austin negotiated a treaty with Indians. In 1989 a vandal poured an enormous amount of pesticide on the roots of the tree. Two-thirds of the tree died but a massive effort funded by a “blank check” from H. Ross Perot of Dallas saved the rest of the tree.

Thursday, April 12

Glass bottom boat on Spring Lake at the Meadows Center

From glass bottom boat: Turtle, scuba diver, springs bubbling up

Our drive to San Antonio took us through San Marcos, Texas and we stopped at the Meadows Center for Water and Environment run by Texas State University. The Meadows is located at a spring on the Edwards Aquifer, a huge aquifer providing drinking water for people from Austin to San Antonio. The spring is on a fault where the flat land starting at the Gulf of Mexico ends and the hills of the Texas Hill Country begin. The aquifer bubbles up here through numerous springs and creates Spring Lake where we took a glass bottom boat ride. The boat ride allows one to see the springs bubbling up, turtles, fish, vegetation, and two scuba divers who were trimming the vegetation underwater so it does not get out of control.

Mission San Jose y San Miguel de Aguayo

In San Antonio we stopped at one of the five missions still standing from the 1718-1824 period when the Spanish originated missions were vital in establishing control and settlement. The missions are now church buildings run by the Catholic archdiocese in San Antonio while also part of the National Park Service.

San Jose Mission in San Antonio Texas

The Park Service has films and displays about the Spanish role in colonization. Native Americans were decimated by European diseases and threatened by other Indian tribes. A number of the Indians gave up their way of life for a chance at survival by living at the missions and being almost forced labor to keep the missions functioning. It did work in that many Indians were converted to Catholicism and are a significant cultural force in Texas today. It also was one of the factors in the loss of Indian traditions.

Ed and Chris. April 13

Categories: road trip, travel | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

2017 Trip Two: Tour of Texas April 10-11

Austin, Texas April 11

Monday, April 10

Austin is a short drive down I-35 from Dallas-Fort Worth but we, of course, drove the longer, smoother, and more scenic route along two lane roads west of I-35. The wildflowers re-appeared but not in the same profusion as around Ennis. The northern half of the route is hilly, once again surprising us about Texas geography. The ranches are different from the farms of the Midwest-no huge silos to store the crops.

Our first stop was at the junction of I-20 and US 281 as we began the two lane road drive. Gilbert Pecans beckoned to us and we purchased some pecans for us and for my sister (to use to hopefully make a pecan pie). Our second stop was in Hico Texas, population 1300, for a piece of pie at a local, well-known pie shop.

The Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library In Austin

In Austin, we visited the Presidential Library of Lyndon Johnson at the University of Texas-Austin campus. LBJ’s library is well done, being completed in 1971, shortly before his death. There are several levels of exhibits, with six floors of archived records also in the building. This was a Presidential Library which we both appreciated.

LBJ had a tremendous record of legislative accomplishments, although the Vietnam War legacy is one that he can not escape. Sometimes we forget that he chose not to run for re-election almost seven years before the war actually ended. During the five years of his presidency, monumental legislation was passed; such as: Medicare, Head Start, the War on Poverty, Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, Immigration Act (changing from heavy European preference to world-wide acceptance), creation of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Clean Water Act, VISTA, new educational programs, National Foundation for the Arts and Humanities (think Sesame Street and Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and other programs), etc.

Part of the records collection of the library-maintained by the National Archives

It was somewhat disheartening to think that today, fifty years later, we are still arguing how to implement voting rights, how to get kids properly educated, how to allow immigrants in from non-European countries, etc.

One story we had to pull out of a library aide was the details behind the courtship of Lyndon and Lady Bird. The exhibits only mentioned the dates they met and the date they married. Lady Bird came from a well-to-do family, Lyndon did not. A friend lined up a blind date for the two of them when Lyndon was home from his job as a congressional aide in D.C. They spent the weekend together and Lyndon proposed, Lady Bird declined. They corresponded for the next two months, he came home at Thanksgiving, she accepted and they eloped.

The library allows you to listen to numerous selections of telephone conversations between Johnson and others on a variety of topics. One moving conversation we listened to was between the President and Jackie Kennedy about two weeks after JFK’s assassination. The fondness between the two was touching. Another feature here was a modern-day triptych, a series of three-part panels combining TV clips and memorabilia about the cultural and political happenings over three-year periods around the time of his Presidency.

After the Library, we had lunch at La Madeline, a national chain but a nice French cafe style restaurant. On our way to our Austin Evergreen hosts, we stopped at Mueller Lake. We thought it was just a park and we would get a little exercise walking around the lake. Turns out Mueller Lake is a 700 acre former airport now being converted into a planned community within the City of Austin. The lake does have walkways so we hiked around it land got our extra exercise for the day.

Sunset view from Mt. Bonnell overlooking the Colorado River and downtown Austin at the far left

Our Evergreen hosts took us out exploring that evening. We visited Covert Park at Mount Bonnell. The park provides a great observation point for the city, showcasing the hills along the Colorado River; the other Colorado River. This Colorado River begins in Texas, south of Lubbock, and travels 862 miles to the Gulf of Mexico, all within the state of Texas.

Peacock roosting at night

After Covert Park, we made a quick stop at Mayfield Preserve, home to a group of peacocks. The peacocks were roosting in the trees for the evening. It was amazing seeing the birds with their feathers hanging down from the branch the bird was perched on.

Tuesday, April 11

One can not control the weather. We had planned for this day to be our time outdoors, hiking and observing nature. The rain slowed us down and made a slight adjustment to the planned schedule. The initial stop was at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the Texas Arboretum. Two and a half hours gave us plenty of time to walk the trails, view and smell the flowers, and even eat lunch during the heaviest portion of the rain.

A selection of photos from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin Texas

The Center is 279 acres, self-supporting, devoted to education and research, an arm of the University of Texas, and specializing in native wildflowers of Texas. The gardens and trails were well laid out, with plenty of color to keep me busy snapping photos. The rains came about 90 minutes into our walk so we visited the inside exhibits and then had lunch in their cafe.

The Texas State Capitol clad in red granite from Texas

After lunch, the rain persuaded us to drop McKinney Falls State Park and went to the Texas State Capitol for a tour. The Texas Capitol is the largest capitol in the nation, is 14 feet higher than the U.S. Capitol, and underwent a major renovation and expansion in 1993. The Texas Legislature meets for 140 days every other odd-numbered year. Thus, it was in session while we were here. Tours could not go into the chambers but after our tour we did go into the visitor gallery and view each chamber.

The tour was strong on the major points of Texas history, the control by six different nations; Spain, France, Mexico, the independent Republic of Texas, the Confederate States, and the United States. Portraits of all Texas Presidents and Governors are on the walls, including the first woman Governor (who served two separate terms, the first being in 1924).

The dome of the Texas State Capitol

The Capitol itself was, while imposing and majestic, a disappointment in terms of artistic embellishments. Most of the state capitols we have toured have entire corridors devoted to large, grandiose, and impressive murals and paintings. The Texas Capitol walls are uniformly white. Only in the Senate chambers are two large paintings, one for the battle of the Alamo and one for the battle of San Jacinto.

A separate visitors center is located on the grounds of the Capitol complex, housed in the former General Land Office. In this building were excellent displays that explained the building of the current Capitol. In brief, this second Capitol (the first went up in flames) was financed by two Chicago investors who received a land grant of 3,000,000 acres of land out by the border with New Mexico. Unfortunately for the Chicago guys, the land grant did not make them rich. The market for beef fell apart. The land was too far out to really cash in on settlers homesteading the area. But the Capitol got built.

One other novelty was mentioned in the exhibits. O. Henry, the short story novelist, moved to Texas in 1882 when he was 20. From 1891-1894, he worked in the General Land Office (where the visitor center is located) and several of his short stories include significant references to this building and people he worked with while here.

walking in the Japanese Garden in Zilker Botanical Garden in Austin TX

After the Capitol, the skies were only gray and drizzly so we drove to the Zilker Botanical Gardens. This 31 acre garden has separate sections maintained by different garden clubs in the City of Austin. The Japanese Garden was built by one man, when he was 70, over the course of two years. He had retired and moved here to be near his son. He had free time and offered to help at the garden. They asked him to construct a Japanese garden. He designed and constructed the wonderful garden we observed today.

A selection of photos from the Zilker Botanical Gardens

Prehistoric Gardens at the Zilker

We spent 90 minutes here walking the grounds; we had our rain jackets but the skies remained just gray with no major rain. The rain earlier in the day made the walking stones slippery but the leaves still had raindrops glistening on them and the odors of the flowers were rich and heavy.

Dirty Martin’s in Austin TX

Dinner was at Dirty Martin’s, an establishment dating back to 1926. It is an old style (in the best sense of the words) hamburger joint, serving burgers, fries, and shakes-and alcohol now. We love to visit restaurants that have stood the test of time but which today have to fight the franchise chains and newest “in” restaurant. We talked to the staff, one cook having been here for 20 years. The General Manager showed us around and gave us the history. He is working to keep attracting new customers while still maintaining the regulars. In today’s world, the name Dirty Martin’s can have several negative connotations; yet the name has its history-it goes back to the original days when the floor was made of dirt.

I was impressed with the cleanliness; remembering back to my youth and the amounts of grease on and behind the stoves at the restaurants our family owned. Our Evergreen hosts had recommended the place and we were happy they had. Of course we had burgers with onion rings and tater tots, chocolate malt for Ed and an orange creamsicle for Chris (vanilla ice cream with Fanta orange pop).

Ed and Chris April 11

Categories: road trip, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2017 Trip Two: Tour of Texas April 8-9

Fort Worth Texas Sunday April 9

Above: An early photo of the stockyards; Below some of the remaining cattle pens

Saturday April 8
Saturday was a tourist type day. The Stockyards area of Fort Worth is a historical area, focused on the old stockyards. History buffs probably recall there were major stockyards in Chicago, Omaha, Fort Worth and South Saint Paul MN. Only Fort Worth has really maintained a vestige of the old buildings.

Here in Fort Worth, after the Civil War cattle were herded from the ranching communities to railheads, locations where the cattle were loaded onto train cars and shipped east to be slaughtered. Fort Worth had business leaders who realized the future was not in shipping the cattle but in producing the beef here. Swift and Armour, two of the major beef processing companies, were attracted here in the early 1900s and built plants across the street from each other.

One interesting story about the stockyards is that financial struggles were causing concerns about its ability to survive in the early 1890s. A Boston investor came out to check the situation. He observed cattle pens that were full and figured this was a great investment. He bought in and provided financial security. However, the pens were abnormally full due to wet weather and a railroad strike that limited the ability to move cattle out. The data for the Boston investor was bad, but the investment proved strong.

During WWII, meat rationing and price controls led to some black market meat production, particularly at smaller plants around the country. After WWII, the demand for meat exploded and the small plants started to grow. The stockyards in Chicago, Omaha, South St. Paul, and Fort Worth now had older facilities and found it hard to compete. By 1971, the last plant here had closed.

The Livestock Exchange

Several of the buildings still exist. The Exchange Building where stock were sold. The Coliseum, where livestock auctions were held (site of our Friday night rodeo). The Livery, where horses were stabled. The Railroad Station, where trains came in. The pens, where stock were kept until slaughtered. The old hotel where people slept when here on business.

A few of the activiites occurring in the Stockyards district

The historical district runs an active tourist program. Rides in buggies, stagecoaches, etc are offered. Horseback rides are available. People dressed in period dress walk the streets and talk to people. Several cowboys are riding horses down the Main Street so little, and big, kids can pet the horses and get their pictures taken with the horse and cowboy. Twice a day, the cowboys drive about a dozen longhorn cattle from the pens down the Main Street for tourists to see and take pictures. So we played the tourist and just took it easy.

Longhorn cattle

We toured the buildings. We went through a small museum. We shopped and actually bought a few items. We people watched. We took pictures. We ate lunch at a small,less-touristy cafe. We sat and relaxed. We viewed the Longhorns at their pens.

Saturday evening we made 5:00 PM Palm Sunday service and went out to eat with our Evergreen hosts and some friends at a local barbecue restaurant. Tall tales were told and promises made not to spread them around. Sorry.

Sunday, April 9
The United States has had only two father-son combinations as President. The Adams and the Bushes. Last week we visited the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library (the 41st). Today, Sunday, we visited the Presidential Library for George W. Bush, the 43rd President of the United States. It is at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. SMU is the host; Laura Bush went to SMU and the Bushes live in Dallas.

At the George W Bush Presidential Library at SMU in Dallas

Bush was President from 2001 to 2009. He was President during the 9/11 tragedy, the Hurricane Katrina tragedy, and the Financial Crisis of 2008. As do most Presidential Libraries, there is a replica of the Oval Office. The displays are more technically savvy, the print on the exhibits is large and easy to read. The exhibit did a decent job of summarizing the Bush Presidency.

What we did find lacking in the library, was information about George Bush before he became President. No information on his time as Governor, nothing about his one failed attempt to become a U.S. Congressperson, extremely little about his business career, and relatively light on college and military. Still, it was two hours well spent. Other people seemed to agree; this library was much busier than the library for Bush 41. Bush 43 Library has only been open for four years; so far the numbers show twice the attendance for Bush 41. Of course, Bush 43 is in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area; Bush 41 is located in College Station with a metro area population less than 1/10 of DFW.

One of the Frederic Remington paintings at Sid RIchardson museum in Fort Worth

After the library and lunch, we visited another western art museum. Sid Richardson was an independent oil driller/explorer who struck it rich and lost it all several times. Finally, he found consistent success in West Texas and became extremely wealth. The Sid Richardson Museum is in downtown Fort Worth and focuses on western art, similar to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. This is an excellent gallery, full of Frederic Remington and Charles Russell and a few others. The gallery is relatively small, less than fifty works of art on display. Of particular value is the gallery brochure which each visitor receives. The brochure identifies each piece of art, describes its strong points, when it was painted, etc. A visitor to this free museum can walk around the gallery and read about each painting with ease from this brochure.

Sundance Square in downtown Fort Worth

Our final stop was to Sundance Square in downtown Fort Worth. Sundance Square is an integral part of the revitalization of the downtown. We sat in the square and watched the children play in the splash fountains. Downtown has a vibrant combination of historic and new buildings created by a coalition of political and civic leaders.

We wrap our evenings discussing all sorts of topics with our Evergreen hosts.

Ed and Chris

Categories: road trip, travel | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.