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Showing posts from January, 2008

Fort Davis to Deming, and a dust storm to boot

January 30, 2008 -- Fort Davis to Deming

A series of storms that attacked Southern California over the past few days created high-wind conditions at Fort Davis and all around West Texas and the southern part of New Mexico. As far as I was concerned, it was another in a long string of bad things that have been coming out of California lately. We'd seen what we wanted to see here in the Davis Mountains and were anxious to get going. However, I also didn't want to drive in winds gusting to 60mph -- not with this big ol' slab-sided bus. So we watched the weather, extended our stay by a day, and watched the weather some more. By carefully analyzing the governments best forecasts and applying a little common sense (very little), I thought I saw an opening... a small window of opportunity between two systems. If we decided to go, it'd mean getting up early and hitting the road right after sunrise in order to do an end-run around the big winds.

We have a very democratic system f…

The Star Party at McDonald Observatory

January 27, 2008 -- Fort Davis, TX

I've always been fascinated by space and all the incomprehensible things about the universe in which we live. As I was going through my K-12 years in the late 50's and the 60's, the US Space Program was going all out to get a man on the moon before 1970. It was an amazing time in which most of the country was united behind this common goal and there was a "can-do" feeling that transcended the Space Program. There was a sense that we could do anything... that anything was possible. This was all very exciting for a kid, whose young mind was also influenced by TV shows like Star Trek or Lost in Space that added visual substance to a kid's dreams of space exploration and the wonders of what's out there.

We did reach the moon in 1969 and achieved the nation's goal. For a short time during the next few years going to the moon became almost routine. We launched 6 missions that successfully landed on the moon -- the last one i…

Wide Open West Texas

January 26, 2008 -- Leaving Marathon, TX

With the exception of El Paso, there are 8 large counties that make up the part of Texas that's often referred to as West Texas. If you look at a map it's that big point that sticks out to the west from the rest of the State. As we trek westward through this part of the country the thing that really gets my attention is the complete lack of people, or just about anything else for that matter.

Coming from the suburbs of a large metropolitan city, I'm used to living with thousands of people following me around and trying to get a parking place closer to the store. I learned to tolerate standing in lines and getting pushed and shoved while trying to buy a Christmas gift for my sweetie. At the intersection near my home I always had to wait for traffic before I could squeeze out onto the main road. And then there are all the rules and regulations that you must follow... building codes, zoning regulations, no left turn here, no parking the…

Overview of Big Bend National Park

January 25, 2007 -- Marathon, TX

Hi everyone. I'm back at the PC and pecking away to catch up on the Sabbatical Blog. I'm learning to not like these big breaks in the blog... it's been something like 5 days since my last post. It's far easier to do 5 small daily post than to organize and write one that tries to span 5 days. But the past few days I've had little time to write and I'll just get you all caught up with our goings-on.

This past Monday morning, after talking with some people at breakfast here at Marathon Motel and RV Park, we made the command decision to leave the camper here, right where it sits in Marathon, and "commute" down into the park for our visits. We had planned to move the camper down to the park but we heard places to camp are limited in the park and a couple other nearby options aren't ideal for a number of reasons. So Marathon became our base of operations for the week.

Big Bend National Park, about 40 miles south from here, …

Heading into Big Bend National Park

January 20, 2008 -- Marathon Motel and RV Park in Marathon, TX

For the next few days, starting tomorrow, Monday, we're going to be in and around Big Bend National Park. We're told there is NO cell phone coverage and it's unlikely we'll be able to connect to the internet. We will attempt to check our cell phone voice messages once a day or so by land-line phone.

Blog updates and additions to our photo collection will have to wait until we're out of the park later in the week.

Thanks to all of you who check in on our website occasionally. We're doing this website and blog to keep all of you informed, entertained, and to create a lasting documentation of our travels. Often, it's your kind comments and feedback that motivate us to keep it up and to strive to do a better job.

We'll be back later in the week.

T & D

Yikes! 5.9f Sunday Morning Degrees

Sunday, January 20, 2008 -- Marathon Motel and RV Park in Marathon, TX

That's not a typo in the headline... that's really a little dot between the 5 and the 9. It was actually 5.9f degrees at one point here in Marathon last night. The forecast, which I follow a couple times daily, was for 18f in this part of Texas. 18f would have been an acceptable number... the same temp as the night before and the coldest we would have experienced since starting this adventure last summer. I was confident we could handle 18f and we were ready to give it a try. Alpine, a larger town to the west and 500 feet higher in elevation, recorded an overnight low of 23f. Other places in West Texas were also in the 20's. But not here in old Marathon. No sir! We had 5.9f -- I don't know why. It probably had to do with the elevation (over 4,000 ft.), the lack of any humidity in the air, the lack of any wind, and the clear skies... any heat just radiates out into space. I never expected to encounte…

Roy Bean and the Drive to Marathon

January 19, 2008 -- Marathon Motel and RV Park in Marathon, TX.

Just up the road about 20 miles from Seminole Canyon State Park is the town of Langtry, TX. Well, to call it a town is perhaps an overstatement. It's about a mile off US Hwy 90 and only a short walk from the Rio Grande River, and if it weren't for people like me, who like the 1972 John Huston film "The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean" (which starred Paul Newman), I don't think anyone would voluntarily slow down to make the turn into town.

In fact, there was a character by the name of Roy Bean who lived out in these parts during the 1880's and 1890's. It was a wild and rugged time with the main economic activity of the area involving the building and operation of the second transcontinental railroad -- The Southern Pacific. He was a store owner and saloon-keeper who was appointed justice-of-the-peace to help keep a little order in a largely lawless land.

Bean held court in his saloon and often e…

Seminole Canyon

January 18, 2008 -- Seminole Canyon State Park near Comstock, TX

Sometime around 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, some native hunter/gatherer Indians would occasionally occupy large natural limestone shelters created by flash-flood waters at bends in various canyons near here. These shelter areas were carved out of the relatively soft limestone by water washing away the softer lower portions of the rock walls leaving an over-hanging upper portion that served as a protective roof. While occupying these spaces, some of these natives got a little creative, mixed natural pigments into paints, and painted figures on the walls and ceilings of many of these shelters around this area of Texas and Mexico. These paintings, or pictographs, are very old and supposed to represent things that were important to these people.

In order to protect these important early works of art, the State of Texas purchased some of the lands around Seminole Canyon in an area along the Rio Grande River just to the west of th…

Headlights

January 16, 2007 -- Last night at Braunig Lake RV Park in San Antonio, TX

The bus has been the our focus the past few days. As you've probably read in a previous blog posting we found a problem with our headlights during a light check one morning a month or more ago. The low-beams don't stay on reliably. Even though the headlight switch is on, they'll go off and come on intermittently. It's not been a problem up to this point as we haven't had to travel at night yet. But that day will come and, after all, isn't this one of those basic systems, like brakes and the I.R.S., that you trust will always work and will always be there when you need them?

To make a long story short, the problem turned out to be the high beam/low beam switch in the steering column. After some difficulty in finding the exact cause of the problem, and the manufacturer shipping the wrong part once, we finally resolved the issue and have full, reliable headlights once again. When the bus wasn&…

Everybody's Somebody in Luckenbach

Sunday, January 13, 2008 -- Braunig Lake RV Park in San Antonio, TX

The area North and West of San Antonio, and West of Austin, is referred to as The Texas Hill Country. In stark contrast to the broad coastal plain to the east and south, the rugged and dry limestone hills cover an area roughly half the size of Wisconsin and are part of the transition between the wetter areas to the east and the arid west. There's little soil to absorb rainfall when it does occur and flashfloods are not unusual. In some ways it looks desolate and forbidding; in other ways, strangely attractive. I found the area comfortable, even homey, and very scenic.

This past Sunday, the 13th, we trekked north through the Hill Country about 60 miles to the town of Johnson City. This is the hometown of Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th President of the USA. Johnson City got it's name from an ancestor of Lyndon's back in the middle 1800's. The Johnson Family has been in these parts since those days.

The vis…

Big Texas

Tuesday, January 15, 2008 -- Braunig Lake RV Park in San Antonio, TX

Texas is Big, with a capital "B". As a small town boy from Wisconsin, I grew up with a distance scale that had important things just an hour or less away. Milwaukee and Madison, the towns where our TV broadcasts originated, were both an hour away, more or less. That exotic resort town of Wisconsin Dells was also about an hour from home. Sometimes we went shopping or visiting relatives in Fond Du Lac -- yup, an hour or so away. My world, even as a young teen, was an hour or so in any direction.

Now compare that with some facts from Texas:

* if you get up one morning in Dallas and start driving west, after three long hours on the road you'll find yourself coming into Abilene. As you exit to grab a quick lunch, confident you're making good progress, you see a sign that says you're still 430 miles from El Paso -- more than 7 hours away at 60mph -- and you'll still be in Texas at the end of the day.

Downtown San Antonio

January 13, 2008 -- Braunig Lake RV Park in San Antonio, TX

Our excursion to downtown San Antonio ended as daylight faded and the city lights were coming on. We decided to take a table on a balcony overlooking the River Walk, order a couple martinis, watch people go by, and simply relax and enjoy the end of the day. I have this love/hate thing with crowds. I hate standing in lines, waiting, getting pushed, and dealing with rudeness. Driving in heavy traffic is just the mechanized version of the same thing. I hate it. But I do like being around other people -- even lots of other people -- as long as it's a more relaxed setting. There's an energy that comes from being around others, talking, laughing, and making wise-cracks, as long as there's a common goal of enjoyment, a degree of civility, and everyone can keep their competitive natures in check. As the day ended today, we had that. Of course, a couple jiggers of gin didn't hurt.

After our early morning exercise walk, w…

More San Antonio Missions

January 12, 2008 -- Braunig Lake RV Park in San Antonio, TX

During the 18th century, Spain had possession of much of the Americas, including most of what is now the USA west of the Mississippi River. This was an immense geography populated only by a wide variety of native American Indians. Realizing the only way they'd have a chance to maintain control of these far-off and desolate lands, Spain sent forth Franciscan Friars into the new world to indoctrinate the natives in the religion and culture of the Spanish people. The thought was that since there are no native Spaniards to populate and control their lands in America, they'd create "Spaniards" from the natives. Thus, in the early 1700's, missions sprang up throughout the Spanish west. There were many failures and some successes, but by the mid-1700's there were 5 successful mission communities along the banks of the San Antonio River in what is today the City of San Antonio. They all used the San Antonio r…

San Antonio Area

January 11, 2008 -- Braunig Lake RV Park in San Antonio, TX

This writer has a lot of catching up to do. I just looked at my last post and it was 5 days ago -- not acceptable! I'll try to pick up the pace a little.

In my last post I wrote about our visits to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and the Fulton Mansion. On January 6th, we took our bikes back to Aransas and rode the entire 17 mile loop through the refuge. Due to the relatively high winds we probably didn't see nearly as much wildlife as we would have if it were calmer. But we did see a number of 'gators, including a young one only a couple feet long and a much older one that was something like 10 or 12 feet long. Unfortunately, I didn't bring a measuring tape along so Dar could get the exact length. There are a couple pictures of these guys in our online photo collection.

Based on our limited experience it seems armadillos are one of the most common animals at the Aransas Refuge. They're all over. On our …

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

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January 6, 2008 -- Sandollar Resort near Rockport, TX

There are only maybe three places in the continental USA where a person can get, more or less, away from winter: Southern Florida, South Texas, and parts of the Southwest. We haven't spent a winter in Florida yet but have heard that it can be very crowded and very expensive. The Southwest can be crowded and expensive (near San Diego or Los Angles), it can be desolate and dusty (in the desert of Southwestern Arizona), and it can be cold and wet, as it was this year. South Texas varies from year to year as well, but our first experience with wintering in a warmer place has been a good one. Both of us really like the Rockport area. It's hard to beat the weather. People are very friendly, there's great fresh seafood, it feels laid-back and comfortable. I think we'll be back again.

A couple days ago we drove over to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. This place is only about 20 miles from our camper the way the pelican …

A Cool Start to the New Year

January 3, 2008 -- Sandollar Resort near Rockport, TX

A cold front blew across the region New Years Eve and we've had morning lows near freezing the past couple of days. But the days redeem themselves with light winds and mostly sunny skies, and highs around 60. Compared to the beating much of the rest of the country is taking this winter, you'll hear no complaints from this guy.

We normally don't do much on New Years Eve. But this year we were torn between going with one group of neighbors to a nearby retirement community dance (bring your own bottle, snacks, oxygen) or walking with another group down to the neighborhood bar -- Alice Faye's on the Bay -- complete with rock band, crowds, bawdiness, and fun. So, in typical Midwest fashion, we ended up doing both. Dar likes all kind of dance and had a good number of turns on the floor at both places.

Getting home at 2am, at least for us, means it's going to be late the next morning before we're awake and taking nour…