Wednesday, March 31, 2010

OK, a Bit Breezy

I have a suspicion that the "Oklahoma" is an old Indian word that means "strong wind that blows horses away". Since we've been here strong southerly winds have been relentless. Steady winds of 20 to 30 or more, gusts to 40 or more... it's kinda hard to eat outside and keep your peas on your paper plate.

After listening to locals and the weather reporters on TV I've come to understanding that this is normal. "It's always windy in Oklahoma." "Normal Spring weather." "Windy? I hadn't noticed anything out of the ordinary."

This morning we're camped on top a windy knob just a couple miles west of Guthrie Oklahoma. Yesterday, Tuesday, we made the decision to move from our free campsite along  Elk Lake and make a run to the Oklahoma City area, where we'll be through this coming weekend. The drive over was all non-I-roads, most of which were in very good condition. The route was north on OK-34 our of Elk City to OK-33, which we took east to Guthrie.

As I mentioned, generally the roads were in good shape and wide enough to allow for some wiggling and waggling caused by the strong crosswind. But there was one 30 mile segment that wasn't fun at all... narrow lane, NO shoulder -- in fact an immediate drop-off from the pavement, old broken and pot-holed asphalt... there was maybe a foot of play on either side of the 8-1/2 foot wide bus-house. Then add the wind.  Then add the experience with two extra wide loads that we encountered.

A year or so we had a similar experience, I don't remember exactly where. These extra wide load caravans (the truck carrying the wide thing is preceded by a pilot car with signage and flashing orange lights) came up behind us quickly. The speed limit on this section of road is 65mph. Because of the wind I was doing 55 or so. As I mentioned, the road is narrow and has a drop-off from the pavement to the ditch -- there's no room for mistakes. Oh, and the area we're traveling through is hilly with few passing zones.

The first pilot car races past us the first opportunity he has. Now we're between the pilot car and the truck with the wide load. I surmise the pilot car races ahead checking for oncoming traffic, and when it's clear, he radios back to the truck driver who then starts passing on an uphill no-passing double yellow line. I judged the wide load to be 4 or 5 feet wider than the truck on both sides -- meaning the full width of the load had to be 16 or 18 feet... and they're trying to fit that down a lane that's maybe 10 feet wide with us in the other lane and no place to go. All I could do was slow down, nestle up as close as I could to the right side of the pavement, hope a wind gust doesn't hit us, hold my breath, squint, and wait for it to be over.

I honestly can't tell you how they managed to get by without making contact with the bus-house, or ripping off my mirror, but they did. I think my eyes were closed during the height of the excitement. A few miles further on down the other half of this two truck caravan passed us the same way. Again, we emerged unscathed but breathing deeply.

We're at Cedar Valley RV Park until Monday. Today, Wednesday, we're driving into Oklahoma City (OKC as everyone here calls it) to visit the State Capitol and the National Memorial for the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. (Does it seem like 15 years have passed?)

Hunkered down on a hilltop ourside Guthrie Oklahoma...
Thom

Monday, March 29, 2010

#33 Oklahoma

Tonight will be our first night in Oklahoma since the start of our fulltiming project. In case you've forgotten, we have some pretty strict rules about what qualifies as a visit. But the requirements have been met and we can now put that 33rd notch in the bus-house's steering wheel.

We'll never get the bus-house to Hawaii, so that means there's 49 States that we can visit during our sabbatical. If I subtract 33 from 49, hmmm, let's see... that'd be 16 States still to go. And there's much more to explore in most of the States we've already visited. And then there's Canada. So much to do... so little time!

Today we left Palo Duro State Park. As I drove the bus-house out of the Canyon, Dar stayed behind to take pictures of the climb. The morning light was good and we have several candidates that may work as a header photo here on the RV Sabbatical Journal Blog in the near future.

Our route today took us out of the Park on SR-217 to I-27 North to Amarillo where we caught I-40 East. We normally prefer to stay off I-roads but Dar wanted information on Oklahoma and our best chance of finding an Oklahoma Welcome Center was along I-40. And we found one just 10 miles inside the border -- a wonderful facility, just 2 years old, and chock-full of exactly what Dar wanted.

Neither of us felt like a long day today, so we followed a lead and found a campsite on a small lake just south of Elk City, OK. It's a park operated by Elk City. They have 5 camping sites, reasonably large asphalt back-ins, right along the lakeshore with 30amp power for $o per night. That's right, it's free. There's a three night maximum stay but how's that for a deal? The water isn't turned on yet (remember winter?) but we had brought our own... always like to travel with at least a couple days worth of fresh water. And tonight, at least, we're the only ones here.


Under a big bright full moon, the silence is deafening...
T

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Up and Down Sunday

Sunday we explored the Canyon from top to bottom. There's a trail in the Park called the CCC Trail -- named after the Civilian Conservation Corps that was responsible for turning Palo Duro into a State Park back in the early 1930's. It roughly follows the route of the first trail into the canyon used by Indians and early settlers to the area.

But rather than starting at the top, we started at the bottom. In fact, the lower trailhead was just a short walk from our camp.

After the sun warmed things up (the low temps have been hitting the freezing mark the past couple days), the hiking boots were snugged up, and ample supplies of water and nourishment were tucked and attached, we headed for the trail.

Rated as moderately difficult, the first portion of the trail is a series of switchbacks up the side of the Canyon wall. It's not all that steep and was certainly less difficult than the last few hundred yards of our hike to Lighthouse Peak the other day. But the quick rise in elevation made for great entertainment as we enjoyed the changing view from progressively higher spots of the various landmarks below. For instance, we could keep an eye on the bus-house, way down there, during the first third of the hike. The overall elevation change was about 800 feet.

Once at the top of this portion, we walked along a narrow ridge that dropped off steeply to the Canyon floor on either side. There were ample opportunities to scare Dar, who has less tolerance for heights than most people. I'd walk ahead, find a flat rock jutting out over the Canyon walls, a shear drop a few hundred feet down, get as close to the edge as I dared and ask her to take a picture. As she realized where I was, the color drained from her face as she'd mumble something about a death-wish and how her next husband wouldn't be so stupid. What a hoot!

Eventually the path ended up in the parking lot of the Visitor's Center up top. The return hike was via the same route. It wasn't a long hike -- almost two miles each way, but the experience of going up that wall coupled with the great scenery, made it a most enjoyable way to kill half a day.


Spending a few days exploring Palo Duro Canyon was a neat experience. The lack of tourist pressure and the slow easy pace of things made it a thoroughly enjoyable stay. Since there's even more to explore I think we'll be back.

Tomorrow, Monday, we're heading east into Oklahoma. Not real sure where we'll end up, but for more than 1,000 nights now we've always come up with something.

Thom

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Panhandle Plains Historical Museum

Friday, Dar and I found internet access at the City of Canyon Texas Public Library. It's probably the most comfortable and quiet place to work online in town. My Verizon Aircard would work just fine here too, buy why not take advantage of the free wifi?

For lunch we tried Feldman's Wrong Way Diner [http://www.feldmansdiner.com/] which is...
"dedicated to anyone who has gone the wrong way, taken a wrong turn, made a wrong decision or in some way wandered off the beaten path....in other words: all of us at one time or another. Often, things just don't turn out the way you thought they would; but that's not always a bad thing."
I really liked this slogan and might steal it for my front page. It can apply to most of us at one time or another, and on a number of different levels. This quirky but lovable place was perfect for our needs. A friendly waitress, good food, and model trains running around on tracks up near the ceiling kept the enjoyment level up. We'll be back the next time we're near Canyon.

The next stop was the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum (PPHM) which is located on the campus of West Texas A&M University. With only two hours before their closing time, we charged in with the mission of seeing and learning as much as we could before they threw us out. Two hours is plenty of time for me in many museums, but this one is so well done that we could have spent a whole day there. The displays and artifacts held my attention, and the descriptions/write-ups were done at the right level -- intelligent enough to maintain my interest and keep boredom from setting in, but not too academic, esoteric, and over my head. In addition to the historical elements relating directly to the region, they have a large paleontology section and separate large collections of cars, guns, and art that would keep me coming back.

Unfortunately, the weather is in the news again. Another storm system started effecting the Texas Panhandle while we were in the City of Canyon Friday. This one won't produce much precipitation, but instead will blow like crazy for a couple days. Saturday they're predicting sustained winds of 40mph and gusts as high as 60mph. We've rigged the bus-house for turbulent conditions and rough seas and will hunker-down with a book and wait it out.

But not so for other travelers. Apparently some people have such tight schedules and so little flexibility in their plans that they've GOT to be out on the roads today. One couple staying in our campground left this morning (Saturday) in their big truck camper mounted on a way-too-small half-ton pickup truck --  probably the worst combination to be driving in strong winds. I hope they were planning on a good physical workout, 'cause I'm sure they'll get it while fighting the winds today.

Hunker'd down in a Huge Hole...
Thom

Friday, March 26, 2010

Hike to Lighthouse Peak

We gave the sun a couple hours to warm things up before heading up to the Palo Duro State Park visitors center at the top of the Canyon on Thursday. The building in which it's housed was built by the CCC in 1934. It's a one-story stone structure built from local materials and wedged into the side of the canyon wall just a short way from the front entrance to the Park. Spectacular views of the Canyon from this viewpoint are even more colorful when illuminated by the low morning sun.

Inside, there's a video of the history of the Canyon and the surrounding land known as the Llano Estacado, a large elevated arid plain that makes up most of the Panhandles of Texas, Oklahoma, as well as parts of New Mexico. A series of interesting displays describe the processes that created the Canyon and the various geologic layers exposed on its walls. Also notable is that the last skirmish with the plains Indians took place in the Canyon in 1874.

Palo Duro is Spanish for "hard wood", in reference to various species of mesquite, juniper, and other hard wood species that grow naturally in this canyon environment.

After the Visitor Center it was back into the Canyon and to a trail-head a couple miles from our camp. There we geared up and headed down the Lighthouse Trail, a 6 mile round trip to the most famous rock formation in the Canyon, Lighthouse Peak. The Peak isn't visible from any road inside the Canyon -- you've got to hike to it to see it.
It's a pleasant hike through the Canyon and around a series of peaks and ridges. By getting back into remote areas it's possible to see the full range of colorful layers of different rock and sediment that the Palo Duro Creek cut through to form the Canyon. About half way to our destination, Lighthouse Peak came into view. As we neared the base of the peak the climb became steeper. Recent wet weather made some steep portions of the climb slippery and tricky.
Lighthouse Peak is really two spires that are separated by a flat area of harder rock. That flat area provides a nice place to soak in the views of the Canyon all around you. We lingered to absorb it all. Of course, many dozens of pictures where shot -- most of which you thankfully won't have to slog through. The ones that survived will be posted in our online albums.
If you look closely in the above photo, you'll see an explorer posing on that flat area between the two peaks.  As always, you can click on any photo here to see a larger size.

The hike took four hours. Not having done much hiking in the past few months, both of us had rebelling muscles. That bed I mentioned yesterday was beckoning and I'm sure we'll sleep great tonight.

Feeling the pain in Palo Duro Canyon...
Thom

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Snow Bust

The weather in the Texas Panhandle on Wednesday left a lot to be desired. Another storm system and cold front swept through bringing wind, periods of rain, and cold temps which kept everyone wrapped up and close to a heat source all day. And there were predictions of snow overnight Wednesday night.

There's only one road down into the canyon in the State Park -- the one we took to get from the front gate (up-top) down to our campsite in Sagebrush Campground (at the bottom). I think I mentioned the other day that it's an old 1930's road, steep (10% grade), narrow, with no guard-rails at all. ("You pays you money and you takes you chances.") At the top and at the bottom of the steepest part I noticed some big orange traffic baricades, which I learned were employed when it becomes necessary to close the road, which happens during snow and ice storms -- like what we were expecting on Wednesday. If your camper is down in the canyon and you've dashed off for a day of exploring in, oh say Amarillo... and they need to close the road... well, you'll have to find another place to sleep, at least until nature takes it's course and the road re-opens again. No one goes down or up if it's closed.

Well, we had a couple errands to run and a few food essentials to pick up, so we dashed into town (up-top) about noon on Wednesday. But with temps hovering around 37f we didn't linger and scooted right back to the bus-house. I really didn't see myself sleeping in the car in the parking lot at the visitor center.

After a movie and some popcorn, and the 10pm weather report, we went to bed fully expecting to wake to a layer (2 to 3 inches, said the pro's) of snow covering the floor of the canyon. I woke about midnight to the sound of rain falling on the bus-house roof, but quickly nodded back to sleep, even more assured that the rain would change to snow -- just as they said it would.

This morning, the first eye popped open, glanced at the ceiling (projecting outdoor thermometer) and saw it was 31f outside. The other eye peered out... and saw nothing... no snow. Nada! Dang!

While rooting for snow isn't in my recent repertoire', we were both a little psyched by the possibility. We had nowhere to go, no schedule, no plans... so why not enjoy a little snow, especially when we knew it'd probably be melted and gone within a day? There would have been pictures, a journal entry, stories to tell our grandchildren... we would have gotten a lot of mileage out of the deal.

Instead, I have to write about it NOT snowing.

That's OK, I have a feeling we may still get our chance. This is still March, after all, and we're still working our way North. Anything can happen.

T

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

1,000 Nights

If my addition and subtraction is correct, and my long-term memory is still sort-of reliable, tonight will mark the 1,000th night I've slept in the bus-house. Dar is 9 days behind me because of a couple trips she made back to Wisconsin.

A couple points come to mind at this milepost. First, (and I know this is an over-used phrase) time passes so quickly. Both of us are just ecstatic about the turn of events, the guts, and the little bit of luck that made this lifestyle possible for us. We can't think of anything we'd rather be doing right now. And while 1,000 nights sounds like a long time, it feels like we just began a few months ago. And neither of us feel like we've even scratched the surface of things to see and places to explore in the USA and North America.

One of these years we're going to spend the summer in Alaska. We haven't been to New England or the Northeast at all. Utah and Colorado are calling, as is the vast Midwest full of friendly small towns and loaded with history. There's much more to experience in our favorite Northwest. And then there's Canada, the Maritime Provinces, Vancouver Island, the Canadian Rockies. And on and on.

And just what do we get out of it all? It's much more than sight-seeing... it's "living" in these diverse places. It's meeting people, going to the grocery store, local cafes and saloons, learning the history, the cares and concerns and issues of the people. There's a comfort and familiarity that replaces uncertainty or fear of the unknown. You see and understand that people are people everywhere, and that they're mostly approachable and kind and good-natured if given the chance.

The second point is that it's much easier to live in a small space than I thought. Surely, a necessary condition of this is a compatible easy-going partner. But if you've got that I'm now convinced it'd be easy to live in even less space than we have now. If you've got the right traveling mate you can live this lifestyle just fine in a hundred square feet. If you don't have the right traveling mate, a thousand square feet isn't going to be large enough.

Since you spend almost a third of your life in bed, it is important to have a great bed. For us, our full queen-size Tempurpedic mattress is our refuge from any discomfort that may creep into our lives during the day. We've been sleeping on a Tempurpedic for many years and, for us, it's the best.

Living and exploring fulltime in an RV is a series of compromises. A big-rig RV provides the ability to bring along more toys, stuff, and creature comforts... but it limits where you can go. The next phase of our life on the road, based on the way we live and what we like to do, will be to downsize  so we can camp and explore more primitive and off-the-beaten-path areas. But that's some distance in the future and until that time we're cool with what we've got... for at least the next 1,000 nights.

Pondering the possibilities...
Thom

Double Birthday

Today, March 24th, is a big birthday day in our family. Both my Dad and our youngest Grandson, Evan, were born on March 24th. Curiously, these two represent the oldest and the youngest members of both of our families. Wow!

Happy Birthday Dad!

Happy Birthday Evan!

We wish we were there to help you celebrate and hope you both have a great day.

Thom & Dar

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"Happiness is Lubbock Texas....

...in your rear-view mirror." With a nod to Mac Davis, this was the song stuck in my head today. And about noon, as we rolled north on I-27, we actually had Lubbock in our rear-view mirror for a while. I wasn't as happy about it as Mac was... to have written a song about it and all... but we did have an agreeable day for travel and the miles melted away as that tune played, over and over again, up in my head somewhere.

Today, Tuesday, our move was from Post Texas to Canyon Texas, a distance of some 160 miles. We were rolling a little after 9am. The route was easy -- US-84 to the 289 Loop around the east side of Lubbock to I-27 north. I haven't looked this up, but I-27 has to be right up there as one of the shortest Interstate Highways in the USA. It's total distance is only a little more than 100 miles, from Lubbock to Amarillo... that's it. And it never crosses a state line, so it's an "Interstate" in name only. Lightly traveled and smooth, we were in Canyon before 1pm.

I drove directly to the State Park, about 10 miles east of the town of Canyon. The main gate is at the top of the canyon. The campgrounds are all at the bottom of the canyon, a thousand feet or more down. We found a place up-top to park the bus-house, unhooked the car, and drove down to check out the road, clearances, and the two campgrounds recommended for big campers, Sagebrush and Mesquite. The road down is posted as a 10% grade, is narrow and includes a couple tight blind turns, but was fine otherwise. Only a handful of campers were in both campgrounds. We picked a spot in Sagebrush, drove back to the gate to pay, and retrieved the bus-house.

When in Zion last fall we came up with a technique for driving the fat bus-house on skinny, curvy, mountain roads. With a two-way radio in each vehicle, Dar drives the car out ahead of the camper, oh, maybe a 10th of a mile or so, and on blind curves radios back info about any cars going the opposite direction -- an early warning system that made the drive down easier.

Once in our campsite, leveled, and set up, we pulled out a couple chairs and soaked up the warm sun and the traditional "arrival-ale". Temps were well into the 70's this afternoon, but that looks like it's gonna change soon. There's another storm coming this way. It's dumping snow on Denver and the Front Range today, and will be moving southeast, bringing cold, rain, and snow to the Panhandle Region tomorrow. According to the weather reports, we're right on the line between light and moderate snowfall. This is still March, afterall, and while it might be Spring according to the calendar, Winter can assert itself well into April.

We have no cell phone or internet access at our campsite down in the canyon. During our stay here we'll be filing journal entries, uploading online photos, and gettting email an an irregular basis. I normally create journal entries in a text editor anyway and cut/paste the text into the blog when connected to the internet. It's a minor hassle really. I've said before that NOT having internet access is a good thing once in a while -- it helps control my Internet Addiction Disorder. We can pull in a few Amarillo TV stations and can always get Sirius radio if we get bored.

Camping in a Canyon...
Thom

Monday, March 22, 2010

Amarillo by Morning...

... but only if we had kept driving all night... which we didn't. Songs like this one from 1973 by Terry Stafford stick in my head and I was singing it all day as we drove into the Texas panhandle. It's fun to use old song titles as titles for journal entries and besides, it may be a while before I get back up here again. So use it while I can, right?

We actually made it as far as Post Texas, just 30 miles or so from the Lubbock Texas metroplex. Tonight's camp is at the Post View RV Park and we're only staying overnight. Tomorrow's drive will be considerably shorter than the 330 miles we did today. Our "early" start this morning was a few minutes before 9am, but hey, that IS early for us. Great Texas roads and light traffic on the route we took, plus cooperative weather, made the drive an easy one.

Tomorrow we'll make it to the Amarillo area, but not by morning... maybe early afternoon. Not sure where we'll camp yet, but we'll be early enough to find something interesting I hope.

Here are a couple photos from the day today...

Our campsite for the past week+ at Miller Creek near Johnson City. It looked like this when we left this morning.

Oil and Wind. This is energy country. Literally thousands of wind powered generators are all over the place... swarms of them. We're seeing these things pop up all over the USA but we've seen nothing like the numbers of them in North Central Texas.

The stately old McCulloch County Courthouse in Brady Texas.

Dar tried to capture a pic of some wildflowers in the ditch along the way.

And it's off to bed. Good-night all.
Thom

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sunday Blow-Out

Man, I'm glad we decided to stay at Miller Creek another day. As the recent storm and cold front pulled away from Texas last night and this morning, the skies cleared but the wind picked up to near gale force -- gusts well into the upper 30's mph. The bus-house was rockin' & rollin' all day today, but a lot less than if we'd have been on the road. I know some RV'ers say they don't let wind and weather hamper their travel plans, and they'll be on the road regardless. But this kid enjoys driving so much more when not battling wind and weather in addition to the normal traffic crazies. Besides, where do I have to be by a specific date or time? We're truly wandering and value the flexibility of going whenever and wherever we decide... and another reason we usually don't bother with reservations.

As I sit here writing about 5pm we're pretty much ready to go. Earlier today we pulled in the slides and moved to another site, one with a sewer connection. The gray and black tanks are empty, the fresh tank is half full, most things are stowed, bikes are on the rack, pizza for dinner tonight. All we have to do in the morning is unplug the power, hook up the car, and go. We should be moving early.

And moving early will be a good thing. If we make it as far as we'd like it'll be almost 300 miles tomorrow, more than we usually do, but an easy day IF we get an early start. The rough plan is to make it as far as somewhere north of Abilene tomorrow, overnight somewhere cheap, and drive the rest of the way to Canyon, TX. on Tuesday. Canyon is just south of Amarillo and is named for the nearby Palo Duro Canyon that we hope to explore this week.

Who knows, maybe the snow the panhandle got last Friday and Saturday will be gone by the time we get there.

Thom

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Last Winter Blast...

At least that's our hope. Most of the country is going to be affected by this one. It came blasting out of the North this morning about 5am... shaking the bus-house, thunderstorms, wind, and cold. It's not supposed to get out of the 40's here today.

We're heading toward Amarillo when we leave Miller Creek... had planned on leaving tomorrow, Sunday. I checked the temps around the country this morning -- Beaver Dam, our hometown in Wisconsin was 35f, the upper peninsula of Michigan was 32f, Willow Alaska was 34f... and Amarillo Texas was 21f.  Hmmm, maybe we should have gone to Alaska this Spring.

At any rate, we've decided to hang around here in the Texas Hill Country until Monday, which looks like a good travel day with light winds and blue skies. The next couple days we'll stick close to home.

Our campsite at Miller Creek doesn't have a sewer hookup. Most sites here are full hookup, but as busy as they are with rallys and lingering Winter Texans, the overflow area was the only spot we could park without having to move once in a while during our stay.  I'm hoping "overflow area" doesn't refer to holding tanks.  We're now on 12 days without dumping the tanks (65 gallons of gray water; 45 gallons of black water) and they're getting close to full. We're going to make it until tomorrow, Sunday, when we'll prepare the bus-house for travel and drive over to the dump station and clean things out. We'll then get back into our site, minimally set up for one more night, and get ready for traveling north early Monday.

Oh, I forgot to mention in this morning's journal entry that we did, in fact, find some bluebonnet wildflowers in Marble Falls yesterday. There weren't many though, just a smattering here and there. Dar took a couple pictures as proof. But I'm still not totally convinced that some sparky Texans didn't sneak out at night and stick plastic bluebonnets in the dirt along the roads -- just to get us Yank's all wound up. As always, photos online.

Rockin' and Rollin' in the Hill Country...
Thom

What the 'Ale...

A trip to the grocery store turned into an enjoyable lunch with Dar on the deck at River City Grille in Marble Falls Friday. This eatery is a local favorite, especially on warm sunny afternoons when their two-level deck overlooking Lake Marble Falls can be packed. Live music keeps things lively a few nights each week too. We lingered a while and just soaked in the warm sunny day.

Because things can get dreadfully dry around here during parts of the year, a series of dams were built along the Colorado River to create lakes that provide a drinking water source, especially for the nearby towns of Austin and San Antonio. The dam that created Lake Marble Falls, Max Startke Dam, was built around 1950. Unfortunately, as the lake rose it submerged the falls for which the town of Marble Falls was named. According to our waitperson at the Grille, the water level was lowered recently and the old falls emerged just upstream from where we were sitting -- proving to everyone that it's still there.

After a quick stop for some needed supplies at an HEB Store we headed for Blanco to visit Real Ale Brewing Company -- one of a handful of micro-breweries in Texas. It's a small operation and they're only open to the public on Friday afternoons. And this just happened to be a Friday afternoon! Imagine that?

Like almost everywhere else we went this week, there was a crowd. Although it was close, we were able to grab a parking spot and joined the crowd. The brewery had no less than six of their potions available for tasting -- and we tested no less than all six. We also took a tour of the facility and learned a little about what these small breweries do to compete with the big guys. I noticed that the crowd here, like people that frequent brewpubs and savor interesting beer are usually smiling, good natured, and having a good time.

Life is short, don't sip.

Thom

Friday, March 19, 2010

Looking Ahead

We had been planning to leave Miller Creek RV Resort on Sunday. Here's the weather forecast:
Sunday: Sunny, with a high near 64. Northwest wind between 15 and 20 mph, with gusts as high as 30 mph. 

Monday: Sunny, with a high near 75. West northwest wind around 10 mph becoming south.  
Maybe the lighter winds of Monday would be a better day?

Not-So Enchanted Search

Yesterday, Thursday, we came up so dry in our search for two different things, that we had to stop at Hondo's on Main in Fredericksburg to wet our whistle before it was possible to continue on home. What in the world could I be talking about?

First, we had a plan to see the famous Enchanted Rock. And not just to see it... but to climb it, all the way to the top... to lay on it... listen to it "sing"... feel the temperature change... become one with it. If you remember, we drove up to experience it last Saturday only to be confronted with a long line of traffic waiting to gain entry to the small park. Since we don't do lines well, we quickly decided to "bag it" for the day, and try again during a weekday. Well, yesterday was to be that weekday. Furthermore, we figured most people are going to rush to be there in the morning and we'll likely be able to drive right in, park, and hustle our way right up the side of the rock if  we hold off our arrival until mid afternoon.

But, as I write this, after a long day, we have yet to experience the enchantment of Enchanted Rock. After nearly an hour of driving, as we rounded a bend and topped a hill, there it was... a line of traffic backed up well over a half mile and stopped dead right in the main lane of travel. It was a longer line than on Saturday! Have these people nothing better to do on a Thursday afternoon than to sit in a stopped-dead line of traffic, 15 miles out in the country, as they wait, with wonder and starry-glazed eyes, that they'll hopefully, magically, be chosen for a parking spot and then for their chance to walk up the side of the 425 foot high chunk of granite? Huh??

 But we were prepared for this possibility, already having made our decision earlier in the day: if there was any line at all, we were aborting the exploration and would find something else to do. This area is just nuts during Spring Break. We'll be back in the Hill Country next year again and will explore Enchanted Rock during a weekday that ISN'T Spring Break. So we did a fast U-turn and high-tailed it back to Fredericksburg.

[The photo is Enchanted Rock from a distance. I wonder what it looks like up close. Maybe next year??!!]


The second thing we didn't  find today is the Bluebonnet wildflower. During the past week, we've had people ask if we had seen the Bluebonnets yet? They reported sightings north of our camp and others east of our camp. We've been north, and we've been east, but apparently hadn't been looking in the right place or the right direction... I don't know. All I know is that we hadn't seen any yet. Someone else reported that every year the road just outside the park is lined with Bluebonnets... that families make annual pilgrimages to take photos of their dogs, their children, their cutting horse, their pickup truck, or anything else they can think of, sitting among the Bluebonnets in the ditch alongside the highway (and you thought climbing a granite rock was entertainment for the whole family!).

We'd chalked up our lack of Bluebonnet sightings to inexperience, to not being observant enough, to lack of luck, or to not giving enough money to the Republican Party of Texas. But Thursday was going to change that. We were going to have our eyes glued to the ditches alongside the roads, to river and creek banks, to private garden areas, and have our color receptors tuned to "blue". Not one Bluebonnet could escape -- we were ready.

The drive to Enchanted Rock took us mostly west and then a little north. I drove slower than usual in order to be extra-observant. We even made a side trip right past the LBJ Ranch, where Lady Bird Johnson made seeding the wildflowers and especially the Bluebonnet a statewide tradition every year. The Bluebonnet was her favorite wildflower and she wanted them planted alongside every roadway in Texas. You'd think she'd have planted some right there at the Ranch, alongside the roads leading to the Ranch. After reading about her passion for this project, I expected to see fields full of Bluebonnets encircling the Ranch.

But no! No Bluebonnets. No Bluebonnets ALL Day. Not in the ditches, not along the banks of creeks or rivers, not around ponds, not in fields, not anywhere near the LBJ Ranch, not one... not anywhere.






If you ever do see them, this is what they're supposed to look like. I'm told they are an amazing sight that you'll never forget.

(photos courtesy of Wikipedia -- they're NOT ours)


But it looks like we'll have to wait and see them another year. I can't explain the other sightings that have been reported to us this year... unless it's a practical joke on us Yankees. Hmmm. It sure kinda feels that way.

After a light snack and a unique brew at Hondo's On Main in Fredericksburg, we made it back to the bus-house -- disappointed by the lack of discovery but ecstatic at being together while exploring the mysteries of Texas on a great day. Dar has a few photos from our day in an online album if you're interested.

Life is Uncertain, Don't Sip.
Thom

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Benini Sculpture Ranch

Yesterday we drove over to the Benini Galleries and Sculpture Ranch. We'd heard from others in the park that it's a good nearby place to explore, so off we went.

Just a short distance west of Johnson City we took CR-204 south from US-290. CR-204 is macadam, but increasingly narrow and minimalist the further south we went. The Sculpture Ranch is about 5 miles down this road.

It's common in these parts to build tertiary roads right down and through creek beds with no bridge or culvert to carry water under the roadway. When heavy rains fill the creek, it flows right over the road through the dip created for this purpose. Often, a flood gauge is provided (1 ft., 2 ft., 3 ft., etc.) so drivers have some idea how deep the water is. But this is Texas and most Texans don't bother with the flood gauge, I'm told, and just blast their big pick-up trucks right through any amount of water that happens to be covering the road -- no dang creek is going to stop a Texan. There are a couple of these dips through creek beds along CR-204, but no water on the road today --  a good thing for explorers with a low-clearance Ford Focus.

So, who is Benini? Originally from Italy, he found his way to the USA in the 70's and to Texas in the late 90's. [For more information, click here.] He and his wife Lorraine purchased these 140 acres in the Texas Hill Country in 1999 and now make this their home. Besides their home, they have an indoor art gallery for paintings and sculpture as well as the outdoor sculpture ranch. Admission is free, and it's open to the public Thursday through Sunday every week.

We started by wandering through the indoor galleries, perusing the works of Benini and many other artist that display their pieces here. But most of our time was spent walking through the hills and open spaces of the sculpture ranch, playing hide and seek with the big outdoor sculptures of dozens of artists. One of the highlights was the view from the top of the highest hill on the property. Additional sculptures pepper the hilltop and amuse while you take in the broad vistas of the surrounding countryside below. This spot is also where Benini and Lorraine have their home. [to view other pieces in the Sculpture Ranch, click here.]

As a strong left-brained person, I'm sure I didn't understand or appreciate this art as completely as others might. But we sure enjoyed the long walk through the Hill Country and being surprised by what we found on the other side of almost every hill. And the incongruity of these brightly colored and modernistic sculptures sprinkled around rough and tumble cowboy country made me smile.

Dar has other photos from the day in an online photo album. Enjoy!

Thom

p.s.  I found a link to a list of sculpture parks in Wikipedia and was surprised to find there are many more than I thought. Most States in the USA have more than one. Are there any near you?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Rainy Day Tuesday

The predicted rain came down most of Monday night and almost all day Tuesday... about an inch according to the parks rain gauge. So we stayed in the camper and enjoyed accomplishing some of those indoor things that often get put off when the weather is nicer.

Dar became immersed in her family tree research and I only saw her face in the reflection on the computer screen most of the day. I researched future travels and camping possibilities, and made a couple updates to our website and online presence.

There's a website [http://hitchitch.com/links.html] that lists the blogs and websites of dozens of other explorers like us... people living in one way or another on the road while they see the big old USA. If you've got the time it can be interesting to see what others think about the lifestyle and their travels. We've been listed here for most of our almost three years on the road.

Wondering what to do on Wednesday...
Thom

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Story of Texas

It was back to Austin on Tuesday. The main objective was to see "The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum -- The Story of Texas". How's that for a title?... BIG, like just about everything else in Texas. When the name of a place becomes so big that it's necessary for some people to stop and take a breath in the middle, well, it might be a little too big. But people in Texas revel in their BIG-ness, from their cars (actually very few cars... mostly BIG pickup trucks), to their traffic (Austin is very BIG on traffic and congestion), to the size of their collective ego. (Hey, easy there, don't get so riled up... just pokin' a little fun.)

Texas is big, there's no doubt about it. But it's not number one in all categories. In population, it's number 2 -- behind California. In square mile area, it's number 2 -- behind Alaska. If you want to rile a Texan a little, tell 'em that we could split Alaska into two states and make Texas number 3!

There's a notion going around that when Texas was made a State of the USA, it reserved the right to secede whenever it wanted. This is a mistaken notion as a careful reading of the annexation resolution makes no statement of such right. But facts can't stop Texans as this article in Wikipedia [link to article] and this website [link to website] attest. It all makes for BIG conversation, at the very least.


From TX History Museum

But I digress, so let's get back to our day's exploration. The Museum is housed in a very modern complex that includes an IMAX theater, a second regular theater, large meeting rooms, a big cafeteria, a parking garage, and the Museum itself. The lobby area is open four stories high and has key elements of the Story of Texas affixed in a colorful terrazzo mosaic on the floor -- impressive and very well done.

After a needed lunch in the cafeteria, we spent a few hours wandering through Texas history -- from the early native Indians, through the Spanish explorations and conquests, Mexican influences, the struggle for Independence, Statehood, the Civil War, ranching and cattle drives, to the modern period and the importance of the oil industry and agriculture. The exhibits are well done and informative. The Museum owns none of the historic artifacts on display. They're all on loan from other collections, both private and public. No photos at all were allowed inside the Museum exhibit area.

While we enjoyed the Museum, we were both a little under-whelmed by the experience. Why? I'm really not sure. Dar thinks it may be because we've read a lot on Texas history and visited a number of the important historic sites that are part of the Story of Texas. It may be that we're a little "museumed-out" after visiting so many in the past few years.  It could also be that our big Texas-sized lunch was "sitting heavy".

After the Museum we headed down to the 6th Street area, which is "ground-zero" of the restaurant and club scene in Austin. What we didn't realize was that it was also "ground-zero" for the South By SouthWest Film and Music Festival (SXSW) this week. Traffic was clogged. Parking was non-existent. People were everywhere. After a half-hour of snaking through the area looking for a parking place, we decided to seek refuge a little further away from the action while we waited for the Austin rush-hour traffic to subside.

We found a little Brewpub, Uncle Billy's, over on Barton Springs Road, where we could sit outside while sampling a couple of their more interesting concoctions and enjoying a very light dinner. It was comfortable and the conversation flowed easily.

By the time we headed for home, traffic was zipping along and we made it home in less than an hour.

Dar has a few photos from our day in our online photo collection

The Story of Texas on my mind...
Thom

Monday, March 15, 2010

Missed Daylight Saving Time

Just a short note to say we had a very relaxing Sunday in the Texas Hill Country. We went nowhere; we did little other than enjoy the great weather, read, and work on photos and some writing.

We did find out, a little late, that Daylight Saving Time kicked in this weekend. Dar called her sister at what she thought was a reasonable hour only to discover that it was after 10pm in Michigan!! -- an hour when phones just shouldn't ring. We have a few clocks in the bus-house that are set automatically by the "atomic" clock under some mountain in Colorado -- but we don't look at clocks much on days we're not doing much... isn't that a great way to live? In reality, when we're traveling and exploring we live with the sun, not clocks. The actual time doesn't matter much.

Monday morning we're heading back to Austin. You'll have to wait to find out what adventure awaits.

Checking at my watch... what time is it???
T

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Gettin' Down in the Hill Country

Saturday, yesterday, we ventured into the Hill Country, making a loop from Johnson City to Fredericksburg to Llano to Buchanan Dam to Marble Falls and back to Johnson City. There were a number of things on the "hit list" to explore, and we had a perfect day to get 'em done.

About 15 miles north of Fredericksburg is Enchanted Rock, a large bulge of pink granite that rises 425 feet above the surrounding land and covers about 640 acres. People come in droves, from miles around, to climb to the top and enjoy the Hill Country views from this elevated position. Unfortunately, we didn't. Due to the agreeable weather, the weekend, spring break, and who knows what else, the line to get into the place was backed up at least a quarter mile onto the highway. There's limited parking and when it's full no one can enter until someone else leaves. We don't do lines very well and it didn't take long to decide that we'll come back during a weekday.

The next stop was Llano. We've been told Llano has some of the best BBQ in Texas -- and it just happened to be lunch time. Funny how those things work out. I didn't remember the name of the recommended BBQ joint but figured, hey, how many BBQ joints can there be in Llano anyway? Turns out there's three! So we picked one, Inmans Kitchen, that seemed very busy -- usually a good sign of quality. I was assured by the person that took our order that, yes, this is the best BBQ in Llano, and probably the world. Both Dar and I found it very good.

After lunch we strolled around the historic courthouse square. The courthouse, built in 1892, has recently been renovated and looks marvelous. It, and a few other buildings on the square, have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Next on the agenda was Buchanan Dam on the Colorado River. I like visiting dams as there's usually some great photo opportunities around these massive structures. But not here. There's a small visitor area on the up-stream side of the dam where you could see a portion of the dam. But the impressive views are usually on the down-stream side and, according to a security guard, there's no public access to the down-stream side of this dam. Hmmm.

Just down the road from the dam are two State Parks -- Inks Lake and Longhorn Cavern. Inks Lake's main attraction is the huge campground that is located near the shoreline of Inks Lake. Here again though, the nice weekend coupled with spring break for many Texas schools made the park as busy as it probably is during the middle off the summer. Kids, dogs, toys, bikes, scooters, smoldering fires, weary adults collapsed in chairs, the scent of burning marshmallows, and steady din of people talking, yelling, laughing... are my memories of this park.

The other State Park, Longhorn Caverns, is centered around a large 13 mile long series of caves that run through the area. Found in the 1840's by settlers (much earlier by natives) the cavern was used in various ways during the early 1900's, most notably as a speakeasy during prohibition. During the depression it was extensively cleaned up and made accessible for the general public by the CCC in the late 1930's. Due to all the human contact and abuse, these caverns are mostly dead. Cave structures were taken as souveniers and human touch leaves oils behind that prevents further natural cave-building. We like exploring caverns and seeing them in different conditions provides an appreciation of the more pristine examples, and an example of what can happen when human activity and ignorance combines to forever change natural processes.

The drive back to camp was through Marble Falls, a town of about 5,000 people. But because of it's location along a dam-formed lake and in the middle of a well-to-do Hill Country ranches, it feels much larger -- like a wealthy suburb of, say, Austin -- which it almost is. Unfortunately the falls after which the town was named has long since been submerged by the dam that forms the lake.

Miller RV Park hosts live music on Saturday nights. Last night we were treated to a foursome -- "Table of Four", that is a recent fusion of two separate duos known as "Sol Patch" and "ShAnnie" We didn't know who was performing before walking into the clubhouse and were surprised to find the same four that we had enjoyed so much at Luckenbach back in November. I'm a sucker for good female vocalists, and these two are among the best I've ever heard. The mini-concert ended far too soon for me.

Dar has our photos from the day in an online album already if you'd like to check them out.

Taking Sunday off...
Thom

Saturday, March 13, 2010

R&R Along Miller Creek

Friday we decided to sleep in and just hang out at the bus-house. I needed to get a few chores done (clean bugs off the front end, write some journal entries, take a walk) and it felt good to ease off on the exploration for a day.

We do want to get over to Austin for another day during our stay here, but after our experience with the traffic on Thursday and the anticipated congestion relating to a festival of some kind this weekend we decided to re-think our plans. We're now planning to extend our stay here by one day and return to Austin on Monday to see the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum and, perhaps a pub-crawl along 6th Street, and who knows what else we may find to do. With the preferred open day prior to a move, we'll be heading toward the panhandle again on Wednesday instead of Tuesday. It looks like the weather will be better on Wednesday too.

In the interim, we have a couple closer explorations to do here in the Hill Country of Texas during the coming weekend.

But, of course, those plans can change too.

Hope you'll have a great weekend.

T

Friday, March 12, 2010

Austin City Limits

After our Thursday in Austin seeing the Capitol and the LBJ Library we headed bravely into the rush-hour traffic about 5pm. Having already been made aware of the legendary Austin traffic we weren't totally surprised it took us almost an hour and a half just to make it to the edge of town... crawling along at 2, then 5 miles per hour... then a complete stop. Wait for the light. Deal with people cutting in line ahead of us. Inch along on three lane wide "expressways".

Even Chicago traffic, in my long years of experience, isn't as bad as what we experienced that day. In most busy towns, there are areas of slow traffic and there are areas of fast traffic. But not in Austin... it was full slow the whole time. The same distance we covered coming in during the morning in less than an hour took more than two hours in the evening.

I guess this is the price you pay for living in a trendy and very nice city. But it's also the reason I'm not enthralled with big towns and the congestion and lines that abound.

Getting close to the city limits...

T

LBJ Library and Museum

After our morning at the Capitol and a great lunch on Congress Street, we drove about a mile northeast to the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library & Museum. Built on the campus of the University of Texas in Austin, the 10 story building houses all the papers and documents associated with LBJ's time in congress and the presidency. Only two and a half floors are open to the general public and comprise the museum portion of the place.

Like other Presidential Libraries and Museums we've been to, the main exhibit is a time-line walk through the years of the President's life. There are exhibits relating to his childhood, his first real job as a teacher, meeting and marrying his love, Lady Bird, his various campaigns for congress and the senate, his children, his accomplishments and difficulties as a legislator, and his 5 years as President.

Whatever a person may think of LBJ, (and there are some that still believe he had something to do with JFK's assassination -- we'll probably never really know), the facts present him as presiding over one of the most incredible periods of legislative accomplishments in this nations history. In those 5 years there are hundreds of bills that were signed into law that have major impact on what we are today: civil rights legislation; medicare; medicade; aid to education; highway beautification, war on poverty, the space race to the moon, and many others. Compare that to the almost total lack of any action by the current gridlocked congress.

On the negative side, both the nation and Johnson himself were torn apart by the Vietnam War that was escalated under his presidency. He ultimately decided not to run for re-election in 1968, under the weight of all the unrest and controversy surrounding the war. During the years of this war more than 50,000 U.S. citizens died in action -- a horrible price to pay for the result.

When his time in office was over he, like Harry Truman, moved back to his boyhood roots and home. In LBJ's case, that was the LBJ ranch in Stonewall Texas, just a short distance from where he was born and where he grew up. He died just four years later, in 1973, and is buried in the family cemetery at the ranch.

Walking through someone's life like this makes me even more aware of how fast time flies by... and how short our life really is.

Here again, check out the photos in our photo collection.

Pondering along the Pedernales...
Thom

Texas State Capitol

Among the various "themes" we have to direct our explorations are the State Capitol Buildings and the Presidential Libraries and Museums. But, despite having wintered in Texas the past three years, we never quite managed to get to Austin, which has both the Texas State Capitol and the LBJ Library and Museum.

We took care of that omission yesterday, Thursday. It's literally 4 lane highway all the way from Miller Creek RV Resort to Austin so the 45 mile drive was accomplished in less than an hour by the time we parked in the visitors parking area near the Capitol.

The Capitol grounds are comprised of more than 20 acres right in the middle of Austin. Like so many other states, Texas lost it's first Capitol to fire -- in 1881. The replacement, this building, was started in 1882 and finished 6 years later. It was designed by Elijah E. Myers, a famous Detroit architect who also did the Capitol buildings of Michigan and Colorado.


The building is large... 566 by 288 feet and 308 feet tall. It's the largest, but not the tallest, State Capitol in the Nation. The exterior, clad in locally quarried pink granite, is truly impressive. Built in the traditional 19th century style with the two legislative branches occupying the two long wings of the building, and the executive and judicial  branches occupying the two shorter wings.

But the appointments and detail on the interior disappointed both of us. The interior walls are limestone and everything is painted off-white... very stark and utilitarian. Where other Capitols have marble floors, this building had terrazo; where other capitols have grand marble staircases, this one has metal stairs with rubber treads. At least there are a few important (to Texas) monuments, statues, and paintings -- but no historic murals or mosaics that we liked in other Capitols around the USA.

We toured the Governor's Reception Room, where many important bills are signed into law. Quite by accident Dar heard that the Lt. Governor's Reception Room was even better... but you've go to find it... and it's quite hidden behind the Senate Chambers. So off we went, up these stairs, down those, through some doors, and then up more stairs... and before I knew it we were barging in on the Lt. Governor's staff of chefs and waiters who had just gotten done with serving lunch to some committee meeting. We met this energetic and quite knowledgeable fellow named Tim, who was part of the action. He must have taken a liking to Dar as the next thing I knew we were getting a personal tour of the room, the artifacts and historic pieces, and then, a run-down of everything we "must" do in Austin and the surrounding territory. It was a steady and unending stream of information, facts, and stories. Almost an hour later we said "good-bye" to Tim and found a place down the street (recommended by Tim, of course) for lunch -- an enjoyable, if quirky, coffee and sandwich shop that was perfect. I needed to catch my breath anyway.

Check out more of the day's photos in our online photo collection

Thom

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Austin

Thursday morning, after a quick breakfast, we finally made the 45 mile trek over to Austin. Our objective was to see the Texas State Capitol and the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum.

We accomplished what we set out to do and had a great day doing it. Since we got home late tonight, and still had to make dinner, my mind is too pooped to put words together in any literate order. I did get a couple photos from today uploaded to our front page, but the the Journal entry from today will have to wait until Friday morning. Check in later in the day if you're interested.

Noddin' off near Johnson City...
Thom

Pedernales Falls State Park

Wednesday morning, our Intrepid Explorers emerged from hibernation and decided that "this" would be the day to resume their explorations. But only after a good hot breakfast at a favorite diner in Johnson City -- The Hill Country Cupboard. Our previous experience at this local institution was in January, I think, of 2008, when we came up here to see the various LBJ historic sites in the area. The restaurant advertises that they have the "Worlds Best" Chicken Fried Steak... and the tag line boasts "nearly 3 dozen sold" (huh??). I wasn't looking for chicken fried steak but that ham and cheese omelet sure tasted good.

After breakfast and a quick drive around Johnson City to make sure it was still pretty much as remembered, we headed east a few miles to Pedernales Falls State Park. Part of a working ranch until 1970, the more than 5,000 acres of land that make up the Park was purchased by the State of Texas (apparently in better days when the State had money laying around to do such things) and turned into a Park which opened in 1973. The main attraction here is the river, and at the impressive Pedernales Falls after which the park is named.

From Pedernales Falls SP

The falls is really a long area, a quarter mile or more, of uplifted limestone over which the river flows and drops and falls. Most of the river is accessible on the Park side and we spent a couple hours hopping from rock to rock to get as close to falling water as we could. Since it's Spring and Texas received a bunch of precipitation this past Winter, the water flow was higher than it's been previous years.

From Pedernales Falls SP

Next on the agenda was exploring the Park's campground which was probably built in the early 70's -- and it looks like it. Designed with much smaller RV's in mind, many of the sites were too short and not very level. We took note a the few that might work for future reference. After the campground tour we found another short hike to Twin Falls. Most of that trail was clearly marked -- except for one spot where we had to send out a scouting party and have a debate before eventually finding the right path back.

On the way home we toured the town of Blanco and stopped at the DQ to do an all-important "quality inspection" of the flavor-of-the-month Mint Oreo Blizzard. It hit the mark, as it usually does.

Back at the RV Park, we had an hour or so to chill before dinner. And here at Miller Creek RV Park, every Wednesday the park prepares dinner for anyone staying here. There's a nominal charge ($3) but it sure beats having to make dinner when you're tired. Tonight it was deep fried turkey dinner with dressing, 'taters, and all the trimmings. Yum! They served about 70 people. The food was excellent and the conversation with new friends was even better.

Our first day back in the exploration business turned out rather well, we think. What will Thursday bring? Tune in tomorrow to find out what our Intrepid Explorers are up to.

Thom

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Moving Again!

As much as we enjoyed our 3 month stay at Sandollar, it felt tremendous to be moving again... out exploring the big old USA. But the roots had grown deep in Rockport and I'd apparently forgotten how long the list of chores can be after spending this much time camped in one place. When moving every few days we keep the bus-house in travel-mode at all times. But when we're in one place for weeks and weeks (or months and months) we get lax and travel-mode is a couple hours of work away. It would have been smart to stow more of the outdoor stuff during the previous afternoon, when it was sunny and dry, instead of in the morning when a thick coat of dew made it necessary to dry everything prior to stowing. Oh well... never to old to learn.

We said many good-byes and pulled out onto Highway 35 a little after 11am... more than an hour later than plan. It was a good day for driving with little traffic and great roads along our route. We mostly stayed on smaller State Highways which in Texas are usually nice wide roads... 188, 181, 123, and 46.. Our northerly trajectory took us around the east side of the San Antonio Metroplex, through New Braunfels (the only heavy traffic), over to US-281, and then North to just a few miles short of Johnson City, the boyhood home of LBJ. We arrived at our destination a little after 4pm.

We're at Miller Creek RV Park and should be here for a week. March is a tough time of the year to find good campsites near Austin in our preferred venues with spring break, a month long rodeo event of some kind in Austin, and a music festival (also in Austin). So we found this very nice RV Park within a reasonable distance of Austin, and we're happy with our choice. We're in the scenic Hill Country where the stars are bright, the wildflowers are everywhere and spectacular, and the nights are clear and quiet.

During the next few days we'll be exploring Austin and parts of the Hill Country that we haven't seen before. Stay tuned for daily updates to the Journal.

Thom

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Do Oysters have Ears?

During the first weekend of every March the Fulton Volunteer Fire Department has their big fund-raiser festival. This is the 31st annual Oysterfest and it's grown into a significant event for the surrounding Coastal Bend folks -- one that really signals the arrival of Spring. Years ago, oysters were thick in the shallow bays all along the gulf coast and oyster boats filled every slip in every harbor around here. Oyster processing was a big part of the economy. But today the industry is almost non-existent, at most a mere "shell" of what it was at the peak. Over-fishing and other factors are supposedly to blame. But Oysterfest continues and attracts thousands of people from around South Texas who enjoy the music, beer, arts and crafts, and the carnival amusements.

Since it's within walking distance from Sandollar, we've gone Oysterfest-ing twice in the last couple days. Not a big fan of lines and crowds, that was more than enough for this kid.

My cold virus is gone and the ol' body is busy clearing out the remaining congestion. During the worst days of this cold, some of that thick green head-yuch became lodged in my middle ear and plugged things up real good. With no outlet for the pressure, my ear drum eventually ruptured and has been slowly draining at times. There's been no pain since the rupture, just an uncomfortableness and somewhat impaired hearing on that side. According to some online medical research this should heal itself as the congestion abates. Dr. Dar is keeping a close eye on me and my flapping ear drum.

We're still planning to leave Sandollar on Tuesday and are still unsure of where we'll go. We'd like to stay close to Austin in order to see the Capitol, LBJ Library, and some other attractions, but the next two weeks are peak "spring break" weeks for the Texas schools and many campgrounds are packed. In addition, Austin hosts some large nearly-month-long rodeo event in March and there's a big music festival in town too. Trying to eschew crowds and congestion is one of our prime directives, so spring break and summers require a little effort to find some solitude.

What's that you said???
Thom

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Virus Tales

Dar is recovering nicely from her bout with the Sandollar cold virus. Probably due to the unusually cold and damp winter down here, almost everyone in the park has had it... and some have had some trouble getting rid of it. 

But while Dar is much improved it's now my turn. This past Saturday I could tell I wasn't feeling quite right and by Sunday I was slipping downhill fast. The low-point was about Tuesday, when I made sure Dar knew all the passwords and I started going through the yellow pages for discount funeral homes.

Feeling poorly like this presents a dilemma... at least for me. On the one hand I don't like to feel lousy from the effects of the cold. But on the other hand, I don't like to feel lousy from the effects of the cold medication, which makes me feel "spacey" and "weird" and "stupid". So I usually prefer to under-medicate and just let nature take it's course. Either way, it's about a week before the whole mess has run it's course and things get somewhat back to normal.

If I had to get it, the timing will probably work out OK. Hopefully, by the time we leave Sandollar next week, I'll be back to full strength explorer mode.

Recovering in Rockport
Thom