Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Lone Star State

Refocused once more on birding, our month and a half in Southeast Arizona netted us 42 bird species for our annual count. Not too bad considering the time of year. Now it was time to fold our tent and head toward Texas.

Hill Country color
We had elected to spend a month in Kerrville, in the Texas Hill Country. Our route pretty much stuck to I-10. We broke our 800-plus mile drive into chucks of manageable distances that necessitated a few overnights along the way.

Tom, Carol, Frank, Paul
Our first stop (283 miles) was in Las Cruces, NM at Sunny Acres RV Park. We had stayed at Sunny Acres during three previous east-west-east trips. During our first stop in 2010, we befriended Paul and Frank, part time RVers who spent their winters at Sunny Acres. We telegraphed our intention to stop via email and hoped that we might have time to visit.

road to Dripping Springs (in the Organ Mountains)
remnants of a old Dripping Springs Resort 
When we arrived, not only had they thoughtfully made sure we had a good spot to park, they had also managed an impromptu Happy Hour welcome with some of their neighbors.  To top things off, that night they treated us to a meal at one of their favorite Mexican restaurants in town. What great guys!

critters are far more common at the springs than are humans
looking back at Las Cruces from Dripping Springs trail
Knowing we had time to spare, we decided to spend an extra night at Sunny Acres. We took advantage of a tip from Paul and Frank about a local park, Dripping Springs Natural Area. The area was the site of a couple of ruins including the Dripping Springs Resort (also known as the Van Patten Camp). A very popular destination with its 16 rooms, dining and concert halls. Many famous people visited including Pat Garret and Pancho Villa. When Van Patten went bankrupt the property was purchased by Dr. Nathan Boyd. By the time Boyd purchased the property his wife had been diagnosed with tuberculosis. Boyd built a sanatorium along with additional strutures to provide housing and care for patients. Several buildings survived although are in not very good condition. At Dripping Springs we managed to add one more annual bird: Black-chinned Sparrow. 

don't see many passenger trains these days!
During the impromptu Happy Hour, we had met an RVer couple from Kansas, the Webbs, who like us, were just passing through. They also had plans to leave the next morning and would also be at Fort Stockton RV , our second overnight stop. After another long day’s drive, we arrived late in the afternoon and found the Webb’s. Very pleasant to share an evening meal with them as well as breakfast the next morning. The RV park boasted its own "Roadrunner Cafe and BBQ" which many RVers who travel this section of the I-10 corridor through Fort Stockton rave about. It had just undergone a recent remodel...but the food was just as good as we had remembered.

site at Buckhorn Lake RV Park
Our reservation at Buckhorn Lake RV Resort outside of Kerrville was for one month. We’ve stayed at a couple of other RV parks in the Kerrville area in the past. Since Buckhorn was a favorite park stop for many of the “regulars” at Bentsen Palm Village RV on their way north in the spring, we thought we’d give it a whirl.

lunch at Keese's in Medina with Berndt, Dulce and Marge
We found BPV friends Ducle and Berndt already at Buckhorn. Like Frank and Paul, they made sure that we got a comfortable site. Plus, our site was conveniently located across the road from Dulce and Berndt and we lost no time getting together for an evening meal at a local Mexican restaurant, Mamacita’s.

lunch at Fredricksburg Brewing Co. with Marge
Much of our time at Buckhorn was spent getting caught up on “paperwork”. Birding software updates, amending the Costa Rica checklist for an upcoming March trip, and a marathon session that brought the blog up to date. Well, almost up to date.
Marge had indicated she would like to visit us while we were in a warmer climate (a common desire among many of our friends from WI). We had tried to persuade her to join us while we were in Tucson but her free air miles would only take her as far as San Antonio. On Saturday November 10 we drove to San Antonio to collect her for a long “weekend” visit. She had never been to the Hill Country before so we did our best to show her as many of the local sights as possible.
No stop in the Hill Country would ever be complete without a shopping trip to Fredricksburg. While Marge and Carol shopped, Tom visited the Admiral Nimitz Museum and the National Museum of the Pacific War. A visitor's ticket spanned two days of admission. And with good reason. There was no way anyone could possibly absorb both museums, especially the Pacific war Museum, in just one day! After lunch at the Fredricksburg Brewing Company we pretty much called it a day and drove back to the RV park for Happy Hour with some of the neighbors.

LBJ birthplace
64 years later, LBJ resting place...just across the road
Marge is not quite ready to trade for her Harley
Veterans Day, Monday, found us returning to the Fredricksburg area but this time our destination was the LBJ  National Historic Park and the LBJ State Park and Historic Site.  Since our last visit to the ranch, restoration work on the main house's first floor had been completed. Work had begun not long after Lady Bird Johnson passed away in 2007. Visitors are now able to tour the home at their own pace (but always accompanied by a park guide). There was also a driving tour of the ranch and nearby LBJ State Park and Historic Site Visitor Center. After lunch at Lindig’s Cafe in Stonewall (I can highly recommend the pulled-pork BBQ sandwich!) we wound up the day with a stop at Luckenbach, TX.

the 'must do' photo
couple of lads from Australia
a couple of beers later...
If you’ve never been to Luckenbach but are familiar with the place via “Luckenbach Texas” you might be surprised at how sparton the place looks. It's a tiny unincorporated (but rarely uninhabited) collection of ramshackle buildings that include a dance hall, a few small out buildings, and a General Store/Post Office/Gift Shop. All in all the whole site occupies less than ten acres...and most of that is for parking. For whatever reason the dance hall was deserted. There was hardly a soul in sight. Luckenbach closed? But, inside the Post Office (only functioning Post Office we know of that has a bar) we found a few folks. Drawn to strains of music, we walked further toward the rear of the narrow building and stepped down into the back room where we found the “pickin’ circle”.
The pickin’ circle is a daily gathering of musicians, mainly locals, who, as the name suggested, sit in a circle picking guitars. During times of the year when Luckenbach is overflowing with people, and the weather permits, the circle is outside. But since it was a chilly outside with not many folks around, the circle was hunkered around the wood stove.
There were five “pickers” in all. Three locals and two from Australia. Not at all uncommon for the circle to have folks from all over the world just "drop in". There was even a loaner guitar behind the bar for those who needed one.
Clearly, all five could have easily been labeled as “professional” musicians. Marge, Carol and I sat, had a few beers, while the circle played tunes and laughed and talked amongst themselves and as well as with us. It was like having our own private floor show!

Lost Maples hiking trail
Who knew? Stonehenge AND Easter island in Kerrville
One full day was spent driving through a scenic section of the Hill Country that included a visit to Lost Maples State Natural Area (along with Dulce and Berndt), lunch at Keese’s Bar-B-Que in Medina, and a stop at Camp Verde. Camp Verde is the site of the original general store that served nearby Fort Camp Verde soldiers (the sale of liquor was prohibited at the fort, hence the need for a general store away from the fort). The general Store (definitely worth a stop in its own right) had morphed into a restaurant. In fact the day we stopped, the newly expanded restaurant was in the midst of its grand opening.
Strangely, the motif for the store and grounds was centered around camels. Camels? In 1854 then Secretary of War Jefferson Davis petitioned Congress to experiment with camels for supply transport and other military uses. In1856 camels were shipped in from the Middle East. Training commenced but bogged down during the Civil War when the camp was captured by the Confederacy. During post war reconstruction, funds were limited. Limited funding resulted in the experiment being mothballed when the fort was deactivated in 1869. Fire destroyed the buildings of Fort Camp Verde but the general store, and the camel motif, persist.

Marge and Carol at The Alamo
an otherwise lovely night shot...were it not for the lift
There were a few more shopping excursions by Marge and Carol into Kerrville that included a local landmark, Gibson's Discount. It's hardware store but ever so much more. They say if you can't find it at Gibson's "it ain't worth havin'." On the morning of Thursday November 15 we drove Marge back to San Antonio, one day before her flight was due to depart. This afforded all of us time in San Antonio, mainly to visit the famed River Walk which none of us had experienced.

River Walk by boat
River Walk by boat

We stayed one block from The Alamo at the boutique-style Hotel Indigo (we could see The Alamo from our room). It was comfortable, convenient and came with valet parking so we parked the truck and forgot it. Less than a five minute walk away was an access point to the famed River Walk through the Hyatt Regency courtyard.

River Walk by boat
River Walk by boat

River Walk by boat
During our afternoon and evening visits to the River Walk we included a boat ride (a great introduction to the history of the area), walks along the river’s edge, and an evening meal at   the Zuni Grill before retiring for the night. The Alamo turned out to be more than we had bargained for - associated with the historic site are a couple of museums and some lovely gardens. Unfortunately, speaking from a photographic perspective, we were disappointed that a large blue lift crane sat in front of The Alamo’s famed front view during the entire time. We doubted that it had anything to do with a Alamo battle reenactment...pretty sure Santa Anna didn't use and hydraulic lifts to breach the walls.

River Walk on foot
River Walk on foot
River Walk at night
The next morning we dropped Marge off at the airport and returned to Buckhorn where Dennis and Kate, friends from Austin, had stopped for an overnight on their way south to Bentsen Palm Village RV. Blog readers will recall that earlier this year Dennis and Tom rode part of the Easter Bike Ride in Kerrville. They treated us out to an evening meal at one of their favorite Mexican restaurants, which turned out to be Mamacitas. They will not be at BPV when we are due to arrive but we'll catch up with them in Austin next March.

River Walk at night
River Walk at night
eating at the Zuni Grill
Zuni Grill
While Buckhorn RV offered guests an invitation to join in the park’s Thanksgiving Day meal, we opted to spend the day with Keith Lea, a birding friend from Plover, Wisconsin who winters at his home in Kerrville. Keith suggested we try his favorite cafe, the Cypress Creek Inn Cafe in Comfort, TX, about 20 miles away. We shared a traditional “turkey day” meal and thoroughly enjoyed conversations with Keith.

Keith and Tom on Thanksgiving Day
The rest of our time in Kerrville? We caught up with a few movies at the local “Rio 10” theater. Matinee senior prices were $5 a piece so how could we resist? We inluded the latest Bond film, “Skyfall” and the powerful portrayal of Lincoln’s last six months in office, “Lincoln”. Oh yeah. And Kerrvile has a Culver’s restaurant, one of ten in all of TX so naturally we stopped for lunch...on more than one occasion.

Nan post WWII photo - her passion was always flying
Nearby Ingram is where Tom’s Godmother, Nan Hazelton, lived. Due to failing health her family had recently moved Nan to California where sadly, she quietly passed away earlier this year. Quite honestly, were it not for Nan we might not have discovered all that the Hill Country has to offer...and could well understand why she was attracted to the area.
By November 29 it was time to pull in the slides, hook up, and point toward our usual winter site at Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort near Mission. It had been very chilly for a couple of nights while at Buckhorn. One overnight low was 32 degrees. You know. Freezing. But then north central Texas has been known for some cold winter weather.  That would not be the case in the RGV. Our plan is to be at BPV from December 1 through the end of March when once again we begin our northward migration.

Alamo interior
Alamo grounds
Emily Morgan Hotel across from The Alamo
through the Hyatt to reach the River Walk at night
below street level at the Hyatt
River Walk by boat
river transport by day
river transport by night
main roads bisected the river at many locations and offered foot traffic access
convenient foot bridges allowed to cross the river on foot
Guadalupe River, near Kerrville
LBJ attended this one room school house
LBJ school house interior
LBJ Ranch "Southern White House"
a gathering of vultures is called a "wake"
B and D at Lost Maples
Frank and Paul, Las Cruces
Indigo Hotel lobby

No comments:

Post a Comment