Wednesday, February 29, 2012

San Antonio, Texas

Wed, Feb. 22nd - Wed, Feb. 29th

Remember the Alamo! It was our first stop in San Antonio (8th largest city in the country). It was a Franciscan mission built in 1691, San Antonio Valero, later changed to Alamo, one of the battles Texans fought in 1836 for their independence from Mexico. (In 1845 they became the 28th state. In 1848 Mexico ceded to the U.S. New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and California.) All that is left of the original mission/presidio is the church and the long barracks (the oldest building in San Antonio) where the battle finally ended. They have very good films, exhibits and speakers. They were also doing re-enactments when we were there on Saturday and giving the kids lessons in how to fire the cannon. This tree just south of the church is about where Davy Crockett and his twelve men died defending the fence between the outer wall and the chapel.

Just across the street is the visitors center where the trolleys, double decker buses and horse drawn carriages stop to pick up tourists for city tours. We took the trolley tour. One of the stops was at the Mexican Mercado. They had bull riding for kids. We were going to have lunch at Mi Tierra, a famous Mexican restaurant that has been open continuously since 1940 with the exception of six hours, when it was closed to allow employees to attend the funeral of one of the owners. It is a huge place and it looked like party central. It was so busy, the wait was over an hour, so we moved on.

This is in the foyer of the cathedral on the main plaza. The remains of Crockett, Travis, Bowie and all the others who died at the Alamo were moved in 1936 on the 100 year anniversary of the Alamo and reinterred here. Pictures of the three are on the crypt and there is a stone plaque on the wall next to it.

There are five missions including the Alamo, plus the cathedral on the plaza. They are all still in use with congregations and have wonderful Mariachi Bands that play for Sunday services, which I got to sneak in and hear for a minute. This is Mission San Jose, the best preserved of all the missions. It is a huge walled in area with the living quarters for the Indians and the padres still intact, a grist mill, other court yards, etc. It's very beautiful. These are some kind of yucca plant with huge blossoms just getting ready to open.

Mission Concepcion is the only one that is still completely in it's original state with no renovations or reconstructions made so far, but also still in use. The church service was just getting out as our trolley dropped us off here.

We got off at each stop and spent as much time as we wanted. Then we just caught the next trolley. We had some very entertaining trolley drivers. One guy told us about his experiences growing up in the orphange next door to this mission and several neighborhood escapades he was involved in.

Our trolley also took us through the Historic Williams District filled with mansions built by some of the resourceful German immigrants who started the town.

Many of these have backyards that face the river and the famous River Walk, so we were able to see them from the back when we walked down the River Walk later.

The river thru the city originally had a "U" shape, but they built a channel to route it straight thru. For the 1968 HemisFair (World's Fair) they built the "T" shaped extension with hotels and convention center.

There are walkways on both sides of the river all throughout the downtown area and beyond into neighborhoods (one of FDRs WPA projects). They are now working on extending the Walk out both directions, to the missions south of the city and the old Pearl Brewery (shopping center) to the north.

It will eventually be over 25 miles long. This is an outdoor theater right on the walk in the downtown area with restaurants nearby. We took a guided cruise around the River Walk. The cruise only goes around the downtown loop and by the hotels, mall and convention center.

The hotel in the background here was built for the HemisFair with a very short deadline and limited space to work with. So the contractor built it off site in roomsize compartments, hauled them in and stacked them together.

I don't know what these trees are, but they are everywhere and quite beautiful. We were walking along the River Walk over to the Institute of Texan Cultures and the Tower of the Americas, which was also built for the HemisFair of 1968.

Outside the Institute of Texan Cultures there are flags representing all the original families who founded the city of San Antonio, the first municipality in all of Texas. The first colonists were 56 emigrants from the Spanish Canary Islands near Africa who made the sea and land voyage of over a year by order of King Philip V in 1731. A decree from the Viceroy named them and their descendants "hijos dalgo", persons of nobility.

This is a picture of a cave painting in Twin Panther Cave in the trans-Pecos area of Texas that is twice the size of a man. It would have required a 16 foot scaffolding to paint. Texas Indian ancestors were not only here before Columbus, but before Christ was born, and even before the first "town" in the world, Jericho, was founded almost 10,000 years ago.

There was a room with Texas toys. I had no idea there were so many different toy guns. I thought there was just the little six shooters in the holster that every little boy had. I guess I just forgot what state I was in for a minute.

When I was a little girl, I loved paper dolls. I never thought about there being a particular artist who created them. Native Texan, Tom Tierney (coincidentally my granddaughter's name) is famously known as "The King of Paper Dolls". He began with freelance fashion illustrations in high school. For Christmas in 1975 he drew dolls for his mother of her favorite actors, Clark Gable and Carol Lombard. A friend who was a literary agent saw them and suggested he make a book, "Thirty from the 30s". He has since published 400 books of paper dolls and his are the only paper doll books reviewed by the New York Times. I would have loved these, probably still would.

Stuffed and mounted in the museum, this is the last Longhorn from a herd owned by the "Duke", John Wayne. The sign said, "Yes, I too, have been in the movies."

They had a room representing every country their founders were from, China, Italy, Spain, England, Ireland, Scotland, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Mexico, Native American, African Americans, etc. There was an exhibit in the Mexican room about the Quincinera, given to honor a young woman when she reaches the age of 15 by her parents. Tradition is 14 friends and escorts serve as honor attendents. Supporters bestow symbolic gifts. There is a reception to show off her social skills where the first dance is reserved for her father. It can cost more than a wedding and to ease the burden, individual sponsors may pay for certain items. Seems like that would be tough on a family with several daughters. Another thing I found interesting was the population of Laredo is 95% Hispanic, yet they turn out in February for a two week celebration of George Washington's birthday. It started in 1896 when the Tejanos (Mexican Texans) and other members of a local fraternal society staged a mock raid in Indian costume and received keys to the city. A century earlier George Washington had belonged to the same group, Order of the Redmen. Today they have parades, carnivals, balls and the International Bridge Ceremony.

After leaving the museum, we took the elevator to the top of the Tower of the Americas, 750 feet tall. This view is looking back down at the museum with the flags out front and the pioneer village behind it. Our campground is just a few miles south from here.

This view is of downtown. The Alamo is in the little clump of trees close to the right edge of the picture. The city has an ordinance that no one can build anything that will cast a shadow across the front of the alamo. There are tall buildings to the east, but those to the west are back several blocks. Right across the street facing the Alamo is a wax museum, Ripleys Believe It or Not and other glitsy stuff.

This is the same view after the sun went down. They also have a 4D movie here about Texas. The scariest part was having a rattle snake strike right at my face.

We stopped by for one last picture of the Alamo on our way back to camp. "Born on a mountain top in Tennessee, greenest state in the land of the free. Raised in the woods so's he knew every tree. Kilt him a b'ar when he was only three. Davy, Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier."

One day we drove a few miles north to New Braufels and Gruene. Gruene is a small town famous for it's dance hall. Lots of famous people got their start there. My favorite is George Strait and his Ace in the Hole Band. One of our trolley drivers said he had just been up there last weekend with a friend planning to spend an hour or so. George just happened to drop in and they ended up staying till 3:00 AM. Boy, was I jealous. It is also the dance hall used in the movie "Michael" where John Travolta does the scene dancing as an angel. I accidentally deleted my pictures from there.

Heading further south on Wednesday.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Langtry, Texas & LBJ Ranch

Wed. Feb. 15th - Tue, Feb. 21st

Leaving Marathon we headed southeast on Hwy. 90 to Langtry where the infamous Judge Roy Bean was known as "The Law West of the Pecos". This beautiful Visitor Center was built when the county turned over the property to the state. Langtry was a booming little West Texas town in 1882 when it was renamed for George Langtry, leader of one of the railroad building crews. In 1920 the railroad was rerouted. Now this is a pretty typical scene, here and many places across Texas. There can't be more than 20 people living here now. There's a couple decent houses, a post office, church, trading post and this Visitor Center. Kind of reminds me of where I grew up.

The original Jersey Lilly served as saloon, billiard hall, courtroom and home until it burned down in 1896. He rebuilt this smaller version and built a home for himself which he called "The Opera House", in hopes that he could get the famous British actress, Lillie Langtry, to visit. He was obsessed with her and wrote her many letters over the years, but he never met her. She finally came to visit in 1904, ten months after his death. The adobe blocks in his house were made from dirt, horse and sheep manure, plant fiber and small animal bones. Judge Bean dispensed hard liquor and harsh justice. Fiction became so intermingled with fact, he became a legend in his own time. Court was often held on the porch with spectators on horseback. Lawyers were not allowed to interfere with his court, but breaks for refreshments from his saloon were allowed. He seldom consulted his Law Book, instead using his own ideas about the brand of justice to apply, with liberal amounts of bluff and bluster. There was no jail, so criminals were just tied to a tree till they were sober enough for trial. All crimes were deemed finable and the judge pocketed the fines. They have his walking stick in the visitors center. It is ornately detailed with carvings of General Custer and Wild Bill Hickok. He got some notoriety for outfoxing both the U.S. and Mexican governments, by holding an outlawed boxing match in the middle of the Rio Grande.

That afternoon we arrived at LBJ's "Little White House" near Stonewall on the Pedernales River. We toured the house which was originally just a two-story stone house with one room on the main floor (right corner of the house), when he convinced his widowed aunt to move into town and sell it to him along with 250 acres. The home was where his extended family gathered for holidays and celebrations when he was a boy. Over the years the ranch grew to more than 2,000 acres. His love of ranching led him to purchase or lease over 9,000 acres in various counties throughout Hill Country. He brought world leaders to his ranch for Texas BBQs with locals, friends, family and associates, using his home turf to his advantage in negotiations.

Lyndon attended this Johnson City School when he was four years old for a few months. There were 30 students in 7 grades. He remembered sitting on the lap of Miss Kate, the teacher. This school always symbolized to him the hardships of getting an education in America. A half century later in 1965, in this school house with Miss Kate at his side, he signed a bill committing $1.5 billion to Americas schools, one of more than 60 education bills he signed during his presidency. He said no bill he would ever sign would mean more to the future of America. Due to the poverty he saw growing up, he was a great supporter of education and civil rights. As Majority Leader in 1957 he got the first civil rights bill passed in 82 years, probably his greatest accomplishment. He also signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

This is the Pedernales, meaning flint rocks, which the Indians used to make many of their tools. This is next to the school and looking toward the family cemetery. It was a very rainy, drizzly day.

This is the Johnson Family Cemetery. The straight row of brown stones from right to left are LBJ's grandparents, his father and mother, the President and Lady Bird (the two taller stones), and his siblings and their spouses. Various other extended family members are also buried here.

Across the road is LBJ's birthplace. The original house was built by his grandfather in 1889 and removed in 1940. The Johnsons had it rebuilt in 1964 as a guest house. He was born in 1908, the first born of five. His father was a state legislator. When he was five years old they moved into Johnson City, where he graduated high school at the age of 15. Johnson City was named for James Polk Johnson, a distant relative.

The other direction from the cemetery is the Trinity Lutheran Church. His family was not Lutheran, but attended occasionally. Next to the church is Stonewall's Project Head Start Building, one of the many programs that transformed the education system in the 1960s. After he retired, LBJ would drop by here with candy for the kids. They called him "Mr. Jelly Bean".

In 1953 he put in a 3,000 foot airstrip for easier access to the ranch during flooding. By 1961 when he was starting out as vice-president, it had been extended to 6,300 feet to accomodate the increasing size of aircraft. LBJ was the first vice-president to have an aircraft assigned to him, a Lockheed Jet-Star C-140B (VC) which was jokingly referred to as Air Force 1/2.

He liked to tour people around the ranch driving along the river and make a sudden sharp turn right into the river. There was a concrete road under the spillway.

He also had a car at one time that he could drive in the water. The car dealer in Austin was a very good friend, as he bought a big, fancy, new car from him every year.

This was at the Living History Farm that is also on the ranch. It was once owned by friends of his grandparents. One of their children was midwife at LBJ's birth. His grandparents settled near Johnson City in the late 1860s and were the first and most successful of the Hill Country cattle drovers. They amassed a fortune, but later lost it and resettled along the Pedernales until their deaths in 1915 & 17.

Lady Bird's real name was Claudia Taylor. When she was a small child, a nanny said she was as cute as a lady bug, of the variety called "Lady Bird". Ever since then she was known as Lady Bird. When she married she became LBJ along with their daughters Linda Bird and Lucy Baines. Of course, she is famous for beautifying the highways and the country with wildflowers. One of the fundraisers they hold annually for the park is the LBJ 100 Bicycle Tour through LBJ Ranch and Texas Hill Country, in March when the wildflowers are in bloom. It must be a beautiful ride. The Secret Service was assigned to the Johnsons from 1961 when LBJ became vice-president until 2007 when Lady Bird died (46 years).

Trivia: The network of railroads across the nation reached it's peak in 1916 at 254,000 miles.

Friday evening thru Tuesday we visited John's cousin, Connie (& Daryl) in Austin. Thanks again for everything. Wednesday we headed for San Antonio.

Just cruisin' across the Lone Star State,


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Alpine, Big Bend & Marathon, Texas

Mon, Feb. 6th - Tue, Feb. 14th

Happy Valentine's Day everybody! We camped a couple nights in Alpine and started to explore the Big Bend area from there. Driving around town, we came across this interactive mural. I had to include it for my family. I'll let y'all guess who's who?

Sul Ross University is in Alpine. We went thru the museum on campus. This pterodactyl wing was discovered in the area. With a 36 to 38 foot wing span it is the largest flying animal yet discovered. The largest of one of a certain dinosaur (I forget which one), was also discovered in a remote area near here. It was so large, they had to take the parts out by helicopter. The vertebrae each weighed up to 1200 pounds and they could only put two at a time on the flatbed of a truck to transport them. Now that's big! During WWII the university served as a flight school for the U.S. Navy and training ground for the WAACs. Dan Blocker (Hoss) played football at the university. Downtown at the movie theater there are murals of him and other actors. Hollywood discovered the Big Bend region with the 1920 silent film "Honeymoon Ranch". That's even before my time. But John probably remembers it. Nearby Marfa was the setting for the 1956 hit "Giant" starring Liz Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean (his last movie). Ft. Davis was "Dancer, Texas, Pop. 81" (1998), Marathon appears in "Paris, Texas" (1984), and "All the Pretty Women" (2000) was also filmed here.

From Alpine, we moved down to this campground in Study Butte/Terlingua on the edge of Big Bend National Park. They had an 18 hole golf course in the desert with raised tees and holes and dirt tracks to drive golf carts around from one hole to the next. Fairways were pretty much just cactus and brush.

In Big Bend Ranch State Park, we drove thru a campground at Lajitas. I have been trying to convince John that this is what we need. But he keeps telling me I will have to find a new hubby first. Oh well, a girl can always dream.

Also in Big Bend Ranch State Park is this old movie set where lots of movies have been filmed, including "Rio Diablo" 1993, "Gambler V: Playing for Keeps" 1994, "Streets of Laredo" 1995, "My Maria" Brooks & Dunn 1996, "Dead Man's Walk" 1996 and "The Journey Man" 2000.

Near Terlingua, there is an area called Ghost Town where there are lots of old stone houses that are abandoned, roofs falling in, etc. This old bus is called Las Ruinas Camping Hostel.

These tents sitting in the desert are the rooms for the Hostel. Makes me feel grateful for our RV. I'm not sure how they keep out the tarantulas, scorpions, snakes, etc.

Just up the hill from the bus is The Boathouse. It is a little bar and restaurant. When we drove by at suppertime, the place was hopping. There were cars parked all over here.

Just across the road from the bar and hostel is the Terlingua Cemetery 1902, still currently in use with lots of recent graves. The graves all look like they were dug, covered and decorated in any way each family saw fit with any materials they could find at hand, in the desert or their homes or wherever, jars, bottles, candles, pictures, coins, stones, etc. Very interesting.

We went to the Starlight Theater for supper. It was built in the 1920s and abandoned some years later. The roof was gone by the 1960s, but they started using it again for open-air parties, dances and such. In 1990 someone put a roof on it and fixed it up and started a restaurant/bar. They have live entertainment most every night, as does the Boathouse Bar and a couple of other similar nearby places. I think people just come in to jam for free drinks and tips. The two guys playing guitar and fiddle and singing Woodie Guthrie style stuff were very good. Woodie Guthrie actually spent some time in this area. Other famous people like Willie Nelson and Jerry Jeff Walker have played at the Starlight Theater. I bought two of Hank Woji's CDs (the guy who was playing). You should check him out, Mark. I think you would like him. They had killer Bloody Marys and the meal was very good. Their menu had everything from beans & rice for $3.50 to fancy salmon and seafood dishes for $3o or so. I highly recommend this place. You wouldn't think there were enough people living around here to support all these bars/restaurants, but they all seemed to be busy.

This is a view of the Rio Grande in Big Bend Ranch State Park. It was a very scenic drive all the way down to the border at Presidio/Ojinaga, Mex. We had lunch at a little Mexican place in Presidio and headed back to camp. Presidio is not worth the trip, but the scenery along the way was great.

The next day we drove into Big Bend National Park. We hiked a mile and a half up Santa Elena Canyon on the east end of the park. The canyon is eight miles long and 1,500 feet deep. Some places are only 30 feet wide at the bottom.

This is a beautiful hike. If you look close, you can see John on the trail in the next four pictures. We felt like a couple of mountain goats by the time we got done hiking all over this park for a week, but we would both love to come back here sometime. Six flags have flown over Big Bend, Spain, France, Mexico,Republic of Texas, Confederacy and the U.S.A. The Rio Grande (Rio Bravo del Norte in Mexico) flows from 14,000 foot peaks in the Rockies of Colorado 1,885 miles to sea level at the Gulf of Mexico forming a common border with Mexico for over 1,750 miles.

Demand for water here is greater than the supply and evaporation is greater than precipitation. The Rio Grande and it's major Mexican tributary, the Rio Conchos, drain 185,000 square miles of mostly arid land. The Rio Conchos is the major source. In some spots, the Rio Grande seemed to completely disappear. The park is 80% desert.

The park is in the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert, the largest of the four major deserts in North America (covering 200,000 square miles, 175,000 in New Mexico, southeast Arizona and Texas and the desert reaches 850 miles into Mexico).

Coming back out of the canyon. We had a picnic lunch by the river when we were done hiking. How very magnificent and peaceful!

The next day we left Study Butte and went into the park and stayed at Rio Grande Campground on the west side of the park for three days. John is on the trail at the top of the hill here. We were taking the long alpine trail to check out the Hot Springs.

"Now where are those Hot Springs anyway? I think I hear someone talking. Oh, look straight down over the edge!" So we just kept following the trail....

Finally we made it and it was very nice, indeed, and well worth the hike. The young folks were jumping from the hot tub into the river and going across to set foot in Mexico. The fine for crossing the border anywhere other than official border crossings is $5,000.00.

The trail behind our campground took us up to an overlook. Across the river we could see the small Mexican village of Boquillas with the Sierra del Carmen limestone cliffs in the background. Farther south over the border is the Maderas Del Carmen Mountains reaching over 9,000 feet and a protected area of over 500,000 acres of the Chihuahuan Desert, making over a million acres with Big Bend and the state parks in this area.

Facing our campground, you can see our camper on the far right nearest to the little fishing pier. In the far background are the Chisos Mountains which are about in the middle of the park. They had closed off some of the trails in that area, as a mountain lion had attacked a six year old boy a couple days earlier and they were still searching for the lion. The boy was okay. He had been hiking with his father and his father stabbed the lion.

Hiking the overlook behind our campground and the Boquillas Canyon Trail behind the little village the next day, we saw many stations like this of Mexican trinkets and crafts, with notes for suggested donations and a jar to leave money in.
The small border crossings were closed after 9-11 and the economy of the small border towns collapsed without tourism. For 21 years the Park had held an annual Good Neighbor Fiesta. The trust instilled by centuries of shared culture just disappeared. How sad.

We were told by the park rangers that the Mexicans snuck over during the night and left the stuff and picked up the money, and they just tried to look the other way. But when we hiked up Boquillas Canyon, we saw this Mexican man riding the trail and checking to see if there was any money or more trinkets were needed. He carried two big bags of desert grasses with him to feed his horse.

We followed him as we hiked into the canyon and he eventually crossed the river back into Mexico. We were surprised that he could do this in broad daylight, as there seems to be many border patrol people everywhere we go. The closing of the border at all the little villages has destroyed their local economies. My Mom told us that when they were here, the Mexicans would take them across the river in canoes and they could either hike up to their village or they would take them up on horseback. Then they would have lunch in their village and there would be all kinds of trinkets offered for sale by the local villagers. We were told that this crossing is going to be opened up again in April with a kiosk where you can just scan your passport and go across.

We continued hiking into Boquillas Canyon where the Rio Grande makes a bend and goes north.

It doesn't look very high in this picture, but we hiked up to the middle cave on the left. There wasn't really a trail, just a lot of very loose rocks.

It was hard enough getting up there, but quite scary coming back down with all that loose rock and nowhere to get your footing, so you wouldn't just slide down out of control.

After leaving the park to the north, we spent the night at a campground in Marathon. I was amazed at the agave plants we saw as we walked around town. They were over twice as tall as any we had previously seen. Some varieties are called Century Plants, but they all take 10 to 20 years to bloom. They only bloom once and then die.

Marathon was a very interesting little town to walk around. This little tin shack is their laundry mat. I didn't stop to look inside, and now I wish I had.

This is the courtyard of the Gage Hotel. It is one of five grand, old, mission-style hotels designed by some famous architect (Trost & Trost). We were looking for someplace to eat, but the cheapest thing on their menu was $17 and you had to have a reservation. This is just a funky little Texas town with not much of anything here, but I guess this is a famous destination hotel. We walked through the lobby and courtyards and peeked in the pool area and dining areas. It looks like a marvelous place to stay and relax for a few days. Be sure to ask for one of these courtyard rooms. It was really lovely and peaceful here.

There are only three other places to eat in town, a bakery that closes at one, a burger and malt place that closes at three and a pizza place where we ate. There is a bar that opens occasionally at the owner's whim. This little B & B looked quaint and charming.

Then we walked around back where we could see it was an ongoing project of adding one little adobe hut after another for individual little bedrooms. Looked like Flintstone village.

This was another little place to stay. It was called La Loma Del Chivo Hostel and looked like a junk yard. The rooms were all sorts of little individual places, like 1940s camper trailers, old run-down RVs, something that looked like a covered wagon, big old discarded barrels or culverts that had been converted to serve as sleeping quarters. Once again, I am greatful for my traveling home.

From here we head toward Austin to visit John's cousin. I will try to get another blog on in a couple days.

On the Road Again,