Wednesday, April 24, 2013

SPRING TREK 2013: New Mexico Rambles

Wednesday through Friday, May 1-3
     Relaxed days the rest of this week as Rick and I pick up Mom R at the airport on Wednesday at 11, go out to lunch at Village Inn, and then a little shopping to get her settled back into her apartment at Three Fountains.  She has been in North Carolina and Pennsylvania for the past month visiting family.  We stayed until about 4 and then decided she needed to get some rest - she had been up since 1am our time!  
     Both Thursday and Friday we drove into town and spent time with Mom - some it just relaxing and watching TV with her, also getting a few minor fixups finished such as cleaning off the porch, putting up key hooks, figuring out how to download some new library books on Nook.  We went out to lunch Thursday at Thai Tip, which proved to be excellent food, but expensive!  
     Wednesday I made several phone calls and found a place where I could get a new Honda key made....for ONLY $125.  We found a dealer just down Wyoming from Mom's place.  We figured we would stop by either day and get a new key before leaving on Saturday.  I even called each place: Roswell police and RV park and the Vaughn gas station just to double check the keys had not been found.  No such luck.  
     Coming home on Thursday afternoon my cell phone rang and it was Debbie at Trailer Village.  A gal had brought my keys in that afternoon, having seen them hanging on the hook behind the door in a bathroom stall!!!!  Luckily, Rick and I had NOT gone to Honda that day and were going to go the next morning.  Debbie is sending the keys to Baker City, so they should be waiting for us when we get home!  I got a thank you and check in the mail on Friday to cover the postage for the mailing and a little bonus.  I was just so relieved!!!  
     Edgewood and the Albuquerque areas were supposed to be experiencing extreme winds on Wednesday, but although the weather the past few days has definitely been colder during the nights (and days) we weren't blown off the map!  In fact, it was 12 degrees colder Friday morning in Edgewood than in Baker City!  Our water line froze Thursday night, so Rick disconnected everything Thursday evening.  
     Overall, good visits with Randy and family, Mom, and Jed (brief!).  Saturday morning we are taking off for Utah!!  

TUESDAY, April 30
     No pictures today.  Tragically (?) I left the memory card in the laptop.  I even took a picture of Jed at Denny's, but didn't notice the beep-beep of the "No Memory Card" signal.  Most sad because I HAD a second memory card in the glove compartment of the trailer! up to date pictures of our eldest son sporting his new 'do' - the shortest we have seen his hair in about 12 years!!  He looks downright professional!  
     Rick and I drove down to Soccoro this morning, taking the back country route via 41 and Hwy 60.  It takes a little longer, but isn't freeway!  Hwy 60 is rather fun, but 41 is a long straight shot through dry fields at this point.  We met at the Denny's restaurant.  Jed just got back from Portland, OR last night a midnight, drove back to Soccoro, and has a class to teach at 1, so it was a short visit!  
     He did reflect on a good weekend, however; both the wedding and friends, visit with Luke, Kady, and Aunt Liz and Dave, visit with Todd and Amy in Mac Town, and then some good mentor time with two professors at Linfield.  They gave him some good advice on "where to go from here", as in once he actually has the doctorate finished!  
     It is warm today - high 80's to low 90's!  As we drove back up toward Albuquerque, we decided NOT to go to the zoo.  The animals would all be hiding in the heat in the middle of the day, and it was pretty expensive for a quickie visit that would put us driving out of ABQ during rush hour.  So....we went and played mini-golf at the Fun Center out on Tramway instead!  We have played there several times.  A quick 18 holes - they were doing maintenance on the course, so it wasn't quick as scenic as usual (the pansies were all blooming, but the water features were all being cleaned out.)  I was HOT today and I mean that in a good way.  I think I had 4 or maybe 5 holes in one!  I lost the pencil around the 11th hole so I couldn't keep accurate track of our scores.  Rick would say that was just as well!  (It was during mini golf that I realized my camera wasn't taking any pictures.  :( )
      Patty and I went to Weight Watchers for a weigh in - good results!  Then a walk with Rick while a beautiful sunset marked the skies over the Sandia Mts. 

MONDAY, April 29
Madrid and Cerrillos, Artist Communities
Click HERE for pictures

     Ran and Patty have to work, kids all off, so Rick and I take the day to explore a little!  We did a loop of about 60 miles, taking in parts of the Turquoise Trail (Hwy 14) and the towns of Madrid and Cerrillos, just south of Santa Fe.  Both are old mining towns - Madrid especially known for coal, and Cerrillos for the turquoise mines.  Gold and other ores were also mined in the area.  At one point, Madrid was a ghost town.  Gradually artists starting moving into the hills south of Santa Fe and the town was reborn.  It is
Dropping down to Madrid.  Santa Fe in distance.
struggling, however, with the recent slump in the economy.  We heard comments from some artists who are moving to Bisbee, AZ.  One shop, a consignment store called Resources, was closing out with 50% off sale.  We got a few GOOD buys there!  

     The narrow Hwy 14 winds through the town - not alot of space on either side, no sidewalks, limited parking, etc.  Most of the stores are in old houses that have been fixed up.  Plenty of funky, artsy stuff, fine craftsmen, beautiful silver and turquoise jewelry, and a definite 'hippie' feel to it!  In one shop, I listened and people were visiting from Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, Pennsylvania, and France.  And, of course, Oregon!  Rick made it through just one store and then opted to relax in the truck!  I probably spent another hour poking around.  
Church in Cerrillos
Main Street in Madrid
 We drove on down the highway about 3 miles to the village of Cerrillos, once seriously considered for the capital of New Mexico.  There is very little left to it, save a beautiful Catholic church.  A local state park draws horse back riders and bikers to the trails in the mountains.  No restaurants, so back to Madrid for a bite to eat.  We stopped at a place called The Diner, and then Rick read a sign in the front that said, "This is NOT a restaurant.  We sell clothing and
The Hollar
gifts."  Oh.   On down the road to The Hollar, southern fusion cuisine advertised.  It was outside, shady, and fun.  We both had the special, Fried Green Tomato BLT sandwich, Rick with fried okra and I had cheesy grits. I just wanted to try something different!  The grits were a little too peppery for me, so I ate half and Rick finished them up.  The okra was good too!  

     Back via Route 344 and through the San Pedro Mts. to Edgewood.  We gassed up the truck for tomorrow, stopped at Walmart to pick up some food for dinner, and home by 3:30!  Will BBQ tonight with regular and sweet potato fries, salad, and grilled pineapple!!  

WEEKEND, April 27-28
Doing Nothing
     This will be short and sweet!  We have sat around Randy's for two days, reading, visiting, taking two long walks, and enjoying some fine meals!  Randy smoked a pork roast on Sunday which was wonderful.  Regan got moved out and cleaning in her apartment done on Sunday.  We went to church Sunday morning with Ran and Patty.  Beautiful sunshine days in the high 70's.  Cool nights.  A good time for rest!!  

FRIDAY, April 26
Roswell, NM to Edgewood, NM       175 miles

     Today was a travel day through a new route into Randy's place.  Rick commented that this completed our 'compass' arrivals at Randys: we have now entered Edgewood from every direction possible!  
Highway 285 between Roswell and Vaughn, NM
     Highway 285 from Roswell up to Interstate 40 is one LONG uphill haul!  We knew we were going to gain elevation in going from Roswell's 3500' to Randy's 6800', but we didn't realize it would be such a constant climb.  The highway was four lane most of the way, but between the uphill and the northwest head wind (just our luck to be driving in that direction today!), we got horrible gas mileage - only about 8 mpg!  We filled up in Vaughn just to make sure we could get to Edgewood!  

     It was during the gas stop in Vaughn that I realized I couldn't find my truck and trailer keys.  While Rick was in the restroom, I was tearing the truck apart.  I had used the keys to lock the trailer as we left the campground.  Then we went into the restroom, got back into the truck, and drove to Vaughn.  After arriving in Edgewood, I examined the truck again to no avail, called the trailer park, but came up empty on that end.  It is a total mystery.  I can't figure out WHERE they are.  Did I leave them in the trailer door?  I seem to remember throwing them into the truck.  The biggest loss is the Honda truck key - it is one of those programmed electronic ones - could be a couple hundred dollars to replace.  Ouch!  
Nearing the interstate

   The terrain all day long was vast and far-reaching.  Gradually we saw a little more green and mountain ridges began to emerge from the flat horizon.  Between Roswell and Vaughan there is NOTHING.  No services, no towns, a scattering of large ranches and two roads that take off, one in either direction.  
     We arrive at Randy's at noon, grab some lunch, and then get the trailer pushed into position under the willow and next to the garage.  Later in the afternoon Rick and I take a walk 'around the block' (about 3 miles) and then enjoy Randy's Green Chili Chicken Stew for dinner.  Patty reports she only has 20 school days left when she gets home!  
Trailer all tucked into its spot at Randy's. 

     Regan is moving home for a couple weeks tomorrow (she is in between apartments), Rachael is getting last minute projects done before her May 11 graduation from UNM and Ryan has one more exam to complete his certifications.  It should be a busy household!  Grandma R flies in on Wednesday!  
THURSDAY, April 25
Spring Creek Zoo & Recreation Trail
Bottomless Lakes State Park
Click HERE for pictures

     We could get used to these 10am morning!  I was up around 6:15 (yes, I saw the sun rise!) listening to the cacaphony of the birds in the trees around us.  I had to look up mockingbirds again on the internet to double check that these were NOT such birds.  I sure heard a multitude of sounds while lying in bed!  
Rick prepares to take off on the trail.

A waterfall at Cahoon Pool Park. 
     Eventually we get moving.  Our goal this morning was to get on the bikes and follow the Spring Creek Recreation Trail from the zoo to its western terminus, about 5 miles away.  The path is well graded and paved.  It follows the creek all the way, touching base with at least 7-9 parks.  It dips down twice for the path to travel nearly at creek level in the storm drainage channel, both times while traveling through the downtown section.  By dropping down, you pass under Main Street and all the traffic!  The creek has very little water in it at the moment.  We passed an old city swimming pool and park - not open yet - and the city golf course with an abundance of pretty fountains.  Just past the golf course, there is a bird and wildlife nature center around a couple of ponds.  At the western end, the trail passes through Enchanted Lands Park, a frisbee golf course and more!  I didn't want to ride on the main streets, so we opted to go back the way we came.  We stopped enroute, however, to take a brief side jaunt around the nature center trails.  
I loved the laid-back expression on this goat.

     Once we got back to the truck, we packed up the bikes and then walked in to the Spring Creek Park Zoo, the only FREE zoo in the state.  It is small scale, but we enjoyed the animals we did see.  Many are rescue animals, including the two bald eagles.  Also saw other raptors, raccoons, a small burro, bison, deer, antelope, lemurs (big eyes!), beaver, etc.  The park is a relic from a time long ago: a park train and carousel even!  There is also a fishing pond and plenty of ducks!  
     A quick bit to eat in the truck (jerky and string cheese) and we are off for Bottomless Lakes State Park, located about 12 miles east of town.  Unfortunately this is the same road that is undergoing construction (our park entrance was clear this morning, however!).  We got stopped twice for LONG waits before coming to the park road.  
Watertower at Lea Lake
One of the sinkhole lakes at
Bottomless Lakes SP
 Bottomless Lakes was the first NM state park to be established back in the 1930's.  The CCC did major work soon thereafter, building summer recreation opportunities at the largest of the lakes, Lea Lake.  Each of the lakes is in a sinkhole created by the collapse of caverns in the limestone and gypsum.  The water is artesian, coming from the Sacramento Mts 80 miles to the west.  The water actually flows UNDER the Pecos River just west of here, and then is sent to the surface by the pressures underfoot.  Right now, several million gallons of water are flowing out of the Lea Lake area into the wetlands.  The lakes are filled from below the surface, rather than water melt coming down!  They range in depth from 22' to 90'.  There are about 8 distinct lakes, some quite small.  A rimrock of red rock borders each lake to the east, forming the curved wall of the sinkhole.  It was pretty interesting!  

     We didn't want to go back through the construction, so we checked the map and found a road heading south to the town of Dexter.  Wide open spaces with views from the top of the bluff down toward Roswell!  From Dexter we drove back up to connect with Hwy 285 and into town.  Dinner at Peppers Bar and Grill.  Too early for Happy Hour.  :(  But we enjoyed a little Mexican anyway.  Then gas in the truck (we paid a trip low $3.05 a gallon!) and back to prepare to leave in the morning.  
Check out this price!!!!  Trip low! 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Jedediah!!! 
UFO Museum, Museum and Art Center, Roswell, NM
Click HERE for pictures

     A lazy morning!  It felt good!  When I checked the internet this morning, it said the current temp in Roswell was 32 degrees.  We kept the little heater running all night and had all the blankets on our bed!  Stayed warm! 
     Eventually we pile into the truck to scout out the town.  A little cruise north as far as the shopping mall (and Wal-Mart) and then out west a bit (lots of pecan groves), south (towards the college and airport) and back up to the UFO Museum right in the middle of town where we started!  The Museum was begun in 1991 as a central location for artifacts and information regarding UFO's worldwide.  The current location is its third as it has grown.  It is the 2nd largest repository for UFO data and information. 
Alien Animatronic display

Part of the UFO Art Gallery
 The "Incident at Roswell" is the impetus for this museum and all the UFO hoopla for the town. (The 4th of July UFO Festival is 'out of this world'!)    The incident  happened in 1947 when locals reportedly came across debris from a crash, others reported SEEING aliens who were injured.  It was released to the news.  One day later, a retraction was given to the media stating the wreckage was a weather balloon.  Reportedly, the military had instituted a major cover-up of the entire episode.  In  the 1980's, the case was reopened and more data obtained.  The museum does a pretty good job of laying out the actual facts and letting people make their own decision.  (The short movie we watched definitely supported the cover-up theory!)  There was alot of first hand reports to read through, which I didn't always do, but I enjoyed the displays, the ancient section of extra-terrestrial visits, crop circles, and abduction accounts!  I missed seeing the "alien landing" display in action.  I guess the aliens come alive 2-3 times an hour.  There was even a horse from the Painted Pony Series.  It was plastered with newspaper accounts of the Roswell UFO and sparkled with an overlap of glitter.  I think the horses's eyes were a bit alien shaped as well!  
     By the time we got out of the museum, it was after 1pm and we were starving!  We had passed a Thai restaurant, but didn't agree on WHERE we saw it in our morning cruise.  Headed north to no avail.  I asked at a chicken fast food place for a phone book and we located the only Thai restaurant in town - NOT on a street we had been on.  Go figure!  But the food was good and we enjoyed the meal!  
Ceramic Platter by Eddie Dominguez
Tea, Chocolate, & Coffee Papel Picado
   Our second stop for the day was the Visitor Center and then the Museum and Art Center. is FREE!   The museum is an eclectic mix of natural history,western New Mexico history, and New Mexico art.   There is also a restored model of Robert Goddard's, the rocket scientist, workshop and artifacts from Goddard and New Mexico's Apollo astronaut Harrison Schmidt. I especially enjoyed the papel picado artwork, ceramics by Tucumcari artist Eddie Dominguez, and a huge mural of a Pow Wow.  It was a pretty well done museum.  By the time we finished it was 4:45!  Time to call it a day!! 
The PowWow mural.  Check out the little boy in glasses at the left! 

     Quiet night at the campground.  The road in front of the RV park is under repair, so we have to wait for a pilot car to take us the final 200 yards to the campground entrance.  Kind of a pain, so we are limiting our 'in and out' times!   

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


TUESDAY, April 23
ALPINE, TX to ROSWELL, NM   (262 miles)
Living Desert State Park, Carlsbad, NM   (Pictures)

     This will conclude my TEXAS Blog!  We have left the state!

     Smooth pack up this morning and we are on the road by 8:30am.  The skies are fuzzy - we heard sirens earlier and we think maybe a grass fire or something to the southeast, but later we hear on the radio that the high winds have stirred up big dust storms throughout west Texas.  Good thing we took our 'scenic' drive yesterday, because today would be even worse!  We could hardly see the mountains right next to us driving back north toward Fort Davis!  

We are back in New Mexico!
     The road from Fort Davis to Interstate 10 is also marked scenic on the map, and we give it higher ratings!  It follows along a creek part of the way, much greener vegetation, interesting canyon side creeks.  A windy little sucker, at which point I tell Rick that Google maps said the straight route through Fort Stockton to Pecos was ONLY 4 miles longer than this 'direct' route!  Oh well, the other would have been REALLY dusty because there is nothing to block the wind out there.  

     From Pecos north to the New Mexico border, we are back in the typical west Texas flora and fauna: flat, creosote flats, occasional prickly pear and yucca plants.  Grasshopper oil drills here and there.  We leave Texas officially around 11:30 am, turn back the clock an hour as we reenter MOUNTAIN TIME ZONE!!  AND I finish the fifth nativity camel before we reach the border!  All 5 ready for Christmas.  

Golden Eagle
     Into Carlsbad, gas up, and then lunch in the parking lots of a Beall's store!
Lena the Javelina
We have decided to travel on up to a trailer park in Roswell (reservations made by phone!) so we have time to stop at the Living Desert Zoo & Gardens State Park north of Carlsbad.  A $5 entrance fee each is more than a bargain.  We spent 3 hours poking around a mile-quarter outside trail.  Plants all identified, different environments, all the animals are rescued and healing, or rescued and unable to return to the wild.  We saw a javelina (finally!), cougar, bald and golden eagles, hawks, snakes, Mexican wolves, owls, porcupine, turtles, prairie dogs, bison, and elk.  Maggie Oso (the resident artist black bear) apparently was napping and didn't show her face.    Visiting in the middle of the afternoon wasn't the best time to see most of the animals, but we did pretty well.  I especially enjoyed the succulent greenhouse, filled with cacti and other succulents from all over the world!  We also saw a roadrunner in the aviary.  Purchased some red yucca seeds to plant at home - we are thinking of xeriscaping the west side of the front.  We never water it anyway and the grass is horrible!  

Closeup of Ocotillo blossom
     Seventy more miles up to Roswell, NM.  Flat, sometimes dry, sometime irrigated land.  Wheat, alfalfa, and pecan orchards.  Near Roswell we see some huge dairy farms.  Later learn that there are 94,000 cows in the county and 30 dairies.  Roswell is the biggest producer of mozzarella cheese in the world!  And I thought the town was just known for its UFO Museum!  We find our Trailer Village RV Park, check in and get settled in a site under a tree.  We are here for three nights, with two days for exploring.  Jed is not free for a visit and will be gone over the weekend, so we are going straight to Randy's on Friday.  Tonight is suppose to be close to freezing - another cold front moving through.  Heating up again by Friday.  Part of the reason why we chose NOT to go up into the mountains to Cloudcroft.  
Patterned succulent - unidentified

MONDAY, April 22
Click HERE for the photo journal

     Up and ready to roll by 8:01!  However, the beginning of the day didn't go very well.  As we were at the Stripes getting gas and coffee, I remembered I hadn't grabbed the confirmation code for our tickets to the observatory.  So...we stopped back at the RV Park enroute out of town (fortunately, we had to pass right by it!)
     Ten miles up the road, I grab the camera to take a picture, and get the 'beep' and 'no memory card' message.  I had left the memory card in the computer after downloading pictures last night.  Of course, the computer was at the trailer.  So....Rick turns around and we drive BACK to the RV Park again, I grab BOTH of my memory cards and we are on our way again.  This will cut down on our exploring time somewhat at Fort Davis, but I would have been crushed to have not been able to take ANY pictures.  
Mountain views between Alpine & Fort Davis.

     It is a beautiful morning, but the day is forecast for WARM!  We pass a couple interesting mountain formations, still a little curious about the designation of the area as the "Alps" of Texas.  I guess when most of the state is relatively flat, these are peaks of some sort!  However, our idea of mountains is a little different than that of Texas apparently!  We did see some more bigs vulture birds sunning themselves on the fences today! 
Fort Davis was on the main road to protect travelers
     Into Fort Davis - it is only 24 miles away - and down the road a short bit to the Fort Davis National Historic Site.  I get my passbook stamped, my final stamp for the state of Texas.  We did pretty well.  Hit 6 out of the 13 sites in the state!  This is one of the best preserved examples of the military outpost forts.  The site was nearing ruins when the federal government made it a historic site in 1963 and restored some of the buildings.  We had about an hour to walk around and explore.  A bugler plays during the day at set times, reminiscent of the set calls during military life that established the schedule of the fort.  We were amazed at the tiny size of the garrison cells, the barracks for enlisted men, etc.  The
One of the officer houses with
cliffs in background.
commanding officer lived in a pretty posh house compared to the rest of the troops!  The fort is set beneath a backdrop of Rocky cliffs.  The southern peak is called Sleeping Lion Mountain.  The view to the east is a vast expanse.  
Visitor Center at McDonald Observatory

     Sixteen miles on up what is a 75 mile 'Scenic Loop' (we'll discuss that oxymoron later!) we arrive at the turnoff for McDonald Observatory.  We had signed up on-line for the 11am  Guided tour and Sun Viewing Show.  The latter was mostly in the auditorium using links to telescopes that were currently focused on the sun.  We were able to learn alot more about solar flares, prominences, spots, etc.  Interesting, but our guide was a little hard to understand, so you had to work and focus to get the information.  
Rick controls the dome
rotation at 2.7m Smith

     Our guided tour took us to two of the larger telescopes on the mountain.  There are a number of additional scopes of smaller size.  The first one we visited was the 2.7m Smith telescope, built back in the 1960's.  It was the second major telescope built on the mountain, the first being in the early 40's.  Because we were on the tour, we got to go right into the dome chamber, poke buttons to move the telescope up and down, and then Rick got to use the control to rotate the dome so the window lined up with the telescope lens.  Guides aren't allowed to open the window during the day, so we couldn't do that.  But Rick had fun moving it around!  I got to poke the button that shut the whole thing down!  The Smith scope is a standard primary and secondary mirror system, with mounted cameras on the sides, and the ability to send light our side chambers, down to the spectograph, etc. 
HET - silver geo dome! 
   Then we drove in the shuttle over to the other peak and the site of the Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET) which was installed in the 1990's I think.  The structure is totally different.  The mirror is actually 91 separate hexagon mirror panels, together comprising a 10m spread.  There is no secondary mirror, rather fiber optics channel the light into a spectograph system.  Much of the construction of this telescope used common everyday parts.  It is based on a geodesic dome design - pretty cool.  

The one mountain that was scenic.
Excuse the 'spots'!!
 We grabbed a bite to eat, spent a little more time in the exhibit hall and gift shop, and then took off to explore the rest of the scenic drive.   What a bit of a disappointment.  As Rick put it as we pulled back into Fort Davis an hour later, "That was probably the least scenic Scenic Drive I have ever driven!"  Other than a couple 5 minute glimpses of some unusual mountain peaks, most of the 60 miles was dry grass, dead or dry oak trees, barren hills and vast plains.  It was NOT what we expected!  But just as we thought maybe we should turn around, one of those nice mountain views appeared that lured us beyond the halfway point!  
Bloy's Camp Meeting site
About 10 miles from Fort Davis, we came to a little settlement of scattered, all metal buildings.  A historical marker came into view so we stopped.  This is the site of a cowboy church revival that has been annually held since the late 1800's!!  Begun by....a Presbyterian pastor.  Now about four different denominations all join together.  

     Back to Alpine by 3:30, we gas up for tomorrow, cool down the trailer (it was an even 100 degrees inside) and cool up shrimp stir-fry for dinner.  We tried to go swimming, but found the pool was closed.  Laundry and another classic sunset.....  
Sunset as reflected in the window of an RV as I walked back to our trailer!  

SUNDAY, April 21

Alpine Presby Church
     Today can be described quickly.....LAZY and warm!  It felt good to not have a schedule for the morning.  It took me 2 and half hours to finish yesterday's blog on Big Bend!  It is going to be warm - in the high 80's today.  
     We drive into town to attend church at the little Presby church we passed coming into town on Friday.  Service was at 11am.  We were greeted, introduced, and welcomed....
Crewel banner in narthex
The church was still decorated for Easter
profusely!!  Invited to the potluck after church 3 times BEFORE the service ever started.  I felt at home when I saw two little boys carrying the acolyte candles up front (with sticks exactly like ours) - dragging a little brother with them!  The choir was quite good for a small church and they sang at least 4 times!  Pastor is a middle age woman who has a vision disability ...she had really large print script for the scriptures, sermon, etc.  Did a good job.  The church was started back in 1890's, has replaced a building due to fire, in a town of 6,000, elevation 4400', high mountain desert climate. Felt very comfortable!  We stayed for the potluck, a goodbye celebration for an older lady moving to SC to be with family.  A nice resolution for her plus the singing of Happy Trails!  Rick sampled all three versions of cobbler on the desert table and then announced he wouldn't need any dinner!  
     A visit to Thriftway store to replace some of our groceries.  Not as cheap as the HEB stores, but not as bad as the ladies at church made it sound!  
     Rest of afternoon....we talked on phone with family, read, drew scribbles, etc.  A very relaxing day!!  Oh....I did walk down to the doggie park to take a couple pictures.  Rick and I got a kick out of the 'decor' the other day:

     This has been a really nice park.  Well maintained, etc.  I also went out to take some more cactus pictures because everything is just plain blooming in glorious fashion.  I will close for the day with a shot of a rainbow cactus, so called because of the colored bands on the fleshy part.  The flowers look like a burst of sunshine with the rainbow!  
You can't see the colored bands very well here, but the flowers are SO pretty! 

SATURDAY, April 20
Click HERE for today's photo journal
(Be prepared....lots of pictures.  Many with blurry circles in the sky - I think my camera has dust in it!)

This is an internet picture...but it
gives you an idea! 
     Today was a long, but great day!  Big Bend is NOT an easy place to get to - not on the well trod road!  We left Alpine shortly after 8, gas and coffee, and on the road to the park, about 70 miles to the northeast entrance station at Persimon Gap.  I drove this first section through open, rolling hills, amid rock mountains.  Lots of prickly pear, yucca, and today?  Mexico prickly poppy alongside the road.  As we neared Persimmon Gap, we saw vultures on the fence posts.  At first I thought it was a stuffed bird stabbed on the pole, but then we saw more!  Full wings spread, they were enjoying the morning sun.  The ones we saw are mostly black headed birds.  Pretty weird!  

Two-tone prickly pear
 At Persimmon Gap we stop to gather a little information and trade drivers.  I have to have the camera ready to go through the park!  We saw a little woodpecker trying to get through the window of the VC, plus some gorgeous cactus blossoms out front.  Got recommendations for trails, roads, etc.  (and verification that the dirt Maverick Road won't be an option to make a loop later in the day!)  Basically our route for the day looked like this:
We felt like we pretty well covered it all!  
Drooping Juniper
Driving up the Chisos Basin road
 The Chisos Basin road climbs up through a natural opening from another drainage and then at the Lost Mine Trailhead crests to drop down into the basin.  We stopped at the trailhead to walk about a mile up to the Juniper Canyon overlook.  It was hazy in the distance, so the view wasn't stellar, but still a good chance to stretch the legs.  I picked up the natural guide at the beginning of the trail, so we learned the identity of a few more plants along the way, including the Drooping Juniper, which looks like it could use a good watering all the time.  Unlike the more familar southwest alligator juniper, this one has a bark more reflective of a cedar tree.  

Casa Grande
     Towering over the trail is the massive Casa Grande chunk of rock.  While not the highest peak in the basin, we thought it was certainly the most impressive.  From the basin side it looks like a solid square of stone, but from the trail side, you could see the large pillars of rock.  
     From Juniper Canyon overlook, you can see down to the Rio Grande and across to the mountains of Mexico.  Rick was able to find the river with the binoculars.  I mostly found cactus to photograph and gazed back up at the mountain peaks of solid rock.  The trail was busy - it is one of the most popular in the park.  It is also frequented by cougars and black bear, but we didn't see even a sign.
Juniper Canyon view
Ocotillo bloom
     Down into Chisos Basin to the Visitor Center there, a passport stamp, and purchase of a couple drinks.  We are hungry!   We lunch in the shelter area, watching little birds scurry about and surrounded by ocotillo and cholla cactus - all in bloom.  
Window View
     The actual Window Trail is nearly 5 miles round trip and a good climb back UP to the basin, so in the sake of time, we opt for the MUCH shorter Window View loop, which takes us out to a point where you can see through the gap to the western parts of the park beyond.  This is supposed to be a great place during the sunset as you are looking due west.  
Tuff Canyon
     We leave Chisos Basin and head on through the park.  There are a number of short drives we could have added, but we want to get down to the river.  We will take Maxwell Scenic Drive down to Castolon, the site of an old army post and a historic, yet still active, community based on agriculture.  
Layers of volcanic ash. 
From the west side of the mountains we can look back through the Window and see Casa Grande.  Pretty neat.  Then we wind DOWN, through sotol and prickly pear, creosote and mesquite.  We pass through an area of heavy volcanic layers - marked with white tuffstone, yellows, and reds.  The desert seems more arid over on this side.  Just before Castolon, we pass the solitary and majestic Cerro Castellan - a monolith mountain of layered ash.  
Cerro Castellan
   Castolon has a vivid history - from native settlement, to bandits and the army, to an active trading post with the Spanish community of Santa Elena right across the river (the border crossing here is NOT open).  You sense you are somewhat 'at the end of the road' as the visitor traffic is not as heavy, life seems a bit more laid back!  We learn a little more and then push on the last 8 miles to the literal end of the road and the trail into Santa Elena Canyon.  

Visitor Center at Castolon 
Rio Grande as it emerges from the canyon -
Chisos Mountains in distance. 
     The road along the river literally touches the banks in a couple places and a good leap would take you across into Mexico.  The Mexican side, however, is flanked by massive cliffs, probably a couple thousand feet in height.  They are an impressive wall of stone, towering above a tiny thread of green.  We learned that this section of the Rio Grande is mostly fed by a major Mexican tributary, since New Mexico and El Paso regions drain most of the river water before it reaches here.  I was confused until I checked the map later, because the Terilingua river enters at this spot and it looks like a much larger river bed than the Rio Grande!  (It was also completely dry!)
In the canyon depths
   The Santa Elena trail cuts across the Terilingua wash, climbs up around rocks and then slowly descends to the river level in about a 3/4 mile journey.  It is lined right now with blooming
Inside the canyon
prickly pear, honey mesquite, profusely blooming palo verde (which seemed alive with bees and an intoxicating scent), and a type of grass plant which we thought had the stocks of bamboo with the plume of pampas grass.  It was bloody hot....we managed to time this hike to the one three hour period when the trail was totally in the sun!  Not until we reached the river channel in the canyon itself did we have respite.  I can't imagine what it would be like on a truly hot day! (We were only forecast for the mid 80's here).  The shadows of the high cliffs on the water were neat.  Even the quietest of conversations echoed on the walls.  I didn't want to leave the quiet cool of the canyon to reverse our trail, but had to be done.  The big drink of water back at the truck tasted very did the ice cream sandwiches we rewarded ourselves with at the little store in Castolon enroute out!    

    We crank on the air conditioner, retrace the 30 miles back up to the main road, and head home to Alpine, via Terilingua and Study Butte.  We had thought to get an RV site there originally.  After seeing the town, we are so glad to make the 80 mile drive back up to little Alpine!!!  Home around 6:15 to shower, enjoy the thawed burritos from Hobbs, and watch another stellar sunset!  A good day!    
A few more clouds in the sky tonight added swirls to the setting sun.  
 PS.  I have absolutely no idea why my blog appears sometimes in blue text and sometimes black.  It is programmed for black!  

FRIDAY, April 19
Johnson City to Alpine, TX       357 miles
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Wildflower seed farm
     Travel day today!  We pack up the trailer, try to grab a coffee from the Valero across the street but they are out of coffee, and head out of town.  Rick finds a little cafe as we leave Johnson City where we run in and get a coffee!  A beautiful morning to head west on Hwy 290, passing the LBJ Ranch, Becker's vineyard, the road down to Luckenbach, etc.  The eastern sun was pretty on the flower fields of the wildflower seed farm.  We stopped in Fredericksburg at the German Bakery to make a couple more purchases.  They make GOOD bread!  

   From Fredericksburg on to I-10 we are on new highway!  Still rolling hills, oaks, lots of green, and flower lined roadsides.  Only difference is the bluebonnets faded and the day was marked with YELLOW!  Pale yellow (primroses I think) and deep golden yellows, tall black-eyed Susan yellows and short little yellow carpets.  And this continued ALL day!  Occasionally fields of the purple verbena, but mostly a yellow day!  
Lunch spot
     Gradually after merging onto to I-10, the oaks fade and the vistas are filled with what looks like sage, mesquite, and prickly pear!  The hills, however, seem to continue!  At one point in the middle of nowhere (between Sonora and Fort Stockton there is pretty much NOTHING!) I sense a flatness to the vista, but that was short-lived.  
In the middle of nowhere
 We pulled over at the exit for Ozona to pull under the shade of a tree to eat some lunch.  The air was cool and we sought the sunshine to eat!  I found a few flowers, but mostly trash.  No one was picking up this section of highway, that's for sure.  It was a mess!  

     I really like the old water pump windmills and we saw plenty of well worn examples during the day.  As we neared Fort Stockton we also spied hundreds of modern wind turbines on the mesa tops.  
Wind turbines on the mesas. 
     Gas AGAIN in Fort Stockton (we did not get very good mileage today with all the up and down plus a bit of a head wind this morning) and then we cut south on Hwy 67 to the town of Alpine.  We have gradually climbed all day.  Rick said it was like each hill took us just a little higher than the last.  Johnson City was 1200' and Alpine is 4400'.  Fort Stockton is elevation 3000', so we did some good climbing in the last 60 miles!  
Are those mountains?
     As we headed south, we found our horizons again have....MOUNTAINS!  Yes, real mountain skylines!!  This area is called the Alps of Texas.  Rest assured, not quite the same as the Little Alps of Wallowas or Switzerland, but compared to the rest of Texas, these are mountains!  
Lost Alaskan RV Park
     We are thrilled with the little town of Alpine, population 8,000.  There is a university located here, plenty of shops, motels, etc.  We have lots of stuff to do!  First on the agenda is to find the Lost Alaskan RV Park and get settled.  We arrive around 4pm.  The park has a pool, playground, sunset viewing, stargazing spot (enclosed with open roof), and all the normal amenities.  Plenty of big pine trees.  Should be a good spot for four nights.  
     Tomorrow?  BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK!!  
Is this a Texas size sunset?

THURSDAY, April 18
Austin, Capital City of Texas
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     Wow!  What another FAST change in the weather.  We went to bed last night hot and muggy.  We left the fan blowing.  We had windows open and never put more than a sheet over us all night.  When I got up at 6:15 am, it was still 75 degrees inside the trailer.  As I sat working for the next two hours, the temperature in the trailer DROPPED 12 degrees, the rain began, and the winds came.  Just amazing!  
     Because of the weather we weren't in any hurry to get going this morning. The skies are forecast to clear later in the day.  We did change into long pants instead of shorts and I ended up wearing my hooded sweatshirt most of the day!
Terrace on top of Mt. Bonnell
View west from Mt. Bonnell
   We finally left around 10, heading the 45 minute drive into the west side of Austin.  Our first goal is Mt. Bonnell, at 775' in elevation the high point of the city.  There are 99 steps to the top from a parking area, and a beautiful terraced area at the top.  Views were good inspite of the cloudy weather.... and the occasional raindrop!  We could look down upon LadyBird Johnson Lake (dam formed), across to the tall buildings of the downtown area, or across to the mega mansions on the western heights.    We scurried back to the truck when another sudden but short deluge of rain came down. 

ElePooPoo Products
     Rather than drive back to the expressway, we decided to follow the Scenic Lake Drive south.  It was tough to follow in places as it wound around, but we eventually located Redbud Road and the bridge across the lake.  From there we follow a winding and hilly narrow road past large estates and a rather wealthy neighborhood!  Came out at a large city park.  We drove down to Congress Street to find the famed SoCo section of town - a funky enclave of small boutiques, galleries, and food wagons.  Many of the food wagons were not open in the cold, so we finally opted for Home Slice Pizzeria and a spot at the bar to escape the cold.  Rick had a spinach pizza slice and I a spinach salad.  
Love this pic of Diana as
she came down the tower!
Yes, it was windy!
     We spent the next couple hours poking through some of the shops in the SoCo district.  One store in particular was Ten Thousand Villages, which I recognized as a fair trade vendor that Judy Wilkins uses for her purchases.  We checked out the whole place, but got a big kick out of the Elephant Poo paper products.  "We are number one at number two!" is their slogan!!  
Even the bathrooms at the wildflower
center are glorious!
     Arrangements had been made earlier in the day to meet Katy's sister, Diana, at the LadyBird Johnson Wildflower Center at 4.  I called her at 3 to say we were enroute already.  She met us there.  We had a good time checking out all the flowers, identifying, looking at the caterpillars at the insectuary, and enjoying the beauty.  The center has a rainwater catchment system that fills three cisterns.  It looked liked ancient Roman aqueducts in places!  Due to time (and I have misread the closure time for this particular evening - a special event was to be held) we didn't go out on the trails, but you could see from the tower that there weren't ALOT of flowers currently blooming.  The gardens are watered from the catchment system, but not the fields!  
Entry cistern and aqueduct.
Water Iris

     Told Diana we would take her to dinner if she could find an Asian or a Thai restaurant on the south side with her smart phone!  Mission accomplished and we followed her up the road to IM Thai, at a shopping center right where met our road to return west!  Perfect AND very good!!!  Had a good chance to enjoy some more conversation and get to know her better.  
     Tough drive home into the setting sun, but we made it around 7:45.  I ran over to pick up a soap dish at Dollar General (unsuccessful foray) and treats at Pan Mexicano at the Valero station (yes!)  Sunset was spectacular - wish I had been outside of town where I didn't have telephone wires, etc. in my way!!  Maybe tomorrow in Alpine!  It is clearing off - and should be 39 degrees tonight!  What a drop - grab the sleeping bag again!  
     Good conversation with Luke tonight as he was driving to Hermiston for Presbytery. Late to bed!  
Sunset in Johnson City after a stormy day.  

Texas B's: Byes, Baths, Bluebonnets, and Burritos
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   Texas-size B's sum up today!  
Blood Sisters Ginger & Denise
    BYE-BYES (IN BLOOD?).  First an early morning goodbye to Bisou and Diana.  They left around 7 for her to get back to Austin for a 9:30ish appointment.  I got up in time to greet and goodbye, but not Rick.  They were so quiet!!  Then goodbye to Jim as he left for the college, and finally, after hitching up the trailer and checking the house one more time for the 'left behinds', we said goodbye to Denise.  We took a final 'blood sisters' picture out in front, wearing our new Blood Bank shirts from yesterday!  The Schneiders have been so INCREDIBLY gracious in hosting us for this prolonged stay.  I'm terribly afraid we more than pushed the limit of "Guests, like fish, smell after three days!"  But we had so much fun with them....and enjoyed San Antonio as well!  

The trailer gets a bath! 
  BATHS.  I don't wish to mislead and have anyone think that we haven't bathed in awhile, but the bath is for the truck and trailer!  Neither has bathed since we left home!!!  Rick remembered passing a large 'do it yourself' car wash last weekend in Johnson City, so we went searching after making the hour long drive up from San Antonio this morning.  We finally stopped and I ran into a beauty shop to ask.  Got directions!  For $5 worth of quarters (my job was to input quarters and turn the dial on the 'wands'!) Rick was able to clean both the truck and the trailer.  The winds and dust storms of Hobbs, especially, had taken their toll.  When we got set up at Roadrunner RV Park on the south side of Johnson City, we took the time to wipe down all the interior surfaces of the trailer.  A light layer of dust still remained in many places!  
Our spot at Roadrunner RV Park
     BTW....the Roadrunner RV Park is a well-kept secret. With our Good Sam discount, we are paying just $25 a night for full hook-ups, a shower house within 35 feet, high speed internet, and at least 5 TV stations from Austin.  The helpful gal at the desk provided us with plenty of information concerning the area, day trips, etc.  A clubhouse room with book exchange, game tables, and full kitchen.  Laundry room with $1 wash and $1 dry!  A hole in the fence allows access to a little strip mall right next door: market, hardware, dollar general, etc.  Too bad we are only staying two nights!  Only sad part was that we left our water pressure valve at home and needed one for this park.  Had to buy another one!  :(   On the bath notes....we both tried out the showers tonight to rave reviews!)

Ginger finds a field of bluebonnets!
     BLUEBONNETS.  Rick and I walked via a few backstreets down to the LBJ Historical Site Visitor Center and "The Settlement" trails.  Enroute we passed some new flowers: winecups and another I still haven't identified.  I found a patch of authentic TEXAS paintbrush (larger, more white on them).  We saw black-eye Susan-like daisies, Indian blanket flowers (like I have in my garden), the prairie primrose and prairie verbena.  And, of course, bluebonnets.  As we walked around The Settlement area of the historic site, we came upon vast fields of the Texas state flower.  Finally!  A chance to just put myself in the middle of the field and enjoy!  I still haven't found a spot where the bluebonnets and the paintbrush intermingle, but I shall!
Texas Paintbrush
     Oh yeah.  The LBJ visitor center was pretty interesting as well!  Well done displays.  Again, this national park stop has reminded me of the good LBJ did in the fields of education, civil rights, poverty, the environment (massive additions to the National Park system) etc.  Unfortunately, a little war called VietNam was probably more his legacy and people forget the rest.  A really good section on the conservation efforts of LadyBird Johnson as well.  Tomorrow we hope to visit the Lady Bird Wildflower Center in Austin.  

A plate size burrito - stuffed full! 
     BURRITOS.  BIG ONES.  Walking back to the trailer, we realized we were hungry!  Rick had read in the clubhouse that the little Mexican restaurant across the highway had $3.99 burritos, so we thought to pick up a couple.  We ordered two 'seasoned pork' ones to go, Rick asking for jalapenos on his.  I figured I would add a little of the already cut avocado to mine.  Well, they toss in a few chips and salsa as well, and the burritos were HUGE!!!  I only ate 2/3 of mine and left the rest in the fridge for tomorrow.  (Actually, they mixed up putting the J label on the foil and I ended up with Rick's jalapenos!  I just about went through the ceiling on the first bite!  We quickly took care of that problem!)  We might have to go back again before we leave....maybe breakfast on Friday! 

     It has been cloudy and overcast all day.  Temps in the high 70's, slight breeze.  VERY humid feeling and sticky.  A storm is supposed to come in tonight and perhaps cool things down.  We'll see.  Just found a text from Katy's sister Diana asking about possibly rendezvous tomorrow.  That would be fun too!  Stay tuned!
Fields of bluebonnets lined the trail at the Johnson Historic Site Settlement area. 

TUESDAY, April 16
Corpus Christi to San Antonio, Packing Up!

     Not too exciting a morning today to report!  We arise, breakfast at the hotel.  I should report Rick dined on two TEXAS shaped waffles (they were quite large) and filled with blueberries.  He was in heaven! And stuffed!  We watched the morning’s events of the Boston Marathon tragedy on TV.  Second time we have sat in a hotel lobby, breakfasting, and watching of a disaster.  The first was the Columbia re-entry breakup while at a tennis tourney in Boise.  Our thoughts and prayers are with all, especially any from Baker who might have been in attendance. 
Loading on to the ferry
     We packed up and hit the ferry line right at 9am.  Rick was able to practically drive right on non-stop.  Only two more cars after us and we were moving!  Speedy!  Then a drive through the rest of the bay and delta area – all flat and filled with pockets of water everywhere.  Agriculture, refineries, etc….and no lake of water! 
     We enjoyed following the ‘evacuation route’ all the way back to San Antonio.  Stopped to gas up at $3.28 just north of Corpus and I drove the rest of the way back up to San Antonio.  Uneventful. 
Rick, Francis, & Ginger
     Afternoon of packing up, and then the exciting bonding time with Jim and Denise of a trip to the Blood Bank.  We all gave up a pint!  Rick and I wanted to go specifically this week so that we would be ‘in sync’ with the next draw in Baker City.  A smooth draw and we all came home with red t-shirts!
     Rick, Denise, and I walked next door to deliver our gift to Francis and visit for a short bit.  She is such a sweet woman!  Sent us home with pizellis (the waffle cookie!)
     Jim prepared some Texas chili tonight, which we enjoyed with the rye/wheat bread we bought at the German bakery last week and fresh squash from the Farmer’s Market on Friday.  Too bad Dianna couldn’t arrive in time for dinner! 

     Dianna came tonight to pick up Bisou!  She stayed the night, but will have to get up early in the morning to get to work in time in Austin.  All will be leaving early, however, as Jim has to work and Rick and I hope to be gone by 9.  Good to get a chance to visit with her abit.  

MONDAY, April 15
Padre Island National Seashore & Port Aransas, TX
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Ginger dipping her toes in the Gulf of Mexico waters.
     Did I say I would be sore today?  I woke up stiff in my….buttocks!  By tonight the backs of my thighs are so tight – I sit down ‘gingerly’ – no pun intended!  Not my arm or shoulders – but my legs from bending over to do all the hammering!  Wow!  Three hours of a Joshua Build were harder on me than two weeks of Care-a-Vanners!!! 
     But….enough of that!  Today we ventured further south into the region of Corpus Christi – not quite to the far ‘point’ of the state of Texas, but close!  We left around 8:30am, retraced our path from last Friday to I-37, and were out of the San Antonio ‘loops’ within a half hour!  The road to Corpus was nondescript (exactly as Jim said it would be!).   Mostly flat, agricultural with what appeared to be sugar cane and more, and a few grass hopper oil drills.  We understand it is an area of oil fracking, but we didn’t see much of it.  Just before we entered the Corpus Christi region, we passed a large refinery area. 
Early view of Corpus Christi
Padre Island water
tank has turtles!
We decided our goal wasn’t so much to visit fancy places, but to experience the Gulf Coast in its quirkier spots.  We drove straight through Corpus (amazed at the vast tracts of agriculture right in the middle of town) and on over the bridge to Padre Island.  The north end of the island is filled to capacity with condos, highrises, hotels, restaurants, etc.  Once you drive about 5 miles south, you abruptly leave the congestion and entered the National Seashore boundaries with grasslands, dunes, beaches and waterholes.
     Upon passing through the entrance station, we are
Security cams!
amazed by the number of security cameras tracking our every move.  Later we see a helicopter passing back and forth over the area.  In asking at the Visitor Center, we find some shenanigans had been taking place earlier in the day with some suspected drug trafficking, so the authorities were out in force.  (I think the cameras were there most of the time, however!) 
Rick along Padre Island Gulf Coast side
  The air is pleasantly cool and moist while on the beach, but if you are in the lee of the breeze AT ALL, it is hot and moist!  We took a walk for about a half mile north on the beach, mostly enjoying the warm water and the cacophony of birds  along the way.  I tried to take enough pictures that Denise will identify them all for me tomorrow night.  The beach was covered with a thick orange seaweed in clumps everywhere.  Padre Island is known for its efforts to restore the sea turtle populations.  Huge ridley sea turtles nest here.  The eggs are removed from the nest, incubated in a safe location, and the baby turtles are released in the summer, often to the cheers of thousands of on-lookers as they scurry down to the water.  
Ridley sea turtle laying eggs -
model in visitor center
Sculpture in front of
Marine Science Center
     We drive north past the end of Padre Island and over the short bridge to Mustang Island.  It is a quick 18 miles up to Port Aransas.  Each small ‘break’ between islands is called a pass. Just like a pass in the mountains, this is a pass between the islands to the inner harbors.  A ferry will take us across Aransas Pass in the morning back to the mainland.  We decided we would rather stay in a small fishing village of 3500 people instead of Corpus Christi and 300,000 people, so we find the Islander Hotel at a bargain $67 for the night!  We visit the Univ of Texas Marine Science Center – a small operation – but interesting all the same.  I guess I was expecting something along the lines of the Hatfield Marine Center in Newport, so when I read about 7 aquariums  I thought this would be similar.  Indeed there were 7 aquariums, but each was probably only about 50 gallons! 
Our fine dining establishment!
Rick preparing to eat his amberjack fish!
     While I did a little shopping before the stores closed, Rick checked out the dining venues.  He came back to pick me up with the elation of finding a quirky little fish market advertising Amberjack fish.  It was wildly decorated inside and just offbeat enough to grab our fancy.  Besides, we are in an adventuresome mode and decided we had to try a fish we have never heard of before!  (Note: I looked it up on the internet – amberjack fish can grow to 150 lbs, but the under 15 pound range are the tastiest.  They are lean, white fish, and voracious predators among the reefs and wrecks of shallow waters.)  The coleslaw and rice were good, but the meal was for the fish and we got a plentiful slab and it was DELICIOUS!!!  We topped it off by sharing another Southern treat - key lime pie!   The ‘Ocean of Seafood’ Market had stuff all over the walls and ceiling.  It was a good ‘funky’ place and I liked it!
Fishing pier at Port Aransas
     After dinner we drove out Beach Drive to a pier that went way out into the Gulf.  Several men were fishing off the end.  We got to talking to one young man from Tyler, TX.  He had quite a drawl!   He had caught a huge redfish that he was proudly displaying.  We also witnessed his friend catch a small hammerhead-like shark.  They threw the shark back.  Rick talked with the kid for awhile and then we left to watch a few surfers as we ambled our way back down the pier. 
     Back to the hotel for a little R&R!!!   I discover I am able to connect to the internet in the room and don't have to go to the lobby!   A perfect day!  G’night!   
Ginger from the fishing pier at Port Aransas

SUNDAY, April 14
Habitat for Humanity Joshua Build
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Posing in front of the Joshua Build trailer

     When Rick and I originally told Jim and Denise we wanted to worship with them on Sunday, the message we got was  “GREAT!  It will be a little different service that day.” Was it ever!  And we were overjoyed to be a part of it! 
     Basically the church was enjoying a type of ‘retreat’ this morning where Worship was Work, and Work was a form of Worship!  We started at 9am – some people involved with the Habitat Joshua Build, others cleaning out landscaping, painting, or planting in the Community Gardens.  Over 60 were working on the Habitat part, however.  We were a part of that group. 
     Denise took the opportunity to show Rick and I around the church prior to 9, and then left for her BirdWatching trip to Houston area.  The sanctuary is unique in that it has no windows, and is in a ¾ round.  The design is unconventional, but positive.   I shall include some pictures. 
The entrance courtyard to the church grounds. 
Interior of sanctuary
The pulpit.  The minister goes here only to preach the sermon. 
The communion table is the central focus.  A kneeling bench surrounds it. 

     Mostly, we worked for the next 3 plus hours pounding nails.  I am going to be sore!!  We worked with homeowners, youth, members of other churches.  Each ‘crew’ had a Habitat boss.  There were four crews.  We made every wall necessary for the standard San Antonio Habitat floor plan for a three bedroom house.  When done, all the walls were stacked in a very specific order on a flat trailer, where they will be off loaded with a fork lift and stored until ready for a build.  The head guy said they have about 15 houses worth of walls in storage at the moment!  They build NO walls on site here.  What isn’t built in Joshua type builds, are done by prisoners at the Maximum Security Facilities or by high school building classes at about 4 schools. 
Rick and Katy's dad, Jim, get started on a wall. 
Ginger and Jim 
  I talked mostly with Homeowner Betty, who will begin construction of her home on May 4.  She should be able to move in by the end of the summer!  She is excited!
     Worship took place around 12:45 in the shade of the giant live oak trees.  Then lunch in the fellowship hall with our Habitat guests, the homeowners, and visitors from other churches.  Afterwards we went back down to move the walls from the ground to the trailer. 
A smaller group moved all the walls up on the trailer after lunch.
These walls will build a 3 bedroom house! 
     Rest of day is quiet.  Denise is gone until Tuesday afternoon.   We talked with Moms, Luke (a birthday call!), Katy, made salads, stir fry veggies, cooked beets, etc.  Did laundry!  Aired out trailer!  Prepared to head out tomorrow for Corpus Christi – with no real plans on our part!!!  

SATURDAY, April 13
Luckenbach, Texas to LBJ History....via the Becker Winery! 
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The four of us in Luckenbach, Texas! 
     Let's go to Luckenbach, Texas, with Waylon and Willie and the boys....! Today was a trip to the Hill Country of Texas with Jim and Denise!  We finally got away by 9:45, after dining on chorizo, egg, and tater burritos, plus fruit, for breakfast!  Then a stop for gas and a refund for me on the jicama I bought yesterday.  I was charged for Jamaica something instead at 6.48 a pound instead of .98 cents per pound!  I received a rebate for 9.36.  A worthwhile pause in the day! 
Trying on a hat! 
Live oak trees and the saloon!
     The town of Luckenbach, population 3, really exists along  Sweet Grape Creek!   Made famous by Waylon and Willie and their song,  there is a dance hall, postoffice store, bar, and a few assorted old barn buildings.  Two residence homes pretty much sum up the idyllic setting in the live oaks of the area.  A man named Hondo established the town and put it on the map as a place for country music and local talent of the area.  We arrived on Day 2 of a Three Day music festival, but it was very laid back,  just like the village!  Fun!!!  I tried on a few cowboy hats, rimmed with beer caps, just for show!  I had to laugh at one of the souvenirs - novelty sink stoppers!  THAT was a first for me.  Just what I want - a sink stopper with the Lone Star in the center!  
Sink Stoppers!
     On up the narrow and winding road that runs from Boerne through Luckenbach and up to Fredricksburg to cut toward Austin and the Becker Brewery.  Becker was a doctor who's wife contracted cancer and eventually died.  He decided to do what he always wanted to do: make wine.  The winery has grown and grown.  As it is a Saturday, it was bustling with wedding parties celebrating, etc.  Ran in to some close friends of Denise and Jim's.  We purchased our wine tasting 'tickets', good for 6 different wines and a wine glass, for $10 each.   In the meantime a wine tour was announced, so Rick, Denise, and I went on that.  Short, but informative, and we got to visit the barrel rooms, the bottling station, and the 'library' - a sealed chamber where special events are held, and a sample of every wine made is kept. 
Wine tasting tickets and glass! 
 We ended up purchasing a CASE of wine - Rick and I bought 3 bottles, Schneiders the rest.  Two bottles will go to Katy!! Jim watched what he drank as he was our 'DD', and I ended up giving Rick one of my tickets!!  I did eat plenty of the little oyster crackers to balance out the wine!  
     We continue East on the highway, Denise disappointed by the lack of wildflowers!  It is just so dry in places.  We do find patches of bluebonnets, and a few patches of paintbrush, etc.
Along the Perdanales River, the entry to the
LBJ Ranch winds through a beautiful grove of
live oaks. 
Part of front porch and OLD oak tree
    Our next stop is in Stonewall, TX, to visit the LBJ State Park and National Historic Site of the Texas White House.  It was really pretty interesting.  Denise got an audio tour to listen to in the car while we drove through the grounds.  Then we parked and went into the 'White House' to take a guided tour.  You can't take pictures inside the house, so I don't have much to show for that.  It was quite ordinary and unpretentious   Ladybird lived here much of the time up until her death in 2007, 34 years after the death of LBJ.  The kitchen has been left exactly as it appeared in 1963 on the day of Kennedy's assassination and the day LBJ became president, clear to pecan pies sitting on the counter which had been baked for the Kennedy arrival that evening.  
Air Force One Half
     I didn't realize that LBJ spent so much time at the 'Texas' White House - 25% of his presidency was commanded from here.  They said he used it to intimidate or coerce cooperation for a myriad of legislation.  He brought individuals out to Texas and had a captive audience with them until they would do what he wanted!   All in all, a really good NPS tour.  We got a kick out of the small jet on display, which is how LBJ flew into the ranch: he called it Air Force One Half!  A small visitor center (actually a waiting room for the house tours) emphasized Johnson's work in civil rights.  Outside the home, all the small cement 'signatures' of Texas White House visitors have been relocated to what is called the Friendship Stone Garden.  Evidently Johnson would have people sign their name in fresh cement and then use the resulting stone to pave the walkways.
John Glenn visited in 1962!
    It was now close to 4 pm and we were hungry! We drove on in to Stonewall to eat at a recommended little diner behind the Chevron station.  Unfortunately it was closed, so we chose The Agave Restaurant on down the road.  It proved to be ample and tasty food!  Plenty of fish!  I had shrimp and fish fillet fajitas and Rick a spicy fish dish.  
     Home in San Antonio by 6pm to a quiet evening - making a card for Francis, helping Denise post a video to a powerpoint, downloading pictures, etc.!  
Bisou poses for me. 
   PS.  Bisou and i have made peace.  Now he just barks because he is mad at me for ignoring him and he wants to play!  We had a great round of keep away this morning while Jim was cooking breakfast!


Mission San Juan Capistrano
FRIDAY, April 12
Biking the San Antonio Mission Trail
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     Oh what a beautiful morning....and entire day!  Jim has to teach today and Denise has a group of pre-schoolers to take on a worm adventure at the 'nature park' where she volunteers, so.....Rick and I decide it is a great day to take a bike ride!!  The weather is perfect - high 70's, yet still cool in the am.  We quickly run down to the Farmer's Market at the bottom of the hill to pick up a supply of vegetables, return to the house to put them away, and then take off for Mission San Jose and the start of the Mission Trail. 
Bluebonnets along the
bike path! 
 San Antonio has been working extensively on the RiverWalk/Bike Path trail system throughout town and points north and south.  Bike exchange stations are located along the way - places where you can rent a bike and then leave it at the next stop.  We finally figured out somewhat where we were going and made our way down, along the river, to Mission San Juan Capistrano (not the one of California where the swallows return every year!)  This is the area where the acequias (aqueducts) diverted the river water to irrigate the mission farms.  It is also where the City of San Antonio, in recent years, has done major riparian repair, planted thousands of grasses and wildflowers to restore and shore up banks, and installed a series of flood control measures to help bring the river back to what it once was.  The result is a beautiful set of paths on both sides of the river, gorgeous and frequent parks, picnic tables, and benches, and easy biking!   Each of the missions is approximately 3 miles apart, beginning with the Alamo up near downtown.  Mission Espada at the far southern tip is therefore about 15 miles south of downtown - or past the I-410 loop that circles the city.  Mission San Jose, our starting point,  is in the
Yellowcrowned night heron

      The trees and river were alive with wildlife!  Birds in abundance, turtles, and water fowl.  Bluebonnets, Indian blanket flowers, tall wheat grasses, primroses, and other wildflowers.  The music of the birds accompanied us all day long!  
Turtles in the river.
  We found Mission San Juan Capistrano abuzz with construction activity.  The parking lot had been moved, so the original produce farm could be restored and the acequia again provide irrigation waters for a working demonstration farm for the National Park Service.  Should be exciting and fun to watch.  The mission chapel itself was just reopened after a two year closure for restoration efforts.  It is beautiful - solid white exterior which is according to original pictures and reports.  No designs ever were painted on the exterior of this mission.  The sky was so blue this time of the day - I loved the contrast it provided with the white for pictures.  

Capistrano bell tower
 The Capistrano chapel itself was so narrow - Probably close to 15 feet.  I think each pew was only about 6' in width!  Only a couple portal windows.  

Capistrano interior. 
Outside along a wall we found all the Stations of the Cross numbers - set in the ground and running in a continuous line from I to XIV.  I got my NPS stamps and we talked to a ranger about the bike path further down - only to discover it was closed.  
One of the bridges I really liked
....with bluebonnets!
Near the flood control wiers. 
     So....back north on the other side of the river.  Our trail was no longer paved, but it was a good surface and wound through a forest of trees alive with birds.  Denise later identified many of them for me as she is an avid birder.  I still have a few of the flowers to identify.  We decided to ride past San Jose Mission and use the bike trail to visit Mission Concepcion.  
     We stopped about mid point along a section of flood control measures and where the acequia is diverted again for waters to flow to the mission farmland.  A few pictures, including several of the bridge which I thought quite picturesque!  More waterfowl, and then north where we eventually had to ride on a regular street for the final stretch to Mission Concepcion.  
Concepcion interior
   This mission is in a state of renovation, hence scaffolding can be seen from certain angles.  It is know for the fresco paintings still visible on some of the interior walls.  It also is one of the largest sanctuaries - with the full European style cross architecture - and a dome over the cross section.  We managed to get a few moments of peace and quiet in the church before a huge group of teenagers came in for a tour with the park ranger.  It was NOT quiet then!  (The youth tour bus was marked on the side of the bus:  Buses by Bill!  I took a picture for Mom R!)  
Mission Concepcion

     Outside to visit a prayer garden and admire the building from the scaffolding shows from that angle.  Then a ride back down Mission Road to our truck at Mission San Jose.  We will drive the 6 miles from there down to Mission Espada at the far end of the trail! 
     We stop quickly enroute to get a cool drink, discover we are at a 3.31 gal gas station and it is time to fill up the tank!  
One example of the brick archways
     Mission Espada is remote and less frequently visited.  The remains are primitive, although we really enjoyed the many arches marked by the red brickwork at the top.  The bell towers are what make this chapel unique.  I wish I could have gotten a picture of them with that blue blue sky!  
Cool bell tower of Mission Espada. 

Espada had windows
with potted plants!
     We left Espada around 2:55, and took freeways the entire way back to our exit for Jim and Denise's house north of town.  It only took 20 minutes!  Stopped at HEB for some fruit, a gift for Francis, and some wine.  Finally back to the house at 3:45!!  Jim has been cutting up goodies - he is cooking a Cajun shrimp dish for dinner - mild!!  We visit, watch the news while I download pictures, and then enjoy a wonderful meal and glass of wine together, mostly telling Katy stories!  :)   
     Plans made for tomorrow's adventures and then a game of Rummicube!  Once again I am a little late at getting this posted and I haven't drawn a scribble in three days!!  Oh well!  
Front of Mission Espada sanctuary.  

THURSDAY, April 11
Mission San Jose and Mission Valero (aka The Alamo!)
San Antonio RiverWalk
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Arriving at the Mission San Jose
     What a beautiful new morning!  Gone is the cold chill and the sun is shining.  It is suppose to be a PERFECT day weatherwise! 
     Another slight change in plans today as Denise finds she has a meeting she MUST go to this morning, so Jim will be our tour guide for the day, as Denise will also drive up to meet Dianna to pick up the grand-dog for the weekend (Dianna is taking a bicycle ride!)  We finally get moving around 9:45 and headed downtown and beyond to Mission San Jose.  Into the Visitor Center to get my passport stamped and view a 20 minute film.  The film was very well done – from the perspective of the Indian mostly and the changes the mission system brought to their world.   
View of Mission Nave and Bell Tower
from east side courtyard
  This is the most complete of the five San Antonio missions – the complete plaza and wall system are still in place.  We wander through the Indian quarters, the convent area, and then into the mission church itself.  The building is still decorated for Easter Sunday with lilies in front.  It looks like everything has been all sparkled up for the holiday as the gold just glistens! 
Twin crosses from the front
  The bell tower plays the Westminster Chimes which sounds a little strange coming from a Spanish mission.  Restoration is taking place on the Rose Window, the most ornate of the decorations for the church.  On the lower corner of the bell tower you can see some of the original decorative painting down on the front of the building. 
Altar wall of mission church
Grist mill churns out flour.
     The grainery was said to hold a year’s worth of food, and the grist mill located at this mission provided flour for all five of the missions along the river in this area (each about 3-4 miles distant from each other).  There was a volunteer docent in the grist mill who did a nice job explaining the operation of the mill.  We could see the flour come out from between the two stones.  Pretty neat. 
     The flowers, especially cactus, around the mission are beautiful.  No bluebonnets, but many others! 
     Back to the house around 12:20 to meet Denise for lunch before she heads out to rendezvous with Dianna and exchange the dog.  I rummage for a few things from our trailer and Jim heats up some frozen lentil soup.  We all enjoy the rest of the pumpernickel bread! 
OK, so this is REAL touristy, but......
     For the afternoon we are bound for The Alamo, the RiverWalk, and the Mercado, a large Mexican goods area.  The Alamo (aka Mission San Antonio de Valero) is operated through a concessionaire of the state – NOT the National Park Service.  You aren’t allowed to take pictures inside, which is rather stupid since there really isn’t much to take a picture of!  A series of state flags, each with the number of people from their state who died in the battle.  A number of artifacts ‘purported’ to be authentic from the event.  I enjoyed the gardens behind the mission building, especially some of the live oak trees.  One of them was absolutely MASSIVE – convoluted, twisted branches arching everyone, some even touching the ground.  One tree much have provided shade for an area 100’ square at least. 
The main trunk of the massive
live oak tree near Alamo.  
     Before leaving the Alamo area, we walked over to the Mender Hotel next door.  An OLD inconspicuous building, but it had a stained glass ceiling on the fourth floor reminiscent of the Geiser Grand.  Teddy Roosevelt is said to have recruited his Rough Riders in this hotel. 
     Just across the street from Alamo Plaza are the typical tourist ‘schlock’ as Jim puts it: Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Shooting Galleries, Wax museums, etc.  Just pathetic!! 
The River Theater stage area. 
Ginger on a RiverWalk bridge
     We walked down a level from the street near the Hyatt Hotel and entered the RiverWalk zone.  The river takes a huge bend in this area and beginning in 1930 efforts were made to fix it up in a special way.  With the Hemisphere Fair in the 1960’s, the River Walk really took off and development was huge.  Arched bridges, waterfalls, flowers, and towering cypress trees mark the outdoor sidewalk cafes, shops, and hotel access.  We walked the whole loop, the second half of which was far less crowded.  Areas for weddings, a river theater, and access to the Vallita – the little village that grew just outside the mission walls.   
    Denise met us downtown around 5pm at the Mercado (we rode a trolley
Denise and Jim at Mi Tierra Restaurant
both ways down to the Alamo area and back) and we spent an hour exploring the shops of this Spanish/Mexican market.  Picked up some gifts and by 6pm when the shops were closing, we were ready to head across the street to Mi Tierra and Katy’s FAVORITE restaurant.  I know why.  There are more lights sparkling inside that restaurant!  Silver and gold papel picado hang amidst white and yellow lights.  In other areas the ceiling is covered with red and green lights.  The back room, where we ate, has a HUGE mural painted with the portraits of over 50 key figures in Hispanic history.  Most of them have some tie to the San Antonio region, but not all.  I wish they had a ‘guide to the mural’ at the tables.  We had a GREAT dinner together! 
The mural and part of the golden papel
picado room

     Back to the house in separate cars to wrap up a super day with coffee and conversation.  Dianna’s dog, Bisou. doesn’t like me very well and has an extremely high pitched bark.  Denise finally sprayed water in his face to get him to quiet down!  I don’t know WHO I remind the dog of, but it must be someone! 

     Time to go to bed!  A great day!!!  

San Angelo to San Antonio, Texas
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     BRRRRR!!!  Last night the weather turned in about 15 minutes.  At one point it was warm in the trailer, then suddenly it started cooling off and the wind picked up – rapidly!!!  It was buffeting the trailer all over the place!  Rick went and got the heavy sleeping bag out of the truck and by the time we went to bed we wanted it!!!  It rained during the night – lightly at first and then a few showers of heavy rain.  Thunderclaps a few times and more wind.  This morning it was around 36 degrees outside.  Inside the trailer it was 46.  I cleaned up a little water off the floor, not realizing until Rick went to get dressed, that A LOT of water had dripped from the air conditioner right into one of his tennis shoes.  It was soaked!!!  Best we can figure, the wind blew water into the AC – even more came pouring out when he lowered the front of the trailer to hitch up!! 
     It was COLD all day.  From sweltering yesterday in near 90 temps to wearing a sweatshirt today in the car!  We switched back to long pants when we arrived in Fredericksburg to walk around! 
     It’s official!  We are in the Hill Country of bluebonnet fame!  We spied our first field of the little lupine like gems with their white hats at 9:35 am.  From then on, the blue carpet was a constant alongside the road.  Sometimes with the pink or red of paintbrush, sometimes with light and dark yellow flowers.  Shortly after the first bluebonnets, Rick saw a dead armadillo on the roadside.  Texas for sure!!! 
Brewery State flags hang
    We stopped in Brady for gas and drinks, then on to Fredricksburg to stop for awhile, grab a bite, and walk the downtown area.  We eat at the Brewery, enjoying the tortilla chicken soup and a small basil and tomato pizza.  Rick has a beer.  It is still cold outside and the soup tasted good.  Fredricksburg was settled by Germans and retains much of the original flavor.  Now a tourist town of restaurants, the arts, and small shops. We stopped and picked up a few items at the Christmas shop, and then I ran in to the German bakery to grab three loaves of bread to take to Schneiders: pumpernickel, sunflower, and rye wheat! 
Our breads - the pumpernickel was so dark
I thought I was eating chocolate bread! 
     I managed to get an entire camel stitched in the time it took to drive from Hobbs to San Antonio.  Four down, one to go!!! 
     We arrived at Whisper Falls 11322 around 3:30 pm – no problem finding the place and getting the trailer backed into the neighbor’s driveway.  Set up for awhile here.  Jim is gone for the day teaching, and Denise shows us around and in general makes us feel very much at home. 
Schneider home in San Antonio -
surrounded by oaks

Cardinal outside kitchen window.
     Evening spent visiting and making plans for our tourism time!!!  And now….it is time to go to bed!  Big day tomorrow!  

TUESDAY, April 9
Hobbs, NM to San Angelo, TX
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The first of many oil grasshoppers. 
     Today we go to TEXAS!  (The border is only 4 miles east of us!)  And another time zone – this time for more than the 5 minutes we were in Central Time near Guadalupe Mountain National Park! 
     I can summarize our Texas travels so far quite simply: flat, windy and hot, oil grasshoppers, wind turbines, and more irrigation than expected!  We finally figure out that some of the fields are cotton! 
     The wind proves to be annoying all day today as we head south east, fighting a southwest wind.  So much for any decent gas mileage!  But more to the point, the road quality wasn’t that great and it took some concentrated driving for Rick to keep the truck and trailer on the good part of the road inspite of sudden wind gusts blowing sideways on us!  Weather is WARM… downright HOT at times – San Angelo was 94 degrees this afternoon when we arrived!  Fortunately a cold front is moving in and temps should drop nearly 20 degrees by tomorrow.  (Same cold front that is dropping snow in Colorado and Northern New Mexico.)
Our KOA campsite. 
  We logged just 200 miles today down to San Angelo, TX on Hwy 87.  We thought San Angelo was a small town, and later discover it has nearly 100,000 residents!  There are three reservoirs around town, and we camp at the KOA on Lake Nasworthy, which is the only one that is over 50% full.  Isy and Cathy are up at the State Park north of us.  We were going to stay there, but the KOA was the same price for TV, wifi, and sewer, none of which we would have had at the state park!  Rare for KOA prices to be competitive!! 
     Highlight of the campground for me are the gorgeous cactus blossoms outside the office.  Deep orange colored.  The office gal doesn’t know what kind they are…only that they don’t bloom for very long.  We got lucky! 
Cactus blossoms at the KOA
     We hole up in the trailer for awhile this afternoon with the air conditioner running.  Then dinner (which I made yesterday and it has been in the fridge) and a walk afterwards.  We went out to the road and found tons of cars are parked and people walking up the hill past the KOA.  So….we joined them, not knowing where we were going, but the mesquite was pretty and there wasn’t much traffic.  Eventually we wound around a peninsula in the lake, past some gorgeous Torrey yucca, ocotillo, and the lowering sun on the lake.  Right as Rick was ready to turn back, I asked some walkers where the road goes, and they said it was a loop!  We would have turned around about 200 yards from the KOA!!  We just couldn’t see it!  Glad I asked! 
Torrey yucca on the walk.
The blossoms can weigh up to 70 lbs!
     Tomorrow we are in to San Antonio and a good visit with Katy’s parents!  A leisurely morning, as we don’t want to arrive before 3 and it is a little less than 200 miles.