Family, Friends, Food, the Fair, and Football in Dallas!

Wow! What a fun long weekend in Dallas. Dallas is known for its restaurants and I must say we participated in an eat-a-thon! We got in late Thursday night. Love Field was a zoo. Bart and my mom were nice enough to pick us up from the airport.

The eating started first thing Friday morning. I met my step-mom, brother and sister-in-law at Angela’s, a diner style restaurant very close to my old house. They make the best basic breakfast…eggs, bacon, hashbrowns, and toast. And the price is right!

My friend Suman was able to join me for lunch. We met my old work colleagues downtown as I had a craving for Chef Wang’s. This chinese food place is so good it’s only open from 11-2, Monday-Friday. There is nothing fancy about it. There is line for ordering and a line for pick up. I recommend the spicy green bean chicken which isn’t on the menu. It was really fun to see my colleagues too. It had been a while! I’m excited a few of them may come to Denver in December.

As if I hadn’t eaten enough already, I couldn’t skip dinner. Suman, my mom and Bart, Debby and Norb, and I enjoyed a nice dinner at Lark on the Park. The cauliflower soup was rich and delicious and the mussels were spicy and tender. We really enjoyed the food and atmosphere. Giant chalk boards lined the walls and different artists drew their creation on them. Each chalk art was listed on the back of the menu. What a cool idea.

We capped off the night with drinks at Savor Gastropub which provides a lovely view of Klyde Warren Park. It was my first time to finally go to Klyde Warren Park. Built in the last five years after I moved from Dallas, it covers Woodall Rogers Freeway. I couldn’t figure out how it was going to work. It seemed like it would be loud and it wouldn’t attract many people. I was wrong. The park is beautiful and the restaurants are great! I loved seeing it and we had such a nice night.

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Suman and I got a break from food on Saturday morning…a much needed relief since we were headed to the State Fair of Texas. We scheduled attending the fair on the same day the Texas OU game was playing. We weren’t sure what to expect because it can be a mad house with 92,000 college fans attending the game. We opted to take the Dart Light Rail from the Market Center Location to the Martin Luther King stop. This was a good choice as there was plenty of parking at market center and we only had to walk three blocks or so to the main entrance.

Suman bought our fair tickets online. Not only did we save some money, we skipped the long lines and walked right in! She bought the food coupons online as well which we had to pick up at a hospitality building. This was a bit more challenging, but no matter where we purchased food coupons, there was a line.

We arrived at the fair just after 11 which was perfect timing as that was the scheduled kick off time for the game. I have to say, this might be the best time ever to attend the fair as everyone was inside the Cotton Bowl while we were walking around trying out fair food and looking at the exhibits. I don’t believe we tried anything healthy at the fair. Our snacks included Fletcher’s Corn Dogs (has to be Fletcher’s), a fried Twinkie – YUM, a fried Reeses, and a fried Snickers! I’m not sure the four hours we spent walking around counter acted all those calories, but who is counting. I mean we were at the largest State Fair in North America.

fried Twinkie
fried Twinkie

The exhibits were nice. I was particularly amazed by the cow made of 1,000 pounds of butter that sold for $130,000! Of course, we had to stop to take a picture with Big Tex, the iconic cowboy. We visited the livestock show and the Clydesdales, and opted to stay for the pig races at 3pm. It was hilarious to watch them race to the finish for an Oreo as their ears flopped! It was even worth maneuvering through the mass crowd that let out of the football game, though I don’t think I’d do that again.

I began to wonder if we had made a mistake staying at the fair this long as we walked back toward the entrance weaving our way through now ridiculous lines at Fletcher’s. Eventually we made it to the Martin Luther King station to find a long line waiting on the light rail, but to our surprise we got on the train and got the last two seats! It turned out to be a glorious afternoon of weather too, so we couldn’t have had better luck enjoying the State Fair of Texas.

So to add more unhealthy food to our diet, we met my old soccer team at Blue Goose in Addison for some TexMex! You can’t go wrong with chips, salsa, and margaritas. And reminiscing over the dumb things we did in our twenties had my sides aching I was laughing so hard. What fun!

Well, we awoke to more food. The morning called for us to catch up with my SCUBA buddies at the Oasis on Greenville Ave. I had never been here, and I was pleasantly surprised by breakfast. Another diner style type, as I prefer bacon, eggs, and hashbrowns at a reasonable price over a fru-fru omelette. My breakfast was cooked to perfection. The consensus was the french toast and the pancakes were also quite tasty. It was fun to catch up with my friends. I need to get them to go on another SCUBA trip, but it seems they’ve traded in the tropics for ice cold Sweden this winter. I expect they will see the Northern Lights!

Our final outing for the three day weekend was the Cowboys-Bengals game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. I think it has been almost two years since I made it to a game. Of course the billion dollar stadium is known for how nice it is with its collection of art and impressive facilities, but I’m more interested in football. The Cowboys played a great game. What a way to cap off the weekend! ETB

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Fredericksburg, Texas and Beyond

What a wonderful early birthday and Easter weekend rendezvous!  David found a cute little apartment over one of the shops on the main street of Fredericksburg and planned a fun two night stay.

Fredericksburg holds a special place in my heart from winning my first medium pony championship at the Gellespie County Fairgrounds to spending time around that area when I attended camp Mystic as a kid.  I was so excited to return as an adult, especially given the last time I tried during my road trip around the USA the weather was lackluster at best.  Sleet blew sideways, and VANilla’s doors froze closed!

Admittedly, the forecast called for dreary weather this weekend, so I hoped my luck would be slightly better than February 2011.  It wouldn’t take much as we headed northwest from San Antonio beneath cloudy skies.  Our first stop was outside of Boerne at the Cave Without a Name.

The Natural National Landmark is a limestone, solution cave which is created by a combination of water and acid that erodes the rock.  The cave is tens of thousands of years old as evidenced the remains of prehistoric animals, though the cave went largely unnoticed until the 1920s when a moonshine distillery was installed in the uppermost cavern during the Prohibition.  It wasn’t until 1935 when local children found the cave and were the first to enter its main chamber 90 feet below ground!

The owner of the property, Jim Horn, decided to open it to the public in 1939.  As part of the opening, Mr. Horn held a state-wide contest, offering $250 for the best name.  A young boy suggested the cave was too beautiful to have a name and was awarded the prize.

As we followed the 126 step staircase to its main cavern, I couldn’t help but think of the children who clambered down and back up the walls with only the light of a lantern.  We took an hour tour of six chambers which covered only 0.25 miles of the 3.5 mile cave.  Researchers are still exploring the cave which requires diving in the underground extension of the Guadalupe River which runs through it.  They still haven’t found its end.

IMG_1336 river

I expected the continuous 66 degrees would feel cold, but the cave was a nice temperature for us and several cave critters including bats, cave frogs, and salamanders.  I loved seeing these species as I think it is fascinating that an animal evolves to be blind or are born blind since the darkness provides no use for eyes.

20150403_112701 frog

The cave is home to a variety of formations including stalactites, stalagmites, cave bacon, soda straws, draperies, columns and more.  I particularly liked a dome structure, not because it was the prettiest formation, but because it was a type of formation I hadn’t seen in other caves.  It is truly amazing to realize how long it takes for the formations to grow.  We saw a small blob on the ground, not even an inch high, and it is 80 years old!

80 years old
80 years old

Another awesome feature in the cave is the rimstone dams.  One area looked like terraced rice fields in China only the small dams held crystal clear water in pools.  The water was so clear that at times we couldn’t see it, and at other times we thought a four-foot deep pool was only one-foot deep.

It was nice that cave tours took place upon arrival as well.  There were not any scheduled times so the group was really small, just four of us.  To see the cave on a scheduled time, however, it is possible to go in the evening for a concert like Italian Pops.  Apparently the acoustics are great.

Upon finishing up our tour, we continued north to arrive in Fredericksburg for a late lunch. We squeezed into thebuzzing bar area at the Fredericksburg Brewery.  That is about the best description I can give to the place.  We should have heeded the TripAdvisor reviews.  The room temperature beer was fair and the food not much better, maybe worse.  I ordered the fish tacos which were decent, but David ordered the fish and chips which frankly tasted like a fish dock.  I don’t know how he ate them.  Overall, I suppose it didn’t really matter.  We were both hungry and just trying to get some sustenance before we wandered along the crowded main street with a German influence.

Window shopping is our cup of tea, so we weaved between the shoppers as we glanced through the glass.  Occasionally we found a boutique interesting enough to stick our head inside, including the fudge shop and a gallery owned by an artist David knew.  What surprised us the most, however, was to find the National Museum of the Pacific War in such a small Texas town.

Truck owned by artist
Truck owned by artist

In 1971, the Nimitz Foundation was founded to establish the original Nimitz Museum in the former Nimitz Hotel.  These efforts slowly evolved into the museum today.  Not being a World War II history buff, I didn’t know anything about Nimitz.  A Fredericksburg native, Nimitz was serving as Chief of the Bureau of Navigation in Washington, DC when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.  He was handpicked by President Roosevelt to relieve Admiral Kimmel at Pearl Harbor.  He commanded an aggressive combat team that made all the right moves in the Battle of Midway which is considered the Navy’s greatest victory to this day.  In 1944, he was promoted to Fleet Admiral, only one of four at this time.  He also signed the Japanese Instrument of Surrender on behalf of the United States while stationed on the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945.  I can only believe I have never heard of him because I couldn’t stand history as a kid, as he seemed like one impressive guy.

The skies had cleared and with the weekend forecast sounding dreary, we didn’t want to spend any time inside the museum’s walls.  We thought we might have time for that later in the weekend, so instead, we simply enjoyed the sun while walking around the peaceful courtyards. We also checked out the massive propeller, canons, a mast, and submarine that lined the front of the building.  Soon after our stroll, it was time to check into our cute apartment, The Angel Inn, and relax before David took me for a lovely early birthday dinner at the Vaudeville Supper Club a block away.

Dressed up a little more than necessary in Fredericksburg (or Denver for that matter), we walked to the restaurant to be seated for our 6 o’clock reservation.  The entry to the Supper Club is through a lovely courtyard complete with a fireplace and fountain that we enjoyed after our five course meal.  The tasting menu included a variety of dishes that I wouldn’t have expected to go together and even included some items I probably wouldn’t have ever tried.  That being said, the fusion worked well, and the meal was spectacular…especially the pork belly ravioli topped with lobster and resting in an asian broth.  What a way to cap off a great day!

Our next day included another adventure to a cave, only this time an entirely different kind of cave.  We joined the masses at Enchanted Rock State Park as we waited in rather long traffic line just to get in the park.  Since neither of us enjoys crowds on the trail, instead of following everyone up the path to the top of Enchanted Rock, we chose to take Loop Trail to Echo Canyon Trail and then find our own way to the top of the rock.  Plus, walking around the weathered dome, which was thought to possess magical and spiritual powers by several Indian tribes due to its night-time creaking and groaning noises, added some distance.  I think we were able to get in a full 3 mile roundtrip.

This route was lovely.  We probably only ran into ten people as we meandered along the wildflower lined trail past Moss Lake and the climbing areas to a place on enormous pink pluton batholith that looked scalable.  For the most part, we could scramble up with relative ease and didn’t need our hands to help.  Therefore, make-shift route turned out much easier than I expected.  There was no way avoid the crowd  on the top of the rock, though fortunately it is quite large, so we settled for an area slightly protected from the wind if that exists.  The last time I was on top of this rock my hair was blowing sideways.

February 2011
February 2011

On the west side of the rock, we found the sign that pointed to the “cave” entrance.  It wasn’t hard to spot as the ranger said, “Just follow the 10,000 people going up to the top and then follow the 5,000 that go to the left!”  The cave was more like a giant crack in the rock which required some flexibility.  We entered after a group of four who weren’t prepared. The area was pitch black, and a headlamp is highly desirable.  Worst case, the flashlight on the cell phone comes in handy, but maneuvering through the cave definitely requires both hands at times.

Not everyone in the group ahead of us had lights and one person had significant problems laying on her back and sliding through holes not much bigger than David.  We waited so long, I felt like we’d get trapped in between groups.  With a slight tendency toward claustrophobia, I found myself uneasy at times while wishing they would speed up!  Fortunately, no one caught up to us until the very end so we got play around with photos and even enjoy an apple in the middle of the narrow cave.  A little wet and dirty with a few bumps on our heads, we eventually exited cave near our make-shift path.

Instead of turning down, we returned to the top of the rock along our previous trail and finished our lunch before following the masses to the parking lot.  It was awesome, and we finished in time to enjoy some wine and the view of Fredericksburg’s bustling main street from our balcony.

For dinner, we tried the “second best” restaurant in Fredericksburg, Cabernet Grill, on Saturday.  Its outdoor atmosphere with a water wheel and fish pond was neat.  The cuisine was tasty, though the difference between the #1 restaurant and #2 restaurant on TripAdvisor is substantial!  Regardless it was a fun day and lovely atmosphere.

We had to wave good-bye to Fredericksburg on Sunday, but not before we enjoyed a fantastic lunch at the Vaudeville Bistro.  I had the lump crab quiche while David devoured buttermilk fried chicken.  Both were excellent, especially David’s jalapeno cornbread.  I ate most of it off his plate.

20150405_104748 quiche

Before we reached San Antonio, we stopped at Guadalupe River State Park, a place where David sometimes rafts and kayaks.  With the drought, the water has been relatively low, so he hasn’t gotten to do too many river sports of late.  The water level didn’t affect us today, however, as we just hiked along the river banks on Bald Cypress Trail.  The river was lined with enormous trees whose roots and trunks were smoothed by the river’s flow during rainier times.  In jeans and a sweater, we weren’t dressed for a big hike, so we weren’t at the park long.  We were really just planning to take a look at the river because for some strange reason I wanted to check it out.  Of course, I always find it peaceful to walk by water, I can’t say I have too many fond memories of actually swimming in the Guadalupe while at camp.  The lovely spring, aqua color turns mossy green by summer and it is home to snapping turtles and water moccasins!  I took free swim at camp just for a free period, not to actually swim.  Being near the water, however, did give us the idea to go to Texas Coast on Monday though.

I was surprised to find out Corpus Christi and its beaches are only two hours away from San Antonio.  After a leisurely morning, we packed up David’s paddle board and headed to the coast.  We stopped for lunch at Snoopy’s and chowed down on some tasty fried seafood platter before we set up our chairs on the beach just ten minutes away.

I enjoyed a book and a walk on the beach while David surfed the waves.  I would have walked farther, but the beach was peppered with Portuguese Man-O-Wars.  Anyone who has grown up going to the Gulf in Texas knows to stay away from those guys as they deliver a super painful sting while alive or dead!  Though its appearance resembles a jellyfish, it is a siphonophore and its stings leave welts on human skin for three days.  Discovery on man-o-wars washed up on the beach can lead to a beach closure!  I suppose we were lucky as I passed at least 100 of them and was careful not to step on their long, venomous tentacles.

David could have paddled boarded for hours (and probably much longer than I could have sat on the beach), but we needed to get back home for dinner with the girls.  Delicious sushi and Rice Krispie Treat Eggs (that we made Easter night) called our names.  What a great weekend in the surrounding areas of San Antonio, especially given how bad the weather was supposed to be (we hardly saw a sprinkle)!  ETB

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A Weekend in the Texas Hill Country

So David planned a special weekend for us in the Texas Hill Country. All I have to say about it is we both really enjoyed it, and I thought if anyone else is looking for nice, fun, cool places to go, I’d provide a list.

We stayed at Petite Mason at Rock Harbor Hill Country Lodge located in Sisterdale, TX about 45 miles north of San Antonio. The cabin was decorated in a mix of american and french. The cute bungalow sat on a larger piece of property with lots of pets. The cats were very friendly. If you are allergic to felines, I might suggest another place. Otherwise the hammock, fire pit, tree full of cardinals, deer, guinea, and hot tub are all added bonuses.

The surrounding properties were interesting as well. We saw goats, buffalo, horses, donkeys, and old cars!

Our lunch and dinner spots were fun too! Good atmosphere and food.

The Welfare Cafe…Cute country place with a lively atmosphere in the front room. The board of specials included lamb, which we both ordered along with fried oysters. The lamb was one big chunk of meat (and fat). It was good, but I think it would be worth looking into other items on the menu.

Maywald’s Sisterdale Smokehouse is supposed to have some tasty BBQ. They must, given they only open the first and third weekend and sell BBQ until they run out! We’ll have to try it another time as we were there the second weekend. On the flip side, we got to enjoy the Cypress Grille in Boerne. Everything we ordered was delicious and the place was packed!!

The Creek (also in Boerne) was outstanding! The crab and shrimp cocktail, butternut squash soup, fish, scallops and chocolate cake were all cooked to perfection.

Another cool place to visit is the Majestic Theatre, located in downtown San Antonio. The theatre, designed by John Eberson in a Spanish Mediterranean style, was built in 1929 and refurbished during the 1980’s and 1990’s. The 2,264 seat theatre is home to San Antonio’s symphony and broadway. It also features several other events such as Rain.

Small Texas towns are quite something. ETB

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Exploring the San Antonio Missions

What a wonderful holiday weekend. I flew down to San Antonio to spend time with my new beaux, David. After a relaxing Thursday evening, we spent Friday riding bikes a long the green belt to tour all the missions, now named a World Heritage Site.

The City of San Antonio owes its existence to the rich mission heritage.  A mission was  an institution used by the Spanish to transplant their culture to frontier regions.  The missions taught native people not only the Catholic faith, but also many occupational skills and the way of the Spanish government.

We started out at Mission Espada which was founded in East Texas in 1690 as San Francisco de Los Tejas. The oldest East Texas mission was moved to the San Antonio River in 1731 and was renamed to San Francisco de la Espada. Here, the Spanish Franciscan mission taught American Indians farming, black smithing, weaving, masonry and more. It was the only San Antonio Mission that made brick and tile. The Spanish language and Catholicism was the adopted way of life of the 52 families that called the mission home.

The compound was expanded in 1770 to include a granary as the earlier granary was converted to a church.  Its acequia, a spanish watercourse, has operated continuously since 1745!  Today the mission is the most complete complex of the San Antonio Missions and is a very active parish.

From Mission Espada we followed the lazy San Antonio River to an old aqueduct built over Piedras Creek. I can’t believe I’ve been to San Antonio so many times and have never made it to all these historic sites, only the Alamo.

We decided to stay on the west side of the river and continued to our next stop, Mission San José. Mission San José was big and as such is known as the Queen of the Missions. It was founded by Fray Antonio Margil de Jesus in 1720. Its imposing walls encompassed a large square lined with Indian quarters. A bastion was built in one corner to protect against attack. The mission also includes a grist mill which was built in 1794 and operated until 1809. It was used to grind wheat into flour for communions wafers and loaves of bread.  The grist mill was restored to working order in 2001.  Of course, the most important structure to all the missions was the church. Mission San Jose’s church features a rose window known as the premier example of Spanish Colonial ornamentation in the USA.

With our meandering pace, lunch was upon us. We stopped for authentic Mexican food at Cascabel’s. I ordered pork gorditas and the server asked, “what kind of pork…we have four choices!!” I let her pick and I wasn’t disappointed though I did have a lead weight in my belly as we started back down the green belt to visit two more missions. David got a big bowl of Birria…goat soup!

After a short detour, we stopped at Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purisma Concepción de Acuña. Mission Concepción, founded in 1731, has remained virtually unchanged since its inception over 250 years ago. The mission is one of the country’s oldest stone churches. It served as a religious center and upon entering the mission the Coahuiltecan Indians were expected to give up their own religion, culture, and traditions for the Spanish way of life.

The Moors influence on the Spanish is displayed through the knowledge of geometry and astronomy in the construction of Mission Concepción.   Built high into the west wall above the choir loft is an ocular window through which sunlight pours during solar equinoxes.  Frescos which adorned all missions can still be seen at Mission Concepción. The mission is one of the country’s oldest stone churches. The mission served as a religious center and upon entering the mission the Coahuiltecan Indians were expected to give up their own religion, culture, and traditions for the Spanish way of life.

Our final stop was at Mission San Juan Capistrano.  It was also moved from East  Texas in 1731.  By 1745, the mission had recruited 41 indigenous families.  It was expanded in 1770 to accommodate Spanish families as well.  Mission San Juan was both an agricultural and weaving center which produced crops such as corn, beans, sugar cane, and watermelon.

This is David’s favorite due to its quaint church. It was fun to walk around each mission complex and compare some of the differences. I loved all the old wood gates and doors, crosses, and frankly the natural crumbling walls that used to be painted in bright colors. I’m not sure which mission was my favorite. Perhaps the first one we visited just because I wasn’t sure what to expect.

What a fun day we had before we headed off to the Texas hill country for a romantic weekend! ETB

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Beautiful Big Bend!

After a long travel day, I enjoyed a beautiful weekend in Big Bend National Park.  I started by getting to Midland from Denver via Southwest Airlines which was reliable as usual.  Steve drove from Dallas to pick me up, and we continued on to Alpine for the evening in order to shorten the drive to the park in the morning.

We booked rooms at the Holland Hotel, known as the best accommodations between El Paso and San Antonio.  The historic hotel was built in 1928 for $250,000 and in 2011 was renovated while keeping its 1928 delights.  It’s certainly a place that supports the phrase “Don’t judge a book by its cover”.  It’s façade isn’t terribly appealing, but the lobby, reading room, fireplace heated patio, bar and restaurant are quaint and charming.  After enjoying the atmosphere with dinner at the bar, we called it an early night.

Before heading toward Big Bend, Steve took a short run while strolled around the quiet town with a heavy art influence, and then we indulged in the Holland Hotel’s complimentary continental breakfast.  Try the cinnamon roll – it was heaven!

After a couple of hours of driving through barren West Texas, we finally arrived at Big Bend, a national park that I loved while I was on my year long venture across America.  We set up camp at the Village Campground, before we set out for a few hikes, the first being the Boquillas Canyon Trail.  The trail started with a short uphill climb and then descended down to the Rio Grande.  The river, a greenish color, snaked through the canyon where we encountered a “singing Jesus” on the Mexican side of the border.  He stood near his canoe, sang, and hoped we’d add a tip to one of the jars lining the trail on the USA side.  We continued across the sandy trail past the sand dune created by the wind blowing sand into the canyon wall.  We spotted a turtle sunning on the river’s edge, before we turned back toward the trailhead while passing a variety of cacti and a few butterflies flitting around the only thing in bloom – a weed!

Upon return to the campground, we checked out a looped trail nearby.  I had actually hiked this trail before near sunset, and the banded colors of the Sierra del Carmen glowed red and purple in the setting light.  It was a lovely stroll past marked natural features, as we passed by a horseman carrying reeds on our way up to an overlook that provided a panoramic view of the US/Mexico border.  We spotted horses trekking to the water’s edge for a drink on the 70 degree say and even one or two small flowers, though April is supposed to be the month to see the cacti in bloom.

The light hikes were perfect for Steve’s prep for the 50K he was running in the morning.  More power to him…cheering is all I plan to do, though I did participate in the pre-race dinner at the Chiso’s Lodge, another camping area in the park.  While Steve “Carb-loaded”, I savored luke-warm Elk chili and enjoyed the restaurant’s heat before we headed to our tent!  The weather forecast called for lows in the 40’s, not too bad, but when we arose at 5:30 a.m. the next morning it was a frosty 28.  I did not pack the appropriate clothing!

Steve’s run began at 7:30, so I joined him at the start line to send him off on a rocky road.  The race followed rocky road and trail where spectators couldn’t reach, so I opted for a hike on the Lost Mine Trail in the Chisos Mountains.  After an hour drive, I was the first car to arrive at the parking area.  The trailhead was peppered with warning signs…do not hike alone…mountain lions and bears have been spotted in this area…do not hike in the early morning.  Well, hopefully 8:30 wasn’t considered early.  I picked up a walking stick and headed out for my five mile hike.  The trail changed from paved to rocky after the first rise, much to my pleasure.  I prefer natural.  The scree path led me past oaks, juniper, prickly pear, ocotillo, and many more low water surviving plants as I climbed to an overlook providing me magnificent views or the Chisos and the “window” as the sun rose over the mountains.

There was a bit more wildlife in the mountains than the desert, and they seemed immune to humans.  The bluebird perched on the rock and didn’t mind me getting somewhat close to shoot a photo – a rarity for birds.  The whitetail buck feeding on the prickly pear must have been hungry!  I dropped my water bottle which barely got him to look up for a minute.  He just kept eating while I stood (not even quietly) not ten feet away?!?

The trail continued switchbacking up the mountain at a low grade before I reached the peak from which I was supposed to be able to spot the “lost mine”.  Legend has it that the Spanish forced Indians to work in the mine until they revolted and hid the mine.  I find it hard to believe there was a mine, since there isn’t much precious metal or water in the area…mercury is the only mining mineral.

From the peak, the trail crosses a ridge rock pinnacles.  While the ridge is relatively wide, it still made me a little sick to my stomach as I knew a big misstep would slide me right of the mountain.  I explored carefully and enjoyed some trail mix beneath morning sun before I began my descent as the next pair of hikers summitted.  It was nice to have to majestic beauty to myself.  It wasn’t long that I shared the trail with ten more hikers.  I heard one group trying to determine how many feet are in a mile…I chimed in, “5,280…I live in the Mile Hi City”.

I continued on to the base, dropped off my walking stick, and headed back for a shower in time for the race after party.  I watched the presentations to the winners while I waited for Steve, who was only using this as a training run for a 50 miler in May, to be shuttled from the finish to the food tent!  He had a successful run, but certainly wasn’t hungry immediately, so after cleaning up we went for dinner in Lajitas.

Lajitas was far…but what isn’t in West Texas?  I think we drove for an hour or more.  There isn’t much in Lajitas except the golf resort with a nice little bar.  I had a grilled romaine salad which was fantastic when I visited three years ago, but the menu wasn’t quite as fancy this time.  It didn’t really matter.  Hungry and happy to catch the last five minutes of the Broncos game, we sunk into the cushy seats and wondered if we’d make it back to the camp ground.

I was happy to find that Steve had a small heater, and we slept with on for the night.  Clearly I am not a winter camper!  The stars both nights were magnificent.  We could see the Milky Way, though it took until midnight to spot the Big Dipper which was very low to the horizon.

Sunday included nine miles of hiking after we broke down our tent which was big enough to fit his Mini Cooper.  Many joked that we were sleeping in the garage.  The hikes were located in another area of the park along the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive…I think it took us an hour to get there too.  The park is enormous…at least 50 miles in every direction!

Steve has purchased a trail guide book that provided a description of each trail in the park.  I’m impressed with the author who could write two entire pages about trails the simply crossed the desert.  I’m going to shoot for a paragraph!

The first trail we followed was the Mule Ears Trail which undulated across lava flow and desert to Mule Ear Springs.  The four mile roundtrip took us past a variety of cacti under the beating hot sun in the late morning of a relatively cool day in Big Bend!  It was so still, we could hear the wings flapping of the four blackbirds that flew overhead.  Much to our relief a cool breeze kicked up and stayed with us as we investigated remnants of manmade structure and finally ducked into the shade of trees near the “spring”.  Reeds hid the stagnant water and a little greenery covered the trickle of water coming from the ground that we climbed right over not knowing it was our final destination!  We followed footprints on what we thought was the rest of the trail before turning around after getting scratched by a few thorny branches.  While the changing view of the Mule Ears rock structure was nice, the spring was a let-down.  Having said that, a day in the desert beats a day in the office!

Our next hike, according to the guide book, was easier and not as hot.  It was definitely hot, but fortunately for us a light breeze came and went.  The trail once again led us past a variety of cacti.  Admittedly, both trails probably would have been tremendous had these thorny plants been blooming!  Our final destination was the “Chimney”.  The rock formations, volcanic dikes, looked so close, yet they were 2.5 miles away.  Once we arrived we found proof Indians once lived here… Petroglyphs carved in the southern spire, mortar holes for crushing grains, and rocks piled up to make a wall.  After circling the spire, we followed the path to explore the other rock structures featuring a few cool arches.  Before heading back to the car, we enjoyed a little shade the formations provided.

After our nine miles, it was time to bid farewell to Big Bend and we exited the park from a different direction on our way to Marathon.  We had originally planned to stay at the Gage Hotel, another famous haunt, but being sold out, Steve found a house online.  I didn’t know much about it, but when we drove up to it, I wondered what we had gotten into…Yikes! Our tent looked better from the outside.  Once again, the phrase “Don’t judge a book by its cover” came into play.  The two bedroom adobe house was precious on the inside.  The beds were covered in old quilts, the furniture were antiques, and there was even a non-functional, wood burning stove in the kitchen for decoration.

Since we couldn’t stay at the Gage, we at least enjoyed dinner at the 12 Gage Restaurant.  My spinach salad and crab and shrimp cocktail were both fantastic!  Actually, for a small town with about five buildings along Main Street, I was surprised by the tasty food.  Our breakfast at the soda fountain before heading home was delicious too!  I’ve wanted to return to Big Bend National Park since I visited three years ago, and it was well worth the trip…I might have to visit in April sometime in order to enjoy the cacti in bloom!  For anyone planning on going, the locals say this will be a good year because the area has received so much rain.  ETB

WANT TO VACATION SOONER?  IF SO, THIS VACATION CLUB IS FOR YOU!

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Day 295 – Home Sweet Home

After 56,381 miles; 15 bears; a wolverine; a mountain lion;
a shaggy mountain goat; 5 moose; countless turkey, deer, and elk; a fox; a
handful of coyotes and marmots; several big horn sheep; numerous waterfalls;
fascinating people; and an amazing experience, I am home!  Thanks for reading…ETB

WANT TO VACATION SOONER?  IF SO, THIS VACATION CLUB IS FOR YOU!

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For notecards and key chains, visit My Shop on this website.

Days 120 and 121 – Travel Days

March 27 and March 28, 2011

I’m afraid I don’t have too many exciting events to report from the yesterday and today.  I spent most of yesterday morning in my cousin’s cabin blogging while waiting out the fog and rain.  The cabin is great.  It is basically a 20×20 room with four closets and high ceilings which make it seem very spacious.  Two of the four closets act as closets while the other two are a small bathroom and kitchenette.  The cabin has a screened in porch and an absolutely fantastic deck that sits right on the rim!

Lucky for me, the afternoon was simply beautiful, so Petey and I took a long walk in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.  The CCC trail took us from the rim down to the canyon floor to the amphitheatre, and then of course we had to return back to the top.  The hike was much less strenous than I expected and afforded lovely views of the second largest canyon in the United States (according to a geocache post I read).

After enjoying some beautiful views, I drove back into town, only 25 minutes away, to chat with my cousin and her family before they went to see a movie. Then I went back to the cabin to watch the sunset.  The sun set behind the house as opposed to behind the canyon, but the light reflected off the canyon walls creating an array of colors.

Leonardo suggested I awake early in the morning to watch the sunrise, so I did.  Unfortunately, this morning mimicked yesterday morning’s weather – foggy and rainy, so I will have to return another time, as I had hoped to do a little more exploring in the canyon before moving west.

I spent the rest of the day packing up and driving across New Mexico on I-40 and on parts of historic Route 66.  I must say there is a WHOLE lot of nothing!  I spent most the time concentrating on keeping VANilla in its current lane.  The wind was ferocious.  In fact, the highway signs that caution windy conditions include a windsock attached to them and each windsock was fully extended.

My only stop of the day was at Clines Corners, one of a handful of traveler centers with cheap tourist trinkets for sale.  I fueled up VANilla, let Petey sniff a tree, perused the aisles full of junk, grabbed a Subway sandwich, and borrowed their internet for about an hour.  That was truly my excitement for the day.

I almost pulled off to camp for $10 at a casino.  That would have been an interesting first, but it would have put me a few hours away from where I want to begin my morning, so I opted for the Wal-Mart parking lot in Gallup, New Mexico.  Wal-Mart has a whole campground here.  There must be close to twenty RV’s parked here for the night.

Tomorrow, I plan on trying out a historic bakery I spotted in town and then I head to Chinle, Arizona to begin my next scenic drive so I will have more to report Tuesday.

Cheerio…ETB

Small Texas Towns

I posted to my readers to check in periodically for a weekly post as I had planned to blog about a few day trips.  While I ventured out to a few places, I never managed to make a post as my father took a turn for

Kelly in Mud

the worse and passed away just two days after the dogs and I spent a day at the farm.  Yes, Petey had a few playmates, Thatcher and Kelly, my stepmom’s dogs.  There isn’t much history or nature to include in this post.  It is mostly for dog and horse lovers.  Basically, I walked around the lake while the dogs ran.  For the mile I covered, the dogs probably covered three.  The goal was to where them out, but I think I got worn out first.

I spent a relaxing evening lounging on the couch while finishing up Michael Crichton’s final book, Pirate Latitudes.  While extremely less scientific than his previous novels, it was still an entertaining read and is most likely a candidate for Hollywood.  He was my favorite author.  I’m so disappointed there won’t be any future novel.

VANilla, turned dog mobile, took a circuitous route home through Athens and Edom.  Edom is home to The Shed Cafe, a home style cookin’ restaurant well known for its pies.  I ordered a chocolate dream pie to go.  Before I headed out, I strolled through an antique shop with a sign “We Buy Junk and Sell Antiques” posted on the handrail.  I believe the painted, tin signpost was for sale; however, a few pieces of yard art were appropriately placed next to the notice.  I also toured the local photo gallery and tried to visit the small museum, but it was closed.

While I only added an hour to my drive, I wouldn’t have taken the slow route home had I understood that my father’s “different breathing” meant he would die in the morning, but none-the-less I was able to spend Thursday afternoon and evening with him before he peacefully left earth for heaven.  He wanted to be cremated, so we held a Memorial Service on Tuesday where two of his friends spoke.  Many fellow mourners enjoyed hearing recollections of his eight year in college…yes, eight years of under graduate work!  An athletic man, he won the Southwest Conference in pole vaulting before fiberglass poles and landing pads replaced steel poles and sand pits.  He also helped the Kappa Sigs at Texas win five straight championships in intramural football!

I spent the last week recovering from an obviously difficult and busy time.  Saturday, I took the day to visit a horse show in Tyler, Texas.  I ran into a few folks I hadn’t seen in almost twenty years.  It was fun to catch up while watching a new friend’s daughter ride her young horse in the Modified Children’s division.  I took my first crack at photographing horses jumping.  I managed to capture a handful of good, action shots, though my timing could stand to improve.

I spent most of the last two days revamping my itinerary.  I still plan on visiting all 48 contiguous states.  My travels will take me through mid-October instead of mid-September, and my route is somewhat changed since I already had some dates locked in with friends in Colorado.  I’ll attempt to add a new itinerary page, but in the meantime, I’m spending a few days in Oklahoma, driving west through Kansas, and spend most of April, including my 40th birthday in California.

Finally, thanks to all of those who have supported me and my family in recent weeks.  ETB

Day 114 – Home through Texas

Well, I tried my best to get a picture of the Pecos Gambusia and the Comanche Spring Pupfish, two endangered species, but I believe after further review of my pictures, I did not succeed!  I don’t even think I saw the two species of fish.  The San Solomon Springs in Balmorhea State Park is one of the few places in the nation where these species can be found.  Prior to the natural springs being converted to a spring fed swimming pool by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the springs provided water to travelers for thousands of years.  Mescalero Apache Indians used the springs to water their horses and later Mexican farmers used it to irrigate their land.

Now, part of the park, the popular swimming hole attracts vacationers.  From the surface, the fenced area looks like an oddly shaped, giant swimming pool with steps, handrails, and diving boards.  Below the surface, however, 22-28 million gallons of water flow through the 77,000 square foot, spring-fed pool each day.  SLICK algae (yes I nearly bit it on the first step) and moss cover the underwater surface.  Schools of small fish dart away from swimmers while the catfish tend to be more curious.  Donned with my mask and snorkel chasing the fish, I longed for my fins, BC, and salt water.  I probably could have swum a bit quicker and floated a bit longer with fins and buoyancy help!

The most entertaining part of my snorkeling experience was to watch ducks dive down to the bottom of the spring, root around for breakfast, and then shoot back up to the surface.  I always knew ducks dunked underwater, but I was surprised to see how deep they traveled and how long they stayed below the surface.  I followed them around with my camera, but underwater, the flash delays the shot, so many times I missed the photo opportunity I wanted.

The air temperature was slightly lower than the 68 degree water temperature, so I had the spring to myself.  While I loved the tranquility and the fact the fish weren’t hiding from kids flipping off the diving board, it was a bit eerie.  I’ve never been fond of being the first or last SCUBA diver in the ocean either!  When the screen display on my camera blinked that it was time to change the battery, I called it quits and headed to the poolside showers.  Petey was very happy for me to finish my snorkeling without him.

From Balmorhea, we took I-20 through Pecos, Odessa, Midland, Big Spring, and Abilene before arriving home.  Anyone from Texas knows there isn’t much to see on this drive.  I called my friend Molly, who is from Midland, but currently lives outside of Austin, “Do you need me to pick anything up at your mom’s house?  I’ll be in Midland in an hour.”

“Nope” she replied, “I’ll be out there in a week, but I’m doing my best to get out of it.”

“Well then”, I asked in a sarcastic tone, “Is there anything to do around here?”

She replied “You can go to the meteor crater.  Basically it’s just a hole in the ground.  I haven’t been there since high school.”

“Is there a sign for it?” I asked.

“Oh yes,” she responded.

So I went to the meteor crater which also happened to be an earth cache…SCORE!

She was right; it was simply a wide, but shallow hole in the ground.  Its diameter stretches 600 feet while the hole is only 6 feet deep as it has filled up with sand and dirt over time.  The impact of the 1,000 ton meteorite, mostly composed of iron, originally created a hole 100 feet deep.  While the meteorite has never been found, it is believed it is lodged more than 170 feet below the surface.  The Odessa Meteor

Inside the Crater

Crater is the second largest in the United States, and sixth largest in the world.  The rim of the crater is made of limestone which was shattered and forced to the surface from the collision.  In addition to the large crater, smaller ones formed nearby from additional masses that fell from the same meteor shower.  These craters were formed over 20,000 years ago.  Around 1940 an exploration to find the meteor instead uncovered a fossilized tooth of a prehistoric elephant.

My visit to the crater was my final sight-seeing stop of my trip home.  In West Texas’s defense there are a handful of museums including the Presidential Museum and one related to the Air Force, but Petey waiting for me in VANilla in the West Texas midday sun wasn’t an option.

I think I will be home for a while, but I plan on making a few jaunts down to the farm and perhaps touring some surrounding areas, so look for a weekly post until I can get on the road again! ETB