Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, The Rockies

Road Trip: Denver to Dallas (and Back)

I’ve made the trip to and fro Texas to Colorado many times.  Having said that, I haven’t made too many stops along the way.  Usually, I’m destination bound.  This year, I decided to make the road trip more interesting and found a variety of places to stop along the way.

These are some of the best luxury and nature places to visit between Denver and Dallas:

PLACES TO VISIT IN COLORADO

THE BROADMOOR

Fortunately, my friend Nancy is self-employed and has a flexible schedule like me.  As such, she was able to join me for dinner and a festive night at The Broadmoor.  The luxury resort is always adorned in Christmas lights during the holidays and it is fun to see the exquisite resort decked out in decorations.

Getting to the resort Tuesday afternoon was a bit rough given an accident on I-25 that held up traffic for 45 minutes, but I suppose our day was better than those involved in the crash.  We eventually arrived around five, got a room with a lovely view in the west tower, and strolled past the lake to Happy Hour where we enjoyed a drink and snacks at The Hotel Bar before enjoying a fancy dinner at The Summit.

Nancy order the “Angry Trout”, the Summit’s signature dish.  The fish is cooked with its tail pulled through its mouth, so it looks “Angry”.  I went with two appetizers: a mushroom, truffle bisque which was very rich and tasty as well as a magnificent bowl of mussels.  We ended the night enjoying the lights around the lake.

PALMER TRAIL (SECTION 16)

The Palmer Trail is located in Bear Creek Cañon Park which is owned by Colorado Springs.  The trailhead was only a 15 minute drive from the Broadmoor into the foothills very near the Red Rock Canyon Open Space.

The Palmer Trail (section 16) was a bit of a misnomer at first.  We couldn’t find any trail signs that mentioned it.  We knew we were completing a loop however, so we followed the directions to Red Rock Loop which was also the most heavily traveled trail.

After about 1/2 mile we reached a trail junction with a detailed map and a post directing us up a steep slope which turned into several switchbacks.  We climbed for most of the next two miles or so before reaching a summit which afforded excellent views!

The trail, mostly a soft red dirt, led us through the forest down to High Drive, a dirt road blanketed in a thin layer of icy snow.  We took short careful steps along road before reaching the paved surface where we climbed to the car.  I wasn’t terribly enthusiastic about having to walk on a paved road, but it wasn’t for very long, and otherwise the 5.2 mile hike was quite nice.

PLACES TO VISIT IN NEW MEXICO

CAPULIN VOLCANO NATIONAL MONUMENT

Capulin Volcano National Monument is home to an extinct volcano which erupted 60,000 years.  The national monument offers five trails which are all very short in length with the longest being two miles.  As such, the whole park may visited in an afternoon.

The most popular trails appeared to be the Crater Rim Trail and the Crater Vent Trail both located at the parking area by the cinder cone after driving the spiral road to the top.  For those who don’t like ledges like me, this was not the most exciting drive!

I hiked the Crater Rim Trail first which was the hardest in the sense of steepness.  The one-mile loop is paved, which was disappointing to me, but I can understand why as it circle the rim of the cone which rises over 1,300 feet above the plains and provides spectacular views of the surrounding area.

Next I followed the 0.2 mile Crater Vent Trail 105 feet down to the bottom of the crater and its plugged vent.  I don’t think I’ve ever been in the bottom of a volcano.

Finally, I drove back down toward the visitor’s center and stopped at the parking area for both Boca Trail and Lava Flow Trail.  Boca Trail is two miles while the Lava Flow Trail is only one mile.  I only felt like hiking one of the two paths, so I picked the longer one.  The path led me through dormant prairie grasses, scrub oak, junipers, pine trees, and chokecherry bushes for which the volcano is named.  Capulin is the Spanish word for chokecherry.

The information listed this two-mile hike as strenuous.  I didn’t find it to be difficult with the exception of stepping on small pieces of lava rock which seemed to roll on the hard surface making me slip a handful of times.

Overall, it was nice break to take from driving, though I don’t think this National Monument requires more than one visit.

PLACES TO VISIT IN TEXAS (NEAR AMARILLO)

PALO DURO CANYON STATE PARK

I have visited this state park once before, but it was a gloomy day and I only completed a short hike.  This time, upon arrival, I asked the ranger, “How far into the park is the Lighthouse Trail?”

She answered, but then asked, “Are you an avid hiker? Because I think the Lighthouse Trail is flat and somewhat boring, whereas the Givens, Spice, Lowry Trail undulates past a variety of scenery and connects to the Lighthouse Trail.”

Having heard that, I decided to follow the trail named after runners who helped build it rather than the most popular trail in the park which is also responsible for the most heat related injuries and deaths to people and pets.

Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to worry about warm temperatures.  It was hardly 40 degrees when I started and the sun was struggling to peak out from the thin layer of clouds.  While I hoped the fiery ball in the sky would brightly shine on the myriad of colors in the rock striations, at the same time, I didn’t want to get too hot on the eight mile hike.

I skipped along the trail fairly quickly as I only had three hours to complete which was barely enough time to truly enjoy the hike, but I still managed to stop and snap photos of cacti, hoodoos, and canyon walls peppered in shades of purples, browns, and oranges just to name of few.

Eventually, I reached “the end” of the lighthouse trail, but I recalled the ranger mentioned I could climb up to the rock formation.  In addition, I saw some people scrambling on the rocks.  The climb was steep, but not too difficult, and completely worth the effort!

I walked out on a plateau “book-ended” by two towering formations which provided fantastic views of the expansive canyon below.  I noticed the couple I had spotted earlier continued up a steep path to the top of one of the formations…so cool!  I’m so glad I followed them up.

I didn’t spot any wild life while hiking, but passed a deer on my drive in and flushed a bevy of dove hidden in the thick brush as I turned the corner.  That made me jump!  I suspect the desert topography would be quite pretty in the spring when the cacti are blooming.  I’ll definitely have to visit Palo Duro Canyon State Park again.

CAPROCK CANYONS STATE PARK

I was pleasantly surprised by this park.  With Palo Duro Canyon State Park being only an 1.5 hours away and being the second largest canyon in the United States, I believe Caprock Canyons State Park might get overlooked.  In addition, it is a little out of the way.

I arrived at this park on a very cold, overcast day, maybe 23 degrees.  While the weather muted the lovely colors of the canyon, I certainly kept cool while hiking and had the trail to myself!

The park offers a variety of trails.  I wanted to see the natural spring at Fern Cave, as such I connected three trails (Canyon Loop Trail, Upper Canyon Trail, and Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail) for an approximate 6.5 mile loop.  The trails are also named Trail D, C, and B, respectively that was helpful to know while following the trail markers.

This hike was fantastic!  At the beginning, I was lulled into a false sense of security while following a wide, smooth red trail past a variety of rock formations.  The information had suggested this was a strenuous hike, but at first this was not the case.  Soon, the wide trail turned into a single track which led me through a variety of vegetation.  All I could think was I’m glad I’m not here in the summer heat and bugs!

Soon I was following a wash and then I found myself climbing.  The climb was gradual up until I reached Fern Cave.  A small amount of water trickled over the rocks as I admired the ferns and ice-cycles at the same time!  From Fern Cave, the trail became a little confusing.  At a trail junction, a marker pointed with a large arrow to the left and a small arrow to the right but it didn’t indicate a trail letter.

As I climbed up, I remembered a split in the trail, and deduced the large arrow to the left that I was now seeing is just pointing to a return way back on the same trail C.  This turned out to be right, but I was certain until after referencing the map which suggested I needed to climb 0.2 miles to the highest point of the park before connecting to the Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail.  Fortunately, I had my Fitbit on and watched the mileage as I bounded to the top and found several trail signs.

This trail offered fantastic views and if it weren’t so cold, I likely would have meandered rather slowly.  Having finished the climb and being exposed to the wind, I fought off a chill by running portions of this flat section while stopping occasionally to admire the multi-colored cliffs.

Soon I reached the descent which seemed much steeper than the climb.  I followed several rock stairs down to the trail from which I began.  This would be a very challenging hike in the Texas heat.  While I wasn’t enthusiastic about the cold weather, only having to carry a couple bottles of water was far better than what would be needed in the summer as indicated by the countless signs warning hikers to turn around if they didn’t have water.  I really enjoyed the landscape changes and variety on this path.

I would definitely come back to see other trails, the bison and the bats which are all part of this park.

THE MANSION BAR

The Mansion is a famous, luxury hotel in Dallas where many of the stars stay.  Its dark, traditionally decorated bar serves of course serves pricey cocktails, and I couldn’t imagine how my friend, Phil Pritchett’s rock band would fit in, but it did.  He put on show, dancing, playing the guitar, and belting out English cover songs along with his bass and drum players.  The British Are Coming plays there about twice a month where several regulars come to see them.  In fact, the people watching is worth the price of admission!

AT&T STADIUM AND THE COWBOYS

Well, most people say the stadium itself is worth visiting, and I believe a tour may be arranged, but we went to see the Cowboys.  Unfortunately, they did not have a very good Christmas Eve.  Regardless, it’s fun to go to a game!

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Texas

Dining in Dallas

January 20-22, 2017

What a nice weekend in Dallas celebrating my mom’s birthday a few weeks late.  We had the nicest time chilling out, watching football and eating out!

Friday night we went to Adelmo’s.  It is a long-time Italian restaurant in Dallas that used to be in a house in the Knox-Henderson area.  It recently relocated to Inwood Village.  The dinner and service were lovely.  While I can’t say the food was the best ever, it was an enjoyable, quiet evening.

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Saturday night we went to Fearings located in the Ritz-Carlton in uptown.  Dean Fearing himself came out to our table to say hello.  Fearings’ plates were absolutely mouth-watering good!  Almost all of us ordered the Lobster bisque which included a lobster pot sticker at the bottom of the bowl…delicious!

The entrees were fantastic as well.  Three of our party ordered the Arctic Char and raved about it.  My lamb chops, though not cooked to the medium temperature requested, had phenomenal flavor.  Phil, my god-father, ordered the scallops and king crab, and he found them to be quite satisfying.  We ordered a few shared desserts too.  I didn’t try my mom’s peanut butter crunch bar, but it looked remarkable!  I just drooled over it.

Fair warning, both restaurants provided amuse-bouche between the appetizer and main course as well as after dessert, so if you don’t have a big appetite, a three-course meal isn’t necessary.  Of course, it is fun to indulge on special occasions.  Fearings even served a bite-size, gratis tomato bisque prior to our appetizer which was tasty too.  If I’m being picky, for a fancy place, the service could have slightly improved, but it certainly didn’t damper the occasion.

With Dallas being a test market for restaurants, it’s tough to beat the food here.  If the eatery isn’t good, it goes out of business in a year and another fills its place.  The food scene is something!

The flowers in the lobby of the Ritz were another spectacular scene and made a perfect back drop for our pictures.  It was sort of fun to dress up.  I don’t do that often, nor do I really want to regularly, but once in a while it is probably good to put on a little make up.  Not to sound obnoxious, but I think we all looked good!

Sunday, when we weren’t watching the football games, I was training for my Olympic distance Triathlon.  I’m not sure why I decided to compete in a triathlon, but one benefit is weighing what I did in high school!  Anyway, when possible I prefer a soft surface path rather than pavement for running, so I searched out a nature preserve.

The Oak Cliff Nature Preserve was definitely the most unique nature preserve I’ve visited.  I suggest taking a picture of the map at the trailhead which shows all the colored loops as there are many intersecting trails (some less traveled) without signs.  Having said that, there are many signs pointing in the direction of the loops in an open space so you can at least find them, it just might be hard to find the parking lot on one’s first visit.

I had to run for 40 minutes or 4 miles today, so I planned to connect the white loop, to the blue loop, to the purple loop.  I didn’t take much time reviewing the map because the damp air coupled with 20-mile per hour winds made we want to find the cover of the trees quickly.  I probably should have focused a bit harder as I never did connect all three trails and sometimes ended up on the same portion of a trail twice.  But all that really mattered was getting in the mileage.

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After the big thunder storm last night, I thought the trails might be somewhat muddy, but they really weren’t too bad.  I only had to watch out for tree roots and slick limestone at times.  I expected to have to look out for mountain bikers as it seemed like the nature preserve catered to them.  The description of each loop discussed bike jumps and technical portions of the trail.  Most nature preserves I’ve been to don’t even allow bikes, so it seemed odd to me.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to dodge any cyclists, and for that matter, I only saw about six people on the 7+ miles of trails the preserve offered.  The preserve must attract mountain bikers at some point, however.  Many trees are decorated with bike reflectors and there is a pump station for tires.  There is a variety of “art” (for lack of a better word) on the trails as well.

Anyway, I can’t say it was the most beautiful place I’ve been, especially in the winter, but there were a few different types of berries growing, birds flitting around, and a bush with lavender colored leaves that I have never before seen. It was definitely a nicer way to get in my miles rather than weaving around runners and cyclists on the Katy Trail or at White Rock Lake.

The only thing that proved frustrating was to wonder which gadget I should believe.  My Fitbit claimed I ran just over five miles while MapMyHike calculated only 4 miles in 48 minutes!  As much as I’d like my Fitbit, which is set to automatically calculate the length of my stride, to be correct, I don’t think I averaged less than a 10-minute mile pace.  By the same token, I surely hope I ran better than a 12-minute mile!  I guess I’ll have to go to the track some-day soon.  All-in-all, it was a nice visit home, and it was nice to catch up with one of my best friends from my horse show days too.  ETB

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Texas

Want Some Warm Weather for the Winter Time? Visit San Antonio, Texas

Want some warm weather for the winter time?  Visit San Antonio and its Missions

I’m pleased to announce this blog is now available to take with you on GPSMyCity.

Exploring the San Antonio Missions: http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/exploring-the-san-antonio-missions-2605.html

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Texas

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

October 7-9, 2016

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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Texas

Fredericksburg, Texas and Beyond

April 10-13, 2015

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.

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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.

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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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Texas

A Weekend in the Texas Hill Country

February 13-15, 2015

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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Texas

Exploring the San Antonio Missions

February 13, 2015

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!

January 17-21, 2013

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

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Texas

Day 295 – Home Sweet Home

October 7, 2011

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

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