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Posts Tagged ‘Spring Trip 2012’

Entrance Into Carlsbad Caverns

Both Dick and  I didn’t see how a cave we’ve been reading about since we were kids (good grief, make that 45-50 years ago!) could possibly live up to its reputation. Carlsbad Caverns is as great today as the iconic images we remember.  We choose to forego the elevators and follow “The Natural Entrance Route, for visitors with plenty of time and in good physical condition.”  It’s a mile- long walk that follows the traditional explorers’ route, descends over 750 feet into the earth (the equivalent of a 70 story building) and our jaws drop at every turn.  THE SIZE!!!  It’s almost impossible to take in- and even more impossible to photograph, even with my beloved iPhone 4s. The wonderful thing about this cavern is that people are encouraged to whisper – and we’re in darkness, only illuminated enough to be able to walk on steep slopes and view some of the outstanding sights.  So, it’s eery and surreal and absolutely breath-taking.  Ultimately we wind up at the Big Room, where the elevators bring most people.  It takes about an hour and a half to tour. My camera can’t capture it, but I’ll post some for the memories they’ll evoke. I’ve struggled to get some pictures into this format unsuccessfully, so will toss a few into the next post.

Entering Carlsbad Caverns
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Fort Concho, San Angelo

We visit Fort Concho, built to protect settlers from Indian raids, but where evidently not much happened.  It’s well-preserved, and hosts an art exhibit while we’re there.

We search out the San Angelo Visitor’s Center , where we learn that the six-mile Concho River Walk, which we’d planned on walking, is under major re-construction. This becomes really obvious when we look out the beautiful windows that overlook it. The river’s been drained and there’s no river walk available.

We’re trying to decide between two places to spend the night – a private campground on a lake and a State Park. Everyone advises us against the State Park – the lake there has dried up.  We visit the private campground and high-tail it out of there to whatever the State Park holds.  And it holds us for four days.  We love it.

We’re so alone, with a buffalo herd, prairie dog colony,  original Longhorn cattle decendants (well, they got moved to acreage next door recently because of the draught)  and yes, rattlesnakes, etc. but they’re not in their area.  I wake up to the most incredible birdsong each morning, and every day is kind of lazy.  Dick has to cover the office back home this week, so he catches up on work.  I’m a bum, and read and sit out in the sun and take in the beautiful surroundings.

But the illusion that we’re rangers, in touch with our land, (Emily suggested harmonicas around our campfire – where we actually do cook one meal) kind of falls away when we head on into town, an incredible few minutes away, and eat at great restaurants. The  best was The Cork and Pig.  The absolute best steak we had in all of Texax, plus beignets that would give New Orleans a run for the money.

Civilization and food aside, each day, and night is beautiful here.

Sunset at San Angelo State Park

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Lola's Mexican Cafe

Lyrics from “Damn Yankees” start wafting through my head as we drive up to Lola’s – whatever Lola wants, Lola gets.   And we’re expecting, from reviews I’ve read and people we’ve talked to at Abilene State Park that that’s definitely going to be the case.  There are rules at Lola’s.  Men serve women. They have to wipe up tables if they’re sticky, get (find, if you’re not local) the ice-tea or water, and wander out into the kitchen to face Lola and place their order.  Dick follows the rules and orders the daily chicken enchilada special for two.  Lola says, No.  Dick says, isn’t that the daily special and Lola says, I’m out of it. Dick asks if we can have a cheese enchilada and she says, okay. She gives him chips and salsa to bring back to the table. It’s not a place for the timid or anybody without a sense of humor .  We had fun.  The Navaho fry-bread was delicious and we dripped honey all over our enchiladas.

We’ve never visited a zoo on our RV travels, but we’re staying an extra day to eat, fool around and go to Saturday night Mass -so we check it out.  It was a great experience, other than my witnessing the feeding of an alligator, which for some reason I thought would be sanitized for the impressionable mind, but wound up with a really prolonged, grisly eating of a white rabbit.  The rest of the zoo was really enjoyable.

Abilene Zoo Giraffes

And Mass was another wonderful experience.  We were such obvious outsiders in the church, but both of us got a hug from the priest on the way out that we’ll not soon forget.

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Frontier Texas

Today is a more high-tech version of this area’s history –  we drive to Abilene and the Frontier Texas Museum. Through audio-visual presentations, we meet life-sized, hologram guides, who tell us their stories and the history of this area unfolds through their eyes.  I love learning about an historical period with this kind of personal perspective.  It all culminates in a theatre-in-the-round film presentation, where stories are woven together, complete with a violent thunderstorm, buffalo stampede, and Indian attack.

An afternoon spent with stories of ranchers and cattle makes us hungry for steak – so we head for Perrini’s Steak House, which we’ve read is famous in food channels, both off and on TV.  It’s a really casual, ranch-style restaurant, and we’re happy to get in early on a Friday night.  Loved the experience, not the best steak we’ll have on this trip, though.  Again, showing my hand in being behind on this blog!

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After touring the LBJ Ranch, we spend the night at New Braunfels, with a quick drive to the nearby Greune Historic District, hoping for a great German meal or a bit of polka or two-step in Gruene Hall – none of which are available. It’s crowded and touristy, and we don’t even bother parking.  We have a mediocre German meal in downtown New Braunfels, and take off for Fredericksburg first thing in the morning.

Fredericksburg doesn’t disappoint.  It has German restaurants and bakeries and a rustic and charming  Main Street.  Unfortunately, there’s a tornado watch when we pull in- our check-in person at the campground tells us to head to the community building if it gets bad, and into the interior bathrooms.  The worst of the storm isn’t here yet.  So we decide to go to dinner, rather than be sitting ducks in an RV park.  I’m looking for the most solid looking building on Main Street – and, hurray, there’s an old, sturdy, stone brew-pub.  We dart in, order our beer, start to peruse the menu and then have an awful moment of recognition that it’s Donald Driver’s first night on Dancing with the Stars, set to start in about 10 minutes.  I have to choose between staying safe here, in a restaurant with no television, or going back to our little RV in the pouring rain to cheer on our Packer favorite.  We go back.

It’s not a calm night. The Navion is starting to rock, we see lightning, but the weather radio doesn’t tell us to take shelter yet.  We watch the entire premiere.  It’s becoming more ominous outside and we decide we’d better head to the “shelter” – so we don our rain gear, grab the hand-held weather radio and run through rain and puddles, in wind and lightning flashes to the community building. There’s really nothing all that safe about its construction, but there’s something so reassuring about being with other people.  There’s already an established group who have been here for awhile, they’re playing cards, monitoring the local weather on a big screen TV.  A lovely older German woman welcomes me,  as a fellow “chicken”, and engages me in conversation while she knits.  Dick and her husband disappear outside to watch the storm (I think Dick has gone to the bathroom and am worried that he’s been swept away, until he re-appears).  More young and old couples come stamping in through the doors, shedding soaked rain-gear and umbrellas, happy to be out of their individual rigs and into some kind of community.  That’s what it is.  People share storm stories and close escapes.  We all realize how vulnerable we are.  I, personally, vow to never travel south in the spring tornado season again.  But finally, as the wind dies down and the warning is lifted, we leave the shelter, individually, in couples and groups, heading back to our individual traveling “homes” where it once again feels safe and cozy.

After this shaky start, the weather is fine and we spend a few days here, eating German, and visiting the exhaustive National Museum of the Pacific (no wonder your ticket is good for two days!) and the Pioneer Museum Complex, both right in town. We’re so lucky to be here when the Texas wildflowers are in bloom – witness the Bluebells.

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The Texas White House, LBJ Ranch

Foiled by the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Museum and Library in Austin the day before (major exhibits closed for renovation) we head out to the wide open spaces and LBJ’s childhood home and the LBJ Ranch, aka the Texas White House.  We tour his boyhood home with a National Park Ranger and learn about  LBJ’s mother , who had a journalist background and an artistic bent, and his father who held elected office and talked with constituents on the front porch.  We see where his roots will lead him,  towards politics and a vision of the great society.

The LBJ Ranch is down the road a piece. The old entrance is a hoot – LBJ used to drive visitors right through the river to get to the property – now we meander further down and cross a bridge.  We stop first at  his one-room schoolhouse. My favorite story from the audio narration is that when the 4 year old LBJ was allowed to join the class, he insisted on sitting on the teacher’s lap to recite his lesson.  There’s a photo of the dedication of the building out in front, with his teacher in attendance.  I thought he should have taken that opportunity to sit on her lap again.

We drive the grounds, see the airstrip where his plane landed, frequently during his presidency, and wind up touring the home with a Park Service Guide. LBJ evidently needed to watch 3 televisions constantly ( to monitor the original alphabet networks – and phone in his reactions) and worked horrific hours.  Ladybird made an addition to the house to serve as his office, and also did a re-model which involved separate bedrooms, since he was not adverse to working in the middle of the night, with staff bed-side.  I got kind of a shock when we were standing in LBJ’s bedroom, and the Ranger started talking about the night he died, saying, he got up out of bed and fell and hit his head on this table, and died here.  Pointing to the spot where I was standing.

We see their final resting places on the way out of the park. Because Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head  was the song he loved to listen to, while driving around the ranch,  there’s an obligatory homage.

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We spend the next 3 days learning about two Texas boys who grew up to be President of the United States – one a Democrat, the other a Republican.  It’s hard to evaluate the different presidential libraries we’ve visited without any political judgements or bias, but once you accept the obvious fact that the president and his presidency are going to be portrayed in the best possible light –  this is their personal Great Pyramid – it’s easier to just concentrate on how informative, accessible, entertaining or memorable the whole experience is.

Portion of the Berlin Wall

Our first stop is at Texas A&M University in College Station, home of the George Bush (senior) Presidential Library and Museum.  We find it easy to spend an entire afternoon.  The collection is extensive, and the theming of the exhibit sections (I admit to a bias towards chronological) is pretty exciting and interactive – visitors of all ages seem kind of anxious to turn the next corner and see what’s waiting there.  There’s a restored 1944 Avenger airplane overhead, like the one he flew as a Navy pilot, in the WWII area, a vintage Studebaker for the family move to TX, a re-creation of a portion of the U.N., the Oval Office, the Press Room, a Camp David office furnished with original memorabilia, the Gulf War Situation Room (you can sit around the table and

Situation Room

interact in decision-making) and lots more, in addition to all the text, video and other more standard exhibits.  I feel that I experienced a lot of Bush’s life by the time I left and had a much clearer idea of the issues during his presidency, which is all I really want or expect from a presidential library.

I should mention for our memory log/jog – and anybody else who might be reading, that we had an absolutely fabulous meal at Fish Daddy’s Grill that night.  Incredibly delicious fried shrimp  and Key Lime pie. Eat there, if you’re ever in the area!

After spending the night in an RV park we’d rather forget, we head to Austin, and the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum.  We had plans to see the Texas State Capitol, but our finicky refrigerator (we call her worse names, when we’re trying to level) doesn’t like the slanty streets in downtown Austin – and we also realize, unhip and late, that we’re competing for space with SXSW.

So we head to what we’re thinking, in this cultural milieu,  will be the stodgy, safe place –  the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum.  But normal parking and entrances are blocked – even here, they’re getting ready for a concert.  We ignore some admonitions that it’s not possible to get to the museum, and find another way to the museum entrance.   Only to find that the most interesting first-floor section is closed for renovation. We watch the obligatory and always interesting introductory films, and then tour the 2nd floor, but basically feel that we missed the heart and soul of the museum.  But we hope to make up for that, on the following day, when we’re going to visit Johnson’s boyhood home and the LBJ Ranch, alias the Texas White House.

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