Posts Tagged ‘Spring Trip 2012’

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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The amount of room Dick and I share on board the Navion, seems downright luxurious and spacious in comparison to the living conditions on Battleship Texas.  We climb up and down the steep, steel ladders to different decks, and explore the ship and its exhibits for an hour or so, learning about the lives of the men who served aboard.  It’s basically a small, floating city, and the logistics of sleeping, eating, showering, etc. in addition to the actual military components are amazing to contemplate.  Despite her peeling paint and obvious need for further restoration, she’s an imposing presence along the Houston Ship Channel with a long and proud history, having participated in both WWI and WWII.

We take the Lynchburg Ferry to the Monument Inn, near the towering San Jacinto Monument,  for dinner two nights in a row.  It’s right on the Houston Ship Channel, so there’s a steady parade of gigantic, international barges, which the ferries have to dodge for the short passage back and forth.  It’s kind of a bizarre industrial landscape, looming storage tanks and blazing oil  refineries along the convuluted shorelines.  It’s a strangely beautiful, otherworldly sight at night, like some infernal science fiction world.  We go back and forth on the ferry so many times, we make friends with one of the guys who works on it,  and bring him a bag of cinnamon rolls from the restaurant on our final “voyage”.

Infinity Pool at San Jacinto Campground

And, finally, our San Jacinto Campground is also on the water, which our infinity pool overlooks.

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Spindletop-Gladys City Boomtown Museum

We enjoyed our stay at Coushatta last year, so decided to pull in for a few days to celebrate our 36th wedding anniversary with some swimming and lazing by the pool, and a steak dinner at their premiere restaurant.  Scratch that.  Torrential rain, restaurant closed on Mondays. We also decided to just send each other e-cards this year, which in retrospect, seemed a bit paltry.  But, we’re still happily married.  🙂

After a few days of waiting for the rain to stop – and a quick dip in the pool, we leave for new adventures in Texas.  I haven’t been there since I was a 9 year old kid, sitting way back in the tiny storage compartment of the family VW bug, reading,  because I thought the scenery was boring.  Though, I evidently read my way through the Rockies too, my Mom used to remind me.  I’m hoping to be more open to what  Texas has to offer this time around.  We head to Houston via Beaumont, so we can stop at the Spindletop-Gladys City Boomtown Museum, near the site of the gigantic Lucas Gusher that ushered in the petroleum age. The resident energy expert onboard remembers being totally fascinated by this whole chapter in energy history when he was a kid.  It certainly introduced a crazy era.  With the discovery that oil could be gotten in this manner, Beaumont was transformed from a village of several hundred to a city of nearly 30,000 in a matter of weeks. Not all savory.  The museum recreates the town with about 15 clapboard building replicas from the oil-boom era, and there’s a life-sized, water-spewing gusher that obliged us by going off while we were eating lunch.

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I just jumped into that Graceland  entry previous to this, without announcing that we’ve started a new trip. From the entry before that (Rendez-Vous Des Cajuns), it might look like we were hanging around down south for almost a year, waiting for tornados to pass. In reality , we’re nowhere near that patient.  We traveled  home (sadly, through floods and devastation) to Wisconsin and spent months there, before coming south again. Just want to make sure I don’t confuse Dick and I as we look over this travel diary in our golden years.

The next stop on this Spring 2012 trip, was Little Rock.  We came to see the the Clinton Presidential Library – we’re trying to see all the presidential libraries we can.  The building is huge and impressive, but I’d have to say the museum itself, inside, was a little underwhelming.   It’s the most  expensive Presidential Library built so far (165 million compared to his predecessor, George H.W. Bush at 80 million)  but we found it less engaging and more partisan (in attacking the motives of the opposition) than we expected.  Most of it was arranged in small policy alcoves, with a lot of text and small video  presentations, which could be difficult to see if there were more than a couple of people in the area.  Aside from the introductory film, there was also very little family history  compared to other presidential museums.  I would have liked to have learned more about Clinton’s background, childhood and early life.

We did learn a lot about the historic downtown district by visiting the Historic Arkansas Museum.  Their costumed interpreters were knowledgeable and enthusiastic and shared a lot of interesting local history.  We also refreshed our recollection that a bar was where the booze was kept, behind bars – and that a silver piece could be split into quarters, literally – and then two bits, etc.  And we saw a fascinating Gone with the Wind exhibit – Reel to Real (I wanted to yell to Mom in heaven – Hey!  Here’s the  bonnet Scarlet wore, Rhett’s suits, all kinds of costumes, video screen tests, memorabilia!) contrasted with the reality of what was going on in the south at the time. I guess I’ll always love the movie in spite of  the lamentable characterizations.

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