Monday, January 21, 2008

Traveling Around Texas

It's a dreary and drizzly day today - a good time to catch up on our travels. We've been here in San Marcos for almost two months now, and have enjoyed fairly warm weather, made new friends, and of course, sampled almost every restaurant in the area. One of our day trips was to the town of Fredricksburg, a quaint town settled by German immigrants in 1846. The main street is filled with shops, many specializing in German antiques and gifts (lots of nutcrackers!), and a number of German restaurants and brew pubs. While there, we visited the National Museum of the Pacific War, a surprisingly extensive facility focused on Admiral Chester Nimitz, who grew up in the family hotel which now houses the museum entrance. It was especially meaningful for us because in the early 80's while stationed in Washington state, we visited the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and the then-mothballed Battleship Missouri , and with Brendas' WWII Pacific war veteran Dad, stood on the spot where Admiral Nimitz signed the Japanese surrender documents. The town and museum are well worth the trip if you are in the area, especially during the Christmas season when the streets are decorated and the shops are filled with holiday gifts. On the way, we stopped at one of Texas' most famous country-western locations, Luckenbach, the subject of the Waylon Jennings hit song. It's not easy to find, since the signs for the town disappear as fast as they put them up, but eventually we pulled up in front of the combination post office/general store/bar. While it may be a rockin' place during the summer, on this weekday afternoon it was quiet, with only a few visitors. Brenda immediately charmed the bar patrons (both of them) and within a few minutes was being serenaded with a guitar solo by her new-found friend, singing a song about the ghost of Waylon visiting the bar and inspiring new songs. It was a truly friendly group, & we enjoyed our brief stay at this landmark location. Less memorable was a two-day trip to the Rio Grande Valley, where we visited to scout possible volunteer sites for next winter. The valley or "RGV" as it's known, is a popular location for "Winter Texans", those who journey from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and other northern states and Canada to escape the winter. The east-west highway along the border from Brownsville to Mission is filled with literally hundreds of RV parks, from huge upscale resorts to small mom & pop trailer parks. We visited two National Wildlife Refuges, Santa Ana, on the border in the central valley, and Laguna Atacosa on the gulf coast. Both were busy with visitors and had great facilities. Many of the the winter Texans are avid bird-watchers and provide a huge visitor base for the refuges; surprisingly to us an entrance fee is charged (hence the great facilities). At Laguna Atacosa, we watched this Green Jay, a beautiful bird found only in this southernmost area. Although both the refuges have facilities for volunteers, we're not sure we'd be comfortable in the area, it's a long way to get here and doesn't offer anything special. A day trip to Corpus Christi was a more positive experience. We toured the waterfront, looked at RV parks, and enjoyed a Sunday brunch at a terrific waterfront restaurant. We liked the downtown waterfront and large-city facilities, and plan to return to the area and visit Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. On the way back, we stopped in the little town of Panna Maria, which amazed us in being the first Polish settlement in the U.S. There's not much left of the original settlement, just the church, a small store, and an even smaller museum. Still, it's an interesting story how the immigrants landed in Galveston and settled here - we would never have guessed that the first Polish settlement was in Texas! Finally, big news! Those of you that have followed our travels know that Brenda has long yearned to see a moose in the wild; you may remember that she was "Mooseless in Montana" in spite of over 3000 miles (or so) of back-country exploring. Well, thanks to our friends Dennis and Ann, she is NO LONGER MOOSELESS! As you can see by the picture, she has a Christmoose, complete with little bells and a fashionable satin finish. There is now much joy here as Brenda and the moose jingle their way through the coach, much to the confusion and dismay of the cat. Another item on our "bucket list" has been completed. Who knows what's next? Come back and see!

Saturday, January 05, 2008

2007 In Review

Time goes so quickly - another year has begun with promises of new places to see and new friends to make. 2007 was a great year for us; we traveled through 10 states staying at 32 different RV Parks, saw our daughter married, explored new areas, and completed a gratifying tour as volunteers teaching children to become "Junior Rangers". Our year started in Alpine, Texas, where we enjoyed a New Year's dinner in an 1890's hotel that housed a German restaurant and brewery. The next day we headed west to Las Cruces, NM where the RV park featured free Margaritas in the clubhouse each Friday. They were so good, we stayed for two Fridays! Moving on to Benson, AZ, we woke up to the anguish of snow - fortunately it was only temporary and lasted just a bit longer than the horrible flashbacks of winter in Ohio. Spring came, and with the desert cactus blooming, we headed to Southern California to prepare for the wedding. The wedding was a wonderful experience that we'll always remember. Like all weddings, it had it's moments of last minute glitches but in the end was perfect! The setting was beautiful, the gathering of friends and family was truly enjoyable, and most of all, the Bride and Groom had a wonderful evening to remember. As the newlyweds left for their honeymoon, we said goodbye and began our travels by spending a month in Silver City, NM, at the edge of the immense Gila Wilderness. We spent days roaming the mountains and back roads, exploring small towns, and touring the Gila Cliff Dwellings. This is truly a magical area and one we'll always remember. As we continued north, we stayed on the back roads and traveled through small towns, then on to Chama, a picturesque town on the New Mexico-Colorado border and on the edge of the Rocky Mountains. We rode the Cumbres-Toltec railroad, visited with friends, and continued on through western Colorado, into Utah and through Salt Lake City, and then detoured to the west and Salmon, Idaho where we followed the Salmon river north. We spent a few days at North Fork, ID, a one-store town that provided some of the most beautiful scenery we've ever seen. We crossed the formidable Lost Trail Pass into Montana, descended into Montana's Bitterroot Valley, and stayed at the Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge where we visited with old friends and happily volunteered to help out. Again heading west, we drove over Lolo Pass back into Idaho and were amazed at the beauty of the Clearwater River Valley area. Clear running rivers, mountains, and high plains covered with wheat and rye were everywhere; what a beautiful area! On our final leg west we crossed into southwest Washington state, drove the Columbia River Valley to Portland, Oregon, then headed down the coast to Brookings Harbor, OR, just north of the California state line. Our six weeks there as volunteers had us teaching children, leading nature walks, and doing some carpentry work. We explored the area up and down the coast, marveling at the "sea stacks", marine life, and deep forests. Leaving Harriss Beach, our route then took us south past Mount Shasta, into Nevada, and down to Las Vegas where we met our daughter and son-in-law for a week. Then back to Tucson and Sierra Vista Arizona for visits with friends, and a final journey east to our winter home in the San Antonio area. Along the way we saw some memorable sights; for example, this gallery in Montana that had a unique and very coyboy-ish way of announcing when they were open or closed. And yes, the sign says "Yup" when they're open. Our travels for the year saw beautiful sunsets, rugged mountains, and ocean beaches. Our favorites for the year: Best RV Park - A tie between River Forks RV Park in Forks, ID; right on the Salmon River with Elk grazing along the river each evening, and Harris Beach State Park, OR, with it's secluded sites, forest canopy, and view of the scenic Oregon coastline. Most Disappointing RV Park: San Onofre Beach, a Marine Corp campground on Camp Pendleton, CA. The great views of the surf were offset by the traffic, and late night partying, and lack of rules enforcement. Most Scenic Area - Idaho's Salmon River and Clearwater River valleys were beautiful, but the area surrounding Chama, NM wins our vote for it's mountains, valleys, and incredible vistas. Most Interesting Area - Silver City, NM and the Gila Wilderness. A town of truly independent souls; from biker bars to coffee houses, gourmet restaurants to art galleries, with ghost towns and aging hippies, surrounded by forested mountains and rivers - each day was an adventure! Least Interesting Area - Las Vegas, NV. Dusty, crowded, overpriced restaurants, unsavory characters on each street corner passing out invitations to "showgirl" bars.....not much to like. Biggest Surprise of the Year - That we could learn so much about marine mammals and plants of the Pacific Northwest. Thank you "google" for all the information! Most Fun of the Year - Teaching the "Junior Rangers" the "secret sign".....then having them run to their grandparents and offering to sell it to them. Financial Bonus of the Year - Signing up for our senior discount cards at Ryan's Buffets. We even learned the correct strategy from the nice girl at the counter...."get here at 3:00 for the free senior's drink, then slowly eat salad until 4:00 when they put the steaks on....whooohooo!" Wish We Could Have - had you join us on our travels! Please come back and visit & if you get the chance, come see us!