Friday, December 19, 2008

Small Towns of Texas - Lockhart

Although many Texas small town downtown areas have suffered as people move to the suburbs and stores move to the strip malls, some, like Lockhart, have managed to make the transition to become areas of quaint shops, restaurants, and historical sites. Lockhart, the self-proclaimed "BBQ Capital of Texas", has done an admirable job of restoring their downtown to a place well worth visiting, even if you're not in the mood for BBQ. But if you are, the "big four" are Black's, Kreuz's, Chisum Trail, and Smitty's - which claim to have 250,000 visitors a year. You can't walk anywhere in the downtown area without smelling the BBQ....and getting hungry. Many of the Texas towns we've visited have interesting old courthouses, but Lockhart's is one of the best maintained, impressive ones that we've seen. It's easy to see why Lockhart has been used as a location in so many movies; two that we remember are "The Great Waldo Pepper" and "Second Hand Lions". As we toured the downtown area we came across these two gentlemen who were entertaining the sidewalk shoppers with Christmas carols; a nice touch for the holiday shoppers. We were impressed with the beauty of the public library, the oldest continuously operating library in Texas at over 108 years old. A major converging point for the Chisolm Trail, Lockhart is rich in frontier history, and the Battle of Plum Creek is an interesting and enlightening story of the conflict between settlers and the Commanche Tribe.
After visiting downtown, we followed the signs to Lockhart State Park, another of the great Texas state parks. Along with a full-hookup campground, the park has fishing and a nine-hole golf course. The RV sites were large and well separated from one another. This is another great place to stay while visiting the area; not too far from Seguin and within range of a day trip to San Antonio or Austin. We had an enjoyable time on our exploration trip, and look forward to another visit and a stop at one of the barbecue restaurants. Since this will be our last entry before the holidays, Brenda and I would like to wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a successful and Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Relaxin' in Rockport

This week our road trip was to Rockport, a small coastal town just up from Corpus Christi. It's one of a chain of towns along that stretch of the coastline, and a favorite destination of "Winter Texans", those folks who flock to Texas from the north to escape the cold weather. Like most of the western Gulf Coast towns, it's not very picturesque. There are few high-rise condos, luxury resorts, or even palm trees; just streets of blue-collar houses, docks with working shrimp boats, and lots and lots of RV Parks. One reason for the popularity among Winter Texans is cost; a typical site rents for around $300/month plus electric, and there are many bare-bones parks that rent for less. You can see reviews on some of the parks here. It's rare to see snow, seldom falls below freezing even at night, and has a Super Wal-Mart - what's not to like? Our main purpose of visiting was to explore places to stay after we leave this area at the end of January, while also doing a little bird-watching and restaurant sampling. Since it was a three-hour drive, we decided to have lunch first, and looked for the Boiling Pot, a seafood restaurant recommended by many RVrs who have stayed in the area. It's one of those places that chain restaurants like Joe's Crab Shack try to emulate; weather beaten exterior, graffiti and sign covered interior - but this is the real deal. Our server, who was as proficient as she was cute, promptly tied bibs on us and covered the table with butcher paper since apparently we looked like serious diners. I had a bowl of gumbo (didn't need hot sauce - my ultimate compliment), and we shared a Cajun Combo, which when dumped onto the table (no plates or silverware) formed a sizable mountain of blue crab, shrimp, sausage, red-skinned potatoes, and corn on the cob. There's something delightfully sinful about eating with your hands, pouring cocktail sauce into little mountains for shrimp-dipping, and whacking crab parts with a mallet....and as a bonus, everything tasted great! We truly enjoyed our visit and recommend a visit if you're in the area.
Next, we visited some of the area's RV parks, most of which are full and will remain full until March. In most of the parks, RVs are packed tightly to maximize space, and there's rarely any privacy between sites. We took a picture of this park, which had concrete pads and was across the road from the water. A typical winter destination park, it had a large staff of workampers and planned activities each day. While we may be interested in this type of park some day, for now we prefer a place with a bit more solitude and a more natural setting. We were pleased to find Goose Island State Park, a beautiful park with large, secluded sites, nature trails, guided birdwalks, and fishing. The park offers sites in the woods and on the water; we reserved a wooded site since the water view isn't very spectacular (mud, brown water, and more mud), and the water sites are very close together. We plan on visiting Goose Island in early February.
While in the area, we took the opportunity to watch some of the many shorebirds along the water. We saw Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Willet, and one of our favorites, the Brown Pelican. These large birds are everywhere, sitting placidly on poles and docks patiently waiting for a sign of fish. They're appearance is almost clown-like, with their head feathers sprouting in all directions and those huge bills tucked against their bodies. We're looking forward to returning here and spending time exploring the area. Who knows where we'll be next? C'mon back and see.