Thursday, January 29, 2009

Enchanted Rocking

We're finishing up our stay in Blanco, in the heart of the hill country. We never seem able to visit all of the places we want to, but we keep trying, and this week visited a new park, Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, just outside of Fredericksburg. This is real hill country, with winding roads, up and down grades, and lots of mountain cedar with it's pollen-laden branches. The "rock" is really that - a huge pink granite 640-acre dome that rises 425 feet above the surrounding countryside. It's a very popular place; the web site advises that on summer weekends they often close to visitors as early as 11:00 due to the crowds that flock here. Why? Well, to climb the rock, of course. Even on the winter weekday we visited, lines of people were headed for the summit. What in the world, you may ask, is so special about climbing to the top of a big rock? Beats me. It must be some kind of Texan thing, after all, they're mountain-deprived around here. Maybe they can see the Alamo in the distance from the top. In any case, we declined the opportunity to join the climbers and instead explored the trails around the base of the rock. It's a pretty place, with lots of huge boulders strewn around the smooth granite slopes. While it's an unusual place for Texas, it's not anything we haven't seen in our travels in the mountain states, so we opted to return to Fredericksburg for German pastry and coffee.
We've mentioned Fredericksburg in previous posts; it's a historic German town with a main street full of shops and restaurants. It's especially popular during the Christmas holidays; many of the shops specialize in German ornaments, nut crackers, and other unusual gifts. After a sharing a German apple donut (imagine a cross between an apple pie and donut), we strolled over to the public library where we marveled at this chain-saw carving made from what we suppose was a single dead tree. If you click on the picture and look close you can see that it's a large eagle with small eagles on each wing. At the edge of town, I took this picture of the home of Admiral Chester Nimitz, who served as the US Navy Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet during WWII. The family home, once a hotel, is now the centerpiece of the surprisingly large and interesting National Museum of the Pacific War. Leaving Fredericksburg, we headed back towards Blanco, but after a grueling day of exploring, decided to stop at the Silver K Cafe in Johnson City, one of our favorite restaurants in the area. Housed in an old lumberyard, the restaurant is decorated with original art and has menu offering Texas comfort food (chicken fried steak, of course), and a variety of interesting "fine dining" dishes. A great end to another day of exploring and learning! Come back soon and see where we're visiting next!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Bloggin' from Blanco

We've been parked at Blanco State Park for the past two weeks, a nice park right outside of town. Many of the small towns we've visited, although somewhat faded, still proudly display restored courthouses, refurbished store fronts, and carefully attended parks. Blanco, however, is not one of them. Not because of a lack of care, but just because...well, it never was much to begin with. It's troubles started back in 1853 when the first settlement had to be moved because of a flood. Cotton was king then, but soon the crops were wiped out by the boll weevil and cotton root rot fungus. Then the folks thought that Blanco would be the county seat, and spent two years building the county courthouse, but four years after completion the county seat was moved to Johnson City, a move that still irritates some of the residents. But don't get the wrong idea; Blanco is still a great place to live and visit. Small shops and restaurants ring most of the storefronts around the square, and the old theater and adjacent stores are being restored. The state park sits astride the Blanco River, which has small dams to keep the water deep enough for the trout that are stocked periodically during the winter. It's a convenient location for day trips to San Antonio, Fredericksburg, and other interesting places to visit. And, best of all, Blanco has one of the best little pie-serving diners in the state. How good? Well, when the waitress set the piece of coconut cream pie down between us, all I could see above the meringue was the top of Brenda's head. And only $2.50 for a huge slice......we could live here! The Blanco Bowling Club Diner is one of those memorable little places in small town America that makes traveling such a pleasure. Part of the "Bowling Club" (9-pin, manual pin setting only), the diner offers simple fare with unusual prices - the dinner special one night was meat loaf, scalloped potatos, and vegetable for $6.73, ice tea for $.92, so that when tax is added, no pennies will be necessary. Did I mention the pie?
In between pie-eating trips, we managed a day visit to the Pedernales Falls State Park, near the town of Dripping Springs. It's another great Texas state park, very popular among families for its swimming areas and large campground. We took the trail down to the falls area, which even in the winter is almost cave-like due to the density of the trees. Once at the river, we could see where the falls would have been if there was a larger water flow; unfortunately, with the current drought, the falls were almost dry. Still, it's a pretty area and a great place for kids to climb around on the rocks and scare their parents.
Speaking of scary, on a hike at Palmetto State Park, I looked up and right over the trail hung what I first thought was some type of fungus, and then realized was a honey comb. As you can see by the picture, it's a large structure covered by what I hoped at the time were semi-frozen bees. We'd never seen an open-air hive before, and learned from reading on-line that they're rare. The hive is already large; I have to wonder how long it can grow and stay secure, especially in the hot weather. If you're thinking of hiking the trails here, you might want to consider wearing a helmet and be prepared to run fast!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Fido, the Campground Cat

Every once in a while you come across a story that bears repeating. This is one of them:
10 years ago Alton and his wife began volunteering at Blanco State Park as campground hosts. It wasn't long before a small, beautifully marked little cat began hanging around their RV, and Alton (a pushover for a hungry animal), put out some cat food. It was obviously a feral cat and wouldn't let Alton near it....for the first year. The next year Alton returned to volunteer, and there was the cat waiting for him. More food was offered, and by the end of the year, the cat would let him softly pet her while eating. Year three....more food and more petting, and by the end of the year the cat was following him everywhere. Alton says that since the cat followed him everywhere like a puppy, he decided to name her "Fido". Year four; more petting, and then came year five and the big breakthrough, when Fido climbed into his lap and allowed him to pet her. Each year since then, Fido has been waiting for Alton to return to the park, and now when he arrives she quickly becomes his "lap dog", cat. In her tenth year since adopting Alton, she stays at the park by herself each summer because she's still feral enough that she occasionally needs her space and wants to roam. But when Alton's here, you can bet that if you walk by his RV and he's outside reading a book he'll have a lap full of a sleeping Fido. Alton doesn't know how old Fido is or how many more years she'll be here to greet him when he arrives, but he hopes it's for a long time. So do we.

Monday, January 05, 2009

2008 In Review

Where does the time go? It seems like just a few days ago that we were beginning our 2007 travels, and here it is another year in review. This was a year of new travels, new friends, and a new home. Brenda finally saw her first moose in the wild, we watched the wolves of Yellowstone, and even watched a foursome of baby badgers play. We managed to reunite with old friends all across the country and, of course, discovered many, many new restaurants.
Our year started with a journey north to Palo Duro Canyon, a wonderland of red rock canyons that just doesn't seem to belong in Texas, then to Colorado and the Air Force Academy, where we met old friends and visited breweries and mountain tops. Then to the Bitterroot Valley of Montana and a summer of volunteering at the Lee Metcalf NWR. This year we departed from our usual visitor center and woodworking projects, and become tour guides into the normally closed portion of the refuge. We also developed programs to take on the road, and had a great time entertaining children at the local campgrounds. While there we traded our much-beloved Tiffin motorhome in on a larger, more opulant Itasca Ellipse, and on the day after Labor Day, started south back to Texas for the winter. On the way, we spent 10 days in Yellowstone NP, where we marveled at the variety of wildlife and were amazed at the size of a bull moose we caught grazing alongside the road. We drove the Bearthtooth All-American Highway, truly one of the country's treasures, and spent time in Grand Teton National Park. Driving through Utah, we visited Bryce Canyon and Monument Valley. We stopped in Albuquerque for a rest and to visit friends, then traveled to Ruidoso, NM, where Brenda won some gas money at the Inn of the Mountain Gods and loaded up on pistachios at a local farm. We drove through Roswell without seeing any aliens, and then through Southeast NM and a part of Texas that truly looked like an alien landscape. Back in Texas, we stayed in San Marcos where we completed our medical checkups, then found a jewel of a park in New Braunfels at Camp Huaco Springs. Our Thanksgiving and Christmas days were spent with our good friends and gourmet cooks Tom and Janet, and we managed to visit our old full timing (now off the road) friends Dennis and Ann in their Sun City home. We met another full timing and Escapees couple, Art and Bev, while in Montana, and had dinner with them here in Texas; and once again met up with our friends Joe and Susan from Colorado and Kirk and Sue from Dayton. And along the way made new friends that we'll meet again in our travels. What a great year it's been! Here are some of our favorites for the year: BEST RV PARK- American RV Park in Albuquerque. Beautifully maintained, staffed with friendly workampers, free breakfast buffet, and a reasonable price. RUNNER UP - Palo Duro Canyon. Although sites were electric and water only, each site made you feel like you were alone in the canyon. Surounded by colorful rock formations and flocks of wild turkey, the sound of coyotes singing at must see place. MOST SCENIC AREA - the Beartooth Highway. Simply breathtaking and beyond description. Don't miss it. RUNNER UP - Grand Teton National Park. Expensive and crowded, but oh, the mountains! BIGGEST SURPRISE - coming around a corner on a dirt road in Yellowstone to find a huge Grey Wolf watching us. BEST WILDLIFE EXPERIENCE - (Tie) Watching four baby badgers frolic while mom watched from a distance, finally finding a moose for Brenda! BEST RV DEALER - Bretz RV, Missoula, MT. Honest and open salesman (Thanks, Matt!), fair prices, and $.99/gal propane. MT MOST DISAPPOINTING AREA - Monument Valley. The Navajo tribe controls everything; and it will cost you at every turn. BEST CASINO - Inn of the Mountain Gods, Ruidoso, NM. Not just a beautiful building, but an art museum with incredible views. Great food in the buffet and the best desert bar, ever! MOST BEAUTIFUL BUILDING - the Air Force Academy Chapel. Truly a national treasure. BEST DINING EXPERIENCE - The Grubstake, Hamilton, Montana. 2000' up the mountainside overlooking the Bitterroot Valley, great food, entertaining host, and a mule that scolds you if you leave without feeding him a treat. MOST FUN OF THE YEAR Year - Watching the face of the woman, who without looking, ran into the road at Yellowstone to see a bison - and who turned around to see our motorhome less than a foot from her behind. And then I hit the air horns.
Along the way I noticed a couple of interesting and clever signs for restaurants; as you can see, oriental food restaurants seem to have the most fun with their names:
We're anxious to get started on another year of travels, so stop back and see what we're up to! Thanks for traveling with us!