Monday, November 29, 2010

Wandering Around Texas

Leaving Texarkana, we decided to take the long route to our winter home in the San Antonio area, heading West between Austin and Dallas towards the West Texas town of Fort Davis.  Our trip took us through some interesting and very pretty areas; at this time of year the trees still had multi-colored leaves and the weather was cool at night but pleasant during the day.  Ezekial Airship1We stopped at Pittsburg, a small town of less than 5000  with an interesting museum that we found on the Roadside America web site.  While the museum houses a lot of interesting displays of the area’s history, our interest wEzekial Airship3as in seeing the Ezekiel Airship, which area residents claim flew two years before the Wright brothers airplane.  It’s an extremely well-done exhibit, with a recreation of the airship and a professional video that documents how the Reverend Cannon, a Baptist minister, somehow interpreted the biblical book of Ezekiel into a method of building an airplane.  Although it’s possible that it actually flew, we’ll never really know, which is just as well, since we don’t need another state arguing with Ohio (“Birthplace of Aviation”) and North Carolina (“First in Flight”).
From Pittsburg, we traveled to Gun Barrel City, where we spent the night purely because of the really cool name, which was a good thing, because there wasn’t anything really interesting here.  Although some references say that the name comes from Gun Barrel Lane, a place where gangsters hung out, it’s more likely that it was named because Gun Barrel Lane was a straight road that acted as a shortcut between the two major towns in the area.  Some day we’ll have to visit Cut and Shoot, a town which has a more colorful explanation for it’s name. 
Our next stop was San Angelo, where we stayed at the Goodfellow AFB recreation area.  Goodfellow is a strange Air Force Base; there’s no runway or aircraft, just a training center.  But the recreation area had a great campground, and San Angelo is a nice town, although it’s fairly isolated and far from any other large population center.
Fort Davis View Our next stop was a five-day stay at Davis Mountains State Park, outside Fort Davis.  We’ve visited here before, and this summer, after telling a neighboring RVer how much we enjoyed the area, we decided to make another visit.  Davis Mountains SP is one of our favorites, set in a rocky canyon with beautiful Hotel Limpiascenery, wildlife, and great facilities.  We enjoyed watching the deer wander through the campground, the coyotes howling in the distance, and were even treated to a javelina meandering around.   Fort Davis is a small, intriguing town with an historic hotel, the Limpia, built in 1912 and beautifully restored.  We enjoyed revisiting Nel’s Coffee  Shop, a local gathering place with great food that we Nel's Signhighlighted on our last visit in March 2009, and which now has this amusing sign out front. 

Fort Davis NPFort Davis NP2The Fort Davis National Historic Site is always worth a visit; it’s an extensive restoration of a frontier Calvary post and always has something new to see.  

Davis MountainsDavis Mountains2The mountains here remind us of New Mexico or Arizona, and there’s a loop drive that takes you through the mountains and past the McDonald Observatory, a great place to visit or just have lunch at the StarDate CafĂ©  and enjoy the view.   There are self-guided tours, formal tours, and evening “star parties”, all of which are fun and educational; but wear a sweater, the observatory is at 6000’ and it gets very cool at night.

Alpine Street Scene We always make a visit to Alpine, the shopping and dining hub of the area.  During our visit, the town was hosting the annual “Art Walk”, with all of the 20+ galleries open and vendors set up on the street corners.  It was a beautiful day, and we enjoyed strolling the sidewalks and window shopping.  

No visit to the area would be complete without a visit to Marfa and an attempt to view the “Mystery Lights”.  The town has Marfa Lights Viewing Center built a nice viewing area, and Brenda and I settled in after sunset with our lawn chairs and binoculars in hope of seeing these mysterious lights, first reported in the 1800s.  We gave it a couple of hours, but alas, the mystery lights remain a mystery to us, but we enjoyed the night sky and listening to people excitedly identifying distant car lights as they appeared over the far horizon as the “mystery” lights.  El Cheapo Marfa is also home to a truly great liquor store – the “El Cheapo” store.  There’s a certain kind of Texas sophistication about accompanying a dinner of chicken fried steak with a bottle of fine wine purchased at “El Cheapo”.
We decided on this trip to take a drive to Presidio, a small town on the border.  When we thought of the name “Presidio”, our minds conjured up the image of white-stucco houses, palm trees, green grass….kind of like the California Presidio.  Whoops.  Think instead of a tired looking, dusty town and a Dollar General store, with a gravel parking lot filled with decades old cars and pickup trucks.  Sadly, Presidio turned out to be rather, well, sad.  Ft Leaton But, down the road a bit we discovered Fort Leaton, a restored fort that was actually a fortified home, complete with an interesting history of violence, murderBrenda with Giant Cart, betrayal, and other interesting stuff.   It’s an impressive place, with restored rooms, large courtyards, and this huge cart (Brenda wants one for her shopping trips to Kohls).  The drive along river road is interesting; you can literally throw a rock across the border at many points, and the bright green vegetation along the river is stark contrast to the dry hills surrounding the area.  On the way back to Fort Davis, we stopped at the ghost town of Shafter, once a thriving silver mining town but now an area of ruins, a few homes, and an interesting cemetery.    Shafter Cemetary
P1040505Back at Fort Davis, we were reminded to be careful when hiking the area’s trails when we came across this good-sized rattlesnake in the overlook parking lot.  Kind of spooky just how well he blends into the parking lot surface, which is similar to the color of the surrounding rocks.  It was neat seeing this large snake, although as a result I’m getting a bit weary having to carry Brenda from the car to the coach now that she refuses to walk on the ground. 
We’ll be in New Braunfels, our winter home, for the next few months, but stay tuned, we plan on visiting new places and we’ll let you know what we find.  We hope you all had a happy Thanksgiving and are meeting all of your shopping goals for Christmas!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Las Vegas – Mississippi Style

As we continued our journey towards Texas, we decided to make a detour and visit the Robinsonville/Tunica Mississippi area, an area we haven’t visited, and one Casino Montage Brenda especially was eager to visit.  It’s not like we envisioned; instead of one area of casinos, they’re arranged in clusters, or in some cases, by themselves, in an area of flat cotton fields along the Mississippi River.  Most of the casinos are owned by the same big names that you’d see in Las Vegas, and we decided to stay at the Sam’s Town RV Casino RV Park (you can click on our review on the left), which turned out to be a very nice park for a reasonable price.  Once we were set up, it was time for Brenda to work her magic on the slot machines while I thumbed through catalogs for custom-built Marathon Motor Coaches, anticipating her call to bring the car and help load up all of the money she’d won.  Alas, the call never came. 
Although we didn’t win at the casinos, we did manage to score a lot of free meals.  Between “senior day” coupons, player points, and Brenda’s call to Harrah’s, we grazed for hours at the variety of buffets offered by each casino.  Our favorite by far was Paula Deen’s seafood buffet at Harrah’s.  Brenda managed to score us a two-for-one coupon, which made the price a bargain.  Although I’m not a fan of Paula’s (how many times can you stand the word “Y’all” in one sentence?), many of her famous recipes were available, and we tried to sample them all.  For me, I had trouble getting past the “Uncle Bubba’s” seafood bar with all of the oysters, shrimp, and crab, but managed to sample other items and still leave room for the dessert bar and the best blueberry pie I’ve ever had.  Strangely, there was an area called the “salad bar” with beautifully stacked healthy stuff – untouched and without anyone coming within 10 feet.  Who’d want salad with all of this butter-drenched, fried good stuff available?  Not us, for sure.
All in all, the casinos were interesting.  Much like the ones in Las Vegas, but a bit smaller, and because of the time of year and economy, much less crowded.  The Harrah’s complex is particularly impressive, with it’s extensive facilities that include a convention center, event center, RV park, golf course, pools, children’s arcade, and more.  But aside from the casinos, this is a largely rural area, and the nearest shopping is over 30 miles away in the Memphis suburbs.
MS River Museum1 We did manage a bit of culture on our visit when we stopped at the Tunica Riverpark and Mississippi River Museum.   MS River Museum We expected the usual small-town type of museum, and were surprised by the beauty of the buildings and the extensive museum collection.  Besides the exhibits, there were aquariums, videos, and exceptional art work to view, and we even watched a riverboat make it’s  MS Riverboatway upstream.  This was a place where not only the exhibits, but the facility itself were enjoyable to tour.  If you’re in the area, do yourself a favor and drop by.

Leaving Mississippi, we traveled to Little Rock AFB, Arkansas to spend a day stocking up at the base commissary and to visit friends that we hadn’t seen since 1978.  We had a great time reminiscing about our time together at England AFB, LA and catching up on each other’s lives since.  From there, we headed toward Texarkana intending to stay at a state park just inside Texas.  Unfortunately, as we approached Texarkana, red lights and alarms in the coach indicated a severe engine overheat condition, and since we were near Motorhome being towed an exit with an RV Park, we pulled in for the night.  The next day we watched as our “home” was towed off to the local Freightliner service facility where after three days of labor and a new fan hub, we were able to hit the road again.  I sensed that the cost was going to be bad when, while standing at the service counter, the cashier looked at my bill, opened up the AED (Automated External Defibrillator), and began reviewing the cardiac arrest procedures.  It’s a good thing he did, and the good news is that the burn marks on my chest are healing nicely.

Hey, we’re back in Texas and have plans to visit some interesting places, so in the words of Paula Deen, “Y’all come back so Y’all can see where we’ve been without Y’all, OK Y’all?”

Thursday, November 04, 2010

A Cave So Big It’s…..uh……Mammoth!

As we traveled down I-65, we decided to take a break and spend a day visiting the Mammoth Cave area and Mammoth Cave National Park.  We stayed in the town appropriately named Cave City, which is surrounded by caves.  Besides Mammoth, there’s Cave Spring Caverns, Cub Run Cave, Diamond Cave, Kentucky Mammoth Cave EntranceDown Under, and others.  This part of the state is riddled with limestone caves, and for every cave there’s at least 20 souvenir stands and one miniature golf course.  While this is a busy place in the summer, it was quiet during our visit, and most of the tourist spots were closed for the winter.  We started our visit at the Mammoth Cave National Park visitor center, a modern, well-staffed facility where we pondered over which tour (there are many different types) to take.  Mammoth Cave3 We settled on the discovery tour, which seemed to be a good compromise between what we’d see and the amount of time (1/12 hours).  We queued up behind our tour guide Ranger, and started down the path to the cave.  We entered the cave through the “natural” entrance, the one discovered when a hunter followed a wounded bear into a large hole in the ground.  History doesn’t tell us what was going through this hunter’s mind, but we can assume that following a large, wounded animal with big teeth into a dark hole was not undertaken by the area’s sharpest tack.  Mammoth Cave1 It was a long walk down the stairs and down to the first stop at the “rotunda”, where we stopped to look at the remains of a saltpeter mining operation that dated back to the War of 1812.  This area of the  cave system is not particularly colorful; there are no rock formations or stalactites or stalagmites, just lots of grey rock – but it is huge!  The cave roof soars overhead, and the corridors are easily big enough in most places to drive our motor home through.  The Ranger was interesting to listen to, and gave us just enough information to keep us interested without boring the children in the crowd.  Mammoth Cave2 From the rotunda, we toured other corridors and rooms, ending up in a large room that was once used as a hospital.  A doctor bought the cave in 1839 and touted the room as a place where the “vapors” would cure tuberculosis, which was at the time was a widespread epidemic.  Not surprisingly, the idea didn’t work, and was scrapped when the doctor died of….you guessed it – tuberculosis.  Mammoth Cave Exit The cave tour ended with a long climb back up those stairs, then a hike up the hill back to the visitor center.  Overall, it was an interesting tour that gave us an appreciation for the size (over 350 miles of caves mapped), and the history of the caves and the area. 

After leaving the visitor center, we decided to tour the rest of the park.  We came around a corner and Mammoth Cave Ferryunexpectedly ran into a river without a bridge….but it had a neat little free ferry.  We had to wonder how much money it must take to run a ferry across such a small river as opposed to just building a bridge, but heck, it was fun to ride across.
It’s a large National Park, and we enjoyed the beautiful scenery as we drove the back roads, especially a gravel road we found that followed a winding creek through the woods.  Mammoth Cave Back Road This is a nice place to spend a few days or even a week if you’re interested in exploring caves – you can even go on tours that require you to crawl on hands and knees through small passages while wearing a caver’s hard hat…..not our idea of fun.  Besides, all we could think of while we were underground was hoping we wouldn’t become the U.S. version of the Chilean mine disaster!
We’re headed for Mississippi casino country, and I’m already reviewing colors for our new Prevost motorhome that I’m sure Brenda will win enough money for.  So come back and see how she’s done!