On the Road With Doris & Ez

We're going on a road trip!!!! Could be three weeks could be three years, we'll see. Read below to see where we are now.....

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Driving Clean Across Texas - Del Rio, San Antonio and Galveston

Drive Clean Across Texas is actually the catch phrase for the state of Texas’ clean highways initiative – we’ve seen it on roadway signs across the state. So while we certainly didn’t toss any trash on our trip across the Lone Star State, I also thought it was a good description for this leg of our journey.

There’s not much going on in Del Rio, a little military town on the banks of the Rio Grande. Our neighbors at the park recommended that we drive to nearby Brackettville for an event at historic Fort Clark. This was a real small town celebration featuring a home-grown version of American Idol, line dance demonstrations by some local ladies, a bake sale, and a parade of historic costumes. There were craft displays and the local motorcycle club also sponsored skill contests for their riders. It was a nice, laid back way to spend an afternoon.

A day later we had some excitement with our first dose of real Texas-style weather – tornado warnings in the area brought some serious rain, hail and wind that rocked the coach for much of the night. No damage thankfully, and the next day dawned clear and sunny. We didn’t realize that the unsettled weather would follow us to our next stop.

In San Antonio we stayed at a park outside of the city in a quiet rural area where Medio Creek flowed by our camp and cattle grazed on the far bank. In fact, shortly after we arrived we watched a new-born calf struggle awkwardly to his feet, take his first tentative steps, and enjoy his first meal. This was fascinating stuff for a city girl like me and I thought often about that little calf over the next several days, especially since we were about to suffer two days of torrential rains. The brown waters of Medio Creek swelled beyond their banks and created a small lake in the field at the far end of the camp. Happily, we were high and dry at our end.

We made several trips into San Antonio to see the sights. Of course we made the obligatory visit to the Alamo and filed slowly through this historic landmark with hundreds of other tourists. The crowds took away some of the luster from this monument, but we enjoyed the beautiful grounds that surround the mission itself.

From here we crossed the street and descended the stairs to the famous Riverwalk. This attraction is what makes San Antonio stand out from so many other urban areas. We took a boat tour around this area of the San Antonio River and enjoyed a leisurely meal on the bank. What a great place to people watch!

We took another day to visit the four other historic missions near San Antonio. Together with the Alamo, they were established in the early 1700s, became centers of farming and ranching, and sometimes served as military outposts. Today Mission Espada, Mission San Jose, Mission San Juan and Mission Concepcion are still active parishes and serve as charming reminders of old Texas. We finished our trip along the Mission Trail at the Alamo and headed across the street to enjoy another great meal at a Riverwalk restaurant.

Another day of driving and we were finally back to the sea – at Galveston Island south of Houston. We had a great spot right on the Gulf of Mexico at Galveston Island State Park. We planned our trip to coincide with our friend Janice’s visit to her parents and brother here in Galveston. This meant we kept busy with lots of dinners, cocktails and conversation, including a very special party for her mother’s 91st birthday!

Galveston is full of charming neighborhoods with lovely old Victorian homes. The historic downtown area is going through a renaissance so there are lots of restaurants, clubs and shopping. The seawall goes for miles along the Gulf of Mexico; across the street are more restaurants, hotels and condos. All of the homes along the shore are built on tall stilts to protect them from the storm surge that would accompany a hurricane. And yes, their insurance rates are sky high! But we had a wonderful time walking the beach, checking out the beach houses (some fancy, some not), and watching the shore birds. We’ll look forward to coming back another time.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Exploring Southern New Mexico and West Texas – March 2007

We are traveling through the land of far horizons. Sometimes the terrain is so flat and the horizon so distant it seems you can see the curvature of the earth. That doesn’t mean it’s boring or featureless, just big. We sometimes drive for miles without seeing another vehicle or human habitation. It must be tough to scratch out a living in this harsh country. The roadsides are scattered with abandoned buildings, dilapidated trailers and faded signs for businesses long shuttered and gone. Some of these seem like somebody’s good idea gone bad; sometimes it doesn’t even look like a good idea!

There are still interesting sights, even if you have to drive a long way to see them. Mesilla is a small town just outside of Las Cruces that’s been a bustling burg since the 1850s. We loved the old adobe buildings lined up around the central square and the ceilings made of plaster, wooden beams and willow branches. In some places you could still see the straw and corn husks used as original building materials. Most of these buildings are now home to restaurants, gift shops and other tourist traps featuring what a friend described as “everything chili.” Billy the Kid hung out in these parts and we saw the building where he was tried and convicted of murder. Of course, I guess Pat Garrett gunned him down before he could keep his appointment with the hangman’s noose.

Today the town of Mesilla is surrounded by acres and acres of pecan farms. I hope we can return sometime when these beautiful orchards are green and leafy. We also made a stop at one of New Mexico’s few wineries – the St. Clair Winery in Las Cruces. The tasting was fun and we even picked up a few bottles to add to our “cellar.”

The Carlsbad Caverns are the big attraction in Carlsbad, New Mexico. We took ourselves on the self-guided tour and then joined a guided group to see another part of the cave. It’s awesome! Some of the cavern rooms are enormous and filled with an amazing variety of formations. On our tour, the guides turned off the lights for several minutes so we could experience absolute darkness – a bizarre and slightly unnerving feeling.

Our first stop in the Lone Star State was the town of Alpine. Despite the name, you won’t find Bavarian architecture or townspeople dressed in lederhosen, but there are some pretty large hills around! Alpine was our starting point for a day-long, 250+ mile road trip to Big Bend National Park. The Rio Grande didn’t look very grande when we visited, but the rocky cliffs rising above reminded us of the Grand Canyon and other familiar Arizona landscapes.

This is rugged, desolate country. You wonder what life was like for the people who eked out a living here over a hundred years ago, because it doesn’t look that easy even today. Before the national park was created, farmers lived the area close to the Rio Grande River, but their fields are gone today. We saw the ruins of a small adobe hut where Mexican farmer Gilberto Luna raised his large family until he finally died in 1948 at the age of 108! The crumbled remains of other old adobe buildings and abandoned settlements are scattered across the area. Ours was a quick trip, but this scenic area is definitely worth a longer visit.
Life at nearby Fort Davis might not have been as difficult as that of Gilberto Luna, but it was not without its hardships. Just north of Alpine, this fort was most active after the Civil War and protected traders and settlers traveling through the area from marauding Indians. When the two regiments of the famous Buffalo Soldiers who served at Fort Davis weren’t out on patrol, they reportedly suffered from long periods of inactivity and boredom. Some of the buildings here have been restored and furnished as they were during the 1860s and recorded versions of the bugle calls that marked the daily schedule of activities gave us an idea of what routine at the fort was like.

We’re headed toward San Antonio and Galveston, but our next stop on the way is Del Rio. Check back soon and we’ll tell you about it.