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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Almost to Louisiana


Sunday October 12, 2014  Comfort Inn Room 202  Victoria, Texas

Good afternoon! I cannot believe it has been five days since I’ve blogged our adventures. The time is running so fast. Seems like only yesterday Barb and I set out and said “ Well, we have eight weeks ahead of us!”  Now we have about two left. It has been fun and the weather, for the most part, has been beautiful. There have been places we wanted to go and see but were unable to for one reason or another. There have been others though that have made up for them and a few we had not planned on but discovered or rediscovered to our delight.

It has been fun to take Barb to places I’ve been and enjoyed in the Southwest and which she had not seen. One of them is the Bosque del Apache in San Antonio, New Mexico.  As you probably noticed in the photos, especially those of you who have travelled there with Bill and me on other trips, the grasses are tall, the trees are full and the fields have been drained at this time of year. Gradually, the fields are being reinundated with water for the arrival of the cranes, which is happening pretty soon. In its present state, however, it was difficult to see into the canals. As a result, any heron or other wading birds were hidden from view. The only birds we did see were the ducks in the already flooded fields and a flock of Canada Geese in the south end agricultural fields. We didn’t see the deer or javelinas that I know are there but we did see the skunk that I always see ( as though it is the same one! ) on the other side of the refuge from its normal area!  Nevertheless, I was, as I always am, happy to have gone there—with or without wildlife it is beautiful and peaceful and a favorite place of both Bill and me. We never go to Socorro without making a trip down –usually at daybreak,  and in time for the early feeders and the fabulous sunrise. This time, we went at dusk and caught the beautiful sunset and the rise of the almost full moon, which was almost immediately hidden by heavy cloud cover. As a result the narrow country road that takes one back to the Interstate was pitch black. All of a sudden Barb hit the brakes and what appeared to be a barrier across the road barred our way. It took a moment to figure out that what we had before us was a flatbed with some Deere piece of equipment on it and no tail lights being pulled by a very high cab with hardly any lights though there were two rather small white lights high on two poles somewhere on the back of the cab or the front of the flatbed. Scared the hell out of us. Followed it, since it was too wide to pass—over the middle line—to the flashing light at the Owl Café. Fortunately, they continued to the little village north of San Antonio,while we turned left to the Interstate. Stayed in Socorro that night and early the next day headed to Carlsbad.

Went across to Carazozo past Trinity Site, which is the location of the first Atomic Bomb explosion. The gate was open though no sign invited visitors. I’ve heard it is only open once a year now but forget when. I doubt there is anymore at the actual site than at the road’s edge where the historical sign is located. A hawk lit on the top of the pole when we stopped to read the sign, so I took his picture—lol  At Carazozo I told Barb to take a road that I never allow Bill to take because it goes over Capitan and looks high and winding. It does cut off some miles though when you are headed to Roswell. To my surprise it is a terrific road and even in winter with our studded tires should offer no problems. It goes straight to Hondo and then we pick up the road to Roswell. When I told Bill we’d gone over Capitan he exclaimed—the road you won’t let me take???? I want to go over that road.  I said okay, we will! It was so beautiful that Barb and I stopped to grab a quick snack of Gloria’s yummy pretzels and a pepper jack stickster. Continued on to Roswell and then south through Artesia to Carlsbad and the night at the Econolodge, which wasn’t too bad, but never my first choice. There was the Ocotilla Sports Bar and Lounge attached so we went it and had steak and beer with the locals. Quite an assembly of characters, starting with the old broad barmaid, Bonnie. It was fun. Slept like logs and headed to the Caverns the next day.

I was to Carlsbad with Bill in 2008. At that time they were working on the new Visitors’ Center and all the facilities were in a series of trailers. This is a truly beautiful building with a restaurant, gift shop, museum, ticket office and information desk. Rangers all over the place with a few volunteers to supplement them. The young girl who sold us our ticket had spent a couple of years at St Gaudens NP in New Hampshire and visited Billings NP in Vt while there, so she was very familiar with my neighborhood.

We took the elevator down 1000 feet into the mountain and to the Big Room which is the size of 14 football fields. No matter how hard I try, I can never get photos that do the beauty of the formations justice. There are no words in my vocabulary adequate enough to describe the splendor and majesty of the place. Happily, the formations are illuminated by white light and not the colored lights that some other caverns have used. It was difficult to choose the right setting for the pictures but I finally settled on candlelight—it gave the best though not perfect results. On my LCD display on the camera the pictures look much better than on the computer. The numbers are for the tour guide so that I’ll remember what they were a hundred years from now, or maybe not.

At one point I was trying to take a selfie of me and Barb—an interesting attempt in darkness –with horrible results. A man and his wife came along and he offered to take our picture—then he had us move to different locations to get the best pictures. I was amazed and thanked him profusely—I think we’d still be there if I hadn’t said we really had enough shots of us. Nice couple.

It is funny how voices carry—they urge whispering but even that carries throughout the whole place. I chose to wait at the shortcut while Barb went down to the lower cave. She came back and said she could hear me speaking to someone—couldn’t tell what we were saying but knew it was my voice.

We were told not to touch the formations since our oils discolor them so, though I look as if I’m hugging my pal, there was no contact. Love the flying saucer formation, called lily pad by the park, where you can see the dripping stalactite forming it and knowing that someday there will be a pillar there. In the picture just following the shortcut sign, if you look closely at the fat stalagmite  toward the top, you can see the face of the Cave Man. The beautifully illuminated cluster of white stalagtites ( draperies because they are wide and flat) is called the chandelier. Off in the far right hand corner of photo 3963, in the shadows, you can just make out the Totem Pole, which is 38 feet tall.

The self-guided tour is 1.5 miles long and the rangers say takes about an hour to an hour and a half. That must be running, not talking to anyone and not really looking at all the crevices and tunnels and holes in the ceiling and walls. Bill and I spent the better part of a day down there and Barb and I entered at 10 am and left at 2 pm. Speaking with the rangers that patrol to make sure all is well and with other tourists is half the fun. We didn’t stop the rangers in their rounds but two of them stopped to chat with us. One young man is from Utah, originally. He taught K-4 for four years—loved the kids, loved teaching, hated the political infighting among teachers, the parental pressures for kids to get excellent grades and the boring, fruitless meetings. Told his wife he had to find something else to do and went into the Ranger program. He left Carlsbad on Thursday and was heart-broken to leave. Headed to Rushmore for the winter. It is so sad to hear young people bemoan their experiences in education. The good ones have other places they can go and they do. But, I was happy to leave education for all the same reasons.

Eventually, we came to the end of our journey beneath the ground and emerged into the sunlight to continue on our way along the ridge culminating in the Guadalupe Mtns and turn eastward into Texas and our first farm road with the loss of an hour. We once more saw the washouts caused by the heavy rains of several weeks past. Most unusual for West Texas to be so innundated. This area of West Texas is oil rich and so all along the roads we saw brine, KCl stations, salt and fresh water stations, water reclamation areas producing non-potable water—all used in the drilling process. Odessa-Midland has the heady aroma of petroleum permeating the air—and flames burning off the gases released in the drilling and storing processes. Much like Laurel-Billings, Montana!

We took a bit of a detour so that Barb could see the birthplace of Roy Orbison, one of our favorites. Wink is literally a town that you’ll miss if you  blink. I’d totally forgotten about it until Bill suggested that we might not have trouble finding a reasonable room available without competition in Wink.—I told him when I called that we had a room overlooking the Orbison museum—he knew it wasn’t true—there isn’t even a motel in Wink!!!

Eventually, we returned to civilization and discovered that all those wildflowers Mrs Johnson planted to beautify Texas have gone native in 50 years and in places completely taken over the landscape. As we approached Odessa, there was a huge traffic tie-up lasting several miles. Got past that accident and came upon another within a mile. Soon, as the sun started to set behind us we arrived at Midland.

The exit ramp, we soon discovered was two way traffic and we were in the oncoming lane! There was a large gap in the line we need to be in and it appeared the driver was allowing us in. As Barb looked in her rearview mirror to wave a thank you, she exclaimed that the young punk behind us had given her the finger. As the traffic edged to the light, he kept getting very close to the rear of our car and when it was our turn Barb flew through the orange light in a left turn. He stayed almost attached to us and as we moved to the left to make another turn into our motel, he stopped and flung something very heavy at us and hit my window. I don’t know how it didn’t break!  He flew on down the road, we couldn’t get a plate or description of his vehicle. Don’t know what we would have done if it had broken. Very unsettling. But, we checked into the brand new Holiday Inn and had a restful night.

The next morning, we met the man who built the motel. He asked how we liked paying $179 a night for the room. We said we did not—we used points. He said there was an event coming up in the next week, that the rooms were starting at $700!!!!! a night, and that the hotel was booked already!  Again, we’d gotten one of the last rooms—he said that oil is what brought the cost of staying there so high. We told him about the driver incident and he said that Midland had gotten very rough. Around the hotel is low income housing and the people come over and try to use the pool; they’ve had prostitutes try to rent rooms. He is from Lubbock and said the people there are much different. He is right—I love Lubbock. We will totally avoid Odessa-Midland from now on.

We left the place in our rearview mirror and headed out to Brady where we would make a decision whether to make a side trip to San Saba and the Pecan Company. Those who traveled with me and Bill last year will recall our 140 mile detour to buy Barb some of their peach, amoretto, pecan preserves last year. This time we were only going 86 miles out of the way. And we did.And we both stocked up on jars of various fruit and pecan jams. Then headed in the direction of San Antonio. Once more, tried to get a room in Fredricksburg for a reasonable rate—all over $125 and limited availability—as we went through we discovered there was some sort of festival going on. Spent the night in Kerrville, right on Route 10 and used points.

Yesterday began on I 10 doing battle with a wide load playing hopscotch for several miles before he passed us a final time and left us in his dust—either because he departed the highway or took a different route. We arrived in San Antonio and got through the city unscathed and found our way to the first of four missions we explored, laid out along the San Antonio River. The most northern  mission is the Alamo, which we have visited on a prior trip to Round Rock several years back. Once you’ve seen it, it isn’t worth the hassle of in-town traffic to visit again.

It was raining as we found Mission San Jose, which has the largest of the Churches set up in these Indian villages the Franciscans established. The Natives of the South Texas plains found themselves living in these new communities that eventually became walled—to defend against the Apache raiders who rode upon horses obtained from the Spaniards, one way or another, and were now able to roam farther afield to hunt and gather and fight any who competed with them. The Spaniards, too, caused stress to the South Texas Indians by bringing European diseases against which the Natives had no immunity. Finding themselves beset by murdering marauders and unfamiliar disease, the people felt themselves deserted by their gods and willingly looked toward the new one offered by the brown-clad Franciscans.  And so, they were converted to Catholicism, sort of—they still retained some aspects of their own religion such as the use of hallucinogens,such as peyote, for their religious visions. This practice and the dancing accompanying it was condemned by the priests. They also began to teach the people various trades such as building, forging, and planting crops. Some of the people left the walled villages and priests would search for miles for escaped converts and return them to the village. The entire complement of buildings, walls and church was built by the Indians. There were soldiers assigned to each of the towns and the Spaniards kept tight rein on the newest members of the Catholic Church. Despite this history what has been left behind is beautiful and the places are serene and pleasant to explore.

Bill and I had been unable to enter the Church at San Jose when we were here in 2008 since there was a funeral service going on. These four Churches, unlike the Alamo are still active parishes in the San Antonio diocese. Mission Conception is the most well preserved of the Churches and much of the original painting done by the Indians in the 1600’s is still present, although the paintings on the outside of the churches has long ago faded, eroded or been vandalized. I love the rosary bead room as I call it—with the painted beads along the meeting of the walls and over the ceiling culminating in the crucifix on one wall. I also love the bell pull in one ceiling that looks like the chain on an old flush toilet!  LOL

Much of the Convento of Mission San Juan is missing so one has to use one’s imagination to envision the enclosure as it once existed. The church is also aligned in a different way than the others. The bell tower is over the entrance, but once you’ve entered, rather than having the body of the Church in front of you, you turn toward your left and it runs at a right angle to the foyer. I think this is my favorite of the four—especially the bell tower with its mismatched bells. The simpicity of the chapel appeals to me. When I was here last the statues were dressed in purple—it was Lent.

I loved the inventory of items from a sample pack train—saffron is still very expensive, the rosary beads are similarly priced today and there is chocolate that sells for $28 per pound—Vt chocolates and Godiva come to mind—but WHO was dressing those Franciscans?  Armani?????

As we made our way to the last of the Missions, we were greeted by a couple of the local canines—very cute. While I’m mentioning it, the way among the Missions has become totally complicated—Mission Road has been torn up, eliminated in places and just poorly marked in others. For a National Park the map as well as written and oral directions are awful and signs are few and far between. Took us more time finding them than touring them. Probably will not be back again.

On the way to Mission Espada one passes the incredible aqueduct system hand dug by the Indians under the direction of the Franciscans. In each community the waters of the San Antonio were diverted by a canal system to the fields outside the village walls and to the villages themselves. The Aqueduct is as impressive if smaller than the ones used by the Romans in the time before Christ. We met an older gentleman in this park who was there with his son, from Salem, Ma and his grandsons gathering black walnuts. He was impressed by my using a paper map to navigate. Told him Barb and I were taught how to read a map at very young ages—Dad would take us out into the country, give us a map and have us give him the directions to get to a specific town. We’d have to tell him what roads to take and which way to turn at any intersection we encountered. We loved it then and we still love to use maps. He said his elder grandson is learning to read a map in exactly the same way. I hate those Tom-Toms etc though I have one and brought it on the trip—it is still in the trunk in its original box.

Mission Espada is undergoing maintenance and repair—so no entering it and it is totally wrapped in scaffolding at the moment. The convento was occupied by several priests in 2008 and they had a lovely courtyard with flowers and wind chimes. It is empty now—there is no regular priest in residence though there is a Scottish priest living at San Juan.

And so our day ended and we took back roads through Goliad and on into Victoria where we spent the night. Went out to Johnny Carino’s for dinner. I woke up this morning with a slight fever and intestinal distress. We opted to remain for another night. Our room was booked for tonight—there is a great deal of construction going on—new motels etc and the crews have the place booked. This is a brand new motel—Bill and I were among its first guests in March. We had to move to a larger king suite at the same price as our two queen room. Such a hardship. I didn’t take photos of the original room but this one is lovely. We have watched the weather go through several cycles of sunshine, drizzle, sunshine, downpour and back to sunshine.

We are in tonight with our leftover Carino’s skilletinis and Masterpiece Theatre. Spoke to Bill and Betsy today—they were having the harvest of the brussel sprouts event—Brussel Sprout Festival—with Misty and Attila today. There has been frost and the gardens and the porch crops are all finished for this year. So when I get home the porch will have taken on its winter theme of wood piled for the stove. Sigh!

If all goes well, we will go through Houston tomorrow and enter Louisiana heading toward Lafayette and fried oysters!  Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler!! Bonne Nuit, Mes Amis! Les Soeurs Heureuses, Kathy and Barb

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