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Monday, March 23, 2015

Continuing the Texas Trek

Monday March 23, 2015 Clarion Inn Room 203 Lafayette, Louisiana

St Patrick’s Day dawned sunny and breezy as we made our way to our first stop, the Texas tourist information center in Wichita Falls. My Texas map was new in 2010 but after five years of opening and closing, refolding in many different ways it was literally coming apart at the seams. While there the lady told me to take two for when this one wears out—I did and also picked up the travel guide, primarily to refresh my memory of the various regions of the State. I can always remember Hill Country and Piney Woods, which we call the Big Thicket, but the other names escape me. I don’t think of Texas having a panhandle, since I always associate that term with a narrow strip of land, such as the panhandles of Florida and Oklahoma. The Gulf Coast should have stuck as well as the South Texas Plains and Big Bend Country but the Plains and Lakes region was not an easy one to recall. At any rate, for those of you interested enough there is a Region map and a State map pictured among those of March 18—soooo you can sort of follow our route. What you can’t get from those pictures is the vastness of Texas. What looks like just a hop, skip and jump on the map was actually a day’s journey, one that usually started at around 930 and ended at the hotel about 4ish, pretty much without any stops and moving along at 70mph, slow in these parts.

This day was not much different—we passed through many small towns, while listening to Sirius XM radio tuned to The Spectrum since they played Irish music the whole day—some traditional, some contemporary—like the Drop Kick Murphys and Flogging Molly! Again we encountered private planes flying low—one headed right at us and passing alongside toward some invisible runway around a “hillock” and another doing acrobatics in a field behind a huge yellow Church, with which I thought he’d collide.

We were headed almost due South toward Brownwood-Early where we were to spend the night. Even in some of the most dilapidated towns there would sometimes be a pretty little house, well kept and eye catching. And oh, the Texas stars and Texas flags. Rocks painted like  the Texas flag in a driveway and yard filled with junk. Other places had huge elaborate gates guarding driveways to unseen houses. Though Texans have lots of American flags flying they are far outnumbered by the Texas flag. Does ANYONE in Vermont or New York fly the State flag????

We stopped to read some historical signs including the one about the halfway-oak—this tree so well loved that they have propped up some of its branches with metal supports to keep them from breaking off with their weight.

As we passed through the town of Rising Star I noticed the window with the chalk drawing proclaiming Rising Star the home of The Snake Man,Jackie Bibby. Well, I looked him up—though imagining anyone with snakes hanging out of his mouth was less than appealing. Since I never watch reality TV, Mr Bibby was totally unknown to me—but it would seem there is a show called Rattlesnake Republic and this here guy is the next celebrity non-celebrity in the making, He even holds several Guinness World Records—God deliver me—but here, for your gratification is the link to his info if you are so inclined:http://www.jackiebibby.com/

In time we reached Early and the Leprechaun poop I found on the desk in our room ( actually Bill put these cookies there for me) Prima Pasta is right next door so we went over and Bill had sausage pizzaola and I had veal picata. His is sausage, mushrooms, peppers and onions in a red sauce and mine is sautéed veal in a white wine lemon sauce with capers. We both had them served over spaghetti. Delicious. It is a chain but we’ve only eaten in this one—we did a couple of years ago, as well. I like it as much  as Carino’s, although they don’t have the wine selection that Carino’s has.

We sat at the bar as usual and another fellow came in. Since March Madness was on the TV he asked who we were for—I said Villanova but don’t ask why—just a guess. We’d seen the Wisconsin – Michigan game and I said I suppose we should be for  Wisconsin—Bill said he was and so was the other guy. He’s from Wisconsin though he’s lived in Texas for 38 years—he works for Kohler—some management position. The company’s home office is in Wisconsin and when he left college for lack of money he asked his Dad, who was working at the Texas location if he had a job for him. He did and so he moved here. His father worked for the company for 39 years and this fellow got his engineering degree eventually and has been working for them for 38 years. He was waiting for his brother to meet him for dinner and said his brother also works for the company in the home office in Wisconsin and has been with them for 35 years.

As we shared our traveling itinerary it seems this fellow has a goal of visiting every National Park—he has been to over 20 of them. This led to comparing notes about those we’ve all been to, filling each other in on ones only some of us have seen and yet more of those none of us have seen but would like to visit. All in all an enjoyable dinner conversation that ended with the arrival of his brother and his party, as they moved off to the dining room. One more drink and a visit with the young waiter Bill had met on our way West a few weeks back—the boy is a high school senior who is going into the Air Force at graduation and is anxious to get out into the world. Let us hope he stays safe and comes home whole—no guarantees in today’s military, I guess.

It rained overnight so when we headed to Zephyr it was cloudy and the roads were wet. Early and Brownwood run right into each other—never sure where one ends and the other begins but the pair of them sit squarely on the boundary of Hill Country—scenically my favorite part of the country.It also is the part of Texas that poses a real navigational puzzle for a driver who wants to avoid urban centers and sprawl at all costs. Some of the big cities, like Amarillo, El Paso, Galveston etc are alone in wide open space. It is a cinch to go around them. But in East Texas the State has an off-center spine with scoliosis that is strung with one big urban area after another, Dallas-Fort Worth, Waco and then Austin to San Antonio both of are so sprawled that the small towns like San Marcos and New Breunfels are suburban mazes. Trying to avoid this area or to cross it is a trick.

Today we were driving due south on route 16 west of the spine and so it was a fairly easy drive made more enjoyable by the appearance of the sun. Fredericksburg can be a problem since it is a tourist center. At this time of year it is not as crowded as it was in the fall, but the main drag is still congested—two, sometimes three, lanes in each direction and several main highways converging. Why 16 does a dog leg through two blocks of the mess is perplexing, but we arrived early enough that we thought we’d do one of the two places we wanted to explore. Since the Nimitz Hotel is right on this street we decided to check it out and save LBJ’s ranch, out of town toward Austin for the next morning. Well, when we tried to find a parking spot anywhere near the museum it was impossible. LBJ’s was it. On the way, we stopped at a What-a-Burger, never having had one before—it is no better than any of the burger joints but they do provide golden agers with free drinks and the young lady said we can get free coffee at any time of day at any of their sites—that is a nice touch.

Off we went out to Stonewall. While still President the two LBJs decided that upon their deaths the ranch should be handed over to the State of Texas and that it should continue to be an operating ranch. LBJ ran a herd of white face and both sold breeding stock and beef cattle. Both of those enterprises continue here. The herd runs free and signs indicate that they have the right of way on the ranch roads. There is no charge for the self guided driving tour, though Bill made a donation. There is a charge to have a 20 minute tour of LBJ’s office in the ranch house. We opted not to take that tour---it was crowded as can be. We also opted not to walk the grounds around the house. It was beautiful to drive the grounds along the Pedernales River. The only gate had a small guardhouse and opened onto a small driveway that ran along the river, crossed on the small dam and rose across the river into the backyard of the home. It amazed me how exposed the whole compound was to anyone driving on Texas Rte 1 that led to the ranch road. If they were alive today, I don’t think anyone would even be allowed on the road, a public road.

The focus of discussion of LBJ’s presidency here where he was born, lived and died focused solely on his environmental work and Lady Bird’s focus on beautification movement. I remember my Mother speaking of the wildflowers on all the medians of major Texas highways—a Lady Bird project. She is also the one who insisted that junk yards be hidden behind fences so as not to detract from the beauty of the surroundings. There was some mockery of her at the time, but I do remember the ugliness of scrap yards and other junkyards alongside roads and, now, years later, I’m glad they are hidden from view.

Some of the ranch must have been sold off for the exotic animals behind the wire fence were on a private property not part of the ranch. When we arrived a large group of white-face were resting under a tree, when we passed them on our way out, they had gotten up and spread along and across the road, we had to stop for several who were trying to decide where they wanted to go. In another spot we stopped to admire a calf who was sprawled out on its side, sleeping away, under the watchful eye of its mother. As we stopped it began to get up, but rather than stay while it rose,lest, as children will, it became curious and approached us. Not that we wouldn’t have enjoyed petting it ( at least I would have) but we didn’t want to upset the mother and make her rise to protect her infant. She, in actuality, seemed totally disinterested in us, as she lay and chewed her cud—lol

Having finished our tour we headed back through Fredericksburg and its Willkommen ( the back of the signs say Auf Wiedersehn ) sign and down the road to Kerrville for the night. Bill went out to a wings joint and I stayed in and ate from our pantry and fridge.

The next day we got up early and headed back to Fredericksburg and found a parking space directly across Austin Street from the entrance to the complex that includes the Nimitz Museum in the Nimitz Hotel and the National Museum of the Pacific War. We walked through the Plaza of the Presidents and part of the Memorial Courtyard to the entrance of the hotel on Main Street. The tickets are good for 48 hours and though we only spent this one day, if we truly wanted to absorb the entire history of the war in the Pacific we should have returned the next day.

We began in the Hotel, where the story of the German immigrants to Texas was told in general and the story of Admiral Nimitz’ family in particular was told. His father died before his birth and his mother, after giving birth to him in her family’s home across the street, moved into the hotel with her father-in-law and other family members. She eventually married her husband’s brother, William. After touring this exhibit we returned to the huge memorial courtyard—pictures of ships, servicemen, and plaques devoted to whole crews fill the six foot high walls and partitions. To read all of them would take days. Though we had no particular ship or service person we wanted to view, I think some kind of directory to the various plaques would be extremely helpful to those who do. I could see no particular system used to display the information. In reciprocation for Nimitz’ support for the restoration of an important Japanese flagship after the war, the government of Japan donated a Memorial Garden to the site. Unfortunately, the peaceful space was closed since it is undergoing renovation. Still, it was possible to see it over the wall at a rise in the courtyard.

We then proceeded to the George Bush Gallery—huge place. It starts with the history of Japan and its relationship to its neighbors, China and Korea. In order to do this the history of China and its weakening through the influx of European traders and missionaries and the turmoil that ensued was explained in great detail. The superior attitude of Japan toward what they considered a disgraceful China and toward Korea, which they’d always considered lacking in culture and intelligence, continued to build until it finally showed itself in incursions against both countries. The move to become the power in Asia. This historical overview started in the 13th century and continued for several exhibit rooms through the many regional wars and the First World War and culminated with the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

It is impossible to tell you how thoroughly the war is covered—each battle, letters from sailors home, artifacts,pieces of Japanese planes, American ships,etc. Halfway through the war we’d had all we could absorb—even a darkened room in which the bombing of Pearl was in a small way restaged. It was the only room from which we emerged where not a word was spoken as we left. Bill went on ahead of me as I wandered through the rest of the exhibit, randomly reading signs or looking at artillery or planes or suspended bombs. I kept crossing paths with one young man, maybe in his early 20’s—both of us very politely excusing ourselves as we literally crossed in front of each other in various spots along the way. At the end, the voice of the Japanese Emperor’s radio broadcast to his people at the time of surrender was heard, as the Japanese text with interlinear English translation rolled across a screen. This was soon followed by the footage of the official surrender aboard the Missouri. Once more, the audience departed without comment. It seemed such a quiet, solemn end to the unbelievable noise and turmoil that we’d just experienced—even so many years removed from the actual battlefield. I was one of the oldest visitors and I was just an infant and young child during the actual war. For many of the others grandparents or great-grandparents would be the source of firsthand tales of the war—not parents. Not TV programs like Victory at Sea, etc. For them, especially the little pre-teen kids going through it, this war is as unreal as the American Revolution or Civil War were to me at that age. Boy, do I feel old all of a sudden—lol

As I emerged into the lobby, Bill was speaking to an older man sitting opposite him, apparently waiting, too, for someone still inside. With that appeared my young man—I laughed when I saw that Bill’s companion was waiting for him. I said, oh, our paths crossed many times in there and the young man added, yes, we’ve been through very much together and we smiled good-bye to each other. The museum obviously had an impact on him, too—but I bet he didn’t feel old!

There was still another part of the museum we could explore two blocks away—a PT boat, a landing craft and other large pieces of equipment. I forget what they called that area, but I do think it is the combat zone. We were exhausted and decided we’d had enough. Maybe someday I’ll go back and resume where I got too tired to continue.

Friday found us in the position of having to cross the spine in the best possible way, avoiding all urban areas. If you look at the map again, you will see that we Took the interstate out of Kerrville, headed toward San Antonio, but we left it at Boerne on the Guadalupe River, where there is a beautiful State Park as well as other interesting eye-catching things—I’m putting it on the list of places to explore next time we are in Texas, perhaps even a place to stay. From here we navigated between San Antonio and Austin, through New Breunfels to Seguin and back onto I 10 to route 77 north. Went through La Grange and Giddings, over to Brenham and Navasota and finally into Conroe. It wanted to rain all day and did ,at times heavily. We stopped in Montgomery to put the motel address into the navigation system. Conroe is a small suburb of Houston but still it has a loop around it and I-45 runs north and south through it.

The only problem with a navigation system is that you tend to pay attention to it and its directions rather than your surroundings and what roads you cross but don’t take. That can be a handicap, as we found out the next day. At any rate, we arrived at the motel with only a Cracker Barrel—YUCK—and Tia Juanita's for restaurants and a Macdonalds and some other fast food place visible. So we checked the navigation system and found that Applebees was only about a mile away. Tapped go and off we went. Found our way back to the motel with ease and settled into our two room suite!! One room totally devoid of furniture—listed as $125 a night at the senior rate!!!---we used points. Our room was huge and comfortable but that empty room was just weird. As I uploaded the night’s pictures I looked at the window and was amazed to see that it was a sheet of water—just a deluge. We made it in, just in time. We;d crossed the Prairies and Lakes region and were now in the Piney Woods. That wouldn’t last for long.

Saturday we woke to rain and could not figure out how to reach the ring road and reconnect with 105 that we’d taken into Conroe. Unfortunately, once we entered the city limits the system took us over many left hand turns and we weren’t sure where we’d made them and did not want to go back through the congested area in rain to try to find our way out. I thought that the ring road was north of us and that if we took 75 north we would intersect it. Going east on the ring road would bring us to 105 east. Well, I was wrong and we wound up in Willis, ten miles north of Conroe. Still, it was not the end of the world, we took a farm road north east, another road east and a final farm road south east and voila, there was 105 east. We drove through the little bit of Piney woods that we would see this time and continued toward the Gulf Coast. Here the goal was to get around Houston easily.

Now, Houston is an interesting place. I 10 cuts right through it and is congested, wide and busy with trucks and other traffic. Barb and I chose this route last Fall in a deluge—it was hell. Bill and I have taken the loop road but this has as many entrances and exits with as much traffic of all kinds and takes you way out in a circle—and we were in another deluge. We swung north of the city and then headed east until we reached Beaumont. The weather was so awful, it was useless to take any pictures to speak of. Got through Beaumont with some stress and then had to get to Orange and the Sabine and across into Louisiana. The southwest wind and the moisture from the Gulf would not let up and as we crossed we were struck by a blinding gale. It truly felt like being on a boat with the waves coming up over the bow, the only thing missing was the gut wrenching rocking of a boat in high seas.

The storm continued all the way to Lake Charles though we could at least see the bridge crossing there. And then, just as had happened in the fall, the rain was over. Something about Lake Charles—the storms turn north and east  around it. When we reached Abbeville and Shucks the people there were amazed to hear about the storm we drove through from Texas. They’ve been waiting for rain for weeks. The clouds and fields and rice paddies with their crawfish traps in Kaplan were beautiful in the fading light. We ate our full of oysters on the half shell and etouffee and then checked into the Clarion for the week.

Yesterday, was a totally down day. I read most of Three Strikes and You’re Dead, did some blogging and in general lazed around. Bill went to Wal-Mart for some supplies and hit the bank for nickels. He watched March Madness—is Villanova still in it?  Is Wisconsin?  Who knows. Got some fried oysters from our Chinese place over near the University. Today Bill took the car to Toyota –it has been very noisy on rough roads ever since we took it on the road in Organ Pipe. We’ve been worried that we had a broken shock or something. Dreaded what it might be but as we are approaching 8000 miles on the car, urged Bill to have it checked sooner rather than later. I’d worried it was brakes but since we managed to get in and out of the Salt River Canyon in Arizona without problems ( thank God ) figured it was probably shocks. As it turned out, we brought a rock home from Organ Pipe in the suspension system and a rod was loose. They tightened everything up, changed the oil, rotated the tires, etc etc and everything is okay No charge—they did the 10000 mile service checks and we are okay. Phew!

Again, I’ve stayed in but we go for a Swamp tour tomorrow and will probably go to a new place on Wednesday—the Rip Van Winkle Gardens and Jefferson Cafe which look interesting It is just nice to be settled in for a week. Good to be off the road. Good to catch up the blog for my own memories and notes even if they are a bit long for our virtual traveling companions to read.

It is hard on Bill though—he keeps taking walks and ran over to his coin shop earlier. He gets bored but I always find something that keeps me busy. The next two days will be good for him since we will be out and about—good for me, too because I love the Swamp and am looking forward to the Gardens.

I think I’ll finish 3 Strikes today and write the review soon. The author is probably wondering if I’m ever going to do it. Only another 100 pages or so and it is a good book. The Five will be coming on soon. Last night I watched a Dennis Quaid movie called Express about a Syracuse football player, Ernie Davis,who followed Jim Brown there and to the Cleveland Browns. But Ernie developed leukemia, never played pro and died at 23. He was followed by Floyd Lyttle who then went to the Broncos, according to the movie—though Bill thinks the timing was wrong.

Well, don’t know when I’ll be able to post this, since the phone and internet have gone out. They are working on remodeling the motel—a new restaurant is supposed to open in two days and the two rooms beneath us have been gutted.

So until I’m back in touch electronically with the world, take care, The Two Travelling Peas

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