The Hill Country and Spicewood, Texas

On Thursday, February 28, 2018, we set the GPS to route our drive to Hill Country Lakes RV Resort in Briarcliff, Texas. I was sad to leave behind the waddling Muscovy ducks, but more so the grackle blackbirds. I got used to the bird’s whistles and how they sounded like they were playing scales on an otamatone, and of course, their grackles, which brought to mind a toy machine gun. I never knew a bird could have so many different sounds.

As we started to pull out of our site, the lady from the office came up to Jon and handed him $85.00. Apparently, she had charged us the summer rate rather than the winter rate. They could have easily kept our extra payment without us knowing the difference. I’m so glad they were honest and refunded our money.

With all the construction on the major highways, we didn’t relish our drive through Houston. We lucked out, though, breezing along without too much traffic to navigate.

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Partial Houston Skyline

East of Houston, we saw this new Amazon fulfillment center nearing completion, which will house more than 400 employees.

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Gigantic Amazon Fulfillment Building

We stopped in La Grange, Texas, for lunch at the Back Porch BBQ & Grill. I’m a sucker for a pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw and an Arnold Palmer was the perfect drink to wash it down.

 

Walking back to the truck, however, Jon noticed something weird with the sewer connection. On further inspection, he realized the cap was missing and the piece of double elbow pipe was barely hanging on, yanked from its connection. Darn, Jon rolled over that old alligator (tire tread) after all. Thank goodness, the damage did not extend to or beyond the valve.

 

We settled in at Hill Country Lakes RV in Spicewood, Texas, with the sewer repair the first task on our agenda.

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Hill Country Lakes RV Resort Office
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RV Spots at Hill Country Lakes RV are Tucked in Among the Trees

RV Sewer Repair

The park hosts directed us to Hill Country RV, Inc. in Marble Falls for the parts needed to fix the sewer. We drove there early the next day and ordered a reducer to go from 3” to 1-1/2” pipe. They promised it would arrive around 2:00 p.m. the next day. Jon picked up a 3” double elbow from a plumbing supply warehouse. At Home Depot, he bought ABS cement, lengths of 3” and 1-1/2” PVC pipe, and a hacksaw. Jon fixed what he could without the missing piece, then waited until the next day to complete the repair. After letting it sit overnight, the repair passed the tests with no leaks. Hooray, we had our sewer back.

 

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Repaired Sewer Connection

 

Population Growth

Driving north out of Austin on our way to Spicewood, we had noticed a mass of growth from houses to townhouses, condos, and apartments and shopping centers where all the national restaurant and retail chains had set up shop. Our drive to Lakeway to visit with our friends was more of the same.

World Population Review lists Austin as the 11th largest city in the United States and the 3rd largest state capital. Austin’s metropolitan area’s population is forecasted to reach 3.2 million by 2030. No wonder it felt like the city was taking the country out of The Hill Country. The hills, once graced with greenery are now taken over with housing and shopping centers with more construction on the way. I guess that’s the price of progress and growth, but in some respects, it makes me sad. Where will people go to get their nature fix?

Pace Bend County Park

A drive through Pace Bend County Park brought us back to nature. The park has 20 improved and 400 primitive campsites. All of the 20 water and electric sites were reserved for the weekend, but it looked like they might have been open during the week.

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Campsite or Picnic Area Near the Lake

Launch a boat and fish, take a hike, or sit under a tree and read a book. This little slice of nature is going to become more precious as the growth continues.

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A Couple of Anglers Trying Their Luck

Reimers Ranch County Park

Reimers Ranch County Park was another place to get back to nature. We packed a lunch and drove out to the park. The four-mile hike along the river and through the bluff in the warm humid weather made me thankful that property like this has been set aside for future generations to experience the outdoors.

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Which Way Do We Go?
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Rain Drops Appear to Float Above the Ground
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River Wasn’t Deep Enough to Put in a Kayak
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Large Trees Along the Trail
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Signs of Spring
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Comfort Station

Family Business Beer Company

We had seen Family Business Beer Company on our way to Reimers Ranch and decided to check it out on our way back. This was a nice place to enjoy a cold flight of beers and bag of chips after our hike.

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Family Business Owner’s Residence

The grounds are set up for bean bag toss games to keep patrons busy, and a children’s playground to conquer the little one’s boredom while parents taste the beer. Plenty of seating is provided, or bring your own.

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Picnic Tables and Bean Bag Toss Games For Guests
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Playground for the Kiddos

For a bite to eat a food trailer serves a variety of treats.

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Inside, larger groups will find the long bistro tables accommodating.

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Inside Family Business Beer Company
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Wide Porches with Plenty of Seating

Of our flight, only one suited our taste, the Haulin Oats. Jon and I prefer amber and wheat beer over IPAs, which are more popular here.

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From Left to Right: Fox, King Biscuit, Haulin Oats, and Grackle

Mansfield Dam

Along the Texas Colorado River stands Mansfield Dam. Completed in 1941, the dam rises 278 feet high, is 7,089 feet long, and 213 feet thick at the base. Named for U.S. Representative J.J. Mansfield, Lake Travis can store up to 369 billion US gallons of water.

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This Used to be the Road Across the Mansfield Hydroelectric Dam

The hydroelectric power plant generates up to 108 megawatts of electricity.

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A Four Lane Highway Replaced the Dam Road
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View of Dam Near Boat Launch

A Couple More Restaurants

We had the occasion to visit a couple of restaurants during our visit. While in Marble Falls, we stopped in at Blue Bonnet Café for their “pie happy hour.” The meringue on the lemon pie was the fluffiest we’d ever seen and not overly sweet.

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Sevens Out BBQ, the restaurant next to our RV park, invited the guests to a BBQ giveaway to celebrate their grand opening. We managed to get a sample tray with brisket, sausage and ribs, potato salad, coleslaw, and what I think was bread pudding. Everything was delicious, even the bread pudding, which usually is not my favorite.

I wouldn’t mind coming back to Spicewood someday for the peace and quiet away from the city growth and the great BBQ.

Next up we head to Waco, Texas.

 

 

Bolivar Peninsula, Texas

What to See on Bolivar Peninsula

Bolivar Peninsula is a good place to get away from crowds, relax, and maybe catch a big fish. We enjoyed the bucolic setting of farms and ranches and lack of tourist traps.

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View of Galveston from Fort Travis

Although the peninsula had a country feel, it did not lack shopping or restaurants. The Big Store and Ace Hardware had everything on our shopping list. We passed a surf shop that advertised clothing, sandals, and novelties. We ate at Stingaree Landing Restaurant, which served up fresh seafood and steaks. Other restaurants range from BBQ, Mexican fare, burgers and beer, and comfort food.

The beaches on Bolivar Peninsula are unique, at least from a California perspective, in that drivers can drive their vehicles on the sand. It would have been fun to cruise up to the seashore, but our truck is set up for asphalt or concrete roads, not deep sand. Having to call AAA for a tow would have spoiled any pleasure from the ride.

Fort Travis Seashore Park

Always looking for a bit of history wherever we go, Bolivar Peninsula did not disappoint. Fort Travis Seashore Park consists of sweeping green lawns, picnic areas, a playground, seawall, along with bunkers and gun battlements that once protected Galveston Harbor.

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Fort Travis Restrooms and Offices

An interpretive trail includes information signs that give the historical perspective of the fort’s remains as well as facts about the populations of Blue Crab, Brown Pelican, and other wildlife.

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Playground at Fort Travis

Point Bolivar’s history of protection begins in 1816 when Frances Xavier Mina constructed an earthen levee to ward off attacks from the Karankawa Indians who occupied the area. Dr. James Long brought 300 troops, his wife Jane Herbert Wilkinson Long, and daughter to Texas to fight for independence from Spain in 1818. In 1820, Dr. Long selected Port Bolivar as his base of operations, establishing Fort La Casas.

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Let me in! Let me in!
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One of the Bunkers at Fort Travis

In 1821, leaving his pregnant wife and young daughter with a servant and a few soldiers to defend the fort, Dr. Long left the peninsula for La Bahía to gain support for his fight against Spain. A bitterly cold winter and dwindling supplies chased the men away. With only a twelve-year-old servant and her six-year-old daughter, Jane delivered her daughter Mary James Long on December 21. Determined to stay at Bolivar Point until her husband returned, it was not until early 1822 that Jane left with her family after learning of her husband’s death.

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Closed Off Area

Other uses of Bolivar Point and the fort include:

  • The 1836 establishment of Fort Travis to protect the Galveston harbor entrance. Built in 1898, Battery Davis contained two eight-inch guns, and Battery Ernst contained three small caliber pedestal guns and ammunition magazines.
  • After the 1900 hurricane, a 17-foot seawall was installed to prevent the pounding surf during violent storms from damaging the fort.
  • Soldiers occupied the fort during both World Wars, and it operated as an internment camp for German prisoners during World War II.
  • Battery Kimble, built in 1922, contained twelve-inch guns.
  • Battery 236, built in 1941, defended the Galveston harbor from submarines.
  • Residents settled in the fort with their cattle and other animals in 1961 when Hurricane Carla ravaged the peninsula.
  • Galveston County commissioners purchased the fort in 1973 for use as a public park.

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Remnant of Gun Emplacement

 Mother of Texas

A Texas Historical Marker pays tribute to Jane Herbert Wilkinson Long just outside of the entrance to the park.

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Jane Herbert Wilkinson Memorial and Historic Markers

The pioneer woman known as the Mother of Texas returned with her family in 1825 as part of Stephen F. Austin’s First Colony and received land, settling in San Felipe De Austin. She also was instrumental during the war for independence by gathering information from Mexican officers and storing arms and munitions in her boarding house.

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During the runaway scrape in 1836, Jane fled the Mexican army along with others. She finally settled in Fort Bend County operating a boarding house and plantation. I was impressed with Jane’s devotion to her family and the risks she took to aide Texas gain its independence from Spain.

Port Bolivar Light

We were disappointed to learn that a private party currently owns Port Bolivar Light. I was hoping for a tour and up-close look the lighthouse. The first cast-iron lighthouse was built in 1852 and operated until the Civil War when it was dismantled to provide scrap iron during the war.

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View of Bolivar Light From Fort Travis Park

The replacement lighthouse began operation on January 19, 1872. The lighthouse sheltered over 120 people during the Great Hurricane of 1900, which destroyed much of Galveston and killed nearly 6,000 people. In August of 1915, sixty people huddled on the spiral staircase during another storm. The light was turned off on May 29, 1933, and the property transferred to the war department in 1935. In 1947, Rancher Elmer V. Boyt purchased the lighthouse and property, which his family still owns, from the war department for $5,500.

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Bolivar Light

Rollover Fish Pass

 Advertised as a great place for fishing, we headed out to Rollover Fish Pass. The 1,600-foot long and 200-foot wide pass allows fish to travel to and from East Galveston Bay and Gulf of Mexico. Large cement walls frame the Gulf side and steel bulkheads contain the sides of the rollover bay side northwest of the highway.

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View of Southeast Quadrant of Rollover Fish Pass

When we arrived, the four quadrants were empty except for a few anglers. Either the day before was a good fish day with lots of anglers vying for position, or someone hadn’t been around to empty the trash barrels in a while.

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Seen at Southwest Quadrant of Rollover Fish Pass

Amid protests from anglers and local residents, the county voted in 2016 to use eminent domain to acquire the property and close the pass. Studies had revealed that it causes erosion. The Gilchrist association and the gun club cited a study that showed significant economic harm would result to the East Bay if the Rollover Pass closed.

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View of Rollover Fish Pass from Southwest Quadrant

In 2017, the gun club agreed to a settlement for sale of the property. However, the Gilchrist Community vowed to take the case to the federal courts, and perhaps all the way to the Supreme Court. A search for more current information regarding the status of the settlement and court case did not reveal any new information. So for now, the pass is still a good place to fish.

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View West from Southwest Quadrant of Rollover Fish Pass

Bolivar Peninsula Events

 If visitors prefer more of a party atmosphere on their travels and vacations, Bolivar Peninsula also holds several annual festivals and events. Can’t make it to New Orleans for Mardi Gras? The island has one of their own. I hear the Texas Crab Festival, a three-day event in May, is not to be missed. For foodies, try the BBQ or Cajun Chef’s cook-off competitions. And in October, join the party at Fort Travis for the Jane Long Festival. Oh, and don’t forget. Galveston Island is only a ferry ride away.

Next up we head to the Texas Hill Country to visit with friends, then on to Waco, Texas.

Safe Travels

Crystal Beach and Galveston, Texas

Yikes! It’s a Rain Forest in Here

After a wild night of thunder, wind gusts that rocked the trailer, and rain pounding the roof and windows, we woke to cloudy skies and calmer winds. Leaving Bryan, Texas, behind on February 21, 2018, we headed toward Crystal Beach, Texas, to attend our niece’s wedding on Saturday.

The rain started up again and the temperature rose from 40 to 70 degrees. A few miles outside of Houston, we stopped at a rest area for a break. When I opened the door the odor and feel of a rain forest smacked me in the face. The walls, cabinets, and all the surfaces inside the trailer dripped with moisture. Condensation obliterated the view through the windows. The fabric furniture, towels, and jackets were all damp. What the heck, did we spring a leak? If so, there wasn’t anything we could do about it while on the road. We had to get to our next location fast before too much damage occurred.

Thank goodness, the clouds had cleared and the sky was sunny when we arrived at Lazy D & D RV Resort.

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Lazy D & D RV Resort Office with Restrooms and Laundry Upstairs

I latched the door open and cranked out the air vents and windows. Beach towels soaked up the moisture on the walls, cabinets, and windows. On hands and knees, I ran my hands on the carpeting in the closet, under the bed, along the bedroom floor, around the mattress and bedding. Nothing found to indicate a leak.

“Hey, I found condensation on all the tools in the toolbox in the bed of the pickup. Maybe there is no leak,” Jon said. “No, there’s got to be a leak?” I said. The only thing we could figure out is that the humidity had been so high, moisture built up inside the fifth wheel. This was something we had never experienced before and don’t care to face again. Another hour or so and damage to the interior would have been severe. For the next few days, I still searched for the nonexistent leak, just in case.

While I searched for the leak and Jon set up the trailer, muscovy ducks waddled and grackles strutted around the trailer. Grackles are my new favorite bird for their whistles, squeaks, and croaks, but especially the guttural crackle noise they make and also for the way they make their tails stick out sideways as the walk. I should have recorded their songs because now I miss their serenade.

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Muscovy Ducks Walked Around the RV Park Like Security Guards
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Grackles Woke us up in the Morning and Serenaded us All Day (photo used under CC0 from Pixabay https://pixabay.com/en/grackle-with-long-tail-tropic-bird-3066964) 

Don’t Let Your Anger Show

 Word to the wise when taking the Galveston-Bolivar Port ferry across SH 87: Don’t show anger while waiting your turn for the ferry. A dump truck pulled up behind us. He talked to himself and waved his arms about, appearing agitated. When he saw other vehicles boarding before our lane, the driver yelled, cussed, and honked his horn. After a few minutes, the loader directed the vehicles in our lane to the ferry. She waved us through but signaled the dump truck driver to pull over into another lane.

As the ferry pulled away from the port, we saw the dump truck waiting on shore. Take that, dump truck driver.

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Ferry to Galveston from Bolivar Port

The State Department of Transportation operates the ferry and there is no fee. The ride took about twenty minutes and we only had to wait about ten minutes for it to arrive. On our way back, we drove right on without any wait at all.

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Seagulls Waiting for Handout
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Seawolf Park on Galveston’s Pelican Island Where a Submarine, Merchant Ship, and Destroyer Can be Seen
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Texas Flag on Ferry

The Wedding

We attended the fastest wedding and reception ever on Saturday, February 24, 2018. After three days of fog, we woke up to puffy clouds and bright sky along with a slight breeze, a perfect day for a wedding on the beach. We arrived at the beach house around 9:15 a.m. noting travel bags packed and lined up in front of the house for the 30 people who would board a cruise ship later in the day. The ceremony began at 9:45 a.m., formal photography session at 10:15 a.m., catered lunch at 10:45 a.m., champagne and toasts at 11:15, cake cutting at 11:30, and at 12:00 p.m., we waved at the bus as it whisked the wedding party and guests off to the cruise ship. Wham. Bam. The deed was done. I suspect, though, the merriment continued on board the ship.

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Our Niece Jessi Blackwell and her Father Chris Blackwell
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Best Man and Maid of Honor Tracy Blackwell Oversee the Ceremony and Vows

We hopped in our truck and headed for Galveston. A plate of fried calamari and a couple of Mai Tais at Olympia Grill on Pier 21 kept us busy while we waited for the Coast Guard to escort the ship out to sea.

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Olympia the Grill at Pier 21 on the Harborfront
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U.S. Coast Guard Escort for Cruise Ship
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Carnival Freedom Heading out to Sea

We stopped in at The Great Storm Theater, which tells the story of the September 8, 1900, Galveston Hurricane through the personal stories of some of the survivors and the recovery required to rebuild the city.

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Great Storm Theater

A few more sites near Pier 21.

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Statue of Boy and Seagulls
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Juxtaposition of Old and New Is Around Every Corner in Galveston Harbor and Strand Districts
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She’ll be Coming Around the Corner When She Comes

More photos and information about sites on Bolivar Peninsula coming up in next post.

Safe Travels

 

 

George H. W. Bush Library and Museum in Bryan, Texas

We left Fort Stockton on Sunday, February 18, 2018, under sunny skies and 70-degree weather. As we made our way east on Interstate 10, the skies darkened, temperatures dropped to 60 degrees, and mist mingled with the burning of methane gas from the oil rigs. The smell was overpowering and a headache soon developed. Hopefully, eating a bite of lunch will ease the pain.

The colorful paint on El Chatos Mexican Restaurant in Ozona enticed us to sample their menu. The parking lot full of vehicles (there were plenty more than the two in the photo) signaled that it was a popular local draw.

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The inside was painted as bright as the outside and, sure enough, it seemed everyone who walked in the door knew someone sitting at a table.

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Diners expressed greetings to their neighbors as a wave across the dining room or through the exchange of a few words while walking to and from the buffet. A hot cup of tea and a delicious plate of food soothed my aching head.

We found Junction North Llano River RV park a perfect place to stop for the night. The Llano River flowed a few feet from our site as roosters crowed, doves cooed, and other birds chattered high up in the pecan trees.

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Clouds with occasional drops of rain and high humidity followed us to the Galloping Snail in Bryan, Texas, our stop for two nights. The next day we headed out to the George H. W. Bush Library & Museum near the Texas A & M University campus in Bryan, Texas. Clouds threatened to let loose buckets of rain.

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George Herbert Walker Bush (Bush 41) served one term as president from January 20, 1989, to January 20, 1993, after serving as vice president from 1981 to 1989.

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Interesting how George Earned his Name

Some of the key events that occurred during George Bush’s presidency include the bailout of troubled savings and loans banks, the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, the fall of the Berlin wall, and the capture and conviction of Manuel Antonio Noriega on drug trafficking charges.

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1989 Lincoln Towncar Presidential Limousine

Exhibits include photos, narratives, and artifacts that detail the president’s life and career.

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Bush’s Military Career
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Photos and Equipment Similar to What George Might Have Used

This exhibit detailed the lives of George and Barbara and their family’s lives.

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Type of Car Owned by the Bush’s Early During Their Marriage
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Exhibit on Bush’s Time as Congressman

This president’s library displays a replica of the oval office while he was in office, which is available for taking personal photos behind the desk.

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Take a Selfie Behind the President’s Oval Office Desk

I liked this story about Barbara and her mismatched tennis shoes. One day she mentioned that she preferred the old-fashioned Ked tennis shoes. George contacted the company president who sent George 24 pairs of Keds in different colors and patterns. George then gave the shoes to Barbara for her birthday. To tease her husband, she divided the shoes into three piles, one pile to use while at the White House, one pile to use at Camp David, and the third pile to use at Kennebunkport. None of the piles contained two shoes that matched.

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The Keds Story Shows the Family’s Humor
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Sit Down, Relax, and View a Video About the Bush’s
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Camp David Office

The replica of the White House Situation Room gives visitors an idea of the setting where the president receives intelligence briefings by the U.S. National Security Adviser and members of the National Security Council.

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White House Situation Room

The Persian Gulf War conducted under the code name Operation Desert Storm was one of the defining moments of George’s presidency. Iraq invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990, and on January 17, 1991, the war began with air strikes. Ground troops deployed on February 24, 1991, liberating Kuwait with little resistance from Iraqi troops. President Bush called off the ground offensive since the war’s objectives had been met, sparking criticism for not taking out Saddam Hussein.

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Exhibit on Desert Storm
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Millie Greets Children in Each Exhibit. Inside the Cupboard is a Lesson.

I liked looking at all the gifts that are presented to the president while in office, including jewelry, vases, dishware, baskets, quilts, and various art pieces from around the world. The Gate of Kuwait is the most special piece in this collection. Kuwait’s leading citizens once used similar doors as the primary access to their walled homes. The gate, over 100 years old, represents the gratitude of the people of Kuwait. The plates framing the door bears the names of the 149 American servicemen and women who were killed during the Gulf War.

 

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Gate of Kuwait

 

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Various Gifts Given to the American People During Bush’s Presidency

 

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The Painted Rock was a Gift From Nicaragua

 

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JT Sits Down for a Chat with George

It is fitting that the statue below found a home at the George H.W. Bush Library and Museum. A sister casting, a gift of friendship from the American people to the people of Germany, was unveiled by President Bush on July 2, 1998, in Berlin on the 50th anniversary of the Berlin airlift.

 

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The Day the Wall Came Down by Veryl Goodnight

 

 

 

 

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Bronze Statue of Bush

Since visiting Lyndon Johnson’s library and museum and now George Bush’s, we have enjoyed reliving the history we lived through, learning a little more about the men and their families, and trying to understand the stress that each man must have gone through during their time in office. There’s one more presidential library and museum in Texas and we plan on visiting the two in California on our way back home.

Safe Travels

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

McDonald Observatory near Fort Davis, Texas

On our way to see the George H. W. Bush Library and Museum in College Station, Texas, we made a short detour through Fort Davis, Texas, with the goal of seeing the McDonald Observatory. The Twilight and Star Party programs were sold out so we signed up for the 2:00 p.m. guided tour and solar viewing. After the hour and a half drive and a quick set up at McMillen’s RV Park, we were off to see the show.

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McDonald Observatory Visitor Center

McDonald Observatory is part of the University of Texas in Austin and open to the public daily for guided tours and solar viewing. Star Parties and Twilight programs are offered on Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday night when visitors can observe constellations and celestial objects through a number of telescopes in the Rebecca Gale Telescope Park.

The quick meal we ate at the StarDate Cafe was surprisingly good. While we waited for the tour to begin we wandered around outside and enjoyed the view.

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Patio Outside the StarDate Cafe
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View of Hobby-Eberly Telescope from Visitor Center

The tour started with a lecture in an auditorium. The tour guide who gave the lecture talked so fast using stats and terminology beyond my comprehension that Jon had to nudge me before I fell asleep. It reminded me of being in a lecture hall in college. I wanted my notebook and pen to take notes and stay awake. The guide included views of solar activity from different locations around the world. Too bad the sun did not cooperate by displaying its spectacular solar flares. Although the sun activity was relatively calm, it was still interesting to see the views on the screen.

Mount Locke’s summit at an elevation of 6,791 has some of the darkest night skies making it an ideal location for monitoring celestial objects. The valley below is at an elevation of 5,280 feet.

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View from Mount Locke

After the lecture, we all hopped in our vehicles and drove to the 107-inch Harlan J. Smith Telescope (constructed in 1968 by Westinghouse for about $5 million). The fresh air and climb up 70 steps to the top floor swept my drowsiness away.

While there, the tour guide explained the various components of the telescope, and how it was constructed. Then he showed how the top part of the building turned on steel wheels on a track rather than tires. Tires would not work for this telescope that weighs 160 tons.

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Shannon the Tour Guide Explains the Telescope Components

Climbing up a ladder to view the sky through an eyepiece is not needed for this telescope. The view is transmitted to a computer and displayed on a monitor. The computer also collects data used by astronomers for their research.

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Telescope Tube

The Smith Telescope has been used to study “the compositions of stars, the motions of galaxies, and to search for planets around other stars in our galaxy,” so says the observatory’s website.

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Where the Primary Mirror is Contained

We then toured the Hobby-Eberly Telescope. The 11-meter (433-inch) mirror “is one of the largest optical telescopes designed for spectroscopy, the decoding of light from stars and galaxies to study their properties.”

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Hobby-Eberly Telescope

The mirror is built in a honeycomb consisting of 91 hexagonal mirrors requiring each mirror to align exactly to form a reflecting surface. This telescope is currently the third largest in the world. Although the mirror segments form a reflecting surface of 11 by 10 meters, only 9.2 meters are used at any given time. Three instruments are used with the telescope: The Marcario Low-Resolution Spectrographs, a Medium-Resolution Spectrograph, and a High-Resolution Spectrograph.

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The Green Pipes Support the Hexagonal Mirrors

Other telescopes at the observatory include the Otto Struve Telescope (completed in 1938 and used to discover Uranus’ fifth moon Miranda, Neptune’s second largest moon Nereid. It was also used in the discovery of carbon dioxide in Mars’s atmosphere and methane in Saturn’s giant moon Titan’s atmosphere.  The 0.8-meter Telescope (the smallest telescope at McDonald Observatory) is used for large search and survey projects, and the 0.9-meter Telescope, built in 1956, is used during the Special Viewing Nights.

For more information regarding the McDonald Observatory visit the website here. Plan ahead and make reservations for one of the Star Party events. They sound like fun.

Safe Travels

 

 

 

Van Horn, Texas, and Guadalupe Mountains National Monument

Day 18 Thursday, February 15, 2018, we left Willcox, Arizona, for Van Horn, Texas, for a two-night stay at Van Horn RV Park. The rain decreased around Las Cruces, and by the time we reached Van Horn, it had stopped. Plenty of cloud cover and windy but not too strong. A congregation of doves had settled at the RV park, waking us each morning with their cooing. Plenty of cholla had been planted around the park along with a few trees and the surrounding area consisted of dried grass. The next morning, nature treated us to the most amazing sunrise colors I have ever seen.

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We headed out to the Clark Hotel Museum only to find a closed sign and thought that perhaps it would be open later.

Clark Hotel Museum

Off to Hotel El Capitan to take photos and a drive up and down the main street to snap pics of other buildings, which are great examples of mid-century architecture.

Hotel El Capitan

Hotel El Capitan, designed by Henry Trost and built by McKee Construction Company, operated from 1930 into the late 1960s.

Front Courtyard of Hotel El Capitan
Entryway to El Capitan Hotel

The hotel was converted into the Van Horn State Bank in 1973. All of the original bathrooms were removed during the conversion.

Hotel El Capitan Lobby

Lana and Joe Duncan purchased the property in 2007 and restored the hotel replacing all the plumbing and electricity. I think the Duncan’s did a great job in bringing back the rustic look of the hotel.

Sitting Area Next to Lobby

Guests can now reserve one of the forty-nine rooms with private baths, order a cocktail at the bar, and enjoy a meal at the restaurant.

Gopher Hole Bar

We stopped by the museum again, but the closed sign was still there so we drove up and down the main street to find other restored buildings.

Magnolia Station
Raul’s Diesel

Another cruise by the museum that was still closed required us to find something else to do. Let’s drive to Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Maybe we could find a hike. But first, we had to have lunch. No telling if there were any restaurants near the park. In business since 1959, Chuy’s looked popular with all the cars and trucks out front so we gave it a try.

Chuy’s Restaurant

Football fans might recognize the name on the sign and on the bus on the mural inside. Apparently, John Madden stopped at Chuy’s on a Monday night in 1987 to enjoy a meal while he watched a football game on the television.

Portion of a Mural inside Chuy’s

So impressed with the restaurant, Madden wrote flattering articles about it and named it an All Madden Haul of Fame. He continued to visit the restaurant every year always ordering the John Madden Chicken Picado No. 21.

With our bellies full, we were off to see the Guadalupe Mountains. Overcast skies and cold winds did not prevent us from braving the elements and enjoying the nature hike near the visitor center. As visitors enter the park, El Capitan is hard to miss as it rises to 8,085 feet.

El Capitan Peak

The Guadalupe Mountains National Park, established September 30, 1972, is located where erosion has exposed a portion of a Permian (251 to 299 million years ago) fossil reef that includes Carlsbad Caverns National Park to the north and extends to The City of Carlsbad, New Mexico. Other exposed areas of the reef can be seen in the Apache Mountains near Van Horn, Texas,  to the south and the Glass Mountains near Alpine, Texas, to the southeast.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

The park is also home to four of the highest peaks in Texas. Guadalupe Peak tops out at 8,751 feet. The fourth peak is Bartlett at 8,508 feet.

Views of Canyon and Peaks from Trail

Archaeologists have discovered evidence that suggests humans have inhabited the mountains on and off for the past 10,000 years. More recent history of the people who called Guadalupe their home, begins with the Mescalero Apaches, which viewed the area as their last stronghold after Comanches drove them from the plains.

Jon checks out an information sign

The Buffalo Soldiers, enduring significant hardships and prejudice, entered the area to fight the Mescaleros and protect the settlers. They also were instrumental in exploring and mapping the region.

Manzanita

After the cavalry and Buffalo Soldiers had driven the Mescalero Apaches from the Guadalupes, farmers and ranchers entered the area. Most of them failed. Three families survived and worked their property for decades until Judge J.C. Hunter owned most of what became the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Hunter’s son sold the land to the National Park Service for $22 per acre after his father’s death.

Ruins of Pinery Station used by Celerity stagecoaches for eleven months from 1858 to 1859.

To learn more about the geology, people, and other features of the Guadalupe Mountains, visit the NPS site.

Alligator Juniper

There is so much to explore, we’d like to make it back to the Guadalupe Mountains someday when it is warmer. There are spaces for RVs in what looks like a converted parking lot, which would be just fine for a couple of nights.

Coming up next is our tour of George H. W. Bush Library and Museum. After visiting the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum in 2016, we have added other presidential libraries to our list of places to see. Time to see the two Bush libraries.

Safe Travels

Willcox, Arizona

Day 15 of our 2018 Winter Tour took us to Willcox, Arizona. Our goal was to see Fort Bowie National Historic Site, another place we had seen while passing through the area on our way to somewhere else. It smelled like rain when we left Gila Bend, gusty winds and thick sandstorms pelted our rig through Casa Grande. The clouds finally cleared by the time we hit Tucson, but the wind stayed with us all the way to Willcox, finally dying down around 7:00 p.m.

The groves of pecan and pistachio trees in this part of Arizona always surprise me. After traveling miles with only the desert landscape to gaze at, acres of trees pop up like a mirage. We drove through Pistachio Alley on our way to and from Fort Bowie National Historic Site Trailhead. The trees with their bare limbs don’t look like much this time of year, but I bet they are majestic covered in leaves.

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Pistachio Alley

Fort Bowie was named in honor of Colonel George Washington Bowie commander of the 5th Regiment, California Volunteer Infantry, who first established the fort. The trailhead can be reached through either the town of Willcox or the town of Bowie. We selected the Bowie route to avoid what I gathered was a 10-mile drive on a graded dirt road over the Apache Pass. Going through Bowie, there is only about 1 mile of the dirt road.

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Fort Bowie Trailhead

Don’t expect to drive a car up to a visitor center at Fort Bowie. (Accessible travel can be arranged). A 1.5-mile hike to the ruins meanders up and down hills, through a valley, alongside a spring, and past a cemetery. Information signs reveal the historic significance of the ruins along the way.

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Creek Crossing at Start of Trail

We took our time stopping at the ruins, reading the information signs, taking pictures, and wondering how it must have been riding a stagecoach through the rugged land.

The rocks in the photo below outline the spot where a cabin once stood. A local prospector and well digger, Jesse L. Millsap, lived in the cabin, according to his nephew who visited his uncle in a Model-T Ford with his father.

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Millsap Cabin Ruin

It was a pleasure walking along with only the sounds of nature surrounding us. Without the noise of a freeway, trains, and airplanes, it was like experiencing what someone during the 1880s might have experienced. Standing near the ruins of the Stage Station brought the scene to life.

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Stage Station Ruin Where The Butterfield Overland Mail Stopped to Exchange Mules and Rest

Imagine 6 – 8 foot-high walls surrounding a kitchen-dining room where stagehands and passengers ate a meal of bread, coffee, meat, and beans for fifty cents and rooms where guests might rest while waiting for the stagecoach to continue its route. Also enclosed within the walls was a storage room for feed and weapons and a corral for mules.

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Stage Station Ruin

One of the biggest events that occurred in the area was the Bascom Affair. On February 4, 1861, Lt. George Bascom gathered with 54 of his men on a mission to find Cochise, the principal chief of the Chokonen band of the Chiricahua Apache. Bascom believed Cochise and his band kidnapped a boy and stole livestock and he was intent to recover both the boy and the livestock. The problem was Cochise and his band did not take the boy or the livestock and was insulted over the accusation.

The conflict lasted for sixteen days with both Indians and soldiers capturing hostages and executing them in retaliation. For twelve years tensions between the two groups continued until President U.S. Grant sent General Oliver O. Howard to join army scout Thomas Jeffords to make peace with Cochise.

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Location Where Bascom Unsuccessfully Pressed Cochise to Return a Kidnapped Boy and Livestock

The Post Cemetery predates Fort Bowie when soldiers of the California Column were interred there in 1862. Other graves include military dependents, civilian employees, emigrants, mail carriers, and three Apache children including one of Geronimo’s sons.

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Little Robe Possibly Died from Dysentery While in Custody of Soldiers Along with Other Geronimo Family Members

The ruin in the photo below is of a late 19th-century adobe building, which housed the Chiricahua Apache Indian Agency in 1873-77. Based on an archeology study conducted in 1984,  the building contained fireplaces, three rooms, and a wooden floor. A porch may have occupied the front of the building along with corrals at the back of the building for holding agency livestock. Adobe plaster covers and stabilizes the walls exposed by the archeologists.

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When Cochise died in 1874, he left a band divided in leadership and conduct. Some Apaches lingered on the reservation while others left to plunder Mexican Settlements.  U.S. Indian Agent Thomas Jeffords governed the remaining 900 Chiricahua Apaches at the Chiricahua Apache Indian Agency in 1875-76.

In June 1876, the government removed Jeffords and moved 325 Apaches northward to the San Carlos Reservation. Many escaped and fled to distant sanctuaries to renew hostilities for another decade.

Imagine a camp of several thatched wickiups like the one in the photo below. Clustered together but hidden for safety, camp life continued as it had for hundreds of years.  Men rode off to hunt for game while women harvested crops, prepared food, and cared for the children. The freshwater spring and other resources in the surrounding area supported hundreds of Chiricahua during the winter and spring seasons.

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Wikiup Hut and Ramada

A unique feature located in Apache Pass, and a cause of many conflicts, is a freshwater spring that flows from a geological fault. Native Americans relied on the water long before the emigrants and soldiers arrived on the scene. Eventually, the Chiricahua were driven away from their home.

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Apache Spring

The walk to the ruins was not strenuous, but we were glad to have plenty of water and a snack with us. It is also a good idea to take along a sweater or light jacket, depending on the time of year, in case the weather conditions shift.

The steps up to the big porch at the visitor center and a comfortable bench where I could rest for a few minutes was a welcome sight. Inside the building, are a small museum and the typical national park T-shirts, hats, books, and junior ranger paraphernalia offered for sale.

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Long View of Fort Bowie Ruins
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Fort Bowie Ruins
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Non-commissioned Staff Officer’s Quarters

We followed the docent advice and took the return trail back to the parking lot. Although the steep incline up a hill behind the visitor center was intimidating, switchbacks and flat stretches made the descent easier.

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Return Trail to Parking Lot

The best part was the spectacular views of not only the fort ruins but also the agricultural zones, valleys, and cities off in the distance.

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Views from Atop the Hill

We enjoyed our hike to the Fort Bowie ruins and wouldn’t mind returning some day during a prettier time of year. I’d like to see the pistachio and pecan trees dressed in their leaves and the ocotillo in bloom. Next time we’ll carry a full lunch in our backpack instead of the measly snacks we had packed.

Keeping with our 250 – 400 miles a day, Van Horn seemed like the next logical place to stop as we headed into Texas.