Galveston TX

Along the scenic route of TX-35 from Corpus Christi, we drove past a variety of oil refineries, wetlands, delta, farmland, ranchland, and churches in little thriving towns as we made our way to Galveston on Wednesday, February 8, 2017. Outside of Tivoli we stopped for a rest and captured pictures of the Guadalupe Delta.

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Guadalupe Delta

I liked Bay City, the county seat for Matagorda, the best of all the towns we drove through, primarily because of the brick buildings in the historic downtown area and the beautiful homes that lined the road. With their multi-acre sites, large green lawns, and tall trees I could picture myself sitting on the porch of one of those homes, drinking tea, and looking out at the expanse of green. We’ll have to stop by here in the future to spend a few days and soak up the charm.

It was a bit of a shock to see the massive oil refineries towering in the distance after the beauty of Bay City. I guess the beauty of the oil refineries are the jobs they provide and the fuel they produce to keep our country’s economy booming.

Galveston Island RV Resort, about a half hour west of Galveston TX, was a great place to stay a few days. There are RV parks closer to Galveston, but the spaces are so close you could shake your neighbor’s hand through open windows. Washday is not my favorite day, but I liked paying with a credit card at this RV park rather than having to carry around rolls of quarters or worry about having enough jingle to wash and dry all the clothes.

We managed to keep busy exploring the town and attractions over the five days we stayed in Galveston. Here is a recap:

Moody Mansion, a thirty-one room Romanesque mansion completed in 1895, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Moody family lived in the home until 1986, so the family furnishings and personal effects inside the home give visitors an opportunity to experience the house as it was in the early 1900s.

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Moody Mansion Exterior
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Moody Mansion Porch
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Moody Mansion Conservatory
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Moody Mansion Parlor
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Moody Mansion Bedroom
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Moody Family Personal Effects on Dresser
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Welcome Ever Smiles Stained Glass Window

Ocean Star Oil Rig & Museum gave me a new perspective on offshore drilling rigs. We learned about the offshore energy industry through a film presentation, video kiosks, interactive displays, actual equipment, and scale models of different kinds of rigs used to explore and produce gas and oil. The Ocean Star is a retired jackup rig. Jackup rigs are like floating barges or platforms with three to eight legs, depending on size (see a photo of the leg structures under Galveston Harbor Tour below). The legs extend above the hull when it floats on the water’s surface and navigates through the water. When at the drill site, the legs extend to the sea floor and raise the platform above the waves. Being from California and seeing drilling rigs off the coast of Santa Barbara, I always thought, yuck, who wants to look at that ugly thing, and what about the potential for spills? Although they are ugly and I worry about environmental disasters, I now see the value of them so long as the energy companies address safety and environmental concerns.

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Ocean Star Visitor Center and Museum
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Walkway to Ocean Star Oil Rig & Museum
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Escape Pod on Ocean Star
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Ocean Star Derrick

 

 

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White Pelicans

 

One fancy old home wasn’t enough, we also visited Bishop’s Palace (a.k.a. Gresham’s Castle). The 19,082 square foot Victorian house, built between 1887 and 1893 for lawyer and politician Walter Gresham, his wife Josephine, and their nine children. Due to its stone construction, it survived the great hurricane of 1900. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Galveston purchased the home in 1923 and was the residence for Bishop Christopher E. Byrne. The diocese opened the mansion to the public in 1963 after the diocesan offices moved to Houston. The home, now owned by the Galveston Historical Foundation, is undergoing maintenance and restoration, but the tour was still spectacular.

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Bishop’s Palace or Gresham’s Castle
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Detail of Stone and Wrought Iron
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Ornamental Icon on Front Walkway
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Bishop’s Bedroom
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Chapel under Renovation
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Whimsical Detail
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My Ear! Where’s My Ear?
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Calling Card Basket Used by Grisham’s
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Ceiling Painting and Wood Detail
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Detail of Fireplace Plaque
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Staircase and Stain Glass Window

The Galveston Harbor Tour on the Seagull II gave us a close look at the drilling rigs in the harbor for maintenance and repair, and of the S.S. Selma, a damaged concrete oil tanker scrapped in the Galveston Bay near Pelican Island, Texas in 1922. A few shy dolphins teased us with their flicking tails and dives under the boat.

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Dolphins Gave us a Show
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Abandoned Seawolf Park Sighs, “Make Me Pretty Again.”
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Scrapped S.S. Selma Concrete Tanker
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Scrapped S.S. Selma Concrete Tanker
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Galveston-Port Bolivar Ferry
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Legs Raised on Jackup Rig in Port for Repairs and Maintenance
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“Feed Me, Pet Me, Are You My Mother?”
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“Hey, Where’s Ours?”

The 1877 Tall Ship ELISSA at Texas Seaport Museum was the highlight of my time in Galveston. Since my first time sailing in a dingy off Shelter Island in San Diego, I have been in love with sailing and the tall ships are my favorite. The ELISSA is a 140-year-old ship that spent 90 years as a commercial vessel. Saved from the scrap heap by the San Francisco Maritime Museum, the Galveston Historical Foundation purchased her for $40,000 in 1975. After undergoing restoration as a sailing ship, she traveled to Corpus Christi in 1985. Hop aboard for a self-guided audio tour or join the Seamanship Training program and learn the ancient skills and techniques on maintaining and sailing a square-rigged sailing ship.

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Figurehead of ELISSA
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ELISSA Ropes
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ELISSA Block and Tackle
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ELISSA Mid Hold
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ELISSA Stairs to Lower Deck
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ELISSA Compass
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ELLISSA Helm
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Hmmm, More Head Room or Port Hole? Which Shall I Choose?
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ELISSA Galley
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ELISSA Rigging

Near the Elissa is the Boardwalk, a luxury yacht owned by Tilman Fertitta who also owns a group of restaurants including Landry’s and Willie G’s, where we stopped in for a drink. Unfortunately, Mr. Fertitta does not offer tours of his boat.

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Willie G’s Seafood & Steaks Serves Tasty Mai Tais

Victorian era buildings housing restaurants, antique stores, galleries, and curio shops fill the Strand Historic District, which is designated as a National Historic Landmark District. The Strand is a popular place

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The Old and The New
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Galveston Ice House
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One of the Unique Shops Along The Strand
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Victorian Buildings Along The Strand
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Perfect Perch For Watching Mardi Gras Parade and Festivities

On Sunday, February 12, we had no idea where we should go next. Continue on to New Orleans, head back toward the west, or . . .? We had clothes to wash leaving us all day to peruse the maps, check the weather, and make a decision in between stuffing washers and dryers and folding garments.

Stay tuned and Safe Travels.

Corpus Christi and Padre Island TX

We left San Antonio on February 4, 2017, headed to Corpus Christi and Padre Island. A short detour off the main highway took us through Pleasanton TX, home of the Longhorn Museum. We were too early to stop and look at the museum or the old railroad depot and train caboose nearby. Along our route, a water tower displaying the town’s name caught our attention as did the numerous Mexican restaurants crowded with cars in the parking lots. Breakfast in Pleasanton TX must be good eats to bring in those crowds. Too bad we already ate. If we pass through here again, we’ll have to stop at the museum and railroad depot and maybe eat some breakfast.

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Pleasanton TX Water Tower

Fuel costs continued to decrease the deeper we drove into Texas until the cost per gallon reached less than $2.00. That’s unheard of in California and I thought it was due to the amount of excise tax charged by the state.

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As it turns out, the excise tax paid in Texas is only about 8 cents less than in California. The state’s environmental rules requiring cleaner gas and fewer emissions is the cause for California’s higher gasoline costs. The refineries that produce a special blend of gasoline are primarily in California and their production is near capacity. Supply and demand market forces take over whenever there is an increase in demand or a reduction in supply resulting in higher prices. Essentially, California drivers pay more for the gasoline they use in exchange for cleaner air. With the number of cars and trucks on the California highways, I’ll gladly pay more for my gas to have clean air to breath.

Rain pelted us on the drive south until just before we arrived at our Colonia del Rey RV Park site. The campground advertised “all weather” sites, but our muddy shoes proved that the scantily graveled site could not handle the downpour from the storm. Known for being clean freaks, we devised a system with a bucket of water and beach towels for rinsing off our shoes and keeping the mud outdoors.

After we set up, we took a drive in the drizzling rain to the island to see Bill Hall Pier and Padre Balli Park. I’m sure on a nice sunny day the beach and cabanas would not have been empty of people on a Saturday afternoon.

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Bill Hall Pier

On Sunday, we woke up to sprinkles tinkling on the roof making it a great day to sleep in. Later we went to the USS Lexington, a WWII aircraft carrier, for the self-guided tour.

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USS Lexington Tour

We had visited other aircraft carriers but this one was by far the best we had seen. Large yellow signs with black lettering showed the way through the ship while signs, photographs, and displays detailed the history and purpose of the different sections. An IMAX 3-D movie told the story of the navy and their training operations to prepare our service men and women for conflict. It gave me a sense of security to know what preparations are made by our country to protect our nation.

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USS Lexington Island and Flight Deck
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40mm Anti-Aircraft Dual Guns
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F/A-18 Hornet
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USS Lexington Battle Statistics

Views from the USS Lexington deck.

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Downtown Corpus Christi and Shoreline

 

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Fajitaville and Ferris Wheel on North Beach

 

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Texas State Aquarium and Harbor Bridge

A late lunch at Joe’s Crab Shack gave us the stamina needed for a shopping excursion at H.B.E., a mega grocery store with a large selection of products.

 

It wasn’t the prettiest time of year to visit the South Texas Botanical Gardens and Nature Center, but we still saw a lot. With tortoises and parrots,

orchids and cactus,

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metal statuary,

photo opportunities,

and a trail through the wetlands, where we stopped to watch for birds, we managed to spend a couple of hours.

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Bird Watching Shelter

We noticed the number of Bill Miller restaurants surrounded by parking lots filled with cars in San Antonio and in Corpus Christi. They seemed more prolific than McDonald’s in this part of Texas. We stopped in at one location to find out the cause for all the fuss. Floors covered in carpet tiles and country furnishings gave the interior a comfortable homey feel. With tasty food and a reasonable price, we learned why this barbecue place was so popular.

There’s more to see and do here than what we managed in between the rain showers. Driving to and from the locations, several anglers, both men and women, could be seen next to their pick-up trucks, jeeps, and cars lining the waterways. I don’t fish, and Jon’s gear is more for lake fishing so we did not partake. The revitalization project along Shoreline Boulevard in downtown looked like a nice place to stroll or have a picnic once it is completed. Corpus Christi also offers the Art Museum of South Texas, Museum of Science and History, Schlitterbahn Riverpark and Resort, and the Texas State Aquarium to keep both residents and visitors busy.

The forecast called for another storm coming through so it was time to hit the road. On to Galveston TX.

Safe Travels.

 

San Antonio TX – Part Two

On Wednesday, we drove to Mission San Jose in the San Antonio Missions National Park and joined a ranger tour of the mission grounds. The ranger told of the Coahuiltecan Indians who lived here and built canals for watering their crops. The mission was restored in the 1930s by the Works Projects Administration.

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Mission San Jose

Mission San Jose, the first and largest in Texas, was founded in 1720. The current church was constructed in 1768 to establish ownership of the land and keep the Russians at bay.

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Mission San Jose Church

Residences for the families that lived at the mission lined the walls. The guide pointed out the ramadas, or porch shelters, over the doorways. Apparently, at the time of restoration, the inhabitants of the mission were believed to have used the ramadas. However, more recent research has determined this may not be correct.

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Residences Lined the Walls of the Mission

The décor inside the church is simple in design and features catholic icons similar to other churches.

The backside of the church housed the Franciscans in the two-story arched wing.

The round structures at each corner of the mission served as a bastion to protect against raiding Apache and Comanche.

Restored granary and irrigation canal.

Re-creation of what an oven may have looked like.

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Oven Used for Cooking

There are three other missions within the park, but we opted for a city bus ride to the Alamo and Riverwalk. Our grumbling stomachs steered us toward the Riverwalk first. A gentleman sweeping the walkways directed us to the Mexican Manhattan. Situated at the street level with a patio that overlooks the river traffic it was a perfect place to watch the barges and tour boats navigate the waters below as we enjoyed some of the best Mexican food we had eaten since leaving home.

The memory of our relaxing wonderful lunch soon faded when a yappy dog tied to a post near the bridge we had to cross, jumped on my leg. At first, I thought he only jumped on me, but soon the pain of a bruise formed. Fortunately, his little mouth and teeth were too small to break through the fabric of my jeans and I escaped with only a couple of bruises. Ever since I’ve been leery of dogs of any size and have kept my distance.

I thought the Rio San Antonio Cruise on the river might be something like the riverboat cruise at Disneyland, but we found it to be quite informative. The guide pointed out buildings, detailed the history, and told stories of prominent individuals in the city with an authority that did not include corny jokes.

Back at The Alamo, we checked the bus schedule and realized we only had about 15 minutes to see this icon. I think we got the gist of the place, but I want to visit again when we have more time.

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We took a break from sightseeing the next day but did drive out to Luling TX for a BBQ lunch at The City Market. Jon had eaten there once while working in the area. I expected to see shelves stocked with cans and food like any market. Instead, I found a section where patrons ordered drinks and side dishes and a section with dining tables. I followed Jon toward the back where an arrow pointed to a door and a sign said, “Order Here.” Inside the room to the right, was a huge barbecue pit where meat sizzled. We snaked our way around the corner of a counter where a man stood with a serving fork and knife. Jon ordered for us and the man cut the hot meat and wrapped it in butcher paper. After paying, we exited the smoky room and found a table, collected plastic utensils and napkins, and paid for the side dishes and drinks. This may have been the strangest restaurant I ever saw. Although the food was good, I’m not so sure it was worth the drive.

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The City Market Dining Room. Smoke House Behind the Doors

 

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Luling Oil Drilling Equipment Display

Next up? Corpus Christi TX.

San Antonio TX – Part One

On Saturday, January 28, our GPS led us to the sign for Hidden Valley RV Park where we had reservations. An arrow pointed down a dirt road. Reluctantly, we slowly drove along the grated road for 3/4 mile to the RV park while we wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. The wide gravel spots, trees, fishing lake, newly renovated showers, and quiet would make this place ideal for getting away from it all, not for taking in the sights. Fortunately, the owner refunded our money and we moved on finding the San Antonio KOA in town centrally located for what we wanted to do.

Gruene TX

Our first adventure was Gruene (pronounced Green) a historic town near San Antonio where Jon had visited several years ago while working in the area. Our goal was to eat at the Gristmill.

We walked around the town first visiting gift shops, antique stores, junk stores and an outdoor garden shop. The Fickle Pickle offered tastes of their product. One bite and addiction to the crunchy, sweet, and spicy chip of a pickle set in. We bought a jar and as soon as I get home, I’m ordering more online. They are the best pickles ever.

Many stores offer unique art and gift ideas.

We stopped in for a bit to listen to the music at the Gruene Hall, which is believed to be one of the oldest dance halls in the state of Texas.

The Gruene Mansion Inn, once H.D. Gruene’s historic victorian home and cotton plantation, is a bed and breakfast establishment that offers 33 rooms.

On Monday, we watched men, women, and robots, on the assembly line of the Toyota Motor Manufacturing of Texas plant, while truck bodies floated overhead. The tour explains the process of assembly, painting, inspecting, and preparing Toyota Tundras and Tacomas using a just-in-time method. Robots not only assemble or aid the workers in the assembly of the trucks they also deliver parts to the appropriate stations. The tour started out with a movie and safety precautions. Then we all loaded up in trams and donned the provided headphones for listening to the tour guide. The plant employs approximately 7,500 people, 4,000 are Toyota employees and the remainder were onsite vendors that provide parts and accessories and assist with any issues that arise.

No photos are available because purses, backpacks, camera phones, and cameras are not allowed on the tour.

Boerne TX

The historic town of Boerne (pronounced Bernie) was next on our list to explore. German immigrants established the community in the mid-1800s. Antique and gift shops line Haupstrasse (main street) along with plenty of choices for lodging, meals, and drinks in the area. We stopped in at The Dienger Trading Company. Established in 1884, the building has undergone a restoration to honor its original beauty. Inside we found a bakery and bistro, a bookstore, and a boutique. The white walls and subway tiles, wood floors, baseboards, and doorframes, carry through the entire building in a cohesive design. Even the ladies bathroom is a work of art. We took a break from our gawking to enjoy a cup of coffee and a delicious cherry cobbler in the bistro.

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The Dienger Trading Company

A mural on the wall opposite the bathroom doors depicts the history of the building and its owners. The old safe in the alcove gave the place authenticity.

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Original Dienger Safe

This work of art stands near a water feature in a parklike area of natural vegetation.

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Art Work in the Park

At the visitor’s center, we collected a variety of maps and information about other places to visit in the hill country. A short video tells the history of the town’s founding.

Armed with our map, we followed the road to Sister Creek Winery where we tasted their varieties and settled on a bottle of Chardonnay to take home.

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Sister Creek Winery

Next post? Part two of our time in San Antonio.