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.

 

Las Cruces and Mesilla NM, and Alpine and Marfa TX

We hopped on Interstate 10 toward Las Cruces NM on Monday, January 23, 2017. With strong winds forecasted for the night and into the next day, we checked in at the KOA for two nights until we could safely travel. Braving the cold wind the next day, we ventured out to see Fort Selden Monument only to find a “Closed on Monday and Tuesday” sign on the gate. That will teach me to look up places online to check hours of operation.

Ace navigator here, I plotted a route to Peppers New Mexican Cafe & Bar on the Mesilla Plaza for lunch. Somehow the roads did not match the little map I held in my hand so we wound up driving in circles, in and out of historic neighborhoods, up one street, and down another before finally arriving at the plaza. The host at Peppers sat us in the colorful courtyard near the water fountain, giant palms, and ferns.

There are rumors the building is haunted and looking around the place it is easy to see why with the gold framed historic photos, mirrors, low lighting, lace, and red velvet curtains.

After our meal at Peppers, I wanted to walk around Mesilla Plaza to take more pictures, but one shot of the Basilica of San Albino and we ran for the truck to get out of the cold wind. Boy, we sure are a couple of wusses.

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The next morning, Wednesday, January 25,  we left for Alpine anxious to stay at the Lost Alaskan RV Park. We had wanted to stay there last year, but they were all booked up for the Cowboy Poetry event. On our way to Alpine, we stopped at the Prada store that stands alongside US 90 about 1.5 miles for the town of Valentine.

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Prada Marfa Art Installation

Why is a Prada store sitting out there in what seems like the middle of nowhere? It’s not a working store but a sculpture built in 2005 by artists Elmgreen and Dragset. The Department of Transportation designated the installation as a museum in 2014 after a Texas artist vandalized the building. I’m glad it stands as a curiosity on the highway. it would be a shame if it were destroyed or allowed to decay.

Last year I saw love locks attached to a fence behind the building and I was curious to see if they were still there. There weren’t as many as those seen in Lovelock NV behind the courthouse, but it looked like there were more than last year.

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Love Locks Behind Prada Store

A few miles down the road, we saw a white blob off in the distance. What was that big Snoopy looking balloon? Was it tethered to the ground? The wind was pretty fierce so it couldn’t fly. Finding a spot to park on the side of the road while pulling a thirty-foot trailer isn’t an easy task but eventually, we found a spot so I could zoom in to get a closer shot with my camera.

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Tethered Aerostat Radar System

It turns out the object was a tethered aerostat radar system. Having passed through a number of federal agencies over the years, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection assumed responsibility for its funding in 2014. The balloon provides low-level radar surveillance along the southwest border between Mexico and the United States.

The lady who checked us in at The Lost Alaskan RV park warned us about freezing temperatures overnight. We followed the instructions she gave us, but our water hose still froze along with our filter. Lesson learned: Make sure to remove all water from the filter and hose during an overnight freeze. Turning the water off is not sufficient. Duh!

Our son-in-law raved about Marfa TX and encouraged us to stop there. We couldn’t see what was so special when we drove through on our way to Alpine so we decided to give it a closer look the next day. On our way there, we stopped at the Marfa Lights Viewing area. Apparently, people have seen the lights since the 1880s and for years UFOs, ghosts, and other unexplained phenomena were thought to be the cause. Recent scientific research debunked those ideas and attributed the lights to atmospheric reflections of car headlights and campfires. The family of the first man to write about the lights during the 1880s donated the funds to build the viewing area. Around the property are brick kiosks with plaques that tell of the history of Marfa and the surrounding region, making this site an interesting educational stop during the day.

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Marfa Lights Viewing Area

Like most states, Texas offers plenty of plaques along the roadsides, which provide information on historical events that have occurred at that spot or nearby. We stopped at one that described the Paisano Pass, which emigrants used on their way to California. What we couldn’t figure out was why someone had cemented into the ground a ladder over the barbed wire fence. There was no evidence a trail existed there, but perhaps we didn’t look good enough. I wasn’t about to climb over and scout around.

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Ladder Near Paisano Pass Informational Plaque

Once we hit Marfa city limits, Jon slowed the truck and I scouted down each street until we found the one leading to the Presidio County Court House. Churches, hotels, motels, and businesses, including an NPR station, housed in historic buildings, also lined the roads. Art galleries and studios are scattered around Marfa and the town is home to a four-day Marfa Myths Music, Film and Art Fest held in March. I love that counties have preserved the historical character of their courthouses.

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Presidio County Courthouse

A sampling of churches clustered near the courthouse in Marfa TX.

The Hotel Paisano, built in 1930, was used by Warner Brothers during the filming of the movie Giant starring James Dean. The hotel includes a large gift shop where tourists won’t have trouble finding the perfect gift for friends and family.

A few of the buildings in Marfa TX.

We stopped in at Capri for a lunch of the best butternut squash soup we’ve ever tasted served with housemade hearty slices of bread. The restaurant offers many seating options, choose inside in the bar, in the garden, or on the patio.

Our short visit showed us why our son-in-law promotes Marfa with excitement. It is definitely a unique little town with a lot to offer the visitor. Fortunately, another trip is needed to take in the Chinati Foundation and the art galleries. More items to add to our must see list.

Back in Alpine, we walked down West Holland Ave. The Kiowa Gallery has a wide range of photos, paintings, jewelry, clothing, and other art objects for sale.

Looks like the occupants of this Tiny House have everything they need to live off the grid. The vehicle sported Alaska license plates. Were they visiting the Lost Alaskan?

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Tiny House

We could have stayed several more days but rainy weather was forecast so back on the road. Next stop, San Antonio after a night in Del Rio.

Safe Travels.