Wild Animals and Wilderness

Wow! What a week. If you don’t want to plow through all the yadayadayada, just skip around and take a look at some of the photos…we’ve had some interesting times. One of the reasons I started this blog was to keep a record – for us – of our adventures. In a few years, when we’re in The Home, drooling on ourselves, we’ll be able to re-live these times. These are some of the things I hope we’ll remember.

We decided to leave Valley of Fires a day ahead of our plan, and shorten the lengthy drive to our next scheduled stop. Oasis State Park (NM) seemed like a good choice for an intermediate stop. Well, maybe….we drove through miles of flat territory, studded with cattle feedlots. Oasis SP is an odd spot – a small campground stuck out in a huge flatland. There is absolutely nothing nearby. I’m not sure why anybody would actually plan to camp here. It’s barren. 20180410_171905944341651.jpg20180403_1832351700276330.jpgThe wind was roaring – we sat outside for a few minutes, and congratulated ourselves with having a shorter drive for the next day, then dove inside to seek shelter from the wind and cold. It wasn’t pleasant.

Several years ago, we stayed at Caprock Canyons State Park (TX), and my most best memory of it was the prairie dog village.20180404_171509487528699.jpg With my cellphone camera, it’s impossible to get a decent photo of this experience – prairie dogs and their environment are nearly the same color, and I couldn’t get close enough for a clear shot. But this video gives you a great idea of  what the experience is. Enjoy. It’s crazy. When I walked past the village with Jezzy, the activity and chatter between prairie dog ‘condos’ increases. Jezzy is entranced. Prairie dog is the new squirrel.

But, this trip to Caprock was all about the bison. Their stately presence is something we’ve enjoyed at Custer State Park and Teddy Roosevelt National Park, but this was contact on a whole new level. (This guy is nuts for turning his back as he did.)C9C05651-69C9-45BB-B219-E9CDB2C50C69 They wander everywhere – disrupting traffic and foot-flow whever they pass. Our campground was a prime target. I awoke one night at 4am to a strange noise directly outside the window that I couldn’t identify. When I opened the shade, all I could see was the huge body of a bison, standing three feet from my reach – right at the edge of the trailer hitch! Apparently, the Campsh@ck was perched on some tender shoots he wanted to have. Although he never bumped the camper, it took a long time to get back to sleep that night. In the morning, we discovered a delightful ‘hostess gift’ which he left for us. 20180410_1734141033266775.jpgOur new neighbor the next day had a similar experience. She rolled in with her small camper to the sight of the bison hanging out in her campsite. 20180410_1742562001968800.jpgHe was nearly as big as her camper.IMG_20180407_173257.jpg There was a bit of cat-and-mouse as she tried to wait him out before leaving on her bicycle. Nerve-wracking, to be sure.

It’s impossible to explore the Canyons without a bison encounter. 20180410_173218708221960.jpgWe hiked the 6.5 mile Rim Canyon loop, and met up with a few surly-looking beasts. For sure, we gave them a wide berth, and moved on. But, I believe it was this same group who caught up with us as soon as we entered the enclosed campground for people camping with horses. Although it looks like I’m right next to them, we were (thankfully) separated by a thin strand of barbed wire.

 

Bison may look stupid and docile, but they are quick and agile. From the protection of our truck, we viewed one lone bison racing across the prairie – apparently waking up from a nap to find the herd had left him behind. Believe me, he was hauling ass! It was amazing to see. I was even attacked by a bison statue. Nobody was injured.20180406_1151231800038015.jpgOn one particularly cold morning, we left in the truck to explore nearby Turkey TX. Upon returning, we met our neighbors who told us that we had a big bull bison using our electric post as his scratching post. He inadvertently turned on our water spigot (we had turned it off and disconnected the hose due to 20 degree temps the night before). Water was spraying everywhere! They waited for him to wander off, then turned off the water.

We hiked another day from the far end of the Canyon into a completely different landscape. A3B3AAB4-4125-4BDD-9B94-A65E55098D0F5C7F3612-5944-4650-BDD1-12D26625CF14 20180410_1743511652084639.jpgAlthough we were plagued by fierce winds and plunging temps, I’d go back there in a minute. It’s so beautiful.20180406_1043551261039530.jpg20180406_1043121373068015.jpg20180405_1239331453774573.jpgWe were sad to leave Caprock, but hopeful to find some warmer temps. The dry 30mph winds and below freezing temps at night were wearing us down. We couldn’t have a fire, it was too windy to keep our awning up to sit outside, and we were a bit tired of the close contact of being stuck inside a small space (small campers are even smaller after a few days of inclement weather)

One more curiosity about this area – on the road into the Park, there’s a fence stretching about 3/4 mile on which folks have decorated boots and hung them on the fenceposts. Here are a few of my favorites.

We didn’t have high expectations for our next stop – Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma. But, what an interesting spot! More bison, Oklahoma Longhorns, coyotes, turkeys, geese, a primo lakeside campsite for $10, and more.20180410_1803002120749914.jpg20180409_195102713387479.jpgOne big downside.20180410_1747531235530549.jpg This is the third time we have encountered a water-warning in a western State or Federal campground on this trip, and it’s worrisome. Twice, the warning was for high nitrates, but the e-coli warning to avoid all contact and boil water was scary. There were several pit toilets around the campgroud which had been de-commissioned, and I’m pretty sure that was related to the e-coli contamination. Creepy. Once our clean water is gone, what’s next? We had five gallons of drinking water with us (way more than enough), and we used water from our tank for dish washing. But, I did take showers there – yuck!

The Visitor Center in the NWR is amazing – videos and displays about rejuvenation of the prairie, saving the bison, and restoration of the prairie. Between 1830 and 1860, the American bison herd was reduced from 50 million head to a few hundred. For me, those numbers are incomprehensible. Old photos show settlers sitting in stacks of bison hides or amidst piled of bison-head skeletons. President McKinley signed the Wichita Mountains NWR into existence, and thus began the long, slow process of saving the bison from extinction. Hooray for that effort. Longhorn cattle are also prominent in the NWR landscape.20180408_1403421539330140.jpg20180409_12474982827992.jpgIn the middle of this National Wildlife Refuge in western Oklahoma is a curious area called Holy City. 20180410_175538681212606.jpgAlthough I can’t speak to the religious aspect of this site, it certainly was a fantastic photo op.20180410_175659957570438.jpg20180409_140056961592622.jpg20180409_140604206578278.jpg20180409_140644805783642.jpg Since is was just a week after Easter, I can only imagine what it must have been like the previous week. Holy City was built in 1926, and is the site of the longest running annual Passion Play in the US.

One other event affected our visit to the NWR. While we were there, there was a full-scale controlled burn of the prairie inside the NWR being conducted by the Forest Service. We planned to cycle to the Visitor Center, then on down to a trail around Scott Mountain. Once we passed the VC, we noticed an unusual amount of smoke. Soon, signs appeared about the burn.20180410_175436416705792.jpg In this area, the Eastern Red Cedar is an invasive tree, which (left uncontrolled) would totally dominate the landscape. Burning is a method used to eliminate the cedar, since they perish, the native oaks survive, and the prairie grasses re-establish themselves within a matter of days. It’s easy to see the effectiveness of this tactic. Areas which have been burned are easily distinguished from those that have not, based on the scrub, and the trees. The area to the right of the sign in the above had been previously burned.The smoke from the burn was horrible though, and we were prohibited from cycling through the area we planned. 20180410_175354836702364.jpg Here’s what it looks like – I would love to go back in a month or two and take a photo from the same corner to see the difference.20180409_1422391573388771.jpg20180409_142127435293032.jpgThe hazy smoke affected all my photos from the day, although we enjoyed our ride and the sights.

We loved the historic stone buildings there. The photo below shows John near an early gas station. 20180410_1752381222561205.jpgThere are several dams in the area, and we found a terrific spot for lunch. 20180409_143549378829547.jpgThe Wichita Mountains NWR turned out to be a terrific spot to explore, and we were sad to leave. There’s much to see here, and we will definitely be back.

Heading toward an old favorite site – Galveston Island State Park. On the way there, we’re staying at two new (to us) campgrounds. Stay tuned….20180409_1523241213192847.jpg

 

Space Cadets

If every impressionable fourth-grader in the US had the opportunity to spend a day at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, we probably would never hear about any science or math gap in our country. Hell, John and I even had astronaut dreams after visiting for a day. What an unbelievable mind-expanding day it was.

The first extraordinary sight as you approach the Center is the improbable vision of the Space Shuttle Independence perched on top of its 747 launcher. Ridiculous! Outrageous!wp-1483991235670.jpg And, so the day begins…..

Full disclosure here. I had mixed emotions about spending the time and money to visit the JSC (about $30 each, less our AAA discount). I’m not a space nut, nor a science girl. But, I would happily go again tomorrow. There’s so much to see, and it’s such an inspiring experience.wp-1483990719766.jpgThe cool thing here is that the JSC is not filled with mock-ups of space stuff. This is where REAL astronauts train on REAL lunar rovers. Thewp-1483990332262.jpg Orion capsule is the REAL working/training unit for Mars exploration.wp-1483990954206.jpg It’s unbelievable stuff.

We went to the Mission Control Center where early Gemini/Apollo missions were tracked (it’s now used for training).wp-1483990489129.jpg Real-time video from the International Space Station (ISS) ran before our eyes.

Like rockets? Redstone, Saturn, and the unbelievable Saturn 5 rockets are there. The Redstone, used to launch the first Mercury capsules, looks like a mere bottle rocket – slender and unmenacing. wp-1483991067546.jpgThe last of the Saturn 5 rockets, on the other hand, is unbelievably huge and powerful-looking. As we walked I to the hangar where it’s housed, the folks in front of us actually stopped and gasped upon seeing it. We did too – it’s cartoonishly huge.wp-1483991125221.jpgwp-1483991160476.jpgBeyond comprehension that it would lift vertically off the ground.

Of course, our 50 year space program has had its disastrous failures. Apollo I was the first, which results in the deaths of the first three Astro sure, including Grand Rapids’ own Roger B Chaffee, on the right in the photo below.wp-1483990828525.jpg The explosions of Space Shuttles Challenger in 1986 on ascent, and Columbia in 2003 upon re-entry, highlight the danger and the experimental unknown of the US space program.

It’s great to watch the enormous progress of the endeavour – single-astronaut shots in the Mercury program, followed by astronauts in tandem orbiting the earth in the Gemini program. We watched the film of Neil Armstrong stepping into the moon’s surface, while Walter Cronkite removed his glasses and wiped a tear from his eye. Did you know there were 135 Space Shuttle missions?20170109_133550.jpg That number was astonishing to me. And now, we have the ISS, staffed by crew from many nations. Up next? Mars.

I touched a moon rock that was 2.3 billion years old. Actually touched it – I was thrilled.wp-1483983256544.jpgWe both passed on putting ourselves in the capsules that would emulate some of the rougher (throw-up) simulations of being an astronaut. Hop aboard the Vomit Comet?? Not me!

Here are a few other sights from our JSC day. If you ever have the chance to do this, don’t hesitate. It’s an amazing experience. If you are jaded and uninspired about our future prospects, this will ignite a sense of hope.20170109_133930.jpgwp-1483990664115.jpgwp-1483990424939.jpgI was struck by the videos of JFK asking for an astonishing $7 billion 1962 to put a man on the moon. At that point, only the first Mercury capsules had been launched. Yet, in July 1969, Neil Armstrong was stepping on the moon’s surface. Can we not conquer Cancer with an all-out effort, as proposed by President Obama last year? Why not? Let’s dream.

Austin, Big Birds and Big Trees

Meat sweats.  Perhaps that’s the technical term for what we’ve been experiencing after four days of Hill Country Brisket Pursuit.  Can’t look a cow in the eye anymore, and I’m craving salad, or things that crunch.  The BBQ Bus can pass right on by – I’m done!

We tried to make the most of our time in Austin, but honestly, Day 3 was a bust.  We were just bagged out, and wanted nothing more than to lay around with books.  Strolled around the three-mile campground loop with Jezzy, and waited for the BBQ hour to strike.  About 2pm, John announced that Vic’s BBQ would be out strike for the day.  We roused ourselves from a meat-induced stupor, dragged our bikes out from under the tarp which kept the intermittent rain from making the saddles wet and nasty, and headed off for a late lunch.  John enjoyed ribs/brisket, and I sampled sausage/chicken.  It was good, and the coleslaw was magnificent.  Vic’s is not a fancy location by any means – right on the corner where we pushed the pickup truck the previous day.  But, Vic really knows how to smoke meat.  In spite of our good intentions to just QUIT, we did get a few bones to take back for snacks later.  We may both need Twelve Step Programs when we get home.

Day 4 was our day of reckoning.  This was to be our last day in Austin, and we still hadn’t really seen much of the town yet.  Our agenda included the LBJ Presidential Library/Museum, the State Capitol building, and some kind of beer/BBQ joint for lunch.  Compared to our previous days, it was an ambitious agenda.

The LBJ Library, on the campus of the University of TX was an interesting way to spend a morning.20150312_124801 20150312_125214Until this past week, I probably haven’t given LBJ ten minutes of thought in the past 40 years.  Although I know he ‘inherited’ Vietnam, in my mind, it was HIS war.  So, it was so unexpected for me to see this sympathetic view of him – hearing him say, “I can’t get out (of Vietnam), and I can’t win it with what I’ve got.”   It’s been on my mind since we were there.  Hard to believe that his domestic legacy has to be trashed by a lousy, ill-advised war.  (just my opinion – we can argue all day about that).  Protests during his Administration were legendary.

What was interesting to learn that LBJ was a freshman congressman in the 1930s, and was an ardent FDR supporter.  His Great Society plan was intended to pick up and finish what the New Deal left undone.20150312_132135 He signed the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968.  Check out this photo from a protest about that.20150312_131123 Thurgood Marshall was appointed the first African American Justice of the Supreme Court by LBJ.  He created Head Start, Medicare, and Medicaid, and signed the Immigration Act of 1965, which liberalized immigration policy for non-Europeans.  He signed more bills into law than any other President (other than FDR), in spite of being in office only five years.  It would be easy to spend hours at the Library – I can’t wait to visit other Presidential Libraries – this was my first one.

We left the Library with more information about LBJ as an individual than we had ever considered.  Isn’t that the point of a visit like this?  He apparently didn’t hesitate to go nose to nose with anyone to reinforce an opinion, or solicit a vote.  But, John decided to give ol’ LBJ a Crankshaw Cranium Crushing.  20150312_140202While cycling up a big hill to UT, we passed a cemetery which had several large and distinctive grave markers visible from the street.  We stopped to investigate.  This was the Texas State Cemetery, where all the Who’s Who of Texas seem to be buried.  20150312_121944 20150312_121909 20150312_12174820150312_121644 There are dozens of familiar names.  The most interesting marker, though is that of General Albert Sidney Johnston,of the Confederate Army, killed at Shiloh in April 1962.20150312_121158It’s a beautiful and peaceful spot in central Austin.

Next on our agenda was the State Capitol building.  From our vantage point on the hill at the cemetery, we could see the oddly colored dome.  The trick was to find a bicycle-friendly route to get there in midday traffic.  Yowza!  But, since I’m here to relate the story, you can surmise a happy ending to our ride.

It’s impressive. This shot looks up into the dome. 20150312_14342920150312_144601But, the outside is painted a very unappealing color.  We dubbed it Benjamin Moore Oil Sludge Tan.  It’s awful.20150312_150601On our way out, a large group had gathered just inside the entrance to protest the Governor’s stance on deporting parents of Dreamers (Dreamers are children, born in the US, to parents who who do not have legal immigration status)20150312_145121 The protest, although orderly, was loud.  It attracted little attention though, leading us to believe that this may be a fairly usual occurance in Austin.  Cops entered, we exited.20150312_145558We made a quick stop at the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue.  Loved his music, always.20150312_160925Black’s BBQ was our lunch stop.  Good, not the best (sausage ROCKED, though).  Long ride back to camp to cap a terrific four days.

On to Goose Island State Park, along the east coast of Texas.  We’re headed there on the recommendation of blogs we’ve read, and also on the advice of Glen and Caite, with whom we shared a beer and a campfire while in Austin.  With all the Spring Break camping traffic, we felt lucky to snag a site for three nights.

Not only is Goose Island home to the Texas Big Tree, a Live Oak estimated to be nearly 1100 years old.  It’s over 35′ in circumference, and is impressive in a sprawly, majestic manner.  I wished for something to be at the base to help with the scale of this massive tree.  The photos really don’t do it justice.20150315_08130720150315_081645The Live Oaks in this area are a real curiosity.  Along the Gulf Shore, there’s a spot where they are all severely bent over – away from the Gulf.  There’s speculation that it’s due to gravity or wind, but the cause is unknown.  It’s gorgeous, though.20150315_14433820150315_144429One of the real draws of this area though is that it’s near the Aransas Wildlife Refuge, where the 500 Whooping Cranes in existence winter.  We were fortunate to see maybe a dozen of them, in flight and on the ground.  They are the tallest birds in North America, and are a stunning white with black wingtips.  In flight, they are unmistakable.  Near the State Park, there’s a farm with a large field where several of the Whoopers congregate every day.  We cycled over at various times to see them.  With such a small number in existence (although this is a HUGE increase in the past years), we were thrilled to hear and see perhaps 20 different birds, on the ground, and in the air.  One of the other highly visible residents of this area is the Turkey Vulture.  They are everywhere!  Circling, and reminding me not to move too slowly.  20150315_080846There are also Ospreys, elegant and fierce hunters.  We were treated to a shouting contest between Great Horned Owls one night.  After about a half-hour, they both left.

On the waterfront, the pelicans rule.  20150314_17520520150314_175139In Texas State Parks with a river or water source, you can fish without getting a fishing license.  This is a huge attraction, and makes for many restful opportunities.20150314_12334020150314_10291220150314_124540Needless to say, we loved our stay at Goose Island.  We made a new T@B friend, Liz from Wyoming.  She’s a free spirited artist, and we loved sharing dinner and stories over a campfire with her one evening.

Just a few little Texas-y things though…….

We made a trip into Rockport, TX from Goose Island. This involves travleling over a long bridge which spans the Causeway.  The road is two-way traffic, with hardly any room on each side between the roadway and the guardrail.  We crossed behind a Sheriff’s car.  The suddenly braked, and the Deputy on the passenger side got out of the car and picked up a big piece of metal trash which was in the narrow space between road/rail.  We figured he would put it in the trunk of the cruise.  Hope!  He chucked it over the rail into the water!  Did he look to see if there was a boater or fisherman nearby?  Nope!  Could have been ugly!

I’ve got poison ivy, plus 300 mosquito bites (give or take a few).

Don’t know about this Texas drought thing.  We’re encountering rain wherever we go.  For example, how do you like this picnic area at Galveston Island SP, where we’re currently staying?wpid-20150316_154857.jpgHope your snow is melting wherever you are.  We are pushing toward home, but not too quickly!

 

 

 

Austin, Days 1 and 2

Finally!  We’ve landed in Austin, visited a bike shop (not just any bike shop, but Mellow Johnny’s), and had our first BBQ experience.  Yep, it’s been a good couple of days.

We hit the road early on Monday morning, as the drive to Austin would be more than 300 miles.  That doesn’t sound like much to many of you who are used to driving long distances, but for us, that’s a full day on the road.  The weather was cloudy and listless, with rain showers all along the way.  West Texas is deadly dull.  There is nothing out here.20150309_085731After 200 miles, we finally hit Fredericksburg, and pull up alongside the Brewery for a quick lunch.  My pepperwurst was pretty good, and John enjoyed his stew.  That sausage looks enormous, I know, but it’s not sitting on a dinner plate, but a smaller salad plate.20150309_130443Back on the two-lane highway, we are happy to be out of the cuteness of this town.  I’ve turned into a person who has no appetite for shopping anymore.  Get me outta here!  We briefly discuss going to the World War II (Pacific Theater) Museum, but nix that idea in the interest of getting to Austin.  But, as we’re zooming down the road, the LBJ Ranch comes into view.  20150309_135658Of course we have to swing in for a quick tour.

This site is part State Park, and part National Park.  Although the tour of the Western White House didn’t have much appeal, we did enjoy the movie in the Visitor Center, which was actually a broadcast of LBJ showing the ranch to reporter Bob Schieffer.  It was great – LBJ and Schieffer zooming around the ranch in a big ol’ Lincoln convertible.  LBJ really came across as a very human kind of guy, and one with a deep connection to the ranch that had been in his family for years.  It was well worth the time spent.

My favorite part, though, were some of the letters sent to LBJ.  Hope they make you smile as much as they did me – I doubt if Obama gets such ‘human’ mail.  20150309_14003520150309_14005420150309_14012120150309_14021320150309_140224Before leaving, we did decide to take the quick driving tour around the Ranch.  It’s still a working ranch, so we had to wait for goats and steers to move off the road in spots.  20150309_14415120150309_144438Finally!  We roll into McKinney Falls State Park, in the southeast corner of Austin.  We’ve only been able to get a two-night reservation, and it’s already 5pm of Day 1.The rain we encountered on the road was a deluge in Austin – a record-breaking 2″.  The Park is soaked – the initial site they assigned us to was unacceptable.  The fire pit was surrounded by a moat at least a foot and a half wide.  We would have to have waded to the picnic table.  We drove round and round, finally picking a site that had an elevated picnic table.  It’s pretty choice, and we’re happy.  The best news came on Day 2 – our request for two more nights became a reality, because of a cancellation.  So, we’ve got time to explore.

Jezzy has spent lots of time in the truck this past week, so we decide to explore the Falls around the park with her before leaving for the afternoon.  In terms of waterfalls, they’re not much, but the riverbed is an old lava field.20150310_095908 All of the little craters in the surface were water-filled.  It’s REALLY wet around here!20150310_095946Finally, we pump tires, and plot out a route into downtown Austin.  Should be about a 45 minute ride, in this bicycle-friendly town.  Most of the route is on roads with bike lanes, and the rest is on bike paths.  Well, mostly……

We’re navigating a tricky section where the bicycle lane suddenly vanishes, leaving us to fend for ourselves on a four-lane highway passing beneath the expressway.  There’s a beatup pickup truck stalled, and one guy is trying to push it.  “We should help”, I said to John, so we leaned our bikes on a bridge support, and moved in to provide a little muscle.

Let me set the scene for you a bit.  John and I are wearing our bike shoes (and our geeky helmets).  We are joined in our pushing effort by the frail-looking guy selling newspapers on the corner.  This is not the most prosperous side of town.  “WE RUN OUTTA GAS!!!!  JUS’ NEED TO PUSH ‘ER AROUND THE CORNER TO THE SERVICE STATION!!”, shouts the guy who was Pusher #1.  I’m on the side of the truck behind the driver, and he looks like he’s having the time of his life.  Laughing and smiling encouragement to me in the rearview mirror.  John and I sound like Budweiser Clydesdales in our bike shoes.  KLOP!  KLOP!!  Must have looked ridiculous.  Things are going okay until we have to go around a corner, and it’s ever so slightly uphill.  The newspaper guy, Pusher #2 is wheezing and panting – I’m not sure if he’s going to make the last 100 yards into the gas station.  We finally get the truck up into the lot, and the driver coasts up to a pump.  Pusher #2 is bent over, hands on knees, trying not to throw up.  We wave, and go off to retrieve our bikes.  Good deed for the day is done.

On we go.  Rolling down a smooth street with a nice wide bike lane, we pass a bus stop.  A crazy-looking guy wearing three hats, clutching a bottle in a brown bag leaps off the curb in front of John and hollers, “LANCE ARMSTRONG CAN KISS MY ASS!”  Well……ok.  We’re off to a fine start here in Austin, TX.

The rest of the ride was mostly uneventful, not counting the flat tire on John’s bike.  Repair went quickly, and we resumed our journey, ironically, to Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop.  20150310_142252Lance Armstrong was a partner in this shop at one time, and it’s full of bikes that he and other teammates rode.  The first Livestrong bike is there, many signed yellow jerseys, and other stuff.  20150310_143856It makes me sad and angry to think of what a jerk he bacame.  End of editorial.  But, it’s a pretty cool bike shop.

Time to begin our Brisket Quest.  John has picked La Barbecue as Stop #1.  Once again, we are so happy to be on bikes.  This joint is a gravel parking lot with a few tent-covered picnic tables.  Two huge smokers are in trailers, an another smaller trailer is used for the food service window.20150310_15091420150310_150653We’re there late for lunch (around 2pm), and most items are sold out.  We do get a chopped brisket and a pulled pork sandwich, and a side of pinto beans to share.  Beans great, brisket great, pork fair.  That’s my review.  John goes crazy and decides that he wants to get ribs to take back to the Fireball for dinner.  Sold out.  The only thing available is (the last) beef rib.  At $20/pound, this little treat comes to $38!!  Want to see what $38 worth of takeout beef rib looks like?ribToo bad we didn’t photograph it on its greasy butcher paper.  It was stellar.  Crusty and chewy, the meat inside still moist and tender.  La Barbecue knows what they’re doing.

This is an interesting neighborhood.  Apparently, this guy has a fascination with wheeled stuff, which he displays in his yard.  20150310_152958He’s also a bird lover, and buys big boxes of donuts which he puts on a big spindle on the vacant lot across the street (this we learned from his sister, who was in the car behind John).  She invited us to come back with a big truck and take all the crap we wanted out of the yard.  Wonder what his neighbors think?

Just down the street was another interesting sight.  20150310_15324420150310_153410Seems like anything goes in Austin!

We’re getting back on the bikes this afternoon, heading back into the city for more treats and eye candy.  Sure wish the sun would come out for a bit.

 

 

Cranes, Cliffs, and the CCC

The highlight of our week?  Hands down, this is it.    I didn’t shoot this video – it was taken by our neighbor, and emailed to me.   Hers was much better than mine!

In a full-out windstorm (blowing 25-40mph, gusting 45-55mph), we headed to Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, hoping to see the thousands of migrating Sandhill Cranes that winter there.  It was a spectacular success.

But, let’s back up a wee bit.  Facing a short travel day, we actually elected to take the long route to Whitewater Draw.  This would take us through Tombstone, AZ, home of the famous Boot Hill Cemetery, and also the location of the Shootout at the OK Corral.20150302_110440 This town has more kitschy western-y stuff going on than all the rest of Arizona put together.  Tombstone may have been the center of the Wild Wild West back in the 1880s.  To wander through the cemetery, it sure would reinforce that idea.  Many of the tombstones have a name, followed by the designation ‘murdered’, ‘hanged’, or ‘shot’.  20150302_110842My favorite is the grave marker of the famous Lester Moore.20150302_111308Howling wind made it uncomfortable to stay out too long, even though the temperatures were in the low 60s.  How windy was it?  Ask Jezzy.20150302_130908We sought shelter in Big Nose Kate’s Saloon.  BNK was the girlfriend of Doc Holliday, one of the infamous participants in the Shootout.  John was persuaded to step behind the bar and pretend to draw a beer for me.  “Put your hand on the tap, but DON’T PULL!”, were his instructions.20150302_123910Maybe you had to be there to appreciate this, but the funniest thing was the stagecoach which could be hired for a brief tour.  The driver, in full stagecoach regalia, was pointing out places of interest to his four passengers.  But, it was a recorded presentation.  That didn’t stop this driver from giving it his all – he was waving his arms, and giving a full theatrical presentation, as if he was performing at the Met.  His passengers were most likely oblivious to this, being sheltered inside the stagecoach.  As he passed by, John and I looked at each other and burst out laughing.  But, maybe you had to be there……20150302_123514The Courthouse Museum was our next stop, where we learned everything one could possibly want to know about the Shootout at the OK Corral, starring Sheriff Wyatt Earp, his two brothers, and Doc Holliday against the bad guys, who were all killed.  Wyatt Earp was the only one not wounded or killed that day.  As I said, Tombstone was a tough place to live in the 1880s!

We rolled into Whitewater Draw around 2:30, and established our spot in the ‘campground’.  This is actually a small circular parking lot, with a vault toilet in the center, and about six parking spaces surrounding it.  Other cars can pull in and park for a few hours, but this is the only overnight spot.  Our neighbors were from Switzerland – halfway through a two year tour of the US.  Nice folks!20150302_144058We knew this was a Sandhill paradise, as we follow the excellent blog of Ingrid, who describes herself as a ‘non-birder’, but who takes the most fabulous bird photos.  Check out her post by clicking the link above.

We quickly set up, turning the Fireball around, so that our door would be downwind.  If not, we would not have been able to open it from the inside – that’s how violent the wind was.  But, where are the Sandhills?  We saw ZERO CRANES!  Ah, we remembered that Ingrid mentioned that they depart at first light in the morning to feed in area fields, and return to the water at dusk.  The flock here is estimated at times to be nearly 30,000 birds, although we didn’t expect to see that many.

Around 5:30, we wandered down to the water, binoculars and cell phone cameras at the ready.  We quickly met our Swiss neighbors, and our California neighbors in the huge RV directly across the parking lot.  Soon, we could hear the racket of Sandhill Cranes, coming in for a landing.  20150302_17522620150302_182138They were in packs of 100-200, flying directly into the fierce south wind. Wave after wave landed, taking spots in the water, where they stay for the night.  There must have been 10,000-12,000.  We speculated that they stay in the water as protection from predators – there were lots of coyotes hanging around, and we dreaded hearing any confrontations.20150302_175226 Unfortunately, the very dark clouds and late hour of the day precluded any decent photos.  But, we (and our new neighbors) kept murmuring ohmygawd as another batch landed.  The noise was incredible!!  I downloaded an app for my phone to record sound, which I did.  It’s magnificent.  BUT, it doesn’t allow me to share the sound files.  So, if you see me sometime, ask to listen.  It’s a wonderful raucous symphony.

We set our alarm for 5:30 am to be sure to be out at first light.  It was in the 40s and raining.  But, we stuck it out, and were rewarded with liftoffs of several hundred Cranes every minute or so, heading out to feed.  It poured all morning, finally clearing up around noon.  Jezzy and I headed out to explore.  Check out these feet – would you want them in YOUR camper?20150303_103725We decided to stay one more night to see if we could get a better view, hoping that the dark clouds of the storm would have passed.  We were rewarded, in spades!  The Cranes were all huddled along the far shore when apparently a sprinkler went on in the massive field, causing the uprising that you see in the opening video.  It was unbelievable.  Thousands and thousands of Sandhills.  wpid-wp-1425749304050.jpegAgain at 5:30 the next day, we stood on the water’s edge.  Cranes flew away in huge numbers, with the entire 10K (or so) leaving within a space of 10 minutes.20150303_183511 We could see the in the dim light through our binoculars, but there wasn’t enough light for photos.  I will never forget this sight.

We have to move on.  Leaving Arizona in our rearview mirror, we head to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument in New Mexico.  This area’s most famous inhabitant was probably Geronimo.20150304_13105020150304_161306It’s my day to drive.  Unfortunately (for John), this involved one of the most hair-raising 40 miles of road we hope to ever travel.  Twisty, turny, up and down…..it took us two hours to climb and descend into the Park area.  They sure didn’t build these cliff dwellings downtown!    Had to pry my sweaty, cramped hands off the steering wheel.  What we didn’t realize was that the ‘campground’ was (again) a parking lot with some walk-in tent sites.  There was only one other camper here, so we hogged an entire corner of the parking lot and set up camp.20150304_172403The Cliff Dwellings here are accessible on foot from a pathway about 1/2 mile from our campsite.  After spending a very chilly night (the temperature was 14), we set off to explore. 20150305_102603 The natural caves in this area had been inhabited over several thousand years, but were only built up inside the caves and inhabited for a very short period – perhaps as little as one generation.  The mystery of why the Puebloan people of the Mogollon era left this area is unresolved.  The site is spectacular, and we were fortunate to have a volunteer docent walk us through the area.20150305_110804 He explored lots of questions, persuading us to think about scenarios that may have affected the inhabitants.  Although this is a difficult area to reach, and one with limited facilities once you finally DO get there, it’s a worthwhile trip.  Here are several different views from the dwellings.20150305_10325520150305_10510920150305_10552720150305_10564420150305_11043420150305_11061020150305_110834 It’s interesting to note that the remnants of several thousand years of habitation in this area were destroyed by the building of the current road that leads to the cliff dwellings.  Knowingly.  Only in America….

Cold again at night.  Minus 14.  John is wishing that I would relax my prohibition on running the heater at night.  It’s only 35 inside the Fireball in the morning.  Fine, until our feet hit the floor!

The week is beginning to blur on me.  Our “3 Night Minimum Stay” policy is in the toilet after our first week.  We’ve had three locations of two nights each so far, and it’s getting worse.  We press on to Fort Davis State Park, in the middle of West Texas.  For those who haven’t visited this area, West Texas is the largest area of nothing one might ever hope not to visit.  Mile after mile of……nothing.  Our site is unremarkable enough, that (perhaps for the first time), we neglect to take even one photograph of our campsite.  The park is very clean, but very old.  Sites are small.  It’s packed!  Why does everyone DRIVE to the bathroom?  We’ve never been in a park with so much truck traffic!  omg!

This early Texas State Park has many CCC buildings and features.  We decide to explore the Trail that leads to a lookout over Fort Davis.  It’s an uneven, uphill trek.20150307_105914 At the peak is a stone lookout shelter, with a great 360 degree view.  There’s also an old CCC era stone water storage tank.20150307_132134 Instead of taking the 4.5 mile (long-way) return, we decide to hike out to the Fort Davis overlook.  What a smart decision that turned out to be!  The trail led through a lava field, with enormous black boulders squeezing a narrow trail.  After 3/4 mile, we came to the edge of a cliff, overlooking the historic Fort, a frontier post during the Indian Wars. 20150307_121905 From our high vantage point, we can see the entire complex, and learn one very interesting fact.  The officer’s quarters (red brick buildings in the lower right corner) were built pointing to magnetic north, while the enlisted men’s barracks (the foundations to the right of them) were lined up to true north.20150307_122056 We loved this big view.  The Fort was also briefly occupied by the Confederate Army, an was decommissioned shortly after that.

We’re trying to figure out how to push on to Texas Hill Country, where John wants to search for BBQ nirvana.  Brisket!  Bummer for us, we badly need to find a laundromat.  One of the pitfalls of having a tiny camper is the equally small amount of clothes we can pack.  We’re good for about a week between laundry stops.  Out here in West Texas, there are few towns large enough to support a laundromat, so we find ourselves camped for the night in Fort Stockton at the RV Park.  Yikes!  A couple hundred large rigs and us.  The RV three slots away has painted on the side, “Private Coach Not For Hire”.  We think we’re going to hand-letter a candy wrapper with this, and tape it to our door.  Ha!

Headed toward Austin for a couple of days.  We’re in the middle of an endless TX Spring Break.  There isn’t a State Park campsite available for the next two weeks (and we purchased a TX State Park pass for $70!)  We can get one night here, and one night there, but we’re exhausted with the effort of driving and moving.  Hope we can figure this out!