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.