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Winter in Texas

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Our original plan had been to spend most of the winter in New Mexico, but after several snow-storms there we decided to head down to south Texas in search of warmth.

15 Dec 11: We've spent the past three days at the Fort Bliss RV Park, a very modern FAMCAMP facility located just outside the main post. We went on post two days ago to stock up, and we were amazed at the new Post Exchange that had opened since our last visit in 2008. By far the largest we've ever seen and it outshines many civilian stores. Our troops deserve the best for their sacrifices and I'm glad to see a PX like this.

Today we left El Paso, heading east on the dreaded interstate - there's no other way to go until one gets out to US-90. The other problem is that there are not many public campgrounds out here in west Texas. The choice for tonight came down to either Davis Mountains State Park (SP) or Balmorhea SP. Since we stayed at Davis Mountains a few years ago, we opted for Balmorhea this time.

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We're approaching a very well-manned US Border Patrol checkpoint out along the interstate. The Mexican border is just a couple miles off to the right. The agents seemed to wave the trucks through with barely a pause. When we got the checkpoint, the agent asked if we were "citizens" - not "US citizens", just 'citizens". So I would suppose that an illegal person could truthfully answer "yes", since he/she is a citizen of someplace.

After 190 miles (a tough day for us! <G>) we pulled into Balmorhea State Park. We had lost an hour along the way as we passed into the Central Time Zone. Although we had driven through some showers, it was a nice afternoon at the park and we took a little walk to check out the park facilities.

The park's cornerstone is a hot-spring fed swimming pool, the largest man-made swimming pool in the world. The 72-76 degree water comes from an underground aquifer at the rate of a million gallons an hour. In the 1870's, the spring was first used as a source for an irrigation system,a practice still in use. This picture shows about a third of the huge Vee-shaped pool. This is the deeper leg of the Vee, where the depth reaches 25'. The other leg, intended for the kids, is only 3'-5' deep.

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17 Dec 11: Back on the road - 230 miles down to Lake Amistad northwest of Del Rio. Along the way we saw more of the abandoned ranches that for some reason intrigue me. Wouldn't you like to know their stories?

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Then there was this mystery: for miles along US-90 dirt roads follow the fence-line on each side of the highway. Probably a firebreak or something. But here's the mystery - in about a dozen spots we noticed 2-3 old truck or tractor tires fastened together and chained in place. What the heck is that all about?

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We stopped in Langtry, one-time home of Judge Roy Bean, known as "The Law west of the Pecos". Beginning in 1882 he dispensed his unique brand of justice. He usually held court on the front porch of his saloon, the Jersey Lilly. Why Lilly? He was infatuated with the English actress, Lillie Langtry, and tried for years to get her to visit Langtry. She finally did - ten months after the Judge had died.

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You'll find the Judge Roy Bean Museum located at the Texas Travel Information Center in Langtry, about a mile off US-90. Above is the Jersey Lilly - this is the original building. On the wall behind the bar is a picture of Lillie Langtry.

Outside is a restored, very rare Faribanks-Morse Eclipse windmill built circa 1900. What differentiates this from the ubiquitous Chicago Aermotor windmills is the use of wood for the vane and blades, as well as the wooden tower.

Around the hillside on which the windmill sits is a very interesting cactus garden, with dozens of varieties presented, such as the blooming barrel cactus and the century plant, which blooms after 10 years and then dies.

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Southeast of Langtry lies Lake Amistad, where Laughlin AFB's Southwinds Marina & RV Park is located. This will be home until after Christmas.

26 Dec 11: We hope everyone had a very wonderful Christmas Day yesterday. Ours was quiet, but we celebrated with filet mignons grilled outside, followed by some homemade apple pie. Mmmm, good!

We've been at Lake Amistad for the past nine days. Southwinds is a small, quiet place - just our cup of tea. We had a nice site with W/E hookups overlooking the lake and the price was quite agreeable - $50 a week!

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An added bonus was the Union Pacific RR mainline - lots of train activity, but the tracks are just far enough away that the noise is not a problem. What's really cool is that one can see a complete train, from the locomotives up front to the rear-end pushers at the end of the mile-long train. Amtrak's Sunset Limited also passes by - west-bound in the morning and east-bound about a minute after sunset. One morning the Sunset was over two hours late; it eventually showed with a Union Pacific locomotive on the nose.
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Today was moving day - we hit the road about 0900, and after a stop in Del Rio for petrol and a few groceries, we rolled on eastward toward San Antonio. We had thoughts of going to Fort Sam Houston, but a phone call revealed there were no sites - they said to try again tomorrow. So we stopped at Castroville Regional Park about 20 miles west of San Antonio, where we were able to get a site. And hip, hip, hooray - it's starting to warm up and this week looks pretty darn nice wx-wise.

27 Dec 11: A long, grueling day today - 23 miles! <G> T'was a short drive from Castroville to Lackland AFB on the west side of San Antonio, where we had no problem getting a site. We had planned to go to Fort Sam Houston on the other side of town, but a phone call revealed that the RV park was full. Turns out Lackland is a very nice FAMCAMP, with more grass and trees than Fort Sam; we like it better. We plan to spend a week here. At last the weather is getting quite pleasant - sunny and warm. Yesterday it made it to 68 degrees - our plan is working!

30 Dec 11: We spent the day playing tourist in San Antonio - I had been here several times on business in the past, but it was a first visit for Liz. The big issue was finding a place to park the RV. Yesterday I had contacted the city parking authority, which gave me an address of a lot near the Alamo where RV's could park. Great! So off we go.....only to find a big sign "No RV's, buses or trucks" at the gate. So much for that idea. We looked across the street and saw an RV in a lot, so we pulled in there, only to find a sign that announced that RV parking was $60 a day! No thank you. As we pulled out of that lot, we noticed diagonally across the street two other RV's in a small lot, so we headed over there. Ah, success at last - only $15 per day. For cars the rate was $10, and since the LD takes up two spaces, I had no problem with the $15 charge. In case anyone is interested, the coordinates of the lot are 29.424845, -98.482491.

There were lots of tourists, aka football fans, in town, thanks to the Alamo Bowl game last night between Baylor and Washington, which Baylor won 67-56 in the highest-scoring bowl game ever played. Everywhere we looked, all we saw was Baylor green. They filled the Alamo and were everywhere along the River Walk.

After a stroll around the River Walk we settled in for lunch - great fun people-watching as we dined al fresco. Gotta say, prices ain't cheap along the River Walk. After lunch we took a boat ride on the river - pretty neat to be cruising in the shadow of huge city buildings.

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Boy, I wanted one of these truly genuine sombreros, but Liz wouldn't let me! <VBG>

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5 Jan 12: Happy New Year, y'all ! Hope you all enjoyed a wonderful holiday season and that 2012 brings you continued health and happiness. We didn't make it to midnight NYE - the lure of sleep was greater than the desire to watch the ball come down.

We've spent the past couple of days visiting friends in Seguin TX. Atlee is an old friend and colleague from my Air National Guard days. We hadn't seen each other for several years, so it was a great visit getting caught up on old times. And being in the LD makes visiting so much easier for everyone - we don't feel that we're infringing so much on their space and time.

We left Seguin this morning and detoured north a bit to a military recreation area at Canyon Lake, northwest of New Braunfels. Nice little campground on the lake, but not so much water. The drought of the past year or more has drastically lowered the water level; there's quite a bath-tub ring around the lake.

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Sunset at Canyon Lake

9 Jan 12: We've been on the move a bit since our last post. Our stay at Canyon Lake was a 1-nighter - the next day we came back down through New Braunfels where we had been invited to have lunch with some fellow LD'ers, Barry & Martha. They treated us to some delicious hamburgers out on their back deck. After lunch we headed south to Three Rivers, TX and its city park, Tips Park. Well, Tips Park wasn't much, but it was a place to park for the night. Located in the shadow of the Valero Refinery, it is semi-permanent home to quite a few workers; there were only three sites available for short-stayers like us.

Awoke to thick fog the next morning, so we waited until about 10 AM to hit the road. Destination was the FAMCAMP at the Kingsville Naval Air Station, where we got a site for a week. Not a bad little campground, but not much a view of anything. And laid out rather interestingly....and challenging: all the hookups - water, electric and sewer - are on the wrong side. And one is not allowed to park the other direction. Even my extended sewer hose would not reach, so I had to turn around briefly to dump our tanks. Which became rather interesting when the sewer drain proved to be 90% plugged! Fortunately the black tank contents made it in OK, but the gray water began to back up and filled the cement pit. It did eventually go down, but I was sure glad it wasn't the black water that backed up.

We arrived Saturday noon and it was a quiet weekend, but today, with the beginning of a new work week, the naval aviators in training took to the skies in their T-45 Goshawk jet trainers. Unfortunately the traffic pattern takes them right over the campground.

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14 Jan 12: Hope y'all survived Friday the 13th OK yesterday - two more to go this year, April and July. We're still at NAS Kingsville; the next move will be Tuesday over to Corpus Christi.

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Spent a day wandering around Kingsville a few days ago - a beautiful day, sunny and 80 degrees. Nice small-town atmosphere, but we noted quite a few empty storefronts. Visited the local railroad museum, housed in a 1904 depot originally built by the St Louis, Brownsville and Mexico Rlwy.

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After lunch we visited the King Ranch Museum, a very interesting place, filled with pictures, artifacts and information about the famed King Ranch. At one time it spread over 1.25 million acres; today it's "only" 850,000.

17 Jan 12: Moving day. We've been here a week and a couple of days and the itchy-feet syndrome begins to set in. We need a change of scenery. Quite the breezy morning, with gusts to 25-30 mph. After dumping the tanks and a brief stop at the commissary for a few supplies, we were on the road. This was mail week as well, and amazingly it was there at the Post Office on the outskirts of Corpus Christi.

We arrived at Corpus Christi Naval Air Station just before noon and checked in at the marina office, which also manages the RV park. There are no shade trees here, only sun.....but somehow we were fortunate enough to get the only site with a canopy over the picnic table. Puddy-Tat is having a great time watching all the huge jack-rabbits.

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24 Jan 12: How quickly a week goes by! Time to move on down (up?) the road a bit. We had called a few days ago and made a reservation at Mustang Island State Park, out on the barrier island chain east of Corpus Christi. T'was a tough, tiring travel day - 14 miles. <G> Just our kind of day.

28 Jan 12: Nice to be near the ocean. Although we can't see the water from the campground, we can hear the surf. "They" were right about the wind on the Texas coast - it's just about always blowing at a pretty good clip - most days we'll see gusts as high as 30 mph. Yesterday was an exception - it wasn't too windy and walking the beach was quite pleasant. The sand is hard-packed, making for easy walking. It's even hard enough for vehicles and camping on the beach is allowed.

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On Thursday friends Don & Dorothy arrived in their Lazy Daze; we don't often get to park right beside another LD.

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31 Jan 12: A week at Mustang Island has sped by quickly, and now it's time to move on once again. Since we still have a month to go before heading into Louisiana, we decided to head south just a tad to Padre Island National Seashore. Seemed like the right thing to do since who knows whether we'll ever be back in this part of the country or not. And besides, it was only 22 miles - another tough day. We got there well before noon and had a choice of several sites. All were on the back row - naturally the front row facing the beach is popular and full. But luck may be with us: later in the day I was chatting with the fellow across from us in the front row who mentioned he was leaving in the morning. Since sites are first-come, first-served here, all we need to do is be alert in the morning and be ready to jump across the road when we see them leaving.

1 Feb 12: Yeap, we got the front-row site this morning. We saw the RV backing out and before it was out of sight, we were over there. What a grand view of the Gulf. Now we can not only hear the surf, we can see it. Took a walk over to the Visitors Center this afternoon - some interesting exhibits and films. Came back via the beach. Lots of fog in the morning, but it burns off by mid-day and the afternoons are very pleasant. Temps are much warmer than usual, so we're not complaining.

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Needless to say, fishing is a favorite activity at Padre Island. The herons hang out around the fishermen hoping for a handout.

5 Feb 12: Happy Birthday to our twins Kate and Geoff. Birthday and the Super Bowl all on the same day - go Pats!

This morning we made a snap decision to leave Padre Island a day early - it was pretty cold and nasty with a strong wind. Since we had planned to leave tomorrow anyway, we packed up and were on the road north by 1000. We drove back up the length of Mustang Island and took the free ferry across Aransas Pass.

The ferry operation is pretty impressive - on each side of the channel are six slips and about ten small ferries work back and forth. We waited less than five minutes before being waved aboard. And yes, the ferry is free. Makes one kinda wonder how the cost of this operation would compare to building a bridge? Just as we were pulling out of the slip, a pilot boat came out to rendezvous with a large tanker and pick up the pilot.....on the fly.

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A few miles northward brought us to Goose Island State Park, just north of Rockport. Got a nice waterfront site overlooking Aransas Bay. Tomorrow we need to restock the larder and pick up mail in Rockport.

7 Feb 12: Well, so much for my "Go Pats" cheer. Meanwhile, we're enjoying ourselvs at Goose Island State Park.

This is quite a spot for birders, and we managed to see a bird we've never seen before - a night heron. There's quite a group of them near our camp site. We went for a little walk this morning and came upon a larger than usual live oak tree. This one is known as the Little Big Tree. The Big Big Tree is about a mile north of the park entrance - we'll have to check it out when we leave tomorrow. Our campsite is nicely situated such that we get a great view of both sunrise and sunset - this was sunset last evening.

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8 Feb 12: As we departed Goose Island State Park this morning, we managed to spot several whooping cranes who winter in the area.

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This was a day dedicated to a little Texas history. I'm sure you've all heard of the massacre at the Alamo in 1836. But just a couple of weeks later another, even worse slaughter took place at Goliad. I have to admit that I do not recall ever learning about Goliad, but that was taken care of today. We drove to Goliad from Goose Island SP and as we entered town we stopped at the Presidio La Bahia, near the site of the battle. Built in 1749, the fort was reconstructed in the early 1960's to as near as possible to its original appearance. It is considered one of the most authentic restorations in the US.

On March 19, 1836, the Texans holding the fort, under the command of Colonel Jame W. Fannin, were attacked by Mexican General Jose de Urrea. The next morning Fannin surrendered, with assurances from Urrea that he and his men would be treated as prisoners of war. But a week later, on March 27, under orders from General Santa Anna, the men were marched out of the fort and massacred. Along with the defeat at the Alamo, Goliad served as a rallying battle cry and a month later in April 1836 the Texans defeated Santa Ana at San Jacinto and secured independence for Texas.

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Some facts about the Presidio: Our Lady of Goleto Chapel has been in continuous use as a church since the 1700's. The figure of Mary above the front door was sculpted by Lincoln Borglum, of Mount Rushmore fame. The fresco behind the altar was painted by the "Michelangelo of South Texas", Antonio Garcia, in 1946. The chapel is still in use as a chruch today, wirth services every Sunday afternoon. Nine different flags have flown over the Presidio in its long history.

Leaving the fort, we went into the historic district of Goliad - what a beautiful little town, with a magnificent courthouse in the central square.

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Our destination for the day was Goliad State Park, just a short distance from the Presidio. Besides the campground, the park is the site of the Mission Nuestra Senora Del Espiritu Santo de Zuniga. Abandoned in the 1830's, the mission had been slowly demolished as its cut rocks were taken to build other things. In the 1930's the CCC reconstructed the mission.

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9 Feb 12: Unfortunately when we checked into Goliad State Park yesterday, there were sites available for only one night. We checked back with the office this morning to see if there had been any cancellations or early departures, but alas, there were none. So off we went in search of new home. We drove over to Victoria to check out the city RV park; not bad at all and there was an empty FHU site, so we took it for the weekend. Only $12 a night in a pleasant grassy area with a few trees.

14 Feb 12: On Sunday we left Victoria and headed down to Indianola Park at Magnolia Beach to meet up with friends Ed & Carol Daniels. It was a short drive, only about 37 miles, and we were parked on the beach well before lunch. This was an interesting spot - dispersed camping on the beach at a little park called Indianola Park. No amenities here other than a rather basic toilet building; you really need to be self-contained to camp here. Unfortunately, despite the bright sunshine shone in these pictures, our two days there were basically cloudy, cold and rainy. When we awoke this morning, skies were clear and I took some pictures, but shortly the stratus clouds moved in and persisted the rest of the day.

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We said goodby to Ed & Carol after breakfast - they were heading east, while our plans were a bit up in the air. We had scheduled a mail shipment to Port Lavaca, so we headed to the PO to pick it up. Ooops - no mail! Darn! First-class mail not delivered in 6 days. We debated our plans and decided to go back to Victoria - we had enjoyed the park when here last week and it's certainly cheap enough: $12 a day or $60 a week. You sure can't beat that for full hookup sites. Next week is a vacation week, which could make finding a spot iffy, so we may well stay in Victoria through next week.

22 Feb 12: Not much to report these days - we're sitting quietly in the City RV Park in Victoria TX. We're halfway through a two-week stay. The price is right: $8 a day at the weekly rate. We're enjoying our walks here - the Texas Zoo, a rose garden, historic home, river walk and trains are all within walking distance. The weather has been up and down - at the moment it's up. After some morning fog and stratus, the clouds break and the sun appears, with temps in the 70's. We'll take it.

24 Feb 12: The area including Victoria is known as The Crossroads, because of 5 intersecting rail lines. The campground is only a mile or so from the crossing and we've heard lots of trains. So this afternoon I decided to take a walk down and see if I might get any pictures. Not! Not a thing - I don't think there was a single train all afternoon and evening. But it was a nice walk and I did come across a couple items of interest. One was an old house, once beautiful, but now faded and decrepit; the other a neat little dune buggy for sale. It was a Japanese import, darting from 2006, and was in immaculate condition. Hmmm, might it make a neat toad? The seller came out while I was looking at it - asking $5500.

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1 Mar 12: Our time was up in Victoria a couple of days ago and it was time to move on. We headed back down to Port Lavaca to check once again for some mail that shoild have been there two weeks ago. Nope, first-class mail has merely evaporated. On up the road we went to Riverside Park, a city facility near Bay City. It's a very pleasant spot on the banks of the Colorado River - lots of grass and some trees. Also a laundry room, so we were able to empty the clothes hamper and put some clean clothes back in our cabinets. Puddy Tat is having a great time here - lots of bird activity. There's a cardinal that keeps flying up against the window and Puddy think she ought to be able to grab it.

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In Port Lavaca we found the Half Moon Reef Lighthouse, originally built on Matagorda Island in 1858. Resembling lighthouses on Chesapeake Bay more than those on the Texas coast, this was one of three remaining lighthouses in Texas in 1991. The lighthouse is of a hexagonal screwpile lighthouse, constructed of wood painted white, with green trim. In 1935, the light was downgraded to an eight day lantern and the keepers moved ashore. Discontinued in 1942 and sold, it was moved ashore to its present location.

 2 Mar 12: Goodby, Bay City. As we headed out of town we passed this pickup bringing home the bacon.....literally. And a little farther down the road, passed one of my favorite photo subjects - old houses.

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At a gas stop, a farrier was at the next pump and made a point of saying hello and saying that he hoped we were enjoying our visit to Texas. He also pointed out that today was Texas Independence Day - 2 March 1836.

We hit the coastline at Freeport and turned northeastward, driving up the barrier islands of Follets and Galveston. In Galveston we found a few hardy souls enjoying (?) the Gulf waters, according to NOAA, the water temperature is about 63. We're lucky to the water that warm off the Maibe coast in mid-summer! Back in the 1940's and 1950's there was a large amusement park built on a long pier out into the Gulf. Destroyed by Hurricane Carla in 1961, it was replaced in 1965 by a large hotel. That, in turn, was destroyed in 2008 by Hurricane Ike. The new Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier is slated to open in May 2012 and will feature a 100' ferris wheel, a roller coaster and numerous other rides and attractions. I wonder how long it will last?

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To progress past Galveston Island, we took another of Texas' free ferries, this one over to the Bolivar Peninsula. On the east side of the pass is the Bolivar Lighthouse, constructed in 1872. It replaced an earlier light built in 1852, but dismantled during the Civil War. The current tower is 117 feet tall and once had a third-order Fresnel lens. The light was decommissioned in 1933 and sold to a private individual in 1947; the lens is at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

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We stopped in Winnie to pick up some mail. Good thing we did, as there was a tax document I had forgotten about. It was a tad too late, however, as we had just filed our return a few days ago. Now we need to submit an amended return, despite the fact it doesn't change our taxes at all. Since my Mom's name was Winnie, we thought it an interesting place to visit.

From Winnie, we continued on up to Beaumont, where we're doing the Wally-World overnight. Turned out to be a noisy night - kids with those horrendous bass boom boxes in their trunks cruised the lot most of the night. They'll all be looking for hearing aids in a few years.

3 Mar 12: Farewell, Texas. Drove back to the coast at Port Arthur and crossed into Louisiana at Sabine Pass. This pretty much sums up the coastal area around Port Arthur: refinerys, chemicals, shipping and railroads.

Join us in Lousiana.

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