Texas bluebell flowers on the side of the road just south of Lampasas


Texas Visit

March/April 2014

Last updated April 19, 2014



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Day One | Day Two | Day Three | Day Four | Day Five | Day Six | Day Seven

The winter of 2013-2014 is one that I don't think I will ever forget. It was miserable and seemed never ending. Just think of the Disney movie "Frozen" and you'll know what I mean. O.k., I am exaggerating. But it really did suck. My place of work closed down a lot, the roads were icy, temperatures were sometimes in the single digits (negative if you count wind chill), and it even snowed as late as April!

Not surprisingly, Norma and I were looking forward to warmer weather. Well it just so happened that her friend, Aimee, had moved back to the Dallas, Texas area and wanted to get her female friends together for a few days in late winter. Norma planned to participate.

After a little thought, Norma suggested that I fly in after a day or so to join them. It didn't take much convincing for me to be talked into flying someplace warmer. So she booked our flights.

Over the few months prior, I've really been getting into country music. Maybe it is because I'm feeling like a farmer: building a coop and getting chickens. Regardless, Texas is a place where I think of most of the people as being countrified to some extent, even in the big cities. Waylon Jennings, Wilie Nelson, Kenny Rogers, George Strait, and the Dixie Chicks are all from Texas. There is some mystique about a place that puts out so many superstars. Tanya Tucker, another Texas native, says,
When I die, I may not go to Heaven.
Well, I don't know if they let cowboys in.
If they don't, just let me go to Texas, boy
'Cause Texas is as close as I've been

I was curious if our 2014 trip to Texas could live up to my high expectations after such a claim.

I had been to Texas twice before, briefly, both for work several years ago. The first time, I was at Fort Bliss. The landscape looked like something out of the Old West. The second time was for a conference in Dallas. Then, I got to see the Dallas World Aquarium (very impressive) and I saw an armadillo in the wild. I really didn't get to see much of Texas on either trip but I did like what I saw.

Needless to say, I was eager to return to the place that Hank Hill calls home.

I would like to say that I had a big part in planning this trip but I contributed about as much to this trip as our October 12-20, 2013 trip to California. Norma can be an excellent organizer and both for our California trip and our Texas trip, I had deadlines to meet...so she masterminded both. For the California trip, I had to finish up and deliver a presentation for the 2013 Maryland Solar and Green Homes Tour. Prior to our Texas trip, I was preparing for the Howard County Conservancy "Coop-to-Coop Tour." Both were big projects which left Norma mostly working on her own. But she did a great job and both trips turned out awesome.

Day One, Saturday, March 29, 2014

Norma flew out on Thursday, March 27 to join her friends Sherri and Allison. They all met up with Aimee, who showed them how to have a good time in the Lone Star state.

On the morning of Saturday, March 29, I left the house about 3 hours prior to my flight leaving. I wanted to give myself plenty of time to drive to the Baltimore Washington International (BWI) Airport, drop off my car in long term parking (which I had never done before), take a shuttle to the terminal, check in my luggage, and arrive at the gate in time for departure. But instead of taking anywhere close to 3 hours, it took a mere 50 minutes!

I used my spare time to catch up on some reading and get started on a book called They Called Her Reckless, a true story of a hero horse that served in the Marines during the Korean War. I also checked out a delightful store at the airport called Fire and Ice that sells jewelry, fossils, and jewelry made of fossils.

My Southwest Airlines flight arrived and left on time. I had a layover in Kansas City, Missouri and then continued onto Fort Worth, Texas. I picked up my luggage then took a shuttle to pick up my Dollar rental car. I plugged in my global positioning system (GPS), threw in the address of where I was to meet the girls, then started driving.

I am really glad I brought my GPS. I call her LANA. This stands for LAnd NAvigation. In some places, a lot of roads merge or branch off quickly. Not all are clearly marked. I just put my faith in LANA and she got me close to where I wanted to be.

I say close because I ran into some navigational problems in the Main Street area of Fort Worth. LANA thought I was off the main road when in fact I was in a very urban area and I don't think it was all that new. I knew I was close but just how close, I knew not. I pulled over, zoomed out on the monitor, and saw a checkered flag that marked my destination. I made my way towards it, which wasn't too difficult.

The last mile of driving was quite an experience. Traffic slowed to a crawl as it was obvious I was in the tourist and nightlife side of town. It seemed like every other person wore a cowboy hat or cowboy boots. Shops all seemed to have something to reflect their Texan pride like a flag or cowboy relic. I got closer and then started looking for parking. Many of the lots were full so I had to just keep driving and looking.

Traffic came to a stop. I was on a one way street. Then, out from nowhere, I saw a Texas longhorn steer with a rider! They were walking towards me. I stared and dared not move my vehicle. The steer just walked between my car and the one to my right. Its horns were as wide as my car. But fortunately my car is low and the steer was tall. At that point, there was no doubt where I was. I was smack dab in the heart of Texas. Yee haw!

I later learned that this particular longhorn steer is one that was carefully selected and tamed so tourists could get their photos taken on it. In the first photo, Allison demonstrates her rodeo skills this particular steer.

Eventually I found parking in a lot next to a place where they corral cattle. After walking about 3 minutes, I saw a girl riding a mechanical bull. It started out slow, gradually built up speed, then threw her. She landed on soft, air-filled padding. I thought I could do better but there was nobody I knew to witness it. Maybe later.

I walked past a few shops in buildings with retro-western architecture. It reminded me of the historic section of me and my mother's hometown, Sacramento, or the historic section of my father's hometown, Folsom. Although many people may think of California as having Hollywood and beaches, up north and inland (where I'm from) it has cowboy roots. Sacramento is where the gold rush and the Pony Express started. Folsom is the place that Johnny Cash made famous. In many ways, the place me and my parents grew up is more like Texas than my current home in Maryland.

I met Norma and her friends at Billy Bob's Texas, which claims to be the world's largest honky tonk. We went inside and it was everything I expected.

First, we went to watch some live bull riding in Billy Bob's. There were about 5 or 6 riders. Their goal was to stay on the bull for at least 8 seconds. The first rider got on. The bull kicked its metal enclosure which let out a loud, "BANG!" It was obvious that this bull was a feisty one. The gate opened and the bull charged out, kicking and jumping. The rider flew off almost immediately. He got up and made it to safety with the help of the rodeo clowns. As the next rider got ready, loud country, rock, and southern rock music blared. I knew almost every song they played, though much to my disappointment, they only played snippets from each song. The next rider took off and his ride ended much like the one prior. In fact, only one rider lasted more than a couple of seconds. I think he made it to 7 or 8. But after the event, he was carried off in a stretcher. After seeing that, I don't think I'd ever want to ride a real bull...though I think I might make a good rodeo clown.

Sometimes the bulls didn't want to leave the main area. The cowboys would then try to lure the bull into a run in the back where they could then close the gate but it took a little convincing to get a stubborn bull to leave. For that, they would bring out a second bull. The second bull would sometimes head off to the run and the first would follow. But once in awhile they would crash horns like rams butting heads. Occasionally, one of the bulls would chase a clown. Before doing so, they often lowered their heads and scratched the dirt with their front feet, just like in the cartoons. I think I enjoyed watching the bulls as much as the cowboys that rode them. I found the level of excitement watching a bull ride to be comparable to that of watching two mixed martial art fighters go at it. Unfortunately, the total amount of time of all the riders actually on the bull only lasted about 16-18 seconds.

Next, we headed out to the dance floor. There were some real good dancers. They really knew how to spin and dip. I'm guessing quite a few had taken a lot of swing dancing classes. We tried a little line dancing. There was only one dance that was simple enough for me to figure out. The other dances were too complicated for me to pick up after watching just once.

Sherri, Allison, Aimee, Norma, and I went to the live music section to hear the featured artist, Jamey Johnson. When I first learned about him, I saw his photo and figured he looked like a rough southern rock or mountain man type. I figured his music would have a hard edge to it. Nothing could be further from the truth. I clicked a button on my web browser to hear one of his more popular songs. It was a slow ballad. Then I clicked to hear another song. It was another slow ballad. I checked out a different web site and heard a third song, which was...you guessed it, a slow ballad. I was thoroughly disappointed. Anyhow, the show started and I figured that he might play something a little more upbeat. But no, the stuff he played live wasn't much better. The girls were not very impressed either, which surprised me since chicks seem to dig guys that sing slow ballads...I don't know why. Maybe it makes them seem sensitive. He wasn't a bad musician or a bad singer. His music just didn't hold our interest. Having a thumbs down rating from all of us, we decided to leave, both the concert and the honky tonk.

While I didn't care for the show, I most certainly enjoyed Billy Bob's. I don't know if I'd want to return but I'm glad I went. It was an experience. And just in case you were wondering, they did NOT have a mechanical bull for me to ride. But I figured I'd have a chance to ride one before I left Texas.
Click thumbnail to enlarge.

Day Two, Sunday, March 30, 2014

We met in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel (where we were staying) and then drove out to Sundance Square in downtown Fort Worth. One thing I found very unusual were the "Two Way" street signs. I had never seen this before. I always assumed that if I didn't see a "One Way" street sign, then the street was two ways by default but I guess that is not the case here.

The 5 of us walked to a restaurant called Jake's for brunch. I had chicken fried steak with gravy which I didn't much care for.

After our meal, we walked around. We saw the Chisholm Trail Mural (first photo).
The 1988 mural commemorates the Fort Worth segment of The Chisholm Trail cattle drives of 1867-1875.
- from Chisholm Trail Mural

We made our way to the Tarrant County Courthouse (second photo). An employee outside the building told us all about the place and its connection with Chuck Norris.
The exterior of the building was used in the filming of the CBS television series "Walker, Texas Ranger" (April 1993-May 2001).
- from Tarrant County Courthouse

Before heading back, we stopped at the Horse Fountain Water Trough (third photo). From left to right are Allison, Norma, Aimee, and Sherri.
This elegant fountain pays tribute to the author of the original charter of the City of Fort Worth and also served as a water trough for the city's horses when originally dedicated in 1892. Located on the Historic Tarrant County Courthouse lawn, this buff limestone, red granite and white concrete fountain was dedicated in 1892 by the Women's Humane Association.
- from Horse Fountain Water Trough (a broken link as of 2016)

Following our little walk, Norma and I said goodbye to Sherri, Allison, and Aimee.

Norma plugged our next destination into LANA and we were off, leaving our short stay in Fort Worth.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.

One thing I observed was the large number of Chevrolet Silverado pickup trucks. Maybe it is because they offer a special "Texas Edition" package. I suppose if I was looking for a truck and one maker offered a "Maryland Edition" package, I might be more inclined to buy it. But maybe not. From what I know about Texans, they are a very proud people. I've known a lot of Texans in the Marines and I really can't think of anyone that is more proud to be where they are from.

Driving out of Fort Worth, I was glad I brought my sunglasses. The climate in Texas is a lot like Sacramento. The sun is bright and it can get pretty warm. Much of the land is dry. In some ways it was like California but also somewhat like Baja, Mexico, where we spent our honeymoon from December 28, 2012 to January 7, 2013.

Our next destination was Dinosaur Valley State Park. I have been fascinated by dinosaurs since I was about 8 years old and even as an adult, I still love them. So seeing a few fossils was right up at the top of my list along with kayaking when it came to visiting Texas.

While Texas and Maryland are more dissimilar than similar, one thing they have in common is dinosaurs. I don't just mean that they were once home to some prehistoric life...they both had quite a few dinosaurs...some even of the same species! Texas and Maryland are also two of the few states to have their own state dinosaurs. For Maryland, it is Astrodon johnstoni, a sauropod (which means is looks like a big version of Dino, the pet dinosaur from "The Flintstones"). Astrodon fossils are one example that have been found in both Maryland and Texas. For Texas, the state dinosaur is Paluxysaurus jonesi, also a sauropod.

But prior to January 7, 2009, Pleurocoelus was the state dinosaur of Texas. Like Astrodon, its fossils have been found in both Maryland and Texas. In fact, some expert paleontologists say that the two are a synonym for one another.
The Texas dino had been given the same name as what was thought to be its counterpart in Maryland.
State Representative Charles Geren of Fort Worth filed a resolution to change the state dinosaur from Pleurocoelus to Paluxysaurus jonesi to correctly name the massive sauropod whose tracks and bones litter the Jones Ranch, which is in central Texas near Glen Rose. Geren filed his resolution on behalf of constituents at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.
"I think it's going to be good for Texas paleontology and dinosaur research in general," said Aaron Pan, the museum's curator of science. "This dinosaur [Paluxysaurus] is unique to Texas..."

- from Mistaken Identity: Texas State Dinosaur Needs Name Change

The misnaming of dinosaurs is nothing new. The complete fossil skeletons we see at museums are often a few fossils with the gaps filled in with man-made fossil replicas. It is extremely rare to find a complete dinosaur skeleton. This being the case, paleontologists make claims based on the evidence at hand, and as more data is uncovered, sometimes their conclusions change. This was the case for a famous dinosaur I grew up with called Brontosaurus.
Othaniel Marsh and Edward Cope were two of the great dinosaur hunters of the 1880s.
One day Cope showed Marsh his reconstruction of a new type of seagoing reptile. Marsh correctly pointed out that the only thing new about it was that Cope had put the head on the end of the tail. Cope hated Marsh for the rest of his life.
What followed was one of the great scientific rivalries of all time and was called the "Bone Wars." Both men had work crews out in the western states digging up dinosaur bones and they often sabotaged each others work.
Tons of bones came in from the field. Both scientists tried to outdo the other in the number of new dinosaurs discovered. One day an incomplete sauropod skeleton came in and Marsh named it Apatosaurus.
A few years later an almost complete sauropod skeleton came in, missing only a head. Marsh named it Brontosaurus and decided to mount the skeleton with the head of a Camarasaurus, another type of sauropod. Marsh did not know it, but the Brontosaurus was not new. It was another Apatosaurus like his earlier discovery.
What was being called a Brontosaurus was really an Apatosaurus with a Camarasaurus head. As early as 1915 people began to question the head on the skeleton but by that time 8 replicas of the skeleton had been made and sent to museums around the world.
Finally in 1978 paleontologist John McIntosh set the record straight. He wrote a paper that proved that Apatosaurus had a head more like a Diplodocus, another type of sauropod. All the old Camarasaurus skulls on the Apatosaurus skeletons were replaced with the correct type.
[But] when the correct head was finally installed, it did not look right even though it was the right size...The new head looked like a pin head!
By the 1990s, the park...decided to restore the models to the way they looked [prior to the change]. The old Camarasaurus head demonstrates that our understanding of these animals continues to develop.

- from "Dino the Dinosaur" sign at park

There were some life-size replicas of dinosaurs near the entrance. Standing next to them, I felt even smaller than I do standing next to my co-worker Phat Joe F. See first and second photos.

At the park, I did a little shopping. I bought
  • Ammonite fossils: Ammonites are an extinct group of marine animals. These cephalopods range in size from less than an inch to about 9 feet in diameter. They existed during the Devonian period over 300 million years ago.
  • Orthoceras fossils: These primitive cephalopods are approximately 400 million years old and are related to the modern squid or octopus. They are similar to ammonites, but have a straight shell rather than a coiled shell.
  • Desert rose (gypsum): A rose-like formation of trapped sand created from precipitation and strong wind in arid desert locations. Usually gypsum is the host but [it] can also be barite.
  • - all descriptions are from information cards at the park store

    But Norma and I didn't come to the park to shop. We were there to see dinosaur footprints. It was our mission to find them. In this park are several footprints of Paluxysaurus, Pleurocoelus, and/or Sauroposeidon. All three of these are sauropods. But the fact of the matter is that there is some inconsistency as to which of these footprints reside in the park.

    In Dinosaur Valley State Park - Walk where the dinosaurs roamed, it says
    As you cross the cool, clear waters of the Paluxy River, look for the footprints of Paluxysaurus, the official state dinosaur of Texas.

    But signs along the river tell of tracks made by Pleurocoelus. I believe these signs are outdated.

    Lastly, according to Dinosaur Valley State Park - Mapping Dinosaur Tracks,
    Two types of tracks are visible at these sites:
  • Sauropod tracks, large elephant-like tracks believed to have been made by Sauroposeidon proteles.
  • Theropod tracks, smaller and often with a distinct three-toed pattern, believed to have been made by Acrocanthosaurus. Some of the theropod tracks are classified as "elongated" because the dinosaur was walking on its metatarsal bones. Many of these tracks do not show the typical three-toe pattern because the tracks were made in runny, deep mud, and the toe impressions were buried.

  • The only thing for which I am certain is that the theropod tracks are made by Acrocanthosaurus, whose fossils have also been found in Maryland. For the sauropod tracks, your guess is as good as mine but I'm putting my money on Paluxysaurus.

    Norma and I looked for dinosaur tracks in the river. We saw quite a few Acrocanthosaurus tracks. Many were not in the best of shape and a few were pristine, as if a podiatrist made them himself to fit an Acrocanthosaurus with custom orthopedic insoles.
  • Third photo: This was the finest example of the day.
  • Fourth photo: Here is a pair out further from the shore.
  • Fifth photo: Most footprints were under water but a few were not. I think those in the water were better preserved.
  • Sixth photo: Norma proves that her feet are smaller than that of an Acrocanthosaurus.

  • But the sauropod tracks...well those are a much different story. Since they have big, flat feet with short or no claws, they are not so easy to identify. In drawings, they look somewhat like an elephant footprint to me. Natural depressions in the river could pass for a sauropod track. There were several times when we thought we might have seen one but we were never certain. But with a really good theropod track, there is no doubt as to what it is.

    A lot of people were out enjoying the park. But after we crossed the Paluxy River (where Paluxysaurus gets its name) and got out on the Paluxy River Trail, we saw few people, though I suppose that is also because we managed to get off the main trail and out on some trail that didn't appear on the map. In the seventh photo, Norma stands at the overlook where we could see the river below.

    Eventually we came to Wildcat Hollow and followed it back to the river. See eighth photo. In the hollow, we found a few lizards (ninth and tenth photo). My guess is they are Texas spiny lizards. There were also several bones, including the skull of a coyote (eleventh photo).

    Crossing back over the river, we found more Acrocanthosaurus footprints, however, most were not as well preserved as those we found earlier.

    The sun shone brightly. After being covered up for the last several months, my skin was more sensitive than normal and I got a light sunburn, despite having worn some sunscreen (not enough).

    We ended up hiking 5 miles.

    With no plan for lodging, we just drove south until we found something. Along the way, we saw alpacas, donkeys, cows, longhorn cattle, and goats.

    We stopped in Lampasas and found a vacancy at Country Inn.

    Norma and I had a really good Mexican dinner at El Rodeo, just up the road from the motel.

    Like California, Texas can get pretty warm in the day and very cool in the evening. So bring a light jacket.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Day Three, Monday, March 31, 2014

    I had spent some of the previous evening trying to figure out where I had heard of Lampasas. Then it hit me. In Hank Williams, Jr.'s song "Texas Women," he says
    I'm a pretty fair judge of the opposite sex
    And I ain't seen nothin' that will touch 'em yet
    They may be from Waco or out in Lampasas
    But one thing about it, they all come from Texas

    We were up early. After stopping for some food at the little market across the street at the gas station, we were on the road.

    Our first destination was a place called Enchanted Rock, which was recommended to us by our neighbor, Sara.

    Norma and I climbed up to the dome, whose peak is at 1825 feet above sea level. We took the Summit Trail. Along the way near the start, we saw moss growing in the tress. See first photo, first column. It reminded us of our trip to Florida in 2010.

    As we climbed, we stopped to look back. There were few trees so it was as if every point on the trail was an overlook.

    Higher up, the wind really picked up. What little vegetation became even less. There were a few places where grass grew in depressions of the rock. See second photo, first column. This reminded me of our July 30, 2013 hike in the Adirondacks of New York state. There, after reaching a certain elevation, we reached the Arctic Alpine Plant zone. We certainly weren't at a high elevation now but the plant life looked similar. I'm sure both are very hearty to survive in such inhospitable conditions.

    If Enchanted Rock looks like something from another time, it is.
    Enchanted Rock is part of a geologic region known as the Llano Uplift. The granite dome...is part of a larger granite mass formed during the Precambrian Era nearly a billion years ago. It is among the oldest geologic rock exposures in the state.
    Man...lived around Enchanted Rock for about 8000 years.

    - from "Archeology of Enchanted Rock State Natural Area" pamphlet

    I explored the Enchanted Rock Cave. I need to learn to bring a headlamp when we do hikes where there might be a cave. I looked for bats but found none.
  • Third photo, first column: The sign reads "Certain death." No, actually it says "Cave entrance."
  • Fourth photo, first column: White arrows mark how to get down into the cave.
  • Fifth photo, first column: Once inside the cave, more white arrows mark how to get deeper down into it. I don't think one can go very far, even with a headlamp. But I'm not certain about that.

  • One problem with hiking in such an open area is that it is easy to lose the trail. That is what we did at some point. But we saw plenty of great sights along the way, including a big boulder that looked like it was Karate chopped by Chuck Norris. See sixth photo, first column.

    Walking down was more interesting than walking up because we constantly had scenic views.
  • Seventh photo, first column: In certain places it looked like the top layer of Enchanted Rock was eroding.
  • Eighth photo, first column: In the center is Echo Canyon Trail with Moss Lake to the right.
  • Ninth photo, first column: These boulders really are huge. Either that or Norma shrunk.

  • Some of the cactus flowers were in bloom. See first photo, second column.

    After squeezing between boulders (second photo, second column), Norma and I ended up bushwhacking our way down the big rock. It was a little steep but the rock was "rock solid" so even though it was a little challenging, it wasn't too bad as long as we took our time.
  • Third photo, second column: Norma on the downhill.
  • Fourth photo, second column: Keeping a low center of gravity.

  • We stopped for a snack and then resumed hiking on Echo Canyon Trail.

    Eventually we picked up Loop Trail and hiked that clockwise which took us around the outer perimeter of the park. This trail was flat and easy. It also gave us some good views of the Enchanted Rock peak which really does look like a single monstrously large rock from some angles.

    While there weren't any more vistas, there were still plenty of interesting things to see.
  • Fifth photo, second column: Cactus.
  • Sixth photo, second column: Yet another lizard. I wasn't able to identify this. The yellow and black stripes threw me.
  • Seventh photo, second column: Texas bluebells. There were more than you could shake a stick at.
  • Eighth photo, second column: The Loop Trail.
  • Ninth photo, second column: Yellow flowers.

  • We crossed Sandy Creek, whose name fit its description.

    The day started overcast but by the time we finished our 5.4 mile hike, it was sunny and 80+ degrees. I'm glad we did the steep part first.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Our next stop was Fredericksburg whose motto is "German heritage, Texan hospitality."

    Feeling a little drained from walking, we took a quick nap in a shady spot. Then we were out to explore the town. We stopped for a snack at a little cafe.

    There were a lot of little shops, a few of which we went into. I was looking to buy cowboy boots but was having a hard time finding any in my size. I figured none of the small stores would carry any that would fit.

    We made it to the National Museum of the Pacific War. The Pacific Theater of World War II is something that has interested me for some time because I feel that is where the Marines were pushed their hardest. I posed next to a statue of 5-star Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. Wow, he sure was tall! See first photo. His famous words regarding the Marines who fought at Iwo Jima are "Uncommon valor was a common virtue." Ooh rah!
    Click thumbnail to enlarge.

    Next, we headed out to Wildseed Farms, just outside of town. This is a huge garden store that Norma really wanted to see. Though I was not too particularly interested in the plants, there was plenty there to keep me amused.

    I saw what I thought was a hummingbird sucking nectar from flowers. I took a lot of photos and then later realized that it was not a hummingbird but a very large moth. I'm guessing it is a Vine Sphinx moth. See first photo, first column.

    There were plenty of Green Anole lizards crawling around (second photo, first column). As I got close to some, they inflated a pink sack under their chin (third photo, first column). I heard they do this when they feel threatened. If they want to look intimidating, they shouldn't use pink.

    I've seen black ants and red ants but this is the first time I saw ants that had both colors. These also had wings so I assume they were males. See fourth photo, first column.

    I also saw a fuzzy White Ermine moth (fifth photo, first column).

    There were plenty of hummingbirds at the feeders just begging me to take their photo.
  • First photo, second column: Here's something you may not see often. It is a hummingbird sticking out its tongue.
  • Second photo, second column: What a profile!
  • Third photo, second column: Its wings are a blur.
  • Fourth photo, second column: Three hummingbirds at the feeder.
  • Fifth photo, second column: You gotta be fast with a camera to get them when their head isn't in the feeder. Or you can be slow like me and just take a lot of random shots. Surely one will turn out good.

  • I purchased a few butterfly magnets in the gift shop and then we were gone.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Norma and I pride ourselves in trying to save money when we travel. Staying at the Hilton on the first night was nice but that was more to be with the group and would not have been our first choice. The motel in Lampasas was pretty inexpensive and our lodging for the next few nights would be even cheaper. Norma signed us up to stay at someones home that she found on Air BnB. The owner is George N.

    George has a modest house in a nice neighborhood of San Antonio. He is a Texas native and very familiar with the area. If you are looking for something to do in San Antonio, he'll give you plenty of ideas.

    We had a long day so just getting some dinner and turning in early was our goal. We walked to a place called Bombay Bicycle Club. Along the way, we saw a dead possum and cat on the sidewalk. I envisioned a fight to the death in which there was no winner. Norma had a salmon salad and I had a cheese steak sandwich. The food was good, the price was reasonable, and the atmosphere was nice. Unlike what one might imply by the name, it has nothing to do with India.

    Day Four, Tuesday, April 1, 2014

    Jessi Colter mentions San Antonio in her song "Why You Been Gone So Long." But she drops the last two syllables from the city, as I have heard other country music singers do.
    Someone said they thought they saw you roarin' down in Reno
    With a little girl from San Antone
    They say I'm a fool to pine for you hey but what do they know
    Tell me baby why you been gone so long

    After two days of short hikes and neither of us having done much hiking in the months prior, we decided to sleep in to recharge our drained batteries.

    We ate breakfast at George's place: granola, cereal, yogurt, and orange juice. Then we visited the River Road Community Garden. Norma is really into that kind of stuff.
  • First photo, first column: A welcoming entrance.
  • Second photo, first column: Me looking for free samples.

  • Right next to the garden was a marker that described a historic irrigation ditch that ran through the River Road Neighborhood.
    Begun in 1776, this acequia diverted water for irrigation from the San Antonio River headwaters area in Brackenridge Park...One of seven acequias planned and constructed under Spanish Colonial rule, it was in use until the early 1900s.

    Norma and I walked south along the scenic San Antonio River (third photo, first column). We hadn't even left the neighborhood and we were seeing exotic wildlife...at least it was exotic to us.
  • Yellow crowned night heron: See fourth photo, first column.
  • Black-bellied whistling duck: No, I did not hear it whistle. See fifth photo, first column.

  • Our goal was to walk into the downtown area via the River Walk. We knew it followed the river but somehow we ended up having to cut through the Brackenridge Park Golf Course, which boasts being the oldest public golf course in Texas and the first inductee into the Texas Golf Hall of Fame.

    Eventually, we picked up the River Walk near the river flood bypass tunnel (sixth photo, first column). This is a very impressive feat of engineering.
    In times of flooding, water from tributaries of the San Antonio River collects behind Olmos Dam about two miles north of this site. Flood gates in the dam control the release of water as it enters the river channel below the dam and travels through the park. At the tunnel inlet, the water drops into a 24-foot diameter tunnel and is carried underground 3 miles to the outlet...south of downtown. The river tunnel is credited with preventing devastating flooding in the central city shortly after its completion.
    - from information sign

    A little further south on the River Walk, we came to what is known as the Pearl. The area started as a brewery in 1881. The name of the beer they sold was called "Pearl." In 1985, Pabst Brewing Company took over Pearl and in 2001, they closed operations at the site. The 22-acre property was eventually purchased shortly after and later transformed into the current culinary and cultural destination that attracts folks from all around.
    - from History: Pearl Brewery

    We figured we'd stop at the Pearl on the way back.

    People really make good use of the River Walk. We saw lots of runners. I am not surprised. It is clean and scenic (seventh photo, first column). Wetland landscaping attracts waterfowl such as the American coot (first photo, second column) and the Egyptian goose (second photo, second column).

    Continuing south, we came to an art piece called The Grotto. See third and fourth photos, second column.
    The Grotto was created by third-generation San Antonio artist Carlos Cortes...this project includes elements of the family's trademark tree and root sculptures that have been worked into a fanciful, cave-like creation. Hidden within the cavernous walls are the craggy faces, profiles, silhouettes and forms of many people and creatures both real and mystical.
    - from information sign at River Walk

    We saw a river taxi pass by (fifth photo, second column). That might be a good option for the return trip if we're feeling lazy.

    Continuing on, we saw more art. This one was called 'F.I.S.H.' gotta fly. Giant fish hung from below the highway bridge. See sixth photo, second column. This was not at all what I expected to see in Texas. But I was pleasantly surprised.

    We passed VFW Post 76 which claims to be the "oldest post in Texas." Being a life member, I figured they wouldn't mind if Norma and I used their porta-john.

    Getting closer to the downtown area, we passed an artsy mosaic bench at the Southwest School of Art. One wouldn't think a bench made of such hard material would be comfortable but it had contours that were more "butt ergonomic" than most. See seventh photo, second column.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Eventually, we made it to the downtown section. Now, instead of a few runners here and there, we saw hundreds of people. I think many were taking their lunch break from work. Others were tourists like us.

    We stopped at Rita's On the River for lunch. I found the food mediocre and overpriced. I think we were mainly paying for the river view. But I enjoyed having all the birds nearby, coming up to us and asking for a freebie.

    The downtown area of the River Walk was as nice as the less populated northern section. There were pedestrian bridges and lots of trees and other vegetation. See first photo. Ducks dotted the water but always managed to keep a safe distance from the numerous cruise boats that hauled loads of passengers. I imagine that on a hot summer day, being in the shade close to the water must be pretty nice.

    Venturing away from the River Walk, we made our way to the Alamo.
    Originally named Mision San Antonio de Valero, the Alamo served as home to missionaries and their Indian converts for nearly seventy years. Construction began on the present site in 1724. In 1793, Spanish officials secularized San Antonio's five missions and distributed their lands to the remaining Indian residents. These men and women continued to farm the fields, once the mission's but now their own, and participated in the growing community of San Antonio.
    In the early 1800s, the Spanish military stationed a cavalry unit at the former mission. The soldiers referred to the old mission as the Alamo (the Spanish word for "cottonwood") in honor of their hometown Alamo de Parras, Coahuila.
    San Antonio and the Alamo played a critical role in the Texas Revolution. In December 1835, Ben Milam led Texian and Tejano volunteers against Mexican troops quartered in the city. After five days of house-to-house fighting, they forced General Marin Perfecto de Cos and his soldiers to surrender. The victorious volunteers then occupied the Alamo - already fortified prior to the battle by Cos' men - and strengthened its defenses.
    On February 23, 1836, the arrival of General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna's army outside San Antonio nearly caught them by surprise. Undaunted, the Texians and Tejanos prepared to defend the Alamo together. The defenders held out for 13 days against Santa Anna's army. William B. Travis, the commander of the Alamo sent forth couriers carrying pleas for help to communities in Texas. On the eighth day of the siege, a band of 32 volunteers from Gonzales arrived, bringing the number of defenders to nearly two hundred. Legend holds that with the possibility of additional help fading, Colonel Travis drew a line on the ground and asked any man willing to stay and fight to step over - all except one did. As the defenders saw it, the Alamo was the key to the defense of Texas, and they were ready to give their lives rather than surrender their position to General Santa Anna. Among the Alamo's garrison were Jim Bowie, renowned knife fighter, and David Crockett, famed frontiersman and former congressman from Tennessee.
    The final assault came before daybreak on the morning of March 6, 1836, as columns of Mexican soldiers emerged from the predawn darkness and headed for the Alamo's walls. Cannon and small arms fire from inside the Alamo beat back several attacks. Regrouping, the Mexicans scaled the walls and rushed into the compound. Once inside, they turned a captured cannon on the Long Barrack and church, blasting open the barricaded doors. The desperate struggle continued until the defenders were overwhelmed. By sunrise, the battle had ended and Santa Anna entered the Alamo compound to survey the scene of his victory.

    - from "The Story of The Alamo: Thirteen fateful days in 1836" pamphlet by The Daughters of the Republic of Texas

    The Alamo was much smaller than I expected. See second photo. Outside was a big prickly pear cactus (third photo) and an Angel's Trumpet (fourth photo).

    We watched what I thought was a pretty good video about the Alamo. Norma disagreed as she fell asleep.

    Next, we headed over to the San Fernando Cathedral which was founded in 1731. See fifth photo.

    We saw a marker for the zero milestone of the Old Spanish Trail. One would think that this is an endpoint but it is not. This left me confused.
    The Old Spanish Trail was a national highway, completed in the 1920s, that ran from St. Augustine, Florida, across the southern United States to San Diego, California.
    - from Old Spanish Trail - The Handbook of Texas

    I mentioned earlier that there were a plethora of Chevy Silverado pickup trucks in Texas. At the opposite end of the spectrum were Toyota Priuses which were few. But I did see some. What made me laugh is that one of them had the outline of a Texas longhorn steer on the back of the vehicle. I figured he was saying, "I may drive a Prius but I'm still a Texan!"

    We passed by the Spanish Governor's Palace as we made our way west to Market Square - El Mercado, the largest Mexican market in the U.S. Norma looked for gifts and I found a fossil shop that held my interest briefly. I was looking at Megalodon teeth but they were too expensive for me. I ended up trying to take a nap while Norma continued shopping.

    Heading back to the River Walk area, we spent a little time in La Villita. It looked like an interesting place but things close early there and we were too late (it was after 1800). One neat looking part of La Villita was the Arneson River Theater, an outdoor performance theater. See sixth photo.

    Feeling a little "walked out," we decided to take a water taxi. He wasn't going directly to our destination so we took a scenic, roundabout route. But that was fine. It was nice to see the downtown from the water and learn about it from a guide. It also felt good to sit. We found him entertaining and informative. Leaving the downtown area, we passed through a lock. See seventh photo I was reminded of the time Norma and I passed through a lock in my kayak in the Adirondacks on July 31, 2013.

    Heading north, we passed the "'F.I.S.H.' gotta fly" art piece again. But now that it was dark, it was all lit up. See eighth photo.

    We got out at the Pearl and had a nice dinner at La Gloria. It was much better than Rita's but not as good as El Rodeo.

    Norma and I walked the rest of the way back to George's house. Rather that cutting through the golf course, we found the Brackenridge Park Trail and Lions Field Trail which took us around the east side of it.

    I'm guessing we walked 7-10 miles that day.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Day Five, Wednesday, April 2, 2014

    Norma and I were up pretty early. We packed up, ate breakfast, and said goodbye to George.

    Over the last 3 days, we did a lot of walking. Today we would give our footsies a rest and make use of the Mitsubishi Galant rental car that we paid so much for.

    The previous days had all been pretty sunny, warm, windy, and dry, at least during part of each day. Today was to be a little overcast, humid, with a very slight chance of sprinkles. But still windy.

    Our first stop for the day was the Japanese Tea Garden.
    The idea of a Japanese Tea Garden was conceived by city parks commissioner Ray Lambert in the early 1900s in an effort to beautify the rock quarries which had earlier been abandoned by the San Antonio Portland Cement Company.
    Commissioner Lambert enlisted the aid of a Japanese artist, Kimi Eizo Jingu, to assist in the design of an authentic Japanese tea garden. Artist Jingu had recently arrived in San Antonio with his family, had been employed by the U.S. Army, and was selling his watercolor painting part-time at a shop in downtown San Antonio.
    The Japanese Tea Garden was completed and christened in 1919, having been constructed with prison labor and both corporate and individual donations.

    - from information sign

    The first thing I noticed upon arrival was the sign at the entry which read "Chinese Tea Garden." See first photo.
    The Jingu family remained in their home in the garden until shortly after the December 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor incident. The resulting general fear and resentment by the American public caused the Jingu family to be removed from the garden and its name was changed to "Chinese Tea Garden."
    - from information sign

    This entry way appears to be made out of wood but it is actually sculpted cement.
    ...constructed by Monicio Rodriguez. Mr. Rodriguez was a Mexican national who is credited with a number of cement sculptures in San Antonio. He kept his techniques secret, working always inside a tent and using tools he made on the site from tin, wood, etc.
    He did not divulge either his process of cement sculpture or coloring of the cement layers.

    - from information sign

    In 1983, the San Antonio City Council ordained that the original name of "Japanese Tea Garden" be restored to the site, in consideration of the number of Japanese-Americans who had fought honorably on the side of the United States during World War II.
    - from information sign

    I also learned that like my Uncle Steve, two of the Jingu sons
    ...went on to Army Service...serving with the 442nd Infantry Division in Europe.
    - from information sign

    Certain things about the place definitely looked Asian but I felt it also had a Texan feel. Maybe it was the vegetation or some of the desert colors.
  • Second photo: Numerous paths meander in the garden.
  • Third photo: Construction made liberal use of stone.
  • Fourth photo: This footbridge will probably be around for a very long time.

  • The most impressive thing about the place, in my opinion, were all the koi. There were several, very large, of all different colors. I'm guessing they are worth a lot. Living amongst the koi were numerous turtles. See fifth photo. I recognized some red-eared sliders.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Our next stop was the Witte Museum. The place was littered with children. Outside, I had a chance to see a life-size replica of an Acrocanthosaurus, the same type of dinosaur that left its footprints in the Paluxy River that we saw on day two. See first photo.

    Inside, they had a Triceratops skeleton (second photo) of
    ...a full grown adult male weighing between 3-6 tons. The triceratops could run with short bursts of speed up to 30 miles per hour.
    Triceratops lived more than 65 million years ago.

    - from sign at museum

    We also saw the skull of a Quetzalcoatlus Northropi. See third photo.
    This pterosaur had a wingspan of 40 feet, making it the largest known flying creatures of all time. While it could walk on all fours, it was best suited to gliding over long distances. Despite its huge size, the skeleton was lightly built with hollow, extremely thin, but strong bones. It probably weighed about 300 pounds.
    - from sign at museum

    The museum also had displays of taxidermy, archaeology, and crafts, but of course the dinosaurs were my primary focus.

    We walked down the street to a place called Sweetie's Deli for a light lunch.

    Walking by the parking garage near the museum, I commented to Norma about how dry Texas is yet how San Antonio is able to keep their plants (and golf courses) green. She reminded me about how they use recycled water.
    More than 110 miles of pipeline delivers high-quality recycled water for use by golf courses, parks, commercial and industrial customers, as well as San Antonio's famous River Walk.
    - from SAWS: Water Recycling

    I think Sacramento can learn a lot from San Antonio, especially with the recent drought.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Next on our list was to visit a few of the missions.
    Spain, which ruled Mexico for 300 years ending in 1821, paid little attention to its northeastern frontier until French settlers built outposts near the Red River in Louisiana. The Spanish responded by establishing missions in East Texas in the 1690s, and in 1718 a way station was built at today's San Antonio. This outpost consisted of a presidio (military barracks) and the mission San Antonio de Valero (now the Alamo). To convert the area's large Native American population to Christianity, another mission, San Jose, was founded down river in 1720. Eleven years later three of the East Texas missions, now known as Concepcion, San Juan, and Espada, were moved to the San Antonio River.
    All the missions became parish churches in the 1790s. Mission San Antonio de Valero, which became a military barracks and a site of a famous battle for Texas independence in 1836, is now a museum and shrine. The four down-river mission churches remain active parishes of the Archdiocese of San Antonio, while the surrounding buildings and grounds are administered by the Federal government as the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.

    - from sign at River Walk

    I remember learning about the California missions in elementary school. This did not interest me at all but then again, I don't think we ever went and actually visited any. So here was my chance for a 35 year overdue field trip.

    What was the mission of the missions?
    At the missions, the Franciscans gathered the native peoples together, converted them to Catholicism, taught them Spanish culture, and sought to establish Spanish control of the Texas frontier.
    - from information sign

    Who were these native people that were Christianized?
    The Indians of the San Antonio area, the Coahuiltecans, lived in small scattered groups. They took their food from the land and moved with the seasons. They spoke distinct dialects and practiced a religion close to nature.
    They were a tough and skillful people who made a good living from a harsh land.
    Threatened by warrior tribed on horseback and weakened by European diseases, many Coahuiltecans accepted the food and refuge offered by the missions.
    Protected and encouraged by the Church, they changed from nomadic hunters and gatherers to sedentary farmers. As they became Spanish citizens, many lost their identities as Coahuiltecans.
    In contrast, the Kiowas, the Commanches, and the Apaches rejected Spanish acculturation and lived a nomadic life until well into the late 1800s.

    - from information sign

    How many missions were there in the area?
    The Franciscans established six missions along the San Antonio River in the early 1700s. Five of them flourished and, with the Villa de San Fernando, became the foundation of the city of San Antonio.
    - from information sign

    Our first stop was Mission Concepcion.
    More than a church, Mission Concepcion was also a village, fort, school, farm, and ranch.
    [It]...was built by Indian, Spanish, and mixed-blood Mestizo artisans under the direction of the Franciscan friars and dedicated on December 8, 1755.
    Today Concepcion is the best preserved and least altered of the Texas missions.

    - from information signs

    This place made the Alamo look tiny.
  • First photo: Front view.
  • Second photo: Different view.
  • Third photo: Don't these rocks look like skulls?

  • Next, we headed to Mission San Jose.
    Mission San Jose was considered the strongest and most beautiful of the missions.
    - from information sign

    This place was even bigger than Mission Concepcion.
  • Fourth photo: Some repairs in progress.
  • Fifth photo: This reminded me of the Colosseum which was made famous only because Bruce Lee fought Chuck Norris there in Way of the Dragon.
  • Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Having had our fill of missions, we said farewell to San Antonio, the southernmost part of our road trip. Our next destination was a place called Cavender's. This is a huge store that sells cowboy boots. There are several of these stores but none on the east coast. Most are in Texas. Interestingly, San Antonio alone has three Cavender's. I've been wanting to buy a pair of cowboy boots now for a few years but I didn't want to buy them without trying on several pair first.

    They did indeed have my size and they had a pretty good selection of them. Norma recommended Ariat boots. After trying on several, that is indeed what I favored. Having never worn cowboy boots, I really didn't even know if I would buy any. After all, how could non-lace boots be anywhere near as comfortable as lace-up boots? But in the end, I purchased a pair of brown, square toe Legend Phoenix Ariats (model 10002310/35790). They are not as comfortable as my speedlace jungle boots with the Panama sole but they certainly are not uncomfortable either. I wouldn't want to walk several miles in them but I think I could easily get used to them for most casual occasions.

    I have since worn them to work a few times. The chicks dig them.

    Driving north on highway 35, we stopped in a small town just outside of New Braunfels called Gruene.
    German immigrant farmers were the first settlers of this area, which was originally called Goodwin. Henry D. Gruene established a large cotton farming operation here in the 1870s. He built a mercantile, cotton gin, and dance hall, and conveyed land for a school. The town became Gruene in 1903.
    - from town sign

    We had an early dinner at the Gristmill River Restaurant and Bar. The place reminded me a lot of Savage Mill in our town. Both were old mills in historic towns that were converted and made into public attractions. While Savage Mill has the Little Patuxent River, the Gristmill has Gruene Rapids just 200 yards west on the Guadalupe River.

    Norma and I explored the little town on foot. I wore my new boots. Unfortunately, as with La Villita, most everything was closed. I ended up having to change shoes because my short socks didn't agree with my Ariats. My big Japanese calves kept rubbing against the leather. Guess I'll need to buy new socks.

    We went to Gruene Hall to hear live music. A band called The Georges was playing. They performed rockabilly. Their music was upbeat and lively. A lot of people were out on the dance floor enjoying their music. I was surprised at how many people were there on a Wednesday night. Folks were really having a good time. There were people dancing from age 9 to 90. I felt like the town had a lot going for it...a lot of positive energy.

    Continuing north, we stopped for the night at Habitat Suites in Austin, the capital of Texas. The place is advertised as being a "green hotel." It is indeed nice but definitely much fancier than what we're used to. I think the whole "green" marketing might be an excuse to charge more...but it was very nice.

    Day Six, Thursday, April 3, 2014

    I tried to think of a song that mentions Austin. I could not. I am sure there are some but up to now, I've only been listing songs that I own and know well enough to sing. Maybe because it is the capital of the state and hence, the center of government, it doesn't have the same Texan feel as the other cities. In some ways, that is true for my hometown, Sacramento, which is the capital of California.

    We had breakfast at the hotel. The food was good and the staff was lively and hard working.

    One thing I noticed about the towns we visited in Texas is that their drinking water does not taste as good as that in Savage, Maryland. It is better than the water I've tasted in northern Florida. Savage water is good but not as good as the part of Sacramento where I am from. Maybe it is all just a matter of personal preference. I'm sure it is all safe.

    Norma and I drove into downtown Austin and parked in a garage near Congress Avenue. Then we walked south to Lady Bird Lake. This is actually a reservoir on the Colorado River.
    The reservoir was formed in 1960 by the construction of Longhorn Dam at its eastern boundary by the City of Austin. The western end of the lake is bounded by Tom Miller Dam, built in 1939.
    By the 1970s, Town Lake [the original name of the reservoir] and its shoreline had become neglected, polluted and overgrown with weeds.
    During his two terms in office (1971-1975), the Mayor of Austin, Roy Butler, partnered with former United States First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson, to establish the Town Lake Beautification Committee with the purpose of transforming the Town Lake area into a usable recreation area. A system of hike and bike trails was built along the shoreline of the lake in the 1970s, establishing...a major recreational attraction for the city of Austin.
    On July 26, 2007, the Austin City Council passed a controversial resolution authorizing the renaming of the reservoir from Town Lake to Lady Bird Lake in honor of Lady Bird Johnson, the former First Lady of the United States and a long-time resident of the Austin area who had died earlier that month. Johnson had declined the honor of having the lake renamed for her. In renaming the lake, even though against her wishes, the City Council recognized Johnson for her dedication to beautifying the lake and her efforts to create a recreational trail system around the lake's shoreline.

    - from Wikipedia - Lady Bird Lake

    We headed east on the north side of the lake on a hike and bike path. Along the way, we saw a lot of wildlife near Waller Creek.
  • First photo: Male wood duck.
  • Second photo: Female wood duck. Notice she is talking, as most females do all too often.
  • Third photo: Another male wood duck.
  • Fourth photo: A Texas Spiny Softshell turtle. I'm guessing the shell was 18 inches long! I've never seen one of these before.
  • Fifth photo: American coot.
  • Sixth photo: Red-eared slider turtle.

  • Using Norma's travel book, we tried to find the visitor center. Her book wasn't that old so we were surprised when we found a sign telling us that the visitor center had relocated to 209 F 6th Street. So we walked a few blocks to that location and were told that the visitor center moved again. We were given the new address and did indeed find it there. We were not too happy having wasted a lot of time looking for it.

    At the suggestion of an employee at the visitor center, we walked just a few blocks to Royal Blue Grocery for lunch. I bought some Thai food which turned out to be uncomfortably spicy for me.

    We rented bikes through Austin B-Cycle. Stations are set up all over town where one can rent a bike at a kiosk with a credit card. I don't much like the system because unless you check your bike in at a kiosk every half hour, you get penalized and have to pay more. I'd rather just pay more up front and not have to worry about the penalty. The bikes were strong and very front-heavy but they were sufficient for what we wanted to do.

    Norma and I made our way back to the lake and rode on the same trail but this time heading west from Congress Avenue.

    Along the way, we saw a few places that rent kayaks and stand-up paddleboards (SUPs).

    Eventually, we crossed the lake and then made our way to Zilker Park and Barton Springs. There is a swimming pool here that is fed by an underground spring with an average temperature of 70 degrees. Water then flows out of the pool into a creek and eventually makes its way to the lake. The water had a certain clarity that reminded me of the many springs we saw on our Florida in 2010 trip. I figured that if we rented a kayak, it should be from here.

    Prior to our arrival, I had my stereotypes of Texas. One of which is the fact that it is very Republican. So I figured they would be very conservative. But that isn't necessarily so. A mini-museum at Barton springs had some historic photos. One of which showed the back of a topless woman on a beach. The caption read
    Topless sunbathing and swimming is a common sight at Barton Springs. The City of Austin has no ordinance preventing women and men from going topless.

    Where does Barton Springs draw its water?
    The Edwards Aquifier is a vast underground reservoir stretching 200 miles across Texas. [It] supplies Barton Springs Pool with an average of 30-50 million gallons of fresh water every day.
    - from information sign at Barton Springs

    Walking along the shore where Barton Springs flows, we saw numerous turtles.

    Our next stop was the Umlauf Sculpture Garden where we saw numerous sculptures set in a nicely landscaped setting. See seventh and eighth photo.

    Most of the places we biked were pretty flat but there was one hill that we could walk up where we had a nice view of the Austin city skyline. See ninth photo.

    We saw the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue which honors this native Texan guitarist that died in 1990.

    We turned in our bikes.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    One of the main reasons for us wanting to visit Austin was to see the bats.
    Austin's bats provide one of the most spectacular urban wildlife displays in America. An estimated 750,000 Mexican free-tailed bats - North America's largest urban colony - live in spaces beneath the Congress Avenue Bridge. A reconstruction project on the bridge in 1980 created the spaces, approximately an inch wide and sixteen inches deep, which provide just the right temperature and humidity conditions for the bats.
    The number of bats may exceed 1.5 million in the latter half of August.

    - from sign on Lady Bird Lake hike and bike trail

    The bats let out a sort of chirp or squeak. If you stand under where they nest, you might be able to hear them. Norma was able to but I was not, at least not until they got louder and background noises got quieter. I am wondering if I have some high frequency hearing loss. Listening to loud hard rock music and working in a mortar platoon is not a good combination for hearing preservation.

    We looked up at the Congress Avenue Bridge where they nest but we couldn't see any. Even with my camera on maximum zoom, I saw none. They are deeply tucked away in the gaps. But they are there, depending on the time of the year.
    By mid-March, hundreds of thousands of mother bats arrive in Austin. In early June, each female in the Congress Avenue Bridge maternity colony gives birth to a single baby, called a pup.
    Pups weigh one-third as much as their mothers at birth - the equivalent of a human mother giving birth to a 40-pound baby! Bats are mammals and, just like all mammals, they nurse their babies. Each mother recognizes her own pup's voice and scent and nurses only that pup. The pink, hairless babies grow rapidly, learning to fly and feed on their own in just five weeks. Some may live to be more than 20 years old.
    The bats remain under the bridge until late October or early November. They then ride the winds of a big cold front to speed them back to Mexico.

    - from sign on Lady Bird Lake hike and bike trail

    Most people see the bats either from the bridge or on the shore of the lake near the bridge. But after talking to someone at Capital Cruises, we figured it would be best to take one of their "Bat Watching Excursion" boat trips to get the primo view.

    Our guide took us and about 14 others out on an open-top boat. It wasn't yet time to see the bats so he took us to see various sights on the lake.
  • First photo: Downtown Austin skyline.
  • Second photo: Man on SUP with dog.
  • Third photo: Swan on nest. Looks like she's moving an egg.
  • Fourth photo: Egret.
  • Fifth photo: Old railroad bridge from below.
  • Sixth photo: Same railroad bridge from the side. How long did it take this guy to tell the town that he has "Ninja style kung fu grip"? Probably not as long as it is taking me to write this blog.
  • Seventh photo: Apparently we weren't the only ones wanting to see the bats from the water. A group went out on bicycle boats.
  • Eighth photo: Another tour company with a boat like ours was beating us to the best spot to view the bats.

  • Soon it would be showtime.
    The impressive flight of bats emerging from the Congress Avenue Bridge to feed can be seen for miles. It has drawn people from all of the world. The bats generally emerge within thirty minutes before or after sunset, although timing varies with the season and the weather. They depart the bridge earliest on the warmest, driest evenings of early spring and late summer. The most spectacular flights are usually in the latter half of August.
    As the bats leave, most usually fly beneath the bridge to the south before forming one to three columns that stream east down the river. Free-tails have been tracked on radar as high as 10,000 feet. They cruise at about 35 mph and can attain speeds of well over 65 mph with a good tail wind. No one knows exactly where the large flocks go to feed. Many of those leaving last feed on insects in the immediate vicinity, providing an invaluable service for the riverfront area.

    - from sign on Lady Bird Lake hike and bike trail

    Shortly after dusk, the bats came out. They flew south, parallel to the bridge then turned east. We were positioned in a way so that we were slightly north of them looking up. I don't think we could have been in a better position to see them.
  • Eighth photo/video: Short video of bats flying.
  • Ninth photo: Bats flying under Congress Avenue Bridge.

  • From the boat, we watched for 20-30 minutes. Once ashore, Norma and I walked under Congress Avenue Bridge on the south side and continued watching them as they flew above. When watching from below, it is important to keep your mouth shut. Wearing glasses is also a good idea.

    After a few minutes, we went onto the bridge and then watched them fly below. It was almost as impressive as watching a multitude of horseshoe crabs come ashore during mating season.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    After viewing the bats for well over an hour, we headed north into town.

    I found wallet on the ground. I asked the person in front of me if it was theirs and indeed it was. Norma heard them talk and said they were from Germany.

    There were some food vendor trucks and I got Korean/Mexican food from a place called Chi'Lantro Korean BBQ. It was pretty good and as the name implied, it really was a mix of Korean and Mexican.

    Norma wanted to go hear live music. We ended up on a rooftop hearing two guitarists. We were the only customers in the whole place which was surprising since one could hear their music from the street. I would think they would be attracting a crowd but I suppose it was still early for the real night owls. I don't remember the name of the band or the place but they had a southern rock/blues/rock sound, somewhat like Whiskey Myers. See photo.

    Since the band played from a rooftop, we could see the lights in the building across the street. Every once in awhile a bat would fly by. I wondered if Austin has significantly fewer mosquitoes than my section of Maryland because of the bats. That would not be surprising.
    The first known bat conservation efforts began in Texas. Around the turn of the [19th] century, Dr. Charles A. Campbell, a San Antonio physician, began a novel experiment to attract bats. Alarmed by the number of malaria deaths in the area, he was convinced that an increase in the bat population could eradicate the mosquitoes that transmitted the disease. He perfected a design for a bat tower and succeeded in attracting an estimated 250,000 "disease-battling residents." Malaria did dramatically decline and Dr. Campbell was nominated for a Nobel Prize.
    - from sign on Lady Bird Lake hike and bike trail

    So how many insects do bats eat?
    Austin's bats consume an estimated 10,000 to 30,000 pounds of insects nightly from April through October, depending on the number of bats present.
    The largest bat colony in the world, 20 million Mexican free-tailed bats that live in a cave near San Antonio, can consume a half-million pounds of insects in a single night.

    - from signs on Lady Bird Lake hike and bike trail

    Many Texans are proud of their bats.
    Texas is home to more species of bats than any other state. Thirty-two of the 42 species known from all the United States and Canada reside in the Lone Star State.
    - from signs on Lady Bird Lake hike and bike trail

    Seeing the bats was definitely the high point of the trip.
    Click thumbnail to enlarge.

    Day Seven, Friday, April 4, 2014
    We caught a late breakfast at the hotel, shortly before they stopped serving. It seems like all the other guests did too so the staff was extra busy.

    The morning was cool and sunny.

    Norma and I drove to the Texas Capitol Building.
    Completed in 1888 as the winning design from a national competition, the Capitol's style is Renaissance Revival, based on the architecture of 15th-century Italy and characterized by classical orders, round arches and symmetrical composition. The structural exterior walls are "sunset red" granite, quarried just 50 miles from the site. Additional structural support is provided by interior masonry walls and cast iron columns and wrought iron beams. The foundation is limestone. Texas paid for the construction not in dollars, but in land: some three million acres in the Texas Panhandle that would later become the famous XIT Ranch.
    An extraordinary edifice by any measure, the 1888 Texas Capitol is the largest in gross square footage of all state capitols and is second in total size only to the National Capitol in Washington, D.C. Like several other state capitols, the 1888 Texas Capitol surpasses the National Capitol in height, rising almost 15 feet above its Washington counterpart.

    - from The Texas Capitol - The State Preservation Board

    As mentioned in the previous paragraph, the Texas Capitol is huge...but then again, so is everything in Texas.

    We joined a tour in the Capitol then broke off on our own. I think I was getting more than my fill of history for the week.

    By late morning, it warmed up a little. Certainly enough for a little kayaking. So we went back to Barton Springs and rented an Ocean Kayak Malibu Two sit-on-top tandem kayak for an hour. There were a lot of other people renting kayaks, SUPs, and canoes. It was good to see so many people being active. See first photo.

    First, we paddled upstream towards the swimming pool. I knew the most scenic section would not last for long so we took it slow and soaked in as much of the scenery as we could. There were more turtles to be seen than I could remember. See second photo. What was really nice is that the water was clear enough so I could see them swimming below quite easily, especially with my polarized sunglasses. I also saw several large carp (about 2 feet long).

    Ducks, geese, cormorants, and flocks of American coots swam and flew about.

    We paddled across Lady Bird Lake. It was quite windy. We reached the other side then headed back. It was good to be on the water but clearly the best place to be was near the spring.

    Norma and I returned the kayak. But we still had a few minutes left before the hour was up so I grabbed an Ocean Kayak SUP to try out. I think it was the Nalu 11. I raced it to the first bridge downstream and back. It seemed o.k. It didn't track well but I'm thinking that might have something to do with its almost non-existent fin. But a short fin in those waters is probably a good thing since there are some shallow sections.

    Being out on the water in a scenic place on a sunny day felt great, even if it wasn't for long.

    There were plenty of places on Lady Bird Lake to rent a kayak but based on what I've read, inland Texas is not the place that comes to mind when I think of flat water kayaking out in nature. But maybe I just need to explore it more.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    We had lunch at a food truck area. I had a catfish sandwich. It was undoubtedly the best catfish sandwich I'd ever eaten and possibly the best fish sandwich too. The vendor is called Turf N Surf Po' Boy. I also got their sweet potato fries which were also very good. The best meals I'd eaten in Texas were here and at El Rodeo in Lampasas. That's not to say the other places were bad. These two were just exemplary.

    Norma and I began our long trek to the airport. If traffic wasn't bad, we'd have plenty of time. Unfortunately, it was bad. We were definitely behind schedule. Then she got a call from Southwest Airlines who said our transfer flight was canceled and they would put us on a different flight. But that wouldn't give us enough time to get to it once we got off the first flight. The ideal case was for us to catch an earlier, direct flight but with us already behind schedule, that wasn't likely. Still, I figured I'd give it a shot.

    Eventually, traffic cleared up and I was able to speed along at 80 mph. Speed limits are higher in Texas than Maryland but still I was pushing it. Thankfully, my efforts paid off. I didn't get pulled over and we made it to the airport in time to catch the earlier, direct flight.

    We said our farewells to Texas and thanked it for being so hospitable to us during our visit.

    Back in Maryland, it was cold and rainy. In a way, I'm glad it was. Had it been warm and sunny, our time in Texas would not have been appreciated as much.

    I had set the emergency brake on my car before I left and it rusted in place. It took awhile before we could get it to unlock. Once it did, life was good.

    I feel like we saw all the best that we could see of Texas in a week. If I went back, I would want to go to the Texas Ranger Museum. I would also hope to see a roadrunner in the wild. I've never seen one of those. And I'd want to see another armadillo but this time up close and personal. I didn't see any on this trip. I was surprised that we didn't see any snakes. Maybe it is too early for that.

    Overall, I think our trip was a big success. Texas met my expectations...actually, it exceeded them. I didn't think we'd be able to see so much on foot and bicycle. The weather was great and there was lots of interesting wildlife.

    A few people told me that driving between Dallas and San Antonio is a great road trip. I must agree. I would recommend it to any active people that live in the mid-Atlantic or New England states that want to taste an early spring. You won't regret it.

    Oh, and by the way, I never found a mechanical bull after the first day. I guess that gives me a reason to return.