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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Touring Texas

We're back home after taking a break from winter to enjoy some Texas sunshine. Several things combined to prompt us to take this trip with my sister and her husband. Not everything we had planned worked out but we just adjusted the plans and saw some other things instead. The first days were cloudy, one was rainy, and the last two were gorgeous. We saw Texas in July many years ago and got the impression it is all desert and scrub. Visiting in the spring was entirely different.  Texas had a lot of rain this winter and everything was lush and green. The sight of flowers, green grass and trees was food for winter-weary souls.
We flew out Tuesday afternoon, March 18, and arrived in San Antonio, Texas, in the evening where we had reserved a rental car and motel room. For the next six days we drove around Texas in this 2013 Impala, pretending we were from California. (notice license plate)
We started our first day of being tourists by driving into San Antonio to see the Alamo. Although it was cloudy, it was nice and warm and did not rain on our parade. We spent about two hours looking at the displays and learning some Texas history at the Alamo. Six Flags Over Texas is more than an amusement park. Six different flags actually flew over Texas until it finally became a permanent part of the United States. The flags of Spain, France, Mexico, Republic of Texas, United States, and Confederate States of America flew over Texas before the end of the Civil War. Then it went back to the United States where it has remained. But a lot of people lost their lives in the fighting that went on to get to that point.
We could take pictures outside the Alamo but not inside. The grounds between the buildings are beautifully landscaped.
The Battle of the Alamo (February 23 – March 6, 1836) was a pivotal event in the Texas Revolution. Following a 13-day siege, Mexican troops under launched an assault on the Alamo (an abandoned Catholic Mission established in 1718) near modern-day San Antonio. All 180 of the Texian defenders were killed, including Davy Crockett. The defeat at the Alamo intensified the revolutionary spirit and "Remember the Alamo" became the battle cry until Texas achieved independence and became its own Republic.
After we left the Alamo we walked about a mile to O. Henry's house. But we walked more than a mile because we followed the Riverwalk which winds through the city on both sides of the San Antonio River. It is a beautiful walk but rather expensive to eat or sleep there. We just enjoyed the scenery which was free for the looking.
O. Henry was not a very noble character in some areas, but he was a master at writing short stories with a surprise twist or ending. Two of my favorites are Gift of the Magi and Springtime a la Carte. He lived in this little house in San Antonio for three years during his writing career.
He left everything in the house when he moved to Austin, so everything inside is what he used when he lived here. I am always fascinated with seeing the places my favorite authors did their writing. Here I am, sitting at O. Henry's writing table. His actual name was William Porter and O. Henry was his pen name.
We walked some more of the Riverwalk to get back to our car. After not being able to walk my trail all winter, I was dragging but I made it. Our next stop was a botanical garden in San Antonio. It was not free like the Alamo and O Henry house, but well worth the admission price. Texas has many diverse regions. The San Antonio Botanical Garden is divided into sections which allowed us to see most of them in a nutshell. On the Texas Native Trail we walked through the Hill Country, East Texas Pineywoods, and semi-arid South Texas Plains.  There we were finally able to identify Texas Mountain Laurel tree we had been seeing.
In another part of the garden we walked through the Conservatory which houses a tropical paradise of anything from palms and other tropical plans to desert cactus.

And of course, the formal gardens were awash with spring flowers that were a feast for the eyes.

I have so many pictures of the garden that it is hard to select which ones to show here. Of course, this required more walking and by the end of the day I was stiff and sore but that was the price for seeing everything I wanted to see. We went back to the same motel for the second night.
On Friday morning we drove a little over an hour north to the LBJ Ranch. This was the home of President Lyndon Baines Johnson. We took a free driving tour of the ranch area and then paid $3 to tour the Texas White House where the Johnson family lived. We were not allowed to take pictures inside the house but everything in it is what they used. We got an education on Johnson's personal life which was a side we never knew before. He was a Texas cowboy and enjoyed the things for which cowboys are known. We could take pictures outside and some of the things we saw were his barn where the cattle were worked and his airplane.

Johnson called this Air Force One-half. The landing strip at the ranch was not long enough to land Air Force One so he would land at Austin and take this smaller plane to the ranch. He flew back and forth often, spending at least a quarter of his presidential time at the ranch. I could see why this place would have been relaxing in comparison to Washington DC!
On our way from the ranch to Fredericksburg where we had motel reservations, we stopped at the Wildseed Farms. It is a nursery, but they also grow fields of wildflowers. We saw some bluebonnets there but they were not in full bloom yet. They had a lot of cool rainy weather this winter and the season was getting a slow start. Fredericksburg is proud of its German heritage and we had a  genuine schnitzel supper at a German restaurant. Our waitress was a German and the food tasted very much like the food we had in Germany.
Saturday was a rainy day but we had indoor activities so it didn't matter if most of the day was drippy. We drove east to Austin and the home of one of my good friends. We have worked together on family history and genealogy nearly ten years. He was here several times to chase down his ancestors and it was good to see where he lives. We made our plan of attack over a cup of coffee and then headed for the Texas History Museum in Austin.
The displays gave us a good overview of Texas history and life in the various sections of the state. There is the Hill Country in the east, Great Plains in the panhandle, desert is the west, and farming and citrus orchards in the Rio Grande Valley in the southern tip, to name a few. As a lady at a visitor center told us. "Texas has everything. Some states have mountains, some have beaches, some have lakes, some have farming, etc. but Texas has everything."
Leroy and our friend enjoyed looking at this old pickup that has seen better days.
We also saw an old ship that sank off the coast in 1686. It was recovered and is being reassembled in the museum. I was amazed that it had not entirely rotted away in more than 200 years under water.

After we left the museum we walked to the University of Texas where our friend used to teach before he retired. In the Ransom Center on the campus, we saw a Gutenberg Bible printed in Germany between 1450 and 1455. It is one of only five Gutenberg Bibles in the United States. The Bible is open to a place in Exodus but we could not begin to read it as it. This Bible was printed before Martin Luther translated it into German, so this copy is in Latin.
The Gutenberg Bible is the first substantial book printed from movable type on a printing press. Gutenberg's invention revolutionized the distribution of knowledge by facilitating the production of many copies of a single work in a relatively short amount of time. This led the way to the Reformation in the 1500s.
We ended our day with a meal of delicious real Texas Barbq, and then drove about an hour east to our motel at Bastrop.
On Sunday morning we attended the Grace Mennonite Church near Bastrop. We enjoyed the fellowship and were invited to stay for lunch which extended the fellowship hour. We were glad to be able to visit with Maria Bontrager but missed her parents who are currently in Guatemala. Of course, we played "The Mennonite Game" and it didn't take long for us to connect with several people who were related to or know the same people we know. We had a long drive ahead of us so we left around 1:30 pm and headed south. One of our goals on this trip was to see the land where my paternal grandfather owned a citrus orchard in the early 1930s. I had been able to locate the exact spot in advance so we could drive right to it. The sun was setting when we arrived so it was not a very good photo opportunity. We agreed to return the next day when lighting would be better.
It was foggy Monday morning so we decided to head southeast to South Padre Island. The island is connected to the mainland by a long bridge.
The island is 3.5 miles long and definitely a resort area. But the bridge and beach are free so we took advantage of the opportunity to dip our feet into the western side of the Gulf of Mexico. The water is clearer there than on the east side of the Gulf. We could easily see the sandy bottom.
We crossed the bridge again to the mainland and went up in the old lighthouse on San Isabel Point. I have seen lighthouses before and always wanted to climb one but none I had seen were open for visitors. It was well worth the $2 to be allowed to climb the circular stairs to the top. The view was spectacular.
We got a quick lunch at Dairy Queen and then boarded a boat to go out and see the dolphins in their natural habitat ("In person" as one of the other passengers told her son). We were half way through without seeing any dolphins and thinking we had been ripped off when suddenly, there they were! Fins on all sides of us. It's hard to capture them on photos because they are so fast but I got a few lucky shots.

If you click on the one above (or any of the photos)  it will enlarge and you can see three or four dolphins leaping out of the water. For obvious reasons, they hang around the fishing boats.
After we left the boat we began our trip back north. On the way, we stopped again to see the land my grandfather once owned. He had a 10-acre orchard on this land which is now divided into four residential properties.
It wasn't too hard to picture it as an orchard because there was a fairly large orange orchard just across the road. My sister spoke to the owner and was able to purchase a 5-gallon bucket full of tree ripened oranges for $3. That was a special bonus!

We stashed our loot in the trunk and headed back to San Antonio for the night. We had about a 4-hour drive ahead of us to the same motel where we spent the first two nights. We made only two stops along the way. One was to buy a small bag of pecans at a roadside stand. The other was to snap a few pictures of the wildflowers blooming along the roadways. They are still not in full bloom but I was thrilled and satisfied with what we saw.
There were a few other varieties on the bank but the most prominent were the Bluebonnets in both blue and red. (They are also found in pink, lavender and purple.)

The typical blue ones were what I wanted to see and here we found a whole bank covered with them.

That was our grand finale. It was getting dark when we reached our motel and dark again when we left it in the morning. We returned our rental car Tuesday morning (24th) and got to the San Antonio airport in good time to catch our flight back home. It was 83 on Monday and when we got home it was 39. But I brought some Texas sunshine home with me on my face and arms. The sunburn is already beginning to fade but the memories will last as long as I do. It was a wonderful break from winter and Texas assured me spring is coming again. Thanks to Texas, I think I can survive until spring arrives here.


Miller scribe said...

Glad you got to go! Makes me want to go back and see some of the things we missed. Maybe we can get a load near the gulf coast area sometime.

Merle and Edith Burkholder said...

It looks like an interesting trip. I'm glad you could go and get a break from the winter weather in PA. ~merle

Diane Weaver said...

A friend told me about your blog; I went back and started reading from 2007 on; have enjoyed your stories.
As I get "older" and am now in my mid-fifties, I am more interested in history and genealogy. I read several of your books, my favorite was Annie's Day of Light.
My husband's sister is Dolores Newswanger, a friend of yours.

Diane Weaver

Scribbler said...

Hello Diane,
Nice to "meet" you. Dolores and I have been friends since we were teenagers. I was a bridesmaid in her wedding. I remember her brothers as little boys and would not recognize them now.

Diane Weaver said...

I'm still "catching" up and reading your blog - mostly on my I Phone as time permits - I'm up to 2011.

I read about your health issues with rheumatoid arthritis and scoliosis. I found that interesting as I also have scoliosis - a 40 degree curve in my lower back. I hope you don't mind me asking - have you had a lot of issues with it? I'm not sure what to expect as I get older. I have not had too many issues except in the last 6 months with pain and cramping in my left calf. I'm not sure if that is a result of scoliosis.