Photo: The Window Trail, Big Bend National Park.
We crossed the Port Arthur Bridge into Texas from Louisiana under heavy skies, arriving at Beaumont around three o’clock. We checked into Hidden Lake RV Park where the huge, deep puddles were evidence of a lot of rain; and there was more in the forecast.
Photo: We entered Texas from Louisiana, driving west, with a jog up to Austin.
Monday morning we took a drive around Beaumont in the rain. We saw some of the grand old houses from the age of the oil boom and shopped for groceries at a mega-store named H. E. Butts. The best part of that was picking up a bottle of 7 Deadly Zins red wine for $11.00. We pay $28 for the same stuff at home.
Most of the afternoon was spent hunkered down in the trailer, attempting to plan some kind of itinerary. San Antonio was on the list, for sure. We loved Austin when we there years ago, but we know that will cost a bunch of money because we’ll want to take in lots of the live music. Big Bend National Park has also been recommended but it’s a long way from anywhere, and it borders Mexico, which all Americans vigorously warn us away from these days. Many seem to think that there are members of Mexico’s drug cartel hiding behind every bush, ready to rob you of your vehicles or, worse, your life.
It continued to rain heavily all day. We decided on driving to Victoria, Texas, about two hours from San Antonio. We never got on the road until about 10:30 because we slept in until 9:00. It was still raining when we left – I had to put on flip flops to hook up the trailer, otherwise my shoes and socks would have been soaked in the deep puddles.
By the time we got to Houston, the clouds had parted. While eating my tomato, red onion, basil and Provolone sandwich, lovingly made by Janice while we were stopped at a mall outside of Houston, I had bitten down too hard on a bottom tooth. The pain was so sharp I thought I had broken it. It was still in place when I checked, but it was too sore to wiggle it enough to see if it was loose.
We got to the Lazy Longhorn RV Park in Victoria about 3:00. My tooth was still sore so we walked to the grocery store and got some ice cream and eggs, things I could eat without chewing. There was already a yam on board so Janice planned to make yam soup for dinner. The ice cream was for later, the eggs for the morning – scrambled. I did my best not to whine too much so, when we got back from the walk, as my reward, Janice poured me a big Scotch on ice before we went and warmed ourselves in the sun by the pool.
It was the next day, when we were leaving Victoria, that the city revealed some of its beautiful architecture.
Photo: A beautiful example of the architecture at Victoria, Texas.
Photo: The Rosebud Fountain and Grill, Victoria.
Photo: City Hall, Victoria, Texas.
The drive to San Antonio along Highway 87 took about two-and-a-half hours. It was Texas-like, that is to say, scrubby, with the odd ramshackle abode stranded on an otherwise desolate landscape.
We pulled into the Mission Trail RV Park, just south of San Antonio around 2:00 and then took the five-minute drive to the city. The RV Park is right next to the highway. Believe me, there’s nothing special about it, but it turned out to be just five minutes from San Antonio’s River Walk, which made getting in and out of San Antonio a breeze.
I’ll stick my neck out here, without Googling it or anything: the River Walk must make San Antonio one of the most livable cities in America.
Photo: A shot from along the River Walk in San Antonio.
Photo: There are lots of eateries and drinking establishments along the River Walk.
Photo: One more shot of the River Walk.
Photo: The Alamo, San Antonio.
Photo: Monument to the Alamo.
We had planned to drive southward, hoping to find some warmer weather, but the draw of Austin was just too strong. We know it’s going to cost us some money but, after all, it’s the Live Music Capital of the World. We just gotta’ go, ya’ know?…
It was sunny and warm as we headed up the I-35 to Austin. We pulled into the Austin Lone Star RV Resort, had lunch, and set out for Sixth Street, the live music strip. Sixth Street is not much to see by day but we wanted to scout out what was going on at night.
Austin has grown a lot since we were there sixteen years ago. It now boasts a population of 1.4 million, about the same as Vancouver. Besides being the Live Music Capital of the World, it’s also the State Capitol and is home to The University of Texas, Austin State University and a whole host of colleges. It’s a happening kind of place.
Photo: The city of Austin from the Congress Street Bridge. You can see the Capitol Building way up at the end of Congress Street.
Despite its size we could still find our way around the downtown pretty easily. We even got a parking spot right on Sixth Street, which is fairly quiet in the daytime. We found one store where I could have spent thousands of dollars on everything from guitar lamps to drum sticks that light every time they’re struck. We didn’t spend anything though, except some time. After looking around the store for about twenty minutes, we walked up to the Capitol Building for a look.
Photo: The Capitol Building.
Photo: Inside the Capitol Buiding.
We couldn’t find out much about what was going on musically by walking the streets so, when we got back from driving around the city a little, I got on the Internet and found http://www.austinlivemusic.com/. There I found everything I needed.
One thing that has changed since we were last in Austin is that the live music is spread out all over the city now. There was enough happening on Fifth and Sixth Streets though that we decided we would just go back there in the evening and stroll around, sticking our heads in doors to see what we liked.
I wasn’t keeping track of all the performers’ names and I never took any pictures of the musicians, but I can tell you that the first bar we went into had a kickin’ seven piece R&B band that played all original material. Next door we saw an acoustic trio led by the very talented and unassuming singer, songwriter, Chris Ruest.
Next, we strolled down to Evangeline’s on Fifth where the Mark Gouduin Trio was playing. They had been the house band at Antoine’s for a number of years, the club where Stevie Ray Vaughn got his start, and where we’d seen an amazing gospel troupe on our previous stay. It turned out to be the high roller spot in town though and we weren’t dressed for it, nor did we want to spend the money on high-priced drinks.
There are literally dozens of clubs packed into a couple of blocks, each with a band playing. There are no mediocre musicians in Austin – not that I’ve ever seen. Actually just about any one of them would fit in the ‘Monster Musician’ category. The guitar player for the seven-piece R&B band mentioned earlier had just come back from a gig in Vegas.
A little later, when we found our way up to a rooftop bar from which we couldn’t help but notice some music leaking, there was a trio playing a Doors’ tune – to just four patrons. Cover tunes were not what I came to hear so, when we were just about to turn around and look elsewhere, I mentioned to Janice that the guitar player, who was a lefty playing an electrified acoustic, was amazingly talented, getting incredible sounds out of his set-up. I’d never heard someone get those kinds of sounds out of an acoustic guitar, playing rock music. I could tell it was totally effortless for him too.
As they finished the Doors tune he announced that, “My electric guitar’s in the shop, because I’m going out on the road and I need it to play like it’s supposed to.” The bass player then added, “Ya, on the road with Kenny Chesney.” We listened to them play a couple more tunes; one by Jimi Hendrix and the other by Stevie Ray Vaughn. They explained they wouldn’t be playing any country music this night, which was just fine by us. The reason was that the guitar player’s contract with Kenny Chesney states that he can’t play any country music, publicly, between gigs. I guess because he might leak one of the licks he plays with the big show. Like I said, monster players.
Photo: A night shot from Sixth Street.
Maybe I’m just getting old but, despite the quality of the musicians, the trouble with the scene is that the new state-of-the-art PA systems, which the operators use to the max, were wearing us down. We stuck our heads into one more bar where a hard rockin’ blues quartet was playing. Despite hiding behind a post, we exited the place with our ears bleeding – well almost. We decided to call it a night.
Like I said, things have changed. If you’re planning a trip to Austin for the live music, do some careful research and pick a couple of shows you’d really like to see – and enjoy some incredible music.
In the morning we took advantage of a $2 pancake breakfast at our RV Park and then hit the road for Hondo, a small town not far from San Antonio. After setting up at The Quiet Texas RV Park we toured the town a little before returning to wash the RV. The park is run by an entrepreneur named Kevin, who also runs a ranch and has a business installing wind power generators. This whole park is run by them. They’re not that big, or noisy, and cost about $18,000.00, all in. There’s no bank of batteries required, they’ll easily run an average household and, reportedly, in a commercial application, pay for themselves in about five years.
At dusk we invited ourselves to the neighbour’s campfire. We knew we were probably pretty safe in doing so because, earlier, we’d noticed her t-shirt picturing three glasses of wine, with the caption: Group Therapy.
The maintenance person for the RV Park, a tall, handsome Mexican-American also joined us at the fire. He was a cowboy and he cleaned up really well, arriving at the fire replete with a black felt ten-gallon hat, snap-button shirt, snake skin boots and tight jeans. Being a bachelor, we were razzing him about how he was going to spend his Friday night. He said he’d probably go dancing. We asked if he was going to a certain club we’d seen that advertised live music. With a somewhat evasive demeanour he replied, “No.” Pumping him a little further I asked, “Why not?” Somewhat sheepishly he replied, “Because it’s nothin’ but Mexicans go there.”
We left Hondo in the dust the next morning and struck out for Del Rio, a three hour jaunt, where we had lunch at a great little side-road Mexican restaurant called Chinto’s. We noticed a lot of Mexicans hanging about, a good sign. Janice had Barbacao, a beef cheek taco with cilantro and red onion. She kept humming as she was eating – a dead giveaway that she’s loving it. I had a Guisado, a beefy stew in a taco – also good, but not humming material.
Del Rio is barely on the Texas side of the Mexican border, on Amistad Lake, which means ‘friendship’ in Spanish. Good thing because the lake is enormous and shares a lot of water with America.
We found our way to the Trav’L Park RV Resort, a couple of miles north of town, set up, and then went back to town to give it a better look. Later, we walked around the park – I was at a loss on a Sunday with no football. It’s over!
Janice wrote a beautiful poem for our friend, Charlie, who’s in her final days.
Photo: We continued driving west through Texas, with a jog down to Big Bend National Park. We exited west at New Mexico.
On Monday morning we took Highway 90, west, towards Big Bend National Park. By about 2:00 we arrived at the small town of Marathon, about seventy miles from the park. We set up at the Marathon Motel and RV Park which turned out to be a very nice surprise.
Photo: The Marathon Motel and RV Park we stayed at in Marathon.
Photo: The courtyard at the beautiful Marathon Motel and RV Park. The fireplace and the cool furniture were perfect for sitting around at night, with the fire going. The park even provided the firewood.
Photo: The cool old sign at Marathon Motel and RV park.
Photo: From the Marathon Motel and RV Park.
We walked around Marathon, another pleasant surprise, which hosts the historic Gage Hotel, the James Evans Gallery, (kind of like the Ansel Adams of Big Bend) and a few other cool little shops and restaurants. We liked it enough that we decided to stay another day and take a day trip to the park from here, instead of staying in the park itself, which has very limited amenities.
We took the seventy-mile drive to the park in the morning. Whoa, if you want to see some beautiful scenery…
Photo: The approach to The Chisos Mountains, the part of the park that we chose to explore up close.
My camera battery calved completely just as I tried to take my first picture in the park, so these pictures and all the rest of the pictures in this blog entry are from Janice’s Nikon CoolPix.
Parking at Chisos Basin we took the five-mile Window Hike. It was warm, sunny and dry. The walk was mostly downhill to The Window, which reveals a glorious view to the Chihuahua Desert below. Of course it was all uphill on the way back – not too bad though.
Photo: Janice posing at The Window. Yes it’s as slippery as it looks and is hundreds of feet to the desert floor below. The water comes rushing five feet deep through this gorge during high water.
Photo: Along the Window Trail, Big Bend National Park.
After the hike we drove west to the ghost town Teralingua and then north along Highway 118 to the university town of Alpine. When we got back to Marathon we went for dinner at the historic Gage Hotel, with our new neighbours from Ontario, John and Pat. Janice had smoked pheasant enchiladas and I had pork tenderloin with ancho chili glaze. The Gage Hotel is a beautiful piece of preserved history. It even has the original furniture and décor. The food is very good too.
With January 31st came the conclusion of eight months on the road. We had discovered earlier that we’re still within budget, thus the nice dinner out. After dinner we built a fire in the park’s common area, sharing some wine with Deborah and John, from Maine.
Photo: Tim at the fire. It was balmy until about 10:00pm but, very suddenly, a cold wind kicked up and sent the thermometer plummeting, and us scurrying inside.
We knew that there was a severe cold weather warning for the next few days, so the idea was to drive as far west as we could handle in the morning.
What a difference a day can make. The previous day, when we hiked to The Window, we enjoyed perfect temperatures in the low twenties, Celcius, but we awoke in the morning to freezing temperatures and howling winds. We hooked up as fast as we could and were on the road by 9:00, bucking very strong headwinds and blowing snow on highway 90. We made it to Alpine without incident and fueled up for the first time that day.
It was crispy cold outside and we were buffeted constantly with gusting winds and blowing snow as we continued west on Highway 90. After a couple of hours we stopped for a quick lunch at a slushy picnic spot, just before we hooked up with Interstate 10, where Janice took over driving for a few hours. In all, we stopped for gas three times during the day, with another unsuccessful stop in El Paso to look for a camera battery.
From the Walmart parking lot in El Paso the poverty that is Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, is clearly visible, up close. Just across the Rio Grande, which is little more than a ditch at this point, hundreds of tiny ramshackle, multi-colored but grimy shacks are stacked like cards on the hillsides. Last year alone, Ciudad Juarez was the site of more than four thousand violent drug war deaths. It was also the sight where, a number of years ago, a mass murderer/rapist, single-handedly, took hundreds of women’s lives. It’s hard to comprehend, when you see it, that nothing but a chain link fence separates this sad part of a third world country from a bustling American city. It must be a desperate feeling looking through that fence from the other side.
Photo: A shot of New Mexico from the truck as we travelled I-10.
After battling the wind and a lot of scary weather all day, we finally arrived in Arizona, but not before seeing a lot of beautiful scenery as we passed through the lower part of New Mexico.
Photo: As we entered Arizona we worried that it looked like a funnel cloud was about to form.