Tuesday, May 9
According to our original plan, our next stop would have been Galveston State Park in Galveston, Texas. But we had gotten lots of positive recommendations for the National Parks in Utah – Arches, Bryce, and Zion, so we called an audible and decided to save a couple days by skipping Galveston. So we headed directly to our next destination, San Antonio and Austin, Texas. That meant that we were covering nearly two days worth of our originally planned mileage in one day. Accordingly, we got up early, “broke camp”, and got on the road a few minutes before 7:00(!). After a bit of a wresting match with our GPS (which wanted to take us north to I-20, which we didn’t want to do), we got going in the right direction to the Route 84 bridge from Natchez, MS to Vidalia, LS over the Mississippi River, and continued on 84 to Alexandria, MS. From there, we picked up 165 down to I-10. Both roads were scenic drives and traveled smoothly, mostly 4-lane with a few 2-lane sections. The next part of our route took us through Houston on I-10. Since we were worried about the traffic we might hit there, we decided to drive straight through until we were safely past it. We finally stopped for lunch and fuel at 2:00 at a Flying J. We were back on the road at 3:00 or so, and after hitting just enough rain to get the rig, and especially the Jeep, covered with dirt, we pulled into Sunset Point RV park in Marble Falls Texas just before 6 pm. The mileage reading when we stopped 3332, for a total of 545 miles. So we crossed the 1000 and 1500 mile marks on the same day. 11 hours on the road (10 actually driving) is a little much, but we decided it was worth it.
Sunset Point is on the LBJ Lake, with nice sites. As usual, the other campers were friendly. It looks like some of the sites are owned individually, and those are all decked out with built in grills, landscaping, etc. Ours wasn’t spiffed up, but quite adequate. Having full hookups meant we could do laundry and be less concerned about water usage.
Wednesday, May 10
To start the day, Barry had a conference call that lasted until 12:00, so we didn’t get going until after lunch. We drove about an hour and 15 minutes to Austin (the advertising for the park indicated it was an hour from Austin and San Antonio, we should have done some fact checking there, since it’s more like 1:15 to Austin and 1:30 to San Antonio). Our first stop in Austin was the Texas State Capitol. It is an impressive building, which we learned quite a bit about on a “Heroes of the Texas Revolution” guided tour. It was built from 1881 until 1888. Texas was short on money and long on land, so they paid the company that built it (I think the company was from Chicago) 3 million acres of land in the Texas panhandle.
The architecture was very interesting, and the millwork and flooring were masterpieces. Much of it was restored to its original form back in the 80’s, and a large underground extension was also added underneath the “mall” to the south of the building.
The rotunda over the capitol is 290 feet to the top, which they claimed is taller than the US Capitol building’s rotunda. The star at the top you see in the picture is 8 feet across.
What, you might be wondering, are “Heroes of the Texas Revolution”. Well, I don’t think you’d be wondering if you were from Texas, because this part of Texas history seems to be a point of pride in this state. Prior to 1836, Texas was part of a one of the Mexican states. A guy named Santa Ana (he has about 5 other names preceding that) was elected president and somehow abolished the existing constitution, effectively making him a dictator. Texans seemed to be looking for an excuse to secede, so they declared independence. Santa Ana was not only the president of Mexico, but led its army, too, and he marched it up to Texas to teach them a lesson. He was out-maneuvered handily by the heroic Texans led by Sam Houston and Steve Austin, and in an 18-minute battle, Santa Ana lost 600 men, while the victorious Texans lost only 9. Santa Ana threw in the towel and surrendered to a wounded Sam Houston while Steve Austin and Davey Crockett looked on (if the painting hanging in the capitol entryway is to be believed). Texas declared itself to be a separate country, and told Mexico “Don’t Mess with Texas”. They say that a lot down here. Texas was only a separate country for a fairly short time, joining the United States in 1844.
There was quite a controversy over whether Austin should be the capital or not, with two of the Texas Heroes, Sam Houston and Steve Austin, on opposite sides of the debate. Violence was nearly resorted to before Houston gave in.
The floor of the capitol has six emblems on it for the six flags that have flown over Texas. France, Spain, and Mexico were there, then the emblem of the independent nation of Texas. Since Texas joined the secessionists in the Civil War, the Confederacy emblem is next, and then the United States. You see the six flags theme a lot in Austin, along with the Texas star. I think a lot of Texans thing they should have stuck to being their own country (some of them probably think they are).
After the tour, we went to the visitor galleries of both the House of Representative and Senate chambers, where they were in session. That wasn’t the most fascinating exercise. We saw the House pass HB 1643, which (purports to) outlaw flying drones at an altitude of less than 400 feet over cattle feeding operations (you can’t make this stuff up – search for it on the internet if you don’t believe me). However, I know for a fact that the FAA has sole authority over regulations affecting the nation’s airspace, so I have my doubts as to the enforceability of that statute. But of course maybe the FAA doesn’t want to mess with Texas.
After the Capitol we walked around Austin for a while in the Capitol district. We had heard that there is a cool section in Austin, but it wasn’t marked on the map, so we settled for Congress Street (both Katie and Steven have been to Austin, and both declared we were nowhere near the cool part of town, but they probably wouldn’t have let us in anyway). We had a very good dinner at Second Bar & Kitchen.
Next up was a cruise on the Lady Bird Lake to the Congress Street bridge, where 750,000 expecting Mommy bats live from March until June, when the batlings are born and then there are 1,500,000 bats. The bats like it because of the longitudinal expansion joints in the concrete where lanes were added in the late ‘70s. They’re about 2 inches wide, and thus too narrow for predators to come eat them while they sleep during the day. The cruise is on a 40-passenger pontoon boat with an electric motor that starts about 200 yards from the Congress Street (bat) bridge. It launched at about 7:45, and headed away from the bat bridge at the blazing speed of about 3 knots to see some of the sites of Austin, which truth be told weren’t that scenic, but I think they were killing time waiting for the bats and trying to justify the $10 they charge.
About 8:15 or so, the first of the bats started coming out and then for about 15 minutes there was a constant swarm of them. They roost all along the bridge, but when they come out, they fly under the bridge to the south shore, and then fly east right at tree top level, so there’s a 30 foot wide parade of them that are clearly visible against the not-quite-dark sky. It’s definitely worth seeing. A lot of people also stand on the east sidewalk of the bridge, but our boat captain/guide pointed out that then you’re looking down at the bats and they are harder to see with the water as a backdrop.
We retrieved the Jeep and finally got home around 10:00.
Thursday, May 11
Next stop was San Antonio. We got rolling about 9:30 and got to San Antonio about 11:00. Barry did a lot of complaining about parking in a lot with a big “$5” rate listed only to find that the fine print said that only applied if you got there before 9:00. To top it off, there was no attendant or anything, we had to download a pathetic “ParkMobile” app and spend 10 minutes creating an account and putting in credit card info, and then were ripped off for $20. San Antonio had to make a comeback from that start. We were near the Alamo, but as expected the lines were too long for Barry’s limited patience, so we skipped actually going in. Therese had been there 45 years earlier with her family and it probably hasn’t changed much.
So off we went to find the supposedly nearby River Walk. Well it is nearby, but we still had some fits and starts finding it because they were working on the entrance near the Alamo so you couldn’t use it. When we finally started walking the river, it was entertaining and very nice.
It was a huge and welcome contrast to the very urbanized city proper. After some exploring, we went to a place called Ostra for an excellent lunch. The margarita moved San Antonio’s approval rating up substantially.
Further walking around brought us to the boarding area for the San Antonio River Cruise, which we decided to take. That was interesting. I’m not sure “river” is the right description for this body of water, since it seems to have a few loops and it’s not obvious whether it is really flowing or not. But the “linear park” idea pioneered turned out to be a big hit after a slow start.
There’s a shop/restaurant area called La Villita along the River Walk that Therese wanted to see, so we stopped there briefly. Then we walked back to the expensively parked car by way of the Alamo so we could snap a picture and lay claim to remembering the Alamo.
Next stop was Mission San Jose, about a 15 minute drive away in a considerably less prosperous section of San Antonio. The Mission was started in 1721, with the aim of teaching (coercing, brainwashing, take your pick) the indigenous population to be good Spanish citizens. There was quite a bit of tug of war between the church and secular leadership over declaring it to be independent of the church. When they did, the friars left, and then it literally fell apart. What is there now is the result of several restorations, including one during the depression era using Conservation Corps workers. It is now a National Historic Monument, and parts of it are being restored to its former state by the Park Service.
It was an interesting place, but after seeing it we were touristed out and headed back to “camp”. Back in Marble Falls, we stopped at the grocery store and then got back to the campsite at 6:00.
Tomorrow, we are headed to La Cruces, New Mexico, where we plan to see the Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument.