Open Road

Open Road

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Don't Mess with Texas OR How much brisket can one family eat?

Hi friends and family! Haven't had the greatest wifi recently, so my apologies for no recent posts. Of course, we haven't been sitting around drinking sweet tea - we're actually eating our way through Texas. After eating so well and healthy this trip, all this beef is making us sluggish and tired. But that might be the humidity too. A combo for sure. Either way, Mommy is going to need to do a cleanse when she gets home.

I left off in Santa Fe as we were headed to Carlsbad Caverns, but before I forget, we did tour the Georgia O'Keeffe museum. Fascinating! Very well done. Even the kids enjoyed it. They may not appreciate her work now, but someday, they will have a context when asked to study her pieces. Her flowers are magnificent!

Ok, so on to Carlsbad Caverns, located in New Mexico near the Texas border. But first, what God-loving tourist isn't going to stop in Roswell, NM? We had to! But, so dumb. The UFO Museum is an old, smelly movie theater converted into just a big room full of newspaper articles written in size 6 font. A few pictures. A super tacky display of aliens and a horribly painted UFO that lights up every 30 minutes. Ridiculous. It would take you two weeks to read everything they have posted. Not well done, but at least we can say we went there. Didn't change our minds either. The only redeeming part of that trip was buying two HUGE inflatable aliens and putting them in Toad when it's attached to Harvey. More than a few people have pointed and laughed. But, every time we have to unhook Toad and drive him somewhere, we have to drag the aliens out and throw them in Harvey. And yes, they have names. Fart and Paul. You can guess who named them. So proud.

The day definitely improved once we hit Carlsbad Caverns. Since there isn't a lot around there, I have a tough time telling you that the Caverns are a must see, but I'll do it anyway.  YOU HAVE TO SEE THE CARLSBAD CAVERNS! It was my 2nd favorite national park, after Zion. These caverns/caves are enormous, full of stalactites and stalagmites, and stunningly beautiful. They were "discovered" by a 16-year-old kid named Jim White, back in the early 1900's. He explored by himself and didn't tell anyone what he was doing. Crazy! We explored three trails - King's Palace which was a ranger-led tour, the Natural Entrance and the Big Room.  Probably five miles of trail to see just a fraction of what is there. There were so many switchbacks entering the National Entrance that I lost count after 20-something. Seriously, it's worth the trip!

The best part though was at night. There are over 300,000 bats that live in the caves and at 7:45 pm, it's dinner time. They all come swirling out of the natural entrance over the course of 30 minutes and it almost looks like smoke coming out. So many bats! They eat over 2-1/2 tons of insects, etc. EACH NIGHT! We weren't allowed to take pictures. In fact, all electronics had to be shut off and everyone in the amphitheater had to be totally quiet. Gotta love echolocation! A super fun day! Oh, and we had a huge meal of barbecue. The first of many.

The next day, we had a long driving day as we headed to San Antonio for a three day stop. Most of our stops have only been two nights, so three nights is a luxury! On our first day, we enjoyed brunch at a beautiful restaurant on the Riverwalk, did a little window shopping and took a boat ride down the San Antonio river. That night, we had a ball! Went to Tejas Steakhouse and had the best steak ever! Since it was a Saturday night, it was RODEO NIGHT! Yee Haw! For real! We were quite underdressed - no cowboy hats, no cowboy boots and no big belt buckles - but what a cool experience. Probably the first time on our trip that I felt like I was in a different country. A completely different culture. Frankly, a little uncomfortable - but served for great discussions afterwards. Once the rodeo was complete, they had a live band there and everyone headed to the big pavilion for dancing. Kids were horrified that Jason and I worked on our two-step, but it was awesome! It felt like we were going back 100 years watching the boys work up the nerve to ask the girls to dance. Only difference was the girls had to put their iPhones away before hitting the dance floor. Watchful parents stood off to the sides.

The next day was Mission day. First we visited the San Jose Mission on a ranger-led tour. Talk about eye-opening! Hoping that I wasn't the only one who didn't know this, but the priests that set up the missions were actually doing so on orders from the Spanish Crown, not strictly for religious reasons of conversion. In the San Antonio area, the native americans were in the midst of a drought, the Apaches were headed their way with less than good intentions and suddenly, the priests arrived, offering the native americans safe haven, food, protection, etc. All they had to do was follow a few simple rules - completely change their way of life, culture, religious affiliation, and swear allegiance to Spain and to the Catholic church. Yup. No sweat. They had to build the mission, stone by stone. They had to dig miles and miles of irrigation canals. They were "taught" skills, like blacksmithing, farming, etc. Once they were deemed worthy, they were made Spanish citizens, given a small plot of land in the middle of nowhere, told to do the job they were "trained" to do, and then pay taxes to Spain. This was their way of nation building. My gosh! Why didn't I know this? The good, the bad and the ugly, for sure. We stayed for part of the mass that was offered at the Mission church. Lucky for us, it was the mariachi band service. Amazing music in such an historic place.

After, we headed over to the Alamo. While it was interesting to see and hear about, I guess I didn't feel that sort of emotional connection that many Texans feel. The Alamo is the symbol of Texan liberty. I've heard other people say that going to the Alamo is more about being able to say you've been there than anything else. So, box checked! At this point, we were wicked hot and tired, and perhaps a little soft in the head because the kids talked us into going to the Wax Museum and a Ripley's 4D Wild Ride. Sorry to say that we won't get that $86.00 back. Ah well. They enjoyed it and it was air conditioned!

Then we were off to Austin, Texas, a short drive away. With dark clouds overhead, we decided to do some laundry and hang out in Harvey, trying to stay cool. Pretty quickly, the storm came in, with 50 mph gusts. I was alone in the laundry room, figuring that Harvey was probably ok, but not so sure about Toad. Pretty quickly, I saw a steady stream of people dodging the lightning, running into the campground office. Turns out, about half of the campground lost power. So, here I am, with 8 loads in the washing machines, panicking that if the laundry room loses power, I am in big trouble! Jason texted that all was good, the A/C was still running and Toad was still in one piece. And, the laundry room never lost power. Whew! That night, we had dinner with Jason's colleague, Probal and his beautiful family over at Salt Lick. A wonderful night of laughs, catching up on the work front, and just enjoying the evening with them along with some very delicious brisket. The sauce was my favorite! They were so helpful - showing us where the good grocery store was, highlighting some of the great things Austin had to offer, etc. Just a great evening!

Our full day in Austin just flew. We enjoyed a "sleeping in" morning followed by a huge tickle war. Love those kind of mornings! The University of Texas was our stop and we checked out the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library. Again, I learned a lot! What a character! I think it was pretty enlightening for the kids to realize that so many things in our daily life that we take for granted were signed into law during the Johnson Administration. Major civil rights legislation, Medicare/Medicaid, the Voting Rights Act, significant increases to education funding, Child safety, Space funding, creation of the department of transportation, Fair Housing and immigration law. Also, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting - I'm an NPR nut! We were doing things kind of backwards, since we were headed to Dallas the following day, but the kids asked tons of questions and again, great conversations. And of course, more brisket for dinner. Rudy's this time - the place is inside a gas station! Gotta love Texas!

I had promised Jason that I would drive more once we were out of the mountains, so I was at the wheel for our drive from Austin to Dallas. The weather was much less humid, still hot, but more tolerable, so we headed to the Texas Rangers baseball game that evening. A beautiful night. We're starting to think that we're bad luck, because they lost. Badly. Just like the San Francisco Giants did when we went to that game. We also realized that Toad's back tire was making an awful noise - something was clearly wrong. Great. The following morning, Jason and Jack found this place called Baertrax, a shop specializing in Jeeps. Josh, the owner, was most accommodating and quickly ascertained that the brakes were all fouled up. He went out of his way to get everything fixed quickly and they were on their way. Josh rocks! The boys also love the Baertrax hats he gave them! Now, we just need to figure out how to keep Toad's exhaust system bolted where it's supposed to be so that it's not so noisy. But alas, we had Dallas to see!

Actually, Dallas was a last minute add-on to the trip. Since we had cut a few other places, we had time to trek up there and we're so glad we did. We spent all afternoon at Dealey Plaza and the 6th Floor Museum. Jack has read and studied up on JFK the most out of all the presidents and was pretty excited to visit there. The exhibits and displays were so well done. Easy for anyone to understand and appreciate the confusion, emotion and heartbreak of those days in November. In my family, November 22nd has been a day of note for as long as I can remember because my parents went on their first date that very day of Kennedy's assassination. A difficult decision not to cancel their plans, but I'm awfully glad they didn't. We took lots of pictures outside as cameras were not allowed in the museum. There's actually a big white "X" in the middle of the road where authorities believe Kennedy was when the second bullet hit him. Very eerie being there. I was surprised to see a little plaque at the place Abraham Zapruder stood filming on that fateful day.

Moving on, we had to hit Wild Bill's Western shop and Jason is now the proud owner of a handsome cowboy hat. Oh, and we had brisket for dinner. My body can't take much more of this, but when in Rome...

Until next time, y'all!

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