Friday, November 30, 2012

DAY 100- Sunrise and Never a Sailor…

I got up early in my north Padre Island hotel to watch my first sunrise over the Gulf of Mexico.  It was something unique having never saw a sunrise over an ocean area.  Living in the west, I had seen sunsets over the ocean.  It was still dark out when I was putting my shoes on but the sun was rising steadily as I walked out to the beach with my camera.  I wanted to capture the moments.  I wasn’t the only one out there.  There was another gal in a cowboy boots and hat with a fancy camera.  I said hi and she walked away from me.  Okay, maybe not a morning person that talks; oh, well.  I just watched and enjoyed the silence as the sun rose.  It was beautiful and I’m glad that a friend had suggested that I do it.
Photos- Of the sunrise I watched over the Gulf of Mexico.

Later on, I was heading south on Padre Island for the Padre Island National Seashore which is part of the National Park system.  I got to use my annual parks pass again; bonus!  I’m always amazed at how many National Parks or Landmarks that I just stumble across and am able to use this pass.  It’s the best investment that I could have done during this adventure.

I drove to the visitor’s center after showing my annual pass at the entrance gate.  I walked into the visitor’s center and there was a group with a national parks employee going through a display of unique things that people had picked up along the beach.  I joined in with listening.  The coolest thing I thought that was on the display table looked like a piece of petrified wood but it wasn’t.  It was fused sand from a lightning bolt that had struck the beach.  You could see where seashells were captured in the fused sand.  All kinds of things wash up onto the shore of Padre Island because of its circular coastline and the ocean currents there are thing that come from Cuba, the Caribbean and South America; most of the items on the display table were seed pods, nuts, or coral.  

I walked around the visitor’s center a little more.  They had samples of the Kemp turtles that had been almost extinct but with help from programs and local support they’ve been assisted in the protection of their birthing places and releasing them afterwards the numbers are slowly rising.  They had one of the large Kemp turtles on display but I guess that currently they were releasing smaller ones in the early, early mornings at this time of year. 
Photo- Butterflies and flowers on the way to the beach.

I went out towards the beach area.  On the way, I saw a grouping of yellow wild flowers where there were quite a few monarch butterflies landing and flying around.  I stopped and watched for a bit.  While watching I also saw a small sand crab run across the sand and into a hole.  I walked along the beach for a while.  Down a little ways there was a father and son fishing along the beach area.  I watched them for a bit and then continued walking down the beach.  I saw all kinds of birds and a couple of Portuguese-Man-O-Wars that had washed up on shore.  The day before near the hotel beach I had seen a jelly fish washed up on shore. 
Photos- Father and son fishing on the beach and their catch of the day.

I must have walked a couple of miles and decided to turn around.  The father and son were collecting their gear and as I got closer I could see a line full of fish that had been caught.  I commented on their catch and the father said that it was just the first catch of the day.  There was a campsite nearby where I guess they were staying.  I wished him a good day and continued on.  I went into the gift shop and looked around for a bit.  Then, I figured it was time to head north to Corpus Christi for my next planned visit of the day.

I followed the Google directions to the USS Lexington Museum which is in a bay area near downtown Corpus Christi.  The USS Lexington War Ship is an actual warship that has been permanently made into a museum.  I paid my entrance fee and got a token for the parking lot across the street.  I hung out looking at displays in the Hanger Bay #2 area while I waited for the next film to start in about 10 minutes.  There were a couple of restored planes, some airplane motors that were on display; along with some game like things to interact with.  When they opened the theater a few minutes later, I took the 3D glasses and found a seat.
Photo- The outside of the USS Lexington from the shore.

The movie was focused on air races and restored planes.  It had some cool effects with the 3D.  A row back a woman said she thought that the movie would be about ships since we were on a ship.  Her husband nicely told her that it was an air carrier ship and that’s why the movie was about planes.  Oh, she said.  She still sounded a bit disappointed.  I just chuckled a bit.
Photo- Inside the USS Lexington in the Bay #4 area.

I next went on one of the four other tours where you go through parts of the ship.  I did the #2 Tour which was the officers’ quarters, a Pearl Harbor Exhibit, and anchor equipment.  I climbed in and around and up into the upper deck areas of the ship.  It was like chutes and ladders with a bit of a maze thrown in.  I was finding it fun and I looked out at the outside windows as I went along.  Next, I did the #1 Tour which was the flight deck.  I went up and out onto the open area where they had old restore airplanes, anti-aircraft guns, the plank, and the navigation bridge area.  It was all pretty fun and I was having fun going through rounded doorways and up and down the stairs that were like ladders.  I did Tour #3 which was the combat ready rooms, the library, and the Captain’s Cabin.  I was amazed at how much room the Captain of the ship was given.
Photos- Stairs and doorways in the USS Lexington.

Then, I thought I’ll do the last of the tours I hadn’t done which was #4.  This tour was the lower decks where the engine room, sick bay, dental clinic, crew’s galley, a POW Exhibit, and a Chapel was.  I climbed down to the lower deck and started to look at some of the crews small areas where they would sleep.  Yikes, these were rather small and cramped.  I went by the barber’s chair area.  I then started going through some of heating and cooling equipment that was on the ship; that was rather cool because I used to be a secretary in this line of business.  Then it was an exhibit on Pearl Harbor Exhibit.  It was about this time that I really started to feel claustrophobic. 

Next, I walked into the sick room area and I could feel the sweat just dropping down my forehead.  I was starting to have a hard time breathing.  I sat down for a bit and put my head between my legs because I was getting light headed.  Oh no!  I might be leaving something behind in the sick room if I didn’t get out of here soon.  My stomach was starting to act up too.  I started to look for a way out.  Shortly after this I ran into a young married couple that had been in the theater the same time as me.  I asked if they knew where the exit was because I was starting to get claustrophic.   They helped me out and then led me over to one of the wide door bay areas when we reached the main floor.  They were both very sweet and asked if they could help or get me anything.  They encouraged me to sit down.  I sat down and just took large breaths of fresh air.  Well, I guess I’ll never be a sailor!

I left the ship shortly after I managed to feel normal again.   I was back in my car and heading north to Bay City which was a halfway stopping point between Corpus Christi and Galveston, TX.  As I drove north the sun started to set behind me and the moon was starting to rise in front of me.  This moon was HUGE and kind of a yellow orange.  It reminded me of the moon in that late 1980’s movie called Moonstruck in which Cher and Nicholas Cage starred.  It was HUGE and I sometimes found it hard to keep my eye one the road because I was watching the moon.

It was as I got to Bay City that I discovered I didn’t have the paper of which hotel I would be staying at for the night.  Ooops!  I pulled into a McDonald’s hoping that they had free Wi-Fi.  Nope!  I drove around and then saw a Chili’s and I thought I would ask there while I grabbed a quick bite to eat.  I just realized I never ate any lunch and I was surviving on a Bit of Honey bar that I bought at the National Park Visitors Center earlier.  I asked the server if she knew of any places with Wi-Fi nearby.  Nope!  Okay, this was not good. 

I looked through my phone when I remembered that I had called earlier in the week when I made an error on an on-line booking.  I found the number and rather quickly found out which hotel I would be staying at, the address, and the phone number.  I was back in business.  Yeah!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

DAY 99- Missions and on to the Beach...

I totally decided not to visit the Alamo while I was in San Antonio.  From what I heard it was expensive and you couldn’t touch or really look at anything in particular.  It was being treated as too much of a Shrine and I’ve seen enough of those plus, I still had three other Missions in the area that I could visit for free and be able to take pictures of.  So I packed up my car and headed to the first one of the three which was Mission Concepcion.
Photo- The outside of the church at Mission Concepcion.

There was only one other car and myself there at 10AM.  The church was open and I walked around and read all of the historical signage.  The inside of the church I thought was very beautiful.  There was a couple of people in a closed off section doing some masonry repairs/ restoration.  It was just a nice peaceful quiet area to be.
Photo- Repairs being done at Mission Concepcion.
Photo- The beautiful interior of Mission Concepcion church.

Next, I followed the signs to go to Mission Espada.  There I was greeted by a docent that gave me some extra literature about this mission in particular.  Then, she even offered to explain the statues in the church if I would like when I got over to the church area.  I thanked her and said that I would love to have her do that.  She was just so helpful and it was such a pleasure to have someone like her on duty at the mission.
Photo- The church at Mission Espada.

I waved at her as I got over to the church area.  She explained how this church was not what was originally designed for the area.  They had footings laid out for a larger church but it never happened.  There were a lot of issues with maintaining a constant Indian population for labor at this mission.  She also pointed out the door frame of this church.  It was rather Moorish in nature.  The story goes that the original mason got involved with a married lady and had to flee quite quickly leaving the work unfinished.  The underlings were left to finish the work and it’s believed that they tried as best they could but didn’t really know what they were doing and thus there are some “errors” with the door area. 

She went into the church with me and explained about the St. Francis statue that was in the middle was the oldest statue of the mission and that the gold leafing was what they discovered as they were restoring the statue.  The Jesus statue was made of corn husks and the Mary statue was only half that tall and was designed to be carried during festivals.  She also explained about how the window at the rear of the church was designed to shine sun on the St. Francis statue on October 4th which is a special day in the Catholic Church.  I forgot which one and I’m not up on my Catholic holidays.  But it was all very interesting.

The docent left me in the church, inviting me to take pictures and to come over to visitor’s center.  She said she would be back by the entrance if I had any further questions that I had.  I thanked her for her time and took several pictures of the inside of this church. Then, I went over to check out the visitor’s center.  There was an older gentleman in a cowboy being the docent in there.  There was a puzzle of the door way of the church that you were invited to play with.  He told another story about the doorway of the church. 

Then the gentleman docent went on to explain the building that houses the visitor’s center which use to be used as a local Catholic school for the area.  They had photos and areas that were left like it originally would have been when it was used as a school.  There also was a different room that housed museum information.  What I found particularly interesting was that branding of cattle came from the King of Spain.  If the cow wasn’t branded then it was considered the King’s property.  This encouraged owners to brand their cattle.  One of the oldest brands that are still registered to this day is the Mission’s brand.  The docent also went on to point out how the term Maverick came into use.  There was a guy that moved into the territory after King of Spain lost power in the area.  This guy whose name was Maverick was quick to claim any of the unmarked cattle were his.  There by any of the unmarked cattle were called mavericks; kind of some fun history there.

Next, I headed to the Mission Espada.  I was walking along taking pictures when out of the blue walks Nanette the same national park employee that gave the tour yesterday.  She said I recognize you from yesterday.  I had asked a couple of questions during the tour yesterday and another afterwards.  I guess I might have been memorable.  I ended up talking with her for a while.  It was just myself and maybe one other couple on the grounds of this mission.  It was rather fun talking with her and I explained what I was doing with my road trip.  She thought that was neat and mentioned that she wanted to try to explore more of Texas with her husband when they could because Texas had a lot to offer.  She wanted to do Stay-cations.  I thought that was a wonderful idea and thinking more people should really try to do that.

After talking with Nanette I went through the museum part of the mission and then ended up talking with an older gentleman docent who happened to be a member of the mission parish.  He explained how they were fixing the church which was leaning very badly.  He also pointed out another structure on the property that was a house that was made from the original stones from the mission.  Quite a few of the stones ended up being used for that and that’s why some of the missions are not as well restored as they could be because a lot of these stones were spread all over the area being used for other houses and buildings.

Next, I found myself driving south towards Corpus Christi.  I would be spending the night in a hotel on the north side of Padre Island which is just over a couple of bridges from Corpus Christi.  I managed to find my hotel quite easily which surprised me because there were so many bridges that I went over and over that I was afraid it would be complicated to find.

Quickly after getting checked in I threw on some sandals and I was out walking along the beach area of the Gulf of Mexico.  It’s the first time I had ever seen or been on the Gulf of Mexico.  I thought that was kind of cool; another first.  The sun was just starting to set and I kind of just hung out and watched it set as I walked up and then back down the beach about 2 miles in all.   It was very pretty and I got to watch the moon rise.  There were a couple of surfers out which surprised me because there really wasn’t much for waves at all.  One of them did manage to get up on a wave for a short little bit but most of the waves were just too small to do anything with.  I talked with a local couple that was seated along the wall.  They said they saw people all the time attempting to make something out of these small waves.  Some of the best competitive surfers they said came from the Corpus Christi area because if they could make something of smaller waves they could really make something out of the larger ones.  I wouldn’t know but it kind of made sense.
Photo- Watching the sunset to the west on water that was to the east.  An interesting sight.

Next, it was dinner time and I asked the girl at the counter where there was a locals place to go.  She told me Scuttlebutts and gave me a copy of their menu.  It had a lot of variety and was nearby.  Why not.  I washed the sand off my feet, changed into blue jeans, and I was off.  As I went down there was a guy in the elevator that I said hi to and then went out to my car.  I drove past the restaurant the first time and had to turn around.  This area reminded me of Utah in that you have to do a "U" turn to get any where.
I go into the pretty full restaurant and try to find a sit at the bar.  Whose at the bar but the guy that I said Hi to in the elevator at my hotel.  He pulls up a bar chair next to him and invites me to sit next to him.  He's a marathon organizer from near the Orlando, FL area.  On the other side I have a small plane pilot from San Antonio.  There's two different basketballs games on the TVs and then there's an old Bruce Lee movie in the middle of it all.  The three of us are laughing at the Bruce Lee movie; talk about BAD acting.  It was fun.
I order some Happy Hour appetizers for dinner and ordered a draft beer that was on Happy Hour special.  The pilot guy leaves wishing me luck on my road trip and I ended up talking with the other guy.  He ends up paying for my dinner and asks if I want to hit a nearby bar.  Sure, I say.  I follow him to a place not far from our hotel called The Office.  It was a nice little local bar and I had to laugh because the pilot guy was there playing pool with another guy.  I said hi and he teased me about stalking him.  I gave him a hug and we finally introduced ourselves his name was Ben.  He also teased me about still hanging out with the guy I met in an elevator and warned me to be careful.  He was sweet.
I sat down with Mr. Elevator guy and I had another beer while he had wine and we just chatted.  He bought another round of drinks and we continued to chat.  I finally bought another round and we continued to chat.  As he finished his glass of wine, he said he was going back to the hotel bar at our hotel to finish up the night.  He asked if I wanted to join him.  I told him I might after I finish this beer which was only half full.  But I knew that the hotel bar would be closed and he was basically calling it quits for the night.  I thanked him for my dinner and all of the beers.  I finished my beer after a while and went back to the hotel for the night.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

DAY 98- San Antonio, TX...

I woke up to a thick fog.  At first I could barely see the interstate that was running along outside of my window.  Later it became lighter out and I could see the interstate but the tall downtown buildings were lost in the fog.  I turned on the local news and they were showing accidents and backed up traffic all around the area.  I had considered a morning bike ride but I didn’t think it would be safe now.
Photo- A foggy morning in San Antonio, TX.

I went down for the grab and go breakfast at the Red Roof Inn where I was staying.  A muffin, some orange juice, a coffee and US Today paper, I was back up in my room.  I figured I would just wait out this fog thing.  The weatherman said it would clear as it warmed up during the day.  It was supposed to rain later that night and bring in a slight cold front.  The temperatures would be in the upper 60’s; sounded pretty good to me.

A while later, I found myself at the yellow trolley stop a half block away sitting on one of two benches.  There were two black guys there that were sitting on the bench not waiting for a trolley but taking a work break from the auto repair just down the street. I talked with them for a bit while I waited.  As the trolley (which was a regular bus) came I wished them a good day.  I rode the trolley over to the San Antonio Market Square stop.
Photo- Outside at the Market Square in San Antonio.

San Antonio’s Market Square is a colorful walking mall area where there are a lot of Mexican goods for sale.  It has a very festive air and there’s a whole variety of things to look at.  It was rather fun window shopping.  I walked around for a little bit and then decided to get lunch.
Photo- Inside the Mi Tierra's Cafe and Bakery.

I went to Mi Tierra’s Café and Bakery that says it’s always open.  I walked in and was enveloped by some wonderful smells.  Upfront, there’s a glass enclosed counter where there’s a whole selection of mouthwatering freshly baked goods.  Yummy!  I went up to the hostess stand and she started to take me back.  “Where would you like to sit?” she asked me.  She asked if I would like to sit at the counter or a table.  I said whichever is more interesting.  She gave me a perplexed look.  I asked about the covered patio area and she happily sat me out there; looking a bit relieved to be rid of me.

Chips and salsa were brought to the table and I ordered one of the specials of the day just picking something at random.  Their prices were very reasonable.  A very hot plate was served with a cheese enchilada, Spanish rice, a covered container of warm tortillas (corn and flour), and a huge chicken leg.  It was all tasty.  While I was enjoying my lunch, a table of Latino men were sitting and chatting in Spanish.  It was someone’s birthday and one of them was getting a hard time.  A short bit later a trio of guitar players showed up at their table along with a group of restaurant employees.  It was birthday song time; all sang in Spanish.  The birthday boy was turning all shades of red.  It was so cute.

After lunch I walked around the Market Square a bit more.  I went in a few shops and was tempted to try on some of the cute colorful clothes but I didn’t have the room in my car; so I thought I better not.  I caught the yellow trolley back to my hotel where I jumped in my car and drove to one of the Mission Churches in the area.  There are four of them in the area and they are a National Park.  There are guided tours that they do at a few of them and I thought it might be interesting to catch one of these.  So with my Google directions in hand I wandered south through San Antonio.  I went south on St. Mary’s which changed names twice before I came to the San Jose Mission and it’s visitor center. 

The tour was given by a National Park’s employee named Nanette.  She was a cute native Texan gal with an amazing unique southern drawl that almost had a hint of Spanish accent.  It was just amazing listening to her as she gave the tour.  She talked about the history of the Mission San Jose and pointed out the different areas along the way.  We got to see the “apartments” where up to 20 Indians would live.  It made my Salt Lake City one bedroom apartment look like the lap of luxury compared to these two linked rooms; one of which had a fireplace where cooking was done. 
Photo- The cute Nanette with the wonderful Texas drawl accent.

Photo- The outside of the little "apartments" that line the outside wall of the San Jose Mission.

Nanette talked about what was expected of the mission Indians and what an average day for them would have been like during this time frame.  Most of their life was centered around the church.  They would get up and attend church in the morning; go back to their “apartments” for breakfast and then report to whatever work area they were expected.  Then, at the height of the day would be siesta time.  Then after their nap they would be expected to attend church again.  Then, it would be dinner and they had free time in the evening time.
Photo- The Famous Rose window.

During the tour, we steadily worked our way over to the church part of the mission where she ended her tour.  She told of two different legends regarding a Rose window on the side of the church and said we could decide which one was true.  The actual church was not part of the National Park.  Though, it was open to the public.  It’s an active parish church and run by the San Antonio Diocese. 
Photos- San Jose Mission Church, outside and inside.

After that I wondered around taking pictures and reading some of the displayed signs.  It was all very fascinating.  I walked over to the milling area which was just outside the wall areas.  It was the miller’s day off but normally they would have someone that would be operating the mill.  It was the only one of the four missions that had a working mill.  Most of the missions had been somewhat restored in the 1930’s.  It was while viewing this that I had this kitten rubbing up against me and getting all friendly.  It was a sweet thing but I wasn’t taking it home if that was what it was hoping for.

I headed back to the hotel where I did a quick shower and change before going over to the River Walk Area.  I got some change at the front desk just in case I decided to take the trolley back after dinner.  I walked over the 6 or 7 blocks to the River Walk taking a bit of a different route now that I was getting to know the area.  I walked along almost all of the River Walk area trying to decide where I wanted to eat dinner.  I went by almost every restaurant; checking quite a few menus.  I must have walked about 2 miles in all; nothing seemed to be sparking my interest.
Photo- Lighted carriages you can rent in the River Walk area.

Great deals of the restaurants along the River Walk are Tex Mex, Italian, and BBQ.  I finally decided to turn around and go back to the Waxy O’Connor Irish Pub.  They had a lamb stew that sounded rather good and it did turn out to go very well with a draft of Blue Moon.  I was enjoying the outdoor table until rain started to sprinkle just a bit.  I asked the server to move in and finished my meal indoors while watching a bit of Monday night football.  The rain started to come down a little harder and I ordered another beer in hopes of waiting out the rain.  It finally calmed down and I walked back to my hotel.
Photo- One of the restaurant areas along the River Walk.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

DAY 97- Austin & San Marcos, TX…

The first thing I had planned for the day was a visit to the Texas State Capital.  I was curious to see what a big state like Texas would have as a building for the state capital.  So I found parking along the street and walked up the main stroll to the Capitol building.  I wasn’t surprised to see a statue that was dedicated to the Confederate Dead but coming from the north it hit me that this was seen as the norm for the south.  There was another statue on the main stroll up to the Capital that was in honor of the Texas Rangers which made sense to a certain extent.  Then, I noticed another statue that was dedicated to fireman that I thought was very honorable. 
Photo- The Texas State Capital.
Photo- The statue for the Confederate Dead.

I went into the Capital building and had to walk through a metal detector, had my purse go through an x-ray machine; nothing new for any of these buildings anymore since 911.  The interior was a painted orientate white wood with touches of gold.  It was elaborate as you would think a state capital building would be; though, I will say I was a bit surprised that it wasn’t more elaborate.  I’ve been in state capitals in Utah, Montana, and Iowa; and this capital building didn’t seem as elaborate.  But I will admit the rotunda area was quite a bit taller than most.  The very tall round rotunda was centered in the capital building.  On each floor there were former statesmen paintings hung around the rotunda.  At the top inner side of the dome area was a star with Texas around it.  I ended up taking the stairs to the third level which was as close as you could get to the inside upper rotunda area. 

Photos- Inside the Texas Capital rotunda.
There were quite a few areas that were not open to the public because of remodeling going on.  There were also quite a few areas where furniture was stacked in halls because they were installing new carpet.  But overall, it was a very nice building.

I then went to the 6th Street area that is where the night life in Austin occurs.  There are tons of restaurants and bars along the street.  There were still quite a few people along it about noon time but I would imagine at night it would be packed.  There were a couple of gift shops and t-shirt shops but all in all it was bars or restaurants that served alcoholic beverages in the area.  A great deal of the buildings were older with had colorful signs and some even had very colorful names too.
Photo- Zilker Park.

Next, I drove through the Zilker Park area which is a HUGE city park area that people enjoy in the area.  There were people running, picnicking, and strolling along paths and all with the city skyline off in the distance.  From there I drove through the South Congress area where there are shops and food carts.  In fact, some of the best reasonably priced places to eat I was told were the food carts.  It was almost a whole block area where they were set up.  It kind of reminded me of Portland but these carts had more room between them and had places for you to sit down to enjoy the food.
Photo- Inside the Black Sheep Lodge.

The next place that I stopped at was called the Black SheepLodge.  Part of the reason that I stopped by, I’ll admit, was the name and the other part was that it was known for their burgers and beer.  I found a parking spot in their lot about half a block down from it.  I walked down the sidewalk and out front there’s a covered patio area where there were tattooed biker dudes; a row of Harley like bikes were lined up along the far end of the patio area. In among the bikers there were others that looked like hippies.  I walked inside and wasn’t sure about what to do about sitting down if there was a hostess or what.  I asked a guy and he said it’s communal seating; sit where ever you want and a server will show up.  There were plenty of TVs to watch your sports and there was 4 different football games on while I tried to decided where to sit.
I chose a picnic table where 2 other guys dressed in t-shirts and ball caps who were already seated and a cute Oriental gal in a Black Sheep Lodge t-shirt showed up.  She recommended a local brew called Live Oak that was similar to a Heffie and then handed me a menu.  I looked at the menu and ended up choosing the Carnitas Sandwich which is a slowly marinated pulled pork with green chilies and served with some spicy slaw on top.   I also ordered it with the sweet potato fries.  It arrived and the sandwich was wonderful with a nice hint of spicy with the sweet bbq flavor.  I then HAD to order the Fried Cookie Dough dessert.  I was just too curious.  A while later an oval dish shows up that looks like chicken nuggets with ice cream.  It didn’t look very appetizing.  I tried it and it was okay but I don’t think I could get past the appearance enough to enjoy it.

Next, it was the drive to San Antonio.  Though, I was making a pit stop about half way.  About halfway to San Antonio, I stopped at a town called San Marcos.  I had been told that there were glass bottomed boats on a small lake where you could view the natural springs of the lake.  I swung by the visitor’s center where I got directions to the place and also got a coupon for $2 off my boat ride.
Photo- The small clear lake where the glass bottom boats are.

The Aquarena used to be an amusement park with a hotel that is now owned and run by Texas State University which is located nearby.  The lake is situated near a golf course that looks very scenic.  With my $2 off coupon I paid only $7 and got to go on a nice gentle ride in a glass bottom boat with a young captain who explained about the lake, the springs, and the ecosystem in the area.  It was also very fascinating and I even got to see a pair of turtles and some fish.  I was amazed at how clear the water was and it was 25ft deep in some areas but it was so clear you would’ve guess it a few feet.  After the ride, I was invited to go into the former hotel building to see the aquariums.  It was free.  I went in and learned more about the ecosystem that is particular to this area and got to see some more interesting fish and water life.
Photo- A pair of turtles as seen through the glass bottom boat.

I drove into San Marcos and took a quick walk around the main square area.  The main downtown area is centered around the courthouse building and there were a great deal of picturesque older building situated around the surrounding street areas.  It was about 4:30PM so quite a few of the businesses had already closed or were in the process of closing.  So I just walked around for a bit and did some window shopping.

Now I was on my way to San Antonio.  I got checked into my room just as the sun was setting.  It was a pretty view from my 6th floor hotel room.  I got directions and a map from the front desk clerk and headed over to San Antonio’s River Walk area where I planned to find somewhere to eat for dinner.  I was within walking distance; about 6 blocks.  While on the way to the River Walk, I happened to walk by the Alamo on the way; which was cool because it was lite up and the moon was shining above.  The river walk area was wonderful and all decorated for Christmas with lights.  There were a lot of people walking around and out. 
Photo- The Alamo lighted up with the moon above.

I ended up eating at a place called the County Line which I had been told had good BBQ.  It was okay are far as BBQ but it was sitting out watching on the patio area that was the real winner here.  I watched people walk along and watched tour boats going slowly along the river area.  I was having fun just watching and drinking a HUGE margarita.   I was glad I was walking back to my hotel after this margarita.

Monday, November 26, 2012

DAY 96- Texas Rangers & Dr. Pepper...

It was my last day in Dallas and I was kind of dragging my feet.  It was while I was at breakfast that I talked with a guy visiting from California that I discovered that there was a Federal Reserve that printed paper money in Fort Worth but it was only open on weekdays; and today was Saturday. Darn!  That would’ve been fun to go to.  I guess I’ll have to try that when I’m in Washington DC.

So just minutes before the checkout time at the hotel, I was on my way to find Rudy’s in Arlington, TX which is about 40 minutes southwest of downtown Dallas.  Rudy’s is a Texas BBQ place that came highly recommended from several native Texans.  I pulled up to a place.  There were pickup trucks and trucks pulled up out front with Rudy’s BBQ logo on their sides.  It looked more like a gas station/ convenience store. I had been told to expect this but still I’m thinking this is a restaurant?  Another couple of pickups pulled into stalls next to me and started to walk right in.  Okay, here goes!
Photo from website- Texas BBQ place that looks like a gas station?

I went into a front area which looked like a basic convenience store on one side.  The other side had picnic tables covered with red and white checked table cloths.  I followed the group back to a long counter area in the back corner.  Above the counter was the menu.  I had been told to try their brisket and told that it was like dessert.  There was a choice of moist brisket or lean and then it went by the half-pound or pound.  I choose a half pound moist with a side of potato salad and a soda.

The potato salad was in a Styrofoam covered cup and the brisket was put on wax paper.  It was all then put on a black plastic square framed that looked like it was used to hold pop bottles at a factory.  In fact, there was a Dr. Pepper logo imprinted on it.  I carried the tray over filled up my soda at the fountain area and then proceeded to find utensils and what not.  I sat down at the table near a square wooden box that had salt, pepper, and two bottles of BBQ sauce.  One of the bottles said Rudy’s BBQ sauce; the other said Sissy sauce.  It was no surprise that the Sissy sauce was fuller of the two.

I put just a bit of the Rudy’s sauce on the brisket, cut into the brisket, and took my first bite.  OMG!  I have to agree that this brisket was dessert.  It was that good.  While I ate the place started to fill up and I could see why.  I was glad that I got there early for lunch.  And oh, by the way Rudy’s does ship around the country.

Next, I was back on the road heading south to Waco, TX.  I know the town in Texas that has a bad rep from a standoff between Federal agents and a religious compound.  But there’s more to Waco than that bad history.  But there were a couple of places that I was visiting there.
Photo- Roads? Texans don't need roads!

But on the way to Waco, I experienced some heavy traffic due to construction and learned how Texans deal with such instances.  Some of them take their trucks or other vehicles and drive down the side off the interstate to the next road and on they go.  I watched one guy in a four wheel pickup truck drive back and forth a couple of times between the frontage road and the interstate trying to get ahead.  I thought to myself why does he even bother with the road.  I’m surprised he isn’t whipping through someone’s field.

Photo- Sign outside Texas Ranger Museum.
Two and half hours later, I happily exited off the interstate in the town of Waco.  Just off of the interstate, I pulled into the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame and Museum.  I thought I had to check this out when I saw it on-line earlier in the morning as I was checking the Dr. Pepper Museum address.  I pulled up to a series of long low stone and timber structures with a sign out front and several statues of cowboys with guns and horses.  I went in and paid the $7.  The gal said that the next film was at 3:30PM in about an hour.  I asked how long the film was and she said,” 45 minutes. We took all the commercials out.”  I asked her how late the Dr. Pepper Museum said open and she said that they admitted the last person at 4:15PM.  I told her I probably wouldn’t catch the film then.  She said that was alright there were plenty of other things to see.
Photo- Inside the Texas Ranger's Museum.

I walked into a large room where a figure on a horse with a sign that read Established in 1823.  Yes, the Texas Rangers have been operating a long time.  They first started out as protection for settlers in the Texas territory from Indian raids.  Some of them even worked a side line gig as surveyors in that time because they were able to protect themselves as well as survey the land.  In 1874, a Special Forces section of the Texas Rangers was formed to tame the lawlessness along the Mexican border. 
Photo- Photos, guns, and saddles on display in the Texas Ranger Museum.

As Texas, got more and more civilized and became a state the duties of the Texas Rangers changed some more.  They were dealing with a variety of situations such as civil unrest, labor strikes, Ku Klux Klan activity, political corruption, Bootlegging and Gambling, and other situations due to the Oil Boom.  It was interesting learning about the history of the famous Texas Rangers.  There were a lot of glass cases with guns; as to be expected.  There was also a great deal of prominent figures in the Texas Rangers that were pictured and had some of their items on display. 

A whole area talked about the history of the Texas Rangers in fighting crime.  A posse of Rangers took down the famous duo of Bonnie and Clyde. Another room was dedicated to Texas Rangers on the Silver Screen.  There were posters with Tommy Lee Jones and Chuck Norris among the gamut.  In the Hall of Fame room there were photos that looked like current photos of Texas Rangers and they were divided up into different companies A through to F.   It was interesting learning about Texas Rangers.

Because of the construction in the area I ended up going back on the interstate taking the next exit to the north and then getting back on the interstate going south; all so I can cross the interstate.  It was construction at its best.  I managed to find the Dr. Pepper Museum and parked in the parking lot across the street.
Photo- An old soda fountain bar at the Dr. Pepper Museum.

I was rather pumped to visit this museum because I’ve always been a fan of Dr. Pepper.  I paid the entrance fee and walked into a room that looked like an old soda fountain store.  Dr. Pepper started out from a drug store in Waco, TX and created by a pharmacist Charles Alderton.  He created the formula with 23 flavors that became known as Dr. Pepper.  In 1885 the formula was patented.  It took off from there.  Most of the first floor had some of the history and bottling equipment that was used in the early manufacturing of Dr. Pepper.  There were videos about the bottling and now canning of Dr. Pepper soda that you could watch which was interesting.
Photo- Commercials playing on the second floor.  Fun watching these!

The second floor of the museum I thought was the most interesting.  It contained most of the advertising memorabilia of Dr. Pepper.  In fact, there was a TV area where you could watch and listen to older commercials.  It was divided up into generations.  The earlier commercials were on the radio and they showed pictures of advertisements on the screen while the radio commercials played.  Later on, there were actual TV commercials.  It was fun watching the older and some of the more current commercials.
Photo- The 3rd floor dedicated to W.W. "Foots" Clement known as Mr. Dr. Pepper.

The third floor of the museum was dedicated to Woodrow Wilson “Foots” Clement who made Dr. Pepper the international brand that it is today.  He started as a route salesman for Dr. Pepper and rose through the ranks to President, CEO, and Chairman.  Next, I took the elevator down to the first floor and went in the gift shop.  There was an older southern couple debating about buying some of the Dr. Pepper syrup while I browsed through the shop.  They were still debating as I bought a couple of postcards and a bumper sticker.

Next, it was the drive on to Austin where it was construction and traffic and traffic and more traffic.  Is this construction season for Texas?  I was really starting to wonder.  I found my hotel just off of the interstate and decided no more driving for the day.  I had dinner in the hotel bar and watched Notre Dame win.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

DAY 94, 95- Thanksgiving, JFK, & a Birthday…

Day 94- A Day off and Thanksgiving… 
I knew that I would have some of these days where because of the Holidays I would be forced to have “days off” and I will admit that I might have needed a bit of a day off.  That in part was the reason I was pushing to get to Dallas.  I found a great rate over the Holidays here and at that rate I could afford to take a day off and not feel pressured to make the most out of my day.  Sometimes, I push myself more because I want to get the most for my money while I’m traveling.  I basically hung out in the hotel room during Thanksgiving after running down for the continental breakfast.  I did find a Walgreens nearby that was open and grabbed some junk food.  It was junk food and movie day.  I also did manage to start a watercolor but it still needs some work.

DAY 95- JFK AND a Birthday…
It was my birthday and also the largest shopping day of the year.  I wasn’t going to any malls so I figured I would be safe going to the 6th Floor Museum in Dallas.  The 6th Floor Museum is in the Book Depository where Lee Harvey Oswald shot John F. Kennedy as his car turned the corner and went by the grassy knoll.  It’s the same floor as they found the gun.  I drove downtown and found a parking lot space for the cheap price of $5 for the whole day.  Then I walked to the 6th Floor Museum to discover that there was a line out the door and around the corner.  The day after Thanksgiving is the busiest day of the year for this museum.  They were expecting about 2000 people to go through the museum that day.  Go figure that's the day that I decided to go too.  I got in line and it was moving slowly.  I was told it was about an hour and 15 minute wait from where I was at.  Okay, I didn’t have much else planned and really wanted to see this.
Photo- Book Depository building in background and an "X" marking
on the street where the first shot was fired at JFK.

I finally got to purchase my ticket from a black woman that was calling everyone Sugar.  “How are you today Sugar?”  “Well, thank you Sugar!”  There were two guys from New York in front of me in the line and I asked them if that was a southern thing to call everyone “Sugar”.  They laughed, but the line wasn’t over yet.  There was a line for the audio that they handed just before you went in the elevator and waiting for people to come down the elevator.  There was a limit as to how many were allowed on the 6th floor because of the fire codes.  No photography was allowed except for the 7th floor which you could visit.  There’s art and etc. up there I was told.

Up in the elevator I went and arrived among a gaggle of people with audio tour devices on their heads.  Things were moving slow.  I inputted the first number and looked at the photos as they talked about it.  There were excerpts from newscasters and quotes from people used in the recordings.  The museum first went over Kennedy’s family life and then his campaign.  Then they covered the things that were going on while he was first in office.  It was all the background of what built up to the time when he got assassinated in Dallas.  They had televisions with newscasters and video from the time. 

Just before we got to the famous window corner area they did the shots and showed time lapsed photos of the assignation.  Then, they had boxes on display in a windowed off area where Lee Harvey Oswald had been with the gun.  You could look out of the windows next to it and the most of the way down on to the grassy knoll area.  It was all very fascinating. 

Next, it went into the story of what happened and showed video of the aftermath.  Walter Cronkite talked about how he had to announce on the news about Kennedy’s death.  They showed the video of Oswald being shot.  They went on to explain the process of the investigation and why some still believe to this day that Oswald was not the actual man that pulled the trigger.  At the end of the 6th floor you are given the opportunity to make comments about the museum or your memories of Kennedy’s death.  Kennedy died before I was born but I did write a short comment about my experience and thanked them for the museum.  It was a powerfully moving experience.
Photos- Large photo of John F Kennedy and upclose this large photo
is a series of smaller photo images of him...

I walked up the stairs to the 7th floor where there were two cool large photos of John F Kennedy and Jackie.  The photos were made up from a series of smaller photos of John F Kennedy.  It was pretty cool but unfortunately my camera wasn’t working right at the time and I couldn’t get photos of them.  I also tried to take some photos from the same window as Oswald shot from but a story up.  I had to figure that the trees below have grown taller since the 1960’s.

 Down the elevator I went and the exit goes through the gift shop, of course.  I’ve discovered that this is common with most museums to have the exit through the gift shop.  I purchased a couple of postcards and asked directions for the Dallas Holocaust Museum which was nearby.  In fact, it was almost right across the street.  I went across the street and around the corner and there I was at the Dallas Holocaust Museum.

I went in and paid the entrance fee and got an audio tour devise.  A gal explained how to use the audio tour and then I was off on a self-guided tour through the Holocaust Museum.  The first picture is one of Albert Einstein and says his quote about the world being too dangerous to live in—not because of the evil men do but because of those that stand by and let them do it.  This was rather the theme of this museum.

 It then started off with an over view of the time period from late 1930’s to the mid 1940’s.  There was an area where there were cement columns to represent how many Jews died during each year.  The tallest cement pillar was 1944.  The next tallest year was about 1/3 shorter and that was 1943.
Photo- Photos from the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising inside the Dallas Holocaust Museum.

Then the museum focused on three different events that occurred on the same day during WW2.  The first event was when three men armed with one gun and a hanging lamp stopped a train bound for a death camp.  They saved about 200 lives that day.  They risked their lives for others.  The second event was when the Jews in Warsaw’s Ghetto had HAD enough and rose up in revolt against their oppressors fighting asserting their human dignity with every ounce of their being up to death.  

Then the third event in sharp contrast was a conference by British and American diplomats in a plush Bermuda hotel that was meant to stonewall and placate protesters about the Jews in Germany.  This conference hid their inaction and deflected questions about what they were doing about these poor people’s plight.  This was a show that inaction can do more harm than help.
Photo- You could place a candle or rock in memory of someone that died in the Holocaust.

Next I went into a room where you were invited to take a rock or a candle to place on a large memorial tablet surrouneded by short stone like pillars.  It was very quiet and people were whispering prayers.  The next room was a theater area where they were showing a series of parts of interviews from holocaust survivors.  Some of these I found very powerfully moving; one especially had my heart in my throat when the victim told of how he would eat each day with his dad in one of the camps.  The dad would not eat and wait for his son to finish eating.  Then, he would ask his son if he was still hungry.  The son would tell his dad no because he knew that his dad would give his whole meal to his son.  But the son knew that his dad also needed the food too.  The son said he argued with his day like this for everyday that they were in the camp and he said it was very hard because they (both him and his dad) were very hungry because the Germans didn’t give them enough.  I had to leave shortly after that because I just couldn’t handle it emotionally.
Photo- The JFK Memorial in downtown Dallas.

After exiting the Holocaust Museum, I walked over a couple of blocks to the John F Kennedy Memorial.  It was this strange boxy semi-enclosed area.  The plaque gave the description that it was to symbolize and open coffin like area only with an opening to a life that could never be contained in a box because it affected so many other lives.  Okay.
Photo- This is the place to "cowboy up" in Dallas. 
It has everything a cowboy or girl could ever need.

Next, I walked around the Dallas downtown area.  I went by restaurants, shops, bars, and look at Christmas lights.  The Christmas lights were very fun in downtown Dallas.  I ended up going into a couple of the shops.  One in particular, I found rather interesting was Wild Bill’s Western Store where you could purchase any cowboy or cowgirl gear that you needed from custom leather boots to custom hats; they had you covered.  I grabbed a beer and a steak in one of the restaurants in the area that didn’t run you an arm and a leg.  I enjoyed my steak and beer while watching two different football games simultaneously.  Now this is the life and a wonderful way to end a birthday!
Photo- Christmas Lights in downtown Dallas.