We had not been in Texas more than one hour when an 18-wheeler tried to run us off the road for no apparent reason. Welcome to Texas!
Unfortunately for us, it did not get much better for quite some time. We headed up to Big Thicket National Park which was the least interesting of the National Parks we have been to during our travels but to be fair many of the trails were shut down due to flooding. Okay, we decided to head towards Corpus Christi and go to Padre Island National Seashore. Let me just say: three days of pounding rain, 60 mile per hour winds, sleepless nights, dead fish on the beaches (left for natural purposes), and one expensive coat lost.
One week of wasted time! Can I get my money back?
We headed to San Antonio and things began to improve immediately! I had been to San Antonio and Austin about 20 years ago, but I didn’t remember enjoying San Antonio quite so much the first time. We headed to the San Antonio Missions National Parks, including the Alamo and the boys enjoyed seeing these buildings and learning about the history of the missions. Spain had also settled most of the West first from Texas, New Mexico, California, and Oregon just as they had in Florida. Unlike later Europeans who killed and relocated the Native Americans. The Spaniards tried to change their “savage” ways and convert them to Catholicism.
We got a great campsite (a little pricey) in San Antonio and stayed for a few nights – it had a pool and a fun recreation room and more importantly, the bus stop was across the street, so we could hop the bus and leave The Beast behind. The boys really enjoyed the River Walk and I was forced to take many pictures of the boys by the water fountains in this area. We also ate several meals along the river. We also enjoyed La Villita, the original historic area of old San Antonio turned artist colony where we met interesting artists and got to tour a candle factory. They also liked the Tower of Americas - the view and the 4-D movie about Texas. Finally, we went to the Witte Museum where they enjoyed the science area in particular. They didn’t want to go but we had to head to Austin.
In Austin, we enjoyed the local children’s Museum that luckily catered to more science and hands-on experiments than imagination and dress-up areas. We toured the “bat bridge” in town and while we heard them and smelled them, we never got to see them fly; the bulk of the bats do not fly up from Mexico until early summer. We usually pick up local magazines and newspapers while we travel and in Austin we got lucky with some great listings. One day, we went to the University of Texas’ Open House. It may not sound like fun but it was! Every year, the college opens up all of their departments to tour and students volunteer to present their studies in an interesting way; there was crafts, games, science experiments, laser light shows, and so much more. We wished we had more time here. Plus, I think every college in America should do this to encourage younger kids, to help older students pick out their further course of study, to give current students good presentations skills, and to foster more community. Our final day was spent meeting relatives at a great restaurant for breakfast, going to two breweries, eating yummy homemade cupcakes, and having a great day spent at the Kite Festival. The boys got to make kites that flew quite well and managed to snag two kites that had been stuck in trees where the original owners gave up trying to retrieve them.
We headed westward and went to Amistad National Recreational Area. We enjoyed the interesting landscape and solitude. The most exuberant ranger presentation during the trip was here. The ranger was an archaeologist with an Indiana Jones feel; his topic: ”ancient hunting and fishing weapons”. The boys usually want to go to the ranger programs; some have been great, interesting, hands-on, and kid friendly while others have not. On this morning, the boys did not want to go and had to be nudged. It started off great when they got there – free donuts and coffee (and man, those donuts were good)! However, the speaker did go a bit long but the boys enjoyed it and he showed us how the Indian weapons were used. The boys enjoyed chuckling as the ranger got an arrow stuck in his target, lost his boomerang (during a rabbit stick demonstration), and could not set up his snare right and my youngest child got his stuffed squirrel to steal some food. But they really enjoyed getting to shoot bows and arrows after the presentation. Plus, I enjoyed how much he seemed to really enjoy his career. My only concern: the boys got detailed instructions on how to make their own atlatl…oh, no!
Next up on the docket was Big Bend National Park and the first of many Spring Break vacations to come; yep, massive crowds to come for the next couple of months (but lots of kids to meet too). We took a hike recommended by the ranger and could have crossed into Mexico (of course, that is illegal, so we did not; although my youngest really wanted to attempt it). Anyone who has ever been here must realize that a massive wall to block out illegal aliens is not possible and would be outrageously expensive, not to mention completely ineffective. It was amazing to see how close it really was and how far people would come to look for work and under what extremes. I imagined the Rio Grande would be a massive river and was sad to see it barely a stream in many places. More interesting was a ranger talk that night that discussed how the Department of Homeland destroyed a Mexican town after 9/11, how much the Mexicans helped in that area after flooding in the U.S. to rebuild our country’s property, how US citizens used to walk across to Mexico to enjoy inexpensive and authentic cuisine, and discuss drug trafficking including a murder at that national park. Very interesting – I just wish the government (and upper management in private companies for that matter) would actually talk to people involved in daily affairs and I am sure better solutions would be found to problems all over America in companies, the government, and communities.
In Big Bend, we also saw a new animal, to us. Javalinas strode into our campground with no real compunction. They are rodents that look like pigs. They did not like our dog, Bell, and their hair would stand up on end if she got too close. Plus, we saw them break out in a fast spring later and they almost sprang like rabbits. We took another hike along the Rio Grande and were kicked out due to the crowds. We stayed at another great resort RV park, connected to a golf resort across the street, for my youngest son’s birthday and had a great time. We ate dinner at the resort on his birthday. Unfortunately, the bakery needed 72 hours notice for a cake due to the relative isolation of the resort, so we made our own cake and it turned out tasty if not decorated exactly to bakery-quality standards. In other words, my cake will not be on “Cake Wars”.
Next, we headed to Marfa, a small town whose claim to fame is the “mystery lights“; we never did see them but I hear they are very spectacular but we did manage to enjoy the amazing night sky. We also enjoyed some yummy food in town out of the back of a food truck. We stopped by the local library and donated some of our old books while we purchased a new batch of books at a low cost. Next, we drove to the Museum of Big Bend in Alpine; it was a small but very nice history museum.
We headed to Fort Davis and went to the National Historic Site which was the first fort we had been to that was built specifically for the Indian Wars. It was a sprawling park and we enjoyed our time here. Again, we met a lot of kids who were on Spring Break so my kids enjoyed playing with new kids. The next day we went to the Chihuahuan Desert Center – a free museum with our membership. It was a nice place, small but we enjoyed a slot hike here. Later, we went to McDonald Observatory for a tour. There was a small science area that had hands-on exhibits and the boys we excited to see how the large telescope was rotated (the ceiling too) by a large remote control.
Our final stop in Texas was Guadalupe National Park. It was a nice park but the RV’s were forced to camp on a parking lot, so the campground was just okay; although, flush toilets were available so that is always a plus. We took a hike to an old ranch homestead, but the hike itself was fairly unspectacular and the boys complained more than any other hike to date. It didn’t help that it was hot, windy, and there was not much to see or do. We only stayed for a couple days and headed into “The Land of Enchantment”.