We’ve spent three wonderful weeks in Texas, and hate to say good-bye. Route 71 took us out of Austin, treating us to a wildflower extravaganza along its shoulders and medians. The pouring rain kept us from stopping to take a photograph.
Our last night in Texas was full of sweet surprises as we camped at Winnie Stowell County Park. First of all, the price was right (free!) and within walking distance to a nearby grocery. On the way home, we stopped at a private garden that the public was welcome to enjoy.
Pockets of activity were happening all over the park, all while the Texas winds blew hard and long. I especially enjoyed the comings and goings at the horse arena. America on Friday night in Winnie TX – life is good!
Four nights at Blanco State Park proved to be ideal for exploring the Texas Hill Country. We spent our last day enjoying Pedernales Falls State Park, which was just down the road.
Our last night in Blanco we had dinner with Mike from Russ’ AF Academy days. Always great to see old friends!
As many times as we’ve been to Texas, neither of us had ever been to Austin. We took a tour of the state capitol before taking in the Elizabet Ney studio and gallery, and polished off the day at UT’s Blanton Museum of Art. (Thanks for the recommendations, Lynett!)
We had just seen Elizabet Ney’s life size marble figures of Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin at the state capitol, so we knew we were in for a treat, and we weren’t disappointed!
At the Blanton, a ten-foot-tall portrait drew my attention from across the room. A closer look revealed that it was created entirely of plastic pocket combs – 3,840, to be exact.
“Combs speak to Walker’s career as a pioneer of hair care. I also used them because they capture our national legacy of hair culture, and the gender and race politics of hair. As disposable objects, they parallel the low social status of African American women born in the late 1800s. But together, the thousands of combs become a monumental tapestry, signifying Walker’s magnitude and success despite her humble beginnings.” Sonya Clark, artist
Before leaving town, we made a stop at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, where Russ snagged the 2017 Honey Bee Queen.
We left San Antonio planning to spend a few nights at Guadalupe River State Park, but hoards of people enjoying the river prompted us to press on to the smaller, quieter Blanco State Park. A hiking/biking path connects the park to the nearby tiny and idyllic town square centered around the courthouse. Russ enjoyed a leisurely dip in the river before we hopped on our bikes to explore the area.
Lyndon Baines Johnson was idealistic, persuasive, driven, and complicated. He never lost his love for the beautiful country beside the Pedernales River that he called home. I remember having mixed feelings about him when he was president – so proud of his vision of the “Great Society”, and devastated by the misguided choices he made regarding the Viet Nam war. He and Lady Bird donated “The Texas White House” to the American people in 1972, and Lady Bird continued to live there until her death in 2007. It was sobering to see the list of LBJ’s accomplishments, knowing that so many of them are currently on the chopping block.
One of LBJ’s best choices was marrying Lady Bird, an environmental activist before it was en vogue, with a passion for wildflowers. Springtime in the Hill Country must have been one of her favorite times.
Indian Paint Brush are also in bloom, and are often interspersed with the bluebonnets.
We couldn’t pass up the Bluebonnet Café for lunch where we shared a table with Nancy and Linda who were headed to the Rio Grande Valley on a birding expedition, and Lynett who was on an annual memorial drive from Austin, in honor of a friend.
Another San Antonio claim to fame is the Missions National Historical Park, which preserves the missions built by the Spanish along the San Antonio River in the 1700’s as they expanded their empire into North America.
The small bands of native peoples that had hunted and gathered in south Texas for a hundred centuries (yes, centuries!) were increasingly under attack by the Apaches and Comanches from the north. In the end, they gave up their ancient nomadic ways to become converts and laborers in exchange for food and refuge. Unfortunately, 70% didn’t survive, largely due to disease brought in by the Spanish.
Five of the missions (including the Alamo) still stand today, giving San Antonio the largest concentration of Catholic missions in North America.
A new culture, rich in ceremony and tradition, emerged from the melding of the Spanish and native peoples, and descendants (tejanos) continue to populate this area.
The downtown River Walk now extends to include the missions, and the round trip from Mission Concepcion to Mission Espanada is 16 miles – just right for a bike ride. Most of the missions are still active, and we were lucky to witness this wedding party at Mission Espanada.
Our San Antonio stay was capped off with a visit with a friend we hadn’t seen in 20 years. Colby is the son of our Texan turned Oklahoman rancher friends, Marka and Clay, and the last time we saw him he was 11 years old.
We had a happy rendezvous with him and his friend, Lindsey, at one of Russ’ favorite haunts, Texas Pride BBQ, where he used to dine when coming here on business years ago.
We’ve spent a lovely weekend in beautiful San Antonio, where the amazing River Walk turns an ordinary city into a beguiling tourist mecca.
Yesterday we took a 20 minute bus ride from our campground to downtown, then walked along the river for a couple of miles to the San Antonio Museum of Art. There we met up with another 95th friend, Margaret, whose expertise as a professional in the art world always lends a rich layer to a stroll through any collection.
Housed in the former Lone Star Brewery complex, the museum retains many of the original architectural features while incorporating modern innovations in its design – even its elevator is beautiful to behold!
Their collections of ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman art were impressive, and their Asian art collection was a WOW! (Click on individual photos if you’d like to see a larger version.)
I was surprised to see a sand mandala on display, since the Tibetan tradition is to pour it into a river after completion, symbolizing impermanence. His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama granted permission for this one to remain intact, “as a gesture to promote peace and harmony.” The San Antonio Museum of Art is one of four museums in the US to display a sand mandala.
Speaking of impermanence, it was interesting to see these maps that depict the ancient Roman (A.D. 98 – 117) and Islamic worlds (700 – 1800 A.D).
We decided to dodge the St. Patrick’s Day crowds, and opted for a quiet dinner of shrimp and grits at our campsite.
I took several photos of the Common Pauraque yesterday, and posted the only one where I could actually see the bird. Several of you have asked for help in finding it, so here it is, with it’s head on the left and tail to the right.We were so enamored with Estero Llano Grande State Park that we went there again this morning for a guided bird walk. It was wonderful having someone who could identify every bird by sight and call, and patiently wait while we took turns peering through his scope.
We spent a lovely afternoon at yet another World Birding site, the Edinburg Scenic Wetland Trails, where preparations were underway for a Fairy Festival this weekend.
One of the prettiest birds we saw today was Aliyah, a great addition to this beautiful place.
The Mexican presence is alive and well in the Rio Grande Valley, and English is definitely the second language here. Russ traveled to Mexico quite a bit during his working days, and found the people warm, welcoming, and very family oriented. Many campgrounds are filled with “las familias” and they have always been good camping neighbors. Yesterday I was quite taken by a graveyard in Roma TX that exemplifies the colorful culture that permeates this area.
This morning we woke up in Falcon State Park, and made an early morning birding excursion just down the road to Salineno. We added Audubon’s Warbler and Ladder-backed Woodpecker to our lists, and enjoyed the company of the site host, Merle.
Our plan was to keep going west to Laredo before turning north toward the Hill Country and the bluebonnets. But we’ve been so taken with birding and with numerous recommendations of great birding places, we decided to do an about face, and headed east instead. This afternoon found us at Estero Llano Grande State Park, another one of the nine World Birding Center sites, and one of Texas’ finest state parks.