We're chronicling our travels around the states on this blog. Check it out, if you're bored and sitting on an apple box (you can also check it out from home or the office).
Filtering by Tag: Texas
A bunch of what follows will be about weather phenomena and different kinds of elevation and both were the kind of things that I'm sure seem perfectly normal to anyone living here, but were remarkable, because this was new ground to the both of us.
Smooth introduction: on our way out of San Antonio Whitney wanted to get a count of Texas and American flags. The thought had really occurred to us when Whitney was counting F-150 trucks the other day, but she couldn't keep track of two things at the same time. Anywho, we started driving and Whitney started counting flags (just as a reminder, this is our third day of driving westward . . . and we're still driving through Texas). In about 30 minutes she got:
- 14 Texas flags
- 2 Texas Logos or Objects
- 30 American flags
That's a pretty good display of state and national purpose by any measure. Interestingly Whitney gave up counting flags right around 10:40 and it wasn't because there were too many flags. The opposite was the case. Quite suddenly we had arrived in the Texas hill country and let me tell you: there's nothing out here. I mean sure, there are shrubs and grasses, rocks and iron ranch gates every ten or so miles but this is unmistakably the desert. Hill country is also firmly tongue in cheek, at least going by the RPM's poor Omimobile had to push to get us over those mountains.
Driving along I-10 I kept wanting to stop so that I could take pictures of the building mountains around us or to get a shot of what the desert looks like. Turns out taking a picture of the desert isn't that easy and I really wasn't satisfied with what I got. Hmmm.
As we mentioned in the post from Austin, we had set an unfortunates precedent in driving all day without eating and we followed that to a T again. We're both still shaking our heads. Anyway, we literally stopped twice on our drive to Marfa. Once so I could take pictures and a second time to get gas and switch drivers.
We got to our campground in trendy (?), hip (?) Marfa at El Cosmico, pitched our tent and...
... we checked high and low for a place to eat and there was nothing. Everything was either open Wednesday thru Sunday or open during the day until 2pm or open after 6pm. That was incredibly frustrating. There simply wasn't anything open in the middle of the day where you could go to get hot food. So we found ourselves once again in the situation of being hungry and without food. We're working on it.
Jett's Grill, a half mile into town (?) at the Paison Hotel was the place that would finally release us from our gnawing hunger. It's unclear whether the food was that good or whether we were just hungry. At any rate the plate was empty in less time than it takes most people to decide what they'd like to order. Once sated, I took a look around the courtyard at the hotel and kind of got the impression that I was in some kind of a strange world made out of festival hipsters and leather clad motorcycle adventurers. It gave me the impression of being in some exotic semi-perilous desert outpost that adventurers sought out as base camp or way point along their route while at the same time being at the out-of-sight celebrity vacation spot at the end of the earth.
We got back to El Cosmico and the wind is kicking up. For the first time we pulled out the four guylines we have for our trusty Basecamp 4 and tethered it to a nearby tree. After a little time of settling in, we turned off our water-headlamp light and cuddled in. It was getting cold.
The morning came. Carefully we poked our noses out of the top of the sleeping bags, it was that cold out. What we saw wasn't pretty: a fine earthen, clay colored dust covered the inside of our tent. At this point I'm starting to notice my dried out mouth and Whitney's showing definite signs of her allergies. Overnight, the gusty winds had kicked up the dust outside and swiftly carried it underneath the gap of the rainfly, through the mesh of the tent onto the pillows, sleeping bags and anything else not thoroughly sealed.
We were cold, dust covered and had no coffee.
I want to deviate from the storyline just for a moment, because I feel that it is important that we inform all of you, just how dusty it was. It just so happened that it was Bob's birthday (Whitney's dad who took us to Nashville and Memphis earlier in the trip). Quick thinking Whitney made the best out of the situation. With a little patience, spit and a camera she made an impromptu birthday card!
Briskly we trudged over to the main office and went inside. It was warmer in there and there's coffee. By the looks of it, we weren't the only one's trying to shake off the chills of the night. The internet was down though, so any planning we wanted to get done was a no go, so we eventually decided to pick up on a tip from George back in San Antonio and headed up to Balmorhea State Park.
Balmorhea is about an hour north of us along Texas route 17, but we had to take the detour via 90, to Alpine and then via 118 back to 17 so that we'd have a chance to refuel and get the oil changed.
Which brings me to an interesting experience I'd like to share:
Do you sometimes drive along and then you see "oh look, I'm running kinda low on gas only have a quarter tank to go..."? Well, once we had started heading west from San Antonio, and certainly once we'd left the I-10 corridor both of our senses of scarcity particularly in terms of gas had kicked up. I kept thinking about gas in terms of means to get from safe haven to safe haven. Without it, we'd be pretty SOL unless someone happened to find us. Gas stations started to be over 50 miles apart at times so dropping below a quarter task was a no go.
With clean oil and a tank full of lifelinesque gas we set out once again. Guess I didn't mind the detour either, because it led us from the perfectly flat desert through a small group of mountains back out into the desert a few times. Before we met up with route 17 once again at Fort Davis, we stopped so that I could take some pictures and gaze at this barren land that stretched out all around us. Some of the mountains seemed to be dropping rocks on the surrounding landscape, littering it with large boulders. Looking more closely, we could find little cacti hanging on, on the roadside.
About every 5-10 minutes a car or truck would pass us. I felt small, alone and peaceful all alone out there.
As we entered Fort Davis, Whitney saw a sign for the Limpia Creek Hats company. Since we would be out in the direct sun and I needed something to cover my noggin, we stopped in. The building was a small, three room cottage. We were greeted by John Davis.
What followed next was one of the single most pleasant, cordial, and professional sales consultation I've experienced in years. You see as a Yankee, buying a cowboy hat is a bit intimidating. I don't want one of those gaudy "hey look at who just got back from a real rodeo in Texas!" hats, you know? I want a practical and nice looking hat that also happens to be from Texas.
Mr. Davis provided me with just that. After picking out a Guatemalan palm leaf hat and a shape, he hand molded the hat, changed the band for me and made sure that the thing fit just so. All while addressing Whitney and myself with more "yes sir" and "mhmm, ma'am"s than I'd ever heard one person utter in the span of an hour.
I left a happy customer and would like to endorse this business right here: if you're in need of a quality hat in west Texas, visit the Limpia Creek Hats company in Fort Davis.
By the time we pulled off Texas route 17 in Balmorhea, we had an apatite so we stopped at the one (of two?) open places in town for a snack before heading to the park.
The park isn't really a park in the way you'd imagine a state park. It's more of a public pool on public land made into a state park centered around the fresh water springs of the San Salomon creek.
The weather was cool, but we were dusty and hadn't showered in a couple of days so the temperature was certainly not going to hold us back.
After testing the temperature with our toes we carefully climbed down the algea covered steps. It was very slippery, but the water was oh so refreshing and crystal clear. We'd snorkeled twice before on our trip, but I ran back to the car for the goggles soon so that we could see better what was going on underwater.
The whole pool is roughly in an L shape with a larger round pool at the joint. The fresh spring water flows in at the top of the L through the round pool and out the other end. Since it is a natural river it's full of the aforementioned algae but also of scores and scores of little fish swimming around and which tickled the bottoms of our feet when we sat at the edge of the pool. As the sun was shining down on us, we were sitting in an idyllic oasis in the middle of the barren Texas landscape.
I think I counted six other people while we were there in an area that could have easily accommodated a hundred or more. Everything's bigger, I guess. Clean and refreshed we headed back towards Marfa.
With all this open land around us and the huge Texas sky above us, we thought we'd be fools to miss a sunset while we were here. You see, seeing the sun rise above and fall below the horizon is the kind of thing you make you do when you want to make sure that you positively have nothing better to do. Road trips are time you spend away from (most) time constraints, so a sunrise or a sunset is a quintessential part of that experience. We passed El Cosmico and continued South (passing a Border Patrol check point, our first of many more times in the coming week) until we found a suitable place to watch the sunset about 15 minutes later. We got out and got to see a beautiful red, black, brown, yellow, orange, purple and blue sunset!
When we got chilly, we headed back to camp. We cooked a sparse dinner and settled in for the night discussing our idea to trade in our inhospitable post at El Cosmico for a taste of Big Bend National Park.
Are we going to pull it off?
Since leaving Disney world there have been a few places and moments that have reminded us of a real world version of the Disney experience. San Antonio was one of them.
In one of the first drafts of the road trip plan I had scheduled to stay there for half a day. At some point I decided to change that plan. It may have had to do with one of my best friends, Nathalie, endorsing the beauties of San Antonio and its Riverwalk.
Nat clued us in to the fact that we would be visiting during Fiesta, a multi-week festival that everyone in San Antonio gets really excited about. The idea that locals get excited by a festival that brings in tourists was a little unbelievable to me but I didn't dwell on it too long.
I did a little research on our drive there and it turned out that the night of our arrival would coincide with the Fiesta Flambeau Parade. According to residents this parade is the largest night parade and the third largest parade in the USA (after the Rose Bowl and Macy's Thanksgiving). So needless to say, I was a bit excited.
Since San Antonio was only an hour or so away from Austin, we elected to take the most backroads route there to do a little exploring and see some interesting terrain. (Little did we know that we would see more cacti and dusty plains than we could handle in the coming days.) We had hoped to do an art session on the way but had to put it on the back burner as the explorations pushed our arrival time later and later. We stopped in Lockhart, "the barbecue capitol of Texas" and ate some barbecue that was good... Better than most of the brisket I've had in my life, but not as great as La Barbecue in Austin.
I will also use the Supergeil scale because it makes Sam smile.
Then Sam got out of the car several times to take some pictures as we drove down tiny roads deep in the heart of Texas.
When we finally got to San Antonio we settled into our room at an airbnb. Our host, George, seemed to know everything there was to know about the city and after a lengthy and very informative chat we came up with a rough itinerary for our visit. I am not kidding when I tell you that George could come up with a tourist plan that would require two weeks. Although I was vaguely familiar with San Antonio's beloved Riverwalk, George explained it further for Sam and I. The Riverwalk is a series of walkways lining the San Antonio river one story below street level, though it is open air. (This isn't the ninja turtles!) It stretches for miles and the city is expanding it all the time.
George's enthusiasm for the parade was nonexistent, but he clearly understood why so many people would want to go and he gave us a ride into the historic district while it was still light.
George had mentioned a food truck court in waking distance from San Antonio's River Walk and we decided to eat there rather than the mostly tourist oriented places in that area.
The moment we finished we started to follow the trajectory of every other pedestrian we saw and wound up right above the river walk. The San Antonio Spurs were playing in a playoff round against the Dallas Mavericks at the time and several buildings in San Antonio had banners cheering them on, including the Hilton.
We later learned that this hotel, the Hilton Palacio del Rio (wiki), was a milestone in modular architecture, which meant every room was constructed and furnished eight miles away and then trucked to the site and locked into place, almost like Legos. The bathrooms even had toilet paper in them before they were placed in the building.
Back to the real mission: get a good spot for parade watching. The streets were packed with locals full of hometown pride and everyone seemed very excited about this tradition. We finally found a place where Sam could get a good perspective above the crowd without blocking people and we settled in for the Fiesta Flambeau Parade.
After that we decided to stroll the river walk back to George's place. It took about an hour but we had a chance to really experience it. There were shops, restaurants, hotels, art installations, and gardens, making for an experience that was a cross between the Highline in New York and a boat-based ride at Disney World. Tourists love it (I saw a woman spend $372 on a huge bag of chinzy souvenirs for people back home when I was picking up postcards), but unlike most of the touristy things I've been familiar with in places that I have lived — ahem, Times Square — the locals actually seem to appreciate it and feel proud of it too. I couldn't blame them, it was really well done.
The next morning we thought it would be a great idea to check out the Guenther House because George had dubbed their breakfast "heavenly". It was good food, but the 99 minute wait was unexpected and not a great use of our time. We did manage to pick up a small cake that we enjoyed over two evenings in Marfa, so there's that I guess. Oh, and we compiled the Best/Worst List (see sidebar) and posted it too. We'll call the stop at Guenther House mildly productive.
After that we realized we wouldn't have time to visit the Alamo or do a river tour before meeting Nathalie's little brother, who is a San Antonio resident and also named Sam. Instead we headed over to the Blue Star Art Complex and discovered much of it was closed on Sundays. Luckily the Blue Star Brewing was not and we enjoyed a flight of all of their beers. I drank the majority because we knew Sam Herbig would need to drive.
Other Sam introduced us to Rudy's barbecue and then we went to play giant jenga, cornhole, and hang out at a bar to let the heat of the day get over with as it was in the mid-90s in late April.
While talking to Sam we got to hear his thoughts on living there and he confirmed that San Antonians have a lot of hometown pride, are enthusiastic, family-oriented, and overall very polite. He also pointed out there are 300+ pool days a year. We were glad to see how happy he was there.
Here is the picture of the two Sam's so you can see how easily distinguishable they are aside from their names:
We hightailed it back downtown so we could catch a boat tour of the Riverwalk. As expected, it was a very Disney-like experience. The boat tour we took was shared by a group of more than 30 college girls who were in San Antonio for some dance competition, the boat captain was a very sweet (and patient) lady also named Sam, and the boat stalled out. We did not have to hear "It's a Small World" on repeat throughout though. It was actually a pretty fun time and a cute little tour.
The last stop we knew we needed to make was to The Alamo, a site that was the bloody inspiration for Texan freedom. Davy Crockett (of coonskin cap and wild frontier fame) fought and died there along with many others. Here are some pictures of that, too.
The next morning we said goodbye to George and he gave us some helpful tips about Marfa and it's surrounding attractions, which we put to good use when we got there.
And there you have it: our 36 hours in San Antonio. Festive. Picturesque. Enthusiastic.
Up next, let's go get dusty in Marfa.
Random Facts and Statistics from San Antonio:
We had our first tequila shot of the trip here (with plenty more to come in the following week), a gift from Texas Sam.
According to a teenager at the parade, Sam looks like "that guy from Dexter". Compliment? Suuure, why not.
We saw so many Texas flags driving around here that we decided to do a count on our way to Marfa. That statistic to come next post!
The day we traveled from New Orleans to Austin, we set an unfortunate precedent: eat breakfast, drive all day then eat dinner. I get grumpy, Whitney gets grumpy and it all just doesn't end in a nice relaxed evening over a cocktail, ya know?
Before I go on any further, here it is:
Anyway, it did lead to us rolling into Austin with an angry hunger. Miscue followed miscue and we were solving a problem when we went to our first food truck, Luke's Inside Out on Lamar Avenue and grabbed a drink before heading to bed to sleep off our misgivings for each other.
The next day (April 24th, for any of you keeping score at home) was going to be Whitney and Sam's food truck day. The sole goal of the day was eating and I was soooo game.
So let's get started: we parked the car on South Congress and hoofed it over to Mellizoz for breakfast. Fried avocado is something that ought to be mandatory to graduate high school, mmkay?
We picked up our breakfast dessert next door at Gourdough. We shared a flying pig, and thought it was pretty good. A bit too much glaze and the bacon should have been crispier. God, I sound like such a snob.
Booth of those places were on South 1st Street which is in the very trendy Bouldin Creek/South Congress neighborhoods. There are loads of boutique stores, cute little restaurants, a couple of expensive hotels, and a very cool art store called Parts & Labour (we almost bought a screen print by Mr. Doyle — watch your eyes now, this is a visual workout!). Most of the people we saw on the street were, by my standards anyhow, *very* well put together. Not in a stuck up way, in a very hip and trendy way. You'll see that fashion at American Apparel in the fall I'm guessing.
Well sated, we set out on foot due North to cross the Colorado. Only I had been to Austin before on a certain Kostya A.'s bachelor party a couple of months ago and my experience then was only of a pretty bro-ish part of town. So walking back into downtown I had to warn my compatriot: "now listen, this is a pretty bro-ish part of town."
Aside from being the UT campus, Austin is also the Texas state capitol. Hence it's not altogether surprising that there are lots of chain hotels and tall buildings in that wonderfully engaging government style architecture. The character of this part of town isn't all to different from a blank legal size piece of white paper.
We ventured down East 6th, past all my glorious memories of late January and passed under I-35. Compared to our last home town of Brooklyn, this most resembled the Bushwick area, I'd say. Part industrial, part residences with small local businesses sprinkled in between it was the place I'd feel the most at home in.
We zeroed in on La Barbecue and got ourselves some brisket and potato salad. They even did that whole "beers for a donation" thing! Great spot, no doubt.
I screamed for ice cream, so we set out to find Cow Tipping Creamery, only to realize they weren't at the location we had expected them (more tomorrow!). So instead we crossed back across the river and up South Congress for a frozen and an iced margarita at Guero's. Delicious by all accounts (was the heat distorting our judgment?) we then grabbed ice cream at Amy's. Whitney got some local brewery's beer infused concoction, while I went with something a little more traditional.
At this time we really wanted to do that nap thing we'd started in New Orleans all over again, but man, people were loud in the dorms at the hostel. Have they no decency?
We had no choice. Our hands were tied and so we headed back to South Congress to grab fried chicken at Ms. P's Electric Cock. Yes, I took a picture of the sign.
While in Austin, we didn't want to miss the opportunity to go to one of their Alamo Drafthouse theaters. We'd been going this way and that weighing the different options and locations. In the end we got tickets to "Noah", a movie I had worked on way back when I used to work in New York.
For two days. I worked on "Noah" for two days.
If you haven't been to a Alama Drafthouse theater, you really ought to go. I'd been to the Nighthawk in Williamsburg and it's just a nice experience all around. You can order food (popcorn!) and drinks from your seat. The audience is pretty small and people are really there to watch the movie and nothing else.
We didn't get food though so the our last geil rating is for the popcorn and the popcorn only and I cede it to judge Whitney to make the call, she is the expert on such matters:
Fat and happy we headed back to our Hostel*. I couldn't wait to get the sleeping thing over with, cuz tomorrow we're gonna go swimming!
P.S.: I'm not going to go into a lot of detail, but out of all the hostel's we'd stayed at thus far the Hostelling International Austin was our least favorite. They're nice people and the staff works hard to stay on top of things. Our main complaints are ill equipped sleeping quarters (not enough outlets, not enough storage for each guest) and a complete lack of rules for the dorms. Most other hostels wouldn't allow food in the dorm area nor that guests hang out in them, unless they were resting with clearly outlined quiet hours. We really didn't spend any more time there than we had to, because of the unpleasant atmosphere. Anyway, 'nuff said. (Note from Whitney: on our last night we came very late, only to discover someone else sleeping in Sam's bed, so there's that too.)
P.P.S.: In trying to catch up, there are tons of new pictures up on the flickr photostream!
Random facts and statistics from Austin:
Whitney kept a running and highly sophisticated scientific tally of the cars we saw en route to Austin in order to establish the Ford truck dominance on Texas' roads. This sample was collected on Interstate 10, while heading west between 5:30pm and 6:33pm. The results are in:
- (10) F-150 trucks
- (12) Other trucks
- (43) All other vehicles