Week 25: (T)Exploring further

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Week 25: (T)Exploring further

Mammoth dig site in Waco

We spent the night at Spring Creek Park, a park on the outskirts of a small town north of Houston, which offers 8 free spots with hookups on its premises. As we rolled in late, we were lucky to snatch up the last spot for the night and plug in the RV for some juice. The plan is to move north just a bit to see the Waco Mammoth National Monument, and then make our way south again through the state of Texas.

At the mammoth dig site we take a short hike through the forest before ending up at the actual place with all the mammoth bones. It is incredible how big these mammoths were – bigger than the ‘hairy’ type you see in all ice age movies – and mysterious to not know how the entire herd of mothers and young were killed. We work our way through 2 Ranger programmes, one being the Junior Ranger, but the other is the B.A.R.K. Ranger programme, one officially made for dog owners. Of course we do not own any, but Luc & Bo have a wolf stuffed animal that the park ranger is happy to oblige. The reward is a cool wooden mini badge for the dogs with a mammoth on it, so worth the effort!

We head down south a little to park at a honey farm for the night, then on the next day for a walk around the historic town of Bastrop. The Christmas atmosphere is starting to grow everywhere, and the cute main streets of these colorful towns make it all the more magical. The stroll along the Colorado river (there he is again!) and playground let the boys blow off some steam, but the best part of the day is our Harvest Host for the night; Headlong Farm. A small scale goat and produce farm run by the lovely Matt & Tess, with a large sandy patch we can park the RV in.

The boys spend the entire afternoon running after the goats, building monstertruck tracks, painting river rocks and feeding the animals. We can also build a fire, even though today has been very warm (“If you don’t like the weather in Texas, wait 5 minutes”), so we sit outside the entire night with our hosts having some good conversation and a beer.

From bbq living legend to former dead president in one day

It’s an early rise today! We have a special treat on the agenda today; Snows BBQ aka Tootsie Tomanetz’ meat! For those with Netflix, there is a special Chef’s Table season on BBQ, and Tootsie, a 86 (!!!) year-old pitmaster features in one of them. Needless to say when in Texas we had to make sure we visited and experienced it ourselves. Moreover, the place is only open on Saturday, so we had to adjust our travel plan to hit Snow’s on the right day. The concept is simple: All the meat is prepared from 2 o’clock at night, to ensure it is good an tasty by 8am in the morning. By this time a line has formed with people wanting to enjoy this feast, and all the meat is served and sold until they are fully sold out.

We got to the BBQ at 8am, got in line, and at 10:30 it was our turn with only the chicken having sold out by then. What we did the 2,5 hour wait? Well, we chatted with the really great people we were in line with, enjoyed the open bar (who knew wodka/orange juice tasted this good for breakfast?), got reaaaaallly cold as the weather had madly shifted again overnight, but all in all had a great view of Tootsie at work! By the time it was our turn, we ordered a platter of all the different goodies and took a seat to devour our 11am BBQ breakfast. A really great experience altogether, and after a Covid-safe selfie with Tootsie we said our goodbyes and were on our way.

The other stop for today was the Lyndon B Johnson historical site, the place where he lived before and during his presidency (Johnson City, no joke), and all things presidential of that era. The ‘Texas White House’ is actually located right next to a state park with a great reenactment farm where we got to pick cotton, feed the sheep and see the cow get milked. The estate of the presidential home includes many acres of farmland, the presidential plane and many of the presidents cars on display. A scenic drive takes you along all of them, and as the day was coming to an end we were JUST in time for our books to get stamped. Our overnight was another Harvest Host, a winery this time, but beyond a tasting without any explanation or atmosphere, it was fine as an overnight but nothing special.

San Antonio Missions

After a day of cold and grey, the sun shines again as we drive down to the city of San Antonio. In the southern part of the city, along the San Antonio River, several historic sites are grouped under one National Park name; The San Antonio Missions. Several hundred years ago, Catholics from Spain came to this area to found Texas, and live in harmony with its native inhabitants. These native Americans would have to convert to Catholicism, while in return the Spaniards would help protect them against raids from other tribes. As the Spaniards were not a wandering kind, they built several missions along the river, included aqueducts to irrigate the land and farm in the surrounding area.

As we visited on a Sunday, we had the pleasure of running into several masses at the different sites. To travel between the sites, we rode our bikes – Sven drove the RV – as the sites are connected by a beautiful walk/bike path along the river. Blue skies, fresh air, a light breeze, and plenty to see and explore along he way. Of course the boys completed the JR work, we ran into a beautifully dressed girl taking pictures for her quinceanera, and enjoyed the music played by the bands in church dressed in full Mexican Mariachi attire. The churches inside were very light, with earth colors like yellow and brown, making them feel instantly warm and welcoming, very different from the grand and grey versions we know back home.

We closed the day at a campsite, to wash (laundry and ourselves), charge up and for the boys to play with the other kids outside until it got dark. Sven prepared a big pancake dinner we all deserved after the exercise we had today.

Padre Island – Some final sea time!

We took our time leaving the campsite, and did some more groceries before speeding down the interstate 37 towards Corpus Christi. Driving into the area looking at all the heavy industry it does not feel like we are heading towards a beautiful coastline, but as we push through and cross the Madre Laguna we do end up at Padre Island National Seashore. The island stretches on for more than 100 miles, but we drive down south towards the part of the island that is protected by the National Park Service. Unfortunately it turns out that due to unforeseen circumstances the Visitor Centre is closed that day, so we have to leave that part of our visit to the next day.

This means we drive a few miles further south, where the paved road ends and you literally drive onto the beach! Even better; the National Park allows you to park your RV right on the beach and camp out for the night. We check with some other campers first about the tides, as the beach is quite small and flat, but after being reassured that tonight should be fine, we find ourselves a spot by the dunes and pull out the camping chairs. The boys then spend hours playing in the powder soft sand, while we watch out over the sea with birds, deer and the occasional pickup passing us by. We feel oddly at home, and incredibly FREE at this spot, what a magical experience sleeping on beach!

The next morning Sven and Bo take a refreshing dive into the sea and we have breakfast outside while the sun comes up. The birds stroll out of the dunes on to the seashore, and early pelicans float by. We visit the visitor center on our way out, and the boys receive a badge, but also a patch for their efforts cleaning the beach (we handed in a big bag of trash, mostly washed ashore), so this is a great Junior Ranger score!

Via Palo Alto to the Mexican border road

From Padre Island we drive further down south, to the most southern tip of the state. We have long drives ahead of us, but want to experience the area along the Rio Grande, which from the coast of Texas is half of the border between the US and Mexico (right to the point where straight lines cover the rest on the map). Right by the border is another National Park site that actually gives more insight on the current border; Palo Alto Battlefield. Mexico some 175 years ago was much bigger than it is today – actually twice its size – covering much more ground to the north and west of the US.

At Palo Alto, a decisive battle was fought out between US troops and the Mexican army, starting what would become the 2-year US/Mexican war. Debate over which river constituted the border – The Nueces vs the Rio Grande – sparked a dispute that would end in an actual war. Fast forward 2 years later and the US troops have made it all the way down to Mexico City, leaving the Mexicans to agree on the Rio Grande as the border. The site shows the two battle lines and gives a vivid recollection of the fight through a video shown in the visitor center and a nice walk out into the battlefield. Extra bonus; a massive rattle snake crossed our path as we headed out to the end of the Mexican battle line – YIKES!

Doing well on time, we decide to not stay at a Walmart, but make a dash for Falkon County Park, some 2,5 hours drive away. It turns out to be a good call, as we drive in just as the sun sets, and are welcomed by a small crowd of snowbirds that call this patch of land their home. It is a wobbly sandy place, but with a (hot) shower and spigots with water if needed. We are there only for the night, but quite a few ‘locals’ come by to say hi and offer their help and advice. A really lovely and warm place that we would have stayed longer in if we didn’t have other plans :-).

Amistad National Recreation Reserve

The drive towards Amistad is a very long one, over half of it closely passing the Mexican border. The drive itself is quite interesting, from the heavy police / state trooper / army presence along the drive as well as the inspection posts along the way, to sprawling cities all set up at border crossings. We are stopped and checked for our paperwork at one of the inspection posts, which was a few minutes and very friendly, but it is clear the border is closely monitored yet also a place of cross-border commerce. Another highlight: Lowest per gallon price of gas we have seen so far – 2,539 dollars!

The destination is Amistad, a lake created at the crossroads of 3 big rivers; the Devil, Rio Grande and Pecos river. After many floods the decision was taken to build a dam – right on the border with Mexico – which turned the entire area into a lake which is now protected by the National Park Service. After the visitor center (Another badge AND patch!!! SCORE!!), we are on the hunt for a camping spot close enough to the lake so that the boys can test their boats made out of milk bottles. We end up at the end – literally as it goes straight into the lake – of the former highway 90, where we park the car on the side of the road.

We have a gloriously quiet night at the lake, and a very relaxing morning with blue berry pancakes and homework of the boys. As we are getting the kayak out a park ranger comes by asking us if ‘we are not trying to camp out here right?’… eeehh no sir! We are told we can park a bit further back along a dirt side road, so that is what we do for our second night out. The kayak trip of the boys is fun with plenty of waterbirds, turtles and paddle practice.

Next week: Big Bend National Park and goodbye Texas!

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