All Around Austin

South Congress Street

Cal and I have a history with Austin, and we have visited our daughter and her boyfriend several times since she moved here a few years ago. It’s a booming city with traffic issues, and much easier not to deal with than to think about venturing anywhere in our big Ford truck. We have done most of the things that would be on a “must see” tourist list, although I did see a brochure for some interesting museums that are currently closed for Covid. That will be for next time. We do miss the funky, sleepy little university and capitol city that Austin used to be, and remembered restaurants and hang-out places are gone. But shades of the old Austin still reveal themselves, which keeps things fun. We have our favorite places, and are finding new ones. This blog will be about two of the favorites, and one new place, that we have visited this time around.

Zilker Park

A view of Austin from Zilker Park

Zilker Park is Austin’s large city park. It was donated to the city of Austin by Andrew Jackson Zilker in 1917. There is a botanical garden in the park, which I love, and here is a picture of it from an earlier visit a few years ago:

Today’s adventure at Zilker, however, was about kayaking. We canoed here, long ago. My experiences with canoeing over the intervening years have mostly led to wet hair and lost equipment, including shoes, so I decided long ago that canoes are best avoided. This was only our second time kayaking, and it we both enjoyed it.

We started out on Barton Creek. The first thing I noticed was all the turtles. Turtles swimming next to us, turtles sunning on rocks, turtles jockeying for space on logs. They climb onto the lowest part of the log, and the whole crowd slooooowly moves forward. It’s a fair system–the first one on eventually gets pushed back on the water, like a game of musical chairs.

We also saw a couple of snakes slithering through the water. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen snakes swim before.

Barton Creek was tranquil, and on a Monday morning we there were no other kayakers about. Once we turned into the larger Colorado River, there was more traffic. We paddled all the way under the downtown bridges.

Turning back into Barton Creek, we navigated past the kayak rental and up to Barton Springs, below. The upper level, beyond the fence, is a huge pool. If this had been a weekend day, it would have been packed with people. The whole of Barton Creek is a popular swimming hole. We saw lots of ropes hanging from trees for swings.

Later on, we walked on the hike and bike trail, which goes along the river where we had kayaked, and there were many more people out enjoying the day.

When we were walking by, this duck was sitting in the exact same spot that we had seen it while kayaking that morning. Did it ever move?? If you look closely, you can also see two turtles and some fish in the bottom right corner.
That is a tent hanging from the tree. The owners have their kayaks down in the water. Wouldn’t it be fun to sleep there, if only for a night?

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

I usually seem to find myself in Austin in April. April is when the wildflowers bloom, and Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is a great place to go and see them. However, we didn’t think the wildflowers here were as thick as they had been the first time we were here. I don’t know if it was because of the big February freeze. The freeze certainly didn’t seem to hurt all the wildflowers that we’ve seen along the roads and in fields this month. Regardless, this garden is a beautiful place to see all sorts of flowers and Texas botanicals. If one had children, there are all sorts of things to play on – gardens and spaces just for them.

Right inside the gate, a volunteer was eager to tell us that there were owl babies up inside a planter.

The wildflower center has had a nesting pair of great horned owls for more than a decade. The female is named Athena, and every year she lays her eggs in this aerial courtyard planter. I was lucky enough to be able to see one of her two owlets through the zoom in my camera. So cute! They were almost ready to leave the nest, and move with their mama to the nearby woods.

Every turn in the path led to something else.

I like learning the names of flowers I have seen on the roadsides; here, the Mexican tulip poppy.
Don’t step on the snakes!

“Lady Bird” Johnson was the wife of our nation’s 36th president, Lyndon B. Johnson. She was passionate about beautifying the nation’s roads and was an advocate of the Highway Beautification Act of 1965. In Texas, she is responsible in great part for all the beautiful wildflowers that can be seen along the roadways in the spring. She also co-founded this garden in 1982 as a wildflower research center, and it was named after her later in 1997. It has the most diverse collection of native Texan plants in North America. The garden claims that this is “a signature piece of her environmental legacy” and I, for one, agree. It is a gift for all to enjoy.

When we were all tired out from all of the various gardens, we were not done. There were also miles of Texas woodland trails to be explored. Back in 2016 my daughter Katie, her boyfriend Larnell, and I tramped on all of them. We came upon an area of live oaks with all sorts of swings – doubles, singles, and even ones for babies. What a great idea! This time around, I made sure Cal and I had some time on one of the swings. The first two pictures below are from 2016; the last, of Cal, from this visit.

McKinney Falls State Park

Upper Falls

This state park is only 13 miles from Austin’s capitol building, but it feels a world away. It helped that we were here on a chilly weekday morning. Large parking lots and masses of picnic tables told us that this is a very busy place on the weekend; another urban getaway similar to Zilker Park, but without the “downtown” feeling. When we first hit the hiking trail here, we were pretty much by ourselves.

The land that the park contains was a farm for Thomas McKinney, one of Stephen F. Austin’s original colonists. The ruins of his his homestead can be seen in the park from a hiking trail. When he died, his widow sold the property to the Smith family, and the descendants donated the park in the 1970’s.

“Old Baldy” – 100 feet tall, this cypress tree sprouted over 500 years ago. It’s a very lucky tree – cypress was a highly desired wood in the 1800’s for cabin building, yet somehow this one missed getting the axe.

The picture above shows Onion Creek flowing over limestone ledges as part of the Lower Falls. This was an important river crossing for natives, traders and settlers for centuries. Below, the massive area of limestone was part of a 2,500 mile road, called El Camino Real, that stretched from Mexico to Louisiana. I could just see wagons massed here waiting to make the river crossing, and once again had that history-beneath-my-feet feeling. Cal obligingly stood there for me so you can get a sense of just how large an area it is. In rainier times, this would be covered with water.

There is camping here, and yet more trails that we did not have time for, so I’m sure we’ll be making a return visit!

Next time – the last posting from Austin

Lampasas, Texas?

That was our answer to our daughter, Katie, when she was wondering how we might like a day trip to Lampasas. Cal and I were both stationed at Ft. Hood, TX eons ago. The town is only about 25 miles from there but we drew a total blank when it came to any memories about it. She is expert at putting together various odd things to see that make for a fun day, though, so we totally put ourselves in her hands. What to do in Lampasas? Lots of things, as it turned out!

We are currently staying about 30 minutes drive from Katie, just west of Austin. She picked us up and we enjoyed an hour’s drive through the Texas hills and wildflowers to Lampasas. First stop: a charming little town park named Cooper Spring Nature Park. Katie had mentioned that we would be visiting a garden and I suppose I am too fresh out of the city: I was expecting manicured lawns and and concrete paths. These paths were narrow gravel mixed with generous helpings of dirt, but there were more wildflowers in abundance, a small woods, and a meandering little creek with tiny fish. The whole thing had a natural air about it, like they were just letting the park be Texas all on its own. It made for a beautiful walk.

Texas bluebonnets below a little pond
A woman walking her dog was the only other person we encountered in the park
A cactus that looks to me like a turtle
I think we surprised this herd of deer as much as they surprised us!

Across a country road from Cooper Spring was a sculpture park.

A colorful tractor painted by the artist’s children
This butterfly garden was in the shape of a butterfly, and aerial butterfly sculptures danced in the wind

We were getting hungry, and lunch was part of the fun too: we went to Storm’s Drive-In for burgers and fries. The first Storm’s opened up back in 1873 as a stagecoach stop. Times change, and in 1950 it was operating as The Dairy Cue. When Elvis Presley was stationed at Ft. Hood, it was a favorite stop of his. So why didn’t we hear about this when we were there? And wasn’t Lampasas a bit of a distance from Ft. Hood to go, back then, for a burger? The story goes that he would ride up in his Cadillac, and his favorites were a hamburger with a strawberry shake. Anyway, the restaurant went back to its family name of Storm’s, and you can still drive on up and be waited on. They are so busy they have added a covered patio in case you don’t want to eat in your car. Because of their busy-ness, the service was slow, but the hamburgers were delicious and so were the fries. They had sweet potato fries, which earned them points with me just for having them.

Katie had one more Lampasas trick up her sleeve. Lampasas is also home to the world’s largest spur. I thought maybe at one time it might have had a home in front of a country western dance bar in the middle of Texas, owing to the fish-net stockinged leg up at the top, but no. It was put there in 2017 to encourage tourism for the town. It is 33 feet 10.75 inches tall.

By this time we had pretty much exhausted the Lampasas possibilities. Since it was Sunday, the stores in their picturesque courthouse square were closed and so was their museum, which may have also been because of COVID. We had passed a state park on the way to town and she wanted to explore that, so off we went in a new direction.

It was a bit of a drive through more wildflowers, buttes, cattle and cactus, but we finally arrived at Colorado Bend State Park. Another long drive through the park took us down to the river. Cal took this picture of Katie and I on his phone. I’m not sure what the big reed is that is in front of our miniscule selves, but I love this picture for the comparison with the towering bluffs on the opposite shore. There didn’t seem to be much here besides the river and a boat launch, at first glance. Katie saw people with small children and beach gear taking off down a trail that paralleled the river. Her curiosity got the better of her, so we left Cal in a lawn chair to watch the boats while we went to investigate. Of course, I love any excuse for a hike.

Our impromptu hike took us to some nice river views:

I was admiring a big old pecan tree, and then noticed this sleepy owl on a branch. His feathers resemble the bark he is sitting on.

Another tree, this one a large black willow, with amazing bark

It was hot and Katie wasn’t as enthralled with the natural wonders as I was, but she pressed on. We thought we might find a beach along the river, but finally arrived at something more fun – a spring-fed swimming hole just up from the river. It felt great to dip our tired feet in the waterfall!

At the top of this picture you can see the path we had been on, and that’s where it ended.

It was pretty deep on this end of the swimming hole, which is how I was able to get a shot with no one in it. Most everyone was sitting on all the rocks to my right. This ended up being a 2.5 mile round trip hike.

One more stop: we had passed an ostrich farm on the way to the state park, so we thought we’d say hello to the residents behind the fence. They were intensely curious and sashayed right up to us in all their feathery finery. The ostriches were a perfect ending to a beautiful spring day.

Well, hello there! Fancy seeing you here!
Say, did you hear about the race between the giraffe and the ostrich? It was neck and neck the whole way.
A bird’s eye view

Ostrich meat would be a market I could get into to make some good money…but it probably wouldn’t take off. If ostrich my budget, I could maybe afford it.

Till next time! There will be more about the Austin area.

Alligator Encounters at Brazos Bend

When I read that Brazos Bend State Park had alligators, I booked our stay here as soon as I could. Three hundred alligators make their home in this park! It wasn’t just about the alligators, though. It is on a migratory bird flyway, so many types of wading birds make this park a stopover, or their home. Plus many different animals. There are a lot of great walking and biking trails, too. When deciding which pictures to post, I was overwhelmed by all the beautiful shots I had taken just in the space of the 3 days we were here. Which ones to choose?

Our drive from Galveston wasn’t long. This park is just southeast of Houston. As soon as we had Frodo and Sam settled in, we took off for a bike ride. Elm Lake Trail went around the largest lake and through the marshes and promised our best chance of seeing wildlife. It didn’t take long for our first alligator sighting:

The alligator is sitting on the far bank, as if to emphasize the sign

And then, one alligator was snoozing not far from our feet:

This one looked like he wanted to make lunch out of the heron. Does it look like he already has something in his mouth? He was too far away to be sure.

Then they started coming in pairs, and one on the trail! They like to laze about in the sun on the trails, but this was the only one we saw doing that.

I was more than a little nervous despite my smile, and not too sure if this was a good idea despite the fact that the alligator was smiling as well.

There were lots of ducks and shore birds, and it was a great bike and walking trail in and of itself:

My brother Jared came out to see us again, this time for a bike ride and lunch afterward. There were plenty more trails to explore.

After lunch, Jared and I were ready for a walk. Then, after some more visiting, we decided to walk again. The bike ride was 4 miles, and then in total he and I walked 5.3 miles. Not bad for a man who is getting ready to celebrate his 80th birthday! On the bike ride, we happened to talk to a man who was fishing. “No luck this morning,” he said. We enjoyed the view for awhile longer, and as we turned to leave, he had caught a nice-sized bass. We all decided that we had brought him the good luck that he needed. While we were looking at the view, we saw a gazebo, and it was the gazebo that Jared wanted to hike to on our second walk.

Jared at the gazebo, with the overlook behind him.
I was admiring these trees, and then I looked straight up…
Like a scene from “The Birds”! And I got this picture after I had scared many more of them off.
They are anhingas, a bird I have also seen in Florida and Costa Rica.

We had birds at our campsite, as well. We watched this little wren and its partner busily build a nest inside our 5th wheel hitch. Below that picture is one of a cattle crane. There were a whole flock of them outside our living room window one morning, but they took off in a hurry. Cranes, egrets, and herons are hard to photograph; they fly away at the drop of a pin.

On our last afternoon, I walked to a nature trail around another small lake right next to the camping area and hit the jackpot: a mama alligator and 12 babies in a nest, just under a viewing platform! So, now there are 312 alligators in Brazos Bend.

Mama and her nest, with the babies on the middle left.
Little babies are so cute, even if they are alligators.

This is such a special place, not only in the sheer amount of wildlife that could easily be seen, but also in the safe haven that it provides for animals and birds. I’ll leave you with this last thought:

Next time: We arrive in Austin

Beach Bumming in Galveston

Our Galveston living room view after a storm

Galveston, oh Galveston! I still hear your sea winds blowing…

Glenn Campbell

One whole, glorious week on the beach and we were right there. I mean, right…there. I have to give a shoutout to Rusty and Kris Thompson for the recommendation. Dellanera RV park is city owned and was missing all the amenities that other parks had, but all of them except one were on the opposite side of the main Seawall Boulevard. And what other amenity do you need when you’re at the beach?

To me, walking the beach looking for shells, playing with the water and photographing the birds, and just thinking is one of the most relaxing things I can think of to do. Cal, however, is “meh” on the beach and was just humoring me, as well as fretting about the effect of salt air on the equipment. Oh well. He did find a few guy friends to swap RV information with while there.

I have been to Galveston many times with various family and friends, but this was only Cal’s second time. In my late teens, while stationed at Fort Hood, it was a favorite place to go with my best friend Peggy. We would visit Outdoor Rec on a Friday afternoon, check out a big green Army canvas tarp, sleeping bags and a cooler. Coming in to Galveston, we’d pop Glen Campbell’s “Galveston” in the tape player, turn up the volume, and roll the windows down. There was a ferry ride and then we’d be on Bolivar Peninsula for the weekend. We’d drive right on the beach and there was nothing out there but the beach. The tarp would be pitched against the car for a lean-to, sleeping bags unrolled, and the 8-track tape player on until the batteries died. I remember the moon over the water and the sound of the waves as I’d fall asleep. We’d spend an entire weekend having fun, subsisting on junk food, and when we returned to post on Monday I could hardly lace up my combat boots since my feet were so burned. One time, we decided we wanted to see Louisiana, so we drove all the way to the border.

You can’t go all the way to the Louisiana border any more, which Cal and I discovered on my first visit back to Bolivar Peninsula. The beach has eroded about halfway down the peninsula and now it has been diverted north. It was a shock to see the original crumbled road just above what is now the beach. This time, the new shock was seeing all the beach houses that have been built in the last 5 years. Subdivisions line the beach like colorful dominos, and march halfway way back up to the road. There are businesses, strip malls, and stop lights. We drove some distance in, but could not find the end of the houses on the beach. Maybe there was an end before the road diverted, but we didn’t get that far. Instead, we found an opening in between the houses, and after we parked I tried to enjoy the beach with the houses at my back.

You can still ride the ferry from Galveston Island, and the seagulls still hover, looking hopefully for a snack:

A container ship coming in to Galveston Harbor
Ghost Ship

On the beach:

The pelicans followed me all the way down from Rend Lake, Ilinois and Livingston, Texas!
Frodo on the beach!
The luck is better for sea shell searching by the sea at Bolivar Peninsula
The day’s treasures
It took Cal a few minutes to check out the beach, and then he was ready for his lawn chair.

If I had money and the inclination, I guess I’d want to build a house on the beach too. During this pandemic, the trend is for people to isolate in their own house, cook their own food, and still be on the beach. Some houses are so big, several families can gather together for a beach vacation. I would think there would be money to be had, renting out a beach house on Air BnB, and you could stay in it when you wanted. Still, I liked the beach better when it was in its natural state and I don’t think I will return again to Bolivar.

Another day, we visited the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig Museum, which I had been to before, but Cal hadn’t. When else can you actually stand on an oil rig? You can learn all about the details of oceanic oil drilling there. I was dubious about having these oil rigs out in the ocean the first time I visited, given the oil spills that have happened. Now, with climate change being the driver of more efficient energy usage, perhaps we can look forward to a day when we aren’t so reliant on oil. Ocean Star made substantial effort to put their best foot forward regarding their conservation efforts.

The Ocean Star is next to Galveston’s fishing wharf:

One of the things I’ve always loved about traveling south is seeing the palms, in all their beautiful varieties. Remember the big February freeze that hit the southern states? From Louisiana to Texas, the palms are all brown. It is a byproduct of that freeze that I didn’t think about at the time, when everyone was worried more about power outages and frozen pipes, staying warm and having clean water coming out of their taps. But the palms are brown, which is distressing. It’s never frozen like this before, so no one really knows what will happen to them. To replace them in landscaping is very expensive. I could see some had been cut back in the hopes that new growth would come. Some may come back on their own, some may be dead. It’s really a “wait and see” situation.

We are hopeful that this palm, in front of our RV, may come back from its freeze.
A view from one side of our park, in which you can see the stricken palms

On our very worst weather day, when the wind was howling and we were getting rain and thunder, my brother Jared came for a visit. He lives about 40 miles from Galveston. We enjoyed lunch at a Mexican restaurant that really turned out to be a pancake house with two pages of Mexican food on their menu. It was our first time eating inside a restaurant in over a year and I was happy that we had a back corner table.

Here are my favorite bird pictures:

There’s a clown in every group. Check out the seagull standing on one leg.
How many birds on posts can I photograph?
I am King Seagull of this sandhill, and I made sure the other seagull knew it.

Sunrise and sunset…

Morning Moonset

…and everything else:

Our neighbors for the week were in this fun-looking trailer
Everyone travels in their own style

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)

It’s always our self we find in the sea.

e e cummings

Next time – 3 days at Brazos Bend State Park

Life in Livingston, TX

I never could resist the call of the trail — Buffalo Bill

Livingston, Texas was nowhere on our itinerary. Not to begin with. And then, I wasn’t even going to blog about it. Until we made a discovery…

Livingston is the home of an RVing club called Escapees. They provide a lot of member services, including a mail forwarding service. We are using that service, and since we now have a Texas address, we needed to register and title the vehicles. That also meant that a vehicle inspection was necessary, as well as obtaining a Texas drivers license. Besides their national headquarters, Escapees runs the RV park where we stayed. They are oh-so-helpful with all of this, so, we spent several days there, and became Texas’s newest residents.

There wasn’t a whole lot to do besides business. Things are usually hopping at this Escapees park with many activities and events, but everything was shut down for COVID. So, one afternoon we went over to Lake Livingston State Park. Below are some pictures. This lake was formed by damming up the Trinity River, and supplies the drinking water for Houston, some 80 miles distant.

The park ranger advised us that most of the trails were muddy at best and flooded at worst due to recent rains, so we checked out the Piney Woods Boardwalk Trail, which is pictured at the very top.

I wasn’t ready to go back to the RV park yet, so I talked Cal into driving over the dam. That was the discovery of the day! Behind the dam power plant there was a gazebo for watching bazillions of gallons of water go over the dam, and as it happened, there was a bird-a-palooza feeding frenzy going on. We saw pelicans, black cormorants, sea gulls, cranes, blue herons and in massive quantities. The fishing must have been awesome. We just stood there and looked and looked. The pelicans from Rend Lake, Illinois must have followed me here!

Blue herons walking in step and supervised by a crane and a black cormorant

We also enjoyed a couple of afternoon bike rides. The park opened up onto some quiet country roads that were blessedly flat. I found some very friendly horses who came right up to me to say Hi.

It was fun to watch the wisteria come into bloom over the course of a few days.

We liked that our site opened up onto a dry camping area, that was really just a field, so we had no neighbors there. On the other side of the field was another service that Escapees offered, a place for RVer’s to get their rigs and vehicles weighed. It wasn’t super busy and provided us with some mealtime entertainment out our window. We were weighed ourselves, and are happy to report that we were safely not overweight.

First the tow vehicle gets weighed, then the trailer, and then both together. They also measure height. Lastly, there is a big conference at the picnic table to discuss everything.

We were so curious to know if this outfit was overweight. I do not think I would want to be driving this choo-choo train. But I do think the little blue car would be fun to zip around town in!

Next time – Galveston!

Cane River Creole NHS

History is not there for you to like or dislike. It is there for you to learn from it. And if it offends you, even better. Because then you are less likely to repeat it. It’s not yours to erase. It belongs to all of us. –Unknown

I have read many books on plantation life and have seen several movies. I’m glad that the most recent of them show it in a manner that is more true to history. I had never been to a Southern plantation. After seeing this on a Louisiana map, I wanted to see for myself. The Cane River Plantations are called “Creole” because this term refers to those born in Louisiana during the French and Spanish periods, regardless of ethnicity. There are two plantations 10 miles apart, Oakland and Magnolia. We visited Oakland first, built with enslaved labor by the Prud’homme family, descendants of French settlers. Cane River farmers originally planted indigo and tobacco until the invention of the cotton gin.

The live oak trees form an “allee”, which helps to bring cool air from the Cane River
The dining room. We were able to tour the house by ourselves, with no one else present and no guide, because of COVID.
The girls’ bedroom
When I saw this kitchen, I felt like I had stepped back to my childhood. The last descendant in the family lived here until the 1960’s, and the plantation is presented in the way that it looked at that time.
The pigeon house. Pigeon houses just like these were being built in France at the time, a direct connection to the old country. Pigeon meat and eggs were a delicacy.
These two pictures are of a slave cabin. However, these cabins spent more time being sharecropper cabins. When emancipation happened, the former slaves became sharecroppers, a system that kept them in continual poverty. Like the 60’s kitchen in the house, this cabin has been left the way it was at that time.
Cane River near Magnolia Plantation

There was a park ranger in Oakland who, when hearing we were heading to Magnolia next, gave us detailed directions on how to get there. Apparently the road was closed at Magnolia, and you needed to get to the other side for the parking lot. There was something about not going over a river, a turn in a town, and a stop sign. But we only listed with half an ear, and there were more things to look at, and a picnic lunch happened. Needless to say we ended up on the wrong side of the closure. We had a very scenic drive to the correct spot.

Cal sitting on the correct side of the road closure

The house at Magnolia burned during the Civil War. It was rebuilt in the late 1800’s and is now in private ownership. We were able to walk through the grounds at that plantation. Magnolia’s history goes back to the mid-1700’s, during the colonial Louisiana era. By the start of the war, the plantation owner had several properties of over 6,000 acres.

Every plantation had a store. It was necessary for obtaining needed items, but was also a gathering place and in the mid 20th century a gas station was added. Standing on the porch after looking at the photo below, I could feel history beneath my feet.
At one time there were 70 slave cabins at Magnolia. Eight are remaining, each holding two families, and also became sharecropper cabins.
The gin barn
King Cotton

In my last post, I mentioned that Natchitoches was where Steel Magnolias was filmed. Actually, several movies have been made in the area. A John Wayne movie, “The Horse Soldiers”, was filmed at Oakland. A horror film was made at the Magnolia Plantation home in 2009, “For Sale By Owner”. Looking at the home, pictured below, I could see why!

The book I read most recently on this subject was historical fiction. “The Invention of Wings” was written by Sue Monk Kidd and I highly recommend it.

Next post–Moving on to Texas

Natchitoches, Louisiana

Grand Ecore RV Park

Some months back, when I was starting to plan where we would go to start our life on the road, I was looking at a map of Louisiana and noticed a notation for “Cane River Creole National Historical Park” with the town of Natchitoches nearby. I was intrigued, found Grand Ecore RV Park, and wanted to make this a stop for sure. After the schedule was set, we needed to totally regroup to take care of some business, but this was a place I wanted to keep on the itinerary.

For our first few days out of Missouri, I just wanted to get as far south as we could as soon as possible. We soon learned which items inside the RV were likely to fall on the floor after all the mini-earthquakes that happen inside during a day on the road. We also learned to be careful opening the cupboards, because for sure everything got rearranged inside them. America’s roads are pretty bad! I was hoping the trees would be budded out by the time we got here, but spring was in progress so all was good. Daffodils were blooming and so were the Bradford pear trees.

Natchitoches is pronounced “nack-i-tish”, a fun word. It is a cute little town, French Creole in origin, which sits on the Cane River. There were little tourist shops along the main street fronting the river. The only one we donned our masks for was the city’s oldest general store, Kaffie-Frederick General Mercantile. There were things to buy and things to just look at.

A building that looked like it could be in New Orleans
The Cane River; the main part of town is on the left.

Natchitoches was having a “Bloomin’ on the Bricks” festival the day we were there with lots of spring flowers set out in pots, and a university orchestra playing in the bandshell on the river. It was fun to sit and listen; spring was in the air for sure!

Two food items we had heard were good were the white chocolate bread pudding from Maglieaux’s Riverfront restaurant, and the meat pies from Lasyone’s Meat Pie restaurant. The bread pudding made for some good desserts back at the RV; big enough to share. We had the meat pies with dirty rice a couple of days after the festival. I can recommend both, but not if you are watching your calories! The only other thing that is big here is boiled crawdads, straight out of the river, but we didn’t try them.

Enjoying our meat pies on the river in the same shelter where the band had played.

The pictures above were taken near our RV park. The area around Grand Ecore belongs to the Corps of Engineers and they run a boat launch area into the river. The RV park is privately run but has some sort of relationship with them that we weren’t able to discern. Whatever, it was a well-run park and a very relaxing place to be.

One more note for Natchitoches – the movie Steel Magnolias was filmed here and they are very proud of that. Below is the Steel Magnolia’s house. It’s been too long since I’ve seen the movie, so the house isn’t familiar to me. I may have to check it out again. We have heard, however, that some winter scenes required the townspeople to dress warmly – and it was summertime during the filming!

Next time – Cane River Creole National Historical Park

St. Louis Area Top 10

Almost 28 years ago we arrived in St. Louis Lambert Airport on a hot and muggy day in June, our two little girls in tow, on a flight from Frankfurt, Germany. It was to be Cal’s last military assignment. We had family here, my two sisters and their families. For a time my mother lived here too, several years in a nursing home until she passed. We were a cross roads for other family members coming through town. The girls had older cousins and there were family gatherings and all of life’s busy-ness. When we arrived, Cal and I had not lived anywhere in our lives much longer than 5 years, and we were in our mid-30’s. We are both nomadic people at heart; it boggles both of our minds that we stayed here this long. But there were kids to raise, educations to finish, and careers to maintain. Now the girls are grown and gone, living in other cities. Most of our extended family have left too except for one of my sisters, her husband, and her daughter, husband and kids.

I have always loved the St. Louis area. My sister Diana moved here in the late sixties and it was so exciting to visit her, two brothers who were also here for awhile, and the “big city” from my small-town home in Ohio. Although I’m ready to move on now, I thought I’d leave a list of our favorite places. St. Louis is mostly known for the Arch, pictured at top. That’s been a great place to visit but not on our top 10. Without further ado:

#10–St. Charles County Parks, and St. Peters City Parks. This was a new discovery in the past year when we had our apartment here. Our impression of this area “west of the Missouri river” was that of burgeoning subdivisions, chain stores and restaurants, and way too much suburban spread. What we did not know was how St. Peters has created wonderful walking paths in and among the housing, through woods and prairies and around little lakes, and sometimes we could walk or ride a bike without an awareness that civilization was close by. Even with COVID and more people wanting to get outside, we were able to find paths that were not crowded. Many county parks have been created by original family farms left to the county for that purpose, with more miles of trails and some interesting things to see.

#9–Ice Cream! Ted Drewes, of course! Then there is Fritz’s, and Doozle’s, and Skeeter’s. I know, it’s more than one. But they all make a mighty fine concrete, especially hot fudge and peanut butter flavor.

#8–Wineries–Hands down for us, Montel Winery in Augusta. Take a pretty day, a scenic drive down Route 94, then have some lunch on their patio overlooking the valley. All of that would be wonderful, but there are several great wines to go along with it. And maybe some live music too. We’ve whiled away many happy hours here.

#7–Restaurants–Many more than one here, too, and the favorites have changed over the years. For Chinese dine-in and dim sum – Lulu’s in University City. Chinese takeout – a new favorite, China King in St. Peter’s. Mexican – Casa Juarez in Maryland Heights, Casa Mia in St. Peters, and for mariachi and margaritas, El Maguey in Bridgeton. Gyros – Sweet Spot, Bridgeton. Barbeque – Sugarfire both in Olivette and in St. Charles, and Pappy’s downtown and (new) in St. Peters. Pizza – Pantera’s in O’Fallon and Racanelli’s in St. Peters (you won’t find us eating “St. Louis style” pizza). Best for lunch – Joe Fassi’s on the Hill, and Gioa’s Deli both on the Hill and in Creve Coeur. Now you’ll have to excuse me, I think I need a lunch break….

#6–Driving the River Road from Alton to Pere Marquette, IL has given us so many wonderful memories. The bluffs on the Mississippi River are imposing and tower over the road. Barges are moving their loads up and down the river and there are yacht parties and waterskiers. There is hiking and perhaps a picnic lunch upon arrival at Pere Marquette. Or lunch in a restaurant overlooking the river in Grafton, or at Fin Inn when we had kids, where they could view the fish in the tanks right at the table. Also some antique shopping in Grafton. But the primary focus of this trip for us was usually apple picking near Grafton, usually on Labor Day Monday, and we would patronize the small orchards. These have all but disappeared now, so we go to Eckert’s and pick the Jonathan variety of apples. Then put the car on a ferry to go home. A free ferry goes over the Illinois River to Calhoun County, where we could buy peaches in August, and enjoy the hilly drive through the countryside. Then another ferry over the Mississippi to St. Charles County.

#5–The Bluff Rd, also in Illinois, and this one is Cal’s choice because this was his favorite scenic motorcycle ride along the bluffs south from the bridge coming from I255. There was an area where there were old open mines above the road, and fresh cool air would come pouring out. He would stop in Prairie du Rocher for lunch at Lisa’s Market Street Grill. It also makes a great afternoon drive in the car. There are a couple of hiking trails along the way and Ft. Prairie Du Rocher to see. A close second favorite drive for him was on Highway 94 north of St. Charles.

#4–A sneak peak to #3 will show our favorite, Forest Park. The Muny, which is in Forest Park, is in a category all its own. It’s America’s largest outdoor theatre and we have seen numerous musicals there. It makes for magical summer nights. We would pay for seats when there was a children’s musical, but when the girls were older they and I would pick up supper somewhere and sit in line for hours for the free seats. And then, we went back to paying for seats because after all, who wants to sit in the summer heat 2 hours to use binoculars for the show? But it was all fun. Close mentions for entertainment in Forest Park: the Shakespeare Festival which takes place before the Muny opens, and the St. Louis Symphony concert on Art Hill in September.

#3–Forest Park and this is huge but if I listed everything it would take up my top 10. The Art Museum, the Science Center, the Zoo, the beauty of the park in all seasons, the trails for biking and hiking.

#2–After seeing the pictures above, local St. Louisans will know the #2 top spot, Missouri Botanical Gardens. It is a place of beauty in all seasons. We have been to other gardens all around the US and nothing ever compares. The first picture I posted is from a postcard I sent my parents way back in 1975 when I was here visiting. As you can see by comparing it to the next one, they’ve added many improvements in the years since then. The second is a more recent postcard and shows the “onions” in the water from the Chihuly glass exhibit that was a favorite a few years ago. The onions became a permanent fixture, as did the “sunshine” glass in the next picture in the Rose Garden. We work off all of the benefits from walking through the garden by visiting Joe Fassi’s, as noted in #7.

#1–The honor goes to the Katy Trail, and no one who knows us would be surprised. The Katy Trail runs 240 miles across Missouri and we have ridden all of it, round trip, over a period of years. We enjoyed incredible scenery, bed and breakfasts, historic hotels, and local restaurants, funky attractions, the fun of discovering the state mile by mile, and have a bushel of incredible memories. Much of it goes right through the St. Louis area so we have walked or biked some sections many times.

A huge tip of the hat goes to both Atonement and Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Churches, who provided us with spiritual nourishment, friendship and support, and became our community.

Thanks for the memories, St. Louis.

And now, the trip begins. We are on the road, and my next posts will be from our new journey.

All The Way Down to Austin

The last of the 2020 trips we wanted to take was to Austin to visit our daughter Katie and her boyfriend. It was the roughly the same distance as the Colorado trip, necessitating two over-400-mile travel days. And it was over Thanksgiving, so there was celebrating to do. Covid presented its challenges, though. We hiked and visited parks, but when the weather turned cooler and rainy after Thanksgiving, there wasn’t much to do. Still, we enjoyed seeing our daughter, her boyfriend, and their apartment, and even a cooler day in Texas is (usually) warmer than Missouri. I always love being in Texas, and I have a history of pleasant memories there.

The RV park we stayed at made us feel welcome! But oh…the leveling was rough. We knew it wasn’t going to be good. The leveling blocks on this side were nothing compared to what we had to do on the other side. Admittedly we had to have some help for this one.

We will be back in the spring, and visited an RV park nearby that we liked much better than the one we were staying in. We took a little walk in Lakeway City Park near there. They had some nice trails, and we will be visiting again when this area becomes our home for a month.

The day that was the most fun for me, aside from our delicious Thanksgiving feast!, was our visit to explore two state parks southeast of Austin with Katie. The first was Bastrop SP. The second, Buescher SP, was only 10 miles away from there.

The above two pictures are of Bastrop SP. The pines are loblolly pines and are the western-most stand of them in the US. Pre-pioneer era, this part of Texas was covered with them. The structure above is of CCC construction, which Bastrop has a lot of. I’m a huge fan of CCC buildings, as often they are interesting to look at, but they also cause me to engage in some wishful thinking that the CCC program could be reinvented today to shore up our nation’s parks.

Bastrop was devastated by a massive forest fire in 2011. The fire affected 96% of the park, but only 30% was intensely burned, thanks to previous fire management. Charred trees could still be seen, but loblollies are sprouting on their own, or being assisted with plantings and prescribed burning. One of the campgrounds has been rebuilt, but the RV sites looked to be limited. I don’t know if that was because of COVID or if the rebuilding project is not yet complete.

There appears to be some decent hiking in this park with trails of varying lengths. It was starting to rain, though, and it was lunchtime. Just outside of Bastrop’s front gate lies the Roadhouse Bastrop, renowned for their hamburgers. They were open for inside dining, but Katie advised us that the inside was small and tight, as was the patio, and we all are COVID-cautious people. After we called in our order, they brought it right to us in our car, and we took it back to the park to eat. The hamburgers were indeed delicious, with many tasty toppings available.

The second state park, Buescher, was not as badly affected by the fire, but charred trees could still be seen. The rain and the clouds mostly moved away, so we got in a little hike on Pine Gulch Trail. We were right in the loblollies (I like the name of this pine tree about as much as the pine trees themselves). The below pictures are of our Pine Gulch hike. We didn’t go far as the day was getting on, and doubled back on another trail which had a lot of interesting and varied rocks below our feet. For the hike, our car was parked by a beautiful overlook.

Our final stop for the day was Berdoll Pecan Farm, where you can get a pecan pie in a vending machine. To say that Cal loves pecan pie is a vast understatement, so he was very interested in this prospect! However, the sun was directly striking the vending machine and we weren’t real sure if it was a good idea to purchase one from there. I guess if it was late in the evening before a holiday, and one had a massive pie fail with a houseful of company coming, this would be a great bailout. We opted to go in the store to buy ours for our Thanksgiving dinner. And it was delicious!

Time is hastening on, and it has now been some months since this trip. I have retired, and Cal and I are just now embarking on our full-time RV journey. This is part of what the blog is really all about, and it is an exciting time for us. More adventures to come!

An Autumn Visit to Rend Lake, IL

When we were still pop-up trailer camping and our girls were young, we spent a weekend camping at Rend Lake. My memories of that weekend aren’t great. It was early May, rainy and cold. The trees in the campground were sparse and new. Fast forward to current day, and some friends of ours claim this as one of their favorite camping spots. What I didn’t know then, pre-Google era, was that Rend Lake has many campgrounds, and this one is called South Sandusky. It was not where we had been before. So, a month after our Colorado trip, so we were ready for another weekend out.

These two pictures above are of the Pine Tree Loop for camping, and it is full of pine trees which are not indigenous to this part of Illinois. This is where our friends like to camp and I thought it was a little crowded, but oh…that pine tree smell. It made me feel like I was out West again!

This was our site, in Cottonwood Loop, where our door opened to nothing but the tree-lined meadow above. The deer entertained us each morning. We were on the first road just beyond the entrance to the park, at the first site, so we could see the back end of the campground hosts’ trailers off at a distance, and a road in front of those, where campers entered the park. In busier summer days that could be an issue, but late in October, there was not much of that.

The other huge surprise was at the end of our little camping loop road. There was the lake, and the pelicans that you see in the top picture and below! What a surprise! All through the weekend, I would take a walk down the road to check on them. They were on their migratory route and stay at Rend Lake for about 2 months. Those pelicans really made the weekend for me. Here are a couple more pictures, because I was constantly photographing them.

South Sandusky campground also has a bike trail. Although our first morning was warm and sunny, there was a storm predicted to roll in later that day. I wanted to be sure we got our ride in, so off we went. Our biking experience in the last few years has been rails-to-trails and fairly flat. This trail was hilly, and I was very much regretting my Covid-era lack of exercise. I will be in much better shape next year, I am sure, when Covid is over. Still, the trail was beautiful. We had several glimpses of the lake, fall color was in the trees, and there were those same pine trees along a stretch of the trail. I would guess they were put there when the park was built. At our turn-around point, our friends in the pelican pod had a fly-over just above us to say hello.

Rend Lake was created by damming the Big Muddy River in the mid-60’s as a way to both provide drinking water and to prevent flooding for the area. Hence, you have a lake with square corners. This was just one part of it, though. The lake is 13 miles at its maximum length. It was built by the Corps of Engineers, and they also operate all five of the campgrounds around the lake.

We had dinner, breakfast, and lunch cooked and eaten out-of-doors at this point, but then the beautiful weather was over. A massive front rolled in which brought wind and rain for the afternoon. Behind it came the cold weather. It’s funny how different our attitude about weather is, now that we have a 5th wheel! We shrug it off, go inside, turn on the fireplace, and view the weather from our windows. The next morning we took a drive around the lake, stopping at the Visitors Center and checking out their little museum in our masks. We had the place to ourselves. We drove across the dam and tried to find our former camping spot without any success. Well, it was a long time ago. Campgrounds change, and trees grow.

I love being outdoors as much as I can when we are RVing, but back at home you’d be hard pressed to find me taking a walk when it’s anything less than fifty degrees out. That’s what it dropped down to here, but I had to check on my pelicans. We walked in the opposite direction of the bike trail, where we had a different view of the lake. The pelicans weren’t there. Hopefully they found a drier and less windy place to roost than their usual mud bar. The picture below has no pelicans. The people that you see in the picture below are standing at the end of our camping road, which is where I first discovered them.

There were a lot of wooly caterpillars on the trail. Supposedly, if their rusty band is wide, it will be a mild winter. I’m hoping that this wooly’s prediction will come true!