Everything’s Big in Texas

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We were watching TV, flipping channels, and we came across a football game. It looked quite professional … multiple cameras, various angles, a play-by-play guy, a color commentator. The teams were Jackson v. Steele. Who? Suddenly, there was a whistle, the camera switched to the referee who turned on his mic and said, “Holding, #43, ten yard penalty.” Just like watching a Patriots game. This … is Texas High School football.

We’ve seen the football stadiums as we drive … massive bleachers on both sides, giant scoreboard, color-coded to reflect team spirit. One of us will ask, “What college is that?” Silly us, that’s the local high school stadium! Granted, a school district may have several high schools playing at that field, but still!!! The stadiums are really something! Football rules, but baseball isn’t far behind. In Brenham, their lovely Firemen’s Park has covered picnic tables, a playground, walking path, reflective garden, and a minor-league baseball stadium. (No, its actually the high school ball field.)

Top picture is the over-the-top $60 million Allen Independent School District stadium. Bottom are Schertz and Dripping Springs ISD’s “basic” high school stadiums.
Brenham Cubs Stadium.

Sports are BIG.

We spent a few days in a state park in Austin. This was our second time staying at McKinney Falls State Park. The park has some really unusual and beautiful waterfalls. The walk to the lower falls is preceded by a walk over a massive slab of rock (massive like a few football fields) pocked with holes in the surface the result of a period of eruptions some 120 million years ago by a nearby volcano. It’s hard to imagine volcanos in Texas, but back then this was the ocean floor dotted with some 75 volcanos poking above the surface of the water. With an eruption, hot magma layered over the limestone floor and cooled quickly. The softer magma eroded leaving behind smooth limestone with holes from trapped gasses. Small seashells can still be found embedded in the rock. It’s quite a sight!

Rock surface at McKinney falls (photo doesn’t begin to depict the size).
Lower McKinney Falls. (Obviously, it’s been dry here. Still pretty.)
Upper McKinney Falls.

We really want to like Austin. After all, it’s the self-proclaimed Live Music Capital of the World. We’ve been to this city three times now and have yet to figure out how to appreciate it. We imagined it to be like Nashville, where you can walk down Broadway and enter any doorway to fantastic live music performed by super-talented local musicians hoping to be discovered. What we’re finding is that Austin’s clubs are dotted around town and, while there are a couple of streets that claim to have the most music venues, during Covid there was no way to gauge that as most of them are closed. What they do have in Austin are an awful lot of homeless people. It’s kind of shocking to pull off a highway and see tents beneath the underpass, drive down the road and see more tents at the next underpass, turn a corner and see a downtown parking lot containing cars separated by more tents. In 2019, the government of Austin decided to deal with the already big issue of homelessness by decriminalizing it. That’s the only thing they did that makes sense. I read a news article that spoke of people who had been awakened by police for sleeping on benches and in doorways, given citations that would never be paid by the homeless people who have no income. Some people accumulated dozens of citations worth hundreds of dollars, but how do you find someone and demand payment when they have no address and no income? It’s just silly. And a waste of the police department’s time. So, while I agree with the decriminalization, you can’t just do that and NOT build shelters and provide services to weed out who needs a job from who needs help with mental illness or addiction. Especially in a city the size of Austin. We really wanted to like Austin, but after three visits we just don’t.

Not our photo! News story image of tents under the highway in Austin.

Homelessness is a BIG problem.

We moved on to Texas Hill Country and a small Army Corp of Engineers campground on Canyon Lake. It was a fairly quiet few days in which we drove around a bit and saw some cute towns. Tessa was again in heaven because there is a large herd of deer in this park. Actually, there have been deer just about everyplace we’ve stayed. They are munching in yards during the day, bouncing through the campgrounds at dinner time, and dead on the side of the road every couple of miles.

The deer population is BIG in Texas.

We were unable to find a campsite for the Thanksgiving long weekend, so we changed locations daily as we approached December 1, when we moved into our San Antonio RV park for the month. We spent one night at Luckenbach just because everybody’s somebody at Luckenbach. I think most of you have heard of Luckenbach, but in case you haven’t, here’s the story:

Luckenbach was first organized in the 1800’s as a small community trading post, one of the few in Texas that never broke a peace treaty with the Comanche Indians with whom they traded. The first building to be erected was a post office with a saloon in the back. There was also a dance call, cotton gin and blacksmith shop. All were owned by the Engel and Luckenbach families. By the turn of the 20th century, the population had grown to a few hundred, but by the 1960’s it was a virtual ghost town. The town of Fredericksburg, about 11 miles away, had blossomed and residents of Luckenbach moved to the newer and more prosperous town. Despite the Engel family keeping the dance hall going as best they could, the town itself was deserted. In the 1970’s, the Engels decided to sell what was left of Luckenbach and offered it for $30,000.

Along came Hondo Crouch, a Texas rancher and hobby historian who, with his friend Guich Koock and musician Kathy Morgan, bought Luckenbach. They patched up the buildings, fired up the saloon and invited local musicians to sit and strum while enjoying “a free state of mind.” They hosted festivals of all kinds, chili cook-offs, hug-ins, and July 4th picnics to name a few. Local musicians showed up. When Jerry Jeff Walker played there and turned those tapes into an album in 1973, people started to notice. It became an iconic location where one could just hit the rewind button to a simpler time where the music was free and the beer was cold. When Merle Haggard wrote his song “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)” in 1977, the town became famous almost overnight. Thousands of people now visit from all over the world to enjoy an afternoon or evening of “a free state of mind.”

There are license plates from all over the country nailed to the buildings at Luckenbach, but none from Connecticut! We took care of that.

Luckenbach is small, but the way it was saved is BIG!

After Luckenbach, we moved about 20 minutes away to a picnic/rest area. This is a first for us. We’ve never slept in an interstate rest area and would probably only do so as a last resort as we imagine there would be noise all night long. In Texas, however, there are “Safety Rest Areas” dotted around the state. These are picnic areas located mostly on direct-route local highways that have been remodeled to be attractive and inviting to weary travelers. The idea is that if you provide an attractive, well-lit, monitored place for drivers to pull over and rest, there will be fewer accidents. You can even sleep here for a night or two before moving on, and there are covered picnic tables and clean charcoal grills. We stayed here Thanksgiving night, Bob cooked up a couple of pieces of chicken on the grill and I prepared some thanksgiving sides and gravy. The following day, we were supposed to move on to stay at a bar & grill on the other side of Fredericksburg, but it’s raining and chilly out. The draw to that host was that we could enjoy their beverages and live music from picnic tables in their yard. We don’t want to be inside a bar during Covid, especially in this county as it’s one of the higher-infected counties in Texas, so we stayed put at the rest area for a second night.

The rest area happens to abut the properties of the Lyndon B. Johnson National Park AND the LBJ State Park, which are side-by-side. The land that these parks occupy is the actual LBJ ranch, which still operates as a cattle ranch. None of the buildings were open, but the drive and walk that we took were very interesting. The ranch at its largest was somewhere around 1,500 acres, although he sold land after he retired. I believe the national park is now around 600 acres. As you drive through the property it’s hard to imagine owning that much land.

LBJ’s Ranch is BIG! He was a big man (although his statue is even bigger) … Tessa took some instruction from him on left. Right, Texas Longhorns on his ranch.

Driving through Texas hill country, we have passed hundreds of ranches. Every one of them has a gated entrance. Some are simple while others probably cost more than my house. I imagine out here, where there can be a few hundred acres of land between driveways, giving someone directions to your house is not as easy as saying, “I’m at 45 Elm Street.” It’s more like, “take the Farm Road 2143 about 3 miles out and look for the gate with the wagon wheels.”

Gates, every ranch has one. Plain or fancy, gates are big!

Our last two stops before arriving in San Antonio were Harvest Host locations: Bandera Ale Project, a brewery in the cute little town of Bandera, and Medina River Winery in Castroville. The brewery was very cute with mood lighting under the bar, a loft area with pool table and dart board, and live music. Unfortunately, it was raining all day so we were unable to enjoy the beautiful biergarten in the back. But we still enjoyed several of their delicious brews … an English brown ale, a honey brown ale, a black pepper saison and we shared a marshmallow porter for dessert! An added bonus was listening to Yosh & Yimmy, a pair of very talented local songwriters. You can check out their Folk/Americana music on Spotify.

Bandera Ale Project, Bandera, TX

At Medina River Winery, we met owner Matt Blais (yes, check out that last name Terry & Sam) and his son Alex. Originally from Massachusetts, they are now Texas vintners. I’ve had local wines in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Long Island’s North Fork, and in Florida, and unfortunately have never been impressed by any of them. I did not have high expectations for Texas wines. But a wine tasting at Medina changed that. Alex presented about ten wines to us, and there was only one in the group that I didn’t care for. We learned a lot, had great conversation and left with two great bottles of wine!

Medina River Winery, Castroville, TX

We arrived in San Antonio just in time to hook up to electricity for a 30 degree night. We’ll be stationary now for at least a month … longer if COVID doesn’t loosen it’s grip on New Mexico, which is where we’ll head next. Stay tuned for more BIG adventures in Texas!

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