Texas (East)

17th - 22nd February 2011

Texas was big, really big.  We realised just how big when we drove across the eastern Texas border and were greeted with a sign telling us that El Paso, located at the western end of the state, was a mere 857 miles ahead.

Next we ran the gauntlet of Houston's alarming interstate traffic.    We lost count of the number of freeway lanes.     Exits went off left and right, frighteningly often.   We followed our friend Joanne's advice and only drove in lanes with a large number ten for I-10 painted on the road, kept our sanity and eventually found our way out the other end of the city.

Once we were in the lesser chaos of suburban traffic, we were forced to make a stop for fuel (and perhaps to calm the nerves).     We could see the Walmart store just off to the side of the interstate and took the next exit ramp.    Here, we discovered the joys of the "frontage road".    Walmart was just a few hundred feet away but behind us.     We found ourselves on the "frontage road" running parallel to the interstate, a one-way street heading in the same direction.     So, to reach the petrol station just behind us, we had to drive along parallel to the interstate until the next exit ramp joined our "frontage" road.     At this point, a special turnaround lane took us back in the opposite direction, on the other side of the interstate.     Now we had to drive until we arrived at the exit one previous to the one we'd originally taken.    Here another "turnaround lane" put us back on the correct side of the interstate, heading in the right direction, Walmart now ahead of us.   A trip of only about two miles!!    All we had to do now was make sure we didn't miss the turning for Walmart, refuel, destress and then work out how on earth to get back on the interstate, heading the right way......

Well, the brakes work!

Once safely on our way again, we headed west to the Stephen Austin State Park.    Here, after many bionic man jokes, we took our new bikes for their first real off-road experience.      The park had a great network of bike trails, along swamp and riverfront.   We even took the local deer by surprise as we whizzed around a corner.

We didn't generally consider ourselves city people but decided to give San Antonio a try.    We tracked down an RV campground right on the bus route into the city centre, settled in and hopped on the bus.

San Antonio used to be plagued by floods, with a large river bend passing right through the city.    Many years ago the city took action to divert the flow of water and decided, instead of filling in the remaining emptied watercourse, they would create the beautiful Riverwalk.

The bustling but traffic free waterside walks, lively riverside restaurants and colourful tour barges gave the city centre a decidedly European feel.    We walked all around the loop, taking in all the sights and an ice cream before climbing up to street level to "remember the Alamo".      This old Spanish Mission was the scene of a notorious siege by the Mexican army, ending in bloodbath.    It was hard to believe strolling around the Alamo's tranquil gardens.     At the cathedral we paid our respects at the remains of the heroes of the Alamo. 

The Alamo

Heroes of the Alamo

Our second day in the city dawned grey and drizzly.    We decided our best option was to head to the impressive Institute of Texan Culture, which gave an overview of the breakdown of the immigrant and indigenous cultures in the state.    Less impressive was the fact that the Institute seemed to be unaware of Wales!

When we left the Institute, after enlightening them about the existence of Wales, the rain had eased off and we walked to the busy Mexican market.    The stalls were mostly full of Mexican bits and bobs and the usual tourist junk.    The atmosphere was lively and we decided this would be a good opportunity to try some Tex-Mex food in a local establishment.   Our fajitas arrived drawing the attention of everyone in the place with their noisy sizzling on the hot metal platter!      

All except the Welsh apparently!

Bring on the Fajitas!

San Antonio View

We bravely tried to walk off the Fajitas but in the end decided, after one last tour around the Main Square, that we'd had our fill, both Tex-Mex food and city life!   We hopped on the bus back to our campground.    Here, after a short siesta, we were roped into the campground's "Annual Chilli Cook-Off".    Fifteen competitors had prepared their best chilli and we happy campers had to sample each and cast our vote.    We bravely showed up to do our bit (sorry stomach).    All entries were delicious, some fiery, some milder.    It has to be said that once we got to about chilli number 10, we were losing the plot but had learned that in Texas real chilli shouldn't have beans.    Finally we picked a number and cast our vote, applauding the winners before waddling back to Harvey.

Next morning we were keen to head out into the countryside and headed north to Blanco State Park.    En route, we were involved in another bout of frontage-road/retail trauma but finally found our goal and came away happy with a pair of Keen sandals at half-price!     Blanco State Park was a peaceful spot and we decided to stay a couple of nights camped by the river.     This gave us the chance to head to nearby Pedernales Falls State Park.    A great attraction of the Texas State Parks was that it was permitted to fish without buying a fishing license, as long as you remained within the park.     We set off to walk to the stunning falls, Phil with fishing rod in hand, Christine with the picnic.     The area was stunning with acres and acres of riverside rock, washed smooth in curious shapes by the area's frequent flash floods.     Christine explored the fascinating rock formations and ravines, whilst Phil began fishing.     Soon he reeled in a nice bass he'd tempted out from under a rock, impressing the locals.

Pedernales Falls


Our last stop in the San Antonio mountains area was at Lost Maples State Park.     Texas was becoming really sparsely populated and we made our way through miles of empty mountain landscape to the deserted campground.     We were allocated our spot by the Ranger.    This turned out to be the worst, most sloping campsite in the park.     

We flagged down a passing ranger and asked could we move.     We were told we'd have to drive back the two miles to the office to get a new camping ticket!    This seemed grossly un-environmentally friendly in a completely deserted campsite in the wilderness.    We decided to stay put (or maybe move later when everyone had gone home).    A short time later, our friendly ranger decided that, as he had to go back to the office anyway, maybe he could get our new ticket for us.     Harvey officially moved to a a new level spot as we tried to contain our mirth at the madness of the computer controlled world. 

Well can't we just move???


Once we were finally settled, we set off on foot to enjoy the park.     A lovely hiking trail took us up onto the ridge above the park, giving us a great view.    

It was time to say goodbye to the mountains, we were headed westwards next day, into the desert!

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