While we visited the Amarillo area during the Route 66 part of our eastward trek, we have spent the past 2.5 weeks exploring several other regions of this vast state that really has a mind of its own.
SOUTH-EAST: The south-eastern region centres on Houston (the largest city) which we happened to visit during a cold snap. We parked the van at a motel near Houston airport for a one-week jaunt to Belize prior to Christmas (see previous post). It was actually freezing in Houston and we probably felt the cold most during our day spent at the Houston Space Center (NASA). It was a tad poignant to visit the centre with flags at half-staff in honour of John Glenn, as it invoked childhood memories of the race to the moon. We also had the opportunity to touch actual moon rock.
Then onto a little (free) ferry to Galveston where we camped on the jetty and awoke to watch the boats come in.
GULF COAST: We traced the coast as per the availability of roads. We spent a night on Mustang Island (near Corpus Christi) in a State Park where we were in awe of a group of tent campers, given the chilly weather. Finally, we spent 6 days over the Christmas period on South Padre Island. This was reached after a full day’s drive from Mustang Island. This is a very rural part of the state, with mostly dilapidated housing and/or farms, dotted with historical markers typically related to the violent history of Texas. In contrast, SPI is a vacation area, full of families out for the day or weekend, and snow-birders from northern climes.
long walk on a long beach, collecting sea shells, and a couple wildflowers
South Padre Island
cycling the island, in the sand dunes, checking out the beach road, collecting sea shells
Christmas on SPI: Beach, pool, sunsets, food, shells, …
RIO GRANDE VALLEY: or, it could well be Mexico. After an aborted attempt at beach camping at Boca Vista (thanks to a lovely couple from Quebec City who helped us dig out of the sand), we drove along the valley to Laredo. The highway was filled with border patrol cars pretty well every half mile as well as regularly placed checkpoints where we were always asked if we were both American citizens (even after seeing our B.C. plates).
The entire valley has a heavy history related to the conflicts between the Mexican tribes, between the Mexicans and the Americans, between the “Texians” and the Americans, and during the Civil War. There is even a unique people that developed from a blending of several Mexican tribes and the Americans (the “Tejanos”).
Laredo is Mexico in the USA to the extent that many people work and shop in one country and live in the other. The city is old, in disrepair, and filled with money exchange and shops that are stuck in the past. Signage is almost exclusively in Spanish. We had lunch at a café where the menu was only in Spanish (plus pictures). The city represents one of the major border crossings which is congested most of the time. Laredo and Nuevo Laredo enjoy an interdependent economy and social relationship.
TEXAS PRAIRIE: We spent a couple of wonderful days in San Antonio. We discovered, and rode, the fairly new multi-use paved path that linked the San Antonio Missions – a World Heritage Site. Our campground linked directly to the pathway about 3 miles south of downtown. I’m sure we chose the windiest possible day which made for a wonderful ride out to the furthest missions but a brutal headwind back to downtown.
We were able to chain up the bikes to enjoy a well earned beer and appy platter and enjoy the coming evening on the renowned San Antonio Riverwalk – a pedestrian social zone. As the Alamo Bowl was about to take place, there was a strong energy with fans in their team colours.
The second day, we rode back downtown to see The Alamo. The Alamo is part of the San Antonio Missions group however, it was commandeered as a fortress for the famous battle of the Alamo. It is now the pre-eminent symbol of Texas liberty and is treated as hallowed ground. This site is run by the Daughters of the Revolution whereas the other missions are run by the National Parks Service. Therefore, the Alamo site feels more like a tourist centre or museum with the lineups that come with it.
This was followed by lunch at a brew pub, and later, a visit to a winery about one hour northwest of SA. A twist was driving through the hills to the winery only to pass the cryogenics project site (look it up – it’s supposedly going to house 50,000 frozen bodies, or brains, for future revival).
BIG BEND COUNTRY: sometimes referred to as the “real” Texas. This region is home to the wild west, the cowboys and ranchers, and the fringe element that likes to make the back of beyond their home. For us, the goal was to hike in Big Bend National Park as we closed off one year and welcomed another. To be sure, this is a remote National Park and takes effort to get there. It is, therefore little visited, and under-serviced. It is also HUGE. It is one of the best places to watch raptors during the day and the brightest stars and milky way by night. We camped one night just outside the park and one night at one mile elevation in the centre of the mountains. Our way out of the park involved 20 miles on an “improved dirt road” that in reality was more suitable to a high-clearance 4WD. We were very pleased with how Van Gogh handled it, although all bolts and screws needed to be tightened afterwards.
December 31st, 2016
January 1st, 2017: hiking the Window trail
January 2nd, 2017: hiking Santa Elena Canyon, driving the dirt road, and dinner at Terlingua
Good-bye Texas, t’was fun. Next up: New Mexico (whenever we next have high-speed internet…).