Monday, February 25, 2013

Texas Hill Country

First signs of Spring - Sheared Sheep

From Brackettville we continued east and then north into the Texas Hill Country.  As we headed east the vegetation became greener and the trees taller although outside the towns the trees were still maybe twenty feet.  There were ranches on both side of the road for miles.  The ranches with cattle were fenced with barbed wire  three or four feet high.   However many the ranches are for hunting and these have a mesh fencing six to eight feet high.  On the road from Brackettville to Camp Wood we saw a flock of six turkeys.   We have also seen numerous white tailed deer and a number of Axis deer, which were imported from India by some of the hunting ranches.  The Axis deer are about the same size as a white tail but have tan fur with white spotted markings, similar to a fawn.  We also saw two signs of spring, a flock of recently sheared sheep and a flowering tree.

First Signs of Spring - Flowering Tree
Nueces River
From Camp Wood we rode 21 miles to Leaky, walking a number of the steeper hills.  These hills may be great for riding singles but with the tandem loaded with 60 lbs of gear, we have been doing a lot of walking.  Our hotel was reserved for motorcyclists (and bicyclists) only.

D Rose Inn - Motorcyclists Only
Foxfire Cabin in Vanderpool
Thunderstorms were predicted for Wednesday so we arranged for a pickup truck to take us to Vanderpool, only to wake up Wednesday morning with no predictions of rain.  We canceled the pickup truck and rode (and walked) the 18 miles to Vanderpool where we rented a cabin for two nights.  The cabin was beside the river and we could listen to the water flow from the deck. 

Sabinal River Just Below Our Cabin in Vanderpool Tx
Thursday was our day off and we enjoyed the view from the deck, listening to the river and took a short walk, at the end of which we saw a flock of 14 turkeys.

Flock of Turkeys Near our Cabin in Vanderpool
Friday we left Vanderpool, climbing (on foot) up a steep canyon and then riding along the ridge toward Ingram.  Again we saw a number of deer and a flock of about 20 turkeys.  As we descended into Ingram we rode along the Guadalupe River through several picturesque resort communities.   
Guadalupe River
Saturday we had a short, 26 mile ride from Ingram to Comfort, continuing to descend along the Guadalupe River.  For the past month as we have travelled across Arizona, New Mexico and Texas we have been overhearing conversations in the restaurants at breakfast and dinner about the expected ban on assault rifles.  In one restaurant we saw a cartoon of "Deer Hunting after the Obama Ban" showing a deer staring at a giant mouse trap.  We frankly don't understand the concern but to the locals see this as a big violation of their rights.  The photo below typifies there feelings

Gun shop in Kerrville, Tx
Sister Creek Winery, Sisterdale, Tx
Sunday we had a relatively hard ride from Comfort to Blanco, with a number of difficult hill climbs along the way.  We stopped briefly in Sisterdale to visit a winery and again at a motorcycle hangout west of Blanco.  The Texas hill country is very popular with bicyclist and motorcyclists.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Marathon Texas to Brackettvile Texas

Jeff Davis County Court House, Fort Davis Texas

We left Fort Davis Sunday morning, riding past the Jeff Davis County Court House, and through mountain valleys south to Marathon.  The scenery was straight out of a western movie, mountains surrounding grassy, rolling hills.  To an easterner who has spent the last 40 years in California, the size of everything here in western Texas is enormous.  Mountains rise several thousand feet above broad plains 30 miles wide and 40 to 60 miles long.  Yesterday we rode from Marathon to Sanderson, 54 miles with nothing but a few scattered ranches situated well of the road.  Tuesday we took the day off in Sanderson, Texas, population 875, which is the county seat of Terrell County, population 982.

Wind Driven Water Pump South of Fort Davis

Cattle Grazing South of Fort Davis 
Mountains South of Marathon Texas
Wednesday we continued on to Langtry, which may be the smallest town that we have stay in.  The hotel, which caters to bicyclist and motorcyclists, was clean and neat but left a lot to be desired, like a door to the bathroom instead of a shower curtain, a few hooks to hang stuff on and a smoke detector.  (The heating was a gas wall heater, which makes me nervous even with a CO monitor and a smoke detector.)   Finding food in these small towns can also be a bit of a challenge, particularly when your only transportation is a bike.   Wednesday night we ate hamburgers at the store/restaurant/motel.  Thursday morning we again ate at the store/restaurant/motel with the owner, who also operates three stone quarries in Langtry and an independent truck driver, who hauls stone for the owner to San Antonio and Austin. 

Judge Roy Bean's Jersey Lilly Saloon/Courthouse
Langtry is famous as the home of Judge Roy Bean, a colorful judge and saloon keeper, who was appointed by the railroad and the Texas Rangers to administer “The Law West of the Pecos”.  We visited his saloon/court room, which is now a state museum.  Since Langtry is on the Mexican border we walked down to the Rio Grand, which in Langtry forms an impressive canyon.  Leaving Langtry we crossed the Pecos River, which also formed a large canyon where it joins the Rio Grand.  

Pecos River Joining the Rio Grande below Langtry

Bridge Crossing Amistad Reservoir
After an uneventful overnight stay in Comstock, we crossed the reservoir in the Amistad National Recreational Area and arrived in Del Rio, where we took Saturday off and visited the Whitehead Museum and the Laughlin Museum.  The Whitehead focused on life in Del Rio in the late 1800s and early 1900s.   The Laughlin Museum focused on the military history of Laughlin Air Force base, also located in Del Rio.  Among other distinctions, Laughlin was the home base for the U2 spy planes, which played a prominent role in the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Much of the material in the museum has only been declassified in the last few years.  Carolyn, the military history buff in our family, very much enjoyed the museum and her discussions with the curator.

Whitehouse Museum
Wagon Wheels at Whitehouse Museum

Motel at Fort Clark in Brackettville Texas
Sunday we again headed east toward the Texas hill country, spending the night at Fort Clark, a former army fort which has been converted into private residences, a golf course and a motel. We are staying Patton Hall named after George C Patton who was once the commanding officer of Fort Clark.

Plaque at Fort Clark

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Las Cruces into West Texas

Pecan orchard south of Las Cruces with
 Organ Mountains in the background

From Las Cruces we rode through the Mesilla Valley with miles of pecan orchards, grape vines, farmland for cotton and small towns to El Paso.  The route crossed the Rio Grande several times. The Rio Grande had little or no water in it, just a dry sand bed.  However, we later learned that at times it is a raging torrent. We were moving between mountain ranges – the Organs (which looked like a pipe organ) above Las Cruces, and the Franklins above El Paso.  The road into El Paso was up hill, with three lanes, no shoulders, lots of traffic and those ridiculous Texas cross walks which force cyclist into the traffic lanes at each intersection.  We were glad to arrive safely at the Hilton Garden Inn next to the University of Texas El Paso, about a mile and a half north of the city center.  Saturday we took the hotel shuttle downtown and toured the El Paso Museum of History, the El Paso Museum of Art and the Magoffin home state historic site.  The museum of history and the art museum were in new buildings funded by a bond issue.   Both have considerably more display space than high quality displays to fill their expanded space.  The museum of history focused on the Hispanic roots of the city and the city’s prime location in history as missionaries, mail coaches, railroads and settlers went through this “Paseo del Norte.”    The highlight of the art museum was an exhibit of three generation of Wyeths, N.C., Andrew and Jamie, plus several lesser known Wyeth female artists.  The Magoffin home is a large adobe home owned by a prominent El Paso family in the early 1900s.  It has been nicely restored and the tour was very interesting.  The downtown is attempting revitalization, but has a ways to go.

Magoffin Home
Magoffin Home

Magoffin Home
Saturday night we ate at the Aroma restaurant.  I commented to Carolyn that she should enjoy the restaurant and the hotel as we were not likely to find such quality in west Texas.

Mountains in Mexico at Sunrise from Fort Hancock

Sierra Blanca (White Mountain)

Sunday morning we left El Paso, riding along the border with Mexico, just below the oil refineries.  Once out of El Paso we were in the country, passing through very depressed small towns with lots of loose dogs.  After outrunning several Chihuahuas, a pit bull and a pack of hunting dogs, we were not looking forward to more country roads through small west Texas towns.  We’ve done well with motels so far, but when we got to Fort Hancock (a one motel town) our luck ran out.  But the next town, Sierra Blanca, was a concern and turned out fine.  

On Monday we rode the I-10 and adjacent access roads and didn’t see a single dog.  As we move further east, the towns are still depressed but much better than those along the Mexican border.  Both Sierra Blanca Monday night and Van Horn Tuesday night appear to have more motels than the interstate can support and lots of vacant buildings and vacant lots, but some businesses seem to be doing OK. 

Today, Wednesday, was our day off in Van Horn and we toured the Culberson County Historical Museum and the El Capitan Hotel designed by Henry C. Trost, a well known architect and designer of western hotels in the early 1900s.  The lobby of the hotel has been beautifully restored as can be seen in the photo below.  The museum was in a second old hotel and had an interesting collection of artifacts from the area.  
Entering Van Horn
Culberson County Historical Museum
Culberson County Historical Museum

Culberson County Historical Museum

El Capitan Hotel, Van Horn Texas

Lobby of El Capitan Hotel