Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What makes Texas so interesting?

Where to start, where to start!  Ok, I’ll start soon after we crossed the border from New Mexico. We’re on the road nearly constantly, so getting out and and looking around isn’t always an option. As we come through Amarillo, Joe points out the Dairy Queen while we’re at the stop light, and sure enough, it’s something interesting!  I grabbed the iPad and clicked just as the light turned.  Not sure when I’m going to see horses parked at the Dairy Queen again.  We’re in Texas, for sure!
Riders stopped at this Amarillo Dairy Queen for a treat! 
On to our day’s destination, the Copper Breaks State Park, 12 miles off the road halfway between Amarillo and Dallas. Such serenity-- grasses and flowers lining the country roads, and the park’s isolation.  It was our first state park RV camping, and it was a bit unnerving- we couldn’t make reservations, and had been told to just “come on in”.  At dusk, when we arrived, a sign said to take a spot and check in the next morning. It was unnerving to see no one else there.  After we hooked up to the electricity and water, we realized there was one other camper around the bend. We went to greet them, but they really liked the isolation and scowled at the intrusion.  We locked up tight for the night and wondered about wild animals and the wind.  There had been lots of wind in these travels, and it made different sounds in different places.  Texas wind, here at Copper Breaks, was a little spooky. 
Then on to Lewisville, Texas to visit Bob Orpin and family before the night’s engagement at Frisco Rough Riders.  After retirement from the city of Santa Fe Springs, California, he moved to this Castle Hill neighborhood, which looked like a transplant of medieval estates, if such could be had in a suburban neighborhood.  These houses were really grand in scale and beautifully made.  Bob doubled his square footage from his long time home in Long Beach, California.  Best of all, he had room not only for his baby grand piano but also an electric organ.  Orpin Hall, (as I dubbed it) was a delightful performance space; Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor for organ as breakfast entertainment was truly spectacular! 
City Hall, Lockhart, Texas

Leaving Dallas, we noticed a small town that had a gorgeous city hall-- and a great sense of history!  Lockhart, Texas has really invested in historical preservation.

On to Austin, where we began to realize the quirks of the Texas road systems.  Joe was startled at certain points where we had to make a choice between two branches of the road, and no signage was provided!  Now, it’s kind of difficult to correct navigation mistakes with 35 feet of bulk and a vast turning radius, so we had to make some guesses, most of which were correct.  My supposition on the signage issue was that Texans must help each other learn the way of something, and never expect anyone new to come along!  
As we traveled on freeways in major cities- Austin, San Antonio, Corpus Cristi, and Houston, we kept noticing that in addition to the actual freeways we traveled on, there were very busy frontage roads on either side that supported endless business access.  People slid back and forth from frontage roads to freeways as they traveled, and variously, the freeway would have a bridge and underneath, the frontage roads would have connectors, allowing “Texas U-Turns”.  It was sort of like the express buses and the local buses, but on adjacent roads.  This takes a massive amount of space, and I supposed this happened because of a very natural abundance of that resource in Texas: it is BIG. Lots of room, so why not stretch out! Later, I read in Wikipedia that this was a convention started by a deal between developers and state engineers, in which they could keep the traffic moving and provide lots of access for local businesses as well.  This causes a proliferation of advertising which creates a strip-mall aesthetic - along the main freeways. This brought attempted legislation to remedy the tradition, but it was quickly turned down in 2002. Don’t look for those frontage road mazes to disappear anytime soon! 
Providing scale and softening the increasing heat of that week were the lovely oak forests all along the roadways.  Oak Forest RV Park, south of Austin, was a fine place for our first multi-day stay.  We parked there and drove back and forth in the tow car (Toad)  to Corpus Cristi and San Antonio, as the hot weather built.  San Antonio was 99 degrees for an 11 am game, with every available seat in the direct sun. Those who know me know I don’t DO direct sun like that, so we left the game early.   
On our last evening in Austin, after visiting the wonderful LBJ Presidential Library, we followed a  longtime Austin tradition and watched thousands of bats fly out from under the Ann Richards bridge on Congress street just south of the state capital buildings. People gathered as if it were fireworks on the 4th of July, lining the bridge itself and filling the fields and waterways nearby.  After the lovely skyline slowly darkened, we first saw small groups of bats, then fluttering masses lifting over the treetops to head southwest to rid some lucky housing development of insect pests. Magical. 

Festive- but everyday event: gathering to watch the bats fly out from under the Ann Richards bridge on Congress St.

Tour boats, kayaks and paddleboats wait for dusk at the bridge just south of the Texas state capital building

In the park below the bridge, families picnicked while waiting for the bats to fly! 

Having finished the Texas singing engagements, we headed to Houston to stay the night with our dear friend Stephanie Davidson, who moved to Texas to be closer to her family the year before I retired. I was so very pleased to see that she had landed really well- her home in Sugarland was magnificent and so beautifully decorated.  Though she and her daughter Sarah worked long hours and had only been in the home less than two years, it was picture perfect, and quite luxurious!  Having a new grandson/nephew just a few miles away made this a truly perfect move for Stephanie, and she glowed.  
Texas: grand and expansive, friendly and varied. Truly worth a visit, if you have lots of time for driving! 

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