Friday, September 23, 2016

Fredericksburg, Texas --- a week with friends

Roger here....  We are nearly back to our home in Mission, Texas.  However, before that last leg through south Texas, we spent a week in Fredericksburg with our long-time friends, Jay and Nancy.  They flew into Austin and stayed at the Hoffman Haus in Fredericksburg.  Dianne and I set up stakes at the nearby Fredericksburg RV Park.  

It was an action-packed week of museums, shopping, driving, eating, music and wine.  We did not take pictures of every place we visited.  Dianne and I have been in the Texas Hill Country many times, so picture taking seemed redundent.  Also, we were too busy enjoying ourselves. However, we did take a few photos.


We spent half a day at the LBJ Ranch and Texas White House near Johnson City.  The ranch is both a  Texas State Park and a National Park.  Dianne and I have been there three times, but always discover new bits of interesting information. 

Dianne took this photo inside Air Force 1/2, the air liner that transported LBJ to and from the LBJ Ranch from larger military facilities in Texas.


In my humble opinion, you cannot experience the Texas Hill Country without a visit to

We timed our visit for a time when there would be music.  

On this early evening the music consisted of two performers doing their acoustic thing.  The guy in the middle was quite good.  Notice the roosters in the picture below.  There were probably ten of them (all very colorful).  They added a great deal of humor to the performance as they actually walked up the live oak trees in the performance area.  They flew over our heads from branch to branch and frequently performed with the musicians adding a hearty cock-a-doodle-doo.  After about 30 minutes, they flapped their way back to the ground.


Sticking with the music theme, we ate dinner at Hondo's in Fredericksburg.  The burgers and onion strings were delicious.  The music was great and very Texas-y.  Dianne and I had not eaten at Hondo's before, but certainly will in the future.

Eating German food is a requirement when visiting Fredericksburg.  We typically reserve that experience for Auslanders.  However, a local employee at a wine-tasting venue recommended Otto's.  The food was good, but pricey.  We shared desserts that were excellent.  The menu was limited.  Jay and Nancy treated us to the meal.  Thanks!  We will probably return to Auslanders in the future.


Since we are already talking about food, let's continue that theme. The four of us jokingly referred to our week as a consummatory tour of the Hill Country.   No day was more emblematic of that statement than the day we drove to Llano for authentic Texas barbecue (followed by pie in Marble Falls and wine tasting in Stonewall).  Cooper's Old Time Pit Barbecue is our favorite barbecue place in all of Texas.  We have written about it before, but as a recap... you pick out your meat as it comes out of the pit outside; it is wrapped; then weighed; payment is made after picking up a beverage; beans are carried to the table;  everything is dumped on butcher paper for consumption.  The meat actually melts in your mouth.  Among the four of us we ate brisket, ribs, and pork chop.

On a different day we experienced another iconic barbecue restaurant near Driftwood.  Salt Lick Barbecue (in the middle of nowhere) is different kind of experience.  Also delicious.


The eating did not end on the day we ate at Cooper's.  We decided to drive to Marble Falls for pie!  Dianne and I had never been there before.  Our stomachs were full, but the draw of some of the best known pie in the Hill Country at the Blue 
Bonnet Cafe guided the car.  The picture below is of Dianne's cherry a la mode.  We also had chocolate cream and coconut cream --- so very, very good.  At that point I did not want to eat again for days.


On one of our longer driving days we drove to the quaint town of Wimberley to do some shopping.  Wimberley is the town that was pretty much washed away in a tragic flood (multiple deaths) two years ago.  The town seems to have recovered, maintaining its quaint atmosphere.  On our way to the Salt Lick Barbecue for lunch we stopped to stroll around Blue Hole Regional Park.

If I had grown up near the Blue Hole, I would have gone swimming there on every summer day (as I did in Fall Creek in my hometown in Pendleton, IN).  

The clear water of Cypress Creek, surrounded by Cyress and Live Oak Trees is an idyllic place to swim.  It is still open for swimming during the summer months.  


We took several drives around the Texas Hill Country outside the city of Fredericksburg.  A highlight was a quiet trip through the hillside ranches along the Willow Loop.  We crossed small bridges over quiet streams and saw an abundance of wildlife --- lots of deer, a fox, and lots of cattle.  

We tried to offer Jay and Nancy a wide perspective of the Texas Hill Country.  We spent half a day at the exceptional Nimitz Museum of the Pacific War.  We strolled and shopped down the wide, wide streets of Fredericksburg, we sampled wine at several wineries (on four different days) --- Grape Creek, Becker, Messina Hoff, Terre de Pietra, and Hye.  We visited the iconic Wildseed Farm (where we always spend some money).

On our last evening together, we drove to Old Tunnel State Park at dusk to watch three million Mexican Free Tail bats burst from an old railroad tunnel.  We have done this before from further away, but on a clearer day.  It was pretty dark before the bats emerged, so the views were not all that clear, but suffice it to say, they flew all around us as they flapped their way into the sky.  It is always an amazing and unique experience.  

Here's a link to the video Dianne shot at the bat tunnel in September 2012 when we were there before.   It's an awesome sight.

September 2012 bat footage

Unfortunately, after the bat flight, we stopped by the local What-a-Burger for a quick bite to eat.  These fast food restaurants seem to be around every corner in the state of Texas.  We caught them at a bad time.  The restaurant was filled with loud and misbehaving young children whose parents sat on the other side of the restaurant ignoring the chaos --- not the best impression.

After our days together, Jay and Nancy moved on to Austin for dinner with friends before their flight back to Indianapolis.  Dianne and I are staying two additional days before a one-day drive back to our home at Retama Village.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Amarillo - Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Wild Turkeys at Palo Duro Canyon State Park near Amarillo

Roger here....   We're headed south! 

The last post ended with a few pictures from the Mountaindale Cabins and RV Park where we spent three nights.  We have a few more to share before we show you our southern sojourn.

On our last day in Colorado we took a long circular walk along the local roads.  The picture below shows a view of Mountaindale from the road.  

The picture to the left shows one of the many landscaped areas that grace the walking areas in the park.  The picture below shows one last view of our campsite before I tell the story of our trip south.  

Our first night (an overnight) after leaving Colorado was in northwestern New Mexico.  The Capulin RV Park was a quiet, family-owned park. The office was in the family's living room.  We bought grass-fed beef for our freezer before leaving the next day.  

The next morning we entered Texas.  It has been 6,000 + miles and five months since we left our home in Mission, TX in May.  Home again!  Well not quite.  We still have a few days of driving and a couple of multiple-day stops to go.

Amarillo, Texas was our next destination.  We spent four nights at the VERY nice Oasis RV Resort on the west side of town.  Our goal was to spend some quality time cleaning the inside of the motor home (Dianne) and the bug encrusted windshield (Roger).  We also did three weeks worth of laundry in addition to cleaning the inside of the car.  

We did manage to squeeze in some relaxation time, a Texas-style meal, and a scenic hike.  

I wanted to enjoy a steak dinner in Texas.  The Big Texan (actually an iconic restaurant with a gimmick) fit the bill.  The gimmick --- if you can eat 72 ounces of steak within an hour your meal is free.  Dianne kept telling me that this had to be a tourist trap.  It was.  (Dianne is always right).  That being said, the food was actually delicious and reasonably priced (for steak).  Our steaks were only ten ouncers :-)

We also enjoyed a couple of early evenings in the huge hot tub at the RV Park and part of a day at Palo Duro Canyon State Park (25 miles to the south).


Canyon?  What canyon?  How could a huge canyon only be three miles away from the spot that this photo was taken?   Oh, there it is.

The two-mile 10 percent grade drive into the canyon was a piece of cake for our Toyota.  It might have been a little more challenging for our motor home.

We intended to do two or three short hikes with the dogs to get a flavor of the canyon.  Intended is the operative word.  Our first and last hike was the Paseo Del Rio hike in a green area along a small stream.  It was a peaceful walk interspersed with impressive views of the colorful canyon walls.

Unfortunately, our time in the canyon was short-lived.  The sunny day quickly turned into the threat of a thunderstorm.

Dark clouds passed over the canyon much like a wildfire that caused us to evacuate four years ago --- also after a very short time.  We actually saw more this time than we did the previous time.  Maybe we are not meant to spend more than a couple of hours in Palo Duro Canyon.  Oh well, we enjoyed the time that we had.  Maybe the third time will be the charm.

We are currently in Sweetwater, Texas watching another (probably more serious storm) roll in. We have already pulled in one of the slides.  We are closely watching the radar.  Tomorrow, we will travel to Fredericksburg, Texas in the heart of the "Hill Country" where lifetime friends from Indiana will be joining us for the week.


The Pet Picture of the Day shows Dianne and Tequila at the beginning of our Palo Duro Canyon hike.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Hiking in the Colorado Rockies -- Monarch Lake, Rocky Mountain NP

My Two Lucky Ladies During a Hike Around Monarch Lake

Roger here...  We had two more days in Grand Lake, Colorado.  We needed to make the most of them.  The weather was gorgeous.  Guess what?  We went hiking.

MONARCH LAKE LOOP in the Arapaho National Forest....

Our first hike (dog friendly) required a drive to nearby Granby, followed by a nine-mile drive on a well-maintained dirt road through the Arapaho National Forest to the trail head.

Monarch Lake

The view that greeted us at the trail head was jaw-dropping.  

The beginning of this four-mile loop offered spectacular views of the idyllic islands in the lake.  It was difficult to pick the best pictures, so I am including three.

This view of a very green peninsula jutting into this nearly black lake was also worth a photo.

As the four of us strolled along the shoreline, signs of autumn appeared on lichen-covered rocks.

What a beautiful day to enjoy the best hike we have had with our dogs since leaving Mission, TX in May.  

Lake views on the right.  Rock formations on the left.

Before we started our hike at the trail head, a local lady told us that we were likely to see moose in the marshy area beyond the lake.  Yay, moose! When we arrived at 
that portion of the hike, we found a colorful vista, but no moose :-(.

The trail led us deep into the forest at the far end of the lake before changing direction for the return hike.  We forded small streams as we walked along the creek that fed the lake.  Bandido was much more agile than me. That is why he went across first.

There were other interesting features along the way.

Hmm.  Do we cross along the log or hop along the rocks in the water?

Another interesting "bridge"

Watch your footing?  A blind step could result in a sprained ankle.

Near the end of the hike we stopped to eat the cheese sandwiches in our packs.  I begged Dianne to not take another picture of me with a mouthful of food.  She ignored me.  She is getting even for the punk hair style shot of her from the previous post.

A nice bridge crossed the creek in the photo below, but Dianne thought the dogs might like to splash across.  

She was correct.  Dianne is always correct.  

She crossed the bridge and called to the dogs as I released them (one at a time).  Bandido crossed tentatively, smiling the entire way.  Tequila bounded across without a care in the world.

The photo of Monarch Lake below was taken at the end of the hike, from the dam near the trail head.  So pretty.

After the hike I visited the very small grocery store in Grand Lake to get the fixin's for fish tacos.  It was like a visit in time, back to the '50s.  I made a mess in the kitchen in order to give Dianne a belated birthday dinner.  They turned out pretty well (pat on the back :-).  (He even made the sauce from scratch with a whole row of ingredients from our pantry.   -- D.)

They were spicy and DELICIOUS! -- D.

COYOTE VALLEY TRAIL at Rocky Mountain National Park....

After the longish hike around Monarch Lake on the previous day, we were looking for something a little tamer on our last day in the area.  We found it in the national park along the Coyote Valley Trail.

We spent about an hour strolling along this short, flat trail on the edge of the Colorado River.

Huge Mountain Meadow

We hoped to see a moose along this trail where they are frequently spotted.

The grassy areas near the river certainly lent themselves as ideal moose habitat.

The frosty depressions in the grass along the trail were very likely where moose (or elk) bedded down the night before.  However, no moose sightings for us --- again.  (The closest we came to seeing a moose other than the one shown in our previous blog was a BIG pile of very fresh moose poop in our campground; alas, he (or she) did not venture through our site to get their picture taken on my wildlife cam.  -- D.)

So tiny here!
The Colorado River flowed next to us throughout our walk.

The mountain vistas along the trail were ever present on the far side of the grasslands.  

The yellow color on the mountains were aspens wearing their autumn colors.  The photo below is a close-up of the same view.

(We literally watched the aspens turn to gold from day to day during our week-long stay.   Each day brought more and more golden vistas. -- D.)

Our time near the west end of Rocky Mountain National Park has ended.  After a successful (white knuckle) drive through two Colorado mountain passes and trips around Denver and through Colorado Springs, we are enjoying some quiet time at one of our very favorite full-hookup campgrounds.  We actually altered our travel southward so we could stop here for a weekend.  

This is our fourth visit to Mountaindale Cabins & RV Resort.  It is nestled in a tiered fashion along the side of a mountain about 15 miles south of Colorado Springs, CO.  During one evening doggie walk around the campground, we saw two does with four fawns... 

...then further into the campground we came upon six bucks with huge antlers wandering through the campground. 

They were very interested in Bandido and Tequila and stopped to watch us, just as we stopped to watch them.   Our doggies were very good; after one initial bark from Bandido, they stood quietly sniffing the air and looking at the deer.

Looking at our campsite, you can see why this is such a relaxing place.  The pink granite graveled campsites are huge and shady.  The imaginative landscape architecture and beautiful flower gardens add to the feeling of tranquility.

I called for a reservation one week before our arrival.  We were very lucky to get the last spot that was available for our three-night visit.  Whew!  There have been many improvements since our last visit, including cable TV for a portion of the campground, and excellent wifi --- truly excellent wifi.  Next summer we've decided upon a trip to a single point rather than an extensive loop with multiple stops.  This will be that single point. We've made reservations for the month of August.


This is a picture of the dogs getting a drink of clear mountain water in the creek on the Monarch Lake Loop just before bounding across the creek to Dianne.  We only let them drink from streams in pristine mountain areas.