Texas, February 4th till 18th 2018
When we wake up, Sunday February 4th the sun shines in a steel blue sky and early morning it’s already 50 degrees. Great! We dump our grey and black water, fill up with clean water and say goodbye to Beate and Gerhard. They will stay another day in Big Bend. Via the North entrance (50 mile away through the desert) we leave Big Bend and drive the long and lonely road to the East.
Around us are fierce and bare mountains in all kind of shapes. We stop in Marathon where we find, in the middle of the desert, a beautiful garden with water features. Of course we walk around and play golf before we continue our journey. We are not far away from the border because we see a smooth sandy path next to our road. I try to pull the tires with which they smooth this path out but there is no movement. Let’s hope my footsteps won’t bother the Border Patrol. Every now and then we pass a few houses and a boring town, but further on there is nothing around us. This landscape is perfect for cowboy music so we put a CD on and sing out loud. When we approach the Pecos river the landscape is changing, more rolling hills and at half past 4 we arrive in Langtry, TX. There we stay at an RV park. Well, it’s indicated like that but it is more a piece of land with electricity poles and water.
It is opposite the Judge Roy Bean Visitor center where we go tomorrow. Now we sit outside and enjoy the last sun rays and a beautiful sunset. The next morning the sky is grey, it’s only 45 degrees, a big contrast to the past few days.
Since we already drove this road to the East we visited Judge Roy Bean’s saloon, annex courtroom already, but it is always nice to look again. The “Law, West of the Pecos” was in force here. Roy Bean not only owned a saloon, but he also was a “judge” and if he had to administer justice he picked up his criminal code, put together a jury out of his clientele in the bar and moved to the front porch where (in his own way) he judged, supported by his gun on the table next to him. Not infrequently it was a rule that the convicted also had to pay a beer for everyone. The Visitor Center has an interesting film about Judge Roy Bean and the town of Langtry and also a lot of maps. That’s helpful for the rest of our trip.
Around half past 10 the next morning we leave Langtry and stop after a couples of miles to look at the gap where the Pecos river merge into the Rio Grande. The nature here is impressive. We don’t drive far because we stop in Del Rio, a border town with Mexico. The sun shines again, the sky is getting bluer and the temperature rises to 68 degrees. Pleasant weather. At Walmart are special RV spots where we may stay. Unfortunately the weather is not stable and on Tuesday February 6th the sky is gray again, clouds are on the ground. There isn’t much wind so it’s not cold, around 59 degrees. Part of the trip takes us along the border, part through the Interior and then we arrive in Laredo, again a border town with Mexico. It is a big city with lots of traffic and not really pleasant so when we finally find a Walmart where we may stay (we have to give our license plate number to the manager), we stay.
We drove 195 miles. That’s a lot for us. The weather wasn’t nice, regularly it was drizzling and around us was only prairie land with bushes or oil fields, not a really tempting area to be.
We looked around at the Visitor Center in Laredo, an old colonial building surrounded by a beautiful garden with water features. Here you imagine yourself in the southern part of Spain. Fortunately the drizzle stopped around 2 pm and in the afternoon it’s getting warm, tropical warm, it runs against the 78 degrees. The trail we currently follow to the South deserves the name “Texas Tropical Trail”. When we think, this weather continues we are wrong because the next day it is only 51 degrees, there is a hard cold wind and drizzle. We drive along the western border of Texas to the South. The Rio Grande flows somewhere next to us but we cannot see the river. Regularly there are Border Patrol cars and a group of people intercepted by a helicopter, clearly illegal immigrants.
Around noon we arrive at Falcon State Park. Although the weather is not so beautiful and it’s still cold we have no desire to drive on. Fortunately the rain stops so we can walk around in the park but not for long because it is only 50 degrees and cold, too cold to be outside. Oh well, now Dick can take care of our pictures and unload them on a stick. Thursday February 8th, there is little change in the weather. It’s still 50 degrees and very cloudy. Of course we stop in the small town of Roma, a National Historic Landmark at the Rio Grande. A suspension bridge connects this town with Mexico. Unfortunately the suspension bridge is neglected, battened down and no longer accessible. All traffic to Mexico passes over an ugly concrete bridge. The weather is not appealing to us so we will not cross the bridge and only walk around in the old town of Roma. Many buildings still need to be refurbished.
Around noon we are in Mission, the city of the grapefruits, but unfortunately nowhere around us are fruit stalls. At the “Five Guys”, we learned to appreciate their burgers in Baltimore, we stop. We cannot resist such a delicious burger. They really taste exceptional good but along with fries it’s too much food. Tonight there will be no cooking.
We drive along the border and regularly we see that the houses have a pretty solid metal fence of at least 17 feet high in their back yards. This fence will not blow away and it is always well maintained. Then we arrive in Brownsville, Texas’s Southernmost town on the Mexican border. To our surprise, we may stay at Walmart, right at the border, and it’s quiet too. Now, quiet?? This cannot be said of the birds. Hundreds of them settle down on the trees of Walmart’s parking lot to spend the night.
They make a huge noise, the film birds of Hitchkock must be invented here. You see that we are in a part of the United States that belonged to Mexico till 1846. The faces of the people are Mexican and everybody around us speaks Spanish. Many aren’t even fluent in English I find out when I ask them a question. Unfortunately the weather is not good because when we get up the next morning, Friday February 9th there is drizzle and the sky is completely covered with grey clouds. But it is 60 degrees. Of course we want to see the old town of Brownsville but when we walk around the old cemetery it’s starts to rain, pouring rain. So we run to our RV and see the rest of the historic buildings from our car while driving. Fortunately, the rain stops when we approach the Palo Alto Battlefield. On this historic spot in May 1846 a two-year war with Mexico started and ended after the Mexican capital was taken by the Americans. In 1848, after the peace was signed, Mexico lost almost half of its territory to the United States. The video presentation in the Visitor Center is impressive and you realize what a huge change this war has brought about, when you see the difference in the borders of both countries, before and after the war. Still deep in thought we drive over the battlefields, to an old Plantation house with Sabel Palms.
After crossing several times through the 17 feet high border fence we arrive in Boca Chica, a coastal town. We never really found this town. The long road to the coast ends abruptly in sand dunes and a roaring sea. There is absolutely nothing here except the sea and a few yards of beach and it is foggy and gray. Not really a place to walk around or to stay. Dick is “not amused” with my choice of the road. Now he certainly has a 40 mile detour before we arrive again at the sea, now in Port Isabel, where It is getting warmer but the sky is still gray.
Because it is already late afternoon we decide to stay at Walmart in Port Isabel and drive tomorrow to South Padre Island. The weather feels warm and it’s 69 degrees. We store our jeans and hoodies away and put on our shorts. Despite a thick fog on Saturday morning February 10th, soon the Sun breaks through and we see a blue sky. It is not cold, there is practically no wind and early in the morning it’s 68 degrees. We drive to Padre Island. Where you can enter the beach you have to pay $10 and the campgrouds are crowded, there is not much space and you stand close to your neighbor. After driving 5 miles the habitation stops and the shops and hotels are behind us. Not much later the road ends too, a high sand dune prevents you from further driving to the end of the Island.
We turn and because the Sun is shining and our RV filthy nasty, we drove the last few days over dirt roads with rain, we go to a car wash and Dick let himself go with lots of foam at the sides and back of our RV.
After also vacuum the RV we are both satisfied. We may drive around again. As the campgrounds on the Island are not attractive we drive back to Walmart, get our bikes and bike around Port Isabel. There are a lot of caches hidden here taking us to all the nice places in Port Isabel. Despite the strong wind that has been raised, it is warm and we can cycling around in our T-shirt and shorts.
It is scary to be on top of the old Historic Lighthouse and look around. By now the storm is raging and it feels like you are blown away from the tower. Around 6 pm, the sun has now fallen behind the horizon, we are back at the RV. It was a great day with beautiful weather, we have seen nice places and found a lot of caches. On Sunday 11th the weather is less. Fog has returned and the Sun is not shining but it is still 76 degrees so we cannot complain.
Over bare Plains we drive to Corpus Christi. Drive through Kingsville, here is the biggest ranch of Texas and stop in Harlingen, where we want to visit the Iwo Jima monument. Unfortunately, the museum is closed. End of the afternoon we arrive in pouring rain in Corpus Christi. Walmart is once again our place for the night. It’s not nice to go somewhere else. Fortunately, the rain stops in the evening and on Monday the sky’s clearing up something although an icy wind is blowing.
On Padre Island we drive to the National Seashore, 70 mile protected coastline and dunes, a bird paradise and also nesting grounds for turtles. Because it is so cold, only 40 degrees, there is place on the campground in the National Park and after paying for the night we take a walk on the beach. With some layers of clothing and a down jacket, it is good to do.
Unfortunately you need a four wheel drive car to visit the shell beach, 20 mile south, so we don’t find many shells. After 2 hours walking on the beach we go back to our RV and in the shelter of the RV I can sit outside for several hours working on my computer. What a great place to be. Too bad that the Sun does not want to break through and it’s not warmer. But it is dry and we enjoy the waves on the beach. Late at night it starts raining and the next morning it’s foggy but it is not as cold as yesterday, 50 degrees. Our visibility is drastically reduced but still we drive over the island until we arrive in Port Aransas.
Many houses and shops are damaged, torn-off roofs and wall sides of houses are everywhere. The remains of Hurricane Harvey raging here August 25, 2017. It had to be frightening here. We take the ferry to the Mainland where it also looks like a bomb has exploded.
Many buildings are nailed up, roofs are curled or completely gone. The sides of the wooden houses lost their plaster because the stone rows are torned away. Big trucks take the remains of houses, roofs and trees. At 1 pm we arrive in Goliad, a town with a beautiful courthouse, surrounded by old oak trees, including a “hanging” oak. It is the town where in 1836 a large group of soldiers, overpowered by the Mexican army, was executed in the Presidio La Bahia, a fort built to protect the nearby Mission Espiritu Santo. After watching the battlefield in Palo Alto, we want to know the previous history so we visit all historic sites here before we stay in the inviting State Park.
The Mission Espiritu Santo had many Spanish influences. It is shown because the iron head protection is still there and of course we try it on.
That metal equipment is heavy to wear. Wednesday, February 14th it is still very foggy when we leave the State Park. Our first stop is at the battlefields in Fannin. Here an Obelisk recalls the terrible fights here. We pass Victoria, again a stop and walk around an imposing courthouse. Finally we stop in Hallettsville. Unfortunately we cannot find the citypark where you can spend the night at a reasonable price, so once again we stay at Walmart. The fog is almost gone and the temperature is now 63 degrees. Really pleasant weather to stroll through the town and of course we also stop at a “Washateria” so 1.5 hours later, we have an empty laundry bag. It’s busy in the stores, people do their last-minute shopping for Valentine’s day.
Thursday February 15th, it is still warm. For the first time in weeks I don’t have to turn on the heating in the morning. The distance to Sugarland is not so far so at noon we arrive at our friends (Iris and Robert) house.
Their daughters Elfi (10) and Milou (7) are still in school but it’s allowed to parents to visit during the lunch break and I come with Iris. Lunch is served in a large hall. Elfi is surprised because she didn’t expected that we would arrive so early. When lunch is over Iris and I go back home and we talk to each other till 3 pm. Then we meet both Elfi as Milou near their school. It is incredible how disciplined the children are. All are waiting patiently, standing outside the school in a row to be picked up by their parents, waiting in an enormous traffic jam in front of the school, or until the crossing is completely shut down for traffic by hard whistling crossing patrols. Now the children can cross.
We can learn a lot from this discipline in the Netherlands.
The weather is great, the sun is shining, the sky is blue and it’s 77 degrees so Elfi, Milou, Dick and I take our bikes to search for some caches. It is not always easy to go to the right place because of the huge houses with gardens next to each other. Often you have to cycle around, but after cycling 7 miles, we have two geocaches. The third one is no longer present, the trees, where it should have been, are all cut down. We are late, 6 pm we are back, Robert is also at home and outside we enjoy a real Texan BBQ. Woooow, the meat tastes delicious! We cannot sit outside for a long time because Elfi has violin lessons. That takes place in the middle school where she is going next year and again I may accompany them.
Elfi is the only pupil and the lesson takes place on the stage of the great (eat) Hall of the middle school.
Iris and I just enjoy. It is like listening to an orchestra when Elfi and her teacher play. When we are at home we don’t talk very long because the next day is a working day and the alarm clock is set at 05.45 am. We have breakfast together and as Elfi, Milou and Robert left for school and office, Iris has vacation this week, Dick and I take our bikes and cycle to the great mall of Sugarland. There are nice shops here but our goal is Macy because I want to find Eileen Fisher pants for my auntie Ank. Unfortunately, Macy in Texas doesn’t have this brand anymore so empty handed we cycle back. It is a nice trip because the clouds are gone and the sun breaks through, we can wear only a T-shirt. In the afternoon Dick and Robert do all kinds of chores around the house and Iris is coach of a project where both Elfi and three boys are involved.
The team has to create a structure that can have a certain impact and they also have to make up a story. Beginning of March is the presentation in front of a jury. The project requires that the children work together, build and also invent something and let their fantasy work. Fantastic! The session takes all afternoon. The current structure has strong parts but turns out to have some weaknesses after Robert dropped a weight and it partly caved in. The team has still have some work to do.
End of the afternoon we sit outside and have a drink. We have much to tell, we didn’t see each other over three years. In the evening we go inside, it’s more pleasant. We have some delicious homemade pizza’s and watch on a giant screen an Angry Birds movie.
After that it is bedtime because despite of the fact that it’s Saturday tomorrow our alarm clock is set on 6 am. We go to the Anahuac Wildlife Reserve to help with crab trapping and a cleanup. Saturday February 17th after breakfast, we bring Milou to a girlfriend who has a party and then we take Iris and Roberts truck to Anahuac. The distances are large. It’s on the other side of Houston near the Bay, at least a 1.5 hour drive.
We arrive on time, at 9 am and after a breefing, we get bags to clean up. Boats of Texas Wild Life search for Crabs traps in the waters around. If they come to shore we trap and destroy them. Every year this event takes place. Starting mid February it is not allowed to have any crab traps in the water, to protect the crab population.Many crab catchers do not stick to that and leave their traps in the waters. A total of 140 crab traps are taken out of the water this morning. We trap them flat (a good way to get rid of your aggression) and we find a lot of tags. At least those owners can look forward to a fine.
During the time the boats are searching for traps we clean up nearby along the water’s edge. Just like in the Netherlands, where every year we join geocache cleanup events: “cache in, trash out”. We are always surprised at the huge amounts of plastic and aluminum cans everywhere and trash bag after trash bag fills up. Around noon we enjoy hot dogs and chips.
I assure you that, after some hours walking and trapping outdoors it tastes great! When we drive back home in the afternoon we are all colored by the sun and the wind. Despite the badly weather forecast there was plenty of sun and a warm wind. At 4 pm we are at home after collecting Milou, sit together in the garden, enjoying the warm weather and talk and talk and talk.
At 6 pm we drive to a Japanese restaurant to have dinner. Again we are lucky with the weather because we can sit outside (it’s even warmer outside because of the airco inside). The food is really good, I have smoked salmon and Dick has meat, everything is of a very good quality. A nice end of a good stay with friends. Tomorrow, Sunday we will continue our trip.