Cactus! Post 1 of 2

May 25, 2017

I started the day driving north from Alpine towards Fort Davis to stop at a facility I had seen the day I arrived in the area but didn’t have time to visit – the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center:

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Here is a map of the total area covered by the Chihuahuan Desert:

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Fort Davis is located in Texas,  west southwest of Fort Stockton.

The Nature Center and Botanical Gardens had a wide variety of full sized plants outdoors on a nice walking path.  What intrigued me even more (and provided better photos) were the wide variety of young plants located inside the greenhouse.  All the plants you are about to see are native to the Chihuahuan Desert.

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When I was finished at the Nature Center (more photos in Post 2) I returned to Alpine, then continued south to make a large clockwise loop on a series of scenic roads.

Yesterday I drove to and through Big Bend National Park before returning to Alpine (335 miles total for the day). Today I traveled south on Route 138 (which I had driven north on the previous afternoon) to Terlingua, then west through Big Bend State Park to the town of Presidio (on one of my primary scenic roads), then north on Route  67 to Marfa.  What I did there will appear in another post.

 

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Total mileage for the day – 326 miles.

Big Bend National Park – Post 1 of 3

May 24, 2017

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(Photo credit: nps.gov)

As you may have guessed from this map of the vicinity where I was staying (in Alpine in the upper left hand corner) one of the places I wanted to visit during my stay was Big Bend National Park along the US border with Mexico.  At 1,252 square miles Big Bend is bigger than the entire state of Rhode Island (“only” 1,212 square miles).

From Alpine I drove 31 miles east to Marathon, then 69 miles south to the Park.  Just before I entered the Park a bobcat trotted across the road about 70 feet in front of my car, not in any particular hurry but too quick for me to get the camera on my phone activated.

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Once in the Park I drove to the Panther Junction Visitor Center.

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(Photo credit: desertsportstx.com)

From the Visitor Center you have the option to go east towards Boquillas or west to Castolon.  I headed east first.  Later in the day I went west and after getting to Castolon (the road was closed there because of damage from flooding earlier in the year) I backtracked and exited the Park towards Study Butte.  From there I took Route 118 back to Alpine.

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I took a gravel side road at one point which would take me down very close to the Rio Grande River and got these photos.  Later in the day I saw a truck hauling a big trailer ignore the warning signs and try to enter the same, narrow road.  I doubt if he got very far and I have no idea how he would have gotten out.  Those signs are there for a reason, folks….

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The road looked plenty wide there but got narrow very quickly.  That’s part of it in the distance.

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You can see a vehicle on the road ahead of me.

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We finally came to a parking area near this abandoned building.

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In the parking lot was a small area where someone was selling handmade crafts (supposedly from the Mexico side).

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There were lots more than that.  I bought 2.  There was no one there but there was a coffee can with a slot in the lid (honor system).  I bought two items, a peacock (about 9 inches from nose to tail) and a scorpion (only about 4 inches long).

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I put my $16 in the slot and was on my way.

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Big Bend National Park – Post 2 of 3

May 24, 2017

Here are more photos from my visit to Big Bend National Park in southwest Texas.  Posts 2 and 3 will just contain photos.  Post 1 will provide some insight on the Park and my visit there.

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The photo above is of the Boquillas Crossing Port of Entry station at the far end of the east branch of the road in the Park.  The photo below is of the Rio Grande River, directly behind the station.  It separates the United States from Mexico along the entire border with Texas.

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Alpine, Texas

May 23, 2017

After spending a full week in the Austin/San Antonio area it was time to move on.  Next stop, the little town of Alpine, 426 miles and 6 1/2 hours to the west.  I headed towards San Antonio on the dreaded interstate, took the bypass around the west side of town and got on state highway 90 which would carry me west.  If you do the math you’ll learn about something else which is bigger in Texas – speed limits! I was shocked when I entered the state on highway 21, and today when I got on highway 90, at how high the speed limits were.  Open roads (not interstates) were often 70 or 75 and when you got to a small town it might drop to 50 or 55.  In North Carolina you’re lucky to do 55 on a state road and usually 35 through towns.

After driving around San Antonio (where I saw a multi-level golf driving range pointed directly towards a Mercedes-Benz car dealership next to it) state highway 90 took me west through the towns on Hondo, Uvalde and eventually to Del Rio, right at the Mexican border.  Call me crazy (believe me, you won’t be the first…) but I’ve always wanted to go to Del Rio, the home of one of shock-jock Don Imus’ fictional characters on his WNBC radio show back in the early 70’s.- The Right Reverend Billy Sol Hargis. That character was a radio evangelist from the First Church of the Gooey Death and Discount House of Worship in Del Rio, Texas.  Every time Imus did his schtick as Rev. Hargis gospel singers sung his theme:

I don’t care if it rains or freezes,

long as I got my plastic Jesus,

riding on the dashboard of my car…

I can go a hundred miles an hour,

long as I got the Almighty power,

glued up there by my pair of fuzzy dice….

(to hear it for yourself there is an audio clip on YouTube)

But enough reminiscing….

After Del Rio it was a very long drive further west to Alpine.

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(photo credit: nps.gov)

The map above picks up Route 90 at Dryden.  About halfway between Marathon and Alpine I almost drove off the road laughing when I saw this just off the highway to my left.  I turned around and stopped to check it out…

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There is a set of railroad tracks right behind this structure and evidently some enterprising artist decided to transform an abandoned railroad equipment shed into the “Marathon Target”.  The signage is made of wood but the scale and letter font is right on the mark (on target, if you will…).  I think it’s hysterical.

Once in Alpine I checked in to my little “casita with the red door”:

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There were other casitas (small houses) on the property, each with a brightly colored door of a different color.  I would be here for 3 nights and chose Alpine for it’s strategic location to several of the things I wanted to see while in this part of the state. Here’s another map which shows where most of these destinations are in relation to Alpine.

FortDavis area

(Photo credit: lonelyplanet.com)

I arrived in Alpine on a Tuesday.  One of my destinations was McDonald Observatory, in the upper left corner of the map above.  They hold “star parties” for the public on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday nights.  I would be traveling further west Friday morning so Tuesday was my only opportunity to attend.  I broke my rule of not driving in unfamiliar areas at night and headed an hour and 15 minutes north to the Observatory.  Most of the day I was traveling in flat, desert conditions but this journey north would take me up into the mountains.

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You can see two of the telescope “shells” in the photo above.

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I will be making an entire post about the Observatory, and will be returning to this area in the coming days so you’ll be seeing and reading more about the area.

Another of the things I wanted to do in this area was one of my primary scenic roads, the white loop west of Fort Davis on the map above.  I drove it clockwise Tuesday afternoon, while killing time for nightfall and the “star party”.

It was a long but very rewarding day.  All told, 624 miles added to the odometer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Austin, Texas – Days 2 & 3

May 21 and 22, 2017

I visited Austin two more times while I was in the area, to eat at a few more recommended venues and see one or two more sites.

First, some clouds I saw in the sky while driving back downtown from a great tamale restaurant on the northwest side of town.  I don’t recall ever seeing clouds with “waves” on the bottom of them.  I hope the pictures do them justice:

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Back in town I visited a few funky stores on a commercial strip south of town.  I saw them earlier in the week while I was in town and wanted to walk up and down that street and stop in a few of them.  That is where I saw this colorful man making balloon animals for kids:

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And I saw this t-shirt in one of the more unusual toy stores:

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And I saw this large piece of art on one of the side streets:
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The last day I was in Austin I visited the Congress Avenue Bridge (now named for Ann Richards, a Texas politician perhaps best known for her witty jab at President George H. W. Bush). This bridge is famous for the roughly million and a half Mexican free-tailed bats who live underneath it during the day and come out to hunt for food at night.  The nightly (March through early Fall) ritual is viewed by thousands of people each year.

This sculpture was up at street level approaching the bridge from the south:

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I knew about the bat flights but chose not to stick around to see it happen at sunset and then have to drive back to where I was staying.  Here are some photos of the nightly ritual I found in a park under the bridge.  If you are interested in seeing video of the bats in flight there are several of them on YouTube.

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Part of my final day was also dedicated to doing more mundane tasks such as laundry and having some routine car maintenance performed.