LBJ Ranch (the Texas White House)

May 19, 2017

The third day of my week in south-central Texas I took a break from the cities and drove west into the “Hill Country” on a number of what I call my primary scenic roads (the foundation for my trips).  I drove on many of the roads shown on the map below and it took a good portion of the day, but was very enjoyable.


(Photo credit:

This took me past the LBJ Ranch, about 50 miles west of Austin, the home and favorite place-to-escape-to from the White House for President Lyndon Baines Johnson, so much so that it became known as the Texas White House.  Unlike Mar-a-Lago, lots of work actually got done here…


The first thing visitors see after parking their cars is an aircraft which often carried LBJ to the ranch.  The jet the president flies on is now called Air Force One.  At the time he was president Air Force One was a Boeing 707, too big to land at the ranch.  This is the plane which visitors to the ranch see upon arrival:


A 12-passenger Lockheed JetStar VC-140.  President Johnson jokingly referred to this plane as “Air Force One-Half”.  The president would fly to either Austin or San Antonio on the 707, then finish the journey on this small jet – considered safer and more efficient than a motorcade.



One thing blog readers may not know is that the Air Force One designation wasn’t used until 1953 when a Lockheed Constellation named “Columbine II” carrying President Dwight D. Eisenhower entered the same airspace as a commercial aircraft using the same flight number, creating confusion for air traffic controllers.  To avoid a potential conflict in the future it was decided to change the call sign of any Air Force plane to Air Force One when the president is on board.

After admiring the aircraft I took a tour of the house (no inside photos allowed).  It is very modest but comfortable.



In the gift shop there was also a model of the house:



After the tour I visited some of the other displays on the property, including some of  President Johnson’s vehicles:


The car above is a 1962 Amphicar, capable of driving on land and floating on the water like a boat (there are propellers in the back!).  Evidently the President liked to drive unsuspecting guests to a local lake and then drive right out onto the lake…


Another of the President’s favorites was his 1934 Ford Phaeton which he considered an all-terrain hunting vehicle:



Also in the gift shop were replicas of pillows President Johnson liked to keep in the house:


President Johnson and his wife, known as “Lady Bird,” are buried in a small family cemetery a short distance from the house:


Their headstones are in the center of the photograph above.


While researching the ranch for this post I learned that in 2018, the year after I was there, the National Park Service discontinued tours of the house due to “health and safety concerns” created by water leakage in the house.  It wasn’t me who left the faucet on upstairs, honest!…

After visiting the ranch I continued my drive on the scenic roads and made a brief stop in Luckenbach, Texas, site of a popular country music venue.  This trip was pre-blog and I didn’t take as many pictures as I would if I were making it today.



Austin, Texas (5/18/17)

Or as it’s often known:


The second full day of my week in south-central Texas I headed north to Austin, only about 20 miles from where I was staying in Buda.  First stop – the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue downtown:


SRV, arguably the most talented blues guitarist of all time, died in a tragic helicopter crash in Wisconsin at the age of 35.  This statue is located on the south shore of Town Lake, across from downtown Austin.

Next stop – the Capitol building (since Austin is the capital of Texas):






And for those of you who shop at Whole Foods, Austin is their headquarters and this is their main store:


And yes, that’s my brown Nissan Altima with “rock-star parking” right in front!

San Antonio, Texas (5/17/17)

My first full day in south-central Texas I headed for San Antonio, about 60 miles to the south of where I was staying in Buda.

Of course the first thing everyone should see in San Antonio is The Alamo, actually the Alamo Mission as that’s really what it was – a Spanish mission founded by Roman Catholic missionaries.  Hard to tell from my photos but The Alamo is right in the heart of what is now downtown San Antonio, the city having been constructed around it.



A really neat feature of San Antonio is Riverwalk, a river which runs for several blocks (5 miles, actually) downtown (and 10 miles outside the immediate downtown area) and affords many of the restaurants downtown an opportunity to offer outdoor dining at a level lower than surface streets.  Very nice!


There were boats (basically taxis) which ferry paying customers up and down Riverwalk:


This guy found a very friendly squirrel (or, the squirrel found a very friendly man):








And this is some other fancy artwork in the playground portion of a city park downtown:





Shiner, Texas

I’m not much of a beer drinker but I do enjoy an occasional “cold one”.  I don’t drink enough to be able to discern one brand from another and pretty much limit my opinion to “I like it” or “I don’t”.

Prior to my “Texas Loop” trip I had, on a few occasions, enjoyed a cold Shiner Bock and it is solidly on my “like” list.  I was therefore delighted to learn that, with a small route variation, I’d be able to visit and tour the K. Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, Texas where Shiner Bock is made.

May 16, 2016

After spending 3 days and nights in Houston I set out to travel 2 hours and 45 minutes west to where I would ultimately stay in the little town of Buda.  My plan for the next 7 days was to visit Austin and San Antonio, which are about 80 miles apart in south-central Texas. I originally booked an Airbnb for the full week in San Marco which is almost exactly halfway between Austin and San Antonio so that I’d have the flexibility to go to either one based on weather or specific things I wanted to see. Unfortunately that reservation was cancelled prior to my arrival and I was forced to make other arrangements and stay in Buda instead (which is closer to Austin).  The original Airbnb host was very apologetic that he had to cancel the reservation for a reason beyond his control, which I fully understood.  I ended up staying with a very nice family in Buda so it all worked out just fine.


The brewery, named for founder Kosmos Spoetzl, a Bavarian immigrant, is the largest independent brewery in the state of Texas.






In addition to the free plant tour I enjoyed 3 of the 4 complimentary glasses (small, 4 oz. glasses) of various Shiner brands I was offered (I was obviously driving so I chose to pass on the 4th glass), and of course visited the gift shop where I purchased some Shiner swag.

I drove through the town of Shiner, a very nice little town, before heading northwest to Lockhart for lunch and on to Buda to get settled in for the week.



In Lockhart I had an amazing lunch at a highly recommended barbecue restaurant.  Most of those venues in Texas offer you a choice of brisket, ribs or spicy sausage and in all cases I chose one of each.  Believe me, Texans know how to make all three!

Johnson Space Center – Post 1 of 2

May 15, 2017

The main reason I stopped in Houston during my early 2017 “Texas Loop” was to visit NASA’s Johnson Space Center.  When manned missions were launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Mission Control there managed the events until the spacecraft cleared the launch tower.  The remainder of the flight was managed by Mission Control here at JSC.



The two jets in the photo above are like the ones which helped astronauts train for flying the Space Shuttle.  They were also “chase planes” which flew parallel to the Shuttle on many flights once they got down towards the Earth’s surface and especially when they landed after a mission to shoot video and take still photos to help NASA engineers monitor flight characteristics.



Although we couldn’t go in it, the building above houses Mission Control at JSC and has been named for Christopher Columbus Kraft, Jr. who helped establish the overall Mission Control concept, was Flight Director for many of the manned missions, was eventually named Head of Mission Operations and ultimately became the Director of JSC.  He was still living when I made this post earlier this year but passed away July 22, 2019 at age 95.

Frankly I wasn’t nearly as impressed with the Visitor Center at JSC as I have been with other NASA facilities I have been to.  Perhaps the most interesting thing, other than the Saturn V rocket (see next post), was what greets visitors after they have parked their cars and are walking towards the Visitor Center:


This is the actual Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA), tail designation N905NA, which is one of two specially modified 747 jets which could carry the Shuttle “piggyback” on top of the plane (the second 747 has tail designation N911NA).  This was necessary for early test flights where the jet would carry the Shuttle up to high altitude where the two vehicles would separate and the Shuttle would glide back to Earth.  When the Shuttle actually flew in space there were many times when it would land at Edwards Air Force base in California (early flights in particular – a much larger runway located in a remote area, for added safety, and when proven stable if bad weather prohibited landing at Kennedy Space Center where it was attached to the booster rockets and launched).  On all those occasions one of the 747’s would return the Shuttle to Florida.  At the end of the Shuttle program the 747’s flew their final missions, taking the Shuttles to airports near the various museums around the country where they are now on display.

After it’s last Shuttle ferrying flight the second 747, N911NA, was flown from Edwards Air Force base to an Air Force facility in Palmdale, California and is being cannibalized to keep another NASA aircraft in service.

The airplane above is real but the Shuttle on top is a model.  Visitors could go inside both.





I hadn’t noticed it at the time but in researching the aircraft for this post I found this photo of a silhouette near the front of the plane showing how many times it carried various Shuttles:


(Photo credit: None – Public Domain!)

I also found this photo of the Orbiter Mount which is where the Shuttle is attached to the airplane.  You can’t see it in the photos I posted but please note the humorous comment someone painted on it:


(Photo credit: Rob Elliott)


Where are the Space Shuttles now?

Atlantis is at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida

Discovery is at the Udvar-Hazy Center (part of the Smithsonian Institution) adjacent to Dulles airport outside Washington DC

Endeavour is at the California Science Center in Los Angeles

Enterprise (which never went into space but was released for 5 “glider flights” from the 747 shown above) is now on the deck of the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum (a former US Navy aircraft carrier) in New York City.  It had previously been on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center outside Washington DC.


Challenger was destroyed over the Atlantic Ocean shortly after launch

Columbia was destroyed (over Texas and Louisiana) during re-entry at the end of it’s mission on it’s way to Kennedy Space Center in Florida