31 January – We are still experiencing changeable weather but it was warm enough to venture out on our bikes down to the end of the peninsula, to Indianola. Along the way there were a series of information boards explaining the history of the Indian Point area. In the 1860’s this was a thriving port, receiving immigrant ships from around the world and within the US, all wanting to head west and explore and settle Texas. It is hard to imagine now as it is a very sleepy little village, no big wharves for ships to moor at and no old buildings. A series of hurricanes dealt a wicked blow to the area from which it never recovered. The sun came out for a little while to enable a short period of outdoor relaxation before it turned cold and it was time to head inside.
01 February – Boy the months are flying by – twelve of them since we set out on this journey! Left our idyllic spot and made off further down the coast to Aransas via some very long straight roads so typical of Texas. At Aransas we saw that there was a ferry ride to cross over to the Port but it certainly wasn’t what we expected. It was only a short distance across the water – only about 5 minutes but what an operation – six ferries plying their way back and forth continuously. No charge for the service and we even got some playful dolphins to accompany us across.
On the other side, we were into the town of Port Aransas in a few minutes and just off the main street we found our access point to the beach where camping is permitted anywhere along the beach for up to 3 nights in any one spot for the grand cost of $12 for an annual pass. A well packed sand road – safe enough to take any weight of vehicle stretched for miles with plenty of spaces where you could pull off and park. With the sea just a few metres away, the noise from the surf was a nice change from busy traffic. Had enough time before the weather turned to have a meander down the beach. We are now out of the protection of barrier islands so waves are the order of the day, although not very high – there were a few surfers and stand-up paddle boarders braving the cooler water.
After dark the wind got up and for the rest of the night we were buffeted quite a bit.
02 February – The winds had abated by the morning although still quite cool. Walked back into the town in search of a cafe – Yeah Right! Nothing doing on a Monday, so had to settle for a tackyish diner – something like you would have found back home 40 years ago – and got a decent enough feed. Winter is obviously a very down time here – not a lot was open, the golf cart hire depots weren’t doing much trade and not many people around. Late afternoon the rain descended upon us and that put paid to doing anything but turning on the furnace and reading.
03 February – Time to head off to Corpus Christi. More long straight roads with not a lot to see along the way. At CC we headed down towards Padre Island to check out the beach camping and visitors centre. The beach looked a bit wet and mucky from all the rain so headed back to CC over a very long causeway but first we just had to stop at the German Bakery for a lovely feed. The range of pastries, strudels, pies and breads had to be seen to be believed – we did manage just a small sampling which was very much to our liking. Wallies was to be our stop for the night as it was still pouring with rain and being on solid ground was our preference.
04 February – Back down to Padre Island to visit my ‘favourite’ place – a laundromat and then via that bakery again before going down to the beach which was looking much more attractive. Parked Wanda alongside three other Winter Texans (all from Canada), had a nice meander down the beach – much the same as Port Aransas – vehicles are allowed to drive the length of the beach, which is classed as a road with appropriate rules here.
05 February – Awoke to the sound of bulldozers on the beach and when stepping outside we could see why – Wanda had wet feet! Sometime during the night the tide had worked it’s way right back to where we were parked. Fortunately it wasn’t much but I guess as part of their road maintenance which was running in front of us, they needed to build up the tide line to stop it happening. Decided to visit the aircraftcarrier USS Lexington floating museum which was about 30 minutes from our overnight spot on the beach.
The whole afternoon was spent exploring this behemoth; although it is a lot smaller than its modern day equivalent, it is still impressive. Commissioned in 1943, she set more records than any other Essex Class carrier in the history of naval aviation. The ship was the oldest working carrier in the United States Navy when decommissioned in 1991. An Essex-class carrier, Lexington was originally to be named the USS Cabot. During World War II, final construction was being completed at Massachusetts’ Fore River Shipyard when word was received that the original carrier named USS Lexington (CV-2) had been sunk in the Coral Sea. The new carrier’s name was then changed to Lexington.
After training maneuvers and a shakedown cruise, Lexington joined the Fifth Fleet at Pearl Harbor. The Fifth Fleet was established April 26, 1944; at this time it was Central Pacific Force. During the remainder of the war, the carrier participated in nearly every subsequent major operation in the Pacific Theater. Her planes destroyed 372 enemy aircraft in the air, and 475 more on the ground. She sank or destroyed 300,000 tons of enemy cargo shipping and damaged an additional 600,000 tons. The ship’s guns shot down 15 planes and assisted in downing five more.
The Japanese reported Lexington sunk no less than four times! Yet, each time she returned to fight again, leading the radio propagandist Tokyo Rose to nickname her “The Blue Ghost.” That name is seen as a tribute to the ship, the crew and the air groups that served aboard her.
After the war, USS Lexington was briefly decommissioned (1947-1955). When fully modernised and reactivated, she operated primarily with the Seventh Fleet out of San Diego, California. Although not involved in actual combat, Lexington kept an offshore vigil during tensions in Formosa, Laos, and Cuba.
In 1962, she sailed into Pensacola, Florida, and began training operations, eventually being officially designated CVT-16, Navy Training Carrier. Corpus Christi feels quite privileged to be selected as the permanent home to this national treasure. Got thrown out at 5pm but we think we managed to see most of it and then had to do battle with the rush hour traffic to get back down to the beach. The bulldozers had finished their maintenance and built quite a raised shelf at the water’s edge, so we will see whether the next high tide will get to us again.
06 February – Managed to keep dry this time but the bulldozers were our wake-up call again. Headed up the beach in the morning to take advantage of hot showers in the visitors centre before hitting Wallies in CC to stock up then going south down to the National Seashore Reserve on North Padre Island. Sadly we had to stop off at that bakery again as we hadn’t tried out all their pastries yet! From there it was only 10 miles to get to the entrance to the Park – for the most part there was nothing but grassy swampy dune land. With several options for camping available we settled for a spot at Bird Island Basin – on an inshore lagoon, much more sheltered than the Gulf side – primitive camping right on the shoreline with about 10 other rigs from all over the States. Still waiting for the weather to warm up. I went for an explore by bike (Bob’s bike is not rideable at the moment with a tyre problem, so not sure if Wallies will fix it for us).
07 February – Nice surprise to finally see the sun. The early morning mist burnt off and we had clear blue skies for the rest of the day. Had a wander along the shore to the boat launch area – it was packed with weekend boaters launching into the lagoon. This great lagoon, Laguna Madre, is one of only six ultra-saline lagoons in the world (or possibly the world according to Americans!) – the intracoastal waterway runs through it. Outside our front door it is very shallow for quite a while and very popular with windsurfers and kayakers. We have got an interesting load of neighbours – the immediate ones are from Germany and have just come back from Mexico with tales of how easy it is to travel there once you are clear of that first couple of hundred miles from the border. Wish we had met more positive people like this earlier, but have now already booked our time out in Costa Rica and Chile, with a cruise ship return from Valparaiso via the Panama Canal. Cruise and air travel came up on the internet as very good late booking deals which will be a great way to see some more aspects of the Americas. Had a glorious sunset over the lagoon followed by the sky changing from reds to oranges and finally fading out.
08 February – Time to head out again – so had to retrace our steps through to Corpus Christi and that jolly bakery was on our way again (for the fourth time!) and beckoned for lunch. With nice fine weather the route along the causeway was much prettier – the five miles over the water revealed mostly shallows with little islands dotted around. Nice to get out of the city on a Sunday while the traffic is a little lighter. We hit the I-37 freeway and travelled on it the full 170 miles through to San Antonio. Headed for a Walmart in the south of the city which was easy to reach off the freeway and once settled, established that we could get a bus from there right into downtown, which would be a lot easier than driving in and trying to find parking.
09 February – Our bus arrived after a few minutes wait at the bus stop and a 40 minute ride saw us right into the centre of San Antonio. Nice helpful driver made sure we got off at the right stop and told us where we would need to catch it on the way home. San Antonio’s main claim to fame is of course Mission San Antonio de Valero better known nowadays as “The Alamo” and that famous phrase “Remember the Alamo”. We had just a few blocks to walk to the actual site – which bears little resemblance to the original mission as the city has encroached on most of it, but the rebuilt church remains and also some of the inner walls, whilst a small area has been turned into a peaceful walled garden. In December of 1835 Texan Revolutionaries had a significant victory against the Mexicans quartered in the city, forcing their surrender. These victorious troops then moved into the Alamo and strengthened it’s defences, but in February of 1836 they were taken almost by surprise by the Mexican Army led by Santa Anna. The bombardment and siege began, with the almost 200 Texan defenders holding out for 13 days before becoming finally overrun, with all but the women and children killed. Among the Alamo’s garrison killed were Jim Bowie, a renowned knife fighter and Davy Crockett the legendary frontiersman.
With the Alamo explored, we then moved on to the other feature of San Antonio – their River Walk. What a wonderful asset for a city – the river walk in the city was lined on both sides with restaurants, with a lovely walking path through it. We walked up and down both sides before deciding on a place to eat – we chose Mexican and just had their basic fare of enchiladas and tacos with refried beans which was OK. Decided to take the little tourist boat trip on the river and discovered on the way what a small world it is. Walking along the path we were stopped by a German couple we had camped with back at the Everglades – spent a little while catching up before getting on our boat – a very pleasant half hour amble through the river trail – more like a little canal and about as deep – with the guide giving us a commentary along the way.
Time to find a bus back home – that was easy, but a bit of an eye-opener – when we climbed up from the river to the main street level we got into the real world. Lined up at our bus stop were some pretty seedy looking characters, the local joint dealer was doing a brisk trade and not too many white faces. The ride back to Wanda was uneventful, though interesting, travelling through the poorer suburbs of the city. Wanda had survived the day being parked at Wallies so it was here that we would stay the night again.
10 February – Mission today was the Missions along the river south of town. We started off at San Jose which was the most restored of the three we visited, but a good one to get an idea of what the missions looked like and how life was conducted within them. The Franciscan monks established these missions for the King of Spain in the early 1700’s – their purpose to convert the locals to Catholicism and seek out riches to be sent back to a hard-up Spain. The church was the focal point of these missions and by far the grandest building in the compounds – San Jose’s must have been stunning in its day as the front facade was painted with reds, yellows and blue on a white stucco background.
Mission No. 2 was San Juan de Capistrano, here the walls were only partially visible, but the lovely whitewashed reconstructed church was still standing.
No. 3, Espada, had even less structure remaining although it’s aquaduct was substantial and interesting. The churches in all of these missions still function as local parish churches and the Franciscan monks are still in attendance. The missions were all closed down in the 1790’s and were handed over to the local Indian population when the Kind of Spain decided that they weren’t producing the required wealth, and most then fell into disrepair. They make for an interesting visit and to see how far into what is now the States the Spanish influence stretched was amazing.
With our mission accomplished we took the inner ring road out of the city, which was fine until we got round to the north where we we hit quite a busy patch for about 30 minutes, then headed north to our destination of Boerne and another overnight stay at Walmart.
11 February – A truck arriving in the wee hours which left it’s engine running put paid to a restful night’s sleep. Left Boerne to head north to the historic town of Fredericksburg where we had a rendezvous for lunch with a couple we had met in Vermont. Diana has a thriving florist shop and our timing was not great as they are super busy leading up to Valentines Day. They kindly took us on a short tour of the town before heading out to sample a real Texas BBQ lunch where we had a nice time catching up before Diana had to return to her shop. Don led us back to their house so we could park Wanda on a nice flat concrete slab behind their house and even have power. We had the option of parking out at their ranch, but opted for town as it is a really neat town – it has streets that you can actually walk down and they are lined with lovely old stone buildings with stunning art galleries, boutiques of all descriptions and quite a few restaurants. Outside every shop are benches where jaded husbands can sit and wait while their loved ones browse for bargains. The town has a very German heritage and still a large German influence pervades.
We walked the town and returned back home to be joined by Don who offered to take us out to the ranch and show us around the area. Their ranch (150 acres) is 20 miles out of town in the hill country and such different scenery. Pink granite rocks abound and not much of the ranch land is cleared – most paddocks have trees dotted over them, so it is really a difficult terrain for farming. Don has just 15 head of Red Brangus heifers – nice beasts – a cross between Angus and Brahmin with lovely red coats. The block also has a small herd of wild deer which Don, who is an ex Iroquois helicopter pilot, allows the ‘Wounded Warriers to come and shoot when they get too numerous.
The whole county has been in a drought for four years so it looks pretty parched with not a lot of feed around, even for the low stocking ratio of a cow per 15 acres! The granite also has its drawbacks – it gives off radon gas and if houses are built on a concrete pad directly on top of the stone without ventilation underneath, then apparently the inhabitants run the risk of radioactive poisoning Water wells sunk are also radioactive so they can’t drink the water. We had a drive around the ranch and then came back via the scenic route, with lovely expansive views over the region and deer grazing. The sunset over the wide Texas sky was so pretty, the rocky outcrops were out of western movies and you could see the outlines of the Indians waiting to ride down and ambush you.
12 February – I had peace and quiet to get everything sorted for our ‘meaningful period’ trip outside the States, while Bob ventured off to the Nimitz Museum which features the life of Admiral Chester Nimitz and also WWII in the Pacific. This is a truly world class museum covering the events from as far back as the early 19th Century conflicts between China, Japan, Russia, US and the European powers which gave rise to that terrible 20th Century war, until the dropping of the atomic bombs which brought about it’s conclusion.
We will be leaving Houston on 17 February for 6 weeks during which time we will be armed only with one small smartphone to access emails but will not be posting any blogs until we get back in April.