Austin to Big Bend TX – Jan 8-12

20 Jan

Today is January 20th, our 135th day on the road.  We’re still in Texas.  Last night another Arctic cold front has swept in, it’s 32 degrees at noon, no sunshine, burrr.  Joanna has picked up my cold, except it’s knocked her out.  We’re in a beautiful campsite in Davis State Park, nobody around us.  We’re surrounded by trees, cooing doves, gentle breezes and curious deer.  Except for an occasional wifi or cell connection, we’ve been away from electronic connectivity.  We’re still in Texas.  This blog covers the time from Austin to Big Bend National Park.

Before we left Austin we visited the flagship Whole Foods Market.  Neither of us has seen anything like it before.  Overwhelming at first, particularly on a Saturday afternoon when one has to elbow their way through the hoards of people, and is very hungry and just wanting some lunch.  Aside from the usual food, salad and prepared foods bars; this market has some half dozen mini-restaurant locations throughout the market.  We ate and shopped for food, knowing that we would not find an appealing market for weeks.  Food is a major attraction on the road!

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We left Austin TX and traveled to Johnson City TX.  Johnson City isn’t much, but nearby is Lyndon Johnson’s boyhood home with a visitor center containing exhibits and information about his life (1908-1972) and the impact he had on US history.  In the years that followed Kennedy’s assassination, Johnson accomplished a great deal that was overshadowed by the Viet Nam war.  Some 15 miles west of Johnson City is Johnson’s 2,700 acre LBJ Ranch.  We took a self-guided audio CD VW tour of the still working ranch.  Included is a pre-electricity working farm with cows milked by hand, cheese and milk processed by hand, meats and produce processed and preserved or canned by hand, chickens, turkeys, and volunteers working the farm dressed in period costumes.  We toured Johnson’s Texas White House, the first working White House outside of DC.  It’s the original small and quaint ranch house that Johnson first used as a US senator.  I was surprised by how small and quaint it is, considering the significant amount of time Johnson spent here as president, and the number of US and world leaders who came to conduct business.  The ranch also includes an airstrip for Air Force One (actually a smaller jet that Johnson called Air Force One-Half).

An Arctic cold front moved in, and we’ve been shielding ourselves from it.  We’ve become accustomed to overnight temperatures that dip into the low-20’s.  The temperature inside the VW has dipped into the low-30’s at night.  These cold fronts come and go.

We drove to Fredericksburg TX, a touristy town of German heritage with period architectural integrity.  Not many tourists this time of year.  Through Yelp we find a good dinner spot, Hondo Restaurant and Bar; and a great breakfast place, The Sunset Grill.  We felt like we were back in California, partially because the Sunset Grill owner lived in California for a number of years.  We spent some time chatting with him about California, and enjoyed meeting a fellow Californian.

Beginning our relatively long journey to Big Bend National Park, we stopped to have lunch with Joanna’s childhood friends, Sandy Hill and Jim Livingston and their son John, at their ranch.  Another different experience for us.  Jim is a self-described west Texas boy.  The 1,300 acre ranch is in the dry, desert region of west Texas, near the small town of Junction.  Sandy and Jim have moved back to the ranch to take some time and decide what they want to do with their lives – sounds familiar to me.  After lunch we drove west for 200 miles to a town named Fort Stockton TX.  Out here in west Texas there isn’t much other than vast open desert spaces, the landscape dotted by mostly small towns.  We’re south of the Midland-Odessa area which, I believe, is the heart of the west Texas oil industry.  Anyway, a night at an RV park, and we’re on our way again.

Heading south we drove to Marathon and Alpine TX.  Marathon is the home of the famous Gage Hotel, a fascinating upscale period Texas hotel situated in a town of 2,000 people.  Finding a place to eat was challenging, as there aren’t many, and the couple that exist offer basic and limited food.  In exploring around town we found a surprise, Eve’s Bed and Breakfast and Ecology Resource Center.  The buildings, some of which are being constructed, are made from adobe-style blocks built on site from recycled materials (Styrofoam, paper pulp, pearlite, etc.) and covered with some sort of stucco (from recycled materials).  They buildings have unusual shapes – kind of like a cross between historical adobe structures and igloos.  And, they are painted with highly saturated, deep, bright colors – purple, salmon, yellow, blue, red.  Decidedly and deliciously out of place here.  The owner, Kate, and her friend/co-worker, Elaine, were welcoming, friendly and delighted to give us an extended tour.  Their husbands, and fellow co-workers, were not around for us to meet.  Marathon is also home to the 26.4 mile Marathon marathon.  Alpine, a larger town of 6,000, was of moderate interest to us.  Most interesting was the Sul Ross University campus.

The next day, January 12th, fortified with super-burgers and fries from Johnny B’s and fried fruit pies from the Burnt Biscuit, we headed south to the Big Bend wilderness.  The 70 mile drive traverses flat desert lands, with the mountains of Big Bend visible in the distance.  We stop and walk on the cactus filled desert floor.  Only occasionally do we see another car or truck.  Without any wind or birds, all we hear is a beautiful desert silence.  We feel totally alone here.  It’s a comforting, relaxing, peaceful easy feeling.