Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Monday, October 10, 2005

Marble Falls to Euless

We motored around Marble Falls today, stopping at Ken's Catfish and Barbecue for lunch. Catfish being one of our favorite foods, we find it hard to pass up one of these joints. It was quite good, and our hankering was fully satisfied. This was a nice little burg and quite picturesque, especially along the high cliffs of the Colorado River. We drove along a narrow residential lane on the south bank of the river and admired the river view of some of the houses built precariously close to the rocky edge. We saw a realtor's yard sign in front of one of these and called the listing agent just to see how close we came to guessing the price. It was a nice place with a guest cottage, but not nearly as large as our 3,500 square foot house in Dallas. Prior to making the call, my guess on the price was $450,000, and I think Sandy's was something less. When the agent told us it was priced at $1.4 million, I just about ran off the road! I guess I haven't been keeping up with the real estate market.

On our way back through Burnet, we stopped at a place that sells park model trailers. These things are a curious phenomenon, rapidly gaining in popularity, according to what I have read. It's essentially a small mobile home that's more the size of a travel trailer (no more than 12 feet wide). It's not designed for RV travel but for towing to a semi-permanent location then set up as a second home or vacation cabin. For some reason, I find them mildly appealing, I guess because of their simplicity and ease to maintain. It would be unthinkable, though, for one of these little things to be your only permanent residence. There's just not enough room. It's funny how the aging process turns things upside down. Just ten years ago, I would have still have been in the "acquisition" mode in terms of housing. Bigger was always better. But, as I'm on the older side of middle age, I marvel at the change in my priorities. Nowadays, I'm focusing on what I can get rid of. Keeping up our big house is a constant hassle and a monstrous expense, and I won't be sorry to see it go after Mindy moves out. I'm looking forward to retiring, jettisoning much of the stuff we've accumulated and simplifying our lifestyle. I think I would be perfectly happy with a condo or something similar, where all the upkeep is someone else's problem, and it would serve as a home base for what would be a constant pastime of RV travel. Now, if I can just get Sandy to buy into it!

Sunday, October 9, 2005

Kerrville to Marble Falls

Sunset RV Park on Lake LBJ
We decided to break camp a day early and motor back through Fredericksburg to a new RV park near Marble Falls. It was a Sunday, and as we pulled onto the main drag in Fredericksburg, we were struck by the number of tourists everywhere. We had intended to stop and look around a bit at the shops, but we were both put off a bit by the throngs. We elected to keep going, saddened a bit that the quaint town has become so commercialized. I punched the accelerator and the diesel clattered happily up to its normal 1800 rpm for cruising. We were headed for Marble Falls. I had spotted the target RV park—Sunset on Lake LBJ—on the Internet while doing a little surfing the night before, and I was ready for a change of scenery. This was a beautiful new park, built right on the edge of its namesake lake, near the dam. It was very spacious, all parking spots being concrete with asphalt connecting roads. This is the first park we visited that had no TV cable, so I set up the satellite dish, and we soon had Direct TV going strong. We have the portable dish that sets on the ground, but we plan to put a roof-mounted one on the next RV. After unhooking, we went back up the road a piece to the Farmhouse restaurant where, again, we had a respectable dinner of mostly standard roadhouse fare.

Saturday, October 8, 2005

In Kerrville

We cooked and ate a nice breakfast and decided to wander around the area a bit. There was an arts and crafts show going on around the courthouse square, and we stopped in to look around. The weather was perfect—crystal clear blue sky and temperature in the seventies. Being outside on such a day was more of a treat than the show.

Kerrville Arts and Crafts Festival

Some of the artsy-crafty things were interesting, but my investment in a small jar of Rainier cherry preserves made by a vendor from Hunt, Texas, was nothing short of spectacular. I'm not sure I've ever had better preserves of any kind. The jar is almost empty as of this writing, and I'm rationing myself as I try to locate the vendor. I'm starting to panic, because there is nothing on the internet. It would just be unseemly to hire a private detective, but I'll swear it would be worth it. Update: I finally found the source of the preserves—a pleasant woman named Karen who lives on a ranch near Hunt and makes all her jellies, jams and preserves from fruit grown organically on her land. She explained that the Rainier cherry preserves were a specialty, in that she had bought them on a recent trip to Washington and that they were only available for a brief time each fall. I had never heard of them before, but I was now a devotee, even at six bucks for a small jar. She said that she only had two jars left! I ordered them at once, along with some other flavors that she described over the phone. She even had preserves she had made from cactus and flowers. I didn't think I was ready for a whole jar of those. I bragged and bragged on her handiwork, and she seemed thrilled that someone appreciated the obvious pride she took in her skill. I offered a credit card to make the sale, but she said she would just put a bill inside the box when she mailed the preserves. I marveled at the trust she placed in me merely by the sound of my voice on the phone—only in Texas, I thought. I also thought about the neat experience of this little diversion—finding such a delightful little treat by pure happenstance. It was not so much the preserves, although they are unimaginably good, but the uniqueness of this little vignette—the woman from a tiny Texas hill country burg who takes so much pride in her product, plus the quaintness of the trust she still had in mankind, unspoiled by the rapaciousness and deceit that is so much a part of a big city. I savored this experience greatly, knowing that Sandy and I will be one of the very few people who will sample her wares and feel her warmth as our lives briefly touch. This is what traveling is all about—not only enjoying the awesomeness of the world God created for us, but finding little lagniappes like this that will always be etched into our memories.

We had lunch at El Acapulco, a busy Mexican restaurant not far from downtown. The food was quite passable, although not particularly memorable. The entrĂ©e was large—plenty for the both of us.

We drove around in the country west of Kerrville, enjoying the rolling hills and marveling at all the deer grazing by the roadside with little fear of us. At one point, we came upon some unusual looking cattle. There were two longhorns, with which we were familiar, but there were several others with really striking black coats in the front and rear and a beige band in the middle. Sandy exclaimed that they were clearly designer cows—probably Liz Claiborne. We took some photos for evidence, but I'm a little dubious about the Liz Claiborne thing.

Texas Longhorn

Sandy's "Designer" Cows

We stopped at a Gibson's discount store—one of the few remaining after Wal-Mart's conquest of retailing to the masses. I suppose it survived because it has morphed into something else—a store that deals mostly in fishing and hunting gear, with a significant amount of hard-to-find housewares, gadgets and hardware. It was a very interesting place, and we bought a small electric heater for Homer. (A norther had come through a day or two ago, and we nearly froze during the previous night. Sandy was scared to turn on the central heat in Homer because it uses propane, which I suppose she thought was either too volatile or too noxious for human use. Never mind that it has been around a hundred years or so; I'm sure its approval by the government is right around the corner.) I was finally able to demonstrate that it worked fine without asphyxiating us, but her skepticism was not easily overcome. I bought the electric heater anyway, because it didn't make much sense to use Homer's propane when I could use the RV Park's electricity for free—well, that is, for the price already paid in the space rental fee.

We had dinner at La Four's Seafood Restaurant in Kerrville, a family-run place that was really pretty good, considering how far away from any sea it is. One of the remarkable things about it was the energy of the waiter—a young man who was the son of the owner. He literally ran everywhere he went. The service was, as you might imagine, spectacular. We had refills on everything almost before we realized they were getting low. The poor kid just wore me out watching him—oh, to have that much energy again! Like El Acapulco, La Four's was very adequate if one is seafood-hungry, but it was not a jaw-dropper, by any means. Afterward, we got some provisions at the local HEB grocery and retreated to Homer for the night. The park's water pressure was back up, and I let out a sigh of relief. I'm sure Sandy wouldn't have slept a wink if the water main hadn't been repaired.

Friday, October 7, 2005

Euless to Kerrville, TX

The Texas Hill Country
It has been a long four months since our return from Branson. Near the end of that chapter of the travelogue, I was lamenting our return to Texas in mid-June, only to encounter the oppressive Texas heat. I knew we wouldn't be going anywhere again until October, because Sandy and I despise traveling when we're prisoners of the air conditioner. Because we despise hot weather so much, we often fantasize how nice it would be to be able to live in, say, Maine for the summer. It's just as well, though, that we've been in a holding pattern, because we had a bit of a tussle with Jayco over Homer's plumbing system. I had wondered why the black tank needed to be dumped so often—sometimes twice a day. When we took the rig in to get a small leak fixed after our Branson trip, the technicians at Vogt RV, Homer's birthplace, discovered that the shower was plumbed so as to drain into the black tank instead of into the gray tank! This is a huge problem, because bath and toilet water comprise by far the greater volume of waste water. This means the gray tank would be receiving just the drainage from the kitchen sink and the lavatory, which is almost nothing in comparison.

Since Homer's tanks are relatively small—approximately 35 gallons—using the shower filled the black tank very quickly. I wrote a blistering letter of complaint to Jayco, asking for the plumbing to be rerouted under warranty to a normal configuration or for them to take the trailer back because of what I considered a monumental design flaw. They wrote back a curt reply saying, in essence, that it was not a design flaw and that I would just have to get over it. Astonished at their cavalier attitude, I took my letter and Jayco's reply to Vogt RV. They were equally appalled and took copies of the correspondence, indicating they might be able to do something about it. Thankfully, they did. After weeks of wrangling with Jayco, the Vogt folks prevailed, and Jayco agreed to fund a fix for the plumbing. The fix, however, was not what I expected. Instead of re-plumbing the drain lines to empty into the correct tanks, they elected to replace the black tank with a 70-gallon version—roughly twice the capacity of the factory original. It seemed this would solve the problem, but I wondered why it wouldn't be simpler just to reroute the shower drain. They said it wasn't. Seems like poor design to me. I happily accepted the fix, though, grateful for Vogt's intervention.

The trip to the Texas hill country was my idea. I've always liked the area, and I've been trying to figure out where we might live when I retire from the FAA in about five years. So, it was, for me, as much an investigative journey as anything else. Sandy, however, was not necessarily on the same page. Even though she has retired from teaching, she hasn't necessarily zeroed in on the fact that I, too, am nearing retirement and that a lifestyle change will be needed. She is still trying to cope with the fact that our daughter, Mindy, is now 18 and no longer particularly needful of parental oversight. In fact, she is downright hostile to it. Neither of us has a clue where those 18 years went; yet, in typical male fashion, I have applied logic and moved on. In Sandy's mind, however, Mindy has yet to reach puberty. It is no wonder, then, that looking for retirement venues is not necessarily on Sandy's radar screen. To her credit, however, she is a trooper and gamely goes along with whatever harebrained scheme I cook up, perhaps thinking that this, too, shall pass. That's one of the myriad of things I love about her. So, here we go again, perhaps on slightly different pages, but always ready for a new adventure.

We're getting smarter about preparing Homer for trips. We had determined that it was not a good plan to retrieve the rig from storage, prepare it for departure, and then start the trip all on the same day. It was just too big a job. This time, we brought Homer to the house the afternoon before departure day and did most of the chores ahead of time. This involved things like inflating all the tires properly, checking the propane tanks, adding some fresh water, taking inventory, etc. We also loaded everything we could that evening that we knew wouldn't need any handling or additions the next morning. As it turned out, we were lucky we accomplished this much beforehand, because we found ourselves moving a little more slowly than usual the next morning due to some minor physical ailments, and we didn't make it away from the house until about 11:30 a.m.

Due to my disdain for interstate highways, I decided to take us on the back roads for this trip. We stopped in Glen Rose, Texas, for lunch choosing Grannies' Down Home Cooking near the town square. Glen Rose is a quaint little town that time has largely forgotten, nestled on the bank of the beautiful Guadalupe River. It's probably best known for its ancient dinosaur finds, including footprints of the beasts made in ancient mud that hardened into stone. We didn't stop for this attraction, but we'll put it on our list for another time. (Eating always wins out over improving the mind!) Sandy and I strolled into Grannies' (spelled that way because, at one time, there were two grannies; one finally bought out the other's interest in the restaurant, but didn't change the name) and were immediately met by the open arms of, well, Granny. When she saw us come in, she immediately arose from a table near the rear of the room and started walking toward us with arms extended. Sandy and I looked at each other, as if to say, "What do we do now?" We thought Granny had mistaken us for some long lost friends or something. She gave us both big hugs, and I'm sure that if someone with a camera had been behind her, taking a photo of our faces, our expressions would have proven fairly humorous. We were totally perplexed, but didn't resist; after all, who could resist a hug? We later found out that hugging was Granny's trademark. She hugs everyone who comes into the restaurant, disarming reluctant strangers like us with her warm smile, her shawl, and her constant banter. She looked as though she had been chosen for her part by central casting. The lunch consisted of a wonderful southern cooking buffet, with killer meatloaf, chicken spaghetti and fresh vegetables, topped off with a moist coconut cake. The tab was cheap, and we needed to be rolled out in a wheelbarrow.
Gannies' Cafe in Glen Rose
Granny in Her Glen Rose Cafe
We continued west on highway 67 to Stephenville and then down to Dublin on highway 16. We stopped at the Dublin Dr. Pepper bottling company, which is legendary in that it is one of the few bottlers of Dr. Pepper—if not the only one—that refused to switch from sugar to cheaper corn syrup as a sweetener for the drink. As a result, Dublin Dr. Peppers achieved a sort of cult-like following of consumers who believe the real McCoys are far superior to those that are syrup-sweetened. We're not really sure, although we've tasted both carefully. They have a gift shop in the plant that sells everything Dr. Pepper and, of course, Sandy had to get a Dr. Pepper T-shirt for Mindy. (Much to our relief, Mindy professed to like it. This was very unusual, but then it was an article of clothing, of which she can never have too many.)
Dr Pepper Museum in Dublin
Inside the Dr Pepper Museum

We stopped in Burnet for barbecue at Cooper's BBQ. Wow! Everything about this place just says, "Texas." You choose your meat at the pit before you go inside. The pit boss spears it and plops it onto a tray that you drop off as soon as you enter the restaurant. The guy behind the counter then takes a butcher knife and deftly applies his carving finesse, making the presentation even more appetizing and easy to eat with your fingers. Once your tray is reloaded with the dressed-up meat and sides, you seat yourself at one of many long rows of picnic tables, where you can chew the rag with a stranger or just, well, chew. Cooper's has really tasty meats and is well worth being starved when you get there.
Cooper's BBQ in Burnet

The drive on to Kerrville was very scenic, as we expected. The Texas hill country has its own unique identity that's not easy to describe, because part of its charm is in the feeling one has about it, especially among native Texans, I think. Not to diminish the connection that non-natives can develop for the state, but most Texans by birth seem to exhibit a love for this immense state that is not unlike a love of country or love of the family farm. The hill country is like a bauble on a grand dame, joining other jewels like the piney woods of east Texas, the sawgrass of the gulf coast and the rugged crags of the Big Bend to make up her whole persona. It's as much of an air, or feeling, as it is an appealing landscape. Traveling through the rocky hills reveals not the majestic grandeur of the Rockies but the almost audible heartbeat of a land of legend and mystique, both wild and winsome at the same time. The undulating change in dimension between land and sky creates a different visual treat with the rounding of a curve or the crossing of a crystal stream. Surveyed from the top of a ridge, the hills seem to stretch without end, passing under cottonlike clouds at the edge of the impossibly blue sky. At day's end, the sun brushes gilded clouds onto a pink and purple canvas, as it reluctantly leaves to shine on lesser lands. Marveling at God's handiwork, I can't help but get a lump in my throat and think that it is all so very Texan.
"At day's end, the sun brushes gilded clouds onto a pink and purple canvas..."

We arrived at the Take-It-Easy RV Park in Kerrville after dark (naturally), but the manager, who lives in his fifth wheel near the entrance, checked us in cheerfully and directed us to a parking spot in the middle of the park. As we unhooked and began setting up Homer, a man from a nearby trailer came over with a floodlight that helped immensely with the manipulation of the hoses, cords and cranks. We continue to be amazed at the almost universal friendliness of people in the RV community. To give a fellow camper a helping hand is considered a standard code of conduct. It's very comforting in a way. It reminds me of my home town, Nacogdoches, Texas, where everyone knew each other and seemed like members of a large family. Living in a big city, I've missed that warm feeling, and here it is again, alive and well among fellow RVers.
Take-It-Easy RV Park in Kerrville

This is not to say there aren't some characters in these places. For example, while we were puttering around outside Homer the next day, Sandy noticed an elderly lady walking alongside the lane near our parking spot. Nearby was a wooden bin that had been constructed beside the lane to hold residents' garbage bags out of sight until an attendant could pick them up later. As the lady approached the bin, she stopped and stared at it for quite a long time, as if trying to figure out its purpose or perhaps wondering why she had stopped, as she wasn't carrying anything with her. This was a bit unnerving to Sandy, who apparently did a quick mental fast-forward and didn't exactly like gazing into the crystal ball to see herself as aged and insensible like this poor lady. As I see it, Sandy's pushback from growing old is not a bad thing. I think we're really only as old as we see ourselves to be.

That same morning, the wife of the gentleman who loaned us the floodlight walked over and asked if we had a dog. She was a big-boned woman with a deep voice, probably from too much tobacco, caffeine or gin, and she was clearly not someone I would want to mess with. Sandy told her we didn't have a dog, and she then went into a long, raspy tirade about her discovery that morning of a pile of dog poop near her trailer. After learning that we were not the offenders, she stormed off, vowing to find the poor animal that relieved itself in such an unfortunate location. It was not clear, however, that if she found a dog, how she would be able to determine its culpability in the crime, given the rather small likelihood that it would confess. After marveling at this for a short while, I noted for the record this rare divergence from the heretofore unwavering friendly spirit normally evident among fellow RVers. (As I write this, I realize that I frequently use the word "marvel" as a verb. I think this is one of my favorite descriptors of the sense of wonderment that I feel when I see something or someone that strikes me as unusual or curious.) Another benefit of the relaxed pace of RV travel is the opportunity merely to pause and observe—or "marvel"—at what's going on around you, much like an actor who steps out of a play and sits in the audience for a while, seeing the performance from a brand new perspective.

That same morning, while washing dishes, Sandy noticed that the water flow from the kitchen faucet slowly dwindled and eventually stopped altogether. Now, you need to know Sandy to have an appreciation for the sky-is-falling anxiety that such an event can create for her. She is freakish about personal hygiene and is pathologically fussy about the cleanliness of kitchens and bathrooms. The idea that the flow of water, the ultimate source of maintaining a clean environment, had suddenly ceased would, in her mind, certainly be the last great calamity to strike the earth before Armageddon. Her eyes fluttered and rolled back in their sockets. Just as her corneas disappeared above her eyelids, I walked over and flipped the switch on Homer's electric pump that draws from the fresh water holding tank and pressurizes the plumbing system. In an instant, the water pressure was back up to normal. We later found out that plumbers had temporarily cut off the park's water main to repair a leaking pipe. With the restoration of water pressure from the electric pump, the color began to return to Sandy's face, and I used the occasion to point out to her that, unlike her beloved stick-built house, Homer has a backup fresh water system that is worthy of some appreciation. The answer I got back was something like, "Harrumph." I made my point, I guess, but I hadn't won the match.