We arrived in San Antonio the most historic city in Texas. San Antonio’s old Spanish flavour, multicultural heritage and is site of the famous Alamo Mission. “Remember the Alamo!” was the battle cry that inspired Texans during their war for independence against Mexico (1835-1836).
Arriving at the Alamo, we watched the movie “Introducing The Alamo,” produced by the History Channel that chronicles the 1836 battle. It was yet another American history lesson for us. We have learnt so much interesting American history on these travels. What is fascinating is that each state tells their version of history, focusing mainly only on history that affected them specifically. Therefore, to get the complete American history we did need to travel across the USA.
The secularized mission of the Alamo was the site of the thirteen days bloody siege against the Mexican dictator Santa Anna that ended the lives of 189 Americans. The heroic stand by the Alamo defenders was not in vain for the battle at Alamo gave General Sam Houston time to organize his troops and 46 days after the fall of the Alamo he inspired his troops with his cry, “Remember the Alamo!” and launched a furious attack on Santa Anna’s troops in the battle of San Jacinto. After 18 minutes of fighting, the Texans emerged victorious and the Texas Republic was born.
We toured the museum, viewing artefacts, weapons and uniforms. There is a historical exhibit that depicts the nearly 300 years of Alamo history. It describes the evolution of the Alamo from a Spanish mission to a current day Shrine. Behind the Alamo shrine we walked into a delightful garden, lush and green with local plants, a place now of peace and comfort.
A few blocks from the Alamo is the San Fernando Cathedral the oldest parish in Texas. In the sanctuary, is a marble coffin said to hold the remains of the Texas heroes from the Alamo battle such as James Bowie and Davey Crockett Texan legendary figures. We continue to explore San Antonio and learn about Texan legends.
We arrived at the Spanish Governor’s Palace to be greeted by a welcoming aroma of a wood burning fireplace. It was chilly outside and the warmth and glow of the fireplace was inviting. The building was the original seat of government in the early 1700s. Commandants of Presidio de Bexar and many Spanish governors lived and ruled in the building some adding additional rooms over the years. The beautiful hand carved doors, low beam ceilings, and mosaic tiled patio are typical of Colonial Spain. We sat in the courtyard just enjoying the beauty and quietness of the surroundings and Tom deciding he could live here, but soon it was time to move on.
The River Walk runs through the heart of the business district. The river walk was developed as a project to tame the flood prone San Antonio River after a particularly devastating flood in1921 that killed 50 people and caused millions of dollars of damage. The architect Robert Hugman plan was not only to control flooding but also to beautify the city.
The section of the river walk that is below street level is the prettiest place in the city. It meanders for 2.5 miles through the downtown area and is lined with hotels, restaurants and speciality shops. Picturesque stone pedestrian bridges arch across the waters. The vegetation is lush, and ducks swim amongst the barges that tour the river.
We arrived as they were preparing for the festive Holiday Lights Barge Parade. We decided to have something to eat and stay the evening to watch the parade. After supper, we headed to find a spot amongst the 150,000 spectators lining the route of the parade. We were fortunate to not only meet some really friendly Texans but also be close enough to enjoy the parade. The music was loud and joyous, the colourful barges decorated with lights, bands and happy folk, it was a festive atmosphere and we loved the spectacle. We left before the parade had finished making our way through the crowds, crossing bridges and enjoying the parade from different viewpoints as we made our way to the bus stop. It had been a wonderful day.
The mission of San José is known as the “Queen of the Missions” It is beautiful having been restored and rebuilt. We had an excellent guided tour, which explained the history, the community life and unique church architecture. Life on the mission for the Indians was difficult despite being taught new skills, religion and languages, (Spanish and Latin) only 30% of them survived the ravages of the infectious diseases, which the Spanish brought with them from Europe.
We left to tour the Hill Country of Texas and we loved the area. Sparse and wild with cows in the fields, farms along the way and quaint towns. In fact, the following morning the crows of a rooster woke us up. Life in the country suits us. Making hay while the sun shines must have been the motto of the artists that created these wonderful hay people in the field. We just happened to find them when we took a wrong turn. We were amazed at the size of them; they are great. Everything is bigger in Texas.
We loved the wide-open spaces of Texas; it reminded us of many parts of southern Africa; the scrubby bushes, cattle ranches, rocky outcrops and vineyards. It was in fact here that Tom mellowed out after a morning of wine tasting, seated himself in the shade of the veranda of a little wooden house on the farm and stated that he thinks he will just settle here. The Becker Vineyard and Lavender farm was wonderful, the wines magnificent and Gary our host entertaining and informative. It was the Cape of South Africa in Hill Country of Texas. Who knew! Fortunately, the wine soon wore off and we were back on the road exploring the Hill Country of Texas.
In Austin, we met some fellow overlanders Doug and Stephanie Hackney who like us are nomads at heart and have traveled to some of the world’s greatest locations and reached exotic destinations. We shared stories, adventures, struggles and successes of long term distance travel. They understood our need to “sell up and see the world”, our struggle to settle down, our yearnings to see more and more of the world before it all disappears beneath asphalt, concrete and steel.
In fact, at the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico I asked the park ranger why there was no longer any water in the subterranean lakes in the caverns. “They built a parking lot on top of the caves and the water can no longer reach the lakes so they have dried up.” This was a case of us being too late the asphalt had already destroyed the lakes.
As the Guadalupe Mountains were being formed millions of years ago, the rainwater seeped downwards through the cracks and faults in the limestone. At the same time hydrogen sulphide rich water migrated upwards and when these two waters mixed, they formed sulphuric acid that dissolved the limestone and opened up the cracks forming one of largest cave systems in the world.
We entered the caves through the natural entrance and following the traditional explorer’s route hiked one mile down, descending 750 feet below the surface. One of the best reasons for being married to a geologist is that all geological natural wonders are explained to me with much enthusiasm and a love of rocks. We spent hours studying the rock formations, the stalactites, stalagmites, columns, faults and caverns. We are fortunate to travel during the off-season as we almost had the caverns to ourselves. We stopped to listen to the silence, and feel the darkness of the surroundings. We were happy in the greatness of nature.
We strolled around the perimeter of the 8.2 acre Big Room, discovering more wonders and after several hours we took the elevator back to the surface again appreciating how very lucky we are to be able to experience the best nature has to offer.
At the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert lies the Tularosa Valley and another of one of America’s great natural wonders- the glistening white sands of the New Mexico White Sands National Monument. Perhaps know by most people as the region where the first atomic bomb was detonated and today it continues to be an area where missiles are tested. Arriving at the White Sands National Park we were informed that the road into the park was closed for several hours as they were doing missile testing.
After several hours, we were on the road and heading into the park. Tom loves deserts so he was quickly back into his happy mood and he had us scrambling up the dunes and sliding down. I learnt this was a gypsum desert and as we walked towards a small pool of water, the earth crackled and crunched under our feet. The sand quickly becomes soft over time as the wind breaks down the rolling stones. We hiked off into the distance and were soon alone again in the beauty of our surroundings, not wanting to leave.
Our truck was caked with gypsum so we were off to wash it. It is so frustrating to me as Tom insists he wants to wash it and hold the washing wand. So I had to settle for helping him with instructions, “You missed this spot,” “You need to wash this area again,” “No not like that.” Our truck was cleaned but not that well as we ran out of quarters. He was too slow I would have finished the job in time and on budget.
It was time to say good bye to Texas and New Mexico and head for Arizona. We don’t plan on spending much time in Arizona as we have traveled through Arizona several times before but we will be stopping in Prescott and then hope to drive some of the historical route 66.
The absolute best part of any travel is meeting wonderful, entertaining and special people along the way. As we drove along the “historical route 66” little could we have imagined the fantastic people and the fun evening we were about to have. We pulled into the campsite at Seligman and Stephanie the owner handed me a key chain that said, “I survived the night of a 1000 trains.” As we set up camp, we watched and heard the trains rumble past us and decided if we are going to have a noisy and possibly sleepless night, we may as well go out and meet some folk.
We walked across to the Stagecoach Motel and into the pizza restaurant. A sign on the door said,
“If you are in a hurry, this may not be the place for you.
House rule #1 Eat. Drink and Be Happy.
Rule #2. If you drink, too much we get to take you home or you may get a room.
Rule #3. What happens here…………………….”
Anne-Lise the owner greeted us like a long lost friends. Greg and Pat were playing guitars and singing, an old jukebox stood against the wall from which hung photos of family, friends and local events. Jokes and short stories placed beneath the plastic tablecloths for the diner’s enjoyment, and everyone eating the biggest and best pizza ever. It was as if stepping back into the 1950’s, no blaring TV with sports and fast food, but great live entertainment and home made food. We ordered our pizza and settled in for a night of laughter and dancing with new friends.
Greg and Pat were great, we loved their music and could not resist the urge to get up and dance around the restaurant, soon the other customers were also on their feet, the cook came from the kitchen to join in the foray clicking away with her tongs. Anne Lise beat out the tune with two large spoons and an elderly couple held each other closely and danced the night away. It was spontaneous, folk yelling at Greg and Pat for “more” and requesting their favourites songs. We ate pizza, drank more beer and chatted with everyone in the restaurant. Finally exhausted we returned to the camper and despite the rumbling of 1000 trains, we slept the night away.
The following morning we joined Anne Lise and Trisha for coffee and sweet rolls and listened to their stories of a life on route 66. Anne Lise proudly showed off her Harley Davidson bike that she rode across Canada on her own for her 60th birthday. Trisha a wonderful artist proudly showed us the beautiful murals she had painted in the “theme rooms” of the Stagecoach Motel owned by Anne Lise. The Harley Davidson room, the Norwegian room, John Wayne room, and the most touching room the Marine Room decorated with memorabilia and photo, and pictures created by a Vietnam veteran. The guest book on the table, signed by vets and their families who had stayed in the room, sharing memories and touching stories. Sadly, it was time to leave our new friends and get back on the road. Inspiring people, all working hard to keep the spirit of Route 66 alive and well in Arizona
We arrived at the Hoover Dam by crossing the Colorado River on the newly opened Mike O’Callaghan –Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge spanning the Black Canyon. We walked back across the bridge that has a wonderful view of the Hoover Dam an engineering wonder drawing hydroelectric power from the force of the Colorado River. Driving across the actual dam wall, we imagined just how chaotic the traffic must have been before additional roads and bridges were opened, as it is a main thorough fare between Arizona and Nevada.
We camped that night at Boulder Beach at the Lake Mead National Park. We met up again with Roger and Mirjam the Switzerland overlanders also heading for South America. Tom spent the evening chatting with some German visitors while I went to bed early.
The following day we headed off to explore the area, pulling off at a stop we were confronted by an agitated man with a knife so we moved on, no need to hang around. However shortly after we were pulled over by the police. I watched in my rear view mirror as the officer cautiously approached the truck, moving slowly along side until at my window. He glanced at me and then said I was being stopped as I failed to stay in my lane. I stared in disbelief what on earth did he mean I asked.
“Just give me your driver’s license, insurance and registration papers,” he said.
He returned to the police cruiser and shortly after returned back to our truck.
“Generally when people don’t stay in their lane they are under the influence,” he informed me.
I burst out laughing, “You mean you thought I was drunk.”
Still serious he kept questioning me. Where did we stay last night? I had to ask Tom. What day is it? I had to ask Tom, Where did we come into the park? Again, I had to ask Tom.
Tom was not amused and kept muttering to me under his breath, “Stop laughing, this is serious.”
Finally, the officer relaxed and let me off with a warning.
We stopped for lunch at a little spring and to our delight watched as two turtles swam about, little fish swimming around them, a little oasis in the middle of the desert. The strangeness of the day continued when we saw a naked man walking across the highway and into the desert. No wonder the police are nervous in this area, strange people roam about.
We arrived at the Valley of Fire State Park, which derived its name from the red sandstone formations. It is stunning and we could not wait to hike down some canyons. We spent several hours exploring the area before we knew it was time to leave and head for Las Vegas. We could no longer put it off; we had to leave the natural wonders and go see for ourselves what this sin city is all about.
We arrived in Las Vegas and headed for the large asphalt parking lot of the KOA. It was our first campsite we had seen with its own dog bath and doggie playground. After a shower and as the sun began to set, we began our long walk along the famous strip. Oh boy!!