Thursday, December 9, 2010

Texas Thanksgiving 2010.

In 1997 Julia and I revisited the Baltic Sea on a cruise that we had first taken in 1962, during which we first met. We also stayed in Copenhagen for a week, the city where I had proposed to her.

In Christmas 1967, after 3 years of marriage, we took a magical tour around Texas with our, then, new friends Tom & Martha Hardin. This year, 2010, 43 years later we were going to repeat at least some of that trip with our, now, old friends Tom & Martha and our number one Grandson, 17 year old Bradley.

At first I was just going to give a few highlights of this trip, but as always, whenever I visit Texas I get carried away. At first this Blog started off with , - "I am not going to go into a lot of detail about the trip." - Somehow that morphed into this detailed account of another 'Texas Odyssey'. Believe it or not I could have expanded it even more, such is my love of all things Texas! (Even now I am drinking my coffee out of a cup that announces quite simply "TEXAS", while laying on the floor nearby is a T-Shirt that says "Don't Mess With Texas". (I wouldn't dare - would you?)

The three of us flew to San Antonio and Tom picked us up at about 10 pm. We then spent two days at their lovely home. The first day we visited The Alamo, two Missions and Riverwalk - where we had a fine Mexican meal. The second day, Sunday, after attending a service at Tom & Martha's Church and meeting several of their friends, we set off for West Texas, arriving late in the evening at our historic hotel The Limpia. In Fort Davis we visited Tom's old stomping grounds, the homes of several of his relatives including Dudes ranch and various other places that Julia and I had been to before but which were new to Bradley.

In the evening we went to the Indian Lodge, a cool building built in the 1930's by the CCC where there is a nice restaurant - The Black Bear. It is located in the Davis Mountains State Park. After a good meal Bradley and I went outside to see the stars which were unbelievably bright, and numerous, in the dark Texas night. We had been warned to look out for a Mountain Lion that had been seen in the area. When Bradley said "What is that?" pointing into the darkness, I of course thought that he was trying to scare me. Not seeing anything, but with Bradley insisting that there was an animal "right there", I dropped to my knees to try to get a better view of it against the sky. Still no sign, just them Tom turned on the lights of the car and there right in the headlights was a deer walking away from us! Either Bradley has incredibly good vision or I have bad sight - or maybe a bit of each. we then visited The McDonald Observatory on Mt. Locke and after a tour of the facilities, used several of their telescopes to observe some of the wonders of our universe. It was cold up there at night. The only cold temperatures we had during our 8 days in Texas.

The next day, Tuesday, was an adventure day as we went on a trip to the Mexican border. Due to "The troubles" we were not going to enter Mexico this time. On all our previous visits to Texas we have made several forays into that exciting country. This time we went to the border town of Presidio where in an otherwise dreary town we made an exciting discovery in the form of a wonderful and authentic Mexican Restaurant. A good meal was enjoyed by all. After that we set off to discover some of the "Towns" that we had visited in 1967. In order to appreciate what we were looking for you need to read my story "Texas, Christmas 1967". If you e-mail or call me I will e-mail you the story - it is about 26 pages long and gives a detailed story of a trip taken by us, two newcomers not only to Texas, but to the USA after just a few months here. It is interesting, if only as a History lesson of the observations of those two immigrants made 43 years ago. Read the story and then compare Texas then to Texas now!

After the Mexican meal we set off to "Discover" the "Towns" of Ruidosa and Candelaria. I cannot describe them for you, I'm sorry, to understand why, you will need to visit them for yourselves! In my humble opinion they are worth the visit although some, indeed many, would doubtless disagree with me! Enough said.

To get back to civilization we took an unmade "Road" to Marfa (Of Marfa Lights fame). Just as in Texas a "River" does not necessarily have water, so a "Road" is not necessarily a road!

The "Road" was long and dusty. Although it was only about 25 miles long it seemed much longer. The stones were large, many larger than the road clearance of our Mercury, but the views were stupendous. The Chisos Mountain Range kept beckoning, but never got closer.

On our 1967 trip over this same road it had been getting dark at this point in the trip, we were late for a dinner date with Tom's Cousin Mary, we had no idea what lay in wait around the next corner and we were going way too fast, even for Tom's venerable Ford Fairlane, survivor of some 75 miles of this wildest "road" that any of us had ever traversed in our lives. Even Tom was out of his depth. At one point, and we were all looking out for that 'infamous' point now, we had been travelling - well slipping and sliding really - at about 60 miles per hour, which was at least 50 miles per hour faster than we should have been going, we went down a slope that suddenly changed from down to up. The Ford 'bottomed out' with a sickening crunch to not only the car but to our four already bruised bottoms, and continued on. We were sure that at the very least several springs had fractured. And maybe the engine casing, oil pan, shock absorbers and any other parts that were underneath the car. But we did not stop to check. One problem was that the trunk was loaded down with a weeks worth of luggage and supplies for four Texas travellers. Consequently the the car was riding very low, especially its back end. We made it back to civilization, and to Cousin Mary's for dinner, albeit two or three hours late. Which didn't seem to faze her at all. That was something that we learned about Texans on that trip, nothing seems to faze them.

Back to 2010. About halfway along the Chisos Ranch road we saw a pick up truck ahead of us. We were steadily gaining on it, until suddenly we saw it turn into an even smaller road - was that possible? We passed it and shortly after saw it again, this time behind us. It followed us closely, close enough that we were able to see that it was a Border Patrol vehicle! Oh, Oh, did they think we were "Illegal Immigrants". We continued, hoping to reach a town or something before it pulled us over and searched us. Eventually we reached a 'paved' road. By now the ladies had gone too long without a "Pit Stop", and the bouncing had not helped. We looked for a suitable 'private' place to stop. (It doesn't get any more 'private' than this area, many miles from the nearest house!) But even so apparently a suitable stand of trees or bushes was needed. Eventually such a place was found. We pulled over. The Border Patrol vehicle stopped too and we all walked back towards him, hoping that he did not have four pairs of handcuffs out and ready. He didn't. Instead he climbed out of his large Pick Up and in his Texas drawl asked if we were all OK. When we assured him that we were, he said that he was following us in case we were having a problem. He probably thought that we were travelling rather slowly, not knowing that Tom was treating his loaner car gently. (Tom's own car was in the shop and when they didn't have it ready as they promised on Friday they gave him the almost new Mercury to use for the week. Little did they know that it was going to be bouncing around a bunch of ranch roads on the Mexican border!) Anyhow, the Border Patrol man didn't seem suspicious of any us, not even of Bradley, even after Bradley asked if he could have his picture taken with him! The Border Patrol man went on ahead and we followed in his considerable dust cloud. The ladies found a suitable bush and all was well with the world again. We pressed on to Marfa and had a fine meal at the famous Paisano Hotel & Restaurant on Highland Ave, also known as the "Home of the Stars", because James Dean, Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor stayed there while filming the movie "Giant".(Dean stayed in Room 223, Hudson in 211 and Elizabeth Taylor - my favorite! - in Room 212), after which we went to the viewing area for the famous Marfa Lights and watched for a while - this time unsuccessfully. We had seen the mysterious lights on previous visits.

Then it was our last night at the Limpia Hotel. The next day we set off early for San Antonio. But it was to be a long day. There was much to see between the Fort Davis Mountains and the big city of San Antonio. Most of what we were to see Julia and I had seen before, but it would all be new to Bradley - which would make it new to us. Showing Bradley some of the highlights of my favorite State would be a new experience for me too.

We took Highway 90 and drove through Marfa. In Alpine we drove past the home of the famous Joaquin Jackson , author of "One Ranger" and " One Ranger Returns". The Gage Hotel in Marathon, a real Western hotel in a real Western Town was our next brief stop. The Gage was built by Trost and Trost - who were also the builders of the Paisano hotel in Marfa, that we had visited just a day earlier. Both hotels are full of history and deserved a longer stay. After a few pictures, one with Bradley poking his finger in the eye of a Mountain Lion (Stuffed), we pressed on. One day I would like to stay at one or both of these Hotels. Both are within easy driving of Big Bend National Park, an awesome Park well worth a visit - or two. Then it was on to the little town of Langtry and Judge Roy Bean's Home and Courthouse, "The Jersey Lilly", named after Lily Langtry the English Actress. It looks far different now than it did during our first visit in 1967 when there was no Visitors Center, no Cactus Garden and no anything except the Jersey Lilly Saloon that looked almost the same as it did now except that it was more dilapidated then. The famous "Hanging tree" was still there, also a little worse for wear. (Although it is thought that Judge Roy Bean, the Law West of the Pecos, had never actually hanged anyone there.) In 1967 there had been a lot of desert, tumbleweeds, sand and dust. And no visitors except us. Just across from the Jersey Lilly was Mr William Dodd's house which is literally falling down now, but had been intact in 1967, in fact we went inside then. Mr Dodd was the man that immigrated from England with Tom Hardin's grandfather John Henry Ashby. They formed a partnership with a Mr Cross, who was their Sunday School teacher in Birmingham, England. Mr Cross paid for them both to go tho Langtry Texas when they were 18. They were going to raise sheep and goats. When that didn't work (You will understand why if you ever go there - and I recommend that you do.) they tried cattle. That was also a failure. Mr Ashby married and moved to Uvalde where he opened the towns butcher shop. Dodd also married but stayed in Langtry where he owned the town's general store/post office and eventually took Bean's place as Justice of the Peace after he died. Dodd's relatives still live in Langtry and Tom keeps in touch with them. There are many stories that I could tell about Tom and Tom's family, and their adventures in Texas.

Our next stop was at Seminole Canyon State Park with an interesting Indian exhibit, including pictographs. And then it was through Del Rio and on to Tom's birthplace and hometown of Uvalde where we made a brief stop at a drug store that Tom has frequented for pretty much his whole life. We had ice cream floats, banana split, coffee etc. Tom saw people he has known for years. Then it was a quick drive through town, past his mothers old house and the Garner museum, which was closed for renovating, updating and adding on to. We almost met John Nance Garner in 1967. I was excited in my first year in the US to be meeting an ex Vice President of the US. His son Tully had been Tom's Uncle's partner in some business ventures, including the 10,000 acre ranch that they owned together. It was named Bitter Bottom and we had visited it several times over the years. However, Garner died just a few days before we were to meet him. Very inconsiderate of him we thought!

After Uvalde we went straight to San Antonio.

Tom, Bradley and I got up early the next day, which was Thursday and Thanksgiving Day, as Bradley had an early flight. Fortunately they live only ten minutes or so from the airport and we were there by around 6.00 am in time for his flight back to Baltimore and the new love of his life, Janie. Lucky Bradley. Oh, and of course his family. Bradley had elected to return to Baltimore to be with his family for Thanksgiving rather than spend an additional 4 days in Texas. Remarkable!

Thursday was a lazy day to recover from the trials of the trip. We went to an English Pub for Thanksgiving Dinner - how wild is that? The evening was spent looking at movies of two of Tom and Martha's trips - to Russia and China, and watching an old movie called Dial M for Murder.

Friday was time for a trip to Fredericksburg, a small town that we had visited before. On our previous trips there it had been a very quiet town, today it was different, as different as chalk and cheese! It was packed, we had trouble finding somewhere to park or to eat, and it was even hard to get into the stores to shop. This last tragedy did not seem to upset Tom at all! Fredericksburg is famous for being the home of the Chester Nimitz Museum of the Pacific War, which we visited, and enjoyed immensely. Indeed, although we spent two or three hours there we could easily have spent twice as long. It was one of the most interesting museums I have ever been in.

And then Saturday was an early start for our flight back home where our daughter Sarah met us. A perfect end to a lovely journey.

All was well at home, thanks to our friends Mike & Christine taking good care of the Chickens and Cats.

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