Mo

27

Feb

2017

USA - Texas - The South

Texas is huge and the second largest state in the US with 695.621sqkm and a population of more than 26 Million. This makes 37/sqkm. Compared to Germany with half the size we have 230 people/sqkm. 

Coming from the Carlsberg Caverns we soon cross the state border to Texas. It`s cold and rainy weather and we drive over endless and boring highways in direction to the Big Bend National Park. On the left and on the right side of the road is nothing and in case we come thru a village most houses have seen better days and look like left alone a long time ago. The region is shaped from oil industry and hundreds of trucks every day have made a very bad road over time. We have rarely seen so much desolation and can somewhat understand that Trump could make good points here with his populistic slogans.

 

For the night, we make a stop at the Balmorhea Statepark. The campground has a huge pool served from a natural spring and is ranked to be the largest of its kind worldwide. Here we also learn that all Stateparks in Texas take an entrance fee per person in addition to the campground fee. We don`t feel much sense of humor for this strategy especially as you don`t find places in the wilderness to stay for free.

So to speak our first day in Texas was a “complete success” and it could only get better. And indeed, the morning greets us with a blue and sunny sky, the landscape changes from boring loneliness to a wonderful mountain area and we first head for Fort Davis. To protect travelers and post transports in West-Texas from attacks thru the Apaches and Comanche the Fort was erected in 1848 and active until 1891. Today the historical remarks are under nature protection and in the visitor center and a small museum the history of the Fort is explained. 

Close to Fort Davis is the McDonald Observatory on top of Mount Locke in 2100m. In contrary to the VLA radio telescope they explore the universe with optical telescopes. We make a guided tour of 2.5 hours and see live pictures from sun eruptions and admire two of the largest telescopes on earth. The night we spend at the Davis Mountain Statepark. Meanwhile we have also bought a Year Pass for the Texas State Parks and can safe at least the entrance fee.

We continue thru a breathtaking landscape to the Big Bend Ranch State Park. The road looks like a Roller Coaster and the 50 miles count for the most beautiful routes in the USA. On the way, we make two nice hikes thru a Canyon and to the Hoodos. After this we really find a good hidden place on a river for the night, right next to the sign “no overnight camping”. 

From the State Park, we drive to the huge Big Bend National Park. Here we want to spend some days and explore the area. But this is not as easy as we thought. For backcountry camping you need a permit which is ok. But in addition, we must determine in advance where we want to be each night and make reservations for the sites. After a nice hike to a canyon we go to one out of the three develop campgrounds in the park, study the info papers and try to make a plan for the next days. A difficult mission as a lot of the offroad tracks are for Jeeps and not for 11 ton Monsters like MOMO. But finally, we come to an acceptable conclusion and the next morning we make reservations for a number of backcountry camp sites for the days to come. After this we make a 5-mile hike to Mules Ear where a spring bubbles in the middle of the desert. On the way back the weather changes and clouds come up and we drive directly to our first overnight site over a 8-mile dirt road and get rewarded by a beautiful spot at the edge of a canyon. 

In the morning, we make a nice hike to the Balanced Rock and also see some Javelinas which is a native wild pig. The following days we pass time at different backcountry campsites and make some hikes in the area. But there is not much to see apart from cactus, dry wilderness and inaccessible terrain. Also, the humidity of 15% dead beats us and we don`t want to imagine how it is in summer with temperatures from 50 degrees and above. Now in January the climate is quite ok although we measure 39 degrees Celsius on one day.  

After a few days in the wilderness we drive to the mountains at 1500m to the Chisos Basin Campground. The area is completely different and in the wild area live beers and mountain lions which we unfortunately don`t catch sight of. The nights are ice-cold but the days are sunny and we make a hike the Window trail which ends with a great view down to the valley. 

After this we change to the Southern area of the park for a few other hikes to the Boquilla Canyon and to the Hot Springs and stay a last night in the backcountry before we leave the park. 

And once more it goes mile after mile over endless highways. The view villages we pass are largely deserted and all around there is nothing which could motivate us to stay for a few days. The only highlight is the bridge over the Rio Pecos and the Roy Bean Museum in Langtry. Here in 1880 Roy Bean declared himself to judge to stop the lawlessness with an iron hand. Years later he died in a shooting. The classical setting for a Western movie. 

Finally, we come to San Antonio the oldest town in Texas and go on a campground with a good bus connection to the city center. Tourist hot spot is the Riverwalk which is a few miles long promenade along the river with restaurants and shops. The one hour boat ride gives a good overview. Also a must see is the Fort Alamo where a few hundred people battled against thousands of Mexicans before they got all killed. In the outskirts are three old Franciscan missions and we visit San Jose and Concepcion. 

We move on to the Hillcountry where a lot of Germans have settled around 1900. The towns are named Gruene and New Braunfels and have nice Colonial Buildings and old shops from the past century. We stay in Gruene for the night and visit the old Dance Hall in the evening. 

We drive thru villages with names like Kerrville, Comfort and Fredericksburg which are all very German like until we come to Luckenbach. Luckenbach is legendary and was established in 1849 and latest since the country singer Waylon Jennings wrote a song about it the spot is world famous. Apart from a huge parking area there is only the Dance Hall, a General Store and small saloon with Jam sessions every day. In the evening, we join a live music concert in the Dance hall with the shiny ribs, a country and rock showband. We are the only tourists and enjoy a very nice evening among a lot of Texas Cowboys. 

In the morning, it is ice-cold and rainy and we move on and visit the Ranch of Lyndon B. Johnson the 36th president of the USA. It is a large area and we drive more than 5 miles on the compound. Johnson established his home office already in the 60`s and worked very often from his Ranch. The building was therefore known as the Texas White House and during his mandate state guests from all over the world were welcomed here. A guided tour where everything is kept like it was in the 60`s gives a very good overview how he has worked and lived at these days.  

We come to the Mega City of Houston and lucky enough we really get two new tires for our truck. The design and lay-out of the roads together with the traffic doesn`t motivate us for an in-depth city tour but at least we look at the Jacinto Battlefield where you can also see a Battleship which survived the 1st and 2nd world war and is arranged as a museum these days. Then we visit the Houston Space Center. Here the complete space program of the NASA is shown and we give ourselves more than three hours to see everything of interest. The most fascinating for us was the Mars Program. The plan is to send 4 astronauts to Mars in the early 2030th and back. A round trip of three years. What`s being developed for this program sounds and looks like science fiction but is already reality today.  And certainly we see the historic command center where all Apollo missions were controlled including the landing on the moon in 1969 and where the legendary Apollo 13 mission (Houston we have a problem) was brought back to earth successfully. 

We leave Houston and drive to the Brazos Bend State Park, a huge area on a river with alligators and thousands of birds. Alone the distance from the entrance gate to the visitor center is more than 2 miles. The weather is sunny and warm and we make a number of nice bicycle rides along the river and the lakes. 

After a few nice days, we continue in direction to Galveston where we want to enjoy the beach life which we have missed for longer now. But things turn out differently. We are in front of a laundry in Richwood as somebody knocks on our door. It`s Justin with his best buddy Andy and he shows us a picture of a truck similar to ours. He has a military museum near-by and invites us to stay a few days on his premises. Justin and Andy are really super nice guys and so we decide to join them for a couple of days. On his compound are countless military trucks and Justin does refurbishment and also, they are used for movie shots. In the evening, we drive to the beach with the trucks and make a huge campfire whereby more firewood is used than we use in one month.

On the next day, he has a special fun program for us. First, we can drive a tank in his backyard. Then we get a tuned Jeep Rubicon for pleasure and drive to the beach and check how 350HP do in sand. Lucky enough we see the sign “speed limit 15m/h” before we see the police. For lunch, we are invited to a Mexican Restaurant and drive by with a convoy of Humvees which is the military version of the Hummer. Back home we go to the firing range on his terrain and I can shoot a M16 and a UZI with real ammo. This was then the time where Karin went back to our RV. The easy-going use of firearms in the US and I believe specifically in Texas is something we are not used to in Europe. However, it was a lot of fun and an interesting experience to feel like Rambo for some time.  After the weekend, they help me to do some service on the truck which takes another two days before we can continue our journey. Thanks again to Justin, Andy and Marc for the outstanding days and all the help provided. It was great being part of your family for a couple of days. We`ll never forget!

We pass Galveston and drive East along the coast. The beach is endless but it`s too cold to swim and so we soon come to the State of Louisiana. But what we experience there is then part of our next blog. Until then enjoy reading and watching the pictures. 

And finally a few nice snapshots

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