December 8 found us paying tolls to drive around Houston. The huge metropolis sprawled out beside us and we were thankful to fork over a few bucks to avoid driving its clogged arteries. It took about an hour to get into the countryside where grassland gradually stretched up into the lovely Texas Hill Country. In keeping with the “Big in Texas” theme, we stopped to take in the extensive gas pumps, souvenir and food counters at Buc-ees a chain of humongous gas stations. All items sold there are available by the hundreds! The immediate area surrounding the crazy service station had been devastated by forest fire a couple of years ago and miles of burned forests and residential properties are beginning to show small signs of new growth. We watch television coverage of bush fires raging in the US each year but the immense damage can only be felt in person.
We arrived at Millcreek RV just south of Johnson City in time to enjoy an hour’s sunshine before the cold wall came down. With the weather here, it is warm and pleasant during the day but within sixty seconds of sunset, it is freezing! The park was adequate and Dixie enjoyed daily walks by the shallow riverbank. Our mission here was to spend some time lickin’ sauce off our fingers at the Famous Salt Lick Bar B Que in Dripping Springs, Texas. The restaurant features a huge indoor grill where all the meats rest after they are smoked. Customers are encouraged to get close to the kitchen and the smells of sweet sauce, Live Oak smoke and pecan pie are intoxicating. We enjoyed some classic ribs, coleslaw and beans. After our rich lunch, we were ready for some good exercise and hit the trails on our bikes at Milton Reimers Ranch Park. The rough paths were a mix of red earth, stones as well as crevices from recent downpours. The attractive local cream-coloured limestone is used everywhere in construction of homes and public buildings. The trail lead us past grasslands, prickly pear cactus, twisting Live Oak trees and Mesquite. The close mountains added another dimension to our view. One Mourning Dove was the only wildlife we saw in over two hours. I lost my footing on a gravel hill as we walked our bikes gingerly down. I landed directly on my camera and the lens crumpled. As Murphy’s Law would have it, I had swung my camera onto my back to protect it just moments before I fell. On the positive side, I bore no physical harm!
Dixie went for a grooming and “Spa Day” while we toured the LBJ Historic Park and Ranch. In Johnson City we saw the boyhood home of Lyndon B. Johnson and learned about his roots, education, courtship with Ladybird and his careers as an educator and politician.
At the famous 2,700 acre LBJ Ranch, we toured the historic displays at the Visitor’s Centre and walked about the Sauer-Beckmann Farm gardens, barn, kitchen and living quarters which is still an operating farm practicing the lifestyle of 1918 when LBJ was boy.
A self guided tour takes the visitors throughout the ranch property, with optional stops at the reconstructed Birthplace home, used previously as a guest home; Johnson family cemetery where generations of Johnsons are buried including the president and first lady; show barns; pastures; airport runway and helicopter pad.
LBJ’s private jet, Lockheed C-140 Jet Star is parked outside the Johnson Home, fondly called “The Texas White House”. We joined a guided tour through the simple home, its basic living room and huge fireplace where politicians and astronauts once sat on the hearth while visiting the ranch, the small dining room, bedrooms, kitchen and large office. There was a palpable presence of the past world decisions being made in LBJ’s office where his press and political secretaries worked together. Three TVs were present in three rooms of the “White House” in order that LBJ could keep constantly updated on the news. (NBC, ABC and CBS)
Our guide shared the most poignant story while we were gathered in the kitchen. The Johnsons and their staff were completing details for a perfect dinner party that evening when John F. Kennedy and Jackie would arrive after their motorcade in Dallas. Ladybird called everyone into the kitchen, November 1963, where they watched the coverage of Kennedy’s assassination and the uncertain reality of the future filled the house.
December 11 was cool and rainy but we headed west despite it. Only an hour later, we drove down the main street of the lovely historic town of Fredericksburg. Its charm convinced us to stop and tour it. We checked in to Fredericksburg RV Park , grabbed our rain gear and began a long stroll. There are a large number of German settlements in Texas and Fredericksburg is one of them. The town is known for its tourism with multiple galleries, museums, shops, theatres and restaurants and wineries; especially during the Christmas season.
The park in the centre of town, “Marktplatz” was tastefully decorated with white lights on all “tannenbaum” and a huge traditional German Christmas Pyramid displayed its parade of shepherds, milk maids and angels following round and round to chords of an old German Christmas Carol.
The art galleries that specialized in cowboy/cowgirl, cattle , horses and Texas Hill country scenery. We saw some amazing cast sculptures, paintings and graphite drawings that inspired. The largest kitchen store I’ve ever been in, a former hotel, kept us entertained and out of the rain as we sipped superb coffees and perused the merchandise. All the buildings in town have been restored and interior patterned tin ceilings, wooden flooring and decorative balconies help maintain the essence of the 1890’s German Town. Homemade sweets, high-end baubbles and traditional German blown-glass ornaments were displayed in all the shops. We did not see the museums but went back to walk Dixie instead. After dark, the town was bright with white lights everywhere, very beautifully coordinated. We went to Friedhelm’s Bavarian Restaurant for some German beer and Schnitzel dinner. Ein Prosit!
The following day we were on the road again passing the beautiful countryside with its vineyards, wineries, peach, pecan and walnut groves and many large flocks of goats gamboling (always wanted to use that word) across the deep green fields. The countryside began to open up where we were able to see for miles across grassy or rocky fields towards the mountains in the west. After a long drive we were lucky to find the great Balmorhea State Park. The sites each had a hacienda covering the picnic table and the view on three sides were to wards mountain ranges. An underground aquifer feeds a large swimming area, a duck-filled pond and small grassy canals that run around the park. We went for a bike ride and discovered someone was swimming so back we went for our suits. The water was mild and we had a great swim while tiny fish jumped around us. The sunset over the mountains was familiar and comforting.
Leaving the park, we saw two roadrunners and tumble weeds were everywhere, especially piled up behind wire fences. We were in wind farm country again and the towering white wind mills stood guard along the rocky ridges. The landscape became more desert-like studded with Creosote, Cactus, Tamarisk and Yucca. We entered New Mexico in the late afternoon, passed sprawling El Paso to our north and crowded Mexico on the opposite side of the highway. Another hour was lost as we crossed into Mountain Time. Setting up at Coach Light Rv in Las Cruces, we discovered that the park had taken a nose dive and thankfully we were only staying one night. We vowed never to return there again. We had a Mexican dinner at La Posta where colourful decorations for Christmas mixed traditional and Mexican. The food was not as great as we’d remembered it from our past visit but the Margaritas saved the meal.
By noon on Sunday December 14, we drove into Arizona and settled in at Saguaro SKP RV Park just outside Benson. We signed up to stay for a month and will do Christmas and New Years here. Our sight looks out over the Dragoon Mountains. We have mountains to the East and West so we watch the sunset in real time over the west side then enjoy its pink and orange blast in the East. We will cook a roast of beef and veggies and enjoy traditional Christmas pudding for dessert on December 25.
Wishing everyone a wonderful Holiday Season!
The reversible wreath I made and the multitude of desert stars light our Christmas Hideaway after dark.