Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Adios Texas...

We are on the way out of Texas - this is one huge state! and I'm still amazed by the technology that lets me write this online as we are traveling down the highway. To re-cap the past few days--on Saturday, we strolled the Jackson Street Market in downtown Harlingen. Dan and Mickey arrived with Mickey's Mom, Betty, and sister, Pat. We had a great dinner at the Lone Star.
Sunday brought a trip on the Kiki De La Garza Highway to the Don-Wes Flea Market for the Schumacher contingent – all the usual treasures were available and we picked up a few of things. The wind was absolutely unbelievable, we came home feeling like we'd been sand blasted! Mom and Dad took the Koch/Cammack party to the city of Pharr and the Basilica of San Juan. When everyone returned we took a quick dip in the pool & hot tub. It was so darn windy we had white caps in the pool, but it was our last chance to take advantage of that wonderful pool. All of us had dinner at Mom and Dad's and had some time to visit and exchange stories. We also took a few minutes to walk over to my cousin Judy's and say goodbye to all of them.
With hugs, kisses, good wishes and an orange and lemon picked fresh off their trees, we bid goodbye to Mom and Dad and Harlingen early Monday morning. A strong Texas wind pushed us up the highway and into San Antonio. The 4 of us spent the next couple of hours immersed in Texas history at the Alamo. The Mission San Antonio de Valero is famous for the 1836 Battle for Texas Independence, where 189 Texas volunteers held the site against 4000 Mexican troops for 13 days. The stories of William Travis, Davey Crockett, Jim Bowie and the rest of the volunteers at the Alamo are inspiring and heart wrenching. There isn't much left of the original mission and it's right in the middle of downtown San Antonio.
Next, a short walk led us to the famed San Antonio River Walk – a great walking path along the SA river, past a variety of shops and restaurants – we had lunch at a bar called Dick’s Last Resort. The waitresses had great T-Shirts that said "Dick's Chicks" on the back. I tried to get them for me and my sisters, but sadly, they are no longer available. We continued our walk along the 2 mile River Walk and had dessert at Ben & Jerry’s. The buildings around the area are really pretty neat - lots of great architecture and landscaping. As you might expect, there are quite a few ducks living in the area along the river, and we saw a newly hatched group of ducklings as well as a nest with a dozen or so eggs and Mama Duck caring for them.
At 4 PM we left San Antonio and headed west, hoping to get a few hours of driving in. By 9 we were in the hopping town of Fort Stockton TX, had a quick dinner and crashed.
Tuesday morning brought much cooler temperatures and the forecast for an even stronger wind! We headed north to Carlsbad Caverns National Park in NM. The caves were discovered in the late 1800's by a 16 year old cowboy named Jim White, who thought he saw smoke in the hills. Upon further inspection he realized that the smoke was really thousands of bats emerging from a cave in the ground.
The Mexican Free Tail bats still live in some of the caves from early spring until about October. The bats' nightly forays for insects continue to amaze visitors - there are typically 300,000 to 400,000 bats entering and leaving the cave each evening. The spectacle actually takes up to half an hour. I'm sure it's quite a sight, I'd even like to see it! As Jim White was trying to interest people in his discoveries, one enterprising fellow decided all that bat guano ought to be worth something and set up a guano mining business! Since the business was not very lucrative, the caves eventually became more of a tourist attraction and in 1923 the US Department of Interior set it up as a park and White was the first Park Ranger.
Due to the time of our arrival and the guided tour schedule, we were unable to use the Natural Entrance - a one mile hike that takes about an hour. We took the elevator down to 750 feet below the surface, joined a ranger guided tour and then hiked another 80+ feet down into the rooms of the Kings' Palace. This cavern is 829 feet below the surface – and absolutely spectacular. Of course we had 3 cameras going and got some decent pictures – but they can’t really capture the amazing structures. After that tour, we walked though an 8.2 acre cavern called The Big Room. All of these areas have decent trails and some indirect lighting so that it's a really easy walk and you can see all of the formations - or as the rangers say, decorations. Water dripping into the caverns deposits calcite which over the course of millions of years forms speleothems - cave decorations including helictites, draperies, columns, soda straws, stalagtites and stalagmites! The temperature in the caves stays at 56 degrees year round - which was very pleasant compared to the 32 degrees and snow flurries that greeted us when we left!
This park was well worth the trip and we all highly recommend it. Next time we'll come when we have more time to explore other areas of the park, use the Natural Entrance and see the Bat Flights in the evening.
We left the Park and battled high winds through 136 miles of NOTHING - to get to El Paso. The blowing sand obscured the city skyline. My good friend Colleen met us at a little neighborhood Mexican restaurant called Fortis. They had great food - Sue and I enjoyed what was probably the first many chili rellenos! YUM. It was so nice to catch up with Colleen, she's enjoying her job and her time with her grandson, Ethan.
So - this morning we left a chilly El Paso and are headed to our condo in Tucson. The weather doesn't look like it's going to be really warm, but as long as the sun is shining we'll have plenty to explore in that area.

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