Texas Road Trip!

We always like to travel on our birthdays and since August is my birthday month I got to choose our destination. I have many places I want to go but Texas is always calling my name. It’s not that I haven’t been to Texas; I commuted to Houston for work the four years we were with Dynegy; I’ve flown in and out of DFW countless times; and we have driven through Texas for the past five years as we make our yearly trek to Palm Springs.  Mona has vacationed in Texas before and visited most everywhere, but I decided this year it was my turn so off to Texas we went!

Our first stop was in Dallas. I’ve been to Dallas several times but I’ve never been to Daley Plaza where President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22nd, 1963.

Looking up at the 6th floor window.

I got chills as soon as we entered the Sixth Floor Museum on Daley Plaza. I was only ten on the day JFK was shot, but I remember that day like it was yesterday. I remember seeing this building in those news reports from so long ago and I’ve watched numerous documentaries on it since. We were stepping into history.

We paid our entry fee and went straight to the Sixth Floor. There were lots of exhibits leading to “the window” but we’ve lived and/or seen much of that so we got to “the window” pretty quickly. There it was…I was kind of in semi-shock seeing Oswald’s assassination spot after all these years. They had stacked boxes around the window just like it was on that November day. Heart wrenching. We were able to look through the windows down where the motorcade had passed. From here you can see an “X” on Elm Street marking the spot where JFK was shot. Chilling.

The assassin’s view from the 6th floor.

Afterwards we walked down Elm Street to get a closer view of the X and the grassy knoll. Even though those tragic events happened over 50 years ago our emotions were still raw and somber. I’m so glad we finally made this visit.

This “X” marks the spot where JFK was shot.

Afterwards, we headed to the Dallas-Forth Worth airport. We had an appointment for our interviews to get our Trusted Traveler approval. Somehow, we messed up the appointment time and we were late, but they were having computer problems so we still had to wait for about two hours for our interviews. The interviews lasted all of five minutes. Afterwards, we were fingerprinted and approved. Of interest…Mona has no fingerprints!  Makes me wonder why she did a John Dillinger and burned off her fingerprints!

We ended our first day in Texas with an appropriate dinner…Tex Mex! It was an interesting experience in that we had to join a club in order to order a drink with our meal. We are now card-carrying members of Mamacita’s drink club….which is only good in that one restaurant in Red Oak, Texas.

Carne Asada from Mamacita’s!

Next stop was Austin…where they try to Keep Texas Weird. I’m not sure about that, but it’s also considered to be the Live Music Capital of the World and that’s why we were here! If you’ve followed us much you surely know that we love live music; whether to dance to or just to sit back and listen to, it’s something we both really enjoy. So, it was a natural that we visit Austin!

After checking in to our hotel we headed downtown. It didn’t take us long to find a place to park and we started walking 6th Street which is jammed with bars with live music. We walked several blocks down the street, stopping every now and then to listen to the music coming from inside. So many venues, so little time! We finally settled on a place with awesome country music booming out onto the sidewalk:  San Jac. Inside it was a long shotgun-style building with a bar on the left and an upstairs on the right. We ordered shots of Jack and went upstairs to get front row seats overlooking the band: Broken Duckfeet!

Inside San Jac from the back. You can see Mona sitting alone upstairs and there is the requisite Texas State Flag on the wall on the right.

 

Broken Duckfeet is an edgy country band that sings a mix of favorite covers along with their own new music. They are out of New Braunfels, Texas, and are the epitome of a Texas country band singing plenty of two-step dance songs and enough Keith, Strait, Jones and Haggard to keep us happy all night! Finally, after all these years we are in Austin, Texas, on 6th Street, listening to the perfect band in the perfect bar!

Broken Duckfeet! Jason Wilkerson on Drums, Joseph Kowrach on bass and Michael Anthony lead singer and lead guitar.

Our long night at San Jac’s made it a little tough getting out of bed the morning. However, soon we were hitting the backroads for a closer look at this part of Texas. This is Texas Hill Country known for cowboys, German beer, flash floods, LBJ and of course those hills! We pretty much meandered through these roads; taking time to stop to look at the vistas or to sip a glass of wine at the many local wineries. We saw long horns, wild deer, beautiful ranches and even a huge armadillo but not one cowboy!

Check out that flash flood gage on the left. It’s marked to 5 feet above road level!

A Texas longhorn. Very glad to have a fence between us!

They say everything is bigger in Texas. They’re certainly right about this armadillo!

Speaking of cowboys; way back in 2012 during our first retirement journey we had a lot of bets. For instance, whoever saw our first wild horse would win $25. The first buffalo was $5. The first armadillo was $1. We must have had about 25 of those bets, but one has never been paid; a real working cowboy on a horse and wearing a cowboy hat.  Over the past 5 years we’ve had our eyes peeled hoping to win this $50 bet and we have seen not one cowboy that meets our requirements. We’ve seen cowboys in bars, but not on horses. We’ve seen ten gallon hats on cowboys, but they were on ATVs. We’ve even seen cowboys on horses and working cattle, but they were wearing ball caps.   Thousands of miles we’ve driven out West and we have to ask, “Where have all the cowboys gone?”

Michael Anthony of Broken Duckfeet and Mona. Too bad he’s not on a horse!

Back to our story!

It wasn’t long before we were in Johnson City, county seat of Blanco County and childhood home of our 36th president, Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ). Johnson lived here from when he was 5 until he graduated from high school and headed to Texas State Teacher’s College where he earned his teacher’s certificate. Can you imagine LBJ as your 5th grade teacher?!? The Johnson’s family home is still here, preserved as part of the LBJ National Historic Park and is open to visitors.

The larger part of the LBJ National Historic Park is the LBJ Ranch which is about 15 miles west of Johnson City.  This is where LBJ loved to be and he spent fourteen months of his five years as President on the ranch. We got a free driving permit at the Visitor’s Center and spent about an hour checking out the President’s birthplace, the Johnson family cemetery, and the Johnson’s ranch house known as the Texas White House. There are also guided tours available which we saved for our next visit.

It’s a working ranch with cattle in control of the roads.

After we left LBJ’s ranch we stopped to look at a map to see where we wanted to aim our Highlander next. We noticed that Luckenbach was just a few miles from us. We didn’t know much about Luckenbach other than the Waylon Jennings song so we decided to visit.

Luckenbach Post Office and General Store

We quickly learned that Luckenbach is tiny, I mean Population of 3 tiny! Luckenbach’s primary claim to fame is the song by Waylon Jennings and the fact that it’s now a venue for all kinds of country music events. In fact, you can almost always listen to live country music here and today was no exception. David Wilson and his buddy Harlie were out back picking on their guitars and singing great country songs that were perfect accompaniment for a bottle of Shiner Bock. It doesn’t get much better than this! If you want to read more about Luckenbach check out the link in the Reference section below.

David Wilson and his buddy Harlie Aaron picking out back!

BBQ and Bats

We didn’t want to leave Luckenbach, but we had two more iconic things to do in Austin: BBQ and Bats! (Not at the same time!) First up was BBQ. We have been receiving almost daily recommendations as to where to get the best BBQ in Austin. It’s an understatement to say there are a plethora of BBQ places in the Austin area. Everyone has their favorite and one friend even suggested an itinerary of meats…hitting 5 BBQ spots in one night and eating no sides. Wow! Tempting as that might be, we opted to stop at Cooper’s BBQ on Congress Avenue in downtown Austin.

I must say that we have never had a BBQ experience like this one! It’s nothing like BBQ joints in Central Illinois where we’re used to sitting at a table and being served. That’s not going to happen here! As soon as you walk in you have to order your meat…by the pound, down to the 1/4 pound. It’s then dipped and wrapped in butcher paper. You take your meat on a tray and order your sides cafeteria style. I’m liking this!

First stop at Cooper’s – order your meats!

After paying for your food you find a place on a community table. No plates, just heavy wax paper place mats. Pinto beans, pickles, jalapeños, sauce and soft drinks are all free and all you want. The meat is awesome!!!!!! The mac n cheese with bacon and jalapeño is incredible. The taste combination is simply incredible and this is an experience you will not want to miss!

At Coopers you get all the beans and BBQ you want!

Next up were Bats! Believe it or not, Austin is home to the largest urban bat colony on the continent! During the day they are all underneath the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge in downtown Austin. At dusk, they emerge by the thousands and head east to do what bats do. We were told that the swarm would begin around 8:13 PM. We were skeptical as to the precise time; after all bats don’t wear watches!

It was raining a little when we got to the bridge and we were a little concerned as to whether or not the bats would fly. No need for the worry, at promptly 8:13 (no kidding) they started to fly. First just a few, then hundreds, then thousands! I expected lots of “bat noises” but these were very quiet, just swarming from under the bridge and into the night! We took bunches of pictures but none of them turned out. I guess black bats in a black sky isn’t very photo-worthy. Nonetheless, it was a thrill to see thousands of bats like that. Next visit to Austin we’re going to take a bat boat trip so we can see the bats from below!

Bats are all over Austin!

We spent only two nights in Austin, visiting only one BBQ joint and about 4 music venues on 6th Street. That’s definitely not enough time, or BBQ, so we will be returning for a more extended visit!

Corpus Christi

We now turned the Highlander towards Corpus Christi. You might ask why we skipped San Antonio. The reason is that we spent about a week there several years ago. We love San Antonio and would like a return visit, but it wasn’t on our Road Trip Agenda this year.

Seafood was high on our list for this visit so we headed to Pier 99 in Corpus Christi’s Bay Area. This funky little restaurant sits right on the water in the shadow of the U.S.S. Lexington. We sat outside, enjoying our seafood and listening to yet another great live band, The Riptones. We love the food and music of Texas!

Our lunch view of the U.S.S. Lexington from Pier 99.

Next up was the Padre Island National Seashore which is the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world…about 70 miles of coastline. Of course there are miles of beaches, but there also dunes, prairies and lots of tidal flats. It’s also a protected nesting ground for endangered sea turtles as well as for about 380 species of birds.  There’s a $10 fee to visit this park but once again our lifetime Senior Pass got us in for free!

We began our visit at the Malaquite Visitor Center which has great views of the beach and a museum that helped us understand the history of the area and the lives of the animals that live here. Afterwards we headed for the beach where we waded in the water looking for shells and sea life. It wasn’t quite idyllic since the winds were blowing at about 20 miles an hour but we found a few aquatic treasures nonetheless.

Mona was out of the car and on the beach before I was able to put it in park!

The next morning we were up early as we wanted to watch the sunrise over the gulf. We picked out our proposed vantage point the evening before so we were able to drive directly there and found a great spot to park on the beach. This turned out to be an awesome morning with a beautiful sunrise and plenty of shells to keep Mona happy. (Happy Mona equals Happy Trip!)

Sunrise on Padre Island.

Another sunrise pic. I did nothing to enhance either photo. That’s just how the colors were that morning.

We ended our Corpus Christi stay with a visit to the U.S.S. Lexington. The Lexington is an Essex-class aircraft carrier built in WWII and now docked in the Bay Area. During her 21 months of WWII action the Lexington’s planes destroyed 372 enemy aircraft in the air, and 475 more on the ground. What an fearsome weapon of war.

The Lexington’s record is painted on the bridge.

These days the Lexington is a museum and displays aircraft from WWII until the present. There are several self-guided tours available allowing us to explore the ship virtually from top to bottom. We particularly loved the flight deck and a battle station where Mona got to test her gunnery skills. Thankfully, the guns were not loaded! We spent several hours on the ship and highly recommend a visit if you’re in the Corpus Christi area.

The Lexington’s flight deck.

Gunner’s Mate Mona.

Heading Home

Finally, it was time to head north and drive 11oo miles back to Central Illinois. This small road trip was far too short to experience all that is Texas, but it did give us a taste of Texas fun and we definitely want to head back for more…more BBQ, more Tex-Mex and more music!

References:

Here’s a link to our Luckenbach post: Luckenbach Texas – A Texas State of Mind

Learn more about the LBJ National Historic Park

Learn more about the U.S.S. Lexington here: U.S.S. Lexington Home Page

More information on the Padre Island National Seashore

Here’s a link to Broken Duckfeet’s Facebook page: Broken Duckfeet

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