Friday, June 16, 2006


We slept past 9:00 -- the latest we'd slept the entire trip! But it seemed like a lazy sort of morning, so we ordered room service and started packing and getting ready for the day. We had considered staying a second night, but from a practical standpoint, we knew we'd be happier in the long run to just come home and have two days to get settled back in.

Room service brought up a really attractive plate of migas for Dan, made with red tortillas. I wish I'd thought of that! They looked so festive! And I had fruit and yogurt. I also asked for a big pot of coffee, and after I ate and checked my email, I sat out on the balcony for awhile in my red silk pajamas, watching the river down below. It was very relaxing and I felt quite decadent.

But all good things must come to an end. We loaded up our stuff, found we didn't have enough small bills to tip both housekeeping and the bellboy, so we had to get more cash, then we made sure we could leave our car for awhile and took off to walk around downtown a bit. I wasn't entirely sure at first why Dan wanted to wander downtown San Antonio, but he was feeling testy and so I kept my mouth shut and tagged along. I was shocked when we arrived at the Alamo, which we've both seen about a hundred times and becomes more like a circus with each passing year. Did men die at the Alamo so Mexicans of questionable work status could sell snow-cones to tourists? I think not.

Anyway, I was puzzling over why Dan had led me here when he turned and muttered that he had thought the Spanish Governor's mansion was nearby. Oh! Silly husband! I led him away, pointed to the signs and we went and saw the lovely old adobe hacienda which is well worth seeing and which I highly recommend.

And then we wandered back through the busy, gritty streets full of muttering old ladies and men handing out flyers about Jesus. We retrieved our car and headed south. Our destination was Yorktown, near Goliad, which is where Dan's mother grew up. I was lukewarm on this errand, but since he's always such a good sport about seeing my relatives and going on my family goose-chases, I figured I had no cause for complaint. And it turned out to be an interesting errand. Yorktown is one of those tiny little half-forgotten towns out in cattle and cotton country. Everyone knows everyone else, so when we couldn't find the house we were looking for, we stopped in at the Justice of the Peace, who personally knew Dan's great-aunt and gave us directions to the house. The aunt wasn't home, but we went to the cemetery and found the graves of some of Dan's older family members.

The cemetery was quite interesting because many of the stones were hand-carved with uneven letters and in misspelled Spanish. I'd never seen such a thing before. Even the stones from the 17th and 18th centuries look professionally carved in the New England cemeteries I'm most familiar with. The other thing that I found interesting was how many children were among the dead, proportional to the adults. If I had to judge from age of death alone, I would've thought I was in a cemetery from at least 150 years ago, when child mortality was so much more common. But no, most of the graves were within the last fifty years. I have no idea how so many children came to be among the dead, but it was very disturbing.

After we'd paid our respects to the deceased of Yorktown, we headed south through Cuero and Victoria, to Houston. We ran into some rain on the way and thought about all the places we'd been in the last two weeks where the rain would've been so welcome.

Although we were both exhausted, I decided to push on and do the usual Friday night chores of grocery shopping and laundry. It wasn't really that I had the energy for it, only that I knew I wouldn't want to do them Saturday or Sunday. I want to spend the rest of my week relaxing. And eating Indian food. And playing with my furry friends who missed me. Tidbit came running over when I walked in and Pixel slinked out from his hiding place behind the sofa, meowing a complaint about our long absence. It was good to be home-- for us and for them.

A few quick lessons learned on this trip:

  • Road trips are less psychologically jarring than plane trips; you have time to adjust, rather than just being herded into a metal tube, picked up and plunked down at your destination

  • Taking your own pillow and a favorite blanket (if you have one) can make all the difference when it comes to getting a good night's sleep. Sure, you feel a little silly, but why take a chance on a stiff neck or being unable to get comfortable? It's your vacation-- you're supposed to be having fun, not searching for a chiropractor!

  • No matter how much you like and trust your friends and family, seriously consider going with a professional petsitter instead. We never had a moment's worry and it was worth every penny.

  • If you're taking your laptop and intend to stay connected, get set up for dialup before you leave. The only nights I couldn't get online were when I had no phone, like when we were camping. But there were several nights when I had to use a phone line for access!

  • Satellite radio rules.

  • And of course, stay flexible. Things happen, so it's best to be prepared to make the most of whatever unexpected things come along.

Unless stated otherwise on my main blog, this will be my last post over here until my next vacation.
Morning view from my hotel balcony on the San Antonio Riverwalk Posted by Picasa
On the way home, with rainclouds gathering in the distance Posted by Picasa
Street in downtown Yorktown, near Goliad Posted by Picasa
Monument at Yorktown Posted by Picasa
Historic marker for Yorktown Posted by Picasa
Heading into the rain Posted by Picasa
Back in Houston! Posted by Picasa
Neighborhood streets -- nearing home! Posted by Picasa

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Day Twelve

Tonight we’re in San Antonio. We woke up in Fort Stockton later than we had wanted to (we each thought the other had set the alarm clock) and it was quite a drive.

It was interesting to watch the landscape change as we headed east, though.

I have never been bored on car trips, not even as a child. I can watch the scenery go by and find it endlessly fascinating and meditative.

We stopped in Kerrville, which I hadn’t seen since the late ‘70s. It’s changed a bit since then, to put it mildly. We stopped at a way cool bookstore in the historic area of town and browsed for awhile. We each ended up buying several books, so along with the books I bought in late spring, I should be set now for… oh, at least a month or two!

We drove into San Antonio and wandered the streets of downtown for a bit, bickering over where to stay. But we finally picked a place and settled in. Dan took a shower, I made sure the wireless internet service worked (very important!) and then we set off to find dinner.

It’s funny, but every time I return to the Riverwalk, I’m more disappointed than the last time. This had to be the worst and I’m not sure if I’ll ever come back. In the 30 years I’ve been coming here (last time was in ’99), I’ve seen it grow more and more commercial, more and more full of cattle-type tourists and it’s just not fun any more. It’s always been a tourist draw, but the Riverwalk used to have a relaxed vibe to it and lots of quaint little eateries. Now it’s nearly all chain restaurants and waddling, slack-jawed people in mullets who look like they just walked out of the local Walmart.

Okay, that’s enough bitchiness from me, I guess. And really, the Riverwalk and Alamo are sort of Texas requirements—anyone in Texas who hasn’t seen them yet really must. And after that, find something more real to do with your vacation. Make this a one-day visit and then go someplace else.

We found a place to eat that wasn’t obviously a chain or overrun with people who cannot have a good time without drinking fishbowl-size margaritas. We had a nice dinner then wandered the less crowded, unfashionable end of the Riverwalk a bit. Then we went up to the street level and I took Dan to the historic St. Anthony’s hotel, to see how he would react. To my amusement, he picked up on the ghosts immediately. I wish I could sense things, so then I could be convinced. As it is, I just have to be content with the fact that Dan always picks up on things that he has no prior knowledge of. Whether it’s ghosts or something else, I have no idea.

After our little ghost-hunting episode, we came back to our room and sat on our balcony overlooking the river.

It was nice to sit outside and watch the crowds thin out below and the sky gradually darken. We were feeling a bit culture-shocked to be back in a big city, so it was nice to be up high, away from all the fuss.

I did a short workout in the fitness center tonight and I hope to do so again in the morning. Our plan for tomorrow is to look for my old house here in San Antonio and then head to Yorktown, which is near Goliad and where Dan’s mother grew up. Then we’ll come back to Houston via Victoria.

I wonder if the animals have missed me?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Day Eleven

Well, best-laid plans and all that… I’m in Fort Stockton tonight, of all places!

We got up around 8:00 and got fixed up for a day in El Paso with my cousin Chris. I had thought we’d have to find a way to occupy ourselves for awhile, but he was able to clear his day for us, which was a very pleasant and gratifying surprise. So we went for coffee, then for a late lunch. He took us up into the Franklin Mountains to see the city, and he drove us around a bit so we could get some idea what El Paso is like. My biggest impressions were how chain-store oriented it is, and how narrow it sits along the Interstate and the Rio Grande. It’s a strange little city, without much apparent culture, but busy and with plenty of excitement just across the river in Juarez, if that’s what you’re after.

We got back to Chris’s house around five and pondered our options. We liked the idea of heading south to Big Bend, but with it already Wednesday and us wanting to get back to Houston by Friday night, it just wasn’t looking too good. From El Paso to Houston is nearly 800 miles. So we decided to just head east and see how far we could get before we got sleepy. We made it to Fort Stockton and almost couldn’t find a room. We got the last room at the Comfort Inn, and it’s a smoking room. But they let me check it out before paying, and it doesn’t smell bad. And it’s got high speed internet, microwave, fridge, huge TV, laundry facilities and fitness center down the hall, etc, etc, all of which we probably won’t use because we’re off to San Antonio in the morning.

We figure we’ll be in San Antonio around noon, where we’ll get a room on the Riverwalk and have a little fun. We both know the town’s attractions pretty well, but some of them like the Mercado and the Riverwalk can be enjoyed over and over. If time permits, maybe we’ll try to find my old neighborhood and elementary school. That would be fun—I haven’t seen it since a visit we made when I was in high school.

I forgot to take my camera with me on today’s tour of El Paso, but I took a few pictures on our way out of town today. I’ll do better tomorrow!
Looking toward the Rio Grande and Mexico (the mountains are in Mexico) Posted by Picasa
Back on the road again! Posted by Picasa
West on I-10 Posted by Picasa
A little roadside shrine in West Texas Posted by Picasa
I think this was near Hutchinson Posted by Picasa
Sun going down... Posted by Picasa
Fading toward night... onward to Fort Stockton! Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Day Ten

I woke up at 6 am ready for adventure, but Dan was sleeping so peacefully I decided to leave him be and go back to sleep. He woke me up around 8:00 and we heated coffee for breakfast. We were breaking camp when a park ranger came by and informed us that there was a fire ban. Now, we were aware that there was a ban in other camps, but we’d seen no signs and other campers had told us fires were okay here. They had iron pits surrounded by rocks, dust and more rocks. You couldn’t start a forest or grass fire on a bet out there! But we had already shoveled over our fire and doused it with water for good measure, our camp was neat, no trash, and we were polite and suitably contrite, so the ranger just gave us a warning. Man, we felt like schoolkids getting caught chewing gum in class or something!

On or way out, I took a quick shower at the main building, but the water was so hard that I couldn’t use soap. Heck, the water all by itself felt kind of weird and slimy. But I felt better afterwards and we headed toward Silver City. The day’s plan was to go to the Gila Cliff Dwellings, but we only got as far as Pinos Altos.

We stopped at a little café, where we were told that the road we wanted was closed due to a forest fire. The townspeople recommended a different road, so after eating lunch and perusing the local museum, we headed back into Silver City to pick up our new route to the cliff dwellings.

Well, we got as far as Mimbres, where a sign said the travel time to the cliff dwellings was about two hours. That was a long way to go and then backtrack, and with great clouds of smoke from the forest fire not too far away, we decided that the Gila Cliff Dwellings were perhaps better left for another day.

Then we got the idea to go to the ghost town of Shakespeare, outside of Lordsburg near the Arizona border. What a dumb idea that turned out to be!

Not only was the place closed except on Sundays, but Lordsburg is perhaps the most ugly, improbable excuse for a county seat in the United States. It sits at the end of a barren dessert of cactus and dust devils, half-obscured by haze in its ugly little nest near the Pyramid Mountains.

From afar, seen through the obscuring dust storms, it looks like a nightmarish mirage. Then you get closer and see all the sad, poor buildings, one after another, aimlessly scattered about the dry desert floor, and you wish the town would go back to being a mirage. It must be impossible to live there and not drink, do drugs and dream constantly of escape. You leave the place shaking your head in wonder, and asking, “Why?”

Totally at a loss, we headed back east toward Deming. Deming wasn’t much, so we continued to Las Cruces where we got something to eat at a Mediterranean restaurant and admired the Organ Mountains. Then we pushed on to El Paso, where I made my first and only princess request of this trip. I’m not usually a picky person, but dammit, I wanted a hotel with an exercise room and high-speed wireless internet. I had been in a car all day with no exercise, and had been without internet since Sunday. I was going to find a place to work out and get online, no matter how late, how hot and how tired we were. And I did.

Tomorrow we’re going to check out a museum or two and visit my cousin Chris, who lives here. And then I think we’ll continue east, although that plan could change. We might camp in the Davis Mountains. Or we might come up with a totally different idea. We have no idea, other than that we plan to be home by the weekend.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Day Nine

Dan woke me up at 9:00 – the latest I’d gotten up so far on vacation, but we were up the night before until 3:00 talking to my father. Actually, I was surprised Dan was even up at 9:00, since at home I’m always the one out of bed and lacing on the running shoes after only a couple hours of sleep.

But this wasn’t a day for running. We needed to get on the road and our stuff was strewn everywhere. So I started a load of laundry and began packing while sipping coffee. Dad finally woke up around 10:30 and we all visited for a little before Dan and I hit the road.

Our plan was to explore southern New Mexico, so we headed toward Socorro and then went looking for the site of San Marcial, the town my grandparents grew up in and that was destroyed by flood in 1929. We didn’t find much, but we saw a few things that looked like they might’ve been part of the town. I know that part of the old roundhouse was still standing as recently as a few years ago, but we didn’t find it. I hope to go back and explore some more another day.

We continued south, hitting the Black Range. I hadn’t been there since childhood and found it mysterious and stunning beyond words. I got a lot of pictures as we wound through the narrow mountain roads and passed through half-forgotten little towns. I would’ve gladly stayed the night up there, but we had plans to press on.

We arrived in Silver City and our first impression was that it was a dump. But it’s a college town and I knew there had to be something more to it than what we were seeing and sure enough, we managed to locate the historic district where we did some window shopping and had coffee at an artsy coffee shop that would’ve been totally appropriate in Austin. We also walked along a sort of riverwalk in the town center that had an interesting history. A disastrous flood sent a river down a new course right through the main street of Silver City. So rather than fight it, they turned it into a park and rebuilt all around it. Weird, but kind of cool in a way.

We were all ready to stay the night in Silver City, but to our shock, there were no rooms available. There was a policemen’s convention in town and all the decent hotels were booked! So we consulted our map and decided on Deming as the next nearest town of sufficient size to have reasonable hotel options. The road to Deming would also take us past the City of Rocks, which was on our list of things to do.

Well, we never made it to Deming. We stopped first in Hurley, to see the town my father grew up in. Wow. I regularly see subdivisions bigger than that town! No wonder he says there was never any crime. Look any one direction and you can see the whole town and everything in it!

Then we got to the City of Rocks. What an amazing place! Think Stonehenge, but made by some sort of natural means and you get some concept of what it is. We got there as the sun was starting to go down and we wandered around in complete awe. Then we figured that since we had our camping equipment, why not stay the night? It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it was touch and go at first. We had all new equipment and neither of us had ever put up a dome tent, so we were cursing the poles and wondering why it was so hard to find an ordinary canvas tent with ropes and stakes any more. Then we had issues with some of our equipment and we argued over the quickest way to get the water to boil. But we finally got settled in and I have to say that Mountain House S’Mores rock! Yes, I know we could’ve done them the ordinary way, but this was an impromptu campout, without a store for miles and miles in any direction.

After dinner we stayed up watching the stars come out. I love the way the stars look in the country—so big and so close, like you could run your hand across the sky and feel them rough against your fingertips. And later the moon came out and lit up the camp and all its rock formations like daylight. It was magical and I slept well.
Remains at or near San Marcial Posted by Picasa
On the way south, toward the Black Range Posted by Picasa
One of many valleys with mountains in the distance Posted by Picasa
Mountain church and shrine Posted by Picasa
Near an old trestle bridge Posted by Picasa