Sunday, May 27, 2007

Vacation 2007: Thoughts and Lessons Learned

1. In West Texas and New Mexico, K-Bob’s Restaurant is your friend. They always have a good soup and salad bar for the health-conscious traveler, and plenty of steaks, hamburgers and fried stuff to satisfy any less healthy-minded travelers you may be driving with.

2. Take lots of camera batteries with you. Lots and lots.

3. Pay the higher price to get a hotel with workout room, a really good breakfast, and on-site laundry. You’ll be so glad you did!

4. Take your own pillow. You’ll never have a bad night’s sleep.

5. Carrot sticks, grape tomatoes, dried cantaloupe and zucchini chips all make terrific road foods. They satisfy the urge to munch, but you can’t eat enough to rack up any significant amount of calories.

6. Exercise every day if you can. Running or walking isn’t just a nice way to burn off calories and keep you from feeling like a slug, but it’s a nice way to learn about the place you’re visiting, too.

7. Do the things you can’t do at home. I’m always amazed at how many people go to a new city and then hit the mall. Unless there’s something specific you need, what’s that all about? Go see something that isn’t available in your hometown.

8. The light wedge book light is proof that God loves us. Get one. You’ll be so glad you did!

9. Get a really good organizer for your medicines and toiletries. Throwing everything out of the suitcase and cussing at it like I do is also effective, but not ideal.

10. Smith’s grocery store in Socorro rocks. Who would’ve thought to find organics in a dinky little nowhere town like Socorro? I love you, Smith’s!

11. Every traveler has his or her quirks. Learn them. Then learn to stay out of the way and shut up about them. Dan and I became much happier when I quit trying to help him load up our stuff after each stop. He has his way he wants things packed, and if I just go away and let him do it, he’s happy and so am I.

12. Likewise, if your traveling companion insists on bringing things you think are useless, just grin and bear it. You never know. Dan thought I was nuts for packing as much food as I did, but snacks on the road and a few late nights in small towns used up most of our food, and he learned I’m not so crazy, after all.

13. Caffeinated gums and mints are great for the road, especially for those long stretches where you need a pick-me-up, but there are no facilities for miles and miles.

14. Likewise, always have sanitizing wipes and gels handy. When you do find a restroom, it’s usually clean, but there are times you have to make do with what’s out there, and it isn’t always pretty.

15. Most of all, try to bring a little of the road back home. Reality isn’t that narrow corridor we traipse each day to put bread on the table. The world is so much bigger than that!

Day Fourteen (Second Try)

For the first time on this vacation, I was a bad girl and didn’t get up to exercise. The alarm went off and I was just so comfortable that I said “screw it,” and turned off the alarm. I slept until a little after 8:00, and then got up and had a nice breakfast of coffee, banana and oatmeal while Dan indulged with waffles and sausage patties from the hotel’s breakfast buffet.

Then we were off to Yorktown.

I liked Dan’s great-aunt Elena very much—she’s 75, active, energetic and sharp as a tack. We talked in her living room for awhile, then went to see the church and school Dan’s mother attended as a child. . .

and then went to the cemetery.

I was amazed to see Elena walk the narrow concrete borders of the grave plots as if she were a thirteen year old gymnast! I hope I have her sense of balance at 75!

Then we went back to her house and hung around in the garden, playing with the dog for awhile.

And then we left for Goliad, where we toured the presidio. Odd that I had never been here before.

And then we headed home. In the rain.

When we got home, we found the power out, due to a big storm that had come through and a lightening strike that blew the transformer. It was cool in the apartment, though, so we figured the power would be back on in a few hours, and started unpacking. Then I took a nap and Dan went to see some friends, and when I woke up later, the power was still out! I called to get a status update and was told that the transformer had been repaired and that any further problems were on site here at the complex. So I left a message for maintenance and puttered around a little, until I heard some stuff going on downstairs and went to check.

It was the electrician! Yay! I went to bed feeling sure that we’d have power by morning.

No such luck. I went for a run and ran into two electricians on my way out and they said they had worked all night but still not found the source of the problem. Upon my return from my run, the problem had been found, but they weren’t sure if their fix would work. But I tried to make my morning as normal as possible, and since there was power in the gym, I went there to dry and style my hair after my shower. Then Dan and I went to pick up my bike from the bike shop, had lunch, and when we returned, the power was back on.

Tonight I finished my unpacking, put together gift bags for my co-workers, and basically tried to put things back to normal around here. I have tomorrow off, so I’m looking forward to a nice rest day before I have to return to the rat race. It’s good to be home and have everything where I expect it to be. But when I took a nap this afternoon, I dreamed I was still on vacation—one of those intensely vivid dreams where you can actually smell the earth and trees, and feel the touch of the wind on your skin. It’s good to be home, but I sure wouldn’t mind home being west of here.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Day Fourteen

Well, we're home, but although it was too rainy and muddy to camp in Central Texas, it looks like we're getting our chance here at home. Our power is out and has been since before we got here. The electric company says they've fixed their problem and now it's the apartment's problem. Terrific. Late at night on a Sunday, no electricity, hot weather tomorrow and it's the apartment complex's job to get our electric on again?

Should be fun.

I can't write any more tonight. I need my laptop battery to look up pet-friendly hotels.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Day Thirteen

My alarm went off at 7:30 but I dozed until nearly eight before getting dressed and going to the exercise room. The room was quite nice, and I had it all to myself. When I was done with my workout, I found Dan still asleep, so I woke him up and we went downstairs and had breakfast.

By the time we went back to our room, it was ten, and I still hadn’t showered yet. But I’m at that point in a vacation where I’m starting to know how to cope with living out of bags, and I was ready in thirty minutes—shower, makeup, hair, clothes, and everything packed. While I got ready, Dan watched the weather report, and we learned that there was a flash flood in effect for Central Texas and that the whole area had gotten a lot of rain. We weren’t too thrilled at the idea of camping in the mud with the possibility of a flash flood, but we figured we would wait until we got to Kerrville before making a final decision.

We took a few pictures on the way out of Fort Stockton, including one of the roadrunner, which they list as an area attraction, which should give some idea of what they have to do in Fort Stockton.

It was a long trip east to Kerrville, passing mesas and wind farms. . .

cutting through the hills. . .

and finally ending up in the Hill Country, as storm clouds swirled all around us. . .

and we drove through rain.

In Kerrville, we stopped at a little coffee bar where I had a really great curry chicken salad and Dan had a roast beef and provolone sandwich. We confirmed the local weather conditions with the shop owner, who told us there was flooding in the area. This cinched our decision that we would find a hotel for the night and we decided to push on to Victoria, where we could be sure of finding a decent hotel while being reasonably close to Yorktown, our last stop before going home.

But first we had to go to our favorite bookstore, where we browsed until nearly 5:00. After that, we strolled downtown a little, and then resumed our journey east.

In San Antonio, we did a side trip to find some of the places I remembered from my childhood. We found my church with surprisingly little trouble, for not having been there in thirty years. . .

But finding home was harder. We finally found the high school, and after that it wasn’t too hard to locate my elementary school. . .

and finally my house.

Mission accomplished, we pressed on to Victoria. By now, it was growing dark and soon we were driving down highway 87 in the dark, from town to town.

We got to Victoria around 9:00 and wandered around a bit before finding a nice place to stay on Navarro. Since our room had a microwave and it was too late to find anything better than a Denny’s open, we went to a grocery store and bought some frozen foods. I got an Amy’s Organics, and Dan got a Marie Calendar’s, so we were set.

And now were settled for the night. Our plan for tomorrow is to see the presidio at Goliad, then go to Yorktown and see Dan’s aunt. Then we’re off toward home.

Tomorrow night’s post will be from the comfort of my bedroom!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Day Twelve

I got up at 7:30 and went to use the exercise room. It was still under construction and had only a recumbent bike and treadmill. I have never been able to use a recumbent. They bother my knees and I can’t get my heart rate up, anyway. So I got on the treadmill, which was brand new and very nice. There was no TV in the room, so I decided to do an interval workout. Intervals are great for making the time pass, for some reason. And after a bit, Dan wandered in with a bagel and coffee from the breakfast buffet and he kept me company while I finished my workout.

We had hoped we could get into a tour at the caverns today, but the ones that we wanted were full, and the only one available was four hours long and involved getting wet and dirty—not good when you’ve got a long drive ahead of you afterwards. So we did the self-guided tour. It was an easy tour, with asphalted trail, railings and just enough light to see by without ruining the entire cave effect. In sum, it was nice, but not particularly strenuous.

The route down from the cave entrance is about 750 feet, and there’s a lot to see on the way down.

It took about an hour and a half to make our way down, seeing everything there was to see.

The only thing I didn’t like about the tour was the tourists. It was a weekend and not high season yet, so it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been. But the rangers don’t let you in before they explain the rules, and they’re quite clear that there is to be no talking, only whispering. Just why this is so hard for grown adults to understand is quite beyond me, but it sure explains why some kids act up the way they do. When even the grownups refuse to play by the rules, how can anyone expect the children to do better?

But enough of that. Once we were at the bottom of the cave and had done the loop of stuff to see, we went to the cavern gift shop and restaurant, where Dan had a sandwich and I had a soft pretzel at one of the picnic tables in the depths of the cavern. It’s not everyday you get to eat 750 underground!

After we ate, we took the elevator back to ground level, checked out the gift shop and bookstore, then went to a vista point where we could get some shots of the canyon and desert around us.

There was a desert nature trail somewhere out there, but we decided to hit the road, even though it wasn’t a long drive to Fort Stockton.

Well, it was just as well we left when we did. Once we were out on the flat West Texas plains, Dan got sleepy and I had to keep him caffeinated.

Then just as he started saying how perky he was and how he could continue on, dark clouds started rolling in.

Luckily we had made reservations the night before in Fort Stockton. It’s the only town for the next several hundred miles, and they do a thriving hotel business. If you can’t find a place to stay here, you’re looking at questionable truck stops, camp sites, or hauling it on to nearly San Antonio.

As I was waiting to check in, the phone rang and the girl at the counter took a reservation for her last non-smoking room. Good thing we booked ahead! And a good thing we got to Fort Stockton when we did, because fat heavy drops began to fall as we unloaded, and just as we got everything into our room, the skies opened up and it just poured, hail and all. A young couple from California joined us on the balcony to watch, staring in amazement. Apparently they don’t get hail in Monterrey, and they were fascinated that ice would fall from the sky like that.

It took about an hour for the storm to abate, but finally Dan and I headed out in search of food. We decided on a Chinese place recommended by the hotel, and although it sounds strange to eat Chinese food in Fort Stockton, we’d already done steakhouses and Mexican food in other places on our trip, so it was a welcome change. My tofu and vegetables were quite tasty, too!

When we got back to the hotel, I checked the exercise room and I think I’m going to have a very nice workout in the morning. And then we’re off to see what adventure we can dig up. Our first choice is to camp at Lost Maples. But if the weather isn’t good or if it’s too muddy, we’ll just knock around Central Texas for an afternoon. Then Saturday is when we see Dan’s aunt in Yorktown, and after that, home!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Day Eleven

I got up at 7:00 and left for a run. I tried a different route this time, going up the canal to what we refer to as the “drops.”

Then I crossed the highway and ran along the canal on the other side until it veered off onto a road that went up to the cemetery. On this road I passed fields of alfalfa

and some cows.

It was a nice morning at the cemetery.

But soon it was time to return. I stopped off first at the local church, founded in 1929.

And then ran the back road toward the canal, stopping to visit some new friends along the way.

And at the end of the road, just before I crossed back to the canal to follow the trail home, I made a brand new friend.

I got home, had a quick breakfast and some coffee, and got packed to go. I hardly had any time to spend with my father, with all the scurrying around I had to do. But finally we were on the road, heading south.

One thing people don’t realize about New Mexico, is how quickly desert mesas. . .

can turn to flat valley scrubland

and then to green farm land and pasturage, as one nears a river or aquifer.

In Socorro we stopped at Smith’s grocery store to pick up a few things we needed. I mention the store by name because when you can find a really good, city-quality store in a small desert town, it deserves mention. The produce was fresh, the store was large and clean, the staff were friendly, and they even carried organics! I was so shocked I wandered around like a delighted kid and was giddy as we continued up the highway with new boxes of my favorite granola bars in a sack in the back seat. I had been despondent that I might be stuck for the next few days in the land of wrinkly tomatoes, red delicious apples and high fructose corn syrup, but I was now restocked—and in Socorro, of all the unlikely places!

I almost forgot to watch as the landscape went from hills to mountains.

The landscape changes so quickly from rugged cliffs

To green fields, like these in Hatch. . .

and to mountains.

Finally we got to where we were heading: White Sands. What an amazing place. I could easily fill a whole blog with the pictures I took, but here are a few.

After White Sands, we continued east, into more mountains.

And high mountain meadows.

But soon the mountains became hills again

And then plains again.

By the time we got to Carlsbad, the country was becoming hillier, but the sun was setting and we just wanted a hotel room. Who knew finding a decent one would be so much trouble? They all looked pretty dodgy, and our first choice was completely full. But we finally got a place that is overpriced for what you get, but we’re happy to have internet, at least. And in the morning, we’ll go see the caverns.

I hope to have cave pics ready for posting tomorrow night!