June 2, 2021 Palo Duro SP TX

Watching this storm roll in was pretty cool. Particularly since it did not turn out to be as bad as it looked.

Our day got off to a later start than planned due to the weather. When I went out for the first time the skies were blue all around us and I thought we would have a nice day to travel. After I brewed the morning coffee I went outside to begin breaking down the water and electricity and the sky to the north west was really ominous. Dark billowing clouds were down to ground level and moving fast towards us. I stood outside mesmerized for a few minutes watching the storm approach. Our neighbors stuck their heads outside looked at the storm approaching, shrugged and said “Texas” and went back inside. I also decided that was a good indication for me to go in Scout too. It was a pretty good storm but fortunately blew thru in about a half an hour so we were not too delayed.

Our first stop the Big Texan. A very touristy restaurant.

Our destination for today was Amarillo in the panhandle of Texas. We had two stops in mind for Amarillo, the Big Texan Steak House, and Palo Duro State Park which bills itself as the Grand Canyon of Texas.

This guy finished his 72oz steak with 14 minutes to spare.

We had stopped at The Big Texan on a previous trip traveling from east to west, and we both had fond memories of it as a fun place. It is a real tourist destination. The draw is a 72oz steak challenge. If you can eat the 72oz steak, a salad, and a side dish in one hour you get the steak for free. Those who take on the challenge are put on a stage and introduced to the restaurant before the clock starts. While we were there one guy succeeded in finishing the meal in 44 minutes, though he did not look like he particularly enjoyed the experience. By the way if you fail to finish, the steak costs you $72. Ton and I enjoyed our much smaller steaks and had enough left over to have another meal later.

A pavillion at Palo Duro State with the canyon wall in the background.

The main attraction for the day was Palo Duro State Park. Palo Duro Canyon is the second longest canyon in the US after the Grand Canyon. It stretches over 120 miles following the Prarie Dog Town Fork (a cool if long name) of the Red River. It is not nearly as deep as the Grand Canyon but quite beautiful. The state park is located near Amarillo. When we checked in they told us all of the hiking trails were closed due to the recent heavy rains. The campground was nice but we could see the effect of the rains with some campsites with standing water, and others showing signs where water had flashed across the site.

All of the rain has the cactus flowers blooming.

We took a drive along the loop road in the canyon, and there were some nice views. It is about 800 to 1000 feet from the canyon floor where we were to the top, it was pretty but not super impressive compared to the Grand Canyon and the Snake River Canyon on the Oregon/Idaho border which are both much deeper.

The one place we could get off the road was a short walk to a cave.

We settled in for the night and had a conversation with our neighbors who had lived in the Portland area for 30 years before retiring to Texas to be with their daughters. As it turns out one of the daughter is now moving back to Oregon for work so they told us they would be going back to visit soon.

June 1, 2021 Abilene TX

We reluctantly left our friends Pae and Supachai today. Every time we visit them we have a great time and they are wonderful hosts. Supachai proudly told us that during our 3 days visiting Austin we walked over 50,000 steps. So we burned off a good portion of all of the food we ate.

We are now heading north towards Colorado so that we can visit more friends in Colorado Springs. We picked Abilene because I remember it from some westerns and it had an Air Force base to stay on. The drive was entirely backroads from Bees Cave so we enjoyed watching the land change from the hills around Austin to the flat prarie of the Texas panhandle.

Dyess Air Force base is the home of the B-1 bomber.

After arriving a little early at the Air Force base we killed some time doing some grocery shopping and splurged on some high tech beer coozies made by Yeti. We saw their headquarters in Austin and they are famous for making world class insulated containers. The “coldster” coozie is supposed to keep an open beer cold for over an hour in 100 degree heat. We will give a product report later.

A good sized coyote looking for something to eat. He wasn’t at all interested or intimidated by me.

Near the end of the day I asked Ton if she wanted to go down and look at the airplane display on the base. They had about 30 different airplanes on display from WWII to the present. They have a mix of very common airplanes as well as some rare aircraft. She passed because she wanted to relax, so I went by myself. The airplanes were nice but I was also treated to a wildlife display of Coyotes and wild Turkeys. Except for the mosquitos it was an interesting walk.

One of the coyotes was stalking these turkeys when I walked up and spooked him off.

May 30, 2021 Austin TX

Today was a relaxing day exploring Austin with our friends Pae and Supachai. We began by visiting the original Whole Foods store in downtown Austin. While Ton knew that Whole Foods was from Austin I did not. They had a huge hot food bar there which became brunch for us. The food is trendy and aimed at a much lower demographic than us. I spent about 10 minutes looking for a plain orange juice. I found Kombucha, Keto, and a lot of mixtures of juices from plants that didn’t sound very good to me, though I was assured they were very good for me. I finally gave up on orange juice and settled for water.

Part of the holiday crowd on Lake Lady Bird.

Part of Pae and Supachai’s weekend routine is a walk around Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin. The Lake is a prominent green space in downtown formed by damming part of the Colorado River. It is a really nice urban space and both the walkways along the lake and the lake itself are very well used for exercise and recreation by the people of Austin. We covered about 5 miles watching families swimming in the lake, dodging bicyclists and joggers, and observing groups of kayakers and paddle borders going up and down the lake. Ton and Pae lagged behind most of the time as they chatted and caught up on life. Supachai and I are always amazed how long they can talk without running out of things to say.

A Quiddich game in the central park in Austin. Part of the “Keep Austin Weird” campaign.

Finding a place for lunch was difficult as both locals and tourists were out in force. We ended up in a trendy hamburger place where we had to wait in line for 45 minutes to get our seat in a packed restaurant. As I said yesterday in Austin people are trying to return to normal. Hopefully, it is not too soon.

No social distancing at the swimming hole.

The rest of the day was spent shopping for some groceries to stock Scout and our friends fridge. We arrived home just in time for me to watch the Timbers get crushed by Philadelphia 3-0.

May 31, 2021 Austin TX

Austin is a vibrant young city and we have enjoyed our stay here. The economy is largely driven by tech companies who are setting up second campuses here because of the cost of housing in California. Supachai commented that he and Pae are often the oldest people in the restaurants they go to, since Ton and I are slightly older than them we have been looking for someone who looks older than us, so far without success.

A part of the riverfront trail in Austin. It was quite busy, and greener than we expected in Texas.

Pae and Supachai wanted to show us some more sites downtown and a couple of more restaurants. As we were arriving downtown traffic was being diverted away from the main street and was quite backed up. As today is Memorial Day we suspected some special event was taking place on the street. Supachai said he knew a place we could park and have a nice walk downtown. We covered another stretch of the river walk downtown, this time on a stretch that was largely on a platform above the river.

Not a famous soldier, or a cowboy, but Stevie Ray Vaughn a great guitarist from Austin.

As we walked Pae and Supachai discussed where to have lunch and could not come to an agreement on a single restaurant. So they compromised by telling us we were going to have two light lunches at two of their favorite places. So to make up for eating two lunches we walked a little further and came to the cause of the traffic jam earlier. Today was the Austin Triathlon and we found the finish line.

Pae and Supachai and a giant Mimosa. Thanks for your hospitality.

Our first lunch was at a famous fried chicken place called Gus’ Fried Chicken. The chicken was excellent and worth the 45 minute wait to get in. Second lunch took place about an hour later at a German style beer hall on Rainey Street which is an area of the city known for restaurants and food carts. Ton and I split a bratwurst. We were definitely the oldest people in the extensive beer hall.

The highest point in Austin county.

Our tour of Austin was not complete we went to Mt. Austin which is the highest point in Austin County at 760 feet. The view of the Colorado River and the expensive houses along the river was nice and expansive.

This peacock put on a full display for the tourists.

The final stop of the tour was a beautiful gardens near Mt. Austin. The highlight was a flock of peacocks in the garden. As we got in the car Supachai announced there was one more stop, we were going to pick up Chinese take out for dinner.

This peacock in the tree and another on the roof of a house taught me that peacocks can fly.

It was another great day for Ton and me.

May 29, 2021 Austin TX

Today we had a nice tour of Austin. Our friends Supachai and Pae spent the day taking us around town. We visited the local “yacht club” which is located on a reservoir in the hills above Austin. It is quite a drop down to the reservoir and the yacht club has installed a funicular to help you get up and down. The boats are not quite up to what we saw in Monaco, but there were some nice ones.

Part of the brewery complex.

Our next stop was lunch at the largest brewery I have ever seen. They say everything is bigger in Texas, and in the case of this brewery I will have to agree. Ton and I split a hamburger and tried a beer. They were both excellent. The place was very crowded. The local High Schools are having there graduations this weekend and there were a number of families with the graduates in their robes there for a celebratory meal.

Both of the breweries we have visited have had re-purposed Airstreams. The first brewery had converted theirs into a bathroom, this one had been converted to a mobile beer dispenser.

We decided to take a siesta for the afternoon which allowed me to watch Chelsea beat Man City in the Champions League final. Unfortunately, the game was a little boring from a neutral perspective, though I suspect the fans of Chelsea and Man City were on pins and needles.

Gulf of Mexico oysters on the half shell with your choice of American or Thai sauce to flavor them.

Supachai suggested a Thai/American seafood fusion restaurant for dinner. It was excellent and the owner has done a good job of merging the two foods without compromising on the flavors. The somtum (papaya salad) was excellent and authentic to the Thai tastes.

The back of the state capitol building.

After dinner we headed to downtown Austin to experience the nightlife. We started by taking a walk around the state capitol grounds. It is one of the larger state capitols befitting the size of Texas. The building is built of a pink granite and silhouetted against the sunset was quite beautiful. The amount of security around the doors to the building was striking though the grounds remained open to the public.

6th street in Austin just as the police were closing it to traffic to allow it to become a pedestrian zone.

Our last stop for the evening was 6th street which is where the younger crowd goes for nightlife. It is a four block area with over 40 bars featuring all kinds of live music. We arrived just as the police were putting up barriers to close the street and convert it to pedestrian only. We were going to go in to one of the bars, but Ton had left her purse at home and did not have an ID to prove she was 21 so we could not get in anywhere!

The most striking thing today was the crowds. This is the first post covid shot holiday and people are returning to normal behavior. The crowds downtown were dense and no one was making an attempt to social distance. Some people were wearing masks outside but they were in a distinct minority.

May 28, 2021 Bee Cave TX

Today was the shortest drive of the trip, and very nearly a disaster. On the 48 mile trip to our friends Pae and Supachai we were following a pick up truck down a two lane road with a center third lane to make left turns, a common set up on busy two lane roads in Texas. The truck was traveling at about 45 mph on a road with a 70 mph speed limit and had his emergency flashers on because of the slow speed. We ended up following him for about 5 miles, and were the first vehicle behind him, immediately behind us was a semi-truck, and behind the semi were 8 or 10 cars.

Coming to an intersection the pick up truck pulled into the center lane which is used for left turns. Just as I went to pass him on the right, he swung in front of me from the center lane and turned right. I initiated a full brake panic stop and swerved to the right and just missed him. The semi-truck behind us also went into full panic stop and swerved left to miss us, but caught the left corner of our bumper, and scrapped the paint on the back of the house on Scout.

We pulled Scout over to the shoulder and the truck driver pulled his rig in behind us to look at the damage. The guy who caused the accident slowed down for a few seconds after he heard the semi hit us, but decided to not stop. The only significant damage was to our aluminum bumper that we mount two storage bumpers on. It had a hole punched in it from one of the lugs from the wheel of the truck. Unfortunately it is a specialized bumper and expensive to replace.

Jaime the truck driver then told me that he needed to call the police because as a commercial vehicle he needed a police report for the accident and could not just exchange insurance information. We waited on the side of the road for about 20 minutes and a sheriff showed up. He took a quick look at things, and then told us that because it was a commercial vehicle accident the investigation had to be done by a State Trooper. He called the Texas State Police and asked for a trooper who was dispatched from San Angelo. The sheriff explained that San Angelo was about 45 minutes away, apologized and left Jaime and I there to wait on our own.

It turns out Jaime is a really nice guy, and we had a wide ranging conversation from the stupidity of the guy who had us talking to each other on the side of the road in Texas, to what it was like to drive a semi-truck, to climate change. He did say one thing that got my attention, he had just dropped his load and his trailer was empty, he said if he had been full he probably would have hit us square on, because he would not have been able to slow down, or maneuver fast enough under load to almost miss us.

The Texas State Trooper eventually arrived, took our statements, assessed that neither of us were at fault for the accident, but that the pick up truck was the cause. He provided us with the accident report and after an hours delay were on our way.

The goatherd at the Jester King brewery near Austin.

We spent the rest of the day with our friends Pae and Supachai. They took us to a nice barbeque restaurant for lunch. After lunch we went to a local brewery which is on a working farm. As part of the farm the brewery keeps a herd of about 60 goats, we got a treat as the goats were out of their pen and working in a field. I met my first goatherd ever, and he told us about the hierarchy among the goats, the alpha is a female, and even the bigger male goats do not mess with her.

A slight correction to yesterdays post about the wildflowers. There are two flowers that look similar the Indian Blanket I talked about yesterday and this flower called a Mexican Hat. Both are really beautiful.

We finished the day by cooking some steaks on the back porch of Pae and Supachai’s house during a big thunderstorm. It was a nice relaxing way to end an unexpected stressful day.

May 27, 2021 Canyon Lake TX

We really enjoyed Pecan Valley RV Park so we kind of lingered around in the morning enjoying a cup of coffee. Just as we were finally getting around to packing up the owners came by to ask how we enjoyed our stay. Even though they were getting ready for their first big weekend of the year they took the time to have a nice conversation about traveling. Their operation is really first class and the atmosphere is really relaxing. I hope we are back thru the area again in the future so we can enjoy another stay in Pecan Valley.

Reluctantly leaving Pecan Valley. Ton made me stop to shoot the sign on the right side.

We had a relatively short drive today of just under 100 miles. We have talked about this in the past but one of the biggest differences between traveling in Europe and the US is the distances. In Europe a 100 mile day would be a fairly big move, in the US we consider it a short hop. Also today the majority of the trip was on back roads which is much more enjoyable.

One of many fields covered in the Indian Blanket wild flower.

The wild flowers are blooming and we have really been taken with a flower called Indian Blanket. The fields all over are covered with them and they are really quite beautiful.

We arrived at our next stop pretty early so we decided to get out and explore the area a little before settling in. The Texas hill country has some wineries so we picked the highest rated one near us and headed over. As we pulled up the winery looked really nice so we were pretty excited.

Art from the tasting room.

The tasting room was also first class and would have fit in any of the wine regions on the west coast. We were really interested to see what the Texas take on wine was going to be and what grape varietals would work in the hot humid temperatures here. So after tasting the first white we asked the server where they sourced the grapes and what varietals grew in Texas. We were quite disappointed when she responded that the white grapes were from California and the red grapes were from Washington. The wines were drinkable but on the whole mediocre. However, the tasting fee was on par with some of the very best wineries in Walla Walla (an upscale Washington vino cultural area), and more than the fees we paid in the Yakima Washington area where we suspect they source the grapes. So our first Texas wine tasting was a bit of a bust.

The marina next to our campground for the night.

They lock the gates at the military facility we are staying on at 6pm, so we hustled back for an early dinner. After dinner we took a walk down to the lake next to the campground. It was really quiet here tonight though they are expecting a big crowd tomorrow for the Memorial Day weekend.

May 26, 2021 Junction TX

We knew as we lingered in New Mexico that we were going to have to cover a lot of miles in one day at some point. So we decided today was the day to get that out of the way. We jumped across West Texas covering 550 miles today almost all on I-10. As long days go it was not too bad, traffic was reasonable and the weather was mild. West Texas looked pretty empty and dry, it is not the most visited part of the state, but I am sure if we had more time we could find a lot of interesting things to do there

The pecan orchard next to our campsite for the night. If you look very closely in the back center of the photo are two deer.

We are now in what is called the hill country of Texas as our neighbors told us. Originally I had a place in mind that sounded reasonable but bare bones. The more we talked about it we decided to see if there were any alternatives. Ton came up with a place called Pecan Valley RV park. It is a beautiful place located on a Pecan Orchard next to the Llanos River. When we arrived the owners met us and showed us to our spot, they offered us some candied pecans to sample and told us they had more for sale if we were interested, we now have a pound. The owners have free range chickens running around and goats penned. They have a couple of deer feeders on site that somehow dispatches food for the deer at a set time. The deer are now well trained to show up at 5pm and 6pm for their evening feedings.

Some of the deer who came into the campground for their evening feed. The two in the foreground were much more interested in munching on the bush by the downed tree than whatever the feeder was giving.

After a long day we sat down with a beer and had our dinner while watching 16 deer grazing and gamboling around 100 yards from scout. It was a great end to a long day of driving.

Ton liked this Texas shaped and sized barbeque.

January 30, 2014 Big Bend NP

Today we finally got to try out Scout on the kind of road she was designed to cover.  We drove the River Road from Rio Grande Village to Castelton.  It is a 54 mile dirt road that runs parallel to the Rio Grande.  The Malayan handled the road very well, over the course of the 54 miles we ran into washboard, loose rock, soft sand, and some pretty good holes in the road.  I was very impressed with the ride and the handling over some pretty tough roads.  We covered the 54 miles in about 6 hours with frequent stops for photos and lunch.  

Scout enjoying a little back road driving.

The desert along the road was quite beautiful.  We were a little early for the flowers, but Ton did get some nice shots of cactus and a few flowers.

A little color in the desert.

January 29, 2014 Big Bend NP

Arrived in the afternoon at Big Bend NP.  We would have been there sooner but we had to do a 60 mile detour when the needs Diesel Exhaust Fluid light came on, Ron is still learning how to manage the truck, now there is an extra gallon in the back of the truck so it does not happen again.

The very interesting wet lands near our campsite in the desert.

Tonight we stayed at the Rio Grande Village Campground.  They had a great nature trail along the river.  It took us thru an unusual wetland, a very interesting microenvironment along the river.  It was full of birds, ducks, and a rare fish called a mosquito fish.  Hard to believe the picture on the left is from a desert.  We then walked up the hill to get a view of the river.  Borders are always interesting to me, a line on a map can have such a major impact on people’s lives.  We looked over at a village in Mexico and the traveler in me wanted to go.

Here is a nice picture of a Great Blue Heron we saw on the way back to the truck for the night.

January 28, 2014 Fredericksburg TX

There was a slight chance of freezing rain when we went to sleep.

Today we were planning to head to Big Bend Texas but when we woke up this morning we found that the 20% chance of freezing rain had occurred and exceeded expectations. So we decided to take our time moving out and instead visit Fredericksburg Texas.  Fredericksburg is in an area of the Texas Hill Country settled by Germans in the 1860’s. It is a cute little town commercializing its German heritage.  It is the childhood home of Chester Nimitz who is probably one of the most underrated American military commanders in history.  His father and grandfather were prominent citizens of Fredericksburg owning the main hotel in town.  After the war the town decided to construct a museum to honor Nimitz.  The Pacific War Museum is a very impressive museum documenting the war from its origins to post war recovery.  If you are anywhere near Fredericksburg I highly recommend it.

The Nimitz house at the Pacific War Museum.

It seems that it is a tradition to name your Tiger so we have been waiting for some inspiration for a name.  Today Ton came up with the name for our Tiger it is Scout.  This is how she came up with it,  Tiger in Thai is Seua (may not be the official transliteration), our Tiger is small so it is a young Tiger, Leuk Seua in Thai, Leuk Seua is also the Thai name for the Boy Scouts which brings us to Scout, and since a Scout is someone who explores our Tiger is Scout. The original plan was to drive without using the interstates, but we are running out of time so it looks like tomorrow we will be heading Southwest  on I-10 to Big Bend National Park.

January 26, Red River TX. A difficult encounter with the Arkansas State Police.

Today we left Little Rock and began heading South West towards Big Bend National Park.  Our first stop was to visit Hot Springs National Park.  It is a different type of National Park as it is set around a bunch of 19th century bath houses.  Hot Springs Arkansas has over 40 natural hot springs.  In the 19th century the Hot Springs were developed as a place to take the waters, much like the famous Spas in Europe.  Over time the springs were recognized as a national asset and the government became involved.  This has led to claims that it is the first National Park, however it was not designated as a national park until much later and is in fact the 17th National Park.

One of the bath houses at Hot Springs NP.

After the visit to the Hot Springs we decided to head towards Texarkana Texas.  We decided to take the back roads as we really want to see the US from the smaller roads, we want to experience the small towns of our states and try to get to see the country on a more intimate scale.  Today we came up behind an Arkansas State Trooper near Camden Arkansas.  He was following another vehicle who was running below the speed limit.  He pulled over to the shoulder and allowed us to pass.  He then pulled up behind us with his lights on and stopped us.  I was not completely surprised, the Tiger is a unique vehicle, and our South Carolina Temporary plates are worst for the wear as a result of the two monsoons we went thru earlier.  Initially I produced my license and proof of insurance as well as the temporary registration South Carolina provides.  He asked me to step back to his car with him so I could answer any questions he might have.  Back there initially the questioning was standard, where were we going, where did we come from he wanted a great deal of detail on our itinerary.  Then the weird questions started, did we have any drugs, guns or large sum of money.  At first I thought he was kind of joking around, but when I realized he was serious my tone changed.  At that point he said that from his training  my answers indicated I was being untruthful.  This he said was a Red Flag, he also said that a RV like ours traveling on the backroads was a Red Flag.  At that point he said to wait there and he went and questioned Ton.  Later I learned he put her through the same questions.  He then returned to me and said that Tons itinerary did not agree with mine and he believed we were concealing something in the Tiger.  At this point I could see where this was going so I offered to have him search the vehicle.  At this point he frisked me and moved me to the front of the Tiger and moved Ton to the rear near the patrol car and told her to stand in front of the camera in front of his patrol unit.  At this point he searched the vehicle concentrating on the front of the truck and the engine compartment.  After spending about 45 minutes going through the vehicle and looking over the outside, he came to the cabin door which was locked.  I told him the key was on the key ring in the ignition.  At that point he came to me and said that he was going to let us go, even though he had not finished searching the truck.  At this point while unsettling I was only mildly annoyed and chalked up the encounter  to a young State Trooper on a slow Sunday afternoon in rural Arkansas.  But then the guy really frosted me when he ended the encounter by saying that though he did not find anything he was still convinced that we were carrying contraband and were being untruthful with him.  I offered to let him continue to search the vehicle until he was content, but he declined.

When we were thinking about buying the Tiger we read many blogs about encounters with the police some unpleasant and most routine.  So despite driving a brand new RV, and despite the record check on both of us coming up clean we were subjected to a full search of our vehicle, and left with the final comment from the only representative of Arkansas we ever came across that he expected we were running drugs despite his inability to find any after a thorough search of our RV.   I never expected to have it happen here in the US.  The funny thing is just a few minutes before the stop we were talking about how Arkansas had been a pleasant surprise and that we may need to return to explore the Ozarks in detail.  Now we will never return.  

The moral of the story is if you are driving a RV in Arkansas, do not leave the interstate as it is a Red Flag to the State Police, insure that you and your spouse can recite your previous 20 days destinations in detail both as to location and chronology or it will be a Red Flag to State Police, and make sure that when encountering the Arkansas State Police that you answer all questions promptly and with the same tone of voice or that may be a Red Flag.

Let me end today with a picture of the beautiful sunset we enjoyed in Texas.

January 25, 2014 Little Rock AR

Today we are back on the road.  The week in Elizabethtown was incredibly cold with overnight lows near 0 every night.  When we arrived I thought about bleeding the water out of the truck and putting in anti-freeze, but figuring we were in Kentucky I thought it would have to warm up, I was wrong.  We really tested the Webasco Heater, and solar system in extreme conditions and they came thru well.  We were able to keep the heater going for 6 days  with below freezing temperatures.though it cost us nearly one half tank of diesel.

Scout in the middle of an arctic blast in Kentucky and Arkansas.

Our plan to stay off the interstates ran into a snag today as it was snowing hard and blowing snow when we left.  We decided to head due west towards Paducah Kentucky instead of south towards Nashville.  The first 80 miles were in pretty heavy snow and the parkway had not been plowed for about the first 50 miles.  After some white knuckle driving we finally drove out of the snow, but decided to push on on interstates as we did not know the conditions of the backroads.

After a long day we ended up in Little Rock for the night.