Thursday, February 25, 2016

Teddy Roosevelt Slept Here

Bronze along the River Walk outside the Western Art Museum.
Tired after walking through the Alamo, Fred and I headed down Alamo Plaza to the old Menger Hotel. Established in 1859 the historic Menger is the longest continuously run hotel west of the Mississippi. (West of the Mississippi is a big deal in Texas).  After the Civil War and following the arrival of the railroad the Menger grew as the city of San Antonio expanded. The Menger bar was added during improvements in 1887. It was built as an exact replica of the House of Lords Pub in London.

We walked in through a small door with a simple sign on the street side of the building and entered a dark wood paneled room that oozed atmosphere. There are no windows in the bar. The only light is from incandescent ceiling bulbs and wall sconces that look like they were once gas lamp lights. The bartender invited us to sit where ever we wanted and brought us ice cold drinks a Lone Star for Fred and a Bloody Mary for me. (Just an aside here, why did I never think to rim the Bloody Mary glass with celery salt? It was beautiful and delicious.)

A picture from Teddy Roosevelt's photo gallery.

Both were perfect thirst quenchers after our morning walkabout. We enjoyed  lunch while learning that Teddy Roosevelt used the Menger Bar in 1898 as his headquarters while recruiting westerners to form the First United States Volunteer Calvary that he called the Rough Riders. Roosevelt was searching for excellent horsemen and expert marksmen  He found many of them here that had served as Texas Rangers.
The Rough Riders he recruited here were that same Cavalry that followed him up San Juan Hill in Cuba during the Spanish American War.
We were also told that the biggest and most significant cattle deals in the state are made right here.

 The Menger has a small lunch menu. I had a Reuben Sandwich and Fred had the Menger Club both were quite good. The service was friendly and both the Bar Tender and our Waitress were happy to answer questions about the bars History. They were very gracious to several groups who came in "Just to look around" and even let me take pictures.

One of many pedestrian bridges that cross the River Walk

There were many ducks in the walter
We left the Menger and walked two blocks West to find an access point for the River Walk at St Mary's Street.
The River Walk is  San Antonio's pedestrian walkway that is the heart of the city. Located one story below street level we found a narrow concrete bermed canal that winds below the streets. It has multiple access points to allow one to enter or cross over to the other side.. We were delighted with it's cool and shaded atmosphere, it's sidewalk restaurants and the river barges that ferry visitors from one end of the city to the other.

Fresco on the River Walk

It was also nice to be out of the traffic and away from most of it's noise. There were protected pocket gardens with public artwork that included benches, statues and tiled frescos. The Museum of Western Art was installing a bronze statue the size of a large SUV along the water in front of it's stairs.

It was great to spend a couple of hours getting used to where things are, and to discover many places to add to our must do list.
To see more photos of the Menger Hotel and San Antonio River Walk visit our Flickr album.

The Ameson River Theater.. Scenes from the Sandra Bullock movie Miss Congeniality were shot here.


Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Alamo, San Antonio Texas

The Alamo Shrine surrounded by the city of San Antonio, note the raised sign for the Crockett Hotel behind it.
We arrived in San Antonio on Monday and have been having a great time enjoying the city. Our first stop? The Alamo of course!
The Alamo is located in the middle of downtown San Antonio surrounded by high rise hotels and tourist shops. It is not the setting I pictured but once inside the walls you forget the bustle of buses and jackhammers and people going to work. You remember that you are in a shrine. You feel the history as you remember the names of the pioneering men and women that died here. You absorb the sense of reverence that surrounds you.

The well in the central courtyard. These live oaks are not witness trees being only 142 years old.
The walls of the Alamo surround a courtyard that has been planted with huge sprawling Live Oaks that provide shade and quiet. The gardens have footpaths winding through them with benches and chairs that allow you to rest and quietly reflect. The missions central well is still maintained. There are many displays throughout the mission that detail the history of the place. There is an open courtyard theater area where docents who are very good storytellers share the tale of the 13 day siege that makes The Alamo such a memorable part of our American History. Surrounding the courtyard are several cannons, including the famous "Come and take it" 6 pounder.

The "Come and Take it" cannon a 6 pounder that became a rallying cry for the Texian rebels

The Long Barrack is set up as a museum housing artifacts of the battle. As you walk through the long narrow building various displays explain the history of the mission as well as the battle.

The church serves as a shrine to the 189 men from 23 States and 5 Countries who died here. Walking the grounds the names of those historic heroes run through your mind. Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, William Travis and so many more.

General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna approached San Antonio in March of 1836 as the provisional Texas government declared it's independence and the Republic of Texas was created. San Antonio was an important center for commerce as well as a military stronghold. Santa Anna aimed to reclaim San Antonio and to squash the rebellion.
Alamo Cat

As he approached the Texian forces retreated across the river and took refuge within the walls of The Alamo. The Texian's held their position for 13 days, asking for help and hoping that reinforcements would arrive in time.

They did not. The defenders of the Alamo held their ground deciding die fighting against overwhelming odds rather than surrender to Santa Anna.

March 6th 1836, the day of the battle those 189 soldiers were overtaken by Santa Anna and his thousands of trained Mexican Army soldiers. All except for 20 women and children were killed and their bodies burned in a gesture of disrespect to the combatants. Those few survivors had sheltered within 2 rooms of the church. They were released by Santa Anna with warnings for Texians that they too would be attacked if they continued the revolt.
Santa Anna continued his bloody march North showing "no quarter" to those rebels he encountered. The Texians were retreating as far as Louisiana when General Sam Houston attacked the Mexican forces at Buffalo Bayou and captured Santa Anna under the battle cry of "Remember the Alamo".
The signing of the Treaty of Velasco in May of 1836 recognized the Republic of Texas.

Cactus Garden in the Courtyard
The Alamo was built in the early 1700's as a Spanish Mission in an effort to colonize what is now the state of Texas. It was originally called San Antonio de Valero. There are two buildings that are original to that time period, the Long Barrack and the Church. Both have been fortified and repaired over the years.

Free Mason's were here too.
The Alamo was sometimes occupied by Mexican and sometimes by Texian forces over the 10 contentious years of the Republic of Texas. It was occupied by the US Army as a depot in 1846 once Texas became part of the United States except for during the Civil War when Confederate troops were there.
In 1876 the Army moved to larger facilities at Fort Sam Houston and the grounds of the Alamo were claimed by the Catholic Church and the City of San Antonio. Over the next 30 years the buildings were used as a warehouse, a grocery store and a police substation. In 1903 amidst proposals to tear down the long barrack to build a hotel school teacher Adina de Zavala  and Clara Driscoll the daughter of a wealthy rancher were instrumental in procuring and preserving the Alamo under the custodianship of The Daughters of the Texas Revolution.
You can see more of our photos of the Alamo in our Flickr Album.

The Alamo
300 Alamo Plaza
San Antonio Texas

(210) 225-1391

open daily 9-5:30
no admission fee

Remember the Alamo Statue

Friday, February 12, 2016

South Texas Botanical Garden Corpus Christi Texas

We thoroughly enjoyed the Orchid Conservatory 
Corpus Christi is home to a hidden gem. The South Texas Botanical Garden is located in a mostly residential neighborhood. It's 180 acres is surrounded by housing developments and a large ranch right off of South Staples Street. It includes natural wet lands and is bordered by the Oso Creek.

Specimen from the Bromelaid Conservatory
A tour of the gardens begins at the Visitor's Center where knowledgeable volunteers showed us a site map and pointed out highlights. They encouraged to visit the reptile center at the rear of the building. The Botanical Gardens are home to 30-40 reptiles at any given time.  Snakes, Lizards and Tortoises that have been rescued from life threatening situations or donated by families who once kept them as pets have found a safe haven here.
There are also 40 Parrots and Macaws donated by the Coastal Bend Companion Bird Club that have found a home in the garden.
The smaller specimens are kept in the reptile house, The larger birds and the tortoises have protected quarters outdoors.

These sunny orange blossoms beckoned us into the gardens
We walked around the Visitor Center and passed a Koi filled pond. Beyond the pond is a Plumeria garden.  In February the trees are bare except for a few early leaves. There are more than 100 specimens of the fragrant tropical flower located here in Southern Texas.We spent some time speaking with one of the gardeners who was very enthusiastic about them. She explained that the Botanical Garden had an association with a garden in Australia that shared specimens of Plumeria. The blooms are called Frangipani there.
There are 2 large Conservatories on the grounds. They are home to a Bromelaid collection and a large number of Orchids.

A mass of epiphytes in the Bromelaid Conservatory
The Bromelaid Conservatory contains many epiphytes. I find these air plants to be so strange and otherworldly. Their ariel roots and hanging masses create such a spooky atmosphere. They hung from fences and wires and coconut fiber baskets on the walls. There were also terrestrial bromelaids with long spiky leaves and unsusual brightly colored flowers. Pot after pot of various succulents filled the shelves.

The Orchid Conservatory is amazing. So many beautiful fragile flowers in one place.We are told that they include Cattleya, Phaleonopsis, Paphiopedlum and Dendrobium genera. The orchids were part of the Don Larkin Collection, willed by him to the Botanical Garden . It is the largest public orchid display in the state of Texas.

The organization is currently seeking funding for a Tropical Rainforest Conservatory to round out it's indoor collection.
Fred finally pulled me away from the orchids and we began to wander the outdoor gardens.  We were pleasantly surprised at the variety of flowers and plants that were in bloom in early February.
There is a Tropical Garden right outside the Conservatories that is full of lush foliage and shade trees. Hibiscus are plentiful here as well as huge Elephant Ears and low growing greenery. The tropical birds are housed here and there are future plans for an aviary.  We enjoyed the garden seating area set up in the shade.

Bloom from the Hummingbird Narden
Beyond the tropicals we found a Hummingbird Garden and one dedicated to butterflies complete with a Butterfly House.  These gardens as well as an Arid garden located on the other side of the property are designed as landscape examples for local Texan gardeners. The Botanical Gardens Earth Kind Demonstration Trial Gardens are meant to help people chose the hardiest, most pest and disease-resistant plants.that are appropriate for the South Texas environment.

Butterfly Garden
The Butterfly Garden is on the edge of the wetlands. We followed an extensive trail and boardwalk system that lead us around and over the water to view birds and native water plants. There were many warning signs about native rattlesnakes. Thankfully they were in hiding during our visit.  
A stroll around the Oso Creek Trail brings you to the cactus filled Arid Garden and an area of more formal raised bed plantings that include roses, herbs and Vegetables.

Arid Garden

We stopped and sat for a while in the lovely Sensory Garden before heading back inside to thank our hosts. We enjoyed the sculptures there and in fact were delighted and impressed to see so much artwork featured in the gardens and on the trails.

Seating in the Sensory Garden made of concrete and mosaic tiles

Rose garden

If you visit Corpus Christi we highly recommend the South Texas Botanical Garden. it is an organization still in it's growing phase and utilizes community volunteers to do much of the work. It is beautiful now and will only improve with time. 

To see more photos of these lovely gardens visit our Flickr album


South Texas Botanical Gardens
8545 South Staples 
Corpus Christi TX. 78413

The Gardens contained many sculptures, this one near the wetland boardwalk

Thursday, February 11, 2016

USS Lexington, Corpus Christi Texas

The USS Lexington, Corpus Christi Texas

The USS Lexington sits in Corpus Christi Bay. She is one of the first things that you notice as you enter the city across the Harbor Bridge.
Lady Lex is an Essex class aircraft carrier built during WW II. She was completed in only 14 months at the Bethlehem Steel Company in Quincy, Massachusetts during the post Pearl Harbor flurry to rearm the Pacific Fleet. Lexington was commissioned in February of 1943 and saw extensive service in battles across the Pacific.  Nicknamed the Blue Ghost because the Japanese Air Force thought they had sunk her and she reappeared,  the ship was awarded 11 battle stars for service in major engagements and a Presidential Citation for heroism in action against enemy Japanese forces.
The Lexington was decommissioned after the resolution of WW II, but in the early 1950's was updated and recommissioned, serving until 1991.
Decommissioned but still serving her country the USS Lexington Museum on the Bay is here to remind us of the sacrifices made in the name of our liberty.

WW II era SPD-3 Dauntless on the Hangar Deck

WW II era N3N Yellow Peril on the Hangar Deck

We arrived at the museum and spoke with the trolley driver, who is retired US Navy and served on the Lexington. He and Fred exchanged some military service stories as we enjoyed the sunny afternoon. We opted to walk up the ramp and entered on the Hanger deck where a former aircraft elevator now serves as the Museums ticketing area.
The Hanger deck houses exhibits of WW II era aircraft like the Yellow Peril flight trainer that reminds me of the crop dusters that most of them became in their later years.
There is also a 3D Mega Theater, a museum gift shop and a flight simulator. The food service are called the Mess Deck is located near the fantail.

F-14 Tomcat on the Flight Deck

F2H-2 Banshee on the Flight Deck
We headed upstairs, well up ladder to the flight deck.  It was a beautiful place to be on a Sunny day. The flight deck holds and impressive array of aircraft, an up-close look at the anti-aircraft guns and  a glimpse of the bridge. I loved seeing her flags flying in the breeze. Here we found the modern aircraft that we are used to seeing. Intruder, Tomcat, Phantom and Hornet were all represented.

Fred under the wing of an AE-6 Intruder

We could see the aircraft arresting gear and area for the launching catapult.  It is hard to imagine the controlled chaos it must be to launch an entire squadron of planes under battle conditions.

Fred was happy to point out the fire suppression equipment

Damage Control suits

The lower decks contain the crews quarters and living areas. The Medical and Dental offices are there as well as the Barber shop and a beautiful chapel.
There is an extensive Mess Hall exhibit as well as crew quarters that show sleeping and personal storage areas. We enjoyed looking at the scale model gallery that reminded me of all the models my brothers put together when they were young.

You can find more photos of the USS Lexington in our Flickr Album.

Visiting the Lexington was a great experience. We both recommend it. Only the Hanger Deck and Flight Deck are wheelchair accessible.

Lexington Museum on the Bay
2914 Shoreline Blvd
Corpus Christi, TX
1-800-LADY LEX 

Monday, February 8, 2016

Texas Gulf Coast: We made it to the Beach

I love the beach. Have always loved the beach. Fred has indulged me all of our married live by taking me to dip my toes in salt water at least once a year to keep me happy.We have visited many beaches in the last 40 years but never those of the Gulf Coast of Texas.
We have experienced Gulf beaches in Florida enjoying their soft white sand, shallow waters and gentle wave action.  We wanted to see how Texas beaches compared to those of the Sunshine State so we made our first stop Corpus Christi Texas.
We are staying at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi which is located right at the southeastern end of  Corpus Christi Bay. We can see the JFK causeway and bridge crossing the Laguna Madre from our campsite. Mustang Island and South Padre Island are located on the other side of that bridge. That's where the beaches are.

We start the morning with fog but it soon burns off

The drive  to get to them is beautiful. We can be on the causeway in about 5 minutes, once we clear the gate. We enjoy the drive across the 4 1/2 mile long causeway/bridge. It is quite common to see water birds like Great Blue Heron and Snowy egrets fishing in the shallow waters. Gulls and pelicans populate the tiny islets and fishermen set up for the day enjoying their sport. There are several cutoffs on the causeway that allow motor vehicles access to the Laguna Madre's  hyper-saline coastal lagoon that provides a great fishing spot for local anglers. We don't fish but have been told that they are after spotted seatrout and red drum. Once past the Marinas the Bridge rises up to cross the Inter-coastal Waterway giving you a view from the tip of Port Aransas to the North and down Padre Island to the South.
One of my favorite birds the Pelican
The beach in Port Aransas is about 6 1/2 miles long. We chose the Northern end of it as we could park there without a beach parking permit between the Jetty and Horace Caldwell pier. The free parking beach is less than a mile long but great for a picnic and to walk the shore. The jetty and the pier attract fishermen in droves. It is funny to watch the pelicans settle in near them to wait for scraps and handouts. It is not crowded in January and February and no one was swimming but we all enjoyed the sun and the sand. The jetty is formed by huge chunks of pink granite that were once topped by some type of macadam. Most of that has eroded away and you must navigate by stepping and jumping from rock to rock. We observed shrimp boats, tour boats and a barge entering and leaving the harbor and passing close to the jetty. We found that the beach can be foggy in the morning but the fog lifted by noon and allowed us to enjoy the sun. We were surprised to see people camping right on the beach and learned that for a fee you can park your rig in the sand and enjoy the ultimate beach experience.

The beach at Padre Island National Seashore is a thing of beauty. We found miles of sand and surf, wind drifted dunes, grasslands and tidal basins. The folks at the Visitors Center were very welcoming. They told us a lot about the National Seashore. We learned that Padre Islands 70  mile protected coastline is the worlds longest stretch of barrier island in the world and that it provides nesting areas for the endangered Kemp's Ridly Sea Turtle.
Interesting driftwood formations
The rangers at the visitor center lead bird watching and beach walking tours as well as give lectures at the campgrounds amphitheater several times a week. We walked the beach at the visitor center and then started down the beach road. You can drive the length of the seashore if you are brave enough and have 4 wheel drive. There were quite a few people on the beach fishing. We saw a few campsites set up nestled in toward the dunes. The farther south we drove the less populated the beach was. We drove for about 6 miles before turning around. I would love to go back early on another day and have the time to drive farther. We were told there are great shell beaches about 20 miles in. You just have to plan your trip and leave enough time to account for the 15-25 mile an hour speed limit. We had fun thinking people driving to the southernmost points and setting up camp for a while.

Padre Island National Seashore, mind your speed

Texas Gulf Coast beaches are very different from Florida Gulf Coast beaches. The sand here is a taupe color somewhere between grey and tan. The texture is different too not the soft powdered sugar that we are accustomed too. The wind is strong here and it drifts the sand into short formations that remind me of a lunar landscape. Texas beaches have fewer restrictions. We found them to be very accessible. The sounds of the gulls, the smell of the surf and the peace that I feel from being near the water are universal.
The wind blows the beach sand into lunar landscape looking formations
To see more Texas Beach photos visit our Flickr Album.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Traveling Louisiana Back Roads, Plaquemines Parish

The end of the road, our drive was to the end of the finger that sticks out toward the right

New Orleans was great fun but on this day we decided to see the other side of Louisiana. I wanted to see the Delta, the land formed and changed by the flow of water where the Mississippi River enters the Gulf of Mexico. Plaquemines Parish Louisiana is that place.
We turned left on Louisiana route 23 as we left the base and drove to the end of the road.

Louisiana route 23 also known as the Belle Chasse Highway is the main road on the West bank of the Mississippi heading south. In fact after driving about 20 miles it's two lanes of hardly any traffic was the only road.
Route 23 was a straight drive past houses and farms and small groves of citrus trees. It is a rural area populated by small communities with exotic sounding names like Gretna and Venice and Port Sulpher. There were a number of fish camps that catered to sport fishing vacationers.

We saw evidence of Louisiana's oil industry, from large black piles of oil field waste to helicopters flying crews out to the drilling rigs. That has to be a complicated relationship as the oil industry provides the only employment to the area besides fishing, yet that waste is endangering the wetlands that provide for the fishermen, shrimpers and oyster farmers.

Route 23 is surrounded by water. We drove for miles with Levees on both sides of the road and even passed a Corps of Engineers crew working on the complicated drainage system. Even on a calm day it was an eerie feeling to know that those earthen walls were the only thing between us and very large bodies of water. We now understand why locals call it "living in a bowl".

Toward the end of the road we crossed a causeway that was part of the Woodlands Trail and Park Bird Sanctuary. We stopped to watch Herons and Cormorant's and Egrets swim and fish. There were a few Roseate Spoonbills wading too. We were told by a resident that in March the trees are pink with them as they migrate to their Summer home. We saw a few people fishing and one kayaking.

Past the bird sanctuary the road narrowed even more and in parts was covered over by water but we made it to the end. The sign at the top of the page marks the spot. There was no magnificent view of the delta but we felt fortunate to be standing right on part of it.

There was no place left to go so we turned around and headed back North.  Just before we got to Triumph we came upon Fort Jackson. The red brick fort in the shape of a star and surrounded by a moat sits on the bank of the Mississippi River. It is named after Andrew Jackson who recommended it's construction after the War of 1812. Fort Jackson and Fort Philip (on the east bank of the river) provided coastal defense for New Orleans and the Mississippi.  They are positioned at a bend in the river so that approaching ships had to slow down and were vulnerable to cannon fire. These forts were the site of a 12 day battle during the Civil War. They, and a series of boom chains south of the forts were the only defense against a Southern approach to the city. The forts fell to the Union on April 28th 1862 and the Union Navy under the command of  US Navy Flag Officer David Farragut sailed into New Orleans. Fort Jackson became a Union Prison.

The fort is closed to the public and these Ibis guard the entrance
Fort Jackson is closed to the public due to water damage from Hurricanes. We were able to walk around the outside and to climb to the top of the levee that protects it. the view of the river with its strong current was impressive. The beautiful brick masonry structure had several visible cracks. We stopped at the museum a short distance away to learn more about the history of the fort.

Cracks in the wall of Fort Jackson
The Museums curator, whose family was responsible for finding many of the artifacts displayed there, told us of the Forts recent history. The museum and gift shop used to be located inside the fort. They were badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina and then Hurricane Rita in 2005. Many artifacts were damaged and lost as they sat in sea water for 6 weeks or more until they could be accessed. The new museum (opened in December 2015) is in a modern climate controlled building that was built by FEMA, after the Fort was deemed an unsafe environment. we had a wonderful conversation with this local woman and her daughter who described to us their experiences of living in Plaquemines Parish and the effect that the massive storm damage had on their families.
Fort Jackson is owned and operated by the parish, Fort St Philip, badly damaged and not restored, is on private land and not accessible to the public.

We continued our trip back North to Belle Chasse but stopped once more at Hank's Road Stand. Hank and Fred had quite a good time talking about "What the heck are ya'll doing down here?" while
I discovered Satsuma oranges, Louisiana's sweet local citrus that tastes like mandarin oranges.

Saying goodbye to Hank we turned North and completed our journey with a stop at PJ's Coffee and large cups of Viennese Blend.

Louisiana Route 23 was a great ride. We recommend a trip to the end of the road.

To see more photos of Plaquemines Parish visit our Flickr Album.