Day 11, Kemah

Today was our first driving day with Mom and Dad.  The car is pretty full with all of our stuff, but we still manage to get ourselves inside, too.  The drive, itself, wasn’t all that interesting. The only thing of note – something I was not expecting – was a border patrol checkpoint about 85 miles north of the Mexican border.  It’s a permanent station with about 30 cameras recording your arrival and sniffer dogs checking your car as you stop to chat with the border agent. He simply asked if we were all US citizens and then waved us on our way when Rob answered, “yes.”  

Our destination for today was the Galveston Bay waterside town of Kemah, TX, just outside of Houston.  We are staying in a waterfront house with great views of the water. There’s a long dock out front and a large deck wrapping around the entire house.  Part of the deck has a tiki bar and an old oak tree grows through another part of the deck. There is small, blue and white lighthouse right next door.

After exploring our lodgings, we set out to explore the Kemah Boardwalk.  It has a few classic carnival rides, including a wooden roller coaster. There are lots restaurants and bars right along the water.  We found some fish feeding stations (repurposed gumball machines with something that looked like cat food) and fed the catfish (and, inevitably, the seagulls).  On the way back to our house, we stumbled across some chairs in the shape of hands outside a bar. Said bar plays loud music we can hear until 2:00am from inside our house.  Ugh!

Day 10, Picking

We didn’t do much today.  Mostly we helped Mom and Dad “summer-ize” their trailer.  It will sit here, empty, for 9 months through the hot, Texas summer when we leave tomorrow.  So there is a lot of cleaning that needs to be done. One task assigned to Rob and me was to pick all the remaining grapefruit from two trees in their yard.  If you don’t pick and throw out all the grapefruit, they will rot either on the tree or on the ground and breed lots of flies and other nastiness. Dad has a fruit picker on a stick that we could use for most of the fruit.  It is an extendable pole with a grapefruit-sized basket on the end. One side of the basket has tines that extend out and bend in, so you can kind of grab the fruit with them, twist, and get the fruit to drop in to the basket.  But, the picker couldn’t reach all the fruit, so Rob had to climb up into the tree to get some. His arms sport several new scratches from little barbs that protrude from the branches. My job was to duck under the branches and collect the grapefruit from the ground, while dodging those that Rob was still dropping from the tree.  In all, we picked 3x 5-gallon pails of past-their-prime grapefruit destined for the trash. We ate a couple, but they weren’t the greatest; the season for good grapefruit has passed.

Rob picking grapefruit

Day 9, Flowers

Mom, Rob, and I took a morning walk in the park, and checked out a little flock of black bellied whistling ducks who live in the park.  I tried to get a good photo of them. It was tricky; they kept walking away from me.

We didn’t have much planned for today, but we did make one excursion.  We drove north to the Sal del Rey salt lake. We were expecting salt flats.  We did not really see any salt flats, the lake was salty (Mom ventured through the mud to dip her finger in and taste it.). We did enjoy the flowers all along the mile walk from the parking area to the lake.  See photos below for some colorful blooms. We also kept watch for javelina, a type of wild pig. We could see trains through the underbrush that they had made, and footprints, but never did see an actual javelina.  We had a pair of turkeys cross the path in front of us, but that and some small lizards were all the wildlife we spotted.

The weather is hot here, temps in the mid 80s, so on the way back home we stopped at a Star’s Drive-in for chocolate banana milkshakes.  Yum!

Day 8, Birds

We were in the mood for some more birds (or at least I was) so our destination for today was the Valley Nature Center in Weslaco.  It is a bird sanctuary hosting a cackling array of birds nesting in the treetops. We saw and heard lots of chachalacas, a rather plain looking bird about the size of a crow, but with a noisy banter.  I wasn’t sure how to describe the noises they make, so I turned to Wikipedia. “The call is a loud, raucous RAW-pa-haw or cha-cha-LAW-ka, often by several birds in a rhythmical chorus, especially in early morning and evening, usually from well up in trees. It also produces peeping whistles and cackles. Others describe chachalaca calls as irritating noises mimicking a bunch of men arguing.”  We got some sound sound recordings of them. Click the audio file below to hear some of what we heard.

Bird Sounds

We also saw a lot of yellow crowned herons.  When you think of herons, you think of a majestic bird walking on tall legs through marshland.  These guys were more compact and sitting among the tops branches of trees. Some seemed to be guarding their nests, others seemed to still be looking for mates.  When they flew, you still got that sense of majesty as their massive wings sent them gliding from tree to tree. In the underbrush were rabbits and four orange cats.  

Just before leaving, we stopped by the turtle pond.  There was a school group at the pond and their guide had just given them all a handful of cat food to feed to the turtles.  We could tell the turtles were used to being fed because they came right up to us when we leaned over the railing, even though we didn’t have any food at first.  Mom walked over to the guide and asked if we could also feed the turtles. She got a handful of cat food and we did some feeding, too. There were a three different kinds of turtles; one that was very plain and sort of looked like a pancake, one that had mossy splotches on its shells, and the other that was “painted” with vivid patterns on their shells.  And if you threw some food and there was no turtle nearby the minnows nibbled away at the cat food piece until a turtle noticed it and came over to chomp it down.

Day 7, San Antonio

As we toured around Austin yesterday, I noticed lots of signs around town proclaiming Austin to be the birthplace of the taco.  I also noticed plenty of places offering breakfast tacos, so I was keen to have myself a true, Austin breakfast taco before leaving town.  We packed up our things early this morning, and headed out, stopping first at Magnolia Cafe just south of where we were browsing the shops yesterday.  My breakfast taco was pretty tasty. I’m glad we took the time to stop before leaving town. It had eggs, mushrooms, and cheddar jack cheese inside a fresh, flour tortilla with homemade salsa served on the side.

After breakfast, we hit the road for San Antonio.  We had pretty low expectations for San Antonio, but I felt that it was our duty to stop since we had to drive right through it anyway.  I wanted to see what was left of the Alamo and experience the famous Riverwalk. We started at the Alamo. The site at the time of the famous battle was considerably larger than what is left now.  Today there is only the old church to go in and a small park beside it. The bulk of the fort was torn down in the intervening years to make room for hotels and cheesy tourist traps, which rather detracted from the solemnity of the battle site.  We did get a requisite photo in front of the iconic church then walked around for a few minutes.

Next, we moved on to the Riverwalk.  Again, we weren’t expecting much. We had read that it was mostly all bars and restaurants along the river.  Since we were there at 9:30 in the morning, none of the restaurants were open and we had the walk nearly all to ourselves.  This gave us a chance to enjoy the waterfowl and pigeons that make the river their home. We also watched a bunch of flat maintenance boats go about maintaining the river area.  One was covered in plants in their nursery containers, ready to be planted in the landscaping along the river. In fact, the landscaper was just a bit further on. The bed he was working on was about half full of little begonias.  We also saw a guy watering the landscaping from his boat. It looked like the boat had a way to suck water directly from the river and shoot it out a hose onto the plants like a fireman putting out a fire. It was after 10:00 as we finished up the main loop, and a few shops were open in the Villita area so we stopped in to look around in those.  All in all, I think we spent about 1.5 hours in San Antonio, and that was plenty for us!

Next stop, Donna, TX.  It was a long, 4.5 hour drive south to reach my parents’ winter home in Donna.  Along the way, the wildflowers in the ditches grew even prettier than they had been north of Austin (we really didn’t see much other than urban sprawl between Austin and San Antonio).  South of San Antonio the blues of the north gave way to oranges, yellows, and purples.

We arrived in Donna just before dinner time.  We’ll be here for the next 3 days.

Day 6, Day of the Donuts

Today was the day of the Donut.  We began the morning by walking 1.2 miles to Voodoo Donuts in downtown Austin.  This is the same Voodoo that we went to in Portland several years ago. They were one of the first donut places to put lots of cereal, bacon, etc on their donuts.  Today I got the Old Dirty Bastard; a donut topped with frosting, Oreo chunks, and a peanut butter drizzle. Yum!

Rob had the brilliant idea to see if there was a walking tour app.  Sure enough, he found one, so we set out on our own. We chose one with 12 buildings in the area between where we were and the State Capitol building.  We learned about some of the historic buildings, mostly from the late 1800s. While we were near the capitol we decided to stop in to check it out. As we crossed through the grounds we stopped to watch some grackles preening and showing off under some trees.  The grackle is a small, black bird that does a funny little dance and makes noises like an old fashioned shutter camera.

Inside the capitol building, we were surprised by the number of other tourists.  When we visited the Iowa state capitol last summer, we were just about the only tourists there.  Maybe because they were not in session and Texas seems to be currently in session. Strangely, there were also a good number of people walking around inside the capitol wearing white lab coats.  Lobbyists? Testifying before a committee? Lab field trip? Who knows.

After the app enabled walking tour (which we accidentally forgot to go to the last 2 stops) we started our scooter adventure.  Austin loves its scooter share programs. There are 4 different companies that offer electric scooters scattered around the city.  Tons of residents use them to get around, and it’s no wonder they are popular, with the atrocious traffic that Austin deals with. All morning we had seen scooter riders whizzing confidently down the sidewalks and bike lanes of downtown Austin.  Earlier, we had installed the apps for a couple different companies, so when we were ready, we unlocked (via the app) 2 scooters from a company called Lime. The first unlock comes with some instructions on how to operate the scooter. You have to push off 3 times with your foot, then push the throttle down with your right thumb.  There is a hand brake on the left handlebar just like on a bike. And away you go! Presumably. Rob seemed to get the hang of it faster than I did. I was pretty wobbly at first and kept putting my foot down. We found as we rode that it was better to ride in a bike lane if there was one – the road has fewer bumps (seems in sidewalks) and fewer pedestrians to avoid.  The throttle was really sensitive, so it felt a bit like you were lurching forward quite a bit. Rob says (he was behind me) that it didn’t look like I was lurching, so that’s good. We rode south for 1.9 miles (thanks to a handy app that tracks the ride) for a total of 27 minutes. I noted that I generally rode about 8 mph on the sidewalk and made it up to about 12 mph when in a nice, smooth bike lane.  I was pretty scared for about half of the ride, then started to settle into it more. My muscles were all kind of tight, and my thumb on the throttle started to get tired, but in the end it was fun. We stopped about 2 blocks shy of our destination because the sidewalk got narrower and there were road construction signs sitting on part of the sidewalk so we had to dodge them. When you finish, you just open the app, click “lock scooter” and take a picture of the location so the next person can find it.  And just leave it there (well, move it off the sidewalk to a nice place that isn’t in anyone’s way). Voila! I hope more cities adopt these scooter share programs. I would certainly use them again.

Our destination on the scooters was Gourdough Big. Fat. Donuts.  These donuts are even more insane than Voodoo. I ordered the Fat Elvis: giant donut covered with peanut butter frosting, grilled caramelized banana chunks, and 2 slices of bacon.  I couldn’t even eat it all. But it sure was good!

After all that donut, I wanted to walk off some calories.  We headed over to South Congress Street. It looked like an area of small, local shops.  Sure enough, there were lots lined up all along Congress as we headed north toward our hotel.  We did a bit of shopping: I picked up a super cute picture of a robot contemplating the stars by a local artist and Rob found a t-shirt with various tv robots on it.  Not all the stores sold robot things, we just happened to be in the robot mood today, I guess.

When we arrived back at our hotel, we dropped off our goodies, rested our feet for a little bit, and then set out once again.  This time we walked west along the river. There’s a nice walk/bike park following along the river that we took. We spotted turtles sunning themselves in the late afternoon sunshine.  After a while, we crossed the river on a pedestrian bridge and followed the river back along the other side. All in all, my Fitbit says that we walked 8.72 miles today. That’s 19,126 steps.  Whoa! My hips and feet are feeling it.

Upon arrival back at the hotel, I was in the mood for a refreshing drink so we sat outside by the river at the hotel bar and had drinks and pretzel bite appetizers.  We felt so grown up sitting in the bar having drinks. The weather made it to the upper 70s today and very sunny.

Day 5, On to Austin

Our day began, once again, with donuts.  Today we stopped at one of Texas’ many old, local donut shops.  It was Palace Donuts in Van, TX. The little shop was super retro, a little dingey, but the donuts were great.  And at great prices. Rob’s glazed donuts were only 60 cents and my perfectly sized, absolutely delicious, apple fritter was $1.00.  It looked and sounded like a Vietnamese family that owned and operated the donut shop. It struck me as fulfilling the quintessential American Dream.  Coming to America and opening a donut shop.

As we drive through the countryside, we are constantly admiring the wildflowers in the ditches and fields we pass.  They are mostly blue, orange, and purple. We have also been admiring the trees in all their spring green splendor. The trees at home hadn’t yet sprouted their leaves, but we’ve reached an area where they are all pretty much green.  It reminds me of the “spring green” marker I had in my Crayola marker set as a kid. Another field dweller that we have noticed is a lot more donkeys than one might expect. It seems about 30% of the fields we pass have one donkey in them.  Who uses donkeys these days? Well, thank you to Google, we now know donkeys are often used in fields to help protect cattle (and sheep, although we haven’t seen any sheep) from predators like coyotes, foxes, and similar. I figured it wasn’t for riding or for hauling.  

Our first charging stop for today was in a small city called Corsicana.  As we pulled up to the chargers we were totally surprised to see another Russell Stover factory and store just down the road.  Of course, we had to stop and get another photo and some more chocolate. While charging, we wandered over to the Home Depot, where we found that they sell tornado shelters that you can bolt down to your concrete slab (patio or what have you).  The one I took the photo in is supposed to hold 8 people. I guess, in a pinch.

While in Corsicana, we planned to stop at Petroleum Park.  As we were driving down a small side road in town, Tessie suddenly popped up a warning that the tire pressure was extremely low and we needed to pull over as soon as it was safe to do so.  We stopped right away and could hear the tire hissing out its air as soon as we got out of the car. What a pain! She’s too heavy to use a normal jack and spare tire, so whenever she gets a flat, she has to be towed via flatbed to a tire service center.  We started by calling Tesla Roadside Assistance. They suggested that we have an authorized tow company come out from Dallas with a loaner tire. They would then take our tire to the Dallas Tesla service center (with us following on the loaner, I think) and then we would have to wait hours or a day for the service center to figure out if they could fix our tire or needed a new one.  At which point we would need to give the loaner tire back to the authorized towing company. Now, Corsicana is about an hours drive south of Dallas (so in the wrong direction for where we needed to go today). This didn’t sound like an awesome option to me. I figured if the Tesla guys were just going to fix the existing tire, than tire guys here in Corsicana should also be able to fix it.  Ironically, we were stuck in an area with about 4 tire places within a 6 block radius. But, by now, our tire had completely deflated, so we would need to be towed to one of them. We called Texas Tires and they said they could try to fix it, or a replacement could be ordered and arrive tomorrow around 10:00 am. They gave us the number of a tow truck company that they knew had a flatbed. We called him.  Initially, he said it would take half an hour because he was at the scene of an accident on the nearby interstate. But then he called back a minute later and said his boss had let him go and he could come tow us. When he asked what kind of car we had, he had never heard of Teslas. Not exactly instilling confidence in us that this would go smoothly. It was a bit of a challenge getting her on the flatbed, since she’s so low, especially with one tire completely flat. Thankfully, the tire guys were able to fix the flat and put our tire back on.  We didn’t need to alter our plans and stay the night in Corsicana. Phew!

With Tessie back in commission, we stopped for lunch at Collin St Bakery.  We had charged at one yesterday, and I’d gotten a really tasty BLT sandwich on croissant.  I had another today for lunch, after which we finally made it to Petroleum Park. It was much smaller than I was expecting.  Just about the size of 2 house lots. It commemorates the site of the first oil well west of the Mississippi River.  They were drilling for a water well for the town and found oil instead. There were a couple other oil related pieces of machinery in the park.  We spent all of 5 minutes there. If only we hadn’t decided to stop there, we wouldn’t have been on the street that punctured our tire.  Ah, well. It worked out fine in the end. We arrived this evening in Austin right around dinner time. We have a nice room overlooking the river.