Jan 26-Feb 18 - Texas Hill Country
On Jan 26, we pulled out of Casa Grande headed for Texas. We'd figured on a three-day drive to get us to our destination at the 1000 Trails preserve at Lakehills, TX, about 40 miles east of San Antonio - just over 900 miles. We try to limit our daily drives to around 200 miles, but we pushed it this time, hoping to stay ahead of some unpleasant weather. We first stopped for a few minutes just south of Tucson to pick up a cell phone antenna we'd arranged for at the RV Rally in Indio. We made a fuel and lunch stop after crossing into New Mexico, where gasoline prices were considerably lower than in Arizona. And then we pushed on, ending day 1 in the parking lot of the Sunland Casino and Race Track (4) just outside El Paso. We arrived just as the last race of the day was being run, so we didn't see a lot of horses until morning. The casino has a few inexpensive RV spots in the parking lot which were all occupied, so they told us to just park for the night. No utilities, but then no rent either.
Next morning was frosty, but the race horses were out warming up by 7:30am. It looked like they were doing starting gate practice for horses that hadn't been in the gates before. We rolled back onto I-10 eastbound, making one quick stop outside El Paso to top off our tanks before the long haul across Texas. We stopped for the night in one of the wonderful Texas rest areas, just outside Sonora (5), where they welcome overnight visitors. The rules say "no camping", but "parking" is fine. So we "parked", another free night. When we got up the next morning, there were at least 5 other RVs in the rest area, along with a couple dozen long-haul trucks. And it was cold and raining. The weather caught us. We had about 150 miles to go, and after a fuel stop in Kerrville, arrived at Lakehills just before noon, perfect timing.
Staying at the 1000 Trails Medina Lake Preserve (6) is a lot like camping in a petting zoo. There are several hundred white tail deer sharing the park, and they are not at all shy. For the most part, they just watch you. But once you break down and feed them - they love corn - you are then marked as one of their servants, and as far as they're concerned, you have ongoing food-related responsibilities. Some of the brave ones will eat from your hand, but most wait for you to throw the corn onto the ground. It's not unusual to leave the rig, get in the car and see 10 or 15 deer staring at you with that "didn't you forget something?" look. Once after feeding them, Al was rummaging in one of the RV storage bays and felt a few nudges in his back.. It was a beautiful 8-point buck, apparently looking for more. It's not unusual to step outside with a bag of corn and have 30 or more deer appear from nowhere within a couple of minutes.
The weather was quite varied the 3 weeks we were here. Some days, it was sunny and around 70. Some days it was cold and raining and 40-ish. We had a few nights with very hard frosts, to the point of a burst pipe in the park water system where we hook up to get our water. Occasionally, we had some serious rain and some minor flooding. A couple of times the puddles were so big there were ducks swimming about. More than once we observed that it was warmer in Oregon than where we were. Once it was even warmer in Michigan. That just ain't right.
On the dreary days, we pretty much stayed home. On the nice days, we'd get out and about. The RV park serves a wonderful breakfast a couple days a week, and we also had dinner a couple of times at the lodge. We replaced the shower water faucet, converted most of the rest of our light fixtures to LEDs, and made too many trips to the nearest Wal-Mart. There aren't many restaurants near the RV park, and the best we found is also a bar with lots of smoke about (hack, cough, wheeze). So we tended to head into the San Antonio suburbs when we needed to eat out. We also made a visit to the SAS Shoe Factory and Store in San Antonio. About the only shoes Judy can wear with her neuroma are SAS shoes, and they're less expensive at the factory. We also had a very nice tour of the factory, something we'd missed on our previous visit to San Antonio.
Our three major touristy outings were to the Natural Bridge Caverns, billed as the largest show cave in Texas; to the neighboring Wildlife Ranch; and once to the Wild Animal Orphanage, an exotic animal rescue compound. The cave was absolutely spectacular, at least as good as any we've seen. Huge rooms, lots of formations, and also lots of water. In fact, we couldn't enter one of the larger rooms in the cave as it was under 35 ft of water - the result of the rains. Most enjoyable, and unlike many caves, warm. 70 degrees at 99% humidity. Underground tropics.
There are a lot of exotic animal ranches in this part of Texas, mostly used as hunting preserves. We'd occasionally see strange animals behind fences as we drove about. The Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch is a drive-through preserve, no hunting allowed. You pay your money, get a bag of animal food, and proceed at your own pace. The bag of food assures you of plenty of attention from the animals, most of which stay pretty close to the roadways. It was a little early in the season for baby animals, but we did see a couple, including an adorable 6-week old giraffe calf.
There are apparently a lot of animal rescue compounds about the country, but most of them don't usually allow the public to visit. The San Antonio Wild Animal Orphanage is an exception. When we were there we were the only outside folks, so we had a private tour by one of the animal caretakers. Rescue centers take animals when there's no other place for them, and this one started out as a retirement home for primates used for various research projects. It's the first place to successfully retire HIV-infected chimpanzees (which are not in the compound we could tour). But we did see many other animals, including grizzly bears, tigers, lions, lemurs, baboons, macaques, monkeys, exotic cats and wolves. Many of these animals came from private animal owners who came to realize that a Siberian tiger is not a good pet, or that cute bear cubs soon grow too big to cuddle. Some came from defunct roadside zoos, others from university research projects. Most seem very content, and seem to enjoy the human interaction (most came up to greet us), although the orphanage has a strict policy against human physical contact. The orphanage has been through a few rough spots the past few years, and hopefully is getting their act back together. It's a much-needed facility.
Texas gets a lots of snowbirds, but prefers to call them "Winter Texans". We'll be in Texas about 10 weeks this winter, so we'll probably qualify. Texas is actually big enough that some of the snowbirds we've encountered have come down all the way from Northern Texas. There's a lot of Texas pride hereabouts. The "Hill Country" is supposedly home to some of the best barbeque in the country, and the best Hill Country BBQ is reportedly in Austin, a bit too far for a day trip. We'll be a little closer to Austin in another month, and maybe we'll be better able to indulge then. In the meantime, Judy's found several places to satisfy her need for fried catfish. We are not losing weight.
One of the young bucks in the RV park that we fed a few times had a festering injury - something constricting around his left hind ankle to the point of causing swelling and what looked like bleeding. He limped some of the time. We asked the park's ranger if there was anything that could be done. She said she'd pass the word upstream, but most likely the animal would have to be euthanized if they found him. Wasn't the word we wanted to hear. Apparently, there are just too many deer to spend much money fixing them. But then, to our surprise, on our last day in the park, a Parks & Wildlife officer came by, darted the deer, cut a piece of ABS plastic pipe from his leg, and treated the wound. Unfortunately, the deer couldn't shake off the tranquilizer. After more than 45 minutes of trying to get him to breathe on his own, they were unable to revive him. Bummer.
Lots of animals in our slideshow this time - about 111 pictures can be found here.
From Lakehills TX we headed for Harlingen, a couple hundred miles south in the Rio Grande Valley. From there, we'll head to Rockport, on the Gulf Coast near Corpus Christ. That's all in our next report.
Finally, and relative to nothing at all . . . we like puns. This Frank & Ernest strip is either the best or the worst (both measures of punnery excellence) we've seen lately. Hope you agree. Feel free to groan.