We almost said no to Texas. Other than BBQ and the braggadocio of Texans past and present, we had no idea what to expect. Initially, our plan included only a two-night stop in Houston for the Johnson Space Center, a week in Austin, and perhaps a short stay in San Antonio. That was it, just a quick dipping of the toes into Texas before heading towards Spring Break in D.C. However, as we worked our way around the Gulf of Mexico, the plan began to morph. In the end, we would skip Houston and spend a little over three weeks exploring the Hill Country and east Texas somehow loving almost every minute of it.
While working our way through Mississippi and Louisiana, we added a couple of beach stops to our Texas itinerary, as well as six days in San Antonio. To make these new plans fit, we chopped some time off our Texas-to-D.C. plan and eliminated our Houston visit after reading several mediocre reviews of the Johnson Space Center.
After spending our first night in Texas at the Orange, TX Wal-Mart parking lot, we headed southwest towards Bolivar Peninsula and rode the Port Bolivar-Galveston ferry across the mouth of Galveston Bay. While this route added mileage to the trip, it was a picturesque drive and eliminated the Houston I-10 traffic. Also, it gave us the opportunity to tuck into a beachfront county park for the weekend.
We spent two nights parked at the San Luis Pass County Park, just across the Bluewater Highway Bridge from Galveston Island. Since it was almost 30-miles back to Galveston, so we spent the weekend hanging out in the park, walking the beach, paddling around on the SUP, and enjoying a few beers in the Texas sunshine. You can see our review of the campground here. On Sunday morning (11 Feb), we headed down-island and then inland towards Austin.
We had a wonderful 210-mile drive to Austin. Other than a short 15-minute stretch on I-10, we managed to avoid interstates and used the awesome Texas backroads, highways, and that wonderful Texas invention—the Farm-to-Market Road!
The Texas Farm-to-Market (FM) roads were started in the 1940s as a means of connecting the outlying agricultural communities with the markets in larger towns. Larger and better maintained than the usual state or county roads you find around the country, the Texas Farm Roads are significantly smaller than an interstate and a great stress-free way to see the real Texas.
Once we arrived in Austin, we set-up our homebase at McKinney Falls State Park and had a great week exploring the city, catching up on errands, meeting up with my nephew and his daughter, and eating BBQ…LOTS OF BBQ.
Outside the Texas State Capital
While we were in Austin, I remembered the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas and talked Anna into visiting it—I am a history and a Pacific war nerd. Anna and Owen frequently pay the price for this. Fredericksburg was a little far for a day trip, so we decided to adjust our drive to San Antonio and stop en-route. We would leave Austin early, drive to Fredericksburg and have lunch after visiting the museum and the town. We would leave Fredericksburg in the early afternoon and still make it to San Antonio before rush hour. This excursion would only add about an hour and a half of total driving time to the day.
Located far from the Pacific Ocean, Fredericksburg is a cool little German town in the heart of Texas hill country. Upon first glance, it seems an unlikely choice for a museum honoring the Pacific Theater of World War II. However, one of Fredericksburg’s most famous sons is Admiral Chester Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Theater (screw that MacArthur guy!) during World War II.
We fell in love with Fredericksburg almost immediately. If you’re a history buff, the museum is fantastic all by itself. However, if you’re a fan of lovely and charming small town America, you’re going love Fredericksburg even more. In fact, after just a few hours, we decided that we liked the town so much we needed to come back and spend more time. On the trip down to San Antonio, we once again adjusted our downstream schedule and managed to add a few Fredericksburg days onto the schedule after the beach.
The National Museum of the Pacific War
We spent our week in San Antonio exploring the Missions, wandering around the touristy downtown Riverwalk area, and enjoying TexMex. We also spent an afternoon at San Antonio’s DoSeum, a fantastic three-story children’s science museum. If you’re in San Antonio and looking for something interactive and fun for the kids, I encourage you to visit the DoSeum.
Owen Conquers America at San Antonio’s DoSeum
[Pro-Tip] We have been members of Seattle’s Pacific Science Center for several years. Because the Pacific Science Center is a member of the Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC.org), we enjoy reciprocal membership at several hundred museums around the country via the ASTC’s Passport Program. In the past ten months we have visited almost a dozen children’s and science museums free of charge. If you’re traveling with kids, definitely look into this program.
Owen is giving the stink eye to all the Tourist-Trap nonsense in front of the Alamo
While the Alamo looms large in Texas lore, it is only part of the state’s complicated history. Before the Alamo was the last stand of several Texas patriots, it was one of hundreds of missions built throughout Texas by the Spanish. The National Park Service’s San Antonio Missions National Historic Park does a wonderful job of walking (or biking) the visitor through the role that these communities played in Texas’ development. The city does a marvelous job linking the missions together via the River Walk and associated bike trails, as well as running a bike share program that makes it easy to visit the missions as well as get around the downtown area. Also, while it may be blasphemy to my Texas friends, it should be noted that the Alamo is not part of the NPS site and is probably the most underwhelming of the San Antonio Missions. We felt like we had to visit the Alamo, and while I’m glad we did, it wasn’t really that enjoyable due to the swarm of tourists that were ALWAYS buzzing about grounds. When they weren’t taking getting their pictures taken in front of Davey Crockett’s last stand, they were wandering across the street to visit Ripley’s Believe It or Not, or one of the dozen other tacky tourist draws reminiscent of Myrtle Beach. If you’re going to San Antonio, the Alamo is a must see (I get that), but PLEASE don’t make it your only Mission experience.
Visiting San Antonio’s Missions was our Mission!
San Antonio was great. While we enjoyed Austin, we really had a good time in San Antonio. A little less Hipster’ish, San Antonio was more our speed and a little more authentic. Before arriving, San Antonio wasn’t that prominent on our radar and we hadn’t planned on enjoying it as much as we did. I’m sure it’s a miserable place to live in the heart of the summer, but we would definitely come back in winter for another visit.
Mission Accomplished! Another Junior Ranger Badge added to his collection…
Back in New Orleans we began to hatch a meet-up plan with Brea and Shannon of Alumalarkey fame. I had been obsessed with the opportunity to beach camp on Padre Island National Seashore for over a year following several Instagram posts by some fellow Airstreamers. Somehow I managed to convince Brea and Shannon that this would be fun. So on February 22nd, we departed San Antonio, met up the Alumalarkey crew, and sallied forth in our Airstream caravan onto the shifting sands and fickle tides of Padre Island National Seashore.
The Three Most Important rules of Boondocking? Location, Location, and Location!
We had planned on spending three nights “dry” camping on the beachfront, but plans quickly changed after the second night. “Dry” camping became “wet” camping when high tide combined with an unusually strong southeasterly wind to set Brea and Shannon’s outdoor living accouterments adrift. Both managed to pack-up in record time and rapidly executed a 4-Lo egress from our prime beachfront real estate! Potential of afloat Airstreams aside, we had an AWESOME seashore adventure. While Owen and their two boys presented their best arguments towards a more laissez-faire, Lord of Flies’eque method of parenting, the adults sat back and enjoyed the show.
Beach traffic was heavy and a little reckless, so we took matters into our own hands!
These guys owned the beach!
Lord of the Flies
Following our maritime escape, we parted ways and headed inland. With a spare night on our hands, we opted for a full hook-up recovery night at the Corpus Christi Naval Air Station, followed by a pre-planned stop at an Army Corps of Engineers (ACoE) campground on Canyon Lake. We eventually made our way back to Fredericksburg and spent three wonderful days exploring the town and the surrounding area. Highlights included the nearby LBJ Birthplace and Ranch; the small honkey-tonk “town” of Luckenbach, Texas; and a couple of nearby wineries. We also strolled downtown Fredericksburg and soaked in the Texas Hill Country.
No Bullshit! We really enjoyed Texas…
On March 2nd, we said goodbye to Fredericksburg and began our journey northeast out of Texas. As we rarely travel more than 200-miles on our travel days, and the fact that Texas is a Big-Ass-State, we planned to break up the drive and spend two nights in Waco and one night near Texarkana. We wanted to stop at Waco because of the nearby Waco Mammoth National Monument. We chose Texarkana because it was about halfway to our next destination, Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas.
Let’s go to Luckenbach, Texas with Waylon and Willie and the boys. This successful life we’re livin’, got us feuding like the Hatfields and McCoys…
Anyhow, to make a long story short, when I was changing reservations around to support Fredericksburg stop, I managed to screw up our Waco ACoE campground reservations. The end result was that we missed our two reserved days because we were screwing around in Fredericksburg. We could only get a campsite for one night.
We hadn’t done much Waco research beyond the National Monument and it turns out there were a lot of things we could have, and would have loved to have, done. Adding insult to injury, Dash (yes, we have a dog) had cut his paw on the beach at Padre and it appeared to be infected. We needed to get it looked at and Anna had made an appointment with a veterinarian located near the campground. With only a few hours to visit before things closed, we dropped Anna and Dash off at the vet and Owen and I rushed off to visit the Mammoth site.
Waco Mammoth National Monument was one of the coolest small National Park Service sites we’ve visited. We grabbed a junior ranger booklet and took a one hour guided tour. The tour is the only way to see the Mammoth “dig” site, which is the location of over 25 fossilized Columbian Mammoth skeletons, including a family group of females and babies. The park rangers were excited and well-informed; the tour was fantastic. We had a great time and brought the Junior Ranger booklet home to work on that evening—we would stop back at the monument on our way out of town the next morning. Anna’s visit to the vet wasn’t nearly as exciting.
In hindsight, we should have skipped the original ACoE campground and moved to another nearby one that had two nights of availability. In the heat of a problematic check-in with an unhelpful campground host, combined with brain-numbingly long Texas travel day, we didn’t think things through adequately. Lesson learned!
An additional byproduct of my botched reservation job was an extra night with nowhere to stay. Because it was approaching a weekend and the Hot Springs National Park campground was first-come first-served, we needed to tuck in somewhere for that extra night and wait out the weekend. We had already reserved one night at a Texarkana ACoE campground and adding an additional night was easy. While the campground was perfectly adequate, the stench from the nearby paper mills and the dearth of Confederate Flags made for an interesting stay. However, since there wasn’t anything to do in either the campground or Texarkana, and I had good internet connectivity, I did managed to finish our taxes!
On Sunday morning, the 4th of March, we departed Texas and headed northeast into Arkansas and Hot Springs National Park. Farewell to Texas, for now. We thought you were great, and anticipate seeing your West (best?) side!