Sunday, April 27, 2014

Lake Amistad

As Bruce mentioned in a previous post, early this morning when the temperatures were in the comfortable 70s, we hiked one of the lovely trails in the Amistad National Recreation Area.  But this afternoon, when the temperatures soared over 90 to a mid-afternoon high of 104, we chose to take a driving tour of the park in our air-conditioned truck!
Amistad Dam and International border
The Amistad Reservoir is located on the Rio Grande River in Val Verde County, Texas, and the state of Coahuila, Mexico.  It was formed in 1969 where the Devil's River and the Pecos River meet  the Rio Grande. The lake is jointly managed by both countries through the International Border and Water Commission.  (This same commission manages Falcon Lake which spans the Rio Grande near Zapata, Texas and the Mexican state of Tamaulipas.)
View of Amistad Reservoir from the Diablo East area
The surface area of the reservoir is 64,900 acres which allows lots of space for recreation of all kinds. Swimming, boating, sailing, scuba-diving, water skiing, and, of course, fishing.  Amistad Lake is the site of nationally renowned fishing tournaments, especially for its healthy population of bass of several different kinds.
Snorkeling inlet of Amistad Reservoir.

Hunting, picnicking, and primitive camping are popular in the surrounding public areas.
The marina at Rough Canyon on Amistad Reservoir
Some of the fingers of the reservoir are surrounded by high and rugged canyon walls, such as these at Rough Canyon.  Northwest of the main reservoir, where the Pecos River joins, in several of such canyons, caves have been discovered that contain ancient and vivid rock paintings.  Some have been carbon-dated to 4000 years old.  Little is known about the peoples who created those paintings and their descendants have apparently disappeared from the area.  So the pictographs are not only beautiful, but mysterious.
Highway 90 bridge as seen from Governor's Landing
Nearby Laughlin Air Force Base will have to wait for another time. Tomorrow we will make our way west across this Highway 90 bridge and continue on our way west -- even deeper into the southwest Texas wilderness -- toward our goal: Big Bend National Park!

Hiking at Amistad National Recreational Center

Frequently people driving through the desert northwest of Del Rio are surprised to find a large lake in the midst of the desert.   However, we came intentionally to visit Lake Amistad and the Amistad National Recreation Area.

We began our visit to the Amistad National Recreation Area with a hike on the Sunrise Trail which originates at the Visitor Center.  We saw rabbits and deer, but of most interest was the Native Flora.

Claret Cup.

Horse Crippler

Huisache in bloom.

Guajillo in bloom.

Prickly Pear in bloom
Close-up of Prickly Pear Bloom.

View from Sunrise Trail toward Lake Amistad.
While the distant view from the hiking trail toward the reservoir looks plain and uninteresting, we were thrilled by the beautiful discoveries all along the trail.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Laredo, Texas

There's an old cowboy ballad that begins with the words, "As I walked out on the streets of Laredo..."  Well, today we followed in those footsteps, and we walked about on the streets of Laredo!  It's an interesting and lovely city, and we learned four important things about this tenth most populous city in Texas:

IT IS HOT!  Average temperatures for April range in the upper 80s.  It was 94 yesterday afternoon when we arrived, and about the same today.  If you ask the locals about the heat, they'll probably reply, "But you ought to come in the summer when it really gets hot!"

IT IS HUMMING!  Laredo is the county seat of Webb County. The economy of this city of 236,191 people revolves mainly around trade between U.S. and Mexico.  The city has four international vehicular bridges and one railroad bridge.  It is the largest inland port on the U.S./Mexican border.

IT IS HISPANIC.  The 2010 U.S. census indicated that 95.6% of the citizens of Laredo are Hispanic.  We saw very few white faces and used our (poor) Spanish more than in any other Texas town we have visited.  Spanish is the language of the streets, although persons who deal with the public are bilingual.

IT IS HISTORIC.  The city was founded by Don Tomas Sanchez in 1755.
It was located in the Nuevo Santander region of the Spanish colony of New Spain.  (Remember, this was long before the area north of the Rio Grande River belonged to the U.S.)  It was founded at the site of one of the oldest crossings of the Rio Grande River.
As in most cities influenced by the Spanish culture, the church was one of the first buildings of the town.  The Cathedral of San Agustin de Laredo stands in the center of the historic part of the city on one side of the main plaza.  As we walked toward the plaza, we felt as if we had been transported back to Mexico!  We were surrounded by brown faces, heard only Spanish being spoken, and advertising signs were mostly in Spanish.
Great care has obviously been taken to preserve -- or restore -- some of the earliest buildings in the historic district. 
La Posada Hotel, for example, has been elegantly restored.  It includes the ornate iron work so typical of wealthy old Hispanic homes, and beautiful gardens.
El Pasillo de Agustin, once a private residence, has now been converted into a restaurant serving delicious food.  It is also available as a location for parties and celebrations.
The home of the Garcia family, built in the 1830s, has been restored to become the town's historical museum.  That opens for us another unique chapter in Laredo's history.  If you count carefully the flags flown over the Museum's doorways, you will discover that there are seven flags, not just the six celebrated in all other parts of Texas,  The museum is called the Republic of the Rio Grande Museum.  It preserves -- and celebrates -- the brief history of a failed attempt to form an independent nation, separate from Mexico and its government in 1840.
The flag of the Republic of the Rio Grande
The ill-fated Republic of Rio Grande survived for 283 days and included parts of the Mexican states  of Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Coahuila, and the northern province of Texas.
Wikipedia indicates that, eight years later, when the Rio Grande River was declared the new boundary between Mexico and the United States, the citizens of Laredo petitioned the U.S. military command in charge of the area to allow them to return to Mexican governance.  Their request was denied so most of the inhabitants packed up, moved across the river, and established the city of Nuevo Laredo.  In the 2010 census, the combined population of the two cities was nearly 625,000.
Do you suppose that singing cowboy who "walked out on the streets of Laredo" ever dreamed how historically rich those streets were?

Lake Casa Blanca International State Park, Laredo, Texas

On our first day of travel for this summer season we drove northwest to Laredo, Texas, where we settled in the campground at Lake Casa Blanca International State Park.
A reservoir was constructed here in 1951 to provide recreational opportunities for residents of Laredo and Webb County.  According to Wikipedia, "The park was operated jointly by the City of Laredo and Webb County before it was acquired by the state in 1990 and opened in March 1991 as the Lake Casa Blanca International State Park."
The park features large day use areas including ball diamonds, fishing locations, picnic shelters, mountain biking trails, and a boat launch.
The campgrounds contains 56 water and electric sites plus 10 full hook-up sites -- all with a view of the lake.  
A distinctive structure located high above the campground is this abandoned building which is believed to have been used as a science center with various educational displays.  Note the tree growing in the center of the building which has been unused for at least 40 years.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Choral Concert

One of the joys of spending time in the Rio Grande Valley is having opportunities to enjoy great music.  Last evening we attended a choral concert featuring the VSO Chorale and the UTPA University Choir.
This was the first concert where both of these groups performed in the same event.  Each choir presented their own concert and then they combined for the final number, "Hallelujah" from Mount of Olives by Beethoven.
It was a delightful evening of great music.  Conductor Dr. David Means announced that he hoped to be able to present more concerts by these two groups in the future.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Spring Comes to the Rio Grande Valley of Deep South Texas

Several months ago, a friend challenged me to chose one location and take a photo once each week at that same location to show the arrival of Spring.   I chose a location just north of Elsa, Texas, on Spur 1925.   This location is about 18-20 miles north of the border with Mexico and the Rio Grande River.
March 2, 2014

March 9, 2014

March 16, 2014

March 23, 2014

March 30, 2014

April 6, 2014

April 12, 2014

April 19, 2014
While there are more blooms on April 19 than on April 12, a careful examination of the April 19 photo reveals that some of the blooms are already past their peak.  Summer is coming and Spring's beauty will fade.   But, oh, how Spring's beauty has excited us!

Hitch Itch

A couple of our RVing friends have a unique word for that irresistible urge to get on the road and travel. They refer to it as "hitch itch." You know the feeling, don’t you? It’s that inner subconscious restlessness that engulfs you when the weather begins to get nice and you and your RV are sitting still!

We are developing a serious case of "hitch itch" as our D-day (departure day, that is!) draws closer and closer. We "itch" so badly that we’d be out of here already if it weren’t for all the last minute things we need to get done before we can hit the road.

One of those essential tasks, of course, was to put the hitch back in the truck. Bruce had taken it out shortly after we got our new-to-us truck in February. Removing the hitch from the bed of the truck opens up much more space for hauling bicycles for our weekly rides. But we can’t tow our home on wheels with the hitch out of the truck! So, on countdown day ten, it was time to put the hitch back in the truck where it belongs.

However, we ran into an unexpected problem: it wouldn’t fit! The hitch assembly has four tabs on the bottom that are supposed to slip into four slots on the foundation bars mounted on the floor of the bed of the truck. The entire piece is then secured by the inserting pins thru the holes in the bottom of the slots. A great theory!

The hitch is a heavy piece of equipment. Even half of it was more than Bruce could maneuver (and, of course, I was no help at all!). He struggled manfully with it and could get two of the tabs into the appropriate slots but the other two wouldn’t go. If the front two went in, the back two wouldn’t. If the end two engaged, the other end was off by one 32nd of an inch! A neighbor came over to help but all we could do was wring our hands and shake our heads.

"Hitch itch" was intensifying for us with the frustration of this new roadblock. The hitch had been mounted in the truck when we picked it up, so it had to fit. Bruce remembered that it had been a bit difficult to get it out but how could it have changed size while it hung on the front of the fifth-wheel? It didn’t make sense, but it would not go back in. Fortunately, before he lost his temper or his religion, he decided to quit trying and brood over the dilemma overnight.

Next morning, after breakfast, I heard an unusual sound. I looked out the door to find the source of the sound. Bruce was again up in the truck bed struggling with the hitch. He was using some grinding tools he had, and others he had borrowed from neighbors, and was painstakingly enlarging the slots. He was "scratching" those holes out, and, in no time, the tabs slipped right into their respective slots!

The old adage says "There’s more than one way to skin a cat." Well, apparently there’s more than one way to install a hitch, too. If you can’t shrink the tabs, enlarge the slots! Bruce’s vigorous "scratching" gave us a great deal of relief from the extreme level of our "hitch itch." Now I think we’ll be ready for D-day in just four days!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Raising the Roof

A week or so ago we bought a porch.  A neighbor had had it built for his rig but, when he sold the lot, it wouldn't fit the in-coming RV.  It's small but handy: two sets of steps (front and back), handrails, a narrow floor outside the door (to stand on while searching for our house key!), and a roof!  Finally we can get from truck to door without getting drenched in the rain.

One of the park owners -- a handyman with tools and equipment --  moved our new porch from its previous home to our site on the front-end loader of a tractor.  It looked rather odd, but it worked.  Several other neighbors drifted in to be part of the project.  One was a master carpenter, several were good "followers of orders" and all had strong backs and willing hands.

As they muscled the porch up to the side of our fifth-wheel, we realized we had some problems.  The length and width were good but the roof was so low it kept our door from opening. Whoops!  And when the door was opened, one of the roof supports kept it from opening fully.  Double whoops!

I was inside the trailer putting away the clean breakfast dishes when I heard ominous sounds: SSccrraappee, UUgghh, SScchhrreeeech "Just a little more." The helpers were pulling our porch away from our door again, trapping me inside the trailer!  All I could do was watch out the window and listen.

It was a fascinating conversation.  Bruce and several helpers spoke English.  The master carpenter mostly spoke English but often had to translate for his French-speaking helper.  There seemed to be some difference of opinion because there was plenty of hand-waving and shaking of heads in both languages.

Finally I began to hear more hopeful sounds:  BLAM, BLAM as the original upright supports were removed.  New and higher roof supports were added, BANG, BANG, in positions that did not interfere with the door.  But the roof was still too low.

For a few moments it was quiet as I heard many voices sharing ideas and solutions.  And then, again, there were sounds of hammers ripping out nails --SSqquueeaakk, WWrreenncchh.  What in the world are they doing, I thought, tearing up instead of fixing up?

Then the air was again filled with grunts and groans as our husky helpers shoved and pushed the remodeled porch back into its proper place.  Voila! The door could now open, close, and, when open, lie flat  against the trailer wall. 

Our friends and neighbors had successfully raised the roof!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Big Bug!

While I was doing my daily walk this morning, look what I discovered!

I hurried and did some research and this is what I learned  --  this is a new threat to the Rio Grande Valley and only a small handful have been far. 
It's a new spider called the Angolan Witch Spider.
They migrated from South America.
In Texas they primarily eat dogs and cats.

If you want to read more about the Texas invasion of the Angolan Witch Spider click here.