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Published: November 2nd 2011
Tell people here that you are going to take a run through Texas and they tend to smile a little, nod, mention San Antonio, and perhaps Austin, but, other than that, well ... I didn't believe them. After all, discerning people on both sides of our family have lived in Texas. New Mexico gets slightly better reviews but then you mention Kansas and your credibility as a discerning traveller is shot. The trouble is that Texas is the second largest state in the USA and there really is a lot to it so we decided that it deserved a bit of a look. I will explain about Kansas a little later.
There isn't a lot of interest between Louisiana and San Antonio, except the 4th largest city in the US. We had seen a little of Houston on our way through last year and, while I am sure that there is a lot to see and do, I am also sure that you would be best off living there a while. We didn't slow down. Couldn't is probably more accurate. Up there with everyone going our way on the 9 lanes of the I-10 there is really no other option
Visitor Centre at the Texas-Louisiana border
than to just keep going. They have 2 lanes dedicated to what other places call 'car pool' vehicles but, being Texas, you can pay a little toll and use those lanes if you wish.
We camped at San Antonio. The weather was good and we found a KOA a little out of town. Having heard that it could be costly to park in the city we took the public bus into the city which cost the princely sum of $1.10 each way. We had been warned not to expect much at the Alamo but were still surprised to find it smack in the middle of town. Then we wandered the streets prepared to be impressed but struggling just a little. The buildings were nice enough and some had been kept in their original form. It takes more though than the original Walgreens sign to justify a 400 mile drive.
Then we found the River Walk. Every other city with a river has every right to be embarrassed. The River Walk is an excellent way to utilise a body of water running through your place. Back as far as 1905 the people were using the river as a focus
for celebrations. In the 1930's work was done to create a walk along the river. This has been progressively added to over the years until now it provides pathways along both sides of the river for a couple of kilometres at least. It is down a bank from the main part of town and has many restaurants and bars along a loop in the river that goes around an island. The River Walk has won many architectural and town planning awards and is a great place to spend time in the San Antonio heat.
There is more to San Antonio than the River Walk. The spanish Governor's Palace is interesting and not overblown. More historic buildings than we had first thought had been retained and, overall, the city centre was more attractive than most. We had a bit of a look at all of this until it became too hot and we just had to scuttle back down to a bar along the River Walk with everyone else.
Texas was to be a key State in the great hat and boot search. We combined this with a look at the country on the way north and west to
Abilene. We had stayed off the inter-States for most of the day. It wasn't terribly difficult with none actually going our way. The country was a lot like the Texas we have heard about. Dry, rocky with bits of arable land and some large tracts of cotton. You could call this dull and uninteresting but not if you are from the Australian outback. The big difference is that there are a lot of people here, although they still contrive to live in towns reminiscent of Qld back blocks. Abilene, the town made famous during the cattle drive days, didn't have a lot to say. It is a large, Texas town whose boot and hat shops, by the way, aren't worth the trouble.
Moving on north and a little west we started to pick up the Texas pattern. Poles. Texas is big and busy. It is largely flat in the areas we travelled but it does have rather a lot of poles, or more precisely I suppose, things that stick up out of the plains. None of your featureless, flat land here. They decorate it with oil wells, mile after mile of wind farms, solar collector farms, power poles, satellite
dishes, water bores, grain elevators, power stations, even fences and occasionally a house or two. I should mention that a drive through the hill country was not flat and didn't have the pole problem. It was interesting country and would be better in an earlier season I suspect.
Our boot and hat search was moderately successful in Amarillo. Very large stores there and a couple that even had a reasonable range rather than a lot of exactly the same few things.
Our general direction at this stage of the trip is towards Denver. We have people to see there and want to drop in before going further west. A sensible track, therefore, took us through New Mexico towards Santa Fe. The New Mexico Visitors Centre was up to the standard we have come to expect. As we drove into the state along the I-40 from Amarillo the landscape started to change. Hills and a few mesas. We had expressed interest in following more scenic byways than the inter-States and the very efficient lady at the Visitors Centre recommended a route that picked up part of the old Route 66 and a part of the old Santa Fe Trail.
It also took us past the Pecos National Monument and that would allow us to pick up on a key site for the Pueblo people, some of the first people to live in this area.
The Pecos Valley has been settled for over 10,000 years, first by the Paleo Indians and more recently by the Pueblo who built a pueblo/village housing over 2,000 people in buildings up to 4 or 5 stories high. They farmed, fought and traded with other pueblos and the plains Indians for many years before the Spanish arrived. A good National Park and worth the small trip to it. Nice too to walk in the dry conditions at some altitude.
In Santa Fe we found the Silver Saddle motel. It came recommended on some web sites. Very helpful and friendly staff. Quirky, clean and convenient. Worth a look.
Despite waking with what felt like a hangover, after not having had a drink the night before, it was nice to be back at some altitude. The weather was clear and the air was fresh and clean. Santa Fe has gone for adobe in a big way. Driving through the suburbs you find many houses
build of adobe – although it is possible to suspect that they are really block covered with adobe looking plaster. But they look good as does Santa Fe. The central square is where it all starts. Nice to be in a Spanish town again. The Palace of the Governors and the adjoining New Mexico History Museum were well worth the hours we spent. A very good exhibition of the history of the State and of the southwest more generally that doesn't gild the lily. There are rather a lot of shops in Santa Fe. The best was the Zuni Pueblo shop called Keshi. A cut above the others and a good arrangement with the Zuni whose work is the only material available. We contributed well to the economy of the city and to the Zuni I trust.
A northerly storm hitting the Rockies and particularly Denver predicted to be bringing substantial falls of snow convinced us to delay our trip north for a couple of days. We decided to head east instead. This would take us to Oklahoma and to Kansas. We have had a sneaking suspicion that our trip across South Dakota and a little of Nebraska didn't
the first village where San Antonio now is
really qualify us to comment on the crossing of the prairies. It has seemed to us that this is a major lack in our US experience and we now had the chance to address the issue.
We set out from Santa Fe in the rain, not snow but it was cold and it stayed around for most of the day. As we travelled closer to the prairies we moved out of country that was clearly not particularly productive to country that clearly was. It was a competitive environment – oil wells, wind farms, gas wells, grain production, hog farms, cattle feed lots. The numbers of cattle in the feed lots makes Noonamah look very, very small and there are many, many feed lots.
Our aim was to get close to Dodge City. We made it that day largely because there was really nowhere else to stay along the way we took. I had done really well here. Made sure that we were in a really romantic and beautiful city on my wife's birthday. Dodge hasn't a lot going for it these days. A Boot Hill Museum that was a little tired and a little old. A town centre
that is possibly struggling a little for business. It looks like the old West has been well dealt with by the new West complete with hog and cattle factories.
Back up and across Kansas the country followed much the same pattern. Close to towns there were cattle feed lots holding thousands of head of cattle and as you moved further away it was all grain production with the occasional oil well. As they say, Kansas goes on forever. As silly as it sounds, though, it wasn't boring at all. You probably wouldn't want to do it too often and the birthday girl kept talking about light planes being good for country like this, but I/we wouldn't have missed it.
On now for a return visit to Denver and Colorado. We don't backtrack often but this is a special case. Then, hopefully before the next major storm, we will be out and gone south and west.
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