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Published: February 5th 2011
The very cold weather has been The Story of our last week. We are cozy in the RV with electricity, internet, cable, etc. But we have drained all the water out of the tanks, which causes mild inconveniences. More importantly, we have skipped some visits which we had considered making. Which just means we will have to come back this way some day...
We spent three nights in El Paso, and visited the Border Patrol Museum, Golden Horseshoe, Art Museum, Railroad Museum, and walked the downtown historic tour. And we spent a day driving to and from Carlsbad Caverns, an awesome spot.
John, glued to weather reports, read them wisely, and we headed east for the next two days. A short drive on Thursday brought us to Fredericksburg, where we will be staying for several days.
All family members urged us to get out of El Paso ASAP. However, there are a lot of good things to see there. And everywhere Americans are urged not to cross over the bridge to Ciudad Juarez. We did not. Although John is always dubious that anything bad could ever happen to us, I can get quite adamant about not taking chances. El Paso advertises that the FBI has rated it the safest city in the U.S. They are concerned about losing that status, however, since in 2010 there were only four murders there, and in January 2011 there have been six. Anyway, obviously, we survived.
The Border Patrol Museum, the only one in the U.S., was very impressive. And sobering. Goodness, those agents face dangerous situations! The Museum has a bunch of different vehicles used for patrolling, and lots of displays about incidents, uniforms, etc.
The guidebooks talked about the Golden Horseshoe in downtown El Paso, so we thought it would be interesting to drive around it to see all the cute shops in that particular several-block area. Well, it was - interesting... It was Saturday, and the streets were swarmed with folks who had come over the border to shop, either for food or clothing. They all looked like normal decent people and it was hard to think that they are caught in such danger in their homeland. While we were in El Paso, Janet Napolitano came to town to talk about what needs to be done about the horrible dangers over the border.
When we walked the downtown historic tour, the architecture was striking, but so too was the fact that so many downtown buildings are closed up. John suggests that the large number of shopping malls north of the interstate probably reflects fear of going downtown to shop. The Art Museum is lovely, and at the Railroad Museum, John as usual at those places got involved in long conversations with passionate and extremely knowledgeable railroad buffs. So many railroads pass through El Paso, including the Amtrak train which we rode several years ago from Tucson to New Orleans.
We ate at Cattleman's Steakhouse, probably the most highly recommended restaurant in the area. It is several miles east of town, and is at a large working ranch. We regretted that we went too late to see the ranch or the sunset. But we did have a lifesize bronze Bucking Bronco statue by Remington looming over our table. The steak was very fine, although sometimes it is hard to appreciate things that are so hyped.
The next day we traveled up to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. The trip is about 150 miles one way, and I was not concerned that we had only a quarter tank of gas in the Corolla because there were bound to be gas stations along the way. Whoops. Well, there were some "ghost" gas stations, but none pumping gas. We had to detour 13 miles into Dell City, and were very relieved to pull next to a pump there. Gas stations come along a lot more frequently in New Hampshire; I think we learned a lesson about the West.
Carlsbad Caverns are spectacular. We walked two-plus miles, and then took an elevator back to the surface. It's daunting to think about the early explorers and visitors to the caves, who did not have such smooth boardwalks, or artistically lighted scenes, to enhance their travels. The temps is a constant 56, very comfortable. We rented the audio guides, and that was a smart move, yielding lots of information that would have been impossible to read in the dimly lit caves. We saw stalactites (which cling tightly to the ceilings) and stalagmites (which stand strong and mighty) and draperies and straws and all sorts of other formations. The Big Room has very high ceilings, but is mainly "big" because it extends on and on. People are still exploring down there, and they have fairly recently located another cave which so far extends a hundred miles! It is of course off limits to all but permitted cave experts. As I have said before, I can see photos of places, but there is nothing like actually being there. That is especially true of Carlsbad Caverns; we think back to the feeling of being there, and just exhale "wow's".
We had to abandon ideas of driving north of Carlsbad, e.g. to Roswell, because of predictions of heavy weather. Another time...
We spent a couple of days driving across West Texas, and actually got about halfway across the state - with two full days of driving. Somehow we dodged the heavier snowflakes, and the winds, although not still, were not overwhelming. It is always fun to see people unfamiliar with snow frolicking when there are a few flakes in the air. The terrain was pretty uniformly gently rolling hills and some scrub growing on the land, but not much in sight, not even livestock. We were sad that the cold weather precluded our driving down to see Big Bend National Park, but it did.
When we finally got to the Hill Country, the hills got a bit higher and the vegetation denser. And we saw more animals, although we also saw ubiquitous signs about hunting, guns, deer dressing, etc.
Fredericksburg was highly recommended, even by 1000 Places to See Before You Die. It is a community settled by Germans, and still retains many features of German culture. I had weiner schnitzel last night and John had schweinebraten at Der Lindenbaum restaurant. There are mostly "classy" shops lining several blocks of the wide main street. Great for browsing. We stopped for an afternoon coffee and pastry at Rather Sweet, run by Rachel Rather, whose cookbook is The Pastry Queen. The raspberry almond bar we shared had at least one stick of butter and two cups of sugar, it seemed.
The weather really has been treacherous. You must have heard about the ice falling from the roof of the stadium in Dallas and seriously injuring folks. Schools have been closed, some for several days. They don't have many inches of snow, but the roads are very icy, and people here are not overly used to this stuff.
We are in a very nice RV park, mostly inhabited by "winter Texans" from Manitoba, Minnesota, etc. The elegant new feature for these parks is individual shower rooms which are quite spacious and include the sink and toilet. The spiffy laundry accommodated the several loads which had built up when it was too cold to even walk to the laundry facilities at previous parks! A huge recreation room includes a jigsaw puzzle in progress which I must discipline myself to stay away from. We haven't heard yet if there will be a gathering tomorrow night to watch the Super Bowl, but it does seem likely - people here are very friendly. The only glitch is that the water supply to the RV's had frozen and remained so for several days. When the sun finally reappeared yesterday and the temperatures soared to a little over 32, a maintenance man knocked on our door to tell us that water was now available again. It was cold again last night, however, and we still have our water turned off.
Later today we hope to drive around the Hill Country to the LBJ Ranch and numerous small villages. Austin and San Antonio are next on our agenda.
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