Texas: El Paso, San Antonio and Bandera

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January 23rd 2018
Published: February 2nd 2018
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23 Jan 18

Left Tuscon and headed west to El Paso (or some might say Hell Paso). The trip took about 6 hours all up including a stop for lunch at a little place called Lordsburg. The Kranberry Family Restaurant here promised down-home-style cooking. It was rather quaint and very busy. Mainly locals or regulars as they seemed to know the staff.

I saw Chicken Fried Steak on menu and had to give it a go. It was covered in a white pepper sauce. You could choose a side so I chose the loaded potato. The dish is like a schnitzel where the bread crumbing outer layer was KFC style.

The food was quite nice, and I am glad that I tasted Chicken Fried Steak but I won’t order it again. I would hate to think of the total calories on that plate.

We travelled on to El Paso arriving mid afternoon. We found our hotel just off the Interstate 10. There was a fair amount of noise from the highway, but it readily became just background noise.

24 Jan 18

We headed off today to visit the Carlsbad Caverns. I had looked it up last week and the website said that the elevator would be under repair on 22 and 23 Jan so I thought we would be fine. The sky was blue and clear, the air crisp.

On our way out, I checked the website again and found that the elevator repair was to occur today 24 and tomorrow 25 Jan. Our only 2 days in El Paso. It is such a shame as there is not a whole lot to do and see in El Paso and I was relying on the locations outside of the city.

We did spend some time at Hueco (pronounced Whey-Koh) Tanks. A hueco is a natural indentation in rock that holds water. It is an incredible location with artifacts dating back a few millennia. This area is considered sacred by some Native American groups such as Apache , Comanche, Kiowa and Tiguas tribes.

There are 3 mountains and only one can be accessed by the public in a self guided activity. There are quite a lot of “Pictographs” – rock paintings dating from as far back as 6000-3000BC. The most recent art work AKA Graffiti starts appearing from 1849. Needless to say people are no longer permitted to make any markings on the rocks in this space.

We went on a couple of short walks to see the rock art and we came upon another tourist who was excited that he had finally captured an image of a road runner that very day after 4 years of trying. I asked him what this bird looked like as I only had the images of a road runner from the cartoon I watched about 40 years ago. I showed him the photo of a bird we saw at Tucson a few days before and he confirms it was a road runner. Check out the image on this blog. They are fairly non-descript really. I expected a road runner to be a very large and colorful bird.

We returned to El Paso and went to some scenic viewpoints of the city. El Paso is a very widely spread city – it kind of surrounds the Franklin Mountains and lies just north of the Rio Grande. We discover that the population of El Paso is about 750,000 while the Mexican city across the river (Juarez – pronounced Wah-rez) is 1.5 million. Between the 2 cities, that is a lot of people living and working in the desert. Quite remarkable really.

25 Jan 18

Not much to do in El Paso and as the Wyler Aerial Tramway is also not in operation until tomorrow 26 Jan, we decide to take an El Paso city tour. The 3 hour tour started at 10am and the first hour was spent exploring Fort Bliss –which is an army installation with 50,000 soldiers in place. I did say there was not much happening in El Paso didn’t I. The next couple of hours was spent driving around the city, visiting a cemetery, looking at the city from another viewpoint and seeing where Juarez sprawled out south of the Rio Grande.

We decided to take in a movie this afternoon. We went to a cinema in Basset Plaza. In this centre was the biggest video arcade I have ever seen. It is called Dave & Buster’s. I can imagine the grandkids having so much fun here.

26 Jan 18

We set out for San Antonio at 6.15am and drove for about 7 hrs to get to San Antonio (including a couple of short breaks). It rained. Not much to see along the I-10. We did notice some small oil wells off into the scrub. The area also smelt like a mechanics shop – that oily smell if you know what I mean.

27 Jan 18

Went on a tour of San Antonio with Alamo Sightseeing Tours. We had a really great time. The tour included a really comprehensive look at the war between Santa Anna (President of Mexico) and the Texans who wanted their independence. At this time of course Texas wasn’t even a state of the USA. My understanding of this war and in particular the siege of the Alamo in San Antonio was scant. I didn’t really get it.

The tour guide Jim had a real passion for speaking the truth as best we know it, so he didn’t gloss over the facts but gave a pretty objective account of the main players and what went down.

Stuff I didn’t really know is that

· The Alamo was a mission developed by the Spanish Catholic church in the 1700s. It was one of 5 missions along the Rio Grande.

· Mexico had gained independence from Spain a few decades before and had a president who ruled the country.

· The area know known as Texas was one of it’s territories. There was concern that there was too many people crossing into Mexico from the US. (kind of reverse of today’s situation)

· In 1835 President Santa Anna tried to limit the autonomy of the countries territories and the Texians (yes they were called Texian at the time) didn’t like it and pushed back.

· The US supported the Texians and helped them to take a stand against the Mexican soldiers. The US had already declared Texas independent of Mexico in the few months before the revolution (late 1835). Not sure why the US had that authority to do that.

· The Texian rebels lost the battle at the Alamo which ended a 13 day siege on March 6 1836.

· There were less than 200 defenders of the Alamo against 3,000 Mexican soldiers under the direct leadership of the Mexican president Santa Anna.

· Among the defenders were

o Davy Crockett - the same frontiersman from Tennessee – who never really wore a coonskin hat, he wore a beaver hat or a wide brimmed hat – and was a congressman who tried to become President but failed and he had only just arrived in the area some weeks before the Alamo battle

o James Bowie pronounced Boo-Wee) – who was a slave trader at some point in his history, but also had some military experience and

o William B Travis - previously a lawyer, with limited war experience

· The only survivors to tell the tale were women, children and slaves.

· The conflict that stopped Santa Anna was at San Jacinto in April 1836 (about 6 weeks later). The Mexicans lost this battle and Texas became it’s own republic.

· From 1845, Texas became the 28th state of USA making the Mexicans furious and then the Mexican-American War started. It officially ended in 1848. I think that there still exists a whole of lot of animosity on both sides of the Rio Grande.

Another amazing part of this tour was the Riverwalk cruise. San Antonio has turned their part of the San Antonio River into a wonderful place for shopping and leisure – mostly good eating and much drinking. It is a beautiful spot in a busy city. My words will not do it justice and the photos I took will fall short also. Check out the additional photo section for a lot of different views.

We had a great day exploring a whole lot of history of San Antonio, which looks to be a very livable city.

28 Jan 18

Our next stop was the Rancho Cortez. It is a dude ranch about 1.5 hours south east of San Antonio and just outside of Bandera Texas. They call themselves the cowboy capital of the world. It is in Texas hill country.

The dude ranch can hold about 70 guests but Walter and I were just 2 of 4 people in total. The other 2 were in the fitness program they run and did not interact with us very much.

Day one saw us on a one-hour trail ride. My horse was called Goliath and Walter’s was called Wild Thing. After this we went to paddock about a kilometre away to feed the cows. It is winter and there is not much grass so they give them extra food.

29 Jan 18

Today we had 2 trail rides and learnt how to throw a lasso. It was a bit of fun actually.

We also ventured into Bandera and found a lovely creek setting. The town is quite charming; very busy with a lot of everyday business going on. I would think it was not on the international tourist trail though. They are surviving without too many tourist dollars.

This is not the case for many small towns we have driven through or stopped out over the last few weeks. Very sad really; not much different to Australia. We also have some large cities outside of the capital cities and if they can support a population then it is great. For the smaller spots, unless it can draw people in to visit and spend their money there (like Byron Bay) but not live there, it dies a slow and agonizing death.

Additional photos below
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