March and a Bit of April

I know it has been a while since I wrote, but this time I actually have a reason. Connie and I decided to spend a good portion of the spring in the Hill Country of Texas with the intent of looking hard for a place to spend next winter and possibly our final stopping place when we end this journey.
With that in mind, we have done a little less exploring and a lot more living as though we live here – if that makes any sense at all.
Our first stop in the Hill Country was New Braunfels which is between San Antonio and San Marcos on I-35. We stopped there because we were a weekend too early for our month long reservation in Spring Branch, TX.
While we were in New Braunfels I was able to sneak in a long run on the back roads east of the freeway. Unfortunately I missed a turn and wound up running nearly a mile further than I had intended. The additional distance convinced me to enter a half-marathon in the San Marcos area. I had been hesitant due to the description of the course on the brochure. It indicated that the course was challenging due to the hills. My run in New Braunfels was very hilly, so I was confident I could complete a challenging half-marathon course.
New Braunfels has much more to offer than challenging runs. The historic town of Gruene (pronounced green) is located within the city limits of New Braunfels. There has been a great deal of effort gone into restoring many of the old buildings in Gruene and establishing businesses that can succeed. There are many antique shops and several boutiques as well as restaurants and wine shops throughout the small former town. The old water tank continues to look down on the town and serves as a beacon for the tourists who are certainly welcome. The shopping is great and it seems as though there is always a reason to have some sort of weekend festival that draws folks from near and far. Connie and I made a couple of visits to Gruene while we were in the greater San Antonio area. It is a fun place to visit. We found a winery that imports grapes from nearly anywhere in the world and then makes small batches of wine with foreign heritages. We stopped in for a tasting and left with a couple of bottles of what can only be considered boutique wine. They were really quite good. Later we learned that there are several wineries in the area that grow their own grapes and make some pretty good wines of their own.
Being just south of San Marcos also meant we were even closer to the outlets of San Marcos. There are two huge outlet malls that occupy adjoining tracts of land a few miles south of the city of San Marcos. We visited both on more than one occasion.
On the first of March we traveled some 50 miles or so to Spring Branch RV Resort which is located about 20 miles north of San Antonio on US 198. We had chosen this particular park due to location and the looks of the place from their web site. Although it is a charming place and I would recommend it to anyone, I have to say that the webmaster is a miracle worker. The photos on the web site were much more glamorous than the real thing. However, the people working there and the owners are all really wonderful people and although there were not a lot of amenities it is a wonderfully peaceful place in a beautiful setting. Our problem with it was the distance to almost anything that resembled civilization. Remember we are on the search for a long term stay place. Therefore we want a place that is close to the necessities of life such as groceries, dining, and shopping. Although 20 miles doesn’t seem far to get to a city like San Antonio, the traffic is a bit daunting and aggressive. It seems that there are a lot of bedroom communities that use US 281 as the main artery into and out of San Antonio. In fact the area I chose to run was a development of what I call mini-ranches. It looked to me that a large ranch was sold off in large tracts of three plus acres each. The buyers have built these mega homes with private drives and automatic gate systems. It seems that all the inhabitants of the development work in San Antonio because as I ran into the development in the mornings they were driving out. As I ran around the neighborhood I rarely saw other humans out and about unless they were driving out. I did see a lot of dogs, however. The good news is that they were all behind fences and mostly just gave me friendly barks as they ran along the fence line not really trying to get out.
We did find groceries and a Starbucks both of which were close enough to be reasonable. There were a few local restaurants equally as close, but they either offered limited options or were too expensive to visit at our normal dining out frequency.
I had to drive about four miles to get to a safe place to run. While I am currently motivated to train for the marathon this fall, that drive was not a great inconvenience. However, over the long haul I believe I would skip runs rather than make the drive. Connie had an even worse problem. There was a gym about six or eight miles away, but the program offered was not worth the cost. Therefore, she got her exercise by running around the RV Park. She hates to run. Need I say more?
By the way, I did enter that half-marathon and I ran it. I did not achieve my time goal, but as a consolation prize I placed fourth in my age group and I was older than the first three finishers. I was beat down by the hills. That was okay, because I needed to run hills to build my strength. So, even though they cost me speed in the early part of our stay in the area, they were doing me a lot of good for what is to come later in the year.
We made the best of our one month obligation at Spring Branch by taking several trips into the outer ring of San Antonio and one trip to the famous San Antonio River Walk where we enjoyed an afternoon of walking along the river and through the shops. We ended the day with a riverside dinner at an Italian restaurant.
We also took several road trips to various places in the Hill Country just to see what was there. We didn’t do much in the way of birding while working our way through this first month. A good part of the reason for that was that we were not getting up any too early. I think there were several factors contributing to the sleeping later, but in my mind the most important one was the fact that due to the time of year and where we are in the time zone it did not get light very early. Since the bedroom was staying fairly dark we stayed asleep. It didn’t take long for a cycle to develop and we were staying up later and later making it harder and harder to get up early in the morning.
There were a few highlights that I cannot let pass. My cousin Dede Patz (married to my cousin Greg) was trying to get to Austin to visit their second eldest daughter, Mary and her husband Seth and their two new adopted boys. Due to bad weather in Juneau, Alaska, her home, she was unable to fly when she had intended to. The rebooking could not get her to Austin in the same time frame she had to travel, so she flew to San Antonio where Connie and I picked her up and took her to Spring Branch. We wined and dined her and gave her a bed to sleep in for the night. The next day we drove her to Mary and Seth’s home outside Austin. We spent the afternoon with Mary and the boys and then we all met Seth at one of the best BBQ places on the planet, Salt Lick BBQ. This place has been featured on one of those travel/dining shows on the Travel Channel. It was a place to behold. We had about a forty-five minute wait to get in. That is a long time for a BBQ place. It was made to seem even longer when you consider that the food was served within just a few minutes of ordering. You don’t spend much time there once you get in. It is getting in that is a challenge. The establishment has no liquor license so the patrons bring their own beer and wine. We had been pre-warned by Mary, so Dede and I picked up some beer along the way and we put it in our soft-sided cooler. When we got there I was astounded at the various coolers and bags people brought their beer in. Some folks looked to be there for the evening judging by the size of the cooler they dragged along.
The food was just wonderful and I ate way too much. Connie only shared a very small portion of her leftovers with me a few days later.
We had a great time with Dede and we were especially happy she was able to spend an evening with us. Even though we have exchanged Christmas greetings for most of our married lives, we only met Dede for the first time some years ago at a family reunion where Connie was introduced to about 150 of my family members, most of whom I had never met or had not seen in decades. That was not a good opportunity to get to know Dede. Our other only meeting occurred last summer while we were in Alaska. While there was a lot of shared time together over a three day weekend, we only did just start to get acquainted. So, our time together this time was pretty special. It was also great getting to know Mary and Seth a little better. All in all, it was a wonderful time.
Last winter while enjoying the very south of Texas in the Rio Grande Valley, we met a great number of Canadians. I have written about many of them in previous posts. One such couple from Alberta, Graham and Carol were spending a few days in Kerrville earlier this spring. We had stayed connected via e-mail and when we realized how close to one another we were we decided to get together for a visit. We settled on Fredericksburg because Graham wanted to visit the Admiral Nimitz and War in the Pacific Museum there. While Graham and I toured a fraction of the museum due to our late afternoon arrival, Connie and Carol tested their legs and shopped around the downtown area. Following the closure of the museum we settled on a German restaurant with a good choice of draft beers. Over dinner we caught up on our respective activities since leaving the valley last spring.
As spring was happening around the area, the local San Antonio newspaper published their annual list of places where wildflowers were to be the densest. Looking at the map printed in the paper there looked to be two or three locations we could get to with a reasonable drive and maybe even find a new place to eat. We decided to make our first drive to the east to the town of Brenham, Texas where Bluebell Ice Cream is made. What could be better, a drive through fields of Bluebonnet flowers ending up at the ice cream factory for a sample of ice cream. The drive was pretty neat except for the fact that there were very few flowers in bloom along the way. The ice cream was as wonderful as it always is. However, the drive back to Spring Branch was not as exciting as it could have been had there been great fields of flowers to look at.
We next went towards Fredericksburg. Unfortunately, we had a similar experience. We decided that the paper looked at the calendar to decide when the wild flowers would be at their peak rather than paying attention to the weather that had plagued the area all winter.
On Easter Sunday my Aunt Lena Patz, Greg’s mother, would be celebrating her 90th birthday. My other aunt, Aunt Rose Marie Madia and Aunt Lena’s children decided to host a birthday party for her to include as many of my generation as possible. I wanted to go, but I sure didn’t want to take the motorhome all the way to Sheridan, Wyoming and back. It is something like 1300 miles one way. Connie and I decided to leave the coach in Spring Branch and drive the car up there. We talked about flying, but by driving we would get to see my brother and his family, one of my sisters and her family and our good friends in Cheyenne. Our car is new, so it would be a good road trip to see how well the car travels.
So, on 31 March we put the motorhome in partial storage, we kept the power on, and off we went. The drive to Sheridan was somewhat hurried as we were not sure what we would find weather wise and we didn’t want to be late for the party. As it turned out the only bad weather we found heading north was a bit of high wind and blowing snow around Cheyenne, Wyoming and a bit of snow north of there. We did see the aftermath of an accident involving an auto carrier. I couldn’t count fast enough to determine if all the vehicles that were scattered around came off the carrier or if there were other vehicles involved. Further up the road we came across a car that had slid off into the median. I could not figure out what happened to cause the car to leave the roadway. In fact until just as we were passing the car I thought the driver was attempting a u-turn via the median. However, as we went by I saw the slide marks on the wet pavement. I was going too fast to stop and there was a lot of traffic behind us. We hope someone was able to see them soon enough to make a safe stop and give them a hand. There were certainly enough highway patrol, sheriff’s deputies and snow plow operators in the area to keep them from waiting too long for assistance.
The party was a lot of fun and as the group size was intentionally small, we got to spend some quality time with a good many of my relatives whom I have not seen a lot of over the last 40 years or so. Aunt Lena is in really good health for her age and while she has some memory problems she has retained her wonderful sense of humor. At one point she quipped to me that she gets a really high sitting charge for taking photos. I told her that she had not yet seen what I charge for taking photos. I was sure I could match her sitting charge with charges of my own. My photographic goal for this event was to simply get photos of everyone in the family who attended and then slip off at some point during the party and get prints made for both my aunts. By using my digital camera I was able to edit the photos while still at the party and then run off to a drug store where I was able to have prints made within 30 minutes. It was a nice last minute surprise for Aunt Lena to have actual photographs to look at before the party was over.
On our return trip to Spring Branch we made the stops I mentioned earlier. We had a great time in Cheyenne with our friends Jim and Beth. Beth had a bed ready for us when we arrived and the wine was already resting. We also got to see my childhood friend, Stephan, for lunch. Unfortunately his wife, Kay, wasn’t feeling well so we were not able to see her or any of their family.
My sister Mary Ann and her husband Jerry were at the party, but we wanted to see their son and his family as we passed through Greeley, Colorado. We had a nice evening with all of them that included a really good dinner at a local restaurant.
Unfortunately, we had a bit of a negative incident while in Greeley. At the hotel I was taking the first load of stuff back to the car before breakfast and as I walked into the parking lot I noticed that the power cord for the GPS was hanging out the window, or at least what was left of the window. It seems that within a half hour or so of my going down to the car someone did a smash and grab. Needless to say our departure from Greeley was delayed.
We were fortunate enough to be able to get the window replaced by late in the afternoon. Between the insurance company and Safelite Auto Glass we were really taken care of. The other fortunate part of this story is that we were only going as far as Arvada that day, so the late departure was simply an imposition.
We were going to Arvada to visit my brother and his family. John had a knee replaced late last month, so we wanted to stop in and see how he was doing. He picked our visit to be his first venture out of the house since the procedure. He really did quite well. In fact the next day he had the staples removed from the incision and he called to report that his range of motion improved considerably once the staples were gone. Anyway we had a great dinner and an equally great visit albeit very short.
Two days later we were back in Spring Branch. On our last leg we passed patch after patch of absolutely beautiful wild flowers along the roadways in the Hill Country of Texas. As our last driving day was over 535 miles I decided to not try to stop for pictures. For most of the drive the sun was too high to make good images. We had dinner in Fredericksburg and as it was still quite light we hoped to get some good late light photos as we left town. Unfortunately, we didn’t find any good places to stop to take pictures and the traffic was quite heavy for the two lane road we were on.
We spent two more nights at Spring Branch RV Resort and have since moved to La Hacienda RV Resort which is west of downtown Austin but still in the city limits. We checked this place out as well as the surrounding area a few weeks ago and we think it offers much more than Spring Branch.
Stay tuned to see how it goes.



2 thoughts on “March and a Bit of April”

  1. The Admiral Nimitz Museum is a little-known treasure. I thought I would spend a few minutes inside and, instead, ended up spending almost 3 hours. Someday I want to go back and see it again.

  2. Congrats on the marathon. I admire runners because I hate running a lot, also.
    Braunfels and Gruen (both German names) sound wonderful. I have a dear friend who grew up around Austen and who graduated in the Fine Arts Dept at UOT. She always recommended Austen to people like myself who have only known the panhandle in winter and Dallas in summer. :=)


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