Our travels took us from the Red River Army Depot to the Dallas, Texas area. Before I leave the Red River Army Depot, I have to make a comment or two about the installation.
The base, like most Army bases I have visited, is huge. Apparently it used to be even larger. While I am not certain what the former mission of the base was it is fairly evident that the current mission has a lot to do with refurbishment of all varieties of rolling stock such as tanks, jeeps (humvees) and ambulances. I am no expert on Army equipment, but of the hundreds of damaged pieces of equipment I saw only a few humvees that appeared to be armored. Having said that, the damage that we could see driving through that part of the base we were allowed to be did not look like battle damage. Most of the damage looked more like traffic accident sort of damage. We sort of surmised that we may have been looking at training equipment as opposed to equipment that was returned from the battlefield. That would explain why there appeared to be no bullet holes or bomb blast damage. However, the large numbers of equipment also seemed to be huge for training related damage. Having said that, I really have no idea how the Army trains and what sort of damage to their vehicles would be expected. One final thought, a lot of the vehicles seemed to be first or second generation humvees. Therefore, there is really no telling how long the Army has been accumulating them at the depot. It is very possible that with war losses as high as they are it has now become economical to repair the hundreds of units that were previously mothballed.
This argument was sort of supported in a casual conversation I had with our next door camper. He and his wife both are working on the depot refurbishing equipment. He led me to believe that this is a temporary job that is expected to last no longer than four or five months. All in all, the entire depot was an interesting place. We were discouraged from looking around by the fact that we were required to wear badges that identified us as persons who were to be only at MWR facilities. The campground and the fitness center were about the only places on this huge complex we could go.
The campground was just so-so. The bath houses were not well maintained either on a daily or long term basis. The laundry was small and the machines were not great. On the positive side, there were miles of roads for me to run on that were well within the area we were allowed to be. The campground was on a beautiful lake and there were rental cabins that really reminded me of my youth in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming.
Anyway, we enjoyed our stay, but were not sorry to leave and head for the Dallas area and some of our birding and golfing friends.
While in the Dallas area, we stayed at an Army Corps of Engineering Campground on Lake Lavon outside Wylie, Texas. The campground was in stark contrast to the last facility. There were some 45 or 50 sites with just enough trees to provide a little protection from the sun while providing plenty of airspace for the satellite dish to find a signal. As it was a Corps of Engineering campground, there were no sewer connections. We were to be there for five nights, but knew we would eat away most nights therefore minimizing the dishwashing. As it turned out we had plenty of gray water space.
We had two friends we wanted to see while we were in the Dallas area. Bonnie, one of the folks Connie met through the Project Feeder Watch list-serv, which turned into a private list-serv with about 100 posters, works for a local school system. She was able to take Friday off allowing us to spend the day alone with her. Bonnie recommended a day trip to the Texas State Fair. We had not been to a major fair in a number of years, so we were excited by the offer. Bonnie had suggested that we meet at one of the mass transit rail and bus stations where we could park for free and commute to Fair Park. We rode the light rail for two stops then transferred to the bus, riding it to just across the street from the fair. The bus ride alone was probably about ten miles and it took us through that part of Dallas where Bonnie had grown up. Having her along for the trip was like having our personal tour guide. It was a fun commute to the fair.
The Texas State Fair is held at Fair Park which is also home to the Cotton Bowl. The fair is like most fairs. Lots of people, lots of food I am no longer able to eat and a whole lot of stuff that had been graded, judged and awarded blue, red or white ribbons. We had a great time wandering through many of the exhibits, commercial areas, the midway and, of course, the food vendors. The Texas State Fair has two very recognizable icons that separate it from any other fair I have ever attended. First is Big Tex. Big Tex is a 52 foot tall cowboy who stands watch over the fairgrounds from what is probably the geographical center of the park. His electronic voice tells the fair goers what is happening in different parts of the fair. This fellow is huge his skeleton weighs some 3 tons and is made of 4200 feet of steel rod. Bonnie told us that the bill to wash and iron his shirt was something like $700. Now, that is a big shirt. Big Tex has been around since 1952. Over the years he has had a few makeovers and technical improvements. Word is he will get a new set of clothes for the 2008 State Fair. In 1961 he co-starred in a remake of State Fair with Ann Margaret. The fellow certainly has staying power. Before he became Big Tex he was Kris Kringle. The fair bought him for $750 and then transformed him to Big Tex. The other icon is the giant Ferris wheel that is a fulltime attraction to the park. Of course I don’t remember all the specs for this giant ride, but I do remember that it was specifically built as a landmark feature and that it is the largest Ferris wheel in North America. There are something like 48 gondolas which can carry six people each. The ride is 212 feet in diameter thereby giving those brave enough to ride a great view of the park and the city. Of course the one thing I am most impressed with concerning this landmark is that it was made in Italy. Most people do not think of Italy as an industrial nation. However, did you know that most of the Washington, DC/Northern Virginia/Southern Maryland Metro System subway cars were made in Italy? That fact makes this Italian/American proud.
Since it was the state fair and more importantly only one day and one meal of that one day, I cheated my diet and ate fair food. I had one of those enormous soft pretzels, a smoked turkey wing and a beer. Connie broke down and had a real hot dog while Bonnie put all caution to the wind and had a Corny Dog, a soda and a loaded Belgian Waffle. I have to admit to having a bite of the waffle. That was probably my biggest mistake of the day. There was so much whipped cream on the thing that I came away with a mustache full of cream that almost immediately turned to a sour whipped cream that I had to smell for the rest of the afternoon. Bonnie did really well getting nearly the whole waffle and all that whipped cream and what must have been a half pint of strawberries down. I know it was a lot, because she would talk about it the rest of the weekend. We were at the State Fair and we were going to enjoy ourselves, and, darn it, we did.
We made the return commute via the bus and light rail with only one little hiccup. The first bus we got on, while it was the route 60 bus, turned out to not go all the way to the end. We found ourselves stranded at a bus stop in an area of Dallas not known for its friendly inhabitants. We were the only people at the bus stop and at least one of us got nervous every time the light turned red and cars stopped adjacent to us. Our wait was only about 15 minutes, but it sure seemed a lot longer. Eventually we got back to where we were parked and then drove to dinner.
We were to meet our other birding list-serv friend, Carla for dinner at a local Mexican restaurant. You know, you cannot go to Texas and not eat Mexican food. We were really glad when Bonnie recommended this restaurant. We had hoped to get the real deal and we were not disappointed with Bonnie’s choice. The hard part was deciding what to eat. However, deciding what to drink was an absolute no brainer for me. I had one of the best margaritas I have ever had. Actually, I had two of them. We had a wonderful evening catching up with Carla and all of us sharing our day’s experience at the fair with her.
Saturday Carla met Connie and me at a Starbucks near our campground (isn’t that great to have a Starbucks within a few miles of a campground that is really out of town?) and we went on from there to Bonnie’s house. Bonnie lives on the other side of the same lake we were camped on. Her property sits atop a hill that would overlook the lake were there not so many wonderful trees on her and her neighbor’s property. Bonnie built the house many years ago. When the house was new, the trees in the yard were small. Those same trees are now huge and beautiful. She has photographs that chronicle the development of the property and the growth of the trees. We were supposed to be there to meet her cats and do some bird watching. Well, only two of the cats cooperated and by the time we dragged ourselves away from her wonderful house we were trying to bird at 1 PM. We did have a great hike, but we saw nearly no birds at all. We heard a number of Cardinals but never got even a glimpse of one of them. There were of course herons and egrets to be seen on the lake, but mostly we just helped Bonnie work off the Belgian Waffle to say nothing about the Corny Dog. I would be remiss and probably in trouble if I failed to mention the flowers we saw on our hike. Given the time of year, we did not expect much in the way of wild flowers, but we were very pleasantly surprised to see a beautiful variety of thistle in full bloom. There were also some sort of sun flowers and a beautiful flowering plant with flowers resembling baby’s breath only they were bright yellow. Of course, I had left the camera in the car which was a few miles away. I really would have loved to share the thistles with you as they were spectacular.
That evening all four of us met at our motorhome where Connie and I showed Bonnie our home as she had never seen it before. Then I got to show off my culinary skills by cooking dinner for the four of us. With the exception of the salad that Connie made, the entire dinner was cooked on our little Baby-Q gas grill. We had a great time and I think Bonnie and Carla both went home satisfied with their dinners.
On Sunday, Carla, her friend Nancy, Connie and I all golfed at a nearby golf course. This was a real treat for me for a lot of reasons. The only one that is of any significance to most of our friends is that Connie actually had fun golfing and played very well. She scored par on two different holes. I was really happy that she had such a good time. Connie and Nancy rode together and Nancy was very supportive of Connie in her quest to make the outing enjoyable. Carla and I walked. We were pretty tired by the end of the round as the temperature was in the mid-nineties. Nancy is a real golfer and gave us all a bit of a clinic. All had fun.
Sunday evening Bonnie, Connie and I all went to Carla’s house to look at her back yard and meet her cats. Carla has spent countless hours and even more money transforming her backyard in to a haven for birds and butterflies. She has done a wonderful job and we could see the pride she has for her accomplishment as she walked us around and gave us the history of each of the plants featured in her personal wildlife sanctuary.
Carla’s cats were about as sociable as Bonnie’s, so we only saw two of them. We had another great evening, but ended it a bit earlier since we were so exhausted from the day of golfing and in anticipation of the fact that Bonnie had to work on Monday.
On Monday Carla and I golfed again. This time we went in toward the city to a municipal golf course which has been around for years. It was one of the more mature golf courses I have been on in a good while. It was also one of the more challenging of courses as well. I made my tee selection based on distance as opposed to slope rating. I sure wish I had done it the other way around. I played a much better round than the day before, but scored considerably higher. When I compared the two score cards in detail I learned that the tees I played from on Monday were harder than the long tees from Sunday’s course. That fact made me feel a lot better about my score. I walked on Monday and that too was a mistake. It was hot as all get out and there were some outrageous hills to get over. All that said, it was still a great day. Carla and I played alone and moved around the course pretty fast and really had fun.
Connie spent the day getting us ready to get underway and catching up on her e-mail. When Carla and I were done with golf we met Connie and Bonnie at P. F. Chang’s for a farewell dinner. What a feast we had. We had most of the major food groups, prawns, calamari, chicken, noodles, lettuce wraps, chocolate rollups and cake. I thought I was going to burst from all the food. I actually had to leave food on my plate! It was a wonderful way to end a great visit with some really great people to be around.
We are now enroute to the Houston area where we will meet up with a former shipmate of mine two times over. We will also get what we hope to be the last of the warranty work done on the motorhome while in the area. So, stay tuned. There will surely be some good dining events in the near future.