One of the things I liked best about living in Texas was the wildflower season. Texas is big and contains a variety of habitats, but in nearly all of them, you can find an explosion of wildflowers every Spring. Since it is Spring now I thought I’d take a few moments and share some of the wildflower photos that I’ve taken over the last few years.
Bluebonnets and Plains Coreopsis
If you have ever been in Texas in the springtime, you know it just isn’t Spring without Bluebonnets, and I find that I am really missing them since we have moved. We are heading to Texas next week, so with luck, Ren and I can get our Bluebonnet fix. You will often find cars lined up on the side of the road with full families running about amidst fields of these Texas flowers (Bluebonnets are the state flower) taking pictures. It is not Spring in Texas if you don’t get Bluebonnet photos of your kids. The video above was our 2017 Spring “photo”.
Milfoil (Achillea millefolium)
As we travel each spring I always try and capture some of the wildflowers we run across. It’s part of what makes it feel like Spring to me. There is something about the colors, the reds, blues, purples, yellows, and other colors that attract the birds, bees, and other insects to help pollinate the wildflowers all around.
Prickly Pear Cactus (Opunita)
We were surprised that even the cactus blooms in Spring. This prickly pear bloom was found along the Abilene State Park’s lake. Within a matter of weeks, there will be a dark red fruit showing up on these cacti and the deer will be feasting upon them.
No doubt there are plenty of places to see wildflowers here in Oklahoma, but we haven’t found them yet. Perhaps it’s still a bit early in the season. Ren is often looking for the places we normally see wildflowers in Texas along the highways, but she never sees any. Lady Bird Johnson (President Johnson’s First Lady) said, “Ugliness is so grim. A little beauty, something that is lovely, I think, can help create harmony which will lessen tensions.” It was that time period when Texas began spreading Bluebonnet seeds along the Texas highways.
I’m not a botanist, so I can’t really tell you what most of these flowers are if you know you are welcome to say something in the comments. More than likely while my wife does the formatting of this post, she will label all of the flowers. Ren is good like that. (This is Ren, the website I get the names of the Texas wildflowers is http://www.texaswildflowerpictures.com. Don’t tell @scottf my secret, he thinks I’m the smartest woman in the world.)
Flowers are from left top to right bottom: Winecup (Callirhoe sp.), Texas Bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis), Texas Paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa), Texas Sunflower (Helianthus praecox), Golden-wave (Coreopsis basalis), and Antelope horns (Asclepias asperula)
If you are heading to Austin for the conference, see if you can make time to visit the Texas Hill Country (https://texashillcountry.com/) and see some of the wildflowers. It’s supposed to be a good year for them and I am so excited to be heading towards them.
I took this photo in January of 2016 at the Roaring Camp Railroad near the Henry Cowell Redwood State Park in California. We were visiting our friend Barbra in San Jose and went to see the Redwoods. It rained most of the time that we were there, but we didn’t mind. The clouds, fog and rain gave the forest atmosphere, and there we no crowds. We like to travel during the off season, the weather may not be ideal, but we often have the place nearly to ourselves.
The Roaring Camp Railroad is a train ride to the top of the mountain through the Redwood Forest pulled by a 1880s era steam engine. This was my first time to see redwoods, and I was not disappointed. I think the rain added to the experience.
I love this photo of the steam from the train discharging into the fog, though I almost missed my ride back down the mountain to get the shot.
We planned to enjoy the bringing in of a new year quietly and at the place we are calling home for now; unfortunately, that is not what serendipity decided for us. Instead, we found ourselves 450 miles away on a bus with no English speakers surrounded by icy winter weather. However, it’s wasn’t as grim as it might sound. Scott and I were enroute to pick up a new-to-us Expedition because the truck finally gave up. See, it’s all about how you choose to view it, no matter how cold it is.
Christmas Eve, we were headed to spend time with family only to start the day out with the truck giving up, leaving us stranded for a short while. Don’t fear, our friend Larry was able to assist us and got us home. We were able to borrow a vehicle for the day so we could be with family. Christmas Day was amazing. Most of the time my mother and father have myself and my children with their families celebrating at their home, but this year my daughter Amber took on the work. Since my son’s Christmas gift was the meal, we had a very simple menu with ham, potatoes, pea salad, and my son-in-law’s Tator Tot Casserole, plus the many dessert treats that were Ren friendly. Then, of course, there were the gifts!
Often people use Christmas to give huge extravagant gifts for their friends and families which can cause an issue of “keeping up with the Jones'” mindset. We decided this year we would not fall into this frame of mind and put a simple limit on the amount to be spent. Even better than that, we gathered the money together and asked our good friend Belle to purchase and wrap the gifts. None of us knew what the gifts were until we unwrapped them Christmas Day. The part that made this so fun and challenging for Belle, was it was only $5 per person. I know, scary, right? However, this gal hit this challenge out of the park. She was able to get everyone something they loved and could use while not allowing anyone to feel they had been slighted. It was definitely a wonderful celebration, and one that will be hard to beat.
With Christmas over, the next important chore was to find a vehicle we could afford. We had some requirements for our next vehicle but were not sure we would be able to find what we needed for the money we had available. Fortunately for us, we have some amazing friends who were in the right place at the right time. Our friends Karl and Jessica had a 1997 Ford Expedition they were needing to home and it was in excellent condition. The best part was it was within our price point AND it fit the requirements we had. The only thing was, it was in Austin, Texas; we are in Tulsa, Oklahoma. That is a 450-mile trip and we had to figure out how we were going to get there as soon as possible. Scott had a four day weekend coming up and we are always up for a challenge; well, once plans stop getting nixed. Unfortunately, because we had decided a couple of years ago to get rid of our credit cards, we were unable to rent a car; the only flights available were all on standby and the traditional Grayhound bus service was completely sold out. We, meaning me, were in a total panic, then Scott found something unexpected.
Turimex Internacional is a bus system that caters to the Hispanic community. At first, when Scott told me about it, I was nervous about it. I know, I was not in my comfort zone and I found myself putting up barriers. However, after reading reviews, seeing many photos of the buses and finding out more about the service, I agreed. It was not the perfect answer, but it was the answer, and it was time to take our own advice and get out of our box, our comfort zone, and live life. There were some really difficult things about this trip such as there hardly being anyone who spoke English, it was a twelve-hour drive, and not a dining situation except to eat in our seats, but it was a new experience for us. It has helped us see that there are other possibilities out there for travel. I will admit, I prefer our own transport, but there is a more willingness to entertain other modes of travel. Twelve hours after we stepped upon the bus, we arrived at our destination. We were very happy to go sleep in a comfortable, warm bed.
The day before New Year’s Eve, Scott and I got into our new vehicle and proceeded to go on an adventure. We have been to Austin many times because I needed to attend Texans for State Parks board meetings, but we had not really seen much of the area except for the downtown Texas Capital building. I knew McKinney Falls State Park was directly behind the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department headquarters, but we had never stopped in to visit; therefore, we decided this was one of our destinations while we were running around this day. McKinney Falls State Park has some really amazing features that you are going to love, I know I was in heaven while we were visiting. The actual falls were created by the wonderful Texas Limestone that once was the roadway for the El Camino Real de los Tejas. This was the road we traveled along when we visited Nacogdoches November 2015 and was the lifeline for Texas in the 1800’s. You will find some homestead buildings, a 500-year-old Cypress tree, a natural stone shelter, and many trails. When you are in the area, go visit; it is so worth the trip.
While we were wandering around Austin, we found the Travis County Courthouse. Even though we had been able to mark off the county a couple of years ago, I was extremely excited to be able to collect the county courthouse. One of the things about county courthouses I love is the history. The original county courthouse was a two-story building near Republic Park in downtown, but this was not the official courthouse. That was built in 1876, but it was not large enough for their needs so they built a second one in the Second Empire style alongside the Texas Capitol Complex. Eventually, in 1931, the current building was built and the former building was used as office space for various Texas State Agencies. The current building is six stories PWA Moderne style made out of concrete with limestone neoclassical flourishes. As you can see, it fits the Austin eclectic style.
After the capture of the Travis County Courthouse, we knocked about town enjoying the hills, canyons, and scenery. I can tell you, I am looking forward to more adventures in this crazy place. There are so many interesting eating establishments, but our favorite so far has been the food trucks. They are everywhere and some of the local coffee places are welcoming them onto their property. We had a great experience with one at Radio Coffee and Beer. Because we were in Austin, we knew there would be great music playing somewhere on a Saturday evening. We were not left lacking for sure. This evening we went early for dinner and enjoyed street tacos by Vera Cruz Taco Truck, a couple of blood orange ciders and, of course, coffee. We were also able to hear some really good music by Christy Hays and Ali Holder. I just loved Christy’s song style and really enjoyed her songs. One of the songs she sang “Ribbon of Highway” just spoke to me. If you would like to hear some of her music you can go here: https://christyhays.bandcamp.com/. I can’t wait for her album release in April. You should be excited about it too!
New Year’s Eve was such a quiet day for us. We just spent the day with our friends Karl and Jessica, while having lunch at Opal Divines Austin Grill with their friends Taylor and TheLester (turns out it is DLester, but I thought she kept saying “The” Lester! hahahaha). It was amazing meeting these two gentlemen who were great conversationalists and very interesting people. I think that is one of the reasons I love meeting friends of my friends; they are so diverse and I feel like I am a better person because they encourage me to be one. Plus they have awesome toys! Once the long wonderful lunch was over, we went back to Karl and Jessica’s and just chilled out, played video games, and talked about everything. Scott and I were invited to a New Year’s Eve party but we decided we were going to stay in. We had pizza (did I mention Austin was a food paradise?), booze, and popcorn. I had forgotten how excited Texans get about fireworks and it was New Year’s Eve so fireworks were a must. You could hear them popping all around us, in the middle of town. It was so loud, but I managed to fall asleep until, what I assume was midnight, there was a huge explosion of fireworks. It was extremely loud, however, my exhaustion was more powerful so I turned over and went back to sleep. The next morning I woke to Scott snoring like a madman.
It was departure day, New Year’s Day, and it was 9:00 am. We dressed and gathered our things, headed out quietly and found a McDonalds. While we waited for our order to arrive at our table we knew we needed to look at the various routes home. On Saturday the Fort Worth-Dallas area was overtaken by a wintery weather mix and the cities were shut down for the at least a few days. This wintery weather mix showed up in Austin the night before and I had panicked a little the night before, but Scott convinced me to calm down and we would figure things out the next morning. It was the next morning and we were viewing the traffic map only to see Waco was shut down as well so we were going to be required to figure out a new path. Fortunately, we were already near State Highway 79 and it went straight to Palestine then up to Paris along State Highway 19. We had already been through all of the counties we were driving through, but we had not gotten three of the county courthouses of those counties. We were able to capture the Robertson County Courthouse, Rains County Courthouse, and Anderson County Courthouse, just by driving right past them. The best part about the situation is that we didn’t have to drive out of our way to capture them. Once we got to Hugo, Oklahoma we took the Indian Nation Turnpike home. We pulled into the driveway around 9:00 pm.
This, in many ways, began as a trip that was filled with anxiety and fear because we were taking a mode of transportation we were unfamiliar with and it was in a situation where we did not know the language. We found ways to communicate and we made it work; it has helped us be more open to learning Spanish and exploring the culture a bit more. Mark Twain said, ” Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” After this trip to Austin on the New Year’s Holiday, I find this to be extremely true and I look forward to getting out and living life outside my comfort zone.
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As you now know, Scott and I are living in Oklahoma. He was able to transfer with his job so he lost no vacation or sick time and his pay stayed pretty much the same even though he received a small bit of a pay raise (Texas doesn’t have income tax where Oklahoma does – blah). I am not taking on a park hosting position for a while so we can focus on getting situated and working on the RV. One thing for sure, the website and videos will be reworked and rethought. We are finding our way around to what we want more for us and you all.
One of the things we are trying to think about is how we want the website to help us achieve our goals of helping benefit you while still telling about our adventures. This means we have to figure out how we are benefiting you as a viewer, guest, friend. Needless to say, we are at a bit of a crossroads. We aren’t sure what we are doing is providing anything for you except keeping everyone updated. It has taken us a while to admit this, but there it is.
This is an ugly realization for us and it was difficult to admit. Who wants to do something that is not useful? That is why we are taking a bit of a break. Our life just exploded over the past month and we came face to face with some major issues: debt, death, disappointment, and so much more. We both decided what we were doing was not working and life felt out of control. This was not a bad thing because we can see the good coming out of it all. That is why we aren’t giving up the website or videos. Just re-evaluating everything to figure out what we want to do and see if we want to pull you all along through the mess.
This next three to six weeks will be the time we make some major decisions. At the moment we are staying with family, not in the Beast because there are no hookups and this is Oklahoma. Oklahoma is pretty unforgiving in August concerning heat and no air conditioning. This, however, is very temporary because the plan is to move out of the Beast completely for about six months while we strip her completely down and fix her up; this is the outside, inside and engine. We will be staying in Scott’s brother’s fifth wheel during that time, but they are in the process of buying a house so it is all in a state of chaos at the moment. But isn’t that the way with chaos, it is temporary.
So, we wait. While we wait, we focus on the things we can work on now. For Scott, it is getting adjusted to the new job while I take the time to work on the website and video channel.
Texas is very special to us. I am not sure if it is the various landscapes, amazing geography, diverse personalities or colorful history, but there is just something about this huge state that pulls us to hit the road and explore. Maybe this is why we have a hard time telling each other “no” when a destination is brought up. More often than not, the travel within our state’s borders seems to always be spur of the moment. It doesn’t matter how many times we tell ourselves we won’t do any travel this weekend, we just get the urge and cannot seem to fight it off. Maybe this is not a good thing, but it is how it seems to happen. This past weekend was no different for sure.
Looking at the huge map of Texas that is securely pinned on our living room wall, there is much yellow telling us what counties we have visited. It is a very satisfying feeling and one I view often with much pride. Unfortunately there is just as much white giving me the impression that Texas is laughing at me; boasting that we will never touch every county within her borders. The other morning was one of those mornings I found both Scott and myself glaring at the map, both thinking there had to be some way to mark off another county or three.
Since we will be traveling to the Austin area in a few weeks, I didn’t want to go to the southwest and I definitely didn’t want to go northwest because we are still having low-to-mid 90 temperature days. I do so hate the heat, but we live in Texas and there is not much you can do about that. The only other area we have not visited was the southeast. Scott, in his Texas history loving way, found a celebration of the 80th anniversary of the Stone Fort in Nacogdoches area. It was happening in the evening that day and we had plenty of time to get there before the activities began. A plan had been hatched and a hotel reservation made. We were off.
We left late enough that it would be about 3PM before we arrived at the hotel, but we would still have a few hours before the event at the Old Stone Fort took place so we knew there was plenty of time. However, we did’t feel a need to do much stopping except to stretch our legs. We traveled down State Highway 175 through Athens, Rusk to Alto where we turned on to State Highway 21 and then to Loop 59 around Nacogdoches. It was such a pretty drive through loblolly-shortleaf and longleaf-slash pine forest. We were in the Piney Woods region of Texas and it was beautiful. I have been told by many who have been through Tennessee that they are very similar, except for the mountains. This areas does not have mountains, but there are some amazing rolling hills that go on and on upon the landscape.
Nacogdoches, Texas, the county seat of Nacogdoches County, is actually the official OLDEST town in the state of Texas. In 1779 Colonel Antonio Gil Y’Barbo led a group of settlers to the Nacogdoches area and later that year they received designation from Spain to be a town. Y’Barbo was a spanish trader and the Lieutenant Governor of the area. He established the laws for the local government, laid out the plan for the town and made sure to connect the main street of town with the El Camino Real. This location was eventually to become the gateway from the United States to the Texas frontier.
Knowing this was the county seat, you know we had to find the county courthouse to take a photo so we headed to find the old downtown where the majestic building would be sitting squarely in the center. All we found there was a brick building that had once been the post office, but was now the city’s visitor center. We were stunned, but not too surprised; we had found one other county seat that had a post office in the middle of the square. However, we did come across an interesting sound and sight. At the corner of Fredonia and Pilar a small group of people were sitting on the sidewalk playing Old Timey music. Our interest was caught.
This was the awning covered sidewalk in front of the General Mercantile and Oldtime String Shop owned by Steve and Sheryl Hartz. They have owned this shop since 1977 where he does his luthier work and she builds other wooden specialities like amazing handcrafted brooms. The storefront has the original doors, windows and signs from way back when and when you enter the building you feel as if you have been transported to the past. Here you can find the banjos, mandolins, and other instruments Steve has made. You will also find CD’s from his recording business Mystery Ridge Recordings and Publishing. On Saturday evenings you will find them and many others sitting out playing the music that resounded throughout the hills of the Piney Woods area.
We would have stayed for hours just so Scott could enjoy the music, but we were on a mission to learn more about this Old Stone Fort. Prying ourselves away, we headed to the Stephen F. Austin University to find this building and 80th anniversary celebration. This is definitely a two personality place. On the one side it is a very historically focused place with historical markers on almost every building and street corner; while on the other side, there is a good sized university full of young students who come from many different backgrounds giving this place an interesting modern vibe.
We eventually located the Old Stone Fort on the university campus and the event had just started. The SFA Piney Woods Fiddlers from the School of Music opened the event while the Nacogdoches Boy Scouts prepared a dutch oven feast. There were speeches by the museum’s director, Nacogdoches Mayor, and the living history re-enactors. I was able to talk with re-enactor Two Hawks (David Pistole) and discuss his part in the Texas Revolution. There was cake, El Camino Real de los Tejas lecture, and a outdoor showing of the 1930 John Wayne film, “The Big Trail” movie. This was a very nice celebration but it was not quite what we either expected.
I was expecting this to be a city wide festival complete with hundreds of city folk, multitude of rides, and a sense altering parade, but it was not. This was literally the celebration of a building and its history. The Old Stone Fort was built near the center of what is now the downtown square along the El Camino Real de los Tejas between 1788 and 1791 by Colonel Antonio Gil Y’Barbo, the leader and founder of Nacogdoches. This building passed from him to a couple of different owners to be used as a store, cobbler shop, and eventual saloon. However, the most important bit in this building’s life was the part it played in the Republic of Texas history.
By Trinidad de Salcedo – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25611079
On December 16, 1826, the Edward brothers, who were the men responsible for obtaining a charter for populating the area from Spain, seized the building from the Spanish Magistrate starting the Fredonia Rebellion. This rebellion only lasted until January 23, 1827, but it is said to be the one of the causes for the Texas Revolution for freedom from Mexico. This building saw plenty of history happen between the Fredonia Rebellion through the Texas Revolution, to the Civil War. In 1902 it was dismantled but in 1936 the Cum Concillio, a civic organization in Nacogdoches, and efforts of the FDR New Deal program used original stones and built a replica of the structure on the campus of the Stephen F. Austin University. It is now the Old Stone Fort Museum that houses many artifacts from the time period and the El Camino Real de los Tejas.
Sunday morning we woke up early and proceed to check out and explore the downtown area better than the day before. We were able to view all of the historical markers and I counted at least thirty and there were still plenty more to stop and read. The square where the Old Stone Fort lived is now home to what was the town’s post office, but is now a visitor center. Unfortunately it was closed on a early Sunday morning. One of the things I wish I could have seen from the inside were the nine flags that flew over Nacogdoches. We will eventually go back so we will be able to get a photo of them from the inside.
Most of the buildings in the square are from the mid to late 1800’s and they had names on the tops. Many of the buildings we walked by were definitely updated, but still held the historical architecture and artwork. We found a couple of store fronts built by the Mesker Brothers out of Missouri. You will find these storefronts throughout the U.S. and they were sheet metal and iron cast.
While we wandered about, we came across Nancy Yarbrough who owns Downtown Arts which a custom embroidery shop (machine embroidery). She was extremely thrilled to see visitors on a Sunday morning and invited us into her shop to show off her work. I loved how she had her applique pieces set up and her work. I was very impressed with her creative spirit and found out she not only does embroidery, but she paints. Forty-seven years ago she and her family moved to Nacogdoches from the DFW area so she has seen the downtown square go from well lived in to almost dead to tourist destination. It was thrilling to see the area from her view. If you are ever in Nacogdoches, you should look Nancy up at her shop at 405 E. Main.
Once we had exhausted our visit to Downtown Nacogdoches, we headed to Center, Texas which is another county to mark off. We were able to mark of Nacogdoches, San Augustine (a full .01 mile) and Shelby. I love that we are counting down which counties were travel across, it makes me see our travels as progress in a way. The traveling has enabled me to learn about regional history, customs and cultures. One of the most interesting things I have learned about has been the Woodman of the World (WOW). The founder was Joseph Cullen Root who founded the Modern Woodmen of the World in 1882, but decided he was not happy with the organization and left to create the Woodmen of the World which was a fraternal organization dedicated to helping others, promoting patriotism and civic responsibility, as well as providing financial protection for families. While we were on our trip we located a Woodmen of the World building that was built by the organization and used as their offices. At one time in its history, WOW did offer grave monuments to families of deceased members. Sometimes these monuments have the motto Dum Tacet Clamat, which means “Though silent, he speaks , ” etched on the stone.
Since Center is a county seat of Shelby County, we stopped to take photos of the county courthouse and were amazed at what it looked like; it looked like an Irish castle. Upon reading the historical markers, the building was designed and built by John Joseph Emmett Gibson from Dublin, Ireland. He wanted to show off his brickwork skill so he went with a very Irish feel. I know that I say this every time, but I think this is my favorite courthouse!
Finishing up photos we decided to head over to Logansport, Louisiana. It was a spur of the moment side trip, but we had read a historical marker mentioning Logan’s Ferry on the Sabine River. We decided since it was not more than fifteen minutes away from us we would go ahead and visit. Both Scott and I were ecstatic to cross the Sabine and then to see a park right on the river’s side. They had a walking trail with some signs discussing the history of Logan’s Ferry, a pier and a stage. It was a very beautiful location and a great place to stop and decide our travel home.
The only problem with spur of the moment quick trip is the drive home. We always find new and unique things, but by the time we see the apartment we are more than ready.