Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Fredericksburg, TX

With another gorgeous sunny afternoon upon us, we decided to take a short drive north to the German town of Fredericksburg. Main Street is filled with quaint shops, restaurants and a bit of history. Our first stop was Rustlin' Robs.

This "Texas Gourmet Foods" store is filled with sauces, butters, oils, dips, salsas, jellies, jams, marinated veggies and peanut butters. And, oh yeah, fudge. If you can spread it on a cracker or stick a mini pretzel in it, they sell it here, complete with all the crackers and pretzels you need to taste a sample of everything. We did our share of tasting and settled on a couple of jars of salsa. That was the toughest decision of the day!

With our snacking complete, we wandered down Main Street and poked around a few shops. This quilt store had the most interesting, and colorful, display of fabrics on one wall.

The stores had all kinds of interesting things to attract our attention. But, with space at a premium, we've learned to snap pictures instead of buy. This basket of stone hearts was pretty.

In nearly every store we looked, we were reminded that we are in Texas!

With many German restaurants to choose from, selecting our lunch spot was a bit of a challenge. We chose the Auslander Biergarten Restaurant. As soon as Paul saw the word "Biergarten" he made a beeline for the door! We enjoyed a very tasty lunch of authentic German fare, topped off with a "bier", of course.

After lunch, we wandered over to the National Museum of the Pacific War, which is housed in the old Nimitz Hotel. The hotel was the boyhood home of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Fredericksburg's most famous native. Having driven many miles on a Bay Area freeway bearing the five-star Admiral's name, we looked forward to learning more about his hometown and career. We've been told it takes two days to tour the museum. So, we decided to tour the outside exhibits and save the inside for winter day during our next visit. This Memorial Courtyard is surrounded by old walls of cut limestone that now serve as the Memorial Wall.

This is one of several hundreds of plaques along the wall honoring the contributions of individuals, ships and units during the war in the Pacific. Many contain photos and stories about the lives of these heroes. They were quite touching.

From the Memorial Courtyard we stepped into the Garden of Peace, which is a gift from the people of Japan.

Throughout this peaceful place, we found many signs of Spring.

Lots of flowers are blooming in the Hill Country.

Even the Yucca's are in full display.

This sign in one shop window just about summed up this perfect day in Fredericksburg. The only thing we'd add is "bier"!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Wildflower Ride

It's Bluebonnet Season here in Hill Country. It's time for the official state flower of Texas to be in full bloom. So, on this sunny Spring day, we boarded the Buckhorn Lake Resort bus for a day-long wildflower tour. With cameras in hand and eyes peeled for bonnets, we headed north.

We drove through Fredericksburg to the Willow City Loop, a 13-mile private road that takes you through some stunning Hill Country landscape that, this time of year, is usually filled with blooming wildflowers. This year, though, it seems that Mother Nature is a bit late. We enjoyed the few flowers we did spot. But, it'll be a few more days before these green fields are saturated with rainbow colors. It's supposed to be a sight to see.

Even though the wildflowers were a bit of a bust, the ride was fun, the company was enjoyable and the scenery was still photogenic.

With the flowerless loop behind us, we headed to what was destined to be the highlight of the day: Lunch! We pulled into the tiny town of Llano and it became obvious where everyone eats. At Cooper's Pit Bar-B-Que the lot was packed.

Before we entered the place we saw this sign and knew this wasn't your ordinary BBQ joint.

We stepped up to the pit and couldn't believe our eyes! Something like 16 different types of meat were sitting in that huge smoker. When the pit master asked what we wanted, it was a tough choice! We opted for brisket, which he is slicing here, sausage and a couple of pork ribs. Our order was dipped in sauce and handed to us on a red plastic tray to take inside.

At Coopers, they say it's all about the meat. And, it sure is! Once inside, our brisket was sliced thin, and everything was wrapped in brown paper. We picked up some corn and a side of slaw and helped ourselves to plenty of tasty beans and white bread. (For someone who doesn't take pictures of food, I'm sure taking a lot of pictures of food!)

We found a spot in the communal dining room and made ourselves at home. We struck up a fun conversation with a family of four from Louisiana. The eight-year-old was having such a good time she didn't want to leave. Neither did we! This place had the feeling of being at a small town picnic. It's all very fun and very tasty!

After lunch, we waddled back to the bus. No pictures were taken on the way home. Why? The well-fed photographer napped!

(Special thanks to the First Baptist Church of Fredericksburg for filling their planter box full of early blooming Bluebonnets. I just had to get a picture!)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Hill Country Caching

This gorgeous afternoon in Texas Hill Country called us out to play. Lucky for us this is a geocache-rich part of the world. We plotted a scenic drive that offered a number of hidden caches along the way. The “smiley faces” are our successful finds: 16 in total. For these two geocachers, that’s definitely a good day.

Our first find wasn’t far from our RV park. This cache was named “Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.” As soon as we caught a glimpse of the flood gauge, we knew where to look.

The next cache was at a picnic area on I-10. It is part of the GeoTrucker cache series, which features caches across the country that are within easy access to big rigs. This one was called “Scenic View”. We sure could understand why.

Another series of caches features Texas Historical Markers. It makes locating the general area of the cache pretty easy. Plus, we usually learn a thing or two. But, we’re not big fans of rockpile caches. We found this one after picking up just six rocks.

One of the things we love about geocaching is that it gives us reason to visit not-so-touristy places, such as the tiny town of Harper, Texas. With no cell service in this out-of-the-way place, we had no info about the cache on the grounds of the Harper Presbyterian Church. With nothing but coordinates, Paul found it in a flash.

Several of today's cache's were hidden along Tivydale Road, a one-lane paved road through remote countryside. These guys were grazing with a cache close by.

While Paul picked up another cache on the road, I enjoyed the blooming trees against the blue sky. Spring has definitely sprung in Hill Country!

We passed many ranches along Tivydale Road. This ranch was home to some interesting looking creatures.

Tivydale Road contained several interesting structures. The name of the cache near this one is named "Renovations". We'd love to know the story behind this tower.

This cache took us to the edge of a canyon. Paul grabbed the cache while I enjoyed the view.

That cache on the edge was located just beyond the corner of this cemetery, which was created for the descendants of one family.

With plenty of drought-ending rain this Winter, many of the water crossings out in the country were full of water. We were extra careful making these crossings, of course. But, doesn't Rocky look like he's having a fun day?

We all did!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Po Po

We headed east on I-10 for a very special Saturday night dinner. Just past the exit to Comfort, we took the Welfare exit (Love the names of these towns!) and arrived at Po Po Family Restaurant, which is six miles north of Boerne. (That's pronounced "burn-E", in case you were wondering.)

Po Po's has been serving up Hill Country fixin's since 1929. It's famous for fried chicken and great steaks. The decor is dominated by a growing collection of matchless plates.

The food and decor weren't our primary reason for visiting the place. We were there to spend time with family. Kamryn, my cousin's youngest, made good use of our short wait for a table by hopping on the saddle just inside the door. Isn't she cute?

The plates are everywhere!

Here's the happy family after a fine dinner. There's cousin Mark and his wife Chris, with son Kyle, and daughters Kaitlyn (Oh, I hope we spelled that right!) and Kamryn. It was a real treat to catch up with this beautiful family. Thanks so much for making the drive, guys, and the great suggestion for dinner! We look forward to seeing you again soon.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Tarpley, TX

The primary mission of our travels is to explore this amazing country. A secondary mission is to enjoy local cuisine. The more off-the-wall the better. Today we took a 100-mile round trip drive in hill country for lunch at a hole-in-the-wall in a wide spot in the road known as Tarpley, TX.

We are big fans of the Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Its host Guy Fieri has introduced us to many spots of which we've made mental notes to check out while we're on the road. Periodically, we'll check the show's website and see if any of the featured eateries are close by. Today we checked and found Mac and Ernie's Roadside Eatery. It appeared on the very first episode of "Triple D".

It was a nice day, so we decided to take a long scenic drive for the famous burgers and fries. We headed south on state highway 173 from Kerrville to Bandera. The town of Bandera is filling fast with bikers for this weekend's Thunder in the Hills rally. We shared the road with many motorcycles as we traveled west on ranch road 470 into the middle of nowhere. You could blow right by this little spot if you're not careful. And, it's bigger than it used to be. The entrance shown here used to be the entire restaurant. Actually, it was the kitchen. Patrons ate outside under the shade trees. But, Mac and Ernie's just reopened a week or so ago after an extensive expansion. Now patrons can order and sit inside. Life since appearing on the debut of "Triple D" has apparently been very good!

The place is open just three days a week. Gourmet entrees are served for dinner. Lunch is burgers and fries. The specialty is the Cabrito Burger. I asked what a Cabrito Burger was, got an answer and decided it was time to try my first. After all, we didn't drive all this way to have an ordinary burger. I don't usually snap pics of my food, but today I just had to! Looks like a tasty burger, doesn't it? If you don't know what Cabrito is, click here. It tasted as good as it looks!

We took the very scenic route back to Kerrville on state highway 16. This highway has quite deservedly earned a spot on the Texas Monthly list of "10 Most Scenic Drives in Texas". With almost five miles of tight switchback turns it rivals any mountain road. As we made the tightest turns at the top of the ridge we came upon the scene of a motorcycle accident. Two bikers in a group of rally goers were down and obviously very seriously injured. Neither of them, nor anyone else in the group or 95% of the bikers we saw today were wearing a helmet. They should have.

If you ride, please wear a lid!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Llano Grande

On this the first really nice day in what seems like forever, we ventured down the valley a bit to Llano Grande Lake Park in Mercedes. Our mission was strictly social, as virtual friends Ed and Marilyn invited us to join them and their friends for a little happy hour. We have followed Ed and Marilyn's adventures through their blog for almost two years. It was a treat to meet them in person.

As we sat in the shade of Ed and Marilyn's lovely home, the boys quickly got to work solving the problems of the world.

We girls did our part, too! The conversation and laughter flowed as we got to know these new friends.

The time passed quickly, and all too soon it was time for us to head into the setting sun and back up the valley to Mission. Thanks, Ed and Marilyn, for a fun afternoon in your lovely park. Now we've seen for ourselves what brings these good folks back year after year.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Nuevo Progreso, Mexico

One of the standard activities of every Winter Texan is at least one trip to Mexico. Shootouts between battling drug cartels in the border towns have frequently been reported recently on the evening news. In fact, the Texas Department of Public Safety has advised this year's wave of Spring Breakers to stay north of the border. With all of that excitement, we had pretty much decided we'd stay on native soil, being as how we hate shootouts and all.

After talking with neighbors and friends, though, we learned that there is one place where it's safe to cross the border: at Progreso. The problems we've heard about are in other border towns, like Reynosa and Matamoros. When our friends Al and Priscilla asked us if we'd like to join them for a jaunt to Nuevo Progreso, we went for it. Passports in hand, we piled into the Jeep this morning and picked up their friends Joe and Judy in Donna. After parking the car in a dusty lot in Progreso, we paid a quarter each to stroll across the Rio Grande and into Mexico.

The major industry in Nuevo Progreso is obvious: Health care. Just a few steps inside the border we saw the first of many pharmacies in town. These clean and bright shops advertise everything from amoxicillin to viagra, and their American customers line up with lists and walk out with large bags filled with bottles. On the opposite corner of the first pharmacy sits this colorful cluster of dental offices. Most of these dentists were trained in America, or so they claim. They offer quality care at a very reasonable cost.

Just outside that cluster of dentist offices was Vinnie's Happy Teeth bar. After your treatment, you can step right up and treat yourself to a tasty margarita!

Al decided to drop in for a cleaning. Before we left him I snapped this picture, joking that we might need to have a recent picture for identification later. Seriously, the office was clean and bright and the dentist was personable and professional. We were impressed.

We strolled down Main Street, which is crowded with shops, booths and industrious locals trying to make a buck or two.

The shelves in this shop were neatly stacked with all kinds of treasures.

Baby Jesus, anyone? Dozens of these were laying in the window on a cloud of paper towels.

Look at the Winter Texans making their purchases. We were beginning to understand why Nuevo Progresso was "the safe place" to visit Mexico. This town depends on its neighbors to the north. And, by the looks of things, they go out of their way to make their neighbors feel safe and comfortable.

We stopped for lunch at the "famous" Red Snapper. We heard (and read) that this is a favorite spot for some tasty seafood and Mexican fare. The food was just fine, but now we know what keeps people coming back. It's the two-for-one margaritas! You order one, and two magically appear. Even the Red Snapper does its part to make the Winter Texans feel comfortable.

Here we are, all fed and watered. And, in Al's case, freshly cleaned!

One of our fellow diners was playing by the window next to me. As soon as I pulled out my camera, he started to play peek-a-boo.

After lunch, we started a slow stroll back toward the border. Along the way, we stopped in one of Joe and Judy's favorite spots for a cold beer and a little impromptu serenade.

With our shopping expedition complete, we made the trek back across the border. The traffic on the bridge was at a standstill at the border. But, the short walk was a breeze. We were safely back on American soil in just minutes.

Thanks to Al, Priscilla, Joe and Judy for a great day. We're really glad we made the trip!