Octagonal Bank of New Zealand banker's desk carved from Australian red cedar, Dunedin, circa 1883.

Octagonal Bank of New Zealand banker's desk carved from Australian red cedar, Dunedin, circa 1883.
Octagonal Bank of New Zealand banker's desk carved from Australian red cedar, Dunedin, circa 1883.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

A Weekend Get-away to "the Valley" - Friday, March 30, 2018

I am going back in time and out of chronological order, but I guess my mind works that way sometimes. On Friday afternoon, March 30, Bob and I wanted a "stay-cation" in "the Valley" (or Rio Grande Valley). It is a four-hour drive from San Antonio.

As far as I can tell, "the Valley," on the southernmost tip of South Texas just north of the Rio Grande River, includes a number of towns including Brownsville, McAllen, Pharr, Harlingen, Weslaco, Edinburg, Mission, San Juan, and Rio Grande City. According to the Texas State Historical Association:
"What Texans call "the Valley" centers on Starr, Cameron, Hidalgo, and Willacy counties in the lower Rio Grande Region and extends from the mouth of the Rio Grande up the river for a distance of some 100 miles. The lower Rio Grande contains good agricultural land, the region being a true delta and the soils alluvial, varying from sandy and silty loam through loam to clay...
"The lower Rio Grande Valley became a curious urban and rural combination by the1940s. Intensified agricultural development resulting from irrigation dotted U.S. Highway 83, sometimes called the "Main Street," with communities made up of homes of farm owners and workers and the various stores, processing plants, industries, and marketing agencies that served them. Farms varied in use and character from ranchland to fine citrus land. The Valley bacame a truck garden center for tomatoes, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, beets, corn, green beans, onions, and minor crops. Cotton and sorghum became important staples early on, but the most important crop in the region is citrus fruit (especially grapefruit [emphasis mine])...
"The year-round mild climate brought an increasing number of vacationers from the North during the winter months. McAllen, Brownsville, and other Valley communities have become winter homes for many northerners; in 1988 Hidalgo County hosted 80,000 of these "snowbirds." Fishing--freshwater, saltwater, and deep-sea--is a great attraction. Access to Mexico also promoted tourism as an important part of the Valley economy."
What the Texas State Historical Society did not mention in the way of tourism is birding. Birding is one of the reasons we are visiting the Valley; the other reason is Volksmarching. 

The Valley has about six World Birding Centers, including Quinta Mazatlan which we will visit tomorrow, and Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park which we will visit on Sunday. Interesting birds live in and pass through the Valley. It is a major migration flyway.

On our southern migration from San Antonio, I realized I forgot to pack my T-shirts for our walks. We stopped at Bass Pro Shops in Harlingen, Texas, and I bought two T-shirts and a polo shirt. Just a minor detour off our route. 

We checked into the Inn at Chachalaca Bend Bed & Breakfast at 3:30 p.m. Three years ago we stayed at the same B&B and loved it. 

This evening, we have a dinner date at Pirate's Landing in Port Isabel. We headed to Port Isabel at the same time as Friday afternoon rush hour traffic to South Padre Island, a weekend playground on the Gulf of Mexico. We had stop-and-go traffic for the last few miles into Port Isabel. 

Dinner was very good. After dinner, we looked at the parrots and cockatoos on display outside the restaurant, and then we walked to the Port Isabel Lighthouse. 
Ahoy, mateys, I found a pirate!
Nice sculpture by the Port Isabel Lighthouse
Fish carved from a tree trunk
Port Isabel Lighthouse, built 1852
The Port Isabel Lighthouse reopened in January 2018, after being closed two years for repairs. It is the only lighthouse accessible to the public in Texas. We paid the nominal admission fee and climbed to the top. 

View of Port Isabel
View of Pirate's Landing and South Padre Island
(in the distance)
Bridge to South Padre Island
Bob climbing up steep steps to top
Looking straight down from the top
When it was time to descend, here's what I saw when I looked down...
A very steep spiral staircase (it required
going down backward).
Not quite so step
Me in the lighthouse
We didn't realize it but we were the last people in the lighthouse. As soon as we left, they locked the door behind us. We walked around the small downtown area next. A decorated porpoise and a mural were on our walk back to the car.

"Fantasia del Mar"
Artist: Ralph Ayers
"Fantasia del Mar"
Mural at a wine bar
After our walk, we headed back to the B&B. When we got there, there were a number of black-bellied whistling ducks on the roof. One of them cooperated for a photo.

Torch ginger, I believe
The B&B's backyard backs up to a resaca. A resaca is what's left of a river after parts of the river are cut off by land. There are lots of resacas in the Valley. We love them!
Inn at Chachalaca Bend patio overlooking the resaca.
Another view of the Resaca

Bob and I
When we returned to our room, we relaxed and read. The evening was a great start to our weekend. 

Tomorrow: Quinta Mazatlan for a birding tour, and a Volksmarch around McAllen, Texas. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Mermaids...What Mermaids? - Sat., March 17, 2018

While most people are out looking for leprechauns or drinking green beer on St. Paddy's Day, we were out looking for mermaids. No, we didn't have too much green beer beforehand, we were on a Mermaid Walk sponsored by the San Marcos River Walkers.

Looking for mermaids in San Marcos, Texas, isn't as far-fetched as it sounds. If you look into the history of San Marcos, you will learn about Aquarena Springs, a kitschy place for families with "the world's only submarine theater." From this theater that could blow ballast and lower into the water, families could watch a show that included mermaids and Ralph the swimming pig, known for his "swine" dives. In the 1960s through '80s, Aquarena Springs was one of the most popular tourist attractions in Texas after The Alamo.

Today, all the touristy brouhaha is gone. The area is now Spring Lake. Glass-bottom boat tours run by Texas State University provide an educational look at the springs that bubble up from the depths. The building next to Spring Lake used to be the old hotel, but has been repurposed into a nature center where you can learn about a few of the rare species that inhabit this crystal clear spring water.

Our walk today touted painted mermaid sculptures as a focal point. Through no fault of the San Marcos River Walkers, the mermaids had not yet been moved into place by the city of San Marcos. The walk had been planned for months. It was thought the mermaids would be out; alas, they were not. Not to worry, the San Marcos River Walkers will host another walk when the mermaids are set in place.

As a consolation, a video showing some of the painted mermaids was on display at the start point. In the photo below, notice the mermaid is holding a pig, harking back to Aquarena Springs' heyday.

Photo of a mermaid taken from a video
Sponsoring the walk: San Marcos River Walkers
The club is part of the
Internationaler Volkssportverband (IVV)
Bob and I opted to do the 10k walk which consisted of two 5k loops. We actually found some mermaids, though not the mermaid sculptures. 

The first 5k loop took us around downtown San Marcos. We exited the City Park Rec Hall and headed across the San Marcos River. The river is very clear as the headwater springs are only about 3/4 mile away. 

San Marcos River
After the river, we crossed into a park. The sculpture below is Chief Placidio (Hashukana in his native language) of the Tonkawa tribe. He served as a scout with the Texas Rangers and the U.S. Army. He became friends with Stephen Austin, Sam Houston, and Edward Burleson. In 1840, Placidio and other brave tribe members fought alongside Jack C. Hayes, Ben McCulloch, and General Burleson to defeat the Comanche in the Battle of Plum Creek in Lockhart.
Chief Placidio (Hashukana)
We passed the pretty building below but didn't stop to read the historic marker. It looked like a railroad station that may have been moved to this site, but we weren't sure. 

Historic downtown San Marcos

A lovely building
Two of our favorite vagabonds,
Mike and Kathy Schwencke
Bob and I stopped for a smooch.
Daiquiri Factory has a certain ring to it
Jack C. Hayes - Pioneer Surveyor, Texas Ranger,
Community Builder. Sculpture by: Jason Scull, 2001
Historic downtown San Marcos
Below, the whole side of a building is covered by a mural honoring those in the Coast Guard who served our country in times of war and peace.

We walked past what looks like the old jail. It is fenced off. Bob said about five years ago, when he worked for MPS Construction, they refurbished the building with new windows, porch, and decorative fascia. Nothing further has happened to open it as a museum or anything. It's just sitting there looking forlorn.

The old jail? No identifying signs.
The park below is dedicated to music. There was a paper plate there indicating this will be a future mermaid site.

"Electric Jazz" at Eddie Durham Park
Hey! A mermaid sighting!
 San Marcos has a lot of interesting murals.

Wildflower mural
Hayes County Historic Courthouse, 1909
Best mermaid sighting of the day.
We walked past a cerveceria bar advertising "Gut Rockets & Coldies."

Across the street from our walk route was the Juan Veramendi Plaza with a beautiful gazebo, fountain, and a log cabin. We didn't go past them.

Gazebo in Juan Veramendi Plaza
Fellow walkers
We went past the pretty building again. This time my curiosity got the better of me and I read the historical marker. It says: "Old Fish Hatchery Office Building: This structure, erected 1894-1895, originally served as the office building for the San Marcos National Fish Hatchery, established in 1893 near the head of the San Marcos River. The facility closed in 1965 and the site was given to Southwest Texas State University. The building, which features unusually large brackets, then housed the main offices of the school's Aquatic Biological Center until it was moved to this site on the river walkway."

Old Fish Hatchery Office Building
Large brackets
From here, we crossed back over the San Marcos River. The bridge railing was pretty high. Bob was trying to take a photo of me and I was standing high on my tippy toes to look over the railing.

Me on the bridge
A lone kayaker
 Volksmarchers starting the downtown 5k loop
Below are photos of the San Marcos Activity Center Sculpture Garden. I could not find titles or artists located by the sculptures. (I did, however, find some of them identified on Pinterest by Hilary Stunda in her article, "San Marcos Art, a Pied." Don't you just love the internet?)

The "River of Life" piece below is the artist's tribute to the San Marcos River and Aquarena Springs, the river's source.

"River of Life" whirligig by Jim La Paseo
"Memory with a View"

"Caryatids" by Kate Ritson
"Conversation PEACE"
(or Rock, Paper, Scissors)
As we approached Texas State University's Baseball Stadium, a mockingbird serenaded us from about two feet away. The bird was not scared and did not fly away. 
Texas State University baseball stadium
A lovely rose in the city park
Our halfway checkpoint between 5k loops was back at the Rec Hall in the City Park.

From the Rec Hall, we took off on the second 5k loop. One thing about San Marcos, lots of trains come through town. As we started our second loop, I was able to get through some trees to catch a photo of a train coming.

When I finished with the train photo, I hurried to catch up to Bob who was greeting a friend he had met on the Texas Trail Roundup marathon walk. 

Linda, Brian, and Bob
The three guys below are sporting shirts from the Kerrville Trailblazers and Texas Wanderers Volksmarch Clubs. Looks like they're finishing the 5k loop out by Aquarena Springs.

Texas State University's Bobcat Football Stadium
This part of the walk took us on trails around an abandoned golf course by Aquarena Springs.

Wetlands by Aquarena Springs
Large firecracker plant
Watch out for those 15 mph turtles!

Bob on the abandoned golf course 
Determined walkers
At the beginning of the blog, I briefly mentioned the Glass Bottom Boat tours at Aquarena Springs. To me, taking that tour is one of the top things to do in San Marcos. The 30-minute boat tours are an educational arm of Texas State University: the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment. Students are narrators. You will see where the powerful springs discharge water into Spring Lake, fish, and aquatic plants. You may even see some volunteer SCUBA divers. Make sure to visit the Discovery Hall exhibits and see the 1,000-gallon aquarium as well.  

We finished the walk and headed to New Braunfels for lunch and a movie. Bob and I love eating at Newk's Eatery. We both had the avocado/cheese/turkey  melt. Mmm. Our waitress said it is their most popular sandwich.

Newk's Eatery, New Braunfels, Texas
Turkey breast/avocado/cheese sandwich & coleslaw
With full tummies, we went to the movies and saw "Red Sparrow." Bob hadn't seen it, and I enjoyed watching it again already knowing the identity of the mole. This is a tightly woven story, but gory in parts. (Rated R for violence and full nudity.)

After that, we called it a day and headed home. Have a good week everyone. Travel Bug out.