Friday, August 31, 2012

Austin, Texas

Before leaving the Austin, Texas area, we decided to tackle the traffic and highway interchanges outside downtown Austin, to tour the city.  Austin is a relatively small city, with a 2011 population of 820,611.  It is a mix of old architecture and new.  Once we were in the downtown, maneuvering the streets was very easy.  Austin had the feel of a lifestyle, rather than tourism.  It's a college town and bicyclists were prevalent on the streets bike paths.  Scooters intermingled with traffic.  The bars and restaurants didn't have a tourist curb appeal, but seemed to be places locals would know to be great gathering places for the food or ambiance.
The music scene in Austin takes place downtown on 6th Street for the 20-30 year olds, and on 5th Street for the 40 plus group. Being newcomers to the city, we felt compelled to lock our vehicle doors while in the downtown and some outlying business areas. After about 3 hours in Austin, we began to get into the groove of the city There is a theme in Austin that has existed for years, and can be found on tee shirts and other items. The slogan says, "Keep Austin Weird." The Internet states that this slogan refers to the proudly eclectic and liberal lifestyles of many Austin residents. Austin's official slogan is "The Live Music Capital of the World." We didn't stay for the evening's entertainment. When I commented to Roy how I was starting to understand the lifestyle of the city, he replied that maybe we should move the camper there and stay awhile.  Although we opted not to, I found it interesting that with our new mobile lifestyle, we could just that quickly be calling Austin home!    

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Becker Vineyards

In the early 1990s Richard and Bunny Becker were looking for a cabin with some property, as they liked to come to Hill Country when they had time. They enjoyed going to antique shops, and attending the wine tasting events held at the local wineries. They found the cabin they wanted on some property in Stonewall, which is just outside Fredericksburg.
Before long the Beckers began thinking how they had always successfully gardened, and decided to try their hand at growing grapes. They loved the vineyards that they had seen when touring France. With the expertise of a manager to guide them; Richard, Bunny, their two boys, and the manger got to work planting grape seedlings. Grape plants take three years to produce fruit. The Beckers had their first harvest in 1995, and produced 8,000 bottles of wine.
By 1996 they added this beautiful 19th century German stone barn reproduction for their tasting room!
As you walk in you'll see this canvas painting shaped to the building roof line, and for a few moments you'll think the barrels are real! The angle of the photo doesn't do justice to the impact of the painting, as one opens the door.
This is the entry room filled with things to buy. The Beckers also grow Lavender and produce many products with the scent of Lavender.  The arched doorway goes into a large tasting room.
This is the wine tasting room, and through the arched doors to the back is the wine production area.
Here is our tour guide telling us about wine production. Wine typically stays in the stainless steel vats for 6 months. Reserve wines are aged two years. Wine is transferred between vats to clarify it.
This is the separator. It acts like a big colander removing the hulls, stems, and leaves from the juice. The leftover sludge is returned to the ground.
This is the barrel room. Our tour guide was telling us that air is the enemy when producing wine, but that when you open the bottle it becomes its friend. She explained that it was like the wine was ready to spread its legs for a good time! I heard at least one woman in the group gasp, and I know I was bit taken back by the analogy. Although I'm pretty sure she meant to say the wine was ready to stretch its legs and have a good time, I've chuckled until I've had tears in my eyes many times thinking of her saying it the way she did!
This is the bottling area. The machinery bottles, corks, and labels 55 bottles per minute!!!  Becker Vineyards produced 88,000 bottles of wine in 2011 and expect to surpass 100,000 this year!
This building was added in 2003 for holding receptions. Becker Vineyards has become popular, as a location for weddings.
I enjoyed seeing these grapevine balls hanging from a tree by the reception hall. This picture is looking from the reception hall across the property to the winery building.
The event that enticed us to visit the winery, besides its beauty, was an event called, The Grape Stomp. If you chose to, you could stomp some grapes in the small half barrels provided, and then transfer your grape stained foot prints to the back of a Becker Vineyards tee shirt. I loved the look of the shirts, but opted not to get one.
We enjoyed a beautiful sunny day in pleasant surroundings learning a little bit and watching the world go by!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

10, 9, 8 .......... Blast Off!

Today marks the start of the 10 day countdown until we blast off into the great unknown! We're filled with anticipation and apprehension! It's interesting how the unknown creates these opposing feelings.
My biggest apprehension is fitting all the stuff we put in storage back into the truck!!!  I guess it all came out of the truck, so it should all go back in!  This picture is of the new storage units the Miller Creek R.V. Park owners put in last Summer. Another problem with reloading the truck is what it does to gas mileage. The truck's gas mileage isn't great at 13 mpg without a load, but drops to 6 mpg loaded! We have discovered that the truck's gas mileage inhibits our desire to travel distances sightseeing.  We have discussed the possibility of purchasing an inexpensive used economy car, when we know we will be in an area for an extended period, and then selling it before we move on. With Roy's auto mechanics expertise, this might be an option for enhancing our travels.
While I'm showing off the R.V. park updates, here is a look at the improvements to the "Watering Hole." You may remember that when we first arrived, the building had canvass covering the window and door cut-outs. Windows and doors have been installed!
Our September 1st destination is Kerrville, Texas! It's not far away, but said to be very different from our present location. We've been told by a local that it's one of the prettiest parts of Texas, and we shouldn't leave without seeing it! Now that's a recommendation one shouldn't ignore!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Where Not To Go

As part of our travel plans, we will be in Texas and Arizona communities close to the border of Mexico. The 2,000 mile long border between Mexico and the United States is unique in that it is the only global dividing line between a first and third world country. I've had some concerns given what I've heard in the press regarding the spillover of Mexico's drug related violence into U.S. border towns. We caught a couple of very educational t.v. documentaries about some of Mexico's border communities.  The pictures I posted are from the Internet.  One documentary focused on the violence in Ciudad Juarez, which is across the border from El Paso, Texas.  The other documentary focused on Nogales, Mexico.  It is said to be the seat of illegal alien crossings!  The main corridor into Arizona comes through the U.S. border community of Nogales, and upward to Tucson and Phoenix.  Neither program was comforting, and definitely heightened our awareness!
In August 2009 Ciudad Juarez had the highest murder rate in the world! It was considered the most violent zone in the world outside of declared war zones! The war is between drug cartels seeking control of one of the main drug corridors into the United States. In 2010 the population of Ciudad Juarez was 1,321,000. The number of murders and the violence with which they were done escalated from 1,607 in 2008 to 3,117 in 2010! By March 2009 4,500 soldiers and federal police had to be brought-in to curtail the violence. One third of the local police department was fired for their involvement with the cartels! The increased poverty that came about, as tourism diminished and businesses left the area, made locals available for hired cartel related activities. In 2011 the murder rate was down to 1,904.  Makes me nervous about even being near El Paso!    
Nogales is where citizens of Mexico and South America converge to hire "Coyotes" to help them cross the desert into America. It's an unscrupulous business operated by the cartel, often with deadly consequences for the people attempting the 3 day crossing. The people making the crossing are often only equipped with two days of water. They are often robbed in route by banditos and the women raped. Because of tightened border security, they are having to cross in harsher terrain. All of this indicates to me that the people upon first crossing the border are quite desperate, and therefore, likely to be dangerous. Although Roy and I have always been comfortable in remote locations, I think we'll stick to populated areas during our time close to Mexico. We're reconsidering some plans, and checking into the crime statistics for some U.S. border towns. An article I read dated August 2012, stated that the claims of violence and kidnappings spilling over from Mexico into the U.S. are just media hype, and border town politicians joining in for the sake of increased funding for their police departments, and to further their own agenda toward border security. Our best course of action is common sense.  We'll have another month to learn more, as September 1st we are only relocating about 70 miles from our current location in Texas.         

Friday, August 10, 2012

Deciding Where To Go

As we prepare to start traveling, people have asked us how we decide where to go. This is how we formulate our plans. We first consider people and places that we have fond memories of, and make a decision as to whether we would like to return to where they are for awhile. Budget weighs heavily into trips around the country for visiting. With an unlimited budget, we'd probably enjoy a sweep across the country and back!

The time of year and temperatures have to be considered. In planning for a Winter destination, I found it helpful to write down the names of several communities and then look-up the monthly temperature averages on I made a chart for comparisons. Like myself, I think many people who grew-up in a northern state think that all southern states are warm in the Winter. Did you know there are actually areas of Texas and Arizona where the temperatures drop below freezing and have substantial amounts of snow?! Studying the weather maps for Texas and Arizona, I also found there are pockets of increased temperatures created, I suppose, by weather currents.

As part of our travel planning, we consider things we would like to see. Roy and I enjoy formal estate gardens, and I generally will check my guidebooks to see, if there are any near our course of travel, that are worthy of working into the route plan, or worthy of a trip planned just for it.

Once tentative plans are made, we talk with other people to see what they know about an area. It's comforting to hear someone say they spent time in a place you are considering, and that they liked it. I have learned a little trick for gaining some familiarity with an area, during the planning phase. Go to the Internet for a search and enter the community name and state. Above your entry you should see the words, web and image, as the type of search you want to do. Click on image. A page of thumbnail images will be displayed. I have found it much faster to get an overview, by opening the first image, and then clicking the arrow for the next picture quickly, rather than visually scanning the thumbnails and individually opening and closing photos. While clicking through the photos, I'll often find local attractions. You can do an image search for the attractions, too! I find the image search heightens our comfort by knowing a little about it, and also gets us excited for our upcoming trip!

The expense of getting to a destination and the amount of time we'd like to stay there, also plays into the planning. One thing we have learned with the RVing, is that the RV park rates are less expensive the longer you stay. For example the nightly rate at our current RV park is $35, the weekly rate is $175, and the monthly rate is $325! Longer stays also translate to less expenditure for gasoline in a month's budget!

With our southwestern Texas to Arizona plans, I've added an additional planning technique. As we'll be staying in a number of different communities, and going to state parks, state natural areas, national parks, and tourist attractions; I've done some advance research into entrance fees, and camping facilities. I recorded my findings onto index cards. It's an excellent addition! I found some of the natural areas are available by tour only, others don't provide roads for touring, but only offer back country trails and tent camping! Some tourist attractions are only available Tuesdays-Saturdays during very specific hours. I've bookmarked the websites for future reference. The prior research will save us time and money going to places, only to find them to be inaccessible. I think that about does it! Happy Trails!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

An Evening At Luchenbach

Roy and I have been jumping through hoops getting things in order for us to start our travels again, as well as, caring for the foster kittens, and maximizing the July Labrador Retriever adoption special. July came to a close with 11 out of 15 Labs adopted! By Wednesday, the three feral kittens moved to an indoor foster home, where they could have a chance at becoming domesticated. We caught the feral kitten I saw one morning, and added it to the two I was fostering. Life has calmed down, and some relaxing fun was greatly needed. Friday we went to dinner with a couple from the RV park and a new acquaintance.  The restaurant was located out in the country.  There was a country music band and dancing outdoors.  Fridays and Saturdays live music abounds in Texas Hill Country! I love that about this area!
After dinner we met up with another couple from Miller Creek RV Park at the dance hall in Luchenbach. Roy and I have wanted to go to Luchenbach in the evening, but hadn't pursued it. Luchenbach is about 60 miles round trip through rural countryside.  In the evening that translates to lots of deer on the roads.  Between the distance, deer, and drinking we have opted not to go.  Friday night we had a designated driver! We saw lots of deer as expected!
It's been quite awhile since Roy and I practiced our Texas Two Step. We were both thrilled that it came right back to us! The atmosphere at Luchenbach was that of a beautiful Summer night filled with music and dancing! Because of its rural location, I always thought it would be rowdy. It might be at times, but last night it was totally mellow.  The memory will entice us to return.
This bike was in the parking lot, but appeared to be on display.  It was nice to just relax and have fun!