Monday, June 28, 2010

WHOA, Big Fella....Slow 'er down

Dang! Everything's bigger in Texas including the speed limit. That's a big 8-0 on the highway out of Johnson City.
Daisy's not worried since I have her safely in a choke-hold.
But just east of Fort Stockton, Texas, where we spent one of our last nights on the road, we saw one horrible accident. An SUV pulling a small U-Haul trailer raced by us doing at least 85. It went out of control, flipped  and rolled into the median.  Fortunately, the traffic was light and everyone who saw the accident stopped to help free the passengers from the crushed vehicle. Big rigs, RVers, delivery trucks: everyone pulled over. People were yelling and running pell-mell to the median. One young woman came up to us in a panic and asked if we had a knife to cut the seatbelts from the victims. Paul gave her his shiv while I called 911.  Not long after at least a dozen emergency vehicles (overkill, to be sure) showed up from God knows where since there was not a town in sight for twenty miles. Anyway, we had done all that we could (Daisy included) so continued the journey west.
A couple of days later we pulled into our little place (about the size of the truck mirrors) in southern Arizona just in time for the HOT weather.
So since we're already looking for cooler temps, these rolling stones take off again real soon. Happy Trailerblazing and see you on the road.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Deep in the heart of...

One thing you notice about Texas, and perhaps it has to do with its governor, Rick Perry (who has talked about seceding from the union), is that Texans tout the Lone Star flag even more than the stars and stripes, if they fly the stars and stripes at all. What on earth is that all about????

Which brings us to the hometown, birthplace and final resting place of our 36th President, Lyndon Baines Johnson, who was very much the flag-waving patriot.

Welcome to Johnson City, Texas, west of Austin in the Texas Hill Country, on the beautiful ??? Pedernales River.

...where somehow a store selling furniture and ammo doesn't even raise an eyebrow. Remember: don't mess with Texas or that Lone Star flag.

Johnson City does its best to keep this historic spot spic-and-span, but couldn't they have at least taken in the trash cans?

This is the old Johnson City jail, undergoing refurbishing, where Sir Walter Raleigh was held before he was put to the ax. Or so we were told.
Everything's better with bluebonnets on it. Johnson City and the Hill Country are awash in carpets of color, a legacy of Lady Bird, who made it her life's work to cover Texas and the rest of America in wildflowers.
(The bluebonnet is the Texas state flower.)

Lady Bird's was christened "Claudia" but was told by her nanny that she was "as purty as a lady bird". A "lady bird" is another name for a "lady bug". The name "Lady Bird", not "bug", became her official moniker. Better to be a bird than a bug, I suppose.
Lady Bird was a true "lady": classy, kind, elegant, and talented. She had a head for business and after LBJ's death amassed a fortune with Texas-based radio and television stations.
Here's where LBJ was born on the family farm fourteen miles west of town in 1908. This is a reconstruction of the original house. His ancestors are said to have fought raiding Comanches to establish a small farm which grew into a large cattle ranch.
Quite frankly, Daisy didn't give a hoot about any of this. She just wanted to hit the ground and chase the cattle. Not a good thing for a dog to do at a much-venerated national historic site.

This is LBJ shortly before his passing in 1973. Or so we were told. I think it's actually little Lyndon at age six months.

This is Lyndon, a.k.a. "Billy the Kid", at age fourteen. He already towers over the little lady at the right, a.k.a. "Bonnie Parker".

Them's cattle.

The Texas White House remains part of this working cattle ranch. Here's where Lyndon would retreat from the overwhelming pressures of the Vietnam War that was eventually his undoing both politically and physically, taking an enormous toll on his heart.
A long landing strip accommodated the aircraft which brought the family and dignitaries to the ranch during LBJ's presidency. Visitors would carve their names onto cement blocks called "friendship stones" which form the low wall that you see behind the sign.

You expect an almost a Bonanza-style huge ranch house given the stature of the family and the man, when in fact Johnson's place remains a rather small, simple wood-frame structure.

It reminded me of Graceland in Memphis, a relatively unimposing house given the fame and wealth of its owner, Elvis Presley.
There are actually two parks dedicated to President Johnson. One in Johnson City and the other at the ranch outside town. Check it out at

Nearby is the cemetery where LBJ and Lady Bird are at rest side-by-side. No opulent edifice here. Just two simple headstones surrounded by those of other family members.

But now for something really important. Back in Johnson City, a billboard touting the world's best chicken fried steak. As far as we're concerned, the ultimate in road food.

The Hill Country Cupboard claims nearly "three dozen sold". Them Texans, they's a hoot.

Not the best we've had but darn good. Only who threw in those healthy green beans? Actually chicken fried steak is better at breakfast with scrambled eggs and biscuits topped by more gravy in place of a vegetable.

The best chicken fried steak we've ever had was in a smoke-filled casino called "Terrible Herbst's" in Pahrump, Nevada. Even the waitress, who called everyone "honey" or "sugar" or "baby" was smoking a cigarette bringing our plates to the table. Believe me, that's the kind of atmosphere you need to down a gut bomb like this.

But for a good, inexpensive meal in Johnson City, esto donde esta. This is where it's at: the El Rancho Mexican Restaurant. Only $11 for two. Mexican-style Mexican.

And here's where we stayed--the Miller Creek RV Park. Highly recommended. But again, where are the stars and stripes?

For you present and wanna-be RVers, Miller Creek has plenty of amenities: a free lending library (take a book, leave a book), a new laundry room, and a comfortable den with a huge circular fire pit. There are also small cabins for rent and a lush grassy area for overweight dogs like Daisy to run or to sit, which she prefers to do.

Enough with the Texas-themed flags already. Remember the Alamo and what happened to those uppity Texans? They got their come-uppance, so to speak.

Them Texans. They's a hoot.

This is Miller Creek that runs alongside the RV park. It really is a pretty little spot. Very nice folks run the place.

Several times a month they cook up and serve meals in the clubhouse. A full breakfast costs just a couple of bucks. They'll have live music -- a bluegrass gospel group when we were there-- and they make fresh waffles in the shape of, what else?....

TEXAS!  No surprise there.

Finally, Paul takes a bite out of the Lone Star State.

Daisy, after downing fourteen waffles, finally hits the deck to round up them cattle. And we are headed back to the barn and Arizona. Our next adventure begins June 28. I bet you can't wait. Only we can no longer tout our "new" 2010 trailer. 'Cause the 2011s are already out. See ya!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Big Oil and a Little Bit of Bosnia

The big sign leading out of town.
America's "Refinery Capital".

Our RV park. Nice little spot that looks like it was once a farm.

The Cajun couple who run the park. A couple of weeks later they were in Sedona on vacation. Small world.

During summer, just when you don't want to be here, the owners offer guests free produce from this garden. Perhaps it's an incentive to get RVers to stay during the worst weather.

In Houston with my friend Roz. Daisy's looking for bits of chow on the ground.

Augie, Roz's sweet dog. Why can't Daisy be sweet?

Roz dances into the Bosnian restaurant knowing that...

...there's plenty o' wine waiting for us. It's a BYOB place and Roz broke out one of her best bottles. I am there!

Cafe Pita, right next to Daisy's liquor store.

Big Oil and a Little Bit of Bosnia
Following Poche Plantation, we continued the roll west, plunking down for a night at the Whispering Meadow RV park in Westlake, Louisiana, right across the border from east Texas. The park is run by an easy-going, friendly Cajun couple who every year plant a small vegetable garden and offer their guests free produce. A good spot. But what sets this place apart is that it's smack dab in the heart of America's refinery area. This is, after all, ground zero for the "Drill, baby, drill" crowd. If you can't see the refineries from where you are, you can certainly smell them.

We thought that since there's more gasoline here than almost any place on earth there'd be cheap gas in spades. No such luck. In fact, gas in Westlake was no bargain. Still, we filled up the 2004 Tundra with crew cab and matching Vista snug top and crossed over into Texas. Since we spent all of our money on gasoline we needed a free place to stay so returned to where we'd been last year, the Thousand Trails campground at Lake Conroe north of Houston. Found a spacious waterfront (actually, pond-front) site where Daisy could keep her eyes on the ducks.

The reason for camping so close to the big city was to visit my good friend Roz. Years ago we worked at KPIX, the CBS-affiliate TV station in San Francisco. Lovely Roz is smart, funny and a great hostess. She and her husband Michael (who was out of town) appreciate fine wine and food and this time steered us to (of all things) a local Bosnian restaurant. Food, in Bosnia? All I can recall from that night is that I stuffed myself with stuffed bell peppers. Mighty tasty. And the cafe was next to the "Daisy Liquor Store" which I thought was rather funny, having a dog named "Daisy" who likes to drink wine. It doesn't take much to amuse me these days.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Poche Plantation

The pool at Poche with RVs parked around it. Note the artwork on the walls. Mark Anderson, the park/plantation owner, had an artist approach him looking for a job. Mark said he didn't have one but the next morning the man showed up with his paints and brushes in hand . Turns out the man was very hard of hearing and converted Mark's "no" into a "yes". Today he's still hard at work (and still hard of hearing). As Poche's "artist in residence" he decorates the statuary, walls and grounds.

The building on the right has several suites for rent as part of Mark's bed-and-breakfast.

Back of the plantation house.
Waiting for the FREE tour.

Mark Anderson, guide par excellence.

Judge Poche, in case you haven't guessed.

Mark and his wife are auction hounds and filled the house with extraordinary furniture and artwork.

Interestingly, this simple lamp tucked into a corner is the most valuable piece in the house. It started out as a brass candlestick and was hidden away by a New Orleans family during the Civil War. Its value comes from the fact that it is one of few brass objects not confiscated and melted down for the making of munitions by the confederacy.

The kitchen. This is the oldest room at Poche and predates the manor house. There is an ancient Jenn-Aire stove at the left.

Mark tells a funny story about this chandelier (only a portion seen here). When he first bought it, this round hanging crystal went missing and Mark had a heck of a time "getting his ball back".

Like any authentic plantation, Poche has a resident ghost (seen here at the left). Awhile ago, guests spending the night upstairs called Mark in a panic and begged to move to other quarters. They heard spirits rumbling around downstairs and were scared out of their wits.

Turns out the "ghost" was nothing but a Roomba doing its thing. It was programmed to come on late at night to auto-vacuum the floors.

The main bedroom in the expansive upper floor at Poche. The suite of rooms is available for a nightly rate of around $200. RV sites with full hook-ups are $30.

The Tundra and Lance in Plantation Country.

Well, at long last, the fourth-or-fifth-to-the-last entry from our spring trip in the all-new-for-2010 Lance 2285 travel trailer with slider and 2004 Tundra with crew cab and matching snug top.

I want to wrap up these last entries because in two short weeks we'll be taking off again for a long summer drive through the grand western states and the Midwest.

But first, back to the spring trip. If you ever have a hankering to roll along Louisiana's River Road between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, there is at least one stop that we highly recommend. A place that takes up most of the tiny town of Convent. Poche (poe-shay) Plantation is one of the region's smaller, more unassuming manor houses. Built by a Judge Poche after the Civil War, it had fallen into disrepair until it was snatched up at an auction by a guy named "Mark Anderson" about five or so years ago. Mark had made mega-bucks as a local newspaper publisher and being the son of a prominent sugar mill owner didn't hurt his bottom line either.

Like casino operators in Vegas, the auctioneers selling off Poche's treasures knew they could up the ante by serving lots of free mint juleps. Fueled by liquid courage, Mark was happy to oblige. He bought up old furniture, paintings and other household items. But he didn't stop there--he ended up buying the plantation itself.

He and his wife poured a ton of moola and sweat equity into the old property. They had been traveling the country full time in their big RV bus and came up with the brilliant idea of putting a first-class RV park right behind the plantation house. Just as the RV park was about to open, Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans. Hundreds of homeless Louisianans flooded the River Road. Mark took in more than 100 people, putting up bunk beds and essentially turning Poche into a no-charge deluxe refugee camp. It's only been a few months since the last of these folks moved out and tourists moved in.

For around $200 a night, Mark rents out the spacious two-bedroom upper floor of the plantation house. "Miss Pat", a woman who lived here when her own home flooded in New Orleans, has stayed on as the plantation manager and first-rate cook.

For RVers, Poche is another of those places where you keep extending your stay. We planned on one day but ended up with three. Mark made it all worthwhile. He has an amazing sense of humor and I honestly don't think I've ever laughed so much on any tour, anywhere.

Looking for something old but new and different on vacation? If so, set your sights south to Louisiana's Plantation Country on the Mississippi. Unaffected by the oil spill (so far), this part of the state will create one unforgettable vacation.