Friday, February 24, 2012

Alaska or Bust part II

Day 8, January 24, 2012 Flight to Austin, Texas: Jim booked a humane 10:30 flight and drafted stalwart driver, Mark Talbott to drop us off. Joyce insisted on boarding a shuttle to the long-term lot where Bounder placidly awaited to favor her tender left heel from pounding across pavement. This spring’s wet weather encouraged the Master Gardener of 4153 to uproot the Pampas Grasses whose ornamental plumes extend up to the 2nd floor windows on the Canvasback side of our residence in lieu of using hedge clippers to administer their annual butch haircut. The grass blades have serrated edges that will cut one to ribbons unless care is taken; two years ago a slip with the hedge clippers nipped a finger requiring stitches. Master Gardener elected to excise these specimen plants which are problematic for her 65 years of age. Having overtaxed elbows and wrists eight years ago M.G. prudently relied upon firmly driving her garden spade beneath the deep-set gnarly, intertwined root masses. Surprise! Apparently the vigor of these labors bruised a nerve in M.G.’s heel dramatically curtailing mobility while the enflamed nerve takes its time simmering down. I am experimenting with double sets of $44 shoe inserts and heel cushions to both absorb shock energy from footfalls on hard surfaces and shift weight onto the ball of the foot. I also purchased a cane. I don’t plan to sit in the Bounder while Jim has all the fun.
And fun is in the offing with our arrival in the state capitol of Texas, Austin located on the north-south trade axis parallel to the rise in elevation to the western high country and the east-west trade routes between historic Texan cities.
I dissolved in guffaws reading Jim’s account of the first week aloud to Rosemary. His detailing of frustrations with mechanical systems both unfamiliar to him and at the end of its useful lifespan are a “reality check” for those who might be lured into hopping hastily aboard a dated unit of their own: constant vigilance and prompt attention to deteriorating items will be needed to meet our goal. Jim’s struggles did not amount to adventure that was very “adventury,” and the 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. departures exceed his classic firing of the diesel’s at 5:45 which serves as crew’s alarm clock. Joyce has never yet slept prone while Jim drives, and missed neither those ungodly departure times nor the layovers in repair facilities.
The skies were slate grey at 5 p.m. when we exited the Long-Term parking lot and Jim returned to self-check-into McKinney Falls State Park. With Joyce shining a flashlight for his recently installed back-up camera to trace we settled into the first vacant paved campsite available and delved into our stores of canned soup intended for our supper and an anticipated early bedtime. “Knock, knock, knock.” “Folks, I’m going to have to ask you to move,” said the camp host making his rounds. In the pitch black Joyce had not anticipated finding a tent pitched just yards beyond where our Bounder sat. Seems the tenter had been sited along the bottomland of Onion Creek, the focal point of the park, and the night’s forecasted heavy rains put him at risk of being swept away. The motor home lot is located on higher ground. Oops. Just as well we moved. Five inches of rain fell on us in three hours, a Texan temper tantrum of rain that spawned a tornado northeast of the city that tore a 1 mile swathe of destruction in 7 minutes, a rare January event with a maximum rain concentration of 9“. It’s a wonder the tenter didn’t beg admission to our shelter off the ground to put a solid roof over his head.
And our solid roof to which Jim had applied a longitudinal and lateral coatings of a rubberized sealant admitted nary a drop. Among the cosmetic improvements undertaken by Joyce was using a spray bottle of hydrogen peroxide to mitigate water stains and black mildew stains in the ceiling around the two vents, the air conditioning unit, and along the edges along the port side. Tedious, but dramatically improving the interior ambience whose d├ęcor favors tans and browns. The driver’s and passenger’s seats both have lifting arms and easy-chair cloth upholstered styling. Behind the passenger seat, which could be swiveled, is a snack table flanked by a recliner. On the starboard side continuing toward the rear comes the entry doorway, double sink, gas oven/stove, microwave, brand new refrigerator with freezer top, a pull-out room divider, clothes closet with double doors, another room divider, and twin bed across from its companion twin in the rear port corner. Both beds raise up with spring-loaded supports giving access to storage. Jim removed the “bundling board” night stand to the right side of the closet which will allow conversion of the twins to a double bed for the newlywed spirit still alive in the oldlywed soul. The bathroom with mini-tub/shower, vanity sink and head lie across from the closet and between the two moveable room dividers. The dinette seating is across from the galley and features a light oak style wood floor which extends in the aisle all the way to the front for a feel of luxury. A full size pull out couch faces the door and recliner and abuts the driver’s seat. Three three-way reading light sconces with lamp shades supplement the more numerous functional ceiling lights. Two TV’s are located at the ceiling level between the driving seats and in the bedroom for the final homey touch.. Jim succeeded in linking up our cable TV for coverage of the previous night’s storm and his evening’s entertainment as I type to you.
We brought along our recently acquired GPS to help locate stores as well as assist in tracking down sight-seeing destinations and campgrounds. Grocery shopping at a very well-stocked chain store, H.E. B. filled the bill after we departed from McKinney Falls State Park. Jim offered to off-load the bicycles to tour the grounds, but I’m going to ease back into exercise having been side-lined all this summer and fall by my tender tootsies. We departed in the motor home for a farewell tour of the upper and lower falls of Onion Creek in this park 13 miles outside the capital that was the former homestead of racehorse breeder Thomas McKinney who was among the 300 original settlers brought to Texas by Stephen F. Austin in 1820. Flood waters filled the picnic area and converted Jim’s gentle bicycle portage into a raging rapid with tree trunks being swept past our vantage point cut off from the mansion and mountain biking trails. Flood waters swept at 6 knots past trees with swirling waters lapping the juncture of the lower branches. Power was knocked out closing the visitor center.
McKinney began forming 100 million years ago with the deposition of calcium shells in the sea bed, the future Texas limestone. The upper and lower falls are the product of subsequent volcanic activity. Erosion of a limestone ledge along a portion of the creek provided shelter for the aboriginal peoples 1400 years ago. Swimming in the pools below the falls and the blooming Blue Bonnets draw city dwellers in warm weather.
Our afternoon sightseeing goal after checking into the only available space in Midtown RV Park 5 miles closer to town was the Texas Capitol building which houses all the branches of government. While skies were leaden the heavens remained continent as we saddled up the Kawasaki for our sortie into downtown Austin, and the 60 degree high made for pleasant riding, that is with one exception: Joyce’s rain suit pouch bounced out of the open rear storage bin, our loss and a passerby’s gain. Austin solved the problem of government office building sprawl by digging a Texas-size subterranean labyrinth for offices, conference rooms, an auditorium and cafeteria on two levels beneath park-like grounds above setting off the entire edifice to advantage. The exterior is stunningly done in Texas native red granite block. The interior has inlaid marble floors depicting the battles at the Alamo and San Jacinto where Austin defeated Santa Ana; 6 historical state seals beginning with the Louisiana Purchase Fleur de Lys; intricate geometric designs, oil portraits of Boone and Crocket as well as the battles; and full size statues of Austin and Houston awaiting the arrival of guests. Chamber ceilings are coffered in Italianate-style and eschewed the gas lighting of the plans in favor of the latest technology, Edison’s electric lamps whose bulbs cleverly spell “Texas” as they surround a central star framed by a wagon wheel. Even the brass door hinges are emblemized with “Texas State Capitol.” At the time of its construction from 1885-88 naturally it was the largest in the nation, but several states have had the cheek to build taller domes just for spite.
Y-a-w-n. Between the short-shrift sleep on the eve of my departure attending to last minute bill-paying and the King-size thunder, lightening, and relentless rain beating down on our tin roof scant feet above our heads last night I’m plumb tuckered. Think I’ll hit the hay, y’all, and see what else Austin has to offer tomorrow.
The Texas Travelers
Day 10, Thursday January 26: Returned to the Capitol Complex Visitor Center which featured a room devoted to the life of William S. Porter, a writer all of whose works found a publisher. His number one rule was to write to please himself; there was no rule number two. A convivial soul whose money ran through his fingers as quickly as he earned it, a widower with a daughter upon whom he doted, found himself imprisoned for 5 years for embezzlement. Perhaps he ran through money faster than he earned it. To help support his young daughter in the care of friends for his 5 year term in the Ohio State Penitentiary he forwarded his works for submission to publishers to a friend who dealt with rejections by forwarding to another publisher thus concealing his personal circumstances. We know him as O. Henry, a pen name with many potential origins including OH for the state followed by “en” and “ry” from the institution housing him. He once worked in the land office in the capitol building in Austin.
The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum and Imax Theater kept us enthralled. To quote one poet Berta Hart Nance, “Other states were carved or born, Texas grew from hide and horn.” Mexico invited empressarios, or colonial organizers, to bring industry and people to the province of Tejas. Immigrants agreed to abide by Mexican law, and to convert to Catholicism. Wishful thinking on the part of the Mexicans met the implacable independence of Austin’s 300 settlers and others who admired American independence and freedom. Funny thing, Spain was not inclined to agree, and the war for independence was born. Joining the union was no “slam dunk,” however. The Manifest Destiny supports were ready to “bring it on” while the abolitionists opposed the addition of another slave state. Spain barred slaves. Southern plantation lured by exceptional cotton prices moved into Tejas in droves. Santa Ana’s defeat at San Jacinto and the Texan revenge killing of 600 Mexican prisoners in retaliation for a reciprocal slaughter of Texans captured at Goliad prompted continual strife along the border set at the Rio Grande by The Republic of Texan and at the next river to the east by Mexico. Acceptance of Texas into the Union meant Federal Troops coming in aide of the beleaguered former residents of a republic, and in the ensuing skirmishes Mexico lost New Mexico and California to the U.S. Early pioneers built log cabins with two single rooms separated by a similar size breezeway, a “Dog House” with one wing for the owner, one for the slave and the dog and other livestock in the middle. We capped our museum tour with an Imax Texas film that opened with a herd of wild horses thundering across the big screen.
Mild, sunny 70 degree weather encouraged riding the Kawasaki along the banks of the Colorado River whose sections in Austin are designated lakes to walk through the outdoor Umlauf Sculpture Garden, a local watering hole and Joe’s Crab Shack for dinner when rush hour traffic came to a standstill. The guide book’s proffering of more wonders has Joyce pining to stay another day; the driver of the bus has loaded motorcycle and bikes. Our evening is spent pouring over historical and wildlife pamphlets from the Visitor’s Center. 
Yee Ha! Its westward ho!