Friday, April 11, 2014
Not twenty miles out of San Antonio, the topography changed. We were in the lovely, rolling Texas Hill Country, filled with spreading oaks, gnarled mesquite trees, and millions of dark green cedars (or junipers) growing from every limestone/shale outcropping. (The Bush Texas White House is 200 miles north of here, whereas the LBJ Texas White house was 80 miles north of San Antonio. Jim nixed my desire to visit these.) The rolling hills are white, many flat mesas on top, and the land rocky, hard, and parched to the point of cracking. It’s obvious that one could not farm this empty expanse of land; we understand now why the Native Americans here, called Lipan Apaches (the local tribe, with artifacts carbon-dating back over 4000 years, were the Los Chanos) were nomadic hunter/gatherers before being driven out by the Comanches on horseback who considered all their hunting lands inviolate and didn’t allow trespassing from native tribes, Spanish, Mexicans, or Anglos.
We stopped atop one particularly long, steep grade to replace our bluebonnets and were delighted with the odor! The ever-present “Moriah” tugging at our hair and clothes smelled strongly of that clean, fresh Christmas scent of cedar. We didn’t know if all those trees were cedar or juniper, but later, a park ranger told us they were “Agrita.” I’d never heard of that and wonder if it’s just Spanish for cedar or juniper, but that’s what I’ll call them out west. On the cleared hillsides and bottomlands, grazed, not cattle or horses, but goats…goat ranches everywhere. We hope to have the popular mesquite-flavored goat BBQ, but are told that it is expensive, and there’s not so much demand for it anymore. We were also amused to see atop each hill, only one ranch house…like there is so much land out here and so few people, that each man can buy his own hill and brag, “I’m the King of this Mountain.”
I finally had hit a wall the first evening in San Antonio; I was in bed at 7:30 p.m. and didn’t wake up untill 9 a.m. Jim hit his wall on April 2; the man who has driven me crazy waking with the sun every day of our married lives didn’t get out of bed until 10 a.m. I had to check to see that he was still alive. It was an overcast morning in South Llano Wildlife Refuge; windows were open to a warm, dry, cedar and mesquite-scented breeze. Mourning doves were cooing all around us, butterflies flitting all around, and hummingbirds were fighting over our homemade feeder…a red plastic cup filled with sugar water and tied with string in a juniper tree. We were somewhere south of Junction, Texas, along the Pecos Trail; off the grid: no signals from phones, Wi-Fi, or TV. We had been biking and had stayed up late watching the fire and wildlife. Except that Jim was missing some prime fly fishing hours, it was a good time to sleep in.
At lunch, we had eaten fall-off-the-bone Texas BBQ from Cooper’s; Coop let us take photos (see pix), told us his secrets, and gave us a brisket to take with us. After setting up camp under two mesquite trees and a pecan tree bordering a meadow of grass and prickly pear cacti, we went fishing in the Llano River, fed by 200 springs along 30 miles (see pix). With nothing but bream biting, we tried Buck Lake, riding our bikes to and from likely fishing holes under an endless pecan grove still holding on to some of their fruit. The lake is “catch and release only” for Guadalupe bass, the state fish of Texas, a fish found only in central Texas in clear, cool, running water. Of course there were typical squirrels in the trees, but also plenty of the comical Mexican ground squirrels were capering around the leaves gorging on a late crop of nuts on the ground which we too gathered. In the evenings, we sat around a mesquite fire and watched our camp pet armadillo shuffle around our site snuffling (Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky”) through white-flowered yucca, grasses, and scrub brush (see pix). Each evening, we had a herd of five white tail drift through our meadow, cautiously watching us and flicking their flags, but seemingly comfortable around us. Jim waited expectantly for the big buck, but no luck. Supposedly on this 2500 acre game preserve, there are 45 deer to every acre…you do the numbers. We are in the middle of the Texas Wildlife Trail, so birds are abundant. Even though we bought a CD identifying 400 species and a Birding Checklist, made good use of our binoculars, we could only spot those birds familiar to us…not even a roadrunner. However, half this park is closed off now for Turkey Roosting/Breeding except to overnight campers. Driving in, we encountered a big Tom (see pix) breeding with a hen in the middle of the road. We had to stop and let them finish, but by the time we got the camera out, the hen had scurried off and the Tom went strutting after her for more good times. A cattle drive of countless axis and white tail deer grazed through the meadows around us at dusk and dawn each day…it was an amazing sight! The park ranger said there were over 70 deer in that herd alone.
After Texas gained US statehood in 1845, Fort Stockton was one of a line of eight forts and a presidio built in the mid-19th century to protect settlers streaming west while Native Americans were defending their traditional hunting and trading grounds. Today, they comprise the historical backbone of the Texas Forts Trail. We’ve all read about and seen movies on the epic violent struggle that ensued. Jim and I stopped in Fort Stockton for the same reason 19th century stagecoaches and wagon trains stopped at this watering hole, then called “Comanche Springs.” We needed gas, propane, groceries, and overnight lodging. For a glimpse of frontier life, we visited the Annie Riggs Memorial Museum representing Victorian elegance in a frontier hotel and rocked on the wide, wrap-around verandas. We visited the restored 1868 guardhouse, adobe officers’ quarters, and barracks, viewing a video, exhibits, and 1880s photos by a fort officer which chronicled soldier life and fort history. I would be remiss in neglecting to mention the many limestone caverns we passed by in this odyssey across Texas, the morning and evening bat viewings, and the dozens of prehistoric rock art sites. I particularly was interested in the pictographs, painted images, and petroglyphs, carved or etched images, and mobile art, including painted pebbles. However, knowing that we were heading specifically toward some of America’s best examples of caverns and rock art, we did not stop. Neither did we go to Langtry, home of Hanging Judge Roy Bean, the law west of the Pecos, even though Jim, an avid Zane Grey reader and Western lore fanatic, earnestly wanted to include that stop. We had also deleted Big Bend Ranch and a day’s raft and horse ride on the Rio because we were cautious about remote border locations. Incidentally, I had talked Jim out of “packing” so we could cross into Canada later.
Gayle Carson, author of Wynds Over Wylusing, retired from CCSD teaching at Wando. She has developed curriculum and taught for Florida University, USC, and City Schools of Chicago as a contractor for the Naval Submarine Base in Charleston. A past owner/operator of a decorator showcase, she has also bred and shown dogs and Holland Lops. Gayle grew up in Mt. Pleasant, married Jim Carson, and raised three children and six grandchildren here. They are avid outdoor people and love boating and water activities. Her hobbies include backyard hobby farming, water gardening, playing the organ and piano, and travel. Jim and Gayle are members of East Cooper Baptist Church, the Senior Center, and various charity acitivities. They are presently on a four month “See America” odyssey in their motor coach with their two pups