Wander the (San Antonio) River’s winding Path and Experience the Spirit of San Antonio

The colorful charm and lively style of Texas’ most storied city

For over 300 years, the San Antonio River has nurtured this city with headwaters just north of town flowing through it all the way down to join the Guadalupe River just shy of the Gulf of Mexico. Long before Texans took hold of the land, Spaniards erected San Antonio’s five historic missions near the river. Before that, Native Americans relied on this waterway for sustenance and safety. When the Rough Riders barreled through town on their horses over a hundred years ago, they ducked into a dark bar that still stands steps away from the banks. The river was here before all of it and holds everything you need to know about San Antonio.

San Antonio River and River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are big cities out there with little character and even less history but San Antonio is not one of them. Don’t let the colorful umbrellas and shiny tourist bric-à-brac distract you. Just keep following the River Walk and pay attention.

The San Antonio River Walk (or Paseo del Rio) is a linear park that winds for thirteen miles from Brackenridge Park through downtown San Antonio and south to the farthest of the city’s five eighteenth-century Spanish missions. The central section of approximately 3½ miles is navigable by tourist barges that stop along riverside walkways near hotels, restaurants, and shops. Access to the remainder of the River Walk is along hiking and biking trails. The River Walk draws several million tourists a year, is ranked as one of the top travel destinations in Texas, and has inspired riverside developments throughout the world.

San Antonio River and River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meet the Neighborhood

Blessed with a prime spot in the Texas Hill Country, San Antonio has more adjacent natural beauty than most urban landscapes. Outdoor wonders like popular swim spot Hamilton Pool Preserve are at your fingertips while one neighboring small town, Fredericksburg features the country’s largest wildflower farm (Wildseed Farms) and gorgeous wineries. The city itself, however, has much to offer beyond its famous puffy tacos and annual celebration, Fiesta San Antonio—though, neither of those should be missed.

San Antonio River and River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The key is the River Walk which seems as if it has been organized specifically for the visitor’s enjoyment. On the northernmost end, enjoy spring at family-friendly sites such as the San Antonio Botanical Garden and the Japanese Tea Garden. Slightly south, you’ll find a livelier jam at the Pearl District with plenty of art installations and riverside amenities to keep you entertained on the trek there. Folks are drawn to this part of town by the varied restaurants and shops surrounding an open green space that sees plenty of guests. The Pearl’s Bottling Department, San Antonio’s first food hall has dining options that run the full gamut.

San Antonio River, River Barge, and River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This multiuse district is located on the site of the old Pearl Brewery founded back in 1883. Hotel Emma built inside the old brewhouse is a five-star-service ode to the Pearl’s history and also to Emma Koehler who took over in 1914 after her husband died. She weathered Prohibition without having to lay off any workers—an impressive feat for anybody anytime but especially for a woman in the 1920s.

Pan Dulce tray © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Parades and Pan Dulce

Historic Market Square and The Alamo are the heart of River Walk tourism and for good reason. Fiesta, the city’s annual springtime festival is typically centered here every April. The extravaganza lasts over a week and is—at its core—a celebration of the city’s culture. The historic Battle of Flowers Parade, the main event, was established back in 1891 by a group of women (now a formal association) to honor the heroes who fought for Texas independence at The Alamo. The parade will commemorate its upcoming 130th anniversary in 2021. San Antonio plans to have an abridged Fiesta celebration this year after canceling due to pandemic concerns in 2020.

Pan Dulce tray © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each year, floats covered in a rainbow of lush paper blooms make their procession in front of The Alamo amid colorful flying confetti from cracked cascarones (hand-decorated, hollowed-out eggshells filled with confetti).

No visitor can leave San Antonio without tasting the town dessert—and what a glorious task! For that, the river leads you to Mi Tierra Café y Panadería, an 80-year-old family bakery and Tex-Mex restaurant that’s known for offering over a dozen different kinds of pan dulce, a traditional Mexican sweet bread. Waitresses dressed in brightly colored garb serve up treats of all flavors and sizes, while the restaurant’s famous floor-to-ceiling American Dream mural depicts inspirational people from the local community and beyond.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stroll just a few blocks away to the La Villita neighborhood where you’ll find charming bridges that cozy up to a historic arts village (the former barracks for Mission San Antonio de Valero, or The Alamo). Located on the southern bank of the River Walk, La Villita now occupies one artsy square block in the heart of downtown San Antonio. The Artisan village is listed on the National Register of Historic Places featuring architectural styles that range from adobe structures to early Victorian and Texas vernacular limestone buildings. Today, La Villita is a treasured Artisan and Entrepreneur district with over 25 shops and galleries that showcase local handmade goods and home to over 200 events a year.

San Antonio River, River Barge, and River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Star Arts Complex

Once all the mandatory tourist stops have been made, balance out your trip in Alamo City at the trendy Blue Star Arts Complex. Located in the eclectic Southtown neighborhood, this pioneering mixed-use development is the heart of the city’s vibrant arts scene. The anchor of the complex is Blue Star Contemporary, a nonprofit institute for some of the area’s emerging artists but smaller galleries and studios are sprinkled throughout.

San Antonio River, River Barge, and River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then pedal around the adjacent King William neighborhood and embark on the about-7-mile Mission Reach trail that connects four of San Antonio’s five Spanish colonial missions. The area serves as your starting point for this popular path.

Along the San Antonio River and River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The perfect way to end a day spent wandering down the river’s winding path is with an iced-down tequila soda—add splashes of orange and grapefruit to make it a proper sunset—and good times with your new Texas buds. You know the river will always show you the way home.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.

—David Crockett

Exploring What Is Old and Discovering What’s New along San Antonio Missions Trail

One Park. Four Missions.

As one of the largest cities in Texas, San Antonio carries with it a lot of history and beauty. The city is known for the Alamo and the beautiful San Antonio River running through downtown. No matter the time of year, San Antonio is a stunning destination for an RV road trip—and it brings with it a naturally warm climate year-round.

Mission San Juan © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the early 1800s, the city grew around the missions along the San Antonio River. San Antonio Missions National Historical Park is located just 10 minutes south of downtown San Antonio. San Antonio is a diverse and culturally rich city best known for the time honored battle cry “Remember the Alamo!” Most visitors are surprised to discover that the Alamo is one of five missions established by Spanish priests in the eighteenth century and the other four missions are well worth experiencing. The missions are designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and can be explored via bicycle on a winding trail by the river. You might find you won’t just be remembering the Alamo after a day on mission trail.

Mission San Juan © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, the missions—walled compounds encompassing a church and buildings where the priests and local Native Americans lived—represent the largest concentration of Spanish colonial missions in North America. All four of the mission sites at San Antonio Missions National Historical Park still contain active Catholic parishes. The churches hold regular services in these historic buildings. They are open to park visitors during park hours except for during special services such as weddings and funerals.

Plan Your Visit

Explore the Missions along the River Walk’s Mission Reach, an eight-mile stretch with recreational trails, pedestrian bridges, pavilions, and portals to four Spanish colonial missions—Concepción, San José, San Juan, and Espada.

Mission San José © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mission San José

Established in 1720, San José y San Miguel de Aguayo is the largest mission in San Antonio. Spanish designers built the mission using Texas limestone and brightly colored stucco. At its height, it provided sanctuary and a social and cultural community for about 350 Indians sustained by extensive fields and herds of livestock. Spanish missions were not churches but communities with the church the focus. Mission San José captures a transitional moment in history, frozen in time.

Mission San José © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Viewed as the model among the Texas missions, San José gained a reputation as a major social and cultural center. It became known as the “Queen of the Missions.” Its imposing complex of stone walls, bastions, granary, and magnificent church was completed by 1782.

In 2011, it underwent a $2.2 million renovation to refinish interior domes, walls, and the altar backdrop. When visiting the church, be sure to look for flying buttresses, carvings, quatrefoil patterns, polychromatic plaster, and the famed “Rose Window,” a superb example of Spanish Colonial ornamentation.

Mission Concepción © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mission Concepción

Dedicated in 1755, the church at Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purisima Concepción de Acuña appears very much as it did over two centuries ago. It stands proudly as the oldest unrestored stone church in America. In its heyday, colorful geometric designs covered its surface, but the patterns have long since faded or been worn away. However, there are several rooms in which to see remaining frescos with all their detail and creativity.

Mission Concepción © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Originally founded in 1716 in what is now eastern Texas, the mission was one of six authorized by the Spanish government to serve as a buffer against the threat of French incursion into Spanish territory from Louisiana. Developed by Franciscans and after a tenuous existence and several moves, the mission was transferred to its present site in 1731.

This handsome stone church took about 15 years to build and was dedicated in 1755. Due to the fact that it was built directly on bedrock, it never lost its roof or its integrity. It remains the least restored of the colonial structures within the Park.

Mission San Juan © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mission San Juan

Originally founded in 1716 in eastern Texas, Mission San Juan was transferred in 1731 to its present location. In 1756, the stone church, a friary, and a granary were completed. A larger church was begun but was abandoned when half complete, the result of population decline.

San Juan was a self-sustaining community. Within the compound, Indian artisans produced iron tools, cloth, and prepared hides. Orchards and gardens outside the walls provided melons, pumpkins, grapes, and peppers. Beyond the mission complex Indian farmers cultivated maize (corn), beans, squash, sweet potatoes, and sugar cane in irrigated fields.

Mission San Juan © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over 20 miles southeast of Mission San Juan was Rancho de Pataguilla, which, in 1762, reported 3,500 sheep and nearly as many cattle. These products helped support not only the San Antonio missions but also the local settlements and presidial garrisons in the area. By the mid 1700s, San Juan, with its rich farm and pasture lands was a regional supplier of agricultural produce. With its surplus, San Juan established a trade network stretching east to Louisiana and south to Coahuila, Mexico. This thriving economy helped the mission to survive epidemics and Indian attacks in its final years.

Today, the chapel and bell tower are still in use. When visiting, don’t miss the typical Romanesque archway at the entrance gate. For outdoor fun, take a self-guided tour on the nature trail that begins at this Mission and leads to the river.

Mission Espada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mission Espada

This was the first mission in Texas, founded in 1690 as San Francisco de los Tejas near present-day Weches, Texas. In 1731, the mission was transferred to the San Antonio River area and renamed Mission San Francisco de la Espada. A friary was built in 1745 and the church was completed in 1756.

Following government policy, Franciscan missionaries sought to make life within mission communities closely resemble that of Spanish villages and Spanish culture. In order to become Spanish citizens and productive inhabitants, Native Americans learned vocational skills. As plows, farm implements, and gear for horses, oxen, and mules fell into disrepair, blacksmithing skills soon became indispensable. Weaving skills were needed to help clothe the inhabitants. As buildings became more elaborate, mission occupants learned masonry and carpentry skills under the direction of craftsmen contracted by the missionaries. After secularization, these vocational skills proved beneficial to post-colonial growth of San Antonio. The legacy of these Native American artisans is still evident throughout the city of San Antonio today.

Mission Espada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The southernmost mission in the park, Mission Espada boasts the best-preserved segment of the area’s original irrigation system that was used to bring water to the fields. In 1826, a fire destroyed most of the mission buildings at Espada with only the chapel, granary, and two of the compound walls remaining. Today, part of the original irrigation system still operates the Espada aqueduct and dam. Self-guided walking tours are available during park hours. Don’t miss the newest installation near Espada, the massive Arbol de Vida or Tree of Life that displays the personal stories and tales of San Antonio locals.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mission San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo)

The Alamo, founded in 1718, was the first mission in San Antonio serving as a way station between east Texas and Mexico. In 1836, decades after the mission had closed the Alamo became an inspiration and a motivation for liberty during the Texas Revolution. The Alamo houses exhibits on the Texas Revolution and Texas History. Visitors are invited to experience interactive history lessons, guided tours, and stroll through the beautiful Alamo Gardens. Just a short distance from the River Walk, the Alamo is a “must-see” for all who visit the Alamo City. And, once you’ve been there, it’s impossible to forget.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.

—David Crockett

Discover Over 500 Bird Species in South Texas

There is this place that is for the birds and is all about the birds, where you will find some of the best birding while RVing

Good morning. It’s Saturday and you deserve some good news, so we’re pleased to inform you that a Laysan albatross named Wisdom has successively hatched yet another chick at Midway Atoll in the Hawaiian archipelago. Discovered by biologists in 1956, Wisdom is at least 70 years old making her the world’s oldest known wild bird. She still flies as many as 1,000 miles in a single foraging expedition.

Black-bellied whistling ducks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wisdom’s latest chick successfully hatched in February, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s office in the Pacific Islands. Wisdom laid her egg sometime during the last few days of November according to the wildlife agency. Soon after, Wisdom returned to sea to forage and her mate Akeakamai took over incubation duties. The pair have been hatching and raising chicks together since at least 2012, the wildlife agency said.

Great kiskadee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the past decade, Wisdom has been astounding researchers and winning fans with her longevity and devotion to raising her young. She has flown millions of miles in her life but returns to her same nest every year on Midway Atoll, the world’s largest colony of albatrosses. To feed her hatchlings, Wisdom and her mate take turns flying as much as 1,000 miles on a single outing spending days foraging for food along the ocean’s surface.

Ladder-backed wooepecker © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Every year, millions of albatrosses which normally have only one mate in their life, all come home to Midway around October. If all goes well couples reunite and then team up to incubate a single egg and feed their new chick. Midway’s two flat islands act as giant landing strips for albatrosses and millions of other seabirds which rely on the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge to raise their young. This year’s albatross chicks will make their first flights in early summer.

Altamira oriole © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the past, biologists have said Wisdom possesses a unique set of skills that have let her have a long and productive life soaring over the Pacific Ocean. When she was first banded, Dwight Eisenhower was in the middle of his two-term presidency.

Her advice to the younger generation? Think before you tweet.

Yellow warbler © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Not fitting the stereotype of the avid birdwatcher that travels to the most exotic corners of the globe, many RVers simply want to be where the birds are. Not wearing the latest outdoor gear, carrying the biggest scopes, peering through the most expensive binoculars, and checking another bird off the official life list, I carry my mid-priced super-zoom camera and take great pleasure in seeing the beautiful creatures that fill the air with music and the skies with color. That’s what draws me and many other snowbirds to South Texas.

Roseate spoonbills and ibis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located at the southern tip of Texas, the Rio Grande Valley hosts one of the most spectacular convergences of birds on earth. Well over 500 species have been spotted in this ecowonderland, including several that can be found only in this southernmost part of the U.S. Each year, birders come to The Valley to see bird species they can’t find anyplace else in the country—from the green jay, black-bellied whistling ducks (pictured above), and the buff-bellied hummingbird to the great kiskadee (pictured above), roseate spoonbill (pictured above), and the Altamira oriole (pictured above)

Cassin’s kingbird © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After all, The Valley offers not just one but a total of nine World Birding Centers and is located at the convergence of two major flyways, the Central and Mississippi.

Often referred to as The Texas Tropics, this area is very popular, too, with snowbirds from the Midwest and Central Canada. However, these winter tourists are not simply referred to as snowbirds but affectionately dubbed Winter Texans. After all, these birdwatchers and winter visitors are very important to the area’s economy, so they are, indeed, welcomed.

Rose-breasted grosbeak © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, just south of Mission, is not only Texas’ southernmost state park, but since October 2005, the headquarters of the World Birding Center. The 760-acre park draws visitors from as far away as Europe and Japan hoping to spot some of the more than 325 species of birds and over 250 species of butterflies, many of them from neighboring Mexico and Central America.

Plain chachalaca © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cars are not allowed in the park but a trolley makes regular pick-ups along the 7 mile paved loop allowing birders to hitch a ride from one feeding station to the next. It’s a quiet, beautiful, place and it is filled with birds. As the trolley rounds the bend into the park visitors are frequently greeted by a sizable flock of the loud and raucous plain chachalaca (see above), a brown, chicken-like species that’s found only in this part of the country.

To assist the casual birder Bentsen offers a series of bird blinds strategically placed near various feeding stations. The hut made of horizontally-placed wood slats is reached by a ramp so it is accessible to those with disabilities.

Yellow-crowned night herons © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Inside the blind the wood slats can be folded down to form a platform for cameras so a tripod isn’t necessary to keep the camera steady. All you need to do is sit and watch the show as the birds keep coming to feed. We sat on a bench in the blind, peered through the opening and pressed the shutter repeatedly without disturbing the birds.

Yellow-breasted great kiskadees swooped down in front of us and drank from the small pool of water. This flycatcher has black and white stripes on its crown and sides, appears to be a kind of cross between a kingfisher and a meadowlark, and attracts attention by its incessant “kis-ka-dee” calls.

Green jay © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Green jays (pictured above) postured and fluttered at the feeders. This beautiful bird is, indeed, green-breasted (unlike our blue jay), with green wings, but there’s also some white, yellow, and blue plumage. This bird’s flashy coloring, boisterous nature, dry, throaty rattle, and frequent “cheh-chehcheh-cheh” call make it very easy to spot.

Golden-fronted woodpecker © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A golden-fronted woodpecker (see above) fed at the peanut butter log. Barred with black and white above and buff below, the male has red restricted to the cap; nape orange; forecrown yellow; the female lacks red but has an orange nape. Its voice is a loud churrrr; the call a burry chuck-chuck-chuck.

Another World Birding Center located in McAllen, is at Quinta Mazatlan, a historic 1930s Spanish Revival adobe hacienda that’s surrounded by 15 acres of lush tropical landscape and several birding trails.

Pauraque © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Estero Llano Grande in Weslaco attracts a spectacular array of South Texas wildlife with its varied landscape of shallow lakes, woodlands, and thorn forest. Commonly seen species include the great kiskadee, Altamira oriole, green jay, groove-billed ani, tropical parula, common pauraques (pictured above), green kingfishers, grebes, black-bellied whistling ducks, and an assortment of wading birds like the great blue heron, and roseate spoonbill.

The warm winter climate and the awesome bird watching attract Winter Texans to The Valley and keep them returning year after year. We’ll be back, Hope to see you there.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Winter Texan is Better Than No Texan

Schulenburg: Dance Halls, Painted Churches & Good Eats

Settlers immigrated to Schulenburg in the 1800s and brought with them culture, food, and faith which you can experience today in rural Texas

Schulenburg, like many of the small central Texas towns, was settled by German and Czech settlers in the mid-nineteenth century. Founded in 1873 when the railway officially came through town, it grew to 1,000 residents by 1884. With 2,852 residents in 2018, the town is still rich with the German/Czech culture.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Praha © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A major attraction in the Schulenburg area is the Painted Churches. You can take the tour through the Chamber of Commerce or take a self-guided tour which is what we did. The churches look like plain white steeple buildings but step inside you and you’ll be in a jewel box of colors and detail. Four of the fifteen historical churches can be toured Monday through Saturday. The others are either an active parish which you can visit on Sunday or no longer active with prior arrangements required for a visit.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church in High Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go inside a plain white steeple church and you will find a European styled painted church of high gothic windows, tall spires, elaborately painted interiors with brilliant colors and friezes created by the German and Czech settlers in America.

The four we visited are: St. Mary Catholic Church in High Hill, Sts. Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in Dubina, St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Praha, and St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Ammannsville, known as “The Pink One.”

Original Kountry Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s not surprising that the Czechs and Germans brought their religious traditions to Texas, but it is surprising that they were able to construct such magnificent churches on the Texas frontier.

You can start your day by indulging in the Czech breakfast of champions: kolaches. While Texans ascribe the name to both the fruit and meat variety (pig-in-a-blanket) of this bready pastry, I’m drawn to the buttery goodness of traditional fruit kolaches at the Original Kountry Bakery. The first one melted in my mouth so quickly that I had to grab a few more to go. Kountry Bakery’s stew and chilli are also lunchtime favorites. And the best part about eating lunch at Kountry Bakery are all the sweets to pick up for desert.

Potter Country Store © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With a giant squirrel sign outside shouting “How ’Bout Them Nuts,” I had no choice but to stop at the Potter Country Store offering local pecans in every form and flavor, including raw, roasted, chocolate-covered, and stuffed in pies. Potter Country Store has been operating since 2001 when they had a small store about 6 miles south of Schulenburg on Highway 77. They soon outgrew that store and opened a new location in 2007 at I-10 and Highway 77 in Schulenburg.

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

They provide fresh in-shell, cracked, and shelled pecans that come from their own Potter Pecan Orchards. They also have a variety of gourmet roasted pecans that are made in-house using their own recipes. A few of their favorites include Cinnamon Sugar, Carmel, Red Velvet, Sweet Heat, Salted, Blackberry, Hot Chili Spice, and Chocolate dipped. Other popular treats are their homemade pecan pies, pecan Roca, and fudge. They also carry unique gifts and personal items such as jewelry, purses, home décor, boutique clothing, and lots more.

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Downtown on Schulenburg’s Main Street is the Texas Polka Museum. It’s full of instruments, pictures, outfits, and a map showing every polka band in the Lone Star State. The Polka Museum highlights the history of this area’s unique German and Czech-style polka music. You can learn about the music that immigrants brought to the area in the 1880s and how it inspired later generations of country artists and even rock and roll music. If your feet aren’t tapping by the time you leave, then “Czech” your pulse.

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then, learn about their heritage and culture by visiting the Schulenburg Historical Museum. Originally opened in 1894, Sengelmann Hall features a big wooden bar and long family-style tables. Live music is a popular draw here and the food is better than ever thanks to Momma’s at Sengelmann’s which serves up homemade pizza, burgers, and pork schnitzel. Order with a big German beer and toast “Prost”.

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Stanzel Model Aircraft Museum is dedicated to local brothers who pioneered miniature aviation. Victor Stanzel started carving balsa wood into model airplanes in 1929. Joined by his brother Joe, the brothers turned the hobby turned into a thriving business. Their most well-known plane, the “Tiger Shark,” was the first control-line model kit in the world. The well-designed complex was packed with drawings, old machines, and the stories of how Victor and Joe Stanzel founded one of the most-loved model plane companies in America.

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

No matter how far we may wander, Texas lingers with us, coloring our perceptions of the world.

—Elmer Kelto

Remember the Alamo?

Remember the Alamo? Once you’ve been there, it’s impossible to forget.

Good morning, good afternoon, good evening. I don’t care when you read this, but just know: RVing with Rex is perfect for any time of day. Whether you’re all hopped up on cold brew, making travel plans to some far-flung destinations (in your RV, of course!), sending multi-paragraph emails to a customer service representative at XYZ RV Repair Shop, staring at your phone while nodding off during a mid-afternoon slump, or staying up late into the bewitching hour to put some final touches on your watercolor portrait of The Alamo, it’s never a bad time to pick up what RVing with Rex is putting down. And what a day to do so!

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today’s post is all about the Shrine of Texas Liberty.

Remember the Alamo! It was the battle cry of Texas freedom fighters during the decisive Battle of San Jacinto, led by Sam Houston against Mexico in April 1836. And it was a memorial to the doomed defenders of the Spanish mission turned Texas fort; they had tried, without success, to hold off Mexican general Antonio López de Santa Anna in late February and early March of that year. The Alamo became a bloody battlefield and a hallowed final resting place for those who would never leave these grounds alive.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the 13th day—March 6, 1836—the Alamo finally fell, and its defenders became American legends. The aftermath has inspired Americans for almost 180 years, and the battle cry “Remember the Alamo?” has been repeated over and over again.

We were able to recall the power of the phase on a visit to the Alamo. The Alamo is not located in a vast field like Gettysburg or the Little Big Horn. Rather, it is located just off what now is the Alamo Plaza. Here’s a place where you can lose yourself in a world of brave deeds.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To understand the Alamo and its impact on the Texas Revolution, one needs to understand its times. From the historical perspective, you would be well served to first visit one of San Antonio’s other missions, for they provide insight into the way the Alamo once functioned. With the exception of the Alamo, the missions are all run by the National Parks Service and the grounds have been preserved, unlike those of the Alamo which are now engulfed by the city.

Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In San Antonio, five missions were constructed between 1718 and 1720. Appropriately, the first of these was Mission San Antonio de Valero, later to be known as the Alamo. Other missions along the San Antonio River include Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purisima Concepción, Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo, Mission San Juan Capistrano, and Mission San Francisco de la Espada. Missions were constructed in an effort to help Spain with its desire to create a Spanish America. Essentially, that meant Christianizing the Indians.

The Alamo Living History Reenactment © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1833, Santa Anna had just become President of Mexico, assuming a dual role. Colonists, he decreed, could buy property in these barren Texas lands, but shortly thereafter, he revised his thinking and told the colonists to go back home, which most refused to do.

This uneasy truce between Mexico and the colonists lasted until October 2, 1835, when citizens at Gonzales, under the leadership of William Travis, held fast to their convictions—and to their cannon. When Mexican soldiers approached within cannon range, the defenders of Gonzales fired. Travis and his men then retreated 60 miles to the Alamo—where several months later, they achieved immortality.

The Alamo Living History Reenactment © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Texas, remembering the Alamo is nothing new. More recently, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas began sponsoring a Living History reenactment, and as fate would have it, we were there for the annual March event. While it was not our first visit to the Alamo, historically it was the most significant!

On this Sunday morning we joined an exceptionally large crown of thousands to “Remember the Alamo,” and the battle there on a similar morning many years earlier.

The Alamo Living History Reenactment © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texans recalled the 189 known defenders who died and the 400 to 600 Mexican troops killed or wounded.

The place was packed, full of tourists. They came from all over, to participate in the battle reenactment and other activities. Grabbing their muskets, straightening their hats, and pulling on jackets ranging from ratty leather to officer uniforms, they readied themselves for the various activities.

The Alamo Living History Reenactment © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dressed in period clothing they demonstrated how both the Mexicans and the Texans lived—how they prepared food, played music, made cloth and clothing, and played out the story of the battle.

The amazing scenes began as the actors assembled, established the setting at the Alamo, and ended with the fateful swarming of the mission. Smoke bellowed into the plaza from the cannons and from the cap-and-ball pistols used at the time, and spectators brushed shoulders with Mexican soldiers—and with the heroic figures of William Travis, David Crockett, and Jim Bowie.

The Alamo Living History Reenactment © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But, the story continued. Just six weeks after the fall of the Alamo, Sam Houston’s army caught up with the soldiers of Santa Anna, literally asleep along the banks of the San Jacinto River. There, just nine Texans lost their life as Houston defeated Santa Anna. Houston spared the general’s life, and with the Mexican capitulation, Texas won its independence, becoming a republic.

The Alamo Living History Reenactment © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Remember the Alamo? Once you’ve been there, it’s impossible to forget.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.

—David Crockett

Top 10 States with the Best Winter Weather

Here are 10 states that will make your winter warmer

It’s winter! Welcome to the season when conversations center around the weather and how unbelievably cold and miserable it is outside.In most of America, winter sucks. It is cold out. Pipes freeze. Lips, noses, and cheeks get chapped and raw. Black ice kills. It’s horrible.Growing up in Alberta, I have experienced the personal hell that is winter’s awkwardly long, frigid embrace. That’s why I’m a snowbird.

No. 10 is a state that might not come to mind when thinking of a safe haven from cold temperatures.

Golfing in Utah Dixie © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Utah

Below the rim of the Great Basin sits Utah‘s warm-weather retreat, the town of St. George. And there’s good reason they call this area Utah Dixie. Like New Mexico and Nevada, you can generally count on the fact that winters will be packed with sunshine. 

Main Street Downtown Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. New Mexico

Did you know that New Mexico is basically southeastern Arizona? I mean, in the sense of topography. They both have high plains, mountain ranges, deserts, and basins.

Laughlin, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Nevada

Other than in the northern reaches of the state, Nevada’s generally pretty well protected from the worst aspects of winter.

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Mississippi

While North Mississippi can get hit with a little blizzard action (snow tornadoes!) it’s far from the norm. And even when a cold snap does hit, people are generally back to porch-sittin’, sweet tea-sippin’ weather in no time. There are also 26 miles of pristine water and white sand beaches in Mississippi without anywhere near the number of tourists or tacky T-shirt shops you’d find in Florida. And, unlike the other beach towns on the Gulf, Biloxi and Gulfport have casinos. And don’t overlook funky Bay St. Louis. Overall, Mississippi is a state with reasonably painless winters.

Alligator in southern Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Louisiana

You think they’d have Mardi Gras in February if that wasn’t an ideal time for a party?!?!! Wait—what do you mean “it’s set by the church calendar to always fall the day before Ash Wednesday?” Well, you think they would’ve petitioned the pope for a change by now if that humid subtropical climate didn’t laissez les bon temps rouler?!?  Yeah, I have no idea either, I guess. 

If I could eat in only three states for the rest of my life, Louisiana would be in this select group.

Boudin at Don’s Specialty Meats in Scott, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More to the point, y’all know the high regard to which I hold the food culture of Cajun Country and the rest of Louisiana (thank you for Tabasco, po’ boys, gumbo, crawfish, jambalaya, boudin, and crackling) and nature abounds.

Alabama Gulf Coast near Gulf Shores © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Alabama

The people of Alabama asked the Lord that He make the climate of Alabama suitable to play football outside year-round and He listened to the people and granted them a mild winter climate for which to play His game. Except up in Huntsville. While mostly known for college football and slow cooked ribs, Alabama is actually geographically diverse with the rolling foothills of the Smoky Mountains in the North, open plains in the center, and the Gulf Coast’s sandy shores in the south. This makes Alabama an excellent destination for RVers.

Corpus Christi Bay, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Texas

According to a quick eyeballing of the globe, Texas is roughly the size of South America or something, and you can’t speak on the weather in Brazil like it’s the same as Chile, right? West Texas is mostly arid desert and you can get the occasional blizzard that shuts down Amarillo. East Texas is subtropical and humid even in the winter. At a spot where the U.S.-Mexico border and the Gulf of Mexico meet sits Brownsville. Warm winds blowing off the sea on 70-degree days make for an ideal scene in the wintertime especially if you’re dealing with stiff, frigid winds blowing feet of snow against the front door back home. With all that said, outside of the Northern Plains, the average temps in Texas in the winter usually stay in the mid-60s during the day, and that’s pretty darn nice.

Lovers Key, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Florida

It goes without saying that the warm weather is a major draw to Florida in December, January, and February. Look out the window… if it’s anything other than sunny and 75 degrees, you probably wish you were in South Florida right now. Just think—you could go from freezing in the cold to boating, golfing, or laying out in the sun. And Key West is the furthest from depressing Northern winter you can get in the Lower 48.

Near Desert Hot Springs in the Coachella Valley, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. California

Yes, California has issues and does a lot of things wrong. Lots of ’em. Let’s talk for a minute about how this state has every single kind of scenic beauty you could possibly want. Start in the south with the expansive, natural beaches set against towering cliffs. Then move inland to the moon-like desertcapes in the Mojave and Joshua Tree. Then it’s a short drive to Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, and the other desert cities of Coachella Valley where the winter weather is near perfect.

Usery Mountain Regional Park near Mesa, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Arizona

Ah, Arizona. Occasionally, retired executives from the northeast will accidentally move to Flagstaff and get very sad and angry when they realize the average winter temperature is somewhere in the 20s. But most of Arizona offers up that dry desert day heat (it was 75 in Phoenix last week) that is good for arthritis. Arizona is a warm-weather perch for snowbirds from around North America and one of the most popular getaway destinations in the Southwest.

Organ Pipe National Monument, Arizona

Home to cactus, prickly pears, rattlesnakes, the Grand Canyon, roadrunners, the world’s oldest rodeo, and the bolo tie, the state is rich in attractions that entertain the young and the not-so-young. From eroded red rock formations to large urban centers, from the Grand Canyon’s stunning vistas to small mountain towns, from Old West legends to Native American and Mexican culture, and from professional sporting events to world-class golf—Arizona has it all!

Worth Pondering…

As Anne Murray sings in the popular song, “Snowbird”:

“Spread your tiny wings and fly away

And take the snow back with you

Where it came from on that day

So, little snowbird, take me with you when you go

To that land of gentle breezes where the peaceful waters flow…”

Rockport-Fulton: Charm of the Texas Coast

Rockport-Fulton has been a favorite coastal hideaway and snowbird roost for many years

Find yourself in Rockport-Fulton and discover why Rockport-Fulton is the Charm of the Texas Coast. You’ll find a sandy beach, a birder’s paradise, a thriving arts community, unique shopping, delectable seafood, unlimited outdoor recreation, historical sites, and great fishing.

Rockport-Fulton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Life around Rockport-Fulton changed dramatically August 25, 2017 when Hurricane Harvey, a powerful Cat 4 hurricane, made landfall directly across the area. Rockport’s recovery since Hurricane Harvey three years ago counts among the great feel-good stories in Texas history. Rebounding in stunning ways, this little art colony beloved by visitors since the 1950s for its fishing, bay setting, and frequent festivals feels fresh again.

Rockport-Fulton following Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Three-hour whooping crane tours depart Fulton Harbor and motor eight miles across Aransas Bay to get a close-up view of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, the centerpiece of Rockport-Fulton’s ecotourism offerings. The Aransas refuge is the winter home of the only remaining wild migratory flock of whooping cranes in the world, an endangered species with a local population of roughly 280. The flock’s numbers had dwindled to about 15 birds in the 1940s, but the refuge—created in 1937 as a haven for migratory birds—provided a patch of safe habitat for the cranes to recover.

Rockport-Fulton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the summer when the whoopers are at their Northern Canadian breeding grounds, boat tours offer dolphin-watching and sunset cruises. There are plenty of birds to see in the summer as well. The tours also provide a thumbnail introduction to Coastal Bend ecology and industry.

Texas Maritime Museum, Rockport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A mixture of sand and pebbles that stretches for several hundred yards, Rockport Beach is a park set on a small peninsula next to Rockport Harbor. Thatch-roof umbrellas on wooden posts offer bits of shade and a grass lawn provides space for covered picnic tables and a playground.

Aransas Pathway Center, Rockport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Birding, history, kayaking, and hiking and biking trails come together at Pathways Center, the principal information center for the new Aransas Pathway projects. There is also a deck for relaxing and observing Tule Creek and the adjoining Shellcrete Birding and Nature site. A bridge connects the north and south sides of Tule Creek and the nature site. This facility functions as the trailhead for Pathways eco-tourism projects in the Aransas County.

Rockport-Fulton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For many visitors to Rockport-Fulton, the estuaries of Aransas and neighboring bays are most notable for their prime sportfishing and duck hunting. Sportsmen from Texas and beyond have made Rockport-Fulton a destination since the railroad arrived in 1888. Aransas and San Antonio bays, together covering more than 350 square miles, are famous for their redfish, trout, flounder, and drum.

Rockport-Fulton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ironically, it was turf—not surf—that put the Rockport area on the map in the second half of the 19th Century. The Fulton Mansion State Historic Site recalls the region’s ranching history and tenure as a shipping center.

Rockport-Fulton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In pursuit of distant markets for their beef and cattle byproducts, George Fulton and his associates developed cutting-edge methods of refrigeration for meatpacking and shipping. The meatpacking industry fizzled in the 1880s when the railroad arrived and shippers found it cheaper to move live cattle by rail. However, the infrastructure continued to sustain a profitable but short-lived turtle meat industry, satisfying big-city demand for a delicacy of the time period—sea turtle soup.

Fulton Mansion © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Because the Fultons had lived in the eastern U.S. for a while, they knew about the latest innovations and conveniences you could have in a home, so they built it with three flush toilets, hot and cold running water, central heating, and gas lighting.

The Big Tree following Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Fulton Mansion is worth a stop to see the mansion’s stylish French Second Empire exterior and the verdant grounds shaded by large live oak trees. In fact, the majestic live oaks along this stretch of the Coastal Bend are a worthy attraction in and of themselves. Some are individually famous, such as the gnarly, millennium-old “Big Tree” at Goose Island State Park and the Zachary Taylor Oak where Taylor camped in 1845. Other stands of wind-sculpted oaks near the shoreline are remarkable for their shape—angled, twisted, and reaching inland from decades of prevailing winds and salt build-up on their seaward edge.

Goose Island Stat Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Come evening, after a day of exploring Rockport-Fulton’s coastal scene, a fitting way to reflect on the experience is from the shade of one of these magnificent live oaks. As the bright orange sun sinks into the horizon, a gentle breeze blows ashore, it’s simple to understand why Winter Texans love this stretch of the Gulf Coast.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Winter Texan is Better Than No Texan

A Toast to Texas History

Every drop of Shiner is brewed in Shiner

South of Flatonia and Moulton on Highway 95 lay a magical land where beer is made—Shiner. To that place two thirsty companions and a designated driver traveled.

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But the first grumblings of hunger appeared as we approached the little village of Moulton. It was hard to believe the locals when we were told that one of the best restaurants around was Klosel’s Steakhouse. After some hesitation, we stopped for lunch en route to the little brewery in Shiner and gave it a shot and what a pleasant surprise. The food was truly amazing and good value. Great atmosphere and friendly service! We have eaten here numerous times over the years and have always been impressed with their food and staff. Particularly love their chicken fried steak—and desert.

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Brewery is on the right as you enter town—you can’t miss it. The best time to go is during the week when the Spoetzel Brewery comes to life. My fellow pilgrims that day were Winter Texans like myself.

The Spoetzel Brewery, founded in 1909, brews Shiner Beer with the pure artesian water that’s flowed beneath the ground there for centuries.

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1909 the residents of Shiner, Texas, didn’t strike gold. They struck water. And shortly thereafter they learned that they could turn that water into some pretty tasty beer. Today, they still brew every drop of Shiner with the same pure artesian well water that’s wet the town’s whistle for more than a hundred years. They say some things never change, to which we say “Prosit!”

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Decisions! Decisions! At the time of our previous trip the brewery gave each visitor tokens (wooden nickels) for four complimentary beers. Well, they weren’t quite full beers. They’re more like six ounces but they’re nice for trying new flavors. During our most recent visit they charged a small $5 fee. Just happened to have unused tokens in my pocket from previous visits to which we said “Prosit!”

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And there is something deeply satisfying about drinking Shiner from the tap knowing it was brewed less than 100 yards away. Prosit! That’s what ought to come out of your mouth before the refreshing goodness that is a free beer goes into it. It’s a toast that means “good health.”

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I started out with Shiner’s new rose ale. It tasted like someone poured a Shiner in a glass that had a little red wine left in it. But it wasn’t bad. The next three were White Wing, Fresh Hop IPA, and Prickly Pear. The brewery recently introduced a new beer to the market, a Belgian white named, appropriately, White Wing. Brewed with orange peel and coriander, White Wing replaces Shiner Hefeweizen as a permanent, year-round option.

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The original tin brewery was founded in the center of an Austrian, German, and Czech farming community near the railroad tracks on the banks of Boggy Creek. A group of Shiner businessmen interested in appealing to new Bohemian settlers established the original stock company known as the Shiner Brewing Association in 1909. After a few years of disappointing results they hired Spoetzl who purchased the brewery in 1915. With Prohibition, Spoetzl turned to producing ice and “near beer.”

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can’t have Shiner without Bock. Spoetzl releases three year-round brands, about eight seasonal, and four Brewer’s Pride beers every year. Bock remains a favorite. Brewed since 1913, the flagship brand began as a seasonal brewed for spring then became a year-round offering in 1973. Shiner Bock now accounts for over 80 percent of the total Shiner volume.

Friday’s Fried Chicken © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After our visit to the Spoetzl Brewery we stopped for dessert at Friday’s Fried Chicken. Don’t let the name throw you off. They have a full menu and a bakery. Friday’s named after the Patek family (Patek means “Friday” in Czech), offers some of the best fried chicken south of the Colorado River—along with those Bohemian delicacies known as rosettes, kolaches, and a variety of delicious pies including pecan. I saw several customers with full meals on their table ranging from chicken to beef to salads. Friday’s Fried Chicken is about a half mile from the brewery on the left as you head into town.

Saint Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the way out of town we stopped by Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church, a towering cathedral that has anchored Shiner since 1921. Boasting a Romanesque revival style of architecture and stunning stained glass windows imported from Germany with a magnificent mural of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane and an imposing square tower, the church is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Saint Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

For a quart of ale is a meal for a king.

—William Shakespeare

Absolutely Best Road Trips in Central Texas

For barbecue, the outdoors, and small-town vibes

As t-shirts and bumper stickers are quick to remind you, Texas is big. Houston, San Antonio, and Austin, though, are strategically placed for day trips.

Here, the best road trips in Central Texas.

Historic Kerrville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Note that, in 2020, it’s imperative to check websites and social media updates beforehand to ensure that your destination is open and accepting visitors at the time you arrive. Many state parks and public areas require passes beforehand or impose a strict limit on the number of guests allowed at any given time even during normal circumstances.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hill Country

Call it kitsch appeal, call it hokey, but the Texas Hill Country is one fantastic region. There are the little German towns in the center, like Kerrville and Fredericksburg, and dozens of other small towns nestled in the rolling hills. There’s canoeing, rafting, tubing, and kayaking along the numerous rivers, and LBJ Ranch and Luckenbach. When Waylon Jennings first sang about Luckenbach, the town in the Hill Country where folks “ain’t feelin’ no pain,” it instantly put this otherwise non-place on the map. The population is about 10, and all that’s here is the old General Store, a town hall, and a dance hall.

Blanco River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For beautiful scenery and cool water

When you think of a relaxing vacation near water, Texas may not be the first place that comes to mind. But Central Texas is peppered with a number of watering holes, lakes, rivers, and creeks that help soothe the intensity of the summer heat, as well as hikes and trails galore.

McKinney Falls State Park near Austin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Within the Austin city limits, you have Barton Springs, Bull Creek, and Shoal Creek and their associated greenbelts as well as Lady Bird Lake. But if you’re looking for something a bit more off of the beaten path, head out a little farther into the Texas countryside to explore these alternative options.

San Marcos River at Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Float down the San Marcos, Comal or Guadalupe rivers

Since the summers get real hot in Central Texas, be well-prepared for this aspect of reality. That being said, relaxing outdoor activities—and floating down a gentle river is a popular summer pastime. There are actually are three major rivers popular for floating in this area. There’s the spring-fed San Marcos, which is located in the town of San Marcos exactly halfway between Austin and San Antonio; the short, spring-fed Comal, located in New Braunfels a little south of San Marcos; and the Guadalupe.

San Marcos River in Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’ve never gone tubing before, here’s what to expect: You’ll be sitting in a giant inflatable tube with your friends. Many float rental places offer string you can use to tie your floats together into a large raft. You’ll start upstream at the rental facility’s dock, float down to a certain stopping point, and then the facility will bus you back to your starting point.

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hike at Enchanted Rock

One of Texas’ most frequented state parks this scenic area near Fredericksburg boasts 11 miles of trails and a namesake 425-foot granite centerpiece. It is a massive pink granite dome that formed when molten rock solidified beneath the surface more than a billion years ago. The summit of Enchanted Rock is easily accessed via the park’s Summit Trail. Arrive in the morning avoid the crowds. Remember to bring solid hiking boots—conquering the rock’s peak is the equivalent of a 30-to 40-story stair climb. 

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kayak at Blanco State Park

A river runs through this 104-acre green oasis making Blanco State Park a perfect destination for a relaxing afternoon of kayaking. Calm waters and an easily accessible watercraft launch site (complete with handrails) mean that even first-timers can easily rent a single or double kayak and take in the lush greenery that borders the mile-long stretch of the Blanco River. If desired, bring along your tackle box to enjoy some fishing as well. Choose from a full hookup camping site or site with water and electricity. Or reserve a screened shelter overlooking the river.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Guadalupe River State Park

Guadalupe River State Park is a great spot for a scenic adventure in the Great Outdoors. Many folks come here to swim but the park is more than a great swimming hole with beautiful scenery and colorful history. On the river, you can swim, fish, tube, and canoe. In the dog days of summer, you’ll want to beat the heat and kayak or canoe the Guadalupe River which boasts the 5 mile Guadalupe River State Park Paddling Trail.

Guadalupe River State Paek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While on land, you can camp, hike, ride mountain bikes or horses, picnic, geocache, and bird watch. Explore 13 miles of hike and bike trails. Camping is the way to go, here with 85 campsites offering amenities like picnic tables, outdoor grills, fire pits, and water, and electricity.

Gruene Dance Hall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gruene

In Gruene (pronounced like the color green), floating up and down the Guadalupe River on the weekends is a way of life. Gruene is designated a historic town by the state of Texas. Part of that history is musical. The oldest dance hall in the state of Texas (still in its original 1800s-era building) is most famous for its country concerts, but swing, rockabilly, jazz, gospel, and folk musicians (both up-and-comers and big names) take the stage, too. The likes of Willie Nelson, George Strait, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Lyle Lovett have all graced the stage at Gruene Hall, a true must-stop when you’re passing through. Limited seating is first-come, first-served, so give yourself plenty of time to grab a beer and find a seat on the benches in the back.

City Market BBQ, Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Luling

Luling is home to some of the best barbecue in the Lone Star State, so prepare for a meat coma. City Market is one of Texas’s most-storied ‘que joints serving up only 3 meats—brisket, sausage, and ribs. Across the street from City Market is Luling Bar-B-Q—a relative new-comer since it’s only been open since 1986 (which still a long time to perfect their recipes!) Stop by for a second barbecue meal of moist brisket, smoked turkey, and tender pork loins!

Zedler Mill on the San Marcos River at Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To cool off on a summer’s day, head to this renovated Zedler Mill on the banks of the San Marcos River to splash in one of Texas’s best swimming holes. It’s got everything you need for a perfect afternoon—shade, water, and plenty of sun. If you’d rather paddle than swim, you can rent kayaks and canoes on site.

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Schulenburg

Located at the intersection of Interstate 10 and US 77, Schulenburg may be best known as a reliable stop for a kolache fix. But with its roots in German and Czech settlement, this little town offers numerous cultural attractions including the Schulenburg Historical Museum, Texas Polka Music Museum, the Stanzel Model Aircraft Museum, and the spectacular painted churches. The area has the rolling hills and the beautiful bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes in the spring. Schulenburg is not the Hill Country and not the lakes but is nestled in between the hills. And not far from Austin, San Antonio, Houston, or Waco either. Schulenburg is halfway to everywhere.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church at Praha © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Painted Churches of Fayette County are a sight to be seen. Go inside a plain white steeple church and you will find a European styled painted church of high gothic windows, tall spires, elaborately painted interiors with brilliant colors, and friezes created by the German and Czech settlers in America.

St. Mary Catholic Church at High Hill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bottom line

While the tiny towns of Texas may not be very large, everything else is generally bigger from the distances you’ll be driving to the sheer amount of open sky you’ll see on the road. This shortlist of destinations in Central Texas is far from an exhaustive list, but it’s a start.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Texas is a state mind. Texas is an obsession. Above all, Texas is a nation in every sense of the word.

—John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

The Underrated Coast

So much more than the Redneck Riviera

Americans tend to forget they have a third coastline. Sure, they’re aware the Gulf of Mexico has beaches but they tend to lump those in with Florida which then gets lumped in with the Atlantic coast. And the whole rest of the coast from Alabama to Texas gets criminally overlooked. The Gulf Coast is much more than the “Redneck Riviera”, a label it’s long since outgrown. This is a land of magical swamps, remote white-sand beaches, artists, musicians, and colorful characters. And it is the best coastal road trip few have taken.

Ocean Shores © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beginning at the end of Florida in Pensacola, driving west to the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans, you’ll skirt the turquoise waters of the gulf while dipping into lush marshlands and storybook small towns. You’ll discover a side of the south you never knew. Come along and see why the Gulf Coast truly is America’s most under-appreciated coastal road trip.

Although Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, and other areas took a major hit from Hurricane Sally, the area has begun to recover. Be sure to phone ahead for destination updates.

Near Orange Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Flora-Bama (Florida-Alabama state line)

One of America’s top beach bars, The Flora-Bama Lounge is located uniquely on the Orange Beach, Alabama and Perdido Key, Florida line. About half an hour south of Pensacola this honky tonk has long been a landmark on its famous location. The Flora-Bama has five stages for live music and features bands of country, rock, dance, and beach music. Check back in during the annual interstate mullet toss in late April where competitors line up to see who can throw a fish the furthest across the state line.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park, Alabama

After responsibly enjoying the Flora-Bama head west on Perdido Beach Boulevard about 10 miles for the sweeping gulf views to Gulf State Park. Here you can immerse yourself in the sand dunes and Spanish moss that made Alabama’s beaches so beautiful before the condo boom. If you’ve got the gear, the park’s got plenty of RV, tent, and car camping sites. Or reserve one of the fully-furnished cabins that sit along Shelby Lakes. Take advantage of the park’s free bike-share program where you can hop on its 28 miles of trails and roll under live oaks then over a boardwalk to the area’s only stretch of sand not lined with condo towers. Nothing but sand dunes, pelicans, and the lapping waves to join you.

Fairhope © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fairhope, Alabama

Shangri-La may be a fantasy, but you can find a real-life utopia on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay. The city of Fairhope (population, 16,000), founded in 1894 by a society based on cooperative community ownership, was named for its members’ belief that their enterprise had a “fair hope” of success. Ever since, it has beckoned artists, writers, and other creatives, and today, it draws visitors searching for good food, great shopping, and a bit of outdoor adventure. Galleries and studios pepper downtown streets along the waterfront, alongside more than 80 antique shops, small boutiques, and locally owned restaurants. Visit once and you will be back.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved\

Mobile, Alabama

Don’t be fooled by the beautiful skyline reflecting off the bay; Mobile is more than just incredibly good-looking. Mobile is more than 300 years old, and that fact alone ensures there must be a lot of history associated with a city of that age. The many museums and historical homes help tell Mobile’s story. Eight National Register Historic Districts make up what is known as downtown and midtown Mobile. Explore the mighty WWII battleship USS Alabama, winner of nine battle stars, and the submarine USS Drum. Both are National Historic Landmarks. Visit the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum located at Hank Aaron Stadium. 

Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dauphin Island, Alabama

A narrow, 14-mile-long outdoor playground near the mouth of Mobile Bay, Dauphin Island provides a getaway atmosphere with attractions aimed at the family. The Dauphin Island Park and Campground is a great place to enjoy all the island has to offer. The 155-acre park offers an abundance of exceptional recreation offerings and natural beauty. The campground is uniquely positioned so that guests have access to a secluded beach, public boat launches, Fort Gaines, and Audubon Bird Sanctuary. The campground offers 150 sites with 30/50 amp- electric service and water; 99 sites also offer sewer connections.

Bay St. Louis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

There’s St. Louis, and then there’s Bay St. Louis which dubs itself “a place apart.” Here, beach life collides with folk art. Catch the Arts Alive event in March when dozens of artists’ studios collide for a community-enriching arts festival that features local works, live music, theater, literature, and lots of food.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

Back in 1799, Acadian pioneer Firmin Breaux Breaux built a suspension footbridge across the Bayou Teche to help ease the passage for his family and neighbors. In 1817, Firmin’s son, Agricole, built the first vehicular bridge. Breaux Bridge and crawfish have become synonymous. Restaurants in Breaux Bridge were the first to offer crawfish on their menus and it was here that crawfish etouffee was created. Breaux Bridge became so well known for its crawfish farming and cooking that the Louisiana legislature officially designated Breaux Bridge as the crawfish capital of the world. Breaux Bridge hosts the annual crawfish festival, recognized as one of the state’s finest festival.

Tabasco Factory on Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Avery Island, Louisiana

Lush subtropical flora and venerable live oaks draped with Spanish moss cover this geological oddity which is one of five “islands” rising above south Louisiana’s flat coastal marshes. The island occupies roughly 2,200 acres and sits atop a deposit of solid rock salt thought to be deeper than Mount Everest is high. Geologists believe this deposit is the remnant of a buried ancient seabed, pushed to the surface by the sheer weight of surrounding alluvial sediments. Today, Avery Island remains the home of the TABASCO brand pepper sauce factory as well as Jungle Gardens and its Bird City wildfowl refuge. The Tabasco factory and the gardens are open for tours.

Seawolf Park, Galveston Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston Island, Texas

Galveston Island is home to some of the best attractions Texas has to offer including Moody Gardens, Schitterbahn Waterpark, the Historic Pleasure Pier, dazzling Victorian architecture, and 32 miles of sun-kissed beaches. Come to the island to stroll the beach or splash in the waves. Or come to the island to go fishing or look for coastal birds. No matter what brings you here, you’ll find a refuge on Galveston Island. Just an hour from Houston, but an island apart!

Port Lavaca © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Port Lavaca, Texas

Grab your fishing pole, sunscreen, and beach chair…it’s time to go to Port Lavaca. This coastal town has all the seaside fun you could ask for but without all the crowds found in other Gulf Coast locales. Checking out Port Lavaca’s beaches is a no brainer, regardless of whether you’re looking for a quiet barefoot stroll, hunt for shells, or kick back and relax. Start at Magnolia Beach, also known as the only natural shell beach on the Gulf Coast. Lay out a blanket and soak up the sun, or cast a line from the fishing pier. For more sandy beaches, relax in the shade of a thatch-covered cabana at Lighthouse Beach or swim or paddle board in the tranquil waters of Alamo Beach.

Rockport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rockport-Fulton, Texas

At the final stop on our coastal road trip you’ll discover why Rockport-Fulton is the Charm of the Texas Coast. You’ll find a sandy beach, a birder’s paradise, a thriving arts community, unique shopping, delectable seafood, unlimited outdoor recreation, and historical sites. The Coastal Bend’s natural resources and moderate climate remain the primary attraction for visitors to the Rockport-Fulton area. Be it sport fishing, bird-watching, water recreation, or simply relaxing in the shade of wind-sculpted live oaks life here still revolves around Aransas Bay.

Worth Pondering…

I do like to be beside the seaside.

—John A. Glover-Kind