Thursday, April 28, 2016

Day Trip: Marathon, Texas

Donna and I took a short day trip to nearby Marathon this morning. It is only about 30 miles east of Alpine, so it's a short drive.

I've always liked Marathon. During my days working at Region 18 Education Service Center in Midland, Texas, I visited the schools in the Big Bend region quite often, and I always enjoyed Marathon. The town is quite small, fewer than 500 people, and the lifestyle is definitely laid back. It is one of the major gateways to Big Bend National Park, with visitors using US 385 to enter the park through Persimmon Gap.

Street scene from Marathon. The Gage begins where the tall trees are in the center of the picture, then continues west (left).
The town of Marathon was founded in the early 1880s. Early day settlers included Captain Albion E. Shepard and Alfred Gage. Shepard actually applied for the post office and, therefore, decided on the name of Marathon. The story goes that the area reminded him of the area around Marathon, Greece, where he had previously traveled as a ship's captain.

Gage came west from Vermont and eventually amassed thousands and thousands of acres. In 1926, he commissioned famed El Paso architect, Henry Trost, to design and build a hotel because there was no lodging in the town of Marathon. Today, that hotel is known as the Gage, and it is a favorite place to stay while in the Big Bend region. The hotel today actually consists of two parts. The old part contains 15 rooms, 5 on the main floor and 10 on the second floor. The newer section, called Los Portales, contains 20 adobe style rooms just west of the historic hotel. Landscaping is beautiful. If you venture to the Gage, keep in mind that there are no in-room televisions; television is available only in the lobby.

The historic Gage Hotel.

Courtyard of the Gage

Los Portales portion of the Gage
Today, the Gage Hotel also owns and operates the Captain Shepard House, originally built in 1890. Today, the house contains 5 rooms, while another 2 rooms are available in the backyard in the carriage house.The Gage also operates the 12 Gauge Restaurant and White Buffalo Bar. The restaurant is very upscale, with very upscale prices. But the last time I ate there, the food was very, very good.

The restored Captain Albion Shepard House, which offers guest rooms courtesy of the Gage Hotel.

Patio area of the White Buffalo Bar of the Gage.

A handful of shops line the highway near the Gage, including 2 or 3 other restaurants. There are also a couple of curio type shops.

We took a sort drive south on Avenue D to Post Park, which is where Camp Pena Colorado was established about 1879. The post existed for about 15 years, with the original purpose to counter hostile Apaches in the Trans-Pecos area. The park is now an oasis in the desert, as it lies on Pena Colorado Creek near a large spring. The post was finally abandoned in 1993.

The dammed creek at Post Park.

Tall shade trees and water make a West Texas oasis.

Another view of inviting Post Park with its green grass and shade trees.
The views from Marathon of the mountains to the west are really impressive. Even though it is located at the junction of US 90 and US 385, the town is really quite peaceful. If you are looking to get away from the fast paced modern world while not giving up all comforts, you might want to give Marathon a try.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Reporting from Alpine, Texas

It's Wednesday morning as I write this. Donna and I have been in Alpine since Sunday.

I've always loved this part of Texas. We've been visiting this area since the early 1980s. It's rather depressing being here right now, though. Lately Texas has been in the news because of heavy rains in the Houston area as well as storms throughout many other parts of the state. I can imagine that folks in other parts of the country imagine that Texas is awash in water these days; but this area of the state is very dry. It's sad to look out on these mountains and see only brown. All the grass in our RV park is dead. I don't know if water restrictions are in place in this area or if people are just being conservative, but lawns throughout town are also brown.

In addition to the ongoing drought, the area is also experiencing high winds. The wind has been blowing since we arrived. Yesterday was the worst. It blew hard from early Tuesday morning until just a few hours ago. Our little trailer rocked all day and all night. And since the area is so dry, there was a lot of dirt blowing about. Donna and I took off for a walk yesterday, but we gave up after a mile; the wind was just blowing too hard and there was too much dirt in the air.

The rainy season in this part of Texas is June through September, though, so I'm hopeful that the rains will come. And when they do come, it doesn't take much for the area to green up.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

San Angelo KOA

For nearly 2 weeks now, Donna and I have been at the San Angelo KOA. We stayed here quit a bit in the past when our other houses were being built. It's a pretty good stop.

Office at entrance. Pool is on far side while bathrooms are on this side. Laundry is in back.
KOA parks are generally pretty reliable. You can usually count on each park having all the basic amenities, and generally they work quite well. San Angelo KOA is no exception. Each site at the park has a nice utility area consisting of water, sewer, electricity, and cable. All are grouped together in a boxed off area.

Utility box with cable, water, and electric box. Sewer is farther to the right. Note how cable is in post, not hanging lose as at many parks.
All interior roads and sites are gravel, and there is no dust. Mature mesquite trees are spread throughout the park, so some shade is available, but don't expect much shade even under the largest of the trees. A dog park is available, and there are numerous cabins available for rent.

A nice pool is located next to the office. In the same building as the office you will also find the small but adequate laundry room as well as well-maintained bathrooms complete with shower stalls. Propane is also available, and basic grocery and RV items are located in the office. One of the unusual perks of staying in this park is that each guest receives the local paper daily.

Pool next to the office. Basketball court and goal on right.
Laundry room in rear of office building.
WiFi is available, but I found it to be spotty and a bit slow. Perhaps it was my location as I was on the edge of the park. For television, the park recently converted to a cable box which, once connected, works rather well and brings in over 100 channels. However, I can see some technologically-challenged folks having trouble making the connection. The folks at the office will help, though. However, if you are leaving before the office opens, you will need to turn in your box the previous day. The box includes the cable box, 2 cables, a power supply, and a remote control.

One of the many KOA cabins.
The park is located near the lake on Knickerbocker Road. The road is heavily used, as it is the main road to the lake and residential areas, as well as to the small local airport. The park is far enough off the road so that road noise is really not a problem. You can hear the traffic, but it is not that loud, certainly not loud enough to keep me awake at night.

Sites vary in size and privacy. Some sites back up to each other, so that utility boxes are located between rigs, which are parked back to back to each other. Other sites have more privacy, including privacy screens. We were fortunate enough to secure one of these, and we enjoyed the patio area and furniture.

Our site, number 70. Notice the patio with nice furniture.

Another view of our site, with awning partially out.
The park staff is great. Employees are visible throughout the day doing various chores and assisting guests. Everyone we met was very friendly and eager to help.

Tonight is our last night here. Tomorrow, we hook up the rig and head to Alpine for a week in the Texas mountains.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Ongoing Perils of Keith and Donna

We've been back in San Angelo for over a week. Several things have happened. Let me catch you up.

We booked Spring Creek Marina and RV Park for a week. This is the place we stayed a couple of weeks ago. San Angelo really doesn't have a great RV park, and the 2 best -- in my opinion -- are Spring Creek and the KOA. The KOA, although efficient, is rather drab, so we normally opt for Spring Creek, where the scenery is better. But Spring Creek is wild on weekends and the dust out there can be bad since all interior roads and sites are natural surface.

We arrived at Spring Creek on a Thursday, and got a great site. We had a good first day and night, and then the party crowd arrived. On Friday and Saturday nights, music and partying continued on well past midnight. The management does nothing to control the noise. The music, for example, was coming from a fifth wheel parked right next to the couple that run the front office. The final straw for us came on Sunday. Sometime early Sunday morning, the water went out. Now, this was not the fault of Spring Creek, but this just wasn't what we wanted at this time. The water remained off all day. Fortunately, we had quite a bit of water in our fresh water tank, so we were able to wash, use the restroom, and do our normal chores. By the end of the day, though, the water was still off and our supply was beginning to run low, so we decided to leave. The park refunded our balance, and we headed to KOA.

We have a nice spot at KOA, about as nice as you can get. Most spots are pretty close to one another, but we have some room. We've enjoyed our stay here for the most part. I'll try to report on the park in another entry.

We've had rain a few days since arriving here a week ago. Last night, we had quite a bit of rain, thunder, lightning, and wind. These elements are not fun when staying in a travel trailer. But we survived. We're not out of trouble yet, though, as more bad weather is scheduled for today and perhaps the next day or two. We're not complaining, though, as the area always needs rain.

We think we have come to terms with a house at Rio Concho West. It is a 5 year old home, and we have scheduled various upgrades. We are still waiting for estimates, but work should begin soon. I expect it will be early June before the upgrades are complete and we close on the house. We are excited about being in a solid home again.

We'll stay here another week, then take a 2 week trip. I don't know where we are going, but we feel the need to just get away. We're ready to do some touristy things again.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

North Llano River RV Park

For the past week, we have been staying at North Llano River RV Park, a former KOA RV park on the south bank of the North Llano River in Junction, Texas. This was our second time to stay here. This is a decent park, but not one I can whole-heartedly recommend to others.

Office and entrance gate. Pool is to the right, while propane is available in center of picture.
The park offers all the basic amenities, and they seem to all be in good working order. Over 50 cable TV channels are offered (more are available than what is listed on the sheet provided at check-in), and we were delighted to see that San Angelo news channels were included so we were able to keep up with news in our town. WiFi is available, and it seemed to work well for the most part. It was a bit slow at times, but not so much that it was frustrating to use. The laundry room, though limited with only 4 washers and 4 dryers, was clean and well maintained, and it included a small book swap. There is also a small pool. Bathrooms and showers are also available, and they are also well-maintained. Propane is available on site, though the price seemed a bit high to me, as are some basic RV supplies. There is also a security gate, but during our stay it did not work so it was left open. A small playground is located in front of the office for the little ones or the young at heart.

Small playground in front of office.

All interior roads and sites are natural surface/gravel, so there is a bit of dust in the park when vehicles drive through. Also, the park is located right next to the main highway that loops through town, so there is quite a bit of highway noise. The highway is primarily used by local traffic or visitors staying in Junction, so there isn't a great deal of traffic, but there is enough to be a nuisance if noise bothers you. Fortunately, traffic eased each night at a decent hour. Native pecan trees are all through the park, so during summer months there is quite a bit of shade. They were just leafing out during our stay.

The RV park

Cabins are also available in the park
Pool located next to the office. Restrooms/showers are located at this end of the office building.

Our site, #14. Site was slightly unlevel from side to side as the property slopes gently down to the river. Utilities were conveniently located together.
Two things bothered me about our stay. First, we were placed right next to the highway, the noisiest area of the park. When we arrived, the park was perhaps a fourth full, if that much. Perhaps they had reservations from some regulars for the weekend and were saving better spots for them. But we were staying an entire week and should have been assigned a better site. One-night guests seemed to be a large part of the customer base. Donna and I would sit outside our trailer and watch as RV after RV would come down the highway and turn in. And almost all of these folks seemed to be place in better sites for their one night stays. Our site was also not long enough to accommodate both our trailer and our truck, so we stuck out just a bit. Second, the weekly rate was simply too much for a park with gravel roads and sites and short, noisy sites at that. I doubt we will return. There are just too many other parks in the area with better sites and better rates. Had we been given a better site, I probably would not feel this way.

The North Llano River, looking upstream (west)



Sunday, April 3, 2016

Good Eats: La Familia Restaurant, Junction, Texas

Junction, Texas, is a small town, so don't expect to find any frilly, trendy restaurants there. You will, however, find a few reasonably priced restaurants offering some very good food. One of these is La Familia, located on Main Street about a mile south of the interstate. We've eaten at La Familia many times over the years, but it had been a long time since our previous visit. I'm glad we returned.

La Familia is not some overpriced restaurant offering the latest in Mexican cuisine. It is, instead, a well-run and friendly hometown restaurant offering traditional Mexican dishes as well as a handful of American dishes. If you like basic Tex-Mex, as I do, I think you'll like La Familia.

The chips and salsa were quite good. The chips were thick enough so that they wouldn't break when you dipped them, but not so thick as to be obnoxious. The salsa was tomato sauce thick with a good bite on your tongue. However, I like chunks of onions, peppers, and tomatoes in my salsa, and the salsa at La Familia was pureed.

Donna doesn't eat much. We try to watch her weight. I don't want her ballooning on me. It's almost embarrassing how little she eats at times. On this trip, she ordered 2 bean chalupas, and she wasn't able to finish those. She did enjoy what she ate, though. Everything about her meal was good, and all the ingredients were fresh.

My favorite Mexican food is enchiladas, so I ordered 2 cheese enchiladas with a cheese taco. I always ask about the sauce that is used on the enchiladas and was delighted to find they used chile gravy rather than red sauce. The enchiladas from my childhood were made this way, so this is what I look for. The enchiladas at La Familia weren't the best I've ever had, but they were very good. I enjoyed my meal so much that I ordered flan for desert, and it was good as well.

The employees who greeted us and served us were very friendly and service oriented, even though we arrived shortly before closing time. Our tea glasses stayed full with freshly brewed tea, and we lacked for nothing.