Travel


Texas Surf Museum entrance

Texas Surf Museum entrance

Corpus Christi, my hometown, plays host to an aircraft carrier you can explore, an aquarium to tour, boats to ride, and lots of other coastal activities. I met my three sisters there in our childhood home, where our dear mom still lives, for the end of 2011. It was a rare treat for us to all be together in the Sparkling City by the Sea for the holidays.

An outing was in order New Year’s Eve, so we piled into a van and headed downtown to a place none of us had ever visited. Next to the Executive Surf Club, the best night spot in town and the site of my recent 40-year high school reunion, stands the Texas Surf Museum. An artful woodie station wagon beckoned us inside. We marveled at the wooden surf board replicas, recreated board work bench, old 8-mm wave-rider films, and other memorabilia. On the north wall is a map of the Texas coast bedecked with grainy photographs of surf shops, boards stuck in the sands, and groups of surfers, many of whom my elder sister, Betty, knew and remembered. I only body-surfed in my time, but we idolized our twin cousins, Gary and Terry, who were and are still avid surfers in Southern California. Lina’s brothers all surfed, too, mainly around Oceanside, where exists the California Surf Museum.

Queen of the Sea

by Pompeo Coppini

We lingered a while in the well-stocked gift shop before strolling across the South Texas Music Walk of Fame to the Club for lunch. In the shadow of one of the oldest shellcrete walls in CC, we gobbled up fried shrimp, chicken wraps, and burgers. After, we drove around our old haunts downtown and uptown, marveling at the Queen of the Sea bas-relief on the famed bluff that separates the two elevations.

Corpus is a wonderful place to be from. Who wants a tour?

Tx HC O Co

Texas Hill Country Olive Company

Wine tasting ranks as one of my most popular touring activities. My clients know and appreciate Texas Hill Country wines a lot these days for their brilliant quality and regional connection. As of this past weekend, however, my patrons and I discovered a brand-new stop on our route at a must-see attraction. The Texas Hill Country Olive Company grandly opened December 10 at its beautiful facility on Fitzhugh Road north of Dripping Springs.

I’d conducted many tours past the impressive sandstone building before, pointing out the rows of young olive trees behind. This day featured much to enjoy. Holiday-hatted co-owner Rick Mensik greeted us as we walked through the door. I got his card and he mine with mutual promises to trade links. First stop inside was the oil-tasting bar. The company makes three oil blends plus several flavors of balsamic vinegar. Off to the left stood the art, several spaces sporting wild horse photographs, paintings, and ceramics. The pressing and bottling room is around back.

Texas olive orchard

Texas olive orchard

To the right of the entrance is the Bistro Café, an open kitchen with a big counter for cooking classes. An Italian chef was baking cookies. Around that were scattered tables and chairs for additional eating and seating. Two musicians and the beer-wine tasting area beckoned us out the north door. Offering samples were Real Ales from Blanco plus three wineries, including Bell Springs. My client purchased a sweet white. I led her to the high fence to see the trees. They kind of resemble nearby live oaks but for their lighter-hued green leaves. Five varieties planted here produce sundry flavors and textures.

Texpert Tours olives

Texpert Tours olives

No sign graces the façade as yet, but we got some pictures. The impressive structure stands a magnificent contrast to the goat ranches next door. Typical of this particular Wine Drive, our next destinations that day were Driftwood Estate Vineyards, Duchman Family Winery, and Trattoria Lisina for lunch. It’s a lovely time of year to sip Hill Country wines and now to also include genuine Texas olive oil.

Bastrop Blackened

Bastrop Blackened

We in Central Texas were witness to a historic conflagration just east of Austin over the Labor Day weekend. The trouble began sometime Sunday and spread rapidly through the Lost Pines, one of the most scenic areas nearby or anywhere. Because of the exceptional drought in this part of the world, humidity is exceedingly low. Ironically, tropical storm Lee that could have brought rain landed near New Orleans and instead caused brisk northeast winds. One small spark, one carelessly tossed cigarette butt, or any other heat source did this, and thousands of acres simply exploded like, well, wildfire.

Earlier that weekend, Lina and I had a marvelous experience at this year’s Kerrville Wine and Music Festival, enjoying the relatively cool nights that the northeast gusts provided. During the singing of the last song at the fest late Sunday, one of our friends said there was a fire in Bastrop. As I returned from Kerrville Monday afternoon, I could see several columns of smoke in the Hill Country and a huge wall of gray and black to the east. Firefighters all over were hampered by the breeze and the dry conditions and were not able to contain or control the situation for several days. Even as of this writing, a few areas still smolder.

I had just driven through that conifer forest late last month. The Lost Pines have always been special to me, being a cut-off remnant of the larger Piney Woods farther east. In addition to their beauty, the trees have provided lumber for scads of homes and businesses all over Austin for generations. The massive Doric columns supporting the Governor’s Mansion’s front porch are solid pine logs from 1856. More irony: those architectural elements almost burned when the house was vandalized in 2006.

The photo above, taken through the car window, shows what’s left of those woods. It was shot Saturday, September 10, just after Texas Highway 71 reopened. Lina and I were on our way to Columbus for her art opening, and we got to see the devastation for ourselves. Not one building, either business or residential, was left standing. The official count is somewhere around 1,400 homes gone. While most of the smaller junipers and pines were only charred stumps, I noticed that many of the taller pines still retained green tops. Given any rain, they might survive to help regrow this ravaged forest.

Until that happens, we seem to have lost the Lost Pines.

After a couple decades of mulling, I’ve finally begun writing what will become my first official publication. Entitled A Traveler’s Guide to Texas Geography, it will combine memoir with trip advice. New guidebooks about the Lone Star State appear every year, but few of them relate much about the landscape. Mine will do this, based on my more than 38 years of adventures around this fascinating region. The book will be based on my meticulously kept trip logs and will make good use of many maps. Using Austin as a starting place, journeys will radiate out in all four cardinal directions. I’ll include details about back roads, prominent peaks and ridges, creeks and rivers, and climate types plus historical hints. Stay tuned for progress reports, and please wish me luck.

We want to tell you how much we enjoyed your Texpert Tour on our December visit to Austin. It was our first time in your city, and we happily found you, a true expert on the history, customs, politics, food, restaurants, music, surrounding areas, and more. You made us feel welcome and “at home.” We both thought the tour of the Capitol Building and grounds was a highlight—especially because of your deep knowledge of it all. We hope to return for more soon! Meanwhile, best wishes for a super 2011.

Cordially, Alison and Barry from Connecticut

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high-level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Fresher than Ever.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747 jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 3,000 times in 2010. That’s about seven full 747s.

In 2010, there were 16 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 38 posts. There were 109 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 43 Mb. That’s about two pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was October 28th with 63 views. The most popular post that day was Georgetown to Luckenbach.

From whence did they come?

The top referring sites in 2010 were TexpertTours.com, images.search.yahoo.com, facebook.com, mariaozawa2u.blogspot.com, and ohamerica.us.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for Texas madrone tree, Comal, Tx New Braunfels, Texas madrone, Comal River, and Comal River New Braunfels.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010:

 

1

Georgetown to Luckenbach October 2010
6 comments

 

2

Romancing the River Walk February 2008

 

3

October Unfolding October 2008

 

4

Before Cowboys August 2010

 

5

Camp Patchouli on Sumac Ridge September 2010
1 comment

Luckenbach Oktober Fiesta

Luckenbach Oktober Fiesta

Repeat clients mean pure gold: they already know they’re in for a great time, and their friends need no convincing. So it was that Sue and Priscilla, who had experienced a Texpert adventure at a wedding a while back, brought their husbands for a special trek during October’s first weekend. It’s wine month in the Lone Star State, and this fact gave structure to an exciting day out.

I picked up the quartet in Georgetown, meeting them in that town’s fine courthouse square. Driving south through Austin, we headed west on the familiar US 290 to our first stop, Bell Springs Winery. Located just north of Drippin’, this is one of the Hill Country’s newest vintners. The young couple who run the store offered my guests several whites and reds in their airy tasting room and sold one bottle.

Luckenbach Picnic

Luckenbach Picnic

Off we went south, then west again to take in the impressive panorama of Singleton Pass, one of the best such near Austin. I showed my passengers the old courthouse in Blanco, and we continued up that village’s namesake river. Over another crest, we found our way to the fabled Luckenbach, Texas, on the banks of South Grape Creek in the Pedernales River valley. Here we marveled at the crowds in the post office, heard live music at the Oktober Fiesta, and got lunch.

Old Railroad Tunnel

Old Railroad Tunnel

A short spin along back roads brought us to the Old Railroad Tunnel. Hand-hacked in 1912, this 920-foot bore under Mount Alamo accommodated trains from San Antonio to Fredericksburg until 1942. Once the line was abandoned and the tracks removed, thousands of bats moved in. Texas Parks and Wildlife oversees the property today as a management area and provides viewing areas for the nightly bat flights. Members of my little party hiked down the canyon to see through the shaft to its other entrance. Even though it was nearly noon, we easily perceived those flying mammals fluttering about, silhouetted by the daylight at the opposite end. This is tunnel vision at its Texas best.

Bottle Break at Torre di Pietra

Bottle Break at Torre di Pietra

Next sipping was at Rancho Pointe Vineyard, another fairly new option. Pleasant place, but no sale here. Heading east got us to Grape Creek Vineyards, one of the most venerable hereabouts. It’s quite elegant and features overnight accommodations in a villa-style B&B. Just next door is Torre di Pietra, a.k.a. Tower of Stone. Here’s where our bunch spent the most time, listening to the lively live music, watching other patrons two-step, and finishing a whole bottle. I greeted my colleague Liz Smith, who conducts wine trips in a vintage WV microbus.

Just outside Stonewall is Woodrose Winery. They also offered in-person musicians and tasty beverages, but received no purchase. Ranch Road 1 led us along the Pedernales through the LBJ Ranch. In Hye was our last wine stop: William Chris Vineyards. Headquartered in a century-old farmhouse, these were the most sustainably produced, hand-crafted, small-batch wines on our entire trip. This establishment makes hay of the fact that they use 100% Texas fruit, grown either in the hills or on the High Plains.

We kept going, drove past the Boyhood Home in Johnson City, and caught US 281, another favorite route through the heart of Central Texas. That way included Marble Falls and Burnet. We parted company back in Georgetown at just about dusk.

In summary: six wineries, numerous historical sites, four river crossings, one wildlife habitat, all creating a full day of scrumptious fun.

How about you? What’s your favorite Texas wine?

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