Our First Week in Texas
We decided long before we started full time on the road, that we would visit Austin for the Formula One Grand Prix. We are big F1 fans and jumped at the opportunity to attend the inaugural race in Austin two years ago. It's a costly endeavor to go to a race, so it becomes a really special occasion. In 2012 we stayed in downtown Austin and commuted to the event each day by shuttle bus. This year we have the opportunity to camp at the track. The idea of that new experience intrigued us so we made our reservation way back at the beginning of the year. With that date on the calendar we decided to spend about a month in Texas around the time of the race. We didn't want to rush too much getting too and from Austin around event time.
I have been to Texas several times for work, and I have to admit it has never been my favorite state. While the people are really friendly and hospitable, I just don't enjoy the vast sprawling cities, the humidity and the whole "Everything is Bigger in Texas" mantra. Oh, did I forget to mention that I don't eat BBQ? Despite my previous misgivings, I am keeping an open mind. We will see if Texas and Austin can leave a better impression on me this time.
So here we are just a week or two away from the Grand Prix and it's time to spend some serious time in Texas. From New Mexico we crossed the state line at El Paso and pulled into Davis Mountains State Park in Fort Davis. We had originally planned to head down to Big Bend National Park but it just seemed like too much driving. The park was a pretty spot with a few nice hikes. We saw deer and I had my first sighting of a javelina; no photos- but it basically looks like a short, fat, hairy pig [insert joke here]. The Texas state parks seem very well equipped. Our site had full hookups, including cable TV! One gotcha we discovered about Texas State Parks is that as well as standard camping fees, many parks also charge a day use fee, per person and per day. This was a first for us in our travels and made us reexamine our camping budget for the month. In the end we opted to buy the Texas State Parks Annual Pass. For $70 the pass allows unlimited free entry to more than 90 state parks for you and your guests as well as some discounted camping coupons. Our plans for October in Texas meant it paid for itself in just a few days.
From the park we took a trip to the town of Marfa. It's a high desert town that is a destination for minimalist art. The town was deathly quiet with a lot of businesses closed after a busy weekend film festival. We decided on a casual stroll around the city to take in the atmosphere. We are not appreciators of art, but the town has some wonderful architecture including the Brite building and the sumptuous El Paisano Hotel. Just out of town we also visited El Cosmico, a vintage trailer hotel. If we didn't have a trailer of our own this would be a funky place to stay.
With the town so quiet we decided to head to the Big Bend Brewery, based on a friends recommendation. We were not disappointed. We arrived just in time for a tour and met an interesting mix of people at the tasting. We chatted with a friendly group who were in the area on their way to a Chili Cook-off competition in a few weeks. They shared the fascinating story that the championship had split in to two after the organizers couldn't agree on qualifying rules. So now there are two rival championships in the same town, Terlingua, on the same weekend; the Original Terlingua International Championship Chili Cookoff and the Terlingua International Chili Championship. I know it seems like a Monty Python sketch but you couldn't make this shit up, right?
This was a great brewery stop with a casual, friendly tour. We learned during the tour that in the state of Texas a brewery can only sell direct to the public (rather than via a wholesaler or restaurant) if there is a sea mammal on the premises! Something to do with Anheuser-Busch having previously owned SeaWorld. Well they say every day is a school day!
We had to move out on Friday as we couldn't extend our stay in the park over the busy weekend. Our next location on our route was South Llano State Park. Unfortunately we couldn't get in there for Friday night either, so we decided to take our chances and find somewhere on the way. And that is how we ended up having our first experience of overnight parking at Walmart! Since it was going to be a short stop to eat, sleep then move on the next morning, what was the benefit of an RV Park? Why not do the same for free at Walmart? So we pulled into a faraway corner of the parking lot and went in the store. After getting some supplies we checked with the staff that it was OK to stay for the night then rented a couple of movies and headed back to our trailer to settle in for the night. It was just fine, and while I don't think we'll be regular Walmart campers, for an overnight stop, when all you want to do is get some rest, it was just dandy.
South Llano State Park was also a good spot to stay for a few days. There are large spacious sites and a few trails. Lots and lots of deer, some turkeys and very pretty bird life. However, we are learning that "scenic" is a relative term. We took a hike on one of the trails in the park to the recommended scenic overlook. While it provided us with some exercise, the "scenic-ness" of the overlook could be hotly debated. After spending time in Oregon, Colorado and Utah I guess we have become so inundated with natural wonders that the bar has been raised.
Next stop is Austin where we plan to stay for a few weeks either side of the Grand Prix. We are looking forward to reuniting with some of our Balloon Fiesta friends and getting to know the city a little better than we did on our brief visit a few years ago.