5 Must-See Stops on a Road Trip Across America

Every RVer’s bucket list should include at least one road trip across America.

Remember the Alamo! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Remember the Alamo! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Want to make it extra memorable? Consider stopping at one—or all—of these must-see places along the way.

The Alamo

One hundred seventy-nine years ago The Alamo was the site of a pivotal moment in the history of the Texas Revolution where 250 or so Texian and Tejano defenders held off an estimated 1,500 Mexican soldiers for 13 days. The Alamo is remembered as a heroic struggle against overwhelming odds—a place where men made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. For this reason the Alamo remains hallowed ground and the Shrine of Texas Liberty.

If you travel to San Antonio to take in The Alamo, you’ll almost certainly visit the River Walk. They’re just a couple blocks apart, connected by an “alley” with waterfalls, snazzy shops, and lush gardens.

Route 66, also known as the Will Rogers Highway and colloquially known as the Main Street of America or the Mother Road, was one of the original highways within the U.S. Highway System and continues to captivate people around the world. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Route 66, also known as the Will Rogers Highway and colloquially known as the Main Street of America or the Mother Road, was one of the original highways within the U.S. Highway System and continues to captivate people around the world. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Route 66

No matter where you decide to go on your road trip, a stop along the historic Route 66 is absolutely mandatory. Nicknamed Main Street of America and the Mother Road, the famous highway holds a special place in American consciousness and evokes images of simpler times, mom and pop businesses, and the icons of a mobile nation on the road.

Completed in 1938, Route 66, which once served as the main corridor taking drivers from Chicago to Los Angeles, sparks excitement and a feeling of freedom in many travelers who love the open road.

Sedona

Sedona and Red Rock Country
Sedona and Red Rock Country, a vacation hotspot, has appeal for every member of the family. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona easily makes the “A” list of RV destinations due to its rugged western appeal and colorful rock formations. Tourists come from around the world to absorb the natural wonders of Red Rock Country and Sedona, its centerpiece. Located at the base of Oak Creek Canyon, another scenic destination, Sedona is renowned for its stunning rock formations such as Coffee Pot Rock, Cathedral Rock, and Courthouse Butte, as well as its surrounding lush forests.

Sedona has developed into a center for traditional and contemporary arts and offers a variety of galleries, boutiques, and specialty shops. The Sedona community offers so much—history, archeology, arts, culture, hiking, biking, off-road adventure, and spiritual and metaphysical meditations.

Santa Fe

A block east of Santa Fe Plaza is St. Francis Cathedral, named for Santa Fe’s patron saint, St. Francis of Assisi. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A block east of Santa Fe Plaza is St. Francis Cathedral, named for Santa Fe’s patron saint, St. Francis of Assisi. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A combination of altitude, desert, and pueblos has produced a magical city that bears little resemblance to nearby Albuquerque or anywhere else for that matter. Santa Fe is the United States’ longest continuously occupied state capital. Located high and dry in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, this well preserved center of Southwestern art and architecture attracts visitors with its galleries, cuisine, and play of light on its adobe buildings.

Santa Fe is referred to as “the city different,” a city that honors its Native American, Hispanic, and Anglo heritages and embraces its natural environment unlike any other in the United States. A city whose beautiful, brown adobe architecture blends with the high desert landscape and a city that is, at the same time, one of America’s great art and culinary capitals.

Alabama Gulf Coast

Mix two parts sugar-white sand with one part crystal blue water. Add a generous helping of Southern hospitality, and you have the key ingredients of the beautiful Alabama Gulf Coast.

Fresh seafood is the standard along the Gulf Coast. Seafood markets offer shrimp, oysters, crab, and snapper. There are numerous seafood restaurants with an endless assortment of dishes.

One of the most charming small towns in America, Fairhope is located on the beautiful Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay. A growing arts center with quaint boutiques, specialty shops, bookstores, cafes, and galleries line its quaint downtown streets. From the business district, Fairhope Avenue funnels toward grand homes and parkland down to the Fairhope Pier and Mobile Bay. The pier’s picturesque setting makes it a wonderful place to view gorgeous sunsets.

Sparkling turquoise Gulf waters and stunningly white sand await the RVer on the Alabama Gulf Coast. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Sparkling turquoise Gulf waters and stunningly white sand await the RVer on the Alabama Gulf Coast. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

If you ever plan to motor west
Travel my way, the highway that’s the best.
Get your kicks on Route 66!

—Bobby Troup

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Drive Across America & Canada For FREE

Each year numerous motorhomes, camper vans, and cars are driven across the country as Americans and visitors tour the country.

Alamo Florida One-Way Drive Out
Alamo Florida One-Way Drive Out

As a result rental companies are often in need of drivers to take vehicles back and forth to various destinations—often to the place where they started the trip—for another wave of road trippers, reports guardian.co.uk.

One of the best known deals is the “Florida drive out”, when prices are slashed to rent a car for a one-way drive north in spring.

Meanwhile, driveaway companies—which deliver cars around the country—connect drivers with vehicles that need transporting, offering a free set of wheels—and sometimes a tank full of fuel—in exchange for delivery. For the flexible traveler looking for a cheap ride, this can be a perfect opportunity to explore America for next to nothing.

To deliver a vehicle for Auto Driveaway, the largest driveaway company in the US, you need to be at least 23 years of age and hold a valid driver’s license. Some driveaway companies require the drivers to be older and are subject to background checks. For drive out deals, you just need to meet the same requirements for usual car rentals. The minimum age to rent a vehicle is usually 21, except in New York state and Michigan, where it is 18.

When it comes to driveaways, you can potentially go anywhere. It’s just a matter of biding your time until a car that needs delivering in the direction you want to travel becomes available.

There are currently cars available on the Auto Driveaway site that need to be driven from Pennsylvania to Florida and California, Michigan to Texas, and Florida to Washington.

National Florida Drive Out
National Florida Drive Out

There are also driveaway companies in Canada that run deliveries from Toronto and Vancouver to locations around the US. Drive out deals can also take you to a wide range of destinations, but the Florida drive out is primarily to return vehicles to northern cities.

With both types of deal you are free to decide on the route to take, but the limitation with drive outs is that you are still paying a rental fee for each day, and with driveaways, as you are delivering someone else’s vehicle, there will be a limit on the number of miles and days you can take to complete your trip.

Motorhome company The Motorhome Experts are also offering cut price deals this spring for anyone willing to transport brand new vehicles from Chicago to locations across North America, such as San Francisco, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Boston, Philadelphia, and Atlanta. They are also offering similar deals in Canada for anyone happy to drive from Toronto to Vancouver.

Driveaways are available year-round—just keep checking to see when a suitable delivery becomes available. Since most rental cars end up in the southern states during the winter, the best drive out deals are available during spring when the rental companies need their vehicles driven north. However if you are flexible, it’s worth calling the car hire companies to see if are any other destinations are available.

Driveaways can be completely free: you pick up the car with a full tank and can often be given a reasonable fuel allowance for the journey. Of course, if you decide to amble along, taking detours, and making stops en route you will spend more of your own money on fuel, but this will really be your only expense bar the security deposit. Auto Driveaway require a deposit of around $350 (depending on the location), which is refunded on delivery.

Prices for The Motorhome Expert’s spring drive out deal starts at $35 a day including insurance.

Details

Auto Driveaway

Auto Driveaway has been in business since 1952 and has the largest vehicle relocation network in the industry, with 40 local offices around the country.

Website: autodiveaway.com

LOGOToronto Driveaway

Toronto Driveaway, founded in 1959, also has many years experience connecting drivers with cars for delivery. Though based in Canada, it services destinations across America, predominantly Florida, California, and Arizona. Drivers need to be over 30 years of age, with a clean license and references, and need to provide a deposit.

Website: torontodriveaway.com

The Motorhome Experts

The Motorhome Experts are one of the leading motorhome rental companies in the US. To find out more about their spring drive out deals, contact them directly.

Website: themotorhomeexperts.com

Alamo

Alamo is currently offering one-way rentals out of Florida for just $9.95 a day for anyone travelling between April and May.

Website: alamo.com

National

National is currently offering one-way rentals out of Florida for just $9.95 a day for anyone travelling between April and May.

Website: nationalcar.com

Worth Pondering…

Life is a journey and only you hold the map.

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Texas RV Travel Bucket List

Texas is big, beautiful, and diverse.

The first thing many visitors notice about the Alamo is its small size, especially when compared with the buildings of the surrounding city. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The first thing many visitors notice about the Alamo is its small size, especially when compared with the buildings of the surrounding city. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So much has been said about Texas—its sunny seacoast to mile-high mountains, dense forests to cactus-studded desert, great cities to small villages and towns, rich and diverse history, and the hallowed Shrine that represents her birthplace.

With 267,000 square miles of amazing opportunities and unforgettable destinations, an RV visit to Texas is always exciting.

In a state as diverse as Texas, there’s always an adventure around every corner and unique attractions at every turn.

From West Texas to the Panhandle to the Gulf Coast, El Paso to Texarkana to Brownsville, from outdoor enthusiasts to foodies to culture buffs, there’s always something to see and do in Texas.

Even those of us who visit Texas frequently and spend a big chunk of our time traversing it leave most of the Lone Star State untouched.

The state overflows with awesomeness at every turn, places we find completely captivating.

These are the places on our Texas Bucket List: 10 things that every traveling Texan should do. Whittling the list to 10 was totally frustrating, so, at the end, we’re listing some other Texas travel spots we love. And, of course, because we haven’t yet been quite everywhere, we’ll keep exploring Texas — and keep letting you know about new finds.

Here, in the meantime, is our bucket list, in no particular order.

We’ll start at the hallowed Shrine that represents her birthplace.

The Alamo

 

You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.—David Crockett © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.—David Crockett © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Alamo is sacred to every Texan, and the state’s number one tourist attraction.

For 176 years, the words, “Remember the Alamo,” have inspired passions and politics. The 13-day siege resulting in a battle to the death for its defenders is truly the stuff of legends.

Entering the doors of this monumental artifact of Texas history, we couldn’t help but wonder how many truly know the saga that unfolded within the walls and under their feet? How many actually think about the struggle for freedom and liberty and the cost involved in the fight against tyranny and suppression?

The story of the birth of the Texas Republic is one of great drama and personal sacrifice.

The Alamo was defended by slightly fewer than 200 men. All were killed or executed.

The first thing many visitors notice about the Alamo is its small size, especially when compared with the buildings of the surrounding city.

Though the old Spanish mission may not be the biggest building on the block, it still casts a giant shadow across the Great State of Texas.

If you have never visited this sacred shrine, you haven’t really visited Texas. And even if you have made the pilgrimage, journey there again and walk the grounds and explore the many enclaves in reflection of the events that transpired there 176 years ago.

Remember the Alamo!

Brenham: Ice Cream Capital of Texas

What's your favorite flavor of Blue Bell ice cream? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
What’s your favorite flavor of Blue Bell ice cream? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Brenham—Ice Cream Capital of Texas,” proclaims the giant sign at the corner of U.S. 290 and FM 577, which becomes Blue Bell Road, home to Blue Bell Creameries.

The tour begins in a small projection room with a brief, humorous video depicting the history of Blue Bell, founded in 1907 as the Brenham Creamery Company. Afterward, a guide leads visitors upstairs to watch cream transform into frozen confections. Tour-goers peer through large, glass windows that overlook the various processing areas, stainless steel vats and chutes crank out the chilly treats into paper tubs, which are loaded into boxes headed for the freezer.

Our guide mentions that less than half of Blue Bell’s 18 year-round and 24 rotating flavors are produced on a given day. On this day, we watch half-gallons of Pecan Praline, Milk Chocolate, and Rocky Road, pints of Moo-llennium Crunch, and three-gallon containers of Homemade Vanilla glide down the line, as well as the rapid assembly of ice cream sandwiches (120 made per minute).

Cravings can build, even in the quick half-hour watching workers operate vats and pack ice cream. Luckily, an ice cream parlor awaits downstairs at the end of the tour. Visitors receive a serving from their choice of 24 flavors, including the latest creations.

An extensive gift shop adjoining the parlor tempts with everything Blue Bell.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Please Note: This is part 1 of an on-going series on our Texas Bucket List

Worth Pondering…

Wasn’t Born in Texas, But Got Here as Fast as I Could

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Alamo Palms & Victoria Palms Resort Sold to ELS

Equity LifeStyle Properties, Inc. (ELS) acquired two properties, Victoria Palms Resort and Alamo Palms, in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas.

Alamo Palms
Alamo Palms

The two properties contain approximately 1,765 sites on approximately 175 acres for a stated purchase price of $25 million. The company funded the purchase price with available cash.

Victoria Palms is an age-restricted, 1,122-site property with 270 manufactured home sites and 853 RV sites.

Alamo Palms is an age-restricted, 643-site property with 293 manufactured home sites and 350 RV sites. The acquisition will compliment ELS’ South Texas portfolio of eight properties and 5,100 sites and further strengthen its presence in the market.

Details

Equity LifeStyle Properties, Inc. (ELS)

Equity LifeStyle Properties (ELS) is a leading operator of manufactured home communities, RV resorts and campgrounds in North America and currently owns or has an interest in 383 properties in 32 states and British Columbia consisting of 142,679 sites.

ELS offer beautiful communities and parks in the most desirable locations, while offering various homes and camping options to meet a wide variety of our customers’ needs.

The company is a self-administered, self-managed, real estate investment trust (REIT) with headquarters in Chicago.

Victoria Palms Resort
Victoria Palms Resort

Through Encore and Thousand Trails ELS has operations in Alabama (1), Arizona (31), British Columbia (1), California (22), Colorado (3), Florida (33), Illinois (3), Indiana (5), Kentucky (20), Maine (5), Massachusetts (3), Michigan (3), Nevada (4), New Hampshire (2), New Jersey (3), New York (5), North Carolina (8), Ohio (2), Oregon (6), Pennsylvania (11), South Carolina (2), Tennessee (2), Texas (17), Utah (1), Virginia (5), Washington (14), Wisconsin (5)

RVontheGO is your passport to campsites and cabins at over 170 Encore and Thousand Trails campgrounds and RV resorts across the United States.

Address: Two North Riverside Plaza, Chicago, Illinois 60606

Phone: (800) 274-731

ELS Website: equitylifestyle.com

RVontheGO Website: rvonthego.com

Thousand Trails Website: thousandtrails.com

Alamo Palms

Alamo Palms is a beautifully landscaped 58-acre age-qualified community offering 292 manufactured home sites and 352 RV and park model sites for both permanent and seasonal residents. Amenities include free cable TV and high-speed Internet at site, game room with pool tables, tennis and shuffleboard courts, swimming pool and heated spa, club house, and two large ballrooms.

Address: 1341 West Business Highway 83, Alamo, TX 78516

Phone: (800) 780-7571

Website: alamopalms.com

Victoria Palms Resort             

Victoria Palms Resort
Victoria Palms Resort

Victoria Palms Resort is a premier age-qualified RV resort and manufactured home community catering to those 55 years and older. Located in Donna, Texas, the gated resort offers guests a lush, beautifully landscaped environment and a wonderful community spirit.

Victoria Palms has over 850 concrete pull-through and back-in sites with full hookups, 25 fully furnished cottages, over 300 manufactured home sites, 20 hotel rooms, and 100 suites. Amenities include free satellite TV and high-speed Internet at site, 10,000 square foot activity building, 35,000 square foot central clubhouse, 12,000 square foot ballroom, fitness center, tennis courts, large swimming pool, restaurant, and a variety of activities.

Address: 602 N. Victoria Road, Donna, TX 78537

Phone: (956) 464-7801 or (800) 551-5303 (toll free)

Website: victoriapalms.com

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Winter Texan is Better Than No Texan

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50 Things To See or Do See in Your RV Before You Die

You might have read it or flipped through it or seen it on a shelf and thought, “I should pick that up.”

The first thing many visitors notice about the Alamo is its small size, especially when compared with the buildings of the surrounding city. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The first thing many visitors notice about the Alamo is its small size, especially when compared with the buildings of the surrounding city. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s the national bestseller, “1,000 Places to See Before You Die.”

The list, which includes everything from Asian sailing excursions to African horseback riding sites, might be mouthwatering to the wannabe world traveler. For most, however, the financial ability to travel the world simply isn’t there.

But have no fear. Sometimes the best adventures are those in your own backyard.

Here, in alphabetical order, are 50 things to do or see in your RV before you die:

Acadia National Park, Maine

People have been drawn to the rugged coast of Maine throughout history. Thanks to the robber barons that used the park as a private playground in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the islands of Acadia have been preserved in a pristine state.

Acadia’s largest island, Mount Desert Island, encompasses a range of geological diversity, including rocky Atlantic shoreline, lush forests of spruce and fir, dozens of lakes and ponds, and rugged granite hills. Today visitors come to Acadia to hike granite peaks, bike historic carriage roads, or relax and enjoy the scenery.

The Alamo, Texas

One hundred seventy-six years ago the Alamo was the site of a pivotal moment in the history of the Texas Revolution where 250 or so Texian and Tejano defenders held off an estimated 1,500 Mexican soldiers for 13 days.

The Alamo is remembered as a heroic struggle against overwhelming odds—a place where men made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. For this reason the Alamo remains hallowed ground and the “Shrine of Texas Liberty.”

If you have never visited this sacred shrine, you haven’t really visited Texas.

Remember the Alamo!

Continue reading →

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, New Mexico

Each October, New Mexico skies are full of bold blues, imperial reds, and vibrant yellows. The event is the world-famous Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the largest hot-air balloon event in the world. This extravaganza takes place from the first weekend through the second weekend in October—this year’s festival is from October 6-14—and attracts hundreds of hot-air balloonists from around the world.

After you’ve been to the Fiesta, it will be easy to see why New Mexico is known as the Land of Enchantment.

Continue reading →

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas

Searching for the Whooping Cranes in Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Searching for the Whooping Cranes in Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is special for many reasons. It is home to America’s tallest bird, the highly endangered whooping crane. In fact, each winter the refuge plays host to huge wild flocks of whooping cranes whose bugle-like call echoes across the marsh.

With a spectacular wing span of 8 feet, the cranes reach speeds of 30 mph and travel 400 miles a day along their 2,600-mile migratory route between summer nesting grounds at Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Alberta and wintering grounds at the Aransas refuge.

The refuge also provides an important resting, feeding, and wintering grounds for more than 390 migratory and native species including pelicans, egrets, herons, roseate spoonbills, and many other birds.

Arches National Park, Utah

Arches Park is a geological wonderland and one of Utah’s most accessible parks. The extraordinary features of the park create a landscape of contrasting colors, landforms, and textures that is unlike any other in the world. An awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations dot its landscape.

The greatest density of natural arches in the world occurs in Arches which preserves more than 2,000 imposing natural sandstone arches—including the world-famous and much-photographed Delicate Arch.

Continue reading →

Big Bend National Park, Texas

If it’s solitude you seek, you’ll find it here. Besides serving up quiet in big, Texas-size portions, Big Bend boasts geologic wonders, unique wildlife, and plenty of room for hikers and campers to spread out.

Arches is renown for an awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Arches is renown for an awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park, which earns its name for the sharp turn the Rio Grande takes in its midst, sprawls across an astounding 801,163 acres of arid plains and mountains in far-west Texas. The Indians thought this land was the Great Spirit’s rock storage facility; the Spaniards called it “El Despoblado,” or “the uninhabited land.” However you see it, Big Bend is not soon forgotten: It’s a place of mystery and timeless beauty.

Please Note: This is Part 1 of an 8-part series on 50 Places to RV Before You Die

Worth Pondering…

“My favorite thing is to go where I have never been,” wrote photographer Diane Arbus, and so it is with us.

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What’s to Love about Texas Food

Texans take their food as seriously as they do their football.

Black's Barbecue is Texas' oldest and best major barbecue restaurant continuously owned and operated by the same family. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Black's Barbecue is Texas' oldest and best major barbecue restaurant continuously owned and operated by the same family. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you slander their vittles, they’re apt to defend their deep-fried passion as though you personally launched another attack on the Alamo.

Necessity has frequently mothered our creations, and early Texans had to make do with meager supplies, which is how they wound up with frugal favorites like chicken-fried steak and fried pies. Such resourcefulness produced foods that bring us endless gratification today.

Many Winter Texans and other visitors to the Lone Star State have the good sense to agree with them—that Texan food is that of the gods.

Little Known & Great Places to Eat

Sure, there are thousands of great places to eat scattered throughout cities and towns all across Texas, and a Main Street Cafe on just about every corner of every berg from Wink to Brownsville. But there are those really special places that qualify as the Best of the Best—the unique and extraordinary—the unusual, and just plain great places to eat. They shouldn’t be missed when traveling down the highways and byways of Texas.

Take a tour of some of our personal favorites and schedule lunch or dinner next time you’re in the neighborhood. These are spots you can’t afford to miss. Bon Appetite!

1. Texas Barbecue

The meat that’s most often used in Texas BBQ is beef. And among the various beef cuts, brisket is hands-down the most popular. There’s something about taking a tough piece of meat like a beef brisket and turning it into a tender and delicious masterpiece.

Another difference is the barbeque sauce. Every Texas barbeque lover knows that there is nothing like the original Texas BBQ sauce. This famous sauce has a sweet and spicy, tomato-based flavor that is thick and delicious.

2. Chicken-fried steak

Born on the cattle-driving trail, this Texas staple was poor folks’ food, as the cowboys ate pretty much what their coosies (chuck-wagon cooks) could scare up. Longhorn was a tough beef, so the coosie pounded it until tender with whatever tools he could find, then dredged it in flour and fried it up in a Dutch oven. Texans by the thousands now savor it on a daily basis.

3. Shrimp

When in the Clear Lake/Galveston area we head for Rose’s in Seabrook for a supply of shrimp. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The shrimp fleet that fishes the Texas Gulf Coast is one of the world’s largest, and there isn’t a place where you can buy this delectable crustacean any fresher or tastier. When in the Clear Lake/Galveston area we head for Rose’s in Seabrook for a supply of this fresh crustacean. Back in our motorhome Dania whips up a fresh feast for dinner while freezing the rest for our future eating enjoyment.

4. Blue Bell Ice Cream

I consider ice cream to be a food group—and there’s no better ice cream available than Blue Bell. In late August 1907, the Brenham Creamery Company opened its doors to sell butter. By 1911, they had put together milk, cream, eggs, and fruit fresh from local farmers and were making a gallon or two of ice cream daily, packing it in a large wooden tub with ice and salt and delivering it by horse and wagon to neighbors. By 1930, Blue Bell Creameries had been born, and today their ice cream is a true Texas favorite.

Made in a multitude of flavors—Pecan Praline ’n Cream, Buttered Pecan, Caramel Sundae Crunch, Spiced Pumpkin Pecan are tops with me. 

5. Pecans

Did someone mention pecans? In the autumn, pecan tree branches become heavy with their bounty of nuts, and the delicious fun begins soon after harvesting. Grown in some 150 Texas counties, Lone Star pecans come in such varieties as Desirable, Western, Pawnee, Cheyenne, Cape Fear, and many more. Enterprising cooks make batches of spiced pecans, pralines, and fudge.

What's your favorite flavor of Blue Bell ice cream? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
What's your favorite flavor of Blue Bell ice cream? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Note: This is the first in a ongoing series on Why I Love Texas Food

Worth Pondering…
You Can’t Spell Texas without H-E-B

No you can’t have Antonio unless you got the San.
And you can’t have the Valley without the Rio Grande.
It ain’t Texas barbecue without the Mesquite smoke,
And Austin’s gotta have its Hook ‘Em Horns and Broken Spoke.

It ain’t the Hill Country if it doesn’t have the hills,
Or Fredericksburg or Dripping Springs, or good ol’ Kerrville.
It ain’t the Texas flag without the Lone Star,
And without blackeyed peas, it ain’t Texas caviar.

There’s so much to love about Texas,
That’s why Texas is home for me.
Can’t find any place on Earth like Texas.
And you can’t spell Texas without H-E-B.

—Written and sung by Jack Ingram

Read More

Discover San Antonio’s Mission Trail

The chain of five missions that were established along the San Antonio River during the 18th century stands as a reminder of Spain’s most successful attempt to extend its New World influence and control. Representing both church and state, these missions were charged with converting the local Native Americans, collectively called Coahuiltecans, into devout Catholics and productive members of Spanish society.

Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purisima Concepción de Acuña. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than just churches on the Spanish Colonial frontier, the missions also served as vocational and educational centers, economic enterprises involved in agricultural and ranching endeavors and regional trade. Missionaries taught the Coahuiltecans farming skills and gave them religious instruction.

Before the Spanish came, there were no horses in Texas and no gunfire, except for the raiding Apache. A vast frontier had never been touched by a wheel or felt the blade of an iron ax.

Among other contributions, the missions planted the roots of ranching in Texas. Indian vaqueros tended huge herds of cattle, goats, and sheep. They marked stock with branding irons like the ones used in Spain and Portugal as early as the 10th century.

Along with The Alamo, four outlying churches comprise San Antonio Missions National Historic Park. They are linked together on a driving tour called The Mission Trail. The well-marked San Antonio’s Mission Trail driving route stretches south from The Alamo for nine miles along the San Antonio River.

The world remembers The Alamo as a heroic battleground, but the other missions are tranquil shrines where the Spanish planted the seeds of San Antonio.

Signs link the other missions. Pick up a brochure that contains maps of those sites, which will prove useful as you leave one mission and follow street signs to the next in line, which is usually two or three miles away. From the Alamo southward, you’ll see Mission Concepcion, Mission San Jose, Mission San Juan, and Mission Espada. All were built between 1718 and 1731. While the Alamo is the best known, it also is the most visited and the most crowded.

Mission San Francisco de la Espada. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s easy to spend a complete day exploring the mission compound and seeing the interpretive displays in the museums.

Details

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purisima Concepción de Acuña
This handsome stone church was dedicated in 1755, and appears very much as it did over two centuries ago. It stands proudly as the oldest non-restored 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, original frescos are still visible in several of the rooms.

Location: 807 Mission Road, San Antonio, Texas, 78210

Click here for more information about Mission Concepción.

Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo

Known as “Queen of the Missions”, this is the largest of the missions and was almost fully restored to its original design in the 1930s by the WPA (Works Projects Administration). Spanish missions were not churches, but communities, with the church the focus. Mission San José shows the visitor how all the missions might have looked over 250 years ago. The park’s visitor center is located adjacent to this mission.

Note: The church at Mission San José is closed until late summer 2011 for extensive preservation work. The mission itself is open with regular programming.

Click here for more information about Mission San José.

Location: 6701 San José Drive, San Antonio, Texas, 78214

Mission San Juan Capistrano. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Location: 9101 Graf Road, San Antonio, Texas, 78214

Click here for more information about Mission San Juan.

Mission San Francisco de la Espada

Founded in 1690 as San Francisco de los Tejas near present-day Weches, Texas, this was the first mission in Texas. In 1731, the mission 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.

Location: 10040 Espada Road, San Antonio, Texas, 78214

Click here for more information about Mission Espada.

Did You Know?
The four churches within San Antonio Missions National Historical Park are active Catholic parish churches? While they have not been in continuous operation since established in the early 1700s, many parishioners today are direct descendants of the mission Indians who built the churches.

Worth Pondering…
After 7 days of trial and error,

God created Texas on the 8th day.

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San Antonio River Walk: Jewel of the City

San Antonio is best known for being the Home of The Alamo and the San Antonio River, the center points of numerous activities in the downtown area. The river actually has its headwaters in northern San Antonio and travels southward through the city. The Alamo is part of a chain of five Spanish missions that still stand along the river and served as religious institutions and economic centers 200 years ago. The five missions are somewhat connected by their proximity to the river and signage linking them along a route called the Mission Trail.

The River Walk has grown to a stunning eight miles and will stretch to 15 miles by 2013. Each part offers a unique look and feel. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Antonio’s Paseo del Río, or River Walk, ranks No. 1 or No. 2 each year as the most popular tourist attraction in Texas, with up to 3 million people visiting from throughout the world. The other No. 1 or No. 2 is The Alamo. It’s a moot issue really. If you travel here to take in the River Walk, you’ll almost certainly visit The Alamo, and vice versa. They’re just a couple blocks apart, connected by an “alley” with waterfalls, snazzy shops, and lush gardens.

Native Americans who once gathered in the grassy plains and rolling hills of what is now Central Texas had a special name for the clear waters burbling forth from limestone outcrops. They called the main life-giving stream Yanaguana, which means refreshing waters. You will know what they meant as soon as you step down from street level, slip into the shade of towering cypress trees, and feel the cooling river breezes.

Renamed the San Antonio River in 1691 by Spanish explorers, the river has since brought settlers, ranchers, farmers, craftsmen, artists, and many others from around the world to its meandering banks. A tapestry of modern buildings, colonial missions, museums, historic neighborhoods, and a diverse international culture has sprung up around the famed river.

What started as the vision of a young architect, in 1929, has grown, over the decades, into one of the world’s most distinctive meeting places.

The River Walk extends from a wiggle of the San Antonio River, shaped much like a bent horseshoe, in the heart of downtown.

The River Walk winds and loops under bridges as two parallel sidewalks, lined with restaurants, bars, shops, and hotels. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

America’s favorite river walk, the San Antonio River Walk or Paseo del Rio, was built by the WPA (Works Progress Administration) as a flood-control project from 1939 to 1941 and now makes a splash controlling the flood of more than five million visitors annually to its cypress-lined cobble- and-flagstone paths along both sides of the narrow San Antonio River.

After the city created a River Walk District and a commission to oversee it in 1962, business leaders formed the Paseo del Rio Association to promote it. The 1968 HemisFair revitalized the downtown with the construction of the Convention Center, Tower of the Americas, and other distinctive structures.

The San Antonio River Walk is a public park, open 365 days a year. It is a network of walkways along the banks of the San Antonio River, one story beneath downtown San Antonio. An important part of the city’s urban fabric, the River Walk winds and loops under bridges as two parallel sidewalks, lined with restaurants, bars, shops, and hotels. It connects the major tourist draws from the Alamo to Rivercenter Mall, Arneson River Theatre, La Villita, San Antonio Museum of Art, and Pearl Brewery.

The River Walk has grown to a stunning eight miles and will stretch to 15 miles by 2013. Each part offers a unique look and feel.

Entertaining 35 to 40 minute-long narratives of the rich history of the river and attractions seen along the route including historical details that cover two and a half miles of the beautiful San Antonio River Walk. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In May 2009, the new Museum Reach portion of the River Walk opened. It features over one mile of new River Walk footage, beautiful landscaping, and lighting at night. It begins at the Holiday Inn El Tropicano Riverwalk Hotel and ends at the Pearl Brewery Complex. The Museum Reach section stretches 1.7 miles north, passing the beautiful San Antonio Museum of Art, a lock system for the river boats, and the oldest VFW Post in the State of Texas. Landscaped with native plants and small water cascades, the route features art installations under every bridge.

Details

Rio San Antonio Cruises

Rio San Antonio Cruises has an exclusive contract to provide sightseeing barge service as well as water taxis service. Both services operate from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

San Antonio River Tours

Entertaining 35 to 40 minute-long narratives of the rich history of the river and attractions seen along the route including historical details that cover two and a half miles of the beautiful San Antonio River Walk.

Rates: $8.25/adult; $6.00/senior

Rio Taxi Service

With 39 stops along the beautiful River Walk, the Rio Taxi service provides the opportunity to relax on your way to your favorite restaurant or River Walk hotspot. Tickets are available on the Rio Taxi boat.

Rio Taxi Yellow Rates (Downtown Reach up to Lexington Street):
$5.00 one way; $10.00 24-hour day pass; $25.00 three-day pass

Rio Taxi Red Rates (Museum Reach north of Lexington):
$10.00 24-hour day pass; $25.00 three-day pass

Rates (Downtown and Museum Reach):
Combination Red/Yellow 24 Hour Pass: $15.00

Worth Pondering…
Texas is a state of the mind.

Texas is an obsession.

Above all,

Texas is a nation in every sense of the word.

—John Steinbeck

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San Antonio: An Enchanting City

Texas is big, beautiful, and diverse. It’s easy to think of Texas as a whole country—800 miles wide and nearly that far from north to south. The state encompasses sunny seacoast to mile-high mountains, dense forests to cactus-studded desert, and great cities to small villages and towns.

The first thing many visitors notice about the Alamo is its small size, especially when compared with the buildings of the surrounding city. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas is the only state that was once a sovereign nation, the republic of Texas. Texas had its own armed forces including a Navy, currency, and representatives to the United States.

Arguably, the state’s most beautiful city, San Antonio has much to offer. Fantastic museums, San Antonio River Walk, La Villita, HemisFair Park, Tower of the Americas, El Mercado, King William Historic District, and, of course, The Alamo are but a few of its highlights. And if you like the Alamo, you’ll love the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, a string of several 15th- and 16th-century Spanish missions in and around the city.

Without the modern skyline of Houston or Dallas, attractive and festive San Antonio looks nothing like the stereotypical image of Texas, despite being pivotal in the state’s history. Standing at a geographical crossroads, it encases the complex social and ethnic mixes of all Texas. Although the Germans, among others, have made strong cultural contributions, San Antonio’s heritage is Hispanic. Though now the seventh largest city in the U.S., it retains a relaxing feel and is one of my favorite places to spend a few days or a week or more.

Founded in 1691 by Spanish missionaries, San Antonio became a military garrison in 1718, and was settled by the Anglos in the 1720s and 1730s under Austin’s colonization program.

The River Walk has grown to a stunning eight miles and will stretch to 15 miles by 2013. Each part offers a unique look and feel. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Antonio is most famous for the legendary Battle of the Alamo in 1836, when General Santa Anna wiped out a band of Texas volunteers seeking independence from Mexico. After the Civil War, it became a hard-drinking, hard-fighting town at the heart of the Texas cattle and oil empires.

Major floods in the 1920s wiped out much of the downtown area, but the WPA (Works Progress Administration) program that revitalized two of the city’s prettiest sites, La Villita and the River Walk, laid the foundations for its future as a major tourist destination.

You could spend weeks in this city and still not experience everything it has to offer. So take your pick, and enjoy!

The Alamo

Is it possible to look at this icon of Texas history too much? I don’t think so. I feel the ghosts of the March 6, 1836, battle every time I enter.

La Villita (Little Village)

This 250-year-old Spanish settlement was reconstructed during the 1930s to preserve the unique buildings. La Villita is now an historic district set up as a living community of working artists, restaurants, specialty shops, and plazas.

Spanish Governor’s Palace

The restored building is the former home of the first governor of the area when Texas was a Spanish colony. Furnished in period pieces, the site is a fascinating glimpse into how the elite lived in that era.

El Mercado (Market Square)

The shops in the largest Mexican market outside Mexico are filled with beautiful terra-cotta pieces, leather goods, embroidered clothing, and much more. Once you’ve exhausted your financial reserve and have more packages than you can carry, enjoy lunch or dinner at either Mi Tierra Cafe or the Pico de Gallo.

Hemisfair Park

Located in downtown San Antonio, the 750-foot-tall Tower of the Americas provides guests the most spectacular view of the Alamo City. Enjoy the gorgeous panorama from the Tower's revolving Chart House Restaurant, take in the scenery from the Observation Deck or experience the thrilling 4D Theater Ride. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In honor of its 250th birthday, San Antonio hosted the 1968 HemisFair. The Tower of the Americas was constructed for this event and continues to tower 750 feet above the city. Operated by the University of Texas, The Institute of Texas Cultures houses fascinating exhibits from each of the cultures that settled Texas. The Instituto de Mexicano, representing the culture of Mexico and the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center are also located here.

McNay Art Museum

Formerly the private residence of Marion Koogler McNay, this 1920s mansion on the outskirts of the city has handsome tile floors and a Moorish-style courtyard. Gothic, medieval, late 19th and 20th century American and European paintings, sculpture, graphic arts, rare books, and exhibits are all featured.

King William Historic Area
Named for Kaiser Wilhelm of Prussia, the district is a 25-block area near downtown on the south bank of the San Antonio River. During the late 1800s the King William District was the most elegant residential area in the city. It was zoned as the state’s first historic district, and has once again become a fashionable neighborhood.

Worth Pondering…
There is a growing feeling that perhaps Texas is really another country, a place where the skies, the disasters, the diamonds, the politicians, the women, the fortunes, the football players and the murders are all bigger than anywhere else.

—Pete Hamill

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The Alamo Revisited: A Landmark Anniversary

So, why is this so special?

One hundred seventy-five years ago the Alamo was the site of a pivotal moment in the history of the Texas Revolution where 250 or so Texian and Tejano defenders held off an estimated 1,500 Mexican soldiers for 13 days.

Each March, one weekend is set aside as “Remembering the Alamo Weekend.” © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nearly all of the defenders of the mission were killed, with the exception being an estimated 20 women and children.

The perceived cruelty of the Mexican general inspired others living in the new republic, which had just declared its independence from Mexico four days before, to join the Texian Army.

Santa Anna would be defeated a few weeks later at the Battle of San Jacinto, when the Texian Army, many of whom yelled the now famous phrases “Remember the Alamo” and “Remember Goliad,” surprised and overran the Mexican Army during a surprise attack in the middle of the afternoon.

The Mexican army, many of whom were having a siesta, was largely slaughtered after being caught off guard. More than 700 Mexican soldiers were killed and another 700 or so taken captive in the 18-minute long battle. Only nine Texians were said to have died in the attack.

With General Santa Anna’s capture and signing of the Treaty of Velasco, the Mexican Army was forced to withdraw from Texas.

You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.—David Crockett © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

People worldwide continue to remember the Alamo as a heroic struggle against impossible odds—a place where men made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. For this reason, the Alamo remains hallowed ground and the Shrine of Texas Liberty.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…
And remember the Alamo

A 180 were challenged by Travis to die
By a line that he drew with his sword as the battle drew nigh
A man that crossed over the line was for glory
And he that was left better fly
And over the line crossed 179
Hey Up Santa Anna, they’re killing your soldiers below
So the rest of Texas will know
And remember the Alamo

Remembering the Alamo! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jim Bowie lay dying, the blood and the sweat in his eyes
But his knife at the ready to take him a few in reply
Young Davy Crocket lay laughing and dying
The blood and the sweat in his eyes
For Texas and freedom a man was more willing to die
Hey Up Santa Anna, they’re killing your soldiers below
So the rest of Texas will know
And remember the Alamo

A courier came to a battle once bloody and loud
And found only skin and bones where he once left a crowd
Fear not little darling of dying
If this world be sovereign and free
For we’ll fight to the last for as long as liberty be
Hey Up Santa Anna, they’re killing your soldiers below
So the rest of Texas will know
And remember the Alamo

Source: The Free Republic

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