RV Across Texas

Texas is full of surprises. Few sections of the country are as influenced by Spanish, Mexican, and European residents as Texas. With one of the largest German, Czech, French, and Mexican populations in the U.S., Texas is diverse.

Our Texas RV Travel Bucket List continues.

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is a huge, pink granite exfoliation dome, that rises 425 feet above ground. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is a huge, pink granite exfoliation dome, that rises 425 feet above ground. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enchanted Rock is a huge, pink granite exfoliation dome that rises 425 feet above ground, 1,825 feet above sea level, and covers 640 acres. It is one of the largest batholiths (underground rock formation uncovered by erosion) in the United States.

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area consists of 1,643 acres on Big Sandy Creek, 18 miles north of Fredericksburg, on the border between Gillespie and Llano counties.

Coupled with its impressive geologic history, Enchanted Rock also has an extensive archaeological history; the site figures prominently in several Indian legends.

Tonkawa Indians believed ghost fires flickered at the top, and they heard weird creaking and groaning, which geologists now say resulted from the rock’s heating by day and contracting in the cool night.

Visitors to Enchanted Rock enjoy numerous activities, including hiking, backpacking, technical and rock climbing, primitive camping, picnicking, birding, geological study, stargazing, and nature study.

The park offers 7 miles of hiking trails, including the popular 6/10 mile Summit Trail which involves a 425-foot elevation gain hike to the top of Enchanted Rock. The 4-mile Loop Trail, a favorite among hikers and backpackers, winds around the base of Enchanted Rock.

Gladys Porter Zoo

Gladys Porter Zoo, rated among the top 10 zoological preserves in the United States, is an oasis nestled in the center of Brownsville. With 26 acres of lush tropical plants and over 1,600 animals, Gladys Porter Zoo is known for its successes in breeding endangered species of wildlife. Animals live in open exhibits surrounded by natural flowing waterways.

Brick pits that smoke the meats at Smitty's—brisket, pork ribs, and chops, shoulder clod, sausage, and prime rib. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Brick pits that smoke the meats at Smitty’s Market in Lockhart—brisket, pork ribs, and chops, shoulder clod, sausage, and prime rib. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The zoo is divided into sections. Tropical America is where visitors will see jaguars, Galapagos tortoises, macaws, Caribbean flamingos, spider monkeys, and Cuban crocodiles. Indo-Australia features orangutans, grey kangaroos, kookaburras, agile wallabys, and black swans. Asia has tigers, gaurs, Przewalski’s horse, pileated gibbons, Indian blue peafowl, and Bactrian camels. Africa includes reticulated giraffes, African elephants, Grant’s zebras, African lions, western lowland gorillas, chimpanzees, and one of the rarest antelopes in the world—the Jentink’s duiker.

The Herpetarium and Aquatic Wing contains a large collection of lizards, turtles, snakes, gila monsters, and some rare crocodilians, along with both freshwater and saltwater fish from around the world, with an emphasis on the Texas Gulf Coast area.

Other exhibits include a free-flight aviary, bear grottos, and a California sea lion exhibit.

Lockhart, Barbecue Capital of Texas

Lockhart, the seat of Caldwell County, is located 28 miles southeast of Austin on U.S. Highway 183. This small Texas town exudes a rustic, slow-paced charm arising from its Western heritage, rooted in cattle and cotton.

Lockhart is blessed with small-town hospitality. The town also benefits from being historically located on three trails—El Camino Real, the Chisholm Trail, and the Texas Independence Trail.

Lockhart is the Barbecue Capital of Texas. Out-of-towners and locals flock to four smoked-meat emporiums—Black’s Barbecue, Chisholm Trail Barbecue, Kreuz Market, and Smitty’s Market.

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

Several tons of barbecued beef, pork, chicken, and smoked sausage are served each day. It is estimated that over 5,000 people visit these establishments on a weekly basis—that’s roughly 250,000 people a year who eat BBQ in Lockhart.

Lockhart’s pit masters smolder native post oak logs, seasoned at least eight months, to provide the fragrant smoke and indirect heat that slowly roasts and flavors the meat. After that, secret recipes, cooking methods, and condiments separate the establishments.

Black’s and Chisholm Trail offer barbecue sauce to their customers; Smitty’s grudgingly provides it; and Kreuz Market bans sauce—and forks, too.

When Kreuz Market opened as a meat market and grocery store in 1900, customers dined off butcher paper with their fingers and used knives attached by chains to the wall to slice their meat.

It’s amazing that four barbecue establishments can stay packed all the time—and in a small town, too.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Please Note: This is part 4 of an on-going series on our Texas Bucket List

Worth Pondering…

If a man’s from Texas, he’ll tell you. If he’s not, why embarrass him by asking?

—John Gunther

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Winter Texans flock to the Rio Grande Valley

“The Valley,” as it is affectionately called, is an area near the Mexican border that stretches from Brownsville and Harlingen in the east to Mission in the west—a distance of about 65 miles. Starting in the east and heading west, there’s Brownsville, Los Fresco, Rio Honda, San Benito, Harlingen, La Feria, Mercedes, Weslaco, Donna, Alamo, San Juan, Pharr, Edinburg, McAllen, and Mission.

The Rio Grande Valley is a birders' delight. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Technically not part of The Valley, nearby Rio Hondo, Port Isabel, and South Padre Island are also favorite roosts for Winter Texans. The South Padre Island beaches are never crowded, except during Spring Break, when no Winter Texan in their right mind would venture there.

In trying to define what makes the Winter Texans different from their Snowbird cousins in Florida, Arizona, and Southern California, it seems to us it has to with their roots and the reasons they spend their winters here.

Winter Texans come primarily from a Mid-West, small-town, or rural roots—not that much unlike those that winter in Yuma, Arizona.

Well-represented states include Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Missouri. The majority of Canadians who winter in Texas are from Manitoba and Ontario.

Long known to Midwesterners as a great winter spot, many other Northerners have in recent years discovered it, too. New Winter Texans continue to arrive each year and many, like us, become repeat visitors.

The Great Kiskadee is a South Texas favorite. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most of the larger parks have highly organized activities to make sure you don’t get bored.

Winter Texans have created a culture of their own. And they tend to do what they do back home. They are crazy for dancing!

Numerous activities center around dancing, dance classes, and dance workshops (from pre-beginners to Advance II to Phase VI)—square dance, line dance, round dance, ball room dance, mainstream dance, pattern dance, tap dance, 2-step, waltz, cha-cha, Latin dance, Country Western dance, West Coast swing, clogging—and Bible study.

Even though they spend considerable time participating in the activities and scheduled events at their RV resorts, Winter Texans still have time to get out and explore the Rio Grande Valley.

The Valley offers a wide variety of activities and attractions that you won’t find elsewhere in the American Sunbelt. The area’s many outdoor attractions range from beaches to battlefields, lighthouses to bird and butterfly sanctuaries. The Civil War Battlefield at Palmito Ranch and the Palo Alto Battlefield are both National Historic sites located near Brownsville.

Nuevo Progreso

Shopping is an adventure in the Mexican border towns. The recommended place to shop is Progreso, officially Nuevo Progreso. Park your car for a small fee on the U.S. side and walk across the Rio Grande Bridge. This little town seems to have been built just for Winter Texans. Every block has dentists and pharmacies, where you can have your dental work completed and save money on prescription medication. Mexican produced liquors, such as tequila and Kahlua are also a bargain. There are many fine restaurants in Progreso and shops sell handmade Mexican craft items, souvenirs, linens, blankets, and toys. Haircuts are also a bargain.

The Killer Bee was first sighted in the U.S. near Hidalgo in South Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Spoken Friendly

Did You Know?

The brush land of south Texas is home of some of the richest biodiversity in North America.

Little known and interesting fact about Texas

The name Texas comes from the Hasini Indian word “tejas” meaning friends. Tejas is not Spanish for Texas

Worth Pondering…
Winter Texan is Better Than No Texan

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