Texas Bucket List for the RVer

No matter how you size it up, Texas is a BIG friendly state that offers a wealth of experiences for all RVers.

The classic Shiner Bock is a God given blessing. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The classic Shiner Bock is a God given blessing. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A trek across Texas’ 267,000 square miles brings you face to face with all kinds of natural wonders—from tumbleweeds, wildflowers, deserts and cedar forests to angular canyons, rivers and sandy beaches with sea-green surf.

Our Texas RV Travel Bucket List continues.

No Finer Day in Shiner

In Texas, the mere mention of the word “Shiner” immediately brings to mind thoughts of a cold longneck and the distinctive brew within. However, before the beer, there was the town.

Not surprisingly, the best way to learn the history of Shiner is to learn the history of Shiner Beer, as the two have been intertwined for more than a hundred years. So, I headed to Spoetzl Brewery and joined a tour.

Shiner beer started in 1909 when the town’s thirsty German and Czech immigrants decided to start a brewery to make the traditional Bavarian brews of their homeland. In 1914, legendary brewmaster Kosmos Spoetzl took over and the rest is history.

The Spoetzl Brewery is now the oldest independent brewery in Texas and still brews every drop of Shiner Beer from its “little brewery” in Shiner.

As they say when toasting in Shiner, “Prosit!” © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
As they say when toasting in Shiner, “Prosit!” © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The tour gave me a firsthand look into the brewing process and, of course, a firsthand sampling of the final product, from flagstaff Shiner Boch to the 102 Double Wheat. The tour is the best way to sample the spectrum of Shiner, and it whet my curiosity as to what else the town had to offer.

Thirsty no more, but definitely hungry, I went to Friday’s Fried Chicken, a local spot that’s part fried-chicken-joint and part Czech bakery. My two-piece golden-fried-chicken plate with cold slaw and French fries hit the spot. Then I finished my lunch with a slice of homemade pecan pie and a whole pie to go.

While Shiner Beer put Shiner on the map, it isn’t the only thing keeping it there. And a day trip to Shiner goes down as smooth as the namesake beverage. As they say when toasting in Shiner, “Prosit!”

Valley Nature Center

The Valley Nature Center is a 5-acre thicket of native vegetations, primarily upland scrub forest, with a courtyard of identified native plants, a butterfly garden, elevated lily pond, cactus gardens, and self-guiding, interpretive trails winding its way through nature vegetation.

The center features a courtyard dedicated to the preservation of endangered plants and teaches how these plants can be used in wildscaping land in the Valley.

A trail guide identifies native plants and animals of special interest.

The great kiskadee has yellow on its crown that is often obscured by the black stripes that frames it. However, if you get a view of the top of its head as I did in this photo, the yellow brightly stands out on this Rio Grande Valley specialty. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The great kiskadee has yellow on its crown that is often obscured by the black stripes that frames it. However, if you get a view of the top of its head as I did in this photo taken at the Valley Nature Center, the yellow brightly stands out on this Rio Grande Valley specialty. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Valley Nature Center is the oldest nature center in the Rio Grande Valley, and the only non-profit center fully dedicated to environmental education south of San Antonio and east of Eagle Pass. It has been in operation as a non-profit organization dedicated to its mission since 1984.

The park is a wonderful natural oasis in the middle of the city.

Native Plant Nursery open to the public—140 species of plants native to the Rio Grande Valley

Viva, Las Vegas Café

Las Vegas Café is a dining staple on West Harrison Avenue in Harlingen that serves breakfasts, lunches, and dinners Monday through Saturdays. The popular café began its operation with only three tables and eight stools and now has a seating capacity for 140 people.

The name has spicy origins and so do the recipes. The building was a go-go club in the early 1960s that went by the name of Las Vegas Lounge.

Las Vegas owners Julio Charles and his wife, Eloina, started the café in 1964. Today, their two daughters, Lori and Julie, primarily run the café.

The key to the eatery’s continued success is its consistency with good food, good service, and reasonable prices.

The specialties of the house include beef and cheese enchiladas that are prepared from a special recipe that is really their trademark. Plus they have several other quality Mexican dishes such as steak rancheros, fajitas, chicken fried steak, and chicken tenders.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Please Note: This is part 3 of an on-going series on our Texas Bucket List

Worth Pondering…

First buy a cowboy hat and boots. Then you’re on your way to being a Texan.

—James Michener

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Still More Reasons to Love Texas Food

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

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.

1. City Market

Barbecue fans head to downtown Luling to satisfy their craving for City Market’s succulent brisket, hot links, and pork ribs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Barbecue fans head to downtown Luling to satisfy their craving for City Market’s succulent brisket, hot links, and pork ribs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the great joys of RVing is visiting new places and making interesting discoveries. Another is just the opposite—revisiting those places that demand a closer look. Sometimes that second chance leads to a third—and a fourth.

City Market in Luling, is such a place. The meat-market-turned-barbecue-restaurant started in 1958, and over the years has become a barbecue icon. This is the arguably the best barbeque in all of Texas which helps explain why Luling is perennially included on our Texas itinerary.

2. Lockhart: Barbecue Capital of Texas

A short hop, skip, a jump from Luling is Lockhart, 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.

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

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.

It’s amazing that four barbecue establishments can stay packed all the time—and in a small town, too. Incidentally, my favorite is Smitty’s Market. The brisket and links as well as the unique experience make me a repeat customer.

3. Big Texan Steak Ranch

Not one of the businesses to put out a welcome mat for Oprah when she appeared in an Amarillo court against the beef producers, The Big Texan is best known for its 72 ounce steak. No matter how you cut it, 72 ounces is 4½ pounds and that’s a lot of meat. And it’s free if you can eat the steak and the accompanying salad, shrimp cocktail, baked potato, and bread in one hour while everyone else in the restaurant watches.

The atmosphere is awesome. There are elk heads all over the wall, about six Texas flags outside, along with a huge cow statue and other Texan artifacts.

4. Shiner Bock

If Blue Bell Ice Cream is a food group, then why not beer—but not just any beer; it must be a Texas original from “the little brewery in Shiner”. Reflecting the tradition of genuine Bavarian beers, Shiner Bock has been brewed since 1913, almost as long as the Spoetzl Brewery has been in business.

However, it wasn’t until 1973 that Bock went into production year-round. Bock was considered a lent beer, and therefore was only made around that season. Today over 80% of the beer made at the Spoetzl Brewery is Bock.

5. Las Vegas Cafe

For excellent home cooked Tex-Mex food, Las Vegas Café in Harlingen in the Lower Rio Grande Valley doesn’t disappoint.

The key to the eatery’s continued success is its consistency with good food, good service, and reasonable prices.

The name has spicy origins and so do the recipes. The building was a go-go club in the early 1960s that went by the name of Las Vegas Lounge.

Las Vegas owners Julio Charles and his wife, Eloina, started the café in 1964. Today, their two daughters, Lori and Julie, primarily run the café.

The classic Shiner Bock is a God given blessing. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The classic Shiner Bock is a God given blessing. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The popular café began its operation with only three tables and eight stools and now has a seating capacity for 140 people.

This is a great place for lunch, but it’s always very busy. You will never go wrong with the specials posted on the wall. Or if you prefer, ask for a menu. The cheese enchiladas, fajitas, and nachos are fantastic. Also, the sweet tea alone is worth the price of the meal. Great value!

Note: This is the third in an ongoing series on Why I Love Texas Food

Part 1: What’s to Love about Texas Food

Part 2: 6 Reasons to Love Texas Food

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

You need Corpus, you need Abilene, Odessa and Laredo,
Bastrop and Lufkin, Port Lavaca and Salado.
Dallas, Waco, Harlingen and places big and small,
No, Texas ain’t Texas…unless you got ’em all.

You can’t have the cotton-eyed without the Joe,
And springtime ain’t sprung until the bluebonnets grow.
You couldn’t have a front porch without the rocking chair,
And if it wasn’t for the corn dogs you couldn’t have the Fair.

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.

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Five Things You Need to Know Today: January 27

Since I like things to come in fives (and tens), here are five things YOU need to know TODAY!

1. NADAguides.com Reports RV Inquiries Rising

Let's Go RVing to Monument Valley Tribal Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

NADAguides.com, the most comprehensive new and used car, classic car, motorcycle, boat, and recreation vehicle pricing and information resource online, has announced its 2011 third and fourth quarter Traffic Trends Report—showing growth in traffic and consumer shopping activity site wide.

The RV section saw an overall traffic increase of 10 percent during the second half of the year. NADAguides.com analysts note that according to a new study, 8.5 percent of U.S. households now own RVs, up from 8 percent in 2005, showing a clear rise in the number of people shopping online for these types of vehicles.

Similar to the first half of the year, the total number of unique visitors to NADAguides.com continued to increase during the second half of the year at 12 percent. The site recorded August 2011 as its best month ever for total site traffic.

2. Red Tide Ebbs: Texas Oyster Harvesting Open in Some Areas

Let's Go RVing to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A small portion of Texas waters open to shellfish harvesting today (January 27). At 12:01 a.m. on Espiritu Santo and the conditionally approved area of San Antonio Bay opened to commercial oyster harvest.

Due to the recent rains in the Austin area the conditional area of San Antonio Bay might not remain open for long. The Texas Department of State Health Services will continue to monitor the red tide and will open areas to harvesting when it is safe to do so. For the latest information on the opening and closing of oyster harvest areas, call DSHS at 1-800-685-0361.

3. Quartzsite: A Gem in the Desert

Let's Go RVing to Quartzsite. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So exactly what is Quartzsite?

The World’s Largest Flea Market!

A dusty destination in the middle of nowhere—but, come January, the little town of Quartzsite transforms into the vendor capital of the world and becomes the largest gathering of RVs and RVers on the planet.

This sleepy Arizona town has become famous for luring snowbirds who like to browse amid RVs and RV products, gems and minerals, crafts and hobby items—and the “mother of all swap meets.”

The Chamber of Commerce gives the normal population as around 3,000. In January and February, it swells to a million plus.

The 2012 Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show continues until January 29.

To continue reading, click here.

4. No Finer Day in Shiner

In Texas, the mere mention of the word “Shiner” immediately brings to mind thoughts of a cold longneck and the distinctive brew within. However, before the beer, there was the town.

Not surprisingly, the best way to learn the history of Shiner is to learn the history of Shiner Beer, as the two have been intertwined for more than a hundred years. So, I headed to Spoetzl Brewery and joined the day’s first tour.

Shiner beer started in 1909 when the town’s thirsty German and Czech immigrants decided to start a brewery to make the traditional Bavarian brews of their homeland. In 1914, legendary brewmaster Kosmos Spoetzl took over and the rest is history.

The Spoetzl Brewery is now the oldest independent brewery in Texas and still brews every drop of Shiner Beer from its “little brewery” in Shiner.

Related

5. Check All Lights

Let's Go RVing to Arches National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before leaving on any trip, check all your RV lighting. This is best done using the buddy system: one in the driver’s seat, and one outside verifying the results of the driver’s action.

With your buddy/co-pilot at the rear of the RV, check turn signals, tail/clearance lights, and brake lights.

Finally with your buddy/co-pilot at the front of the RV check your headlights—high and low beams—and fog lights.

If you find defective lights, replace them. It’s always a good idea to keep extra bulbs specific to your vehicle.

Have a great weekend.

Until next time, safe RV travels, and we’ll see you on the road!

Worth Pondering…

The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.

—Michael Althsuler

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Shiner Bock: A Texas Tradition

We arrived at the brewery’s hospitality room in time to catch the afternoon tour and were led through the modern brew house with its gleaming copper kettles to the bottling room, where seemingly infinite lines of brown bottles are filled, capped, pasteurized, labeled, and boxed.

A classic poster in Shiner's hospitality room. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We learned that there’s no forced retirement at this brewery—Joe Green holds the record for employment with 63 years of service when he retired at age 81.

Following our informative tour we headed back to the hospitality room to trade our wooden nickels for cups of beer.

Spoetzl Brewery has been doing special beers celebrating the brewery’s German and Czech heritage since 2005 with Shiner 96. That was an Oktoberfest, or Marzen-style lager.

This was followed by Shiner 97 Bohemian Black Lager, Shiner 98 Bavarian-style Amber, and Shiner 99 Helles. The black lager, or schwarzbier, was well-received and put into the regular Shiner lineup as Bohemian Black.

Spoetzl’s current offerings include Shiner Bock, Shiner Blonde, Shiner Bohemian Black Lager, Shiner Hefeweizen, Shiner Light, Shiner Dortmunder, and Shiner 101.

The classic Shiner Bock is a God given blessing. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reflecting the tradition of genuine Bavarian beers, Shiner Bock—Spoetzl’s flagship beer—has been brewed since 1913, almost as long as the Spoetzl Brewery has been in business. However, it wasn’t until 1973 that Bock went into production year-round. Bock was considered a lent beer, and therefore was only made around that season. Today over 80% of the beer made at the Spoetzl Brewery is Bock.

Shiner Blonde is the direct descendant of Spoetzl’s earliest brew. Although Blonde has carried numerous names, such as Shiner Special, Shiner Premium, and Shiner Texas Special, the recipe has been virtually unchanged since it was first brewed in 1909. For this reason, Blonde carries Brew Kettle No. 1 on its label.

Originally a limited edition schwarzbier for the Spoetzl Brewery’s 97th anniversary, Shiner Bohemian Black Lager became a permanent part of the brand portfolio in late 2007. Black Lager uses imported Austrian Saaz and Styrian hops and dark-roasted malts.

Shiner Hefeweizen (Hef-ay-vite-zen) recalls the classic beers of Bavaria as a true unfiltered wheat brew. This beer captures old-world Munich Malt, wheat grist used in a scant 1% of all brews worldwide, orange and lemon zest in a frothy classic example of bottle-conditioned beer. Clover honey and yeast is added just before it’s bottled touching off a unique, secondary fermentation process inside before its final release from the brewery.

A deep amber brew blended from choice Munich malts, select hops, and pure Artesian water, Shiner Light sacrifices none of the taste while reducing calories and carbs. Shiner Light has the lowest production numbers out of all of the year round beers.

Shiner Dortmunder has a smooth, well-rounded flavor—the perfect fit for any Springtime activity. Because of the unique nature of the style, Shiner Dortmunder satisfies the palate of a diverse crowd.

"Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza." © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shiner 101 is a well-crafted beer with no frills, classic recipe, and bold taste. And with just four ingredients—hops, barley, yeast, and water—Shiner’s 101st anniversary beer is the culmination of more than a century of brewing know-how.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…
Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

—Benjamin Franklin

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Something’s Brewin’ in Shiner, TX

Nestled below the triangle of Houston, Austin, and San Antonio is the old Czech-German town of Shiner, home to a beer by the same name crafted at the 101-year-old Spoetzl Brewery. Currently owned by Carlos Alvarez of Gambrinus Brands, the Spoetzl Brewing Co. of Shiner, is the last of the original Texas breweries. Their classic Shiner Bock is a God given blessing.

“little brewery in Shiner” © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The original brewery was founded in 1901 amid an Austrian, German, and Czech farming community near the railroad tracks on the banks of Boggy Creek.

The early efforts did not go well and the brewery was leased to Oswald Petzold and German brewing craftsman Kosmas Spoetzl in 1914.

Carrying a family recipe for a Bavarian beer made from pure malt and hops, Spoetzl began to produce beer in wooden kegs and bottles. The following year, Spoetzl purchased the brewery. After 1916 the beer was packaged in glass returnable bottles; aluminum kegs were first used in 1947, nonreturnable bottles came in 1958, party kegs in 1964, and cans in 1970.

Reflecting the tradition of genuine Bavarian beers, Shiner Bock—Spoetzl's flagship beer—has been brewed since 1913. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During Prohibition, the brewery produced ice and near-beer and, and according to some sources, regular beer as well.

After his wife’s death in 1921, Spoetzl considered returning to Bavaria but was convinced by his daughter to retain the business.

With repeal of Prohibition in 1933, the business resumed, with the introduction of “Texas Export,” a new product later known as “Texas Special” beer. Sales were made within a 100-mile radius. Over the next decade the company added a new bottling room and brew house, and in 1947 Spoetzl constructed the white brick Alamo-style plant still in use to this day.

When Kosmas Spoetzl passed away in 1950, his daughter Cecilie (known as “Miss Celie”) became the only woman to own a brewery in America. Her daughter Rose joined the firm in 1964.

The Spoetzl family control ended with the sale of the brewery in 1966. The “little brewery in Shiner” then changed hands several times. In 1989, Spoetzl Brewing Co. was purchased by the current owners, Carlos Alvarez and the Gambrinus Company, importers of Corona Beer and owners of craft brewer Bridgeport Brewing Co. in Portland, Oregon.

The brewery has been active in the local community throughout its history and sponsors chili cook-offs and other festivals. A state historic marker was placed at the brewery site in 1971, and the company later opened a museum and gift shop there.

Until the late 1970s and early 1980s, the bulk of their sales were confined to the San Antonio-Austin-Houston triangle. Gradually, the sales area grew to cover most of the state of Texas. Today, Shiner is distributed in over 40 states.

You'll find Shiner "deep in the heart of Texas". © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the 1970s and 1980s the brewery’s Shiner Beer and Shiner Bock had less than one percent of the Texas market. In 1983 Spoetzl produced 60,000 barrels of beer; in 1990 only 36,000. Sales improved after Carlos Alvarez of San Antonio acquired the brewery in 1989: Production grew to 100,000 barrels in 1994, and over the next ten years, production nearly tripled.

Upon arriving at the brewery we’ve given four wooden nickels.

The story of the little brewery in Shiner and the wooden nickels continues tomorrow…

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…
Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza.

—Dave Barry

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