Saturday, December 28, 2013

Trip Report: Santa Fe and Texas

The lady and I had some rare unplanned coinciding time off, and she has more frequent flier miles than she knows what to do with. We determined that a) Pennsylvania and Miami were too far for our mini-trip desires and b) we had been everywhere else multiple times. Except Santa Fe, Corpus Christi Texas, and San Antonio. So that's where we went.

Santa Fe was the best, even if it was 18 F the night we got there. That's okay. We warmed up with plenty of New Mexico food, in particular Maria's, one of my favorite restaurants on this planet. But more fun than that was hiking and ruins in Bandelier National Monument near Los Alamos, which was of course excellent. These are from Tsankawi:

This deer is so relaxed because she's in this canyon in the modern day, and not a hundred or thousand years ago when she would have been dinner. I also included the sound of the frozen river; the canyon bottom oddly reminded me of winter in Pennsylvania, this sound in particular.

Below are pictures from the main attraction in Bandelier, Frijoles Canyon. The folks that lived in this area showed up later than the dwelling around Mesa Verde and Chaco, showing a gradual migration toward the east. They had a lot of the same trade goods showing links with southern Mexico (copper bells, live parrots). A lot of the structures are obviously easily defended, which has a way of making you think about the Na-Dene speakers who were showing up in these parts at the time these were built. When the Spanish arrived these particular ones were still occupied. Some other ones are still occupied today, like Acoma Pueblo, west of Albuquerque.

Looking back down into the canyon you can see the outline of the old pueblo. Along the walls you can see holes bored for the wood beams that supported the roof.

We also made it up to Taos and saw the beginning of a Christmas service (where Joseph and Mary go door to door). Although this particular church was historically significant, contrary to my expectations most of the people at the service appeared Anglo, despite Taos being surrounded by pueblos.

Then we made our way to Corpus Christi. On the flight from Houston to Corpus, a gentleman from there emphasized that there was nothing to do in Corpus, and then asked us, "When it's time for a vacation, what do you do, throw darts at a map?" We couldn't really answer "no". And not to pick on Corpus too much, but it's a really good city for people with severe fear-of-missing-out syndrome, because you know if you found the one thing to do that day, you're not missing out on anything else around there. It has that nice Gulf scent and it feels like Virginia Beach or Jacksonville or any other southern beach city - spread out and slow, with every business seemingly along one main strip. I had a nice flat fast run from the hotel out along the Gulf to Texas A&M Corpus Christi, which has a nice campus on a little island connected to the mainland. After 20 hours doing what there was to do there, we were completely comfortable leaving. Driving on the beach at Padre Island was the main highlight (see below). Oysters and shrimp weren't bad either (including at the Chinese buffet where we ate Christmas Day). But as a local bartender put it Christmas Eve, "When it's cold, there's nothing to do here but drink." Seems like that's about what there is to do when it's warm too, except then you do it at the beach.

From there we went up to the town of Hondo (yes, they still have this sign) because it was on the way to Hill Country State Natural Area. Christmas night in Hondo is about as quiet as a place is possible to be.

Hill Country Natural Area was the highlight of the Texas part of the trip. I know everything in Texas is supposed to be bigger, but the hills...well they were still fun. First picture below is from Troop 814, the rest are mine.

The beat up rock characteristic of a mostly-dead fault (the Balcones) and of worn-down hundreds of millions of years-old mountain ranges were much in evidence on these trails. I'm always interested in transition zones, and the Hill Country strikes me as a three-way transition between gulf, prairie and desert, and made me think of another transition zone, a mountain island in the northern prairies - the Black Hills far to the north. Two plants in particular dominate the Natural Area: Ashe juniper on the north side of ridges, and yuccas on the south. Of note, relative to SoCal, the yuccas are bigger, grow in greater profusion, crowd the trail more, and (this is key) have much more serrated leaves, and as a result this is the most blood I lost on any run ever, which was kind of neat. I ended up running most of the hills that the Bandera Ultra covers, which is coming up in a few weeks. Ice Cream Hill and the Big Nasty were my personal faves.

Another interesting thing about the Hill Country, little-known outside Texas, is that it received heavy German immigration. Being of German descent this was of special interest to me - as well as to my girlfriend, who is Chinese and has previously expressed her viciously racist theory of hiking and trail running, i.e. that Germans instinctively seek out hilly forested areas. (Very insensitive.) But the Germans who settled the Texas Hill Country were politically progressive, educated businesspeople leaving behind the foment mid-19th century Europe, rather than the hick religious weirdo farmers that moved to Pennsylvania a century earlier and who gave rise to your loyal blogger. This German influence resulted in two things that impacted our trip. First, many of the German immigrants remained loyal to the Union when the Civil War began, and some of them were killed by Confederate troops when trying to escape to Mexico. Consequently the only pro-Union Civil War monument in Texas is the Treue Der Union monument ("Loyalty to the Union"), put up immediately after the war by the families of the fallen men. (I take great pleasure in viewing any monument to the Confederacy's failure, especially one so in their face as this, extremely so because it was erected by my German cousins.)

The other effect of the heavy German immigration is that there are cool towns in the Hill Country, chiefly among them Fredericksburg, where (most importantly) you can find some killer German food. We had some excellent kraut and sausages there. But there has been some evolutionary divergence between PA and Texas Germans: their red cabbage tasted a little different, and on the matter of shoo-fly pie the waitress was wholly ignorant. The pecan pie made up for this deficiency.

After that we got into San Antonio. Not surprisingly, we ate Tex-Mex and barbecue, and went on the River Walk. We also saw the Alamo, but if you don't know what that is or looks like, may I recommend a Google search! I will say that, contrary to many tourists' experience, it wasn't smaller than I expected. Strangely the city doesn't go out of its way to discuss the Council House Fight, which by any measure is also a significant chapter in San Antonio's history.

No comments: