Bill and Kit’s 2020 Excellent Adventure, Journal #2

The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page
Saint Augustine

Friday, December 13, 2019-San Marcos, Texas: Woke to a beautiful Texas morning at Canyon Trails RV Park located in the town of San Marcos.

And why did we choose this particular campground? Well, it’s because of these fine Maine Snowbirds who winter over here.

Rey and Darlene live full time in their luxury fifth wheel camper. They also travel with a cute little guy by the name of Kobi…

… who unfortunately had to undergo doggie dental surgery and wasn’t his old self.

Kit and I spent the day visiting and taking care of maintenance items on our rig. Then at the appropriate blue hair dinner hour of 1630 we gathered with another Canyon Trails couple at the 54th Street watering house.

Rey, Darlene, Larry, Debra, Kit and I enjoyed ice cold Barley Pops and delicious Tavern Fare.

This local brewhouse had an incredible selection of draft offerings…

…of which I chose the Velvet Yeti from Great Divide Brewing Company.

Thick, rich and frothy…the perfect American Stout! In fact, it was so good, I enjoyed a second, what the heck, I’m not driving!

Back at the ranch, Texas Talk for the campground, we gathered in Rey and Darlene’s camper for a few nightcaps and more enjoyable socializing.

While walking back to our trailer in the gathering dusk, I noticed some timid deer that had left the protective cover of the woods…

… to graze in an adjacent field as the sun dipped below the western horizon…

…illuminating the rear of our camper in golden Alpenglow…

…which was followed by the full moon rising in the east…

…signaling that it was time to retire. Goodnight!

 

Saturday, December 14, 2019: Up, said our goodbyes to Rey and Darlene, and hit the road at 0850 hours under sunny skies and a temperature of 66 degrees.

Traveling south on I-35 Kit mentioned she would like to visit the world-famous Buc-ee’s. So, with my needing fuel, and Kit desiring some Retail Therapy, we pulled off the highway and made our way to the Texas sized service station.

With 120 fueling stations in two rows, it’s the largest gas station in the world.

Only a native Texan would think to build such a massive facility. The fuel prices are quite a bit lower than anywhere else…case in point, diesel was $2.55 a gallon where the current nationwide average is $3.32 a gallon. Filling my 36-gallon tank nets a savings of $27.72! Open 24 hours, the fuel flows day and night to the point where Buc-ee’s has a fleet of gasoline/diesel tankers that deliver fuel nonstop!

The associated convenience store is…yep, you guessed it, the largest convenience store in the world at 68,000 square feet

The above photo was taken inside the main entrance and only shows the right half the retail space! The store features 31 cash registers, a food court with 80 soft drink dispensers, and the “facilities” boasts 83 gleaming toilets!

Picking up various sundries, which seemed a bit odd to me as it was only Saturday, Kit and I continued our trek south on I-35. Nearing San Antonio, we merged onto I-10 and headed west meandering through the picturesque Texas Hill Country.

This area of Southcentral Texas is known as the demarcation line between the American Southeast and the American Southwest. As such it contains elements of both geographic regions and hosts Yucca, Prickly Pear Cactus, Juniper Evergreens, and majestic Live Oak’s. The region is noted for lush rolling hills, meandering streams, and a heavy influence of German culture. Kit and I have explored this area extensively over the years and hope to spend more time in this interesting section of the US, possibly on our return trip East in the spring of 2020.

During our days travel, I-10 continues to cleave through the Texas Hill country…

… on its way to the flatter, and more arid West Texas.

Kit and I enjoyed a pleasant and uneventful transit across the Texas plains with stops for fuel, rest and to stretch our legs a bit. After 345 miles, we pulled into another one of our preferred campgrounds, Fort Stockton RV Park, and set up for the evening.

We were pleased that the late afternoon temperature was a pleasant 82 degrees…the warmest it’s been all trip!

This campground is unique amongst RV parks in that it’s one of the few we’ve seen that features a nice little café on the premises…

…where southern fare is the specialty, such as their incredible chicken fried steak!

Drinks and desert, in the form of ice cream cups, are included for $7.95…hard to justify cooking in the camper after a long day of travel at those prices!

 

Sunday, December 15, 2019: Departed Fort Stockton at 0822 under sunny skies and a temperature of 62 degrees. Back on I-10 and continuing westerly we traveled the longest, and most boring segment of Texas. An area of little traffic and seemingly endless “pointy roads”.

You may notice the white dot in the upper part of the above photo. Yep, it’s the moon, still reflecting the early morning sunlight!

Long, flat, featureless highways seem to be more prone to vehicle mishaps…

…such as befell this hapless trucker.

As we neared the west end of Texas, the terrain begins to exhibit a bit more character…

…well by West Texas standards anyway.

Over the years, Kit and I have noticed less long-haul commercial truck traffic on the East-West Interstates, as opposed to those that traverse North and South.

It appears that east-west commerce is transported via railroad more often than hauled by trucks.

About an hour east of the New Mexico border a weather alert came across the trucks onboard computer indicating high winds. Pulling into a rest area we discovered that the winds were from the west and sustained at 18 MPH with gusts to 25 MPH. My personal threshold for driving this high-profile vehicle is 20 MPH, however with a headwind I determined it was reasonably safe to continue on, but at a reduced speed…which helped offset the wind effect on handling and fuel economy.

Not wanting to tempt fate and nearing our daily travel time/distance limit anyway, Kit called the campground at Fort Bliss Army Base. This military RV park has a first come, first served policy and she discovered there were only three campsites available. So, soldiering on (no pun intended) we battled (no pun intended) our way through increasingly heavy winds toward that objective.

Pulling off I-10 and onto I-375, which loops around the city of El Paso, we headed north and fifteen minutes later exited toward the Fort Bliss RV Park where we happily discovered that there was an available camp spot for us…

…so, we checked in at 1130 hours, and set up for a three-night stay.

Spent the rest of the day doing laundry, fixing a few items on the camper, and relaxing before enjoying a nice meal. Then it was off to bed…goodnight.

 

Monday, December 16 through Wednesday, December 18, 2019-Fort Bliss, El Paso, Texas: This RV Park is another of our favorites. Primarily because it’s an inexpensive, clean, modern and a full featured RV Park. Since we are making pretty good progress toward our Christmas destination Kit and I decided to layover for a few days. That will allow time for us to fill the larder, attend to some domestic chores, see some of the sights, and take a breather from our daily travel routine.

On one of the days, we spent shopping at the commissary and Post Exchange.

A retail establishment that rivals any mall in the US! In addition to the huge Post Exchange, there are many smaller stores clustered about a large food court…

… that contains dozens of fast food offerings, as well as full featured restaurants.

At 4,900 square miles, Fort Bliss, in conjunction with White Sands Missile Range, is the US Army’s largest installation. It is home to the 1st Armored Division with a troop count in excess of 33,500 soldiers. The primary mission of Fort Bliss is to train soldiers in the use of Army weapons such as this M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank doing its thing in the hills north of El Paso.

Ironically, the 1st Armored Division was nicknamed “Old Ironsides” by its first commanding general after the Navy’s USS Constitution, a wooden-hulled, three-masted frigate who earned the mantle “Old Ironsides” during the War of 1812, due to her ability to withstand relentless cannon fire.

On base, there is a museum I took in while Kit enjoyed other pastimes that didn’t feature loud noisy machines.

The Fort Bliss and Old Ironsides Museum includes US Army weapons from various world wars, police actions, armed conflicts, skirmishes, peacekeeping scuffles, and other armed fracases…

…such as this 105mm Howitzer from WWII…and the M2A1 Halftrack that hauled it…

… which frankly would make a pretty nifty RV, especially with the .50 Caliber machine Gun sprouting from its roof to dissuade discourteous drivers from cutting you off in traffic! Over 13,500 M2 Halftracks were manufactured by the White Truck Company, they all sported 386CID truck engines that developed 148HP which produced speeds up to 50 MPH over rough terrain.

Also, of WWII vintage, was a M5 Light Battle Tank manufactured by the Cadillac Motorcar Corporation.

During the second world war, most automobile companies retooled to support and build equipment for the war effort. The M5 features two Cadillac V8 engines that propel the 33,907-pound tank to a speed of 36 MPH.

There was also a captured German Troop Carrier from WWII on display.

Which featured heavy armor around the troop compartment…but there was no roof!?!?

Seems like an engineering oversight that would put the troops in jeopardy from aerial assault.

Outside the museum, there were other US Army weapons on display…

…such as this M-60 Patton Main Battle Tank used during the Vietnam conflict…

…manufactured by the Chrysler Corporation.  Sporting a 105mm main gun, the M-60 is powered by a 750HP Turbo Diesel engine which propels the 100,000-pound tank to a top speed of 30 MPH.

Even though I’m partial to US Navy museums, I found this offering to be a very interesting collection of military history and hardware!

On another day, we took a ride around El Paso to do some shopping and stumbled upon a community Rose Garden.

Being winter, it wasn’t open…however being the Southwest, there were many rose bushes still in bloom!

Before returning to the camper, we happened upon a chain Mexican food place we had never heard of. And since it was past lunch, and since it appeared to be popular, we stopped in for a bite.

While Kit and I stood in line pondering our order, a very nice Hispanic woman realized we were Taco Tote novices and offered suggestions. Which turned out to be spot on!

The food was excellent, by chain restaurant standards, and the salsa, pepper, and chip bar were fresh and very well stocked!

On the final day in town, Kit and I visited the US Border Patrol Museum, a bit north of town.

Established in 1979 this national museum is dedicated to the men and women patrolling our nations boundaries…some of whom gave their lives in pursuit of their duties. The Border Patrol, currently an agency of The Department of Homeland Security, was established in 1904 and originally called Mounted Watchmen.

At 19,437 agents, the US Border Patrol is the largest law enforcement agency in the nation. Their original charter in the late 1800’s was to restrict the flow of illegal immigration from Chinese nationals, who were crossing our southern border in defiance of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

Agents not only patrol the borders, but also man checkpoints along southern highways…

…a practice that continues today. If you’ve traveled through the American Southwest within 100 miles of the Mexican border, you have been subjected to personal questioning and occasionally searching of your automobile.

The Border Patrol Museum features the many and varied vehicles used by agents in their line of duty.

I was surprised to learn that border surveillance by air has long been utilized to watch for illegal activity.

This helicopter was used to patrol the border south of El Paso in the 1940’s.

Another asset used by the Border Patrol is a bit unusual…a 1985 Pontiac Firebird 350 “Pursuit Vehicle”.

This high-performance muscle car was designed to chase automobiles that were engaged in illicit activity. However, the pursuit vehicle was not very practical, so this sole example was eventually relegated to public relations activities by being taken to schools and car shows as a recruiting tool.

Other automobiles in the Border Patrol inventory are items confiscated from drug traffickers who, in order to launder their ill-gotten gains, purchased exotic sports cars or classic vehicles such as this 1930 Ford Model A Rumble Seat Coupe.

Most confiscated automobiles are sold at public auctions with the proceeds going back into the Border Patrol budget…however this fully restored Model A found a home in the museum.

Today, the US Border has a modern and capable mobile arsenal to use…

… in patrolling the land and water boundaries of the United States against illegal activity. In addition to the above, the Border Patrol uses off road vehicles, video surveillance, tethered blimps, thermal and motion sensing devices, agents on horseback, drones, and good old-fashioned foot patrol to guard our borders. And, today their mission remains to combat drug trafficking and capture any person entering the United States illegally.

On the other side of the law, drug and human traffickers use novel and usually homemade contraptions to illegally enter the US.

Yep, motorized hang-gliders, powered scooters, makeshift boats, and low slung and highly muffled go-cart’s…

…with side baskets for prone humans or bundles of drugs.

Or, during illegal human entry, some aliens try and use fake cow hooves made of wood attached to huarache sandals.

Which the illegal migrants would use to mooooove along, but doesn’t fool the border patrol agents one bit.

The majority of agents are minorities, and many of those are of Hispanic origin, some of whom immigrated to the US legally and worked toward their US citizenship before becoming agents.

Many miles of border contain no fencing, and some with little vehicle deterrent, so the agents of the Border Patrol serve a valuable function in helping minimize drugs or illegal aliens from entering our country.

As an historical side note, in the early 1960’s, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, took advantage of the proximity and experience of Border Patrol agents by deputizing them to enforce school integration in the deep south.

A great museum dedicated to the men and women of the US Border Patrol…don’t miss it if your travels find you in the El Paso, Texas area!

Well, its been a nice stopover, but tomorrow we must continue west, so as the sunsets behind our camper…

…we bid all a goodnight.

Kit’s Bit’s: Fortunately, our trip has gone very smoothly, so far. Other than Houston traffic, we’ve been able to get through or around all of the larger cities easily. There weren’t any problems in Houston, just a LOT of traffic during the middle of the day. Our visit with Rey & Darlene and Larry & Debra was fun. Hope to see them in Maine this summer. We enjoyed our short stay at Fort Bliss. It has always been a good stop to take a couple days of rest. Heading west in the morning!

6 thoughts on “Bill and Kit’s 2020 Excellent Adventure, Journal #2

  1. As always a good (bedtime today) read Bill. Vicky and I hope 2020 brings you great traveling, adventure and memories. We’ll get the gang together for an old-timers reunion trip for sure this summer!

  2. I’ve had some old maps from the 19th century, showing Juarez as El Paso, and El Paso as Franklin. I think that when Mexico renamed El Paso to become Juarez, Franklin became El Paso. Seems that the two cities are in one family.

    I became quite friendly with a Mexican lawyer in Juarez in the 1980’s and had occasion to visit on business a few times. A few years ago, during the height of gang violence in Juarez, I phoned my friend to see how he was getting on, and found that he had relocated to New York City for the duration. Yet, El Paso has been one of America’s safest cities. Odd.

    Happy New Year to you both, and looking forward to the return of the Tuckers and the robins in the Spring.

    Dan

  3. Good afternoon from snowy Maine! 01/04/2020
    This has been a most enjoyable and informative journal, it seems that you are constantly providing us with new places of interest.
    Buc-ee’s is a prime example with 120 fueling stations and very low diesel prices. You didn’t happen to say what regular gasoline prices were? The lowest regular gasoline is at Cooks Corner Cumberland $2.45.9. The museum at Ft Bliss is also pretty impressive as was the border patrol segment!
    Not sure what make your camera is, but the pics are flawless, especially the sunsets.
    Will look forward to the next adventure!
    Wishing you a continued break down free and safe journey.

    Chet and Jeanne
    Windy home from the hospital today!

  4. Happy New Year friends! We were in North Texas last week and had a great time at the Buc-ees there! Hugs and safe travels to you!

    Debbie & Sam

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