Party Hardy

San Antonio holds a big street party to celebrate New Years Eve, which they claim is the largest in Texas, so we decided to go down and check it out. First we headed to the Alamo, were we listened to a story teller recalling the tale of the Alamo. Next was a stroll down the River Walk where we had dinner. As the sun set, the Christmas lights came on giving the River Walk a fairy tale appearance. I was thinking it was a lovely setting for a wedding when I noticed a bride and groom on the patio of one of the hotels — I guess other people thought so too. The River Walk was a very popular spot with one of the favorite activities being taking a ride on a tour boat to see the lights along the water. The street party was centered around the Hemisfair Park, with it main stage as well as 4 other smaller stages and an amusement park. Unfortunately, we had to head back to the trailer before midnight as the buses stopped running around 9:30pm (Sunday schedule). At midnight we watched the fireworks on TV and enjoyed some bubbly.

The H-E-B Christmas tree --- H-E-B is a large grocery chain

A monument depicting the defenders of the Alamo.

The birds love this statue.

The Mexican Embassy

The park by the Alamo

Even the carriages were decorated.

The H-E-B Christmas tree with a hotel in the background.

The Alamo Mission

The famous Texas jackalope.

Center stage of the street party.

I think every tour boat was on the river.



The Missions

December 29 to December 30

We left Tyler on the morning of the 29th and spent the day driving south to San Antonio. Saturday was spent touring the 4 missions just south of downtown. At one of the missions a group of 4 people stopped to admire Zaph — one of the fellows let Zaph finish his Doritos chips and one the women fawned over him. She pulled out her cell phone and showed me pictures of her two miniature Dachshunds — definitely a dog lover.

The church at Mission Espada

Whose that doggy in the window? One of the old buildings at Mission Estrada.

Old walls at Mission San Jose

The Rose Window at Mission San Jose. This window was being renovated when we stopped here in April.

Zaph checking out the round window in a stone wall --- Mission San Jose

Mission San Jose has a water powered wheat grinding mill. One of the volunteers was on hand to explain the process.

The church at Mission San Jose.

The church at Mission Concepcion

Zaph and I enjoying the warmth of the sun.

The bell towers at Mission Concepcion.



First Monday Trade Days

December 26 to December 28

The 26th and 27th were spent taking it easy, though I did spend a couple of hours with Casey (my nephew’s girlfriend) teaching her how to make my mom’s butter tarts from scratch. She made 36 tarts — all but nine were eaten that evening (the nine were put aside for Casey’s mother) so I think the tarts were a success. On the 28th Carol, Darryl, Sarah, Ed and I headed to “First Monday Trade Days” in Canton which is about an hour east of Tyler. Trade Days is like a huge flea market that is sort of open on the Thursday but is in full swing on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday before the first Monday of each month. As we were there on a Thursday I think about 50% of the vendors were open, but that was more than enough for us. We saw lots of interesting things, spent too much money and were exhausted when we left. It was a lot of fun watching Sarah checking out some of the unusual merchandise.

The first building and were ready to start shopping. Frances with Sarah, Carol and Darryl

Sarah trying out a "car" that moves when you twist the wheel --- the faster you twist the faster it goes.

Sarah checking out a wooden alligator head.

Exhausted and resting by the main entrance.

What some small people will do to avoid walking.



Merry Christmas

Christmas Day is an exciting time when seen through the eyes of a child. This year we spent the day at my sister’s, with the guests included her grandchildren Sarah (3 ½) and Omar (8 months). We had a great day and a wonderful turkey dinner.



It was the Night Before Christmas....

December 22 to December 24

It’s Christmas at the Denton’s this year .... should be fun as there will be two little ones to entertain us. Zaph the lucky dog got to open his presents today.

As we drove to Tyler we passed a statue of Sam Houston .

A close up view of Sam

Sarah and Omar (my great niece and nephew)

Do you think Tim has cookies? Andy and Zaph do.

New toys!!!

Mom, I don't think I'm suppose to wear my toys.



More Alligators

December 18 to December 21

We continued to stay at Brazos Bend State Park — if you are ever near Houston and like wildlife we highly recommend this park. One of the park rangers recommended a restaurant called Pier 36 in the town of Needville (closest town to the park) and as we needed to do some errands we stopped for lunch. Mmmm.... good suggestion, the shrimp were to die for and the prices was very reasonable.

These guys were out for a stroll --- Black bellied whistling ducks

What big eyes you have!!!

Ed was hunting birds with the big lens.

A view of the swamp, it was actually a little spooky especially on a dark day.

The trees were filled with noisy red winged blackbirds.

Santa was cruising through the park

He looks likes he's up to no good.

An egret

A great blue heron looking for supper.



Merry Christmas!!!

Enjoying a sunny day in Texas. OK, it's rainy and cool today but it was sunny and warm the day we took the picture.



An Observatory at a State Park?

December 15 to December 17

While perusing the Texas State Park book we found a park that not only offered camping facilities and is rated as one of the best birding locations in north east Texas but it also has an observatory and the public is invited to the observatory on Saturday evenings. We decided to move to the park on Friday. This was fortuitous as the park has a ranger led night walk on Friday evenings. The ranger who led the walk was very knowledgeable and had some great stories. The highlight of the evening for me wasn’t the raccoon, possum or deer that we spotted but the armadillo — it was the first live one we’ve seen. The armadillo is considered a pest to the locals as it will destroy gardens and lawns looking for bugs.

Saturday evening was mostly clear ... a requirement to see stars, so we headed over to the observatory. The evening consisted of an orientation talk by one of the members of the local star club and then a chance to look through a number of telescopes. Three of the telescopes are housed in their own domes .... a 14 inch (same model as Ed’s), an 18 inch, and a 1 metre — now that’s a big telescope. In the dome housing the large telescope the floor moved to raise you up to the eyepiece — no step ladder required! Each of the telescopes were aimed at different locations in the sky so we were able to see several galaxies. Ed, of course, was trying to figure out how to sneak one of the domes out for his telescope.

During the day we hiked on several of the parks trails enjoying the diversity of the park while we looked for birds. We saw a number of different birds, including herons, egrets, coots, moor hens and a vermillion flycatcher but had a hard time identifying them — I guess it’s time to get out the bird books.

The Brazos River.

Wildlife? --- a daddy long legs in a mushroom

Common moor hen --- the brown stuff is floating on the water.

What big eyes you have...

Alligators get the right of way when crossing the path. The ranger told us that the alligators aren't hungry in the winter and some zoos don't feed them from October to March.


Immature little blue heron

What big teeth you have --- it was a beautiful day so we saw lots of alligators

A couple of cormorants near sunset

A vermilion fly catcher

Vultures migrate to Texas. Over a hundred vultures were roosting in this tree.

The setting sun sets off the vultures wings.

An armadillo



Perfect Weather

December 12 to December 14

The weather has been awesome ... low 70's F and sunny. Perfect for walking on the beach and lying on a lounge reading. We did manage to drag ourselves away from the park one day and go into Galveston to check out some of the sites. One of the “tourist places” is The Strand. This is the original downtown area of Galveston that is in the process of being restored and is the home to many interesting shops. We decided to have lunch at one of the bay side restaurants and opted to sit on the patio. The birds are pretty forward here .... one hopped on the table and took what was left of Ed’s bun. Lucky for the bird, Ed wasn’t planning on finishing the bun.

I don't think this lounge is meant for two!

Ah...... the beach.

A mid air catch!

Here mousy mousy...

The harbor from the restaurant patio.

Ed's crawfish tail po-boy

An "eye-catching" sign

One of the buildings on "The Strand"

Anyone want to play the trumpet?

Looking down "The Strand"

A ship that is part of the Sea Museum



Off to the Beach

December 9 to December 11

After a quiet weekend we moved to Galveston Island State Park. It’s warming up (low 70s) so what better place to be than the beach.



..... Four, Three, Two, One.... Blastoff

The Space Center is one of Houston’s big tourist draws and it is definitely worth a visit. The complex is laid out like a university as it is one ---- the land is leased to the government from Rice University. Included in your ticket price is the NASA tram tour (a visit to the historic control center, the space vehicle mockup facility, and the Saturn V Complex at Rocket Park), the Starship Gallery (a film and artifacts including a piece of moon rock you can touch), Blast Off Theatre (a film of a blast off and a mission status center that let’s you get a look at mission control and other areas of NASA) and a couple of IMAX films. It was an interesting and informative way to spend the day. Unfortunately, the shuttle launch was delayed or we may have seen some footage of the astronauts in the shuttle.

The historic "Houston mission control center".

And you think it was cold at home... -320F.. These tanks are outside of one of the buildings where tests are conducted.

The space vehicle mockup facility --- mockups identical to the real international space station which are used for training and engineering problem solving.

A mockup of the shuttle

A mockup of the Canada Arm II--- the astronauts come here to learn how to use the Canada Arm. This one is the trainer for the type 2 arm installed on the international space station.

This is a real, ready to go, Saturn V rocket left over from the Apollo program.

A prototype of the lunar rover. They were used to move astronauts while exploring the lunar surface. The rover was left on the moon at the end of the mission.

the cockpit of one of the space shuttle trainers.



Kemah Boardwalk

All of the tourist literature mentions the Kemah Boardwalk so off we went. Essentially it is a boardwalk along a bay that has several restaurants, some gift shops, an aquarium and a small amusement park. Being a cool day in December it was pretty quiet.

Car 54 where are you?

The amusement park on the boardwalk.

I found a new friend.

The sky and trees was full of vultures at a park in Dickinson.




Today was spent helping the US economy ... Ed had a list of things he needed and I think we found most of them.



Yeah!!!! A Beach!

20 years ago today Ed and I were married. We decided to celebrate it by driving to Galveston and taking Zaph to the beach. Zaph had a great time running on the beach and splashing through the waves and we had a great time watching him. Ed was very happy to see a good variety of shore birds. Dinner was at a Mexican restaurant that offered $2.50 Margarita’s during happy hour .... mmmm good!

Life can't get much better than this!

A Great Blue Heron checking out the beach.




We arrived at our destination of Dickinson, Texas and settled into an RV park. Dickinson is half way between Houston and Galveston. This will be our home for the next week while we check out the area.

One of the bridges we drove over today.




A Sunday morning might not be the best time to visit Natchez as almost everything is closed but there is certainly lots of places to park the truck and trailer then. We followed the walking tour that was outlined in a brochure on Natchez and saw many beautiful old homes as well as a great view of the Mississippi River.

By lunch time we were back on the road driving through Louisiana heading for Texas.

The gazebo was built on the bluff overlooking the Mississippi River.

Ed and Zaph

Some of the old buildings down by the river.

Mark Twain stayed here.

The local casino is an old riverboat.

One of the old homes.

The flowers are still in bloom.

Another beautiful old home.

This mansion has been turned into a restaurant.



On the Road with New Tires

We hitched up and headed 2 blocks down the road and pull into a tire dealer where four new trailer tires were waiting for us. Ed decided that 4 new tires were in order as two of the remaining three tires had plugs in them and of course the fourth one was fuzzy.

Leaving Memphis we headed south through Mississippi, stopping at the Welcome Centre on the way in. After chatting with the information ladies we decided to change our course slightly and catch the first 80 miles of the Natchez Trace Parkway ending up in the city of Natchez. The Natchez Trace was and old Indian trading route, dating back long before European settlement of the area. The trail from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee which has since been turned into a scenic byway. It’s a lovely drive if you’re not in a hurry as the speed limit is 50.

Getting the tires changed.



The King of Rock and Roll

Looks like leaving Ontario early was a good idea --- Memphis was south of storm that hit the mid west, we only got a bit of rain on Thursday evening.

You can’t go to Memphis without going to see Graceland so that’s what we did today. Graceland wasn’t as tacky as I expected. The mansion was left in the 70's style — shag carpet on the ceiling and some walls! Being here in December has the advantage of Christmas lights as both the mansion and the museums were decorated. The Jennings Osborne family provided thousands of Christmas lights for the outdoor displays. If you want to know the history of the lights go to www.jenningsosbornefamily.com

The sign says it all.

The mansion.

The formal living room.

These are just some of Eliv's gold records.

A few of the motorcycles Elvis had owned.

Elvis bought this Cadillac and had it painted purple.

The Jennings Osborne Christmas lights

Yes, I'm wearing a parka, hat and mitts. The front gates to the mansion.

The hotel has theme rooms based on Elvis's songs.

The plane Elvis used to fly to concerts.

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