Declare a Library Winner & Say Adios to San Antonio

Carrie & iola are in love with libraries.  Carrie has declared the San Antonio Central Library as the coolest library she’s ever been to, and we’ve been to libraries all around the world.  (The coolest bookstore in the world that she’s seen, however, belongs to El Ateneo Grand Splendid in Buenos Aires, Argentina.)

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Even the elevators were unique.

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The icing on the cake was a sculpture by my favorite sculptor Fernando Botero.

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Goodbye, San Antonio.  You are a great time.  We’ll be back!

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Get Spooked in Austin

Austin is almost nothing like we expected it to be.  That’s not bad or good, but a good lesson that having expectations is a fruitless endeavor because reality is rarely like what we’ve come up with in our heads.

Leo Babauta of zenhabits.com says:

What’s a life without expectations like? It means you accept reality as it is, and people as they are, without expectations, without trying to force people into the containers you have for them, seeing things as they are.

We tried putting the city of Austin into one of these containers based on what we had heard about it.  Shame on us!  As one example, we both imagined the whole area being really flat.  Not true.  There are hills all around that make you feel like you’re in California.  We also both imagined Austin being a quaint city with large pedestrian areas, not much traffic, and a hippie vibe (based on the tie dye “Keep Austin Weird” t-shirts I used to see in airport gift stores).  Are there components of these things?  Sure.  However, the reality is Austin is like most modern, sprawling cities.  Lots of new construction, lots of traffic, lots of suburban housewives in $70,000 SUV’s, and mostly chain restaurants & stores that you find all over the country.  Of the thousands of people I saw in Austin, I noticed just four that were visibly hippie.  That’s a pretty small percentage, but that’s not to say there weren’t many more inwardly hippie folks that snuck below my “let’s stereotype some hippies” radar.  I saw very little of this supposed Austin weirdness either, but maybe we avoided the weird section by accident.  In all fairness, we were there a couple of days so despite our best efforts we only saw a fraction of the city.

Austin is a very nice city with lots going on, but I’m vowing to show up next time without so many ideas in my head of how the city should be and let it be beautiful for what it is.

The Texas capitol building was gorgeous.  We took a Halloween “Rest in Peace” tour of the capitol where we were told about all the people who have died in or around the building.  That lasted until iola decided it was nap time about halfway through the tour.

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I’m starting to sense a star theme around Texas.

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Hoards of people stand on and below the Congress Ave. bridge to view the huge number of Mexican free-tail bats that leave their home under the bridge at sunset for a night on the town, each and every night, before they migrate to Mexico.  The internet never lies, and it says there are 1,500,000 bats living under that bridge.  Insane, but very cool to watch, and the timing right before Halloween couldn’t have been better.

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I’m too lazy to carry around a tripod, so don’t expect good nighttime bat pictures out of this guy.  Click the picture to make it bigger and you’ll at least get the idea.

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Last, but most important, any place on earth feels more comfortable when you know someone there.  Our friends were nice enough to lend us their home and iola was more excited playing with her new friend, albeit seven years her elder, than she has been in a long time.

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-Ryan

Swim in (Not Hot) Springs and Ponder What Gold Bond Is For

Between Llano & Austin, Texas, lies Krause Natural Springs & Camping.  Of course when we heard “springs” our minds thought of “hot springs” and we didn’t put much thought into the advertised year-round constant temperature of 68 degrees.  We quickly realized they weren’t hot springs, or even warm springs.  Carrie and I each took quick dips, and we’ll admit it was refreshing, but not a place you want to just hang out in unless it’s really hot outside.  The big plus: the setting was absolutely gorgeous.  Just ignore the No Smoking signs nailed to trees…sad that isn’t just a given in a place like this.

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We were awakened at 5:00 am for a pretty funny reason…dozens and dozens of vehicles rolled into the place for none other than the production of a series of Gold Bond advertisements.  They had huge trucks with snow making machines for a scene with snowball fights.  We inadvertently wandered through a scene they were filming from above of a girl running on the rock formations.  We named her Sporty Spice, and we thought she was just practicing until we heard the guy’s radio say “Action!” as we walked by and she took off running.  Oops.

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Sing “Oh Abilene, why can’t you be true?” Even Though Those Aren’t the Lyrics

On our way from Caprock Canyons southeast of Amarillo down to Austin, we stopped and spent two nights in Abilene.

Texas is huge, feels like a separate country, which it was at one point.  They compensate for the vast amount of space with ridiculous speed limits.  Roads that in the upper mid-west would have a 55 mph speed limit have a 70 or 75 mph speed limit in Texas.  We’re talking two lane highways with hardly any shoulder & lots of curves. 70 mph.  Add a couple lanes, but still not much shoulder and no median separating opposite-going traffic, 75 mph.  Another item that stands out about Texas is the huge amount of gigantic pickup trucks.  It seems about 90% of the traffic consists of big trucks.  The moral of the story: if we have a collision in our 1998 Toyota Camry we can pretty well guess the outcome!  On a bright note, gas is very cheap, less than $2.00/gallon in most places.  I’d like to say that’s why they don’t mind driving gas-guzzling trucks all the time, but I’m pretty sure that has nothing to do with the gas prices.

We initially treated Abilene as simply a place to stop & relax for a couple days, not a city we’d be excited about.  Turns out though, Abiline is a cool place!  It’s big enough to have a fun downtown area and lots of other stuff without being so big that we hit lots of traffic.

It’s been proclaimed “Storybook Capital of Texas”, which meant they had lots of cool sculptures of children’s book characters all over downtown.  Appropriately enough, we started our day downtown at the library’s story time.

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Characters from storybooks around town, even on top of buildings.

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Downtown Paramount Theater, amazingly preserved.

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Great bakery for desserts.

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Overall a fun place to visit.  Thanks for the great time, Abilene!

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Sing “The Stars at Night Are Big and Bright” while Deep in the Heart of Texas

Carrie found us the coolest place we’ve camped so far: Caprock Canyons State Park, southeast of Amarillo.  It was so full for the weekend that we had to camp in the overflow area, which meant we got a large area to ourselves.  That was perfectly fine by us, so we stayed two nights.  The second night brought a 40 degree chill, but we stayed warm.  The bison and great hikes made us glad we headed west.  Most importantly, it didn’t rain.

The bison were nice enough to pose with our car.

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One last thing: Don’t Mess With Texas

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-Ryan

Avoid Hurricane Patricia

Before getting out of Oklahoma City, the downpour had already started.  We spent the night in a hotel in Madill, Oklahoma.  As much as we love our tent, we’ll pass on setting it up and staying in it during a thunderstorm.

The plan was to drive to Dallas and then south to Laredo via Austin & San Antonio, but Hurricane Patricia, which was bringing even more moisture to our route, made that plan a lot less exciting.  It hit me all of a sudden: Why are we driving further into the rain if we have the option not to do that?  I’m so used to doing time-limited vacations where randomly choosing new routes and destinations isn’t an option that I forget I’m no longer limited by what the plan originally was.  The plan can be whatever we want it to be in that moment.  So with the help of our meteorology savvy friend Steve, in a matter of about 20 minutes we abandoned the idea of heading to Dallas and instead chose to drive west along the border of Oklahoma & Texas and into the “smokestack” of Texas, well away from the bad weather.

Two main things we noticed on our trip west through OK & TX:

  1. The people in these parts are really friendly.  For example, they see us wandering and drive around the block just to ask us if we need help and despite our “no, thanks” response, proceed to give us ideas of what to see in the area.
  2. I’ve never seen so many abandoned houses and businesses as I have here, even in other (very poor) countries.  It’s desolate looking in one sense yet very interesting in another.

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We stopped for food truck Mexican tamales & tacos that made us even more excited for Mexico, iola devoured raspberries, tamed frogs, and we made more time for interesting potty breaks.

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-Ryan

Visit the Sad Part of Oklahoma City

We stopped by Oklahoma City before the downpour started that still hasn’t stopped.  Oklahoma City was the first place I flew to as an airline pilot in 2007, and I flew there dozens of times after that, but I never made it closer to downtown than the hotels out by the airport.

Today we visited the memorial for the 1995 Oklahoma City federal building bombing that killed 168 people.

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While at the memorial, a line from Forrest Gump kept repeating in my head: “Momma said that the Forrest part was to remind me that sometimes we all do things that, well, just don’t make no sense.”

Trying to make sense of a nonsensical act isn’t possible.  We have no control over it.  What we do have control over is living life in a way that excites us each & every day and choosing to love those around us.

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-Ryan