We left San Antonio and drove to Del Rio today. We saw a lot of birds and a few, small curious things - then found Alamo Village. Wow!
We had a good time visiting my sister and her family and as always, it was hard to leave the good company. But we also have a trip to finish so said our 'good-by's' and prepared to head off. We had parked across a small drainage ditch that ran alongside the road and when I backed out, I turned at too sharp an angle and buried the wheel's on Mom's walker into the side of the ditch (Ouch!). The dirt wasn't too hard, so most of the walker was OK, but one wheel was jammed. I was too annoyed (with myself) to try to fix it there, so decided to try to fix it when we got to the next campground.
San Antonio is a very large, modern city, with a maze of streets and freeways laid out in a very confusing mess (to the non locals of course). Not wanting to be hopelessly lost forever, I went ahead and fired up the GPS software long enough to get us out of town. Earlier we had decided to take Hwy 90 west instead of I-10, the main route. Our next planned stop is Big Bend National Park and we figured (& had heard) that Hwy 90 was a more scenic route.
Before we left, my sister advised us to stop at the Alsatian bakery in Castroville. This wasn't hard to find, as the building is one of the first we came across as we came into Castroville, it has a really big sign, and is quite distinctive. Mom selected an eclair and I got an apple turnover, then we also got some bread for our general pantry - all in all quite reasonable and a very tasty stop.
The next town down the road is Hondo. We didn't spend much time there, but it looks like an older frontier town with some revitalization. We did at least find a Post Office and were able to send home the usual travel brochures, books, gift shop purchases, post cards, etc..
Continuing west on Hwy 90, we passed a lot of pivot irrigation systems and plowed farmland. This surprised me some, as I expected Texas to have mostly ranches, not as much farmland as we saw during this stretch at least. We did see some ranch land, and since I've learned that my sister is particularly fond of seeing the Texas landscape with windmills - thought I'd throw in this shot for her.
We also saw a lot of hawks along the stretch of Hwy 90 west of Hondo. I tried researching this one, and thought I had it nailed, then noticed the tail and beak were different. If I can figure this out (as well as the other birds I photographed, but can't identify), I'll edit this again later. (Or, if you know and want to post a comment, please do!)
Shortly before we got to the next major town (population 15k), we pulled over into one of the Texas highway picnic areas. Back home, and in most other states, we have Rest Area's. The Texas picnic area's don't have restrooms, maybe that's the difference, I'm not sure (also Texas seems to like to do things there own way, so maybe they just don't want to call them 'rest area's?) Anyway, these were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the 1930's as part of FDR's "New Deal". It seems we're seeing a lot of good stuff that came out of the CCC and the WPA (Works Progress Administration, also part of the "New Deal"). Hmm.
We again got lucky with this stop (makes me wonder what we miss at all those places we don't stop?) As we drove in, I thought I saw a Roadrunner (couldn't photograph it and just caught a glimpse - so it's just a maybe). However, as we were resting for a minute, we saw a brilliant crimson bird (or at least part of the bird was crimson). It was fairly small and high up in a tree, but we couldn't help but admire the beautiful color. I grabbed the camera and took a couple of shots, but of course he flew away - but just to another tree. More shots. After several minutes of admiring this fellow (and several pictures), we reluctantly hit the road again. Later, we learned that this is a Vermilion Flycatcher, not uncommon in these parts, but still striking. The first photo shows the color patterns better, but the second shows the color better - beside's, he's worth posting two shots!
We also saw this lovely little grey bird, but I'll have to figure out what it is later (can't stay up past midnight all the time). Of course, if you'd care to enlighten us through a comment, please do!
Not wanting to totally mislead you that this is just a birdwatching trip, we drove on in to Uvalde, home of Matthew McConaughey, Dale Evans and Los Palominos, among others. We found out it has a Garner Museum, which is closed on Monday (today). However, the Visitors Center recommended we visit this place instead:
Not too impressive? Looks like a bank? Well, it is a bank - the First State Bank of Uvalde to be exact, founded in 1907. The outside may look like any other bank, but the inside has been decorated to be "Uvlalde's Living Room", using red leather chairs, marble topped tables, antique cabinets, bronze western pieces and numerous paintings. Janey Brisco, the wife of former Governor Dolph Briscoe Jr. decorated the bank with a goal of making it feel like a family home - like walking into a comfortable South Texas living room. Over 5,000 people a year come to the bank just to see the collection, including some tour buses. (I didn't take pictures inside unfortunately, but you can see pictures if you follow the link above or at www.fsbuvalde.com).
After we left Uvalde, we saw a few more irrigated farm fields, then mostly ranch land. Del Rio, where we were headed for today (Big Bend NP being some 500 miles from SA - so more then a one day drive), is roughly where West Texas begins. East Texas is the wetter region, with forests, hills and farms. West Texas is dryer, more suitable for open spaces or ranching. So the further west we travelled, the fewer trees and farms and the more scenes like this. (Actually, we're beginning to see a lot of Prickly Pear Cactus, as well as other desert plants.)
Another place the Uvalde Visitor's Center recommended was something called "Alamo Village" in Brackettsville, about 40 miles farther west on Hwy 90. I wasn't so sure it was worth the bother, but decided to give it a try. Actually, we found out it was 7 miles out from Brackettsville on a less than high quality road (then another mile or so on a gravel road (e.g. washboard) once you get to ranch). But it was worth the trip, every bump of it.
Alamo Village was built for John Wayne's 1960 film called The Alamo. Since it was built to reflect the compound as it looked in 1836 - in many ways it's a better experience then the real thing in downtown San Antonio. It's out on the Shahan Ranch, so it's located in a very rural area. There were two locations built for the movie - a village and the Alamo.
The village was used to represent San Antonio in 1836, but John Wayne's art director for the movie, Al Ybarra, designed a set that looked more like a western frontier town. The look is effective however. The plans just called for a movie set, false fronts and only a second wall for most buildings. However James "Happy" Shahan, the ranch owner agreed to help finance the construction if he could make the buildings complete (exterior with four walls, roofs, etc) and then own the set when the movie was done. Therefore, this doesn't look like a movie set, but a frontier town.
When we first arrived, the town Marshall's found out Mom couldn't tour the village because I had broken her walker. These hardy souls came to her rescue promptly and straightened the bolt so the wheel would work again. Mom is back in business.
Notice Mom's attire? It was in the 80's today, I actually had to run the A/C!
The village consists of about 29 different buildings. Some were used for prop's or costumes during the movie shoot, others for scenes in the movie (or in subsequent movies or TV shows filmed at this location). So the interiors of the buildings vary quite a bit. The exteriors are all excellant however.
Here are some thumbnails of individual buildings in the village. You can click on them if you want to see the large version and more description. (Did I mention they put me in Jail for messing up Mom's walker?)
The Old San Fernando Church was also constructed for the village, but I somehow failed to take a decent shot of the front of it - only the back. This was used in the movie when the hero's appropriated some dynamite that had been stored in the basement for Santa Anna (the real church didn't have a basement however). Mom loved the Church basement also - it was just in another room in the church - an old Hollywood trick.
The village is also home to many antique tools, wagons and buggies as well as various movie props that were left behind or donated to the ranch. The hotel is actually unfinished inside and houses many of the antique buggy & wagon collection, including this covered wagon. The cart was located on Back Street.
The Trading Post is used as a gift shop and is the central area for the village. The staff feed a cat (or cats) out back, which creates an attraction for a small flock of Cardinals. (OK, this isn't a birding trip, but Cardinals are pretty, besides these were in Alamo Village.)
While I was out back playing footsie with the Cardinals, Mom went inside to ransack the gift shop (buy a hat and some postcards actually). Inside she also met the nicest lady - who turned out to be Virginia Shahan, the ranch owner! (She's actually interested in selling Alamo Village, a steal if you have $3M).
So, with new pink hat in hand, we decided we'd better wrap up at the Village and actually visit the Alamo. This consists of a compound (the original was four acres, the movie set is slightly smaller) - the entire compound was walled in. The Church, which most people associate with the Alamo is only one small piece of the compound. John Wayne wanted this to be as accurate as possible and required that many sections be built out of adobe bricks. However, he also blew up several sections of the compound in the final, dramatic battle scenes of the movie, so some reconstruction is visible (or later deterioration, I'm not sure).
Also at the time of the 1836 battle, the Church was already in ruins, not nicely restored as it is today. So for the movie set - the replica was built as it looked in 1836 - in ruins. The movie set contains a few, minor, innacuracies - but still is a much more realistic experience than sitting in modern, downtown San Antonio and trying to visualize how things unfolded in 1836. More thumbnails (just too many good things to take pictures of)...
This is just the part of the compound that was the Church ruins.
One picture might help tie the two pieces together. I took this from the cannon platfrom at the back of the Church ruins in the Alamo (compound). It is looking at the village a few hundred yards away. (Imagine the field filled with hundreds of Mexican soldiers.)
OK - now this has inspired me to go check out the 1960 movie, I know it's kind of one sided and not 100% accurate - but I'm curious how many the movie set buildings I can recognize.
By now it was getting later and I still wanted to get to Del Rio tonight. So we headed back to Brackettsville and back onto Hwy 90 heading west. Somehow we managed to drive right past all the nice RV parks in Del Rio and stayed at a little one tucked in between two highways - a little noisy I'm afraid. At least we could dump our tanks, plug in and get some sleep (and it wasn't very expensive).
Westward Ho again tomorrow!
Miles Driven - 196, Cumulative - 14,897
Camped at Chevron Station RV Camp, west of Del Rio
Gas - $27.50 for 9.292g @ 124,636 miles, $27.37 for 9.507g @ 124,777 miles
Food - Cereal, Yogurt at ShopSmart in Brackettville, Texas