As I said in the last post, I’m switching up the schedule this week because it is something special. We’ve promised each of the Boogers (grandkids) a trip with us when they turn 13. A week devoted to fun and things they are interested in. Our oldest, Booger Butt, actually just turned 14, but the Covid craziness backed the plan up a bit. It is finally almost here, though, and I’m not sure which of us is more excited. But first, we have to get to Houston.
On Thursday, March 31, we headed out of Huntsville on TX-30 over to College Station for a pretty cool stop. Last year as we were circling around in Texas waiting for our nephew’s graduation ceremony, we passed through that town and saw the exit for the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library & Museum. Cool! I quickly popped up the site, only to find that they were still closed for Covid, but were opening the next week. Bummer! Looking at the map for this leg, we realized that College Station was not too far away. Timing was perfect, and we didn’t have far to travel for the day, so to the Bush Library we went. On the campus of Texas A & M, the museum is pretty cool. As this was my first Presidential Library, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. It was very well done and laid out in a chronological order of his life. In addition to indoor exhibits, the grounds include a park-like area with fishing pond, a hall for speakers and programs, apartments for said speakers, the Bush School of Government and Public Service (apparently a big deal and hard to get accepted to), and the burial sites of President and Mrs. Bush (the grave of a daughter who died as a toddler was moved there, also). Overlooking the plaza is the Bush apartment where Barbara would come out on the balcony and wave at the visitors. (Reminds me of the apartment that Walt Disney had at Disneyland.) We saw several groups headed to the fishing pond with rods, so it gets a lot of local traffic.
SIDE NOTE: I had a close encounter with President Bush during my D.C. days. My ex and I were in town at one of the local television stations where he was delivering some expendables. The entrance was across an alley from the side entrance to one of the old, historic hotels. I was leaning against the car, waiting for him to be done, when a train of dark vehicles pulled up to the curb right across from me. A couple of men got out and went in. I was reading something…book, magazine, newspaper….and wasn’t paying much attention when they came out a few minutes later. I looked up, though, when one was suddenly on my side of the street approaching fast. WTH??!! I got out of my leaning posture, preparing to run, when he said “don’t move” in a tone that conveyed “no kidding…I will stop you”. That’s when I noticed the little cord running up out of his jacket to his ear. He asked what I was doing there and a few other questions. Then, seeing that I wasn’t an imminent threat, he said I could stay if I stood right with him. Of course, I did! By then I was so curious about what the heck was going on! More men in black appeared on the street, and after a few minutes, President Bush comes walking out of the hotel. He looked across the street at us, nodded, then quickly got into the waiting car. I was the only person on the street that was not a part of his detail and felt a little bit like I had witnessed some secret ritual. Just after the cars disappeared around the corner, my ex came back. I said, you just missed the President. He didn’t believe me, though.
SIDE NOTE…AGAIN: My only other Presidential encounter was actually with Barbara Bush and was pretty amazing. When I first moved to Washington, one of the higher-ups received tickets to a party at the Jamaican Embassy. He wasn’t able to go, and the tickets got passed down the chain until they ended up on my desk. Who wouldn’t want to go to a party at an embassy??? I honestly can’t remember whether I had two tickets and took my ex, or whether one of my co-workers had the other ticket, but I went. It was a very upscale do, with fancy dresses and waiters in tuxedos walking around with trays of rum drinks (of course). About an hour after we arrived, there was a big fuss on the opposite side of the room. The crowd parted, and TA DA…there was Barbara Bush! I was floored, thinking “I’m at the same party as the First Lady”! I had no expectation of actually meeting her, but watched as she made her way around the room. It was so impressive…the room was packed, and she talked to EVERYONE. And not just “hello”. When she got to me, she asked about my job, where I lived, and about my kids. She listened and made you feel she was genuinely interested. I was amazed and will forever view her as a great, elegant, and generous lady. George was a lucky man!
It’s impossible to share all that I learned about our 41st President! Suffice to say that, when he was in office, I had no idea of just how well-qualified he was for the job. Just a few things: 1) As a young buck of 20, he was off fighting in WWII as a Navy pilot flying an Avenger off of the carrier USS San Jacinto. He went down not once, but twice. The first time, the crew of three were plucked out of the South Pacific pretty quickly. The second time, there was a fire and they had to bail out. George made it to the raft, but there was no sign of his crew members. He drifted for 3 hours, being pursued by enemy ships, until finally being picked up by a U.S. sub. The loss of his friends would stay with him forever. 2) He and Barbara met in their teens. The three planes he flew in WWII were called the Barbara, Barbara II, and Barbara III. As they danced at their wedding he whispered “Enjoy it. It’s the last time I’ll ever dance in public.” Little did he know. 3) The son of a banker and politician, George wanted to walk his own path. After the Navy, he enrolled at Yale where he played baseball and was very good…he played in the first two College World Series tournaments. 4) After graduating, he and Barbara struck out on their own to Texas and the oil fields. George worked for other companies to learn the business, then formed Bush-Overbey Oil Development. Later that merged with another group and became Zapata Petroleum. 5) Their second child, Robin, died at three years old. Barbara sunk into depression, but son George W. Bush worked hard to make her smile and help bring her out of it. 6) By 1963, politics had come calling. He first served as Harris County Republican Party Chairman, then U.S. Congressman where he served on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee (1966), U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. (1970), Chairman of the Republican National Committee (1972), and Chief of the U. S. Liaison Office in China (1974). 7) He was a Nixon supporter and held to the belief that he was not involved in the Watergate break-in or cover-up. When the tape was released and it was apparent, he wrote a personal letter to the President asking him to resign. Later he was quoted as saying ” I will take Ford’s decency over Nixon’s toughness because we need at this juncture in our history a certain sense of morality and a certain sense of dignity.” 8) He served as Director of Central Intelligence under President Ford in 1976. 9) He was always a letter writer…to his wife, his kids, his friends. 10) When the Perfect Storm of 1991 damaged his beloved Kennebunkport family home, then President Bush donned waterproof pants and boots and dug in to help salvage and clean up.
There is a lot we all know about the Vice Presidential and Presidential years, but the main thing I got out of this experience was that he was always humble and kind, and tried to do what was best for his family and his country. When President Reagan was shot and having emergency surgery, Vice President Bush was flown back from Texas where he was to deliver a speech. Upon arrival at Andrews AFB, he was urged by the Secret Service for security reasons to helicopter to the South Lawn of the White House. Bush refused, because “only the President lands on the South Lawn.” The morning after the shooting during the briefing, our Vice President took his normal seat in the Cabinet Room, showing the world that our government was running smoothly and President Reagan was still in charge. I doubt most of the men of either party who have been Vice President would have done that. They’d have wanted to put their butts into the big chair. President Reagan and Vice President Bush had lunch together every week for their entire time in office, and President Bush continued that tradition with his Vice President, Dan Quayle. The time was used to discuss opinions and ideas regarding the country and political, moral, and philosophical issues, as well as casual conversations about their lives and families. And of course, there were jokes. George described his relationship with President Reagan as a “warm personal friendship.”
Back on the road, we headed southeast on TX-6, then took a little deviation over to Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site, a second little tour for the day. In 1835 Santa Anna had seized control of the Mexican government as dictator and was making sure everyone knew he was large and in charge. To the north, the good folks of Tejas had had enough. They decided they needed to be an independent country, and in December, took San Antonio by force. A provisional government called for delegates and a convention was planned. The little town of Washington only had 200 residents, one street, and very little commerce. What they did have, though, was a building large enough to house 59 delegates and the support people who needed to be there. AND…they let them use it for free. At great risk to themselves, their property, and their lives, the delegates declared independence in this place on March 1, 1836, while 150 miles to the south, Santa Anna had the Alamo under siege and was planning the final (and we know now, disastrous) assault. In 1842 after the war was won, Sam Houston moved the Capitol of Texas from Austin to Washington, and the little town flourished. It was short-lived, though, as the Capitol was moved back to Austin three years later. The one other claim to fame for the area…the last President of Texas, built his home in the area, and retired there after Texas became the 28th state in the United States. The park includes a museum, gift shop, the replica of Independence Hall, and the Barrington Plantation, which is a living history experience.
It was finally time to finish the drive, so we went over to Navasota, then south on TX-6 again to Hempstead, where we side-stepped to US-290 and skirted the west and south sides of Houston through Richmond, Sugar Land, and Manvel to Hitchcock and the Texas RV Park. We were pretty exhausted when we arrived, so we set up and vegged. Only 2 days left!
The first thing to say about Friday is that it was the birthday of our favorite April fool…MW’s (Mr. Wonderful’s) brother Mark Jones. He is so much my brother, too, that if MW decided to leave me, I would get custody of Mark and Jennifer in the divorce. Not kidding! It was also our day for chores before the arrival of the Booger. It started with some bookkeeping while I did the laundry, then a trip up the road to League City to do a little shopping. Later we headed over to niece Taylor’s place where I cooked a Reuben casserole and Taylor added broccoli…pretty darned good. (Jennifer, MW says thank you for the recipe! It was a winner.) After a bit of visiting, we headed back to Petunia. Only 1 day left!!
Finally the big day arrived…and I was exhausted. I couldn’t get to sleep for a while the night before, and when I finally did doze off, someone’s car alarm went off…REPEATEDLY…FOR AN HOUR OR SO. Of course, once I get mad, it’s hard to go back to sleep. Ugh! I got a text later in the day that someone had jumped the fence and rummaged through several cars on the property overnight, but that was at 4:14 AM, so we didn’t know what actually caused the alarms. We had to head to the airport to pick up Booger Butt. (Since he is actually 14 now, I should probably call him Brennan.) He was our first Booger, and the first baby I had fallen in love with in a long time when he came along. Now he is taller than me, and loved even more. We met at Taylor’s house and rode together to the field. When I booked the unaccompanied minor ticket, I was told that we could all three go to the gate to meet him. Not so, apparently, so MW and Taylor had to wait in baggage claim for us to get back. When they finally started deplaning, I tried to kidnap another boy. Well, at least that’s probably what his parents thought! The kid was coming off the plane, and wearing a face mask, he looked A LOT like Bren. No kidding! I had snapped several pics as he walked towards me, so excited. I did think it was odd that there was a regular passenger walking beside him and not a flight attendant. After all, he was supposed to be escorted for his first flight. That clue, however, just flew right over my head in my excitement. I walked up to him as he approached, touched him on the shoulder, and said “well, hello”, in a tone that mean’t “Dude, it’s me!” The kid just looked at me like I had lost my mind. “It’s Yaya!” Nothing. Then the woman, who had walked a few steps away came back and said “No.” Huh?! About that time a man walked up and also said “No.” THAT’s when it actually dawned on me…this is not my kid. I immediately said, “OMGosh! I am so sorry!! He looks just like my grandson!!!” They said nothing, but if glares could kill, I would have been bleeding out on the carpet by the time Brennan walked off of the plane. There was another guy behind me waiting for someone, though, and when Brennan finally did appear, he said “They do really look alike with the masks on.” At least I wasn’t totally crazy!
The first order of business after meeting up with MW and Taylor was lunch. The boy had been up since 4 AM eastern, and was starved. We headed over to Pinkerton’s Barbecue to initiate him with a little Texas brisket. It was the BOMB, as was the bacon mac-n-cheese, and TayTay’s smoked turkey.
Sated, we had more than 2 hours to wait for our afternoon activity. We went to the H-E-B where we wandered around a bit and bought some groceries. After that we looked for the high point photos spot for Houston to get the skyline, but what used to be an area to take pics is now all bulldozed up and being built into something else. We decided to head over to our next stop, despite being almost 2 hours early, and see if we could go in. Luck was on our side…yay!
I have ZERO pictures of The Infinite. It is a virtual reality (VR) experience that is totally done with a headset on. I’ll do my best to take you into it, though, because honestly, it was the coolest attraction I have EVER seen! After checking in, you go into a darkened room with lights on the floor and around the edges of doorways. There you receive a little briefing and a VR headset. After suiting up, you step across a threshold into the VR arena. IT. WAS. AWESOME! You are immediately standing in the International Space Station (ISS). Well, at least a somewhat translucent version. You can see your hands as you move them in your field of view…they appear to be made of stars, and leave a little trail of stars as you sweep them through the air. The four of us were electronically linked and showed up to each other as gold. Other visitors were blue, and staff was green. You are free to wander around the space station, and can walk through walls into space, turn around, and look back at it. It is moving, just as it would be if you were actually up there. If you stand still, the solar array floats past or through you. There are what look similar to floating beach balls in various areas. Running your hand through the orb puts you into a live-action video that is full color and three dimensional. One was astronauts trying to figure out a false fire alarm. No kidding, you are standing there in the middle of the group and it feels totally like you could reach out and help with the problem. The videos are taken on the space station with actual astronauts. In one, a guy was talking about how spending time on the ISS changed the way he thinks about everything else in life. He is looking right into your eyes and talking to you. Seriously, it feels so personal that I got a little teary-eyed! There were dozens of the orbs, and you couldn’t possibly see all of the videos in the 35 minutes allotted. Honestly, I would just schedule back to back sessions so that I could watch every darned one of them! Coolest of all, though, is a video of two of the astronauts going back into the station through a hatch after working on the outside. That bit of film was taken by none other than Taylor Jones!!! How awesome is that??!! The Infinite will be a traveling thing, heading to Seattle, then a couple of stops in Canada. If you have a chance and have any interest in space or just VR technology, check it out. You will NOT be disappointed. Oooooo….I just realized we are going to be in Seattle in a couple of months!!!! I wonder….
After that bit of spectacular coolness, we headed back over to Taylor’s place to hang out for a little bit. Brennan got to meet Taylor’s “children”, Abby and Mac. MW was happy that they had someone else to focus their attention on. Normally they are all over him. They seem to really love the guys. Before long, we headed back to Petunia, stopping at the H-E-B to pick up sushi for dinner. We were all wiped out!
Sunday began with a drive down to Galveston and breakfast at Mi Abuelitas, a recommendation from brother Mark. It was GOOD! While Brennan stuck with bacon and eggs, MW and I tried the Barbacoa (a little like shredded roast beef) that came with eggs, potatoes, and beans. It was very tender, but surprisingly bland for a Mexican dish. Eaten with the beans, it was very good, though. A good breakfast was necessary for the big day we had planned. First, we drove along the beach and around Galveston to give Brennan the lay of the land, then headed over to Galveston Helicopters to catch our ride. We had a little trouble getting there, because roads were blocked for a triathlon, but finally figured it out. Our pilot, Pierre (and he had a lovely accent to go with that name), gave us a nice 25-minute tour of Galveston island. That’s two new flying adventures for Brennan on this trip! He sat up front and had a terrific view. Although a little nervous to start, he settled right in once we were off the ground.
Next up we headed over to meet Taylor, then she and I headed to the shops on The Strand while the boys went to check out the USS Cavalla submarine and the USS Roberts destroyer escort ship. Taylor and MW took that tour last time we visited while I was getting over a stomach malady. So Brennan got some guy time with Papa. He thought that was cool. Plus, Papa is really the one to have along on that tour. We all met up again at the Pleasure Pier, where Brennan and I rode a few rides. He talked me into the one that goes in a vertical circle…neither of us really liked that one. I bribed him with a funnel cake for the rollercoaster, which was awesome! He tried to talk me out of it in the line, then at the front they had “technical difficulties”, which he said was a sign from God that we weren’t supposed to ride it. When we finally did get on, it was GREAT! Before we even made it to the end, Brennan was saying “we’re going again!”
By the time we left the pier, we were all exhausted and hungry. We headed back towards League City and stopped at Russo’s. We’ve been there before, and this time was just as delicious. After a nice supper, we said our goodbyes for the night to Taylor and headed back to Petunia.
One thing I haven’t mentioned is the heat. As is typical, the minute we got to Houston, someone cranked up the thermostat. Thankfully, the wind out on the pier was great, but 90 degrees in April is just a bit ridiculous!!
Texas RV Park has become our go-to for stays in Houston. Although it does have long-term residents, it is kept very neat. The sites are all full-hookup with plenty of room for vehicle parking, but there are no tables or fire rings. The bathhouse is absolutely spotless, as are the bathrooms up front in the laundry that is attached to the back side of the office. They also have the best RV park laundry I’ve ever seen with 6 washers and 6 dryers that the owner, Sam, is compulsive about keeping clean. Oh and you are in town, so cell service is not an issue. I definitely recommend this place for a Houston visit. For this stay in April 2022, we paid $202.00 for 4 nights.
Monday we were up and out. It was our day to move, so we had to get Petunia all hitched up before heading over to the big attraction…NASA’s Space Center Houston. Of course, we took along our own personal Rocket Scientist TayTay! We planned on 4 hours there, and that wasn’t enough. There’s just too much to see! Not long after we arrived, we were looking at the International Space Station exhibit, and Taylor was explaining what some things were and new things that had been added or moved. A woman behind me touched me on the shoulder and said “I don’t know who she is, but she seems to know a LOT!” I told her she was our niece and worked at Mission Control. Without another word to me, she turned to her husband and said “We need to stick with them!” LOL I have to admit, tours are better with your own expert. They became disinterested a few minutes later when we went into the space movie exhibit and headed off in another direction, which worked for us. There is a huge exhibit building and trams that take you around the compound to see various things. It was a gloomy, rainy day, but for the most part it held off for us to see everything.
One of Brennan’s favorite parts was the Saturn V. Laying on its side, you get a terrific view. It’s just SO BIG!
The coolest thing for me was the exhibit of Mission Control from 1969 when we landed on the moon. Of course, Brennan thought it was neat when Taylor pointed out the door where she goes to work. Back in the day, they put everything from that control room in storage…even cigarette butts, ash trays, trash cans, etc. A few years back, they decided to reset the room exactly as it was at the moment we stepped onto the moon’s surface, including the papers, ash trays, etc. The video explains the setup and then replays the landing with the displays showing as they did at the time. Wow…pretty amazing! In our computerized world, it is still totally fascinating to think that we made it to the moon using calculators, slide rules, and an absolute commitment to make it happen. Those astronauts were a rare breed. Gus Grissom, who died when Apollo 1 burned up on the pad, once said, “If we die, we want people to accept it. We are in a risky business, and we hope that if anything happens to us, it will not delay the program. The conquest of space is worth the risk of life.”
MW’s favorite part…EVERYTHING!
The Space Vehicle Mockup Facility is pretty darned cool, too. Astronauts use these modules for various training exercises. Alas, this visit had us up on the catwalk doing the no-touchy thing as opposed to our pre-Covid, back door visit with Taylor in 2018 when we were down on the floor climbing around in the mockups. Not nearly as fun! Sadly, Covid seems to have slammed the back door, and it may not open back up. 🙁
When we finished taking it all in, it was time to say goodbye to Taylor. She is so fun to be around that it is always sad to leave! We headed over to Brazos Bend State Park, stopping at Whataburger (of course!), on the way. When we arrived at our site, there was a motorhome parked in it. I headed to the door, but a neighbor walking by said they were out walking the dogs. I could see a woman through the front window, but he was pretty insistent that they weren’t there. I told him I could SEE her, and he said “oh” and walked over to our truck. Don’t know what his deal was, but told MW that the people must be “newbies,” because they backed right into the tree at the rear of the site. I knocked on the door, and they were both there. The guy was a little perturbed and said he was sure he had confirmation for the site. I went to get my paperwork and before I made it to the truck, he came out and started packing it up. We drove down the street and waited for a little bit, then circled back around. Turned out he was off by 10 on the site number. I was sorry for asking him to move, but the office was closed and our stay was for several days. Finally set up, we vegged with a movie before hitting the bed.
Tuesday’s outing was the Lone Star Flight Museum at Ellington field. We’ve been to that one before, and I had a LOT of writing to catch up on, so it became a guys outing. Brennan said he learned a LOT about various airplanes (that’s kind of MW’s thing) and had some good Papa conversation, too. He was impressed that Papa could tell him what military jet flew over by the sound of the engine! LOL (I can only do that with a C-5.) After lunch at Chick-fil-A, they made it back before 3 PM, and I headed over to Alvin to do some laundry and make a Walgreen’s run.
Wednesday our Texas tour switched from space, airplanes, and technology to history. It was another grey day, but hopefully, the cloud cover would keep the temps from soaring. Brennan’s original request was to see NASA and the Alamo. We are starting the trip to the latter by first checking out the site of the final battle for Texas independence from Mexico…San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site. On our drive over today, Brennan also got his first ferry ride on the Lynchburg Ferry. It has been in operation since 1822, and was one of the retreat methods taken out by Houston’s men to ensure the Mexicans were trapped. The museum at the battlefield has a really terrific movie about what led to the declaration and how the war progressed, ending in a horrific rout of Santa Anna’s forces on this hallowed ground. After weeks of retreating and waiting for the right moment, so much so that many of his men thought he was a coward, Sam Houston fought. With forces numbering somewhere around 900, he surprised the resting Mexican army of around 1300 men. Santa Anna failed to correctly gauge the Texian’s fervor after the fall of the Alamo and mass murder at Goliad. In his arrogance, he didn’t even post guards, and Houston’s troops were already in their camp before they could blink. In just under 20 minutes, about 600 Mexicans were dead and 700 were captured. The Texians lost TWO men on the field, and SEVEN died later. Houston, who led the cavalry charge, was shot in the ankle and his horse killed, but that didn’t keep him from greeting Santa Anna the next day when he was found cowering in the reeds, dressed in private’s clothes. Houston resisted what, after the Mexican leader’s previous atrocities, had to have been a powerful urge to shoot him on the spot. Instead, he had Santa Anna write dispatches to his approaching troops to return to Mexico and held him captive briefly. I have to admit that, given the same circumstances, I think I would have sent off the dispatches, then had a public hanging for war crimes. As it turned out, Santa Anna later served again as President of Mexico. How does that happen with a man who, in May of 1835, declared himself ruler of the country and abolished the constitution??!! He was in charge when Mexico attacked the United States after Texas joined our union, too.
We were both surprised to see the USS Texas, a WWI battleship, still moored at the park. We read an article months ago that said it was being taken somewhere for repairs and restoration. It wasn’t open to tour, but it is an impressive sight.
After wandering around the battlefield, we headed back towards camp, stopping for some supplies along the way. In Missouri City, we stopped at Casa Vaqueros for early supper…YUM! I love the charro beans you get in the southwest!
Brazos Bend State Park is really nice. Although only 45 miles from downtown Houston, it feels very rural. The nearest small town is Alvin, which is just 10-12 miles down the road. The park has more to do than most, with the George Observatory (only open on Saturdays) and the Brazos Bend Nature Center (open every day) on site. Visitors can also enjoy hiking and biking on miles of trails and fishing in three of the seven lakes in the park. Other amenities include a park store/gift shop, amphitheater, wildlife viewing areas, picnic pavilions, picnic areas, and a laundry. Overnight stay options are screened sleeping shelters (electricity, water, ceiling fan, picnic table, grill, fire ring), a cabin, a group camping area, and the campground. The latter is divided into three sections, two electric and water and one primitive, walk-in with water nearby. Electric and water sites are wide and paved, 40 with 50-amp, while 33 have 30-amp. All sites have picnic tables, fire rings, and grills. Cell service was fine for both Verizon and AT&T. Our site, number 234, was the best we saw in the park. Oh, and there are supposedly alligators around. We would definitely stay again. For this visit in April 2022, we paid $62.50 for three nights. (Our annual park pass eliminates entry fees and gives us a huge break on camping. It cost us $70, and we recoup that in about 3 or 4 nights with the discounts.)
The park also had an abundance of wildlife, but we never saw the elusive alligator.
Thursday it was time to go further west and check out a bit more history. We caught TX-36 south down to West Columbia, where we turned SW on TX-35. As soon as you clear the Houston suburbs, all you see is flat farm and ranch land for miles. Passing through Bay City and La Ward, at Port Lavaca hit US-57. We took the bypass around Victoria, then took US-59 to our first stop for the day, the Fannin Battleground State Historic Site.
In terms of Texas history, we were seeing our tour sites out of order. This battleground would be number four after Gonzalez and the siege at the Alamo (which was concurrent with the site MW and I toured last week at Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site). After Santa Anna wiped out the defenders of the Alamo, General Houston ordered Colonel James Fannin to Goliad to destroy the Presidio La Bahia, where his 400 soldiers (mostly volunteers from the United States) had been fortifying the defenses, and retreat to Victoria. While Fannin followed orders, his first mistake was being a little too slow getting out. On March 19, he ended up just two hours ahead of Mexican General Jose Urrea’s forces. In an open prairie near Coleto Creek, Fannin’s contingent was forced to make their stand when General Urrea’s large contingent caught up and surrounded them. By nightfall, the Texians had lost seven men and had 28 wounded, including Fannin, who had been shot THREE times. His second mistake was not traveling with enough water. Until the next day, the Texians fought bitterly, but Fannin realized there was no way out short of fleeing through enemy lines and leaving behind his wounded. Believing they would be treated as prisoners of war, he surrendered to Urrea, and they were taken back to the Presidio La Bahia. In the years since the battle, the small town of Fannin grew up nearby. In 1894, local resident Sol Parks placed a Gin Horse Power Screw Plate at the central spot of the battle to make sure we didn’t forget. Since then, a small park has been created there with an obelisk at the site where Fannin surrendered, picnic tables, and a group pavilion. There is also a small interpretive exhibit that shows the locations of the almost 500 artifacts found at the site and gives more information on the history.
The choice of Fannin as a leader shows just how desperate the Texians were. A West Point dropout who had relocated from Georgia to Texas in 1834, James Walker Fannin made his living through slave trading. The next year he volunteered as a scout for the Texian forces alongside James Bowie. By 1836, he was a Colonel commanding the troops at Presidio La Bahia. His mistakes at Goliad were not his only missteps. Lt. Colonel William Travis reached out to Fannin for assistance as his garrison was held siege at the Alamo in February. Fannin attempted a relief march, but abandoned it due to morale issues and poor logistics. What????!!! Would the Alamo have fallen if he had gotten control his troops and the situation? Who knows. What is known is that Fannin’s entire time of service was marred by missteps. It was also filled with personal bravery, though. (Below drawing from plaque at site.)
We took the quick trip west to Goliad where we picked up, as Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story. After the march back to the Presidio, Fannin and his men received food and medical treatment under the command of José Nicolás de la Portilla. According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of massacre is “the act or an instance of killing a number of usually helpless or unresisting human beings under circumstances of atrocity or cruelty”. What happened in Goliad was exactly that. On Palm Sunday, following orders directly from Santa Anna, Fannin’s soldiers were marched out in three separate groups and summarily shot. Only 28 men managed to escape the chaos, either feigning death or jumping in the river. One, a volunteer named Herman Ehrenberg from Germany, wrote an account in his diary of being chased by a “corps from hell” until he reached the river and swam to freedom. Of the remaining soldiers with few exceptions, those unable to walk were shot in the Presidio including Fannin, who was the last. His final moments must have been torturous, knowing, and in some cases seeing, the fate of his men. The bodies of the dead Texians were then burned in the field where they were shot and left unburied. (Their bones were later gathered and given a military burial by the Texians.) The Mexican soldiers, including Portilla, were mortified at what they were ordered to do. The only soldiers kept alive purposefully by the Mexicans were Doctors Barnard, Field, Shackelford, and Spohn. An additional 25 men were saved by a Mexican woman now called the “Angel of Goliad“. She plead for their lives, snuck some men out, and hid others…remarkable as she was the wife of a Mexican Army Captain! Little did Santa Anna know, his vicious orders would actually lose him the war. The murder of the soldiers of the Alamo and Goliad would strengthen the resolve of every remaining Texian, giving them an unrivaled thirst for vengeance. At the final battle at San Jacinto, cries of “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!” spurred the soldiers on. Today the events are marked by the Annual Goliad Massacre and Living History Program every March. In a field of wildflowers, there is a monument over the burial site listing the names of those who died.
The Presidio, formally named the Presidio Nuestra Señora de Loreto de la Bahia, is open for tours and filled with great information. It was built in 1749 to protect the Spanish missions, and over time has also served Mexico, the Republic of Texas, and the United States. The entire compound, including the “Lady of Loreto” chapel, has been restored to its appearance in 1836 at the time of the massacre.
Finished with our touring for the moment, it was time for lunch. We found Rudy’s on the Run in Goliad, which had a huge variety of pretty darned good food. Next we headed north on US-183 to where it all began. MW and I have been to Gonzales, Texas, before, but were only passing through. That time we checked out the memorial park (see info here). This time we headed over to the Gonzales Memorial Museum.
This small Texas town, in addition to being very beautiful, is famous for a couple of things. The first had its beginnings in 1831, when Green DeWitt wrote to the top political official of Bexar requesting armament to defend the colony. A couple of months later, a small, bronze cannon was delivered. Four years after that, as Texians were murmuring about independence, Mexico decided that they wanted their cannon back and sent a message to Gonzales to return it. The response was simply “Come and take it.” Mexican forces were soon dispatched, but the Texians were having none of it. They even had a special flag! (Sadly, the original was lost.) The defense started with eighteen men, dubbed “The Old Eighteen”, who delayed the advancing Mexican forces for 2 days. This allowed time to amass a force of volunteers that sent them packing. That little cannon, and it really is small, ended up firing the first shots of the War for Texas Independence. And no, the Mexicans did NOT get the cannon. It now resides in the museum at Gonzales. Most of these same volunteers drilled at Gonzales after the victory, then marched on San Antonio where they blockaded the city for two months, then took it away from Mexico. I did not remember that there were actually two battles in San Antonio. Did you?
The second bit of fame happened in February of 1836. As Santa Anna’s forces approached the Alamo, William Travis sent out messengers to Goliad and Gonzales requesting assistance. The 150 men at the Alamo were no match for the 1,000+ headed their way, and ammunition and supplies were running low. By the next day, February 25, the Alamo was under siege. We already talked about Fannin’s failed attempt at assistance, but Gonzales stepped up to the plate. Upon receipt of that letter, Magistrate Andrew Ponton had Commander George Kimble mobilize the Texian Militia Gonzales Ranging Company to prepare. They waited for Fannin to march West. Three days later, after receipt of a second missive and no appearance by Fannin, the detachment of 32 men marched for the Alamo. At 3 AM on March 1, they slipped through Santa Anna’s lines and made it into the fort. The “Immortal 32“, ranging in age from 16 to 41, knew the odds and did it anyway. They were the only relief force to arrive before the final assault, although there were eight Texian civilians who answered the call, too. They all perished in the early morning hours of March 6, when Santa Anna’s soldiers carried out the order to take no prisoners.
In addition to the cannon, the museum at Gonzales features other artifacts and information about the area. There is also a note about an oak tree that is about 10 miles east of Gonzales under which Sam Houston strategized. It’s still alive!! Too cool!
It had been a long day and was definitely time to get ourselves parked. We made our way northeast on Alt US-90, bypassing Seguin, then took TX-46. Somewhere along the way we stopped into H-E-B for a few groceries, then scooted north to Cranes Mill Park at Canyon Lake. We all three were exhausted!
Friday we headed into San Antonio. When we planned this trip, we didn’t know that this was Fiesta weekend. We did find out earlier, though, so planned appropriately and arrived early. (The crazy coincidence is that, when we were in San Antonio last fall with the Florida Jones Crew, it was Fiesta weekend. No kidding! That time it had been pushed back to the Fall for Covid. Go figure!) The huge parade route made getting around a little cumbersome, but it wasn’t too bad. We started our day at Brennan’s second requested site…the Alamo. MW and I have been before, but the exhibits seemed to be expanded since that trip many years back. We opted to take the audio tour, which I really liked.
In the history timeline, the Alamo came after Gonzales and the Battle of San Antonio. While Mexican forces were attacking here, the delegates at Washington-on-the-Brazos were signing the Texas Declaration of Independence. The entire siege was 13 days long, but the results echo through generations of Texans. Without the brutality of the Alamo and Goliad that followed, would the Texas resolve to win have overcome? They were vastly outnumbered and fighting a superior force. Without their win, Texas and much of the western part of the United States would still be Mexican territory. How weird would that be? So the Alamo touches us all. Santa Anna only allowed two Anglos to escape the carnage. Almeron Dickenson (also from Gonzales) and her small child were hidden in the Chapel with other noncombatants. Santa Anna sent her to tell Sam Houston of his deeds and spread the word that defiance was deadly. We’ve all heard and read stories and seen movies and TV shows about the Alamo and those who were there. While a lot of that is fictionalized, it creates an interest in the site and the people who fought there. Today you will see native Texas plants on beautifully landscaped grounds and koi in the representation of the original irrigation ditch. But if you take time to learn the stories of those who fought and died on this hallowed ground, you might just hear their whispers. It is a great place for any history buff, or really anyone who loves Texas, to visit. Just don’t be surprised to find it right downtown and not as big as you think. (Really, it was always right at the edge of town. The movies just made us think differently.)
Finished with the history tour, we needed to get over to the river. The parade was in full swing, so we just weren’t sure what to do. One of the Park Rangers at the Alamo said we could cut across at the corners when there was a gap in the parade. We headed down to the corner and muscled our way through spectators who thought that nice little gap was left there for them. Finally across, we descended to the Riverwalk and made our way to the Go Rio canal boat launch. We boarded a tour boat and spent the next 45 minutes or so cruising around the canals. MW and I took this ride years ago, and I was a bit disappointed in the information on this one. Back then, the guide explained the reasons and engineering for confining the San Antonio river through downtown. As I recall, it was a bit of an engineering marvel in its time. This time he pointed out a few old buildings, but was mostly just yammering. It was a beautiful ride, nonetheless, and Brennan seemed to like it. Plus, I had a nice conversation with a dude from El Paso who told me about walking across the border to Mexico, paying off the police if you get into trouble, and where to eat in his town. All good information for when I go through there some day. Oh, and just after we got on the boat, Brennan realized he had left his cap back on a bench we sat on down the walk. The guy said he had time to go get it, so he ran back. It was there! I thought for sure he would be coming back pouting. He loves that Texas hat!
Next it was time to find some lunch. After discussion and checking out the map, we ended up at Boudro’s on the Riverwalk. We had eaten there years ago, and the made-at-your-table guacamole was still amazing! (Brennan might tell you different, but I was glad he tried it.) He had the Blue Crab Tostada, which he said was good. I can’t remember what else we had, but do remember that it was all delicious.
Our final stop in town was somewhere MW and I had been to several times before, and it’s just too cool to pass up…The Buckhorn Saloon and Museum. (Find more information and pics here.) I think the boys enjoyed goofing off the most. By the time we were done, we were all pooped. With the parade over, it was much easier to get back to Brutus and get out of town. After walking miles, we were all ready to relax when we got back to Petunia.
Saturday we took a drive over to New Braunfels. Our first stop was to prove a point for Taylor…”Buc-ee’s in Texas are better than Buc-ee’s ANYWHERE else!” It’s an on-going argument between her and her Dad, and Brennan was taking the wrong side. We opted for his Texas Buc-ee’s experience to be at the largest in the country. Before we finished up our shopping, he said I needed to text TayTay and let her know she was right. I made him text Taylor and eat that crow. On the way to our next stop, we popped into Panda Express for lunch.
Next we headed west to the Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch. If you are a regular reader, you know that I LOVE a good safari park. Brennan had never been to one, so he wasn’t sure what to expect. Unfortunately, the day was hot so some of the animals we’re off resting in the shade. We got to see lots, though. I didn’t like the way this one did the food; at every other one we had been to, you got a bucket with feed pellets in it. You can feed directly to the animals holding out the bucket. For this one, they gave you a paper sack and instructed you to throw the food on the ground. Honestly, part of the fun is having the animals stick their heads right into the car to get food. It was still a good time, though. After the drive and checking out the small walking section and gift shop, we headed back to Petunia for a little bit.
Around 6 PM, we headed out to our final bit of Texas for Brennan’s Great Adventure. When we first started planning this trip, we checked all of the boxes for NASA and the Alamo history that he requested. After that, we decided that you just can’t come to Texas without a little bit of cowboy action. (That’s also true for Montana and Wyoming in my head.) On the way over to Bulverde, there was a LOT of smoke, clearly from a wildfire. It turned out to be at Camp Bullis, but for a little while there, it looked like our facility might be on fire. Whew! We arrived at the Tejas Rodeo just in time to get our seats for the pre-show. Brennan had never been to a rodeo and wasn’t sure what to expect. It started out with mutton busting, then the main show started and checked all the boxes…barrel racing, calf roping, bull riding, etc. After the show was over, we wandered around a little bit. I tried to talk Brennan into learning the two step with me at the dance afterwards, but he was having none of that. (I knew how to dance it years ago, but it’s been ages.) The setup here is pretty neat. They have a restaurant that is open 4 nights a week and Sundays for brunch year-round. During rodeo season, reservations get booked up, which is why we didn’t eat supper there. The rodeo sells out, too, so if you plan to go, get your tickets early. After every rodeo, they have a dance from 9 PM to 1 AM. Your rodeo ticket gets you in, or you can buy a ticket just for the dance. It’s a fun, family-friendly environment , and if I were local, I’d go regularly. After a LONG day, it was time to get back home and get things ready for Sunday. (Sadly, I hit the wrong setting on my camera, and the after dark pics are really dark. Oops!)
Sunday it was time to send Brennan back to Georgia. This is the longest he has been away from his family since he was a little fella, and they were ready to have him home. Since only one of us could go to the gate, MW said his goodbyes at Petunia and stayed behind. San Antonio Airport is pretty easy to get around in, but with an unaccompanied minor, the process takes a bit longer. When it was our turn at the Delta counter, we were motioned forward by an agent. As we approached, she turned to a co-worker passing by and said she was “taking care of this one and going to lunch”. When I let her know that we were checking in an unaccompanied minor, she said, “Well, I WAS about to go to lunch!” No kidding, there was a serious tone. I asked her, as politely as my clenched jaw would allow, if she wanted us to wait for someone else. “No, no. Let’s just get it over with.” Wow…now THAT is customer service! I guess a minute or so later she realized what a jerk she was being, because her tone switched completely, and she ended up calling us “baby” and “sugar”. We made it through security and to the gate in plenty of time, though. We had so much fun during Brennan’s Big Adventure, and I was really sad to see him get on that plane. I watched them push back and takeoff, then took my sad little self to Kohl’s for a little shopping therapy. Later, MW took me to Gennaro’s Trattoria in Canyon Lake for supper.
Cranes Mill Park is a very nice Corps of Engineers no day use park on Canyon Lake. I think this is the first time we’ve stayed at a public park that had no day use and stopped everyone at a gate. About half-way between San Antonio and Austin, it’s a good location for tourists or just hanging out. There are a few restaurants locally, and the nearest large town area is New Braunfels. The campground sits on a peninsula where the Guadalupe River flows into the lake and offers beautiful sunrises and sunsets. Amenities include two fishing piers, picnic areas, and a boat ramp. There is also a lot of natural area, so deer and other wildlife are abundant. The campground is divided into two sections and offers RV sites with 50-amp and water and both electric and primitive tent sites. All sites include covered picnic tables, fire rings, and grills. The RV section is pretty well-spaced. Camping loops have clean bathhouses, and there is also a bathroom near the boat ramp. Although we were out most of the time, we really enjoyed this location and would definitely return. Cell service was fine for both Verizon and AT&T. For this stay in April 2022, we paid $120 for 4 nights.
Whew…it was a busy time for Brennan’s Great Adventure! We had SOOO much fun, though, and even learned some stuff. Next up…sleep and the desert. See you on the path!
P. S. Use the buttons at the top right or bottom to be notified of new posts and please SHARE, SHARE, SHARE on social media!