Sunday, February 27, 2011

Austin, Texas

 Today we again attended Peace Lutheran Church. During the service the youth reported on their experiences the last two days with a 30 hour hunger fast. During the time of the fast different participants experienced a night of living outside in cardboard boxes (to experience homelessness), assembled layette kits, and worked for Habitat for Humanity as well as the local food pantry. They also raised enough money to sponsor some hungry children through World Vision. Way to go, Peace Lutheran! Yesterday we were in Austin and spent most of our time at the Texas State History Museum. The capitol of Texas can be seen down the road from the museum. I was wondering who the figure was on top of the capitol and found out soon during my tour of the museum. In the museum I saw the original Goddess of Liberty, who once sat on top of the capitol. She holds the Lone Star of Texas in her hand.
While driving around Austin I noticed the sculpture pictured below, and wondered what I had missed after learning so much of Texas history in the past month.
The lady was Angelina Eberly a local hotel keeper in the mid 1800s. Sam Houston did not want the capitol in Austin. In late 1842 he sent a contingent of Texas Rangers to retrieve government documents, housed in Austin, to bring them to Houston- where he wanted the capitol to be located. Angelina fired the cannon and alerted the townspeople who caught up with Houston's men and took back the papers without bloodshed. Way to go Angelina!  After touring the museum we drove to to an area on South Congress street which  reminded us of the Loop in University City, Missouri. Many people were milling about on the streets there last evening. In this area are numerous eclectic shops, restaurants, bars and various music venues. There are also food trailers along the streets offering a variety of foods including cupcakes ( that place had a long line of customers all evening, John had to give up any hope of getting that sweet and found some ice cream instead).

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Return to Enchanted Rock

We returned to this area yesterday to climb the massive rock. Enchanted Rock is supposed to be the second largest granite formation in the country. We are not sure where the largest is located, John thinks that it is Stone Mountain in Georgia. For whatever reason, John wanted to return to this park by way of the road we took when we got lost leaving there last week. He had a feeling it would be quite scenic. He was correct. As soon as we turned on this road we started climbing and soon found ourselves driving on a ridge overlooking a valley. That was the first of  several beautiful vistas overlooking the hill country.
John said the scenery on this road reminded him of some old western movies, with cowboys riding down canyons and shooting at  the bad guys hiding behind the tall rocks. Strangely enough, just before entering the park, we saw a historical marked which noted that the Texas Rangers fought the Comanches on Enchanted Rock in 1841. Fortunately the German immigrants eventually signed a treaty with them and then coexisted peacefully with the Native Indians. We hiked up Enchanted Rock and then took a loop trail around its base. A science class of middle-school children were there at the same time from Austin. Their teacher told us that the class has to get 40% of its learning outside. I think that I would have learned a lot more in science had that been the way I was taught growing up!
Rock weathering and erosion are natural sculpting processes which produce the large boulders seen in the picture above. And fractures in the rock provide shady, moist environments for such plants as cacti, yuccas and grasses. We saw several of those little ponds while hiking around the top of the domed rock.
At the base of the rock we did some rock scrambling while hiking through Echo Canyon. It all was very enjoyable, despite the sun being out in its full glory. It will not be much longer when the best time to be hiking here will be early morning or late afternoon.

Friday, February 25, 2011

San Fernando Cathedral, San Antonio

This was our last stop for the day on Wednesday. What immediately caught my eye as I entered the church was the golden altar. It has three golden retablos (altar pieces) which were completed in 2003. A memorial plaque on the wall near the altar notes that the retablos were provided by an individual in memory of two prominent families of San Antonio for their religious and civic activities.
To explain the next picture it is necessary to go back to the year 1731. With a goal of populating and preserving Spain's hold on the region, the Spanish government sent several dozen colonists from the Canary Islands to the mission, San Antonio de Valero. In a chapel of the cathedral there is a statue of the Patroness of the Canary Islands. It was given by the government of the Canary Islands in 1884 in "memory of 56 Canary Island immigrants who came to San Antonio in 1731 and founded San Fernando".
Also of note in this church is a small room where there is a marble coffin said to contain the bodies of three heroes of the Alamo; Bowie, Crockett, and Travis.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

San Antonio, Texas

Part of the River Walk is pictured above. John and I have been to San Antonio several times now and the River Walk is always a destination for us in the city. It is a fun place both for walking and dining. The landscaped riverbanks are bordered by nightspots,restaurants as well as handicraft shops. Before stopping at the River Walk for lunch, however, we paid a visit to the Alamo. That is another place we have been to before. Interestingly enough, we were there on the first day of the siege of the Alamo, February 23. It happened in 1835. In 13 days the Mexican army subdued rebellious Texans who fought behind the walls of the old mission fort. The fort was built in 1718 and originally called San Antonio de Valero. When the Spanish cavalry took the fort over in 1803 they named the fort Pueblo del Alamo (possibly naming it for the many cottonwoods which lined the nearby San Antonio River). The Alamo was meant to be a mission originally;   the battle of the Alamo took place in the church on the mission grounds and that building, plus the barracks of the fort, are the only buildings left standing. While we were there a press conference was being set up in front of the Alamo and a singer was entertaining the crowd with the Texas songs of George Strait.
There are a total of four mission sites in San Antonio. Mission San Jose is in the process of restoration so we drove on to the Mission de la Conception which was relocated to its present location in 1731. This is a massive church with twin towers and a dome built by the Franciscans. It is the oldest unrestored stone church in the country. Reportedly it is known for its great acoustics as well as for its wall art.
Wall art, or frescoing, was a skill taught to the mission Indians partly as a tool to teach them Catholicism, but also the frescoes served to highlight architectural features as well as to hide construction flaws.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Gruene, Texas

This historic town is part of New Braunfels. It is primarily a 19th century historic district. It was settled in 1845 by Ernst Gruen. At the time there was no land to be had in New Braunfels so Ernst bought land down river (Guadalupe River). His second son, Henry, built his home in the 1870s, and planted his surrounding land with cotton. The cotton business brought 20 to 30 more families to the area. In 1978 a mercantile store was built and a cotton gin powered by the Guadalupe was added soon after. We ate our supper in the old Gristmill River Restaurant, which used to be the old cotton gin. We had a table outside overlooking the river.
The town declined in the early 20th century because of boll weevil infestation of the cotton. In 1974-75, when much of the old Gruene was sold, new purchasers arrived and new businesses were established. All of Gruene was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.The old mercantile building is now a general store with everything, literally, from soup to nuts.
 After supper we felt that we should not leave town without spending some time in the old dance hall, the oldest in Texas. Gruene Hall was built in 1878, and, despite the many financial reversals of the town, it never closed. This is where Lyle Lovett, George Strait and Hal Ketchum got started.
At the hall we heard the singing of a popular Texas musician, Shelley King. She, along with her two cohorts, sang a variety of bluegrass, country and R&B. Thought we would stay only to hear a few songs, but enjoyed the music so much that we hung around longer than planned. And it was a good thing we did, had we left any sooner, we may have missed running into an old friend from St.Louis, John Loesel!  He was in the area to take bar examinations in San Antonio.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Natural Bridge Caverns

We attended church on Sunday at Peace Lutheran in New Braunfels before driving to the caverns. After first sitting down I noticed many banners on the walls, for all the seasons of the year. One which particularly caught me eye was the one above the baptismal font, pictured below.
I was told later that a church member, Betty, had died recently and she was the one who had made all the banners. As a memorial to her, all of her banners are currently being displayed. The above bannerbrought me realize that it is just as appropriate to have such a banner displayed for funerals as well as baptisms. After the service and lunch we drove a short distance out of town to the caverns. Before entering the caverns we saw the natural bridge of stone by which the caverns got its name, Natural Bridge.
The entrance of the cave was discovered in the 1930s. In that area was found the bones of a black bear, the molar of a Native American, and remains of bats and rats. There are no living creatures in the caverns today. What is left of the bats in the cave are piles of black guano, which we saw during our tour there. In 1960 university students discovered passages which led further into the cave. It was discovered then that the cave is 2.5 miles long(we only walked .5 miles into the cave, but 180 feet down). The underground world of this cave is quite impressive with its natural formations. The tallest column stands at the height of 50 feet. Below is a picture of the one massive room found in the cavern. Some of the formations can be seen there.
Any time you tour a cavern you receive warnings not to touch the walls. The oil on your hands can prevent the growth of cave formations. In these caverns there are no formations in the places where there is bat guano. However, there is little to prevent plant spores from being carried in on clothes. In the caverns there is one living plant, a fern, which was probably brought in on someone's clothes. Artificial light in that part of the cave then encouraged growth of the fern. One other interesting note; this was quite a humid warm cave, like about 80 degrees. Cave temperature usually reflects the average temperature of the air and ground surrounding it.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area

After we toured Fredericksburgh we decided to take a short side trip to see this state park before heading home.Driving through the picturesque countryside we saw a few of the original stone German farmhouses. And it was possible even to see that German influence on the names of the roads- many of them had the names of the first settlers like Weinstein, and another simply had the number eighteen- Achzehn.We soon saw the large rock off in the distance.The rock is a massive dome of granite, famed in Native American legend and said to be the site of human sacrifices. The dome is about 640 acres in area and about 1,825 feet high. It is a popular area for rock climbing and rappelling, or just plain hiking.
The sun was setting when we got there, so we thought maybe we would put off hiking the rock for another time. As we drove out of the park, John thought he could save us some time by not returning to Fredericksburg and instead taking a road that would by-pass the town. That was a mistake. We ended up on a county road through private ranch land. It was narrow and winding, with signs warning us that it was an open range. We drove over many cattle guards on that road and passed a lot of cattle, a few of whom would wander nonchalantly across the road in front of our car. We also saw lots of deer, a few darted in front of our car. Darkness fell, and I saw the silhouette of a fox fly over the road in front of us and smelled a skunk. Hard to believe that earlier I had considered camping at Enchanted Rock!  We were down to a quarter of a tank of gas and had no confidence anymore as to where we were. I started to do some serious praying. Soon a truck passed us (the first vehicle we saw on that road), and then the houses we started seeing had lights in them. Previously whatever ranch buildings we had seen looked to be abandoned.. We came to a small town with signs pointing the direction to Fredericksburg. We returned to that town and, feeling a bit tired, took a motel for the night. Fortunately I had left our cat plenty of food and water!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Fredericksburg, Texas

We just had a great past two days touring Fredericksburg and the Lyndon B. Johnson Ranch. It was topped off last night here in New Braunfels where we attended a magnificent concert by the Mid-Texas Symphony. The concert had a guest violinist Charles Yang who played Vivaldi's The Four Seasons. We drove to Fredericksburg on Friday. This again is the beautiful hill country, and in this area are many peach orchards and wineries. We met some friends in Fredericksburg whom we had known from back in St.Louis, Jim and Diane Mayer. After meeting for lunch at the Bavarian Inn (great German food there)  we toured their church Zion Lutheran.  Zion was one of the first churches in town, the congregation was formed in the 1850s. Originally, as in New Braunfels, the town had only one church for Protestants, called the Society Church or Vereins Kirche. A replica of the church is pictured below.
The Pioneer Museum was our next stop in Fredericksburgh. Here we saw original pioneer homes complete with furnishings of the 1800s. The variety and quantity of artifacts is quite impressive.The German immigrants brought very little in the way of tools with them from the old country. What they did not have they made, so they could  build sturdy homes, furniture, kitchen and farm utensils. They used an old world technology, called "fachwerk" to construct the interior of their homes. It is a type of construction using wall plaster over woven twigs, as seen in the picture below.
Many of the original homes and churches which we have seen, both in the museum and around town, have limestone exteriors, as seen in the home pictured below, circa 1878.
By mid-afternoon the sun was out and shoppers thronged Main street, a shopping mecca for many tourists which stretches out over 3.5 miles. The shops are famous for their German-made products and, scattered between the shops, are breweries and wineries. I was taken aback when a young chap from Australia, carrying a backpack, questioned us as to where he might find a beer! The charm of it all are the original buildings which still can be found on Main Street. Pictured below is what use to be the Preiss /Keidel Memorial Hospital.   It once was a general merchandise and hardware store with living quarters upstairs. In 1938 it was converted into a hospital. That is typical German thrift and ingenuity which we seemed to have found a lot of in Fredericksburg.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Landa Park, New Braunfels, Texas

This park is a very scenic recreation area situated among crystal springs. From these springs, the largest in the state of Texas, flows the Comal river which is the shortest river in the state (its length is 2.5miles). We had a very enjoyable walk around the park. We first searched out the location of the springs where we were surprised to see a biologist exploring its depths. He had nets which he was using to capture the salamanders, bugs and small fish which wander out and die at the mouth of the cave pictured below. He stated that there were about 100 different species to be found in the springs and one of the goals of his research was to discover if they were of the same species which are found in other springs located in the area.
 While we were standing at the springs we heard two owls calling back and forth to each other. Texas is great for birding during the winter months. I have enjoyed the many different birds songs which I have heard in the month or so we have been here. It has been difficult for me to identify them as they are forever swooping and darting about. It probably requires me to take some quiet time under a tree to do that. Speaking of trees, the live oaks are awesome around here. In Landa Park there is a tree called "Founders Oak" which probably dates from the 1700s. Early settlers claimed Indian legend was that the oak's top branches were bent horizontally(when it was a young tree) to show the direction to follow for those coming later.
German settlers founded the town of New Braunsfels in the 1850s. The abundant water supply from the springs made for some very successful ranching and farming. The German influence is still seen today in its traditions and culture. The city is famous for its sausages and breads. We stopped for supper at the Friesenhaus Restaurant, a mural on its outside wall is pictured below.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Hill Country of Texas

We have peregrinated to central Texas (in other words, we have migrated, I got that word from our son Dan's wedding web site- I did not know we were peregrinators). I think that John and I have been in the flat lands too long, we both got excited when our rig started chugging up the rolling hills. We are now parked in New Braunfels. Yesterday we drove along the River Road, following the Guadalupe River. We were told by locals that now is the time to take that drive, in the summertime that area is quite busy with tourist traffic. We quickly came to understand what they meant; along the River Road there are many resorts, private residences, bars and canoe rental places. It was difficult to find a place to walk along the river, and, when we did get out of the car, we were met with "No Trespassing Signs". There were some very scenic areas along the road  with towering river bluffs but somehow the only picture I took was of some small rapids.
We drove as far as Canyon Lake, which is touted as "the water recreation capital of Texas". In 1958 this section of the Guadalupe River was dammed up for water conservation purposes.  As you can see by the picture, the sky was thick with clouds. In the past few days the sun has had difficulty breaking through. This area has been pretty dry, but the only moisture coming down lately has been  fog and a few sprinkles every morning. It seems to me that the situation must be pretty dire when the weatherman reports measurements of mist!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Bishop's Palace

Sunday afternoon we took another trip back to Galveston. It was a bright sunny warm day and the beach was calling to us. Also, during our last trip to the island we had missed touring the Bishop's Palace so that was another planned destination. The opulent Victorian home pictured above was known as the Gresham Castle from 1886-1923. In 1923 the Catholic diocese of Galveston presented Bishop Byrne with the castle and it became the Bishop's Palace for twenty-seven years. The palace survived the hurricane of 1900 and was a safe haven then for many of the townspeople. It has reinforced steel walls, the storm did no damage to either the exterior or interior of the home, but it did get several feet of water in the basement. Mrs. Gresham was a painter with a national reputation in her own right and painted several of the murals in the home. In the turret of the castle she had her art studio. On the ceiling in the dining room is a painting done by her of cherubs. Many of her paintings were removed when the bishop moved in and then a Sister Mary Agnes painted a series of nature scenes on the walls of the home. Another big change made in the home, which occurred when the bishop moved in, was that one of the second floor bedrooms was converted into a chapel. Beautiful stained glass windows from Germany adorn that room. It was amazing to me that the castle has very little in the way of furnishings and yet they are not missed at all. The interior of the home is quite beautiful in its own right and needs no adornment. Each room has a different colored marble mantel for its fireplace. In the ballroom is Mexican marble, and the library has Numidian marble from Africa. I could also go on forever about all the different kinds of wood represented in each room; beautifully carved wood which glows on wall panels, stairs, doors, window shutters and built-in bookcases. The final word in the opulent design of this home is seen in the floral design etched in the basin of the Italian marble-covered sink in the master bathroom. It cost ten dollars per person to tour this home, probably a small price to pay when one considers that there is a large cost to maintain this palace.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

San Jacinto State Historic Site

This memorial site commemorates the final decisive battle for Texas independence. Sam Houston, Commander-in-Chief of the armies of Texas in 1836, did not give his approval for the battle fought at the Alamo in March of that year. Mexico defeated us there but that loss, however, became the rallying cry and impetus for the win at San Jacinto a month later. And despite the rout of Mexico's General Santa Anna at the battle of San Jacinto, it was not until 1848 when Mexico renounced all claims to Texas. It rises 567 feet above the San Jacinto Battleground. The Lone Star of Texas adorns its top. We toured the museum of history inside the monument and then rode the elevator to the top. From that height we could look down on the Port of Houston and view the Battleship Texas (located in the lower right-hand corner), which was our next tour for the day.
The Battleship Texas is the last of the world's big-gun battleships designed and built at the turn of the 20th century. When she was commissioned in 1914,  Battleship Texas was the most powerful weapon in the world. During World War I she did not see combat action but participated with the American squadron in maneuvers of the North Sea. After the Armistice she sailed with the Great Atlantic Fleet to escort the German Fleet to Scotland for surrender. During World War II she saw action at Normandy and Cherbourg, after which she sailed to the Pacific and took part in the invasion of Okinawa. She was retired in 1946.  What a grand old ship to tour, but getting around her can be very confusing. My two brothers, who were with us, had once served in the navy and made great tour guides. A person also has to be physically fit- the ship has very high door sills, steel ladders and obstructions through-out the decks.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Menil Collection

Another arctic blast hit the Houston area this past week. Before the frigid cold hit, on Tuesday, we  took a walk on the Kemah Boardwalk and toured a small aquarium there. At that aquarium I was surprised to see sting ray coming up to the sides of a pool and begging for food. Visitors can purchase small fish which can be fed to the sting rays. The sting ray pictured below is one of many who came up to us and begged for food. They sure have wide mouths, John was brave enough to let one of them take the food out of his hand!
 Wednesday was a cold day and we had no desire to be outside until the next day when we drove into Houston to check out the Menil Collection. The art collection was assembled over several decades by Houston philanthropists John and Dominique de Menil. The first building we toured has many pieces of Byzantine and medieval art, antiquities, Pacific and African tribal arts, 16th-century to present day European paintings as well as surrealistic and contemporary works. One exhibit was very fascinating to me. It had a single light bulb hanging on a rope from the ceiling, an empty bottle of Jim Beam extra dry gin and a bundle of newspapers on the floor. High on the wall of that room was a small window with prison bars. There was also a painting with a rifle sitting on a pool of blood. Come to think of it, it did all make some sense! In addition to the one main building there are also two chapels within a short walk from the main building. The first chapel is rather plain, being ecumenical in nature. It is described in a museum brochure as "no man's land of God". The second sanctuary is a Byzantine Fresco Chapel, the pieces of which were obtained from a church in Cyprus. Outside of this building is a sculpture called Broken Obelisk, a tribute to the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The last building of the art museum which we toured had the work of Dan Flavin, one of the founders of Minimalism. It is primarily one large room of lights. The picture below shows just one small area of the room. The room is empty, the lights shown in the picture are repeated on the opposite wall. The Texas sun (coming in from a sky light overhead) interacts with the electric light. By seeing the Menil art collection I certainly came to appreciate many different expressions of art, Houston is quite fortunate to have that collection.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Houston, Texas

Last Sunday John and I, as well as my two sisters and brother Wayne, drove into Houston to attend services at Messiah Lutheran, the church where our father was organist as well as a Christian day school teacher about 58 years ago. The current pastor, Pastor Schuller was very welcoming to us and after the morning services invited us to stay for his Bible class. It felt very strange to be sitting in a building where our home once was located. The Christian education building, where our home use to be, is to the left of the church in the picture above. What added to my feeling of nostalgia was that the church still uses the hymn book printed in 1940. The old liturgy and songs came back to me very readily! Some of the members we spoke to that morning remembered our Dad. Pastor Schuller was very kind after Bible class to give us a tour of the old school building which was built in 1951. Some changes have been made to the original building, but there is still enough of that building to bring back many memories of my time there as a student. One memory I have is of a winter day when we got a couple inches of snow. School was closed to give us the rare opportunity to throw snowballs and build a snowman.
The school disbanded in the 1960s, the church has been running an early childhood school there since that time. At one time there were single family dwellings surrounding the school and church campus, now there are many high-rise condos and townhouses. Many changes have taken place over the past 58 years!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Galveston, Texas

 The above picture was taken from the balcony of the resort we stayed at while in Galveston. My sisters Julia and Linda flew in from St.Louis and joined us at the resort last Thursday. Unfortunately they left the snow and cold in St.Louis only to find Galveston not much warmer. But John and I kept reminding them that at least in Galveston there was no snow on the ground!  Saturday the sun did come out and we were able to enjoy a walk on the beach. Our brothers Wayne and Jared, with their spouses, were also able to join us for the week-end so our focus was not too much on the weather but rather on enjoying our time together. Galveston has a lot to offer besides the 32 miles of sandy beaches. By 1890 Galveston was the largest and wealthiest city in Texas. Today there are still reminders of that past in the Historic Downtown Strand Seaport District. We spent some of our time wandering the quaint shops there and admiring the old Victorian iron-fronted buildings. We also found many large Victorian homes in the surrounding neighborhoods and toured one of them, the Moody Mansion. The  Moody family owned a large financial empire at the turn of the century.
 Galveston has experienced two devastating hurricanes, one in 1900 and the another in 2008. The latter one uprooted many of the town's trees. Months later sculpture artists breathed a second life into those trees. There are nineteen of those sculptures located in various areas of Galveston  and we were able to find most of them.  We would have loved to have walked the streets of the city to see them, but a cool brisk wind forced us to opt instead for a car tour of the sculptures.