Beware of Carnies at Bastrop and Panhandlers in Austin!
After five days at Corpus Christi, we loaded up the RV and headed inland.
Our next stop was to be Bastrop, Texas, just outside the capital city of Austin.
We decided to camp at Bastrop State Park about thirty miles outside of the Austin. This park, similar to the one we stayed at previously, was built during a time when RV's were much smaller. We found the roads to be very narrow and the park in general was in need of a face lift. Having said that, once we got to our spot, we were very happy with the accommodations.
And, of course...
After setting up camp, we decided to drive into the small town of Bastrop.
BASTROP (population 9,688):
We learned that this city has a very interesting history. It was founded in 1827 when territory still belonged to Mexico. It's founder was the Baron de Bastrop, a Dutch nobleman... or so he told people. He had immigrated to America in 1800. It was later discovered upon his death (1827), that his real name was Philip Hendrik Nering Bögel. He was not of royal descent but a conman! He had fled the Netherlands when it was discovered that he had embezzled money from the local government. The province had put a reward of 1,000 ducats on his head! Would it be wrong for me to say: Only in Texas!?
Although he made a fortune by bringing German settlers to this region, at the time of his death he did not have enough money for his burial, so legislators pitched in and paid for it. In his will, he left land to his wife and children who were still residing in the Netherlands. What a colorful individual he must have been!
Downtown Bastrop wears it's history very well. It's Main Street is neat and tidy and lined with brick buildings housing antique stores, small restaurants, a book store, a feed store and a law office or two.
I did see the occasional boarded up storefront which indicated to me that this is a town in flux. I hope these vacancies are temporary and not an indication of things to come.
As quaint as we found Bastrop, it looks similar to many small towns that hold this state together. It would not have remained long in our memory, if not for an excursion we took one evening. If you've read this blog for any period of time, you know Lorraine and I like to go to the local watering holes. This is where we get the "411" on the town and interesting things to do in the vicinity. So, we decided to pay a visit to Honest Lawyers the only open restaurant in town.
Almost all of the downtown businesses close when the sun sets.
Our evening started out uneventfully. The establishment was not very crowded, except for a boisterous group of young men playing darts. We grabbed two seats at the bar and ordered a round. (Btw Love Street Blonde Kolsch Beer by Karbach Brewing in Houston, is some of the best beer I've had on this journey!).
As we waited for our food, we began chatting with the young men who seemed to be having such a good time. And that's how we met these guys!
Yes, traveling carnival workers! I had heard of their existence but not seen any up close.
The carnival was in town and so were these colorful characters. And they were just as one would expect. Boisterous, funny, loud and a bit unorthodox, but boy, oh boy, did they have the stories! Many of which I'm sure weren't true but they knew where the bodies were buried (literally!). Stories of running from the law, living on a shoe string, mayhem, fights and broken Ferris wheels. They kept us enthralled throughout the evening. If half of what they told us is accurate, I am going to forbid my granddaughter from ever visiting a carnival! ;)
But seriously, these guys were extremely harmless, did a great job guessing our weight and age, and provided us memories that will be remembered for a lifetime. Thanks Carnies!
ONE LAST BASTROP STORY:
As we hiked the trails surrounding our state park, we were surprised to find acres and acres of charred land.
It was a haunting landscape filled with dead and mutilated trees. Fields of black, twisted trunks unioned with grayish-white weathered branches. Once stout trees now stood gaunt and spare, their spindly branches reaching out to us like the bony fingers of an evil fairy-tail witch. It was a little eerie walking through this forest of ghost trees. It was as if they were watching our every move. We found out later a devastating fire swept through this area back on September 4, 2011...
This wildfire was the most destructive in Texas history. It burned for nearly two months, destroying 33,000 acres and about 1700 homes, with four casualties. It started as three separate fires but as the result of strong winds they merged into one large blaze.
From what we saw, the state has taken a laissez-faire approach to reforesting this region. I suppose that's why after eight years (according to the time of our visit) the devastation is still so obvious. I say this because we have come across other areas of the country that have been ravaged by fire and bounced back much faster under the expertise of forestry management (and logging) companies such as Weyerhaeuser. While I have no financial interests in any lumber company, it seems obvious to me that more trees are better than less.
ON TO AUSTIN:
Don't shoot the messenger! This post is based on what we experienced when we visited here in 2019. The city is very impressive to drive through...
But once we got out of our truck in the downtown historic district, it was a WHOLE different story.
The homeless/panhandlers/beggars descended on us like shoppers at a Black Friday sale at Walmart. Every block we were accosted by two or three people blowing cigarette smoke in our faces and asking us for money. And their stories were all the same, either they needed the money for a bus ticket home or they needed to buy food. [I have a hard and fast rule that anyone asking me for money who can afford cigarettes gets a hard pass]. They were as pesky as mosquitoes on a hot summer's night. The faster we walked, the faster they pursued. They were relentless. Even when they were in earshot of one another, and clearly heard our previous rejection, that didn't stop the next one from approaching us. I even had one homeless person ask for cash and when I declined his request, he said "Well, you do have an ATM card don't you?! There's an ATM right over there!" As helpful as these instructions were, we were steadfast in our response.
There were two other disquieting issues we came across during our visit downtown. The first was the large number of homeless encampments that were set up under almost every bridge and every open green space. It was a bit overwhelming to see these encampments in the shadows of so many beautiful skyscrapers.
The second one really puzzled us at first, and that was the number of sleeping bags that were strewn about the streets and alleyways. When we questioned a shop owner about this she said it was because the city was distributing sleeping bags to those who were sleeping outdoors. The plan started with the greatest of intentions, but the recipients of the sleeping bags were defecating in them, leaving them on the street, and then going to get a new one. If this is true, it is a sad lesson in unintended consequences.
HERE'S AN EVEN WORSE MENACE!!
The last nuisance I wanted to talk about were these dangerous little monsters. They make even walking on the sidewalks hazardous.
These scooters were everywhere in Austin and everyone seems to be riding them, the old and the far-too-young (a few were even consuming alcohol as they rode). And people were flying on these scooters, zipping in and out of pedestrian traffic. And for some reason, the drivers believe traffic laws don't pertain to them. They will ride against traffic on the shoulder of a road, zip across intersections against the light, and think nothing of coming up stealthily behind you as you stroll, and then zip right around you. It scared the daylights out of me on quite a few occasions. So now, sightseers have to not only watch for road signs, auto and truck traffic, and crosswalk signs, they must also be on constant alert for the swarms of these road gnats which can come at you from all angle.
And, on top of all this, we saw many of these vehicles abandoned in local streams or tossed into open fields (although the thought of destroying all of these little torture-devices did cross my mind many times!).
Why any city would allow unrestricted access to busy roadways by motorized vehicles that may or may-not have had a safety inspection, and who's rider probably had no instruction on how to safely operate them or the traffic laws pertaining to THEM, is mind boggling to me. These scooters can zip along at 15 mph. It's a very dangerous combination. I found an interesting statistic online, coincidentally published by the City of Austin's Department of Public Health, that said that one-third of [electric scooter] riders who got hurt were in the middle of their very first ride! No surprise there.
AND NOW, THE GOOD SIDE OF AUSTIN!:
We've always heard the phrase that "Everything's bigger in Texas", and no place is this more true than the State Capitol.
FACT #1: At 360,000 square feet, it is the largest in size of all state capitols.
FACT #2: Goddess of Liberty statue atop of the Rotunda:
Her height was chosen specifically so that the overall height of the building would eclipse the height of the U.S. Capitol building!
I suppose that's why so many Texans believe:
They just might be right! Below are a few more pictures we took inside the capitol building:
A FEW MORE GOOD THINGS:
The "Forever Bicycles" statue was an incredible piece of artwork. It leaves the viewer temporarily speechless as 1,254 steel bicycles seem to move with you, at you and around you. It is a remarkable piece of 3D art that was created by a Chinese artist and freedom-activist Ai Weiwei.
If you visit Austin, make sure you hike to the top of Mount Bonnell. It's only a short distance from the parking lot and offers some great views of the city.
DIDN'T EXPECT TO SEE THIS:
Now here's an interesting statue in the middle of downtown. This is Angelina Eberly.
On a dark December night back in 1842, Sam Houston tried to take the Texas national archives out of Austin and move them to Houston (it was thought that Austin was too vulnerable to an attack by Mexico). This would have eliminated the possibility of Austin becoming the Republic's capital. Angelina Eberly, a middle-aged woman, saw what was going on and fired a cannon at the thieves chasing them off. She might have single-handedly changed the face of Texas! The city, in gratitude, erected a bronze statue on the spot where she fired the cannon.
That was one tough lady!
YOU CAN SWING IN A SPRING FED POOL!:
Within Zilker Park lies one of the crown jewels of Austin - Barton Springs Pool. The pool is fed from underground springs which keeps its temperatures at 68-70 degrees attracting swimmers year round. The attraction brings a diverse crowd of people and has seen record setting numbers of visitors nearing 800,000 in recent years.
FRIENDS ALONG THE WAY:
While walking around the campground one day, we saw another Grand Design RV so we decided to go over and say hello. As we approached, we saw the owner doing some work on his RV. As we got closer, we noticed a gaping hole in the side of his RV! The conversation started itself!
And this is how we got to know these wonderful people, Dan and Carol.
As Dan came off of his ladder, he told us the accident had recently occurred. While trying to navigate to this site, he made a wrong turn (in his defense, the roads were poorly marked), and as the road grew narrower he realized his error. He called the Camp Host who came over and offered to help guide him as he turned around. Up ahead was a tiny circle that looped around a large tree. The road was just large enough for a car but the Dan and the Host thought that if done slowly and carefully, he could manage to finagle his RV around the loop. Through a series of backing up then pulling forward he slowly began making his way around the loop. CRUNCH! A sound no RVer wants to hear. Both men had neglected to look at the overhead branches. A large limb had pushed through the high side of their camper.
He explained it with such calm that it seemed like he'd done this many times before (which he hadn't), he had a remarkable "when life gives you lemons.." attitude. He said he turned to Youtube to learn fiberglass repair.
We watched as each day, he accomplished a little bit more. And through a series of remarkable steps, he was able to bring his RV back to "nearly" new! Here are some photos of his magic:
Absolutely incredible! Whether it's using an old coffee can lid to cover a busted roof-vent, or turning to Youtube to learn body repair, RVers are an innovative and resilient lot.
Dan and Carol are some of the nicest people you will ever meet. They are full-time RVers who formerly resided in New Hampshire. Since meeting them here in Bastrop, we've had the opportunity to meet up with them down the road in New Mexico and Massachusetts. We've enjoyed getting to know them and if you ever need patch-work done to the body of your RV, hit me up and I'll give you Dan's phone number! ;)
On a funny note, when I told Dan I was writing about him in this post, he good-naturedly thanked me for memorializing his tragedy!
After leaving Austin we're headed to San Antonio (a city filled with Texas history) and an enchanting small town of which I had never heard, Fredericksburg. It lies in the heart of Texas wine country and is also the birthplace of WWII Admiral, Chester W. Nimitz.