Sunday, January 18, 2015

Austin City Limits

Having never driven the southern edge of Arizona we were surprised by a couple things that we did not know existed down here. The first were the U.S. Border Patrol Inspection Stations. These stations are scattered across Arizona, New Mexico and Texas on primary and secondary roads. Similar to the truck weigh stations we are used to in the Midwest, these inspection stations require ALL vehicles to stop and are subject to inspection by the Border Patrol. We passed through ½ dozen of these in the past week, in each case they stopped us, asked us if we were U.S. citizens, had the dogs give the rig a quick sniff and let us pass through without inspection. The second thing we encountered that was new to us occurred when we saw a blimp one day hovering in the sky. We passed it wondering what it was but we quickly forgot about it. When we saw another one heading east out of Bisbee we looked it up to see what the deal was with these blimps. Ends up they are unmanned surveillance blimps used help find drug runners and people trying to cross the border illegally. The 72 foot blimps are tethered at 2500 feet and are equipped surveillance equipment that can monitor a 10 mile diameter both day and night.
Border Spy Blimp
Leaving Arizona we headed to the city of Deming, New Mexico. We had a one day layover at Hidden Valley Ranch RV Resort about 15 miles outside of the city. On a typical travel day we try not to drive more than 4 hours so this was the perfect distance from Tucson.  

The park itself was nice, there are about 100 long-term residents at this location so it must be decent. We had picked this resort due to their Passport America discount at $12.81. Had we stayed longer we may had seen the appeal to this park, it was clean and well run, but the 10 miles of gravel road and the lack of activities in the area just did not do it for us.  

Hidden Valley Ranch
 The next day we packed up and drove 6 hours to Toyahvale Texas where we stayed at Balmorhea State Park.  About 30 minutes outside Toyahvale I noticed that the outside temps had dropped to 32 degrees, a few minutes later we were in the middle of a snow storm! I thought we were in southern Texas! Arriving at the park just before dark we set up and huddled in to the sounds of sleet hitting the top of the rig. The next day when we went out to take Daisy for her walk our steps were totally iced over and our water hose was frozen. After blowing the ice out of the hose and we spent most of the day inside watching movies as it drizzled throughout the day and never got above 38.  Balmorhea State Park itself is a very quiet, no frills park, the main attraction is the swimming area created by the San Solomon Springs. It is a 1.7 acre area that maintains 72-76 degrees throughout the year. In addition there is abundant wildlife viewing in the area as well. The sites at the park range between $11 (water only)-$17 (water, electric and cable) there are no sewer hookups but there is a dump station. There is also a $7/person/day fee for entrance to the park but if you buy an annual Texas State Park Pass for $70 the daily fee is waived and you get four ½ price camping coupons. In our case, since we were staying at so many state parks heading east, it was well worth the $70.

Balmorhea State Park
We woke up the next morning to ice coating the truck, the trailer, the trees. After it warmed up a bit we hooked up the rig and headed down the road looking for warmer weather. We had planned on stopping near Sonora but kept on going as it had not gotten any warmer. The forecast for Austin the next day was mid 50's so we headed in that direction stopping just short of Austin we spent the night at the Walmart in Fredericksburg. The area between San Antonio and Austin is known as "the Texas hill country" some of the prettiest country you will find. It is filled with cattle, goat and game ranches, except the occasional cactus plant the terrain reminded us of parts of Wisconsin.

Arriving in Austin we were greeted by the sights, sounds and traffic of a bustling city. The GPS soon said we were 10 minutes from McKinney Falls State Park but we were still in the middle of the city, it was hard to believe there was going to be a state park within the city but as soon as we crossed Onion Creek, the city disappeared and we were in the country again. Pulling into the park we checked in at the office, received our site number and stopped by the dump station. We arrived at our site and it was quickly obvious that we were not going to fit so we drove around, found one that would work and called the office to see if it was open. It was so we set up and settled in for our 4 day stay. Although you could hear the hum of the city in the background, the park feels very remote with excellent hiking/biking and wildlife/birding opportunities.
McKinney Falls Site #36 is plenty big
We did get out on one hike (about a 5 miler) to McKinney Falls and the surrounding area.

The city of Austin was awesome, lots of great restaurants, music and food carts and......good news!....... we found all the street corner solicitors from up north who ask for money and food. They migrated south and are alive and well here in the city of Austin, there is one on practically every street corner.

The first restaurant we went to was The Salt Lick about 20 miles southwest of Austin. This was on our "must visit" list so we wanted to get there first. Having been featured on Man v. Food, Date Line and numerous publications we had to see if it was worth all the hype. Walking in, our senses were overwhelmed with the smells of BBQ, right in front is an open fire grill where they cook their ribs, brisket and sausage. It smelled and looked awesome! We wanted to taste everything so we did! In order of deliciousness, we got pork ribs, sausage, turkey and brisket. If we were to go back we would just stick with the ribs and sausage. If you go, bring cash and your own booze as they don't take checks or credit cards nor do they serve alcohol.

Next up were the Food Trucks! There are approximately 1,000 scattered around the city. Barb had spent some time on the internet and scoped out a few that we wanted to hit. There are quite a number of trucks on First Street and South Congress Ave. Parking was a bear, especially if you have a crew cab dually. First, there were no open spots, second when we did find one we would not have fit. So we drove a little further away from the action, found a spot and walked back to the action. First up was Dock and Roll  food truck where we got The Maine Event lobster roll. It was freak'in awesome! Soft bread roll filled with lobster and some dressings. It was by far the best thing we had all day but at $15 it had better be! We quickly split that and headed over to Gourdough's where they have a variety of gourmet donuts. It is not even fair to call these donuts, they may start with a donut on the bottom but they build it up from there. The one we chose was called Granny's Pie, where the donut was smothered with icing, pecans, bananas, caramel and gram crackers. It too was delicious. Still room for more, we headed over to Torchy's Tacos where we got the Baja Shrimp taco. I am not entirely sure what was in it (other than shrimp) but it was very tasty and a little spicy. I sipping on water for the next 20 minutes while it had no affect on Barb. Our belly's full, we wandered up and down the streets of Austin people watching, going in and out of shops and listening to the street musicians. We did not find any other food trucks that we just "had to have" so we ended our day with an ice cream. Is there any better way to end a day of eating?
Dock and Roll


Torchy's Tacos
Our last full day in Austin we had one more restaurant that we wanted to get to. Rudy's BBQ is another Austin institution with several locations within the city. The atmosphere was great, picnic tables set up throughout, you just find an open spot and sit down. No plates here, they give you a piece of wax paper to use as your plate. We could not decide exactly what we wanted..... St. Louis Style Ribs? Baby Back Ribs?  Plain Pork Ribs? Jalapeno Sausage? Smoked Sausage? Decisions, decisions.....After staring at the menu for several minutes we said "screw it" and decided to get one of each! Can't go wrong there and besides we could use the leftovers. I can't tell which one was the best because they were all equally as good!

So, it is with bulging beltlines that we leave Austin and continue our journey east. The next two weeks will bring us to locations in Louisiana and Alabama, I better check the axle weight on our trailer as I am sure we will put on a few more pounds at our New Orleans stop!


  1. Wow - thanks for the informative insight into your travels - the plimp thingies are interesting. ..I only see stuff like that on T.V here in Australia. Food - Food, glorious Food. mouth was travels..

    1. I know, when ever I look at that picture from the grill from Salt Lick I get hungry all over again!

  2. Thanks for the great tip on the Texas State Parks!

    1. Thankfully the park service employee tipped us off when we were checking into to our first park, had she not mentioned it we would have paid a lot more!

  3. My mouth is watering, Austin looks like a great stop. A thousand food trucks!...that would take all what are we doing in 2017? truck for thought. We saw the blimps in Tombstone but I didn't know what they where doing with them.

    1. So Scott learned "one thing a day" lesson about the blimps..Jim learns from Scott and Scott learns from Jim. Isn't this electronic age just magic! And now I must go and find some tasty morsel to all this talk about food has made me very hungry.
      Cheers to you all!

    2. Very true Carol, miles and borders mean nothing in today's world!

  4. Oh you're in trouble! The food in LA is pretty amazing too! Thanks for the great heads up on the food in TX as we're headed there after here. Looking forward to meeting you tomorrow!