Now that we’re able to reflect on our wagon trail through Texas, it’s obvious that Rogue Trip’s first leg — February through the Southeast — was child’s play. We expected as much, and assure you it was all part of the plan. Get acclimated to the idea of living in a van, take some short trips through small towns while the 65-degree sun shines mildly down upon our pasty brows… then, and only then, would we be ready to tackle Texas. Its five-hour drives to anywhere, flash floods out of nowhere, and blazing hot sun shining everywhere, even when you’re freezing your ass off in a canyon. Join us, and see how many family members we manage to shack up with on this leg of the tour.
Welcome to the fastest-growing city in the U.S. We rolled into town on Mardi Gras night to find the bridges done up in the same purple, green and gold we’d been dazzled with across our Mardi Gras Route, and… parking! Lord does Houston have parking. The smallest coffee shop boasts a parking lot built to host a Kenny Chesney concert. We hit up a late-night cafe called The Black Hole (located in Montrose, one of the cool kid areas) and called it a night.
First up next morning, a bike ride through Buffalo Bayou Park: despite being flanked on both sides by a major road, this legendary and lazy waterway has thankfully seen the trash removed and the underpasses landscaped in response to late 20th century neglect. It’s a great ride, and left us craving a beer.
That’s Mitch above, gesturing in wonder at this physical manifestation of the word “explore”, and donning that stupid, stupid hat he now wears nearly every single day.
Think a warning sign about bat colonies is strange to see in Texas? This won’t be the last mention of the li’l critters.
So, about that beer craving: we’re proud to say we made it to the greatest bar in North America, according to Mitch’s friend Len. It’s the West Alabama Ice House. Our expectations were low.
The cowboy on his cell phone and the house puppy who peed on everything really added to the local flair. Thumbs up, Len!
We should’ve spent more than 48 hours in Houston, but there were deadlines a’brewin’ elsewhere, So, on to SA we went.
To revisit Houston’s Buffalo Bayou Park, our Rogue Trip travels have already surfaced the reality that most cities in America have done the labor to boast 1) some sort of “revitalized river/lake/beachfront area”, and 2) a “mixed-use consumer recreation space built from the rubble of the local abandoned steel mill/prison/knife factory.” In both cases, San Antonio has the best examples we’ve seen thus far.
The Pearl Brewery, once a proud purveyor of suds, is now defunct. In its place, you’ll find the fantastic Hotel Emma, a smaller brewery named Southerleigh, Bakery Lorraine, and more. It’s all expertly executed, with much of the old, rusted, tetanus-inducing industrial bits still in place and serving some new “upcycled” purpose — like grain silos that now house VIP booths.
We ate at The Luxury (another reco from helpful Louisiana stranger Meg Cady) and swung from its chairs overlooking the San Antonio River. Here, Hailey waits to pounce on whichever sucker gets up from their precious swing first.
Pearl is indeed right along the river, which San Antonio has done a magnificent job of developing over the decades. Pictured above is “The Grotto.” We also got lucky and walked under the hanging fish art at just the right moment…
The following day, we biked the Mission Trail along this same river, connecting a handful of the old Spanish Catholic havens. San Antonio’s climate is surprisingly unlike stereotypical Texas weather, and on this damp, cool, cloudy morning, the riverside route bore an uncanny resemblance to Ireland’s countryside. Always cool to go somewhere and be reminded of previous travels.
In case you were wondering, The Alamo is indeed one of the missions, but it’s the least interesting — partially because while the other missions occupy secluded Southwestern countryside, The Alamo is in the middle of downtown San Antonio across from a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. But hey, you be the judge:
More river enjoyment to be had: a river taxi trip, complete with a journey through the lock.
And, later in the evening, a free ten-minute light show telling the history of San Antonio against the downtown cathedral face. It’s notable that almost everything we did in SA was free: this light show, the River Walk, Mission Trail, The Alamo… even Pearl’s free wifi and hotel bathrooms, not that we imagine they want to promote the idea of vagrants using their facilities.
Also free: the Japanese Tea Garden, which interestingly enough, maintains its main gate describing it as a “Chinese Tea Garden”; a rather ham-handed revision the city made during WWII when everything Japanese was seen as unfavorable.
Ah, we forgot the coolest free thing of all! When you spend your days zooming in on Google Maps, you’re basically panning for gold — a whole lotta nuthin’ for miles, and then, eureka! Something like Barney Smith’s Toilet Seat Art Museum reveals itself.
This is Barney, and his garage, and his one thousand toilet seats acting as the canvas for his life’s work. We signed our names on the designated state license plate seats, and talked for a few minutes with a woman there who had helped us get inside and talk to Barney. It turned out she didn’t work for him or know him… she just goes there a lot. Bet she never imagined she’d inherit a volunteer position at a toilet seat museum. Life makes fools of us all.
En route from San Antonio to Austin, Hailey’s brief stint as an employee of The Scooter Store triggered some PTSD which led us to dropping in on the town that company used to rule with a slow-rolling iron fist. That town — New Braunfels — doesn’t have much going for it nowadays, as The Scooter Store has since gone belly-up after some shady financials emerged. But nestled inside of it is Gruene, a little tourism-friendly village boasting the “second-best ribs in America” according to Fox News, and the oldest dance hall in Texas according to themselves. Combine those two experiences, and it turned out to be the most Texas thing we did by far. Look at this lady go!
What a great dip into southern culture. Speaking of which: guess who’s coming to dinner…
Rogue Trip picked up its first houseguest of the tour: it’s Hailey’s mom, Paula! For better or worse, she missed our first evening in Austin, which looked like this:
They may be hard to spot, but those flying little specks are individual members of the world’s largest urban bat colony, nestled under Congress Bridge in Austin. They fly out in droves every night around sunset, in search of food for their young babes. Why are there bats in Austin (and Houston, for that matter?) Apparently, a brief trend in Texas bridge and overpass design created extremely narrow crevices on the underside of roadways, which the common Mexican Bat grew to love… and now, they call many Texas bridges home. Quite the sight.
Anyway, Day 2: it’s great that Paula is always up for adventure, rain or shine… because we had a spell of poor weather in Austin. That didn’t hold up a trip to the botanical gardens, a part of the sprawling Zilker Park space:
Zilker Park also houses Barton Springs, a natural spring-fed pool with a year-round temperature of about 68 degrees. Hailey was tempted to take a dip, but she hadn’t exactly left the house prepared for swimming recreation. Still, even on this rainy March day, it was surprising to see so few people at the pool — after all, we were in Austin during SXSW, an immense conference/festival that brings thousands of tourists into town and drives thousands of locals out.
Oh, and did we ever find a local! Mitch’s mom has a childhood friend named Renee residing in town, and she agreed to bring along her fam for a six degrees of Kevin Bacon breakfast, bacon included.
Renee also tipped us off to Mount Bonnell, a quick hike to the high point of Austin. Thanks again, Renee! As if this trip isn’t making Mitch’s mom jealous enough already.
Hailey’s mom had to hop a flight out just as the weather began to come around, so after the whirlwind of friends and family surrounding us, it was back to the ol’ dynamic duo seeking some scenery as a respite from the non-stop eating and drinking Austin has to offer. For the lengthy journeys, Hailey sometimes cracks open the virtual reality headset to keep herself and passers-by amused.
It was amateur hour as Rogue Trip attempted to stroll into the famous Hamilton Pool around 3pm during SXSW and spring break. We were promptly turned away due to overcrowding, and instead headed to Pedernales Falls State Park for a pleasant hike to its gorgeous emerald pools. We dipped select appendages in, as swimming is prohibited.
Why is swimming prohibited? Because city slickers like Mitch don’t understand the concept of flash flooding, which is rampant in Texas Hill Country. Take this road sign on the way in: a five-foot high flood gauge next to a completely dry bridge… but by our return trip, that part of the road was covered in a few inches of water without a raindrop in sight. New things for Mitch to fear!
Now, regarding Hamilton Pool: you’re off your rocker if you think Rogue Trip was going to miss out on one of America’s most epic swimming holes. We showed up the next day, 20 minutes prior to the gates opening. It really was a rare sight, and well worth the wait. But again, no swimming! This time the excuse had something to do with possible bacteria. We’ve heard of Texas Tea, but all this inaccessible water is more like Texas Tease.
Having squeezed out six days in Austin, it was high time we pulled up stakes and made way for Dallas. But first…
Depending on your age, you might remember Waco for a very specific event. But what it’s best known for nowadays is Magnolia Market: another one of these post-industrial revitalization projects (we told you every city has one!) geared towards shopping, food, and playtime for the kiddies.
Continuing Rogue Trip’s serendipitous travel timing, we apparently showed up during “Spring At The Silos”, which is an extra-heavy dose of vendors and tourists triggered by the possible sighting of Chip & Joanna Gaines from HGTV’s show, “Fixer Upper”. Apparently they’re the force behind Magnolia Market. Good on ya, mates!
Anyone else think this blog post is dangerously low on cute kids? Couldn’t agree more.
Hailey’s family favors struck yet again, as we were greeted by the cousins Lauren and Carrie, along with their respective little ones: baby Brooklyn, and the entertaining tag team of Crew and Kate. The whole lot is descended from Aunt Georgi and Uncle Clark, who handed us the keys to their magnificent Dallas condo, and allowed us to spend plenty of quality time around these folks without upsetting their hectic schedules.
One lesson we’re starting to learn: getting spoiled with great sleeping arrangements and gracious hosts sure makes us lazy. We probably spent three or four hours in these Dallas digs just rubbing our feet on the plush carpet and watching college basketball.
Eventually we felt guilty enough to get outside, and took advantage of the nearby Katy Trail; a famous train route turned into walking/biking paths, and supposedly the longest such project in the U.S. at that. Supposedly.
Dallas has yet another recreational rail relic up its sleeve: the free trolley! We took it the long way home, i.e. we got lost.
Of course, no tour of Dallas could be complete without a visit to the JFK Museum — technically the “Sixth Floor Book Depository Museum”. While it was still spring break, and therefore a horrendous experience, we’d recommend the museum. They do a great job transitioning from the promise of JFK as a president, to the assassination event, to the aftermath. Here’s what Oswald was looking at, sans tree overgrowth… the car emerging out of the trees on the right is pretty much where JFK’s limo would have been.
And that’s Dallas, done a bit lazily, if we’re honest. We’ll be back for more in the future, but Odie was eager to stretch his legs and bump into yet another collection of Hailey’s loved ones (does Mitch even have a family?) by taking a slight detour through… Oklahoma!
Both of us will gladly eat crow for stereotyping OKC and being quite wrong about it. We were led through a handful of hip areas by both relatives (Paula’s cousin Ann and her kids) and friends (Diana, one of Hailey’s grade school chums), munching on delectable Mexican, pizza, and ice cream. Yes, we ate all of that in one three-hour period.
Fun fact on Diana: she was gracious enough to play pit stop host despite being all the months pregnant! No joke: she went into labor roughly twelve hours after we left town. Baby Henry, here’s the last known photo of your mom getting a good night’s sleep.
The Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City was good, clean fun. Apparently their rodeo exhibit is second to none, even the actual rodeo hall of fame. Get your act together, real rodeo hall of fame!
On our way out of town, we stopped by the OKC Bombing Memorial. Its construction and presentation is as intense as it is impressive. Everything has meaning, from the spacing of chairs to the elm tree. Definitely something to check out if you’re in the area.
From OKC, we were due west through the panhandle of Texas. Instead of taking the highway, we dipped through the Wichita Mountains Scenic Byway (yes, Oklahoma has mountains… we’re as shocked as you) and were rewarded with our first-ever sighting of bison. But this bison was intent on crossing the road, and seemed quite prepared to walk right through our minivan if we didn’t move, so here’s all the evidence you get.
The good karma continued as we passed through Altus, Oklahoma to gas up, and heard some metal dragging under Odie. Turned out it was a rotted heat shield from the exhaust pipe, at 4:58pm in the middle of rural Oklahoma. No chance we’d find anyone to help us out, you say? Don’t doubt America!
Just two blocks away on Google Maps sat G&B Body Shop. We hobbled over to their garage a minute before closing time, and they made short work of the problem while sharing travel stories and refusing money from us. Awesome group of dudes!
With Odie back in top form, we kept rolling through to Amarillo, TX, where the second-largest canyon in America hangs out and doesn’t brag about it. Welcome to Palo Duro Canyon.
Is this really the second-largest canyon in America? Canyons are apparently hard to measure. But this one, in the glory of the 6am sunrise, was certainly good enough to take the claim at the moment.
Upon entry, a ranger notified us of a guided tour he’d be conducting at 11:30 in the floor of the canyon. We were apparently the only ones who got the memo, because it was just us and him, making for a great tour. He had time to point out all the different spider webs, so Mitch learned how to spot a funnel web spider’s lair from a black widow’s, which is exactly the kind of thing he wants to spend his time thinking about. Hailey, meanwhile, performed a little soft-shoe on the Prairie Dog Stage. No scouts in the audience today, unfortunately.
Having emerged from the canyon with nary an ounce of crawly predator venom in our veins, we hit the ol’ dusty trail en route to New Mexico. How dusty was it? If you follow us on Instagram, you already know; if not, you’ll have to wait a few weeks like the rest of the internet. Saddle up, cowboys and cowgirls… Rogue Trip, literally signing off (on a half-buried Cadillac.)