Sunday, August 22, 2021

Texas (Panhandle to Hill Country)

In our quest to visit the 50 United States, and then as we reached that goal, to start filling in the gaps in portions of states we'd not visited, Texas has had a special interest and attraction to me. Texas is its own country and the people of Texas tend to take great pride in their state. Further, it is huge and I wanted to get a better feel for regional variations. The Panhandle was by most accounts flat and boring with little to do there. However, we've found in our visits to the various states that there is always something to recommend itself and we've enjoyed all of our state visits, no matter how great the reputation for nothing to do. The Panhandle was no exception. However, we had an inauspicious start. The day before, a massive weather system blasted the Panhandle and three or four tornados touched down in the Amarillo area, including one at the rim of Palo Duro Canyon State Park, a place early on our itinerary. 

On Thursday, March 18, 2021, we flew from Ontario, California to Dallas/Fort Worth, then to Amarillo, on American Airlines. We left just before 1:00 p.m. and arrived at 10:30 p.m. We'd originally planned to take an Uber to our hotel, the Holiday Inn Amarillo East. However, the Enterprise booth was open and we got our car that night, rather than having to come back in the morning. 

Friday, March 19, we left our hotel about 8:30 a.m. and drove 21 miles east, past the airport, to VW Slug Bug Ranch, a take-off on the popular Cadillac Ranch which is west of Amarillo, which we visited later that day. We took Hwy 207 down to Quitaque, 77 miles, with stops at an overlook to Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River and Lake Mackenzie. From Quitaque we drove 3 miles north to Caprock Canyons State Park and took a short hike and did some bird watching. Back to Quitaque, we drove 95 miles north to the over-hyped and under-delivered Cadillac Ranch, then drove 10 miles east to Amarillo where we had a nice dinner at the restaurant Crush. After dinner we drove 20 miles south to Canyon where we stayed at the Best Western Palo Duro Canyon Inn & Suites. 
     Cedar Waxwing  (Bob) 
     Northern Cardinal  (Bob)
Saturday, March 20, we traveled 15 miles west of Canyon to Buffalo Lake NWR and did the 11 mile auto loop. It was a disappointment. We traveled back to Canyon, near our hotel, and visited the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum, then had lunch at Sayakomarn's Thai Restaurant. Then we drove 13 miles east to Palo Duro Canyon State Park and were disappointed to find that it was full and we could not get in. So we drove up along the rim and saw some Texas longhorn cattle, then drove back to Buffalo Lake NWR. We stayed another night at the Best Western Palo Duro Canyon Inn & Suites.
     Buffalo Lake NWR - Texas  (Bob)  
     Western Meadowlark  (Bob) 

Sunday, March 21, we drove back to Palo Duro Canyon State Park to arrive at sunrise and do a quick drive through. Then we drove 104 miles south to Lubbock and visited the campus of Texas Tech University, and particularly the football stadium which we viewed from the outside. We had a nice lunch at Abuelo's Mexican Restaurant and then visited the Buddy Holly Center. We drove south another 118 miles to Midland and visited the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum, drove by the George W. Bush Boyhood Home and drove 23 miles to Odessa to look for painted jackrabbit sculptures. Then we drove back to Midland where we stayed at La Quinta Inn & Suites by Wyndham Midland North. 

Monday, March 22, I got up early and drove to the I-20 Wildlife Preserve in a rainstorm and found that it was closed on Mondays. We skipped a visit to Susie's South Forty Confections and drove Hwy 153, then 87 for 107 miles to San Angelo State Park. A little over mid-way, in Sterling, the only town of any size on the drive, we stopped and bought some burritos for the road. They were pretty bad. We got to San Angelo State Park and Judy sat in the car while I walked to a bird blind that surrounded a number of different kinds of bird feeders. I got some great views of birds. Then as I started to head back to the car I went in the wrong direction. Between several calls to Judy and getting my bearings back, I finally made it back to the car just as a downpour began. We decided to skip Fort Concho because of the rain and drove around San Angelo State Park finding some white pelicans on the dam and some close views of turkey vultures. We were not able to find any of the bison held there. We drove about 7 miles into downtown San Angelo and ate at Zero One Alehouse and had a very nice lunch. Afterwards we drove a short distance where Judy found some wonderful street art covering downtown buildings, then we spent quite a bit of time wandering along the Concho River Walk alongside the Concho River, seeing lots of ducks, cormorants and a nutria. We drove a short distance to another part of the Concho River to see the International Waterlily Collection, only one was blooming, then we drove way outside of town to an erroneous address for our hotel, then finally drove back into town and stayed at Benchmark Inn. 
     Northern Bobwhite  (Bob)
     Pyrrhuloxia  (Bob)
     Nutria - Texas  (Bob)
     Ring-Necked Duck  (Bob)
     Texas Fox Squirrel  (Bob)
     San Angelo State Park  (Bob) 

Tuesday, March 23, we drove Hwy 83 and 87 167 miles through the beautiful Texas Hill County to Stonewall, Texas, driving through Menard and Mason along the way, which look like they provide lots of exotic big game hunting. We visited the LBJ Ranch following a 7 mile loop, including stops at the Junction School, reconstructed birth home of LBJ, the Johnson family cemetery, and an airfield with Johnson's private jet. We drove another 14 miles to Johnson City and got an outside view of Johnson's boyhood home, then 23 miles north on Hwy 281 to Marble Falls where we had lunch at a food truck called Local Eats Craft Food. We drove another 14 miles, north, then west, to Longhorn Cavern State Park for a 90 minute tour of Longhorn Cavern, a limestone cave. We drove back to Marble Falls and checked into La Quinta Inn & Suites by Wyndham Marble Falls, where we stayed the night, then went into downtown Marble Falls to see some of the street art found there, then to Shin Oak Observation Deck, part of Balcones Canyonlands NWR, where we saw no wildlife at all. 
     Texas: Longhorn Cavern  (Judy) 
     Texas: Marble Falls  (Judy) 

Wednesday, March 24, we drove out to Doeskin Ranch, part of Balcones Canyonlands NWR, and hiked a couple of the short trails. Along the way we saw a crested caracara and some wild red deer, exotics that have been introduced to Texas. Then we drove 35 miles southeast to Austin near the capitol building where we checked into Hampton Inn & Suites Austin at The University/Capitol. We parked our rental car in the hotel underground parking lot then set out walking to the Texas Capitol Building, then Saint Mary Catholic Cathedral, lunch at Modern Market Farm Fresh Eatery, then visited the Mexic-Arte Museum next door. We walked down to the Congress Street Bridge, over the Colorado River, which houses thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats, then took Lyft up to the Bullock Texas State History Museum. Afterwards, we took Lyft back over the Colorado River to Magnolia Cafe South and ate dinner. Then we walked 1.3 miles back to near the Congress Street Bridge and took a bat-watching tour on the Colorado River with Lone Star Riverboat. It was early in the season, but we still saw quite a few bats leaving the bridge for their night out eating bugs. We took Lyft back to our hotel for the night. 
     Texas, Austin: State Capitol  (Judy) 
     Blue Jay  (Bob)

Thursday, March 25, we were woken during the night by huge hail hitting our hotel room window. We were fortunate to have our car in the parking garage as we learned later that many cars sustained hail damage. We drove about 11 miles to McKinney Falls State Park, arriving around 8:00 a.m. and enjoyed some waterfalls on Onion Creek. We drove back to our hotel and parked the car, then walked to the Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art on the University of Texas - Austin campus. We walked back to the hotel, picked up our car and made two quick stops at Torchys Tacos and Magnolia Cafe South for lunch, then we drove to the Austin  Bergstrom Airport for a 3:40 p.m. flight to San Francisco, then San Franciso to Ontario, arriving about 8:30 p.m. 
     McKinney Falls State Park  (Bob) 
     Texas River Cooter  (Bob)


  1. I gave you a lot of grief over this travel destination. The Texas PANHANDLE? Really? Well, once again, I was reminded that this country is FULL of beautiful, interesting places, Texas Panhandle included.

  2. Texas is definitely a huge state, we have been there three times and there is always more to see.