In a previous post I wrote about the joy of unexpected adventures. Not surprisingly, we’ve also experienced the disappointment of missed expectations. On the bright side, this gives us a reason to swing back through (most of) these areas at some future date.
Our route to Round Rock, Texas (outside of Austin) took just over a week while we wandered through various states picking up National Parks and other natural wonders: California (Yosemite, Death Valley), Nevada (Taiyabe National Forest, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area), Arizona (Horseshoe Bend), Utah (Monument Valley), New Mexico (Grand Staircase, Carson National Forest), Oklahoma (Rita Blanca National Grassland), and Arkansas (Ouachita National Forest) before heading to Houston to visit with Joy’s cousins.
One of our big misses was Monument Valley. We had been looking forward to seeing that magnificent landscape, and had hoped to do some hiking. When we arrived we decided to stay in a hotel because it was already dark and the wind was really howling. We did get to see really fabulous stars that night but we didn’t linger outside to do much star gazing because it was so cold and the wind-driven sand really stung.
When we got up the next morning it was pouring rain so we knew that we wouldn’t be hiking. And then it started to get really cold. And then to snow. At this point we totally bagged even driving through Monument Valley because visibility was so poor. A few hours after we left the hotel visibility got slightly better but just enough to see that somewhere behind the clouds existed a cool landscape.
While we were able to leave the rain and the snow behind us, the wind was a constant companion. After spending most of two days driving (and one night camping) along eastern New Mexico, the Oklahoma panhandle, and then across the northern part of Oklahoma into Arkansas, we now totally grok the lyrics:
“OOOOk-lahoma, where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain,
And the wavin’ wheat can sure smell sweet,
When the wind comes right behind the rain.”
… except the wheat part — too early in the growing season.
As you can see from this video, we got a close-up view of tumbling tumbleweeds. I wish I’d thought to record our drive 10 minutes earlier when there were no other cars around for miles and Joy was using both sides of the road to avoid hitting the tumbleweeds – kind of like reverse Frogger.
The night we camped we stayed by the side of a beautiful lake outside of Fort Supply, Oklahoma. While the stars were fabulous, a wicked wind kept Joy and me huddled in our tent hoping the tent stakes would hold. We learned the next day that there’d been an tornado in Oklahoma that night. We resolved to do a better job of checking out local weather reports during our cycling trip.
Houston was nothing but hits (a complete departure from all eight times I visited there for work).
We spent Saturday morning touring the Johnson Space Center. I’d always really wanted to visit, and it matched our expectations. Joy and I spent several hours there and could have spent considerably more time but we had other things to do. One of our highlights was touring Mission Control. This is the facility where NASA monitored the Gemini and Apollo missions, and the site of the earth-side half of the famous quote, “Okay, Houston, I believe we’ve had a problem here” (the actual wording). NASA has re-installed all the original control center equipment, furniture and rugs so it was the authentic room and setup. Joy and I were lucky enough to sit in the middle seats of the front row of the observation room which meant that we sat in the actual seats that presidents and international dignitaries had sat in while watching man step on the moon.
Another highlight for me, but one that had Joy rolling her eyes, was the chance to see (and touch) the restored Galileo shuttlecraft, first featured in the Star Trek TOS (“the original series”) episode “The Galileo Seven”.
The best part of the trip was the chance to visit with Joy’s cousins (Mike and his wife, Ann) who invited us to a family and friends get-together for a Crawfish Boil. (In case you’re wondering, crawfish=crayfish=crawdad, but the term you use varies depending on where you live/grew up.) I was stunned when Joy’s cousin commented that it was going to be on the smaller side and he’d only bought 60 pounds of crawfish! Not only was crawfish boil delicious, it was great fun to eat, particularly once I got past the shock of watching Mike pour the contents of the pot out on the table top so that we could all stand around and eat. By the way, the technique is to pull the head off, suck out the juices and then turn your attention to the tail, peeling the shell off to get at the succulent tail. On rare occasions you get a crawfish that has claws large enough to make it worth going after that meat. It was great fun to get to know Joy’s cousins and their families better. Thanks to Mike and Ann for hosting us .
While we enjoyed the food and the chance to mingle with family, Brighton provided entertainment for the grandchildren. He patiently let the three littlest girls simultaneously “walk” him around for nearly 90 minutes.