Tag Archives: Hill Country

Getting used to new wheels

Our shakedown cruise hauling a down-sized recreational vehicle has taught me some lessons.

We traded in our 29-foot fifth wheel for a shiny new 21-foot travel trailer. We like the new unit … a lot! Even while struggling just a bit with constrained space in the new trailer, we are committed to it and we believe our scaled-down retirement travel itinerary will suit our new wheeled “digs” just fine.

We hauled it to the Texas Hill Country and found out as we motored down some back-road highways that our truck pulls the travel trailer just as easily as it did the fifth wheel.

Oh, but get a load of this: We ran into a “road closed” blockade along Texas Highway 236 near Foot Hood. We had to back the trailer up and turn it around. We were able to do so with much greater ease than we would have been able to do with a much more cumbersome fifth wheel.

We have what they call a “one-butt kitchen” in our trailer. We have fewer square feet of storage space. We will need to figure out what goes with us on the road and what stays home. The good news for me is that I married to an expert in making these key decisions. Therefore, I will defer to her … mostly.

The even better news is that our retirement journey is still heading for the open road. Just not as lengthy a stretch of road, but we’ll still be venturing our way further into retirement.


Where is the marker?

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

DRIPPING SPRINGS, Texas — Maybe it’s just me, but I am curious about something every time I drive into this lovely Central Texas community.

It is this: Who are individuals honored by the signs that designate sections of U.S. Highway 290 in their memory?

We see these signs honoring what I presume to be law enforcement officers. They sections of the highway are called “memorial highway,” which tells me that the individuals honored are deceased.

My curiosity, which I have in abundance — given that I spent my career as a newspaper journalist — forces me to ask: Who are these people? What did they do to merit this memorial designation?

One section is named in memory of John Allen McCarty. What did he do to merit this memorial? Did he die while performing a heroic act? I want to know these things … you know?

In North Texas, where we now live, we see a section of U.S. Highway 75 that runs through Collin County named after the late U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson. Hey, I know a little about Rep. Johnson: former congressman and a former Vietnam War prisoner held captive for more than six years in Hanoi; the man was a serious hero who earned the honor.

I am left to ponder whether it is possible to erect a marker near the sign to enable nosey-Ned motorists such as me to stop to read a bit about these individuals?

I once wrote a series of features for an Amarillo TV station about historical markers. One of the sources for that series was a gentleman who worked at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum. He admitted to me that he stops to read all the historical markers he sees as he travels through Texas, which is saying something because the state contains hundreds of these markers.

I might be inclined to read about the fallen law enforcement officers who are honored in this fashion.

SXSW falls victim to coronavirus

The coronavirus scare has just hit a lot of Texans where it hurts.

Austin city officials have canceled the annual South by Southwest music and art festival. Why? They don’t want to expose the thousands of spectators who had planned to flock to the Hill Country to the threat of the virus.

Well now. This is how you measure the economic impact of the coronavirus.

SXSW means a lot to many folks who flock to Austin each year. They get a chance to experience the Texas brand of music. And oh brother, the event draws plenty of top-drawer acts to the Texas capital city. SXSW brought in an estimated $350 million to the Austin-area economy in 2019.

It might be rescheduled. Or, it might have to be put aside for a year. Maybe longer, yes?

According to the Austin Business Journal: Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said cancellation was a data-driven decision and not made out of “panic.”

“This is a decision based on expert medical opinion that we should cancel or discourage festivals and mass gatherings countywide that are drawing participants from other areas of the country and the world that have documented cases of person-to-person transmission,” she said.

This is a prudent call. It was the only decision that made sense, given the exposure that many folks might have had by mingling with thousands of others.

They call it “community transmission.” It involves people touching other people. There’s a lot of that kind of activity at SXSW.

Good call, folks.

There’s always next year. We hope.

Getting to know I-35 up close and, oh, so personal

As you no doubt know, our retirement journey has brought us to the Dallas/Fort Worth Mega-Metroplex, where we now call home.

This enables us to see family members who live in the Hill Country without having to drive damn near half a day to get there; by “half a day,” I mean it took us nine to 10 hours at times to drive there from the Panhandle.

The route from Princeton to Dripping Springs/Austin is much more direct. There is a big “however” I need to attach to that.

However, it also is a good bit more harrowing than our Amarillo-Dripping Springs/Austin jaunts. You see, our route takes us along Interstate 35 from Dallas to Austin, at which point we take a sharp turn west along U.S. 290, enabling us to cruise — more or less — into Dripping Springs.

We just completed a round-trip visit with family folks. The trip home was, shall we say, bracing.

I-35, as I have known for many years, is a virtual free-for-all. Traffic was thick all the way from south Austin until we turned off that interstate highway and headed east for a bit along I-20; we then resumed our northbound trip along I-45.

This traffic flow will take some time for me to get used to it. What’s the answer? Is there a remedy?

Hah! Texas continues to grow rapidly. The Hill Country region is among the state’s high-growth regions. Austin’s population may have passed the 1 million-people mark. It’s exploding down yonder in the People’s Republic of Austin.

There was talk some years ago about building a bullet-train track from Houston to D/FW, or from Austin to D/FW. Then we had that discussion about that monstrous highway from Laredo all the way to the Red River; that talk dissipated when the cost of invoking eminent domain on all that privately held land became known.

Whatever. The traffic problem is only going to worsen in the immediate future as more folks move into Texas and hit the highway from the Metroplex to the Hill Country and beyond.

The traffic flow along that Interstate 35 racetrack has gained one more vehicle, the one my wife and I use when we hit the highway. There will be many millions more to come … for certain.

Happy Trails, Part 153: Weekends galore!

Those who have been retired far longer than my wife and I have been will understand what I am about to say next.

I am having a bit of difficulty understanding that the term “weekend” no longer is relevant to either of us.

We have embarked on a two-week sojourn that will begin in Amarillo. We’ll pull our fifth wheel south to San Angelo, then to the Hill Country, down to the Golden Triangle, then to New Orleans, to Shreveport and then home.

What’s different about this particular journey is that we’ll be parking our RV in a new storage place just around the corner and down the street from our new home in Princeton, Texas.

Which brings me to the “weekend” point.

My wife has reminded me that we’ll be able to grab our fifth wheel and take it on short trips to any of the numerous state parks surrounding us in Collin County.

“Sure thing,” I have said. “We can plan a weekend trip.” She laughs out loud at me. “No-o-o-o! Don’t you get it? We don’t have to wait for the weekend,” she responds. “We can go in the middle of the week. No crowds. Others will be working.”

Well, duhhh.

I just will need to keep all of that in mind once we get a wild hair and want to haul our fifth wheel out of storage and head out for some quiet time in the woods, or next to a lake.

I’m getting the hang of this retirement thing. Every now and then, though, I need a knock on the noggin to be reminded that weekends are for working folks.

Happy Trails, Part 136: Planning our destinations

I have decided that perhaps the coolest aspect of retirement is thinking of places to see and then just deciding when we’ll get there.

We have so many places we still want to see on this continent of ours. We are planning an April excursion that will end up in New Orleans. We’ll hitch up our RV in Amarillo and then haul it to the Hill Country, to the Golden Triangle and then through the Atchafalaya Swamp en route to the Big Easy.

But then the thought came to me tonight: I want to see Monument Valley, Ariz. I told my wife and she agreed, just as I agree with her travel-destination ideas.

I don’t know when we’ll get over there. I am betting it will be soon after we return from New Orleans.

But my point is that retirement has given us the freedom to just think of these places we want to see. All that is left for us to do is decide when to shove off.

Do we have a “bucket list” trip we want to take? You bet we do.

The Big Journey will take place across Canada. Our plans call for us to haul our fifth wheel to Vancouver, British Columbia, from where we will trek east. We intend to haul our RV across Canada, perhaps as far as Nova Scotia. Then we’ll come south along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, visiting friends and family in Virginia and in Washington, D.C.

Yes, retirement for us has opened up so many opportunities. In a strange way all the travel destinations we have laid out before us remind me of how busy my work as an editorial page editor had become, especially after 9/11.

That was the date when all hell broke loose. There was so much on which to comment, my task each morning was to decide which issue we would tackle for the next day’s newspaper edition — and which issues we could set aside for another day.

The United States and Canada comprise between them more than 7.5 million square miles. Surely that means we have enough destinations awaiting us to last for the rest of our lives.

Happy Trails, Part 96

Fairview, Texas … here we come!

I’ve grappled for the past couple of days trying to decide how to make this announcement. I just did.

My wife and I — along with Toby the Puppy — are heading southeast in very short order to a little town tucked neatly between two larger communities in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

Fairview sits between Allen and McKinney, two fast-growing suburban communities just north of Dallas. Our new dwelling is close to lots of commercial activity; entertainment is nearby.

Most importantly, it’s about a 10- to 15-minute drive from where our granddaughter lives in Allen with her parents.

This moment arrived quite unexpectedly. We didn’t anticipate making this decision so rapidly.

We spent a couple of weeks on the road hauling our fifth wheel through the South Plains, the Hill Country, the Golden Triangle, the Piney Woods and then to the Metroplex. We looked at some dwellings.

Then we made a decision. We like that one!

And that happens to be what one might call a “luxury apartment.” We notified the manager of our interest. We said we preferred a ground floor dwelling. Then one became available. We called from our current base in Amarillo. We submitted an application. We got approved. We settled on a move-in date. We notified the mover who has the bulk of our possessions in storage.

We are, as they say, good to go.

Our move won’t result in a complete severance from Amarillo for the time being. We’re going to shuttle back and forth regularly between Fairview and Amarillo while we tie up a loose end or two.

As I have shared the various stages of this retirement journey on High Plains Blogger, I have grown anxious about when I could make this declaration.

I am no longer anxious. I have just made it.

Our next big — and probably final — huge challenge is now at hand.

We are happy beyond measure.

Planning for an education on Texas history

We’re heading downstate soon for a two-week tour and we’ve made a tentative decision on one of the sights we intend to take in: the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin.

I regret I have not yet toured this place.

It’s not far from the State Capitol and it carries the name of one of the state’s more legendary political figures: former lieutenant governor and Texas comptroller Bob Bullock.

Bullock died some years ago of cancer. He was an irascible, often grouchy politician. He was a crusty, traditional Texas Democrat; by that I mean he wasn’t what you’d call a squishy liberal. I met him once while I was working in print journalism; it was near the end of his life and, to be candid, he looked like death warmed over. Lt. Gov. Bullock did not take good care of himself.

But, oh man, this man — who died in June 1999 — loved Texas. He was fond of finishing his public speeches with that gravely “God bless Texas” salutation. His political descendants from both parties have adopted that blessing as their own.

The museum in his memory opened in 2001 and it tells the story of Texas history like no other such display.

Now, I offer that view with no disrespect at all to the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum on the campus at West Texas A&M University in Canyon, just down the highway a bit from Amarillo. I’ve been to the PPHM many times and have seen the flyers proclaiming it to be the “finest historical museum” in Texas. It’s a wonderful exhibit and I see something new every time I visit it.

Our RV travels are going to take us downstate for a tour of the Hill Country and later to the Golden Triangle, where we lived for nearly 11 years before moving in early 1995 to the Texas Panhandle. We’ll finish our jaunt in the Metroplex before heading back to Amarillo.

I am so looking forward to touring what I have heard for many years is a beautiful exhibit in Texas’s capital city.

Happy Trails, Part 74

The Grand Retirement Trail has opened up a bit for my wife and me.

We’ve had plenty of splendid journeys throughout the United States.

We ventured out west, through California and then to Oregon to attend my 50-year high school reunion. We have ventured the other direction, to Nashville, then to Washington, D.C. We took a trip straight north to the Twin Cities, Minn., to visit my cousin. We toured much of Texas in a circular path that took us from the Panhandle to North Texas, through East Texas, to the Golden Triangle, to Houston, to the Coastal Bend, then to the Hill Country.

We’ve seen friends and family along the way through all those journeys.

Our retirement years, though, aren’t restricted to exclusively North American destinations. One of our bucket list journeys involves a trip through the breadth of Canada, from Vancouver to the Maritime Provinces.

But, yes, we have at least one bucket list journey that we plan to take. It will be to Australia.

Friends who have been Down Under tell me the same thing: You will need to take plenty of time, because it takes a long time just getting there. OK. We get it.

I’ve had a fascination for nearly 55 years. My father entertained a career opportunity that would have taken him to a coastal community north of Sydney. I wanted to go. I thought Dad wanted to go, too. I learned a bit about Australia and tried to persuade Dad to take the job he was considering.

Dad didn’t take the bait. We stayed in Oregon. My desire to visit the Outback hasn’t dissipated on little bit.

We’ll get there. I hope it’s sooner rather than later.

My wife and I have been blessed with being able to see a lot of the world together. We’ve been to Taiwan twice together; we have visited Denmark and Sweden. We’ve been to Greece twice; my wife says of all the places she’s been, Greece is one country she could visit repeatedly. We have seen Israel, too.

I am unsure whether we’ll get back to all those places we’ve seen already. I do know that Australia beckons. Maybe New Zealand, too.

I happen to one of those Americans who isn’t as fond of international travel as I used to be. This post-9/11 world makes it a bit of a cumbersome experience.

It’s not too cumbersome, though, to keep me away from fulfilling this bucket-list journey to the other side of the planet.

Clearing another barrier toward full-time retirement

This is the latest in an occasional series of blog posts commenting on upcoming retirement.

LAREDO, Texas — My wife and I have crossed another barrier that once stood between us and this new life called “full-time retirement.”

While vacationing in South Texas, we began plotting our next RV adventure.

Yep. We weren’t finished enjoying our most recent journey — this time to Laredo — and we began thinking about how we are going to map out our next trip.

It will occur soon. We intend to end up in Ruidoso, N.M., by way of the Texas Hill Country.

But we have a really, really big trip already lined out for a period after the Ruidoso jaunt.

My point here is that we are enjoying the fifth wheel and seeing these new places so much that we cannot stop thinking about when we’re going to do so again.

I am going to presume this is a normal transition. It does feel right, although I am mindful of the need to live in the moment.

My late mother used to remind me of the dangers of “wishing your life away,” which I used to do when I was a boy. “Gee, Mom, I wish the weekend would hurry up and get here,” I would say, only to get that pearl of wisdom from my mother.

I might be reverting to those boyhood ways. I don’t care. We’ll keep planning our next adventure before we finish the current one.