Tuesday, January 29th we took down the internet satellite dish and hooked up the fifth wheel to Clifford, the big red truck and headed north on our first baby step back to Canada. Our destination was our next SOWER project at Texas Baptist Encampment, but on the way we wanted to do some sight seeing.
The King Ranch is a couple of hours drive north of Harlingen at Kingsville, Texas. It has been around for over a hundred and fifty years and occupies a fair chunk of land. It is possible to tour the ranch itself, as well as two locations in Kingsville - a museum and saddle shop. I already had low opinion of the desirability of looking at Texas scrub land and get enough of riding undersized school bus seats working shutdowns. So when I overheard somebody in a buffet line in the Weslaco, Texas ranting about the sixty dollars they paid and seeing “nothing but a bunch of bush” the ranch got scratched off the “things-to-see” list. The saddle shop (free) and the museum (modest charge) still held promise.
One of the challenges of a combined truck and rig length of 53 feet is finding parking. While it is technically possible to cut and fill for an hour or so to turn around in an amazingly small area, it is not typically something you choose as your first option. Usually it is something you are blunder into and the experience heightens your avoidance systems for sometime afterwards. Kingsville conveniently provided an RV parking area across from the railroad museum and near the King Ranch Saddle Shop and only a four block walk to the King Ranch museum. Thank you, Kingsville.
The saddle shop had a good selection of quality furnishing, Western style (mostly) clothing, saddles and other leather goods for sale. They were priced for the discerning buyer with much less price resistance than me, but it was a pleasant amble and smelled great! Two saddle makers were industriously working on making more and the high class shop folk were classy enough not to be pushy. There was a stuffed Nilgai on display. These animals from India had been introduced to the ranch. They bred so successfully that they had to be culled by hunting which soon made them distrustful and jumpy around people and vehicles. Don’t know how many there are now, but the vocal critic from the buffet line didn’t see any.
We walked the blocks to the museum and stored our water bottles with the receptionist (”no food or drink”) and stowed the camera I my pocket (“no pictures”). It was an interesting collection of ranch vehicles and artifacts with displays and a movie about the ranch history. As we were leaving we encountered another SOWER couple, Ron and Dorothy Mixon. We had first met in Northeast Texas in March 2006 and worked with at projects in the Valley in January 2007 and 2008. We chatted a bit. After their tour they were headed for Palacios and wanted to get there a few days early to get information on the area to hand out to the SOWER group they would be leading. After the chat they started their museum tour and we walked back to the rig and headed north to our stop for the day – Mathis, Texas.
It is embarrassing to admit that one of the reasons we stay at the Mathis RV park is the Mexican restaurant across the street, but I felt better after visiting a bit with the couple from Kansas City parked in the next site. That why they stopped there, too. They were headed south to Harlingen so we told them about Chapitas in Harlingen, but they were already patrons there on their frequent stays in Harlingen.
After getting situated and visiting with the neighbours we went into town to the library. After signing up for a library card we checked e-mails and updated the family on our whereabouts. Then it was back home to our rig and the restaurant across the street.
Our first stop in Corpus Christi was Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History . Actually that tells part of the story. We (I) missed the turn, because I didn’t understand the shorthand on the directional sign. So we ended going over the harbor bridge that you may recall that I tried to drive the truck over the edge of last year on our way to the USS Lexington museum. Well this time I didn’t try and help take pictures so the trip across was uneventful and we drove out the causeway a ways and stopped for breakfast at one of the 22 Whattaburger restaurants in the greater CC area. Goodness knows why there are so many. It must be because they started there. It can’t be because of the food or the alignment between their menu and their cash register (if you order something using the words on the menu board there is a distinct possibility that the clerk can’t find it since it is called something else on the readout, but I digress). Well, after crossing the bridge back I still misread the signs and after a short trip on the cross town freeway and an exit and a trip through a gas station parking lot and back on the freeway and before you knew it we were there.
The museum has displays of local flora and local recent history as well as a history of Spain in the New World and in that area in particular. They have a large selection of sad irons as well as complete set of replicas of Columbus’s three ships: the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. The sad irons fill a large display case. The ships are full size so two of them take up a bit of the grounds and the third, the Nina, is in the local harbor.
The ships were built to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ “discovery of America” voyage in 1492. They were built in time for them to do a tour of European ports and then to sail to North America in 1992. They were built with the same sort of wood as would have been used originally. Their state of relative deterioration less than twenty years later illustrates the short term service expected of ships of the day. If they made the voyage successfully they were often stripped and disassembled to use the materials in building things at their destination.
There was a display of the design and making of the pavilion and statue for Selena the Corpus Christi singer that was shot by a fan. The pavilion is just ashore from the dock where the Nina is tied up.
Rather than give a blow by blow account of the museum’s contents. I’ll just give an impressionistic account of the highlights as they stuck in my peculiar brain.
The main impression of the ships is that they were tiny. Notice that the Nina barely takes up three parking spots on the dock. Hard to imagine getting on one and heading across the ocean to “the Indies”. No wonder the sailors were close to mutiny on that first voyage. One other item of note was that there was no ship’s wheel. There was a tiller in the rear under deck area. The helmsman received instructions be somebody on deck yelling to him. Except on the Nina where there was so little head-room that he looked out through a hole in the deck for his head.
There was an account of the aftermath of a shipwreck near Corpus Christi and an account of the attrition form Indian attacks as the survivors tried to work their way south along the coast. There was only one that made it to a Spanish settlement to tell the account of the others. I mentioned the inhospitable nature of the area in the update on the Big Feed 2007 outreach.
There was one accounting of how Spain lost money on the New World. It had so much gold flowing in that it borrowed more than it had to fight wars and expand its European territory. At the end of it all the bankers made out like bandits (is that redundant?) with the interest they charged and Spain itself was destitute. I have seen this numerous times with people’s personal economies either in boom times or when they suddenly fall into an industrial job. The big numbers of their gross pay soon entice them into borrowing beyond their means and there is a real pinch when the overtime cuts back.
After the museum and ship tour we headed south through Corpus Christi and out to the Gulf where we drove the road along across Padre Island and MustangIsland and took one of the three or four tiny ferries from Port Aransas. After stopping for supper in Aransas Pass we completed our circumnavigation over the CC Harbor bridge and took the freeway to Mathis.
On the Thursday we got an early start to Palacios to travel before the predicted winds got too strong. As we arrived at the RV park in Palacios we met the Mixons leaving for the encampment (GL’s (group leaders) arrive a day earlier than the rest of the SOWERS). On the Friday we joined them and the rest of the 10 couples. Juanita rode through the entrance to the encampment on top of the fifth wheel trailer so she could trim some low hanging branches. What a woman!