Day 19-20 - McKinney Falls State Park
|Wednesday, February 8, 2023: After a rainy night, we awoke around 7:00 AM to a lovely, if damp, morning. We packed up and left camp by 7:45 AM.
|As we were leaving the park, we spotted a field of deer having an early morning breakfast.
|This was one of several cabins that were screened in. What a great idea!
|There was a tree near a dumpster with several black vultures in it. They were just hanging out over the dumpster below, no doubt hoping that someone would leave the lid open for them.
|Our first stop this morning was just before 11 AM at the North Star Mall in San Antonio.
|We had time before the LEGO Store opened, so we visited the restrooms. Debbie saw this fantastic sign in the women's restroom.
|As we waited for the LEGO Store to open, we saw these giant boots on a partition for a not-yet-open store. We made a mental note to look for these when we left the mall.
|Right at 11 AM, the store opened, and we were greeted by this giant custom LEGO figure standing on a stack of dynamite and holding the plunger. An "A" for beauty, but an "F" for safety.
|After looking at the sets, and then deciding that there wasn't anything she wanted on the Pick & Build wall, Debbie started looking at the minifig parts at the Build-a-Minifig station. She found an armless torso she liked and a very nice store employee said he would look in the back to see if he had the arms that went with it. Unfortunately, he didn't find any of them, but he brought an identical armless torso and told her to take that one too.
|After the LEGO store, we headed upstairs to the food court for lunch. Tom went to a Chinese food stall and Debbie went to a Greek place. We were very happy with our choices and shared both of our meals.
|Here's a photo of Debbie's loot: minifigure pieces from the Build-a-Minifig station, and then a LEGO roses set from their botanical collection.
|We drove around the mall looking for the big cowboy boots and eventually found them at the entrance on the opposite side of the building from where we were. No wonder we didn't see them when we got there.
|We headed toward downtown, getting this shot of a giant Pearl beer can that was right next to the highway.
|Our route took us right by the Alamodome, home of the University of Texas San Antonio football team.
|We drove to a parking garage on Commerce Street, ...
|... within easy walking distance to the San Antonio River Walk. We went on a walking tour, stopping first at the iconic Casa Rio, ...
|... with its colorful umbrellas along the river.
|As this tile showed, its been here since 1946.
|We walked along the river walk, stopping to take photos of this restaurant. Debbie ate here in 2014 when it was called the Fig Tree Restaurant. Located in the Dashiell House, it is now called Smoke BBQ and Riverbar.
|At Presa Street, we returned to the surface level and looked at this old iron bridge. The sign on it said that it had been built by the Berlin Iron Bridge Company in 1890.
|It was beautiful, and looked as though it had recently been repainted.
|Here's a shot of the Briscoe Western Art Museum that we had walked by earlier when we were on the other side of the river.
|Check out the tiles on these stairs!
|Looking back across the river, we realized that we had walked right by a huge stage and didn't realize it. That's the Arneson River Theater stage on that side of the river, ...
|... with the seating on this side. What a cool idea!
|Where the river walk goes under the road, they have these very well-lit walkways.
|We turned onto the East River Walk, and passed by the San Antonio River Walk Public Art Garden, ...
|... before getting to the Marriott Hotel. Debbie had stayed in this hotel in 2014 when she was here for a conference.
This brick wall was the site of much fun with great friends back then.
|Check out this Texas Mountain Laurel tree.
|Here's a close up of its blooms and funny seed pods.
|Wow. This was a circular mosaic on the ground. Beautiful.
|We rejoined the main River Walk ...
|... and continued to the Hyatt Regency. We were here specifically to look for this statue and take Debbie's picture with it. She had seen a similar photo from a friend who had been here two months ago.
|Water from a fountain runs right through the hotel and out the other side.
|Outside the entrance to the Hyatt was this tile mosaic, designed by Thomas M. Stell, Jr., completed by Charles Francis Winans, and donated by the Tesoro Petroleum Company. It is dedicated to the idea that San Antonio is a community, and that every one has the same goal: to improve the city and make it a more desirable place to live.
|We walked past this fountain, up the stairs, ...
|... and out onto Alamo Plaza. There were large fences closing off much of the square as part of an archeological project to determine what of the original mission's walls remain.
|There were a series of brass plates along the walkway to the square.
|Each showed what buildings were here during specific periods of history. This one showed what it looked like in 1900, after the Civil War when the US Army had used the Alamo for storehouses and offices.
|This one was from 1785, when it was the Mission San Antonio de Valero and the main threat was from raiding Apache indians.
|The first plate was from 1744, when the church collapsed, but before there were any fortifications around the site.
|Down in the corner of each plate was the name of the artist, George Nelson, and the sponsor Phil Collins. We thought it was just a coincidence until we checked the Internet and found out that THE Phil Collins, famous British musican, is a huge collector of Alamo memorabilia.
|This cool metal disk was on the ground, embedded in the stone around the square.
|There was a monument in the square, ...
|... dedicated to those who fell defending the Alamo when it had been reclaimed by Mexican troops in 1836.
|As we were heading back to the river walk, we spotted this LEGO display in a nearby shop window.
|What a cute sculpture! The detail is incredible.
|Inside, there was a huge diorama depicting the Battle of the Alamo. It was built by Adam Bell and his family over more than two years and includes more than 50,000 bricks.
|Check out that detail! You really get the feel of old limestone from the greebling on the walls.
|Everywhere you looked there was cool detail, like this defender working on a broken wagon inside the walls, ...
|... while the Mexican Army is storming the fortifications.
|Amazing! Look at the texture on those walls!
|Check out the Mexican Army wading across the river. The minifigs in the center of the river have had their legs removed, making it appear that they are waist-deep in water. It was such a cool effect.
|Look at the Pony Express rider carrying the mail, with a tiny cactus behind him.
|We spent a while looking at it all, and were amazed. No wonder it won an award for the "Best Historical" at the 2021 Brick Rodeo. It should win all of the awards. All of them.
|We walked back to the River Walk, where these ducks were so still that Tom originally thought they were statues.
|There was a CVS right on the River Walk, so we decided to go in and buy a few things.
|We crossed to the other side of the river and returned to the upper level a block down from here.
|We walked along Commerce Street, heading away from the parking garage. Check out this cool manhole cover with the star in the center.
|Our destination was the Shops at Rivercenter, ...
|... which contains the LEGOLAND Discovery Center San Antonio. We didn't go into the Discovery Center itself, so we went to the LEGOLAND store next door.
|We checked out the LEGOLAND license plates, looking for all of our grandkids' names and only finding one.
|Their Build-a-Minifig station was quite a bit different from the ones we'd seen in other LEGO stores, with various parts sorted into cups around this table.
|We looked briefly at the globe before leaving empty handed. Having been to several other LEGO stores very recently, we were put off by their prices which were all marked up sometimes as much as 25 percent from the usual LEGO prices.
|Here's a cool sculpture that we saw on the walk back to the van.
|We decided that we deserved a treat after all of that walking, so we stopped at a Whataburger for delicious Dr. Pepper shakes.
|Just after 3 PM, with the Austin skyline in the distance, we turned off the highway and made our way to ...
|... McKinney Falls State Park, our destination for the next two days.
|We set up the tent on the gravel right behind the van, and quickly transferred our gear.
|Wouldn't you want to stay there? We definitely would.
|After learning that SpaceX was planning to attempt a 33-engine static fire the next day, we decided to go out and explore a little of Austin tonight so we could spend time in camp the next day watching the coverage. We got back in the van, ...
|... and headed to the Barton Creek Square Mall, ...
|... and immediately went to the LEGO Store inside. After deciding against pieces from both the Pick & Build wall and the Build-a-Minifig station, Debbie settled on a single daffodil set. Oh, and a stamp for her passport, of course.
|We left the mall and headed northeast, checking out the Austin skyline from a little closer up this time.
|Our next stop was the original location of ...
|... Chuy's Fine Tex-Mex restaurant. Debbie remembers eating here back in the 80s when this was the only location. They are now a very successful chain spanning multiple states, including one location near our home.
|Here's the front of the building. If you look closely at the rail near the entrance, you can see car-hop speakers mounted to the railing.
|Who's a happy girl? Debbie is, that's who!
|Debbie ordered the deluxe chicken enchiladas and declared them to them to be the best Chuy's meal she's had since the 80s. She mumbled something about blue tortilla enchiladas under her breath, but Tom couldn't quite make it out.
|Leaving Chuy's, we proceeded to Barton Springs, which has a municipal pool built around it. The land was bought in 1918 by a local merchant, A.J. Zilker, and deeded to the city in 1931 for use as a park. It looked like a lovely swimming hole, and there were several groups of people swimming even though it was a chilly evening.
|Check out this cool disk, one of several drain covers mounted in the walkway from the pool entrance to the parking lot.
|We headed back toward the state park, and were thrilled when we were routed along a road that featured lots of cool neon signs. Check out the signs on the Green Mesquite, ...
|... and the detail on the cone at Sandy's Frozen Custard and Root Beer, ...
|... and this giant chicken at Fresa's.
|Roadhouse Relics had lots of neon art on display.
|What an adorable camping trailer sign!
|It was hilarious that the Bouldin Creek Cafe advertised itself as a caffeine dealer.
|The neon woman atop the Lucy's Fried Chicken sign doesn't look like she's wearing a good outfit for frying chicken.
|The last neon sign we saw was this one for Curra's Grill. The 78704 on the sign is the local zip code.
|The sun was setting as we got back to the state park.
|Just inside the entrance, we saw a few deer right along the road.
|There was a Starlink dish set up outside the big Class A RV at the site across from ours.
|We had dessert of tres leches cake that we'd gotten at Chuy's for take out. We stayed up very late, surfing on our phones, working on this travelog, talking, and enjoying each other's company. We finally went to bed just before midnight, listening to the unique sounds of state park wildlife mixed with the noises of the big city which wasn't too far away.
|Thursday, February 9, 2023: We woke up around 8 AM.
|There was lots of dew this morning. Even the gravel around the van was wet with it.
|We took down one cot and restored the tent to its lounge configuration. This configuration was a little modified, with both chairs next to each other and the table at the far end. This let both of us use the other cot as a foot rest, ...
|... as we worked on our laptops. Here, Debbie is modeling her new Voodoo Doughnut socks.
|We took the rainfly off of the tent, both to let in more light, ...
|... and to let the rainfly dry out. It hadn't rained over night, but the heat from the tent combined with the cold outside left the inside surface of the rainfly quite damp.
|Tom set up his phone on the table and streamed coverage of the SpaceX static fire attempt. Just before 2 PM, there was visible activity at the pad, ...
|... with a huge ground fog covering the pad from venting the liquid nitrogen used to chill down the lines in preparation for loading the rocket with propellant.
|Just after 2:30 PM, they had made progress with fuel loading, with frost forming on the stainless steel rocket as they loaded the extremely cold liquid oxygen into the tanks at the bottom of the rocket, and equally cold liquid methane at the top. They were loading much more liquid oxygen than was needed for the static fire, but just the necessary amount of liquid methane.
|The overall effect was really cool, with swirls of cloud moving around the base of the rocket as the frost hit the humid south Texas air.
|Just before 3:15 PM, Debbie happened to take a picture of Tom watching the coverage on his phone at the exact moment that the static fire started.
|Here are screenshots of the coverage from ten seconds before ignition, as they set off the fire suppression system on the orbital launch mount to disperse any liquid methane that may have been lingering under the rocket after fueling.
|Ignition! Elon Musk confirmed a little while later that 31 of the 33 engines had fired during the test, with SpaceX manually shutting down one engine before the test started, and one of the engines being shut down automatically by on-board software. In his confirmation, Musk said that had this been a launch, Starship would still have been able to get to orbit with 31 engines.
|It was an awesome sight. Booster 7 fired for seven seconds, which was a full duration static fire test.
|Toward the end of the test, you can see lots of birds fleeing the area, backlit by the fire of the engine plumes.
|With the static fire coverage concluded, we decided to explore the state park and headed over to Upper McKinney Falls. It was down a short trail from the visitor center and was strikingly beautiful. The river comes in from the left of this photo and then plunges over a shelf of rock to the pool below.
|There was a single turkey vulture circling overhead, making lazy circles as he flew above the pool.
|The tree just to the right of where we were standing had lots of fishing bobbers hanging from the branches.
|Here's a close up.
|We walked out onto the shelf forming the falls to get a closer look.
|Check out this stud right here. He's a handsome dude.
|Here's the falls themselves, ...
|... and a view from just upstream. The water flows through all of these eroded channels to form the falls.
|Debbie loves to look in tide pools, and this time was rewarded with some adorable super-tiny snails.
|A pair of Blackhawk helicopters flew by in formation and Tom watched until they were out of sight.
|We returned to our campsite, ...
|... and eventually decided to have beef stroganoff for dinner. We say this a lot, but this is one of our favorite meals.
As the sun set, the site next to us belonging to the camp host lit up, with lights that ring their covered outdoor seating area turning on automatically as it got dark.
Copyright © Deborah Schilling/Thomas Bundy