Saturday, December 1, 2007

September 28, 2007 - Semnole Canyon/Lake Amistad Ride and Campout

Job 1:21
He said,
"Naked I came from my mother's womb,
And naked I shall return there
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the LORD."

Years back, I remember hearing a talk given by Dennis Rainey of FamilyLife about camping with the family. Mr. Rainey said that camping as a family is great experience because inevitably during the campout some crisis will arise, and the family will rally together to get past the crisis. Rising to the challenge, overcoming adversity, resolving the crisis is what creates the some of the fondest memories in our lives.

The Holy Hogs ride to Seminole Canyon was a great and memorable ride because it was full of challenges and adversity. During this trip we together conquered torrential downpours, heat stroke, running out of gas, rain, lack of sleep, darkness and deer --- just to name a few. Yet as I write this blog, I’ve got a smile on my face and thank God for such a glorious ride.

The ride started on Friday, September 28, 2007 at 8:45AM from Ramon’s house. One of the goals of this ride was to do an overnight campout. Because of this, we started our trip on a Friday, rather than our typical Saturday start day. Our motorcycles were loaded down with camping supplies for the long trip. We fueled up our motorcycles and headed to Wimberley to fuel up our bodies.

At Wimberley we stopped at Cypress Creek Café to have some breakfast and plan out the route for our trip to Del Rio/Lake Amistad/Seminole Canyon. Click here for a full map route of the trip we took.

We then headed west riding through the towns of Fischer, Comfort and to Centerpoint. This part of the ride was identical to the ride we did on August 11. However from Centerpoint onward, this ride would take a more southern route to Bandera, Utopia and then north to Leakey. Like I’ve mentioned before in the blog, I believe that this part of the Hill Country best represents my thoughts on what “Hill Country” is. From Centerpoint to Leakey, you are surrounded by a combination of hills, valleys, streams and rivers. The terrain doesn’t support heavy industry or farming, so most the predominant business here is ranching – and there are some beautiful ranches in this area. Here’s a picture of Medina River from TX 173.

Definition of Utopia - An ideally perfect place, especially in its social, political, and moral aspects. I’ve always wanted to experience Utopia and during this ride we did. Here we are in front of the Old Rock Store at Utopia, Texas. The Old Rock Store was the first building in Utopia and was built in 1873 by Joe Hastler, who was a stonemason. This picture was taken by the camera's self-timer because the person we asked to take the picture said he woudn't because"You guys are too ugly". After that comment, we found Utopia not very Utopian, and we saddled up and left town looking for a place for lunch.

Our ride took us past the Frio river and Garner State Park and to the very small town of Leakey. We stopped at downtown Leakey, which consisted of a couple of multi-tenant strip type buildings. Our choices for lunch were limited, and we ended up choosing at Mama Chole's - a Mexican food restaurant. When we entered, it seemed like everyone stopped talking and stared at us. It was as if we were the "Del Fuego" motorcycle group the movie "Wild Hogs". We were served day old chips (at least day old), and everyone in the restaurant seemed to be listening to our conversation. The food was less than stellar and we were ready to get out of Leakey and to Camp Wood, and then Rocksprings. Just outside (10-20 miles) of Rocksprings on Texas 55, the area was densely populated with live oak trees. I've never seen live oak trees so thick and thought it odd that this western fringe of central Texas had so many oaks.

From Rocksprings, we rode southbound on RR 674 toward Brackettville. RR 674 had the most varied and picturesque of all the roads we traveled on this trip. In just a short 55 miles, RR 674 provided hills, valleys, creeks, windy curves, long straights, and lush to sparse desert-like vegetation. Jim hit a rabbit on during this stretch (his bike is a magnet for animals). Jim also took Val on a speed run on a long stretch of road - hitting 120, a new personal best. We also ran across a low water crossing with a whirlpool caused by one of the culverts. Water was streaming across the crossing - further evidence of this year's bountiful rainfall. Here's a video of one of our stops on RR 674.

We rode into Brackettville at around 6PM and took US 90 to Del Rio with sunset less than an hour away. We arrived at Del Rio with the sun setting in our eyes, reminding us that the remainder of the ride would be in darkness, on unknown roads and likely deer. Del Rio appeared to be a bustling town that was large enough to support all the typical businesses you would find in a large city. Even though we just rode through the town, the city reminded me of McAllen, Texas - another Texas border city. We continued on US 90 in a northwesternly direction toward Seminole Canyon. We passed over the Rio Grande and by the Lake Amistad Reservoir. The reservoir was formed in November, 1969 by the construction of Amistad Dam to provide flood control, water conservation, irrigation, hydroelectric power, and recreation to the area. The dam and lake are managed jointly by the governments of the United States and Mexico through the International Boundary and Water Commission. The name of the dam and lake is the Spanish word for "friendship".

Continuing on US 90, we encountered a border checkpoint. We talked with the border patrol agents about our plans and recommendations on where we could get fuel and food. The agents were very helpful and said that the only town that would have gas along the way would be Comstock. However Comstock businesses typically shut down by 8:00PM. It was 8:02 and we were low on petro and our stomachs were growling. We decided to back track about 10 miles to get some gas and grub before heading back out to Seminole Canyon. The border patrol agents reminded us that deer in the area are prolific and to keep a keen eye out for them since we were on motorcycles.

Now heading south on US 90, we stopped at an Italian restaurant called Carusso's. The place was like an Olive Garden. The food was good and the portions, fortunately for us very hungry guys, very generous. After dinner we fueled up, prayed for a safe trip and headed back north on US 90. We passed the border patrol check point again and into what seemed total darkness. At this point, it was pass 10PM and US 90 had very little traffic. The only ambient light was the moon. We rode in a reverse delta formation with Jim and Don illuminating the road ahead with their high beam headlights, and Ramon in the slot position. Knowing that there was deer around, I believe we were all driving with heighten awareness and white knuckles.

After nearly 15 hours of riding on our motorcycles, we reach Seminole Canyon State Park at around 11:30PM. We find a campsite and set up camp in the dark. Ramon has a small two man tent that sets up in less than 5 minutes. Don and Jim bring 6 man tents each and take nearly an hour setting up the tents. We eventually settle down and hit the sack at around 12:30AM. The three quarter moon was shining bright with low level clouds racing across an otherwise clear Texas sky. All you could hear were the crickets and the occasional gusts of wind flapping against our poorly anchored tents - then the snoring started, ha! Here a video of our stay at Seminole Canyon.

The next morning we packed up and decided to take the guided park tour of the prehistoric shelters and pictographs that make Seminole Canyon a historic site.

Before the tour started, one of the park staff was making an arrow-like weapon using just wood, lashing and an arrowhead. Turn out that this young man was making an Atalatal – an ancient Spear Thrower Spur weapon. The guy was very passionate about is Atalatal work and was very excited to demo how the weapon was used – the tour gave him some very gratifying ooohs and aaahhs. We found a picture of the guy at this link.

The guided tour takes one down into caves within a valley. The hike is probably close to a mile in length with 400 foot change in elevation. The Interpretive Specialist during our tour claims that the pictographs have been dated back between 4000 to 7000 years ago. This begs the question - are you an "old world" or "young world" believer? The video above gives you a good idea of what the tour is about.

On the way up, Don nearly had a heat stroke from the hike, the heat, lack of sleep, food and fluids. We eventually make it up to our motorcycles and headed out (Don still in shorts) to nearby Comstock for some lunch.

It was about 12 noon. All we had to eat for the day was some cereal bars that Denise, thankfully, packed for us. We hadn't had our 8 cups of coffee each yet. We had physically exerted ourselves with the guided tour and the ride in general. Yes, we were ready to eat something, soon! Comstock was the first town along our route out of Seminole Canyon. Comstock is a small town of about 400 residents. The heart of the town is on US 90 and has a gas station, a grocery store and a restaurant called "Holley's Bar and Grill" - BTW all the aforementioned businesses had the Holley namesake.

We walked into Holley's and quickly discovered that the place is a classic "Beer joint". The place featured a large bar area, a couple of pool tables, a couple of dining tables and wall's plastered with old beer posters. There was one patron having a beer. There was one employee - Vickie - the owner, waitress, barmaid and cook. We sat at a table that was right next to an air conditioning windows unit. Don needed the cool air. The menus were on handwritten paper bags. This place had a funky character and we were cautiously optimistic that the food could be good. We all ended up ordering a cheese burger with fries or tots.

Vickie went to the back of the establishment to cook our order while we guzzled large quantities of coffee and tea. The burgers were served and they were absolutely fantastic! The meat was a hand made, fresh patty, cooked to perfection. The buns were lightly toasted. The vegetables were very fresh (we heard her chopping up everything). Think of an old fashion burger and that's what we got a Holley's. Mmmm.

Refreshed from the food, drink and air conditioning, we mounted up and headed out of Comstock. Don and Jim fueled up at Holley's gas station and grocery. Ramon didn't fuel up because he thought he had the range to get to the next gas stop. Instead Ramon snapped this picture of Mexico from the highest point in Comstock - at the intersection of US 90 and TX 163. Mexico is only 5 miles from Comstock, so off in the distance should be Mexico.

Don returned to his normal self and as you can tell by the picture to the right, was very happy to be riding again. The weather was beautiful - about 80 degress, with partly cloudy skies and a slight breeze. The terrain on TX 163 varied between desert and hill country attributes. The road transitioned from long stretches of relatively flat roads with little brush to curvey roads surrounded by hills and medium sized oak trees.

There were several low water crossing that actually had water flowing over them on this stretch of road. In the Austin area, we typically see water flowing over low water crossing during flood conditions. From what we could tell, there hadn't been any recent heavy rains that could have caused the water to overflow - so water flowing over these crossings is probably a normal event. Jim said that Val didn't like driving over the flowing water.

After about 70 miles on 163, took US 277 south bound for about 6 miles, then eastbound in US 55 to Rocksprings. We encounter wet roads, but no rain. Just 3 miles out of Rocksprings, Ramon and Fofo run out of gas. Ramon was riding the anchor leg and was left behind by Don and Jim who were unaware. Fortunately by the time they reached Rocksprings, they noticed and back tracked to find Ramon on the side of the road. Don rode back the Rocksprings and returned with a gallon of gas. Never again will Ramon not take fuel with the rest of the group! Unfortunately, this incident delayed us about 1.5 hours on top of an already slow start home.

We all fuel up a Rocksprings with the next destination being Garven's Store on the way to Kerrville. Within 5 minutes of leaving Rocksprings we see rain clouds. There is also a rainbow. Looks like we are going to get wet. 10 minutes later, we are riding in a heavy downpour. With helmets fogging up, visors and glasses covered with splattered raindrops, we are riding with impaired visibility. God provides us shelter in the form of a covered rest area within minutes. We drive the bikes underneath the shelters and wait for the rain to subside. We are soaked to the bone. After waiting 30 minutes and assessing weather radar on Don's phone, we ride on.

We stop a Garven's to fuel up and buy Jerky and Three sisters T-shirts. We really like this store. It is now 6PM and darkness is closing rapidly. Driven by time and distance, we decide to take break one of our cardinal rules (Do NOT ride Interstates) and take I10 to Kerrville. With the legal speed limit on I10 at 80 Mph, we make good time to Kerrville. The sunset was beautiful, as was the deep cut throughs that I10 has through the hillside. In the distance there are anvil clouds with lightning to the north. Even though the clouds look 30 miles away, we begin to feel an occsional drop of rain as we exit Kerville to take TX 16 North. It is 22 miles to Fredericksburg. The sun completely goes away at around mile 10. At mile 18, the clouds let loose and it begins to rain heavily. God again provides shelter in form of a Shell station and a Denny's. We fuel up and eat at Denny's. We had discussions about the Cosby kids, of which Don has the most interest.

The rest of the ride is like autopilot for us - Fredericksburg to US 290, US 281, US 290, back to Austin in our reverse Delta Anti-Deer formation. We all eventually get home around the 11 o'clock hour, thanking God for the wonderful trip and fellowship we had.

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