We wanted to get out and take a walk, so we started looking for local parks. We found Audubon Park. There was on-street parking, and their website states there is a parking lot as well. You can also take the St. Charles Streetcar to get to the Park. The park had a a golf course, a great walking/biking trail. There were a few shelters and spots to have a picnic. There was a pond as well, but no fishing was allowed. It sits next to the Audubon Zoo and also across from Tulane University. The park itself was free, but the Zoo and golfing do cost extra.
Restrooms were also hard to come by if you are not familiar with the park. Shelters 10, 11, 12 are listed as having restrooms. (Two of which are on the same side of the park.) The men’s restroom was closed at Shelter 10 and while the women’s was open, it was missing toilet paper in some stalls and was ok in terms of cleanliness.
We really enjoyed walking around the park and seeing the huge live oak trees. We stopped at the Tree of Life (Note: It’s on the zoo side, not the golf course side, so we had to cross the road to get to that part of the park). It was planted around 1740! The tree was amazingly large and very neat to see.
We also saw The Labyrinth while we were on that side of the park. It is a two part maze, but is built into the ground, so there is no getting lost! We had a kind of sunny day, so it was a little hard to see the different colors of the bricks marking the path.
We were in the mood to explore outside. After some online searching, Hermann Park came up on several lists of things to see in Houston.
It was a cloudy day, but the park was very busy.
We walked around the park checking out what was available. There was a small train to ride, a lake with paddle boats, walking trails, picnic areas, and a Japanese Garden.
We walked through the Japanese Garden, but after San Antonio’s amazing Japanese Tea Garden, it was a bit of a let down. Maybe in the spring when it is more green and things are blooming it would be better.
We walked a path down towards the lake and found some trees for the boys to try their new hammocks. We sat and watched the birds/ducks/geese while the kids hung out.
Texas is the first place I could see living in besides Ohio; however, not in Houston. Houston just doesn’t have the same nice feel as the other cities, and is by far the worst at mask wearing and compliance. Even in stores where it is “required”, a lot of people do not wear them and there is no enforcement of the rule.
We had been looking forward to seeing the San Antonio River Walk for a long time, years in fact. So, of course, one of our first stops in San Antonio was the River Walk.
After driving around to find parking (everything is paid parking, even street parking), we lucked out and found a spot near one of the River Walk bridge entrances.
The River Walk is as neat as everyone says. There were sections of just walking (or running for some people) with plants growing along the walls or decorations in the retaining/bridge walls. Then there was the shopping and restaurant section of the River Walk. The restaurants certainly had great patio views.
Our first trip there was during the day, which was great. But Ben had seen online that the Christmas lights really make it beautiful. So, we went back during a Luminary weekend, which was too pretty. We found a restaurant next to the river to eat dinner (Casa Rio). All the wait staff wore masks, and there were plastic curtains between tables. They also seated customers with a table in between them for spacing. The ducks that occupy the canal are expert beggars at these restaurants. The kids named them water pigeons. While eating it was fun to hear snippets of the boat tour guides speeches as they passed. Ultimately, we got to sit and and enjoy the lights as they came on at dusk.
The restaurants were decked out in lights, there were lights hanging down from the trees and they had luminaries placed along the sidewalk. It looked like open-drink carry was allowed, as we saw several people with (plastic) glasses of wine or even baggies with straws for frozen margaritas.
CAUTION: Most of the sidewalk does not have railings. Be careful while walking along the edge. It would be really easy to fall in. Luckily, we did not.
It was a really neat treat to see the River Walk and so far it has had my favorite Christmas decorations.
The Fort Worth Coliseum holds weekly rodeos on Friday and Saturday nights. They have competitors come in from all over (on the night we went they had one cowboy from Alaska and two from Brazil). They had timed events and rough stock events. (According to their website, Saturday nights have more rough stock events.) We learned that a rough stock event is normally bull and bronco riding, whereas a timed event is the roping and barrel racing.
It was our first ever rodeo and we weren’t sure what to expect. The Coliseum had a few different seating options: General Seating, Silver Spur (set of 5 reserved seats, in first two rows), Gold Buckle (reserved seats in the middle, cushioned seats with cup holders), VIP (3 rows with a bar). We were worried about taking the risk going to a rodeo during the pandemic and chose the Gold Buckle seats to ensure our greatest chance at social distancing. We were lucky enough to be sponsored for these seats from an award Ben had received from work. It turned out great! The chairs were very comfortable and gave us some distance from other people. We were also close to the action. So close we even had dirt flung up from the arena floor a couple times.
We saw bull riding, roping, barrel racing, bronco and bare back bronco riding. The strength and flexibility to do these events was remarkable. Even with the high skill of these athletes, one cowboy get knocked out and had to be carried off the field.
Due to COVID, the Coliseum limited seating to 75% and required masks to enter. The announcer was great about reminding people to socially distance and to wear masks throughout the event. However, there was no real enforcement. Once people were inside, it seemed like at least half of them took their masks off (not for eating/drinking, just off). We left ours on the whole time.
We delayed putting this blog out until we were sure we did not end up with COVID from the experience. Luckily we are all still healthy (i.e.-no-COVID fallout from the Rodeo). Yee haw!
We were worried about the animals. It was amazing to see these athletes demonstrate their craft, but it concerned us that the animals could be hurt for our entertainment. Specifically, we wanted to know what was being done to make the bulls and horses buck. I did some reading and discovered it is a combination of breeding and the use of a pressure inducing flank strap. Here are a couple of the articles on why bulls buck: Arlington, LiveAbout.
Overall, our first rodeo was a lot of fun and definitely a learning experience. I’m not sure that I would go out of my way to see another Rodeo, but I am very glad I had the opportunity to see it.
The last time we went into the Stockyards, we didn’t time it right to see the daily cattle drive or the gunfight show that happens on Saturdays and Sundays.
We headed back on Saturday to walk around, shop, and watch the shows. Nick found a new belt, complete with large buckle. Will and I found new straw cowboy hats.
We saw the cattle drive first. It was pretty cool to see the long horn cattle. Each of their horns were different shapes and lengths. There was an announcer prior to the cattle drive giving some interesting facts. So far, the widest longhorn horns have been almost 11 feet wide (he lives in Alabama though)! VIDEO: Fort Worth Stockyards Cattle Drive
We were waiting for the gunfight show to start, so Ben and Will explored a store (Stockyards Trading/Stockyards Back Forty) by the action. They finally found a hat for Will, but the show was starting. The shop was nice enough to hold it for us until after the show. Will thought it was a little snug, so the shop used a wooden hat stretcher to help it fit better.
Ben also bought me a pair of earrings. There was so much cute stuff in the shops at the Stockyards. We’re going to miss the big Christmas event, but we still found a few things to ship back home for gifts.
Walking around the area was fun to do by itself too. We saw the stockyard pens in the back. There was a walkway that goes over the top for observation. There was a really cool old turnstile as well.
We also found two large objects: a set of spurs and a belt.
We were getting hungry walking around Fort Worth Stockyards. There were a lot of steakhouses in the Stockyards area, so we decided to eat what Texas is known for (steak)! We stopped to eat lunch at Cattlemen’s Steak House.
The pricing was a little expensive, but the 6 oz steak pricing wasn’t too far off from what we would normally pay. The lunch menu was about half the price of dinner options. They also offered a kids menu, with a 6 oz steak and 1 side option. It was about $4 cheaper than our lunch (same 6 oz steak). We did get a side salad though.
After we ordered drinks and our meals, they brought out rolls. The rolls were standard table rolls, round, a little dry.
Our salads came next. They were ok. It looked like a basic side salad: iceburg/romaine lettuce, some croutons, shredded carrots, dressing.
Our meals came on a fun plate. The kids had ordered fries with their steaks (the fries had a nice seasoning, but a little too crispy for me). Ben and I got baked potatoes as our side. They brought each one with the trimmings on the side (bacon, sour cream, chives, cheese).
The steak was nice and juicy. We had all ordered medium, although Ben and mine were more medium well than medium. They had a great flavor and were very tender.
If you walked around the restaurant, the two dining sections had it’s own grill area, so you could watch them make the steaks. I thought that was a really fun touch.
They also offered steaks for sale that could be air mailed.
I loved the Stockyards. I had been in the Fort Worth area once before (a long time ago, before kids) for work training. It was still really cool coming back a second time.
The Stockyards are now a historic district with shopping and restaurants. However, it once had so many cattle going through, that it was nicknamed Cowtown. It was a working stockyard with a railroad line, cattle sales, shipping, and processing.
As you walked around, there were parts of the shopping areas that had cobblestone walkways. These were the original brick! The Livestock Exchange Building now has offices, the Historical Society, and cattle actions via satellite. There was a daily (free) cattle drive with Texas Longhorns at 11:30am and 4:00pm. On Saturdays and Sundays there was a gunfight show (also free) at 11:45am and 4:15pm. They still hold weekly rodeos in the Coliseum (which according to them held the first indoor rodeo!).
We visited the Stockyards on our second day in town. Parking was a bit tight (not the spot sizes, but finding one). There were plenty of lots, but they were gearing up to the Christmas season and there were a lot of people around. There was some free parking, but the closer lots were $10 and $15/day. After we parked, we mostly wandered around and took in the views. We bought a few postcards, some Christmas gifts, small ornaments. It was decorated for Christmas, which looked really pretty.
We grabbed some lunch at a local steakhouse, saw some amazing wood furniture, admired the Texas Longhorn Cattle, and enjoyed the beautiful weather.
Nick tried his hand at riding a mechanical bull. He did pretty well. It was $8/ride.
Post steakhouse, the cattle took its revenge on Nick.
There were a few reasons we stayed in Arizona. One: To help break up the long, long, long, drive across the bottom of the country. (Seriously, you see it on a map, but until we were driving and there was literally nothing for a hundred+ miles, it doesn’t quite sink in just how much land this country has.) Two: To see the cacti. We went to Saguaro National Park, which was about a half hour drive from our campsite. Saguaro actually has two sections to the park: East and West. They are not connected! (See map below.) Although each side had the saguaro cactus that the park was named for, they did offer different things to see. We went to see Saguaro West, because I wanted to see the petroglyphs.
The Visitor Center looked like a nice building (but had closed by the time we got there). It had some nice informational signs with desert life information. There was not a ranger booth/ticket booth like in many of the other National Parks we had been to. Instead, you paid at the Visitor Center. There was also an outside payment box if the Visitor Center was closed. ($25/car for 7 days or $45 for a Saguaro annual pass. It is $80 for the America The Beautiful pass that lets you into all National Parks, Monuments, etc.)
We drove the Bajada Loop (aka Hohokam Rd.) It was really neat to see, but I would recommend going in a truck, SUV, or a car that sits up higher. The highway and road to the Visitor Center was paved. However, the scenic loop road was not! While, the end of the road was nice and flat, there were sections along the rest of the road that were definitely bumpy and had some ruts. (See Video: Drive Through Saguaro National Park West) We only saw a few people in the whole park, maybe 10 people besides us.
There were a few spots to pull off and hike. It was a warm day, 90 degrees F, so we just stuck with easy short trails. We ended up doing 3 trails: Valley View, Signal Hill (petroglyphs), and Desert Discovery Nature Trail (paved). In total, about 2 miles of hiking, so it was a light day.
Valley View offered a great view at the end of the trail over the valley below. There were just cacti as far as the eye could see. It also offered a few interesting plant information plaques along the way. It must be amazing when the cacti are in bloom.
We only saw 1 lizard (looked like a small whiptail like we have been seeing out West) and a few birds. We did see a web on the ground that covered a good amount of space, but no spider to go with it.
Signal Hill was a short trail at the Signal Hill Picnic Area. There were several great grill areas and benches around for picnics. At the top of the trail was what looked like a pile of rocks. There were a bunch of petroglyphs on these rocks, some you can see from the bottom of the trail looking up, some you can see right next to the trail. If you enjoy petroglyphs, I would definitely take this trail (it’s only a .3 mile trail according to the park).
We ended the day with the Desert Discovery Nature Trail. It was an easy paved path. There were several informational signs around the trail. The sun was beginning to set, which gave the cacti a really neat backdrop. We saw a roadrunner running through the bushes near the parking lot. (Contrary to what TV taught me, there was no coyote chasing it. We didn’t see any ACME products either. They were fast, but didn’t say “Beep Beep”.)
There are 7 caves along the La Jolla coast. Most of them are accessible only by water, but Sunny Jim’s Cave can be walked to through The Cave Store.
The history of the Cave Store goes like this: Gustav Schultz, in 1902, hired two men to dig out a tunnel down to the cave. (It took 1.5 – 2 years to finish, depending on the information sources I read.) He then charged admission to walk down and see the cave. The original path did not have lights or stairs. The stairs were added in later. The store claims there is 145 steps; however, Will counted 142 (including the ones beginning at the store level).
The store employees said it is still the original foundation for the store, which is pretty cool! It’s a great hidden spot on the coast, so apparently smugglers also made use of the cave many years ago. There is still a charge for admission ($10/adults, $7/kids ages 3-17). You can also book your time online, as reservations are required due to COVID.
I definitely took the stairs slowly, as they were uneven, some slanted to one side, and some were wet from moisture dripping out of the rocks.