Sunday, February 3, 2008

Westbound from Livingston - President Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) Ranch and Museum

Our first stop after departing Livingston was Johnson City, about 30 miles west of Austin, TX. Austin is located on the southeastern eastern fringe of the Texas Hill Country, a large area of scenic rolling, thinly forested hills in central Texas.

Texas Hill Country

Austin, the State Capitol, is a bustling mid size city with a number of interesting places to visit. Johnson City is a small Texas town with little to recommend it except for the LBJ ranch, about 15 miles west of town. After Lady Bird died last summer, the NPS took over the LBJ Texas White House and is in the process of developing tourist access. There is a nice visitors center with interpretive displays and films, and a tram tour of the ranch, including a reconstruction of the ancestral farmhouse where LBJ was born. Interestingly, this farmhouse was not reconstructed recently by the NPS, but by LBJ himself after becoming president, so he could show visiting dignitaries his roots. The main ranch house (LBJ Texas Whitehouse) is not yet open to visitors. According to terms of the LBJ will, the Johnson children continue to have use of the house, ranch, and adjoining airstrip for the rest of their lives, after which they become public property. The setting for the ranch, on small the Pedernales River, is positively bucolic. I envy LBJ the opportunity to have grown up in this almost idyllic setting.

The day after visiting the ranch, we drove back to Austin to tour the LBJ library and museum, which is situated on the U of Texas Austin campus. The museum contains much interesting interpretive material about the life, times, and Presidency of LBJ. There is, of course, a movie, as well as a rein-actor who portrayed LBJ the senator ca. late 1950’s. This stuff may seem dull to you kids, but to those of us who lived through the assassination of JFK, the Great Society, the Vietnam War, and guns & butter economic policy, it brought back many bittersweet memories. The parallels between the Vietnam War and the current debacle in Vietraq are truly disturbing. I’ve attached a cartoon which captures the essence of the fiscal conflict between the costly war and the great society program

Guns and Butter, 1960's Rendition

Our next destination was Carlsbad, New Mexico, location of the Carlsbad Caverns. We originally planed to cover the 450 miles in one day, but were delayed by the “man plans, God laughs” thing. Rolling west on I-10, about 60 miles east of our turnoff at Ft. Stockton, we were jolted by a sudden, very loud banging in the rear of the coach. With no alarm from our tire pressure monitor, it didn’t seem we had a blowout, but something clearly was very wrong. Keith gradually slowed the vehicle and eased it onto the thankfully wide shoulder, and discovered that the tread had delaminated from the casing of our inner right rear tire. With some help and encouragement from a very friendly and helpful passing TEX DOT guy, Keith installed the spare tire, then we drove west to Fort Stockton, where we visited a tire dealer recommended by the TEX DOT man. His parting comment was “you are a lot better equipped than the typical guy I stop to help.” That made Keith feel a little bit better.

Tire Man

Helpful TEX DOT guy

The irony of this situation was that it followed, by about an hour, a discussion about whether we needed to replace the rear tires in Seattle, or Anchorage. With about 5/32 remaining tread, Keith thought they might safely make it to Alaska. The common wisdom is that tires should be replaced at about 2/32 tread depth. God laughed at this wisdom, and Keith replaced all four rear tires in Fort Stockton. He is not entirely comfortable with the replacements. The new tires are Maxxis, which is a brand that Keith has never heard of. They were presented as a premium brand, and were substantially more expensive (about $750 for four tires) than the OEM level Firestones, which was the available alternative. Keith did some research on Google, and thinks they are a new Chinese brand tire. The claim to fame is a three ply sidewall. The installer claims they are the brand that he installs on local work trucks which drive mostly off road on ranch and oil field duty. Time will tell.

Needless to say, we did not make it to Carlsbad. We crashed at a Flying J in Pecos TX, about 50 miles up the road from Ft. Stockton. Our stay was uneventful, but this is the worst J we have encountered. Mediocre food, dirty tables, nonexistent breakfast buffet, air hoses missing from service island, etc. However, it provided a safe place to sleep for the night pending our journey onward to Carlsbad.

The Carlsbad story follows in our next post. In the meantime, check the photos below

Animatronic LBJ

Ranch Critters

LBJ Texas White House

LBJ Grave in Family Cemetary

Reconstructed LBJ Boyhood Home

Pecan Orchard

Pedernales River


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