Wednesday, March 12, 2003                       Kingsville, TX to Botines, TX

The fog was thick on Wednesday morning, which was a perfect excuse not to ride. I drove out to those counties instead, then headed south to collect the counties along the Mexican border. Along the way, I stretched my legs in Falfurrias.

The Pioneer Theater appeared to have been closed somewhat recently.

The Alameda, on the other hand, looked like it had been neglected for years.

From Falfurrias, I continued  east to US 77. As I drove down US 77 through sparsely populated Kenedy County, I pondered some numbers. I figured out that if there were just nine single-occupant vehicles (and there were more than that) traveling each of the 47  miles of US 77 through Kenedy County , that would exceed the population  of the entire 1,457 square mile county! Dominated by ranches (namesake Mifflin Kenedy was once a partner with Richard King in the famous King Ranch), Kenedy  County has approximately 420 human residents and about 30,000 bovine residents. Between math calculations, I decided to ride one of the two southernmost routes in Best Bike Rides Texas. One ride, the South Padre Island Ramble, sounded  like a really bad idea since it was spring break. The other, a loop through the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, was much more promising. But first, I made a pit stop at the spacious, clean rest area and welcome center in Harlingen.

The welcome center in Harlingen flew the flags of the  six nations that have claimed Texas: the United States of America, the Republic of Texas (now the state flag, of course), the Confederate States of America, Mexico, France and Spain.

I expected to pay an entrance fee when I drove into Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. Instead, as part of an open house coinciding with spring break, it was free. I looked at exhibits in the visitor center, then I went out to unload my bike.

Click here for the Laguna Atascosa Ride

It was dark when I stopped at a Chili's in McAllen for a Monterrey chicken breast and a salad. After dinner, I struck out for Laredo. I still had many miles to cover. By the time I reached Laredo several hours later, I decided it was too late to spring for a motel room. I drove up I-35 to the welcome center to sleep in the car instead. The welcome center, located near the US 83 junction and a tiny railroad water stop  named Botines, was new and fancy, looking like an old mission. A security guard was parked only a few hundred feet away, so I felt somewhat safe. I reclined the seat and drifted off.

Artist of the Day: Stevie Ray Vaughan - When he died at age 35 in 1990, Vaughan had already established himself as the greatest guitarist in contemporary  blues rock. I remember hearing the news on the radio. He had jammed with his older brother Jimmie (of the Fabulous Thunderbirds), Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Buddy Guy and Jeff Healey past midnight at Alpine Valley (in East Troy, WI). Then he climbed into a helicopter that crashed  in the fog.  His upbeat, Grammy-winning  1989 release,  In Step, had marked his return from drug and alcohol problems. He seemed to be headed for the next level of success, then suddenly he was gone. An album that he recorded with Jimmie, Family Style,  came out soon after his death and won two Grammies, as would an album of outtakes, The Sky Is Crying.

Honorable Mention: Johnny Winter - Another great Texan blues guitarist is  Johnny Winter, raised in Beaumont. I have one of his albums, Second Winter, on vinyl. It's an unusual release. Although it's a two-record set, there are only three sides. The second side of the second record is blank--no grooves and no label.

Honorable Mention: Edgar Winter - Johnny's younger brother had two big hits, " Free Ride" and one of the best rock'n'roll instrumentals of all time, " Frankenstein."

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