Previous to our Red Bay stop, we spent a day discovering three of the twenty Painted Churches of the Texas Hill Country. In 1984, 15 of these country churches became listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Tours are provided by the Greater Schulenburg Chamber of Commerce and a map is available for a few dollars for those wishing to take a self-guided tour.
Built by 19th century German and Czech immigrants with a strong faith in God, they came looking for land, economic opportunity and religious freedom.
These churches were often the second or third church building the community constructed. The ones now standing became a symbol of success for the new Texans, proving to themselves that they had successfully survived the transition from their homeland, acquired land, built schools and established churches to nurture their spirits and sustain their faith.
The outsides give the appearance of American country churches with arched Gothic Revival windows, white frame or stone sidings and long tall Texan steeples piercing the brilliant blue sky.
Saints Cyril and Methodius Church in Dubina was our first stop. We arrived a few minutes behind a large tour bus and waited while they settled in before entering. History lesson already in session, we sat in the back enjoying the docent’s chat that included entertaining tidbits about the church.
Crossing the thresholds of each church, one would expect simple wooden interiors but instead you are met with vibrant frescoes, elaborate hand painted details, stenciling and an unexpected wash of colors so intense everything is bathed in its glow. The profusion of color provides a perfect backdrop for saintly statues and intricate art work depicting the heavens and nature in ribbons across walls, arches and ceilings.
Andrew Ammann and his family established the tiny town of Ammannsville in 1870 and in 1917 St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, also known as “the pink church”, was built. We spotted the steeple long before we came upon the church. Empty of visitors but invitingly peaceful inside, we sat quietly absorbing the glow from the walls and reading the history of the church from the guide map.
Inscriptions on the walls are in the mother tongue of those who built them, German and Czech immigrants.
The hurricane in July of 1909 destroyed many of the churches but the towns rebuilt them and in the 1950’s, after years of their beauty being whitewashed, they were returned to near their original state.
Nativity of Mary Blessed Virgin Catholic Church in High Hill was built in 1906. One of the first churches built by German trained, educated and noted Texas Architect Leo Dielmann. Leo was the son of a contractor who already had a history of serving the Catholic church of Texas in multiple projects, including churches in Fredericksburg.
In the late 1800’s and into the 1900’s, the Catholic hierarchy attempted to influence communities in Texas to build in the practical “Spanish” or “Mission” style as it was well suited to the hot climate and less likely to be destroyed by fire or storms. The red brick exterior of the Nativity of Mary was important because the interior is wood, while the exterior is protected by brick, making it resistant to fire and storms. It was said that church leadership sometimes refused to bless wood churches upon completion.
High Hill’s decorative paintings, by Ferdinand Stockert and Hermann Kern, were completed in 1912. The walls and ceilings of Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church in San Antonio were also painted by the pair. Elders in the parish remember their parents saying that the images were first painted on canvas, then glued to the wood walls. From the choir loft you can still see bubbles in the now hardened canvas.
Until you view them up close, it is difficult to tell the pillars are not marble but wooden columns with baseboards shining like beige and emerald polished marble.
As was the custom, men sat on one side and women on the other. The placement of saint statues also follows the custom inside the churches.
The stories behind these churches are of families striving to succeed in a new world while preserving all the values and cultures of their homelands. Our next trip through, we plan to visit more of these historic and delightfully charming churches.
In a few days we will be parked in Red Bay awaiting repairs. Like having a tooth pulled at the dentist, it is a trip that makes me cringe at the thought. If I were making the rules, reaching 60 would allow you to abstain from doing anything that makes you cringe.
Today is our first day of waiting for the illusive time schedule for our repairs to begin. On past visits we had been notified the night before, giving us time to prepare. Not so this visit. Our call came early a.m. and the rush was on but we returned an hour later, measurements taken, no repairs happening today.
We have been paused on the dust bowl overflow lot for days watching movies and doing odd chores around the motorhome to occupy our minds and keep a firm grip on our sanity. This morning we were called and told our slide roof top had arrived.
Pull it all in and up, breakfast on hold, entering the bay to find a roof seven inches to long, ready to be installed. After listening to the repair guys talking about hacking off the end, I took John by the face, looked deep into his eyes and commanded, NO HACKING! We returned to our site to wait for the correct size to be manufactured. The silver lining, at finding out their mistake, my ready-to-explode blood pressure was relieved by purposeful walking. Nearly an hour of walking up and down the warehouses’ 45 repair bays to release tension while waiting for them to confirm, no hacking, they will manufacture another roof. Our “hurry up and wait” is approaching its second full week.
Each time we enter or exit Red Bay we take an alternative route just to spice things up a bit. We had gone for groceries and came back down a road that split the middle of miles of farm land and at our turn, we noticed a sign announcing “Auction Tonight”. Entering the dirt road, we approached a huge old warehouse with dozens of cars out front. Free entertainment for the night!
Sitting down in the back row, we watched as box load after box load of what looked like garage sale rejects was going to the highest bidder. One box contained grocery store dry goods. A gentleman down in front bid five dollars, won, dug through and picked out a box of crackers, opened the crackers and began munching. After seeing the sale prices at the snack stand, he got himself one heck of a great deal. When the sun began to sink, we left the auction empty handed and drove back to LilyPad to relax in front of the TV.
Although I have no intention of staying any longer than necessary, I am grateful for any Silver Linings, this trip having several. It included learning that the two overflow parking areas offer a special price for a full week stay. Our Red Bay stay is now the least expensive, $200.00 less per month including electricity, than any other place we have stayed while traveling. That excludes our Wally World RV Resort stays and workamping site stays that are free. And Silver Dollar Discount provided a fabulous deal. Now switched to decaffeinated tea, I found 8 boxes of my favorite, Good Earth Sweet & Spicy, expiration 2017, for a savings of $2.00 each box. Lastly, our little mom and pop DVD center rents movies 1/3 less than Red Box. Pausing to see the forest through the trees has its advantages in times of uninvited stress compounded by boredom.
John stopped into the office to check where our name was on the list and was informed that Tuesday the 21st we must be at repair bay 35 at 7:00 am. Our slide roof and entrance steps are scheduled for repair. Once inside the bay, everything must be removed from the cabinets and floor space.
Off to the lounge to wait from 7:00 am through 4:30 pm. At days end we replace what was taken out and roll back to our site. Red Bay repair trips are a continuous rinse and repeat for weeks on end.
Another call came Friday the 25th to bring LilyPad to repair bay 21 for our original problem, fixing the stress crack in the bedroom driver side slide. It is a two day project. Easter Sunday passed without notice, dinner was what was left in the fridge, friends and family to far away to reach.
Because we must vacate LilyPad for the night after she is in the paint shop all day absorbing the strong paint fumes, choosing a hotel that wasn’t remodeling or too old and stinky was a challenge. It took three tries to get an acceptable hotel. Happily on firm ground for our overnight, with dozens of TV shows to watch and a nice comfy bed, all three of us slept peacefully.
Our list had included replacing the top slide roof, calking and riveting our large slide topper to the motorhome, removing the glue mess that John made while trying to fix the slide topper, some warrantee work on our stairs, and repairing for a second time, the stress fracture on the bedroom slide.
From an unknown cause, a mold smell grew to intolerable, the thermostat flipped out needing replacement, our TV antenna became finicky and stopped working and our battery wiring to the car conked out. Our “it’s always something” list was alive and well and we hadn’t even left Red Bay.
The daily repairs remind me of our first car. It could have been assigned the title of “Lemon” but it was pre 1975 and the term had not yet been conceived. The car was a Ford, what I ended up calling a Fix Or Repair Daily. It was the neediest vehicle we had owned to date, excluding LilyPad. Forty-four years later, I have re-assigned the name to our rolling box. Unluckily, the vehicle must be purchased new and “claimed” a lemon within a few months of purchase along with having major mechanical complications. I’m not sure the problems we are having would be considered mechanical but I would have gleefully hired an attorney had we purchased it new. When you have this many repairs, it never hurts to check all avenues of compensation.
The last few days of March were spent on the road back to Conroe to prepare LilyPad for our trip to Canton Texas and the Tiffin Rally. Mansfield, LA was our midway overnight at our favorite inexpensive resort, Wally World RV Parking.
We paused at Conroe KOA for a rest and grocery fill up before setting off early morning for my first taste of a new-to-me Texas experience in decades, Canton First Monday.
Canton First Monday is the oldest and largest flea market in the country. Being a resident of the Houston area for over 30 years, I had never been. I think John planned for us to go when we were homeless and unemployed with no place to put anything or ability to buy. This visit will certainly result in me finding a houseful of things that I can’t live without however I still am lacking land with “sticks n bricks” in which to stuff it beyond full.
First Monday’s began in the 1850’s on the courthouse grounds. Traveling circuit judges stopped to conduct their business at the courthouse with the locals who were visiting relatives and friends, making business arrangements and getting local news. Stray horses were sold until horses were no longer the main mode of transportation. In the 1940’s, roaming dogs became the next commodity. At first, farmers would bring in strays and unwanted offspring; then the hunters started bringing their hound dogs. Soon the whole town was saturated with hound dogs, some selling for as much as $500. During election years, politicians would center their campaigns around First Monday.
First Monday is the oldest and largest continually operating Flea Market in the country. It covers 100 acres and has spaces for 6,000 vendors. We walked for three hours straight and barely touched the edges of one area.
For the next two weeks we are settled at Mill Creek Ranch Resort in Canton, Texas. Not the fanciest RV Resort that we have stayed at but clean, well-groomed grounds and the staff are friendly. It has all the necessary perks and a few extras luxuries.
Not since our stays at Red Bay have I seen such an abundance of Tiffin motorhomes but this time we were all here to party! Our site is near the outdoor Pavilion, perfect positioning for casual drop-in visitors, something I enjoy immensely.
If you plan to visit for First Monday, Mill Creek is the perfect stop over for families. They have multiple cabin villages surrounding small ponds,
a pool and outdoor clubhouse up front,
a spacious and elegant lodge in the back area with a pool and sauna out the side door,
and within walking distance of the market but save your walking for the sales area and take their free trolley or the small bus that stops at all the local sleepover spots.
After the flea market, we had a week before the rally group arrived. Getting this close to any kind of a wildlife refuge without visiting is never an option and the day was begging for us to step outside in the warm breezy sunshine. KatieBug was happy after a big breakfast and already snoring away, hardly noticing us leaving. Less than an hour away is Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge. The containment systems are open, full of activities for the cats and bigger than a full size tennis court for the larger cats.
Our guide was Jared, Director of Animal Care. The tour lasted about an hour and we walked over smooth pathways to each of the areas. Jared was full of information about the large and small cats, telling us about behavior that is taught so each animal can be checked over daily and properly cared for during their stay. As most of the animals here were pets or born in captivity, none would qualify for being released into the wild and will stay here to live out their lives.
They have an area devoted to those cats who have departed.
The refuge houses lions, tigers, leopards, bobcats and mountain lions in large open cages with lots of exercise toys and lookout perches for the comfort of the cats and visibility of guests. Many of the cats are older but they are a healthy looking assortment of felines.
The smaller cats, like Katie the Puma, are housed in large covered cages full of climbing limbs, toys and a sturdy bed that the staff makes from old fire hoses.
Being a warm day, most of the cats were lazing around on the ground but their cages contained huge balls, wood logs, large steel water containers and toys should they choose to be active.
One of the big cat areas has a large in-ground cement pool large enough for swimming and the cats are rotated to give each their chance for a deep dunk.
They look sweet and cuddly but we were assured that they could do a fair amount of damage with their weight alone. One of the areas had a shock wire around the lower part of the cage to keep the cat from leaning up against and pushing the fence polls out of their sockets. None are trying to escape, they just enjoyed leaning.
We met CFO and Director of Programs and Services Lisa Werner on our way out. She happily assured us that they welcome singles, couples or groups of any kind and they enjoy hosting special events like their 2nd annual Autism Awareness Day being held April 9th, the day after we arrived.
Living in the gray area and relaxing until our Texas RV Rally begins on Monday, April 11th.