November 24 & December 8, 2001: My Birthday and My Mom's Birthday
November 5-10, 2001: A Fall Trip to Oklahoma and Arkansas
Return to the Index for 2001


November 16-18, 2001
A Visit to San Antonio and Leakey, TX

 

Well, all the work that Prudence and Ron Ruckman have been doing to get their bed and breakfast ready for operation is coming to a head. This weekend, Fred and I have come down to San Antonio so that I can take some pictures for the Web site that I am developing for Ruckman Haus, and also so that we can spend some time with Prudence, Ron and Guy Blair, my friend who has been transferred to San Antonio to be the priest for San Francesco di Paolo Catholic Church. After spending Friday and Saturday nights with Prudence and Ron, we are going to drive out to Leakey, Texas, to spend a day with Frank Roberts and Joe Wells.

 

Getting to the Ruckman's House

You've probably seen a map of the route from Dallas to San Antonio before. It is pretty simple, for once you get on the Tollway south from my house, and merge onto I-35 South, it is a straight shot for about 280 miles all the way to downtown San Antonio. See the map below, left.


Once in downtown San Antonio, all you have to do is follow I-35 South until you come to the exit for San Pedro Avenue. Once off the expressway, you just take San Pedro Avenue north.


Finally, you just take San Pedro Avenue by San Pedro Park on your left, and, one block past the park, you turn left onto French Place. Prudence and Ron have bought the house at the end of the first block on your right.


Our visit this weekend has multiple purposes. First, they have asked us to come down to see how things are going. Although no rooms are even close to finished, we'll be throwing our sleeping bags down in one of the incomplete ones.

Second, Ron and Prudence, having been dealing with construction non-stop, are looking forward to a weekend where they can get out and do something and not have to be at the house dealing with all the decisions that are involved.

Third, we want to take an opportunity to see our friend, Guy Blair, who is the priest at San Francesco di Paola in downtown San Antonio. He, you may recall from earlier album pages, was my friend in Chicago in the early 1980s who, as chance would have it, got transferred to this particular church to minister to the deaf community. I have been after him to go over to say "Hello" to Ron and Prudence, for I think they would like him a great deal. As yet, he hasn't done that, so on this trip I plan to introduce them. I think it will be good for Guy to have friends in San Antonio who are not church members of his.

 

Natural Bridge Caverns

We arrived at Ruckman Haus late Friday night, and Saturday morning Guy Blair and a friend of his down from Chicago came over to the Ruckman's house for breakfast with us. Following that, we drove up I-35 to Natural Bridge Caverns.

It is only a short drive up I-35 to the exit for Natural Bridge Caverns, which is about five miles northwest of the Interstate.


The Natural Bridge Caverns are the largest known commercial caverns in the state of Texas. The name of the caverns is taken from the 60-foot natural limestone slab bridge that spans the amphitheater setting of the cavern's entrance. The span was left suspended when a sinkhole collapsed below it.

We took a few other group shots at the entrance to the caverns, and you can use the clickable thumbnails below to have a look at them:

The caverns are located right at the edge of the Texas Hill Country next to the Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch, a drive-through wildlife safari park. The caverns feature several unique speleothems and other geological formations. The temperature inside the cave is 70F year-round and the humidity rate is a constant 99 percent. The deepest part of the public tour is 180 feet below the surface, although undeveloped areas of the cavern reach depths of 230 feet.

We waited a few minutes in the Visitor Center for the next tour to begin, and then went with our guide and a few other folks out the back of the building and down a winding walkway to the amphitheatre down below the natural bridge.


At the Natural Bridge

The caverns are still very active and considered "living." Due to the porosity of the limestone, rainwater travels downwards through the layers of rock, where it dissolves out calcite, a weak mineral that makes up all of the speleothems at Natural Bridge Caverns. After exiting the limestone, water enters the caverns where it flows and drips constantly throughout, causing the formations to retain a waxy luster that can be seen in few caverns.

The caverns were discovered in 1960 by some students from St. Mary's University in nearby San Antonio; they discovered/explored just over a mile of passages. Subsequent explorations revealed 2 miles associated with what became known as the "North Cavern."

After discovery, one of the former students, Orion Knox, assisted the landowner in her desire to show the world the cave under her property, but both the National Park Service and the Texas Park System, while agreeing that the cavern was substantial and merited development, said they did not have the funds for the process. The owner, a Mrs. Wuest, then decided that she would fund the development, and Orion dropped out of school to assist. They roped in the developer of the Caverns of Sonora (near Sonora, Texas), and for extra help, Mrs. Wuest remarried her ex-husband. Development on the cavern began in 1963 and work on lights and trails continued until opening day, July 3, 1964. The cavern is still owned and operated by family members and has been a registered United States National Natural Landmark since 1971.

After the introduction given us by our guide, our group headed through the entrance door into the caverns. Since the cave is still "alive," the entrance door is a double one, constructed to keep humidity from escaping.


We immediately came to a large number of very interesting formations, and began taking quite a few pictures of them. Use the clickable thumbnails below to see some of these formations:

During excavation of the entrance trail, a human tooth, arrowheads, and spearheads dating from 5,000 BC were found. Also, just inside the entrance, a jawbone and femur from an extinct species of black bear were discovered. This leads many to believe that uppermost areas of the cavern were used as a shelter by early peoples and animals at some point. An archaeological dig was recently done under the natural bridge. Archaeologists recovered arrowheads and other tools which further indicate the presence of early peoples at some point in history.

In 1967, speculation on a southern extent to the North Cavern was confirmed when test drilling indicated the presence of a large void approximately 90 feet beneath the surface. A camera was sent down the narrow shaft and photographs revealed a large chamber filled with formations. This original shaft was reamed out to 22 inches and three men were lowered into the ground. They discovered a large breakdown chamber and numerous formations. Further investigation revealed a strong likelihood that another passage existed beyond a pile of rocks and boulders. In 1968 the drillers were once again brought out to the property, a 200-foot exploratory shaft was sunk, and another large void discovered. Explorations revealed another half-mile of cavern extending to the south- the "South Cavern."

Exploration continues to date. During the summer of 2005, several hundred feet were added to the current surveyed length of the cave. It is believed that as much as another mile could be added to the survey by just mapping the known passages which have not yet been surveyed. Additional unexplored leads exist in sections of the Discovery Passages (North Cavern). Our tour took us through about half the cave, and it was very interesting. Use the clickable thumbnails below to see the other pictures we took here in Natural Bridge Caverns:

 

At Ruckman Haus

Another purpose for our trip down here was to gather more photographs that we might use on the new Web site for Ruckman Haus, and so we came away with a large number of photographs of some of the rooms. Below are four of the best of the many pictures we took of some of the rooms. You can compare them with the pictures of the house earlier in the photo album.


The Living Room

The English Room

The Highlands

The Luxembourg Room

You may have noticed in the picture of the living room Prudence's two cats- the black-and-white Callie and the calico Misty- asleep on the chair and footstool. Prudence has not had a chance to do much with her plans for the East Garden yet, but has instead brightened up the outside of the house with many potted flowers, all of which seem to be doing quite well.

 

At Frank and Joe's House in Leakey, TX

After spending most of the day with Ron and Prudence, Fred and I drove from San Antonio over to Leakey, Texas, for a visit with Fred's good friends Frank Roberts and Joe Wells.

Leakey is about a hundred miles from San Antonio, and it took us a couple of hours to get from Ruckman Haus out to Leakey. It was pretty much dark by the time we headed through town.


Frank and Joe have built a new house about three miles north of Leakey itself, on the east side of a small branch of the Frio River and up on a hillside. We take a farm road north out of town, turn right on Bonner Road and then can see their house on the hillside ahead of us. (That picture was actually taken on our departure the following day.) We traverse the low water crossing over this little branch of the Frio River and then head up the hillside, turning left to go along the hillside for a quarter mile until we come to their property. You have probably already seen pictures of their new house in this photo album from our last visit earlier this year.

When we arrived, Frank and Joe had dinner pretty much ready for us, and so we sat down to eat. During the remainder of the evening we visited with them and Frank's cat Peepa. They were kind enough to put us up in their guest room which is on the upper story of their ranch house- with great views out across the valley to the west.

Use the clickable thumbnails below to see a few of the pictures we took this evening:

After a good night's sleep, we awoke and came downstairs to find Joe and Frank in the kitchen getting breakfast started. Frank and Joe's house is oriented basically east-west. At the east end is the cathedral-ceilinged living room, seen here looking down from the second-floor landing. It is very handsomely decorated with some of the western items they have collected over the years. I think it is a really nice room- very cozy and comfortable for such a high-ceilinged space. On either side of this room there are outside porches, so there is always someplace shady to sit.


West of the living room is a dining area where Frank and Joe have an large antique table and chairs and also the kitchen (which is just under the stairs leading up to the second floor). On the first floor, at the west end of the house is Frank and Joe's master bedroom and bath, along with some other rooms (pantry, mud room by the side entrance and a little guest powder room). Up above their suite, on the second floor, there is a reading room, bath and guest bedroom- and that's where we stayed.

We took a few more pictures as Frank and Joe were putting breakfast together, and you can use the clickable thumbnails below to have a look at them:

I think that in the year since they've been in their new house, Frank and Joe have done an incredible job getting everything arranged and decorated.


After breakfast, we stuck around inside for a while. I got to meet one of Joe's dogs, and Frank got to show us one of the outfits that he wears when he does is "Singing Park Ranger" programs over at Garner State Park (where he is employed as a Park Ranger). Frank has developed this singing program over the years, and entertains park visitors at a program called the "Sunset Serenade," conducted up on one of the hills with the Hill Country as a backdrop. I've seen Frank perform away from the Park, but am looking forward to seeing one of the Park programs at some point. Joe, too, has gotten involved in these programs; since 1998 he has joined Frank "on stage" doing what's known as "Cowboy Poetry," which consists of long poems or short stories recited to a musical background supplied by Frank. We've seen both of them perform numerous times; it is always a pleasure.

Before we headed outside for a walk around the house and the area, Frank gave us an impromptu piano performance to try out some new material.

Around lunchtime we went out to have a walk around the house and down Bonner Road. Frank, Joe and Fred all share an interest in horticulture, and the three of them are always finding interesting plants and flowers to talk about.


It's neat to walk around here in the Hill Country; there is always something interesting to see- especially for a city boy like me. So I'm happy to follow the guys around and listen in on their discussions. Use the clickable thumbnails below to see some of the pictures that Fred and I took on our walkabout this afternoon:


We had a good visit with Frank and Joe, but by late afternoon it was time for us to head home.

You can use the links below to continue to another album page.


November 24 & December 8, 2001: My Birthday and My Mom's Birthday
November 5-10, 2001: A Fall Trip to Oklahoma and Arkansas
Return to the Index for 2001