Captain Day Trips lists his Top 10 traveling tales of the year.
By Gerald E. McLeod, Fri., Jan. 4, 2002
The year 2001 was a roller coaster of emotions for just about everybody. The drop in gasoline prices, changes in the airline industry, and tight spending cash made it a good year to explore closer to home.
1. The travel industry was hit particularly hard by a slowing economy and then an image problem after four airplanes were used as guided missiles. Despite the tragedy, airline travel is still the safest method of traveling long distance. Unfortunately, they have made the worst part of flying, airports, an even worse part of flying.
2. Andrew Sansom once told me that he had the greatest job in the world. Effective Dec. 31, 2001, Sansom will leave the helm of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) after nearly two decades.
The cornerstone of his administration has been common-sense conservation as he struggled with tight budgets and dwindling resources. During his watch the department has recognized its responsibility as land stewards and moved thoughtfully, albeit sometimes slowly, with management policies that have most often been practical and farsighted.
3. Four days after the September 11 tragedy, Texas' southernmost resort city was cut off from the mainland when the Queen Isabella Causeway was severed by an errant barge. Eight people lost their lives in the dark waters. The island economy ground to a halt as workers commuted by ferry to service jobs that had few customers. The three spans of the 2.2-mile-long bridge that collapsed were repaired in an astonishing two months' time.
4. State Attorney General John Cornyn is one Texas government official who will never be accused of being farsighted. As the state's chief law enforcement officer, he persuaded a federal judge to shut the doors of the Tigua Indian tribe's Speaking Rock Casino in El Paso on Nov. 30. Not only did the closing put 800 workers out of a job, but it also curtailed many of the tribe's social programs.
The Tiguas' last tribal lands are a small reservation called Ysleta del Sur Pueblo on the east side of El Paso. They opened the casino in 1993, saying the state allowed gambling when they approved the lottery. The more than 1,200 members of the tribe shared in the $60 million a year in profits.
5. Possibly setting up another showdown, now the Alabama-Coushatta Indians say they plan to build a casino on their reservation near Livingston.
6. Good news from El Paso this year was that the Wyler Aerial Tramway in the Franklin Mountains State Park reopened in March after being closed for 14 years. Built in 1959 to provide maintenance workers access to broadcasting towers, the TPWD-operated ride again offers views of about 7,000 square miles of three states -- Texas, New Mexico, and Chihuahua.
7. Bad news for West Texas came last April when the National Parks Conservation Association listed Big Bend National Park on its annual list of the 10 most endangered national parks. The culprits are lingering haze from air pollutants and diminishing flow of the Rio Grande. The 802,000-acre park is more than 300 miles from El Paso, the nearest major city, yet visibility often drops to as low as nine miles because of the smog.
8. It seemed like a good idea in 1957 when a handful of former military pilots got together in Mission, Texas, and paid $2,500 for a surplus P51D Mustang fighter plane. Someone wrote "Confederate Air Force" on the tail of the plane as a joke and the popular vintage aircraft organization was born. After a meeting in October, it was decided to change the name to Commemorative Air Force on Jan. 1, 2002. Not solely a Texas outfit, the CAF has groups around the U.S. and in four countries.
9. Every year close to 2 million visitors float down the Guadalupe River outside of New Braunfels making it the most popular river recreation area in the state. Along with the $150 million that the floaters drop into the local economy they also leave behind tons of garbage and bad feelings with the local landowners.
At first the city tried to ban alcohol, but the state said it wasn't constitutional. In April, the City Council passed an ordinance that would charge tubers an extra $1 for a wristband to use public facilities, pay for law enforcement, and clean up the mess left behind.
10. Crawford, Texas, moved to the center of the world stage in November when Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the Bush ranch. The usually placid wide spot in TX 317 about 25 miles west of Waco got all gussied up to welcome the two presidents only to have them fly over town in helicopters to get to the ranch.
552nd in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.So long, Andy Sansom.