Archive for the ‘Texas’ Category

I knew I was in for a good dosage of mileage when I left Hardy, Arkansas. I had Oklahoma and Texas to cover before reaching the Southwest states. And I still had half of Arkansas to tackle, as well.

I zoomed through the Ozarks, westbound on 412. Stopping only in Yellville, AR, for a BBQ pork sandwich at Front Porch Restaurant, I reached Eureka Springs in the late afternoon. This popular Victorian town was fairly jammed with tourists, not at all unusual for a weekend. Many browsed the shops along the main downtown streets. Others relaxed on upstairs patios and decks, sipping drinks and listening to live music.

I stopped in at the 1905 Basin Park Hotel, which was fully booked for the night. I had expected this, and had planned to drive on, but was grateful for the opportunity to look around and take pictures. After some time wandering the streets and admiring the turn of the century architecture, I drove west to Tulsa, OK, for the night, continuing on the next morning across Oklahoma.

In Weatherford, OK, I took a detour off I-40 to stop in at PBar Farms, a 100 acre farm that offers field trips, concerts and a cornstalk maze aptly named, “The Maize.” It was far too early for their season, but visitors this coming fall will have a chance to walk through 300,000 cornstalks. According to PBar Farms’ website, this maze offers 95 decision points and 3 1/2 miles of twisting pathways. Murder mysteries and hayrides are also offered.

With plenty of daylight left, I blasted across the rest of Oklahoma and into Texas, stopping again along the Interstate in Groom, TX. This small town boasts the “Largest Cross in the Western Hemisphere,” which I took a look at under rain-threatening skies. Or, I should say, took a look “up at,” as this illuminated white cross stands 190 feet tall (with a width of 100 feet). Online research indicates another cross, more recently built, in Illinois, which stands eight feet taller. Still, it’s quite a sight from the road, not to mention from a nearby standing position. Designed and sculpted by Mickey Wells of Amarillo, the cross took eight months to construct and weighs 1250 tons. It is run by the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ Ministries, who take donations, but no official admission fee.

Moving on to Amarillo, I couldn’t resist stopping at the The Big Texan. I’ve yet to stop in when a customer is attempting to win the “Free 72 Oz. Steak,” which is only free if consumed within an hour. (Better have $54. ready if you try, but don’t finish). The menu, mounted on a plank of wood with a wire handle, offers smaller portions, however. I decided to pass on the rattlesnake. (From the menu: “Warning: Very little meat, lots of bones, your gripes and complaints will get you a live one!”) Instead I settled on a Little Texan Sandwich. The 5 oz. meal, served with waffle fries, was about all I figured I could handle. Definitely a slice of Texas, this stop. Also from the menu: “This establishment ain’t no franchise or chain – thank God. It has always been owned by the same Texas family since 1960. Relax and enjoy yourselves.”

I spent the night in Amarillo, then headed west into New Mexico. I pulled off the road in Tucumcari, wanting to see one of Route 66’s claims to fame, the Blue Swallow Motel. I had more mileage to cover, but was enchanted with this nostalgia-filled lodging. It might not be difficult to find a room with a queen bed along the way, but a queen bed and garage? This is what the Blue Swallow offers, for an extremely reasonable price of $29.95. Built in 1939, guests have a choice of 11 rooms, including a suite ($57.95) with two queen beds, a daybed, bath, and a darling small kitchen (fridge and microwave, plus table). Fairly new owners (since 1998) Dale and Hilde Bakke have done a great job restoring the property. Clean and economical, with a chance to get your history kicks, as well.

I drove on from Tucumcari, and, as the sun started to lower in the horizon, took another impulsive turn. With a few days left before I needed to be back in Los Angeles, I decided to make the most of my last week on the road. I exited the Interstate and headed north.


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The road was dusty and deserted, without a car in sight. Gentle, rolling hills stretched out in every direction. I looked around, leaned against a barbed wire fence to peer at the lone sign. I supposed it made sense, with a posted population of three, that I wouldn’t see anyone on this back Texas highway.

Still, I was in search of a visual image to go with a musical memory from years ago. I was close enough, there was no reason to pass by without at least looking around. I turned down the side road and drove until I came to two buildings, one on each side of the road, both protected by the shade of tall trees. A dozen or so Harleys were parked to the right and a few cars were nosed into a makeshift parking lot on the left. I found a place for my own vehicle among them.

It is said that time stands still in some places and Luckenbach, Texas is without a doubt one of those places. As I approached the smaller of the two buildings, a faint murmur of voices reached my ears, followed by the soft twang of a guitar string. Then another, and another. A few bikers leaned against the building, near an open door that was bordered by weathered, metal advertising signs. A large trash can was half filled with beer cans. A man and a woman played with a dog near an outdoor campfire. A few others sat on a picnic table, many with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. There was one thing these people all had in common: carefree, peaceful expressions.

I entered the small building and found it more crowded than I might have imagined from the empty street. It was a small room, the back of a building used for a general store in front and gathering place in back. A wood stove glowed with warmth in the center of the room. A bar and counter formed an “L’ along the side and back walls. In the small remaining space, chairs had been pulled into a semi-circle. There the guitars twanged away as people came and went, some joining in to make music, others sitting on benches or leaning against walls to listen. I found a space near the doorway, eased my back against the wood and melted into the crowd.

“Everybody is somebody in Luckenbach,” the legendary town proclaims, and so I became somebody for the afternoon, listening to home-spun tunes and watching the mix of locals and a handful of tourists. It was magical.

Originally named Grape Creek, Luckenbach came into existence in 1849 when Minna Engel opened the General Store-Post Office-Bar. She was the daughter of a German preacher by the name of Carl Albert Luckenbach, after whom the town was eventually the town was renamed. Operating as a community trading post for many years, this peaceful hamlet was one of very few towns that never broke the peace treaty with the neighboring Commanche Indians.

In 1970 the town was sold to Hondo Crouch, a popular folk humorist and now folk hero. Signs of the well-loved Hondo are everywhere, from the red,white and blue draped statue in front to portraits and signs on the walls. Adding special events in what’s now referred to as “The Best Little Dance Hall in Texas,” Hondo helped give Luckenbach a special place on the Texas map. Whatever fame he didn’t establish, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings achieved when they recorded the town’s namesake song following the death of Hondo Crouch in 1976.

I wandered into the store and found an eclectic combination of artifacts and merchandise, with choices available for purchase that ranged from the standard mugs and stickers to an upside-down armadillo basket – the handle, of course, a bottle of beer, carefully poised between the creature’s four paws. One cool black T-shirt pictured “Marge, Sheriff of Luckenbach,” who I recognized from behind the bar in the back room. Daisy helped me at the counter as I purchased a couple guitar picks with the Luckenbach label. Seemed as fitting a souvenir as any. I knew the armadillo wasn’t coming home with me.

As much as I hated to leave the live music and atmosphere of the little store and bar, I headed over to the Dance Hall, empty but open to the public. Like many of these old buildings, the vacant spaces around the rough wood tables, dance floor and raised stage didn’t prevent me from seeing the scenes of many gatherings that have taken place here over the years, and still do – the Mud Dauber Festival, Texas Independence Celebration and the Hell-Hath-No-Fury Ladies State Chili Championship. With a red, white and blue Texas backdrop on the stage and neon beer lights around the walls, this space spoke of good times.

“Have you been here when Willie’s here?” asked a black-leather-clad man who was eager to have his picture taken against one of the rustic walls. With a friendly grin (and a girlfriend standing nearby ) this local resident informed me with pride that he’s working as an extra in the current filming nearby of “The Alamo.” I took a few shots for him and got their email address, to send the photos later. So funny how the past and present mix like this.

I admitted I’d never been there at all, much less along with Willie. But I could easily picture the beloved country singer there, beneath the stately oaks, around the outdoor fire ring or inside on a folding chair near the old wood stove.

Luckenbach has managed to retain its back woods charm while still pulling its commercial marketability together – not an easy feat. If an afternoon of laid-back music while popping down a few Lone Stars isn’t enough, the Dancehall is for rent for special occasions. Heck, the whole town is for rent – all ten acres of it. Both their brochure and website claim they can even get Willie. For the right price, I imagine. All party details are handled by the “Luckenbach Texas Party Perfesshunals,” including cake, florist, caterer, security, parking, invitation and custom merchandise.

Of course, as always happens, I had to step out of this time warp eventually and hit the road. I know I’ll be back. Maybe if I stall long enough on this trip, I can even make the upcoming “Luckenbach’s 150th Texas Birthday Party – For the 5th Danged Time,” to be held May 24, 2003.

For me, Luckenbach turned out to be more special than I ever imagined. It’s a place where the passage of time really does seem to pause, where people are greeted with true Texas hospitality and where armadillo races, washer pitchin’ and moseyin’ are considered official activities. You just can’t beat that.

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I stopped for a brief night at a basic motel in Ft. Stockton, TX. Not decided yet on my route across the Lone Star state, I looked over options before falling asleep, running weather.com checks with ten day forecasts for a few possible directions.

I woke up the next morning to the tragic news about the space shuttle Columbia and sat in the breakfast room/lobby, listening to travel warnings on the television about falling debris. The night before I had debated taking I-20 into Dallas and attempting to reach Philadelphia a little sooner than planned. Instead I decided to stay with I-10 and to play my distance for the day by ear. One advantage of traveling without any plans or reservations is having increased flexibility. I decided to take advantage of it on this particular day.

I headed east along the Interstate, my map resting on the passenger seat. It wasn’t long before I began to feel the lure of the Hill Country calling me. Since my only other Hill Country experience involved a new engine for the car and a cast on my left hand, it seemed only fair to give it another chance.

I turned off on Rte. 250, heading east through the rolling, oak-covered hills until I reached the town of Fredericksburg, founded in 1846 by German immigrants. The streets quickly became strasses and the houses, hauses and signs on storefronts offered the friendly greeting of “Wilkommen”. The influence of the area’s original settlers was evident in all directions, including the wonderful architecture of the buildings along the main street.

I drove through the town once, as I often do, to get an overall feel for it, then backtracked and parked on a side street, grabbed my purse and camera(s) and took off to explore.

Fredericksburg is not tiny, but is compact enough to tour easily and certainly still falls into the “Small Town America” category. It took all of about a half block to realize I’d never be able to see everything in an hour’s break from the road. So it was convenient when a stairway caught my eye, resting to the left side of a shop and art gallery. It was a row of plants in pots on the steps that intitially grabbed my attention. I backed up a bit on the sidewalk, took a picture and apologized to other pedestrians walking by for blocking the walkway.

Resuming my picture-taking, it was then that I spied a sign at the top of the stairs. “The Copper Tub, Bed and Pastries,” it announced, with directions to inquire within. Now, it was Saturday night and I doubted there was any chance it was vacant, but I thought I’d ask about it anyway. I often get ideas for future trips this way.

Grace’s Art Gallery is housed in the birthplace of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, who was born on Feb. 24, 1885, in a small room that now houses beautiful artwork of wood, glass and pottery. Just above this room is the converted loft now used as “The Copper Tub,” a spacious bed and breakfast space with a rustic, cozy feel and a huge namesake copper tub, which comes equipped with bubble bath and candles. Though there isn’t a phone in the loft, there’s a comfortable bed, sitting area, writing table, television, refrigerator, microwave, coffee pot, and an old-fashioned radio set to a country station.

Of course, by some kind of magic that I seem to encounter when I travel, it was available. I immediately felt I owed it to both Admiral Nimitz and Grace, who was kind enough to take a break from the gift shop and show me the space, to stay for the night. (Doesn’t this just figure that I’d do this?)

Grace is a petite, cheerful woman with soft, black hair and dramatic eyes. She not only runs the gallery, but is an artist who makes wonderful crosses and plaques, as well as the planters that had first drawn my attention to the stairs. Many of these items were on display in the shop and on the front porch.

After taking care of her last few customers and closing up the shop, she gave me a key and allowed me to get settled in. Already reasonably priced, she discounted the loft a little in exchange for the lack of pastries usually included (when booked with normal advance notice) and instead gave me directions to the recommended bakeries in town, as well as a dinner location. She left, then returned with bottled water and two Florida oranges, which I thought was wonderfully thoughtful. Off then for a movie with her family, I was left to enjoy the loft.

Fredericksburg is a town rich in architecture, with plenty of places to explore. I felt the pull between wanting to hide out and enjoy the loft and feeling eager to run up and down side streets, searching for photo opportunities. I did a little of each and eventually felt a wave of hunger approach.

On Grace’s recommendation, I chose not to dine at one of the restaurants within walking distance, but drove to the edge of town for a meal at Friedhelm’s Bavarian Inn. After a fairly lengthy wait (it was, after all, Saturday night), I found myself seated at a small side table of the dining room, surrounded by a collection of large cowbells from Bavaria and listening to polka music. It didn’t take long for my food to arrive, a plate of sauerbraten, with red cabbage and spaetzles. It was quite good and I saved a portion of it, with bread, for the next day.

To add to the festivities of the night, I managed to catch a tiny portion of the Sauerkrauts Show at the Fredericksburg Brewing Company, located next door to Grace’s buidling. By their own description, this performing group offers “Oompah With Attitude,” along with 12-foot wooden alpine horns and a national champion yodeler. They’ve been featured at EPCOT Center’s German Biegarten Show in Branson and Las Vegas and certainly proved to be a colorful, high energy group.

I settled in for the night, slept well and enjoyed a leisurely morning. (Note: There are dozens, probably hundreds, of bed and breakfast choices in Fredericksburg, as well as other Hill Country towns. This one is cute and delightful, but located on the main street – great for easy access to shopping, but also subject to some street noise. On this particular evening I inherited one determined street cruiser with a very “vrooming” engine. It happens.

I lingered a little after checking out, browsing through the numerous shops and galleries that Fredericksburg has to offer. I can see why this would be a crowded town during the regular season, as it’s packed with shopping and dining choices. This is one of those towns that’s perfect for a weekend escape if you’ve got some money to spend.

But it’s also fun to explore on a limited budget, especially if history and museums are of interest. A $5. admission charge will get you into the National Museum of the Pacific War, which is housed in the former Nimitz Hotel, a steamboat-style structure built by Capt. Nimitz, grandfather of Admiral Nimitz.

Wineries, golf, rock-climbing, kayaking and fly fishing: all here. And I’m told Enchanted Rock State Park is beautiful, though I didn’t get a chance to check it out.

Come to think of it, this is the town that had iced cinnamon pretzels at the German bakery…yum.

Well, that just makes it another town to remember for a return visit.

Oh, yeah. For those who find the rustic loft with pastries a little on the delicate side, there are bed and breakfast options for everyone. Take, for example, the signs outside the Fredericksburg Brewing Company:

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