Barbara and I briefly visited Natchitoches, Louisiana a few months ago when we got lost trying to get to Alexandria. We saw just enough to know it was a lovely place. Our daughter, Brittany, loved Natchitoches when she was here a few years ago for her Vanderbilt roommate’s wedding, Kristen Gahagen.
Natchitoches is a beautiful small town! Barbara and I loved the looks and feel of Madison, Georgia, and we rated it “Best Small Town” on our first trip Round America…but we liked Natchitoches even better.
Several motion pictures have been filmed in Natchitoches, including Steel Magnolias, The Man in the Moon, The Horse Soldiers, NBC’s The Year Without a Santa Claus, The American Standard, as well as a Lifetime Television’s series Scarlett. We obtained a map at the Visitor’s Center, and we drove around to see most of the locations where Steel Magnolias was filmed. It’s such a great movie.
Natchitoches attracts over one million visitors annually. The city has 11 national chain hotels and nearly 50 bed and breakfast inns, including the Steel Magnolia House. The city’s tourism center is the downtown river walk. This includes Front Street, which overlooks the river walk and is bordered by an assortment of shops and boutiques. The city has identified this area as the Historical District.
Natchitoches has long been known for its popular Christmas Festival of Lights which is held the first Saturday in December. In 2008, the festival will celebrate its 82nd year. We usually hate it when the sun goes down as it ends the sightseeing for the day, but most of the lights were up, and we saw quite a display after the sun set. If you can ever visit Natchitoches, Louisiana during December, by all means go to see a lovely town and an absolutely gorgeous holiday display reflecting off the lake. It was spectacular!
I’ll add more to this tomorrow….
Here are all the photos from this day of the Trip from Atlanta to Paris and Back…by Car:
Don’s Seafood is History but George’s Grill isn’t – Round America Trip: Atlanta to Paris and Back…by Car
It’s about a 70-mile drive from Texarkana to Shreveport…another drive that I have done more times than I can count.
We lived in Texarkana from 1953 to 1961, and then we lives in Shreveport, Louisiana from 1961 to 1963. My Dad was the General Manager of KCMC-TV in Texarkana, and he moved the NBC station to the larger Shreveport location, built the largest television tower in the south, and designed and built a new TV station in Shreveport with a new name — KTAL-TV. TAL for “tall” and TAL for Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana since the station reached all three states.
We had an excellent lunch at George’s Grill. The Coconut Ice Box Pie was especially tasty. George’s is a classic local diner-style cafe. We had planned to eat at Don’s Seafood, but it had just gone out of business after something like 60 years. Sad!
Southern Maid Donuts in Shreveport started the hot donut business. Oddly, they start making the hot donuts at 4 pm daily. So, plan to visit Shreveport sometime after 4 pm, and go by for a real treat. The secret is in the glaze! Southern Maid’s use of a special Vanilla Extract in the glaze makes these hot donuts better than Krispy Kreme.
We didn’t spend much time in Shreveport as we have been here many times. I went to Lakeshore Junior High School in Shreveport in the 60s. It was a wonderful two years. Shreveport isn’t the nicest of cities, but there are a lot of nice people. If you like gambling, Shreveport’s sister city, Bossier City, has a number of casinos.
My Head is in Texas but My Ass is in Arkansas – Round America Trip: Atlanta to Paris and Back…by Car
Marriott hotels are always very good. Unfortunately, our room had the smell of sewage. We didn’t complain, though I guess we should have called it to their attention. Bozzie Jane forgot our bag of dirty clothes, and the front desk lady came running out to the parking lot to flag us down. She wins our award for Best Desk Clerk!
I LOVE Texarkana. It was a wonderful place to grow up. We moved to Texarkana in 1953, and we moved from Texarkana to Shreveport, Louisiana in 1961. I attended first through seventh grades in Texarkana.
It was a kindler and gentler place to grow up. We played in our neighborhood and Spring Lake Park, and my parents never had to worry about our safety. We had wonderful friends and great neighbors.
Barbara and I visited my family’s old homes, my schools, my Dad’s television station, and more. We also saw the big sights in Texarkana. The biggest sight is the State Line that runs right down the middle of the area and divides Texarkana Texas from Texarkana Arkansas. One of the most popular postcards of all times was one of a cowboy pulling a donkey by a rope at the State Line; it had the caption: “My head is in Texas, but my ass is in Arkansas.”
Spring Lake Elementary School was a wonderful school. It’s still there — much larger than when I attended. I was sorry to see that Texas Avenue Junior High is out of commission. I was fourth string quarterback on the 7th grade football team. We still have great friends in Texarkana.
We visited the Ace of Clubs House, the Perot Theatre, a car museum, and the train depot. Texarkana has a driving tour that is well worth the time.
Over the years, I have often realized how very lucky I was to have grown up in Texarkana!
Click here to see all of the Photos and captions from this Day in the Atlanta to Paris and Back…by Car Trip.
After visiting a furniture store on main street in Pittsburg, we hit the two-lane bound for Texarkana. It was dark, so the only thing we saw was an extremely impressive display of Christmas lights covering several acres near Redwater, Texas. I snapped a photo, but I couldn’t begin to do it justice.
We stopped at Big Daddy’s Pawn Shop on the way into Texarkana. My notes indicated that it had a giant rabbit. We didn’t see a rabbit, but it was dark, and Big Daddy must have been home watching TV.
We drove straight to Bryce’s Cafeteria. Bryce’s has been in business since 1931, and the food is great. Real home cooking; they just cook up a lot of it. It’s a BIG restaurant that’s always filled with the locals. Bryce’s has a fabulous selection of pies. Tonight, I had the Peach Cobbler, and it was really good. We used to go to Bryce’s Cafeteria when I was a grade schooler in Texarkana. More about that tomorrow as we tour Texarkana.
Bo Pilgrim and his brother Aubrey, founded Pilgrim’s Pride in 1946 with a small feed store in the small town of Pittsburg, Texas. Bo expanded his successful poultry company to eventually distribute food products around the world. He capitalized on his last name with the signature hat, a successful marketing gimmick that he famously wore to all events and functions.
Something possessed Bo to erect a giant memorial to himself in front of the Pilgrim’s Pride headquarters in Pittsburg. The Giant Bo Pilgrim Head is 37-feet tall. We figure it must be the World’s Largest Bo Pilgrim Head.
In 1902, Burrell Cannon, a Baptist preacher-inventor, built an airship based on a description in the Biblical Book of Ezekiel. The craft was said to have flown briefly in Pittsburg, allegedly beating the Wright Brothers by a year. The “Ezekiel Airship” was destroyed in rail accident on its way to the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. There’s a historical marker at the original Pittsburg Foundry site, on Fulton Street, and a full-sized replica displayed at the Northeast Texas Rural Heritage Depot & Museum. We visited the museum, but it was closed. We’ll plan to see it and Bo Pilgrim’s home, Cluckingham Palace, when we next visit Pittsburg, Texas as we go Round America.
Round America travels from Big Bend National Park, Texas to Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico via Marfa and Wink. Marfa is a lovely artist’s community with the spooky Marfa Lights. Wink is the birthplace of Roy Orbison and home of the Roy Orbison Museum.
The BADlands Hotel was B-A-D. As I reported yesterday, the hotel was cheaply built. For $195 a night, I expected top quality, but there was NO quality in the room. In fact, there wasn’t even electricity, running water, or telephone service — though all were supposed to be provided. The service was poor from the time I dropped in to book the room, to the time I checked in later that night, to checkout.
The only thing worse than the lack of speed with which the checkout guy handled checking me out was his complete void of personality. When he handed me my bill, not only was there no adjustment for the lack of electricity, water, or telephone service in a room with the windows caulked shut, they had tacked on a $15 “resort fee.” Words cannot express….
Let me just say to Steve Smith, the “Austin billionaire who has bought Lajitas, Texas and has turned it into a resort” as I was told is the case. If the rest of Lajitas is like the BADlands Hotel, you should have stuck with whatever made you rich. I felt completely, totally ripped off by the BADlands. And to take a lovely, old town that dates back to an ancient Rio Grande River crossing first recorded by Spanish explorers in 1588 and completely convert it to a modern-day tourist trap resort should be a crime punishable by extended imprisonment in room 216.
You have to blow off steam every once in a while; I’m glad I got that off my chest.
Despite my eye injury, I got up and out before the sun came up as I wanted to see the sunrise at Big Bend. I hiked a ways off the road to an area that Yvette, the bartender / waitress from last night, told me would be the best spot. I sat on a rock in the cool morning air and saw a beautiful sunrise out of my right eye. I got several excellent photos, even though I am now having to modify my photographic efforts as I have always been a left eye shooter. I’ll be doing right eye work for a few days.
I started meeting interesting people bright and early with “Dr. Kathy” and “Dr. Doug Blackburn” of the Phillips 66 station in Study Butte. I picked up a Visine product, but when I told Kathy, the Phillips 66 store manager, about my eye problem, she knew I had the wrong stuff, so she became Dr. Kathy as I was directed to get something that was not limited on the amount of daily use. Visine Tears was the right product for me, and it gave me some relief, though my eye hurt badly throughout the day. I felt bad about complaining during the first few days of the trip about having to take my glasses off to be able to take photographs and not seeing as well as I used to. It could be worse.
Dr. Doug Blackburn is a real character. He came up and knocked on my window as I was organizing myself for the day’s drive. He was wearing hospital scrubs with an impressive-looking hospital-like photo ID pinned to his blue scrub top. But he had on a “Study Butte Store” baseball cap, and when I looked closer at the ID, it said “Doctor of Boarderline Psychology.” We talked about the trip, Terlingua, Study Butte, and Lajitas…and some of the characters who lived around there. I asked: “May I take your photo, Dr. Blackburn?” He said: “Oh, I’m not a real doctor; I’m just one of the clerks at the Study Butte Phillips 66 gas station and store.” I didn’t want to tell him that I had long since figured that out. He proudly pulled back his jacket so his ID would be clearly visible in the photo. Nice guy and obviously a lot of fun! The Round America sign on the car was very effective as it pulled people to me, and I met far more people as a result.
The Study Butte Mall aka Phillips 66 station has a stoplight in the front of it. It’s the only stoplight in the town. It’s on their property — not on the road. Pretty cute.
Since I drove back and forth between Big Bend and Lajitas several times, and Terlingua is the town in between, it will probably be the town that was most visited on the trip. I went to or through Terlingua five times.
Driving back and forth in Big Bend and at a few other points during the trip, I realized that you see a different view just by traveling in the opposite direction. Maybe we’ll take this trip “backwards” someday — do the same route, but head north from Savannah rather than south, and just travel “backwards.”
Blue sky today, so I was tempted to stay and repeat all the photos I took on overcast yesterday. But at 8:15, I pulled away from Study Butte and drove to Presidio Texas, which may be an even more beautiful drive than the drives I took through Big Bend yesterday. The sky was blue, so the pictures are pretty good, though I didn’t stop as much as I would have because my eye was just killing me.
I saw a lot of faces in rocks today. I swear I saw Bob Hope’s face in a rock. I may have gone too long driving alone in the car. Come back Bozzie Jane! On another trip, I’d like to try photographing the faces that I see and then using PhotoShop to alter the images so others can see what I see.
Right outside Lajitas, the Big Bend Ranch State Park begins. Gorgeous views. Many more “oh ****s” today. I stopped at the “Contrabando” movie set. At several points, I stopped for a photo, and then turned around to see another stunning view. Sometimes we never turn around and miss the good stuff.
Because of the eye problem, I skipped a few things today that I otherwise would have done.
Presidio is a small town, but bigger than most I have seen lately. I stopped briefly at the ghost town of Shafter, Texas. Fort Shafter was a defense against the Apaches. Someone there has a sense of humor as there was a makeshift “roadside park” set up in Shafter — two folding stools and an umbrella. At least I think it was to be funny…maybe just a way for the one or two folks living there to meet the occasional tourist who stops by for a photo.
I landed in the delightful little town of Marfa, Texas at noon, and I spent much longer there than planned as it proved to be a special place. It seems that a wealthy artist and/or art lover, the late Don Judd, was originally the person who decided to restore Marfa’s buildings. Then along came Tim Crowley to continue the process. The result is that virtually all of the great old buildings in the center of the town have been restored. Marfa has a significant artist’s community, and judging by the number of airplanes at the airport in this small town of 2400 people, there are a lot of folks with some money in and around Marfa.
The largely non-commercial restoration of the buildings in Marfa has made it a really special place. Undoubtedly a place that the artists would love to keep a secret. I thought of all the small decaying towns that we’ve seen. Every town needs a wealthy art lover, but few have one. Marfa is so fortunate to have had two.
The old military base was turned into a HUGE art museum by Mr. Crowley. It encompasses many of the military buildings, and there are a lot of them. I found out about the Chinati Foundation and museum from skateboarders Erik, Jerek, and Anthony. I asked where I could find the world’s largest horseshoe, and Erik said it was at the Chinati Foundation, and he directed me there.
The Chinati Foundation looked like it might be some kind of cult place, and when the two nice young men inside, Tim and Jason, said I could not come in, I really started to wonder. But they told me it was an art museum, and two Austin artists outside, Scout and John, confirmed it. Tim and Jason said they did not have the authority to let me in to photograph the horseshoe, so I headed to town for lunch.
I turned down a side street looking for a restaurant with pickup trucks. That’s a great way to find a good restaurant in Texas. Another great way is to look closely at the civic club signs at the city limits as many will say where the club meets for lunch. Chances are, they meet at the good places. On this street, I saw two great 50′s-era motels, the Capri Inn and the Thunderbird Inn. I had an excellent T-Bird Club Sandwich at the Thunderbird Restaurant. The waitress, Rose, is definitely in the running for best waitress on the trip. She has a great smile, and we had a delightful conversation. She also was an invaluable resource about Marfa. She told me several sights to see; told me about the Marfa Lights; and explained how I could take a photograph of the horseshoe without permission. I loved that part.
I put on my shades and my secret undercover mission began! I followed Rose’s directions and drove down the road and took a left just past the Laundromat. Then I drove for a mile and a half and began looking to the left for the museum buildings at the old base. Once I saw the buildings, I was to turn into the area with several homes and go in the backyard of the one closest to the horseshoe. I found the closest house, and I pulled the car around a barn on the side. I got out, tiptoed through the horse pasture, zoomed the camera in as far as it would go, and snapped one photo. Then I ran back to the car and started to pull out when the lady of the house caught me. She asked: “what in the world are you doing in my yard?” I replied: “Just taking a photo of the horse shoe.” She said, “the horse sh**?” I said “no ma’am, SHOE. Sorry to have troubled you,” and I sped off as I had when I spotted Fast Freddy with the giant hedge clippers. I mentally thanked Rose, and enjoyed a nice sense of accomplishment from having managed to get a photo of the forbidden horseshoe (even if it was from 100 yards or more away).
Back into the center of Marfa, I began to see that Marfa has quite an artist’s community. There’s a great flag sculpture next to the courthouse, and there are a number of galleries. I understand there is a lot more hidden from view. Kind of like those rattlesnakes Dr. Dan told me about in Lajitas. I met and spoke with Belinda and Kim — two Marfa artists. I learned a lot more about the art activity in the town.
The Marfa Lights are an unexplained phenomenon that causes lights to appear in the sky. According to Rose (who I would trust with my life), it’s no hoax. A number of scientists have been in to try to figure it out. There are several theories, but no explanation. I was sorry I couldn’t stick around to see if the lights came out that night. But Boz and I will absolutely come back to Marfa and spend a day or two. If one wanted to live in a town of 2,400 people, Marfa looked like it would be a dandy. It’s hard to believe that we lived most of our life in Texas and had never really heard much about Big Bend and had heard nothing about Marfa except the spooky lights.
I stopped briefly in Fort Davis, Texas. It had a lot of tourists. After seeing Big Bend, I saw no reason to take the scenic drive through the Fort Davis Mountains. That would have been like going to the carnival after having just been to Disney World. If Barbara had been with me, we would have seen the doll museum there. I can’t figure out how Fort Davis had so many more tourists than a lot of other great places I have been. Perhaps because it is easier to get to.
Not far outside Fort Davis, the land flattened, and I began seeing terrain similar to what I grew up with in West Texas — flat and dusty. There was a good old West Texas dust storm blowing, and this was the last thing my eye needed. Then a lot of oil wells appeared, so it was flat and dusty with oil wells.
I was taking this route so I could hit Wink, Texas to see the Roy Orbison Museum. Roy Orbison had such great songs — Pretty Woman, Only the Lonely, and others. A very unique voice. Roy is Wink’s claim to fame. There actually is one other claim to fame there — the Wink Sink — a giant sinkhole. They do have a red water tower and formerly had a Pink Panther Bar.
I snapped a few classic small town photos in Kermit Texas, and then I boogied for the New Mexico line. The time changed there, so it was just before 5:30 Mountain Daylight Time. The scenery changed almost immediately as well — greener, some hills, and mountains in the distance. New Mexico, “the Land of Enchantment,” is a very beautiful state, but you gotta like mountains.
I passed through Loving New Mexico, and I was hoping to get some love-oriented pictures, but I didn’t see any businesses to speak of, and nothing was love-related. We’ve seen way too many adult businesses in tiny towns; if there had been one there, I would have photographed it. What I did find is that a great salesperson once visited Loving. Might be the same guy who made such a big sale in the country of Belgium where all the highways have street lights every 50 feet or so. Same deal in Loving. There were street lights every 50 feet from one city limits sign to the other. I hadn’t seen anything like this anywhere else.
I pulled in to Carlsbad Caverns National Park about 6 pm. I saw a sign that said “Eat 750 feet underground.” Not me. Both Boz and I are quite claustrophobic. So, I took a picture of the sign, and called it a Carlsbad’s Caverns.
I was much more excited to see White’s City. White’s City uses Burma Shave-like billboards to advertise for many miles. It’s an OLD souvenir shop tourist trap (and I say that in a good way). I wanted to see their Million Dollar Museum. I paid my $3 and went in. I’m sorry to report that it was a little better than Sponge-O-Rama, but not much. Then again, Sponge-O-Rama was free. The Million Dollar Museum was 11 rooms in the basement filled with old displays of “antiques,” some of which were in poor condition. I’m afraid White’s City was a disappointment — not what it used to be. If I hadn’t been so tired of driving and my eye hadn’t hurt so badly, I probably would have found it entertaining in a camp sort of way. Attitude is an amazing thing.
As I drove back to Carlsbad (Carlsbad Caverns is about 20 miles outside the city of Carlsbad, New Mexico), Gutter of the Brotherhood of the 74 motorcycle gang waved for me to pull over. Three weeks ago, this would have scared the dickens out of me, but it was a busy street, and he looked nice. Big on that big Harley, but nice. He was no weekend biker (and we’ve seen a whole lot of them); his jacket and doo-rag were the real stuff. We had a nice talk, and he agreed to let me take his photo. He wanted to be sure I told everyone that the Brotherhood of 74 does a lot for charity. I overheard him speaking to someone on his cell phone as I drove off; he told them he was going to be in a book. Folks really like that!
I chased the sun once again, but I was smack dab in the middle of Carlsbad. I tried to get to the outskirts of town, but I had to settle for sunset at a temporary storage facility. Not every sunset can be a Big Bend masterpiece. Gotta take ‘em as you find ‘em and learn to enjoy what you got.
The restaurant on my list for Carlsbad was Casa de Cortez. I found it on the highway. The place was filled with older locals, so I knew it would be great, and it was. If their hot sauce had been more to my taste, I probably would say their Mexican was the best yet…but I’m sticking with Rosita’s as best so far. I never got the name of the waitress. She was busy. I was tired.
I spotted the No Whiner Diner just before Casa de Cortez, so I backtracked for dessert. Alyssa recommended the apple pie with ice cream, and it was very good. In the parking lot, I met an interesting young woman named Alma — from Wisconsin. She said she was trying to get away from the guy she had come to Carlsbad with and was trying to get home, but AAA was not answering the phone…or something like that. I asked if I could do anything to help, and she said “pray for me.” I asked permission (as I always do) and took her photo. I asked if she had any money, and she said no. I gave her $20. If she was a hustler, she had the best approach I have ever seen as I never felt hustled. I hope she was just a young girl who needed to get home to Wisconsin. It’s so much more gratifying to look at things positively.
I met Cody and Erica at a Chevron station. Cody was born here, and Erica got stuck here. From what little I saw, Carlsbad wouldn’t go on my list of favorite cities.
Just outside of Artesia New Mexico, I had my first truly scary experience on the trip. I watched as a car pulled out of a parking lot, and I thought for a split second that I had gotten confused and was somehow on a one way road going in the wrong direction as the car came straight at me. No, I was in the right place; the car had turned into the wrong lane and was heading straight for me. Fortunately, I saw it all happen and had the time to maneuver off onto the shoulder and out of harm’s way.
I was relieved to reach Roswell, New Mexico. I had never planned to stay at the far south end of Big Bend, so I was on the road for 100 miles more than planned today. Too much. Then I spent several hours in Marfa (which will be in the running for Best Small Town). I was tired, but Roswell appeared to be a very thriving city of 47,000, and I was anxious to see all the UFO stuff.
I met Becky, Bill, and Fletcher as I checked into the Comfort Inn. They each confirmed that they felt UFO’s exist and are real. Bill had seen lights. I was delighted to fall asleep with this important issue put to bed.
One of the most asked questions is “where are you from?” I started the trip saying “Atlanta.” Now, I say I am from the town I last slept in, but tonight I will be from the town I will next sleep in. This usually starts an interesting conversation.
History is good and important and to be treasured. I wish things could be more like Marfa and less like Lajitas. Restored rather than overly commercialized. I never even thought about being a “preservationist” before this trip, but I am one. I also learned another important lesson: to enunciate more clearly the next time I get caught with my camera in someone’s horse pasture.
For the last two weeks, I have rarely known what day of the week it was.
Here are all the photos from Day 19 of the Round America 50-State Trip.
Round America visits Big Bend National Park, and along the way, Bill Windsor meets the Floating Neutrinos on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. The day ends with incredible sunsets and dinner in Terlingua, Texas, chili cookoff capital of the world.
Big Bend is incredibly beautiful (even on an overcast day), and it is the ultimate sunset spot, as you can drive from location to location while the sun is setting and see a variety of spectacular sights from heights that provide the ideal view.
I met some really interesting people on Day 18, including a Jehovah’s Witness at a gas pump (Ricky Bowman); a Border Patrol officer (Officer Hart); five fine young missionaries (Katy, Pete, Claire, Chris, and Katie) who I met at a gas station and then saw down the road when they had a blowout; two delightful ladies running a gas station in Sanderson Texas (Gennie and Deanna); a man who went to Texas Tech the same years I did, and his wife (Dalton and Pearl Hobbs); five park rangers (Ranger Rob, Katrina, Ranger Don, Casey, and Anita); the Tulane University tennis coach and her husband (Mary Lee and Brian); a former missionary and his wife – a Harvard-educated attorney (Ruben and Karen); a nurse/pilot and her doctor husband (Britton and Dan); Mike the night manager at the Study Butte “Mall;” a great bartender/waitress (Yvette); a couple who are in the unconventional lapidary business (Cindy and James); the Floating Neutrinos (Poppa and Aurelia); and several others (including tourists Carol, Duane, Stan, and Roma as well as Jeannie and Steve). While I enjoyed meeting all of these folks and learning a little about most of them, the Floating Neutrinos may be the most interesting people I have ever met.
The day began in Del Rio, Texas at 8:30 am. 69-degrees and dusty. I met Ricky Bowman at a gas pump. Ricky’s a big barrel-chested 100% Texan-looking man. He saw the sign on the car and asked what I was up to. He is fairly new in Del Rio — moved there so they could be near their grandchild. We figure that’s about the best reason to live anywhere! He told me the sky isn’t always gray there. We talked for quite a while before he said he would like to give me something. He went to his pickup and brought me two magazines — “The Watchtower” and “Awakenings.” Ricky is a Jehovah’s Witness. I’ve never had a real conversation with a Jehovah’s Witness, so I asked about how and why he chose that religion, and I asked what his view is of the war in Iraq. He chose the religion because of the warmth and sincerity he felt from the members of the group. That sounded like a good reason to me. As to the war, he informed me that the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe we are “at the end of our days.” (I don’t believe I will join up as I would much prefer to look on the bright side.) We talked a little more about this, and Ricky admitted that the “end of our days” could be a period of a million years or some such huge number. Ricky asked if I was going to Hawaii, and I told him it would be the 50th state to visit. He said the first Kingdom Hall (aka church) was in Hawaii, so I promised to go see it and get a photo for him. I wished Ricky the best for his grandchild and for our own and for their grandchildren and their grandchildren and….
I ran into Officer Hart of the Border Patrol at the mini-mart. He confirmed that the Border Patrol needs more people.
Not far outside Del Rio is the Amistad Dam and Reservoir. The terrain became pretty — going from flat white desert to brown to green with some hills and gullys (Is that the right term for a small canyon?). There wasn’t a safe place to pull off for a good photo.
26 miles from Del Rio was another Border Patrol Checkpoint. I guess I don’t look like I’m smuggling any illegals in the little white car as they just waved me through.
Not much in the little town of Comstock, Texas. I did see a deer storage place. The terrain is so flat and barren in this area that it just doesn’t seem fair to the deer.
When I reached the Pecos River, I realized I missed a bet when I didn’t pull off at a “roadside park” that wasn’t billed on the highway as one of the best scenic overlooks in the state. U-Turn (what the car now does best), and I found myself at the top of a little mountain meeting Dalton Hobbs and his wife Pearl. Dalton had a double T on his shirt, so I assumed he went to my alma mater, Texas Tech. He did. And we were there the same 4′ish years. He was in advertising, and I was in marketing, so we probably had classes together. I’m counting it as the second meeting of “an old friend” in two days! The Pecos River Bridge is the highest in Texas, and it is really an impressive sight, especially after several days of choking on the dust in the border towns.
Mountains appeared on the horizon as I took Loop 25 off the highway and headed for Langtry, Texas. Langtry was the home of Judge Roy Bean, and his courtroom, saloon, and pool hall have been maintained by the state. Judge Bean is well-known to Texans and anyone interested in the Old West as he was a notorious judge who dispensed his own brand of justice and profited from his position. In addition to the building, there is a very interesting Cactus Museum on the grounds. I never stopped to realize there are so many different varieties.
I wrote two days ago that I was in the wide open spaces. I wrote yesterday that it was wider and opener. Today it was the widest and openest. It was 265 miles from Del Rio to the entrance to the one million acres that are Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park, and there are only four towns on that route. The four towns are tiny, and only two had anything that I could see (Sanderson and Marathon). Look on your road atlas, and you’ll see a huge area in Texas with not much in the way of dots.
Outside of Langtry, the speed limit increased to 75, and so did I. There just isn’t anything to see alongside the road. I did pass an RV at one point.
I reached Sanderson, Texas at 11:30. The sign says “Cactus Capital of the Southwest.” I didn’t see any increase in the amount of cactus that had been for as far as the eye could see for 125 miles, but I mentally applauded Sanderson for “celebrating what they got” — something we have noted numerous times on the trip.
Inside the gas station, I met Gennie Merrifield and Deanna Seager, two delightful ladies. We had a nice talk about the trip, and Gennie suggested that I go see their train depot. She thought showing it in the book might help them raise money to restore it as the city was having trouble getting money. I enjoyed it and a few other things I saw due to that detour, and I hope I might help them raise some money as great old buildings like this need to be preserved!
My lunch consisted of a Goodarts Peanut Patty. Those babies are good! If you’ve never had a peanut patty, you’ve been missing a great Texas treat. A high school and college friend, Robert Taylor, used to own Goodarts, and I toured the factory a few years ago.
As I started to pull away from the gas station in Sanderson, I noticed a group of young college-age-looking folks. I asked which way they were headed, and they said Big Bend. I walked over and met Katy, Pete, Claire, Chris, and Katie. They are all missionaries working in the McAllen area. These seemed like really fine young people, and it was so great to hear about the good they were doing. It struck me that there is a lot we can all do to help others, and it doesn’t have to be with money.
In this part of the country, there are all kinds of things that you don’t see elsewhere. For example, I drove over “Three Mile Draw,” as well as places called gulch, arroyo, bend, creek, and many others. Not many rivers, but a lot of gulches. You see windmills from time to time; these are kind of like lighthouses in that both are a sign of life. In the desert, the windmills provide the energy to pull the water out of the ground, and where there’s water, there’s usually life.
I was just doing my thing at 11:45 am. In this area, I’d go for long stretches without even seeing another car. “My thing” consisted of driving as my eyes scan 180-degrees ahead enjoying the view and looking for anything that my mind considers especially interesting at that point. I came across a car that was moving slowly on the two-lane road, so I spent pass #8 to get around them. As I drove by, I saw a long web address painted on the side of the car. I thought to myself that this was very interesting to see on a passenger car, and I wanted to know what it said. So, I pulled off the road to take a photo just so I could read the web address when they passed me. They passed, but there was no web address. Uh oh, 18 days on the road and I was beginning to hallucinate. I felt sure I saw a web address, so I spent pass #9 to go around them again. It said “floatingneutrinos.com,” and there was some other writing on the car that I couldn’t make out. Floating Neutrinos??? I wondered what in the world a Floating Neutrino was! I was anxious to get to a hotel so I could check out the web site.
I motored on, and it was several miles before I saw something that I wanted to photograph. So, off the side of the road I went and out of the car with the camera. A few minutes later, I saw the Floating Neutrinos car approach and pass. As the car drove by, I was able to see an Ernest Hemingway-looking driver, with a woman riding shotgun, and a dog in the back seat. They drove slowly past, and the woman’s arm was sticking out of the passenger side window gently waving Mardi Gras beads. They stopped 50 feet ahead of me, and I walked up to the car; and I met Poppa and Aurelia and the dog, Buckaroo. They gave me the beads as a gift. How special was this. I knew from looking into their eyes that this was going to be interesting. I can’t remember everything that was discussed as I kind of felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. Buckaroo kept barking, and Aurelia told me to avoid eye contact, as the dog would not bite me unless I looked him in the eyes.
We began to talk as I tried to remember to avoid making eye contact with Buckaroo. As I recall, they were especially enthusiastic about my odyssey, but we very quickly began talking about them. I learned, among other things, that Poppa Neutrino and Aurelia (aka Captain Betsy) took a trip from New York City across the Atlantic Ocean to Ireland and then down to Spain. Many people have taken a trip across the Atlantic Ocean, but Poppa and Aurelia did it floating on a RAFT! The Floating Neutrinos. Poppa reached into the back seat of his car, and he pulled out a yellowed laminated newspaper story from the New York Times with their picture and a picture of the raft (that looked like something out of a Steven Spielberg movie). What an amazing adventure, and what stories they have to tell. I tried to remain focused, but I just kept thinking how incredible to be on my unique journey by land and to be on a highway in the middle of nowhere and bump into two incredibly interesting people who risked their lives while making an incredible journey by sea. Going to the river with Fast Freddy paled in comparison.
Poppa said he wanted to give me a song that he had written. I noticed a guitar case in the trunk. (And after Fast Freddy and the giant hedge trimmers, I’m sorry to say that the thought of there being a machine gun inside rather than a guitar did skate through my mind.) Poppa gave me a photocopy of the words and music to “Thanks to the Yanks of the USA.” He asked if I would like to hear him sing it, and I said absolutely! Poppa played the guitar and sang; Aurelia smiled; Buckaroo barked; and I thought how sweet and what a truly unique experience…while I scrambled to get a photo of this as no one would ever believe it. otherwise.
When the serenade ended, I had to ask Poppa his views of the Iraq War. I anticipated that Poppa and Aurelia would be anti-war. His response was fascinating. Poppa and Aurelia are not “meat eaters” and would not even kill a mosquito…and though President Bush is a “hunter” and eats meat and hunts and kills, they both support the President, voted for him, and believe his actions would dramatically change the world for the better. I didn’t expect to hear that. Poppa talked about a lot of things that I didn’t fully comprehend there on the side of the road, but I was anxious to explore the web site. The back of their car has this painted on it: “Let those who know tell those who don’t know.” The front of the car has a symbol about the “seven levels” that I believe conveys their philosophy of life.
Before we parted, Poppa and Aurelia gave me a videotape of their raft trip across the ocean and a CD of great jazz music by their children, the Flying Neutrinos! The CD is excellent; I’ve played it several times, and we will continue to enjoy it. Boz and I watched the video, and it is better than many of the movies we have seen. I could have stood there for hours, but I had a long way to go and no hotel reservation, so I said goodbye. I just kept thinking about what an amazing encounter this had been. To see and learn more about Poppa, Aurelia (aka Captain Betsy), and Buckaroo, see www.floatingneutrinos.com.
15 miles further down the road, and I saw a car with a blown out tire. I put the car in U-Turn mode, and there were my five missionary friends. All they had was a little donut spare, and it was 25 miles to a town. I had learned that the three young ladies were on a year-long program that paid them $60 a month, so I felt good about giving them the money for a new tire. After I reached the next town and saw how small it was, I hoped the money was enough. I can see how they might not have been able to find a tire for 150 miles. But they are all good people, so I figure the Big Guy was watching over them and Marathon would have a tire to fit their little car.
If this book does well, perhaps I will follow it up by just returning to this stretch of road and write another. I’ll just get a couple of lawn chairs and put up a sign that says “Writing a Book — Stop to Chat.”
Marathon, Texas is a neat little place with a very impressive restored hotel, The Gage Hotel. I met Carol, Duane, Stan, and Roma out front. Roma frowned and asked where my car was from. I told her I was sorry to say it was a German car with French tires. I pledged that both will be my last!
At this point, the scenery was great. Flat land on both sides of the road with mountains surrounding me miles back from the road. When I saw a sign that said the entrance to Big Bend National Park was 72 miles, you could have knocked me over with a feather. Talk about the middle of nowhere! The scenery was wonderful. I passed a ranch entrance with nothing but three stars on the entrance gate; I figure a general must live there, or maybe someone who rates movies, hotels, or restaurants.
Most days, I would see roadside memorials. I saw one on this really remote stretch of road, so I hooked a U. It said Aguilar. There were flowers and beer bottles and money and a stuffed animal and more. I had no gift to add, but I took a photo.
At 2:30, I reached the entrance to Big Bend National Park. I was greeted by Ranger Rob. He looked like an actor — tall, tan, big smile, enthusiastic greeting. I told him that I was thoroughly enjoying Big Bend…that the scenery was fabulous. He informed me that I was just entering Big Bend and that all the really good stuff was inside. Was he ever right!
I later met four funny Big Bend ranger-like folks at one of the few visitor’s centers in the park. Katrina, Ranger Don, Casey, and Anita. As I approached the Ranger desk in the Big Bend Welcome Center, they all looked at me and said, “How was Mardi Gras.” I responded that I had been to New Orleans but not for Mardi Gras. They then asked where I got my beads. That was the first time I realized that I was wearing the beads that Aurelia gave to me on the side of the road. With my hands full with my camera and tape recorder, Aurelia probably just put them over my head. At the time, I did not appreciate what a huge factor the beads would prove to be on the rest of the trip.
I wore my green, purple, and white beads every day on the road since I met the Floating Neutrinos. The Floating Neutrinos have to be really lucky to have survived their float across the ocean on a raft, so I considered the beads a good luck charm. The beads added a whole new dimension to the trip. Women would smile, and many men would look at me with a “can you believe that ‘weirdo’ look.” Kids would stare. I met far more people with the beads. I felt I needed a gift for people I met, though I will say that most of the people I met seemed surprisingly excited about having their name in the book. While the business card and a little fame may be gift enough, I ordered a case of beads. I am very conservative, so the beads were a walk on the wild side.
Photographs simply cannot do justice to Big Bend. The views are 360-degrees. I’d get out of the car to take a picture of a beautiful sight, and as I turned to get back in the car, I’d be knocked over by something equally beautiful. It was an “oh ****” day. I don’t cuss much, but when I topped a hill to see one breathtaking sight after another, I realized I was saying “oh ****” out loud again and again. I drove for hundreds of miles in Big Bend. I had not yet been to a place that I had found to have scenery as spectacular as Big Bend. Since volcanic activity was responsible for much of the landscape, the diversity was what really got my attention. You could look in four directions and see four totally different types of terrain. I think Big Bend is probably the best kept secret in the United States.
I drove to Study Butte and Terlingua but I didn’t see a motel that appealed to me, so I drove on to Lajitas. Lajitas, I later learned, is being developed as a “resort town.” I stopped at the first place that appeared to be a resort hotel, the Badlands. There was one room left. I was relieved to know I would have a room for the night, and it was 4:45, and I had just three hours of time to see more of Big Bend, so I took the room even though I was shocked to hear $195 for a room in this dusty middle of nowhere spot.
I did meet a very nice young lady while waiting for service at the Badlands. (And you can wait a looong time for service there.) Britton is a nurse/pilot, and she introduced me to her husband, Dr. Dan. Britton told me a number of places to go, and Dan said the area was filled with great characters. He said they are like rattlesnakes; you may not see them, but they are out there. Britton told me a great story about a man who moved to Lajitas from Chicago. When he moved to town, someone asked his name, and he said “Jake.” They said “Jake what?” and he replied “Just Jake.” He died after 20 years or so there, and when they buried him, no one knew his name, so the gravestone says “Just Jake.”
I asked everyone I came in contact with where was the best place to see the sunset. I was surprised that no one had a particular spot. Most said to just walk outside.
I raced back to Big Bend and took the drive down to the very end of the park at the border of Mexico. Just fantastic. When I got to the end of the road, the wind was really blowing. When I began hiking down to the canyon and river, I was in the middle of a sand dune when my eyes became absolutely filled with sand. My left eye was badly scratched, and tears were streaming down my cheek, but the sun was starting to set, so I pushed on.
On the climb up the side of the mountain, I met Ruben (a former missionary) and Karen (his Harvard-educated attorney wife) as my prized one-of-a-kind Round America cap blew off and disappeared down the side of the mountain. That made me unhappy, but the sun was starting to set, so I pushed on.
A little further up the mountain and I met Mary Lee, the coach of the Tulane University tennis team, and her husband, Brian. Very nice folks, and I had a chance to chat with them for a while after I came back down the mountain.
I got some photos, but the wind was blowing so hard that it was impossible to hold the camera still. There wasn’t as much water at that spot as I had pictured in my mind’s eye. Had I known that and that there would be a gale-force wind in the middle of a sand dune, I wouldn’t have gone. But ya pay your money and ya take your chances. Sometimes ya win, sometimes ya lose, and sometimes ya get rained out.
When I returned to my car, my cap was under the windshield wiper. I know Ruben was my good samaritan! It was so refreshing to meet so many nice, kind people.
I spent the next hour chasing the sun. I couldn’t believe that none of the people I had asked about the best place to see a sunset had suggested that I go to Big Bend and drive from point to point to see 50 different sunsets. I cannot envision a better place to see the sunset than Big Bend, due to the ever-changing terrain. The beauty of sunsets is the combination of the color in the sky and what it is framed against on the ground. Big Bend just can’t be topped in the sunset department! The wind continued to blow hard, and I was disappointed to later see that many of my photos were too blurry to use from the wind making it impossible to hold the camera still. But I thoroughly enjoyed the sights I was able to see with my right eye! My last sunset of the day was at 8:36.
Big Bend is humongous. Over one million acres! It was at least an hour’s drive out of Big Bend and back to Terlingua where I had my heart set on a big bowl of chili. I began to panic as I was running low on gas; I wasn’t sure I could make it out, but there were no options.
I made it. I met Jeannie from Arkansas and Steve from Austin as I stopped at the Study Butte Mall for gas and several soda pops. I should have asked whether they had anything for my eye!
Terlingua is the home to the mother of all chili cookoffs. I went to the Starlight Theare Bar and Restaurant. The chili was good, and the Dos Equis beer was too, though I drank about five glasses of water since I failed to do as I knew I should and had no water heading into Big Bend and no place to stop to get any). I tried Dessert Nachos — nacho chips covered with dessert sauce and a big scoop of ice cream in the middle. Different, but I bet the homemade cobbler would have been better.
Yvette was my bartender/waitress, and she was one of the best yet. She told me several places to go for great sights, and she has the vision! She educated me to the beauty of both the sunrise and moonrise in Big Bend, and said, “You know, the great thing about Big Bend is that you can see so many different views as the sun and moon look different depending on where you are at on the ground.” She knew what I had just learned and that so many others apparently never stopped for a minute to consider. Yvette told me exactly where to go the next morning to see a great sunrise near Lajitas.
At the Starlight Theatre, I sat next to two couples. The first couple didn’t say boo, and the man overtly turned his back to me when I was exchanging stories with Yvette as if to say, “get out of my life buddy.” Perhaps he was anti-bead. The second couple was delightful. Cindy and James are “unconventional lapidarists.” I learned this means they create unusual cuts of various rocks and gemstones. Nice people, and we had a great time talking. They enjoyed a chance meeting that day with a world-renowned lapidarist, and they were overjoyed that he invited them to join him on a dig at a ranch near Terlingua that is known to have incredible gemstones. This was to them like finding and seeing the Perky Bat Tower, meeting Fast Freddy and going to the river, bumping into the Floating Neutrinos, or happening upon Harry and the Natives is to me. Cindy and James gave me a beautiful polished gemstone to have made into a ring for Bozzie Jane. It was an imported stone, not something they found on the side of the road. I again wished I had a gift other than my business card and camera lens, but I arranged with Yvette to pay for their margaritas without them knowing.
I finally pulled into the parking lot in Lajitas around midnight. Man it was dark. When I say black, I mean black. When I managed to stumble up the stairs to the front desk at the Badlands to get my key, I learned that the electricity, water, and phones were all off. It took four people with zero personality forever to figure out what room I was in, etc., as I stood there with my eye hurting much worse than it had at the Starlight. I was escorted to my room by flashlight.
The hotel was cheaply built. For $195 a night, I expected top quality, but the room had hollow-core doors with dents and veneer peeling off. The shower was a prefab tub/shower like you would find in a very inexpensive apartment. The chairs were poorly made western-looking reproductions that felt like they would break as I sat down. There was no AC, no water, and no phone service, but this place probably would have seemed worse if there had been power. The lobby was nice — always a good trick. The window was caulked shut, so it was hotter and stuffier than necessary. I could go on. I cried out of my left eye and tried to sleep. I couldn’t set an alarm since we lost our battery-operated model, but I hoped I would eventually fall asleep and hoped I might somehow awaken before sunrise so I could go see what Yvette had promised — a fabulous sunrise.
Day 18 was PHENOMENAL! Best day yet for me; I regret that Boz was in Atlanta and missed it. It’s interesting that I can consider it the best though I had three significant problems and one big travel disappointment: (1) I found the BADlands Hotel to be BAD and the top nominee for worst use of money on the trip. (2) There was neither electricity, nor water, nor telephone service at the BADlands Hotel. (3) I seriously injured my left eye. (4) It was an overcast day (only thing worse is rain when you are going to see beautiful natural sights).
The lesson for the day. Man, that’s a tough one as there are so many options. I guess the lesson is that an awful lot can go wrong, but we can make the best of every situation if we focus on the good.
Here are all the photos from Day 18 of the Round America 50-State Trip:
Round America travels along the border between Mexico and Texas — McAllen, Texas to Del Rio, Texas. Bill Windsor bumped into an old friend in a town with a population of 2, and a visit to a casino was a sobering experience.
It was a dusty day in South Texas. I don’t know if it’s always like this, but the day began and ended ugly. The sun never cut through the dust.
I asked the two Fernandos at the front desk of the hotel what was unique about Laredo, and they both felt it was the significant number of vendors of Mexican products. We also spoke about the huge flag that Laredo has — so tall that it has an airplane warning light on top. According to the Fernandos, the folks just across the border in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico put up a huge flag, so Laredo, Texas had to follow suit.
I hit the road at 8:00 am as I tried to get up and out earlier each day. I drove to the border to get a photo of the Mexican flag, but it appeared that the flaghangers had not shown up for work yet.
All traffic was stopped at a Border Patrol Station a few miles outside of town. The Border Patrol has a high profile along the border, but according to the officers I spoke with in Roma yesterday, there are a lot of places where it is easy for people to cross illegally. Our borders with Mexico and Canada are immense, but I’d sure like to see the government significantly increase the size of the Border Patrol staff and budget so we will be more secure.
Once I made it through the line of cars at the Border Patrol Station, I saw a building on the horizon that looked like a Sadam Hussein palace. When I got closer, I realized it was a Texas Travel Center operated by the Texas Department of Highways. Incredible place — fabulous building, fountains, park — really something. Inside, Naomi and Ophelia were great fun, and they had brochures for anything and everything all across the state. I loaded up about a 10 pound bag. These travel centers and welcome stations are a great resource for roadtrippers.
I commented yesterday that the area between Roma and Laredo was really the wide open spaces. Well, today I saw wider and opener. There was very little to see other than flat ranchland for most of the day on the road. Even little towns are rare in this part of the state. Pull out your Rand McNally, and you’ll see.
I did pass twice today — same truck. I passed because the truck was spewing gravel all over me. Then the truck passed me during on a photo stop, so I had to pass it again. That’s six passes in 17 days. It was so nice to be out of the mode where I’ve always tried to get somewhere as fast as possible.
When I reached the tiny town of Catarina, Texas (population 45), I saw a Shrine to the Virgin Mary at St. Henry’s Catholic Church, so I stopped to take a photo. It wasn’t on a Camaro, but it was nice.
I did another doubletake in Carrizo Springs, Texas. I spotted a car wash, but it was closed. On the side of the building was a hand-painted American flag. I only counted 34 stars. I guessed it must be a really old car wash.
It took me a little less than two hours to get to Crystal City Texas, the spinach capital of the world. I drove up and down several streets looking for the world’s largest Popeye statue, but I couldn’t find it. I saw two nice ladies in a doorway of a law office, and I stopped to meet Carol and Leticia. They showed me right where to go. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the annual Spinach Festival is such a big deal in the town that it has a big storefront office right on the main street. I drove to the City Hall, and there was Popeye — a gift to the city in 1937, so they’ve been doing spinach for a long time in Crystal City.
As I drove from Crystal City to Eagle Pass, there wasn’t anything to see, so it was a big attraction whenever I saw the entrance gates to a ranch. There are some palatial ranches in Texas, but I didn’t see any palatial gates in this part of the state. What I did see, however, was a great variety. The theory I developed as I drove along with nothing else to do is that most folks consciously or subconsciously reflect their personalities in their gates. Some had names; others had artwork of animals; and some had nothing but the gate. I wonder if any sociologists have studied this. I hadn’t seen any funky mailboxes since leaving Florida.
My day changed when I reached Eagle Pass, Texas just before noon. I’m sure my thoughts were affected by the dust cloud that was masquerading as the sky. I drove right to the border (as the border is always the best-signed area in any border town). It was a humbling experience. I was embarrassed to have my little white car there as it felt showy. I saw people digging through 8-foot high piles of old clothes. I saw an open-air “shop” where shoes were being sold for 10 cents a pair. It was very, very sad to see so many poor people.
I couldn’t have felt lower, but I really wanted to see the only casino in Texas — on the Kickapoo Indian Reservation. There were a few billboards around town, but none of them showed an address. I stopped at three gas stations for directions and never found the place. I finally flagged down a UPS driver, and I finally felt like I was headed in the right direction. I guess I should have realized that if the casino was on an Indian reservation, it wouldn’t be in the heart of town. I finally found a little sign with an arrow pointing to the right, so I turned off. It was way, way, way outside town. The dust was much thicker there as most of the roads were dirt or stones. I drove for several more miles through the Indian reservation, and I finally pulled into the parking lot.
I had been expecting some glamour and glitter, but I didn’t find it. There were very few cars in the lot. The building didn’t look like a casino at all. There was a big sign showing plans for several phases of construction, but I heard later that the Indians ran out of money. I also heard the Kickapoos had lost control of the casino to Mexicans…not sure what that’s all about. I couldn’t imagine many people driving through those dirt and rock roads to get to the Lucky Eagle Casino, and it seems like they don’t. Inside, there were several rows of slots, one operating blackjack table, an area that was apparently used for bingo, and a small bowling alley-like snack bar in one corner. Gaspar and the others I spoke with were very nice, but I was just sorry for the Kickapoos. I had planned to go in and plunk down my $100 bill on red, but there was no roulette wheel. I gave about two seconds thought to putting it on one hand of blackjack, but it wasn’t the right place or time; I’d have been sick if I had won. I felt like just giving them all the money I had in my pocket. I pumped $10 into a slot machine, and I was relieved when I lost the money, as I wanted to leave so I could be sad in private.
My next stop would be Alamo Village north of Brackettville, Texas. Population 2. More wider and opener. At 2:46 pm with 32,439 miles on the odometer, I spotted a big hill or a tiny mountain — first real rise in the landscape that I’ve seen since we left Atlanta — 4,403 miles ago. I stopped and took a picture. Alamo Village and the Shahan Ranch are what you would call remote — 7 miles north of the little town of Brackettville and then several miles down a dirt and/or rocky road to the movie location town. It was built in 1951, and the first movie filmed there was “Arrowhead” starring Charlton Heston. Over 100 movies have filmed there since. It is best known as the site for “The Alamo” starring John Wayne. I took a few photos at the Alamo area and then worked my way over to the western and Mexican town areas. I would have normally taken a lot of photos at a great location such as this, but my attitude was in the dumper after Eagle Pass and the Kickapoos, and the air was so thick with dust that photos wouldn’t be very good.
As I walked down the main street looking at the simple (but very appealing to me) old western and Mexican architecture, I saw the town Marshal heading in my direction. He was 50 yards away, but he looked familiar. As he came closer, I thought for sure I knew him. As my greeting, I blurted out: “What’s your name?” He replied: “Rich Curilla…and your hair is a different color and you aren’t as thin as you were 20 years ago, but I thought I recognized those eyes.” Boz and I had speculated about whether we would run into anyone we knew unexpectedly on the trip. Well, here I was in the middle of a western town movie set shaking hands with a man who worked for me 20 years ago who I hadn’t seen or heard from since. What a treat! Rich is a very talented actor and one of the nicest guys you will ever meet. When he left our employ, he moved to the Brackettville area, and he’s been working at Alamo Village “forever.”
We traded a few war stories, and then he took me to meet Mrs. Virginia Shahan, the boss lady at Alamo Village and the Shahan Ranch. She has the place for sale. $6.5 million, and it can be yours. I told her I wasn’t in the market. We owned a ranch and western town 20 years ago when Rich worked for us. I think one western town should be the quota for everyone. It was really nice to meet her. Then Rich told me that Ron Howard was doing a new version of “The Alamo.” I was sorry to hear Opie chose a location near Austin rather than “Alamo Village.” I’m sure I’m not nearly as sorry as Virginia. I traded email addresses with Rich, and I hit the dirt and headed for Del Rio.
I drove straight to the border so I could add to my collection of border crossing photos. Del Rio, Texas connects to Ciudad Acuna. I also visited the Whitehead Museum, a small frontier village with 20 exhibits.
Alpine was scheduled to be my stop for the night, but I just wasn’t up for the drive, so I landed at the Del Rio Ramada Inn. There are very few towns in this part of the state with a motel, and the pickings are slim even in a good-sized town like Del Rio. Tommy Zapata was very nice at the front desk, and he recommended the best Mexican restaurant in town. I also met Maricela at the front desk — beautiful name that I had never heard before.
I skipped lunch today — lost my appetite at the Lucky Eagle. Dinner at Don Marcelinos was excellent. Rosita’s on Day 16 is still the best Mexican food on the trip, but this was mighty good. After dinner, I dropped quarters in the slot at a hand spray car wash and did my best to blast away the massive amount of dust and dirt that had built up since the last car wash just a few days ago. After the gigantic boulder cobblestone street in Savannah on Day 1, the trip to the river with Fast Freddy on Day 16, and then the Indian reservation and Alamo Village today, I was seeing a front end alignment in the not too distant future. I planned to have the car checked when I got to a city that was big enough to have a dealership for our flavor of car. On the way back to the motel, I visited a Hawaiian Shaved Ice (aka snow cone) stand. I tried another mango snow cone. I wanted to see how it compared to the one I had yesterday at Freddy’s Fast Lube and Snow Cone Stand. Not even in the same league! Freddy has something really special.
As the day ended, I reflected on how it humbled me to see those significantly less fortunate. I want the poor and the Indians to have a better life! As sad as it was, I believe seeing what I saw today would be humbling and beneficial to others. I’d love to see the President and his Cabinet go to Eagle Pass and the Kickapoo Indian Reservation for a meeting. Then Congress could come down and do the same. They should “look at the world in a different way” after seeing what I saw today.
It’s been two days with no pie. I’m going to be sure to eat some pie tomorrow…I wonder what the specialty is in the Big Bend area!
I don’t have a motel reservation, and I will be way out in the B-O-O-N-D-O-C-K-S, so tomorrow night should be interesting. Could be the first night sleeping in a little white motel (the car).
Here are all the photos from Day 17 of the Round America 50-State Trip:
Round America travels along the Texas-Mexico border between McAllen and Laredo, Texas. The highlight of the day was a chance encounter at Freddy’s Fast Lube & Snow Cone Stand and a special visit to the Rio Grande River.
What an enjoyable day! I met some great people. I visited Havana, Rome, and Mexico. I almost rode on a ferry. I ate Mexican food only, and I ate at places where they only spoke Spanish. I visited the birthplace of the greatest pro football coach ever. I had my first snow cone as an adult. I enjoyed a lovely war memorial and several patriotic displays. I saw the world’s largest killer bee, a baboon, an orange car on a statue in the middle of a field, and the world’s only drive-thru store built as a giant six pack of Pepsi Cola. I saw the Rio Grande River from several vantage points. I saw great, old architecture and spent much of the day on a movie set — part of the time literally and part of the time figuratively. I enjoyed a number of beautiful sunsets as I raced west (at the speed limit).
I set a record for the most photos in a day — 154! I had never been in this area, so everything seemed to catch my eye.
I’ve already commented previously about what an incredible number of occupations and types of businesses there are in this country. As I checked out of the hotel, I met the Gideon Bible Delivery Man. Just about every hotel has a Gideon Bible in every room. I never stopped to think how they get there, but in McAllen, Texas, it’s in a maroon and silver van.
Boz and I founded a donut franchise in 2001. We sold our interest in the business, and the transaction closed yesterday. To celebrate, I drove from McAllen, Texas to Pharr, Texas and spotted “The Great Donut” and dropped in for breakfast. It was a Mexican donut shop and bakery, and the young woman who helped me did not speak any English. I didn’t recognize most of the pastries, but true to one of the Rules of the Road, I tried something new. 3 donuts for 80 cents was quite a bargain, and they were GREAT! Best donuts so far without question.
Smitty’s Jukebox Museum in Pharr was my first stop. After getting lost a few times, I found it, and Smitty, Jr. welcomed me and gave me a tour. Smitty’s features a really impressive assortment of antique jukeboxes, and Smitty could not have been nicer. Since I have a huge collection of 45 rpm records, I am into old jukeboxes. I have never seen anything like several that I saw there. Smitty seemed pleased that I took his photo, and his sidekick wanted to be sure I knew how to spell his name for the book — “D-O-U-G.” He was wearing a ball cap with the name “Doug” on the front of it. They gave me directions to Hidalgo, and D-O-U-G told me to be sure to see the new ice hockey rink being built there. Nice, nice guys — a great way to start the day. (Just kidding you, Doug!)
I drove to Hidalgo, Texas primarily to see the world’s largest killer bee. The statue was created because Hidalgo was the city where the Africanized “Killer Bees” were first discovered in the US. The statue is 10 feet high and 20 feet long, and as statues go, this is a nice one. According to D-O-U-G, the hockey team that would play in the new arena has been named the “Killer Bees.”
I also visited the Hidalgo Pump House. The pump house was built in 1909 and was fueled by mesquite wood (the same wood that is used to smoke the very best barbeque). The pumps provided all of the irrigation water used in the Rio Grande Valley for many years. It’s a big place, and it was great to see that it has been maintained and/or restored by the city. I was sorry to see that I was the only visitor. Mary sold me a ticket for $2 and offered to give me a personal tour.
I wanted to have some good Mexican food in this part of the country, so I began looking for a place. It took about two seconds. I’m not sure if there is any other kind of food down here. I spotted the name “Rosita’s Cafe” on the top of a building several blocks off the highway, and I went for it. The waitress did not speak English, but she understood “tacos and Coke.” I really love Mexican food, and I have high standards for my Mexican food, so this was going to be interesting. I hate to keep saying that so many things are great, but this was a real treat. The tacos were unlike anything I have ever had before, with tender cubed chunks of meat and fried onions, a pico de gallo-like mixture to add, and some hot hot sauce. The tortillas were soft and oily rather than hard and dry. While beans and rice are usually ho-hum fillers on the plate, both were fantastic. The beans were like pinto beans, and they were cooked with jalapeno peppers, onions, bacon, and some mystery stuff. They should win Best Beans!
Based upon what I have seen and heard down here, the Hispanic community is into elections big time. There are signs everywhere, people campaigning, and people talking about the local elections. At Rosita’s, the two men next to me were calling friends to get out the vote.
I have been a Dallas Cowboys fan since the early 60′s. Tom Landry was one of the finest men who ever lived, and I believe he was the greatest football coach ever. Coach Landry was born in Mission, Texas, so when I was daydreaming and missed the city (hard to do since there are several signs), I had to turn around and go back. In downtown Mission, there is an exceptionally well-done mural that depicts Coach Landry from his birth to his success as a coach over 29 years and to his admission into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The folks in Mission are apparently extremely proud of Coach Landry as car after car on a very busy street stopped to stay out of the way as I snapped photos.
When I first found Mission, I spotted some flags and pulled over to take a closer look. Mission has a big and very impressive War Memorial in a lovely park. When I got out of the car, I met Jesus Gutierrez. He showed me how to get to the Tom Landry mural. He also wanted to have his name in the book, so here’s to you Jesus. Mel, who works for the city on landscaping and park maintenance, was kind enough to open the locked gates to let me have a closer look at the various war memorials. The folks in Mission could not have been nicer!
Mission has a big citrus business. I saw big packaging operations as well as a lot of pickup trucks on the side of the road selling fruits and vegetables.
Throughout the day, I took a picture of almost all of the border crossings. Hidalgo links to Reynosa. Rio Grande City links to Camargo. Roma links to Ciudad Aleman. Los Ebanos links to nothing. And Laredo links to Nuevo Laredo. In Roma, I met two US Customs officers (Molina and Smith), an immigration man (Mr. Moreno), and three Border Patrol officers (one of whom was Officer Lopez). They were all great. Officers Molina and Smith told me where I was and was not allowed to take photos, and they allowed me to get up on a big tall ladder stand (like the band director uses to direct the band at a major college football game) so I could get photos of the Rio Grande River and into Mexico. They then explained how I could walk across the bridge and leave my car in the good old USA. Mr. Moreno helped with directions, and then came running over to the car after my trip to Mexico and back to make sure I knew where to go to see the best sights in Roma. Nice, nice people.
There was one disappointment today. I had my heart set on a ferry boat trip across the Rio Grande River to Mexico, but when I reached the ferry crossing station, it was locked up and no one was anywhere to be found. This was in the little town of Los Ebanos, Texas. Now this wasn’t just any ferry! The Los Ebanos Ferry is a relic of the frontier days. It is the last hand-drawn ferry left along the Rio Grande, and it is the only government-licensed ferry on any river in the US. The ferry holds up to three cars, and men pull ropes to move the ferry back and forth across the river. I learned that the town of Diaz Ordaz is a good four miles south of where the ferry docks in Mexico; what is at the Mexican border is a customs checkpoint with guards who are usually playing cards. The spot has been used as a crossing since the Mexican War of 1845. The Texas Rangers (law enforcement…not the baseball team) had some interesting encounters with bandits involving the ferry, and it was a favorite location for liquor smugglers during prohibition. It was fun just to be there, but I sure wanted to take the ride!
The drive to Los Ebanos and the ferry crossing spot began the part of the day when I felt like I was in a movie. I headed south a little ways past the town of “Havana” to get to Los Ebanos. The drive through narrow streets with sharp turns going to the ferry crossing was filled with little houses and barns and buildings that looked like they were right out of a movie set. And all along Highway 83, I saw one interesting building or business after another. It was really like being in Mexico, but it was the US side of the Rio Grande which is the border between Texas and Mexico for the entire 801 miles from Brownsville to El Paso. When I hit Rio Grande City Texas, I saw one picturesque old building after another. I parked and took a lot of pictures. Rio Grande City was formerly a riverboat terminal, but the riverboat business ended and a lot of the great old buildings began to decay. I saw only one that has been restored (though there may be others). The La Borde House was built in 1897 and was first a trading post where Indians and fur traders brought their goods. It was converted to a hotel in 1917, and in 1980, Larry Sheerin purchased the property and did an authentic restoration. Attaboy Larry! I saw one other restoration underway, and I stopped and met three delightful characters — “Memo,” Felipe, and Jesus. I took their photo behind some bars of a window, and they wanted to be sure I explained to everyone in the book that they are “restorers” not criminals behind bars in a jail.
I continued to see one snow cone stand after another in the small towns that I pass through. I saw an especially colorful one with an American flag straw coming out of the top, and I put the car into U-turn mode (something that usually happens 30 or 40 times a day). I pulled up to Freddy’s Fast Lube & Snow Cone Stand in the little town of Escobares, Texas for a quick photo. A man came running up to me wanting to know what I wanted. I explained that I just wanted to take a photo of his stand. He proudly announced that they had done all the work on it themselves. He also showed me his very colorful and attractive umbrellas, and explained how they were made, but I couldn’t understand his accent or the words he used.
At this point, we shook hands and exchanged names; he was Freddy Escobar of Freddy’s Fast Lube & Snow Cone Stand. Freddy asked if I wanted anything, and I said I’d love a Coke. He replied: “Snow Cone?” And I said, “Sure, give me a snow cone!” He asked: “Flavor?” I replied: “Grape.” He said “Mango!” I said, “Sure, mango it is.” Freddy had to explain my order to the young girl in the dark recesses of the snow cone stand who didn’t speak a word of English, and she began preparing my treat. Her power appeared to be provided by an extension cord running from the Fast Lube shop just behind. I can’t recall having had a snow cone since I was a child. It took quite a while. The window finally slid open, and out came a big styrofoam cup filled with a mango-colored mixture with a straw and a spoon. When I tell you my “snow cone” was AMAZING, please realize that I’m not exaggerating this time. It was 94 degrees and I was thirsty, but this stuff was special. The flavor was wonderful, but the consistency was what I couldn’t believe. It was much better than smoothies we get that tend to be glorified Slushees. I don’t know what was hiding in that hut, but the end result was like an ice drink with the consistency of frozen yogurt. I think Freddy should franchise; I can see Freddy’s Fast Lube & Snow Cone Stands all across the US. Seriously, it was really, really good, and it never melted.
Freddy grabbed two of his business cards and asked me to send him a copy of the book that will have his name in it. While I was waiting for my drink, I mentioned to Freddy that I was disappointed that the Los Ebanos Ferry was closed as I had so wanted to see the Rio Grande River. (While it is the border between the US and Mexico, the road does not run along the river, so you never see the water.) Freddy said: “I have a friend with property that has a beautiful view of the river. You should go there.” I told Freddy that I really appreciated it, and asked how I would get there. He said: “Oh, you would never find it on your own. I will lead you there.” I told Freddy that I couldn’t impose on him to drop what he was doing and take me to the river, but he insisted.
Freddy hopped in his pickup truck with a man carrying a liquor bottle in a brown bag, and off we went. I was saying to myself, Bozzie Jane would not approve of me meeting someone on the side of the road and driving off to who-knows-where with them. But hey, one of the Rules of the Road is to try new things, so there my little white convertible was trying to keep up with Fast Freddy in his pickup. I was feeling good, drinking my “snow cone,” until we came to a bumpy dirt road, and then I started to worry a bit — more about the car than my own safety. Then we came to a road that looked like a heavily rocked creek bed. My enthusiasm began to drain faster than the mango “snow cone.” I was hoping Freddy was the nice person that he appeared to be rather than a serial killer or car thief who fancied a little white convertible.
When we pulled into a nice grassy clearing with trees next to the Rio Grande River and I saw the view, it was a huge relief. What a great view! I took several photos, including one of Freddy next to a barbeque pit. Freddy says he wants to turn the spot into a park. It’s a great setting, though the access may be a hurdle. I thanked Freddy profusely, nodded to the older man with the bottle in the bag, and I pulled out to retrace the path and get down the road. What a nice thing for Freddy to do and what a special place to see! And to think that I even gave a few minutes thought to being the victim of a serial killer. How silly of me!
I stopped at the dirt part of the road and hopped out of the car to take a photo so I could prove that part of the experience. I didn’t hear a sound yet I sensed something was behind me. I turned around to see Freddy walking toward me with the biggest pair of hedge trimmers (cranked wide open) I have ever seen in my life. The vision of being killed with hedge trimmers in a remote area of Escobares, Texas and having my body thrown in to the Rio Grande River flashed before me. I jumped in the car and got out of there. As I looked in the rearview mirror, I saw Freddy lean over and trim a few low-hanging branches off some of the trees.
Freddy was a really nice man just helping me have a special experience. As much as I loved my Freddy’s Fast Lube & Snow Cone Stand experience, it is sad that there is so much violence in our country that we have to be worried about innocent things such as this and have to wonder whether the strangers we see are good or up to no good.
Still in the movie figuratively, Roma, Texas was the next stop. I met all of the nice people mentioned above at the border crossing. I walked over to Mexico and back and got some good photos. Then Mr. Moreno showed me where to go to see the other great sight in Roma — the real, old buildings that were used as the movie set for the movie “Viva Zapata!” I parked and walked for several blocks and literally entered the movies as I took photos of one great-looking Mexican-style building after another. The buildings were marked with the names used in the movie.
I had a nice chat with Officer Lopez and two other Border Patrol officers, and they told me they stay extremely busy as many Mexicans are constantly trying (and many succeeding) in getting across the over 800 miles of border. They showed me an aerial lift they have with a night scope on it so they can catch folks at night. I asked how 9/11 has affected their job, and they reported that they have gone through a lot of additional training. I thanked them for the increasingly important job they are playing in our nation’s defense.
After the trip ends, Boz and I planned to rent Viva Zapata! and the other special movies that were made in the cities we will have visited.
I drove through Falcon, home of an International Falcon Reserve, but I saw no falcons. The sun was going down at this point. I’m really disappointed when that begins to happen as the sightseeing is so much fun, and for a few hours before sunset, the photo opportunities are reduced to the side of the road facing the sun.
The stretch of highway between Roma and Laredo really is the wide open spaces. Little more than land with ranch entrances many miles apart.
I began taking sunset photos in Siesta Shores, Texas. Because this area is so flat and there aren’t many trees to obscure the horizon, it is a great area for sunsets! A car pulled over to talk, and I met Mike Reynolds. We chatted about travel, his recent trip to Monterey Mexico, his work, the trip, and the book. I asked if he ever tired of seeing these amazing sunsets. He looked west and said he had lived there his whole life, and he never really noticed.
I reached Zapata, Texas just as the sun was setting. The movie “Viva Zapata!” was not filmed in Zapata, but back in Roma. Zapata does have a claim to fame, however. It is an “underwater town.” Rather it was. A number of years ago, the reservoir flooded the entire area, and the town was submerged. On the way into and out of Zapata, I got some excellent sunset photos.
When I passed through the tiny town of Chihuahua, I thought about looking for a place to get some Mexican food for dinner. But you’ve probably heard those same stories I have about the Mexican food in Mexico, and I decided not to tempt fate by eating in a town named after a breed of dog.
Judging by the lights on the horizon, Laredo, Texas is a pretty big city. Nuevo Laredo is across the bridge. Laredo has some of the oldest ranchlands in the country, and it is the nation’s largest inland port. It also has the world’s only drive-thru beverage store housed in a building built to look like a six-pack of Pepsi Cola. I drove through and met the manager, Jerry Tovar.
I can say categorically that the folks I have met along the border have been the friendliest, most helpful, most interested people. Everyone has been interested in the trip and the book, and lots and lots of people would honk and wave when I was just standing on corners or the sides of the roads taking photos. The folks who live in smaller towns take greater pleasure in things that us big-city-folks would never notice.
The temperature reached 94 degrees today — 10 degrees hotter than the previous high on the trip. It was 88 degrees when I pulled into Laredo at 8:30 pm.
Every “sunset” is different, and everyone sees the same sunsets differently, and this is good. Wherever you may be, your view of the sunset is going to be slightly different from the next person’s. We’ve lived in a lot of places and we’ve traveled a lot, so we’ve seen a lot of “sunsets.” I believe the perspective provided by living in and traveling to various places is really good for people. And I believe very strongly that from time to time, we should all stop and look at the world in a different way. That was one of the main lessons that I took from one of our favorite movies, “Dead Poets Society.” Robin Williams plays a teacher, and to help convey this message to his young students, he gets them to come up one by one and stand on top of his desk at the front of the room. From that vantage point, they realized that they really did see things differently; this lesson was then applied to life and learning. I’ve adopted this as a personal philosophy and have taught it as part of business training that I’ve done ever since I saw that movie. I have physically had fellow workers stand on a desk when they couldn’t see the answer to a problem or when I felt they could use a new perspective. We set out on this trip for a variety of reasons, but one reason was to relax and clear our heads. This absolutely happened. Without being conscious of it, perhaps the main reason we took the trip was to stop and look at the world in a different way. But like my new friend Mike, we haven’t paid any real attention to sunsets. This trip has certainly changed that, and I am confident that it will recharge our batteries in many ways.
The tape recorder has become an essential tool on the trip. I dropped the recorder today, and it will no longer record, so I will buy tape recorder #3 tomorrow. We’ve lost a travel alarm clock and one camera lens cap so far. I may throw the two broken tape recorders into a box with the 100+ bottles of hotel shampoo that we will sell on eBay at the end of the trip.
I have passed a grand total of just four cars thus far while driving on the two-lane roads.
Here are all the photos from Day 16 of the Round America 50-State Trip:
by admin on Apr.15, 2003, under Bishop, Brownsville, Corpus Christi, Driscoll, Elsa, Harlingen, Kingsville, Los Fresnos, Lyford, McAllen, Places to Go, Raymondville, Riviera, Santa Rosa, South Padre Island, Texas
Round America travels from Houston, Texas to McAllen, Texas. Highlights were a visit to the King Ranch, lunch at The Barn Door in Riviera, Texas, sightseeing at Graceland (Little Graceland, that is), and an interesting search for the Virgin Mary on a Camaro in Elsa, Texas.
I bought a map produced by Texas A&M that shows ALL the state and county roads in Texas. While I must admit some concern about using anything produced by Aggies, it’s bigger than a Rand McNally Road Atlas and very detailed. It also includes some interesting statistics. Texas is massive. There is one ranch in Texas that is bigger than the state of Rhode Island. The distance from Houston to El Paso is greater than the distance from El Paso to Cheyenne, Wyoming. There are at least 294,833 miles of roads in Texas!
A little quick math indicates at our current pace, one could drive all 294,833 miles in 1,140 days. But we’ve learned that there has to be some backtracking to get to the next road or town, so figure four years — 1,460 days. You’d have to budget about $219,000 for gas (18,000 gallons), food, and motels – plus the cost of a couple of cars. After seeing houses turned into shrines to the orange and to beer, you have to wonder if someone isn’t out there on the roads with this A&M map and a yellow highlighter…coloring in each segment as he or she drives on.
Now that I have hit the least populated areas of the state, I will see more road and fewer sights.
Corpus Christi is a lot bigger than I thought it would be. I’d been to virtually all of the bigger cities in Texas, but never to Corpus until now. The day began very overcast with strong winds, so I passed on a trip down to the Corpus beach. Much of the skyline of Corpus is filled with oil refineries. Downtown has a lot of big buildings.
In Driscoll, Texas (population 648), a “Fine Furniture” store caught my eye. “Fine Furniture” was painted on the side of a small covered wagon suspended high above the building. Once again, you’ve just gotta love the differences in perception from small towns to big cities. I love the way folks in small towns advertise and do their signs. Most just grab a paintbrush and do it themselves. No pretenses. Nothing fancy. Just the basics.
A sign caught my eye a little further down the road – Pop’s Beef Jerky Store. They advertise the best beef jerky in Texas. Sorry, but dried meat just doesn’t have any appeal to me.
Bishop, Texas is a sad town. The city limits sign says 3,305 people live here, but main street is a complete ghost town – maybe 20 buildings, and not a sign of life or business in any of them. One or two had their roofs and walls caving in. Just outside of Bishop is a huge refinery that is bigger than most of the towns I have driven through. I guess all the people who work there do their shopping and business in Kingsville rather than Bishop.
Kingsville, Texas is the home of the King Ranch, the recognized birthplace of the American ranching industry. I drove all around the town and visited the ranch, museum, and saddle shop. I saw a very informative video at the visitor’s center at the ranch. Captain Richard King founded King Ranch in 1853. Today, King Ranch covers over one million acres! The Texas ranch property is bigger than Rhode Island. They have 60,000 cattle and a lot of horses, but King Ranch has significant citrus and sugar holdings in Florida as well. It is a HUGE business.
Deanna was very nice and helpful at the ranch, and then I met Sybil as I bought two books about interesting places to go in Texas. I’ll do more research tonight so I can avoid missing any worthwhile sights when I get to the really wide open spaces in South Texas.
When folks learn about the trip, they usually ask questions. We had fielded a lot of questions, but one of the most common is “How far along are you?” Both Boz and I have noted that the people who ask this question have unanimously responded the same way — “Oh, well, you haven’t made it very far.” It’s like they immediately discounted what we were doing. It seems to be a question asked only by pessimists. Sybil asked how far along we were….
My mind was set on eating barbeque in Kingsville. I figured that beef had to be the specialty in a town that grew up around the largest ranch in the USA. I saw a fancy western theme restaurant in downtown Kingsville, but I was concerned as there are places that have a particular look naturally and then there are themed places made to look a certain way. This was the latter. I opened the door to the Wild Horse Desert Cafe to see a huge place with music playing and themed decor everywhere, but not a person to be found. Just down the street, I found where the locals eat — Linda’s Main Street Cafe — a little storefront with folks standing in line. The specialty wasn’t barbeque, so I moved on. I stopped four times to ask folks where the best barbeque restaurant in town was, and no one could come up with one, so I left town.
A little further down the road, I spotted a restaurant with a bunch of cars, and when I saw bar-b-que written on the side of the building, I decided to stop. It certainly wasn’t a tourist-oriented place; this was a real, honest-to-goodness small town restaurant — The Barn Door. Nothing fancy about it; it was just real. The barbeque was fantastic! They mesquite smoke it, and the ribs and beef brisket had a wonderful flavor and were as tender as could be. Two nice ladies served me, and I’m sorry to say that I was so excited to record how good the food was that I forgot to get their names on my tape before my short-term memory lapsed. I believe Janie was one of them; my apologies ladies.
The Barn Door is in Riviera, Texas. The founder of the town named it Riviera because it reminded him of the Riviera in Europe. I guess I missed whatever he saw, because it looked like every other small South Texas town to me. But if it seems like the Riviera to them, that’s great, because we should all make the best of what we have and love where we live.
There is a looong stretch of road from Riviera to Raymondville with essentially nothing but dirt and trees and sky in between. I did see some Border Patrol SUV’s and flowering cactus (cacti?). It reached 85 degrees today — the warmest on the trip so far.
Raymondville, Texas has a nice smiley-face water tower. I saw several trains today. Bozzie Jane could have had a lot of ice cream cones.
Cruising through Lyford Texas, I spotted a cowboy on horseback, so I pulled over to take a photo. As I got closer, I saw that the horse was wearing an American flag “costume,” and the rider was holding a sign promoting his favorite candidate in the town’s election. I met Ernesto Gonzales, “full-time attorney, part-time cowboy, part-time campaigner for his cousin.” I also met his horse, Junior. Ernesto was great. I took his photo; he took my photo; we both took Junior’s photo. I should have looked more closely at his attorney business card before I drove on; it has a bird on it wearing sunglasses. There must be a story behind that.
Now the search began for the Shrine to the Virgin Mary on a Camaro. I read about this in the book I bought at King Ranch, and it appeared to be only a few miles off my planned route in the town of Elsa Texas, so off I went. True to form, it was a little farther and took a little longer than I planned, but I was excited when I got there. After all, how often does one get the opportunity to see the Virgin Mary on a panel behind the left rear tire of a Camaro!
With $3,000 in donations, Dario Mendoza and Santiago Quintero built a shrine around the car in their cinder block garage — red carpet, a ceiling fan, 50 or so folding chairs, and a little altar covered with flowers. I figured this had to be a big deal in such a small town, but I drove from one end of the town to the other and I saw neither a sign nor a crowd. I stopped where most men are unwilling to stop to ask for directions — a gas station. The man there looked at me like I was a serial killer or something; he’d lived in Elsa his entire life and had never heard of any Shrine to the Virgin Mary, much less one on a Camaro.
As I drove back through town, I scanned the horizon for any clue. The only crowds were at the Post Office. So, like any good reporter, I stopped at the Post Office to find out what was going on and to get directions to the Shrine of the Virgin Mary on a Camaro. Once inside, I realized the crowd was due to the income tax filing deadline, not the Shrine of the Virgin Mary on a Camaro. I asked several people for directions to the Shrine of the Virgin Mary on a Camaro, and they gave me that “this guy is nuttier than a fruitcake” look. I noticed a sign for the Justice of the Peace next door, so I drove there, and I asked two people for directions to the Shrine of the Virgin Mary (left out the “on a Camaro” part in hopes the “you’re crazy” stares would stop). I was delighted when one of them gave me the directions. I drove a few blocks, but I knew she was wrong when I pulled up in front of the local Catholic church.
My next stop was City Hall where I asked five different people how to get to the Shrine of the Virgin Mary on a Camaro. Nada. Nothing. Zip. At this point, I figured I had spoken with at least 1% of the population of Elsa. I guess I’ll never see the Shrine of the Virgin Mary on a Camaro. At least I have a picture of it in the book. None of the folks in Elsa were nice; no one even laughed. Maybe they will laugh with their friends when they tell the story about the crazy guy going all over town looking for the Shrine of the Virgin Mary on a Camaro.
As I drove out of town, I remembered our Rules of the Road. One of them is when you get disappointed or things get boring, look again. I looked again and saw flashing red lights ahead, so I drove SLOWLY out of town past the policemen working a speed trap. Looked to be one of the biggest businesses in town.
I was disappointed that I didn’t see many flags today, but then I reached Santa Rosa, Texas. Flags and yellow ribbons everywhere. Then I saw a group of people holding signs and waving, and cars were honking. I pulled over to meet a nice group of folks with a big sign with the photographs of all the young people from the town who were currently on active duty in the military. 1,800 people in the town, and 40 were in the armed forces! I met the father of one young Marine, and a number of others proudly showed me which of the pictured folks were their relatives. It was very uplifting to be around these proud, patriotic Americans! And I would have never seen it or met them if I hadn’t gone in search of the Shrine of the Virgin Mary on a Camaro!
Next stop: Graceland! Well, “Little Graceland,” to be precise. Simon Vega loves Elvis, and he has turned his home in Los Fresnos on Highway 100 between Harlingen and South Padre Island into a shrine to Elvis. (I guess I should have asked Mr. Vega how to get to the Shrine of the Virgin Mary on a Camaro, because I suspect he would have the address.) Mr. Vega has signs all over his house and in his yard. He has a doghouse-sized replica of the Tupelo, Mississippi home Elvis was born in. He is especially proud of the gates to his driveway. He has lighted display cases in the room above his garage with decorative Elvis plates, an Elvis doll in an Army uniform, Elvis sunglasses, and his Army good conduct medal. My favorite was a sign next to the garage that indicates Simon Vega’s home is the sixth most-visited famous person’s home in America — just behind Abraham Lincoln’s log cabin.
South Padre Island, Texas was next — the best beach in Texas. I was surprised to see how much the area has developed since we were last there with our children maybe 20 years ago. It’s a big tourist attraction. I took a picture of the Causeway Bridge, the longest bridge in Texas, and I got a nice photo of the Port Isabel Lighthouse.
Down to Brownsville, Texas where I took a picture of the border crossing station at Matamoros, Mexico. From there, I drove 60 miles or so to McAllen to rest for the night. I pulled out my list of hotel reservations. One problem. It seems my reservation was in Brownsville. Ooops. I would have driven back, but our first road detour of any consequence was midway in Donna, Texas, and I didn’t want to endure that twice again, so I was pleased when Lizbett gave me the last room (even though a yucky smoking room) at the Residence Inn in McAllen, Texas.
I guess I learned a few lessons today. I’m not sure which one is most important, though always making sure you know where you are going should be high on the list. I was also reminded today to follow my instincts and always ask a lot of questions. Most important, however, is to always try to find the best from each experience. When possible, try to turn lemons into lemonade. My trip to Elsa was a bust, though I suspect my search for the Shrine of the Virgin Mary on a Camaro could be one of the stories most told after the trip is over. But that detour to Elsa took me to Santa Rosa, and it was really uplifting to see those nice folks celebrating in support of our troops and the 40 brave young men and women from their little town who were being brave so we can all be free. It gave me that great feeling that we get inside when our hearts are warmed by something that’s important to us.
Week 3 began today. 31,650 miles on the odometer when the day began. We started at 28,036, so, 3,614 miles were in the rear view mirror.
I’ve taken 1,195 photos so far. Digital cameras are great, as all I have to do each night is dump the photos from the camera into my PC, and then I’m ready to go for another batch the next day.
Here are all of the photos from Day 15 of the Round America 50-State Trip: