Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Cowtown In Our Rear-View Mirror

Horseback riding on the old Chisholm Trail was supposed to be a highlight of the Texas Road Trip 2016, but it just wasn’t meant to be. Even when it wasn’t raining, the ground was too soggy for safety, so the Fort Worth Stockyards didn’t get the horses out.

Annette and I left Fort Worth and resumed our road trip Wednesday, March 9. We headed for Boerne and the George Strait Team Roping Classic, ready for the back roads. Surprised at the speed limit of 70- and 75-mph on some of those two-lane roads, we were content to keep the speedometer a little under par.

Annette photographs "blue bonnets."
We took the interstate a short distance to Benbrook, then Texas 337 down to Granbury. We almost missed The Cowboy Marketplace there, which led to a false encounter with blue bonnets. Annette quickly spotted a beautiful blanket of the Texas state flower, and we both got out to shoot photos. After picking a sample or two, we headed next door to the Marketplace. I was disappointed at not finding any cowboys for sale, but consoled myself with a set of western-themed stoneware and matching flatware. 

A Granbury building reminded me of rocky-road fudge.

When we got back in the car, the light dawned for Annette. “Those aren’t blue bonnets,” she exclaimed, as she examined the samples we had picked. “They’re grape hyacinths. I should have listened to that little bell that was going off in my head when I first spotted that field of blue.” 

We laughed hysterically, then headed toward downtown Granbury to see its courthouse, per the advice of the Marketplace’s owner. This quaint little town, named after a Confederate general, has many interesting historic buildings that house shops and restaurants. One in particular was faced with stones in various shades of chocolate. It made me hungry.

We picked up Highway 144 and headed south from Granbury, which took us to Highway 67. That took us to 220, which led to Hico. A shop owner in Forth Worth had told us to stop there for pie. I prefer cakes and cookies, but the Koffee Kup is known far and wide for its pies, so we made it a point to find it. Once inside, we saw a sign hanging over the pie counter proclaiming, “Pie fixes everything.” Chocolate, wine and a George Strait CD would be my fix for everything, but that wouldn’t sell any pies, now would it?  

The family-style restaurant boasts 15 flavors of pie, when strawberries are in season. I tried the Black Forest, consisting of two layers of rich chocolate filling, with whipped topping, pecans, shaved chocolate and cherries. When I mentioned to the waitress that more than two cherry halves would have been nice, she brought me a dozen more. Annette had the Coconut Meringue, and the topping was as tall as the pie. You know you’re in a small town when the waitress tells you, “M’am, we don’t take cards, only cash and checks. If you don’t have either one, you can mail us a check.” 

Yummy pie!
Exiting the building, we noticed a Victorian-style house on the corner across the street called the Wiseman House of Chocolates. Had I not been full of pie, I would have ducked in for a nip. We missed the “ghost signs,” those faded remainders of WPA-era advertisements painted on the sides of old buildings. We passed up the Billy the Kid Museum, too. Our informative waitress said Billy the Kid was killed in Hico, according to local legend, but added that several towns claim the same.

Drive right up and buy a bottle in Hamilton.

Highway 281 took us from Hico to Hamilton, where we encountered a drive-through liquor store. We took pictures, then drove through and made a purchase, purely for research reasons, of course. We continued on 281 through a hiccup in the road called Evant, and made it to Lampasas after dark. 

The pickings for motels there were slim. Our first encounter was a sketchy-looking place that had seen better days. The rate was good — $75 per night — but we wanted to inspect a room. The desk clerk was about to accommodate us when Annette asked, “Do you have hair dryers?” It was an inquiry based upon our experience with a Motel 6 last year. Turns out this place didn’t have any, either, so we said never mind and went up the road to the Inn at Lampasas. Even at $90 per night, with the newer rooms and breakfast included, it was a much better deal. And yes, it had hairdryers.

Next week, if not sooner, I’ll continue this travelogue as we meander through Marble Falls, Johnson City, Fredericksburg and Kerrville, and finally arrive in Boerne.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind?

Texas welcomes Ethel (Annette) & Lucy (Elaine)

Other than my leading Annette into the men's restroom at the Mississippi Welcome Center, the first day of our 2016 Texas Road Trip was uneventful. Both of us find interstates boring, but we wanted to get to Fort Worth as soon as possible. So we took I-20, stopping in Longview, TX, for the first night. Monday, we took I-30 through Dallas because Annette wanted to take some photos of the Big D skyline.

We arrived in Cowtown via I-820, checked into our hotel early, then hitched a ride in the shuttle to the Stockyards Historical District. After lunch, we did the official Stockyards Tour, then lined up with other tourists along Exchange Avenue to watch the 4 p.m. cattle drive. Twice daily cowboys who work for the stockyards (what a job!) push The Herd, as the resident longhorns are called, down the main drag a few short blocks. We felt like we had stepped back into the frontier days when cowboys drove thousands of cattle into Cowtown to be shipped to the meat-packing plants.

That nostalgic feeling returned Tuesday when we got a private tour of two rooms at the Stockyards Hotel. Since 1907 it has welcomed cowboys and cattle barons, kings and queens of country music, even Bonnie & Clyde. The rooms are decorated in a variety of period styles that provide turn-of-the century flavor. With its red leather sofa in the lobby and chair cushions upholstered in western-themed fabrics, it has a lot of cowboy ambiance. We half expected a cattle baron to stroll through the lobby, tip his hat, and say, “Howdy, m’am.” We’re contemplating spending a night or two there next year.

We had lunch at the H3 Ranch, a restaurant named after the Hunter Brothers Ranch. It's famous for its live hickory-wood grill, where your food is cooked before your eyes. For the life of me I cannot recall what I ate. I was too focused on the mounted buffalo and steer heads, the whole mounted wild boar and the antler chandeliers.

I remember the wine, probably because I felt so decadent drinking wine in the middle of the day. Our waitress tried to convince me that the H3 house Cab was better than the cheaper Salmon Creek, so I asked for samples. I liked the cheaper stuff best. It had more body.

Booger Red's Saloon is next door to the H3 in an adjoining room. A mounted buffalo butt protrudes from the wall above the saloon’s bar, as if the poor creature had tried to run right through it and got stuck. The butt is there because the saloon serves Buffalo Butt Beer. Some of the bar stools are saddles, so I had to mount one for a photo opt. Considering the difficulty I had  dismounting before drinking any wine, I cannot imagine how a drunken cattleman or cowboy would get off of one.

Tuesday night we came back to the Stockyards to have dinner at Billy Bob’s. The chicken-fried steak was okay, but people don’t go there for the food. It’s the live country music, large dance floor and mechanical bull that draw folks in. A handful of women were line dancing, but we just watched. Handprints of famous musicians who have played there are preserved in plaster casts mounted along the walls. Particularly interesting to us were Loretta Lynn, Jerry Lee Lewis and his cousin, Mickey Gilley, Ringo Starr, Patty Loveless and the late Johnny Paycheck, Conway Twitty and Ray Price.

Of course, we had to get our photos made on the mechanical bull. I took more than 500 photos on this trip, but this is my favorite. 

In a few days, I’ll post the next installment of my Texas Travelogue, which takes place on the backroads  through several quaint little towns and shopping sprees. It lead us into Boerne for the George Strait Team Roping Classic. Again, stay tuned, please.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

On The Road Again

Ethel & Lucy (aka Annette & Elaine)
on their 2015 Texas Road Trip

Friday, March 4, should have been a sad day for me, because it marked the 20th anniversary of the death of my husband. I can't believe it has been that long. But I'm not going to write another tear-jerker. I'm in good spirits, because I'm packing for a journey. I do love to travel.

My friend Annette is here from Chicago, and we're about to embark on our second annual Texas Road Trip. We have tickets to the George Strait Team Roping Classic, but while that’s our main focus, getting there and back will produce at least half the fun. This year, we're headed first to Fort Worth, where we'll tour the Stockyards, visit Billy Bob's and take a horseback ride on the old Chisholm Trail…if we don’t get rained out. Then we'll head south to Boerne, near San Antonio, where the GSTRC is held.

We'll probably go back to Gruene Hall, a rustic beer hall where Strait sang when he first started in the country music business. So did many other country artists, for that matter. It’s in New Braunfels. We may take in some of the sights around Fredericksburg that we missed last year, maybe visit the wildlife at Lady Bird Johnson Park, or hike to the summit at the Enchanted Rock State Park. I do hope the Blue Bonnets are in bloom.

Lord knows what back roads we’ll take going home, but we'll have an adventure, a la Thelma and Louise but without Brad Pitt, being chased by the law or the tragic ending. Or maybe we’re more like Lucy and Ethel. 

Annette and I always have a good time together, regardless of what we do. We talk each other's heads off and laugh so much our jaw muscles get sore. 

During this trip, we'll also be planning what to see on our Las Vegas adventure next month. We'll be flying instead of driving for that one, so our sight-seeing will be from tour buses. We have seventh-row tickets to see George Strait in concert at the T-Mobile Arena. Do you see a pattern here?

So, I'm keeping this post brief because I have a lot more to do. There’s a reunion today (Saturday the 5th) of the youth who attended Ninth Avenue Baptist Church in the 1960s. Stay tuned over the next few weeks for some road stories.