Final push towards home

We left on Thursday as Lake Whitney State Park is sold out for the weekend with all 200 spots taken. Don’t want to be here for that!  On the way we saw more wildflowers and scenery.  Since it is only a few hours back home, we will drop the trailer at Holiday World for the rest of our warranty work.  When they finish, our journeys will resume and our next trip is heading northwest and hopefully back into the Canadian Rockies by mid summer.  Watch for our continued travels!

Getting Nearer to Big D

From Junction we let the Garmin take us on a path northeast heading to Lake Whitney State Park.  We stopped in Brady to pick up some groceries at Wal Mart since we knew where it was and had been there before.  Then continued on through Brownwood and stopped for lunch at a picnic area in Early.  Then we passed through Dublin, former home of the world’s oldest Dr Pepper bottling plant.  The plant was for many years the only U.S. source for Dr Pepper made with real cane sugar (from Texas-based Imperial Sugar), instead of less expensive high fructose corn syrup.  Contractual requirements limit the plant’s distribution range to a 40-mile radius of Dublin, an area encompassing Stephenville, Tolar, Comanche and Hico.  No Mas! Seems as if a recent lawsuit changed all that.  Check it out:  http://www.star-telegram.com/2012/01/11/3653725/dr-pepper-deal-leaves-small-town.html

Dublin was also home of golfer Ben Hogan, who was born on August 13, 1912.  Hogan lived in Dublin until 1921, when he and his family relocated to Fort Worth.

We worked our way past the Koffee Kup in Hico and did not stop for a piece of their famous pie. The coconut pie comes with about 3-4 inches of meringue and is so tall you can not see over it!  This may have been a first for us!  But we are trying to be good to ourselves and it would have been a challenge to find a place to park when you are about 55 ft long!  So we saved our $5 per piece and drove onward!

We arrived at Lake Whitney about 3:30 PM in time to check in and get parked.  Absolutely a great place to camp!  Spot #31 was a bit unlevel as we had to use 2 blocks to get the front up, but spot is wide, has table and fire ring, trees for shade and we face the woods and wild area.  Then after supper we drove round the park.  They have over 200 spots in here to serve tents, trailers, even have some great screen shelters.  Fishing, boat ramps (the lake has water in it) and lots of wildlife!  That is when we discovered what a natural hunter our little Maggie is.  We saw several white tail deer as we drove around about 20 minutes before sundown.  Maggie also spotted them and at one point could not stand it any longer so jumped out the right rear passenger window and took off in hot pursuit into the woods after a doe.  That is about a 4 ft jump and she never even slowed down.  She did circle back and we retrieved her, she was barely breathing hard.  What a warrior princess!  Guess we have to keep the windows partially up in the future.  The next evening we spotted a really large wild turkey gobbler as he headed into the woods.  The biggest we’d seen with the longest beard.  Supposedly three or more of them here in this protected area.  What a neat place, we will come back here

A little down time is good

Saturday we got up, ate breakfast and went to the Coke Stevenson Community Center to attend the Kimble County Gun and Knife Show.  Not much we were interested in but it sure does show the price of guns is going up.  They also had a Flea Market next door but definitely not many fleas!  Then we drove into Junction to look around.  This is a small town and many streets are not paved but folks don’t seem to care, we even saw one yard where their cat had been hit by a car and the buzzards were eating it, right in town!  They have one Lowe’s grocery store and a few hardware stores and restaurants.  No Wal-Mart near here for miles!

Decided to stay another night and enjoy the shade trees and breeze and time off.  I actually got to sit in our shade shelter and read a book for a few minutes after breakfast out there.  Then we did laundry and some minor repairs, packed up the storage area and are set to hit the road again.

Driving on Golden Highways

Thursday we left, headed east on I-10 and made it to Junction.  Another great RV park, maybe the best as we had 2 big pecan trees shading us, picnic table, BBQ grill and a large grassy area for the girls to just lay out and enjoy the breeze.  We were in spot #43, only downside was it was sorta near the main driveway so had a little dust when people came and went.  It was a KOA last year but no longer and the folks here work to keep it really clean.  It is the North Llano River Junction RV Park and right on the river by the bridge.

On Friday ate a quick breakfast at Issack’s on Main Street then we drove north towards Menard.  On the way we had another Ford message!  This time we had low tire pressure.  So we looked for a place to have a tire fixed.  Menard is such a small town they only have one store and a few filling stations but we lucked out and found a fellow who could remove the screw and patch it inside as he should.  Don’t you love it when your vehicle talks to you?

After the tire was repaired we headed out west on Hwy 190 toward Fort McKavett.  Just out of town we discovered a Historic site and turned in.  It is called Presidio de San Saba and is the recent archeological dig and restoration of a really neat presidio established April 1757 by Col. Ortiz Padilla.  Most of the soldiers, six missionaries, and others, a total of about 300, arrived at this destination on April 17. But no Apaches were there to greet them.  From available timber the friars built quarters for themselves and temporary church downstream 1½ leagues from the presidio on the opposite bank.  In mid June 3,000 Apaches did pass by on their way north to hunt buffalo and fight Comanche.  This restoration was only completed last year by many hard working volunteers and turned out to be actually next to the Menard Country Club and Golf Course.  The site discovery was one of two episodes that renewed interest in the San Sabá Mission in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The other was controversy surrounding the painting, The Destruction of Mission San Sabá, which was confiscated by United States customs agents and returned to Mexico after having been offered for sale in Texas.  The painting, done soon after the mission attack and evidently based on eyewitness accounts, is said to be “the earliest extant easel painting by a professional artist depicting an event in Texas history.”  We took some great pictures here  but it was very cool and windy so we did not stay very long.  It was all new and had clean bathrooms and a nice visitor pavilion with maps and details.

We then drove on to Fort McKavett.  This fort was part of the chain of forts built in 1852 to protect stagecoaches and mail runs between San Diego and San Antonio.  It is on top a limestone bluff and has a great view of the surrounding country.  When General William T. Sherman visited here about 1865 he said it was the prettiest post in Texas.  We agree!

Hospital building at Fort McKavett

Nancy

The visitor center is managed by a neat lady called Nancy who actually lives on the fort property.  She is a national treasure as she knows so much detail about the fort and its past that she makes it come alive for you.  We used their golf cart and toured the entire restored area and got good pictures inside the buildings and of the grounds.  Seems as if most of the soldiers stationed here were the black troops known as Buffalo Soldiers and at one time there were over 500 here at a time with their families.  From 1868-1883, after the Civil War, the fort was used as a major supply depot for soldiers and goods.  After it was abandoned in 1883, the people who lived nearby in Scabtown moved into the buildings as they were better than their tents and shacks down the road.  People actually lived here until 1973 when the fort was again abandoned and the State of Texas came in and took it over as a Historic Site.  We actually were here for several hours and hated to go.

We drove back into Menard and ate at Ojedas on Hwy 377 north of town on the advice of Nancy.  Not a dining mecca but good food!   Then we drove into town and found the Historic Ditch Walk.

Historic Irrigation Ditch in Menard

Seems as if the Indians had used the springs in this area for irrigation and when people began to settle here they retained the “ditch” as it runs right thru the middle of town.  In many cases it actually runs beside their yards and the County Courthouse.  And it has stone retaining walls built of native rock.  Never know what you’ll find out and about.

Then we drove down FM 2291 toward Dove, TX and back into Junction.  All along these roads as we drove all day we saw so many yellow wildflowers it was as if the whole country side was littered with gold.  Later in the day after the wind calmed down we got some really good pictures.  We also saw a few historic German two story homes built in the late 1800s that are still occupied by families of the original settlers some of which were stationed at Fort McKavett.  It was a great day!

Onwards to Fort Stockton

Monday we hooked up and drove into Terlinqua and north on Hwy 118 into Alpine and then on Hwy 67 into Fort Stockton.  On the way we had another Ford moment!  Seems as if the display panel said we needed to check our engine coolant additive.  Since we had no clue what to do about that and since the book says it has to be a special coolant and tested with a special device, as soon as we got to the Fort Stockton RV Park and dropped our rig, we headed back into town to the Ford dealer.  This time we were lucky, it is only a notice to have this service performed so when we get home in it goes for service.

The Fort Stockton RV Park was such a great place we stayed 3 days.  They have great pull thru sites with trees and grass and internet and TV reception was good.  A little bit out east of town but far enough from I-10 to be quiet!  Probably one of the busiest RV parks I’ve seen and every day there were many rigs coming and going.  There are a number of people there who will call this home for a few years as they are working in the oil patch area and there are no homes available anywhere for rent and many are in poor condition.  They live in a $400K RV and have new trucks to drive so this park is very popular for them.  Some have even planted new grass and built small patios with plants to make it better.  They also have a small restaurant here for two meals a day.

The first day we drove into Fort Stockton and visited the old fort.  Another surprise was we found out that O.W. Williams was a lawyer and surveyor in Fort Stockton in Pecos County near where the government built the fort in 1859.  Williams acquired large amounts of land in Pecos County, and his law practice grew considerably after the discovery of oil in West Texas.  He was keenly interested in the oil business, leased most of his land, and prepared leases and contracts for others.  Two of his sons, Waldo and Clayton, were involved in the drilling of the first oil wells in Reagan County.  He was the grandfather of Clayton Williams Jr.  Clayton Senior and Junior were Texas Aggies and Jr was former candidate for Texas governor and very wealthy from his holdings in oil and gas.  There are several buildings here that were officer’s quarters and are restored and furnished in addition to the school and church and jail house.  One of the houses on the corner of the property is a private residence nicely restored and owned by a Williams descendent.  The courthouse and main part of town is just south of this so we drove around to see it as well.  We drove over to Walmart to pick up a few items and this has to be the worst one we ever went into for lack of service.  When we mentioned this to people at the RV park they said that it is impossible to get hourly employees here and there are “Help Wanted” signs all over.  The oil patch has affected everyone.  We also did laundry in town and washed the bugs off the truck.  We decided while parked here to undertake the RV cleanup.  Now that is an undertaking!  It is almost 13 feet tall and 36 feet long so washing it without using a lot of water was interesting!  We have a bottle of pink stuff from Tweety’s RV supply that you add 2 oz into a 5 gallon bucket of water and then using our long handled brushes we scrubbed and wiped every square inch.  Whew, what a job.  But it turned out a success and looks good, now maybe the bugs will slide off!

Terlingua Tales

On Saturday we drove on into Terlingua and ate dinner at a cafe where we could get some diesel as well.  Did not open until 5 PM and there were motorcycle riders everywhere so we had to wait a few minutes.  Seems as if they were having a Poker Run that weekend – Which means they ride motorcycles from one place to another and play a seven card poker hand as they stop along the way which takes all day and they get a T-shirt!  OKAY!??

Typical local "art"

Terlingua is mainly a few dusty streets and lots of old trailers and RVs parked just about anywhere with a few bars here and there built out of just about anything available.  Supposedly a lot of artists and free spirits live here mostly in the winter.  It also gets really hot here in the summer!  Temperatures were over 100 degrees in April while we were there!  The only other claim to fame for this area is the Annual Terlingua Chili Cookoff http://www.chili.org/terlingua.html held on the north side of the highway in a large dirt parking lot in November when it cools down.  Sunday mornings we eat out and this Sunday was no different.  We ate at India’s, a local “mom & pop” eatery where the clientele do everything for themselves except cook.  The biggest burrito ever seen is concocted here – mostly previously frozen hash browns, few eggs and some cheese rolled in a saddle blanket sized tortilla but the motorcycle pack leader suggested one avoid it. Should have listened!

Beautiful, Rugged Big Bend

The next day we woke early to go into Big Bend Park through Study Butte on Hwy 118.  The town, like the nearby mountain, was named for Will Study (pronounced “Stoody”), the manager of the Big Bend or Study Butte mercury (quicksilver) mine.  The walls of the old Study Butte store, an adobe structure still standing in the late 1980s, were scarred by bullet holes from the Mexican Revolution in the early 1900s.  We drove into the park and headed to the south on Castolon Road toward Santa Elena Canyon.  It is only about 23 miles but was such a beautiful drive through desert and canyons it took us about 2 hours and we got lots of pictures.  We turned around at the old store and small museum at Castolon then went back up to the main road and over to Dagger Flats.  This is a dirt road 11 miles long and we actually saw the white yucca (Spanish Dagger) in bloom along with a lot of ocotillo.  A really unique event but they had about ½” rain the week before so everything was perfect for it.  Then we proceeded into the Chisos Basin area.  Thank goodness we had left the 5thwheel back in Lajitas since that road has steep, sharp, narrow turns and we would have never made it all hooked up.  But it was simply beautiful and worth every minute.  More great pictures!

Maggie looking over the edge of Chisos Basin

We drove back into Lajitas and ate a late dinner at the resort in the Canderilla Cafe.  Nice place, Good service and Great food but a bit $$$, they say it is because they are so remote!

Lajitas, Wax & Thirsty Goats

Next we proceeded on into Lajitas.  Now this tiny town has a storied past. It is at an altitude of 2,200 feet on a bluff overlooking the Rio Grande at the San Carlos ford of the old Comanche Trail, in the northern part of the Chihuahuan Desert and at the southern extreme of the Rocky Mountains.  The region was inhabited by Mexican Indians who were driven from the area by Apaches and later by Comanches during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  Anglo-Americans first arrived in the mid-1800s. In the late 1890s quicksilver (Mercury) was discovered near Terlingua, eleven miles from Lajitas, and a rapid influx of people followed.  At the same time a number of cattle ranches and mining enterprises appeared in northern Chihuahua and Coahuila in Mexico.  These activities increased commerce across the Rio Grande into Texas; consequently, by 1900 Lajitas was designated a substation port of entry.  Farming along the narrow floodplain of the river served to bring in more families, and by 1912 the town had a store, a saloon, school with fifty pupils, and a customhouse.  The crossing, a smooth rock bottom all the way across the river, was the best between Del Rio and El Paso.

H. W. McGuirk, the leading citizen of Lajitas from 1902 to 1917, operated the store-saloon, farmed, and helped manage the Terlingua Mining Company.  He also funded the construction of a church and a school.  Lajitas officially had a post office as early as 1901 but closed permanently in 1939.  McGuirk sold his landholdings around Lajitas to Thomas V. Skaggs, who continued farming.  Skaggs also became successful in a candelilla wax business, the Lajitas Wax Company.  (Candelilla is a small brownish shrub found in northern Mexico and southwestern US and the wax is used in lip balm and chewing gum and as a food additive).  In 1916 raids by Francisco (Pancho) Villa’s bandits brought Gen. John J. Pershing’s troops to Lajitas, where they established a major cavalry post.  In the 1980s a motel stood on the actual foundations of the post.

The Lajitas property continued to change hands and in 1949 was bought by Rex Ivey, Jr., who hand-dug a well and installed a generator for the area’s first electric lights.  Due to the closing of the Terlingua quicksilver mines, the number of residents in Lajitas had dwindled to four.  In 1977 Ivey sold part of the Lajitas area to Houston entrepreneur Walter M. Mischer, of Mischer Corporation; Mischer had begun development and restoration of the community in 1976, under the name of the corporation’s subsidiary, Arrow Development Company.

In the mid-1980s Lajitas was a resort town with fifty residents and fifteen businesses.  The old church had been restored, and there were three motels, a hotel, a restaurant, a golf course, a swimming pool, an RV park, and an airstrip. Just east of town was the Lajitas Museum, a large, modern building containing artifacts of the Big Bend area.  The old trading post remained open.  In 1990 the population was still reported as fifty.  In 1995 the Big Bend area was becoming increasingly popular as a site for movie making.  Lajitas, according to one producer, was just about the only place where “you can shoot 360 degrees,” since Santa Fe and Sedona were “used up.”  At that time a TV miniseries, Streets of Laredo, starring James Garner, was being filmed in Lajitas.  In 2000 the population was seventy-five.

For many years the mayor of Lajitas was Clay Henry III, a “beer-drinking” goat.  After 2 replacements of the original Clay Henry, the trading post and stable where the mayor lived is now closed and the goat no longer resides there.  But there is a saloon at Lajitas Resort now called the “Thirsty Goat”.  The whole town is now owned by the resort http://www.lajitasgolfresort.com/default.aspx?pg=hotelresort and there is nothing here but the resort and one small part time General Store, an RV park (part of the resort) and a nice golf course, and small landing strip.  We ended up in Maverick RV Park at the resort and spent 3 nights here.  It was a good spot to access Big Bend National Park and still have some peace and quiet. The first night we were there it was extremely windy with a front blowing in which set us to “rockin”, good thing we weigh about 21,000 lbs hooked up or we would have been in the Rio Grande River.

Heading South into the “wild”

On Saturday we broke camp to leave Crow’s Nest and headed into Marfa and then south toward Presidio.  We were heading due south towards the Texas/Mexico border which could be scary due to current border conditions.  But the presence of Border Patrol made it seem safer and they are everywhere.  As we traveled through Presidio we wondered why it is here!!  Small community, mostly dirt streets, and no real services, mainly a “pass through place” for two highways on the way to the Big Bend of Texas or over the border into Mexico.  It has a big compound surrounded by high fences with razor wire where the Border Patrol lives in nice pre-fabricated houses with their families.  Amazing enough we could not find diesel unless we crossed into Mexico.  Made us wonder what the economy is based on for this out of the way gateway to Mexico.  Giving up on the diesel search, we picked up the two lane Hwy 170 in Presidio and headed south east paralleling the Rio Grande River into some of the most beautiful scenery you can imagine.  It was rugged, mountainous, and steep.  We actually went down a 15% grade (steep) and the truck with 5th wheel did great.  When we got to the bottom we took a picture back up the hill to show the view. Click on the image to see it larger!

Looking for Dog Food in Alpine

Thursday we drove over to Alpine to find some food for the girls. Since they eat a natural food from Petsmart we knew this would be a search.  In and out of every store and vet we quickly discovered our girls are very well cared for and a bit spoiled. Not much choice except Purina, Science Diet and Gravy Train.  We ended up buying some hamburger, brown rice and chicken at Porter’s Thriftway (the local grocery store) which we will cook up and mix with our remaining dog food until we return to Petsmart territory.  Then we went over to Sul Ross State University which is a very pretty campus on the side of a hill. This is where the Museum of the Big Bend is located so went in for a visit.  Very well done and tells a lot about this area’s history.  They also have a separate room for local craftsmen and artist to display their work.  Some really fine artists, saddlemakers, painters, silversmiths, etc. Lindy Severns who is the camp host at Crow’s Nest has several items here.  She mostly paints landscapes and they are very good.