Monday morning we headed out later than usual since we didn’t have too far to go. The weather was generally grey, but not rainy. Our first stop, just a few miles away in New Braunfels, had MW (Mr. Wonderful) pretty excited…Buc-ee’s. I’ve talked about this place before, but I’ll repeat myself. Picture a large truck stop, but without trucks. (I don’t think they have showers, either, but they might be hidden in there somewhere!) Now go into the convenience store, and you find something the size of a small Wal-mart with sections for food and drinks, clothing, housewares, toys…honestly, the list just goes on! The food bars serve barbecue and other sandwiches, breakfast stuff, kolaches, and deli food, and I’ve never been to one that didn’t have a long line. They have their own branded jerky, stuffed beavers (named Buc-ee, of course), all kinds of souvenirs, and of course a multitude of delectable snacks. It is always an adventure, for sure. The one we visited today is the largest in the country at 66,335 square feet. Wow! (The one in Katy, Texas, has the world’s longest car wash with 255 feet of brushes and scrubbers. I guess everything really is bigger in Texas!) We did a little bit of Christmas shopping and MW bought a few snacks before getting back on the road.
We headed south on TX-46, then took the bypass around Seguin to US-90A east. At Gonzales we stopped to look around. Aside from having a pretty downtown with lots of interesting buildings, that little town, founded in 1825, played an important role in Texas’ history. In September of 1835, eighteen townsmen stood up to the Mexican government along the Guadalupe River and refused to give up their small cannon. The ladies, meanwhile, made a flag showing the black cannon on a white background with the words “Come and Take It!”, a phrase that is now a part of Texas lexicon. On October 2, 1835, they fired the first shot for Texas independence. We tried to find a restaurant for lunch, but ended up easing on down the road.
We continued east on US-90A to Shiner. Now, if you’ve ever been to Texas and you drink beer, you might be able to guess our destination in this little town. Yep…the K. Spoetzl – Brewery, in business since 1909 and makers of Shiner Bock. The Covid kept us from being able to take a tour or seeing the Visitor’s Center, but MW wanted to pay homage since it was on our route. It is a pretty big facility with beautiful grounds. We will definitely pop in the next time we are in the area for the tour. Lunch time was upon us, so we headed over to the Sunken Gardens restaurant. We parked on the curb on the residential side street in front of an empty lot. Apparently there were a LOT of sticker plants, because I spent several minutes picking the burrs out of my shoe laces and pants just from stepping out of the truck. The cafeteria-style buffet was a salad bar and meat and three kind of thing, and the food was quite good. I liked the charge-by-weight format (not mine, my plate’s – much cheaper!), which seems like a fair way to handle a buffet. Named for a little bit of Shiner history, the restaurant had a Texas historical marker about the original Sunken Garden. The Czech and German immigrants who settled this area brought their love of music and dance with them. In Shiner, the son of some Czech immigrants built a garden dance hall of sorts in 1936, with a concrete dance floor, bandstand, and beer stands. This outdoor amusement center also acted as a community center for events and local group meetings. With the popularization of air conditioning after WWII, the Sunken Garden was used less and less. Now the only evidence of its existence is the still-standing dance platform. I’m sure a lot of the older locals can remember going there with their parents.
We continued east passing through Hallettsville, which has another courthouse built in 1897 that would definitely make the beautiful courthouses book. We stopped long enough to get a picture, then turned north on US-77, headed for Schulenburg, Texas, and our next stop…the Stanzel Model Aircraft Museum. When MW and I met waaaaayyyyyy back in 11th grade, he loved model airplanes. In fact, the first time I met his mother we were laying on the bed in his room looking at his extensive collection. Really. No joke. She didn’t believe us either, but it was the truth. He went to great lengths to display them in dog fights and other formations, even adding cotton balls on fishing line to look like smoke from one that was going down. His mom helped with the overall effect by painting the ceiling sky blue and adding clouds and iridescent stars. It was pretty impressive and a bit geeky, but that was MW. I liked models, too, but leaned more towards boats. The biggest I ever built was an aircraft carrier that someone gave me for my birthday when I was 12ish. I thought it was expertly done and amazing. Later when we lived in Florida, MW built a museum-quality model of the HMS Victory that we still have, crated up at the barn. (It is about 3′ tall, 4′ wide, and a foot deep and has its own display case, which he also built.) I no longer claim to be a model-builder of any kind. Clearly, I was just passing time. When we pulled up to the museum, he was disappointed to see a closed sign on the door. (We didn’t really realize it was Columbus Day.) We walked back to Brutus, and just as we were about to leave, a woman appeared from the side of the building and called out. Turns out that she was there catching up on some work and said that, although we could not see the family home or factory, she would let us check out the museum. Awesome! While he checked that out, I sat in a comfortable chair and got a little work done. (I have to fit it in when I can!) He spent quite a bit of time looking around. In 1929, Victor Stanzel began building solid model airplanes and selling them across the U.S. Within a year they began to come up with model airplane kits that would give the customer the ability to build at home. By the mid-1930s, he was also building airplane and rocket fair rides, one of which was at the 1936 State Fair in Dallas. Soon he expanded the model airplanes, creating the first control-line kit (you hold the line and the plane flies around you) in the world. Before long, his brother Joe is a part of the company, and the brothers brought in Dale Kirn, too. The models advanced over the years to include model jets that flew on 100- to 400′ steel wires, and Dale traveled around the country to demonstrate and compete in contests. In 1959, the company began mass production of battery-operated, plastic models, which pointed them down the road of toy production. The brothers were later inducted into the Academy of Model Aeronautic’s Hall of Fame. These guys are responsible for planting the aviation bug in a generation or two of American children. What a great legacy!
As we headed back to Brutus, MW became a little concerned that he couldn’t find his keys. Fearing that he locked them in the truck, he headed to check. Meanwhile, the nice museum lady found my phone sitting on the table by the chair I was working in. Wow…both of us at the same time! Thankfully, the keys were not locked in the truck. Also thankfully, no one else discovered that the keys were in the ignition, the door was unlocked, and our home was attached. Dodged a bullet there, for sure! We continued north to La Grange (haw, haw, haw) and headed out to find a whorehouse, but not just any house of ill repute. The Chicken Ranch was made famous as the basis for the play/movie The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. I hate to disappoint the Georgians who think ZZ Top was singing about your La Grange, but the song is about “a lot of nice girls down there”, or hookers, in Texas. (It actually says Texas in the song, but I know a lot of Georgia folks who missed that.) The house no longer exists, but we did drive by the site. To get there we ended up dragging Petunia for miles (because there was nowhere to turn around) on this narrow, two-lane road. It ended up being beautiful back there, though, so it was a happy accident. We passed a GIANT house on what appeared to be a LOT of acreage that looked like it was not quite finished. Somebody has a lot of jack!! Good for them. We made it back to the main road and pointed Brutus to our home for the next few days…Rocky Creek Park (COE).
First thing Tuesday morning we went for a long walk around the park. The lake was beautiful as we headed out before sunrise. I have honestly never seen so many deer on one morning. They were everywhere! By the time our walk was over, we had seen at least three dozen, plus one raccoon and lots of birds. Unfortunately, the low light made the pics not great, but you get the idea.
Later, we got cleaned up and headed to Brenham to play tourist. First stop, though, was Whataburger to help MW with his addiction. Next it was off to check out Blue Bell Creamery. You all should know by now that I LOVE ice cream, and Blue Bell is darned good ice cream. We weren’t able to take a tour, but their Visitor’s Center had a nice setup for showing you how this company came to be. Way back in 1907, the Brenham Creamery Company was founded, and their sole product was…butter. Made with fresh milk from the local farmers, it was a pretty good business. A few years later, they decided to branch out into ice cream, which they were initially able to make at a rate of two gallons a day. (Seriously, I’m not sure that would keep up with my family alone!) In 1930, E. F. Kruse, who was hired by the company in 1919 to bring it out of a financial hole, gave Brenham Creamery Company a new name (his favorite flower) and Blue Bell Creamery was born. By 1941, E. F.’s sons, Ed (13) and Howard (11) began their careers at the family business making ice cream sandwiches. Both boys eventually graduated from Texas A&M, but there the paths diverged. Ed took a job at Swift in their ice cream sales division. Howard served in the Army in Korea, then came home to Blue Bell’s production department. In the early 1950s, the senior Kruse became ill. After his death, the brothers reunited to take over the reins. Always looking to improve their brand, Howard worked for over a year to develop a vanilla ice cream that tasted like it was made in grandma’s churn. It was finally produced in 1969. (We tried it, and it really does taste different.) Until 1960 when they branched out to Houston, this little company only served the local area. In 1989 they finally crossed the state line into Oklahoma. Since then, the have grown in all directions with delicious ice cream flavors still sold in the familiar bucket. It is also one of the few companies that still sells in the half-gallon size. Oh, and they continued to sell butter until the 1960s, too. They received a couple of black eyes when 1) A product recall and subsequent investigation occurred in 2015, and 2) an incident in 2019 where a video of an idiot teenager licking the ice cream in a tub, closing the lid, and returning it to the sales case in a Texas Walmart went viral. (She was arrested.) There is little doubt that this company will make it through, though. After all, in 2014 they were the number one brand of ice cream in the United States. That doesn’t sound like much, until you add in the fact that they were only selling to 20% of the US at the time, and the other competitors in the top five were selling in 100% of the US. Yes, their ice cream is THAT GOOD! After learning about the company, we headed over to the ice cream parlor for samples. At $1 per scoop, it’s a deal and will absolutely make you smile!
Next we took a ride through downtown Brenham, which is pretty neat. In addition to the Blue Bell Creamery, there are several hotels, Blinn College, restaurants, and a historic downtown area with antiques and specialty shops. On the way back to the campground, we stopped to check out some longhorns. Wow! They are just so beautiful, but how do they hold their heads up? The weather was cool in the shade with a nice breeze, so when we got back to our site, I set up outside and worked for several hours. It was necessary. There was an egret down in the water’s edge that had been there almost since we arrived at the campground. Later, a second egret showed up and hung out about 30′ from the first. A bit later, as I was concentrating on work, there was a huge commotion at the water’s edge. When I looked up, the egrets were in mid air, beating each other with their wings, but only for a few seconds. Then they turned away from each other and separated by about 30′. What the hell???!!! Were they fighting? If so, why didn’t they finish? I started to pay attention. They slowly, over the course of say 20 minutes, walked back towards each other. Then, when they were about 3′ apart, they leapt into the air and started beating each other up with their wings, again for just a few seconds. Like before, they then turned and flew back to the starting point. This went on for several hours. At one point, one flew off way down the lake. A few minutes later the other one flew down there, and they both flew back up to our area, landing in their same spots 30′ apart. Honestly, weirdest thing I’ve every seen. Later I was relating the whole thing to my son, Ryan, and learned something completely new: Egrets are just white herons. WHAT???!!! I had no idea. It isn’t unusual for me to come away from a call with Ryan knowing something new. That boy (well, he’s 34 but still my boy) is a walking encyclopedia with an amazing mind and memory. He did not get the latter from me. I sometimes can’t remember what I ate for breakfast! Back to the egrets…I did a little research thinking that maybe it was some type of mating ritual, but that should happen in the spring and in or near a nest. Very curious! I don’t know what it was about that stretch of shoreline, but one or both of those birds was there until we moved on.
Wednesday morning started with me cooking breakfast outside on the Blackstone…bacon and eggs. I had some company for a little while when six deer wandered through. MW said they were hoping to get some bacon. Not a chance! After cleaning up, I headed to Brenham to get the laundry done, mail a card to Angel Booger (who was having a birthday on the 18th), and pick up a few things. The washeteria on Market Street was not too bad. It wasn’t the cleanest I’ve been to, but definitely wasn’t the worst, either. There were a few people there, but I was able to get everything taken care of quickly. As I was finishing up, a woman came in who was upset that several of the dryers weren’t working and those that were had clothes in them. She was very loud, ranting and cussing like a sailor. Confession – I have a potty mouth. However, short of being in some type of serious altercation or lopping off a finger, no one in public would ever know it. This woman was ridiculous! She heard me say to another lady that I was from Tennessee, and let me know that my state was the most racist place she’d ever been. I have no idea what the situation was, but I submit that it is entirely possible the people she met were offended by her personality and not her color. Lord knows, I was! After finishing my chores in town, I returned to do a little more work, albeit inside as the weather had turned HOT again! Ugh!!
Rocky Creek Park is a Corps of Engineers development out on a peninsula on Sommerville Lake. It reminds me a bit of being in South Georgia, with lots of large trees and Spanish Moss. As I’ve already stated, the deer population is amazing, and they aren’t too afraid of the vehicles and people, although they keep their distance. Amenities include a boat ramp, nature trail, and swimming along the shallow lake edge. Normally there are almost 200 campsites, but many of the sections are closed and appear to have been that way for a while. (We could not determine why, although it didn’t appear to be seasonal or Covid-related due the lack of maintenance.) When we were there (October 2020), about 48 50-amp RV sites with water and 22 tent-only sites were open, and only seven or so were occupied. We really liked this campground and would definitely come back. It was very peaceful and a nice place to getaway. The proximity to Brenham with shopping and restaurants, was nice, too.
On Thursday it was time to hit the road for Houston. Well, actually Hitchcock, between Houston and Galveston, to hang with my favorite niece, TayTay (Alex’s sister). We didn’t have too far to go, so took our time getting started. We headed over to Brenham on US-290, then hit TX-36 south. Entering Bellville, we passed the bust of Stephen F. Austin. Known as the “Father of Texas”, Austin is credited with founding the state when, in 1825, he brought 300 families west to colonize the area. The further east we went, the fewer cattle ranches we saw as the land converted to flat oil country. At West Columbia, we turned east and made our way over to Hitchcock, Texas, and the Texas RV Park. Once we were settled in at the site, we headed over to Taylor’s house to visit. We got to meet her new furry friend, Mack, and also visit with Abby, her other furry friend. Dinner was pizza ordered in so that we could get all caught up and relax.
Friday I worked a little in the morning before heading over to meet Taylor. The plan for the day was lunch and errands. We started with Target and Best Buy. When we were finishing up at the latter, the RV tech scheduled for Monday called to say he had an opening and could meet us in 20 minutes. We hustled back to Petunia and waited while he completed our annual inspection (a requirement for the lifetime warranty). The inspection went quickly and, thankfully, didn’t turn up any issues. (Awesome!) That meant it was time for lunch, so MW checked TripAdvisor and picked Little Daddy’s Gumbo Bar. I’m not really a Cajun food fan, but figured they had to have something I could eat. They REALLY did! Of course, MW had gumbo along with the Pistollets appetizer. TayTay went for the Fish Sandwich, and I had the Soft Shell Crab Sandwich….YUM…one of my absolute favorites! By all accounts, the main courses were delicious, but MW said the appetizer was a little bland. After lunch MW felt that visits to Cabela’s, H.E.B., and Buc-ee’s were “necessary”. We did get a bit of Christmas shopping done along the way, so I guess he wasn’t far off. Worn out, we headed back to Taylor’s house and watched a little TV, visited, and played with Abby and Mack. I really think Mack needs to come home with me, but Taylor is resistant to the idea. Bummer!
Saturday we started off with kolaches for breakfast at The Kolache Factory, which MW had been craving. If you haven’t had a kolache, it is a little piece of heaven. Picture a nice roll a little bigger than your fist or, in the case of a sausage kolache, about the size of a hot dog bun. Now imagine biting into that delectable roll and finding ham and cheese, barbecue brisket, sausage, fruit, or a multitude of other fillings. Sadly, you can’t truly imagine the taste, but let me assure you, they are awesome. Our next stop was the old Houston Hobby airport terminal, which is now a museum run by the Houston Aeronautical Heritage Society. The building is a terrific, art deco structure, although it isn’t in the best of shape. On display are lots of airline and airport memorabilia dating back to Hobby’s prime and the golden age of air travel. (They have a picture of Humphrey Bogart sitting in the small terminal waiting for his plane.) I know it’s hard to believe, but flying was once an occasion. We dressed up and enjoyed being pampered by amazing airline staff. We didn’t get herded through airports with droves of people in their pajamas jockeying for position. It’s sad how different it is now. For MW and me, it is a hassle to be avoided if at all possible. The museum had an old FAA office setup with a standard issue, government, metal desk just like my Dad’s when I was a kid. They also had a few of our old toys, including a light gun that we used to communicate with aircraft who have lost their radios. They were having a little fly in, and we got to check out a couple of neat planes, too. My favorite part, though, was just standing out on the tarmac watching planes take off and land. I LOVE airports!
Next up we took a ride down to Galveston to check out the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig & Museum. Once an active, off-shore oil rig, this facility was hauled in, cleaned up, and opened for tourists. There were several floors of displays explaining the drilling process, how they find oil, what drills are used for what depths, different types of bits, and everything else you might want to know. They also had a couple of platforms outside and worker displays to give us an idea of what life on the rig was like. Judging by the smell of this cleaned up version, I can absolutely say that I would NOT enjoy it. Although it was very interesting, by the time we left I had the beginnings of a migraine. It was also very hot and steamy out, which didn’t help. Oh, I almost forgot: there were a bunch of pelicans below the walkway going into the rig, including some white ones. Unlike the ones we saw up north, though, these had black under their wings.
The last time we were in Texas, MW and I drove down to Galveston while Taylor was at work. Somehow, we completely missed the cool, historic downtown area on The Strand. How do you miss something that big? Well, this time we drove right through it and were very impressed. There are lots of shops, restaurants, and bars in a beautiful setting. Had I been feeling a little better, we would have spent some time walking around. It is definitely on our list for the next trip!
We headed back north, amazed at the number of refineries along the coast. I wanted seafood, so MW found the Valdo’s Seafood House. At first glance, this dining room looked like a Mexican restaurant. After looking at the menu, we decided that it must have converted at some point. Regardless, it was amazing. I had Seafood Pasta that came on a platter. They also served fresh-baked bread, and my side salad was very fresh and had fruit around the edges of the bowl. Taylor had a Shrimp Po Boy covered with so much shrimp that she had to take some off to eat the sandwich. MW had the Red Fish special, also served on a platter. It came with “seasonal vegetables”. Their version was four different vegetable servings piled alongside the fish. Honestly, I’ve never seen so much food on one plate. Taylor and I ended up taking quite a bit home, and my pasta was enough for two more meals. Truly delicious! We give them six thumbs up! After dinner it was time to head back to Taylors for a bit. While we were watching TV and visiting, Abby decided that MW needed some love. Taylor and I were laughing so hard we were crying!
Sunday started out slow for two reasons: 1) I worked for a while, then we listened to the live stream from Sneedville First Baptist Church. After that, we headed over to TayTay’s. For late lunch, she found Kat’s Barbecue, a hole in the wall that was pretty amazing. She and I both had brisket sandwiches that just melted in your mouth. I haven’t tasted meat like that since the Barbecue Barn in Amarillo many years ago! MW went for ribs, which were also terrific. MW felt like Cabela’s needed another look, so we did that before heading back to Taylor’s place. We visited and watched a bit of TV before saying our goodbyes. I always love spending time with my Tay, and this visit was no exception. The only negative was the HEAT! For gosh sakes, it was October!
Texas RV Park is located between Houston and Galveston off of I-45, a convenient location for anything in either city, including NASA. A new park, it is clean and very neat, with a privacy fence and gate for security. The 62 full hook-up sites are spaced around a horseshoe, and the wide road and site entrances make it easy to navigate in large rigs. Amenities include wifi, cable TV, a fenced dog park, very clean restrooms and showers, and a super nice laundry facility with several washers and dryers. There are two things missing, though…picnic tables and fire rings/grills. They don’t allow fires, and they will fine you if you drive on their grass! There was a lot of noise from the highway, and on Saturday night the folks that lived next door to the RV park (right on the other side of the privacy fence) hosted a very large birthday party with a DJ and very loud, heavy bass music. The latter could not be drowned out by the AC, but the traffic noise wasn’t terrible for the most part.
On Monday we headed out…WAIT! We DIDN’T head out!! Our normal departure plan was backed up to Tuesday (because the RV guy that came on Friday was supposed to come on Monday). It actually worked out well, though, because my work was piling up, including blog writing. I spent almost the whole day working in my pajamas…heaven!!!
Next up…The Swamp, Hurricane Damage, and More Fam! See you on the path!
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