On Monday, May 24, we pulled out about 7 AM for the trek north. Looking for fresh pavement, we headed northwest on TX-6 to Sugar Land. It was a really grey morning, and the traffic was absolutely horrible, so the drive was slow. We turned west on Alt US-90, then north on FM-359 (which rejoined TX-6 at some point), where we were finally on open road. Of course, then the torrential rain started, and I do mean TORRENTIAL. Thankfully it didn’t last all day, but did slow our progress a bit. As we passed through Navasota, I saw a cool silo at the turn for Cafe M. Bloomers dressed up like a tea kettle. People are so creative! By the time we reached College Station, the weather was better. We saw the sign for the George W. Bush Presidential Library, located on the campus of Texas A&M University. Definitely interested! George and Barbara are both buried there, too. You may recall that, in Abilene, Kansas, we were disappointed at missing the opportunity to see the Eisenhower Library due to the Covid closure. Well, as MW (Mr. Wonderful) was jumping onto the exit I was checking it out online. You guessed it….closed for Covid! What the heck??!! To add insult to injury, guess when they planned to open back up?? THE. NEXT. DAY! I was truly bummed.
RELATED…KIND OF…SIDE NOTE: When I was in my mid-twenties, I lived just outside of Washington, DC, and worked at Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Headquarters on Independence Avenue in town. While there, I had two brushes with the senior Bush and Barbara. The first time, I was on a day off and came into town with my (former) husband to deliver some light gels to a television studio. (I cannot remember which one, but the office we went to was on a small side street.) I waited on the sidewalk outside while he handled the business call. About 5 minutes into my wait, a black vehicle pulled up just across the alley. To be honest, I didn’t really notice it at first. Knowing me, I was probably leaning against the building reading a book. I did look up, however, when a man dressed in a black suit approached me. I got particularly nervous and looked around when I noticed the gun and the little cord hanging from behind his ear. That’s when I saw the others, five or six all dressed alike. I froze. He asked me what I was doing there, who I was waiting for, and a litany of other quick questions. I asked him if I needed to leave. He said for me just to stay put, and I did. He had the gun, after all. A couple of minutes later I guess one of the men gave the all clear, because the door of the vehicle opened up and out stepped President Bush. He waved and then went into the side door of the hotel across the alley. Wow! Just as the door closed behind him, my (former) husband came walking out of the building. He was miffed at missing all of the excitement. The second was also a total fluke. One of the muckety mucks that I worked with (again, can’t remember who), received an invite to a party at the Jamaican Embassy. He wasn’t going to go, so he asked if I would like the tickets. Well, who turns down a party at an Embassy??? Of course I went. It was fancy with waiters/waitresses circling around with hors d’oeuvres and a variety of little rum drinks. I was hanging out on one side of the room, people watching, when there was a commotion at the other side. In walked Barbara Bush! She was immediately rushed by several of the crowd, which she clearly was used to. There were probably 40-50 people at that party, and she shook each person’s hand and had a short conversation with them. I watched as she made her way around the room. By the time she got to me, she had to have been exhausted, but she still stood there talking to me for a few minutes. I left that place so totally impressed with her.
We continued north on TX-6, stopping in a truck stop parking lot to have sandwiches for lunch. At Waco, we took the bypass around the northeast side, then caught FM-933 north to just past Hillsboro and our destination for the day, Mccown Valley Park. MW maneuvered Petunia right into the site despite there being trees close in on either side. Since it was raining pretty hard when we arrived, we left her all hooked up and just plugged in. When it slackened a bit, we got everything else taken care of. It had been a very long day, and we were both ready to put our feet up, relax, and listen to the rain.
Tuesday morning I really wanted to be lazy, but there was work to be done and no internet at the park to do it. I headed to Whitney to mail a package and find someplace to park myself and get to the task. My first choice is always a local place, and in this case I found one…Texas Great Country Cafe and Pie Pantry… that advertised breakfast with a big banner out front. It looked empty, so I called to confirm they were open. The lady that answered the phone dripped with attitude when she said “not until 10 AM”. Who advertises breakfast and doesn’t open until that late on a Tuesday? My next attempt was McDonalds, but they were still drive-thru only. Third time’s the charm…Subway was just opening when I arrived, and the young lady said I could stay as long as I needed. I ended up eating lunch there and working until around 3 PM. Before heading back to Petunia, I handled the weekly laundromat scope out. Back at the park, we relaxed for a bit, then MW and I took a walk around the campground. The weather was warm in Houston, but it has now turned downright hot and steamy, and you all know I don’t like that! Summer is NOT my friend!
Wednesday I was up and out to get back on my regular laundry schedule. Heading back to Whitney, I went to the Clothesline Laundry. While some of the equipment was older, this place was very clean. Just as I was putting my stuff in the dryers, something happened that has never happened at a laundromat anywhere I’ve been. A man dressed in business casual attire came in with a tool bag. He identified himself as the owner, and asked us customers if all was okay. Assured that it was, he went on to work on a washer. A few minutes later, his task complete, he came back through and offered everyone in the place coffee or water. He also said he would be in his office and to let him know if we needed anything. Wow! Now that is customer service! What a pleasant surprise.
I was back at Petunia where MW helped me put it all away by 10:30 AM or so. Then we headed out to check out the rest of the park. Near the day-use area we saw this fellow in the picture below. I barely caught him before he disappeared into the grass. MW says he was 3′, but I think he was at least 5′. (I should say that I really don’t like snakes, though, so they may seem bigger to me.) I didn’t get a close look at his head and could not identify him by pictures. Maybe one of you guys knows what he is.
Next we headed out for a little tourist activity. The first stop was Hillsboro, Texas, where we checked out the beautiful Hill County Courthouse. In the early morning hours of New Year’s Day in 1993, an electrical short caused a fire in the historic courthouse which reduced the building to four limestone walls and a pile of debris. The bell tower, seen for miles, collapsed through the roof, the 1,525 pound bell ending up in the rubble. County residents vowed to rebuild their beloved structure, and after 6 years of fund-raising, including two benefit concerts by Willie Nelson (who was raised in the county), she rose again. The original bell is on display out front along with a monument to the “Soldiers of the Southern Confederacy”. Across the street are several buildings dating back to just after the Civil War, too.
Next on the schedule was lunch. My original plan was Magnolia Cafe, but checking online I found that the wait was already an hour at 11:15 AM! I consulted Yelp and found Cafe Homestead north of Waco. There we had to wait for 35 minutes (something MW HATES to do), but there were plenty of places to sit in the shade. He had the Pastrami Melt, and I had the Fried Chicken Sandwich, both served with fries that appeared to be fresh cut and warrant two thumbs up. He said his sandwich was pretty darned delicious, but mine was really just average. The service was very good. However, the noise level was very high, and the prices were a little up there, as well. Loved the building, though.
Next we headed into downtown Waco to check out Magnolia. Chip and Joanna Gaines have become such a sensation over the past few years that I wanted to see what their store looked like. Although we don’t have cable anymore, I have enjoyed their show a few times and like their personalities. Truthfully, I was also thinking I could get started on a few Christmas gifts at the same time. We ended up having to park several blocks away and walk over, which would have been nice if it wasn’t 1,000 degrees. When we got there it turned out that Magnolia Market at the Silos was a complex of several different shops in a park-like atmosphere. There were a couple of food vendors and areas to picnic and play corn hole. We went into what appeared to be a furniture store that was similar to a Pier 1 with less stuff. Let me tell you, though, they like that stuff…a LOT! The first thing I looked at was a thin piece of leather the size of a bumper sticker with a saying on it. You know, something you would put on your wall or would make a cute gift. They wanted $60. What?! I stopped looking and left. Someone told me that the Little Shop on Bosque has discounted items, so that might be worth checking out. I didn’t have time this trip, though. On the way out, I thought about popping into their Silos Baking Company, but there was a line down the sidewalk outside. No kidding. Although there were no lines at the stores on this Wednesday, we did notice a covered waiting area there, too, with signs that said “Wait 20 minutes from this point.” Now, I can see waiting during all of the Covid mess to get into the grocery store for essentials, but overpriced decorative pillows and tchotchke??! Who does that? I’ll admit, I was a little disappointed with the visit.
From there we walked a couple of blocks over to the Dr Pepper Museum & Free Enterprise Institute, partially housed in the old Dr Pepper building. This delicious refreshment was invented when pharmacist Charles Alderson mixed together the perfect 23-flavor combination at the Old Corner Drugstore in town. A local taste sensation, it was originally known as the Waco when ordered at the fountain. Cool soda fact: You can thank sick sailors for that soft drink you are enjoying today. Scurvy was originally thought to be a lack of fixed air, or carbon dioxide, in the blood. Joseph Priestley set out to cure the illness (along with rheumatism, kidney troubles, and a few other things) by experimenting with artificially carbonated water. Of course, it didn’t work, because a lack of vitamin C was the actual culprit. An entire refreshment industry was born from his healing waters, though. Dr Pepper advertising for years focused on health benefits. In the 20’s a study done at Columbia University by Dr. Walter H. Eddy determined that blood sugar is at its lowest at 10:30 AM, 2:30 PM, and 4:30 PM. Some savvy folks at Dr Pepper’s advertising company used that to their advantage and came up with the slogan “Drink a Bite to Eat at 10, 2 and 4.” The company continued to use it for about 40 years. In the 40s, the company again used the study to help get carbonated beverages declared as “essential to the war effort” by providing the same energy boost as food! The museum was interesting with a variety of advertising memorabilia, plant equipment, and information. There was also an interesting story about Woodrow Wilson “Foots” Clements, who worked for the company for 50 years. He started as a Route Salesman in 1935 and worked his way through the ranks (including President, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Executive Officer, and Chairman) to end up as the Chairman Emeritus in 1986. His philosophy: “Work hard and follow the Golden Rule.” At the end of the tour, we got to sample Dr Pepper as it was made at the fountain years ago. Pretty good! Ready to head for the hills, we walked back to the truck trying our best to stay in the shade.
Mccown Valley Park is a pretty nice Corps of Engineers development on the shores of Whitney Lake, a part of the Brazos River. The day-use area has a boat ramp, quite a few covered picnic shelters, a large playground, and plenty of places to fish. There is usually a really nice beach area, but on this trip it was under water. (Texas has been pounded this spring.) In addition to the main campground, they have one of the best equestrian campgrounds I’ve seen with corrals, hitching posts at all 39 electric and water campsites, and five miles of trails to take advantage of on foot or horseback. They also offer a group shelter and several individual, overnight shelters, although I did not see them. The main campground has 48 sites, that were a combination of paved, graveled, and dirt. The paving was older, and not particularly level. One site loop was in the woods and very shaded, and the other areas were still slightly wooded, but more open and closer to the water. Our site, number 16, was very wooded and not particularly level requiring one side to go up more than 3″. (When we arrived in the rain, the dirt section looked like red mud, but really was just firm-packed dirt.) Thirty-amp electric, water, fire pit, grill, and covered picnic table were on site, and a dump station was available on the way out of the park. There was also a primitive campground with 7 sites. Each campground had one bathhouse. We only went in the one at the main campground. While older, it was fairly clean and pleasant during the day time. After dark, however, it was covered up in bugs attracted to the always-on light. Finally there was a nice, shaded playground in the camping area and another giant castle-like play structure in the day-use area near the primitive campground. When we booked this park, we thought it was very remote. It turned out to be nice and quiet, but close enough to Whitney to run into town. We stayed for three nights at a total cost of $60.00.
Thursday, it was, once again, time to hit the road. Crossing the lake on TX-22, we saw more flooding at Lofers Bend Park. There was also an awesome looking building on the opposite shore that I later found out was the Bosque Resort. At Laguna Park, we turned south on FM-317 down to Temple. Near Valley Mills, we saw an actual cowboy on horseback heading out to tend cattle. (Yes, they really do still exist!) We started in Texas Hill Country where the landscape varies from open, rolling fields full of cattle and some oil wells to areas full of low-growing trees. The drive was mostly grey, but it didn’t rain, so was not unpleasant. We continued south on TX-95 past the west side of Austin, then FM-86 down to TX-80 at Luling. We were looking for someplace to pull over and make a sandwich, when we came upon the Diamond A Goss Bar-B-Q in the Valero station. Now I don’t usually cotton to gas station food, but one step into this place and you knew there was something good going on. We had sliced brisket on white bread that was simply outstanding. On the way back out to the truck a young man asked us where we were headed. After we told him, he said “Great park. Watch out for the alligators.” Hummmm…seriously? Continuing south, the land flattened out some, and a lot more oil wells began popping up. Near Karnes City, we saw giant flames leaping out of the tree line that turned out to be burn-off of waste gas. (Apparently they burn it all the time, and it’s actually a safety measure. I’m not sure how a 30′ flame equates to safety, but there you go.) We side-stepped over to TX-72 which led us through Three Rivers to our destination for the next few days, Choke Canyon State Park. As we pulled into the park, we were greeted by a giant field of yellow wildflowers.
After getting Petunia all settled, we relaxed for a little while. It doesn’t take very long to figure out that deer are plentiful here. We passed some coming in, then when we took a walk later, they were everywhere… seriously.
On Friday morning I took another walk while it was at least a little cool out. Once again, deer were everywhere. There also seemed to be an abundance of rabbits and a huge variety of birds. Oh yes, and there is a sign on the way in saying that there are, indeed, alligators, but we didn’t see any of those. The campground started filling up for Memorial Day Weekend, when every site was booked.
It was supposed to rain just after midnight on Saturday morning, but that didn’t materialize. There was a lot of wind, though, shaking us around a bit. It finally arrived by the early morning hours, and it was raining buckets and blowing like crazy. It really sounded like someone was outside with a fire hose aimed at the side! As with several storms in the past, she rocked around a bit, but Petunia held solid. After the weather cleared up, we headed out for the day. On the way out of the park, we saw several Road Runners. Amazingly, they were running…on the road! We headed south on I-37 to check out Corpus Christi.
If you’ve read this blog for any period of time, you know that one of MW’s all-time favorite food places is Whataburger. Guess what burger chain got its start in Corpus Christi. Yup! In 1950 Harmon Dobson and Paul Burton opened the first location on Ayers Street. The two went their separate ways over pricing, with Burton keeping franchising rights in San Antonio, Texas. Locations began popping up all over Texas, and in 1959, the first franchise outside of Texas opened in Pensacola, Florida. (I’m certain MW has eaten at that one a LOT!) The familiar orange and white A-frame didn’t make an appearance until 1961, and by 1967, when the “Flying W” logo appeared, there were 40 restaurants in four states. In 2011 there were 728 stores, with 611 owned by the Dobson family. (The others were franchises.) It wasn’t until 2019 that the family sold their majority stake. Not a bad legacy for a man who just wanted to create a hamburger that took two hands to hold and tasted so good that when you took a bite you would say ‘What a burger!'” They still take two hands to hold, and as far as fast food burgers go, aren’t bad. Back in Corpus Cristi, our first stop was “Whataburger by the Bay”, their flagship store, built in 1999. It was pretty cool…two stories with a wall of windows facing the water and an upstairs terrace for outside dining. (Of course, you had to fight off the seagulls if you picked that option. LOL). In the entry there was also a statue of Harmon Dobson relaxing on a bench. There is also a replica of the first store over on Ayers Street in case you want to check that out.
After lunch we headed down Ocean Drive, passing through the high rent district on the way to Padre Island National Seashore. The clouds were getting pretty dark again, and it cut loose as we crossed onto the island. Luckily, it was towards the north end of the island, and we cleared it pretty fast when we turned south. The first part of the drive was all typical beach town stuff. Once we passed the commercial section, the island became all wide open sand dunes. We checked out the beach at the Seashore, then headed back up and across the bridge.
Looking for a different route home, we skirted the south side of Corpus Cristi and hit the back roads over to Alice. It’s amazing how the land in Texas changes. We were in the Texas Hill Country a few days ago, then came down to our current campground where it is slightly rolling. Here, another hour or so south, it is almost totally flat. We passed lots of sorghum fields and some oil, but less than up around Choke Canyon. Next we headed north on US-281 to the town of George West, where we made a little stop. In a glass cage outside of the county courthouse is Geronimo, a world class Texas Longhorn. Don’t worry, he is stuffed now, but for many years in the early 1900s, Geronimo was the lead steer on many a cattle drive up to Abilene and beyond. His ancestors have been roaming the Texas landscape for hundreds of years, brought over by Spanish explorers. In the harsh environment, these tenacious beeves developed sturdy hooves and endurance that would serve them well on the long cattle drives of the late 1800s and early 1900s. It is estimated that, by the end of the Civil War, 5 to 6 million mostly unbranded longhorns were roaming in Texas. While their meat was tougher, their strength was recognized by cattlemen around the world. Some sought cross breeding with short horns or Herefords would produce the perfect stock. (The movie The Rare Breed with Jimmy Stewart, Maureen O’Hara, and Brian Keith was about just that.) As a result of that cross-breeding, true Texas longhorns would be extinct now were it not for a few Texas ranchers who kept small herds, mostly for sentimental reasons. Thankfully, the breed has made a comeback in recent years. Honestly, in my opinion, there is not a more majestic-looking animal. Since his death in 1927, Geronimo has represented his breed, both here and on tour in Russia in 1976. He was also mentioned in the novel Giant, which was made into a movie starring James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, and Rock Hudson. At about 121 years old, he is certainly still very beautiful.
We continued north to Three Rivers. One of the negative things about having oil everywhere is that you also have to have the plants that process it. This town is dominated by one of the Valero refineries. I’m sure they provide lots of jobs and revenue for the town, but I honestly don’t know how people work there all day, every day. It’s like driving along behind someone who needs to desperately check his fuel mixture…makes my eyes burn and head hurt. Our final stop was a quick one at the grocery store, then it was back to Petunia.
Another rough sleep night got Sunday off to a slow start. (Man, I really do wish I could sleep like I used to…dead to the world!). We watched our church service, then later in the day headed back down to George West (taking a slightly different route) for late lunch at Georgio’s Pizza and Subs. The place didn’t look like much, but got good reviews that were definitely not wrong. While there, the storms caught up with us again, but swept through pretty quickly. Next we popped in at the grocery store, then on the way back to Petunia, we stopped to check out this beautiful church in the middle of nowhere. Surrounded by just a couple houses now, it was built in 1908 by Dr. C. F. Simmons who bought the land in 1900, most likely with money from the sales of his “Liver Regulator” (a vegetable-based medicine that purportedly cured a variety of ills). After his son died of snake bite, Simmons sold his 60,000-acre ranch to 4200 small farmers.
We decided to shake up the routine this week and did not head out on Monday. Instead, we hung around and relaxed. Truth be told, I didn’t sleep well again and was in my pajamas well into the afternoon. Would have stayed that way all day had it not been for a lack of ingredients for the planned Adobo Chicken dinner. (Well, I had all of the stuff…just not enough of it.) On the way out we checked out the other sections of the park, then made the quick trip to Three Rivers. On the way back I finally got a pic of these amazing plants that look like aloe or agave and are HUGE!
Choke Canyon State Park is divided into two units along the Choke Canyon Reservoir on the Frio River. The town of Three Rivers is a 15-minute drive from the campground. There you can find a few restaurants and groceries. The South Shore Unit is on the east side of the lake, and is day-use only. It has access to the dam, lots of picnic areas, two boat ramps, restrooms, and a fish cleaning station. This entire unit is not very well-maintained. In fact, except for the boat ramp and parking lot there, which were used quite a bit, it almost looks like they are letting it go back to nature.
The Calliham Unit of the park is better maintained, but still in need of paint in a lot of places. The entrance is surrounded by fields of wildflowers, and in addition to the reservoir, it also has a 75-acre lake used for fishing and bird watching. Amenities include 20 air-conditioned sleeping shelters (bathhouse is centrally located), picnic shelters and tables, basketball and tennis courts, soccer field, swimming, fishing, and several short hiking trails. The main campground has 40 sites that include 50-amp electric, water, covered picnic table and fire ring and/or grill. The sites were older paving, but were pretty level. There is one bathhouse that is older and really hot in the afternoon with no a/c, but very clean. The campsites were very well spread out, and some were overlooking the water. Additionally, there are a walk-in, primitive group camping area with plenty of space for up to 50 people and a walk-in tent area with 16 sites that include picnic table, grill, and fire ring with water and restrooms nearby.)
Both of the parks in this post were covered up with deer, but Choke Canyon, in addition to the elusive alligator, had a huge variety of birds. While taking the recreation hall pic above, MW said “What’s that on the porch?” We never heard pea fowl calls, but that is definitely a pea hen. We heard turkeys on several occasions and actually saw one as we were leaving. There were also road runners, doves, and many others I couldn’t identify all around the campground. Several times I saw a fairly large bird that I’d never seen before. It took me a while to catch him, but finally did on Monday. He is a Crested Caracara.
Well, that was a long one, but there was just so much to show you! Next up…The Johnsons, Chopper Bad News, and the Capitol. See you on the path!
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