Sunday, April 26, 2015

Weekend Road Trip: Part Four...

We started our final day of the trip fairly early, partly because I was just eager to get out of San Angelo and partly because we knew we wanted to get to Kerrville and look around before getting back into San Antonio to pick up Gracie who was spending time with our daughter.
The drive took us from San Angelo, down to Eldorado and Sonora before jumping on to I-10 and heading east to Kerrville and finally home.

It was like magic.  Within minutes of leaving San Angelo on Highway 277, the view was suddenly wonderful.  Yes, it is pretty much nothing but wide open land with occasional hills or small buttes, but it was a clean, nice drive.
Just as we were getting into the small town of Eldorado, we could see the remains of the old Pave Paws radar off in the distance. It's a shame it was so foggy, but then again, that photo was taken from miles away.

When you drive through this part of Texas (hell, most of Texas outside major cities and towns) you realize that there is just so much wide open space.  I often imagine how many dead bodies are just 100 feet from the highway.  It is no surprise to me that cults take up residence out in the middle of nowhere.
Driving through town we saw a small little radio station, KLDE, so I switched over and we listened to it for as long as the signal lasted.  I'm not sure if the guy we heard was the regular host, but he played just random tunes with no real format.  Oldies, show tunes, country, whatever.  I loved it.
 Post Office in Sonora
It wasn't much further down the road before we hit the small town of Sonora. Not far from the road are the Caverns of Sonora, probably a cool place to visit, but just not our thing, at least not that morning.
After a brief spin around the town, we were on I-10 and headed to Kerrville.  That part of I-10 is really beautiful and the road is well maintained.

We started to get a little rain as we rolled into Kerrville, but that wasn't enough to put a damper on our stop.  Just in town we saw a Visitor's Center, and decided to stop in.  There was an older gentleman inside who gave us quite a tutorial on what was where.  Holding a small town guide, he used pointing motions and inflection to give us a speech he has probably delivered a thousand times.  If you stop in Kerrville, stop and see this man.
 A young lady in the Visitor Center gave us a recommendation for a place to eat.  We  had mentioned wanting to get some Bar-B-Q, and she made a few suggestions, including Buzzie's.  We must have hit it just as the lunch rush was starting because by the time we ordered, the line was starting out the door. 

The potato salad was really good.  We did our usual thing of one getting brisket, the other getting chicken and then splitting.  I can see why people like the place, but I've had better.

We drove down the main street of Kerrville and headed west toward a small town called Hunt.  
We had heard about this place for years but just never made the trip, and since we were just minutes away, why not take a quick look.  I have a passing interest in Stonehenge.  When I was stationed in England and my parents visited, my Dad was really interested in seeing Stonehenge as he had done some sort of report on it in college. 
Seeing this version in Hunt was actually kind of cool given that the pieces are put together they way it was supposed to be.  The real one in England has many of the pieces fallen, so you have to use your imagination to build it in your mind.  Oh, another thing.  This version in Hunt is actually larger than the original.
In addition to the Stonehenge II pieces, the same artists recreated the statues from Easter Island.  They are pretty cool.  This entire set-up is in a small park off the road and there are other art features inside.  Certainly a place to see if you happen to be in the area.

We tracked by through Kerrville and made the trip back home without further incident.  In all, this was a really nice little road trip with lots to see.  We definitely want to go back to Kerrville and perhaps spend a day checking out the shops and such.   In truth, we could have spent two days in Fredericksburg and two days in Kerrville and been happy, but it was nice to see Abilene and San Angelo and the small little towns in between. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Weekend Road Trip: Part Three...

See, I told you it would take me longer to tell you about our trip than it actually took to do the trip.

On day three of our little Texas road trip, we got up and had an enjoyable breakfast of waffles, eggs, sausage, yogurt and I'm pretty sure, I had at least four or five of those small cups of coffee.  I've often wondered, what prevents some random person from walking into the hotel lobby off the street and just enjoying a nice free breakfast?  I'm sure it happens.

Anyway, we filled up at the Alon, I guess that is the local chain of convenience stores, and got ourselves onto I-20 for the trip over to Sweetwater, Colorado City and down to San Angelo.
 Not a whole lot to tell about this portion of the trip.  What we did find interesting along the drive on I-20 was the miles and miles of windmill energy things.  They are massive.  Around San Antonio, we often see the large propellers being hauled on really long trailers.  When you see one of these things up close and personal, you get an understanding of how massive they are with three blades on a huge mast.  
The one potential stop in Sweetwater was the museum of the WASPs, the Women Air Force Service Pilots that were so important during WWII.  We didn't stop there but instead went into Walmart looking for some Sweetwater themed souvenirs.  No luck.
Colorado City did not prove anymore interesting.  I'm pretty sure the name Hillbilly Depot is offensive to someone, but we got a chuckle out of it.  We turned south on a state highway through miles and miles of nowhere and enjoyed the views.  
At in the middle of nowhere, we drove through the small town of Robert Lee.  I learned later that a colleague of mine from work was from there.  Of course, he told me that his momma got him out of there as quickly as she could!  Seemed like a nice little place, but nothing warranting a stop.

So here is the deal about San Angelo; I've never wanted to go back to that place after spending half a year there thirty years ago.  It has nothing to do with the fine people of the Concho Valley, it has everything to do with the hot, blast furnace  style wind that would make walking from school to my dorm every afternoon.  People think of our part of south central Texas as a blow torch during the summer months, but I promise you, 100 degrees in San Antonio is nothing like the hot wind scorching your face in San Angelo.
Nevertheless, Eva has wanted to go to San Angelo for years, just because so many other people have been there, and it seemed like a place she needed to see.  Our first stop was Goodfellow AFB, and I can tell you, thirty years makes a big difference.  I knew immediately that we were not entering the gate I was familiar with, and in spite of the fact that the base is very small, it took me driving around in circles a few times to get my sense of direction.
 The base has not grown in size, per se, but the number of buildings cram packed into there is unbelievable.   Maybe now, the wind is blocked somewhat by all the buildings.
We took our little tour of the base and then stopped into the BX for a minute.  Eva took a picture that was posted in the restroom and thought it was helpful.  They had the same poster above the men's urinal and I thought to myself, "Oh, this is one of those kinds of Men's rooms."  I know, it is no laughing matter. 
We left the base and immediately headed downtown to explore.  My son had recommended a restaurant called Fuentes Cafe.  That was enough for us to give it a shot, and we made our way in for some quick vittles.
 San Angelo is or at least was the center of all things sheep and mohair, so instead of a bunch of painted cattle downtown, they have artists come in and hand paint sheep.  This is the one sponsored by Fuentes.
I can understand why people like this cafe.  Service was quick, our food was good, and though the chips were stale (we are so spoiled with our regular place) the salsa was good.
We had a quick lunch and continued on our sightseeing of the downtown area.  Oh yea, my crispy taco was no bueno, but the enchiladas were delicious and they were more than generous with the guacamole.
Like any city with a river, San Angelo is making an effort to make the space usable for people to enjoy and perhaps generate business.  The Concho River in the downtown area seems to be the heart of the arts scene and in addition to the aforementioned painted sheep, the city is doing their best to make the place where residents and visitors alike can enjoy visiting.  Kudos to them.  This little tiled truck/picnic bench was just one example of the public art we saw.
Another thing I found interesting was the murals at many locations in the historic arts district.  I recall seeing similar things our our visit to Alpine last year.
We also stopped into a place called Eggmeyer's General Store.  Lots of interesting things in there.  They had some of the nicest large scale model airplanes I've seen.  Such fantastic detail.  I think we spent nearly an hour in that place, but in the end didn't buy a thing.  I should have taken some pictures inside.
After seeing what we could see downtown, and to be honest, deciding it was just too hot to walk around anymore, we checked into our hotel (more on that in a bit) then headed over to the mall to see if there was anything worth looking at.  I recalled Sunset Mall from when I was there back in 1982 and I think it may have still had the same carpet.  You can see both me and the most interesting man in the world standing on it.  Jesus, I'm fat.

So we felt really good about the Hampton Inn as a choice for a hotel.  When we planned our trip and called the one in Fredericksburg for reservations, it just made sense to go ahead and make reservations for Abilene and San Angelo.  I've always been pleased with Hampton Inn's around the country; you get fairly consistent rates, quality of rooms and the whole breakfast thing. 

I don't intend to bore you with our less than stellar stay at the San Angelo Hampton, but let's just say that of the three, it was not the best, it was the most expensive, and it was the only one that caused Eva to vomit into the sink. 

And then I'm just stupid.

After she tells me that the smell from the little overflow thing on the sink caused her to throw-up when she was brushing her teeth, what do I do?  I commence to brush my teeth and like an idiot, I bend over and get a whiff of the same thing.  Oh, and this is after she used Clorox wipes to sanitize everything.  There was this obnoxious sewer gas smell.  I did not throw- up though, I quickly turned toward the shower stall and commenced to dry-heave for a minute or so.  Good times.

Look, we could have made a big deal out of it, but honestly, every single person we encountered at that hotel was nicer than the next.  I have never seen a staff so hell bent on being friendly, no matter what.  You'd think these people work for Oprah.  We did leave a polite note about the smell and still left a tip in our room for the maid.

The breakfast there was not nearly as impressive as the other Hampton Inn's but now I feel like I'm just piling on.  Feel free to just read my review on TripAdvisor.

Coming up, the final day of our trip.  When I can get to it.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Weekend Road Trip: Part Two

In case you missed part one of our four day road trip, you can check it out here.

We started Monday morning with the Hampton Inn breakfast and though I don't have any pictures to show, I wanted to point out that it was very good and made the cost of the room that much more reasonable.  Cheapskate that I am, I always look for hotels that offer free Internet and free breakfast.  Of course, nothing is free and those things are figured into the price, but you get the point.
Part two of our trip would take us from Fredericksburg up to Abilene along an enjoyable drive through several small towns like Mason, Brady and Coleman.

Before heading out of Fredericksburg, we took a short drive down to the Wildseed Farm, a place we have visited more than a few times before.  Eva wanted to grab some wildflower seeds to prepare ourselves for next October when we will supplement the Bluebonnets growing in the yard (remind me to show pictures of this year's crop).  As always, this place has lots to see and plenty to spend money on.
They always have loads of samples out and I happened upon a plate of Carter's Bread & Butter Jalapeno Dip Mix.  One taste and I was sold.  I can't wait to make some for our next gathering.

We also stopped along Main Street in Fredericksburg to hit a few more shops before moving up Highway 87 toward Abilene.
The drive is very pleasant with many opportunities to pass slower vehicles.  In almost all cases, I was pleased to find that Texas drivers (outside big cities) move over to the shoulder to allow those folks going faster to safely pass.  In return, the friendly wave of thanks keeps the traffic flowing smoothly.
 By the way, we wrongly guessed that we would see Bluebonnets in full bloom up in Fredericksburg, simply because our part of Texas was so fully covered.  The ladies at Wildseed told us we were about a week early, but we did see a few along Highway 83 as we traveled north.
The first town of note we hit was a place called Mason.  A common theme among a lot of these old towns is the big town square, either a courthouse or some sort of city hall.  We stopped to grab a coffee and take a few happy snaps.
I suspect another theme for small Texas towns is to get into the antique game.  Across the street from the court house was a row of nice old buildings with stores open for business.
Finally, Eva could not help taking a picture of this nice old house.  I love the columns, the upper balcony and honestly, the color looks better on a house than a muffler shop.
Moving up the road, we found our selves driving through the small town of Brady.  In hindsight, it seemed like a carbon copy of Mason in the grand scheme of things, though perhaps a little newer.

They do have their own roadside attraction in the form of the Brady Propane thing.
As we were heading out of town, Eva caught the glimpse of the word Oddities on one of the shops.  When you mention Oddities, that calls for an immediate illegal U-Turn, State Trooper watching or not.
We parked and walked inside D And J's Good Ole Days, to be immediately greeted with a firm handshake by one of the owners, Joe Evridge.  He welcomed us and chatted for several minutes before welcoming us to walk around and remember that, "This ain't no museum, everything is for sale."  Later, he mentioned that he had just gotten a shipment of prosthetic eyeballs, if we were in the market for some. 
Honestly, we could have stayed in this place for hours and later, we were kicking ourselves for not doing so.  Eva regretted not buying an eyeball or two, just for fun.  If you need a reason to stop in Brady on your next road trip, D and J's is more than enough.  I wish they had an E-Bay page.
Next, we hit Coleman, another small town with the same set-up of a town square and such.  I did stop in one of those self service car washes to clear the windshield of dead bugs.  As I was spraying things off, some local police pulled over a speeder so we had that action to enjoy as the bugs got cleared.

Anyway, of interest in the town of Coleman was this public art project.  In the shuttered windows of an old building, they put up these fun pictures of cows.  What a fun idea.

When we got to our destination of Abilene, we had just a few places we wanted to hit for sure.  We had seen a story on Texas Country Reporter about the Storybook Sculptures in the downtown area.  We also wanted to see Dyess AFB since I had never been there, and on the eating front, I had done some Googling and located what appeared to be a pretty good place to eat.

Something I noticed about many Texas towns is the effort that smart people are putting into public art spaces.  I'm sure one intent is to attract people like us who will stop to take a look and perhaps spend a few dollars in local shops.  The interesting thing to me though, was that in spite of this effort at downtown renewal, the rest of Abilene was rundown and for the most part, pretty rough looking.  Of course, everything in context.  I'm sure someone not familiar with San Antonio or our little tri-city area could find really unappealing areas and form an ugly opinion.  Having said that, we both said to each other on more than a few occasions, "Okay, why did we come here?"

But on to the good stuff.  The storybook sculpture project is a combination of Dr. Seuss characters and several other children's books.  At the Abilene visitor center, we were given a map showing the several block area where we could find them all.  It was sort of a treasure hunt because a few were somewhat hidden.
Honestly, and I hate to harp on it, but being in this downtown area full of sculptures and public art spaces was like some sort of sanctuary compared to other parts of the city.  And please, no suggestions that I'm some sort of fantsy pants culture dude, because we all know that ain't true.
We left the downtown area and took a drive to Dyess, just so we could say we had been there.  Honestly, the hope was to purchase a challenge coin from the base, and then they were out of the one I was looking for.  But, lots of cool planes on display.  This O-2 is a favorite.

My only connection to Dyess ever was that I attended Leadership School with a guy who was Combat Controller and his team was stationed at Dyess.  For our graduation ceremony, his Commander, First Shirt and members of his squadron did a low altitude paradrop onto Goodfellow AFB, certainly outclassing the other commanders who arrived via rental cars.  Good times.
By the time we left Dyess AFB, we were eager for a bite to eat so we made our way to the much acclaimed (according to the Internet), Town Crier Steakhouse.  Not gonna lie, when we first walked in, we were surprised to learn that it was more Luby's style than traditional sit down restaurant. I actually told Eva that if she wanted, we could just turn around and walk out, but the menu was all she needed to see.  Chicken Fried Steak was prominent on the large menu posted on the wall.

We both ordered the CFS which included the salad bar and sides.  As we went down the cafeteria style line, we grabbed iced tea and paid the cashier before moving out to one of the dining areas and finding a booth.  The salad bar was well stocked and clean.  As quick as we were pulling out toppings for our salad, there was a guy coming behind us to fill things up.  I was pleased. My salad is on top, Eva's creation is on the bottom.  And yes, the table was one big billboard of advertisements.  Remind me to set the DVR for Mad Men.
As we sat down to eat salad, a random server brought us hot rolls with real butter.  Let me adjust my belt while I remember how delicious they were.
Next, our dinners were served.  On Facebook, someone asked me what the thing to the left of my CFS was.  That is a fully loaded baked potato.  Perhaps I should have taken an extra Metformin for good measure.
As we finished up, a man who I assume to be a manager or perhaps an owner came out to chat with us.  He explained that if we had ordered the all you can eat shrimp dinner, we'd be served some fresh Cinnamon rolls for dinner.  We explained this was our first visit to Abilene and we had stopped in to this steak house for the very first time.  That was excuse enough for him to have some dessert delivered to the table, though I suspect everyone is given the special treatment by these fine folks.
I'm not even gonna lie.  I'd go back to Abilene and I'd eat at the Town Crier again, if only for the hospitality and the rolls.  Everyone we talked to in that town was as friendly as could be.  And the Chicken Fried Steak, maybe not the finest I've ever had, but I promise, it was a Tasty Treat.

We once again stayed at the Hampton Inn (if they read this, they ought to give me some free points for all the advertisements) and we were quite pleased.  The staff proved friendly and in fact, it was a member of the front desk team who called the tourist bureau to get me the specific details of the Dr Seuss sculptures.  Our room was great, breakfast was wonderful and aside from the twenty or so tennis players staying on the floor above us that practiced running in the halls until midnight, we slept great.

Don't let my honest comments about much of Abilene feeling rundown, scary and ugly deter you from enjoying the many fine places we saw.  Likewise, if you live in Abilene, I'd encourage you to push for more of the positive development we saw in the downtown area.  It really was worth the stop on our journey.

Next up, Part Three.