Postcard From God's Country

She ran right in front of my truck and jumped 
the ditch by the road.
After leaving Cherry Mountain School, a little ways down the "found a nugget" road was another little road that called to me. I still had a few hours before meeting with my old RV friends that evening so I answered the call. No more specific nuggets were found, but I drove down this little country road for 45 minutes and never did see another car or person - a nugget in and of itself. I did see deer - lots of deer. I saw enough deer it seemed for all God's children to each have one of their very own.
Quiet, peaceful family cemetery out in
God's country.

I saw several small, family cemeteries, a handful of headstones fenced in, out in the fields of cactus and mesquite trees. Old timers deeply connected to their land who didn't want to leave it even in death. In my opinion, they chose wise - eternity in God's country.

And as I drove back in the general direction of Kerrville and traffic and McDonalds and Starbucks and my Hampton Inn upgraded room with a couch and a great view of the overly bright "Welcome To Kerrville" sign, I saw lots and lots of God's country.

Texas Hill Country vista.
After I hit the lottery or convince a million nice folks to pay me $1 each to read my musings, this is where you will find me; a nice little 100 acre ranchette on a hill with a little cabin right in the middle of it. And when my days are over, look for a memorial headstone inside a little fence that marks where my ashes were spread and know I'm a happy camper spending eternity in God's country.

(Please click here to read the first post of this series.)

Postcard From Cherry Mountain School

After my visit to Cherry Spring, I went sightseeing with no destination in mind, no route chosen, no real time limit, just drive around until I see a road and think, huh, I wonder what's down there? You might be surprised at some of the interesting things you run across doing this. A good friend calls these delightful unexpected encounters "road nuggets." I like road nuggets.

Blue flowers, but not Bluebonnets
Between Cherry Spring and Fredericksburg, I came across a road that was signed Cherry Mountain Loop. I wondered what's down there and lo and behold, I found a nugget! The first thing I ran across was some wild flowers, one of the few patches I had seen and the biggest field of them by far. They weren't bluebonnets, but they were pretty. A bit further along and there were more flowers of a different sort. I'm not a certified Master Gardener, but the Momma-woman is. I took a picture of these flowers, sent them to her for identification and she called them "mean weeds with pretty flowers." I really appreciated her keen insight.

Mean weeds with pretty flowers
Another 100 yards down the road and someone had 3 Texas Longhorns in a large fenced pasture. No, not the human kind like me and my fellow University of Texas graduates, the cow kind. But it was several hundred more yards down the road and around a curve where the unexpected nugget popped up - an old school complex right smack in the middle of nowhere.

I spent the next hour walking around looking and thinking about the kids and teachers who had spent some of their lives here. I sat for a while under a shade-giving tree and heard the sounds of children playing, chasing each other in games of tag and leap-frog and wondered if any of the boys had tried to put a frog down the back of a little girl's dress. The whole time I was there, I was alone with my thoughts. No car, no farm truck passed by on the little black-top road. A few birds chirped, a couple of grasshoppers jumped and some wasps flew around their nest under the building's eaves; these were the only things that disturbed the perfect silence. In the middle of a hot summer's day in rural Texas, I heard peace.

Texas Longhorn
After getting back to my room that evening, I did some research and found the history of what I stumbled onto. In 1883, ten students enrolled for classes in their new school at Cherry Mountain. The first school building was a log cabin to which a room constructed of limestone was later added. Teachers lived on the property in the loft or with close neighbors. When the school first started, drinking water was obtained from a residence located about 250 yards from the school. Later, a well was drilled on the school property. At first children drank water from a bucket using a single dipper, then students brought their own cups that were kept in their desks. A second building was constructed in 1926. Otto Thiele donated 1 1/2 acres for this new school and J.F. Oehler was the first teacher. Enrollment in the first year was 39 students, with 36 in attendance the second year.

Newest structure built in 1926
The first school started with five grades; later two more grades were added and eventually the eighth grade was added. In 1927-28, the ninth grade was also taught. Night school for eighth and ninth grades was added in 1931-33. Reinhold Weber was the teacher at the time. The school eventually consolidated with Fredericksburg and closed  in 1949.  

Today, the buildings are owned by the Cherry Mountain Community Club and are used for meetings, weddings, reunions and special parties.

Original unisex bathroom
It's been a long time since classes were held and the kids who actually went to school here have all grown old and few are left, but on certain days, if you stop and listen, really listen, the laughter of children can still be heard.

(Please click here to read the first post in this series.)

Postcard From Cherry Spring, TX

The offending sign.
After awaking from my really nice nap, I ran down to Wendy's, got a salad for supper and read some more Ghost Country by Patrick Lee on my iPad. Returning to the hotel, I broke out the laptop, answered emails, and wrote an entry for this blog. Still not sleepy. Read more Ghost Country. Finally turned off the light and that's when I noticed it - Welcome to Kerrville. Specifically, a sign stating "Welcome to Kerrville" which was outside of my upgraded room that was brighter than any sign I've seen since the last time I was in Vegas. And the room designer, obviously a person who had never spent a single night in one of his/her own designed rooms, evidently thought there would be no need for a window curtain heavier than a sheer. The light from that sign was shining big and bright deep in the heart of Texas and right into my room. I can take naps in light, but I can't sleep well all the night through if there is much light. I guess my head thinks I'm just taking a nap so I wake up after an hour - every hour, all night. I finally pulled one of the 6 pillows the Hampton Inn thinks everyone sleeps with over my head and only woke up 4 times during the night when I rolled over and dislodged my "make-it-dark" pillow.

The next morning I got up bright eyed and bushy tailed and headed back north 16 miles beyond Fredericksburg to a little "blink and you'll miss it" spot on the road, Cherry Spring. Founded in 1852 by Dietrich Rode and William Kothe, two Germans who moved from Fredericksburg, the town was on the route from San Antonio to El Paso and thus enjoyed a good amount of prosperity as a commercial center. A post office was granted in 1858 and it had a population of 202 in 1860. Eventually though, hard times arrived and the post office closed in 1912. By 1933 the population stood at 40 and soon, only 9 residents remained with only one commercial building still standing. That building had been built in 1890 by a one-time Apache captive named Herman Lehmann.  For years it served the neighboring ranchers as a saloon, post office, and dry goods store all rolled into one. In the early 1950's, it was converted into the Cherry Springs Dance Hall and an amazing thing happened.

Music and fame came to Cherry Spring. Anybody who was somebody in country music played the Cherry Springs Dance Hall. Touring acts from the Louisiana Hayride and the Grand Ole Opry played there. Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, Bob Wills, Buck Owens, George Jones, Johnny Cash, and Ernest Tubb played there. On October 9, 1955, The King himself, Elvis, played the Cherry Springs Dance Hall. The price of a ticket? A whole $1.50. Every weekend, people traveled from miles and miles away for a few hours of great music and dancing in little bitty Cherry Spring.

And then, gradually, things changed. The big names started playing concert halls and arenas and stadiums instead of dance halls, places where thousands rather than dozens paid good money to hear them. Cherry Springs Dance Hall lost out and music abandoned Cherry Spring. All was quiet once again when the hall closed in the 1980's. After almost 100 years of music and history, the old building became a hay barn and began to fall apart from neglect.

In the late 1990's, interest picked up and several investors bought the old place and renovated it. Once again the sound of music reverberated in Cherry Spring every Saturday night. This time the music was being provided by the up-and-coming pre-Nashville country artists and once again, people traveled from miles away to enjoy good music and some two-steppin'. The only rule was "no line dancing." The manager said, "Nobody can line dance and look good doing it."

In 2007, the place closed yet again and new investors were being sought. I heard the place is open now, but it didn't look like it to me. The whole town looked abandoned except for a couple of old homes with dirt and weed yards. No people were around to ask. I got out of my truck to take a few pictures and see if I could find anyone to talk to, but the only living thing I found was an old dog who half-heartedly barked a couple of times at me and took a couple of slow, easy steps toward me before deciding I wasn't worth the effort and laid back down. He weren't no trouble. I walked over and scratched him behind the ears a few times.

One interesting little tidbit, the town is named Cherry Spring, but the dance hall is named Cherry Springs. Why? Just because they thought it sounded better.

Cited by the State of Texas Music Office as "one of the most historic dance halls in the world," I hope it's actually open and going strong. I like to think that every Saturday night, out in the middle of nowhere, music is being made, dancing is going on, and people are happy. Whether it is or isn't, it somehow makes me content to think it is. So in my mind, that's the way it is.

(Please click here to read the first post in this series.)

Postcard From Enchanted Rock

Leaving the Dairy Queen Princess behind, I set my sights on Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. What better way to celebrate the 4-month anniversary of my return from death than to climb Enchanted Rock? Enchanted Rock is one huge pink granite rock (actually, it is part of a rough, segmented ridge which is in turn part of the surface expression of a large igneous batholith of middle Precambrian material intrusive into earlier metamorphic schists and gneiss - for those who care) which rises 385 feet above the ground. It's the largest single granite rock in the U.S., is the geologic center of Texas, and is visible for miles around.

Apache, Comanche and Tonkawa Indians all believed ghost fires flickered at the top and revered it as a holy portal to other worlds. They also believed the area is haunted by a native American princess who threw herself off the rock after witnessing the slaughter of her people by an enemy tribe. A conquistador captured by the Tonkawa Indians described how he escaped by losing himself in the rock area, giving rise to an Indian legend of a "pale man swallowed by a rock and reborn as one of their own." The Indians believed he wove enchantments on the area, but he explained that the rock wove the spells. "When I was swallowed by the rock, I joined the many spirits who enchant this place."

Rising almost 400 feet in 0.6 miles, the climb up wasn't a killer, but it wasn't the easiest hike I've ever been on. The kids going up didn't have to stop to rest like us older folks, but they didn't run up it either. The sun was out in force and the temp was over 90 degrees so that made it a bit more challenging. After several rest stops, I finally made it to the top. The view was wonderful and it felt great knowing I've recovered enough to make that climb. I'm sure it was just an interesting activity for most, but for me, it was an affirmation of life. I'd be lying though if I said I didn't have some concerns on my way up. I was by myself and had this fear of having another heart attack and just rolling all the way down that big sucker while all these people stopped climbing to watch and pointing their fingers at the poor fool rolling ass over tea kettle. Probably not very rational and I knew that , but the fear was there still.

After some time at the top enjoying the view, I carefully made my way back down. It was a lot easier. About 3/4 of the way down, I spotted a man who looked to be a visitor from India with 2 children sitting on an outcropping in some shade. The reason I noticed him was because he had looked around (but not behind him where I was) and then sneaky-like threw an empty juice carton behind the rock they were sitting on. I kept my eye on him and as I came alongside, they started to walk away. I had noticed the whole park had very little litter around and it made me proud of my fellow humans - until this litter-bug bozo. It upset me so I asked him if he was just going to leave that juice box he threw on the ground or take it out with him to a trash can. He looked startled, but then replied in a heavy accent "Yeah, yeah, I take it," but didn't make a move to retrieve it. So I just stood there looking at him. "I take it," he said again, but still made no move to pick it up. I raised my camera, took his picture and continued to stand there. He finally turned around and got the offending trash so I left. I looked back once a few feet on down the trail and he still had it in his hand so I assume he did indeed pack it out, but I can't be sure because I didn't look back again.
After making my way back to the truck and removing several cactus thorns I somehow had picked up on my ankle (like a good Boy Scout, I had tweezers in my overnight kit), I was hot, sweaty, and tired. I was ready for a shower and a nap. A few miles down the road past Fredericksburg and I pulled into Kerrville and checked into the Hampton Inn. Last year, I stayed at a Hilton a lot when I was traveling to my client's site for work so I'm some color or other on Hilton Honors and to my surprise, the desk lady asked me if I would like a free room upgrade. Free? Oh heck yeah, I'll take an upgrade for free! Well, the upgrade meant I got a couch in my room and it was a bit bigger than the room the non-hooty hoots get so it wasn't like I got the Presidential Suite or something, but hey, the price was right. The shower felt great, the shampoo was good, and the air conditioner made the room downright chilly. I heard the bed calling me. And for the next 55 minutes, I communed with it. Mark it on the calendar - on this day, a wonderful nap occurred.
 (Please click here for the first entry in this series.)

On the Road to Kerrville

Rather than spend several hours on a soul-killing interstate, I decided to take SH-67 south out of Dallas. Unlike most years, this time there was a mood dampening lack of spring flowers. My temporary funk got better when I made it beyond Midlothian and saw the first patches of wildflowers just past the town of Venus. Most years they are so abundant you can't pass a field or open space beside a road without seeing them in profusion, but this year, they are few and far between. Drought, too much rain, an off year - I don't know. They'll be back next year. Or the next.

SH-67 remains 4 lanes through Alvarado, Keene, Cleburne and reduces down to two before arriving in Glen Rose. The small town of Glen Rose, population 2,200, is the dinosaur capital of Texas and home to Fossil Rim Wildlife Center. Now there's a special place for me because Fossil Rim Wildlife Center one fine fall day at sunset, on a hilltop overlooking the watering hole where exotic wild animals were coming to drink, just happens to be where I was fortunate enough to stand next to a very beautiful woman and exchange I Do's. Over twenty years later she is still my wonderful wife and has proven to have just as much patience, understanding, and commitment as beauty. And that's been a very good thing.

Glen Rose is also where this road starts getting interesting and the land starts to pretty up. Lots of room, mesquite trees, not many people and not much traffic. BFT's stereo sounded fine as I cranked it up a bit and played my favorite tunes on my IPod. You ever see people driving their car and sitting there just singing away, off in their own little world acting as if nobody can see them? I plead guilty along this stretch of road. It doesn't get much better than this.

Just past Chalk Mountain, it's time to head south on SH-220, another little 2-laner that is even less traveled than what I just turned off. There's not even any little communities along this stretch of the road, but it doesn't take much time to reach the town of Hico (it's pronounced high-coe) and connect with US-281 going south. Hico, population 1,341, is a nice little town that bills itself as the north entrance to the Texas Hill Country, but what Hico is probably best known for is that it was the 1940's home of Ollie P. Roberts, aka Brushy Bill Roberts, who gained nationwide fame for claiming he was actually William H. Bonney - Billy The Kid. Before Brushy Bill died in Hico on December 27, 1950, he spent the last years of his life trying to prove he was the famous outlaw and to obtain the pardon promised him by the governor of New Mexico. He made some pretty convincing arguments. Sam Donaldson narrated an ABC documentary about his claim and Robert Stack did a segment on Roberts in 1990 on the NBC television series Unsolved Mysteries.
Could the history books be wrong? According to the Hico Chamber of Commerce, several relatives, including a son and grandson of Sheriff Pat Garrett, claim he never killed The Kid. There were no reliable witnesses to what body was actually placed in the Kid's grave and the Garrett family holds that Garrett and the Kid plotted to collect the $500 reward offered for The Kid.
Next to the Brushy Bill marker on North Pecan Street, is a large statue by the sculptor James Rice of Billy the Kid firing his gun. Nowadays, downtown Hico, sporting the Billy the Kid Museum on South Pecan Street, is a restored Western community with businesses appealing to tourists. There is an artist studio, antique stores, restaurants, and a leather shop. There is free musical entertainment downtown on Saturday nights and the Jersey Lilly Restaurant provides free horse-drawn buggy rides.
But Hico is still a good ways from Kerrville so I passed on through, continuing south on US-281, very much enjoying the scenery and relative solitude along the well-maintained road,  traveling through the occasional sparsely populated communities and the towns of Hamilton and Evant. Finally, pretty much in the middle of nowhere, I connected with Hwy-581 and headed west, passing over numerous little creeks and not much else until arriving in Lometa, a town big enough to have a convenience store where I stopped for a Dr. Pepper and the potty break I should have stopped for back in Evant. There's not much in Lometa, but my bladder was glad to get there. The restroom was fairly clean according to small town convenience store standards. Even so, I recognized the sanitary advantage of being a guy able to stand at such a time.
Just west of Lometa, Hwy-581 makes an abrupt turn to the south for a while and then dead ends into Hwy-580 which continues southwest for a couple of miles. It's a little confusing here because 580 abruptly turns north, which is not where I wanted to go, so I caught Hwy-501 just before 580 cut north. Hwy-501 is a continuation of the same scenery I had been riding through for the last couple of hours and I was still enjoying it. You have time to think about things on a drive like this so that's what I did. I'm glad to report I solved several of the world's problems along with fixing the country. The only thing it will take will be for me to be elected king. And then I didn't think any more; I just sang songs out loud and looked stupid doing it.
Eventually I arrived at Cherokee. For some reason, even though I have never had any affiliation with the town, I like Cherokee. It's a pretty little unincorporated town, population about 175. At one time, it had over 500 residents and a college, but that was back in the late 1800's and the number of people has decreased and the college went away since then. The houses are well kept and the few buildings in town are in relatively good shape and it just seems to be a nice, quiet place to hang your hat. Or maybe I just like the name Cherokee. In town, I turned off of 501 and took Hwy-16 south. I'm getting closer to Kerrville now and starting to get a bit tired so I'm looking forward to getting checked into the hotel and maybe taking a short nap.
A few miles down the road comes the town of Llano. The pickup and I are both hungry so when I spot the Llano Dairy Queen next to a gas station with gas for $3.66, I stop. I used to get the Steak Finger Basket whenever I ate at DQ, but since my little health event, I have to watch what I eat. Deciding that fried steak fingers dipped in white gravy, French Fries and buttered Texas Toast was not the healthiest choice I could make, I went with just a hamburger. OK, maybe that's not the healthiest thing one can eat either, but I was in Llano and I doubt there is a lot of healthy-type food choices to be had there and besides, I wasn't going to spend 30 minutes driving around looking for some place called Earth Mother's Bountiful Blessings or some such so I ate a hamburger without cheese and with mustard, not mayo and I didn't even have fries with that. A girl named Sharon took my order and kept smiling at me the whole time. Hmmm, maybe I look good to a stout small town girl with ketchup and sundry other stains on her blouse. Probably any guy would. Now wait a minute. That's a mean thing to think and I should have been ashamed of myself. I'm sure she's a very nice girl just being nice to a customer. I did notice however, that when other people's food was ready, she called their number and they came to the counter to get it. She hand delivered mine and stood beside my table smiling. "Is there anything else I can get you?"
"No, this looks fine. Thank you."
"Ok, but if you need anything at all, just let me know."
That's when the little devil guy that sits on my shoulder pipes in with, "Well now, Mr. Man, this is interesting." It's sure been a while since anything like this has happened. Am I reading something into this that isn't so?

"Dude, why are you even wondering about this? It's not Sandra Bullock so you know you're not going to do anything about it even if there's an opportunity there so just pretend, yes, she wants you bad, make believe you still got it and feel good about yourself."
And that's exactly what I did. When I finished my burger, I told Sharon thank you as I walked out the door. A couple of minutes later I was still smiling as I filled up my truck with gas. Yeah, baby, I still got it!
(Please click here for the first entry in this series.)

Phil the Vet

I bid adios to my brother-in-law, borrowed a Dr. Pepper from his fridge for later in the day and hit the road at 9:15. Before getting on the interstate, I stopped at Starbucks to trade an empty Starbucks coffee bag for a cup of fresh brewed. Add a slice of banana nut bread and you have the breakfast of champions! Total cost for breakfast - $2.08. Happy camper.

When I parked in front of the store, there was an older guy, obviously homeless, sitting on one of the outside chairs. Dirty, long stringy hair, bearded face, wearing two coats and a pair of gloves, he was busy waving his arms around and having an aggressive verbal argument with himself. As I got out of the truck and started walking toward the door, he stopped talking and waving his arms. As I passed him, with an upward nod of the head, he indicated hello like guys do with guys they don't know so I gave a responding nod. I expected him to ask for some spare change, but he didn't.

After I made it inside, I noticed he started back up with the arm movements and arguing and as I stood in line, I watched him  through the window. He would behave normally whenever somebody was coming in or leaving the store, but as soon as they got past, he would start again with the odd behavior. He seemed to be desperately trying to wipe something off himself and throwing it down to the ground. Several times he jumped up and vigorously rubbed invisible stuff off his legs then slowly sat back down.

I guess the young man that had made my coffee (Jerry, according to his name tag) noticed me watching the poor fellow and when our eyes met, he said, "That's Phil. He comes here every Sunday morning. I've never seen him any other time. He never bothers anybody and always sits outside. I don't know what's wrong with him, but he's a vet from one of the desert wars so I give him a cup of coffee and something to eat from the unsold food we were going to get rid of anyway."

After finishing my breakfast, I walked by the counter and told Jerry, "I'm a vet myself. Thanks for helping Phil." As soon as I started to open the door to leave, Phil became still and quiet again. "Hey," I said to him, "you ok?" "I'm ok," he replied, "I just got these bugs on me. I get them off, but they keep jumping back on me." "OK," I said. "So do you need a couple of bucks to get some medicine or something?" "No man, I'm good. I got breakfast and smokes and I got stuff hidden. Money won't get these bugs off of me. I don't need nothing."  "OK then. Take care."

He was the first homeless person I've ever encountered who didn't ask for money. In fact, he refused it when offered. I didn't know what to think about that. As I drove out of the parking lot heading south, Phil was once again standing up, wiping bugs off his legs.

(Please click here for the first post of this series.)

4 Month Anniversary - Alive!

The trip down to my overnight watering hole (my brother-in-law's home in Dallas) yesterday was pretty darn boring & uneventful. But that's how it is when you travel via the interstate highways. BFT ran great, the sound system sounds great, and all of the toys in her worked great. The seats could use a little more padding and be a little less firm according to my butt, but they're not too bad and they look really good. Gas mileage was almost 21 MPG, which isn't bad for a truck with a 5L V-8 under the hood, but at $3.72 a gallon, that's a dollar bill flying out of the window every 5 1/2 miles. I prefer to look at it as me doing my part to stimulate the economy. I'm doing it for you guys. At least Michael isn't charging me anything to crash at his house. The Hampton Inn in Kerrville where I'll be bedding down the next 4 nights won't be so nice.

After a good steak at Logan's last night, we watched a movie on pay per view (he had a coupon to get a movie for free that was about to expire so we HAD to use it!), "Unstoppable," which provided some decent action, but had parts that stretched the limits of believability a bit too much; then a few rounds of boxing on HBO accompanied by a serving of Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla ice cream (that's the heart healthy kind, right?). It's always fun to watch a couple of yo-yo's beat the crap out of each other. I would say it's a guy thing, but there were a good many women I saw in the audience getting in touch with their primitive side. We bid our goodnights around 11:00 PM, went to our respective rooms and dreamed of the good times I expect to have the next few days. Well, I did; I have no idea what he dreamed. 

I'll get back on the road shortly. There's a Starbucks just down the way by the interstate so I'll stop there for a cup of go-juice and maybe a slice of banana nut bread and spend a couple more hours driving south on I-35. Then I get to start having fun! 2-lane roads await me and I'm looking forward to seeing what's around the next bend. I'll let ya know what I find.

You may be wondering about the title of this blog entry. It was 4 months ago today that I had a massive heart attack and died - twice. That sure as hell feel's strange to say. I am so fortunate that both times I flat-lined, several very competent medical personnel were right there with the proper equipment to bring me back among the living. Four different doctors have told me that I'm a friggin miracle - over 90% of people who have as severe of a coronary as I did get to leave the hospital in a box. As I write this, it's 8:00 in the morning, just about the exact same time I suffered what I now refer to as "The Event."  I'm not only still above ground, but I'm probably healthier than I was when it happened. I have a lot to be thankful for and I'm very aware of that.

I'm not going to get all maudlin and Lord knows I'm not going to get preachy, but I've been asked by a number of folks if The Event changed my life. Dumb question, but very understandable. Of course dying changed my life! And what I learned is an old saying I wish everyone would take to heart - be happy while you're living for you're a long time dead.

And with that said, it's time for me to hit the road, crank up Willie Nelson and start singing along with him - On the road again...

(Please click here for the first post in this series.)

Kerrville Road Trip - Day 1 Morning

I always get a bit excited the night before a road trip and last night was no different. I woke up at 4:24, as in very early, as in everyone else in the world is still asleep, as in still dark time. I eased out of bed and with arms waving around in front of me in the total darkness, baby-stepped my way across the room and into the bathroom to get rid of last night's decaf. I repeated the same process back to bed and for once didn't run into a wall that had moved over a few inches during the night or trip over a discarded blouse or step on a shoe or fork or some other landmine the women in my life sometimes leave for my bare feet to discover in the dark. As I lay back down, I almost squished the little black wonder dog who had jumped up on the bed and was trying to claim my warm spot as her own. As I jerked back to keep from laying on her, I somehow managed to bark my shin on the bed frame. After mumbling a few choice words and rubbing my shin to magically make the intense pain subside to just a hurt, I put the dog back on the floor where she belongs, lay down and closed my eyes. The last thing I remembered before drifting off was the dog jumping back on the bed and curling up at my feet.

I awoke again at 7:27; started petting the Mamma-woman and said I love you to the dog. The only one even slightly interested in what I was doing was the dog so I hauled my butt out of bed and into the shower. Once again I was amazed at how good I can sing in there. After drying off and getting into some clean clothes, I noticed a pile of shorts on my side of the bathroom counter. A few seconds of confusion resulted, but all was cleared up when I decided I better check my packed bag and discovered I only thought I had packed shorts. A last minute check of everything, a quick bowl of heart-healthy Malt-O-Meal, a handful of medicine pills chugged down with left over coffee heated in the microwave, and I'm off!

Well, I thought I was off, but first I had to grab a rag and wipe all the kitty paw prints off BFT (Big Ford Truck). I wonder what little girl left the cats locked in the garage all night? And just how do kitty paws always seem to be so dusty they leave little tracks all over a vehicle? I know they wash their feet, I see them do it so how come my truck is covered in dusty kitty paw prints? Devil's spawn is what they are! But now all kitty traces are gone and as Willie starts singing "On the road again...," the cats, the dog, the house and my girls recede in BFT's rear view mirror. I'm outta here headed for the great unknown with a smile upon my face!


Road Trip Bucket List #1

U.S. 66 - Route 66; The Mother Road - Was there any doubt this would be THE number 1 pick for a road trip aficionado like myself? Only the storied history and mystique of this world reknowned route could beat out U.S. 83, "The Road To Nowhere" for number 1 on my Road Trip Bucket List.

Established November 11, 1926 making it one of the original U.S. highways, Route 66 served as a major avenue for those thousands of people who migrated west during the 1930's Dust Bowl. This migration helped established mom-and-pop roadside business such as service stations, restaurants, and motor courts which sprung up to service the motorists. In 1939, author John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath was published and help to popularize U.S. 66. It remained a major route west in World War II for people traveling to California for jobs manufacturing war materials. In the 1950's it served as the main road for vacationers going to Los Angeles. Probably one of, if not the most well known and popular routes in the world, Route 66 has been immortalized in a hit song written by Bobby Troup and sung by the likes of Nat King Cole, Chuck Berry, The Rolling Stones, The Manhattan Transfer, and DePeche Mode. It also starred in the Route 66 television series in the 1960's and is the setting for the popular animated movie "Cars."

Starting on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, the road used to travel 2,448 miles through 8 states and concluded in Los Angeles. But in 1956, President Eisenhower signed the Interstate Highway Act and the decline of Route 66 began. It was officially removed from the highway system on June 27, 1985 as it was decided the route was no longer relevant due to being replaced by the interstates. After decommissioning, some sections of the road became a business loop for the interstates, some became state roads, local roads, or were entirely abandoned.

In 1987, Arizona founded the first Route 66 Association and Missouri followed in 1989. Soon, the other states U.S. 66 passed through joined in with their own Route 66 Associations. Museums began to open, "Historic 66" road signs began to mark the road, some sections of the old road have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places and some have been named on the National Scenic Byways list. There are now many preservation groups trying to buy, restore, and save many of the old buildings and signs along the road. In 1999, President Bill Clinton signed into law the National Route 66 Preservation Bill which provides $10 million in matching funds for preserving and restoring historic features along the route. In 2008, the World Monuments Fund added Route 66 to its World Monuments Watch. This fund helped the National Park Service develop the Route 66 Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary.

With its popularity continuing to grow, there is more and more demand to add more road signs, repave long abandoned sections, and make it once again a continuous road from Chicago to Las Angeles. It is still not possible to drive the entire original Route 66, but with careful planning, a GPS, and a good guide book, most of the old route can still be taken. And that's exactly what I plan to do. I'll let you know what I find!

Road Trip Bucket List #2

U.S. 83 - Road To Nowhere - This one was so close to being number 1 on my list! One of the longest north-south highways in America at 1,885 miles, it begins in Brownsville, TX at the Mexican border and ends in Westhope, North Dakota at the Canadian border and in-between, it rarely is other than a 2-lane route through small town after small town and open spaces. Photography and people meeting opportunities are boundless. A few years ago, during spring, I traveled down U.S. 83 in mid-Texas for about 125 miles and found it a beautiful and relaxing experience. I'm really looking forward to seeing the whole route.

If you've never been to the Hill Country of Texas, you are missing one of life's pleasures in my opinion. Carrizo Springs, Crystal City, Leaky, Junction, Eden, Paint Rock - all small town America personified situated in a land of beauty during the spring when the wild flowers are blooming everywhere and U.S. 83 meanders right through them along with the miles of open land and farms in between them. Going on further north, the road manages to continue missing anything that might resemble a city, traveling on up through Ampermont, Paducah, Shamrock (where it intersects with Rt. 66), Canadian, Perryton and the miles of open plains of the Texas Panhandle. It doesn't get much better than this!

Leaving Texas, the road enters the Oklahoma Panhandle for a brief 37 miles, going through the towns of Beaver River and Bryan's Corner. Not much to say about the Oklahoma Panhandle except its real quick to get through going north-south.

Entering Kansas, 83 continues its straight north direction through several small towns and intersects Hwy 50, one of my other Bucket List Routes, at Garden City. There doesn't appear to be much of anything except boring, flat, open land for most of Kansas util about 3/4 of the way through the state when it passes by El Cuartelejo Pueblo Ruins, Chalk Pyramids (whatever those are), and Lake Scott State Park. Those 3 things are within about 30 miles of each other and then it appears to be typical Kansas until entering Nebraska between the towns of Oberlin and McCook.

Almost upon entering the home of the Corn Huskers, the land appears to become much prettier and interesting with numerous state parks, woods, and lakes along the way through the whole of the state. Some of the interesting places are Medicine Creek, North Platte, Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park, and the Nebraska National Forest. And I reckon I should stop and send my better half a Valentine card postmarked from Valentine. Men will do such things to earn brownie points from the wife you know.

The road enters South Dakota into the Rosebud Indian Reservation and travels through the towns of Mission and White River on its way to 1 of only 2 sections where it does not retain its 2-lane status. In the town of Murdo, U.S. 83 merges with Interstate-90 and for 20 miles, you go east until the town of Vivian where once again you go north on 2 lanes. Crossing the Missouri River, there are lots of miles of not much all the way to North Dakota where you enter just east of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. In the town of Sterling, about 23 miles east of Bismark, the route for the second and last time merges with an interstate, I-94, and passes through the largest collection of civilization along the whole stretch, Bismark. Leaving Bismark behind, the road is 4-lanes while passing by Ft. Clark, Cross Roads State Park, and picturesque Lake Audubon, reverting back to 2 just north of Minot after passing Minot Air Force Base and heading on up to the Canadian border.

83 goes on up into Canada so who knows, perhaps I'll see just how far north my Ford truck will take me.

Road Trip Bucket List # 3

U.S. 50 - Coming in at number 3 on my Road Trip Bucket List, at just over 3,000 miles in length, this major east-west coast-to-coast route starts in Ocean City, Maryland and ends in Sacramento, California. For the vast majority of it's length, it is truly a blue highway. Running through remote prairie settlements, rolling farmland, dying mining towns, deserts and mountains in the west, the section through Nevada is known as the loneliest road in America. It is the central most of the cross-country routes,  and probably the least known. In total, it passes through 12 states across the heartland of America.

From it's beginning in Ocean City, Maryland, U.S. 50 is the major route to Washington D.C. and varies from 2 lanes to 10 lanes wide as it gets there. It goes through Cambridge, crosses Chesapeake Bay, through Annapolis and into downtown D.C., turning into Constitution Ave. along the north side of the National Mall. As much as I know I'll look forward to seeing the east in my rear view mirror, I'll most probably stay here for a day or two to take in a couple of museums.

Heading into Virginia, I'll take a side trip to see the Manassas National Battlefield Park where on July 16, 1861, the first major land battle of the Civil War took place. From there I'll continue west into and through West Virginia before entering Ohio just past Parkersburg. Once in Ohio, this should be a rather pretty trip across the southern part of the state as it passes through and by numerous state parks and smaller towns until becoming Interstate 71 entering downtown Cincinnati and exiting the state by the Perfect North Slopes ski area.

I've never been to Indiana so I'm not sure what to expect. One little town I plan to stop in and at least take a picture of the town limit sign is Loogootee. Just can't pass up a town with a name like that. About 35 miles west of Loogootee (its fun to say, huh?), U.S. 50 enters Illinois just past Vincennes. Fortunately, the route doesn't get into any of the big cities until it becomes Interstate-435 and passes around the southern perimeter of St. Louis, Missouri. In Missouri, the route takes a gradual west-northwest angle up to Kansas City. Missouri will be the second new state I'll get to cross off my "States I've Never Been In" list. There's only 14 on the list now so it will be down to a dirty dozen after this.

Kansas is where I'm not sure whether to look forward to or not. I've been through Kansas coming up from the south via I-35 to I-135 and then I-70 over to Colorado. This route has the honor of being the most boring, God-awful drive I've ever had the misfortune to take. To make matters worse, I've actually driven it twice, coming back the opposite way from a different trip - like it was going to be more interesting coming the other way. It wasn't. But U.S. 50, after a few miles of being I-35 coming out of Kansas City, turns into a 4-lane and then 2-lane road after it splits from the interstate in Emporia and takes a gradual south-western route through Ft. Larned National Historical Site (supposedly the best preserved and best restored frontier fort in America,) Dodge City, Finney Wildlife Area & Bison Refuge and then enters Colorado 16 miles west of Syracuse.

Eastern Colorado won't be exactly a real exciting drive; it's just an extension of Kansas until you get to Pueblo, but that's where this route gets really interesting. If you've ever been to Colorado, you know how beautiful it is and Route 50 cuts right through the middle of it - Royal Gorge Bridge (1,053' above the river), Texas Creek, Salida (where I was once caught in a snow storm and had a snowball fight - on the 4th of July!), Poncha Springs, Monarch Pass (11,312' elevation), along the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument, Montrose, and northwest through Grand Junction. There will be a whole lotta picture taking through here and it will probably take a while to get through the state due to all the stopping and giving thanks for the beauty of the landscape.

Coming into Utah, one of my favorite states for vacationing, U.S. 50 merges and becomes I-70 and remains an interstate until over half-way through until arriving in Salina. I'm not feeling much enthusiasm for this stretch, but I have an open mind.

Just a couple of miles after entering Nevada, the route goes by the Great Basin National Park, where I'll be sure to visit and get a stamp in my National Park Book. Just a few miles later comes Wheeler Peak at 13,063', and then the Ruth Copper Pit, one of the world's largest mining pits. Probably not pretty, but worth a looksee. Then, as it crosses the middle of the state, comes miles after miles of what Life magazine in July, 1986, named "The Loneliest Road in America." Crossing large, desolate areas with almost no sign of civilization and few other travelers, it still manages to encounter petroglyphs, ghost towns, alpine forests, desert valleys and goes through the state capital in Carson City and the resort town of Lake Tahoe before entering California from South Lake Tahoe.

In California, traveling west until arriving in Placerville, U.S. 50 is designated a State Scenic Highway. From Placerville, it's not that long of a drive to the end of the route in West Sacramento.

It will be a very interesting, but long trip and I'm sure I'll be ready to get back home and sleep in my own bed again. Time to put the white-line fever back in the box - at least for a while.

Road Trips - 5, 4...

Coming in 5th and 4th on my Road Trip bucket list are:

5. The Great River Road - This route follows along the Big Muddy, Old Man River - the mighty Mississippi as it cuts through the American landscape. Growing up, I read all of Mark Twain’s books several times each and dreamed of floating down the Mississippi. On this trip, I’ll be the modern version of Huck Finn.

Created in 1938 from a network of federal, state, and local roads, the Great River Road, commonly abbreviated to “GRR” was created in 1938 from a network of federal, state, and local roads to form one route along the Mississippi from headwaters to mouth. The GRR is supposed to be very scenic with farms, meadows, forests, limestone cliffs, cypress swamps, parks and wildlife refuges lining the road.  There are places along the route that will be a bit grittier with older industrial areas, suburban sprawl, strip malls, casinos, and franchise food joints, but for the most part it’s a two-lane blacktop road through towns other roads have forgotten, crossing and re-crossing the river, far off the beaten path. Off the beaten path – now that’s my kind of road!

At its southernmost point in Louisiana, the land and river begin to merge and you will actually be about 5 feet below sea level in New Orleans. I just might have to spend a couple of days here in one of my favorite cities, toast her with a Pat O’Brien’s Hurricane while visiting Bourbon St. one night and fill up on coffee and beignets the next morning at CafĂ© Du Monde on Decatur St in the French Quarter.

Between the St. Francisville ferry and the Interstate bridge west of New Orleans, the GRR crosses the river four times, traveling along back roads past huge live oak trees almost covered in Spanish moss and antebellum plantation homes along Plantation Alley.  Heading north, it proceeds through Vicksburg, where thousands of Civil War soldiers dressed in both gray and blue are resting in eternal sleep and where my great-great grandfather died while living in a cave in the bluffs above the river trying to dodge Yankee canon shot and musket balls. Vicksburg is rumored to be one of the most haunted areas in the world, with witnesses seeing the soldiers still marching and the sounds of bugles, shots and screams coming in the dark hours. Perhaps my relative is one of them. Maybe he’s upset his surviving family left his body there and came to Texas. Maybe I won’t sleep there.
The route next travels through the “The Delta,” the 250- mile-long home of King Cotton, between Vicksburg and Memphis. In addition to the Delta’s historical significance is its legacy as the cradle of musical styles from gospel, blues, and jazz to country and rock ’n’ roll.  On through Missouri, Iowa, and Illinois, through sandy floodplain and fertile prairie, small towns like Hannibal, the home town of Mark Twain and other communities generally forgotten by the hurry, hurry hustle and bustle of “modern” life.
Finally the Great River Road makes its way into Minnesota; through St. Paul and Minneapolis, over a few unpaved roads, through forest, tree farms, and hayfields. The end of the journey will be in Lake Itasca State Park.

It may not be a river cruise on the Delta Queen, but it sounds like fun to me.

4. U.S. Route 20 – The Oregon Trail – Another east coast to west coast route, this is the longest road in the Unites States, covering 3,365 miles.  It is one long, continuous road except through Yellowstone National Park (park roads do not have signage for U.S. numbered highways). The route begins in Boston at Kenmore Square (I’ll start there to ensure I start at the start, but trust me, I’ll be getting out of there as quickly as possible. If I didn’t have to be in Boston, I wouldn’t be) and ends in Newport, Oregon at its intersection with U.S Route 101 within 1 mile of the Pacific. The western end was originally at the eastern entrance of Yellowstone Park, but it was extended from the western side of Yellowstone in 1940.

In Massachusetts, a section of Route 20 runs north–south and is known as Jacob’s Ladder as it crosses the Berkshire Hills between Lee in Berkshire County and Chester in Hampden County.  In parts of eastern Massachusetts, Route 20 passes by Longfellow's Wayside Inn in Sudbury, the oldest continuously operated Inn in America. When Henry Ford purchased the Wayside Inn, he re-routed Route 20 to the south so that major traffic would bypass the inn.

On through New York, Pennsylvania, and into Ohio, my dear wife’s home state, Route 20 follows the southern shore of Lake Erie. Indiana and Illinois are 2 states I’m not really excited about going through because it switches from 2 lanes to 4 lanes and traverses rather large cities and industrialized areas. It is however, the main access road to Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, which might be worth a look-see. In Iowa, things start to get better as far as I’m concerned as the road reverts to 2-lane in Moorland and Iowa is not as crowded or as industrialized.

Route 20 crosses Nebraska across the northern half of the state. I’m looking forward to this segment because it passes through numerous small towns and the Department of Roads has noted it for its history and natural beauty.  I’ve driven through the southern part of Nebraska several times and natural scenic beauty is not something in my experience to associate with Nebraska – unless you feel rows and rows and miles and miles of corn, corn, corn are a natural beauty. Evidently the northern half of Nebraska is prettier than the southern half and if so, I’ll gladly revise my current thoughts about this bread-basket state.

I know I’m going to love Route 20 across Wyoming and Montana. My family and I had an absolutely wonderful vacation in Yellowstone N.P. a couple of years ago and spent 2 great days in Casper and guess where Route 20 goes through – yep, Casper and Yellowstone.  I’m excited to visit again. In Montana, the route is known as the Targhee Pass Highway. With the scenery I already know of in those states, a route called Targhee Pass Highway is something I’m looking forward to!

A few years ago, I spent almost a month working an assignment in Boise, Idaho. I liked Boise a lot. Really nice people, clean, and although the city itself isn’t tremendously pretty, just a few short miles out of town is some of the prettiest land I’ve ever seen. In Idaho, Route 20 travels through downtown Boise and goes to and through Rattlesnake Station, Anderson Ranch Dam Road, Cat Creek summit (5,527’), Sun Valley, Galena Summit, Picabo, Craters of the Moon, Big Lost River Valley, Atomic City, Blackfoot, and the Targhee Pass (7,072’).  Who could resist visiting towns and places with names like that?

Into the last state, Oregon, Route 20 continues going through beautiful country – the Oregon high desert, Bend, Santiam Pass, the Cascade Mountains, and finally terminates with at U.S. 101 in Newport.

This route and the east coast route are the only 2 on my list which I will seriously consider shortening and not travel the whole distance. From Arkansas or Texas, it’s a long, long drive up to the northeast and if you’ve been paying attention, you know I’m not fond of the northeastern cities. I may very well drive north and catch it when it enters Nebraska and head west.

Road Trips number 3 and 2 coming up in the next post.

Road Trips A Coming

Spring time and my thoughts are definitely turning to road trip! I'm thinking about taking a couple of days of vacation from work and heading down to the Texas Hill Country which in spring is just about the prettiest place on God's green earth. Kerrville and Fredericksburg sound good. A visit to Utopia.
For a while yet, I'll have to content myself with shorter trips like this. But once I retire in the not too distant future hopefully, the following eight multi-week road trips are planned.

8.  Atlantic Coast - I've got this one at number 8 simply because I've never been thrilled with the east coast. I'm sure that's due to my limited exposure to that side of our country and because I somehow have never had a good experience the few times I've been. Let's see - Navy boot camp in Orlando in July/August (boot camp was bad enough, but the heat, humidity and those damn love bugs were intolerable!), Boston (the most obnoxious, loud, rude people I've ever run across), New York City (the only people more obnoxious, loud, and rude than Boston - I saw with my own eyes an ambulance stopped to pick up an elderly woman ( I saw her on the gurney) and people were driving by screaming obscenities and giving the EMT guys the one-finger-salute because they were blocking one lane of the road - unbelievable.), New Jersey (nice people, but everything looked grimy and dirty), Philly (my 2nd best experience on the east coast), Buffalo (spent a long, cold winter there one week), and driving through Maine (nice folks, pretty, and without a doubt the best experience I've had in the east). I may never find the time to take this trip, but if I do, I'm hoping to see a whole different world from my previous experiences. From funky and fun Key West, FL. up through Miami, West Palm Beach, Daytona, Fountain of Youth, Savannah, Charleston, Roanoke Island, Fort Sumter, Kitty Hawk, Virginia Beach, Atlantic City, and on up to the Statue of Liberty. It will be a long, but hopefully very pleasant and informative trip.

7. U.S. Hwy 80 - This is number 7 on my list just because it's shorter, I've seen some of this route previously and it essentially terminates in Dallas very close to where I grew up and ran around as a teenager and young adult. I love my road trips because they take me places where I've never been, but I haven't been end to end on this one and some sections sound pretty interesting. U.S. 80 is an east–west highway, which mostly was once part of the Dixie Overland Highway. The "0" in the route number indicates it was originally a cross-country route, from the east coast to the west coast, but the western section past Dallas has been decommissioned with various interstates taking it's place. You can still see US 80 on some maps and see US 80 signs past Dallas, but it will be the same road as the interstate. The starting point in the east is in Tybee Island, GA at the Atlantic Ocean. It terminates with it's intersection with Interstate 30 at the city limits of Dallas and Mesquite.

6. U.S. Route 2 - another east-west route traveling 2,579 miles across the tippy top of the USA as well as some miles across the tippy bottom of Canada. It's the northern most east-west route in America. The eastern terminus is at it's intersection with I-95 in Houlton, Maine and travels through Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. It goes into Canada at it's intersection with US 11 in Rouses Point, NY and re-enters the US in St. Ignace, Michigan. It remains in America the rest of the way to the west coast, traveling through Ashland, Wisconsin (where my son did his Freshman year of college & couldn't wait to get back to Texas where it was warm!), Minnesota, North Dakota, through some of the most beautiful land in the state of Montana - through three Indian reservations and along the southern border of Glacier National Park, into Idaho and finally terminates in Everett, Washington. This route was originally known when it was under construction in 1919 as the Theodore Roosevelt International Highway and was intended to link Portland, Maine with Portland, Oregon. It was first commissioned in 1926.

I believe that's enough for today. Top 5 coming up next time!