Road Trip to Utah - part 2

After checking out of the Econo Lodge in Cortez, we backtracked the scenic 14 miles on Highway 160 to the entrance of Mesa Verde National Park. I had been to the park a couple of times previously, but my traveling buddy had not and I wanted my friend to see and experience it. Usually, I'm not big on going somewhere and seeing the same thing more than once - there's just too much of the wide, wide world to see before I shuffle off this mortal coil. However, Mesa Verde is different. I want to go back every time I find myself in this part of the country. Maybe it's some kind of subconscious connection or maybe I just like standing on the edge of the canyon wall wondering what it was like to live in the crevices of the cliffs. It's an awesome setting. It's peaceful.

The little orange spot you see
in the middle right is me,
enjoying peace and quiet on
the canyon rim.
Mesa Verde, Spanish for "Green Table,"  is where Ancestral Pueblo people made their home for over 700 years, from AD 550 to 1300. The Anasazi (Navajo word meaning 'ancient ones') and their descendants lived and flourished there, eventually building elaborate stone communities in the sheltered alcoves of the canyon walls. Why they built their homes in that manner is not known for sure; perhaps protection from enemies or shelter from harsh weather. Archeologists estimate there were about 2,000 people living in the communities. Then, for some unknown reason, within a space of 50 - 75 years, they all moved away and were lost to history. There are over 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings, located within the park.

The Anasazi used nature to their advantage by building their dwellings beneath the overhanging cliffs. Their basic construction material was sandstone that they shaped into rectangular blocks about the size of a loaf of bread. The mortar between the blocks was a mix of mud and water. Walls of thick, double-coursed stone often rose two or three stories high and were joined together into units of 50 rooms or more. The rooms averaged about six feet by eight feet, enough space for two or three people. Isolated rooms in the rear and on the upper levels were generally used for storing crops. Underground kivas, (ceremonial chambers) were built in front of the rooms.  The kiva roofs created courtyards where many daily routines took place.

Cliff ruins
As always, I thoroughly enjoyed the visit and my friend was very impressed and glad we took this little detour on our way to Utah. Our timing (mid-May) couldn't have been better as the weather was chilly, but not cold, clear air with beautiful blue skies and it was just before the high tourist season started so we had a lot of the sites and almost all of the short hikes we took all to ourselves. We ended up staying almost a full day and enjoyed every second. It was an amazing experience I'll not forget.

Shortly before the sun slipped behind the cliffs, we left the park and returned to Cortez via Hwy 160. After a quick bite to eat at Wendy's, we caught Hwy 491 going north and 2 hours later we arrived at the Bowen Motel in Moab, Utah. We actually stopped at several other motels in town, but didn't want to pay their outrageous prices. The Bowen was a bit older, but well-maintained, clean and a little cheaper than the other places so we settled in for the night.

We were surprised by how expensive the rooms in Moab were, but I guess it's a "destination" and there aren't that many rooms available. Neither of us are cheapskates, but it does bother me to pay more than twice the price we paid for a room the night before and it's not as nice. Supply and demand, I guess. However, the front desk person was nice and the room was clean so what the heck, it's only money. (Did I really just say that?)

We spent time that evening going over maps and brochures we had picked up and a Utah visitors book I had purchased from Barnes and Noble before we left on the trip. We decided to get an early start to hike a remote trail the next day so with that in mind, we made calls to our respective spouses to let them know we were still alive and turned in for the night - after I gave Mike my extra blanket and turned down the A/C to "meat locker" temp of course!

Parking lot of the Bowen Motel in Moab, UT

(go to part 1 here.)
part 3 will be posted 4/28/17

Road Trip to Utah - part 1

Early last summer, a good friend and I headed to Utah on our annual “Mancation.” Mancation is what we call a vacation taken together by 2 heterosexual men – leave the women-folk and children behind and go somewhere to do manly stuff. Having been married to our respective wives for lo these many years now and especially since we both retired, the women we belong to don’t seem to be very upset when we go on these sojourns. As a matter of fact, every few months they are kind enough even to strongly suggest it’s time for us to have another Mancation!

Having packed up the truck the night before, we left early on a Monday morning (yes, 8:30 is early for us. Hello - retired!) from his home in a suburb of Dallas, Texas. We drove almost 2 whole miles before deciding we were hungry and should eat breakfast before we hit those long, lonesome Texas roads. The next IHOP we came to took care of our hunger and with a coffee to go, off we were.
We made good time getting to Amarillo and caught Interstate-40 to keep going west at a good clip. Having not seen each other for several months the first couple of hours were spent in conversation talking about football, cars, what was going on in the kid’s lives, politics and complaining about getting old and the various ailments that come with that. Easy conversation between good friends, randomly jumping from one topic to the next and back again. Once on I-40, the mind-numbing sameness of the interstate gradually brought us both down from our beginning-a-trip adrenalin high. We fell into a comfortable quietness as we drove on and on, mile after mile through the flat, seemingly endless west Texas landscape.

Route 66 Motel in Tucumcari, New Mexico
475 miles and nine hours after leaving Dallas, we came to Tucumcari, New Mexico and decided that was far enough for one day. We found a very reasonably priced room at the Historic Route 66 Motel on Tucumcari Blvd. The decent-sized rooms were wonderfully retro with a 1950’s/1960’s vibe and very clean with comfortable beds, plenty of hot water for showers, a TV and a nearby restaurant that served good grub. What more could a couple of guys want?! Tired from driving all day, we turned off the lights at 10:00pm and crawled into our beds. The last thing said before we drifted off to sleep was, “These sheets smell good.” “Yeah, they do.” The next thing I knew, it was morning.
After checking out of the motel and a quick breakfast, we got back on I-40 still heading west. 175 miles later came Albuquerque, where we topped off the truck with gas and got a couple of large Cherry Limeades to go from that seemingly everywhere road trip fast food staple, Sonic. Excellent cups that keep their crunchy ice frozen and your drink cold for hours! I can't remember a road trip I've taken that didn't have multiple stops for drinks at Sonic.

Continuing west on I-40 for an hour outside of Albuquerque, we came to the town of Laguna on the Laguna Indian Reservation. The interstate takes a little dip to the south here whereas Route 66 continues almost in a straight-line west for a few miles. Just for something different to see, we decided to take Route 66 until it meets back up with I-40. To tell the truth, the scenery wasn’t much different, but the pace sure slowed down once we were on Route 66. Just being on “The Mother Road” seems to evoke a nostalgic feeling of yesteryear, a time we think of as being more innocent and better than the here and now. (check out our Route 66 trip here.)

Within a few miles, we entered the community of Casa Blanca, one of those middle-of-nowhere places populated by a few hard-working folks making it through life as best they can. Surprisingly, there was a Dairy Queen right there in the middle of nowhere so we decided to stop and give them some business. Dairy Queen is known for having decent, but not great food – food perfect for a quick stop along the way, but the burgers and fries we got were actually really good. The service was friendly, the place was clean – even the restroom smelled lemony-fresh. It was a nice stop.

While talking over our Dairy Queen burgers, we discovered neither of us had ever seen Shiprock (the mountain, not the town) in person, which we had both heard about and seen in old west movies and we were less than 200 miles from it. Looking at the map, we decided instead of going up NM-170 out of Farmington into Colorado, we would stay on NM-64 to the town of Shiprock and then head south-southwest from there to the mountain. On Mancation, we usually have an ultimate destination, but no time limit to get there and the route and things to see along the way are open to whatever strikes our interest so this decision fit right in. Unfortunately, we ran into a little bit of unwanted excitement on this particular detour.

Here comes the dust!
All was good until just after we passed through the town of Shiprock. While driving along minding our own business, out of nowhere came an epic dust storm, a dust storm like neither of us had ever seen before. We could see it coming toward us, but we were still shocked at the intensity as all that sand came barreling in on howling winds. We kept going, but had to slow down to creep speed. Many cars and a lot of big trucks pulled off to the side of the road. For mile after mile, the sand obscured our vision and the wind blew so hard it felt like our truck would be blown off the road. Eventually it died down and through the gloom in the distance we could see our target.

We had to turn off the highway onto a smaller road and then onto a rough Navajo Indian Reservation dirt road. We saw no one else, not a car, not a person, not even a horse for several miles as we travelled down this almost-washed-out path of a road. The landscape was of a huge, wide-open, stark place. There were no trees to break up miles and miles of nothing much, but there was a stark beauty about it. I've always appreciated land like this and found it to be awe inspiring and conducive to quiet introspection.

Geographically speaking, Shiprock is a monadnock, a term meaning "a mountain or rocky mass that has resisted erosion and stands isolated in an essentially level area." The term perfectly describes Shiprock. After watching it for what seemed like forever as it got closer and bigger in our windshield, we finally made it to the wide base. After coming to the end of the dirt road, we had to park and walk a few minutes to get up to the huge fragmented rock that rises 1,583 feet above the flat plain. Standing at the base ensures you feel very small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things.


Along the way, we saw 6 young native-Americans in a group sitting on a couple of jutting rocks, a couple of girls and 4 boys. They kept staring at us, not smiling, as we were passing by within about 50 yards of them. Here we were, 2 white dudes with a couple of nice expensive cameras around our necks on their land, far from anywhere in a very desolate area with nobody else around for miles. I’m not embarrassed to admit we were a bit nervous. About the time we got even with their position though, one of the girls smiled and waved and a couple of the guys gave friendly nods of their heads and none of them made any moves toward us so it seemed ok to go on. I think they were just having fun with "the white tourists." We rounded an outcrop of rock and after walking around exploring for about an hour, we came back the same way and they were gone. We never saw any cars or horses or any other way for them to arrive at such a lonely, out-of-the-way place, but they were nowhere to be seen. Very strange, but just another Mancation adventure on the road!

Shiprock as the sandstorm calmed
After carefully and slowly making our way back down the very rutted dirt road to pavement, we headed north on Hwy 491. This used to be the infamous Hwy 666, known as "The Devil's Highway" and "Highway to Hell." Considered to be one of the most famous roads in North America, the whole 200 miles of it is reputedly very haunted. Strangely, until the Highway Department changed the number from 666 to Hwy 491 in 2003, there was a much higher than average number of accidents and deaths that occurred on this stretch that no one has ever been able to explain. After the numbers were changed, the number of accidents and deaths immediately dropped to coincide with the national average. Some say the high number of accidents and deaths occurred because of the evil that was rumored to reside on and around the road. Many say after the renaming, the drop in accidents and deaths was because individuals no longer experienced the psychological fear that something bad would happen to them while traveling down a highway numbered 666. Some, though, claim the number 491 fails to lure the same evil spirits that are said to lurk along this highway in the same manner that the number 666 does.
 
(file photo)
Fortunately, nothing untoward happened to us even though we didn't make it to Cortez, Colorado until after dark. We found an Econo Lodge that had a room with 2 beds at a good (read "cheap") rate with a Denny's right across the street. Plenty good enough for a couple of tired guys who just wanted some food, a shower to get the sand washed off  and a safe place to get a few hours sleep. After checking in, we walked across the street and had breakfast for supper. Not the best food I've ever had, but not bad either and it filled the hole in my tummy.
After showers, we crawled in our beds and turned off the lights. Can't tell you if the TV worked cause we never turned it on.

The next morning we jogged across the street to Denny's again for a biscuit & gravy and sausage breakfast. We were served by Deedee, a cute young lady with several of the top buttons on her uniform open. She certainly knew how to smile and "friendly flirt" with a couple of past-their-prime, road tripping guys in order to get a good tip. The service was attentive, the interaction was fun and the food was good. After Deedee provided us with coffee's-to-go, we left a generous tip and headed toward our next stop - Mesa Verde National Park.

(continue to part 2)

Tragedy in New London


The New London school before the explosion
(historical photo)
In 1937, the New London school district in Texas was one of the richest rural school districts in America due to income from the oil and natural gas fields surrounding the small town. Over 10,000 derricks surrounded the area; eleven of them operating on the school grounds itself. That income enabled the building of a beautiful, 2-story, modern, steel-framed building where kindergarten through 11th grade classes were held. Just before the 1st day of spring that year, the school would become the site of the most heart-wrenching school day in America’s history.

On March 18th, at 3:17pm,the older students were in their last class, minutes away from the last bell. The children in kindergarten through 4
th grade had already been dismissed for the day. The PTA was meeting in the gym as L. R. Butler, the instructor of manual training, turned on a sanding machine in the shop room under the building. Unfortunately, there had been a slow, but prolonged gas leak from a 2-inch pipe. At that time, no one had thought to add a noxious smell to gas to enable detection of it so even though it had accumulated in a large pocket, it had been undetected because it was colorless and odorless. When Mr. Butler turned on the switch, an electrical spark ignited the gas which had accumulated in an enclosed 253-foot long by 56-foot wide space beneath the basement floor.

Minutes after the explosion
(historical photo)
The explosion was so massive that it lifted the concrete floor and the entire building into the air. When it crashed back down, the walls collapsed and the roof fell in. Bricks, steel beams and huge pieces of concrete rained down on the students and adults trapped in the classrooms. So powerful was the explosion that it was heard over 4 miles away and it threw a 2-ton piece of concrete through the air for more than 200 feet where it demolished someone’s new Chevrolet.

Stunned parents at the PTA meeting ran
to the school building and began frantically digging through the massive mound of ruble screaming for their children buried underneath. As word of the disaster quickly spread, the town’s residents came running with shovels and rakes. Roughnecks from the oilfields rushed to the school with heavy-duty equipment. Police, including members of the Highway Patrol and Texas Rangers arrived and pitched in to help.
It began to rain as darkness set in, but floodlights were set up and the workers continued digging through the rubble looking for victims all night. There were a few miracles as a survivor would be dug out of the rubble, but mostly, the heart-breaking screams of anguished parents were heard over and over as workers pulled another lifeless body of a child from the debris and it was identified.

It took seventeen hours for all the victims to be recovered. Garages, churches and even the roller rink were all used as makeshift hospitals and morgues. Of the 500 students and 40 teachers, school employees and visitors in the building, 294 had died that day. Another 17 severely injured victims died in the days and weeks following the explosion bringing the total number to 311.
Killed in blast
Male
Female
Total
5th Grade
26
42
68
6th Grade
33
54
87
7th Grade
17
17
34
8th Grade
12
19
31
9th Grade
7
4
11
10th Grade
9
7
16
11th Grade
13
10
23
Teachers
3
13
16
Other
5
3
8
Totals
125
169
294
There were many horror stories. One family lost all three of their children; one mother could positively identify her ten-year-old’s body only because the little girl, while playing dress-up the night before, had used a crayon to color her toenails red. A set of twins was found lying next to each other, the boy’s arm in death reaching toward his sister. The youngest victim was only 4 years-old. He had been excited to accompany his mother on a visit to see his big sister’s class.
As the last of the debris was being removed from the site, a blackboard was found beneath a large concrete block. The message the teacher had written that day was still legible – “Oil and natural gas are East Texas’ greatest mineral blessings. Without them this school would not be here and none of us would be here learning our lessons.”
Within two months, the Texas Legislature passed a law requiring refiners to add a scent to odor-free natural gas. Today, because of the familiar stink of a chemical called mercaptan, another tragedy like New London will never happen again.


 

 


Postcard From Dobyville Ghost Town


Ghost towns are places where people lived and dreamed and died. They tell the stories of lost lives and abandoned dreams. Often times, the only thing left of an abandoned town is the graveyard. Such is the fate of Dobyville, Texas.

In the state of Texas, there are over 46,000 known cemetery's. No one knows how many others have been lost and forgotten. Time, weather, and vandals destroy the markers. People a generation or two removed from those buried move away and, over time, cannot be bothered to keep up the grounds. Weeds and brush eventually reclaim the land and erase any sign that people were buried there. Sometimes forgotten graves of those gone before us are bulldozed and paved over with highways and subdivisions.

Some of the known cemetery's are well-kept lush parks with mowed green grass, tall shade-trees and water fountains gurgling. Many others though are barren and desolate; quiet places offering stark reminders of our mortality. The Dobyville Cemetery is much closer to the latter than the former. The settlement of Dobyville was established in the 1850's by pioneers who wrestled the land from the Comanche Indians. By the late 1800's, Dobyville had dozens of residents and a post office, a cotton gin and grist and syrup mills. It also had a school, the Lone Star School, with 1 teacher for its 56 students.

WW II soldier killed in action near the
end of the war
Hard times and the hard limestone underlying the ground began to make it too hard to earn a living and the town began to decline in the early 1900's. Better job opportunities became available in larger cities and better roads made it easy to get away. The post office closed in 1900 and the school consolidated with the Lake Victor school district in 1921. In the 1940's there were few residents to take part in the community spring rabbit drive. The annual community event took place on a Saturday in late March or early April and families would gather for a day of hunting and picnicking, but by 1949, only a few scattered houses marked the community on county highway maps. Only a cemetery remained by the 1980s.

Although still active, the Dobyville Cemetery is a typical quiet, country resting place where love ones, recent and from years past, rest in eternal peace. Few people know about this place and drivers on U.S. Highway 281 will speed past it without seeing, without knowing that here lies people who lived their lives, dreamed their dreams, loved and were loved, laughed and cried and at one time, were important to someone.
Baby's grave - always sad to see

Another child's grave. RIP little one















Postcard from Graceland

You know how sometimes you hear stories about a thing or person for years and you begin to build it up in your head until it's pretty much larger than life? Then when you actually see it or meet the person, you suffer major disappointment. I'm afraid such was the case with me and Graceland.

I'm not a huge, go-nuts fan of Elvis; never have been. A long time ago, there was a girl I wanted to impress and since she was an Elvis fan, I bought a couple of expensive tickets for us to see the King of Rock 'n Roll in person when he came through town. He came out to the strains of Richard Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra" – the theme from Stanley Kubrick's 2001 and began singing. The crowd went wild, especially the girls. I looked around confused. He sang a few songs then wiped his sweaty face with a white towel and threw it to the audience in our direction and this rather quiet, sedate young lady I was with turned into some kind of ferocious, get-in-my-way-and-you-die primeval beast! She got that towel and I became a little bit scared. She hung on to that thing for the rest of the night, guarding it like a mother bear with a cub. The concert was pretty good and my mission was accomplished as she was duly impressed. We didn't last, but I have no doubt she still has that towel.

Of course I had heard about the home of Elvis, the mansion known as Graceland; the rooms, the grounds, the parties that went on there. After his death, it became in my mind a sort of shrine, a bigger-than-life edifice. A while back, my daughter, who knows about Elvis but is not a big fan either, for some reason wanted to visit Graceland. The wife wanted to go also, so what the heck, let's do it.

Living Room
We arrived in Memphis on a Thursday evening with tickets for Graceland the next day. We drove by it on the way to our hotel and I have to say, it certainly didn't look like much from the street. Even the surrounding area was past its prime. The street in front, Elvis Presley Boulevard, was full of potholes and needed repaving. Not a good first impression.

I'm not sure exactly what I expected, but the next day, we parked in a lot & took a van across the street to the house. After waiting until our ticketed time, we were escorted inside. I guess I had expected the rooms to be large and ornate rather than the small, shag-carpeted glitzy kitsch-filled rooms most of them are. I'm sure they were cool back-in-the-day when Elvis was there and I'm also sure I had built the place up in my mind so much that anything less than spectacular was bound to be a bit disappointing for me. The house is over 17,000 square feet with 23 rooms, but throughout the tour of the rooms we were allowed to see, I just could not get over how small they were.

The TV Room. Yes, that's a strange
monkey on the table.
The 13-acre grounds were rather impressive and the Trophy Building where all of his jumpsuits, gold records, movie posters and awards were on display was very impressive. I spent more time there than I did in the mansion itself. His airplane, named Lisa Marie, was also cool to go through. The Meditation Garden, where Elvis, his parents, and grandmother, Minnie Mae Hood Presley, are buried is very nice and serene. Visitors are usually naturally quiet when visiting. Across the street is a museum of Elvis memorabilia that is certainly worth visiting. And of course, there is also a gift shop where you can purchase all sorts of Elvis-related souvenirs and mementos.

The kitchen where Elvis had his fried peanut
butter & banana sandwiches made
In spite of the disappointment over the rooms, the visit was worth the price of the ticket (at the time of this writing - $47.50 for adults, $42.75 for seniors and students, $22.50 children 7-12) if it doesn't put a strain on your budget, mostly just because it's cool to be there and tell your friends you have.

One place I would not recommend eating at is Marlowes Ribs and Restaurant on Elvis Presley Blvd. Our experience seems to be in the minority though as the place gets a number of good reviews. This is supposed to be one of Elvis' favorite places to eat, but if it was, they must have served him a lot better food than we were. My wife's plate of sliced beef was nothing but a big glob of fat and my daughter's chicken tenders were served cold. When we complained and sent them back, the waiter acted like we were being entirely unreasonable and a pain in his neck. A different waiter brought them back a while later and apologized, but the wife's brisket was still half fat and rather gross. Plus the place is in an area where we didn't feel very safe after dark. You may very well have a totally different experience than we did, but we'll never go back there.

The infamous Jungle Room
So go to Graceland, get your picture taken in front of the famous gates, and enjoy your visit, just don't go expecting it to be the Taj Mahal!

Marlowes







Inside Marlowes




The Texas Munster's Mansion

In these days of cookie-cutter houses in boring subdivisions, there are a few folks who are determined to be different. Take the McKee family for instance. To say they are fans of the old TV show The Munsters would be a bit of an understatement. And when it came to their family home, they certainly thought outside of the coffin!

Just outside the town of Waxahachie, Texas, the McKees built a near perfect modern replica of the Munster's mansion. Since there are no specifications for the TV mansion, the McKees watched all 70 episodes of the series multiple times to come up with what they wanted. Theirs is not as run-down and creepy, but it does have a dungeon, an electric chair in the living-room, a secret passageway, a revolving bookcase and a fire-breathing dragon named Spot under the stairway.

Each October, the McKees open their home and host a Halloween party with proceeds going to local charities. Al Lewis (Grandpa) and Butch Patrick (Eddie) have attended past parties. The rest of the year, the house is viewable from the street. It is the McKees' home so keep in mind and respect that it is private property. To see 1313 Mockingbird Lane, go to the actual address 3636 FM 813, Waxahachie, Texas.



 

Buried In A Ferrari


There are fascinating cemeteries all over America. A walk through any one of them can be like a living history lesson, taught by those who preceded us and who know where we are all headed. Some cemeteries have given rise to legends of hauntings and curses, while others are of interest simply for the offbeat tombstones to be discovered in them. Each of these tombstones tells a story and every graveyard we whistle as we pass by offers reminders of life’s triumphs and tragedies to anyone who takes the time to read the inscribed words. Sometimes they are words of warning or advice. Some tell tales of earthly woe, while others are actually lighthearted and inspiring.
(public photo)
Many “tombstone tourists” are interested in visiting the resting places of famous people or places which have interesting stories attached to the dearly departed. An interesting story is what has drawn thousands of visitors to the grave of Sandra West in the Alamo Masonic Cemetery on Center Street in San Antonio, Texas.
Sandra was a Beverly Hills socialite and the wife of wealthy Texas oil tycoon Ike West when he died in January 1968.  After she inherited over $5 million (almost $36 million in 2017 dollars), she had the family lawyer draw up her will and in that will, she requested to be buried wearing a lacy nightgown inside her favorite powder-blue 1964 Ferrari “with the seat slanted comfortably.”

(public photo)
For the next 9 years, Sandra partied and lived large with the rich and famous in Hollywood, going through almost half of her inheritance. The excesses of her life style reportedly affected her health and she died in 1977 of an overdose of prescription pills. Upon her death, it was revealed that her brother-in-law, Saul West, was to receive $2 million if he saw to it that her wishes for burial were honored. If he did not, he would only get $10,000. Her brother-in-law went to court fighting the demand, but after a judge ruled the will valid and in force, Saul suddenly decided to carry out her wishes.

1964 Ferrari 250GT - worth about
$2 million in 2017
Two months after her death, embalmed Sandra and her prized Ferrari were flown to San Antonio to prepare for the unconventional burial next to her husband’s grave at the historic cemetery. A large wooden box 6 feet by 8 feet by 17 feet was constructed. One end was left open and the Ferrari was driven into it. The engine was turned off and the keys were left in the ignition. An undertaker dressed Sandra in a lacy, semi-transparent white nightgown and after the driver’s side seat of the Ferrari was reclined, she was placed on it. The box was sealed and hauled to the grave site on a flat-bed truck. On May 18, 1977, with 300 people looking on, a large crane lowered the box into a hole measuring 10 feet wide, 19 feet long and 9 feet deep. After being place in the middle of the hole, a redi-mix truck buried the whole thing in 2 feet of concrete to discourage grave robbers.

Over 300 onlookers watched the burial
proceedings. No family members were present.
Husband and wife are spending eternity side by side in section 1-2 of the cemetery.  Sandra's simple grave marker doesn’t give a clue to what is underneath.
 

 

Postcard From Fort Concho


Fort Concho Parade Grounds
Fort Concho, located in what is now the middle of San Angelo, Texas, was built in 1867 to protect settlers when the area was still subject to Indian attacks. The fort was actively used until it was decommissioned on June 20, 1889.

The original plans called for the construction of 40 buildings situated on 40 acres with a large, open parade ground in the middle. When the first soldiers began trying to construct the buildings with pecan wood as planned, they found the wood to be too hard and difficult to work with so they switched to using adobe bricks. However, none of the soldiers had any experience with making adobe bricks so they were mighty disappointed when almost 2 months of hard work making bricks and starting to construct buildings with them proved to be wasted when the bricks literally melted in a heavy rain storm. It was finally decided to use sandstone from several nearby quarries and to import stone masons from the town of Fredericksburg. 
Original ruins along Officer's Row
Once the Indians had been effectively removed from the area, the fort was decommissioned and abandoned and the buildings fell into disrepair. During this time the first reports of unexplained activity began to be heard - mysterious lights floating in and around the buildings even though nobody was there; the sound of horse's marching in the night, vague men's voices shouting commands. Before long, nobody would go near the ruins after the sun set.

In 1935, the city was able to purchase the old fort and began to save the 23 buildings deemed to be salvageable and started reconstruction of the other 17 from old photos and the layout of the ruins.  And something strange began to happen. The workers told of tools left overnight that disappeared with no trace only to mysteriously reappear several days later in the same exact spot where they had been left. In 1961, Fort Concho was declared a National Historic Landmark. Once the buildings were opened to the public, people began reporting ghostly activities mainly in 3 of the buildings; the fort's headquarters, the officers' living quarters, and the fort chapel.

The current site of the visitor center and
museum is the area where the ghost of
Sergeant Cunningham is often seen.
Although the soldiers posted at Fort Concho were active participants in several battles against Indians and Comanchero's (Mexican and American traders conducting illegal profiteering, kidnapping and looting), the battles all took place in the surrounding area and the fort was never itself attacked. Due to this, there was only one casualty recorded in the fort.
Second Sergeant James Cunningham, a hard-core alcoholic, did not die in battle, but rather from cirrhosis of the liver. Despite his nightly drinking, he had managed to report for duty each morning and was by all reports, a good soldier who was well liked by his fellow soldiers. Unfortunately, the alcohol finally caught up to him and upon being informed by the post doctor that he had only a few months to live, he was removed from active duty. A few weeks later, Sergeant Cunningham returned to the fort and requested he be allowed to spend his last days at the headquarters so he could be with his colleagues and friends, the only family he had. His request was granted. Six weeks later, he died in his sleep. A uniformed soldier has been seen walking near and even inside the old fort headquarters which has been converted into a museum. In nearly all cases, the apparition appears for only a few seconds, but the smell of whiskey will linger. Witnesses who see the ghost consistently pick out an old photograph of Sergeant Cunningham, apparently still hanging around the last earthly home he knew.
Reconstructed Officer's Row
Benjamin Grierson, the regimental commander of the 10th Calvary, lived on Officer’s Row with his wife and young daughter, Edith. Shortly before Edith's 12 birthday, she became very ill and died in the upstairs bedroom. Since the building was restored, many people have told of seeing a young girl sitting on the floor of an upstairs bedroom quietly playing jacks. The game was known to be Edith's favorite and her grieving parents placed a cloth sack containing a small ball and jacks in her coffin before her burial. The bedroom where she is seen was the exact room in which the little girl breathed her last. The apparition usually appears to be oblivious to anyone who sees her, but occasionally she will look up and smile before slowly vanishing. Visitors often state that room is colder than any other even when no ghostly visitor is seen.

Colonel Ranald MacKenzie
(historical photo)
Colonel Ranald MacKenzie was the commanding officer of the fort when it was decommissioned.  In letters and records, Colonel MacKenzie often stated Fort Concho was one of his favorite duty stations. In fact, Colonel MacKenzie retired as the fort was decommissioned and he elected to remain, living in his home on Officers' Row until he died several years later. One December several years ago, a female staff member was working in the Mackenzie house preparing for a Christmas event. She said she heard footsteps behind her and turned to see who was there, but just as she turned, she was pushed up against the wall by a strong hand and felt a blast of cold air. Seeing nobody in the room with her, the frightened woman stood there for several seconds trying to make sense of what had just happened when she heard the sound of knuckles cracking. Before she could bolt from the room, a misty, almost transparent figure of a man in soldier's uniform materialized in front of her. It seemed to somehow be floating just above the floor and as the woman looked down, she noted the apparition seemed to be invisible below the knees. As abruptly as it appeared, the misty man disappeared. Colonel Mackenzie had been known for the habit of cracking his knuckles. There was no doubt the lady staffer had come face to face with the fort's last, and perhaps forever, commander.
The 3rd building where unexplained things happen is the chapel. The chaplain, George Dunbar, was said to be a very devout Christian, a loving, devoted husband, and a dedicated father to his 6 children, all of whom lived with him at the fort. He was known to get so involved in his sermons that his voice could be heard across the fort on Sunday mornings shouting that week's message of God. After several years at Fort Concho, the chaplain was transferred to Fort Sill. It was unsafe for his wife and children to accompany him however as Fort Sill was often being attacked by Indians. His family was allowed to stay at Fort Concho until it was safe for them to travel to Fort Sill. On the morning he left, George promised them he would return. Several months had passed when a messenger arrived one day with sad news from Fort Sill. While under attack by a large group of Comanche’s, one of the soldiers inside the fort had been mortally wounded. As he lay dying, Chaplain Dunbar ran to his side and began praying over him. While comforting the dying soldier, the chaplain was himself killed. He was eventually brought back to Fort Concho where his wife claimed the body and a proper burial was conducted. Today, visitors and staff report hearing a loud and powerful male voice delivering a sermon. There have also been sightings of a soldier in uniform kneeling in prayer inside of the chapel.  Occasionally, a female voice is heard accompanying the male voice, speaking quietly, perhaps in prayer. The staff likes to think this is the good chaplain's wife, the two of them spending eternity together.

On the day I visited Fort Concho, there were only a couple of people walking around the grounds. I made my way to the gift shop and since I was the only visitor, I struck up a conversation with the male staff member working there. After discussing the history of the fort for a while, I brought up the rumors it was haunted. At first reluctant to talk about it, he finally told me they were not supposed to discuss it as it often made people uncomfortable. He did tell me he hated to be the only one at the fort after dark and that many of the staff members simply refused to stay after the sun went down. I said, "So the ghost stories are true then?" He replied, "I wouldn't say this place is haunted, but I will say that I and a lot of the other staff have at one time or another personally experienced something not easily explained. It's just really spooky around here in the dark."
Floating balls of lights, the sounds of horses being rode as if in a parade, men's voices in the middle of an empty parade ground, and even an occasional unexplained loud boom as if a ceremonial cannon has been fired are still heard today. There were no large battles with horrible loss of life at the fort, no unsolved ghastly murders, no desecrated burial grounds, so It is unknown why Fort Concho seems to be haunted. Perhaps not all ghosts are tortured souls unable to cross over. Perhaps Fort Concho simply was the place of good memories for the dearly departed and it is where they are content to spend eternity. Only they know for sure.

Paisano Pete – World’s Former Largest Roadrunner

Located in the center of Fort Stockton, Texas on the corner of Main and Dickenson, is Paisano Pete, one of the most recognizable roadside attractions in the southwest. Before we get to that though, let’s talk about the Old Spanish Trail.

The history of the Old Spanish Trail is as varied as the areas it crosses on its journey from Jacksonville, FL to San Diego, CA. In Texas, the OST has had many routes, but by 1921 a predominantly southern route from Orange to San Antonio to El Paso had been formalized. In the 1930s, Fort Stockton had three US highways converging just east of its busy downtown; US 290, US 67, and US 285. In the middle of this convergent where the 3 historic highways met was a small, wasted triangle of dusty land.  Travelers on the OST passed right by this very spot. In 1980, not wanting to let this small patch of land go unused, Fort Stockton built Paisano Pete, the world’s largest roadrunner statue, and placed him there where travelers could easily see him. Although Pete never brought smiles to the Old Spanish Trail travelers back in the day, he is located on the historic route of the OST through Fort Stockton. Today, visitors are encouraged to take a picture with Paisano Pete and thousands of them have done just that.
The scrap metal roadrunner
For 13 years, Pete was the World's Largest Roadrunner. At 22 feet long and 11 feet tall, he's still pretty big, but in 1993, a replica of a roadrunner 20 feet tall and 40 feet long was constructed out of junk at the Las Cruces, New Mexico landfill. That replica began rusting and falling apart over the years until 2011 when the artist who built it stripped it down, brought it back to his home and began replacing the rusting junk with thrift store rejects and scrap metal salvaged from the Las Cruces recycling center (it has eyes made from Volkswagen headlights.) Between 2011 and 2014 when the New Mexico roadrunner was placed back in public view at a roadside rest stop, Pete once again held the title of World’s Largest Roadrunner.
Paisano Pete
Even though Paisano Pete is now the world’s former largest roadrunner, he is still the most famous. If you find yourself in Fort Stockton, be sure to stop and get your picture taken with Pete. It's tradition!
Of course my daughter had her picture
taken with Paisano Pete!