Thursday, February 9, 2012

Back Roads: Sherwood, Texas

Because of cooler weather, Donna and I have been staying inside lately. We needed to get out, so we decided to take a road trip to some spots in the general area.

We started by purchasing 2 hamburgers and some tea from a local fund drive for the area food bank at the Farm Bureau building. We grabbed our burgers and headed out US 67 a few miles southwest of town to a park on the shores of Twin Buttes Lake. Years ago, we owned some acreage in the Dove Creek subdivision across the lake. In those days, the lake was pretty full. Today, it is down to about 6% capacity and holds nearly 12,000 acre feet of water. We parked and enjoyed our burgers while surveying the landscape and the spotty lake.

Twin Buttes Reservoir with dam in background
Twin Buttes is formed by 2 rivers and 2 creeks: the South Concho River, the Middle Concho River, Dove Creek, and Spring Creek. With the drought still strong, though, very little water is flowing in most of these waterways.

Boat Ramp to Nowhere
After lunch, we continued out US 67 for several miles before taking a side road. The road crossed Spring Creek at a low-water crossing, then continued on to the old community of Sherwood. Spring Creek is a fairly constant flow creek, and farmers built aqueducts in the old days to use water from the creek to irrigate their fields.

Low water crossing over Spring Creek just outside of Sherwood
Sherwood was founded in 1886, and soon became the county seat of Irion County. The stone courthouse was constructed in 1901. However, as often happened in the early days of the railroad, the tracks bypassed Sherwood and instead went through the newer community of Mertzon a few miles to the southwest. Over time, Mertzon became the county seat and Sherwood faded away. The town is still remembered, though, as one of the busiest commercial streets in San Angelo is named Sherwood Way.

Courthouse in Sherwood was constructed in 1901
We drove a bit through Mertzon, a town we passed through often when we lived in Ozona years ago and would shop in San Angelo. Home to almost 800 people, there is not much in Merton. The courthouse stands atop a hill to the west of the highway, all alone up there as all businesses are located along the highway 2 or 3 blocks to the east. The school is located even beyond the courthouse.

The headwaters for Spring Creek are west of Mertzon, and there is always good water in the creek on the eastern edge of town.

Spring Creek, upstream from low-water crossing on the eastern edge of Mertzon
From Mertzon, we headed back to San Angelo by way of FM 853, which runs first north from Sherwood, then curves back due east. Just before the curve east, the highway crosses the Middle Concho River on a low-water crossing.

Middle Concho River, looking downstream. It's difficult to see, but there is a pool of water in the distance.

The Middle Concho is probably the driest waterway in the San Angelo area. Even in good years, the flow is not steady. However, early day travelers did use it to travel west. By following the river, they could find pools of water and good wood for several days of travel. Legendary Charles Goodnight followed the Middle Concho as he trudged west with herds of cattle towards Castle Gap and Horsehead Crossing on the Pecos River. Lonesome Dove, perhaps Larry McMurtry's greatest work, was based on the exploits of Goodnight and his friend and partner, Oliver Loving. It was during one of these trips that Loving and "One Arm" Bill Wilson road ahead to Ft. Sumner to start accepting bids for the herd; during the ride, they were ambushed by Comanches and Loving was wounded. He lost an arm to gangrene, and later lost his life from complications resulting from the wound. Goodnight took his friend's body back to Weatherford, Texas, where he was buried in Greenwood Cemetery. This incident forms the basis for McMurtry's epic story.

There is not much to see along Highway 853. It's almost like stepping back in time. There are few houses, probably fewer than 20 altogether if that many, and little traffic other than some gravel trucks running back and forth from a dig in the area. The old community of Arden is located about halfway between Mertzon and Angelo. The area was first settled by sheep rancher John Arden in about 1876. A few years later, others moved to the area, and a small community developed that consisted of a school, a single church serving various congregations, and a post office, among other businesses. However, population dwindled as a result of drought and other difficulties, and very little remains today to even indicate there was ever a community there. All I saw was a marker next to the foundation where the school was located, and a single ranch house on the north side of the road.

Looks like West Texas has been fighting drought forever.

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