|Our 267 mile route for the day|
We lived in Ozona for 8 years during the 1990s, so we drove this route frequently on our trips to and from San Angelo. It used to be a pleasant drive, and few cars were encountered. Most of the traffic then was either folks like us from outlying towns heading to Angelo, or tourists traveling the countryside. Today, this is a road I will avoid unless I absolutely must take it.
After about 20 miles, we passed through the small community of Mertzon. About 30 miles later, we arrived in Barnhart, where we turned south on Texas 163. Both Mertzon and Barnhart are showing the affects of the boom. There are new RV parks, new convenience stores, new eateries, and lots and lots of oil field services along the highway. White limestone dust seems to cover everything as it is used for side roads and parking lots.
We followed Texas 163 south for 16 miles, then turned west on US 190 for a 43 mile drive to Iraan. Traffic gradually diminished along this highway until we shared the roadway with only local traffic (ranchers, for example) and the occasional tourist, like us. After about 25 or 30 miles, the landscape begins to change and becomes more rugged, with occasional canyons visible off to the side. The road dips down for a few miles into Live Oak Draw, then back up. Then it begins a dip again, this time into the Pecos River Valley. On the down slope, we turned off the road into a roadside park to snap a few pictures of the valley.
|Alley Oop Land in Iraan, Texas|
At Sheffield, we pick up U.S. 290 and head east for a few miles and stop at Fort Lancaster. After leaving the fort, we climb up the east side of the Pecos River Valley to the most impressive views of the trip. Atop the ridge is a roadside park where we've picnicked a time or two in the past.
|The storied Pecos River on US 290. It's not much of river. Water upstream is drained for agriculture; by the time the river reaches Texas, there isn't much in it.|
|From the park, US 290 winds up the Pecos cliffs. The little roadside park is at the top of the ridge, just left of center in this photo. Notice the rock foundations added to support the roadway.|
|Pecos River Valley from the roadside park atop the ridge.|
After a short tour of the town, we stopped in at El Chato's for lunch. El Chato's was one of our favorite eating places when we lived there. Now, there is better Tex-Mex in the world, but when you live in a small town and your dining choices are limited, you realize that the food there is really pretty good. When we lived there, I really enjoyed their hamburgers and considered getting one. Instead, I opted for my old standard, their combination plate with soft tacos and cheese enchiladas. Donna had a taco salad. Yeah, we've had better, but the food is really decent. The tomatoes and lettuce were fresh, service was good, and the food was piping hot, the way Mexican food should be.
After leaving Ozona, we head north on Texas 163, this time turning east on US 190 to go to Eldorado, the little West Texas town that gained fame in recent years as the home of the Yearning for Zion Ranch. More recently, the little community was in the news for Steve Fromholz, noted musician and former Poet Laureate of Texas, who died near there in a hunting accident on January 19.
At Eldorado, we picked up US 277 for our return to San Angelo. It was a good day. We got to see some wonderful scenery, we visited our past in Ozona, and we toured a historic Texas fort and got some fresh air.