Monday, April 24, 2017

Nature Photographs

Nothing to write about in this entry. I just wanted to share some recent nature photographs from the area.

Donna and I spotted the prairie dog family below on a recent drive around Lake Nasworthy.

On a recent drive through San Angelo State Park, the road runner below was just moseying down the park road in front of us. He finally veered to the left off the road and flew into a tree. He allowed me to get this quick photo before he disappeared into heavier brush.

We were disappointed to find that the little fishing pond at the state park is drying up. On a recent hike, we noticed that the area downstream from the pond was much drier. I do not know if the pond is spring fed, but that would be my guess. Folks have enjoyed fishing out here, so I hate to see it dry up.

People who don't really know the desert often criticize it, saying it is bland and ugly. I heartily disagree. If you know when and where to look, there is a great deal of color, all the more beautiful because of the environment. Below is a cluster of prickly pear cactus, with some yellow cactus rose flowers in full bloom.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

New Car

We strayed for a while, but now we are back in the fold. We own another Toyota.

After selling the trailer, there was no need to keep the truck. It is not fuel efficient, it is big and bulky (which makes it difficult to park and to keep in narrow lanes in some towns), and it isn't a good vehicle to travel in as the only storage is in the back seat. Also, to be honest, I just didn't enjoy the truck. Oh, it performed fine for it's purpose. It towed that trailer all over the Southwest and took us through Christmas Tree Pass and other challenging roads. But the service department at our local Dodge dealership is lackluster at best. Now that the truck is beginning to get some miles and age on it, it's just a matter of time before it begins to need some work. In fact, when we did need to work on it, we learned quickly to hook up the trailer, take it to Kerrville, spend some time in the park there, and let the Kerrville dealership perform the maintenance. That's a good dealership there, efficient and friendly.

It's good to be back in the Toyota family. All of our Toyota vehicles have been great, and service is second to none.

We splurged a bit this time. We decided we wanted an SUV, so we went with a RAV4, Limited Edition. This gives us a few bells and whistles I normally am not interested in. Donna wanted heated seats. Since we removed her heart some years ago, the old girl really has a hard time getting warm. Along similar lines, we decided to go with dual climate control so that Donna can set the temp to 110 degrees while I set mine on something much more normal. And I wanted a built-in navigational device to help in our travels. Along with these came some other perks, like sun roof.

The back seat has nice leg room, and the back seats fold down flat to provide plenty of storage in the back. The backseats of many SUVs today do not fold down completely flat, so this is a nice feature. We have numerous long trips planned over the next few years, and we wanted to be sure to have plenty of room for our luggage. Mileage is nice. It gets 23 mpg in the city and 29 on the highway. As a rule, because of our driving habits, Donna and I normally get a bit better than what is listed.

Below are a few pictures of our new vehicle. We're ready for a road trip now; in fact, we have a good one planned for next month to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary.

Exterior passenger side view. The exterior color is blizzard pearl.
It's difficult to see in this picture, but the rear storage extends to the back seats; their headrests are clearly visible. Cover extends from back seats to rear lift gate. Net can be removed. Spare tire is stored in compartment below net. 
Rear storage with back seats folded down.
Front seat. Interior color is nutmet.
Back seat. Arm rest folds down, providing two cup holders. Seats fold down independently (60/40 split).
Navigation console. Bluetooth capability for mobile phones, etc. Dual climate controls beneath navigation. The navigation screen can be split in multiple ways to show other options.
Our new RAV4 in her new home.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Winstar and Ft. Worth

We took a trip to Winstar Casino in Thackerville, OK, last week. We left home on Monday and spent 4 nights there. We had a good time. But as with RVing, visiting casinos is becoming tiresome for me. I enjoy a good gamble for a few hours, perhaps even a day or so, but certainly not for 4 nights. And the games at Winstar just aren't very good. We never leave the place a winner. In fact, neither Donna nor I have ever hit any type of jackpot. And I've never seen anyone around me hit a jackpot. So, we may not be returning.

The best thing about Winstar are the restaurants. There are several we enjoy and, as casinos go, the prices are not that bad. Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill is arguably our favorite because they have a generous happy hour with good prices.

After our stay at Winstar, we took the short drive down I-35 to Fort Worth to visit my brother Larry and his wife Nancy. Larry has been retired for some years now, but Nancy still works. She is retiring in May. They have planned their retirement carefully, and will move soon to Florida where they have already purchased a condo. So, the purpose of our trip was to pay them one last visit before they move to the other side of the earth.

We did a lot of eating there, as we always do when we visit. For the entire trip, I gained about 5 pounds, so now I'll have to walk more and eat less to get all of that off.

On Saturday, Larry drove us to downtown Fort Worth where we walked around for a while. We strolled through the Water Gardens near the convention center. What a lovely park in the center of a large city! We then strolled north towards the courthouse, pausing a while in Sundance Square. The area is filled with inviting shops and interesting restaurants. He also drove us through the Stockyards area. The area was already bustling at 11:00 in the morning.

Below are a few photos of downtown Fort Worth.

This photo of Donna and I was taken in front of the convention center. The small building in the center of the photo in the background is the courthouse.
Water Gardens

Donna in front of one of the fountains/pools in the Water Gardens

Water Gardens

Chisolm Trail mural in Sundance Square

Quaint little alley behind Riscky's Bar-B-Q

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

We Sold the Trailer

We sold our travel trailer last Thursday.

Donna and I bought our first trailer, a folding camper (often called a "pop up") when our daughter was young, and we dragged that thing all over the place. Every opportunity -- weekends, spring break, summer vacation -- you could find us in a state park somewhere having a ball. Before that, we camped in a tent, so the camper was a big step up.

Since those days, Donna and I graduated to larger self-contained rigs, and we've enjoyed them all. Initially, we used the trailers as a way to get away on weekends or any other time. We used the rigs as an escape from work. We were always active outdoors then, and we would hike, bike, float rivers, and do all the other activities possible at our state parks. I never considered our rigs for anything other than a short-term vacation.

But I just don't enjoy those brief outings anymore. The last 3 trips we took -- which were about 2 weeks long each -- were just not fun for me. I think our passions and interests have changed over the years. Today, I'd rather throw a bag in a car and just use hotels. I've never enjoyed towing, and I certainly don't care for all the maintenance that any RV requires. And though some people think it is cheaper to travel via an RV, it isn't, at least not once you look at the total cost of ownership.

So, are we done with the RV lifestyle? Probably so -- at least, I hope so. However, there is one scenario where I can see us getting another RV. In our last 2 rigs, we took 2 long trips. In our Rockwood, we traveled for 8 months, and in our Coachmen, we traveled for 6 months. I like living that way. There is a great freedom to full-timing. I like not being tied to a place or schedule, and I like being able to move somewhere else at short notice. But if we ever elected to do this, we would get a bigger rig, probably a fifth wheel. I would want to be comfortable if we lived that way.

You might wonder why we just don't take off for 6 months in our current trailer and keep our house. Frankly, we just can't afford that. When you do that, you are basically supporting 2 households. Even if you are not living in a brick-and-mortar home, there are still expenses on that home, such as utility bills, insurance, HOA fees, and so on.

So, are we done traveling? Absolutely not. In fact, we have a nice little trip planned around our anniversary, and then a longer trip is in the works for the fall. No, we'll keep traveling. To be honest, though, I enjoy where we live so much that traveling doesn't interest me as much as it once did. But we like to go somewhere almost every month, so I can see us taking short 2 or 3 night trips each month to places within 300 miles or so of San Angelo, such as our recent trip to New Braunfels (see "Short Trip to New Braunfels").

But you never know. As I've said before, Donna and I have a gypsy spirit, so we may wake up one day, buy a big rig, sell the house, and head on down the road to points unknown.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Slow Week at RCW

We've not done too much this week. Of course, we took a back country tour, which I wrote about earlier this week (see "Backroads Tour: Water Valley and Robert Lee"). On Friday, we went to the movies to see Going in Style starring Alan Arkin, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine. The movie is labeled a heist comedy film, and it is a remake of the 1979 movie by the same name. This movie will not garner any awards, but it was an enjoyable film. It's nice for older folks to have a movie they can relate to.

Early in the week, we returned to Taste of the Himalayas, our local Indian restaurant. When this place opened in 2014, Donna and I had high hopes for it. We like exotic food, and it isn't often that a town the size of San Angelo in the middle of ranching country gets such a restaurant. When it first opened, we really liked the place. Unlike other Indian food buffets, it had a generous selection of ethnic dishes, and all of them were tasty. We were frequent visitors. The place did a pretty good business and developed a local following, especially among personnel from Goodfellow AFB.

As time passed, though, changes became apparent. We noticed a lack of consistency in food preparation most of all. Then the place changed ownership. The quality, in our opinion, continued to decline with the new management. We ate there several months ago and decided we would give the place a rest of a few months before trying it again. So, this past Monday, we decided we had waited long enough for another test.

Boy, were we disappointed. The place has declined even more. And I think it is safe to say that we are not the only ones who think this way. We were in the place for a full hour. During that time, only 2 other customers came in. The place has turned into a graveyard. And it looks like the place has changed hands again, as we did not recognize any of the employees there. We have probably visited the place for the last time. If it is still open a year from now, we might give it another try, but for now, we have marked it off our list. That's a shame, for we just don't have many places that serve exotic food here.

Other than that, we've stayed close to home for the most part. I continue to walk between 4 and 5 miles every other day, but Donna has fallen off her routine a bit. I enjoy walking early in the morning, about sunrise. It's a bit early and a bit cool for Donna at that time, so she normally likes to walk later in the day. Unfortunately for her, as the day rolls along, the harder the wind blows in general, and she likes walking in the wind even less than when it is early or cool. The weather will level off soon, though, and she'll get back to it, I'm sure.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Backroads Tour: Water Valley and Robert Lee

Restlessness was settling in again, so the old woman and I jumped in the truck today for another backroads tour. This time we went north.

We started by taking FM 2288 (the road that fronts RCW) north to Grape Creek, then US 87 north to Water Valley. Water Valley is a small community in the north part of Tom Green County. The school there is always in the news as they produce some fine athletic teams in all sports. I'm not sure how they perform academically. There isn't much else in the community except a convenience store and a post office.

We turned west on Hwy 2304 for a few miles. There is a county park there along the North Concho River called Harper Park. It's a lovely setting for a park, with towering pecan trees and nice grass. There are several RV hookups within the park, which is popular with Water Valley residents.

Looking upstream at the North Concho River from the bridge on Hwy 2304

Pecan trees and grass in lovely Harper Park along the North Concho River, just west of Water Valley.
We then turned around, headed east, and crossed US 87, staying on Hwy 2304 towards Robert Lee. About halfway along the highway, we came across the historical marker below.

Shelving Rock Historical Marker on Hwy 2304

After returning home, I researched Shelving Rock but found very little. The site interests me because of the last sentence on the marker: "There Rangers, state militia, and a posse of settlers hunting horses and Indians rendezvoused a few nights prior to disastrous battle of Dove Creek, Jan. 8, 1865." The Battle of Dove Creek is one of the more interesting battles in Texas history, but few people have ever heard of it. To learn more about this "battle", consult the Handbook of Texas Online. I first learned of the battle while reading an Elmer Kelton novel. I believe the novel was Stand Proud.

A few miles past the marker, the highway falls away, offering a great view to the north. The photos below really don't do justice to the view.

Upon spotting the drop off, I parked the truck and crossed the highway to snap this photo.
As we were driving down the slope, Donna commented that this section reminded her a little of the Davis Mountains.
It's rugged country out there.

Just a short distance beyond this slope, we turned north on Paint Creek Road. This county road cuts through to intersect Hwy 158.

Not much water in Paint Creek, but any water is good water in the west.
At Hwy 158, we turned west for perhaps a quarter mile to Dripping Springs Road. We turned north on this road, then a hundred yards later, we turned west over a cattle guard. Almost immediately on our right, we came upon Dripping Springs. This is basically a grotto. The picture below is only a small part of the ledge. I tried taking pictures of the other areas, but I was looking directly into the sun so they were distorted. Where I was standing when taking the picture, water runs over the ledge. I suppose there is a spring just upstream a bit.

Dripping Springs
I like discovering these places in our area. Of course, native Americans knew most of these places. For them, they were life-saving sights. As soldiers and pioneers began entering this area, they also discovered these places.

We turned around, got back on the highway (158), and headed east towards Robert Lee. We began seeing good stands of bluebonnets and other flowers along the highway right of way as well as in pastures.

Beautiful stand of bluebonnets in a pasture, with a nice backdrop of hills.
Close up of bluebonnets
In Robert Lee, we took Hwy 1904 towards the dam of R. V. Spence Reservoir. At the top of the dam, I took the picture below of the lake. This poor lake has never recovered from the drought. Although it has some water in it, it is a long way from fully recovering. At present, it is at 14% capacity.

E V Spence Reservoir, near Robert Lee, Texas
Back in town, we drove around the downtown area before heading south on Hwy 208 to return to San Angelo.

Coke County, Courthouse -- Robert Lee, Texas

Downtown Robert Lee, Texas
About 5 years ago, we drove around this area one spring after learning this was one of the better places in our area to view wild flowers. I wrote a blog entry entitled "Coke County Wildflowers" if you'd care to look back at it. Since it dealt with the drive along Hwy 208, I will not repeat that section of our trip here.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

A Quiet Week at RCW

It's been a fairly quiet week at Rio Concho West.

Early in the week, a storm front blew in from the southwest, dropping temperatures and bringing about .2 inch of rain. We really need some rain in San Angelo, but I guess we were fortunate this time. This storm brought lots of hail and tornadic activity to areas just north and east of us. If you watch the national news, you undoubtedly saw footage of the aftermath.

The RCW "Happy Bus" picked us up on Wednesday for a short trip across town to Rio Concho Manor. Usually, the bus makes a trip to the Manor each week, but Donna and I only go once a month. To be honest, the food there isn't that good, though it is very decent. And it is certainly balanced, as you have a choice of 3 entrees and various vegetable sides, salads, breads, and deserts. And the price is certainly right, costing RCW residents only $6.50. Where else can a couple eat for $13 these days -- and no tipping is allowed! You can pile your place as high as you want, but only one trip through the line. But we really go for the social aspects. We enjoy our fellow inmates, and it's nice to spend a couple of hours with them both on the ride to and from as well as in the dining room.

There are certainly some interesting characters out here. One of our favorite fellows is just a good ol' Texas boy, full of good humor and colorful sayings. He's very active, dragging his travel trailer all over the place to visit old friends and family. Then there is a retired pharmacist who goes out to meet friends for coffee every morning. These group of guys seems to know all the news, both local and otherwise, so we go to the pharmacist whenever we want to know what is happening around town. It's an interesting group out here.

Friday night found us at the Angelo Civic Theater watching Over the River and Through the Woods, a play by Joe DiPietro. This warm-hearted family comedy is set in Hoboken, New Jersey, and centers around a close-knit -- perhaps a bit too close -- Italian-American family. Grandson Nick, a marketing executive, struggles with a decision to move away from his family to Seattle, Washington. His grandparents, whom he visits every Sunday, then plot to keep young Nick at home. As the play progresses, the comedy lessens and the play becomes slowly more dramatic, with Nick learning about the real value of family and the give and take of love. Donna and I both enjoyed the evening.

We dodged another weather bullet Saturday night and early Sunday morning. Another front moved through late Saturday, bringing reports of a tornado to the nearby Ballinger area, about 30 or so miles northeast of Angelo. Hail was also reported in various locales. We missed the violence of the storm but were fortunate to receive almost an inch of rain. That amount will keep us on pace with our yearly average at this time.

And that is about all that is happening out here. I leave you with some pictures of the ocotillo plants at the clubhouse. I posted some in a recent entry when the blooms were first appearing. The blooms are further along now. I snapped these pictures during my early morning walk on an overcast day, so the color and lighting are a bit off.

Lighting is especially bad in this photo, but you can clearly see the blooms at the tips of the stalks.
Several blooms up close.

When in their prime, the orange of the blooms contrast nicely with the green of the stalks, but there isn't much green on these plants.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

In Search of a Good Hamburger

In a not-too-recent post, I mentioned how Donna and I enjoy a good old-fashioned hamburger. In our travels, we are always on the lookout for a good burger, and we've found some good ones over the years. We don't go in for those over-the-top burgers that have all kinds of items added, like bacon, fries, eggs, and so forth. Many of these burgers wouldn't even fit in our mouths. Now, if that is your thing, then go for it. But we are simply looking for an old-fashioned burger like we could find almost anywhere when we were kids. We just need a good bun (a large one, preferably toasted on the grill), lettuce, tomato, onion (preferably red), pickles, and a freshly-formed patty that is a bit crusty on the outside but juicy in the middle.

For those who are curious, here is a list of places we've tried in recent years that we have enjoyed. I've linked these to the articles I've posted for them for your convenience. They are in no particular order.
Our list of good hamburger places does not end there; the list above is simply all that I have written about.

I've always found hamburgers at Texas Burger establishments to be pretty good. Now, I have eaten at one or two Texas Burgers that I didn't care for, but I've enjoyed far more than I didn't. The one in my hometown of Fairfield, Texas, has been my favorite over the last 20 years or so, but it has been a few years since I've stopped there; hopefully, it hasn't changed.

Donna and I both enjoy burgers at traditional Mexican restaurants. While living in Ozona, we would often order burgers at El Chato's, and we were never disappointed. In fact, at the time, I preferred their burgers to their Mexican food. Donna has recently started ordering a burger at Henry's Diner here in San Angelo. She really enjoys their burgers. I've not ordered one yet simply because I love their Tex-Mex style cheese enchiladas -- my favorite Mexican food -- and hate to miss any opportunity to eat them. But one of these days . . .

My brother and his wife recently stopped in at Herd's Burgers in Jacksboro, Texas, and really enjoyed their burgers. On a recent Texas travel show, I saw a clip about a place called Mae's Meat Market in Eastland, Texas, that I hope to try soon. I've also heard that the Stanton Drug Store in Stanton, Texas, makes good burgers and malts. That might make for a good day trip for the old woman and me.

One place we hope to try in the near future is Alamo Springs Café, on backroads about halfway between Fredericksburg and Comfort in the Texas Hill Country. We actually made a journey there about a year or two ago, but the café was closed; I think we were too early. This café is well known for its burgers, and has been featured in Texas Monthly and Texas Country Reporter.

On a recent episode of the Texas Bucket List, we learned of a place in Weatherford, Texas, that serves old-fashioned burgers. The Malt Shop is a small drive-in on the east side of town on the old highway. I do not believe there is any inside seating, but I do not know this for a fact. Since we do pass through Weatherford occasionally, I have put this on out list of burger places to try.

I'll continue my search. When a hamburger is done just right, it's a real delight to eat.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Week in Review

We started last week on a busy note.

On Monday, Donna had a medical appointment early in the morning. Then at noon, we met with our tax accountant to make our annual donation to our government. No matter how old you get, there will always be taxes. Afterwards we grabbed a burger at our favorite Whataburger location, then drove out by the lake to see how the parks fared after the heavy use during Spring Break week. Actually, they looked pretty good. City park crews had already made their way through the parks and had picked up garbage. Near the end of Spring Creek Park, we met a park truck with trailer collecting the last of the garbage in that area.

I guess the drive through the park awoke Donna's fishing instincts. Once we arrived back home, she gathered her fishing gear and headed back to Lake Nasworthy in hopes of snagging a few innocent fish. She had a bit of luck and caught the poor unsuspecting catfish pictured below, as well as a few of his friends.

Donna caught this and a few other catfish during her outing.
While Donna was fishing, I was sitting on our patio enjoying the nice weather. Donna had set out our hummingbird feeders over the weekend, and I was surprised to have 4 sightings of the little hummers while I was on the patio. I thought it was probably too early for the little rascals, but they are here. We have seen them every day since.

On Tuesday, I got my hair cut early in the morning, then followed that with getting the truck serviced. Our local weather station recorded a high of 95 today, the highest temp on record for this date. As I've said previously, we are getting too hot too fast. But we did get a trace of rain a little after dark Tuesday night. It really wasn't enough to help, but it was an encouraging sign.

One good thing about the high temps is that I have started walking early in the morning again. During cooler months, I walk either late morning or early afternoon. But on Wednesday, I was out at sunup and I loved it. This is, for me, the best time of day to walk. Later that day, we attended a "Quarterly Social" held at the club. Such socials are just informal get togethers hosted by our resident committee. This is a good way to meet and visit with our neighbors. We admired the ocotillos as we approached the side entrance to the clubhouse. They are just starting to bloom. They'll be right pretty before long. I'll try to snap a picture when they are in bloom.

You can see the blooms just starting at the tips of these ocotillos. There will be some good color there soon.
If Donna and I haven't traveled recently, we start getting a bit antsy, so on Thursday we decided to take a day trip. I reported on that elsewhere in my blog.

On Saturday afternoon, we decided to go downtown and wander around a bit. There was a Texas music and craft beer festival along the river. It was just getting started as we passed by. We stopped in a few of the local shops for a few moments. Our downtown is really very vibrant, and new shops open monthly, it seems. It's a pretty lively place on weekends.

On Sunday, I grilled some steaks and vegetables. My steak was great, but I think I overcooked Donna's a bit. Bloody vampire that she is, she wants blood dripping from the meat. She really likes it when the blood covers the plate and the steak floats. I must get better, for I do have to sleep sometime.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Good Eats: Cooper's BBQ, Christoval, Texas

I'll say up front that I love BBQ. It is absolutely one of my favorite foods. But I'm not a BBQ snob. In the ongoing debate about which is the best BBQ, I'm neutral. I say eat whatever you like, and whatever you like is the best BBQ for you. If you prefer Carolina BBQ, then enjoy. If your taste runs to Memphis BBQ, I'm happy for you. A lot of folks love Kansas City BBQ. Personally, I prefer the style of BBQ you find in the old Central Texas meat markets. I like a good smoky taste on my meat, and I also like a good smoke ring. I prefer something a bit crusty on the outside but juicy on the inside. I prefer no sauce. But that is me. "To each his own" is my motto.

But I've been disappointed in my BBQ outings recently. A few weeks ago, I mentioned my frustration at Smitty's in Lockhart (see "Short Trip to New Braunfels"). I get really hungry for BBQ, and I find West Texas to be something of a wasteland when it comes to good BBQ. I've never found a place in San Angelo whose BBQ I crave. So when planning our recent backroads trip (see "Backroads Tour"), I saw a Cooper's BBQ on the map in Christoval and decided to give it a try.

Now, before venturing further, I need to set the record straight. There are actually 2 chains or groupins of Cooper's BBQ. Cooper's Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que originated in Llano, Texas. It is operated by the Wootan family, as I understand. According to their website, this chain operates 4 locations: Llano, Ft. Worth, New Braunfels, and Austin. I've only eaten at the Llano location, but I've eaten there several times over the last 20 years. I've always enjoyed it. The website clearly states,  "There have been some recent news reports and social media posts linking other Cooper's locations to us but they are erroneous and inaccurate."

I assume that the "other Cooper's locations" mentioned above is to several BBQ establishments operated by a family named Cooper. Among these is the location in Christoval, where we recently ate. A recent item on the Concho Valley Homepage indicated that this Cooper's BBQ is operated by Mark Cooper, who spent the past 17 years at the Cooper's in nearby Junction. The "About" on their Facebook page states, "The one & only original family-owned and operated Cooper's Bar-B-Q...and you STILL can't beat our meat!" There is another Cooper's in nearby Mason, but we've never eaten there, though it is on our radar. We have eaten twice at the Junction Cooper's, and did not like our experience either time. We were hoping the Christoval location would be better.

This is a nice little eatery. Wood was piled up around the back, and that is often a good sign of authenticity. The place has that old time feel that I like. And the people were welcoming and friendly. This is the way a BBQ place is supposed to be. But the real test of a BBQ place is the meat.

Warmer at counter
You order at the counter immediately as you enter. There is a warmer where meat is stored for convenience (see picture above). As we normally do, Donna and I ordered only meat. We purchased ½ pound brisket, 2 jalapeno cheese sausage rings, and some pork ribs. The employee then proceeded to cut our meat and then dip it into a very vinegary sauce. For me, that is a big no-no. I always like to try my meat without sauce, whether it be BBQ, steak, or whatever. For me, the sign of properly cooked meat is to be able to eat it without any sauce. When I cook a steak at home, I give it a dry rub and eat it without any sauce, for example. If any sauce is to be added, I want to be the one to add it.

But the damage had already been done.

I sampled the ribs first. The meat pulled nicely from the bone, but it lacked any real smoky BBQ taste. In fact, it had an overly strong pork taste. Next, I sampled the sausage, and I actually liked it. The casing was a bit tough, but the inside was juicy and tasty. Finally, I sampled the brisket. Again, it lacked that strong smoky taste I crave, and there was no smoke ring at all. All in all, the meat was fine, but nothing for me to get excited about. Many people would probably really like the meat here, though. I could see myself stopping in again for the sausage and even a sliced beef sandwich if I was passing through, but I would not make the 60 mile round-trip down there. There are a couple of places in Angelo that serves BBQ on a par with this.

Entrance and ordering counter. Tables in main room are family style, while attached room has individual booths and tables.
Interior of Cooper's. It looks like a BBQ joint, doesn't it. 
One of the things I liked was the condiments counter. You can help yourself to bread, onions, pickles, and jalapeno peppers at no extra charge. This is the way every BBQ place in Texas should be. Any place that charges for these items lacks a bit of authenticity in my humble opinion.

Self-serve condiment counter
This is very decent BBQ. I can't say we were disappointed, but it just wasn't what we were looking for. In fact, with the recent disappointments we've had at BBQ restaurants, Donna and I have begun to doubt that we even know what we are looking for. Perhaps we are looking for something from our past that just doesn't exist anymore.

But you can bet we'll keep on looking.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Backroads Tour: Mertzon, Eldorado, Christoval, and Knickerbocker.

Whenever Donna and I get a bit bored, we like to jump in the truck and find some backroads to explore. We've been doing this since we met over 40 years ago, and I don't see us stopping anytime soon. I'm always amazed at how different the landscape looks from the smaller roads rather than from the main highways. There is a noticeable difference.

Yesterday (Thursday), we set out on Highway 853, locally known as Arden Road. It heads due west out of Angelo. About 20 miles later it takes a sharp curve south to head just outside Mertzon. There once was a community called Arden about 15 miles west. It was located on the west bank of West Rocky Creek, a small creek which normally has a few pools of water. The little community at one time had a school, post office, and 3 Protestant denominations, but it declined about World War II.

I believe these are blackbucks, or Indian antelopes. We spotted them about 5 miles west of Angelo on 853. Look closely and you'll see one turned away at left of picture.
Just after the highway curves south, there is a crossing of the Middle Concho River. In fact, the highway thus far has roughly paralleled this river. In earlier times, people often followed the river as a water supply. But this river normally runs dry except after heavy rains. Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving drove their cattle along this river towards the Pecos when they were driving cattle to New Mexico following the War-Between-the-States.

Looking east at the dry Middle Concho River just past Arden.

When we reached US 67 just north of Mertzon, we crossed the highway and continued towards the old community of Sherwood on County Road 202. We soon crossed Spring Creek on a low-water crossing, where I snapped the picture below. This area is like an oasis for us. Not only does Spring Creek normally have good water flow, but there are big trees along its bank, even extending as much as a mile or more away from the creek bed. You learn to appreciate places like this in the arid and largely treeless west.

Low-water crossing over Spring Creek. Note pecan trees along bank.
Soon we came to the old Sherwood Courthouse, which served as the seat of government for Irion County from about 1889 to 1939. The courthouse then moved to nearby Mertzon, where the railroad line had been established. So today, the old Sherwood Courthouse stands abandoned, like a hulking specter from the past, but it does host a few functions throughout the year, such as weddings. If you like old courthouses, you might look into the old Stiles Courthouse in nearby Reagan County.

Sherwood Courthouse
We made the short drive to nearby Mertzon, crossing Spring Creek again. Along the way, I had to firmly apply the brakes as a couple of white tail deer jumped the fence and sprinted across the road in front of us. The "new" Irion County courthouse stands alone on a hill between the town's few businesses along US 67 and the local school.

Spring Creek along the Sherwood Loop crossing.

Current Irion County Courthouse sits alone on a hill a couple of blocks west of US 67.
From Mertzon, we continued on US 67 southwest of town for a couple of miles, then turned south on Ranch Road 915, a road we had never traveled before today. We almost immediately crossed Spring Creek again, but this crossing looked far different from the previous ones.

Spring Creek, looking downstream, from bridge on RR 915. Not much water here, but at least there are some nice trees.
It is about 30 miles down RR 915 to Eldorado, and I bet we met fewer than 5 vehicles on this road. The terrain became increasingly rocky, but I was amazed at the number of oaks and junipers that dotted the landscape. Around Angelo, we don't have trees except for mesquites, unless there is a creek or river. But this area sported trees all over the countryside.

We made a short run through Eldorado, a small town of fewer than 2,000 souls. Eldorado gained some national attention a few years ago because of the raid on the Yearning for Zion ranch in 2008. Warren Jeffs had located his followers here, but there were charges of physical and sexual abuse, spurring the raid by various law enforcement agencies. The ranch is located just north of Eldorado.

Schleicher County Courthouse in Eldorado

Old jail in Eldorado
From Eldorado, we drove north on Highway 302, which I believe is the old highway. It runs parallel to US 277 for just short of 10 miles, and provides a relaxing look at the countryside. Near the north end before it rejoins current US 277, I noticed an old railroad grade between the two roads.

It was then just a short 12 miles or so to Christoval, where we stopped for lunch at Cooper's BBQ. I'll review that establishment in a separate entry. The town of Christoval is interesting. It straddles the South Concho River, a spring fed river with good water flow, certainly better than either the Middle Concho or the North Concho. The mineral waters attracted tourists in the old days, and bath houses were established. The land along the river was also a popular place for religious encampments, some drawing large crowds. But flooding prior to WWII caused the area to decline. Christoval is also known as the home of Jack Pardee, who was an All-American linebacker at Texas A&M and a two-time All-Pro with the Los Angeles Rams and Washington Redskins. He was also a noted coach, both at the college and pro levels.

Low water crossing over South Concho River. Don't worry, you can take the bridge in the picture if the water bothers you.
Looking downstream at South Concho River from park in Christoval. Since the South Concho actually flows north, downstream means we are looking north.
Looking upstream (south) at South Concho River from city park in Christoval.
Christoval really has a unique location on the river. The entire community has trees, which is special for West Texas. I'm always frustrated when I drive through the town, though, and see so many junky places. This little place could be a real paradise with some organization and work.

From Christoval, we took FM 2335 west, then north, to the old community of Knickerbocker. This small community lies near Dove Creek, a fresh water source. Among historians, Knickerbocker is known as the home of a number of outlaws of the old West, including the Ketchem Brothers (Tom and Sam) and Laura Bullion (girl friend of Ben Kilpatrick of Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch).

We finished our little road trip by taking Knickerbocker Road back to San Angelo. We eventually crossed Twin Buttes dam, and I snapped the 2 pictures below. These pictures were taken from the opposite shore as those snapped about 2 weeks earlier in "Twin Buttes Reservoir".

This is the connecting channel between the North and South Pools of Twin Buttes Reservoir. I have seen this channel with much more water (in the 1990s), but I've also seen it dry. Right now, there is just a ditch, more or less.

The North Pool of Twin Buttes is visible in the distance. The connecting channel is below to the left.
It was a fun outing, even though the wind tried to blow us away. You can see from the pictures that the skies were overcast, and that held the temps down for most of the trip. It's always fun to get out and explore the countryside.