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.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Where Did Spring Go?

As I prepare to post this entry, I suddenly remember this is the first day of spring. Looks like we're missing spring this year. We're going straight from winter to summer. We've reached highs mostly in the 80s lately, with one or two days jumping into the 90s. In fact, it is 90 right now. I do think we had a cool day early last week in the upper 70s.

It's too hot too early, and this concerns me. Right now, we're close to our average in rainfall for 2017, but that can be misleading. Our lake levels are still lower than I like, and with this early heat and high winds, evaporation will lower them more quickly than normal. Some nice long sustained rains would be beneficial. Even though we've had good rain the past 2 years or so, we've not enjoyed those reservoir filling rains we so badly need.

I'm so glad spring break is over and things are returning to normal. San Angelo was really hopping last week. That's economically good, but I like things nice and quiet. Donna and I drove through Spring Creek Park on Friday, and the place had campers everywhere. The RV park out there was almost full, and then other RVers and campers were all over the park itself, wherever they could find a place to park their rig or pitch their tent. Families were having a good time on the lake during this warm spell.

I like it when the kids are in school and everyone is working. That is when Donna and I like to travel and get out. Wouldn't year-round school be nice? I'll mention that to my teenage grandson next time I see him; I'm sure he'll agree.

We picked up 2 new recliners last week. They surely are comfortable. I've already had a nice nap in mine. In fact, after I post this, I may go kick back and enjoy another nice nap in it.

I never tire of watching the deer and turkeys here at Rio Concho West. A couple of nights ago, Donna and I watched as a herd of deer gradually worked their way out from the brush through a draw and into the backyard of a neighbor. It was dusk, and it was really too dark to see more than vague shapes. I have no idea how many were in the herd, but I would say at least a dozen. A day or two later, I stepped out on the back patio to light the grill when I noticed a gang of turkeys in the draw across the street near the club house. I was able to snap the following photos as they gradually worked their way to our side of the street and into our neighbor's yard.

The turkeys were spread out along a draw just across the street. There were a few more farther to the right that I was unable to get frame in this photo.
They then worked their way across the street into a neighbor's yard.

They kind of act like they own the place, but I surely enjoy watching them.
Happy spring to all of you . . . or rather, happy early summer.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Texas Hiking Trails

I recently posted an entry about trail journals which followed people attempting to hike major trails in the continental USA. That got me to thinking about hiking trails in Texas. Simply put, we really don't have access to truly long trails in the Lone Star State.

To my knowledge, here are the longest linear trails we have. Sources for these trails vary, and many do not have an official internet presence.
  • The Lone Star Hiking Trail is currently measured at 128 miles, including loop trails. It begins in the west near the small community of Richards and ends in the east near Cleveland. It passes through the Sam Houston National Forest as well as a small portion of the Big Thicket. A portion of the trail slices through a corner of Huntsville State Park outside of Huntsville.
  • The Northeast Texas Trail is working to become the longest trail in Texas. It follows an old rail bed from Farmersville through 7 counties to New Boston (near Texarkana). I'm not sure of the length, but highway miles from Farmersville to New Boston totals 123 miles.
  • Caprock  Canyons Trailway, a 64 mile long trailway on a former railroad bed, is located in the canyon country of West Texas.
  • Trail Between the Lakes is located in deep East Texas, between Sam Rayburn Reservoir and Toledo Bend Reservoir. Total length is 28 miles, all in Sabine County.
  • Four Cs Hiking Trail lies within David Crockett National Forest, roughly between the towns of Alto and Ratcliff. The linear trail is about 20 miles. The unusual name comes from the Central Coal and Coke Company, which logged timber here in the old days. There is even an old rail bed that the trail follows at times. Donna and I actually hiked part of this trail years ago. You can view my hiking report here.
  • Lake Mineral Wells State Park Trailway stretches about 20 miles from Mineral Wells in the west to Weatherford in the east. Access points are available in both towns named above as well as from within Lake Mineral Wells State Park and the small community of Garner. This trail is part of the Rails to Trails project. This is another trail that Donna and I have partially walked. We started at Weatherford, went west for 5 miles, then returned for a total of 10 miles. I never wrote a review of that hike.
The above are not all the trails, of course, but are only the ones I'm familiar with to some degree. The state and national parks around Texas as well as national forests have miles and miles of trails, but nothing of length that extends from point A to point B. For example, San Angelo State Park near me has over 50 miles of trails, but within that 50 miles are a dozen or more trails of varying length.

One of the best sources for hiking in Texas is a website called Texas Hiking. In the past, I had an account on this site and contributed regularly. I have not used the site in years, though. Some of my posts are still available under the user name "kcameron". You can also visit your local library and search for hiking books by Laurence Parent and Mickey Little. Both authors have written extensively about hiking and camping, in Texas as well as other states.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Hiking with Grandson

Our daughter and her 3 sons came down for a visit. Oldest grandson Xander (age 14) is on spring break, so it was a good time for them to visit.

We always try to find ways to entertain the young 'uns when they are here. Since the weather was good, I thought it might be fun to take Xander on a short hike. Xander has hiked a little on Boy Scout outings, but I don't know what kind of hiker he is, so I decided to keep the hike relatively short.

We set out to the north section of San Angelo State Park. There are some dinosaur tracks there I've wanted to see. I checked the Trails Map available on the park's website, and found the coordinates provided there: 31° 31'51.37" N   100° 33'37.52" W. I thought Xander would enjoy seeing the tracks.

We parked at the parking lot at the end of the pavement in the North Concho Camping Area. The trailhead here is known as Bell's Trailhead. Our route would follow one similar to hikes Donna and I took in "Hike Report: The Big Hill" in February 2014 and "San Angelo SP: January 23, 2012".

Grandson Xander at the trailhead. It was 43 degrees when we started our hike, but soon warmed up nicely.
Just past the trailhead, we took the biking trail for the Dinosaur Trail. At San Angelo SP, there are often parallel trails for bikes and horses. There are times when the trails merge, but for the most part, the trails run parallel, often just a few feet apart. If you know anything about horses, then you will know why this is a good idea. On the day of our hike, we saw about 10 horses in the campground near where we parked. A lot of folks had come out during spring break to ride the trails at the park.

You can see the trail is clearly labelled for bikes. Bikes cannot ride on horse trails, and horses cannot ride on bike trails. However, hikers can opt for either trail.
Normally when hiking San Angelo SP, I opt for the horse trails, for I trust horses more than bikers, who come tearing around curves and over hills and almost always fail to follow trail etiquette. But I noticed that the horse trail was not as clear as the bike trail. With spring virtually here and snakes coming out of hibernation, I wanted a clear trail, especially since Xander was along. When Donna is along, I don't worry about snakes as much. I simply let her lead so if any snakes are out there, she'll be the target.

We reached the area where the dinosaur tracks should be. We spent close to half an hour hunting up and down the creek bank, but were unable to find the tracks. I guess I'll have to go out on a ranger tour some day to pinpoint the tracks.

The dinosaur tracks are somewhere up this creek bed. We hiked pretty far up the creek, but did not see them. More water is in the creek than normal, and that may have hidden them. Notice the trail on right.
We then followed the trail around to what is known as the Big Hill. It really isn't that big -- probably only 100 feet or so -- but it does stand out against the flat land surrounding it. In recent years, a commercial enterprise has built a large steel building atop the hill. There is also a large home (the owner of the business, perhaps) directly behind the business. Both of these take away greatly from the "wilderness" experience this hike used to have. They are located directly behind the large cross shown in  "San Angelo SP: January 23, 2012".

But while atop the hill, if you look in the opposite direction of the business, you still have some wonderful views of the North Concho River valley, O. C. Fisher Reservoir and dam, and the surrounding countryside. I was able to see numerous RVs in the park's camping area, distant ranches, and other sights.

View from atop the Big Hill. The tree line in distance is the North Concho River. If you click on the picture to enlarge it, you might be able to see O. C. Fisher Reservoir in far right portion of picture.

We continued on the trail to the bottom of the hill, then took the North Scenic Loop Trail as it dipped along the river briefly. We then rejoined the main trail to head back to the truck. We also opted to take the Shady Trail, which winds through the trees along the river for a half mile or so.

While on the North Scenic Loop Trail, we noticed this paved low water crossing on the North Concho River. I don't know who put this in; perhaps the rancher who owned the land prior to the park. Perhaps there once was a public road that ran through here years and years ago.

The North Concho River just upstream of the low water crossing in the previous picture.
North Concho River along the Shady Trail, one of my favorite trail sections in the park. This picture is looking upstream.

This picture is taken from the exact spot as the one above. I have simply pivoted to look downstream. I always am amazed how a river can almost disappear.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Twin Buttes Reservoir

San Angelo is on the edge of the Chihuahuan Desert, so things tend to be pretty arid out here. San Angelo is fortunate to have several lakes. Admittedly, none of these lakes is very large, and they do dry up during droughts, but right now, we do have some water in these lakes.

There are 3 branches of the Concho River (North, Middle, and South) as well as 2 pretty reliable creeks (Spring Creek and Dove Creek) which feed the lakes in our immediate area.

Recently, Donna and I drove out to Twin Buttes Reservoir to see how it is doing. There are actually 2 "pools" for this lake, the north pool (fed by the Middle Concho River, Spring Creek, and Dove Creek) and the south pool (fed by the South Concho River). The 2 pools share a common dam and are connected by a channel. On Google Maps, the lake looks like this:

Twin Buttes Reservoir

In reality, it doesn't look that good. At top, where "Twin Buttes Reservoir" is written, is the north pool. You can see the blue line running southerly to the much smaller south pool. That blue line is, of course, the connecting channel. The blue area to the east (right) is Lake Nasworthy. San Angelo is east and north of that lake. There is also another lake, O. C. Fisher, on the northwest side of town fed by the North Concho River.

We had not been out to see Twin Buttes Reservoir since February 2012. At that time, I snapped some pictures and encourage you to take a look at them in "Backroads: Sherwood, Texas".

These are the Twin Buttes for which the reservoir is named.
We drove out US 67 a few miles west of town, then headed south on the entrance road just past the Twin Buttes from which the reservoir gets its name. The area really isn't attractive, not even to Donna and me, and we love the desert. There is something of a park area on this side of the lake, but it really isn't well maintained at all. Personally, I would not feel safe coming out here to hike or camp. We noticed that there were a few folks out riding trails on their dirt bikes.

At the very end of the paved road is a boat ramp and the best view of the lake. Even though the lake is currently at about 20% capacity, it looks rather pitiful. But there were 4 or 5 trucks there with empty boat trailers, so people are out on the lake in their boats. We did not see them, though, so they must have been around a bend somewhere.

This is the end of the pavement. You can see the outline of the dam in the distance.

Boat ramp is currently accessible, but I don't know for how long. Looks like the level is receding.
Although this view of the lake does not show much water, it more clearly shows the dam than those above.
Compare the photos above with 2 I shot back in February 2012 ("Backroads: Sherwood, Texas"). There are a few scattered shelters in this area, but I do not know what condition they are in or how much they are used.

On the entrance road, we noticed a small ranch with the following sign:

Alpac-O-Rama near Twin Buttes Reservoir
Now, I don't know the finer nuances of alpacas and llamas. My understanding is that basically an alpaca is sort of a smaller version of a llama. But we did stop and snap a few photos.

Livestock at Alpac-O-Rama

More Alpac-O-Rama livestock
Just down the road, we spotted some wild pigs. I wanted to get a photo of them, but on our approach they scattered pretty quickly into the brush.

I'm always amazed at the interesting things we find out here when we get off the main roads and prowl about.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Getting Ready for an Invasion

We started the past week by taking a short trip to New Braunfels, as documented in the previous entry.

Thursday night, we attended the monthly dinner at Rio Concho West. We had a nice meal and were entertained by a resident who played the guitar and sang. It was a nice, peaceful evening.

We continue trying to walk as often as possible. With the weather warming, we are beginning to walk earlier in the day. I prefer to walk first thing in the morning, so I look forward to the time when the temps are warm enough at daylight to do my walking then.

We often see deer and turkeys in Rio Concho West. At dinner the other night, a friend of ours who lives about a quarter mile up the street told us that she also has wild pigs visit from time to time, as well as other critters, including an occasional fox. But we've never seen anything other than deer and turkey. I snapped the photos below earlier this week as we were on our way home following a shopping trip. We have 2 rafters (flock or gang) of turkeys in our development. Both rafters number about 10 or 15. Sometimes they are close together, and sometimes they are nowhere in sight of one another. We see them often; in fact, we've come to expect to see them anytime we drive through RCW.

These 2 toms were trailing their ladies.

Most of the hens had already turned the corner and were out of sight. There are lots of oak trees in this section of RCW, and the turkeys are emboldened to hang around close to the houses.
I saw these turkeys the next day, while I was taking an early afternoon walk. They like to walk along the back perimeter of RCW.

This morning, just before posting this entry, I looked out the kitchen window and saw some turkeys across the street in between houses.
Daughter and grandsons are invading our peaceful world on Monday. I hope to take oldest grandson (age 14) on a short hike at the park, while Donna hopes to take him fishing. Let's hope the weather cooperates during their stay. We haven't seen the little desperadoes since Christmas. Grandma is excited about their visit; Grandpa is worried.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Short Trip to New Braunfels

Donna and I were getting a bit restless, so we decided a short trip to New Braunfels was in order.

New Braunfels is a city of about 70,000 folks between Austin and San Antonio. It was settled by German immigrants about 1845 and retains much of the culture of its founders. I've always enjoyed this place; in fact, Donna and I became engaged here more years ago than I care to remember. But the town has grown so rapidly since then that it is beginning to lose its unique character. But that is the opinion of an old fossil; I suspect most people would really enjoy the place.

The list of things to do in New Braunfels is endless, especially if you are young and you love the water. Some of the major attractions include Schlitterbahn Water Park, Natural Bridge Caverns and Wildlife Ranch, Gruene Hall, Wurstfest, and many, many more.

Donna and I have done many of the things in New Braunfels, so we really go there to just soak in the culture.

We made our headquarters at the Faust Hotel. This was our second time to stay here, and it may be our last. We picked the Faust because we like old hotels and it is conveniently located on the edge of downtown, but the rooms really are not that comfortable. I think we are just a bit more demanding these days, and rooms in old hotels are usually small, especially the bathrooms. Heating and cooling often do not work well, and lighting can be poor. But if you can overlook these snags, then the location is excellent.

Front of the Faust Hotel.

Lobby of the Faust
On the day we arrived, we visited the Phoenix Saloon, about 2 blocks from the hotel. We like the Phoenix, and we especially like their chile. This place has been highlighted on more than one travel show, including The Daytripper. One of the things we like about the place is that on Sunday afternoon, they have a music matinee. It's a pretty laid back event, and it's free. So, sit back, enjoy one of the many brews available on tap, and tap your foot along to some Texas music. During our visit, Jeffrey Ryan Vaughn was on stage. From time to time, a friend would join Vaughn for a song or two. It's a good way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

The bar at the Phoenix hosts an impressive array of beers on tap.

Front area of the Phoenix

Jeffrey Ryan Vaughn on stage at the Phoenix
On Monday, we set out to do some shopping. But first, we needed some fuel, so we headed a couple of blocks down the street to Naegelin's Bakery, which touts itself as the oldest bakery in Texas. I can't verify whether this declaration is true or not, but I can verify that this little bakery does produce some might tasty items. Donna and I both enjoyed a Danish cream kolache, and they were excellent. Donna had some type of white icing cookie while I enjoyed an apple fritter, though the lady called it by another name. There is no place inside to sit and eat, so we took the items out to the truck and enjoyed our makeshift breakfast there.

Interior of Naegelin's is rather small, but the taste is big.
Then we headed to the outlet malls in nearby San Marcos. There are 2 malls on the interstate just south of San Marcos, Tanger and San Marcos Premium Outlet. I'm not much for shopping, but I do appreciate a trip to the Haggar outlet stores. I find these stores are one of the few places you can find a pair of pants with an odd inseam length. My perfect length is 31, but most stores only stock even inseam lists. So I stocked up on a few pairs of pants while in the area.

After a morning of shopping, we headed to Lockhart for some BBQ. We've eaten at all the places in Lockhart, so we debated about which one to try this time. It had been 4 years since our last stop in Lockhart, so we wanted to choose wisely; however, we failed. We opted for Smitty's, which I've enjoyed in the past, but on this day, we were disappointed. The brisket had lots of fat; the ribs were dry; and the sausage was dry. None of the meat had the smoked taste we long for. Well, you win some and you lose some, so we'll cross Smitty's off our list for now.

We were disappointed with the meat at Smitty's this trip. Jalapeno sausage on the right, ribs in the center, and brisket on left. Notice the large amount of fat on the strip of brisket nearest the bread. The meat all lacked the smoky taste we crave.

When you enter Smitty's from the back, you get up close and personal to the pit.
Back in New Braunfels, we decided to visit Krause's. This turned out to be the favorite spot for us on this trip. One of the waitresses visited with us for a while and told us the place had just opened less than 2 months ago. There is a café inside, but we spent our time in the biergarten. The weather was perfect during the day, with a pleasant breeze blowing through. For chilly days and nights, there are 6 propane heaters that line the perimeter of the biergarten. We enjoyed watching all sorts of people come and go while we were there. This is going to quickly become one of the favorite watering holes in New Braunfels. Should we return to New Braunfels, we'll certainly visit this place.

Exterior view of Krause's. The domed area is the biergarten. A farmer's market is held on Saturdays in the area where the cars are parked.
Another exterior view of Krause's showing the mural.

The draft beer selection at Krause's is more extensive than that at the Phoenix, located across the street.

One end of the biergarten with stage at right. Notice the standing propane heater in left center.

People seem to just drop in, have a beer or two, visit a bit, then move along somewhere else. It's a nice place to spend some time.

The original party girl enjoying a pint of Fat Tire.