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.







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