Friday, September 29, 2017

Cripple Creek, Second Time Around

We recently spent 4 nights in Cripple Creek. We really like this mountain town, and we wish it was closer so that we could go more often. But it is a 1500 mile round trip, so this may be our last visit for a long time, especially with winter already appearing in those mountains.

In my last post, I recorded the first leg of our trip to Cripple Creek, which took us from San Angelo to Raton, NM. From Raton, we followed the route we took on our return trip back in May (see "On the Road: Cripple Creek to Santa Rosa, NM"). In other words, we went from Raton up I-25 to Pueblo, then US 50 west just past Canon City, then on 3 mountain roads the remainder of the trip to Cripple Creek. As we left Raton, the rain pounded us all the way through Raton Pass. I was glad when it finally let up and we made it through the pass.

The approach drive to Cripple Creek is really pretty. The aspens were turning at the higher elevations, and Donna tried to snap some shots as we drove along. Unfortunately, the glare on the windows is obvious in some of the pictures.

Donna took this photo just a few miles outside Cripple Creek. No picture can really do justice to the beauty of the aspens as they turn.

Cripple Creek has an elevation of 9494 feet. Let's just round that off to 9500 feet. It is way up there. The weather was pretty cool during our entire stay. The nights dipped to around freezing each night while the highs never got out of the 40s. A couple of days were rainy and overcast, but on our last full day, we were able to get out for exploring.

Cripple Creek is an old mining town, the site of the last great Colorado gold rush. Gold was discovered there in 1890, and the population soon exploded from about 500 people to 10,000. Two separate fires in 1896 essentially destroyed the town, but it was rebuilt in that same year. Most of the historic buildings you see in town today date back to that rebuilding period.

Today, the population of Cripple Creek hovers around the 1200 mark, and most of the residents are employed in the new gold rush, casinos and tourism. We go there mainly for the casinos. On our two trips there, we have stayed and played mostly at Bronco Billy's, though we also spend a lot of time at the Double Eagle a couple of blocks down the street.

Below are some other photos of Cripple Creek.

Looking south. The highway you see goes to Victor, another old mining town.

Looking west along Bennett Avenue, the main thoroughfare through Cripple Creek.

Looking east along Bennett Ave. Notice the clusters of aspens as well as the clouds shrouding the mountain.

This is the Double Eagle Casino.
It was early when I snapped this photo of Donna as we were walking east towards the Double Eagle. You can see the sun just beginning to peep over the mountain. It was probably about 35 or 40 degrees, cold but invigorating.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

On the Road: San Angelo, TX, to Raton, NM

Note: The following entry is not in real time, but was posted several days after it happened.

We are on our way back to Cripple Creek, Colorado. We really enjoyed ourselves on our last trip there, so we wanted to go again before cold weather set in.

The entire trip is pretty long, about 720 miles, so we decided to take 2 days to get there. On our first day, we made it only as far as Raton, NM, which is just south of the Colorado state line on Interstate 25.

It's 520 miles from San Angelo to Raton, but the road is great.

US 87 from San Angelo to Amarillo is 4 lanes. We follow US 87 north through Big Spring and Lamesa before picking up Interstate 27 (which replaces US 87) in Lubbock. From San Angelo to Big Spring, we see mostly ranch land with frequent hills lining the road. The highway follows, for the most part, the course of the North Concho River to the west, and you can usually see the tree line along the river. Near Big Spring, the river plays out.

North of Big Spring, farm land gradually takes over, with cotton the dominant crop. The land is table flat (thus, the name Lamesa, which is pronounced La-meesa). There are occasional swells in the land, but for the most part you can see for miles. There are no natural trees, so when you see a large cluster, you know you are approaching a small town. Many of the farm houses have a line of cedars or similar bushy trees to serve as wind breaks. Right now, the cotton is maturing. I was surprised at the number of new oil rigs between Big Spring and Lamesa. There must have been 10 or so.

I-27 starts at the south loop in Lubbock. It is an easy drive through Lubbock to the north. There isn't much change in the landscape until we approach Amarillo. We skirt around the lovely city of Canyon (see "Good Eats: Best Thai Restaurant" and "Panhandle Plains Historical Museum" from August 2012) and soon take the west loop around Amarillo.

At the northwest corner of Loop 335, we take Highway 1061, Tascosa Road, towards the old Panhandle town of Tascosa. In about 20 miles, we come to the Canadian River valley. A few miles later we intersect with US 385. There isn't much left of old Tascosa, but it was one of the 3 original towns of the Panhandle. Quite a bit of history walked the streets of this wild old town, and quite a few legendary figures, such as Charlie Siringo, Pat Garrett, and Billy the Kid. At one time, it served as the supply town for some large Panhandle spreads, such as the famous XIT. Today it is best known as the home of Cal Farley's Boys Ranch and Boot Hill Cemetery.

Boot Hill Cemetery is on a hill overlooking Boys Ranch

Historical Marker at Boot Hill Cemetery

The Chapel at Boys Ranch

From Tascosa to Raton is true ranch country, and tributaries of the Canadian cause breaks in the flat landscape. We cruise on north, passing through only small towns, like Channing and Hartley. At Dalhart, we continue northwest on US 87, again passing only through small towns: Perico, Texline, Clayton. We finally arrive in Raton, where we have a room reserved. Be sure to keep plenty of gas in your tank, as stretches between towns are quite long in these parts.

Raton is home for the night. We enjoy a good steak at K-Bob's and get ready for the next day.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Getting Around

Well, it is still hot, hot, hot in San Angelo. Daily highs have been hovering around the 100 degree mark, and we even hit some triple digits this week. I'm ready for some cooler weather. Even the nights are warm, rarely getting below 75 or so. We were fortunate to receive a little rain this week, about .2 inch. That's not much, but perhaps it will green things a bit.

I had an interesting experience while walking Wednesday morning. There is an elderly man a street over who uses a walker, but the old guy does his short walk on a regular basis. I spotted him up ahead as he was finishing his walk. He walked onto his driveway, then stopped. As I got closer, he waved me over, then pointed to his front porch. I took a look, and there was a little rattlesnake there. The old gentleman went in to his garage and came out with a shovel -- he couldn't find a hoe -- and asked me to kill the snake. I severed the head and the gentleman disposed of the remains. Another walker out here recently told us about finding a snake at his house, so we have to keep our eyes open.

Donna and I attended another presentation in the Fort Concho Speaker Series. This one was "Mysteries of the Texas Panhandle" by Joe Weaver. The title was a bit misleading, as I was expecting mysteries, such as missing people, unexplained lights, or some other such thing. Instead, it was really a discussion of how the Panhandle has developed over the years and related items. I still enjoyed it very much, as the Panhandle has long been a place of interest to me and I've read much about it. These presentations surely do pull a lot of people in. Most folks are retired, like Donna and I, but there are others who attend. The sessions are set up for lunch, so even people from the work force can attend.

We attended a little social at our club house this week as well. We were treated to root beer floats. It's hard to turn down anything free, but when ice cream is involved, it's darn near impossible. We were able to meet new neighbors, and that is always good. Over the 15 or so months we've lived here, we've met quite a few of the residents. I grew up in a small town and literally knew just about everyone in town. Rio Concho West has that sort of feel about the place.

But we are always reminded that this is a retirement community. Even though Donna and I are healthy and active, some of our neighbors are not. During one of my walks early in the week, an EMT vehicle came along the street searching for an address. It passed me, continued a quarter mile or so down the street, then came roaring back. In the meantime, I spotted another EMT vehicle on another nearby street. Both eventually found their locations. One evening this week, Donna and I were on our patio enjoying a light rain when an EMT vehicle flew by on the street. It turned and went down the next street and continued out of sight. I wonder about the quality of the GPS devices they must use, as they seem to have trouble finding addresses.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

All's Well

Irma has dissolved and I'm happy to report my brother Larry came through the storm in very good shape. He lives on the east coast of Florida, so at first we thought Irma was heading straight for me. Of course, the storm moved farther west and Larry did not get a direct hit. He was without power for a few days, but his building suffered no real damage. It looks like Jose has turned north and will miss much of the east coast, but two other storms, Maria and Lee, are currently building in the Atlantic. Current projected course for Maria will take it over much of the same route as Irma, so that isn't good. But storms can change, and we'll hope for the best. It's really too early to project a course for Lee.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, things have heated up in San Angelo. We've had several 100+ degree days, and have even set a record or two. It is, of course, dry. By the end of this month, though, we should be cooling off and settling in to some good autumn weather.

Donna and I continue to be absolutely worthless and do nothing except walk a few miles every other day. We do have upcoming trips planned, though, and we are looking forward to those. Unfortunately, I've been sent a jury notice, so I will have to make an appearance sometime in October. We'll have to plan our trips around that public service.

I've been monitoring this Equifax nightmare and taking necessary precautions as I can. I can't express the outrage I feel over this entire episode and the irresponsible manner the Equifax morons have handled things. We should reconsider public floggings.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Lunch at a Cathouse

For Donna's birthday, I let the old girl pick where she wanted to have her birthday meal. She decided on Miss Hattie's Restaurant in downtown San Angelo.

Now, there is a bit of history to this place. It's full name is Miss Hattie's Restaurant and Cathouse Lounge. The actual building housing the restaurant was constructed in the 1880's and was, at that time, home to the San Angelo National Bank. (see history) The bordello was actually two buildings over and upstairs, if I understand correctly, and there was a tunnel which connected it to the bank for the convenience and "discretion" of its patrons. The bordello began business in 1902 and continued operating until closed by the Texas Rangers in 1952. Today, you can tour Miss Hattie's Bordello Museum. Times are somewhat limited, so check the website. By the way, Miss Hattie's was not the only bordello operating along Concho Street.

Entrance to the Bordello Museum.
The restaurant is in the building on far right. This was, as I said, originally the bank building. The bordello was in the upstairs section of the larger building on the left. 

Boardwalk in front of the restaurant
Entrance to the restaurant
This was our second time to eat at Miss Hattie's. It's a nice place, and the building maintains many of it's original features, such as pressed tin ceiling. They have a full lunch menu with a variety of items, including a "Brothel Burger" that was acclaimed at one time as the 28th best burger in Texas by Texas Monthly magazine. I've not tried the burger yet, but intend to some time.

For her lunch, the birthday girl ordered grilled chicken pasta, which is a grilled chicken breast served over fettucine tossed in Alfredo sauce. I ordered the chicken fried steak.

The meal for each of us began with a small salad, consisting off a few tossed greens, 1 slice of cucumber, and half a slice of tomato. Rather meager pickings, I'd say. My steak looked good when it arrived, but my disappointment soon began to build. First, the menu clearly stated the steak is served with mashed potatoes, and I was served French fries, which I'm not a big fan of. The vegetable of the day was a helping of sweet corn. Neither the corn nor the fries were hot, just lukewarm at best. I began cutting into my steak. It was not until my fourth bite that I finally tasted meat. About a one inch perimeter of the steak was nothing more than crust. One of my standards for a good chicken fried steak is how tender it is; I expect to be able to cut a cfs with my fork. I had to use a knife several times on this steak.

My chicken fried steak. Gravy was served on the side. About half of the steak was crust.
Donna's pasta dish started out well. The chicken actually had a good flavor, but as she worked her way through her meal, she found the chicken to be tough.

Donna's grilled chicken pasta
The waitress was attentive, but there was a lot of waiting involved for us. There seemed to be long gaps of time from sitting down, being served drinks, ordering our meal, and being served. Once we finished our meal, it took us about 25 minutes to pay up and leave. I don't know what the precise problem was; as I said, the waitress was attentive, but the process seems to be out of whack. There were plenty of wait staff for the number of patrons in the restaurant.

Interior of restaurant
So, we were disappointed in our meals. Will we go back? Yes, we will. Our previous experience was good, and we like the menu. I think it is just a matter of figuring out what to order. But the environment is nice, and prices are reasonable for this type of establishment. But you can bet I won't order the chicken fried steak again. I might just get that brothel burger.

It was nice of Donna to let me go to a brothel on her birthday.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Happy Birthday, Donna

Well, today is the old woman's birthday. Donna is a year older today. I won't tell you how old she is; after all, I have to sleep sometime. But if you were to put candles on a cake for her, you'd be violating local fire codes.

Actually, the old girl seems to get younger while I do enough aging for both of us.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

A Midnight Battle and an Approaching Storm

It's been an interesting week.

Earlier in the week, Donna and I attended a presentation at Fort Concho entitled "The Midnight Battle at Fort Lancaster" by local historian David McMahon. The battle occurred during the War between the States, when a column of approximately 500 troops from California attempted to invade Texas from the west. A command of approximately 550 rangers was assembled and moved west from the San Antonio area to confront the invading force. Very little documentation exists regarding the battle. At present, historians are researching archives as well as investigating camp sites in order to learn more. There are plans to erect an historical marker at a highway nearest the site. One of the best online descriptions of the battle can be found at the Texas Historical Commission.

Fort Concho has an ongoing speaker series. These are offered at lunch to accommodate employed folks. Participants are invited to bring their lunches to enjoy during these presentations, which deal with various historical aspects of life in West Texas. Donna and I visited Fort Lancaster in January 2014 (see "Day Trip: Fort Lancaster State Historic Site" for pictures of the post). The fort is located on Live Oak Creek just off the Pecos River a few miles south of Interstate 10 just a few miles east of the small community of Sheffield. The surrounding country is very scenic. See "On the Road: San Angelo, TX, to Fort Lancaster, TX, and Back" for some pictures of this rugged country.

The weather cooled here a bit this week, and Donna and I started walking some in the late afternoon rather than early morning. In fact, I walked three times in the afternoon this week. However, the heat is slowly coming back, and we expect temps near 100 next week, so I've already shifted back to my morning walks.

Right now, I'm monitoring Hurricane Irma. My brother Larry and his wife Nancy recently moved to Florida, so I'm a bit concerned about them. They now live on the beach just north of Miami. As I write this, the storm has moved more to the west, so I'm hopeful they will be spared the worst. I'm sure they will lose power later tonight sometime, and then it becomes a waiting game until we hear from them again. And let's not forget about Jose and the other storm forming in the eastern Atlantic.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

A Good Week for Wildlife

Donna and I have been fortunate this week to see quite a bit of wildlife in San Angelo.

Early in the week, we drove out to Spring Creek Park on Lake Nasworthy. We drive out there often when we eat out. It's become pretty much a routine for us. After crossing the bridge, we pulled into the Mary E. Lee Park area next to the San Angelo Nature Center. A prairie dog colony has grown up in the area, and we like to drive by and watch those playful little critters. However, the growth of the colony has been such that the city is now looking at ways to reduce the number. (See related story). They have been removing some, but there are quite a few of those chubby little guys still out there.

From there, we drove around the edge of the lake on Fisherman's Road to Spring Creek Park. As we approached the entrance to the park, we passed a few turkeys working their way along the edge of the mesquites. Then, just inside the park entrance, we came across a dozen or more deer lying around in the shade.

Click to enlarge. There are deer scattered across the width of this picture.
Here's a close-up of a small group taking it easy in the soft grass and the shade of some pecan trees and mesquites.
Donna rose early one morning and looked out the window overlooking our patio, which is her usual routine. She never knows what she will see. On this particular morning, she saw something that looked like a fox. I was not in the room at the time, so I was unable to see what was lurking in our yard.

The daytime highs have been somewhat mild lately, so on Thursday afternoon, we decided to drive out to San Angelo State Park and take a walk out there. It was so pleasant as we walked along the traffic-free roadways, hearing nothing but the chirps of birds and the wind in the trees. We were fortunate to see the bison near our route. I never tire of seeing those massive creatures. They are such a natural part of this landscape and speak volumes of the history of this area.

Later that evening, Donna and I made our way to our rocking chairs on our back patio as darkness began to envelope our neighborhood. It wasn't long until we saw a buck and two doe emerge from the brush to our south. The trio moved along the opposite side of the street from us, then worked their way along a yard and soon disappeared into the draw between our house and the clubhouse.

This morning, I started my walk just before 6:00 AM, which means it is dark. It starts getting light about 6:30 or later these days. As I was nearing the entrance to Rio Concho West, I saw something along the curb ahead. It was too far away for the beam of my flashlight, so I continued my approach. As I got closer, it began to resemble a cat sitting upright. We do have some feral cats in the area, so I assumed it was one of them. As I drew nearer, it then rose and began to move away. I then saw that unmistakable bushy tail and realized I was looking at Donna's fox. It stopped for a moment to turn and look at me, and I could see the outline of its head then. No doubt about it -- that was a fox.

Yep, it's been a good week for wildlife viewing for us. We do enjoy watching animals of any sort. That is probably one of the things we miss most about no longer having our RV. We have spent a lot of time over the years in rural parks in close proximity to numerous critters, and we have enjoyed all those moments.