This is Big Bend Country - a part of it that we missed last spring. There are no Coast to Coast campgrounds here but the Davis Mountains State Park was very nice. The 1,869 acre park is set in a basin of the mountains and is only three miles from town. It was our first experience in a Texas State park and we were very impressed. All campsites were level, had nice roofed patios and full hook-ups for only $12.00 per night. Our campsite at the base of a mountain was quiet and restful - a bird watchers paradise. It was nice to be so far away from TV and radio. The only radio station we could get went off the air at 6pm on Sunday and 10pm weekdays. A pueblo style indian lodge is nestled deep into the park and has a full service restaurant. On Tuesday, February 12th, we attended their Mardi Gras dinner and ate much more that we needed to. It was a buffet, excellent and inexpensive.
There are several major attractions in the area. The Fort which is located on the outskirts of the town is a National Historic Site. It was a key post in the West Texas defensive system guarding emigrants on the San Antonio - El Paso road from 1854 to 1891. Many of the buildings are shells or just foundations but the park has restored several to the original condition and the exhibits are well done.
Another big attraction in the area is the University of Texas Mc Donald Observatory which is located 13 miles from town. This is one of the five largest observatories in the world. Built in 1932 on the 6,791 foot peak of Mount Locke, this site was selected because of the clear air, high ratio of cloudless nights, and distance from concentrated artificial lights. We took advantage of several of the free programs offered. Every day at 2pm, they have a tour to the big telescope (107 inch reflector). We were impressed at the size and the way the building dome moves. It reminded me of a James Bond Movie - when the sides of the building turned and the telescope positioned itself ready to peek through the area in the roof that would open if it had been nighttime. The visitor center has regular films and lectures but the most popular are the Tuesday and Saturday "star parties." The first part of the party is an introductory film on stars. We learned that stars are like our sun only so far away that they only appear as only small spots of light at night. (I must have been sleeping through that class in high school because I really didn't know that before now). The last part of the party took us outside to actually look at the stars, just with our naked eyes, through binoculars and finally a small telescope. It was a wonderful learning experience and I highly recommend it to everyone.
The population of Fort Davis is only 900 and typical of most small towns
where everyone knows everyone. The unusual is that the "locals" live many
miles away on their ranches yet when they come to town, everyone greets
everyone as neighbors all over do. The downtown area consists of
bank, boarding house, Inn, and a few other shops - all look like a set
for a western movie right down to the wooden hitching posts. There are
two places that one must eat. Sutters Boarding house offers "everything
homemade" and it was - the vegetable soup I had was special - big hunks
of vegetables - no store bought stuff in there. I have been getting
practice in sniffing out homemade pies and knew that those offered here
would be the real thing - first of all they were listed on a chalkboard.
When I saw names like lemon chess and buttermilk, I knew I'd struck gold.
We each had the buttermilk. Delicious! The other place to eat or
at least snack is the Fort Davis Drug. Located on the bottom floor of the
Old Texas Inn, the only resemblance to a drug store is a shelf behind the
cash register with a few relics of the past and the soda fountain. They
serve breakfast and lunch and boast that they serve the best cokes. We
had a cherry coke with a sandwich and enjoyed it but have to admit that
the real treat was the ice cream sodas we had one other afternoon. Ice
cream sodas are hard to find anymore so we like to buy them and show our
appreciation. There's much more to do in the area but we don't have room
in this issue. You'll just have to plan a visit for yourself.
The very next day, we signed up for horseback riding. What a treat. This is not the busy time of the year and we were all alone with our guide Jeff. We trotted a little, went here and there. It was not like a typical ride at a riding stable. We were so excited that we planned to ride two hours the next day and maybe more after that. We paid for the 1:30 ride early Friday morning and got a pleasant surprise at ride time. We weren't going to be charged because they wanted us to help round up about 20 horses who had been out in one pasture for a couple of weeks. This is what I had hoped being on a real ranch would be like. Ron was a great sport considering that his ride the day before was only his third time on a horse. There were five of us, Cowboys Matt and Robert, Ron and I and a woman who was also a guest at the ranch and had ridden that morning.
We rode about two miles and saw no signs of the horses (they always travel in groups) so Matt led us way down into a valley. That was pretty tough traveling. The horses had to maneuver over lots of rocks and it was steep. We found the horses down at the bottom and once we circled them, they were easily led towards a gate. From there, it was a simple matter of staying behind them until we got back to the corral. Gosh it was fun. We had hoped to do more riding but we put it off until the last two days and the weather turned nasty on us.
A Family Operation. The Prude Guest Ranch is run by the Prude family and they are on the sixth generation to do so. We became familiar with John Robert and Betty Prude (4th generation), and their son (Chip) along with some of the more than 20 permanent staff. It was Grandma and Grandpa Prude who began taking guests into their "big House" in the early 1900's. And it was Grandpa (John G.Prude) who discovered that it was "more profitable to herd people that it was to herd cattle."
Gradually they added bunk houses, cabins, guest houses, kitchens, offices and so on - all very rustic. Now they host all sorts of things from Boys and Girls Summer camp (held since 1951) to Elder Hostels. In fact there were two Elder Hostel groups (120 people) there the week we were there. One was a camping group while the other stayed in the lodge.
The Prude Ranch hosts tour groups from many countries but their biggest
event is the Texas Star Party held every May. Over 750 amateur astronomers
camp out on the prude ranch for the same reason that the University of
Texas set up their telescopes in the area in the early 1930,s.
Although one can see cattle grazing on the ranch, they have less than
60 head. Horses are their prime livestock and they breed and care
for about 40 horses which get good workouts at summer camp. If you
find yourself in the Davis Mountains area, check out the ranch. You'll
find them more than friendly.
The three piece Shad Burns Band from New Mexico was superb. They started on time, with the right volume, took one fifteen minute break an hour and played as advertised until one am. People started filling up the gymnasium sized auditorium before the eight pm start time. Couples brought coolers with beer and soft drinks (few brought liquor or wine), and ninety five percent wore cowboy boots, and blue jeans. Many of the men wore cowboy hats and they dance with their hats on. A few of the girls wore western type skirts instead of jeans.
Many families arrived. Children from just a few months old to teenagers were in attendance and when the music started, nearly every one danced. Couples danced with their babies, little ones found partners - everyone danced - the two step being the dance of choice - and they only stopped dancing when the band stopped. People did not go home when the band took their breaks either. It was not until nearly midnight that some (with young children) began to go home. No one got rowdy - they were too busy dancing to do any serious drinking. Gosh it was a fun time and breakfast was just what I thought a cowboy breakfast would be - lots of eggs, biscuits and gravy,bacon, juice potatoes and so on. Those that choose to eat, did so and immediately returned to the dance floor to get in the last few dances.
We talked with a few local girls and they told us that all dances here
are very well attended. They don't happen very often and it is THE social
event. We figure people who live far out on ranches don't have baby
sitters so it just becomes normal to include everyone in the big excitement.
Ever want to see what Yosemite National Park is really like and wish you had some connections there? Did you get so excited about our reports on the Hill Country of Texas that you decided you WOULD plan a vacation there if and when you knew you would have a good tour guide? Now is your chance on both counts.
We have heard from the Pfennengers and followed their instructions to call Ranger Kevin MacMillen at Yosemite. We did and he informed us that we are "on" for April and May of this year. They would like to have us in place the weekend before Easter so we will push on -skipping some of our planned Arizona stops. We can catch those next winter. Look for us in the Wawona campground where we will be the hosts. Come and visit us and Yosemite at the same time.
While in Johnson City, Texas last month, we decided that that is where
we would like to spend next Feb, March and April. We signed up for
and have been accepted as volunteers on the LJB Ranch in Stowell.
Remember all of those neat Coast to Coast campgrounds and cabins we talked
about last month - plus Austin, San Antonio and lots of good food and golf
courses? We especially expect our families to get serious and plan
a trip to come and visit us so we can show them around a part of the country
we have fallen in love with. We are giving you a whole years notice
and the months of March and April are exceptionally beautiful in the Hill
Country with all the wild flowers in bloom. We can make arrangements
in cabins if we have notice. Fly (two big city airports) or drive
but do come. These are chances of a lifetime?
Two facts about doctors; Half finished in the bottom half of their class and All are still practicing medicine.
I'll always remember the look on Barbara's face as she was rounding up the horses at the Prude Guest Ranch. I have never seen anyone so happy.
It's almost that time again for my yearly ratings - "The Best and The Worst". Watch for it in the next issue.
I am going to try very hard this year to NOT get interested in baseball. I don't want to contribute in any way to any of the spoiled millionaire ball players.
I am glad that I have grown a beard. I don't have to buy razor blades and support the companies who sponsor baseball. I rarely ever drink any beer either.
If we continue to spend as much time in Texas as we have been, I will
definitely have to learn the Texas Two step.
LUCKENBACH, TEXAS population 25 is located in the Texas Hill country. Settled in 1850 by German Pioneers, the town remained obscure until bought in the 1970's by the late Hondo Crouch, a Hill Country humorist, writer and authentic Texas character. An enormously popular country - western song made the name known virtually worldwide.
Luckenbach remains as it was - one unpainted general store that also serves as a beer tavern, a traditional rural dance hall, and a sometimes used blacksmith shop. Weekend afternoons are usually spontaneous "happenings." Banjo pickers, guitar strummers, and fiddlers form impromptu groups beneath huge old lie oaks. Whittlers whittle and washer pitchers play their game. It's like horseshoes - except the players toss one inch metal washers towards a one inch hole in the dirt. It is scored like horseshoes.
We were there on a sunny Saturday afternoon. A half dozen stood around in the bar drinking beer from long neck bottles while another dozen or so listened to the musicians playing under the oak tree.
The second building is a kind of craft shop. It is the most un commercialized building I have ever attempted to shop in. The whole town was that way.
Luckenbach's bemusing ambiance, according to one writer, "is like Brigadoon; you're almost afraid to go back because it might not be there again."
It's there - east of Fredricksburg off U.S. 290 five miles south on
F.M. 1376. Don't look for signs; souvenir thieves swipe them as fast as
they can be placed. That's OK -it keeps the tourist traffic down.
It took us two trips to find it. When you find it, keep it a secret so
it will stay just the way it is.
This 'N That
In this very spot last month, I mentioned Lammes candies and wrote that I hoped that I could resist buying more when we made our last trip into Austin. Aunt Genevieve was waiting for us after we had had the newsletters printed. She had a special rare treat waiting for us. Lammes chocolate covered strawberries. They only make them once or twice a year. And you had no way of knowing that while we folded, addressed, and stamped your newsletters, we overdosed on these huge, succulent, chocolate covered strawberries. They were all natural, whole fresh strawberries which had been dipped in thick sweet chocolate. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Gen had bought one dozen and the warning on the carton said that they had to be eaten within 36 hours. We did!!! In fact they were gone in three hours.
Another special place in Austin is the Tres Amigos Mexican restaurant. They serve the best Fajitas in the world.
As we were saying "good-by" to Don and Liz at Perdanalis Hills Coast to Coast resort in Johnson City, we met Ted and Betty Whippie of Connecticut full-timers for 3 years. We compared lots of notes and learned a new way to play Hearts (the ten of diamonds is a bonus card and who ever has it at the end gets minus ten points). I was impressed with the fact that Betty still makes ALL of her own bread and rolls from scratch. I point that out to those who still think that full-timers are just campers.
I reported last month that son Jim was going to be going to sent to Turkey for temporary duty with the Air Force. Instead they sent him to a base in England which was going to be receiving all the medical evacuations once the ground war started. Isn't it wonderful that there were so few casualties? Just this evening President Bush announced that it is all over so maybe in the near future everyone can get back to normal.
I just have to say one thing about the war. Our generals - especially Norman Schwarzkopf, President Bush, and the military - all of them - sure did themselves proud. The only ones who came out of this looking bad (besides Saadam, the Iraqis, and Jordanians) were the press -especially CNN. Any of them who kept reporters in Baghdad, fraternizing with the enemy, ought to be shot for treason. Same with those who interviewed Saadam and kept repeating his propaganda. Boycott CNN!! Thank you for allowing me have my say - it is my paper and I am exercising my freedom of the press.
I only wrote a little about the Mc Donald observatory in the lead story. I cannot look at the stars the same old way anymore. Our visit there changed my life. I feel minuscule - compared to the universe. The instructor pointed out one of the close planets and said that the light we were seeing at that moment left that planet 45 minutes ago. That, we can believe, right? Then he said that the light from one of the stars, is so far away that it took 500 years to reach our eyes (that's what they refer to as 500 light years). 500 years!! Imagine that.
When was the last time you had a real old - fashioned ice cream soda
and what is your favorite flavor? Ron likes double chocolate (chocolate
ice cream and chocolate soda) while my favorite is cherry. You can
kind of make one in your home but they taste different when you are sitting
on a stool at a real soda fountain and when they are served in one of those
tall, narrow glasses with a
While we were at the Prude Ranch, I became aware that the answer to any question I asked started with "Yes, ma'am" or "No, ma'am". And it didn't matter who was answering me - male or female. It also didn't seem to matter how many questions I asked in a row. Each one started out with the "yes" or "no", followed with the "ma'am", then the rest of the answer like - "No, ma'am, I sure don't know how many cattle are on that ranch." It was as refreshing as the air and the stars there.
We also noticed that in the Fort Davis area, whenever a car comes toward your car, the driver waves. I thought it was mighty friendly but there is a good reason for it. Because everyone knows everyone there, and you don't know if the car that is coming toward you is someone you know until it is too late, they wave to everyone. "We don't want to snub anybody", we were told.
Do you like photographs in our newsletters? I hope that if we
can't use photos some months, you will forgive us. We have to be
near a good sized city in order to use them. The first time we used
photos (October' 90), I found a nice newspaper in Indiana. They made
the half tones in a few minutes and only charged me $5.00. The Hot
Springs newspaper never charged us but last
I really missed my proofreader and editor this month. If you find
more mistakes than usual -that is why.
One of the stories from this issue is in our new book, Movin' On. That story, When Illness Strikes details a horrible experience we had in Las Cruces , New Mexico, after we left Fort Davis.
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