It was yet another fast and furious two weeks that once again went by too fast. I managed to get in all the sight seeing I had on my list, and even a few that were not on the list. I would have liked to have seen more of the local family, but I realize that I’m the one that is retired and has all the time in the world. Others have work, kids, and other various commitments that take up much of their daily lives. So, I’m happy to have shared the time that I did, and look forward to another visit to the Waco area sometime in the future.
Friends & Sightseeing
I was very pleased to host my former workmate Sondra, and her really cool daughter Erin at my campsite in Waco for the day on a nice sunny Sunday. They drove about an hour to get to Waco, and arrived mid morning. We chatted for a while, had some lunch, then all went into town to visit the Dr Pepper museum – which neither Sondra or Erin had visited before. I’d been to this museum the last time I was in Waco, which was about nine years ago. While some of the museum was the same, there was a lot that was new. So, even for me, it was a great visit. After the museum tour and a freshly made soda and ice cream break, we returned to the campground and enjoyed a nice campfire. It wasn’t long before Sondra recognized the massive tree that shaded my RV as being a Pecan tree. I guess the multitude of nut droppings was also a clue. Being more of a suburban type, I had no idea about the tree. Sondra quickly collected a handful of nuts, and it wasn’t long before Erin and I were munching on the benefits of her shelling skills. Who would have thought there was a plentiful supply of wonderful, fresh pecans right outside my RV door. That also probably explains the seeming never ending pounding of things dropping on the roof and slideouts of the RV. We topped off the day with my signature lasagna dinner, and enjoyed some more conversation. It was a great day spending time with the two of them. Thank you Sondra and Erin for coming up to Waco for a visit.
Dr Pepper was actually first created in Waco in the 1880s by pharmacist Charles Alderton. It was formally introduced to consumers in 1885 at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, actually predating the introduction of Coca-Cola by one year. The museum has a vast collection of memorabilia, bottles, factory equipment, and the like. There’s even a small theater where you can select and view from a collection of old TV advertising. Sadly, I recognized many of the “historical” ads. They also had bottles from the early 1900s that reflected the Dr Pepper logo, with the 10-2-4 markings. That was part of the early advertising that suggested you should drink Dr Pepper three times a day at 10am, 2pm and 4pm to get and keep up your energy. Certainly a huge departure to where we are today regarding the health issues around soda consumption. A very cool museum that anyone should visit if in the Waco area.
I also got to visit the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum. This was a really informative exhibit that told the story of how the Texas Rangers got started, and how it has progressed to the modern-day Ranger. It also recognizes many of the rangers that had shown exemplary service, as well as those who had lost their lives in the line of duty. The Rangers were unofficially created in 1823 by Stephen Austin (father of Texas), who formed this group of seasoned horse riders and gun slingers to protect arriving colonist in the newly formed Republic of Texas, from threats by the Mexicans and the Indians. They work hand-in-hand with local and state police, and have evolved to be more of an investigative law enforcement agency. Over the years they have been involved with lots of Texas law enforcement history to include stopping the assassination of President Taft, to the finding and killing of notorious gangsters known as Bonnie and Clyde (as depicted in the Netflix movie The Highwayman – which was awesome by the way). The museum is filled with all sorts of artifacts from the over a century history of this organization, along with kiosks of dedications featuring the most notable among them. I learned an awful lot about this group of folks that I formally knew very little. Granted, it wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns as there were certainly some periods of time where the Rangers were not in favor – believing they had overstepped their bounds, or having used excessive force or intimidation that was inconsistent or unbecoming of a service officer. So, the bad with the good is all explored at this very interesting and extensive museum.
I also spent the better part of an afternoon at the Cameron Park Zoo. Opened in July of 1995, this 52 acre natural habitat zoo features over 1700 animals from all over the world. The 50,000 gallon salt water reef was added in 2005 as part of the Brazos River Country exhibit. It was a really nice zoo that featured a wide collection of animals. I especially enjoyed watching the baby orangutan climbing and playing, as the adult orangutan used a stick to reach through the fence to push then retrieve nuts that had fallen on the ground outside of its normal reach. Truly amazing! They also had a collection of Galapagos turtles that were absolutely massive! And then, there were the very cute and playful meerkats. Too many animals overall to recognize here, but an overall very nice local zoo.
On the west side of the Brazos River in downtown Waco I visited the Indian Springs Park. This park features the historic Waco Suspension Bridge and the Branding the Brazos statue series. The bridge crosses the Brazos River, and is enjoyed by walkers and bikers alike. The sculptures were created by nationally renowned sculptor Robert Summers of Glen Rose, Texas, and pays homage to the history of the Chisholm Trail. These huge bronze sculptures represent scenes from a Chisholm Cattle Drive. The sculptures includes three riders on horseback and a herd of 25 longhorn cattle. It is beautifully done and nicely adorns this riverside park. I also once again attempted to get in some quality Chip and Joanna time. As I mentioned in my last Waco report, I visited the Silos complex, but did so during an annual festival, which made it way too crowded for me. I wanted to check out their restaurant called Magnolia Table, and figured if I went mid-week, and went after lunch but before dinner, then the crowds would not be bad. Well, I figured wrong. There was a 90 min wait to be seated, and I just wasn’t willing to put in the time. Oh well, thanks anyway!
Roadside & Other Sights
There were a number of Roadside America places to visit, and included one location that the app had no pictures of. So, as in the past, I certainly had to make it a point to visit the location and submit the pictures to the app to fill in this hole. In particular, the app spoke about a piece of metal from a train that was in a museum that came from a head-on train crash in a nearby town back in the late 1800s. Sounded interesting, so I went for a visit. Located in the History of West Museum (the town was called West) was in fact a piece of metal from a train crash (pictured right, lower right). Turns out, the train crash was a planed event. It was a stunt and a form of entertainment to bring about revenue in the way of spectator tickets. Well, it certainly turned out to be quite a bang! A short 2 min historical video that chronicles this crazy event can be found HERE. Overall, it was a very nice museum. It was mostly centered around the history and heritage of the town of West. One of the featured history items was actually something I remembered, and was related to a deadly grain silo explosion that occurred in 2013. I remembered the event as it made national news, but I did not recall that it happened in the town of West. Now I know! I also attempted to visit two additional Roadside places nearby, one was Roadside America museum (no affiliation with the Roadside America app), as well as the jail cell where Elvis was locked up for being drunk. I checked carefully that both were supposed to be open on Saturdays, but neglected to read the fine print that indicated they were open on Saturdays April thru Oct. I was there on Sat Nov 2nd. Missed it by THAT much!
As I always do, I search for flea and farmers markets in the areas of my travels. I always enjoy checking out these local attractions. I found out that Waco has a weekly farmers market in downtown so I went for a visit. It had about 40 or so vendors with crafts, farm goods, and even a local winery with tastings and bottle purchase options. It was a very nice local event. I also came across what is billed as the largest flea market event in the world (you know, everything in Texas is the largest of something). This was called the First Monday Trade Days, and is held on the 5-day stretch preceding the first Monday of each month. So, in my case, it was Oct 31st thru Nov 4th. I read that the Thu and Fri are the best days to go to avoid heavy crowds. However, both those days were cold and rainy, so I opted to tough it out on Saturday. It was a 2+ hour drive to Canton to get there, but was worth it. It was NOT a flea market, but what I would otherwise coin as an antique market. It was however, very large, so I will give them that. It took me several hours and several miles of walking to get through a large chunk of it. But it was mostly crafts, antiques, and the like. There were no homeowner tailgaters selling stuff they no longer wanted – which is what I would consider a flea market. Anyway, it was a fun afternoon to visit, and now I can say I’ve been to the largest flea market in the world!
Lastly, as I was looking at the map and the area surrounding Waco, I noticed the town of Crawford about 45 miles west. I recognized the town name, but could not immediately recall what was special about it. Then it dawned on me, that was the town where President George H Bush (Bush 43) has his Texas ranch. So, on a nice sunny day, I took a scoot ride to see if I could find it, and to see how close I could get to it. Maybe I’d be super lucky and be invited in for tea! It actually wasn’t hard to find as Google Maps has it listed by its name – Prairie Chapel Ranch. It is definitely out in the boonies – requiring many miles of back country roads to get to. When I made my final turn onto Mill Rd, there I immediately encountered a Dead End sign, with a gate, gatehouse and truck just off in the distance. At this point I figured that if I proceeded, I would likely encounter guards with guns, so I thought it best to grab a quick photo (seen at right, top left), and be on my way. I did take away something interesting though with this trip. The ride took me past several beautiful ranches with their iconic Texas Ranch entrances which were very nice to see. But, I also past a few vehicles along the way, as well as a couple of people who were outside working. In all cases, the people waved to me as I passed by. I found that oddly refreshing of what is likely just the good old boy neighborhood where everyone is friendly to everyone else. This was sadly a vast departure of most of the other areas in the country. We need more of that friendliness these days. On my way out of town I spotted this little roadside store called the Chaney Brothers Coffee Co. The building also sported an American Eagle sign, so my first thought was it might somehow be related to Dick Cheney. But, as you can see, and as I later figured out, Chaney and Cheney are spelled differently. Just a coincidence that it was located in the town with the Bush ranch, and it had an eagle that looked oddly like the presidential/vice-presidential seal. Oh well, nothing to see here evidently.
Well, I’ve landed in Austin where I’ll be for the next four weeks. I’ve got a huge laundry list of things to see, and places to visit. I spent a few days in this town while on a work trip several years ago. In that short time, I really liked the vibe of Austin, and now look forward to spending some quality non-working time seeing and learning what it has to offer. I’ll fill you in as time progresses. Till then, safe travels.