I’ve booked four weeks in Waco, two weeks at two different Corps of Engineer (COE) sites along Lake Waco. I’ve just finished my first two weeks at Airport Park COE, and yesterday moved to Midway Park COE on the other side of the lake. Not as scenic from my actual site, but a nice place none the less. With two weeks of adventures under my belt, it was time to share some stories on what I’ve been up to.
Very Special Events
Well, these past two weeks have been filled with some very special events. Most notably just this morning, my newest granddaughter arrived into this world. Appearing in the early morning of Oct 24th and weighing in at 7 lbs 8 oz, the little precious Savannah Faye has joined the Ketchum family. I terribly wish I could be there at this time to share and enjoy this little bundle, but look forward to spending time and spoiling her when I’m back home for Thanksgiving. Till then, I’m looking forward to receiving daily pictures and progress reports via text. All my love to Momma Sam and Daddy Ryan for brining this beautiful girl into the world. Congratulations!
If that wasn’t special enough, I was also recently blessed to share in the matrimonial celebration that was my Niece Ashley’s wedding day. She and Brian became Mr. and Mrs on Saturday, Oct 19th. It was a beautiful ceremony on the grounds of Miss Nellie’s Pretty Place – a six acre wild flower preserve and outdoor amphitheater in downtown Cameron Park. I think what made this kinda special was that Ashley, who by day is the Executive Director of Keep Waco Beautiful, has been very involved in the last several years with a campaign to keep this area beautified. Now she gets to reap a bit of the rewards for her efforts by using the venue for her special day. I also got to catch up with the rest of the Waco extended family, some whom travelled some distance to attend the wedding. This included father of the bride Todd and his wife Terri, mother of the bride Penney, step-dad Evan, and siblings Jason, Sam, and Alex. It was wonderful catching up with all of them at this very special event. Thank you Ashley for the invite to share in your special day!
When people think of Waco, they often think of one or two things – the tragic standoff and eventual death of 80 Branch Davidians and 4 ATF agents at Mount Carmel Center Ranch, or on a more positive note, the local celebrities Chip and Joanna Gaines from their hit HGTV show Fixer Upper. Both are important in the history of Waco, but certainly the latter is what Waco inspires to represent as its future.
For you younger readers, the tragedy at Mount Carmel started when the ATF attempted to execute a gun stockpiling search warrant against David Koresh who was the leader of an 80-member strong Branch Davidian religious group (an offshoot of the Davidian Seventh-Day Adventist Church) that lived within a compound just outside Waco (pictured left – lower right). The raid led to a gun fight were 4 ATF agents and a 6 Branch Davidians were killed. The ATF backed off then brought in federal and local law enforcement as well as the military, in an attempt to get David Koresh to honor the warrant. The standoff lasted for 51 days – then on April 19, 1993, after having cut off all electric and water supply to the compound, the FBI launched an assault and shot tear gas into and throughout the facility in hopes to get them to surrender. What followed next is subject to considerable debate on both sides as to who was to blame, but the complex became engulfed in fire and all remaining 76 Branch Davidians, including 20 children and David Koresh himself, died therein. It was a horrific event with a tragic outcome that put Waco on the map in a not so favorable light. The only physical remnant of the original complex that remains is the pool (pictured left, upper right). Otherwise, the property is mostly monuments to those who died, a small newly built church, and a few small outbuildings and housing for the current caretaker. It was interesting yet sobering to walk the grounds where this tragedy had taken place and where so many innocent lives had been taken.
In complete opposition to Mount Carmel, the efforts of the Gaines’ in Waco has certainly furthered the towns goal of becoming a happening, tourist driven destination. Their famous TV show called Fixer Upper would showcase Chip and Joanna showing prospective home owners various homes in the Waco area that needed some TLC. When the specific home was chosen, the duo would run it through a remodel and interior design process, then ultimately revealed to the new home buyer. The transformation was usually substantial, with beautiful shiny new homes as the outcome. It was a very successful show, and put locals Chip and Joanna on the Waco map. After five seasons, the show is no longer in production, but the Gaines’ continue to make positive contributions to the Waco area. Their most recent is the Magnolia Silos project which includes a coffee and cupcake bakeshop, an outdoor kid play area, a music venue, and various antique and repurpose shops. I happened to visit the area during their 5th annual “Silobration” which each year celebrates the opening of the Silos complex. I was fortunate to be there mid-week, and can only imagine what the crazy crowds would be during the celebration weekend. Even still, it was pretty jammed with people. No sign of Chip or Joanna though!
Another fairly new attraction to the area is the Waco Mammoth National Monument. In 1978, two arrowhead and fossil hunters named Paul Barron and Eddie Bufkin discovered a large bone in the area of the Bosque River. It was analyzed by the museum at Baylor University, and positively identified as being from the Columbian mammoth. These creatures lived between 10,000 and 1 million years ago, and are not the “furry” or woolly creatures we think of when we think of a mammoth. This variety lived mostly in warmer climate and not during the ice age. The museum organized a formal dig, and through the years 1978 to 1990, a total of 16 mammoths were found – giving this location the historic designation as being the largest known concentration of mammoths. Most of the bones were relocated and are stored at Baylor University. A few mammoth uncoverings, both adult and baby, remained on the site, and a secure and environmental friendly shelter was built in 2009 to allow visitors a first glimpse. The area was maintained by the City of Waco and Baylor for the next several years, when in 2015 they petitioned for and received National Monument designation. This brought in the National Park Service as a partner in its ongoing maintenance and operations. A really cool place to visit!
I also love visiting state parks – many of which are really cool! It was suggested to me that I check out Lake Whitney, and Lake Whitney State Park which was about 40 miles north-west of Waco. So, on a beautiful sunny mid 70s day, I took a scoot ride up there for a visit. The park has lots of camping and picnic sites throughout, two 1-mile hiking trails which I hiked, and a seemingly endless coastline along beautiful Lake Whitney. This is a manmade, Corps of Engineer managed waterway via a vast dam along the Brazos River. Great way to spend a day touring around. I even saw my first camp firewood vending machine at the park office. You put in your cash or credit card, then a door opens to provide access to a bundle of wood. How awesome is that!
There were several Roadside America sites to report on in this blog. First up was a place not actually in the Waco area, but rather from my last stop in Mount Pleasant. Being there only a week, I didn’t do too much touristy stuff, so I didn’t have much to report in the way of a dedicated blog. What I did visit was extremely unique, so I saved it to share in this blog. I visited America’s only public bathroom with see-thru walls! Nestled in a beautiful veterans park in courthouse square Sulpher Springs, TX, are two public restrooms that are totally see-thru from the inside. From the outside, they are mirrored preventing any inward peeping. I did go inside for the view and some pics, but I was hesitant to give it the full experience – if you know what I mean. But it was VERY cool indeed!
Next, there were several Roadside items to visit in downtown Waco. First up was an 80 foot tall tin soldier located in furniture row in Waco. Once an incinerator, it was later abandoned then transformed into this cool artistic attraction in 2014. Next up was Darwin the gorilla. He is a local Waco attraction that sits on the front lawn of someones private residence, and is painted/repainted several times throughout the year to celebrate whatever holiday or whim of its owner. As you might expect, Darwin is currently decorated for halloween. Next, pictured at right in the center is Cottonland Castle. Construction of this place began in the late 1800s, and went through many, many owners and various states of completion in the decades that followed. While several recent owners had committed to revitalizing the now historic landmark, most found the ongoing maintenance and upkeep requirements far too costly. Just recently in 2019, the castle was purchased by none other than Chip and Joanna Gaines. They have promised to finish renovating the home and give it the attention it deserves. What will become of it after that remains anyones guess. No trip to Waco is complete without visiting the famous Baylor Bears. They have a very nice bear den on the campus of the university that provides a comfortable living for these school mascots. Lastly, I visited a gas station that had been restored to its original look from 1929. Very nice indeed.
I could not wrap up this blog without paying homage to the absolutely amazing campsite I had at Airport Park COE, on the shores of Lake Waco. The picture at the very top of the blog is a panoramic view from my actual site. The site was waterfront, massive compared to most RV sites, and offered the most incredible views of the lake imaginable. I do believe this place is perhaps the best kept secret among RVers. At a cost of $30 per day ($15/day for Senior National Pass holders), I’ve seen absolutely nothing that compares to it in that price range in my 20+ years of camping. I was able to watch boats coming and going from the launch across from my site, and enjoy spectacular sunsets across the water. Truly amazing! Now I’m off to the other side of the lake at Midway COE campground. I’ve got two more weeks in Waco, and lots more to see while I’m here. So, off I go. Till next time, safe travels.