Dateline: February 25, 2013

Over the years I’ve visited various areas of the Texas Hill Country as an escape from the crowds, noise and  disarray of big cities. Even  when I was a country dweller, the backroads and pig trails of our diverse state called my roaming nature to snoop through the out of the way little towns and whistlestops looking for something fresh to pique my interest.

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When I was in my thirties (quite awhile back), a friend and his business partner leased a ranch for hunting on Hackberry Road in the canyon country of the east fork of the Nueces River. Back then the beautiful flowing Nueces wound back and forth across the road which twists and turns it’s way through the river canyon and mountains between Ranch Road 335 and Hwy. 41 where it comes back on top about 5 or 6 miles or so from the intersection of State Highways 41 and 83. I used to love the drive which was punctuated by sightings of Blackbuck Antelope, Fallow, Axis, and Sika deer, Aoudad, and Mouflon, Corsican and Barbado sheep. Wild turkey and native Whitetail deer rounded out the free roaming wildlife. The exotics had escaped from high fenced hunting ranches and proliferated in this cedar and rock infested area of the state.

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Back down Ranch Road 335 between Barksdale and the turn off to Jo Jan Van there are giraffe and camel and sable to be seen  and Las Palmas Ranch is guarded by  white walls topped by jagged shards of colored bottles imbedded along the top edge. The mailbox reads Gleannloch Farmes which, in my youth, was the Houston Arabian horse operation for millionaire Tom McNair. Herds of deer, both native and exotic roam along the river bottom under the pecan trees lining that section of the Nueces.

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I drove through the area as a diversion on Saturday afternoon and was saddened to see the negative impact drought has taken on the river and countryside. Winter is never pretty in this area of Texas and drough conditions certainly add to the melancholy brought on by a dreary view.

I  stayed in a room with a bath attached to Boots and Buckles Dance Hall in Camp Wood by a common wall and uncommon owner named Barbara who is a retired educator and an area native.017 1024x768

I enjoyed the companionship of multiple and varied personalities of which Camp Wood has an abundance. Everyone in Camp Wood is inter-related it seems and even the livestock seemed to share kinship with the townsfolk. There were several females who were, in my day, subject to make a chihuahua break a logging chain trying to follow them home. These country fried chicks were no more inclined to speak kindly of of each other regardless of familial association than broom jockeys in more metropolitan areas  but they do it in such a cornbread and black-eyed pea way that it sounds like imparting family history rather than slandering the competition.

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There was the usual smattering of local pickers and talent impersonators who preened and crowed to any and all that they thought might be impressed with a minor chord accompanied by an alley cat howl.  Musicians are by nature two steps due south of center and lack of notoriety due to small venues and  mediocre talent can be overcome by inflated self esteem and super powerful amplification. YeeHaw!!! If your ears can stand it and you’ll buy the beer and act sorta of impressed, these fine examples of backwoods bangers and twangers can be counted on to provide a few hours of entertainment and occasionally a tune worth a trip around the dance floor as well as regaling you with stories of their “been there and done that” musical accomplishments.

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I drank SEVERAL cold beers and one shot of Crown and tried my dangdest to mate my wrinkled bottom to a high back bar stool which was almost made for me.

On Saturday afternoon I drifted up Ranch Road 337 to the northside of town to chew on a rib or 5 from Two Fat Boys BBQ whose owner (and the only Fat Boy still involved) is a Santa Claus look alike with the moniker of “Chug” and a rather sunny disposition. My brother and I had sampled his wares and chatted with him for an hour several months previously and found both he and his bbq to our liking. The sides aren’t all that great but Chug is generous with the meat portions which make up for any deficiencies in the veggies.

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We visited and I took his photo and that of one of his “helpers” who stole the “Photogenic” title from Chug. Fact is she was a real cutie and mature enough to win a wink from yours truly.

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Chug offered me the use of a piece of fishing water and I accepted for a future date when it wasn’t so windy. He has a RV park and campground across the street from the river and it is for sale and kinda cool and managed by a double throwdown stand-in for a heartbreaker who shakes hands in a firm and honest fashion.

restaurant

There are a couple of cafe/restaurants if you’re not hungry for Q. One of them is Casa Falcone which seems to do a good business and run by friendly folks and the other is Casa Sifuentes which is small but tidy and  has free chips and salsa.

The town overall is kinda punchy and inviting but as with everything else in Texas these days has a downside. Plenty of redneck yard art ( trash, junk and garbage) is eagerly waiting to be seen by passersby and  casual observers.

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The locals say that there are an abundance of meth labs in the surrounding rural locales and that the law has been keeping busy busting the lab rats who run them which must explain the fact that there actually were a few donuts for sale which hadn’t been scarfed up by the constabulary.  All in all, Camp Wood and the river there is worth a peek.

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That’s my opinion for what it’s worth. Taking everything into consideration, I still love this area of Texas and the characters who inhabit it. I will return, soon!

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Gruene Hall

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Captain Crystal Ball
009 1024x768Anita wet places I know.

I cruised into Gruene with the intent of stumbling off into Gruene Hall which is about as famous a dance hall as most boot scooters will ever two-step across.

The traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian was nauseating and I passed on becoming part of the herd and drove on through and down by the river I turned into the parking lot of Bubba’s Big Deck river bank boozery and biker bar.

I wandered in and this Ol’ Thang was beatin’ on a guitar and croaking out some country tunes. He spied me right away and honed in on what he mistakenly perceived as a fresh target. He called me out as a lawdog which he said he could spot a mile away thereby proving he didn’t know Come H’yar from Sic ‘Em. I got me a cold libation and struck a convo with a couple of brothers (white boys and related to each other) who were visiting from the Fort Worth area. They were drinkin’ cool ones while their clan strolled the shops and bought T shirts and stuff.

We bonded right away and their families eventually returned to find me adopted into the family and invited to camp out and party with them. The women folks had that “Oh Crap…another drunk!” look on their faces but I swiftly put them at ease and declined any intimate association.

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Gary & Mike….brothers…and nice folks!

There was a really cute little bartender named Anita and Gary and Mike (the brothers) and me kept her occupied poppin’ tops and bein’ flirtatious.

Some bikers showed up and provided new levels of interest since their ‘wimmens” were cute an sexy and not the usual 300 pounders who protect most of the cycle jockeys from being shot in the back while rumblin’ down the road.

I calls ‘em Flack Wrappers and have heard that they provided warmth in the winter and shade in the summer and can stop a bullet almost as well as Kevlar. Ain’t that cool?

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Nice bunch of folks.

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VRooommmm!

Anyhow, I talked them into a couple of photo op’s and then cruised on out to River Road lookin’ for a cold beer at River Road Ice-house but it was closed. I cruised on down River Road for five or six miles and took some shots of the river and scenery and got all strung out and lonesome for my youth and the energy to climb a rock just for fun and the opportunity to maybe play nekid in the water with a cute little thing with great flotation devices and amorous designs on my body.

And I realized that I wasn’t far from being a weed instead of a flower and so I left River Road before I decided to drown myself and pollute one of the prettiest rivers in Texas.

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I rolled on into town past the Schlitterbahn which is German for enema I think and not seeing any Schlitters worth stopping for, I cruised on down to the town chute which is a place of great fun when it ain’t too cold to wet a weenie in the Waddaloop ! That was Texan for…… FUNNY!!!!

There were a bunch of cute kids playing around the river in their swimsuits and watching a dodo in a wet suit ride a boogie board through the chute and into the river. There were some bike people working on being healthy and of course…there was me doing my imitation of a shutterbug. I took some photos and moved on before I was accused of being a pedophile or something.

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The river of the tears for my youth…..colored by the fact that I needed to pee away a cold bear! 

I used to live in New Braunfels before a flood chased me to higher ground and when I did me and a professional actor and grinch who I’ve known for years would occasionally go to Krause’s German Restaurant for vittles. It was pretty decent grub so I thought I’d ease me empty belly there. I was some disappointed to find out that they had closed down six years ago.

The place is now called Friesenhaus and it’s……….mediocre as far as what I ate which was rotkohl, sauerbraten, and german style fried taters. The beer was cold and very good.The taters were tasty. The rotkohl (german sweet/sour red cabbage) was passably fair. The sauerbraten was wousy and a poor attempt at something which I do very well.

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The town chute!040 1024x768046 1024x768

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Someones wonderful children growing up too fast!051 1024x768
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A blast from the past or “Up, up and away my beautiful toupee!”
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The end!
Bandera

Courthouse

About 40 minutes NW of San Antonio is a town that was, for many of us Texans, a place of reunion with cowboyism, country and western music and honky tonkin’, as well as being a haven for hunters and an all round great place to relax and hang out and rejuvenate your enthusiasm for life.

Then things changed. The camping area on the south bank of the Medina River where so many of us tent camped went first. Now the city is charging to access the river in the city park on the north bank.Medina at Bandera

As businesses have grown and new ones sprung up to take advantage of the week-end tourism that Bandera experiences, the quaint atmosphere and feeling of stepping back in time has been replaced with a commercial tawdriness and lack of warmth.

There are so  many positive, fun aspects of Bandera. Arkey Blue and his Silver Dollar Saloon, The Cabaret Dance Hall, what once was Bandera Forge ( a real favorite of mine) and has now been upgraded to a two story slick remnant of it’s former “punchy” self and of course, The Old Spanish Trail (OST) restaurant which has been a favorite since Spot first peed on hardwood.

OST

EnchiladasRancheros…..YUM !

I still love Bandera. I love it for the memories and the few characters who make it special and the locals who have seen it all….and survived.

My suggestions to any who wish to see and experience the unique qualities that made Bandera a favorite of the western aficionado for generations is….hurry! It’s fading into history.

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A great place to crunch out the fatboy in you. By crunch I really mean munch. I gobbled oysters and crawfish and shrimp and potatoes and corn on the cob and swilled beer and flirted and chatted and burped and scratched and yawned and took pictures and generally enjoyed myself beyond measure.

Overlooking the Marina at Kemah, adjacent to the boardwalk and multiple shops and other eateries, Swamp Shack immediately won me over and I will go back and sincerely recommend it to those of you who may find yourself in the area.

Having driven 347 miles in 5 1/2 hours to be disappointed in a potential used truck purchase at Gay Pontiac GMC in Dickinson, I needed a positive experience and Swamp Shack certainly provided that. The staff was great and WAYYYYY too cute and three retired Delta Airline ladies sitting at the adjoining table kept me smiling and entertained.

The view of the anchorage satisfied my need for salt water, sea air and boats for the moment and …in spite of the disappointment at the dealership, life was, in that instant, better than ok. I do plan a return trip to Swamp Shack next time I’m in the vicinity Please, give it a try and let me know what you think.

If you have a few days to experience the Texas coastline, Kemah is a great place to start and from there you can keep moving south all the way to Padre Island down by Corpus Christi. I love the coast….any coast and the Texas coast provides plenty to see and do. I highly suggest it as a destination.


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And they swam and they swam………..

Old Fort Duncan sits above the Rio Grande which flows fairly deep and quickly at the divisive juncture of the U.S. and Mexico.

The population, 94% Hispanic/Latino, coupled with the presence of Piedras Negras and 195,000 Mexican residents just across the Rio, manage to give Eagle Pass an unusual flavor of American influenced Old World traditions and pace. Campesino music pours out of shops within a five minute walk of the International Bridge oozing foot and auto traffic between Texas and Mexico. The U.S. Border Patrol roars up and down the river in airboats looking for illegals making the hazardous crossing into the U.S.

I wandered into town on a whim and running from the boredom of another day in Carrizo Springs which lies roughly 45 miles to the east on highway 277. My first stop was at a Valero station/store/market touted by a co-worker as the place to find all things pepper related. WRONG! Never trust a yankee transplant to map out a pepper quest in South Texas.  I did buy a couple of cans of peppers that are readily available at HEB simply to justify my efforts.

On N. Celon/Business 277, I took photos of old houses with southern flair occassionally married to Mexican hacienda influences and pleasing not only my eye but my sense of when and where this all came together. After walking around with my camera impersonating the offspring of a peeping Tom crossed with a realtor and mated to paparazzi with architectural interests, I wandered in the general direction of the mall.

Passing up the opportunity to dine at San Miguels in search of new feeding grounds, I chose Captain Charles Seafood House and Pub where I ordered ribeye & shrimp along with a Margarita. The cocktail was ….hmmmm…ok. The food was good. It wasn’t great but it was good and the meal was $21 plus tip. I think I was the only Gringo among the roughly 50 other diners.

I left and drove the sixteen miles to El Indio and the Kickapoo Rez, home to the Lucky Eagle Casino where I threw away ten bucks hoping to break the bank on a one armed bandit. I then, very gingerly, drove my Caddy, Leaping Lena, down to the banks of the Rio Grande for a photo op and a pee. The river failed to rise appreciably in spite of my donation and so, happy and comfortable, I mounted up and pointed Lena’s snarling snout in the direction of home and hearth.

Eagle Pass is a worthwhile stop. It’s not memorable but it is interesting to a first time visitor and a good place to launch an investigative visit to Piedras Negras, across the Rio Grande. It’s another of those border towns which dot the southern boundary of Texas and speak of times past, present, and future.

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I need this house !