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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Another drive in the country

Today's jaunt wasn't planned. It's just that after 2pm I was done for the day and felt like exploring some more. I wanted to check out Mother Neff State Park north of Killeen.

It was another pretty drive past golden fields and cows that looked bored eating the same dry grass again. I wonder what they think of, day in and day out, walking the same fields and not finding much but the same dry stuff? Doesn't that give them the urge to run away to greener pastures?

I saw more hawks and falcons again perched along the electrical wires off the roads. Somehow those birds have an extra sense because everytime I stopped to photograph a bird, the bird would fly away. I never did get any focused close-ups.

The state park unfortunately was still closed from the heavy floodings from last year. The front buildings that were cordoned off with red tape clearly showed flood damage. Creeks along the way had deeply-exposed cottonwood roots.

I stopped briefly in Moody, a small ranch town of around 1400 people, south of McGregor with two blocks of stores. It, like many small towns in Texas, was born out of the railroad days in the 1880s. The high school bus had just dropped off some students who were walking home, students who did not look like country students, but urban kids, with black dyed hair, pierced mouths and black leather clothes. Some of those kids looked so scary that surely the cows shook in fear at the sight of them. A grain silo was the biggest building in Moody, but it was the hilltop cemtery that caught my eye. Moody was settled in the early 19th century and many town pioneers were burried there. The one used building in town seemed to be the dance hall.

I made it to McGregor at 4pm. I have been to this town before, in the summer of 2006 and enjoyed the downtown and the Spiced Plum, a store with fine pine furniture with a Texan theme. The furniture was all solid wood and sold as Texas craft, but then I noticed the "Hecho en Mexico" stamp in the back of some of the overpriced armoires and tables. The furniture is well-made and beautiful, but I could get it cheaper driving into Nogales or Agua Prieta on my own, bordertowns south of Arizona.

The old McKinley theatre across the street from the Spiced Plum closed in 1958 and became the town's library. I walked inside and three elderly staffers manned the front. The two customers were young girls behind computers that were placed in plain view of the staffers, surely to make sure nothing obscene was looked at or anything unethical was downloaded. The small libray made some money off of selling old books and paperbacks.

The sidewalks in McGregor are a nightmare with anyone forced to push a wheelchair or stroller. But it's these high sidewalks that give the town some reality. Yet besides the library and the Spiced Plum the other businesses were again closed, even the town's Tea and Coffee room that closed at 2pm. What's an upscale tea and coffee shop doing in a ranch town like McGregor?

I should point out that Crawford, TX, "Home of the Western White House" of GWB, is located 20 miles north of McGregor off FM 317.

I stayed in town for 30 minutes, walking the streets and looking for things to focus on: the 1880s architecture, the many Lone Stars found in the buildings, on signs, on mailboxes, billboards, benches, cars...I could make a photo montage of all the Lone Stars!

But by 5pm I knew I was running out of daylight as I approached Gatesville, the County seat for Coryell County and the self-proclaimed "Spur Capital of Texas." I've always liked the town's magestic limestone courthouse. It's so tall it towers over the rest of the town and is visible miles away. The county jail is across from the courthouse and so are three, four bail bondsmen. Some badass criminals are interned at this jail including some soldiers from Fort Hood who committed murder in the county while off duty.

The town has a cute little RV park off toward its creek and called the park Faunt Le Roy Park, which was popular with walkers as I drove by. One RV was there, parked near the creek that looked like it had suffered some damage in last year's summer floods, too. The police department monitors the park and RVers must contact the police to camp overnight. What an ingenious idea! I hope I have luck and find city-run RV parks on my trip through southern Texas.

The town also has an impressive Coryell County museum with many types of barbed wire on display, along with spurs and cowboy boots. A Gatesville High School coach from the mid 1940s through mid 1950s, Lloyd Mitchell, lived in the area and collected spurs from the many ranches he worked on over the years, amassing a collection of several thousand samples. After the coach's death in 1991 the museum received the spurs, some which hailed from 14th-century Europe. Admission is $2

The museum is in a pretty corner building off Hwy84, and it's even more impressive knowing that that musuem stands there solely through the tireless work of local volunteers and the generosity of one wealthy businessman who owned the 1904 hardware store. This man wanted to save all the old stuff from the pioneer days, when ranching was king in Central Texas. Texans truly are proud of their history.

Gatesville itself is a museum piece. Even the town's newspaper, The Gatesville Messenger, respects its history by displaying an old printing press in its front window. Ranch symbols are etched in the cement along the square's sidewalk. A leatherworks shop displays old saddles and sells them for over $400.

I drove south via the Old Georgetown Road, crossed an old bowstring steel truss bridge that went over the Leon River (more like a creek to me) made in 1904, something that back in the Midwest would be considered a museum piece and moved elsewhere, and drove through more hilly country on a narrow county road that reminded me of Indiana's back roads. By now the setting sun was casting deep shadows across the road.

Old Georgetown road ended south of town at a T-intersection. I stopped here to regroup and immediately heard cows mooing and running along the fence in the same direction I was driving. Did someone yell out "FRESH HAY!" and they were answering the call? A small stampede ensued, but all I noticed were cows gathering at a watering hole ahead of me, some stretching the heads out between the barbed wire to look across the road at other cows. Aah, the strange life of bovines. I had no idea what I had just witnessed. I was only glad I was on the other side of the barbed wire and near my van for safety.

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