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Sunday, February 3, 2008

North Central Texas and Back

I could not get up this morning and wasted precious time at the former Caldwell Air Force base west of Forth Worth, which now is a reserve base for both Naval and Air Force personnel. I got a little nostalgic when I saw a memorial for the Strategic Air Command ("SAC"), of which my stepfather was assigned to in the late 1970s when we lived in Germany. His mission was and still is top secret, but whenever the Soviet Union leaders in the Kremlin farted, he was called on immediate alert and sometimes did not come back for days. He won't talk about his mission even today (or else it won't be a secret anymore) but I sometimes wonder how many flights he made over the Arctic Circle and Alaska...

I drove around a western suburb of Fort Worth, River Oaks, with a pleasant view of Lake Worth. (The question now is: was the drive "worth" it?) I stayed west on TX199 and it took almost 40 miles to get out of the big-city traffic and the run-down used car parts (aka junk yards back in the Midwest) and trashy road sides. The lakes region quietly turned into rolling prairies dotted with pump jacks, and even though I was now back in the oil-drilling region, prices for regular unleaded was almost 30 cents higher here than in Fort Worth.

Weather was pleasant from the start today, with morning temps already in the 60s. That brought out the birds of all species today, and grackles entertained me in parking lots with their mating dance. It proved to me that males of all species do the most ridiculous things for sex.

But sex was not on my mind today. At 1pm I was still driving westward when I needed to shoot southward, so I jumped south on FM920 to Weatherford, stopped briefly at the Tramway ($2 for cyclists and hikers!) a paved hike-bike path that connected Weatherford with Mineral Wells to the west. The old railroad that once roared through the two towns has long been torn out and the trail built in. But why charge for its use?

I liked Weatherford, although the only thing I enjoyed was the courthouse on a hilltop, that welcomed drivers on Highway 180 driving through town. Construction in the town square impeded traffic around the middle, but I stopped and walked around here. Weatherford boats a population of 25,000. It didn't feel that big.
My big goal was to see Mineral Wells. I noticed the town a few weeks ago driving back from Lubbock but the time restraint kept me from going there. The town was formed in 1858 as a resort town, with a natural spring that enterprneurs claimed had healthing powers. A well was built around the spring so that people could scoop up the healing waters, or buy it bottled. A plaster water bottle is now near the old well; another odd roadside curiosity.

People no longer come to this town for the water. The water is yesterday's miracle worker. Now people want diet pills that melt fat away or creams that fade away wrinkles or age spots.

There was something dead about the town, though. The massive tan-brick building that soared to the sky from a few miles away was in reality boarded up. The old mineral well is now shut down, and the former bottling house now private property. At one point the street was a lovely, upscale neighborhood, but the street and the homes are all in sad disrepair. The people in this town are not tourists. They are mere residents more worried about getting by then by entertaining tourists. I saw hunched-over locals walking their hunched-over dogs. Stray cats skittered into yards. Plastic bags flew in the wind. There are so many towns in the Southwest that are like Mineral Wells. So many towns that are surviving on their former glory.

I didn't want to waste a lovely day and drove to the State Park on the west side of town, to hike a few miles along the lake. A sign past the entrance informed park users that the buildings were built by the local prisoners (there's a prison on the east side of town) and the prisoners also maintain the park. Good for them. I want to see more prisoners being put to good use. This park was clean.

Parts of the lake's shore are popular with rock climbers. One such point where I started my short hike, Penintentiary Point, had a group of climbers practicing their skills. Several young families walked along the rocky trail. Even I had to watch my footing. The lichen-covered rocks along the path reminded me of the lichen-covered rocks I ofen stumbled over in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland. A few vultures flew overhead. Coots swam in the peaceful lake. I captured a red butterfly with my camera.

My jaunt lasted a mere 45 minutes. After my hike my goal was to get back on Highway 281 and head home. My last stop would be Hico, home of the Billy the Kid Legend. I was at least 120 miles from home and it was already passed 4pm.

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