Top Ten 2014 Crazy Train Destinations I Haven’t Blogged About… Yet.

We’ve been backroads road-tripping since before the kids– I only just started blogging about it. There are countless places I haven’t written about yet. With all the end-of-year lists emerging, I wanted to share my Top 10 Texas Destinations of 2014 that I haven’t blogged about yet. This is just the tip of the iceberg!

These are in no particular order since they’re so different, so I’ll just list ’em as I think of ’em!

10. Bandera
We went to Bandera for the National Day of the American Cowboy. We had a great day and wanted to spend the night, but learned a valuable lesson: Sometimes advance hotel reservations are necessary, or else you find yourself at Buckees at 3am for coffee.

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9. Shiner
One of these days, we’ll make it to Shiner on a weekday when the brewery is open. Until then, the “Antiques Art & Beer” place is my favorite spot. Especially the ladies room.

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8. Cuero
We had no idea there was a Pharmacy Museum in Cuero (heck, we’d never even heard of Cuero either). From the outside, it looked cool. The lady in the liquor store across the street said it’d been in the works for ever, but still hadn’t opened. Once it is, we’re there!

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7. Mason
For Mag’s birthday, we went on a topaz dig on a private ranch in Mason. It was pretty awesome. Then we explored the downtown square, although everything was closed for the day (weekends are tough for roadtripping to small towns). We’d like to go back and do the whole thing again…. minus the crack.

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6. Hallettsville
We’d heard that Hallettsville is a great little town, but we’ve never been on a day when everything was open. We’ve been through on a Sunday, and we went back for their Kolache Festival where William took the title of Kolache Eating Champion, 10 & Under Division. THAT was a day to remember!

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5. London
Raina and I had High Tea in downtown London. Yes, I’ll blog about it. Not sure if we’ll be headed back, but at least we can tell everyone that we went to London and had tea.

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4. Gonzales and Goliad
Who knew that the “Come and Take It” cannon was still around and that you could actually see it? Both Gonzales and Goliad had a lot of interesting historical spots, and they’re pretty close together. I’m really looking forward to blogging about both places.

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3. Huntsville
I’ve always thought of Huntsville as the prison town. But it was fantastically beautiful. With Sam Houston State University, countless cool historic sites, and all the cool antique dealers on the square, we are definitely planning a return trip.

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2. Walnut Springs
Out in the middle of nowhere, somewhere between Meridian and Glen Rose is a little ghost town called Walnut Springs. A short trip into a junk shop turned into one of the most memorable Crazy Train afternoons yet. Definitely looking forward to a return trip. Sometimes you really can’t judge a book by its cover.

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1. Phelps
Is there a more PERFECT spot for a family photo than in front of a city limits sign for a town bearing your last name? I know, right?!?!? But, to quote the poet Robert Burns, “But little Mouse, you are not alone, In proving foresight may be in vain: The best laid schemes of mice and men, Go often askew, And leave us nothing but grief and pain, For promised joy!” In other words, no city limits sign, no ghost town, no family photo…. nothing but a dot on the map. Literally.

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I could go on and on and on. But, why give y’all preview snippets when there are full stories to be told? Here’s to a fantastic upcoming year filled with more fun and adventure with the Crazy Train!

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Happy, Texas

When the Crazy Train sees a speck on the map called “Happy,” it’s pretty much a given that we’re going to make it a point to stop there.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/55d/80083171/files/2014/12/img_1302.jpgLegend has it that around 1890, a team of parched cowboys found a stream in the area and named it “Happy Draw” because they were, well, happy to have found some water in this otherwise arid land. A post office and stagecoach exchange station set up shop by the draw, but when the town of Happy was laid out in 1906, they decided to move it two miles to the west to be closer to the new Santa Fe Railroad extension.

Unfortunately, the natives were restless in the back seats of the Crazy Train. Once again, the all-you-can-eat “free” hotel breakfast a few short hours earlier was not enough to sustain them for more than 120 minutes. (I’m starting to think that when food is included in the price of anything, it doesn’t matter how much the kids eat, they’re still hungry six minutes after we leave, thus requiring me to either buy them a snack or listen to them slowly, and loudly, die of starvation in the back seat.)

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/55d/80083171/files/2014/12/img_1295.jpgWe drove down (literally) every single street in the town of Happy in search of food. We crossed our fingers and toes, praying for a diamond-in-the-rough mom and pop diner or a gas station with an ample selection of edible garbage. But, alas, Happy made us categorically unhappy in the victual department. So we bid a fond farewell to The Town Without a Frown (or, The Town Without A Dairy Queen) and hit the open roads, in search of sustenance and adventure.

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Just outside of Liberty Hill, Texas

Today, I took the Crazy Train to the mall to see Santa Claus. I tried to find a place that was a little less mall-ly, but with Christmas only one week away, I didn’t want 2014 to be remembered as “The Year Without Santa Pictures.” Rather than continue my fruitless search, we just went to the mall.

Although I acquiesced on the mall thing, I refused to get there via the interstate. So, in true Crazy Train form, we took the backroads. It’s about a 45 minute trip anyway, so why not make it a relaxing, traffic-free, scenic drive? My littlest kiddo needed a power nap before visiting with the Big Guy, so a short drive seemed like a good idea.

In all our years of driving the back roads of Texas, we’ve seen a lot of cattle. A lot of cattle. A WHOLE LOT. Black ones, brown ones, orange ones, and white ones. Cows with big spots, cows with little spots, and cows that look like Oreos. Fat cows, skinny cows, girl cows, and bulls. Cows with no horns, cows with twisty horns, cows with stubby horns, cows with long horns and Longhorn cows. We’ve also seen all kinds of other farm animals like goats and horses and donkeys and chickens and sheep and llamas and even less common animals like buffalo and elk and ostrich and emu and peacocks.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/55d/80083171/files/2014/12/img_1191.jpgBut today… TODAY I saw something I’ve never seen on Texas soil. What I saw today, I haven’t seen since my honeymoon in 2002 in the Scottish Highlands…
Today I saw a Heilan’ Coo. A HEILAN’ COO– IN TEXAS.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/55d/80083171/files/2014/12/img_1188.jpgI didn’t realize there were Heilan’ Coos outside of the Scottish Mothership. I mean, I guess I never thought about it. I suppose I just thought they lived in the Highlands and nowhere else. Now that I type those words and think about it, I realize just how naive it sounds, but I guess it’s like picturing an American Buffalo anywhere other than the North American grasslands–it’s just not something you expect to see.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/55d/80083171/files/2014/12/img_1193.jpgWhen I saw her, OF COURSE I turned the land yacht around to take a closer look. When we parked, we had the chance to chat with her owner for a few minutes and take a few pictures. It turns out that “Scottie” was a gift from a woman who was no longer able to care for her. Thankfully, Scottie is more of a pet, and not the alternative.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/55d/80083171/files/2014/12/img_1192.jpgSo, what’s a Heilan’ Coo? It’s a Scottish Cow– a Highland Cow. The Scots accent sounds like “Heilan’ Coo,” so it’s the way they actually write it. It’s pronounced “hee-lan coo.” And they are pretty awesome looking animals. The breed is perfect for the Scottish Highlands because they are hardy and well suited for the harsh, cold, rainy, and windy Scottish Highland climate. Their long, thick, wavy hair gives them protection against the elements, and they are especially adept at foraging for food in the steep, mountainous areas. They are excellent grazers, and they’ll eat plants that most other cattle won’t eat. That doesn’t really translate to the Texas climate or landscape, but since Scots and Texans are both badasses, I can see how this combination makes sense!

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/55d/80083171/files/2014/12/img_1186.jpgScottie seemed like such a sweet coo. Since she is still relatively new, her owner didn’t want any of the kids to touch her, but she seemed to really enjoy the attention. She stayed close to us the whole time we were there, and she followed us to the car and gave us a sad, pouty, coo frown when we left. I’m thinking it’s good that we don’t own acreage or we might also own a coo right now too!

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/55d/80083171/files/2014/12/img_1190.jpgSince Scottie is a pet, and since I live in a dreamworld where delicious hamburgers and brisket come from a magical place called the “meat market,” we’ll just end our Heilan’ Coo lesson there. Enjoy.

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Friendship Community, Texas

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Usually, the Crazy Train is the P5 family. But sometimes, we throw our nearest and dearest into the fold and enjoy whatever chaos ensues.

But yesterday was different. I’m happy to introduce– in addition to The Official P5 Line– the estrogen infused, JNJ Line of the Crazy Train. I took my BFFs Nicole and Jessica (and Jess’ son Pierce came along as the official caboose) to a typical half-day run of a Crazy Train Roadtrip, and let’s just say…. well… let’s just say that we already have the next one planned.

So, without further ado… The Inaugural Run of the JNJ Line:

We sent our kidlets off to various institutions of foundational education and we hit the road, bound for the “ghost town” of Friendship Community in Williamson County. Friendship isn’t really a ghost town, per se, since the ENTIRE TOWN is now completely submerged underneath Granger Lake. (Usually, when the three of us are submerged, it’s usually in a glass of wine, but I digress…) Granger Lake was constructed by the US Corps of Engineers in the early 1970s, creating this massive lake that is a really popular place when it’s a thousand degrees here in the summer.

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The town of Friendship was founded in the 1880s by Czech immigrants. By the 1920s, there was a small community with a school, grocery store, post office, churches, a cotton gin, gas station, a beer joint, and a paved road: FM 971. The MK&T Railroad even had tracks and a bridge through the immediate area. Friendship’s downfall was probably what drew the Czechs to the area in the first place: the San Gabriel River. A severe flood in 1913 caused widespread damage, a deadly flood in 1921 took several lives, and a third destructive flood in 1958 was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Finally, it was decided that it just wasn’t worth it– the San Gabriel apparently wanted Friendship so badly, the people decided that it could have it. Everything and everyone relocated and the dam and lake plans began.

Since a lot of Friendshipians (Friendshipites? Friendshipidians?) had moved over to Granger, we decided that should be our next stop. After a quick photo op at a water tower that looked just like a volleyball– OF COURSE we stopped for a triple selfie, THROUGH THE SUNROOF, because, well, why not?– we headed off to Granger.

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Yet, although Granger was not underwater, there didn’t appear to be anything open on a Tuesday morning. With a population of 1,419, we hoped Granger had something to offer in the way of mom and pop shops, junking, or a cool old diner or something, but no dice. Not even the Watern’ Hole Feed Bag was open. (So sad. We really wanted to know what a Boo Boo Burger was. Granger is such a picturesque town, the setting for all kinds of movies, I’ve heard. But not much I the way of businesses. I’ll have to go back and explore a little.

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So, next stop? Taylor!

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And, since we blew into Taylor at the EXACT moment Louie Mueller opened for lunch, we felt it was our DESTINY to carpe diem and see what kind of delicious Q we could score at 11:03am on a Tuesday. Every time the P5 Crazy Train has even attempted Louie Muellers, the “Sold Out” sign has been on the door and the parking lot has been empty. We decided to strike while the pit was hot!

I did feel a little guilty about hitting up Louie Muellers without the hub, but the sweet smell smoke wafting from the building quickly snuffed out those feelings! As we walked in, there was no line…. NO. LINE. And on our journey to the counter, I caught a glimpse of a beautiful beef rib. It would be mine. Oh yes. It would be mine.

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So, Nic and I decided to share the 1-1/2 POUND beautiful beef rib, and we threw in some beans and a slice of lean brisket for each of us, because, well, it’s kinda mandatory. And damn. It was good. However, even two fat chicks with eyes the size of serving platters couldn’t polish off that single rib. We gave it the good old college try, but, no dice. The rib defeated us.

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But before we called it a day and returned to reality to retrieve all the little people, we hit a few junk shops and found some treasures. I scored some pretty little amber pieces for my yellow kitchen, and Nic made an epic score of her own.

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Then back to reality. Until Friday, that is.

The Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, Texas

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We are suckers for roadside kitsch. We LOVE them. So, of course, the Cadillac Ranch was tops on our list of MUST SEE attractions. As a Native Texan, I thought everyone had heard of the Cadillac Ranch. It’s legendary. But, it has come to my attention recently that there are people who have never heard of it. I even talked to a non-Texan who has driven past it multiple times and never knew what it was. When I told him we were going, he had NO CLUE what I was talking about. He said it sounded like a brothel. OMG… NO!

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For all y’all who’ve never heard of the Cadillac Ranch, here’s your history lesson: Stanley Marsh 3 was an eccentric Texas millionaire who believed that rich people had a responsibility to behave unusually and interestingly. He was a legend in his own time for his pranks. He believed in art for the sake of art, and he had a hilarious sense of humor. I read in TX Monthly that once, he threw a party for some Japanese businessmen where he only invited men who were over 6’4″ to reinforce the stereotype that all Texans are tall– HILARIOUS! His eccentric sense of humor has been displayed throughout Amarillo over the years through various installation art pieces and public pranks. Oh, Stanley Marsh 3…. If I was a bazillionaire, I think I’d use your pranksterism as inspiration!

The most famous of Marsh’s art pieces is the “Hood Ornament of Route 66,” the amazing homage to the golden age of American automobiles and Route 66 and roadside kitsch and just plain AWESOME– The Cadillac Ranch.

In 1973, Marsh invited a San Francisco artists collective called the Ant Farm to his Amarillo ranch. The group bought 10 used Cadillacs (model years 1948-1963) from salvage yards, averaging $200 each. The cars were partially buried, nose down, in a line facing west, along Old Route 66. At first, all the Caddies were their original, factory colors, but over time, visitors and tourists started scratching their names in the paint and spray-painting the cars. And then the vandals and souvenir hunters stole everything they could pry off the vehicles (windows, doors, radios, etc.) until Marsh had to have the axels welded to the frames to prevent future theft.

The great thing is, Marsh LOVED the fact that everyone visited and spray painted the Ranch. He encouraged it, and always said he thought it looked better every year. In 1997, the entire shebang, including the trash, was dug up and moved 2 miles west to escape urban encroachment. There are always people visiting and painting. I bet that if you visited every day for a whole year, you’d see a different picture every day.

OK, enough on the Cadillac Ranch itself. Y’all want to hear about OUR trip, right?

IMG_0897.JPGWe arrived at about 10:30 on a Monday morning. Clear skies, cold breeze, practically empty. And yep. We are THOSE PARENTS. We are the parents who stopped at Home Depot on our way there and bought $20 worth of spray paint and then turned the kids loose to explore the aerosol arts. It was fantastic. Three kids, six cans of spray paint, ten Cadillacs, and, for the most part, we had the place to ourselves. They made art, they ruined their clothes, they got covered in paint that was next to impossible to get off, but they also made memories that will last way, WAY longer than any of those other things.

To quote William, “It was the best day EVER!”

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The Medicine Mounds

As we detoured to the east on Hwy 287 from Quanah towards Chillicothe en-route to what was promised to be the COOLEST ghost town in Texas, I turned to the almighty interwebs for information on where we were. The natural wonder we were approaching was a fantastic diversion along the way.

IMG_0805-0.JPGIn southeastern Hardeman County is a line of four cone-shaped dolomite mounds, the erosional aftermath of the Permian Age (225-270 million years ago). Flanked to the west by a washed-out ancient buffalo trail and surrounded on the other three sides by rich cotton and grain fields, these giant hills (the tallest is 350′) seem to come out of nowhere in the otherwise flat land.

IMG_0803.JPGThe Commanche Nation believes two of the four (the tallest two, Medicine Mound and Cedar Mound) to be sacred ground, and since the late 1700s have come here to drink the healing waters from the gypsum spring, gather medicinal plants and herbs, and communicate with nature and the spirit world. On a clear day, they say you can see more than 60 miles from the top of Medicine Mound. It is also believed that a great and powerful benevolent land spirit resides at the flat cap-rock atop Medicine Mound, and communing with the spirit at this powerful place would cure ills, assure successful hunts, and protect them in battle.

IMG_0804.JPGToday, the Medicine Mounds lie on a 2,600 acre private ranch owned by the Summerlee Foundation in Dallas who not only safeguards it for historical research and wildlife preservation, but also allows the Commanche Nation use for spiritual purposes. Pretty awesome.
The vibrant colors and the speed at which the light changed out here was fascinating. It was VERY windy and VERY cold. Ear numbing cold. Hair frying everywhere cold. But there was no time to waste, so I took what I could while we sped to our next stop. I love the colors up here!