Friday afternoon my friend Gene and I set out to head to points west. We first drove north to McKinney, so that we could skirt Friday evening rush hour traffic. Then we hopped on Highway 380 for a long, rural picturesque drive west.
We drove through familiar places, such as Denton, and then headed on west to towns I do not know so well. During the first sixty miles or so, we were in the "prairie transition zone" in which I live--lots of open fields, some trees dotted here and there, a few border scragglewoords and a bit of deep woods in the riparian areas. But then we somehow crossed into a deeply wooded area--the cross-timber forest. This is not a "deep" forest, and not a "tall" forest, but a solid forest of pines and hardwoods. The deciduous trees all have gentle, light green new leaves upon them, while the grasses underneath the trees were a fresh Spring green as well. Everything was fresh and new--equinoxally delightful.
We passed through small towns with names like Decatur and Bridgeport. We passed fishing lakes and cows. When we got to the town of Jackboro, which had a Last Picture Show feel, we headed southwest. We found ourselves on a charming country highway through tiny little towns, past homes made of native stone. We saw the Palo Pinto Mountains, which are huge hills which look like buttes with forests on top. The terrain mildly rolled, with prickly pear cactus and small to midsize trees all around.
We stopped at a place call Fort Richardson, which we'd never heard of, but which was built in the mid--19th-Century as a defense against the Comanche and Kiowa native peoples. Like all such places, it has a heritage which combines stories of understandable defense in quasi-military situations with regrettable oppression of native peoples. The kind ranger allowed us to tour it free, as it was so late that we did not have the time for a proper tour of the barracks and houses still intact from the old fort. It was all impressive, with little buildings not surrounded by a stereotypic fort wall. We did not walk around much at the fort,because the wind had inexplicably turned a 70 degree day into a cold day.
We drove on up to Graham, on the edge of Possum Kingdom Lake, our ultimate destination. Graham is a very charming Texas town of 9,000, with lots of 19th Century homes, and a sense of prosperity. We pulled into the Best Western at which we had two rooms booked for the evening. The Best Western was really nice--almost a hotel rather than a motel. The woman behind the counter gave us directions for our morning visit to "P.K'", as they locals call the lake.
We went next door to Wal-Mart and bought cheap warm-ups for the next morning's hike, as things were a bit chilled. I am not a hockey fan, but the Dallas Stars warm-up pullover was on sale, so now I am a Dallas Stars wearer. We went to Sanderson's. Sanderson's is one of those home-town restaurants that small towns tend to have. It is roughly in the shape of a large barn with lights,with the words "BBQ" printed atop the door. Inside, dozens of local people sat at the simple cafe-style square tables and simple chairs, eating a variety of Texas-type foods. Landscapes of points far and near, done in workable watercolours by a Ms. Sanderson, graced the walls of the restaurant. I found to my disapoinntment that they did not have BBQ turkey, and so settled on a grilled chicken. The waitress, a very cute very Texan thirtyish brunette with that sleek, slender "once played for the girls' basketball team" look, admixed with very deep permanent acne scars, repeatedly called me "hon", in the way that waitresses have no doubt called men "hon" in that small town for 150 years. The food was quite good, especially after I realized that the curious cuplet of material was not cheese-tinged Mexican corn chowder, but instead a particular ghastly (and hence omitted) suggested topping for the chicken. I really enjoyed the food, and the home-made rolls. In the background, Fox News, having run out of ways to defend the indefensible, had retreaed into more sagas of true crime.
We tried to drive a bit, that evening, to see the lake, but we took a wrong turn.
We met at 6 a.m. for the free continental breakfast, where the raisin bran flowed like nectar from the little plastic-ready-made-bowl contraption. Then we got an early start towards the lake. We wandered around a bit, driving in the dark, on rolling hills by tiny mountains, until we came to a convenience store that directed us to the state park. We found ourselves at a delightful lake surrounded by hills and small mountains, all covered with trees. We began to hike the hiking trail, which ran beside the lake and through little woodlands. Due to the delay in the season caused by the drought, we saw few wildflowers, but the leaves on the trees were all brand-new, making for a great color contrast which we found appealing. I had my new 20 x 70 binoculars, which proved handy to view the mallard ducks, and my odd contraption which mangifies sound, which allowed me to hear the birdsong as if it were "right next door". Birds sang everywhere, with chirps, chips and whistles. Mobs of cormorant birds and groups of ducks swam. The lake was vigorous, and made a slight roar, in the subdued way that lakes can do. We had a really charming hike, and then we hit the road.
We took a really rural road, past lots of houses and a small church made of what appeared to be hand-placed native stone, which is probably a good building material, as this was stony, mountain soil. On the obscure farm road we traveled, we cane upon a wild tom turkey, along with a family group of some five female turkeys. Wild turkeys are frequently quite elusive, but we got a long-and-useful view. Then we headed on into the town of Mineral Wells.
Mineral Wells once was a mineral water resort. The Baker Hotel, a huge resort hotel of 450 rooms, still stands, but the building is boarded up. Some of the other hotels from that 1920s and 1930s era still exist, but in general, the town is in serious need of a major effort at histocic restoration. We stopped by the Famous Mineral Water company, which sells the mineral water still. I sampled the Crazy Water, the showpiece version, a rather tasty combination of ordinary water and more metal than a steel and zinc factory. Apparently, it was marketed for its laxative qualities, about which I cannot attest, but as to which I begin to have my suspicions as to why the marketing campaign for the crazy water was not sucessful.
We drove over to Clark Gardens, a charming botanical garden just outside of town. Sadly, the key attraction of the garden was its iris collection, which is still a few weeks from best bloom. Still, we enjoyed seeing what was in bloom, as monarch butterflies loped about the air, although the weather at Mineral Wells was very windy and chilly, unlike our morning hike. I enjoyed seeing the extensive model trains running at the gardens, and the litle chapel, although we could not go into the little chapel, as it appeared a viewing for a departed person was going on there.
We found it too cold to visit the Mineral Wells State Park, although we did see the great 20 mile rail trail bikeway that runs from downtown Mineral Wells to the neighboring town of Weatherford. We drove up to Weatherford, and then got on small highways and rural farm roads towards Denton. At one point, when headed onto the 35W freeway for a bit, we passed the Texas Motor Speedway, the local drag race mecca. Thousands upon thousands of people waited to turn into the speedway, while hundreds of RVs stodd sentinel by the facility. It looked more popular than the Sermon on the Mount.
We drove to Denton, where I had sushi for lunch at a rather overpriced sushi place, and then we went hiking at the Lake Ray Roberts greenbelt, a lush riparian woodland with a broad, shady trail. Then we drove to my house, where I promptly fell asleep for an hour, until my wife arrived, fresh from her afternoon of software class. All three of us then went to Akbar Restaurant, where we dined on tandoori and had a great talk. My friend Gene headed back to Texarkana, and my wife and I relaxed.
I woke this morning, thinking it was Monday, but then realized I had already had an entire weekend, but I have Sunday left to go.