The Big Fight-Sisterdale

Jack Hays’ Big Fight at Walker’s Creek

In Sisterdale, on Sunday June 8th, historical enthusiasts from across Kendall County and beyond are observing the 170th anniversary of the battle of Walker’s Creek – Jack Hays’ Big fight at the Sisterdale Dance Hall.

Jack Hays came to Texas late in 1836, worked as a surveyor, and commanded a roving Ranger company based in San Antonio in the 1840s. The Big Fight on Walker Creek made his name; one of the many brush-fire fights between Hays’ Rangers and Comanche raiders, who came down from the Southern Plains to make free with any horses, captives and portable loot they could carry away. In the summer of 1844, Captain Hays took a patrol of fourteen volunteers into the hills, looking for Indian raiding parties. One of his men was a Yankee from Maryland – Sam Walker, who had survived the Texian raid on Mier, the Black Bean Draw and an escapee from a stint in a Mexican prison. They were returning along an old trail between San Antonio and the deserted San Saba presidio. Near Sisterdale, a little short of where the trail crossed the Guadalupe River, they were about to set up camp for the night, when one of the Rangers spotted a honey-bee hive. The temptation of something sweet couldn’t be resisted, but when he shinnied up the tree, he looked back along the trail and saw they were followed by a dozen Comanche warriors.

The Rangers saddled up; seeing they had been spotted, the Indians turned away, heading off towards a timber-lined ravine nearby … obviously hoping to draw the Ranger troop into an ambush. Jack Hays held fast, and within minutes more than seventy impatient Comanche boiled out of the tree-line and the Rangers advanced. Likely the Comanche were surprised and unnerved; they fell back across the ravine and gathered on the summit of a low hill, where they dismounted and taunted the Rangers in Spanish – a language that Comanche and Texian had in common.

They had the high ground but the Rangers had a secret weapon – the newly-invented patent Colt Paterson 5-shot repeating pistols. Most had two, and Jack Hays had drilled them well. He led his troop around the knoll, and up another ravine, announcing themselves with a shout and a volley of rifle-fire. The Comanche rallied around their leader; Yellow Wolf, experienced in the customary way of war, in which they waited to draw fire from single-shot weapons, and counter-attacked in a flurry of arrows as the Texians reloaded. This process could take as long as a minute. But the Rangers threw aside their single-shot long guns and charged with their pistols. It turned into a bitter running fight at such close quarters that many participants were branded with powder burns. Jack Hays had trained and drilled tirelessly. It was a rout for the Comanche, faced with a weapon where the attacker had as many bullets to command as fingers on a hand. At the moment when the Rangers were about out of time and gunpowder, a fortunate shot by the only Ranger with a loaded rifle dropped Yellow Wolf. The survivors of his war party turned and ran.

Two years later, that skirmish was immortalized in the annals of American invention. At the start of the American war with Mexico, Sam Walker was back east, consulting with his fellow Yankee inventor Sam Colt about a redesign of the revolving pistol. Sam Walker wanted a heavier, sturdier, and less-complicated version – it would eventually be called the Walker Colt. At the urging of Sam Colt, Walker did a sketch of skirmish on the hills above Sisterdale and eventually it was embossed on the barrel of the improved revolver. And that’s the way it was, in the summer of 1844.


Good Stuff Preserved – Sauerkraut

by Celia Hayes

I swear, I had never really eaten sauerkraut in any form when I was growing up. Why Mom never had a go at making it herself is a bit of a mystery, since the basic ingredients are cheap and plentiful, the process pretty simple and the results quite tasty. Likely this was because our own ethnic background is English and Scots-Irish, and it’s just not one of those things. Cabbage being a sturdy green vegetable and well-adapted to the frozen northern hemispheres, it’s a mainstay in peasant cooking from Germany, through Eastern Europe and Russia – and even into Korea, where they make a high-octane variety spiced with garlic and hot red peppers known as kimchi. But the ordinary sauerkraut is the simplest to make at home; basically, it’s thinly-sliced fresh cabbage and Ball pickling salt.

At some point a couple of years ago, we were buying a brand of pickles or marinated artichoke hearts at Sam’s Club which came packaged in massive glass jars, which hold 6-quarts to two gallons. I saved out two of them to store bulk foods in, although they had to go through the dishwasher several times to entirely remove the smell of pickle brine. They’re perfect for fermenting the shredded cabbage in the first step.

Trim of the outer leaves of four heads of cabbage, quarter the heads and cut out the solid core, then either thinly sliver the quarters, or cut into eights and run through a food processor fitted out with a slicing blade, or a mandolin – or even an old-fashioned sauerkraut slicer. It was customary back when to make massive quantities of kraut at a time – a friend of mine in Fredericksburg recently an old-fashioned 5-gallon crock which would ferment enough to feed a small army. I have a huge metal mixing bowl made for restaurant use, so the shreds of cabbage from four heads fill it rather nicely, but you may have to process it one or two heads at a time. Mix the shreds of cabbage with ¾ cup of pickling salt, kneading it gently, as the salt dissolves and the cabbage begins to give up liquid. Let sit for a few minutes and then pack it tightly into the jars until just to within an inch of the top. One of the cabbages I used this week was rather large – so the cabbage shreds filled both big jars and then a quart canning jar. One of the big jars also had two teaspoons of caraway seed added, for extra flavor.

There should be enough brine from the salted cabbage to cover – if not, mix 1 ½ Tablespoons of salt in hot water, allow to cool, and top the jars with the additional brine. The cabbage has to be below the level of the brine. Another recipe I saw for this recommended cutting a cabbage leaf to size, and using it as a topper, to keep the cabbage shreds underneath – or just use a smaller jar filled with weights to keep the cabbage submerged. Cover the tops of the jars with cheesecloth held on with a rubber band, and let sit and ferment in a sheltered cupboard for 3-6 weeks, removing the scum which forms every day or so. When it’s ready, either refrigerate it and eat fresh, or empty the sauerkraut into a big pan and bring to a gentle simmer – not a boil. Pack it into clean hot canning jars, leaving about half an inch of head-space, seal and process in boiling water; 15 minutes for pint jars, 20 for quarts. We have finally finished off the sauerkraut that I did last summer – so time to pickle again!

Hill Country Road Trip

Road Trip: Fredericksburg by Bulverde, Sisterdale and Luckenbach

by Celia Hayes

Some time ago, my daughter and I discovered the back road route from our North-East San Antonio home, to Boerne; basically, going up 281 to Route 46 and then west to Boerne. This last weekend, we went a step farther, by going north up Bulverde Road and bypassing the horrendous 1604-281 nexus entirely. Really, as they get closer and closer to completing the interchange, traffic just gets worse and worse. And once we got to Boerne, we decided to take Ranch Road 1376, or the Sisterdale Road north to the Pedernales Valley – this turned out to be a fantastic way to get to Fredericksburg; scenic, little traffic and just about as rapidly as by the highway … except for being tempted to stop at so many interesting places – even if it were only to take some pictures.

The first of these temptations was just outside old Bulverde, proper; a charming Victorian cottage painted in bright yellow with aqua-blue trim and shutters, with a low stone wall in front, and some old stone buildings behind. It’s actually the remains of the old Pieper homestead. Behind the cottage is a the original stone farmhouse, which has barely held on to it’s original shake roof, and the stone barn beyond it, which has not. The current owners are in the midst of restoring the Pieper house, which when first built was the largest stone house around. The house and barn, and the backyard – shaded by an immense oak tree – is currently being used as an event venue and the pretty cottage is a bed and breakfast. We pulled in to take some more pictures – and wound up getting a tour of the whole place. I only wish that I had enough money from my books to buy a place like it; it’s spectacular in a low-key kind of way.

On to Boerne – with a pit-stop at the Squirrel’s Nest for my daughter’s weekly thrift-shop fix – and into the Hill Country by way of Sisterdale. Sisterdale was one of the original German settlements founded by the Adelsverein pioneers – one of whom was the Baron Westphal, Karl Marx’s brother-in law. Today Sisterdale is a little string of a hamlet spread out for several blocks along the road, and distinguished by Sister Creek Vinyards, housed in an old cotton gin building, and the Sisterdale Dance Hall and event center. My daughter was more interested in the swap meet going on next to the Sisterdale Market … and I was interested in the market because it was housed in one of those old 1920’s era peak-roofed cottages, with bead-board paneling throughout – and it actually seemed to be a very complete and efficient little one-stop grocery. So – discouraged my daughter from making a bid for either of their two shop cats – and on up the road.

Luckenbach is the next hamlet of any distinction, mostly because of Willie and Waylon and the boys. Besides the dance hall and concert venue – another destination in itself, the Armadillo Farm campground sprawls alongside the road. It seemed pretty crowded this last Saturday, although since it was a long weekend, I should not have been surprised. We were tempted to stop in at Uptown Luckenbach, mostly so I could take a picture of the towering old factory building – mostly gone to rust, but still spectacular. There was also a souvenir shop on the grounds, but a hand-painted sign noted that sometimes it was a self-help arrangement. That afternoon was one of those times.

We did eventually get to Fredericksburg – but that is another story.

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Exploring Buda

Exploring Buda, Texas-Just 45 Minutes North of San Antonio

by Celia Hayes

We didn’t spend all of last weekend watching the wienerdogs run; the Buda City park where that event took place was pleasingly located right next to old down-town Buda, so when we had enough of wandering around between pavilions, we walked along the three or four blocks that constitute Buda … and looked around. It’s one of those sweet, small towns which retain enough of their original late 19th century buildings to be quite charming, even if those buildings mostly run along one side of the street … because the railway runs alongside the other. Buda’s town founding fathers set aside a 150-foot wide reserve of land between Main Street and the International and Great Northern railway line. The International and Great Northern may have been the reason for being in the first place, and the trains still rumble through on a regular basis.

Originally, the town was named Du Pre, but on discovering that there was another town with the same name, everyone agreed to call it Buda. Some sources say the name came from a local mispronunciation of Spanish for ‘widow’, since the Carrington House hotel and restaurant was the major landmark in town and a number of respectable widows worked there as cooks. Then again, it might have been homage to refugees from the failed Hungarian revolt in the mid-1800s, who settled thereabout.

Time was when the trains would stop in Buda, passengers would detrain, hurry across Main Street and have a quick meal in the Carrington House dining room. The Carrington is still here – a splendid Texas-Victorian pile with a metal roof and wide porches and galleries on two floors, but it is not a hotel any more. It’s now office space and an antique store. There are several more antique stores along Main, a florist shop where a corner gas station used to be, a number of pleasant-looking restaurants and bistros and the Wildflour Cakery & Boutique, set up in a brand new-built-to-look old building. (Note: the Mexican Vanilla Cupcakes are to die for!)

Some of the older buildings seem to go on nearly forever – and everyone knows when the trains come through. I think I would get used to it, eventually, and I always loved to hear the sound of a distant train at night, but I think that you need to be about half a mile away for the nostalgic effect to work.

One of the shop owners told me of some buildings across the railroad tracks – also new-built-to-look-old, which were supposed to have stores and offices on the ground floor and residential lofts above … but alas, the prospective tenants found the noise of trains rumbling past at all hours, a few yards away, just a little too much. I was assured, however, that the newer housing developments in Buda are far enough from the rail line that the romantic effect is achieved, rather than the earsplitting one.

I was tempted to no end by one of the antique places, and shelf after shelf of National Geographic magazines from the 1930s and 1940s. When I was a kid, one of our neighbors had a whole collection of them, and I thought they were fascinating. Not the articles so much, but the advertisements, especially the wartime issues. Maybe I will go back and buy a few for old time’s sake. Or at least, for some of the Wildflour Cakery’s cupcakes.

Holiday Evening With Tapas

Christmas Eve With Tapas

by Celia Hayes

Our family was long in the habit of having pizza on Christmas Eve; it’s easy to organize for a crazy, mixed-up and chaotic evening, with about three generations present. Either take-out or deliverer – even a selection of frozen or ready-made grocery store pizza would do. There’s a variety to suit every taste, everyone can have as much or as little as they like, eat it off paper plates, and clean-up is a snap.

This year, we varied the program, mostly because my mother sent us a massive gift basket from La Tienda, which specializes in the classic foods of Spain, where my daughter and I lived for six years. We fell upon it with cries of happy delight, reminded of certain foods that we loved. There was a box of turron: a slab of almond nougat that was ubiquitous in Spain at this time of year, a box of marzipan, even some dried figs dipped in dark chocolate; dried fruit in dark chocolate was a specialty in Aragon.

There were three kinds of Spanish chorizo – spicy cured salami, not raw sausage – a bag of Spanish-style potato chips (not any different from the usual that we could see), and four little pottery serving dishes called cazuelas. I had the idea to serve a tapas dinner on Christmas Eve, with some of our favorite tapas that we remembered, with a loaf of fresh-baked European-style bread and some roasted garlic on the side. Which is what we did – I loaded up a tray with all kinds of goodies served up in cazuelas; little chunks of chorizo, and a dish of tuna-stuffed red peppers in tomato sauce from the gift basket, some fresh cantaloupe melon – and a fresh-made tortilla. Which is actually a frittata made with potatoes and garlic. I would have liked to make ensalata del pulpo, but ran out of time.

The tortilla is simple enough: one large potato, cooked, peeled and cut into chunks, 4-6 eggs beaten together, one clove garlic, finely chopped. Heat about 1 tablespoon each olive oil and butter in an 8 inch omelet or frying pan. When the pan is sizzling hot, pour in enough of the egg to cover the bottom of the pan, and cook just long enough to solidify. Then quickly scatter the potato chunks and the garlic on top, and add the rest of the beaten egg. Turn down the heat so the bottom layer will not toughen but the remainder is cooked until the top is just beginning to set around the edges. Put a plate on top of the pan, and holding them together, quickly flip the pan and plate, so that the omelet/frittata is on the plate, bottom-side up. Add a little more oil and butter to the pan, and slide the omelet/frittata back into the hot pan, so that the other side may cook. When done, cut into bite-sized wedges to serve.

Ensalata del pulpo, or octopus salad is just about as simple. This is bar food, not haute cuisine. The recipe is from Cooking in Spain

Dice cooked meat from 2 medium octopi (or 2-3 cups cooked frozen octopus rings) and combine with 2 small green peppers, 1 small onion, 1 small tomato all chopped finely, 1 tablespoon chopped parsley and two cloves minced garlic, ¼ cup olive oil and the juice of half a lemon, with salt to taste.

Bon appetite – and happy new year!


Still Time for Wurstfest 2011 Thru November 13

Gone with the Wurst! 2011

Wurstfest in New Braunfels, Texas! Now thru November 13, 2011

by Celia Hayes

Well, another first weekend after Halloween and where would we be, but up in New Braunfels, in Landa Park, enjoying ourselves amid oceans of beer and continents of sausages . . . and kettle-fried potato chips, meatballs-onna-stick, roast corn and sundry other fair food delights. Every year in November, New Braunfels exuberantly celebrates everything to do with sausage, beer, music, their German heritage, and funny hats, not necessarily in that order. Really, we have the impression that every public-spirited citizen and the members of practically every social club, community support organization and scholastic extra-mural activity in New Braunfels and environs put everything else in their lives on hold, to help run a booth at Wurstfest. Which must be quite an exhausting chore, all things considered, for now it runs for ten days, two weekends . . . and in the evening the partying is intense. So is the music. Really, you can’t claim to have lived in Texas, until you have heard a classical Germanic Ummm-pah band play “Waltz Across Texas With You.” Or watched a couple in lederhosen and dirndl . . . swing dancing. The culture clash is, to put it mildly, intense. And I didn’t even get into the German version of a breakfast taco.

However – the sausage’n’suds celebration now has a permanent home in Landa Park, right next to the old power-generating station, which has now been converted to commercial purposes – my daughter insists that when I am a rich and famous writer, I can buy her a New Braunfels condo. We can go spend the 4th of July, where our condo would be convenient for rafting on the Comal, she says, and I say, Sweetie, I had better sell a raft-load more of my books. Several raft loads, actually, since I want for myself a nice little country retreat in the Hill Country. Although . . . this time around, I ran in to someone who actually sort-of remembered my name and having read one of my books, but then someone else saw me taking pictures of people in funny hats and asked if I was from the Herald Zeitung . . . progress, I suppose.

The new hall on the festival grounds is finished and open – a huge, permanent building, built out on stilts at the edge of the Comal River – and it is absolutely wonderful: a good view and balconies all the way around. We decamped late in the afternoon, when the press of crowds got absolutely too much – and went to Naegelin’s Bakery for sweet rolls, walked around and looked at some of the arts and crafts booths set up around the old town square . . . and on the way home, stopped by Granzini’s Meat Market for sausages and other local delights. One of the counter-hands at Granzini’s told us that they supply most of the food booths at Wurstfest with the varied kinds of sausages and all . . . enjoy at Wurstfest, and then stop by for some of their locally made take-home sausage afterwards. Wurst – it’s what’s for dinner, at this time of the year in Texas.


German Influence in San Antonio

Cross-Cultural Curiosities

by Celia Hayes

So, whoever would have thought that there was historically such a strong German influence in South Texas, being that in the popular imagination, Germans, Southern good-ol-boy types and Hispanics could not be less alike? The mind boggles, upon first consideration, and then it starts to make sense. While Texas has never exactly been a cultural melting pot . . . but the three different ethnic groups have certainly melted a little around the edges and certain aspects of each have flowed into the other – in some cases, almost imperceptibly.

This has a long history in Texas, beginning when the German entrepreneur combine, the Mainzer Adelsverein, begin transporting German farmers, craftsmen, technical experts and intellectuals wholesale into what had theretofore been a strictly Anglo and Hispanic concern. By 1855, when journalist and future park designer Frederick Law Olmstead visited San Antonio as part of a long ramble through Texas, he observed that there were three very distinct cultures, living side by side: the Anglo-Southern, the Hispanic . . . and the German. Three languages, three different sets of customs, singular preferences in music, amusements, drink, dress and even styles in building.

The German element in San Antonio contributed much in early commerce and business life: The Casino Club, whose building is still a San Antonio landmark, was also the first social club and theater venue – organized by twenty German-Texans in the late 1850s. The historic King William district was the first upscale suburb – and named for King William of Prussia, because so many of the well-to-do merchants of San Antonio built their homes there. The Pioneer Flour Mill, the Menger Hotel, and the newspaper which became the San Antonio Express News were all established by German immigrants, also one of the first photographic studios, the first breweries . . . and the first bowling alley, which still exists in the historic Southtown complex which is home to the Beethoven Maennerchor. Which one can easily see, just by checking them out every First Friday in Southtown, and for events like Oktoberfest and the upcoming Christmas Market – is more than just a men’s glee club. The Maennerchor was and is still so much more than a singing society – like the Casino Club; it was a social and entertainment center.

The 19th century German element in Texas was very much in favor of cultural and social pursuits, and pursued each with determination, occasionally to the horror of the more straight-laced and hard-shell Anglo community. Beer gardens and bowling alleys were looked upon with prim disapproval in the 19th century, especially on Sundays, but the German Texans remained undeterred. The Maennerchor’s historic 9-pin bowling alley has the distinction of being the oldest existing in Texas, and the third-oldest in the United States. They would like very much to restore the alley and the low, single-story building housing it, which stands at the bottom of the shady garden which is their outdoor venue – and according to the people who told us about it at Oktoberfest – is ramshackle in the extreme. I couldn’t get any pictures of it . . . but next month is Wurstfest in New Braunfels. They might not have a bowling alley there, but they do have plenty of that Texas-German Gemütlichkeit and to spare!

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Sun City Book Fair

Road Trip: Sun City Book Fair

by Julia Hayden

On the road again, last week for a book festival at Sun City, Texas* . . . which is out on the sun-baked flats of grassland lightly sprinkled with woods, away on the edge of Georgetown, about half an hour’s drive north of Austin. We have heard dire things of Austin’s rush hour, so in order to get there in time, Blondie and I arose at the crack of dawn . . . actually 4:00 AM, plotting to have at least a couple of cups of caffeinated beverage in us and be ready to roll at 5:00 and thus be well-through whatever hellish traffic jams that Austin offered in the morning rush hour. With our luck, we could have given it another hour, for we arrived just before 7:30, to set-up my table in ten minutes flat, and the fair didn’t officially open until 9. Yeah, we could definitely have slept for another hour – except that everyone that we met, setting up in the Sun City community center ballroom assured us that, oh, you just never knew with Austin traffic. If we had delayed leaving until about 6 AM, guaranteed there would have been a terrific pile-up and we would have been delayed well-past time.

Another Texas indy-author told me about the Sun City book-fair, stressing that it was just the kind of event and venue well-worth the time and tank-full of gas needed to get there. Sun City in Georgetown is a active adult planned retirement community, of people who are presumed to have considerable financial security and of an age to be still quite fond of reading books, thank you very much. Blondie still had serious doubts about that, at the wheel of the Montero, and grumbling slightly as we followed the Tom-Tom’s direction – all the way past all the exits for Georgetown and onto a two-lane road apparently leading nowhere in particular. She said at least once that it didn’t look like there was very much out there at all, but pastures and windbreaks, interspersed with the occasional double-wide with the customary rusting accoutrements, but after about three cross-streets, there we were . . . and oh, my.

We followed the directions scrupulously, along an avenue adorned with landscaping, trees and wide paved footpaths that meandered through it, past cottages and mansions artfully set about, so as to give the best appearance and views. There was a distinctly uniform look about them all, though – in general style and color, although not actual design. There were also no fences along property lines – each yard merged gracefully into the next – and then we came to the community center, likewise beautifully landscaped, and Blondie and I agreed that it all looked very much like what a military base would look like, if the powers that be had unlimited funds and no military mission at all. It’s a beautiful community, I’d hasten to admit, and the people seemed very lively and pleased to be a part of it, but it did have very much that centrally-planned look.

I can’t say enough nice things about the organizers, or about the residents who came drifting through, many of whom were eager to talk about books – really, I think my throat was raw from talking so much. I sold enough copies of my various books to make back expenses and then some, there was a considerable uptick in the Kindle and Nook editions afterwards and I met a couple of people who were interested in the Trilogy and involved in the Williamson County historical society who would like to have me come back for other events. Well worth the trip – but I don’t think I got over the exhaustion until today.

*Sun City is the first Dell Webb age restricted community in Texas; for active adults with a passion for life. For recreation you’ll enjoy three championship golf courses, a world-class fitness center with tennis and swimming, plus miles of walking trails. The activity center offers art studios, a woodshop, computer lab, Billiards hall and meeting rooms for clubs and classes. Hill Country Retreat is another such Dell Webb active adult community, but in San Antonio.

Scenic Drive to Wimberly – Peace like a River

Peace Like a River

by Julia Hayden

We went to Wimberly last weekend, first for the Market Days, and then to try and find the place where I had taken some particularly beautiful pictures along the Blanco River some years ago. I am getting ready to publish a all-in-one hardback version of the Adelsverein Trilogy, and I thought that a nice rural view of the hills, river, trees and wildflowers would be just the ticket for the cover. Alas, no luck with the wildflowers this year, and we couldn’t find the road that we had gone driving down, which paralleled the river and offered a wonderful vista around every bend . . . never mind – we still got some lovely pictures, I got some plants to begin reviving my poor dog-and-frost destroyed garden again, and my daughter scored some major finds as far as her pressed glass collection goes. Oh, but it was hot. We carried along bottled water, with plenty of ice, drank of it every time we began to feel thirsty, and still came home limp with exhaustion.

We took the back way, from New Braunfels – too much traffic on the highway . . . and anyway, I wanted to look for scenic bits of the Hill Country anyway. We took the exit for Farm to Market 306 as if going to Canyon Lake, turned right on Purgatory Road and went all the way to Ranch to Market 32. Turn east, towards the direction of San Marcos, and then north on Ranch Road 12, into Wimberley. It seemed to be a very short and direct drive, rather than up to San Marcos on the highway, and then over to Wimberley – and it was much more restful a drive – little traffic, once past the turn-off for Canyon Lake.

So – Wimberley; a sweet little town, halfway between Austin and San Antonio, well-grown with oak and cypress trees, and stocked with cute little places selling artistic tchotchkes, kitchenware, antiques and the like. It still has a small-town feel about it – it is not laid out in straight lines and squares like the older parts of Fredericksburg, or Boerne or New Braunfels – it’s more like the original city planners dropped pieces of cooked spaghetti on the floor and took the resulting tangle as a viable plan. Still – considerable charm, even when everyone is heading to Market Days, or decides do go for lunch in downtown Wimberley afterwards.

We took our lunch at Marcos’ Italian, right on the town square; which was a perfect place to sit and recover after the heat. They make their own rolls, as I discovered, when having an Italian sausage roll for lunch – and the same dough is used to make little rolls to dip into spiced olive-oil. We completely missed the turn-off for the River Road, which is where we wanted to go, as I discovered when checking the map again. Instead, we blundered off into the entirely opposite direction – still, it was scenic enough: a cool green river, with cypress trees lining the riverbank, and tiny green feathers of cypress seedlings coming up from the mud. My daughter waded in the water, to cool off – she promises that next time, we’ll bring some inflatable pool toys and float around a bit on the river.

So, that was our Saturday excursion – what about yours?

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The Texas Road Goes Ever On and On From San Antonio

Created Thursday, 01 October 2009 01:53

The Road Goes Ever On and On


So it does in Texas, under a sky that also seems to go on ever and ever, infinitely blue, with clouds floating in it like puffs of cotton. The horizon is not masked by atmospheric pollution, or haze, or dust – it’s as clear and as sharp as if there were a line drawn by a compass, or a pencil on the end of a string.

One of my characters in the Adelsverein Trilogy described this part of Texas: “…They call it the Llano Estacada. In Spanish it means ‘the Staked Plain’ . . . an empty plain covered with short grass, mostly. It is not quite flat, but it looks as if it would go on to the ends of the world. There is also a sort of bush growing there, with leaves like the points of a spear. It sends up a single flower stem, taller than a man; that is what looks like stakes, for miles and miles..”

We did not see many yucca plants growing, as we followed the more or less straight arrow of roadway, to Menard, and Paint Rock, Ballinger and Winters, all those little towns set out about every thirty or forty miles, towns where the oldest buildings are from the late 19th century, and huddle close around Route 83, which becomes Main Street for a couple of blocks. Then the last sheds and signposts fly by and we were out in the country again, with now and again a cultivated field, or a handful of black, or red, or fawn-colored cattle drifting lazily in a fenced pasture, among the scrub-mesquite and patches of cactus.


At Menard we stopped at a little place called the Country Store, which advertised baked goods, jam and handicrafts of all sorts – inside, it smelled wonderfully of baking. The proprietors sell cookies, pies both sweet and savory, and home-made frozen casseroles. We bought a bag of so-called “cowboy cookies” – stuffed with oatmeal and coconut flakes, and raisins. In Paint Rock, we took some pictures of the Concho County courthouse, and a downtown that seemed to be completely deserted on a weekend. The town square, such as it was, looked like an abandoned Western movie set.

In Ballinger, we spied an antique store in an old hotel building, and thought – well, why not? The shop had an interesting miscellany piled up out front, and seemed to be just two rooms at the front of an old storefront – but the proprietor directed us to go down a long, dim corridor lined with more shelves and bits of furniture – and rooms on either side of it were filled, filled to the brim with tables and cabinets and chairs, with vintage clothing and china and glass – beautifully jewel-colored Depression-era pressed-glass. Next door to the old hotel and antique shop was Alejandro’s – obviously and to judge by the number of cars parked out in front, and the delicious smells of food wafting out, every time the door opened – the most popular restaurant in town, especially on a Sunday morning. We didn’t stop in – but we will next time. It’s on 6th Street, on the corner next to the old Park Hotel.