Fort Davis Drug Store Restaurant

Fort Davis, now a National Historic Site, was established in 1854 in the heart of the Davis Mountains. The site is one of the best surviving examples of a frontier military post built to protect mail carriers and travelers along the San Antonio Road.

After the Civil War, several regiments of Buffalo Soldiers were assigned to Fort Davis and served under the command of Second Lieutenant Henry O. Flipper, the first African American graduate of West Point. These soldiers served admirably and played a key role in keeping travelers safe.

The present-day town of Fort Davis surrounds the well preserved ruins of the old fort and is the county seat of Jeff Davis County. Situated on Limpia Creek at the intersection of State Highways 17 and 118, the town boasts beautiful views of the surrounding Davis Mountains.

The main drag is lined with quaint shops and a variety of eateries to satisfy every appetite. Flanked by the historic Hotel Limpia on one end and Stone Village Market on the opposite end, everything in between is stroll worthy. Shop owners are welcoming and super friendly.

After several days of hiking at Big Bend National Park and Davis Mountains State Park, my friend Doyle and I headed to the historic Fort Davis Drug Store for lunch. This cool restaurant features delicious made-from-scratch meals — including amazing desserts and a vintage 1950’s style ice cream soda fountain.

I ordered the Mile High Hamburger and added Pepper Jack cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato, pickles and a side order of homemade onion rings. This burger features a one-third pound all-beef patty and is served on toasted Kaiser buns.

The patty was cooked to perfection, the bacon was more on the crispier side like I prefer, and the buns were slightly toasted and very fresh. From the first to the last bite, this burger was delicious. And the onion rings were the perfect compliment. So glad I ordered this burger. It was more than enough to fill me up and energize me for a final afternoon hike.

Fort Davis is off the beaten interstate path but definitely worth a visit, not just for the food, but for the shops and a look at the historic old fort. I look forward to returning on a future day trip from our place in Big Bend. I hope you will add Fort Davis to your future Texas road trip bucket list. You’ll be glad you did.

El Camino del Rio

I am a road-trip junkie. Because I have spent so many years traveling around the planet on I-have-lost-track-of-how-many-hundreds-of-flights, there is nothing I enjoy more when I am home than windshield time in my pick-up.

Since establishing our base camp on our little off-grid place in Big Bend, I am taking advantage of every opportunity to explore this amazing part of the Lone Star State. For reasons I can’t explain, I am drawn to the vast Chihuahuan Desert that spans the Trans-Pecos.

The small town of Lajitas is not far from our cabin. The name Lajitas is Spanish for “little flat rocks” and refers to the Boquillas limestone of the area. Located along FM 170 on the western edge of Big Bend National Park, Lajitas has a goat for a mayor and a world-class golf resort and spa that attracts visitors from around the world.

The stretch of highway along FM 170 between Lajitas and Presidio is known as El Camino del Rio, or the River Road. National Geographic Traveler rates this spectacular road as one of the top ten scenic routes in the Unites States. This drive should be a bucket list item for any road-trip junkie.

El Camino del Rio follows the curves and turns of the Rio Grande River through Big Bend Ranch State Park from Lajitas all the way to Presidio, a name that originates from the Spanish word for fortress. The highway plunges over mountains into steep canyons and then up again like a desert roller coaster. Drive slowly and savor the views.

There are several scenic overlooks with views that will take your breath away. The magnificent vistas will allow even an amateur photographer to take amazing shots and look like a pro. The geography is about as iconically cowboy as it gets in Texas and the place names hail back to the days when Spanish explorers came through the region.
Whether you start your journey in Lajitas or Presidio, don’t be in a hurry. Take the time to stop to take in the views and to snap a few pics. Be sure to take water and snacks. And remember that there is no cell-signal on this 51-mile stretch of road.

I hope that you will add El Camino del Rio to your adventure list. You will be glad you did. Enjoy your drive and be safe.

Road Trip to Egypt

When it comes to planning a day trip I prefer scrutinizing a paper map to find the most interesting place names — and then seeing how I can get there off the beaten path. Texas has no shortage of places with fascinating monikers. And getting to those places makes for some really good windshield time.
Some names on the map are nothing more than “if you blink you will miss them” kind of spots. Almost always you can find evidence of what life was like there in years gone by — things like old cemeteries or long abandoned buildings slowly being eroded by the passage of time.
That’s how I came across Egypt, the oldest community in Wharton County. When I spotted the name on my map I couldn’t resist the temptation to head that way, especially because I have visited the “real” Egypt several times. So, off to the Egypt in Texas it was.
The original settlement was started in 1892 by Eli Mercer at the place where the road from Matagorda to Columbus crossed the San Felipe−Texana Road. Mercer operated a ferry across the Colorado River at that spot, hence the name Mercer’s Crossing.
The fertile soil in the area made Mercer’s Crossing a great place to farm. Farmers planted corn, cotton, and even sugar cane. During a severe drought, the farmers in the area supplied corn to surrounding settlements. As a result, folks started referring to Mercer’s Crossing as Egypt and the name stuck.
In November 1835, the Republic of Texas opened a post office in Egypt with Eli Mercer as postmaster. The US Postal Service still operates a post office in Egypt. Texas history attests to the role Egypt played in the pre-independence days of the Lone Star State. During the early days of the republic, many prominent Texans lived in Egypt.

Today, the population of Egypt is in the double-digits. Many former residents, including several from the earliest days of Texas, are buried in the old cemetery. It is worth taking some time to walk slowly among the old headstones. So much history here.

You will find some fascinating old buildings in Egypt as well as a colorful billboard mural in front of the old mill. Some of the old families remain to this day, continuing a long family tradition of farming. Considering the beauty of the countryside here, it’s no wonder that some folks have chosen to stay in Egypt.
As Texans we are fortunate to have so many miles of backroads that wind their way through the history of our great state. Make sure to take some time to get out and explore the places near you. You might want to start by buying a paper map of the Lone Star State as you plan your next adventure.

Orsak’s Cafe in Fayetteville

I love venturing to places I have not yet visited in the Lone Star State. On a recent road trip from Katy to La Grange, my wife and I decided to take a lunch detour to Fayetteville — and I am so glad we did. This small town is about the closest thing to a time capsule you will find in Texas. Fayetteville has somehow managed to retain quite a bit of yesteryear charm in our ever-changing world.
Our purpose for taking this detour was to find a place to enjoy a bacon cheeseburger. And, according to the information we read online, Orsak’s Cafe was the place to go. This small town diner is located on the town’s historic square and offers a menu-full of enticing home-style dishes, including burgers.
As soon as we drove into Fayetteville we knew we liked it. No cookie-cutter homes here. Just charming little homes, each with their own unique architectural features — homes that have been around so long that they are shaded by mature trees and crepe-myrtles in full bloom. We enjoyed driving around and looking at the homes and the old business on the town square, including Fayetteville’s historic court house.
When we arrived at Orsak’s it was obvious this is a popular place. The locals were already seated at their favorite tables when we walked in. Folks were friendly and offered their greetings as we made our way to an empty table. We felt right at home among folks enjoying good conversation and delicious meals.
Cheryl and I decided to split a bacon cheeseburger with a side of onion rings. Since the burgers at Orsak’s are pretty big, this was a good call. Our burger arrived already cut and plated on two plates with a healthy portion of homemade onion rings on each plate. Very nice service.
The first bite was absolutely delicious. The portion of meat was generous, the ingredients were fresh, the bacon was crisp, the bun was nice and moist, and the onion rings were cooked to perfection. Everything about this meal was enjoyable and had us hooked. As we ate we talked about when we might be free to come back to Orsak’s.
After lunch we walked around the town square and enjoyed perusing the town bulletin boards that were chock-full of posters, flyers, bulletins, and notes announcing upcoming community events. Very blast-from-the-past kind of stuff in this day of social media advertising. There are all sorts of shops and restaurants and even a museum on the town square along with numerous historical markers.
Cheryl and I agreed that Fayetteville is one of our new favorite places. We can’t wait to go back and introduce friends to this small Texas treasure and to enjoy lunch again at Orsak’s Cafe. If you find yourself anywhere near Fayetteville on your next toad trip, take the time to visit. And remember, wherever your road trips take you, get off the beaten path and explore a place you have never visited.

Rosa’s Cantina

When it comes to music, my iTunes playlist is nothing less than eclectic. My taste in music encompasses just about everything from Mongolian throat singing to Mexican mariachi. I especially enjoy ballads — sentimental songs that tell stories that tug at my heart. And when it comes to ballads, I especially enjoy country–western singer Marty Robbins.

In 1959, Marty Robins released what became one of his signature songs, El Paso. This song about a love struck cowboy propelled Robbins from singer to superstar almost overnight. The setting for the song was Rosa’s Cantina “out in the west Texas town of El Paso.” What many may not have realized at the time is that there is a real place called Rosa’s Cantina in El Paso.

As the story goes, Robbins and his band were traveling from Nashville to Phoenix. They happened to stop for a break in El Paso in front of a local watering hole named Rosa’s Cantina. The place was already closed for the night but Robbins looked through the windows and walked around the joint, casting an eye toward the badlands of New Mexico.

Those brief moments in front of Rosa’s Cantina played a role in sparking Robbin’s storytelling imagination. By the time he and the boys had arrived in Phoenix the ballad was complete. We will never know for sure whether Robbins was already working on the song or if that brief stop in El Paso was the catalyst for the song.

What we do know for certain is that Rosa’s Cantina was the setting for almost the entire story about a love struck cowboy who gunned down another cowboy in a jealous rage over Felina, the Mexican girl who worked at the saloon. That song not only catapulted Robbins to fame, it also put Rosa’s Cantina on the map.

Today, Rosa’s Cantina is pretty much the same as it was in 1959. Housed in an unimpressive rock building next to a garage in a part of town where blue-collar workers hammer out a living, Rosa’s Cantina is a destination spot for Marty Robbins fans from all over the world. The guest book in the joint has signatures of guests from too many countries to count.

Cheryl and I were excited to finally make it to Rosa’s Cantina to enjoy the atmosphere and a hearty plate of Mexican food. The staff was super-friendly, the food was delicious, and the ambiance was very cool. The walls featured several Marty Robbins albums and other memorabilia. This place continues to give patrons a connection with a song about the old west that continues to stir the imagination.

Rosa’s Cantina is definitely worth a visit. Don’t hesitate to bring the whole family. The owners and staff know they are stewards of a legacy unwittingly bestowed on them by Marty Robbins. And once you step in the door, your own imagination will kick in as you reflect on a love story that did not end well for a jealous young cowboy.

A Place Called Uncertain

I sometimes resort to an unconventional method when planning a road trip — unfold a Texas map, adjust my bifocals, and then look for the most interesting place names. That’s the way my East Texas road trip came about. Actually, my wife Cheryl found the spot on the map and suggested we head in the direction of Uncertain.
I was so happy to learn that there is actually a place in Texas named Uncertain. How cool is that. It was settled, then. The only thing we were certain of was heading to Uncertain. Any other stops along the way would be at our whim. When Cheryl and I do this kind of road trip we don’t make lodging reservations ahead of time so that we can be free to head in any direction we want.
There are a couple of stories about how Uncertain got its name. One story suggests that the place was once known as Uncertain Landing and got its name because steamboat captains often had a hard time mooring their vessels there. Another story suggests that the town got its name before the border between the United States and the Republic of Texas was finally established. Before that time residents were uncertain about their citizenship.
Uncertain is an incorporated community located deep in the heart of East Texas. Situated along the shores of Caddo Lake, the largest natural lake in Texas, Uncertain is a little place with a whole lot of stuff going on. Locals offer boat tours that take guests through the largest bald cypress forest in the world. These big old trees give Caddo Lake a unique and mysterious personality.
You’ll find several small businesses in Uncertain and a non-denominational place of worship understandably called The Church of Uncertain. But don’t let the name fool you. This little house of worship is certain about the doctrinal essentials that make it vital to the spiritual health of the community.
There are a few places to eat in Uncertain but we chose to stop at a place called Shady Glade Cafe. This little joint has a cool local vibe and offers a great selection of home-style meals, including burgers. The big guy seated next to us ordered a chicken fried steak that was bigger than the plate. I ordered the Baconator with cheese, seasoned fries, and iced tea.
As he was leaving the big guy turned, took a deep breath, and said to me, “I can put away a lot of groceries, but I could not finish that chicken fried steak.” I can understand why. It was huge! As for my burger, it was really good, especially the generous meat patty that had a great flavor. There was a steady stream of customers the whole time we were there. That in itself is a good endorsement.
Bottom line — we enjoyed our drive through this small community where folks make their livelihood from catering to tourists and fishermen to Caddo Lake. The folks we met while there were all very friendly and helpful. So, one thing is certain — we enjoyed our brief time in Uncertain and glad that this was our first stop on our East Texas road trip.

Vanishing Texas River Cruise

The Highland Lakes are a chain of seven lakes that were formed when the Lower Colorado River Authority built a series of dams along the Colorado River. Unquestionably one of the most beautiful regions in the Lone Star State, the Highland Lakes offer lots of enjoyable recreational opportunities for anyone looking for an affordable Texas adventure.
Vanishing Texas River CruiseLake Buchanan, the second largest of the Highlands Lakes in Central Texas, is the starting point for the Vanishing Texas River Cruise. This cruise was the brainchild of a man named Ed Low. In 1981, Ed envisioned starting a cruise to acquaint folks with the ecological beauty of the Highland Lakes region. The Vanishing Texas River Cruise introduces visitors to some really spectacular views of Lake Buchanan and the Colorado River — vistas that are best enjoyed from the water.
Vanishing Texas Boarding PassSince its start in 1982, the Vanishing Texas River Cruise has become the premier ecological tour in the Lone Star State. The relaxing two-hour cruise is hosted by a knowledgeable guide who points out native wildlife, waterfalls, and varieties of birds — including wintering Bald Eagles. The cruise also navigates over the ruins of Blufton, an entire town that was submerged in 1937 when Buchanan Dam was completed and filled. The old town ruins are visible only in seasons of drought.
Texas Eagle II BoatThe Vanishing Texas River Cruise folks offer a variety of cruises aboard their 120-passenger Texas Eagle II boat. The lower level features an air-conditioned cabin with large picture windows that make it easy to view the scenery. The upper open-air deck is covered and also gives passengers complete visual access to the passing scenery. You can bring a sack lunch or purchase one of the box lunches as a part of your package.
Colorado River WaterfallI can’t say enough about the staff. As someone who has toured all over the world and listened to tour guides in more than three-dozen countries, the guides on the Vanishing Texas River Cruise are among the very best. These guys know their stuff, communicate in an engaging way, and are always ready to answer questions. I learned a lot in the two-hours I spent aboard the Texas Eagle II.
Vanishing Texas WakeRegardless of where you live in Texas, it is worth the drive to the centrally located Vanishing Texas River Cruise. Visit their website to learn more about their various cruises and how to reserve your space before heading their way. If you have never visited the Highland Lakes, then I encourage you to do so. And be sure to make the time for a Vanishing Texas River Cruise to see Texas in a whole new way.

Digging for Topaz

Topaz is the official gemstone of Texas as well as the birthstone for the month of November. This beautiful gemstone is found only among the granite hills and sandy creek beds of Mason County — in the geologic region of the state known as the Llano Uplift. The town of Mason, the county seat, is about an hour’s drive from Fredericksburg in the beautiful Texas Hill Country.
Topaz StoreTopaz was found in greater abundance in Mason County at the turn of the twentieth century. Old-timers speak of stumbling across topaz stones while looking for arrowheads in creek beds. In those days, however, there was a greater demand for arrowheads. Topaz was just another pretty rock.
Omar Topaz DiggingToday, topaz hunters have to look a little harder and dig a little deeper to find this stone. Topaz resembles shards of broken glass or frozen water, thus earning it the nickname “Desert Ice.” Topaz, however, also occurs naturally in a variety of colors including blue, orange, brown, green, beige, and red. A good place to look for topaz is around granite outcroppings in creek beds and ditches.
Cheryl SiftingDigging for topaz has been on my wife Cheryl’s list of Texas adventures for quite some time. So, we finally made the time to head to Mason County to try our hand at searching for the Texas State Gem. We set out with the understanding that topaz is hard to find and that we would be content to just share this adventure together.
Omar SiftingCheryl arranged for us to dig at the Seaquist Ranch in Mason County. The Seaquist family left their native Sweden at the turn of the twentieth century and settled in Mason County. The family still owns and operates their ranch located a few miles outside of the town of Mason. People have enjoyed rock hunting on the Seaquist Ranch since the 1970’s.
Soil SifterOur adventure began at eight in the morning. We met Jean Seaquist in the parking lot of the Dairy Queen in Mason, paid our $20 per person fee, and set off for the ranch. Jean personally escorted us to an area of the ranch known as Topaz Gulch — a creek bed snaking its way through the rugged hills at the base of pink granite outcroppings.
Digging DeepAfter our orientation, we set up our base camp — our canopy, camp chairs, and ice chest filled with fruit, water, and gatorade to beat the heat. And then we collected our gear and set off for the creek bed. We worked an hour at a time, digging and sifting material in our soil sifters. We found lots of pretty rocks and some that might be topaz. We’ll know more when we’ve had time to clean and examine our haul.
Topaz Gulch

All in all, this was a fun and affordable adventure. Like fishing, you have to be prepared to just enjoy the experience regardless of whether you catch anything. The best part of the adventure was the anticipation of finding something and spending lots of quality time together. We both agreed that we’d like to share this adventure again in the future. And that is priceless!

Iwo Jima Monument in Harlingen

On February 23, 1945, Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal captured a unique moment in time at the Battle of Iwo Jima. Rosenthal’s photograph of the Marines of Company E, 2nd Battalion raising the American flag atop Mount Suribachi endures as one of the greatest war photographs in U.S. history. His image resonated with the American people and became an iconic representation of the fierce resolve of the greatest generation to fight for the preservation of our democratic way of life.
Joe Rosenthal Iwo Jima PicRosenthal’s photograph stirred the heart of a sculptor named Dr. Felix W. de Weldon. On duty with the U.S. Navy at the time Rosenthal’s photograph was released, Dr. de Weldon immediately constructed a small scale model of the scene. After the war, he worked for nine and a half years to depict the scene on a more massive scale. Once Dr. de Weldon completed the plaster model, he spent an additional three years overseeing the bronze casting process.

After the massive sculpture was completed, the various parts were shipped to our nation’s capital and assembled at Arlington National Cemetery. President Dwight D. Eisenhower officially dedicated Dr. de Weldon’s bronze memorial on November 10, 1954 — the 179th anniversary of the U.S. Marine Corp.
Felix W de WeldonThe working model of the memorial was stored at Dr. de Weldon’s summer home and studio in Newport, Rhode island. In October 1981, Dr. de Weldon gave this full-sized working model to Marine Military Academy in Harlingen, Texas. Dr. de Weldon felt that the climate at this South Texas location was ideal for the preservation of the molding-plaster figures.

The fact that Corporal Harlon H. Block, the Marine placing the flagpole into the ground, was a native of the nearby town of Weslaco also influenced Dr. de Weldon’s decision about where his sculpture should permanently reside. Block was killed at Iwo Jima just six days after the flag raising. His gravesite is located behind the monument.
Iwo Jima Monument MMAThe massive sculpture, dedicated April 16, 1982, is situated on the Marine Military Academy Parade Ground. When my wife and I drove to Harlingen to visit the Iwo Jima Monument and turned onto Iwo Jima Boulevard, our first sight of the monument caught us completely off guard. Our jaws dropped at the inspiring sight of this moment in time captured by a war photographer and sculpted by a Navy veteran.
Uncommon ValorDr. de Weldon hoped that his gift would serve as an inspiration to the young cadets at Harlingen’s Marine Military Academy. There is no doubt that it has done just that. But his gift also serves as an inspiration to the many visitors who travel to Harlingen from all over the country to see this magnificent memorial to a time when uncommon valor was a common virtue.
Iwo Jima Monument at MMAIf your travels take you anywhere near South Texas, make it a point to drive whatever extra miles you need to in order to visit the Iwo Jima Memorial and Museum at Marine Military Academy in Harlingen. Those of us who enjoy the blessings of living in the United States of America certainly owe a debt of gratitude to the men and women of the greatest generation for their courage and sacrifices. I am thankful for Joe Rosenthal and Dr. Felix W. de Weldon for their gift to the American people.

Road-Tripping Close to Home

One of the advantages to living anywhere in the Lone Star State is having quick access to off-the-beaten-path drives. The Lone Star State’s network of Farm to Market roads can connect travelers with some of the most scenic places in the state. I enjoy wandering down these backroads where I can soak in the richness of Texas.
Gravel RoadHere is a sample of one of my no-agenda backroads excursions. The starting point was my home in beautiful Katy just west of Houston. I have convenient access to Interstate 10 and from there to Farm to Market roads and even more remote unpaved roads that lead me deeper into the heart of Texas.
BluebonnetMy first stop was at the San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site. Founded in 1823 by Stephen F. Austin, the Father of Texas, this little colony was the focal point for issues related to the immigration and settlement of American colonists in Mexican-controlled Texas until 1836. Austin built his only home in Texas at San Felipe de Austin. His log cabin also served as the colony’s land office and became the center of San Felipe commerce.
Austin's CabinFrom San Felipe I headed farther west on my backroads excursion. I enjoy the backroads because there is little traffic and I can drive slowly in order to better appreciate the sights. While driving, I received a Weather Channel message on my phone alerting me to severe thunderstorms in the area. I could see the approaching storm in the distance. The darkening skies created some beautiful light, making all of the sights a little more dramatic.
RR TracksI especially enjoyed seeing the old houses and farm buildings, places no longer inhabited that are slowly losing the battle against time and the elements. Looking at these old houses always makes me wonder about who might have lived there or who looked forward to returning there to visit family or friends on holidays and ordinary days. These old decaying homesteads always remind me that we are here for a season and should therefore make the most of every day that we have.
House and CowsAfter a couple of hours of driving, the thunderstorms finally arrived. There is nothing quite like the smell and sound of rain in the Springtime — absolutely therapeutic. My drive home was slower because of the heavy rains, but I absolutely enjoyed every mile. Although I only spent a few short hours away from home, I was refreshed by the experience.
Old House BarbedYou don’t have to travel far to have an adventure, but you do have to venture out and away from where you are. Little backroads excursions do not cost much and they do yield good returns. I encourage you to find your next adventure on a Farm to Market or gravel road close to your home. It’s a great way to redeem an afternoon and to learn a little more about the people and places that have shaped the history of your area.