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.

Dairy King in Sanderson

There is nothing like a Texas road trip to clear my mind. Having windshield time on the back roads of the Lone Star State is a soothing balm for my soul. The last thing I want to see when I have a few days off is another airport. I prefer to see beautiful Texas vistas — and to find a place to enjoy a good bacon cheeseburger.

Cheryl and I are en route to the Trans Pecos, one of our favorite regions of our beautiful state. After a restful night in Carrizo Springs, we were up early and on the road toward El Paso. Lunch time found us on the outskirts of Sanderson, the county seat of Terrell County. Sanderson has been around since the late 19th century. In fact, the colorful Judge Roy Bean once operated a saloon there.

There are not too many places to grab a bite in Sanderson but we did find a place that immediately piqued our interest — the Dairy King. With a name like that we had to stop and check it out. I have to confess that I really like the adventure of walking into places like this in small towns across Texas.

Dairy King is housed in a modest Dairyqueenesque looking building with a small and noticeably clean dining hall. The menu listed a pretty good offering of both Mexican and American dishes. I, however, was there for a burger. Because their signature Eagle Burger was much bigger than I wanted (or needed), I opted for a quarter pound bacon cheeseburger with a side of onion rings and a glass of iced tea.

I really appreciate places like this that offer good burgers. Nothing fancy. No gourmet stuff. Just a simple hamburger that delivers on flavor every time. And that is exactly what I got. My bacon cheeseburger was one really good burger. I commented to Cheryl that the bacon was especially good. Nice and crispy but not greasy. And everything on the burger was super fresh.

I enjoyed watching and listening to the locals in the restaurant. Reminded me that places like Dairy King are important to life in small town Texas because they bring folks together around good food. I loved watching people talk with those at their table and talk with others seated at other tables. Cheryl and I were really glad that we dropped in for lunch. If you find yourself anywhere near Sanderson at lunch time or anytime, stop by the Dairy King.

TX Burger

A fun part of my Texas road trip adventuring is discovering places that serve delicious burgers. Over the years I have tasted some mighty fine burgers throughout the Lone Star State and others that were just ok but not blog-worthy. For quite some time I have wanted to stop by one of the TX Burger locations and finally had the opportunity to do so in Madisonville.

Madisonville is the official home of TX Burger. Back in the early 1970’s, a fellow named James Carter wanted to serve burgers as tasty as the ones his mom made at home. Using all natural beef and fresh ingredients combined with great customer service, Carter hit on the right combination. Soon, TX Burger became a huge success and has since added locations around Texas.

I ordered my usual bacon cheeseburger with everything on it and a side of onion rings — all reasonably priced. In fact, I bought lunch for four of us and spent almost ten dollars less than I had spent on three of us the previous day on an “award winning” burger that turned out to be somewhat disappointing (that burger was definitely not blog-worthy).

My bacon cheeseburger arrived hot and ready to eat. The first bite confirmed that I had indeed made the right choice. It was delicious. Everything about this burger was fresh and honest and the meat was moist and prepared to perfection. Nothing disappointing about this burger. Every bite was delicious.

After eating my burger I turned my attention to the Blue Bell Ice Cream bar. This is Texas and Nolan Ryan beef and Blue Bell Ice Cream are certainly infused with Texas goodness. I bypassed the cone and opted for the biggest hand spun chocolate malt on the menu. Absolutely delicious and the perfect way to end this meal.
The next time you are on the road and see a billboard or sign for TX Burger, make it a point to head their way. You will enjoy the family-friendly atmosphere, their delicious burgers and sides — and, of course, the opportunity to eat some Blue Bell Ice Cream. I am certainly glad that I finally stopped to eat at TX Burger. I can assure you that this won’t be the last time!

Caddo Mounds State Historic Site

Located 26-miles west of present day Nacogdoches, the Caddo Mounds State Historic Site is one of the more unique historic sites in the Lone Star State. Once the ceremonial center for the Hasinai, a group of Caddo Indians, this site preserves the remnants of this great Mound Builder culture that thrived here more than 1,200 years ago.

Those of us who love Texas owe a debt of gratitude to the Caddo. The name of our beloved state comes from the Caddo word “tejas” which means friend. It’s hard to imagine our great State having any name other than Texas.

The Caddo selected this site near the Neches River because the soil was ideal for agriculture, the springs that flowed into the Neches provided a reliable source of water, and the surrounding forest yielded lots of food resources. As a result, the Caddo thrived in this region for more than 500 years.

Over time, these native Americans developed trade routes that connected them with other native groups in Central Texas and as far away as present day Florida to the east and Illinois to the north. The Hasinai group that inhabited Caddo Mounds was also a part of a larger Caddo domain that encompassed northeast Texas, northwest Louisiana, western Arkansas, and eastern Oklahoma.

The Historic Site preserves three remaining and distinctive earthen mounds and a replica of a large thatched beehive-shaped Caddo hut made of native grasses. These dwellings were designed to be cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

The museum at the site is worth visiting. It features informative displays and artifacts dating from A.D. 750–A.D. 1400, including pottery, tools, and weapons. I encourage you to visit the museum before you walk the 0.7 mile self-guided interpretive trail to see the Caddo’s burial, low temple, and ceremonial mounds. This self-guided trail also leads to a portion of the old El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail, which runs from Louisiana to Mexico.

Caddo Mounds is an excellent choice for a day trip or as a stop on your next East Texas road trip. One thing is certain, the Caddo enjoyed our great state long before we arrived on the scene. And you will enjoy your visit to this well-maintained historic site. It’s worth visiting and learning about the people whose native language gave us the great name of Texas.

Baby Head Cemetery

Cemeteries seldom make the list of must-see places on road trip adventures, and understandably so. After all, there are many more inviting and cheerful options to visit than final resting places. But, don’t let that stop you from considering a visit to some of the most fascinating and historical spots in the Lone Star State — old cemeteries.
One of Texas’ most interesting old cemeteries also bears the distinction of having one of the creepiest names on record for a cemetery — Baby Head Cemetery. Located about 9 miles north of Llano along Highway 16, this place is definitely worth visiting.

As the story goes, sometime between 1850 and 1875 a small child in the area was kidnapped and killed by Indians in an effort to discourage settlers to the area. Some oral traditions claim that the baby’s head was placed on a spike as a warning to encroaching settlers. Consequently, the mountain (or better yet, hill) where this incident allegedly happened was named Babyhead Mountain.

In the 1870s, a pioneer community was founded near the mountain and became known as Baby Head. A post office was established there in 1879 and remained in operation until 1918. The small rural community which once had numerous farms, homes, and business eventually dwindled to only a handful of folks. The cemetery is the last physical reminder of the Baby Head community.
Baby Head Cemetery is the final resting place for a few dozen folks, many of whom died in the 19th century and some as recently as the past few years. Many of the old headstones are so weathered that they are hard to read. But, in spite of their deteriorating condition, you can still make out the epitaphs on many of the old tombstones.
The epitaph on the headstone of two-year old Texas Calvin, the daughter of W.T. and M.A. Mc Coy expresses the hope of these parents who suffered the loss of their little girl. The inscription is a silent reminder that they grieved with hope:

Farewell sweet little Texas
Farewell on earth to thee
Sleep sweetly sleep beneath the tomb
The angels o’er thee watch
And when we meet in heaven above
We will part no more
Perhaps the most poignant epitaph was the one I read on the broken headstone marking the grave of Susan McCoy who died in 1893.

Remember friends as you pass by
As you are now so once was I
As I am now so you must be
Prepare for death and follow me

There is a lot of Texas history in our old cemeteries. Walking slowly among the graves always makes me wonder about the stories of those at rest beneath old and broken headstones. Reading the fading epitaphs also makes me think about what final message I will leave on my headstone for those who will stroll through cemeteries long after I am gone.

The Jefferson General Store

East Texas is unquestionably one of the most beautiful places in the Lone Star State. If you love forests and lakes then this is the place for you. This is definitely road trip heaven. On a recent road trip through East Texas, we headed over to Jefferson near Big Cypress Creek and Caddo Lake at the junction of U.S. Highway 59 and State Highway 49.

Jefferson was named for Thomas Jefferson when it was founded in the early 1840s by Allen Urquhart and Daniel Alley. In those early years it became the state’s leading inland river port as well as the leading commercial and distribution center of Northeast Texas. By 1870, Jefferson was the sixth largest city in Texas. But, with the advent of the railroad and less reliance on river boat transport of products, Jefferson gradually declined in population.
Today, Jefferson is one of the coolest road trip destinations in Texas. The town is home to more than fifty historic structures listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Many of the old historic buildings in the downtown area now house all kinds of specialty and antique shops. One must-see stop in Jefferson is the Jefferson General Store.

The Jefferson General Store occupies a building first used as a hardware store in the 1860’s and has remained an important part of the community through the years. There are not many places left in Texas where you can step through the door of an old building and go back in time. But that is exactly the feeling you’ll get when you step across the threshold of the front door and into the Jefferson General Store.
The sign above the door boasts “we have everything” — and that is not far from the truth as far as general store merchandise goes. The moment my wife Cheryl and I stepped through the door we looked at each other and smiled. This place was crammed with more interesting things than we could have imagined — including some of the hard-to-find candy we enjoyed as kids like Chick-O-Stick.

You can browse the stuff at the store, sit at the soda fountain and sip on five-cent coffee or any of their nostalgic soda fountain offerings, play a game of checkers on an oversided checker board, or fill a bag at the old-time candy counter. In addition to enjoying some of our favorite candy, we discovered fried peanuts in the shell. Delicious, indeed!

I enjoyed browsing through their eclectic selection of books on everything from Texas history, flora and fauna, recipe books, collections of humorous sayings, and more. If you like signs with funny messages, you’ll find plenty of those. They also have a great selection of Texas jams, jellies, and salsas.
If your travels take you to East Texas, I hope you’ll make time to go by Jefferson and to stop by the Jefferson General Store. Walk slowly. Look at everything. Have a soda. Eat candy. Peruse a book and laugh. Take a selfie. Have fun.

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.

Llano Earth Art Festival

The charming little town of Llano is located seventy-five miles northwest of Austin. Situated along the banks of the Llano River, this historic town is the county seat of Llano County. This region of the Lone Star State is known as the Llano Uplift, a rock formation created when underlying granite pushed its way to the surface and gave us the Texas Treasure known as Enchanted Rock.

Llano is also home to one of the newest festivals in Texas. Held in March, the Llano Earth Art Festival, also known as LEAF, attracts folks from far and wide — especially those who love to stack rocks or who have a close connection with nature. LEAF features all sorts of cool activities, including earth and land art installations, a variety of workshops, a fashion circus, live entertainment, food vendors, and piles of rocks for novice and more accomplished rock-stackers.

The festival is held at Grenwelge Park on the south bank of the Llano River. Car camping and tent camping sites are available by reservation. I haven’t seen so many VW vans in one place since I was growing up in the sixties. This iconic vehicle continues to be a favorite of those who travel light and free and call the open road home. Very cool, indeed. My son and I pitched our tents among some of the friendliest and nicest people we have ever met.

At the heart of the Llano Earth Art Fest is something that is near and dear to my son’s heart — rock stacking! Jonathan started stacking rocks for fun about ten years ago and has left his temporary cairns along the banks of many a Texas river. I can barely stack one sheet of paper atop another so I am quite impressed by anyone who can stack rocks. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Jonathan and folks from all over the country and a few nations do the same.

LEAF prides itself as the host of the Rock Stacking World Championship, offering various categories of competition from balancing, arches, tallest stack, and artistic creations. The completion is fun to watch but what I found even better was strolling along the banks of the Llano River and watching the various rock stacking artists at work. A — maz —ing!

As much as I enjoyed the rock stacking and the food vendors, what I enjoyed most was the opportunity to meet so many interesting people. And I do mean interesting and super friendly and nice. And that’s really the coolest thing about a festival like LEAF. It is an event that brings people together and encourages everyone to slow down, walk slowly, have conversations, and make new friends.
Please don’t wait until next year’s festival to visit Llano. If the road takes you anywhere near central Texas, swing by and check out this lovely little town. After all, the infamous Bonnie and Clyde enjoyed Llano. You’ll likely enjoy it, too — especially if you are not running from the law!

Comfort Cafe in Comfort

Comfort is just a tiny little dot on Texas roadmaps. Located west of San Antonio along Interstate 10, Comfort is a popular tourist area with great recreational access to the Guadalupe River. While traveling to Big Bend, my buddies and I approached Comfort just in time for lunch. Our hunger led us straight to the Comfort Cafe.
Comfort Cafe SignThe Comfort Cafe is small enough to be considered a hole-in-the-wall but, as we would soon discover, big enough to deliver on flavor. The place was clean as a whistle and the staff was more than eager to help. Friendly staff always helps make any dining experience that much more pleasant.
Comfort Cafe MenuI ordered a bacon cheeseburger with a side of onion rings and a glass of iced tea — my standard order on my burger adventures. From where I was sitting I could see into the kitchen area where my burger was being made to order. I could even hear the meat sizzling on the grill, releasing its burger perfume into the air.
Comfort Cafe BurgerWhen my order arrived I cut my burger in half and was pleased to see the generous portion of meat. The bacon was crispy, the cheese perfectly melted, and the bun lightly toasted. All of the ingredients were obviously fresh. The only thing that remained was to take a bite.
Comfort Cafe Burger HalfBottom line — the burger was unquestionably tasty. Everything about this burger worked well together. Someone had obviously given some thought to how a burger should be prepared and did not compromise at any point on delivering a delicious burger. I made it a point to thank the folks in the kitchen, something easy to do in a small place like this.
comfort-cafe-interiorThe Comfort Cafe has only been opened a short while, but I am confident it will be around for a long time. If I lived anywhere near Comfort I would surely make it a point to make my way to the Comfort Cafe as often as possible. I loved the whole dining experience, especially the ambiance that is unique to small town mom and pop eateries.
comfort-cafe-exteriorIf your road trips ever take you anywhere near Comfort, consider pulling off the main drag and making your way to the Comfort Cafe. Little stops along the way like the Comfort Cafe just add a magical element to any road trip. Embrace the experience. Enjoy the food. Make good memories with friends and family.

5 Facts About the Chihuahuan Desert

The Chihuahuan Desert is one of my favorite places in Texas. The expansive spaces, distant silhouetted hills, distinctive desert flora, deep in the heart of Texas kind of skies, and mesmerizing chiaroscuro splashed across the faces of desert mesas all work together to create an iconic Texas region. Here are five interesting facts about this distinctively beautiful part of the Lone Star State.
chihuahuan-desert-map1. The Chihuahuan Desert is the largest desert in North America.

The Chihuahuan Desert extends far beyond our own borders. The desert spans the northern states of Chihuahua and Coahuila in Mexico and extends north into Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona — a region bigger than the state of California.
chihuahuan-view2. The Chihuahuan Desert is a rain shadow desert.

A rain shadow is a dry region of land on the side of a mountain range that is protected from the prevailing winds and rainy weather. The Chihuahuan Desert is bordered by the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range on the west and the Sierra Madre Oriental mountain range on the east. These mountain ranges form parentheses around the Chihuahuan Desert, blocking most of the moisture from the Pacific and from the Gulf of Mexico.
Chihuahuan Shrubs3. The Chihuahuan Desert is a shrub desert.

According to conservation groups like the World Wide Fund for Nature (aka World Wildlife Fund), the Chihuahuan Desert is the most biologically diverse desert in the world. In the mid-19th century, the grass in the northern Chihuahuan Desert grew as high as the belly of a horse. However, overgrazing led to the decline of native grasses thus allowing the invasion of shrubs like yuccas and agaves, ocotillo, creosote bushes, mormon tea, and many others.
Chihuahuan Panoramic4. The Chihuahuan Desert is home to several mountain ranges.

The Chihuahuan Desert in Texas is home to the Franklin Mountains, Chisos Mountains, Davis Mountains, and Guadalupe Mountains. The seven highest peaks in Texas that rise to more than 8,000-feet are found in the Guadalupe Mountains and the Davis Mountains. These higher altitudes boast both beautiful coniferous trees as well as magnificent vistas of the Lone Star landscape.
waterhole-trail5. There is water in the Chihuahuan Desert.

While there is little rainfall in the Chihuahuan Desert, the region is not entirely without sources of water. The Rio Grande River bisects the Chihuahuan Desert and forms the natural border between Texas and Mexico. There are also streams, arroyos, puddles formed during summer rains, and some aquifers. These help sustain both plant and animal life in this harsh desert environment.