The Devil’s Hall

John Muir is regarded as one of our nation’s most influential naturalist and conservationist. He inspired the people of his generation to experience and to protect what would later become some of our country’s largest national parks. Muir was no stranger to hiking. His countless miles of meanderings inspired him to write what has become a favorite quote: “Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” That’s really good advice!
Sadly, lots of folks will live a lifetime without ever walking down a dirt path. For those of us who live in the Lone Star State, there is no excuse to not get outdoors to venture down a dirt or rocky path. With over ninety state parks, every Texan is within driving distance of a dirt path. It just takes a little planning and being intentional about venturing out.
Among my favorite day-hike trails is the Devil’s Hall Trail at Guadalupe Mountains National Park. This trail leads hikers to a magnificent narrow canyon called the Devil’s Hall. This four-mile out and back hike is rated moderately difficult because it requires a bit of boulder scrambling. But, don’t let that scare you off. That’s what makes this such a fun trail to hike.

The trail begins at the Pine Springs campground and is well-defined for the first couple of miles. The trail eventually leads to a canyon wash that is filled with scree and boulders. No danger of getting lost, however, as long as you stay in the stream-bed. This wash leads to a stair step series of ledges called the Hiker’s Staircase.

It’s an easy climb up the staircase and past a natural bathtub at the top of this formation. The trail continues a short distance to the Devil’s Hall, a canyon whose walls are lined with horizontal stones that look like they were laid down by a stone mason. This is the turn-around point for this hike.

The Devil’s Hall is especially beautiful in the fall of the year — almost as colorful as nearby McKittrick Canyon, one of the most beautiful places in Texas. The canyon wash is lined with a variety of trees, including big tooth maple, Texas madrone, and ponderosa pine. The trek offers spectacular views of geologic formations and distant mountaintops. In short, this is a really beautiful place waiting to be enjoyed by those willing to take a dirt path.

The Devil’s Hall Trail is a great day hike. Even so, always be sure to take a day pack with snacks and plenty of water. Walk carefully. Enjoy the views. Stop often to breathe and to breathe in the beauty. And be sure to take lots of photos. The Devil’s Hall, and places like it, is a paradise for those who choose to take a dirt path.

Spanish Angels Cafe

Dell City is a small town located right where the Chihuahuan Desert meets the western edge of the Guadalupe Mountains. This is wide open country with iconic cowboy landscapes. This little farming town, situated at the intersection of Farm roads 1437 and 2249, was founded sometime before 1949 after the discovery of a large underground aquifer.
Water in the desert is a big deal. The folks at Dell City capitalized on this and tagged their little town “The Valley of Hidden Waters.” However, despite the treasure beneath their feet, the population of Dell City has remained less than five-hundred with a median age of about fifty. The town has one grocery store, one restaurant, and some amazing views of five of the highest peaks in Texas to the East.
The Spanish Angels Cafe is the local eatery and well worth a stop if you are anywhere near the area. I visited the cafe on a cold December day after a week of camping in the Guadalupe Mountains. The warmth inside was generated by more than the old radiant gas heater in the corner. The folks inside added a warmth of their own, the kind that characterizes small town hospitality.

Hungry for a burger, I ordered a bacon cheeseburger with fries and a glass of tea. My camping companion ordered the bar-b-cue ribs plate. While we waited for our food, we struck up a conversation with some of the other folks in the cafe. All of this made us feel right at home, like we were regular town folk rather than just two outdoorsmen passing through.
My burger arrived on a colorful plate with a pretty ample serving of crispy and seasoned fries. The portion of meat was perfectly cooked, the bacon was crispy, and all of the other ingredients were as fresh as they come. And when fully assembled, the flavor of the burger was really good — delicious, in fact.
I thoroughly enjoyed the burger and felt I had burned enough calories to justify eating a slice of chocolate cake — also delicious. The whole experience was made even more enjoyable because of the friendly atmosphere, great service, and overall ambiance of this small town cafe. If I lived in Dell City I would make it a point to eat at this cafe as often as possible.
I love small town cafes and inconspicuous eateries that serve up great food. These places are easy to miss as we speed from point to point or get in such a hurry that we opt for fast food joints instead. If you are on the road, take time to slow down as you travel through small towns and be willing pull off the road. You just might discover a great place to eat — like the Spanish Angels Cafe.

Summiting El Capitan

El Capitan, the signature peak of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, rises a modest 8,085 feet above sea level — just enough to make it part of an elite group of Lone Star peaks that are higher than 8,000 feet. I first became acquainted with El Capitan when I traveled to the park in 2014 to solo hike to the summit of Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas.
El Capitan is a ruggedly handsome peak from all angles. And, because of its prominent place, it is likely the most photographed peak in the Guadalupe Mountains. But after seeing this limestone bulwark from the summit of Guadalupe Peak, I was both intimidated and motivated. I knew then that I had to one day bushwhack my way to the top of this mountain.

This past week Doyle Lowry, my hiking buddy, and I met at the national park for a week of cold weather camping and to hike to the summit of El Capitan. Doyle and I had previously made a pact to summit all of the 8,000-foot peaks at the national park. El Capitan would be our fourth peak but far from the easiest since there is no trail to the summit.

We departed our campsite at a little after 7:00 AM and made our way up the Guadalupe Peak Trail. The National Park Service has rated this hike as strenuous because the trail steadily rises 3,000 vertical feet along the way. They are not kidding when they say strenuous. Be prepared to feel the burn in your legs.
Just shy of making the final switchbacks to the top of Guadalupe Peak, we left the trail and started toward El Capitan. Since there is no trail to El Capitan, we selected a prominent landmark and bushwhacked our way to the western edge of the bulwark. This made the hike up Guadalupe Peak Trail seem like a walk in the park (no pun intended). They call it bushwhacking for a reason.

Once we reached the western edge, we picked new landmarks and slowly pushed our way through the brush and scrambled around and over boulders toward the summit. The views from this side of the mountain are beyond spectacular and looking down the sheer cliffs is stomach-churning. Even though our progress was slowed by all of the brush, scree, and boulders, we could tell we were making progress.

We lost and gained elevation several times along the undulated way to the summit. As we neared the summit we also contended with snow on the ground and high winds. Finally, after more than two hours of bushwhacking, the summit came into view — and it was indeed beyond spectacular. We stood at the pinnacle of this intimidating peak and breathed in the most amazing views.
Before making our way back down, Doyle located the ammo box containing the summit log and we both signed our names in the book. There were very few names in the book, and understandably so. If you want to stand on the peak of El Capitan you have to be a little crazy and a whole lot determined. As Doyle pointed out, what we both lacked in youth and endurance we made up for in grit and determination.

After enjoying a few minutes on the summit, we started bushwhacking our way back toward the Guadalupe Peak Trail. This time we opted to do the final push along a dry ravine filled with boulders and scree — either that or battle the thick brush again. But, hard as it was, we finally reconnected with the Guadalupe Peak Trail.
Once we reached the trail, we decided to make our way to the summit of Guadalupe Peak — a third summit for each of us. From there we looked northward toward Shumard Peak and Bartlett Peak, two more of the 8,000+ foot peaks that we hope to summit next year. We started our descent by 4:30 PM. What had previously taken us far less than two hours to hike took us two and a half hours because we had to hike in the dark and had to hike slow because of the snow and ice on the trail.
Finally, after 11 hours and 43 minutes on the trail, we reached the Pine Springs campground and entered our time into the hiker’s registry. We are beyond elated at our accomplishment. Not a bad day for two old guys who hear the clock ticking and want to get in as many adventures as possible while it is still possible. For me, bushwhacking to El Capitan is officially the hardest day hike I have ever done — and the most rewarding. And hiking with a good friend who loves the outdoors is always a bonus! Already looking forward to our next adventure at Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

The Cafe Next Door

When it comes to the vast expanses of the western regions of Texas, one thing is certain — the counties in this part of the Lone Star State seem to go on forever. Crockett County, named after Alamo hero Davy Crockett, covers 2,807 square miles of land or more than 1,800,000 acres. That’s a whole lot of land by any measure.

Ozona, located on Interstate 10 between Houston and El Paso, is the county seat of Crockett County. Ozona was originally known as Powell Well when it was founded in 1891 by E.M. Powell, a land surveyor. The name of the community was later changed to Ozona because of the open and fresh air or ozone.
For those traveling down those long stretches of Interstate 10, Ozona is a great place to stop and stretch. And that’s exactly what I did on a recent road trip from my home in Katy to the Franklin Mountains. I stopped to top off my gas tank in Ozona and noticed a small cafe next door, appropriately named The Cafe Next Door. I couldn’t resist.
The Cafe Next Door offers a full menu of mouth-watering home-style dishes, including hamburgers. I ordered my usual bacon cheeseburger with a side of onion rings and a tall glass of iced tea. The onion rings, our waitress cautioned, would be enough to feed two. I assured her that I would have no problem with that.
The burger was really delicious. It had a healthy portion of meat beneath a warm blanket of cheese, crispy bacon, and fresh vegetables. The onion rings were cooked to perfection. They were so good, in fact, that I completely forgot about the french fries lying undisturbed on the table. But, because I only have so much room in my stomach I had to set my priorities and eat more onion rings than french fries.
The wait staff was friendly and attentive to our needs. And the general atmosphere of the place was great. This is a small town cafe at its best — friendly folks, delicious food, time to eat a meal without feeling as though I had to rush. My friends and I enjoyed eating at The Cafe Next Door. We have marked it down as a must-stop on future road trips.

I hope you’ll stop and check out the food at The Cafe Next Door on one of your future road trips on Interstate 10. This is the kind of eatery, after all, that adds a measure of culinary adventure to any road trip.

Hiking the Aztec Cave Trail

When it comes to outdoor adventures in the Lone Star State, the Franklin Mountains have much to offer. Franklin Mountains State Park is located at the westernmost tip of Texas and is the largest urban park in the nation. The park encompasses more than 26,000 acres in the city of El Paso, and yet once in the park, you would never know you were anywhere near a city.
The Franklin Mountains are roughly three miles wide by twenty-three miles long and divide the city of El Paso. The range rises to an elevation of more than 7,000 feet above sea level and offer some of the best hiking and biking trails in Texas. The state park has some of the best camp sites of any state park — every one with a beautiful view of the mountains.
The Aztec Cave Trail is one of the most popular hiking trails in the park. According to local lore, early El Pasoans reportedly found bones and other Native American artifacts in the caves. However, they mistakenly concluded that the early inhabitants were Aztecs and the caves soon became known as the Aztec Caves.
The trail to the caves is not long but it is steep. The trail is well-marked and well-maintained. There are a couple of primitive campsites along the way for visitors who want to spend the night at campsites located a bit higher than the other sites at the park. These are definitely bring your own water sites.
At about a half-mile into the hike, the trail becomes increasingly steeper but very manageable for hikers. I hike with trekking poles which make sections like this a bit easier to negotiate. The payoff at the end of the trail makes the hike absolutely worth it all. Once you arrive at the caves it is easy to understand why native peoples were drawn to places like this.
The view from the caves is absolutely magnificent. The ceiling of the main cave is stained by smoke, evidence that ancient peoples once spent time here and enjoyed the same beautiful vistas that visitors today enjoy. I’m glad that sites like this have been preserved by the Texas Parks and Wildlife system for us and future generations to enjoy.
If you enjoy hiking you will definitely enjoy the Aztec Cave Trail and the several other trails at Franklin Mountains State Park. If I lived in El Paso I would make it a point to visit and hike these trails as often as possible. As for me, I am already making plans to return to the Franklin Mountains to hike again.

Sagebrush Cafe & Gifts

Fort Stockton is located along Interstate 10 — not quite halfway between San Antonio and El Paso. Fort Stockton was originally a military fort named for Lt. Edward Dorsey Stockton, an officer in the First Infantry who died in San Antonio in 1857. Established in 1859 at Comanche Springs, within the site of the present city, Fort Stockton provided protection for travelers, freighters, and the mail service.
From its earliest days, Comanche Springs was a favorite rest stop for folks traveling between San Antonio and El Paso. Not much has changed. Fort Stockton is still a place where those traveling across the Chihuahuan Desert along Interstate 10 can find a bit of rest and refreshment. And for those who have some time, it’s worth checking out Fort Stockton’s Historic District.
On a recent road trip from Katy to the Franklin Mountains in El Paso, some friends and I stopped to eat at the Sagebrush Cafe in Fort Stockton. This modest eatery offers a full menu of homemade dishes, including hamburgers. And, for soda lovers, the Sagebrush offers a variety of Texas soft drinks, including one mighty tasty Texas Root Beer made with pure cane sugar.
Because there is nothing I like more on a Texas road trip than a delicious homemade hamburger, I ordered the bacon cheeseburger with onion rings and a cold Texas Root Beer. I am not a big soda drinker but just could not resist the temptation to try the root beer. And, of course, I was not disappointed. Texas Root Beer is a product of the Dublin Bottling Works in Dublin, Texas. These folks have been bottling sodas for more than 120 years and have definitely perfected the art.
My bacon cheeseburger was a work of art in itself — with a healthy portion of perfectly cooked meat, crispy bacon, pepperjack cheese, moist buns, and fresh lettuce, tomato, and pickles. The first bite was a foretaste of what would be an absolutely delicious meal. Everything about this burger was right. This was an honest-to-goodness absolutely delicious burger. And the pepper-sprinkled onion rings certainly held their own as well. Delicious.
There are more than plenty of fast food places along Interstate 10. But, I prefer to explore and discover more interesting stops along the way. I learned about the Sagebrush Cafe by asking a local guy working at a gas station. I’m glad I took his advice. The Sagebrush Cafe has earned a spot on my list of favorite places to eat in the Lone Star State.

Prairie Heritage Festival

The Prairie Heritage Festival is an annual event hosted by the Coastal Prairie Chapter of Texas Master Naturalists. This free, fun, and family-oriented event is held each year on the first Saturday in November at Seabourne Creek Nature Park in Rosenberg.
If you have never visited Seabourne Creek Nature Park you should add it to your list of places to visit when you are in or near the greater Houston area. This park is maintained by the Coastal Prairie Chapter of Texas Master Naturalists and is fast becoming a great place to educate folks about what this part of Texas looked like before settlers arrived.
The Prairie Heritage Festival features a number of guests who man booths with hands-on activities, live animals, crafts for kids, informative displays about plants and critters of the Coastal Bend region, glimpses into pioneer life, info on our state parks, and much more. If you love the outdoors then you will love the Prairie Heritage Festival.
I enjoyed strolling from booth to booth to look at the various displays and ask questions. I learned some interesting stuff about cavity-nesting birds like bluejays, learned about butterflies, came face to face with a few snakes, an interesting little owl, and other wildlife. I especially enjoyed watching the kids interact with these critters.
I am grateful for the Texas Master Naturalists and all that they do to promote learning about our beautiful region of the Lone Star State. Seabourne is the perfect setting for this event. The master naturalists maintain an area in the park that shows what prairies along the coastal bend used to look like — a great place to learn about the native plants that give prairies their iconic look.
The master naturalists also teach about how we can all do our part to preserve, restore, and recreate native plants. You can even purchase prairie grasses and plants at the festival to plant in your own yard. My wife is determined to bring the prairie to our own backyard. I’m ok with that. And, be sure to visit the butterfly garden at Seabourne. All of the plants that attract butterflies are labeled so that you can know what to plant to start your own butterfly garden.
Be sure to save the date for next year’s Prairie Heritage Festival on your 2018 calendar. You can also learn about other fun and family-oriented events sponsored by the Coastal Prairie Chapter of Texas Master Naturalists by visiting their website.

The Jay Cafe in Needville

Needville owes its interesting name to August Schendel, the German immigrant who purchased a large tract of land and settled in the area in 1891. The following year, Schendel opened a general store to serve the people of the area popularly known as Schendelville.
When Schendel made application for a Post Office, he tried to use the name Needmore because everybody seemed to need more things. Makes sense! The Post Office, however, denied the application because the name was already taken. So, Schendel settled for the name Needville. The rest is history.
Located on state highway 36 in Fort Bend County, ten miles south of US 59 and southwest of Houston, Needville still lives up to its name. If you find yourself with a huge appetite and in need of great food, then you should get to The Jay Cafe in Needville as quickly as you can. This place serves up home cooked dishes at their best.
While I was momentarily tempted by the menu-full of delicious meal options, I ordered the Bacon Jay Burger and opted for the house seasoned fries instead onion rings. And, of course, a tall glass of iced tea — the perfect choice after a morning of adventuring with my wife’s Texas Master Naturalist group.
My burger arrived piping hot and flanked by a heaping serving of fries. I could see that I certainly would not need more bacon. This burger had a healthy helping of crispy bacon and cheddar cheese served on a moist bun with absolutely fresh fixings. Everything was visually right about this burger.
Burgers, however, are about a whole lot more than optics. And this burger did not disappoint. One bite and I knew that this was some of the best meat I have tasted on any burger I have reviewed. The big, crumbly patty of meat was perfectly seasoned and cooked. Enjoyed every single bite.

My only complaint is that I did not have room for dessert. The Jay Cafe offers a fantastic assortment of pies and a red velvet cake that looked absolutely amazing. Next time I visit I think I am going to start with dessert. At this point in my life I have no business buying green bananas or hoping I have room for dessert. Life its too short for that.

I am really glad that I visited the Jay Cafe in Needville. This place is just one more example of one of the many really good places to eat around the Lone Star State. Lucky for me that I live within driving distance. I certainly plan to eat at the Jay Cafe the next time I venture in their direction on one of my day trips. And, I will start my meal by eating dessert first!

Monument Hill State Historic Site

Monument Hill is a prominent sandstone bluff overlooking the Colorado River and the historic town of La Grange. It is an absolutely beautiful spot. The surrounding woodlands and prairies were a favorite hunting ground of prehistoric tribes. Later Spanish explorers traveled and traded along this route and named it El Camino de la Bahia or the Bay Trail.

Monument Hill, however, is more than one of the most beautiful spots in Texas — it is hallowed ground. The hill derives its name from the towering monument that stands vigil over a granite crypt. That crypt is the final resting place for the remains of men who died in the struggle for Texas independence.

In September of 1842, Mexican invaders had captured nearby San Antonio. When news of this invasion reached La Grange, Nicolas Dawson mobilized the local militia to go join the fight. Along the way, Dawson and his company of 54 men were attacked by the Mexican army, killing 36 of Dawson’s men. This incident became known as the Dawson Massacre.

The deceased were later buried near Salado Creek. The survivors were taken prisoner and marched over 1,000 miles toward Perote Prison near Vera Cruz in southern Mexico.

In the winter of 1842, over 300 Texan soldiers marched to the Mexican border town of Ciudad Mier to avenge the brutal Dawson Massacre. Once again, the Mexican army overpowered the Texans, took 250 prisoners, and marched those prisoners to Mexico City.

Within six weeks of their captivity 181 men escaped. Harsh desert conditions, however, forced 176 of them to surrender. Mexican General Santa Anna was outraged by their defiance and ordered that one out of every ten men be executed.

The men drew beans from a pot containing 159 white beans and 17 black beans. Those who drew the black beans were executed. This came to be known as the infamous Black Bean Lottery.

In 1847, Texas Ranger and white bean survivor Lt. John Dusenberry returned to Mexico to exhume the remains of the Black Bean victims and return them to Texas. He chose La Grange as their resting place because it was the home of Captain William Eastland, the only officer executed in the Black Bean incident.

Inspired by Dusenberry’s actions, citizens of Fayette County exhumed the bodies of Dawson’s massacred company from their graves near Salado Creek and brought them to La Grange. On September 14, 1848, the remains of Dawson’s men along with those of the Black Bean victims were reburied in a common tomb at Monument Hill.

The present day granite vault was placed around the old tomb in 1933. The adjacent tower was erected by the Texas Centennial Commission and dedicated in 1936, the centennial of Texas independence.

Monument Hill remains a beautiful resting place for the men who gave their lives in the struggle for Texas independence. As you plan your Texas adventures and road trips, consider a visit to Monument Hill to pay homage to those brave men whose names are forever etched in the history of the Lone Star State.

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.