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.

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.

Mig’s Burgers

After several days of hiking in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, a friend and I decided to travel west toward Salt Flat to explore some of the backroads in this vast part of the Lone Star State. There is a whole lot of openness out in the Trans-Pecos that has a calming beauty all its own. This is quintessential cowboy country for sure.

As we traveled west on US 180, the Guadalupe Mountains slowly faded from view and nothing but the horizon loomed in front of us. And I do mean nothing but the horizon. We eventually headed south on FM 1111 toward Interstate 10 — a long stretch of road that eventually led us to a little town called Sierra Blanca.

Sierra Blanca, translated White Mountains, is a Census Designated Place with a population of less than six-hundred people. This nearly invisible little town is located 30-miles from the Mexican border and 80-miles southeast of El Paso. It has the distinction of being the county seat of the sparsely populated Hudspeth County.
Mig's BurgersWe arrived in Sierra Blanca at noon and were hungry for a good burger. That’s when I noticed a Border Patrol vehicle parked in front of Mig’s Burgers. Since there are not a lot of places to eat in Sierra Blanca and because we did not want to drive to the next town on empty stomachs, we decided to check out Mig’s.
Mig's Burgers InteriorWhen we walked in I noticed the two border patrol guys seated at a table. I walked over and asked them if the food was good. They smiled and pointed to their empty plates and assured me I would not be disappointed. So, we sat down, checked out the menu, and placed our order. I ordered a jalapeño cheeseburger and onion rings with a glass of tea.
Mig's MenuWe were surprised to learn that Mig’s has only been opened for about four months. That’s why I did not find any recommendations when I checked my Yelp! and Trip Advisor apps. But, no worries since we had it on good authority — literally — that the food was good. And indeed it was.
Mig's Burger ViewMy bacon cheeseburger was prepared to perfection and was absolutely delicious — and not just because I had spent several days hiking and had an appetite the size of Texas. It was really good. The onion rings were store-bought and nothing to write home about, and that’s ok. The burger, however, met and exceeded my expectations.
Mig's SignI hope Mig’s gets enough drive by business to stay in business. The folks that run the place are friendly and attentive to customer needs. And they definitely know how to put together a good burger. I wish Mig’s the very best as they grow their business. Be sure to stop by if you ever find yourself in this far-flung region of the Lone Star State.

The Filling Station

Filling stations, as they were once popularly called, are something we take for granted today. There is no shortage of places to refuel when we head out on a road trip. And, to make things even better, gas stations have evolved into a convenience store and fast food hybrid. We can now fuel up in every sense of the word.
Felipe Garcia 1912Things were not always so easy for road trippers. I recently listened to an audio cassette recording of my grandfather describing a road trip he took in 1917 from San Diego in Duval County all the way to California. “In those days,” he said, “the roads were almost impossible. There were no paved roads. It was a hard trip.” But, he made it.
Four Pump Gas StationI definitely inherited my grandfather’s yearning for the open road. As much as I enjoy my travels around the world, there is nothing quite like getting behind the wheel of my pick-up truck and exploring Texas highways and byways. I love the fact that I can drive all day and still find myself under the vast Texas sky. And, of course, I have seemingly endless options of places to stop and refuel.
Two Pump Gas StationAs I venture down Texas roads, I always keep an eye open for abandoned places. These idle and lonely structures draw me in and stir my imagination. I am especially fascinated by abandoned filling stations, the places where the generation of road trippers before me stopped for fuel and refreshment, perhaps an ice-cold Coca-Cola and a Moon Pie.
Gas Station EncinoSome of the abandoned filling stations I have come across are from the days of full-service — when someone actually pumped the gas for you and even cleaned the bugs off the windshield. I started driving in the days before self-service pumps. The lowest I ever paid for a gallon of gas in those days was eighteen cents. And I bought more than my share of Cokes at filling stations.
Sky Chief Gas PumpThe old abandoned filling stations on remote stretches of highways remain as mute testimony to our restlessness and yearning to explore the places near and far from us. They made it possible for the previous generation of road trippers to see and explore more of the Lone Star State and places beyond.
Texaco Station The next time you are on the road, take a moment to reflect on the role of the filling station. We are certainly fortunate to live in a day when we can travel as far as we like — and, on well-maintained roads. But, were it not for the humble filling station, we really would not get very far at all. They are indeed an oasis for road trippers.

The Backroads Adventurer

Texas leads the nation with 675,580 miles of highways and byways, enabling you to get to anyplace you want to visit at whatever pace you want to travel. While I enjoy the 85-mile per hour speed limit on Interstate-10 once you head west of San Antonio, I still prefer to travel the Lone Star State at a much slower pace.

Traveling Texas backroads yields treasures that are easily missed when you travel by faster routes. Not the least of these treasures are the many small towns, farms, and ranches along two-lane arteries off the beaten paths. I have made a list of some of my favorite things about traveling at a slower pace along Texas backroads.
Texas 1907 House10. Interesting old houses and buildings. | Every small town has interesting old houses and buildings, some in a permanent state of disrepair, melting away in the heat of the passing years. These places stir my imagination. I also enjoy seeing how entrepreneurs have restored or repurposed old houses and buildings and turned them into craft shops, specialty boutiques, restaurants, and more. It’s nice to see new life breathed into old buildings.

9. Historic hotels. | Many of the smaller destinations in Texas have some of bigger and better historic hotels. I especially like the old Gage Hotel in Marathon and Hotel Limpia in Ft. Davis. These old hotels are beautifully appointed with antiques and offer comfortable common areas where you can actually enjoy relaxed conversations around the hearth with other guests.
Two Trucks8. Steering wheel salutes. | When driving Texas backroads, especially in a pick-up truck, you can expect the person in the approaching vehicle to give you a quick salute with the hand on top of his steering wheel. Or, if you make way for the guy behind you to pass you on some two-lane backroad, he will generally give you a courtesy thank-you wave. The good thing about all this is that folks in Texas wave at you with all of their fingers!

7. Incredible hospitality. | You can expect to meet some really friendly folks when you travel Texas backroads. Once, when my wife and I were running late, we phoned ahead to tell the small town hotel of our late arrival. The lady told us not to worry. “If you get here late,” she said, “we’ll leave the key in an envelope with your name on it on the front porch. It will unlock the front door to the hotel and also the door to your room.”
Dairy Queen Burnet Tx6. The Texas Stop Sign. | You will not see many Golden Arches when traveling Texas backroads, but you will see the Texas Stop Sign in almost every small town you come to — Dairy Queen. Enjoying a cone dipped in chocolate at a Dairy Queen in a small town is the equivalent of ordering one of those fancy coffee drinks at a big city Starbucks.

5. Home-style cooking and generous portions. | When traveling the backroads, you should always take time to ask the locals about the best places to eat. Or, just pick a place that looks interesting and stop in for a meal. That’s how I have discovered some really good places to eat that offer home-style-made-from-scratch cooking offered in generous portions complete with a tall glass of sweet tea. Oh my!
El Granejo Marker4. Historical markers. | Texas has a great Historical Marker system in place throughout the State. One advantage to not being in a hurry is that you can take the time to stop and read some really interesting things about what happened at or near wherever you happen to be.

3. County courthouses and town squares. | County seats in Texas boast some of the best-looking courthouses in the nation. These prominent courthouses are generally centrally located and adjacent to inviting town squares where people actually sit on park benches and have conversations.
Texas Gate2. New friends. | One thing I enjoy most about slower travel along Texas backroads is meeting interesting people along the way. On one road trip, my wife Cheryl and I met a young lady from New York who had left the corporate world to seek new employment and adventure in small town Texas. She was excited about making a new start in really small town. This New Yorker turned Texan is one of many interesting people we have met over the years because we travel at a slower pace.

1. Sharing the adventure. | I have traveled many backroad miles all by myself in my pick-up truck. But, I prefer to travel with my wife or a friend in the passenger seat. I believe that the beauty of the Lone Star State is made even more enjoyable when you share the experience with a loved one or a friend. So, the next time you venture out, take someone along and enjoy Texas.