Monday, June 19, 2017

Happy Trails and Happy Tears: A National Park Odyssey Days 3-5

Texarkana to Big Bend via Fort Worth and Midland

The drive from Texarkana to Midland, our next destination, was a long one, so we had planned to break it up with a stop for lunch in Fort Worth.  A couple of years ago, Josh ate at a place called Joe T. Garcia’s, and he was so entranced with the courtyards and gardens there that he wanted us all to experience it together. 

Eating in the garden was lovely!

I wonder what ACU would have done if we had tried to crash?

When we arrived, we saw that there was an Abilene Christian University gathering of some sort going on there, and we briefly considered crashing it even though we’re both Lipscomb grads.  We thought that they might welcome us since Kinley is at the age where colleges are beginning to recruit her.  In the end, we decided to just take a table on our own surrounded by the well-manicured plantings and gurgling fountains on the patio.  The atmosphere caused us to consider adding some sort of walled garden behind our home, perhaps with a flagstone floor, so we dreamed and planned while enjoying our lunch.
The cheese nacho was my favorite part of the meal.

The food was good (though a family member tells us that there is FAR better Tex-Mex to be had in Fort Worth), but we especially liked the simple cheese nachos.  This is just a crispy corn tostada covered with yellow cheese, broiled until the cheese melts, and then topped with chopped jalapenos, but it was delicious.  Unlike normal nachos, the broiled cheese didn’t make the tostada soggy, even after several minutes.

With our tummies full, we loaded back into the Volvo and headed for Midland.  When we first started planning this trip, we decided that one of the things we most wanted to work into it was a visit with our friends Andrew and Yssa, and their house was our destination for the next two nights.  When we pulled up in front of their home, Yssa came running out, squealing with delight.  It was the perfect reunion, and I’m not ashamed to say I cried a few joyful tears.  Being with them and with their three precious daughters reminded me just how much I miss having them in Lafayette.
Love, love, love this family.

Yssa had a full slate of activities planned for us, so we didn’t have to deal with any decision-making, a welcome change.  She cooked two delicious dinners for us, and she and Andrew put their lives on hold to spend quality time with us.  We swam in their pool, hung out with them in their hot tub, and used their washer and dryer to do a couple of loads of laundry. 

Mixed grill and a fabulous salad were followed by homemade strawberry shortcakes.

On Thursday (day 4), Yssa’s plan was for us to visit the George W. Bush Childhood Home.  Admission was $5 for adults and $2 for students, and a lovely docent named Rosemary gave us a private tour.  It’s a small home, so the whole tour took less than 30 minutes, but we enjoyed reading the information in the exhibits and learning about the house that was home to two US Presidents, a First Lady, and two governors.  That’s an impressive resume for a tiny house in west Texas!  I would recommend a visit if you’re in the area.
This modest house was home to an American political dynasty!

From there Yssa and Andrew took us to K. D.’s Bar-B-Q for lunch.  Barbecue in Texas means beef, so we wanted to try some of their brisket.  When we walked through the screen door on the far side of the place, we watched our hosts in order to figure out what to do.  Each patron is supposed to pick up a tray and cover it with a piece of freezer paper.  Then you tell the server which meats you want.  There was brisket, of course, and I licked my lips as the attendant sliced off a slab of beef that weighed about a third of a pound and had a charred crust that made me want to eat it with my fingers before I even got through the checkout line.  Other meat options included ribs, sausages, barbecued turkey breast, chopped beef with BBQ sauce, chicken, and pork chops.  I thought the brisket was plenty for me and added a baked potato and beans to share with Josh as well as some cherry cobbler which I had no intention of sharing with anybody.
The locals on the front porch enjoyed making fun of the tourists taking pictures of the restaurant.

You then step over to have your paper with the meat on it weighed.  The price is $15.99 per pound, but there is a minimum charge of $8.25 for adults and $6.25 for kids.  After having everything totaled at the checkout, I followed Yssa over to a table to grab BBQ sauce plus cheese, butter, and sour cream for my potato.  Pickles and white bread were there for the traditionalists, but I didn’t take any.  I sat down and tucked into my brisket with vigor, taking care to ration that crusty exterior so that I had some with every juicy, meaty bite.  I used sauce, but only sparingly because the flavor of the meat was delicious on its own.  Do yourself a favor and eat here if you find yourself in the area.
I was glad that Andrew and Yssa knew what to do since grabbing a tray and lining it with freezer paper was new for me.
Look at that brisket.  Oh.  My.  Goodness.

After our lunch, we went to the Petroleum Museum where we learned about the oil industry in the Permian Basin, the area including Midland and Odessa.  While there we learned several myths about petroleum including the myth that oil in the Permian Basin is made of decayed dinosaurs and prehistoric plant matter.  (It’s actually made of prehistoric sea life.)  We enjoyed the art wing and the mineral room as well as the drive-through exhibit displaying all types of oil rigs.  We spotted some ground squirrels and a couple of jackrabbits on the drive, and we benefited from Andrew’s vast knowledge about native species and the oil industry.

One of the fun interactive exhibits at the Petroleum Museum

The minerals in the museum were impressive, especially to Knox.
The racing industry is dependent upon petroleum, of course, so there was a racing exhibit that Knox enjoyed.

That evening Yssa cooked us another lovely dinner, and then she took our family to the drive-in for the premiere of Cars 3.  Yssa drove Taylor’s truck, and the threatening rain did little to dampen our enthusiasm.  The movie was cute, and, I’m telling you, it was the best temperature I’ve ever experienced for a drive-in.  When we go to drive-in movies near home, we always get chilly and damp about halfway through the show, but here the wind seemed to wrap us in a blanket of dry warmth that made for a thoroughly enjoyable experience.  Well, except for the guy driving the diesel who ran his truck for the last half of the movie.  And the car two spots to our right with the screaming kid.   And the family in front of us whose mini-van hatch-back blocked part of our view.  But those were really minor things since just being with Yssa was a treat to be savored.
It was premiere night for Cars 3!
Ready for the show to begin!

On day 5, we got an intentionally late start since it was predicted to be 110 in our next destination, Big Bend National Park.  We decided we might as well get there later since we wouldn’t want to be doing any trails in that kind of heat anyway.  We said our goodbyes, promised to come again someday, and took off, grateful for lasting friendships.

Andrew had helped us plan our route and advised us to stop for gas in both Fort Stockton and in Marathon since running out of gas in 110 degree heat is even more ill-advised than getting in a hot mineral bath on a 90 degree day.  We drove a couple of hours, had lunch at Pepitos in Fort Stockton, and then stopped again an hour later in Marathon to top off the tank since the gas inside the park is more expensive and less plentiful.

The gas station is Marathon has a Little Free Library where Knox left one book and took another.  The bathrooms are spotless, they have free wifi, and they have a little burger counter that gets positive reviews on Yelp.  We had just eaten so we didn’t grab any food except for a couple of Texas candy bars to try.  Andrew had suggested that we try a Big Hunk which is kind of like a candy bar made of divinity and peanuts.  Not bad!  We also tried a Goodart’s Peanut Pattie which Josh liked better.
Big Hunk on the left and Goodart's Peanut Pattie on the right

We arrived at our second park at about 4:30, so we had just enough time to watch the movie in the visitors’ center, stamp the passports, grab the Junior Ranger booklets, and ask for trail advice before they closed at 5:00.  After that we drove on to the Chisos Mountain Lodge which would be our home base for two nights.  We had reserved a Roosevelt Cabin a year in advance, but it turns out that June isn’t high season in this park.  November is.  I asked as we checked in if there was any vacancy at the lodge for the night, and there was, so making reservations as far in advance as we did for this park probably wasn’t essential.
Our second national park of the trip - Big Bend

We were surprised (and dismayed) to find that our little stone cabin had no air conditioning, and we considered asking for a room in the less-charming standard motel area of the lodge because they do have A/C.  (Some of them also have views of The Window, a gap between two rock formations with a perfect sunset view.)  But we decided that having three beds in one room was a rare treat, and, figuring that the evening would cool off significantly, we chose to stay put.
Our little cabin was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression so it has no air conditioning.

After a dinner at the Lodge restaurant (which was fine but hardly memorable), we walked the short walk to the Window Trail to see the sunset.  The colors were spectacular, but the gnats were annoying and seemed impervious to OFF! bug spray.  After the sun set, we returned to our cabin and later enjoyed stargazing without the light pollution of less-remote areas.  We turned in, excited to tackle another day in the rugged beauty of the desert mountains.
Sunset on the Window Trail

Days 3-5
+1 for tearful reunions
+5 for friends who drop everything to take care of us
+2 for fantastic Texas brisket
+1 for desert beauty
-1 for 112 degree temps

-1 for no A/C in our cabin


  1. You really know how to pack it in! Clearly Andrew and Yssa know your style since they had plenty planned as well. How sweet that you got to be there two days!

  2. Our friends in the Ft. Worth area are all about Joe T's, I've only been to Ft. Worth twice, and I ate there at least one of those trips, possibly both of them :)

    1. Josh's cousin who lives in the area tried tot alk us out of it, but we enjoyed it even if it is kind of over the top.