Winter 2016 Adventure – Big Bend National Park or Bust Part Four

We continue our Winter 2016 Tour with a stop in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Fans of old western towns, we selected Old Mesilla, New Mexico, for a bit of sightseeing.

Mesilla, New Mexico

Mesilla was established in 1848 by the Mexican government after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ceded to the United States the northern portions of what is now New Mexico. The town became a haven for Mexican citizens who did not want to be part of the United States.

Just five years later the US purchased the southern portions of New Mexico and Arizona under the Gadsden Purchase Agreement. On November 18, 1854, the US held an official flag-raising ceremony claiming Mesilla and the surrounding area as part of the United States.

Basilica of San Albino stands watch over the Mesilla Plaza. Established in 1851 as an adobe church by the Mexican government, the current building was dedicated on April 12, 1908, atop the adobe’s foundation. The church bells date back to the early 1870s. In 2008, San Albino was granted minor basilica status.

Basilica of San Albino
Basilica of San Albino

At the crossroads of Butterfield Stagecoach and Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, Mesilla became the center of the area until 1881 when the Santa Fe Railway chose Las Cruces as the train route.

Decorative objects in front of store
Colorful displays outside stores invite shoppers in to browse

To demonstrate how valuable the routes and train stops were to the early western towns, compare the population between Mesilla and Las Cruces today. Las Cruces has an estimated population of 100,000 while the city of Mesilla is around 2,200. The Mesilla townsfolk may like their city just the way it is since tourists come from all over to enjoy the festivals and soak up the history.

Billy the Kid Gift Shop
At the location of this gift shop, a judge sentenced Billy the Kid to hang. Although he escaped, he was later captured and killed.

From 1861 to 1862, Mesilla served as the capital of the Confederated Territory of Arizona until 1865 when the Volunteers of the California Column recaptured the town, and it became the headquarters for the military district of Arizona.

The town’s cantinas and festivals during the Wild West era attracted lawmen and lawless alike including Pat Garrett, who killed William H. Bonney, also known as Billy the Kid, and Francisco “Pancho” Villa, the Mexican general who commanded the northern division of the Constitutionalist Army.

The Mesilla Plaza was named as a National Historic Landmark in 1961, and the original bandstand was built in the 1970s.

Mesilla, Texas bandstand in plaza
Mesilla bandstand

Structural issues required the demolition of the bandstand in October 2013, and it was ready for use at the Cinco de Mayo celebration in May 2014. The plaque honors the Butterfield Overland Trail—a precursor to the Pony Express—and the stage line that connected St. Louis to San Francisco from 1858 to 1861.

When in New Mexico, one must sample New Mexican cuisine. What better place for hungry travelers to stumble into but Peppers Café & Bar for entrees and margaritas.

Peppers New Mexican Cafe and Bar sign
Great food and margaritas at Peppers

This historic building that houses Peppers has a reputation for being haunted. We arrived in between dinner and lunch, so they allowed us to wander around the place and peek into the various private rooms on the chance a ghost or two may appear. They must come out only at night.

Restaurant setting with red table cloths and palms
This bright and cheery room belies what lurks in dark corners and beyond the doorways
Stained glass panel
Kaleidoscope of color in a stain glass panel

Does this room remind anyone of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland or Magic Kingdom? I could almost see the gossamer ghosts floating around the room, the statue head speaking spooky words, and the men in the paintings watching our every move.

Victorian-style dining room
Are those eyes spying on me?

Mesilla Book Center has been in business since 1966. Besides books about New Mexico and the Southwest, they sell jewelry, gifts, souvenirs, and Native American kachinas.

Outside of bookstore with adobe walls with blue trimmed windows and door.
Support your local independent book store

The Thunderbird de la Mesilla building is the oldest brick structure in New Mexico. Some might say the building harbored bad luck in its early years. Augustin Maurin started construction in 1860, using burned bricks from his own kiln. Augustin met an untimely death when robbers murdered him in 1866. Cesar Maurin, Augustin’s heir, arrived from France to claim the property and died two years later of natural causes. Pedro Duhalde, a former Mesilla saloon keeper, took over the building, and robbers murdered him too.

Historical red-brick building with turquoise window and door frames
Thunderbird de la Mesilla

Tiburcio Frietze is listed as the current owner on the building’s plaque. Sadly, he passed away on January 1, 2020. The building was used as a general store, residence, saloon, and town hall. Today it is a gift shop selling jewelry, carvings, textiles, pottery, religious symbols, and various sundry items.

Entering Texas

The next day we continued on Interstate 10 through El Paso and transitioned onto US Route 90. Our son-in-law told us about the Prada store out in the middle of nowhere, so we stayed alert as we neared Valentine.

Prada Marfa art installation
Prada Marfa by artists Elmgreen and Dragset

There it was on the right side of the road filled with shoes and purses from the 2005 fall collection, the same year the structure was established. Keep your credit card in your pocket because shopping is not possible.

Locks attached to wire fence
Love locks on a fence behind the Prada Marfa store

The building is a permanent land-art project commissioned by nonprofit organizations Art Production Fund and Ballroom Marfa. There are no clerks in the store, and the door never opens.

We had picked out the Lost Alaskan in Alpine, Texas, to stay for the night until we saw the banner advertising the Cowboy Poetry Gathering. With no luck getting a spot in Alpine, we drove on to MacMillen RV Park in Fort Davis, Texas. It didn’t look like much when we drove in, but it was only for one night, and they had a high rating for the best bathrooms ever.

Chevrolet truck and Cougar fifth wheel
MacMillen RV Park, Fort Davis, Texas

Hooray, we finally made it to Texas and only 380 miles before we arrive at Big Bend National Park.

Fort Davis National Historic Site

While we were in the neighborhood, we had to check out Fort Davis National Historic Site, an Indian Wars’ and frontier military post from 1854 to 1891.

Fort Davis National Historic Site sign
Fort Davis National Historic Site

The fort protected emigrants, mail coaches, and freight wagons on the Trans-Pecos portion of the San Antonio-El Paso Road and the Chihuahua Trail.

Barracks at Fort Davis National Historic Site
First stop on the docent tour was the barracks

Between the summers of 1866 and 1867, 885 enlisted African-American men of the Ninth Cavalry, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Wesley Merritt, arrived at the abandoned Fort Davis post.

Commanders house at Fort Davis National Historic Site
Docent on site at the Commander’s house

The Ninth was responsible for constructing the new post and protecting travelers and the mail on the San Antonio-El Paso Road from Comanche and Apache Indians. In September 1975, the Ninth transferred to New Mexico, and various other cavalry and infantry companies occupied the fort over the years.

Officer housing at Fort Davis National Historic Site
Another view of the housing

I love it when we’re poking around and something pops up that we learned at another location. This time it was camels.

View of hills and old buildings at Fort Davis National Historic Site
Building waiting for renovations

Ten days earlier while we were in Quartzsite, we came across a monument to Hi Jolly, an Army camel driver from Syrian and Greek parentage who was hired to test out camels in the southwest desert. Apparently, the camels traveled through Fort Davis on their way to Arizona in 1857. Hi Jolly most likely had arrived at the fort with his brigade of drivers and camels.

Buildings and hills at Fort Davis National Historic Site
The house on the left was the commander’s home
View of hiking trails at Fort Davis National Historic Site
Hiking trails are available in the park
Graffiti on wall
Not too recent graffiti
Hospital building at Fort Davis National Historic Site
The hospital
Rear of officer housing at Fort Davis National Historic Site
Officer housing
View of hills at Fort Davis Historic Site
Back of officer housing
View of from porches at Fort Davis National Historic Site
All I need is a rocking chair and a glass of iced tea

That wraps up the fourth installment of our Winter 2016 Adventure. We finally arrive in Terlingua, Texas, and Big Bend National Park in the next post. Thanks for sticking with us these past weeks.

Stay safe.

Abilene, Texas

We had originally planned on only one night in Abilene but decided to spend an extra day exploring. After paring our list of 10 adventures down to three, we started off by driving south 15 miles to the Buffalo Gap Historic Village, stopped at the Abilene State Park for a picnic lunch, and finished up the day at the 12th Armored ‘Hellcats’ Division Memorial Museum.

Buffalo Gap Historic Village

Buffalo Gap Historic Village

Buffalo Gap Historic Village, a stop within the Texas Forts Trail Region, contains a grouping of 15 structures that depict life from the 1800s to the 1920s. The village began taking shape when Ernie Wilson purchased the original 1879 Taylor County Courthouse in 1956 to display his collection of artifacts and called it the “Ernie Wilson Museum of the Wild West.”

1879 Brick Courthouse and Knight-Sayles Cabin

After adding other structures to the property over several decades, a couple of ownership changes, and a new name, Taylor County took ownership of the village grounds, buildings, and artifacts in February 2017, and the Taylor County History Center was formed to operate the museum and continue its mission.

Entrance to the 1879 Taylor County Courthouse and Jail

The 1879 Taylor County Courthouse and Jail, opened in March 1880, to serve as the county seat of Taylor County. The brick construction includes cannonballs between the bricks to increase stability. Once Abilene became the county seat, the county sold the courthouse to a private party who turned it into a two-story home.

Come Inside the 1879 Courthouse

Recreated Courtroom

The Hill House is one of the first structures we entered on our tour through the decades. Tom Hill, Abilene’s first marshal at the age of 27, built the house in 1882 for $400. He and his wife Mollie lived there with their two children.

Front Entrance to the Hill House

It seems there is a dispute about the details surrounding Hill’s death. describes a scuffle with an intoxicated saloon owner that caused the accidental shooting of Hill’s foot. They also report that Hill’s daughter told them he died of lockjaw a day later after the amputation of his big toe. An article in the Abilene Reporter-News on 08 April 1956 says Hill died in 1886 of gangrene after he was accidentally shot in the foot while on a hunting trip.

Caution: Slanted Wall May Cause Dizziness

The village conducts ghost tours in October and the Hill House is reported to generate the most paranormal activity.

The Hill House Kitchen

Back Entrance to the Hill House

Knight-Sayles Cabin – Wilson reconstructed the cabin in 1964. James Malcolm Callaway Knight and his wife Susannah built the original cabin in 1875 where Lake Abilene is today. They raised six of their fifteen children in the cabin, cooking on an open fire outdoors. The fireplace and stove were used for warming the cabin.

Inside the Knight-Sayles Cabin

Construction Details of the Knight-Sayles Cabin

Buffalo Gap Post Office – built in 1950 by postmaster Charlie McDonald in his front yard when the postal service required post offices to be located in a freestanding building.

First Free-Standing Buffalo Gap Post Office

Inside First Free-Standing Buffalo Gap Post Office

Postal Boxes in First Free-Standing Buffalo Gap Post Office

Clyde Train Depot, built in Clyde, Texas, cost $40,000 in 1905. The train shortened travel to another town from months to days. The ticket and waiting room portion of the original depot is in one location on the property while the baggage compartment portion is now the general store where the tour begins.

Clyde Train Depot

Ticket Counter Inside the Clyde Train Depot

Segregated Waiting Rooms Inside the Clyde Train Depot

Cottonwood Flat School, originally located in Scurry County, cost $900 in 1930. Grades one through seven attended the school, while older students transferred to the high school in Snyder. After 1938, its use as a school terminated and the community used it to hold office elections and events. Moved to the cemetery for funerals in the 1950s, the building found its way to the village when it was donated in January 1989.

Cottonwood Flat Two Room School Building

Buffalo Gap Chapel The Nazarene Church, built in 1906, is the oldest church in Taylor County that is still used today. After bees used the back wall as their home, parishioners named it The Sweet Church.

Buffalo Gap Chapel

Inside the Buffalo Gap Chapel

Stain Glass Window Inside the Buffalo Gap Chapel

Buffalo Gap Chapel Bell

Besides the Bourn Texaco Service Station (originally constructed in Winters), other buildings include a doctor’s office, barbershop, a wagon barn filled with historic vehicles, a bank, print shop, an art gallery, and a blacksmith shop.

Dr. Pepper is Everywhere in Texas

With picnic tables, restrooms and a playground for children available, visitors have plenty to see and do as they experience life through the decades at Buffalo Gap Historic Village.

Abilene State Park

Having emerged from the 1920s to present day, we headed to the Abilene State Park to find a nice picnic spot. The 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps project includes a stone water tower and a swimming pool complex. Under a shady tree with a view of the complex was a great place to eat our lunch.

Civilian Conservation Corp Swimming Pool Complex

With shore and boat ramp access to Lake Abilene, anglers can fish for catfish, largemouth bass, and crappie. Campers can find space for their tents or RVs and during the summer, visitors can splash around in the pool.

Civilian Conservation Corp Swimming Pool Complex

Detail of Brick Construction on the Civilian Conservation Corp Swimming Pool Complex

12th Armored Division Memorial Museum

The 12th Armored ‘Hellcats’ Division Memorial Museum, located at 1289 N. 2nd Street in Abilene, includes World War II artifacts, photos, weapons, uniforms, vehicles, dioramas, and a Holocaust memorial.

12th Armored Division Memorial Museum

Much of the museum honors the soldiers attached to the 12th Armored ‘Hellcats’ Division who trained at Camp Barkeley, Texas, which was located 11 miles from Abilene. Construction on the training installation began in December 1940 and completed seven months later. Approximately 840 German prisoners of war were held at the location during 1944 and 1945. The base was then closed and the land reverted to the original landowners.

One of the Armored Vehicles at the 12th Armored Division Memorial Museum

Jeeps are but One Type of Vehicle at the 12th Armored Division Memorial Museum

Track Road Wheels Waiting for Restoration

One of the Exhibits at the 12th Armored Division Memorial Museum

Field Office Tent and Radio Operator Exhibit

One of the Model Depictions of a WW II Battle

Model Depiction of a Battle Aftermath

We enjoyed our day exploring the outskirts of Abilene and the 12th Armored Division Memorial Museum in town. If we ever make our way through Abilene again, we’ll stay awhile, maybe find a spot at the State Park, scout around the historic buildings in town, and stop in at a restaurant or two. I’m sure we can find enough to keep us busy for a couple of days, or three, or four.

Safe Travels


The Space between Waco and Abilene, Texas

The Space between Waco and Abilene, Texas

A gothic building rose out of the landscape as we headed northwest from Waco to Abilene on Highway 6. Was it someone’s mansion? A government building? Or the façade of a movie set? We had to investigate.

Bosque County Courthouse

We wound our way through the streets of Meridian, Texas, to the building’s location. It wasn’t hard. No other buildings were close to its height. The downtown area was quiet and offered plenty of parking on Monday, March 12, 2018.

Bosque County Courthouse

Not satisfied with clicking one photo of the building and moving on, I had to walk around the structure to catch its image from as many sides as possible given the position of the sun.

Bosque County Courthouse

Oh, and I couldn’t forget to pick up the detail in the clocktower.

Bosque County Courthouse Clock Tower

Now, we had to see the inside. We entered the Bosque County Courthouse from a back door expecting to see bailiffs staffing a security checkpoint complete with a scanning machine, the usual protocol for government buildings since 9/11.

Creeping along the dark hallway was like entering the early 1900s. The ceiling towered above us, wainscot the color of chocolate milk covered the lower part of the walls, pumpkin-colored paint on the upper portion. An ornate iron staircase loomed ahead. We turned a corner and finally arrived at a desk in the middle of the first floor.

Staircase Original to the Building

“May I help you?” the bailiff asked. After explaining what we were doing there, the uniformed man proceeded to tell us the history of the building, told us to go see the courtroom upstairs, and gave us a little tour downstairs.

Stairs to the Courtroom

I commented on the security difference from what we were used to seeing. He pointed to the four monitors at his desk where he watches people coming and going. He had seen us enter the back door. “It’s usually pretty quiet around here, not like in the larger counties,” he said.

Hinges on the Doors

The town of Meridian has a population of less than 1,500 and less than 20,000 people call the agricultural county home.

Once a Vault, Now a Restroom

Bosque County would be a great place to get away from congestion and crowds. Visitors can roam around the little country towns exploring museums, galleries, and historic buildings, or enjoy the fishing and other water activities at the Bosque or Brazos rivers, or Lake Whitney.

 Building Facts

Source: The Texas Historic Commission

  • Designed by Ft. Worth architect J.J. Kane
  • Oldest Texas courthouse building in continuous use
  • Three-story limestone in the Victorian Gothic Revival style
  • Two major renovations:
    • The 1934 WPA project replaced the entire roof structure with a flat concrete roof. The clock tower was removed replaced with a single clock face, and steel windows replaced the wood ones. Within the forty years after the WPA project, additional work had lowered ceilings to hide mechanical and electrical installations.
    • The rededication of the building on September 22, 2007, showcased the 2005-2007 restoration, which included reconstruction of the original clock tower and the four corner roof turrets, replacement of windows and doors with historic wood reproductions, restoring the ceilings to their original height in the courtroom, halls, and public spaces, and the reconstruction of wood wainscot paneling.

Dublin, Texas

It’s always serendipitous when we find a town with the same name as one in California. It turned out that our stomachs were growling when we arrived at the city limits of Dublin, Texas. We live near Dublin, California. Finding a spot to park posed no problem. The library was closed on Mondays.

Dublin Public Library

The W.M. Wright Historical Park across the street provided a place to take a walk after lunch.

W. M. Wright Historical Park

Log Cabin Built by Early Settlers

William T. Miller Gristmill Originally Built in 1882

Rear of Gristmill Originally Powered by Steam then Converted by Crude Oil Engine

Grass Always Tastes Better on the Other Side of the Fence

Spring break must have cleared most everyone out of town. There wasn’t much activity in the business district during the hour we were there.

Dublin Rodeo Heritage Museum and Dublin Historical Museum

I wish we hadn’t been anxious to continue on to the  RV park in Abilene. It would have been nice to visit the Dublin Bottling Works that has been in business since 1891. They still bottle sodas made with pure cane sugar. No high fructose corn syrup for them. Poking around in the three museums—Ben Hogan (the golfer), Dublin Historical, and Dublin Rodeo Heritage—also would have been interesting.

RV Trouble

We arrived in Abilene around 4:00 p.m. and commenced our set up routine. After Jon had hooked up the sewer, water, and electricity, it was time to extend the living area slide. I heard a whirring sound, but the slide did not move. Uh-oh!

The good folks in the Whistle Stop RV Park office gave me a card for Young’s RV and Trailer Repair. Jon called at about 4:50 p.m. Yes, Rick could come out in about an hour. “Tomorrow morning would be okay.” “No, I’ll be there,” Rick said. Fortunately, it was a quick fix. A bolt had wiggled loose, which prevented the gear from engaging. Rick found the bolt, put it back in with some bailing wire so it wouldn’t back out again, and we had a freshly lubed and working slide. Thanks go out to Young’s RV and Trailer Repair in Abilene, Texas, for the best service ever. Find them on Facebook at Young’s RV Repair.

Next up we visit Buffalo Gap Historic Village, Abilene State Park, and the 12th Armored Division Memorial Museum.

Safe Travels

Waco, Texas Part III

This is the continuation and final post of our stay in Waco, Texas, during March 2018.

George W. Bush Presidential Center

George W. Bush Presidential Museum and Library

An hour and a half drive from Waco brought us to the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas. At the Southern Methodist University, the Center houses the 43rd president’s library and museum, the George W. Bush Policy Institute, and the G. W. Bush Foundation offices on a 23-acre site of the Southern Methodist University near Dallas.

Included in the 23 acres is a 15- acre park and gardens that are open 365 days a year from sunrise to sunset. The park consists of native prairie grasses, seasonal wildflowers, and native habitats for butterflies, birds, and other species. Had we not been anxious to beat the commuter rush, we would have spent time wandering around the park.

Quote from George W. Bush’s Inaugural Address

One of the first exhibits visitors encounter inside the building is the 360-degree, 20-foot-tall high definition video wall in Freedom Hall. The video blends art, history, and entertainment through a variety of scenes that morph from one to the other. Some people might get dizzy from looking up at the videos too long. Railings to hang on to are not available like they had at Disneyland’s America the Beautiful theater in Tomorrow Land.

While gazing up at the video I noticed this geometric wood paneled skylight.

Skylight inside George W. Bush Library and Museum

The first stop, once we entered the museum, was the introductory video in the theater that was already in process. We decided to go back later to view it and continued along the path. We walked around a corner and in the middle of a circular area two twisted steel beams—remnants from the twin towers—rose from the floor and held in place by cables attached to the ceiling. A half circle of monitors ran film clips of planes flying into the towers, explosions and fire, the collapse of the towers, people running through the debris that fell, news reporters trying to make sense of what was happening.

Remnants from the Twin Towers

All the emotions I felt the morning of September 11, 2001, while I watched the events unfold on my television came flooding back. For weeks after that date, nothing else mattered to me except being close to my family. Work became insignificant and had no meaning. Tears welled up anytime I saw a flag hanging from an overpass, posted to the sides of houses, or flying from the back of a fire truck. My heart still ached for the men, women, and children that died and for the family and friends left behind without their mothers, fathers, sisters, or brothers. I averted my eyes the best I could and headed for other exhibits.

Education Reform Exhibit

Displays on George Bush’s significant legislation turned out to be less threatening to my mental state. No Child Left Behind, the passage of Medicare Part D, Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act reminded me of all the good Bush did during his presidency. While Tax relief and the Iraq war made me long for the surplus Bill Clinton handed Bush before his inauguration and which blossomed out of control by the end of his two terms.

Economic Growth and Tax Relief Exhibit

Social Programs Exhibit

In Pursuit of Liberty and Hope for All Humanity

Importance of Volunteerism

After peeking in at the full-size replica of the oval office and the exhibit featuring Laura Bush, Jon and I returned to watch the video. What was the first image plastered on the screen? The horrible event of 9/11. With no escape, I let my emotions wash over me until the film switched to other topics.

One of the Exhibits in the Laura Bush Section of the Museum

We took a break and ate lunch at Café 43 (named for the 43rd President) where they offered a wide selection of soups and salads, sandwiches, entrees, and desserts. Then we visited the First Ladies: Style of Influence exhibit running from March 1 to October 1, 2018. Each of the country’s first ladies was featured with photos and biographies.

I zeroed in on the Lou Hoover display because of her connection to the Girl Scouts, a group I participated in for a number of years as a young girl. She helped Juliette Gordon Low establish the national organization and served in many capacities between 1917 and 1929. Her duties even included troop leader in both Washington D.C. and Palo Alto, California, the locations of both of her residences.

Lou Hoover Active in Girl Scouts Organization

Early scouts had more to do besides taking cookie orders and delivering them. They even had to bake them. I wonder if they earned a badge for demonstrating their baking and selling skills. Edith Wilson became the first first lady to serve as the honorary president of the Girl Scouts in 1917, and each first lady since has been invited to serve in that capacity.

How Many Boxes of Cookies Would You Like?

Waco, Texas Wrap Up

And now it’s time to conclude our time in Waco, Texas. We kept busy while there and look forward to returning someday. It will be fun to see what new renovations the city will undergo in this down-home western town that treasures its history, where people are friendly, and restaurants are plentiful.

Speaking of restaurants, we had the pleasure of visiting three while in Waco. At Buzzard Billy’s, I enjoyed the red beans and rice while Jon dug into his andouille sausage. The food was tasty, but the best part was the view of the Brazos River and suspension bridge from our table.

We also ate Bon Mi sandwiches at The Clay Pot, a Vietnamese restaurant on Franklin Avenue in downtown and Taqueria El Mexicano Grill served up good Mexican food for lunch.

In case I didn’t include enough photos, here are a few of the buildings in downtown that are representative of the architecture in the historic district.

McClennan County Courthouse Listed on National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Built in 1901 in the Neoclassic Style.

A Bank of America Branch once Occupied 514 Austin Avenue Located within the Waco Downtown Historic District

Magnolia is not the Only Design Firm in Town

The Poles and Wires Ruin the View of the Beautiful First Baptist Church of Waco at 500 Webster

Love the Architectural Detail of the First Baptist Church of Waco

It Seemed as Though all the Windows Contained Stained Glass

Next up we start our trek back to California making stops along the way in Texas and New Mexico.

Safe Travels