Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Temple to Euless

After another fine night's sleep, I awoke early and went outside to watch the sunrise. As I rounded the corner of the trailer, I was confronted by a small herd of deer, quietly grazing on the tall grass, perhaps 25 yards away. They raised their heads and looked at me but, obviously comfortable with humans, they almost immediately went back to munching on their weedy breakfast. I was mesmerized by the deer in this utterly peaceful and bucolic setting, quietly ignoring me and the increasing cacophony of bird songs as the morning twilight gave way slowly to the rising sun. It was a magical setting, and I marveled at the magnificence of God's creation. For the first time in a long time, I felt completely relaxed.

Family of Deer Nearby

We decided to leave fairly early (for us), because I wanted to arrive at United RV in Fort Worth before they closed. I had a punch list of a few things we discovered during the maiden voyage that United would need to fix. For example, a small panel had been left loose in one of the kitchen cabinets, and one of the window shades was not working properly. I also decided to have United install an additional air conditioning unit in the bedroom. While the present 15,000 BTU unit would probably have been okay for normal people, I was a little disappointed in the volume of the airflow from the bedroom's overhead outlets. Due to our desire for Arctic-like surroundings, the extra unit should more than fill the bill. Fortunately, I had anticipated this and ordered Homer II factory-wired for the second unit. All United will have to do is to drop it into the bedroom skylight opening.

I decided to stay off the choked I-35 for as long as possible going home, so we headed from Belton up S.H. 317 toward Hillsboro. This is an inviting road, very scenic and rural, with little traffic. We stopped in Valley Mills for lunch, on the main drag at a tiny café, named Open Country Beef Restaurant, Meat Market and Catering Service. Now, if you've read much of this travelogue, you know that we're always on the prowl for little mom-and-pop eating joints that have the best of local cooking. There is always the possibility, however, that one of these places may look good on the outside but be a real stinker on the inside. This, unfortunately, was the case for Open Country.

We noticed that only one table was occupied in the very rustic restaurant, the décor of which consisted mainly of weathered barn wood and kitschy country stuff hanging on the walls. We saw no evidence, however, of a meat market. We sat down, and a woman in her fifties appeared at our table to take the drink order and hand us menus. True to its name, the Open Country menu was limited mainly to beef dishes. Sandy ordered a hamburger, and I opted for the lunch special of meatloaf and two side veggies.

As we waited for the food, I noticed three deer skulls, complete with antlers, hanging on the wall. That's right, deer skulls. I replayed the portion of my memory containing images of all the animal heads hanging on walls that I observed in my lifetime. At the completion of this review, I was unable to recall any other occasion when I had seen a deer's entire skull hung on a wall as a trophy. I had seen antlers and taxidermied bucks' heads before, but not anything like this. It was as though they tacked the poor creature's head to the wall after its demise and allowed nature to take its course. This was not terribly appetizing and proved to be an omen of things to come.

From where I was seated, I could see the rear of the restaurant, where a door was propped open, revealing a storage area and a door to the restroom. A playpen was also there, occupied by a baby with a pacifier in her mouth. About this time, Sandy and I heard a sound much like air escaping from a balloon. It only lasted a moment, but it was quite loud. Then it occurred again and again, in a steady rhythm. We strained to see the origin of the sound, to no avail. I decided to make a trip back to the bathroom to get a better vantage point. As I passed one of the booths about halfway across the restaurant, I saw a young woman, obviously the mother of the child in the playpen, snoring away with her very audible balloon noise. By "obviously the mother," I reached this conclusion based on her evident exhaustion and disheveled appearance. She probably needed the nap.

Our orders arrived fairly quickly, but the food was just awful. The vegetables were cooked to death and the meatloaf was an unrecognizable slab of what I hoped was beef. I ate only one bite of the vegetables, but I was able to dispense with the meat without too much trouble. Sandy's burger was so-so, and she wasn't impressed enough to eat it all.

About this time a fire truck rolled down the main drag outside with its siren blaring. The mother awoke from her nap and ran to the front of the restaurant to watch the spectacle, as did the waitress and the cook. This spawned a discussion among the three, not so much as to what may be on fire, but who the driver of the fire truck might be. I'm guessing he was known to them; perhaps he was even the baby's father—who knows?

We marveled at this little vignette, so representative of small-town Texas, where everything stops when a fire truck goes by. We wondered how we would adjust if we abandoned the frenetic pace of the big city and adopted such a laid-back lifestyle. There's a lot to envy here, but we can't help but think we would be bored pretty quickly.

The rest of the trip home was uneventful. We dropped Homer at United RV, eager for them to take care of the punch list, so we can hit the road again in June. In the meantime, we'll be shopping for a second TV for Homer's bedroom.

Monday, May 1, 2006

Georgetown to Temple

Today we made the long pull up to Belton—28 miles! This was easily the shortest distance we have traveled between overnight stops. Our goal was to get in some face time with family and friends whom we hadn't seen for a while, so I decided to camp at the Cedar Ridge Corps of Engineers park at Lake Belton. Like most COE parks, this one had water and electricity available, but no sewer, TV or phones. Before acquiring this new rig, we steered clear of any parks that didn't provide sewer hookups, because we had to dump so often. With Homer II, the 80-gallon waste tanks are more than adequate for going days between dumps. This opened a whole new world of RV parks, in a sense, because the COE parks are usually situated in very scenic locations, especially when adjoining lakes. We called ahead to make sure Cedar Ridge had a spot for one night, and they said there would be no problem. Upon our arrival, they gave us a map with all the open 50-amp spots marked. We were to come back to the guardhouse and check in after parking. We chose spot #2, a large open area with a separate parking space for the Hornet, along with a covered pavilion, charcoal grill and fire pit. We had a fine view of the lake, and we were enchanted by the peaceful beauty of the place! Leave it up to the government to create a place with what would be costly amenities elsewhere, all for $18 a night!
Cedar Ridge COE Park in Belton

View of Lake Belton from our Campsite

After getting settled in, we went into a frenzy of visitation, seeing Sandy's mom and her Aunt Nettie and Uncle Lloyd and their children. Then, even though our normal bedtime was approaching, we called up John and Linda Abbey, our good friends for 30 years, and they agreed to join us for a late dinner at Denny's in Temple. We had an excellent visit and felt almost like young folks again, staying up so late and all! One of John and Linda's attributes that we have always appreciated is their sense of adventure. They haven't lost any of that over the years, and they proved it by dropping everything to make the 50-mile round trip from Killeen to Temple to join us. They are very special to us, for sure.