Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Ardmore Millionaires and the "Mexicat Restaurant"

 At Ranchito Hondo, Hondo, Texas...

Our Branson trip was fun, as always. It happens to be one of our favorite places because it is one of the few towns left that remind us of our early years when life was simpler and entertainment was just clean fun. It's a place where "going woke" means nothing more than waking up in the morning. It's near beautiful Table Rock Lake in the Ozarks, and we have given serious thought on numerous occasions to actually moving there. But not for now.

Since we're back at Ranchito Hondo, and there hasn't been much to post about lately, I thought I would just post the latest monthly column that I write for a mostly-advertising newspaper in my home town of Nacogdoches, Texas. So here goes:

Growing up in Nacogdoches, I was never far from a source of fried catfish, either from family kitchens or catfish joints around east Texas. It is a favorite, of course, and a craving for this delicacy cannot be satisfied in many of the places we roam. It was when we were approaching Ardmore, Oklahoma, while traveling from Branson back to Texas, that a catfish craving hit me, so I asked Sandy to check on her phone for a catfish joint and, lo and behold, a highly-rated one was listed—Catfish Corner. I made a quick check on Google Earth to see if our huge car-towing bus could be parked nearby and, once again, the gods were smiling; there was a vacant lot next door! (If you ever acquire a large motorhome, this pre-visit visual check will become second nature to you.)

We asked Siri for directions and maneuvered our rig to the restaurant at the corner of Commerce and McCullough in Ardmore:

We couldn’t help but notice that beneath the “Catfish Corner” sign was another one that read “El Palacio of Fine Mexican Food.”  I figured there were two separate restaurants in the building, but no—upon entering, it was clear that it was a catfish/Mexican restaurant—a first in all our travels over seven decades of living.

We were met at the door by the owner, John Burkhart, dressed in jeans and a green-checkered shirt, tail out, that appeared to be freshly acquired from Goodwill. He greeted us warmly, as though we were long-lost cousins. I was immediately reminded of the late Sam Shepherd, who was similarly accommodating at his legendary restaurant that was once a Nacogdoches icon. As John showed us to our table, I took note of the food adorning the tables at the packed restaurant and, to my surprise, noticed that most of the patrons were eating Mexican food, which was advertised underneath the catfish signage outside. This piqued my curiosity, of course, but we were all set for catfish, which was every bit as good as it appeared on the platter.

 It wasn’t long until John began making his rounds of every table to ask the customers if everything was okay. (Again, I thought of Sam Shepherd.) When he stopped at our table, I had to engage him about the strange two-restaurants-in-one concept. He said the place opened in 1967 as a Mexican restaurant, but he felt there was a need for a good catfish place in Ardmore, so he just made it “twofer.” He said it is now one of the ten best catfish places in Oklahoma, and “there are a lot of ‘em.” Based on the delicious fresh filets we had, I’m pretty sure he was correct.

Then I asked about my observation that most of the diners appeared to be having Mexican food. He said, “Oh, we’re famous for that, too, especially the chile rellenos; I think they’re the best anywhere.” I was tempted to order one for dessert, but there was just no way after gorging on the catfish.

John and I talked again at the front of the restaurant when I was paying the tab. I noticed a photo of a trailer laden with more chile peppers than I had ever seen and asked him about it:

“We go to Hatch, New Mexico every season and load up on these chiles for our rellenos,” said John. “That’s me on the left; this trailer load won’t last us a full year nowadays; looks like we’re going to need a bigger trailer.”

Suitably impressed at the enormity of the haul, I wished even more that I had tried one, but there was just no room. I vowed to come back, however.

As we were about to leave, I asked him a little about Ardmore’s history. He rubbed his chin for a moment and then said, “Did you know that Ardmore once had more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in the country?” I blinked, wishing to know more, but John was swept away, glad-handing another couple who had just walked in the door.

I looked up John’s millionaire claim, by the way, and he was right. After a nearby oil discovery in 1912, a boom quickly developed and, for a while way back then, Ardmore indeed sported more millionaires per capita than anywhere else.

We never know what interesting things we will find on our journeys, but a “Mexicat” restaurant and an Ardmore full of millionaires are a couple of surprises we never expected.

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it as I should every day.

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood

Sunday, October 30, 2022

On the Road Again

 At America's Best Campground, Branson, Missouri...

After spending a few weeks at Ranchito Hondo, it was time for yet another adventure. Unfortunately, the nature of this trip was sufficiently time-consuming that I haven't had much opportunity for writing a post. Well, maybe I have, but time with family and friends has just been more important, as you can imagine.

One of the main reasons for this fall trip was to celebrate daughter Mindy's birthday and to spend a week with her and Tyler and the grandsons. Mindy seemed to enjoy her birthday dinner out at El Palenque, our favorite Houston-area Mexican restaurant:

Of course, it is not unlike her dad to do some monkeyshines at such an event, and I'm sure I embarrassed her adequately.

Son-In-Law Tyler did me a great favor in doing a temporary repair to Phannie's instrument panel (the right side where the rearview camera screen, radio and a/c controls are). It appears the lightweight plastic panel was all that was holding these items in place and, after 16 years, an ill-placed screw at the factory finally caused the plastic panel to break in a critical spot, causing these items to fall inward with no support. We had just arrived in the Houston area, and we were in a mess. Tyler, whose business is construction (he builds things like airport terminals and football stadiums), dropped everything and perfectly designed a metal backing for the plastic panel, into which he repositioned the abovementioned displaced components. We are so proud of Tyler; we think of him as our very own son.  

After Mindy's birthday celebration and spoiling the grandsons, we headed to Branson to meet up with friends and attend a three-day gospel concert. Here are some of them:

Beyond Sandy and me in the photo above are LouAnn and Bubba, Mary Lou and Harvey. Missing are Carolyn and Larry, who had family obligations and couldn't make this get together. They are all wonderful people who are more like family than friends.

We had a great time at the concerts, seeing shows, shopping and dining out as old friends do. Much laughter was had by all--definitely good for the soul.

One of our meals was out at the Big Cedar Lodge complex south of Branson, and the autumn foliage was so beautiful that we just had to get some photos. These don't quite equal fall color in New England, but for the Ozarks, they aren't too shabby:

We are at the end of this fall trip, and how blessed we are to have the ability to travel and enjoy our relationships as we do. We hear so many stories about people who are unable to enjoy their golden years for one reason or another. Perhaps the most heartbreaking are those who didn't retire when they could and had little or no enjoyment of times like these.  

We are headed back to Texas, and we'll catch you up again, well, when I feel like it!  (Ha!)

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it as I should every day.

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood

Monday, September 12, 2022

Goodbye, Colorado...For a While

 At Lone Star Corral Escapees Co-Op, Hondo, Texas...

Our last few days in the Gunnison area were a blast. Besides our usual roadies Jackie and Steve, we were joined by Bubba and LouAnn as well as Hank and Shirleen. 

After my playing a couple of hours' dinner music for the end-of-season party at Palisades RV Park, we had the idea that we would go off-roading in Bubba's new Jeep. But more about that later. 

The first requirement was a rousing game of 42 (an old domino game that actually takes some skill, for you youngsters who don't know about it). Hank and I beat Sandy and Shirleen, but they hurried to declare that it was just by a hair. Nevertheless, a victory is a victory, and we'll take it.

Our next adventure before Hank and Shirleen arrived was a trip to Tin Cup, Colorado--a tiny place with a single restaurant, Frenchy's, where there is a jumping-off point for an off-road trek that was my first serious one. Here are photos of the restaurant and our group. Jackie and Steve were with us this time; Hank and Shirleen had not yet arrived.

The object for the guys after lunch was to reach Tin Cup Pass, which was the continental divide in the area. The girls said, "No way; we're headed back to Crested Butte to do some shopping." And poof! They were gone. The guys settled into the Jeep for the 13-mile rocky, wandering drive that required three hours to navigate another four thousand feet up the mountain! The road, while not necessarily cliff-hanging in nature, was so rough that I was sure we would lose some essential part off the Jeep and be stranded until our bodies were discovered in the spring. I'm also pretty sure that our incredible bounce house inside the Jeep rearranged some of my internal body parts. I wouldn't be at all surprised if an x-ray showed that my spleen and appendix have exchanged locations.  Here are photos of the trail and proof of our arrival at Tin Cup Pass, elevation 12,154 feet:

Much to my amazement, the Jeep seemed to operate normally when it returned to a paved road, so I have a good deal more respect for the vehicle now. Perhaps my concerns were overblown, but I still checked afterward to see if all the fillings were still in my teeth. Here is a photo of the Jeep when new as LouAnn and Bubba were taking delivery at the dealership. Little did it know the torture that was awaiting it in Colorado:

Our adventures were not over with the torture of off-roading at Tin Cup. A guest lecturer at our park--a professor from the local university--revealed a number of interesting details about the mining industry in northern Gunnison county, especially about the marble quarry located at Marble, Colorado--not far from Crested Butte. He told us that the Yule Quarry at Marble was a stunningly large deposit of marble and that all the marble inside the Colorado state capitol building had come from there, as had the tomb of the unknown soldier, a vastly complex and difficult undertaking that required an entire year, beginning in 1930, to lift it from the mine and transport it to Washington, DC. With such history in mind, I declared we would be going there, even though it would require another off-road bounce fest afterward; fortunately, that one was not nearly as challenging as Tin Cup. 

Before we got to that part, however, we stopped in the town of Marble (population 162) to have lunch at the only restaurant in town, Slow Groovin' BBQ. Now, listen here: It is worth the trip to eat the fare at this place. The cook had to be a Texan, as it was easily the best BBQ we had eaten in Colorado:

We also walked around some outdoor inventory of a shop that deals in artist-finished marble pieces that had originated in the Yule quarry. Take a gander at this gorgeous group of marble horses that can be yours for $125,000. Yes, you read that right:

Then it came time for the guys to begin their off-road trek to see one of the most photographed places in Colorado: The Crystal Hill Mine.  As before, the girls, showing far better sense than their husbands, begged off and headed back to Crested Butte to see if they had inadvertently left something on the stores' shelves from the day before.

Of course, I would like to have seen the quarry itself, but this was not allowed. The Yule Quarry is owned by Carrera Marble of Italy; I highly recommend that you look it up on the web and in Google Images. There is vastly too much information and photos available there than I could possibly include here.

Since we had no place to carry the horse sculpture in the Jeep, we opted to head up to Crystal City, the off-road part I mentioned earlier. The goal here was to take our own photos of the Crystal Hill Mine, a professional photographer's dream shot. I'll show you my photo below. On the way, however, we enjoyed some gorgeous scenery and some of the clearest mountain streams we had ever seen--many like this one that was nearby:

Okay, drum roll! Here is the payoff for our bouncy ride to the Crystal Hill Mine. Perhaps you have seen a photo of this in Colorado visitors' guides. It will definitely be made into a print for our wall.

We only wished it had been a bit later in September, so the Aspens would have turned yellow in the background. That would be stunning, for sure.

There was no shortage of things to see on our way back, such as this unusual red rock formation:

We really must include something whimsical here, as any group of guys--no matter how old--never really grow up. Seeing the sign below hanging from a porch on someone's house, we pulled in their driveway and shot a photo. I can't imagine what the homeowners thought about our bold trespassing, but I have even less idea what the sign means:

As we bade goodbye to our last touring day in Colorado, we couldn't help but take one more photo of the grandeur of the mountain scenery:

The final photo shows three of the four couples together at a dinner at Mike's Garlic Restaurant located by the Gunnison River. From left to right are Sandy, Mike, Shirleen, Hank, LouAnn and Bubba. A great time was had by all, and we hated to leave our incredible surroundings.

Our trip back to Hondo was uneventful, but Texas was calling, and we felt very blessed to have made our escape during the summer when our glorious state is not so hospitable.

Our next adventure?  To see the kids, of course, then off to Branson, where we will spend about a month, then back to Hondo.

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it as I should every day.

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood

Friday, September 2, 2022

Sharing the Cool Mountains With Friends

 At Palisades RV Park, Gunnison, Colorado...

It has seemed like another world here as we occasionally check the temperature back in Texas and find it sometimes 40 degrees warmer than at our 8,000-ft. elevation. Now that we're into late August/early September, it is getting even cooler, and we run the heater almost every night. 

I have been fulfilling my very enjoyable "gig" playing the piano for park events, including Sunday Bible study and popular old standard tunes as well. I had been wanting a portable keyboard so, in anticipation of this summer's music activity, I purchased a Yamaha P-515, an amazing instrument that has the same keyboard as a Yamaha grand piano. (If you're a pianist, you know the importance of a weighted keyboard complete with wooden keys.) I'll include a short sample video:  

(Sorry for the gross-looking arm boo-boo. Getting clumsy in my old age.)

We occasionally have the honor of meeting some of our blog readers--on this occasion, a couple who, by chance, were staying here in Palisades for a few days. Fellow Texans, we have determined to meet up when we get back home and become better acquainted.  Meet Mike and Lynn. Great folks, these are:

Along with friends Jackie and Steve, who have joined us here--but at another park--we have enjoyed a number of side trips with beautiful scenery. I'm afraid there are many photos included here, but I have many more for which I didn't have room. If only everyone could spend summer in a place like this! 

Looking eastward toward Salida from the summit of Monarch Pass.

Waterfall into a crystal clear pool near Crested Butte. (Photo courtesy of Jackie Thornton)

Yellow flowers abound in a field. (Photo courtesy of Jackie Thornton)

Valley north of Crested Butte (photo courtesy of Jackie Thornton)

Beautiful flowers everywhere. These blue ones are larkspur, I think.

Loved this photo of a bee on one of the larkspur flowers.

A beautiful drive to Lake City, not far from Gunnison.

A view southwest toward Lake City

Cool, crystal clear Cebolla Creek near Lake City.

Downtown Lake City, Colorado

California Poppy planting at Lake City

Dining on the bank of the Gunnison River in Gunnison at Mike's Italian Restaurant.

Flowers in Crested Butte

More flowers in Crested Butte

Downtown Crested Butte with Crested Butte Mountain in the background.

Even more flowers in Crested Butte.

For those who requested, my latest monthly column for my hometown advertiser newspaper is available on page 28 in the following link: .  I also have articles on page 26 in the August and July issues.

We're being joined by friends Bubba and LouAnn and possibly Hank and Shirleen very soon. There will be more adventures in the offing!

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it as I should every day.

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Gunnison for the Summer

 At Palisades RV Park, Gunnison, Colorado...

We had really begun to enjoy our nearly month-long stay in Cortez, especially when Steve and Jackie joined us at our wonderful West View RV Park. But it was time to make tracks for our "gig" in Gunnison, first with a stop in Grand Junction for Phannie's annual service. We had an appointment with Inland Truck there, and they were super-accommodating, as have been all the Inland facilities we've used around the Southwest. Luckily, the shop was directly across the street from Junction West, our RV park, so we didn't have to get up too early to make our 0900 appointment. Here's Phannie--all finished at Inland and ready to go:

By the way, for you techies out there, Phannie has a Caterpillar C7 engine, an upgrade of the legendary 3126, used in countless pieces of construction equipment across the world. Upgrading the 3126, Caterpillar built 300,000 C7 engines, which were used mainly in over-the-road trucks and RVs. It has an expected service life of 500,000 miles before overhaul, which means--knock on wood--that Phannie's engine will outlive me. It does have a weakness, however: It insists on having clean oil and clean fuel, something about which I am obsessive, following the manufacturer's service specs religiously. Perhaps that's the reason--along with a fuel additive that I've mentioned before--that the engine has performed flawlessly for 120,000 miles now. And I delight in the fact that I've never had to buy a single drop of DEF.

When the EPA requirements became really onerous in 2010, Caterpillar decided it could not build their over-the-road engines and still retain their near-bulletproof reputation, so they simply stopped building them, concentrating on engines for construction equipment that is not subject to the same EPA emission standards.

Okay, let's get back to our trip to Gunnison. Highway 491 from Cortez to Moab was vey scenic--especially around Moab, one of our favorite places. However, from Moab to Grand Junction, including an endless hour on I-70, was a different story. To call it wasteland would be way too generous. 

Grand Junction is a bustling place with lots of new construction (and places to shop, which thrilled Sandy). However, it is just too danged HOT in the summer--like 100 degrees hot! I couldn't wait for Inland to finish their work so we could get to higher ground and cooler temperatures.

On U. S. 50 between Montrose and Gunnison, the highway is reduced to one lane due to an apparent washout some time ago. We were at a standstill for about an hour while a single stream of vehicles took turns each way through the construction zone. The highway was leading ever upward, however, and we noticed the outside air temperature gauge decreasing steadily with the rise in altitude. We stopped for lunch at the top of a pass just west of Gunnison. At 8,300 feet, the fresh mountain air was exhilarating! 

It wasn't long until we had descended to the Gunnison River Valley, where U. S. 50 snaked along the beautiful shore of Lake Fork, formed by a dam of the river.  Here is a photo of Lake Fork and the point where the Gunnison river empties into it:

Farther east, the rocky Gunnison canyon provides great views:

Arriving at Palisades in Gunnison:

Here is a layout of the park; it's a relatively small park, and most of the residents stay here all summer. There is almost always a waiting list for reservations.

We check in at the office:

Manager Sherri is at the desk, holding up a chocolate bar (baiting the hook, I'm sure).

We snuggle in beside two fivers:

View from the rear of our campsite; note that Starlink is up and running:

Friendly deer run past our campsite!

Below is a summer resident's site where his dining table is enclosed in a tent.  We soon found out why--mosquitoes!  We didn't have to contend with these pests at Cortez because of the drier climate and ever-present wind, which is usually calm here in Gunnison. We just make adjustments, however; the park sprays frequently, and we use insect repellent and bug zappers, so there really isn't much of a problem.

Some of the summer-long residents do a nice job of decorating their sites:

Since we're going to be here for the summer, we have kept an eye out for a small propane grill that will be easy to transport and set up. We spotted one while we were in Cortez, and it looked perfect, especially since we're not "power" users. So we ordered one and, so far, are very happy with it. The legs fold in, and it winds up being no larger than a small suitcase!

So, to try it out, we had burgers for brunch (we don't really eat breakfast, for reasons that I really don't see any need to divulge):

As is common here in the mountains, a rain shower frequently passes through, cooling things down:

It's almost criminal to show you the temperature as I am writing this during that shower: 

 The grounds around the park are very well kept with manicured grass and flowers everywhere:

We took an early evening drive around the area to get the lay of the land, and found some handsome photos to share. This first one is overlooking Gunnison from the south. In the mountains in the background lies Crested Butte:

Looking west, we couldn't help but be mesmerized by the mountain sunset:

The moon was nearly full this night, so we got this photo that we liked:

Driving back through town, Gunnison is a little sleepy as the moon looks on:

Arriving back at the park, the gazebo is all illuminated, waiting for friends to sit and chat in the cool evening:

I mentioned earlier that I had a "gig" up here. Well, I will be playing the piano on occasions, in addition to doing some photography, both for which I will be fairly well compensated.  I'll have to include a video of one of these sessions in another post.

Stay well and stay cool, y'all!

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it as I should every day.

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood