|God Bless Texas! Part 6: Go West Young Man|
Austin, TX to Van Horn, TX (Map) - 488mi/785km
I woke up & drove to nearby Marble Falls, site of the most unique skatepark I've ever ridden. The thing that's great about Marble Falls is that it isn't unique and frustrating - everything is unique, but extremely rideable. In an age where the same 3 companies make 90% of skateparks, Marble Falls was really enjoyable in the way you had to think about & study everything you were about to hit. I had a hard enough time just paying attention and not riding into a hole, that I was happy that it was a gloomy morning & I had the place to myself.
Feeling sore from the skatepark in Austin, and not wanting to hurt myself on these intermediate ramps, I took it easy. This would be a great skatepark to have near your friends, where tricks would ramp up & you would feed off each other.
I would have to give Marble Falls a 9 out of 10. It was some good.
Marble Falls is nowhere near an interstate, so I went south on the two-lane US-281 highway towards Fredericksburg. This route brought me through Johnson City, right along the street beside the Blanco County Courthouse.
Johnson City is the site of Lyndon B. Johnson's boyhood home. I don't care about collecting visits to every presidential home, but since they're marked on every U.S. road map, I was happy to finally get one. I didn't pay for the tour or walk the grounds, I only snapped a few pictures and checked it off.
Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) was the president who took over after Kennedy was shot. He was the 36th president of the U.S.A. & he was succeeded by Richard Nixon.
After Marble Falls, the next destination was Fredericksburg. A friend in Austin told me that Fredericksburg "seemed like the type of place I would like."
Walking around, I suppose he was right. It wasn't so small that I could easily cover it in 5 minutes; with many attractive buildings remaining along the main street and in various directions. There was actually more to Fredericksburg than I figured and I was forced to leave before I did due diligence. Maybe I should have broke out the bicycle to cover more ground.
One thing was for certain in Fredericksburg, they must have a nearby limestone quarry, because every building seemed to be made out of the stuff.
The one you see above is the old Gillespie County Courthouse.
The new courthouse is from 1939 and doesn't quite compare.
The main street of Fredericksburg was lined with enticing shops and restaurants. The town is of German heritage, so there were even some attractive German food stops, but I simply wasn't up for sitting by myself for an hour in the middle of the day.
My buddy recommended this place as he comes here with his wife. I enjoyed it well enough, but I could see it being even better if you were in Fredericksburg for the night, where you could check out some antique shops, eat some bratwurst, drink some Dabs, etc., etc..
Shortly after Fredericksburg was the interstate, and shortly after that, the land changed into the Texas I was expecting and anticipating. Don't get me wrong, Texas Hill Country - the rolling hills near Austin & Waco - were an awesome surprise & nothing like what I was expecting; but I was really looking forward to the desolation, emptiness and starkness of West Texas. At this point, this was my 8th day in Texas and the most arid landscape I had seen, was the lightly-treed farmland driving back towards Kingsville from the far south of Texas.
Even though this interstate meant I was driving for longer stretches & putting in greater amounts of work, I drove with a smile on my face, as I knew for every mile west, was one mile more towards the West Texas for which I was so excited.
After stopping in the city of Junction for Sonic, I needed to stop in Ozona to use the washroom. I'd have loved to stop in all of these settlements for the remainder of 2012, but with my time constraints, I had to be choosy.
Driving the road into town, I passed larger homes and manicured lawns. As I reached the city center, I finally found myself in a stereotypically West Texas town, so I excitedly parked the car and went for a look around.
Ozona's Crockett County Courthouse was a sight to behold. I envisioned these West Texas towns to be small, rundown and lack impressive buildings, but I was impressed with Ozona. I remember walking around the Ozona High School in particular, approving of the entryway arcade and the details below the roof line of the impressive building. I left with a good impression and questions about what brought wealth to this county seat. Wikipedia claims the county to be a national leader in wool & mohair, while the City of Ozona website claims the economy is steadied by ranching, oil & gas.
I wanted to stay in Ozona, with its pick up trucks, courthouse lawn, central oak tree, weathered characters and a handful of other hardy stereotypes, but it was only 3 o'clock and I had to keep moving.
Through all of my West Texas excitement, I didn't notice my gas tank was nearly empty. Well wasn't this cute! To break down out in the deserts of West Texas after driving around so awestruck and googly-eyed.
The counties out here are far less populated. In addition, they are much larger than the counties of East Texas - in some cases they only have 1 town (the county seat). As I passed an abandoned gas station, I noticed a sign for a town off the highway, but within driving distance. Hopefully, I nervously prayed, that this town was big enough to have a gas station.
What do you do in America when you need gasoline? You go to Iraan!
Iraan indeed had a gas station, a gas station which had a fruit bar with a nicer selection than anything I could get from the three combined grocery stores back home.
I didn't know when I'd ever find myself in Iraan, Texas again, so I drove around town for a bit, chomping on various sweets from my newly acquired slurpie cup of fruit.
The US-190 out of Iraan.
I took my sweet time taking this picture & not a single car passed me by. I really wanted to simply lay atop my rental & take all the desolation in, but yet again, I had to keep moving.
As the miles dripped away, the landscape flattened and the features grew more isolated. No longer was I passing through a hill periodically, it was now very flat with only the odd mesa or rock outcrop coming every 5 to 10 minutes.
I was excited to reach Fort Stockton, not only because it meant I was moving even further into West Texas, but also because it is home to (what I thought) was the World's Largest Roadrunner - Paisano Pete!0
I like our feathered friends like I enjoy courthouses & lighthouses, so I obviously really like peculiar birds such as roadrunners. A world's largest roadrunner is very comical to me.
So you can understand why a liquor store with a roadrunner on the sign would also amuse me.
The roadrunner doesn't even have anything to do with the liquor store name either! "Just throw a roadrunner onto the sign since Paisano Pete is across the street!"
I drove into Fort Stockton to see the Pecos County Courthouse, but somehow missed the downtown.
I could have spent more time exploring Fort Stockton, but the time was getting into the evening & I had to get to Van Horn. If you think I'm driving too much, I agree, but this is a step in the right direction. I found my mid-atlantic trip through the Carolinas and Virginia to have far too much driving, so I ratcheted it back for this trip.
The sky was a blazing red as I approached Van Horn. I skipped the first exit & ended up with a bird's eye view of the city, after having to take the interstate past the whole metropolis. I was amazed at the shantytown look below & wondered what this place had in store. Whereas Ozona seemed to have money, Fort Stockton seemed middle of the road & Van Horn looked like it was having trouble. The number of hotels & motels along the main strip would seem to indicate otherwise, but there were a number of motels & other stores frozen in time - which isn't necessarily a negative thing, but makes you wonder if a place is hanging on with an aging population.
Van Horn is incredibly flat, so any picture of the city skyline with the red sky was turning out worse than I imagined. I decided to simply make sure I got a picture of the Culberson County Courthouse before dark, not wanting to spend extra time with the tripod by the moonlight - I had to get to bed for tomorrow.
What was far more exciting than Van Horn's 1960s courthouse was their Duke's Castle right across the street! Whereas I wondered if this was maybe their old courthouse, it was actually the house of a man who came from Europe and wanted to build his West Texas home to represent his home back in the old country.
I obviously peered into a few of the window spaces and from the top of a few staircases, but since I left my tripod in the car, I never took the time to compose any interior pictures. The floor was rotted as you would expect and I was suddenly in a part of Texas with scorpions and more spiders/snakes. I didn't think there was much of a picture to be made inside anyway.
I purchased some forgettable fast food, Arby's or something, since the only other option at this hour was a fancy, sit-down restaurant. I stocked up on supplies at the Dollar General, before checking on the first hotel, a fancier place, but with a surprisingly great room rate, since I guess Van Horn is either in decline, has too many hotels, or both. This may have been the nicest place I stayed at on this trip, while also being one of the cheapest. There was no need to drive to the other side of town for the dark & faded motels over there.
I needed a good night's rest for tomorrow anyway.
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