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Texas | Trips

The Conclusion to my
“Tag Along with Barclay on
Texas Photography Trip #94" Story


by Barclay Gibson

As the reader might remember, a group of us, including the land owner, a Laredo college professor, fellow marker hunter, Sarah Reveley from San Antonio, and myself, had just visited the Poblacion de Dolores Centennial marker that was located south of Laredo right on the banks of the Rio Grande. Because of the remoteness of the area, we had some concerns about our safety as drug smugglers were known to cross the area. On top of that, our Professor friend was unable to see because he had accidentally touched his eyes the night before after handling a poisonous pencil cactus so that his eyes were extremely sensitive to bright light. It was now time for us to beat a hasty retreat back to the highway.

As the last gate was closed and locked, we all said our good byes, and I told the land owner how much I appreciated him accompanying us to the marker site. Sarah felt comfortable as fill-in Jeep chauffeur for the Professor. At that point he was in so much pain, he couldn't even tell where he was. I headed south while everyone else was on their way back to Laredo.

As I began to make plans for the rest of the day, other things were going through my mind. It's a weird feeling. The whole time I had been planning to see the Poblacion marker, it was with the feeling of, “Do I really need to see this thing?” or “Is it worth whatever fears I might have about being in that area knowing things might not turn out well?” My mind was trying to replace any imaginations I might have had for the last several weeks with the reality of how it turned out. The main thing was that everyone was safe. Most of us were able to enjoy seeing it.

My route following US 83 to Harlingen and then US 77 up to my room in Corpus Christi was simple enough. With a few side trips it was about 330 miles. Thanks to Google, I knew driving time was about five and a half hours thus giving me about two and a half hours to see the various sights between here and there and still arrive in Corpus Christi around sunset. The main thing I wanted to see was the Iwo Jima Memorial Statue near the Marine Military Academy in Harlingen.

Now I could settle back and get into the routine of the trip, stopping at a couple of small towns to photograph churches and an old bridge on display in a park. The last time I was marker hunting in this area back in 2011, I was able to photograph the Starr County Centennial marker for The Mier Expedition which had been placed in storage for safe keeping at the local TxDot yard while some road work was being done north of Roma. Recently it had been re-set back in its original location right on US 83, near the Roma High School. Since I had this one, it wasn't one of the six for this trip. Sadly, when these markers are placed for easy access to the public, vandals also take advantage of their availability. In this case, half of the bronze wreath had been crudely pried off and evidence of hammer blows to the granite were visible across the face of the marker.

TX - Mier Expedition Marker
The Mier Expedition Marker
Click on photo for large image
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, June 2014
Somewhere around Roma, I was starting to get a little hungry. The effects of the early morning HEB donuts and motel coffee were long gone. In planning my route, I found an all-you-can-eat chicken fried steak restaurant in Corpus Christi near my motel. That sounded like just my kind of place; not much of atmosphere but lots of good food. The problem was their website said it closed in mid-afternoon, and I knew there was no way to be there that early. Just to make sure, I even made two separate phone calls to confirm their closing time. Having no other options, I fell back to my usual lunch of salt and sugar. Some Fritos with a can of bean dip washed down with a Cherry Coke, that is. Kind of makes your mouth water, no?

Next I went down to Los Ebanos to see the last hand-drawn ferry across the Rio Grande. Not knowing the schedule, I missed seeing it because nothing was going on. Then a quick run north of Mission to see the Hidalgo County Centennial marker for William Jennings Bryan. I don't know what he had to do with the Texas Revolution but he has his own marker near his home site, appropriately placed at the corner of 2 Mile Road and Bryan Road. This one, too, was in storage last time I visited, but I had not been able to see it. The TxDot man told me there had been a car wreck at that intersection and the marker was knocked over. It was scheduled to be put back in place the day after I was there. This was marker number four.

Since I was right next to McAllen, it was easy enough make a quick run downtown to get some pictures of the Cine El Rey movie theater. There are quite a few sites on my list in downtown Harlingen, but by now it was nearly five o'clock, and I still had a long way to go before nightfall. I decided to scratch my plans for downtown Harlingen with its churches, murals, theaters, and depot and just make a couple of quick passes by a restored Sinclair gas station and then go directly to the Iwo Jima Memorial. I understand this statue is the original sculpture from which the bronze Arlington Cemetery statue was made. Anyone who has seen either can't help but be moved by the size and detail on display.
Harlingen TX - Iwo Jima Memorial Statue
The Iwo Jima Memorial Statue
near the Marine Military Academy in Harlingen
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, June 2014
It was time to set my sights north to Corpus Christi. One of the challenges any sightseer has, whether in Paris or Rome or South Texas, is deciding what you really want to see and what can be bypassed. Cut too little and run out of time to see some priority sight later on. Cut too much and you have extra time on your hands. With only a little over two hours to Corpus Christi and more than three hours of daylight left, I wondered if I should go back to downtown Harlingen and see those things I missed or press on. By this time I'd been on the road for over eleven hours. I was still hoping for some last minute breakthrough in my efforts to see the Jackson County marker. My plan was to have two chances to see it; one in mid-morning. The other in late afternoon. I decided to go ahead and check into my room then cross the Nueces Bay Causeway to see some of the sights planned for Tuesday, thus shortening that day to better ensure keeping my options open should the Jackson County marker become available to see.

I only made three significant stops on my way north. Once for pictures of the small, now closed, Armstrong Post Office, somewhere between Raymondville and Riviera. Then to see the Navy A4D Skyhawk jet displayed on a pedestal stand beside the highway near Kingsville. The last stop was in Nuecesville, just west of Corpus Christi, to see the old school, cemetery, and associated aluminum historical markers. After having enjoyed such a filling lunch earlier, I still wasn't hungry enough to look for a place for dinner. So, after checking into my room, I was back on the road to Gregory to see its depot, City Hall, and downtown. On the west approach to the causeway I took another photo of the aircraft carrier USS Lexington framed by the passenger side window. I don't know how many pictures of the ship I've taken this way.
USS Lexington
USS Lexington
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, June 2014
After seeing the sights of Gregory, I was on my way back to my room on I-37 in West Corpus Christi right at sunset. Now for more trip minutiae. Wanting to miss the early morning traffic, I decided to leave early enough to be across the causeway, eat breakfast at an IHOP in Portland, and be in Refugio soon after daylight.

Edna, in Jackson County, is only about an hour from Refugio. With still no word about permission to see that marker, I proceeded with my route for the day, which was to work my way north seeing small towns, country churches, and cemeteries up to Fayette County, north of I-10, then back southeast to Wharton. On the way up US 183 was an interesting old Hochheim Post Office that I particularly wanted to see. Wouldn't you know that right at Hochheim there was road construction with one-way traffic right through that area. If I pulled out of line to see the post office, I would have to wait for my turn again with the next line of northbound traffic. As traffic was kind of heavy that morning, it might have been a long wait.

Continuing to work my way north through the small towns and/or ghost towns of Weser, Hopkinsville, Clinton, and Saturn, I finally peaked out at Cozy Corner, a little southeast of La Grange. That was when I realized I was only a few miles from one of the Painted Churches at Ammannsville's, the St. John the Baptist Catholic Church. One should never pass up a chance to visit, even re-visit, one of these beautiful churches. Quite often the sanctuaries are available for public viewing, as this one was.
TX - Ammannsville St. John Baptist Catholic Church
Ammannsville St. John the Baptist Catholic Church
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, June 2014

It was at Ammannsville that I first realized I had been on the road for seven hours since breakfast. I was already looking forward to an enchilada/taco/relleno dinner along with two kinds of salsa with chips at the Wharton Los Cucos. Having learned from previous encounters there, I needed to be sure to enter the premises on a completely empty stomach. One left-over donut from the Uvalde HEB along with some orange juice from my ice chest would just about do it.

My route would now take me roughly southeast through Swiss Alp, Oakland, Morales, Edna (for my second window of opportunity for the Jackson County marker), Markham, Danciger, Pledger, Burr and back up to the Wharton Tee Pee Motel. After my delightfully delicious Mexican dinner at Los Cucos, which fulfilled every imagination, I was fully ready for a quiet, restful night in my teepee.

TX Danciger Post Office
Danciger Post Office
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, June 2014
So far, on this trip, I had taken nearly 1,000 photographs, mostly while still in the comfort of my extra-cushioned, collapsed driver's seat. The goal for the next day was to work my way back up to I-10 seeing the usual country churches, old and/or former post offices, cemeteries, and a few aluminum historical markers in Altair, Rock Island, Sheridan, and New Bielau. Then more of the same in an area south of Seguin. I had one thing to photograph in San Antonio, and then to Gruene, and northwest, mostly on back roads to my reservation in Mason.

As expected, the next morning there was no way I could even entertain having breakfast. A mug of hot Bucc-ee's coffee would do nicely. I was back on the road before daylight in order to be in Altair by sunrise. I should have expected the greeting of the East Texas fog. Lots of places experience fog, nothing unusual about that. But an East Texas fog somehow seems to be different, denser in some way. Being from New Mexico, I'm really not a good judge of such things, and being on a photography trip with specific sights in mind, this fog was not a welcomed sight.
East Texas Fog
East Texas Fog
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, June 2014

With such detailed routes as mine are and with the ever present time crunch, I never have the luxury of waiting for just the right sunlight, the perfect cloud formation, or for the fog to clear. I have to take photographic opportunities as they present themselves. They did. Before I knew it, the fog lifted and it was business as usual. Driving south of Seguin, I was able to see the Sweet Home Church as well as the closed school across the road, the Elm Creek Church and cemetery. After a brief tour of New Berlin, it was north to picturesque Marion and Cibolo.

I had asked Sarah if she would drive me to the downtown post office across from the Alamo as parking was usually unavailable. She let me out, and I went in to photograph the fourteen WPA era murals. After taking those pictures, I violated Trip Rules, as we had a sit-down lunch at the Pig Stand. Then it was on to Gruene. If you don't know how Gruene's water tower got the dent in its cap, you'll just have to read the fascinating story on TexasEscapes.

I had planned on seeing a few things in San Marcos, but needing to make up some time, I took a shortcut through Fischer, Blanco, and Albert. About this time I thought I would try one more time to get permission to see the Irion County marker that didn't work out earlier. It was worth a try, but the phone call went the same way as before. After only a couple of stops in Fredericksburg, it was on to Hilda and Art before arriving in Mason for the night.

TX- Hilda Methodist Church
Bethel M.E. Church in Hilda
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, June 2014

The room wasn't quite what I had in mind. I have had rooms with only cold water. This one had only scalding hot water in the sink, including the shower. Believe me, it was a quick shower. Thankfully the ice bucket was handy for a little extra water to make the toilet flush. To get my mind off the situation, there was time to get to the Willow Creek Cafe before closing. Their tasty Philly cheese steak sandwich helped me feel better since it was my only meal of the day. Even then I saved half of it for lunch tomorrow.

Back at the motel, the noisy air conditioner was barely keeping the room cool. It ran all night so I was only too happy to hear my alarm clock go off at 5:30. A mug of Stripes' station coffee and I was off again. That's when I realized I had forgotten to charge my phone during this whole trip. I normally don't use it much at all so the battery will easily last a week or more. It has seen a lot of use in the last few days so now the screen was blank. I always call home every morning, but now I couldn't check in. I knew my wife would be concerned.

Appointments had been made to visit two Centennial markers, the Irion County Dove Creek Battlefield marker and the Reagan County Grierson Spring marker. Several people were interested in seeing the markers. We agreed to meet in Mertzon at 8 o'clock at the Irion County Museum which is right across the street from the county courthouse. Because I was a little early, I imposed on the deputies at the sheriff's office to see if I could charge my phone until we were ready to leave. They were very gracious and let me plug in my phone. As people in our group began to arrive, I got acquainted with each one. We had the lady who set up the appointments, her husband and their son, the Mertzon City Manager, who would escort us to the Dove Creek Battlefield marker site, a lady from San Angelo who had an interest in Irion County history, and a couple from Reagan County, who would take us to the Grierson Spring marker. When everyone was ready to leave, I picked up my phone. Even with such a short charging time, it had enough juice to last till I got home.

I immediately called my wife, sure she had called the motel in Mason and was told I had checked out. I happened to mention that I was planning to eat my sandwich later, but the motel room didn't have a refrigerator and the ice machine wasn't working. She was concerned that it wasn't safe to eat. To be on the safe side, I took a deep breath and disposed of it.

We convoyed out of town in three vehicles with the city manager in the lead. The marker was well off the road and behind several locked gates. Again, even with all my prior research of information about its location, we would never have found it without our guide. We spent about twenty minutes on location talking about the history of the county and of the Dove Creek Battle itself. According to the text on the marker, the battle took place toward the end of the Civil War in January, 1865, when Texas Rangers and State Troops battled mostly Kickapoo Indians. The dead were buried somewhere nearby. On the way back to the highway, we were taken to the head waters of Dove Creek which formed a very nice swimming hole. It was quite a sight to see. That was the fifth Centennial.

TX Dove Creek Battlefield TX Centennial Marker
Dove Creek Battlefield Marker
Click on photo for large image
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, June 2014

We lost two of our group as the city manager needed to get back to his duties and the woman from San Angelo had some obligations. The remaining six left to see the Reagan County Grierson Spring Centennial marker which was an hour and a half away. The marker is located southwest of Big Lake in a wide, open, barren territory. Again, there were a lot of rough, dusty, and rocky roads to travel, and gates to unlock. The marker was placed on the side of a canyon near the trail we used to approach it.

First, we hiked down the canyon to see the actual spring. We then hiked north along what is left of the old stage route. It is amazing how evidence is still so clearly visible of the path worn by the mules, horses, freight wagons, and stage coaches so many years ago. Down in the canyon bottom we could see the remains of several structures where the rock walls are still standing. There appeared to be what might have been the kitchen, a blacksmith shop, officers quarters, and a corral. Even from a distance it was obvious that it was quite an undertaking.

The wording on the marker itself states that the Grierson Spring is named in honor of General Benjamin Grierson, who commanded federal troops in the area. An outpost was established there in 1878 as a way station between Fort Concho and Fort Stockton. It was abandoned in 1882. This marker, too, had been vandalized even as remote as it is. The owners, at their own expense, found a replacement bronze star and wreath to restore the marker to its original condition. This was the sixth and final marker I had planned to see.

TX Grierson Spring TX 1936 Centennial Marker
The Grierson Spring Centennial marker
Click on photo for large image
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, June 2014

After all this, the Reagan County couple graciously treated us to a totally unexpected tailgate party miles from anywhere and anybody. We enjoyed sandwiches, chips, drinks, and cookies. It was a perfect ending for a perfect day. And, for me, a perfect trip. It was now only about two o'clock in the afternoon. Most of the objectives of the trip had been accomplished. I had met many new people and had a wonderful, very memorable time. The thermometer was hovering a little above 100 degrees. Again Old Blue had performed beautifully. I had driven over 2,000 miles and taken more than 1,600 pictures. It was time to head home.

4WD Light on I-10
4WD Light on I-10
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, June 2014

© Barclay Gibson
September 1, 2014 Column

Trip - Part I

See
Tag Along with Barclay
on Texas Photography Trip #94

Part I

Related Topics: Texas Centennial | Texas Trips |
Texas Photography | Texas Town List | Texas |
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