Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Ghosts of the Menger Hotel

Waking up in the middle of the night in a strange room often provokes thoughts of something scary. Was the noise I heard real? Was I dreaming or was that really the sound of footsteps I heard outside our door? When you are staying at the historic and haunted Menger Hotel, a ghost is a real possibility! Perhaps I read too many ghost stories about the Menger Hotel. Could it be Sallie White who is known to roam the halls of the Victorian wing of the hotel? Do I dare get up and look out our door? It is said she was killed by her husband after staying at the hotel with another man. Maybe I should be more worried that it is the ghost of the husband who killed her!  

Suzanne and I are staying at the historic Menger Hotel in San Antonio so we could be near the Alamo where so many brave Texans fought to bring us the freedoms we have today. Actually, you can look out the window of our room and see the outer walls of the Alamo complex. How cool is that! Could the noises I heard be attributed to the ghost of the men who defended the Alamo? It has been told that many of the defenders are still roaming the area and defending the Republic of Texas to this day. The Menger Hotel, built in 1859 is sitting on the hallowed grounds of the historic battle.

Another possibility is the ghost of Captain Richard King, the founder of the famous King Ranch, one of the largest ranches in the world. He is also known to roam the hotel. Mr. King, a man of great wealth had a suite at the Menger Hotel and it was here that he spent his last few months of life. His wrote his last will while staying here and his funeral was held in the parlor of the hotel. Rumor has it you might see him entering his room, The King Suite, by walking right through the wall where the door once was. How Spooky!

I almost forgot about President Teddy Roosevelt sitting in the bar downstairs having a drink and recruiting cowboys for the Rough Riders. I would love to sit down with Teddy and talk about hunting. He has supposedly been seen by many guests over the years. I wonder how many alcoholic beverages these guest consumed before they saw him. There is a list of other celebrities who have stayed at the Menger Hotel including Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, Babe Ruth and Mae West to name a few. Could the ghost be one of them?

Being one who does not believe in ghosts, I’m sure there is a perfectly good reason why someone or something is pacing out in front of our hotel door in the middle of the night. Just in case, I’m going to hide under the covers and be very quiet. I can’t wait for morning to come so we can continue to see Texas Thru Our Back Door!

Join in our fight against breast cancer.  Visit Suzanne's new blog "My Equations for Life" as she reflects on life B.C. (before cancer) and A.D. (after diagnosis) and help support new early cancer detection research at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center with our Go Fund Me project below.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Llano Rocks!

       When I was researching gold and gem locations for one of my Rick Remington adventure stories, I came across the small west Texas town of Llano and immediately knew we had to go. Caution: Panning for gold in Texas is illegal unless you have a permit.  With no permit in hand, Suzanne and I decided to learn about the gems and minerals of Texas purely through research.  In the Hill Country, treasure hunters scour the rocks for blue topaz, but in Llano, gold is prize they seek.  Finding small amounts of gold in the area is still possible, though improbable at this point, but we discovered another unique treasure found only in Llano.  Llanite is a unique form of granite that can be seen in a rock outcropping just north of town. Eager to see a treasure that can only be found in Texas, our quest began!

 Our first priority was to find lodging.  We had heard about a resort called “The Canyon of the Eagles”.  Who could resist that name?  Suzanne booked a cabin overlooking Lake Buchanan and off we went.  When we got to the Resort, we were delighted to find that our cabin was a rustic 1920’s style Hill Country house with a front porch.  That evening, we ate at the Overlook restaurant on the property with an unobstructed view of Lake Buchanan.  What a nice way to end a long day.  The food was good and the beer cold.  What more could you ask for?

The next day Suzanne and I headed for Llano.  We stopped by the local rock and mineral shop and did some browsing.  Llanite granite is known for its beautiful blue specs.  With our newfound knowledge and thirst for rock hunting enhanced, Suzanne and I headed out highway Texas 16 to search for Llanite in a rock outcropping near Baby Head Cemetery.  Not sure where to look, we checked the rock outcropping along the highway near the entrance to the cemetery.  We were disappointed to find absolutely nothing that looked like Llanite.  More than a little hot and somewhat discouraged, we decided to look up the road.  At the next large outcropping of rocks, we stopped again.  This time we hit pay dirt! We found the Llanite.  Like those before us, I chipped off a small piece of Llanite for a souvenir. 

With our prize possession of Llanite, Suzanne and I headed back to town for some lunch.  Cooper’s Old Time Bar-B-Que is a must when dining in the Llano area.  The lines are often long, so arriving early is key.  Luckily the line wasn’t too long and we slipped in behind a large group of college kids.  An enormous, slow, pit cooked 1” thick pork chop with sides was our reward for the wait.  Great food!  But we had a half of day left to kill. 

 Suzanne and I decided to drive around town and look for something interesting to do.  As we were driving, we noticed this business with a whole city block of granite and marble slabs.  Since we are designing our new house near Lake Livingston, we had to stop and check it out.  They gave us a golf cart to drive around to look at their offerings.  How cool is that?   They had so many different colors and patterns that it was difficult to pick out a favorite.  If you are looking for granite countertops, the Living Stone Company in Llano is the place to shop!

With the afternoon sun smiling down on us, it was time for a drink to cool off.  The Badu House Wine Pub with its 14 foot long bar made of polished Llanite was our target.  The Badu House is a pretty cool building in it’s own right but we came to see the Llanite!  We were not disappointed.  The bar top was beautiful with its deep blue hue.  Texas Rocks!

 After finishing our drinks, it was time to head back to the Canyon of the Eagles to relax and enjoy the Texas sunset.  From the Piney Woods of east Texas to the rocks and hills of west Texas, on this starry night we thanked our lucky stars we chose Texas to look Thru Our Back Door!

Join in our fight against breast cancer.  Visit Suzanne's new blog "My Equations for Life" as she reflects on life B.C. (before cancer) and A.D. (after diagnosis) and help support new early cancer detection research at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center with our Go Fund Me project below.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Kickstarter Success for Texas Tea

Around a large campfire on a dark moonless night, a group of tall, copper-toned, scary looking men gathered for a ritual before heading to war the next day. The drink, a very strong black tea, was passed around to cleanse the body and soul. The first Texas tea party was born! These Native Americans loved their tea, but they were not your average tea-sippers. They were Karankawas, some of the most ferocious warriors in Texas. So where did they get this tea? The curious Texians eventually solved the mystery of this powerful drink. They discovered that the Karankawas were making this tea from an abundantly available indigenous plant, the yaupon holly. 

Yaupon holly, which is related to yerba mate, is the only plant native to North America with significant amounts of caffeine in its leaves. The Karankawa warriors would boil the leaves to make their thick, dark tea. The Texians learned to make a lighter tea, comparable in taste to the Asian teas that many people drink today. They called it cassina and enjoyed it with sugar and milk. As the years passed and the Civil War began, coffee became scarce. Many soldiers turned to yaupon holly tea for their caffeine fix. The soldiers referred to it as “Texas Tea”. 

Moving forward to today, the lost art of making tea from yaupon holly leaves has resurfaced. A couple of Texas ladies are re-introducing yaupon holly tea to the public. As I was doing historic research for my next “Rick Remington Adventure book”, I came across an article on the Karankawas and their “Black Drink”. This led me to the Cat Spring Tea Company. This Texas born tea is organic, sustainable and hand-picked by “second chance” individuals at a fair wage. If you have read our blog, you know that when we come across something unique to Texas, we give it a try. The teas we tried had excellent flavor with no tannins, so they are very smooth. Who would have thought that we have excellent native teas right out our back door. So if you like tea and want to support a Texas business, give it a try. I think you will be pleasantly surprised with the results!

Another interesting aspect of the Cat Spring Tea Company is their use of Kickstarter to fund their operation. This new and innovative way to connect creators with investors can be the difference between success and failure for small start-ups like Cat Spring Tea Company. From $1 to $250, you can invest in a unique Texas business and be a part into what makes Texas great! To view/support their Kickstarter Project, click on this link to Kickstarter and enjoy a cup of Yaupon Holly tea as we see Texas Thru My Back Door.

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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Hangar Hotel

Walking into the lobby of the Hanger Hotel with bags in each hand, I scanned the room for the front desk. The soft light from high above gave the room a timeless glow. The sounds of a big band orchestra played quietly in the background. The walls were decorated with 1940’s era airplane memorabilia. Against the far wall, an antique console radio reigned mightily as some old luggage laid nearby forgotten in time. I expected to see Humphrey Bogart or Lauren Bacall cross the balcony above on their way to a secret encounter. 

As my eyes found the front desk, I spied some old phone operator’s equipment lying unused, waiting to connect a guest with the past. Approaching the front desk, Suzanne and I watched as a smiling, enthusiastic lady emerged from the back to help us check in. We had entered the “Twilight Zone”; no, I mean “The Hanger Hotel”! Check in was swift and painless.

With key in hand, we walked upstairs to check out our room. After a full day of travel and a trip into Llano, the thought of resting for a bit sounded good. The room was very comfortable and furnished in the same nostalgic style as the lobby complete with period style furniture and airplane memorabilia. Our view of a 1946 North American Navion airplane, an old 1926 truck, and a nostalgic airplane billboard complimented the ambiance of the hotel’s interior.  In the background, the Airport Diner beckoned all comers with its own 50’s looks. Should we rest or go check out the diner and those other collectibles outside? Flipping a mental coin, I opted to go outside.

Suzanne and I trekked on back downstairs and popped outside to a bright sun recovering from a soft, warm shower. With small puddles of water to dodge and Texas humidity to bear, we headed toward the diner. The diner looked the part of a 50’s drug store with a long chrome trimmed counter and swivel chairs. The airplane motif was on target with its guest. The booths were trimmed with chrome and sparklingly clean. Unfortunately, we chose the wrong time to come by. It was closed. No problem, out behind it was an old Douglas C41 airplane to scope out and an old Cadillac that made a great photo opportunity. There were more than enough antiques and memorabilia to offer a diversion in an otherwise quiet afternoon.

As the sun started its slide in the western sky, I remembered the reservationist letting us know that Thursday Happy Hour was Martini Night. Neither one of us had ever had a martini, so this was as good an opportunity as any to try one. Beats walking around in the hot summer sun I surmised. I explained to Suzanne my reason to retreat to the air conditioned bar referred to as the Officers Club. She agreed with delight! Off to the Officer’s Club we went.

The Officer’s club was quaint and cool. The airplane motif was prevalent. Snacks were available near the entrance to entice us to stay for awhile. We found a small table with a great view of the bar and settled in for some people watching while enjoying our drinks and conversation. The bartender was friendly and offered free advice on martinis as I explained my novice status. A “Dirty Martini” was the drink of choice. Like James Bond in a spy movie, I felt suave and sophisticated; if only in my mind. That’s the fun part! That’s what vacations are supposed to do. Take you away from your daily work or worries and create a dream world where fun is king. 

Staying at The Hanger Hotel was our little “Fantasy Island” episode. We had a great time and met some nice people. The next morning we woke up refreshed and eager to begin another day as we travel Texas Thru My Back Door!