Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Texas Longhorn Cattle

One of the most iconic citizens of Texas are the famous Texas Longhorn cattle. Brought to Texas by the Spanish explorers and let loose in the inhospitable lands of Texas, the longhorn cattle did more than survive the harsh conditions, they thrived. These four-legged Texans with extremely long horns tamed the west and brought respect to the ranchers who herded these cattle to the stockyards far away.

In time, the longhorns were discarded by the buyers of beef as too lean and underweight. Their ability to live off the land was no longer required as ranches were able to fatten their livestock with purchased feed. The longhorns became a casualty of their best traits; long life and lean appearance. As the cattle dwindled in numbers and ranchers interbred, a few ranchers stepped up and decided to save the iconic Texas Longhorn from falling into extinction.

This is where Suzanne and I enter the picture. We learned of the Butler Longhorn Museum in League City just south of Houston. Eager to learn more about these fabulous creatures who adorn many hats and t-shirts of college patrons in these parts of Texas, we set out one Saturday to visit the museum. 

As we reached the large entrance door to the large three story home that houses the museum, we found it locked. Upon examination, we found a buzzer with instructions to ring if door locked. I rang the buzzer and as the huge door creaked open, I caught myself anticipating seeing someone like Fred Munster of the Adams Family fame poking his head out of the door. Instead a tall, friendly and very normal fellow opened the door and invited us in. He explained he just started a tour upstairs with some folks from out of state and wondered if we would like to join them. We eagerly accepted the invitation.

Surveying the large collection cattle horns on the ceiling and photos and artifacts on the walls, we were led around the room by our guide, Jaime. We felt a bit like the cows being led around the corral as we explored every inch of the exhibit. Jaime was so passionate and colorful in his explanations; one would have thought he was a Butler family member doting on his ancestors. We learned of the Butler family passion to preserve their beloved purebred Longhorn herd. From barbwire types to local cattle brands; from western garments to chairs made from horns; from paintings of longhorns to longhorn sculptures; there was something for everyone to see and appreciate.

In a separate room, our guide introduced us to various cattle mounts staged as if the longhorns were standing across the fencing on a ranch watching our every move. Jamie identified each of the animals by name as if they were his pets! He also talked about Mr. Butler’s experience with actor John Wayne and teaching John about ranching and the longhorns that would co-star in the movie “The Alamo” with him.

On the third level of the museum, we viewed more ranching artifacts such as pistols, rifles, farm & ranch implements, spurs and saddles. Our guide again explained many of the items that we saw to our delight.

We returned to the first floor where a sitting area and gift shop resides. In one corner of the room a full sized Texas longhorn stared us in the eye, his large, curled horns sitting upon his head like a crown on a king’s head. I truly believe this majestic beast is king of Texas and would love to see more of his friends as we tour his great ranch lands and see Texas Thru My Back Door!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Buc-ee’s – Largest Convenience Travel Stores in Texas

The word is out. Beavers have been seen along a lot of our major highways here in Texas. If you do a lot of traveling in Texas you have seen their large dens full of activity, but don’t fear these beavers. They appear to be the friendliest beavers you’ll find! Of course, I’m talking about Buc-ee’s. This convenience store chain is taking Texas by storm.

       Suzanne and I decided to stop at their largest store in Texas (maybe the largest in the U.S.) on Interstate 35 in New Braunfels.  With 120 fuel pumps, 31 cash registers, 80 fountain dispensers and the largest, cleanest restrooms you’ll find in the world, how could you not stop for a break from your travels? There is something for everyone in this 68,000 sq ft facility. You will find the traditional foods and drink (including a selection of kolaches), gifts and housewares with Texas themes, toys, clothes, picnic supplies, and products catering to outdoorsmen. You can’t resist walking around and checking out all the different things for sale even if you had only stopped to go to the bathroom!

As well known as the stores themselves are the clever signs along the highways leading up to each of the locations. Some are pretty funny! Bucc-ee’s is planning to open their newest, largest convenience travel store soon in Texas City off Interstate 45 near Galveston. I bet this one will be even more amazing! As they say, “Everything is bigger in Texas!” and in this case I think they are right. So, if you are traveling around our great state of Texas and need a break from driving; stop in at one of the large Buc-ee’s and see Texas Thru My 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, March 11, 2014

The Gristmill River Restaurant & Bar

On a cold and rain soaked trip between San Antonio and Austin, Suzanne and I decided to stop in the Gruene Historic District in New Braunfels and grab some lunch at a restaurant overlooking the Guadalupe River. We had heard the food was pretty good and the ambience was fantastic! So we hopped off the Interstate to check it out. This particular Saturday morning was quiet and uneventful, like a sleepy ghost town. Parking was plentiful and only a few tourists were milling around the antique shops. Unbeknown to us, this would change by the afternoon. Our goal today was lunch and 11am was soon upon us.

Walking up to the restaurant, we learned that it was on the National Register of Historic Places as the Gruene Cotton Gin. Today, only the brick Boiler Room still exists and it has been transformed into the three story restaurant you see today. As we waited in the crowded entrance to be seated, I asked the waitress next to us a few questions about the restaurant. We told her about our travel blog and the next thing we knew, she offered to show us around the place. Suzanne and I were impressed with her willingness to please us. She told us the restaurant could hold about 1000 people. That’s quite a crowd. I’m sure that included the beer garden and sitting areas outside by the river. Nevertheless, I was impressed. She showed us the rooms with spectacular large roaring fireplaces adorned with turkeys and wild boar overhead. The restaurant had multiple levels to choose from and an outdoor area overlooking the river. Unfortunately, the misting rain squashed the idea of sitting by the river.

We decided to sit in the area our gracious waitress was working and ordered our food and drink. The Tortilla Soup was as excellent as advertised, the Chicken Poblano Quesadillas were quite tasty and the Shiner Bock was cold! On this chilly, wet day we welcomed the warmth from the friendly atmosphere as much as the warmth from the overhead heaters. With a great meal and a pleasant outing completed, I was energized and ready to hit the road again!

As we left the restaurant, we could see afternoon crowds moving in and it seemed like people were coming out of the wood works. All the parking spots in the oversized lots had been taken and the number of shoppers in Historic Gruene had swelled exponentially since our arrival. Although the restaurant boasts of celebrity guests on their website, we did not see any familiar faces in the crowds, just other hungry tourists like ourselves. I can only imagine what the crowds would be like on a beautiful day. Would I come back? You bet I would! Sitting on the restaurant’s outdoor patio with a cold beer on a hot summer evening watching the folks in the lazy river pass by sounds like a great way to spend the day seeing Texas Thru My Back Door!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Texas Prison Museum

Along Highway 45 in Huntsville is an odd museum of sorts, The Texas Prison Museum. Odd because when I think of prison, I think of the most despicable acts caused by the most appalling people. However this museum tells the tale not only of the history of the Texas prison system, but it also highlights the art and culture inside the walls.  There were definitely some surprises.

As you enter the museum, you can see art created by the prisoners prominently displayed.  Some of these pieces are quite intricate. You have to wonder what would have happened if these talented individuals had made different choices in life. Would they have gone on to become famous artisans instead? The craftsmanship of these items is outstanding.

In another area of the museum, the creativity of the inmates is displayed in a very different and less inspiring manner. In the midst of the display of the many guns and knives used by the wardens and by outlaws like Bonnie and Clyde are the homemade weapons produced by the prisoners themselves from wood, metal and paper. It’s a stark reminder that the same human ingenuity used to create beautiful art was used to create lethal weapons and life inside the walls was far from peaceful.

Walking toward the back of the museum, another interesting area emerges, the Texas Prison Rodeo. Those of you old enough to remember may recall the “Wildest Show Behind Bars” which was held every Sunday in October from 1931 to 1986. Country Western Stars such as Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, George Strait and Ernest Tubb played the venue. The crowds were very large, topping 100,000 at times, and the prisoners were very happy to participate and thrill the crowds.

Of course the story of the Texas prison system would be incomplete without a reminder of the harsh reality of prison life and the consequences of heinous crimes. There is a small section of the museum that displays an old electric chair used by the prison along with other reminders of why these people were imprisoned in the first place. A mock-up prison cell reveals the solemn life one would live if incarcerated in Texas.

Wrapping up our tour of the museum, Suzanne and I reflected on the highlights and lowlights of prison life. We feel sad for those who made the wrong choices and ended up in prison, yet we are glad people who do bad things to others get the punishment they deserve here in Texas. So, if you are in the Huntsville area someday and have a few hours to spare, check out The Texas Prison Museum and see Texas Thru My Back Door!