The Land of the Lumberjacks

Friday, I decided to use a day off work and do a trip with Mom to East Texas. Having checked out quite a few cities in the region, there was one place that I had not been to: Nacogdoches. Home of Stephen F. Austin State University, this city of just under 34,000 people is one of the busiest population centers of the Deep East Texas region. I had heard about this place numerous times thru former classmates that attended SFA, and upon doing some research, the distance was just right for a same day trip.  This excursion had been moved back- I was initially gonna go two Fridays back, but adverse weather and Dad’s birthday pushed the date out. (Not that I mind, a three day weekend is always welcome anytime!)

Known as “The Oldest Town of Texas”, this city has seen evidence of human settlement as far back as 10,000 years ago. It was a Native American settlement until around the 19th century, when Spain established a mission. In 1772, Spanish officials ordered everyone to move to San Antonio, due to the high cost of maintenance. Eventually, settlers found their way back into Nacogdoches in 1779, and it was officially declared a “pueblo”, or town not too long after. It is known as the first town in Texas. With multiple national forests nearby, Nacogdoches and Deep East Texas are at the heart of the state’s timber industry.

Upon arriving, the first place we checked out is also the place people most often associate with Nacogdoches: Stephen F. Austin State University. Founded in 1921, it is one of 4 state universities in Texas not associated with a university system.

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Starting my journey into the land of the Lumberjacks!

The first place we stepped into was their student center while trying to find a bite to eat. Although the food court was closed, it looked like a great place during the school year to catch a bite between classes, or even to meet up with friends to study!

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Not one restaurant was open here except for one pizza place around the corner. :/

Walking thru the building, we strolled thru the front part of their student center. It looked quite modern and inviting for both prospective and current students alike.

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The front part of the student center.

Seeing that there weren’t any real viable options for lunch, we decided to eat off campus. After coming back, we first went to the Old Stone Fort, located right across from the Student Center. The Old Stone Fort, built in 1936, is an exact replica of a house that served many roles in the history of Nacogdoches. The original house it was modeled after was built in 1788, and was located in present day downtown until it got demolished in 1902. Since its opening, this replica structure has served as a museum displaying artifacts from the early days of Nacogdoches and Texas.

Upon entering and signing the visitor register, we started our journey into East Texas history. Original artifacts belonging to the owners of the house were displayed, and explanations of how the Stone Fort played into the history of the city were well written. It provided us with a solid introduction into the stories of the early days.

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SFA did a great job with organizing everything into an easy to understand format.

There were two rooms on the first floor. Upon getting done looking at the first room, we could hear a whole group of kids outside about to enter, presumably on a field trip. We elected to check out the second floor and avoid the looming traffic jam.

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A bed used by Nacogdochian Thomas Rusk in the 1800s. Rusk held many roles, including Republic of Texas house representative and US Senator.

The second floor was mainly home to the temporary exhibits that the museum hosts. The one that was presently featured was about everyday carry, and the items that people toted with them on a daily basis. Starting with the early settlers, to a Civil War soldier’s load out, the artifacts really highlighted how much different of an era we live in now compared to then.

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It was cool seeing what people used on an everyday basis back in the day!
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That .44 caliber revolver was the same model carried by Union troops during the Civil War.

At the end of the everyday carry exhibit was an interactive area. There was a camera and photo printer, and visitors were encouraged to take a picture of what was in their pocket, print it out, and tape it on a board. Interactive exhibits are always a great way to engage the museum-goers, especially the younger folks!

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Upon finishing up upstairs, we went back down and checked out the remaining room. It contained artifacts that were mainly from the early 20th century, such as a Thomas Edison Amberola, which played music from a cylinder shaped “record”. First time I have seen something of this type!

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I’d love to mess with one of these just to hear how the sound quality is.

After leaving the Stone Fort, we checked out some of the buildings that comprise SFA. The first place we went to was the E.L. Miller science building.

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A miniature oil derrick pump located outside the science building.

Upon entering, my first impression was that the building was quite old. However, it seemed well maintained and tidy. Student projects lined the walls.

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Although this building was on the older side, everything seemed up to snuff!

One of the lecture hall doors was open, and I went on in to take a look. There were animal heads along the back wall, a unique decoration that I have not seen before in a usually boring and dull college classroom!

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Some pretty neat animal heads, along with a description beneath each one of them.

Next, it was off to their business school, the Nelson Rusche College of Business. A much newer structure, it seemed to serve as a good environment to learn the fundamentals of the business and enterprise world.

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The entrance to the business school.

Their classrooms were adequately sized, although smaller than that of UT Dallas. All in all, they seemed to be pretty decent considering the high cost of tuition at any of of these schools.

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In the middle of the two main classroom hallways on the first floor was a commons area, equipped with sofas and tables. As I recall, almost every table had an electrical outlet, making it a great place to catch up on homework or meet up for a group project.

After leaving the business building, we swung by the library briefly as our last stop. Their library, much like the science building, seemed to be quite dated. Only a few students were seen there, mainly because the semester was over.

Upon leaving SFA, we went to go check out downtown. Their downtown area was quite vibrant compared to many of the other downtowns I’ve been to in the past! A substantial number of businesses were open, and there were quite a few people seen walking around. What was a bit unusual though, was their courthouse. While most county seats have their courthouse in the center of the town square, Nacogdoches County opted to put theirs right off the main thoroughfare on the edge of downtown. Their courthouse was also the least attractive one I have seen to date. There were no real design features, just a Days Inn-like building of tan color.

Driving around downtown, we checked out our last point of interest, which dealt with the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. When Columbia exploded in February of 2003, with seven crew members on-board, the debris was scattered far and wide as it fell back down to Earth. Many chunks of wreckage fell in Nacogdoches, with one piece reportedly being as big as a car hood. The Masons erected a nice little memorial right next to their lodge that brings light to that sad day in history.

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Right behind the memorial is a drive thru lane for a bank. A few chunks of debris reportedly fell there. I saw somewhere online that there was a silver plate marking the exact spot; however it was nowhere to be seen.

After finishing up downtown, we headed home. This was a very relaxing and enjoyable trip, and it gave me the chance to finally see SFA for myself. As a college town, I would say it’s not bad at all; although, there is definitely less to do here than say, in Waco. Of course, if you are like me, and simply enjoy seeing the different cities and towns that make up our state, then Nacogdoches presents itself as a place that has a rich history and friendly people. This is all while having more trees than you could care to see!

 

 

Visiting the Heart of Texas

This past Saturday, I did a cross country flight to go see another Texas county. We have been experiencing quite a bit of crazy spring weather over the past few weeks, so it was nice to have a day of good flying conditions. I chose to visit a place that has been on my Texas list for a while now- the city of Brady, located about 80 miles to the east of San Angelo. Brady isn’t just any ole’ city in Texas- it is the city that is closest to the geographical center of the state! With a population of just under 5500 people, “The Heart of Texas” was a destination that I definitely wanted to explore.

After a one and a half hour flight, my buddy Tom and I touched down at the Brady Curtis Field Municipal Airport. Upon securing the airplane, we hopped in the crew car and headed off to town!

The first place we checked out after lunch at Sonic was the McCulloch County Courthouse. Like most small towns, the courthouse was located in the center of the town square. Texas has some of the most interesting and elegant courthouse designs – and this was certainly no exception!

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The McCulloch County Courthouse.

The design was somewhat similar to the Parker County Courthouse in Weatherford, yet had a taste of the one in Lampasas County, in Lampasas. Built in 1899, this was the second courthouse to serve McCulloch County, which encompasses over 1000 square miles. This courthouse was also added to the National Register of Historic Places back in 1977 – a distinction well deserved given the age of the building and the role it played in the history of the county.

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Here’s something you don’t see everyday! A World War II era howitzer in very good condition just sitting here, basking in the Texas sun.

On the grounds of the courthouse was a granite marker bringing light to Brady’s claim to fame – it being “The Heart of Texas”. While the actual geographical center of the state is about 20 miles to the northwest, Brady is the closest city to there. Here is where I got my stereotypical tourist photo taken!

After getting done exploring the courthouse, Tom and I walked around the town square. Compared to some of the other small towns I’ve been to, Brady seems to have a slightly bigger downtown area than most.

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Like most small towns, not too much was going on and not many people were seen.

Although most of the businesses were closed, there was one antique shop that was open. This place, D&J’s Good Ole Days, was actually listed on TripAdvisor when I did my planning for this excursion. I didn’t expect it to be open, but since it was, we waltzed on in to see what they had to offer.

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Out of all the small town antique shops I’ve been to, this one is the coolest by far. It spans the length of three storefronts, and is packed to the gills with trinkets and artifacts from mainly the 20th century. To look at all these objects and realize that each and every one of them has a story behind it is nothing short of incredible.

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One could literally spend hours and hours in here just digging for treasures.
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Everything from old furniture to deer heads can be found at this place. 

They even had a section for vintage oil bottles..who would have thought that would be a collector’s item? I’m sure the stuff inside was of much better quality than what is sold now. Hell, just the packaging itself looks cool.

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I would have hung around this place for a bit longer, but it was about time to start heading back to the airport. Departing downtown, we passed by the city hall. Didn’t get a photo, but it was bigger than I initially thought. Usually the city hall of these small towns are nothing more than a tiny building, but this one was quite sizeable.

Once back at the airport, we realized that there was no self serve fuel pump to refuel the plane prior to departure, and that the airport attendant had gone home for the day! The door to a big hangar housing a DC-3 airliner was open though, and I tracked down a guy and his pre-teen son working inside who helped me contact someone to come out here.

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No one else was seen at the airport, but we managed to find two folks inside working on a super cool plane. 

While waiting, they were gracious enough to let Tom and I climb on board and check the plane out! The DC-3 isn’t just any airliner – it was the plane that revolutionized air travel back in the 1930s. I was beyond excited to have the opportunity to check out such an interesting piece of aviation history.

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Trying to get my glamorous cockpit window shot. 
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The DC-3 has worn many hats through the years. 

A twin engined tailwheel bird, it was capable of carrying anywhere from 21-32 passengers. This particular model was being restored after having sat here on the field for a few years.

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A look into the glory days of commercial air travel.

The cockpit contained a mixture of both vintage and modern equipment. While there was some newly installed gear, such as the flight instruments and a panel mounted GPS system, there was plenty of the original design intact as well. The half steering wheel shaped yoke is something that isn’t seen anymore, and those thrust levers can only mean DC-3!

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Unfortunately, this plane wasn’t available for rental today!  Would have been super cool to take her up for a spin. 

Talking with the guy there, he told me how he was working on restoring this plane for the owner. Parts were nicely arranged along the hangar floor, a seemingly endless project to get her flying again. From what I gathered, the light was starting to be seen at the end of the tunnel. The engine work was getting close to being finished, and the propeller was about to be sent off to a shop for an overhaul.

Before long, the fueler had arrived and got us all set for our journey back home. After paying the tab, we departed without having any further delays. Although the flight back was somewhat bumpy thanks to a low level jet that was moving through Texas, we made it back in just over an hour due to a nice tailwind.

All in all, this was a very successful trip. Sure, there was a delay, but what I have found is that some of the rather memorable things I’ve done have stemmed from a delay of some sort. The things you see and the people you meet while simply lingering around the airport can sometimes be just outright interesting. In many of these small towns, there isn’t too much to do(if anything), but there was definitely quite a bit that was seen on this excursion! On top of that, I now have bragging rights about having visited a place that is super close to the center of the best state in the country!

 

 

The Western White House

This past Saturday, I finally got to go visit a place that’s been sitting on my Texas trip list, the tiny town of Crawford. Thoughts of visiting this place had originally hatched back in March, when I saw a road sign for there while heading back to the airport from neighboring Bosque County. My former coworker Holly, who is from Valley Mills, had also suggested that I check out the Coffee Shop Cafe, a pretty well known restaurant only 10 minutes from Crawford. The deal was sealed from there!

Best known as the location of former President George W. Bush’s ranch, Crawford sits about 20 miles to the west of Waco. With a population of less than 800 people, this was one of the least populated towns I have seen to date.

Being that Crawford didn’t have its own airfield, I landed at the Waco Regional Airport. The winds aloft were close to calm that day, and combined with a high pressure system made for a pretty smooth ride in. Upon landing, I was expecting to grab the crew car and head off to see the “Western White House”, but unfortunately another pilot had taken it and wouldn’t be back until an hour later. Not wanting to let this time slip by, I decided to see if I could get a tour of the control tower located at the airline terminal.

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The control tower at the Waco airport.

The controller that I spoke to on the phone was very friendly, and told me to just come over and they would let me in. It took me about 5 minutes to walk from the FBO(private aircraft terminal) to the airline terminal right down the road. Upon entering, I pressed the buzzer at the door going up to the tower, and was escorted in.

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Although this tower shows its age, the equipment inside is very modern and the staff well trained! My tour guide, one of the controllers, first showed me their Terminal Radar Approach Control(TRACON). The TRACON is a small, dark room with radar scopes and about 3-4 controllers. They talk to aircraft that are either departing, arriving, or passing thru Waco’s airspace. Everyone was laid back, and I got to ask them about some of the unique aspects of their airspace, and see the equipment they use to safely guide planes to where they need to go. Having toured the Dallas/Fort Worth TRACON, I have to say that although this is a small facility, they appeared to be just as professional and knowledgeable as the D/FW guys.

After spending about 10 minutes in TRACON, we then went up to the tower cab. The place where the best view of the airport is, only one controller was up there directing traffic. With only 5 airline flights a day, Waco isn’t busy like DFW Airport or even Love Field. The majority of the traffic are general aviation flights, with corporate jets and piston aircraft alike using the field.

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These folks have a nice view..almost as nice of a view as that of a pilot! (;

The controller working up there was awesome and answered all of my questions regarding tower operations, procedures, and how departing aircraft are entered into the system if they wish to be worked by air traffic control. These folks have a sharp mind, as there is little room for error.

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My tour guide and I, with the general aviation ramp in the background.

I didn’t want to keep them away from their job for too long, so I headed back to the FBO after about 30 minutes. A bit after, the crew car finally came back, and I set out on my journey to Crawford.

The drive took about 25 minutes, and was quite pleasant. Not many cars were headed that way, and shortly I had arrived. As I was entering town, I passed by the Crawford Peace House. The Peace House was a residential house that was used as a base of sorts by anti-war protesters during Bush’s tenure. Protesters would eat and organize there before heading out. Before departing on this trip, I had done some research on the current state of the place, and it turned out that the house was on the verge of being auctioned off due to foreclosure. When I passed by it, there were no signs of it ever being a staging ground for people voicing dissent. Only one car was seen outside, and had someone not pointed it out(or done some research), one couldn’t tell it apart from the other houses in town.

As I kept on driving in, I saw their downtown area. Calling it an area is already stretching the word, as it was the smallest downtown I have seen to date! It is comprised of one side of one street.

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This is the entirety of their downtown!

This place was very busy whenever Bush was here back when he was in office, but now it is just short of being a ghost town. I only saw one shop advertising Bush memorabilia, and they were closed.

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The only place in Crawford still selling Bush memorabilia.

Out of the five buildings that make up this area, one of them is their city hall and sole police station. I wonder what the history of the city hall building is – it looked like it was a retail store at some point in time.

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That’s sure a small city hall..and that police station is probably just a room or two!

There was also a nice little mural titled “The Spirit of America”. It went to show the things that represent this little town – home of George and Laura Bush, the Crawford High School Pirates, and the hard work of the American farmer.

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Small town murals are some of my favorite forms of public art.

After getting done seeing downtown, my original plan was to drive to Bush’s ranch, located about 17 minutes away. However, the delay from waiting on the crew car made that a no-go, compounded by the fact that you can’t really see his ranch other than a guard shack. Instead, I decided to break for lunch at the Coffee Shop Cafe, located in the nearby town of McGregor.

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Heading south to McGregor.

The drive south to McGregor took about 10 minutes. Light traffic made driving down the two lane road quite peaceful. By the time I could feel my hunger, I had already pulled up to the front doors of the Coffee Shop Cafe.

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Opened in 1998, Coffee Shop Cafe is one of the most well known restaurants in the area. In fact, this joint is such a part of local culture that even George Bush, his staffers, and foreign heads of state were known to stop by!

Being that it was lunchtime, I opted for their country buffet line. Since I was vegetarian, I could only get the non meat items. However, I didn’t feel left out in the least. In addition to a salad bar, they had a wealth of different sides, including mashed potatoes, corn, yams, green beans, and rice.

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Plenty of good tasting food left, even at around 2 PM!

The food was delicious, however it was on the lighter tasting side compared to what I usually eat. This is the kind of grub that after a round or two you will be filled up..maybe so full that you don’t have room for dessert!

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Pretty far from containing a lot of salt. Solid country cooking.

Speaking of dessert, that is something they are well known for. Co-owner Valerie mentioned to me that their pies have been named some of the best in Texas by several magazines. On top of that, Holly had mentioned the pies during her recommendation of this place to me as well. Due to time constraints, I wasn’t able to get any, but it will definitely be on the table for next time.

Before leaving, I took a few minutes to check out some of their interior decorations. The whole restaurant is themed after ‘W, and they did a great job piecing together memorabilia to provide customers with a one-of-a-kind dining experience.

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They even sell Bush memorabilia and t-shirts.

Upon leaving the Coffee Shop Cafe, it was time to start heading back. The drive to the Waco Regional Airport took around 30 minutes. On the way back, I passed thru the southwest side of Waco, somewhere I had not been to in all my visits to Bear Country!

Once back at the airport, the flight home was quite bumpy due to mid day heating, but otherwise uneventful. In summary, this was a great trip, in spite of the unexpected delay right at the start. I don’t think I really missed out on anything by skipping the drive to the Bush ranch, but it might be something I go see in the future if I am ever in Crawford again(super unlikely). However, McGregor and the Coffee Shop Cafe is now on my list of places to visit should I be in the mood for some delicious country cooking!

Wait…did I just plan my next visit there by saying that?

The Twin Cities of the South

Sunday, the family and I went on a road trip to see what could possibly be one of the more interesting cities in the state – Texarkana, located along the Texas-Arkansas border. This trip had been in the works for a while – being that my mother finally had time to come along after the tax season rush presented this weekend as a great opportunity to do a mini getaway.

Located about 180 miles to the northeast of Dallas, Texarkana has one unique layout. The western half of the city is in the Lone Star State, while the eastern half is in the Natural State. There is Texarkana,TX , and Texarkana,AR , both with their own individual city governments, police departments, and school districts. The Texas portion is part of Bowie County, while the Arkansas portion resides in Miller County. Combined population of both cities is close to 143,500 people.

The drive on Interstate 30 took about three hours. Since it was a Sunday morning, traffic was light. Before we knew it, we had arrived in “The Twin Cities of the South”. Since we had limited time, we dove right in!

The first place we checked out was the U.S. Post Office and Federal Courthouse, on State Line Avenue. Not just any ole’ federal building, this is the only one of its kind to straddle state lines. Built in 1933, the base is made from Texas pink granite while the limestone walls come from Arkansas.

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A pretty grand building!

Although the place wasn’t open today, there was the “Photographer’s Island”, a marker that depicted the state line right in front of the building. It made for a great photo op, and I saw quite a few people taking selfies with one leg in each state.

Upon getting my touristy photo taken, we walked down State Line Avenue, when we accidentally came upon our next point of interest, the abandoned Hotel Grim. Once I saw it in person, I knew that they couldn’t have chosen a better name for the place. It’s as if though someone predicted the condition the building would be in today.

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The abandoned Hotel Grim.

Located on the Texas side of the street, this now grim looking structure was built in 1925. It contains 8 stories, and was quite popular back in the 30s and 40s. According to some quick Google research I did, the hotel featured a restaurant, barber shop, drug store, and even a rooftop garden that could be used for ballroom duty. Now it just stands there, a reminder of a bygone era. The door behind the locked grille happened to be open, and I was able to peek in thru the grille. Although there was graffiti and trash everywhere, I could see the lobby and second floor, and was able to imagine how busy it must have been when it was open.

In spite of me seeing a sign advertising a redevelopment of Grim as luxury apartments, there were no signs that construction had begun or was about to begin. Broken windows dotted the building, and water leaked from open windows as we walked around the structure.

Leaving there, we were all getting a bit hungry, so we decided to stop for lunch. We quickly decided on Joe’s Italian, located right across from the post office on the Arkansas side of the street. Many folks were seen entering, so we figured it would be pretty decent food.

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Delicious food at a reasonable price.

Turned out that decent didn’t do it justice at all! I ordered their fettuccine alfredo, and while it was delicious, the rolls were the best I have indulged in to date anywhere! Before I ate here, my top award went to the bread sticks of Fazoli’s Italian, but Joe’s is even more delicious. They aren’t dry like what is found at Olive Garden, and not too oily, like at Fazoli’s. Ended up getting 4 refills.

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These rolls were hands down the best I’ve had to date!

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After getting stuffed, we drove around the downtown area, and explored the various streets that made up their city center. Judging from all the places I’ve visited, I’d say Texarkana has a pretty decent downtown. The streets are well maintained and there aren’t many up slopes and down slopes, like what was seen in Tyler. Makes the drive that much more pleasant. We saw Union Station, another abandoned hotel, and two jails. If there’s anything that’s missing though, it’s people. There wasn’t anybody to be seen once we left the post office/photographer’s island area.

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The Miller County Courthouse located in the Arkansas part of town.

The next stop was the Texarkana Regional Airport. Usually this would be the first and last place I would be at if I flew in, but since we did a road trip it was just a normal point of interest. Never landed here(yet), but it just might happen one of these days on a Joe’s Italian lunch run!

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The exterior of the terminal looks straight out of a 80s film.

Having two runways, this airport is serviced by American Eagle with nonstop flights to DFW Airport. Like most small town airports, the terminal was pretty quiet when we walked in, probably because the next flight out didn’t leave until around 6 in the evening. There was just one baggage carousel, and one mini TSA checkpoint.

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Except for a rental car desk open, there wasn’t anything going on. That luggage scale though! #vintage

One thing this place doesn’t have is modern decor. The furniture didn’t seem to be quite in the year 2018, and last I checked Continental Airlines has been out of business for quite a few years!

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Either Continental is still in business(not possible) or someone just let this sign be for quite a few years now(totally possible).

Even the control tower didn’t look too modern. That being said, looks are just one thing. As long as the guys up there are able to do their jobs and have working equipment in a comfortable environment, there isn’t too much that can be asked for.

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If I had more time, I would look into touring the tower! I’m pretty sure the equipment inside is definitely modern, in spite of the exterior look.

After leaving the airport, our final place we checked out was Texarkana College, a two year community college located on the Texas side of town. This college opened in 1927, and is the alma mater of billionaire Ross Perot. The main purpose of us visiting was to see the Perot Leadership Museum, an exhibit in the library’s common area that talked about the life of Perot and his contributions to the community.

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This exhibit was easy to understand and interesting.

Born in Texarkana, Perot attended college here before heading to the U.S. Naval Academy. When he was about to get discharged from the Navy, he met an employee of IBM and went to work there. He had tons of ideas during his tenure at IBM, many of which got ignored by superiors. Perot took a leap of faith and started his own company, which eventually became one of the most known in the world.

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Ross Perot father’s cotton sales office.

Perot also ran for President of the United States back in the 90s, and the exhibit talked about his campaign, and how as a third party he was able to secure an impressive amount of votes.

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Ross is one accomplished man with that “can-do” attitude!

The exhibit took us about 15 minutes to look over, but it was presented in a way that was informative yet not dry. For someone that didn’t know too much about Ross Perot prior, I was able to gain quite a bit of information about his life and the work that he did.

Since we were already on campus, we also walked around. The buildings of Texarkana College are not modern by any means, but they seem to be pretty well maintained judging by the exterior. We strolled by the health occupations and science buildings, and peeking in they kind of resembled a high school hallway more so than a college. The classrooms were pretty tightly spaced between each other.

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With plenty of green all around campus, the air was pretty fresh for it being located in the city!

Upon getting done there, we headed back to Dallas. Traffic was light so we made it back in less than three hours. This was a pretty fun and cool trip, in part since I hadn’t done a road trip to the Texas-Arkansas border in over ten years. Flew over the city on my way to Memphis last summer, but never landed to explore this one of a kind place. I plan to be back in the East Texas area soon, to check out Nacogdoches and Stephen F. Austin University!

A Trip Down Memory Lane

This past Sunday, I had a bit of time to spare before heading out with the family. While browsing around online, I came across an urban exploration video of the now demolished Six Flags Mall in Arlington. Seeing that, it suddenly made me think of a place that is full of memories that I could go visit: Valley View Mall, located less than 5 miles from the house.

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The huge sign overlooking Highway 635 with an almost faded reminder of Sears.

Opening in the summer of 1973 and located right off Highway 635, Valley View Mall was poised for success from the start.  It had pretty much all the stores an average shopper would visit, not to mention a super accessible location. Business was very good until the mid 2000s, when the concept of the mall started to fade out. Valley View was one of the first victims of this trend, with Galleria Dallas located right down the road and upscale NorthPark Center less than 7 miles away.  Stores started to gradually close, until in 2012 the mall was sold to a development group. Their plan was (and still is) to demolish the mall and put a luxury shopping and apartment development in its place, called Dallas Midtown. The demolition finally started last year, but as of now has been put on hold while the developer settles some legal issues with the City of Dallas. Worked out well I guess, since it gave me a chance to see the mall for what could perhaps be the last time!

When I drove in, I saw the first victim of the demolition. The Macy’s store (formerly Foley’s) had already been mostly razed. I still remember visiting here as an elementary school aged child, with my mother buying clothes there and me tagging along during the summer. I even bought my fifth grade graduation outfit here. The store closed in 2007, and has been vacant since.

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The Macy’s is just about gone.

Driving around to the other side of the mall, I saw the last department store to close. Sears, having been in business even before the mall opened, finally shut its doors in June of last year. It had three stories and was where I completed driver’s education. In the times I’ve been in there, business has never been super good, but it was a pretty reliable place to go if you needed some tools or wanted to buy a new refrigerator. In its parking lot was one of those travelling amusement parks, with different rides and games. Those parks have been in and out of the mall for many years now. Guess it’s a way to try and boost business.

I parked my car by the entrance next to the former Sears store and walked in. The only part of the mall still open is the Sears wing and one of the hallways next to it. Even the Chinese restaurant(originally a Luby’s Cafeteria) that seemed to have been around for ages was all boarded up.

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Business wasn’t too good for New China Grille, but they held on for well over 10 years.

Walking in, I could see that there were still 1-2 shops open. A Taekwondo/dance school had people in there congregating, and there was a snack stand in there. However, the lack of a warm ambiance that the mall once had was very visible.

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The former Champs Sports store. Once upon a time, people would line up outside here on sneaker release days.
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These circular benches have been around since I was a kid. 

As I came to the center of the mall, the concierge desk was still there, but there were no security officers, or anyone for that matter stationed there. The cameras and monitors were all still on, staring into the mostly empty space.

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I still remember my mom stopping by here to pick up a copy of Dallas Child way back in the day.

The elevators and escalators to the first floor were all boarded up, and there were only two stores open in the center space. One of them was a Chinese artifacts shop, which has been in the mall for over ten years! The guy working inside said that he did not know when the mall would finally be demolished. A sign outside the store read “closing sale, everything discounted”. The other place sold coasters, pillows, and other handmade artifacts made by a disabled veteran. Much like the Chinese shop, the owner wasn’t certain as to when Valley View would come down. Business was dead at both of these stores, a sad reality to the situation at hand.

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Came across this broken advertisement board, with the ad rotation mechanism at the top still spinning.

The only place where business can really be found is at the AMC Theater. Opened in 2004, this theater has 16 screens and is the only anchor business still operating. When I went up to the third floor where it is located, I could see a steady stream of people coming and going.

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The only place here where a decent amount of people can still be found.

Looking down from there, I got a very good glimpse of the food court on the first floor, and the sealed off shops on the second floor. Up until the second floor was shut off, there was “The Gallery at Midtown”, where local artists would set up their studios in the vacant stores. Many times, they could be seen working on their paintings, while the hallway served as a gallery of sorts. There would be events, auctions, and even art classes held there. It really provided a boost in foot traffic, even if those folks weren’t spending any money with mall businesses.

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Even 10 years ago, this place was filled with shoppers!

In an abandoned mall like this, you are bound to find some really odd things. One of them was the Chatter Box Cafe, located on the other open hallway leading to the AMC parking lot. An Auntie Anne’s Pretzels shop way back, I recall that Chatter Box took over as early as 2011 after the storefront sat vacant for a few years. However, there was no sign that it was an actual operating business. The business sign was up, a bit of equipment sat there, and even the lights on, but no commerce was happening.

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One strange sight. I have never seen Chatter Box Cafe open in my many years of passing by.

Equally as eerie was the abandoned Santa’s village on the first floor, in front of an empty fountain. It once was a hub of happiness during the Christmas shopping season, where parents would take their kids to have their photo taken with Saint Nick. Now it just sits there, like an unused toy waiting to be discarded.

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On my way out, I passed by an unique statue of a soldier reading a letter sent from his family. Valley View used to have a World War II uniform and artifact museum in one of the empty stores, but even that is now long gone. This statue didn’t use to be in the same spot,though. When the second floor was open, it was located in the Dillard’s wing, by the art galleries.

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One nice display of public art in the midst of the depressing background.

With both the developer and the city wanting this mall to come down as soon as possible, time is limited for Valley View Mall. This place held many memories for me – the place where I took driving lessons, location of my first high school part time job, countless shopping trips with family as a kid, among many others. The same could be said for many other people, and it is a sore reminder of how the landscape of retail and malls in general are changing.

Experience and Remember: The Dallas Holocaust Museum

This past Saturday, I was going to fly out to see the city of San Marcos, but a weather system and fatigue from a busy work week made me decide to stay in town. The time was not wasted, however. I visited a place that I have passed by many times while riding the light rail into the downtown area, the Dallas Holocaust Museum. I wanted to see the museum, as the Holocaust had always been an event in history that struck my interest. How it was possible for a government to massacre so many humans in such a ruthless and torturous manner was just incomprehensible.

I began my journey the same way I usually do when heading to a destination in the city center: by boarding the DART green line train at the Downtown Farmers Branch station. Parking woes and fighting people on the highway on a Saturday was something I easily could do without. The trip took about 35 minutes, and I disembarked at the West End station. From there, it was about a 5 minute walk to the museum.

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The Dallas Holocaust Museum. They are building a new, bigger building right across the street.

Upon entering, I saw that this was a multi use building, with the museum occupying only the first floor. I normally would have to pay to get in, however since I was a Bank of America cardholder, I get free admission to a number of museums across the country on the first full weekend of each month, and this was one of them. After showing my bank card, I was handed an audio tour device, which would serve as my tour guide as I traversed the exhibits.

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Surprisingly easy to use and was super detailed in explaining the content.

The museum was structured around one day in the Holocaust – April 19, 1943.

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Although the exhibit didn’t seem to be in any particular order(from what I gathered), it was easy to follow and talked about the Holocaust mainly by event. The first section I came to talked about the three brave men that stopped the twentieth train convoy bound for the Auschwitz death camp on April 19th. The only mass breakout ever to happen on a death camp bound train, these men did it only with a lantern, a pair of pliers, and a pistol. Although they sought assistance from underground resistance groups, assistance was denied due to possible retaliation. 223 people escaped, of which 118 ultimately survived the Holocaust.

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In the middle are the three men that coordinated the breakout. The quote on the wall was written by George Livchitz, one of the three.
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Special skills was sometimes a lifesaver in a concentration camp. In this case, this person survived the concentration camp by making jewelry and watches for the Nazis.

As I moved on, a jumpsuit caught my eye. Having studied the Holocaust in school and read books such as Night, I had an understanding of the horrors of the camps. However, when I saw the jumpsuit and various other artifacts on display such as shoes and eating utensils, it all became very real for me the horrors that the human race can unleash.

Most of those shoes on display were worn by kids. The Nazis didn’t care if these prisoners were young or old, they were tortured the same. If they got any food at all, it was so little that it was definitely not enough to sustain life.

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Some of the eating utensils that prisoners used to eat the scant amount of food they got.

I then saw a red boxcar. This boxcar was the first European one to be shipped to the United States. It was of the same type that was used to transport thousands of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and anyone else the Nazi Party sought unfit to the camps.

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This very boxcar likely transported people to unspeakable torture, and for many, death.

The audio guide said that the undercarriage of the boxcar was severely damaged at some point in time, and was restored to its original condition as best possible to provide us with the most accurate picture.

Next, I learned about the ghettos. These enclosed living districts were designed to segregate Jews from the rest of the population. In the ghettos, disease and hunger ran rampant. This diagram shows why clearly.

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While the normal food ration for Germans was 2514 calories, Jews only got a measly 184. That less than 8% of what the “superior race” got! This diagram and the many pictures in the exhibit helped me understand life in the ghettos and how the Nazis were slowly carrying out the demise of these people.

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All Jews were forced to wear this star whenever they went out identifying them to the public as such.

April 19th was also the date of the Bermuda Conference. Held at the British Territory of Bermuda, it was a meeting between delegates of the United States and the United Kingdom. The topic at hand was how to save the Jews who were in Nazi occupied Europe. Although the topic was discussed, this meeting failed to stop the concentration camps and the Nazi Party. The conference became the subject of much criticism, with people labeling it as a “program of inaction”.

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Pictures and newspaper clippings talking about the Bermuda Conference.

Finishing up the core exhibit was the memorial room. Names on the wall listed the family members of people that died in the Holocaust, while a granite memorial in the middle bears a resemblance poem for the people that died in this tragic event.

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Next to the memorial, there was a theater that was showing a documentary. I did not stop in to watch, but there were quite a few people who had.

I then walked back into the lobby area. On the other side of the museum was the special exhibit section. They were showing a photo collection detailing the internment of Japanese Americans by the U.S. Government during World War II. Although they weren’t physically tortured or sent to death like the Jews, it illustrated a very dark time in American history, when the color of your skin or your ancestry could make you be viewed as a traitor to your country. The photos were very well captured, and the exhibit well organized. (photography was not allowed in the special exhibit area)

Before leaving, I stopped by the mini gift shop, right next to the admissions counter. They sell various souvenirs and literature, ranging from lapel pins and t-shirts to books and posters. I opted for a t-shirt. The designs they offered were pretty cool!

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A shirt with a real message.

From there, I rode the train back to mi casa. Although this was one of the smaller museums I have been to, few have been as thought provoking as this one. As perhaps best said in the words of philosopher George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” That saying could not be more true, and this museum goes far in ensuring that this dark side of history is known by the masses so that such horror will never happen again.

 

A Friday in Bosque County

Since I was off this past Friday, I decided to go flying and explore another small town. Continuing on my journey of knocking out all the counties in Texas, I settled on a place just to the northwest of Waco, Bosque County. I was just in the Waco area during Spring Break, when I went to check out the town of Marlin.

During the planning for this trip, I realized that the airports there didn’t have loaner cars available for use, inhibiting me from really doing any exploring outside of the airport unless I called a cab or something. Wasn’t too keen about doing that. Decided to fly to Waco Regional Airport instead and make the drive. Waco is always a great place to land, especially when visiting the surrounding counties and small towns.

Due to a healthy tailwind, I was only in the air for about 40 minutes from takeoff to touchdown. Although the county seat of Bosque County is Meridian, it would be over a 45 minute drive to get there. On top of that, there didn’t really appear to be anything worth seeing there, except perhaps the courthouse. I opted for somewhere closer instead- Clifton, which is the largest town in the county. After landing, it was about a 30 minute drive into the city center. Rolling hills dotted the landscape along the way.

Upon entering “The Norwegian Capital of Texas”, I started exploring the downtown area on foot after a quick drive around. Clifton seems like the typical sleepy small town, however there is somewhat of an industrial ambiance to it. When I walked around the downtown square, it sure had that small town feel to it. People were chatting outside the shops, and some families were taking their kids to lunch at the local town diner.

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Downtown Clifton.

I came upon a vintage theater. Who knows how long it has been around! According to a former coworker that is familiar with the area, they still show movies here every Friday and Saturday.

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That marquee is accurate – this place is truly a wrinkle in time.

As I came to the edge of the downtown area, it shifted to more of an industrial development, with various shops and warehouses replacing antique shops and diners.

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Came upon this old 50s Chevy just sitting there in front of a sheet metal shop.

I also stopped by Heritage Plaza, which is located next to the post office. There was a fountain with some nice landscaping. In the middle was a statue of a settler riding a horse, who is drinking from the fountain. Did some research and found out the fountain water is designed to represent the Bosque River, which passes thru Clifton and runs 115 miles!

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A peaceful little area. There was also a small veterans memorial right next to it.

Upon getting done exploring there, I then went to the Bosque County Museum, located about 5 minutes away from downtown. I didn’t go inside due to time constraints, but did check out the Joseph Olson log cabin outside.

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It’d be hard living in one of these – especially with no AC!

You are probably wondering who Joseph Olson is. One of the many Norwegian immigrants to settle in Bosque County, him and his family arrived in 1858 and made the county their home. This cabin remained in the possession of family members and other people until finally it was donated to the Bosque County Museum in 1985 and restored. This cabin gave a great glimpse into the kind of living conditions back then, and what life was like as a new immigrant to a newly annexed state.

After leaving the museum, I started to head back to Waco, stopping in the tiny town of Valley Mills along the way.  With a population of barely 1000 people, this town practically only occupies a few streets, if that! (or so it seems) Out of curiosity, I really wanted to stop by the City Hall, just to see how small it was. It sure was small, but what really caught my eye was their library.

This house of knowledge was the smallest I have seen to date! I stepped inside and talked to the librarian, Debbie. She told me that she is the only librarian, which made perfect sense considering the size. There was the main room, which I was in upon entering, and a back room used for activities and such. All the walls were covered in shelving, and there were some shelves in the middle as well. Everything was well organized. They even had a few computers for public access. To give some perspective about how small this town really is, I mentioned to Debbie the name of a former coworker who is from Valley Mills, and she immediately knew of her. That is something that is almost unheard of in a big city!

Following the library, I walked around their one street “downtown” area. Quite a few of the businesses were closed that day, but since that street also appears to be their main thoroughfare, there were no shortage of cars driving by. For a town that has so few residents, it sure feels alive.

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I enjoy seeing all these murals found primarily in the small towns!

As I recall, there was a bank, antique shop, chamber of commerce, and a few other businesses in the square.

Upon finishing up downtown, I drove back to the Waco Regional Airport and flew home. This was a pretty fun trip, as I got to see two towns and a county that many Texans have not even heard of. Although there wasn’t much to do in the way of touristy stuff, just seeing the different way of life that exists in these small towns makes it worthwhile. I know I will be back at the Waco airport soon – since on the drive back, I saw a sign for a road leading to the town of Crawford. The place where former President George W. Bush’s ranch is, I plan to check the town out sometime in the near future!