Sunday, March 16, 2003                       Abilene, TX to Fort Stockton, TX

After Saturday's long ride, I had good reason to make Sunday a rest day. Still, I considered a route in Best Bike Rides Texas just south of Abilene that would take me through Buffalo Gap. The lazy side of me won out, but that was just as well. When I drove through Buffalo Gap,  there was some kind of festival going on, and the roads were packed with cars. I kept driving, swinging through a few more counties on the northwest corner of Texas Hill Country. I walked around and took pictures in Brady.

Near the geographic center of the state, Brady proudly proclaimed itself the Heart of Texas.

Brady was the seat of McCulloch County.

The old McCulloch County Jail looked like a castle.

Evridge's store had this picturesque wall mural.

I don't think this mariachi band has performed in a while... they're kind of rusty!

The bluebonnets  were in bloom.

Thirty miles down the road, I spent time in Mason.

Downtown was dominated by the Mason County Courthouse.

After photographing the downtown area, I decided to follow a sign that said Fort Mason  was six blocks. What the sign didn't say was that it was a steep six blocks. I definitely had a good hike to make up for not riding. When I got to the fort, I was disappointed that there wasn't much left of it except for some deteriorating  foundations and a reconstructed officers quarters. Fort Mason is perhaps most notable as Robert E. Lee's last command in the U.S. Army.

Fort Mason was strategically located atop Post Hill.

This officers quarters  was reconstructed on an original foundation using  stone previously  used in fort buildings.

On the way back downtown, I stopped to look at a statue of a dog and a boy in front of the library--it was Old Yeller! The book's author, Fred Gipson, hailed from Mason.  When I was a kid, I cried when I saw the end of that movie. Since our family got a yellow lab years later, I don't think I could watch it again. The bricks surrounding the statue bore the names of sponsors, including Governor George W. Bush, Laura Bush  and many members of the Gipson family. There were also unusual names such as Kudo, Rowdy, Princess, Overall  and Ugly--bricks honoring dogs past and present. The afternoon sun was not ideal for a  good photo (except of the dog's well-lit hindquarters), but I tried.

Time was running out for my Texas adventure, but I still wanted to see West Texas. An hour later, I was on I-10 toward El Paso. By then I was pretty hungry, so I stopped at a barbecue place just off the interstate. Their sauce was okay, but the meat was a little too stringy for my liking. Just the same, it filled me up and I continued on. At Exit 445, I headed north from I-10 on Ranch Road 1674 to add a couple of counties. There was no one else on the road, and ranches were few and far between. I got really freaked out about how " in-the-middle-of-nowhere" I was. If something happened to me out there, it could take a long time for someone to find me, and by then it might be too late. It sounds terribly paranoid to recount, but it seemed like a very real concern at the time. You know you're pretty far out when a town of 45 people like Fort McKavett seems big. With two more counties under my belt, I headed back to I-10.  At SR 290, I left I-10 again, stopping at a great scenic overlook. Unfortunately, it was dark so I couldn't see much. Descending from that high point on SR 290  in my car, I could imagine how it would feel to struggle up that grade on my bike, and how rewarding the view would be once I got up to that overlook.

Alas, I wouldn't get to find out because I drove another 80 miles to Fort Stockton for the night. The next day, I planned to ride the Giant Classic, named after the James Dean movie that was filmed near Marfa. A challenging triangle through  Alpine, Fort Davis and Marfa, it was 72 miles in the Davis Mountains. However, the weather wasn't cooperating--the forecast was for 30 mph winds. I thought I could handle the mountains or the wind, but I knew that I wasn't in good enough shape for both at once.

Artist of the Day: Willie Nelson - I've never been a huge fan, but I couldn't imagine Texas music without Willie Nelson. Many of today's Texan singer-songwriters were heavily influenced by the Nelson-led " outlaw" movement, which helped to establish the Austin music scene in the 1970's. And of course, Nelson's Fourth of July picnics are legendary. Robert Earl Keen, Jr.  recalled taking a girl to one on his first date in his  introduction to " The Road Goes On Forever" on No. 2 Live Dinner (Nelson recorded that song as a member  of the Highwaymen). Oddly, Nelson did not achieve widespread commercial success until long  after he was established as a living legend in Texas. " On The Road Again," his signature tune,  came out in 1980, followed by his biggest pop hits, " Always On My Mind" and " To All The Girls I've Loved Before."   Finally, no mini-bio of Nelson would be complete without mentioning his dedication to the Farm Aid series of concerts to raise money and awareness about America's family farmers.

Honorable Mention: Waylon Jennings - In Texas, Waylon &   Willie go together like iced tea and a slice of lemon.  Though Jennings' first claim to fame was playing bass for Buddy Holly (he gave the Big Bopper  his seat on that fateful airplane flight in Iowa), his best known songs (aside from " Theme From The Dukes of Hazzard (Good Ol' Boys)" ) were with Nelson. If one were to create an all-Texas greatest hits album,Waylon & Willie  songs like " Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys" and  " Good Hearted Woman" would have to be on it. Jennings was also a member of the Highwaymen.

Honorable Mention: Kris Kristofferson - I might as well include the other Texan  Highwayman today, too (the fourth  member was Johnny Cash). A Rhodes Scholar born in Brownsville, Kristofferson wrote some great songs in the late 1960's and early 1970's. Most of them were hits for others, including " Me And Bobby McGee," " Sunday Morning Coming Down" and  " Help Me Make It Through The Night." The excellent two-CD compilation Singer/Songwriter pairs a  disc of Kristofferson's performances and a  collection of cover versions of his songs. Unfortunately, it omits some of his better songs that others never sang, such as one of my favorites, " The Pilgrim--Chapter 33."

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