Posts Tagged ‘travel’

By:  Pat Austin

HOCHATOWN, OK – We are in Oklahoma this week, in a mountain “cabin” enjoying the great outdoors and visiting with family.

Hochatown is a small, unincorporated community in southeast Oklahoma, near the Texas border. The signs says population here is about 250 people, but with 2,500 luxury cabins in the area, and more in development, this area feels more like Branson, Missouri. The two lane highway is a constant stream of traffic as tourists check in and check out of these mountain homes.

There are multiple companies that rent these places out and the images you see make them look so secluded, so remote, but once here, you see you are in a congested, developed area. Even though as I type this and look out the cabin window I see woods, just behind that tree line is another huge cabin and next door I can see another. Driving through the neighborhood it is just that, a neighborhood.

The homes are lovely; they have open floor plans, lots of windows, fire pits, covered porches for sitting outside, and all the amenities. The one we are in has a hot tub outdoors, a shuffleboard inside, and an arcade machine with a dozen games on it. There’s a sleeping loft and two bedrooms; this one sleeps ten. The décor is your basic Hobby Lobby rustic.

I can’t help but wonder what the actual locals think, those who have lived here for decades. How do they feel about this development boom? This area has always been known for being beautiful for hiking, fishing, camping, and all things outdoors. In the past few years it has become the playground for people in Texas, specifically the Dallas area, to get away from the city for a while. With recent low interest mortgage rates, development has exploded here.

And now the Choctaw Nation is developing a huge casino (on that congested two-lane highway). The casino will bring even more tourists. It will feature 100 hotel rooms, restaurants, bars, a live music venue, and a shopping area.

So the question becomes, is all of this destroying the natural aspect of the area, destroying what people are actually looking for? I mean, you are not secluded or remote at all. And even as there are woods around us, and other “cabins,” we see deer daily in the yard. They have nowhere else to go. We are all over their natural habitat.

Because Hochatown is unincorporated, some developers play fast and loose with the building rules and some of these developments are better than others. Again, something the locals worry about. On the flip side, property values have risen some 65% in the past few years. There is no question that it is pretty country here.

For now there are still many beautiful hiking trails and we spent the afternoon watching people fly fishing in the Lower Fork River, just minutes from the house. Even in these woods we are literally two minutes from the highway, from two breweries, a couple of wineries, a petting zoo, several t-shirt shops, an axe-throwing place, and lots of restaurants and bars. Seclusion is relative.

It’s still a lovely place to get away and recharge. At least until they pave over the pines and hardwoods to build more cabins.

Blogger in Marathon, Texas.

By John Ruberry

“There’s no law west of Dodge and no God west of the Pecos.”
James Pepper (Ben Johnson) in Chisum.

“The devil in hell, we’re told was chained
A thousand years he there remained
He neither complain nor did he groan
But was determined to start a hell of his own

Where he could torment the souls of men
Without being chained in a prison pen
So he asked the Lord if he had on hand
Anything left when he made this land

The Lord said yes, there’s a plenty on hand
But I left it down by the Rio Grande
The fact is ol’ boy, the stuff is so poor I don’t think you could use it as the hell anymore

But the devil went down to look at the truck
For after lookin’ that over carefully and well
He said this place is too dry for hell
But in order to get it off his hands

The Lord promised the devil to water the land
So trade was closed and deed was given
And the Lord went back to his home in heaven.”
Johnny Cash, Mean As Hell.

Earlier this month Mrs. Marathon Pundit and I spent ten days in Texas, mostly West Texas. And yes, there is law there and there is a God west of the Pecos too.

I covered my economic and political observations of our Texas trip, including what I noticed in the boom towns on the Permian Basin, Midland and Odessa, in a post at Da Tech Guy that is available here. 

Our first stop on note was on the oil producing basin, Monahans Sandhills State Park, where we found the type of dunes you’ll encounter on the Sahara. 

Our first West Texas overnight stop was west of the Pecos, in Fort Stockton, home of what was once the World’s Largest Roadrunner, Paisano Pete.

Then of course we had to visit Marathon, after all, I am the Marathon Pundit. Parts of a sadly overlooked movie, Paris, Texas, were filmed there.

Then it was on to Terlingua, a former mercury mining settlement, turned ghost town, which is now the closest thing to a tourist gateway town to our main destination, Big Bend National Park, where you will discover desert, mountains, and lots of thorns, Cash discusses “thorns” later in his spoken word Mean As Hell piece that I excerpted above.

Big Bend was our main destination for this trip, a gorgeous but little-visited national park because of its isolation. Perched on the border with Mexico on the Rio Grande, it is a seven-hour drive from Dallas and a five-hour drive from San Antonio.

To the west of the national park is Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas’ largest state park, where we kayaked and spent our last day in the Big Bend region. It’s a beautiful park too and well worth at least a day of your time.

The biggest dud of the trip was our attempt to witness the Marfa Lights. Well, we were in Marfa, where much of the George Stevens’ classic Giant was filmed, and the lights, which some people compare to the will o’ the wisp, were not to be found, as is usually the situation every night, despite a viewing stand. Marfa is a leftist outpost where we encountered a human thorn. When picking up a pizza, Mrs. Marathon Pundit was scolded by a cashier in because she was not wearing a mask. In Texas! But my wife held her sandy ground. 

On Easter Sunday it was on to pentagon-shaped Jeff Davis County; yes, it’s named for Jefferson Davis, the president of the confederacy, where we toured historic Fort Davis, a frontier fort that seems to be a time capsule from a John Ford western movie. And we drove on the Davis Mountains Scenic Loop, among the sites of worth there is the McDonald Observatory.

On our way back to Dallas-Fort Worth, we met a Facebook friend in Sweetwater. 

The next day we were back in the Chicago area, the home of grifters, high taxes, and high crime. 

And many human thorns.

Related post:

Texas is success and Illinois is failure.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – I was on the road last week and so missed posting here. We travelled to Fredericksburg, Texas, the Hill Country, which has been a bucket list trip for my husband for several years. It’s only about a seven-hour drive from where we live, so we took the opportunity last week to go.

It was a wonderful trip, but we are exhausted! We had three days to cram in as much as we possibly could; Monday and Friday were driving days. We had to be back home Saturday for other obligations.

Tuesday was a highlight for me: we went to Luckenbach, Texas (if you know, you know.). My husband calls Luckenbach “the Grand Old Opry of Outlaw Country Music,” and I guess it is. The song made it famous, but the musicians made history and if you’ve never read about Hondo Crouch, do yourself a favor and “meet” this man.  If only we all move through this life with the grace, love, and humor of Hondo, we would all be so much better off.

Hondo’s daughter, Becky, has written one book about her father and now has another called Luckenbach, The Center of the Universe, which I bought on my trip there and it’s one of those laugh out loud books that you want to read aloud to someone. Hysterical.

Anyway, the trip to Luckenbach was a sort of pilgrimage for me and was a highlight.

The other super cool thing we did was visit the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg. I have read a lot of books and memoirs of the Pacific War and so I was excited about this outing; however, that being said, I can not express how exhausted I was at the end of our visit! I’m one of those people who wants to see it all, read it all, touch all the interactive stuff, watch all the videos, at a museum. You just can’t do it, here. I really needed two days to see this museum the way it should be done. We started in the Nimitz Gallery and learned so much about Chester Nimitz – what a fascinating man! Then we moved on into the timeline of the War, then the various exhibits for each stage. We got to 1943 and had to stop for lunch.

After lunch, my brain was like a sponge that had soaked up all it could hold. Nothing was sinking in. We finished, and man, the finish was fabulous! There is a video display of a submerged airplane while a video takes you through the treaties of surrender and the celebrations. You never forget the price of war.

The exhibits in this museum are awesome and it is so well done. There are exhibits outside as well and most impressive is the Japanese Garden of Peace which was a gift from the people of Japan. It is beautiful and impressive.  There is a specially trained gardener to maintain the space.

We did several other things like tour the Texas Ranger Heritage Center in Fredericksburg (not to be confused with the Texas Ranger Museum in Waco), which was cool, and we visited Fort Martin Scott, an Army frontier post.

The landscape in the Hill Country is beautiful and has proven itself perfect for vineyards and so now there are at least forty wineries in the immediate area. Not being a wine-girl myself, we stuck to the German restaurants and breweries, but groups of people go there just to get on trollies and visit the wineries.

It was a fun trip and now I’m trying to get back into my routines, pack up the Halloween decorations, and think about the holiday season ahead.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and at Medium; she is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Blogger at the summit of Black Rock Mountain

By John Ruberry

As you may have noticed I haven’t posted here for a couple of weeks. Mrs. Marathon Pundit were on vacation. And we traveled to, at least if you live in the Chicago area, to an unlikely place, Georgia. 

After MLB’s spineless commissioner, Rob Manfred, pulled the annual All-Star Game out of Atlanta over Georgia’s voting integrity bill, my wife and I decided to “buy-in” to Georgia. 

MLB moved the Midsummer Classic to Denver, the capital of Colorado, even though that state has more more restrictive voting laws than Georgia. The switch cost Atlanta-area businesses millions. Don’t forget Atlanta is a majority-black city–Denver is majority-white. Of the Georgia election bill, Joe Biden said, “This makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle.” 

If that comment makes sense to you, or if Manfred’s panicky substitution swap does, then you need to switch off CNN and MSNBC.

Georgia’s new election laws, by the way, are less restrictive than those in Biden’s home state of Delaware.

So on Independence Day Mrs. Marathon Pundit drove south to the Peach State to make up, in a very small way, for the tens-of-millions of dollars shipped off by Manfred to Colorado. There were some diversions. We spent the night of July 4th in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which is just north of the Georgia state line. We did some sighteeing there the next day, including time on Lookout Mountain, where a pivotal battle of the Civil War Siege of Chattanooga occurred in late 1863. But the lion’s share of that day was spent on the site of the Battle of Chickamauga a few miles south in Georgia. The two battles are often presented as one, or part of a campaign, which is why the these two locations comprise the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.

Of our Civil War battles only Gettysburg, fought two months earlier in Pennsylvania, had more casualties than Chickamauga. Unlike Gettysburg, Chickamauga was a Confederate victory. After being routed in Georgia the Union army retreated to Chattanooga. The northern commanding general, William Rosecrans, was relieved of his duties and replaced by Ulysses S. Grant. His breaking of the siege set the stage for the army led by his close friend, General William Tecumseh Sherman, to capture the strategic city of Atlanta the next year. Sherman’s March to the Sea, where Union forces split the Confederacy a second time, ended with the capture of Savannah late in 1864. 

We eventually made it to Savannah too. 

Mrs. Marathon Pundit was stupefied by the sprawling expanse of the Chickamauga Battlefield and the hundreds of monuments there. Her hometown of Sece, Latvia, was the site of a World War I battle. With the exception of a German military cemetery, there are no commemorations of that battle there. C’mon Sece, at least erect an historical marker in town about the battle.

We wandered for the next two days in the luscious Blue Ridge Mountains, mostly hiking, in these state parks: Fort Mountain, Black Rock Mountain, Smithgall Woods, Unicoi, and Tallulah Gorge. The latter is where much of the classic but disturbing film Deliverance was filmed. Around the time that movie was shot Karl Wallenda crossed the gorge on a high-wire. In fact, the Great Wallenda accomplished that feat 51 years ago today. Our first night in the mountains we spent in Helen, Georgia. Its buildings are in a Bavarian style and it’s filled with German restaurants. While it only has about 500 residents, Helen is Georgia’s third-most visited town. And I encountered mobs of Floridians there.  

People often wonder where Florida residents go on vacation–after all the Sunshine State is of course one of America’s most popular vacation destinations. In the summer many Floridians head to the slightly cooler climes of Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Yes, Tropical Storm Elsa, which passed through coastal Georgia after pummelling Florida during our trip, might have chased some people up north, but not all of them. 

I almost forgot–we hiked the Applachian Trail too.

After a couple of days in South Carolina–at Abbeville, Beaufort, and Hunting Island State Park, with a quick return to Georgia for a walking tour of Augusta and lunch with a high school friend in nearby Evans, we spent our last two days in Georgia in historic Savannah, an even better walking city than Augusta. Our own March to the Sea was over. Then it was time to drive home. 

On our way back, the day of the Home Run Derby of the MLB All-Star Game, we planned to visit Stone Mountain Park, site of “the Mount Rushmore of the South,” the largest bas-relief in the world, which is comprised of carvings of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson. But the weather that day was horrible–heavy rain–so we kept driving, straight through, back to Illinois. Stacey Abrams, the defeated Democratic candidate for Georgia governor in 2018, favors removal of the mountain carvings.

Stone Mountain Park is the most-visited attraction in the Peach State.

Abrams gave tacit support to a boycott of Georgia because of the voting reform bills, but she stealthily edited her USA Today op-ed call for one, but her disingenous act was later exposed. 

Abrams all but said to stay away from Georgia. 

So we visited. And and Mrs. Marathon Pundit and I had a wonderful time.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.