Night 9...at the Hostel
This is where we stayed on the last night of our road trip. We had begun our journey with eager anticipation, knowing we'd be experiencing overnights in retro motels, haunted hotels and even a mysterious guest ranch. This curious hostel, way out in West Texas was to be our last stop of a sort of whacky road trip filled with a variety of unusual overnight accommodations!
I associate hostels with youthful backpackers in Europe. A cheap place with a bed, when you're trying to see the world on little money. Well, Don and I are in our 50's and not exactly poor, but when we spotted this place a year ago we were both open to the idea. Neither of us had done the backpacking thing after college, so we agreed, "We should try this sometime."
I had spoken on the phone with the owner a few weeks earlier. Ingrid had an Eastern European accent...at least I thought, and an intriguing sense of humor. But when we arrived on that afternoon, a young woman greeted us, saying Ingrid was gone and wouldn't be back that day. The woman, who was a short term renter at the hostel, said she would be happy to show us around. First she showed us the community kitchen.
Inside the Hostel
Don and I had planned on staying in the shared hostel portion, even though there were options with private quarters. We've done the shared bathroom thing in European hotels, so why not experience a little of the community spirit? But when entered the little building with words "Oh That Sweet Unrest" written on the roof, I grew uneasy. It was a bit darker than I expected. My eyes adjusted and I could see a few well worn couches and cluttered tables. Our guide showed us the fridge we could use and apologized, since it needed cleaning. She pointed out a couple single beds tucked into a darkened space and mentioned a loft, but hinted that we might not want to sleep there. She didn't expect anyone else, but then recalled that someone had arrived at midnight the night before, needing a place to crash. I suddenly felt my age and wondered, What were we thinking?
We headed outside to continue exploring the rest of the little desert community. The odd assortment of buildings had been created with a variety of materials and using the varying skill of many who had come and stayed a while over the years.
This one was easier to understand. It had a roof and 4 walls. It looked more like a workshed on a farm.
This was actually sort of a green house, with walls made from cement or adobe.
Bottles and aluminum cans helped strengthen and decorate the unusual form. It was a work in progress.
This little structure was the sauna. It was cute and tiny, but looked more like a grave to me.
This is where our young friend was staying. She said she kept some of her stuff in her car, since there wasn't much space inside.
I thought this little cube looked like the inflatable Jump Castles you see at birthday parties. But the cute castle was actually the bathroom/laundry room. It was spacious inside with a toilet in the corner and a large bathtub, that we were told was great for relaxing. The washer and dryer rumbled away with full loads, across from the tub and I sort of winced, wondering when the castle would next be available. Our friend admitted she was getting caught up on some long neglected laundry that day, but she made it clear, she would step out if needed.
Don and I hadn't communicated with each other since we stepped out of the car, but luckily we are usually on the same wave length regarding our limits. I knew I just wasn't up for a night in the hostel. But when I spotted this little "papercrete" constructed building at the south end of the tiny community, I felt a bit of relief. When we opened the door (It even had a lock) I just blurted out, "Hmm...so, is this rented out for tonight? I know I told Ingrid we'd be fine in the hostel, but if this is available, then this would be great. We don't mind spending a little more..do you think we could..."
Inside The Marshmallow
We were told there shouldn't be a problem upgrading to the little Casita, (That I wanted to call Marshmallow or at least Igloo) We said we would settle with Ingrid over the phone another day. Our friend headed back to her laundry and Don and I closed the door and began exploring the space, chuckling to each other. The tall rounded room was absolutely packed with curiosities. The cement floor was covered in a patchwork of dusty woven rugs. Each rounded corner had a special surprise. A door painted with planets hid some shelves in one corner. In another corner, a curtain revealed a showerhead and a ladder leading to a somewhat creepy loft.
The third corner displayed a wooden "throne" with a lid. I did not dare peek. We were told the only bathroom was in the castle and since there was no odor at all, I was happy to assume this toilet idea had been abandoned before it was ever used. The 4th corner had a painted ceramic sink and an assortment of statues and treasures, quite obviously from someone's exotic travels.
We headed to the car to get our sleeping bags, although sheets were available. We stopped to greet a number of friendly dogs and a sweet cat, when we were approached by "our neighbor" who was the only other temporary boarder at La Loma. His appearance and mannerisms reminded me of a cross between Tim Robbins and Norman Bates. He scratched his head and seemed a bit bewildered by Don and me. He offered to collect our $50. for Ingrid, but I assured him we would settle with her later. After he helped us get the power turned on in our little Marshmallow Casita we stood outside, making a little awkward small talk. By this time the winds were whipping up the dust, making the atmosphere extra ominous.
Home Away From Home
Back inside we tried to settle in. I climbed the ladder to look down at our whimsical, storybook house. It was actually pretty cool and I knew that lots of hard work went into creating this unique space. But what was all this? I had so many questions. If I'm going to step away from the Holiday Inn Comfort Zone, then I need a real host to welcome me with stories and history. As the wind howled outside I needed some reassurance that I was not in some kind of surreal, fever dream. The 2 who had helped us had seemed somewhat distant and mysterious. Maybe on the 9th night of our road trip, we had finally encountered some ghosts!
Evening in Marathon
Maybe Don and I would have embraced our stay with more enthusiasm if it had been the first, rather than the last day of our road trip. Maybe we could have been more positive, if we hadn't been exhausted from spending most of that day in Mexico on burros, sampling tequila and meeting village locals. (Thanks to the new legal border crossing in Big Bend) But we were sort of tired after 9 days of "being game" for anything! We unpacked our sleeping bags and headed into Marathon, (1 minute drive) and had a drink at the delightful Gage Hotel. Then we walked outside to watch the sunset before heading back to the Gage for a delicious dinner. Our car wheels crunched over the gravel outside the Marshmallow at about 9:30. That's usually way too early for bedtime, but we set the alarm for 5:30 and zonked out.
The appearance of La Loma, is what is most notable. It looks like a colorful creation I might have constructed from paper mache as a child. I mean that as a good thing. It's charming. But the absence of our host made the place feel uncomfortable or eerie. The fact that there were no other guests (besides the temporary borders) made us feel like we had invited ourselves to a place where we didn't belong. But I'm glad we stayed. The winds died down and I ended up sleeping well. We took off in the morning before sunrise and I mailed a check to Ingrid after we returned home. I'm not sure we'll ever return, but I'll always be curious about our missing host. I think she might have been fun.
Terlingua Ghost Town
We stopped here on the 8th night of our West Texas road trip. We wanted to be in Terlingua that Friday night so we would have a shorter drive into Big Bend National Park on Saturday. There weren't many options in the old Ghost Town, but the price was right at this one!
A Curious Place
Don and I have experienced Terlingua a few times. It's hard to explain what makes up this ghost town, that was once home to 2,000 when the mercury mines were operating. Now there are only about 60 who live here, with a constant flow of characters wandering through. It's good we already knew about the flavor of this "town" or we might have been a little uneasy about our accommodations.
We finally found a sign for the office and spoke to Judy through the window. Her attached office was down lower, so the handy chairs made it useful for speaking face to face. While Don paid up, I studied the walls and tables with posted notices of upcoming events.
What's Happening in Terlingua?
If it had been Chili Festival time, there would have been no rooms available. About 10,000 "chili heads" attend the festival that's been going on for nearly 50 years. But we were just in time for the 11th Annual Desert Chihuahuan Challenge - Dog Races! (My spell check says there's no such word as Chihuahuan)
That would have been an interesting option if we hadn't already made plans for Big Bend.
Café and Bar
It was dinner time and we heard the food wasn't bad at El Dorado. I'm guessing the café was upstairs where I'd seen a deck could have offered spectacular views of the desert at sunset. I talked to a man who was sweeping the downstairs bar and he said there would be entertainment that night. The plastic palm trees and longhorn skull had character and I'm sure there would have been an interesting crowd, but we were holding out for dinner at the Starlight Theatre.
I was a little disappointed to see the motel rooms were behind the somewhat building that housed the office and restaurant. And what was with the gigantic parking lot? I was beginning to get the picture. That huge lot looked like it could hold a good number of motorcycles and it was still early on Friday evening.
Our Fine Room
There weren't exactly many hotel choices in Terlingua. We refused to pay over 100 for a rustic room up the road near the Starlight, when we just needed a bed and shower. We both laughed when we stepped into our room. It was quite spacious and clean, but there wasn't a single thing on the wall or a even a chair. There was however,a tiny TV on table with 1 channel. That was more than expected since Judy had warned us that the channels had been messed up since there had been a lightning strike.
Here's one more picture, as if the first didn't capture it all. Don wondered why I wasn't taking a bathroom photo...which I often do. He seemed to think I wasn't fully appreciating the shower curtain. "Look! It divides in the center, like a bathtub curtain!" I refused to get excited about that, but I did like the counter space and mirror with the sink.
Off to Dinner
After we cleaned up, we headed up the road to dinner. We could have walked I guess, but it would have been a dark walk back. We drove by the wonderful little cemetery with an assortment of wooden crosses and stone shrines.
Then we arrived at The Porch, which is the center of all Ghost Town activity. At sunset, locals gather at this covered area between the general store and Starlight Theatre. There are cans of beer, dogs, cigarettes and usually a guitar or two. We hoped to see who eventually climbed into the yellow cycle-car, but we were eating dinner when the little yellow rocket disappeared.
We were up and loading the car before the sun rose the next morning. I had expected to see a million motorcycles in the lot, but there was no noise in the night and only about 8 bikes in the morning. We dropped the key in the office box and headed out for Big Bend.
The room was clean, but as dull as they come. The view could have been stunning, had we lingered at either end of the day. Luckily there is nothing to report about oddball characters in our motel area. I learned the next day, that a local, who had been charged with murder, got out on bail during our stay! Oh my.
We spent the 7th night of our road trip at this historic hotel in Alpine. The night before we were in Alpine also, staying at a southwestern adobe motel, The Maverick.
It was fun to go from a 1930's motor court to a hotel that probably got a lot of railroad travelers when it opened in 1928. Both places were bought and renovated nicely by the same owners a few years back. So our stays at the Maverick the Holland were our most upscale nights on our 10-day adventure exploring curious accommodations.
A Trost and Trost Building
If you've spent any time in West Texas you've probably seen a hotel, school. post office or even a home designed by Henry Trost. At a glance The Holland is not overly impressive, but there are a few details that show off the Spanish Revival design Trost was fond of. In this photo you can see the wrought iron work and the concrete ornaments on the flat façade. I'm not sure about the ball and eagle on the roof...but it captured the light nicely!
Once inside, it's easy to imagine this old hotel 85 years ago. The decorated beams, smooth tile, round archways and chandeliers hint at a grander time, when folks dressed up to walk through hotel lobbies.
Well, maybe not so dressed up. There were a lot of old framed photos on display so I was able to peek at the past a bit more. This photo shows a man with a tie, but no jacket behind the counter. Even the sofa looks less formal than the lobby furniture today. Never mind what I said.
The staff greeted warmly at the front desk, but I especially liked being welcomed in a side room off the lobby... by a few stuffed beasts on the wall and some inviting coolers of iced tea and lemonade. This was also the area where continental breakfast was served in the morning. There was a huge selection of bakery goods, homemade granola, fruits and fresh juices.
Don and I took our cold drinks and some books out to the courtyard for a little relaxing. It wasn't chilly, so the outdoor fireplace wasn't needed. But the chairs were comfy and the café tables and fountain looked inviting.
In the evening, we took a couple seats at the hotel bar where our bartender, Zora was chatty and helpful with our questions about Alpine. I did have a bit of a fright at one point when she disappeared, right before our eyes. (We had been hearing a lot about haunted hotels on our trip) As it turns out there was a trap door in the floor behind the bar, and she had simply headed down some stairs to a storage area!
We didn't have dinner at the hotel, but the restaurant menu looked wonderful. The dining area had a great mix of old woodwork and modern mixtures, painted ceilings and artwork.
We would have stayed in to dine, if we hadn't been so excited about how all a variety of clubs and restaurants with in walking distance. For being a small city/town, Alpine does have a few fun places and location of The Holland is a real plus.
The hotel does have a new elevator, but we chose the stairs since we were just 2 flights up. The first time I arrived at the 3rd floor I had to laugh that I noticed I was breathing heavily. Then I remembered that Alpine has an elevation of 4,475 feet. So... that's high for me.
Our suite had all the luxuries of a nice hotel, along with some charming reminders of the original hotel room. I think the bathroom tile was old and the windowsills. But I must admit, I was happy to have new carpet and comfy linens and no musty odors.
There was a stylish opening to the sitting room. It was nice having that extra space since old hotel rooms can often be kind of claustrophobic.
There was even stuff to read in the sitting area. (The courtyard chairs were much more comfortable) On the small table I found bound collections of old LIFE magazines. That was fun. And the bathroom was nicely updated with at least a little counter space around the sink. I'm going to start carrying a port-a-table for all the historic places we've stayed, that haven't had enough space to lay down your tube of toothpaste!
Charm and location should be noted. But I must say, the thing I will most remember about our stay was that we ended up moving our luxury mattress at 2:00 am to the floor of the sitting room. An odd whirring, clunkity sound came and went all night. Our complimentary earplugs (For train noise) did not help, so we pulled the mattress close to the bathroom door where the fan could drown it out. We were both wide awake after that task, but luckily the predicament made us both laugh and we soon fell asleep.
So our middle-o-night-campout will never be forgotten. But what's most noteworthy is how the manager, Mark handled our complaint in the morning. He was so sincerely apologetic that I'm sure the broken "thing" on the roof was fixed immediately. And when he handed us a certificate for a 2-night stay in the future we were pretty thrilled. We'll be back for sure! Thanks, Mark!
Ahh! It was a treat seeing this sign on our 6th day of our Texas road trip. We knew this would be a step up in the luxury department.
You have to love the name Maverick Inn. And you have to love the sign itself, even if it's not the original.
This refurbished motor court once had a different name. I love the old sign that stretched between 2 stone posts.
Historic hotels can be found in many Texas towns, but it's hard to find refurbished motels and motor courts. This one on Highway 90, way out west in Alpine, TX was built in the 1930's. The original office is on the left and the mountain to the right goes back a little further. Alpine is a good name for a Texas town with an elevation of about 4,500. It's known for having the best climate in Texas, but I talked to a few residents who told me not to talk it up. Alpine remains small-townish, with no stop lights. I think they hope to keep it that way.
Georgie let us check in early and we shared some stories. I told her how excited we were to be staying there, after a couple of odd nights on our road trip. (previous posts) She told me that she remembered driving by this motor court back in the 1960's when the little buildings were getting overgrown and run down. She told me about meeting the original owner once, who shared old photos of the Grandview Courts.
I loved looking around the lobby at the Maverick movie poster, antique saddle and interesting books. What I really liked was the guitar with the note "...for guest enjoyment." Quite a nice switch from the hotel piano in New Braunfels reminding guests, NOT to play.
There were a number of adobe buildings, all "Masculine Texas Chic" as I read in a travel review.
This one had a little courtyard.
The night before The Maverick was booked due to Alpine's Cowboy Poetry Weekend. But at 2:00 pm, I caught a glimpse without any cars. The fog (that finally left us) made the place look like an eerie western ghost town.
As a kid I loved exploring a new motel and I still do. This one had lots of discoveries. There was a great yard through this entry, with a fire pit and a horse shoe pit and lots of comfy chairs.
Georgie said they were still prepping the blue trailer to become a guest room option. She said I was welcome to peek inside. I loved the doors with porthole windows and the Adirondack chairs.
The interior held onto its 1950's décor! There were fruits and flowers painted on the kitchen cabinets. And a mini sized gas stove where I could picture Lucy cooking for Ricky in the The Long, Long Trailer movie!
Pool and Animals
The chili bean shaped pool, I recognized from an old photo in maybe the 1960's. But it looked cute with lots of lounging options as well as grills and dining areas. And I did get to meet a kitty. Don and I like to get our animal fixes on our travels, since we have no pets waiting at home.
The moisture in the air brought out some recent repairs on our adobe building. But besides that, I loved the appearance with a wheel and a barrel thrown in. But the best part of a motel stay for me is the luxury of pulling your car right up to your door! No valet parking or stairs to climb. Love it!
A Nice Change
After a few nights of roughing it road travel, this was a treat to see. I love the fun of an old motel, but I'll admit, I was pleased to see that our room was 2014 modern and luxurious. The wood beamed ceilings and Satillo tile floors fit the style beautifully. The bed and linens were heavenly!
I loved the jar glasses resting on the woven mat. And the earplugs were a nice touch since the traintracks were nearby. No complaints about our coffee maker, microwave, fridge and flat screen. And an extra bonus point for the Mexican pottery. Coffee tastes much better in a cute blue and white cup!
I stayed in motel once that actually had the same framed print over both beds. That was somewhat amusing to me. But if I am not going to be amused by my décor, then I appreciate a little good taste. I did like the woven Indian rug and baskets on the wall. There were a couple of nicely framed western prints as well.
Big bonus points for pleasant décor at The Maverick!
The bathroom was lovely and boy did I make use of the tub after the ranch the night before. But here's the thing. I've been married almost 35 years, but I still would like a little privacy in the bathroom. I've dealt with glass door like this in Europe. They look cool, but they bug me. In the middle of the night I woke with a headache, so intense I thought I would be sick. I think my Advil would have worked faster had I not been fretting about the fact that it was impossible to hide my sickly image if I needed to make a dash for the toilet. Luckily I was fine by morning.
A Nice Breakfast Treat
In the morning I forgot my griping when we wandered to the cozy kitchen area for breakfast. Georgie had reminded me the day before to help myself to anything in the fridge. At breakfast there were some decadent bakery treats from a local shop. Don and I sat under the buffalo and stuffed ourselves on gigantic scones and cinnamon rolls. If the weather had been warmer we could have sat outside next to Jake in the cowboy shrine. He must have been a treat for all those cowboy poets.
What's Notable? Probably the fact that it is a luxury motel. I love idea of an old motel, but you usually have to put up with some discomfort to enjoy the nostalgia. At the Maverick they give you the best of both worlds. We had the quirky retro feel and the luxurious bed and bath. Yeah, the bathroom doors were glass, but I won't plan on getting sick next time!
Night 5 of West TX Road Trip
We didn't just end up at the Cowhead Ranch by accident. Don and I discovered the place over a year ago when visiting the Big Bend area.
We spotted the intriguing sign on the 2-lane highway and headed down a dirt road to find a cluster of wooden sheds and shacks as well as the owner, Cowboy Chris. Chris, looked more like a Big Bend hiker than a cowboy in his down vest and cap that day, but we'd heard about this curious fellow (more cowboy than hiker) who came to the land over a decade earlier to build his dream from discarded and donated scraps. He proudly gave us a tour of the saloon, social club, church and bathhouse, pointing out details, as his tiny dogs followed along.
He showed us the guest quarters which had electricity and small air conditioners. Some had bunk beds and one had a double bed. "You need to bring your own bedroll." He reminded.
So in January, when Don and I started planning our road trip, I called Chris and he put us down for a stay on February 24. I called a week before arrival and left a message on his voicemail to remind him we were coming. Late afternoon on the 24th, Don and I drove down the dusty road chuckling to ourselves. We had no idea what our stay would be like, but we were ready for an adventure!
Just as our car came to a halt in the center of the scattered buildings, 5 yapping dogs appeared, followed by a woman in a red visor. "The dogs are giving us quite a welcoming!" I laughed as I shut the car door. The woman's smile looked worried, but it was obvious she'd been expecting us when I heard my name. "I tried to call y'all, Beth." She spoke with a drawl that fit the scenery beautifully. "I've got you set up in the Cow Palace, 'cause it has a double bed. Everything's set, but I have some sad news," She said nervously. "You see, my dad, Chris. Well he passed away." She sort of winced a bit and I stammered my condolences. In the following minutes my head swirled as she explained he had died a month ago...but didn't I talk to him last week? Eventually my nerves settled and the pieces of the story made sense. Chris' daughter, Sunny had found her father (possibly the day I called) in bad shape and got him to the hospital where he died on his birthday 3 days later. She remembered him telling her that he had spoken to me about a February visit.
Stay or Leave?
Sunny insisted we go ahead and stay. "You're the first guests since Dad passed." She said she lived about 20 minutes away. "I'll leave the house open (her dad's mobile home) in case you need anything. I'd stay over, but I can't do that just yet. It's too soon, Beth. Think y'all will be okay out here?"
Unlike some of the little shacks with bunk beds, The Cow Palace was set up for a couple. Sunny referred to it as the honey suite. I removed the plastic covering that revealed a blanket with a pink horse. This was obviously the special room because it had sheets, but Don and I were plenty happy to use our sleeping bags and pillows. A few cowboy themed prints were nailed to the wall and a lamp with cracked shade, welcomed bedtime reading.
Sunny offered to find us a heater to use. A cold front was moving in and rain was expected. "No, we'll be fine!" we assured. I think she was wondering if we would really stay.
Sunny asked if we'd mind if she relaxed a while with a beer before she headed off. She and the 5 dogs settled on one of the long benches by the fire pit and Don and I joined her for a spell. We learned that Sunny had moved from Paris, TX to help he dad 6 or so years ago. You could tell she thought the world of her dad and every now and then she'd pause and take a deep breath. "I don't know, Beth. I don't know if I'm gonna make it." I tried to play my mom role and assure her it would take time, but she just wasn't sure. It helped that her dad's 3 dogs and her own 2 white ones kept her happily distracted. The sweet tan pup had been her dad's favorite. She showed me his tricks.
When Don lets a dog in his lap, you know he's warming up. These funny little critters did break the ice in an amazing way. When we left the car door open and a few took their dusty paws on an entertaining romp throughout the interior, all we could do was laugh. It was nice to see that Sunny had taken over her dad's dogs by spoiling them rotten. "Every night, I get out the ice cream and these old dogs each get a scoop of Bluebell Ice Cream!" she announced proudly.
I lounged with a couple dogs myself as Sunny talked about the worries of taking over the ranch. She hoped to get some services going in the little church and looked forward to some big crowds during spring break. It was hard work she admitted, especially since she spent her days working as a welder. She wasn't sure how she was going to manage. And there were other concerns. "Like last night, I came over to gather the chicken eggs, and there was a guy prowling around with a flashlight. People hear someone died and they just think everything's up for grabs. He saw my car lights and ran off that way." Gulp. Now that was something I really didn't want to hear. As if staying in the middle of nowhere in our little wooden guest shack with the winds blowing in a cold front, wasn't eerie enough!
Then we saw a blond woman wearing red shoes and red top, making her way down a path from a distant house. She greeted Sunny with a big hug, then offered hugs to Don and me. She held a sheet of paper, flapping in the breeze. "Read it over Sunny. Let me know if it's okay." She had written something for Chris' memorial service. Voni turned out to be a delight. Not only did she appear to be a gracious and upbeat neighbor, but she had an interesting claim to fame. Voni had ridden over 1 million miles on a motorcycle! Some might think a million dollar rider would be a quirky, recluse who spent years doing nothing but roaming on her cycle. But Voni was a bright and caring special ed teacher who did a million other things while she racked up a million miles.
Chickens and Other Animals
While Voni visited with us, Sunny went off to collect eggs. She returned announcing she had 48 which is more than the number of hens. I would have liked to have collected a few eggs for the experience, but Sunny warned, "Now you keep your distance from that rooster. He'll attack ya."
Voni bought some eggs and headed home, letting us know if we had any problems that night, she and her husband were "next door." That was actually very encouraging.
What was not so encouraging was when Don made the mistake of asking about the most interesting animal Sunny had seen in the area. She told about the mountain lion that lived near her house. "First time I heard that animal sorta scream, I though some child had got run over by a car!" Then she pointed out to the east. "And we have a black panther that lives out here." She sighed and shook her head. "Oh he is beautiful! His eyes are beautiful! He must be 200 pounds. When you see him, you just gotta respect him and keep away."
About Cowboy Chris
Before Sunny left, she asked us a favor. "Would y'all mind me sharing a slide show?" She took us in the mobile home, where I know she had found her ailing father a month ago. It was surprisingly cozy with checked curtains and a tidy kitchen. She showed us an incredibly touching slideshow on a laptop, with images of her father and his horse, Little Feather. He looked like a character in a movie. "He loved that horse." Sunny said proudly. "Little Feather was killed, though...struck by lightening." There were photos on the wall and on tables, as well. Pictures of him as an award winning auctioneer and one of Sunny (Or Shine as he called her) with her daddy before her parents divorced. Sunny played a recording of her dad singing with his guitar. She wiped tears a couple times, but always managed to find a little bright something to lift her up. "But he's here, watchin'! Before he died he told me when I saw a red-winged hawk it would be him. I saw one earlier today when I was waitin' for y'all."
Sunny put the chickens up for the night so I walked over to visit with one of the few horses left on the ranch. It did make me wonder what our visit would have been like if Chris had been there. Would he have pulled out his guitar around the firepit? What horse stories would he have shared? Sunny said he would have cooked us up a cowboy breakfast for sure. She offered, but we said we'd be off early in the morning.
As the sun slipped behind the distant range, Sunny asked again, "Will y'all be okay?" We assured her we would, and wondered why she kept asking. We were ready to get our evening started, but Sunny insisted on starting up the wood burning stove in the "Social Club", and pointing out the propane burners for cooking. Sunny frowned at the stubborn firewood and gave it another good dose of kerosene. Flames shot through every crack in the stove and a few flames lit some straw on the dirt floor. A little stomping took care of that. "We'll be fine." Don told Sunny.
Sunny gathered the little dogs in the cab of her truck. "I left the light on in the bathroom, Beth." I thanked her, since it would be a short walk down the boardwalk to find it in the dark. "Now, it ain't fancy you know. We don't have one of those fancy Poo-days for washing up...or whatever you call 'em!" She sort of hooted at the humor. "Well, that's okay, Sunny. I'll expect one by next visit, though." "And Don." Sunny grew a bit more serious. "If you by any chance see that guy back here with a flashlight...well, if you're up to it, could you just chase him down and take care of him!" Don laughed and I suddenly was reminded of an important question. "So, is there cell service here?" When she heard we had AT&T, she pointed off to a raised deck and let us know we could probably get service just fine up there.
On Our Own
After thanking Sunny and handing her about double the expected payment, we just laughed as the truck rumbled off down the road. The wind was picking up and every loose piece of material, metal, wood and leather creaked and clanked and squeaked and rattled. We pulled our own camp chairs into the Social Club, that had filled with smoke by now. Don fixed the stove and after a little fanning I told Don I wasn't very hungry, but I might need that bottle of wine from the car.
Inside the club we could feel the warmth of the stove. We made a toast and admired the scribbled walls from visitors over the past decade. Visitors from as far away as Japan and Scotland. An odd thought. I made Don investigate one creepy sound that turned out to be some dripping water. He teased me about being prepared, by sporting a knife necklace!
We decided to give up on the idea of making chili and just grabbed one can of baked beans and a camp spoon from the car. Neither of us had much appetite at this point.
Our tiny stove was hot, but the can of beans was slow to heat...
So, we crunched across the flattened bottle caps to the enjoy the nearby saloon for a bit.
As we stepped through the swinging saloon doors, we remembered when Chris proudly showed us the little bar with a mini pool table and bar. Chris had pointed out a small TV and let us know they even had wifi! I posed with a hat and one of the bottles behind the bar, before heading back to eat our luke warm beans and head to bed.
The morning was cold and drizzly, but we were glad for it. No surprises in the night.
We left a message, along with all the others on the wall of the Social Club. We packed and drove past the big cow head on the sign. I had to smile at the rock reminding us to be safe and happy, as we turned onto the road.
What was Noteworthy about our stay? Everything.
Sanderson, Texas in February 2014
What brought us to Sanderson?
Since Don and I were on a road trip through west Texas, we were up for experiencing a variety of curious overnights. This was our 4th stop along the way from Houston to Big Bend National Park.
The Night Before
The previous night we stayed in a tent in Garner State Park. That doesn't get a write up in "90 Notable Nights" because it wasn't a hotel, inn or motel, but it's worth mentioning. Knowing that we hardly slept in our tent due to unusual distractions, meant we arrived in Sanderson ready for a good night's sleep. Hopefully at the Oasis, we would not have a couple sitting outside our motel room talking in loud voices till 7 am. ( our camping neighbors packed up their unused tent in the morning) And certainly there would be no wild goat invasions!
Options in Sanderson
This little town of about 800, along US Highway 90, not far from the Mexican border only has about 2 motels. There would be no luxury options in Sanderson. However, the Trip Advisor reviews spoke highly of the Engeldorfs, who owned the Oasis and we were looking forward to our stay.
When we walked through the double doors we were greeted by a cozy and cluttered office, with a shop to the left displaying glass boxes containing snakes and small reptiles. Through the door straight ahead we heard TV and laughter, a frisky border collie suddenly burst through. Ruth, the owner followed, reprimanding the dog. "Fergie! Stop that!" She had been expecting us and seemed hurried to give us out key and directions to our room. I was sort of hoping to peek at those snakes!
Our room was at the end of a newer strip of motel rooms. We even had the option of parking in a little built in carport. There were a couple picnic tables and a grill nearby, but they were a little too close to a neighbor's yard. The view would have been entertaining with a car on cinder blocks and an old school bus, but we figured we'd unpack and take a drink to the patio instead.
Some of the other rooms had porches with large wooden chairs. I inquired about those rooms, but Ruth reminded us we'd asked for one of the deluxe rooms.
Our Deluxe Room
Well, this might not thrill the traveler who expects room service, but we were in Sanderson and the price was right! We had a queen sized bed and a spacious room with Mexican tile floors and beamed ceiling. And our room was clean!
There was a wardrobe with TV and a good sized sitting area with refrigerator and microwave. There was ample counter space around a brightly painted ceramic sink. There were a few framed prints on the wall. The eagle and flag went well with our patriotic bedspread and a few bits of art reflecting the west...cowboy boots and a rattlesnake. I'm not sure about the framed leopard. Are there leopards around here?
The Bath and Sitting Area
The sink and toilet were updated and clean. The shower was efficient. But I did have to chuckle when I read the waterstained note sitting on a folded washcloth. (There was another such reminder on the door) They must have a lot of visitors who are tempted to scrub their dusty motorcycles and vehicles with bath towels. The notes firmly invited us to ask for cleaning rags if needed. The words also reminded us to not throw the note away. I had a hard time protecting the wilted piece of paper when showering. I'm tempted to surprise the Engeldorfs with a set of stylish, lamenated notes that can dangle from colorful ribbons in each bathroom! As for the sitting area. That's a nice plus. I used my computer there. We could have sipped our gin and tonics there, but took them outside instead.
Don and I watched the sunset from the patio near the goldfish and frog pond. The windmill whirred near the highway and a breeze rustled the dried grasses and palm fronds. Even the Oasis is showing signs of drought. It could have felt a little awkward since the patio was right next to the Engledorf's house and they were grilling dinner...
Chatting with Family and Pets
...but we had a nice visit. Roy took a break from his grilling to chat about how he and Ruth had left jobs behind in Kansas and bought the motel over 10 years ago. He told us how capturing a gray banded king snake years before had lured him to this part of the country. He catches maybe 100 snakes a year, but hardly keeps any. The motel keeps him busy, but he shows snakes and reptiles regularly and I think he breeds small pythons? He seemed eager to tell us about a local rattlesnake known for its ability to turn white at night. Maybe he picked up on Don's science background because he said he'd been hoping to find someone to do research on that snake. But before we had a chance to peek at the snakes inside, a truck pulled up and a daughter or 2, along with a granddaughter and puppy climbed out. It was time for Roy to attend to the food. And he reminded us to get to town for dinner. Places close early.
Food in Sanderson
Our motel stay was made complete by our local dining. There were 2 choices that night and we were lucky to find the recommended Dairy King since there was no sign. Jessica our rather delightful waitress chatted with us quite a bit while she served me some great Tex-Mex and Don, an Eagle Burger.
As for breakfast, the only weekday option was the Stripes truck stop directly across the street. The easily annoyed woman working behind the tiny food counter intimidated me into ordering quickly. We took our breakfast burritos and coffee back to our sitting area and chuckled over our meal before hitting the road.
What was notable?
I would say the most unusual part of our stay was discovering the connection the Engledorf's had with snakes. Even the pipe near the gas tank was painted to resemble a snake. I didn't find it creepy at all knowing there were poisonous reptiles a few doors away. I only saw Roy playing fetch with Fergie and stroking Casper, the albino kitty. If he'd been chatting with while one of his pythons climbed over his shoulders or around his waist, that might have been different. In fact now that I think about it, I feel like we missed out on a big part of the motel experience at the Oasis! If we ever return, and I'm not sure we ever have reason to go through Sanderson again, I will demand a tour of the reptile collection!
New Braunfels, TX
Don and I stayed 2 nights in New Braunfels on our west Texas day road trip. We checked out of the Faust Hotel on Saturday, so we could try another historic overnight. This Inn was nearly 30 years older than the hotel and had a completely different feel. The porch swing, below the sign says it all. This place felt homey. Anyplace that has a swing of any kind gets bonus points from me.
I sort of love a place that calls itself an inn. That conjurs up images of stagecoaches and horses. When the Eggling family built the inn in 1898, horses were used to carry the brick and lumber to the property.
Porches and Doors
Unlike our hotel stay the night before, the Inn had porches made for lounging. I haven't lived with a good porch since I was 9, living on Summer Street in Grinnell, Iowa. I have always liked the idea of watching the world go by from a raised porch. So we could opt to enjoy the view from the porch swing below or up above on the veranda, lounging on Adirondack chairs. The doors on both porches intrigued me as well. Both had screened doors, which is a good reminder of days before air conditioning. The main entrance to the hotel is made extra impressive by the 10-foot doors that came from a Galveston Hotel that was destroyed in the Big Flood of 1900. The window panes of etched glass added a little extra elegance!
Going Up and Going Down
When we entered the double doors our eyes went straight to the wide hallway, lit by a rather grand light fixture. The space was jammed with colors and patterns...black and white tiles and an oriental runner on the floor. The patterned wallpaper was covered in framed art and photos and a gigantic gold mirror reflected more of the Victorian décor from its spot above the fireplace. A fireplace in the hall! After meeting the owner Al, we climbed the stairs to the second floor and found the space equally curious. The open hall was lit from a skylight above, (unusual for its time) which made the blue wallpaper and white trim and more Victorian antiques much brighter. However there was something about the area that felt odd or distorted. Was it the ghosts I'd heard about? No. It was the white railing. I hadn't noticed until it was pointed out, that it was curiously short and had spacing wide enough to crawl through. I guess that's why visitors with children are invited to stay in the guest cottages.
Our Own Grand Entrance
Our door at the Faust had surprised us with a slatted feature the night before, but this was extra fun. We had two doors actually, the first being a swinging shuttered door which must have been used in days before air conditioning. But above our door frame we also had a transom window that actually worked!
The Songbird Room
When I had spoken with Al on the phone weeks earlier, he had suggested the Songbird Room. I liked the name of the room, along with the 1940'2 wallpaper and lace curtains. But mostly it was a treat to have a comfy, king bed, since many historic rooms are too small for such luxuries. We slept well despite the fact we couldn't adjust the ceiling fan to a hum from a roar. (We left it off) But the street was amazingly quiet for a Saturday night. Summer could be different. And we woke to songbirds outside the window. That fit!
We also had an extra little sitting area, a good closet and a decent bath. The original rooms had no bathrooms, so the bath was added much later. We were surprised to see a small refrigerator and coffeemaker. Two bottles of water and two small bags of pretzels added to our welcoming... along with packets of earplugs. (So many hotels were built to be near the railroad!)
The breakfast parlor was a cozy surprise with the 14 foot ceilings and tall shuttered windows letting in morning light. It's always interesting to see other guests when you come together in the morning. At first the German speaking table and the group of 6, dressed in church clothes all kept to themselves. But when Al came in to visit with everyone, the tables opened up. I got a kick out of chatting with a little girl who was traveling with parents and grandmother. She was excited to say she was playing the part of Skunk in a traveling production of Peter Pan.
Food and Floors
I had to laugh to see each table had a bottle of mustard. That was for the sausage kolaches that were served with cream cheese eggs and fresh fruit. I've never seen such a big pitcher of orange juice, for a table of two! And the floors. I loved the wellworn wood floor meeting up with the tile in the hall. I love picturing all the shoes and boots that have walked on these floors.
Our Inn Keeper, Al
I had already spoken with Al twice on the phone before our arrival. I knew he was enthused about the inn and would make us feel welcome. I'm glad our visit was in March, not in the hot months when tourists jam the nearby waters of the Guadalupe and fill the guest rooms at the inn. Al had time to pose with me and the portrait of Prince Solms, who was the founder of New Braunfels. He also wandered around the inn pointing out more curious features. We told Al about our travels and he told us a bit about his own love of exploring off the beaten track. He seemed so upbeat about the world he stepped into when he bought the inn 6 or so years ago. But it made me wonder if he'll ever have time to get out and explore again!
I asked Al about the ghost stories I'd heard about. He laughed and said he'd never had an encounter since he'd never stayed at the inn himself. (He pointed out his house a block away) But he showed us a room with some stories... Sophie's Room, a lovely suite on the first floor. The guests had just left, so I couldn't ask them about encounters, but I did see the portrait above the bed. Al teased that we could say that was the ghost of Sophie, the fiancé of the original owner. He also pointed out an amazing hidden "wet bar" behind a cabinet door. And there was a piano in the large sitting room. If I decided to go for a night of ghost hunting, I think I'd opt to stay in a room like this one!
Al made us feel like houseguests, not hotel guests. Ever since Psycho, male innkeepers have been given a bad rap. Al was so far from Norman Bates, he needs an award. Al does have some extra help, unlike Bates...but he seems to have the willingness to do what ever is necessary to make folks comfortable, whether it's giving a history tour or fixing a toilet if needed.
Would I go back? Even with great places I often have a been there, done that attitude. But I'm am curious about seeing this place in the spring and fall, when the leaves are out and the patio is open. Al hopes to get the Piano Bar open again. We didn't get to see the basement club, but he described as something like an old speak easy, that you can't even find anymore, unless maybe in Europe. Hmm? Now that got me curious. We'll have to go back!
New Braunfels, Texas
Don and I just returned from an 8 day road trip and our first night was spent at the Faust Hotel. Our west Texas trip included Big Bend National Park, a day trip to Mexico, some great music venues and lots of curious dining, but our main goal was to experience some unusual and even challenging overnights!
There's nothing overly grand about the hotel which opened in 1929, just 2 weeks before the stock market crashed. But this sturdy looking hotel with the Spanish revival façade, managed to stay strong throughout the depression. During WWII, the hotel became known as the Honeymoon Capital of Texas. Evidently a large number of soldiers from nearby bases brought their brides here, before shipping off to war.
The entrance is on the left and there's no bellhop or doorman. There is a circle drive, but no elegant covering or staircase. The windows have a bit of an institutional look with their less than lovely air conditioner units... but there are some wonderful details to the building.
You have to take a moment to enjoy the details! I love the carved stone above both doors.
Lions and a Foutnain
I'm a sucker for any kind of lion and the two by the door had sweet faces. I love fountains, too. Maybe in warmer months the fountain has water. I really wanted to hear that thing gurgle! I'm sure when the trees have leaves and the weather is warmer, the chairs on the patio must be very pleasant.
I like a lobby that is welcoming and not too dark. There was a lot of dark wood, but plenty of window light. I loved all the antiques like the old cash register and pretty amazing light fixtures. But the desk staff was fairly young, which meant there wasn't a lot of enthusiasm when I asked about hotel history. "Well, I don't really believe in ghosts." Said the young woman who assumed I was asking about the hotel's haunted history.
I was impressed by the designs on the tile floor. The stairs leading up to rooms also had some unique tile work. We were happy to have the attractive stairs as an option when we returned from dinner and noticed an elevator repair truck. We could have had a very memorable hotel experience if we'd been caught in the elevator! I read up on a little ghost history at the Faust and there have been a number of ghost sightings that involved the elevator. Very creepy... and fun.
I've got a thing about old phones, so I loved discovering this old phone booth next to the stairway. It was just a replica phone, but the sliding door and wood walls looked original.
Halls and Doors
When I walked down the hall of the second floor I was eerily reminded of my great Aunt Ruth's retirement apartment building years ago. I half expected to see some potted African violets on the windowsill. The thin carpet had a wrinkle or two and there were no fancy light fixtures. But sometimes I have to appreciate the authentic. I did like the door, though! You have to love the shuttered area that once allowed air to circulate. On the inside of the door, the slats were covered by a mirror, which was good I guess. That would have been a bit odd.
Our Tiny Home Away From Home
We stayed in Room 219, which is one of their European Rooms. That is a fancy way to say The Cheapest. The satiny bedspread clashed a bit with the busy carpet design, but the bathroom tile made me smile. Just like my grandma, Daw's house! There was a high step up to the bathroom, which could prove tricky for folks who take trips in the middle of the night. The little corner sink was pretty darn cute. In fact the size of the bathroom was cute...kind of like a bathroom on a train! And speaking of trains, there were tracks nearby. They do give you earplugs if needed. But the ceiling fan and the handy dandy window unit fan, did the trick for us!
Our night's stay included a breakfast which was nice. We had the usual continental options along with some breakfast burritos wrapped in foil. The area itself was pleasant and gave us time to take in some more details, painted trim and sconces and old doors with stained glass.
Faust Brewing Company
I should mention, there is a pub in the back of the building. It was added a few years ago in an area that had once been a courtyard. Since the town of New Braunfels is known for it's German heritage and culture, it makes sense for the historic hotel to have a brew pub on site. We did stop in for a beer and free popcorn, but didn't sample their menu.
If only we had had a ghost encounter! I would love to report that. But what will we remember about the room and the hotel itself? I would say the most notable thing about our room, was the comical size. There were some funny moments trying to climb over our bags and each other. As for the hotel, the building details were impressive, but we had no people encounters at all, to make us bond with the place. Perhaps the most notable part of our stay was the location and being able to walk to numerous places. Naegelin's Bakery (1868) was just across the street and The Phoenix Saloon had great atmosphere, food and music. We definitely enjoyed our one night stay and our location helped us explore the town that we've always been curious about. But if we ever returned I would pay more and have an upgraded room.
My New Year's Resolution for 2014 was to start documenting some of the memorable overnights I've had in some very odd and curious motels and hotels. Like the adventures in my Dining Blog, I have learned to enjoy the surprises that happen when you step out of the comfort zone, far away from the well-known chains.
I began with a few entries recalling my very first home away from home memories from my youth. Then, I started sharing about some of the quirky and unforgettable motels, hotels and inns that my husband and I have discovered in recent years.
The best part about this challenge was making some lists with Don and getting on the road in search of new overnight adventures. I gave myself a 2-year goal to write up 90 stories and the goal was met. Now we just keep on adding!