Free Fossil Hunting in Mineral Wells…Can Ya Dig It?

     When I was a kid I wanted to be an archaeologist when I grew up.

     Now mind you, this was in the days (dark ages) before the Indiana Jones movies, so my parents didn’t quite know what to do with this aspiration, other than try to direct me elsewhere.

     I’ve never quite gotten over my fascination with archaeological dig sites, and recently I went to the Mineral Wells Fossil Park where visitors can dig for and keep fossils over 300 million years old!

   Think of it as the fossil equivalent of searching for seashells along a beach.

     Mineral Wells Fossil Park is a primitive, unique site that’s a fascinating place to explore by yourself or with your family. Offering eight acres to comb, the park used to be the city’s “borrow pit,” which is an area where dirt is taken from to fill other areas. The resulting pit eroded over the 20 years it was used, exposing thousands of fossils from the Pennsylvanian Period.

     It’s one of the few parks in the nation where visitors are legally allowed to remove fossils from the site, taking home true treasures.

     There is plenty of parking in the gravel parking lot, where you’ll also find clean, portable toilets, but no running water. If you’re going to want to wash your hands or rinse off a bit after your outing before you re-enter your car bring an extra jug of water.


     Take time to read the informational signs in the parking lot. They’ll help you to identify things you might otherwise overlook.

     If you’d like to take along a “cheat sheet” click this link to find a handy, printable reference sheet of fossil types, courtesy of fossilcentre.com.

     The park is primitive in more ways than one. You may encounter dangerous insects or animals (it IS their turf, after all) so keep a sharp eye out for them. And once you descend into the pit, don’t expect your cell phones to work. See? Magic – time travel.

     Follow the path to the pit (there’s one way in and one way out to minimize damage to the site). A chain handrail will help steady your balance on the rocky soil as you follow the walkway into the search area.

     My visit was on a day after a light rain which was ideal, since it washed the top layer of dust off of things and revealed new items in the channels where water runs down the sides of the pit. I had been told that I wouldn’t really need to “dig” for the fossils since most of them would be laying right on the surface, but I was skeptical. I was wrong . . . and it was amazing.

     You might find fossils of ancient sea species like trilobites, crinoids (urchins), brachiopods, pelecypods, (clams and oysters), corals, plants, and even sharks.

     The type I found with the least effort were sea lilies (which sound much more impressive when referred to as crinoids). Sometimes called “Indian beads” or “Indian buttons” (what my great-aunt used to call them) in reference to their button or bead-like shape, people used to collect and string them into necklaces. Not to get to “science-y”, but this illustration will show you what where in the plant (columnal) they were originally. Fossils from the other parts of the plant can be found as well.

 

     Who would have thought a big pit could be so much fun?

   Bring a picnic lunch or snacks and PLENTY of drinking water. Even in non-summer months, there is no shade in the actual digging area and you’ll need to stay hydrated. There are no nearby places to eat, so if you’re planning to stay at least a couple of hours (and you should!) your hard-working archaeology crew might get the munchies.

     There is a shaded table area as you enter the park that makes a nice place to give yourself and your family a break from the sun. If your visit will be in the summer months, it would be wise to plan to be there early in the day, or late in the evening.

     Yes, it’s basically a dirt pit, so dress appropriately. C’mon, that’s half the fun!

     You’ll want to make sure everyone has rubber soled shoes (old tennis shoes are perfect) to help with footing on the loose-soiled slopes. (Say THAT 3 times fast: loose soiled slopes, loose sloiled slolpes . . . never mind!)

     Other take-along suggestions: baggies or nail aprons to hold your finds, small hand garden trowels to loosen the dirt, an umbrella for extra shade, a wide brimmed hat, sunblock, bug spray, a bucket to carry tools and water bottles, and a small rubber gardening knee pad to sit on (it’ll feel a lot cushier than the hard ground). As always, please keep a first aid kit in your car to take care of minor boo-boos. Even adults need antiseptic and bandaids, ya know.

     Oh, and did I mention water? Water, water, water.

You’ll also want to bring along your sense of adventure and patience. Once your brain adjusts to what it’s searching for the fossils seem to become more and more abundant.

     Here’s a quick photo I took of the surface at the side of the pit. No, I didn’t even disturb it by beginning to dig! How many fossils can you spot?


You may even see a few “future fossils” during wildflower season.

     The park address is 2375 Indian Creek Road, just northwest of Mineral Wells, Texas. From Mineral Wells, head west on Highway 180. Turn north on Indian Creek Road and drive approximately 2 miles to the Mineral Wells Fossil Park entrance.

     It’s open daily from 8 a.m. until dusk and is admission free, which fits my travel budget just fine.

     Personally, I can’t wait to go back. Who’s up for an archaeological adventure?

Texas Podcasts Cast Out the “Stir-crazies”

   Worried that social distancing to avoid this nasty virus is going to drive you a bit stir crazy? It’s time to let some Texas tidbits provide much needed distraction!

   If you’ve never listened to podcasts before, now is the perfect time to try one out. They’re the next best thing to old time radio shows,

   If you have, it’s an opportunity to find some new ones to enjoy.

   Lend an ear to this starter’s list from Texas, and let me know which is your favorite…or if you’d like to add one to the list! We’re all in this together.

  Enjoy!

West Texas Talks from Marfa Public Radio talks about regional topics. Among my favorites are the local experts like historians, writers, musicians, filmmakers and artists.

Beyond the Riverwalk introduces people places and festivities around the Alamo City. It’s a fun place to learn something new or to start planning your next trip as soon as we’re all “mobile” again.

Waco History Podcast A jailed doctor, prohibition antics, a publicity stunt turned deadly? Sometimes history is more amazing than fiction.

 

 

 

Wise About Texas  Listen in as Ken Wise shares expertly researched short tales about Texas history with wit and charm.

 

Talk Like a Texan Now this one is just downright fun. It’ll have you “chawin’ the rag” about distinctly Texan sayings.

 

Hit the Road with the Trailriders!

     Trail rides are a time honored and much loved part of the traditions surrounding the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

     Four men from Brenham made the first trek in 1952, and by the next year 80 people had signed up to start the legendary Salt Grass Trail Ride.

    One year after that 800 people were participating!

     This year more than 3,000 riders will saddle up to make make the trip, heading into Houston from all directions.

     The Texas Independence Trailride Association is just one of the groups who participate in the wonderful tradition. Established in January 1961, their group has been hitting the trail for 59 years! 

     The Texas Independence Trail Ride, whose trail goes right by my neighborhood every year includes rescue horses, three century-old wagons and the nicest bunch of people ever to gather around a campfire.

 

 

     This year they set out on February 22, and I met up with them on the trail on February 26. A brave 50 to 100 riders will take part in this ride of 100 miles…and they’ve already had a rainy day and a v-e-r-y brisk day (today).

     Multiple generations of families and friends take part. These two sweet cousins are pros – this is her second year and his sixth!

     If you ever have a chance to visit one of the trail riding groups at one of their break stops, be sure to bring your camera and your smile…and watch where you step!

See a video of the wagons, horses and riders in action HERE.

It was W-I-N-D-Y!


Postmarked from Valentine

A Valentine from Valentine? Yep, it’ll set your card apart from the rest.

     For over 30 years the little post office in Valentine, Texas has postmarked Valentines coming through their station with a little extra love.

     Every year, the post office chooses one design from dozens drawn by local schoolchildren to transform into an actual hand-cancel postmark for the holiday. Each year is unique, so even if you make this a tradition it will always seem new.

     Requests for the postmark come in from around the world (yes, really!), and it’s obviously the busiest time of year for the remote location. You can walk your Valentines in to the post office, or mail them in, which…unless you happen to be in that area of Texas…is the only way to go.

     I have heard about this tradition for years but never tried it myself. There isn’t much updated information available about it on the internet, so when I decided this was the year…I called the regional rep for the United States Post Office. She politely walked me through the process (and no, she had never tried it herself either) and assured me it would actually work.

     I live in Houston, so I prepared my cards first, writing them, sealing them in their envelopes, addressing them and attaching a stamp. But here’s where the process is different.

     I put all of my Valentines into one larger envelope (remember they were already stamped), and addressed the outside envelope to:

 

VALENTINE’S DAY POSTMARK
POSTMASTER
311 W CALIFORNIA AVE
VALENTINE, TX 79854-9998

 

     Then I took that large envelope to my local post office and purchased the appropriate postage to get it to Valentine. The postmistress there also expressed an interest, having hear of the program but never having tried it. Are you starting to see a pattern?

     The regional representative had told me that all cards must be received in Valentine by February 4 to be in time to get the special post mark. There is no charge to customers requesting this for fewer than 50 Valentines (gracious!). Customers who do have 50 or more will be charged five cents each.

     I had 10 Valentines in one large outer envelope that would normally cost a couple of dollars to send, but I sprung for the tracking method (just under $5) since I wanted to “watch” the process.

     And off they went!

     I mailed my envelope on January 23rd and it arrived in Valentine on the 28th. Then the hardest part began…waiting. As time went by I religiously checked my mailbox. I had sent one to my daughter at our address, partially so I would be able to see it for myself. The week of Valentine’s Day came, and I got a bit anxious.

     On Valentine’s Day I received a text from a relative in San Antonio thanking me for the card and remarking on the unusual postmark. The good news…it worked. The bad…my daughter’s still hadn’t arrived at our house. But it finally DID arrive, the day after Valentine’s. Soooo, we’re just dragging out the holiday a bit longer.

     I’ll definitely try this again next year, but send them out even a bit earlier to see if that makes a difference.

     It’s a great way to make your Valentines uniquely Texan!

Sweet Deals at Russell Stover Chocolates Shop

     If you’re looking for something to satisfy a sweet tooth, head to Corsicana!

     The Russell Stover Chocolates Shop is filled to the ceiling. . . literally . . . with a candy assortment to satisfy any sweet tooth. You can purchase the chocolates by the box, by the bag or individually. Don’t forget to try their ice cream. It’ll make you glad you turned off the highway, and is a great treat to break up a road trip. There’s even a shaded patio area where you can pull up a chair and enjoy it without risking drips inside the car.

     What takes most people by surprise on their first visit is the overstock bargains. Leave your willpower behind as you head to the back of the store, it won’t do you any good! Regardless of the time of year you visit, you’ll find overstocks candy from Easter, Christmas, Halloween, Valentine’s Day and other seasons all at drastically reduced prices. And don’t worry, even if they’re out of season, they taste fresh and yummy! 

     Be sure to get a “frequent shopper card. Even if you only swing by about once per year, there’s often a free surprise for card holders.

    And, oooooh, the freshly made caramel apples!

     What’s your favorite type of chocolate?

     Russell Stover Shop, 1997 Pecan Delight Avenue, Corsicana

Face It…Ellis County Courthouse Has Quite a Story!

     Stone emojis? Well, kind of! These faces silently tell the story of an unrequited love in Ellis County long ago.

     The courthouse itself is exquisite. This 1897 Romanesque Revival stunner was designed by architect J. Riely Gordon.  If you’re a fan of Texas courthouses, you’ve heard his name before, since he designed 18 of them! But this one is undisputedly his masterpiece.

     I promise to tell you more about this beauty another time, but for now we’re just going to talk about those faces! If you feel as if someone is watching you as your walk around the grounds of the courthouse square, you’re probably right.

MABEL’S FABLE

     The story goes that sculptor Harry Herley arrived in Waxahachie in 1895 to work on carvings for the courthouse project during it’s construction. The itinerant English artist moved into Mama Frame’s boarding house, where he met and fell in love with her beautiful 16-year-old daughter Mabel.

     As his work continued on the courthouse, Harry’s love for Mabel grew, and he carved her angelic countenance to top the exterior columns of the courthouse.

 

     But, as fate would have it, the love was unrequited and Mabel discouraged his constant attentions. As it became apparent to Harry that his love wasn’t returned, his disappointment slowly turned into bitterness, and the faces he carved to represent Mabel progressed from beautiful to grotesque and twisted. A lasting revenge for his broken heart.

     The townspeople weren’t too happy about the unattractive faces on the courthouse they had spend so much money to build, and one story relates that the cattlemen and farmers even tarred and feathered poor ol’ Harry and ran him out of town on a rail.

     It’s a sad, but terrific tale ripe for retelling through the generations.

Spoiler alert: If you’re charmed by the legend and would prefer

to leave it at that . . .you might want to stop reading this now.

THE TRUTH

     Mabel’s mother Hattie, although a widow, didn’t seem to be running a boarding house according to the federal census. Even if she had been, the chances are that Herley never met the Frame family.

     The biggest obstacle to this story were the characters were when it was supposedly taking place.

     The stone sculptures for the courthouse were sub-contracted to the Dallas firm of German stonemason Theodore Beilharz. Hervey, who worked for the company at the time, is created with carving the exquisite red sandstone capitals perched atop the polished pink granite columns, but he also supervised other carvers who worked on the project.

     The carvings would have been created in the Beilharz’s Pacific and Hawkins Stoneyard in Dallas and shipped to Waxahachie by rail as finished pieces, ready to mount in place.

     So…if Hervey wasn’t actually in Waxahachie, he certainly wasn’t occupied falling in love with one of its residents.

 

     There’s no record of Hervey coming to town until the summer of 1896, a year after his work for the courthouse was completed, to work on another stone carving assignment for a prominent businessman.

     It was on this trip that he met local girl Minnie Hodges, whom he married in August of that year.

     Many of Reilly’s courthouses feature faces and gargoyles, appropriate for the Romanesque style, and its likely that the design or at least the theme for the faces was under his direction. Unfortunately no records show what the intended meaning of the progression was meant to represent…which opens them up to storytelling.

     It’s still a good story, and I bet if we checked back in a hundred years..it will still be told.

     Most local lore has elements of truth woven into it. Does knowing the true stories “ruin it” for you, or make it more interesting?

     And what’s a Texas legend without a song to go along with it? To listen to Jeremiah Richey’s ditty about the Eliis County Courthouse faces, click here.

 

Waxahachie: Straight from the Heart

     If you’re looking for a place with heart . . . you’ll want to add Waxahachie to your travel list.

     The “Hachie Hearts Trail” project was initiated as a part of the city’s “A Place in Your Heart, Texas” campaign in this charming town. Large hearts (locals call them “puffy hearts”) decorated with different by artists have been installed around town as public art.

     Besides just being enjoyable as to find a view, the hearts can present a fun activity for families or groups. Make it a challenge to find all of the hearts. If you’re in a group, it would be fun to take a selfie with each of the hearts, and the first group back to an agreed upon meeting spot wins.

     And if you make that meeting spot Farm Luck Soda Fountain on the courthouse square (YUM!), everyone wins!

 

     “Hearticulture,” appropriately covered with hearts, was painted by Michael Poston and Jenny Galbrath


“All-American City” by Julie Law

“Here Comes the Sun” by artist Leah Lawless-Smith

     The psychedelic sunrise was sponsored by the staff of the local Sun Newspaper. Look for hidden images on both sides, chosen by members of the staff.

     “Hollywood Texas” by artists Leah Lawless-Smith, Candace Faber, Steve Miller and Mike Duncan. This movie themed heart features scenes from films shot in Waxahachie, like Bonnie and Clyde, Tender Mercies, and Places in the Heart.


“Crape Myrtle Capital” by artists Julie Law

“High Cotton” in Hachie by Damion Brooker is a nod to one  of the traditional crops of the area…and probably my favorite heart.

“Emotions” by Leah Lawless-Smith

     “Oobie’s Town and Waxahachie All-Star Band” by Julie Law this one at the entrance to Getzendaner Park, backside of heart is a sepia-toned rendition of several of the musicians who have grace the stage of the Chatauqua Auditorium.

and

“Land of the Free” by Gerald Spriggs


     Which is your favorite?

     After you find all of the Hachie Hearts, stop in at the County Museum on the square and take a look around. They have heart shaped locks for sale that you can write the name of someone you love on, and then attach to either the love lock fence downtown, or the love lock bridge by the old train depot. Leaving a little of your heart behind in Waxahachie . . .

 

 

Click here to see a video of Waxahachie’s

Love Lock Bridge

 

Historic Cole Theatre

     Just look at those lines! The design of this historic theatre in Hallettsville is enough to make any architecture-lover swoon a bit.

     Opened in 1939 as a silent film theatre it was owned by Mart Cole, who had a chain of theatres in south central Texas.

It seated 700 and featured Spanish murals on the interior walls.


The first screening was of “The Female,” starring Betty Compson. A piano played by a local musician supplied the live soundtrack.

     The following year it made the transition to a sound theatre.

     You can still enjoy a current run movie and refreshments at the Cole, joining the generations who have before you.

National Parks Fee-Free Days for 2020

     National Parks in Texas aren’t stereotypical by any means. From forest to beach, mountains to rivers, battlefields to presidents, and missions to mammoths…there truly is something to interest everyone!

     While many national parks are free 365 days a year, 112 of them charge entrance fees. The exception is on fee-free days. These select days throughout the year give everyone a chance to visit parks free of charge.

     So what are you waiting for? Mark your calendar and start planning that trip!

 

THE 2020 FEE-FREE DAYS ARE:

  • January 20, 2020 (Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.)

  • April 18, 2020 (the first day of National Park Week)

  • August 25, 2020 (the National Park Service’s birthday)

  • September 26, 2020 (National Public Lands Day)

  • November 11, 2020 (Veterans Day)

     Click on each name for further information on these National Parks and Recreation Areas in the Lone Star State:

 

Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument

Amistad National Recreation Area

Big Bend National Park

Big Thicket National Preserve

Chamizal National Memorial

Fort Davis National Historic Site

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Lake Meredith National Recreation Area

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park

South Padre Island National Seashore

Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Park

Rio Grande National Wild & Scenic River

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

Waco Mammoth National Monument

What’s the Deal with Decatur’s Dice?

     Why the big dice in Decatur? Well, since you asked . . .



If you want to start a friendly debate in Decatur, Texas just ask a group of people about the origin of the phrase “Eighter from Decatur.”
The slang phrase is used by craps shooters who want to roll an eight, and it’s also the title of a song by Western swing legend Bob Wills.
The legend traces back to 1900 when a group of Home Guards and Army Regulars traveled by train to Virginia to participate in a reenactment of the Battle of Manassas.

     Will Cooper, had been hired as a cook for the Decatur participants, participated in a game of craps during the train ride. As a lucky phrase when he wanted to roll a ‘hard eight,’ Will would either say “Ada from Decautur” (supposedly referencing his sweetheart’s name) or “Eighter from Decatur” (which would have been more literally what he was hoping to roll.” Once the men reach the site of the reenactment and joined with others from around the country the craps games continued and Will’s catchphrase spread like wild fire. Supposedly it was taken back to all parts of the country and spoken by people in the following years who had no idea where Decatur was.

     Soon after the phrase caught on, it was incorporated in local signs, businesses and even became the name of the local Navy Band, seen here posing in front of the local courthouse.


Whichever way the phrase rolls off your tongue, you’ll want to keep a sharp eye out in the small Texas town for dice in logos, signs, and sculptures.