I have to tell ya…I’ve been looking forward to staying at this renovated mid-century motel all through covid shutdown! If you watched my instagram live interviews/tours of hotel properties around the state during shutdown, you’ve already seen a sneak peak of this one.
The sign alone would have convinced me, but the rooms, gathering spaces and friendly owners and operators make this a definite addition to a road trip list.
The Desert Air isn’t one of the made-to-look-vintage places. It was actually built in 1960 by Ervin and Melburn Grisby, who operated it until 1971. Here’a a photo of Ervin and Melburn — can’t you just picture meeting them at the motel back in the day?
Ervin worked at the Kerr Mercantile for 35 before building the motel. He even met his wife at the store. So it’s especially appropriate that one of the store’s (it’s now known a Z-Bar Trading Company) dinosaurs has taken up residence at the motel. But more about that in a minute…
Besides bringing the entire motel back to life, the new owners have added a couple of their own signature touches to the place, including custom benches outside each room where you can sit back, enjoy the sunset and kick the dirt off your shoes.
They also restored the iconic sign and lit it with an ingenious method that avoided costly neon. She’s a beauty!
Each of the rooms has its own special charm and is decorated with photo artwork featuring the beauty of the area. We stayed in Room 117, the Ocotillo Suite, which is the only one that has a private courtyard with table and chairs, a “cowboy tub,” view of the mountains and a T-rex…. because… why not? It was a nice place to enjoy the mornings and evenings with a cold drink and catch up on a few emails.
The rooms are just retro enough to be fun, but with all the amenities you’ll expect from a modern day motel including a small fridge and microwave. And that bed felt s-o-o good after a long drive, let me tell ya!
Even if you’re lucky enough to have the room with a private courtyard you won’t want to “keep to yourself” for very long, with tempting gathering areas calling your name. The center court space made it easy to socialize with the other guests, and turned into a bit of a party when everyone offered to bring items from their travel coolers to share.
That nice shady oak tree and large rock (it’s called the “Hoot Owl Rock) in the courtyard hail back to another set of owners, Charles and Mary Beth Stavely – the second owners.
Walk through the passage by the office to the side yard, and you’ll make the unexpected find of a school bus. The current owners have re-floored the interior of the bus and created a shaded area outside to provide other secluded spots for the guests to enjoy the outdoors.
Why a bus? It’s a reasonable question, and the answer ties back to the third owners Merv and Gerri Degraff who left the motel to their son Scott. A musician and motorcycle enthusiast, Scott drove the bus (loaded with his gear) from Florida to the motel, parked it out back, and there it stayed. Luckily the new owners Nick, Sara and Joe took pity on the bus and fixed it up to serve a purpose for their new venture. Pretty cute, huh?
I promised you a bit more info about the Kerr Brothers Store. Technically a hardware store, it isn’t usually something that I would add to my itinerary, but this one is definitely unique. Yes, it’s probably the BIGGEST hardware store you’ll sever see, but it also has, well . . .
Yup! Dinosaurs. And every type of metal “yard art” that you can think of and a LOT that you can’t! One step inside the door will make you stop in your tracks to try to take it in, but just take your time and wander. You’ll find things that make you laugh, things you might actually consider taking home, and things that will have you gaping in confusion. Even if you’re only driving through Sanderson and not staying, this is well worth the stop.
It was eventually time to check out of the Desert Air and get back on the road, but we’ll definitely be back.
There was one more touch that I appreciated while getting ready to leave. Each room is provided with an envelope with the name of the member of the housekeeping staff, in case the guest would like to leave them a gratuity. To me it shows how much the owners appreciate their staff, and let’s be honest…it’s so easy in the rush of packing to forget this gesture. The envelope was a nice reminder and made it convenient as well.
Next stop: Alpine and a couple of surrounding towns. You won’t want to miss riding along to see what we found!
Ewe better believe there’s something, well…sheepish about San Angelo.
No matter where you look, there they are: fiberglass sheep sculptures in every color and design imaginable.
Some cities have cows, horses or pelicans. Here sheep started grazing around town in 2007 as a nod to the town’s past, when it was known as the Wool Capital of the World.
Each is sponsored (usually by the location where they’re making an appearance) and given a punny name: Happy Trails to EWE, Lambscapes, Don’t EWE Mess with Texas, Lucky EWE, Lamb of God, and more. MANY more.
With over 100 sheep in this colorful flock they can keep visitors happily hunting for days.
If you’re ready to start off on a sheep-tacular scavenger hunt of your own, this list is a great place to start.
Bet you didn’t know that Texas has an official state water lily…
I mean, c’mon. There’s pretty much a state EVERYTHING of Texas, so why not this?
And I’ve discovered the ideal place to see it in person: The International Waterlily Collection Garden in San Angelo.
For over thirty years, visitors to this unique outdoor space have been stopping to admire the fascinated flowers and lily pads. Ho hum, you say? What if I told you that some of the pads are eight feet in diameter!
A rainbow of blooms of up to 150 species inhabit six pools. What’s even more amazing is that the varieties on view are only about 1% of owner Ken Landon’s collection, which encompasses close to 90% of all water lilies, including some that have become extinct in their native lands. The types in the pools are changed annually, and signs identify many of the species.
My husband and I had so many thing on our “to see” list while we were in San Angelo, that I admit this park fell into the “if we have time” category. Thank heaven we did! The descriptions of it that I hadn’t done it justice.
Dozens of dragonflies and birds flitted around the pools and flowers, which made it even more enchanting.
The long flowering season of the waterlilies (from April to October) provides ample opportunity to see them but the height is September, which is when San Angelo’s Lily Fest is! Click this link for updates about the festival.
The best time to see the flowers is in the morning, but some of the blooms only occur in the evening.
But what about the Texas State Water Lily? I’m glad you asked! On April 26, 2011, the 82nd Legislature of the State of Texas formally designated Nymphaea, “Texas Dawn” as the Official Waterlily of the State of Texas. San Angelo is home to the “Texas Dawn,” which was created by Landon.
The International Waterlily Collection has been designated by the International Waterlily & Water Gardening Society as a premiere collection of lilies in existence. Pretty impressive, huh?
The display is near the corner of West Beauregard Avenue and North Park Street west of downtown San Angelo and the Concho River. The park is free to the public and open 24 hours.
So put the ‘petal to the metal’ (sorry!) and be sure to add this colorful, unique stop to your next visit to or through San Angelo.
Since Bonnie Elizabeth Parker and Clyde Chestnut Barrow were both born in Texas, it should come as no surprise that there is no shortage of places in the state with some sort of link to the notorious outlaws.
When Bonnie, Clyde and the Barrow Gang drove up to the Ponder State Bank in Ponder, Texas and attempted to rob it, they were disappointed to find out it had gone bankrupt the week before. Legend has it that Clyde was so disgusted with the news that he marched the teller out to the getaway car at gunpoint, and ordered him to repeat what he had just said to Bonnie…who laughed hysterically. Clyde then shot out the windows of the bank in frustration.
Years later in 1967 Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway would film a reenactment of the event at the same bank while portraying the young outlaws. The film, which told a version of their story that is far from the truth, glorified the couple as being glamorous outlaws. In reality they murdered at least thirteen people.
This popular movie is actually why most people refer to them as “Bonnie and Clyde.” In their day they were more commonly referred to as the Barrow Gang or Clyde Barrow and “that Parker woman.”
The Ponder bank is empty now, but still has much of it’s original charm including the original teller cage and bank safe.
I love when movies about historical characters are able to use actual locations from their (sometimes fictionalized) lives, don’t you?
If you stood on these steps would you be more impressed that you were standing where Bonnie & Clyde did, or Warren and Faye?
This morning I posted a photo and bit of information about the Ross Sterling Mansion, which is known locally as the First Texas White House. After receiving several messages asking for a bit more information, I’m sharing it here.
This beauty is right down the road from my own home…which is decidedly smaller!
Architect Alfred C. Finn designed the scaled down replica of the American White House for Humble Oil founder and future Texas governor Ross Sterling. It’s a Texas State Historical Landmark as well as being listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Finn, by the way, also designed Houston’s Jefferson Davis Hospital, Sam Houston Coliseum, and the San Jacinto Monument in addition to numerous other federal and private projects.
Construction on the grand residence began in 1924 and was completed in 1927. First named “Miramar” – meaning “sea view” – the 21,000 square foot mansion sits on six about six and a half acres of residential coastline between La Porte and Morgans Point.
Its 34 rooms include nine bedrooms, 15 baths, a dining room that seated 300 guests, a ballroom with pressed tin ceiling and marble fireplace, a gentleman’s lounge with carved wood fireplace and built-in leaded glass-front bookcases, a mahogany-paneled library, a ladies’ parlor, and a kitchen with butler’s pantry. Seven fireplaces warmed the waterfront home on chilly winter evenings, and the rooftop terrace still offers stunning 360-degree waterfront views.
This pair of serpentine reversed staircases in the foyer would put the most stunning movie set to shame.
The waterfront side of the home features a 28-foot columned rotunda portico that most people immediately recognize as being based on the White House.
The staircases and lowest level are made of granite blocks, and the walls of the upper stories are made of foot-thick limestone. The foundation is reportedly strong enough to support a ten-story building. The stalwart structure has withstood countless storms including Carla, Alicia, and Ike. I would certainly feel safe within its walls!
Ross Sterling was the 31st governor of Texas, serving from 1931-1933. Countless dignitaries and celebrities have been hosted in the home over the years.
Sterling and his wife Maude Abbie Gage had several children, and they along with a generation of grandchildren enjoyed the home for two decades.
In 1946 he donated his mansion to a civic club and it was used as a juvenile home until 1961. During those years the home suffered heavy damage.
Thankfully a handful of owners in the interim years have restored it to its former glory. It still retains many of the original features including intricately carved and gilded moldings, silver and gold light sconces, Tiffany chandeliers, antique stone fireplaces, pressed-tin ceilings and marble and oak flooring.
It is now once again a private residence, having sold at auction in 2016 for $2.8 million (though initial estimates were for $4 million).
If the current owners insisted on having me over for tea, I must admit I wouldn’t mind!
If you’d like to cruise by on a Sunday drive, the historic home is located at 515 Bayridge Road in LaPorte.
Click the links below to watch some entertaining home movies shot at the mansion back in it’s Fitzgerald-era heyday!
NOTICE: This trip was taken before the Corona virus quarantine.
Mother-daughter weekend getaways with my teenager are a gift, and we recently discovered an inviting bed and breakfast that was the perfect home base for our exploration of the charming town of Waxahachie.
The last thing you might expect to find in this small town just 30 miles south of Dallas are British theme lodgings, but you won’t want to miss experiencing the British Merchant’s Inn for yourself.
Owners Mary and Howard Baskin have been lucky enough to live in the red brick Mission style bungalow style home twice. They raised their family there before moving away for several years, and then re-purchased it in 2016 to turn it into a bed and breakfast.
At the end of a long drive from Houston my daughter and I were relieved to pull into a parking space on the side of the inn, which sits on a lovely residential stretch of West Main Street. After being greeted at the door by a large concrete bulldog painted with the Union Jack we stepped inside, and into an explosion of creative interior design with a nod to the British Isles.
If every corner you see appears to be a picture perfect vignette, there’s a good reason. Mary worked as an interior designer for over 35 years and produced interior design articles for publications such as Traditional Homes, Country Home and Better Homes and Gardens as a regional editor for Meredith Publishing.
She also organizes small group antique shopping trips abroad – which I’d love to take part in now that I’ve witnessed her knack for finding such unique items. Her delightfully amusing discoveries fill every room at the BnB.
The home, whose layout is ideal for operating an inn, was built and occupied by James Wright Harrison by 1910 (according to the census), although the owner’s obituary stated that he built it in 1905.
James was born in Arkansas and came to Texas in 1868 when he was just 12, with his British born father, American mother and a houseful of siblings.
Later, the cotton farmer married an English girl named Fanny and they moved into this home in town where they lived the rest of their lives, passing away just one day apart in 1944.
Though they never had children, I’m pretty sure their love story lives on in the walls of their beautiful home.
Mary took the opportunity to incorporate her love of England to reflect the heritage of the original homeowners, and create an inviting place where guests can recharge between jaunts into town to take in the sights.
We stayed in an upstairs Room 1, which offered two separate beds. My daughter immediately chose the one nestled beneath a window and piled with pillows.
My larger bed was beneath a crystal chandelier in another nook of the room, providing us both with a sense of togetherness, with a bit of privacy.
Each of the guest rooms has a private bathroom in which the Baskins have provided all the necessities down to fluffy towels and make-up remover. My daughter and I were determined to enjoy the large claw foot tub during our stay (although we used the shower more often), so we stopped by a local drugstore and treated ourselves to fragrant bath bombs. (Because it wouldn’t be a girls’ weekend without a bit of pampering, right?) Ooh-la-la!
Mary invited us to explore the other rooms to statisfy our curiosity, and each was a unique little oasis of comfort and style.
Room #3 featured a very British, very red bathroom with walls adorned with antique hats.
The romantic canopy bed in room number 2 is perfect for couples or just to treat yourself. The room features its own private second floor patio balcony.
The only downstairs guest room, number 4, is the largest and features boldly striped walls.
A “formal” downstair parlor and bar areas, complete with grand piano, are also on the ground floor and would make an ideal place to meet up with your traveling friends who may not have been lucky enough to stay at the inn.
Our mornings began with cups of tea sipped from china cups while we were getting ready for the day. My daughter loved visiting the “tea station” in the mornings and evenings and choosing a different floral china cup to use…and I admit so did I.
For breakfast we were given vouchers for an adorable nearby café called the White Rhino Coffee + Kitchen. Conveniently close to the inn it had plenty of parking and delicious food. I hate to think that I may have missed this gem if Mary hadn’t sent us there! Located in an old two-story home, the downstairs has been renovated and opened into large comfortable spaces that encouraging lingering. And, um…the cinnamon rolls served in individual mini skillets? Yes, please! The staff was just as enchanting as the food and restaurant itself, so we were glad to be able to revisit them two days in a row.
Anyone who thinks there wouldn’t be enough to do around this small town needn’t worry. We spent hours in the antique shops and chatting with the friendly owners, searched for and found all of the “Hachie Hearts” (read more about them HERE), had a yummy sandwich and malt for lunch at Farm Luck (an old fashioned soda fountain that is a “must”), photographed the old railroad station and bridge, and Art on the Square where we enjoyed chatting with a local artist patiently creating a new masterpiece.
The recently restored courthouse on the square in town has quite a legend attached to it, that you can read more about HERE.
Movie buffs may recognize several sights around town used as movie backdrops for films that include “Bonnie and Clyde,” “Tender Mercies” and “Places in the Heart.” And the friendly hosts of the English Merchant Inn are more than happy to cue up one of these classics for you to enjoy in the TV room as you put up your feet after a long day of walking from shop to shop.
If you aren’t in the mood for movies, you may want to pull up a chair to the den table to work on a puzzle or curl up with one of the numerous books from the shelves guests are invited to enjoy.
I couldn’t help but think how fun it would be to stay at the inn with a group of friends, taking over the entire second floor and enjoying the common spaces together, or sitting on the wide porch watching the rest of the world go slowly past.
I think it’s the perfect “excuse” to visit again, don’t you?
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.
“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 . . .
So many of us start off each new year by looking back, so I thought it was only appropriate to begin 2020 by sharing a place that brings us back to the beginning of Texas: San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site.
Open since April 2018 the San Felipe de Austin Museum is simply one of the most beautifully interpreted historical sites I’ve seen, especially considering there is virtually nothing left of the original settlement. Inside, visitors can interact with touch screen displays to learn details about the settlement, and outside they can walk in the steps of settlers and explore the townsite.
Sitting on the bluff of the Brazos River on the actual site of the former colony it honors the spirit of early Texas pioneers.
San Felipe de Austin was established in 1823 by Stephen F. Austin, known as the “Father of Texas,” as a headquarters for his colony in Mexican Texas. The town had four public squares: Commerce, Constitution, Military and Campo Santo Cemetery.
The first area to visit after paying admission in the gift shop/reception area is a small viewing area for a short film that gives an overview of the history of San Felipe de Austin. Interesting and beautifully produced, it puts the history of the site and people who lived here in context as you continue through the property.
Entering the museum space, the first thing you’ll encounter is a replica of a log cabin. Displays like a spinning wheel and dress-up corner give a bit of information about pioneer life, but make sure you stand for a moment in the space and realize that this small cain would often house an entire family.
A corner across from the cabin holds a field desk that actually belonged to Stephen F. Austin, and display cases contain examples surveying equipment that would have been utilized in laying out the colony and surrounding land grants.
Other displays showcase artifacts recovered during archeological excavations that give visitors a peek into the everyday lives of early Texans.
One of my favorite things about the museum is the number of interactive displays. Adults enjoy them, of course, but as a parent and Girl Scout leader who has traveled with children of all ages, I know how these fascinating exhibits can draw people into history through high tech applications.
Walk up to a lighted, multimedia illustration of the settlement and touch key numbers to learn more about the different buildings (offices, the school, individual homes) and people who once existed there. (And yes, you know that I touched every single one!)
Turn around and walk up to a tabletop display to learn about some of the big decisions the officials of San Felipe de Austin had to make. Once you’ve made a decision about the issue, you can cast your vote, and see the results.
A colonial printing press like one used to print the Texas Gazette, at times renamed the Mexican Citizen, in San Felipe from 1829 to 1832 stands proudly in its own corner, along with a printing plate that . . . yes, really . . . visitors are encouraged to touch.
The display explains the vital role the press played both in the community and in the history of the state:
“The first book published in Texas, written by Stephen F. Austin, was printed by the Gazette press in 1829. In 1835, the Telegraph and Texas Register began operating under the guidance of Gail Borden, Jr. and soon became the unofficial voice of the Texas revolution movement. It also printed many other important Texas documents, including the Declaration of Independence.”
Impressed? I was, too.
I encourage you to take your time and read the descriptions that accompany seemingly small fragments and objects in cases that line the walls. There are priceless treasures and surprises among them.
William B. Travis was a town resident before his death at the Alamo, and he sent his famous “Victory or Death” letter from the Alamo to San Felipe. A ring thought to have belonged to him was excavated from his homesite and is now on display.
After exploring inside the museum, it’s time to expand your discoveries by venturing out the side doors, and into the townsite itself.
A bronze plat map sits on a platform on a covered patio, providing a frame of reference for how the settlement was laid out on the property. From here visitors can follow a mown path through the mown native grasses to visit specific sites within the former town. San Felipe was one of the most culturally diverse communities of its time in Texas. Farmers, explorers, politicians, enslaved and free people of African ancestry, intertribal delegations of local Indians, cattlemen and businessmen populated the thriving settlement.
A tavern, bakery, stores, homestead sites and more await visitors who will quite literally be walking in the footsteps along the same paths these brave citizens did almost two centuries ago.
The Texas Revolution caused the demise of San Felipe de Austin, when the residents burned it to the ground during the evacuation known as the “Runaway Scrape” in 1836. After the fall of the Alamo, Mexican General Santa Anna and his forces briefly occupied the ruins of the town just before their defeat at the Battle of San Jacinto.
Just across the road from the museum are a few more sites you’ll want to explore. A commemorative obelisk marks the exact spot of Stephen F. Austin’s own cabin – the only home he ever owned in Texas. There is also a stoic bronze statue of the Texas hero, a replica dog trot log cabin, active excavation sites, and the original well for the colony.
The large white building is the J. J. Josey General Store, built on the townsite in 1847 and in continuous operation for generations before being moved here for preservation.
Visitor parking is available on site at the museum and limited parking is available across the street.
Allow yourself at least 60 to 90 minutes to enjoy the museum exhibits and the grounds, and be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes as the outside trails are unpaved and the ground is somewhat uneven.
San Felipe is just ten minutes east of Sealy, and the museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. , except for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Even, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
Admission – Adults, $10; Children (5-14), Seniors, Veterans & Austin and Waller County Residents, $5, Family ticket (2 adults and 2 children) $22. For other options and to find out more about he San Felipe de Austin Historic Site, click HERE.
Rev your engines and head out to Combine City for a chuckle-worthy spoof of Amarillo’s famous Cadillac Ranch.
Even though I went in search of this unusual sight about ten miles southeast of Amarillo, seeing it in person brought to mind visions of Tow Mater and Lightning McQueen out tractor-tipping in the animated Pixar movie ‘Cars.’
See the resemblance? Gotta love people with a sense of humor and the gumption to make a vision come true! And…just for the record…this installation began several years before the 2006 movie was released.
If a Cadillac buried bumper-up in the ground is considered art…why not a tractor?
In 2002 when Orville Ladehoff finished stripping the all the usual parts from his 1970 combine, he didn’t think it was worth the effort to cut the ‘carcass’ up to sell for scrap. His wife Gracie suggested that he just bury it…and that gave Orville an idea.
After digging a hole with his backhoe, the farmer slid the combine in with the front end rearing upward. Since the two-acre field he executed this feat in is next to Farm to Market Road 1151, other locals quickly noticed, and began bringing their own worn out combines to add to Orville’s collection.
He even purchased a few more, stripped them of parts and brought them to the ‘herd’ as well. The collection dates from the 1950s to the 1970s.
The last of the fourteen combines from to be planted (Orville prefers that word to “buried”) was in February 2008. But visitors still come to take photos – even senior photos, writers still pen articles about it, and the field of up-ended combines is still bringing smiles to all those who seek it out.
Read more about the Cadillac Ranch that inspired Combine City here.