Sunday, February 28, 2016

Of Goats and Spoons

A lot can be said about Tyler's Caldwell Zoo.  What is most often said is that it's a great "smaller zoo."  Which means you can see it all in a couple of hours.  So if you are chasing around a couple of young kids (like I was) then it's perfect.

Like most zoos there are a ton of educational opportunities.  Snakes and rhinos and tigers and many others are on display but I learned something about a more common type of animal and their predilection for a particular kitchen utensil.  What's up with goats and spoons?


 So as it turns out there were several spoons along the fence of the petting zoo and they must have gotten tons of questions about them and their relationship to the goats.  So many questions, in fact, that they put up a preemptive sign explaining the phenomena:

So goats and spoons, huh?  Who knew?  Also worth noting, but not particularly relevant, is the awesome hand washing station right outside the petting zoo.  I can't imagine a more worthy entry into the East Texas Hand Washing Station Hall of Fame:

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Review: Hadden's Sandwich Shop

 While passing through Gilmer, TX on recent trip from one place to another, I stopped in the downtown square to snap some pictures.  Like many small Texas towns, the downtown area is packed with historical markers.  The last one I was able to nab (photographically) was for a building that was a shoe factory that made leather boots for the Confederate Army during the Civil War:

The marker reads:

     "On this site during the Civil War, a shoe factory converted leather into footgear for the Confederate Army.
     A harness factory nearby made bridles and saddles and also leather lines and breechings that hitched horses and mules to gun carriages, wagons and ambulances, to move armies through campaigns and battles. 
     Leather was obtained from a local tanyard that treated over 2,000 hides a year. East Texas plants furnished the South 900 sets of harness and 300 saddles monthly during the war."

 But leather, schmeather...I was hungry.  Luckily the building currently houses Hadden's Sandwich Shop and it's got several of my favorite things inside: old school Texas antiques, Star Wars memorabilia, and sandwiches!

In case you were wondering if the mention of Star Wars above was just a typo, I can assure you it is not.  For some reason there is a tribute to the famous film franchise among the cases of antiques and East Texas memorabilia:

There is another case with Star Wars action figures for sale as well.  Why the seemingly out of place tribute to the sci-fi staple?  I have no idea.  But I like that it adds an air of mystery to the place.  It's there for a reason but I don't necessarily need to know why.  Another highlight is the "Wall of Fame":

Lots of places have similar walls and the best places have walls in which almost none of the pictures are of people that you would recognize.  This wall definitely comes through on that point.  I want to say that one of them is a magician, maybe?  But enough talk, let's eat!

They have a very extensive menu but I gave my attention to the sandwich section.  After all, this is a sandwich shop.  So I picked one of my favorites: the muffuletta.  A good muffuletta is all about the olives.  There are several different tactics: you can mash them into a mush or dice them or slice them.  These were sliced and had great flavor.  Merging with the cheese a meat, a new "sauce" was created which makes this sandwich much more than the sum of its parts.

It was an odd hour for eating and I was in a rush so I only got a half sandwich which is normally not enough for me to write a review but this pace made such a good impression on me that I wanted to get it out there.  I look forward to returning many times in the future to work my way through the rest of the sandwich menu.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Naranjo Museum of Natural History

An impressive collection of artifacts from millions of years ago, far beneath the Earth's surface, and above the clouds are on display at the Naranjo Museum of Natural History in Lufkin, TX.  We take a look at it in the newest episode of East Texas Explorer:

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Best Little Rest Stop in Texas

If you drive around Texas as much as we do you'll find that as the road calls you, so calls the biological necessities of nature.  That 32 ounce cup of coffee is a fickle traveling companion.  So we've had our fair share of pee breaks at gas stations, picnic areas and rest stops.  And if this rest stop isn't the best, it's definitely above even comes with its own promotional pamphlet:

Not too shabs.  It's located near the East Texas town of Jacksonville, TX and is called "Love's Lookout."   The land was formerly owned by a local family (named "Love") and became a rest stop in 2004.  Let's check it out:

After obtaining sweet relief you can check out the Blue Star Memorial marker as well as a common site in nearby Jacksonville:

Over 300 concrete tomatoes are scattered around town.  A lot of towns do something similar by creating a symbol that represents the area's history and heritage and decorating local businesses (like the Hippos of Hutto) with them.  This one is ripe for the picking.  A little further on in and you can see the stop's official Texas State Historical Marker:

The marker reads:

     "On this nine mile long ridge there are two historic lookout points which command a view of 30 to 35 miles. Between this site, with an elevation of 713 ft., and Point Lookout (1/4 mi. NW), lies a narrow valley. An Indian trail and later a pioneer road crossed this valley. The pass became known as McKee's Gap in 1846, after Thomas McKee led a group of Presbyterians here from Tennessee and began the town of Larissa (3.5 mi. nw). Named by McKee's son the Rev. T. N. McKee, the village flourished as the location of Larissa College from the 1850s until the 1870s. Point Lookout was a popular recreational area for citizens of Larissa until the railroad bypassed the town and it declined.     
     Around the turn of the century, John Wesley Love (1858-1925) bought this land and developed a 600-acre peach orchard. Known as Love's Lookout, the scenic point was used for outings by area residents. After Love's death, his family gave 22.22 acres, including the lookout site, to the state for a park. The City of Jacksonville bought 25 adjoining acres and developed both tracts as a WPA project. 
     J. L. Brown (1866-1944) and Jewel Newton Brown (1873-1966), former Larissa residents, gave the city 122 acres next to the park in 1940 in tribute to pioneers of Larissa. (1978)"

 Inside the visitor's center you can find the standard pamphlets and tourist info but also some headlines about the area, including some weddings that were performed here:

But the highlight of the center has to be the framed, autographed photo of legendary Texas actor Burton Gilliam (Blazing Saddles, Back to the Future III):

If all that isn't enough to schedule a pit stop then we'll leave you with the view from the lookout.  It may not be the Grand Canyon but it's a great break from the road: