Sunday, April 01, 2012

Two-Lane Blacktop: Out on Farm Road 61

(Fort Belknap, April 1, 2012. All photos by Erik Donald France)

"Although we're on the Texas Forts Trail, we saw no forts. . ." Wayne Grady and Merilyn Simonds, Breakfast at the Exit Café: Travels Through America (Vancouver, B.C.: Greystone Books, 2010, 2011), page 219. I was wondering about that myself, turns out, so off I went today on a 160-mile round trip to find one in particular.

Early on the trip, I saw a giant rooster strutting by the edge of the road. Next, big cows standing in a low pond. Then rough hilly country and scraggly foliage. Burnt remains from last year’s fires. Devil’s Hollow Road. A gigantic mechanical fan mounted on a heaving flatbed truck, but otherwise sparse traffic. Wind farm off to the right, on high hills or low mountains. Occasional pump jacks, desultory motions. Blue bonnets on hilly roadsides. Gullies. The occasional bar ditch.

Rolling into Graham, Sanderson’s Restaurant for lunch. There’s a buffet, bbq, anytime breakfast. On the wall near where I’m seated, two scary hellish paintings – what are they of? Possum Kingdom Lake fires of 2011. After a chill or two, next I’m digging into the roughhewn coleslaw and drinking Sanderson's decent coffee.

Next on beyond the Shady Lady boutique and the big courthouse square, soon onto Farm Road 61. Mesquite trees. A rattlesnake basking in the sun on the edge of the road.

It’s 1:15 p.m. and suddenly I’m here: Fort Belknap -- the northern flank of the Texas frontier military system garrisoned by the US Army in the 1850s, Confederate forces during the American Civil War, and then by the US Army again, briefly. There’s the original 1850s well and powder magazine and some stone barracks and supply buildings reconstructed during the Great Depression under the auspices of the WPA.

(Tornado shelter, presumably; Fort Belknap grounds)

A Texas couple from around Abilene way are waiting for the locally run museum to open at 1:30. We begin chatting, and they say another “must-see” is Fort Griffin, near Albany, Texas. The enthuse about the Flat, the saloons and gunslingers and bordellos that sprang up around the fort. Then there’s another must-see place, the Beehive Restaurant, in Albany and a newer one in Abilene, run by two Iranian brothers who left Iran in the wake of the 1979 Revolution. “They’re living the American Dream,” the man says. Duly noted. 

Not far from Fort Belknap was the short-lived Brazos Indian Reservation designed to hold Caddo, Waco and other American Indian peoples, while over by Camp Cooper (two leagues away) was the Comanche Reserve. These lasted only from 1855 to 1859 for various reasons, most of them heinous, resulting in the survivors being marched off to Oklahoma for another relocation.

Back to the present, back in the car and off again. The outside temperature: 92 degrees Fahrenheit. Miles down the road, I saw a roadrunner scramble off into the looming underbrush. There were historical markers and cemeteries. There was a Pepper Lane. A Sharla Smelley Road. Star Point Road.

In the 160 miles covered, all but about thirty on different roads (mostly two-laners), I saw only two built structures a hundred years or older -- not counting grave markers. Both of them were government buildings: one at Fort Belknap dating to the mid-1800s; and one courthouse, dating to 1886. Duly noted. 

Today's Rune: Partnership.


the walking man said...

Two lanes is my preferred route always. Well though you found your forts and fine dining experience and all in 160 miles. Cool!

jodi said...

Erik, I too, love a good two lane. The Shady Lady Boutique sounds fun-minus the rattlesnake!