We have been “repositioning” (as they would say in cruise ship world when they move a ship from one hemisphere to the other seasonally) over the past two weeks. Even though it was delightful in Bandera and we really hated to leave, Steamboat Springs was calling. We had been away for 6+ months, trying out our new full-time RV lifestyle. It fits us well. Repositioning, however, would take us on a two week jaunt, moving north through Texas while seeing sights (and sites) along the way. It was STILL SNOWING in Colorado and we weren’t quite ready to put on long pants just yet.
Our first stop on the repositioning tour took us to Abilene. You may remember the country-western song sung by George Hamilton IV and Waylon Jennings back in the ’70’s, with the lyrics, “Abilene, Abilene, prettiest town I’ve ever seen”. Listen to it here. Because of that song, we were expecting this really pretty place. Apparently when this song was written, it was a different place. Cooper and I drove all over town, north, south, east, west, and through the center of downtown. We never found the “pretty”. Abilene is very much (from our perception) a utilitarian town with lots of industrial areas, closed shops and run-down areas. The downtown (which I was hoping would be where the “pretty” was, is mostly government buildings and lawyers’ offices. I have never seen so many law offices (and basically nothing else) in one place ever. If any of you can direct me to the “pretty” of Abilene, please do so. I do have to say, the people were very nice and helpful, however.
That is not to say there is no reason to stop and visit Abilene. After Googling “Things to do in Abilene, TX”, we decided to go visit Frontier Texas! and Fort Phantom Hill. So glad we did. Frontier Texas! was the most amazing, interactive history museum we have ever been to. Interactive is the operative word here. The museum followed a timeline from the Spanish occupation and the Commanches inhabiting a portion of what was then northern Mexico, the Indian wars, the cattle industry and the buffalo hunts, statehood and more. There were 9 holographic actors telling stories about what it was like on the frontier back in the mid-to-late 1800’s. There were a lot of hands-on experiences, all extremely educational. It is as entertaining for adults as for kids. If you are ever in Abilene, don’t miss it.
Another day we went to Fort Phantom Hill. Texas Heritage Commission has a fabulous heritage tourism program, Texas Heritage Trails, where they divide the state into different heritage regions, highlighting whatever is the strongest point of heritage in the area. Abilene is in the Texas Forts Trail region. Back during the westward expansion of America, the US government built a string of forts protect the settlers moving across the nation. Ft. Phantom Hill was one of those forts. All that remains today is a few of the chimneys from the barracks, but there are a few interpretive signs identifying the various foundations and great drawn map of what the fort used to look like when it existed. The fort was only in action for three years. Pretty amazing when you consider the size of the fort and all the work it took to build it.
Fort Phantom Hill doesn’t take very long to tour, so we decided to drive to Eastland, TX on a tip from Rich Galusha (co-owner, with his wife, Shirley Stocks, of the Wild Horse Gallery in Steamboat Springs, CO). In downtown Eastland is a historic hotel, the Connellee, that has been refurbished and turned into the home of the Chamber of Commerce and an event center. Bill and Mable Bradley (also of Steamboat Springs) donated some of their collection of Rich’s western paintings to the Connellee. (Mable grew up in Eastland and they were part of a foundation that was revitalizing their downtown.) Rich has been named the Connellee’s artist and all of the art in the event center is his. Several are very large pieces. There is also a wonderful tribute to Rich posted in the hotel for all to read. It was fun to drive to Eastland and see a bit of Steamboat Springs on canvas there. Thanks for the tip, Rich.
And, speaking of Eastland, they have a quirky town pet that has a festival all his own. The pet is a horny toad named RIP (RIP-fest). To make a long story short, supposedly a horned toad was placed in the time capsule in the cornerstone of the new courthouse in 1897. In 1928 they needed to build a new, larger courthouse, so they took out the cornerstone and opened the time capsule. The toad was still alive. He lived another two years. (REALLY??) Now his embalmed body now has it’s own little silk lined casket with its lid open on display at the top of the steps of the new courthouse. I’m not kidding you. If you like quirky roadside attractions that you would drive out of the way to see, put this on your bucket list. You might even want to go to the festival.
Despite Abilene not living up to its song, we’re still glad we went. Guess you can’t judge a book by its cover. There were actually other attractions that we didn’t have time to see and might be worth checking out if we get back that way.