Saturday, February 23, 2019

Back to the Trees: Huntsville and Lake Mineral Wells State Parks, TX

Leaving the beach, we headed back to the trees, specifically the Sam Houston National Forest.
Alligators notwithstanding, Huntsville State Park is a lovely place, and no, we did not see any actual alligators.  (Word has it that they are very small anyway.)


Huntsville SP has tree-studded, non-crowded hiking trails, including a 7.33-miler encircling the entire park and its lake.



You can't say hikers don't have a sense of humor.  


The water was mucky but that didn't deter fishermen, paddleboaters, and Boy Scouts on their annual Jamboree from heading out, alligators be damned.


A delicate paper crane was hanging from a tree along the trail.  


Closer examination gave us Google-worthy clues to a mystery.  Turns out Sadako Sasaki was a young Japanese girl who was 2 years when the American nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.


She is widely known for the thousand paper cranes she folded before her early death from radiation-related leukemia, and to this day remains the primary symbol of the innocent victims of nuclear warfare.  I don't know who left this crane here, and where else they leave them, but it was a fascinating discovery.  I think I am going to learn origami and do the same.


Huntsville, Texas is the home of Sam Houston (1793-1863)  and are they ever proud of the ole homeboy. A statue, made from 60 tons of concrete and steel and taking three years to build, adorns the interstate leading into town.  Almost everything in town is named "Sam Houston This" or "Sam Houston That" or "Raven This" or "Raven That" (the raven being the bird of his family crest).


This sucker is big, 77-foot-tall-big to be exact.  It's actually startling as you come upon it, it's that's big.  The car on the freeway in the photo below gives some perspective.


Obviously, if there is a Sam Houston Mini-Mart and a Sam Houston Liquor Store, there must also be a Sam Houston Museum, but this one is nice in that it's an estate of sorts with most of the important buildings of his lifetime relocated to this one spot.



A volunteer "blacksmith" showed us how they made nails back in Houston's day.  They are hefty little square things, and once nailed in place are extremely difficult to remove.  In fact, as settlers headed west, they often burned their old houses down just to retrieve the valuable nails before they left.



Houston's "resume" on the wall revealed him to be not only a soldier, statesman, politician, and the only man to serve as governor of two different states, but also a national hero and a Texas patriot. And that, folks, is how you get a major metropolitan city (4th most populous in the nation, in fact) named after you.  Despite his success, his first wife left him after 3 months of marriage with nary a backward glance.  Let this console all those who have been unlucky in love; don't take it personally.



This is the "Steamboat House" that Houston was living in when he died.  (Let this console those of you who are renters instead of homeowners, the great Sam Houston was probably late on his rent payment once or twice, too.)  It really does look like a steamboat, and was built by Dr. Rufus Bailey in the 1850's as a gift to his son and his new bride.  They found the house style so repugnant that they refused to ever live in it.  (Let this console those of you who have given a wedding gift, only to have it returned to Macy's or Target.)


Houston's last words as he lay dying:  "Texas. Texas. Margaret."  (his wife.)
Hey, at least she came in 3rd, or maybe it's 2nd if you count the first two as the same.


The latin name for the Dogwood Flower is Cornus Florida, but they should change that to Cornus Texas, because these gorgeous beauties are everywhere in the state.


Mineral Wells’ story begins with water, magical healing water that is, which brought tourists from around the world in the early 20th century.  Millions of people, many of them super-famous, were included amongst these visitors.


Bathhouses, spas, “drinking pavilions” and more all rushed to cash in.  Savvy entreprenuers even crystalized the minerals and shipped them to customers who could then add them to their own water.


The Famous Mineral Water Company, manufacturers of “Crazy Water” since 1904, is the only mineral water company still remaining here.  Their product is called Crazy Water because the crazy old ladies with dementia used to sit around the well sipping the water, and legend has it that suddenly they weren’t so crazy anymore!  Turns out that one of the minerals contained in the water was lithium, which is still used today in mental health treatment.




However, you’d have to BE crazy to enjoy this water; it does not taste great.  The company mixes regular water with their mineral water to regulate the flavor, with a scale of 1 to 4, 1 tasting like normal water, 4 tasting like the ocean on a bad day.



The death knell of Mineral Wells began to sound when during the Great Depression, when, predictably, the first “luxury” to go by the wayside was overhyped and overpriced mineral water. This was also the time that the FDA started waving their index finger, “nuh uhh uhh you don’t” at unsubstantiated medical benefits being claimed.  Lastly, medical advances with such things as antibiotics and penicillin made customers less likely to turn to mineral water, and more likely to turn to their doctors for healing.  However, Crazy Water lives another day to sell another bottle to crazies like this.  


The magnificent, and vacant, and abandoned Baker Hotel caught our eye and our imagination.  Standing tall amongst every other low-level building in downtown, with shattered windows and a chain link fence encircling it, it immediately makes you wonder why somebody doesn’t revive it to her old glory.  In fact, many times they have tried to get something off the ground, and just now in 2019 does it look like it might actually happen in the next few years.



Despite opening just 2 weeks after the Depression began, the Baker was a huge success, offering ice-cold water circulated to all rooms and an outdoor swimming pool, the first at a hotel in this area.  Here is how she looked in her heyday.


Now, she's just a shell, but a magical shell at that.  You can feel the glamour of days gone by, busted-out windows and chain-link fence notwithstanding.




Even the fountain in the swimming pool remains to tickle your imagination.


There is a lot of info online about the Baker Hotel, and even some interesting videos showing a construction rebuild walk-through they recently did in the abandoned interiors.  Also, they have put a small square of plexiglass on the bottom floor for this small peek into the (spooky) original lobby. 


Legend has it that the hotel is haunted, and Ghost Hunters has done a special here.  There are also sordid tales of lust (the owner's mistress had her own suite above his), suicides, murders and more.


The Baker Hotel is not the only sad, abandoned, gorgeous remnant of times gone by; other hotels, dilapidated former mansions, shopfront buildings, and even the town hospital vacantly loom.  We even found this ancient relic … something Generation X might not even recognize … kids, this is something called a “video rental store” … still operating!  What!!??


Irrespective of the Baker Hotel (and the video store), downtown Mineral Wells has a homespun charm all her own.



Who knows how long this dusty Corvette has been waiting for somebody to come to serve them at the bank drive-thru window?  At least a year?  Must be Bank of America. tee hee.


This gorgeous mural was just revealed in 2017, when the neighboring building was demolished and it was sprung from its darkness.  Bull Durham was the first truly national tobacco brand and in fact the US Government bought every ounce of their tobacco during the World War years to send to the troops.  Their ads were plastered on every large wall they could find, and also at minor and major baseball stadiums, often near where the pitchers would warm up.  They believe this is where the term “bullpen” originated!


At Lake Mineral Wells State Park, the "Trailway" refers to a 20-mile, flat, paved, easy bike path that runs from Mineral Wells on one end, to the equally cute town of Weatherford on the other.


This state park is beautiful and even the fishermen do their best to color coordinate with their boats.



The park store was closed when we went by, but a sign on the door indicated that store merchandise was available 24/7 from the vending machine around back.  Turns out it was a bait and tackle vending machine.  Say what …??  Grasshopper and chicken blood bait, anyone?   I’ll never get a packet of Oreos from a vending machine again without thinking of this one.



You access the campground by driving through a spillway, with the water up to the rim like a fancy negative-edge pool, but for vehicles. 


The spooky Halloween-style trees were perfect for a full moon…


…and for a water’s edge hike around the lake.


How’s this for a cozy gathering spot?  The next Board meeting of Philip Miller Consultants will likely be held here. 


What can we say, except that WE ❤️ TEXAS STATE PARKS!