I hit the road for San Antonio around 10am and made good time including a brief stop at a McDonald’s for their decent coffee and a very good cinnamon roll. Soon enough I found myself at the airport where after a short wait at the cellphone lot, I picked up Joanna and we were on our way. Some days driving distances seem short and others the same mileage can just drag on: this was one of those, the miles creeping by. We picked up some trail mix along the way and this helped keep us fueled until we finally landed at the Holiday Inn Express Abilene, which would be as nice as the one we stayed at in Absecon.
It had been a long day and having eaten most of the bag of trail mix and also not thrilled with the idea of ginning up enough energy to seek out a unique dining experience, we opted for easy and vaguely healthy, that is hitting a Panda Express just a few blocks away. This chain’s critics will carp, perhaps somewhat accurately, that this isn’t really Chinese food, but then again, what is if you aren’t there in country? Since the days we opened one in the ASUCLA Student Union, I’ve regularly eaten a two-item combo, that is their version of kung pao chicken with a heaping serving of the steamed vegetables. And that is what we split, and it was a good decision that day.
The next morning, we decided to head out for a bike ride around Lake Fort Phantom Hill, a 4,000-acre body of water. The fort the lake is named after was one of the second line of forts laid out in the early 1850s to protect the westward-moving frontier of Texas settlement. In 1849 the federal government sent Capt. Randolph B. Marcy to explore and mark the best route through the Comanchería, the vast region to the north and west of Austin inhabited by the warlike Comanche Indians. The advanced cordon of forts, including Fort Phantom Hill, was established as a result of Marcy’s recommendations.
It was a fine day for a ride, and we set out riding north for about ten miles on West Lake Road, a flat stretch of pavement with ranch land on either side, before turning right on county road 1082 on the north side of the lake, giving us access to a large park adjacent to the water. Returning to the county road we continued to East Lake Road which would send us back to town.
The flat landscape of the west side was now transformed into a relatively hilly route with some headwinds that had risen during the ride, making the return a bit more difficult than we had anticipated. None the less, we made it back and after stopping to split a chicken sandwich at a Chick-Fi-A we finished, cleaned up at the Holiday Inn, and set out for an interesting afternoon visit to Frontier Texas!.
This 4,000 square foot facility purports to tell the frontier history of Texas and all in all, we found our visit to be worthwhile. To begin, we didn’t expect much, thinking it might be a poorly done Disney experience, but we were wrong. The museum is dedicated to the stories of folks who lived through the early days of this part of Texas, from Indian tribal leaders to Cynthia Parker to buffalo hunters and average folks trying to make their way. We found the presentations to be uniformly well balanced, giving equal weight to all of the parties not necessarily painting any as being more evil that the others.
The layout takes you on a journey through the eyes of “spirit guides”, who are actors in a hologram type presentation recreating actual people and telling of their experiences. There are a couple of film segments, one in a 360-degree theatre that puts you in the middle of the action. Of particular interest was the exhibit on the buffalo hunters.
The discovery that buffalo hides were suitable for industrial leather created an industry that transformed frontier Texas. Soon after the Civil War, eastern interests ordered as many buffalo hides as could be supplied. Hunters responded, first decimating the herds on the Northern Plains, and then coming after the millions of Texas buffalo. A government treaty protected the Texas buffalo for Indians, but hunters ignored it and the military “looked the other way” as the loss of buffalo would force the Indians onto reservations. Texas buffalo were killed out in less than a decade.
We spent a good couple of hours taking in every exhibit and would recommend a visit if one should ever find themselves in Abilene. We left the museum and killed some time checking out downtown, then drove to Luigi’s Little Italy which had garnered good reviews in Trip Advisor. It’s a good-sized restaurant and it was not too crowded as it was early in the evening. Seated in a booth we ordered cocktails, for Joanna the Cosmopolita, a bitter and sweet version of a Cosmo and for me the Godfather, an old fashioned leaning concoction featuring scotch and amaretto, weird but good.
We would make the mistake, as we sometimes do, of ordering way too much food, particularly after putting a big dent in a basket of delicious house made rolls dipped in herb laced olive oil. For entrees, instead of splitting like we often do, we each went full in, Eggplant Florentine (topped with mushrooms, spinach, and an Alfredo sauce) for Joanna and Veal Marsala for me, at an incredibly affordable $13 and $17, respectively, which also included soup or salad. We also ordered a side of grilled vegetables. I mean, I’m still not sure what we were thinking.
We did an admirable job, but didn’t come close to finishing either of our plates, which was OK as we travel with a ice chest and almost all of our hotel stays feature a refrigerator and a microwave, meaning a lunch or breakfast downstream. With an easy five hour drive the next day to Portales, New Mexico facing us, we had some time in the morning to do one more bit of sightseeing, a visit to the Grace Museum near downtown. We’ll cover that in the next post.
Holiday Inn Express Abilene: https://www.ihg.com/holidayinnexpress/hotels/us/en/abilene/ailks/hoteldetail?cm_mmc=GoogleMaps-_-EX-_-US-_-AILKS
Frontier Texas!: http://www.frontiertexas.com/
Luigi’s Little Italy: https://www.luigislittleitaly.com/