Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Motorcycle Road Trip to Waco, TX

We have never spent this much time at home base.  In fact, we have found ourselves here in Livingston longer this stay than the prior 4 years combined, including during COVID!  So, we broke up our July routine with another trip on Maximus the Trike, this time to Waco, TX.


We departed early on a Friday, yet another hot, sticky day in TX.  But we find if you postpone doing fun stuff waiting for cooler weather, you will do little here during the summer.  It was a nice ride on US-190/30, then onto TX-6 North.  Mom and I enjoyed viewing all the pastural scenery as we went through Aggieland, though Dad was having nothing to do with it.  As a UT Longhorns fan, we were in “enemy territory”.


We stopped in Calvert, TX to stretch our legs for a second time.  The town’s main street is on the National Historic Register for being part of the original Camino de Real los Tejas.  We parked right by the town’s Roadside Attraction.  Don’t worry if you pass this one by—its not much to look at.  If it weren’t for the fact that TX-6 brings you right through the heart of Calvert, the town would see little activity.  But that wasn’t always the case.  In 1869, the Houston and Texas Central Railway added Calvert as a stop, making it a major trading center.


I wanted to go into the Wonkey Donkey for some wood-fired pizza, but it wasn't opened yet when we passed through.

Though listed in Roadside America, this attraction lacked the "wow" factor.

We checked into the Quality Inn in Waco, centrally located to all major attractions and part of our Choice Privileges Rewards program that we started in Aurora, CO (that’s when Big Boomer, our medium duty truck, underwent MAJOR repairs and we were required to stay in hotel rooms for 3+ weeks.)   We had a spacious suite for a bargain rate of $80/night.


Seems like Choice brand hotels in TX are fans of felines.  Every hotel at which we stay has a cat as its mascot, and the Waco Quality Inn was no exception.

We started our Waco tour with the Texas Rangers Museum.  The Texas Rangers were founded by Stephen F. Austin in 1823, when he hired 10 men to protect settlers in his colony from Commanche and other Indian tribe attacks.   These men came from all walks of life and had no formal training.  In fact, the early Rangers were required to provide their own horses and weapons.  The Rangers helped the U.S. during the Mexican War and were annexed to the Confederacy during the Civil War. They returned from the War to a lawless Texas and were granted police powers in 1875 to deal with desperados and cattle rustlers.  Later, they were tasked with enforcing Prohibition, taking down the gambling halls of the Mob/Mafia, and killing bank robbers like Bonnie and Clyde. As their authority grew through the years, there was some incidents of excessive force, resulting in a bit of a tarnished reputation.  Today, the Texas Rangers are 150+ men and women who are more forensic-driven than patrol-oriented.   Their image transitioned from rough, tough mountain men to highly-trained, professional law enforcement officers.   But one thing has not changed:   they still wear their signature white hats.


No proud Texan can miss out on visiting the Dr Pepper Museum, dedicated to the oldest major soft drink in the U.S.A.  The Museum is within the first structure ever built specifically to bottle Dr Pepper, circa 1906.  Mineral and spring waters were promoted for medicinal purposes as early as 400 B.C., and spring water has been a key ingredient in Dr Pepper since it was created by Charles Alderton, a pharmacist by trade.  In fact, you can view the underground well which provided the spring water for the production process.   Lots of history and memorabilia fill the Museum’s 3 floors, including an area to view commercials from yesteryear (I had the jingle, “…Wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper, too” stuck in my head for hours afterwards).  The slogan “Drink a Dr Pepper for a Jolt” along with the image of a clock highlighting, 10, 2 and 4 was a big advertising campaign.  Interestingly, it was based on a study that concluded these hours represents the periods of lowest glucose levels. I thought the tour was well worth the $10/adult admission, which included a complimentary small soda.  Don’t bother paying for on-site parking.  There is plenty of free parking in the area.


Advertising campaigns sure have changed through the years.
.. have bottle designs/styles. 

Bottling simulation.

A very cool train set-up replicating Waco.

We got our "dance on" Friday night by patronizing Melody Ranch, which dubs itself a true Texas honkytonk.  Interestingly, 14-17-year-olds are permitted admission (sans the ability to purchase alcohol), but we saw few that fit within this age group—the majority were within ages 20-35.  You could determine this just by their style of couples dancing, which contained flips, bends, and acrobatic moves representative of “Dancing with the Stars” routines.  Their talents did not deter my parents from line dancing, though.  This is the first dance venue we have visited that subscribed to proper dance floor etiquette:  Line dancers in the center with couples dancing around them, everyone staying within their “lane”.  We had a good time, but, truthfully, I didn’t care for the D.J.  Something is amiss when you have hip hop and old school gangsta rap playing in a Texas honkytonk.


We learned that several places we wished to visit are closed on Sundays, so we had to rearrange our schedule.  Hence, we found ourselves on Saturday morning at Magnolia Market at the Silos.   This is the property that HGTV stars Chip and Joanna Gaines transformed from an old cotton seed mill to a multi-purpose entertainment venue.  It contains upscale shopping, food concessions, and greenspace where you can play a little baseball, partake of horseshoes and cornhole, or just relax under a shade tree.  The property also includes a non-denominational church, constructed from preserved and repurposed elements from the Second Presbyterian Church, one of Waco’s oldest structures dating to 1894.  (The Gaines’ plan was to relocate the original 1894 church, but it was structurally unsound from remaining vacant for over 30 years.)  Arriving early gave us the advantage of unobstructed photos.  Kudos to the Gaines for their vision of preserving the flavor of historic Waco.


We thought we would dine at Magnolia Table Restaurant that afternoon, another property restored by Chip and Joanna Gaines.   The restaurant is open only for breakfast and lunch and is closed on Sundays as well.  We didn’t have reservations, so when we arrived at 1:15, we learned we would have about an hour’s wait.  This would leave us little time to eat leisurely since the restaurant closes at 3 p.m.  Dad stated emphatically that there was no way, no how he was waiting an hour to eat a stinkin’ avocado sandwich (the only vegetarian/vegan item on the menu other than a salad).  One thing about Dad:  when he gets hungry, he gets hangry.  (He could be a candidate for a Snickers’ commercial!)  So, we ended up at Chile’s where he enjoyed a filling black bean fajita entrée.


After lunch, we walked downtown, popping into some of the boutiques.  The Hey Sugar Candy Store called to me with all its nostalgic confections.  I sunk my teeth into some caramels, savoring every gooey chew while Mom and Dad enjoyed locally-sourced Texas Creamery frozen treats.  Kudos to Hey Sugar for offering a non-dairy key lime pie option for Dad.

Look who I found hanging out at one of the shops--good old Rat Fink!

Our final stop of the day was to the Branch Davidians Memorial, site of the 1993 51-day standoff between David Koresh and his church followers and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), FBI, and other law enforcement entities that resulted in the loss of 4 Federal Agents and 82 sect members, including 18 innocent children.  This is a tragic tale, with plausible explanations presented by both the Davidians and government entities.   The ATF obtained a warrant, suspecting weapons violations, and initiated measures to serve the warrant, but were met by armed Davidians.  The FBI then laid siege to the compound.  The Davidians say there was no need to raid the Mt. Carmel complex at all—they could have arrested David Koresh numerous times outside the compound since he was regularly in town and well known.  The ATF claims the Davidians opened fire first; The Davidians produced a video documentary (“Waco, a New Revelation") which provides evidence to refute this claim. (Ironically, FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi, responsible for killing Vicki Weaver during the Ruby Ridge standoff a few months earlier, was on site in Waco, too).  The ATF claims the devastating fire was started intentionally by the Branch Davidians, citing 3 separate ignition points.  Church members say the cause of the inferno was the combination of rounds fired by the ATF and the tear gas cannisters they used on the Davidian women and children who were hiding in a vault.  We will never know what really happened (though fault most likely can be attributed to all parties), but this Rambling RV Rat does know this:  NOTHING the U.S. government can say or do will ever justify the killing of innocent children.  Though the Mt. Carmel Church has been rebuilt on site, the rest of the compound is a grim reminder of this devastating tragedy.  I pray that lessons were learned and this type of debacle never happens again.


The entrance road offers a serene, pastural view, a stark contrast to the scene near Mt. Carmel Church. 

Despite the sadness evoked and devastation witnessed, seeing these guys on the grounds brought a smile to my face.

After breakfast at the hotel, Sunday morning found us at the Waco Mammoth National Monument.  This is home to the fossilized remains of approximately 2 dozen Columbian mammoths who roamed this area of grasslands some 65,000 years ago.  These mammoths measured 14 feet tall, weighted in at 20,000 pounds (equivalent to a school bus!), and ate 400-700 pounds of grass per day!  It is said they would go through 6 sets of teeth during their lifetimes.  Female mammoths were pregnant for 2 years and then nursed their offspring for 2 years.  Columbian mammoths lived 60-70 years, on average, with females outliving the males.  The first bone was found in 1978 in a ravine near the Bosque River by two young men looking for arrowheads and fossils.  Baylor University identified it as belonging to a Columbian mammoth and organized an on-site excavation.  No excavation has taken place since 2009—the focus now is preservation.   The site is co-managed now by the City of Waco, Baylor University, and the National Park Service.  Because of this unique arrangement, our National Park Pass was not accepted for admission.  But the visit is well worth the $6/adult fee.     


The Ranger speaking (left side of photo) gives a good perspective of just how tall these mammoths were!

Despite the 100F+ temps, we spent considerable time traversing along the Brazos Riverwalk.  We viewed the 1870 suspension bridge, the first bridge to span the Brazos River.  The bridge was a crossing on the historic Chisolm Trail that was used from 1867 to 1884 to move cattle from the Texas ranches and stockyards to the Kansas railyards.  Though you don’t see any livestock near the bridge these days, there are magnificent bronze statues to replicate the days of cattle drives through Waco.  I must say I found it most annoying that people were sitting on the statues.  These are not playground equipment—they are art, no different than if they were in a museum!  People have no respect and no boundaries.

Speaking of statues, we walked along the other side of the River to see the animal sculptures, which lead you right to the Cameron Park Zoo.  Here are just a sampling:

I was compelled to join Mr. Elephant in some deep thinking.

Since Mom loves architecture, period furnishings, and history, she insisted we take the guided museum tours of the McCulloch House and East Terrace House, historic homes built circa 1872.

McCulloch House exterior...

...and some interior photos.

This mobile consists of bisque Kewpie Doll ornaments, circa early 20th century.

East Terrace house

A very luxurious indoor bathroom was added later on.

While hoofing around the area, we stumbled upon the beautiful St. Francis on the Brazos Church.  Built in 1931, it replicates the Spanish mission style of architecture.

We also took a drive to the Castle Heights section of town to sneak a peek at the notable Cottonland Castle.  Constructed from 1890 to 1913, the property was purchased by Chip and Joanna Gaines in 2019 as a “fixer upper” for approximately $425K.  Supposedly, the Gaines completed the renovation and gave limited tours of their work last fall (for $50/ticket), before airing their efforts on HGTV thereafter.  At the time of our visit this July, the home was for sale at the whopping cost of $2.9M.   Subsequently, it had a major price reduction to $1.1M.  The listing is now removed, so either they found a suitable buyer or took the property off the market.


How apropos--turkey vultures hanging out in the turret!

Since Dad is a member of the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, we completed our final day in Waco with a tour of the Grand Lodge of Texas, a massive 140K square foot building that boasts a 3,700 square foot auditorium.  The State organization dates to 1838, when TX was still a Republic.  In fact, almost all members of the Republic’s Administration—from President to Vice President to Cabinet—were Masons.  Additionally, 15 Presidents of the U.S.A. were Masons, the last one being Gerald Ford.  Interestingly, the 5-point Texas Star is the Masonic symbol for friendship.  And did you know that Buzz Aldrin, himself a Mason, established a Masonic Lodge on the moon?  What a great tour with interesting exhibits and a most knowledgeable guide to boot.


This room contained a gorgeous stained glass art piece.

As you can see, there is a variety of fun stuff to do in Waco.  I’m glad we had the opportunity to explore it in depth.  Gotta run now.  Talk to you again soon!


  1. Looks like lots of interesting places to explore in the area.

  2. You guys sure have found much to see and do in TX this year!