Saturday, December 27, 2008

Restaurant Report: Texas Land & Cattle Steak House

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS -- My wife Diane and I are currently in the hometown of the Alamo working on a number of projects, including an upcoming travel guide. As usual, have taken the opportunity to experience some of the local cuisine.

Tonight we had dinner at the Texas Land & Cattle Steak House on the downtown River Walk (201 N. Saint Marys St.). All sorts of non-local restaurant chains have appeared on the River Walk since the last time we were in San Antonio and we wanted to eat somewhere that we could not just as easily find everywhere else. Diane had also eaten at this restaurant some years before while in town on business and had a positive experience there, so we deemed it a good bet.

Most importantly, we had an excellent dinner. Diane had an 8-ounce smoked sirloin with a side of garlic mashed potatoes, a house salad, and a glass of pinot noir. I had a 12-ounce ribeye with bleu cheese crumbles, steamed spinach, a caesar salad, and a glass of pinot noir followed by a glass of cabernet sauvignon (the latter, drier wine being much nicer with my steak than the former). The meat was excellent and perfectly cooked, just as we had ordered it, and the sides were great as well. And the staff were all very friendly and responsive and the service was timely.

There were, however, a handful of downsides to our visit, all of which seemed to be rooted in a general state of disorganization. One was that our table was kind of grungy, with a few crumbs and some grease, and we had to finish wiping it off ourselves after being seated. Another is that there were no bleu cheese crumbles on my steak when it arrived (but some was brought out within a few minutes and it did not end up on the check). Yet another was that no bread was brought to our table or offered to us, something that we did not notice until we were leaving the restaurant and noticed it on other tables. We had the impression that the staff was spread a little thin, that they were doing the best they could, and that almost everything was coming together alright but that a few things were slipping through the cracks.

These are all relatively minor points, of course, and certainly might be unrepresentative of a restaurant that serves such fine food. We will follow up with additional information as we are able to obtain it!

Note: This and other restaurant reports from our current trip will initially be brief, as they are being posted from the field. They will be updated as appropriate, especially before inclusion in any sort of print guide or posting to other travel-related sites.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Fort Sill Historic Sites

MANGUM, OKLAHOMA -- Tuesday, Dec. 23, was a gloomy, freezing day when I set out from Mangum for the 65-mile journey east along the Wichita Mountains for a visit to Fort Sill, located just outside the town of Lawton. Visiting relatives over the holidays and working on a number of projects -- including a book called Mysteries of the Old West for Pagan Publishing -- brought me to the "Sooner State" and I figured I would check out some of the sites at the historic artillery post as long as I was just down the road from it.

My first stop on post was the old, square, stone structure that can be seen from I-44 and which I assumed to be the original fort built on the site, or a reconstruction of it (part of which can be seen in the image at right). Gerald Stuck, the caretaker for the horses used by the "Half Section," Fort Sill's historic artillery demonstration unit, told me that is a mistake many people make -- along with the assumption that it is the post museum and is open to the public. It is, in fact, the old stables originally used for the quartermaster's draft animals, and the museum itself is located up the hill about a half mile away. He was gracious enough to chat with me for a few minutes, however, and to tell me a little bit about the Half Section, for which he is currently the commander.

I made my way over to the Fort Sill Museum and spent the next couple of hours there, where I enjoyed a 21-minute film about the origins of the historic post and took the time to view all the exhibits in the former infantry barracks. John "Chad" Chadwick, the guide on duty and a former resident of my own state of Virginia, was a great source of additional information and I really enjoyed the time I spent chatting with him.

Once I was done at the museum, I made my way over to the original Post Guardhouse which, among other things, had been used to house Chiricahua Apache military leader Geronimo after his surrender to the U.S. Army. The famous Indian chief died of exposure during his return from a drinking binge in Lawton one cold winter night.

My final excursion on Fort Sill was over to the other side of post, to the Indian cemetery where Geronimo himself is buried. There are some local rumors that the famous warrior's skull and some of his bones were stolen by a miscreant visiting the fort in 1918, but Chad explained that the miappropriated remains had been taken from a crypt and could thus not have been those of Geronimo -- whose grave was unmarked at that time. As the picture here shows, however, it is suitably marked today.

Other historic highlights on Fort Sill include an Indian museum, which was under renovation and closed the day I was there, and a new artillery museum scheduled to open in the summer of 2009. I would not have had time to spend any time at either of those sites anyway, and will just have to try to hit them on a return visit. One of the most important maxims I have learned in my many years of travel -- and one that is inevitably hard to live by -- is that "You can't do everything."

But if you have the chance, I do recommend you visit the historic sites at Fort Sill! And I can hardly caution you not to go there on a cold, dreary day in the winter. After all, I had a great time during my visit, and a lot more personal attention than I likely would have gotten on a warm day during the summer when crowds of people were there.

The Fort Sill National Historic Landmark and Museum is located at 437 Quanah Road, Fort Sill, OK 73503-5100; telephone (580) 442-5123; fax (580) 442-8120.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

'Preserving Family Legends for Future Generations'

As someone who is increasingly intrigued by their own family ancestry, I have recently had the pleasure of discovering a book that takes a unique approach to genealogy and which I would recommend to anyone interested in the subject.

Preserving Family Legends for Future Generations (Roots & Branches, 2008), by Oklahoma author M. Carolyn Steele, approaches the subject of personal genealogy from the perspective of preserving family history by writing semi-fictionalized stories based on the best information the interested historian can obtain. Steele's personal preference is for short stories, but she also discusses novel-length stories and even provides an entire section on self-publishing, largely for the purpose of creating custom-made booklets suitable as gifts for interested relatives.

"My purpose is to encourage everyone, no matter their writing abilities, to preserve their family stories in an entertaining and readable format," Steele writes in her introduction to the book. "Relating a family legend brings the story to life for that instant, but writing it down preserves it forever."

While Preserving Family Legends for Future Generations is very encouraging and instructive, it is also frequently entertaining. Steele includes a number of samples of her own writing, for example, which relate stories about an ancestor who escaped an enemy firing squad during the Civil War and a somewhat risqué grandmother who was murdered by her fifth husband at the age of just 29!

I was very pleased and flattered, by the way, to learn that Steele's source material included my own Everyday Life During the Civil War. Just as she strives in her work to produce something worthy of sharing with others, I am always happy when I am able to accomplish the same thing in my own.

(Note: For anyone who wonders at the presence of a review of a genealogy book on this site, I have taken the liberty of allowing material related to spiritual journeys reside here, too. Beyond that, very little that interests me does not ultimately result in some sort of associated physical trip, so it is appropriate from that point of view as well.)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

KIA Spectra: Worst Roadtrip Car Ever

MANGUM, OKLAHOMA -- Contrary to all appearances and expectations, my wife and I were disappointed to discover that the compact KIA Spectra is a terrible choice of vehicle for a roadtrip -- the main reason being its terrible gas mileage!

We had a car reserved with Enterprise and picked it up at the airport in Oklahoma City the day before this post. We had a subcompact reserved and were offered the Spectra as a free upgrade which, not knowing anything about the car, we accepted. It had a full tank when we headed out on the road for a trip of about 150 miles, and we were surprised to see how quickly it ran down past the halfway mark.

I wanted to give it the benefit of the doubt and assumed that, being a pretty small car, it just had a small gas tank. Assuming it had a capacity of 10 gallons, for example, it would still be getting a respectable 30 miles-to-the-gallon-or-so. Upon perusal of the onwer's manual, however, I was shocked to discover the tank had a capacity of 14.5 gallons! Almost inexplicably, the stupid little car was only getting about 20 MPG highway.

Beyond its dismal mileage, the Spectra has a number of other features that don't recommend it for a roadtrip, the main one being its frighteningly small size. That is the kind of thing you can live with if it is offset by some commensurate benefit (e.g., good mileage). In the case of the Spectra, this just adds insult to injury.

I am not sure why the Spectra gets such rotten mileage. Maybe it has something to do with the stupid little wheels it is equipped with -- it almost looks like it is running on spare "donuts" -- and all the extra revolutions needed to get it down the road just end up eating the gas. Maybe it would perform just fine for local driving. But we won't ever take one on a roadtrip again, and we recommend you that you don't either. As I like to say -- you've been warned!