Teeny, tiny towns and horseshoe pitchers

So, we’re on a South-North road trip. As is often the case, we discover so many cool things…randomly.

For example, we stumbled on the National Horseshoe Pitcher Association World Championship. Whaaat?

Bart walked around the site where “ringers” (?) were practicing for the next day’s competition. Very cool.

After leaving South Carolina, we headed to and through North Carolina. Imagine our surprise when we found the iconic little town called Micro (population 498). As they say about some places, “there’s no there there” in Micro.

It’s truly a tiny town.

Continuing our sojourn North, we found refuge in a very comfortable Maryland hostelry located in the small community of Middle River.

After driving through areas with challenging weather (lightning and torrential rain), it was a real pleasure to arrive to a place with beautiful calm skies.

TOMORROW: New England… here we come!

200,000 “small town America” miles behind us…

..and, lots more on the road(s) ahead.

Our 2010 tour-mobile just hit the 200,000 mile mark. We celebrated the moment by stopping at one of our favorite off-the-beaten-path places: The Good Earth Peanut Company in Skippers, VA (pop. 634).

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It was lunch time and we were hungry. Bart got his favorite, low carb treat: roasted sea salt and cracked pepper peanuts.

Rorie, well…let’s just say she deluded herself (again). She insisted her choice was the healthiest: double dipped milk chocolate peanuts, which she said packed a big wallop of dairy and protein. And, hey, “0% trans fat” (Sigh).

There you have it: today’s road food report. Stay tuned for news about our continuing adventures, spotlighting nice folks doing awesome things in really cool countryside places.

NEXT STOP: “The 2 Ks” (Kentucky and Kansas)

Question: When is a sandwich not a sandwich?

Answer: When you’re in a town called Sandwich (Massachusetts) as the Discover Small Town America Tour was earlier in the Summer. More on this later…


We set off to explore the Upper Cape towns of Bourne, Falmouth and – of course – Sandwich. Our tour guide for the day was our wonderful friend Alice, a native “Cape Codder” living in North Falmouth (pronounced “Fal-muth”). The town (population approximately 30,000) is a picturesque place that combines bucolic countryside views and vistas with a vibrant and very walkable village center.

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The weather was spectacular and Alice took us on a walk near her beautiful home to a local marina called Fiddler’s Cove. This place is a classic New England boating venue.

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Having worked up a good appetite, we decided it was time for lunch. Alice had a special place in mind and drove us on some gorgeous backroads (only a local would know) to a seafood lover’s nirvana – The Lobster Trap. Located in the Town of Bourne (population 19,754), The Lobster Trap is a fish market and fried seafood joint located on the Pocasset River in Monument Beach.

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From a healthy choice standpoint, some of us chose our meals wisely. Others (Rorie, Rorie, Rorie), not so much. “Anybody here order the fried clam roll with a massive side of fries?” She insisted it was just the perfect balance of protein and vegetables.

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The Lobster Trap has plenty of indoor searing but limited, and prized, outside tables. We scored one with a direct view of the water.

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After a great visit with our buddy Alice, and a scrumptious lunch, we headed off to another iconic Cape Cod town: Sandwich (population 20,675).

Sandwich is the oldest town on the Cape. It was first settled by Europeans in 1637 and named for the seaport of Sandwich, Kent, England. It is home to a historic grist mill, and boasts an amazing collection of architecturally significant homes.

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Even its town hall is stunning.

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The Hoxie House – a classic saltbox style – is one of the oldest houses on the Cape (Circa 1637)

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Dexter’s Mill is located on the historic town square of Sandwich. It’s one of the oldest water mill sites existing in the US and has Plymouth Colony Records dating back to 1640.

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The architecture that can be seen in the area around the mill is just beautiful.

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We thoroughly enjoyed getting to know these charming, Upper Cape towns. It was truly a “secret sauce” kind of day: visiting a great friend, eating great food and seeing great sights! As we were leaving the Cape we drove by a “show stopper” view. Bart slammed on his brakes and Rorie took this spectacular shot of a massive cumulous cloud floating over a lake. Looked like a Dali-style painting. An amazing end to a wonderful day.

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Stay tuned for the Tour’s next road report from the Lower Cape towns of Brewster, Chatham and Orleans.

Shhh. Can you keep a secret?

We can’t. Well, maybe we can just whisper it in YOUR ear…

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The small town of Los Alamos, NM (population 12,019) was the ultimate travel secret for many years.  If you worked and lived there, it was a “zip your lips” place.

“Imagine you work in a city that isn’t on any map, in a house that has no postal address. You go to work each day not really knowing the purpose of what you are doing or how it fits into the jobs of the thousands of other people going to work each day around you. You don’t talk about where you live or what you do with anyone on the outside—and even on the inside the work conversations are kept within your own department. You always erase the blackboard after a meeting.” That was the Secret City of Los Alamos during the early 1940s. (http://bit.ly/2vabtRx)

Small town America is home to lots of “secret” places

The Tour has traveled tens of thousands of off-the-beaten-path road miles. Our favorite experiences are discovering secret little “hideaway” places that most people have never been to or seen…like Secret City. Here’s a quick roundup of several. Can you name them? We’ll give you a few hints.

This is the scene inside Russell’s Travel Center (NO, we don’t own it)

Actually, this is NOT a tiny town…

All we’ll tell you is that this gentleman owns an establishment named in honor of his mother. His restaurant is located in an area known for citrus farming.

Mermaids, apparently, need suds to quench their thirst in Longbeach Village.

Sgt. Pepper is featured at this iconic gallery.

Wine and classic cars featured in the bucolic Northwest Connecticut town.

And when those cotton balls get rotten…Located in the small town that hosts The Big Pig Jig (think BBQ).

Sam’s tree house has a connection to President Jimmy Carter.

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The Tour found harmony in Harmony…and some wonderful wine.

Bart made a new friend in a place called Old Town. Frank Lloyd Wright would have approved.

Rorie was always fascinated with super hero movies. Can you say rusty “Transformer”? Only a short drive from Music City to this small town. 

Shy pie? No. Shy server? Yes. Wonderful establishment just outside the city limits of Ft. Smith, AR.

Chile capital of the world.

The abbreviation for this small town is HdG. This is a water’s edge view of the Chesapeake Bay.

Bart, meet Bert, Bert, meet Bart. Iconic local waterside grill.

Sidewalk art from the grounds of the Gibtown Showmen’s Club.

Discovering small towns makes you work up an appetite – or makes you vulnerable to snack attacks. Salty, crunchy goodness found here, down the road apiece just over the railroad tracks.

Stay tuned for road reports about lots more “secret towns” in small town America.

The Tour discovers “real-deal” Greek food, found and eaten in a small MD town where the Army tested the bullets that killed JFK.

After experiencing hellacious traffic getting through Atlanta, we had a quiet night’s stay in Norcross, GA (The Peach State)The Tour continued through South Carolina (Home of The Gamecocks) on our way to Durham, NC (The Tarheel State), where we stopped to see our daughter Sara and meet the newest member of the family.

Say “hi” to our new grand dog, rescued Lady Jane, LJ for short, who Sara (right) recently adopted.

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Sara made us THE BEST EVER slow cooked pork loin dinner. Her recipe was from a web site called Gonna Want Seconds. Bart wanted (and had) thirds. OMG. Here’s a link to the recipe. DO NOT MISS THIS ONE: http://bit.ly/2gufusr

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The next morning we made tracks through VA (Virginia is for Lovers), the Nation’s Capital and on to the small town of Aberdeen, MD (Maryland is for Crabs). The town is home to baseball legends Billy and Cal Ripken, and former resident and musician Frank Zappa. 

Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr. holds the record for consecutive games played (2,632), surpassing Lou Gehrig’s 56 year run of 2,130 that many believed was unbreakable.

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Aberdeen (pop. 15,130) is also notable for the presence of the U.S. Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground, where Bart’s career Army Uncle Joe Harrington was stationed for several years. It’s also where ballistics tests were carried out on the bullets that killed President Kennedy.

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Our hotel for the night was located in a most unusual – and cool – location…attached to Ripken Stadium. The Stadium is home to the Aberdeen IronBirds, Class A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. The team has sold out every home game since it began playing there in 2002.

This is the view from our room.

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After checking into our hotel, we dropped our luggage and then immediately headed out again to explore the nearby town of Havre De Grace, MD (pop. 12,952). Positioned on the Susquehanna River and at the head of the Chesapeake Bay, the city was named one of America’s 20 best small towns to visit in 2014 by Smithsonian Magazine. If Smithsonian says to visit…we go.

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There is so much history here, ranging from the British invasion during the War of 1812 to the town’s role as a primary stop for escaped slaves on the Eastern Route of the Underground Railroad.

Walking along the waterfront boardwalk (or as they call it…a promenade) we passed what was once the stately brick Bayou Hotel, now condos.

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Continuing on, we passed the Decoy Museum, (duck hunting and artisan carved decoys are still big business here) and the historic Concord Point Lighthouse, which marks the mouth of the river.

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The Chesapeake Bay views along the Promenade Walkway were spectacular. It was dusk, there was nearly a full moon and this kayaker had “the joint” all to himself. Very serene.

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What a great spot to sit and take a load off.

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We can’t think of single boat lover who wouldn’t want this gig – Havre de Grace Harbor Patrol.

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Driving out of the waterfront downtown area, we passed gracious inns decked out for Christmas, and restaurants and shops overlooking the bay. Havre De Grace is a very cool, old-fashioned town where the surrounding river and bay draw folks to enjoy coastal living.

The Vandiver Inn, a charming Victorian-style B&B near the banks of the Susquehanna River.

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After our waterfront walk in the brisk (okay cold) air, we definitely worked up an appetite and knew just the place to go…Georgia’s Carry Out, a local mom and pop Greek restaurant we read about.

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The minute we walked in we knew we made a great choice. Nick, who owns the restaurant with his beautiful wife, greeted us, asked us if we’ve had his home made soups, and when we said no, he immediately brought each of us 3 samples of the best soup ever.

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A couple at a neighboring table, Tim and Sandy Brooks, really helped us decide what to order. Thanks for the great suggestions.

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This is a small Greek Salad which could have fed at least 3 people. The stuffed grape leaf melted in our mouths. The feta cheese was fresh and creamy, and all the veggies were perfectly ripe and crisp. But wait, there’s more.

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Owner Nick ladled our “sample” soups. Bart loved the homemade pea soup so much he ordered what they call “a bowl”. Had to be a quart of that liquid deliciousness in his “trough”.

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Rorie got a gyro (pronounced “YEE-roh” Nick insisted). As the old saying goes, “It takes two hands to handle a whopper”. This was a whopper and it was delicious!

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Tim and Sandy told us about another small town eatery they thought we should take a look at, even if only for the kitschy decorations. It’s called Mamie’s Cafe (http://www.mamiescafewithlove.com). This is what ABC News had to say about the place: “The hand written sign spells out Mamie’s…and underneath you see, ‘With Love.’ When you go inside, its like your family album came to life…While waiting for your pot roast, shrimp salad, or free desert, take a look up on the wall and you will see a history of East Baltimore.” Did someone say free dessert?

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Mamie’s walls are covered with old pots, pans, washboards and nostalgic photos from years gone by…

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Full beyond words, we headed back to our place of rest for what we hoped would be a great night’s sleep.

This was the reading on our odometer when we left Georgia. We’ve put quite a few miles on our buggy, under our belts and on our buns, with 2,000 more to go.

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The next stop on the second to last leg of our coast-to-coast, round trip Tour: Connecticut. Time to bundle up.

The Tour takes on small town TX, Loo-zee-an-uh and Miss-iss-i-ppi

NOTE: Some may think the Tour is too focused on food, but we’ve found that the townies we meet love to “tell us where to go”. Plus, discovering great local eateries brings us to cool parts of the towns we’re visiting AND introduces us to hometown folks with great inside info and stories to tell. Read on…


After a long, grueling ride from Abilene, TX, through towns like Clyde (pop. 3,734 – Bart’s Dad’s middle name), Cisco (pop. 3,899 – birthplace of  Darrell “Dash” Crofts of the music duo Seals and Crofts), Terrell (pop. 15,816 – where actor and musician Jamie Foxx lived and graduated from school), we crossed through small Louisiana communities like Rustin (featured by Jack Kerouac in his book On the Road), site of the annual Rustin Peach Festival.

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We continued on over the Mississippi Bridge to our final stop of the day – Vicksburg, MS (pop. 23,856).

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Vicksburg has an interesting history as a strategic Confederate site that was practically impenetrable because of it’s location on a high bluff and on the Mississippi River. General U.S. Grant was ordered to capture the City, and during the Winter of 1863, he put his Army aboard transports and moved downriver from Memphis. Floodwaters prevented Grant from marching over the land from the river against Vicksburg, and Confederate cannons on Vicksburg’s bluffs made it impossible to move the army by boat past the city to attack from below.

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Eventually, Vicksburg surrendered during the 47 day Siege of Vicksburg. The surrender of the City by Confederate General John C. Pemberton on July 4, 1863, together with the defeat of General Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg the day before, marked the turning point in the Civil War in the Union’s favor.

Vicksburg’s historic architecture is stunning. Cedar Grove, built in 1852, is one example.

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During the War, Cedar Grove was struck by a cannon ball, which is still lodged in the parlor wall. The house is one of many in town that’s said to be haunted.

The Beck House is another example of Vicksburg architecture from the Antebellum period.

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The Old Vicksburg Courthouse is now a Civil War museum.

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After checking out the gracious old buildings, it was getting late and finding some good “Vicksburg Vittles” was foremost on our mind.

Rusty’s Waterfront Grill is a great southern comfort and seafood restaurant right by the Mississippi River at the end of the historic section of downtown Vicksburg. Another example of a wonderful recommendation by a local.

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All that was left of a bowl of jalapeño hush puppies and chipotle mayo dipping sauce. We were trying to make sure we achieved the RDA for the “grain” and “dairy” groups on the food pyramid.

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You can’t be in MS and not try some gumbo loaded with sausage and local seafood. Well, you could pass on it but why would you want to?

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Rorie opted for this behemoth Gulf shrimp po’ boy. She would like it to be clear that she did not eat the roll…like that really matters!

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Bart went the healthy and safe root with fresh grilled Grouper accompanied by sides of mayo-laden dipping sauces. Yes, it came with fries (not pictured).

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Dry-docked Mississippi River boat across from Rusty’s.

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The downtown historic section of Vicksburg is really beautiful and all decked out for Christmas. Loaded with museums, historic homes, brick paved streets and oozing Southern charm, it’s definitely a wonderful place to stroll.

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Tomorrow: Leaving cool Vicksburg for Hotlanta…

From AZ to El Paso to Abilene…a whole lot of nuthin’ going on, except ghosts and snakes

We left the comfortable surroundings of our beautiful Scottsdale, AZ digs for the last 2 days with some uncertainty and trepidation about today’s journey, and ultimate destination – El Paso, TX.

The drive through AZ was uneventful, but we stumbled onto a way off-the-beaten path (we’re talking dirt road) place that was really cool…Shakespeare Ghost Town in Lourdsburg, NM (pop. 2,665). The Tour-mobile took gravel roads to get to the place where the “streets” were trod by Billy The Kid, John Ringo, Curley Bill, The Clantons and other famous gunslingers.

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This remote outpost isn’t a tourist destination. There was no one to be seen for miles…

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We read a little about this spooky place with the interesting past, and hightailed it out of there before we got rounded up by a sheriff’s posse. Can’t even fathom how these outlaws found this place to begin with.

The route between Las Cruces, NM and El Paso, TX is  called Dairy Row and for good reason.

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More than 30,000 cows live in 11 farms located one after the other and trust us, we smelled them long before we even saw them.

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Our next stop was Deming, NM (pop. 14,090), where Rorie continued to calm her nerves and satisfy her dairy needs with some medicinal sweets…

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Fully reenergized, we completed the last segment of the day’s itinerary and arrived in the border town of El Paso, TX. El Paso is a pretty prosperous city, so it was really startling to see the shacks and crumbling “houses” perched along the bank of the Rio Grand River 50 yards across the small bridge in Juárez, Mexico. It was sad for us to see how simply being born on the wrong side of a bridge sentences someone to a different quality of life.

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We freshened up at out hacienda for the night, and headed out in search of some good local BBQ. Oh boy, did we ever find it at the Rib Hut.

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Wednesday is “rib night” at the Rib Hut ($2.25 apiece for humungous beef ribs) and lucky for us, it was Wednesday. We were excited to try real Texas BBQ. The vibe in the place was great, the food even better. Bart KNEW it was gonna be his kind of place when he walked in and saw paper towels, Tabasco and jalapeños. Rorie KNEW it was her kind of place because there was a sale on ribs.

People were seated family style and we got a primo space near the fireplace and this wonderful couple, Richard and Leticia.

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They were fun and informative about the area, and told us what to order at this joint, which they go to once a week. We enjoyed meeting them as much as we did feasting on our fabulous, heart-healthy meal of ribs, brisket, sidewinder fries and coleslaw.

With full bellies, we went “home” and called it a night. The next morning we were greeted by plummeting temps. Time to put away the flip flops, t-shirts and shorts. Ugh!

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After packing the car – again – we started what we knew was going to be a long journey to Abilene… and immediately ran into snow.

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Bart was nervous because the route we were taking required us to go over some steep mountains and the last thing we needed to hit were icy roads. About 20 miles out of El Paso, in the mountains, we were surprised to come to a Border Patrol Station in the Town of Clint (pop. 941). We rolled to a stop and a member of the border patrol approached the Tour-mobile. He was menacing in his full face ski mask that looked like this…

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Bart asked the agent where we were and he said “You’re in hell, and it just froze over”. Hard to know if he was kidding or not but we didn’t hang around long enough to figure it out. After asking if we were U.S. citizens and of course answering “yes”, we moved right along. Glad to know that one little question keeps us safe from terrorists and aliens!

Bart used to work with a guy in DC who was from West Texas (San Angelo) and he always said it was a God forsaken place, where in many places there’s nothing but tumbleweed. Well, Bill Bivens, having spent a week one afternoon driving through the region and actually having a huge tumbleweed blow across the road and get stuck under our car, I think you understated the desolation that is West Texas…

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Further ahead we came to Fort Hancock, TX (pop. 1,713), which is a classic example of a place “where there’s no there there”.  We did stop at this place, happily not to eat but for a quick fill up at the adjacent gas station. There was a sign on the the station (which we forgot to take a picture of) that said it all, “Open 25/7“. You do the math!

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The town of Ft. Hancock is really struggling.

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“Outpost” says it all…

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With our tank filled, we continued today’s journey. Rorie was quite relaxed…

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We passed by, not through, the Texas towns of Van Horn (pop 2,063), Torah (pop. 92) and Pecos (pop. 8,903), Big Spring (pop. 27,291) and Colorado City (pop 4,821) before arriving in Sweetwater, TX (pop. 11,415).

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Sweetwater is the home of the annual (and world’s largest) rattlesnake roundup. Rorie wouldn’t get out of the car. You’ll understand why when you notice what’s hanging around the top left side of the sign.

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The event began in 1958 and is run by the Sweetwater Jaycees.

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Rorie and I thought of our neighbors the Lakes who are involved with the Longboat Key Kiwanis Club, and wondered whether they might want to organize a snake roundup in their/our Gulf Coast community. We hear it’s a great fundraiser.

World Poker Tour legend Doyle Brunson is from Sweetwater…Bart is a big fan.

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John Wayne was in the 1932 movie King of the Pecos, in which Sweetwater was the home town.

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Enough with our Sweetwater fascination. Onward to Abilene, where we settled in our room and grabbed a bite to eat. During dinner we met an interesting woman from Blanket, TX (pop. 342) with a great life story to tell.

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Chyrl Bradfield was raised by her “Mamaw”(Grandmother), who had 11 kids of her own. All the kids in town went to K-12 in the same little schoolhouse. She is part of the McClain Family which holds awesome family reunions each year. As the Welcome to Downtown Blanket sign says, she was what they call “friendly folks”.

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Tomorrow’s destination…Vicksburg, MS. Join us!