Jan 102009

Yesterday we toured what I consider to be in the Top 5 small town museums in the United States, the Whitehead Memorial Museum in Del Rio, Texas. We expected to spend an hour or two at most at the museum, but there was so much to see that we  were there all morning!

The museum complex includes over a dozen historic buildings filled with thousands of artifacts chronicling life in Del Rio and Val Verde County from the days of the Indians, to the Spanish explorers, Anglo settlement and on to today. Exhibits include everything from military equipment to farm implements, to an early day doctor’s office, to a replica of Judge Roy Bean’s famous Jersey Lilly Saloon.

The old Perry Store, which was once the largest mercantile between El Paso and Eagle Pass, is filled with early day wares, and upstairs where the family lived, you can get an idea of what life was like for prosperous merchants on the frontier.  

Judge Roy Bean, the famous Hanging Judge from nearby Langtry, was a larger than life Old West figure, and it is sometimes hard to separate fact from fiction when talking about his adventures. This is further complicated because Bean was a shameless self-promoter who made up plenty of wild tales about his expoits. And then dime novels and Hollywood came along to further muddy the waters.

But there is no doubt that the old judge was the Law West of the Pecos, and many a rustler and outlaw paid the price for their deeds when brought before Judge Roy Bean. When he died in 1903, he was buried in the Del Rio Cemetery, but later his grave and that of his son Sam, who was killed in the line of duty as a Val Verde County deputy, were moved to the Whitehead Museum.  

By the time we had lunch, filled up with diesel and were ready to hit the road, it was almost 2 p.m., so I knew we would only have a few hours of daylight to drive in. We cruised northwest on U.S, Highway 90, passing through the Amistad National Recreation Area, with its massive 65,000 surface-acre Lake Amistad. The lake was created in 1969 by damming the Rio Grande River, and is popular with fishermen and watersports enthusiasts. We saw a lot of RVs camped along the shore of the lake, which reaches to 217 feet deep.

Sixty miles from Del Rio, we stopped at the small community of Langtry, where Judge Roy Bean lived and held court. His actual Jersey Lilly Saloon and his home, which he grandiosely proclaimed the “Roy Bean Opera House, Town Hall and Seat of Justice” are now part of a state-operated Visitor Center.

There is no cost to tour the old buildings, which have been carefully restored and are handicapped accessible. It was fun to walk inside the famous Jersey Lilly and think of all the hell raising that went on here. The Visitor Center also includes a Cactus Garden, with a beautiful old windmill.

Back on the highway, our old bus was starting to run at the upper limits of our comfort range on the temperature gauge as we climbed up an endless series of hills. U.S. Highway 90 through this area is a nice two lane road with lots of passing zones, but there is not a lot to see, and the hills kept slowing us down.

We realized we would never make Marfa by dark, and who wants to look for spook lights in the daytime? So we amended our original plan, and at Sanderson we turned north on U.S, Highway 285 and drove 65 miles to Fort Stockton, arriving at Parkview RV Park just before sunset.

The Passport America rate of $10/night got us an almost level pull-thru 30 amp full hookup site on a dirt lot. This is no destination resort by any means; it has less ambience than a New Jersey landfill. If we had more daylight left, I’d have kept on driving. But it served the purpose for a night. We had covered 190 miles, a lot of it uphill, and I was ready to call it a day.

Thought For The Day – It isn’t always enough to be forgiven by others. Sometimes you have to forgive yourself.

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Nick Russell

World-Famous, New York Times Best Selling Author, and All-Around Nice Guy!

  7 Responses to “On The Trail Of Judge Roy Bean”

  1. Love the area you were in today….we spent many nights at the Judge Roy Bean Museum and also in Marfa…hopefully someday you will see the lights…we saw them twice…enjoying the new Look here…Jil

  2. Nick, Thanks for the reference to NJ landfills. Having lived in northeast NJ all my life I have a very good visual of your campsite. Someday, when we’re full-timing we’ll have to stay there to remind us of home. NOT. Love the new blog.

  3. We always stop at the San Pedro campground at Amistad Res. Nice dry camping spots right on the water. Beautiful sunsets and hardly ever anyone else in the campground. With our Senior Pass, it only costs $4 per night. The info says it is limited to 28 foot RVs, but there is plenty of room for larger ones. I believe it is the turn off the main road that would cause some problems:-) Sorry you didn’t see the Marfa Lights.

  4. The Luna Mimbres Museum in Deming, New Mexico is one of the best small town museums we’ve been too. There’s an Escapees RV Park in Deming, so stop by and take time to visit this totally volunteer museum with all kinds of unusual collections. We’ve been told that their geode collection is better than the Smithsonian’s. The collection of whiskey bottles that look like ceramic figurines is huge. How many of you remember the iron lung? There are two in this museum. And don’t miss the Customs House across the street.

  5. Nick: “less ambience than a New Jersey land fill”? Maybe you could have hit the big time by geo caching Jimmy Hoffa’s resting place. Nancy and I are busy here at Rainbow’s End. . . sorta like Mecca for SKPs. We got the MH inspected (a true breeze) yesterday and will get it registered and our driving licenses on Monday. We’ll head towards West Texas on Tuesday, trying to avoid the rope of ‘old Roy Bean along the way. As always, Orv

  6. Nick, have you been to the Hubbell Trading Post north of I-40 in Ganado, AZ? That is one of our top 5 museums. Especially if you can tour the Hubbell Family Home behind the trading post. (Tours of the home are only given once or twice a day.) Someone made hundreds of ochre charcoal pencil portraits of every native American he could, and they are stunning. Much better than photographs for capturing the individuality of each person. It is wonderful.

  7. Nick,
    I thought you espoused taking it slow and easy. Why on earth did you leave at 2:00 pm knowing you had 230 miles ahead of you? You are full timing so you could have just stayed in Del Rio or gone somewhere close by and then left the next day at an earlier hour. Then you wouldn’t have gone into a campground that made you feel uncomfortable. We try to be in our next campground by 2:00. That gives us about 3 hours of daylight in case we get tied up or don’t like the looks of the campground. It gives us options.

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