Winter Road Trips # 3 Wichita Falls

The famous falls of Wichita Falls
Wichita Falls is a medium sized town in far north Texas, near the Oklahoma border. It 's located approximately halfway between the DFW metroplex and Amarillo, (which lies in the panhandle region), pretty much in the middle of no where. W.F. was settled eons ago by plains Indians, who came to this spot for the waterfalls located there - an anomaly in the middle of the prairie. Later, ranchers and oilmen and other sorts made it a regional collection point for some banks, stores, a hospital, and a couple of restaurants all of which have names that sound like "Cattleman's All-You-Can-Eat Steak Ranch House". Growing up in Dallas, as I did, the chief thing any little child knows about the place is that it is always either the hottest spot, or the coldest spot, on the weatherman's map on tv.
I took a little road trip to Wichita Falls the other day, bringing my mother along with me, to see some artwork at a gallery there. A friend of mine, Bonnie Siebert, is a painter of local renown who shows in galleries from Sante Fe to the Hill Country, and she had an exhibit of her work in Wichita Falls. With nothing better to do - hubster comfortably ensconced in front of the tv for days now watching old "House" reruns, I'd had about all I could take and decided to get a little breath of fresh air on another winter road trip.
We headed north on I-35 towards Gainesville, planning to turn left (west) at Gainesville on HW82 and drive trough Muenster, et al, towards Wichita Falls. Hubster dutifully mapped this entire trip for me on his GPS and kept telling me to head west to Krum and Decater, then take HW287 which cuts along the diagonal to Wichita Falls and is the most direct route. Mom and I ignored him, and pointedly left the GPS at home. Even after all these years, hubster does not "get it" that sometimes the journey is just as important as the destination. Mom wanted to check out the old outlet mall in Gainesville ( now largely gutted and dead, since the new improved outlet mall opened in Allen a few years back) and some bakeries in Muenster ( famous for it's Oktoberfest and numerous German restaurants, beer breweries, butcher shops, delis, bakeries, etc.) The shorter route only offers a strange inexplicable camel farm as it's only sight worth seeing, and that just didn't provide enough shopping opportunities for us.

One of Bonnie Siebert's paintings

But I digress from the main reason for this trip. The Kemp Center in Wichita Falls is a multi-purpose building (was originally the town library, so the docent informed me) that is now used for art exhibits, classes, symphony concerts, weddings, and other things. It is a beautiful old classical style building with Palladian windows, nice natural lighting, a grand staircase. It also has a lovely sculpture garden outside (we chose a beautiful warm sunny mild day to do this) and a great little gift shop inside.

The Kemp Center in Wichita Falls

Bonnie's artwork is truly lovely, and well worth the trip. Someday I hope to be able to save up enough to buy one of her paintings. She has a remarkable way with color, brushwork and composition, and her paintings can best be described as Grandma Moses meets Toulouse Lautrec. They are so cheerful and lively you just feel like dancing after you see them - kind of like Bonnie herself. My mom was so excited - we discussed them all the way home, comparing them to various Impressionist artists whose work we had recently seen at the Kimball in Ft Worth when it hosted its recent Impressionist exhibit from the Art Institute of Chicago .

After we saw the exhibit, my mom and I looked around Wichita Falls for a suitable place to eat lunch. The kindly docent at the Kemp Center gift shop (lovely stuff - we had to support the arts and buy some souvenirs, don't you know) recommended some chain restaurants along the highway, but we just weren't in the mood for that sort of thing. Spoiled by living in Denton, we hoped to find a little tearoom or "ladies who lunch" sort of spot in downtown W.F. We drove all over, our tummies growling piteously, (it is, after all, a long journey to W.F. - from pretty much anywhere), but all we could find were the aforementioned steak houses - not really in the mood for that, either. Mom announced that she was going to wait till we drove back through Muenster, a good hour away. I muttered under my breath and started driving. Several towns on the near deserted highway later, I needed to pull over to get gas, and decided I could wait no longer - we ate chicken sandwiches at Sonic. Not charming, but at least you know what you are getting. By the time we rolled back through Muenster, it was late in the day. We did pop into a bakery and purchase goodies - I bought hubster his all time fave, a cream cheese sour cherry strudel. It was about 2 feet long and could easily be used to kill a man: if he broke in to the house, I'd sneak up on him and whack him with the giant, baseball-bat sized dense heavy strudel, on the head. Hubster, who announces every year about this time that he is embarking on his famous "death diet" ( more on that topic, later) , saw the strudel and muttered that he was going to wait just a few more days to start the diet. I checked later that night, and he'd eaten half that strudel, about a foot of it, in just a few hours. Good thing I didn't take the route he suggested, past the camel farm , or there would have been no cream cheese sour cherry strudel for hubster. Perhaps I would have brought a camel home, instead. Try cooking that up and see how tasty it is.

That's really the end of this anecdote. While searching for photos of Wichita Falls on google, I came across this old ad. I include it here just because I like kitsch - it reminds me of my childhood, when my parents drove to Colorado and New Mexico each summer pulling a trailer behind their monster SUV. We always stopped in Wichita Falls or Amarillo along the way to spend the night - it took us several days to get to our destination. My dad drove s-l-o-w-l-y down the interstate, pulling the trailer. (Nowadays I can make it to Albuquerque or Colorado Springs in one day. Lord knows how slow that man was driving.) This ad brought back all those memories......and I think some incarnation of this hotel is still there.

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