We took U.S. 281 north from San Antonio, through the Texas hill country, under a cloudy, sometimes showery sky. The Hill Country, where Lyndon Johnson grew up, was in his youth considered no-good: too rocky and hilly and cactusy for farm or ranch. But that's changed: Hill Country is fashionable these days, with upscale housing for exurbanites from Austin or San Antonio, game ranches for well-heeled hunters, and tourists a-plenty. Stay at our Safari Camp, invites a Hill Country bed-and-breakfast and zoo where we spotted a giraffe's long neck. Texas State Flower, the bluebonnet
All those years looking out our kitchen window at 10,000' Owens Peak in the magnificent Sierra Nevada range spoiled us no doubt, so we tend to denigrate the hilliness of the Hill Country, but Heck! anyplace you go in the springtime when the trees are leafing out and wildflowers (Texas bluebonnets in particular) coloring all the roadsides is just wonderful.
We stopped in each town to drive up and down a side street or two, perhaps check out the courthouse. In Marble Falls we noticed more than the usual number of old cars -- the local car club was having a Saturday event. Breakfast in town followed by a country drive around the lake, finishing with a picnic lunch. We enjoyed seeing these lovingly restored and customized cars.
We turned East on U.S. 84, which was called the George W. Bush Parkway east of Waco. Our motel is adjacent to Baylor University. We unpacked the computers and had a good night's sleep.
It makes it kind of hard to teach our young people to be honest when our leaders set an example of coverups. It's especially rare to hear the federal government admit it was wrong. Some 150 years after the fact, there are some half-hearted apologies for the way we made treaties with the Indians yet seldom kept our part of the bargain. It's only 60 years after we wrongfully interned U.S. citizens -- Aleuts and Nisei -- and we still haven't apologized properly for that. Now it's just 10 years since a brutally excessive law enforcement response killed dozens of men, women and children at the Branch Davidian compound at Mount Carmel, east of Waco. So it's no doubt way too soon to expect an apology. It shouldn't be that way. After all, Branch Davidian site, Mount Carmel governments consist of humans, and humans do make mistakes. A little "I'm sorry" is good for everybody's soul.
The difference between the scene at Mount Carmel, and the museum erected in Oklahoma City grated harshly on our human sensibilities. You have read our sympathetic reaction to the museum at the site of the Murrah Federal Building. But now you must hear us say that it is not morally right for our government to officially mourn those who died in the wanton violence in Oklahoma City, yet at the same time officially ignore those who died in the wanton violence at Mount Carmel.
Everything that has been done to provide memorials for the horrible scene of carnage at the Branch Davidian Complex is the result of private citizens' care and concern. Some of those who did survive are still in prison, with two more years out of fifteen to serve for the sole crime of possession of firearms.
After the horrible ending, the news media pulled out quickly, so there was little coverage of the law enforcement officials bulldozing the scene instead of carefully setting up a crime scene to gather all the evidence that might be used either to convict or exonerate those resident in the compound. We learned, to our great sorrow, that the bones of some victims still lie buried in a heap near the ruins of the buildings. It must be borne in mind that most of those residing at the Branch Davidian complex were there out of religious belief, not out of any intent to commit crimes. Many of those who died were children.
A crepe myrtle, surrounded by a bed of white iris, blooming today, has been planted for each person who died; some small granite monuments have been placed, and a new chapel has been built. A small visitor's center provides scenes of the 51-day siege culminating with a tank and gas assault on the building which burned to the ground, killing many of those trapped inside.
We were met by Ron, a middle-aged man from Philadelphia, with a Jewish mother and a Christian father, who was aroused by the scenes on television Tornado damage and moved to Mount Carmel after The Event (as he refers to it), because he felt the message of these people should not be forgotten. A few others stay on the property as well. The other (smaller) communities of the sect have changed their names to Branch something-else-than-Davidian, because of the publicity. The Seventh-Day Adventists, from whom the Davidians split off in the 1930s, try to distance themselves from the sect, too.
Yet our feeling is that a tragedy is a tragedy, no matter who is at fault, and the loss of life at Mount Carmel is just as sad and mournful as the loss of life in Oklahoma City. What a terrible feeling we had -- especially Bob, who has been a federal government employee for so long -- to know that our government had no heart to mourn those unfortunate people fallen here. Perhaps the shame of those who know that those deaths were clearly avoidable prevents them from letting any appearance of sorrow show, but it is a bad lesson to the American people.
From Mount Carmel we circled south and west on the loop road around Waco to the small town of Crawford, home of President George W. and Laura Bush. We had actually driven close by coming in on highway 84, but didn't know it. Crawford is just a crossroads. On one corner is the Coffee Station, where W has been known to eat hamburgers, and on the miniscule main street a couple of antique shops were open, with visitors wandering about. The American flag was flying at just about every flagpole, and several ranches sported their own Navy and Marine flags.
You take 4th Street out of Crawford and turn right at the fork, and then just follow the road as it twists and turns around the corners of one ranch after another. We were doing this when the President rode by, in a five-car calvalcade. The lead driver waved, Texas friendly, and we waved back. It was a two-lane road, so we were pretty close. Two state trooper cars at front and back, two Secret Service sedans, in positions two and four, and the limo in the middle. We drove on past, and wound our way through adjacent ranches, pausing to look where a recent tornado had torn up six or seven metal grain storage facilities on a ranch a few miles from the Bush place.
In the morning we drove through Cameron Park, stopping to view the wildflowers blooming at Miss Nellie's Pretty Place, and later looking down from a cliff called Lovers Leap overlooking the Brazos River. Cameron Park provides some lovely sites for picnics, and a surprising amount of bamboo is growing Old Dr. Pepper syrup mixers in the forest here -- we didn't see any pandas, though.
From the park we detoured past Barnes and Noble to replenish our book supply, then visited the Dr. Pepper Museum. One could safely give this museum a pass, unless one were a serious collector of Dr. Pepper memorabilia and trivia. However they did show a good documentary video about the 1953 tornado that killed over a hundred people, mostly in downtown buildings. One wall of the Dr. Pepper plant was taken out by the tornado, and was rebuilt in a contrasting color of brick to show the extent of the damage. Surprisingly, the 20-story ALICO Insurance building was built to withstand the violent winds, and survived without damage.
We finished our sightseeing with a short visit to the excellent Cameron Zoo. The curator is cautiously building up the animal collection and has been winning community support and several awards. It's a fairly new zoo with enclosures still being built. Most of the animals are in large open parks. Walkways wind up hill and down, broad and easy for strollers (human and baby) to navigate. There are lots of trees and benches for grandparents, and waterfountains for the kids.
A bunch of elementary school students, wearing bright yellow shirts reading CLUB LIT, were busily drawing pictures or writing paragraphs about the animals. They are participants in an after-school program called Communities and Youth, which is partially funded by local businesses. The program offers tutoring and language immersion projects like this, as well as parent education, nutrition and health programs. Everybody seemed to be having fun, which is perhaps the most hopeful sign in something so determinedly Educational.
There were quite a few more museums and historic buildings which we missed in Waco, so the next time we pass this way there will be more to see!