History, scenery, awe, and never leave the county
Mike Brown

I discovered a great place one afternoon last week, a place with history, scenery and some really neat roads, where you can spend some time with nature and the past.

It’s called Milam County.

No, really. If you’ll check out page 1B, you’ll see what I’m talking about. The El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trial is about to pass from a concept to a reality.

Signs are going to go up denoting where the 200-yearold “King’s Highway” will pass through our county. In fact, Milam will be the first place along the entire trail—which stretches from Louisiana to Mexico—to get signs.

Since the actual trail doesn’t follow existing roadways, a “local tour route” will be established, giving motorists a chance to visit several historic sites along the famous road, including Apache Pass, sites where three 18th Century Spanish missions once stood and Sugarloaf Mountain.

The first time I saw a map of the actual route last week I knew I had to hit the road. And I promised myself I’d try to put myself in “tourist mode,” try to look at the county where I’ve lived more than a half century as if I were seeing it for the first time.

That was sort of successful. I did the route west to east mostly because it was late afternoon and that way the blazing, setting winter sun was behind me instead of in my face.

Here are some of my notes from the road:

• I get on the route at FM 486 in Thorndale, heading north. While I’m taking a photo of the intersection, a pickup pulls up and a friend asks me what’s going on.

“Thorndale is seceding from the United States and setting itself up as a republic,” I deadpan.

Uh-oh, I don’t get the reaction I anticipate. I stammer out the real reason, then add “uh, you know I was lying about that first thing I said, right?”

• I hope our visitors will appreciate the blackland, stretching out on both sides. It’s great for growing. And when it turns into mud it can suck the boots right off your feet. I turn onto FM 908.

• I stop and look at the historical marker for Candelaria mission and, of course, I think about John Candelaria, the left-handed Pirates pitcher in the 1970s.

• The marker for San Ildefonso mission has been moved after 77 years in the wrong place (see page 1B.) Directly across the road is an old house, in ruins, which may not be as old as it looks. In front is a satellite dish, also in ruins.

Wonder if that’s the one the padres at the mission used to send reports back to Madrid?

• I cross the Sheckles bridge on CR 429 and my heart sinks. Once this was a stunning country lane with trees on both sides, branches meeting overhead. We used to come down here when our girls were little, early summer evenings, to watch the woods come alive with lightning bugs.

The trees are dead, cleared, piled up at the sides, victims of the drought.

• I’m so used to it, I wouldn’t have noticed the changes if I hadn’t had my “visitors eyes” on. But this trek has gone from farms to mostly cattle and now there are horses along the gravel county road. Valhalla Farms.

• Back on the pavement at FM 1600 heading to Cameron. There are jumps for horses in the fence rows. Twenty years ago I covered some Houston equestrians who would come here for the weekend. • I cross Bear Creek. This isn’t my part of the county so I don’t know it as well. How did Bear Creek get its name? Were there really bears? Could be. Wonder when the last bear was sighted in Milam County?

• Throug h the edge of Cameron—pss’t, I can get around to the long bridge without crossing the railroad tracks—and out to FM 2095 where I turn left to head for Hanover and Gause.

• This is the best part for me because I’ve very rarely taken this road. First thing I see is red dirt. Yes, East Texas red dirt! I think about how the landscape has changed since Thorndale 30 minutes ago.

• Hills appear, heavily forested. It’s beautiful. Why have I never driven through Marlow and Salem before? There are some beautiful homes here.

• Crossroads in Hanover and I turn left to stay on 2095. Years ago I’d drive out here and remember I could see Sugarloaf Mountain in the distance. Can’t seem to locate it today. Don’t know why.

• The further east I go the more “mountains” appear. I wonder if they have names. Bet they do, I just don’t know them. Makes me want to get out and hike.

• There’s a trail spur at CR 264 to go out past Sugarloaf. “Milam’s mountain” sort of plays hide-andseek from the road. It doesn’t jump out at you until you cross the Little River, then turn around and look back. Then, bingo!

• I take a detour through a stunning subdivision of gorgeous homes and awesome vistas. “View-envy” kicks in, I need to make some friends here so I can get invited out for the view.

• Gause and the end of the tour. I’ve traveled 47 miles on a historic trail in my own county. Don’t know if I’m the first, but I won’t be the last.

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2013-01-24 digital edition

The burn ban for Milam County has been lifted. Burning is always prohibited in the county's municipalities.

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