I am guessing if anyone ever asked you how to get to Dublin from Dallas, your answer involved a plane and maybe a stop at Heathrow. M’Lissa and I were more interested in Dublin, Texas because a three-day weekend is too short for trans-Atlantic travel. Besides, and without suggesting otherwise for the “real Dublin,” the Texas town bearing a shamrock logo is a little slice of heaven and the road there is paved with off-the-interstate treasure.
The Google maps’ answer to my Dallas-to-Dublin question suggests a long westward haul across I-30/I-20 before a southern turn on SH 281. Which might say a little something about, take your pick: the soulless lives of people ruled by algorithms; the overrated hipness of Californians or the underrated ingenuity of Texans. The alternative route option on Google Maps is the Empty Nesters’ friend in life so we chose option three and struck out on a much better route, specifically I-35 to SH 67 south and SH 67 all the way to Dublin.
We journeyed on America’s birthday and tried to maximize our patriotism by selecting a few keystone events along the way. In order, the Glen Rose town parade; the lawn mower races in Stephenville and the boat parade/fireworks over Lake Cleburne all seemed worthwhile pursuits. We left the homestead in North Dallas at about 7:30 a.m., stopped for a bagel and pulled into Glen Rose just in time to grab a prime watching spot on the town square for the 10:00 a.m. parade. Of course, everyone at the Glen Rose July 4th parade has a prime watching spot, but being from Dallas we are constantly on the lookout for status symbols to call our own.
From our front-row perch we applauded the Boy Scout troop carrying the colors, enjoyed the antique cars and tractors, and admired the obvious horsemanship of those with four-legged transportation. That last part drove home a worthwhile point. A mere 75 miles from the 80-story Bank of America Plaza, there are still people making a living on horseback. You probably already knew that, but there is something about seeing it that gives your heart a lift. The parade lasted a humane 30 minutes and then it was time to go exploring.
The Glen Rose town square is thriving and blessedly full of galleries, restaurants and retail, as opposed to lawyer’s offices and bail bondsmen. M’Lissa gave high marks to the wares and the decor found at the Strut Your Stuff boutique, we both loved the variety found at Junk or Treasures and if fine western art is your thing, the White Buffalo Gallery should not be missed. But the headliners have to be Pie Peddlers, where we shared a not-to-be-forgotten slice of heated apple pie ala mode, and Shoo Fly, a turn-back-the-clock soda fountain full of delightful treats and souvenirs.
Within easy walking distance of the square were the Inn on the River, a serene and upscale bed and breakfast that looked inviting for a longer stay; the River House Grill, an inviting restaurant installed in a handsome mansion; and Barnard’s Mill & Art Museum, an impressive-looking complex unfortunately closed for the holiday. All that gave us plenty of reasons to return sooner rather than later, but M’Lissa sealed that decision when we stopped at the Storiebook Cafe on the way back to SH 67. The cafe, set in an old automobile dealership/gas station, is a combination restaurant, bookshop and playroom for young and old alike. Storie, the proprietor and namesake, is famous for her Reuben sandwiches and hospitality. Time constraints meant we enjoyed only the latter but the spot seemed perfect for book club selection meetings and other while-the-day-away pursuits. Sort of like a Starbucks without the annoyance of being at Starbucks.
The area surrounding Glen Rose is famous for its dinosaur tracks but also is earning a reputation for outdoor activities, from traversing the multiple waterways in kayaks, canoes or inner-tubes, to mountain biking to golf. You can get a sense of why that is so from a scenic overlook on the north side of SH 67, just west of town. If you are a picnic-lunch-on-the-side-of-the-highway type of traveler, I cannot think of a better spot. You can do almost anything of the outdoor variety at the spectacular (and spectacularly expensive) Rough Creek Lodge, situated about 4 miles south of SH 67, with the turn clearly marked. We stopped by just to look and promised ourselves a return trip when that lottery ticket hits.
Back on SH 67 we made our way to Stephenville, which sits at the intersection of that highway and SH 281. To be candid, our first reaction was disappointment. We made our way to the town square and were suitably impressed with the tremendous architecture, but most of those beautiful buildings housed attorney’s offices. As it is my occupation, I have nothing against “lawyerin,” but it hardly qualifies as a recreational opportunity. The Blue-Eyed Buffalo featured enchanting furnishings for the ranch house we do not own and Greer’s Ranch Cafe looked promising but had closed early for the lawn mower races.
Sometimes in life you have to dig deep and the Empty Nesters’ efforts were rewarded. We stumbled into a converted Rexall drug store and met Bill Lowrance, owner of L Bar Western Art. The converted space houses an impressive gallery but Bill’s hospitality is the real reason to stop in. From there, hunger caused us to stop at Jake & Dorothy’s Cafe, in its 67th year. A blank canvas on the outside, the interior is a time-travel experience. The dinner, prices and staff kept us in an earlier era; M’Lissa swore it was her mom’s fried chicken from the 60’s. Only later did we learn we had collected another of Texas Monthly’s Best Small-Town Cafes, a distinction we heartily endorse.
A side note here. As any real Texan knows, the resurgence of fortune for our beloved Baylor Bears’ football team finds its headwaters in Stephenville. It was there that the Great Art Briles first gained fame, piloting the Yellow Jackets to back-to back state titles. Reminders of those days grace Jake & Dorothy’s walls, but the “State Champ Posters” only enhanced the experience; reliable authority reports that Longhorns, Aggies, and Raiders enjoy the cafe just as much. We spent longer than intended at Jake and Dorothy’s; our appetite and reminisces left us with a hard choice: lawn mower races or complete the journey to Dublin?
We chose Dublin, but promise a return engagement to see the lawn mower spectacle. Our objective in Dublin, 12 miles southwest of Stephenville on SH 67, was the Dr. Pepper Museum and the Dublin Bottling Works, which we have enjoyed before. As we were parking, we noticed the Ben Hogan Museum. It looked like we were too late as the caretaker was closing up: instead with a friendly smile Karen Wright invited us in. It is hard to say which was the bigger delight, the museum or Karen. Ben Hogan spent his first nine years in Dublin before moving to Fort Worth; he rose to dominate golf like no other and had an inspiring life story. Karen knows that story backwards and forwards; what’s more she knows the story of the town just as well. She tells both tales in an entertaining style that makes you feel at home.
Reluctantly, we headed back to Cleburne for the fireworks. To avoid backtracking we detoured off of SH 67 at the sign for Nemo. Really, when you are on a walk-about, how can you resist the challenge of finding Nemo? We were glad we did; the scenery along County Road 200 is among the best in Texas. Huge vistas overlook the rolling terrain; this year at least the landscape is lush. Cattle baron is a role I could get use to if spreads like those we saw here come with the job.
Fireworks over the water are always impressive; Cleburne’s were no different. The park along the lake shore has a large grassy area perfect for fireworks tailgating; thousands took advantage but there was no crowding. High marks also to the Cleburne police department, who moved a large crowd in and out efficiently. So next year on the Fourth, if you are looking for an enjoyable day at the lake followed by a great light show, Cleburne could be your place.
The town itself does not have quite as much to recommend for it. The town square, other than the imposing courthouse, is uninspiring. The recently restored Liberty Hotel, the connected Caddo Grill and the Wright complex across the street are all impressive buildings. The residential areas feature a variety of styles with great examples of prairie-bungalow homes. The best structure in town, by a long way, is Brooks Conover Stadium, where Cleburne plays its home games. A depression-era WPA project, the rock exterior holds hundreds of Friday night heroics in its memory.
As we returned to SH 67 and made our way back to Dallas, the fireworks stands that dot the road cleared their inventories, treating us to continuing pyrotechnics for a long stretch. All in all, quite the birthday party.
The summary: Cleburne for fireworks, Glen Rose for shopping and activity; Stephenville for lunch and Dublin for history. And good luck finding Nemo. Get on the road Nesters!