Texas is BIG—Beautiful & Diverse

Texas is big, beautiful, and diverse.

Big Bend National Park  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With 267,000 square miles of amazing opportunities and unforgettable destinations, an RV visit to Texas is always exciting.

In a state as diverse as Texas, there’s always an adventure around every corner and unique attractions at every turn.

From West Texas to the Panhandle to the Gulf Coast, El Paso to Texarkana to Brownsville, from outdoor enthusiasts to foodies to culture buffs, there’s always something to see and do in Texas.

Even those of us who visit Texas frequently and spend a big chunk of our time traversing it leave most of the state untouched.

We’ve driven through Texas numerous times over the years. But yet, it always amazes us just how big Texas really is.

Charting any RV trip through the state can be a daunting task. So many miles, so many routes, and even after all our years on the road we’ve still not seen large portions of the Lone Star State. Every trip through, we explore new areas—and revisit favorite haunts.

The state overflows with awesomeness at every turn, places we find completely captivating.

Monahans Sandhills State Park  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usually we just follow I-10 in from the west. Yes, it can be boring but it is the most direct route.

We take our time and schedule varied side excursions along the way and make the journey—and not the destination—the highlight of the trip. It is the journey that is the joy of RVing.

We’ve explored the Big Bend area, including Big Bend National Park, Terlingua, Alpine, Marfa, and Davis Mountain Observatory. If it’s solitude you seek, you’ll find it here. However you see it, Big Bend is not soon forgotten: It’s a place of mystery and timeless beauty.

The wind-swept, dynamic rippling sandscapes in Monahans Sandhills State Park is one-of-a-kind. A half-hour’s drive west of Odessa it’s well worth a visit. The park consists of 3,840 acres of wind-sculpted living sand dunes, some up to 70 feet high. The Park is set in one of the areas where the dunes are still active and constantly being shaped by the wind and rain. The dunes grow and change shape due to seasonal prevailing winds and you can watch them change whenever the wind is blowing.

Blue Bell, Brenham  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Blue Bell, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ice cream. For us aficionados, ice cream is one of the four food groups. Blue Bell has become the best tasting and certainly the most successful ice cream in Texas (and that means the best in the world). Would my taste buds lie? To learn what makes an exceptionally good thing good, we visited “the little creamery” in Brenham: I think we found out but every few years we require a refresher course.

Lockhart is the Barbecue Capital of Texas. Out-of-towners and locals flock to four smoked-meat emporiums—Black’s Barbecue, Chisholm Trail Barbecue, Kreuz Market, and Smitty’s Market. Several tons of barbecued beef, pork, chicken, and smoked sausage links are served each day. Aside from the barbecue, Lockhart is a wonderful old town to visit. This small Texas town exudes a rustic, slow-paced charm arising from its Western heritage, rooted in cattle and cotton.

One of the great joys of RVing is visiting new places and making interesting discoveries. Another is just the opposite—revisiting those places that demand a closer look. Sometimes that second chance leads to a third—and a fourth. City Market in Luling, is such a place. The meat-market-turned-barbecue-restaurant started in 1958, and over the years has become a barbecue icon. This is the arguably the best barbeque in all of Texas which helps explain why Luling is perennially included on our Texas itinerary.

Spoetzl Brewery, Shiner  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Spoetzl Brewery, Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Texas, the mere mention of the word “Shiner” immediately brings to mind thoughts of a cold longneck and the distinctive brew within. However, before the beer, there was the town. Not surprisingly, the best way to learn the history of Shiner is to learn the history of Shiner Beer, as the two have been intertwined for more than a hundred years. So, we headed to Spoetzl Brewery and joined a tour. The tour gave use a firsthand look into the brewing process and, of course, a firsthand sampling of the final product, from flagstaff Shiner Bock to the Extra Pale Ale, Haymaker. A day trip to Shiner goes down as smooth as the namesake beverage. As they say when toasting in Shiner, “Prosit!”

There’s more—much more—adventure in Texas. Space does not permit to detail our numerous other unforgettable adventures and experiences from The Alamo, River Walk, and San Antonio Missions National Historic Park in San Antonio to Fredericksburg, Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, and Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park in the Hill Country. Galveston, Johnson Space Center, Big Thicket National Preserve, Caddo Lake, Rockport, Goliad, Rio Grande Valley, Palo Duro Canyon, and Austin.

Don’t Mess with Texas, Y’all!

And, of course, because we haven’t yet been quite everywhere, we’ll keep exploring Texas

What’s Next?

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

After 7 days of trial and error,

God created Texas on the 8th day.

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Texas Bucket List for the RVer

No matter how you size it up, Texas is a BIG friendly state that offers a wealth of experiences for all RVers.

The classic Shiner Bock is a God given blessing. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The classic Shiner Bock is a God given blessing. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A trek across Texas’ 267,000 square miles brings you face to face with all kinds of natural wonders—from tumbleweeds, wildflowers, deserts and cedar forests to angular canyons, rivers and sandy beaches with sea-green surf.

Our Texas RV Travel Bucket List continues.

No Finer Day in Shiner

In Texas, the mere mention of the word “Shiner” immediately brings to mind thoughts of a cold longneck and the distinctive brew within. However, before the beer, there was the town.

Not surprisingly, the best way to learn the history of Shiner is to learn the history of Shiner Beer, as the two have been intertwined for more than a hundred years. So, I headed to Spoetzl Brewery and joined a tour.

Shiner beer started in 1909 when the town’s thirsty German and Czech immigrants decided to start a brewery to make the traditional Bavarian brews of their homeland. In 1914, legendary brewmaster Kosmos Spoetzl took over and the rest is history.

The Spoetzl Brewery is now the oldest independent brewery in Texas and still brews every drop of Shiner Beer from its “little brewery” in Shiner.

As they say when toasting in Shiner, “Prosit!” © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
As they say when toasting in Shiner, “Prosit!” © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The tour gave me a firsthand look into the brewing process and, of course, a firsthand sampling of the final product, from flagstaff Shiner Boch to the 102 Double Wheat. The tour is the best way to sample the spectrum of Shiner, and it whet my curiosity as to what else the town had to offer.

Thirsty no more, but definitely hungry, I went to Friday’s Fried Chicken, a local spot that’s part fried-chicken-joint and part Czech bakery. My two-piece golden-fried-chicken plate with cold slaw and French fries hit the spot. Then I finished my lunch with a slice of homemade pecan pie and a whole pie to go.

While Shiner Beer put Shiner on the map, it isn’t the only thing keeping it there. And a day trip to Shiner goes down as smooth as the namesake beverage. As they say when toasting in Shiner, “Prosit!”

Valley Nature Center

The Valley Nature Center is a 5-acre thicket of native vegetations, primarily upland scrub forest, with a courtyard of identified native plants, a butterfly garden, elevated lily pond, cactus gardens, and self-guiding, interpretive trails winding its way through nature vegetation.

The center features a courtyard dedicated to the preservation of endangered plants and teaches how these plants can be used in wildscaping land in the Valley.

A trail guide identifies native plants and animals of special interest.

The great kiskadee has yellow on its crown that is often obscured by the black stripes that frames it. However, if you get a view of the top of its head as I did in this photo, the yellow brightly stands out on this Rio Grande Valley specialty. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The great kiskadee has yellow on its crown that is often obscured by the black stripes that frames it. However, if you get a view of the top of its head as I did in this photo taken at the Valley Nature Center, the yellow brightly stands out on this Rio Grande Valley specialty. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Valley Nature Center is the oldest nature center in the Rio Grande Valley, and the only non-profit center fully dedicated to environmental education south of San Antonio and east of Eagle Pass. It has been in operation as a non-profit organization dedicated to its mission since 1984.

The park is a wonderful natural oasis in the middle of the city.

Native Plant Nursery open to the public—140 species of plants native to the Rio Grande Valley

Viva, Las Vegas Café

Las Vegas Café is a dining staple on West Harrison Avenue in Harlingen that serves breakfasts, lunches, and dinners Monday through Saturdays. The popular café began its operation with only three tables and eight stools and now has a seating capacity for 140 people.

The name has spicy origins and so do the recipes. The building was a go-go club in the early 1960s that went by the name of Las Vegas Lounge.

Las Vegas owners Julio Charles and his wife, Eloina, started the café in 1964. Today, their two daughters, Lori and Julie, primarily run the café.

The key to the eatery’s continued success is its consistency with good food, good service, and reasonable prices.

The specialties of the house include beef and cheese enchiladas that are prepared from a special recipe that is really their trademark. Plus they have several other quality Mexican dishes such as steak rancheros, fajitas, chicken fried steak, and chicken tenders.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Please Note: This is part 3 of an on-going series on our Texas Bucket List

Worth Pondering…

First buy a cowboy hat and boots. Then you’re on your way to being a Texan.

—James Michener

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50 Things We Love About Texas

1. Texas Hospitality

2. Paso Del Rio, or River Walk, the Jewel of the City (San Antonio)

3. Fresh from the Gulf shrimp and oysters

When in the Clear Lake/Galveston area we head for Rose’s in Seabrook for a supply of shrimp. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Exploring the pine and hardwood forests of the Piney Woods of East Texas

5. Saying howdy

6. The Alamo

7. Texas’ wide open spaces

8. Hiking Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, north of Fredericksburg

9. Tex-Mex, especially in far South Texas

10. The way small-town drivers wave to everyone they pass

11. The timeless beauty of Presidio La Bahía near Goliad, and its rural setting

12. Stopping for lunch at almost any small-town BBQ joint and sitting elbow-to-elbow with folks you have little in common with except that you all love good ‘cue

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is a huge, pink granite exfoliation dome, that rises 425 feet above ground. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Blue Bell Ice Cream. Wow!

14. The wind-swept, dynamic rippling sandscapes in Monahans Sandhills State Park is one-of-a-kind

15. Stopping for kolaches at a small-town bakery

16. Driving the winding road to Chisos Basin in Big Bend National Park

17. Feeling at home everywhere we go in the state

18. Bird watching in the numerous state parks and national wildlife refuges of the Rio Grande Valley

19. Chunky salsa with plenty of heat!

20. San Jacinto Battleground Monument and Battleship Texas state historic sites

21. Texas music with Willie, Waylon, and the boys…

22. Millions of gallons of crystal-clear, cold water bubbling up from the San Solomon Springs at Balmorhea State Park in West Texas

23. Tex-Mex Enchiladas

24. Exploring the pretty towns, rolling hills, wineries, dude ranches, beautiful lakes, historic attractions, and cool caves of the Hill Country

25. The wildflowers

26. Friendly Texans—who smile and never hesitate to give out directions when you’re lost

27. Touring Galveston, the “Island of Endless History”

28. Margaritas—frozen, on-the-rocks, or martini-style (with salt!)

29. Summer weather in the middle of winter

Entrance to Galveston’s Strand Historic District, the city’s primary commercial area during the second half of the 19th century, when its star was bright and full of great promise. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

30. Touring the Bluebell factory in Brenham. Especially in the spring when the wildflowers are blooming.

31. Nine-unit World Birding Center which stretches across 127 miles of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, South Padre Island northwest to Roma

32. Breakfast tacos

33. The sign in Hondo that says “This is God’s Country, Please Don’t Drive Through it Like Hell.”

34. Photogenic Guadalupe Mountains and namesake national park area earns a thumbs-up

35. Pecan pralines

36. Being amazed by the subtle colors—red, white, yellow, gray, and lavender—that arise from the claystone, sandstone, gypsum, and mudstone of the panhandle plains at Palo Duro Canyon State Park, the “Grand Canyon of Texas”

37. Shopping H-E-B (Here Everything’s Better)

38. Sense of wit that shines through in town names like Paris, Turkey, Egypt, Palestine, and Earth, as well as Uncertain, Utopia, Happy, Friendship, Veribest, and Needmore. Let’s not forget Cut and Shoot. Oh, there’s so many more!

39. Pecans and all the goodies made from them

40. Small towns decked out for Christmas

41. HEB salsa/picante sauce with the round HEB corn chips.

42. Saying Howdy and Ya’ll

43. Picturesque Rockport-Fulton and Corpus Christi on the Texas Riviera

Rockport-Fulton is an increasingly popular snowbird roost for Winter Texans. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

44. Bluebell Pecan Praline ice cream

45. Kemah Boardwalk and its Christmas Boat Parade

46. Texas ruby red grapefruit

47. A 26,800-acre cypress swamp with Spanish moss dripping from ancient cypress trees limbs, Caddo Lake may be Texas’ most magical and mysterious place

48. Touring and taste-sampling at the “Little Brewery in Shiner

49. Bandera, the “Cowboy Capital of the World” and one of the prettiest areas in the Hill Country

50. Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…
Wasn’t Born in Texas, But Got Here as Fast as I Could

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America’s Top 50 RV Destinations

You might have seen it on a shelf and thought, “I should pick that up.”

Hikers trek into the forest along the more than 500 miles of trails, including 101 miles of the famed Appalachian Trail and are rewarded with some of the most scenic views of Shenandoah. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Hikers trek into the forest along the more than 500 miles of trails, including 101 miles of the famed Appalachian Trail and are rewarded with some of the most scenic views of Shenandoah. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s the national bestseller, “1,000 Places to See Before You Die.”

Sometimes the best adventures are those in your own backyard.

Here, in alphabetical order, are 50 things to do or see in your RV before you die:

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, California

A land of giants, this landscape testifies to nature’s size, beauty, and diversity—huge mountains, rugged foothills, deep canyons, vast caverns, and the world’s largest trees.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks lie side by side in the southern Sierra Nevada, east of the San Joaquin Valley. Visitor activities vary by season and elevation (1,370 to 14,494 feet).

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Shenandoah National Park is a beautiful, historic national treasure which includes the scenic 105-mile long Skyline Drive—a designated National Scenic Byway. The Park covers the crest of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains for over seventy-five miles.

The Native Indians named the valley Shenandoah, mean­ing Daughter of the Stars, for the expansive firmament that roofed their world. Daylight vistas of gently slop­ing mountains, forests, and tumbling rivers, and mountain streams are equally sparkling.

As each season arrives, and the changing leaves hit their peak of rich color, the expansive views become a tapestry of lush green in spring and summer to red, yellow, and orange in autumn.

Continue reading →

Shiner’s Spoetzl Brewery, Texas

The Spoetzl Brewery is now the oldest independent brewery in Texas and still brews every drop of Shiner Beer from its “little brewery” in Shiner. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled below the triangle of Houston, Austin, and San Antonio is the old Czech-German town of Shiner, home to a beer by the same name crafted at the 103-year-old Spoetzl Brewery. Carrying a family recipe for a Bavarian beer made from pure malt and hops, Spoetzl produced beer in wooden kegs and bottles.

Tours offer a chance to see where and how Shiner beer is made and taste a sample or two of the stuff.

Continue reading →

Wall Drug Store, South Dakota

At the other end of South Dakota’s I-90 corridor from the Corn Palace, Wall Drug is a one-of-a-kind phenomenon—a wayside stop that just kept growing and growing. It all began in the Depression, when nearby Mount Rushmore was still under scaffolding, years away from attracting travelers to this middle-of-nowhere burg. Desperate for business, Wall Drug’s owners, Ted and Dorothy Hustead, put up signs on the highway advertising free ice water to thirsty travelers. Motorists poured in—and they’re still arriving.

Yosemite National Park, California

Located 195 miles east of San Francisco, Yosemite National Park has close to 1,200 miles to explore. The World Heritage site is famous for its waterfalls, especially Yosemite Falls, the largest in North America. The falls’ water flow is powered by snowmelt, so visit before the end of summer when the temperature heats up and the flow is at its max.

Zion National Park, Utah

With sheer, milky-white cliffs and pristine waterfalls, Zion is one of the most beautiful places on earth. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the heart of desert slot canyon territory in southwestern Utah is the most awe-inspiring place on the planet: Zion National Park. With the competition Zion faces from its neighboring national parks in the American Southwest just standing out in this esteemed crowd would seem to require some noteworthy scenery. Zion delivers it in spades.

Continue reading →

Please Note: This is the final part of an 8-part series on 50 Places to RV Before You Die

Worth Pondering…

I dream of southern skies.

Cajun cookin’.

Tee offs in Tijuana.

Juleps in Jacksonville.

My reality is a daily commute that begins each day at six a.m.

Road rage.
Traffic tie-ups.

Cranky commuters.
The pathos of Dilbert’s world.

—Lisa Paradis

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Five Things You Need to Know Today: January 27

Since I like things to come in fives (and tens), here are five things YOU need to know TODAY!

1. NADAguides.com Reports RV Inquiries Rising

Let's Go RVing to Monument Valley Tribal Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

NADAguides.com, the most comprehensive new and used car, classic car, motorcycle, boat, and recreation vehicle pricing and information resource online, has announced its 2011 third and fourth quarter Traffic Trends Report—showing growth in traffic and consumer shopping activity site wide.

The RV section saw an overall traffic increase of 10 percent during the second half of the year. NADAguides.com analysts note that according to a new study, 8.5 percent of U.S. households now own RVs, up from 8 percent in 2005, showing a clear rise in the number of people shopping online for these types of vehicles.

Similar to the first half of the year, the total number of unique visitors to NADAguides.com continued to increase during the second half of the year at 12 percent. The site recorded August 2011 as its best month ever for total site traffic.

2. Red Tide Ebbs: Texas Oyster Harvesting Open in Some Areas

Let's Go RVing to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A small portion of Texas waters open to shellfish harvesting today (January 27). At 12:01 a.m. on Espiritu Santo and the conditionally approved area of San Antonio Bay opened to commercial oyster harvest.

Due to the recent rains in the Austin area the conditional area of San Antonio Bay might not remain open for long. The Texas Department of State Health Services will continue to monitor the red tide and will open areas to harvesting when it is safe to do so. For the latest information on the opening and closing of oyster harvest areas, call DSHS at 1-800-685-0361.

3. Quartzsite: A Gem in the Desert

Let's Go RVing to Quartzsite. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So exactly what is Quartzsite?

The World’s Largest Flea Market!

A dusty destination in the middle of nowhere—but, come January, the little town of Quartzsite transforms into the vendor capital of the world and becomes the largest gathering of RVs and RVers on the planet.

This sleepy Arizona town has become famous for luring snowbirds who like to browse amid RVs and RV products, gems and minerals, crafts and hobby items—and the “mother of all swap meets.”

The Chamber of Commerce gives the normal population as around 3,000. In January and February, it swells to a million plus.

The 2012 Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show continues until January 29.

To continue reading, click here.

4. No Finer Day in Shiner

In Texas, the mere mention of the word “Shiner” immediately brings to mind thoughts of a cold longneck and the distinctive brew within. However, before the beer, there was the town.

Not surprisingly, the best way to learn the history of Shiner is to learn the history of Shiner Beer, as the two have been intertwined for more than a hundred years. So, I headed to Spoetzl Brewery and joined the day’s first tour.

Shiner beer started in 1909 when the town’s thirsty German and Czech immigrants decided to start a brewery to make the traditional Bavarian brews of their homeland. In 1914, legendary brewmaster Kosmos Spoetzl took over and the rest is history.

The Spoetzl Brewery is now the oldest independent brewery in Texas and still brews every drop of Shiner Beer from its “little brewery” in Shiner.

Related

5. Check All Lights

Let's Go RVing to Arches National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before leaving on any trip, check all your RV lighting. This is best done using the buddy system: one in the driver’s seat, and one outside verifying the results of the driver’s action.

With your buddy/co-pilot at the rear of the RV, check turn signals, tail/clearance lights, and brake lights.

Finally with your buddy/co-pilot at the front of the RV check your headlights—high and low beams—and fog lights.

If you find defective lights, replace them. It’s always a good idea to keep extra bulbs specific to your vehicle.

Have a great weekend.

Until next time, safe RV travels, and we’ll see you on the road!

Worth Pondering…

The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.

—Michael Althsuler

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Something’s Brewin’ in Shiner, TX

Nestled below the triangle of Houston, Austin, and San Antonio is the old Czech-German town of Shiner, home to a beer by the same name crafted at the 101-year-old Spoetzl Brewery. Currently owned by Carlos Alvarez of Gambrinus Brands, the Spoetzl Brewing Co. of Shiner, is the last of the original Texas breweries. Their classic Shiner Bock is a God given blessing.

“little brewery in Shiner” © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The original brewery was founded in 1901 amid an Austrian, German, and Czech farming community near the railroad tracks on the banks of Boggy Creek.

The early efforts did not go well and the brewery was leased to Oswald Petzold and German brewing craftsman Kosmas Spoetzl in 1914.

Carrying a family recipe for a Bavarian beer made from pure malt and hops, Spoetzl began to produce beer in wooden kegs and bottles. The following year, Spoetzl purchased the brewery. After 1916 the beer was packaged in glass returnable bottles; aluminum kegs were first used in 1947, nonreturnable bottles came in 1958, party kegs in 1964, and cans in 1970.

Reflecting the tradition of genuine Bavarian beers, Shiner Bock—Spoetzl's flagship beer—has been brewed since 1913. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During Prohibition, the brewery produced ice and near-beer and, and according to some sources, regular beer as well.

After his wife’s death in 1921, Spoetzl considered returning to Bavaria but was convinced by his daughter to retain the business.

With repeal of Prohibition in 1933, the business resumed, with the introduction of “Texas Export,” a new product later known as “Texas Special” beer. Sales were made within a 100-mile radius. Over the next decade the company added a new bottling room and brew house, and in 1947 Spoetzl constructed the white brick Alamo-style plant still in use to this day.

When Kosmas Spoetzl passed away in 1950, his daughter Cecilie (known as “Miss Celie”) became the only woman to own a brewery in America. Her daughter Rose joined the firm in 1964.

The Spoetzl family control ended with the sale of the brewery in 1966. The “little brewery in Shiner” then changed hands several times. In 1989, Spoetzl Brewing Co. was purchased by the current owners, Carlos Alvarez and the Gambrinus Company, importers of Corona Beer and owners of craft brewer Bridgeport Brewing Co. in Portland, Oregon.

The brewery has been active in the local community throughout its history and sponsors chili cook-offs and other festivals. A state historic marker was placed at the brewery site in 1971, and the company later opened a museum and gift shop there.

Until the late 1970s and early 1980s, the bulk of their sales were confined to the San Antonio-Austin-Houston triangle. Gradually, the sales area grew to cover most of the state of Texas. Today, Shiner is distributed in over 40 states.

You'll find Shiner "deep in the heart of Texas". © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the 1970s and 1980s the brewery’s Shiner Beer and Shiner Bock had less than one percent of the Texas market. In 1983 Spoetzl produced 60,000 barrels of beer; in 1990 only 36,000. Sales improved after Carlos Alvarez of San Antonio acquired the brewery in 1989: Production grew to 100,000 barrels in 1994, and over the next ten years, production nearly tripled.

Upon arriving at the brewery we’ve given four wooden nickels.

The story of the little brewery in Shiner and the wooden nickels continues tomorrow…

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…
Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza.

—Dave Barry

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