As mentioned previously, I went back to finish up my trip through the George Ranch Historical Park two weeks ago. This is in no way the extent of the photos I took during both visits, but it’s what I have processed for now.
The prospector telling tales outside his shack
The first time I went, I piggybacked onto a decent-sized group of tourists through as much of the tour as I had to time to attend; on my second trip, there were two elementary schools holding field trips, but no big groups of visitors for me to follow around. This didn’t seem like a big deal at first, but it did make parts of the tour a bit awkward.
In theory I like this photo of a gardener sweeping up around these benched statue-people, but the composition itself annoys me. But you can see, in the upper left side of the shot, the edge of a really nice tree house that looks over this part of the property.
At every stop of the tour, there are employees on site, dressed in the attire of the times, ready and waiting to tell stories and answer questions. When I wandered from site to site with a fairly large group of people, there was always a crowd willing to sit and listen to all of this, which left me free to wander around and snap photos without being bothered. The question and answer sessions also slowed the whole tour down, so I had plenty of time to snap all the pictures I wanted.
Kitchen scene from the 1930s Ranch House, one of two large houses on the property you can only walk through on a guided tour.
It was a different scene when I went back the second time and was the only person showing up on the employees’ doorstep. Especially in the two big houses, the guides were really rushed, and even seemed a bit put out at having to stop whatever else it was they were doing to walk this one person through the rooms and rattle off their well-memorized spiel. When there’s only one of you, and you’re clearly not interested in asking questions, the tour moves along at a fast, awkward clip, I don’t mind telling you.
Chandelier at the 1930s Ranch House
Also awkward to me, for some reason: probably due to the lack of distractions, I was able to notice this time around that there weren’t really that many employees monitoring and working the sites; therefore, someone you encountered at one location might also pop up somewhere else an hour later, to walk and talk you through some other park site. I’m not sure why this felt weird to me; perhaps because I wasn’t in the mood to be chatty so running into the same person you’d been fairly disinterested in talking to an hour before somewhere else, and having to pretend to want to talk to them again, made the whole experience a little awkward.
For example, the cowgirl in the blue shirt here was rounding up cattle for the elementary schools to watch at 10 AM, and at noon she was my tour guide through the 1930s mansion. For some reason, this dampened some of the magic for me. It didn’t help that I was sitting on the porch of the mansion, patiently waiting for the next tour to start at 12:30, but she rather hurriedly busted open the door at 12:15 and asked if I want to view the house. I felt a bit like a nosy neighbor showing up uninvited on her doorstep and looking for gossip.
I’m not sure what this little house is for; it has window units on the side so the park uses it for something, but it wasn’t a part of the tour. Maintenance shed, probably. I peeked in the windows as best I could, but I couldn’t see much.
Then again, it could be they were short of tour guides on this day due to the elementary school kids that were galloping their way around the park. I saw one of the women who’d been sitting in a chair telling stories inside the Ryon Prairie Home on my last visit leading a huge group of fifth-graders up the walk to the Davis Victorian Complex; she was wearing the same long skirt and bonnet she’d had on the previous Tuesday, and it was pretty warm and humid outside – she looked hot, and grumpy, and I can’t much say I blame her for that!
Remember her? She was not smiling this time.
There were also alligators everywhere. There are several creeks that run through the park, some of them quite wide and full, and gators were all in the water and even sunning themselves on the shore. I started out walking the tour this time instead of riding the tram, but I admit I got pretty nervous crossing the first creek bridge and seeing a huge, fat gator hanging out right at the edge of where the creek met the bridge. Alligators do not hunt humans and don’t see us as food; they hunt creatures that walk on all fours, so unless you bring yourself down to their level by crouching down, or for some reason decide to start crawling in their presence, you’re generally safe (your kids or your pets might be a different story, though, and of course this is all assuming that you are going to walk past them when you see them and not actually approach the hungry bastards). However, generally safe doesn’t mean entirely safe, so after my first close encounter I decided I would be riding the tram across the creeks from that point forward. As such, I got no photos of the gators: I tried, but I was too intimidated (i.e., terrified) to really stop and get a good shot, and they came out blurry.
Windows inside the prospector’s shack; the sky and airplane in the distance are totally fake. In reality, they were just dirty windows looking out over some brush.
I also tried to take some video of the park while riding the tram, but the roads are gravel and the tram is pulled by a tractor, so it was all way too shaky to be of any use. My videographer skills, once again, were lacking.
Post and pans in the prospector’s shack. Another fake sky.
As it turned out, I hadn’t missed as much of the park the first time as I’d thought anyway. There was the other big house to tour, and in the end it wasn’t all that thrilling. It was amusing to hear the guide try to make the details sound like something awesome though; the house was built in the 1930s, so it wasn’t all that unique from loads of other old houses in the area, except for the fact that it’s a lot bigger than most. So, the tour guide kept having to point out things like all the Texas-themed ceramic doodads and geegaws the owner of the house loved to collect – wee little cowboy boots and longhorns and shit you could go into any antique or resale store in Texas and buy by the boatload for five bucks each (although I’m sure the ones in the house were more expensive). Again, the guide on this part of the tour was rushed, and probably tired from roping cattle all morning in front of squealing sixth graders, and who knows, maybe she was either messing with me or making things up because she actually never gave the tour and didn’t know any of the interesting stories. But whatever – hey, look at that ceramic goat! Isn’t that cool?
A scene from the stables; I don’t actually have any photos of ceramic goats.
There was one stop I really enjoyed though; the blacksmith’s shop. There was one kid working inside when I wandered over, and he was not only knowledgeable about what he was doing, I could tell he really enjoyed doing it and loved talking about it, so I didn’t at all feel like I was intruding upon his time. Not only that, but I didn’t feel much need to ask questions or struggle to make conversation; he just kept happily talking away about the history of the blacksmith shop and how they used to make things vs. how they make them now (they try to do everything as authentically as possible, but some of that authenticity would be either dangerous or cruel in the Texas heat, so adjustments have been made).
This guy’s hands caught my attention right away; they were perfectly grimy and he had really long fingers that he kept using to point at this and touch that; I took a ton of shots of his hands while he yammered on, but the one above was my favorite.
See what I mean? Great hands!
Here he was explaining something to me about this anvil that I no longer remember. The chalk line is important for some reason. That’s all I’ve got for you, sorry. It was something to do with the weight of it; there were three anvils on the site and he was explaining to me what was unique about each one. I’d be a terrible tour guide, wouldn’t I? Where are the ceramic goats again?
This is metal and it is hot. Now give me ten bucks for the tour!
Although these two posts have at least touched on each part of the park I visited – except, I just realized, for the 1830s Victorian Mansion, which is probably the biggest stop on the whole tour, oops – I still have a ton more to process when I have the time. But I think I’ve covered everything now (sans mansion), even if only briefly.
To be honest, my favorite parts of the tour were riding around in the tram just watching the park roll by, and sitting on the big wrap-around porch of the Victorian mansion, waiting for the tour to start and feeling the breeze while looking out over these huge, hundred-year-old oak trees and listening to the cows and cicadas. I didn’t grow up on a mansion, but growing up in Texas I’ve still spent a fair amount of time riding around in tractors (even though they weren’t doing tractor-stuff at the time) or sitting on old front porches listening to the sounds of cows and bugs and begging for a breeze; I don’t think anyone else on the tour with me (the day I had company) was able to just sit there and feel nostalgic like I was, but also, when it comes to what constitutes a nice day for me it always has more to do with sitting and listening and being still than it does touring things and talking to people. It left me with a feeling of wanting to go back just to sit on the porch and stare for a while, but in the end this isn’t that sort of place; you can’t sit on a porch there too long without someone coming along and either shuffling you inside or sending you on your way. And although I did have a nice long chat about alligators with the tram driver when I hopped on and told him I just wanted to ride with him while he made his rounds, I felt I would have worn out my welcome had I asked to be a passenger a second time.
So, this was a cool enough place to visit once, and I got a lot of nice photos to work with while I was there, but it’s not somewhere I’ll be going back to anytime soon. Speaking of going back, it is time for my yearly summer visit to the Ruah Center at the Villa de Matel, which I am very much looking forward to; perhaps it is that impending visit that is making me long for a place I can just stop and sit and be still and listen; I do always start to crave that this time of year.