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SW Aviator Feb/Mar 2001
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Fly Texas
The Presidential Trail
By Jay Wischkaemper

Including the current occupant of the White House, the state of Texas has been the home of three of the last eight Presidents. Because of that, there are some impressive, if not necessarily well publicized, tributes to those presidencies that make an interesting and inspiring multi-day flying trip over the state of Texas.

The journey starts in Midland. Here there are two things to see related to our former Presidents, and one other optional tour while you’re there. You begin at the headquarters of the Commemorative Air Force, located at Midland International Airport, where one of the exhibits is a tribute to George Bush the elder. Bush, of course, got his start in Midland as an oil man, and while not extensive, the gallery honoring him at the CAF is interesting and fitting. While there, you can take several hours touring other exhibits at the museum as well.

As long as we’re on a presidential tour, about 15 miles to the west is a presidential museum in Odessa, located at 622 North Lee Street, just west of downtown. Though not large or well known, it is interesting enough to warrant a visit. It is a generalized museum, dealing with all the presidents, not just those from Texas. Finally, if you’re just into museums and have some extra time before leaving Midland, the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum is an extremely well done museum on the history of oil exploration. For aviation fans, it has a Luscombe hanging from the roof that was once used as a pipeline patrol plane.

Next, you will go to Fredericksburg, Texas, located about 100 miles west of Austin. It might be that for ground transportation reasons you would want to fly into Kerrville, since rental cars are more readily available there. While in Kerrville, you could also pick up the keys to a new Mooney. Mooney used to have a fascinating tour of their plant available, so you might check on that.

From Kerrville, it’s a short 30-mile drive north to Fredericksburg, in the Texas Hill Country. Fredericksburg is the birthplace of Admiral Chester Nimitz, and one of the finest museums anywhere related to the history of the Pacific war is located here. Its official name is the National Museum of the Pacific War. The museum has always been impressive, but a few years ago, a grocery store behind the museum moved, and the museum took over their space and converted it into the George Bush wing of the museum. This addition alone comprises 23,000 feet of exhibits related to the former President. Among these exhibits is a TBM Avenger. You’ll also see a Val dive-bomber and a Rex float plane on display. After viewing all the exhibits, you will have a thorough understanding of the War in the Pacific. Plan on taking several hours to see it all.

Then, get back in your rental car and drive east about 15 miles on highway 290. You’ll come to Ranch Road 1, which will take you to the LBJ Ranch. Outside the ranch, an interpretive center houses an excellent collection of Lyndon Johnson memorabilia. There is also a living history farm showing how people lived in the area 100 years ago. Busses originating at the interpretive center give driving tours of the ranch, stopping by the school where Lyndon was educated and where he signed some of his education legislation into law, by the cemetery where he is buried, past the LBJ ranch house, up to the barns that were, and continue to be, the working part of the ranch, and then back to the interpretive center. You’ll also pass his private hangar, and drive past the impressive runway that more than likely your tax dollars helped pay for. The National Park Service runs all the tours and operates the National Historic Park, which the ranch has become. The tour costs $3. In years past, people driving the busses were people who had actually known Lyndon personally. If you still want more President Johnson history, you can drive another 15 miles or so into Johnson City and see his boyhood home. After seeing the ranch, it will seem pretty small.

Heading back to Fredericksburg – if you can get one of the locals to tell you how to find it – you can visit Luckenbach, Texas, Willie and Waylon and the boys. It’s on highway 1376 a few miles south of highway 290. The state long ago quit putting up signs, since they were quickly stolen. It is on maps, but it’s easy to pass by if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for, since it sits off the road about 200 yards. About all that’s there is an old general store, but at least you can say you’ve seen it. It is a relaxing place to stop and get something to drink on a hot afternoon.

Back in Fredericksburg, you might want to just chill overnight and enjoy some good German food and atmosphere. Fredericksburg has evolved into one of those artsy-craftsy touristy type towns with enough authentic German heritage to make it really enjoyable. Several bakeries offer German pastries to die for, and authentic German food is abundant. The Deitz bakery on Main Street offers some of the least expensive, if not the most unique pastries. Get there early, because they close when they sell out, which is usually by noon. It’s a popular place. For more exotic pastries, with a price to match, visit the Fredericksburg Bakery or George’s Old German Bakery. Both are a little more expensive, but well worth the price.

The Hill Country of Texas offers some of the best Barbeque anywhere, and we don’t mean a hamburger with sauce on top. We’re talking slow smoked brisket, ribs, turkey, and sausage. There are several excellent places that serve this Texas delicacy. Food is big in Fredericksburg. Opa’s German sausage is made here, as well as Sunday House smoked meats. You’re also now in Blue Bell ice cream territory. Billed as the "Best ice cream in the country," any Texan will gladly take it over those highbrow brands. Go into the convenience store and buy a pint. As you waddle out of the restaurants, you can walk off some of your extra pounds with a journey down Main Street. Fredericksburg offers interesting shopping, including numerous art galleries and craft stores. If you need a new dulcimer, you can even pick one of those up.

From Kerrville, hop in the plane and head for Austin. The only convenient airport is Austin-Bergstrom, so you’ll get to mix it up with the big boys. Here you will find the Lyndon Johnson presidential library on the east side of the campus of the University of Texas. It blends in well with the University, so don’t be surprised if you have trouble finding it. You’ll find some of the same type of exhibits here you’ve already seen at the interpretive center and the ranch, but, like most of the presidential libraries, it’s worth a visit. There are some unique displays. The State Capital, located adjacent to the University of Texas campus, has a few historical displays from Texas’ past that would also be worth seeing while you’re that close.

The final stop on our presidential tour will take you another hundred miles or so to the east, to College Station, home of Texas A&M University and the George Bush Presidential library. You’ll fly into Easterwood airport, where fuel is usually cheap, and if you’re landing to the south, the Bush library will be off your left wing on short final. Located about one half mile from the GA terminal, it is very convenient to the airport. In fact, if you didn’t mind a little hike, you could even walk. Courtesy cars are available sometimes, and most of the major rental car agencies are represented. Having visited most of the existing presidential libraries, the Bush museum is one of the most impressive. For aviation types, there’s a mockup of the cabin of Air Force One, and as you would expect, another TBM Avenger. There is also a section of the Berlin Wall on display. You might even get lucky and be there on a day when some famous world leader is there. Gorbachev, Tony Blair, and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice are just three of the people who have recently made their views known to College Station residents. It seems lately that any time someone has been to visit George W. at the Ranch, they have made their way to College Station to see the museum, and frequently make a speech while there. In addition, George Sr. has been known to visit fairly regularly, so you might even see the man himself.

Make sure you don’t visit College Station when there’s a football game in town, unless you have tickets for the game and a hotel reservation made a year in advance. Every hotel for a hundred miles around will be full, and with a minimum of 80,000 attending each game, many from out of town, even finding a place to eat can be a challenge. A famous watering hole is the Dixie Chicken, located across the street on the (sort of) north side of the campus. (The town is crooked, so exact directions are a problem). The food is acceptable, and the atmosphere unique. You can find bumper stickers throughout the southwest advertising the place. If you’re flying and imbibe in the real Dixie Chicken experience, you’ll probably need to spend an extra couple of days in College Station, since the Chicken is reported to sell more beer per square foot than any place in the world. Several other unique local restaurants, typical of what you find in most towns with 40,000+ college students, around are also available, among them Freebirds World Burrito and Blue Baker Sandwich shop.

You’re now only 30 minutes from Houston, depending on what you’re flying, so you might want to run over there and take in some of what that city has to offer, such the Johnson Space Center. If you make it to the Johnson Space Center, you’re just a short flight to Galveston and the Lone Star Flight Museum.

So the next time you’re looking for something interesting and educational to do, take the Texas presidential trail and enjoy some good Texas hospitality. You’ll be glad you did.
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