Destination: New Friends, Books, and BBQ – The Texas Book Festival

At 5:00 AM, Jennie and I threw our human necessities into the Toyota. Destination: New Friends, Books, and BBQ – The Texas Book Festival in Austin, Texas, home of my first and only editor, Sheila Setter, a person I’d never actually met.

First stop: Apple Valley, where we stayed with friends; next was Hoover Dam, which I’ve always wanted to see; and our third stop was the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. For those who have never been (and I was one of them), it is a must-see sight. To observe the deep cleavage of the earth, down to the depths of the planet’s origin, is mind-boggling. We realize that our stay here is just a blink of an eye when exposed to the visual reality of geological time. An interesting note—the Grand Canyon is 6,100’ deep from the rim to the Colorado River, but the Monterey Bay Undersea Canyon is over 10,000’ deep—and it’s right in my backyard. I’ve heard that a cataclysmic event created the Monterey Canyon when the prehistoric inland sea, which is now the Central Valley, drained fairly rapidly through the Salinas Valley, carrying large amounts of scouring sand and rock.

 Destination: New Friends, Books, and BBQ - The Texas Book Festival

After three nights at the GC, we drove to Gallup, New Mexico, and stayed at the Hotel Del Rancho, a stately Route 66 inn that has accommodated numerous movie stars going back to the silent film days. Lots of westerns were shot in the local environs, and the actors usually stayed at the semi-famous inn. The lobby had hundreds of photos of Hollywood stars, most of them signed, “Best Wishes to the El Rancho.” We stayed in the Ida Lupino room, gawked at the special John Wayne display, and had a Robert Mitchum burger in the restaurant.

We drove to Albuquerque and took a plane to Austin. (We didn’t care to drive through West Texas). Sheila and her wonderful husband, Greg, met us on the lawn area near the State Capitol, complete with its confederate Civil War cannon and commemorative statues. It was a pleasure to finally meet Sheila and personally thank her for all the hard work she put into my novel over the past two years. After some fun talk, we investigated the Texas Book Festival, an annual event that brings hundreds of authors, vendors, presenters, and book buyers together for the weekend. We made a few marketing contacts and sought out some agent possibilities, but mostly enjoyed the intellectual atmosphere and friendly people.

Of course, we had to go to an authentic Texas barbeque out in the Hill Country west of town. Great experience. And the Mexican food was also outstanding. We didn’t partake in the late-night music scene that Austin is famous for, but we did do a lot of walking and visited the beautiful public library that seemed more like an art studio or museum than a book depository.

Greg and Sheila hosted us the last night of our stay, treating us to some fine Texas wine, good food, and lots of storytelling. It’s always interesting to hear about lives lived—some things common to most everyone, but also amazing differences that shape the character of our souls. It was a pleasure to be in the company of two fine such people. We’ll be staying in touch.

On our return journey, we visited Santa Fe, wandering through the downtown shops, visiting the New Mexico History Museum and Native Arts Museum, and marveling at the adobe-like architecture that influences almost every structure in the town. The weather was pleasant and, as always, the food was outstanding. We dined one night at the Cowgirl Grill where we listened to a great band while feasting on some hot chili rellenos and tacos.

Buzz signing copies of his book, Five Hundred Moons while visiting the Texas Book Festival

We stopped for a night in Sedona, another place I’ve always wanted to visit. The mountains were of a striking orange-red color with formations rivaling that of any of the Southwest’s National Parks such as Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Arches. It was somewhat commercialized with lots of gift shops, restaurants, and lodgings. And its reputation as a spiritual vortex was well confirmed by the number of crystal boutiques that lined the streets. We didn’t purchase anything, as we had already bought some rocks at the Zuni Pueblo the week prior.

The two-day drive back to Santa Cruz was long but pleasant enough. We listened to a murder mystery book-on-tape that kept us entertained. The overall trip was great, although I did get a bounce-back case of Covid during our stay at the Grand Canyon—pretty mild, but it left me feeling tired for a few days.

We would certainly do a similar journey in the near future, maybe traveling through Utah and visiting the North Rim, then on to Southern Colorado and down to Austin, returning along the Mexican border through Las Cruces, Yuma, and San Diego.

Something to look forward to, for sure.

Top photo: Jennie and Buzz at Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que in Llano, Texas. Credit: Greg Setter
Photo of Buzz. Credit: Sheila Setter
Photo of Jennie, Buzz, and Greg. Credit: Sheila Setter
Photos of Cooper’s pit and signage. Credit: Greg Setter
Photo of Buzz signing copies of his book, Five Hundred Moons. Credit: Sheila Setter

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One Comment
  1. Kathran

    That is an awesome trip. Next time if going to Austin with Dallas on the way, please stop here in Dallas. Food here is very very good, if known, and we know and have! Jack, Husband, loves cooking and taking classes so even knows chefs at restaurants if here. fun-Kathran Sutton Martin.

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