Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Freeway Free in Texas: Hidden Gems in Archer City

We arrive at Archer City.  Our aim, to visit Larry McMurtry’s famous Booked Up bookstore, is thwarted. But all of McMurtry’s bookstores are closed. What to do?

First, the Spur Hotel is charming, quaintly furnished in a mixture of Victorian and Texan. The cozy den off the lobby boasts deep armchairs, a massive fireplace, and an interesting selection of Texas-focused books and magazines, plus a shelf of board games and picture puzzles.  The lobby also has an entire wall of borrowable books, a great many written by Larry McMurtry of course. 

Where can we have dinner? The friendly hostess offers us two choices: Lucky’s Cafe next to the [Gas Station minimarket a few blocks down in one direction, or Larry McMurtry’s favorite, the Dairy Queen at the edge of town in the other direction.

We opt for Lucky’s Cafe, accessible through the mini mart by the gas station. A counter freezer cabinet offers a variety of ice cream treats, a chalkboard offers the special of the day (beef tamales) , soup of the day (chicken vegetable) , and vegetable side of the day (green beans). Drinks and utensils available from the self-service counter. Seat yourself at whatever formica-topped table you wish.

The special of the day gave us each chips, salsa, a non-alcoholic beverage, three small beef tamales in an excellent sauce, spicy rice and retried beans for $12 apiece plus tip.  We may not find adventure here, but we won’t go broke either.   

The next morning, after a very quiet night’s sleep, we mosey across the street to Murn’s Cafe, another McMurtry favorite. Another bare-bones spot with formica tables, flourescent lights, plastic chairs, and friendly service. And another cholesterol-laden meal. A basic breakfast at Murn’s Cafe includes a bottomless cup of coffee, 2 fried eggs, bacon, hash browns, and grilled biscuit.  Fortunately we had each eaten a mandarin orange with our morning tea so we could claim a little acid to cut the fat. Of course it was delicious.

Well fortified, we set off to explore. First stop, the Walsh Park welcome to Archer City, a brief history of the town carved into wrought iron plaques next to the former Mobil gas station, now a Visitors Center open only on weekends. Next, the Library with its own plaque outside honoring Larry McMurtry, and a very interesting collection of books inside. A very helpful librarian showed W to the “Trails of Archer City’ referred to in the Walsh Park wrought iron info sheet. I found two Georgette Heyer mysteries (my secret vice) which I had never read before on the free giveaway shelf.


 After the quality time in the library, we strolled down to the Miller Marketplace, a hangover from the tourist days, full of craft items, old curios and knickknacks, vintage and not-so-vintage hats and clothing.  W and I each bought an Archer City commemorative T shirt, available only in odd sizes now. Fortunately, the two of us fit in odd sizes.

I had read an article about Larry McMurtry’s Big House in the Architectural Digest. Naturally, we were eager to see it, and the article obligingly gave us the location next to the Archer County Country Club. We cruise past, wondering what happened to the 140,000 books which McMurtry kept for himself in the Big House rather than consigning them to the stores. /\

    It being a lovely day, we took a “nature trail” from Burkett Park to Archer City Lake Park, then went for a drive along the dam which created the lake.

    Lunch was sardines and saltines at a picnic table in the park; dinner was hamburgers and soft ice cream at the Dairy Queen (a favorite hangout of LMcM), which included a spectacular sunset/cloud display, horizon to horizon. The next morning as we left Archer City we passed the old courthouse, with its team of convicts doing yardwork. No, not much has changed after all in Archer City.

My debut novel, Fox Spirit, is appearing episode by episode on my sister blog, New episodes arrive every Monday and Thursday. They’re short, so you’re not too late to check them out, and sign up for future happenings. Here’s a link to the first episode:

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