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The West begins near the beautiful Bush
One by one, tourists drive from Crawford down Prairie Chapel Road in search of the Texas myth, hoping for a glimpse of limestone cliffs and bur oak woods like on President Bush's ranch.
They go home confused. The barricaded front gate is on flat Central Texas farmland. It's surrounded by hay bales and cornfields. Not a cowboy in sight.
Forget the gate.
The best way to see Bush's ranch is from the back.
From the west, the scenery along winding Middle Bosque Road from Valley Mills to the Prairie Chapel community is pure Bush ranch country - and pure Texas.
"From the Waco side, people just see a bunch of farms. They get perturbed," said Bill Ferguson, the Clifton real-estate agent who helped a fourth-generation pioneer family sell the 1,583-acre ranch to Bush.
"They don't see all the beauty. ... That ranch is in some really pretty country. And nobody ever drives far enough to see it."
One hour's drive south of Cleburne, in the limestone canyons along the Middle Bosque River, where Tonkawa warriors once watered their horses, the best view of Bush ranch country is along a narrow back road.
From south of tiny Valley Mills - where the town funeral home welcomes tourists to the "Gateway to Bush Country" - Middle Bosque Road twists past cliffs and through woods for about 10 miles, tracing a path about a mile north and west of Rainey Creek and the Bush ranch.
At midday Saturday, I saw deer, turkeys and a cardinal along the road. It crosses a river bridge and dips through two creeks as it curves past a new iron gate that apparently guards Bush and nearby landowners from unexpected visitors.
When the president showed reporters around the ranch last year, he said that tourists driving from Waco "would never guess that this kind of country was here. ... This is really a finger of the Hill Country."
The ranch has seven canyons and three miles of river and creek frontage.
"They're really great when there's water in them," Bush told reporters. "They're even great when there's no water in them."
Past the ranch, Middle Bosque Road ends at Canaan Church Road, delivering sightseers to the steps of a picturesque German Baptist church where pioneer settlers from Germany worshiped in their native language until World War II.
Nearby is the turnoff to the Bush ranch on Prairie Chapel Road, and to the rural Prairie Chapel community's beloved two-room school.
From 1908 until 1939, the children and grandchildren of German and Austrian immigrant families studied their lessons by lamplight around the wood stove in the white frame Prairie Chapel School. The students were eventually sent to Crawford schools, and the old schoolhouse was signed over to McLennan County.
Rancher Van Massirer, 65, is leading a charity campaign to raise $60,000 for repairs and a new roof.
"The pioneers here were very devoted to this school," Massirer said. They fought to keep the property away from a private owner and now hope county commissioners will go along with remodeling the school.
Massirer's great-grandfather, Franz Massirer, came from Austria to join pioneers such as Heinrich Engelbrecht of Germany, founder of what is now the Bush ranch. They raised crops in the fertile prairie along the cusp between McLennan County farmland and the Central Texas hills of Bosque and Coryell counties.
"This is the edge of farm country right here," Massirer said. "Past the school, it's all brush, canyons and cliffs. It's rugged."
It's not just the edge of farm country.
It's also the edge of the West.
And it's the edge of George W. Bush's little piece of Texas.
(c) 2002 Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Bud Kennedy's column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. (817)
Visitors since May 1, 2002 Last Revised: 12/22/06 11:01:13 PM