BETTY'S TRAILS

The trails we take today are the paths that shape tomorrow

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The Story of Trails West Retreat

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Spring 2007--  A field of Wild Foxglove growing at Trails West.

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I have never seen a more beautiful spring than the one we experienced in 2007.  These bluebonnets and a few Indian paintbrush were going to seed late in April when I snapped this picture.

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April leaves and with it the bluebonnets, but God continues to paint the land in May with the yellow glory of the many varieties of black-eyed Susans.

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Betty drew the lettering and Del routered all the signs from native cedar.
Who knows where the trail may lead?
It is my hope for all of you that all your trails will lead to bright horizons.

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There are times when you need to just sit and contemplate the beauty of nature.  Our little creek is a great place to do just that.  It is often crystal clear.  It is fairly shallow and you can see fish swimming around sometimes in schools of a dozen or more.  Today as I write I saw a fairly good size bass darting into a hole under a live oak tree. Although it is November, it is fairly warm right now.  I took my shoes off and put my feet in the creek.  Not for long, though.  Cold! brrr!  Fall is late this year and the trees just began to turn colors.

 I came across a description of a creek encountered by J Hampton Kuykendall, the apprentice to Col William Barret Travis of the Alamo.  He was a neighbor of my third great grandfather who had an original Spanish land grant in both Washington and Austin counties along Caney Creek.  Kuykendall wrote about how clear and pristine the creeks they encountered in 1821 were with natural fauna and fish swimming in them.  He said so much had changed ten years later after cattle were introduced.  They trampled the vegetation along the creek and muddied it up.  Apparently, there had not been any cattle on this piece of land for a very long time because natural ferns grow in places along the creek.

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This is a picture of Betty just after the triple tiered deck on the front of Del's cabin was finished.  Note the tree swing down below.  In this picture, the bridge has not been built over the creek.

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Building this deck was not easy!  The land sloped steadily downward toward the creek so that we had to keep stepping it lower.  It really turned out nice but it is actually bigger than the cabin.  The view over the bridge from the deck is really pretty.

 

The Story of Trails West Retreat

Del and Betty Meischen have always loved nature. Our very brief honeymoon found us on top of Enchanted Rock in the Texas hill country. We camped out many times when we were younger with our three little ones. We have walked the trails of the Muir Woods, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone. We climbed the paths of the Indians at Chimney Rock Park near Asheville, N.C. where they filmed "Last of the Mohicans." We have watched the giant waves pound ashore on Maui, the fifty foot tidal changes in Nova Scotia, and marveled at the crystal blue water of the Caribbean. The craggy splendor of the Dolomites in Italy and the Alps in Switzerland have made deep impressions on our souls. We truly came close to touching the face of God when we looked down from the slopes of the Great One in Alaska, Denali. The plane that carried us to this paradise landed on a glacier field two miles straight up on North America's highest mountain, Mt. McKinley. So we have been greatly inspired by nature in our lives and that is the beginning of our story.

Throughout all our travels, we have come to realize that no amount of money, power or fame can match the beauty that God has given us for free in the woods, the hills, the fields of flowers, the oceans, lakes and streams all around us. For many years, we searched for the right place to finally settle down that would have a small degree of the beauty we had seen. We thought a lot about a place where we could possibly carve out a campground to share with others. We bought and sold places for many years but never did anyone of them speak to us as this is the one.

Then, in the fall of 2003, we were out looking at property near Round Top when Del spotted a small handwritten sign on a fence post at the corner of FM 1457 and Mayer Cemetery Rd. It said "For Sale 21 acres" with an arrow pointing down the dirt road. The 21 was crossed out and 15 was written under it. I didn't see the sign but Del was telling me about it when suddenly, he made a U turn in the middle of the highway, and said, "Let's go take a look at it."

The gravel road was intriguing with the tree branches touching each other across the road. It reminded me of sleepy hollow. As we drove by the property, I told my husband, "Oh Del, it is solid wilderness. It is a mess of thorny vines. It would take too much work. We don't want this place."

He sighed and replied, "But did you see the little creek? It had little rock waterfalls." He backed up, and we gazed at the tiny little stream. Where we had lived in Bellville, there were no rocks, only sand, and he knew that I had always longed for a more rocky terrain.

"I don't know, Del," I said doubtfully, "This just looks like a lot more work than I bargained for. There is nothing here." And I was right. Except for the power line that went across the property, there hadn't been a sign of civilization there for many years. Nor was there much anywhere near this place. Talk about out in the boondocks! So, we left and went on to look at the other property we had originally come to see. But somehow that particular property beckoned to us. Del couldn't get it out of his mind.

The next day, I got in the car by myself with the idea of taking a second look. I went back to Mayer Cemetery Rd and climbed over a badly neglected, falling down fence. Gingerly, I brushed aside vines and yaupon. I walked about 50 yards and stumbled upon a small, crystal clear pool of water below what we now call Betty's Waterfall. Beneath the natural ledge that was about 15 feet across, I saw little fish darting around. Water trickled over the length of the ledge. I had my digital camera with me and snapped a couple of pictures. When I got home, I sent one to my daughter who was working in College Station at A& M University at the time. The words she sent back were "buy it!"

So that began a long drawn out negotiation between seven elderly brothers and sisters, two of which did not want to sell. It took months to negotiate a deal and a settlement. You see, the land was a homestead of the Ullrich family and had been in their hands for over a hundred years. We finally were able to get it all in writing and a closing date was set for February 25, 2004.

On Monday, February 23 at 3PM, my son Jeff called me. With a very tearful voice he said, "Mom, Monique had a really bad headache over the weekend, so I took her to the doctor. She had a CAT scan today. Mom, they found seven tumors in her brain. She is in an ambulance being rushed to Austin."

I was in total shock. Monique was Jeff's wife of nine years. We had known that Monique had been losing a lot of weight lately but we had attributed it to stress and to the loss of her baby a few months before. No one had any idea that she had cancer, not even her parents.

Monique had got pregnant in the summer of 2003 with what would have been our first grandchild. She lost the baby after two months. It was devastating to them both because they had waited for so long to have a child. Monique was an athletic counselor at Southwest Texas University at San Marcos. She had just been on a trip with the basketball team to Arizona two weeks before, and a week before that she had given our daughter Becky a baby shower. Becky's baby was also due about the time of our closing on the property at Round Top.

The next morning, we went to Austin to visit Monique at the hospital. We talked to her a little while, and she tried to smile but her head was hurting her really bad. They had her on morphine. While we were there, our daughter Becky called and asked how she was. I said "ask her yourself" and handed the phone to Monique. Monique told Becky, "Now you take care of yourself. I can't wait to see my little nephew." Then she told us she was tired and wanted to take a nap. We decided to go back to Bellville as we had the closing on the property the next morning in Brenham.

At 11PM that night, Tuesday February 24, 2004 our phone rang. It was Monique's mother. "Oh Betty, Monique coded on us! She's gone! They tried to resuscitate her but there was nothing they could do. They still have her on life support waiting for the priest to arrive but she has no brain activity." I had chills come over my whole body. I could not move. Finally, we threw some things in a bag and drove back to Austin. It was one of the longest trips in my life.

When we got there, we met Jeff and Monique's brother John in the hall. Jeff was beside himself. I wanted to see her, and so he led me to where she was laying. She was peacefully breathing like she was just sleeping. I sat beside her and held her hand. It was surprisingly warm. Nancy, her mother sat on the other side and held her other hand. I never prayed so hard in all my life for her to live. But it was not to be. The Priest arrived in another few minutes, and we all stood around her bed and held hands. He gave her the last rites, and then we tearfully said the Lord's Prayer together. The nurse came in and turned off the machine. It was the hardest thing to witness that I have ever had happen to me in my life.

Jeff and I drove back to his home in San Marcos at 4:30 that morning. It was so sad. All I could do was hold his hand. Jeff, who was only thirty two, was worried about all the medical bills for the intensive care and the ambulance. He said they had depended so much on her salary from the university to make house payments etc. "Monique had always taken care of all the paperwork and paying the bills. I just took it for granted," he said. I told him not to worry about that right now. Some how it would all work out. I prayed for him, for Monique and for her family.

Jeff insisted that we sleep in his bed because he just wanted to lie on the sofa. Of course, we slept little that night. When I got up the next morning, Jeff was sitting there looking at some insurance papers. Monique had got everything in order. All the files in the office were clearly labeled as if she knew that something was going to happen. Jeff handed me the insurance policy with an odd expression on his face and asked, "Mom do you read this the way I just did?"

He was looking at her teacher's policy, and just six months before, right about the time she lost the baby, she had taken out additional coverage that she had not told Jeff a thing about. I confirmed what the policy said, and he sat there in total shock, shaking his head. "She didn't tell me she had done that."

Now, I want to insert something at this point. Monique and I had never really bonded. She always seemed to be somewhere else mentally. She was very aloof and private, and I always thought it was against me personally.  It seemed the only time she was happy was when they were at her family's camp house on Lake Medina west of San Antonio or with her girlfriends. I wonder now if she didn't have a premonition of her own impending death.

Later Jeff told me a story that really tugged at my heart. He had found a diary that Monique had kept. Ten years before, she had written that she was so lonely and depressed that she wanted to die. She had asked God to bring someone into her life to make life worth living. Two weeks later she met Jeff.

Although Becky's doctor had told her it was dangerous for her to travel as the baby was due any minute, she insisted on coming to San Marcos that Wednesday, the day they had told her originally they would induce labor. The University arranged a wonderful memorial service for Monique in an auditorium on campus. It was not until that day that I understood her other life at the university and how valuable she had been there as a counselor. Apparently, her life at SWT had been exceedingly hectic, and now in retrospect, I can see that her aloofness was just her need for alone time.

During this time, I played the songs of Josh Grobin over and over, especially the one "To Where You Are." I cried for Monique like I have never cried before for anyone, not even when my own mother and father died. As a matter of fact, when my father, whom I absolutely adored, was tragically killed in an auto accident in 1987, I did not shed a tear until the anniversary of his death one year later. Only then did I finally break down. When our twenty one year old niece Stephanie drowned in the Guadalupe River in 2002, I was the rock for the rest of the family who were at the time shedding oceans of tears. Crying was never something that came easily for me but this tragedy had effected me deeply.

We had little time to mourn, though, as one week later on the anniversary of Monique's death Becky went to the hospital to deliver our first grandson. We called Jeff and told him to come to the hospital in Bryan and he did. It was not going well for Becky, and she stopped progressing and had hypertension. I was getting really nervous and scared for her at that time.

As we were waiting, Jeff took out his wallet and unfolded a dollar bill he had stuck in the side. "Mom, I found this single dollar bill in Monique's purse. It has two bible verses written on it." I said, "Jeff, let's go down to the Chapel and see if there is a Bible down there and look up those verses". The first verse was from the Old Testament and spoke about leaving this world and then returning again which at that moment had profound meaning to us. The second verse was from the New Testament when Jesus said, "I will be with you until the end of the world." We both just looked at each other in sheer wonder at the appropriateness of both verses. Jeff said, "Mom I would like to be alone here for a few moments."

I went back up to the delivery room where Becky still was not progressing. The doctor then told us that they were going to have to take the baby by Caesarian. At that moment in view of all that had gone past, I was very frightened for both Becky and the baby. But God was with our daughter. Little Jacob Malone was born a short while later early in the morning of March 2, Texas Independence Day. This was a very significant day to his grandmother who had written several books about Texas history.

The first person to hold little Jacob outside the delivery room was his uncle Jeff. We all felt Monique's presence then, and for the next year afterward. We knew that she was now our guardian angel. Jeff told me something else that night. The first time he got in Monique's car there was a CD in the player, and the first song that it played had the words, "I will never leave you. I will always be near." Later he played me that unfamiliar but beautiful song. A couple of months after her death, Monique's ashes were spread on a little angel garden her mother and sister had created at the lake house. It was a touching ceremony.

So that very day that our grandson was born, we called the title company and asked if we could re-schedule the closing on the land that would become Trails West Retreat. The next day, it became ours.

The first time we actually came out to the place, it took us an hour to clear enough vegetation to get our truck through the old falling down gate. There were no roads, no facilities or buildings of any kind. For the past six years since, we have worked continuously turning this place into what it has become. That first day it was so remarkably quiet here. There was no traffic on the road. One old truck came by in the morning, and then we heard no others for hours. Finally as we were clipping away at the underbrush, we heard a vehicle coming. It was the same old truck that had passed by earlier in the day. Yes, we concluded, it was very peaceful here.

That first time we came to Trails West, we had our little white cockapoo dog named Candy with us. Candy was very old, and her story is also a long one. We used to joke, "Candy remembers when the Titanic went down." At that time she was blind, got lost and went rolling down the steep bank almost into the creek. Poor little thing, I ran to scoop her up before she hit the water. She died the next spring, and we buried her near where she almost fell into the creek that first time.

Our daughter came out to see the place two weeks after we closed on it. Del carried Little Jake, who was only two weeks old, along the trail we were cutting by the creek. Poor Becky recalls today how she struggled along that rugged trail having just had a Caesarian section.

A couple of months after we acquired the property, Becky and family moved to Ft Worth. Del and I were on our way back home from helping them move, traveling on Hwy 6 just south of Waco, when we were hit by an eighteen wheeler. Luckily there were no serious injuries other than Del's cracked ribs and my fractured neck. Our truck on the other hand was totaled. That set us back in our efforts for about six weeks until we healed. During that time, the first loads of rock for our entry road were delivered. We commissioned the blacksmith in Bellville to create the entry sign that hangs over the road.

We would come out on the weekends and hack our way along the creek. We got hot and tired, and finally figured we needed a place to rest, shower and fix a bite to eat. It was 30 miles to go back to Bellville. So that was the beginning of Del's Retreat cabin. Next, a water well got installed, and then followed electricity and a septic system. We also had to get satellite TV so we put up a dish and got Direct TV. We built a triple tiered deck where we placed some patio furniture. It was really neat being able to sit out there after a hard day's work and eat something we had grilled, build a fire in the chiminea and look up at the stars. It was so dark out there, and they shown so brightly.

One day we invited some friends out, and they told us how beautiful the woods were and how much they would like to come out also. They asked us if we had thought of renting out the cabin, and we said actually that the thought hadn't crossed our mind since we had been working so hard. But then, we thought, why not? Wasn't that always our dream?

When it was the only cabin there, that first year we leased Del's during the Fall Antique Show to a couple of ladies from Alaska. Looking back, it was still very much undeveloped at that time. There were few lights anywhere. But they said they loved it.

One day, Becky said she would like to come out and stay with us but the cabin was not large enough for all of us. So, then, Rebecca's cabin developed. Another deck was built. Our big endeavor was getting the bridge over the creek and building the overlook deck. Each one of these things took a lot of planning, work and co-ordination. Next we moved in a little storage building for all our chainsaws, hoes, rakes and gardening paraphernalia. The next year as interest in Trails West Retreat grew, Woodview cabin was moved in and a deck built for it.

We started work on the Hangar in 2006 which at the time was meant to be a barn for our tractor. We decided we needed an office too. So an area was set aside for that as well as a small kitchen and a bathroom. Then also, we needed a utility room for the linens from the rentals which by that time had begun to come in regularly. We decided to floor in the upper part and put in a staircase. Well one thing led to another, and it became a pretty nice place to stay, and popular too.

Our gardens took lots of work. We knew from the beginning that we could not do much to improve upon what God had already accomplished here. The wildflowers in the spring were awesome. That first fall, we discovered an abundance of wonderful purple American beautyberry bushes which we protected. We tried to make it a little more accessible with the trails, and of course, we had to put in a few all weather vehicle roads. I was a fanatic about taking out as few trees as possible to get the roads and buildings placed. As time passed, we gradually developed a deep desire to share our place with others. It was turning into a woodland park, and we felt others could use the serenity we felt when we were here. In a sense, it had become a memorial too.

We developed Stephanie's Garden named for our niece who had drowned. Her father planted 5 cypress trees in that garden, and Del and I built the bridge there all by ourselves. A flood in April of 2009, almost wiped it out, and it had to be rebuilt. The area in front of Del's became known to us as Monique's Garden. We lost two more family members in 2005:  Becky's father-in-law who had just been out to Trails West a couple of weeks before he passed on and Del's father died at Thanksgiving from a heart attack. We have pictures of him on the deck of Del's cabin eating a meal with us. During this time we had seen a lot of life and death.

In 2005, the drought started which meant constant watering. I lost so many plants it was depressing but we kept trying to establish things that would grow there. The next four years continued to be very dry, and the watering seemed to never end. We started putting in desert type plants, and even the cactus struggled to survive.

It has been a lot of work, and our job never seems to be finished for we always have new ideas. Like the children's playground which Del and I built from scratch. Del now has plans for a pergola there with a bench swing for the mothers watching their children play. Before that was the sandbox area. And I totally forgot to mention the Pavilion, the Kawasaki Mule, the 1928 Ford Model A, and the John Deere Tractor. But our grandkids would not for a minute let us forget anyone of these. We have gained four grandchildren since we first set foot on the land that became Trails West Retreat. And they all have loved every time they got to ride the Mule or walk the trails.

The Pavilion was constructed after the Hangar in the same year. It has two bathrooms each with two stalls and a shower. It has a full kitchen, too. There are lots of picnic tables and a grill where many family activities have been enjoyed. As with everything else here, I drew the plans for the Pavilion, and we had a local contractor build it. On June 30th 2008, I celebrated my 60th birthday with a lot of family and friends at the Pavilion. Of course the grandkids all got rides on the Mule and the "Old Timey Car" as they call the antique 1928 Ford. Del's 80 year old Aunt said she never got to ride in the rumble seat when she was a girl. So Del helped her in and she had a ball. Oh, the stories we could tell but that would take another book. We have hundreds of pictures taken here of good times being had by all.

As the days passed on, and the watering and care became more demanding, we began to realize that we would either have to give up this place or move from Bellville to Trails West. We had lived in Bellville thirty two years and raised our children there. It was a hard decision to make but one day Becky said to us, "Mom and Dad, you searched for that place for so long and you finally found it. I can't believe you are thinking of giving it up. You need to just sell the Bellville house and move there."

We had 15 acres also in Bellville, and taking care of both places plus a 160 acre farm in New Ulm and multiple rental properties was immense. We finally made the decision to put our home up for sale in 2007. It sold quickly, and we immediately moved into the Hangar. That is when we enclosed the garage part, installed ceramic tile and built in another bathroom and closet. Next, we had the metal awning put in. We lived in the Hangar from August 2007 until December 2008.

On March 1, 2008 almost exactly four years to the date, construction started on what would become Eagle's Nest Lodge. I drew all the plans and Del's childhood friend who was an excellent well-known builder in the area co-ordinated with us and got the job done so that we were able to celebrate Christmas in our new home. Ironically, the builder's sister lives across the road from Trails West on the ridge of the Eckermann family homestead that has been there for a century or longer.

I guess you can say that we are locals. Del more so than myself. Del attended church at the Shelby Lutheran Church and was confirmed there. His sister lives a little over a mile away as the crow flies on her husband's family farm. Del's immigrant Meischen ancestor settled about 4 miles east of Trails West in the Shelby area. Brothers Friedrich and Dietrich Meischen are buried in the cemetery there. They made the journey to America in 1868 from Germany. Their father died of cholera aboard ship.

We have made all the trails here, and that is why our website www.bettystrails.com is named. But that website existed before Trails West Retreat. Betty wrote two histories and several novels telling about the trails her pioneer ancestors traveled as they carved Texas out of the wilderness in 1822. Betty has just continued a tradition that started long ago in the very beginning days of America.

Trails West Retreat will never be big. It will never be a five star hotel. That was never our intention. Indeed, it is meant to be just a tad bit primitive where one might relax, sit back and enjoy nature. We deliberately try to keep it just a little un-manicured so the flowers can grow. It is a place of serenity and tranquility where you can indeed come here for a sense of peace and to find your own relationship with our Creator.

As I write this story of our labor of love, I feel compelled to share with you the comments a young Army chaplain wrote in our guest book. This young father of three came from Killeen to Trails West for some serious soul-searching alone, just himself and God. He told us that he was first a Marine for six years. Then he went into the ministry where he had his own congregation. Then, he re-enlisted as a chaplain in the Army. He had been to Iraq, and he did not know whether he should stay in the Army or take the safe route and go back to civilian life. I do not know the choice he made but here are the words he wrote:

"Del & Betty, I can't express how much these 2 days have been for me. I came here to find some peace and quiet and to find God's will for my life. I found out that I didn't find God here, but that God found me here on your majestic and beautiful oasis. God has touched me here over the last 2 days and really uplifted my heart and mind. I really needed that, especially after returning from 12 months in Iraq. So for me to say thank you, would not be enough. I want to say Praise you and your ministry here. God bless you." ~Chaplain