It was one of those days where you wonder if anything else can go wrong. We spent forever looking for a trailer we were supposed to pick up, and when we finally found it there weren’t any tail lights on it. Apparently, some of the yards that are really close to the Mexican border take taillights out of trailers to keep them from being stolen.
After looking for the trailer and then locating and replacing the taillights, two and a half hours of drive time had been burned. My husband was grumpy and both of us were hungry — definitely not a great combination for a pleasant ride.
Finally on the road and about 150 miles into the trip, a tire on the trailer blew. When it rains, it pours.
I-10 has some pretty lonesome areas in West Texas, and we were definitely in one of them. Thankfully, the cell phone still worked, and I was able to get the truck stop app to load. Circle Bar Truck Corral was the one and only truck stop in our direction of travel.
Located at exit 372 in Ozona, Circle Bar is like everything else in Texas – huge. (I wouldn’t find out just how huge – and impressive — until a return visit a couple of weeks later.) My husband found the tire service bay, which wasn’t terribly crowded, and got started the endless process of sending macros authorizing payment back and forth between the company that owned the trailer and the tire shop. The service guy told us he had one in front of us and estimated an hour or so – plenty of time to relax and have a meal at the restaurant. Half the day was shot anyway, so we elected to do just that.
First impression when walking into the building through the service area was that I was going to regret eating here. The hallway was narrow and dimly lit, and “old truck stop” ambiance oozed from wood paneling. The bathrooms were clean and well-appointed, which is always a huge plus in my book. It was easy enough to find the dining room, we just followed the smell of bacon. It is my opinion that bacon can cure any kind of bad mood there is.
We both ordered breakfast, and delighted in the fact that we could enjoy a cup of coffee and a cigarette without having to go outside. This may have been a deterrent to some people, but we’re both smokers used to the harsh laws surrounding having a public smoke so this was a welcome treat. (Side note and small rant: I can understand not being allowed to smoke in a restaurant, I really can, but not being allowed to smoke in a bar is ridiculous. Do you seriously believe pouring liquor down your throat is healthier than smoking?)
Breakfast was beautiful. The scrambled eggs were firm, glossy, and just fluffy enough to be certain they were indeed from a chicken instead of a box. The bacon was thick enough to be perfectly cooked and had a smoky goodness that only quality bacon can have. The hash browns were crispy on the outside, moist and steamy on the inside. I don’t think either one of us said a coherent word through the entire meal, we just grunted and made ‘mmmmm’ noises until the tire guy came to tell us the truck was ready. I immediately decided we would be coming back to the Circle Bar next time we were anywhere close to Ozona.
Two weeks later, we were not only close to Ozona, we had time to have a meal and explore a little. I discovered the Circle Bar is more than truck stop – it’s a destination.
The first time we visited, it was under duress and I really didn’t pay close attention. The second trip was on the way home, so I was in a really good mood and had plenty of time to take everything in. There’s an RV park with 95 spaces, 100-room motel, a full-sized restaurant, two truck bays, a convenience store, restaurant and several outbuildings.
We went in through the front door this time, and I have to say the entire place is much more inviting from the front. There was a busy lunch crowd, and most of the patrons were locals. We seated ourselves and were immediately greeted by our waitress. I was determined to try something new even though I really wanted to order a trough full of that incredible bacon and those perfect eggs. My husband decided on the club sandwich with fries, and I opted for the chalupa plate.
While waiting for our food, we told the waitress how we found the place and were so pleasantly surprised by the food, we came back to enjoy and explore a little. Her story of how she found the place was similar to our own. She and her husband were traveling cross country headed for Florida when their RV broke down.
Circle Bar was the closest place they could have it towed. After repairs, they weren’t financially able to continue the trip until their payday, which was a month away, and even after payday, they were still going to be light in the bank account. She said she took a chance and walked into the restaurant, explained her situation to the general manager, and he gave her a job. She had been working for almost a month, had saved the extra money they needed, and they were going to continue their trip the following morning. Stories like that always restore my faith in mankind.
Lunch was as delicious as breakfast. The club sandwich was huge (Texas-style) with thinly sliced turkey and thick fried ham. Hand-cut french fries reminded me of childhood and the yummy fried taters Momma used to make. My chalupas were served on a hot plate with refried beans (again, mashed and made right there on the premises) and taco meat that was juicy and flavorful without being greasy.
I even broadened my horizons by tasting the guacamole and I have to say it wasn’t nearly as gross as I thought it would be. (We need to remember that I don’t eat condiments – just tasting it was a huge step for me). The tortilla chips are also made on site, and the salsa is fresh every morning. Nothing comes out of a can in that kitchen. All in all it was a wonderful culinary experience and worth the price, which was just a little higher than we usually spend on lunch.
I asked the general manager if we could wander around and take pictures, and he not only agreed, he took us on a tour of the compound. He told us the story of his grandpa, Tom Mitchell, and how he built the truck stop in 1979 and kept it family-owned, even after being offered ridiculous sums of money from a couple of the big guys.
The Mitchell name is fairly well-known in Texas. Tom Mitchell’s father was a rancher, and Tom not only took over the family business, he expanded it thousands and thousands of acres. It’s safe to say in West Texas, you can’t throw a rock without it landing on Mitchell property. The cattle are all gone, the family keeps several hundred Spanish goats and some wild horses, but the land is mostly used for hunting now.
Mr. Mitchell was and still is a motor head. He loves fast cars, motorcycles and boats. It’s been told that he re-built his first engine when he was 12 years old. Throughout his lifetime, he has built everything from Ford engines to B-36 Bomber aircraft engines. His story alone could fill six or seven pages, but we’ll keep it short and say he’s a very interesting man.
One of the buildings on the property is a museum housing some of the cars and boats that were raced under the Circle Bar name. If you’re a NASCAR enthusiast, you gotta see this place. I’m not much of a fan, and I was fascinated.
After a tour of the car museum, we were treated to what’s known as ‘the desert oasis in Ozona.” As I mentioned before, there’s a motel attached to the restaurant, which is currently a franchise-owned and run by the family. The indoor pool has a lush tropical garden planted all around it, the humid air and green leaves are definitely a contrast to the dry, dusty land surrounding the area. It’s a wonderful place to sit and relax year-round, but you better book ahead, because the motel stays full.
The Mitchells were extremely gracious and kind with the time they took to show us around. I felt very comfortable and really wouldn’t have minded having to stay a few days lounging around the oasis, but we were headed to our own oasis in Ohio, so I’ll wait until next time, because there will certainly be a next time.
If you’re in or near Ozona, it’s worth taking the time to stop and at least eat, and if you have more than a few minutes, stroll around and get a load of the car museum. It’s definitely a welcome change from the sameness of the chain stops, we’ve added it to our list of family-owned spots we make a point to stop at.