- The Washington Times - Friday, January 3, 2003

CRAWFORD, Texas Sightseers who venture to the front gate of President Bush's 1,600-acre ranch here are often disappointed by the dreary flat land that seems to extend endlessly in all directions.
But if they had the chance to hike deep into Prairie Chapel Ranch, they would discover a treasure trove of canyons and cliffs, waterfalls and wildlife, rock formations and rare trees.
"Isn't it amazing?" Mr. Bush said during a four-mile, 90-minute hike with reporters across the ranch yesterday. "We brought some friends out here and one of the guys said, 'I can't imagine why President Bush bought this place; this is some of the worst country in Texas.'
"But what he didn't realize is that the fingers of the Hill Country, which is where you all have been, south of Austin, extend up here," he added. "The topography on the map shows this is some unique country."
Mr. Bush reveled in the topographical diversity of his land as he strode briskly among rolling hills, limestone canyons and waterlogged flatlands teeming with flora and fauna.
"You wouldn't ever envision this driving into the ranch," he marveled.
As turkey buzzards circled in the cool blue sky, Mr. Bush led a dozen journalists into the "cathedral," a striking canyon that had been carved out of chalky soft limestone. A waterfall cascaded from a huge shelf of overhanging stone into a clear pool at the bottom.
Later, Mr. Bush veered off a rocky road and ducked under trees to point out a pristine brook that dropped languidly from flat rock to flat rock. He pointed out a cardinal that flitted through the underbrush as the group approached.
At another point the president seemed to surprise the Secret Service by walking to the edge of a 90-foot cliff, which had no railings, to show off a creek below. He joked that it was safe because the wind was blowing the group away from the cliff, not toward it.
"Be careful up here, seriously," he said to a reporter from The Washington Times who ventured close to the edge.
At still another point, the president scurried up a hillside to point out a "hidden valley" over the crest. He joked about writing his upcoming State of the Union address at the secluded, serene spot.
Mr. Bush said he loves to fish for bass in the 11-acre artificial lake just outside his stone ranch home. He said that even though he stocked the fish himself, he still gets credit for catching them.
"The only time you don't get credit," he said, making a motion of a fish being hooked, "is when the Secret Service frogman puts it on for you."
Along the way, Mr. Bush revealed that he "was probably asleep at 10 p.m." on New Year's Eve. "I was looking for that ball dropping in London," he said of the city that is six hours ahead of Crawford.
The president also disclosed that he envisions making Prairie Chapel Ranch his permanent residence after leaving the White House, although first lady Laura Bush does not necessarily agree.
"That's an interesting conversation Laura and I have had," he said. "In my view, this will be the primary residence and we'd have a town house somewhere else.
"I think her view might be slightly different," he added. "In which case, her view will prevail."
At the end of the hike, Mr. Bush held a minipress conference and then invited the journalists into his house for coffee with him and Mrs. Bush.

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