The following is a dispatch from CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller:
CRAWFORD, Texas – This is President Bush's 77th and final trip home to his Texas ranch before leaving office, so it's unlikely I'll ever be back here again – and I'll miss it.
But Crawford has had an appeal of its own.
Sure it gets triple-digit hot and humid during the summers. The nearest hotels are 20 miles away in Waco. And the press filing center is the gymnasium of the Middle School. But that's all part of the charm.
Few of my colleagues share my enthusiasm for Crawford. But what I've liked best is the change of pace it provided from life in Washington, D.C.
Morning traffic jams? Not on the 25-minute ride from Waco to Crawford.
Pay to park your car? Not a dime. Just don't park in the area reserved for teachers at the Middle School.
Go through metal detectors and subject your belongings to x-ray examination as is required when entering the White House? Not in Crawford. Just walk right, wave at Ken the Crawford policeman, and head into the gym and go to work.
Now, not everyone in Crawford has looked fondly upon the periodic influx of reporters, photographers and camera crews that accompany President Bush during all or part of the nearly 490 days he has spent at his ranch over the past eight years. I can't blame them. As a group, the White House press is not a very likable bunch. I'm one of us, and I find us whiney, demanding and arrogant.
But by and large, we've been warmly received. The Chambers of Commerce in both Crawford and Waco went out of their way to make us feel welcome – clearly viewing the press as a way to draw attention to their towns and promote tourism and more business. It didn't always work out that way.
There's really not much of a presidential nature to see in Crawford, save a couple of billboards with pictures of President and Mrs. Bush as you approach this town of 705 people along Route 185.
You won't find any sign directing you to the president's 1600-acre Prairie Chapel Ranch. Even if you knew the way – there's a Secret Service checkpoint a couple miles out that would keep you from getting any closer. And even if you drove right up to the gate, you wouldn't see anything but prairie and scrub brush.
The pride and enthusiasm Crawford felt initially as home to the President seemed to wane when anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan and her supporters came to town during the summer of 2005.
At first, Sheehan was a sympathetic figure – a mother whose son Casey was a U.S. soldier killed a year earlier in Iraq. She arrived in Crawford on a blisteringly hot August day demanding to meet with President Bush – whom she blamed for her son's death. But when no meeting was arranged, her grief turned to defiance. She and her supporters vowed to stage protests in and around Crawford whenever Mr. Bush was at his ranch.
Because the president was out of sight and making no news, Sheehan's protests often gave White House reporters here the only thing to write about while covering Mr. Bush's visits home.
And the protests had had a polarizing effect on the community – which changed its parking laws to make Crawford less friendly to Sheehan's protests and encampments.
Though tourism dropped off, and some of the souvenir stores closed down, the small-town appeal of Crawford remains intact. As one who grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and went to a high school with an enrollment four times the size of Crawford's population, I'm glad to have gotten to work here periodically over the past eight years.
And with President Bush pledging to keep a deliberately low profile once he leaves the world stage, Crawford can soon return to the kind of town the people here liked about it in the first place.
They can send the Western White House sign to Honolulu.