Ewe’ve Got to See This: Painted Sheep of San Angelo

     Ewe better believe there’s something, well…sheepish about San Angelo.

     No matter where you look, there they are: fiberglass sheep sculptures in every color and design imaginable.

     Some cities have cows, horses or pelicans. Here sheep started grazing around town in 2007 as a nod to the town’s past, when it was known as the Wool Capital of the World.

     Each is sponsored (usually by the location where they’re making an appearance) and given a punny name: Happy Trails to EWE, Lambscapes, Don’t EWE Mess with Texas, Lucky EWE, Lamb of God, and more. MANY more.

     With over 100 sheep in this colorful flock they can keep visitors happily hunting for days.

     If you’re ready to start off on a sheep-tacular scavenger hunt of your own, this list is a great place to start.

Finding Fall in Lost Maples

     Ah, fall: cool breezes, pumpkin patches and leaves changing colors….

Wait! Change of season colors in Texas? Yep, and I’m here to tell you exactly where to mark your map for a beautifully vivid fall trip.

     Lost Maples State Natural Area is a pristine destination about five miles north of Vanderpool on Ranch Road 187. Typical of most state parks and natural areas, March through May are busy months due to the cooler weather.

     But Lost Maples’ most popular months are October and November when the foliage is ablaze in greens, reds, orange and gold.

     Uvalde big tooth maples, oaks, Florida basswood, American sycamore, green ash, black willow, sugar hackberry and pecan trees tucked into limestone canyons carved by the upper Sabinal River provide the dazzling seasonal color.  Add in an array of wildlife and seasonal wildflowers and this becomes one of the must-see autumn spots in the state.

     Sound amazing? It is!

     With over 2,900 scenic acres to explore you can fill your visit with hikes, picnicking, photography, camping, backpacking, fishing, geocaching and bird watching.

     A birding guide for Lost Maples here.

     Fall temperatures at Lost Maples are mild, and the stargazing at night is jaw dropping. The sky looked like a sea of twinkling glitter. I used a handy phone app to identify some of the stars and constellations we spotted. You can find more information about the free app here.

     Stop into the ranger station at the entrance parking lot for a small but interesting display about Lost Maples, and don’t forget to pick up a free trail map to set your course. There are ten miles of well-maintained hiking trails, including a challenging, steep seven-mile loop that takes you along the top of a 2,200 foot cliff.

 

 

 

     Even on the easiest trails, you’ll enjoy seeing steep canyon walls, streams, ponds and rocky bluffs.

     Remember to take plenty of water and normal hiking supplies like sunscreen and a small first aid kit.

     Dogs are welcome, but if they’re hiking along with you be sure to bring their water. It’s a workout for them, too.

     I was intent on finding Monkey Rock during my hike, one of most photographed spots in the park year round, and was grateful to find several signs indicating the general route to him. Just follow the marked trail and as you come into a clearing by the bluffs, look up! There’s no mistaking his toothless grin.

     I dare you not to smile when you spot him.

     In addition to reptiles and insects (even tarantulas!), keep an eye out for an array of birds, gray fox, white-tailed deer, armadillos, raccoons, bobcats, squirrels and an occasional javelina. Most of the wildlife will understandably avoid people, but the more tranquil (quiet!) your walk, the better chance you have of spotting them.

     If you only have half a day or so, I recommend prioritizing a hike along the Maple Trail, to Monkey Rock and the Grotto with its ferns and drip springs, with a short detour to the waterfall.

     Taking time for a picnic lunch and skipping stones across one of the ponds is guaranteed to wash away stress.

    When hiking, remember to stay on the trails to preserve the natural habitat. Water can sometimes cross the trails during heavy rains.

     Remember that you’re in a canyon, so don’t expect cell phone reception inside Lost Maples. It’s a great opportunity to disconnect from the world and enjoy nature.

     The park only accommodates about 250 cars, so if you go during the peak season you’ll want to arrive early to claim your spot.

     Weekends fill up fast with only 300 guest slots available from 8 a.m. until noon, and another 150 spots from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Once you’re there you can stay until 10 pm.

 

     Here’s the secret: you can actually purchase a Save the Day pass 30 days in advance online! When I chose the dates of my visit I counted backward on my calendar and jotted myself a reminder to book as soon as the dates were able to be claimed.

     As with most popular destinations, weekdays are less crowded. My friend and I went on a weekday to avoid the weekend crush and were thankful to have the trails virtually to ourselves.

     Another insider tip: Though the last two weeks of October and the first two weeks of November are traditionally the height of the fall color season, this can vary from year to year due to weather patterns. Be sure to check resources like the fall foliage conditions for the most current updates. A link is here.

     When you’re ready to satisfy that appetite you’ve earned after a wonderful day of hiking and exploring, check out the nearby Lost Maples Café in Vanderpool. Click the name for more details.

     My only regret is that Lost Maples was on my wish list of destinations for so long before I actually made time to go. Now I can’t wait to go back and take others along!





     If you think this neon is gorgeous (I do!), you should see their boots!

     Four generations of craftsman have been making custom Leddy’s boots using the same methods passed down since 1922. If you stop in to order a pair for yourself, your custom measurements will be added to the book alongside rock stars, sports heroes, presidents and royalty. A hand written code inside each boot allows Leddy’s to trace every pair they’ve made the original owner.

     Today they offer custom boots, saddles, jewelry, belts, accessories and more in unique Texas style.

     This sign adorns their original shop in San Angelo. You’ll find their other location in the Fort Worth stockyards.

     The sign is just as show stopping in the daylight. Which do you prefer: the daytime design, or the lit up night time version?

Water Lilies of San Angelo

     Bet you didn’t know that Texas has an official state water lily…

     I mean, c’mon. There’s pretty much a state EVERYTHING of Texas, so why not this?

     And I’ve discovered the ideal place to see it in person: The International Waterlily Collection Garden in San Angelo.

     For over thirty years, visitors to this unique outdoor space have been stopping to admire the fascinated flowers and lily pads. Ho hum, you say? What if I told you that some of the pads are eight feet in diameter!

 

     A rainbow of blooms of up to 150 species  inhabit six pools. What’s even more amazing is that the varieties on view are only about 1% of owner Ken Landon’s collection, which encompasses close to 90% of all water lilies, including some that have become extinct in their native lands. The types in the pools are changed annually, and signs identify many of the species.

 

     My husband and I had so many thing on our “to see” list while we were in San Angelo, that I admit this park fell into the “if we have time” category. Thank heaven we did! The descriptions of it that I hadn’t done it justice.

 

     Dozens of dragonflies and birds flitted around the pools and flowers, which made it even more enchanting.

     The long flowering season of the waterlilies (from April to October) provides ample opportunity to see them but the height is September, which is when San Angelo’s Lily Fest is! Click this link for updates about the festival.

     The best time to see the flowers is in the morning, but some of the blooms only occur in the evening.

     But what about the Texas State Water Lily? I’m glad you asked! On April 26, 2011, the 82nd Legislature of the State of Texas formally designated Nymphaea, “Texas Dawn” as the Official Waterlily of the State of Texas. San Angelo is home to the “Texas Dawn,” which was created by Landon.

     The International Waterlily Collection has been designated by the International Waterlily & Water Gardening Society as a premiere collection of lilies in existence. Pretty impressive, huh?

   The display is near the corner of West Beaure­gard Avenue and North Park Street west of downtown San Angelo and the Concho River. The park is free to the public and open 24 hours.

     So put the ‘petal to the metal’ (sorry!) and be sure to add this colorful, unique stop to your next visit to or through San Angelo.

 




Ponder-ing Bonnie & Clyde in Texas

     Since Bonnie Elizabeth Parker and Clyde Chestnut Barrow were both born in Texas, it should come as no surprise that there is no shortage of places in the state with some sort of link to the notorious outlaws. 

     When Bonnie,  Clyde and the Barrow Gang drove up to the Ponder State Bank in Ponder, Texas and attempted to rob it, they were disappointed to find out it had gone bankrupt the week before. Legend has it that Clyde was so disgusted with the news that he marched the teller out to the getaway car at gunpoint, and ordered him to repeat what he had just said to Bonnie…who laughed hysterically. Clyde then shot out the windows of the bank in frustration.

     Years later in 1967 Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway would film a reenactment of the event at the same bank while portraying the young outlaws. The film, which told a version of their story that is far from the truth,  glorified the couple as being glamorous outlaws. In reality they murdered at least thirteen people.

     This popular movie is actually why most people refer to them as “Bonnie and Clyde.” In their day they were more commonly referred to as the Barrow Gang or Clyde Barrow and “that Parker woman.”

     The Ponder bank is empty now, but still has much of it’s original charm including the original teller cage and bank safe.

     I love when movies about historical characters are able to use actual locations from their (sometimes fictionalized) lives, don’t you?

 

   If you stood on these steps would you be more impressed that you were standing where Bonnie & Clyde did, or Warren and Faye?




Dancing to Ditties Down on Double Bayou


     A few miles south of Anahuac in the community of Double Bayou in Chambers County, aptly named for its location nestled between two bayous, a long narrow building sits beside moss draped oaks hinting at the much livelier days of the past.

     Don’t let appearances fool you though, this place was once a hoppin’ joint!

     Double Bayou Dance Hall was built in the late 1920s using cedar logs as a dance floor, hog wire and wood for the walls topped by a tin roof. The tacks and staples that held tar paper covering can still be seen on the exterior wood.

     During Juneteenth in the 1920s and 30s, many revelers would come to the “The Place,” as it was known locally, all the way from Galveston. The celebration often lasted three days, but always ended in time for Sunday school and church.

     A storm destroyed the original hall in 1941, but Manuel Tanzy Rivers (“Rivers”…appropriate name, don’t you think?) used the original materials to rebuild it just down the road in 1946 after returning from after World War II. The hall served as a gathering place for community events during the week, and a dance hall on the weekends.

     The hall was on the ‘Chitlin’ Circuit’ for the next couple of decades. The circuit, which gained notoriety in an interview with Lou Rawls, was a group of performance venues in the South that were safe for African American musicians to perform during the Jim Crow era. Major acts on their way to Houston would often detour to play impromptu gigs at the famous hall.

     The audiences at Double Bayou came from all different ethnic, cultural and economic backgrounds to share their love of music and the Texas Blues arriving by boat, automobile or on foot from local towns, Houston, Galveston and Austin.

     Rivers’ nephew, blues guitarist Floyd “Pete” Mayes and his band the Texas Houserockers played their first professional gig at the Double Bayou Dance Hall in 1954, and soon became the house band playing there through the early 1960s.

Frottoir

    Mayes took over the dance hall after his uncle passed away, and in later years hosted jazz, rhythm & blues and zydeco concerts there in between his performances around the nation. In the old days, zydeco was called “La-la’ and would often include an accordion and rub board (frottoir) or sometimes a fiddle and a rub board.

     From 1955 until 2005 Mayes hosted a Christmas matinee that became a traditional excursion for many music loving Texans. Cowboys would smoke brisket on the lawn and local women offered homemade pecan, lemon meringue and sweet potato pies as music drifted out the doors and windows and into the surrounding trees.

Pete Mayes inside the Double Bayou Dance Hall

    Mayes and his band recorded a CD titled “Pete Mayes and the Texas Houserockers LIVE! At Double Bayou Dance Hall in May 2003. Treat yourself, and listen to a snippet of one of the tunes HERE.

     Mayes passed away in December 2008. Just three months earlier Hurricane Ike’s 20-foot storm surge washed over the Bolivar Peninsula and swept north, flooding the Double Bayou area. The storm broke walls and damaged the roof, but left the dance hall damaged but standing.

     Today the ruins stand behind a Texas State Historical Marker, with the falling roof and broken floorboards sheltering snakes and spiders rather than musicians.

      The only music that echoes through the windows and doors these days is the wind and rustle of leaves.

 

 

 

Virtual Travel: Waxahachie, Texas

     This week we had a quick visit and virtual tour of the English Merchant’s Inn in Waxahachie . . . one of my favorite bed and breakfasts in Texas. If you missed it, you can catch the replay below, then refer to the links below for more fun to be found in this gem of a small town.

Click these links to find more information and photos:

English Merchant’s Inn

Waxahachie Courthouse Folklore

Hachie Hearts

Waxahachie’s Love Lock Bridge

Diggin’ Up Fun at the Museum of the Big Bend

     What to do while we’re quarantined? Well, just travel virtually that’s what!

     Here’s a link to the instagram visit I had with Matt Walter, Curator of Collections at The Museum of the Big Bend in Alpine, Texas. Just click the link and come along!

     Thanks so much, Matt!

     O.K, friends – What was your favorite item or exhibit on the tour?

Warm from the Oven: DoubleTree Cookie Recipe

     It’s a tradition at DoubleTree by Hilton Hotels to gift guests with a fresh baked cookie at the end of their day. And I’m not one to turn that down! As far as I’m concerned it’s a step up from the traditional “mint on the pillow.”

     But since most of us aren’t traveling right now, Doubletree has kindly decided to share the recipe for their signature cookie so people can treat themselves at home. My kitchen may have gotten a bit messier this evening, but it was SOOO worth it.

     If you’d like to try the recipe for yourself here it is, courtesy of Hilton.

DoubleTree Signature Cookie Recipe

Makes 26 cookies

½ pound butter, softened (2 sticks)

¾ cup + 1 tablespoon granulated sugar

¾ cup packed light brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 ¼ teaspoons vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 ¼ cups flour

1/2 cup rolled oats

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

Pinch cinnamon

2 2/3 cups Nestle Tollhouse semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 3/4 cups chopped walnuts 

Cream butter, sugar and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed for about 2 minutes. 

Add eggs, vanilla and lemon juice, blending with mixer on low speed for 30 seconds, then medium speed for about 2 minutes, or until light and fluffy, scraping down bowl. 

With mixer on low speed, add flour, oats, baking soda, salt and cinnamon, blending for about 45 seconds. Don’t overmix. 

Remove bowl from mixer and stir in chocolate chips and walnuts.

Portion dough with a scoop (about 3 tablespoons) onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper about 2 inches apart. ( I didn’t press my scoops flat like the hotel does, and they cooked just fine.)

Preheat oven to 300°F. Bake for 20 to 23 minutes, or until edges are golden brown and center is still soft. 

Remove from oven and cool on baking sheet for about 1 hour.

     If the batch of batter seems like more than your household can eat right now, there’s good news. You can freeze the unbaked cookies, and there’s no need to thaw. Preheat oven to 300°F and place frozen cookies on parchment paper-lined baking sheet  and cook same as above. Now you can have a fresh, warm cookie whenever the mood strikes you!

     The majority of cookies that emerged form my oven are headed to my Dad for Father’s Day, and are definitely going to be a hit.

     Pour a glass of milk and enjoy.

 

 

Sam Houston’s Wife and a Kindred Connection

   Texan artist Tra Slaughter painted this mural of Sam Houston on the back of a building in downtown Brenham, facing the railroad tracks. If this image of Houston seems odd to you, you may not be familiar with his connection to the Cherokees.

   In 1809 at the age of 16, Sam Houston ran away from home in Tennessee and lived among the Cherokees. He was adopted by Chief Oolooteka and given the name Colonneh or the Raven.

   Although I grew up in Texas, I first heard about this other name while attending the university named after this Texan forefather. The name cropped up often around Huntsville in business names.

   While I was learning more about Houston, I found that his Cherokee wife’s name was Talahina “Tiana” Rogers . . . a name that sounded pretty darn familiar to me. Always fascinated with my mother’s Cherokee lineage, I started researching her genealogy when I was just 12.

   Sure enough, Talahina‘s great grandparents William Emory and Mary Suzannah Grant were my seventh great grandparents. So while it is a distant connection, I was happy to learn that I had a personal link to this fascinating woman.

   Talahina’s mother Elizabeth was the sister of my 6th great-grandmother Susannah. Both were born in Houston’s home state of Tennessee to William and Mary Emory.

Gravestone of “Taina” Rogers in Muskogee, Oklahoma

   Sam Houston had three wives, but for obvious reasons, this one is a special interest of mine.

   This mural is spectacular, and also features an actual raven and a Mockingbird, the state bird of Texas. Art is such a terrific way to relate pieces of history.

   Have you done any research on your family tree? You never know what or who you’ll find.