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.

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.

Birdwatcher Alert: A Phoenix on Galveston

     What’s 15 feet tall with a 35-foot wingspan and gleams in the sunlight? A metal statue of a Phoenix created by Houston based artist Bob Bacon that now guards the gate of his brother’s Galveston ranch.

     Bacon’s creation first appeared in the 2017 Houston Thanksgiving Day Parade, after he created it as a post Hurricane Harvey symbol of hope and recovery.

     Since it’s big debut, the statue has been nesting in a warehouse, waiting for its next chance to take flight.

     The onset of the coronavirus pandemic inspired the family to install the phoenix on Galveston Island to once again provide a symbol of hope. The Bacon Ranch is an appropriate home for this particular piece of artwork, since most of the land on the ranch has been set aside as grounds for the migrating birds that pass over Galveston Island each year.

     The family welcomes visitors to pull along the side of the road to get a close look and photos, but asks that no one trespass beyond the fence.

     To visit, travel west from Galveston on FM 3005 past Jamaica Beach, and look on the north side of the road.

     No binoculars required!

Exploring What Lies Below: Bayou Park Cistern

     A cistern….really? If you think that doesn’t sound worth seeing I’m here to tell you it absolutely is!

Maca=HoustonCistern

     Thousands of people walk the paths of this beautiful park every day without ever knowing what lies beneath their feet. Let’s go underground and take a peek!

     Park your bike or car and step into the visitors center next to this entrance to meet your tour guide. They are part of the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, a non-profit that is restoring the historic Houston waterway, and are so have so much fascinating knowledge to share and make your visit memorable.

     The valve wheels just outside are a good photo opportunity for kids and just fun to play with . . . don’t worry – they aren’t connected actually to anything any more. They used to be stationed around the perimeter of the cistern to allow the water flow to be turned off when the cistern was full.

 

     Following your guide through the metal doors you’ll walk through a poured concrete corridor to one last metal, sliding door.

     Stepping inside the cistern you’ll be greeted with a view that seems more grand than functional. It’s the columns – row after row – that together create a sense of being in some sort of exotic Roman underground grotto rather than just a few steps from Houston sunshine.

     The expanse that visitors take in includes 221 columns, 165 of which are are 25 feet tall. They stand stoically in a cavernous space of over 87,500 square feet – about a football field and a half in size. When filled to capacity the cistern could hold 15 million gallons of water standing within six inches of the ceiling.

     The water plant where the contents would drain used to be where the nearby Aquarium Restaurant stands today.

     A comfortably wide walking path with metal railings surrounds the water storage area allowing access around the entire perimeter.

     The cistern was built  in 1926 as an underground drinking water reservoir for the city by Standard Construction Company, and took 95 days to construct in a pre-excavated site. Over 6,000 cubic yards of concrete and over 800,000 pounds of reinforcement steel were used. Half of that alone went into the 8″ thick ceiling that tops walls that are 8″ thick at the at top widening to 18″ at the bottom.

     On your tour you’ll hear about the challenges of obtaining water in the early days of Houston for uses such as putting out fires led to decisions that ultimately building the infrastructure that included the cistern. If you normally think talking about history is pretty dry, well . . . this story’s all wet. (Sorry!)

     In 1926 the cistern was called the City of Houston 15 Million Gallon Covered Reinforced County Reservoir. Today’s name of The Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern is sure easier to remember!

     There wasn’t always an entrance tunnel to the space. On each of the four sides there is a 50-pound hatch in the ceiling with a ladder extending down into the cistern, and a concrete stairway down to the water. Maintenance workers would have had to navigate the wet ladder and climb down to balance on what used to be a two-foot ledge before proceeding to the stairs, carrying only a dim lantern to guide them. Makes me wonder how many lost their footing and ended up in the water!

     The small amount of water now provides a beauty and esthetic quality as well as moisture that helps maintain the concrete of the structure. We all need a bit of “maintenance,” don’t we  – and the cistern will be 94 years old this summer!

     In 2010 the City of Houston was searching for a contractor to demolish the decommissioned cistern when members of the Buffalo Bayou Park project “discovered” the site. Seeing its historical significance, they took over the cistern and had it restored.

 

     And now for my favorite part of the tour: turning off the lights! Yes, it’s definitely a bit spooky, and this is when you realize how happy you are that your guide was carrying such a large-faced flashlight. As the lights shut off, you’ll experience the very definition of dark!

     Watching as the wide beam from your guide’s light is directed in different ways, it’s fascinating to see the illusions it creates.

     Today the water at the base of the columns is only about eight or nine inches deep, but light on the water gives the illusion of  the columns being twice as tall and the water much deeper than it truly is.

     As the guide shines the light toward one specific point, the vision of the columns seems to stretch into infinity. It’s truly breathtaking.

     Now if you’re as lucky as I was, you will be assigned one of the talented guides who happens to have a beautiful singing voice. Hearing the songstress’ a cappella performance reverberate around the cistern was awe inspiring. The water, concrete walls, columns and their symmetrical placement create an echo that lasts 17 to 20 seconds, and audibly seems to travel around the area.

     The Park group recently hosted their first two projected light art installations by artists, and hope to offer a third this fall. It’s a wonderful way to take advantage of this unique space.

     Thanks to a permanent installation named “Down Periscope” by artist Donald Lipski, you can take peer below even if you aren’t on a tour. Visitors to the park above the cistern can use the periscope to see what’s going on below. If you’re further away, it can be viewed and controlled online. Just click this link to take a look. (NOTE: during the current quarantine, the periscope isn’t operational online or in person.)

Stay above ground, but peer below with “Down Periscope.”

     Buffalo Bayou Park’s cistern is the only defunct reservoir of its size open to the public in the United States. The closest thing in stature is the Basilica cistern in Istanbul, Turkey which was made around 500 A.D.

     It’s one of the few magnificent views in the city that doesn’t depend on the weather.


     Walking tours of the cistern are available between 10:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Mondays, Tuesday and Wednesdays and last for about 15 minutes. They’re given on a first-come first served basis and only cost $5.

     Longer private tours for larger groups (great for photographers and history enthusiasts) are available as well and can be booked online here.

     Be sure to check their website ahead of time for rules and restrictions that may affect your visit.

     See you beneath the city!