Wherever we are . . . at home or on far flung travels . . . the night sky offers a brilliant show just waiting for us to take notice.
When I was in west Texas recently, far from the “light pollution” of urban areas, I was reminded that the sky actually more resembles a spilled pot of glitter than an occasional point of light. It was one of those times that I wished I knew how to identify the different stars and constellations. That’s something I have always meant to learn more about when I “had the time.”
When relating to a friend how awestruck I was at the beauty of the sky on that trip, he suggested that I download an app called SkyView Lite, a free version of an application that creates a kind of overlay of the sky as you hold it up. It identifies stars, planets, constellations and more. Once I tried it I was hooked! Even back home on nights that had too much cloud cover to see many twinkly heavenly bodies, it shows me where they’re positioned. Touch a point of light on your phone screen and it will identify it by name, show its trajectory and even give interesting trivia about it.
There is a paid version of this app with more features, but honestly for now I’m finding plenty of enjoyment with the free version. It’s fun to use with friends, family or just by yourself as you sit beneath the endless sky enjoying how vast creation can be.
When was the last time you took the opportunity to star gaze?
I love sharing places to visit across the Lone Star State through this blog, but I hope we’re all being responsible at the moment by staying at home and being healthy. When the Corona virus threats retreat, we’ll all be ready to get out and be social again.
In the meantime, it doesn’t mean we can’t explore Texas!
This morning I was remembering how when my daughter wasn’t quite school age yet, and it was pretty much a full time job to keep her busy little mind occupied and entertained. One of the things we did was talk about how Texas had all kinds of “official” symbols. How many do you know?
Official flower: Bluebonnet
Official large mammal: Longhorn
Official sport: Rodeo
Official Dish: Chili con carne
Official Insect: Monarch Butterfly
Reptile: Horned lizard
Plant: prickly pear cactus
Air Force: Commemorative Air Force (formerly know as the confederate Air Force)
Amphibian: Texas toad
Aquarium: Texas State Aquarium
Bison Herd: Texas State Bison Herd at Caprock Canyons State Park
Bluebonnet Festival: Chappell Hill Bluebonnet Festival
Bluebonnet Trail: Ennis
Bread: Pan de campo
Cobbler: Peach cobbler
Cooking implement: Cast iron Dutch oven
Crustacean: Texas Gulf shrimp
Dinosaur: Paluxysaurus Jones (replace the Brachiosuar in 1997)
Dog breed: Blue Lacy
Epic Poem: Legend of Old Stone Ranch
Fiber and Fabric: Cotton
Fish: Guadalupe Bass
Footwear: Cowboy boot
Fruit: Texas Red grapefruit
Botanical Garden: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Gem: Texas blue topaz
Gemstone cut: Lone Star cut
Grass: Sideoats grama
Official Domino Game: 42
Horse: American Quarter horse
Flying Mammal: Mexican Free-Tailed bat
Small Mammal: Armadillo
Maritime Museum: Texas Maritime museum
Musical Instrument: Guitar
Native Pepper: Chiltepin
Native Shrub: Texas Purple Sage
Shrub: Crape myrtle
Snack: Tortilla chips and salsa
Song: “Texas, Our Texas”
Pastries: (there are 2!) Sopapilla and Strudel
Pie: Pecan pie
Pollinator: Western honey bee
Precious Metal: Silver
Railroad: Texas State Railroad
Rodeo Drill Team: Texas Ghost Riders
Saltwater Fish: Red Drum
Sea Turtle: Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle
Shell: Lightning whelk
Ship: U.S.S. Texas
Stone: Petrified palmwood
Tall Ship: Elissa
Vegetable: Sweet onion
Vehicle: Chuck wagon
And believe it or not . . . there are SO many more!
For each of the symbols, you and your child can explore information online about what makes these things so very Texan.
Make chili con carne for dinner, and follow it with pecan pie and a domino game of 42. (How to play here.)
Plant your own butterfly garden to attract monarchs. My daughter and I still care for our ever larger Monarch garden that we created 15 years ago, and watching the life cycle of these beautiful creatures never gets old. (Everything you’ll need is here.)
Make columns on a poster board and have your child help you separate some of these by category (place, animals, etc.)
Make a list of “official” sites you’d like to visit when travel limitations are lifted. (The tall ship Elissa in Galveston, a ride on the Texas State Railroad, etc.)
But most importantly have fun and share the love of Texas. What is your favorite Lone Star State (the official Texas nickname) symbol?
When I was a kid I wanted to be an archaeologist when I grew up.
Now mind you, this was in the days (dark ages) before the Indiana Jones movies, so my parents didn’t quite know what to do with this aspiration, other than try to direct me elsewhere.
I’ve never quite gotten over my fascination with archaeological dig sites, and recently I went to the Mineral Wells Fossil Park where visitors can dig for and keep fossils over 300 million years old!
Think of it as the fossil equivalent of searching for seashells along a beach.
Mineral Wells Fossil Park is a primitive, unique site that’s a fascinating place to explore by yourself or with your family. Offering eight acres to comb, the park used to be the city’s “borrow pit,” which is an area where dirt is taken from to fill other areas. The resulting pit eroded over the 20 years it was used, exposing thousands of fossils from the Pennsylvanian Period.
It’s one of the few parks in the nation where visitors are legally allowed to remove fossils from the site, taking home true treasures.
There is plenty of parking in the gravel parking lot, where you’ll also find clean, portable toilets, but no running water. If you’re going to want to wash your hands or rinse off a bit after your outing before you re-enter your car bring an extra jug of water.
Take time to read the informational signs in the parking lot. They’ll help you to identify things you might otherwise overlook.
If you’d like to take along a “cheat sheet” click this link to find a handy, printable reference sheet of fossil types, courtesy of fossilcentre.com.
The park is primitive in more ways than one. You may encounter dangerous insects or animals (it IS their turf, after all) so keep a sharp eye out for them. And once you descend into the pit, don’t expect your cell phones to work. See? Magic – time travel.
Follow the path to the pit (there’s one way in and one way out to minimize damage to the site). A chain handrail will help steady your balance on the rocky soil as you follow the walkway into the search area.
My visit was on a day after a light rain which was ideal, since it washed the top layer of dust off of things and revealed new items in the channels where water runs down the sides of the pit. I had been told that I wouldn’t really need to “dig” for the fossils since most of them would be laying right on the surface, but I was skeptical. I was wrong . . . and it was amazing.
You might find fossils of ancient sea species like trilobites, crinoids (urchins), brachiopods, pelecypods, (clams and oysters), corals, plants, and even sharks.
The type I found with the least effort were sea lilies (which sound much more impressive when referred to as crinoids). Sometimes called “Indian beads” or “Indian buttons” (what my great-aunt used to call them) in reference to their button or bead-like shape, people used to collect and string them into necklaces. Not to get to “science-y”, but this illustration will show you what where in the plant (columnal) they were originally. Fossils from the other parts of the plant can be found as well.
Who would have thought a big pit could be so much fun?
Bring a picnic lunch or snacks and PLENTY of drinking water. Even in non-summer months, there is no shade in the actual digging area and you’ll need to stay hydrated. There are no nearby places to eat, so if you’re planning to stay at least a couple of hours (and you should!) your hard-working archaeology crew might get the munchies.
There is a shaded table area as you enter the park that makes a nice place to give yourself and your family a break from the sun. If your visit will be in the summer months, it would be wise to plan to be there early in the day, or late in the evening.
Yes, it’s basically a dirt pit, so dress appropriately. C’mon, that’s half the fun!
You’ll want to make sure everyone has rubber soled shoes (old tennis shoes are perfect) to help with footing on the loose-soiled slopes. (Say THAT 3 times fast: loose soiled slopes, loose sloiled slolpes . . . never mind!)
Other take-along suggestions: baggies or nail aprons to hold your finds, small hand garden trowels to loosen the dirt, an umbrella for extra shade, a wide brimmed hat, sunblock, bug spray, a bucket to carry tools and water bottles, and a small rubber gardening knee pad to sit on (it’ll feel a lot cushier than the hard ground). As always, please keep a first aid kit in your car to take care of minor boo-boos. Even adults need antiseptic and bandaids, ya know.
Oh, and did I mention water? Water, water, water.
You’ll also want to bring along your sense of adventure and patience. Once your brain adjusts to what it’s searching for the fossils seem to become more and more abundant.
Here’s a quick photo I took of the surface at the side of the pit. No, I didn’t even disturb it by beginning to dig! How many fossils can you spot?
You may even see a few “future fossils” during wildflower season.
The park address is 2375 Indian Creek Road, just northwest of Mineral Wells, Texas. From Mineral Wells, head west on Highway 180. Turn north on Indian Creek Road and drive approximately 2 miles to the Mineral Wells Fossil Park entrance.
It’s open daily from 8 a.m. until dusk and is admission free, which fits my travel budget just fine.
Personally, I can’t wait to go back. Who’s up for an archaeological adventure?
Trail rides are a time honored and much loved part of the traditions surrounding the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
Four men from Brenham made the first trek in 1952, and by the next year 80 people had signed up to start the legendary Salt Grass Trail Ride.
One year after that 800 people were participating!
This year more than 3,000 riders will saddle up to make make the trip, heading into Houston from all directions.
The Texas Independence Trailride Association is just one of the groups who participate in the wonderful tradition. Established in January 1961, their group has been hitting the trail for 59 years!
The Texas Independence Trail Ride, whose trail goes right by my neighborhood every year includes rescue horses, three century-old wagons and the nicest bunch of people ever to gather around a campfire.
This year they set out on February 22, and I met up with them on the trail on February 26. A brave 50 to 100 riders will take part in this ride of 100 miles…and they’ve already had a rainy day and a v-e-r-y brisk day (today).
Multiple generations of families and friends take part. These two sweet cousins are pros – this is her second year and his sixth!
If you ever have a chance to visit one of the trail riding groups at one of their break stops, be sure to bring your camera and your smile…and watch where you step!
See a video of the wagons, horses and riders in action HERE.
A Valentine from Valentine? Yep, it’ll set your card apart from the rest.
For over 30 years the little post office in Valentine, Texas has postmarked Valentines coming through their station with a little extra love.
Every year, the post office chooses one design from dozens drawn by local schoolchildren to transform into an actual hand-cancel postmark for the holiday. Each year is unique, so even if you make this a tradition it will always seem new.
Requests for the postmark come in from around the world (yes, really!), and it’s obviously the busiest time of year for the remote location. You can walk your Valentines in to the post office, or mail them in, which…unless you happen to be in that area of Texas…is the only way to go.
I have heard about this tradition for years but never tried it myself. There isn’t much updated information available about it on the internet, so when I decided this was the year…I called the regional rep for the United States Post Office. She politely walked me through the process (and no, she had never tried it herself either) and assured me it would actually work.
I live in Houston, so I prepared my cards first, writing them, sealing them in their envelopes, addressing them and attaching a stamp. But here’s where the process is different.
I put all of my Valentines into one larger envelope (remember they were already stamped), and addressed the outside envelope to:
VALENTINE’S DAY POSTMARK POSTMASTER 311 W CALIFORNIA AVE VALENTINE, TX 79854-9998
Then I took that large envelope to my local post office and purchased the appropriate postage to get it to Valentine. The postmistress there also expressed an interest, having hear of the program but never having tried it. Are you starting to see a pattern?
The regional representative had told me that all cards must be received in Valentine by February 4 to be in time to get the special post mark. There is no charge to customers requesting this for fewer than 50 Valentines (gracious!). Customers who do have 50 or more will be charged five cents each.
I had 10 Valentines in one large outer envelope that would normally cost a couple of dollars to send, but I sprung for the tracking method (just under $5) since I wanted to “watch” the process.
And off they went!
I mailed my envelope on January 23rd and it arrived in Valentine on the 28th. Then the hardest part began…waiting. As time went by I religiously checked my mailbox. I had sent one to my daughter at our address, partially so I would be able to see it for myself. The week of Valentine’s Day came, and I got a bit anxious.
On Valentine’s Day I received a text from a relative in San Antonio thanking me for the card and remarking on the unusual postmark. The good news…it worked. The bad…my daughter’s still hadn’t arrived at our house. But it finally DID arrive, the day after Valentine’s. Soooo, we’re just dragging out the holiday a bit longer.
I’ll definitely try this again next year, but send them out even a bit earlier to see if that makes a difference.
It’s a great way to make your Valentines uniquely Texan!
If you’re looking for something to satisfy a sweet tooth, head to Corsicana!
The Russell Stover Chocolates Shop is filled to the ceiling. . . literally . . . with a candy assortment to satisfy any sweet tooth. You can purchase the chocolates by the box, by the bag or individually. Don’t forget to try their ice cream. It’ll make you glad you turned off the highway, and is a great treat to break up a road trip. There’s even a shaded patio area where you can pull up a chair and enjoy it without risking drips inside the car.
What takes most people by surprise on their first visit is the overstock bargains. Leave your willpower behind as you head to the back of the store, it won’t do you any good! Regardless of the time of year you visit, you’ll find overstocks candy from Easter, Christmas, Halloween, Valentine’s Day and other seasons all at drastically reduced prices. And don’t worry, even if they’re out of season, they taste fresh and yummy!
Be sure to get a “frequent shopper card. Even if you only swing by about once per year, there’s often a free surprise for card holders.
And, oooooh, the freshly made caramel apples!
What’s your favorite type of chocolate?
Russell Stover Shop, 1997 Pecan Delight Avenue, Corsicana
Stone emojis? Well, kind of! These faces silently tell the story of an unrequited love in Ellis County long ago.
The courthouse itself is exquisite. This 1897 Romanesque Revival stunner was designed by architect J. Riely Gordon. If you’re a fan of Texas courthouses, you’ve heard his name before, since he designed 18 of them! But this one is undisputedly his masterpiece.
I promise to tell you more about this beauty another time, but for now we’re just going to talk about those faces! If you feel as if someone is watching you as your walk around the grounds of the courthouse square, you’re probably right.
The story goes that sculptor Harry Herley arrived in Waxahachie in 1895 to work on carvings for the courthouse project during it’s construction. The itinerant English artist moved into Mama Frame’s boarding house, where he met and fell in love with her beautiful 16-year-old daughter Mabel.
As his work continued on the courthouse, Harry’s love for Mabel grew, and he carved her angelic countenance to top the exterior columns of the courthouse.
But, as fate would have it, the love was unrequited and Mabel discouraged his constant attentions. As it became apparent to Harry that his love wasn’t returned, his disappointment slowly turned into bitterness, and the faces he carved to represent Mabel progressed from beautiful to grotesque and twisted. A lasting revenge for his broken heart.
The townspeople weren’t too happy about the unattractive faces on the courthouse they had spend so much money to build, and one story relates that the cattlemen and farmers even tarred and feathered poor ol’ Harry and ran him out of town on a rail.
It’s a sad, but terrific tale ripe for retelling through the generations.
Spoiler alert: If you’re charmed by the legend and would prefer
to leave it at that . . .you might want to stop reading this now.
Mabel’s mother Hattie, although a widow, didn’t seem to be running a boarding house according to the federal census. Even if she had been, the chances are that Herley never met the Frame family.
The biggest obstacle to this story were the characters were when it was supposedly taking place.
The stone sculptures for the courthouse were sub-contracted to the Dallas firm of German stonemason Theodore Beilharz. Hervey, who worked for the company at the time, is created with carving the exquisite red sandstone capitals perched atop the polished pink granite columns, but he also supervised other carvers who worked on the project.
The carvings would have been created in the Beilharz’s Pacific and Hawkins Stoneyard in Dallas and shipped to Waxahachie by rail as finished pieces, ready to mount in place.
So…if Hervey wasn’t actually in Waxahachie, he certainly wasn’t occupied falling in love with one of its residents.
There’s no record of Hervey coming to town until the summer of 1896, a year after his work for the courthouse was completed, to work on another stone carving assignment for a prominent businessman.
It was on this trip that he met local girl Minnie Hodges, whom he married in August of that year.
Many of Reilly’s courthouses feature faces and gargoyles, appropriate for the Romanesque style, and its likely that the design or at least the theme for the faces was under his direction. Unfortunately no records show what the intended meaning of the progression was meant to represent…which opens them up to storytelling.
It’s still a good story, and I bet if we checked back in a hundred years..it will still be told.
Most local lore has elements of truth woven into it. Does knowing the true stories “ruin it” for you, or make it more interesting?
And what’s a Texas legend without a song to go along with it? To listen to Jeremiah Richey’s ditty about the Eliis County Courthouse faces, click here.
If you’re looking for a place with heart . . . you’ll want to add Waxahachie to your travel list.
The “Hachie Hearts Trail” project was initiated as a part of the city’s “A Place in Your Heart, Texas” campaign in this charming town. Large hearts (locals call them “puffy hearts”) decorated with different by artists have been installed around town as public art.
Besides just being enjoyable as to find a view, the hearts can present a fun activity for families or groups. Make it a challenge to find all of the hearts. If you’re in a group, it would be fun to take a selfie with each of the hearts, and the first group back to an agreed upon meeting spot wins.
And if you make that meeting spot Farm Luck Soda Fountain on the courthouse square (YUM!), everyone wins!
“Hearticulture,” appropriately covered with hearts, was painted by Michael Poston and Jenny Galbrath
“All-American City” by Julie Law
“Here Comes the Sun” by artist Leah Lawless-Smith
The psychedelic sunrise was sponsored by the staff of the local Sun Newspaper. Look for hidden images on both sides, chosen by members of the staff.
“Hollywood Texas” by artists Leah Lawless-Smith, Candace Faber, Steve Miller and Mike Duncan. This movie themed heart features scenes from films shot in Waxahachie, like Bonnie and Clyde, Tender Mercies, and Places in the Heart.
“Crape Myrtle Capital” by artists Julie Law
“High Cotton” in Hachie by Damion Brooker is a nod to one of the traditional crops of the area…and probably my favorite heart.
“Emotions” by Leah Lawless-Smith
“Oobie’s Town and Waxahachie All-Star Band” by Julie Law this one at the entrance to Getzendaner Park, backside of heart is a sepia-toned rendition of several of the musicians who have grace the stage of the Chatauqua Auditorium.
“Land of the Free” by Gerald Spriggs
Which is your favorite?
After you find all of the Hachie Hearts, stop in at the County Museum on the square and take a look around. They have heart shaped locks for sale that you can write the name of someone you love on, and then attach to either the love lock fence downtown, or the love lock bridge by the old train depot. Leaving a little of your heart behind in Waxahachie . . .
National Parks in Texas aren’t stereotypical by any means. From forest to beach, mountains to rivers, battlefields to presidents, and missions to mammoths…there truly is something to interest everyone!
While many national parks are free 365 days a year, 112 of them charge entrance fees. The exception is on fee-free days. These select days throughout the year give everyone a chance to visit parks free of charge.
So what are you waiting for? Mark your calendar and start planning that trip!
THE 2020 FEE-FREE DAYS ARE:
January 20, 2020 (Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.)
April 18, 2020 (the first day of National Park Week)
August 25, 2020 (the National Park Service’s birthday)
September 26, 2020 (National Public Lands Day)
November 11, 2020 (Veterans Day)
Click on each name for further information on these National Parks and Recreation Areas in the Lone Star State:
So many of us start off each new year by looking back, so I thought it was only appropriate to begin 2020 by sharing a place that brings us back to the beginning of Texas: San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site.
Open since April 2018 the San Felipe de Austin Museum is simply one of the most beautifully interpreted historical sites I’ve seen, especially considering there is virtually nothing left of the original settlement. Inside, visitors can interact with touch screen displays to learn details about the settlement, and outside they can walk in the steps of settlers and explore the townsite.
Sitting on the bluff of the Brazos River on the actual site of the former colony it honors the spirit of early Texas pioneers.
San Felipe de Austin was established in 1823 by Stephen F. Austin, known as the “Father of Texas,” as a headquarters for his colony in Mexican Texas. The town had four public squares: Commerce, Constitution, Military and Campo Santo Cemetery.
The first area to visit after paying admission in the gift shop/reception area is a small viewing area for a short film that gives an overview of the history of San Felipe de Austin. Interesting and beautifully produced, it puts the history of the site and people who lived here in context as you continue through the property.
Entering the museum space, the first thing you’ll encounter is a replica of a log cabin. Displays like a spinning wheel and dress-up corner give a bit of information about pioneer life, but make sure you stand for a moment in the space and realize that this small cain would often house an entire family.
A corner across from the cabin holds a field desk that actually belonged to Stephen F. Austin, and display cases contain examples surveying equipment that would have been utilized in laying out the colony and surrounding land grants.
Other displays showcase artifacts recovered during archeological excavations that give visitors a peek into the everyday lives of early Texans.
One of my favorite things about the museum is the number of interactive displays. Adults enjoy them, of course, but as a parent and Girl Scout leader who has traveled with children of all ages, I know how these fascinating exhibits can draw people into history through high tech applications.
Walk up to a lighted, multimedia illustration of the settlement and touch key numbers to learn more about the different buildings (offices, the school, individual homes) and people who once existed there. (And yes, you know that I touched every single one!)
Turn around and walk up to a tabletop display to learn about some of the big decisions the officials of San Felipe de Austin had to make. Once you’ve made a decision about the issue, you can cast your vote, and see the results.
A colonial printing press like one used to print the Texas Gazette, at times renamed the Mexican Citizen, in San Felipe from 1829 to 1832 stands proudly in its own corner, along with a printing plate that . . . yes, really . . . visitors are encouraged to touch.
The display explains the vital role the press played both in the community and in the history of the state:
“The first book published in Texas, written by Stephen F. Austin, was printed by the Gazette press in 1829. In 1835, the Telegraph and Texas Register began operating under the guidance of Gail Borden, Jr. and soon became the unofficial voice of the Texas revolution movement. It also printed many other important Texas documents, including the Declaration of Independence.”
Impressed? I was, too.
I encourage you to take your time and read the descriptions that accompany seemingly small fragments and objects in cases that line the walls. There are priceless treasures and surprises among them.
William B. Travis was a town resident before his death at the Alamo, and he sent his famous “Victory or Death” letter from the Alamo to San Felipe. A ring thought to have belonged to him was excavated from his homesite and is now on display.
After exploring inside the museum, it’s time to expand your discoveries by venturing out the side doors, and into the townsite itself.
A bronze plat map sits on a platform on a covered patio, providing a frame of reference for how the settlement was laid out on the property. From here visitors can follow a mown path through the mown native grasses to visit specific sites within the former town. San Felipe was one of the most culturally diverse communities of its time in Texas. Farmers, explorers, politicians, enslaved and free people of African ancestry, intertribal delegations of local Indians, cattlemen and businessmen populated the thriving settlement.
A tavern, bakery, stores, homestead sites and more await visitors who will quite literally be walking in the footsteps along the same paths these brave citizens did almost two centuries ago.
The Texas Revolution caused the demise of San Felipe de Austin, when the residents burned it to the ground during the evacuation known as the “Runaway Scrape” in 1836. After the fall of the Alamo, Mexican General Santa Anna and his forces briefly occupied the ruins of the town just before their defeat at the Battle of San Jacinto.
Just across the road from the museum are a few more sites you’ll want to explore. A commemorative obelisk marks the exact spot of Stephen F. Austin’s own cabin – the only home he ever owned in Texas. There is also a stoic bronze statue of the Texas hero, a replica dog trot log cabin, active excavation sites, and the original well for the colony.
The large white building is the J. J. Josey General Store, built on the townsite in 1847 and in continuous operation for generations before being moved here for preservation.
Visitor parking is available on site at the museum and limited parking is available across the street.
Allow yourself at least 60 to 90 minutes to enjoy the museum exhibits and the grounds, and be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes as the outside trails are unpaved and the ground is somewhat uneven.
San Felipe is just ten minutes east of Sealy, and the museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. , except for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Even, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
Admission – Adults, $10; Children (5-14), Seniors, Veterans & Austin and Waller County Residents, $5, Family ticket (2 adults and 2 children) $22. For other options and to find out more about he San Felipe de Austin Historic Site, click HERE.