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?




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.

 

 

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!


Texas’ First White House: The Ross Sterling Mansion

     This morning I posted a photo and bit of information about the Ross Sterling Mansion, which is known locally as the First Texas White House. After receiving several messages asking for a bit more information, I’m sharing it here.

     This beauty is right down the road from my own home…which is decidedly smaller!

     Architect Alfred C. Finn designed the scaled down replica of the American White House for Humble Oil founder and future Texas governor Ross Sterling. It’s a Texas State Historical Landmark as well as being listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Governor Ross Sterling

     Finn, by the way, also designed Houston’s Jefferson Davis Hospital, Sam Houston Coliseum, and the San Jacinto Monument in addition to numerous other federal and private projects.

Photo courtesy of John Daugherty Realtors.

      Construction on the grand residence began in 1924 and was completed in 1927. First named “Miramar” – meaning “sea view” – the 21,000 square foot mansion sits on six about six and a half acres of residential coastline between La Porte and Morgans Point.

Photo courtesy of John Daugherty Realtors.

     Its 34 rooms include nine bedrooms, 15 baths, a dining room that seated 300 guests, a ballroom with pressed tin ceiling and marble fireplace, a gentleman’s lounge with carved wood fireplace and built-in leaded glass-front bookcases, a mahogany-paneled library, a ladies’ parlor, and a kitchen with butler’s pantry. Seven fireplaces warmed the waterfront home on chilly winter evenings, and the rooftop terrace still offers stunning 360-degree waterfront views.

Photo courtesy of John Daugherty Realtors.

     This pair of serpentine reversed staircases in the foyer would put the most stunning movie set to shame.

Photo courtesy of John Daugherty Realtors.

     The waterfront side of the home features a 28-foot columned rotunda portico that most people immediately recognize as being based on the White House.

Photo courtesy of John Daugherty Realtors.
Photo courtesy of John Daugherty Realtors.

     The staircases and lowest level are made of granite blocks, and the walls of the upper stories are made of foot-thick limestone. The foundation is reportedly strong enough to support a ten-story building. The stalwart structure has withstood countless storms including Carla, Alicia, and Ike. I would certainly feel safe within its walls!

Photo courtesy of John Daugherty Realtors.

     Ross Sterling was the 31st governor of Texas, serving from 1931-1933. Countless dignitaries and celebrities have been hosted in the home over the years.

Photo courtesy of John Daugherty Realtors.

     Sterling and his wife Maude Abbie Gage had several children, and they along with a generation of grandchildren enjoyed the home for two decades.

Photo courtesy of John Daugherty Realtors.

     In 1946 he donated his mansion to a civic club and it was used as a juvenile home until 1961. During those years the home suffered heavy damage.

Photo courtesy of John Daugherty Realtors.

     Thankfully a handful of owners in the interim years have restored it to its former glory. It still retains many of the original features including intricately carved and gilded moldings, silver and gold light sconces, Tiffany chandeliers, antique stone fireplaces, pressed-tin ceilings and marble and oak flooring.

Photo courtesy of John Daugherty Realtors.

     It is now once again a private residence, having sold at auction in 2016 for $2.8 million (though initial estimates were for $4 million).

     If the current owners insisted on having me over for tea, I must admit I wouldn’t mind!

     If you’d like to cruise by on a Sunday drive, the historic home is located at 515 Bayridge Road in LaPorte.

Photo courtesy of John Daugherty Realtors.

     Click the links below to watch some entertaining home movies shot at the mansion back in it’s Fitzgerald-era heyday!

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Ross Sterling historical video
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