What happens when a team of 25 professional ice carvers from China arrives on Galveston Island? Why, the chilliest fun to be found for the holiday season.
While it may be a bit too early for most of us to start thinking about Christmas, it’s never too soon to plan fun outings.
Today I was invited by Moody Gardens to get a sneak peek at the process of creating the annual, larger-than-life ice carving installation Ice Land. I can honestly say that even though I’ve seen every year of Ice Land, this one is the best yet.
The theme is “Christmas Around the World” and incorporates ice sculptures of the Eiffel Tower, Russian Matryoshka (nesting) dolls, the Great Wall of China, a Dutch windmill and more…all carved from 300-pound blocks of colored ice.
Experience has taught be to come prepared with gloves, and Moody Gardens provides long parkas to brace against the shocking nine degree temperature of the 28,000 square-foot tent where the exhibit is taking shape. Today’s tour also included hard hats since it’s a very active construction zone.
One of the attraction’s most popular annual features, an ice slide, will let guests slip and slide from the base of the Eiffel Tower to the ground floor this year. And the unique “Shivers Bar” (aptly named) will once again be serving beverages inside the venue…if you are brave enough to chill out counters and tables carved from ice!
I’ll be back in two weeks to share their progress with you, and tips for how to save on family visits to Moody Gardens Ice Land and Festival of Lights.
Mark your calendars: Ice Land will be open November 16 through January 12 – plenty of time to get your chill on!
Right now, though, the artists need to get back to work…and I’m breaking out the hot chocolate!
The next stop on our Texas Route 66 trip was the charming little town of Vega, the county seat of Oldham County. Locals, or “Vegans,” are some of the friendliest folks you’ll find along this trek. The people here and their love of the history of Route 66 are a perfect example of how the road and its travelers can become the fabric of a community.
Walking around the courthouse square, it was easy to spot the show stopping mural of a white buffalo on the side of a building at the corner of South Main and West Main – just across from the Bee’s Knees Café (whose “Sweet Tea” sign would have tempted me into sitting on their bench for a spell if they’d only been open!).
The massive painting screams Southwest pride and will capture the heart of anyone who loves the area’s history, wildlife and deserts. It is one of four murals painted by talented art partners Joshua Finley and Valerie Doshier in 2014. Tragically, Valerie died of a brain tumor just two years later. What a beautiful legacy of public art she left for passersby to enjoy for years to come.
The children’s book character of Cheeky Maneeky whose stories she had outlined before her passing were later brought to life by her mother D’Ann Swain’s writing and Finley’s illustrations.
Another of the duos’ murals appears on the side of a 100+-year old building at 1005 Coke Street that used to serve as the town’s lumberyard. Expanded a few years ago, it now houses the Milburn-Price Culture Museum that displays memorabilia from around Oldham County including a 1926 Model T affectionately named “Tin Lizzy.” (But I’ll say a bit more about her later.)
The mural at this site depicts the famed XIT Ranch, whose history will be at least vaguely familiar to anyone raised in the state an subjected to local history books. The Panhandle ranch encompassed a mere three million acres (yes, really!) and was conceived in 1879 to fund a new state capital building. At its peak, it raised 150,000 head of cattle, represented by the large longhorn statue who,…ahem…has a “66” brand instead of an “XIT.” The last of the cattle were sold in 1912.
What’s most likely to catch your eye as you approach the building is the world’s largest branding iron laying on the ground beside the parking area. The XIT iron, made by Greg Conn, was designed so that visitors who drove into the lot at night could cast an immense “XIT” shadow brand onto the side of the building with their headlights. It’s certainly impressive even if you only visit during the day.
There are countless vintage gas stations in every stage of repair and disrepair along the route, but the restoration on North Main Street (Coke Street) is sure to make visitors smile.
Colonel James T. Owen opened the “Hi-Way” Magnolia station in 1924 on what was then the Ozark Trail, a partially bricked and partially dirt road. It was only the second service station built in Vega. Owen was an important figure among highway boosters rallying to have Vega as part of the upcoming Route 66.
Edward and Cora Wilson leased the station from Owen just a couple of years after it was built. The Wilsons lived above the station until 1930, in two cozy rooms with one sink. They had to go downstairs to access the bathroom. Can you imagine? Right on Main Street.
After the Wilsons, a string of businessmen leased the property including E. B. Cooke and A. B. Landrum. One operator, Kenneth R. Lloyd, claims to have actually married his wife at the small station before moving upstairs to live.
The station went back under family control when Owen’s son Austin took over the operation in 1933, and entered into a lease with Phillips 66 Petroleum which charged him one cent per gallon of gas sold. The average price of gas was 18 cents per gallon, so that was a pretty good profit!
By 1937, the year J. T. Owen passed away, Route 66 was paved through Vega just south of the station.
Vega’s Magnolia station shut down its pumps in 1953. From 1953 to 1965 the building was home to Slatz Barbershop.
The service station remained vacant for decades, until Vegans rallied to restore it. The before and after photos are pretty impressive, don’t you think?
Restoration was completed in August of 2004, and now the station contains mementos of its previous life. The museum is open on special days or by appointment, but you can glimpse many of its contents through the large windows. A glass-globed pump and blue oil pump sit out front.
If you’re into the more “kitschy” finds along Route 66, it’s hard to beat Dot’s Mini Museum on North 12thStreet. Dot Leavitt’s family ran a refrigerated storage facility named the Vega Zero Lockers. For years they provided services to locals and travelers along the Mother Road, including “Jugs Iced Free.” Sounds like a pretty good deal, considering most cars didn’t have air conditioning! It was also the only place to buy ice on Route 66 between Amarillo and Tucumcari.
Determined to share reminders of the era after the interstate passed Vega by, Dot began an informal collection of Route 66 artifacts and memorabilia, which turned into her “mini museum” in 1963.
Known for her sweet and chatty nature, Dot became instant friends with all who stopped by to learn more about her unlikely treasures. She is said to be the inspiration (along with Lucille Hammons from Hydro, Oklahoma) for the character of “Tin Lizzie” in the Disney/Pixar movie ‘Cars.’ (See? I told you that “Tin Lizzie would come up again!) The character, voiced by Galveston native Katherine Helmond, owned the Radiator Springs Curio Shop and was the oldest auto in town.
Dot passed away in 2006 at the age of 89, and the collection is in the care of her daughter, Betty Carpenter.
If you’re lucky enough to run into Betty on the property, she’ll show you around. There wasn’t a sole in sight on the hot afternoon of our arrival, so we satisfied ourselves by taking some photos of Dot’s whimsical outdoor collections.
There’s quite a variety to see, including a gravestone for a newspaper that no longer exists, a waving cowboy made of reclaimed metal parts, signs with humorous bits of advice, and…my very favorite…the cowboy boot tree.
The living tree, decorated with discarded boots of all shapes and styles, actually gets more fascinating the longer you look at it. Taking in the details, you’ll find “well-loved” boots weathering to the point of stitching unraveling, sole nails protruding and heels expanding like the “grow capsules” my daughter used to play with that expand into interesting shapes when you drop them into water. It’s definitely a no-place-but-Texas kind of thing.
The yard of this diminutive museum alone is worth pulling into the town of Vega.
If you’re into staying in “rooms with a past,” you’ll definitely want to check out the historic Vega Motel that opened as Vega Court in 1947. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it’s one of the last remaining tourist courts on the Texas stretch of 66. The Lucky Horseshoe “residence” at the Vega Motel recently opened as an accommodation option for road weary travelers, with enough room for the entire family. Here’s the link. (If you haven’t ever stayed in an Airbnb before, this codewill get you $40 off your first booking!)
There’s even a barber shop on the property, so if you’re in need of a trim after getting windblown on the road…you’re in luck. The rest of the motel is currently undergoing renovations, so I’m looking forward to heading back that way to check on the progress!
The last thing I wanted to search for before we had to move on down the road was this wonderfully weathered Pepsi-Cola sign…and I feel lucky have have found it.! If you’re in the area and want to see this beauty for yourself, it’s on the original Route 66 between 14th and 15th Streets. And yes, those of you who know me well know that I’m a Dr. Pepper girl through and through, but who could resist this beautifully hand-painted relic?
Just in case you’re interested, Oldham Country has the longest stretch of Route 66 stencils painted on the roadbed, at ever other mile marker beginning east of Wildorado (don’t-cha just love that name?) all the way to the west of Adrian. And though I don’t advise sitting on the road for a photo opportunity, there are a surprising number of places on the original Route 66 alignment that you’d be hard-pressed to spot an on-coming car. I settled for snapping my shadow rather than taking a chance. Just sayin’.
It’s no secret that I love historic buildings and enjoy exploring for them on all my travels.
Recently a few other members of the media and I had the special treat of a personally guided tour of Houston’s historic Market Square are by Jim Parsons, director of special projects for Preservation Houston.
It included one of my longtime favorites: La Carafe, the oldest commercial building in Houston, and certainly the oldest bar.
The structure may be leaning a bit, but to be honest so are many of its patrons a they walk out the door. Walk inside and you’ll definitely feel like you are time traveling.
It was first built to house the Kennedy Bakery in 1860 which was soon making hard tack biscuits to feed hungry, tired Confederate soldiers. It later became the Kennedy Trading Post, a Pony Express stop, a drug store and a hair salon before becoming the La Carafe bar in the 1950s.
The small space feels cozy and intimate, and is a bit dark regardless of the hour, since it depends mainly on light coming through the front door and window just as it did when it was built. A dim chandelier hanging over the bar and candles on the tables provide ambient lighting to help she a light on refreshments and faces.
Depending on who you ask, that lighting makes this the most romantic or spookiest spot on Market Square.
And yes, it shouldn’t be surprising that it is also known as one of the most haunted places in Houston.
But don’t let that keep you away. The spirits (both the ghostly and drinking sort) are as welcoming as the jazzy selections on the jukebox.
When you visit, be sure to take a look at the bar top, into which visitors for generations have been carving their initials and becoming a part of the history of La Carafe.
813 Congress Street, Houston
Check out the Preservation Houston website to schedule your own 90-minute docent guided walking tour exploring the history of Houston. Their knowledgable guides will help you spot hidden treasures in plain sight that most people stroll past every day without knowing what they’re missing!
As a colorful nod to its namesake fruit, Pearland installed a public art sculpture trail affectionately dubbed Pear-scape.
Pearland’s original pear groves were devastated by the 1900 hurricane, after which the city changed its focus to other types of agriculture. But thanks to the Pearland Alliance for Arts & Culture, a different variety of pears now decorates the local landscape.
Four-foot tall, fiberglass cast pears hand painted by local artists have been installed in ten locations throughout the city. There are 20 pears in all, sometimes solitary and sometimes in groups, but you’ll need a car to visit them all as they aren’t within walking distance of each other.
Whether you’re just visiting Pearland or doing a stay-cation, finding all the unique fruits can be a fun activity for families. Make the search more exciting by having a scavenger hunt for the pairs with clues to where to find them! Clues for either adults or a kid-friendly version can be found here.
Or you can cut to the chase with addresses and a map in hand by printing this reference.
Even with a map, some of the artwork is a bit more easily visible than others, but they are all worth the effort.
Let the hunt begin!
by Sherri Harris
Hilton Garden Inn, 12101 Shadow Creek Parkway
Visible from street
A beautiful, sentimental tribute, this one should be on your to-see list even if you can’t make the rounds to see them all.
Because it’s located at a hotel, this stop also provides a restroom break opportunity (hello!). The restaurant is only open for breakfast and dinner, but if your hunt is taking place in the morning or evening…you’re in luck!
by Emily Grygier
Reflection Bay Event Center, 12234 Shadow Creek Parkway
This one is not visible from the main road. The best way to find it is to go to the address, turn in by the Sherwin-Williams paint store and drive all the way to the back of the complex.
There is parking available at this one, but not much else to see while you’re there so it’s a quick one to check off your list.
Patched to Pear-fection
by Kathy Ericksen
Paint a Pear
by Joan Moody
Pearland Town Center, 11200 Broadway Street
Drive in and to the back of the center, and the pears are at the back of the shaded pavilion.
Plenty of parking since it’s a shopping district, and once you’ve marked these beauties off your list, you could easily spend the rest of the day here. Lots of shopping and dining options, and places to grab a quick cookie or pretzel as a reward for a successful pear hunt! For a list of restaurants and stores, click here.
I just love “Close Pear” with all of its brilliant circles!
by Robin Tatem
The Pollack Pear
by Hannah Levy
A Perfect Pair
by Suzette Schutze
This trio of sculptures is at Southdown Park, 2150 Smith Ranch Road
There’s plenty of parking and would make a great break spot for families. A nice playground and shade provide a great spot to enjoy a picnic or cold drink. If you haven’t prepared for ahead of time, you can grab to-go options from nearby Big Horn BBQ, Jack in the Box or Panda Express.
by Lee Ann Hillbrich
Pearland Golf Club, 3123 Flower Fields Lane
To see this one, you’ll go through a gated entrance, but the guard will wave you through when you tell him you’re on a pear hunt.
by Celebration by Kathy Ericksen
by Paulisa Winsong and Sandy Shiver
Zychlinski Park, 2243 N. Grand Blvd.
Though they’re all special and unique in design, I have to admit that Pear Blossoms is my favorite. Its neighbor Celebration is going to be a big hit with music lovers, too!
by Kelly Kronfeld and Chris Garcia
by Josephine Eager
Peary, Peary Night
by Lisa Tenney
Independence Park, 3919 Liberty Drive
Van Gogh lovers are going to revel in this one. The Peary, Peary Night version of Starry, Starry Night is such fun. But be sure to take a closer look at its pear neighbors installed at the same spot to enjoy all of the details included by the artists. Can you find the Texas flag?
by Roberto Barron
by Kelly Kronfeld and Chris Garcia
by Kermit Eisenhut
Swirls of Gold
by Claudia Zopoaragon
City Hall Gazebo, 3519 Liberty Drive
This one rewards scavenger hunters with four pairs in one location! It also has a fountain and antique train depot with a caboose on site that make great exploring and photo opps.
by Pelhong Endris
King’s Beirgarten & Restaurant, 1329 E. Broadway Street
In front of one of Pearland’s best restaurants, this one has plenty of parking and would make a great lunch stop on your route. To find out more about King’s Beirgarten and their amazing German food, click here.
Life in Color
by Umanga Liyanage
BAKFISH Brewery, 1231 Broadway Street
And because grown-up pear hunters deserve a reward, too… we’ll wrap up our pear gathering at a popular local brewery. If you want to quench your thirst, check for updated hours the brewery is open by clicking here.