Written by Texas Highways
On the two-hour drive from Austin to the Barefoot Ski Ranch in Waco, I’ve been chattering away about my teenage summer-camp waterskiing skills. I’m looking forward to seeing if I’ve still got the chops all these years later.
When I was a child, Texas’ state parks were beloved vacation destinations. I became intimately familiar with the ubiquitous brown-and-yellow signs, the stoic stone buildings, rustic cabins, and cement picnic tables that dotted the state.
Hot-pink roses bloom brilliantly in cement planters on all four corners of the historic downtown square in McKinney, where I’m waiting with friends on a sunny sidewalk for a crosswalk light to change.
When I first visited Schlitterbahn in New Braunfels as a teenager in the mid-1980s, the waterpark was just a few years old. I vividly recall spending a blistering summer day racing between the various slides, nearly losing my bikini top on a tube chute, and intentionally bumping my inner tube into cute boys while navigating the rapids and eddies of an artificial river. I came away with a wicked sunburn and memories to last a lifetime.
A treasure in the Rio Grande Valley, Brownsville’s Gladys Porter Zoo is a lush, 31-acre enclave built around a meandering resaca. The zoo, which is known for its success in breeding endangered animals, is home to 377 different species. In the summer, the zoo’s Summer Safari (June 6-August 12, 2016) offers classes and camps for children as young as pre-kindergarten with topics such as “Sharks and Rays” and “Junior Zookeepers.” And on Animal Play Day (July 3, 2016), zookeepers will engage the animals with entertaining enrichment activities and games, such as giving the sea lions fish encased in blocks of ice.
The Holocaust Museum Houston memorializes the 1.5 million children who died in the Holocaust with Taking Flight: The Butterfly Project, an exhibition of handmade butterflies crafted by children across the globe. Over the past 20 years, the museum has collected butterflies for each child lost, culminating in the exhibition and its diverse selection of creations made from materials like paper, feathers, fabric, metal, concrete, wood, and stained glass. Taking Flight runs through July 31, and the museum will exhibit cases of the butterflies at locations throughout Houston until March 2017.
Many of us tinker with collecting at some point in our lives, whether it’s an obsession with baseball cards, ceramic penguins, or some other personal fascination. In Dallas, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science explores collecting in Eye of the Collector, an exhibition of wildly diverse personal troves—from Dallas Cowboys memorabilia to PEZ dispensers, and vintage bicycles to African American dolls. “It’s important to understand that collections are why museums exist in the first place. We wouldn’t be here without them,” says Colleen Walker, museum CEO. Through September 5, 2016.
Looking for a quintessentially Texan July 4th celebration? Kerrville offers up a worthy contender with Robert Earl Keen’s Fourth on the River. Held annually at Louise Hays Park on the Guadalupe River, the free event opens at 2 p.m. with the music starting at 4 p.m. Four acts take the stage, including Bruce Robison at 6:30 p.m. and Keen—a Kerrville resident himself—at 8 p.m., followed by a fireworks show at 9:30 p.m. Along with music, the event offers food and drink vendors, as well as children’s attractions like face-painting and bounce houses. And if you get too hot, you can jump in the river.
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My addiction to Texas beaches began literally overnight. I was in my early 20s and in graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin. My husband was in law school and his best buddy’s wife and I had also become great friends. Late one Friday night, we decided in the middle of a game of dominoes to go to the beach. Immediately. Not even wait until dawn.
The scent of sweet acacia charts a lazy course across the South Texas coastal plains, drifting like an unmoored skiff in the nearby bays. Commonly known as huisache, the shrubby tree emits a honeyed aroma that blends with salty air crossing Baffin Bay on its way to the Coastal Bend’s inland pastures, creating a notably local perfume. Along US Highway 77, the huisache’s essence permeates grass-rich plains, plowed fields, bayfront shores, and the vast rangeland of the King Ranch, encompassing a region rich with historical sites, birdwatching opportunities, and the coastal pleasures of angling and seafood. Considered part of the state’s Coastal Bend, the region might be considered more appropriately as King Country.