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Written by Texas Highways

Illustration by Drue Wagner

Down in the Rio Grande Valley, there’s something about springtime, when the palm trees sway in the southerly breeze and even the cacti are blooming, that calls us out into the great outdoors. Pull out your sunglasses, hats, and hiking boots: Here are some recommended activities, roughly ordered from one end of the Valley to the other.

Featherfest Participants KAC2233

"'Hope’ is the thing with feathers,” wrote 19th-Century American poet Emily Dickinson in the opening line of her poem of the same name.

This phrase came to mind as I boarded a tour bus before dawn last April during Galveston FeatherFest and Nature PhotoFest.

crawfish

The crawfish at Larry’s French Market in Groves looked like a pile of bright red miniature lobsters heaped on a beer tray. I got mine with boiled potatoes, corn-on-the-cob, and a crab.

chili

Although the origins of chili are a bit soupy, some historians claim it stems from a spicy stew concocted by Spanish immigrants in San Antonio, circa early 1700s. Others hold that chili is descended from a trail stew favored by cowboys in the late 1800s. Either way, it has become an undeniable part of Texas’ heritage and a symbol our state.

Courtesy Harp & Shamrock Society of Texas

The Harp & Shamrock Society of Texas is quick to point out the Irish influence on early Texas, noting the 12 Irish-born and 30 Irish-descendant defenders of the Alamo. So it’s a lucky coincidence that Texas Independence Day and St. Patrick’s Day both fall in March. The San Antonio-based Society celebrates Irish heritage March 12-19 with events including an Irish music festival at the Arneson River Stage; a River Parade; a St. Patrick’s Day Alamo wreath-laying; and the Harp & Shamrock Irish Festival on March 19, 2016 at the University of the Incarnate Word. The fest features a parade, Gaelic football and hurling, and traditional music, dance, food, and drink.

Night Sky Festival

On March 5, the Texas Night Sky Festival in Dripping Springs offers a slate of activities that explore the attributes of nature at night, as well as ways to protect darkness from ever-encroaching artificial light pollution. Speakers include Paul Bogard, author of The End of Night, and Lakota descendants, telling traditional tales of the night sky. Demonstrations of citizen-science techniques for taking darkness readings and reducing glare complement children’s activities, a mobile planetarium, solar telescopes, and an astronomer-led star party—all in celebration of the beauty of the untainted night sky.

Gabriel Voisin Avions Voisin Type C27 Aerosport Coupe

With its emergence in the 1920s, Art Deco design inspired wide-ranging innovations that emphasized a blend of industrialism and luxury. At the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Sculpted in Steel: Art Deco Auto­mobiles and Motorcycles, 1929–1940, examines how automakers embraced Art Deco with a display of 14 stunning cars and three motorcycles, along with images and videos. The autos on display, with their sleek aerodynamics and chrome detailing and ornamentation, are unlike anything you’ll see on the road today. February 21-May 30, 2016.

Courtesy Tees Events USA

Elvis Presley never performed at Southfork Ranch, but the King’s dramatic flair surely influenced the fictional Ewing family and its glitzy North Texas estate. While Elvis and the Ewings are gone, Southfork lives on as a tourist destination and event center. March 4-6, 2016, Southfork will host Texas’ Tribute to Elvis, featuring 18 Elvis impersonators vying for the chance to represent Texas at the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest in Memphis. Along with contestant showcases, the weekend features various Elvis tribute shows, memorabilia sales, and discussions with Elvis associates, including his bodyguard, Sam Thompson; tour producer, Charles Stone; and backup singers The Holladay Sisters.

Life 01lay

As far as nicknames go, it could be one of the most famous in the world—or at least us Texans like to think so. Far beyond the meandering borders of the Red and Rio Grande rivers, those four little words conjure a larger-than-life mental image of tougher-than-nails cowboys, dusty Longhorn cattle drives, and heroic Alamo defenders. It’s an enduring moniker, symbolic of Texans’ unwavering independent spirit.

Manske

When Gil Rainosek walks into the San Marcos restaurant bearing his name, he chats with the kid behind the counter, snatches an errant napkin from the floor, and pops into the kitchen to make sure enough iced tea is being brewed—duties any restaurant owner would perform. Rainosek sold Gil’s Broiler & Manske Roll Bakery about 15 years ago, but he tells me he comes back every month or so “just to check in.”

Witte46

In a demonstration kitchen within shouting distance of Davy Crockett’s fiddle, a 650-pound purple amethyst, and circus memorabilia from the 1920s, San Antonio’s 90-year-old Witte Museum hosts a series of dinners complete with wine, beer, or cocktails from such spots as Comfort’s Bending Branch Winery and Stonewall’s Pedernales Cellars. Since its debut in summer 2014, the Salud! Culinary Nights program has presented more than 15 dinners and has secured a spot in the regular date-night repertoire of many adventurous Witte fans.

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