Written by Texas Highways
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.
Over the years, we’ve taken a few trips out to West Texas as a family, and our parental choices as cruise directors/vacation curators have been met with mixed results. There are the obvious places to visit as a family, but they might not be for everyone.
In a cramped bedroom of his parents’ home in the town of Cross Plains, the late author Robert E. Howard brought to life an exotic world of heroic fantasy characters, most famously Conan the Barbarian. The town celebrates its literary star with Robert E. Howard Days (June 10-11), drawing a loyal following dedicated to his work and legacy. The weekend includes panel discussions with Howard experts, memorabilia swaps and sales, extended hours of the Robert E. Howard House Museum, and the family-friendly Barbarian Festival.
At the Witte Museum in San Antonio, Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed explores the Mesoamerican civilization that flourished from about 1,800 to 500 years ago in southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and parts of Honduras and El Salvador. The exhibit (open through September 5, 2016) employs artifacts and interactive displays to interpret Mayan culture and its sophisticated calendars, mathematics, cosmology, architecture, agriculture, sports, and more. The exhibit marks the opening of the new 10,000-square-foot Mays Family Center, part of the Witte’s $100 million expansion and improvement project scheduled for completion next year.
A paradise for songwriters and fans of all kinds of original music, the Kerrville Folk Festival kicks off its 18-day run May 26 at Quiet Valley Ranch. Now in its 45th year, the heavenly Hill Country outpost stages daily shows with a lineup of nearly 100 performers from Texas and beyond, including favorites like Carrie Rodriguez, Terri Hendrix, Ruthie Foster, Peter Rowan (pictured), Bobby Bridger, Steve James, Peter Yarrow, and Bill Kirchen. The festival rounds out its offerings with songwriting workshops, children’s shows, arts-and-crafts vendors, and a campground known for its spontaneous campfire song circles.
Maybe it never occurred to you to leap from the towering cliffs of Hell’s Gate at Possum Kingdom Lake, but that’s exactly what brings the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series to Texas. The competition (June 3-4, 2016) features divers launching from cliff-side platforms of 90 feet (men) and 66 feet (women) and flipping, twisting, and spinning to the water below. The only way for spectators to see the divers is via the water on boats, personal watercraft, kayaks, etc. Contact the Possum Kingdom Chamber of Commerce for logistical details.
Lucky us: A brilliantly sunny morning greets us on the day we plan to see Galveston by bicycle. It’s been years since I’ve looked at my favorite island from a bike seat, and I’m eager to revisit the sensory experience of taking in the sights and sounds and smells of a place that’s at once so historic and vibrant.
A pod of eight dolphins broke the surface of the water as we turned our sailboat back toward the Corpus Christi skyline. My friend and sailing mentor Guy Le Roux stood at the helm of his 20-foot sailboat in the steady southeastern breeze. The dolphins surfaced behind us, then appeared next to the bow. One after the other, they dove and leaped from the water alongside our boat. Guy slowed our speed to match the pod’s, and for the next few minutes we played an aquatic game of leapfrog. Encounters with dolphins are so common that every major tourist destination on the Texas coast has dolphin-watch tours, but there is something magical about encountering these creatures from your own boat.
Aboard the Tall Ship Elissa docked at Galveston’s Pier 21, two boys pause near the wide base of a towering pole. They both lean back and stare upwards. Horizontally crossed by massive spars and laden with intricate cables and lines, the central mast of this antique yet fully functional square-rigged sailing ship rises more than 99 feet above the main deck. After a moment of silent wonder, one of the boys, squinting and pointing toward a tiny platform high overhead, questions aloud, “Is that the crow’s nest?”
Texans storm the beaches for a wealth of reasons. So, when we envision the perfect beach hotel, each of us conjures a different image. You might want a hotel right smack on a broad, sandy beach where you can toss a Frisbee to your dog. For your neighbor, perfection might lie in a comfy inn with access to fishing or bird-watching. Some prefer lodging overlooking the Gulf of Mexico; for others, the glasslike calm of the bay fits the bill.