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Written by Texas Highways



For some, the idea of spending time in Huntsville conjures up images of a striped jumpsuit, two matching metal bracelets, and a uniformed escort who definitely isn’t a tour guide. But for those who visit voluntarily, Huntsville makes for one incredible day trip. 

After a strenuous day paddling or rafting the Rio Grande, participants in Far Flung Outdoor Center’s river trips enjoy a meal with a view. (Photo by J. Griffis Smith)As a longtime Texan and adventuresome traveler, I’ve enjoyed a long fascination with the Chihuahuan Desert region of far West Texas, with its rugged terrain and spiked branches of red-tipped ocotillo reaching to sprawling blue skies. I have always wanted to experience the Big Bend by floating the Rio Grande through the weathered, limestone walls of Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park, but the stars have never aligned—until recently.

Photo copyright: The Daytripper with Chet Garner

In Mineral Wells, something is definitely in the water—something ”Crazy” that once turned this north-central Texas town into an international tourist destination. Feeling a bit crazy myself, I set out for the day to immerse myself in Mineral Wells.

In September 2010, the author explored I-35 from Austin to Dallas. Here, he heads south.

Riley’s Tavern in Hunter offers pool, shuffleboard, live music, and character to spare. The tavern opened in 1933. (Photo by Kevin Stillman)

TH Deal: Find hotel specials

By Anthony Head

Despite the growing number of large retail stores filling in the gaps between bigger Texas cities, countless curious diversions still draw sightseers along the state’s main highways and interstates. In fact, no matter where I’m driving—even when I’m in a hurry—it’s hard to resist the urge to slow down, pull off the road, and check out another one-of-a-kind attraction.
For example, take the 60-mile stretch of Interstate 35 between San Marcos and San Antonio: Traveling south, and taking exit 205, I follow the frontage road to the Clawfoot Bathtub Warehouse, tucked between a Knights Inn and a Red Roof Inn. Inside a 1950s mission-style church building, owner Scott Walker refurbishes antique tubs; he also designs and handcrafts new luxurious tubs from copper, cast iron, wood, and stainless steel. Each piece becomes a work of art, especially with Walker’s custom-made claw feet and fixtures like faucets, standpipes, and shower rings from throughout the world. The Warehouse is not a thing of beauty: It’s an artist’s studio with spare parts, tools, and yet-to-be-finished bathtubs sharing space with gleaming, one-of-a-kind tubs (not to mention dog beds for Walker’s five resident companions).
Why bathtubs? “In the mid-1980s, I refinished bathtubs for hotels, and the job took me all over the world,” says Walker, who is a font of arcane bathtub and plumbing knowledge. “I started to love bathtubs, especially the antiques. There’s so much history and craftsmanship in a classic tub. It became like gold fever. I had to have every one I could find.”
Because Walker is running out of room inside the warehouse, he often displays his tubs outside, which makes his business easy to find. I resist (for now) the urge to redo my bathroom and soldier on.
Continuing south on I-35, crossing the Comal County line, I take Exit 196 and follow winding FM 1102 about a mile until I roll into downtown Hunter, home of Riley’s Tavern. There’s no missing Riley’s, as downtown consists of a handful of buildings—and one of them is the bar’s own Creek Side Cottage, a 1930s B&B that sleeps six. With its pool tables, shuffleboard set-up, neon beer signs, band posters, and long wooden bar decoupaged with local ads, photos, and newspaper clippings, Riley’s looks like it has been here darn-near forever. As it turns out, Riley’s just about has: The building dates to the mid-1800s. Though it may not be the oldest bar in Texas, its former, longtime owner James Riley took possession of the first state-issued beer license after Prohibition collapsed in 1933.
For current owner and guitarist Joel Hofmann, who took the reins in 2004, the bar’s history is even more personal. “It’s a place I started going to when I turned 21, and my folks used to go in there, too,” he tells me. “In the end, it was a music decision. If I owned a music venue, I could play whenever I wanted. And I could help other musicians, too. So I bought the bar.”
There’s live music (blues, country, rockabilly, Americana) here almost every night, the staff treats just about everyone like they’re regulars, and the drinks are cheap and cold. The 16-foot cement guitar sculpture out in front was donated by Louisiana Hayride veteran Leon Carter, and it’s Hofmann’s current favorite furnishing. Me? I like sitting at the far end of the bar beneath an autographed photo of Chuck Norris, who watches over this landmark and keeps the peace until it’s time to go.
Back on the road again, it’s nearly impossible to miss the billboards adver-tising some of the better-known attractions in the area, like Schlitterbahn Waterpark and Natural Bridge Caverns. Right off Exit 182 in New Braunfels, though, signs herald Animal World & Snake Farm Zoo. Opened in 1967 (as simply “Snake Farm”), this was formerly a true “roadside attraction” (with all the connotations such a designation suggests). New owners took over about three years ago, however, and continue expanding and upgrading the facilities.
Manager Robin McKeown accompanies me out back to see the 16 American alligators lounging in the afternoon sun. There are several acres of animal habitats and more than 600 individual animals. “There are misapprehensions from some first-time visitors about what’s on the other side of our doors, but we’re no longer classified as a ‘roadside attraction.’ We’re a zoological park accredited by the Zoological Association of America,” she says.
Every day there are bats, large cats, tarantulas, and wolves to see up close, plus lizards and other reptiles living inside the herpetarium. “I’m a mammal and bird person myself,” McKeown admits, “so I’m excited about our six species of lemurs. We also have a lot of the crazy venomous snakes, like king cobras, black mambas, and taipans. But obviously we’re not exclusively about snakes anymore.”
Nutty confections abound at Texas Pecan Candy in Schertz.  (Photo by Kevin Stillman)Finally, road trips (even the short ones) are always better with something good to eat. After arriving in Schertz via Exit 175, I discover the Texas Pecan Candy shop, which is nearly overshadowed by a gas station, diner, and a Walmart store. In-side, owner Bonnie Palmer and manager Julianna Lavulo greet customers while managing the various stoves and ovens that fill the shelves with cookies, cakes, fudge, nut candies, and other confections.
“The store has been here more than 20 years, but I bought it about 12 years ago,” Palmer says. “It’s the best job I’ve ever had. My dream was always to have a bakery with antiques, and now I’m living my dream.”
The shop sells sturdy Polish pottery, cookie cutters, vintage Mexican serving bowls, Texas-themed home decorations, and knickknacks ranging from bells and vases to salt and pepper shakers and photo frames. Behind the glass cases are drums of Fredericksburg ice creams; platters of apple strudel, pecan-lemon squares, chocolates; flavored pecans; and Texas-shaped pralines. Palmer says the kitchen usually gets going early every morning, churning out delicious snacks for everyday occasions and special, made-to-order treats for whatever holiday comes next on the calendar.
Palmer wouldn’t let me out the door without tasting a delicious sugar cookie. Even though I’m just a few stops from San Antonio, the just-baked flavor inspires me to turn around, point the car north, and start looking for more great attractions on the other side of the road.

One of artist Jesse Treviño’s most visible pieces of public art, a nine-story mosaic mural titled Spirit of Healing, enlivens the side of Christus Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital. (Photo by Kevin Stillman)

Driving northbound on I-35 through downtown San Antonio affords a clear view of the city’s Christus Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital, where a nine-story, tiled mural called Spirit of Healing features an image of a young boy holding a dove while an angel watches over him. For San Antonio artist Jesse Treviño, who completed the mural in 1997, the intricately tiled artwork expresses a simple and enduring sentiment.

(Photo courtesy The Daytripper with Chet Garner)

You can’t blame Texans for flocking lakeside during our blistering Texas summers. However, we shouldn’t be so quick to forget our lakes when the weather turns colder. During chilly months, Texas reservoirs take on a completely different personality. I set out in the brisk air to explore Lake Buchanan, or as the locals say, “Lake Buck-anan.”

Before Trains, Planes and Automobiles: Hochheim's Stagecoach Inn recalls the 1850s

A way station for travelers in early Texas, the Stagecoach Inn lay along the Austin-Indianola stage road. Find it today off  US 183, near Hochheim. (Photo by Michael Amador)

By Nola McKey

Tucked away on a backroad in the northeast corner of DeWitt County lies a remnant of early Texas. A two-and-a-half-story structure built of stone from the banks of the nearby Guadalupe River, the 1856 Valentin Hoch Home stands amid rolling blackland prairie dotted with live oaks and pecans. The secluded setting makes it easy to imagine Valentin Hoch, a German immigrant and stone mason, stopping at this spot and saying to his children, as reported in family histories, “Here we shall build our home.”

Not long after the house was completed, it became a stagecoach stop, one of the way stations that made travel across Texas possible in the days before railroads. An article by Mike Cox in the Texas Almanac states that 31 stage lines were operating in Texas before the beginning of the Civil War. “Those were the major transportation routes of the day,” says local historian Doug Kubicek, “and the stops along the way like Hoch’s place —which became known as the Stagecoach Inn—were crucial. They offered a place for drivers to change horses and for travelers to have a meal and sometimes spend the night. One of their most important functions was mail delivery. Places like the Stagecoach Inn really opened up the interior of Texas for settlement.”

According to Bob Brinkman, an architectural historian and coordinator of the Texas Historical Commission’s Historical Markers Program, several things make this site special. “The house is a testament to Hoch’s craftsmanship and practicality,” he says. “ I’m amazed every time I see it how well it’s integrated into the landscape: He sited it on a hill among a grove of trees so that it could catch the prevailing breezes.

“But the other reason it’s one of my favorite sites is because the story of the Hoch family is so interesting,” adds Brinkman. “Like many immigrants, they endured great hardship and tragedy, yet they eventually made a good life in this new land.”

An account by Valentin Hoch’s great-granddaughter Mildred Allen Duhon describes the family’s voyage from Germany to America: “Just days before they left … , the youngest child … became ill and died. In the fall of 1845 the family ... began their journey. On their way to America, another child … died and was buried at sea.”

Soon after the ship anchored at Indianola (then called Indian Point), Hoch’s wife also died. Duhon wrote, “It was said that she died of either scarlet fever or cholera, but others say she died of a broken heart.”

Details about the whereabouts of Hoch and his remaining four children for the next two years prove sketchy, but in February 1848, Hoch purchased 45 acres of land near the Guadalupe River, the family’s eventual home site. According to accounts by Duhon and other family members, Hoch spent several years quarrying the stone and assembling the materials to build the house.

He was still building it when a neighbor told him about a woman named Johanna Flemming who had come to Indianola and recently lost her husband. Desperately needing someone to help look after his children, Hoch went to Indianola to see Flemming, who had two small children of her own. When he returned, he brought all three with him. Valentin Hoch and Johanna Flemming married on August 18, 1854; their union resulted in four more children.

An inscription in stone over the east entrance reads “V. Hoch 1856.” Other lintels bear dates of 1857 and 1866, indicating that Hoch completed the house in stages. The attic was designated for the boys, the second story for the girls, and the bottom floor for the adults. They stored food and supplies in the cellar, including wine that the family made from mustang grapes gathered along the river.

The home lay along an old freight trail, and the government soon awarded contracts to Hoch for mail delivery. According to a Recorded Texas Historical Marker placed in 1964, the home “served as an inn on the Austin-Indianola stage road. While drivers changed four-horse teams, the passengers welcomed the chance to enjoy the inn’s food and hospitality.”

Doug Kubicek says there’s tangible evidence that the home was on a stage route. “The first time I went out to the site, I nearly fell on my face in the wagon ruts on the east side of the house—they’re still two to three feet deep in places,” he notes.

The Stagecoach Inn sparked settlement in the area. The community of Hochheim (Hoe-hime, meaning “Hoch’s home” in German) grew up around it and today lies six miles west of Yoakum. Three generations of Hochs lived in the house, which remained in the family until 1899, when it was sold to rancher Valentine Bennett. His descendants restored it in 1954, earning several awards. The site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

A local insurance company acquired the property in 2000 and established the Hochheim Historical Foundation to serve as the Stagecoach Inn’s caretaker. Restoration efforts continue through the foundation, whose aim is to preserve the site as a German heritage center.

By Natalie Posgate

Twinkling angels line the walkway to the Rainforest Pyramid at Moody Gardens’ Festival of Lights. (Photo courtesy of Moody Gardens)Bring the family to Galveston on November 12 for the kickoff of the 10th annual Festival of Lights at Moody Gardens. Listen to Christmas carols as you watch Santa make his grand entrance via parachute and then switch on more than one million Christmas lights, transforming Moody Gardens into a sparkling wonderland. Enjoy other entertainment such as live music, petting zoos, and the reappearance of Santa with his reindeer.

The festival continues from November 18 through January 1. Follow the mile-long trail of lights and animated displays, and take in the beauty of the grounds as you walk by the Aquarium, Rainforest, and Discovery pyramids, Palm Beach, the Moody Gardens Hotel, Offatts Bayou, and the Colonel Paddlewheel Boat. Bring ice skates so that you can hit the rink—or rent some on-site for $6 a pair. For ticket prices and information about other events throughout the festival, call 800/582-4673, or visit

The best little quilt museum in Texas set to open in La Grange

By Nola McKey

One of some 75 quilts in the Texas Quilt Museum’s inaugural exhibit, Texas Hay Rake was made by Michele Barnes of Grapeland. (Photo courtesy of Texas Quilt Museum)Housed in two historic buildings in downtown La Grange, the new Texas Quilt Museum is easy to spot. A bold mural on the west side of the taller structure—the 1893 Reichert and Kneip Furniture Store—announces the location with a finely detailed image of colorful quilts draped over a clothesline.

The 10,000-square-foot museum opens on November 13 and represents a longtime dream of Karey Bresenhan and Nancy Puentes, president and executive vice president of Quilts, Inc., which produces several quilt shows, including the annual International Quilt Festival in Houston. “We were determined that the museum would open this year, in conjunction with Texas’ 175th birthday,” says Bresenhan. “When you’re restoring old buildings, you just never know what you’ll encounter.  We faced a number of challenges, but the solutions our dedicated local tradesmen and artisans came up with have actually enhanced the end result. All in all, it has been a rewarding process, and we’re proud that we were able to preserve these fine old structures in La Grange for future generations of Texans.”

The inaugural exhibit, Texas Quilts Today, also coincides with the recent publication of Lone Stars III: A Legacy of Texas Quilts, 1986-2011 by Bresenhan and Puentes (the last in a trilogy published by University of Texas Press that chronicles 175 years of quilting in Texas). The exhibit will include about 75 of the 200 quilts featured in the book; the remainder will eventually rotate into the exhibit following this year’s International Quilt Festival (November 3-6). While this first exhibit features Texas quilts made in the last 25 years, future exhibits will spotlight quilts from around the world, as well as historic quilts that date to the early 1800s.

As fifth-generation Texas quilters, cousins Bresenhan and Puentes consider the museum’s historic setting a natural. Houston architect Barry Moore, who specializes in historical-preservation projects, has retained the adjoining buildings’ high ceilings, brick walls, and hardwood floors, as well as many of the original railings, moldings, and other architecturally significant features. The result? A stunning showcase for large works that range from traditional patchwork quilts to avant-garde “art quilts.” The museum’s grand opening takes place on November 13 at 1 p.m., at 140 W. Colorado St. Call

Photo: © The Daytripper with Chet Garner

While “Bryan-College Station” rolls off the tongue smoother than the Aggie War Hymn, and is known collectively as “Aggieland,” each city has its own distinctive identity. I set out for a day in Bryan, far from the bustle of College Station’s Texas A&M University.

Bomber jackets weren’t fashion statements for the WASP. They flew all types of military aircraft, including this B-17G Flying Fortress named “Pistol Packin’ Mama.” (Photo courtesy National WASP WWWII Museum/TWU Woman’s Collection)

A wooden sign three miles west of Sweetwater marks the site of a remarkable story of patriotic women who soared into bleached-out West Texas skies from herae during World War II. Avenger Field was the training facility for Women Airforce Service Pilots—better known as WASP—the first large-scale program in American history that involved women flying military aircraft.

altWhen we were planning the October 2011 issue of Texas Highways magazine, there was no way we could have imagined the devastation that would alter the lush landscape of Bastrop State Park.

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