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Written by Lois Rodriguez

geo322Let's start the week with baby steps, and get the 101 on fun activities such as geocaching, kayaking and even zombie apocalypse survival skills. Each Monday, to combat that first-day-of-the-week blues, we offer highlights for the upcoming week in Texas travel. This week is all about learning something new. Texas Parks and Wildlife offers courses throughout the year, but here’s what you can look forward to this week.

fullRes HBO Featured160219 001When burning up the highway between Dallas and Austin, it’s easy to pass through Hillsboro and see nothing more than modern gas stations and frontage-road shopping. But those looking for a blast back in time should grab the nearest exit and get ready for a true small-town-Texas experience that feels like a trip to the “good ol’ days.”

LayeredWatermelonPopsiclesLargeWatermelon is the quintessential summer fruit. No cookout or poolside outing is complete without it. On its own merits, it’s the perfect snack – especially for cooling down. But here are a few recipes that’ll put new spins on the juicy fruit.

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True Texas football fans we are.

We stand in lines, endure the swelter of early-season day games, and pay top dollar in donations and seat licenses to cheer our college and pro teams. We turn out to watch the local boys play under Friday-night lights, whether on six-man squads with bleachers set up next to pastures or suburban dynasties in multimillion-dollar stadiums.

summergetaway 817When I was growing up in New York City, my father had a small farmhouse a couple of hours upstate from the Big Apple, where there was a rowboat and a pond rife with largemouth bass, yellow perch and pickerel, snapping turtles, bullfrogs, and the occasional muskrat. Until adolescence arrived and brought the twin distractions of girls and rock ’n’ roll music, that modest family waterfront—long since sold—struck me as a little slice of heaven.

Boots 817Red sand flies across the arena as ranch cowboys show off the skills of their horses, which have colorful names like Loretta Lynn, Snake, Purr Cat, and Brandin’ Crew.

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As a light rain falls, a crowd is gathering at Green’s Sausage House, a country café, meat market, and bakery in the tiny Czech community of Zabcikville, 10 miles east of Temple. Breakfast is over at Green’s, and it’s time for lunch.

A cook eats braised beef noodle on his breakOn a sleepy Thursday afternoon just after the lunch rush, Let’s Noodle, a hand-pulled noodle shop in Houston’s Chinatown area, is quiet except for the slurping noises coming from the restaurant’s communal table. A man sits there hunched over a bowl of noodles, his concentration fully focused on the food in front of him.

03 KLEPPER SADDLE CLUB texas hellfire 01No television screens hang on the walls of The Saddle Club in Alpine. No loud music interrupts long and interesting conversations over classic cocktails and satisfying food. Alpine native Stephen Wood intentionally set out to create this calming, focused atmosphere when he opened the eclectic bar and restaurant in 2010.

BOYKINSPRINGS1When photographer Carolyn Tracy and I sign on to curate a guide to 100 of the best places to swim in the state, we know we are taking on a mighty task. Five months and 20,000 miles on the odometer later, we have hard proof. Start-ing out, we grapple with two questions: How do you organize the geography of a state as diverse as Texas? And how could two shy city-folk manage to cover so much ground in a single summer? We sit at Hard Luck Lounge in Austin, open maps and drop pins on the places we know we want to visit. For the rest, we use our common sense. We get on the road and follow the rivers.

Baby Elephant Joy 0004 6356After a two-year pregnancy, the Houston Zoo's 26-year-old Asian elephant Shanti gave birth to a 305-pound female at 8:27 p.m. on Wednesday, July 12. The calf, named Joy, began to nurse within three hours.

Diego Rivera JuchitMonday mornings can be difficult. To combat that first-day-of-the-week blues, we’ll give you something to anticipate with highlights of what’s upcoming and new in the world of Texas travel.

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