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Written by Lois Rodriguez

shinyKevin Russell has covered a lot of Texas ground in his nearly 30 years as a touring musician. As a founding member of the now-disbanded Austin group the Gourds, and now with the band Shinyribs, Russell has played hundreds of shows in all sorts of settings across the state. We asked him about some of his favorite places to play—and eat—across the Lone Star State.


National Park Ranger Marten Schmitz retrieves a palm-sized chunk of Alibates flint rock from the dried short-grass prairie. “Here’s a good example of a trade blank,” he says, noting that pieces like this colorful red-and-white stone were prized as currency for people who lived in this region as far back as 13,000 years ago.

 MG 3576For a music fan like me, one particularly good reason to visit Port Arthur is the blues-rock singer Janis Joplin. Though she died in 1970 at age 27, the powerful and flamboyant vocalist remains this city’s most famous native and, thanks to a fantastic exhibit at its Museum of the Gulf Coast, the focal point of a significant tourist attraction.

People tasting fresh-squeezed orange and grapefruit juices from the Rio Grande Valley often use adjectives such as “luscious” and “ambrosial.” With its heavenly taste, aroma, and color, Texas citrus reaches tree-ripened perfection.


A weekday lunch crowd fills the room with lively conversation. Behind a dining counter, hamburger patties sizzle on the grill and two gleaming machines spin wine-based frozen margaritas. An artfully iced chocolate cake sits atop a glass pedestal on the counter, like a trophy awaiting its winner.

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I’ve always considered myself a pretty brave guy. I’ve gone hang gliding, swum with stingrays, and even eaten face-melting ghost chiles. However, standing in the damp coolness of an underground nuclear missile silo, contemplating scuba diving into the black waters below me, I was overcome by an unexpected feeling: gut-wrenching fear.

Hilltop-Gardens-Aloe MG 4883Luxuriating in the tropically landscaped oasis of Hilltop Gardens, I feel sheltered from the world by palms, hibiscus, and birds of paradise. The Inn at Hilltop, a Mexican Colonial/Mediterranean-style B&B, perches on a rise at the Rio Grande Valley site west of Lyford, surrounded by fields of aloe vera, vegetables, and sugarcane. It’s a magnet for those seeking a warm and tranquil winter haven.

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Clearly I am not the only one who yearns to bring a bit of Spain back to Texas. For the first half of my 30s, I lived in Madrid less than 600 meters from the Museo Prado, the holy ground of Spanish art that holds within its hallowed walls the masterpieces of Velázquez, Goya, and El Greco. These treasures of light, shadow, allegory, and humor became a regular part of my Madrid life.

An Internet search for “folk art” or “outsider art” results in a goldmine of possible sources, including big chains like Pier One and World Market, which sell mass-produced items sourced from around the world. Not bad if you’re looking for a holiday ornament or kitchen textiles, but no dice if you’re searching for a handmade, one-of-a-kind piece of art.

santaTexas' state parks can be quite festive at Christmastime. In fact, many have lights up and are ready to welcome travelers to a holiday-in-the-park experience. Here are a few state parks that you can visit this weekend.

bastrop-planting-tpwd-103Restoration efforts at Bastrop State Park have been ongoing since the Bastrop County Complex Wildfire swept through in 2011. The latest volunteer call is a chance to help make a difference. From mid-December through February, more volunteers are needed to help with reforestation.


The San Antonio River Walk will be illuminated on Friday, Nov. 28, for the Ford River Parade and Lighting Ceremony, one of the nation's only nighttime river parades. Look for lighted floats, live music, celebrities and more. Texas Highways will join the festivities to help embrace the holidays.

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