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Written by Lori Moffatt

Last year around this time, Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch in New Braunfels celebrated the birth of twin reticulated giraffes, the first successful twins in the United States. The park named the giraffes Nakato and Wasswa, and they’re still thriving, and growing, and revealing their personalities as the ranch itself celebrates its 30th anniversary this spring.

With spring officially here and summer around the corner, lots of folks are making vacation (and staycation) plans.  Museums, since they are usually gloriously climate-controlled and require no slathering of sunscreen to enjoy, make great escapes when the mercury rises, and their offerings are more diverse than you might imagine.  For example, most museums these days complement exhibits—whether they present art, history, science, or other disciplines—with film screenings, lectures, art demonstrations, kids’ activities like storytimes and DIY crafts, and even themed dance parties. Not only does this expanded focus bring the museums new audiences, but it also helps make the collections more relevant and accessible to visitors who may have previously thought they weren’t “museum types.” 

When you get down with your funky self amid a collection of modern sculptures, or meditate in a gallery filled with Japanese antiquities, it’s easier to find a visceral, lasting connection with the museum-going experience.

Amid the hundreds of documentaries, dramas, comedies, and experimental films available for screening during South by Southwest’s film offerings this year, I chanced into a screening of YAKONA, an important and unusual film addressing one of Texas’ most imperiled resources: Water. 

On March 2, 1836, 59 delegates gathered at Washington-on-the-Brazos to sign the Texas Declaration of Independence, setting in motion a series of battles that would lead to Texas’ independence from Mexico. Cities and towns throughout Texas will celebrate the occasion on March 2 (see “Events” at texashighways.com for a lengthy list), but two caught our eyes for their unusual nature.

Looking ahead to spring, the Austin FOOD & WINE Festival, which will take place April 25-27 in Austin’s Butler Park, is gearing up for a full slate of cooking demonstrations, interactive fire pits, live music, and wine-and-cocktail tastings featuring internationally known chefs, sommeliers, and culinary personalities. 

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It’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow and maybe the pressure’s on. As Waylon Jennings himself put it so eloquently in his 1977 hit, let’s go to Luckenbach, Texas! 

28B WineThe news couldn’t be any timelier. As we’re planning our April issue’s coverage of the red-hot Fredericksburg Wine Road 290, a string of 13 wineries near the Hill Country town of Fredericksburg, we received word that the Texas Hill Country was named among the top 10 wine destinations for 2014 in the February issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine, which boasts a readership of more than 800,000. (That’s a lot of wine enthusiasts!) Texas is in very, very, very good company—the other destinations include Greece’s Aegean Islands; Languedoc, France; Sonoma, California; Baden, Germany; and Mendoza, Argentina. In fact, only one other U.S. destination—Walla Walla Washington—made the cut. (You can read the whole story at www.winemag.com.)

And read more about the wineries of Texas at www.gotexanwine.org, and more about Wine Road 290 at www.wineroad290.com.

 

Stay tuned for our take of the Hill Country’s grape ways in the April issue. Until then, cheers! 

More than 100,000 lights gleam from grounds of the Pedernales Electric Coop Headquarters in Johnson City. Photo: Lori Moffatt

With another cold snap in the future, it's beginning to look a lot like winter—and Christmas—in the Lone Star State. Traditionally, the day after Thanksgiving brings out the twinkling holiday lights, and this year was no exception. As they've done in years past, almost a dozen communities in the Hill Country—Bandera, Blanco, Boerne, Burnet, Dripping Springs, Fredericksburg, Johnson City, Kerrville, Marble Falls, and Wimberley—have decked the halls (and courthouses and town squares) with thousands of lights as part of the Hill Country Regional Christmas Lighting Trail.

Yes, according to the calendar, it has been “officially” fall since September 22, but it sure hasn’t felt like it yet. But somehow, cooler temperatures have arrived just in time to set our clocks back this weekend, meaning that—among other advantages—there’s one extra hour of enjoy evening happy hours! Here’s a suggestion for those of you in the Bastrop area: Make tracks to the Bastrop Brewhouse, whose multi-level deck overlooks the Colorado River. (Weather reports indicate a low temperature of 52 on Saturday night; that’s a practically perfect condition for al fresco dining.)

Here's a fun idea to combine recreation and altruism in Austin this weekend: Sign up for the first annual Let's Get Trashed event, hosted by Kung Fu Saloon, a martial-arts themed bar and video arcade at 5th and Rio Grande. 

Wharton's Tee Pee Motel, photo by Lori Moffatt Wharton's Tee Pee Motel, photo by Lori Moffatt

Now that most of Texas has seen a cool snap, a visit to the beach might not seem as enticing as it does during the summer. But the ocean in wintertime reveals a different character. In my opinion, there is no better time to visit Texas’ coastal destinations than during the off-season, when crowds are light and the sun’s rays are gentler. On my list for this year is Palacios, a seaside village known for birding, fishing, and best of all—relaxing. Texas Highways has published stories in the past about Palacios’ historic Luther Hotel Luther, which dates to 1903 and faces the bay; I’d love to stay there and kick back with a book on the hotel’s broad porches.

On Monday night, as a brief thunderstorm brewed over Austin, I witnessed a marriage of art, nature, and technology that left me speechless and reverent. Along with a dozen or so other guests, I ventured to the rooftop garden of the University of Texas' Student Activity Center to experience sunset at artist James Turrell’s The Color Inside, a new, permanent skyspace commissioned by Landmarks, the university’s public arts program. Since Landmarks debuted several years ago, the program has brought more than 20 pieces by nationally renowned artists to the UT campus.

Turrell, known as a “sculptor of light” has long been fascinated with light, color, space, and perception. More than 80 Turrell skyspaces exist around the world; this one is comparatively small, with room for about 25 people at a time.  Entering the elliptical skyspace feels similar to entering an inexplicably comfortable cave—the black basalt benches are hard (but don’t seem so) and they’re angled so that it’s simple to gaze upward through the hole in the ceiling.

The night of my visit, the curved nature of the space united us ––mouths open, gasping in wonder at times –– as we gazed through the hole (Turrell calls it an oculus) into the sky. As the sun began to set, LED lights projected color into the ceiling and walls, creating vibrant color washes of pink, lavender, periwinkle, yellow, orange, and green. The oculus somehow intensifies the sky while making it more abstract; at times, it’s hard to discern where the walls end and the sky begins. Birds flying across the oculus become a dramatic event, as do random clouds, and a plane (if you’re lucky).

At one particular moment, surrounded by a wash of periwinkle blue and lavender, gazing skyward at an inky sky while raindrops cascaded through the oculus like diamonds, I may have had an out-of-body experience.

While The Color Inside is open for observation throughout the day, Turrell considers his art to be visible only at sunrise and sunset, during light sequences. Timing, of course, depends on the season. (Because the Student Activity Center is usually closed at sunrise, your best bet is to make a reservation for a sunset experience; be prepared for a wait. Because the installation just opened to the public on October 19, interest is very high, but don’t despair. The wait will be worth it.)

 

 

The Light Inside, photo by Lori Moffatt The Color Inside, photo by Lori Moffatt

photoThe Color Inside, on the 3rd floor of the Student Activity Center (at 22nd and Speedway) is free to experience. To make a reservation, visit www.turrell.utexas.edu.

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