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Big Bend Primer

Written by | Published April 15, 2009

I stopped in at my local Barnes & Noble Saturday evening to say hello to longtime TH contributors Gary Clark and Kathy Adams Clark. The Houston-based author-photographer duo was there to sign copies of their just-released Enjoying Big Bend National Park: A Friendly Guide to Adventures for Everyone (Texas A&M University Press). Gary, a naturalist who has been visiting Big Bend for the last 30 years, wrote the text, and Kathy, who owns the photo agency KAC Productions, shot the photographs. The result: a handy reference that makes planning a trip to this far-flung park a little less overwhelming. Filled with practical information and stunning images, Enjoying Big Bend is sure to make this challenging site more popular than ever. Seeing it made me want to pack up and head for "the Texas outback" immediately.

Bluebonnet Fix

Written by | Published April 10, 2009

I thought I'd adjusted to the lack of bluebonnets this year, wildflower showings around Austin have been lackluster in general, but a trip to Houston earlier this week reminded me how much I count on seeing those broad swaths of blue plastered across the roadsides each spring. The state flower was in full force along US 290, especially in the Brenham area, and after the visual famine, the dramatic displays seemed more beautiful than ever. I think I actually said "Yes!" when I saw the first gorgeous patch. It suddenly felt like spring had really sprung. For more promising wildflower drives, see "Trips to Bountiful" in the April TH.

Aggieland, Part 2

Written by | Published April 3, 2009
Experienced another pleasant day trip to College Station (I really like it here) recently for the NCAA Men's & Women's Indoor Track & Field Championships at Texas A&M's impressive new Gilliam Indoor Track Stadium, part of the university's McFerrin Athletic Center. Also made a great Elgin barbecue stop on the way home at Meyer's Elgin Smokehouse, 188 US 290; 512/281-3331; Give them a try. And, don't forget to check out the March issue of Texas Highways that includes 2 nice barbecue features.

Blessed day, as it is, the Easter memory that I always enjoy recalling involves a special Easter egg hunt at Bastrop State Park. Mom asked if we wanted to go on an Easter egg hunt. What kid says no" to that? Even though we fully expected that a hunt would be in our plans that Sunday, we were jumping for joy, as if it were a surprise. I was already imagining (and salivating over) the kind of treats we'd find hidden inside the eggs. Mom is very creative! As we rode along, empty baskets guarded carefully on our laps, time passed and eventually we started chiming in with "Are we there yet?" We were still clinging to our excitement of the hunt, but a little put out that we still hadn't reached our destination.

It turns out Mom thought it'd be nice to do the Easter egg hunt at Bastrop State Park. Did I mention we were living in Houston?

What a blast we had, though, and what a great idea Mom had! After nabbing the hidden eggs, we just enjoyed the park, and the picnic mom had prepared for us. I absorbed, as much as I could, this rare sight of fresh air and greenery in such a vast amount of space. This atmosphere was as much a treat to me as the one time I had seen snow (at the time). I remember how beautiful this was to me and the sound of pine needles crunching underfoot. I remember the CCC cabin, too.

Ever the rockhound, I found a rock that I thought was utterly fabulous and brought it home. I have it still. It's special because it reminds me of that perfect day. Anytime I visit or drive past Bastrop State Park, that memory resurfaces.

As an adult, I still appreciate Bastrop State Park and its beautiful trails. I also now better appreciate that my widowed mom made time, though I can't imagine how she found it (or the energy), to do this for us four kids. The deep-seeded pleasure and the lasting fond memory of this road trip is true testament that one can never forget the value of a simple road trip and quality family time.

Play Ball! (CMigrator copy 1)

Written by | Published March 30, 2009

Spring is in the air, and so are pop flies and home runs at Round Rock's Dell Diamond ballpark, home of the Triple-A Round Rock Express. The Express' pre-season kicks off this weekend with an exhibition game against the Corpus Christi Hooks on April 5. The fabulous ballpark, included in ESPN's Great Baseball Destinations, features seating options that range from rows closer to home plate than the pitcher's mound, to big, comfy rocking chairs, to the Luxury Skybox Suite. And yes, you can even watch the ballgame from the pool beyond right field (I envy those pool people on hot summer evenings). My kid is too young to sit still through multiple innings, so we usually opt for general admission/berm seating ($6 adults, $5 kids under 12, free 2 and younger; remember the $5 parking fee), which allows us to roam carefree from the playscape to the Moon Jump to the snowcone machine. And there's plenty of room on the berm for the occasional Chicken Dance and for kids to roll down the grassy hill. This year, we bought the Spike's Kids Club package, which includes 20 tickets (pre-selected games) and a t-shirt, mesh bag, and other goodies.  

For a schedule, tickets, and more on special promotions and events (like giveaways and Friday-night fireworks), go to the Express Web site. And baseball buffs, be sure to check out Sheryl Smith-Rodgers' Q&A with pitching legend Nolan Ryan in April TH.

Zipping Along

Written by | Published March 27, 2009

I'm terrified of heights, so naturally, I wanted to go on an adventure that would challenge that fear. Yes, I'm a little insane. But isn't that the way to conquer fears? Well, I suppose a healthy fear is good for survival, but I found what I thought would be a safe way to face that fear head-on: ziplining. I highly recommend the experience.

After revisiting an article that we ran in Texas Highways last August, I decided that this was the year I would brave it. Luckily, one of my best friends in Houston had the same idea (always on the same wavelength, that's why we're buds). Within a week's time, we drummed up a group of 10 friends (me in Austin, the rest from Houston) to visit the Cypress Valley Canopy Tours in Spicewood. What fun!

I put on my brave hat while shaking inside, but after the first leap, I was having a blast. You're so securely harnessed in and connected to the zip line that it's hard to truly feel vulnerable. Plus, our trusted guides, Lindsey and Andi, used their expertise and a bit of humor to take the edge off and make it fun. Granted, this probably isn't as high or as long as zipling down a mountain in Costa Rica, but it's a fun adventure just the same. And it was just my speed, so to speak.

I didn't even mind the three rope sky bridges we had to traverse (and I've never gotten on them, even at amusement parks, because I'm even more terrified of them!), but the harness helped quell that fear, too. We zipped along six lines from one tree platform to another (up to 40 feet high), passing up Lofthaven, the furnished tree house that you can zip to and rent for the night.

Thanks to the drought, there was little water running through the property, but I'm sure it adds an extra dimension of excitement and natural wonder, so, I definitely hope there will be water on my next visit.

When I go again, and I will, I will try the more challenging tour, which has longer zip lines, and challenges that they say ranges from "moderate to difficult." I'm up for it!

If you've ever had a curiosity about ziplining, but are being held back by fear, I say DO it! If I can, you can.

If you've been, what was your experience like and where did you go?

Vietnam to Austin—a Cultural Journey

Written by | Published March 27, 2009

Last weekend a friend and I attended the opening of Vietnam to Austin: Restoring Community, the first Asian-Amercian exhibit at the Austin History Center. The exhibit, with the help of the Vietnamese American Heritage Foundation, documents the struggles and accomplishments of Austin's largest Asian community, and their contributions as Americans.

Eating Under the Radar

Written by | Published March 20, 2009

For the July 2007 issue of TH, I wrote a story about the hour-long Hidden Kitchens Texas (HKTX) radio special that debuted on NPR a couple of years ago. Produced by The Kitchen Sisters in collaboration with KUT in Austin and narrated by Willie Nelson, the program described under-the-radar kitchens across the state, from a Dallas gas station that serves great tacos to the NASA lab in Houston that develops space food. It was fun writing about that project, and now I have an update: At a SXSW party in Austin a few nights ago, Nikki Silvia and Davia Nelson, aka The Kitchen Sisters, launched a new book based on the rollicking audio program, complete with colorful photos and recipes.

Lunch in McKinney; Coffee in Sherman

Written by | Published March 3, 2009

When my sister and I visited my daughter at Austin College in Sherman, we took the opportunity to explore nearby McKinney and have lunch at The Pantry Restaurant, in the historic downtown area. The spacious yet cozy cafe serves a variety of sandwiches, salads, soups, and other entrees, and also has a wide selection of creamy pies. I wish I could say I sampled one, and I really should have, but the tortilla soup/salad/cornbread combo was plenty for me as was the stuffed baked potato/soup combo was for my sister. My daughter, also full from her sandwich/salad combo, ordered a slice of chocolate-chip cream pie to take back to the dorm.

Mod Squad

Written by | Published March 3, 2009

When the Blanton Museum of Art opened its new building in Austin a few years ago, I signed on as a member. It wasn't long before I understood the appeal of supporting the arts. Philanthropy notwithstanding, members get discounted entry to special parties and events, a nicely designed monthly newsletter, free admission to exhibits, and discounts at the very cool gift store (which opened last month, along with the Blanton Cafe). Now that I'm a member, I definitely go to the museum more often—it's free, fun, and philanthropic!

Quest for Romance

Written by | Published February 3, 2009

Valentine's Day Is on its way And thus here goes This poem

It's silly, I'm aware, But I'd love for you to share Those romantic Texas spots if you know'em.

Where, in Texas, would you find the most romantic setting for the perfect "I love you."

Remember, our diversity is what makes us special, so non-traditional settings are welcome, too!

Austin Makes "10 Destinations to Watch" List

Written by | Published January 29, 2009

Last year, when I went on vacation in Mazatlãn, Mexico, my group followed the keen advice of a columnist in Arthur Frommer's magazine Budget Travel and rented a century-year-old home in the historic district. I'm planning to stay closer to home this year, but I still check the Budget Travel Web site for deals, and I especially like the blog. Imagine my surprise this week to find my hometown of Austin on the editors' Top 10 Destinations To Watch list for 2009—sharing company with Berlin, Budapest, Cambodia, Hawaii, Mexico, Panama, Reykjavik, Vancouver, and Washington, D.C.(I'm not sure why the editors narrowed some places down to the city, and went for states or even countries in others, but no matter.)

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