Every March, when the SXSW Music Conference comes to Austin, capping off a week of the SXSW Interactive and Film Conferences, the city embraces, and braces for the hordes of attendees and massive traffic snarls in and around downtown. At Texas Highways, with our offices just a stoneâ€™s throw from the epicenter of downtown, where the conference takes place, and South Congress Avenue, where many free music events occur, we feel the effects of the SXSW tsunami, from press releases touting SXSW-related events to courier delays from our prepress vendor due to the gridlock. Music from the day parties can even be heard in our parking lot. The aural lure combined with sunny, mild spring-like weather can tempt even the most dedicated worker to distraction.
Thursday afternoon, after carefully coordinating deadline schedules for the May issue, I took an extended lunch with my daughter, Lucy, to one of the many free, no badge/wristband showcases. We saw a couple of bands, including an indie-pop trio, The Antlers, on the grounds of the French Legation, an historic museum on the east side, and an unlikely venue for rock music, but typical of the unusual performer and performance space pairings found at SXSW. We helped ourselves to the free Izze carbonated-fruit drinks offered, and discovered free Torchyâ€™s egg-and-cheese tacos around the corner at another free music party.
As my car crawled through traffic getting there and back, it allowed me a chance to observe the human groundswell walking and riding bikes to the various venues. In the hilly streets with the city skyline as a backdrop, it seemed to resemble what Haight-Ashbury mustâ€™ve looked like in the Sixties. Even the clothing and hairstyles of the mostly twenty-somethings wouldâ€™ve been right at home in that era. It took a huge mental shift for me to get back into workaday mode, but made for an energizing respite.
[caption align="alignright" width="300" caption="On the grounds of the French Legation during SXSW"] [/caption]
TH reader â€œSteveâ€ from Liberty Hill just emailed us about Melissa Gaskillâ€™s â€œTrips to Bountifulâ€ in the new April issue (available on newsstands): â€œThis is regarding a special wildflower located on the drive route within Melissaâ€™s very nice Wildflower Drives story,â€ Steve says. â€œShe mentions Park Road 4 off Texas 29 west of Inks lake. Tell readers to be on the lookout for a special variety of Indian blanket that are all red; their ray flowers are not tipped with yellow. There are very few patches of these in western Burnet County. One spectacular patch is located on Texas 29 between the Inks Dam and Park Road 4 to Inks Lake. Look for the big patch located near two small roadside ponds; it is quite dramatic.â€
Â The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Centerâ€™s plant database lists the red Indian blanket (Gaillardia amblyodon),Â also known as maroon blanketflower and red gaillardia.
Â Tell us about your favorite wildflower finds!
This yearâ€™s April Wildflower Issue, 22 pages of the best of Texasâ€™ spring color, marks my 15th year designing this spectacular feature. One of my biggest challenges each year is in presenting flower photos that are fresh yet timeless, and composing striking image combinations. This could not be possible without the hundreds of photo submissions we receive from photographers throughout the state. Much, if not most of the credit goes to Photo Editor Griff Smith for reviewing all of the submissions and paring them down to just over a hundred. Of these, only 22 were selected for this yearâ€™s feature. The criteria for selection includes such things as whether a particular flower is mentioned on one of the four wildflower drives, the region where the flower was shot, and of course, visual impact, color, and composition.
Although there are a few â€œgo-toâ€ wildflower-photogs we count on year after year to provide stellar flower coverage, Griff and I are always surprised and amazed by the new discoveries we uncoverâ€”photographers whose work graces the wildflower pages for the first time. This year, Steven Schwartzman, Aja Martin, Randy Heisch, and Erik H. Pronske, M.D. (actually, this is his second year) join forces with stalwart WF shooters Richard Reynolds, Tim Fitzharris, Lance Varnell, and Joe Lowery, who provided the front cover image, as he has for many Aprils. And there are some returning WF veteransâ€”welcome back, Wyman Meinzer and Al Braden!
So you think you can shoot? If youâ€™re interested in submitting your wildflower photos to us, start by taking a look at the Photo Guidelines on our website before sending. And please refrain from sending wildflower images featuring babies or other loved ones. In the pages of TH, flowers are the focus!
More photo opps.: Mark your calendar for May 3-9 when the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and Canon join us in presenting an exhibit of Texas-size, larger-than-life wildlflower images from the April issue at the Wildflower Centerâ€™s McDermott Learning Center. Keep checking our website, become a fan on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter for the latest details on this very special event!
Itâ€™s becoming a familiar scenario: A friend comes in from out of town, and I discover a new Austin restaurant. Usually, itâ€™s just a matter of my wanting to try a place Iâ€™d heard about and good timing. Recently, though, when my friend Candy was here for a convention, she came armed with her own recommendation. Of course, this particular friend knows Austin better than I do (although she lives in Victoria now), so it didnâ€™t surprise me. Whatâ€™s more, sheâ€™s a foodie, so I figured her choice would be a good bet.
I give a solid thumbs-up to a City Weekend in Dallas. I'd heard a lot about the new developments in downtown and the nearby Arts District, so I decided to investigate this past weekend. My husband, Randy, and I booked a room at the beautiful new Joule Hotel, a few steps away from the original Neiman Marcus, on Main Street. Downtown Dallas, with its gargoyle-festooned buildings that date to the early 1900s, is still primarily a financial district, but that's gradually changing. Restaurants, clubs, and hotels are drawing more nighttime visitors downtown, imbuing the streets with fresh energy.
Winter wonderlands are hardly clichÃ© in Texas.
Thatâ€™s why drivers freak out when the flurries start to fall. We donâ€™t know how to drive (or walk!) in icy or snowy conditions. Northerners like to laugh when us southerners become incapacitated by the weather, but thatâ€™s like a teen laughing at a baby for not walking more gracefully. They get a LOT more practice with it than we do, so for us, itâ€™s still new.
But despite all that taunting, we have something they donâ€™t when it comes to snow â€“â€“ a child-like awe when even the slightest flake falls. Itâ€™s still magical to us. Or at least more magical.
This week, friends across the state had the chance to experience the snow. Texas Department of Transportationâ€™s Travel Services Section has 12 travel information centers at various entry points across the state. Our friends at the Texarkana, Waskom and Denison travel information centers shared some of their snow photos and stories, so I thought Iâ€™d share.
Waskom travel counselors made use of the ice melt they had on hand and made their own shovels (not like snow shovels are easy to find in Texas!).
â€œMost travelers enjoyed the snow and someone made a snowman on our grounds,â€ says Waskom travel counselor Donna Watson.
Even in our glee, we understand that snow comes with some inconveniences, too.
Waskom Travel Information Center Supervisor Melissa Wilson says, â€œSome of my employees didn't have electricity at their homes. They had to fix their â€˜Texas hairâ€™ at the center.â€
Wilson added, â€œWe've had several Winter Texans say they left their homes, up north, to come to Texas, so they could get away from the snow.â€ One Winter Texan said, â€œIt must have followed them from Pennsylvania."
For that, weâ€™re (sort of) grateful.
By the way, if you have not visited a Texas Travel Information Center, please make a point to stop by. They are informational havens â€“â€“ with sophisticated, and locally-inspired architectural designs â€“â€“ that serve the traveling public. The travel information centers also just happen to be staffed by some of Texasâ€™ best ambassadors.
You can find a list of Texas Travel Information Centers here.
The cold front blew through and some of our Texas friends found themselves with snow ... a pleasure or a curse, depending on Waskom travel counselors made use of their ice melt supplies and made their own shovel (not like snow shovels are easy to find in Texas!).
Most travelers enjoyed the snow and someone made a snowman on our grounds," says Donna Watson.
[caption align="alignright" width="200" caption="Photo by Alice Liles"]
There were already a few cars parked beside the road when weÂ arrived at the site. One of them belonged to an accountant from Brenham, who had set up two tripods, one with a camera and the other with a spotting scope. Wearing a heavy coat and wool cap to ward off the cold wind, he had obviously been there a while. He invited us to take a look through the scope, and filled us in on the latest activity in the nest. He said at present the two eaglets were visible in the nest.
I looked through the scope, and sure enough, I could see theÂ backs of two little heads peeking up above the nest. Not much to see at thatÂ point, but still, two mounds of fluff in a nest of twigs and branches. AÂ squirrel running around the edge of the nest and under it made it easy to tellÂ that this was one huge treetop construction. Several of the spectators madeÂ jokes about the squirrel not being very smart, considering the parents couldÂ come back at any time and make a meal of him. But maybe he was smarter than we thought, and eagles intent on feeding their young aren't looking for squirrels.
Alice and I took turns looking through the scope with the otherÂ spectators and a few new arrivals. The accountant welcomed one and all and proved quite knowledgeable about birds and the history of the nest. He saidÂ he'd spent a lot of time watching the eagles over the years; he had a notebook full of photographs that he'd taken to prove it. I figured he was setting us up to buy some of his photos, which were quite good, but no, they weren't for sale. He took them just for his own and others' enjoyment.
Later, as I was looking through the scope, I saw one of theÂ parents swoop in and land on the side of the nest. What a dramatic arrival! ItÂ caused a mild commotion among the group, all of whom wanted a glimpse of the majestic creature. Thanks to the spotting scope, everyone had a chance to see him. (And yes, the accountant thought he was a male.)
As we huddled around the scope, waiting for our next turn, we visitedÂ with our companions. It turned out that there were several schoolteachersÂ in the bunch, and a couple of people figured out that they had gone toÂ Stephen F. Austin State University together a few decades ago. I couldn't help but think about the unusual nature of this gatheringâ€”total strangers connecting on the side of a road as they enjoyed watching a family of birds.
By the way, the accountant/roadside birder told us that the eagles would probably stay around until at least April or May. If you havenâ€™t made it to the viewing yet, itâ€™s worth a trip.
For my sonâ€™s seventh birthday, we forewent Chuck E Â Cheese, and packed up the car for a San Antonio daytrip. Our main destinationâ€”the San Antonio Zoo, which we had only half-explored when he was three. I visited the zoo many times as a child on summer stays with my grandmother, who, in the interest of preserving my good time, gracefully masked her sadness over the pacing cats and other creatures in tight enclosures.
Fast forward to last Saturday, one of those rare, rain-free days of lateâ€”contented grizzlies snoozed in the sunshine, Lucky the elephant trumpeted (loudly), brilliant lorikeets sucked nectar, then flitted from branch to branch, and blubbery hippos balletically swam in the new Africa Live exhibit. Is it the Alaskan Peninsula? The African savanna? The Australian rainforest? Lake Malawi? None of the above, but the zoo has come a long way. Grandma would be glad.
Check out the March issue of TH, which includes a Speaking of Texas piece on adventurer Frank Buck, for whom Gainesvilleâ€™s zoo is named.Â