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The Color Inside

Written by | Published October 25, 2013

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 © 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

Tee Pee Dreaming!

Written by | Published October 18, 2013

Wharton's Tee Pee Motel, photo by Lori Moffatt Wharton's Tee Pee Motel (Photo © 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, 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.

With the reopening of the federal government, Guadalupe Mountains National Park is open to visitors in time for its colorful fall foliage season. As of this week, the park’s bigtooth maples are still green and the colors are still to come.Study Tour, Guadalupe Mtns St Pk

As part of its 15th anniversary celebration, the Texas Forts Trail Region has launched a passport program to encourage visitors to explore various museums, historic forts, and other sites across West-Central Texas.

Austin City Limits Music Festival, Take Two

Written by | Published October 9, 2013


With nearly the same lineup playing through two weekends this year (Oct. 4-6 and Oct. 11-13), the Austin City Limits Music Festival offers a rare chance to offer some first-hand recommendations for what to do at an event that’s usually a one-time-only experience. While I didn’t get to see all (or even most) of the 130-plus acts on the festival’s eight stages last weekend, there are a lot of things I’d do or see again--and maybe a few things I'd do differently.

Among the headliners, Depeche Mode (Friday) and The Cure (Saturday) both stand out as long-running acts that are holding up to the test of time. The same can be said for Lionel Richie, although I skipped most of his Sunday night spot in favor of seeing Atoms for Peace, which delivered a two-hour blast of high-energy rock that kept the crowd moving. If '80s music isn’t your thing, British rockers Muse can put on a great arena-rock show (which I saw when they played ACL Fest in 2011), and Wilco fans will want to see their Saturday night performance, which might be the last one the band plays together for a while before frontman Jeff Tweedy embarks on a solo tour.  

Getting around

Navigating the festival seemed slightly easier than in years past, despite the sellout crowd estimated to peak at 70,000 people. Arriving by bike, I was able to skip the lines for shuttle buses to and from downtown, lock up my ride right across the street from the main gates and get right to enjoying the event.

I grubbed in the Austin Eats food area all three days and rarely had to stand in a line, coming away with some delicious dishes I’d be happy to eat even if I wasn’t a captive audience—bahn mi pork belly tacos from The Peached Tortilla, brisket tacos from Stubbs, cookies from Tiff’s Treats, savory street corn from La Condesa and curry chicken from Lambas Royal Indian Foods were all tasty and all local. Perhaps best of all, I could cruise the menus (and prices) of all 35 food vendors without wandering the food stalls using the official ACL Fest phone app.

The addition of a craft beer tent--featuring a selection of 15 I.P.A.s, ciders, wheat beers and more on tap--opens up the options for folks who want to relax and have a ($8) drink  in a shady spot. The tent also has a large television screen, so if you want to keep up with the Texas-OU game this weekend, you can do it there.

As long as you plan to eat and visit the bathrooms sometime before 6 p.m., you should be able to make it through the headliner performances without too much hassle. The free water refill stations are generally easy to access, except when a show on a nearby stage has just ended. Around 7 p.m., the lines for everything get longer (30+ minutes for a bathroom), so plan (and drink!) accordingly. And invest in some hand sanitizer.

Music picks for Weekend Two

My other musical favorites from Weekend One include HAIM and MS MR (both of whom rock a live show harder than their ‘80s-pop-flavored albums), Local Natives, Neko Case, Passion Pit and Tame Impala (though they would have benefitted from more volume and a bigger stage considering the crowd they attracted). Austin bands that got their time to shine on the festival stages included White Denim, The Bright Light Social Hour and Shinyribs (who was only playing the first weekend). I had to miss Asleep at the Wheel, Dawes, Wild Feathers, The Shouting Matches, Arctic Monkeys, Phoenix and a few others that would have been worth checking out. If you’re planning what to see on Weekend Two, my picks include:

  • Friday: Sons of Fathers, Court Yard Hounds, Shovels & Rope, Electric Six, Local Natives, The Black Angels, Arctic Monkeys, Depeche Mode
  • Saturday: Whiskey Shivers, HAIM, Silversun Pickups, Shakey Graves, Grimes, The Bright Light Social Hour, The Shouting Matches, Passion Pit, The Cure
  • Sunday: The Band of Heathens, MS MR, The McCrary Sisters, Wild Feathers, Franz Ferdinand, Divine Fits, White Denim, Tame Impala, Phoenix, Neko Case, Atoms for Peace

If you go...

If you’re heading to the festival this weekend, be sure to check out Jane Wu's tips on what to bring—the poncho may be especially important this Saturday and Sunday, according to weather forecasts. Sunscreen also is a must, but make sure it's the squeeze-bottle kind--aerosol sunscreen spray was being confiscated at the gate. I’d also add that you should turn off your cell phone’s data connection if you’re not using it or expecting a call/text. Being in a small area with so many people means poor reception, and your phone will be draining its batteries by constantly trying to get a signal (and there are no cell charging stations at the festival this year).

And of course, let us know what you see and hear! Comment below or share on our Facebook page.

In the December 2013 issue, we’re running a story on San Antonio’s annual Tamales! Festival, which takes place this year on December 7 at the former Pearl Brewery complex, a 22-acre site that now boasts restaurants, shops, apartments, and—soon!—a boutique hotel. With free admission, free parking, and more than 40 vendors offering treats ranging from tamales to kettle corn, Tamales! is a great kick-off to the December holidays. I attended the event last year in preparation for this year’s story, but first—to get an idea of the hard work involved in making tamales—I attended a tamales-making workshop at the Witte Museum hosted by longtime tamales queen Gloria Solis.

One possible silver lining to the partial shutdown of the federal government: The closure of Big Bend National Park has created a welcome influx of visitors at Big Bend Ranch State Park.

ACL Fest x2—Get Ready!

Written by | Published October 2, 2013

acl2010 aerial1-300x199

The Austin City Limits Festival kicks off the first of two weekends for the very first time on Friday, October 4. With two weekends filled with nearly identical music lineups, will it be as crowded, more crowded, or—wishful thinking—slightly less crowded?

Shutdown closes national parks, sites in Texas

Written by | Published October 1, 2013

If you're planning a trip to one of the national parks or other federal sites in Texas, you'll want to take note of the ongoing shutdown of the federal government.

Art branches out on Austin's Lady Bird Lake

Written by | Published October 1, 2013


If you visit downtown Austin this fall, you might wonder "why is there a big, white tree hovering over the water?"


History, Alive!

Written by | Published September 27, 2013

It seems like ages ago: In 2008, I had the pleasure of editing Tom and Karen Fort’s story on the golden age of Rio Grande steamboating, which appeared in the July issue that year. Tom contributes another piece to Texas Highways this month (December 2013)—a piece on the Rio Grande Valley’s Civil War sites, and as I was chatting about the story with my colleague Matt Joyce, I remembered what a great resource historian Jerry Thompson was to us. A professor of history at Texas A &M University in Laredo, Thompson writes about the tumultuous pre-and post-Civil War decades along the Rio Grande with humor, compassion, and clarity.  For anyone wishing to study the period, I highly recommend two of Thompson’s books, A Wild and Vivid Land: An Illustrated History of the South Texas Border and Civil War and Revolution on the Rio Grande Frontier: A Narrative and Photographic History (co-written with Lawrence T. Jones III).


Updated Digs for Big Texas

Written by | Published September 26, 2013


Last year’s State Fair of Texas cliffhanger was an electrical fire that damaged the iconic Big Tex. As the State Fair opens this year, visitors will see that you can’t take a Big Tex down, plus he’ll have a revamped station.

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