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Written by Lori Moffatt

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 © 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.

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 www.turrell.utexas.edu.

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.

According to weather forecasts, cooler temperatures arrive in Central Texas this weekend. While it won't be quite sweater weather, these projected 80-degree days most definitely foreshadow fall and fall festival season in Texas. What are you waiting for?

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).

 

I know it sounds crazy to drink hot chocolate when the temperature is still regularly above 90 degrees. But on a recent trip to Houston, I couldn't resist the chocolate confection with chocolate made in-house from cocoa beans imported from Oaxaca at Hugo's, which serves its frothy cup with fresh, hot Mexican churros. Look for our story on Hugo's and its terrific hot chocolate in the Drink section of the December issue. Until then, do you know of any other spots in Texas that serve amazing hot chocolate?

Hot Chocolate at Hugo's, with ice cream and churros; Photo by Lori Moffatt Hot Chocolate at Hugo's, with ice cream and churros; Photo by Lori Moffatt

I recently made the short drive from Austin to Elgin, a town about 25 miles east of the city via US 290. I’d heard about a new wine bar and home décor shop on the town’s historic downtown strip, and I realized: While I frequently pass through Elgin on my way to Houston, I’d never really explored the town except to stop for barbecue at Southside Market or Meyer’s.

Suited up for hive inspection. (Photo by Lori Moffatt)

As a kid, I briefly wanted to be an entomologist. This career choice never received full support from my parents, who probably realized that the jars of fireflies and boxes of desiccated beetles that brought me such joy one summer would eventually gather dust in the garage beside the rock polisher.

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