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Summer Fun

Are We There Yet?

School’s out for summer! Whether you have kids or not, the calendar practically insists that you take a vacation. So go ahead, get away from it all. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Get Some Perspective!

In San Antonio’s Hemisfair Park, built in 1968 for the San Antonio World’s Fair, the 750-foot-tall Tower of the Americas has helped many lost sightseers orient themselves in the city’s often-confusing streetscape. A restaurant 550 feet up offers upscale food and cocktails (but has a kids’ menu), and an observation deck at 675 feet provides a stunning panoramic view of the Alamo City’s beauty. Call 210/207-8615; www.toweroftheamericas.com.

Some 800 miles west, in El Paso’s Franklin Mountains State Park, you can travel aboard a Swiss-made cable car to the Wyler Observatory, nestled atop Ranger Peak in the gorgeous Franklin Mountains. Here, at 5,632 feet, you can spy not only Texas’ stunning scenery, but also that of New Mex-i-co and Mexico. The Wyler Aerial Tramway is closed Tuesday and Wed-nesday. Call 915/566-6622; www.tpwd.state.tx.us.

Hit the Water!

Whether you’d like to take a leisurely river float via inner tube or ply Texas’ waterways in a kayak or canoe, you’ll find options galore. Here’s a good place to start: www.gopaddle.com, which provides information about canoe, kayak, and tube outfitters across the world. Follow the links to “Texas,” and you’ll find several dozen outfitters, from Kountze to Terlingua. If you’re already a paddlin’ fool and don’t see your favorite river outfitter, send an email to the gopaddle folks, and they’ll make the addition. The Web is a wonderful thing.

Play Swamp Thing!

It’s Cajun Country in Port Arthur and Orange, where the only thing that separates Texas from Louisiana is the picturesque Sabine River, thick with alligators and lush vegetation. If you’d like to experience the Sabine wetlands up close, book a boat tour, and prepare to be awed.

Super Gator Airboat Tours, just west of the Texas Travel Information Center in Orange, offers daytime and evening tours, during which you might see such bayou dwellers as raccoons, turtles, water snakes, and huge alligators living in the lush corridors of willow, tupelo, and cypress. On night rides, the tour director may pick up small gators or frogs so you can view them up close. Later, the animals are released back into the water unharmed. Call 800/241-6390.

Another Orange company, Adventures 2000 +, might be your best choice if you’re exploring the swampland scenery with small kids in tow, as Cap-tain Eli Tate’s small, covered boats have 30-inch-high sides. On leisurely tours of the watery re-cesses, you’ll travel through an old ship graveyard and into a mysterious swamp tunnel, all the while learning about the area’s rich natural history. Call 409/883-0856; www.swampandrivertours.com.

Go Camping!

At the more than 100 parks and historic sites managed by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, you can take your pick of summertime activities. Try these on for size: fishing, hiking, birdwatching, biking, swimming, horseback riding, sand-sledding, Dutch-oven cooking, stone-skipping, or succumbing to a delightful snooze in a hammock, strung between two trees. Ahhhh. Work? Stress?

What’s that? And while sleeping under the stars might prove the ultimate way to unwind, you don’t have to rough it: Many state parks have comfortable (and even air-conditioned) cabins, complete with hot showers and kitchenettes. Call 800/792-1112 for information about Texas’ state park system, or see www.tpwd.state.tx.us for in-depth details (including a downloadable park-information guide and the Web-based version of TPWD’s revamped 112-page Texas State Park Guide). For reservations at a particular park, call 512/389-8900.

Cave In!

It may be hot outside, but it’s cooler underground. Texas boasts seven caves that regularly open to the general public, known in speleological parlance as “show caves.”

Cascade Caverns, near Boerne, is famous for its underground pathways and constant 68-degree temperature (830/755-8080). Also in the area, Cave Without a Name boasts amazing “cave bacon” and “soda straw” formations (830/537-4212; www.cavewithoutaname.com). Natural Bridge Caverns, between New Braunfels and San Antonio (210/651-6101; www.naturalbridgecaverns.com), is the largest show cave in Texas.

Caverns of Sonora, in West Texas, off I-10, stuns visitors with its delicate helictites (325/387-3105; www.cavernsofsonora.com). Wonder Cave, one of Texas’ few tectonic caves, formed during an earthquake along the section of the Balcones Fault zone at San Marcos (512/392-3760; www.wonderworldpark.com). Longhorn Cavern, at Longhorn Cavern State Park, southwest of Burnet, was formed by water dissolving and cutting the limestone bedrock thousands of years ago (830/598-CAVE; www.longhorncaverns.com). And last but not least, visit Inner Space Cavern, in Georgetown, discovered in 1963 (512/931-2283; www.innerspace.com). For an international guide to show caves throughout the world, see www.showcaves.com.

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From the May 2005 issue.

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