Summer's here, and here are sure clues: Long shadows and fireflies. Smokin’ barbecue grills and tinkling ice cubes in tall glasses. The ding-ding-ding of ice-cream trucks and the buzzing of cicadas. Yellow-and-orange lantana spilling over sidewalks. Late-night conversations about sparkling constellations. Butterflies and bees fussing over bodacious blooms. If you need some fresh ideas for staying cool and getting outdoors, keep reading. It’s summertime, and the livin’ is easy.
HONEYSUCKLE, WATERMELON, KETCHUP, chlorine, and Coppertone—all I have to do is smell that winning warm-weather combination, and I’ve gone off the deep end. I’m 10 years old again and ready to jump into the pool. Wanna chill out when the mercury rises? Poolside is the right side. Here are four cool favorites.
Balmorhea State Park, Toyahvale
A TRUE OASIS ON the edge of the Chihuahuan Desert, the two-acre spring-fed pool at Balmorhea State Park glimmers like a jewel in the foothills of the Davis Mountains. Here, you can dive (or cannonball) into the deep end, watch schools of catfish and shimmery Pecos gambusia, and even follow a few turtles as they paddle for cover. Weekends bring big crowds, so if you crave solitude, try a weekday dip. The park itself offers a motel and numerous campsites for overnight stays. Call 432/375-2370; www.tpwd.state.tx.us. (For lodging reservations, call 512/389-8900.)
Barton Springs, Austin
SURE, YOU CAN SWIM IN THIS 1,000-FOOT-long urban oasis when it’s snowing outside (and plenty of folks do), but there’s nothing more rejuvenating than a quick summertime toast on the grassy, pecan-shaded banks, followed by a joyful leap into the emerald, 68-degree spring water. If you have goggles, see if you can spy the crawfish scrounging for supper on the pool’s rocky bottom. (And watch for the dance I like to call the “Barton Springs Shimmy,” which involves half-submerged swimmers nervously wriggling their elbows and shoulders above the icy water.) Call 512/867-3080 or 476-9044; www.ci.Austin.tx.us/parks/bartonsprings.htm.
Krause Springs, Spicewood
WITH A FULL-SIZE SWIMMING POOL AND an idyllic swimming hole shaded by centuries-old cypress trees, Krause Springs proves you can have your cake and eat it, too. In fact, during one visit a few years back, I heard a woman holler down the hillside to her kids: “Do y’all wanna come eat some caaaaake?”—a phrase that has entered my personal phrase-book and now means, roughly, “Let’s have some fun.” Since the 1950s, this family-run park has offered swimmers a spot to cool down. Rope swings, campgrounds, waterfalls, and lush foliage make this a Hill Country paradise. Oh, and the people-watching can’t be beat. Let’s go have some caaaaake. Call 830/693-4181.
Lake Tejas, Colmesneil
EAST TEXAS FOLKS SEARCHING FOR H2O-air-conditioning swear by Lake Tejas, a spring-fed watering spot tucked in the tow-ering East Texas piney woods. The 15-acre lake, which was dug in 1939, offers a large swimming area, diving boards, canoe rentals, a brand-new slide, and lots of campsites. Local folklore says that the lake is shaped like the state, but in truth, it was named for the Tejas Indians, who probably knapped the large arrowhead found during the excavation. Call 409/837-2063 or 837-5757, ext. 100.
MAYBE YOU THINK THE WEATHER’S TOO nice to spend time in a museum? Think again, for you can have your art al fresco at one of Texas’ topnotch sculpture gardens. And, because these outdoor galleries often loosen their rules on touching the artwork, visitors with curious fingers can enjoy a hands-on experience (ask first, of course). Inspired yet? We hope so.
Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum, Austin
NESTLED IN A TREE-SHADED, SIX-ACRE swath of land near Zilker Park and its sparkling Barton Springs Pool, the Umlauf displays more than 130 pieces by the late Charles Umlauf (1911-1994), an internationally known sculptor who taught at the University of Texas for 40 years. Inside the glass-and-stone building, drawings and sculpture tell part of the Umlauf story, but it’s the garden that calls out to outdoors-lovers. Wide gravel paths crisscross the land, birds and insects sing salutations, and ponds dotted with lily pads enchant young and old alike. Some 60 artworks—mostly figures of people and animals—make their homes amid the oaks and cottonwoods. Kids especially enjoy the sculptures they’re encouraged to touch, including Umlauf’s whimsical representations of a hippopotamus and a rhinoceros. It’s easy to imagine them coming to life once the visitors have gone for the day. And indeed, maybe they do. Call 512/445-5582; www.umlaufsculpture.org.
Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas
THE NASHER’S OPENING IN 2003 FULfilled philanthropist Raymond Nasher’s wish to create an outdoor “roofless” museum in honor of his late wife, Patsy. A stunning building, designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, houses approximately 75 works by famous sculptors like Joan Miró and Alberto Giacometti.
Outside, in the Nasher’s acre-and-a-half wooded garden, you’ll find 25 large-scale pieces, modern works that seem to defy gravity, challenge the scope of the materials, and above all, make viewers smile, puzzle, furrow their brows—in short, react. More than 170 trees, including cedar elms, live oaks, weeping willows, and magnolias help create an oasis in the middle of the city. Popular pieces include Richard Serra’s 44-foot-long My Curves Are Not Mad, a pair of “leaning” steel walls that challenge your spatial perception as you walk between them; and Jonathan Borofsky’s grand Walking to the Sky, an 80-foot sculpture fashioned from steel and fiberglass, which depicts figures walking infinitely skyward. Call 214/242-5100; www.nashersculpturecenter.org.
Texas Sculpture Garden, Frisco
IN THIS BURGEONING TOWN NORTH OF Dallas, entrepreneur and arts patron Craig Hall has amassed one of the largest private sculpture collections in the nation. What’s more, it’s open to the public. His Texas Sculpture Garden—located in a four-acre park adjacent to the Hall Office Park—boasts winding footpaths, picnic areas, and numerous water features, plus the intriguing works of more than 40 prominent Texas artists. It’s free to tour the garden. Call 972/377-1100; www.texassculpturegarden.com.
Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden, Houston
TWENTY YEARS AGO, THE MUSEUM OF Fine Arts, Houston, commissioned artist Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988) to create a quiet spot to interact with nature and art. The 25 works on display (which are occasionally rotated to showcase other works) currently include sculptures by Alex-ander Calder, Henri Matisse, Frank Stella, and Joan Miró. Here’s an idea: Visit the garden with your young charges, and then experiment with shapes and forms at home, using clay, glue, and found objects (twigs, acorns, etc.) from around the yard. Call 713/639-7300; www.mfah.org.