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Written by Texas Highways

Historic Sengelmann Hall's reopening revitalizes Schulenburg

After a 70-year hiatus, ,this community landmark once again draws revelers from miles around. (Photo by J . Griffis Smith)

By Danté Dominick

It’s easy to believe the rolling countryside around Schulenburg doesn’t look a whole lot different than it did in horse-and-buggy days. But make your way to Schulenburg any weekend, and you’ll have to look a little harder than in years past to find a parking spot in the historic downtown area. People come from surrounding counties, as well as Victoria, Austin, Houston, and San Antonio. They come ... to dance.  

They’re dancing on the same majestic dance floor that Schulenburg residents did more than a century ago: the 115-year-old longleaf pine of Sengelmann Hall. The upstairs dance hall in this resplendent, two-story building had gone the way of Miss Havisham’s mansion, filled with cobwebs, peeling paint, and even party debris from its last hurrah nearly 70 years ago. But, of course, this isn’t a story of last hurrahs.

First constructed in the late 1870s, then rebuilt in 1894 after a devastating fire, Sengelmann Hall had been closed since the early 1940s until it underwent restoration and reopened to a packed house in June 2009. Today, Sengelmann Hall hums with a vibrant energy as tangible as its stately brick walls. Family-style seating keeps the street-level dining room and saloon alive with banter Thursday through Sunday. To see the crown jewel—the actual dance hall—go through the inviting beer garden and head upstairs, where precious little has been altered. Nationally touring bands from throughout Texas (especially Austin) motivate hundreds of dancers around the spacious room. Young lovers two-step alongside couples who have been married for decades. The two groups smile at each other; love is not a generational thing.

On the dance floor, young lovers two-step alongside couples who have been married for decades.

Two-step country, Western Swing, and even Louisiana boogie enliven Friday and Saturday nights. On Thursday nights, honky-tonk piano man Earl Poole Ball, who played with Johnny Cash for more than 20 years, has a weekly gig in the dining room. Sunday afternoons are reserved for polka.

The lower level of Sengelmann Hall serves as a saloon and restaurant, where “pul-a-pul” cuisine is on tap; the actual dance hall is upstairs.  (Photo by J. Griffis Smith)Every aspect of Sengelmann Hall, in fact, embraces this region’s Czech and German heritage, as well as owner Dana Harper’s family heritage. His great-great-great-great-grandparents, Charles and Wilhelmina Kessler, were among the earliest settlers, arriving in the 1850s. Their granddaughter, Lillie Cranz, met Harper’s great-great-grandfather, oil wildcatter and Houston philanthropist Hugh Roy Cullen, in Schulenburg, where the two most certainly danced a night or two away.

While Harper went to great lengths during the restoration to preserve the original structure, the spiritual rejuvenation of the space received equal care. “It’s a Texas cultural legacy we’ve been handed,” says Harper. “This whole place is about tradition and roots, from the food to the drinks to the architecture, the music … and family.”

Steve Dean, former manager of the dance hall, finds the family aspect especially fascinating. Dean is cofounder of the nonprofit Texas Dance Hall Preservation ( and has spent six years researching Texas dance hall history. “Back in the old days, you’d get four generations in the dance hall,” Dean says. “They even had sleeping rooms sometimes where you could put the babies down.”

Dean’s exuberance in bringing this way of life back to life represents the feelings of all who are involved with the project. The everybody-knows-everybody chain of small-town life steered the quest for a high-caliber chef to Schulenburger Kenny Kopecky, who flourished for seven years at restaurants in Austin and Houston.

Kopecky collaborated on the Sengelmann Hall menu with Harper’s wife, Hana Hillerova Harper, a native of Prague. The resulting cuisine has been dubbed “pul-a-pul,” Czech for half-and-half—a nod to its Czech and German influences. Hillerova family recipes featured on the menu include the topinka (an appetizer made with homemade rye bread, skillet-toasted in duck fat, and spread with garlic paste), potato pancakes, a hearty goulash, and duck with bacon dumplings.

'It’s a Texas cultural legacy we’ve been handed. This whole place is about tradition and roots, from the food to the drinks to the architecture, the music … and family.'

And while Sengelmann Hall itself warrants a trip to Schulenburg, this cultural treasure-trove awaits further exploration. Scenic, two-lane byways spoke out from Schulenburg with tiny, unincorporated communities popping up about every 15 minutes. The “Painted Churches” in these mostly Czech communities have been Fayette County’s calling card of sorts; they were even the subject of a PBS documentary in 2001. The buildings appear to be simple, country churches on the out­side, but an explosion of ornate color adorns the interiors, with murals covering every inch of wall and ceiling space. A guided tour from Schulenburg visits four of the churches, and several more lie nearby. Any local will gladly give you directions.

Though not on the official tour, one of the churches sits peacefully nestled in Moravia, 10 miles southwest of Schulenburg, where you’ll also find the Moravia Store. Here you can enjoy the other staple of early Czech life: beer. To say the friendly watering hole, built in 1889, has some character is like saying Texas has some cows—an understatement. There’s dancing every Saturday night, but chatting with the amiable locals provides sufficient cause for a visit any weekday.

Schulenburg offers a number of B&Bs and hotels, but in keeping with the historic theme, check out the Texana Trails and Lodge in Hostyn, about 15 minutes north of Schulenburg. The land is delicately dotted with Spanish and pin oak trees, though it was almost crowded with legislators and lobbyists. One of the lodgings—the ca. 1835 Historic Stonehouse—displays a Texas Historical Marker that reads, “In 1838, the Republic of Texas Congress voted to buy this land and the adjoining [league] as a location for the new capital, to be named ‘Austin.’ But President Sam Houston vetoed the bill.” You can learn more from Texana Trails’ owner, Lennie Brown, the great-granddaughter of the statesman who proposed this site for the capital.    

Brown has noticed an increase in travelers since Sengelmann Hall opened, an observation echoed by several Schulenburg business owners. More importantly, the project seems to have injected a revitalized spirit, one that is spreading. The Texas Polka Music Museum will open in early 2010, as will the reinvigorated Schulenburg Historical Museum, which showcases town history and Native American artifacts.

While most of the interstate traffic continues to whiz by, more and more people are taking the time to discover that Schulenburg is not only a halfway point between Houston and San An­­tonio—it’s a bridge between two eras.

An outlaw's nemesis (and a snappy dresser, too)

Manuel My God, boys! It’s the Lone Wolf! Let’s scram!” In the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s, those words echoed from Borger to Brownsville whenever wrong-doers caught sight of fabled Texas Ranger Manuel Trazazas “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas. Born in Cádiz, Spain, on July 4, 1891, to parents who were naturalized U.S. citizens, Gonzaullas became the first Ranger Captain of Hispanic ancestry.

Manuel dreamed of wearing the star growing up in El Paso, where he was awestruck by the sight of legendary Ranger John R. Hughes, the “Border Boss,” on horseback. That early desire to fight lawlessness was further inflamed as a teenager, when bandits killed his two brothers and wounded his parents. After stints in the Mexican army and the United States Treasury Department, Gonzaullas took the Ranger oath on October 1, 1920.

Assigned to clean up crime in the North Texas oil fields, it wasn’t long before Gonzaullas attained his nickname. The first known printed reference to his handle appeared in the Wichita Falls Daily Times on December 29, 1920. “Ranger Gonzaullas,” reported the paper, “who is known throughout the oil fields where he has been on duty as ‘Lone Wolf,’ was recognized by at least a dozen characters ... who approached him and said they were leaving for other places immediately.”

Lone Wolf’s presence inspired a similar exodus from other problem areas. Cool under fire and an excellent marksman, the Ranger arrested so many bootleggers, gambling operators, thugs and killers that he often had to improvise jail facilities. In Borger, outlaws and crooked cops alike were chained to a stout device that Lone Wolf called the “snortin’ pole.” In wide-open Kilgore, criminals were hooked to a massive chain called the “trotline.”

In addition to patrolling the oil fields, Gonzaullas’ long tenure included work on almost every headline-making case of the day. He hunted for the bank robbers—one of whom was dressed as Santa Claus—who shot up Cisco in December 1927. He was on hand for the “War of the Bridges” in 1931, when Oklahoma Governor William H. “Alfalfa Bill” Murray declared martial law at a newly built free bridge intended to replace an adjacent toll bridge. In 1947, armed guards and a state-of-the-art electrical warning system that protected illegal gambling at Arlington’s Top O’ Hill Terrace casino proved no match for Lone Wolf.

When Miriam Ferguson recaptured the governor’s office in 1933, she discharged many Rangers, including Lone Wolf. The Legislature then removed the Rangers from the governor’s jurisdiction and placed the agency under the control of the newly created Department of Public Safety. Reinstated, Gonzaullas became superintendent of the DPS Bureau of Intelligence. As an early advocate of forensics, Lone Wolf introduced the Rangers to ballistics, paraffin tests and other crime-fighting techniques.

El Lobo Solo was also admired for his sartorial showmanship. In Kilgore, for instance, he kept extra boots brilliantly shined so that he’d always have a fresh pair if he stepped in the omnipresent boom-town mud. The shootin’ irons in Lone Wolf’s hand-tooled holsters were intricately inlaid with gold.

It’s perhaps fitting, then, that after retiring from the Rangers in 1951, he spent five years as a consultant for Hollywood shoot-’em-ups. He had a business interest in the radio and television series Tales of the Texas Rangers, and exercised final approval of all scripts to ensure authenticity. After all, what Los Angeles scriptwriter would dare tangle with a man called “Lone Wolf” who could honestly remark, “I went into lots of fights by myself, and I came out by myself, too!”

Granbury weekend combines sumptuous lodging, architecture

By Charles Lohrmann

The monument to Confederate General H.B. Granbury stands guard at the Hood County Courthouse. (Photo by Charles Lohrmann)Granbury’s location, less than an hour’s drive southwest of Fort Worth on US 377, makes the town an easy weekend destination for Metroplex denizens. And because Granbury lies within another half hour’s drive of Glen Rose, Hico, and scenic driving tours, the town draws travelers from farther afield for a longer visit.

I’m typically more interested in Granbury’s historic district than the outdoors activities offered by Lake Granbury, so a late-spring invitation to speak at a writers’ conference had me anticipating a drive through Clifton, Meridian, and Walnut Springs.

The conference, called Writing Down the Brazos, is sponsored by the Dora Lee Langdon  Cultural and Educational Center, an outreach facility of Tarleton State University. The two-story, columned, Victorian house that now serves as The Langdon Center’s office had long attracted my attention because of its unexpectedly abbreviated dimensions. The house seems too tall for its depth, and I assumed it was constructed according to an unusual Greek Revival design.

When I asked Langdon Center Director Janice Horak about the house, she explained that descendents of the original owners implemented a radical form of downsizing by literally reducing the footprint of their rambling house. They sliced off the back half and rebuilt the front section, creating a visually memorable result. The building, named The Gordon House for its original owner, now anchors a five-building, city-block compound near Granbury’s courthouse square.

Before arriving at the welcoming reception in the Gordon House on Friday afternoon, I have a few minutes to check in to the Iron Horse Inn B&B, where I’ll spend two nights. Owner and host Therese Martin, who operates the B&B with her husband, Paul, guided me on a quick tour of the two-story building, one of the larger historic homes in Granbury. Each of the spacious rooms, sumptuous--ly ap-pointed, connects to a private bath. I settle into the two-room Cogdell Suite, named for the house’s original owner, Granbury banker and businessman Daniel Cogdell.

By the time the conference’s networking reception winds down that evening, a surprisingly blustery cold front has chilled the air. I notice that, in the brisk wind, a scattering of early daffodils around town seem to shiver as if they’ve forgotten their jackets. I join a group of my conference friends and walk the two blocks to Stringfellow’s restaurant on one corner of the square. A traditional menu here includes steak au poivre, a personal favorite. Our crowd quickly warms the room with lively conversation. In a few minutes, Stringfellow’s owner Dianne Rawls Davis joins us to share observations about local lore that suggests John Wilkes Booth survived attempts on his life after the Lincoln assassination and took up residence in Granbury as a barten-der, living under the name John St. Helen. 

The conference starts early on Saturday, but Therese Martin breaks the Iron Horse Inn house rule of 9 a.m. breakfast to construct an omelette. After breakfast, I start a meandering drive through the center of Granbury, detouring to take a look at the new convention cen-ter with its near-by beach, des-igned to entice warm-weath--er visitors to take a dip. A few Canada geese have drifted into town with the cold front, and they’re well-suited to the frosty temperatures. I can’t help noting the irony of a literary con-ference near Lake Gran--bury because the lake is the result of the very dam that John Graves lamented when he made his 1957 canoe trip on the Brazos. That trip culminated in the Texas literary classic Goodbye to a River.

After the morning’s session, we break for lunch at the Inn on Lake Granbury, an eight-room bed and breakfast sited on well-tended grounds that feature a flagstone-lined pool. A capacious meeting space accommodates our group, and while the lunch arrangements are completed, there’s time for  a stroll around the grounds. From the property’s edge, I enjoy a sunny view across the lake to Comanche Peak, the prominent geographic and historical landmark. After the salad, sandwiches, and dessert, Inn on Lake Granbury owners Cathy Casey and Jim Leitch offer a tour of the property along with a glimpse at a couple of the luxurious rooms. The owners explain that the Langdon Center also sponsors cooking classes each month in the same meeting room where our group dines.

Later that afternoon, we have more free time and, willing to challenge the gusty wind, I visit the Hood County Courthouse. The Historic Nutt House Hotel anchors one corner of the square and invites folks in. I browse through a bookstore and an antiques shop, and am tempted to stop in to D’vine Wine and take advantage of the proprietors’ offer of a tasting, but I have one more session left at the conference and the timing is not propitious. A sign on The Downtown Store assures me “there’s something for everyone,” but I’ll have to take a rain check on fulfilling that promise.

After the conference, I have a few minutes to relax on the porch of the Iron Horse Inn, where Paul Martin offers a glass of wine and I quiz him about his career in the U.S. State Department. As he describes posts in Italy, Russia, and Africa, I wonder if the quiet life of a B&B owner will hold his interest. He assures me he’s had enough of armored cars, fenced compounds, and security guards, and that he prefers the peaceful side streets of Granbury.

Sunday morning: Time for a visit to the square. The main highways around town are heavily trafficked, but the old town is quiet. A hand-lettered chalkboard outside The Nutshell Bakery announces blueberry pancakes, but I decide to wait for breakfast at the Iron Horse. At the breakfast table, I chat with Elise and Paul Porras of Arlington, who are celebrating their anniversary. They’re on their way to Dublin, 40 miles away, to stock up on the original-recipe Dr Pepper. That’s something I could do on the way home.

Beaumont’s former red-light district

The Crocket Street district offers restaurants, nightclubs and a dance hall. (Photo by Stan Williams)When oil was dis-covered on the outskirts of Beaumont in 1901, fortune-seekers of all stripes flocked to town to do business with the exploding popu-lation. Today, some 45 structures—most built between 1901 and 1940—near downtown Beaumont contribute to the town’s restored National Register District. Here, you’ll find attractions such as the Jefferson Theatre, the Barking Dog Coffee Lounge, Suga’s Deep South Cuisine & Jazz Bar, and the Quality Café, a restaurant that dates to the 1920s.

Among the oldest buildings in the district is the former Dixie Hotel, home of madam Rita Ainsworth’s notorious bordello, which was finally shuttered in 1961 by the James Commission. Reinvented as the Dixie Dance Hall, the building today anchors Beaumont’s Crockett Street Entertainment District, where restaurants and bars draw an eclectic crowd.

“We’re kind of progressive,” says Dixie manager Billy Lynch. “We’ll play the ‘Cotton-Eyed Joe’ and then go straight into ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’ by Def Leppard or something by Lady Gaga.”

The former red-light district still kindles Beaumont’s nightlife.   

—Lori Moffatt

See related: I 'Heart' Beaumont: It's Easy to Gush About This Friendly City in Southeast Texas

Senior Editor Lori Moffatt talks to Beaumont bakery owner Jake Tortorice about cake, vintage mixers, and Sicilian tradition.

“If you meet an Italian in the Golden Triangle, “says Jake Tortorice, owner of the small chain of Rao’s bakeries in Beaumont and southeast Houston, “I bet you a dollar to a doughnut that they’ll be Sicilian. I can tell you. I am 100 percent Sicilian. Both of my grandparents grew up in Sicily and came over in their teens. In the early 1900s, you know, a lot of Sicilians came through Ellis Island, but a lot also came through New Orleans and ended up here. Someone would come over, and write back about the opportunities.

“I grew up here in Beaumont, about five blocks from this place [the original Rao’s, on Calder Avenue], but I love going to the big cities. I pick up a lot of ideas for new items. I still have cousins in Sicily, so when I visit them, I load up on pastry items and take a camera.

“The man who started Rao’s was Italian, too. Johnny Rao. He was working at the commissary at the Magnolia–now Exxon-Mobil–at the port.  That was the first refinery here. So he was baking, and doing cookies and pastries and things like that, and his coworkers said, ‘Johnny, you need to do this on your own.’ So in 1941, he leased this building. His wife, Helen, worked with him. It was in the family until 1998, when the Rao family approached me.  I said I’d try it.

 “When I bought Rao’s, some people here had never heard of gelato. But now people come in for it special. But we won’t make money on gelato and coffee. The reason we can have them is our cakes. We sell 30-40 a day at our Calder store alone. We can do cakes all day long. In the old days, they had probably eight or nine selections, but now, we can make 50 different kinds. As long as we have a decorator in the house, we can knock one out in a few hours.

“We have an old mixer from 1941 that we use to make icings—that’s easy on it. We also have an old Middleby Marshall oven. Every day we make the sign of the cross that it cranks up."

Photo by Stan WilliamsYou’re gonna love it in Lamar County. Très magnifique!

The 1877-era sailing ship Elissa lost only one sail during Hurricane  Ike's rampage through Galveston. (Photo courtesy of Galveston Historical Foundation)By Charles Lohrmann

Against the backdrop of the ghastly destruction that Hurricane Ike dealt to Galveston Island in September 2008, a single lost sail—even on an historic ship—seems like modest punishment. In fact, such a shred of not-so-bad news paints a silver lining on the cloud of the overall grim storm situation. In this case, the subsequent repair project for Galveston’s 1877-vintage sailing ship Elissa grew into a hopeful sign: a symbolic rebirth.

 Certainly the members of the Galveston Historical Foundation, the organization that owns and cares for Elissa, held their collective breath after the storm as they waited to determine how seriously the wind and water had attacked Elissa. Dwayne Jones, executive director of the GHF, explains, “After the storm, it was several days before we could get in and assess the damage. Basically, the special hurricane moorings held as they should and Elissa did what she was supposed to do, which is rise and fall with the water level. She survived the storm relatively unscathed.”

But even a single sail can be a major undertaking. A nationally recognized sailmaker, Jim Brink, who sewed the original suit of sails for the Elissa more than 20 years ago (and consulted on all three films in the Pirates of the Caribbean series), was called in to work on the replacement sail. Brink pieced the fabric together on the floor of the ballroom in another GHF property, Ashton Villa. Once assembled in the correct shape, the sail was moved over to the Seaport Museum where the seams were sewn on a machine in the auditorium.

But such expertise as Brink’s isn’t without strings attached. Funds had to be raised. To address the challenge, Jones explains, “All the volunteers, people who train to sail the Elissa—and there are several  hundred of those—actually raised the money to pay for the sail themselves.”

Longtime Elissa volunteer John Moran of Houston explains, “Repairing the sail damage cost about $6,000, and volunteers raised more than $5,000 of that with a gumbo dinner benefit.” He adds, “Elissa fared much better than anyplace else on the island during the storm. She broke some stern lines, and flying debris damaged the rigging.”

The sail restoration project took on a symbolic importance to the rejuvenation of the island. Jones says, “I told them every day, ‘The Elissa is a symbol of survival; she’s a symbol of rebirth.’”


Pitch in for Galveston

Make community service part of your vacation getaway.
If you’re inclined to act on your social conscience, or if you just want to learn more of the behind-the-scenes in-formation about Galveston’s most historic properties, contact the Galveston Historical Foundation and perform some community service on your visit, whether it’s volunteering at a major event or performing maintenance and repairs at a site. The Tremont House offers a special package for GHF volunteers, and the Galvez does the same.
Elissa volunteer Jim Moran explains, “We always welcome volunteers, both on weekends and during the week. There’s plenty to do, whether it’s on ship maintenance or on the site of the museum itself.”
As with many of the public service projects in Galveston, special skills are not required to volunteer for the Elissa. “The only absolute requirement is enthusiasm,” Moran says, “but you don’t have to stay on the boat too long before you simply fall in love with it.”
And there might be an exciting payoff: Volunteers who work at least 65 hours can become eligible to serve as crew on the Elissa for one of the short sailing trips in the spring.
For volunteering opportunities in Galveston, visit the Galveston Historical Foundation at, or Help 4 Galveston at

—Charles Lohrmann

Galveston Island is 50 miles southeast of Houston. To plan a visit, contact:

Note that Galveston Island State Park is open weekends for day-use only on the bay side of the park.

By Mike Price

I am hooked on fishing. I like the challenge of figuring out where to cast a line, the methodical nature of preparing my equipment and baiting a hook, the meditative quality of waiting and watching for that telltale jerk on the rod that tells me, “Game’s on!” For me, there are few better ways to enjoy a beautiful day outdoors than fishing. And while I relish the sport’s solitary pleasures, I also find that fishing is a superb activity to share.

And so it was that on a recent Sunday afternoon, my wife, Janet, and I drove along the beach at Matagorda, returning home from a pleasant day of kayak-fishing in East Matagorda Bay. I noticed a scenario that made my smile even wider. At the surf line, a man proudly held a speckled trout more than two feet long, and his family was gathered around; his little girl was even hopping up and down. Now, this was a trout any seasoned fisherman would have been proud of, and my curiosity got the best of me. This was one fishing tale I wanted to hear.

Turns out that Mac Mayo, his wife, Theresa, and their daughter Marifrances had driven down from Kingwood to enjoy the beach and perhaps catch dinner. Mac, a longtime angler, knew what he was doing with light tackle: He had put a shrimp on a hook rigged above a weight, and then cast the bait into a trough that formed between sand bars. Next, he anchored the rod and reel into a short piece of PVC pipe pounded into the sand. Twelve-year-old Marifrances was closest to the rod when it bowed and the reel screamed. She pulled the rod out of the PVC pipe and managed to hold on while the fish made a run for it. Her dad urged her to be patient, and eventually the trout grew tired and she was able to reel it in. The Mayos didn’t have a camera, so I snapped some photos and promised to send them. I knew Marifrances would want to show off her big catch.

That incident reminded me of the first large redfish I had ever caught with light tackle. I was fishing at Christmas Bay, south of Galveston, in 2000 when I saw a splash on the shoreline and cast my lure toward the commotion. The fish pounced and took off, its power reverberating through the line and into my arm. After I wrestled that fish ashore (a two-foot redfish is a strong fish), I started fishing two or three times a week, studying technique, and reading about fish biology and behavior. I’ve concluded that fishing can be simplified if you know what bait to use and how to rig it, if you fish in fairly clear water (even better if it’s moving), and if you cast your bait around structures of some sort.

When I go to an unfamiliar coastal area, I stop by a tackle store and purchase a fishing map. These maps show the topography of the bays and indicate where you’re likely to find different species of fish. (The three most sought-after fish in the bays and surf are speckled trout, flounder, and redfish, which are also called red drum.) I select a spot to fish based on the same conditions fish look for when they pick a place to feed: the presence of prey and the water clarity to see it. Structures like oyster reefs, submerged objects, and areas of submerged or exposed grass are places where crabs, shrimp, and bait fish congregate to feed and hide from predators. The big fish go there to eat the little fish; I’ll go there to catch the big fish.

The best days and times to go fishing are when the tide is moving in or out, as predator fish are more likely to feed in moving water. Here’s why: The current moves small fish, crabs, and shrimp away from their protection in grass and oyster reefs, and predat-or fish position them---selves here to catch them.

If you’re purchasing new tackle and don’t understand how to rig the line or attach a lure to a hook, ask the salesperson to demonstrate. If a soft plastic lure is not put on the hook properly, the fish won’t eat it because it does not “swim” like a minnow. Other lures shimmer like desirable prey fish, make noises that at-tract predators, or resemble wounded mullet.

I consider wind and tide when selecting a place to fish, too. Wind makes water move in a circle, stirring up the bottom and mixing mud or sand into the water. This reduces visibility, which means that fish will have trouble spotting my bait. So I pick a fishing spot that is protected from wind by land.

The ideal water visibility for using artificial lures is from 12 to 18 inches, and the best water color is green. In these conditions, a fish can see your bait (natural or artificial), but not so well that it can tell that an artificial lure is not the real thing. When the water is very clear, try live shrimp or minnows, as some fish will pass on an artificial lure. Dead shrimp work in murky water because predator fish are attracted by smell.

Learning to think like a fish can yield a large return in fishing fun.

Gulf Coast Fishing Spots

Tops on my list include Galveston Island State Park and Sea Wolf State Park; the jetties at Galveston, Freeport, and Port Aransas; and piers at Matagorda, Port O’Connor, Port Aransas, Corpus Christi, and Port Isabel. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Web site provides details about fishing licenses (available online and at some 1,700 locations statewide), as well as information on many of the above sites.

A flock of seagulls awaits dinner. (Photo by Kevin Stillman)Beach-seekers setting their sights this summer on Florida, California, Mexico, or beyond might instead consider staying in Texas to explore the sparkly stretch of South Padre Island. The simple pleasures that attracted visitors decades ago still remain: miles of white-sand beaches to explore, birds to observe and fish to catch, twinkling stars in a dark night sky, the hypnotizing sound of the surf. And for ecotourists, SPI offers dolphin-watching and birding excursions, the chance to see (and help conserve) endangered turtles, and tours of The University of Texas-Pan American’s Coastal Studies Lab, where you can study the marine life of the Laguna Madre.
But you’ll also find everything from glitzy nightlife and boutique shopping to fine dining and luxurious spas. Put these three activities on your SPI agenda and revel in the fact that Texas does, indeed, have it all: one, a snorkeling excursion (a three-hour jaunt into the Laguna Madre estuary reveals the curious activities of stingrays, gar, jellyfish, shrimp, eels, and dozens of other creatures); two, sandcastle lessons (learn to make elaborate spires and turrets from the pros); three, parasailing (tethered to a parachute and towed by speedboat, fly 600 feet over the Gulf of Mexico).
And, of course, many treats on SPI are still free or cost less than $5: Drop a line at Isla Blanca Park, tour the historic Port Isabel Lighthouse, and watch Friday-night fireworks explode over the bay. For more about South Padre, see www.sopadrecom.

—Lori Moffatt

Adventure and relaxation meet at Cibolo Creek. Photo by J. Griffis Smith)Halfway between Marfa and Presidio, with-in the spectacular Chihuahuan Desert and the Chinati and Cuesta del Burro mountains’ Cinemascope landscape, the 30,000-acre Cibolo Creek Ranch awaits. This elite enclave’s mile-high environment and amenities provide a memorably relaxing escape, with impeccable, understated service.
The historic ranch offers adventure (hiking, fishing, ATVs, and horseback riding); serenity (at the beautiful pool or inviting courtyard, within the solitude of the library, or throughout the vast ranch property); fine dining (cutting-edge cuisine from talented chefs);  and accommodations with a stylish, classic Nuevo Southwestern vibe. The attentive staff can arrange daytrips to nearby McDonald Observatory, the Chinati Foundation, historic Fort Leaton, and even excursions into Mexico. While you’re here, you’ll feel like a movie star or rock star, Zane Grey or Dale Evans, bon vivant or supermodel, chic Western legend in a pearl-snap shirt, or simply one lucky Texan. Call 866/496-9460;


—Marty Lange

Robert Earl Keen (Photo by Darren Carroll)

One of the first things you notice about Robert Earl Keen is that he talks the way he writes. The balladeer—whose iconic song “The Road Goes On Forever” marks its 20th anniversary this year—is sitting under a tree outside The Zone recording studio in Dripping Springs, some 100 miles east of his home near Kerrville. The wind’s whipping, the sun’s shining, and he’s reflecting on life, how good it is, and about the good, big year he’s living. As he talks, he spins yarns in his innately cadenced way, unfurling narrative as he goes.

Bluebonnet. Photo copyright: Rick TolarCelebrate National Wildflower Week, May 3-10, at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. In partnership with Texas Highways, the Wildflower Center's Visitors’ Gallery will feature an exhibit of Rick Tolar’s wildflower photography (one of his images is shown at left), May 5-10.

Other scheduled activities include children’s programming at the center’s Little House, specials at the gift shop, 40 outdoor sculptures, and artist Shou Ping's 3-dimensional wildflower sculptures made from his watercolor paintings.

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