The Great Outdoors

Nice to See You Again Dear Texas

I’m back from the North Country to spend more time in a place that has become my second home, Texas. I will be picking up where I left off on this blog, sharing with you the wonders of my little corner of the Lone Star State. Watch for ideas for Day Trips, restaurant  and event reviews, special events, outdoor excursions and much more!

I’ve arrived back not only in time for Thanksgiving and the holiday season, but for what will be my second Autumn.


The first full day back, I headed to the Japanese Gardens which I had heard was beginning to show its full Autumn colors. I wasn’t disappointed. The colors are expected to peak over the next week, so if you haven’t made a seasonal pilgrimage yet, now would be the time to do so. Keep your eyes peeled for the opportunity to see a feathered friend or two, enjoying the scenery as well.

For more information and hours visit: www.fwbg.org

Categories: Places to Visit and Explore, The Great Outdoors | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Day Trippin’ to Athens, Tx – East Texas Arboretum

Athens Texas, is much like many of the small towns the dot the quilted landscape of Texas. It is underrated and overlooked, despite the fact that beneath its sleepy, Americana facade there are many local treasures waiting to be discovered by passersby who are willing to spend a little time digging.

A stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of urban sprawl that is the Metroplex, the quaint, laid back town of Athens gives city dwellers a chance to reconnect with their roots, spread their wings and breathe deeply. To be honest, I’m a country girl and if I don’t manage to get the occasional breath of fresh country air, I begin to wither. Not only did I feel unwithered by days end after my day trip to Athens, I felt revitalized, connected and inspired.

My friends and I headed east, away from Fort Worth on 1-20, before taking the exit for Highway 175. Before long, as the city skyline faded in the rearview mirror,we noticed that the flat, cement covered byways have given way to rolling green hills, covered with black walnut, hickory and oak trees, that were dotted with clapboard homes with gingerbread trim, and aged barns with an occasional Lone Star flag painted proudly on its roof.

As we drove up the back-road to the gate of the arboretum I could already tell  that this was going to be an afternoon in the kind of natural setting that pleases me most. Against the backdrop of wide open fields with majestic oaks that offered shade from the afternoon sun for a handful of grazing horses, the last of this season’s wildflowers hung on for one last show of color as patches of black-eyed susans, and lavender phlox rested at the feet of spiraling honeysuckle vines and wild plums climbed the rustic fence posts. A closer look revealed the ominous looking Texas bull-nettle plant that promised fruit later this summer, for the most daring scavenger.

If Athens is filled with ‘waiting to be discovered’ treasures, the East Texas Arboretum is undoubtedly its crown jewel. Tucked away on over a hundred acres, the Arboretum’s Executive Director, Teresa Glasgow, tells us this is where the the Piney Woods and Prairie regions of Texas meet. It was also soon obvious that this is also where history, art, nature and wildlife are melded together to make an enjoyable and educational experience for visitors of all ages.

These days hands on experience with such a vast cross-section of nature is sadly a rare experience for some children, but at the Arboretum, the World of Nature is within ready reach. Supported by the generosity of its patrons, benefactors and the public, the non-profit gardens is an experience waiting to happen. Not only will visitors find vibrant, colorful gardens to stroll through, but thanks to the tireless efforts of Glasgow, and a handful of volunteers and board members, the East Texas Arboretum is a living, breathing and growing educational experience, a recreational venue and a history preservation project all rolled up into one.

The back section of land is a combination of wetlands and forest, accessible by easy grade hiking trails, including a portion designed to be accessible for wheelchairs. Keep in mind you’re in a living breathing environment, and as such you may encounter things you may not have experienced if you’re entirely city born and bred. It is always a good idea to plan well and be educated when communing in nature. Fortunately education is a large part of the Arboretum’s mandate and mission. They spend considerable time and effort educating the next generation about the value of preservation and conservation, igniting sparks of passion, while instilling respect for the environment for which they will inherit the responsibility to conserve and protect for their children.

Here you will find the familiar and fragrant beauty of magnolia trees and bushes of gardenias, but there are other native plants and flora to discover, such as the carnivorous pitcher plant that thrives in the wetland’s bog area. A short walk past through the woods, past the Two Doug Bridge, (look for the beaver dam on your left hand side) you’ll find yourself standing a top of the wooden observation deck, where you can spot the yellow clusters of the pitcher plant peering our from the thick overgrowth. A few months from now, as summer fades, this entire area will be painted with the vibrant hues of Autumn, and it will definitely warrant a return visit.

A bit farther down the path you will find yourself crossing over to the other side (of the creek that is) via a 115 foot wooden  suspension bridge that connects the new trail with the older one, taking you full circle back to the Arborteum’s main grounds.  It was 85 degrees the day we went on this short hike, and if we’d been back in Fort Worth we’d have been reaching for the A/C switch, but out underneath the canopy of trees, accompanied by a slight breeze that rustled through the leaves, the temperature was perfect.

History also takes a front row seat at the East Texas Arboretum, offering visitors a first hand look at how Texas’ settlers used to live. The Wofford House, built in 1851, was relocated to the Arboretum in 2001 from its original location, near Fincastle.

A living museum, as well as a tribute to days gone by, the house is decorated with period furnishings and memorabilia down to a backyard kitchen garden complete with a well-dressed scarecrow, the rockers on the front porch, and ready set tables in the kitchen and dining areas. It doesn’t take much imagination to imagine how peaceful it would feel to sit on the porch, with a glass of sweet tea after a hard day’s work in the summer, and watch the sun go down.

Almost next door to the Wofford House, is ‘Granny’s Little Schoolhouse’, a replica of a one room schoolhouse from the 1800’s. It was built in 2007, as a tribute to Genevieve  Monkhouse, a long time area school teacher. Here children that visit the Arboretum relive history first hand, while learning about the area’s botanic environment.

While the venue has something of interest for all ages, children are especially welcome here. Valued as future conservators, they are at the forefront of the educational programs offered by the Arboretum. Each year hundreds of children visit the area with school or club groups to learn about the wonders of nature, first hand. And when the learning is done, children of all abilities will find the play area to be a great way to let off some steam. The playground boasts two playhouses, a butterfly garden, sand play areas, and a unique slide built into the side of a hill.

The venue is dotted with miniature gardens to meander through,  water gardens with  flowering lily pads and trickling streams, and arbors that invite visitors to sit a spell. Most of the gardens, buildings and displays were made possible by generous donations. The governing society also rents out the facility, in order to help raise funds for operating and expansion costs. The large pavilion at the center of the groomed gardens and its picturesque backdrop is the perfect setting for a wedding or any other special occasion. The facility also hosts its own events to help offset costs, including a yearly gala and garden concerts.  On Sunday, May 26th they will host a dedication for the new  Garden in the Forest and the handicapped garden trail at 2 p.m.

In addition, each Tuesday night in August, the Arboretum will host Strolling in the Park, where visitors will enjoy a social evening complete with music and star gazing. There are also plans for an Art in the Park event and in August, keep your eye out for a possible Elvis sighting. More information will be posted on these special events on their website and Facebook page.


Grass does not grow under the feet of those responsible for operating the Arboretum, and expansion plans and fund-raising efforts are always underway. As Executive Director, Teresa Glasgow has a long wish list of things she’d love to see happen, and given the extensive growth and development the venue has seen under her direction over the past few years, it’s a safe bet they will be happening sooner rather than later. On the wish list are a number of projects including new inclusive play ground equipment, an amphitheater, security cameras and a lavender field.  Recent additions to the park include the Maury Ward Windmill, Texas Garden and the Kathy Glass Gazebo.

While You’re In the Area 

Athens’ wonders don’t stop at the Arboretum although it is a great place to start. Pack a picnic lunch and spend the day. The entry fee of $2.00 per person over 12 years of age, is a bargain by any standard. When you’ve had your fill of beauty, fresh air and history there are ziplines, museums and the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center to keep you busy. We plan on taking a trip back in the Fall to explore all of these and more, but don’t wait for us to give you the scoop — discover the East Texas Arboretum and Athens, Texas for yourself.

Where to Eat

If you’re looking for a local restaurant that fits into a day of discovery and history, I recommend Ochoas Mexican Restaurant. The family owned eatery has been in the Athens area since 1969 and is now operated by the sons of the original owners. The decor is quaint, the people are friendly and the food is some of the best Tex-Mex cuisine, and the most extensive, and varied menu I’ve encountered, since arriving in Texas.

The restaurant’s emphasis is on customer service, and serving memorable meals is definitely a way to make that happen. I recommend the Grilled Steak Queso Fundido as an appetizer, followed by the Puffy Tacos. If you’re still hungry the sweetness of the sopapillas, drizzled with honey and melted butter are a mouthwatering way to end your meal.

As we left Athens later that day, the last burst of color streaked across the sky, while a longhorn cow fed her new calf, and rain rusted windmills churned gently in the evening breeze. The three of us were headed home to the Metroplex, with our spirits rejuvenated and our minds churning with all of the things we’d learned that day, and on the wind was a promise made by each one of us, that we would indeed  be returning.

How to Get There

You can find the Arboretum at 1601 Patterson Rd. in Athens, Texas.
Entry fees are $2.00 for those over 12 years of age (payable on the honor system)

You can find out more about the East Texas Arboretum by visiting their website at www. eastexasarboretum.org  or by locating them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pages/The-East-Texas-Arboretum-and-Botanical-Society.

Categories: Culture, Day Trips, Food, History, Places to Visit and Explore, Restaurant Reviews, The Great Outdoors | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Mark Your Calendar – Ennis Bluebonnet Trails Festival April 20-21

This weekend is the Ennis Bluebonnet Trails Festival
April 21-22
Antique Car Show and John Denver Tribute Concert…(free) – April 21
Historic Preston St. Garage Sale – April 20-21
BBQ Cookoff at Knights of Columbus Hall – April 20-21
Don’t miss it!
More information here 

Categories: Events, Places to Visit and Explore, The Great Outdoors | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Fort Worth’s Water Gardens — An Oasis Amid a Concrete Jungle

Fort Worth has many green spaces, peppered across its landscape of cement and glass, and fortunately. most of them are free for the offering. One of these such places is located in the middle of the downtown core. The contemporary park stands in stark contrast to its history. The area known as Hell’s Half Acre was notorious in Fort Worth’s early years, for its brothels, gambling and gunfights.

The refreshing oasis was a gift to the people of Fort Worth from the Amon Carter Foundation, and designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee. Built in 1974, the futuristic park is best experienced first-hand because pictures just don’t do it justice. Although the expanse appears to be almost completely taken  up by water and cement, the area also touts over 500 species of plants and trees.  In the hot days of summer, the Water Gardens offer heat weary visitors a refreshing place to unwind.

Although swimming is definitely prohibited in the all of the pools located on the site’s 4.3 acre spread, the abundance of shade trees and cool misted air from the pools themselves will definitely help you cool down. It’s a great place to walk, relax and think, with its three very distinct pools set amid an artistically designed urban landscape of tiered cement blocks, against the backdrop of Fort Worth’s towering skyscrapers. The entire park is a vital, moving piece of art.

Quiet Pool

Philip Johnson, the architect for the project, took inspiration from the childhood literary classic, Alice in Wonderland, when designing the park and nowhere is it more evident than when you go down the narrow stairs to the Quiet Pool. As you descend the staircase, you can’t help but feel larger than life, but as you reach the bottom, the space opens up. The pool is large, towered by bald Cyprus trees with the towering skyscrapers of Fort Worth for the backdrop. You feel as if you’ve entered a land of giants. Taking into account all of the ways a body experiences a space, the architects paid particular attention to the element of sound in its design, and its effect is tangible as one embraces the serene calmness of the park’s Quiet Pool, as a sheet of water cascades down the walls, and enters the tranquil stillness of the pool.

The downtown core serves as a backdrop for the sereneness of the Water Gardens' Quiet Pool

Aerated/Dancing Pool

The architects considered the Aerated Pool the most difficult, in terms of moving from vision to reality. The space, built  forty feet under ground, consists of forty evenly spaced fountains that continuously spout droplets of water, that dance across the pool’s surface. The tiered blocks surrounding the pool, offer many places to sit and watch the mesmerizing display.

Forty fountains are used to make the water dance on the surface of the Aerated Pool

Active Pool

The Active Pool will take your breath away the first time, and every time,  it comes into view. Cascading waterfalls drop down 36 feet of the labyrinth’s tiered cement walls into a shallow pool below. The site sadly is also where a tragedy of epic proportions occurred in 2004 that resulted in four deaths. The city closed the park for an extended time, until the adaptions could be made to the design to make it safer. Although the safety measures are significant, as a parent I would caution you to watch your young children carefully around the pool area, particularly as you descend the stairs down into the pool’s center.

The Active Pools live up to their name, and are the Water Park's most photographed pool (photo by Brian Roper)

The Water Gardens are one of the architectural treasures of Fort Worth. The list of reason’s why a visit to the park is a must, is a long one, but topping the list for me is that it’s free of charge, dynamic and a great place in this busy city to relax and cool off on a hot day.

The Water Gardens are located adjacent to the FW Convention Center in the downtown core, between Commerce and Houston Sts. Pack a picnic lunch, a book you’ve been wanting to read, or someone special and experience the serenity for yourself.

Categories: Culture, Places to Visit and Explore, The Great Outdoors | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Get Them While You Can

Be sure to get out to see the wildflowers while you can

This past weekend we went to the spot where we found the first bluebonnets of 2012, and they are beginning the process of going to seed.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, this weekend might be one of the last best chances you’ve got to enjoy this year’s banner year of wildflowers in full bloom.

Enjoy!

Categories: Admin Posts, The Great Outdoors | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Daytrippin’ – To The Ennis Bluebonnet Trail

If you love wildflowers, a trip to Ennis' Bluebonnet Trail is a mustThis year, Texas has been blessed with an abundance of tiny, blue-purple flower heads lining its highways and byways.

This year, unlike the drought-ridden Spring of 2011, Texas has been blessed with an abundance of tiny blue and purple flower heads lining its highways and byways. We’d been itching to get a better look at they yearly event first hand, so this past weekend, we gassed up the car, and headed out of the city on 287, to Ennis, the Official Bluebonnet City of Texas.

Our first stop was to the Ennis Visitor’s Bureau, where we were greeted warmly and after signing their guest book we were given a map and detailed instructions on where to find the best locations for bluebonnet viewing along the town’s back roads. Armed with our new found knowledge, it didn’t take long to see what all of the hoopla was about. The vistas along the Bluebonnet trail were breathtaking. The map took us on three separate trail routes through farmlands and small, almost forgotten towns before landing us right where we began.

Although there was plenty to see and photograph this past weekend, we were assured that the best was yet to come. The Visitor’s bureau estimates that the peak of the season will be somewhere between the first and second weekend of April.

The city’s annual bluebonnet festival is scheduled for April 21st and more details can be found on the city’s website.  Don’t be mistaken, however, into thinking that bluebonnets are all that Ennis has to offer. The quaint, picturesque town is a great getaway for those looking for a day trip away from the city.

In May, Ennis will host it’s 46th annual National Polka Festival,  and in the Fall and Winter months they keep the celebrations happening with their Autumn Days (October), a Holiday Celebration of Lights at Christmas time, and in February the town proudly shows its roots, with its annual Czech Music Festival.

Ennis offers views of bluebonnets for as far as the eye can see

Sadly, however, while travelling the backroads we were not  only greeted by a profusion of blue and red from the bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes, but also a wide spread sea of yellow. The effect was stunning for the camera, but upon arriving home we saw a news report about the invasive bastard cabbage that is threatening the future of Texas’ most treasured flower. I am not a botanist, so I’m not absolutely sure that what we saw, was the dreaded plant shown on the newscast, or a less-threatening variant, but its similar enough that it made me take notice. It was an eye-opening reminder as to just how fragile our eco-system is, and how something so treasured as Texas’ state flower, could be gone so quickly, if we aren’t diligent.

Are the dotted yellow landscapes of Texas a threat to the future of the state's most beloved flower?

After we’d exhausted every back road we could find, and filled up the memory card in the camera, we were famished, and we knew exactly where to go.

The Firehouse Grill had caught our eye when we arrived in town earlier that morning, looking for the visitor’s bureau. Located in the city’s historic fire-hall, the restaurant offers its patrons to soak in visually, while their meal is being prepared. The venue’s ambiance and design is meant to honor the civil servants who place their lives on the line to protect the community and its citizens. Local police and fire departments donated various items on display.

We ordered the chicken fried steak sandwich with a side of sweet potato fries, and even though its been three days, we’re still talking about how great the food was. The service was friendly and prompt and the food, outstanding. We can’t recommend this place enough.

You can find the Firehouse Grill at 219 SW Main in Ennis.

The Firehouse Grill in Ennis is a great place to stop for lunch or dinner.

The Firehouse Grill serves up a appetite satisfying chicken fried steak sandwich, with sweet potato fries for a budget pleasing price

Categories: Day Trips, Food, Places to Visit and Explore, Restaurant Reviews, The Great Outdoors | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Stormy Remnants of Thought

As the clouds moved in and built up over the Metroplex, my anxiety level increased...

Just how does an adopted Texan handle her first severe storm in the her new home?

Not very well.  At least according to those who had to witness my struggle from a close vantage point. In the end my partner ended up taking two days off from work to help me through the experience. Thankfully, most of the severe predictions fell by the wayside as the storm moved over the Metroplex.

I’ve been told that its a much repeated circumstance each Spring, where the weathermen try their best to give the most accurate information possible, while trying to find that balance between keeping people informed of the worst case scenarios but not inciting widespread panic. It’s certainly not a job I covet.

As we drove around Fort Worth the following afternoon, aside from a small amount of debris, the most obvious sign that we’d had a major weather event the day before, was found in Trinity Park. The river, normally calm and serene, the Trinity was now raging, rising and the color of chocolate milk.

When all was said and done, I learned a couple of vital lessons this time around:

1) Worst case scenarios may not always play out, but it is wise to plan for them anyway. Knowing in advance exactly what you would do given all possible scenarios, goes a long way to relieving the stress of major weather events.  Know where you’ll go, in the event you need to take cover. Know where your candles, flashlights and other emergency supplies are. Have enough food and water on hand for a couple of days should you become home-bound and unable to get out to the store.

2) There are a number of ways to keep on top of the weather as it happens in this Age of Digital Technology. There are radar maps that track not only where the storm has been but where it is going. There are online video forecasts and if you can afford $9.95 there are services such as Weather Call, that will text you directly when a tornado watch/warning is occurring in your area. Add your local meteorologist to your Facebook page and check his updates. I found the page of Steve McCauley of WFAA particularly informative and interactive.

3) Stay aware, but stay busy. I made an awesome peach cobbler – it didn’t really stop the storm from happening, but it helped me keep my sanity by providing a tasty distraction from my own anxiety driven scenarios that were playing in my head.

Now, I can’t promise that I’ll remain completely calm, the next time we have an severe weather warning, but I know I’ll be much better prepared. Knowledge can go a long way to relieving the fear of the unknown and unpredictable.

The mocha colored waters of the Trinity River rage the morning after

Categories: The Great Outdoors | Leave a comment

Spring has Sprung

Bluebonnets are blooming fast and furious along the highways in the Metroplex

Springtime in Texas in a lesson in contradictions. As North Texas braces for the season’s first significant storm today, we’re reminded of the volatility that encompasses this time of year, and yet, while there is no doubt  the weather radars will be spotted with splotches of stormy weather over the next few months, this is also a time for renewal and signs of life.

The dull grays and browns of a brief and mild Winter season, are now giving way to hues of bluebonnet blue and Indian paintbrush red, as they dot the landscape against a backdrop that seems to have turned to a brilliant, spring green, almost overnight.

These days the Spring color brigade is on a fast track along the roadsides on Texas, thanks to unseasonably warm weather, coupled with record breaking rainfall.  If you watch carefully, you’ll see glimpses of Spring as you travel down the region’s interstates enroute to your job. Another option is to slow down and take advantage of your weekend down-time, and visit the Fort Worth Botanical Gardens.

Located in the Cultural District near the city center, the 110 acre green space is a welcoming oasis of color and flora. Set midst a back drop of massive live oak trees, with their almost human-like limbs stretching regally out in all directions, the gardens offer an extensive network of trails and gardens, with most of them being accessible without user fees. In addition to free parking, visitors can meander through most of the area free of charge, with only the Japanese Gardens area charging nominal fee of $4.00 an adult for entry.

Spring is in full swing at the Fort Worth Japanese Gardens

The Japanese Gardens are world class. Although impeccably groomed year round,  in the Spring and Fall, they are particularly stunning. The full cherry blossom season is usually around Easter, but this past weekend, it was obvious the mild weather had kick-started their season early, just as it had for the wildflowers. Delicate blossoms of pink and white are beginning to appear, as the lush green returns to its Spring glory.

The colors of Fall and Winter are giving way to the gentle new green of Spring

Once you’ve spent ample time being transported to the peaceful sereneness of the Orient, the rest of the Botanical Garden awaits. There is a small, but interesting cactus garden, the newly built Texas Native Forest Boardwalk, the All Seasons Garden and of course, the historic Rose Gardens that edges a picturesque reflecting pool that is home to an abundant amount of turtles.

Currently, and running until April 8th, the FW Botanical Garden is hosting the exhibition “Butterflies in the Garden”, in the conservatory. Tickets for timed entry are sold for $10 a person, and more information can be found on the website, linked below. Entry to the exhibit runs from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., daily.

Fort Worth Botanic Garden is located at 3220 Botanic Garden Blvd. in Fort Worth.  They can be reached by phone : (817) 871-7686 or via their website at : http://www.fwbg.org/

The unseasonably warm winter brought an early Spring to North Texas.

Categories: Events, Places to Visit and Explore, The Great Outdoors | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Search of Bluebonnets

Since I’ve arrived back in Texas, I am sure I’ve driven him half crazy with vigilant search for the first bluebonnet blooms of 2012. When I left the freezing temperatures and blizzard conditions of Canada in January, I had a vision of Texas as a tropical paradise.  When greeted by bare trees,  record rainfalls and chilling temperatures, I was quickly reminded of how volatile the winters here can be. Undeterred, I immediately began my quest to find the first bluebonnets of the season.

This past weekend I was rewarded with a sighting alongside I-30 in Fort Worth. Although it wasn’t the most ideal place to traipse, and take photographs, we parked in a safe, off the road location and walked to the area where we’d spotted the purplish blue spikes.

First Bluebonnets of 2012 have been spotted, and it looks to be a great year thanks to the recent ample rain and warm temperatures.

If you have plans to attend the Bluebonnet Festival in Ennis, Texas in April, be aware that they trending early this year, and according to the City of Ennis Convention and Visitors Bureau, they are expected to peak in the 2nd week of April, even though the festival is scheduled for April 21-22, 2012.  You can stay informed about any changes to the expected peak time frame by visiting http://www.visitennis.org and clicking on the Bluebonnet Trails tab.

Remember to be careful where you tread, so that we can keep enjoying these floral treasures next year.

Categories: The Great Outdoors | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.