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Greenville is 60 miles Northwest of Dallas in a county which consists of approximately 840 miles of Texas Blackland Prairie.
Greenville was a leading cotton marketing location and the American Cotton Museum takes you through the history and development of the cotton industry in Hunts County. The town also honours it’s local and national wartime hero – Audie Murphy. Most people would know of him as an old time actor but it was surprising to me to find out that Audie was the US’s most decorated soldier in WWII. He is honoured with a memorial outside the Courthouse, as well his life and achievements are proudly displayed at the American Cotton Museum.
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The town of Ennis is south east of Dallas metroplex and in its early days, earned a ‘wild west’ reputation with its 13 saloons and six beer halls. It became a stop off place for outlaws such as Cole Younger’s gang and Sam Bass’s gang. In 1873 Czech immigrants started arriving and their influence is still strong in the region today.
The Ennis area is known for their spring showing of bluebonnets and some 42 miles of trails which have been created there to drive around. The Texas Legislature named them “The Official Bluebonnet Trail of Texas.” Bluebonnets are the state flower of Texas.
Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park
Situated on the Rio Grande, the river which separates Texas from Mexico, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park preserves 760 acres (308 hectares) of riparian woodland that once covered the entire Lower Rio Grande Valley. That woodland is now severely fragmented due to agriculture and urbanization. Wildlife that once abounded in the Valley is now forced into several small pockets of protected woodland within the Texas state park system and federal National Wildlife Refuges.
Over 325 species of birds have been recorded in Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, as well as 250 species of butterflies, and several species of mammals. The birdlife is so impressive that the park is one of the most popular destinations on the Lower Rio Grande Valley birdwatching circuit, and it is also the headquarters of the World Birding Center.
Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park was once open to automobiles, recreational vehicles, and campers, but nowadays visitors are only able to access the park by taking a tram that runs every hour, or by walking. There are over six miles (ten kilometers) of trails which wind throughout the woodland. Other attractions for the nature lover include blinds overlooking resacas (long, narrow stretches of water that were once part of the river), a hawk-watching tower, viewing platforms, and primitive campsites. Park personnel also lead bird walks and natural history tours.
The park has a new visitor's center with a gift shop specializing in nature-related gifts, a coffee bar, and meeting rooms. There are several butterfly gardens outside of the visitors' center (pictured here) which attract many of the local species of butterflies.
The Sabal Palm Audubon Center and Sanctuary
The 557-acre (225-hectare) Sabal Palm Audubon Center and Sanctuary is owned and operated by the National Audubon Society. It was established to protect the largest remaining groves of sabal palm in the United States, a tree that was once abundant in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, but is now endangered due to clearing for agriculture and urbanization. The sanctuary also has stands of Texas ebony, as well as numerous other species of plants that reach the northernmost limit of their ranges here, and are found nowhere else in the United States.
Visitors can stroll on the three miles (five kilometers) of trails, watch wildlife from blinds and viewing platforms, participate in workshops and special events, or buy field guides and other nature-related items in the gift shop. The sanctuary is closed to the public from mid-May to mid-October.
The Sabal Palm Audubon Center and Sanctuary is located just east of Brownsville, in a bend of the Rio Grande, the river which separates Texas from Mexico.
Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge
Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1946 due to its importance as a wintering area for waterfowl, its large number of the endangered ocelot (a type of wild cat), and five species of sea turtles. The 88,388-acre (35,769-hectare) refuge contains several types of habitat, including thorn forest, coastal prairies, tidal flats, mangrove lagoons, and sand dunes. Laguna Madre (pictured here) is only one of five hypersaline bays in the world. Its extensive seagrass beds attract wintering waterfowl, including most of the world's redheads, a species of duck.
Over 413 species of birds have been recorded on the refuge, more than any other National Wildlife Refuge in the United States. This is because Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge is located on the ocean at almost the southernmost point in the United States. Many tropical birds reach the northernmost limit of their ranges here, hundreds of thousands of ducks and other types of birds winter here, and the refuge lies at the convergence of the Central and Mississippi flyway migration routes. The importance of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge to birds has led to its designation as a Globally Important Bird Area by the American Bird Conservancy.
In addition to birds, two species of cats can be found in Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, including the ocelot and the rarer jaguarundi. There are more ocelots on the refuge than anywhere else in the United States, and the refuge is the national center for the conservation and study of ocelots. Because both species of cats are nocturnal, most visitors will never get a glimpse of one.
The refuge's visitors' center has indoor displays about the endangered cats and aplomado falcons that can be found on the refuge. Visitors can also watch a short film about the refuge, shop for field guides and other nature-related gifts in its gift shop, and buy snacks and cold drinks. Outside are butterfly and bird gardens, water features, and a photography blind.
The 15-mile (24-kilometer) Bayside Wildlife Drive is a loop road which takes visitors through most of the types of habitats on the refuge. Several overlooks along the way provide places to get out of the car and observe wildlife. And there are about nine miles (14 kilometers) of trails for those who want to get out and hike.
The Lower Rio Grande Valley
The Lower Rio Grande Valley is not really a valley, but a delta or floodplain, that occupies the north bank of the Rio Grande. There is no noticeable elevational change between the arid scrublands to the north and the more subtropical Lower Rio Grande Valley. Called simply the Valley by most of its residents, the Lower Rio Grande Valley covers Starr, Hidalgo, Willacy, and Cameron counties. The population of the Valley, over which 80 percent is of Mexican heritage, is over 1,000,000. The Valley's largest and most important cities include Brownsville, McAllen, and Harlingen.
The main industry in the Valley is agriculture. The subtropical climate is ideal for growing citrus crops, cotton, sorghum, sugarcane, and various vegetables. An unfortunate result of agriculture is that most of the forests that once covered the Valley have been cleared. There are only fragmented parcels of forest left in the Valley that are protected by either the State of Texas or the federal government.
Tourism is also an important part of the economy of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Many tourists travel there to visit Mexican border towns or as a starting point to travel deeper into Mexico. The Valley is popular among "snow birds," people usually from the north who travel there to spend the winter in a warm and pleasant climate. There are therefore many trailer parks and campsites that cater to the snow birds.
And the Valley is one of the most popular places in the United States for birdwatchers, who travel there to see Mexican species that can be found nowhere else in the United States. There are many preserves which are on the birdwatching circuit, including Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Sabal Palm Audubon Center and Sanctuary, Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, and Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, to name but a few.
The Rio Grande is the river that forms the border between Texas and Mexico. It also forms the southern edge of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. The river rises in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and empties into the Gulf of Mexico near Brownsville. It is 1,885 miles (3,034 kilometers) long, making it the fourth-longest river in the United States. In the picture, the trees in the foreground are in the United States, and the far side of the river is Mexico.
The Frontera Audubon Thicket
Located just south of downtown Weslaco, the Frontera Audubon Thicket is owned and maintained by the Frontera Audubon Society. It is a 15-acre (six-hectare) preserve which protects a thicket of plants and trees native to the Lower Rio Grande Valley, many of which are rare and endangered
The preserve features trails which wind through the scrub and take visitors to several habitat types, including sabal palm groves, marshes, ponds, and an orange orchard. There is also a butterfly garden in which over 70 species of butterflies have been identified, and a bird-feeding station. One of the most popular aspects of the preserve is its water feature (pictured here) which attracts many species of birds. It is pleasant to sit on one of the benches in the shade and see what birds show up.
Many species of birds have been identified in the Frontera Audubon Thicket, including several extremely rare vagrants from nearby Mexico. Early in the morning, visitors will be deafened by the dawn chorus of plain chachalacas, a large, chicken-like bird.
The thicket has a visitors' center which offers field guides to the wildlife of the Lower Rio Grande Valley and Texas, maps and brochures of the area's sights and attractions, and a sign-up sheet with recent wildlife sightings.
The Edwards Plateau
the Edwards Plateau, or Texas Hill Country, is an immense limestone escarpment which retains water. This area is characterized by rolling tree-covered hills with numerous springs and rocky streams. Located in south-central Texas, to the northwest of San Antonio and west of Austin, the Texas Hill Country is one of the most beautiful parts of an otherwise flat and nondescript state. Its beauty makes it a popular vacation destination for Texans, and there are may guest ranches and lodges in the hills.
The esarpment was formed during the Cretaceous Period, about 100,000,000 years ago, when limestone deposits accumulated at the bottom of what was then an ocean. Over millions of years, the ocean receded and the land rose, forming the Edwards Plateau as it is today.
The Edwards Plateau is characterized by thin, poor soil, which is not conducive to agriculture. However, the region is a rich grassland savanna which is good for grazing. There are therefore many ranches in the hills which run cattle, sheep, goats, and even exotic antelope species imported from Africa and Asia.
The water from ample rains percolates through the porous limestone of the escarpment, then emerges from abundant springs. These springs feed crystal-clear streams and rivers which flow through steep canyons and ravines. These riparian areas are lush with various species of trees, including cedar, juniper, sycamore, and oak. In the spring, the grassy areas are covered with numerous species of colorful wildflowers.
For the birdwatcher, the Edwards Plateau is one of the most important parts of the birdwatching circuit in south Texas. For it is here that two endangered, range-restricted species can be found fairly easily, the black-capped vireo and the golden-cheeked warbler.
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Historic Route 66
I'm putting this in the "Off the Beaten Path" section because we just don't get off the interstate much anymore and when travelling Route 66, you begin to realize just how much of a shame that is.
Route 66 runs through California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, & Illinois. It's not shown on most current maps so you need to do your research before you go but it's worth the effort. What you get to see are some crazy, some beautiful, some amazing roadside attractions. One of the best things about it is that you don't have to follow it all the way, you can hop off and on as it fits your route and your schedule. In some places, like in New Mexico, it runs parallel to the interstate and in other parts, you are far from the maddening crowd, as they say. It gives you some insight into what a cross-country trip was like a few decades ago. Many times the road runs through small towns with antique gas stations, pleasant town squares, and signs up cheering on their high school basketball team or boasting they're home to the reigning Miss Sweet Corn.
Just a few miles on Route 66 will show you how "small town" the USA was and how impersonal the interstates have made us today.
FYI - I'm putting this tip on my page for almost every state Route 66 runs through. Although the text is the same, you might want to check out the others as the pictures are specific to that state.Related to:
- Road Trip
- Budget Travel
- Historical Travel
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About fifteen miles south of the town of Fredericksburg along the Old US 87 Road is the Old Tunnel Wildlife Management Area, home to about five million Mexican free-tailed bats and 3000 cave myotis bats. Two viewing areas are provided for visitors to watch the bats which come out at sunset during the warmer months - May to October. The upper area is free of charge for viewing, much like the Congress Street Bridge in Austin. There is a half-mile trail that takes you down from the upper observation area to the old rail bed from where you can look into the tunnel that was originally used by the Fredericksburg-San Antonio railroad. The trail also takes you to the lower observation area where the $5 fee also includes a program delving into both the rail history and more on bat biology. The lower area is limited to the first 70 people who show up from Thursday to Sunday evenings.Related to:
- National/State Park
- Historical Travel
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JOHN N. GARNER HOUSE - UVALDE
Almost ninety miles west of San Antonio is the modest town of Uvalde. This was where John Nance 'Cactus Jack' Garner hailed from. Garner enjoyed a long and memorable political career entering the US House of Representatives in 1902. He had moved to Uvalde in 1893, serving as a county judge and State legislator where he introduced bills to divide Texas into five separate States - in order to counter New England congressional strength - and to change the State flower - the bluebonnet - with the cactus. Both bills were defeated, but Garner did gain a nickname for his efforts. Eventually, Garner became the Speaker of the House and was a formidable opponent for the Democratic choice for President in 1932. When he stepped aside for Franklin Roosevelt, FDR made Garner his Vice Presidential candidate. After their election, Garner used his intimate congressional knowledge to become the most powerful vice president in history - Dick Cheney could only so aspire - and the second most powerful American politician during the 1930's. After two terms as Vice President, Garner broke with FDR over FDR's decision to run for a third term in 1940. Garner then retired to this house that his wife, Ettie, had been the original stimulus for. Ettie - who had long served her husband as his personal secretary and advisor - died in 1948 and Garner gave the house to the town to serve as its library while he moved to a little white house in the back. That house was demolished after his death in 1967, but the main house has become a museum dedicated to the life of one of the true godfathers of Texan politics. The museum is administered by the University of Texas at Austin.
Open Tuesday-Saturday 9 am to 5 pm. Located on Park Street which is a residential street away from the two main highways which run through Uvalde. The house is north of the main east-west highway, US 90, on which their are directional signs to look for. It is west of the main north-south highway, US 83 - Getty Street - on which there were no directional signs because of ongoing construction at the time of my visit.Related to:
- Historical Travel
- Museum Visits
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McKinney - Small Town Square outside Dallas
If you are looking for a small town experience, coupled with a grouping of nice antique shops, sidewalk cafes, and a good dessert place or two, then McKinney is a great town for you to visit. It is the seat of government for Collin County, TX and the former courthouse turned performing arts center is the centerpiece of a classic Texas town square.
Various different restaurants and easily walked streets make this a great weekend get away location!
For more information on McKinney, I encourage you to check out my McKinney, TX page located on the link below:
First Friendly Town in Texas
If you are making a road trip from the East on Interstate 20, make sure you stop into the "First Friendly Town in Texas", which is Waskom where the Texas visitor's center is located. Just a couple miles inside the border from Louisiana, this little town is packed with excitement. Gas Stations, visitor information centers, and even a couple good catfish restaurants await you.
For more information, check out the Virtual Tourist page on Waskom, TX!
The Dove Community was once a thriving community but for the most part has been absorbed by its larger neighbor, SOUTHLAKE Texas.
Here's a bit of history on this early pioneer town: In 1849, the State Legislature created Tarrant County and the United States Army established Fort Worth as a frontier fort with Birdville, Texas as its county seat.
By the 1870's, the small village of Dove was fully developed and offered a general store and post office, operating at the intersection of Dove and Lonesome Dove roads (marked by the sign in my photo).
Cotton, melons and dairy production was the economic thrust of the community. Within the community was the Lonesome Dove Cemetery which was north of the village's church site. Like most dusty Texas towns, there was a swimming hole nearby which was not only used for fun but for baptisms, as well.
The Caroll Common School District was formed when the Dove's school district and area schools combined.
In 1951, the federal government completed Lake Grapevine, which required many families to be relocated from the northern part of Dove Community. In 1979, the city of Southlake annexed Dove.
Popular Western author Larry McMurtry used this community as inspiration for his LONESOME DOVE book series.
Garner State Park
This is a beautiful state park located west of San Antonio, in Uvalde County, on the Frio River. There are plenty of opportunities for swimming, tubing the rapids on the Frio River and dancing at the pavillion during the summer. There are also paddle boat and and kayak rentals. This park can also get crowded during the summer season, so it is best to make reservations.Related to:
- National/State Park
Nice hotel on the Riverwalk. A bit pricey. Customer service was lacking at the front desk.more
From the moment I arrived at the hotel from IAH, people and staff couldnt be friendly enough. I was...more
The hotel is nicely situated near a little lake where you can walk a bit, and it's not far from...more
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