Stonehenge II in Texas Hill Country

What do Stonehenge, Easter Island, and Texas Hill Country have in common? A visit to Hill Country Arts Foundation in Ingram, Texas, solves that mystery. There you’ll find a Stonehenge and two Easter Island Moai head replicas. The structures are the work of two Hill Country residents, Al Shepperd and Doug Hill.

Stonehenge II and Moai heads

Neighbors, the two men hatched the plan to build a Stonehenge replica in 1989. Using steel frames, plaster and metal mesh, they built a scaled version (about 90 percent the height and 60 percent the width) of the famous Stonehenge circle on Shepperd’s ranch. It took them just nine months to construct the monument. A few years later they fabricated two Moai heads following a trip Shepperd made to Easter Island. For years, tourists flocked to Hunt to see the oddities.

Current location

Stonehenge II and the Moai heads found a new home in 2010 on the grounds of the Hill Country Arts Foundation in Ingram. I have to say, this location is perfect. The Moai heads flank a dirt pathway leading through a meadow to Stonehenge II. It’s a bucolic spot, with the Guadalupe River just off to the left.

Admission to the site is free, but the photographic opportunity is priceless.

Encore

I recommend you visit Stonehenge II about lunchtime. Why? Co-located on the art foundation property is a delightful little restaurant, Encore. The restaurant offers home-style lunches six days a week (closed Mondays). The restaurant has an outdoor deck that overlooks the Guadalupe River. We lunched there during our visit and were pleasantly surprised by the freshness of the cuisine and friendliness of the service. They also proffer an amazing selection of craft beers.

Blue Topaz

If you’re in the market for unique, fine jewelry, you’ll find it in Ingram. Just down the road from Stonehenge II is Gems of Hill Country. The jeweler Diane Eames and her partner Brad Hodges offer lone star cut (that’s the cut with the embedded five-pointed Texas star), blue topaz jewelry. Blue topaz is the official state gem of Texas and found only in the Mason area. The stone is usually clear, but you can also find blue variations. The more intense the blue, the more valuable the stone. Eames is a true artist. The stones she cuts are breathtakingly beautiful. Prices begin in the $200 range and go up from there.

When you go

Stonehenge II (120 Point Theatre Road South, Ingram) is in a field. As such, it’s accessible seven days a week. Encore (122 Point Theatre Road South, Ingram) is open for lunch 11 am to 2 pm Tuesdays through Sundays. And Gems of the Hill Country (200 Highway 39, Ingram) is open by appointment (phone (830)-367-3368).

 

Bats! Old Tunnel State Park

It’s bat time at Old Tunnel State Park!

Old TunnelIf you plan a summer visit to Texas Hill Country, be sure to reserve an evening for nature. In this case, viewing the night exodus of three million Mexican free-tailed bats from an old railway tunnel near Fredericksburg.

Mexican free-tailed bats

The bats arrive in March from their winter homes in Mexico. Two different types of colonies form: smaller male bat colonies, and larger maternity colonies like the one you’ll find at Old Tunnel. The mother bats give birth in June to a single bat pup. By August, the pups join their moms in the nighttime flight for food. It’s during August and September you’ll experience the most massive emergences.

Aerial river

The little Mexican free-tailed bat is less than five inches long and weighs about 14 grams (that’s just half an ounce). By itself, a bat is a tasty bite to its predators, hawks and owls. By emerging en masse, the bats increase their odds against the birds lying in wait outside the tunnel opening. For onlookers, we see a streaming black river flowing under the tree canopy as the little critters make their way south towards the Guadalupe River. Viewing a bat emergence is a must on any nature lover’s bucket list. My husband and I were transfixed in awe as the river of bats continued for almost ten minutes, and intrigued by the scent left in the bats’ wake. Yes, you can smell the bats! It’s like an umami scent.

Bat viewing tips

Old Tunnel has two viewing areas. You’ll have the best experience from the lower level. However, space is limited. To ensure a lower viewing spot, be sure to arrive at Old Tunnel at least half an hour before the earliest posted emergence time. The lower level is only open Thursday through Sunday.

The upper viewing area is also a wonderful option. This area is free and available seven days a week. Be sure to bring a set of binoculars if viewing from the upper level. On Thursday through Sunday, a docent talk is given at both viewing locations. The docents are exceptionally good and full of great bat trivia.

Alamo Springs Café

Why not have dinner before seeing the bats? Texas Monthly bestowed “third best burger in Texas” fame to Alamo Springs Café, located adjacent to Old Tunnel State Park. It’s a funky café that looks like a house with a few too many additions on it. We ate there on a Saturday night and were treated to tunes from a local band. The café and patios are packed at dinner time, so be patient. The service is friendly and efficient. The burgers are great, but my favorite were the onion rings….awesome!

When you go

Old Tunnel State Park is at 10619 Old San Antonio Road, Fredericksburg. Lower area viewing is $5 a person (the upper viewing is free). Bats don’t use alarm clocks, so you need to call the Old Tunnel hotline at (866) 978-2287 to get the latest emergence time. Alamo Springs Café is at 107 Alamo Road. The café is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. There are also a few outdoor tables at Old Tunnel if you want to bring your own picnic.

Be careful driving home. The area is chocked full of deer, we almost hit a buck making our way back to Fredericksburg.

Tip

Frankie the Free-tailed Bat is a cute book for older kids. It’s loaded with information about the bats. You can download a free copy courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife.

ZimSculpt at the Dallas Arboretum

ZimSculpt, a collection of over a hundred Zimbabwean stone sculptures, is on display within the Dallas Arboretum, now through July. ZimSculpt 1I first glimpsed the sculptures while attending an arboretum concert. I knew I had to return to see them all! The garden, with its backdrop of brilliantly colored flowerbeds and greenery, frame the stone sculptures perfectly, much like a gilded frame showcases a painted canvas.

The garden sculptures range in height from three to seven feet. The artwork is carved from serpentine and semi-precious stone. In many of the garden pieces, the sculpture seems to emerge from within the stone.ZimSculpt 2 I love the fluidity of the lines and liquid smoothness of the art. Other sculptures mix the textures of rough stone with glossy sculpture. All have a simplistic beauty about them.

Shona sculpture

The tradition of Zimbabwean sculpture dates back to the Shona tribe and the eleventh century. ZimSculpt is a modern version of the ancient Shona sculptures. The renaissance in Zimbabwean sculpture began in the 1960s and continues today. Thematically you’ll find animals, mother and child depictions, and women, along with a few abstract pieces.

All of the pieces in the garden are available for purchase at prices ranging from one to twelve thousand dollars. There is also a ZimSculpt Marketplace where you can purchase more affordable pieces and also watch the artists at work.

Beat the heat

This time of year, it’s tough to beat the Texas heat. To avoid wilting in the sweltering temperatures, visit the arboretum when it first opens at 9 am. It is as much fun to pack a picnic breakfast as to sweat over a picnic lunch. Even better yet, Dallas Arboretum members can enjoy a ‘members only’ early morning on Saturdays from 7 to 9 am. Arboretum colors are at their height during the garden’s springtime Dallas Blooms. That said, I was pleasantly surprised at the variety of flowers currently in bloom, even in the summer heat. You’ll find flower beds loaded with color from sunpatiens, winecup, mrytle, and cone flower.

Details

The Dallas Arboretum is at 8525 Garland Road, Dallas. The gardens are open 9 to 5 pm daily (until 8 pm on Wednesdays). ZimSculpt is on display until July 31. Adult admission is $15. On Wednesdays, you can buy one adult admission and get one admission free. Guided ZimSculpt tours are offered without additional charge on Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

DFW Summer Concerts

Summer ConcertsWhat better way to celebrate summer than to enjoy great entertainment while dining al fresco under the stars. The DFW area offers a host of summer concerts, some free; most with minimal ticket prices. Here are a few of the best. Pack a picnic, grab a blanket, and enjoy the show.

Summer Sounds

For almost two decades, the City of Allen has hosted Monday evening outdoor concerts. Held at the Joe Farmer Recreation Center Amphitheater (1201 East Bethany, Allen), concerts cover all music types from classical to country. Picnicking is encouraged. This year, the first 1000 guests can enjoy burger meals from In-N-Out Burgers. While the city does not prohibit lawn chairs, they prefer blanket seating for concert attendees. Joe Farmer Amphitheater is co-located with Bethany Lakes Park. Before the concert, why not go fishing with the kids in one of the ponds, or enjoy nine-holes of disc golf in the park?

Details: The remaining two concerts are June 19 (Jolie Holliday & Sonny Burgess) and June 24 (Downtown Fever). Concerts begin at 7pm and are free.

Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts

No listing of  DFW concerts would be complete without mentioning the Levitt Pavilion Community concerts. Featuring everything from world to gospel music, Levitt Pavilion hosts dozens of free concerts through July.  The expansive lawn area at Founders Plaza accommodates up to 3,500 people. Bring lawn chairs or blankets, along with your picnic. You may also bring beer and wine, but glass containers are not allowed.

Details: Concerts at Founders Plaza (100 West Abram Street, Arlington) are held Thursday through Sunday. Parking is available in the Pinnacle Corp. lot, at First Baptist Church and in the UTA College Park parking garage just south of First Baptist Church. You can call a 24-hour hotline at (817) 543-4301 for day of concert information.

Beckert Park Summer Series

Beckert Park (5044 Addison Circle, Addison) is the site of summer long fun. From June through August, families can enjoy free Saturday concerts. Bring your coolers and picnic to the park. Or, if you want to splurge, try one of Addison’s fabulous restaurants. Check the concert series webpage for special discounts at local eateries. Beckert Park is also an ideal location to view Addison’s annual KaBoom Town festival, a Fourth of July party with an airshow, concerts, and fireworks.

Details: Concerts begin at 8pm. Complimentary parking is available in the parking garages around Beckert Park.

Shakespeare in the Park

Shakespeare Dallas presents Shakespeare in the Park during June and July. Two plays are offered this summer season: Merry Wives of Windsor and Quixote. Performed at the amphitheater in Samuell Grand Park (1500 Tenison Parkway, Dallas), this is a fun way to introduce your children to the famous bard. The shows are free for children under 12 years old.

Shakespeare Dallas allows lawn and sand chairs in certain areas of the amphitheater. They also rent sand chairs. Bring your picnic supper or buy snacks from the food vendors. Beer and wine are allowed, but no hard liquor.

Details: Tickets are $10 (Thursday and Sunday) and $15 (Friday and Saturday), and special discounted tickets are available for students and seniors (+55) at the venue. Tuesdays and Wednesdays during the summer season are “pay what you can” nights, with a suggested donation of $10.

KXT Sun Sets

The KXT Sun Set series showcases two performers, a local opening band and a headliner. Concerts are held at the Dallas Arboretum (8617 Garland Road, Garland), with four remaining shows this year: June 27, July 11, July 18, and August 1. Bring a blanket or lawn chair. Coolers are okay, as is wine and beer. There are no concessions sold on site.

Details: Parking is free in the Arboretum garage. Individual tickets are $35 with free admission for children six and under.

Roses and Tigers inTyler

SONY DSC

This weekend, Tyler celebrates its 83rd Rose Festival with a parade, rose show, arts and crafts fair, and guided rose garden tours. If you visit Tyler, be sure to stop by the Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge and support this nonprofit that provides a home to rescued big cats.

Tyler and roses

Nicknamed the Rose Capital, Tyler’s agricultural industry shifted from growing peaches to roses in the 1920s. By World War II, Tyler grew over half of the rosebushes sold in the United States. Tyler’s market share has decreased to about 15 percent, however, roses remain a major, area industry. Each October, Tyler celebrates its rose history with the Texas Rose Festival. The Tyler Rose Museum, open year round, tells the region’s story with rose festival memorabilia, video, and a computerized catalog of 250 rose varieties.

Tyler Municipal Rose Garden

The garden is at its height during the month of October. You’ll find 500 different rose varieties with fanciful names like Cinderella’s Song, Summer Wind, and Freckles. The rose garden contains over 38,000 rose bushes. I also recommend visiting in early spring when the garden is ablaze with blooming azalea displays in pink, salmon, magenta and red.

Tiger Creek

Located just outside Tyler, Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge’s stated purpose is “to provide rescue and rehabilitation to big cats that have been abused, neglected, or displaced.” The tiger-creek-800x800refuge spans 150 acres and houses over 40 big cats from tiger to bobcat. Several of the cats were victims of the exotic pet trade of the 1990s. Some cats were relocated when other refuges closed. And many of the cats have physical problems, like Babs. A bobcat, Babs is blind, most probably due to poor nutrition when he was kept as a pet.

Each big cat has its own story. There is a tiger rescued from a man who abused her and had her fight dogs when she was a cub. The tiger, Sierra, was once owned by Michael Jackson. Then there is Tin Cup, a mountain lion. A farmer’s dog brought the cub (the size of a tin cup) to a farmhouse porch in New Mexico. Efforts to locate Tin Cup’s mother failed, so the farmer contacted Tiger Creek. Tin Cup, a handsome, playful, and photogenic cat, is my family’s favorite.

When you go

The Texas Rose Festival is October 13 through 16. Most events are free. Both the Tyler Rose Museum (420 Rose Park Drive) and the Tyler Municipal Rose Garden (624 North Broadway) are open year round.

Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge (17552 FM 14) is open most days. While more expensive, I strongly recommend the guided tour, or the combo tour. The docents are extremely knowledgeable about the cats and their stories.