National Weather Center

Meteorologists, storm chasers and weather hobbyists will want to visit the National Weather Center (NWC) located on the University of Oklahoma (OU) campus in Norman, Oklahoma. What a great summer boredom-buster!

National Weather Center - North Texas RamblingsIn a unique partnership, OU, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and state agencies share space within the impressive seven-story, NWC building. Built in 2006, the NWC can withstand a significant tornado not because it houses the weather agencies, but because of its post-911, anti-terrorist construction. The building has both bulletproof glass and Kevlar reinforcements.

NWC Tour

Tours begin in the lobby. Remember the 1996, storm chasing movie Twister? The tornado-monitoring invention Dorothy used in the film is on display in the lobby. You can also see TOTO (TOTable Tornado Observatory) the actual tornado-monitoring device that inspired much of the movie.

From the lobby, the tour takes visitors to the vehicle bay. While Norman gets more than its share of severe weather, scientists also have specially outfitted vans for deployment to severe weather locations. The mobile monitoring stations allow the meteorologists to gather data in the field. What looks like kitchen sink plumbing on top the vehicles’ roofs are actually high tech, sensitive equipment used to measure and monitor weather events.

The NWC has its own observation deck with an unobstructed, 360-degree view of the surrounding area. Here meteorologists view local weather. The OU School of Meteorology is located on the fifth floor. The school has about 300 undergraduate and 100 graduate students, and is ranked as one of the country’s top schools for meteorology.

Working Meteorologists

Perhaps the tour highlight is an opportunity to go into NOAA watch centers to see meteorologists at work. Have you ever wondered who issues tornado watches and warnings? It’s the forecasters right here at the National Storm Prediction Center who track, monitor, and warn about potential tornado and other extreme weather events. The NWC tour takes visitors into the center’s workspace. Next to the storm prediction center, visitors can also observe meteorologists at work providing local weather forecasting.

Details

The comprehensive NWC tour lasts between one to two hours, and offers a unique glimpse into weather research and storm prediction. Enthusiastic OU students lead the tours. The students readily answer questions and provide humor-filled anecdotes on research conducted at NWC.

Public tours begin at 1 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Tours are free but require advance reservations made through the NWC website. Be sure to reserve at least two weeks prior to your visit. Please note security policy requires that foreign nationals arrange tours at least two week in advance and provide passport information.

The Flying Cow Café, located in the NWC lobby, is a great place to grab lunch. I’m a big fan of their t-shirts, which feature their logo of an airborne, cartoon cow.

NWC is easily assessable from I-35 and is located at 120 David L. Boren Boulevard in Norman. It is about 180 miles north of Dallas.

Dallas Dozen: Free Family Fun

The FREE iBook, Dallas Dozen: Free Family Fun, is packed full of places to explore. It’s your boredom-busting guide for the summer.

Dallas Dozen Free Family FunThe book is written for families wanting adventure without spending a lot of money. All locations are either in or near the Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) Metroplex. Dallas Dozen:  Free Family Fun covers places you may already know about like the Dallas Museum of Art, and others you may not, like Mineral Wells Fossil Park.

Plan an expedition to Ladonia to search for fossils, attend a Star Party in Rockwall, or visit a Buddhist temple in Garland. It’s a great guide to use for trying something new with your kids. Nervous about taking your 5-year-old to an art museum? Are you someone who believes the only way to camp is in a hotel room? The book has helpful tips for “first-timers” so that your art museum junket or camping experience aren’t too daunting.

Almost all listed activities are free. There is a Worth the Splurge section in some chapters to highlight inexpensive opportunities you will not want to miss.

Dallas Dozen: Free Family Fun is available on iBooks and Nook at no cost. A Kindle version is also available for a nominal $.99.

Have fun exploring the DFW area!

McKinney Avenue Trolley

With summer coming, why not take the kids for a ride on the McKinney Avenue Trolley. The vintage streetcars service downtown Dallas, connecting Uptown to the Dallas Arts District.

North Texas Ramblings McKinney Avenue TrolleyStreetcar History

Mules powered the first Dallas streetcars. In the early 1900s, electricity replaced the mules. The streetcars used today also employ electricity, with a trolley pole connecting the cars to their power source. Trolleys continued servicing Dallas until the mid-1950s. But the trolleys couldn’t compete with modern gasoline-powered buses, and, viewed as obsolete, streetcars disappeared from the Dallas scene.

Decades later, in 1989, the McKinney Avenue Transit Authority (MATA) returned vintage streetcars to Dallas. Today, we benefit from two decades of MATA expansion, with the trolleys running along McKinney Avenue, past Klyde Warren Park, and into the Dallas Arts District.

The Trolleys

MATA operates six streetcars, all with whimsical names like Rosie, Petunia, Matilda, and, my favorite, Green Dragon. Each of the trolleys has a unique story and history. Matilda ran for years in Australia before MATA purchased her. The Green Dragon once operated in Dallas and then served as a hay barn before its restoration. Riding these fanciful streetcars sure bets taking the bus! My family rode on Betty, an original Dallas streetcar retired from service in 1956. Betty had been used for a playhouse until she was donated to MATA.

Riding with Kids

North Texas Ramblings McKinney Avenue TrolleyTo find a trolley stop, look for the brown circle, M-Line sign. With no set timetable, you can expect a streetcar to stop about every 15 to 20 minutes. Step back in time as you enter the car. Lovingly restored, varnished wooden seats and floors; hand-straps hanging from the ceiling; and an antique fare box add to the classic ambiance. Kids love it!

The motorman (driver) operates the streetcar similarly to a car. The trolley even has turn signals! The trolley’s steel wheels run along rails set into the street and a trolley pole connects to the wire above it, powering the car. If you ride the M-Line trolley through its entire route, you’ll have automobiles in front and behind you, which brings up a safety note. Some trolley stops require riders to cross traffic lanes. Before entering or departing the trolley, be sure to look carefully for autos alongside.

When you go. MATA operates the M-Line trolleys seven days a week. During the week, M-line operations begin at 7 a.m., and on weekends, the trolleys start running at 10 a.m. Friday and Saturday nights, the streetcars run until midnight, and all other days, until 10 p.m. I suggest boarding the trolley at either its Uptown stop (co-located with the CityPlace DART stop), or at the Dallas Museum of Art (St Paul Street). The trolley ride is free, but donations are always welcome. The trolleys are not handicap accessible. Be aware, some may not be able to accommodate large strollers.

For a full day of fun, pair your trolley ride with a trip to the Dallas Museum of Art or a picnic in Klyde Warren Park.

 

Bethany Lakes Park

Bethany Lakes ParkIn our quest to explore attractions and seek out the unusual, we sometimes forget to look in our own backyard. Bethany Lakes Park falls into that category of overlooked gems. Like any good community park, Bethany Lakes has a playground with small climbing wall for the little kids. There are covered and open picnic areas, and trails to hike and bike. Bethany Lakes Park offers even more with a disc golf course, fishing ponds, and summer concert series.

Disc golf

How about a round of golf? At Bethany Lakes, you’ll find a nine-hole disc golf course. Similar to traditional golf, you play disc golf with a Frisbee instead of club and ball. You throw your disc from the tee, aiming it for the ‘hole.’ At Bethany Lakes, the hole is a raised pole with a chain basket. Just like in golf, your score is the number of throws it takes to land the disc into the basket.Disc Golf

It’s more difficult than it first looks, as many holes require throws over or near water. The first tee is just north of the parking lot. Bring plenty of Frisbees as you might lose a few in the ponds!

Ponds make all the difference

The ponds, and what’s swimming in the ponds, differentiate Bethany Lakes from other community parks. On any given day, you’ll likely find fisherfolk casting their line into one of the parks four ponds. Many set up camp chairs along the water’s edge. Others fish from the fishing pier at Pond C.

Each year, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) stock Bethany Lake with rainbow trout. Most trout stocking occurs between December and March. The trout fishing is best during the cooler months. However, you aren’t restricted to just trout at Bethany Lakes. Other ponds contain blue gill and bass, with fishing even during warmer months. TPWD fishing rules apply at Bethany Lakes. While the ponds are not exclusively ‘catch-and-release,’ you’re unlikely to snag a big enough fish to eat, so please release your catch.

Fishing Tips

Did you know that kids under 17 do not require a license to fish in Texas? Or that the first Saturday in June is Free Fishing Day, when everyone can fish in Texas without a fishing license? Fishing is a great way to get the kids off the couch and outdoors. Here are some tips for first time family fishing:

  • Keep the equipment simple. Little anglers need a child-sized fishing pole, hook, bobber and easy bait like earthworms dug from the garden.
  • Think safety. Position children at least a pole length apart for safe casting.
  • An adult should bait the hook and remove fish for young children.
  • Combine other activities with fishing.  A short fishing trip coupled with a picnic will likely be more successful than a marathon fishing session.

If you want fishing tips specific to Bethany Lakes, check out a website by fisherfolk at www.stockertroutfishing.com. You can find out what fish have recently been caught and with what type of lures.

Summer Sounds

The City of Allen hosts Monday evening outdoor concerts from late May to the end of June at Joe Farmer Amphitheater in Bethany Lakes Park. Concerts cover all music types from classical to country. What a great way to enjoy a summer evening — and best yet — the concerts are free! Light refreshments and snow cones are available for purchase. While the city does not prohibit lawn chairs, they prefer blanket seating for concert goers.

When you go

Bethany Lakes Park is located at 745 South Allen Heights, Allen. Operated by the City of Allen, the park is open dawn to dusk. The Summer Sounds concert series begins May 25 and runs through June 22. Concerts begin at 7 p.m.

 

 

 

Scarborough Renaissance Festival

What do turkey legs, knife throwing acts, wenches, and men in tights all have in common?

They’re all things you’ll find at the Scarborough Renaissance Festival.

Scarborough FestivalHeld on weekends from April through May, the festival combines high fantasy and courtly adventure, offering visitors an opportunity to enter a whimsical realm. Staged around sixteenth century England, Scarborough Renaissance Festival has a little something for everyone. You can ride a camel, engage in a sword fight, and  enjoy wine tasting at the Vinery. The entertainment is top notch. Be sure to catch Don Juan and Miguel who bill their show as sword fighting, comedy, and romance. These two have performed at Renaissance festivals for almost three decades. The Star Dancers are another crowd favorite, but be careful as you may find yourself onstage and part of the belly dancing.

Visitor tips

Buy a program. If you purchase nothing else, buy the souvenir program. It contains all the information you’ll need for the day including performance times, craft demonstration locations, and information on all the eateries and merchants. Best of all, there’ll be a map.

Dress the part. First, you don’t have to wear a costume to enjoy the festivities. However, the festival is the ideal place to wear that kilt in your closet, medieval Halloween costume, or leftover Harry Potter wizard cape. Visitors can also rent costumes inside fair grounds. And festival merchants sell everything from medieval robes to belly dancing outfits, though you’ll pay a hefty price for your attire. As for the kids, flower hair wreaths, fairy wings, and wooden swords are big hits with the youngsters.

The festival employs a troupe of paid, costumed actors. The actors set the stage. But it’s the costumed visitors who make for the best people watching.

Eat like a king. Within the festival grounds, food purveyors sell everything from turkey legs to baked potato. You won’t go hungry but you can expect to pay as much to eat as you did for your admission ticket. While you can’t bring outside food into the parks, one economical way to get around the high prices is to enjoy a tailgate picnic back at your car. Just be sure to get your hand stamped for readmission.

Bring dollar bills. Yes, admission includes entertainment on half a dozen stages along with smaller acts scattered around the village. However, expect the performers to pass the hat (or hat facsimile) around for tips following every performance. Tipping is optional. But these folks work hard for minimal wages, and some of the smaller acts working entirely for tips. If you liked the act, tip the performer a buck or two.

Wear sun protection. Don’t forget your sun screen. Texas can be hot even outside the summer months. A hand fan or paper umbrella work well to cool you down or provide a little shade.

When you go.

Scarborough Renaissance Festival is in Waxahachie at 2511 FM 66 (just off of Interstate 35). The festival operates Saturday and Sunday, from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. For the best price on admission, purchase your tickets online or visit your local Kroger for discounted tickets. Adult admission begins at $22 and children’s admission begins at $9. Visit the festivals website at www.srfestival.com for more information.