Waco Day Trip

If you are looking for a local adventure, how about a Waco Day Trip?  Waco, located about 100 miles south of Dallas, has fun and unique museums to explore.  Two of my family’s favorites are the Dr. Pepper Museum and Texas Rangers Hall of Fame Museum.

Dr. Pepper Museum and Free Enterprise Institute

“I’m a pepper. He’s a pepper…Wouldn’t you’d like to be a pepper, too?” 

North Texas Ramblings Dr Pepper Museum WacoRemember that jingle from the 1970s Dr. Pepper commercial?  That and even more Dr. Pepper advertising are displayed at Waco’s Dr. Pepper Museum and Free Enterprise Institute.  The first two floors are devoted to Dr. Pepper, its founders, how it was made, and how it was sold.  The museum is a must for Dr. Pepper fans.

Dr. Charles Alderton created the beverage back in 1885 at a drugstore in Waco by experimenting with different fruit syrups and carbonated water.  Who knew his concoction would be around 125 years later?

Once the Artesian and Manufacturing Bottling Company, the museum is located right where Dr Pepper was bottled at the turn of the twentieth century.  A portion of the first floor recreates both Morrison’s Old Corner Drug Store where Alderton served the drink.

Dr. Pepper is now marketed and sold by the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, so it’s not surprising that the museum also has memorabilia from other soda brands like Orange Crush and 7 UP.

The museum’s third floor is dubbed the Free Enterprise Institute.  Aside from a few sayings by Adam Smith, visitors will not find the history of capitalism here.  Rather, the bulk of the exhibits are about W. W. “Foots” Clements.  Clements rose up through the Dr. Pepper ranks from delivery man to CEO.

Be sure to get your Dr. Pepper at the soda fountain before you leave.  Served hot (yes, hot) or cold, the drink is mixed from syrup and carbonated water, much like it would have been served by Dr. Alderton in 1885.

The Dr. Pepper Museum and Free Enterprise Institute (300 South Fifth Street, Waco) is open Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4:15 p.m., and on Sunday from noon to 4:15 p.m.  Admission is $8 for adults and $5 for children.

Texas Rangers Hall of Fame Museum

Formed in 1823 by Stephen Austin as a defense force to protect settlers, the Texas Rangers loom larger than life in our imaginations.  The Texas Ranger Hall of Fame Museum is dedicated to the finest of these lawmen.  The first Texas Rangers were farmers committed to frontier defense.  It was after the Civil War that Texas Rangers shifted to law enforcement and tracking down “bad” guys.

The Texas Rangers Hall of Fame recounts the tales of many of its most famous rangers, like Captain William McDonald whose reputation made him known as the “man who would charge hell with a bucket of water.”  The museum tells the tales of these men with factual accounts, artifacts and anecdotal tales.

It’s the tales that are the most fun, like the one about McDonald  – A frontier town hosting a prize fight sent a plea to the Rangers for help keeping the peace.  The town fathers were appalled when one single Ranger, McDonald, arrived.  McDonald is purported to have responded, “You only got one prize fight.  You only need one Ranger.”

While few in number, these western lawmen figured prominently in keeping the peace including resolving border issues with Mexico from 1870s through early 1900s, and it’s the Rangers Texas turned to hunt down bootleggers and gangsters in the 1920s and 1930s.  It was a Texas Ranger, Frank Hamer, who tracked down and shot the famed gangsters Bonnie and Clyde in 1934.

Most of the museum focuses on real Texas Rangers, but one section is dedicated to our fictional heroes.  An exhibit, complete with biography, tells the tale of the Lone Ranger who captured the imagination of many young boys from 1933 and onward.  Dozens of movies have been about the Texas Rangers not to mention several TV series like Walker Texas Ranger whose reruns entertain us today.

A 45-minute film about the Texas Rangers’ history is well worth the time, and runs throughout the day in the museum theater.

The Texas Rangers Hall of Fame Museum (100 Texas Range Trail – I-35 exit 335B, Waco) is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.  Admission is $7 for adults and $3 for children.



Congress Avenue Bats

Now is a great time to visit Austin and see some of the city’s unique, seasonal visitors. In fact, the city’s population swells by an additional 750,000 between March and October. It’s not a hoard of legislators or even lobbyists besieging the capital. These seasonal visitors north texas ramblings congress bridge batsare Mexican Free Tail bats, and their home of choice is beneath the Congress Avenue Bridge, just blocks from the Texas State Capital.

Bat Bridge

The winged mammals took up residence after a bridge modification in the early 1980s. The bats fit nicely into slots cut underneath the bridge. Each spring, pregnant bats arrive in March to give birth. According to Bat Conservation International, Congress Avenue Bridge is one of the largest urban bat nurseries in the United States.  The bridge can support as many as 500 bats per square foot!

Bat Moms and Pups

At dusk, the mother bats leave their individual pups up under the bridge and fly off to hunt. It’s this dusk flight that draws a different type of animal — tourists — to Congress Bridge. To avoid predators, the bat colony begins its nightly hunt in mass.  As the bats emerge, they form an aerial river of winged mammals flowing out from under the bridge. The bats head east to forage on bugs, nightly consuming 5 to 15 tons of insects helping to keep mosquito populations in check.  After an evening of bug hunting, mom returns to the bridge.  She finds her pup by its unique sound and smell.

Around July, the young bats join mom in the nightly flight. It’s a perilous endeavor for the little critters. Aerodynamically, the bats begin flight by dropping from their perch. If grounded, they are not able to get airborne again. Each night several of the little bats plop into Town Lake. The lucky ones get plucked out of the water with nets by the tour boats and placed on the bridge pilings. Here they can climb high enough to drop and attempt flight again.

Bat Viewing Tips. There are several ways to view the Congress Bridge bat colony. Capital Cruises Austin offers nightly boat excursions. This is a great way to see the bats up close. Reservations are required and can be made at 512-480-9264. You can see the bats from land, too. The east side of Congress Bridge just before dusk is an ideal viewing location.  You can also see the bats quite nicely along the Ann and Ray Butler Hike and Bike trail just below the Four Seasons hotel. Bat Conservation International’s website at batcon.org posts current time frames for the bats’ nightly appearances.

Waco Mammoth Site

Visit Waco Mammoth site and travel back in time 68,000 years. It’s the Ice Age but without the ice. Instead grassy plains cover Central Texas and ice age animals like the Columbian North Texas Ramblings Waco Mammoth Sitemammoth, camel and saber-tooth cat roam the grasslands.  A nursery herd of mammoth (cows and calves) peacefully graze along a creek bed until a flash flood buries the entire herd. Fast forward to 1978 when two teenage boys, looking for arrowheads, spot a bone embedded in the dry creek bed. That’s the story behind Waco Mammoth Site. The boys’ find became the largest nursery herd of Columbian mammoth (19 mammoths and a camel) to be discovered.

Baylor University paleontologists worked the site for years, uncovering mammoth from not just one flood event but a total of three separate floods that trapped these prehistoric animals over thousands of years. In total 28 mammoth, camels and a young saber-tooth cat have been found.

In 2009, Baylor University and the City of Waco opened the Waco Mammoth Site to the public. Docent-led tours give visitors fascinating facts about Ice Age Texas and its inhabitants. You also gain insights into a paleontologists’ world. While most bones have been jacketed and transported for further study, many have been left in place.A climate-controlled building surrounds the dig site and a boardwalk pathway winds through the building allowing visitors to see mammoth bones as they were found. Tiered excavations stair step the dig site displaying finds from the three major flood events. Wall murals illustrate the Colombian mammoths’ size and appearance.

The visitors center and dig site are located within a scenic parkland along the banks of the Bosque River. The Waco Mammoth Site (6220 Steinbeck Bend Road, Waco) is open Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults and $5 for children.