Roses and Tigers inTyler

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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.

State Fair of Texas

big-texBig Tex is back! Yes, it’s time for the Great State Fair of Texas.

Fair Park in Dallas is alive with midway games, amusement rides, fair food, livestock shows, and exhibits. Old favorites return and new exhibits have been added.

Old favorites

I love the animals at the fair. Tucked in the back corner of Fair Park by Gate 12, you’ll find the cattle, swine, and horse barns. It’s all about traditional fair events with young people showing off their prize livestock. Want to see more farm animals? Check out the Lone Star stampede and pig races in the Pan Am building.state-fair-3-800x800

Fried food is everywhere. Personally, I’m quite content to give a pass to fried jello. However, I wholeheartedly recommend a Fletcher’s corn dog…even if you need to stand in line. Fletcher’s is located next to Big Tex, so be sure to get your photo of the iconic Texan while there.

New exhibits

Who would associate Michelangelo with the State Fair of Texas? This year, the Women’s Museum building is the site for an exhibit featuring full-sized reproductions of the Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel paintings. These panels give an up-close view of the famous ceiling. There is an $8 admission fee.

Hard to please pre-teens may enjoy the Taylor Swift Experience, a collection of Taylor Swift memorabilia on display in the Hall of State building. All ages will enjoy the pogo stunts of Xpogo.

Insider tips

  • Tickets, rides, and food….it all adds up to big bucks when you visit the fair. You can save on tickets by purchasing them online or in advance at Walgreens or Kroger. Better yet, visit the State Fair on a discount day. Bring four cans of food for the North Texas Food Bank on Wednesdays and purchase your ticket for just $4. Even better, if you are 60 years old or more, visit the fair for free on Thursday.
  • Thursdays are not only free to seniors, but many concession vendors offer discounted food for Thrifty Thursdays.state-fair-2-800x800
  • To avoid crowds, consider a weekday visit to the State Fair. You’ll get the same great fair experience with less hassle.
  • Need to cool off on a hot day, the Hall of State, Automobile building, and many other buildings are blissfully air conditioned and wonderful ways to escape the heat.
  • Limit your time at the midway. Rides and games can be an expensive. Instead, take advantage of free entertainment. Special activities for kids are set up around the Pan Am Arena.

The Great State Fair of Texas continues until October 23.

 

 

Texas Dinosaurs and Mammoths

Calling all North Texas dinosaur lovers and would-be-paleontologists! While you wait for the DVD release of Jurassic World, why not check out two local dinosaur (and mammoth) venues?

Dinosaurs Live!

North Texas Ramblings - Dinosaurs Live Heard Natural Science MuseumBeware! Beasts not seen for millions of years stalk the Heard Natural History Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary in McKinney from now through mid-February. Dilophosaurus, Stegosaurus, and the infamous Tyrannosaurus Rex roam the trails at the wildlife sanctuary – almost like Jurassic World. These life-sized replicas roar and move delighting young dinosaur enthusiasts.

Billings Production in McKinney makes the animatronic creatures. The Heard dinosaurs are part of over 200 Billings’ dinosaurs found at zoos and museums throughout North American. The robotic dinosaurs are uniquely adapted to operating outdoors. A hinged steel structure within the fabricated body allows dinosaur heads and limbs to move. A computer program further enhances dinosaur movements, making these monstrous creatures look and act almost real — Jurassic Park Texas style.

While the dinosaurs draw the crowds, there is much more to the Heard Natural History Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary. Once you’ve explored the dinosaur trek, take a stroll through The World Conservation exhibit to see modern day animals. Some animals are native to North America and others like the lemur are from exotic locales. Many exhibit animals imprinted with humans and can’t be released into the wild. Seized from an illegal animal breeder, some animals found new homes at the wildlife sanctuary. There are mongoose and capybara, the world’s largest rodents. An albino raccoon found a home here too.

The Heard Natural History Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., and on Sunday from 1 until 5 p.m. Pets are not allowed in the sanctuary and there is an admission fee. The trails around Dinosaurs Live are accessible with a stroller, however all trails within the sanctuary are on natural, unpaved surfaces — challenging for wheel chairs and strollers. Picnic areas are available. The Heard Natural History Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary is at 1 Nature Place in McKinney. Contact them at 972-562-5566 or through their Dinosaurs Live website.

Waco Mammoth National Monument

This past week, a mammoth found in a Michigan farmer’s field gained national attention. But, did you know that one of the largest herds of mammoth ever discovered in North America is right here in North Texas?

Visit Waco Mammoth National Monument and travel back in time 68,000 years. It’s the Ice Age but without the ice. Instead, grassy plains cover North Texas; and ice age animals like the Columbian mammoth, camel, and saber-tooth cat wander 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. The boys’ find yielded the largest nursery herd of Columbian mammoth (19 mammoths and a camel) ever discovered.

Baylor University paleontologists worked the site for years, uncovering mammoth from three separate floods that trapped these prehistoric animals over thousands of years. The Baylor scientists have found over two dozen mammoth, camels, and a young saber-tooth cat.

Baylor University and the City of Waco opened the Waco Mammoth Site to the public in 2009. Just this summer, the mammoth site became a National Monument. 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 were 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 all 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 National Monument is at 6220 Steinbeck Bend Road in Waco. The site is open Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. There is a fee for the guided tour.

You can find more Waco attractions at our Waco Day Trip post.

 

 

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.

McKinney Third Monday Trade Days

Are you looking for an out of the ordinary shopping experience? Third Monday Trade Days (TMTD) in McKinney offers everything from alpacas to yard art. Catering to the treasure North Texas Ramblings - McKinney Third Monday Trade Dayshunter in all of us, the market overflows with collectibles interspersed among flea market castoffs. Located on US 380, just two miles west of US 75, this three-day, once a month event hosts an eclectic group of vendors. Third Monday crafters’ stalls sell handmade jewelry, clothes, hats, etched glass, and even tooth fairy pills. Interior designers frequent the market for its wide selection of home accents and architectural hardware.  Looking for garden art? There are planters, wrought iron sculptures, and wide selection of concrete critters.

Antiques, collectible glass, and china stalls sandwich between vendors selling t-shirts and ball caps. A covered building called the Mall holds a mix of shops from photographic art to vintage clothing to a coin dealer. There is even an ATM at the Mall, just in case you need more money.

Throughout the market, food trucks sell food normally reserved for the State Fair. Foot long corn dogs, funnel cakes, turkey legs, and honey roasted corn are just a few items sold. Stalls also sell other delectable treats for shoppers to take home like pecans, fresh roasted coffee, local honey, and elderberry jelly.

While shopping, don’t miss the opportunity to chat with vendors. Many have been part of Trade Days for years and all have fascinating stories about their products. In fact, Third Monday Trade Days is part of Collin County history. In pioneer Texas, the circuit court judge made his rounds to each county just once a month. In Collin County the judge presided over court on the third Monday. People from around the area would come to town to see the court proceedings – think of it as the Judge Judy of the frontier. They would bring their goods to trade and sell, thus the birth of our modern Trade Days. Third Monday Trade Days is located in what used to be Buckner, another piece of local history. The frontier town, Buckner, was the Collin County seat from 1846 – 1848. All that remains of Buckner is the Buckner Cemetery located on the market’s west end.

When you go.

Trade Days are from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday preceding the third Monday of each month. Admission is free, though there is a $5 charge for parking (parking is free on Friday). Located at 4550 West University Drive in McKinney, the next TMTD weekend begins April 17. For more 2015 dates, visit the TMTD website or call 972-562-5466.