Eisenhower’s Birthplace in Denison

It’s almost President’s Day, so how about a day trip to the birthplace of our thirty fourth president? World War II hero and President, Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower was born in Denison, Texas.

North Texas Ramblings - Eisenhower's Birthplace in DenisonLocated just 70 miles north of Dallas near the Oklahoma border, Denison thrived as a railroad town in the 1880s. Eisenhower’s father, David, came to Denison to work for the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (KATY) Railroad in 1889. David and his wife, Ida, already had two boys. Dwight, their third child, would be born in 1890. The Eisenhowers lived in Denison only three years, returning to Kansas when Dwight was just a toddler. Ironically, Dwight Eisenhower did not even know he was born in Denison until mid-life. A Denison teacher, Ms Jennie Jackson, thought she remembered the Eisenhowers, and discovered the family’s link to the town by combing through old city records. Following World War II, the local community bought the house where Dwight Eisenhower was born and that his family had rented while living in Texas. Eisenhower visited Denison for the first time as an adult in 1946 having breakfast with community leaders and Ms Jackson at his birthplace home.

The Texas Historical Commission now operates the site. The Dwight D. Eisenhower Library and Museum, in Abiliene Kansas, houses the presidential papers and almost all presidential artifacts. However, Eisenhower’s Birthplace in Denison has a small collection of Eisenhower memorabilia including a painting by the President. A film in the visitor’s center provides a short history of President Eisenhower’s life and legacy. The docent-lead tour is well worth the admission cost. The knowledgeable guides paint a picture of Denison life in the 1890s, and shares a wealth of information about the challenges Eisenhower’s parents faced in those early years when David, Ike’s father, worked for the KATY railroad.

Near the Eisenhower’s home, a larger than life bronze statue stands atop a marble base. This is one of four Robert Dean sculptures of Eisenhower in military uniform. The other three statues are at West Point, the London Embassy and at his presidential library in Abilene.

Eisenhower’s Birthplace (609 S. Lamar, Denison, 903/465-8908) is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and on Sunday from 1:00 until 5:00 p.m. Admission is $4 for adults and $3 for students. There are picnic grounds next to the visitors’ center.

Winter Weekends Near Dallas

While our northern neighbors are shoveling snow, Dallasites can take advantage of moderate winter weather. In fact, many of these destinations are best visited in winter or early spring before our hot summer heat makes outdoor activities unbearable. Whether it’s a family safari, gathering fossils or diamond hunting, here are five family-friendly winter weekend destinations within driving distance of Dallas.

Mineral Wells, Texas.

Mineral Wells Fossil Park will capture young paleontologists’ imaginations. Located just 80 miles southwest of Dallas, the park contains thousands of small, prehistoric sea life fossils. The park was once a borrow pit used by the city for dirt fill. Years of rain and erosion exposed the 300 million old fossils with many readily visible throughout the pit.

Gathering fossils is easy – no digging necessary. Bring a small baggie for collecting treasures. You won’t find a dinosaur here, but you can keep what you unearth! The park is free, and is open Friday through Monday.

Glen Rose, Texas

Fossil Rim Wildlife Center is as close as you’ll get to an African safari without boarding a plane. Spanning 1800 acres near Glen Rose, Texas, the sprawling complex is home to North Texas Ramblingsover 50 species of exotic African and Eurasian animals. The most common way to observe the animals is from your car. Buy a bag of animal feed and you’ll make a herd of new friends as you drive the nine mile park route.

Nearby Dinosaur World will thrill pint-sized dino lovers with over 100 dinosaur replicas.

Waco, Texas

Waco Mammoth Site is an often overlooked destination. In 1978, two teenage boys spotted a bone embedded in a dry Waco creek bed. The boys’ find became the largest nursery herd of Columbian mammoth (19 mammoths and a camel) discovered. The Waco Mammoth Site opened to the public in 2009. Docent-led tours take you through a climate-controlled building surrounding the dig site where you can see mammoth bones as they were found.

While in Waco, stop by the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame. Most of the museum focuses on real Texas Rangers, but one section is dedicated to our fictional heroes like those in Lone Ranger and Walker Texas Ranger television series.

Murfreesboro, Arkansas

Crater of the Diamond State Park may make you rich. Or so you hope. About 250 miles east of Dallas, the park is the only diamond mine open to the public. To the uninitiated, the mine looks like nothing more than a plowed farmer’s field. But appearances can be deceiving. Hidden in the dirt furrows are diamonds, agate, jasper and quartz.

Park visitors find over 500 diamonds each year, though most diamonds are less than the size of a pea. Adventurous families can camp at the park or the Queen of Diamonds Inn in Murfreesboro offers affordable and comfortable lodging.

Grapevine, Texas

Great Wolf Lodge Grapevine fits the bill for those wanting a weekend escape without the car drive. Your stay at the lodge includes access to their massive indoor water park – a guaranteed winner with the youngsters. Great Wolf Lodge offers special discounts for multiple night stays (up to 20 percent off) and even deeper room discounts for families staying during the weeknights.

While it’s possible to spend an entire weekend just at the lodge, be sure to take advantage of all the nearby Grapevine offers. Reopening February 22, 2013, the Grapevine Vintage Railroad transports passengers from Grapevine depot to the Stockyards in Fort Worth via old time rail cars pulled by either Puffy (a 1896 steam engine) or Vinny (a 1953 diesel engine).

Fossil Rim

Fossil Rim Wildlife Center is an ideal family day trip. Once a hunting ranch stocked with North Texas Ramblingsexotic animals, Fossil Rim is now a nationally recognized conservation center located southwest of the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. This unique park offers North Texans an opportunity to go on safari without ever boarding an airplane. Spanning 1800 acres near Glen Rose, the sprawling complex is home to over 50 species. Wildebeest, zebras, and giraffe roam over land resembling the Serengeti, just with a few more rolling hills than the African version.

The drive. A scenic, nine-mile drive allows you to observe the animals up close from the safe confines of your car. Be sure to purchase a food sack at the visitor’s center. You’ll make instant friends with the long-necked ostriches and the ever greedy addax who seem to take turns stopping vehicles for handouts. There are fallow deer, Thomson’s gazelles, kudo, and bongo. The park’s antelope herds are nothing short of impressive.

Fossil Rim offers several ways to enjoy the preserve and its inhabitants. The self-guided drive is the most common way to see the park. Visitors must remain in their vehicles but are welcome to stop anywhere along the drive to feed the animals. Each vehicle is restricted to one food bag, but that is enough to make countless two and four legged friends along the way. Expect to take a minimum of two hours to travel the circuit. Stop at the Overlook, the drive’s halfway point, for lunch with tables available for picnickers. I recommend a visit to the Overlook Café for both the Fossil Rim Burger and the awesome view.

Guided tours. For an even closer look at the animals, try one of many guided tours. The Behind the Scenes tour is available daily and other specialty tours occur on a scheduled basis. My family went on the Discovery After Dark, a monthly tour. An open-air vehicle took us through the park at dusk. We learned about Fossil Rim’s successful cheetah and white rhino breeding programs, fed the shy bongo and were delighted when a giraffe stopped by for dinner – there is nothing quite like a giraffe eating out of your hand!

Details. Fossil Rim Wildlife Center is a not-for-profit organization and member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The center is involved in Species Survival Plan® programs for over a dozen species including rhino, oryx and zebra. Fossil Rim is also engaged in SSP programs for North American animals too like the wolf and our own Texas Attwater’s prairie chicken. Located at 2155 County Road 2008 in Glen Rose, the wildlife center is open daily. For more information, visit their website at fossilrim.org.

Mineral Wells Fossil Park

Mineral Wells Fossil Park will capture young paleontologists’ imaginations. Fossil hunters can search for treasures, and the best part, you can keep whatever you find. Located just 80 miles west of Dallas, Mineral Wells Fossil Park opened to the public in 2010.

Park history. The Dallas Paleontological Society, City of Mineral Wells and Mineral Wells Chamber of Commerce partnered to create the park at the site of the city’s old borrow pit. Years ago, the town used earth dug from the area, the borrow pit, for dirt fill at the city dump. The pit was then closed in the 1990s and forgotten. Twenty years of rain and wind eroded the borrow pit’s sides exposing mineralized fossils in among shale and dirt.

No dinosaurs here. The best fossil hunting follows strong rains. The rain washes away dirt exposing the fossils on the ridges and in the troughs of furrows throughout the North Texas Ramblings Mineral Wells Fossil Parkborrow pit. Readily visible, the fossils are intermixed with small rocks. You aren’t likely to find a dinosaur here. The fossils are small, mostly crinoids (sea lily) fragments. While small, the crinoids and shells are everywhere you search. In just a few hours, our family had two sandwich bags filled with small fossils ranging in size from a pea to half dollar.

The fossils are about 300 million years old. During the Pennsylvania Period, ancient sea lilies, urchins, clams, oysters, sea snails and sharks lived where prickly pear cactus thrive today. One such sea basin submerged the area around Mineral Wells. When the creatures died, their bodies fell to the sea floor. Minerals replaced the animals’ cellular material leaving behind a rock record for us to find millions of years later.

Fast forward from the ancient sea to the City of Mineral Wells old borrow pit. Sea creature fossils are so plentiful at Mineral Wells Fossil Park, that visitors for decades will be able to explore the past and collect ancient fragments of species long extinct. A large exhibit sign at the park entrance illustrates with photographs and descriptions the types of fossils commonly found at the site.

Fossil hunting guidelines. Mineral Wells Fossil Park has a few rules in place to ensure the park’s continued success. While you may keep whatever fossils you find, they must be for your personal use. No commercial fossil hunting is allowed. Park rules forbid power tools and limit guests to hand-held tools like a garden trowel. After a good rain, the hand shovels aren’t even necessary.

When you go. There is no shade at the park – hat, sunscreen and lots of water are a must on hot days.  Wear old clothes for digging in the dirt and boots are a good idea if it’s recently rained. Additionally, bring plenty of small baggies for storing your fossils. As in other parts of Texas, be alert for stinging insects and snakes. Called a primitive park, Mineral Wells Fossil Park has no running water or flush toilets, though there is a portable toilet in the parking lot. For those wanting a more scenic location for a picnic, visit Lake Mineral Wells State Park (Park Road 71, Mineral Wells), located just east of Mineral Wells.

Mineral Wells Fossil Park (2375 Indian Creek Road, Mineral Wells) is open Friday – Monday from 8 a.m. to dusk. Park entrance is free.

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.