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.

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

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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.

 

 

Allen’s Community Theater

Allen’s Community Theater (ACT) is a gem tucked away in a nondescript strip mall. Located in far west Allen, ACT’s outside façade hides a delightful little theater. It’s ACT (800x494)community theater at its best with reasonably priced tickets and well-done performances.

Blithe Spirit

ACT’s current production, Blithe Spirit, is a good old-fashioned English drawing room farce. The Noel Coward play pokes fun at death and marriage. Set in 1940’s England, the play centers around an author, his first wife (a ghost), and his current wife. It’s a night of laughs when the bungling medium, Madame Arcati, is thrown into the mix of characters. My entire family, including my teenage son, thoroughly enjoyed the play. However, go forewarned, Blithe Spirit is a three-hour play, with two intermissions. Blithe Spirit runs through May 15.

ACT has two more plays scheduled for its 2015 – 2016 season. The Superhero Ultraferno runs July 8 – 17; and The Magical Land of Oz runs August 12 – 28. My family is looking forward to both plays.

When you go.

You can order tickets to ACT’s performances online at their website. They accept payment by credit card and PayPal. This is community theater, so don’t expect a fancy venue. That said, I was impressed by the quality of the acting and stage craft of the production. You can buy refreshments (including a glass of wine) to take into the theater. Refreshments are by donation (so be generous). Allen’s Community Theater is located at 1210 E Main Street, Suite 300 in Allen.