Stonehenge II in Texas Hill Country

What do Stonehenge, Easter Island, and Texas Hill Country have in common? A visit to Hill Country Arts Foundation in Ingram, Texas, solves that mystery. There you’ll find a Stonehenge and two Easter Island Moai head replicas. The structures are the work of two Hill Country residents, Al Shepperd and Doug Hill.

Stonehenge II and Moai heads

Neighbors, the two men hatched the plan to build a Stonehenge replica in 1989. Using steel frames, plaster and metal mesh, they built a scaled version (about 90 percent the height and 60 percent the width) of the famous Stonehenge circle on Shepperd’s ranch. It took them just nine months to construct the monument. A few years later they fabricated two Moai heads following a trip Shepperd made to Easter Island. For years, tourists flocked to Hunt to see the oddities.

Current location

Stonehenge II and the Moai heads found a new home in 2010 on the grounds of the Hill Country Arts Foundation in Ingram. I have to say, this location is perfect. The Moai heads flank a dirt pathway leading through a meadow to Stonehenge II. It’s a bucolic spot, with the Guadalupe River just off to the left.

Admission to the site is free, but the photographic opportunity is priceless.

Encore

I recommend you visit Stonehenge II about lunchtime. Why? Co-located on the art foundation property is a delightful little restaurant, Encore. The restaurant offers home-style lunches six days a week (closed Mondays). The restaurant has an outdoor deck that overlooks the Guadalupe River. We lunched there during our visit and were pleasantly surprised by the freshness of the cuisine and friendliness of the service. They also proffer an amazing selection of craft beers.

Blue Topaz

If you’re in the market for unique, fine jewelry, you’ll find it in Ingram. Just down the road from Stonehenge II is Gems of Hill Country. The jeweler Diane Eames and her partner Brad Hodges offer lone star cut (that’s the cut with the embedded five-pointed Texas star), blue topaz jewelry. Blue topaz is the official state gem of Texas and found only in the Mason area. The stone is usually clear, but you can also find blue variations. The more intense the blue, the more valuable the stone. Eames is a true artist. The stones she cuts are breathtakingly beautiful. Prices begin in the $200 range and go up from there.

When you go

Stonehenge II (120 Point Theatre Road South, Ingram) is in a field. As such, it’s accessible seven days a week. Encore (122 Point Theatre Road South, Ingram) is open for lunch 11 am to 2 pm Tuesdays through Sundays. And Gems of the Hill Country (200 Highway 39, Ingram) is open by appointment (phone (830)-367-3368).

 

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.

It’s Bluebonnet Time

You don’t have to travel to Texas Hill Country to find bluebonnets. Roadways and Zion Cemetery (800x599)parks near Dallas offer plenty of springtime blooms including fields of bluebonnets! The Facebook page, Bluebonnet Love, is a great resource for finding bluebonnets in your area. My go-to places for local bluebonnets couldn’t be more different: one is a park on the Southern Methodist University (SMU) campus and the other is an old pioneer cemetery.

In the Heart of the City

The best Dallas wildflower viewing may just be at SMU and the George W. Bush Presidential Center. A 15-acre urban park planted with native prairie grasses and wildflowers forms a semi-circle around the back of the Presidential Center. Not only will you find bluebonnets, but also dusty pink carpets of evening primrose, brilliant reds and yellows of firewheel, and magenta wine cup. Benches scattered around the garden make for an ideal spot to stop and enjoy the magnificent spring display.

The park is open sunrise to sunset. There is a fee for touring the Presidential Center, but entry to the attached park is free. The George W. Bush Presidential Center is at 2943 SMU Blvd, Dallas. For more information, contact the center at (214) 200-4300 or visit their website.

Half Forgotten Zion Cemetery

A hillside covered in bluebonnets is stunning. And that’s what you’ll see at Zion Cemetery – a hillside awash in blue. At the height of the season, this sleepy little cemetery becomes a parking lot with hundreds vying for that perfect snapshot of the kids in the flowers. I’ve even seen an industrious photographer lug a Victorian chaise lounge onto the hillside to capture just the right photo!

Alas, the pastures that once surrounded the cemetery are gone, making way for new housing developments. Still, this is a safe, off-the-road location to take a family photo in the flowers. Zion Cemetery is located on Farm to Market (FM) 423 between Eldorado Parkway and State Highway 380i in Little Elm.

Kimbell Art Museum — European Collection

Matisse L'Asie at the Kimbell Art Museum

Matisse L’Asie at the Kimbell Art Museum

Now is a wonderful time to visit the Kimbell Art Museum. There are no traveling exhibits to distract you from the Kimbell’s permanent collection.

European who’s who

My family and I spent a rainy afternoon touring Europe, or at least its art history. What the Kimbell lacks in quantity, it makes up for in the breadth of its European collection. From the birth of the Italian Renaissance with Fra Angelico’s painting of Saint James to the modernistic L’Asie of Henri Matisse, the Kimbell collection samples four hundred years of European art. Having recently completed an art history class, I have a new found appreciation of the museum. Name a key European artist, and you’re likely to find their work represented. There are Renaissance works by Donatello, Bellini, a young Michelangelo, and Titian. There is even a painting by the prolific Rembrandt (Bust of a Young Jew).

Rembrandt's Bust of a Young Jew at the Kimbell Art Museum

Rembrandt’s Bust of a Young Jew at the Kimbell Art Museum

It’s great fun to roam the three galleries in the Louis Kahn building and see such a wide range of works. There are portraits by Reynolds and Raeburn; Baroque paintings from Rubens; an amazing Turner (Glaucus and Scylla); and an entire range of pre- and post-Impressionists.

The gallery arrangement allows you to view the evolution of European artistic styles.

Guided tours

Guided tours of the museum’s permanent collection are offered Wednesdays at 2 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Like many museums, you can download an app for your smart phone for your own audio guide of the museum’s works. Look at the placard for each piece of art for its ‘tour stop’ on the app.

Kimbell audio tours for adults and families

Kimbell audio tours for adults and families

You’ll find a three-digit number for the adult guide, and a two-digit number for the family description. Even if you are an adult, try the family tour – it gives you a more dynamic description of the artwork.

It’s all free.

Aside from visiting exhibitions, admission to the Kimbell is free. The museum provides programs for families such as its Pictures and Pages (storybooks with simple art projects for children ages 4 – 6); Kids Drop-in Studio (art project for children under 12); and Studio Five 90 (art for teens and adults). The programs are offered throughout the year – check the Kimbell Art Museum calendar for specific times and dates.

Dining at the Kimbell

My family always combines a trip to the Kimbell with a stop at the Buffet Restaurant. It is a wonderful place for lunch, uniquely offering a selection of soups, sandwiches, salads, quiche and dessert. You don’t have to pick just one item. Lunch is priced by plate size — small plates are $10 and large are $12. You can have soup, sandwich, quiche, and salad – all of it – the quantity is determined by your selected plate size.

When you go. The Kimbell is at 3333 Camp Bowie Blouvard, Fort Worth. The museum is closed Mondays. Onsite parking is free.

Tip. Download the Kimbell app before you go and don’t forget to bring your earphones.