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.

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.

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.

McKinney Art Studio Tour (MAST)

McKinney has made a name for itself as an art community in North Texas.  McKinney’s Second Saturday Art walks are well established with late night, gallery openings and musical entertainment throughout the old downtown area.

You don’t need to wait until evening to get your dose of creativity in November. MastThe McKinney Art Studio Tour (MAST) coincides with Second Saturday weekend on November 14 and 15. An annual event, MAST showcases local artists’ studios and galleries.

MAST allows the community a glimpse into the life of artists living in McKinney neighborhoods.  This year’s studio list includes photographers, potters, painters, and print makers giving tour participants an eclectic sampling of local talent.  If you like what you see, many artists will have work available for sale.

MAST not only gives the public a chance to meet artists, it also provides a forum for local artists to network.  The MAST focus is on community – introducing neighbors to each other.  Whether you are an artist, art lover, or just curious, MAST affords tour participants a rare opportunity to see studios not normally open to the public.  You’ll be surprised by the depth and breadth of artistic expression in McKinney.  Both individual studios and studios offering classes will be open for tour.  The MAST website gives detailed information on each participant and map with studio locations.