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.

 

 

Helium Monument in Amarillo

I love quirky, Texas attractions. The Helium Monument in Amarillo is one oddity I can now check off my bucket list. Built in 1968 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the discovery Helium Monumentof helium, the Helium Monument is part monument and part time capsule.

Time Capsule

Supported by four slanted columns, the stainless steel structure reaches towards the sky. Filled with books, papers, and memorabilia from 1968; each hollowed column serves as a time capsule to be opened at different intervals. The first column was opened after 25 years in 1993. The remaining columns will be opened in 2018, 2068, and 2968. I’m singularly impressed that the final column won’t be opened for 1000 years! A bank passbook for $10 is in the 2968 column. In 1968, the $10 savings account earned four percent interest. You do the math. If the savings account continues to draw four percent interest over 1000 years, the $10 account will have grown to one quintillion dollars!

Why combine a helium monument with time capsules? Helium can be used to protect fragile documents, like the Declaration of Independence, from deteriorating. In the Helium Monument, helium pumped into each column replaced oxygen-rich air, further preserving the time capsule documents.

Helium Capital of the World

A monument to helium may seem strange. It is not so odd when you learn the Cliffside Gas Fields near Amarillo produce over 40 percent of the helium used in the US, lending credibility to Amarillo’s nickname as the Helium Capital of the World.

Helium is mined by super chilling natural gas 300 degrees. Operated by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Cliffside Gas Fields began mining the element in the 1920s. Uncle Sam tried to get out of the helium business. However, attempts to privatize mining have not been wholly successful and the BLM continues to operate the Cliffside location under the Helium Stewardship Act of 2013. Helium is important for more than just party balloons. Today, helium plays a critical role in MRI operation, rocket fuel, cryogenics, and as a cooling medium in nuclear reactors.

When you go

The Helium Monument is located adjacent to the Don Harrington Discovery Center at 1200 Streit Drive, Amarillo. The monument is outside, so you can view it at any time. However, if you are traveling with children, be sure to also visit the Don Harrington Discovery Center. The discovery center is open Tuesday through Saturday (9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.), and Sunday (noon to 4:30 p.m.).

Dallas Dozen: Free Family Fun

The FREE iBook, Dallas Dozen: Free Family Fun, is packed full of places to explore. It’s your boredom-busting guide for the summer.

Dallas Dozen Free Family FunThe book is written for families wanting adventure without spending a lot of money. All locations are either in or near the Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) Metroplex. Dallas Dozen:  Free Family Fun covers places you may already know about like the Dallas Museum of Art, and others you may not, like Mineral Wells Fossil Park.

Plan an expedition to Ladonia to search for fossils, attend a Star Party in Rockwall, or visit a Buddhist temple in Garland. It’s a great guide to use for trying something new with your kids. Nervous about taking your 5-year-old to an art museum? Are you someone who believes the only way to camp is in a hotel room? The book has helpful tips for “first-timers” so that your art museum junket or camping experience aren’t too daunting.

Almost all listed activities are free. There is a Worth the Splurge section in some chapters to highlight inexpensive opportunities you will not want to miss.

Dallas Dozen: Free Family Fun is available on iBooks and Nook at no cost. A Kindle version is also available for a nominal $.99.

Have fun exploring the DFW area!

Bethany Lakes Park

Bethany Lakes ParkIn our quest to explore attractions and seek out the unusual, we sometimes forget to look in our own backyard. Bethany Lakes Park falls into that category of overlooked gems. Like any good community park, Bethany Lakes has a playground with small climbing wall for the little kids. There are covered and open picnic areas, and trails to hike and bike. Bethany Lakes Park offers even more with a disc golf course, fishing ponds, and summer concert series.

Disc golf

How about a round of golf? At Bethany Lakes, you’ll find a nine-hole disc golf course. Similar to traditional golf, you play disc golf with a Frisbee instead of club and ball. You throw your disc from the tee, aiming it for the ‘hole.’ At Bethany Lakes, the hole is a raised pole with a chain basket. Just like in golf, your score is the number of throws it takes to land the disc into the basket.Disc Golf

It’s more difficult than it first looks, as many holes require throws over or near water. The first tee is just north of the parking lot. Bring plenty of Frisbees as you might lose a few in the ponds!

Ponds make all the difference

The ponds, and what’s swimming in the ponds, differentiate Bethany Lakes from other community parks. On any given day, you’ll likely find fisherfolk casting their line into one of the parks four ponds. Many set up camp chairs along the water’s edge. Others fish from the fishing pier at Pond C.

Each year, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) stock Bethany Lake with rainbow trout. Most trout stocking occurs between December and March. The trout fishing is best during the cooler months. However, you aren’t restricted to just trout at Bethany Lakes. Other ponds contain blue gill and bass, with fishing even during warmer months. TPWD fishing rules apply at Bethany Lakes. While the ponds are not exclusively ‘catch-and-release,’ you’re unlikely to snag a big enough fish to eat, so please release your catch.

Fishing Tips

Did you know that kids under 17 do not require a license to fish in Texas? Or that the first Saturday in June is Free Fishing Day, when everyone can fish in Texas without a fishing license? Fishing is a great way to get the kids off the couch and outdoors. Here are some tips for first time family fishing:

  • Keep the equipment simple. Little anglers need a child-sized fishing pole, hook, bobber and easy bait like earthworms dug from the garden.
  • Think safety. Position children at least a pole length apart for safe casting.
  • An adult should bait the hook and remove fish for young children.
  • Combine other activities with fishing.  A short fishing trip coupled with a picnic will likely be more successful than a marathon fishing session.

If you want fishing tips specific to Bethany Lakes, check out a website by fisherfolk at www.stockertroutfishing.com. You can find out what fish have recently been caught and with what type of lures.

Summer Sounds

The City of Allen hosts Monday evening outdoor concerts from late May to the end of June at Joe Farmer Amphitheater in Bethany Lakes Park. Concerts cover all music types from classical to country. What a great way to enjoy a summer evening — and best yet — the concerts are free! Light refreshments and snow cones are available for purchase. While the city does not prohibit lawn chairs, they prefer blanket seating for concert goers.

When you go

Bethany Lakes Park is located at 745 South Allen Heights, Allen. Operated by the City of Allen, the park is open dawn to dusk. The Summer Sounds concert series begins May 25 and runs through June 22. Concerts begin at 7 p.m.

 

 

 

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.