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.

ZimSculpt at the Dallas Arboretum

ZimSculpt, a collection of over a hundred Zimbabwean stone sculptures, is on display within the Dallas Arboretum, now through July. ZimSculpt 1I first glimpsed the sculptures while attending an arboretum concert. I knew I had to return to see them all! The garden, with its backdrop of brilliantly colored flowerbeds and greenery, frame the stone sculptures perfectly, much like a gilded frame showcases a painted canvas.

The garden sculptures range in height from three to seven feet. The artwork is carved from serpentine and semi-precious stone. In many of the garden pieces, the sculpture seems to emerge from within the stone.ZimSculpt 2 I love the fluidity of the lines and liquid smoothness of the art. Other sculptures mix the textures of rough stone with glossy sculpture. All have a simplistic beauty about them.

Shona sculpture

The tradition of Zimbabwean sculpture dates back to the Shona tribe and the eleventh century. ZimSculpt is a modern version of the ancient Shona sculptures. The renaissance in Zimbabwean sculpture began in the 1960s and continues today. Thematically you’ll find animals, mother and child depictions, and women, along with a few abstract pieces.

All of the pieces in the garden are available for purchase at prices ranging from one to twelve thousand dollars. There is also a ZimSculpt Marketplace where you can purchase more affordable pieces and also watch the artists at work.

Beat the heat

This time of year, it’s tough to beat the Texas heat. To avoid wilting in the sweltering temperatures, visit the arboretum when it first opens at 9 am. It is as much fun to pack a picnic breakfast as to sweat over a picnic lunch. Even better yet, Dallas Arboretum members can enjoy a ‘members only’ early morning on Saturdays from 7 to 9 am. Arboretum colors are at their height during the garden’s springtime Dallas Blooms. That said, I was pleasantly surprised at the variety of flowers currently in bloom, even in the summer heat. You’ll find flower beds loaded with color from sunpatiens, winecup, mrytle, and cone flower.

Details

The Dallas Arboretum is at 8525 Garland Road, Dallas. The gardens are open 9 to 5 pm daily (until 8 pm on Wednesdays). ZimSculpt is on display until July 31. Adult admission is $15. On Wednesdays, you can buy one adult admission and get one admission free. Guided ZimSculpt tours are offered without additional charge on Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

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.

 

 

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.

North Texas Camping

Nothing says adventure like spending a night out in the wilds, even if those wilds are located just a few miles from home. While our northern neighbors camp during the summer months, spring and fall are the best times to pitch a tent in North Texas.

CampingThe spring floods closed many local camping spots. However, you can still camp at two, city-run parks. Erwin Park is best suited for those who want a more rugged camping experience, and Little Elm Park works well for families with small children.

Erwin Park

Located in north McKinney, farm fields border this green space. The 212-acre park is a favorite campsite for local Scouting groups. If you are a mountain biker, you’ll love this area. Erwin Park sports almost nine miles of mountain bike trail maintained by Dallas Off Road Bike Association. Camping areas with covered picnic pavilions (there are three) require payment and advance registration. There are also numerous, smaller campsites with fire pits ideal for families and small groups.

The park has two restroom facilities (no showers) at picnic pavilion areas. From November to March, the city secures water to the park to prevent pipes from freezing. You can still camp during that time, but there are no toilet facilities.

When you go

Erwin Park is at 4300 County Road, McKinney. Operated by the City of McKinney, you can reserve a picnic pavilion by calling (972) 547-2690.

Little Elm Park

Little Elm Park is one of the least expensive camping locations on Lake Lewisville. The park not only has campsites, but also sand volleyball, baseball fields, and a swim beach. A newly opened playground is sure to be a hit with your pint-sized campers. Hiking trails are limited, though you will find a paved, one-mile trail ideal for strollers at the north end of the park.

When you go

The park is operated by the City of Little Elm and is located at 701 Eldorado Parkway. Camping is $5 a night per tent. You can pay for overnight camping at the kiosk in the parking lot. For more park information contact the city at (9720 731-3296.

Happy camping!