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.

 

 

Cadillac Ranch

Cadillac Ranch – things don’t get much quirkier than a farmer’s field with 10 car butts sticking in the air.Cadillac Ranch

Cadillac Ranch History

Well into its middle age, the 40 year-old art installation has morphed from avant-garde oddity to iconic roadside attraction. Ant Farm, the trio of Chip Lord, Doug Michels, and Hudson Marquez, created their strange art installation by burying Cadillac at an angle corresponding to that of the Great Pyramid of Giza. The cars look like an unfinished picket fence.

What inspired Ant Farm? The description for the “Cadillac Ranch 1974-1994” video suggests the art installation represents, “….comically subversive homage to the rise and fall of the tail-fin as an icon of postwar American consumer excess.”

Stanley Marsh 3, the wealthy patron who shelled out the cash for Cadillac Ranch, said in an Amarillo Globe News interview that the Cadillac symbolized a time, “…when we all thought we could hit the road, get a blonde, break the bank in Las Vegas, and be a movie star.”

Whether meant to be provocative or just fun, Cadillac Ranch continues to draw thousands each year.

Public Art Installation

Today’s Cadillac Ranch looks very different from the 1974 Ant Farm installation. To start with, Cadillac Ranch is at an entirely different location. It’s still in a farmer’s field, just two miles away from its original site. The installation had to be moved in 1997 as west Amarillo grew and developed.

Forty years of weathering has not been kind to the Cadillac. Bits of Cadillac (like a trunk lid) are missing from some cars. And, oh my, the colors. Each Cadillac benefits from hundreds of graffiti artists who pay homage to the site. The layers of paint look like a crazy sort of bondo on the autos. In fact, some cars likely have more paint than metal left.

Oddly, I found the effect of so many colors and graffiti artists enhances Cadillac Ranch’s appearance. The stunningly bright colors against the azure blue skyline makes for stunning photographs. Trash left behind by the installation’s visitors is the only detractor of this odd art piece.

When you go.

You can access Cadillac Ranch off Interstate 40 in Amarillo. Take the south frontage road between exits 60 and 62A. There are ample places to park on the road apron. Entry is through a metal fence. Bring spray paint (the brighter the colors, the better) if you want to try your hand at a little graffiti art. There are often half-used cans of paint also available. If you visit, please pick up and dispose of your trash.

 

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.

 

 

 

Walking Plano Parks

After our winter weather, do you have cabin fever? Time to get outdoors. Here are three Plano Parks with paved walking paths. So get on those sneakers and go exploring.

Arbor Hills Nature Preserve 

Designated as a National Wildlife Federation habitat, Arbor Hills Nature Preserve features North Texas Ramblings -- Arbor Hills Nature Preserve in Plano Texas200 acres of forest and Blackland Prairie. With over 2.3 miles of paved trail, Arbor Hills is ideal for strollers. The trail winds through forest, up a hill to a scenic overlook, and continues through prairie. At the trailhead, signs advise park users to watch for wildlife. The park supports a wide range of animals, from common grey squirrel to armadillo. The animals are shy and you are more likely to hear the scuttling critters in the ground cover, than actually see them. A well-designed park, the paved trail guides walkers and skillfully shields them from the development along the park’s perimeter. Covered picnic tables are available at the overlook and near the parking lot.

Located in west Plano, Arbor Hills is a popular spot on weekends for families and mountain bikers with the parking lot often filling beyond capacity.  To avoid the crowds, visit Arbor Hills on a weekday. Arbor Hills Nature Preserve is at 6701 W Parker.

Oak Point Park 

Another Plano Park nature preserve, Oak Point Park has an extensive concrete path system. The 3.5 miles of paved walkway winds through prairie, grasslands, and circles a pond. The pond provides prime duck and turtle viewing. The level pathway makes it an easy walk, though the green space is less scenic than at Arbor Hills.

The largest Plano Park with over 800 acres, Oak Point Park also has a series of natural surface paths that follow Rowlett Creek. An underutilized green space, Oak Point Park is quiet, even on the weekends. Located at 5901 Lois Rios Boulevard. The park has a covered picnic area.

Chisholm Trail

If you want a longer walk – say eight miles – check out the Chisholm Trail.  This green strip follows Spring Creek from Legacy south to Harrington Park. You can start the trail at Schimelpfenig Library (5024 Custer Road). Situated at the halfway point, the library provides adequate parking and easy trail access. From the library, head southeast. There is a paved pathway along both banks of Spring Creek with bridges periodically crossing the stream to connect the trails. The long linear parkway is bounded on one side by quiet residential streets and on the other by the creek. If you walk at dusk, the big rodents you see are not rats – they are shy nutria living in burrows along the stream’s banks. Intermittently along the pathway are small neighborhood parks with playground equipment. Chisholm Trail is a popular bike pathway and congested on weekends.

All three paved trails are open to bikers. To ensure a safe walk, remember to stay to the right of the trail and allow bikes room to pass. You can also bring your dog, if on a leash. Operated by the City of Plano, Arbor Hills, Oak Point, and Chisholm Trail are open from 5 a.m. until 11 p.m.