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).

 

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.

 

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.).

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.

Sam Houston, Tribute in Courage

The Sam Houston statue at Huntsville puts an exclamation point on the saying everything is bigger in Texas. The 65-foot statue towers alongside Interstate 45, between Dallas and Sam HoustonHouston. Looking distinguished in topcoat, colonial wig, and with his walking stick, Sam Houston dwarfs the surrounding pine trees. If you have the opportunity, stop and pay the old gent a visit.

The City of Huntsville purports that Sam is “tallest free standing statue of an American hero.” President of the Republic of Texas and later Governor of the State of Texas, Sam Houston played a pivotal role in Texas’ early history. What you may not have known, is that the Texas hero spent the last two years of his life in Huntsville. The Texas fore father is buried in nearby Oakwood Cemetery (Avenue I and Ninth Street, Huntsville).

Titled Tribute to Courage, the monument is the work of Houston based artist David Adickes. The statue statistics are impressive. It weighs about 32 tons, stands on a 10-foot marble base, and is the second largest freestanding statue in Texas. Surprisingly, the statue is only 20 years old, installed in 1994. Adickes built the concrete and steel Houston in ten-foot segments. One head segment not used in the final statue, can be seen on the grounds. It’s a great location for a picture!

When you go

Take Interstate 45 exit 109 or 112. The Sam Houston statue is accessed through the visitors center whose hours of operation are Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Be sure to bring your camera!