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.

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.

 

 

Kimbell Art Museum — European Collection

Matisse L'Asie at the Kimbell Art Museum

Matisse L’Asie at the Kimbell Art Museum

Now is a wonderful time to visit the Kimbell Art Museum. There are no traveling exhibits to distract you from the Kimbell’s permanent collection.

European who’s who

My family and I spent a rainy afternoon touring Europe, or at least its art history. What the Kimbell lacks in quantity, it makes up for in the breadth of its European collection. From the birth of the Italian Renaissance with Fra Angelico’s painting of Saint James to the modernistic L’Asie of Henri Matisse, the Kimbell collection samples four hundred years of European art. Having recently completed an art history class, I have a new found appreciation of the museum. Name a key European artist, and you’re likely to find their work represented. There are Renaissance works by Donatello, Bellini, a young Michelangelo, and Titian. There is even a painting by the prolific Rembrandt (Bust of a Young Jew).

Rembrandt's Bust of a Young Jew at the Kimbell Art Museum

Rembrandt’s Bust of a Young Jew at the Kimbell Art Museum

It’s great fun to roam the three galleries in the Louis Kahn building and see such a wide range of works. There are portraits by Reynolds and Raeburn; Baroque paintings from Rubens; an amazing Turner (Glaucus and Scylla); and an entire range of pre- and post-Impressionists.

The gallery arrangement allows you to view the evolution of European artistic styles.

Guided tours

Guided tours of the museum’s permanent collection are offered Wednesdays at 2 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Like many museums, you can download an app for your smart phone for your own audio guide of the museum’s works. Look at the placard for each piece of art for its ‘tour stop’ on the app.

Kimbell audio tours for adults and families

Kimbell audio tours for adults and families

You’ll find a three-digit number for the adult guide, and a two-digit number for the family description. Even if you are an adult, try the family tour – it gives you a more dynamic description of the artwork.

It’s all free.

Aside from visiting exhibitions, admission to the Kimbell is free. The museum provides programs for families such as its Pictures and Pages (storybooks with simple art projects for children ages 4 – 6); Kids Drop-in Studio (art project for children under 12); and Studio Five 90 (art for teens and adults). The programs are offered throughout the year – check the Kimbell Art Museum calendar for specific times and dates.

Dining at the Kimbell

My family always combines a trip to the Kimbell with a stop at the Buffet Restaurant. It is a wonderful place for lunch, uniquely offering a selection of soups, sandwiches, salads, quiche and dessert. You don’t have to pick just one item. Lunch is priced by plate size — small plates are $10 and large are $12. You can have soup, sandwich, quiche, and salad – all of it – the quantity is determined by your selected plate size.

When you go. The Kimbell is at 3333 Camp Bowie Blouvard, Fort Worth. The museum is closed Mondays. Onsite parking is free.

Tip. Download the Kimbell app before you go and don’t forget to bring your earphones.

 

Fair Park Art Deco

Fair Park 4 (800x600)Fair Park is one of Dallas’ most beautiful locations and also one of its most overlooked. If you are like most Dallas residents, you visit Fair Park only once a year during the Texas State Fair. Yet this 227-acre park is open year round. On a sunny day, I find the art and architectural at Fair Park simply breathtaking.

Art Deco Nirvana

The site of the 1936 Texas Centennial and World’s Fair, Fair Park retains many of its historical Art Deco buildings. The park purports to have the largest collection of Art Deco buildings, art, and sculpture – I believe them.

The Esplanade

The area surrounding the Esplanade showcase stunning Art Deco examples. Massive Fair Park 2 (800x600)porticos at the Automobile Building and Centennial Hall frame six statues. Each statue represents a nation who, at one time, controlled Texas. Designed by Carlo Ciampaglia (Centennial Hall) and Pierre Bourdelle (Automobile Building), the statues bear the classical look of Greek goddesses. Fair Park 3 (800x600)Reliefs on Centennial Hall continue the mythological theme and mix seamlessly with the modernistic murals of industry at the Automobile Building. Recently recreated fountain statues of The Tenor and The Contralto, add another exciting note to the whole Art Deco immersion.

Fair Park cell phone tour

You won’t find much in the way of descriptive placards around any of this fabulous art and architecture. Thankfully, there is a self-guided, cell phone tour available to provide details about art and artists. To access the tour, dial (214) 736-2913 and then follow the phone instructions.

Worth the look

While at Fair Park, be sure to visit the Hall of State and the African American Museum. Both attractions are free.

When you go.

Fair Park is at 1200 Second Avenue, in Dallas. Gate 3 provides parking closest to the Esplanade. Entry to Fair Park (and parking) is free except during the State Fair. You can also get to Fair Park using DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) – take the green line to the Fair Park station.