Hall of State at Fair Park

Hall of State 1 (800x600)The Hall of State at Fair Park is a one-stop primer in Texas history. This opulent showcase of Texas pride opened its doors to the public during the 1936 Texas Centennial. Years later, the Hall of State continues to educate visitors. Today, the Dallas Historical Society manages the museum.

Hall of Heroes

Like most of the buildings at Fair Park, the Hall of State is classic Art Deco, inside and out. Designed by Donald Barthelme, the building is shaped in an inverted ‘T’ – appropriate for a building that commemorates 400 years of Texas history. Every statue, carving, and mural in the Hall of State depicts some aspect of state (and pre-statehood) history and culture.

The towering, gilded statue, Tejas Warrior greets visitors at the building’s grand entrance. The blue, mosaic tiling behind the statue represents our state flower, the bluebonnet. Step inside the building to meet Texas fore fathers in the Hall of Heroes. Stephen Austin and Sam Houston are among the six, life-sized bronze statues.

The Great Hall

From the Hall of Heroes, you enter the Great Hall. I love this room. I’m always amazed at the detail packed all into a single space. Dominating the back wall, the brilliant gold medallion, divided into six pie-shaped reliefs, symbolizes the six nations (France, Mexico, Spanish, Confederacy, Texas Republic, and United States) who have claimed this area. Remarkably detailed murals cover the left and right walls, telling our history in a series of painted scenes.Hall of State 2 (800x600) The murals cover every aspect of Texas history from the 1500 arrival of Europeans to images of higher education and state industries. On the floor, you’ll find mosaics of Texas animals, like the jackrabbit and horned lizard. Even the ceiling in the Great Hall is chocked full of symbolism – designed by George Davidson to represent Aztec motifs of roadrunner, armadillo, and rattlesnake. You can simply spend hours finding new tidbits of history and symbolism throughout the room.

East and West Texas

To the left of the Great Hall, are the East Texas room and G.B. Dealey Library (West Texas). You’ll find murals again in each room, this time above the entrances. The East room murals portray pre-and post-oil Texas. Beautiful, translucent photos by Polly Smith, a Texas photographer active in the 1930s, decorate the walls. Continue on to the library and you’ll discover a completely different motif, this time using brightly colored ceramic tiles on floor and walls.


Unfortunately, you currently can’t visit the North and South Texas rooms. The historical society lost their off-site warehouse, and now use these rooms for storage of artifacts and documents. Still, you can virtually visit the rooms via an awesome online tour of the Hall of State.

When you go

The Hall of State is in Fair Park at 3939 Grand Avenue, Dallas. Enter the park at Gate 3 for easiest access. Touring the building adds another dimension to our state, especially for children studying Texas history in school. On the second Tuesday of the month, March through September, the Dallas Historical Society hosts a  brown bag lecture series (appropriate for teens and adults). The Hall of State is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. Entrance to the Hall of State is free, though donations are welcome.


Crow Collection of Asian Art

Crow Collection BuddhaWithin the Dallas area, several private collections have evolved into museums. The Crow Collection of Asian Art, located in the heart of the Dallas Arts District, is one such museum. This small, free museum is ideal for a Sunday afternoon visit.

You won’t find oil paintings here. What you will find is an eclectic mix of new and ancient Asian art.

Contemporary art

Current exhibits showcase modern Asian expression. Located in the downstairs gallery, Alexander Gorlizki’s Variable Dimensions creates a playful mix of Indian-inspired art. Gorlizki’s work ranges from vibrant textiles to whimsical sculpture.

In the upstairs gallery, you’ll find Inclusions by Jean Shin. Inclusions is also a mixed-medium exhibit with an intriguing tree sculpture made from silverware and a meditative video installation. Inclusions is on display through December, and Variable Dimensions runs through March 2016.

Ancient Asian art

While the modern exhibits are fun, I keep coming back to the Crow for its permanent Crow Collection Ganeshacollection of ancient Asian art. A stone Buddha head welcomes visitors to an upstairs display of jade pieces. The gallery of intricately carved stone sets the tone for a quiet, contemplative visit.  A window walkway connects the jade section to the west gallery. My family loves strolling through this corridor hung with a thousand cranes. Folklore links folding a thousand cranes to eternal good fortune. I’m always hopeful a little of that luck will rub off as we walk under the origami birds.

Crow Collection of Asian ArtThe west gallery houses the museum’s larger pieces, like the palace façade from northern India, a life-sized painted horse, and almost-life-sized elephant. Throughout the room you’ll find Jain, Buddhist, and Hindu artifacts.

Outdoor sculpture garden

You have to go outside to see the other half of the Crow Collection, namely the outdoor sculpture garden. There is an old Japanese temple bell from the Edo period, but most of the outdoor sculptures are contemporary. They are set within a carefully constructed Japanese-styled garden skillfully wrapped around the Trammel Crow Center office complex. It’s wonderful just to sit and relax at one of the many tables set up on a concrete patio.

More than art

The Crow takes the Asian experience beyond art. You’ll find Eastern wellness practices highlighted at the Crow. Well-suited for adults and teens, the Crow hosts Qigong Tuesday evening, Yoga Thursday evening, Tai Chi Saturday morning, and meditation Sunday afternoons. The Crow participates in the Dallas Arts District’s First Saturday, hosting a whole morning of family friendly activities the first Saturday of most months.

When you go. The museum and garden are free. The Crow Collection of Asian Art (2010 Flora Street, Dallas) is open Tuesday to Thursday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. Parking is available at paid lots and garages within the Dallas Arts District. Klyde Warren Park is a short walk from the Crow. The Nasher Sculpture Center and DMA are also nearby.


McKinney Art Studio Tour (MAST)

McKinney has made a name for itself as an art community in North Texas.  McKinney’s Second Saturday Art walks are well established with late night, gallery openings and musical entertainment throughout the old downtown area.

You don’t need to wait until evening to get your dose of creativity in November. MastThe McKinney Art Studio Tour (MAST) coincides with Second Saturday weekend on November 14 and 15. An annual event, MAST showcases local artists’ studios and galleries.

MAST allows the community a glimpse into the life of artists living in McKinney neighborhoods.  This year’s studio list includes photographers, potters, painters, and print makers giving tour participants an eclectic sampling of local talent.  If you like what you see, many artists will have work available for sale.

MAST not only gives the public a chance to meet artists, it also provides a forum for local artists to network.  The MAST focus is on community – introducing neighbors to each other.  Whether you are an artist, art lover, or just curious, MAST affords tour participants a rare opportunity to see studios not normally open to the public.  You’ll be surprised by the depth and breadth of artistic expression in McKinney.  Both individual studios and studios offering classes will be open for tour.  The MAST website gives detailed information on each participant and map with studio locations.


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!

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.