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ONCE UPON A TIME VACATIONS were like Christmas. Vacation was the once-a-year, eagerly awaited catharsis, the big pay-off for 50 weeks of bringing in the bread. Trouble was that after two weeks on the road with the family, two dogs and grape jelly smeared on the windows, you returned home feeling like a guest-star at the Spanish Inquisition.
The three-day weekend is rapidly changing the entire concept of Vacation and, with a little imagination, planning and a basic Texas road map, a very real quality of leisure and excitement can punctuate your work weeks.
Unfortunately, not all of Texas' 168,648,320 acres are located along the Interstate highway system. It will be necessary to release your car's automatic speed control, leave these four-lane macadam conveyor belts, and discover the beauty of farm-to-market travel if you are thoroughly to enjoy some of the best weekend jaunts.
Here are 11 suggestions guaranteed to dissolve your ennui and angst and to help you discover the state you're in.
RUN SILENT, RUN DEEP—
Whooping Cranes rank in rarity with the ivory-billed woodpecker and candid politicians. Last year, 59 of them wintered in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. The best way to see the big birds is aboard the S.S. Whooping Crane which operates out of the Sea Gun Marina nine miles north of Rockport. Skipper "Brownie" Brown pilots his 65-foot motor vessel from the Marina every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, departing promptly at 1:30 P.M. and returning about 6 P.M. Cruises are $5 for adults and $3 for children under ten.
The Whooping Crane has a comfortable lounge and snack bar and a capacity of 249 passengers.
To reach the Refuge by car from Rockport, take State Highway 35 north for 23 miles, then turn right on Farm Road 744/2040 for another 15 miles. The Refuge is open from 8 A.M. to 5 P.M. daily. Pay a buck and travel the 20-mile loop road system, keeping an eye out (field glasses help) for white tail deer, javalina, wild turkey, and occasionally a whooper.
If you are feeling healthy, two hiking trails are open: Dagger Point Trail with routes of one-half and one and one-half miles and Big Tree Trail, which is three-quarters of a mile long.
The best seafood after a hard day of watching is at the Sea Gun Restaurant, just across the street from where the Whooping Crane docks. Overnight accommodations are plentiful near and around Rockport. Best bets are the Sand Dollar (Double: $12); Sea Gun (Double: $14); and Key Allegro (Double: $15.50).
THIS TRIP REQUIRES PLANNING WORTHY of the architect of D-Day. Work until Saturday noon several weeks in a row. Show up early at the office and work late. Polish the apple shamelessly. When the time is right, take off Friday and strike out for Big Bend National Park for a raft trip through any of four beautiful canyons in or near the Park.
Glenn Pepper and John Klingemann will guide you through the most beautiful canyons and exciting white water in Texas and furnish everything to boot. Each canyon is different. Each has its own character. Prices depend on the canyon and duration of the trip:
Santa Elena—one day: $50; two days: $100.
Boquillas—two and one-half days: $125.
Mariscal—one day: $50.
Colorado—eight hours: $25.
Facilities are available in the Big Bend Park at Chisos Basin. At Study (pronounced stewdee) Butte Motel and Cafe, rooms and cabins are available for $14 and $16. Three miles west of Terlingua the Villa De Lamina also has rooms and accommodations.
Before the chili contests began, mercury was the big thing in Terlingua. Mssrs. Pepper and Klingemann will guide you through the big mine for a dollar (50¢ for kids) anytime a crowd of one or more gathers. Successful float trips depend on water levels and good weather so call Glenn or John (915-364-2446) or write (Box 47, Terlingua, 79852) before starting out.
Floating through the deathly quiet canyons where walls over twice as high as the Washington Monument rise on either side of the Rio Grande is an experience never forgotten. Not many places remain these days where for even a day or two you feel you are the first human to see a place. In the timeless country of the Big Bend, it's still possible.
TIGHT SHOE DAY
I grew up in the city so I didn't know what "tight shoe day" meant. It seems that you don't plow and seed and milk in your new Brogans. These are saved for the once-a-week Saturday trip into town where you loaded up supplies for the next six days.
First Monday in Canton (off of Interstate 20, 50 miles east of Dallas) has been a trading tradition for 125 years, and new shoes from all over really get a workout. The first Monday of each month is the official trade day, but East Texas folk start setting up booths one and one-half blocks off the Canton square on Sunday afternoon about 1 P.M. It started in 1847 when the County Court would meet once a month. After business was concluded, deals went down, horses were traded and a swapping tradition began that remains unique in Texas. Today everything from bits of barbed wire to antiques are offered up to the bargain-conscious shopper.
Dog Monday Ground is the hound swapping area a little piece out of Canton east on State Highway 64 toward Ben Wheeler. Good old boys start camping out with Blue Ticks and Labs (not many Yorkies) Wednesday afternoon and the trading reaches the hot yowl stage by Saturday afternoon.
I have a friend who says of his native land, Wisconsin, that there are two seasons: July and Winter. Texas is open year round and is not closed eight months of the year due to snow or an annual rainy season. Take advantage of the variety and accessibility of Texas, of the outdoors, and of the finest highway system in the country by taking a weekend trip.
CALLING ALL SPELUNKERS
A spelunker is into caves and you should be, too. Some of the most magnificent and overlooked natural beauty in Texas is not far out but down under, among the 2,000 recorded caves that honeycomb Texas. Only seven are open to the public, yet these magnificent seven are outstanding examples of Texas caves. Pick out the cave nearest you and catch up on what's been happening underground the last thousand years.
Cascade Cavern—14 miles northwest of San Antonio on U.S. 87 and Interstate 10. Discovered about 1840, it's still the state's most active cave. The Caverns are about one-third of a mile long and are located 190 feet below the surface. A guided tour takes from 45 minutes to an hour and guides are on duty beginning at 8 A.M. every day.
Century Cavern—Located near Boerne northwest of San Antonio. Relatively short in length, this cave has huge rooms and an underground river that can be photographed. Open at 9 A.M.
Longhorn Caverns—Located on Park Road 4, six miles off U.S. 281 south of Burnet. Longhorn has seven miles of charted passages, two miles of which are covered on the guided cavern tour. Most caves aren't particularly swinging places, but old Longhorn Cavern used to be a nightclub. Nowadays about the only action is some dripping stalactites and stalagmites. See them drip every day beginning at 10 A.M.
Wonder Cave—Located in San Marcos. One day in 1893 a farmer named Mark Bevers was drilling for water when his drill bit fell into the only dry-formed cave in the country. It was created by earthquakes 30 million years ago and provides visitors with an interesting view of the Balcones Fault Line and the displacement that took place when the fault occurred. Open every day beginning at 9 A.M.
Natural Bridge Caverns—Southwest of New Braunfels off Farm Road 1863. In 1960, four college students discovered a secret passage in a small cave on the Natural Bridge Ranch which led to vast underground caverns. The Caverns' largest room, aptly named the Hall of the Mountain King, measures 350 feet long, 100 feet wide and 100 feet high. The state chairman of the Texas Speleological Association chose the Hall as his wedding site, so tread softly and speak only in reverent tones. Open every day starting at 9 A.M.
Inner Space—The most recently discovered cave in Texas is Inner Space Caverns near Georgetown on Interstate 35, 27 miles north of Austin. The cave was discovered under Interstate 35 in 1963 when a highway department core driller struck the cave during footing explorations prior to construction of the big highway. Besides its collection of formations, Inner Space has proven a gold mine for archaeologists as remains of many prehistoric mammals can be seen. Open every day.
The Caverns of Sonora—Located off Interstate 10 eight miles west of Sonora. Perhaps the most spectacular colors of any cave in Texas are found here. Translucent and phosphorescent formations range from pure white through shades of gray, faint greens and blues, pale rose, bright oranges and deep browns. The Caverns are open daily beginning at 8 A.M. and provide a nice break on the long trip to El Paso.
TWO NIGHTS IN ANOTHER TOWN
Describd by Will Rogers as one of the four distinctive American cities (Boston, New Orleans and San Francisco are the others) San Antonio merits a visit or revisit as often as you can get there. HemisFair provided the impetus to revitalize the beautiful River Walk through the downtown area. Winding around the San Antonio River, the walk is clean, well-lighted, well-patrolled and provided with a great variety of food and music.
Eat Mexican food from Casa Rio while cruising down the river in a barge or sip fantastic gaspacho while sitting outside the Kangaroo Court. The River Roost has passable Italian food, and if music with your food is in order, try the Villa de Pancho.
The Landing is my favorite place in Texas. In an old building on the river below the South Presa Street bridge, you will hear Dixieland as Sweet Emma Barrett, Louis Armstrong, or Delbert Weems would want it played. The father and son team of Jim Cullum Sr. and Jr. and the rest of the Happy Jazz Band lay it down as good as anywhere in the world. Pizza, popcorn and drinks go well with the music.
La Mansion and the Posada del Rio are two fine hotels on the river. Park your car at either and forget it until departure.
San Antonio is unique for many things aside from Paseo del Rio. Missions are synonymous with the city. The Mission Trail leads to Missions San Juan Capistrano, Espada, Conception, and San Jose. Each of these four is still an active parish and San Jose is a National Historic Site.
HemisFair Plaza, site of the 1968 World's Fair, is still growing and adding attractions. The Tower of the Americas rises 750 feet above the Plaza. Its revolving restaurant and observation level overlook the Texas Hill Country for a radius of 100 miles.
The Visitors and Convention Bureau (602 HemisFair Plaza Way) can provide you with information on all activities any weekend you visit San Antonio.
If you haven't been here for a few years, you won't believe it. And you won't wait long to return.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST—
AN HOUR AND A HALF north of Del Rio, the Dolen Creek Ranch is laced with deep canyons and clear running springs and streams. Its over 56 square miles of area is open for year-round hunting, fishing and camping. Hunting has been strictly controlled since the founding of the ranch in the late 1800's. Guides and transportation are furnished and you only pay for game killed.
Get rid of your frontier sissy image by staying in the bunkhouse (ten beds; bring your own bedding) and eat family style at the headquarters. If the bunkhouse is full, nearby camping facilities are available. The restrooms have been updated from Old West style and are complete with showers.
Exotic game requires no hunting license, only a healthy bank balance. Stalk the wily Corsican Ram ($150), Aoudad ($750), or Fallow Deer ($500), as well as turkeys, javalinas and white tail buck and doe. Check your wallet before firing. Reservations are necessary, as is a $50 deposit per hunter. Send it all to Dolen Creek Ranch, 310 East 17th Street, Del Rio, 78840 or call John Finegan (512-775-3129).
June and July are the most popular months for this Western tradition, but during February two of the biggest rodeo and livestock shows in the country premier in Texas. Every section of the state has a rodeo—more than 150 are held each year—and the calf roping, steer wrestling, bronc riding, and bull riding is among the best in the world.
In the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, rodeo fans can go every Saturday night of the year to the Kowbell Rodeo in Mansfield, south of Arlington. Indoor events start promptly at 8 P.M. and usually run for about two hours. During the summer, the Mesquite Championship Rodeo, just east of Dallas, operates every Friday and Saturday night, April-Labor Day.
The 41st Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, giant of Texas rodeos, begins on February 21st this year for an estimated 700,000 fans. It's Houston's largest civic event and is superlative in every way: world's largest calf scramble contest and the highest rodeo purse in the world (over $100,000 going directly to the cowboys), etc.
San Antonio's Rodeo and Livestock Show runs from February 9-18. Last year 399,000 saw the show.
HOW YOU GONNA KEEP THEM DOWN ON THE FARM AFTER THEY'VE SEEN NEW ULM?
BOTH JIMMY THE GREEK AND Jew Louie would give good odds that you've never been to the Parlour at New Ulm or eaten barbecue at Birkelbach's Cafe in Roundtop. That's because when you head out of, or into, Houston on Interstate 10 you blissfully speed past these places located just 20 miles to the north. Instead, turn north at Sealy and again west on FM 1094 for 30 miles or so and suddenly you're in a time warp. The beautiful, rolling country settled by Germans, Czechs, and Poles hasn't changed much in half a century, thanks to the absence of highways and developers.
From New Ulm northwest to Austin some say the best BBQ in the world is found. They're probably right. On a cold afternoon wander into Kreuz's in Lockhart, 30 miles south of Austin. The smell of burning cedar logs and beef cooking will immediately tell you you're near the real stuff. The City Meat Market in Giddings; the Grade A Meat Market in Brenham; Prouse's Meat Market in La Grange; and, of course, Birkelbach's (only weekends) in Roundtop serve up the best beef and sausage in their areas.
A wonderful, little-known characteristic of the German country is that almost all grocery stores have beer bars stashed away somewhere among the food, feed and shovels. Roundtop may have more of these per capita than Munich. Any Saturday afternoon drop in at the F. & M., Schultze, or Etzel Groceries or the Roundtop General Store and pick up on the BBQ, a hot domino game and a cold beer. For a nickel, Mrs. Betty Schatte, who runs the Roundtop General Store, will give you vanilla, chocolate, peach or a fruit-spectacular ice cream cone as she tells you the history of the building, which was once a dance hall, then a funeral parlor, and now is soon to include an art gallery. Among the clutter you can find tall wood-burning stoves for sale and read messages to neighbors written in chalk on the backs of upturned, new shovels.
Between La Grange and Brenham, there's Wessel's General Store at Rutersville, run by the two Wessel brothers for over 70 years; and Benny Weber's Place in Carmine, complete with a coconut sent in 1944 by Benny to his family during World War II. Benny beat the coconut home after the war because the postman thought it was a Japanese bomb. Three miles east of La Grange on FM 159 eat the best catfish around at Harry and Lynn's Cafe.
The Ponce de Leon Award goes to those who can find the B. A. Albers General Store in Waldek. The reward for the search is seeing the most authentic 1860 general store in Texas. Above the bar a sign states: "Prohibition Elections Can Come at Any Time in Any County. Protect Your Right to Drink Beer. Pay Your Poll Tax!"
That brings us back to New Ulm, 23 miles west of Sealy. Wilbert Goebel owns and operates The Parlour, an ex-funeral home transformed into a restaurant and a summer-only outdoor beer garden. It's a beautiful, spacious place with beer and good food served every Thursday, Friday and Saturday beginning at 4 P.M.
The fount of knowledge in this area is Lon Taylor, curator-in-residence at the Winedale Museum, a few miles east of Roundtop. If you get lost or want further information on food, history, cemeteries or any of the local citizens, Lon is the man to talk to.
Winedale includes a 19th Century Stagecoach Inn, barn and Lauderdale House beautifully restored down to the last detail and managed by the University of Texas.
Across from the restored buildings, the Winedale Cafe, operated by Lee Wagner and his daughter Marilyn, serves up fantastic hamburgers everyday except Monday. Camping, fishing and water skiing can be pursued behind the cafe and a duplex is available ($4 for one room; $7 for both rooms per day), but call the cafe first.
TENNIS, TEXAS STYLE
Tennis is very chic these days. To perfect your style or to begin learning the game, reserve a weekend at one of the top training centers in the country. You might as well learn from the best, so T-Bar-M Tennis resort (five miles west of New Braunfels on State Highway 46) has thoughtfully provided John Newcombe, three-time Wimbleton Champion and 1970 World Champion, and Tony Roche, 1970 Pro Champion, to get things rolling. A minimum of 20 hours (videotaped so you can correct your errors) in stroke analysis, basic fundamentals, mixed doubles and singles, strategy and exercises help build your confidence on the court.
It's all very casual and T-Bar-M has thought of everything—husband and wife clinics, Ms. clinics only, children's instruction, or whatever you want.
Accommodations from bunkhouses to private villas are available. Write T-Bar-M Tennis Ranch, Box 469, New Braunfels, 78130, so you won't be fiddling around with something as gauche as golf this spring.
HOME ON THE RANGE
WHAT MANY CONSIDER THE BEST way to see the beautiful Central Texas hill country and rough it comfortably is a stay at Mayan Dude Ranch or one of the other ranches around Bandera. Drive up from San Antonio over State Highway 16 through the picturesque town of Bandera. Cross the Medina River and follow the signs to the Ranch. Here you stay in your own cottage, enjoy cowboy breakfasts, swim, hike, ride horses, go on hayrides. You can eat at a different location on the ranch each night to a different menu—Oriental, Mexican, fish fry, steaks, barbecue, or Hawaiian.
To meet the non-dudes, visit the Purple Cow in Bandera where big Bud Merka holds forth amidst a pitch game and a lot of low talk. If you want to Put Your Little Foot or learn the Cotton Eyed Joe, Ten Pretty Girls or the Schottische, Mayan wranglers will teach these dances to you at the drop of a bandana.
Sleeping accommodations, three family style meals each day, two horseback rides per day and all scheduled activities are included in Mayan American Plan rates.